Thursday, September 30, 2010

Of 1492 and Death-Ray Hotels

Columbus Day won't roll around for another week and a half, but I was reminded of it when I brought up the Blogger dashboard to create today's post and learned that it is post number 1492. Now, how cool would it have been if that number would have fallen on Columbus Day? I guess that would have been too much coincidence, eh?

Today being my 1,492nd post means - assuming I manage to post every day as usual - I will hit post number 1500 next Friday. Hmmm... I need to figure out something spiffy to do to celebrate. Any ideas for an appropriate post topic?

Moving on to other topics, tonight is one of our prime TV-viewing nights, with two of our favorite shows: Bones and Fringe. And speaking of Fringe, which deals with all sorts of strange events, people (Walter is one of my heroes), and things, I call your attention to this interesting article: Swanky New Vegas Hotel's 'Death Ray' Proves Inconvenient for Some Guests.

It seems that the concave design and glass exterior of the new Vdara hotel in Las Vegas combine to turn it into the equivalent of a giant magnifying glass, focusing the heat of the Vegas sun (which, as Mike and I can tell you, is pretty intense at any time) on the hotel's swimming pool area. The heat is so intense that it has actually burned guests and melted objects.

Now, I know that lots of people get burned in Vegas every year, but this is ridiculous.

According to the article, similar 'hot spots' can be found around other gigantic, glass-wrapped Vegas hotels, but the new Vdara is the one getting the most unfortunate press.

So ...

If you've going to Vegas and staying at the Vdara, be sure to pack your SPF 67,000 sunblock and don't forget to whistle "On the Sunny Side of the Street" as you walk by the pool.

Speaking of pools, I won't need one this morning - it is pouring rain outside. It's raining so hard I'm thinking of getting my ark out of storage for the morning commute. Great weather to have at a time when our bus route has been detoured because of construction on the Fairfax County Parkway, and I have to walk an extra block to a different stop. Sadly, my Mae West clashes with my suit. No, Mike, not that Mae West ...

This one ...


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


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Squeezing the Balloon

Continuing with yesterday's thought...

Both of our major political parties are full of very simplistic ideas about how to address the various problems we face as a nation. Some of these ideas aren't bad, but most of them only prescribe for the symptoms and not for the underlying problems ... they make the rash go away for a while, but don't do anything about the virus that causes it and will make it come back again later.

The real problem about our government's approach to solving problems, no matter which party is in power at any given time, is that it doesn't view our problems as being interconnected, such that actions which are taken in one area may have unintended consequences in another. It's rather like squeezing a balloon - if you take a partially-inflated balloon and squeeze it in the middle, it bulges at both ends. If you squeeze one end, the other bulges. Everything is connected to everything else, and if all you do is pump money and effort at one problem, you create (or exacerbate) another problem somewhere else.

The economy is the classic example. Here are a few examples of dealing with the economy as an example of squeezing the balloon:

People demand low prices on the things they buy. In order to reduce the prices they charge and still show a profit, businesses curb their own costs in various ways: by demanding lower prices of their suppliers, by demanding increased productivity from their workers, or by getting rid of some of their workers. This leads to unemployed people who, because they now no longer have jobs, are unable to pay even the low prices they demanded on goods in the first place.

Republicans tell you that the solution to every problem is to reduce taxes so that individuals and businesses can keep more of the money they earn, pump it back into the economy, and generate more business. That's a reasonable theory for the long term, but it doesn't really do much in the short run. Businesses don't hire workers because their taxes are low ... they hire workers because they see that hiring more workers will improve their bottom line. This means that reduced taxes improve profitability on current business but don't necessarily improve future business. In addition, because the government has reduced its income from taxes, it faces a revenue deficit which must be made up somewhere else. The classic Republican argument is that reduced taxes stimulate businesses to do more ... uh ... business ... such that the income lost in lower taxes is made up by a larger volume of business income to be taxed at the lower rate.

Did you follow that? It's a good theory, but I think it works a lot better when applied to a booming economy rather than one that's just gasping along.

Look at the other side of the argument for a moment. Democrats believe that the answer to most problems is increased government spending and new programs. But if you squeeze that balloon, you quickly see the interconnected problems. How do you pay for the programs? If you impose higher taxes, you stifle businesses and individual initiative. You could cut other programs, but each one has its own constituency that will fight you tooth and nail. You can borrow the money, but that just creates new costs in the future when the interest on the loans comes due.

It's all interconnected. You can squeeze the balloon all you want, but all you'll do is change its shape.

I don't know if I've done a very good job of starting out this discussion. What I'm trying to do behind the scenes (being a visual sort of person) is diagram all this out in a way that illustrates the interconnectedness of all of our problems and - perhaps - suggests some new approaches to solving them. No solutions I or anyone else can propose will be easy, popular, or cheap ... but one thing I think I can guarantee is that any solution that doesn't address more than one aspect of a problem won't work any more than squeezing the balloon will.

What do you think? What are your ideas about addressing interconnected problems?

Maybe we can work together to squeeze the balloon from both ends. It can't hurt.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Clarity and Oversimplification

I've had this article in my Blog Fodder file for a while, waiting for an opportunity to use it properly: The Price of Clarity, by Robert Skidelsky. In this short, yet wonderful piece about plain speaking and thinking, Mr Skidelsky writes,

"The greater the distance between the language of elites and ordinary people, the greater the risk of revolt. To the extent that complexity in finance or politics creates new opportunities to deceive, impedes understanding, or blurs lines of accountability, we should aim to reduce it. To the extent that such problems reflect decreased ability to express oneself clearly, the remedy is to improve education. The price of clarity, like the price of liberty, is eternal vigilance, and the two are connected."

I thought about this article recently, but not in quite the way Mr Skidelsky intended.

While it's true that politicians, economists, insurance companies, lawyers, and others use obfuscation and complexity of language to keep unpleasant truths from us, it's equally true that oversimplicity of language can accomplish the same thing. The GOP's Pledge to America is a classic example...full of simple, plain speaking ("... stop out of control spending and reduce the size of government;" "... reform Congress and restore trust;" "... replace the government takeover") that sounds like it says a lot, but actually means nothing.

The problems that we face are complex and interconnected, and there are no simple answers, regardless of what our elected reprehensives and the wannabes who want to replace them would have you believe. Over the next few days in this blog, we'll look at how many of these problems fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and why simple statements and pious platitudes won't solve anything. If you enjoy thinking critically and trying to solve problems rather than sweep them under the rug until they're someone else's responsibility (like our grandchildren), come back tomorrow and join me for the start of Bilbo's March to the November Elections.

We'll still be stuck with the same slate of incumbents and candidates, but maybe we can get them to be a little more honest with us ... starting with being a little more honest with ourselves.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Facelifting George

Have you heard the great news? The recession is over! Yes, Dear Readers, you can breathe easy again, because the National Bureau of Economic Research has announced that not only is the Great Recession over, it's been over since June of last year! HOORAY! You can go out and celebrate now, particularly if you don't have a job to get in the way.

So, how should we celebrate the end of the recession? How about giving our money a face lift?

The Dollar Bill ReDeSign Project is looking for ways to make poverty more exciting by making American currency less drab and uninteresting. After all, the Bahamas have wonderful day-glo currency, and aren't the people there always happy and cheerful?

Here are a few of the proposed designs for re-branding the once-Almighty Dollar:

Spiffy, eh? I'm surprised this isn't one of the "ideas" contained in the GOP's Pledge to America...after all, it's something the Republicans might actually be able to do. Of course, they'd have to introduce the $3.00 bill, but I'm sure they can handle it.

Just something to think about as you contemplate the impact of a new era of Republican economic policies. You still won't have a job, or very much money, but won't the money you have look nice?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Useless Pledges

This past week, the Republican party published a wonderful, glossy, 28-page work of fiction entitled A Pledge to America. It's a great read, full of the sort of pious platitudes and self-righteous chest-thumping you'd expect from the GOP. Heaven knows how much it must have cost to print (except that I'm sure some printing company is writing off the cost on its taxes this year).

And, if you'll pardon my French, it's bullshit of the highest and purest order, probably produced by bulls on a farm that receives rich subsidies at your expense.

The word pledge is defined by my Webster's New Collegiate dictionary this way: a binding promise or agreement to do or forbear. You might want to remember the part about binding when the time comes to hold the authors of the Pledge to America accountable. But you won't, because we Americans have short memories.

One of the things you first notice about the Pledge to America is that it's long on denunciation of the current administration and on faithful promises to reign in big government, "act immediately to reduce spending," and "root out government waste." It all sounds great, doesn't it? Who could argue against this? Well, as it turns out, it's not so easy as a glossy bumper sticker makes it sound. It's hard to find spending to reduce and government waste to root out. If you listened to Robert Siegel's interview of House Chief Deputy Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy on NPR the other evening, you heard a master politician shamelessly dodge every single attempt by Mr Siegel to get him to identify a single federal agency or program that the Republicans would cut. If you missed the interview, you can read the transcript or listen to the recorded interview here.

Yesterday I found this article by Washington Post economic and domestic policy writer Ezra Klein: There's No Such Thing As Easy Spending Cuts. It's very short and to-the-point, and it does a wonderful job of explaining why the Pledge to America, for all its slick production and how-can-you-argue-against-something-obvious words, will accomplish nothing. Mr Kline makes the point that there's no budgetary line item for waste, other than things like farm subsidies (check out Mike's post for a way to see who's feeding at that trough) ... and that "just about everything in the federal budget is protected by powerful constituencies and politicians."

The sad truth, as Mr Kline notes, is that it's all but impossible to slash the federal budget as the Pledge to America promises to do without wiping out programs funded by your tax dollars that are third rails for very vocal and very powerful constituencies - things like veterans' benefits (hey, I'm a veteran!), the National Institutes of Health, the FAA (John?), national parks, defense, social security, and many other beloved programs.

And that part about slashing taxes? At the risk of again sounding like a one-note trumpet, I have to remind you that taxes are the way governments raise money to operate. At least, they were before we started using them as a system to reward political allies and perform social engineering experiments. Actually, there are three ways governments can raise money: levy taxes, charge fees for services, or borrow money. But nobody likes to pay taxes, everyone cries foul about fees for services (aren't my tax dollars paying for that already?), and oh-by-the-way you and I are funding the spectacular rise of China as a global competitor because - surprise! - they're buying up our debt. We are becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Beijing.

So let's stop being stupid about all this. Let's agree that the Pledge to America is a meaningless document that relies - as all good cons do - on the gullibility and short memories of those about to be shamelessly fleeced. It tries to convince us that our problems can be solved if we just do all sorts of things that sound great, but but are politically impossible to do without more spine than anyone in Congress (or the Executive Branch, for that matter) has displayed for many years.

When you receive your next door-to-door visit from someone flacking for a candidate for office, ask him or her my five basic questions. Insist on details rather than vague promises and the old dodge-and-weave.

And if they ask you use your bathroom, you can offer them a copy of the Pledge to America in lieu of Charmin.

Because that's all it's worth.

Have a good day. Ask the hard questions and demand the hard answers. It's your government, after all.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

Gold sold on Friday for an all-time record of $1301.30 an ounce; actress and award-winning bad example for young people Lindsey Lohan has been released from jail yet again, this time on $300,000 bond; world-class lunatic and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gave a speech at the UN in which he again insisted that the US government staged the 9/11 attacks; Virginia on Friday executed a woman for the first time in over 100 years; and the GOP has released its glossy new "Pledge to America," in which it solemnly promises to do all sorts of things if voters return it to power in the November elections...although it might be remembered that Pledge is actually a family of products used to give a high gloss to old and worn-out things.

Aren't you glad you have Cartoon Saturday at times like this?

Thinking back to my post about essential tools last week, I thought this cartoon was appropriate...

As we ramp up for the November elections, we have to prepare ourselves for the onslaught of political campaign ads which, somehow, always manage to find a way to get worse each season...

There was a time when celebrities were famous for some reason, such as ... oh ... talent or something. Things are different now ...

What the well-dressed voter will be wearing this fall ...

There are parts of the Bible that you probably never heard covered in your Sunday School classes ...

And finally, technology has made a lot of things easier to do over the years ...

It looks like it's going to be a beautiful day here in Northern Virginia, and I plan to spend much of it down on The Mall at the 2010 National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress. I have books to be signed by author Elizabeth Kostova, a list of talks given by other authors to attend, and a fully-charged camera to take pictures of it all. Life is good.

Have a good day and a great weekend. Remember what I said about the Pledge ...

More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Things You're Better Off Not Knowing

There are some questions I'd like to have answered. These include:

How on earth do airlines calculate fares?

Will the DC Metro system ever run safely, affordably, and on time ... simultaneously?

Why didn't the Republicans print their new work of fiction A Pledge to America on softer paper so that it's more comfortable when I use it in the bathroom? (More on this in future posts.)

One of the rules I live by, however, is Don't ask the question if you don't want to hear the answer. This is important, because there really are some things you probably don't want to know about. But even though there are some things you're better off not knowing, you might nevertheless be interested in these five excerpts from the list of 25 Things Chefs Never Tell You ...

When eating out in other restaurants, avoid pasta and chicken. Chefs know that these dishes are often the most overpriced and least interesting on the menu. One chef said he wouldn't pay $24 for half a chicken breast. Neither should you.

The five-second rule actually applies. A quarter (!) of the chefs surveyed said they’d pick up and cook food that had been dropped on the floor. Yum.

Restaurants mark up wine by a lot more than you might expect. Bring that hip flask with you. Most chefs said that a bottle on their wine list costs 2½ times what the same one would cost in a wine store. My experience is that it's a lot more than that, particularly if you buy your wine at Costco or a similar wholesale store.

Roaches are more common than you think. A staggering 75% of surveyed chefs said they’ve seen roaches in the kitchen, but swear their kitchens are clean. Nevertheless, 85% of chefs ranked their kitchens an 8 or higher (on a scale of 1 to 10) for cleanliness. Perhaps the condiments on each table ought to include a can of Raid.

Your bread basket might be recycled. Three chefs admitted that uneaten bread from one basket goes right into another one. I'm shocked! Shocked, I say! Aghast, even.

Just a few things to think about as you get ready to go out for dinner this weekend. Don't thank me ... it's all part of the service.

Have a good day. Bon appetit! See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, September 23, 2010


At some point in their young lives, every child goes through a dinosaur phase. I did, my children did, and I see it now in my grandchildren - a fascination with gigantic, ferocious, deadly animals often shown in movies chasing comely maidens dressed in animal skins. When children grow up, some of them never get over their fascination with dinosaurs, and they become paleontologists, scientists who spend their lives in remote deserts in search of fragments of old bones, from which they extrapolate entire whole dinosaurs.

I bring this all up because scientists in Utah appear to have discovered two hitherto unknown species of dinosaur: Kosmoceratops richardsoni and Utahceratops gettyi.

As you might suspect from their rather elegant names, these dinosaurs appear to have been related to the famous Triceratops, known to generations of dinosaur-admiring children for the three large horns protruding from its head ...

The newly-discovered Kosmoceratops is a bit more elegant that this, sporting not three, but 15 horns on its head. This is an artist's reconstruction ...

That, let me tell you, is one horny dinosaur. It appears to be the most ornately-headed beast ever discovered, and that includes Lady GaGa ...

According to scientists who know much more about horny dinosaurs than I, the horns probably evolved as a way to attract mates and intimidate sexual competitors. The modern analogy is the antlers on a deer, or the weapons carried by thugs.

But I digress.

Living as I do in Northern Virginia, well within the influence of the massive black hole known as Congress (a gravitational sinkhole so powerful that nothing can escape from it, including leadership and common sense), I am quite familiar with dinosaurs, at least the modern variety. Congress is, after all, full of them. You have probably seen this notable fossil recently excavated from Capitol Hill ...

Species of dinosaur native to Washington include Nonono Republicanii (common name: the Hardheaded Conservative), characterized by the armor-plated head which prevents new ideas from penetrating its walnut-sized brain, and Taxandspend Pelosii (common name: the Profligate Liberal), which can be recognized by its tendency to redistribute the meager possessions of other dinosaurs.

Both are good arguments for extinction, but appear to be in no danger thereof because of their ability to make the sort of loud noises like-minded dinosaurs want to hear, and to trample other dinosaurs whose noises they don't like.


So, when election day rolls around in about six weeks, rather than digging up the same old bones, why not consider speeding the extinction of some of these lizards which have outlived their time?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Yesterday I ran across an article that I didn't bookmark and now can't find again. I hate it when that happens. The article was about the five least-valuable collectible items that people buy in the mistaken belief that they will grow in value and prove a good long-term investment. The list included kitschy Hummel figurines, collectible plates (of which we have gazillions), and just about anything produced by The Franklin Mint.

Most of us have some sort of collection. As children, and later as adults, we take interest in particular things to the extent that we want to amass collections of them. As we get older, some of the things we collect are gathered in the hope that they will ultimately be valuable ... unfortunately, most of the stuff we collect ends up being pretty much useless except for the joy we get in the simple fact of owning it.

Here are some of the things I've collected over the years:

1. Dust. Oops ... sorry about that ... that would have been Agnes's opinion.

2. Coins. I collected these in grade school and into high school, until I realized that my chances of amassing a coin collection worth more than its face value was just about zero. I learned this the day I had my pride-and-joy 1898 silver dollar appraised and found it was worth exactly $1.00. I eventually spent the collection.

3. Stamps. I enjoyed collecting interesting and colorful stamps. My paternal grandmother, who worked as a cleaning lady at a bank, used to gather up all the stamped envelopes when she emptied the trash and proudly deliver them to me when we visited. I lost interest in collecting stamps and gave the collection away long ago, although I do enjoy seeing the colorful stamps on letters I receive...courtesy of Amanda, I have some beautiful stamps from Indonesia and Australia.

4. Railroad Lanterns. At one time I had a very impressive collection of colorful metal-and-glass oil-fired railroad lanterns. They were interesting and attractive, and the pinnacle of the collection was a lantern I found at a flea market in Germany that apparently originated in China (based on the embossed lettering). I stopped collecting the lanterns when the collection grew too fragile and cumbersome to ship in my frequent military moves, and took up too much space to display.

5. David Winter Cottages. I have a very large collection of these, some of which are quite beautiful and one or two of which are actually worth a small amount of money. I have several that I waited in line for hours one Saturday in Germany to have autographed by David Winter himself.

6. Pictures of People Taking Pictures. I love photography and take thousands of pictures when we travel. My grandchildren's tans are largely caused by camera flashes. One of the subjects I like to photograph is other people in the act of taking pictures...I have an enormous collection of such pictures. One of these days I'll meet up with Andrea and we can take pictures of each other as we take pictures of each other.

7. Books. Agnes and I have thousands of books. Lately, I don't buy too many fiction's cheaper to use the library. There are a few fiction authors I'll spend money on (Bernard Cornwell, Rennie Airth, Allan Furst, and the Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child collaborations), but mostly I just buy books about history, current events, and social science.

So, what do you collect, and why?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tech-Enabled, Crazy, or Both?

A while back at the wonderful blog Indexed, Jessica posted this card:

If you walk down the street, take public transportation, or visit the average shopping mall, you understand this.

The advent of Bluetooth technology, which allows us to use wireless, hands-free devices, has changed our perceptions of the world and the people around us. There was a time when you saw a person on the street shouting to himself and knew that this was a crazy person and it was time to cross the street or duck into the nearest store. Nowadays, you don't know if that person is crazy and dangerous, crazy and harmless, or just crazy and clueless, living under the happy illusion that a deeply personal conversation carried on with a Bluetooth-enabled phone is actually private.

I enjoy reading on the bus and the Metro train to and from work every day. But one of the unhappy constants of life is that there will, on any given day, be at least one ass clown sharing his business dealings, his plans for the coming evening, or his fight with his girlfriend with me. Not long ago, there was even a clueless idiot who made his hotel reservations at top volume from the train, including sharing his credit card number, expiration date, and security code. I felt like writing it all down and buying myself a new Mercedes on his dime.


If you are one of those Bluetooth-enabled jackwagons who have an irrational desire to share, here are some points to remember:

1. Bluetooth technology does not include a cone of silence that keeps your conversation private...

2. If you want to rant at someone, get a blog. It worked for me.

3. That Bluetooth device may be okay when curled around your ear, but it will be a lot less comfortable when it's been shoved up your left nostril by an angry crowd.

That's all. Thanks for not sharing.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Deadly Sins

Mike had an interesting post this morning that started with the Seven Deadly Sins. Great topic for a Monday as we head into election season, eh?

The Seven Deadly Sins, in Christian tradition, were those sins considered to be the worst of moral failures - wrath, greed, pride, sloth, envy, lust, and gluttony. The list has evolved over time since it was first codified by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century, and does not, as far as I can tell, appear in this form in the Bible. The meanings of the individual sins have evolved over time as well; for instance, the sin of lust was at one time luxuria (or unrestrained excess in behavior), and the sin of acedia (or discouragement) evolved into what we know today as sloth (the failure through laziness or indifference to do right).

Mike goes on to cite this list by Ashley Cooper of seven unlikely, yet still deadly sins:

Truth, if it becomes a weapon against persons (does this include the common practice in political attack ads of taking quotes out of context?);

Beauty, if it becomes vanity (no issue, here);

Love, if it becomes possessive (how we get stalkers);

Loyalty, if it becomes blind, careless trust (blind loyalty to any leader, religious or temporal, is a recipe for disaster);

Tolerance, if it becomes indifference (this is the awful concept of moral relativism);

Self-confidence, if it becomes arrogance (I believe this is a particularly Republican trait, although there are enough Democrats who also display it);

Faith, if it becomes self-righteous ("I'm okay, you'll burn in hell if you don't believe what I do").

Perhaps it's just me, but it seems that these ugly transmutations of otherwise admirable traits into their evil twins are particularly evident in modern political campaigning and harshly intolerant religious beliefs.

In 2008, the Vatican updated the traditional list of deadly sins to include seven more that are appropriate to the modern age. The seven new deadly sins are:


Genetic Engineering;

Being Obscenely Rich;

Drug Dealing;




Causing Social Injustice.

I remember writing about this list of new deadly sins when it was first announced, but such is the curse of voluminous pontification that I can't find what I originally wrote.

Deadly sins: old, new, or the perversion of admirable traits. Something worth thinking about as we head into another election season full of half-truths and twisted logic, and consider the righteous arrogance of contending religious beliefs.

Off to work, where I will do my best to avoid all fourteen of the deadly sins.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vote for Me Because He's No Good

Okay, Dear Readers, I know you're tired of listening to me pontificate about the sad state of politics in America, my complete and utter loss of faith in both major parties, and the empty-headed bloviation of tea party wingnuts and other ass-clowns on both fringes of the political spectrum. About the only hole bigger than the crater where my retirement savings used to be is the monumental, slime-bedewed sinkhole of electoral politics.

There's an adage that says when you've hit bottom, you should stop digging. The Democrats have obviously not heard this adage or, if they have, they've chosen to grandly ignore it in classic Republican fashion. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you saw that I posted a link to this article yesterday: Democrats to Voters: You May Hate Us, but the Republicans Are Worse.

As ringing endorsements of a political position go, that one's a true classic worthy of study by future analysts of hard-fought political campaigns. It certainly makes me want to run right out and vote for my favorite candidate ...

One of the things that drives me absolutely crazy is the "attack ad," in which a political candidate wastes 60 seconds of your time with a campaign ad which explains in great detail (with appropriate special effects and musical accompaniment) what a drunken, spouse-beating, non-church-going, inept, useless, all-around waste of skin his (or her) opponent is ... but somehow manages to tell you absolutely nothing about what he (or she) stands for, supports, opposes, or would do if elected. At the end of an ad like that, all you know about this candidate is that that candidate is a useless slimeball.

Closely related to the attack ad is the door-to-door campaign visit, generally conducted by earnest young people who believe their candidate is the only thing standing between civilization as we know it and the utter ruin represented by (insert name of opposing candidate here). My experience has been that most of these door-to-door pests know nothing about their candidate that isn't in their script. They have no clue what positions she (or he) takes on issues other than the very broadest ones, and can't tell you what policies he (or she) would pursue or support if elected. They can't discuss budget priorities, fiscal trade-offs, or much of anything else. All they do is soak up oxygen that could be better used by my plants.

So ...

If you are a political campaign worker in the Northern Virginia area and are planning to either call me or appear on my doorstep to flack for your candidate, don't waste your time unless you are ready to answer these five minimum questions:

1. What does your candidate bring to office that the opponent doesn't? What are his/her qualifications that would convince me to vote for him/her? No credit for "we need change," "I can do better," or "my opponent is a bum" - tell me exactly why I should believe your guy is worth my vote.

2. What specific projects and programs does your candidate support? No credit for "stop illegal immigration" or "put Americans back to work." What - specifically - does your guy propose to do to achieve those ends?

3. What items in the current budget does your candidate support cutting in order to pay for them? No credit for any non-specific answer ... "cutting fat" and "getting rid of fraud and waste" are meaningless and simply tell me your guy doesn't have any original ideas.

4. Does your candidate believe the answer to every problem is cutting taxes? Good-bye, try next door. Taxes are how the government raises the money to operate, and the Constitution specifically grants the power to impose taxes (see Section 8 and the Sixteenth Amendment). Instead, tell me about the spending programs you'd be willing to cut to help balance tax income with spending outlays. See #3 above.

5. Does your candidate believe the answer to every problem is a new government spending program? Good-bye, try next door. If you can't tell me exactly how you propose to pay for it, or why it's better than doing nothing, you have no clue. See #3 above.

If you are going to call or visit me on behalf of a candidate and you can't intelligently address these five questions for starters, don't waste my time and yours. Oh, and I hang up on robo-calls, so don't bother.

Unlike corporations or political action committees, I don't have the money to buy an election. I have one vote, and I need to make the best decision I can on how to invest it. If you can't convince me to invest it in you, you need to stay in your current line of work ... or, if you're the incumbent, you need to start polishing your resume.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A woman who was hospitalized after she said an assailant had thrown acid in her face has admitted doing it to herself; an American warship in international waters in the Barents Sea was twice buzzed by Russian aircraft last week in incidents reminiscent of the Cold War; Pope Benedict XVI is visiting England, where some protesters are trying to have him arrested for covering up the clergy sex abuse scandal; few of the estimated 3500 homeowners whose homes have been ruined by toxic drywall imported from China have yet to receive any insurance payments, while the drywall manufacturers ignore them; and the governor of Virginia has refused to stay the execution of a woman sentenced to be executed this week for hiring two men to murder her husband and stepson.

I don't know about you, but I need Cartoon Saturday to help get me past all the bad news.

No matter how bad things get, you can always find a way to work things out...

I remember how things were back when I was dating. Or trying to date. Here are two takes on Bilbo's pre-Agnes love life ...

and ...

The Pope is visiting England, where he's being welcomed with open arms. Of course, many of those open arms are carrying protest signs, but that's not important right now. I think Benedict may be having some long days ...

And finally, another set of two cartoons, these dealing with dinnertime conversation in the year 2010...


It looks as if we may be heading into one of the last really nice weekends of the summer here in Northern Virginia, with temperatures in the upper 70's under clear skies. Perfect weather for playing with the grandchildren and girding my mental loins for another wonderful week at the office.

Life is good. Or, at least as good as you make it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Just Toolin' Along...

Yesterday's post, based on a Popular Mechanics article about really strange toilets, went over very well. I don't know if this is because my readers are turned on by toilets or because mentioning Popular Mechanics lends my random thoughts an undeserved air of technical competence. No matter...I'll take my readers how I get them.

So anyhow, speaking of Popular Mechanics...

Here's another interesting article from that magazine: Tools Everyone Should Own. I actually own some of them, in spite of being the world's most inept handyman. Of course, I have some commentary...

1. Sledge Hammer. Nothing says manly man like a sledge hammer. You can destroy anything with a sledge hammer, even a sledge hammer ... when I was in college, one of the fraternities had a fund raiser in which you paid $1.00 to take a swing at an old car with a sledge hammer. I paid my money, swung, and hit the car with the handle instead of the head, which snapped off the hammer. They didn't let me try again.

2. Center Punch. This is an amazingly useful device for making a hole right next to where you really wanted it.

3. Hammer. A very useful device for bending nails, making large dents next to nails, and creating ugly blood blisters under finger nails.

4. Multibit Screwdriver. Because you never know when you won't be able to find your center punch.

5. Safety Glasses. An important safety device, particularly useful when you're swinging a sledge hammer at an old car.

6. Adjustable Wrench and Pipe Wrench. These are very useful, and are interchangeable, particularly when you're using them as hammers.

7. Socket Wrench Set. The average socket wrench set has about 6,000 sockets in it, of which you only ever use two or three, which are lost.

8. Crosscut Saw. A wonderful tool for those of us who like to invent sound effects for children. A crosscut saw sounds just like, SSSH...voopa, voopa, voopa, voopa. The saw was invented by a seller of lumber so that he could sell more stock to people who don't use their ...

9. Measuring Tape. The old adage says "measure twice, cut once." That's the short version. The full adage actually says, "measure twice, cut once, shout DAMMIT!, go to Home Depot, buy more lumber."


10. Extension Cord. Allows you to make mistakes with power tools further from an electrical outlet than otherwise possible.

Tools. Helping men feel either incredibly manly or hopelessly inept for thousands of years. You know where I fall on that continuum.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Going in Style

In today's miserable housing market, it behooves us to do whatever we can to increase the value of our homes so that we will take the smallest possible loss when we eventually have to sell them. Experts say that two of the best ways of increasing that value are modernizing the kitchen and updating the bathrooms.

With that in mind, I call your attention to this feature from Popular Mechanics Magazine: The World's 18 Strangest Bathrooms. If you can get past the huge number of annoying ads that interrupt the flow of the slideshow, you will find amazing bathrooms like these...

The Space-Age Toilet on Board the International Space Station:

Designed for an environment with no gravity, when you might be discomfited by things floating about that you'd rather stayed in the toilet, the space-age toilet is a truly amazing system. My only question is what the "squeezer" on the left is for. I don't think I really want to know, though.

The Chinese Bulletproof Bathroom ...

If you've always wanted to poop in a bunker, this is the place for you. Part of a series of anti-terrorism products marketed in China after 9/11, it's said to be impervious to explosives and small-arms fire. Just the place for a relaxing stop during a terrorist attack, when you'd probably be ready to wet your pants anyhow.

The Uri-Lift Pop-Up Urinal ...

Tired of drunks peeing in public? Don't want unsightly porta-potties making your street look unattractive? Consider installing the nifty $70,000 Urilift Pop-Up Urinal, designed to emerge from hiding during prime bar-hopping hours and disappear when not needed. I suppose if you have to relieve yourself at high noon, you're out of luck.

The Safe-House Bathroom ...

Located in a spy-themed restaurant in Milwaukee, this bathroom is hidden behind a series of mazes and a trick door. Hope your bladder is strong enough to hold while you try to remember the password.

And finally,

The Gold Bathroom ...

If you're one of those high-class individuals whose poop doesn't smell bad, this is your bathroom. It's located in a restaurant in Milan, Italy, named - appropriately enough - Gold, and it features golden bamboo lining the walls, giant mirrors and marble counters. It also features Goldfinger playing on a constant loop on plasma screens installed inside every golden stall.

Now, granted, most of these bathrooms aren't terribly practical for your home, but just think of the potential boost to resale value, especially if you're trying to sell to some Hollywood drone or pampered professional sports dolt with more money than good sense.

After all, when you've gotta go, you've gotta go, so you might as well go in style. Check out the other 13 amazing bathrooms at the Popular Mechanics link.

Have a good day. Relieve yourself in grand surroundings. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Dirty Movies and Fancy Underpants

Here's a great quote to start off this week's Hump Day:

"If the greatest concerns in your life include dirty movies and fancy underpants, your existence is far easier than that of many of your fellow Americans."

That marvelous statement came from this marvelous article by Jonathan Hunley, pointed out to me by my co-worker John: One's Freedom Is Another's Anathema.

The article is a commentary on the passions that have been aroused (no pun intended) by a plan to open an "adult" store in Manassas, Virginia. Those in favor of the store see nothing wrong in opening a store that caters to a specific clientele, as long as all the applicable laws and regulations (zoning, tax, distance from schools and parks, etc) are obeyed; those opposed - who are threatening in advance to film and photograph everyone who visits the store and put the images online - view the store as a hideous sign of moral depravity and abomination.

As with so many other arguments nowadays on topics large and small (anybody wanna build a mosque?), common sense has been checked at the door.

Mr Hunley writes that "The really ugly truth about this whole situation is not the content of a retailer’s wares but something that became apparent last week. People want freedom as long as it’s their freedom. If someone else’s freedom doesn’t jibe, then they’re screaming for lawyers, guns and money to stop it."

He's absolutely right. Everyone today howls about his (or her) rights ... but sees nothing wrong in demanding restrictions on the rights of others.

Just another joyous aspect of life in these troubled times. Me, I think Robbie Fulks has it right...

Have a good day. Worry about something better than dirty movies and fancy underwear.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Diamond Is Forever..and Ever...and Ever...

You will, of course, recognize one of the most successful advertising campaigns of all time - the "A Diamond Is Forever" shtick developed by a young advertising copywriter in 1947. In the year 2000, Advertising Age magazine named it the best advertising slogan of the twentieth century. It's been parodied, too - Mad Magazine years ago ran a full-page ad showing a flat-broke young man over the caption "Paying for a Diamond Is Forever."

This is true.

We all know that diamonds are hellaciously expensive, and the degree of expense is based on the famous "Four C's" - color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. The fifth "C" that is never mentioned is the most important one - cash - large piles of which you must bring to the jeweler in exchange for the miniscule piece of flashing carbon that symbolizes both your undying love and your indenture to the bank. And there's a sixth "C", the one on which the profits of the diamond industry actually rest - control.

The truth the diamond companies don't want you to know is that raw diamonds are just about as common as dirt, and prices are kept artificially stratospheric by manipulating the supply that eventually reaches the consumer. Whether they are "ordinary" diamonds, "conflict" diamonds, "blood" diamonds, "baseball" diamonds, or the Ace of Diamonds, isn't really important...the key to the success of the industry is control of the supply of diamonds in order to keep the price up.

But the ultimate fear of the diamond industry has recently been uncovered: astronomers have discovered a star they've nicknamed "Lucy" (from the Beatles' song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"), about 50 light-years from the Earth in the constellation Centaurus. Lucy is actually the compressed heart of an old, collapsed star - a gigantic lump of crystallised carbon, 4,000 km across, weighing in at an estimated 10 billion trillion trillion carats.

Now that's a diamond.

So, consider this ...

Men, you can save a great deal of money on a 10 billion trillion trillion carat diamond. Just go to the International Star Registry, pay a modest fee, and have Lucy (her actual name is BPM 37093) renamed in honor of your beloved. How cool is that?

Of course, no self-respecting woman would let you get away with a dodge like that, but it's nice to dream, isn't it?

A 10 billion trillion trillion carat diamond. Now that's forever.

Have a good day. Consider cubic zirconia ... it may not be forever, but it's a lot cheaper.

More cheap thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, September 13, 2010

The Language of Food

You already know that I enjoy cooking (which is handy when you also enjoy eating). I have a weakness for kitchen gadgets and cookbooks, and love to try new recipes. I also enjoy cooking humor, of which there is quite a bit out there in cyberspace. For instance, here are a few cooking-related definitions which you may find interesting...

Arab Coffee - Thick, black, bitter coffee, traditionally served in tiny cups at gunpoint, or found in graduate student's offices.

Calorie - Basic measure of the amount of rationalization offered by the average individual prior to taking a second helping of a particular food.

Frying Pan - The standard instrument of destruction for eggs, pancakes, and various vegetable matter. Remains may be removed from surface with diluted solution of sulfuric acid.

Macaroni and Cheese - one of the only foods all young children will eat, but only if it's the pre-packaged kind (which is made not with cheese, but with powdered processed cheese product...don't ask).

Microwave Oven - A space-age kitchen appliance that uses the principle of radar to locate and immediately destroy any food placed within the cooking compartment.

Oven - A compact home incinerator used for disposing of bulky pieces of meat and poultry.

Preheat - To turn on the heat in an oven for a period of time before cooking a dish, so that the fingers may be burned when the food is put in, as well as when it is removed.

Porridge - A form of thick, utterly inedible oatmeal rarely found on American tables since children were granted the right to sue their parents. The name is an amalgamation of the words "Putrid," "Horrid," and "Sludge."

Recipe - A series of step-by-step instructions for preparing ingredients you forgot to buy, in pots and pans you don't have in the correct size, using utensils you don't own, to make a dish the children won't eat.

Tongue - A variety of meat, rarely served because it clearly crosses the line between a cut of beef and a piece of dead cow (see Variety Meats).

Variety Meats - a creative term used by butchers to con you into buying the things that are left over after the edible parts of an animal have been extracted. The elegant German term Innereien (literally, innards) is more accurate, but not considered suitable for advertising to the average American consumer.

Yogurt - A semi-solid dairy product made from partially evaporated and fermented milk. Yogurt is one of only three foods that taste exactly the same as they sound. The other two are tripe and squid.

Just part of my ongoing efforts to help you understand and cope with the world around you.

And don't ask about the sweetbreads.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Not-Much Sunday

It's a gloomy, cool, rainy day here in Northern Virginia, and I am low on energy, both physical and intellectual. Therefore, I will just toss together a potpourri of disjointed observations and comments to fill up the space until tomorrow when - hopefully - I will be more alert.

1. I've been looking on Craig's List for a free-lance sorcerer/sorceress to put and enormous curse on the person who shut down the entire Capitol Beltway at I-66 last night for some sort of non-evident construction. It turned our joy at the quick escape from the Wolf Trap parking lot into much teeth-grinding misery as we crawled along I-495, then tried to see the small and carefully-hidden detour signs back to 495 once we'd been diverted off onto I-66. If Dante were alive today, he'd create a special circle of Lower Hell for the individual responsible for this.

2. Here is a picture from last night's performance at Wolf Trap of The Return of the King with live orchestra and chorus...

Sorry, but this was the best my poor iPhone camera could do in low light. Just wanted to give you an idea of the great seats we had. It was a tremendous show - I love the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy in general, but the presentation with live music and chorus took it to a whole new level. If you have a chance to see the films presented this way, by all means, do it. And if you can, do it in the company of two beautiful ladies and a bottle of wine, after a nice planked salmon dinner.

3. I need to get my hair cut today. This is an ever-frustrating ritual because the people at the Hair Cuttery insist on using black drapes to catch the falling hair, and gray hair shows up embarrassingly well against black. Sigh. I guess I shouldn't complain, though. At least I still have my hair. Well, most of it, anyhow.

4. I couldn't wait until next Cartoon Saturday to share this cartoon that appeared in today's paper ...

I think Jean-Luc will appreciate it especially.

I guess that's all for now. Sorry for the disjointed and probably unsatisfying post, but I just can't be both handsome and intellectually witty every day...some days you just have to take one or the other.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A small-town church pastor in Florida has called off plans for his "International Burn a Koran Day" after conclusively proving that Christians can be as ignorant and bigoted as radical Muslims; an enormous explosion and fire caused by a ruptured gas line in a California neighborhood has destroyed dozens of homes and killed at least four persons; the CEO of airline Ryanair is proposing to save money by eliminating co-pilots on flights, and that a flight attendant on each flight could be trained to help land a plane if something goes wrong; Afghan president Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into the beheading of an Afghan journalist; and an enormous ice island four times the size of Manhattan that broke off a glacier early last month has split in two after repeatedly smashing into an island in the Nares Strait, west of Greenland.

Don't worry, folks ... Cartoon Saturday is here to make it all better, at least for a little while.

Andrea loves her "Nook" electronic book, just as Agnes loves her Sony e-Reader. Although I much prefer real, ink-on-paper books, I must admit that here are some advantages to electronic books ...

The Air Force Times newspaper last Thursday reported the story of an Air Force colonel fired from his job in Afghanistan for, among other things, saying that “For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information.” I'll be writing more about Microsoft's PowerPoint presentation software in an upcoming post, but in the meantime others have already commented on its ubiquity in the workplace...

We're going to Wolf Trap tonight with our friend Nadja to see the movie The Return of the King on a big HD screen with live orchestra and chorus accompaniment. It promises to be a great evening. I'll be fixing dinner for us before we go to the show using a great recipe borrowed from a neighbor ...

Isn't it a pain when you pick up the wrong glasses? ...

Having to go to the government office that handles anything dealing with the purchase of, registration of, or payment of taxes on automobiles - whether it's called the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or something else - is a pain. I sometimes think there's an unwritten law that forces DMV operations to be as painful and bureaucratically complex as possible ...

And finally, getting back to one of my favorite themes - that of the pleasure of sending and receiving handwritten letters - I thought this was a particularly good (if poignant) cartoon ...

Speaking of which, I sent a letter to my granddaughter Marcy this past week in an attempt to help with her penmanship by encouraging her to write back; on the downside, I have yet to start on the letter promised to fellow blogger Kathy, despite the best of intentions. Hang in there, Kathy, it's coming ... I promise.

So, what's on today's agenda? Paying bills, grocery shopping, picking up books on hold at the library, and - this evening - going to the show in the company of not one, but two beautiful ladies ...

Life is good.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, September 10, 2010

This Book Is Worse Than That Book

Yesterday I talked about religious texts and how they contribute to our lack of respect and tolerance for one another. Today, let's talk about a related topic: banned books.

My latest copy of the AARP magazine (that's American Association of Retired Persons, for those of you too young not to worry about such things) has an interesting inside-the-back-cover article titled "Banned!", which lists 50 books that have been banned (or, at least, very strongly objected to) by authorities in various places. It's a timely article, as the annual Banned Books Week sponsored by the American Library Association is coming up later this month (September 25th to October 2nd) ... you can read the ALA's list of classic books frequently banned or challenged, and the reasons for the objection, here.

The AARP list divides 50 frequently-banned books into four groups, according to the general reason people object to them:

Too Political - Includes one of the greatest anti-war novels of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, along with George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, and Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago.

Too Much Sex - funny thing, I haven't read most of the books in this category. One that I have is Jaws, by Peter Benchley...which I don't remember as much for "too much sex" as for the endless description of a lady getting herself ready for the possibility of having sex ... all of which had absolutely nothing to do with giant sharks.

Irreligious - Includes Darwin's On the Origin of Species (of course) and, incredibly, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series ... both on my personal list of all-time favorite books. Personally, I'd take the company of Gandalf the Grey and Albus Dumbledore to the company of most clerics any day.

And the largest category, Socially Offensive - which contains American classic The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, along with Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

You have to wonder what people are thinking when they object to some of these books. When I think of something that's irreligious, the death sentence imposed on Salman Rushdie by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran over Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses comes to mind before Harry Potter. Socially offensive? Try violent and misogynistic rap music. Too much sex? I should have this problem. Too political? How long will it take for someone to object to my blog ... or yours?

Bilbo's First Law says Don't let anyone do your thinking for you. If you pay attention to things like banned book lists, you are delegating your right and responsibility to think to people who stopped thinking long ago.

Read something that's been banned. Even better, write something that makes people think enough that some would want to ban it. You'll have accomplished something.

Have a good day. Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday - we all need it. More thoughts then.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

My Book's Better Than Your Book

You don't need me to tell you that the world has gotten pretty crazy. One of the main reasons it's gotten so crazy is that we don't know how to respect one another any more, and there are a lot of reasons for this. One of them is the dismal state of the economy, which drives a wedge between the "haves" and the "have nots," encouraging jealousy and anger. Another is the poisonous "I'm right, and I'm never going to compromise" attitude of ass clowns on the political far left and far right. Another is religion.

Some scientists believe that the tendency to belief in God is hard-wired into each of us, as an evolutionary way of helping us make sense of a hard and unforgiving world. Philosophers tell us that religion gives us a framework within which to develop ethical and moral standards, and ordinary people fall back on religious belief as a comfort in times of trial and a unifying bond with other people of the same school of belief.

It also leads to some of the most outrageous, hateful, and divisive behavior we can imagine.

There are two prime examples swirling in an interrelated whirlpool of hatred and intolerance at the moment: the hard-headed insistence of a Florida preacher who plans to burn a pile of Qurans tomorrow to protest Islamic radicalism, and the hard-headed insistence of an Islamic leader on building a huge Islamic center (lately recast as an "interfaith" facility) about two blocks from Ground Zero in New York. Both represent the very worst in religious belief.

My problem with the major organized religions is, as you've read here often enough, that they tend to be exclusive and divisive. You are with us, or you are damned. Muslims believe that Islam is the absolute, final, perfect system of belief, and divide the world into Muslims and everyone else. Christians believe that there is only one way to eternal life, which is belief in and worship of Jesus as the Son of God and absolute belief in the Bible as God's word, and if you don't believe that, you are destined for a very uncomfortable stint in a very hot place after you shuffle off your mortal coil.

Everybody can't be right, but nobody can compromise on a belief so fundamental to their view of world and self. John wrote eloquently about this in his blog post titled What if They Are All Wrong? Absolute belief in a single and omnipotent God that has chosen the belief system of one group of humans above all others is a prescription for hatred and intolerance: I'm right, you're wrong, you're damned forever, and I know it's true because the (insert name of holy scripture here) says so.

I've said it before: a God capable of creating the endless grandeur and majesty of the universe and the wonderful diversity of life on Earth has better things to do than worry about whether or not men shave, women cover themselves from head to foot, people eat pork or beef, or worship services take place on Friday or Sunday. If we can't get past absolute belief in a single, specific, religious belief that's indifferent to others at best, or violently intolerant of them at worst, we're destined to keep living with morons whose heads are so far up their scripturally-sanctioned backsides that they can't relate to anyone else.

And we'll keep seeing it reflected in explosions, fires, and chants of hatred instead of choruses of Kumbaya. Which is sad beyond words.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Danger: Asteroids!

If you're a fan of disaster scenarios (earthquakes, monster wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, Congressional elections), this report on CNN this morning should appeal to you: Two Asteroids to Pass Close to Earth on Wednesday. This is an asteroid:

Yes, Dear Readers, during the course of the day today, not one but two tiny asteroids will slip past within the orbit of the Moon ... thankfully, without striking the Earth. Although tiny (46 and 65 feet, respectively), were they to strike the Earth they could cause almost as much damage as, say, the Republicans regaining control of Congress in November.

This suggests a course of action we can take to protect ourselves from the danger of passing asteroids. Here's my idea:

The President holds a news conference at which he expresses his strong support of passing asteroids and suggests a package of financial incentives to encourage asteroids to collide with the Earth. The Republican Party immediately springs into action, whipping up popular opposition to asteroids, blocking the President's asteroid-friendly proposals and instead proposing huge tax breaks for businesses and the wealthy. Small fringe churches plan to burn photos of asteroids and demonstrate at craters caused by previous asteroid strikes, while larger religious organizations propose building large and ornate cultural centers to celebrate the diversity provided by asteroids. Extreme right-wing commentators denounce asteroids as un-American and castigate the President for supporting them, while many locales declare themselves to be "sanctuary cities" for asteroids.

The asteroids, in disgust, veer away and look for another planet to strike.

Considering the amazing success that Congressional Republicans have enjoyed by working overtime to completely block anything proposed by Congressional Democrats ... and their masterful ability to avoid popular outrage for their behavior ... I think this is a plan with real promise for protecting us from the devastating effects of collision with an asteroid.

Plan B is to launch an enormous tube of Preparation A to shrink the asteroids, but I'm not sure it's technically feasible.

Don't thank me - I'm always in the front lines of your defense against deadly threats, regardless of political party or illegal extraterrestrial status.

Have a good day. Avoid asteroids. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Most Popular Things

Sitting in my Blog Fodder file for a few weeks has been this article from the August 15th issue of Business Week: The Popularity Issue. It lists the most popular items from various categories, and says something about the things we like. Here are a few of the favorites from the list (with my commentary, of course)...

Favorite Dog: Labrador. What's not to like about a Lab? They're gangly and lovable as puppies, big and playful as adults, friendly, eager-to-please, and loyal to an almost embarrassing fault. The only drawback is - as I can tell you from sharing the house with Nessa - that a Chocolate Lab sheds enough fur every three days to knit a new dog.

Favorite Car Color: White. What's up with this? How can white be the favorite color for a car? In order to keep a white car white after it leaves the showroom, you have to wash it about three times a day. And oh-by-the-way, good luck with finding your white-ish car among the bazillion other white-ish cars in the giant mall parking lot.

Favorite Item at Wal-Mart: Bananas. Get that potassium fix at the lowest possible price. Who doesn't love bananas?

Favorite Job: Sales Clerk. I wonder if favorite is really the right adjective for this one. Perhaps "most available" would be better than favorite. Anyone who's ever been a sales clerk (i.e., just about everybody) can tell you about long hours on their feet, dealing with rude and abusive customers, low pay, and yucky schedules. But it's a job, right?

Favorite Fish: Shrimp. Someone once called shrimp "the cockroaches of the sea." That's an unfortunate dis for something as tasty as it is ugly. I wouldn't have thought of shrimp as a "fish," but who am I to argue with the classifiers of the Food and Drug Administration?

And finally,

Favorite Vacation: France. If you like supreme culture, beautiful landscapes and architecture, and people who look down their noses at you, France is the vacation destination for you. My advice: visit the Alsace-Lorraine region. It's been conquered back and forth between France and Germany so often that the people are as much German as French, and you get the wonderful food of France with the organization and good manners of the Germans.

So, Dear Readers, what are your favorite things?

And now it's back to work after a wonderful holiday weekend. Sigh.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.