Sunday, August 31, 2008

You've Got to Stop and Smell the Rose...mary...

It's been a busy day, it's late, and I need to go to bed. But I couldn't pass up sharing this picture of our youngest granddaughter, Leya, taken earlier today...

Yes, sometimes you've just got to stop and smell the rosemary...

And reflect that you have four wonderful grandchildren, and only one within convenient hugging range.


Enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

Hurricane Gustav is licking its windy chops as it heads for New Orleans, the Republican national convention begins in just a few days, and Russian troops are still conducting unwanted urban renewal in Georgia.

Now, more than ever, you need a big dose of Cartoon Saturday.

Sometimes, risk assessment is easier than others...

A variation on the old "Backside of Mount Rushmore" theme...

You really need to be careful where you put your campsite (click to enlarge the image)...

Somehow, I don't think airline fees are coming down any time soon...

And it can be lonely at the political top...

It's been a long and occasionally testy week. I can hardly wait 'til the next one.

Have a safe and happy Labor Day weekend if you're one of my US readers, and a good generic weekend if you're elsewhere. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Best Supporting Actor in a Science Fiction/Horror Film

I love 1950's and 60's vintage horror movies. They're so awful. The special effects are decidedly unspecial, the dialog stilted and silly (especially when the English dialog is dubbed over the Japanese film), and the creatures are more goofy than frightening.

Today's horror films are generally much better, if only from the special effects perspective. Monsters look more monstery, if you get my drift. You don't see the zipper up Godzilla's back any more.

Last night, I missed a rare, golden opportunity to film and star in my own Sci-Fi/Horror movie.

Yes, we cleaned out the refrigerator.

This has been a project a long time in preparation, because government bureaucracies move with all the blazing speed of wet cement, and there are a lot of different offices that have a vote when you're dealing with hazardous materials. Many of them just shook their heads and wished us luck. Vladimir Putin sent an e-mail blaming the mess in the refrigerator on the US government, and we even got a video tape from Osama bin Laden asking if he could have anything useful to support his Infidel-No-More research program.

The project began easily enough; we opened the refrigerator door and I held a contractor-strength trash bag open in front and whistled, whereupon everything capable of moving under its own power rushed out into the bag. I quickly sealed the bag and rushed it out to the EPA-approved dumpster.

Next, Agnes and I donned our moon suits and respirators and began decanting accumulated greenish-brown liquids out of the vegetable drawers and into lead-lined canisters. We then used tongs to remove all the soggy lettuce carcasses, droopy cucumbers, and furry objects which may at one time have been fruits or vegetables.

We then moved on to the upper shelves, trying to identify things before we threw them out:

Agnes: is this a pork chop?

Bilbo: do pork chops usually wave at you?

Hairy cheeses, ossified soups, gray meats, we got rid of it all. There were, of course, some unusual questions we needed to answer:

Why do we have fourteen bottles of steak sauce?

Is it safe to keep heat-and-serve meals dating from the Truman administration?

How many kinds of mustard do we really need?

Who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong?

And how long have these Ding Dongs been in there, anyhow?

Once all the really dangerous things had been removed, we took out all the shelves and drawers, washed and disinfected them, wiped down all the jars and bottles we intended to keep, and replaced everything into the now-sparkling clean and non-odiferous refrigerator. The various inspectors examined our work, declared it good, and removed the biohazard signs from our front yard.

So if you want to come by for a snack, it's okay.


But I really wish we'd have filmed the job. I've always wanted my own Oscar.

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday coming tomorrow.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Making the Olympics More Interesting

I didn’t watch much of the recent Olympics. To tell the truth, I just didn’t care. Michael Phelps? Good on ya, pal – great job. Women’s beach volleyball? Fun to watch, but I hate having to keep changing my drool-soaked t-shirts. Boxing? I never could get off on watching people beat each other’s brains out.

I also got tired of hearing about all the products that were “The Official ____” of the Olympics. I don’t really need to know that Acme makes the official jet skates of the Olympics, guaranteed to catch pesky Roadrunners.

Maybe I could get interested in the Olympics if some changes were made. One of my friends forwarded me an e-mail yesterday that suggested combining various events to increase the level of excitement. I thought that was an excellent idea, and have a few suggestions for game combinations for the IOC to consider to liven up the 2012 London games:

Fencing and Archery – played at a distance, you gain points for shooting your foil into your opponent;

Synchronized Swimming and Greco-Roman Wrestling – your team wins when they simultaneously pin their opponents until the bubbles stop coming up;

Basketball and Judo – you get extra points for throwing both the ball and the opposing player through the hoop;

Equestrian Jumping and Weight Lifting – instead of jumping the horse over the obstacle, you’d have to lift it across;

Hockey and Shooting – it would certainly liven up some of the fights, and the penalty box could double as a first aid station;

And finally,

Women's Beach Volleyball and the Women’s 100m Breaststroke – no more of that patting your teammate on the fanny…

Don't thank me. Think of it as my way of helping bring the Olympics into the modern era. And if you have any other events to suggest, lay 'em on me. Together, we'll make the London Games much more exciting.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Evil Overlord Seeks Henchmen...

I couldn't pass up adding this as a second post today. One of my coworkers this morning - before reading my blog post - sent around this link to a Craigslist ad from England: HENCHMEN NEEDED.

Timing is it and laugh hysterically.

Enjoy the rest of your day. More thoughts coming.


The Evil Overlord List

Having kicked over the discussional anthill with yesterday's post, it's probably a good idea to take a day or two and fall back to a less-contentious issue so that things can come back down to a gentle simmer. How about considering some guidelines that will help with achieving your goals...assuming that one of your goals is "taking over the world?"

A gentleman named Peter Anspach created a marvelous website a few years ago called Evil Overlord, Inc. The top feature of the site is Peter's Evil Overlord List, dedicated to the top 100 things he would do if he were an Evil Overlord. It lists all the stupid things villains do in books and movies that lead to their undoing, and indicates how to avoid making those mistakes and be a effective Evil Overlord. Check out the list. It's fun.

The Evil Overlord List was augmented at some point with the addition of some guidelines for the cultists who exist to serve evil overlords. This list has been in my ya-ha files for years, and I don't remember where I originally found it, so I don't know who gets the credit...unfortunately, it's not me. Bummer...

How To Be A Cultist

Recently, the Society For Evil Overlords has noticed a regrettable decline in the availability and quality of fanatical henchmen, evil priests, and willing sacrificial victims. We wish to correct this growing problem by submitting the following general guidelines for Cultists.

1. Pick one faith and stay with it. Dilettantism is the mark of the amateur.

2. Avoid needless embarrassment. Practice the correct pronunciation of your deity's name in the privacy of your own room before chanting it in public. Flash cards are often helpful.

3. Never invoke anything bigger than your head.

4. Avoid all cabalistic jewelry over ten pounds in weight-- it attracts unwelcome attention from tourists, policemen, various supernatural creatures, and can be downright dangerous during thunderstorms.

5. Citronella candles may not be used in rituals. I cannot stress this enough. Pastel-colored candles in the shape of cute animals are like beacons to the Powers of Darkness.

6. Always keep your kit with you: candles, chalk, incense, silver knife, Thuggee cord, service revolver, garlic, Yellow Sign, cab fare, condoms, and change.

7. NEVER be the cultist that goes to rough up the hero(es). Ransacking hotel rooms is probably safe, but going 'round to beat up the good guys is a sure route to the bottom of the Thames.

8. When the Black Mass goes awry, stay away from the Evil Priest. Enraged demons always go for the pompous.

9. Don't gloat.

10. If you can't resist gloating, don't reveal your plans.

11. If you do gloat and reveal your plans, don't leave the hero(es) to die slowly. They don't.

12. If you gloat, reveal your plans, and leave the hero(es) to die slowly, don't have the audacity to look surprised when they turn up at the last moment to foil your evil plot.

13. The hero (or heroes) will always show up at the last possible moment to foil your plans. With this in mind, start half an hour early-- they hate that.

14. Plan ahead by selecting ceremonial robes that are easy to run in while still affording ample concealment.

15. Never screw anything whose genetic structure you are not absolutely comfortable with.

16. Never admit to screwing anything whose genetic structure you are not absolutely comfortable with.

17. When a religious artifact begins emitting light, CLOSE YOUR EYES. Thousands of cultists could be saved every year if they'd just remember this simple safety tip.

18. When mutilating cattle, avoid the ones with testicles.

19. During ritual sacrificing, taking bits home for later is now generally considered "bad form."

20. Blood tests are now required for all sacrificial victims before the ritual. The effects of HIV+ offerings on the average malefic deity have never been witnessed by anyone living, or even intact.

21. Contrary to historical belief, drugs and invocations do not mix. When the shit comes down, it is vitally necessary to be able to discern between the gibbering monstrosity to throw the holy water on and the gibbering monstrosity that will fade away after a few hours, some B-complex, and a good hot bath.

22. Never play strip Tarot.

23. Piety and belief are powerful things, and few forces in nature can stand against one who is true to his faith, his God, and his own soul. However, it is also true that the Gods tend to side with the heaviest artillery, so be prepared change sides at the drop of a hat.

24. For those situations where a fresh, living sacrifice is just not feasible (or even possible), the lower ranks of demons can be fooled by microwaving a previously-frozen chunk of ex-victim and cleverly jiggling it. However, a mock victim sculpted from Spam(tm) is not appropriate.

Don't thank me - consider it a public service. And if you ever become an Evil Overlord and need an opinionated blogger to flack for you, I'm always here. Just call. Too bad about #22, though.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Culture Clash

Last Friday my office held its annual picnic. You know what that is - the annual opportunity to spend quality time with the people you already spend more time with than you do with your family, except you have to bring food and you get a sunburn and mosquito bites. Here's some of the food:

For the second year in a row, we held our picnic at Pohick Bay Regional Park, a very nice, shady location near the water with plenty of picnic tables, room for a volleyball net and horseshoe pit, nearby toilets (after age 50, you look for that first), and a really spectacular new, multifaceted climbing gym for the kids.

We had the usual loud, raucous picnic. It was a beautiful day, full-contact volleyball and tug-of-war were played, the water balloon toss was as wet as ever, and a grand time was had by all.

But there was one incident that made me think a little bit about the clash of cultures in modern-day America.

Late in the morning, another group arrived at the park and set up a picnic in the area adjacent to ours. These people were obviously Muslims, as the women were all dressed from head to foot in long, black robes and headscarves (in spite of temperatures in the mid-80's). They kept to themselves and were very quiet in contrast to our happily hysterical antics. The incident that got my attention, though, happened late in the day when I walked over to the children's climbing gym to deliver a message to one of the ladies of our group, who was supervising her child at play. As I approached the gym, three or four young girls from the Muslim group - all easily distinguished by their dark robes and headscarves - immediately stopped playing and returned to their tables.

I don't think I looked particularly threatening, and I never made any attempt to talk to, much less look at them, but somehow they seemed to view me as - if not a threat, then at least as an undesirable interloper. I know from my study that Muslims are enjoined, either by the Koran or by the hadiths (things Mohammed and his friends supposedly said and did) to never mingle or make friends with infidels, because we'll pollute their pure religion, and I also know that Muslim women are supposed to be "modest" and to avoid any contact with men to whom they are not related. But to see children having fun break it off and leave simply because I walked up to speak with someone else sent me a powerful message. That message was: we don't want to have anything to do with you.

Perhaps I'm overreacting, but I don't think so. People used to come to this country because they wanted to be Americans and to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities it offered. Now, Muslims come and want only to remain in their tight little communities, interested only in maintaining their medieval beliefs and imposing them on everyone else. We are, after all, only infidels, and the Koran says it's all right to kill or enslave us if we don't choose to see the peaceful Islamic light.

They've done a marvelous job of screwing up the Middle East. I hope we don't allow them the opportunity to screw up America as well.

And it's a shame that I had to think about this in the context of a happy summer picnic.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Thoughts About August 25th and Choices

Today is Monday, August 25th. It's a day pretty much like any other day in the Washington DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia area, in that I expect both good and bad things.

On the good side: the new season lineup for Dancing with the Stars will be announced.

On the bad side: global warming will take a sharp increase as he Democratic National Convention begins in Denver. I fear for whatever snow is still left high in the Rockies.

On the good side: the Republican National Convention won't start for another week, so we don't have to suffer double the hot air at once.

On the bad side: the Republican National Convention will start in another week.

I sometimes feel badly about being so cynical and depressed over the state of our presidential campaign. But when I do, I take a moment to reflect on all the politicians of both parties who have striven manfully (and womanfully, too, of course) to help me develop my attitude. I can't believe that a nation of almost 305,000,000 people can't come up with two better candidates than Barack Obama and John McCain.

Senator Obama is an inexperienced lightweight who is, in my mind, utterly unprepared to be president at this point in his life and our history. He may be an appealing candidate, and the selection of Senator Biden as a running mate will help paper over some of the gaping holes in his resume, but his appeal is all superficial. The man just ain't ready.

Senator McCain is a very experienced person, and a genuine war hero in a Congress notably short of members willing to perform military service (consider that Mr Cheney had better things to do than serve in the military during his college years). The problem is that Mr McCain is a Republican, however much a maverick one (whatever that means), and the Republicans under George W. Bush have done a magnificent job of hosing up the country and squandering our international reputation. Whatever his positive points, Mr McCain represents this legacy, I don't want it, and I don't think the country can take it.

The worst part about the whole thing is that - despite my strong endorsement of Nobody as a candidate - I can't not vote in November. Grumpily sitting it out without voting simply allows others to make a decision that critically affects me, my family, and my world. My four wonderful grandchildren will grow up in a world shaped by the next president, and my only choice for leadership is between John McCain and Barack Obama.

I'm depressed. How do I chose between two candidates, neither of which I can support in good conscience?

If you've got any ideas, I'm listening.

In the meantime, your best voting options over the next few months will be on Dancing with the Stars. You may as well follow along. At least you'll know what you're voting for.

And your entire future won't depend on it.

Have a good day to begin this traditional last week of summer. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Title's Better Than Your Title, Part 2

Some time back (in March of this year, actually) I wrote a post I called "My Title's Better Than Your Title," which turned out to be one of my more popular (or, at least, more frequently read) pieces. You may remember that's the one in which I mused that it would really be nice to have a formal title like Illustrious Potentate, as opposed to something more appropriate like Chief Cook and Bottle Washer.

Well, today I'm ready to take the title discussion one step further.

I want a coat of arms.

No, not a winter garment for an octopus, I mean a real coat of arms like all the noble people have. I'd like to have a real, colorful, no-kidding shield adorned with bears, unicorns, stars, knights, and all sorts of other neat stuff. I'd like people to be able to Google Bilbo on the Internet and learn that his shield has bars, gules, a pomegranate proper, roundels, goutes, dragons rampant d'or, and similar imposing things that would make salesmen, flacks for political candidates, and annoying itinerant preachers think twice about knocking on my suitably emblazoned front door.

Prince Charles of England has a coat of arms:

And so did the late Pope John Paul II:

Unfortunately, descending as I do from a long and illustrious line of working-class Eastern European nobodies, I don't really rate my own coat of arms in the traditional heraldic sense. But that doesn't stop me from being fascinated by the whole idea.

You can have a lot of fun with heraldic terms. Old-time children's cartoons were famous for including all sorts of adult puns and allusions that you couldn't possibly use of my favorites was a villain in the old Underdog cartoon series - Simon Bar Sinister:

Today, being older and somewhat more educated, I know that in heraldic terms a bar sinister, meaning a line from the top right to the bottom left of a coat of arms, signifies that the owner of the crest is a bastard.

You can get a fairly good introduction to the arcane art and science of designing coats of arms here (more information than you probably want, but it's neat, anyhow). There are also lots of websites and companies out there that will happily design you a coat of arms for your family in exchange for a signature recumbent on a check of large denomination. Unfortunately, they'll just throw a bunch of stuff together that really doesn't necessarily mean be real, a coat of arms has to tell something about you and your family's history, achievements, lineage, and so on.

I'm still working on drawing out my idea for Bilbo's Coat of Arms, but in heraldic terms, it would be something like a debtor rampant on a field of unpaid bills, pursued by a tax collector, furious. I need a motto, too...perhaps something like capilla semper incendium ("hair always on fire").

I'll let you know when it's done.

In the meantime, you can just continue to call me Illustrious Potentate. It'll do fine.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

Tropical storm Fay is drenching the southeast, Senator McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns, Senator Obama has picked Senator Biden as his running mate, and your name is probably on a watch list somewhere.

Yes, once again it's time to open a big can of industrial-strength Cartoon Saturday.

With four grandchildren and a bunch of oh-so-funny coworkers who never fail to remind me about my age, I thought this was a pretty good statement...

I love dogs. Most dogs, anyhow. A few weeks ago, lacochran sent me an e-mail with a wonderful collection of dog cartoons, from which I offer this great one...

You just can't be too careful any more what you say to whom...

If you've ever had the pleasure of potty-training a child (Amanda and Moosie), you'll enjoy this one...

And finally, I've had people like this working for me. Not you, Katherine...

It's going to be a busy weekend, with a morning full of running errands, dance coaching this afternoon, and Leya's first birthday party tomorrow. Life is good. Busy, but good.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Green Thumb Update

Earlier this summer, I blogged about this year's gardening effort at Chez Bilbo. Here's where we are a few months later:

- We are up to our armpits in basil, tarragon, thyme, chives, and rosemary. In fact, the basil is doing so well that I'm a little afraid of it...

- The parsley, dill, cilantro, and marjoram have died out. I have since learned that parsley is a biennial plant, which explains why it grew like mad last year, roared back early this year, then almost overnight went to seed and died out.

- The deer and rabbits have eaten all my tomato plants. Agnes and I have different views of this: she says the animals have to eat, too; I say they should go next door and eat at my neighbor's outdoor salad bar instead.

- The two yellow squash plants yielded exactly one big, beautiful squash. It's so nice I'm thinking of having it bronzed and displaying it on the mantlepiece. The zucchini plants yielded lots of pretty flowers, but no zucchinis.

- We have about five baseball-sized green and red bell peppers dangling from miserable-looking plants that have been munched down to stalks by the deer and rabbits.

Three words for next year: chicken wire fence.

The upside of all this is that the garden side of our house smells wonderful as the herbs bask in the summer sun. The downside is that the compost pile side of the house...well...doesn't. I'm also taking a bit less neighborly approach to the local wildlife...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow when we celebrate this week's Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Digital Legacies

According to an article in yesterday's Washington Post titled "Capturing the Bush Legacy Online," an effort is underway to "capture snapshots of every federal government Web site before ... the next president moves into the White House and starts remaking the federal bureaucracy to fit his agenda." The goal of the effort, according to the article, is "to preserve millions of agency records in an online archive that librarians hope will provide a valuable trove for historians, government scholars, and the public."

Good luck.

Actually, an effort to capture the official websites of government agencies will probably fare much better than an attempt to archive actual paper or electronic documents. The Bush administration's penchant for secrecy and "executive privilege" is such that even if documents escape the shredder (or its digital equivalent) before January 20th, chances are that they'll be classified so highly that they'll be stored in an ice cavern on a lesser moon of Jupiter and guarded by Kozmo the Ultimate Monster, and no one will be able to read them before the sun goes nova. Historians everywhere are wringing their hands.

But the problem goes farther and is more insidious than just the secrecy fetish of a paranoid administration. The entire issue of how we transmit information into the future is one of critical importance to all of us.

Consider that libraries and museums around the world hold tens of millions of books, scrolls, drawings, and works of art, some of which are hundreds, if not thousands of years old. Yet despite their age, we can still hold them in our hands, read them (if with difficulty), and put them to use. Now consider whether or not you can play those old 8-track tapes and 78-rpm records in your attic. Or open documents you created with the word processor in your old Wang computer, now stored on 7-inch floppy discs. Or look at the pictures you took at last year's family reunion if the computer is down.

See the problem?

I wrote about one aspect of this problem last September in my most-viewed-post-ever on this blog: Don't Dig Here! The issue there was the linguistic and cultural challenge of how we can warn people tens of thousands of years in the future of the danger of nuclear waste storage sites. The question of how we can access our accumulated knowledge when it's stored in hundreds of formats requiring many types of incompatible devices to read is not a trivial matter.

The Library of Congress is working hard on the problem of digital preservation. The LOC website (one of those which will be captured as discussed in the article with which we began this post) has a very good discussion of the problem and offers many sound pieces of advice on what you can do to preserve your and your family's own digital heritage. I encourage you to take a few minutes to think about the issue, read the LOC website, and develop your own digital history preservation plan.

Someday, my grandchildren may inherit my interest in the history of their family. I don't want them to have to wonder what I looked like because they can't recover pictures from a file no one knows how to open, or be unable to read what I wrote over the years in this blog because the records can't be accessed by Web 10.5. And I'd really like to think that they'll be able to access the records of the Bush administration.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Beloit College Mindset List

Back in August, 1969 (gasp!), 18-year-old Bilbo began his freshman year at Penn State University. The pterodactyls had recently gone off the endangered species list, having finally died out. Richard Nixon was president, war was raging in Vietnam, gas cost about 35 cents a gallon, and the first man had walked on the moon less than a month before.

Most students start their freshman year of college at the tender age of 18, and so most of those who head to leafy college campuses this month were born around 1990. The world in which they grew up is quite different from the one that shaped Bilbo in 1969.

Each August for the past 11 years, Beloit College, Wisconsin, has released its annual Mindset List. Created by Beloit’s Professor Tom McBride and Public Affairs Director Ron Nief, the list is designed to help the faculty and staff relate to the new students, and provides a unique annual summary of the rapidly changing frame of reference for each new generation.

You can read the Mindset List for the Class of 2012 here, and you can also link to the lists for each of the previous years the list has been published. It’s interesting and, for a person my age, a little sobering. Here are a few of the items from the list that particularly caught my attention:

Gas stations have never fixed flats, but most serve cappuccino. In 1969, "service stations" offered "service." They would pump your gas for you, check the oil, water, and tire pressure, and wash your windshield. You usually paid cash; if you used a credit card, the attendant used a little machine that imprinted your card on a multi-part carbon receipt...and you didn't worry that someone was going to steal your card number from the carbon.

Girls in head scarves have always been part of the school fashion scene. In 1969, girls made their political statements by not wearing bras or shaving their legs or underarms. The religious ones all belonged to the Campus Crusade for Christ and annoyed you by asking you about the Four Spiritual Laws while you were trying to ... well ... never mind.

The Warsaw Pact is as hazy for them as the League of Nations was for their parents. Well, let's not be too hasty on this one...with Russia kicking Georgian butt, some truncated version of the old Warsaw Pact may yet be back. And the United Nations will continue to be just as vibrant and useful as the League of Nations.

Personal privacy has always been threatened. Thanks to Messrs Bush, Cheney, and Chertoff, we're doing a marvelous job of protecting ourselves from ... ourselves.


The Windows 3.0 operating system made IBM PCs user-friendly the year they were born. I typed all my term papers with a manual typewriter. My Computer Science 101 class involved laboriously writing out programs in longhand, then sitting at a loud machine to turn them into punched cards that a Staff Geek fed into a huge mainframe computer to generate a list of error messages. Today, I'm writing this blog on an iMac running OS-Leopard with a virtual machine inside running MS-Vista. No questions, please, I don't understand it, either...I just use it. And punched cards at least made useful bookmarks in a pinch.

I suddenly feel old. Not as old as Mike, but old, nevertheless.

This guy was a freshman in 1969:

He's a little older...and a lot more irreverent...39 years later:

How's your mindset? And for those of you reading this blog overseas, what were the things that shaped your mindset when you headed off to college?

Interesting to reflect, isn't it?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Public Speaking

High on the list of things that scare most people is "speaking in front of an audience." For most of us, getting up in front of an audience, whether it's to give a formal speech, act in a play, or give a toast at a wedding, is the hardest thing we'll ever do. For myself, I don't mind speaking in front of an audience...I get some butterflies up front, but never find myself paralyzed with terror. If you're one of those who is afraid of public speaking, you might try joining a Toastmasters Club - they're everywhere, and I can tell you from personal experience that they're excellent.

The reason I bring all this up is a fascinating article in the current (September 2008) issue of The Atlantic Monthly Magazine titled Rhetorical Questions. In this article, author James Fallows looks at the rhetorical styles of Barack Obama and John McCain and assesses how the men's respective speaking styles reflect their personalities and suggest the ways they might govern. He compares their rhetorical styles to those of great presidential speakers of the past (Reagan, Kennedy, and Franklin Roosevelt) and predicts how the men will stack up against each other in the coming presidential debate season. Briefly, Mr Fallows assesses that Senator Obama is a master of the set-piece speech, and shines in a setting that allows him to stand behind a podium and deliver already-prepared remarks. Senator McCain, on the other hand, is a much better impromptu speaker and excels in smaller, more intimate town-hall-type settings. Looking at these strengths and weaknesses of speaking style, Mr Fallows predicts how the debates will shape up, and offers some advice about presidential debates, including the Five Questions That Should Never Be Asked:

1. The will you pledge tonight question (which I always thought was utterly stupid);

2. The gotcha question (designed to catch the candidate in a dreaded flip-flop);

3. The loaded hypothetical question (such as when CNN's Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis whether he would favor the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered);

4. The raise your hand question (which isn't really a question and, as Mr Fallows points out, is both intellectually vulgar and personally rude); and

5. The lightning round (in which the candidates are given only 30 seconds to address a point...which is usually a staggeringly complex policy question).

Regardless of what you think of the two candidates (and I don't think very much, as you know), and whether or not you enjoy public speaking, this is a fascinating article, well worth your time to read. Once you've read it, you'll be better able to see through the fluff and bluster of this season's "debates" and see whether or not your chosen candidate has actually answered a question or responded to a challenge.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Who Loves Who, Baby...?

Yesterday I offered a few brief quotes from one of my favorite writers - Eric Hoffer, the "Longshoreman Philosopher." One of those quotes was this:

"It almost seems that nobody can hate America as much as native Americans. America needs new immigrants to love and cherish it."

When Hoffer wrote these words in 1973, they were true. Today, I'm not so sure.

It is undeniably true that Americans are our own worst critics. They demonstrate against whatever administration is in power, file lawsuits over proposed legislation, denounce foreign and domestic policies, and generally give the impression that they'd rather live almost anywhere else. New immigrants, on the other hand, have historically recognized what native Americans have not: that this country offers economic and social opportunities, security, and a general freedom virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world. The new immigrants vote with their feet, and they vote for America.

After all, ask yourself if such marvelous garden spots as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Burma (okay, Myanmar), and Mexico have a serious problem with illegal immigration.

But nowadays, the new immigrants don't love America as they have in the past. Many don't come here seeking the freedoms and opportunities they were denied at home, or in search of some mythical "American dream" - they come only for short-term economic benefit, in flagrant and shameless violation of the laws that set this country apart from all others. The outrageous demonstrations in favor of rights for illegal immigrants which feature protesters carrying Mexican flags are an insult to the nation from which they demand that which they have not earned.

Large numbers of Muslim immigrants arrive in a country which prides itself on equality of opportunity...and insist on keeping women as the second-class citizens they were at home - wrapped, robed, and hidden away under medievally twisted concepts of "honor" and protection. We see in America "honor killings" and other disgusting examples of barbaric behavior that previous generations of immigrants came here to, they bring it with them and insist in our courts on the freedom to pursue it.

To paraphrase the words of the old TV detective Theo Kojak, "Who loves who, baby?"

If you're not concerned at some of the changes taking place around you, or if you're stuck in the rut of reflexively denouncing America for all the ills of the world...well, you might be happier somewhere else. After all, pretty soon there should be plenty of space in all the countries whose populations leave for America because they see what we all too often don't.

And what we all too often don't try to protect.

Think about it. It's our future, after all.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Eric Hoffer

If you've been around this blog for very long, you may recall that one of my favorite writers is Eric Hoffer, the so-called "Longshoreman Philosopher." My mother introduced me to his work many years ago, and I always enjoy going back and reading through his numerous books to enjoy his insights on all topics. My favorite of his books was his first, The True Believer, which was a penetrating look at the dynamics of mass movements and fanaticism (a topic in which I am hugely interested).


While I was traveling last week, I needed a fairly thin book to take with me on the plane (you never know any more when they'll start charging for carry-ons), and I selected another of Hoffer's books, Reflections on the Human Condition...only 86 pages long, but crammed with wonderful insights into human nature. Here are some of my favorite quotes from this great book:

#46 - "It is cheering to see that the rats are still around - the ship is not sinking."

#88 - "An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head."

#141 - "People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them."


#52 - "It almost seems that nobody can hate America as much as native Americans. America needs new immigrants to love and cherish it." (I'll have more to say on this one tomorrow)

Eric Hoffer's books are short and most are divided into brief sections only a few lines or a short paragraph long. Individual sections may be short, but his writing style is clear and compelling and his comments and insight are marvelous. Next time you're in the library, check him out. You won't be sorry.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

Russia is beating up on Georgia, Muslims still think it's all right to kill you if you're not a Muslim, everything you eat contains salmonella viruses, and hurricane season is in full swing.

You need a big dose of Cartoon Saturday.

I'm not sure this is what Shakespeare had in mind when he penned his 18th Sonnet, but on a Code Red day in DC with the temperature and the humidity both in the high 90's, it can make you wonder...

There are lots of cartoons that feature Mount Rushmore...this is one of my favorites:

Nothing like an unfortunate case of mistaken identity...

Charity is a good thing, but a little planning goes a long way...

And this one is for everyone out there who's wondered about some of the really stupid questions that come out of press conferences...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Airline 1, Bilbo 0

Well, I'm back from my trip to lovely Colorado Springs. On balance it was a successful trip: on the way there, my bag and I arrived on the same flight, which arrived a few minutes early; my meeting was interesting and worthwhile; and on the way home, my bag and I once again arrived on the same flight, which arrived only about 15 minutes late (which, according to the airlines, counts as being on time).

But of course, that's not the whole story.

Back in the early days of flying (as much as a year ago), you received a paper ticket consisting of about 56 pages, of which only a few actually allowed you to fly...the others were covered front and back with disclaimers printed in .007 pitch font that explained that the airline wasn't really guaranteeing you anything. Nowadays, of course, you get a single printed boarding pass from a machine; the pass is printed only on one side; and you have to go to the airline's website to access the 56 pages of disclaimers.

This is called progress.

After years of flying, I have managed to identify most of the information applicable to me which was contained in those 56 pages. Here are the most significant items:

1. If an aircraft has 32 rows of seats, Bilbo will be seated in row 32. If row 32 is already full, he will be seated in row 31.

2. Bilbo will always be seated next to an individual the size of a harbor tug.

3. If there are three seats in the row, Bilbo will be seated in the center seat between two individuals the size of harbor tugs.

4. If the boarding is done by groups, Bilbo will always be included in the last group to board, to ensure that there is no more space available for his carryon in overhead bins or under seats.

5. If the boarding is done by rows from back to front, people seated in rows at the rear of the aircraft will have put their carryon bags in the overhead bins at the front of the aircraft so they won't have to worry there won't be any space left in the back when they get there.

6. If the rules say passengers may have one carryon and "one small personal item," at least 50% of the passengers will try to wedge suitcases the size of an upright piano into the bins, blocking the aisles as they do, and refusing all entreaties from airline personnel to check said suitcases with the rest of the baggage.

7. Airline seats - designed by Gestapo professionals - are cleverly made to ensure that the arthritis in my neck will have reduced me to sobbing, stiff-necked agony by the time I'm done scrunching away from my seatmates the size of harbor tugs.

There's more, but you get the idea.

I also had the delightful gate-change experience at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport yesterday afternoon...I was booked on a 1:05 flight to Washington Reagan Airport, departing from DFW's gate C-26. At 12:40, the agent at the gate announced that our flight was on time...and had just been changed to gate D-31. Now, you might think that a change from terminal C to terminal D wouldn't be so bad...after all, it's only one letter, right? Well, it's actually quite some distance, and requires a train ride to get there. I joined the frantic, thundering stampede of Washington passengers scrambling to get to the new terminal, and we came racing up to the gate...just in time for the announcement that the incoming flight had just arrived and wasn't at the gate yet, and that it would be at least 1/2 hour before we would be able to begin boarding.

And I ended up in seat 31A (window), right next to a very pleasant, but very huge fellow who took up about a quarter of my seat in addition to his own.

Let me just say that I'm glad to be home, and am not looking forward to flying again.

Have a good day. Take a bus. More thoughts tomorrow, on Cartoon Saturday.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia On My Mind...

Greetings from Colorado Springs, Colorado. The weather is beautiful, the mountains are beautiful, the people are friendly, and my grouchy, elderly laptop petulantly refuses to connect to the Blogger system, so I am making use of the business center at the hotel to get this post out. The business center, unlike my room, does not have a window offering a view of Pike's Peak and the Front Range of the Rockies, so I am also grouchy.

Not that you care, of course.

As long as I'm feeling grouchy, let's talk about Georgia. No, not the one in the southern US, I mean the one the Russians have been beating up on for the last week or so.

I hope the next time Mr Bush has the opportunity to look into the soul of some other world leader, he'll do a better job of soul-reading than he did with Mr Putin of Russia. I also hope he recognizes that his arrogant and stupid foreign policies have - in my humble opinion - helped bring us to the point that an ally - Georgia - which is the third largest contributor of troops to the "coalition" in Iraq after the US and Britain, can be attacked with impunity by a Russia which is making a point about its treatment by the US government.

Don't get me wrong...I don't think there's any justification for what the Russians are doing in's just pure great-power bullying. But I think it's perfectly clear that they are sending a message about how they have been pushed aside and their perceived security interests ignored by an American administration bent on flexing its muscles and doing exactly what it wants. They are using the same language and the same justifications for their actions that Mr Bush used in going to war in Iraq. They are putting us on notice that they are still a world power to be reckoned with, if only because they have nukes and lots of oil (which are two good reasons, anyhow).

The chickens are coming home to roost, the next president will have to clean out the coop, and I just don't think either Mr McCain or Mr Obama are up to it.

Good luck, Georgia.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 11, 2008

The Day of the Stupid Pun

My posting will be a little erratic for the next few days (how will you know, you ask, ha-ha). This morning I have a lot to do before leaving for work, and early tomorrow morning I'll be flying out to Colorado Springs for a conference. I'll be back home Thursday evening. So I'll be posting from on-the-road, and hopefully my elderly, creaking laptop will cooperate.

For this morning, inspired by Mike's litany (in post 503) of the "jobs" he's held, here is a compilation of some of the most horrible groaner puns and dumb jokes I've heard in a while. Enjoy...

1. Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.

(The next few are samples of the 'A ___ walked into a bar, and ...' school of humor)...

2. A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, 'I'll serve you, but don't start anything.'

3. Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.

4. A dyslexic man walks into a bra...

5. A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says: 'A beer please, and one for the road.'

6. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: 'Does this taste funny to you?'

7. 'Doc, I can't stop singing 'The Green, Green Grass of Home.'' The doctor says, 'That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome.' 'Is it common?', the man asks. The doctor replies, well, 'It's Not Unusual.'

8. Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, 'I was artificially inseminated this morning.' 'I don't believe you, ' says Dolly. 'It's true, no bull!' exclaims Daisy.

9. An invisible man married an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.

10. (My favorite!) DejaMoo: The feeling that you've heard this bull before.

11. I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn't find any.

12. A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, 'Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!' The doctor replied, 'I know you can't - I've cut off your arms!'

13. I went to a seafood disco last week and danced so hard I pulled a mussel.

14. What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.

15. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says 'Dam!'.

16. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

17. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. 'But why,' they asked, as they moved off. 'Because' he said, 'I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.'

18. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named 'Ahmal.' The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him 'Juan.' Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, 'They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal.'

19. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and resulted in bad breath. This made him a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

20. And finally, there was the person who sent twenty different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least ten of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Have a good day. Tomorrow's post will be up later in the day, because I'm flying out so early in the morning...more thoughts once I'm settled at the hotel.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Periodic Table of Awesoments

I found this absolutely amazing thing this morning courtesy of Miss Cellania - Dapperstache's Periodic Table of Awesoments. You can follow the link to see it in its natural state, or view it below (click on the image to blow it up to a readable size) so you can follow my rambling commentary...

Like the Periodic Table of the Elements, which I studied in high school and then again in college before crashing on the rocks of calculus and switching to Linguistics, Dapperstache's table seeks to establish ranges of characteristics and relationships among the "118 fundamental awesoments that compose all good things."

Now, I might have noted some of the things he either included in (William Shatner, awesoment #55) or omitted from (Feminine Arm Hair) the table, but that's just quibbling over a major contribution to our understanding of the world around us. It explains the reason that such forces of nature as Chuck Norris (awesoment #11), Giant Squids (awesoment #60), and Boobs (awesoment #13) exist and relate to each other. I think I might have ended up a chemist instead of a useless, droning blogger if the periodic table I had to study had been as interesting and useful as this one.

So, anyhow, check out Dapperstache's table and draw your own conclusions about what makes the world an awesome place.

It surely isn't the Olympics, the election season, or Bud Light, after all.

Congratulations to Dapperstache on a great idea, well executed.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

Yes, once again it's Cartoon Saturday. I don't know about you, but this week I can surely use a laugh. Let's get started...

Sometimes, you just can't figure what one person sees in another. And other times...

We all know the saying "Justice is Blind," but it took Frank and Ernest to make me understand what it really meant...

One of the greatest lines from the old "Cheers" television show was when one of the characters mournfully commented, "It's a dog-eat-dog world, and I'm wearin' Milk Bone underwear." I understand dogs, especially old ones, and especially nowadays...

Everyone is looking for innovative ways to save gas. I liked this one...

And I just couldn't resist this old dance cartoon...

Have a good weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Of Olympics and Firewalls

The summer Olympics of 2008 are now underway in Beijing (at least, I think they are...I always get confused by that International Date Line thing). The athletes are there (at least, the ones that were politically safe enough to get visas), the journalists are there (at least, the ones who have agreed to play by the rules), and tens of thousands of security people are there (to defend against terrorists, criminals, demonstrators, and those who would spit on the street).

For good or ill, it's China's time to shine. How much tarnish is on that shine will be pretty much up to the Chinese government. No one can argue that China hasn't pulled out all the stops to try and put on a fabulous event, just as any nation does when it sponsors the Olympic games...but for China, this is a particularly important event because - as every news report in the last six months reminds us - it's their opportunity to show the rest of the world that China has "arrived on the world stage."

The massive construction effort has transformed old Beijing, and the vast social reeducation of the population (be polite, don't demonstrate, don't spit on the street, take English lessons, etc) has aimed to produce the face of the "harmonious society" the Chinese government wants to show the world. How well it will all work remains to be seen.

There was a very interesting article by John Kamm in yesterday's Washington Post titled "Blinded by the Firewall: Why the Chinese Think the World Loves China" that is worth reading. The article summarizes the results of surveys by the Pew Research Center that looked at perceptions of China on the part of the Chinese, and on the part of persons in other countries. Those results are instructive for understanding modern China and why the Chinese act and react the way they do.

The key quote from the article is this: "Essentially, the people of China think twice as many people in the world like their country as actually do. This isn't a gap; it's a chasm. And the information bubble around the Chinese people explains a lot."

While China's government is far less draconian than in times past, it is still rigidly authoritarian and intent on maintaining the ruling primacy of the Chinese Communist Party. One way of ensuring that primacy is the control and manipulation of the information the Chinese people receive about the world around them. From state management of news broadcasts to the massive filtering of the internet known as "The Great Firewall of China," the Chinese people are exposed to a highly skewed view of the world that in turn skews their perception of how the rest of the world thinks of China. The result, Mr Kamm's article suggests, is the frequent outbursts of jingoistic national pride at the least suggestion that China might be in the wrong on any issue. Americans have come to grips with the sad fact that our image in much of the rest of the world has been badly damaged by the present administration, and there's widespread recognition that we need to fix that problem. The average Chinese person, on the other hand, has no idea that China is anything but wholeheartedly loved and admired by the rest of the world...and any hint that it isn't is despicable anti-Chinese agitation aimed at "humiliating" China and keeping it from its rightful place in the modern world.

Read the article - it gives you a useful perspective on modern China, and will open your eyes to the danger of over-management of the news and the pernicious effects of hearing only what someone wants you to hear. And it bears out Bilbo's First Law - don't let anyone do your thinking for you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

And the Rant Goes On...

Yesterday I wrote about my problems with Barack Obama as a potential president. Today, in the interest of fairness and balance (inspired by Faux News), I'll write about my view of John McCain.

First, the positives: Mr McCain is an experienced congressman, with 26 years of experience in the House and the Senate, often taking principled positions on issues which made him deeply unpopular with his fellow Republicans. He is a genuine war hero with a distinguished record of service. He offers plans and programs which are a bit more fleshed out than those of Mr Obama, but which are still largely pie-in-the-sky (you can read about them on his website here, and compare them to those of Mr Obama here). He has a wealthy and glamorous wife (okay, this isn't a qualification for president, and Michelle Obama is a beautiful lady, too, but it never hurts to have a great-looking spouse. I have Agnes, after all).

Now for the negatives: I have a hard time waking up after listening to him. At a time when the country needs firm and dynamic leadership, Mr McCain comes across as a kindly old grandfather (a role with which I'm passingly familiar). He's not inspiring in the way I believe we need today, particularly when compared to a fresh, dynamic figure and rousing speaker like Mr Obama. He's too closely aligned with the policies of the Bush administration. And he's old. This isn't a bad thing, per se (being old surely does beat the alternative), but he doesn't radiate the force and charisma the country is looking for right now. I think he'd like to be a Franklin Roosevelt, but he comes across more as a Calvin Coolidge.

So, while I have tremendous respect and admiration for John McCain, believe he has the legislative and military experience and seasoning to be president, and is far more qualified for the job than Barack Obama, I don't think I can vote for him. And by the way, if you've been in a cave in Outer Mongolia for the last day or two and haven't seen it, here is the hysterically funny Paris Hilton answer to Mr McCain's campaign ad that implied Barack Obama is only a Hilton-type professional celebrity. The best part is...she has a better energy policy than anyone else!

On a related topic (rant alert here)...

Yesterday I stumbled across this topic on the Cafferty File blog maintained by CNN's Jack Cafferty: What's Better - Gridlock or One-Party Control?

So what the #%@! kind of question is this?

I think you probably can imagine the comment I posted to this. My comment apparently didn't get through the editorial filter and doesn't appear on the site, but this one from "Tony in Oregon" is very close to what I wrote (and much less sarcastic): "Wrong question. Better asked is how to gain consensus on the important issues so that we move together in solidarity to address the nation’s primary needs and common interests."

I couldn't have put it better myself. Until we have legislators with the courage to put aside the siren call of stiff-necked partisanship and blind party loyalty to work with each other in a true bipartisan spirit to do the right thing for the country, we are well and truly screwed.

I'm just as scared of one-party railroading (which both Republicans and Democrats are very good at) as I am of gridlock. I'm well and truly sick of our elected reprehensives solemnly intoning their blame of the other side for every one of the nation's ills. Where are the statesmen? Where's the Henry Clay of 2008?

As far as I can see, none of his philosophical descendants are within a hundred miles of Capitol Hill.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Deeply Superficial Person

I ran across an interesting quote from Andy Warhol this morning in which he described himself as "a deeply superficial person." Mr Warhol is a man ahead of his time, for his comment is appropriate to this year's presidential race.

I still find myself utterly unable to understand the wild celebrity appeal of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate. The fact that he isn't George Bush is clearly a plus, but then, I'm not George Bush either, and I doesn't draw adoring crowds who think I should be president (except for Mike, John, and Zipcode, but I don't think three people constitute an adoring crowd). Mr Obama is an excellent public speaker, but then, so was Adolf Hitler. He speaks eloquently of change and grand plans, but without laying out realistic plans to accomplish it all.

If you visit Mr Obama's website, you won't learn a great deal more of real substance. One thing I did observe, though, was that if you mouse over the tab titled "People," you can find targeted messages for 19 different categories of people, including "LBGT" (I suppose it's too in-your-face to spell out "lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transsexual"). The president must represent all Americans...not present a different face and message to 19 different constituencies.

I would really like to be able to believe in Barack Obama. If nothing else, he is definitely a fresh face with some new ideas. But like all politicians, he is long on promise and short on specifics. People running for office makes lots of grand promises...statesmen explain how they intend to try to turn those promises into programs. I don't see it here.

The real importance of Barack Obama's candidacy doesn't lie in his basic qualifications for the presidency, which - as you know - I think are minimal. The fact that he has emerged as a very strong candidate for the nation's highest office is an indication of how far we've come from the bad old days of slavery and Jim Crow laws. I believe the fact that a black man can be accepted by a wide swath of Americans of all races, religions, and economic strata as a viable candidate speaks well for the nation. With some more seasoning in Congress (where, for instance, he could try to establish a record of bipartisan accomplishments as an indication of what he's capable of doing), I think he could be a better candidate. At the moment, he's not quite an empty suit, but a suit only half-full.

Voting for Barack Obama because he's black makes no more sense than voting for John McCain because he's white. The person we elect will be the president of all Americans of all races and religions. He (or she) will need to be able to unite us behind solid programs which can overcome the disastrous legacy of eight years of George Bush, repair the country at home and propel us back into the global leadership we've forfeited.

We are a nation adrift and in need of firm, inspiring, and dynamic leadership from someone able to articulate a vision and the means to achieve it. If someone's out there running who can do that, let me know.

At the moment, I have to say that I find Mr Obama a deeply superficial person.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about John McCain. Hint: it won't be much more positive that what I've written today.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Theory of the Leisure Class

Someone once defined a classic book as one that everyone says he wants to read, but nobody you know actually ever has. There are lots of books like that on my gotta-read list, but I picked up a new one yesterday at the library after hearing a "best beach reads" review on NPR's Marketplace program: "The Theory of the Leisure Class," by Thorstein Veblen. You can read it online or download a copy here if you like.

Mr Veblen argues, if I understand his basic concept before actually starting to read, that the idea of division of labor led to the development of status classes based on the perceived value and utility of the labor performed. At the top of the heap was what he referred to as the leisure class - those who were high enough in the social order that they needed to do only symbolic or prestigious work, and who had accumulated sufficient wealth to be able to live an easy life. This life was marked by conspicuous leisure (demonstrating that they had plenty of time to relax while others labored), and conspicuous consumption (demonstrating that they had plenty of money or other resources to waste on ostentatious displays of personal accumulation of worldly goods).

This is a very brief (and possibly inaccurate) summary of a book I haven't begun to read yet, but the radio review got me to thinking about the ideas of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure. Although Mr Veblen developed his theories in the late 1800's, the era of the super-rich "Robber Barons," the concept of conspicuous consumption is clearly borne out today by such things as the enormous McMansion homes that sell for stratospheric amounts (or did, prior to the housing meltdown). Who buys these gigantic homes, and the Mercedes, BMWs, Jaguars, and Cadillacs in their driveways? Certainly not janitors, fry cooks, bus drivers, or young professionals just starting their careers and families...must be Mr Veblen's leisure class. As for conspicuous leisure, there are plenty of country clubs, resorts, and super-expensive restaurants here in DC where people can be seen being seen.

I'm looking forward to reading the book, because it looks like a fascinating insight into the things I see around me every day. It might be nice to someday be a member of that Leisure Class about which Mr Veblen writes...but then again, I kind of like being one of the Real People.

But a guy can dream, can't he?

Have a good day. Try to catch yourself a little leisure. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 04, 2008

The Names of Post Offices

If you're tired of listening to me rant about our utterly useless Congress, you may want to mouse over to another blog before reading any farther. Mike, for instance, has a bouncer he says is waiting to meet me for dissing him...see the picture here.

Okay, if you're still here, that probably means you hold our Congress in the same esteem I do. That being the case, if your local Sunday newspaper contains Parade Magazine, you may have seen the "Government Watch" article titled "Why Is Congress Doing So Little." You can read the article online here; just scroll down until you reach it. No time to read it? Here are the "highlights":

The current Congress has passed 260 laws...and 74 of those were to rename post offices.

It has also passed "hundreds" of resolutions, including one which congratulates the UC-Irvine volleyball team, another which recognizes soil as an "essential resource," and one which recognizes June 30th as "National Corvette Day."

As you might expect, there are differences of opinion about who is at fault for this ludicrous record. In the article, Republican Representative John Shimkus (R, Illinois) - he of the "National Corvette Day" resolution - blames Democrats for "failing to introduce more substantive legislation." Democrats blame Republicans for "blocking key votes," pointing to "a record number of (Republican) filibusters this session."

Your elected reprehensives are paid $169, 300 per year. For that much money, I can rename a lot of post offices and designate a lot of national days. There are a lot of things that don't have a special day designated yet...for instance, I don't think we have a National Invertebrate, wait...we do - there are 100 of them in the Senate and 435 in the House. Never mind.

Are you fed up yet? Have you written to your elected reprehensives to let them know? And I don't mean just printing up and signing the single-issue form letters helpfully produced by the staff drones of your favorite lobby...I mean a letter you wrote yourself, bitching about something you care deeply enough about to put pen to paper (or electrons to screen, if you're more into e-mail than a traditional ink-and-paper guy like me).

These horses asses need to know just how mad we are, and I can't do it all myself. The one thing they understand is reelection...and the only whip hand you hold is your vote. Let them know.

Otherwise, we'll continue to have an economy in the toilet, bazillions of illegal aliens, an arrogant and imperial presidency...and a lot of nicely-named post offices.

And that pisses me off.

Have a good day. Get mad. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

The World's Fastest Computer, and a Great Place to Eat

I was combing through my "blog fodder" file for something to write about today, and found a link to this article from CNN online back on June 9th of this year: Government Unveils World's Fastest Computer. I went back to the link and found only the headline and highlights still there (I guess the article was past its freshness date), but it was still interesting.

According to the highlights, the world's fastest computer (as of June 9th, 2008, which no doubt means it's already obsolete) is named "Roadrunner," and is capable of sustaining 1,000 trillion operations per second, which is a lot. To put it in perspective, a thousand trillion dollars is probably what Northrop Grumman and Boeing are spending on full-page newspaper ads sniping at each other over who should build the Air Force's next tanker aircraft (if you live in the DC area, you'll understand). Anyhow, the highlights go on to note that researchers from IBM and the Los Alamos National Laboratory worked for six years to build Roadrunner, which will be used "to help maintain the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile."

This is sad.

Not that maintaining the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile without blowing one up occasionally to see if it works is a bad thing, particularly if you own real estate near where it would be blown up. But I can think of a lot of other things such an incredibly powerful computer could be used for...

It could be used to calculate the flow of illegal immigrants across the Mexican border (with the US, that is...Mexico very seriously and violently prevents illegal crossing into Mexico along it's border with Belize and Guatemala);

It could be used to estimate the rate at which the current administration is piling up debt that our grandchildren will inherit;

It could be used to model the long-term effects on real people of the implosion of the financial system caused by greed, arrogance of power, and the systematic dismantling of the regulatory systems that used to keep that greed and arrogance under control;

It could be programmed to play chess well enough to beat the average 6 year old Russian grand master.

Just a few grouchy thoughts, since I'm feeling cranky this morning.

On a brighter note, if you live in the Northern Virginia area near Woodbridge, I can recommend a great restaurant: The Korean Grill at 3131 Golansky Blvd. Agnes and I met our friends Nadja and Yoonie for lunch there yesterday, and really enjoyed it...the prices were reasonable (except for that part about the $1.99 iced tea), the portions just right for lunch, and the food excellent. Strongly recommended, even if you can't go there in the company of three beautiful ladies, as I was lucky enough to do.

Eat your heart out, Mike.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts coming.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

If Paint Were Priced Like Airline Tickets

Two posts in one day! That means either that I have too much time on my hands, or that I'm putting off cleaning the study yet again. I think you can figure which is the correct answer.

Last month The Gilahi Blog published a hysterically funny post titled How to Refurbish a Hallway in 52 Easy seems that Gilahi has a problem with paint similar to the one I have with wallpaper. His post reminded me about an equally funny piece I'd run across a while back that looked at what buying paint would be like if the price of paint were calculated the same way the price of airline tickets is. I looked for quite a while in my woefully-disorganized files before I finally found it, and thought it was funny enough to share with you.

I don't know who the original author of this piece is, but I'd like to buy him (or her) a beer.

So sit back, relax, and consider what buying paint might be like in the worst of all possible worlds...

Customer: Hi, how much is your paint?

Clerk: Well, sir, that all depends.

Customer: Depends on what?

Clerk: Actually, a lot of things.

Customer: How about giving me an average price?

Clerk: Wow, that's too hard a question. The lowest price is $9 a gallon, and we have 150 different prices up to $200 a gallon.

Customer: What's the difference in the paint?

Clerk: Oh, there isn't any difference; it's all the same paint.

Customer: Well, then, I'd like some of that $9 paint.

Clerk: Well, first I need to ask you a few questions. When do you intend to use it?

Customer: I want to paint tomorrow, on my day off.

Clerk: Sir, the paint for tomorrow is the $200 paint.

Customer: What? When would I have to paint in order to get the $9 version?

Clerk: That would be in three weeks, but you will also have to agree to start painting before Friday of that week and continue painting until at least Sunday.

Customer: You've got to be kidding!

Clerk: Sir, we don't kid around here. Of course, I'll have to check to see if we have any of that paint available before I can sell it to you.

Customer: What do you mean check to see if you can sell it to me? You have shelves full of that stuff; I can see it right there.

Clerk: Just because you can see it doesn't mean that we have it. It may be the same paint, but we sell only a certain number of gallons on any given weekend. Oh, and by the way, the price just went to $12.

Customer: You mean the price went up while we were talking!

Clerk: Yes, sir. You see, we change prices and rules thousands of times a day, and since you haven't actually walked out of the store with your paint yet, we just decided to change. Unless you want the same thing to happen again, I would suggest that you get on with your purchase. How many gallons do you want?

Customer: I don't know exactly. Maybe five gallons. Maybe I should buy six gallons just to make sure I have enough.

Clerk: Oh, no, sir, you can't do that. If you buy the paint and then don't use it, you will be liable for penalties and possible confiscation of the paint you already have.

Customer: What?

Clerk: That's right. We can sell you enough paint to do your kitchen, bathroom, hall and north bedroom, but if you stop painting before you do the bedroom, you will be in violation of our tariffs.

Customer: But what does it matter to you whether I use all the paint? I already paid you for it!

Clerk: Sir, there's no point in getting upset; that's just the way it is. We make plans based upon the idea that you will use all the paint, and when you don't, it just causes us all sorts of problems.

Customer: This is crazy! I suppose something terrible will happen if I don't keep painting until after Saturday night!

Clerk: Yes, sir, it will.

Customer: Well, that does it! I'm going somewhere else to buy my paint.

Clerk: That won't do you any good, sir. We all have the same rules. Thanks for painting with us!

And so it goes...

Enjoy your evening. More thoughts tomorrow.


Cartoon Saturday

Another week has passed and a new month is here...what better way to celebrate than with Cartoon Saturday?

When Agnes and I bought our first king-sized mattress, it took some getting used to. It wasn't quite this bad, but it was close...

Performance anxiety is one thing, but...

I'm glad I never got into trouble in this class...

I spend a lot of time at work grumbling about the mix of music on our office sound system (all Johnny Cash, all the time, alternated with heavy metal, is a bit much for an old-goat-in-training). Everyone else complains about the music I contributed, too, but they can complain in their own blogs. When this cartoon showed up on my calendar, everyone agreed it was really me...

And finally, there's bird flu and there's ... well ...

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.