Thursday, July 31, 2008

The House Apologizes for Slavery

On Tuesday of this week, the House of Representatives woke up, yawned, scratched it's collective armpit, stuck up a wetted finger to test the political wind, and then took the masterful and courageous move of apologizing for slavery and for Jim Crow segregation laws.

Oh, for Pete's sake...

In the early days of this blog, I commented on discussions in the Virginia legislature about issuing a formal apology for slavery. My comment was along the lines of, well, it's a useless gesture, but if it makes everyone feel better and gets them to focus on the future instead of the past, let's go ahead and apologize. The first comment I received on that post began with the immortal words, "You're an idiot," and went downhill from there, castigating me for endorsing an apology for actions that neither I nor anyone alive today had anything to do with. Well, I may be an idiot (no need to comment, Mike), but I stand by my original point.

This Congress has much to apologize for, including:
* failure to pass immigration reform;
* failure to develop a national energy policy;
* failure to stand up to an overreaching and imperial President;
* failure to develop immediate and long-range measures to resolve the economic crisis; and,
* failure to address the crisis in public education...just to name a few.

Instead, Congress has chosen to pander to black Americans by issuing a symbolic and ultimately useless apology for actions taken hundreds of years ago. Evil and unfortunate actions, to be sure, but actions that have long been addressed - by the outlawing of slavery more than 140 years ago and the passage of civil rights legislation more than 40 years ago.

Whether these actions are enough depends on your race and point of view. Many people today blame every ill of the black community on the lingering and pernicious effects of the era of slavery and Jim Crow, arguing that blacks continue to be held down by a society devoted to keeping them in a second-class status.

Where I come from, we call this a crock.

There is no doubt that America's black community suffers from many problems, and that there is still lingering racism in this country. However, there are also many self-inflicted wounds in the black community: a thug culture of the young that glorifies crime and misogyny over education; rampant drug abuse; distrust of the police and other authority; fractured families and and soaring rates of out-of-wedlock births; and the fostering of a culture of victimhood and dependence over personal responsibility. There's also the tendency of many black citizens to turn to Islam...ignoring the historic fact that Islamic Arabs were among the most active of the traders who sold generations of Africans into slavery

Did I just say all that? Now there are a few reasons for people to call me an idiot.

If the House's apology makes you feel better, that's great. Now let's get over it. Let's concentrate on fixing public education and stabilizing the economy so that well-educated people of all races can find good jobs to build a better life.

If Congress can't do that, they really have something to apologize for.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rhyme and Punishment

A few days ago, I read this very interesting piece on the Project Syndicate website: Osama bin Laden, Bard of Terror. It discusses Osama bin Laden's masterful use of classical Arabic poetic style to deliver his messages, with author Bernard Haykel noting that, "Arab culture places a high value on poetic expression, and so it is no coincidence that it appears repeatedly in Al Qaeda's propaganda."

Well, damn and blast...that foul bastard has found yet another good thing to ruin.

As it happens, I really enjoy poetry. I especially love to read good poems aloud for the rhythmic quality of the language. My favorites include:

"Casey at the Bat," by Ernest Lawrence Thayer - I can really do a rousing reading of this one, the classic fun baseball story.

"The Fool's Prayer," by Edward R. Sill - if this one doesn't make you think, or even bring tears to your eyes, something's wrong.

"The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost - the classic "what if?" poem.

"The Power of the Dog" and "The Thousandth Man," by Rudyard Kipling - if you're a dog lover, you'll love the first one; and the second is one of the best celebrations of friendship and loyalty you'll ever read.

"The Cremation of Sam McGee," by Robert W. Service - this is one of the best poems ever written to read aloud, with it's irresistible cadence and eerie lyrics building to a great tall tale of the Yukon.

And finally,

"The Raven," by Edgar Allan Poe - a classic of poetic construction, and another poem meant to be read aloud...preferably on a dark and stormy night.

Osama bin Laden is a monster with much to answer for when Judgment Day rolls around, and using poetry as a way of spreading his evil message is another reason to despise him. I have this dream about Casey swinging that mighty bat at his empty, turbaned head...

Have a good day. Read some poetry. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Here We Go Again...

One of the nice things about living in the greater Washington, DC, area is that you never lack for stupid things on which to comment in your blog. It doesn't quite compensate for the traffic, the cost of living, and the summer heat and humidity, but it helps.

For today's example of Stupidity In Action, I call your attention to this article from this morning's Washington Post: "D.C. Is Sued Again Over Handgun Rules."

It seems that the gentleman who filed the lawsuit which led to the recent Supreme Court decision overturning D.C.'s ban on the ownership of handguns is back in court with yet another lawsuit. This time, Mr Heller is claiming that the new gun-registration system proposed in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling is burdensome and continues to illegally outlaw most semiautomatic pistols.

Let me say up front that I agree with Mr Heller's basic point. If you accept the argument that handguns are necessary for self-defense in D.C., then regulations which require you to keep your gun disassembled, equipped with a trigger lock, and/or unloaded rather defeat the purpose of having it in the first place...after all, if some coked-up ass clown breaks into your home, he's unlikely to wait for you to reassemble, unlock, and load your gun so you can shoot him before he does you ill. In this sense, the new D.C. gun laws are clearly unconstitutional, not to mention silly.

On the other hand, I really have a hard time believing that pumping more legal guns into D.C. to counteract the illegal ones already there is really going to help. I think the more likely long-term result will be more self-inflicted injuries and people using guns to settle domestic disputes. And more guns certainly won't protect us from the legal armed robbery that goes on in the halls of Congress and the office buildings along K Street, anyhow.

Another long-term effect of the new lawsuit, though, is more insidious. The District must once again shell out a few cubic meters of hundred dollar bills to pay reinforced battalions of lawyers to defend itself against the suit. This is money that won't be spent to fix the schools, repair the infrastructure, put more police on the streets, improve emergency services, and put up some decent directional signs so tourists (and locals) can actually navigate around the city.

Mr Heller is within his rights to file all the suits he wants. But no matter what the outcome of his suit, the only real winners will be the lawyers. Think about that the next time you complain about all the problems that the District has no money to fix.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, July 28, 2008

What Women Want

Ever since Og dragged Ogette back to his cave for a saber-toothed tiger dinner by firelight, men have wondered what women really want.

Wonder no more.

Today, as a public service, I share with men everywhere this amazing analysis that arrived this morning by way of my "Daily Joke" e-mail. Not to imply that this is a laughing matter, however - it is a deadly serious issue with implications for a man's life, health, and sanity.

This is what women want in a man:

At age 22: handsome, charming, financially successful, a caring listener, witty, good shape, provides frequent and vigorous sex, dresses with style, appreciates finer things, thoughtful surprises.

At age 32: nice looking, prefer hair, opens car doors, holds chairs, has enough money for a nice dinner, listens more than talks, laughs at her jokes, carries groceries, owns a tie, appreciates home-cooked meals, provides vigorous sex once a week or so, remembers birthdays and anniversaries, seeks romance.

At age 42: not too ugly (bald okay), doesn't drive off until she's in the car, steady job, occasional dinners out, nods head when she speaks, provides acceptable sex twice a month or so, usually remembers punch lines, good enough shape to rearrange furniture, wears shirts that cover his stomach, won't buy screw-top champagne, puts toilet seat down, shaves most weekends.

At age 52: trims nose and ear hair, doesn't belch or scratch (in public), doesn't borrow money, stays awake when she vents, doesn't want sex too often, doesn't retell jokes, can get off the couch on weekends, wears matching socks, usually wears clean underwear, appreciates a good TV dinner, usually remembers her name, shaves some weekends.

At age 62: won't scare small children, remembers where bathroom is, doesn't require much money, snores lightly while asleep, reminisces about good sex, remembers why he's laughing, can stand up by himself, usually wears clothes, likes soft foods, remembers where he put his teeth, remembers it's a weekend.

At age 72: breathing. Cares less about sexual performance than about continence. Hits the toilet.

At age 82: his inheritance.

For the record, as I close in on 57, here's how I think I shape up:
- Trims nose and ear hair: check;
- Doesn't belch or scratch (in public): mostly;
- Doesn't borrow money: check;
- Stays awake when she vents: check;
- Doesn't want sex too often: um...pass;
- Doesn't retell jokes: uh...we'll pass on this one, too;
- Can get off the couch on weekends: check;
- Wears matching socks: my color vision isn't quite right, so...;
- Usually wears clean underwear: check;
- Appreciates a good TV dinner: I hate TV dinners...but I can cook;
- Usually remembers her name: always remembers her name!;
- Shaves some weekends: check.

How do the rest of you shape up?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bilbo and Agnes Dance the Viennese Waltz

Since I had the time to play with the video capture program again while the laundry was doing its thing, I thought I'd try to capture some of our performances from last weekend's Virginia State DanceSport Championships. After looking at the DVD of our heats, I selected this one as the most free of glaring mistakes on my part...

The dance is the Viennese Waltz. Dance champion Corky Ballas once said that it was a very simple dance, consisting only of left turns, right turns, and closed changes...the problem was that you had to do them at a hundred miles an hour. This makes the Viennese Waltz a very aerobically demanding dance (think running the 440 in a tuxedo), which explains the look of horror on my face and the titter in the ballroom when the announcer asks the DJ for a "three-minute Viennese Waltz." And so, moving at not quite a hundred miles an hour, here are Agnes and I dancing the Viennese Waltz...

video

I'm still reviewing the rest of the heat videos...if I find another one that doesn't look too bad, I'll put it up later this week.

By the way, the dress Agnes is wearing was a new one, and quite spectacular. The event organizers' liability insurance protected them from lawsuits from all the men who walked into things or tripped and fell down while gawking at her.

In the meantime, all you men out there reading this and watching the video: that's a room full of beautiful ladies waiting to be danced with. It could be you dancing with them. All you need to do is get off your wide rear end and take some lessons.

Just a thought...

Have a good day. More thoughts later.

Bilbo

Lazy Sunday (But Not By Choice)

I'm posting a bit later than usual today, because this has turned out to be a lazy day, if not by choice.

Believe it or not, I actually got up today at the unheard-of (for me) hour of 8:00 AM...and that was after hitting the sack last night at about 9:30. Wow! Maybe I really am getting to be an old guy...

According to our original plans for today, Agnes and I should right about now be getting dressed and ready to head over to Dance Studio Lioudmila for their Summer Showcase, at which we are scheduled to dance our kick-ass, guaranteed-to-knock-your-socks-off Gold American Tango exhibition routine.

Unfortunately, Agnes is down for maintenance and I had to call Lioudmila yesterday and tell her we couldn't perform. I really felt badly about it, because I know that she often suffers a round of last-minute cancellations from students who get cold feet, but poor Agnes is really miserable ... she has the same gawd-awful summer cold/flu thing I had that took me more than two weeks to get over (and I'm still on antibiotics and sprays for the stubborn sinus infection that just won't go away).

Bummer.

So our day of dancing fun has turned into a day of doing laundry, paying bills, cleaning house, and doing all those other fun things it's so easy to put off. I was going to put up a video clip of Agnes and I from the Virginia State DanceSport Championships last weekend, but I didn't get the video transferred to the computer and edited yet...maybe later today, if I can get my act together.

Otherwise, things are good. The letter writing experiment is going pretty well: I've written and sent four out of five of the promised letters (my daughter is still waiting for hers); all four have been received; and I've received answers back from Andrea and Amanda. Mike is thinking hard about maybe someday writing back, and John will be trying to conjure up an answer sometime in his busy schedule. By the way, John noted in his Friday post that his blog, Out of My Hat, has reached its second anniversary. In that post, he wrote something that really resonated with me: "I never really expected to have a readership that went beyond family and friends much less one that circled the globe."

That's really true for me, too. When I first started this blog in March of 2006 I wasn't sure how long I'd be able to keep it up, and I certainly didn't think I'd have friends and pen-pals in places as far flung as Indonesia, the UK, Japan, Belgium, and around the US. There are links to my blog in all sorts of places I would never have expected, and my total number of comments is probably somewhere around 1700 (averaged out over about 710 posts, that's a little more than two per day...and considering that it took a while to get noticed in the first place, that's not bad).

But enough back-patting.

I just heard the washing machine signal that the latest load is done, and it's time to check on Agnes and see how she's doing. Punky probably needs to go for a walk, too, so I guess I should get up and get moving.

If I can get the video transferred over, I'll try to post another dance clip later today. Otherwise, I'll see you in this space again tomorrow.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.

Bilbo

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

Yes, we've made it through another week. Your reward is Cartoon Saturday. Don't thank me, your groans of appreciation are thanks enough!

I love to cook, but I haven't tried fixing this for Agnes yet. I'm afraid she'd ask for a larger portion...


I'm pretty bad at math, although - perversely enough - I was always pretty good at geometry. Better than this, I think...


One of our running jokes at work concerns odd spellings (no, not the Secretary of Education) - I'm not sure how it got started, but I think it came from the episode of "The Family Guy" in which one of the characters was on "Wheel of Fortune" and picked his letters for the bonus round as "Q. Q. Q. Another Q. And the Batman symbol." If you make the mistake of asking someone in our office how to spell a particular word, you're likely to get an answer like, "Big Eye, Left-Facing Hawk, Squiggly Line." That made this clever cartoon even funnier for me...

This one was just too good to pass up, given some of the stuff I've read in various blogs...


And dyslexia per se isn't a very funny thing, but it does lend itself to some great cartoon situations...


That's Cartoon Saturday for this week. As always, your contributions of clever, funny cartoons are gratefully accepted...send them to bilbo_the_blogger (at symbol) yahoo.com.

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

Bilbo

Friday, July 25, 2008

Random Thoughts

I'm a little pressed for time this morning, so I was looking for some way to do a quick, yet interesting post. I suddenly realized (brilliant flash of the obvious) that since this is a Random Thought Collection, I'd just fire off a few random thoughts. Cool, eh? Try these on for size:

We lead off with two thoughts from famous curmudgeon H.L. Mencken:

"Of learned men, the clergy show the lowest development of professional ethics. Any pastor is free to cadge customers from the divines of rival sects, and to denounce the divines themselves as theological quacks." (John, whattaya think?)

"To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!" (how true!)

Woody Allen: "It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better, while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more." (perhaps I need more sleep...then again, maybe not)

Beryl Pfizer: "I write down everything I want to remember. That way, instead of spending a lot of time trying to remember what it is I wrote down, I spend the time looking for the paper I wrote it down on." (if you remember the photo of my study that I posted here a few months back, you'll see how appropriate this is to me!)

Will Rogers: "There's no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you." (is it any wonder that Will Rogers is one of my heroes?)

Hansell B. Duckett: "What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to." (especially in an election year).

Have a good day. Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday - more thoughts then.

Bilbo

Thursday, July 24, 2008

150 Things.

Yesterday, one of my co-workers passed me a link to an interesting new blog (as if I needed to add another one to the list of blogs I try to keep up with). The author is, like me, retired from the Air Force, and has a lot of interesting observations on a lot of topics. The particular link my co-worker sent me was to a post titled "150 Things," evidently a meme, which the author credited to another blogger, who in turn forgot who he got it from.

I have adopted the "150 Things" meme for today's post. It's an interesting look at some of the ordinary and the weird things we may do in our lives. The things I've done are bolded; where I've given myself partial credit, or have explanatory notes, I've added them at the end of each line. It's a bit long...here goes...

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink.
02. Swam with wild dolphins (half-credit: swam with trained dolphins).
03. Climbed a mountain (East Trinity Peak, Colorado, July 1969).
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive (I've test-driven a high-end Mercedes, but it's not the same).
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid.
06. Held a tarantula.
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone (Agnes, who else?).
08. Said “I love you” and meant it.
09. Hugged a tree (while climbing it).
10. Bungee jumped.
11. Visited Paris.
12. Watched a lightning storm.
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise.
14. Seen the Northern Lights.
15. Gone to a huge sports game.
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa.
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables.
18. Touched an iceberg.
19. Slept under the stars.
20. Changed a baby’s diaper (many, many times!).
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon.
22. Watched a meteor shower.
23. Gotten drunk on champagne.
24. Given more than you can afford to charity.
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope.
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment.
27. Had a food fight.
28. Bet on a winning horse.
29. Asked out a stranger (and had about a 50% acceptance rate).
30. Had a snowball fight.
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can.
32. Held a lamb.
33. Seen a total eclipse.
34. Ridden a roller coaster.
35. Hit a home run.
36. Danced like a fool and didn’t care who was looking.
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day.
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment.
39. Had two hard drives for your computer (actually, I have 3 external drives).
40. Visited all 50 states.
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk.
42. Had amazing friends.
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country.
44. Watched whales.
45. Stolen a sign.
46. Backpacked in Europe.
47. Taken a road-trip.
48. Gone rock climbing.
49. Midnight walk on the beach (dawn, yes; midnight, no).
50. Gone sky diving.
51. Visited Ireland.
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love.
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them.
54. Visited Japan.
55. Milked a cow.
56. Alphabetized your CDs.
57. Pretended to be a superhero (not very recently, though!).
58. Sung karaoke (very badly).
59. Lounged around in bed all day.
60. Played touch football.
61. Gone scuba diving.
62. Kissed in the rain.
63. Played in the mud.
64. Played in the rain.
65. Gone to a drive-in theater.
66. Visited the Great Wall of China.
67. Started a business.
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken.
69. Toured ancient sites.
70. Taken a martial arts class (I have a blue belt in Karate).
71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight.
72. Gotten married (twice).
73. Been in a movie.
74. Crashed a party.
75. Gotten divorced (once).
76. Gone without food for 5 days (3 days, but not 5).
77. Made cookies from scratch.
78. Won first prize in a costume contest.
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice (at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, but it's not the same).
80. Gotten a tattoo (are you kidding?).
81. Rafted the Snake River.
82. Been on television news programs as an “expert.”
83. Gotten flowers for no reason.
84. Performed on stage.
85. Been to Las Vegas (twice).
86. Recorded music.
87. Eaten shark.
88. Kissed on the first date (hand or cheek only).
89. Gone to Thailand.
90. Bought a house (twice).
91. Been in a combat zone.
92. Buried one/both of your parents (Mom passed away in 2001).
93. Been on a cruise ship (twice!).
94. Spoken more than one language fluently (German).
95. Performed in Rocky Horror.
96. Raised children.
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour.
98. Passed out cold.
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country.
100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over.
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge.
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking.
103. Had plastic surgery.
104. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived.
105. Wrote articles for a large publication (two letters to the editors of newspapers, but no articles).
106. Lost over 100 pounds.
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback.
108. Piloted an airplane.
109. Touched a stingray.
110. Broken someone’s heart.
111. Helped an animal give birth.
112. Won money on a T.V. game show.
113. Broken a bone.
114. Gone on an African photo safari.
115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears.
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol (all three).
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild.
118. Ridden a horse (fallen off, too).
119. Had major surgery.
120. Had a snake as a pet.
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours.
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states.
124. Visited all 7 continents.
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days.
126. Eaten kangaroo meat.
127. Eaten sushi (I love sushi!).
128. Had your picture in the newspaper.
129. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about.
130. Gone back to school.
131. Parasailed.
132. Touched a cockroach.
133. Eaten fried green tomatoes.
134. Read The Iliad - and the Odyssey.
135. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read.
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
137. Skipped all your school reunions.
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language.
139. Been elected to public office.
140. Written your own computer language.
141. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream.
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care.
143. Built your own PC from parts.
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you.
145. Had a booth at a street fair.
146. Dyed your hair.
147. Been a DJ.
148. Shaved your head (moral: don’t make stupid bets).
149. Caused a car accident
150. Saved someone’s life.

So there you go. By my count, I can claim 59 out of 150; a few more if we accept partial credit. Those of you who are newer readers of this blog (and give a rat's rear end) can learn more about me from these previous posts: Crazy Eights, In 10 Words or Less, and 13 Things About Yours Truly.

Life's short, and none of us gets out of it alive. How many of the 150 can you claim?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Of Tattoos and Careless Economics

A few days ago I wrote a post called The Straight Skin-ny, in which I lamented the proliferation of tattoos on otherwise beautiful ladies. Yesterday, Richard Cohen published a commentary in The Washington Post titled Ink-Stained Wretchedness that carried on my rant and took it in an interesting new direction.

Mr Cohen notes that "...the tattoos of today are not minor affairs or miniatures placed on the body where only an intimate or an internist would see them. Today's are gargantuan, inevitably tacky, gauche and ugly. They bear little relationship to the skin that they're on. They don't represent an indelible experience or membership in some sort of group but an assertion that today's whim will be tomorrow's joy." Interestingly, he also relates the mindset that leads people to let themselves be tattooed (live for the moment without thought for the future) to the mindset that got us into the current economic mess:

"The permanence of the moment -- the conviction that now is forever -- explains what has happened to the American economy. We are, as a people, deeply in debt. We are, as a nation, deeply in debt. The average American household owes more than its yearly income. We save almost nothing (0.4 percent of disposable income) and spend almost everything (99.6 percent of disposable income) in the hope that tomorrow will be a lot like today. We bought homes we could not afford and took out mortgages we could not pay and whipped out the plastic on everything else. Debts would be due in the future, but, with any luck, the future would remain in the future."

I have to admit I'd never thought of the mindset that leads one to get a tattoo as being similar to the mindset that draws one into fiscal irresponsibility, but it's an interesting comparison. Of course, if you get tired of a tattoo and you have enough money and a high enough pain tolerance, you can get it lasered away; debt, unfortunately, doesn't disappear as easily. I wonder if every member of Congress has some huge, garish tattoo saying something like "Spend now and let the grandchildren worry about paying the bill."

But enough about tattoos and fiscal irresponsibility. I'd just like to close with one more juicy line from Mr Cohen's article that ought to be posted in every tattoo parlor: "...Everything changes -- including, sweetie, that tight tummy with its "look at me!" tattoo. Time will turn it into false advertising."

Yep.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Doing the Right Thing

There are a lot of good things about living in the greater Washington DC area: museums, historical sites, theater, music, and good food, just to name a few.

Then there's the murder thing. Lots of people get murdered in DC. In particular, there's a community called Trinidad which has had so much violence that the police have instituted checkpoints around the neighborhood to search for weapons and wanted persons.

As you might imagine, this has resulted in howls of outrage from the residents of the community. They don't want checkpoints, they say, they want a steady police presence.

I can understand this. Speaking with absolutely no authority on the topic, I firmly believe that uniformed cops walking neighborhood beats are one of the best ways of keeping crime of all sorts down. The traditional "beat cop" who knows everyone on his turf and understands the "feel" of the street can establish relationships and levels of trust that police cruising by in cars can't manage. Nowadays it's called "community policing," and I don't think there's a better way for the police to support the community.

But a steady police presence only solves half the problem.

The same people who are loudly yelling that the mayor and the police aren't doing enough to get crime under control are the same ass-clowns who warn each other not to "snitch" - it's more important to show solidarity with your fellows, no matter how vicious and evil they are - than to help the police help the community by taking these psychos off the street.

What are you morons thinking?? You want the police to protect you, while at the same time you perpetuate the stupid idea that helping the police do their job is something dishonorable. If you believe this, you get the deadly environment you deserve.

The Supreme Court has done its part to help the situation by ensuring that even more guns can be pumped onto DC streets. Yes, it was the right decision from a Constitutional perspective, but as I've often written here, the Constitution was drafted in the 18th century and we're living in the 21st. Things have changed, and perhaps our quasi-religious tendency to worship at the festooned altar of firearms needs to be rethought.

But I'm a realist, and I know that won't happen in my lifetime...or in any other lifetimes that will be cut short by the easy availability, legally or illegally, of guns.

In the meantime, those of you who live in the high crime areas need to pull your heads out of your backsides. Bitching that the police aren't doing enough to protect you isn't going to do anything. Protecting the people who are killing your families will just keep the agony going. You may not love, or even like, the police, but they're your protection against the evil bastards who want to rule your streets and take your lives.

Stop the ass-clownery. Do the right thing. Protect the children who need protection...not the vicious criminals.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Straight Skin-ny

Caution: "Typical Male" Alert!

Back on July 4th, CNN ran this online story: How Much Skin Is Too Much At the Office? It dealt with the problem of women (and, somewhat less often, men) who wear inappropriately revealing clothes to work. Most offices have dress codes that proscribe things like bare backs or shoulders, too-short skirts, or necklines scooping down to the navel for ladies; and muscle shirts, bicycle shorts, or ratty cut-offs for men. It's all part of projecting a professional image appropriate to the business.

Many years ago when I was living in Berlin, I was in charge of day-to-day operations of a US Government office which worked closely with German agencies to process refugees and resettlers from around the world. One day, I sent one of our staff members - a young lady - home to change after she appeared for work dressed in a hot pink track suit. Clearly, it wasn't appropriate dress for the office.

But what's appropriate depends, of course, on the venue.

One of the nice things (for a man) about competitive ballroom dancing as a hobby is that you get to spend a lot of time around lovely, fit ladies in beautiful dresses, showing a lot of skin. Latin dance costumes, in particular, can be pretty impressive for their very low costume-to-exposed-flesh ratios. It isn't necessarily all great, though.

For one thing, ladies apply makeup to to attract a judge's attention from across a crowded ballroom. At a distance, they look stunning. Up close, they can look like clowns. That's not a criticism, it's just one of those things they have to put up with for being the girl.

But the thing that really grinds my gears is tattoos on women. Now, I'm no fan of tattoos on anybody, men or women, but I think they can be particularly unfortunate form of decor on ladies. I think putting a tattoo - especially a large and garish one - on a beautiful woman is a bit like painting a handlebar mustache on the Mona Lisa. To me, it looks especially bad when the lady is wearing a beautiful ball gown for which she probably paid well over a thousand dollars, and her bare back and arms are sporting tattoos that make her look like a NASCAR entry.

Santa Cruz license plates (tattoos at the small of the back, which peek out over the waistband of pants or the bottom of a dress's back) are bad enough. Yesterday, though, at the Virginia State competition, there was a lady wearing a gorgeous gown with an extremely low-cut back, which exposed a huge, whole-back, multicolored tattoo. Maybe it's just me (and yes, I'm a curmudgeonly, middle-aged geezer-in-training), but I thought the combination was awful. The lady was beautiful, her dress was beautiful, her hair was done up just right, but for me the overall effect was ruined by the enormous tattoo, which didn't even complement the colors of the dress.

Sigh.

When I lived in Germany and was working on my Masters' degree, one of the assistants at our local library was a wonderful young lady named Renee who helped me track down all sorts of arcane references for my various research papers. Renee was the quintessential punk, with her hair a different (and vivid) color every week (often different on each side, or front and back, or with a contrasting racing stripe down the middle), safety pins as earrings (and I can tell you a very funny story about that), skirts little more than wide belts, and tattoos everywhere you could see. One of the funniest things I remember from that time was watching Renee work the checkout desk with the library director, Mrs B, who was the very stereotype of the librarian - elderly, wire-rimmed glasses, white hair pulled back in a severe bun, as conservative as you could get.

Now that was culture shock.

But I digress.

Ladies, before you get that tattoo, think twice. It really doesn't do anything for you. Spend the money on some jewelry or nice clothes, rather than on that body art that may end up being, in the words of Jimmy Buffett, a Permanent Reminder of a Temporary Feeling.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

P.S. - Letter-writing project update: John's letter is finished and will be mailed today, making me 4-for-5. Andrea, Amanda, and Mike have already received their letters, and I've received Andrea's reply. The letter to my daughter is next. Want a letter of your own? Send your snail-mail address to bilbo_the_blogger (at symbol) yahoo.com and I'll add you to the list. Act now. Scribes are standing (sitting, actually) by!

B.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Virginia State DanceSport Championships, 2008

Yesterday, Agnes and I took part in the 2008 Virginia State DanceSport Championships at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Reston. This is a major regional competition, featuring amateur and professional dancers from up and down the East Coast - there were more than 7,000 registered entries, although - happily - not that many people were on the floor at any one time.

We didn't dance as many heats as we normally do when we compete; this time, we just stuck to the five International Standard dances that I'm trying to master - Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, and Quickstep - and we danced them both as individual heats and in a five-dance championship heat (all five dances back-to-back with minimum time in between...think of a terpsichorean pentathelon). Things were especially tough for Agnes because she was dancing not only with me, but with Phil, one of her other students, and the schedule was such that she ended up dancing ten consecutive heats - five with me, then five with Phil - followed by a short interval, then the five-dance championship with Phil, followed immediately by the five-dance championship with me. Her pantyhose had melted into her shoes by the end of the day.

You might think that this isn't too bad, given that each single-dance heat generally doesn't last more than about 90 seconds (as long as the judges need to score all the couples, but no less than 30 seconds). However, since you never know which judge will be watching you when, and what that judge will be looking at, you always have to try to be perfect...which, in my case, isn't easy. It ends up being a stressful, but ultimately fun and rewarding time.

But you don't want to read about it, you want to see the pictures. I may be able to post some video later, but the stills will have to do for now...

Here we are, before we've done any dancing. We thought it would be nice to have at least one good picture without sweat and odd candid expressions:


This picture was taken by our friend Laurie (Phil's wife). I thought it was interesting because it shows how the traffic can bunch up on the floor. In all of our single-dance heats, there were eight couples on the floor. The floor is pretty big, but everyone never fails to end up in the same place at the same time at least once per heat...


The judges are always watching like hawks, evaluating things like posture, footwork, floorcraft (how well you navigate around other couples and compensate for mistakes and places where you can't dance what you'd planned) whether you're dancing on rhythm, and your general "presence" - whether or not you look like you're having an orgasmically wonderful time while dancing everything perfectly. This picture shows judge Ron Bennett marking his scoring sheet as a couple glides past:


In this picture (I believe it was from our Quickstep heat), Agnes and I are rounding a corner of the floor in full flight. You can see the concentration on my face and - yes - sweat on my fevered brow. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly never sweat in the movies. How unfair is that?

I loved this picture because I remember the moment Laurie shot it. We were zipping along and all of a sudden, there was another couple hitting a picture line almost right in our path. At this moment I'm thinking: "Where are they going? What are they going to do? Are we going to hit them?" As luck would have it, we missed them by a small margin as we zoomed past...


A happy-snap of Phil and Agnes in the on-deck chute waiting to dance their five-dance championship heat. Phil always brings extra teeth along for that handsome movie-star grin.

And the results? Phil and I each took second place in each of our single-dance heats (which, for a major regional competition, isn't bad). And in our five-dance championship heats, Phil took a second place while I took a first (I think it was a gift, but who am I to argue with the judges?). Here's the proud troupe at the end of the awards presentation:

Phil and I each got those nice, garish medals...Agnes, as the professional teacher, only got sore feet and the pleasure of dancing with two handsome fellows. I bought her dinner to make it up to her.

So that was our adventure at this year's Virginia State. We had a good time, saw some old friends, and managed to finish the day without falling down (although Agnes took an elbow right to the back of her head when another couple ran into her during one of her heats with Phil). I made plenty of mistakes, but still managed a respectable-enough showing that Agnes let me sleep in the house last night.

And sometimes, that's as good as it gets.

So today we're winding down, visiting the local grandchild, and generally getting ready to face the new week. On the upside, Harry Turtledove's new novel The Man with the Iron Heart goes on sale Tuesday (don't be standing in front of the door at Borders when they open, or I'll run you down). On the downside...well...we have to get past Monday to get there.

That odd sound you hear is me gritting my teeth.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cartoon Sat... uh ... Friday

I won't be posting tomorrow, since Agnes and I will be at the Virginia State DanceSport Championships all day, so I decided to move up this week's Cartoon Saturday to Friday. It'll confuse Mike, but the rest of you should be okay.

We begin with two takes on married life. Those of you who have been there know what I'm talking about...

And...


This is my kind of Human Resources office. If I ever change jobs again, I'm looking for this benefit...

One of our friends has gone through legal and financial hell with an inept, crooked contractor she hired to do some renovation work on her house. We all now know what "caveat emptor" means...

And finally, I sent this one to my daughter a while back...Leya, as a typical toddler, is often more interested in staying awake and getting into trouble than in prosaic things like naps...


Those of you who live in the DC/Maryland/Northern Virginia area and don't have anything else to do tomorrow may want to come to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Reston and watch the Virginia State DanceSport Championships. Agnes and I will be dancing in the late morning, and I'm trying to round up a cheering section (I need all the help I can get). If you can't come, cross your fingers. I'll let you know on Sunday how it all came out.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming on Sunday.

Bilbo

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dietrologia

No, it doesn't have anything to do with losing weight.

I found the fascinating Italian word dietrologia in a book that I just finished reading - The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston. The book tells the story of the inept, often ludicrously mismanaged and ultimately unsuccessful 20-plus year search for a serial killer in the vicinity of Florence, Italy (the story of the search for the Monster of Florence was also worked into the plot of Hannibal, Thomas Harris's superb sequel to The Silence of the Lambs).

An Italian nobleman explained the meaning of dietrologia to author Douglas Preston this way: "Dietro - behind. Logia - the study of...Dietrologia is the idea that the obvious thing cannot be the truth. There is always something hidden behind, dietro. It isn't quite what you Americans call conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theory implies theory, something uncertain, a possibility. The dietrologist deals only in fact. This is how it really is."

I think dietrologia is an absolutely wonderful word that we desperately need in every language, right now. Today. Consider some of the things that some people absolutely believe, regardless either of overwhelming evidence to the contrary or the lack of the least amount of supporting evidence:

Polio vaccine is a CIA/Jewish plot to sterilize Muslim children (this one comes from Pakistan, where moronic clerics with ossified brains have caused a polio epidemic by convincing parents that the vaccine is an insidious Western weapon against Muslims).

The CIA and the Israeli Mossad actually carried out the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by firing a missile at the Pentagon and planting explosives in the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Having survived the attack on the Pentagon, I find this one particularly stupid and insulting.

AIDS is an artificial disease secretly created by the U.S. Government to eliminate blacks and other minorities.

Barak Obama is a Muslim.

I try to be a skeptical fellow and look for the real evidence behind bizarre claims like these. I try to keep an open mind, but I regularly visit The Urban Legends Reference Page (snopes.com), The Annenberg Political Fact Check (fact-check.org), and other myth-debunking websites, and try to read all sides of arguments before taking a position on a particular issue. I have even been known to change my opinions on issues (gasp - Bilbo flip-flops!).

Unfortunately, many people aren't so skeptical of wild claims. They'll believe anything, not matter how outrageous or stupid (see Michael Shermer's marvelous book Why People Believe Weird Things for an excellent analysis). Dietrologia is their religion. There just has to be some other explanation for the obvious, no matter how bizarre and stupid.

All together now, class - what is Bilbo's recurring mantra?

"Don't let anyone do your thinking for you."

The world is full of problems and the stakes are high on many fronts. You owe it to yourself and to everyone else to look for the truth, not to believe the first agreeable baloney you hear. Andre Gide once cautioned us to "Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it."

Listen to the man. He's on to something.

Have a good day. Eschew dietrologia. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Odds and Ends

Just a few unconnected comments and observations today...I can't get my poor, battered head organized enough to do my usual well-ordered screed.

The other day I lamented yet again about the reluctance (nay, refusal) of anyone in Congress and the Executive Branch to compromise in order to get anything done. Jessica Hagy, who blogs at Indexed, had a great illustration this morning of what we really need:


I think I'll e-mail copies of it to Mr Bush and all my Reprehensives in Congress. Perhaps it's simply enough expressed for them to understand.

If you've ever tried to use your laptop computer while traveling, or in a local wi-fi hotspot, you've probably had the experience of having some clownhead trying to peek at your screen. You can spend a lot of money on a filter that prevents people from viewing the screen at an angle, or you can use a spiffy wallpaper like this one...


My office is going to open a branch in China. We've had the first sign made already...


According to a recent article on the CNN website, some scientists believe humans will eventually merge with machines. These scientists, who call themselves transhumanists, "...anticipate an era in which biotechnology, molecular nanotechnologies, artificial intelligence and other new types of cognitive tools will be used to amplify our intellectual capacity, improve our physical capabilities and even enhance our emotional well-being...The end result would be a new form of "posthuman" life with beings that possess qualities and skills so exceedingly advanced they no longer can be classified simply as humans."

I may have more to say about this tomorrow, but as far as I can see, people are already merging with machines...consider the idiots who wear their bluetooth devices or chatter on their cell phones 24 hours per day; lazy slobs who can't travel more than 15 feet without taking the car; and drooling loons who are hopelessly and helplessly tethered to the coffee machine, video game, PC, or television set. I rest my case.

Start crossing your fingers now...Agnes and I will be competing in the Virginia State DanceSport Championships on Saturday. If you'd like to know what I look like dressed in a tuxedo and sweating in terror, come on out and watch. Pictures next week, maybe.

That's all for now. I'll have a more coherent post tomorrow. Promise.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Numbers From the Amazon

I've written in this space before about my discomfort with numbers and economic theory. German and Russian grammar, no problem...macro- and microeconomics, and my head starts to smoke. I'm a verbal and visual person, not a numeric one.

I especially don't understand "generally accepted accounting principles." It just doesn't make sense to me that two equally competent (?) CPAs can take the same set of numbers and, using different accounting methods, show that a business is either very profitable or on the edge of financial ruin. This was parodied beautifully in the stage show and film of "The Producers," where the police raiding the offices of Blum and Bialystock find two sets of ledgers: one labeled "Show to the IRS;" the other labeled "Never Show to the IRS."

All of this is my windy way of getting around to sharing with you this fascinating article that one of my co-workers passed to me yesterday - MIT-led Team Finds Language Without Numbers. According to this story, a team of researchers in the remote Amazonian jungle has found a small tribe whose language has no words to express the concept of "one" or of any specific number.

It's difficult for a 21st century Western person to come to grips with a society that doesn't need numbers, since numbers rule our lives. Nevertheless, in the context of the Piraha tribe's world, there's no particular need for specific numbers...all they apparently need to express are relative concepts like "some" and "more."

This reminded me of one of the curious aspects of counting in Russian. In this language, nouns are declined (change their endings to reflect their grammatical use in the sentence) through six cases, singular and plural, and numbers are expressed using three different cases: for instance, a child might have one toy (nominative singular), but would have two, three, or four "of toy" (genitive singular), or five or more "of toys" (genitive plural). The same rule applies to any larger number ending in 1, 2-4, or 5-0. There's also a Piraha-like construction called the "partitive genitive" - if you ask for "some" of something, you ask for it in the genitive singular, as in "give me some of bread."

But getting back to the Piraha and their language without numbers...

It occurs to me that this is a language that is particularly suited to modern economics. Since numbers aren't real any more, why not use a language that doesn't have them? Think about it: can you get your head around, say, a government budget in the trillions of dollars, with individual departments spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year? When you worry about making the payments on your $25,000 clunker, can you comprehend spending a half-billion dollars on a single airplane? Josef Stalin once supposedly said that one death was a tragedy, but a million deaths was a statistic...is this why we can accept the horrific death tolls in Darfur and across the Middle East with nothing more than a weary shake of the head?

The Piraha will probably someday regret being discovered by the MIT researchers. I expect that 50 years from now, they'll be wearing suits and wielding ATM cards and worrying about mortgages on their mud-and-wattle huts. They'll have traded exotic jungle diseases for ulcers brought on by economic distress.

They'll need enough, have some, but want more, just like the rest of us.

And maybe those are all the numbers we ought to have.

Have a good day. By the numbers. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, July 14, 2008

Storing Toxic Stuff

While searching for a topic about which to write this morning, I found this very interesting Los Angeles Times article I put into my blog fodder file back in May: Yucca and Gitmo and What They Share, by Jonah Goldberg. It's a prime example of the wonderful piece I wish I were smart enough to write myself. Take a minute to read it. I'll wait.

The point of Mr Goldberg's article is this: there are two places our government has chosen to store deadly items.

Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is intended as the permanent repository for nuclear material so deadly that it will be toxic for tens of thousands of years (my blog post with the all-time record for number of hits - Don't Dig Here! - dealt with the problem of designing signs to warn people of the danger of this site far into an unimaginably distant future).

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the other hand, is the temporary repository for people perceived to be so deadly they can't be imprisoned anywhere else (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramsi Bin al Shibh, and other mass murderers, for example).

Both sites are the subject of moves to close them down and prevent their use, and both sets of arguments ignore critical realities.

If we never allow Yucca Mountain, located in one of the most remote and inhospitable corners of the country, to open and store deadly radioactive material, how do we store the stuff? The nuclear industry advertises itself as a clean and environmentally responsible alternative to oil and coal, but we've got to store the deadly by-products somewhere...and nobody wants it in their back yard, no matter how far away that back yard is.

If we close Guantanamo, we've still got to put the inmates somewhere. Many of them can probably be released and of those, some will probably be pissed off enough to go back to killing Americans. But some of them are so toxic that, like radioactive waste, they'll be deadly forever. What do we do with them? In most cases, their home countries don't want them back, preferring to leave the problem on our hands. Do we try them as criminals? Take them out back and shoot them? Drop them into a vacant oubilette (look it up) somewhere and forget about them?

I wish I had the answer to both problems, because both are critically important. And both Yucca Mountain and Guantanamo are routinely condemned by people who offer no realistic alternative to them. I don't care if you object to either one, that's your right. But if you don't have a better alternative, shut up and color.

If I were king, I think I'd kill two birds with one stone: I'd open the Yucca Mountain repository tomorrow and use one of its galleries to house the people from Guantanamo.

That wasn't so hard, was it? We'd have all the deadly stuff in one place, and the evil bastards from Guantanamo can read their US Government-provided korans by their own light as they glow in the dark.

No need to thank me...I'll just bask in the glow of knowing I solved two intractable problems.

So to speak.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The "Smell of Compromise"

I found myself once again spun up this morning by a story on page A4 of this morning's Washington Post: Recent Bush Victories Smell of Compromise.

Smell of compromise. That's a very revealing choice of words.

Decaying corpses smell. Limburger cheese smells. Old sneakers smell.

When was it that compromise - the time-honored art of giving something to get something, what you're willing to offer up in the quest for forward movement - became something that smells?

Commentators smarter and better informed than I have often lamented the poisonous partisan politics of modern Washington, in which principled compromise is equated to craven selling out of one's principles. Seeking opportunities for compromise in the national interest, rather than stubbornly insisting on parochial interests, is turned by political bloviators into charges of "flip-flopping" on issues - a deadly charge that politicians fear like the plague.

A White House spokesman is quoted in the story as saying, "I don't think we've become more conciliatory than we've ever been. We're going to stay on the right side of our principles. If we can get these things done and not compromise those principles, then of course we are open to compromise. We have always been open to that."

What a shameless crock of caca de toro.

If everything is a principle that one has to "stay on the right side of," then nothing will ever be done. If everything is critical, then nothing is critical.

Mr Bush, the self-annointed "decider," has little interest in compromise. He relies on unlimited executive privilege and power to force his views on those who don't agree with him. In his lexicon, compromise is defined as "doing it my way."

As long as we continue with the ridiculous condemnation of compromise...as long as politicians on both sides of the aisle demand to know why everyone else is "lying"...we're not going to solve any of our pressing problems.

Remember to vote for Nobody in November. At least Nobody will admit that he's unwilling to compromise.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cartoon Saturday

Since I was away in Pittsburgh and didn't post last Saturday, it's been two weeks since we last had a Cartoon Saturday here at Bilbo's Random Thought Collection. This is not a tenable situation.

So why don't we get caught right up, eh? And I'll even throw in a few bonus cartoons!

I love it when I can get two or more cartoons that have the same punch line or a related theme...these two are just too good:



There's nothing quite as stupid-looking as a young man (or lady) who has to wear his (or her) pants riding so low that their underwear sticks out. I thought this cartoon caught the stupidity particularly well, especially after my recent experience with being measured for the famous dance tailsuit...

Always read the directions...


I've been having quite a bit of trouble hearing from my right ear since I caught the Summer Cold From Hell a few weeks ago. It's just too bad that - at a time when I can't hear very well - I don't have any invitations to soirees like this...

As you know, I love the "Blondie" cartoon strip, mostly because I think Dagwood and I are sharing the same life. This was today's offering, which touches on one of my major pet peeves: voice-activated "help" on the telephone...


And finally, I just thought this one was completely and utterly hysterical on many levels...

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

Bilbo

Friday, July 11, 2008

New Words, Sniglets, and Words-That-Aren't

According to this article from CNN online, the latest edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary has officially added about 100 new words to the English lexicon. This isn't surprising, because languages in general (and English in particular) are very good about making new words and adapting existing ones to meet new linguistic requirements. Nevertheless, it's always interesting to look at what societal changes are reflected in the new words.

My favorite of the new words is mondegreen - a word which describes words which are mistaken for other words. It's very useful with song lyrics, which often end up as mondegreens; the classic example is, "there's a bathroom on the right," from the Creedence Clearwater Revival lyric, "there's a bad moon on the rise." The word mondegreen, in fact, comes from the corruption of the Scottish folk lyric "laid him on the green," which has turned into "Lady Mondegreen." There's a book title that's a mondegreen, too: according to an interview I read years ago, John D. MacDonald's book The Green Ripper got it's title from his young daughter's attempt to say Grim Reaper.

Other new words include soju (the devastatingly potent Korean vodka), dirty bomb (too bad we need that one), webinar, and netroots (referring to grassroots political activists who communicate online, especially in blogs).

These new words should not be confused with sniglets - words which ought to appear in the dictionary, but don't. Examples of these include arachnidiot (noun) - a person, who, having wandered into a spider web, begins gyrating and flailing about wildly; and, sarchasm (also a noun) - the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it (Mike will find that word useful).

Oddly enough, I learned the other day that one of my favorite words isn't, in fact, a word at all. According to YourDictionary.com, bloviate isn't a real word. This is a crushing blow to me, because I have always found bloviate (to speak or write verbosely or windily) to be a marvelous word to describe all the pompous political gas generated here in Washington and elsewhere. Real word or not, I'll keep using it...it's just too good to leave behind.

So here's your assignment, class - go forth and use some of these new words. And if you come up with a good new sniglet, e-mail it to me. If I like it enough, you'll get credit here.

And that's no bloviation.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Harnessing the Power...

I ran across this interesting article in Slate magazine the other day - "Victoria's Circuit: Harnessing the Untapped Power of Breast Motion."

I am not, as Dave Barry would say, making this up.

According to this article by Adrienne So, the search for new devices which can be powered by human motion (self-winding watches and Flintstone cars, for instance) has reached it's peak with the attempt to harness the hitherto untapped power of moving female breasts to drive small devices such as iPods and cell phones. The article quotes LaJean Lawson, a former professor of exercise science at Oregon State University who has studied breast motion since 1985, as saying that a bra capable of harnessing this power "...would have to be cleverly designed. 'It's just a matter of finding the sweet spot, between reducing motion to the point where it's comfortable but still allowing enough motion to power your iPod.'" Professor Lawson goes on to explain that "...breasts move on three different axes: from side to side, front to back, and up and down. The most motion is generated on the vertical axis. Naturally, the bigger the breast, the more momentum it generates." She notes that the natural power pack of, say, a marathon racer with double-A measurements probably won't be able to run an iPod; however, her research shows that a D-cup breast in a low-support bra can move up and down as much as 35 inches (88.9 centimeters) during exercise (we're talking tidal motion, here).

The message is clear: we're wasting our time building gigantic wind turbines and geothermal energy collectors. There's no point in constructing huge solar arrays and dams and vast, complicated devices to catch tidal forces: the answer to our power shortages is quite literally bouncing up and down before our eyes.

We can also take this concept to the next level. If we can harness the power of moving breasts to power small devices for women, we should be able to harness the power of the rapidly swiveling head to power similar devices for men. The head movements of the average man on a hot summer day at the beach should provide enough power to drive a Volkswagen.

This is serious stuff. We could have a nearly-endless supply of clean, environmentally and aesthetically pleasing power at our fingertips. Well, perhaps not literally. We could tell the Arabs to drink their stupid oil. How much better could it get?

Professor Lawson may have been studying breast motion since 1985, but I've been studying it since 1951, and I can absolutely guarantee that this is an amazing source of energy just waiting to be tapped. As a patriotic American, I'm ready to do my part.

Ladies, step up and help solve our energy crisis! Your contribution may be just the bounce we need!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

P.S. - Jesse the Cat, who blogs at Jesse Blogs It All, has generously bestowed this award on Bilbo's Random Thought Collection:

Thanks, Jesse (as far as I know, my only regular reader in South Africa)! And in the spirit of sharing the wealth, let me pass this on to a few other really excellent blogs that I haven't recognized before, and which are well worth your time to visit:

lacochran's bloggery (she's my curmudgeonly soul-mate),
(Parenthetically Speaking) (a great source of humor and entertainment for frustrated linguists), and,
A Chocaholic's Piece of Mind (Rima Fauzi's source of wonderful rants and observations).

Congratulations to all of you...you are truly "xxtraordinary bloggers!"

B.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

700 Posts and 20 Baby Names

According to the counter on my Blogspot dashboard, this is my 700th post. I suppose I should celebrate somehow...Hmmm...fireworks are all sold out now that the 4th of July is over, and the cost of jet fuel makes it too expensive to hire the Air Force to do a thunderous flyover of the house. I could hire a brass band. But I think I'll just treat myself to a very large gin and tonic with extra lime tonight when I get home from work.

Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me from the early days when I had two or three hits a week...and those were from Agnes...and then only when I shamed her into reading it. I hope you'll stick with me for the next 700 posts, and encourage your friends to visit, too.

But enough self-congratulatory backpatting - on to today's comment.

If you're a parent, one of the first crises you experience with your child is selecting a name. This is not always an easy thing, being wrapped up in family politics (your in-laws and your parents will lobby hard for their favorite names, often based on their own monikers or the name of some obscure but supposedly-honorable ancestor) and the naming fashion of the moment. But help is available!

There are lots of books of baby names, and there are even websites which will help you select the "ideal" name for your child: the Baby Name Genie, the Baby Name Generator, and The Name Voyager, just to name a few. But there's also a useful list of the 10 most popular names, compiled each year by the US Social Security Administration, and culled from the hundreds of thousands of applications for Social Security numbers received each year.

According to the latest list from the SSA, the most popular names for boys and girls for 2007 were:

1. Jacob and Emily
2. Michael and Isabella
3. Ethan and Emma
4. Joshua and Ava
5. Daniel and Madison
6. Christopher and Sophia
7. Anthony and Olivia
8. William and Abigail
9. Matthew and Hannah
10. Andrew and Elizabeth

By contrast, the top 10 list for 1950 was:

1. James and Linda
2. Robert and Mary
3. John and Patricia
4. Michael and Barbara
5. David and Susan
6. William and Nancy
7. Richard and Deborah
8. Thomas and Sandra
9. Charles and Carol
10. Gary and Kathleen

The 1950's saw pretty traditional names, whereas the 2007 list includes some more unusual names, such as Madison for a girl (possibly owing its popularity to Darryl Hannah's mermaid character in the movie Splash) and Biblical references like Jacob and Joshua for boys.

Names aren't a trivial thing...a child's name will follow him or her through life and can be a source of pride or shame. I've written here before about the hideous names inflicted by some celebrities on their children (Moon Unit and Dweezil Zappa come to mind, along with Sting's daughter Fuchsia). Many Chinese select a western-style name to go along with their given names. Converts to Islam often opt to take Arabic names, and many blacks choose distinctive names (think of the many names for girls beginning with the syllable "La" - LaToya Jackson, for example) or variations on traditional names (such as "Antwan" instead of "Antoine").

Short names can be useful. I remember years ago hearing of a gentleman named Roy Ash, a government official who said he had a perfect name for a public servant because it was short, easy to remember, and when cited in newspaper headlines, left "plenty of room for pejorative castigation."

I think I'll stick with Bilbo. It may not be the one I was born with, but as screen names go it's not bad. And it may help you remember to come back for the next 700 posts.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

If Shirley Jackson Only Knew...

One of the most famous short stories in American literature is The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson. It's a true gem of a story - part horror, part suspense, gripping and tightly written and very much worth your time to read if you've never had the pleasure.

There's another lottery horror story out there, too. Here in The Old Dominion, CNN reported yesterday that the Virginia Lottery was continuing to sell tickets for scratch-off lottery games that had already paid out their jackpots...essentially, lottery tickets with a zero percent chance of winning. A Virginia Lottery official said with a straight face, "We absolutely have always been very open and honest with our players about the way our scratch tickets are distributed. Yes, there were times when there was a scratch game out there that might've said 'zero' in terms of the number of top prizes, but our players knew that" (the emphasis there is mine). Yes, the Virginia Lottery assumes you will be stupid enough to knowingly play a game with no chance of winning.

Of course, your chance of winning a major lottery jackpot is just about the same as your chance of observing meaningful dialog and principled compromise between Congressional Republicans and Democrats. But don't let that slow you down.

Lotteries have been described as a tax on people who are bad at math. If that's true, as the poster child for mathematical illiteracy I'm due for a serious refund. My comfortable retirement would be assured if only I could get back all the money I've spent on lottery tickets and office pools over the years. Whether it was the Lotto in Germany, the Readers' Digest and Publishers' Clearing House Sweepstakes, or any number of scratch-off tickets in various cities and states, I've probably invested a gazillion dollars over the years for a return on investment of about .0000001%. If I were watching someone else recklessly invest money like this, I'd call them stupid.

Oh, well...with my firm belief in the ability of optimism to triumph over common sense, I'll keep playing those lottery games. I may not get rich, but at least I won't end up with a Shirley Jackson-style first prize.

But you never know...that may end up being the next Republican faith-based initiative.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, July 07, 2008

Clowns, Funny and Not-So-Funny

Last week Larry Harmon, who delighted children for more than a half-century as the beloved character Bozo the Clown died at age 83.


Bozo was famous as the quintessential clown, and the name became a standard term for a stupid person. Who hasn't seen some variation on the famous "No Bozos!" sign?

or,



But clowns aren't always funny. The famous horror film actor Lon Chaney once famously said, "There's nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight." It's true, of course. Some clown makeup and antics can be frightening to a child, or even an adult...consider Pennywise the murderous clown from Stephen King's novel "It" ...


Nowadays you don't have to go to the circus to see unfunny or scary clowns. Fox News is full of them, there are about 435 of them in the House and 50 in the Senate, and there's always Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore if you need more. I saw lots of them on the Pennsylvania Turnpike yesterday as I drove home from Pittsburgh...they're easy to spot, as they're usually chugging down the left lane of the highway with three miles of frustrated drivers backed up behind them.

Clowns. A fitting topic to start off another work week. Too bad they're running for president, too.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo