Monday, May 31, 2010

Who Stole My Weekend?

All of a sudden, it's Monday. And Saturday and Sunday are a blur.

That used to happen more often when I was in college, and weekends were filled with ... well ... all the things college students fill up weekends with. Now, though, we fill up holiday weekends with things like family reunions and travel and such.

I have spent the last two days being run ragged by all five grandchildren, plus my sister's kids. I'm pooped out. I have to go back to work just to relax.

Perhaps you would like to have an idea of how I spent the last two days. And perhaps you wouldn't. But since it's my blog, we'll do it my way. Here are a few pictures of a busy weekend with part of the family...

Joe rows dad, brother Noah, and grandpa down the ... lawn ... in Uncle Ed's canoe. The river was just a bit too far...

All the kids gang up on poor cousin Eddie in the Apocalyptic Noodlefight...

Great Grandpa gets a chance to meet his newest great-grandchild, Elise. She didn't seem too sure about the whole thing, but Great Grandpa enjoyed it...

You have to have a group picture at any family gathering. If you're one of my Facebook friends, you've seen this one already...Agnes and I with son Jason, daughter Yasmin, daughter-in-law Tabitha, all five grandchildren, plus niece Elena, nephew Eddie, and Great Grandpa. And Leya, true to form, is giving her Opa an earful. Is this a great family or what?

The motel where we always stay in Pittsburgh has a nice pool, and over the course of the weekend, we made liberal use of it. Leya tried out her new swim vest and water wings, and discovered that this swimming thing is really fun...

On Sunday, we took the kids to the Pittsburgh Zoo, which is much nicer than the nasty, run-down old zoo we had when I was growing up there (in Pittsburgh, I mean, not at the zoo, Mike). I won't bore you with all the wildlife pictures, but I did like this one...Leya, Elena, and Marcy hangin' out at lunch...


We had a great time. In just three weeks, Agnes and I will go to Ohio to watch Marcy in her annual dance recital...this year, she will be appearing in every act AND the finale, so it should be a great show. I'll blog about that later.

Anyhow, sorry about missing Cartoon Saturday this past weekend, but - as you can see - I was a little busy. And I did warn you on Friday, after all. I'll make it up to you this coming Saturday.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Accounting for Time

When I retired from the Air Force and entered corporate America, I had to learn a hard lesson: I was still expected to be available to work whenever, wherever, but now I had to account for every hour I spent doing things on the job. The vehicle by which this is accomplished is called a time sheet, and each company uses a series of official alphanumeric codes to show what work is being accomplished and which contract has to pay for it. For example, ordinary work might have the code A9094672, while time spent sick might be indicated as S4291306. Supposedly, it all means something to the auditors.

But times change, and there are always more things we need to do at the office. This leads, of course, to a need for new codes to explain to the Powers That Be what it is we're doing. Here are just a few of the new standardized time codes being adopted in Corporate America...

Code - Explanation
5316 - Useless Meeting
5317 - Obstructing Communications at Meeting
5318 - Trying to Sound Knowledgeable While in a Meeting
5319 - Waiting for Break
5320 - Waiting for Lunch
5321 - Waiting for End of Day
5322 - Vicious Verbal Attacks Directed at Coworker
5323 - Vicious Verbal Attacks Directed at Coworker While Coworker is Not Present
5393 - Covering for Incompetence of Coworker Friend
5394 - Blaming Incompetence of Coworker Who is Not a Friend
5400 - Trying to Explain Concept to Coworker Who is Not Interested in Learning
5401 - Trying to Explain Concept to Coworker Who is Stupid
5402 - Trying to Explain Concept to Coworker Who Hates You
5481 - Buying Snack
5482 - Eating Snack
5500 - Filling Out Timesheet
5501 - Inventing Timesheet Entries
5502 - Waiting for Something to Happen
5503 - Scratching Yourself
5504 - Sleeping
5510 - Feeling Bored
5600 - Complaining About Lousy Job
5601 - Complaining About Low Pay
5602 - Complaining About Long Hours
5603 - Complaining About Coworker (See Codes 5322 & 5323)
5604 - Complaining About Boss
5605 - Complaining About Personal Problems
5640 - Miscellaneous Unproductive Complaining
5701 - Not Actually Present At Job
5702 - Suffering From Eight-Hour Flu
6102 - Ordering Out
6103 - Waiting for Food Delivery to Arrive
6104 - Taking It Easy While Digesting Food
6200 - Using Company Resources for Personal Profit
6201 - Stealing Company Goods
6202 - Making Excuses After Accidentally Destroying Company Files
6203 - Using Company Phone to Make Long-Distance Personal Calls
6204 - Using Company Phone to Make Long-Distance Personal Calls to Sell Stolen Company Goods
6205 - Hiding from Boss
6206 - Gossip
6207 - Planning a Social Event (e.g. vacation, wedding, etc.)
6210 - Feeling Sorry For Yourself
6211 - Updating Resume
6212 - Faxing Resume to Another Employer/Headhunter
6213 - Out of Office on Interview
6221 - Pretending to Work While Boss Is Watching
6222 - Pretending to Enjoy Your Job
6223 - Pretending You Like Coworker
6224 - Pretending You Like Important People When in Reality They are Jerks
6238 - Miscellaneous Unproductive Fantasizing
6350 - Playing Pranks on the New Guy/Girl
6601 - Running your own Business on Company Time (See Code 6603)
6602 - Complaining
6603 - Writing a Book on Company Time
6611 - Staring Into Space
6612 - Staring At Computer Screen
6615 - Desk Yoga
7281 - Extended Visit to the Bathroom (over 10 minutes)
7400 - Talking With Divorce Lawyer on Phone
7401 - Talking With Plumber on Phone
7402 - Talking With Dentist on Phone
7403 - Talking With Doctor on Phone
7404 - Talking With Masseuse on Phone
7405 - Talking With House Painter on Phone
7406 - Talking With Personal Therapist on Phone
7419 - Talking With Miscellaneous Paid Professionals on Phone
7931 - Asking Coworker to Aid You in an Illicit Activity
8000 - General Pontification
8001 - Political Pontification
8002 - Religious Pontification
8102 - Liquid Lunch
8200 - Web Surfing (General)
8201 - Surfing Vacation Sites on the Internet
8202 - Surfing Porn Sites on the Internet
8203 - Surfing Humor Sites on the Internet
8204 - Reading e-mail
8205 - Distributing humorous e-mails

Feel free to use these as needed. Don't thank's all part of the service.

Have a good day (that would be Code 9000). More thoughts tomorrow (Code 9100 = writing more thoughts; Code 9101 = reading more thoughts).


P.S. - Updates may be late or missing for the next few days while Agnes and I travel to Pittsburgh for our annual Memorial Day mini-family reunion. Five grandchildren all in one place trumps writing the blog. Sorry, but that's just how it is.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

How Are We Doing?

Through a 23-year military career and another 14 years in corporate America, I've seen just about every new management fad. I've survived "Total Quality Management," "Zero Defects," "Management by Objectives," "Do This or Get Fired," and everything in between. Everybody has an idea about how to improve management, and some of those are organized enough to turn their ideas into a system - complete with books, charts, CDs and DVDs, and facilitated seminars. Those smart people make a killing, their systems are implemented by unsuspecting companies with much hoo-hah ... and in a few years, we move on to the next fad.

Everybody is getting in on the management improvement act. To prove it, here is a copy of God's Quality Management Survey. Answer well. Look what happened to the Egyptians...

God's Quality Management Questionnaire

God would like to thank you for your belief and patronage. In order to better serve your needs, He asks that you take a few moments to answer the following questions. Please keep in mind that your responses will be kept completely confidential, and that you need not disclose your name or address unless you prefer a direct response to comments or suggestions.

1. How did you find out about God?

[ ] Newspaper
[ ] Television
[ ] Bible
[ ] Torah
[ ] Koran
[ ] Other Book
[ ] Divine Inspiration
[ ] Near Death Experience
[ ] Burning Bush
[ ] Strange Fellow Shouting on a Street Corner
[ ] Other (specify): ________________

2. To which deity do you generally appeal:

[ ] God
[ ] Allah
[ ] Yahweh
[ ] Great Spirit
[ ] Other
[ ] No opinion

3. Are you currently using any other source of inspiration in addition to God? Please check all that apply.

[ ] Tarot
[ ] Lottery
[ ] Horoscope
[ ] Television (not including Oprah)
[ ] Oprah
[ ] Fortune cookies
[ ] Self-help books
[ ] Sex
[ ] Biorhythms
[ ] Alcohol or drugs
[ ] Mantra Chanting
[ ] Insurance policies
[ ] Other: __________________
[ ] None

4. God employs a limited degree of Divine Intervention to preserve the balanced level of felt presence and blind faith. Which would you prefer (check one)?

[ ] More Divine Intervention
[ ] Less Divine Intervention
[ ] Current level of Divine Intervention is just right
[ ] Don't know

5. God also attempts to maintain a balanced level of disasters and miracles. Please rate on a scale of 1 - 5 his handling of the following (1=unsatisfactory, 5=excellent):

Disasters (flood, famine, earthquake, war) 1 2 3 4 5
Miracles (rescues, spontaneous remission of disease, sports upsets) 1 2 3 4 5

6. Do you have any additional comments or suggestions for improving the quality of God's services?

Be sure to fill out your questionnaire and return it promptly. The Almighty thanks you for your interest.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Government, Boo! Services, Yay!

The unfolding ecological disaster of the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has, if nothing else, clearly demonstrated the foolishness of those who demand smaller, less intrusive, and cheaper government, yet also demand all the things that larger government provides.

Every day the oil spill goes on, we hear people like Louisiana's conservative Republican governor Bobby Jindal thunder to the cameras, asking why isn't the federal government doing more to help us?

So, let me see if I have this right...

Big, expensive, and intrusive government is bad. Except when you need its help.

We see the same thing each time a crowd of older Tea Party activists demand lower taxes and an end to expensive government programs ... except for Social Security and Medicare, of course.

We saw it when the terrifying disaster of Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. Everybody wanted Federal assistance, largely because no responsible planning and organization had been done at the state level ... but God forbid we should have to pay the taxes that pay for that assistance.

We can't have it both ways.

Bloated and inefficient government is indeed bad, and we Americans have a long-standing distrust of distant governments taxing, spending, and ruling by fiat without input from the citizens (just ask King George III how that worked out). The problem is that it's easy to rail about the evils of big government as long as we don't need the things big government provides, and it's hard to define just how big and expensive a national government needs to be. What are the legitimate functions of the federal government as opposed to state government? And what is an appropriate level of taxation to impose on the citizens to pay for it?

Unfortunately, we're not having that discussion. Instead, we're hearing nothing but overheated rhetoric that lost contact with social and economic reality. We're hearing populist claptrap that gets politicians elected, but doesn't solve problems.

So what do you think? If you want all the things a big, paternalistic government provides, but want lower taxes, tell me how you propose to pay for it. And don't tell me that you'll pay for it by "eliminating fraud and waste" - show me specifically what fraud and waste you propose to eliminate.

Because letting China finance your government is not a good thing.

Think before you demonstrate. Be realistic. Shouting slogans is easy ... coming up with reasonable, affordable programs is hard.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

So, What Do You Read?

One of the problems we have in this country today is that not enough people read.

Well, let me rephrase that. One of the problems we have in this country today is that not enough people read things other than People magazine or the latest vampire novel.

In particular, not enough people read newspapers, which are slowly dying out as people get their news in thirty-second sound bites on television or online. That's unfortunate, because the newspapers, for all their faults and editorial slants, at least provide enough column space to give you more detail and information than a typical television news spot.

We still have some newspapers, some of them with a national - and even international - readership. But who reads which newspapers? Here's a guide to the sorts of people who read the major newspapers...

The Wall Street Journal
is read by people who run the country.

The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.

The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country and who are very good at crossword puzzles.

USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but can't understand The New York Times and love pie charts.

The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country if they could find the time and didn't have to leave Southern California to do it.

The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country.

The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't sure who's running the country and don't care so long as they get a seat on the train.

The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country as long as they do something scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.

The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country, but want baseball scores.

The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure if there is a country or if anyone is running it, but they oppose everything that they stand for.

The International Herald Tribune is read by people who don't have time to read too many other papers while they move from country to country to avoid extradition.

The National Enquirer is read by people in line at the grocery store.

Local papers are read by people who have recently caught a fish and need something in which to wrap it.

So, what do you read? And why?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Wii, Wii, Wii All the Way Home...

Oui, we have a Wii.

For those of you who don't know what a Wii is, it's something which allows you to waste vast amounts of time and energy in an alternate reality.

Kind of like being a Tea Party person, but you can turn it off with the push of a button.

But anyhow...

Our son and our daughter each have Wiis, and we decided we (Wii?) ought to have one, too. After all, exercising with an oddly-featured digital copy of a personal trainer is so much nicer than doing the same exercises at the gym, where we have to endure the sideways glances and giggles of the buff, snickering gym rats as we try desperately to touch toes we haven't even seen for years.

The Wii is easy to install, assuming you have:

a. Access to an electrical engineer; and,

b. A space-age television with faster-than-light drive, a plagrastic variognometer calibrated in versts per angstrom per fortnight (squared), and the correct input plugs in an accessible location. (Note: There is no such thing as an accessible location when your TV is mounted on the wall...every available input plug you need is conveniently located on the back of the set, where it's dark, full of cobwebs, you cannot see anything, and you have about 1.5 inches of space in which to work.)

Miraculously, I managed to properly install not only the Wii, but also the wireless balance board. The wireless balance board is a high-tech device designed to transmit embarrassing information about your weight and body fat index to the Wii by way of the television set. Taken as a whole, the Wii system enables you to be insulted not by a living, breathing, sweating gym rat, but by a pudgy digital copy of yourself (cleverly known as a Mii, oui?).

So, we have a Wii. And we each have a Mii. My Mii is a wee me (as Fiona might say). And my Mii mocks me. What have Wii done...or we done?

Stay tuned to find out if my Mii gradually turns sleek and svelte instead of pudgy.

Wii'll let you know.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Mom Song

I first saw this wonderful clip a few years ago, and recently one of my co-workers re-discovered it and sent me the link. This version has the lyrics as subtitles to help you follow along, because it does move pretty quickly.

For all you Moms out there, here's The Mom Song - 24 hours of a mother's life set to the music of The William Tell Overture by comedienne Anita Renfroe...

If you're a mom, you'll understand. If you're not, well, ... sit up straight, comb your hair, etc, etc.

Someday, you'll thank me.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

One hundred fifty eight people are feared dead in the crash of an airliner in India; the effects of the vast oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may be felt as far away as the Arctic; evidence appears to prove that a submarine from the happy-go-lucky paradise of North Korea torpedoed a South Korean ship last month, killing 46 sailors; actress Lindsey Lohan is in trouble again; and a priest in Brazil has been arrested and accused of maintaining an "erotic dungeon."

Boy, are you lucky you have Cartoon Saturday to take your mind off it all!

From the Ain't It the Truth Department...

I think I figured out my latest computer problem...

The housing crisis is getting really bad...

Anyone for a really awful pun...?

You can never pay too much attention to home security...

And finally, what you can find if you read the fine print of the health care reform legislation closely enough...

Enjoy the weekend. You earned it.

And there's still another week coming...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 21, 2010

More Latin

We linguists don't get much respect. After all, how many times can you grin while some witty buffoon tells you you must be a cunning linguist? But every once in a while, I'm able to generate some respect and interest with a language-oriented post. Since my post this past Monday on Useful Latin got such a great response, I figured I might as well stick with linguistic success and share some more Latin with you, in the form of this great poem I discovered today in my daily "Writers' Almanac" e-mail from Garrison Keillor (for those of you who have never studied Latin, the title means, "I Love, You Love")...

Amo, Amas
by John O'Keefe

Amo, Amas, I love a lass
As a cedar tall and slender;
Sweet cowslip's grace is her nominative case,
And she's of the feminine gender.

Rorum, Corum, sunt divorum,
Harum, Scarum divo;
Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band
Hic hoc horum genitivo.

Can I decline a Nymph divine?
Her voice as a flute is dulcis.
Her oculus bright, her manus white,
And soft, when I tacto, her pulse is.

Rorum, Corum, sunt divorum,
Harum, Scarum divo;
Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band
Hic hoc horum genitivo.

Oh, how bella my puella,
I'll kiss secula seculorum.
If I've luck, sir, she's my uxor,
O dies benedictorum.

Rorum, Corum, sunt divorum,
Harum, Scarum divo;
Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band
Hic hoc horum genitivo.

And since tempus is fugiting, it's time to go.

Have a good day. It's Friday, after all.

More thoughts here for Cartoon Saturday


P.S. - by the way, I actually am a cunning ... uh ... never mind.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

More Than You Ought to Know

One of the (many) things that drives me up the wall is cell phone conversations to which I become an unwilling party. You know what I mean ... the person next to you on the bus, or sitting a few seats away in a restaurant, or walking down a busy street who just has to have that very personal cell phone conversation right now this minute, regardless of the location and the secondary audience.

In this regard, I believe that cell phones (also known as mobiles in the UK - thanks, craziequeen! - or handies in Germany) are truly the devil's spawn. There's no more quiet, no more privacy, no more sense of the appropriateness of having a conversation the rest of the world probably ought not hear.

I wrote here long ago about the conversation I overheard in a gate area at Reagan National Airport here in Washington, in which an older man was loudly berating a distant person at his proctologist's office because he couldn't get an appointment at the time he wanted. That was way more information than any of us needed.

Yesterday, I heard a conversation that beat that one.

I was on the Metro coming home, and sitting across the aisle from me was a fellow who was obviously visiting the local area. He had a booming, stentorian voice that carried to every corner of the car, and he treated his fellow riders to an unbroken series of business and personal calls that included one call to a local hotel to make a reservation. He thoroughly quizzed the hotel representative about rates and availability of rooms, and then booked his room - including providing the full number and expiration date of his credit card to everyone in the car.

How stupid can you be? It's not bad enough that this inconsiderate buffoon forced the rest of us to listen to his conversation, but he also broadcast his credit card information to the world. Had I been of a mind to write it all down, I could have by now financed my retirement at his expense...or at least bought myself a lot of new books and DVDs. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if someone weren't already doing that - after all, no one in that car could possibly not have heard that number.

Cell phones, used properly, are a wonderful thing. But if you choose to let the rest of the world in on your conversations, don't be surprised if we take it poorly. And if you are stupid enough to expose deeply personal information to people who may not have your best interests at heart, well, you will eventually get what you deserve.

Cell phones. Please use them judiciously.

I don't need to know your proctologist or your credit card number.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Comparative Religious Beliefs

You all know how I feel about religion, so we won't beat that horse any more. Nevertheless, I'm fascinated by the idea of religion and how it can turn otherwise rational human beings into mindless fanatics willing to condemn (or even kill) those who subscribe to other belief systems. And why do we have such a wide range of religious beliefs, anyhow...some of them bizarre beyond understanding (snake-handling cults, anyone)?

As a way of sorting out the bewildering array of religious beliefs out there, I offer you - as a public service - this updated version of the classic comparison of belief systems (and, since is is an all-ages blog, I've taken the liberty of replacing the original noun. Use your imagination):

Taoism: Stuff Happens

Confucianism: Confucius said, "Stuff happens"

Calvinism: Stuff happens because you don't work hard enough

Buddhism: If stuff happens, it really isn't stuff

Seventh Day Adventist: No stuff on Saturdays

Zen: What is the sound of stuff happening?

Hedonism: There's nothing like a good stuff happening

Hinduism: This stuff happened before

Mormon: This stuff is going to happen again

Islam: If stuff happens it is the will of Allah, and you'd better not draw any pictures of it or I'll kill you.

Moonies: Only happy stuff really happens

Stoicism: This stuff is good for me

Protestantism: Let the stuff happen to someone else

Catholicism: Stuff happens because you are bad

Lutheranism: Here are 95 reasons why stuff happens

Hare Krishna: Stuff happens, rama, rama

Judaism: Why does this stuff always happen to us?

Zoroastrianism: Stuff happens half the time

Christian Science: Stuff is in your mind

Atheism: I don't believe this stuff

Agnosticism: Stuff might happen

Existentialism: What is stuff, anyway?

Rastafarianism: Let's smoke this stuff

Jehovah's Witness: Let me come in and tell you why stuff happens

Southern Baptist: You will burn in hell if you let stuff happen

Televangelism: Send in more stuff

Scientology: You must be absolutely quiet and still while stuff is happening

Don't thank's all part of my ongoing effort to help you make sense of the world around you. As if that were possible.

Have a good day. Make stuff happen. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bloggers' Happy Hour at the Goethe Institut in DC

About two weeks ago, I got an e-mail inviting me to a bloggers' open house at the Goethe Institut in Washington, DC.

I was greatly honored, for obviously an organization bearing the name of one of the towering figures of German literature had recognized the excellence and worth of my blog, and had decided to improve its image by basking in the radiance of my quasi-literary presence. Plus there was free food! And a bar with free beer and wine and juice! And other bloggers! I just had to go.

I had a great time! The event was hosted by the Goethe Institut as part of their community outreach programs, looking for ways to spread interest in German language and culture. We spent about an hour of meeting, greeting, and exchanging URLs, and then staff members Craig and Norma presented a short, interesting program about the history and activities of the Goethe Institute, where you can see German films, learn to speak German, enjoy cultural events and exhibitions, and learn more about Germany in particular and Europe in general, all in an airy, inviting location on 7th St, NW, less than a block from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station.

But the best part, of course, was the chance to meet other bloggers. We usually know each other only as words on a screen, and it's good to have an opportunity to meet the real people behind the electrons. Everyone has a story, and there were a lot of great stories last night. I owe a special head nod to these bloggers and their blogs, which I heartily encourage you to visit...

If you enjoy poetry, Greg offers his poems and thoughts at Enchilada's Blog.

If you're short on money and long on wanting things to do that don't cost an arm and a leg, check out Amy's Free in DC for great tips on where to go, what to do, and how not to pay much for it. Plus, Amy radiates infectious energy ... five minutes after meeting her, you're exhausted. But it's a good exhaustion.

I've never met a professional flamenco guitarist before, but now I've met Michael. His Flamenco Photo Diary and Blog offers wonderful insights and photos of the exotic world of flamenco. Ole!

Buggie was a delight to meet and talk with. She has two blogs: Ah Bugger ("The vapid utterings of a neurotic mind") and Television Bug ("I watch TV so you don't have to"). I have to admire this lovely taxes my limited mental capacity to keep up one blog, much less two.

And Kristin writes at Candy Sandwich ("Life in DC? Sometimes it's just like a candy sandwich: good in theory, bad in practice...sometimes, though, it's just what you want.").

I met lots of other interesting people with great blogs, but I do have to go to work today, so I'll just have to stop here for the time being. Please check out my fellow bloggers, and be sure to visit the Goethe Institute - you don't have to speak German, you just have to love learning and culture. Visit their website, then drop by and enjoy their range of interesting and educational programs.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Useful Latin

Looking for a way to make people think you're better educated than you really are? Try sprinkling a few Latin phrases into your daily speech. No, not "Latin" as in suspected of being here illegally, but "Latin" as in what the ancient Romans spoke. Of course, the Roman empire actually fell, but we're still using their language, which ought to count for something. So that you don't have to go through the flailing agony of actually learning Latin (which, trust me, can be a pain), here are some useful Latin phrases for you to use in your discourse...

"Domino vobiscum." - The pizza guy is here.

"Sharpei diem." - Seize the wrinkled dog.

"Nucleo predicus dispella conducticus." - Remove foil before microwaving.

"Nokiam interruptus." - Hold on, I'm going into a tunnel.

"Bodicus mutilatimus, unemploymi ad infinitum." - Better take the nose ring out before the job interview.

"Minutus cantorum, minutus balorum, minutus carborata descendum pantorum." - A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.

"E Pluribus Motorolis." - You just can't get away from people talking on their cell phones.

"Veni, vidi, Pesci." - I came, I saw, I moidered da bum.

"Revelare Pecunia!" - Show Me The Money!

"Sic semper tyrannus." - Your dinosaur is ill.

"No Quid Pro Quo." - I'm sorry, we're all out of quid.

"Cavaet humanus sic tofu burritus e toga." - Beware of the man with a tofu burrito in his toga.

"Nunc Tutus Exitus Computarus." - It's Now Safe To Turn Off Your Computer.

"Veni, Vidi, Vichy." - I came, I saw, I capitulated to the Germans.

"Veni, Vidi, Velcro" - I came, I saw, I stuck around.

"Et tu, pluribus unum?" - The government just stabbed me in the back.

"E pluribus septum." - Multiple nose piercings.

Next time you need to sound erudite, you'll thank me. If your idea of political activism consists of simply shouting mindless slogans, you might as well sound good doing it.

No charge!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Living in the Mainstream

It's just before 7AM on a cloudy, cool Sunday morning here in Northern Virginia. The dog has been walked, Agnes is still asleep, and the Sunday paper is waiting to be read ... so I'm just in the mood for a quick post. A minor rant, if you will.

Yesterday's op-ed page of the Washington Post carried an article by a former U.S. Secret Service agent titled Lifting the Siege on American Muslims (you can read it online under the revised title, Compassion, Prejudice, and American Muslims). The article was a quiet, well-written call for understanding rather than prejudice, and it included this line:

"U.S. leaders need to do much more to help bring American Muslims into the mainstream."


But in my humble and not-so-PC opinion, I don't believe it's the role of American leaders to bring American Muslims into the mainstream. I believe it's the job of American Muslims to bring themselves into the mainstream. Two simple things would provide a good start:

Condemning acts of murder and terror committed with an Islamic religious justification...not just to Americans who are outraged over those acts, but to other Muslims. In Arabic. If your religious beliefs tell you that it's all right to subjugate or, worse, murder those who don't believe the same way you do, your beliefs are at great variance with those of the country you expect to welcome you with open arms. How is such belief compatible with living in the mainstream of America? And how can you possibly expect those you refer to as infidels to accept you and go out of their way to accommodate you?

Getting rid of medieval and archaic notions of female modesty. Perhaps your culture of the desert or the badlands of Afghanistan or Pakistan says that a woman must be completely covered, head to foot, in the interest of modesty. It's hardly a mainstream belief in the rest of the world. Get over it. If you want to wear a headscarf, long sleeves, and pants every day, go for it. But if you expect to be part of the mainstream, lose the extravagantly see-how-modest-I-am costume.

I am sick to death of being told that it's my job to understand and accommodate Muslim beliefs and practices, while Muslims appear to have no interest in understanding or accommodating mine. If you want to be accepted as part of the American mainstream, do your part.

Otherwise, don't expect the rest of America to take you seriously.

Rant over.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A former television chef has been arrested and accused with hiring homeless people to carry out a murder-for-hire; twenty-eight wedding guests were electrocuted in India when their bus hit an overhead power line; a widespread outbreak of E. coli infections from contaminated lettuce has dealt a serious blow to the salad industry; the NRA is taking aim at proponents of gun controls in the upcoming midterm elections, in a valiant attempt to make already-dangerous streets safer by putting yet more guns out there; and a broken well in the Gulf of Mexico continues to pour tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the water every day while oil company executives blame each other for the disaster.

Cartoon Saturday can't fix all your problems, but it can give you something else to think about for a while.

One of my all-time favorite cartoons was the old Far Side panel that showed two crusty old sailors in a bar, with one pointing to his peg leg and snarling, "Well, that's a pretty good story, but let me tell you about the time I got this!" The other sailor had a sailor's cap jauntily perched on his peg head. This cartoon is a new spin on that classic ...

With the huge, smoking crater where my retirement savings used to be, retirement has become just a far-off mirage shimmering on the horizon. And not just for me ...

There's new technology, and there's old technology. The old one probably saved more energy ...

I think we've all gotten the memo ...

My computer at work has been making really odd noises for most of the last week. I've tried all the standard ways of fixing it (reboot, clear cache, blow out the dust from the inside, kick the case), but nothing has worked so far. I've even tried some nontraditional approaches ...

And if you're one of those people who sits in front of the TV all day and lets the bloviating idiots on the tube fill you with loud, unfocused anger, we have a suggestion for you ...

It's Saturday. The weather here in Northern Virginia is supposed to be nice, and there is a dog needing to be walked and bathed, hair needing to be cut, and weeds in my garden waiting to be pulled. Time to get to it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Airline Dictionary

Have you flown lately? Fun, isn't it? Between the airlines working hard to squeeze every possible cent out of you and morons putting explosives in their shoes and underwear, flying has gotten to be a pain.

But, as a public service, I'm prepared to help you understand what the airlines are doing behind your back. I have managed to acquire a copy of the official Airline Dictionary, which defines the specialized words and phrases that are used commonly by airline employees, but for which the meanings may not be obvious to outsiders. Perhaps it will help add some transparency and clarity to airline operations, and help you better cope with the rigors of modern air travel. Here we go...

Passenger - A bovine creature of widely varying intellect, usually found in pairs or small groups. Often will become vicious and violent in simple and easily rectified situations. When frightened or confused these creatures collect into a group called a "line." This "line" has no set pattern and is usually formed in inconvenient places. Passengers are of four known species: Paxus iratus, Paxus latus, Paxus inebriatus, and Paxus ignoramus.

Pre-Board – A passenger who arrives at the gate five minutes before departure.

Voluntary Oversale - A passenger who arrives at the gate as the jetway is coming off the flight.

No-Record - Any passenger booked through a travel agency.

Non-Revenue Position - Usually can be identified by the fact that these passengers are in first class and are dressed in pilot or flight attendant uniforms. Non-revenue positions are permitted to fly first class free of charge to prevent revenue passengers from being able to pay first class passenger charges.

Group - A large loud pack of passengers traveling together. The group leader, who has the tickets, usually waits in the bar until the required pre-board time of five minutes before departure, or until there are no seats left together, whichever occurs last. Reservation agents are prohibited from pre-assigning seats to groups as this may convenience them.

Sign - An airport decoration. Usually unnoticed except by small children. Its primary function is to hide the location of various areas of the airport, i.e., gate numbers, rest rooms, baggage claim, etc.

Position Closed - A sign posted at ticket counters to indicate locations at which passengers may form lines and complain.

Gate Number - a randomly-assigned designation for the location at which a departing flight may perhaps be found. Subject to change without notice and, when designating the location of a connecting flight, is always located at the maximum possible distance from the gate number of arrival.

Baggage Claim - The most difficult area of the airport to find. It is usually hidden by numerous signs saying, "Baggage Claim Area."

Rest Room - definition is irrelevant, as these are always closed for cleaning or maintenance.

Carry On Bag - An item, usually of enormous dimensions, which somehow managed to fit under the passenger's seat on the inbound flight. Regardless of what the passenger says, the following are not acceptable as carry-on items: bicycles, steamer trunks, refrigerators, truck tires, or upright pianos.

Flight Schedule - An entertaining work of fiction.

On Time - An obscure term, meaning unknown.

Fog - A natural weather phenomenon which usually occurs around an airport while the surrounding areas are clear. Fog is controlled by the airlines and is used to delay flights.

Air Traffic Control - A game played by airline pilots and air traffic controllers. The game has no rules, and neither side knows how it is played, but the goal is to prevent flights from arriving in time for passengers to make connecting flights. (John?)

Ticket Agent - A superhuman with the patience of a saint, the herding ability of an Australian sheepdog, the E.S.P. abilities of Uri Geller, the compassion of a psychoanalyst, and and the tact of a diplomat. They have mysterious abilities to control all weather phenomena and know the precise location and status of every flight operated by any airline. They are able to answer three questions at one time, while simultaneously talking on the phone and typing, without stuttering or choking on their tongues. Later in life they sit in parks carrying on mysterious conversations with themselves.

I hope this has helped you better understand the industry which - literally - holds your life in its hands for a few hours at a time. If you learn of any airline dictionary entries I've missed, please either add them in a comment or e-mail them to me so I can share them with others as a public service.

You're welcome.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when Cartoon Saturday returns.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Arizona Immigration Mess, and the Bilbo Solution

Unless you've been vacationing in a cave in Outer Mongolia, you've heard about the huge controversy spun up by Arizona's passing of laws regarding illegal immigrants (read the fact sheet on the new law here). Civil rights groups are up in arms, conservatives are pressing for immediate sainthood for the law's sponsors, and nobody is neutral on the subject.

Let me say this about that: I support what Arizona is trying to do, if not the way the state is going about it; and Arizona is doing what it's doing because Congress has utterly failed in its duty to address responsible, fair immigration reform.

I have often written here on this subject, and have even proposed my own plan for immigration reform (which you can read here). I have sent this plan to former President Bush and to all my elected reprehensives, all of whom sent me nice, bland letters thanking me for my interest and suggesting I just sit down and color.

The problem with immigration reform comes down to a fundamental issue of honesty: "immigrants rights" groups don't want to admit that illegal immigration is ... well ... illegal; and most members of Congress are too afraid of offending potential voting blocks to speak out honestly on the issue. Hispanic groups, in particular, loudly advocate "immigrant rights," but speak from a position of ethnic solidarity rather than responsible advocacy of reasonable reform.

Nobody's willing to compromise to get things done. Conservatives won't support any immigration reform effort that doesn't start with hermetically sealing the border and deporting every single person who is in the country illegally; liberals won't support any immigration reform effort that doesn't start with legitimizing the millions of persons already in the country illegally.

TA-DA!!! - Impasse.

Let's get realistic for a minute. We will never, however much we might wish it, be able to track down, arrest, and deport everyone who is here illegally. It just ain't gonna happen. Forget it. The best we can do is give those people a way to legitimize themselves so that we can turn our enforcement resources toward more effective border controls and the tracking down of the illegals who are hard-core criminals. My plan offers a reasonable way to do that. I agree with the conservatives who don't want to reward with citizenship those who have deliberately broken the law...but there are ways to bring them within the law by creating new categories of alien registration.

The problem is complex and no solution will completely satisfy every special interest group. There are economic, legal, moral, and ethical issues that are twisted into an ugly Gordian knot that's waiting for an Alexander to unravel it. Calling every immigration reform advocate a racist is irresponsible and stupid, every bit as much as supporting amnesty and citizenship for those who have broken the law.

Reasonable people must come together and address the problem rationally. My plan is a start. If you like it (and there's no reason why you shouldn't!), copy it and send it to your elected reprehensives. I don't claim to have all the answers, but at least I have a plan that offers a place to start.

We can keep shouting slogans and pandering to special interests at both ends of the spectrum, or we can solve the problem.

Unfortunately, I see a lot more shouting in the future.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Doctor in the Family

This week, our son-in-law's brother (what does that make him in family relational terms?) will graduate from medical school, finally giving us a doctor in the family. We have enough engineers and linguists already, and thank goodness no one has disgraced us by becoming a lawyer or a politician. There are some Republicans and the odd Democrat in the family tree, but I try not to mention them when my security clearance comes up for review.

But getting back to the new doctor...

I've often wondered how people who become doctors decide on their specialties. Why does someone become a surgeon as opposed to a gynecologist or pathologist or ophthalmologist? Is it a decision based on expected future income, or are there other factors involved? Inquiring minds want to know.

Thus it was with great interest that I found this handy flow chart intended to help prospective doctors decide on their future specialties:

If you're thinking of going to medical school, this may help. Don't thank's all part of the service.

And congratulations, Tad - we're very proud of you!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Short post today - I have bills to pay before I leave for work, so that I can make money to pay yet more bills. Great, isn't it?

Let's talk briefly about disasters.

We seem to have no shortage of them lately, do we? Unpronounceable volcanoes in Iceland, earthquakes in South America and China, floods in Tennessee, mudslides, Republicans, Michael Moore movies, the list goes on and on. It's gotten so bad I'm almost afraid to go outside any more.

On the upside, disasters make great movies. Remember The Towering Inferno? Earthquake? And the famous Towering Inferno/Earthquake double-bill - Shake and Bake?

Sorry about that.

Of course, there are disasters and there are disasters. Some we recognize, some we don't. My friend Bob sent me this clever cartoon that makes the point...

Disasters. Ugh.

And we still have elections coming later this year. Better get your personal shelter ready.

Because sometimes the worst disasters are the ones we choose ourselves.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, May 10, 2010

What She Said, What He Heard

I've been thinking a lot lately about getting older. Or, perhaps more positively, aging like a fine wine. Well, okay...just a wine.

As I noted recently, my oldest grandchild hit the double-digits this year when she turned the big 1-0, and I spend a good chunk of each weekend being run from pillar to post by another tireless granddaughter who thinks her Opa has an inexhaustible fountain of energy to match her own. Amanda, in her post yesterday about things her children will never know about, noted that I'm 24 years older than she is...a horrifying observation when made (however gently and well-intentioned) by a lovely young lady.

Yep, we ain't none of us gettin' any younger.

I try to be a pretty friendly person, and usually try to smile and greet people I meet on the street or while roaming the halls of the Pentagon. Usually, that attitude is repaid by those other people, although it can lead to some degree of misunderstanding, if not downright fantasy. A few days ago, Miss Cellania reprinted this cartoon, which applies:

Ah, well...someone smarter than I once said that imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not, and a sense of humor to console him for what he is.

Did I ever mention that I won the award for "Best Sense of Humor" in our high school senior class?


If you're an attractive young lady, and a fellow with gray hair and a bit of a bay window smiles at you, smile back. It may be the best thing that happens to him all day.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mothers' Day, 2010

Two years ago, I wrote a special post for Mother’s Day. Since it said everything I wanted to say about this day, I used it again last year. This year, I’m going to do the same thing, with a few minor updates. You can sue me if you like. Good luck finding any assets.

Today is Mothers’ Day, the one day each year we set aside to honor the lady we undervalue the other 364. It’s the day we remember the person who made our hurts better, explained our homework, cooked our meals, washed our clothes, drove us where we needed to go, warned us about our less-savory acquaintances, embarrassed us in front of our friends, and did her best to point us down the straight line of a moral and upright life.

Mothers are the wonderful and woefully underappreciated people from whom the Army and the Navy stole their one-time recruiting slogans - the Army's "We do more before 9 AM than most people do all day," and the Navy's "It's not just a job, it's an adventure." With all due respect to Soldiers and Sailors everywhere ... you guys ain't got a clue.

A while back I found this little riff on how we look at our Mothers at different ages:

Age 4: Mommy can do anything!
Age 8: Mom knows a lot!
Age 12: Mother doesn't know everything.
Age 14: Mother doesn't know anything.
Age 16: Mother is so old-fashioned.
Age 18: Her? She's out of it.
Age 25: Mom might know something about that.
Age 35: Before we decide, let's ask Mom.
Age 45: What would Mom have thought about that?
Age 65: I wish I could talk that over with Mom.

It’s true.

My mother passed away in 2001 at the age of 74. She spent a long and honorable life raising four children who, I like to think, made her proud. And in her twilight years, her once-formidable mind ravaged by Alzheimer’s Disease, she missed much of the result of her love and care and sacrifice – a son who finally knows how to dance (and who may yet write that book she thought he had in him), and five beautiful great-grandchildren who will never know her love and wisdom and the off-the-wall sense of humor that brightened the lives of those who knew her.

The next generation of Mothers has taken over. My beloved daughter Yasmin and the best daughter-in-law in the world, Tabitha, between them are raising the world’s five greatest grandchildren. And someday Marcy and Joe, Noah, Leya and Elise will sit down on Mothers’ Day and reflect – just as their grandpa does today – on the marvelous lady who gave up so much of her own life and dreams to make them who they are.

Take the time today to give your Mother a hug and a kiss. Someday, you’ll wish you had.

And so again this year, I wish my own Agnes, Yasmin and Tabitha, Amanda and Fiona, SuzyQ and Gotfam, and all the other mothers out there doing the world's toughest job, a very happy Mothers' Day and many more to come.

We couldn't be what we are, or do what we do, without you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A wrecked oil well a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico continues to pump over 200,000 barrels of oil a day into the ocean; huge floods have caused over a billion dollars in damage in Nashville, Tennessee, giving country singers something besides trucks, rain, alcohol, trains, and divorce to sing about; a mosque, of all things, is being planned for a site near Ground Zero; two teenagers were arrested in Long Island after exchanging text messages threatening to kill teachers and fellow students at their high school; and the 59th annual National Day of Prayer was held this past Thursday despite a federal judge's recent ruling that it was unconstitutional.

Cartoon Saturday - don't leave home without it.

This one's for all you Star Trek fans out there...

Sometimes nothing works, even the obvious...

Did you ever wonder about what famous mythological characters did before they became famous?

There's an app for that...

It was my granddaughter Marcy who showed me how to find the picture files on my old cell phone...she was about 7 at the time. The ranks of the technologically adept get younger every year...

Practice safe writing...

Well, it's time to head out to the local supermarket to shoot some bagels for breakfast, so I guess I'll just leave it here. Hope you have a good weekend (offer not applicable in Nashville, the Gulf Coast, and anywhere in the Middle East).

More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 07, 2010

On Languages - Real, Artificial, and Dying

As you know (or don't, if this is your first time visiting this blog), my undergraduate degree was in Linguistics, and I have a lifelong fascination with languages. I think it's amazing that I can speak or write and you can understand what the spoken words or written symbols mean and take action on them. Or no action, if you're a Republican.

In the last few weeks, some of my friends have sent me some very interesting articles about language that I thought I'd share with you. Even if you're not a linguist or a polyglot (look it up), I think you'll find them interesting.

First is this interesting piece from Scientific American, sent to me by fellow local blogger and all-around good fellow Gilahi - Fantasy TV in the service of science: An open letter to HBO about "Dothraki." This article by Joshua Hartshorne discusses artificial languages - those created by filmmakers or authors for their works. Dothraki is a language created by author George R. R. Martin for his fantasy works. Fans of The Lord of the Rings know that J.R.R. Tolkien invented several languages and alphabets for his monumental work, we already have a Klingon Language Institute for Star Trek fans, and the latest rage is Navi, the language of the natives of Pandora in the hit film Avatar ... which you can learn here. In his article, Mr Hartshorne suggests that movies and TV shows could do science a favor by inventing languages that would help scientists evaluate how the structure of language facilitates the ability to learn.

It's much more interesting than it sounds.

The second article comes from the New York Times, and was passed to me the other day by my co-worker John: Listening to (And Saving) the World's Languages. There are thousands of languages and dialects spoken around the world, and many of them are dying out as "mega-languages" like Spanish, English, and Chinese crowd them out. As we learn in the article by Sam Roberts, New York City has become a huge laboratory for the study and documentation of languages that are often spoken nowhere else. Languages like Mamuju, Garifuna, and Aramaic may be dying out in their native lands, but are still spoken and available for documentation in the fabulous linguistic mix that is New York City. Mr Roberts writes:

While there is no precise count, some experts believe New York is home to as many as 800 languages — far more than the 176 spoken by students in the city’s public schools or the 138 that residents of Queens, New York’s most diverse borough, listed on their 2000 census forms.

The Endangered Language Alliance has been formed to record and document some of these languages before they die out completely. At the website, you can hear recordings of people telling stories in some very exotic languages you won't hear anywhere else.

So, as some languages die out for lack of speakers, others are being created. Klingon, Navi, and Sindarin Elvish may live on, while other - real - languages pass away. I think that's fascinating.

Now, if someone could just create an institute that would help us interpret arcane and mystical languages like the tax code, insurance policies, and political rhetoric, we'd be in good shape.

Have a good day. Learn a new language. More thoughts tomorrow, when Cartoon Saturday returns.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Suspicious Behavior

In these difficult days of terrorist alerts and random crime, we are often urged by the authorities to report suspicious behavior. This, of course, begs an important question: what constitutes suspicious behavior?

This question was asked in this great article by Noreen Malone that appeared yesterday in, in which she reported on an afternoon spent observing "suspicious activity" in New York's Times Square: If You See Something, Say Something? Ms Malone asks, How do you know when activity in Times Square is suspicious? Don't people act suspiciously there all the time? She then goes on to document how much disturbing behavior she could document during a Tuesday lunch hour in Times Square.

As it turns out, quite a bit. From the famous Naked Cowboy to people wandering aimlessly or talking loudly to themselves, the streets of New York are full of suspicious - if not downright bizarre - activity.

And it's not just New York City.

An hour spent wandering the streets of Washington DC will leave you wondering when the standards for "normal" behavior were revised (and we're not even talking about Congress). It's not unusual to see ragged people pushing shopping carts full of odd, lumpy plastic bags, or well-dressed young men shouting loudly to whoever is on the other end of the bluetooth device in their ears. People wear large backpacks, carry bulky bags, drag rolling suitcases, and drop bulky packages into public trash containers. People with incomprehensible accents hustle you for handouts on buses or on Metro platforms, while others sing to themselves, play air guitars, or stare blankly into the far distance. There's also the "cone of silence" behavior demonstrated by people who want to have a private conversation on their cell phones, and so isolate themselves by sitting in a bathroom cubicle to carry on discussions that are often embarrassingly intimate.

Ms Malone ends her article with a plaintive, very important question: How do you know what is truly dangerous?

I wish I knew. As one of the people Ms Malone interviewed during her observations in Times Square said, "A guy in a dress—you see that every day. Somebody standing by the table with a bookbag for a long time, or leaves something by a garbage can, that's suspicious."

I think I'll just stay home. I can be as eccentric as I want there, right?

Have a good day. Report suspicious behavior, whatever that is.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

You're Not Old Unless...

Yesterday, my oldest son turned 36. My oldest grandaughter turned 10 (double-digits, gasp!) last month. And I have five - count 'em, five! - wonderful grandchildren. I'm feelin' old. Proud and happy, but old.

But how old am I, really? And how old are you?

Here's a quick test to check your age. According to the test, you're not old unless you can remember:

1. Being sent to the drugstore to test vacuum tubes for the TV - yep.

2. When Kool-Aid was the only other drink for kids, other than milk and sodas - yep.

3. When there were two types of sneakers for boys - yep (and a bonus point if you call them sneakers instead of athletic footwear).

4. When boys couldn't wear anything but leather shoes to school - check.

5. When it took five minutes for the TV to warm up - oh, yes...and they were long minutes.

6. When all your friends got their hair cut at the kitchen table - yep. (I love my dad, but he gave some pretty crummy haircuts).

7. When nearly everyone's mom was at home when the kids got there - yep.

8. When nobody owned a purebred dog (or knew there was such a thing) - yep.

9. When a dime was a decent allowance, and a quarter a huge bonus - and a five-dollar bill for your birthday was an absolute fortune - yep.

10. When you'd reach into a muddy gutter for a penny - yep (and I still do it).

11. When girls neither dated nor kissed until late high school, if then - yes, dammit.

12. When your mom wore nylons that came in two pieces - check.

13. When all your teachers wore either neckties or had their hair done, every day (except for the nuns, of course) - yep.

14. When you got your windshield cleaned, oil checked, and gas pumped, without asking, for free, every time (and the attendant didn't sit in a locked office behind armored glass) - yep.

15. When laundry detergent had free glasses, dishes or towels hidden inside the box - yep.

16. When any parent could discipline any kid, or feed him, or use him to carry groceries, and nobody, not even the kid, thought a thing of it - yep (back then we called it "showing respect for our elders").

17. When it was considered a great privilege to be taken out to dinner at a real restaurant with your parents (or to have steak and french fries for dinner two or three times a year) - check.

18. When schools threatened to keep kids back a grade if they failed...and did! - yep (not that I have any personal experience of this, you understand).

19. When being sent to the principal's office was nothing compared to the fate that awaited a misbehaving student at home - oh, yes!

20. When women were called, "Mrs. John Smith," instead of their own name - yep.

Well, I'm 20 for 20 - anybody have any other items to add to the list?

Not that I need any more help feelin' creaky today, of course.

Have a good day. Enjoy life, regardless of your age.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Escaping the Echo Chamber

One of the many things that drive me up the proverbial wall nowadays is the relentless drumbeat of obnoxious, empty noise generated by people who are mad as hell. They're not quite able to explain just why they're mad, or how they'd fix the issues that make them mad, other than in the most generic and unfocused of terms, such as:

"We're gonna take the country back!";

"No new taxes!";

"If I don't see a birth certificate, I don't believe he's an American!"; and,

"How's that hopey-changey thing workin' out for ya?"

It's much easier to shout slogans and parrot the words of others than it is to think for oneself. That blinkered outlook been made easier by the balkanization of ideas brought on by the proliferation of narrowly-focused cable TV channels and hyperpartisan blogs and websites. No matter what you want to believe - whether it's the threat of nasty aliens in UFOs, the danger of one-world government, or even the utter horror of one-world government imposed by nasty aliens from UFOs - you can find plenty of people with networks and blogs that will reinforce your ideas and convince you that you are absolutely right ... and if all you ever read or listen to are those people who reinforce your ideas, you lose the ability to think for yourself and evaluate whether or not those people are full of ... um ... well ... stuff.

This effect has been called the "echo chamber," because of the tendency of crazy ideas to reverberate between the walls of like-minded people.

Yesterday, I found a wonderful article by William Saletan that summarizes my thinking on this issue better than I could have done on my own. It's on, and you can read it here: Bubble Think: How to Escape a Partisan Echo Chamber. In this article, Mr Saletan offers ten simple, yet obvious ways to help you avoid the dangers of partisan groupthink:

1. Treat insularity as a weakness.

2. Don't be a sucker for conspiracy theories.

3. Never define yourself by an enemy.

4. Don't outsource your beliefs to your allies.

5. Seek wisdom, not just victory.

6. Distrust polarization.

7. Look in the mirror.

8. Beware abstraction.

9. Test your theories.

10. Overcome your urges.

Read the entire article and think about whether you are caught in a partisan echo chamber that keeps you from asking the questions to which you need real answers, not mindless slogans and narrow-minded claptrap.

It's more important now than ever. The country and the world are facing enormous problems, and nobody out there has all the answers. You need to listen to everyone, filter out the mental sludge, and make your own judgments.

You all know Bilbo's First Law: Don't let anyone do your thinking for you. And we might now add a corollary to that law: The louder they shout, the less they know.

Take a few minutes to read Mr Saletan's article and think seriously about the 10 rules for avoiding groupthink.

Applying them wouldn't be a bad thing, either.

Have a good day. Do your own thinking.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, May 03, 2010

"Not Authorized to Speak"

Okay, it's Monday, I'm tired and grouchy, and it will probably be a long week. Why not capitalize on this perfect storm of grumpiness and complain about something that has bothered me for a long time: speakers who aren't supposed to. Speak, that is.

Over the weekend, a terrible tragedy was averted in New York's Times Square when an alert bystander notified police of a suspicious parked car that turned out to be loaded with homemade explosives, gasoline, and propane tanks - a car bomb that was neutralized by bomb experts before it could explode. The Washington Post reported the story yesterday on page A4 of the print edition under the title Times Square Shut Down.

Now, in that article there are two places where the writer quotes police or other officials. There are two phrases I want you to note:

1. "...The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said..."; and,

2. "...a Bloomberg (the mayor of New York) official told a Washington Post reporter shortly after 11p.m., speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly."

Riddle me this, Batman: what part of not authorized to didn't you understand? If you are not authorized to speak to the press, why are you doing it? Someone trusted you to maintain confidentiality and exercise discretion, and you are betraying that trust.

Shame on you.

Okay, now it's off my chest. I can go to my happy space now. Or at least, my a-little-less-grumpy space.

Have a good day. If you're not authorized to speak, why not consider not speaking? More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 02, 2010

Hitting the "A Flat"

Last night I did my part as a modern-day hunter-gatherer and drove out to the local Chipotle fast food emporium to shoot us some salads for dinner. After waiting about four days (well, that's what it felt like) in the traditional Chipotle Line from Hell I finally got our food and returned to the car, where I found the left rear tire flatter than Twiggy's ... well ... it was pretty flat. Nothing like changing a tire in a parking lot while wedged into the space between your car and the one parked too close to you on the other side.

Grrr, as Andrea would say.

Once I got the old tire off, I discovered a very large, very sharp chunk of metal embedded in it. Now, where the #%@! did that come from? I'm used to getting a flat every time someone in the neighborhood gets a new roof, because roofers relieve their boredom by spreading nails all over the place, but this looked like a big piece of Baghdad-quality shrapnel. AARRGGHH!! I manage to avoid all the monster potholes that threaten to eat my car, and now this.

Double grrr.

So today I get to enjoy the matchless excitement of spending a few hours buying a new tire (or two). This is not an experience that matches the usual weekend delight of playing with the local grandchildren, although it is easier on my back. I think I'll need that supersized gin and tonic by the time evening rolls around.


No deep thoughts for today. Just a wish for some not-too-drastic misfortune to befall whoever left that chunk of metal for me to drive over. Let's about a new Biblical plague suitable for the 21st Century? If Moses could call down frogs, locusts, darkness, and rivers of blood on the Egyptians, perhaps I could call down a plague of door-to-door preachers, or perhaps tie the miscreant to a chair and force him to listen to a few hours of Sarah Palin speeches.

No, I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

Have a good day. Watch out for sharp things on the road.

More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - Now that summer is here and a young man's thoughts turn to ... well ... those things a young man's thoughts turn to when it's warm and the young ladies aren't wearing eighty-seven layers of clothes like they do in February ... here is a useful visual aid to help you distinguish the real from the not-so-real:

Don't thank me. It's all part of the service.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could end up costing more than $3 billion in containment and environmental cleanup costs; it's not a good time to be violating immigration laws in Arizona; the unemployment rate in Spain has topped 20%; Greece teeters on the brink of bankruptcy as its citizens balk at having to give up cherished benefits the country can no longer afford and foreign donors are unwilling to pay for; and reality star Kim Kardashian denies that the gastric effects of the giant burrito she allegedly ate on a recent airline flight caused the ... um ... foul stench noted by other passengers.

Yep, it's definitely time for Cartoon Saturday.

When you think of "cell," what's the first thing that comes to your mind - a phone, or a ... well ... cell?

And just in case you ever wondered about the biochemical basis for mitosis...

As we become increasingly aware of environmental issues, more and more people are looking to sources of renewable energy to power their homes. Members of Congress and political commentators, for instance, are able to use wind power, while many other people rely on the sun to generate power. Of course, solar power isn't for everyone...

Sometimes, you just have to go for the more expensive option...

Many scientists and theologians are concerned about modern science's ability to distort the natural balance of the sexes by allowing parents to select the gender of their children ...

And finally for this first Cartoon Saturday of May, we know that unemployment is a real problem here in the US (although not, happily, as bad as it is in Spain, which we noted in today's introduction). Many people rely on temporary jobs to get by, although some temporary positions are clearly better than others...

Last night's dance party was lots of fun, and this weekend features a retirement party for an old friend, quality time with the grandchildren, and the First Sunday Dance at the Candy Factory. How much better does it get? Hope yours is as good.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.