Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

Four weeks down, one to go, and August is over. It's about time.

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber attacked the country's intelligence headquarters, killing at least two people and injuring ten others even as the death toll rose to 70 from an attack the day before in which suspected Shiite militiamen opened fire on worshipers at a Sunni Muslim mosque in northeast Iraq; a Chinese fighter jet brazenly conducted very aggressive and dangerous maneuvers within 20 feet of an American surveillance aircraft flying in international airspace over the South China Sea; a convoy of trucks has returned to Russia after delivering what Russia claimed was "humanitarian aid" to pro-Russian fighters in Ukraine; and Indian and Pakistani forces have traded fire yet again in the disputed Kashmir region, killing at least two people on each side.

There's more, but this ought to be enough to send you running for the cartoons.

Our collection of theme cartoons for this week deals with weddings ...

You need to be careful who writes your wedding vows ...

Wedding dresses for the modern day ...

Truth in vow advertising ...

Sometimes, it just doesn't last ...

I've wondered about this myself ...

So much for weddings. Let's move on to something else, like storage in heaven ...

She probably was expecting something else ...

Connectile dysfunction? ...

You just can't be too PC nowadays ...

And finally, I suppose adoption is adoption ...

And so it goes for the penultimate edition of Cartoon Saturday for August of 2014. It ought to be a good weekend here in NoVa. It started well last night when I had the pleasure of doing a bit of announcing for a party at my friend Lioudmila's dance studio in Alexandria (and, of course, getting in some good dancing), and it looks as if the weather might hold long enough for me to get some work done in the yard and get the car washed before things go meteorologically south. One can only hope.

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


Friday, August 22, 2014

The Second Ass Clown of the Month Award for August, 2014

Last Friday we took another look at Great Moments in Editing, but another week has gone by and it's now time to name our second Ass Clown of the Month for August, 2014.

This week as always, I suffer from a surfeit of riches in terms of the field of potential candidates from which to select our dishonorees. But as the old saying goes, life's like a septic tank ... the really big chunks rise to the top. And the biggest chunk in the tank this week is

also known as
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
or simply as

The Islamic State

In a world and at a time when religious believers of all sorts are becoming ever more rigid and intolerant, the "holy" warriors of ISIS have plumbed new depths of depravity and sadism, as evidenced by their imposition of medieval religious law in areas under their control, by engaging in genocide against the Yazidis in Iraq, and by brutally murdering their way across Syria and Iraq. In the past week, members of the group beheaded American journalist James Foley and posted the video on YouTube - after demanding a ransom of $132 million and sending his family an e-mail described as "... vitriolic and filled with rage against the United States."

For its exercise of arrogant bigotry and sadism masquerading as religion, the despicable and cowardly group of evildoers that calls itself ISIS is named our second Ass Clown of the Month for August, 2014.

Enjoy hell, ISIS. They're keeping the light on for you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Mother's Vocabulary

My granddaughter Leya celebrated her seventh birthday yesterday, and that happy event led me to dig out this summary of an experienced mother's vocabulary. If you've ever been a mother, you'll recognize these terms ...

Amnesia: The condition that enables a woman who has gone through labor to make love again.

Dumbwaiter: One who asks if the kids would care to order dessert.

Family Planning: (1) The art of spacing your children the proper distance apart to keep you on the edge of financial disaster. (2) The art of knowing which children can sit next to which other children to maintain maximum peace at the dinner table.

Feedback: The inevitable result when your baby doesn't appreciate the strained carrots.

Full Name: What you call your child when you're mad at him.

Grandparents: The people who think your children are wonderful even though they're sure you're not raising them right.

Hearsay: What toddlers do when anyone uses foul language within 50 feet.

Impregnable: A woman whose memory of labor is still vivid.

Independent: How we want our children to be as long as they do everything we say.

Puddle: A small body of water that draws other small bodies wearing dry clothes into it.

Show-Off: A child who is more talented than yours.

Sterilize: What you do to your first baby's pacifier by boiling it and to your last baby's pacifier by blowing on it.

Top Bunk: Where you should never put a child wearing Superman pajamas.

Two Minute Warning: When the baby's face turns red and she begins to make those familiar grunting noises.

Verbal: Able to whine in words.

Whodunit: None of the kids that live in your house.

All of you mothers out there, I salute you.

Have a good day. Watch your language around toddlers. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Is It Time for Benjamin to Retire?

An article on the CNN Money website the other day asked a provocative question: "Does the $100 Bill Need to Go?"

What a stupid question. Of course it needs to go! It can go right into my wallet if it wants.

But seriously, it's a valid question driven by cultural, legal, economic, diplomatic, and political considerations.

The hundred-dollar bill used to be called a "C-Note," from the Roman numeral "C," which meant one hundred. Today it's often known as a "Benjamin" because it bears the picture of Benjamin Franklin ...

The Benjamin is an important element of popular culture, frequently used as a symbol of wealth (usually gained by nefarious means). Hip-hop performer Puff Daddy had a song titled "It's All About the Benjamins," which was also the title of a forgettable 2002 movie starring Ice Cube and Mike Epps. Insecure stars like to be photographed with wads of Benjamins, as if this helps prove that they have talent.

From a legal perspective, law enforcement agencies note that criminals like $100 bills because they allow more money to be carried in less space, and the Hundred is the most widely-counterfeited American banknote today. That dubious distinction used to go to the Twenty (known sometimes as a  "Jackson" for its picture of Andrew Jackson*), which was considered the highest denomination bill that could be passed without attracting attention or scrutiny ... but what can you buy with twenty bucks any more? A Twenty isn't worth the time and effort to counterfeit.

From the viewpoint of popular economics, the Hundred is losing its appeal as well. The CNN Money article cites a paper by Ken Rogoff, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, as stating that nearly 80% of the $1.3 trillion in currency in circulation consists of $100 bills. That's a whopping lot of hundreds, far more than Americans outside of the legendary 1% have any possible use for. Think about it: when was the last time that you took a mighty wad of Benjamins to the local supermarket to buy groceries for the week?

The Hundred is a major tool of diplomacy as well: US Special Forces troops who went into Afghanistan in the early days of the search for Osama bin Laden carried bags of hundreds to use as bribes and payoffs**, and the US government sent pallets of shrink-wrapped Benjamins*** into Iraq to provide currency after the defeat of Saddam's forces and the destruction of his economy.

And finally, from a political perspective, the Benjamin has long been the denomination of choice for the purchase of politicians. It would be positively unwieldy to pay a half-million dollars (or whatever the going rate is) for a judge, Senator, or Reprehensive in Tens or Twenties ... Hundreds make a much tidier bundle for the payee to hide in his refrigerator. If only to help make graft more difficult, getting rid of the old C-Note wouldn't be a bad thing.

I believe the good old hundred-dollar bill - the C-Note, the Benjamin - has outlived its usefulness. Today, it is much easier to move large amounts of money digitally, rather than in heavy bricks of banded paper. The hundred is useful only as a device for flaunting one's wealth and impressing those who are easily impressed. The guy in the food truck where you buy your lunch, the clerk at the convenience store, and the Girl Scout selling cookies door-to-door don't want to have to make change for a hundred-dollar bill.

Perhaps at one time it was, indeed, all about the Benjamins. In my family, though, it's all about the Georges, Hams+, sawbucks++, and the occasional Jackson. I don't think I remember the last time I saw a Benjamin that wasn't on a printed page or a movie screen.

Have a good day. Keep track of those Benjamins if you're fortunate enough to have any. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And also occasionally referred to as a "yuppie food stamp," because it's the denomination usually dispensed from ATMs.

** Read all about it in the book Ghost Wars by David Coll.

*** A depressingly large number of which seem to have vanished without trace.

+ A five-dollar bill, the nickname deriving from an abbreviation of Abra(ham) Lincoln, whose portrait graces the note.

++ A ten-dollar bill, the nickname deriving from the Roman numeral "X" (for "10"), and the X-shape of a classical sawbuck (or sawhorse).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Skills We Ought to Have

Here's a really interesting article from Lifehacker by Melanie Pinola - The Top 10 Skills We Wish Were Taught in School, But Usually Aren't. You can read the entire list for yourself, but here are three of Ms Pinola's suggestions that I think are especially good, along with my comments and another four suggestions of my own ...

Study Skills. Nobody seems to know how to study any more. I think this is probably a function of two things: the general decline in reading, and the advent of the Google search that makes research too easy and too limited. We're growing generations that have no idea how to study and do research to find and interpret facts (see Critical Thinking, below).

Basic Money Management. Well, hell, Congress could use this, too. Not many people know how to construct a budget, balance a checkbook, or even figure out the tip on a restaurant check. I'm certainly no math genius, but I'm glad that my parents gave me early lessons in how to do enough math to keep my finances in relative order*.

Basic Self Defense. This is a good one. As a skinny, bookish fellow in grade school and high school, I had more than my share of trouble with bullies, and I could have used some good self-defense training. I finally got it when I took karate lessons in my 50's. I would still probably get my ass kicked in a bar fight, but the other guy would know he'd worked for it.

And now, four of my own suggestions for skills that ought to be taught in school:

Critical Thinking. People nowadays tend to believe utterly ridiculous stuff. Lots of them swallow the bilge pumped out by Faux News whole, without ever bothering to ask even the simplest questions that would help them separate truth from wildly slanted opinion. Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit and the basics of logic ought to be part of every high school and college curriculum.

Good Manners and Behavior. It seems that to a lot of young - and even older - people nowadays, good manners are considered a sign of weakness or servility. It's more important in many circles to build "street cred" than it is to treat other people decently. "Please" and "thank you" - the magic words my parents drilled into us and I try to drill into my grandchildren - come few and far between. The Golden Rule has gotten pretty badly oxidized, and our schools ought to help polish it up again.

Effective Writing Skills. I enjoy writing and I like to think I'm pretty good at it. But there are a lot of people out there who either slept through their English classes or just never bothered to take them. I'm appalled at least twice a day by the miserable quality of writing I encounter, even from people who supposedly have baccalaureate or postgraduate degrees. I think our schools should invest a lot more time teaching people to write coherent sentences and paragraphs and recognize when the spell-checker is leading them astray.

And finally ...

Public Speaking. It's said that most people are terrified of speaking in front of an audience. But public speaking doesn't have to be done in front of an auditorium full of people ... it can be done in a small group when you need to convince others to do something, or of the righteousness of your position. I enjoy public speaking more than most, but you don't have to like it as much as I do ... you just have to have the basic skills and self-confidence to speak clearly and convincingly (see Critical Thinking, above) in public. Unless you're in a debate club, our schools don't seem to teach public speaking skills any more.

So, Dear Readers, those are my ideas on what our schools ought to be teaching. I recognize that there are a lot of people advocating a lot of "feel-good" subjects they believe ought to be squeezed into our school curricula, but I think the ones I've mentioned above are more important than many, many others. How about you? What things do you think our schools ought to be teaching that they aren't now. Leave a comment.

Have a good day. Speak and write well, and remember the Golden Rule. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Of course, Congress and the business community are ever conspiring to keep my budget out of whack by means of taxes and the constant hiking of prices and fees to "cover the cost of doing business." Wouldn't it be nice if we could arbitrarily hike our paychecks to "cover the cost of everyone else doing business?"

Monday, August 18, 2014


A few days ago my e-mail from the WordSpy website delivered a new and timely neologism: SWATification, defined as "the increase in the use and militarization of police SWAT teams." It's a word that is particularly timely given the sad events in the Missouri town of Ferguson, where the shooting last week of a young black man by a white policeman led to days of protests that often turned violent enough to call for a very large and very heavily armed police response.

Which leads to an ugly question for those of us who love this country: when did Sheriff Andy Taylor turn into Robocop, and Mayberry turn into Ferguson?

Police departments are paramilitary organizations charged with keeping the peace, and police officers in this country - going back to the days of the frontier marshals of the Old West - have always been armed. In a country where the ownership of deadly weapons is a right guaranteed by the Constitution* and criminals are as likely as not to be armed (and even once had nicknames like "Machine Gun Kelly"), it only makes sense for the forces of law and order to provide for their own defense. But when did we decide that our police needed to look like front-line combat soldiers? At what point did even the smallest of towns decide that it needed armored cars or SWAT teams equipped with military grade automatic weapons?

There's been a great deal of handwringing in the op-ed pages in the last week about the militarization of our local police forces that has taken place since 9/11. Vast amounts of money have been lavished on police and other security agencies, often without the least consideration of what their needs actually are relative to the threats they face, and that money has not - in most cases - made us any safer.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a firm believer in law and order, and in ensuring that criminals of any kind who prey on honest citizens feel the full weight of the law land on their heads. But I'm afraid that we have created a new situation in which the transformation of our local police into something resembling an army has driven a wedge between us as average citizens and the people we trust to protect us. I for one feel less safe when the weight of armament on the streets is so large on all sides.

Maybe that's just me.

I know that some of my friends who are police officers read this blog, and I'd be interested to know what their opinions are. And yours, too, Dear Readers. How do you feel about the militarization of our police? Does it make you feel safer?

Have a good day. Be safe out there. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Although common sense is not.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Poetry Sunday

Earlier this week, I wrote about my adventures in gardening. When the garden doesn't quite work out, we go to the market ... and sometimes that doesn't work out, either ...

by Lee Robinson

Friday I sniffed it
in the grocery store, turned it
in my hands, looking
for bruises
in the rough, webbed rind.
My mother's voice—the one
I carry always in my head—
pronounced it fine. Ripe,
but not too soft.

I bagged and bought it,
would have given it to you
for breakfast—this fruit
first grown in Cantalupo, not far
from Rome. I imagined you,
my sleepy emperor, coming
to the table in your towel toga,
digging into the luscious
orange flesh
with a golden spoon,

and afterwards,
reclining, your smile

Now I open the trunk of my car
to find the cantaloupe
still there, flattened, sour,
having baked all weekend
in August's oven.

Grieving is useless,
my mother would say,
Just get another.

But why am I so certain
that no other fruit
will ever be as sweet
as that—

the one
I would have cut in half,
scooped the seeds from,
that one I would have given you
on Saturday morning?

Enjoy the fruits of summer. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

It just keeps getting better and better. Not ...

A 67 year-old woman in Utah was seriously injured when she drank iced tea that had been sweetened not with sugar, but with industrial cleanser; two popular supermarket chains - Albertson's and SuperValu - were hacked by Internet criminals who stole large amounts of customer credit and debit card information; Islamic extremist fighters from ISIS attacked a Yazidi village in Iraq, murdered at least 80 men and kidnapped 100 women; the aftermath of the killing of an unarmed black youth in a Missouri town has focused attention on the accumulation of heavy, military-style firepower by American local police forces; and beloved comedian and comic actor Robin Williams took his own life after a long battle with depression.

If I were a doctor, I'd prescribe a large dose of cartoons. And I'm no doctor, but I know what you need, anyway ...

This week's collection of theme cartoons deals with one of my favorite pastimes ... dancing!

It can contribute to crimes of passion ...

Some men are less adept than others at asking a lady to dance ... 

There are different kinds of dancing ...

And some who do it need a little more instruction than others ...

I've known people who need both types of instruction ...

Happily, I have never danced with any ladies like this ..

Turning to other topics, there are some pests that are tough to get rid of, even with professional help ...

And what sort of Cartoon Saturday would it be without a terrible pun cartoon? ...

I think we've identified the problem with many of our politicians ...

That problem with facts is largely what makes cartoons like this one funny ... in a sad sort of way ...

And there you have it, Dear Readers - yet another edition of Cartoon Saturday to help you recover from yet another week of dismal news. Today's weather here in NoVa is supposed to be beautiful, which will be nice for our granddaughter Leya's seventh birthday pool party.

It's good to be the Opa.

Have a good day. Be here tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.


Friday, August 15, 2014

And the Editorial Hits Just Keep on Coming!

It's hard to believe it's been two weeks since our last trip down Mangled Language Lane ... time for another visit!

From the meat department, I guess we'll see this special when pigs fly ...

I think someone needs a new translator ...

I'm not drunk, and I don't think she looks like Heather Locklear ...

Wait till the GOP hears about this latest abomination under the Affordable Care Act! ...

I see that Mr Snowdon has a new job painting directional signs for the British highway system ...

I assume they'll let us know of any change in his condition ...

Now that's what I call a tornado ...

I wonder if these are whelped-again dogs ...

We're taking up a collection to buy Uncle Jimmy a new jock strap ...

Ever been chased by a Venus Flytrap? ...

And there you have it - another collection of wonderful items seen in print. Editors and English teachers take note: there are plenty of job openings out there ... or, at least, there should be.

Agnes and I had a great afternoon and evening yesterday, meeting up with our friends KathyA and her husband Dick for a tour of the Pentagon, followed by dinner at the wonderful Lebanese Taverna in Pentagon Row. And now it's Friday and the weekend beckons ... see you here tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.

Have a good day. Cartoons coming.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Growing Pains

I don't know if I mentioned it before, but this year, I decided to try a new approach to my garden. Being tired of setting up an all-you-can-eat salad bar for the local animals, I planted herbs in pots on the deck, along with two pots of tomatoes and two pots of bell peppers (one red, one green). I also cleared a patch at the side of the house and planted the seeds I saved from the single acorn squash I managed to grow last year. Here's how it all turned out:

Basil - growing like crazy, and we've been harvesting regularly for salads, sauces, etc. It smells wonderful.

Dill - plants grew very tall and gave us enough dill for what we use (mostly sauces). Kind of ugly, though.

Mint - Grew well, but we don't use that much of it, so I probably won't grow it again next year. I may just transplant the plants out at the edge of the woods behind the house and let them go wild.

Thyme - growing very well, and smells wonderful.

Parsley - growing very well. Because it's a biennial herb, it'll come back next year, too.

Chives - growing very well.

Rosemary - I put in two plants at the side of the house, next to our acorn squash. The plants are growing, but I just can't get them to turn into one of those big, beautiful rosemary bushes I really want.

Tomatoes - a total loss. The plants grew big and strong and produced lots of tomatoes, but they all rotted on the vine. I wonder if I overwatered, or overdid it with the solution of Epsom salts and water that I sprayed them with. I think I'll just skip the tomatoes next year.

Green and Red Bell Peppers - the plants grew pretty well, and we may get one of each color pepper. Several others rotted and fell off the vines before they had a chance to ripen.

Acorn Squash - this was our success story - the plants grew up very big and strong from the seeds, and right now I have at least four squash about the size of billiard balls, with a lot more developing. With any luck, we'll have quite a crop. The deer munched away at some of the plants on the edges of the plot, but left enough that we should get some good squash dinners this winter*.

Bottom Line: Next year, I'm going to do the herbs again in pots on the deck. No tomatoes. No bell peppers, but I think I'll try to plant jalapenos. If the squash turns out, I'll save the seeds and plant it again. I'm thinking I may try to build a garden enclosure like this one I spotted on Facebook ...

Farmer Bilbo will get a decent crop yet. If the deer and the rabbits don't get it first.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* Want my recipe for Sausage-Stuffed Molasses-Glazed Acorn Squash? E-mail me and I'll send it to you.