Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cartoon Saturday...and the Jersey Girl's Meme

Dow Jones and the S&P 500 have recorded the worst January in their history; while you were paying through the nose for gas, Exxon posted the largest annual profit in its history ($45.2 billion); professional extreme-right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh is on record snorting that he hopes President Obama fails; a woman who already had six children has given birth to octuplets; and five newborns have been killed in a hospital incubator fire in India.

If you didn't need Cartoon Saturday before, you surely need it now.

Hardly a day goes by that there's not a news story about some vile, greedy eejit (thanks, Fiona!) who has figured out a new way to steal from you using a computer. It's nice when they get their just desserts ...

She's been gone from the web for more than a year, but I still miss Numeric Life. If nothing else, each day she gave us numbers that could entertain, rather than frighten us. Of course, not all numeric people are equally good with numbers ...

And speaking of the reactions to bad numbers, wouldn't you just love to see this one? ...

Wouldn't you sometimes like to be a fly on the corporate boardroom wall? ...

I love my morning newspaper. Reading the news online just isn't the same, and you can't swat a fly with a flat-panel monitor the way you can with a rolled newspaper. All the same, if newspapers die out, how will we get the word? Maybe like this ...

And finally, as the Democrats take their turn at trying to fix the ghastly wreckage of the economy, perhaps they have some better ideas than the Republicans. Or maybe not. We can only hope ...

And on a new topic ...

Jersey Girl Wanderlust tagged me for a meme this past Thursday. Those of you who have been reading my rantings for very long know that I usually don't like to do memes because I have enough things to write about on my own, and because they help make blogging a worse time sink than it already is. But since Wanderlust is new to my little online family, and because her meme is short, simple, and involves books, I'll go ahead and take it on.

Here are the rules for her meme:

* Grab the nearest book.
* Open the book to page 56.
* Find the FIFTH sentence.
* Post the text of the next two to five sentences in your blog along with these instructions.
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one; pick the CLOSEST.
* Tag five other people to do the same (I'm going to pass on this part of it...just as I don't usually do memes, I don't usually tag others...if it appeals to you, go ahead...just let Wanderlust know that you've done it so she can see what you've done).

Okay. The nearest book is the one I'm reading during my morning and afternoon commutes - American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, by Jon Meacham. Starting with the fifth sentence on page 56, we have:

"In Kentucky and elsewhere, Jackson fretted about what were drily known as internal improvements - projected roads and canals that were to be funded by the Federal government. The issue was at the heart of a philosophical argument. Was Washington's role to be a limited one, leaving such matters to the states except in truly national cases, or was the federal government to be a catalyst in what was known as "the American System," in which tariffs and the sales of public lands funded federally sponsored internal improvements? As president, Jackson favored the former, John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay the latter."

Sounds rather like some of the arguments that still rage today, doesn't it? Anyone else want to take a stab at Wanderlust's meme ... have at it. Wanderlust, back over to you!

Tomorrow, I'll take up the meme Fiona tagged me with yesterday. It looks like this will be my week for exceptions to policy...but then, it's Fiona, and she's a dear, and I'm afraid she might call me a "wee eejit" if I don't do it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Friday, January 30, 2009

General Grumpiness for Friday

One of the nice things about being a grumpy blogger is that there's never any shortage of things to grumpily blog about. As long as the world is filled with people with the IQ of an anvil, the material will come in faster than I can comment on it. To wit:

Part 1: Thank you, Fairfax Connector! Yesterday morning I called our bus service's information line to see if my bus would be running through our neighborhood after our snow and ice storm. I was assured that service was back to normal. After spending 20 minutes at my stop, gradually losing contact with my ears and feet, I walked the half-mile to the shopping center, where I waited another 20 minutes for the bus...which, of course, was running on its "snow emergency route." At least I was only a half-hour late for work.

Part 2: Evil Yoga. From Time Magazine comes this article about religious leaders in Indonesia who have issued a fatwa (religious ruling) which allows Muslims to practice yoga only for the purpose of exercise or sport...no meditation or chanting allowed, as these are evil. I wish I had a job that involved sitting around all day dreaming up off-the-wall things to forbid people to do. But no, then I'd have to register as a Republican, and I can't do that.

Part 3: How much drivel can you pack into one post? One of my co-workers is fond of sending me things he knows will spin me up like a top. Yesterday, he sent me a link to this article: My Predictions for the Obama "Presidency," with the leading comment, "Bilbo, don't read this if your blood pressure is on the high side today." Well, my blood pressure may not have been high before, but it's sure high now. I haven't read such a collection of mindless, partisan, idiotic tripe in a long time. In a comment posted with the article, the author writes: "The article is not intended to “fire up the base,” nor is it an affirmation of Republican ideals or talking points. I am not a Republican, nor am I a fan of George W. Bush. I am simply an independent conservative who has done an incredible amount of research, and interviewed a great number of people with information that backs up the points I have made." Um...right. There are a lot of stupid people on both the far left and the far right. 'Nuff said.

Part 4: Some really good commentary on the economic stimulus. For a good summary of the good and bad points of President Obama's economic stimulus package, take a few minutes to read this post by Michael Sean Winters on the issue from the Catholic blog In All Things: Bad Reasons (& Good) To Oppose the Stimulus. Is there anybody out there on either side of the aisle who understands the concept of "compromise?" Andrea, if no one else, may remember these lyrics from the old song "Shades of Gray" by The Monkees:

"It was easy then to tell truth from lies,
selling out from compromise."


It appears that many in Congress are no longer able to make these distinctions.

And finally, speaking of Congress...

Part 5: Your Congress at Work. The nation may be faced with many terrible economic problems, but at least you can be sure that your elected reprehensives are facing them with decisive action. Like this important piece of legislation - H.R. 414: The Camera Phone Predator Alert Act - which would require mobile phones containing digital cameras to make a sound when a photograph is taken. Is this a worthwhile piece of legislation? Perhaps. Could it have waited until, say, Congress figures out how to stop the economy from bleeding jobs? For sure. Thank you, Representative King. Glad to see you have your priorities right.

That's all for today. Time to bring my blood pressure back down. Tonight I can go dancing, and tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday. Those will help.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.

Bilbo

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Of Fish Testicles, Winter Commuting, and "Petulant, Shallow Gasbags"

You may have seen the news article the other day about a group of diners in Japan who became critically ill after eating a local delicacy - the testicles of the poisonous blowfish.

No, not Rush Limbaugh. The other poisonous blowfish.

The fugu, or blowfish, is considered a great delicacy in parts of Asia despite the fact that it is extremely poisonous if not handled and prepared with the utmost care. It seems that a group of men went to a restaurant for a meal of blowfish testicles, not realizing that the restaurant was not licensed, nor the chef trained, to prepare and serve any part of the poisonous fugu. I don't think they'll be writing positive reviews of this place for the Michelin guides.

We had our winter storm yesterday. You may recall from yesterday's post that my local bus did not come into our icy, hilly neighborhood, but instead drove only on the cleared main road as far as our local shopping center, about a 20-minute walk from my house. This shouldn't have been a problem, as I don't mind the walk...the problem was that the bus service "information line" couldn't tell me - even approximately - when the bus would actually be at the shopping center.

So...

I left extra-early, and it took me 40 minutes to walk the half-mile to the shopping center on the treacherously icy sidewalks and streets of my neighborhood...arriving at the shopping center just in time to see my bus pull away and leave without me. You may have heard my colorful language wherever you are (yes, even you, Amanda and Mal). Luckily, within minutes a driver arrived in search of pick-up riders (we call them "slugs" here) to enable him to use the carpool lanes. In the end, in spite of the extra-long walk and abandonment by the bus, I arrived at work almost ten minutes earlier than usual. Go figure. This morning, the bus will supposedly serve the entire route. We'll see. If I'm standing at my stop and the bus doesn't show, you'll be able to hear the colorful language again.

Getting back to the blowfish testicles for a minute, I'm reminded of an old joke...

A man vacationing in Spain went to a restaurant next to the local bullfighting arena. He looked around to see what the other diners were eating and noticed a fellow being served a plate with two huge meatballs on a bed of vegetables. He asked the waiter what the man was having, and the waiter replied that they were the testicles of the bulls from the adjoining bull ring. Intrigued, the man ordered the same dish, and was amazed at how delicious the unusual meatballs were.

The next day, the same fellow went to the same restaurant and again ordered the testicle special. But when his meal arrived, he was shocked to see that the testicles were much smaller than those he'd been served the previous day. He complained to the waiter, who shrugged and replied, "But senor, the bull does not always lose!"

Speaking of bull, have I mentioned Rush Limbaugh yet? The other day, columnist Jack Cafferty referred to Mr Limbaugh in one of his columns as a "petulant, shallow gasbag." I love a good turn of phrase, especially when applied to one so deserving of it. Go, Jack!

That's all for now...time to spread some more kitty litter on the sidewalks and driveway, and get ready to brave the elements for yet another winter morning commute.

Wish me luck.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Things That Make You Go AARRGGHH!! - Winter Edition

Short post this morning, because winter is here with its usual Northern Virginia vengeance, and I need to get moving sooner than usual. Not to mention that I'm a half-hour behind since I forgot to set my alarm last night...

As usual, we didn't get a lot of snow, but we did get a lot of ice. This means that our gentle, curving hill (the one we live at the foot of) is pretty well impassable, and - of more immediate importance - my local bus is running its "winter emergency schedule," under which it comes only as far as our local shopping center, and doesn't serve the hilly and generally poorly serviced neighborhood roads. The problem is that the bus company (yay, Fairfax Connector!) can't tell you if or when - even approximately - the bus will arrive at the shopping center.

This means that I have to walk to the shopping center, which is not a problem in itself. It's only a half-mile or so away - a pleasant 20 minute walk on a normal day. But with treacherously iced-over streets and sidewalks, it can take a half-hour or more...and there's no telling if or when a bus will be there. AARRGGHH!!

So what does this mean to you? It means a truncated, angry post and a 24-hour wait until you can learn about the dangers of fish testicles.

Stay tuned, and stay warm. Be careful out there on the ice.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Miscellaneous Tuesday

Well, since I took a shot across my virtual bow from Mike yesterday because my post was late, here's the explanation: it's Blogger's fault. No, really! I wrote the post at my usual early hour, uploaded the pictures of The Most Adorable Grandchild East of the Ohio State Line, and then hit the button to upload the video clip. This was at about 5:15 AM. At 6:00 AM, when I left for work, Blogger was still "processing" the video, and so I couldn't publish the post until I got home yesterday afternoon. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I have discovered the wonderful world of Google Analytics - more statistical data about my blog than even the long-departed and still-missed Numeric Life could ever have wished. I now know how many left-handed cross-dressing gay Mexican Jewish expatriates in Zamboanga are reading my blog in the 0200-0300 time block every day. Looks like I have at least one demographic group sewed up.

Today is the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (that's pronounced MOATS-art, not mozzert, Mike). If you have never heard the wonderful Danish comedian Victor Borge do his performance of An Opera By Mozart, your life is not yet complete. Check it out. Borge is one of the funniest men who ever lived...none of today's alleged comedians who rely on shock and outrage to get guilty laughs can hold a candle to him.

Today is also the birthday of Lewis Carroll, author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. If you've read either book, you don't need to work in the Pentagon. You already have a pretty good idea of what it's like.

And finally, our weather forecast for today is calling for one to three inches of snow. I'll believe it when I see it. This story applies...

It was late fall and the Indians on a remote reservation in South Dakota asked their new chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild.

Since he was a chief in a modern society, he had never been taught the old secrets. When he looked at the sky, he couldn't tell what the winter was going to be like.

Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he told his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared.

But, being a practical leader, after several days, he got an idea. He called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is the coming winter going to be cold?”

“It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold,” the meteorologist responded.

So the chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more firewood in order to be prepared.

A week later, he called the National Weather Service again. “Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?”

“Yes,” the man at National Weather Service again replied, “it's going to be a very cold winter.”

The chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find.

Two weeks later, the chief called the National Weather Service again. “Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?”

“Absolutely,” the man replied. “It's looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters we've ever seen.”

“How can you be so sure?” the chief asked.

The weatherman replied, “The Indians are collecting firewood like crazy.”

This is advice from the same government we're hoping can pull us out of the economic crisis.

I need a drink.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's Okay, I'm Calm Now...Random Thoughts for a Monday

I was pretty fired up yesterday after finishing the tag-team post, but I've managed to calm down. Spending a few hours with a grandchild will help to center you. Reading is fun...

And we can even have fun when she's trying to crush my nose (note to self: check sale pages of the newspaper for sales on Grecian Formula)...

So now I feel better. I just need to figure out a way to get all four grandchildren within cuddling distance.

Getting back for a moment to yesterday's political-economic diatribe...

I don't think we'll ever solve all of our problems until we view them as an interlocked set of issues that need to be treated as a system instead of as a collection of individual issues, each with its own causes, possible solutions, and armies of vested interests who care deeply about it. Because I tend to understand things better when I can see them written out in tabular form, I sat down last night and started to do the "If I were President (and aren't you glad I'm not)" exercise. I'm creating a table which lists the various problems (housing crisis, banking collapse, health care, education, etc) down the left side, and columns for interested parties, causes, related issues, possible solutions, etc., across the top. Looking at things like this helps my aging brain comprehend relationships better and makes it easier to consider the impact of possible actions in other areas. Once it's done, I'll publish it here to see if it gives anyone any ideas. There have to be people out there smarter than I am...maybe we can give the new President a few good suggestions instead of just bitching from the sidelines like a bunch of self-important Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters.

Finally for today, here's something really neat. Did you ever wonder how people earn their operator's licenses for those giant earth moving and construction machines? All I can say after watching this is that the operator may be good...but the lady has true balls of steel...

video

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bilbo, Mike, and Tag-Team Blogging. Part 1 - The Economy

Mike is on a roll this morning with his rant on Unregulated Capitalism and Other Stuff. He's starting to sound like me. I must have been a good influence on him (and heaven knows he needs one). I can see him in my mind's eye, his face red and hair standing on end, as he reaches the point in his post when he splutters, "Bilbo, take over for me here. I'm running out of verbiage."

Tag-team blogging. It's the new thing.

Okay, Mike - I've got it.

If you're one of those few remaining folks who actually believes that markets and economies will magically regulate themselves, that all will be well if we just get the government the hell out of the way and let the shower of economic pixie dust bring us endless prosperity...I wish you'd share some of that good stuff you're smoking with me.

If you can, with a straight face, tell me that government should just take a few weeks off and go fishing while the economy sorts itself out, you need to see a good brain surgeon.

If you believe that the answer to our problems is throwing vast amounts of the taxpayers' money in the general direction of huge banks, corporations and "financial institutions" and hoping they'll suddenly, magically show a level of competence, honesty, and ethical behavior that has been absent before, you need to go back to sleep.

I've spent a lot of time in this blog ranting about the economy and about the greed, dishonesty, and stupid political shenanigans that have brought us to the point where I'm not just worried about the world my grandchildren will inherit, but the world I'm living in now.

Isn't it amazing that those people who shout loudest about the sanctity of the free market and shudder at the specter of socialism are quick to accept bailouts to rescue them from the results of their actions...?

I used this cartoon a while back, but it's still as accurate as anything I've seen yet...

How many hundreds of billions of dollars have we pumped into the banks to get them moving and lending again? And how much good has it done?


Oh, yes...speaking once again of the banks that need vast amounts of bailout funds...


As usual, Frank and Ernest have a pretty clear view of how things are...


And for those of you worried about your jobs, and how your contributions are viewed by those at the top...

If you really think things are rosy, that ignorant blowhards like Rush Limbaugh have the right approach (hoping out loud that the new administration fails), you may want to look for another blog to read. If you're interested in trying things that may actually fix our problems, stick around and share your ideas.

Unlike the administration that has just been soundly repudiated by the American people, I'm interested in what you have to say.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

A beautiful Brazilian model whose hands and feet were amputated as doctors tried to save her from a rare and deadly illness has died; China has recorded the fourth death from bird flu this year; Microsoft has laid off 5,000 workers; two children and an adult were killed and many were injured when a man went on a stabbing spree in a nursery in Belgium; and a female graduate student at Virginia Tech University was killed by an acquaintance who attacked her with a knife and decapitated her in a campus restaurant.

If you didn't need Cartoon Saturday before, you surely need it now.

One of the problems with understanding the economic crisis is that we can't always make head or tail of the endless barrage of theories and advice pumped out by the legions of talking heads and so-called experts who claim to have all the answers. Don't you sometimes wish for an economic report you could understand?


A while back, Mike offered up a post titled "And That's How the Fight Started..." It was funny, but he missed one:

What is it with tattoos? It used to be that only drunken sailors came home with tattoos...now, everyone seems to want one. Or two. Or a gazillion. Here are a couple of tattoo-related cartoons:

and...
The transition between administrations is always a stressful time in Washington as one set of political appointees finds itself out of jobs while a new one settles in...

And finally, tens of thousands of people braved the cold after last Tuesday's presidential inauguration to watch the traditional inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Inaugural parades tend to feature stirring march music, bands, drum and bugle outfits, and the like, but a real inaugural parade would have been a little different (click the image to enlarge it)...

We're having a heat wave here in town - according to my thermometer, it's 50 degrees Farenheit outside, which also happens to be the expected high for the day. But I won't get used to it, because tomorrow's high is only supposed to be about 34. I'm ready for summer.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Friday, January 23, 2009

Random Stuff for a Friday

There's just too much going on, and I'm suffering from blog input overload, so once again I'll just offer a few riffs on things in the news. Don't complain...it'll get you one day closer to Cartoon Saturday.

Yesterday Michelle wondered about a Treasury Secretary (that would be Mr Geithner, since confirmed for the post) who can't correctly pay his taxes. As I mentioned in my comment, had she or I been guilty of not paying many thousands of dollars in taxes - for any reason - we'd be in jail. Mr Geithner has not set a very good example for the nation's taxpayers. 'Nuff said.

A few days back I mentioned the story of "Natalie Dylan," who is auctioning off her virginity to help pay for college. How much is the ability to deflower a virgin worth? As of yesterday, it seems to be about $3.8 million. This interesting article looks at the history, sociology, and economics of virginity. As for me, I'm not bidding. Not only don't I have the petty cash to outbid a $3.8 million offer, but Agnes would kill me and I wouldn't be around to enjoy it.

According to recent news reporting John Thain, the former CEO of the former Merrill Lynch, spent about $1.2 million to redecorate his office at the firm while it was in the process of collapsing and contributing to the smoking hole where the economy used to be. The $1.2 million figure included an $87,000 area rug, a $68,000 credenza, $28,000 worth of curtains (those must have been some big windows), and a $1,400 wastebasket. A $1,400 wastebasket? I'd be afraid to throw anything into it I hadn't ironed first. One of my coworkers sent me this quote yesterday...he was vague about where he found it, but regardless of its pedigree, I think it about sums up the attitudes that got us to this point:

"You're probably going to spend your life working for a company that'd kill you and sell your organs if it got the CEO a third gold-plated bathtub for himself and his hookers. You can be talented, well-trained, highly experienced, and a loyal employee and they'll still ship your job overseas if it'll let the CEO get more hookers on bath night."

Speaking of useless, self-important windbags, Rush Limbaugh has expressed his goodwill and support to the new president as only he can. I love it when someone is willing to moderate his personal beliefs and work with the other party in an atmosphere of friendship and positive cooperation. Or not.

And finally, from the Department of Lost Causes comes the news that President Obama has appointed former Senator George Mitchell as his Special Envoy for the Middle East. I don't know what Senator Mitchell ever did to piss off the President, but it must have been big to earn this job. No matter how well he did in engineering a peace agreement in Northern Ireland (and that, Brownie, was a real heckuva job), he is being asked to punch the ultimate tar baby here. It takes two sides to make peace, and both sides have got to want it. Unfortunately, in the Middle East neither side wants it except on terms the other side can't or won't accept. I still say Bilbo's Mideast Peace Plan is the best one, and perhaps Senator Mitchell may want to consider it: build a wall 200 feet high and 50 feet thick around the entire region, fill the area so enclosed to the top with sand, and start over.

That's enough for now. It's Friday. Tonight, we dance! And then comes the weekend. And then comes ... well ... let's not talk about that now.

Have a good day. Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday. Be here.

Bilbo

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Size Matters

Or so I'm told. Fiona may know better than I, but I know better than to ask her about it. Instead, I'll just talk not about size per se, but about how we estimate size.

Here in the so-called National Capital Region, we've been living with Inauguration Paranoia since the election back in November. How could a city that can't manage the commuting population it already has accommodate the vast crowds expected for the inauguration of the first black president? Where would they stay? Where do we park the buses? How many porta-potties will be needed? What will we do if the Chief Justice botches the oath of office? Where do we put the annoying street vendors? How about the hookers (see the picture below, which originally appeared at The Scholastic Scribe)? Etc, etc, etc.


Well, as we all know, the inauguration came off all right. No terrorist attacks, no riots, no ugly demonstrations - just a happy, frozen crowd and the stirring sight of power being transferred from one leader to another legally and without bloodshed...not the usual scene of power transitions in this unhappy world.

But we were talking about size.

If you're planning a big event, you want to have a big turnout. The size of your crowd indicates how successful your event was, how much support you rallied, and how important you are. Crowds are an important sign of power and influence, as Elias Canetti noted in his classic book Crowds and Power. When Washington hosted the Million Man March in 1995, the organizers estimated the size of their crowd at between a million and a million and a half persons, while the US Park Police estimated it at about 400,000...and Louis Farrakhan threatened to sue the National Park Service for giving what he thought was such an insultingly low estimate. Similar controversies arose over the size of the crowds for the later Million Woman March and Million Mom March, although I don't recall any petulant lawsuits over those estimates.

Estimating the size of crowds isn't easy, particularly if you can't use standard measures like ticket sales, head counts at the door, and so on. The local Metro Rail system counted 930,000 riders by 6:00 PM on Inauguration Day, and one crowd analysis by based on satellite photography estimated roughly 1.5 million people on the Mall. This interesting article talks about the art and science of estimating the size of crowds.

So, size matters. And how we estimate it matters. It's easier if you can sit in the privacy of your home with a tape measure and a glass of wine...harder if you know that some doofus is ready to sue you if your estimate is not what he wanted to hear. So make everyone happy...estimate high. Or long. Or whatever.

I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. So to speak.

Have a good day. Estimate carefully. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What the President Said

According to my Blogger dashboard, this is post number 888. What a nice, round number...rather like a line of snowmen, which is appropriate this morning, as it's colder than a divorce lawyer's heart. No snow, but there's still plenty of winter to come. Sigh.

But to the matter at hand...

Yesterday afternoon I wrote about President Obama's inauguration speech, and what a great speech I thought it was. Of course, there was a wide range of opinions on the topic, not all of which (for some odd reason) agreed with my cogent analysis. The President spoke for about 20 minutes, and the Parade o' Talking Heads spent the rest of the day telling us what they want us to think he said, because we are obviously unable to understand on our own. They almost unanimously said it was a somber speech, as if that was a bad thing.

OCgirl posted a great comment: "...i was listening to the news commentators' reactions and they were saying it was great, but not that great. did we not listen to the same speech? and then i realized, it wasn't a sound-bitey speech, which is probably what they were expecting."

It wasn't a sound-bitey speech. That sums it up in six words. The President wasn't speaking in bumper-stickers or three-second sound bites that fit neatly into a five-minute newscast. He was speaking in grand ideas and a vision of where we've been, where we are, and where we need to go. It was the right speech for the right time.

Did we not listen to the same speech? That's a good question. I had the day off yesterday, and so I was able to sit in my comfortable chair and listen to the speech, after which I was able to read the full text online. Agnes had to work, and when she came home she asked if I'd listened to the speech, and if it was true that Mr Obama had said the United States wasn't a Christian nation. I said that was not true, and asked where she'd heard that. She replied that it was what some people at work had said.

Did we not listen to the same speech? This is what Mr Obama actually said:

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

America is not, in point of fact, a Christian nation. It is a nation whose leading religion is the various types of Christianity, but it was not created as a specifically Christian nation. The Constitution specifically states (in the first words of the First Amendment): "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The founders had seen the result in Old Europe of religion used as a bludgeon against free people, and weren't having it here. They believed in the freedom to worship according to the dictates of one's conscience, and whether that means one accepts Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam - we are free to believe. Mr Obama underscored this truth very well.

Did we not listen to the same speech? Well, no. Each of us heard what we wanted to hear. I wanted to hear an inspiring and healing speech, and I heard it. Others heard what they wanted to hear, coloring their interpretation through the prism of their political, social, and religious beliefs.

None of this changes the fact that President Obama gave a great speech. Not, perhaps, as great as some of those of Washington, or Lincoln, or even Winston Churchill. But it was the right speech, with the right words and tone, for the occasion.

Today, Mr Obama gets down to the work of translating the speech into action. Like all men and women of goodwill, I wish him well. I hope he is able to live up to the challenge.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama's Speech

I just finished listening to Barack Obama give his inaugural address. I love a good speech, and I thought this one was one of the best. He spoke firmly, yet humbly of the challenges facing us as a nation, and the need to meet them with unity, purpose, humility, and an eye toward those freedoms and responsibilities that make us Americans. His tone and delivery were masterful.

And I loved this line:

"This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

I am proud to be an American, thankful for the freedom and the way of life bought and paid for by the sacrifices of those who came before me. As I watched Mr Obama take the oath of office today, I was reminded yet again - as if I need to be reminded - that I live in the greatest country on earth.

I don't know what the next four years will bring, but I think we're off to a good start.

God bless us, every one.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.

Bilbo

Good Luck, Mr Obama

The time is now 5:26 AM, and there are six hours and 34 minutes until President-elect Obama becomes President Obama. I wish him well in a job I don't know why anyone would want to have.

Not since Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933 has the country faced such daunting problems. Mr Obama inherits two wars, an economy in ruins, a foreign policy in shreds, and domestic problems that would have driven Solomon to tears. He has a loving and supportive family that will watch him age before their eyes as he tackles the smoking wreckage left after eight years of failed policies and arrogant hubris.

Expectations are high, but Mr Obama enjoys a significant advantage: a vast reservoir of goodwill on the part of an American people anxious for inspirational leadership. His challenge will be to channel this goodwill into support for policies that will be painful but necessary. In this, he can draw on two other advantages: his status as the nation's first black president and his gift for inspiring oratory.

Much has been made of Mr Obama's role as the first black president. Black citizens are justly proud of this moment. But it's useful to remember that Mr Obama is not the black president...as he himself has said, there is not a black America and a white America - there is the United States of America. It's useful to remember that although Mr Obama had virtually unanimous support of black voters last November, that support alone did not make him president. He was elected because he also attracted the votes of millions of white Americans who voted not for a black man or a white man, but for the man they thought was the better candidate. Race is still, and will remain, an issue in 21st century America...but the historic election of a black man to the nation's highest office is a slap in the face of those who have made an industry of fanning the flames of racial division.

Mr Obama's gift for oratory is well-known. The man gives a great speech. Unfortunately, we live in a time when we've been conditioned to listen for sound bites rather than well-constructed speeches, and to have legions of talking heads talk down to us to explain what we've heard, as if we're too stupid to understand it on our own. It's been a long time since we've had a really good public speaker in office. Mr Obama will need all of his legendary communication skills to rally the support he needs to move the nation forward. It's been a long time since there's been a President I really wanted to listen to. I'm ready.

Time will tell whether I made the right decision when I cast my vote for Mr Obama last November, whether he can rise to meet the fearsome challenges he inherits, and whether he can unite Americans of all races, economic levels, and political philosophies to do what's necessary to fix the country.

I'm cautiously optimistic, and I wish Mr Obama well as he takes on a job I would never want to have. He will need all the goodwill, all the support, all the love of his family, and a lot of luck to succeed. The nation needs an inspiring and dynamic leader. I think we've found one. I hope he is able to capitalize on the optimism of this historic day to move us forward.

Good luck, Mr Obama.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, January 19, 2009

In the News

A few brief odds and ends ... mostly odds ... from the blog fodder file:

The planning board in the town of Vassalboro, Maine recently considered a request for a business permit for a topless coffee shop. I couldn't find any reports on how the vote turned out. Topless in Maine? Well, I guess it gives new meaning to the term "cup of coffee."

A recent story asked whether sex can cause a heart attack. Happily, research shows that while the cardiovascular stress of vigorous sex can indeed trigger heart attacks in some people, especially men, the odds of literally dying of nookie are pretty low. This is not good news for soap operas and movies, in which a character dying during sex is a fairly common plot device (I remember the scene in the movie Private Benjamin in which Goldie Hawn's character told her late husband's mother that his last words were "I'm coming..."). Of course, after a certain age, just the prospect of having sex is enough to cause one to have a heart attack. Not that I would know, of course.

A young woman has decided to auction off her virginity as a creative way to finance her college education, and as of January 15th, the bidding was up to $3.7 million. In today's current economic climate, that's not bad. Maybe this could be part of the economic bailout program for the financial industry ... force them to make use of all their assets, as it were.

And finally,

The Bush administration will finally come to an end in one day, three hours, and 52 minutes from the time I write this. I can't think of anything funny to say about it...which is a pretty bad sign. Mr Obama has his work cut out for him.

That's all.

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

Bilbo

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tom Swifties

I inherited my love of reading, writing, and wordplay in general from my Mother, who probably inherited it from some other, more distant, relative who would prefer to remain anonymous. Mom could make puns and carry on other word games like no one else I've ever known, and I've tried to keep up her tradition...although in order to do it I've had to get used to everyone starting to groan just on principle whenever I say something.

One of the word games of which Mom was fond was the Tom Swifty - defined as "a phrase in which a quoted sentence is linked by a pun to the manner in which it is attributed." A classic (if I can use the word in this context) example would be, "Yes, we have no bananas," Tom said fruitlessly.

I can hear you groaning already.

Last Friday in the office, one of my coworkers passed me a link to the mother lode of Tom Swiftys. Fortunately, it was just a few minutes before quitting time...otherwise I'd have spent all day reading through the list and laughing myself into tears.

So...

Because the news in general is so bad that even a Cartoon Saturday once a week can hardly hold its own against the gloomy tide, here are a few of the ... um ... best Tom Swiftys from the list. You may want to sit down...

"I dropped the toothpaste!" said Tom, crestfallen.

"AARRGGHH! I've just been stabbed in the chest," cried Tom, half-heartedly.

"I like ragged margins," said Tom, without justification.

"That's not a laser!" cried Tom incoherently.

"Wait, I said 'I give up!'" Tom recapitulated.

"You're letting the fire go out," said Tom ungratefully.

"Get into the back of the boat!" yelled Tom sternly.

"Take the prisoner downstairs," Tom said condescendingly.

"I used to command a battalion of German insects," said Tom, exuberantly.

"Behold the power of the Dark Side," Tom said forcefully.

and, saving the best (or the worst, depending on how you look at it) for last...

"I'm into homosexual necrophilia," said Tom in dead earnest.

You can find lots of Tom Swiftys on the Internet, and they're fun to make up yourself. I'm looking forward to the comments this generates. Or maybe not.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

It's 3 degrees outside my study window - a heat wave, compared to the Great Plains; Washington DC is bracing for he presidential inauguration by screwing up traffic even more than usual; according to Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia's grand mufti, it's OK for girls as young as 10 to marry; Israel and Hamas are still fighting over what's left of Gaza and the surrounding areas; and the Government Accountability Office is reporting that some large corporations which have received billions of bailout dollars from the taxpayers have set up offshore havens to help avoid paying taxes on their profits.

Once again, Cartoon Saturday rides to your rescue!

I love the Blondie cartoon strip, I understand Dagwood, and this one really had me laughing both as a worker and a linguist ...

Hagar the Horrible used another version of the same metaphor ...

There are some cartoons that just make more sense after you reach a certain age. Or exceed it. Right, Mike?

And where would we be if I couldn't come up with yet another cartoon to keep up Mike and Fiona's Parade-o-Boobs?

I don't think I need that alarm clock any more ...

And finally, I loved this one because it was just plain silly ...

Have a good day. Stay warm (not applicable in Palembang). More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Friday, January 16, 2009

It Came From the Blog Fodder File, Bwa-ha-ha!!

Yogi Berra once supposedly said, "You can observe a lot just by watching." And for someone who likes to observe the world as it passes by, there is never any lack of stuff about which to blog. Here are a few more items from my ever-expanding "Blog Fodder" file...

Two famous actors passed away this past week: Ricardo Montalban and Patrick McGoohan. Mr Montalban was famous, of course, as Mr Rourke of the TV show Fantasy Island, a character that gradually morphed from the original vaguely sinister ringmaster to a more grandfatherly foil to Herve Villechaise's silly character of Tattoo. Suave Patrick McGoohan starred as television's Danger Man (a great series, in my opinion, and the forerunner of many other secret agent shows), and as the title character of the weird series The Prisoner. I'll miss them both.

I wrote the other day about the dangers of using the "Reply All" button when responding to an e-mail. Over at Indexed today, Jessica posted this clever diagram:

In California (where else?) this past week, a man was arrested for selling his 14 year-old daughter to an 18-year old man for marriage in exchange for $16,000, 160 cases of beer, 100 cases of soda, 50 cases of Gatorade, two cases of wine, and six cases of meat...and then complaining to police when the prospective bridegroom didn't pay up as promised. Evidently, such deals are common in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, where such deals are considered "normal and honorable;" however, they are frowned upon in the United States (even in California). And you thought all the crazy people were in the Middle East.

Back in my parochial grade school, when I was young and impressionable and frequently swatted by the nuns for various transgressions, I learned to fear the terrible place called hell. I've since learned that we don't need nuns and priestly sermons to tell us about hell...we are perfectly capable of creating it ourselves in places like Rwanda, Iraq, Congo, and other garden spots. I stumbled upon the website Entrances to Hell some time ago...it features a series of photos of strange doors, cave entrances, and other portals that could remind one of the path Dante might have followed on his visit. Some are truly spooky.

And finally, if you like Jazz (which I do), you may be interested in this interactive diagram of the various Jazz styles. There's a similar diagram (not interactive) of rock and roll history in one of the marvelous books by Edward Tufte, but I can't remember which one right now...I'll let you know when I find it again.

Time to get ready to go to work. It's 13 degrees outside, with a wind chill of minus 2 degrees, and I'm not looking forward to waiting for the bus. No need to make any smart comments about the joys of retirement, Mike.

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

Bilbo

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Freedom of Speech vs Freedom of Smart

One of the things that sets the US apart from many other nations is what we call The Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is the general term given to the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and it lays out the fundamental rights of US citizens: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable search, and so on. It was written early in our history when the framers of the Constitution realized that while they'd crafted a good guide for representative government, they had somehow forgotten to enshrine the rights for which they'd just fought a terrible revolutionary war.

Americans love their rights, and we tend to trumpet them at every opportunity. Unfortunately, what we talk about less frequently is responsibilities. If you have absolute freedom, you can easily have unlimited chaos, and so we have a vast code of laws which - essentially - restrict those freedoms granted by the Bill of Rights. We can own a gun, but we can't use it to murder our neighbor. We enjoy free speech, but are enjoined from yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. We have the right to be secure from unreasonable searches, but the police can obtain a search warrant to go through our things if they've convinced a judge that there's reasonable cause to believe we've committed a crime. We've learned to live with the balance between rights and responsibilities.

Well, most of us have.

I thought about this most recently when I read this article - Report: US Rejected Israeli Plea to Attack Iran.

This CNN article was based on a story by a New York Times reporter which detailed how the government of Israel had asked the US for various types of advanced weapons and passive assistance in conducting an attack on Iran's nuclear complex at Natanz. According to the author, the US government turned down the request because it could jeopardize operations in Iraq and have wider repercussions. But the part of the article that really made my hair stand up was this:

"Bush, instead, persuaded Israeli officials to not proceed with the attack by sharing with them some details of covert U.S. operations aimed at sabotaging Iran's nuclear ambitions..."

What?

As I read this, a reporter for a major US newspaper has decided that his press freedom has granted him the right to expose what is certainly - if it exists - a program of extreme secrecy. I'm quite sure that the Iranian internal security organizations were very happy to learn about this, and are busy trying to stop it.

The purpose of Iran's nuclear program is, of course, open to interpretation. There are those who fervently believe that the program is entirely peaceful and dedicated to providing electricity for hospitals and orphanages. And there are those who believe that this may be true, but is at its heart a blind to provide cover for an attempt to develop a nuclear weapon. I happen to belong to the second camp.

I don't know about you, but one of the things that scares me more than the Internal Revenue Service is the thought of a nuclear weapon in the hands of a religious zealot who believes God speaks directly to him and has given him the authority to kill those who do not share his form of religious belief. This is, of course, the same person who has announced his desire to "wipe Israel off the map." I'm no particular friend of Israel, but I can understand the Israelis might be a little concerned about this.

Which brings us back to the New York Times story. What has been gained by exposing the possible existence of a "covert" program? I think the only winner in this was Iran.

We have many freedoms, and we cherish all of them. If you don't believe that, just try to convince a gun owner that there should be any restrictions on his ability to own a 155mm howitzer. But with freedom comes responsibility. I believe it was unnecessary and irresponsible for the Times reporter to publish this story. I don't know if there really is a covert program to fiddle with (that's a technical term) the Iranian nuclear program...the government doesn't usually check with me before doing such things. What I do know is that the thought of a nuclear weapon in the hands of a rigidly theocratic government is a very, very scary thing.

And I depend upon my government to protect me from it.

Freedom of speech is good. Sadly, though, it isn't always accompanied by Freedom of Smart.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From the "Blog Fodder" File

It's time once again to clean out the "Blog Fodder" file. Aren't you lucky?

My good friend and dance partner Leslie sent me this link yesterday: Men Stoned to Death for Adultery, Murder In Iran. Her comment was, "Finally, equal opportunity stoning for adultery." My comment is that I don't think this is what the man who wrote the spiritual "Gimme That Old-Time Religion" had in mind. Welcome to the Middle East. Set your watch back 1400 years.

Last Thursday, we got a good example of the passions for public service that motivate our elected reprehensives. In this article, we learned that Florida congressman Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Ocala, asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move votes scheduled for last Thursday evening and Friday so House members from Florida and Oklahoma could watch the Bowl Championship Series national title game between the University of Florida and the University of Oklahoma. Speaker Pelosi did not agree to the request, in part because the measures to be considered Thursday afternoon included the certification of the Electoral College vote that gave Barack Obama the presidency. Your tax dollars at work.

Have you ever been caught in one of those spectacular e-mail storms that begins when some moron accidentally hits the "Reply All" button on a message with an addressee list the size of the Manhattan phone book? You know, where one person hits "Reply All," and then seven hundred other morons each hit "Reply All" to tell the original moron not to use "Reply All"? The State Department had one of those last week. Read about it here. I'll bet Hillary Clinton won't put up with that stuff when she gets there. Bill Clinton, of course, had a special e-mail function button on his White House account labeled "Reply All Cute Interns."

And finally, for those of you who can't quite understand how the government decides how to spend money (other than to just shovel it in the general direction of major campaign contributors), here is a handy summary one of my co-workers passed around to help us get a grip on the process. It's been around for a while, but it's still accurate:

Faced with a 20-year threat,
The Government responds with a 15-year plan;
Programmed in a 6-year POM (Program Objective Memorandum);
Managed by 3-year personnel;
Who develop a 2-year budget;
Funded by a 1-year appropriation;
Formulated over a 3-day weekend; and,
Approved in a 1-hour decision brief presented by an action officer who can lose his or her job in 2 minutes.

Got that?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reading More, Reading Less

The National Endowment for the Arts has been surveying the reading habits of Americans since 1982, and the news has been consistently dismal. According to the NEA's surveys, the percentage of American adults who report that they do "literary" reading (novels, short stories, poems, or plays) has declined every year. Five years ago, the survey results were so yucky the NEA went so far as to title its annual survey "Reading at Risk."

Happily though, this year's results show an increase in respondents who claim to have done some "literary" reading during the survey period: from 46.7% of responding adults in 2002 to 50.2% in 2008. But paradoxically, the same survey shows that the percentage of American adults who read any book not required for work or school during the survey period continued to decline, falling from 56.6% in 2002 to 54.3% in 2008.

Eh?

You can read the full story here.

Nobody seems to be able to explain these contradictory results, although the NEA claims partial credit for calling attention to the decline of reading, prompting teachers and librarians to put additional emphasis on recreational reading.

The actual rise in reading rates came entirely from prose fiction (thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, romance, etc), as opposed to the other forms of so-called "literary" reading (nonfiction, poetry, plays, etc). This implies, of course, that the reading is primarily recreational, rather than directed toward self-improvement or education. Is this a bad thing, or is it better that people are reading at all?

If you read my post on what I read in 2008, you know that my interests are pretty wide-ranging. I can't imagine anyone not wanting to read whatever they can get their hands on.

Perhaps the issue is, as the article suggests, that more people are doing their reading online. That's possible, but somehow I can't imagine curling up in front of the fire with a good laptop. I need a real book with pages that rustle as you turn them. They're such an improvement on the old cunieform tablets Mike and Gilahi and I grew up with, dontcha know. And Andrea, bless her heart, has invited me to join her reading circle on GoodReads.com, so there's hope out there for us readers.

Go out and read something. If you want recommendations, check my earlier blog post or just ask. Reading expands your mind and informs you about the world around you.

And God knows we need all the information we can get nowadays.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, January 12, 2009

Words That Sound Offensive, But Aren't

Mike is the king of using links as the basis of posts, so I thought I'd try it myself to save a little time this morning. I'm running late yet again, having spent too much time before my shower reading the wonderful novel Lima Nights, by Marie Arana, so I'll grasp at any straw to speed things along this morning.

I don't remember how I first stumbled upon the article 11 Words That Sound Offensive, But Aren't, but I haven't stopped laughing yet. It's interesting, but not to be read if you're prudish or easily offended. The words themselves are innocent enough, but the examples of their correct and incorrect usage in conversation are not...and are truly hysterical.

This is the list of words:

1. Shittah (nothing to do with outhouses, oddly enough.);

2. Prickmadam (the parenthetical definition is worse than anything else you might think.);

3. Titular (Agnes rolls her eyes when I spout one of my favorite phrases: "As the titular head of the house, I...");

4. Dickey Grind/Nasty Grind (no, it doesn't involve use of a pole and loud music.);

5. Cockchafer (one of the reasons I used to enjoy doing my radio show as opposed to being on television was that if I had an itch in an unfortunate place, I could scratch it any time. I didn't really write that. Just move on, folks, nothing to see here...);

6. Horehound (my grandmother's favorite candy was horehound drops...we always used to snicker about it.);

7. Cooter (not to be confused with singer Ry Cooder.);

8. Hand Organ (good if you're feeling cranky. So to speak.);

9. Uvula (having studied the physiology of sounds, I knew about this one, described in a classic Far Side cartoon as "the hangy-down thingy in your throat.");

10. Assagai (the joke that comes to mind would prevent me from ever being confirmed for a cabinet job, so I'll just pass, thank you very much.); and,

11. Niggard (excuse me while I look for an eleven-foot pole, because I wouldn't touch this with a ten-foot one. In years past, this innocent word usually appeared in its adverbial form niggardly, but its unfortunate similarity to the dreaded "n-word" has caused it to fall out of favor. Today it is used only by those with a death wish.).

Don't feel obligated to run out and use these in casual conversation. I can't be responsible for the reactions you might get.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Return to Sender" - Elvis Presley

I have a lot of "favorite" songs, but high on the list is Elvis's classic "Return to Sender," from the movie Girls, Girls, Girls. It's got an irresistible swing rhythm, clever lyrics, and you can tell how old you are by whether or not you understand the line, "no such person, no such zone" (for those of you much younger than Mike, Gilahi, and I, "zones" were what we had before Zip Codes...I grew up in "Pittsburgh 37, PA," which is now just "15237," and doesn't have quite the same ring to it).

Okay, I told you all that to introduce this news story from a few days back: "Lighter Volume Leading to Changes in Postal Routes." It seems that the US Postal Service, as a result of the drop in mail volume during the recession, is reviewing all its city routes nationwide and changing some of them to cut costs. A USPS spokesman said the economic downtown has caused businesses to reduce mailing to cut expenses, and that at the national level, mail volume fell by 9.5 billion pieces, or 4.5 percent, during the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2008.

This is sad, but not unexpected. After all, the Postal Service is a business, too, and needs to make money to stay in operation. Most of its income derives from the bulk mail sent out by businesses (bills, statements, credit card come-ons, mortgage refinance offers, sale ads from local stores, etc), particularly since first-class mail - the letters that we used to send each other regularly - have fallen off drastically in comparison to earlier years. I think that the letters Amanda, Andrea, John, Fiona, and I have exchanged (and the one I sent to Mike) in the past year were probably a large percentage of last year's "real" first-class mail.

We don't have any connection to the people who deliver the mail any more, either. Mr Moseley, our mailman (oh, excuse me - letter carrier in these more gender-neutral times) when I was growing up back in Pittsburgh, used to stop and chat occasionally, and even sent us postcards when he went on vacation; and each Christmas Mom made sure to leave him a loaf of freshly-baked banana nut bread in the mailbox. Mailmen (sorry - letter carriers) don't walk through the neighborhood distributing mail from their big leather bags any more...they pull up to the mailbox in a truck, deposit your mail, and drive away instead of stopping to talk for a moment about the weather, your family, or whatever. If they do stop, it's to leave a pissy note in your mailbox complaining that something was blocking it so that they actually had to get out of the truck to deliver the mail.

Of course, Benjamin Franklin (who created the mail system around 1775) would no longer recognize his creation, which is represented not just by the speedy little red-white-and-blue trucks, but by such shining examples of friendly and cheerful service as the post office in the Pentagon, which is staffed in large part by winners of the "slow and surly" competitions at other post offices.

Okay, I'm wandering here. I'm feeling nostalgic again for real mail, not just endless junk mail and bills. I guess it's time to clean off a space on my desk large enough for the pad of paper and the inkwell (yes, I have three - count 'em - three inkwells and a whole slew of dip pens, which I don't use too often because they're not as convenient as ballpoints, if more fun). I still owe a letter to my daughter, I still need to work on keeping my granddaughter Marcy writing (to help with her spelling), and I just enjoy finding real, chatty letters in the cobwebby old mailbox every once in a while. I guess I need to get started. And who knows? - maybe this will be the year Mike actually writes back! Although I suspect he'd probably subcontract it to Claudia.

But we can always hope.

Want a personal, chatty, hand-written letter of your very own? Send your snail-mail address to bilbo_the_blogger(at symbol)yahoo(dot)com and I'll oblige. Same deal as before - you have to promise to write back...no e-mail replies accepted. Let's save the Postal Service, one letter at a time.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

Israel and Hamas are still slugging it out in Gaza; 82-year-old Hugh Hefner's new girlfriends are 19-year old twins; four of five Somali pirates drowned when their skiff overturned in rough seas after they collected a a $3 million ransom payment; a giant panda named Gu Gu at the Beijing zoo has tried to eat his third tourist; and president-elect Obama has nominated Leon Panetta to be the Director of the CIA...Mr Panetta's intelligence experience consists of holding the door to the Oval Office open for the CIA analysts who gave daily briefings to former President Clinton.

Cartoon Saturday is here to help you cope.

I don't quite know how I let myself get sucked into the swirling vortex of the endless boob discussions (Rima started it, Mike joyfully kept it up, and Fiona has now designated me as the Boobmeister), but since it really seems to draw in the comments, why should I argue with success? Herewith two boob-related cartoons...

Not long after I spotted this one, my friend Katherine e-mailed me to see if I'd seen it, decisively proving that I really need an image makeover:

I've had this one in my collection for a long time, and sent it to Miss Cellania a while back when she was blogging about ... well ... ladies' unmentionables, so you may have seen it there. I still think it's a classic:

The other topic that seemed to draw commenters out of the woodwork was my post about the deer eating my landscaping. Many of the comments dealt with how to keep the deer away from the plants. But what if the tables were turned...?

Cell phones can be as annoying as they are ubiquitous. This week, two cartoons about cell phones hit on the same general theme...

And...

And finally, since Hollywood seems to have a thing for remaking and reissuing classic films (seen the new version of The Day the Earth Stood Still yet?), what happens when the literary world tries to update the classics? The mind boggles...

Well, I guess I should get moving and find something to serve up for breakfast. I'll need all the energy I can get to face the next round of the never-ending struggle to clean up my study. I'm making progress. Really. Sort of. I just need a bigger dumpster.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Friday, January 09, 2009

Dream Jobs?

The way the economy is nowadays, the latest status symbol is a job. If you have one, you’re lucky. If you enjoy it, you're doubly lucky.

The Wall Street Journal recently looked at 200 different jobs, and this past Tuesday published it’s list of the best and worst jobs in the U.S. The results were interesting. The top five (best) jobs were:

1. Mathematician;
2. Actuary;
3. Statistician;
4. Biologist; and,
5. Software Engineer.

As jobs go, these aren’t bad. You get to work indoors out of the weather, in offices or laboratories, and none involves grueling physical labor. All require serious mental acuity, and the top three involve the manipulation of numbers (where’s Numeric Life when we need her?).

Not all jobs are quite that good, though. The bottom five (worst) jobs in the survey were:

196. EMT (Emergency Medical Technician);
197. Seaman;
198. Taxi Driver;
199. Dairy Farmer; and,
200. Lumberjack.

In contrast to the “best” jobs, these primarily involve stressful work done outdoors in all sorts of weather, and all involve actual physical danger (though you might argue that dairy farmers have it a bit better than the others).

It could be worse, though. According to The Worst Case Scenario Almanac: History, the worst jobs in medieval England were:

* Leech Collector (walk along riverbeds and collect leeches on your bare legs for later sale to doctors);

* Fuller (treat wool fabric with urine to thicken it);

* Purple Maker (smash mollusks in a vat, add water and ash, and supervise the fermentation, which is said to smell...well...pretty bad); and,

* Arming Squire (keep your knight’s armor clean by polishing it with sand, vinegar, and urine; run into the middle of the battle to replace your knight’s broken armor or weapons).

Moving ahead a few hundred years, here were some of the worst jobs of the 1800’s:

* Chimney Sweep’s Assistant (spend your days jammed in filthy, soot-filled chimneys);

* Mill Scavenger (clean cotton lint and scraps from beneath operating textile machines);

* Pure Collector (gather dog and cat feces from the streets for use by tanners (see "tanner," below));

* Stoker (shovel coal into the roaring fireboxes of steam engines on ships and locomotives); and,

* Tanner (treat animal hides with urine and animal excrement as part of the leather-making process).

Flipping burgers or making all the changes your boss wants to the report you wrote doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday is coming tomorrow.

Bilbo