Sunday, June 25, 2017

Musical Sunday

There's been quite a lot of controversy lately over the degree of secrecy surrounding most aspects of the Trump administration, and particularly the move-along-nothing-to-see-here conduct of the GOP as it crafts its answer to Obamacare. You can read a good summary of the situation here. With that in mind, I thought this song by Patsy Cline would be appropriate ...

Good luck with your health care. There's a reason why they're keeping too many secrets from you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Once again we crawl, panting and gasping, into the last Cartoon Saturday of the month ...

Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff lost a special Congressional election - the most expensive in history - in Georgia to GOP candidate Karen Handel; Otto Warmbier, the American student imprisoned in North Korea and then sent home in a coma, passed away on Monday, prompting the usual useless howls of outrage against the North Korean government; a police officer at the Flint, Michigan airport was stabbed in the neck by a man apparently targeting police officers; in Phoenix, Arizona, temperatures exceeding 120 degrees forced closure of the airport when it became - literally - too hot to fly; and after months of hints and threats, Donald Trump finally admitted - without the least bit of shame - that no, he didn't have any "tapes" of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey*.

This week, since June is supposed to be the month for weddings, let's have some cartoons about weddings ...

It's important to read the fine print in the license ...

Good question ...

Oh, oh ...

Weddings in the digital age ...

Well, at least she's being up front about it ...

I've always wanted to see a wedding where this happened ...

The Miranda warnings have wider applicability than you probably thought ...

There are destination weddings, and there are ...

You may now text the bride ...

The wedding guests as a captive audience ...

And there you have it - the last Cartoon Saturday of the month. I hope it's helped you get over the battering of the past week.

It looks as if we'll finally get a break in the weather here in NoVa - we'll have rain this morning and temperatures going into the 90's, but then things are finally going to cool down and dry out into the new week. It's about time ... I was tired of wearing that snorkel to go outside.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when Musical Sunday returns.


* And the White House formally responded to a Congressional request for such tapes, if they existed, by cutting and pasting Mr Trump's tweet into an official letter on White House stationery. How very presidential.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Old McConnell's Plan

Yes, I know you were expecting to see another segment of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. Unfortunately, in an effort to be timely, I've decided to replace that post (which I'd already written, by the way), with this one. Great Moments in Editing and Signage will return two weeks from today.

Okay ...

As you no doubt know, the GOP has been working, frantically and in great secrecy, on its long-promised plan to "remove and replace" the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). Republicans hate that law for many reasons, not all of them (in my opinion) rational, but it is what it is. They've promised the minority of the voting public that elected them that they'll get rid of the "failed law" and replace it with ... something. Better or worse, we're not sure, although the House version was so spectacularly bad that embarrassed House Republicans punted to the Senate, which yesterday published a "discussion draft" of the bill* that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a few friends have drafted in great secrecy and intend to put to a vote next week after minimum review and discussion.

This is, of course, a complete travesty of the democratic process, but allowable levels of hypocrisy being what they are today, Senator McConnell and his cabal are moving shamelessly forward with this clandestinely-crafted pile of doo-doo, and will probably get away with it.

Which has inspired me to write a song about the whole sorry mess ...

Old McConnell's Plan
(sung to the tune of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm")

Old McConnell has a plan
To kill Obamacare -
He wrote it in a secret room
And just his friends were there.
Just his banking friends
And insurance friends
     Can’t agree
     Gotta write in secrecy
Old McConnell has a plan
To kill Obamacare

Old McConnell has a plan,
To kill Obamacare.
And he says his plan will help,
But who it help’s not clear.
With a tax cut here
And a credit there,
     Here a cut,
     There a break,
     Everywhere a head fake –
Old McConnell has a plan
To kill Obamacare.

Old McConnell has a plan
To kill Obamacare.
And if you read his plan, you’ll see
There’s nothing really there.
There’s naught for you,
And there’s naught for me,
     Nothing to protect us,
     Single guy
     Or family -
Old McConnell has a plan
To kill Obamacare.

Feel free to add your own verses. And if you're one of the 23 million people expected to lose your health insurance** if the GOP rams this through ... good luck.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... God knows we need it.


* Good luck understanding it.

** According to the CBO analysis.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Supreme Court Takes up the Gerrymander

If you are concerned about the hopeless gridlock in Washington (and you should be), you should also be interested in the announcement from the Supreme Court this past Monday that it will hear arguments about whether gerrymandered election maps favoring one political party over another violate the Constitution.

One can pretty convincingly argue that a direct line can be drawn from horrendously gerrymandered congressional districts to complete partisan gridlock in Washington. If a congressional district has been drawn to make it electorally safe for one party or the other, the incumbent has no reason to compromise or work with the other party - if he does, the voters will replace him* with another, probably more politically pure and intransigent, member of the same party. This is pretty obvious, at least to me. But is it Constitutional?

As I read the Constitution, guidelines for drawing Congressional districts aren't addressed. Article 1, Section 2 spells out the number of representatives each state is allowed (at least one, but no more than 1 for every 30,000 residents), but there's no guidance on how the districts are to be drawn, unless you squint at this statement in Article 1, Section 4 -

"The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; ..." 

... and consider redistricting to fall under the heading of "Places and Manner." The only other place the apportionment of representation is addressed is in the 14th Amendment, which says -

"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed."

Altogether, that's not very much in the way of guidance, and it's led us to the mess we have today.

Here are the two most outrageously gerrymandered Congressional districts in the country**:

North Carolina's 12th District -

and Maryland's 3rd District - 

In what odd parallel universe do these district boundaries make sense other than for partisan advantage?

As I see it, the appropriate way to set Congressional districts is to have them align with existing county or parish (in Louisiana) boundaries. I suspect, however, that this would be strongly opposed by both parties, but especially Republicans, since their strength is largely concentrated in more lightly populated rural areas, rather than in large cities which tend to vote Democratic and would probably fall into single districts drawn by county.

I hope that the Supreme Court is able to establish some rational guidelines for Congressional districts, although I have my doubts, given that its political divisions mirror that of the rest of the country. Any guidelines will need to be imposed by the court, because no state, regardless of which party is in control, will be willing to do politically neutral redistricting unless there's a guarantee that every other state will do it, too***.

I'll be watching the arguments before the Supreme Court, and will be anxious to read the final decision, whichever way it goes. It's gonna be interesting.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when Great Moments in Editing and Signage returns.


* You should read the pronoun as "he or she," "him or her," as appropriate to the context. I don't mean to discount women, but writing "he or she" all the time is cumbersome.

** You can look at the other 8 most-gerrymandered districts and read a good analysis of the gerrymandering issue here.

*** Nuclear disarmament works the same way.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Unwritten Rules of Airplane Etiquette

Agnes and I have spent a lot of time in airplanes over the years. There were the multiple back-and-forths across the Atlantic for military reassignments, as well as the trips back to Germany to visit Agnes's family, our trip to Montreal a few years back, and our various flights to Florida, Ohio, and California for vacations and family visits. We have several more trips coming up as well, both within the US and back to Germany.

When Agnes's parents were still alive, she made a very large number of transatlantic flights and accumulated a lot of frequent flier miles, allowing us to upgrade some of our flights to business class ... which, let me tell you, I could really get used to. But since we don't fly as far or as often nowadays, we're generally stuck with the usual cattle car of "economy class" (also known as "coach" or "steerage").

And that leads me to today's topic - an article from Thrillist that my friend Kat recently shared on her Facebook page: The 21 Unwritten Rules of Flying You're Probably Breaking.

We all know how miserable air travel has become, but there are a few unwritten rules that, if observed, would help make things more bearable. You can read all 21 of them for yourself, but there are three that I think are worth special notice ...

#7. If you can’t lift your own bag, don’t carry it on. You know what I mean ... it was bad enough before the airlines started charging for checked bags, but now people try to cram as much as possible into "carry-ons" the size of an upright piano. When they try to hoist those huge, heavy bags into the overhead bins, invariably one of them falls on someone's head, usually mine. If your bag is that heavy, don't be a cheap ass clown - go ahead and check it before you hurt somebody.

#10. Don't recline in economy. You're in your seat, with the tray table down and your laptop or your food on it, and suddenly the bozohead in the seat in front of you - without warning - suddenly slams the seat back as far as it will recline, knocking your things into your lap, banging your forehead, and reducing your paltry few inches of leg room to nothing. I know it's torture, but don't recline the seat, at least without giving the person behind you fair warning.

And ...

#14. Don’t HALF stand up when someone needs to get out of the row. You know this one ... you're in the window seat and you need to go to the bathroom, but the people in the middle and aisle seats don't want to get up and move out of your way - they just sort of scrunch up halfway in their seats and twist a bit to the side, forcing you to squeeze past them ... something made much more difficult when the people in the row ahead have reclined their seats all the way back (see #10). Be a mensch - stand up and move out into the aisle, for pete's sake.

There are 18 more unwritten rules in the article ... check 'em out before you fly, and everyone will be happier.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

On Being an Old Retired Guy

My friend John ran an interesting post with an eye-catching title in his blog last week: The Brutal Life of a Retired Guy. I was so sorry for him after reading it that I felt compelled to share my thoughts on what I've been doing and what we're planning now that Agnes and I are both retired ... he needs to know he's not alone - that others are sharing his misery.

For more than 20 years, I got up every workday at 4:00 AM. Nowadays, I sleep late almost every day ... usually until between 5:00 and 6:00. I only set the alarm if I need to be absolutely sure I'm up before 7:00 for some reason, like the end of the world.

I seldom know what day of the week it is, except in winter ... in winter, we watch more television, and know that it's "NCIS Day" or "Scorpion Day" or "Blue Bloods Day."

On days when the temperature and humidity are not murderous, I walk a few miles.

I spend a lot of time working on my blog ... I try to have three or four posts already written and programmed to launch on specific dates.

I spend a large chunk of each day working out in the yard. For the first time, I have a reasonably professional-looking herb garden, the grass is routinely mowed and trimmed, the siding has been power-washed, and I'm getting a head start on de-junking the garage. Who knows? Maybe someday I can get the car in there again.

Agnes and I share the cooking duties much as we did when we were both working. Since we both love to cook, this isn't a chore. I also love grocery shopping, so I tend to do most of that.

During the summer we spend a few days a week chauffeuring and entertaining our two local grandchildren. This is exhausting, and is a good reminder of why we tend to have children when we are young.

I am getting a lot of leisure reading done, and getting re-acquainted with the local library system (which is truly world-class).

We helped our daughter build a chicken coop.

I have received the training and served as an Election Officer in the last two elections. I plan to keep volunteering for future elections as long as they'll have me.

I'd like to write a book. So far, I've gotten a few pages of notes and ideas written down.

Agnes and I are planning more travel - out to Ohio to visit the grandchildren, back to Germany, more cruises, and some sightseeing trips around the country to see the expressions on the faces of the people who said "come and visit any time."

Okay, that's enough. I got tired just writing all that ... I think Mike is rubbing off on me.

Have a good day, and look forward to your own retirement. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Royal Flush

We humans are an ingenious species ... well, except sometimes when we vote. Down the long centuries of human development, we have invented countless things to make our nasty, brutish, and short lives* more bearable - things like the wheel, beer, convertibles, cell phones, and so on. We've even gone out of our way to improve our ability to perform the most basic of tasks.

Which leads me to today's discussion of useful toilet accessories.

I recently ran across an old CNN travel article about a Japanese toilet called the Ecochime or "Sound Princess" toilet. The Japanese are famous for their multi-function toilets which combine the usual evacuation functions with a bidet, warm-air bottom dry, and air freshener dispenser, but the Ecochime toilet goes beyond those basic amenities to include the sounds of a recorded flush. Yes, Dear Readers, the push of a button can deploy the noise of a flush to mask any other, less desirable sounds you might be making, whether it's the gentle tinkle of a normal pee-pee or the desperate grunt of the majorly constipated. And you can even adjust the volume!

Not to be outdone, though, America is stepping up to the plate (or sitting down to the bowl, depending on how you look at it) by offering the Toilet Buddy -

According to the above-linked article in the Hackaday blog, the Toilet Buddy mounts on the tank lid and

"... provide(s) some sound cover for those louder times. Not only that, it also helps serve as a reminder for other bathroom courtesies as well. When mounted on the tank lid, the Toilet Buddy alerts the last occupant to put the seat down and shut off the lights before leaving the bathroom. Built with a Parallax Propeller board, it uses IR and ambient light sensors to determine the position of the toilet seat and the status of the bathroom lights, playing an audio notifier when necessary."

And if you don't want to go the hardware route, there's also a Toilet Buddy app** available through the iTunes store, that will play seven different masking sounds through your phone. It's a marvelous accompaniment to the "Fart for Free" app that you can also download***.

Is this a great country or what?

Have a good day. Flush proudly. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Per Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan.

** The tag line in the ad is "Your Number One When It Comes to Number Two."

*** The farting app can be very useful when you want to express your opinion of asinine political commentary.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fathers' Day, 2017

If you were looking for Poetry Sunday, don’t despair – because today is Father's Day and I have my traditional (and slightly updated) tribute to fathers today, you won't get your poetry fix this week. My granddaughter thinks Poetry Sunday is lame, anyhow, so I guess at least one of you won't be disappointed.

Today is Fathers’ Day, the day we honor the man who contributed half of our chromosomes and many of the life lessons that shaped us into who we are.

Fathers don’t get the same degree of respect that mothers do. They work in design, rather than production, after all, and don’t earn the credit that mothers do for going through nine months of pregnancy followed by months of sleepless nights and years of worry. And truth be told, many fathers don’t earn that respect. For all too many men, fatherhood is an unfortunate side effect of good sex, and a child is an impediment to the enjoyment of life. For many men, fathering a lot of children by a lot of women is the imagined sign of a manly stud ... not of lives betrayed by a thoughtless ass who thinks with his man parts* instead of his brain and heart.

Luckily, though, there are many good men out there trying their best to be good fathers. It’s not an easy job, and not everyone is good at it** ... but fortunately, enough do.

I have often reflected back on the course of my life, and I've come to the conclusion I’ve been a better grandfather than I was a father. This is probably normal. You’ve seen more of life, and had more experiences – good and bad – to share. If you’re the grandfather, you get to be the gentle, wise, let-‘em-do-what-they-want fellow the children love to see, rather than the grouchy, tired father who has to put bread on the table, crack the whip, and enforce the discipline. You get all the joy of holding and loving the children with none of the negatives ... when the baby needs changing, for instance, there's none of that messy fuss - you just give her back to her mother. What's not to like?

I think that, from the father's perspective, we have our children too early in life. We're still learning how to be adults, and all of a sudden we're fathers, responsible for teaching our children all the lessons of life that we haven't even learned yet. Our children grow up as much in spite of our mistakes as because of our excellence in parenting.

When you get to be a father, you look at your own father differently. It was Mark Twain who supposedly once said, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

It's true.

A good father, as I came in time to understand, is a gift beyond all price. The gold standard for fatherhood is, of course, my own father. He fought the Nazis*** in the skies over World War II Europe, ran his own business, raised four children and buried one, and cared for mom through the long years of misery as Alzheimer's gradually destroyed the mind of the dynamic and witty woman he loved. Dad left us two years ago, and I no longer get to hear his jokes and stories and learn the lessons he still had to teach, yet he remains the man to whom I owe whatever shreds of honor, decency, and ... well ... manhood that I can claim.

This was the man who battled for our freedom in 1944 ...

And here he is at the Mount Vernon Wine Festival in 2002, surrounded by admiring ladies (from left to right: our friends Susan and Nadja, our daughter Yasmin, and Agnes) ...

Here he is with my brother Mark and I, on the occasion of Mark's retirement from the Navy (our brother Paul served in the Army, but wasn't able to be there) ...

And here he is in December of 2013 at his 90th birthday party in Pittsburgh, surrounded by the friends and family members who came out to honor him in spite of some really ghastly winter weather ...

I'd like to think I made him satisfied, if not proud.

If you’d like to know more about the life of this wonderful man, you can read my remembrance here.

It's politically correct (bordering on mandatory) nowadays to say that a child can grow up just fine in a household with same-sex "parents," but you'll never be able to convince me that it's the same as being raised by a father and a mother who love each other, treat each other with dignity and respect, set a good example, teach their gender-specific life lessons, and subordinate their own dreams and desires to the momentous task of raising a brand new human being.

Have a good day. Honor your father. And if you're a father, be a good one ... preferably a better one than I was. Your children ... and indeed, the future ... are depending on you.

More thoughts later.


*  As Missandei would say. If you're into "Game of Thrones," you'll get it.

** As I have had the sad occasion to learn.

*** The real ones, the ones that murdered millions of innocent people and destroyed most of Europe, not the imaginary ones to which stupid people in this country compare their political opponents.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Just when you thought things were getting better ...

A man wielding a rifle fired a barrage of shots into a practice session for the annual Congressional baseball game, critically wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and several other people; American student Otto Warmbier was released from imprisonment in North Korea and returned to his family in a coma, suffering from severe brain damage; Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating Donald Trump for possible obstruction of justice; at least 30 people were killed and scores more injured and missing when a huge fire gutted an apartment tower in London; and a US Navy sailor who had been the subject of a desperate search after he apparently fell overboard at sea was found on board his ship, days before a US Navy destroyer collided with a container ship, leaving the captain and two other sailors injured and seven sailors missing.

Want some good news for a change? Last week's collection of cartoons about Cinderella went over so well that I figured I'd stay with the fairy tale genre ... this week, given all the hairy things that have happened, let's have some cartoons about Rapunzel ...

You can't escape that biological clock ...

You get what you pay for ...

There's a shampoo for that ...

Yes, I can see how that might be a problem ...

Some hair styles just aren't appropriate, are they? ...

There are other drawbacks to long hair ...

Rapunzel needed company, so ...

There's a reason Costco sells giant bottles of conditioner ...

Rapunzelian household economics ...

Oops ...

And there you have it ... a collection of cartoons guaranteed to win a permanent wave from fans everywhere. 

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts when we celebrate Fathers' Day tomorrow.


Friday, June 16, 2017

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for June, 2017

June is one of those months each year in which the way the days fall ensures that we will have not two, but three Fridays on which to present our awards for excellence* in ass clownery. Two weeks have gone by since our last award, and it's time to present our choice for

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown
June, 2017

and the award goes - for the second time - to

The News Media

I have made no secret of the fact that I believe Donald Trump is completely unfit to be president, and that his presidency is a disaster of the first magnitude for the nation and the world. However, I am appalled at the way Donald Trump and his administration been covered by the news media, both from the traditional ("mainstream") and the "alternative" side. My concern with the "mainstream" media is its rush to report every scrap of negative information without waiting for verification or context, a rush driven by the need to fill up all 24 hours of the broadcast day while beating competing outlets. My concern with the "alternative" media is the mirror image of my problem with the "mainstream" - the immediate and mindless willingness of conservative outlets to slavishly support the Trump administration without question, no matter how outrageous or indefensible its actions.

And to make things worse, the award-winning shortcomings of the media are amplified by the unwillingness of many Americans to take the time to properly evaluate the news they're getting - from whatever outlets they choose - and make informed, rational decisions.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dear Readers, The News Media, left and right, mainstream and alternate, is named our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for June, 2017.

And that's a tragedy for a nation that needs clear, rational news reporting more than ever.

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


* You should pardon the expression.