Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cartoon Saturday - Halloween Edition

A sailor cleaning a deck gun who accidentally fired on the port of Gdynia in Poland, has been offered a commission as an admiral in the German navy; workers are still trying to repair the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, from which two steel rods and a steel crossbeam unexpectedly fell earlier this week; challenger Abdullah Abdullah has threatened to boycott the upcoming Afghan runoff election...former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali may be recalled from retirement in Baden-Baden to negotiate; according to my fancy Garmin GPS mapping device, my son's address in Los Angeles doesn't exist; and pirates are demanding $7 million ransom for a British couple whose yacht they seized in the Indian Ocean (editorial opinion: if they were stupid enough to sail a yacht in pirate-infested waters, they should just be left there).

BWA-HA-HAAAAAAAAA!!!! As if the news wasn't scary enough, Cartoon Saturday is here to scare you into realizing there are some things worse than the thought of what Amy Winehouse could possibly wear to go trick or treating...

So, tell me ... what is it with the current fascination with zombies? Why are there books and movies about them, why do we elect them to Congress, and why on earth do we pay attention to them when they organize tea parties? At least we can use the cartoons about them...

Zombies can even provide a cautionary tale about computer security ...

Of course, even zombies like to look good sometimes...

The classic Halloween costume for the stereotyped ghost has always been the sheet-over-the-head-with-eyeholes-cut-out, but that's not good enough for most young children today. It's good for a few cartoons, though ... first, one that combines two of the most terrifying issues of the day: ghosts and health care ...

And it really is true that size matters, I guess ...

What would Halloween be without witches? ... this cartoon is a little funnier if you're familiar with the TV game show "Family Feud" ...

I've eaten here before ...

There are self-help groups for everyone else, why not for witches?

And what witch doesn't want to take advantage of the latest technology? ...

A few takes on the classic Halloween story about the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow ...

and ...

We just can't have Halloween without fearsome bloodsuckers. No, not the Internal Revenue Service, I'm talking about real vampires...

Few of us do mornings well ...

Most of us can relate to this frustration, even if we're not really vampires ...

And, finally, what would Halloween be without a visit from that dreaded Hollywood monster Roman Polanski ... uh ... I mean, Frankenstein ...

Well, that's it for our special Halloween edition of Cartoon Saturday. If you are taking your little ghosts and goblins trick-or-treating tonight, keep them safe and always remember: even after the Halloween candy is gone, there's one more demon lurking out there waiting ... the dentist.

Have a good day and a Happy Halloween. More thoughts tomorrow.



Friday, October 30, 2009

Leaving LA

I'll be heading to the airport in just a few minutes...just time enough to comment on how nice it is to leave Los Angeles. Well, not really. LA isn't such a bad place if you're used to hosed-up traffic and goofy people...and if you live in Washington, well ...

The best part of this trip was getting to see my son Matt again. This doesn't happen very often since we live on opposite coasts, so we tried to make the most of it. Last night we had a nice dinner with his friends Thomas and Shoshonna, and split four games of Scrabble. Here's a picture of us with Bodie, their canine houseguest, taken by Matt's roommate Randy ...

So, I'm off to the airport. Tonight is the Halloween party at the dance studio (still not sure what sort of costume I can wear), and tomorrow will be the special Halloween edition of Cartoon Saturday. Be here.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

This Isn't Quite What I Was Expecting...

I thought California was supposed to be warm and sunny and full of beautiful blondes gliding around on in-line skates, chased by blonde beefcakes. There was a freeze warning last night, for pete's sake ... the beautiful blondes are all wearing sweatshirts and jackets instead of tank tops! And the wind ... I haven't seen this much wind since Rush Limbaugh's last news conference. And I thought Los Angeles was the place where the beautiful people cruise around, ignoring traffic laws intended for lesser beings while trying to be seen so they can complain about the burden of fame. I haven't seen a single celebrity yet. This is an outrage!

Okay, I've got it out of my system, now.

Today is the last day of my conference here in Los Angeles. I'll be flying home tomorrow, hopefully in an aircraft with two functioning, non-distracted pilots. I may not have a chance to post the blog before I get home, so don't panic.

This isn't much of a post, but I need to get going before everyone else eats all the food at the conference continental breakfast.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow (or when I get home).


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ten Observations on Visiting Los Angeles

I'm in Los Angeles this week, attending a conference during the day and visiting my son in the evenings. As you might expect, I have a few observations on visiting this amazing city, based on the accumulated experiences of a day and a half...

1. When big windstorms come up, huge chunks of palm trees come down onto sidewalks and streets. If you get a chunk of palm frond stuck in the undercarriage of your car, it makes a really awful noise as you drive down the street.

2. I've never seen so many blondes in one place. No guesses as to how many of them are genetically, rather than artificially, blonde.

3. Driving in Los Angeles is a lot like driving in Washington, except that the traffic actually moves. It may be bumper-to-bumper, but it's moving at about 75mph. Cars have two horns, and most drivers can maneuver at high speed while blowing their horns and giving you the finger with both hands. Reminded me of New York.

4. I heard more English spoken in Mexico than in most of LA.

5. I've visited cities smaller than LA International Airport. Most of them have better traffic.

6. My hotel gave me a warm chocolate chip cookie as a welcoming gift when I checked in. I guess they were out of the surf and turf.

7. It's illegal in California to use a cell phone while driving. Apparently, the law has not been widely publicized. 'Nuff said.

8. No matter where you want to go, the route you need to take is under construction. So are the detours. I've never seen a GPS unit shrug before.

9. Zoning requirements apparently require every block of West Hollywood to have at least four stores selling new guitars, used guitars, guitar lessons, guitar repairs, or something else dealing with guitars. Judging from the quality of the street musicians, the stores selling guitar lessons are not doing well.

10. My son crushed me in a Scrabble game last night. I thought I'd raised him to treat his elders better.

I'll be here another two days, so there may be other observations coming...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Laptops, Cell Phones, and Dumbasses

According to this morning's news, the official explanation of why a Northwest Airlines airliner overflew its intended destination by 150 miles is that the two pilots were both using personal laptop computers to try out new crew scheduling software.

Consider that it is illegal in many - if not most - states to use a cell phone or send/receive text messages while driving, because the danger of accidents goes up tremendously when the driver is distracted.

Is "distracted flying" a crime? Perhaps not, but it is breathtakingly stupid. Defenders of the pilots say that the passengers were in no danger because the autopilot was on and all the navigational instruments were working, but that's baloney. These two men had the lives of scores of passengers in the aircraft in their hands...and thought it was more important to play with their laptops than to do their jobs.

There are enough distractions that affect us when we drive, walk, or fly. Common sense demands that we minimize those distractions to ensure everyone's safety. Delta Airlines (the parent company of Northwest) has given each passenger a $500 travel voucher as compensation for the "inconvenience." I suppose inconvenience is better than death. But the airline needs to fire both pilots and enforce safety standards.

I fly a lot. I expect that in exchange for the fare I pay, not to mention the extra amounts I pay for luggage, a decent seat, and "gourmet chocolate chip cookies," I will be safely transported from A to B. But I'm not sure any more.

John, what's your opinion as a professional air traffic controller?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Everything's Okay, Folks, Move Along, Nothing to See Here...

For those of you who were concerned that I didn't post yesterday, stand down the missiles and relax - all is well. Well, it's not well, but it may as well be. Well?

The last few days have been very hectic, and yesterday was no exception. I normally write my blog very early in the morning when I get up...yesterday, uncharacteristically, I slept very late and ended up well behind in the chores I was expected to complete before being allowed to do anything else.


The leaves are raked, the trash is out, and Agnes's new embroidery software has been successfully loaded (only took about six hours over two days, plus the three square inches of hair I tore out trying to get it to work). My Mac is still dead, with the system repair and data recovery disk the Genius Bar consultant advised I buy and use still stuck inside, where it petulantly refuses to either repair or recover anything...and this after both of my external backup hard drives failed in the last week.

So, if I'm a little grouchy and off-schedule with posting, it's not you. It's life's occasional habit of kicking me in the slats when I'm not looking.

Well, all that being said, what should we talk about today?

Soupy Sales has died. For people much younger than I am, that may not be a very interesting news point, but I'm one of the lucky folks who enjoyed the slapstick, pie-in-the-face humor of a comic who didn't need to go for the dirty joke to get laughs. We don't have comedians of the caliber of Soupy Sales, Red Skelton, and Ernie Kovacs any more, and it's sad. Steven Wright can't do it all.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has refused to appear at the opening day of his trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, claiming that he didn't have time to prepare. That's fair. It's only been 14 years since he masterminded the massacre of Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and other non-Serbs at Srebrenica, and he's been on the run for most of those, and he's been busy filing all sorts of other papers and motions with the court for the last 14 months since his arrest. Poor fellow. Perhaps he should learn to multi-task with things not involving murder.

Well, I should probably write more to make up for missing yesterday's post, but time is marching on and I need to take care of other packing for my trip to Los Angeles today for a conference. I should be able to keep up the blog from LA, although the timing of posts may be off from what you're used to. Hang in there. You can't get rid of me that easily.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - If you know of a good iMac doctor in the Northern Virginia area, let me know. Sigh.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

A Northwest Airlines flight to Minneapolis overflew its destination by 150 miles, and the pilots claimed they were distracted by arguing about company policies; an ice-skating bear in a Russian circus attacked and killed a circus administrator and seriously mauled a trainer in an argument about company policies; 106 banks have failed in this country during 2009; attorneys for convicted murderer John Allen Mohammed, who shot 13 people and killed 10 during a terrifying sniping spree around Washington DC in 2002, say he shouldn't be executed because he is mentally ill; and 32 new planets have been found outside our solar system. Ann Coulter says they're all liberals.

I don't know about you, but I need Cartoon Saturday more and more every week...

Health care is always good for a few laughs, unless you need it...

It's nice that someone understands the Congressional approach to health care reform.

I've been having trouble with both of my computers - the desktop and the laptop - not to mention both my primary external hard drives being dead. Can the answer to the problem be this simple...?

For those of you who live outside the US and aren't familiar with ACORN (The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), it's an advocate for low- and moderate-income families that pushes issues of neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. It's also become a magnet for "conservative" rage because of ... well ... questionable activities on the part of some of its offices. The witch hunt has begun...

And this is why I am nervous about playing the stock market...

I hope Cartoon Saturday has helped you to recover from everything the world has thrown at you in the past week. Be sure to be here next week at this time, when we will have a special Cartoon Saturday Halloween Edition. Scary thought, eh?

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


Friday, October 23, 2009

Random Observations and Complaints for a Friday

1. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter has made the breathtakingly amazing claim that every terrorist and presidential assassin is a liberal. That whistling sound you hear is the wind passing between her ears.

2. Microsoft has released Windows 7. I have enough computer problems at the moment without this. According to Ann Coulter, all the Windows software engineers are liberals.

3. A Northwest Airlines flight from San Diego to Minneapolis apparently overshot its destination by about 150 miles on Wednesday evening. The pilots claimed they were so busy arguing about company policies that they lost track of where they were. Investigators suspect they may have been asleep. Ann Coulter says they're liberals. This is not the sort of thing I need to hear about as I get ready to fly to Los Angeles next week.

4. I did my part to stimulate the economy last night by paying a tow truck operator a wad of cash to tow Agnes's car after the fuel line ruptured, stranding her in a dismal part of town.

5. My Mac has frozen up because of a "corrupted drive," and my laptop stubbornly continues to refuse to connect to the Internet or to shut down/start up normally. Can a computer be a liberal?

6. The weather forecasters are predicting some pretty intense rain this afternoon through tomorrow. %#$! liberals. Of course, I can't find my copy of Ark Building for Dummies.

Yep, I'm ready to see the end of this week. I'm really ready to go dancing tonight. And Mike isn't the only one who needs Cartoon Saturday.

You know it's rough when you actually look forward to going to work.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hidden Costs

We're all angry about the government bailout of the financial industry. Well, all of us except the banks, of course. Your savings may be in the toilet, but you can take heart that there's still plenty of money out there to pay huge bonuses to the folks who engineered the collapse of the economy in the first place. Yes, I know we're all responsible in part, but it's nice to have a scapegoat, isn't it?

Now I've lost my train of thought...where was I going with this rant?

Oh, yes - I remember now.

Nobody quite knows how much the bailouts of the economy will cost in the end. The only thing I know for sure is that my grandchildren - and yours - will still be paying for it. But beyond the fiscal cost of making sure that financial managers will continue to enjoy bonuses and corner offices, there's a larger cost that hasn't really been addressed up to now. I saw the first mention of it in this article yesterday on CNNMoney: Bailout's Hidden Costs, by David Goldman.

That larger cost is trust.

Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for Treasury's financial sector rescue, has reported that the bailout has several hidden costs. He points out that the government's lack of transparency about the bailout could result in "a growing distrust of the government (that) could impede its ability to enact important legislation." Mr Barofsky went on to tell CNNMoney that, "I think we are already seeing the political costs of people losing trust and faith in their government, such as the palpable anger this summer in response to health care ... It requires a certain amount of good will to support extremely important and expensive programs like bailouts."

That loss of trust and good will is the true cost of the bailouts. Americans have always had a healthy skepticism about their government, a skepticism that goes all the way back to Colonial Americans' anger at the tax policies of King George III. But that skepticism has given way to a level of anger, cynicism, and a deep mistrust of government at every level, attitudes that can paralyze the ability of our leaders to do anything ... even conduct the routine business of government, much less tackle the truly difficult problems like health care reform, tax policy, and our defense against terrorism.

My grandchildren - Marcy, Joe, Noah, and Leya - will probably still be paying taxes to pay off the bailouts of 2009 when they are my age. I can only hope that they will be able to have the level of faith and trust in their leaders that I have long lost.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hero Worship

Long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Mike's work with Habitat for Humanity involved excavating new caves for poor Neaderthals, there was a great Beetle Bailey cartoon that showed Beetle and his friend Zero (who's not too bright) watching a show on television. Zero watches intently and asks Beetle, "Who's the guy with the bad manners and the cigarette hanging out of his mouth?" Beetle replies, "He's the hero." They watch a while longer, and Zero asks, "Why is he driving his car down the sidewalk and shooting at people?" Beetle answers, "That's the line of work he's in." Zero then asks, "Why is he beating up that pretty girl and kicking her down the stairs?", to which Beetle replies, "That's the way he finds things out." Zero thinks about all this for a minute, then turns back to Beetle and says, "I think we need another word for hero."

I used that cartoon years ago as the basis for a Toastmasters Club speech on the qualities of heroism, and thought about it just this morning when I read this article by Alan Webber and the accompanying online chat on the Washington Post website: Hero Insanity.

The fundamental question Mr Webber asks is this: "With so much muck and mud hitting so many men and women of prominence and celebrity, isn't it simply reassuring to have an individual with no prior claim to fame act in a decent, competent, and courageous fashion?... But is it leadership? Is it even heroism?"

Have we "dumbed down" our expectations for what constitutes heroism, simply because there are so few traditionally "heroic" figures any more? We have a 24-hour a day news cycle that feeds on scandal and the exposure of the dark clouds straining to escape from their silver linings, that always seems to say, "Yes, he's a good guy, but..." Yes, Capt Sullenberger landed his crippled airliner safely on the Hudson River without a single person killed, but wasn't he just doing his job?

So, what does it take to be a hero?

Is it the soldier who single-handedly saves a wounded comrade while under fire, at the risk of his (or her) own life? Or is he just doing his job? Is a police officer a hero when she faces a drug-crazed man waving a knife, knowing she'll be criticized for using "excessive force" if she takes the Indiana Jones way out and just shoots him? Or is she just doing her job? Is the fire fighter who goes back into a burning building searching for the child who isn't accounted for a hero, or is he just doing his job?

Does it include the single mother working two jobs to take care of her family? Or the person who is fired from her job for exposing dangerous malfeasance on the part of her employer?

Can we be heroes just for doing our jobs?

As children, our first heroes are our parents. We depend on them to feed and protect us, and to teach us the lessons we need to build lives of our own. Yes, it's their job, but we don't think of it in those terms when we're little children looking up to them. Looking back dispassionately, I don't think I was a parent who was consistently heroic...but I'm trying to make up for it by being a good role model as a grandparent.

Are we all heroes in our own way, or is the real hero the person who does something extraordinary? As Zero asked, do we need another word for hero? Or do we need men and women who can live up to the meaning and expectations of the perfectly good word we have?

Perhaps Will Rogers said it best when he commented that, "We can't all be heroes, because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by."

Have a good day. Be somebody's hero. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How to Tell Republicans from Democrats

If you are one of my readers outside the United States, you may have been confused from time to time by my castigation of one or the other (usually both) of our major political parties: the Republicans and the Democrats. Generally speaking, the Republicans are the conservative party, while the Democrats are their liberal opposition. This supposes, of course, that the labels liberal and conservative have any particular meaning other than adjectives to be used, dripping with scorn, in radio and television attack ads...which they don't.

So how do you tell Democrats from Republicans?

As a public service, I offer the following handy guide, which lists some of the ways you can distinguish representatives of the two parties from each other...

Democrats buy most of the books that have been banned somewhere.
Republicans form censorship committees and read them as a group.

Republicans buy lots of guns and turn their homes into anti-government fortresses.
Democrats buy lumber and nails and join Habitat for Humanity.

Democrats give their worn out clothes to those less fortunate.
Republicans wear theirs.

Republicans absolutely refuse to compromise on anything that will violate their fundamental convictions.
Democrats go to court to appeal their convictions.

Democrats name their children after currently popular sports figures, politicians, and entertainers.
Republican children are named after their parents or grandparents, according to where the money is.

Republicans tend to keep their shades drawn, although there is seldom any reason why they should.
Democrats ought to, but don't.

Republican boys date Democratic girls. They plan to marry Republican girls, but feel that they're entitled to a little fun first.

Democrats make plans and then do something else.
Republicans follow the plans their grandfathers made.

Republicans are the party that will take us proudly into the 19th century.
Democrats are the party that will take us proudly into the 21st century, although we'll all be speaking Spanish.

Republicans believe "the government" is the cause of all problems, but work like hell to be in charge of it so they can spite the Democrats.
Democrats know in their hearts that "the government" can make the country better, and keep trying to get elected until they figure out how.

Republicans sleep in twin beds--some even in separate rooms.
That is why there are more Democrats.

If none of the above guidelines help you understand the difference between the two parties, don't worry...they make at least as much sense as anything their official national committees will tell you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, October 19, 2009

On Meghan McCain's Breasts and Other Important Things

I realize that the freshness date on this story has passed, and that it has already been discussed by other erudite observers of ... um ... popular culture more thoughtful than I (thanks, Jay) ... but it really needs some thorough discussion and dispassionate analysis, and I only now have the time to address it with the gravity it deserves.

I refer, of course, to the spasm of outrage over the display of Meghan McCain's breasts on a recent Twitter post. Or tweet. Or twit. Or whatever you call it. This is the horrifying photo, as posted in the linked article from People Magazine:

Considering the vast range of serious issues facing the nation and the world, I am pleased that we are still able to get outraged over the sight of healthy, feminine breasts. This is, after all, the country where you can watch people being murdered and tortured in the grisliest of fashions on prime-time television...but the display of a young woman's breasts sends the self-appointed guardians of our moral fiber into paroxysms of outraged horror.

Here's a quarter - go get a life.

Drawing on my many years of experience in observing female anatomy, I have determined that there are a few unwritten, yet generally-accepted rules governing the display of female breasts:

1. The top of the breast can be exposed all the way down to the areola surrounding the nipple, as long as no part of the areola is allowed to show.

2. The nipple must be covered; however, it can be clearly visible through the covering fabric.

3. The underside of the breast may not be displayed.

In the context of these rules, here's Bilbo's analysis of the offending photo:

1. Ms McCain is fully clothed.

2. Ms McCain has very nice breasts.

3. No areolae or nipples are exposed, and the underside of the breasts is not visible.

Conclusion: what on earth is the problem here? You can see more skin on any woman at any swimming pool in the United States on any summer day. In fact, you can see more skin at any shopping center or amusement park in the United States on any summer day.

I admit that it's easier and much more satisfying to discuss Meghan McCain's fine breasts than complex and unpleasant issues like affordable health care, the economic meltdown, radical Islamist terrorism, and environmental decay, but we really do need to move on. To this end, I reprise one of the cartoons from this past week's Cartoon Saturday:

Have a good day. Make clean breast of things.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pots and Kettles

From the Department of Just When You Thought You'd Heard It All comes this marvelous headline from the CNN Political Ticker: Sharpton Threatens Suit Against Limbaugh.

Yes, the megatsunami of all political stupidity is fast approaching as two of the biggest empty-headed and divisive racial and political blowhards of all time face off. The "Reverend" Al Sharpton, who has made his reputation by being drawn to incidents with alleged racial overtones like moths to a porch light, is preparing to file a defamation suit against conservative windbag Rush Limbaugh for "erroneously" depicting Sharpton's role in fanning the flames of racial hatred in a number of incidents dating back to the 1990's.

This ought to be good, if for no other reason than - for probably the only time in history - I'm on Limbaugh's side.

But it's still a stupid waste of time that gives undeserved air time and print space to two of the most unfortunate figures in modern America. Sharpton's self-aggrandizing hyping of racial tensions has been discredited many times over, while Limbaugh is himself no slouch in grandly spouting the most ludicrous and groundless exaggerations of the opinions of others as he blows his own egotistical horn.

If you're looking for helpful examples of why we have continuing problems with race relations in this country, we could probably create a PhD program in the subject with two of the very best available instructors, just from watching this fiasco unfold.

I can't wait to see this mess develop, even though I know it will send my blood pressure through the roof. Perhaps I'll have my doctor send the bill to the Rush and Al Show.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

Role model Lindsey Lohan has been given a stern lecture by a judge who says that next time she screws up she's really, no kidding going to jail; a boy who was feared to have been carried away by a runaway helium balloon may have been set up for publicity by his father; dozens of people have been killed in two days of terror attacks in Pakistan; the United States is running its biggest ($1.42 trillion) budget deficit since 1945; and Wall Street megabank Goldman Sachs, bailed out by American taxpayers just a year ago, is poised to deliver billions of dollars in bonuses to its employees at a time when millions of Americans are still unable to obtain credit.

Don't worry...Cartoon Saturday will kiss it and make it better.

This cartoon is so wrong, on so many levels, that I just couldn't pass it up...

Nowadays, it seems every trade is looking for some niche in the new "green" economy...

So, what's on your mind today, gents...?

I underwent a minor surgical procedure earlier this week. Of course, what constitutes minor rather depends on your perspective, doesn't it...?

This cartoon is clearly talking about life in Washington, DC...except that we call those things Republicans and Democrats...

And finally, in case you were wondering about the surging level of stupidity evident in politics nowadays, here's an explanation...

Stupid is a condition, ignorance is a choice. I couldn't have put it better myself.

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


Yucky Friday

Most of the time, I'm really "up" on Fridays, for all the usual reasons: end of the working week, start of the weekend, dance party tonight, and so on. Today, however, I am dubbing "Yucky Friday," for several reasons...

First, the weather. My definition of miserable weather involves low temperatures, wind, and cold, bitter rain. All of the above have come together here in Northern Virginia since yesterday, and although the 10:00 weather forecast on TV last night said the rain had all moved on to the east, I can tell you that it's still knocking on the doors and windows, waiting to escort me up to the bus stop in another hour. Ugh.

Then, there's my involuntary Halloween mask.

Yesterday, I went in for some minor outpatient surgery to have a small spot removed from my face. The first doctor said she thought she'd gotten the entire thing when she did the biopsy, and just wanted the second doctor to take out a bit more to be sure.


I am now the proud owner of a Frankenstein-quality, 2.5-inch scar running along my hairline next to my left eye, which normally Paul-Newman-blue orb is gradually growing into a first-class shiner. And, as if I needed another downside to this, the location of the stitched-up incision and the thickness of the ugly surgical glue covering it make it impossible to wear my glasses for a few days. This will be okay for reading, but things at a distance (more than about two feet) are going to be pretty fuzzy.

I think I'll explain the black eye by telling everyone that Agnes hit me. They'll probably believe it. And if the scar and the swelling stay around long enough, I'll be able to save money on a Halloween mask this year.

You've gotta look at the bright side.

That's all for now...I need to spend some quality time sulking. Cartoon Saturday is just 24 hours here.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Doing Things for the Right Reasons

Our local Metro transit system has taken its lumps this year, with several serious accidents (including the terrible train crash earlier this summer in which nine people were killed), pedestrians being run over by buses, a bus operator fired for kidnapping a passenger, suicides who jumped in front of oncoming trains, and the generally spotty service to which we've all become accustomed.

According to this article in yesterday's Washington Post, Metrobus drivers are taking action to improve safety: they are going to operate strictly "by the book," following every safety regulation to a tee. The article quotes a letter written by the head of the local transit workers union to union members in which she says, "Now is the time for us to protect ourselves and our jobs. . . . Don't give Metro any reason to write us up, suspend us, or fire us anymore!!!!"

I'm puzzled by this. Does it mean that adhering to proper procedures to protect bus drivers' jobs is more important than adhering to proper procedures because it keeps everyone safe?

The article goes on to state that, "Operators said they plan to observe posted speed limits" and that "Operators will be following posted speed limits in all jurisdictions."

Again, I find myself puzzled. I could have sworn that speed limits were ... well ... intended to limit speeds to safe levels on streets. Does this mean that bus operators have been encouraged to drive at unsafe speeds? Might this possibly have something to do with this year's dismal safety record?

It gets worse. Reading on in the article, we find that strict adherence to rules means that "...buses won't leave garages if there are safety-related defects, such as horns, turn signals or windshield wipers that don't work;" and that, "In anticipation of the union campaign, mechanics were working overtime early Tuesday to fix broken horns on buses at the Northern garage..."

So, is this what it takes to get Metro and the transit workers' union to take safety seriously? Mechanics are working overtime (at overtime pay rates, no doubt) to fix safety problems because the union has decided to work to the rules? Would we still be riding unsafe buses if the union hadn't been concerned about "giv(ing) Metro any reason to write us up, suspend us, or fire us anymore"? When would these safety problems have been repaired during normal work hours?

In fairness to Metro, I realize that the terrible traffic conditions in this area make it difficult to adhere to published schedules, and I'm sure that the temptation to drive too fast in order to make up schedule timing is always there. But is driving at unsafe speeds a standard policy that is only now being reconsidered?

I'm glad Metro is doing something to improve its safety record. But I'm greatly offended by the apparent cause of the union's sudden focus on safety - protection of jobs - as reflected in its letter to its members. Yes, it's tough to lose ones job, particularly in this economy. But if you're losing your job because you drive unsafely, I have no sympathy. And if you are a Metro system manager who is directing drivers and train operators to operate unsafe vehicles in an unsafe manner, perhaps you need to lose your job, too.

Prices go up, service goes down, and the people dealing with the riding public don't seem to give a rat's rear end about customer service. It would be nice if there were a safe and reliable alternative to Metro, but the only alternatives for many of us are:

1. Drive yourself to work every day, contributing to the traffic gridlock; or,

2. Move to a new residence across the street from where you work.

Neither of which is practical for most of us.

So, Metro bus and train operators: I expect you to operate safe vehicles in a safe manner. Metro system managers: I expect you to place the safety of your operators and riders first.

Is this too much to ask?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I'm a Senior Citizen (Depending on Who You Ask)!

In about three weeks, the age fairy will wave her wand again, and I'll be 58 years old. I can remember a time when I thought nobody was that, at work, it inspires no small amount of horror to realize that I'm older than many generals and senior NCOs (one of my old college ROTC friends who graduated a year behind me is now a four-star general, for pity's sake). I just keep telling myself that, even though I already qualify for the senior citizen discount at many places, when compared to Agnes's father (90) and my own father (87), I'm not really that ancient.

And I can face getting older, particularly when I think about the alternative. And so, here is my look at the advantages of being a "senior citizen"...

I’m the life of the party, even if it lasts until 8PM.

I’m very good at opening child-proof caps with a hammer

I’m usually ready to go home before I get where I’m going.

I’m good on a trip for at least an hour without my aspirin, Beano, antacid, etc.

I’m the first one to find the bathroom wherever I go.

I’m awake many hours before my body allows me to get up.

I’m smiling all the time because I can’t hear a word you’re saying.

I’m very good at telling stories…over and over and over.

I’m aware that other people’s grandchildren aren’t as bright as mine.

I’m not grouchy, I just don’t like traffic, waiting, crowds, children, and politicians. Especially politicians.

I’m positive I did housework correctly before my Agnes retired.

I’m sure everything I can’t find is in a secure place.

I’m wrinkled, saggy and lumpy…and that’s just my left leg.

I’m having trouble remembering simple words like…

I’m spending more time with my pillows than with my wife.

I realize that aging isn’t for sissies.

I’m anti everything now. Anti-fat, anti-smoke, anti-noise, anti-inflammatory, etc.

I’m walking more (to the bathroom) and enjoying it less.

They seem to be making adults younger these days.

If you’re as old as you feel, how could you still be alive at 150?

I support many movements now…by eating bran, prunes and raisins.

I’m a walking store room of facts…I just can't seem to find the store room.

I’m a senior citizen and I think I’m having the time of my life!

Yee, hah!

Have a good day, and lots more of them. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - did I mention the part about not liking politicians?


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Top- and Bottom-Paying Jobs

There's an interesting article this morning on Top-Paying Jobs. It lists, by salary, the top 10 high-paying jobs in today's economy, and the list is interesting.

You may (or may not) be surprised to know - given the atmospherics of the ongoing national spasm about health care - that the top four jobs on the list are all in the medical profession: Anesthesiologist (median salary $292,000); Obstetrician/Gynecologist (median salary $222,000); Psychiatrist (median salary $177,000); and Nurse Anesthetist (median salary $157,000). Attorneys/lawyers - specifically, those who handle the huge corporate accounts and major litigation cases - come in at ninth place, with a median salary of $115,000 (and you could argue that they are part of the medical profession as well, based on their role in giant malpractice suits).

Now, I do not begrudge doctors and nurses the large salaries they earn. They spend many very expensive years learning arcane arts and sciences that enable them to keep the rest of us healthy, start their careers many hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. We willingly place our lives in their hands, trusting in their mastery of the skills they have learned. There are, of course, poor doctors just as there are venal, bottom-dwelling lawyers, but - all things considered - I'll trust a doctor over a lawyer.

On the other hand, the Bureau of Labor Statistics can provide you the "top" ten low-paying jobs. According to this article from January of this year, of the top ten low-paying jobs, seven (including the bottom six) are in the food-service industry. "Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food Workers" fare the worst, with a median salary of $15,930; at the high end (relatively speaking) are "Waiters and Waitresses," at $17,190. The only non-food service industry jobs in the bottom ten are "Gaming Dealers" and "Shampooers" (in seventh and eighth place); "Ushers, Lobby Attendants, and Ticket Takers" edge out the waiters and waitresses, earning a median salary of $17,500 to take the tenth spot from the bottom.


I guess what this explains why the people at the bottom have a hard time affording the services of those at the top. Food for thought.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, October 12, 2009

The Hidden Price of Progress

One of the things I look back on with nostalgia is having my purchases rung up by a cashier on an old-fashioned cash register. You know, the ones that weighed 1700 pounds and had a marble writing surface, fancy brass decorations, and little numbered signs that popped up in the window when the keys were pushed, and which made a loud and satisfying ka-ching! when the sale was verified by pulling a lever or pushing the "Sale" button. One like this, perhaps...

That was back when you got a bit of a show for your money, as opposed to just a bunch of beeps and squeaks as bored cashiers draw your purchase across a laser window, and rows of lighted, inflated numbers march across a cold, blue screen. There's no adventure and entertainment value in checking out any more.

Or is there?

My beloved Agnes is a wonderful lady, but is suspicious by nature. Her going-in assumption when dealing with stores and salespeople of all sorts is that they are going to try to cheat her somehow, and she must be ever-vigilant to prevent this. One example is our typical trip to the Costco warehouse store, where we typically buy a large cartload of items. Each individual item may be low-priced, but in the aggregate, the cart will usually total out to something approaching the GNP of a typical third-world country. Agnes is usually convinced that an error has been made by the cashier, and will carefully review the receipt line-by-line, trying to translate the truncated description of each item (what's a LG BX HND GRNDS?) before muttering to herself that it's usually correct.

Except when it isn't.

Yesterday, we visited a local store. I had run out of my favorite vanilla syrup, and Agnes picked up a small bag of chocolate and a bag of chips. The cashier dragged each item across the laser window, the system beeped accusingly, and a total sale of $14.27 magically appeared in glowing yellow numbers on the screen. While I paid the bill, Agnes disappeared back into the store, reappearing a few minutes later to tell me that the chocolate - which had rung up at $4.49 - was posted on the shelf at $3.99. She wanted to confront the cashier and demand the extra 50 cents back, but I was tired of shopping and in a hurry to move on, and so we did.

Agnes believes (and I tend to agree) that stores nowadays probably make a modest killing on the difference between the price marked on the store shelves and the price carried in the computer that the laser scanner matches with the product. After all, you almost never see a price tag actually stuck on an item any more, particularly in a big see the price on the shelf tag, but the item itself usually only has a bar code...

If you have a cart full of things that the cashier is whipping across the scanner at the speed of light, and if you don't remember the shelf-indicated price of each item, you may be overcharged without realizing it.

Agnes has accumulated a store of anecdotal evidence to support her contention that stores are gouging us on this difference. She notes 5-6 recent incidents at various stores in which she has caught items scanning at prices in excess of their labeled cost...usually by a small amount (25-50 cents) which she interprets as the threshold below which the stores probably figure a customer won't think it's worth the time and trouble to come back and complain.

Being one who will generally give the benefit of the doubt, I tend to interpret this phenomenon a little less Machiavellianly (new word alert, Scholastic Scribe!) than Agnes does. I imagine that it's fairly easy to have things slip through the cracks between programming the sales computer and coordinating those prices with the labels on the shelves. Nevertheless, the economy being what it is, I wouldn't put it past some unscrupulous merchants to use this as an underhanded scheme to rip off unwary customers.

Things used to be a lot easier, for the customer, anyhow. When the cashier had to punch several keys to raise flags in a cash register window ($2.49 = $2.00 + $0.40 + $0.09), then push a separate button or crank a lever to "ring up" each sale (we still say that, even though cash registers no longer give that loud and satisfying ka-ching! as the sale is registered), we had time to see what we were being charged, and to compare the price stuck or written on the item with the amount shown on the register.

So, what do you think? Are these innocent errors, or are stores using technology and psychology to rip us off for small amounts they think we'll ignore?

Inquiring minds want to know.

And this inquiring mind wants to go and enjoy the last day of the three-day weekend (for Federal employees and contractors, anyhow) before heading back to the old grindstone. There are leaves to be raked, summer items to be stored, fall and winter items to be brought from storage, and many more honey-do's to be tackled.

Or, if I'm lucky, avoided.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Search for "Truth" and Beauty

Yesterday morning while reading the Washington Post, I noticed this article: Limbaugh to Be Pageant Judge.

Yes, dear readers, someone has finally found a use for odious blowhard Rush Limbaugh - he will be one of the seven judges of the 2010 Miss America Pageant.

This got me to thinking about what changes we might expect in the Miss America Pageant judging process with Rush Limbaugh as a judge...

1. Only right-handed girls have a chance of winning. Lefties may as well forget it.

2. The first round of competition will involve providing proof of voter registration. Only registered Republicans need apply.

3. The only acceptable colors for evening gowns and swimsuits will be red, white, and blue. All must be used together.

4. Extra points provided in the interview round for denouncing "liberals" in general, with bonus points for excoriating specific "liberal" concepts or individual Democrats.

5. The official Miss America tiara will feature dittoes in its design.

Rush Limbaugh as a Miss America judge. Oh, least the competition is being held in Las Vegas, where all the extra hot air won't be noticed.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - A bonus quotation from Jean Kerr: "I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That's deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?"


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

President Obama has received the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, despite having been in office only two weeks when the nominations closed; a soccer mom who made national headlines last year as the mother who carried a loaded, holstered handgun to her 5-year-old daughter's soccer game has been shot dead during a live webcam chat; 11 UN military personnel have been killed in a plane crash in Haiti; Somali pirates accidentally attacked a French warship this past Wednesday, and instead of surrendering as expected, the French captured five incompetent pirates; and the International Olympic Committee has voted to add golf (?) as an Olympic sport in 2016.

Aren't you glad you have Cartoon Saturday to help you make sense of it all?

With all the online dangers we face from hackers, crackers, cyber thieves, and other such digital lice, we sometimes forget the simple things we can do to protect ourselves when online...

Two years have passed, and Agnes and I can upgrade our current cell phones to newer, spiffier digital devices. Considering that I use my cell phone almost exclusively to - gasp! - make phone calls, I find myself lost with spiraling numbers of applications that will let my phone do anything but mix me a martini. And that's coming, no doubt. Life was easier, once...

And those #%@! telemarketers can reach you everywhere...

Two takes on heroes and sidekicks...

And, finally, did you know that the area where Washington, DC, now stands was once a swamp? Well, you can argue that it still is, but for different reasons. How did things look on Capitol Hill way back when...?

Oh, about a bonus cartoon this week? I just happen to have another "B.C." cartoon on tap, and might as well use it...

It looks like it's going to be a nice autumn weekend here in Northern Virginia...hopefully it will be so where you are, too. Of course, for Amanda in Brisbane, I think it's now Spring...but that's her problem.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Smart Places, Dumb Places, and Potential Damage

This past Tuesday I published a post titled "Stupid Is As Stupid Does," which dealt with the abysmally stupid people of which we seem to have an excess lately. Then yesterday, Mike came up with his lists of the ten "brainiest" and the ten "least brainy," states in the United States, and the top ten "most literate" cities. Oddly enough, Washington DC (not exactly a state, really) showed up on both the "brainiest" list (at number 1, no less), and on the "most literate" list at number 3.

I find this puzzling.

It's not that there aren't a lot of smart people in's just that, for some reason, their brains seem to switch off when they go to work. A casual look at Congress and the DC city government provides ample proof. And it's not that they're not literate - ride the metro trains or buses into the city every morning and everyone is reading something, even if it's Dan Brown's new potboiler.

Why do I bring all this up? Simply so I could use this great quote from economist and commentator Thomas Sowell that the Eminence Griese passed to me the other day:

"There is only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs."

I am sorry to be able to thus validate Mike's list.

At least we can be sure we have the best government money can buy. And most of our Congressmen (and women) are ethical - once bought, they stay bought. Usually.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Election Blues

On November 3, voters here in The Old Dominion (that's Virginia, to those of you unfamiliar with the nickname) will go to the polls to elect a new governor, among other officials. It seems like the campaign has been going on forever, and at this point, I don't really care who wins. Well, I do, but I'm just anxious for the campaign to be over, because it's making me sick. Officially, I am sick of the following:

1. Robo-Calls. Those annoying, automated calls that we receive at least two or three times a day, usually at inconvenient times and more frequently as the election approaches. Here's a message to the morons who program those calls: leave my number off your list. I don't care about your call. If you don't think enough of me to have a live person call to represent your candidate and answer my questions, don't waste my time.

2. Attack Ads. Yes, I know that "research" shows they work. Unfortunately, your "researchers" never asked my opinion. Here's a message to the morons who develop these ads: cut it out. I don't care how bad you think the other guy is...I want to know why you think I should vote for your guy (okay, or lady). Tell me why your guy is the best person to be governor. Telling me that the opponent is a cross-dressing closet sadist who makes economic decisions by examining goat entrails by moonlight doesn't help me know how you make decisions, what decisions you would make, and how you propose to pay for it all.

3. Campaign Signs. There isn't a square foot of grassy median or other public space that isn't full of "Vote for ____" signs. I don't vote for signs. I vote for people. Don't spend your money on printing enough signs to paper every wall and line every street in the commonwealth six times over...spend it on the gas to drive your lazy backside to local neighborhoods where we can ask you questions and look you in the eye to decide if you're worth taking seriously.

4. Clueless Campaign Workers. A month or two ago, a nice young lady came to my front door to flack for one of the candidates for local delegate. Her message was "Vote for _____." That was her entire message. She was able to recite the script about what her candidate was promising, but her knowledge about him was script-deep...she couldn't answer a single substantive question about any of his positions, or how he would fund the many things he was promising. Thanks for stopping by. You're cute and earnest. Now get off my porch and come back when you have a clue.

There are other things that are pissing me off about the election, but these are the Big Four. At this point, I honestly don't know who I prefer for governor. Both candidates are acting like buffoons, hammering at each other without clarifying their own positions. And I don't vote party lines, so that doesn't help...I think both the hard-core Republicans and the deep-dipped Democrats have their heads equally far up their backsides and are unworthy (in general) of being taken seriously. Read The Death of Conservatism by Sam Tanenhaus for a devastating indictment of how the Republican Party has lost its appeal to principled conservatives, and listen to almost anything said by Nancy Pelosi to understand why principled liberals are abandoning the Democratic Party. The sad fact is that no one speaks for concerned, fiscally conservative, socially liberal people like me.

I'll vote on November 3rd. I can't not do it. But, as all too often over the last decade, I'll do it while holding my nose.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Balance Between Immediate and Delayed Gratification

There are two interesting by-products of the collapse of the economy and the outrageous rates and fees on credit cards: the increasing use of debit cards, and the return of my old friend layaway.

Debit cards, for those of you outside the US who may not be aware of the concept, are similar to credit cards, but take (debit) the money directly from your checking or savings account rather than loaning it to you from the bank at interest (like a credit card). The beauty of a debit card is that it doesn't let you spend more than you have, unless you tie it to some form of bank-provided overdraft protection.

Layaway is a throwback to an older time when stores would let you purchase items for a percentage of the total and a small processing fee. The store would then hold the items for a specified period of time, during which you would make regular payments until the total was paid off, at which time you received your items free and clear. My parents made great use of layaway at Christmas time, and I used it extensively during my younger (and poorer) years.

Debit cards and layaway represent responsible approaches to economic behavior. They help balance our love of instant gratification (the debit card lets you buy something now, as long as you have enough money) with our need to squeeze the most out of limited income. Some people look down their noses at layaway programs, thinking that only poor people use it. This is what I call stupid. As layaway reaches more and more stores, I will probably use it quite a bit. If you need something, but don't need it right away, it makes sense to buy it over time without the budgetary stress of high credit card interest rates and fees.

I tend to use the debit card almost exclusively for ordinary purchases. I seldom write checks any more...I pay bills online, and don't carry much cash around. It just makes things easier, plus I have an ongoing record of what I'm spending, and where, that I can check every day. By tracking expenses three ways - the pen-and-ink check register, the Quicken spreadsheet, and the bank's online site - I can watch my income and outgo struggle with each other and keep a close eye on my balances.

Managing one's money from day to day has come a long way since the days of a cash economy, passbook savings, and the family checkbook. It's easier to give in to immediate gratification with credit cards, but debit cards allow one to be more responsible, and good old layaway lets us stretch income while savoring the wait for things. My mother used to tell us that good things were worth waiting for - a gentle way of letting us know that we were never going to get all he things we wanted, at least not right away. Layaway teaches budgeting and patience.

I wonder if we could run state and federal governments on layaway?

No, it would never work. Big businesses and lobbies don't want their Congressmen sitting on a layaway shelf, they want to own them right now.

Instant gratification works if you have enough money.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Now, I know I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier (I thought I'd say that before Mike did), but I like to think that there are reasonable limits to the amount of stupidity even I can generate on a daily basis.

Consider the geniuses who are the focus of this story reported on CNN this morning: "Man Mauled by Tiger After Scaling Calgary Zoo Fences." According to the story, two mental giants entered the zoo by scaling an eight-foot fence topped with barbed wire, then ended up at the tiger cage, where they scaled yet another fence designed to prevent ... well ... exactly what happened.

Maybe it's just me, but I always thought that really high fences topped with barbed wire were someone's way of helping me avoid really bad juju.

There were probably signs there, too. Like...


Or even...

Yes, folks, signs and fences are usually put up for a reason. Generally speaking, that reason involves protecting us from our own stupidity. That's why we need other signs like ...

And ...
Signs and fences. They're there for a reason. Of course, if it weren't for people like Joe Schmuck who tried to get into the tiger cage, we wouldn't have the Darwin Awards. I guess you've gotta take the good with the bad.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, October 05, 2009

40th Reunion

The good news is that Agnes and I are home from our visit to Pittsburgh and the 40th anniversary reunion of the North Allegheny High School class of 1969. We got a chance to visit with my Father and to get re-acquainted with a lot of old (and new) friends I hadn't seen since - in some cases - 1969. I'd missed the 10 and 20 year reunions by being overseas, and some of my old friends didn't make it to the 30-year bash back in 1999, so this one was a real treat, with about 150 members of our graduating class of around 580 in attendance. The only problem was that I spent so much time with some people that I missed the chance to see many others. Here's a picture of the group that met for an impromptu pre-reunion party on Saturday evening...

We had a grand time, and Agnes turned out to be a big hit with everyone. Our only regret was that none of us had thought to bring the lens filters for our cameras that correct for hair color, wrinkles, and other gifts of time and gravity.

But we're back now and the bad news is that, in true Bilbo fashion, I have come down with a terrible cold. The good news is that it doesn't seem to be flu...the bad news is that I still feel like something the cat dragged in, then dragged back out again after getting a look at it in the light. Bummer. Happily, I have enough sick days saved up to pull myself back together again.

So that's all for this morning. If I feel better later on, I may do another post to get back into my grouchy groove, but for now, I'm going back to bed.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Cartoon Sat...uh...Sunday

Wildfires are burning again in California; a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center shows that about 47% of Americans pay no income tax (!); Rio de Janeiro beat out Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics; and eight American soldiers have been killed in an attack on their outpost in Afghanistan.

Better late than never, Cartoon Saturday is here to help you deal with unpleasant reality.

John ought to be able to appreciate this one...

It seems like a good time to take another look at what's left of the economy. The experts say everything is improving, but what do they know? This one about summarizes our retirement portfolio...

And this one seems to summarize the Congressional approach to budgeting...

Economic stimulus is not, as you might believe, a new concept...

And in case you were wondering what data the economic pundits mull over (and how they do it) as they continue to screw up the economy, here's an inside look...

And finally, I've noticed a marked rise in the number of inept street musicians trying to collect contributions around the local metro stops. Some aren't bad, but most are ... well ... awful. This guy has a good concept...

The 40th reunion of my high school graduating class took place yesterday evening, and we all had a ball. It's interesting to see how people change over time, and how the things that may once have divided you don't seem quite so important any more. I've posted an album of reunion photos on my Facebook page where those of you who are interested (and have access) can see the March of the Baby Boomers. It was a great time.

But now the weekend is over and a new week beckons. Oh, well...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.