Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Excusing Bad Behavior

Today, for the first time in what seems like forever, the front-page news everywhere is not focused on Michael Jackson.

What a breath of fresh air!

But the death of the so-called "King of Pop" offers us a chance to reflect on the dark side of celebrity. In the last few days, Zipcode, Daniel, and OCgirl have all written eloquently on this, and it got me to thinking about a question that's bothered me for a long time: why do we allow celebrities to get away with the sort of terrible behavior that we wouldn't accept in anyone else?

Michael Jackson was an electrifying performer. As a moderately accomplished dancer, I'm in awe of the way he was able to move across a stage - someday before I die, I hope to be able to moonwalk - and "Billie Jean" is a fabulous song from a fabulous album ("Thriller"). But Michael Jackson the man appears to have been a pretty miserable human being with a history of outrageous behavior (remember the pictures of him dangling his child over the hotel balcony railing, or the stories of his love of sleeping in a bed full of young boys?).

It's not just Michael Jackson, though. We seem to accept terrible behavior from celebrities as if it were a tax that has to be paid to enjoy their talent. I remember years ago watching an interview of Stephen Tyler, the lead singer of the band Aerosmith. He was being interviewed with his mother beside him, and she was obviously embarrassed - he was either drunk or high, mostly incoherent, and looked like something the cat had dragged in, then dragged back out after seeing it in the light. My heart went out to the poor woman who was clearly trying to put the best face on a mortifying situation.

Why do we accept this sort of behavior? Even if you like Aerosmith's music (and I don't), there's no excuse for people like Mr Tyler to present such a miserable image to impressionable fans.

Remember Wilt ("The Stilt") Chamberlain, the basketball hero who claimed to have had sex with 20,000 women? Whether he was a world-class hoop star or a bragging blowhard with a malfunctioning moral compass, he was someone many young people saw as a role model. Any question about why some young men think that irresponsible, unprotected sex is fine and illegitimate children are the girl's problem?

Lindsey Lohan? Paris Hilton? Mel Gibson? Why do they get free pass? Do they understand that their public image makes them role models for impressionable youngsters who learn that bad behavior has no bad consequences?

This isn't a modern phenomenon - artists and performers throughout history have had a reputation for erratic and unpredictable, if not downright bizarre, behavior. Why?

And why are there celebrities like the late Paul Newman who manage to overcome the burdens of celebrity and became a beloved philanthropist and humanitarian, not to mention a devoted husband for 50 years after a first failed marriage? (When once asked by an interviewer if he'd ever thought about being unfaithful to wife Joanne Woodward, he famously replied, "Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?")

I have four wonderful grandchildren who are surrounded by undesirable images. I try to set a good image for them (generally successfully, I hope), but I'm just one cranky and aging grandparent sticking his finger into a leaky dike of terrible role models. I'd rather they grew up to be Paul Newmans than Michael Jacksons. I'd rather they learned early on that fame and talent don't come with a license to be a lousy human being.

Isn't it time to hold celebrities to the same standards as the rest of us?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Good Careers with Bad Reputations

With the economy as bad as it is, people aren't being very choosy about the kinds of jobs they're willing to take on. The jokes about English majors learning to ask "do you want fries with that?" aren't as funny as they used to be, and I knew it was getting really difficult when I took a cab the other day, and the driver spoke English.

Yep, it's tough.

It's so tough that you can now find articles like this one from Yahoo News: Good Careers with Bad Reputations. For those of you looking for a career change (or even a career, period), here's the list:

Mortgage Broker. The term "broker" doesn't actually refer to your financial condition after you take the advice of an individual who tries to get you to buy more property than you can afford. But if you don't mind making people house-poor, there are plenty of openings here.

Executive Recruiter. Think about it ... with so many CEOs and CFOs in jail, someone's got to find the next generation of white-collar crooks.

Publicist. If you excelled at baby-sitting hyperactive and undisciplined two-year-olds, this is the job for you! The world is full of self-important celebrities who need someone to convince the world they're as great as they think they are.

Insurance Sales Agent. Can you play the guilt card on people, and blame property losses on "acts of God" with a straight face? Can you read and write Old Church Slavonic, the official language of the insurance industry? Here's your new career!

And the ever popular,

Tax Collector. If you can reconcile plummeting home values with steady or rising property tax bills, and if you can outrun howling mobs waving pitchforks and torches, governments at all levels always need new tax collectors. Who needs to be popular, anyhow?

Don't like any of these? You could always watch Dirty Jobs on The Discovery Channel, and take your chances.

Or you could just repeat after me: "Would you like fries with that?"

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Hidden Hand, the All-Purpose Excuse

I don't normally think about my fellow blogger lacochran and Iranian demonstrators in the same context, but the connection occurred to me when I read her recent post on paranoia.

Lacochran's story dealt with a suspicious conversation with a credit card company whose employee appeared to want a little too much information to establish lacochran's bona fides, causing our heroine's well-developed sense of 21st century social paranoia to tingle (and rightly so, in my opinion).

On the same day, I read another in a series of articles in the newspaper about the unpleasantness in Iran, and how the leaders of that sorry nation are blaming the United States, Great Britain, and Israel for the anti-government demonstrations.

The standard knee-jerk response for regimes in trouble is to blame someone else - preferably The Great Satan - for everything that goes wrong. It gives incompetent and venal leaders (like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad) a convenient external target against which to divert popular anger that might have unpleasant consequences for them if turned inward. Of course, we aren't completely blameless in the case of Iran, having engineered the 1950's-era coup that overthrew the government of Iranian nationalist prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh and returned the shah to the Peacock Throne, but we've been paying for that one for a long time.

Be patient. I'm getting to the point.

Paranoia is a wonderful thing. It allows you to avoid dealing with your own problems by giving you someone else to blame them on. No one in the Middle East is interested in any explanation for their problems that doesn't involve some sinister conspiracy engineered by the CIA, Israel, the Pope, or some combination of the three. It never occurs to anyone there to blame political incompetence, religious bigotry, social backwardness, or outright stupidity for their miseries.

German singer Juliane Werding has a wonderful song titled Die unsichtbare Macht ("The Invisible Power") that is the paranoid's anthem, containing lyrics (with translation) like:

Wer ist der Schatte, der neben mir geht?
Wer ist der Fremde, der hinter mir steht?
Mir scheint ganz schon: die unsichtbare Macht.

Who is the shadow that walks beside me?
Who's the stranger standing behind me?
I know exactly: the Invisible Power.

Wer ruft mich an und legt gleich wieder auf,
Wer zaehlt mein Geld nach und weiss was ich kauf'?
Oh ich spur' sie: die unsichtbare Macht.

Who calls me up and hangs up immediately?
Who counts my change and knows what I buy?
Oh, I know you're there: the Invisible Power.

Wer registriert jeden Schritt den ich tu',
Wer hoert sogar den Gedanken noch zu?
Keine Frage: die unsichtbare Macht.

Who registers every step I take?
Who listens to my every thought?
No question: the Invisible Power.

Yes, folks, blame the Invisible Power, the Hidden Hand, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, the KGB, or your Boogieman of the Month for your problems - it's easier than facing up to them. You may as well be paranoid, since everyone's out to get you anyway.

And I know what lacochran's middle initial is, bwa-hah-haaaaaaaah!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

Michael Jackson moonwalked off the stage of life this past week, as did Farah Fawcett; the medieval clerical government of Iran is still under siege by people who would prefer to live in the 21st century than the 7th; the governor of South Carolina says he was misquoted - he wasn't "hiking the Appalachian Trail," he was "getting some Argentinian tail" ... over Fathers' Day weekend, no less; nine people were killed and more than 70 injured in a terrible Metro train crash in Washington, DC; and superfraud king Bernie Madoff has been ordered to forfeit $171 billion before going to prison ... and this just represents the total amount that could be connected to his fraud, not the actual, total amount stolen from or lost by scammed investors over the years.

Well, at least Cartoon Saturday is still free.

The clown cartoons just keep on coming ... I think this one is a classic ...

Did you ever wonder what superheroes do when they're not out superheroing? Here's one take ...

A few years back, some brilliant theoretician of child-raising (who probably didn't have any children of his own) decided that a "take your son/daughter/generic child to work day" would be a good idea. Sometimes it can be a good thing. Sometimes not ...

Since I'm the sole breadwinner of the family now that Agnes is enjoying her well-deserved retirement, I have a new set of worries. Mike, it is not necessary to comment ...

I tend to have a lot of nervous energy, and if I have to sit too long I'll often start jiggling my leg. It drives Agnes crazy. Of course, it's not like I'm Lindsey Lohan or Paris Hilton and have anything else to jiggle ...

And finally, you all know how I feel about those who insist on imposing particular religious beliefs (or lack thereof) on the rest of us. But how far down does that instinct go on the tree of life? ...

I'm reviewing the story of how Hercules cleaned out the Augean Stables in preparation for today's job - Agnes wants me to clean out the garage so that she can set up her stained glass workshop again. Sadly, I don't think the stream that runs through the woods behind our house is quite up to the scale of the job, but at this point, I'll try anything.

I hope you all have a good weekend. Relax. Don't work too hard. Ha, ha. I'll let you know how the garage comes out.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Anatomy Quiz

I have many "favorite" expressions for use in describing people and situations, but near the top is this one: "He's so dumb, he couldn't find his own ass with both hands and a flashlight."

As it turns out, this expression isn't as funny as I thought it was.

According to this recent article on CNNhealth.com, more than half of those questioned on a health awareness test were not able to locate the heart on a body diagram, and almost 70% didn't know the shape of the lungs. The organs most easily identified were the intestines (85.9% correct - obviously based on a gut feeling) and the bladder (80.7% correct). I suspect that the strong showing of the bladder results from years of experience squirming in seats waiting for endless meetings to draw to a close.

The story says that the team which administered the quiz expected that people would now know more about their body, given the accessibility of information on the Internet and the proliferation of health stories in the news media. Of course, the information about the body readily available on the Internet is largely contained in porn sites, which might tend to skew the quiz results ... chances are that Mike and Fiona, for instance, would easily be able to identify the boobs, but might fare less well with the medulla oblangata or the islands of Langerhans. Another researcher was quoted in the story as saying that "Very many Americans don't even know where New Jersey is, so how would they know where their pancreas is?"

The pancreas isn't the body part I'd automatically associate with New Jersey, but that's not important now.

The actual point of the original article was that the average person has a low level of understanding of the structure, function, and proper care of his body. This is a fair criticism. Jimmy Buffett wasn't too far off the mark in his song "Fruitcakes," in which a lady scolds her boyfriend by telling him "I treat my body like a temple, you treat yours like a tent."

Perhaps our biggest health care problem isn't the lack of affordable health care or the venality of insurance companies, but a simple lack of knowledge about our bodies. After all, if - as my father would have said - a particular individual doesn't know his ass from his elbow, chances are he won't understand the advice given by the doctor at his HMO who billed him for procedure 19067.33.526.8. And we all know that most extreme-right Republicans, extreme-left Democrats, and people in the Middle East are born without functioning brains, but that's a discussion for another day.

Have a good day. Tomorrow, Cartoon Saturday will help with your mental health ... one way or the other.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Metro Bill Comes Due

This past Monday evening our local Metro rail system suffered the worst crash in its history when a train running on the Red Line north of town slammed at full speed into the back of another train that was stopped and waiting for a third train to clear the track ahead. Nine people were killed and at least 70 injured in the horrific accident, which was bad enough to make the international news - my in-laws called from Germany to make sure I was all right.

Any such accident is a terrible tragedy, but this one is worse because it was preventable. The train which failed to stop was made up of "Series 1000" cars, put into service between 1974 and 1978. The National Transportation Safety Board had recommended in 2006 (after a previous accident) that those cars be replaced. They weren't. The problem, of course, is money - almost a quarter of all Metro cars are Series 1000, and the cost of replacing them could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, which Metro doesn't have.

But from the Department of Shutting the Barn Door After the Horse Runs Off comes Maryland representative Stenny Hoyer, who plans to ask Congress for $3 billion to buy new cars and fund essential repairs and maintenance.

Why does it take a tragedy like this to get the powers that be to wake up and do the right thing?

In fairness to our elected reprehensives, it's not completely their fault. Everybody wants to have a world-class transit system, but nobody wants to have to pay for it. Passenger fares make up only a small part of the cost of running any transit system, but - unlike every other transit system in the country - our Metro system has no guaranteed source of funding. There are no commuter taxes, no budget lines for Metro support in the DC, Virginia, or Maryland budgets, and no routine appropriations from Congress. If you live here, you see the result all the time: station elevators and escalators that don't work, tiles on station floors that are slippery as ice when wet, and cars that are in service long past their safe service dates (how many of you are driving cars built between 1974 and 1978?).

I don't want to have to pay more than I have to for transportation any more than anyone else does. But I don't want to become a statistic, either. If it meant a safer, more reliable system, I'd be glad to pay more, either in fares or as a commuter tax. Unfortunately, irresponsible political rhetoric has driven home the message that all taxes are bad and must be opposed at all costs. Government should provide all the services we desire, but without asking us to help pay the bill.

The result is what you see.

I ride the Metro rail system every day. So far, I've been lucky.

I hope it lasts. And I hope this awful tragedy will finally serve as the wake-up call to the Federal government, our local governments, and our local citizens to do the right thing and pony up the money to fix the problem.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Marcy's Recital

Yesterday I described one of the highlights of our visit to Ohio and the Munchkins - Joe's softball game. Today our oldest grandchild, Marcy, takes center stage. Literally.

Marcy has been taking jazz dance lessons for several years now, and each year is highlighted by the big summer recital in which all the students strut their stuff for family and friends. We were able to attend the recital two years ago, but missed it last year...so this year we really wanted to be there. The annual summer recital is a big deal. This year, it was divided into three acts and a total of 39 separate individual and group performances on the theme of "The Mega Mall," with each number somehow tied to a particular store or feature of a shopping mall. Marcy danced in a group number called "Mall Walkers" - the sixth number of the third act - to the Aerosmith tune "Walk This Way." Tabitha and I went with Marcy to the final full-dress rehearsal on Saturday afternoon, because that was the one time that pictures and private video were allowed - no photography or video (other than the one the organizers want you to buy) were permitted during the actual performance. These pictures aren't among my best, largely because (a) I had to fight it out with all the other parents and grandparents for good picture-taking spots, and (b) I forgot to pack my big external flash and power pack, so I was limited by the available light and built-in flash. Here are a few shots from the show...

The opening pose, waiting for the music to start...


Striking a pose...

And the finale...

And we probably ought to have a good picture of the star, taken with the right lighting...

I wish I could say I took that picture, but I didn't...it was taken by one of the other relatives. But it's tough to take a bad picture of a granddaughter this beautiful.

I'm waiting for Marcy to start taking ballroom dance lessons so I can dance with her. So far, she's having none of it...but she'll come around. After all, we probably won't dance to Aerosmith at her wedding.

Not that I'm in a hurry for that event to come around...it's tough enough accepting that I'm old enough to have a nine-year-old grandchild, much less thinking about weddings!

Have a good day. We'll be back to the usual curmudgeonliness tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Travel and Kids' Softball

We're back!

Yes, we have made it safely home after a wonderful visit to our son and his family in Dayton, Ohio. We had a great visit, played with all the grandchildren, attended Marcy's dance recital, celebrated Fathers' Day, and watched Joe's softball game. I can stretch this out into at least two posts, so let's start with a few general comments on traveling and a recap of Joe's very entertaining softball game...

Travel is as much fun as ever. We found that flying from Baltimore to Dayton was about half the cost of flying from DC to Dayton, so we decided to drive up to Baltimore on Thursday afternoon. This would allow us to beat the morning rush hour traffic and arrive in plenty of time for our early Friday flight. Of course, nothing ever quite works out how we plan it ... our departure from home at about 2:00 Thursday afternoon coincided with a rainstorm of biblical proportions. We drove almost halfway to Baltimore in rain so heavy that I was ready to pull over and rent an ark.

We finally made it to Baltimore in spite of the rain (there was brilliant sunshine there, wouldn't you know), got checked into the hotel, and enjoyed a relaxing drink in the hotel bar before dinner. Dinner was excellent, although we weren't expecting the floor show - when we arrived and were seated, a table across the room was occupied by three middle-aged gentlemen who were obviously business travelers, one of whom delivered a lecture on sales techniques and strategic planning at full volume the entire time we were there. He didn't shut up for a minute, and neither of the other two managed to squeeze in more than a brief word or two before vanishing into the howling gale generated by their tablemate. He was still going strong when we left. We were horrified to see him again at breakfast the next morning, although he was alone (I expect the others decided to opt for room service to avoid a potential Part 2 of the evening lecture)...

We arrived in Dayton without further incident, and were met at the airport by our son and the Munchkins. We got settled in at home, and then Jason and I took Noah and went to watch Joe's softball game...

If you have never attended a softball game played by teams of 5 and 6 year-0lds, you have missed one of life's grand entertainments. The kids play with full energy, if not full attention, and have a great time doing ... well ... something, even if it isn't always what their coaches hope they'd do. Here are a few candid pictures ...

Joe arrives at first after a solid single...

Dad and brother Noah observe the proceedings...

Joe, playing first, keeps a close eye on the runner ...

Sometimes, though, the base runner has other things on his (or her) mind than the game ...

And sometimes, the fielders get confused as to whether this was the gymnastics night or the softball night ...

Some pictures lend new meaning to the term, "playing first"...

And just to put that last picture into the perspective of the game ...

Ah, yes ... there's nothing like watching the young'uns play ball!

Come back tomorrow, when we'll talk about the excitement of Marcy's dance recital, among other things. For now, though, it's time to go back to work.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cartoon Sat... uh ... Thursday

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians are still in the streets, protesting the evidently fraudulent reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad; the grim search for wreckage of Air France flight 447 continues in the Atlantic Ocean, and chances are that most of it will never be found; two Pennsylvania teenagers will go to jail (but not long enough) for beating a Mexican immigrant to death; as if nuclear weapons and general craziness weren't enough, it seems that North Korea is running a global insurance fraud scheme; and the summer storm season is hammering the midwest with tornadoes and heavy thunderstorms.

Fear not - Cartoon Saturday rides to your rescue! On Thursday, no less.

Yes, Cartoon Saturday is showing up two days early this week because, as I warned you yesterday, Agnes and I will be spending the next few days visiting our grandchildren (oh, yes ... and their parents, too) in Ohio, and chances are pretty good that I won't have my mind on things like blog posts. Go ahead and sue.

We start off this week with two cartoons that are nothing to sneeze at ...

and ...
What with Swine Flu (or H1N1, or whatever), it's a wonder anyone is willing to show up for anything anymore ...

A while back, Gilahi managed to get several days of posts out of the sheer joy of participating in the civic responsibility of jury duty. I don't think this was him ...

Yes, this gives a whole new meaning to the term, "Body Shop" ...

And finally, in honor of all you fathers out there ...

There's a chance I may be able to post tomorrow morning, but don't count on anything new here until Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. I hate to have to tell you that you're being trumped by the World's Most Adorable Grandchildren but, sadly, you are. But don't worry - I'll tell you all about it later.

To my fellow fathers - Happy Fathers' Day! And remember - anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.

Have a good day. More thoughts when we get back.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Grass-Eating Men"

From Japan, the nation that gave us Pearl Harbor, sushi, and game shows like "Pie-Fighting Rodeo Bikini Girls," comes today's item of interest: the national concern over the rise of "Grass-Eating Men."

According to this article from Slate.com, women in Japan are growing concerned over the proliferation of men who lack an interest in sex, enjoy shopping and gardening, often live at home with their mothers, and generally seem to be rebelling against the hard-charging, sexually promiscuous, job-oriented, Type-A personality Japanese male stereotype of the 1980's. "I spent the night at one guy's house, and nothing happened—we just went to sleep!" one woman complained on a TV program devoted to the phenomenon. Another woman said, "It's like something's missing with them ... If they were more normal, they'd be more interested in women. They'd at least want to talk to women."

The rise of the grass-eating men is thought to be a result in part of the changes in Japanese life caused by the the bursting of Japan's economic bubble in the 1990's, which saw men who could previously count on lifetime employment at high salaries (in exchange for endless hours at work) suddenly reduced to more iffy, uncertain jobs at greatly reduced pay. With more time available and less pay, many Japanese men withdrew into a more comfortable and self-centered lifestyle that all too often didn't involve - or even need - women.

This is not an insignificant problem. Japan has one of the lowest birthrates in the world, and if growing numbers of men aren't all that interested in sex, well, I guess you can imagine the end result - fewer contestants on "Pie-Fighting Rodeo Bikini Girls." But Japanese women aren't taking this lying down, so to speak - in response to the lackadaisical sexuality of the grass-eating men, so-called "carnivorous girls" are beginning to pursue men more aggressively.

I don't think I could live in Japan. Being pursued by a "carnivorous girl" might not be so bad once in a while (especially at my age), but the rest of the grass-eating man thing just doesn't cut it. While I enjoy shopping (for groceries, books, and electronics) and gardening, I still have a healthy interest in matters of the heart (and lower regions), and thus probably couldn't qualify as a grass-eating man.

Now a yogurt-eating man, that's a different thing. And speaking of that, I guess I should go and pack my lunch so I can once again enter the economic trenches.


Have a good day. Eat salads, not grass. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - If Mike can convince you that Friday the 13th occurs on various days during the month, I can play with the calendar, too - this week's Cartoon Saturday will take place tomorrow, because Agnes and I will be in Ohio for the next few days for our granddaughter's dance recital, and I plan to spend my time playing with the Munchkins rather than posting the blog. You'll get over it, and I'll be back on Monday afternoon.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Minnesota and Iran

The radio and TV news broadcasts, newspapers, newsmagazines, and other media are full of stories about the disputed Iranian election. Mahmoud Ahmedinejad (known jocularly here as "I'm a dinner jacket") says he won. Mir Hossein Moussavi says he won. Legions of bearded and beturbaned 7th-century clerics support Ahmedinejad. Tens of thousands of people in the streets support Moussavi.

Who won?

According to CNN, the US and Canada are "keeping a close eye on the election" and monitoring the ongoing crisis for reports of voting irregularities.

Happily, that could never happen here.

Except in Minnesota, where incumbent Norm Coleman is still fighting challenger Al Franken for every single vote from an election that took place last November. I wonder if the Canadian government is concerned, or if the Iranian government has sent a scowling ayatollah to observe the case as it slogs its way through the courts?

Oh, well ... at least Minnesotans aren't contesting the election by burning cars in the streets, looting stores, and fighting with police. They're doing it the American way - the 21st-century equivalent of trial by ordeal, in which the champion lawyers of each side hammer each other endlessly with facts (if the facts are on their side) or the letter of the law (if the facts are not on their side).

In the end, Minnesota will finally have two senators and a bunch of lawyers will buy new yachts and summer homes. Either Al Franken or Norm Coleman will be the winner, and the people of Minnesota will remain the losers, having been deprived of representation while venal political parties and greedy lawyers dragged the electoral decision out long past the point where the debate made sense.

Who knows? Maybe the Iranians are on to something.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, June 15, 2009

"A Divine Miracle"

Last Friday, Iranians went to the polls in record numbers for an election widely viewed as a test of the strength both of the hard-line clerical authorities and the relatively moderate opposition (moderation being a relative term in Iranian politics, where "Death to America!" is the campaign slogan equivalent of "I Like Ike" or "Four More Years!").

Surprisingly (if you believe the pre-election polls) or unsurprisingly (if you think the hard-liners are willing to roll over and relinquish power), incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad sailed to victory with 62% of the vote - a result described my Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as "a divine miracle."

Many Iranians, though, seem to have a different opinion, and have taken to the streets in often-violent demonstrations against the results. Pro- and anti-Ahmedinejad demonstrators are fighting with each other, second-place finisher Mir Hossein Moussavi has disputed the results and may or may not be under house arrest, and the hard-line clerics are smugly satisfied.

Isn't it a shame that the Iranians can't settle their electoral differences civilly, as we do here in America?

Consider the 2000 presidential election, which was won by Al Gore by popular vote, but by George W. Bush in the Electoral College. Did Americans take to the streets, beating each other and destroying property? Did riot police fight angry crowds? Of course not. After all, this wasn't a really significant event like a Super Bowl or something. We handled it in true, civilized American fashion.

Vast armies of lawyers descended upon the pivotal state of Florida, smelling the financial chum in the water. While Americans anxiously awaited the outcome of the legal battle in bars and nightclubs, the lawyers bravely fought it out in hushed courtrooms until the Supreme Court - America's version of the Iranian Guardian Council - stepped in to settle the issue in favor of Mr Bush.

Perhaps we can best help the Iranians by offering to provide a supply of lawyers to mediate the electoral dispute. After all, with the economy in the toilet, we've got lots of lawyers looking for work other than processing bankruptcies. We could offer to send, oh, about 50,000 of them to Teheran to help recount ballots, file court papers, and argue the issues in Iranian courts. If they could settle the recount issue in Florida, the should easily be able to sort out the social, political, and religious complexities of the Iranian election.

Of course, in a country where they don't count hanging chads, but actually hang Chad, it could be difficult. But we've got plenty of lawyers to replace any losses.

It's the least we could do. And the Iranians hate us already, so what's to lose?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Doing Nothing

My good friend, intellectual nemesis, and eminence grise who often comments here under the spiffy and original nickname "Anonymous" sent me a link the other day to this interesting article by Thomas Sowell: Varieties of Nothing.

I think about nothing all the time, as you know if you're one of my long-time readers. Many other people think about nothing, too. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince touched on the subject in his song "Raspberry Beret," when he sang about his boss's low opinion of him at work: "It seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before..."

But we're not here to discuss Prince, or

or whatever he's calling himself this week...

Mr Sowell began by noting that "there are many varieties of nothing, and some kinds of nothing can get very elaborate and complex," and then went on to discuss the sublime intricacies of nothing as they relate to his view of the current administration in Washington and the United Nations. I hope you will forgive me if I quote him at length, because his writing is wonderful:

"...On the international stage, the great arena for doing nothing is the United Nations.

"We have, for example, been doing nothing to stop Iran from getting nuclear bombs, but it has been elaborate, multifaceted and complexly nuanced nothing.

"Had there been no United Nations, it would have been obvious to all and sundry that we were doing nothing--and that could have had dire political consequences at election time.

"However, thanks to the United Nations, there is a place where political leaders can go to do nothing, with a flurry of highly visible activity-- and the media will cover it in detail, with a straight face, so that people will think that something is actually being done.

"There may be televised statements and counter-statements--passionate debate among people wearing exotic apparel from different nations, all in an impressive, photogenic setting. U.N. resolutions may be voted upon and published to the world. It can be some of the best nothing that money can buy.

"Even when United Nations resolutions contain lofty and ringing phrases about the "concerns" of "the international community" or invoke "world opinion"-- or perhaps even warn of "grave consequences"-- none of this is likely to lead any country to do anything that it would not have done otherwise."

Some of the best nothing that money can buy. Priceless. There's more, but you get the idea.

It's easy to make fun of the UN, and I do it all the time. While pursuing my masters degree I suffered through a class in "International Organizations," in which the professor strove mightily (and failed resoundingly) to convince us that the UN was a dynamic and relevant organization. A forum for national representatives to make lofty speeches, complain about each other, and blame all the ills of the world on the United States and Israel, to be sure...but dynamic and relevant? Well, if you believe that, I can make you a good deal on swamp land in Florida.

One of the major activities of the UN is the provision of "peacekeeping" forces to various locations where the populations, left to their own devices, would probably settle their differences through extreme kinetic diplomacy. But it doesn't even do that very well. There's an interesting short article by James Gibney in the July/August issue of The Atlantic titled, Unleash the Dogs of Peace (not available online yet), in which he recommends getting rid of UN peacekeepers in favor of hiring good old mercenaries to do the job. UN peacekeepers, coming largely from countries whose armies aren't good for much other than hiring out as peacekeepers, tend often to be better at drug trafficking, abuse, and illicit arms sales than at protecting the innocent. Would mercenaries be any better? Well, maybe not, but if we're going to pay for nothing, we might as well pay for professional nothing.

Closer to home, we frequently lambaste our government for doing nothing in the face of crisis. When there's a 9/11 or a Hurricane Katrina or vast floods along the Mississippi, the cry goes up across the land: why doesn't the government do something? Of course, as soon as the government does something, there arises the outrage that the government is doing the wrong thing, or doing it ineptly ("you're doing a heckuva job, Brownie!"), or is using the crisis as a sneaky way of imposing its evil will on us, and depriving us of our right to own howitzers for home protection.

Clearly, it's safer to do nothing, especially if you can do nothing behind a great cloud of smoke and a forest of mirrors that will make it look as if you were doing something.

Wow! Even I didn't think I could write so much about nothing.

But I could hardly avoid the inspiration provided by Mr Sowell's excellent article, and the sterling examples provided by the UN and my own government.

Have a good day. Do nothing. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

Kim Jong-Il, North Korea's "Dear Leader," has announced that the official title of his son and designated successor, Kim Jong-Un, is "Brilliant Comrade;" both candidates are claiming victory in the Iranian elections; Chastity Bono, once the cute daughter of Sonny and Cher, has announced she is changing her gender and will henceforth be known as "Chaz;" an 88-year-old white supremacist murdered a security guard at Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum before being shot by other guards; and a ferocious battle between the Mexican Army and a gang of drug thugs in downtown Acapulco's tourist hotel zone left 18 people dead and many injured.

Don't worry, Cartoon Saturday is here to help give you your weekly anti-reality injection.

For someone whose name is synonymous with military disaster, General George Armstrong Custer still manages to inspire cartoons, whether tied to the economy ...

Or to, well, the economy ...

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Kim Jong-il, Rush Limbaugh, and Nancy Pelosi were not available this week, so we have two cartoons featuring other clowns for you ...

And ...

Sometimes there's a reason for a double standard ...

And sometimes there's just no excuse ...

For those of you who follow ice hockey, one bit of good news this week was that my hometown Pittsburgh Penguins have won hockey's Stanley Cup by defeating the Detroit Red Wings 2-1. Go Pens!!

It looks as though we'll have yet another in our ongoing series of rainy weekends here in Northern Virginia. I've given up on getting a tan this year...I think I'll just go ahead and rust.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Television Trauma

Today, a terrible and gut-wrenching national trauma comes to a head.

No, it's not the issues of gun control and racial tension as a result of the murder of a guard by a deranged white supremacist at the National Holocaust Museum.

No, it's not the issue of abortion as a result of the recent murder of a doctor (in church, no less) who performed abortions.

It's the transition from analog to digital television.

Yes, my friends, today is the day on which everyone with an older, analog TV set who has not obtained and installed a converter box to replace the old rabbit-ears antenna will find himself the proud owner of a large paperweight.

The horror, the horror!

I really don't understand how the poor folks who had old analog TV sets managed to survive without the 7,462 channels of television provided by their local cable systems. How could one manage in today's world without access to Jewelry Television, SOAPNet, The Church Channel, and 479 different sports channels?

Television offerings were the subject of a discussion at the bus stop yesterday afternoon. One of my fellow riders, a lady pursuing her masters degree in History, was lamenting that The History Channel had morphed over time into an "all World War II, all the time" format ... and that when she complained, they met her halfway by introducing shows like "Modern Marvels" which feature exciting topics like "The History of the Wrench." This could, of course, be an exciting show if you're one of those people who buys Popular Mechanics magazine for the centerfold, but somehow it falls a bit short for most of us.

The ultimate outcome of the transition from analog to digital television is that we'll have the same 7,462 channels of crud ... we'll just receive them in a crystal-clear high definition format.

It was the great radio and early television star Fred Allen who once said that television was a medium, because anything well-done is rare. I often wonder what he'd have thought about modern cable TV with its almost endless opportunities for niche programming. Need a show about cooking marinated emu intestines? It's probably out there. Want a "reality" show about attractive young people thrown together in utterly unrealistic situations? Got that, too. How about fly-fishing in streams which flow from northeast to southwest in states whose names begin with "A" and have populations between 13-28% gay? I'm sure you can find it in the "Sports Band" your cable service offers.

Whatever happened to the great shows like "Green Acres," "Mission: Impossible," and "The Great Adventure?"

Oh, yes - there's a channel for them, too: TVLand.

Groucho Marx was right - television is very educational. Whenever someone turns it on, go into the next room and read a good book.

And, sadly, even the book is likely to be digital today.

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday coming tomorrow.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Millionth Word

Linguists everywhere rejoiced yesterday at the announcement that the English language had just added its one-millionth word. You can read about it here.

You often hear speakers of other languages lament that English is taking over, that it's all you hear wherever you go. Well, that may be true overseas...here in the US, it's Spanish that's taking over and is all you hear wherever you go.

But that's a discussion for another day.

One of the reasons English is so widely spoken and used is precisely because its vocabulary is so vast and offers so much richness of expression. The English language is like the English-speaking world used to be: open and welcoming to that which has something to contribute. We don't have an Academie Francaise trying desperately to plug the holes in the linguistic dike to keep nasty foreign words out ... we welcome them for the variety they bring to our expression.

English accepts words from all languages without discrimination: you do your algebra (Arabic) homework on the patio (Spanish), and may shout "Oy, vey!" (Yiddish) when the answers don't come out right. And while you're stuck on the patio with your algebra, your friends may experience schadenfreude (German) at your plight, even as they experience deja vu concerning their own homework.

A million words is a lot of words. Fortunately, most of us don't need to memorize or use all of them. What is the size of an average vocabulary? According to an unsourced (and therefore relatively suspect) article on WikiAnswers:

The vocabulary of a first-grader is about 1,000+ words;

The vocabulary of an average college graduate is 5,000 to 6,000+ words;

A university professor's vocabulary might contain 15,000+ words; and,

An average spelling bee winner may know 30,000 or more words.

There are, of course, a lot more words out there than most of us will ever use. For instance, you're not likely to use the word sphygmomanometer very often if you aren't a doctor or nurse, and you probably wouldn't use magnetohydrodynamics in a bar conversation unless you were trying to pick up a cute engineer. There are also a lot of words out there that are taboo, seldom used in polite company. I won't mention any of them here, of course, but you can probably name a few on your own.

According to the Global Language Monitor, the one-millionth English word (added to the language on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 AM, GMT) was web 2.0, which beat out jai ho, slumdog, and noob for the honor.

I'd have voted for noob just to be ornery, but no one asked me.

And now it's time to go to work and turn some of those million words into sentences in reports and studies. I can hardly wait.

Have a good day. Enrich your vocabulary. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Very Straightforward People

Amanda has written several times in her blog about how disconcertingly straightforward people living in Palembang - and now, in Malaysia, too - can be.

Well, Amanda, it doesn't just happen there.

For nine years, I had my own radio show ("The Audio Attic") on WEBR, the Fairfax County public access radio station. I really enjoyed doing it because I love music and because, since it was a public access rather than a commercial station, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted as long as it wasn't obscene or libelous. Over time I actually built a fairly large audience, as measured by the number of phone calls I got when I was on the air (the audio equivalent of the comments we bloggers always hope for).

Well, one year we set up a booth at the Fairfax County Fair to drum up interest and provide information about the station to people who might not have heard of us. We all got spiffy t-shirts to wear, along with brightly-colored badges that showed our names and the names of our programs. Things we going swimmingly during my shift (I was even asked for an autograph by one visitor, woo-hoo!) when an attractive young lady walked up. She talked about how much she enjoyed listening to WEBR, and how the wide variety of programs we offered always offered something for everyone.

Then she looked at my name tag.

And she looked up at me.

Then she looked at my name tag again.

Then she looked back at me.

And she said ...

"YOU'RE Bilbo? From "The Audio Attic?" You don't look anything like you sound!"

I wasn't quite sure what to say, so I decided to interpret it as "you're SO much better looking in person!" ... although I'm not sure that was exactly what she meant.

Oh, well...

I've been told that I have a pleasant, baritone radio voice. Which is good, because I don't have a particularly television-ready face. I just didn't need to be reminded of the fact quite that directly.

Amanda would understand.

Have a good day. Support your local public access radio station.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Disappearing Blogs

Having kicked over the discussional anthill with my post the other day about health care (I'm still busy reading comments and links sent in by readers who have very definite ideas on the subject), I thought I'd back off for a day and discuss - what else? - blogs. More accurately, disappearing blogs.

Yesterday evening my coworker John forwarded me a link to this short article from Slashdot.org ("News For Nerds"): Most Blogs Now Abandoned. A link in that article led me to the original article from the New York Times, Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest, which contained this quote: "According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days."

Why do blogs die?

In some cases, it's because the original thrill goes away as bloggers discover that everyone in the world isn't interested in what they have to say. It can be tough writing something new each day, knowing that only a tiny handful of people are reading it, and fewer of those are interested enough to comment. In my own case, it took more than a year for my blog to get more than a few hits per week and to start generating comments ... today, I average between 30-50 hits per day, with spikes when the occasional post is picked up by DC Blogs or linked to another blog or news article.

Sometimes, the blogger gets started with the idea that there's money to be made in blogging. There may be, but there probably aren't more than a few of those 133 million blogs Technorati tracks that will ever make enough money to make them worth the time and effort required to keep them up.

In other cases, the blogger just runs out of topics or interest. This is a problem I don't have, being interested in just about everything and full of opinions on all of it. There are very few days I sit down at the keyboard and wonder what on earth to blog about, and I like to think that the end result is interesting to my readers.

Perhaps it's not a lack of topics or interest, but a desire only to post when one has something worthwhile to say, rather than just churn out words to fill blank space. I think Gilahi, one of my favorite bloggers, falls into this category.

Limited time is another factor. Blogging represents an investment of time that many people don't have too much of. It takes me about 30 minutes to an hour to do an average post, and I can only manage the time by doing it very early in the morning, before all the other demands on my time ramp up. I'm always amazed that Amanda posts so regularly, despite the incredible demands of an active toddler and her frequent travels around Asia. Then there are folks like Mike, who never tire of reminding us that they're retired and have all the time in the world. $%#&!.

Finally, some bloggers may find that they don't want to give up their online anonymity, or are upset by some of the comments their posts received. I've had occasional disagreements with some readers of my blog (right, lacochran and SuzyQ?), but never a serious flame war. The closest I came was a comment I received a few years ago that started with "You're an idiot" and went downhill from there.

Blogs disappear or are updated only occasionally for any number of reasons. Those that remain are powered by the interest of their owners and the support of their readers. I enjoy blogging as a creative outlet and an opportunity to vent on all the things that interest me (or piss me off, which is just as often the case).

But speaking of time for blogging, that time is now over. It's time to go to work. Darn. But at least I get paid for doing that.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Geez, You Can't Even Reincarnate Any More...

One of the nice things about being a moderately cynical and curmudgeonly blogger is that you never run out of things to observe without bemusement. You can never be in the position of having to say, "Now I've seen it all!"

But I've come close.

With all the discussion and debate over Tibet (except in China, where the official position on the subject of Tibet is, "It's ours, end of discussion, shut up"), we can sometimes forget that there are intricate religious issues beyond the political ones. For instance, the Dalai Lama - the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists - is getting old. Tibetan Buddhist tradition says he will be reincarnated when he dies, and the search for the reincarnated leader has been going on for some time. According to this article in Time Magazine, a 24 year-old Tibetan living in Spain has been identified as the long-sought reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

The trouble is, he doesn't want the job. He wants to be a filmmaker.

It's getting harder all the time to find a good reincarnation. In 2007, as part of its campaign to ensure Tibet didn't generate any independent leaders that would threaten its grip on the territory, China passed a law requiring "living Buddhas" (that is, future Tibetan spiritual leaders) to obtain official government permission before reincarnating. Chances are, Tenzin Osel Rinpoche (the Spanish Dalai Lama-designate who now wants to be know by his original name of Osel Hita Torres), never bothered to file the proper application with the appropriate agency of the government in Beijing before reincarnating ... thus, he'd have been illegal, anyhow.

So who will be the next Dalai Lama?

The Time article is actually quite fascinating, beyond my tongue-in-cheek observations about reincarnation. It compares the search for a new Dalai Lama to the machinations which have historically surrounded the election of a new Pope, and discusses the often bloody history of the search for the individual who has come to be recognized as a symbol of peace and wisdom (that would be the Dalai Lama, not Barack Obama). You don't have to have my terminally jaded opinion of organized religion to find the whole story tremendously interesting.

And, before you get all excited, I've checked ... Mike is not the next candidate for Dalai Lama.

I knew you'd be relieved.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Health Care. Or Not.

Earlier this morning Mike posted a letter to the editor written by a doctor (one assumes a doctor of medicine, rather than of philosophy) which very nicely addressed the dual issues of shared responsibility and avoidance of scare tactics in addressing the problem of health care reform.

Health care is something you tend to think about most in two parts of your life: first, when you have small children who always need some sort of maintenance; second, when you get older and find that all your constituent parts don't work quite as well - individually or together - as they once did. I look at what my children go through in getting care for my grandchildren, and what we (well, my sister, actually, as she's doing most of the work) are going through in arranging quality care for our father, who remains unable to do much for himself after his stroke earlier this year.

Health care reform, real health care reform, in this country requires, as the good doctor said in his letter Mike shared with us, shared responsibility. This means:

1. Taking responsibility for living in a healthy way so that you don't need more than basic health care most of the time. That means eating right, not doing anything stupid like smoking or taking drugs, getting the right amount of exercise, not engaging in activities you know are likely to cause injury (sorry about that, all you extreme sports people and dumbasses who refuse to wear motorcycle helmets because it limits your freedom to incur deadly brain injury), and seeking medical help when a problem first starts, rather than waiting until you have one foot in the grave and the other one on a banana peel, when your problem will be more difficult (and expensive) to solve.

2. Finding lawyers who care more about justice than about the size of their fees; who don't encourage their clients to file enormous medical malpractice suits grossly out of proportion to the injury suffered; and finding judges and juries willing to stand up and say such suits are fundamentally stupid. Somebody's paying those gigantic settlements, lawyers' fees, and court costs. Surprise! - it's us.

3. Working with the pharmaceutical industry to find ways of keeping the price of prescription medicines down. The outrageous cost of drugs is driven partly by research and development costs, partly by advertising (how many Viagra, Cialis, Levitor, and other drug ads do you see in magazines and on prime-time TV each day?), partly by an opaque pricing structure, and partly because of the enormous cost of insurance against the inevitable lawsuits.

4. Getting people on all sides of the argument to stop demonizing the options recommended by other sides, and whining shrilly about the negatives of any solution but their own. Nobody's interests are served without a clear, thoughtful analysis of the pros and cons of each proposed solution. Example: what does "socialized medicine" actually mean in the context of the debate? Why is a "single payer" plan any different in end result from the patchwork system we have now? And don't just say that it's because "government bureaucrats are making decisions about my health care." Oddly enough, bureaucrats are making those decisions already...it's just that they work for a profit-driven health care industry, and not for "The Government."

Health care in this country is the best in the world...if you can afford it. The problem is that there are too many people who have an economic interest in the issue: doctors who endure a very long and expensive course of training and certification and then - understandably - want to be paid appropriately (and avoid the threat of catastrophic malpractice suits); insurance companies and medical care networks who want to maximize earnings while minimizing costs; lawyers who stand to make millions of dollars by successfully prosecuting malpractice lawsuits (often of questionable merit); and average folks who have a hard time balancing the competing needs to eat, live indoors, and pay for medical care.

I don't know what the ultimate solution is, although I strongly suspect that it's some version of a government-funded single-payer insurance system. Every possible approach to the problem has good and bad points ... the issue for us should be to stop endlessly harping on the bad points and demonizing those who support positions we don't, and start working together to create a system that keeps people healthy.
I suspect the doctors and lawyers will continue to earn their livings regardless of the outcome.

And I also suspect that my grandchildren will still be listening to the same noisy debate when I am old and decrepit. Or older and more decrepit than I am now.

Have a good day. Be safe and live healthy.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 06, 2009


Today is not only Cartoon Saturday.

It's the day on which, in 1944, many thousands of young men stormed the heavily-defended coast of occupied Normandy in the battle that has become known to history as D-Day. The heroism and dedication of these men - many of whom never left those terrible beaches - helped spell the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

I suggest you read The Meaning of Bloody Omaha, or watch the first 20 minutes of the film Saving Private Ryan, to understand what happened that day, and why even now, 65 years later, we owe a vast and unpayable debt to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

War is a terrible thing, but sometimes there are other things that are worse. President Obama reminded us of this during his visit to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp earlier this week. As much as we would like to believe that everyone is rational and every problem can be negotiated away in good faith, in the real world there are some evils that can only be erased by the sacrifice of those who are willing to die for something greater than themselves.

Take a few minutes today to remember what happened on that June morning 65 years ago, and to think about how terribly different the world might be today if our fathers and grandfathers hadn't believed in something worth fighting for.


Cartoon Saturday

Twenty-nine children were killed and more than 100 others were injured Friday when their day care center caught fire in Mexico; a massive landslide in the Chinese city of Chongqing has buried dozens of people; a new study suggests that more than 60% of personal bankruptcies are caused by huge medical bills; and authorities in Michigan believe a body found by fishermen is that of a five year old girl who had been abducted and murdered.

Whatever would you do without Cartoon Saturday to help keep your head above the bad news water?

Some time back, lacochran sent me a batch of cartoons about dogs that I've been saving for a rainy day. It's raining ...

And while we're talking about dogs, any votes for the worst pun of the day? ...

For some reason, Moby Dick turns up occasionally as a popular topic for cartoons. That probably won't last, he being the Great White Whale in a very PC society, but for now, he's still here ...

And I loved this one ...

Finally, what better to take your mind off the ills of the world than a discussion of fine lingerie? I read once that mermaids who are good at math wear algebras, while other women wear, well ...

I've run this cartoon before, and I donated it to Miss Cellania for one of her posts on lingerie a while back, but it's still funny ... and it fits the topic ...

It look as though the rain is finally going to stop and let us have a sunny day today here in Northern Virginia. It's about time ... my neighbors were starting to complain about the ark I was building in the driveway. And maybe I can finally get my poor, waterlogged garden weeded when Agnes isn't dragging me, kicking and screaming, to the 36th Annual Quilters Unlimited Quilt Show.

I can hardly wait.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, June 05, 2009

The Wrong Speech...but Not a Bad One

Yesterday in this space, I wrote that President Obama was preparing to give the wrong speech to an audience that doesn't want to hear it. I pointed out my strong belief that Muslims who refuse to face reality, insist on living in an imagined past paradise, and applaud those who murder in the name of their faith are the real problem. I wrote that it shouldn't be an American president who "apologizes" to the Islamic world, but Muslims who should be apologizing to America.

That said, I have read the text of President Obama's speech (and you can watch it at the link posted on Mike's blog), and am less angry (if no less concerned) that I was at this time yesterday.

That Mr Obama is an excellent speaker is well known - my concern was that his speech would be long on unnecessary apology and short on presentation of facts the Islamic world doesn't want to hear, truths it doesn't want to acknowledge, and responsibilities it refuses to face.

On balance, I think Mr Obama did a very good job. He acknowledged some of the mistakes the United States has made in the past, but without begging for forgiveness. He underscored the role of Islamic extremists in spreading hatred and violence, and America's determination to fight them. He affirmed our support of Israel, but also called that country to renounce its self-destructive policy of building settlements in contested territory.

Naturally, there are those who condemn his remarks. Predictably, blowhard moron Osama bin Laden did. Hard-line Israeli settlers didn't like his comments about their illegal settlements. Islamic extremists didn't like anything. Many Palestinians claimed that his condemnation of Israeli occupation policies was insufficiently strong. Some Americans believed he went too far in praising Islamic religion and traditions, and not far enough in condemning its extremist violence.

There was something for everyone to like, and everyone to object to. But on balance, I think it was a good speech presented to a tough audience, every member of which was prepared to denounce all or part of anything he said.

Whether or not the Muslim world will hear his call to renounce violence and focus on building, rather than destroying, remains to be seen. Whether Israel hears his admonition to seek a just peace with the Palestinians and the larger Arab world also remains to be seen.

In the final analysis, as Mr Obama said, "We cannot impose peace." People have to want it and work for it. He spoke the right words. Now, it's time to see if those words spur people of all nations and faiths in the Middle East to the right sort of action: to building, not destroying; to communicating with each other, rather than shouting death threats in the streets; to recognizing the rights - and responsibilities - of all rather than the narrow interests of a few.

I'm still not holding my breath, but maybe - just maybe - there's a glimmer of hope out there.

We'll see.

Have a good day. Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday - be here!

More thoughts coming.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Wrong Speech

In about an hour, President Obama is going to give one of the most anticipated speeches of his presidency. He will face an audience in Cairo, Egypt, and try to "win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world."

It's a speech he shouldn't be giving, to an audience that really doesn't want to listen to the truth.

In the Islamic world, the United States is the penultimate villain, second only to Israel. Autocratic rulers divert anger at their venality and failure by encouraging their people to blame the United States for everything. Huge crowds gather at the drop of a hat to chant "Death to America!"

That would, of course, be the America that spends tens of millions of dollars on aid to those same countries each year.

In an article in yesterday's Washington post, a clerk in an Egyptian store was quoted as saying that "At least he (Obama) has to apologize. He can either apologize himself or on the behalf of his predecessors. But there needs to be recognition."

Yes, there needs to be recognition. There need to be apologies. But the wrong people are being told they must recognize and apologize. A large part of that recognition and a great deal of apology must come from a Muslim world that doesn't recognize anything beyond the blinders of its own interests and prejudices.

Let's look at the record ....

It was a group of 19 Muslims who murdered nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11, and it was Muslim crowds who danced in the streets of the Middle East in celebration of that horrendous crime.

It was Muslims who insisted that the murders of 9/11 were committed by the CIA and the Israeli Mossad, refusing to believe all evidence to the contrary.

It was Muslims who rioted, burned churches, and murdered Christians because they felt insulted by remarks delivered by Pope Benedict in a speech at Regensburg, Germany, a few years ago. These would be the same Muslims who see nothing wrong with referring to Christians and Jews as "apes and pigs."

It is Islamic so-called holy men who churn out fatwas blaming all the ills of the world on the United States and encouraging their followers to murder and hatred.

It is those same so-called holy men who insist on returning the Islamic world to an imagined seventh-century paradise ... because things were supposedly perfect in Mohammed's time, and are much worse now.

It is those same so-called holy men who encourage impressionable young people to commit suicide in the act of murdering those who practice religions other than Islam, telling them they will be entertained by legions of virgins in an imagined paradise.

I think it is the Islamic world that owes the United States an apology. It will never happen, though.

I'll take the opinions of Muslims seriously on the day I see huge crowds in the streets of Arab cities chanting "Death to Osama bin Laden!" I'll take the opinions of Muslims seriously on the day the Council on American Islamic Relations condemns terrorism committed by Muslims, instead of whitewashing the acts and blaming them on the victims.

I'm not holding my breath.

I hope that the President doesn't use his speech to do nothing but apologize for the supposed wrongs of the United States. I hope he uses it to point out the failures, the blindness, and the hatred of the Islamic world. I hope that he tells his audience not just that "America is not at war with Islam," but that most Americans believe the Islamic world is at war with us.

I'm not holding my breath for that, either.

The President will speak eloquently, as he always does. But his audience will only hear what it wants to hear. And it only wants to hear America make abject apologies for its sins, real and imagined.

It's just a good thing I'm not giving that speech. I'm too angry to be eloquent in the face of an audience that's spring-loaded to hate me just because I have committed the heinous dual sins of being an American and not being a Muslim.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

On the Underappreciated Properties of Penguin Poop

Among the many things I've never really had much reason to think about is the problem of locating and counting colonies of emperor penguins.

I suppose, on reflection, that it's not easy. Penguins do, after all, look pretty much alike. They blend into their primarily black-and-white background. They don't have fixed addresses and tend not to return census forms. And because of the way they're built, traditional ways of counting them (like the cowboy's rule of thumb for measuring the size of the herd - count the legs and divide by four) don't work very well. Scientists who wanted to find, count, and study colonies of emperor penguins were at their wits end.

But help has come from an unlikely source, according to this article in yesterday's news: Scientists Track Penguin Poop From Space.

Yes, friends, the same satellites that provide those nifty Google Earth images, monitor North Korean missile tests, and track hurricanes have provided scientists with a new tool to find penguin colonies: the ability to see poop from space. It seems that penguin poop is brown in color, making it stand out against ice fields that are mainly black and white. A helpful photo is provided with the article, in case you're having trouble visualizing the concept. Being able to see poop from space has already allowed interested scientists to locate ten previously-undiscovered colonies of emperor penguins.

Let's think about this for a minute.

If we can locate poop from space, the days of Osama bin Laden and his pet snake Ayman al Zawahiri are clearly numbered...if we can find penguins via their poop, we certainly should be able to find two murderous fiends as full of poop as those two with relative ease. I hope the CIA has taken note of this and is moving forward to operationalize (isn't that a great word?) this capability. The project name would probably need a little finessing, though - Operation Seek Poop doesn't have quite the right ring to it.

Of course, the cameras would have to be properly protected with appropriate filters in case they should accidentally image Capitol Hill, thereby overloading their systems, but I'm sure that if we can service the Hubble telescope, we can fix this minor problem.

The many uses of humble poop. Who knew?

Have a good day. Don't take any crap from anybody.

More thoughts tomorrow.