Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

Yes, it's Saturday morning once again. The sun is singing, the birds are shining, Agnes is grumping about having to work on Saturday, and we're looking forward to going to a friend's wedding this afternoon.

Time for Cartoon Saturday!

We lead off this week with two cartoons with the same punch line:

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming's birth this week, a new James Bond novel, Devil May Care, was published. And, of course, we're all looking forward to the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace, later this year. And then there's this...

I love Frank and Ernest cartoons, if for no other reason than they're so silly most of the time...

And finally, a cartoon that speaks to those of us who live within groaning distance of the nation's capitol:

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Telephone Books

Yesterday one of my coworkers sent me a link to an interesting article from Discovery News: "World's First Telephone Book Surfaces." The article reports that the oldest known telephone directory - all 20 pages of it - was issued for New Haven, Connecticut, in November of 1878, just two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. The book provided valuable information for New Haven's 391 telephone subscribers, including such gems as: "Should you wish to speak to another subscriber you should commence the conversation by saying, 'Hulloa!'"; "Never take the telephone off the hook unless you wish to use it;" and, "When you are done talking say, 'That is all,' and the person spoken to should say, 'O.K.'"

In contrast, the current (July, 2007) issue of our Northern Virginia White Pages is 1724 pages long and contains two full, three-column pages of "Emergency Preparedness" instructions and 15 pages of "General Information." The accompanying Yellow Pages volume is 1886 pages in length.

On a related topic, I recently read another article about how advertisers are trying to figure how to divide their budgets between the trusty old Yellow Pages and the newer online search capabilities. The bottom line is that the Yellow Pages are holding their own, but more and more people who own computers do their number lookups online.

This is a major cultural shift.

For years, a staple of the circus strongman's act was ripping a telephone book in half. Somehow, I don't think breaking a hard drive will have quite the same impact. And if online searches for phone numbers eventually replace the Yellow Pages, what will become of the famous "Yellow Pages game," in which you look for silly combinations of the guide words at the top of the pages; for instance, "Yoga-Zoos" (which apparently offer exercise programs for animals), "Plumbing-Pollution" (what happens when your toilet backs up), "Grocers-Guns (obviously necessary for the effective defense of the produce department), and "Metal-Ministers" (who must play some really loud and discordant music at their services).

And how effective is your online search as compared to the trusty Yellow Pages when you need something to bring that small child up to the level of the dinner table? One or two Yellow Pages volumes stacked on the chair will do the job, but I doubt that the computer will serve.

And what about the suspense movies in which the hero, desperate to find a phone number or address, rushes into a telephone booth and pages through the battered phone book chained to the little corner desk within...only to find that the page he needs has already been torn out by the scheming villain who's a step ahead of him?

Ah, the good old days...

By the way, if you'd like to own the world's oldest known telephone directory, it will be auctioned off by Christie's on June 17th. Good luck.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bad Jobs

We all complain about our jobs from time to time, but some people have more cause to do that than others. There's even a TV show dedicated to looking at the worst jobs in the world and, thank goodness, they haven't yet featured any jobs I've actually held. Lately, though, there are a few jobs that have to be on the list:

One of the worst jobs to hold nowadays has to be Airline Gate Agent. It must be wonderful to be the person holding the very brownest end of the stick, taking abuse from people fed up at being nickled and dimed to death on their tickets, having to pay for something new that used to be free each time they fly, facing the prospect of sitting for several hours in the narrowest and most uncomfortable seats since the Spanish Inquisition. I don't think I could do that. But some people can...

Another unpleasant job has to be shilling for the oil industry. It takes a special sort of person to tell audiences with a straight face that they're not responsible for the world-class reaming they're giving the traveling public. You all know the standard highway symbol for a gas station:

And you've surely seen the new version:

I could write more, but I have my own wonderful job to go to. I'm not complaining, least I'm working, and a lot of other people aren't...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Ultimate in Undocumented Aliens

Back when I was in grade school and junior high, long ago and far away, shortly after the earth cooled and the dinosaurs went away, I dreamed of being a scientist. I loved chemistry and biology, and I especially loved the idea of space travel...this was the early 60's, just at the dawn of the space age, and I was inspired by Alan Shepard and Yuri Gagarin, the original astronaut and cosmonaut. One of my heroes was Colonel McCauley, the star of Men Into Space, and I cheered the adventures of Captain Video and the early Buck Rogers.

This, of course, was before I stumbled over advanced algebra before finally crashing on the rocks of college-level differential and integral calculus. It's why today I'm a linguist rather than a chemist or a space explorer.

An offshoot of my early love of science and space travel was a firm belief in the existence of unidentified flying objects...UFOs..."flying saucers." I just knew those things were out there, that they were crushing strange symbols into our crops and kidnapping the odd isolated traveler for unspeakable medical experiments. I sat up late on Saturday nights to watch Chiller Theater and movies like Earth vs the Flying Saucers, Devil Girl from Mars, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Someday, I knew, those little green men with the bulbous heads and the giant eyes were coming, and that they were more likely to be like the nasties from Independence Day hissing "die now!" than the waddling and gentle ET figuring out how to phone home.

Well, they're not here yet. At least, not officially. But at least the Vatican says it's okay to believe in their existence. The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the director of the Vatican Observatory, said in a recent interview that belief in extraterrestrial life doesn't necessarily contradict our faith because aliens, wherever they are from, would still be God's creatures. They wouldn't be "documented," of course, but if they've mastered interstellar travel and have weapons capable of destroying whole cities, I doubt that anyone will be checking their passports. And they probably won't be looking for jobs mowing lawns and running convenience stores...although I'd rather they did that than tried to destroy the earth.

I still believe there are other "people" out there. I don't think it's rational to look at a sky dotted with billions of galaxies, each one containing billions of stars, and believe we're alone in all that vastness. They may not look like us, they may be either friendly, neutral, or hostile, but they're out there somewhere. I don't know if we'll meet them in my lifetime, but I think someday we will.

I also think they'll be probably be disappointed at the behavior of the life in this remote corner of the Milky Way.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The World According to Rudner

Despite being a confirmed, card-carrying curmudgeon (wow, I didn't know I could be that alliterative this early in the morning!), I like to think I have a good, if bizarre, sense of humor. Actually, in order to survive in these times, a sense of humor is a necessary survival technique...if you can't laugh at the outrageous reaming you're taking from the oil companies and the financial services industry (that's what we used to call banks back when they actually paid some attention to customer service), you'd just sit around and cry all the time.

My sense of humor is a little twisted. I love puns, shaggy dog stories, clever cartoons, and the occasional off-color joke. Unfortunately, nowadays many comedians tend to rely on shock value and gutter language instead of real humor...they go for the joke that makes you cringe and laugh nervously instead of the one that draws you in, hooks your attention, and then hits you with the twist that makes you laugh with glee instead of embarrassment.

That's why I love Rita Rudner.

This is a lady whose sense of humor is every bit as twisted and bizarre as mine, whose gentle delivery, perfect comic timing, and loopy observations on common topics mark her as a comedienne of the first order. Here are a few of my favorite Rita Rudner jokes...

I was going to have cosmetic surgery until I noticed that the doctor's office was full of portraits by Picasso

My mother buried three husbands, and two of them were just napping.

Marriages don’t last. When I meet a guy, the first question I ask myself is: is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with?

I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.

To attract men, I wear a perfume called "New Car Interior."

We’ve begun to long for the pitter-patter of little feet, so we bought a dog. Well, it’s cheaper, and you get more feet.

Men reach their sexual peak at eighteen. Women reach theirs at thirty-five. Do you get the feeling that God is playing a practical joke?

Men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage - they’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry.

My boyfriend and I broke up. He wanted to get married and I didn’t want him to.

My husband gave me a necklace. It’s fake. I requested fake. Maybe I’m paranoid, but in this day and age, I don’t want something around my neck that’s worth more than my head.

Never play peekaboo with a child on a long plane trip. There’s no end to the game. Finally I grabbed him by the bib and said, "Look, it’s always gonna be me!"

Some women hold up dresses that are so ugly and they always say the same thing: 'This looks much better on.' On what? On fire?

I don’t plan to grow old gracefully. I plan to have face-lifts until my ears meet.

I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.

The word 'aerobics' came about when the gym instructors got together and said: If we’re going to charge $10 an hour, we can’t call it 'Jumping Up and Down.'

I got kicked out of ballet class because I pulled a groin muscle. It wasn't mine.

Thank goodness for Rita Rudner. Now I can face the start of the working week with a smile on my face. For a few minutes, anyhow.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Nadja's Shoes and Other Odd Thoughts For a Monday

I'm not quite awake yet, and am unlikely to be for some time (it happens on the last day of a three-day weekend), and so I thought I'd just toss a few more-random-than-usual thoughts together for your perusal...

Yesterday our friends Nadja and Ben came over for a visit and dinner (you may remember them from last month's Linden Vineyard Barrel Tasting story). It was a beautiful day and we all had a nice, relaxing time...but the star of the show was Nadja's new shoes, which leaped off the shelves at the local store and refused to come off her feet until she agreed to take them home:

Are those cool, or what? And don't get the idea that I have a foot fetish or something...feminine arms, yes...feet, no. But that's a subject for another day.

Yesterday's rant about the soaring prices of everything brought a few comments. There was also this interesting story about gas prices that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post...I read it too late to cite it in my post, but it really raises some interesting angles on the price of gasoline. You may recall the question I asked a few days ago about oil company profits: If the factors affecting the cost of a gallon of gasoline are beyond the ability of the oil companies to control, why are profits so high? Read the Post article, and then let your blood pressure go up the next time you see the oil company execs whine that they have no control over the prices you pay.

My friend Katherine also offered a reminder about elevators in her comment to yesterday's post. I started off with a reminiscence about old elevators with live, uniformed operators; she reminded me of the exciting and terrifying paternoster elevators we knew in Europe. A paternoster elevator, for those of you who have never had the experience, is simply a chain of open boxes that endlessly rotates up...over...down...and back up again. You board by standing in front of the open door and stepping on as the car passes your floor, then exit by stepping off as it passes your destination floor...the cars never stop moving, and if you miss your floor you either have to get off at the next one or ride the car all the way around the circuit. I, myself, never had the guts to try to ride it all the way around, although some gutsy riders, probably fortified by beer as much as curiosity, no doubt gave it a shot. Paternoster, by the way, is Latin for Our doubt because that's the prayer you say if you find yourself stuck on the elevator and facing the prospect of riding it over the top...

Yesterday was the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle parade through downtown DC - thousands of motorcyclists from around the nation converged on the local area for the unconventional event which honors the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have given their lives in the service of the country. We didn't see the whole parade, but as we were driving up Interstate 395 yesterday morning, we paralleled hundreds of motorcycles, each with an American flag waving from the rear, roaring up the express lanes toward Washington and the parade staging area at the Pentagon. Overpasses along the way were lined with news trucks and waving, cheering spectators. You can read about the Rolling Thunder parade and its history here, and the Washington Post coverage of the event here.

Which reminds us that today is, in fact, Memorial Day - the day set aside for us to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the nation. The fact that we can demonstrate in the streets of DC, blog freely, and speak our minds owes much more to these fallen heroes than to the obnoxious antics of those who protest military recruiting.

Take a moment today between your shopping expeditions and picnics to remember those who made it possible for you to enjoy them.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Going Up!

Some of you may remember a time before automatic elevators, when the uniformed operator manually opened and closed the elevator doors, asked you to step to the rear, and used a rotating lever to control upward and downward motion, usually ending in a little up-a-bit-down-a-bit dance to get the car to line up just right with the floor when the doors opened. Well, maybe you don't remember it. Maybe only old curmudgeons like Mike and I do. This is what we tend to call "the good old days," which isn't necessarily what we were calling them while they were going on.

Anyhow, I thought about the expression "going up!" yesterday when the reality of the soaring cost of everything really came home to me: the cost of a Berry Smoothie at Costco has gone up from $1.35 to $1.45.

In the grand economic scheme of things, when the big oil companies are jacking up prices faster than filling station operators can replace the plastic numbers on their price signs, and the airlines are desperately searching for new things to charge you extra for, a ten-cent rise in the cost of a Berry Smoothie may not seem like that much. But it's an indication of how - all of a sudden, it seems - prices of everything have gone through the roof.

The cost of oil is at the bottom of most of it. As many news reports remind us every day, oil is a part, one way or another, of everything we buy, eat, or do. It powers the trucks that deliver goods to stores. It's part of the packaging that encloses the things we buy. It's the basis for much of the fertilizer used in agriculture (not to mention powering the farm machinery). And so on. Every time the price of oil goes up, the price of everything that depends on it goes up, too.

It's nobody's fault, of course, as I grumped about here the other day. The current villain is said to be speculators - the faceless and greedy profiteers, awash in money, who buy up vast quantities of some commodity with the sole purpose of making profits by artificially driving up its price. They're also being blamed for much of the sudden huge rise in the cost of food. But who are the speculators? How do you identify them? They don't hang out big, fancy signs reading "Cheatem & Gougem, Professional Speculators" in front of their glass-and-steel high-rise corporate headquarters. And as far as I can tell, Congress - always anxious to hold more hearings at which to berate witnesses in lieu of taking actions which might piss off some part of the electorate - has never subpoenaed a panel of suits representing the speculation community for a stern grilling...

So where do we go from here? Real people around the world are in trouble because the cost of food and energy is soaring. You can cut back on expenses to save money up to a point, but sooner or later your belt runs out of notches to tighten. So far, Agnes and I have been lucky...we both have good jobs that are about as secure as any jobs are apt to be any more. But not everyone is so fortunate. I'm trying to hedge against the future by seeking additional training and education: I keep looking in the backs of magazines for ads for the Famous Speculator's School, where I can learn from some blow-dried suit the mystical and arcane secrets of making a lot of money by manipulating the cost of things everyone needs. I haven't found that ad yet, but I'm still looking.

And in the meantime, I've decided to cut back on my beloved Berry Smoothies.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

You've no doubt heard of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. They're bad dudes, of course, so we need something to take our minds off them, if only for a little while.

Welcome to Cartoon Saturday!

Agnes explains the excitement of living with Bilbo:

Sometimes, what makes a cartoon really great is the great combination of silly concept and great detail:

How the prices of a barrel of oil, a gallon of gas, and an airline ticket are set:

If my garden really produces vegetables in addition to herbs this year, there are some hidden dangers I may have to watch out for...

And finally, some cartoons are funny just because they're so dumb...

It's a holiday weekend here in the US of A. Some of us are enjoying a long weekend; others are scrambling to earn enough money to fill up the car to get to their jobs so they can earn enough money to fill the car up the next time. Or take a suitcase along next time they fly. Don't you wish you could jack up the price of something for once?

Don't worry: Bilbo's Random Thought Collection will always be free of charge. No one would pay money to listen to me rant, anyhow.

Have a good day and a safe holiday weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Bad Things - vs - Good People

If you're a religious person, the most difficult question for you to reconcile with your beliefs is this one: why do bad things happen to good people?

It's a legitimate question with no good answer. Why did some 175 schools collapse in China's devastating earthquake, killing hundreds of children - many of them only children, thanks to China's one-child policy? Between Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong, tens of millions of people were murdered in the first half of the 20th century...why would the loving God of Christian belief allow such a thing? Tens of thousands of people were killed outright or later died of disease or starvation when typhoon Nargis ripped through Burma...were they all evil people, deserving of a biblical (or Koranic) fate?

Peter Singer looks at this question in an interesting and thought-provoking article you can find on the Project Syndicate website (accessible through my recommended link list at the left). Take a minute to read the article, because Mr Singer does a much better job than I could of looking at this devastating philosophical/religious question...I'll wait.

Now that you've read the article, ask yourself how this question might apply to the presidential campaign.

Barack Obama has suffered political embarrassment (if not personal revulsion) at the racist rantings of his longtime pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. John McCain has just gone through the similar task of rejecting the intemperate, if not outright bizarre, pronouncements of Reverend John Hagee. And you can always count on calm, rational and dignified commentary from that paragon of evenhanded compassion and racial reconciliation, Reverend Al Sharpton.

You sometimes have to wonder just what the qualifications are to earn the title "reverend" in front of your name, and what makes some people worthy of "reverence."

But back to the original question: why do bad things happen to good people? Every religion has some convoluted explanation for this, usually boiling down to some variation on the basic riff that people are inherently bad, and God's punishing them. Perhaps so. I personally have a problem with that. But the bottom line is that bad things will always happen to good people, whether God has decided to do it, or just lets it happen out of indifference.

My parents were fond of saying, "God helps those who help themselves." We can sit back and helplessly accept everything that God and nature throw at us with an Islamic shrug of inshallah ("if God wills it"), or we can make things happen. We can shake our heads at the ludicrous quasi-religious pronouncements of the Wrights and Hagees and Khomeinis of the world, or we can reject them and work together as human beings, regardless of religious beliefs and traditions, to solve the terrible problems God throws at us.

I know which way we should go. The next time you're worshiping in your church, synagogue, mosque, forest, or stone circle, make your own decision.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Profit and Loss, Theirs and Ours

This weekend is the Memorial Day holiday here in the United States. It's the traditional beginning of summer and a major weekend for picnics and travel to visit family and friends.

Well, not so fast on the "travel to visit family and friends part."

With the price of gasoline (and everything related to it) going through the roof, many individuals and families won't be traveling this year. Long-distance driving has priced itself out of many families' budgets, and the airlines are starting to pile on the additional fees - American Airlines announced yesterday that they will start charging $15 for the first checked bag beginning on June 15th (just imagine what the competition for those overhead bins will look like now!)...most airlines are now charging for the second checked bag already.

Now let's move to the next ring of this circus - Congress.

Yesterday our elected reprehensives, ever anxious to give the appearance of actually doing something to justify their jobs, summoned the executives of the major oil companies to Capitol Hill to be grilled on the high price of gasoline and that curious byproduct thereof, their all-time record high profits. The results were predictable:

1. The oil company execs said it's not their fault; that the factors driving the price of oil are beyond their control.

2. The members of Congress sternly said, "Blah, blah, blah." Republicans blamed Democrats and Democrats blamed Republicans.

3. The price of gasoline continues to soar, enriching odious buffoons like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and useless parasites like the Saudi royal family.

4. You and I take the kick to the financial crotch.

In the flood of words coming out of Congress on the topic of soaring energy prices, and all the self-justifying pleas of the oil execs, one question continues to puzzle me. I haven't seen anyone else - no talking head on TV, no editorial columnist, no "investigative journalist" - ask it, either. Riddle me this, Batman:

If the factors affecting the cost of a gallon of gasoline are beyond the ability of the oil companies to control, why are profits so high?

This is a deceptively simple question. If profit can be simplistically viewed as a function of the difference between income and expenses, you might expect that the profit ratio would stay constant as the expenses rose; that is, the cost of gasoline would go up, but the amount of profit made on the same amount of sales would remain relatively constant. But somehow, profits are going through the proverbial roof along with the cost to the consumer.

Why is this?

I have often freely admitted that I don't really understand economics much beyond those that directly affect my checkbook, and I'm not too sure about those, either. But beyond all the arcane technobabble of the economists, the full-page "please-love-us-it's-not-our-fault" newspaper ads published by the oil lobby, and the "things are rosy, just let the market straighten it all out" approach of the Administration lies the simple fact that the economy is in crisis and average Americans are getting pounded worse every day.


If you are an oil executive, a shill for an oil executive, or one of my elected reprehensives, please scroll back up to the italicized question and answer it for me, if you would. Or if you can.

But don't worry, it's not your fault. Never fear, though! That reliable money spigot, the American taxpayer and consumer, will always be available to help you out.

And you can always count on the generosity of spirit of good samaritans like Mr Chavez and the Saudis.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

President's Questions

Many of the traditions of government here in the United States are derived from those of Great Britain (except, of course, for that whole King/Queen thing we disputed back around 1776). Our traditions of justice and representative government all derive from those of the "Mother Country," unless you live in Louisiana, where through a quirk of history the laws are based on the Napoleonic Code.

One of the traditions we didn't carry over from our British brethren is Prime Minister's Questions, under which the Prime Minister appears before the House of Commons for a half-hour each Wednesday while Parliament is in session to answer questions from the assembled Members of Parliament. It's live, unscripted, and endlessly interesting. You can read transcripts, hear the audio, and see video archives here, and listen to the sessions each Wednesday morning on C-SPAN. I wish we had something like it here.

Unfortunately, I doubt it would ever work in this country. In an article in MSN Slate Magazine, Christopher Hitchens writes of Prime Minister's Questions that, "...There's no script. The handlers can't come in there with you. There's no warning of the real question, because the topic can easily be concealed inside an ostensible or pretext question. There's no defense against a crisply worded follow-up. Nobody can become prime minister, or continue as prime minister, who cannot stand up to it."

And I don't think many American politicians could. American politicians are famous for staying "on message" and assiduously avoiding the threat of having to answer unexpected questions for which they haven't had the time to prepare glib answers. I can't imagine George Bush willingly appearing once a week in front of the House of Representatives to take random questions. Bill Clinton, perhaps. Maybe even Ronald Reagan. But the average US president would probably rather have a root canal without anesthetic than risk appearing once a week in front of an aggressive, unscreened, and potentially hostile Congressional audience.

It's too bad. You can look at Prime Minister's Questions as simple political theater, but I think it serves a valuable purpose by showing that the head of government must defend his policies and actions on a regular basis in front of the people's elected representatives. Instead of the president hunkering down in the fortified bunker of the White House, or pontificating to carefully-screened and selected adoring audiences, he (or she) ought to be willing to stand up and answer tough questions.

Well, I believe in Santa Claus, too. But it's a nice thought.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008


If you're looking for a great summer read that will attract a great deal of attention on the subway, I can recommend this wonderful book:

Ms Roach previously wrote about the unknown (and very interesting) lives of human cadavers in her book "Stiff," and about scientific and pseudoscientific research into the afterlife in "Spook." Now, she takes on science's efforts to understand and - hopefully - improve the human sexual experience.

Mary Roach writes with humor and flair - the introductory chapter to this book is titled "Foreplay," and chapter titles include "Dating the Penis-Camera," "The Taiwanese Fix and the Penile Pricking Ring," and "The Upsuck Chronicles" (not what you think - it deals with the study of animal sex to improve human sex. doesn't help much).

You'll learn that the artificial inseminators of Danish pigs use a "teaser boar" to get the sows ready for their coming experience, and learn the steps involved in the artificial insemination of pigs (Denmark's National Committee for Pig Production has published a "Five-Point Stimulation Plan for pig farmers, complete with instructional DVD and color posters to tack on barn walls"). There must be easier ways to make a living.

You'll also get a first hand look at sex inside an MRI tube, a horrifying look at surgery to correct problems with the male member, and - along the way - a fascinating mixture of information that's hysterically funny and genuinely interesting. And Ms Roach concludes her book with a unique toast to all the misunderstood researchers who have bravely examined human sexuality: "Hats and pants off to you all!"

The last book I recommended to you was "The Library at Night," by Alberto Manguel...a very different sort of read. If you're the sort of person who enjoys this blog, I think you'll enjoy "Bonk" as well as Manguel's book, which is ... uh ... intimate in a different way.

Happy bonking!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Political Chicken

Chickens play a large role in American politics. They come home to roost after bad decisions, they infest the halls of Congress when difficult decisions must be made, and they cross the road. Why did the political chicken cross the road?

Barack Obama: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a change!

John McCain: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

Hillary Clinton: When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure -- right from Day One! -- That every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me...

George W. Bush: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.

Colin Powell: Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road...

Anderson Cooper, CNN: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.

John Kerry: Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.

Nancy Grace: That chicken crossed the road because he's GUILTY! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.

Pat Buchannan: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

Jerry Falwell: Because the chicken was gay! Can't you people see the plain truth?' That's why they call it the 'other side.' Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media white washes with seemingly harmless phrases like “the other side.” That chicken should not be crossing the road. It's as plain and as simple as that.

Bill Clinton: I did not cross the road with that chicken. What is your definition of chicken?

Al Gore: I invented the chicken!

Dick Cheney: Anybody seen my shotgun?

Al Sharpton: Why are all the chickens white? The absence of black chickens clearly shows once again that America is racist.

For those of you who live outside the United States and may be unfamiliar with characters like Nancy Grace, Pat Buchannan, and Al're very fortunate.

Don't chicken out this election season. The country needs your vote more than ever. Use it wisely.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lions, Lambs, and Venn Diagrams

One of the blogs I enjoy reading every day is “Indexed,” a very clever blog which reduces both simple and complex ideas to Venn diagrams or simple graphs on 3x5 notecards. It’s an interesting concept that is often funny, thought-provoking, or both.

This past Monday, in a post titled “But Mom, He Seems Really Nice,” the blog's author published this diagram:
My first reaction on reading it was outrage at what I viewed as a slur against military people. But after thinking about it for a while, my final reaction was sadness, mixed with a little irritation at oversimplified thinking.

Americans have had a schizophrenic relationship with their armed forces as long as there's been an America. It’s worth remembering that the framers of the Constitution, having had the experience of being oppressed by the army of King George III, made a special point of ensuring that their new nation’s army would be kept firmly under civil control. Article II, Section 2 makes the elected civilian president the commander in chief of the army. Within the Bill of Rights, many interpret the “right to bear arms” enshrined in the Second Amendment as allowing citizens to own weapons so that they could fight off their own government’s forces if necessary. And the Third Amendment specifically forbids the government from quartering soldiers in private homes in peacetime, and in wartime only as prescribed by law (King George’s quartering of soldiers in Americans’ homes was one of the actions listed in the Declaration of Independence as a reason for the break with England).

Today, as always in the past, there is a loud and vocal segment of American society which believes that peace is the natural state of mankind, and that military forces of any kind are both an abomination and a waste of money that could be used for better things. The members of “Code Pink” in California, for example, dedicate themselves to harassing military recruiters and forcing them out of their towns. I think these people are well-meaning but misguided at best, and ignorant and stupid at worst.

Much as we might wish it, the world is not a peaceful place (someone once said that the lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won't get much sleep). Over the centuries evil leaders have arisen who could be dealt with only by war. Napoleon was not defeated at Waterloo by people waving “give peace a chance” signs, nor was Hitler vanquished by the wishful thinking of those who would have peace at any price. Ethnic cleansing in the Balkans was stopped only by force. The religious maniacs of al Qaeda murdered nearly 3,000 people (almost including me) on September 11, 2001. And the list goes on. Unfortunately, some people are so evil, and some threats so dangerous, that war is the only answer. And when war is the only answer, an army trained and ready to wage it is the only tool worth having.

So it may be clever and funny to equate military recruiters and perverts. It may be satisfying to poke a stick in an unpopular administration’s eye by protesting against the military. But there are a few points to remember when you do:

The armed forces of the United States don’t decide who to go to war against. The Constitution gives that authority to the President and Congress. You can rail against the military all you want, but you’re wasting your time and energy – the people you should be protesting against are in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

If you are attacked or taken hostage by terrorists, or if the country is attacked or invaded, who is more likely to save you: Code Pink, or the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines of America’s armed forces?

Is your ability to protest against your government’s policies without fear protected by Code Pink, or by the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines of America’s armed forces?

The answer is pretty clear. But only if you actually engage your brain…which, sadly, many people just won’t take the time and effort to do.

Lucky for them that America’s armed forces are full of brave men and women who listened to a military recruiter. And those brave men and women are willing to make the sacrifices to protect them no matter how ignorant and ungrateful they are.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

Earthquakes in China, typhoons in Burma, tornadoes in the US...disaster is everywhere. What do you do?

You let Cartoon Saturday give you something to cheer you up!

Some weeks, this is the best cartoon in the collection...this week, for instance...

The Supreme Court is still cogitating on the case involving the Washington, DC ban on handguns, with a decision (of sorts) expected in another month or so. In the meantime, gun advocates everywhere are stocking up...

Sometimes there's nothing like a nice glass of wine...

I love dancing, but there are some studios I might just take a pass on...

And finally, I can't remember if I've ever posted this one before, but it's one of my favorites. All you men out there, this one's for you...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Legislating from the Right Place

One of my favorite commentators is Victor Davis Hanson, a noted scholar who is, according to the biography on his website, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor emeritus at California University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. I enjoy reading Professor Hanson’s articles for many reasons: they’re well-written, persuasive, generally well-balanced, and – for the most part – I tend to agree with pretty much everything he has to say. You’ll note I said, “pretty much everything.” Irritable curmudgeon that I am, I can even find fault with a distinguished and erudite individual like Professor Hanson that I otherwise greatly admire.

Earlier this week, Professor Hanson wrote an article on his website titled “What’s Wrong with Republicans?” (Even-handed fellow that he is, he followed it up two days later with another article titled “What’s Wrong with Democrats?”) In the article on the Republicans, Professor Hanson wrote, “What the Republicans need is not an abandonment of conservative principles, but a smarter, more articulate defense of even more conservativism, not less.” He then listed some examples, in particular this one, which ground one of my larger-diameter gears:

“Judges? We need constitutionalists, because they alone follow the rules of the legislative branch and what is written in the Constitution, do not turn rarified, laboratory theory into the law that millions must suffer under, and bring respect to the judiciary sorely damaged by aristocratic elitists on the bench.”

One of the most asinine of the conservative mantras is this tired chestnut: judges must not legislate from the bench. This statement, and the opinion on judges expressed above by Professor Hanson, are outrageously unfair to jurists because they point a falsely accusing finger in the wrong direction. I believe the problem is not that judges legislate from the bench; the problem is that spineless, rigidly-parochial elected representatives refuse to do their duty to legislate from the legislature. When action is needed and Congress ducks its responsibilities, someone has to take action…and the judges who try to fill the void are left holding the bag.

Yes, there are some judges who are out in left field. So are a large number of members of Congress. For every judge who is condemned by the right as an “aristocratic elitist,” there is probably one who could justly be condemned by the left as a thickheaded conservative dinosaur – how a judge is viewed is largely a reflection of the political orientation of the observer. The vast majority of our jurists are upright, principled men and women who serve on the bench with dignity and distinction.

Bottom line: don’t blame the judiciary for taking the actions Congress can’t or won’t. Until we get some Senators and Representatives who can grow a spine and move beyond acting like blustering horse’s asses to actually cooperate with each other to get something done, judges will have to carry their water for them.

And take the unfair face shots for doing so.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

ET, Phone ... Your Parish Priest

In an interview published in the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the director of the Vatican Observatory, has said the belief that alien life exists elsewhere in the universe does not contradict faith in God.

This is quite a leap of faith, considering that Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei was tried as a heretic in 1633 for claiming that the earth was not the center of the universe, and the Church didn't admit the error for nearly 400 years (Pope John Paul II cleared Galileo's name in 1992).

The conflict between religion and science is as old as either, and unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Absolute belief in the literal words of the Bible stifled scientific advancement for many hundreds of years, and even today conservative Muslims insist on an Islamic view of science that aligns the scientific method with the literal word of God they believe is contained in the Koran...they believe that all scientific truth is contained in the Muslim scripture, simply waiting for man to recognize it.

Regardless of one's religious beliefs, the universe is out there, it's huge, and the belief that we're alone in it is (in my mind) silly. Fundamental issues of religion and philosophy shape our opinions of the world around us, sometimes in bizarre fashions. For this reason, I find it comforting that a religious scientist like Rev. Funes is willing to admit not only the possibility of alien life, but the fact that it's possible existence doesn't contradict belief in God.

There's hope yet for a rational meeting of religion and science. I wonder how ET solved the problem.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Of Leadership and Sewage Treatment

French author Andre Gide once commented that, “It is easier to lead men to combat, stirring up their passion, than to restrain them and direct them toward the patient labors of peace."

As a result of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat morphed from militant guerrilla leader to President of the Palestinian Authority, with responsibility for those areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Palestinian control. At the time, I clipped and saved a wonderful editorial cartoon (sadly, since lost) that showed Arafat slumped behind a desk with his head in his hands, looking at an in-box overflowing with unpaid bills and heaps of books and reports with titles like "Planning Effective Municipal Trash Collection" and "Principles of Sewage Treatment." The meaning of the cartoon was perfectly clear: it's easy to wage war and blame all your problems on a convenient enemy, but when you suddenly have the responsibility for solving those problems yourself, things look very different.

Things haven't changed much in the Middle East. The Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005, turning the densely-populated territory over to Palestinian control. They left apartments, greenhouses, and a functioning utility infrastructure which might have served as the basis of a successful state. Gaza has, after all, about 25 miles of prime Mediterranean beachfront property which, properly developed, could alone could be worth billions of dollars in tourist income. So, what happened? The goons of Hamas, more interested in continuing to fight Israel than in improving the plight of the Palestinians, continued to use Gaza as a place from which to launch attacks against the Jewish state...resulting, of course, in repeated Israeli counterattacks. To the north in Lebanon, Hezbollah does the same thing, although with somewhat more of a veneer of public service between bouts of self-destructive violence.

Andre Gide had things right: it's easier to fight than to build. It's easier to fire people up with hate than with calls for peace and reconciliation. It's easier to build car bombs and launch rockets than to treat sewage and collect trash. It's easier to assign blame than to take responsibility.

The Israelis aren't blameless in all this, of course...I've often pointed out that they frequently act as their own worst enemies with their heavy-handed tactics against the Palestinians. But one has to wonder when enough is enough...when the Palestinian people will tire of endless conflict and turn to a leader who will direct their energies from the visceral pleasures of hate and destruction to the mundane drudgery of sewage treatment and trash collection.

Sadly, it doesn't look like it will happen any time soon.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What Other People Think About Politics and Elections

I've spent a lot of time in this blog over the last few months whining about the depressing presidential election season. About how we've got cheap discount candidates from Wal-Mart instead of top-of-the-line statesmen from Nieman-Marcus. I've got electile dysfunction.

But, of course, I'm not the only one who has a jaded concept of politics and elections. Here's a collection of quotes from other smart people who have thoughts on the subject of politicians, elections, and government in general:

"Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." - Joseph Stalin (and no, he wasn't talking about Florida)

"Democracy is the most equitable form of government because, in it, greed and corruption are most widely spread." - Stephen Millich

"Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few." - George Bernard Shaw (yes, I know I used this one a while back, but it still applies!)

"Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks." - Doug Larson

"When ideas fail, words come in very handy." - Goethe

"Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them." - Paul Valery

"The reason there are so few female politicians is that it is too much trouble to put makeup on two faces." - Maureen Murphy

"We need anything politically important rationed out like PEZ: small, sweet, and coming out of a funny, plastic head." - Dennis Miller

"An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought." - Simon Cameron

"It is dangerous for a national candidate to say things that people might remember." - Eugene McCarthy

"When the politicians complain that TV turns the proceedings into a circus, it should be made clear that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained." - Edward R. Murrow (I think I've used this quote before, too, but I still love it)

"In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for, as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican." - H. L. Mencken

"My feeling is we've bowed too far to the idiots. This is true in politics, journalism, and just about everything else." - Peggy Noonan

"The only difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Democrats allow the poor to be corrupt, too." - Oscar Levant

Okay, that's enough. I have to save enough cynicism to last for the next six months. And the four years after that.

Have a good day. More thoughts (of my own!) tomorrow.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Getting Greased

Well, here in Northern Virginia we're nearly at the dreaded $4.00/gallon benchmark for gasoline: yesterday a station near Manassas was posting unleaded super for $3.99.9/gallon. I know that my readers in Europe, who have been paying well more than $4.00/gallon for years, aren't impressed...but for those of us who can still remember filling up the tank for $5.00...and getting all the fluids checked, the tires inflated, and the windshield washed...and getting's a bit of a kick to the psychological groin.

The "best" part of the whole oil price mess is that no one really knows why gasoline prices are so high. I listened to an NPR report about two weeks ago in which a sober-sounding talking head windily explained that there really wasn't a good reason. His bottom line: it was all psychology.

Heck, I've been saying that for years about economics in general.

But it isn't really all psychology. The oil companies will tell you that it's not their fault, because most of the cost of a gallon of gas is the cost of the crude oil from which it's refined (i.e., blame the greedy Arabs and Venezuelans, not us, even though our profits are at absolute historic highs). The gas station operators will tell you it's not their fault, because their profit on a gallon of gas is mere pennies, and they make their money from high-priced repairs and the snacks sold at the station checkout. So who is responsible, anyhow?

Last Friday I read another article in the Washington Post that really ground my gears: "Oil Lobby Reaches Out to Citizens Peeved at the Pump." Yes, rather than doing something to lower the price of gas, the oil lobby is spending - sit down, now - "less than $100 million per year" to convince you and I that we're not being screwed at the pump. Bill Replogle, an advertising executive, was quoted in the article as saying that, "A typical issues ad-spend in D.C. might be $2 million to $3 million for a significant campaign...This dwarfs that, and many national ad buys."

So the next time you spend $4.00 per gallon to fill the tank of your family car, you can take solace from the expensive, full-page newspaper ads that explain why the oil industry is innocent.

Maybe you can believe it. I don't.

I'll be doing some heavy research over the next few weeks to try and figure this mess out. If I can make any sense of it, I'll let you know. But I'm not holding my breath, and you probably shouldn't hold yours.

Just rely on those full-page oil lobby ads, as you rely on your faith in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny.

And imagine what you could do with "less than $100 million."

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers' Day, 2008

Today is Mothers’ Day, the one day each year we set aside to honor the lady we undervalue the other 364. Today is the day we remember the person who made our hurts better, explained our homework, cooked our meals, washed our clothes, drove us where we needed to go, warned us about our less-savory acquaintances, embarrassed us in front of our friends, and did her best to point us down the straight line of a moral and upright life.

A few days ago I found this humorous riff on how we look at our Mothers at different ages:

Age 4: Mommy can do anything!
Age 8: Mom knows a lot!
Age 12: Mother doesn't know everything.
Age 14: Mother doesn't know anything.
Age 16: Mother is so old-fashioned.
Age 18: Her? She's out of it.
Age 25: Mom might know something about that.
Age 35: Before we decide, let's ask Mom.
Age 45: What would Mom have thought about that?
Age 65: I wish I could talk that over with Mom.

It’s true.

My mother passed away in 2001 at the age of 74. She spent a long and honorable life raising four children who, I like to think, made her proud. And in her twilight years, her once-formidable mind ravaged by Alzheimer’s Disease, she missed much of the result of her love and care and sacrifice – a son who finally knows how to dance (and who may yet write that book she thought he had in him), and four beautiful great-grandchildren who will never know her love and wisdom and the off-the-wall sense of humor that brightened the lives of those who knew her.

The next generation of Mothers has taken over. My beloved daughter Yasmin and the best daughter-in-law in the world, Tabitha, are raising the world’s four greatest grandchildren. And someday Marcy and Joe, Noah and Leya will sit down on Mothers’ Day and reflect – just as their grandpa does today – on the marvelous lady who gave up so much of her own life and dreams to make them who they are.

Take the time today to honor your Mother. Someday, you’ll wish you had.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

A hundred thousand people may be dead in Myanmar, where the government is too suspicious of outsiders to accept help. They're going to dig for more bodies on the Manson ranch. Hezbollah is once again wrecking Lebanon.

The world's going to hell in the proverbial handbasket. The news is all bad. What do you do?

You turn to your old pal Bilbo and Cartoon Saturday to lift your spirits.

Two riffs on the same theme...

Some of the best cartoons are great because they take an everyday situation and put a silly twist on it. I love this one...

"Lio" is a fairly new comic strip running in the Washington Post, about a very strange young man. I think this particular Lio panel is hysterically funny, if about as black as humor gets...

And finally, remember what I said earlier about cartoons that put a silly twist on an ordinary situation? I think this one's a classic...

I hope you've had a good week and are making your plans to honor Mom tomorrow. In this space, as you might imagine, I'll have a few thoughts on Mothers' Day. Until then, enjoy Cartoon Saturday and remember - I'm always gratefully accepting great cartoons you may have to add to my collection...e-mail them to

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now? How About If I Blow You Up?

One of the most amazing things about the Middle East is the tendency to resort to mindless violence in the face of the least provocation. You can always count on nations and organizations in the Middle East to stubbornly keep digging once they've reached the bottom of the proverbial hole, ensuring that the endless cycle of violence and general misery continues, and that America will ultimately be blamed for it.

In Lebanon, the latest round of savage fighting between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, that peace-loving social welfare organization, has been touched off by ... cell phones.

Yes, while you and I roll our eyes and try to ignore the bozohead yakking loudly into his cell phone at inappropriate times, Hezbollah declares war. I'm sure God is pleased.

This story in Time Magazine tells the bizarre story of Lebanon's Cell Phone War. The Readers' Digest version of the sad story is this: the government does not want Hezbollah setting up its own telephone network (or exploiting video cameras at Beirut airport to plan kidnappings), and has declared these actions illegal. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the gentle, easy-going leader of Hezbollah, doesn't want anything - much less a duly-elected government - to interfere with his ability to plan for his next war with Israel.

And so Lebanon, it's capital of Beirut once known as "The Paris of the Middle East," descends once again into war.

Here's Bilbo's Three-Step Plan For Peace in the Middle East:

1. Build a wall 100 feet high around the entire region.

2. Fill the area thus enclosed to the top with sand.

3. Start over.

I don't think anything else is ever going to work.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Keeping Books

I've written frequently here about our love of books and reading, and about the trials and tribulations of having to store the thousands of books we own. No matter how often I cull through the books stacked everywhere in the house, no matter how many boxes of books I donate to the local library, no matter how many books I loan or give away to friends, the total number never seems to go down. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so do our shelves abhor empty spaces - an open slot on a shelf cries out for the purchase of another book to fill it ... two, if they're thin enough. The possession of large numbers of books leads inexorably to many serious questions for a dedicated reader: How do you store your books? How do you sort them? How do you arrange them so you can find the one you want to read or refer to again? How do you decide what to keep and what to turn loose when the space runs out?

Last month I read a review in the Washington Post Book World that promised the answer to those awful questions ... or, at least, a pleasant discussion of them. Of course, it involved the purchase of yet another book, but it's one that I can strongly recommend to each of you who is also a Dedicated Reader.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel is a wonderful collection of essays on libraries and the collection, care, sorting, and reading of books. This review by Michael Dirda captures the magic of a book that will entertain, instruct, and delight all lovers of good books everywhere.

The book is divided into fifteen essays of varying length that look at the various functions, uses, and arrangements of libraries; they include: The Library as Order, Space, Power, Shape, Survival, and - my favorite - The Library as Workshop. Mr Manguel describes the study, the working space of a personal library, "not (as) a pared-down version of the larger structure - the library - which sometimes contains it. It has a different mission: it provides a practical space for self-reflection and conceit, for belief in the power of objects and reliance on the authority of a dictionary." He goes on later to note that, "A study lends its owner, the privileged reader, what Seneca called euthymia, a Greek word which Seneca explained means 'well-being of the soul' ... Every study aspires to euthymia. Euthymia, memory without distraction, the intimacy of a reading time - a secret period in the communal day - that is what we seek in a private reading space."

It makes me think ever more fondly of the poor, cluttered, messy (and yet cozy and comfortable) study where I crank out this blog every day.

If you are interested in books, reading, and libraries, I encourage you to read The Library at Night. While all of the essays may not be of equal interest, the overall delight of the book and of Mr Manguel's flowing prose make it a grand investment of time spent in thoughtful reading. Particularly in the library. Or the study. At night.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Terrifying Threat of DHMO

People today can be profoundly suspicious of other people and their ideas. You've probably seen some variation on the test in which people on the street were asked to sign the Declaration of Independence, presented as a petition...and refused because it was obviously a subversive antigovernment screed written by some wild-eyed commiepinkoratbastard.

On the other hand, some people will believe in really amazing things without thinking them through ... and other people will always be ready to make hay from it.

Check out this website dedicated to publicizing the deadly environmental threat of Dihydrogen Monoxide, or DHMO. On this site you can learn that:

DHMO is widely used as an industrial solvent and coolant, and is a major component of acid rain;

Athletes brazenly take DHMO orally to improve their performance;

DHMO has a long history of use as an instrument of torture. It was used in World War II prison camps in Japan, and has been alleged to be used today on prisoners in China and at Guantanamo;


DHMO is widely used as an additive in food products, including jarred baby food and baby formula, and even in many soups, carbonated beverages and supposedly "all-natural" fruit juices.

Terrifying, isn't it? Why doesn't someone do something about this awful threat to our health and welfare?

Because, of course, dihydrogen monoxide is actually good old aitch-two-oh ... commonly known as water.

The Urban Legends Reference Page has a detailed discussion of the history of the DHMO hoax. It's a classic example of how the most silly ideas can be dressed up in scientific jargon and used to spin up a credulous public. The DHMO website mentioned above is an ingenious example.

Always remember Bilbo's First Law: never let anyone else do your thinking for you. Because, as my hero Jimmy Buffett says in his classic song Beach House on the Moon, there's no dumbass vaccine.

And that's a shame in an election season.

Have a good day. Beware of DHMO poisoning. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Say "Ahhhhhh"...

One of my favorite blogs is the daily laugh riot published by Miss Cellania. I don't know where this wonderful lady finds all the hysterical stuff she posts, but I'm glad she's usually the first thing I read in the morning to get my spirits up for whatever the day is getting ready to throw at me.

Today, her theme is "The Doctor's Office," which resonates with me as I try to cast off the last dregs of last week's creeping crud. Having just experienced the sheer joy of being greeted at the doctor's office with the Official Healer's Greeting - "You have a $10 co-pay" - and rattling when I walk from all the pills I'm still taking, I can appreciate jokes taken at the expense of the medical profession. So, probably, can Rodney Dangerfield - I believe it was he who once said that when he asked his doctor for a second opinion, the doctor replied, "Okay, you're ugly, too."

I'd seen this little riff on the history of medicine before, but it's still funny (and true):

2000 B.C. - Eat this root.

1000 A.D. - That root is heathen. Say this prayer.

1850 A.D. - That prayer is superstition. Drink this potion.

1940 A.D. - That potion is just snake oil. Swallow this pill.

1985 A.D. - That pill is ineffective. Take this antibiotic.

2000 A.D. - That antibiotic is artificial. Eat this root.

Yes, it seems as if the relentless advance of medical knowledge keeps turning the old conventional health wisdom on its head. When I was little, my mother was always pushing us out the door during the summer to play outside in the sunshine. Today, you don't send your children out in the sunshine without long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a sun hat, and SPF 897 sunblock applied with a trowel. Today's miracle drug is tomorrow's excuse for an enormous, lawyer-enriching class action lawsuit. And I remember our old family doctor, who smoked like a chimney in the, the doctors sneak their nicotine fixes out back by the dumpster like everyone else.

And then, there was the fellow who named his dog "Physician" so that he could command, "Physician, heel thyself!"

Having had the marvelous experience of suffering from severe allergic reactions to ... something (we've never been able to figure out just what) ... this cartoon speaks to me:

Okay, so I don't have any deep thoughts for today, just a few riffs at the expense of the medical profession, inspired by the matchless Miss Cellania. I actually do have a lot of thoughts on this topic, which I usually shout at the radio when I'm listening to the latest balderdash on affordable health care from some talking head or another, but we'll save them for another day. Perhaps tomorrow. If I feel up to it.

In the meantime, take two aspirins, leave me a comment, and come back tomorrow.

Have a good day. More thoughts then.


Monday, May 05, 2008

Movers and Shakers

One of my dreams, like Serina Hope's, is to become a published writer. Fiction, nonfiction, or both - it doesn't matter. I have notebooks and computer files full of fleshed-out scenes, lists of characters and their traits, snips of great dialog (well, I think it's great, anyhow), plot ideas and partial outlines, and all sorts of assorted reference articles. So far, all it's resulted in is one letter to the editor published in The Washington Post, and another published (with revisions that completely changed the point I was trying to make) in the Air Force Times.

And, of course, this blog ... but in the sense of being a "published author," it doesn't really count.

One of the how-to articles for aspiring writers of "thriller" fiction that I read long ago cautioned against using as a plot focus the single individual who was out to rule/conquer/destroy/enslave the world. According to the article, the world is far too large, complex, and resilient a place to be ruled/conquered/destroyed/enslaved by one person. I duly filed that bit of information away, feeling bad for the thousands of comic book and pulp fiction villains who have set out on the Impossible Dream, like this fellow ...

With all this in mind, I was - of course - very much interested in this article by David Rothkopf in the Outlook section of yesterday's Washington Post: "They're Global Citizens, They're Hugely Rich. And They Pull The Strings." The article begins with this memorable sentence: "We didn't elect them. We can't throw them out. And they're getting more powerful every day."

This group of about 6,000 people are those Mr Rothkopf refers to as the superclass, a class of people so fabulously rich (think Warren Buffett or Bill Gates) or hugely influential (think Oprah Winfrey or Rupert Murdoch) that their ability to shape opinions and events is greater in many cases than those of elected officials and even national governments. These are people who are, in contrast to the elites of previous centuries, largely self-made titans rather than inheritors of wealth and power, and they have more in common with each other than with the little folk like you and I. These are the people who can make things happen. Mr Rothkopf notes that while the Federal Reserve was credited with bringing the recent financial crisis under control, it was actually the action of a single individual - Jamie Dimon, the CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, who enabled the recovery by agreeing to purchase the Bear Stearns investment bank when it threatened to collapse.

I don't know about you, but I just looked at my checkbook and determined that I probably wouldn't have been able to rescue my own stern, much less Bear Stearns.

This is power.

Consider this quote from Mr Rothkopf's article: "Today, the world's more than 1,100 billionaires have a net worth that's roughly double that of the bottom 2.5 billion people on the planet. The richest 10 percent of adults worldwide own 85 percent of global wealth, while the poorest half only barely one percent. The world's almost 10 million millionaires have seen their wealth double to nearly $37 trillion over the past 10 years."

That's pretty heady stuff for someone like me, who is happy when his checkbook is in four figures not evenly divided on both sides of the decimal point.

So, who pulls the world's strings? Is it governments? Is it Non-Governmental Organizations (the famous "NGO's")? Or is it the global superclass - the people who can make big things happen with a few words in an interview, or a conference call to the right members of their class? The people we didn't vote for, or appoint, or approve for their positions?

All I know is this: Bilbo and the 15 faithful members of his blogging family probably aren't on the speed dial for any of the members of the superclass, even though the things they say, the decisions they make, and the actions they take will have a huge effect on us.

I think I'm worried about this, but I don't have time to be too worried, because - unlike the members of the superclass - I need to get my wide, aging fanny to work so that I can pay for food and gas.

After all, someday, I may need to help bail out some investment bank, ha, ha.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Green Thumb Report

My garden is now fully planted for the year, and I'm sitting back waiting to thumb my nose at the local Giant and Safeway herb and produce prices. After last year, when my motley collection of herbs took off like a runaway experiment from a 1950's sci-fi movie, and with the price of food going through the roof, I decided to cast my agricultural net wider this year.

For 2008, I'm doing plots and pots: revitalizing the two herb plots from last year, and adding seven pots of various vegetables...

Here's the status, as of yesterday, of plot #1:

The parsley in the front came roaring back from last year, and is farther ahead than anything else. Behind it are the chives I'd given up for dead, which are also nice and big, but which don't seem to be spreading. To fill up the empty space I added two marjoram plants in the back center, another tarragon in the back left corner, and a token cilantro up front next to the parsley. We don't use much cilantro, but I figured I'd give it a try and see how it does.

Here's plot #2 as of yesterday:

That's basil on the left, rosemary on the right, and in the center, back to front, tarragon, dill, and thyme. These plants have now been in for about three can check their progress by comparing them to the pictures I posted here back on April 14th.

You may recall that last year my #2 plot was overrun with tomatoes I didn't plant...they grew from seeds that had been in my mulch pile and eventually choked out everything but the basil. This year, I decided to plant tomatoes on my own terms, along with a few other things. Here are the pots that go with the plots (the house and the two plots would be on your right as you look at this picture):

These pots contain red and green bell peppers (which we use lots of), straight-neck yellow squash, zucchini, and two types of tomatoes. If things go well, I plan to put up trellises behind the pots and train the vines to grow along the fence.

One of my goals is to produce a zucchini to match the famous "Bubba" grown by my friend Katherine (who comments here occasionally as "KKTSews") a few years back when we all lived in Germany...she proudly brought Bubba into the office with a fork lift to show him off, and he long ago went to that great ratatouille in the sky. If this works out, you'll see the pictures here.

Gardening is a fair amount of work, and a large amount of fun. There's a grand sense of accomplishment when you can eat something you grew with your own hands, and with food prices being what they are, I figure that by the end of the summer I will have easily made back the money I spent on the plants. Next year, I'll try to grow from seeds.

After all, seedy person that I am, what could be more appropriate?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

Some of my readers like Cartoon Andrea. Some don' my daughter. But since it's not easy to come up with something interesting and passably intellectual every day, I don't feel the least bit guilty about going the easy route once a week.

And so, welcome once again to Cartoon Saturday!

I've had this one in my collection for decades...and we men have all been there...

Penguins are popular with cartoonists and moviemakers for some reason. Maybe because they look like snooty headwaiters or male ballroom dancers...

And who would we make fun of if we didn't have lawyers?

Even historical heroes can't get a break from cartoonists. With all the ridiculous BS in schools today about the irrelevance of "dead white males" and the literary and historical classics, I wonder how many people will really get the point of this great cartoon?

And finally, since I need to get into the mood for this afternoon's dance coaching session...

Have a good weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.