Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite Authors

On this date last year, I published a post titled 2008 - The Year in Books in which I listed every book I'd read during the year, along with capsule reviews. I'd intended to do the same this year, but when my Mac's hard drive died a few months ago, it took me a few weeks to recover the document I'd created to track my reading list ...then it was out of date and I was too lazy to keep it up...and...well...I only have a list accurate through the beginning of October. Bummer.

So, in the absence of my "what I read in 2009" list, I thought I'd take a different approach and shamelessly plagiarize an idea from The Mistress of the Dark, a lady who - like me - is an avid reader. This past Tuesday she posted a list of her favorite authors "so," she writes, "you will remember that I do love reading."

I love reading, too, and so - thank you, Andrea - here is a partial list of Bilbo's current favorite authors...

Bernard Cornwell - Mr Cornwell writes historical novels that are masterpieces of descriptive writing. He's written several series, including the Sharpe novels, which follow the adventures of an English soldier during the Napoleonic Wars. This year he published Agincourt, which looked at the famous battle through the eyes of an English archer. You'll be glad you weren't there. If you like historical fiction, this is the author for you.

John Dunning - An author who shares my love of old-time radio, and who writes intricately-plotted, exciting mysteries. His "Bookman" series follows the adventures of a retired-detective-turned-old-book-dealer...and the stories are both marvelous mysteries and interesting looks into the world of publishing and book collecting. Last month I read his novel Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime (for the third time), which is one of his best - a crackling good mystery set in a radio station during World War II. Intricately interweaves radio production and the search for a vicious killer with a motivation you won't see coming.

Wilbur Smith - If you like hairy-chested he-man adventures, well-plotted and set in a wide range of meticulously researched historical settings, Wilbur Smith is your guy. His bad guys are really bad (if sometimes almost cartoonish), his heroes are strong and lantern-jawed, and nobody can write awful sex scenes and describe naked bodies like he can. Most of his books are set in Africa, which he describes as lovingly as only a person who has lived his life there can. His most recent novel is Assegai, a thriller set during World War I and involving a complex German plot to tie the British down in a war in Africa. If you want a great story of the search for a lost Egyptian tomb, try The Seventh Scroll. His books are brain candy, but exciting and fun.

Harry Turtledove - the master of the alternative history novel. He's known for The Worldwar series, which imagines the Second World War interrupted by an invasion of lizard-like aliens from distant space, and for The Great War series, which imagines World Wars I and II as fought between the United States and it's allies and the Confederate States (who won the Civil War) and it's allies. This year, he published The Man with the Iron Heart, which imagines what might have happened if a defeated Germany had carried on an Iraq-style insurgency after World War II. Also recommended is his offbeat novel Household Gods (co-written with Judith Tarr), which imagines the life of a Los Angeles lawyer, dissatisfied with her life, who wakes up one morning to discover that she's living in a provincial town ruled by the Roman Empire. Great author, lots of fun to read...although some of his descriptive language tends to be overused.

Carlos Ruis Zafon - his two novels, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game, are moody, descriptive, stories set in Barcelona that are part mystery, part ghost story. Strongly recommended.

Rennie Airth - I discovered him this year and am hopelessly hooked. His series of novels featuring English police detective John Madden are brilliantly written and meticulously plotted, and his ability to depict England and a cast of characters that change and evolve over the years is marvelous. I strongly recommend all three of the Madden stories: River of Darkness, The Blood-Dimmed Tide, and The Dead of Winter.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child - they've written many books together, and each has written several on his own. None of them are great literature, but they're all exciting page-turners that are fun-to-read brain candy. Try the Special Agent Pendergast novels (there are nine so far, with a new one coming in May), Thunderhead, and Riptide. Lincoln Child's solo novel Deep Storm is a great thriller with a plot element I've written about before.

Anne Rice - this is the only place where my favorite author list intersects with Andrea's, and it's really only because of one of her many novels: The Witching Hour. This is an amazing book...very long, but engrossing, thrilling, and full of plot twists and wonderfully-drawn characters. Plus it's downright frightening in some places - every bit as good as Stephen King when he resists the urge to wildly overwrite (which isn't often). I don't think she's ever written anything else as good.

Okay, that's enough for now. There are lots of other authors I like, but they will have to wait for a second installment of the, it's time for breakfast.

If you're going out to celebrate tonight, please don't drink and regular readership is holding steady at about 40 people, and I can't afford to lose any of you. Party hard, but be safe and come back to visit in the new year.

Have a good day. Read more. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - Amanda had her baby! Check out the news here. Congratulations, Amanda and Richard!


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Operation Bombshell

One of the sad by-products of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the difficulty faced by many military families of keeping marriages going in the face of repeated, lengthy deployments. When your husband...or wife...or mother is gone and in grave danger for months at a time, it can put a strain on the most solid of marriages. The services go to great lengths to provide support services and counseling to help couples stay together and children calm in a parent's extended absence, but military divorce rates are very high.

Some Army wives have taken a bit different approach to keeping their marriages fresh and their spouses interested in them, according to this New York Times article: To Keep the Home Fires Burning, Grab a Boa.

Yes, Ms Lily Burana, an experienced exotic dancer, writer, and Army wife, has started Operation Bombshell: she offers striptease classes for other Army wives. The object is twofold: to give lonely wives an outlet for their energies, and to provide the ability for the ladies to give their husbands a gift that says, "I'm waiting for you, I love you, and what you see is what you get." One wife commented, “When they first come home after a year away, you don’t really need burlesque...But maybe in a few months.”

Ms Burana said that the idea for Operation Bombshell came to her when she met a young Victoria’s Secret saleswoman who was wearing her deployed husband’s dog tags. “I had this bizarre wacky moment of divine inspiration to give these women an escape by doing what I do best,” she said.

Of course, a question remains: what is the equivalent course of instruction for nonmilitary men whose wives are deployed? I'm a pretty good ballroom dancer, but I probably wouldn't be able to do striptease particularly well, The Full Monty notwithstanding. What's a man to do? Perhaps take some gourmet cooking lessons?

It's one way to keep the pot simmering, after all.

Have a good day. Support the families of your deployed friends and co-workers.

Striptease optional.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Threats to Your Hearing

I found this amazing headline on CNN Health this morning: "Metallica Drummer Struggles with Ringing in Ears."

Well, duh...

Lars Ulrich, the 46 year-old drummer for the heavy metal band Metallica, is quoted in the article as saying, "I've been playing loud rock music for the better part of 35 years...I never used to play with any kind of protection."

Who does he think he is, Tiger Woods?

Anyhow, those 35 years of sitting on stage, awash in the vast and discordant noise of heavy metal "music" has resulted in severe tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. I've suffered from tinnitus in the past, and it's no fun. And I don't even listen to loud music.

Unfortunately, I do listen to the news, and I am now concerned that my hearing may be damaged by the loud and discordant noises not of rock bands, but of talking heads, religious fanatics, and bozohead members of Congress...not to mention the sudden spike in television volume when commercials interrupt the shows you really want to watch.

What can you do? Well, all I can say is God bless the person who decided to put that mute button on the remote control. I just wish there was a selective remote control that allowed me to mute politicians, lobbyists, morons who use their cell phones indiscriminately in public, and people who want to share their hearing loss with me by using earphones with their music players, and then cranking up the volume so high that you can hear it across the street.


I have to agree with the anonymous person who once said that what this country needs is more free speech worth listening to.

And less music played loudly enough in New York that you can hear it in Washington. State, not DC.

Have a good day. I said, have a good day! Whatsamatta? Can't you hear?

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Farewell to the ... uh ... Aughts?

Speaking of intense debates about which you care nothing...

What do we call the decade that ends on December 31st?

This is not as trivial a question as you might think. When we look back at the 20th century, the names of the decades call important events and lessons to life: the "Roaring Twenties" and "the Fifties," "Sixties," "Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties" all call to mind their defining characteristics and events. "The Forties" was the decade of the Second World War. But what do we call the first decade of the 21st century?

Numerous articles have been written about this critical question, and many suggestions have been made. How about:

"The Two Thousands?" Too ordinary.

"The Aughts." Getting better, but still a little bland.

"The Oh's." Oh, come on...we can do better than this.

"The Oh-Oh's." I like this one...calls to mind such events as 9/11, the gutting and collapse of the economy, and increasing political and religious polarization.

"The Naughts." Not bad...especially when we look at the smoking holes where our retirement savings used to be before Congress helped the financial mismanagement industry loot them, and we think that all our hard work was for naught.

"The Zeros." A possibility, given that there are lots of those before the decimal point on the national deficit as we enter the next decade.

and my personal favorite,

"The Naughties." Yes, there were lots of naughty people in this decade - Osama bin Laden and his pet snake Ayman al Zawahiri, Bernie Madoff, all 535 members of Congress, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Kanye West, Rush Limbaugh, Amy Winehouse, and the person who dreamed up the concept of "reality TV," to name just a few.

I'm voting for "The Naughties." What's your choice? Be sure to leave a comment and let me know, and don't forget to explain why you think it's the right name. No prizes...just the satisfaction of knowing you were able to give a name to the unnameable.

And what could be better than that...except maybe a double date with Christina Applegate and Alyssa Milano? Now, there I could really get into the naughties...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Eye of the Beholder...and of the Beholdee

It has long been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that is surely one of the most perceptive of observations. We often ask ourselves what Joe sees in Jane, or Jane in Joe...but as long as each finds the other attractive, for whatever reason, that's fine.

But can the "beauty quotient" of a person be mathematically measured?

It apparently can, according to this article from Yahoo News of December 18th: Beauty is Between Eyes, Mouth of the Beholden.

The article discusses the result of studies of white women conducted by US and Canadian researchers which concluded that beauty is less in the eye of the beholder than in "the measurements between the eyes, mouth and ears of the woman being observed."

The measurements most men are thinking of when they look at an attractive woman are not usually those of the eyes, mouth, and ears, of course. But according to the research cited in the article, which used Photoshop to alter the image of the same woman by changing the distances between her facial features, there is a definite preference for a "golden ratio" governing the arrangement and symmetry of facial features. That ratio is 36 percent for the length of the maximally attractive face (that is, the ideal distance between the eyes and mouth as compared to total face length, measured from the hairline to the chin), and 46 percent for the width (where the distance between the eyes is 46 percent of total face width as measured between the inner edges of the ears). Oddly enough, those ratios correspond to the arrangement of the average human face.

Of course, you don't see men whipping out tape measures and calculators to figure out if that hottie in the bar has optimum facial feature ratios...but it's evidently a calculation we all unconsciously make when we assess the relative attractiveness of an individual. Since the 36/46 ratios represent the average, what we're apparently actually doing is looking for (and either weeding out or focusing on) those who are outside the norm.

The article noted that undesirable facial ratios can be corrected by such things as changing the hair style, and it also observed that some celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Elizabeth Hurley, while they are generally considered to be "beautiful," do not have facial features which reflect the golden ratio, while singer Shania Twain (also considered "beautiful"), does. Evidently, possessing features not conforming to the parameters of the golden ratio is not necessarily an impediment to success, at least in the artistic realm.

So we really are talking about beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and not just in the eye ratios of the beholdee.

As for me, well, I consider myself a connoisseur of feminine pulchritude - look who I married, after all. And, like everyone else, I have my own ideas of what ratios and physical attributes make a lady particularly attractive. But it's good to remember that all those ratios are subject to immutable laws of time and gravity, and the physical attributes that looked so good at 25 are likely to look a bit different when we approach 60. Beauty is indeed both skin deep and in the eye of the beholder...

And I plan to keep on enjoying the beholding for a long time.

Have a good day, and may all your ratios be golden.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

A Nigerian man is in custody after attempting to set off an explosive device on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit (I'd be suspicious right off the bat of anyone who'd want to leave Amsterdam for Detroit); 45 people are dead after the collapse of a bridge in India; the Afghan Taliban have issued a video of an American soldier they captured earlier this year as a gruesome and cynical Christmas gift to his family; Pope Benedict XVI was unhurt after a woman jumped a barricade and wrestled him to the ground during a Christmas Eve processional; and at least 40 people died on Christmas Eve in Peru when a bus plunged into a mountain ravine.

It's the last Cartoon Saturday of the decade, and you know you need it.

I think I've found my dream job...

I would have thought that pretzel ... uh ... Styx ... would have been one of the choices...

I loved this one if only because it was such an obvious, if silly, sight gag...

Apropos of the health care "debate" (actually, "debacle," but I didn't get to pick the term) ...

Ah, yes ... the joys of eating in a sidewalk cafe ...

One of the things I've learned from Agnes over the years is how to pick a wine according to a system other than selecting the one with the best-looking picture on the label...

I love cartoons that are funny because they put a twist on an ordinary situation...

And finally, you may have wondered who it is that dreams up rosy economic statistics. At last, the mystery is revealed...

And that wraps Cartoon Saturday for 2009. I hope you all had a good Christmas, and that Santa was as good to you as the economy allowed. Let's hope 2010 will be better for us all.

Now, if someone could just get Congress working on that...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, December 25, 2009

A Curmudgeon's Christmas

Good morning, and Merry Christmas to all my faithful online friends. Our weather today is expected to be back to normal for Christmas in Northern Virginia - cold and rainy - which ought to help make driving a joy for those negotiating our still half-plowed roads.

Yesterday we spent Christmas Eve with our daughter and her family, and there is nothing quite like an energetic two-year-old to remind you of how much fun Christmas can be. Agnes made matching aprons for the ladies to wear...

Gifts were unwrapped with wild abandon...

Agnes made her traditional German beef rouladen with potatoes and red cabbage for supper...

And Leya, of course, wanted to help...we had the best washed salad (and counter...and floor...and Oma... and grandchild...) you've ever seen...

So, yes, even a curmudgeon can enjoy Christmas...but there are plenty enough people out there who are always ready to screw it up for you. Here is what happens when people fool around too much with traditional Christmas songs...

Health, Safety, and Equality Considerations for Christmas Songs

Jingle Bells

Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh,
O'er the fields we go,
Laughing all the way.

A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public on which to travel. The risk assessment must consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions. Note: permission must be gained from landowners before entering any fields considered private property. To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, request that laughter remain at moderate levels so as not to be considered noise pollution.

While Shepherds Watched

While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around.

The Union of Shepherds has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopedic chairs must be made available. The Union also requests that, due to inclement weather conditions during the Christmas season, they should watch their flocks via closed-circuit television cameras inside centrally-heated observation huts. Remind the angel of the lord that, before shining his or her glory all around she or he must ascertain that each shepherd has been issued safety glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UV-A, UV-B and glory.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw him,
You would even say it glows.

You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities Act, it is inappropriate to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr. R. Reindeer from any organized reindeer games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken. A full investigation will be authorized and implemented, and sanctions - including suspension on full pay - will be considered while the investigation takes place.

Little Donkey

Little donkey on the dusty road,
Got to keep on plodding
Onwards with your precious load.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has strict guidelines regarding how heavy a load donkeys of small stature are permitted to carry. Additional guidelines must be followed with regard to how often the donkey is fed and how many rest breaks are given over any four-hour period of plodding. Note: due to the increased risk of dust pollution from primitive roads, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent particle inhalation. The donkey has expressed discomfort at being labeled "little" and would prefer to be referred to as "Mr. Donkey." Comments upon his height, or lack thereof, may be considered infringement of his equine rights.

We Three Kings of Orient Are

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Whilst gifts of gold are still considered acceptable as it may be redeemed at a later date, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are inappropriate due to the potential risk of allergic reactions from oils and fragrances. A suggested gift alternative would be donations to worthy causes in the recipient's name or a gift card from a local business. Traversing kings should be discouraged from relying on navigation by stars. Use of a suitable GPS navigation device to provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption is recommended. Per the previous guidelines for Mr. Donkey, camels carrying three kings also require regular food, water, and rest breaks. If the camel's hooves create dust, facemasks are advised.

Away in a Manger

Away in a manger,
No crib for a bed…

Social Services will visit and may remove any child to a place of safety pending further action against parents or other persons who may be found guilty of neglect by not providing adequate bedding and shelter for a child in their care. After a formal case study has been carried out and fully discussed with the appropriate Social Services Committee, criminal proceedings may be instituted.

And so it is in early 21st-century America.

Agnes and I wish all of you a safe, happy, and joyous Christmas, at home or wherever your travels may take you.

Of course, there'll be more thoughts tomorrow.

God bless us, every one!


Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Curmudgeon's Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve. Many people are celebrating it by thronging the malls to make up for time lost in last weekend's blizzard. Many others are braving winter weather and crowded airports to visit distant relatives. Children are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa, and parents are obsessing over gifts that require "some assembly." Cakes and cookies are a-baking, radio stations are playing holiday music, and people are being polite to each other (except for disputes over parking places and ownership of the last gotta-have toy on the store shelf).

As the immortal Tom Lehrer croons in his song "A Christmas Carol" ...

At Christmas time you can't get sore,
Your fellow man you must adore,
There's time to rob him all the more,
The other three hundred and sixty-four...

In Congress this Christmas Eve, posturing buffoons of both parties seek to score cheap political points instead of working together to do the right thing for the nation.

Across the Middle East, peace and goodwill have long vanished, replaced by the certainty of the fanatic and the hatred of the infidel.

At AIG, many of the people who helped wreck the economy and yet received enormous bonuses have quietly ignored calls for those bonuses to be repaid...while unemployment is in the double digits and the savings of Real People have been looted.

Yes, it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit.

But, difficult as it is, it's good to remember that this is Christmas Eve, and that the Christmas season has a meaning beyond the gifts and trees and fruitcakes and sales at crowded malls...a meaning that can help us get past the rage and intolerance that mark so much of the modern world. That meaning is summarized in the second chapter of Luke from the Bible...

8: And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9: And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10: And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12: And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Peace on earth, good will toward men.

Seven words that summarize the ideal of the season, and the differences that separate us.

This cartoon has been in my collection for many years, waiting for an appropriate opportunity to use it...

Keep that jar on the shelf and be ready to break it out as needed during the coming year. I have a feeling you'll need it.

On this currently white, soon to be rainy Christmas Eve, I wish all of you peace and goodwill.

Have a safe and happy holiday with those you love. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Things I Hate: Self Checkouts

Today's post was inspired by Mike's tale of shopping woe and Amanda's comment thereon.

In Mike's post, he described the experience we have all had of picking what seems to be the shortest checkout line, only to find himself behind the Customer From Hell who holds up the entire line because of: (a) a rejected credit card; (b) a disagreement about the price of an item; (c) the need to scrutinize the receipt line-by-line because it just couldn't be that much and the $#%@ store is obviously trying to cheat him/her; or, (d) he/she is just a dumbass. Amanda commented that she just goes to the self-checkouts now, having been caught in similar situations all too often.

Now, I love Amanda (virtually, of course, not wanting to incur her husband's wrath), but I think she's way off base on this one. If Dante were alive today, he would surely have designated one of the lower circles of hell for the inventor of the self-checkout.

Here is the abridged list of Bilbo's problems with self-checkouts...

1. The recording that says: "You have purchased an age-restricted item. Please wait. Help is on the way." Oddly enough, age-restricted items include both alcoholic beverages and cough medicine. And the help that's on the way is coming from Ulan Baator, Mongolia.

2. The little scale that weighs the bag with your purchases in it and notifies a store drone if it thinks you've put something in the bag you haven't scanned. God forbid a fly should land on that'll make the acquaintance of the store's unsmiling security people.

3. When you buy a very lightweight item (like a greeting card) which doesn't weigh enough to start the conveyor belt to take it to the bagging area, and the system petulantly refuses to let you scan anything else because it thinks there's a problem.

4. You have purchased an obscure vegetable that doesn't have its picture on the main screen, and you have to search for it by name...and the name the store calls it doesn't match what you call it (example: is it celery root or is it celeriac? Coriander or Chinese parsley?). Oh, and speaking of celery root/celeriac, if you try to buy it at a checkout manned by a live person, chances are near 100% that person will have no idea what it is, and will need to call a supervisor for help.

5. The roll of receipt tape is specially designed to run out just as it tries to print your receipt. "Please wait. Help is on the way." From Ulan Baator.

6. If you go to 10 different stores, every one will have a different style of card scanner at the checkout (swipe card on left side, right side, or top; magnetic strip up or down; buttons arranged differently; etc, etc). You'd think they'd standardize. After all, we finally managed to settle on VHS tapes and Blu-Ray discs.

7. The bozohead ahead of you in the line at the self-checkout who needs three days to bag their purchases, and gets angry with you when you try to check out and your items threaten to mix with theirs in the bagging area.

8. (Okay, this one isn't specific to self-checkouts, but it drives me nuts, anyhow) The moron who finishes scanning his/her purchases, then stands there staring at the screen before realizing that, "Oh! I need to pay for this!", then spends ten minutes rummaging in a purse or wallet for the right card, then tries to understand the card scanner (see #6 above), then gets upset when the purchase is declined...which takes you back to Mike's post.


An Invention from Hell.

With help always on the way from Ulan Baator.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Story of the Christmas Angel

I am so angry about the juvenile shenanigans of Congress as they cobble together the health care reform bill that I could spit nails. The Republicans are acting petty and stupid (if all the better argument you can muster is a filibuster, you're intellectually bankrupt), and the Democrats are acting greedy and irresponsible (in order to buy the support of Senator Ben Nelson, my tax dollars will provide full, permanent federal funding for Medicaid eligibility to everyone in Nebraska below 133 percent of the federal poverty level). I wish I had enough coal, gravel, and sawdust to properly fill all their stockings. I don't know how any of these miserable excuses for public servants can look at themselves in the mirror.


In order to get over my anger and get myself centered once again in the holiday spirit, I have decided to share with you the heartwarming story of why, when we decorate our Christmas trees, we always put a little angel on the top...

It was many, many years ago, and it was a very difficult pre-Christmas season at the North Pole. Santa was far behind schedule with toy production: his latest shipment of toy components from China was contaminated with melamine and lead paint and had to be rejected; the Elves and Toymakers Union Local 001 was on strike for improved working conditions; the French government had denied overflight rights for his sleigh; and his security guards had intercepted two suicide elves dispatched from Gaza by the Hamas government to disrupt his "infidel and unislamic" activities. The latest hay delivery contained some spoiled hay, and the reindeer were flying around the North Pole and relieving themselves everywhere. It was the wrong time of the month for Mrs Santa, and she was haranguing Santa for not paying more attention to her legitimate needs and wants. Santa retreated to his office for some peace and quiet, hoping to catch up on his bookkeeping, but his quill pen broke and spread a huge blob of ink across the columns of numbers in his ledger.

Santa threw the broken quill into the wastebasket and put his head in his hands, ignoring the constant ringing of his phone and the chanting of the striking elves parading under his window. Suddenly, the door to his office flew open!

There in the doorway stood a beautiful little angel, holding up a gorgeously decorated tree that twinkled with lights and ornaments and beautifully wrapped little gifts. The angel looked at Santa, her big eyes bright and shining with love, and gently asked,

"Hey, Santa! Where should I put this tree?"

I love that story. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. And it reminds me of what Congress is giving us for Christmas.

Have a good day. Stay warm.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Company Christmas Party

Good morning! Can you hear my muscles screaming from all the snow shovelling yesterday? That was a lot easier when I was almost 20 than it is when I'm almost 60.

Since all that shovelling has put me back into the "Bah, Humbug!" spirit, I thought I'd share this ya-ha that my friend Debbie sent me. I still like Debbie, even though she lives in the lake effect snow area of upstate New York and doesn't have any sympathy for those of us suffering under our measly 18-24 inches of snow. Sigh. Here, told in memos, is the heartwarming story of The Company Christmas Party...


Company Memo

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director

TO: All Employees
DATE: November 16, 2009
RE: Gala Christmas Party

I'm happy to inform you that the company Christmas Party will take place on December 23rd, starting at noon in the private function room at the Grill House. There will be a cash bar and plenty of drinks! We'll have a small band playing traditional carols... feel free to sing along. And don't be surprised if our CEO shows up dressed as Santa Claus! A Christmas tree will be lit at 1:00 PM. Exchanges of gifts among employees can be done at that time; however, no gift should be over $10.00 to make the giving of gifts easy for everyone's pockets. This gathering is only for employees!

Our CEO will make a special announcement at that time!

Merry Christmas to you and your family,



Company Memo

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: November 17, 2009

RE: Gala Holiday Party

In no way was yesterday's memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees. We recognize that Hanukkah is an important holiday, which often coincides with Christmas, though unfortunately not this year. However, from now on, we're calling it our "Holiday Party." The same policy applies to any other employees who are not Christians and to those still celebrating Reconciliation Day. There will be no Christmas tree and no Christmas carols will be sung. We will have other types of music for your enjoyment.

Happy now?

Happy Holidays to you and your family,



Company Memo

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: November 18, 2009

RE: Holiday Party

Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking table, you didn't sign your name. I'm happy to accommodate this request, but if I put a sign on a table that reads, "AA Only", you wouldn't be anonymous anymore. How am I supposed to handle this?


And sorry, but forget about the gift exchange, no gifts are allowed since the union members feel that $10.00 is too much money and the executives believe $10.00 is a little chintzy.




Company Memo

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
To: All Employees
DATE: November 19, 2009

RE: Generic Holiday Party

What a diverse group we are! I had no idea that December 20th begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which forbids eating and drinking during daylight hours. There goes the party! Seriously, we can appreciate how a luncheon at this time of year does not accommodate our Muslim employees' beliefs. Perhaps the Grill House can hold off on serving your meal until the end of the party or else package everything for you to take it home in little foil doggy bags. Will that work?

Meanwhile, I've arranged for members of Weight Watchers to sit farthest from the dessert buffet, and pregnant women will get the table closest to the restrooms.

Gays are allowed to sit with each other. Lesbians do not have to sit with Gay men, each group will have their own table.

Yes, there will be a flower arrangement for the Gay men's table.

To the person asking permission to cross dress, the Grill House asks that no cross-dressing be allowed, apparently because of concerns about confusion in the restrooms. Sorry.

We will have booster seats for short people.

Low-fat food will be available for those on a diet.

I am sorry to report that we cannot control the amount of salt used in the food . The Grill House suggests that people with high blood pressure taste a bite first.

There will be fresh "low sugar" fruits as dessert for diabetics, but the restaurant cannot supply "no sugar" desserts. Sorry!

Did I miss anything?!?!?



Company Memo

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director

TO: All &%^#$@! Employees

DATE: November 20, 2009

RE: The &%^#$@! Holiday Party

I've had it with you vegetarian pricks!!! We're going to keep this party at the Grill House whether you like it or not, so you can sit quietly at the table furthest from the "grill of death," as you so quaintly put it, and you'll get your &%^#$@! salad bar, including organic tomatoes. But you know, tomatoes have feelings, too. They scream when you slice them. I've heard them scream. I'm hearing them scream right NOW!

The rest of you &%^#$@! wierdos can kiss my &%#!! I hope you all have a rotten holiday!

Drive drunk and die,

The Bitch from Hell!!!


Company Memo

FROM: Joan Bishop, Acting Human Resources Director

DATE: November 23, 2009

RE: Patty Lewis and Holiday Party

I'm sure I speak for all of us in wishing Patty Lewis a speedy recovery and I'll continue to forward your cards to her.

In the meantime, management has decided to cancel our Holiday Party and give everyone the afternoon of the 23rd off with full pay.

Happy Holidays!



Happy holidays to you and yours from snowed-in Northern Virginia.

Have a safe, warm day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

White Almost-Christmas

For those of you who don't have the pleasure of snow for Christmas (yes, I'm talking to you, Amanda), here are a few pictures of our neighborhood taken earlier today. It's 8:00 PM as I write this, and the pictures were all taken late morning and early-to-mid afternoon. It's been snowing ever since, and is still coming down heavily outside my study window. I think our total accumulation will be somewhere around 14 to 16 inches...maybe as much as two feet.

This first picture was taken from our living room window. Those white lumps in the foreground are our cars...

This is from the same window, looking across the street and up the hill...

This picture looks toward the woods behind the house, from our bedroom window...

And finally, this picture looks out onto our deck from the kitchen...

If you listen closely tomorrow, you should be able to hear my muscles creaking and groaning as I try to shovel all that snow away.

Being snowed in has its advantages. Agnes got a lot of work done in the house today, and we finished putting the lights on the tree and decorating it. The lights were problematic - we have a 100-light strand on which only the last 50 lights actually lit...but I discovered that a little percussive maintenance (that is, banging them on the floor) seems to have jarred whatever was wrong back into shape. The tree is now up and beautiful, and all the lights work. Maybe I'll put up a picture of it tomorrow.

But for now, I think I'm ready for an early bedtime.

Have a good evening. Regular posts resume tomorrow.


Cartoon Saturday

Here in Northern Virginia it's snowing like crazy...a good 8 inches on the ground in our yard already, and another 6-8 inches or more expected; Congress continues to play stupid procedural games instead of fixing health care; Iran continues to hold three dumbass American hikers it has arrested and charged with espionage; the Washington DC city council has stepped up to the plate to address the city's many serious problems by voting to legalize gay marriage; and after a Florida man spent more than 30 years in prison for the kidnap and rape of a 9-year-old boy in 1974, he was set free this week after a DNA test showed he was not guilty of the crime.

And did I mention the snow?

Thank goodness we have Cartoon Saturday to keep us happy, if not necessarily warm.

In honor of the strong and principled efforts of our elected reprehensives to kowtow to the medical lobbies and prevent meaningful health care reform, how about a few relevant cartoons...

Perhaps they can figure a way to bring down the cost of health care...but probably not.

One way of reducing health care expenses might be to use some less-costly, nontraditional tests...

But even modern, ultraexpensive medical science can't cure everything...

CSI Miami meets Animal Planet ...

From the department of AAARRRGGGHHH!!! ...

And finally, perhaps they should try Faux News ...

That's it for this issue of Cartoon Saturday. Next Saturday is, of course, Christmas, and so we will have a special holiday edition of Cartoon Saturday. Be sure to be here.

If you're in the path of the huge storm that's dumping snow all up the East coast, stay indoors and warm. Hot tea, hot buttered rum, Chex Mix, and good comfort food are recommended. Take it easy now...once the snow stops, you'll need to shovel it away...

'Til then, have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Of Lousy Shots, and No Books on the Streets of Laredo

My Christmas spirit is wavering as a result of defective strands of Christmas tree lights and time that is marching too quickly toward the holiday for which I am woefully unprepared. Thus, today we will not discuss anything Christmassy, and will instead ponder two things that crawled out of my blog fodder file this morning, groaning for attention.

First is an article published last Monday in Slate magazine that addresses a question we have all asked at one time or another: "Why do Rappers Hold their Guns Sideways?" I think the real answer to the question is, "Because they're incompetent, showboating dumbasses," but there's actually more to it than that. One suggestion is that it comes from Hollywood, with some directors preferring the side grip "...because it makes it easier to see both the weapon and the actor's face in a tight camera shot." Hmmm...okay. Regardless, it's very hard to use the top-mounted sight on a handgun that is turned sideways. Not that this matters much to the average street criminal who is interested mainly in intimidation and doesn't particularly care who or what he hits. There's more to this story, including an analysis of how gravity affects shell ejection, and how the recoil of some powerful weapons led soldiers to hold them sideways to spread their bullets horizontally rather than vertically...but you can read about that yourself. I'll just stick with my original explanation.

The second article is rather sad, although it probably would go over the heads of most rappers, who appear to be functionally illiterate anyhow. According to this article, the only bookstore in Laredo, Texas, is closing, which will leave Laredo as the largest US city without a bookstore...the nearest place to buy books will be in San Antonio, 150 miles away. I can't imagine living in a place with no bookstore, even if there is a public library. In a county with a functional illiteracy rate of nearly 50% and a city in which fewer than one in five residents has a college degree, the lack of a bookstore sends a poor message about the value of reading and education.

But fear not! The article goes on to note that there was a proposal to build a snowboarding park in Laredo. I suppose a snowboarding park would at least give illiterate people something to do.

Guns or books? Snowboarding or books?

I know what my choice is.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas for the Paranoid

I've been going through my ya-ha files, looking for good Christmas-related things to share with you. I don't recall where I originally found this one, but it sounds like something The Onion might come up with. For those of you who live outside the US, the ACLU is the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization famous (or notorious, depending on whose ox is being gored) for its lawsuits in favor of unrestricted freedoms, including the freedom to file stupid lawsuits. Here, someone's take on the ACLU's defense of those who may need a little pre-Christmas help...

The ACLU Sues Santa Claus

CHICAGO, December 17 - The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it was bringing a lawsuit against Santa Claus for violations of the civil rights of children. An ACLU spokesman, Mr. E. Scrooge, stated that, "Mr. Claus has been violating children's right to privacy and has been putting that information in a vast database. The information is then used by the law enforcement arm of Mr. Claus' organization to determine which children are considered naughty or nice. It is obvious Mr. Claus has violated the children's rights, as we have alleged in our suit, because of the memos and other company information we have obtained. In addition, we believe Mr. Claus has been engaging in mind control experiments designed to prevent the free expression of beliefs."

Among the documents presented to the courts today was a memo which reads, in part:

You better watch out.

You better not cry.

You better not pout.

I'm telling you why:

Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you are sleeping

He knows when you're awake,

He knows when you've been bad or good,

So be good for goodness' sake.

Mr. Scrooge claimed the document, was obtained from a worker in the distribution department of Mr. Claus' organization, "clearly shows a concerted attempt to restrict the rights of children to free expression and free thought. In addition, there are concerns about the security of the information. What would be the result of such a database being made available to other law enforcement agencies around the world?"

Lawyers at the Justice also confirmed today that they were investigating the possibility that Mr. Claus was at the core of a vast conspiracy against children. Anonymous sources from inside the Justice Department stated that, "We believe a large number of parents, ministers, and teachers are involved in this business, and we expect several of them will testify for the State in return for a lighter sentence." In addition, the same sources indicated a parallel investigation by the Department and the FBI on possible charges of smuggling on the part of Mr. Claus, "our records do not show Mr. Claus, or any one else, paying any import duties or taxes on any items he has delivered. Since Mr. Claus has representatives in all of the States of the Union, we believe he should have to pay state and local taxes on all of the goods he delivers."

Lawyers for Mr. Claus stated, "The charges of the ACLU are absurd. Mr. Claus is a well-known and highly-respected figure. His supporters are from around the world and his message of love and respect can, in no way, be taken as a for of "mind control" or a violation of the "civil rights of children."

The lawsuit is complicated by the fact that Mr. Claus is not a resident of the United States or any country with which the United States currently has an extradition treaty. It is unknown where Mr. Claus is at the moment, but it is believed he is hiding out at his North Pole estate.

In a brief statement, read by his lawyer, Mr. Claus said, "I find the charges of the ACLU absurd and am confident they will be rejected by the courts. As for any criminal charges, I believe the Justice Department will discover they have no basis."

Experts are uncertain what possible effect the suit or possible pending charges might have on Mr. Claus' Christmas travels this year.

Well, you'd better start being good. After all, if Santa isn't watching you, the National Security Agency probably is.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

T'was the Night Before Christmas, Revisited

We all know the famous Clement Moore poem, "T'was the Night Before Christmas," also known as "A Visit from St Nicholas." It was written in 1822 and has been a beloved part of Christmas ever since. Some of us - particularly those of us with an interest in language - also know that there are many different versions of this beloved poem ... like this one ...

T'was The Night Before Christmas
(as it might have been written under contract to the US government)

'Twas the nocturnal segment of the diurnal period preceding the annual Yuletide celebration, and throughout our place of residence, kinetic activity was not in evidence among the possessors of this potential, including that species of domestic rodent known as Mus musculus. Hosiery was meticulously suspended from the forward edge of the wood burning caloric apparatus, pursuant to our anticipatory pleasure regarding an imminent visitation from an eccentric philanthropist among whose folkloric appellations is the honorific title of St. Nicholas.

The prepubescent siblings, comfortably ensconced in their respective accommodations of repose, were experiencing subconscious visual hallucinations of variegated fruit confections moving rhythmically through their cerebrums. My conjugal partner and I, attired in our nocturnal head coverings, were about to take slumberous advantage of the hibernal darkness when upon the avenaceous exterior portion of the grounds there ascended such a cacophony of dissonance that I felt compelled to arise with alacrity from my place of repose for the purpose of ascertaining the precise source thereof.

Hastening to the casement, I forthwith opened the barriers sealing this fenestration, noting thereupon that the lunar brilliance without, reflected as it was on the surface of a recent crystalline precipitation, might be said to rival that of the solar meridian itself - thus permitting my incredulous optical sensory organs to behold a miniature airborne runnered conveyance drawn by eight diminutive specimens of the genus Rangifer, piloted by a minuscule, aged chauffeur so ebullient and nimble that it became instantly apparent to me that he was indeed our anticipated caller. With his ungulate motive power traveling at what may possibly have been more vertiginous velocity than patriotic alar predators, he vociferated loudly, expelled breath musically through contracted labia, and addressed each of the octet by his or her respective cognomen - "Now Dasher, now Dancer..." et al. - guiding them to the uppermost exterior level of our abode, through which structure I could readily distinguish the concatenations of each of the 32 cloven pedal extremities.

As I retracted my cranium from its erstwhile location, and was performing a 180-degree pivot, our distinguished visitant achieved - with utmost celerity and via a downward leap - entry by way of the smoke passage. He was clad entirely in animal pelts soiled by the ebony residue from oxidation of carboniferous fuels which had accumulated on the walls thereof. His resemblance to a street vendor I attributed largely to the plethora of assorted playthings which he bore dorsally in a commodious cloth receptacle.

His orbs were scintillant with reflected luminosity, while his submaxillary dermal indentations gave every evidence of engaging amiability. The capillaries of his malar regions and nasal appurtenance were engorged with blood which suffused the subcutaneous layers, the former approximating the coloration of Albion's floral emblem, the latter that of the Prunus avium, or sweet cherry. His amusing sub- and supralabials resembled nothing so much as a common loop knot, and their ambient hirsute facial adornment appeared like small, tabular and columnar crystals of frozen water.

Clenched firmly between his incisors was a smoking piece whose gray fumes, forming a tenuous ellipse about his occiput, were suggestive of a decorative seasonal circlet of holly. His visage was wider than it was high, and when he waxed audibly mirthful, his corpulent abdominal region undulated in the manner of impectinated fruit syrup in a hemispherical container. He was, in short, neither more nor less than an obese, jocund, multigenarian gnome, the optical perception of whom rendered me visibly frolicsome despite every effort to refrain from so being. By rapidly lowering and then elevating one eyelid and rotating his head slightly to one side, he indicated that trepidation on my part was groundless.

Without utterance and with dispatch, he commenced filling the aforementioned appended hosiery with various of the aforementioned articles of merchandise extracted from his aforementioned previously dorsally transported cloth receptacle. Upon completion of this task, he executed an abrupt about-face, placed a single manual digit in lateral juxtaposition to his olfactory organ, inclined his cranium forward in a gesture of leave-taking, and forthwith effected his egress by renegotiating (in reverse) the smoke passage. He then propelled himself in a short vector onto his conveyance, directed a musical expulsion of air through his contracted oral sphincter to the antlered quadrupeds of burden, and proceeded to soar aloft in a movement hitherto observable chiefly among the seed-bearing portions of a common weed. But I overheard his parting exclamation, audible immediately prior to his vehiculation beyond the limits of visibility: "Ecstatic Yuletide to the planetary constituency, and to that self same assemblage, my sincerest wishes for a salubriously beneficial and gratifyingly pleasurable period between sunset and dawn."

Only nine days until Christmas. If you haven't sent my gift yet, there's still time.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Got Nothin'

Write this down on your calendars, folks: today is the day Bilbo has absolutely nothing to say.

I got nothin'.

My creative glands are not secreting. I have a vast file of blog fodder from which to choose topics, and I'm not interested in any of it this morning. My muse has mosied on.

It's not a catastrophe, though, because I can use the time I'd normally spend blogging to write more Christmas Cards, draft up the long-overdue issue of our dance studio newsletter, and continue the ongoing archaeological dig that is my attempt to reach the actual surface of my desk.

Check back tomorrow. I'll have something. I promise.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow.


P.S. - aren't you impressed that I can spend this much effort saying nothing? I ought to run for Congress.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Cards, aka, Bah, Humbug! (Part 2)

Yesterday, I got the questionable joys of Christmas shopping off my chest. Today, there still being objectionable objects on my chest, I continue with my pre-Christmas rant.

This time, it's about Christmas cards.

First of all, you must understand that cards in general are part of a well-constructed scam generated by the stationery industry to make money, since most people don't buy writing paper any more. The scam includes not just Christmas cards, but cards for every conceivable person and occasion. Need a get-well card for the gay black Jewish vegan friend of a friend of a co-worker, or a card for Secretaries' Bosses' Cross-Dressing Third Cousins Day? No problem, your local Hallmark store can help you out.

My Christmas card list is huge, and gets bigger every year. I am the Black Friday of the US Postal Service, which has named it's new local distribution center after me. At Christmas time, our postman drives a semi to make our pickups.

And that doesn't count my annual Christmas letter, which goes out to special friends and family, and is not a one-size-fits-all, mass-produced chronicle of Aunt Matilda's bunions and the vacation to see the monument to the Mythical Ethical Unknown Congressman, but a chatty, personalized summary of the annual adventures I think each person will be interested in. And those take some time to write...

But this year, I'm way behind. As of this moment, I have a mere seven Christmas cards finished, but not yet mailed. Most of the Christmas letters are done in draft, but have yet to be polished, much less mailed. The Postmaster General sent a wreath, assuming I'd passed away, and is preparing his charts showing a drastic drop in December income.

I have received three Christmas cards so far, one of them from Amanda. When a friend who has a hyperactive toddler and is pregnant and has just completed a major move - between countries, no less - and manages to find time to keep blogging, can get her cards done, I ought to hang my head in shame.

So, anyhow...

If you were expecting a Christmas card and/or letter from ol' Bilbo, don't give up just yet. You'll probably still get it, except that you may not get it until Memorial Day.


Perhaps I should subcontract the job to Amanda...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Shopping, aka, Bah, Humbug!

I think I remember reading somewhere that the custom of giving gifts at Christmas came from the Nativity, when the Three Wise Men from the East brought gifts to the infant Jesus. I think there is a problem with this theory, though, because it's painfully obvious that no one could ever find three wise men anywhere in the Middle East.

But that's not important now.

Let's talk about the "bringing gifts" part.

Yesterday, Agnes and I joined about 857,000 of our closest friends at various local shopping centers in search of gifts for the people on our Christmas lists. This is not my favorite pastime, especially in years like this one in which I am woefully far behind in doing my Christmas shopping. Not that I mind shopping for gifts, you understand...I just have a problem with the pressure of selecting, finding, and (of course) affording large numbers of gifts all at once. It's enough to bring a happy snarl to the face of old Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Here are a few random comments on the joys of Christmas shopping.

Every year, starting about July, Agnes begins to bug me to give her a list of what I'd like for Christmas. I duly create the list, print it out, and give it to her. She loses it. She asks me for another copy. I ask her what she did with the first one. She tells me to just be quiet and give her the list. I print it out again and give it to her. She puts it into her purse, along with 75 pounds of loose change, 570 assorted mints from various restaurants, a layer of crumpled receipts dating back to 1972, a loose bale of fabric swatches, and Jimmy Hoffa. The list disappears again. She asks me for it again. I print it out and give it to her again. She loses it again, then gives up and buys me whatever she thinks I'd like.

Finding a parking place at the local outlet mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas is like finding wise men in the Middle East. It's easier just to start in April, leave the car at home in the driveway, and walk to all the stores you need to visit. Parking lots bring out the worst in people, anyway, as they engage in honking matches and exchange extended fingers over available parking places.

There needs to be a special place in the lowest circle of Hell for the person who decided that gifts should be exchanged among co-workers. I have an entire section of the closet in my study dedicated to storing the vast number of less-than-$20 gifts Agnes and I have accumulated over the years. They're impossible to re-gift, because you can never remember who gave them to you in the first place.

Anything designed to be inserted in or attached to a PS3, Wii, X-Box, or any other electronic game device will cost the equivalent of the GDP of an average Eastern European nation.

The latest annual "gotta have it" toy will be sold out everywhere and unavailable for delivery until St Swithin's Day. If a store has one left in stock, the police will be called to separate the scrum of wild-eyed parents and grandparents fighting over its possession. It will be priced to meet the budget of the average cocaine baron.

And so here we are, less than two weeks before Christmas. The tree is not up and decorated, the gifts are not bought, wrapped, and (where necessary) shipped, the annual Christmas letter is not yet written, and the cards have not been sent.

I think I need a vacation.

And that's all for now, because I need to print a new copy of my Christmas wish list for Agnes.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

Tiger Woods has learned a valuable lesson about where he keeps his putter; five so-called "Americans" have been arrested in Pakistan, claiming to be "...of the opinion that a jihad must be waged against the infidels for the atrocities committed by them against Muslims around the world;" a 98-year-old woman has been indicted in the murder of her 100-year-old nursing home roommate; a beauty queen from Argentina died after complications arising from silicone injections to firm up her backside; and actress-activist Angelina Jolie has taken President Obama to task for not doing more to help people in Sudan...of course, he has been a bit busy trying to do more to help people here at home, but that's not important right now.

Cartoon Saturday is here to help you cope...and since we need a lot of coping right now, today will be a Cartoon Saturday extended version. Think of it as an early Christmas gift from ol' Bilbo.

Since health care is so much on everyone's mind, I thought a few relevant cartoons might be in order today. Non-traditional medical practices like acupuncture are becoming more common...and can, in some cases, be had at varying price levels....

Or from non-traditional practitioners...

The cost of good health care is always a concern...

Even for elective treatments...

You hear some really amazing rhetoric (if I can shamelessly abuse the term) lately from people who ought to engage their brains before wagging their tongues. I loved this Mike Peters cartoon, which applies ...

On to other topics...I am, as you know, a lifelong fan of radio, and still think it's a medium superior to television. But the brainless bozoheads of talk radio are doing their best to ruin it. This cartoon says it all ...

Seems like nobody at the fringe elements of the political spectrum is interested in seeking common ground nowadays ...

There's an app for everything ...

And, finally, a cartoon that says what I've always believed about the financial management industry and the silly talking heads who flack for it ...

Time now to gird my economic loins for a day of Christmas shopping, housecleaning, decorating, and general fun. I can't wait for Monday, so I can go back to work and relax.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Something You Can Take Sitting Down...

I have a large number of topics stored away about which to blog. Many are URLs of interesting articles I've saved, others are newspaper clippings or scribbled notes about things that caught my interest. I have so many of these things saved in so many places that I often forget I have them, and find them after the particular event about which I wanted to write has already passed.

Which brings me to World Toilet Day, which is celebrated (if I can use the expression) on November 19th each year. There was an extensive article about World Toilet Day and the history of the toilet last month in Time can read all about it here. In short, World Toilet Day, hosted by the World Toilet Organization, is a way to raise awareness for the 2.5 billion people around the world who live without proper sanitation.The humble toilet is, of course, one of those things we don't like to talk about in polite company, but which is of critical importance to our daily lives. If we didn't have toilets conveniently placed in the Capitol, for instance, Congress would be even more full of ... uh ... never mind. And if you've had - as I have - the experience of using the good old outhouse, you can really appreciate the modern, streamlined, one-gall0n-per-flush ceramic throne.

We have many interesting euphemisms for the toilet as well. It's known variously as the water closet, the lavatory (from the Latin lavare, meaning "to clean"), the rest room, or - if you're a toddler or a toddler's parent, the potty. In England, it is sometimes known as the loo, a term derived from the French expression gardez l'eau! (watch out for the water!), which was often shouted as people threw the contents of their chamber pots out the window into the street below...the expression was corrupted over time to "gardy loo!" and, thus, the expression "going to the loo."

No one knows who invented the toilet, but the unsung hero of toilet development was certainly a gentleman named Thomas Crapper who, in the 1880s, was hired by England's Prince Edward (later, King Edward VII) to construct lavatories in several royal palaces. While Mr Crapper did, in fact, patent a number of bathroom-related inventions, he did not actually invent the modern toilet. He was, however, the first one to display his bathroom wares in a showroom, so that when customers needed a new fixture, they would immediately think of his name.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Literacy, Graphed

Today is a minimalist post day...way too much to do, and far too little time to do it in.

Thanks to Miss Cellania for turning me on to this wonderful chart from ...

I'm glad to see that Harry Potter is in a good spot...validates my choice of recreational literature...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Snow Jobs

No, today I'm not talking about the ones that Congress foists off on us all the time...I'm talking about the one that's headed our way from the west.

Yes, a mighty winter storm has dumped 42 inches of snow on Alpine Meadows, California, near Lake Tahoe, and a foot of snow was forecast to fall in parts of Iowa and in Minneapolis. That's a lot of snow. In Chicago, more than 300 flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport, which is a good reason to fly via Atlanta and other southern airports during the winter.

Yep, winter's on the way.

Yesterday, Amanda put up a clever post that reminded us here in the northern hemisphere that the Christmas season is in the middle of summer in Australia...she notes that "I'm used to watching movies on TV and listening to Christmas songs about snow, warm fires and the cold while sweating in my tank tops," and included an Australian version of "Jingle Bells." Check it out.

I had the Warm Christmas experience many years ago when I was living in Shreveport, Louisiana - there were years when we sat in the front yard in shorts and t-shirts on Christmas Eve...and somehow it just didn't seem right. That was also the place where the local kids scammed newcomers by selling us big bunches of mistletoe...before we learned that it grew on every tree.

But now, here I sit in Northern Virginia. Outside my study window the rain is pouring down and the snow is expected to arrive this weekend. By the time it gets here, we probably won't get much actual snow, but that's okay - snow is pretty while it's falling and looks beautiful as it blankets the world in soft white billows, but it's a pain in the gazootie if you have to drive in it, and you don't need to shovel rain.

Nevertheless, "I'm Dreamin' of a Wet Christmas" doesn't have quite the right holiday ring to it.

So, I guess we'll take what we get. My snow shovels and my bags of ice-melting crystals are ready, the propane tank that fuels the fireplace is full, we have lots of DVDs and 784,000 channels of cable TV to watch, and the pantry and freezer have plenty of supplies to carry us through a few days of being snowed in.

As opposed to being snowed under. That's Congress's job, and they're good at it.

At least they're good at something.

Have a good day. Stay warm and dry. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

People NOT on my Christmas Gift List

With the economy being the way it is, I've been looking for ways to cut back on expenses. Sadly, one way I'm cutting back is by slashing the list of people who can expect Christmas gifts for me. As of today, the list includes:

1. All Members of Congress, of either party (although I have asked Santa, in the spirit of the season, to compensate by giving all of them extra rations of coal and sawdust in their Christmas stockings).

2. All TV and Radio talking heads. If you know so darned much, stop talking and fix things.

3. The person who invented the automated voice-answering system that you have to deal with before you can talk to a real person. Who is probably in Ouagadougou, anyhow.

4. Companies who outsource their telephone service lines to places where nobody speaks English:

Bilbo: "I'd like to speak with someone about this month's statement."

"Customer Service" Person: "Gushbaga wallim shabasdoopoo?"

Bilbo: "Never mind."

5. Morons who still haven't figured out that it's dangerous to talk on your cell phone while you drive ... particularly when you hold the phone to your left ear with your right hand so you can refer to whatever is lying on the seat next to you.

6. The programmer at Yahoo Mail who devised the lines of code that randomly: (1) fail to notify me of comments posted to my blog; or, (2) put comment notification messages in the spam file rather than the inbox.

7. Spammers who post bogus comments to my blog.

8. People who collect for charities by accosting you in your car while you're stopped at intersections (I'm specifically thinking of the firefighters who want you to "fill the boot" with money over the Labor Day weekend).

9. Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

10. Whoever came up with the dumb idea of making Christmas politically correct by calling it "the sparkle season," "the winter solstice," or some other stupid name. It's Christmas. It means something. Get over it.

Okay, the list goes on, but you get the idea. If you haven't yet received your Christmas gift, don't's in the mail. Trust me.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.