Wednesday, June 30, 2010


According to the counter on my Blogger Dashboard, this is my 1,400th post. How cool is that? If you can't have quality, go for quantity, that's what I always say.

My former co-worker Mike (not to be confused with fellow curmudgeon Mike the blogger) sent me this interesting quote the other day. He said it was from Irregular Webcomic, but I couldn't find the exact post:

"Next time you're standing next to a large tree, think about the fact that the brown wrinkly cylinder next to you is pumping vast amounts of water from the ground, up to the tips of every single branch and twig and leaf, right to the very top of its height. And is doing so in utter silence, with no moving parts, non-stop, every day of the year, for what might be several hundred years, while standing exposed to everything the elements can throw at it, without breaking down or requiring maintenance of any sort."

I think that's a really profound observation, and one that we don't often think about. I don't think I can add much commentary to it, other than to ask: don't you wish Mother Nature made cars? Or PCs? Or a functioning Metro system?

Joyce Kilmer famously observed,

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

To which Ogden Nash added,

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I'll never see a tree at all.

Trees. Hug one today. If the developers have their way, you'll eventually have to go to museums to see them.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Commuting Woes

If you live in the elegantly-euphemized (is that a word?) National Capital Region, you know that one of the constants of your life is the dreaded commute. The word commute derives from an Old English expression which literally translates as stick sharp objects deeply into your eyes repeatedly for several hours at a time, twice a day.

Go to the comments section now...this is about the time Mike drops in and makes some snarky comment about being retired and not worrying about stuff like this.


The commute is one of the defining aspects of life here in the Northern Virginia-DC-Maryland-West Virginia area. People select their places to live on the basis of an intricate calculus that balances the amount of home they can afford with the length and expense of commute they're willing to endure each day. At the present time, affordable housing in this area can easily be found if you are willing to commute from rural Guatemala.

My commute is not too bad. I leave the house at 6:00 each morning, walk two blocks to my bus stop, take the bus to the Metro station ($1.50) and the Metro Blue Line ($4.25) to work. On a good day, when the bus is on time and doesn't break down, the Metro train is actually running on time and service is not interrupted by breakdowns, strikes, or fatal accidents, and I am awake enough to get off at the right stop, I walk into my office a few minutes either side of 7:00. Around here, a commute of only an hour is a pretty good deal. Many people have a morning and afternoon commute of two hours or more ... and that's when everything goes right.

Some people drive to work. These are folks with a subconscious death wish, willing to sit for hours at a time in twenty-five mile traffic backups that form and disperse for no apparent reason, and are willing to pay an amount equivalent to the GNP of Burkina Faso for the privilege of parking in a lot which accepts no liability for anything that happens to your car.

For those of us who take public transportation, the pleasure of letting someone else do the driving is balanced by a few things:

1. The dilapidated condition of the Metro system (you will seldom find a station at which all escalators and elevators are functioning, or a train or bus which actually has functioning air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter); and,

2. This past Sunday's 18% increase in fares for the privilege of enjoying hit-or-miss service.

And people wonder why we're so grouchy.

I actually wouldn't mind paying usurious rates for the privilege of riding public transportation if I thought for a brief, shimmering moment that the extra money would actually help improve things. Sadly though, I know that the only thing the extra 18% tacked onto an already expensive commute will buy is ... more broken infrastructure, more overcrowded trains, and more expensive consultants to advise Metro on all the same problems previous expensive consultants have already identified.

Nevertheless, I will continue in bovine placidity to ride Metro because I really don't want to drive in our local traffic, and because I enjoy having quality time to read or nap in a hard plastic seat in a bus or train that's masquerading as a sauna.

Oh, and the Metro rail system is expanding to introduce service to the Tyson's Corner area and, eventually, out to Washington-Dulles Airport. On the one hand, it will be nice to have Metro service out to the major shopping centers of Tyson's Corner and to Dulles Airport. On the other hand, one wonders why a system that is already falling apart, mismanaged, overcrowded, and overpriced is working so hard to expand the service it can't provide reliably in the existing network.

Sorry for the rant, but I just had to get it out of my system. And now I have to head for the bus.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - Just a reminder of why it's worthwhile to live here and go through the commuting agony...Opa and granddaughter Elise, age 13 weeks:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Odd Dog Things

You've met Nessa, our dog. Well, okay, if you haven't met Nessa, go back and read this. I'll wait.

Nessa is a good dog, but more than a little neurotic. She's earned it, though ... she came to us from our daughter, who was no longer able to cope with two small children and a hyperactive Chocolate Lab. Not to mention the fact that said Chocolate Lab spent her days trying to escape from our granddaughter Leya, who was - quite literally - loving her to death.

So anyhow, we have this neurotic dog. Here are a few of the odd things she does that we've gotten used to...

She can't go for a walk without taking a toy along. Nessa is famous around the neighborhood for trotting along happily on the leash with one of her Frisbees, her bouncy-ball, or some other toy in her mouth. Both of her Frisbees have large holes in the center to make them easy to pick up, and she often carries them upright in her mouth, so that she can look through the hole to see where she's going. We've grown used to people pointing at us and laughing (Yes, Mike, I'm sure they're laughing at Nessa and not at me).

When the walk is over, she expects to play with the toy she has carried along. However, she expects us to work for the privilege of playing with her...she plays keepaway, expecting us to chase her around until we can get the toy out of her mouth and throw it for her. At least a thousand times.

Nessa is a great watchdog. Not only do we get a loud announcement if someone comes onto our property, but we also know if someone walks past the house, if our neighbors come or go, if a squirrel, bird, stray dog, cat, or other animal dares to enter the yard. She also barks hysterically when we come home. It's nice to know she stands ready to protect us from ourselves.

I can no longer go to the bathroom without Nessa's accompaniment. If I go into the facilities, she follows me in and lies down patiently on the floor until I'm done. At bedtime, when she knows that I'll go into the Little Room first, she automatically goes in and waits patiently at the door for me to come in, whereupon she will do the usual canine turn-around-three-times and then lie on the throw rug to keep an eye on me and make sure I do things correctly.

Nessa always selects a place in the house to lie down from which she can keep an eye on both Agnes and I. If I'm in the study and Agnes is in the bedroom, she'll lie in the hallway halfway between the two doors. If I'm upstairs and Agnes is downstairs, she'll lie right at the top of the stairs. If we're both in the kitchen, she'll lie on the hallway carpet right in front of the kitchen door. And if we're both in the kitchen and eating, she'll curl up directly behind one of our chairs so that we can't get up and leave without her knowing.

She's working very hard on mastering the Chocolate Lab Woe-Is-Me expression. She's just the right size to sit next to us at mealtimes and lay her head on the table so that she can observe us with her big, mournful brown eyes, clearly transmitting the "I'm starving and you don't care" look. She is also a master of sitting at the top of the stairs when we leave the house without her, beaming her "You're leaving me all alone, boo-hoo" look. Should we decide to let her come along, it's best not to be standing in the doorway when we tell her to come, lest we get bowled over by about 80 pounds of rocketing dog.

Neurotic dogs. Every family should have one. Trust me - we'll know if you come by to see.

Have a good day. Approach your tasks doggedly.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Things That Make You Go GRRRRR...

It's Sunday, and I'm still recovering from my granddaughter Leya's dance recital yesterday. Actually, we had a great time, although the recital itself suffered from a bit of a lack of organization. One would have thought that the two- and three-year olds were in charge of event management in addition to their performances. But be that as it may, there is nothing quite like watching a group of toddlers wandering about the stage and mugging for the audience in vague time to music while occasionally remembering to throw in a few of the steps and movements their parents have paid big money for them to learn. We grandparents live for this stuff.

Well, on with the present show...

A while back, I borrowed an idea from Jay when I answered the ten questions he tossed out for the consideration of his fellow bloggers. And today, I take from him yet another idea, this one one that he himself shamelessly lifted from fellow blogger Dana: "Don't You Hate It When...", as shortened by Jay to just "GRRRRRRRR..." Herewith, a list of the things that tend to piss me off, even though I am by nature a relatively even-tempered and forgiving fellow...

1. People who enter the theater in the middle of the act/movie/show and decide they have to sit in the empty seats right in the middle of your row. And they each weigh 497 pounds, move eight inches per hour, and spill their popcorn and drinks on you because they're busy yakking on their cell phones as they squeeze past. I guess this counts as three. No matter.

2. Getting back to cell phones: people who share their most intimate details with the entire world as they mindlessly babble into their phones, apparently thinking that the rest of us have nothing better to do than enjoy sharing their trials and tribulations.

3. People who get in front of you in the 12-items-or-less checkout line with a cartload of stuff you'd need a professional stevedore to unload. Then they glare at you when you call them on it and tell you to mind your own business. Then they wait until the entire mountain of stuff is rung up before realizing that "oh! I have to pay for this!" Then they search high and low for a functioning credit card or enough cash to pay the bill. Then, finding they don't have enough, they keep having the cashier remove stuff from the bill until they can pay it. And finally, they have to stand there while they review the receipt line-by-line and complain about things they think are wrong. Okay, that's six things. Forget it, they all run together.

4. Drivers who slow down to six angstroms per fortnight to make a turn, and then put on their turn signal at the moment they are halfway through the turn.

5. Drivers who block traffic as they wait for that golden parking place right in front of the store, while there are acres of open spaces a few feet further on.

6. Dentists who ask, "How are we doing today?" Well, offhand I'd say that at least 50% of us are doing lousy, otherwise we wouldn't be sitting in this $&%@! chair waiting to experience agony while trying to figure out how we're going to get our insurance company to pay for it. If we're lucky enough to have insurance in the first place.

7. Police officers who ask if you knew why they pulled you over. You're getting the damn ticket, anyhow...why embarrass you by playing 20 questions?

8. Telemarketers. Need I say more?

9. Women who wear low cut tops, then complain because men keep looking at their breasts. This one was on Dana's list, too. If I'm not supposed to look, don't advertise.

10. People who accept the most ludicrous political positions (Obama is the Antichrist, America needs to apologize to BP) and religious beliefs (72 virgins will service my sexual needs forever if I kill you because you don't unquestioningly accept my truths). If your clue chute is up, bolted, welded shut, and has a force field over it, stay away from me. Nothing you have to say is worth listening to.

Okay, I've ranted enough. There are lots more things on my list, but I'll save them for another time. If you recognized yourself on this list, perhaps you need a little pick-me-up...

Take as directed. Don't stop.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

The Kellogg company has recalled about 28 million boxes of Corn Pops, Honey Smacks, Froot Loops and Apple Jacks cereals because of an "unusual flavor and smell;" California police discovered $45 million worth of drugs in the back of a tractor-trailer they had pulled over for a traffic violation; on top of all the oil still spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, it's now hurricane season; General Stanley McChrystal was fired as US commander in Afghanistan after an article in Rolling Stone magazine revealed he and his staff had made injudicious comments about Vice President Biden and other civilian leaders; and former Vice President Dick Cheney was admitted to a hospital in Washington after reporting he wasn't feeling well.

Don't worry...Cartoon Saturday is back to help you cope with it all.

And since you didn't get your weekly helping of cartoons last week because I was out of town, how about an extra-large helping of ya-ha's this week? Here are ten cartoons presented in themed sets of two...

Don't you just hate it when your car makes an odd sound ...

Or not...

There are energy drinks ...

And there are ... well ...

A few days ago, I wrote a post on the topic of robots. What could be more appropriate now than a pair of robot-related cartoons? ...

We all need a little organization...

Or not ...iPads, iPods, iPhones, what's next? What, indeed ...


Yes, Cartoon Saturday is back! Enjoy your weekend, use plenty of sunblock, and eat your vegetables. Agnes and I will be attending our grandaughter Leya's dance recital this afternoon ... if you can imagine a dance recital featuring the terpsichorean excellence of a group of two- and three-year old ladies. This ought to be fun.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, June 25, 2010

The New Software Package

Now that we're in the computer/digital/cyber/name-your-term age, advancements seem to be defined in terms of the latest software package/update/version/etc. You almost don't know any more how we ever managed without the latest spiffy, shrink-wrapped, holographically-imprinted DVD filled with the zeroes and ones that allow us to make more mistakes, faster.

Here's the memo that introduced the latest management analysis software at a local firm (not my own, I hasten to say)...


SUBJECT: New Software Capability

TO: All Employees

This memo announces the introduction of a new management software system. We are building a data warehouse that will contain all the management data for the company’s operations. The program is called the Management Information Analysis and Storage System (MIASS).

Next Monday at 9:00 there will be a meeting in which I will show off MIASS. We will continue to hold demonstrations throughout the next month so that all employees will have an opportunity to get a good look at MIASS.

At the present stage of program implementation, the software is not network capable; therefore, only one person can be working in MIASS at a time. This will change as MIASS expands. Several people are using the program already and have come to depend on it.

Just this morning I walked into an employee’s office and was not surprised to find that he had his nose buried in MIASS. Unfortunately, some of our less technical employees are somewhat intimidated by MIASS. Just last week, when asked to input some information into the program, one of our secretaries said, “I’m a little nervous about this, because I’ve never put anything in MIASS before.” I volunteered to help her through her first time, and when we were through she admitted it was relatively painless and she was actually looking forward to doing it again. She went so far as to say that, after using dBase and ORACLE, she was ready to kiss MIASS.

I know that there is some concern over the virus that was found in MIASS upon initial installation, but I am pleased to say that the virus has been eliminated and we were able to save MIASS. In the future, however, protection will be required prior to entering MIASS.

We planned this database to encompass all the types of information needed to manage our business, so as you begin to use it, feel free to put anything you want into MIASS. As MIASS grows larger, we envision a time when it will be commonplace for a manager to hand a paper to an employee with the simple direction, “Here, stick this in MIASS.”

The program has already demonstrated great benefits to the company during recent OSHA and EPA audits. The inspectors were amazed at how quickly we were able to produce the historical data they requested. When they asked how the figures could be retrieved so rapidly, our Environmental Manager proudly told them, “Simple! I just pulled them out of MIASS!”



Well, no matter how MIASS looks now, it will soon be overtaken by the next spiffy management fad. It won't be long before everyone is ready to kiss MIASS goodbye.

So to speak.

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday is coming!


Thursday, June 24, 2010


Robots are everywhere nowadays. They prowl the skies over Afghanistan and Pakistan, delivering sudden death to our enemies. They are attempting, however ineptly, to repair the horrific oil well blowout that is fouling the Gulf of Mexico. They disarm bombs, perform surgery deep inside the body, and uncomplainingly do many other jobs too dangerous for humans.

And they're getting better all the time.

A new and interesting robot is discussed in this interesting article from The Economist: Munching Machines.

Yes, friends, a new robot called EATR - the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot - is being developed for the US Army. It is unique because it doesn't need gasoline, batteries, or solar panels...rather, it derives its power by eating its way along. The EATR forages for grass, dead wood, and other "biomass" along its route, gathers it in with a robotic arm, and uses it as fuel to drive its internal steam engine. How does it know what to eat? Image-recognition software linked to a laser and camera lets the EATR recognize edible plants, leaves and wood (and it can also, if necessary, run on gasoline, diesel fuel, cooking oil, or any similar organic matter). EATR's developer estimates that about 150 pounds of vegetation would provide enough electricity for the machine to travel around 100 miles. And it doesn't need a salary and benefits! How cool is that?

Robots have certainly come a long way from the days of Maria,


And Gort,

But lest we forget, robots can be very dangerous...and those of us like Mike, John, and I, who are approaching the superannuation watershed, need to take appropriate measures...

You have been warned!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Flickering Blue Baby-Sitter

I admit it. I enjoy watching television sometimes. I have learned a great deal from watching television: that I am hopelessly in lust love with Evangeline Lilly, that there is a horrifying epidemic of erectile dysfunction, and that there are stern, lantern-jawed lawyers ready to take up my cause if I am threatened by the IRS, immigration authorities, junk lawsuits, or any of a wide range of ghastly, polysyllabic diseases caused by mendacious employers.

I have also learned that television can be, as it was once described by Newton Minnow, a vast wasteland, able to keep us sitting slack-jawed and drooling in front of the screen for hours on end. Much that is there to be seen is quite good (the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the History Channel, and even the Food Network come to mind), but there is a great deal of mindless, brain-rotting drivel foisted off on us by those who would sell us soap, new cars, lawn services, or cures for diseases we've never heard of.

The problem has long been recognized. In a letter to his friend Goodman Ace, Groucho Marx once wrote,

"A child's mind must inevitably rot, looking at this dreary procession of nonsense night after night, and I think that the next ten years [he wrote this in 1960] will produce a population composed entirely of goons. I would kick Melinda's [his daughter] set to small chunks, but there's one in every room and I haven't got enough character to destroy six sets, two of them in color. I'm not trying to be comic about this. It disturbs me deeply that the TV set has become such an integral part of her life and the life of all her friends. When I was a kid, we used to read. I keep throwing books into Melinda's room but she keeps throwing them out. Last night she threw me out as well. For me, the only good thing about TV is that it has allowed me to earn far more money than I deserve."

I am pleased that my daughter is trying to keep granddaughter Leya occupied more with reading and free play than with television (the flickering blue baby-sitter, as it was once called), and that my other grandchildren's television time is carefully monitored to ensure that they (at least, the boys) are not spending their time watching the Spike or Playboy channels.

Agnes and I have three television sets in the house, and probably watch them a total of three or four hours per week. When we find a show we like, we usually wait and buy it on DVDs, which allow us to watch the shows without the "benefit" of endless commercials. Usually, though, we read.

The problem with television is that it requires attention to the images. Unlike radio, you can't just listen to it in the background as you do something have to watch the accompanying images. You are committed to a single activity, which is allowing sponsors to pour stuff into your head through the hole opened by vapid programming. In moderation, this is probably okay. But if you are exposed for too long to the likes of SpongeBob SquarePants, Glenn Beck, Nancy Grace, and the images of legislators declaiming to acres of vacant seats on C-Span, your mind will eventually rot and run in greasy globs from your ears, causing ugly stains on the shoulders of your shirts.

It was also Groucho Marx who said that television was very educational, because whenever someone turned it on, he went into the next room and read a book. Perhaps that's good advice for all of us.

Enjoy your big-screen TV in moderation, but don't let it be the flickering blue baby-sitter - for yourself or for your children. Read, instead.

Have a good day. Read. Write letters. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Men of Letters

I recently finished reading the Millenium Trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) and strongly recommend them ... Lisbeth Salander (The Girl) is one of the most interesting and enjoyable characters I've run across in a long time. I'm now re-reading one of my all-time favorite books: The Groucho Letters: Letters From and To Groucho Marx.

Groucho Marx, the leader of the famous vaudeville, radio, and movie team The Marx Brothers, was not only a very funny performer, but a very literate and funny person. The Groucho Letters contains a wide range of letters from Groucho to his many friends and admirers, as well as letters written to him, and is guaranteed to bring a smile to your lips and a laugh to your heart, no matter how bad the day. Reading this book reminds me of why I enjoy writing (and receiving) letters ... and, sadly, why writing letters is a dying art in this era of e-mail, emoticons, Twitter, and text messaging.

I have enjoyed an occasional exchange of letters with some of you who responded to my original offer of a personal handwritten letter made two years ago. My second offer elicited only a single request for a letter: said letter is still owed to my old friend Ed, who waits patiently by his mailbox with his feet taking root and pachysandra curling around his aging legs.

But I digress. Here are a few examples of the sort of wonderful wit from the pages of The Groucho Letters ...

"I would have answered your letter sooner, but you didn't write one." (Goodman Ace to Groucho)

"I have a little matter to discuss with my fans in the internal revenue office. It seems they would like my autograph - on a small check."

In response to Groucho's complaint that he was receiving too much junk mail (and this was in 1951) and not enough fan mail, Fred Allen wrote, "If you are going to eliminate mail you cannot hope to do it through closing up the post office and the postal department. Without the post office, politicians would have no places to put their brothers-in-law. You can only stop this avalanche of fan mail through lowering your standards and going after the illiterate crowd."

An 11-year old autograph seeker wrote that Groucho's brother Gummo told her father that if she wrote to Groucho he would happily send her an autograph. Groucho wrote, "Confidentially, this Gummo comes from a long line of Romanian Gypsies; he was deposited at our doorstep at the age of fifty, and there's nothing we can do about it. Here is the autograph. I would send you a lock of my hair, but it's at the barbershop getting washed."

For a good time, read The Groucho Letters. And then sit down and write a letter to ol' Bilbo. Yes, Mike, I'm talking to you.

And don't give up, Ed ... you will get your letter.

Have a good day. Write to someone. I would be a good choice. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - If you would like to receive a personal, handwritten letter, you too can join Ed in his hopeful vigil at the mailbox by sending your snail mail address to me: bilbo_the_blogger (at) yahoo (dot) com. I will not share your address, and you'll get your letter. Eventually.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday. 'Nuff Said.

It's been a long weekend.

I'm still exhausted. And I still have to go to work today. And it's Monday. AARRGGHH!!

Therefore, this will be a short post, drawn from the vast collection of truths in my collection.

Here is the difference between men and women, explained in terms of a haircut:

Women’s version:

Woman 2: Oh! You got a haircut! That’s so cute!

Woman 1: Do you think so? I wasn’t sure when she was gave me the mirror. I mean, you don’t think it’s too fluffy looking?

Woman 2: Oh Lord no! No, it’s perfect. I’d love to get my hair cut like that, but I think my face is too wide. I’m pretty much stuck with this stuff I think.

Woman 1: Are you serious? I think your face is adorable. And you could easily get one of those layer cuts - that would look so cute I think. I was actually going to do that except that I was afraid it would accent my long neck.

Woman 2: Oh - that’s funny! I would love to have your neck! Anything to take attention away from this two-by-four I have for a shoulder line.

Woman 1: Are you kidding? I know girls that would love to have your shoulders. Everything drapes so well on you. I mean, look at my arms - see how short they are? If I had your shoulders I could get clothes to fit me so much easier.

Men’s version:

Man 2: Haircut?

Man 1: Yeah.

And you thought this was difficult.

Speaking of difficult, it's time to get ready to go to work.

Tomorrow's post will be better, I promise.

Trust me.

Have a good day. Get a haircut. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sorry, It's Not Cartoon Saturday

Greetings from Dayton, Ohio, where we're visiting our son and his family for the weekend. If you checked in expecting to see Cartoon Saturday, you'll be disappointed this week...all my cartoon files are on my computer at home, and I'm writing this from Agnes's laptop. Sorry about that, but I did warn you yesterday.

Here's what has happened so far:

- Had a good flight from DC to Dayton.

- Grandson Joseph beat me like a cheap gong in a long set of games on the Wii, until I finally beat him at table tennis. I think he was irritated that I couldn't get all the little characters sorted out and the controls on the handsets right, and kept killing all the wrong characters while playing Star Wars.

- Built a large race course out of Legos, then spent a few happy hours demolishing it by crashing various cars into the walls while the whole thing was policed by dinosaur figures glaring from the sidelines. (Jurassic Parking Lot?)

- Built space ships and pirate ships out of Legos, then moved on to major construction efforts with the large fleet of noisy Tonka vehicles stored under Joseph's bed.

- Wrestled with Joe and Noah. Boys four and seven years old are a good deal more wiry and energetic than grandfathers. Ben-Gay ointment is not something one should forget to pack.

- Kept trying to figure out sneaky ways to give Marcy a hug. She's now ten years old, and is not into that mushy stuff, except on her own terms. She has declared herself a "hug-free zone." I'm not giving up. Oh, and she says I have ugly toenails. No politicians in this family.

- Enjoyed a world-class dinner of grilled steak, salad, and corn on the cob. And Tabitha made my A-number-1-all-time-favorite-would-kill-for-it dessert: pineapple upside-down cake. She's cementing her position as Best Daughter-in-Law in the World.

- Agnes made a very spiffy, embroidered dance shoe bag for Marcy...and it took until nearly 10PM to finally get the gold-braided drawstring threaded through the opening. Jason finally got it through. We learned a lot of interesting new German words during the whole thing.

- On the minus side, was very proud of the way-cool Fathers' Day gift and card I got for Jason...but forgot to pack. Now I get to stand in line at the Pentagon Post Office on Monday to mail it (for those of you happily unfamiliar with this particular place, I will say only that Dante would have included the Pentagon Post Office as one of the circles of Hell had he written today). Sigh.

So far, so good.

Today will be a frenetic day, with final dress rehearsals for Marcy's dance recital and all the attendant hooplah. The recital is tonight, and we're all looking forward to seeing our star-in-training dancing on the big stage. Pictures later, if I can get any good ones.

So, sorry about Cartoon Saturday this week. I'll try to make it up to you next week. Stick around.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


P.S. - Still getting the drool off the keyboard. Thanks, Nessa.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Guest Post

Hi! My name is Nessa. You don’t know me, but I’m the dog who lives here with Bilbo and Agnes. I think Bilbo has mentioned me before, but I’m not sure that he’d tell you the whole truth, so while he’s busy packing for his trip, I decided to try my hand at this blogging thing he’s always talking about. It doesn’t seem so tough, except that this darned keyboard isn’t made for paws. You’ll have to excuse any typos.

Well, all things considered, being a dog in this house is a pretty good deal. The food dish is always full, there’s plenty of water, lots of treats, and lots of comfortable spaces to lie where it’s either warm or cool, depending on the season. I even have a special place way back under Bilbo’s desk where I can hide when there’s thunder and lightning outside. You should see his face when he has to get me untangled from all the cables and things under there!

I’m getting my humans pretty well trained, but it's taking some effort. I can usually get Mom to give me what I want by using the old Chocolate Lab Mournful Eyes trick, but it doesn’t work so well with Bilbo. With him, I have to use the trick on Mom until she gets him to do what I want. It doesn’t work all the time, but I’m still perfecting the technique. And Bilbo is pretty well trained to take me for walks and throw balls and Frisbees for me. The only problem is that he isn’t always very accurate, and we waste valuable playing time while he tries to get the Frisbee out of the tree.

They think they’re training me, and I let them think so. But Bilbo is hung up on this thing about making me stop and sit before we cross a street. What’s up with that? HE doesn’t have to sit his bare backside on the hot cement! And what’s this thing about the flashlight at night when we go for walks? I try hard to find dark, hidden places to poop, and he has to use that stupid light so everybody can see what I’ve done…and then, of course, I want to chase the light.

Well, it may be a dog’s life, but a dog’s life with these humans isn’t all that bad. I’ll try to come back another time and tell you some more stories, but I have to get off the computer now, before he comes back. He doesn’t know I can do this…but I can trust you to keep my secret, right?

Now, how do I clean all this drool off the keyboard…?

Have a good day. Bilbo will have more of his weird human thoughts later.

‘Til then, woof.


P.S. - Smart dog, eh? Agnes and I are headed to Ohio for our granddaughter's dance recital this weekend, so I may not be able to post again until we get back on Sunday. Don't give up. We'll be back.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

10 Questions from Jayman

Although I have a long list of topics in my Blog Fodder file, I find myself feeling unaccountably lazy this morning; therefore, I have decided to take up Jay's Ten Questions I Can Answer or Not. You regular readers already know that I don't like being tagged for memes, but this one's okay because Jay didn't actually tag anyone - he just tossed it over the fence for consideration. Here we go...

1. You’re building your dream house. What’s the one thing that this house absolutely, positively MUST HAVE? (other than the obvious basics of course).

A library. With a fireplace, floor-to-ceiling shelves, a nice reclining chair, a desk, and a table. French windows opening out onto a balcony overlooking a garden would be nice, too.

2. What is your dream car?

As long as it has four doors, a huge trunk, and is 100% reliable, I don't really care. The Lincoln MKZ looks pretty nice, though. And an M1A1 Abrams tank wouldn't be bad for DC, I could park it wherever the hell I wanted.

3. What is your favorite website that isn’t a blog?

Project Syndicate. It always provides something interesting every day.

4. iPhone 4 or Droid, which do you want?

Probably the iPhone4, since I already have an iPhone and wouldn't have to learn anything new. In any case, by the time I'm ready to upgrade, it'll be the iPhone5.

5. When you’re feeling down or lonely or just generally out of sorts, what do you do to cheer yourself up?

Go dancing (if lonely) or read something I like.

6. Tell me about something or someone that you love that most people seem to hate.

Brussels Sprouts. I love Brussels Sprouts. The Food of the Gods. I could eat them by the bushel.

7. What do you want to be when you grow up?

Financially secure enough to not worry about money all the time. Or the reincarnation of Fred Astaire.

8. Would you go on a reality show if given the chance?

Not in a million years. Real reality is bad enough.

9. Who was your favorite teacher when you were growing up. (Grade school, Middle School, Jr. High or High School only.)

Mrs Penny Smith, high school Humanities teacher. A wonderful lady with a marvelous sense of humor and a gift for making the subject come alive. The gold standard to which every teacher should aspire.

10. You get one pass to do something illegal or immoral. What are you gonna do?

Kill - very messily - the next moron that sits near me on the Metro and chatters loudly and mindlessly into his/her cell phone.

Thanks, Jay! You have helped me fill up the space and keep up my blogging momentum. Everybody else, have at it if you're interested.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

News Flash: North Korea Threatens War!


I've always thought of North Korea as the spoiled toddler of nations, throwing a loud and destructive tantrum when it doesn't get its way, and today is no exception. According to this article on CNN, the North Korean government has angrily rejected the results of an investigation that show the South Korean frigate Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo with the loss of 46 lives, and is threatening war if the United Nations takes any action against or applies any pressure to the Hermit Kingdom.

What's going to happen?

With any luck, nothing.

The US has its hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan, and doesn't want to be drawn into another costly war in Korea. South Korea doesn't want to endure the massive destruction a war would cause, or take on the burden of unifying with and having to rebuild a North Korea that's a hopeless economic and social basket case. North Korea (read "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il and his cronies) doesn't want to be crushed in a war it can't win, but doesn't want to show weakness. China doesn't want millions of impoverished, malnourished North Koreans swarming across their border in search of a decent life. Russia wouldn't mind seeing the US bogged down in Korea, but can't or won't do anything on its own to defuse the situation.

There can be no good outcome of a war in Korea. That doesn't mean it won't happen, of course ... nobody thought World War I would break out, either ... but nobody can figure out what goes on in the muddled minds of the North Korean leadership. If war comes, it will be because North Korea throws the Angry Toddler switch and lashes out at other countries for telling the truth about a country that exists only because of blackmail and petulant, bombastic threats.

It's nice to think that a US president would stand up and call North Korea for what it is: a petty kleptocracy that supports its ruling class on the backs of its starving citizens and survives only because it can make threats it's just crazy enough to carry out. It won't happen, though. We'll just keep on keeping on, enduring the periodic tantrums until the North Korean government finally implodes. And then the fun will really start as the world tries to figure out how to rebuild a nation that has been beaten down and lied to for so long that it has no idea of how to be a part of the modern world.

I'm glad I don't have to take that one on. I have enough trouble dealing with the mendacity and ineptitude of my own government.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - for a very good, very readable history of the North Korean regime, its leadership, and how its worldview developed, read David Halberstam's history of the Korean War, The Coldest Winter.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Baby Power

With three children and five grandchildren, I like to think I know something about miniature humans. And as I watch our son and daughter raising our grandchildren, and read the ongoing adventures of Amanda and Gotfam, I think back and remember all the lessons we learned with such difficulty so long ago.

And then there's this, courtesy of my friend Bob...

Hello, my name is Joey, and I'm nine months old. This is powerful advice for all you babies out there. Parents, please leave now, or you will be punished ... Okay, now that the minions are gone, let's get down to business.

Do you feel like you have no control over your life? Do your mommy and daddy make you do and wear things you absolutely hate? Are you at the bottom of your family's power structure? I'm here to tell you that all this can be a thing of the past. By following my ten simple rules, you'll be wearing the diaper and the pants in the family in no time!

Rule #1: You have absolute power.

Repeat this to yourself on a daily basis. You are the ruler of your universe. Your parents are there to serve you, not the other way around. You have unlimited power over them.

Rule #2: Cry.

Tears are your biggest asset in your arsenal against your parents. If you don't like something, cry! Parents have absolutely no defense against this wet onslaught. They will do anything to get you to stop. This is especially useful in public places. For maximum effectiveness, increase volume every fifteen seconds.

Rule #3: Be cute.

This is your number one defense mechanism. You're going to pull a lot of crap most people would never get away with, and your cute factor is the only thing allowing this. Flash a smile, and your parents will go weak in the knees with gushing admiration of your blessed existence, even after you've just broken half the stuff in the house.

Rule #4: Keep them weak.

I don't care if you have to set an alarm clock for yourself, but you need to wake your parents up at least three times a night. A rested parent is a strong parent, and that means bad news for you. The more weary they are, the more malleable they are to your intricate plans of global domination.

Rule #5: Pee on them.

Once out of every ten diaper changes, you should let loose your golden stream of glory. This shows them who's boss, and keeps them on their toes. If you can, aim for the face for maximum effectiveness. At the very least, you should be able to cover yourself as well as a portion of your parent's clothes. This works well for those situations where they've put you in an embarrassing outfit, or they're in a hurry to get somewhere

Rule #6: Make them carry you.

Do not let them put you down! This is very important. The moment they realize you can get around by yourself, they will no longer want to carry you. If you are put on the ground, see rule #2. Your parents are strong, and there's two of them. They can carry you forever.

Rule #7: Smack your parents around a little.

Parents are under the false impression that we have very little control over our arms and legs. Use this to your advantage! Every now and then, just randomly slap them in the face, and then smile and laugh. They may curse a little, but I guarantee no harm will come to you. They are powerless against the smile and laugh combination.

Rule #8: Women and grandparents love babies.

Capturing this key demographic can bring you joys beyond your wildest expectations. Toys, food, and attention can all be yours when you manipulate this segment of the population. Opa will even let you watch the Spice Channel if nobody else is around!

Rule #9: Siblings exist for your amusement.

Your brothers and sisters are the court jesters in your vast kingdom. They are there for your personal entertainment, and nothing more. Laugh at their crazy antics, but the moment they get out of line with that "the baby gets all the attention" crap, pull their hair. One word of warning though. Make sure a parent is nearby when you do this, as siblings are immune to your cute defense mechanisms. Be sure to cry, so your parent is alerted to your mortal danger.

Rule #10: No private time.

This is perhaps the most important rule of them all. Do not let your parents have private time! If you hear these evil words uttered, alarms should go off in your head. Nothing good can come from private time. At the very least, private time rejuvenates them, making them more resistant to your powers. And in the worst possible scenario, private time could lead to a new baby replacing you as the ruler of the house! This event needs to be stopped at all costs!

That's it, troops. Follow these simple rules and you should have a long and fruitful reign as ruler of your household.

You have the power! Use it!

Parents, you have been warned...of course, you already knew all this.

Good luck.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - Just for the record, my granddaughter Leya has a lock on #6.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Day

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook will have to forgive me for duplicating some thoughts you've already seen on my page there.

The first one is this absolutely wonderful Prickly City cartoon that ran yesterday...

And the second is this grand quote from Adlai Stevenson...

"Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime."

Today is Flag Day ... not a major holiday here in the United States, but one that brings some patriotic color to our cities and neighborhoods as people unfurl the Stars and Stripes. To some, this once-a-year display is evidence of patriotism, sort of like the person who self-identifies as a Christian because he goes to church at Easter and Christmas.

Adlai Stevenson, whatever you may think of his politics (he was a Democrat, after all) called it right with his short comment on the meaning of patriotism.

Patriotism doesn't mean going to political rallies and denouncing people who don't agree with you.

It doesn't mean supporting those who willfully break the law (yes, defenders of illegal immigration, I'm talking to you).

It doesn't mean deciding not to vote because your vote doesn't mean anything.

It doesn't mean letting narrow special interests set the political agenda on issues that affect us all (health care, the economy, and environmental protection, to name a few).

It means supporting the Constitution as a whole, not just the parts you care about (there is more to the Constitution than the Second Amendment, not that the NRA knows about it).

And it means doing your civic duty as a well-informed good neighbor: voting, obeying the law, working to change the law when necessary, and - above all - supporting the American ideas that make people who live in paradises like Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Somalia desperately want to come here.

Today is Flag Day. Don't wrap yourself in the the ideals it represents.

You could be living in Iran, after all.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - a bonus (possibly apocryphal) quote from Adlai Stevenson: During one of his presidential campaigns, a supporter is said to have told him that he was sure to get the vote of every thinking man in the the country, to which Stevenson is said to have replied, "Thank you, but I need a majority to win."

I could have voted for a man like that.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why Do We Say That?

There's an interesting piece in the latest issue of the AARP Bulletin (sigh, yes, I've been an AARP member for a good few years now). It's called "Say What?", and it takes 50 common expressions we all recognize and use and briefly looks at their derivations ... which are, often as not, rooted in customs and technologies that most people younger than I don't even recognize any more.

I've long been interested in how customs, and perceptions change over time, and how our general attitudes are rooted in our age groups. In my May 5th post (You're Not Old Unless...), I looked at some of the things I remember that my grandchildren will probably shake their heads over in disbelief when I reminisce with them.

Which brings me back to the AARP Bulletin article. The source of the information on derivation of the 50 expressions is a great website called The Phrase Finder which is good for hours of linguistic fun (okay, a few minutes of linguistic fun, if you're not a language aficionado). Here are a few examples of interesting phrases born of things most people don't understand or mental connections they don't make any more:

1. "Asleep at the switch." Back in the dark ages, railroads employed switchmen to manually shift tracks so that trains would be shunted to the correct line. A person "asleep at the switch," not paying attention to his job, could cause a serious accident. Now, of course, computers do all the switching. We still have serious accidents, we just don't have a single person to blame them on any more.

2. "Hung out to dry." Not many people actually hang their laundry out on a clothesline to air-dry any more...not since we have ultramodern clothes dryers.

3. "Sounds like a broken record." Someone who never owned a phonograph probably can't relate to the endless repetition of sections of a song caused by a crack or other defect in the surface of a record. What's a record, you ask? Hmmm....

4. "Left his calling card." At one time, people carried calling cards, which they left as a reminder that they had visited and thus fulfilled a social obligation. Nowadays, of course, we just e-mail or leave a note on Facebook...

5. "That and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee." In this world of Starbucks half-caff non-fat espresso carbonara venti latte with foam and linguine, who would believe you could just get a simple cup of coffee? And for 25 cents, no less?

6. "My dance card is full." I've been dancing for almost 30 years and have yet to see a lady with a dance card on which she scheduled her fox trots with different gentlemen. Well, there's Mary Lou, who always wants to see a ticket, but that's a whole 'nother story...

7. "That's all, folks!" Who anymore remembers Porky Pig's traditional signoff at the end of the Looney Tunes? Or knows that it's the inscription on Mel Blanc's grave?

8. "Over the top." It means "outrageously goofy or dangerous"... but who now remembers that it once referred to soldiers in World War I climbing up over the lips of their trenches and running into the enemy's deadly fire?

9. "Drink the Kool-Aid." We know that it refers to extreme compliance with a stupid idea, but how many people still associate it with the horror of the mass suicide at Jonestown?

And finally,

10. "Back to the drawing board." I once had a drawing board...and a lot of pens and rulers and shape templates and such...but who nowadays understands the concept of going back to the drawing board when all you ever use is computer-assisted design software?

Take a few minutes and visit the Phrase Finder website for a stroll down linguistic memory lane. Assuming, of course, that your memory is still all it should be, ha, ha.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

At least 16 people are dead and as many as 73 unaccounted for in the wake of a flash flood that wiped away a campground in Arkansas; a man who held a 16-month-old boy hostage and kept police at bay for 55 hours in Sacramento, California, was shot to death by members of a police SWAT team; police in Brazil arrested a 54-year-old man and charged him with fathering eight children with his two eldest daughters; a review by the Army's Inspector General has found that hundreds of American veterans and their family members who were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery may have been misidentified or their graves mislocated; and Joran van der Sloot, once considered the main suspect in the disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba five years ago, has been formally charged with murdering another young woman in Peru.

There, there...sit back and let Cartoon Saturday take your mind off the lunacy...

Last week, Cartoon Saturday featured a cartoon that updated a stereotypical scene from a Western movie. Today, two similar takes on another classic...


You know you're dealing with a professional musician when ...

This simple, yet effective measure seems to have been ignored during the cobbling together of the Great Health Care Reform and Legislative Travesty Bill of 2010 ...

Remember the old joke about Uncle Floyd who worked as a conductor...he was struck by lightning? Here's another spin on that one ...

And finally, tonight Agnes and I are going to a nice restaurant in honor of her birthday. Well, okay, it's almost a month late, but we've been busy. I like this particular place because they have an ultramodern, high-tech sommelier ...

Well, that's it for another edition of Cartoon Saturday. Try to hang in there until next week. We're here for you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, June 11, 2010

You Know You Work in Modern Corporate America If...

I realize I shouldn't make jokes about having a job because ... well ... I actually have a job, and all too many people nowadays don't. Nevertheless, I ran across this list that I found and salted away a long time ago and found that it applies just as well now as it did then, with only a few items needing to be updated (would younger readers recognize what a diskette is, as opposed to a thumb drive?).

You know you work in modern corporate America if...

You've sat at the same desk for 4 years and worked for three different companies.

Your company welcome sign is attached with Velcro.

Your resume is on a thumb drive in your pocket.

The company logo on your badge is drawn on a post-it note.

When someone asks about what you do for a living, you lie.

You get really excited about a 1% pay raise.

You learn about your layoff on CNN.

The worst effect of a system crash is that you lose your best jokes.

Your supervisor doesn't know how to do your job.

You sit in a cubicle smaller than your bedroom closet.

Salaries of the members on the Executive Board are higher than the budgets of all the Third World countries. Combined.

You think lunch is just another meeting to which you drive.

It's dark when you drive to and from work.

Fun is when issues are assigned to someone else.

"Communication" is something your group is having problems with.

You see a good looking person and know it is a visitor.

Free food left over from meetings is your main staple.

Weekends are those days your spouse makes you stay home.

Taking more than three days of sick leave in a row requires you to produce a written excuse. From the coroner.

Art involves a white board.

You're already late on the assignment you just got.

You work 200 hours for the $100 bonus check and jubilantly say, "Oh wow, thanks!"

Dilbert cartoons hang outside every cube.

Your boss' favorite lines are "when you get a few minutes," "in your spare time," "when you're freed up," and "I have an opportunity for you."

Vacation is something you roll over to next year or a check you get every January.

Your relatives and family describe your job as "works with computers."

Change is the only thing constant in your job.

You only recognize your children because their pictures are hanging in your cube.

You only have makeup for fluorescent lighting.

You understood everything on this list.

So that's how it is in modern corporate America. Now get back to work...somebody has to pay the taxes to provide those welfare checks for unemployed Members of Congress. Actually, they are just looks like they're unemployed because they accomplish so little.

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


Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Resign

To Whom It May Concern:

I hereby officially tender my resignation as an adult. I have decided I would like to accept the responsibilities of a 6-year-old instead.

I want to go to McDonald's and think that it's a four-star restaurant.

I want to sail sticks across a fresh mud puddle and make ripples with rocks.

I want to think M&M's are better than money, because you can eat them.

I want to play kickball during recess and paint with watercolors in the park.

I want to lie under a big oak tree and run a lemonade stand with my friends on a hot summer's day.

I want to return to a time when life was simple. When all you knew were colors, addition tables and simple nursery rhymes, but that didn't bother you because you didn't know what you didn't know and you didn't care.

I want to return to a time when all you knew was to be happy because you didn't know all the things that should make you worried and upset.

I want to think that the world is fair. That everyone in it is honest and good.

I want to believe that anything is possible.

Somewhere in my youth, I matured and learned too much. I learned of nuclear weapons, war, prejudice, starvation and abused children.

I learned of lies, unhappy marriages, suffering, illness, pain and death.

I learned of a world where men left their families to go and fight for our country, and returned only to end up living on the streets begging for their next meal.

I learned of a world where children knew how to kill - and did!

What happened to the time when we thought that everyone would live forever, because we didn't grasp the concept of death? When we thought the worst thing in the world was if someone took the jump rope from you, or picked you last for kickball? I want to be oblivious to the complexity of life and be overly excited by little things once again.

I want to return to the days when reading was fun, and music was clean. When television was used to report the news or for family entertainment and not to promote sex, violence and deceit.

I remember being naive and thinking that everyone was happy because I was. I would walk on the beach and only think of the sand between my toes and the prettiest seashell I could find...not tar balls and oil sheen and birds covered with sludge. I would spend my afternoons climbing trees and riding my bike. I didn't worry about time, bills, or where I was going to find the money to fix my car. I used to wonder what I was going to do or be when I grew up, not worry about what I'll do if this doesn't work out.

I want to live simple again. I don't want my day to consist of computer crashes, mountains of paperwork, depressing news, how to survive more days in the month than there is money in the bank, doctor bills, gossip, illness and loss of loved ones. I want to believe in the power of smiles, hugs, a kind word, truth, justice, peace, dreams, the imagination, mankind and making angels in the snow.

I want to be 6 again.

This resignation is effective immediately.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Yet Another Snarky Question About Health Care

Yesterday I offered a tongue-in-cheek satirical post that provided answers to frequently asked questions about health care reform. The topic of health care is, of course, a serious one on which reasonable people (if you can find any nowadays) can disagree. Back on March 29th, I wrote a post titled Health Care Reform Yardstick in which I asked a few questions that nobody working the issues of health care reform appeared to be answering...or even considering. A week before that, on March 21st, I asked some other Questions About Health Care. If you want to go back and read those again, go ahead...I'll wait.


At the risk of sounding like a one-note trumpet, I still have all the same questions, and have so far amassed exactly NO answers. I even have a new one:

The "public option," which I understand to mean a single-payer, government-run national health-care insurance system, has been savagely vilified by many commentators whose arguments seem to boil down to one thing: I don't want any #$@%! government bureaucrat making decisions about my health care!

Well, here's a news flash for those of you who have been mindlessly parroting that old bromide: bureaucrats are already making decisions about your health care. The only difference is that they work for insurance companies, and not for the government. Remember, if you will, that insurance companies are profit-driven businesses...delivering health care insurance is their way of making money for their shareholders.

So riddle me this, Batman: is it worse to have decisions about your health care made by a government bureaucrat who (at least in theory) is a public servant not motivated by maximizing profits while minimizing costs, or by an insurance company worker whose livelihood depends on maximizing profits while minimizing costs?

I'm just asking the question...not advocating a position.

I was thinking about this because I recently received a letter from my insurance company titled: "Status of your out-of-pocket maximum." This letter told me that, as of May 29th, I had completed 0.71% of my annual out-of-pocket maximum, while Agnes had completed 0.00%. It went on to say that "Th(is) information is intended to help you understand and manage your health care spending."

So, what does this actually mean and how does it help me "understand and manage my health care spending?" If I get sick, I'm going to the doctor. If I have a painful toothache, I'm going to the dentist. What's to "understand and manage?" And what happens when I reach the (very large) "out of pocket maximum?" Does the insurance company start paying 100%? I don't think so.

No answers today, just more questions.

I've given up on getting the answers.

Have a good day. Stay can't afford not to.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Frequently Asked Questions About Health Care Reform

If you are hopelessly confused about the intricacies of health care reform, you are not alone. After all, it was written to be understood by lawyers and medical professionals, not by Real People. But as a public service, I have done a great deal of research and have compiled an initial set of answers to frequently-asked questions (FAQ's, for those of you who live on the net) about health care reform...

What does HMO stand for?

This is actually a variation of the phrase, "Hey, Moe!" Its roots go back to a concept pioneered by Doctor Moe Howard, who discovered that a patient could be made to forget about the pain in his foot if he was poked hard enough in the eyes. Modern practice replaces the physical finger poke with hi-tech equivalents such as voice mail and referral slips, but the result remains the same.

Do all diagnostic procedures require pre-certification?

No. Only those you need.

I just joined a new HMO. How difficult will it be to choose the doctor I want?

Just slightly more difficult than choosing your parents. Your insurer will provide you with a book listing all the doctors who were participating in the plan at the time the information was gathered. These doctors basically fall into two categories: those who are no longer accepting new patients, and those who will see you but are no longer part of the plan. But don't worry - the remaining doctor who is still in the plan and accepting new patients has an office just a half day's drive away!

What are pre-existing conditions?

This term refers to conditions which require treatment, but which are not covered by your insurance. This is a phrase used by the grammatically challenged when they want to talk about existing conditions. Unfortunately, we appear to be pre-stuck with it.

Can I get coverage for my pre-existing conditions?

Certainly, as long as they don't require any treatment.

What happens if I want to try alternative forms of medicine?

You'll need to find alternative forms of payment.

My pharmacy plan only covers generic drugs, but I need the name brand. I tried the generic medication, but it gave me a stomach ache. What should I do?

Poke yourself in the eye.

I have an 80/20 plan with a $200 deductible and a $2,000 yearly cap. My insurer reimbursed the doctor for my out-patient surgery, but I'd already paid my bill. What should I do?

You have two choices. Your doctor can sign the reimbursement check over to you, or you can ask him to invest the money for you in one of those great offers that only doctors and dentists hear about, like windmill farms or frog hatcheries.

What should I do if I get sick while traveling?

Try sitting in a different part of the bus.

No, I mean what if I'm away from home and I get sick?

You really shouldn't do that. You'll have a hard time seeing your primary care physician. It's best to wait until you return, and then get sick.

I think I need to see a specialist, but my doctor insists he can handle my problem. Can a general practitioner really perform a heart transplant right in his office?

Hard to say, but considering that all you're risking is the $25 co-payment, there's no harm giving him a shot at it.

What accounts for the largest portion of health care costs?

Analysts disagree, but generally agree on two factors: doctors trying to recoup their investment losses, and lawyers looking for a Big Score.

Will health care be any different in the next century?

No, but if you call right now, you might get an appointment by then.

I hope this helps remove some of the mystery surrounding health care reform. If you would like to read the text of the bill, you can do it here. Of course, before you do that you should ensure that your insurance covers eye damage from reading 1990 pages of dense legalese.

But it probably won't. Good luck.

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


Monday, June 07, 2010

Dressing for Success. Or Not.

Years ago I worked in a military office in which we routinely wore civilian clothing. Many of my young soldiers and airmen had never had the experience of working in a professional office environment, and sometimes needed a little guidance on how to dress appropriately. Blue jeans and t-shirts were one thing, but I reached the limit when a young lady showed up for work one morning wearing a hot pink track suit. She looked like a stick of bubble gum, and I sent her home to change clothes.

There are many things they don't teach you how to handle in ROTC.

Nowadays I wear civilian clothes all the time, being a civilian again. This is not an easy thing for someone with wacky color vision, but since I have Agnes to help vet my wardrobe each day, I manage well enough. And we won't even talk about having to wear a tie every day.

Well, I told you all that to set up this series of memos which tell the story of 'Casual Friday'...

Memo #1: "Effective immediately, the company is adopting Fridays as 'Casual Day' so employees may express their diversity."

Memo #2:
"Spandex and leather micro-miniskirts are inappropriate attire for Casual Day, as are string ties, rodeo belt buckles and moccasins."

Memo #3:
"Casual Day refers to dress, not attitude. When planning Friday's wardrobe, remember: Image is one key to our success!"

Memo #4:
"A seminar and fashion show on 'How to Dress for Casual Day' will be held today at 4 in the cafeteria. Attendance mandatory."

Memo #5:
"As a result of last week's seminar, the new 14-member Casual Day Task Force will prepare guidelines on proper dress."

Memo #6:
"The Casual Day Task Force has attached its 30-page manual, 'Relaxing Dress Without Relaxing Company Standards' to this email. Review the chapter entitled 'You Are What You Wear' and consult the 'Home Casual Versus Business Casual' checklist before leaving home each Friday. If you have doubts about the appropriateness of an item of clothing, contact your CDTF representative. "

Memo #7:
"Effective immediately, Casual Day has been discontinued because of lack of participation. "

Isn't that just how it goes?

Have a good day. Dress appropriately. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Mosque at Ground Zero

Consider for a moment this bit of alternative history...

Nineteen young American Christians plot to kill Muslims. They do this because their radical parish priests tell them the Bible demands it and they will be rewarded in heaven for their act. The men hijack airliners and crash them into the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing more than 3,000 people. Saudis, horrified at this act, decide that a good way to help ease tensions between the Muslim world and everyone else would be to erect a Christian church near the hole where the Grand Mosque used to be.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

As you are no doubt aware (and if you're not, you should be), the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative have obtained local endorsement for a controversial plan to build a 13-story Islamic community center including a mosque, performing art center, gym, swimming pool and other public spaces not far from the site of Ground Zero. It is not being referred to as an "Islamic" center, but the prominent inclusion of a mosque leaves little doubt as to what it is.

As I wrote in the introduction to yesterday's Cartoon Saturday post, I think this is an appallingly bad and grossly insensitive idea. And I think it's being supported by well-meaning people who have not thought through the implications of what it is they are doing.

The United States is a nation founded on the ideal of religious freedom...that every person has the right to worship God (or not) according to the dictates of his own conscience. The first amendment to the Constitution begins with these words: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." The founders had seen what evils could arise when religious beliefs were abused by kings and princes, and they wanted none of it in the new nation they were founding.

Islam is completely alien to this concept of religious liberty. You are a Muslim, or you are an infidel. It is the duty of every Muslim to spread the faith, by force if necessary. If you are a Christian living in a Muslim-ruled land, you can exist (although not worship openly) by paying a tax to the religious authorities. Or you can be killed if you refuse to convert to Islam. The Islamic faith sees no division between the power of the mosque and the power of the state...there is no equivalent to Jesus' injunction in Mark 12:17 to "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." This is why the billions of dollars we pay for Saudi Arabian oil each year help to ensure that Saudi religious textbooks - including those shipped to this country for use in Saudi-funded Islamic schools - vilify Christians and Jews. You cannot build a church or synagogue in Saudi Arabia, nor can you openly worship there in any faith other than Islam. All of this goes back to the devil's bargain made between the al-Saud family and the forces of the brutally intolerant Wahhabi sect many years ago...and it's why the Saudi government will never be able to crack down on the worst excesses of Islamic radicals. They depend on them.

Islamic believers and apologists stress that Islam is a religion of peace and justice. What they neglect to mention is that this peace and justice applies to Muslims...not necessarily to infidels who worship according to other belief systems.

Make no mistake: I have no problem with anyone who wishes to be a Muslim or hold Islamic beliefs. But I believe it is important to note that Muslims believe the Koran is the final, unchangeable, revealed word of God...that every single word is definitive and must be accepted. There is no room for interpretation. There are most certainly some very bloodthirsty parts of the Bible, particularly in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy...but there aren't priests and ministers telling impressionable young people today to go out and burn, stone, or kill sinners. On the other hand, there are a considerable number of firebrand Muslim clerics who encourage their congregations to murder those who are of other faiths...or even those who are insufficiently Islamic (consider the terrible violence between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq).

The gulf of hatred and mistrust between Muslims and other religions will not be bridged by building "community centers" near the sites of atrocities committed by Muslims. It will not be bridged by Muslim apologists who tell us that they are good people and the rest of us just need to be more understanding and accommodating.

It will be bridged when Muslims take a hard look at the tenets of their faith and recognize that they are no longer living in sixth century Arabia. When Muslims of good will (and I don't doubt that there are some) start rising up and taking action against the uncompromising religious bigots who murder and oppress in the name of their faith, I'll start taking them seriously. Until then, I believe that even thinking about putting a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero is a slap in the face of those who were murdered by Islamic extremists on September 11, 2001.

I'm sick to death of being told that it's my job to understand and accept Muslims. If they want to live in the United States and practice their faith, fine. But I believe it's their job to understand and accommodate themselves to the rest of the world.

Not that it will ever happen.

No mosque at Ground Zero. Ever. Period.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

Israel is still weathering a storm of criticism for its botched attempt to stop a flotilla of ships attempting to deliver aid to Gaza; McDonalds has recalled 12 million drinking glasses featuring the characters from the Shrek movies, which were found to be contaminated with cadmium; although a cap is in place over the broken well head, oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, fouling beaches and marshlands for hundreds of miles in an unprecedented ecological disaster; a man once suspected in the murder of American high-school student Natalee Holloway in Aruba has been arrested and charged with the murder of another young woman in Peru; a four-year-old boy in Florida has survived a seven-story fall from the balcony of his parents' apartment; and passions continue to run high over a controversial proposal to build a mosque and Islamic culture center near Ground Zero (which, for the record, I think is an appallingly bad and grossly insensitive idea).

If you didn't have Cartoon Saturday to help you get past all the ass-clownery, how would you cope?

Since last week's Cartoon Saturday was preempted by the family reunion in Pittsburgh, we'll give you a few bonus cartoons this week. See, Bilbo takes care of you.

There are tourist attractions, and there are tourist attractions...

Speaking of useless signs...

Isn't it about time Hollywood remade and updated some of the classic Westerns...?

Someone must have been a fly on the wall at my last checkup...

The test results are in...
More test results are in...

Did you ever wonder what they grow on the ... oh, never mind ...

And finally, a clever ptake on an old joke ...

It looks as if it may be a rainy and stormy weekend here in Northern Virginia, so perhaps it'll be another good opportunity to finish cleaning out my study. Or not. It'll get done someday.

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