Wednesday, March 31, 2010

If You Thought Things Couldn't Get Crazier... probably ought to read this story: Dead Marine's Father Ordered to Pay Protester's Legal Costs.

Yes, my friends, in one of the most incredible and incomprehensible legal decisions since the Supreme Court's body blow to the electoral process in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Mr Albert Snyder has been ordered by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to pay more than $16,000 to the Westboro Baptist Church for legal costs incurred when the Snyder family sued the church in 2007 for privacy invasion, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy as a result of its demonstration at the funeral of Mr Snyder's son Matthew, who was killed in Iraq in 2006. Westboro Baptist is, of course, the alleged church which is notorious for its demonstrations at the funerals of soldiers killed in the line of claims these deaths are God's punishment to the United States for "the sin of homosexuality."

Now, I am a strong believer in freedom of speech, but I am also a strong believer in courtesy and compassion. By grossly interfering with the grief of the families of dead soldiers, the members of this church show neither. Their rigidly moralistic beliefs are monstrously offensive and deserve condemnation by all decent people.

The larger constitutional question is, of course, whether there are limits on the practice of free speech. Is all public expression, no matter how loathsome, protected under the law? What guidelines can be established that cannot later be twisted to forbid any unpleasant or unpopular expression? The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, but - given its ruling in the Citizens United case - I don't look for a rational decision.

In the meantime, I think we've finally found a "religious" organization that can match the worst of radical Islamic beliefs. The only upside is that the foul displays by Westboro Baptist don't encourage murder in the name of an imagined God.

Thank heaven for small favors.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Assorted Comments for a Rainy Tuesday

There are too many things going on in the world for me to concentrate on just one at the moment, so why don't I just take a few random shots at some of the things that have caught my attention in the last few days?

1. President Obama today will sign into law a bill that "fixes" the health care reform legislation he just signed last week. Hmmm... if it only took a week for that law to need repair, what does that say about the process by which our elected reprehensives crafted it in the first place? I refer you back to the question I've asked often enough: does anybody really know what's in those 2000-plus pages of small print? It must be nice to be able to do a poor job, then get paid extra for fixing the lousy job you did in the first place.

2. Two female suicide bombers killed almost 40 people and wounded scores of others in attacks on the Moscow subway system. Although no one has "claimed responsibility" for the murderous attacks, suspicion is falling on Chechen separatists known as "Black Widows" who have carried out similar mass murders in the past. Hmmm... if a male suicide bomber is promised the services of 72 virgins in paradise, what are the women promised?

3. Nine members of a "Christian warrior" militia have been arrested as part of an investigation into a plot to murder a police officer in Michigan, and then murder still more police by attacking the funeral. Hmmm... there seems to be an odd interpretation in some quarters of what it means to be a "Christian." I have the odd idea that Jesus wouldn't approve of a great many things done in his name.

4. Anger is swirling around the Catholic Church hierarchy as more details arise over its response to the growing sexual abuse scandals in Ireland, Germany, and other places. Among the voices raised on the issue is that of Irish singer Sinead O'Connor...whether you agree with her or not, her opinion piece on the subject is a powerful one. You can read it here.

5. 153 men are trapped deep underground in the latest disaster to strike in the notoriously deadly Chinese coal mines. Although safety measures have greatly reduced the number of such accidents each year, statistics show that, on average, seven men die in Chinese mines every day. I guess that's what happens when you have a huge surplus of cheap labor that makes it easier to bury men than pay them a good wage and provide safe working conditions.

That's enough for now. I can only take so much of a dose of current events at one time.

Have a good day. Be glad you're not a Chinese miner. Or a Michigan police officer.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Health Care Reform Yardstick

The reverberations of the passage of the health care reform act are still radiating across the country. Republicans and some Democrats are predicting the end of the world as we know it, other Democrats are convinced we've seen the Second Coming, and nobody quite knows what is contained in the more than 2000 pages of legalistic fine print.

I've tried to read the new law, but I only have a bachelor's degree in Linguistics and never studied Old Church Slavonic, the official language of political obfuscation, so I don't understand much of it. How can we know what we have? How can we understand if we're better off, worse off, or in the same rut as before? I think these five questions may provide a useful yardstick with which we can start judging how ugly this baby is:

1. Can an average American family afford health care?

2. Do doctors earn a wage commensurate with the cost of their education and the trust we place in them for our lives?

3. Has the cost of health care for most Americans gone down?

4. Will the portion of the cost of health care represented by administrative overhead (insurance company costs and profit, cost to doctors of maintaining a billing staff, etc) go down?

5. Does the new law make it easier to obtain preventive health care, or does it concentrate on fixing problems?

I already have a few questions about the new law, beyond those I posed a few days ago:

Since Republicans believe that the answer to every problem is lower taxes, why does the new law raise the amount of health care expense required to be claimed as an itemized tax deduction?

Does the federal government actually have the Constitutional authority to mandate that every American must have health insurance?

Why does the new law limit the amounts of pre-tax money Real People can put into a Medical Flexible Spending Account to help pay for their health care? And, by the way, why does any money in a Medical FSA disappear at the end of the year instead of rolling over to help pay for future care? And why can't a Medical FSA be added to during the year if the balance is depleted?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Something Else to Worry About...

At one time, back in the distant era between the Wright Brothers and, say, about 1955, airline travel was fun. Airlines pampered you, your luggage arrived when you did (and in one piece), you didn't need to be x-rayed, probed, and patted down, and your belongings pawed through before you could get onto an airplane.

But that was then, and this is now.

The 70's gave us fanatics advancing their causes through airline hijackings. Then came bombs in suitcases, and then bombs in carry-on bags, then bombs in shoes, and - most recently - bombs in underwear. You might have thought things couldn't get any worse.

You were wrong.

I direct your attention to this article from Faux News Online: Terrorists Could Use Explosives in Breast Implants to Crash Planes, Experts Warn.

Yes, exploding underwear and shoes weren't enough for those seeking to meet their 72 virgins in some imagined we have to worry about exploding boobs. "Blonde bombshell" has taken on a whole new meaning.

According to British intelligence sources, radical doctors - some of them trained at leading Western teaching hospitals - have developed a way to surgically insert exploding breast implants into prospective female suicide bombers, using the techniques developed for ordinary breast augmentation. The implants are said to be "virtually impossible to detect by the usual airport scanning machines." And if that weren't enough, the same intelligence sources report that extremists are also inserting the explosives into the buttocks of some male bombers.

This is not so far-fetched, as someone not too long ago tried to blow up a Saudi prince by means of explosives stuffed into his ... um ... rectal orifice.

I guess it's not enough just to be a religiously-bigoted ass ... you now have to have an explosive, religiously-bigoted ass.

Well, I guess there's not much we can do about this new threat except try to make the most of it. As soon as TSA starts hiring breast inspectors, I'm quitting my job and getting in line. If nothing else, I can do my patriotic part to fight this threat by carefully eyeballing the generous bosom of every lady who appears to have high-yield breasts.

It's the least I can do. But someone else can do the male buttock checks. That's why TSA has female officers, after all.

Have a good day. Watch out for exploding breasts.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

The Chatham County Courthouse in North Carolina was severely damaged by a fire which - somehow - spared a sex video featuring former Senator and professional cad John Edwards; one-time Colombian supermodel Angie Sanciemente is being sought on charges of having orchestrated a huge drug ring that used models as drug mules to move suitcases loaded with cocaine out of Buenos Aires airport; a South Korean navy ship has sunk after apparently being attacked by North Korean forces; irresponsible and overheated rhetoric about health care reform has taken an ugly turn, with shots fired at a congressman's campaign headquarters, windows smashed at Democratic offices across the country, and hate-filled voice mail messages left on members of Congress' phone lines; and a man in Pennsylvania was charged with one count of public drunkenness when police found him attempting to perform CPR on an opossum he had flattened with his car.

I think it's time for Cartoon Saturday, don't you?

If ever there was a cartoon that summed up my feelings about brainless political parties (did I say Republicans and Democrats?), this is it...

Insurance companies have become the whipping boy in much of the health care reform debate. Of course, they've worked hard to make it to that point, but that's not important now. Plus, it's been going on for a long time...

Agnes really likes her latest toy - a Sony Reader that lets her enjoy her books without all the bulk and weight. That gives her more time to appreciate my ever-increasing bulk and weight. But does every book really translate well into an electronic format...?

Did you ever wonder about the real punch line from some of those old jokes...?

Sometimes, you just don't want to know what all the focus groups and polls are saying...

And finally, even with health care reform - whatever that turns out to mean - a reality, rest assured that you will still need to worry...

After a few days of nearly-Biblical rain here in Northern Virginia, it looks like today will be a beautiful day...before we get a few more days of nearly-Biblical rain. Oh, least we don't have to shovel it. I hope you all have a good weekend, and come back tomorrow, when I'll have something else to rant about.

Gotta take up the slack for Mike, dontcha know.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Tolkien Reading Day

It's Friday, and another week comes to a rainy end...yep, it's precipitating outside, and the temperature isn't expected to make it out of the 40's here in Northern Virginia. Should be nice tomorrow, but then rain again on Monday and Tuesday. Oh, well...cold rain is yucky, but at least you don't have to shovel it.

It seems I missed something yesterday in the euphoria over the birth of our newest grandchild: yesterday, March 25th, was the seventh annual Tolkien Reading Day.

John Ronald Reuel (JRR) Tolkien was, of course, the author of the classic fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings, and the annual Tolkien Reading Day was established to encourage the oral reading of the trilogy, The Hobbit, and other works by Professor Tolkien. March 25th was selected because, in the history of Middle Earth, it was the day on which the Dark Lord Sauron was overthrown and the One Ring destroyed by Frodo the Hobbit.

If you aren't into high fantasy and grand literature, you can stop reading now and come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.

Many people find the style of Professor Tolkien's writing to be difficult, but much of The Lord of the Rings lends itself to reading aloud. If you saw the third film of the trilogy (The Return of the King), you probably were on your feet cheering when the horsemen of Rohan charged Sauron's army at the siege of Gondor, saving the was a marvelous and heroic scene. But the way that Professor Tolkien described it in the book was equally marvelous, with his imagery of the army of Rohan thundering over the enemy like vast waves pounding on a rocky shore. It remains one of my favorite passages of literature, always able to conjure up magnificent mental images of desperate heroism in the face of overwhelming odds.

Reading aloud - whether it's poetry, literature, or Dr Seuss's children's stories - is fun and helps improve your diction, vocabulary, and pronunciation. And children love to be read to. Trust me, I know.

So don't wait for next March 25th to start reading aloud - do it now. I think you'll like it.

Have a good day. Read more. Tomorrow is Cartoon here!


Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Love, Sex, and the Male Brain"

When I saw that title on a CNN article yesterday, I just had to read it. Admit it, so would you. If you want to go ahead and read it now, I'll wait.


Okay, let's talk about love, sex, and the male brain. Specifically, this passage from the article:

"As men age, the male brain hormones change and the male brain and body goes into the stage of life called andropause ... Whether Grandpa is your kids' hero or the grouch they hate to visit depends a lot on how he handles these hormonal changes ... The grandpa that kids can't wait to see is the one who's feeling the effects of the hormone oxytocin, often called the "cuddle hormone." He's fun and playful and likes to hear what his grandchildren have to say. He's much more patient with your children than he was with you, when you were growing up. The love circuits of the mature male brain can be hijacked by his grandkids, even more than they were by his own children."

I love my grandchildren...all five of them...and I've often felt that I'm a much better grandfather than I was a father. I know that I'm more patient with Marcy, Joe, Noah, Leya, and now Elise than I was with their parents when they were children. Now it looks as if there's a hormonal reason ... I must be high on oxytocin. I've got the cuddle hormone in abundance.

Speaking of Elise, our fifth grandchild was born yesterday ... Elise Anya was 19.5 inches long and weighed 5 pounds, 8 ounces. This is a picture of her trying out those new lungs:

Yes, she's adorable. Red, wrinkled, and noisy to be sure, but perfect.

So, if you'll pardon me, I'm going to practice my grandfathering skills. I appreciate you, dear readers, but I love the grandchildren.

It's nothing's the oxytocin. Or, as we called it in simpler times, just plain love.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mid-Week Odds and Ends

Two stories that have cropped up in the last day or so, and require commentary...

After extensive trials in defense research laboratories, the Indian Army has decided to weaponize the bhut jolokia, or "ghost chili," which was certified by the Guinness World Records Organization in 2007 as the world's hottest chili. Each thumb-sized bhut jolokia has more than 1,000,000 Scoville units, the scientific measurement of a chili's spiciness. Classic Tabasco sauce ranges from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units, while jalapeno peppers measure anywhere from 2,500 to 8,000. You can see a description of the Scoville scale, with a handy chart, here.

A million Scoville units means that these peppers are just a little hot. The Indian Army researchers plan to use them to make a new type of tear gas grenade that will immobilize an enemy without killing him. Of course, being hit by a million Scoville units may make him want to die, anyhow.

The best part of this story (you can read the original here) is some of the comments made by other readers. Here are two:

"Weaponize Chili????? This friggin rules!!! they need to weaponize beer so I can start my life of crime!!!!"


"Weaponizing food has been around for centuries. The Romans weaponized my mother-in-law's tuna casserole to defeat the world."

New topic. Lance Corporal Katrina Hodge, a British Army soldier, detained and disarmed a suspected rebel fighter with her bare hands while serving in Iraq. This is Corporal Hodge in uniform:

In addition to her work as a soldier, Ms Hodge is also a lingerie model and was a contestant in last year's Miss England beauty contest. Here is Ms Hodge in her other uniform:

The multitalented soldier - who has been popularly nicknamed "Combat Barbie" - recently convinced the organizers of the Miss England pageant to drop the popular (with men, anyhow) swimsuit portion of the competition, on the theory that the contestants "are rarely asked to appear in swimsuits at public events." In an interview, Ms Hodge said that posing in swimsuits isn't fair to the contestants: "I think it's nerve-racking enough to girls to get up on a stage and speak, let alone in a swimsuit." In future Miss England contests, the contestants will participate in a sports challenge, overseen by Hodge, instead of a swimsuit competition.

Gives new meaning to the old insult, "Your mother wears army boots!", doesn't it? Somehow, kevlar lingerie just doesn't have quite the same impact...but I guess thong underwear that can be used as a slingshot might be useful in a pinch. So to speak.

That's all for today.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From Health Care to Immigration Reform

The fun never stops here in Disneyland on the Potomac...we've no sooner gotten through the flailing agony of health care reform (sort of) than thousands of people descended on Washington to demand immigration reform. Rant alert ... stand by ...

In the political context of most "immigration reform" demonstrators, the term refers to changes which will legitimize the tens of millions of immigrants who have come to the US for understandable reasons...but in willful violation of the law. Radio and TV are full of stories of separated families and heartbreak caused by the Big, Bad, Nasty Government that - gasp! - expects people to obey the law. Can you imagine?

What is it that people don't understand about illegal? Why use the genteel weasel-expression "undocumented" when what we really mean is "illegal" or "criminal"? In the words of Ellen Ripley in the classic science fiction thriller Aliens, "Did IQ's just drop sharply while I was away?"

You can read my proposal for immigration reform (first proposed in September, 2008) here. I have sent copies of it to the President and to my Senators and Representatives. And it's been ignored. Go figure.

I am descended from immigrants who came to this country - legally - many years ago. It's way past time for Congress to reform our immigration laws ... but immigration reform doesn't mean reward people who have broken the law.

Read my proposal and let me know what you think. If you'd like a copy of it, let me know and I'll e-mail one to you. And if you agree, send it to your elected reprehensives with your endorsement.

Then you, too, can be ignored as Congress pussyfoots around and kowtows to certain blocks of voters.

I wonder if my health insurance covers the high blood pressure I'm getting over this issue.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Of Health Care Reform and Icelandic Volcanos

After a year of nasty, bitter, partisan wrangling thinly disguised as principled discussion and debate, the House of Representatives has passed and sent to President Obama's desk HR 4872 - the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010 - a bill which overhauls the nation's health care system. Every Republican in the House voted against the bill, along with 34 Democrats. I believe the most recent available text of the bill can be found here, in case you want to read more than 2000 pages of dense and utterly incomprehensible legalese that will deeply affect your life. Don't worry if you don't want to read it. I'm sure nobody in Congress has, either.

In other news, a dormant volcano under Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier (say that three times fast!) has erupted, spewing huge amounts of hot gas and mud in all directions.

Why am I reminded of the Congressional health care reform debate?

Just a thought for a rainy Monday.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Questions About Health Care

I woke up a little stiff, sore, and cranky after working in the yard all day yesterday, so I'm in the right frame of mind and body to ask a few questions and make a few comments on the subject of the health care overhaul debate. Here's what comes immediately to mind...

Why is it so hard to get straight, unbiased, information about the true cost of health care and the implications of various options? Insurance companies, the AMA, the pharmaceutical industry, and every group representing a demographic slice (age, religion, sex, etc) of the population has its own view reflecting its own interests...and which takes no account of the legitimate interests of anyone else. Who is providing us the bottom-line information that will help us decide whether or not a particular reform bill is any good? (Hint: this is a trick question...the answer is nobody. The closest thing you'll find is at

Why do we tie health insurance to employment? Aren't unemployed people allowed to get sick?

Why do we pay for medical and dental insurance separately?

Why do you pay medical insurance premiums, and a deductible, and a co-pay for each visit to the doctor? Your auto collision insurance has premiums and a deductible...but you don't have a co-pay each time you go to the body shop. I guess if your body is made of metal and fiberglass, different economic rules apply.

Insurance companies are not in business to pay for your health care. They are in business to make money. Your good health is incidental to that.

Why do we file so many lawsuits about medical malpractice, which lead to such enormous jury awards? While I'm sure there are cases of true and egregious malpractice, one can't ignore the enormous cost of malpractice insurance premiums to doctors as a factor in the cost of health care. Should there be a cap on malpractice suit awards?

When I had a hernia repaired a few years ago, the total out-of-pocket cost to me - the surgery and prescriptions - was less than $100. The root canal and follow-up crown that I had done this year cost almost $1200 out-of-pocket. Why is there such an enormous disparity in the costs of medical and dental care? And oh-by-the-way - if I hadn't had a good job that provided insurance coverage, I'd likely still be walking around with a hernia and an insanely painful dead tooth (see question #2 above).

Those are just a few of the questions and observations that come to mind as I ponder the issue of health care reform. And when the shouting blowhards at Faux News thunder that "the American people don't want health care reform," they didn't ask me. Despite what those morons would have you believe, I am an American. I want affordable health care. And I want answers a guy like me can understand so that I can make an informed decision.

That's it for now. I'm feeling cranky...but I'd really like someone to answer those questions for me.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a 48 year old man with five children to death for sorcery for claiming on his TV show that he could predict the future; actor Fess Parker, best known for his folksy portrayal of frontier heroes Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone on television, has passed away (yes, at one time I had a Davy Crockett coonskin cap); a former boyfriend is suing singer Lady Gaga for $30.5 million, claiming she dumped him after he had orchestrated her success; a British couple has been arrested in Dubai for kissing in public and drinking alcohol; and a federal appeals court has ruled that the estate of deceased actress and model Anna Nicole Smith is not entitled to $300 million she had claimed was intended as a gift from her octogenarian oil tycoon husband.

In a world this goofy, how can you get by without Cartoon Saturday?

When your PC, laptop, cell phone, and music player can be obsolete by the time you get them home from the store, the relentless march of technology can cause real problems. But it may not be all that new a phenomenon...

In the Toy Story movies, one of my favorite characters was Mr Potato Head, voiced by Don Rickles. Mr Potato Head also lends himself to some great cartoons, like this one...

And this...

And this..

And this..

And finally, you may have read about the controversy over new school textbooks in the great state of Texas, where the teaching of history is - to put it mildly - nuanced by political and religious orientation. This cartoon sums it all up rather nicely...

And so goes another week. We thought our fifth grandchild would arrive last night, but she decided to keep us guessing for a little while longer...we're still waiting on pins and needles for the phone call.

The meteorological prognosticators tell us it's going to be a gorgeous weekend here in Northern Virginia, and so I look forward to spending it in the yard, getting my garden ready for the spring planting and trying to clean up the wreckage left by the Mighty Blizzard of '10. I hope your weekends will be equally as fun.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Penmanship and Lasting Information

The other day my son sent me a very funny e-mail with about 275,000 photo attachments that offered a way to explain sex to children in terms of various numbers, colors, and arrangements of colored ink pens. I thought it was funny enough to forward to many of my friends and co-workers, and that - of course - led to a day of e-mail exchanges that led from pens to sex to ... who'd a thunk it? - penmanship.

Gwen commented: "Someone was entirely too bored. When they have the pens showing the different positions in the Kama Sutra, THEN I'll be impressed."

To which Jeff replied: "Gonna need some of those flexi-straw type pens for that."

And Eminence Grise responded: "And all along I thought this was about penmanship!" (He was a little slow that morning).

Gwen shot back: "Why do you think they teach that in elementary school? But the older people get, the more sloppy hand-writing seems to get. I think it's probably the best, though, in college when you're having to take notes all the time & need to study for a test and dammit when you leak ink all over the place or run out of pens. But when you graduate and are working all the time, the last thing you want to worry about is penmanship. At least that's what I've seen."

And Eminence Grise finally got to the point toward which I'm going with this story: "I'm afraid in the next generation they will skip penmanship and go straight to texting. Which will fine until an EMP event wipes out all human capability to record events and knowledge and we go straight back to the stone age. The only thing standing between us and barbarism is penmanship."

"The only thing standing between us and barbarism is penmanship."

Now, that may be a bit of a stretch, but - as always - EG makes a good point.

I'm more concerned with the diminishing ability to spell and express ideas in proper and grammatical English than with the decline in penmanship. Most people I know (particularly men) have awful penmanship, a phenomenon caused (at least in part) by the rise of computers and keyboards and wireless communication by e-mail, Tweet, and other media not requiring pens and ink.

But what happens when EG's EMP event (that's electromagnetic pulse, for those of you unfamiliar with the term) fries all the electronics? Where does our information go when all the world's PCs and Macs and hard drives and memory sticks and Blackberries and smart phones all turn into so many paperweights?

We can still go to libraries and read books that are many hundreds of years old, yet perfectly legible. The ink may be faded on the page, but the information can still be recovered without the need of a device that has to be plugged in and turned on. After the EMP event, all the information stored in electronic media is utterly gone...turned into random electrons.

It's one thing to have a hard time interpreting lousy's quite another to be completely unable to recover the information. Everyone who has ever suffered through a hard drive crash (and if you're reading this, you probably have suffered such an event) knows all about that.


Let's not write off pen and ink on paper (so to speak). E-mails and tweets are okay, but transient. Books and letters live on.

Now would be a good time to sit down and write a snail-mail letter to good old Bilbo...Mike.

Have a good day. Write something...preferably something legible.

Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday - be here.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Odd Facts

I use the word facts in the title of today's post with some caution, because I haven't really confirmed that these items are actually facts. A fact is defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as "a piece of information presented as having objective reality;" and by Faux News as, "something shouted loudly and frequently enough that credulous people will believe it in the absence of evidence or serious thought."

But that's not important now.

Here are a few interesting "facts" about some of the states, as culled from a list provided by my friend Bob:

Montpelier, Vermont, is the only state capitol which does not have a McDonald's restaurant. I think that's interesting. I observed many years ago that in order for a place to be officially recognized as an independent town in Texas, it had to have a Dairy Queen and a church...and if there were more than one of either, there would be two Dairy Queens.

The original emoticon, the "smiley" - :) - was first used in 1980 by computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Personally, I find the "frowny" - :-( - to be more useful nowadays, particularly when reporting on the antics of our elected reprehensives.

North Carolina is the home of the first Krispy Kreme donut shop. Police officers everywhere are thankful. First Lady Michelle Obama is seeking an obesity exorcist to drive the wonderful Krispy Kreme from the tables of the land.

The nation's oldest cattle ranch was established in 1747 in Montauk, New York. Somehow, you never hear about the big cattle drives of the Old West heading to Montauk rather than to someplace in Kansas or Texas...


The town of Liberal, Kansas, has an exact replica of Dorothy's house from the classic film, The Wizard of Oz. It is a little known fact that Faux News commentators are unable to pronounce the name of this town without wincing.

That's all for today. Don't worry about whether or not any of these "facts" are true. Faux News wouldn't.

Time to walk the dog. And go to work.

Not, unfortunately, to enjoy a nice Krispy Kreme.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Intersecting Lines

You already know that find history's interesting to think about how things we read about in history books actually happened, and what people decades or centuries ago actually did, how they lived, and what trajectories of life brought them into contact to create the events that we study today.

If you think about it, history is composed of intersecting lines...the trajectories each of us makes as we move through life and time, cross each others paths, have our effects on each other, and move on to the next intersection. This was the basis of Thornton Wilder's classic novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, in which the Franciscan Monk Brother Juniper tried to trace the lines of five lives that intersected when the titular bridge broke and sent those five people to their deaths.

I thought about this recently while I was reading the mystery novel Evil for Evil, about young Irish-American army officer Lt Billy Boyle's investigation of weapons thefts and murder in Northern Ireland during World War II. At one point, Lt Boyle is interviewing one of his suspects, a man scarred by the horror of his combat experiences at the Salerno beachhead earlier in the war. Sergeant Brennan explains his theory this way:

"Do you want to know what matters, Billy?"


"Geometry. Intersecting lines. They're everywhere, you just can't see them. Right now, this very minute, there's a bullet in a case of ammo somewhere, maybe in a factory in Germany, maybe stockpiled in Rome. It's moving, slow or fast, but it's moving, and so are you. Sometimes you both sit for a while, but sooner or later, you move. They send us to some beachhead, and the Germans order more ammo. Think about it," Brennan said, drawing lines in the air. "You can't stop it. A German truck brings up ammo, including your bullet, close to the front. Another truck brings you up to the line. Now you're in your foxhole, maybe a quarter mile away. You and that bullet have traveled hundreds of miles, from different parts of the world, and now you're close. A Kraut sergeant brings a case of cartridges up to his platoon, hands them around. Another Kraut loads his rifle, all the while you're moving, just like that bullet, on a path to an unknown place."

"Intersecting lines."

"Yep. And that's the only place that matters. Where the lines intersect. Don't matter what country, because once they do, once you and that bullet finally meet up, you're nowhere."

Intersecting might our world be different if some lines didn't intersect, and others did? If Lee Harvey Oswald had gotten lost and couldn't find the Texas School Book Depository on November 22nd, 1963? If Mohammed Atta had never crossed paths with Osama bin Laden? If Adolf Hitler's parents had never met? If Agnes had found another parking place one February night instead of cutting me off and taking the one I was trying to fit my big American car into?

The old gunfighter's adage says that everyone has a bullet out there with his name on it...but what if...

Intersecting lines. An interesting idea, if you're into the "what-ifs" of life.

Have a good day. May all your intersections be to your benefit on this Saint Patrick's Day.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Random Thoughts for a Tuesday

It's another one of those mornings with more to do than time to do it in, so we'll just take a few short, random looks at things in the news, how about it?

If you've been an hour late for everything since last Sunday morning, you probably forgot to set your clocks ahead an hour for Daylight Savings Time.
From the Facebook page of fellow blogger Craziequeen comes this wonderful quote, which really sings to those of us who have some experience as military planners: "You wouldn't recognize a subtle plan if it painted itself purple and danced naked on a harpsichord, singing "Subtle Plans are Here Again." I don't know what brought that on, but I love it.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel The Scarlet Letter was published on this date in 1850. Many modern readers don't understand it, because it deals with the consequences of something that used to be called adultery. John Edwards didn't letter in that particular sport, but he should have...

Yesterday evening, fellow local blogger Gilahi and I met once again for a few drinks and to take another stab at solving the world's problems. We decided that there were too many problems for us to take on alone, so we just drank, ate appetizers, and told each other funny stories instead. Next time, maybe Mike can come, and we'll be able to either get all those problems solved or get thrown out of the bar trying.

That's all for now. There are bills to be paid, a dog to be walked, and political and religious extremists to be mocked. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - Tomorrow is St Patrick's Day. St Patrick is remembered for driving the snakes out of Ireland. That was good for Ireland, but I wish he wouldn't have sent all those snakes to the Middle East and Capitol Hill. I'm just sayin'...


Monday, March 15, 2010

It's an Obituary...But That's Not Important Now

I was saddened to read in the news this morning that actor Peter Graves had passed away unexpectedly at the age of 83.

Mr Graves will never be ranked as one of the great actors of all time, but he played two of my favorite characters, which means that I'll miss him.

When actor Steven Hill was edged out as the leader of the Impossible Missions Force in the second season of the hit show Mission: Impossible, Peter Graves was cast as Jim Phelps, the unflappable, lantern-jawed hero who took on the worst of the bad guys with his scratch teams of secret agents. Forget the Tom Cruise movies - the real Mission: Impossible was the TV version that didn't rely on huge explosions and wild car chases, but on complex plans that always left the dazed villain holding the bag and wondering what train had just run him down. And it was Peter Graves who always drove off into the small-screen sunset with another success under the belt of his trench coat.

If we'd have been smart, we'd have put Jim Phelps and the IMF on the trail of Osama bin Laden...he'd have been in Guantanamo faster than you could say "worthless religious bigot."

Peter Graves' other great role was Capt Clarence Oveur, the hapless pilot of the disaster-stricken airliner in the classic and hysterically funny movie, Airplane! Who can forget his wonderfully deadpan delivery of lines like, "Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?", or this exchange with his copilot (Roger Murdock, played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and navigator (Victor Basta, played by Frank Ashmore) as they prepare for takeoff:

Roger Murdock: "Flight 2-0-9'er, you are cleared for take-off."

Captain Oveur: "Roger!"

Roger Murdock: "Huh?"

Tower voice: "L.A. departure frequency, 123 point niner."

Capt Oveur: "Roger!"

Roger Murdock: "Huh?"

Victor Basta: "Request vector, over."

Captain Oveur: "What?"

Tower voice: "Flight 2-0-9'er cleared for vector 324."

Roger Murdock: "We have clearance, Clarence."

Captain Oveur: "Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?"

Tower voice: "Tower's radio clearance, over!"

Captain Oveur: "That's Clarence Oveur. Over."

Tower voice: "Over."

Captain Oveur: "Roger."

Roger Murdock: "Huh?"

Tower voice: "Roger, over!"

Roger Murdock: "What?"

Captain Oveur: "Huh?"

Victor Basta: "Who?"

So long, Mr Graves. Wherever you are, they're laughing.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pi Day

Well, that's what I get for sleeping late (which I do occasionally)...Mike has beaten me to a blog post about today being "Pi Day" - the day set aside to honor the number representing the ratio of a circle's diameter to its circumference, which we represent (for no obvious reason) by the Greek letter pi:

π is the Greek representation of "p" sound (the voiceless bilabial stop) in other languages. Like most Greek letters, however, it has been usurped by generations of mathematicians and engineers to represent various ratios, constants, variables, and unknowns, or just to make impressive-looking equations to make students sweat. For example:

Which represents something to do with the incompressible flow of Newtonian fluids. Why we would need a complicated equation to calculate the incompressibility of Sir Isaac's urine, I'll never know, but that's not important now. And it doesn't contain any π's.

Let's get back to
π.The ratio represented by π is what mathematicians call an irrational number - that is, one which cannot be represented as the result of dividing one number by another. It is also a transcendental number - that is, it is not algebraic (not a solution of a non-constant polynomial equation with rational coefficients).

I have no idea what I just wrote.

But let's forget all that complicated stuff for a minute and talk about the π ratio. Pi is usually represented by the simple number 3.14 (it's been calculated out to about 2.7 trillion places, but that's a little lengthy for most day-to-day uses you might have for a Greek letter representing the ratio of a circle's diameter to its circumference). 3.14 can, of course, also represent the date "March 14th" - thus, "Pi Day." It is also, by happy coincidence, the birthday of noted mathematician and scientist Albert Einstein, born in Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1879. Einstein was a noted consumer of Greek letters, which he used to construct amazing formulas comprehensible only to other deep thinkers with massive brains. Here is a photo of Albert Einstein wishing you well as you try to understand all this stuff:

Anyhow, enough about π. Let's talk about the larger concept of irrational numbers. The official definition of an irrational number has to do with its quality of indivisibility (as we noted above); however, the modern definition probably has to do more with Republican economic theories. Oh, no ... wait ... those would be imaginary numbers - mathematicians define an imaginary number as one which can be represented as "bi." This does not refer to a number that swings both ways, but to a number in which "b" is a non-zero real number, and i can be defined as i2 = -1.

Got that?

Actually, imaginary numbers today are better defined in terms of competing theories of government: to a Republican they represent the vast amounts of money the government will take in by cutting taxes paid by everyone but you; to a Democrat they represent the money that will be used to fund all the social programs they champion.

I think that's a clearer explanation than one that invokes things like the square root of negative 1, Greek letters, or similar weird stuff, don't you?

Well, all this started with the fact that today is Pi Day. If you're mathematically inclined, go out and raise a glass to π today. And if π isn't your favorite Greek letter, there are plenty of other Greek letters for you to honor, such as:

Rho, as in the famous Supreme Court decision of "ρ v. Wade;" or,

Delta, as in actress Δ Burke...

Or even Sigma, as in the famous Dr. Σ Freud...

Sorry about that.

So, now that I've Greek-lettered you to death, go out and enjoy a piece of pi.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

Police in California report that tips have poured in after they released more than 100 photos of women and children that are believed to have been taken by a serial killer who once appeared on the TV show "The Dating Game;" a woman in Alaska may have been killed when she was mauled by wolves; if you live in most of the United States, you will lose an hour of sleep tonight as clocks are turned ahead for the start Daylight Savings Time; Secretary of State Clinton harshly rebuked Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday after the Israelis publicly humiliated Vice President Biden by announcing new construction plans in Jerusalem during his visit; and a new report indicates that the Lehman Brothers investment bank tried to stave off collapse by misleading auditors and the public about its true condition.

All rise for Cartoon Saturday, here to help you cope with the madness!

We're all Irish for a day this coming Wednesday as we celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. Here's the real story behind the legend of St Patrick...

Were things really any different in the days before e-mail?

The seemingly never-ending saga of my root canal finally ended this past week with the installation of a crown on the remains of the offending tooth. Now comes the real pain...paying for it...

By the way, the prize for "best dumb joke about Bilbo's root canal" goes to my co-worker Andy. When I came back to the office after having the temporary crown implanted, Andy asked rhetorically if a "temporary crown" shouldn't actually be referred to as a "regent." I didn't hit him, but I thought about it.

What would Cartoon Saturday be without a shot across the bow of stupid business practices?

And in honor of the ongoing Congressional Useless Rhetoric Festival over health care reform...
Well, winter here in Northern Virginia appears to be over...our snow has been replaced by cold, pouring rain. Oh, well...if nothing else, it's helping get rid of Mt Ranier Junior - the mighty mountain of snow and ice left by the plows in the street in front of our house. Who knows...spring may actually soon be here!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, March 12, 2010

The Wrong Cuts

Just like individuals and families, communities everywhere are looking for ways to tighten their belts and live in a new era of shrinking budgets and investments looted by the financial mismanagement industry. The anti-tax movement has limited the ability of governments at all levels to raise operating funds, leaving only two options: cut back on services, or borrow the money they need to operate. This is today's unfortunate reality: everybody wants services, nobody wants to pay for them, and repeated borrowing to compensate for lost income just mortgages the future.

Some budget cuts are worse than others, though.

CNN is reporting that the school superintendent in Kansas City, Missouri, has put forward a plan to close nearly half of the city's schools because of a perfect storm of rising costs and declining numbers of students.

As you might expect, those affected by the school closures - both parents and students - are angrily arguing against the measures. School closings and consolidations are hard on students who must adapt to new school communities and on parents who must adapt to new schedules and teaching staffs. No one likes the school closings, but what do you do? Economically, it doesn't make sense to keep schools with low attendance open, and there is only so much belt-tightening that can be done to save money - after you've cut bus transportation, eliminated music and art classes, cut sports and other after-school programs, put off buying new books, and laid off teachers and staff, what's left?

There are a lot of problems with our schools, even without the added pressures of budget cuts. Congressionally-mandated (read unfunded) requirements, linguistic or physical accommodations for various groups, and social promotion of students who can't advance academically all sap energy and funds from the essential purpose of schools: to prepare our children to live in the Big Bad World. Many of our schools produce students who can't read or perform basic math skills, and I can tell you from personal experience that lots of people with high school (and even college) diplomas can't write decent English sentences. The condition of our government and the deplorable turnout rates for elections can probably be traced to the fact that we don't teach Civics classes any more. Standards are down at the same time that the need for a good basic education is up.

If budgets must be cut, slashing funding for our schools is the equivalent of starving farmers eating their seed corn. It's time to invest in the things that really matter. It's time to save the schools instead of spending money on feel-good programs that don't benefit all our children.

Have a good day. Hang in there...Cartoon Saturday is coming. More thoughts then.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Incredible Shrinking City

One of my favorite movies is the 1977 classic Kentucky Fried Movie - one of the funniest movies ever made (even though Agnes threatens to throw out my copy every time I play it). If you've seen it, you know it's not a film with a beginning, middle, and end, but a collection of disjointed, hysterically funny (occasionally raunchy) segments. One of these is a parody of martial arts films called "A Fistful of Yen," in which secret agents try to infiltrate the mountain hideout of the evil Doctor Klahn. Two of the agents are captured...Doctor Klahn immediately beheads the first one, then shouts to his henchmen, "Now take him to be tortured!" The second captive says he's not afraid...the evil doctor looks him in the eye and shouts, "Take him to ... DETROIT!!" The captive is dragged away begging and screaming not to face such a horrible fate.

I told you that story to introduce this story from CNN online: Detroit Wants to Save Itself by Shrinking.

Yes, friends, the unfortunate, once mighty city of Detroit, the one-time world capital of the automotive industry that is now the decaying, largely abandoned buckle on the rust belt, is looking to bulldoze large areas of itself and return them to farms and parkland in an attempt to reinvent itself and get rid of acres of abandoned buildings that dot its blighted neighborhoods. The city can no longer afford to provide police and fire protection and other services to large residential areas which are now only sparsely populated. Under the plan, some 40 square miles of the 139-square mile city could be returned to a semi-rural state of orchards, parks, and vegetable farms.

The issue, of course, is deciding which neighborhoods will be razed and what to do with the few remaining families who live there, many of whom don't want to leave. This is urban renewal on a scale never before tried. And there are other attendant problems, one knows who might get the cleared land, but with new industries unlikely to want to relocate to Detroit, the city planners are considering agricultural uses. The city might offer larger tracts for sale or lease, or turn over smaller pieces to community organizations to use.

Detroit has vast problems, regardless of what it decides to do. It can't afford to keep up enormous areas of uninhabited, decaying buildings, but there are legal, practical, and moral issues involved with deciding which areas to clear out and what to do with the few remaining residents.

It will be interesting to see how this story develops, as what Detroit finally decides to do will set a precedent for other decaying cities Until then, "Send him to Detroit!!" will continue to be a horrifying sentence.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Are Women Evil?

Women have gotten a bad rap ever since Eve snuck the bite of the apple. Labor pains, earning less than men for doing the same job, having to wear thongs, medieval religious beliefs that make you a second-class citizen...yes, it can be tough to be a woman.

But did you know that it can be mathematically proven that women are actually evil? Consider this...

First, we state that women require time and money:

Women = Time x Money

It is well-known that time is money:

Time = Money

Therefore, substituting for like terms we have:

Women = Money x Money = Money2

And because we know that money is the root of all evil:

Money =evil


Women = (evil)2

From which we conclude that:

Women = Evil

I know it's horrifying, but you just can't argue with the math.

Have a good day. Ladies, take your best shot back.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Responsible Speech

Last Sunday I wrote a post titled Caution: Engage Brain Before Opening Mouth, in which I lamented the abuse of the right of free speech and its relationship to some of the dreadful crimes and abuses we see in the world around us. If you haven't read that post, you might want to go back and read it now. I'll wait a few minutes while you do.

Finished? Okay, now take a look at this news story posted on CNN yesterday: Justices to Hear Case Over Protests at Military Funerals. The case, which is already being viewed as a potential landmark case that seeks to balance freedoms of religion, speech, and privacy, deals with the actions of a small Kansas church congregation which protests loudly at the funerals of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They contend that God is punishing the United States for "the sin of homosexuality" by allowing soldiers to be killed, and they travel around the country, shouting at grieving family members at funerals and displaying such signs as "Thank God for Maimed Soldiers" and "God Blew Up the Troops." Here's an example:

The problem with freedom of speech (if I can call it that) is that it protects even the most heinous and despicable of messages. My personal opinion is that those who would intrude on the grief of families who have suffered the loss of a loved one are heartless, morally bankrupt, and deserving of condemnation by decent human beings everywhere.

But their speech is protected by the Constitution, even as is my freedom to condemn their callous behavior.

The real problem with rights and freedoms is that we have separated them from responsibilities. Many people in America today are quick to complain about infringement of their rights, but never consider the possibility that they might be acting irresponsibly. Those who demonstrate and file lawsuits on behalf of unrestricted gun ownership never mention that not everyone exercising his or her right to bear arms will do so responsibly...that's why we seldom go a week without reading of someone going on a killing spree with guns (which have, almost invariably, been legally purchased). Those who insist on unrestricted freedom of speech never seem to worry about the harm their speech might cause others, but are quick to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if they think their rights are being infringed.

Freedom is good. Freedom coupled with responsible behavior is better.

Unfortunately, shouting about freedom is much easier than behaving responsibly.

I have a dream that this case will make it to the Supreme Court, and that nine justices will glower down from the bench and give these despicable people a lesson in civic behavior and common decency.

But I think, somehow, I'll win the lottery first.

Have a good day. Enjoy your freedom of speech responsibly.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, March 08, 2010

I Hope It's True...

There appears to be some confusion as to whether or not Adam Gadahn has been arrested.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't take notice of such an issue. After all, I live in Washington, DC, where we don't notice arrests unless the perp is a Member of Congress or higher. Heck, getting arrested is practically a required element of your resume if you want to work for the DC city government. Arrests aren't news.

Except in the case of a cowardly snake like Adam Gadahn, also known as "Azzam the American." This person, of course, is the California-born individual who is the English-speaking mouthpiece for al Qaeda, glorifying murderers as heroes and urging Muslims everywhere to kill Americans. He's the worthless bastard that recently posted a video praising Maj Nidal Hasan for murdering 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, last November, crowing that Nidal had "lit a path" for other Muslim servicemembers to follow. He went on to say "I believe that defiant Brother Nidal is the ideal role model for every repentant Muslim in the armies of the unbelievers and apostate regimes."

I hope that reports of his arrest are correct, although I have to admit I'd feel better if he were shot trying to escape. This miserable swine has caused indescribable damage to his country and has encouraged murder and mayhem in the service of twisted religious bigotry. The blood on his hands can never be washed away.

The God that a despicable traitor and bigot like Adam Gadahn claims to serve is certainly preparing a place for him in the hottest depths of hell. I hope he gets to enjoy the hospitality at the earliest possible date.

I hate to start off a new week with a rant on a topic like this, but I can't help it. It's bad enough that the world suffers from the curse of religious bigotry and intolerance. It's bad enough that so-called "holy men" convince morons that they will be serviced by dark-eyed virgins in paradise if they kill their fellow human beings. It's worse when the evil bastard who fronts for this horrendous barbarity is ... or was ... one of our own. There is no excuse - in any language - for this treachery.

Press on, Azzam the American. God is waiting with your reward ... and it has nothing to do with virgins.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Caution: Engage Brain Before Opening Mouth

If you've been reading my random comments over the last few years, you know some of my favorite aphorisms. Just to recap two of them:

"Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of smart;" and,

"Don't let anyone else do your thinking for you."

I've been thinking a lot about these two rules lately in the context of recent events.

You may have read about the incident this past Thursday in which a disturbed young man pulled a gun at the main entrance to the Pentagon and opened fire on two policemen...with predictable results. It turns out that the shooter was fueled with anti-government anger and conspiracy theories that led him to drive from California to Washington to be able to strike at what he believed was a government that, according to an online post attributed to him, "would use its powers to convert military, intelligence, and law enforcement bureacracies (sic) into instruments for political control and the domination and subjection of society, while discrediting, destroying, and murdering honest individuals within those services that work to root out corruption and faithfully serve their fellow citizens."

Where does someone come up with some of these ideas? Oddly enough, in many cases, from people who ought to know better.

Look back to two famous quotes from Ronald Reagan, the icon of today's ultra-conservative movement:

"In the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem;" and,

"Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other."

When the President of the United States mocks and derides the government of which he is the head, how can citizens maintain the respect for civic authority that is the mainstay of a democratic society?

Listen to the talking heads of Faux News, and to the commentators of the far right and far left. What you hear is a constant drumbeat of anti-government anger. And what is the ultimate result of all this?

* A man is shot and killed at the entrance to the Pentagon when he tries to shoot two armed police officers.

* A man angry at the Internal Revenue Service crashes his airplane into a building occupied by the tax agency in Austin, Texas.

* Timothy McVeigh and his accomplices use a truck bomb to blow up a federal office building in Oklahoma City.

I believe people like these are spun up in part by irresponsible anti-government rhetoric that provides apparent justification for irresponsible extremist behavior. We shake our heads in amazement that people in the Middle East swallow the mindless religious bigotry and hatred churned out by radical Imams, but we somehow fail to recognize that the same sort of twisted language is being used by political extremists here at home to justify their positions.

Perhaps you don't like the government. That's fine. It's your right. Your freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. But, as Hansell Duckett once said, "What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to." And we all know what Bilbo says.

If you listen closely to many of the talking heads who rail about government actions they claim are unconstitutional, you will find that - in most cases - they have only the vaguest idea of what the Constitution actually says. A survey conducted in 2008-2009 yielded some interesting insights into what Americans actually know about the document that set up and guides their government, and which guarantees their basic freedoms. You can read the results of the survey here.

So, what's the message today?

Don't believe everything you hear, especially if your main source of information is Faux News and rigid talking heads of the radical right and left. If someone tells you what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights say, double-check by reading them yourself - you can buy copies in any bookstore, check them out from any library, or find them online by clicking the links I've provided.

There's a difference between freedom of speech and freedom of smart. There's a difference between spouting what you've heard someone else say about the Constitution and actually reading it and understanding it on your own. There's a difference between working to change the opinions of people you don't like and deciding it's easier to just kill them.

We are at a difficult time in the history of this country. Solving our problems will require people of all political viewpoints working together to develop compromises that work rather than gridlock that doesn't.

But I'm not holding my breath. And, sadly, neither should you.

Have a good day. Think. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A man shot and injured two police officers outside the Pentagon before being killed by the officers' return fire; six persons were killed when a bus - which was operating illegally - crashed Friday on an Arizona interstate south of Phoenix; a former Ohio emergency room doctor has been convicted of aggravated murder for poisoning his wife in 2005; the Navy has fired a female ship captain for cruelty and maltreatment of her crew of 400 - among other things, she was known to swear like a ... uh ... sailor; and a cruise ship in the Mediterranean was hit by a huge rogue wave, killing two people, injuring 14, and severely damaging the ship.

If ever you needed Cartoon Saturday, it's now.

The temperature is supposed to be in the mid-50s this weekend (that's about 13 degrees Celsius, for those of you in Metric lands), which means we may finally see the last of the big piles of snow still dotting our neighborhood. Here are two melting-snow cartoons in honor of the event...


Just for grins yesterday, I decided to count the number of security cameras that monitor my progress between my office at the Pentagon and my front door. I lost count at 23. I think we need a new Oscar category ...

Agnes and I have a new dog...Nessa, an exuberantly friendly Chocolate Lab, has come to live with us. In some ways, it's nice to have a dog...she gives us companionship, security, love, and exercise. The exercise part comes from the long walks she enjoys. But being in this family, when the dog wants to go out, the dog wants to go out...

You can tell you're getting old when...

And finally, I wonder what the eventual outcome of all the fiscal bailouts we've seen in the last year or two will be. Does anyone know? Is anyone looking to the future? One wonders...

It looks like it's going to be a beautiful, sunny weekend here in Northern Virginia...perfect for walking the dog and surveying what's left of our landscaping after the snow has melted and the deer have feasted. I think it's going to be a long Spring.

Have a good day. More - and more serious - thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, March 05, 2010

The Picture on the Fifty

In case you were wondering what your government may be spending your tax dollars on in the future (besides putting up more signs announcing we're a wholly-owned subsidiary of China), consider this article that showed up yesterday on CNN - The $50 Question: Grant or Reagan?

Yes, a Republican Congressman from North Carolina plans to introduce a bill that will remove the picture of President Ulysses S. Grant from the $50 bill and replace it with the image of President Ronald Reagan.

This would be the same President Reagan for whom the Reagan Building is named, and for whom (at Republican insistence) Washington National Airport was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in 1998 (by the way...the next time there's a major Metro accident or problem caused by lack of money to keep the system in repair, remember that the Republican-controlled Congress required Metro to pay the full cost of the renaming - an amount estimated to be as much as $400,000...which would have bought a lot of repairs and maintenance instead of a lot of signs and maps).

Now, President Grant was a great general, but perhaps less successful as a president. Does he deserve to be memorialized on the $50 bill? I don't know. My mental jury's still out. But I also question whether it's appropriate to put Ronald Reagan's name on something else, particularly our money. My personal opinion is that history will be less kind to Ronald Reagan than those who worship at his festooned altar would have you believe. I think that much of our current economic disaster can be traced back to the cut-taxes-and-deregulate-everything policies championed by President Reagan and those who idolize him today.

Leave President Grant on the Fifty. President Reagan has enough things named after him. If you want to put someone on the money, how about putting any current member of Congress on the $3 bill? I think that's as appropriate as anything.

Expect better from your elected reprehensives, but don't be disappointed when, instead of fixing the problems that beset the nation, they waste your time and money on new ways to deify Ronald Reagan. After all, it's easier than solving real problems.

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday is coming'll need it.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Sound of Then

I enjoy listening to classical music, although I don't recognize many specific pieces by name. There are a few pieces I can hear and name (Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Strauss's Blue Danube Waltz, Mussorgsky's A Night on Bare Mountain, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee, and a few others), but for the most part it just washes over me in a tide of pleasantly entertaining sound.

But is it the sound the composer actually heard at the time he wrote the music?

Yesterday I read this fascinating article in MSN Slate Magazine: "In Search of Lost Sounds: Why You've Never Really Heard the 'Moonlight' Sonata." Author Jan Swofford writes that "During the 19th century, Viennese pianos were noted for their lightness of touch and tone and British pianos for a more robust build, touch, and sound; French pianos lay somewhere between ... When composers wrote for these instruments they sometimes loved them and sometimes chafed at their limitations, but in any case they wrote for those sounds, that touch, those bells and whistles."

Mr Swafford notes that, for instance, a piano built today will have a tone very different from the pianos Beethoven and Strauss knew in their day. Construction techniques were different, the treatment of the materials used was different, and composers wrote their music based on the quality of sound they were used to hearing from the available instruments. In some cases, those sounds are not only quite different from those we hear and know today but, as Mr Swofford explains, some cannot even be accurately reproduced on modern instruments.

If you enjoy classical music - or even if you just enjoy a good tale of how things change over time - read the article and play the audio clips which are included. For a few minutes, you can hear music as audiences heard it in the past, and as the great composers imagined it as they wrote.

If you like rap or heavy metal "music," never mind. Your ears are probably a lost cause, anyhow.

Have a good day. Listen to some beautiful music.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

So Much Bloggable, So Little Time...

This is one of those times when it seems that interesting things about which to blog are coming in faster than I can use them. If I dedicate a whole post to each one, by the time I get to the last one, the topic will be stale and nobody will remember the context. Of course, it's better to have lots of things to choose from instead of a dry spell when I can't think of anything to say, so I guess I shouldn't complain.


Here is today's post - a little bit about a lot of things...

The catastrophic earthquake that hit the South American nation of Chile last Saturday caused enormous damage. According to some scientists, the quake was so powerful that it tipped the earth off it's axis by about three inches (eight centimeters) - enough to change the length of a day. Each day is now approximately 1.26 microseconds shorter than it was before the quake...not a lot, but enough to attract the notice of scientists...and of Congressional Republicans, who quickly introduced a bill in Congress to reduce taxes because the average working day is now shorter.

Yesterday the Senate finally managed to get past the objections of Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning and pass legislation to extend unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans. Bunning had continually blocked the legislation because it was unfunded and would add to the deficit. He finally yielded to the pleas of other Compassionate Conservatives who were worried that his intransigence was negatively affecting their gentle, caring image. Senator Bunning settled for a compromise under which he agreed to vote for the bill if Congressional Democrats agreed to hang House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Effigy...a small town in rural Texas.

The celebrity cast of the new season of Dancing with the Stars has been named, and includes "actress" and former Playboy playmate Pamela Anderson, actress and professional bad girl Shannen Doherty, and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. No jokes about Mr Aldrin doing the moonwalk, please.

According to an article in People Magazine, pop singer Lady Gaga has announced that she is "single and celibate." Apparently the "celibate" part isn't by choice, but results from the inability of potential sexual partners to find a body underneath her bizarre costumes.

Texas governor Rick Perry has won reelection over a challenge from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. In his victory speech, Governor-elect Perry shouted a defiant message to Washington: "Quit spending all the money! Stop trying to take over our lives and our businesses." One assumes that doesn't apply to the money the government spends on military bases in Texas, and on the $3.5 billion the state will receive this year in assorted Federal grants.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.