Saturday, March 24, 2018

Cartoon Saturday

Every week you think it's just got to be better than the last week. And then ...

The reign of terror in Austin, Texas came to an end when the serial bomber blew himself up as police closed in; a UK company called Cambridge Analytica apparently tried to influence American voters in favor of Donald Trump using personal information collected from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge; HUD secretary Ben Carson defended the purchase of a new $31,000 set of furniture for his office dining room by claiming his "facilities people felt that the [existing] dining room table was actually dangerous;" a crew member of Fly Jamaica Airways was arrested at JFK Airport in New York after a search found 9 pounds of cocaine taped to his legs; and according to a report on the BBC, one outcome of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union ("Brexit") is that the new blue UK passports (which will replace the current burgundy-colored EU passports) will be manufactured ... in France.

This week, in honor of Cambridge Analytica and the abuse of personal information posted on social media, we have a collection of cartoons about ... social media.

I'm told this is also known as the "Russian Bot Approach" ...

I know the Ides of March was last week, but ...

An unending source of negative energy ...

They're everywhere ...

It pays to be careful what you post ...

The way things used to be ...

Yes. Yes, he is ...

They need a higher fence ...

First world problems ...

This one reminds me of the old joke about the lawyer who has a heart attack and shows up at the Pearly Gates*. He complains to St Peter, "How can this be? I'm only 35 years old!" St Peter says, "Well, we checked the number of hours you billed your clients, and according to those, you're 127!" ...

And there you have it - Cartoon Saturday ... certified app-free.

Right now it looks as if we'll have a fairly nice weekend here (weather-wise), but in NoVa, you just never know. The National Park Service has revised its estimate yet again for the peak of the cherry blossoms ... lately, that forecast changes more often than the White House staff. Winter may (we hope) finally be over, but at least we can be sure of the snow jobs coming from the White House.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, on Poetry Sunday.


* God knows how.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

It's that time again ...

New layout editor wanted ...

They must have been in the infantry ...

There are some specialized supplies that you need from time to time ...

I think this juxtaposition was set up by the same layout editor we met in the first item ...

It's not so crazy ... there may have been a hit ant at large ...

Some people dream less big than others ...

This isn't as funny as you might think ... when I rented a storage unit some years ago, one clause of the contract forbade me from living in it ...

I think that's not a bad idea ...

Well, when we bought our new refrigerator, there were models with built-in video screens ...

Yes, please do ...

And that's it for today - proof positive that odd signs and newspaper items can be entertaining. 

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


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Guest Post

Huh? What? Oh, hey! I didn't hear you come in ... I was just catching a little nap so I have plenty of energy to let everybody know when the mailman and garbage man and the UPS and FedEx guys and door-to-door religious flacks get here. Busted!

Oh, well ... I'm Clara, Bilbo and Agnes's granddog. I post here once in a while when Bilbo's away or runs out of good ideas, and I just realized that it's been almost a year since I last posted anything! I guess I'd better get moving, eh?

I don't want to say anything about your silly politics thing this time*. I'll just say that, like all dogs, I have a really good sense of smell. And I can tell you that lately, things don't smell very good. 'Nuff said, as Bilbo would say.

I want to talk about this dumb weather we've been having. Just the other day, the temperature was almost 70 degrees as you guys measure it ... it was what we dogs would call pretty comfortable. But now, it's snowing. A lot.

I'm a pit bull, and we have very short hair. For you humans, that's a good thing, because we don't shed in your houses. For us, though, it means that in the winter we get really cold. How would you like to have to go outside and squat your bare backside over a few inches of wet snow to do your business? I'm here to tell you it's not fun.

And that stupid snow makes it harder to do my duty of protecting Bilbo's daughter and her family. I mean, I'm loyal and I'll do what it takes, even if it means chasing some bad guy through the cold, wet snow ... but if I have to do that, then he is going to be really, really sorry.

So, I'm ready for Spring. And for Fall. Summer around here is too hot, and Winter is too cold and unpredictable. Maybe instead of believing in stupid stuff and arguing with each other, you humans can work on something worthwhile, like trying to fix this climate change thing Bilbo is always complaining about.

Have a good day. Bilbo will be back tomorrow. 'Til then, woof!


* Lucy the Cat covered all that in her last post. For a stupid cat, she's pretty perceptive.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Thinking About the Health Care System, Part 1

According to my records, I have written about the general topic of health care in this blog 30 times in the past 12 years. It's a topic I care a lot about, for a lot of reasons: for one, I have a large family with a lot of children and grandchildren, some of whom need various types of special care; for another, I'm getting old ... and we all know that as we get older, things start to go expensively wrong, no matter how well we've tried to take care of ourselves along the way.

Most people would agree that America's health care system is a mess. We have some of the best doctors in the world, supported by fantastic equipment, state-of-the-art facilities, and safe and powerful drugs. Unfortunately, too many ... if not most ... of us can't afford the the level of care that's available. Why is that?

I believe there are several major reasons why our health care system is such a dumpster fire. In this post, I'm going to talk about one of them; in a subsequent series of occasional posts I'll discuss the others, and then culminate with my proposal for a total reform of the American health care system. Stick around for the whole discussion before you tell me how little I understand about the real world and how stupid and un-American I am.

Here's the first of my theories about why our health care system is messed up:

We are conditioned by our history to stress individual responsibility and self-reliance. A real American takes care of himself and does not expect others to carry his weight.

This is essentially the same argument used to justify unrestricted gun ownership and open carry/concealed carry laws - you can't count on the police (or anyone else) to protect you, so you have to be prepared to protect yourself at all times. In the health care context, it means that if you get sick, it's your own fault because you didn't take care of yourself. Nobody else is responsible for taking care of you ... you need to plan to pay for whatever treatment you need to recover from the results of your failure to maintain your health.

This emerges from the doctrine of rugged individualism, defined* as

"The practice or advocacy of individualism in social and economic relations emphasizing personal liberty and independence, self-reliance, resourcefulness, self-direction of the individual, and free competition in enterprise."

This is the quintessential American approach, in which the individual is of primary importance and the country was always meant to be a land of rugged individualists - people descended from the tough men and women who conquered an untamed wilderness armed only with grit, guns, and self-reliance.

Thus, focus on individual responsibility is the first of the key elements that has shaped the American approach to health care.

That's Theory #1. Number two will follow in a few days.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* In my trusty Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Murder in the Digital Age

* Update: I wrote this post several days ago. Yesterday, this story appeared on CNN: Uber Pulls Self-Driving Cars after First Fatal Crash of Autonomous Vehicle ... 

One of the stock scenes from old murder mysteries comes when the suspects are all assembled in the library of the old manor house. While a storm rages outside, the detective talks his way through the crime and the clues and - at just the right moment - he whirls about and stabs an accusing finger at the murderer, announcing in his sternest voice that "The butler did it!"

Well, perhaps it wasn't the butler. Maybe it was the maid. Or the gardener. Or the ne'er-do-well son. You get the idea, though.

But the traditional unmasking of the criminal may be very different in the not-to-distant future, when we learn to our horror that the evil villain is not human, or even a trained animal (as in The Hound of the Baskervilles or Murder in the Rue Morgue) ... but a machine.

The idea of murder by machine is not new - Jefferey Deaver's novel The Steel Kiss has the murderer using his computer hacking skills to turn common products into murder weapons. But what if there's no human involved at all?

This is the point of a fascinating article I read the other day titled, When an AI Finally Kills Someone, Who Will Be Responsible?.

If a driverless car runs down and kills a pedestrian, who is at fault?* If a complex power distribution grid managed by an artificial intelligence (AI) program suddenly shuts down power to a hospital and patients die, who is responsible? Is it the programmer? The builder of the AI system itself? The builder of the car or the designer of the hospital systems? Can the AI system itself be held criminally liable for its actions? If so, how would it defend itself? How could it be punished? Here's a quote from the article:

"If an AI system can be criminally liable, what defense might it use? ... Could a program that is malfunctioning claim a defense similar to the human defense of insanity? Could an AI infected by an electronic virus claim defenses similar to coercion or intoxication?"

This is not an angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin philosophical discussion, because the need to consider these things is now upon us. As we've already seen with the advent of e-mail, cell phones, and similar things, our laws governing privacy and the criminal use of communication devices are woefully out of date.

As if you didn't have enough to worry about in the Age of Trump.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, March 19, 2018

The Seven Deadly Sins, March, 2018

You may recall that I've written many times in this space on the subject of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins - Pride, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Envy, and Wrath. I think the topic is fascinating, and it's the hook for one of my favorite movies, Se7en.

I last wrote about the Seven Deadly Sins late last year, and in reading the news, I thought now might be a good time to take another look at how our national leaders reflect them:

Pride – Perhaps it’s normal to enjoy seeing your name in giant letters on everything you own ...

Greed - Forbes Magazine estimates Donald Trump's net worth as $3.1 billion. That's quite a bit of money, particularly for someone like me living on modest investments, Social Security, and a military pension. But don't you dare imply that Mr Trump is not a billionaire: in 2009, he sued a writer who claimed he was only a millionaire, not a billionaire. I'd say that qualifies as greed.

Gluttony - We tend to think of gluttony in terms of gross overeating, but it's more than just an overfocus on food ... it's an inordinate desire to consume more - of anything - than that which one requires. It's the state of always wanting more, of never being content with what one has. Go back and check that Forbes Magazine estimate I linked above.

Sloth – As of March 3rd, Donald Trump has played golf at least 79 times during 94 visits (at public expense) to his own golf resorts. Now, the job of president is not an easy one, and I would never begrudge the incumbent some down time to relax from the pressures of the office ... but we need to remember that this is the man who repeatedly berated former president Obama for golfing during his presidency, and who famously said during the campaign that "... I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go golfing, believe me. Believe me. Believe me, folks." Here's a reminder.

LustStormy Daniels. “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” ‘Nuff said.

Envy - God forbid you should have to live in a world marked by the accomplishments of a better man ... get rid of everything your predecessor did so that your own meager record won't have to suffer by comparison. Here's a partial list of the things undone (as of December 15th last year).

Wrath - "Lock Her Up!" "Build the wall!" 'Nuff said.

The Seven Deadly Sins are still with us and are being well-fed by He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Have a good day. I will not be envious or wrathful if you do.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Musical Sunday

It's said that nostalgia isn't what it used to be, and it's true. I still love this great song by the Statler Brothers, anyhow ...

Have a good day. Remember the good times, in the hopes that they'll come again.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cartoon Saturday

Just when you thought it was safe to peek your head out from under the covers ...

Legendary French haute couture designer Hubert de Givenchy passed away this past week, as did renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking; Donald Trump unceremoniously sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by tweet, and after months of tweet-stormed criticism from Trump, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe was fired ... two days before he could have retired with his full pension; at least six people were killed and many others injured when a new pedestrian overpass collapsed onto a busy highway in Florida; United Airlines continued to go to the dogs with the news that it had accidentally flown a family's dog to Japan rather than its intended destination of Kansas ... this followed another incident in which a family's dog died after a United stewardess told the owners the dog had to be stored in an overhead luggage bin for the duration of the Houston-to-New York flight; and Donald Trump named Larry Kudlow, a conservative television commentator with no education, background, or experience in economics and a track record of wildly incorrect economic predictions, to be his senior economic advisor.

Speaking of going to the dogs, I thought some cartoons about banks, investment, and the economy would be appropriate ...

I think that's a reasonable training requirement for investment advisors nowadays ...

You've just gotta watch out for yourself ...

Finally, an understandable economic benchmark ...

It's only fair ...

Them. Not you ...

This sort of puts it in perspective ...

I've often wondered how that works ...

But how do you discuss economics without crazy talk? ...

That seems like a typically political approach ...

Funny how that works, isn't it? ...

And there you have it - this week's collection of ya-ha's to help you recover from the past week's drumbeat of bad news. 

I hope you have a good weekend, and are ready for the next potential snowstorm ... which we here in NoVa may get by midweek. This is ridiculous ... I've got a garden to plant, for Pete's sake!

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts coming tomorrow with Musical Sunday.


Friday, March 16, 2018

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March, 2018

It's time once again for that exercise in futility known as the biweekly announcement of an Ass Clown Award winner.

I must admit to you, Dear Readers, that I'm starting to regret having begun presenting this award. Not because there are individuals and groups out there worth the distinction, but because it's become such a depressing exercise in wading through the miserable, reeking cesspool in which those individuals and groups bob to the surface in horrifying numbers. When I can no longer present the award to an individual because he's won it so many times that I decided to give him a lifetime "achievement" award and remove him from future consideration ... and when that individual is the President of the United States ... and when he works overtime to merit additional awards ... I have to shrug my shoulders and mourn for the future direction of the nation.

But regardless of how much our embarrassing leader continues to make our once-great nation an international laughingstock, ignored by allies and enemies alike, I have to hold to my decision and find another nominee ... and so I have.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, it is with a sigh of sadness and a toast of milk of magnesia that I announce

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March, 2018

And the award goes to

The Republican Members
of the
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI)

This past Monday, the Republican members of the HPSCI unilaterally announced that they had found no evidence that Donald Trump or members of his campaign had colluded with Russian officials to sway the 2016 election, or that the Kremlin sought to help the Trump campaign. As has been very widely noted*, this conclusion is, at best, premature, and is at odds with the opinions of the committee's Democratic members** and with what appears to be the building consensus of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation***.

The work of the committee has been woefully undermined by partisan rancor, and by the evident refusal of the Republican members to do any investigating that might reflect poorly on the GOP in general and on Donald Trump and his the legitimacy of his election in particular. Rather than conducting a serious, open investigation to determine the truth, the HPSCI's GOP members have conducted a brazenly obvious whitewash that reflects badly on them and on their regard for the truth.

It remains to be fully determined whether or not there was any formal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian entities, or whether the Trump supporters were duped and used by foreign elements a lot smarter than they were. That determination will not be made on the basis of a willfully incomplete GOP "investigation," but on the basis of professional work done by adults in the Senate and on the staff of special counsel Mueller who care more for the security of the nation than the bruised ego of a thin-skinned chief executive.

The GOP members of the HPSCI are presented a group award as the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March, 2018. Nothing more need be said.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. We all need it.

More thoughts then.


* Except, of course, on Faux News.

** Who were, of course, not consulted before the announcement was made.

*** And with the unanimous judgement of the entire US Intelligence Community.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Emergency Codes

I ran across an interesting article from not long ago - 10 Common Emergency Codes That Most People Don't Recognize. The article notes that "all sorts of organizations speak in codes to keep from alarming the public—or simply to communicate quickly. Airports, police departments, and public transportation hubs all have their own special lingo, and it's often impenetrable to the uninitiated."

This is true, of course. We all know about the "10-codes" used by police departments, of which the best-known is probably "10-4," which means "message received and understood." But there are a lot of other 10-codes that would cause us great concern if we heard them, such as "10-34," which warns of a riot in progress. You can read the whole list here.

Agnes and I enjoy going on cruises, and cruise ships have their emergency codes as well, one of which is "Operation Rising Star," which tells crew members that a passenger has died. And we occasionally shop at Wal-Mart, where an announcement of "Code Blue" evidently means that a bomb threat has been received.

You can read the whole article for yourself and learn about all sorts of emergency codes now in use. But it got me to thinking that we probably need a whole new range of emergency codes for you and I to use in the current social and political environment*. Here are a few suggestions:

Code Ananias - Donald Trump has told another ludicrous whopper;

Code AR - a person with a grudge and a high-powered semiautomatic rifle is on the loose;

Code Youlose - Congress has passed new legislation friendly to business, but bad for consumers;

Code Musical Chairs - Another White House reorganization;


Code Voteski - Russian trolls are working with clueless Americans to undermine our democracy and civic culture.

Those are my suggestions ... do you have any? Leave a comment so we can share the collective angst.

Have a good day; more thoughts tomorrow.


* In addition, of course, to my already well-established National Stupidity Index (DUMBCON). As a reminder, we have been at DUMBCON Minus 3 since June 5, 2017.