Saturday, July 31, 2010
The news may stay bad, but Cartoon Saturday is always here to help you deal with it.
Some cell phones may not work as well as others, but they're certainly cheaper...
I sometimes think things are getting just too specialized...
This is about the same relationship I have with my financial adviser...
This is about the only way I can do it, too...
Being a teacher is a tough job, but some times it's tougher than others...
And finally, some people just have no luck...
It looks like it may be a nice weekend here in Northern Virginia, with moderating temperatures and the humidity down from the triple-digits. I don't know how we'll deal with it, but I'm sure we'll manage. Hope the weather is good where you are.
Have a good day and a relaxing weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.
Friday, July 30, 2010
There are a lot of interesting aspects to this question, and how you answer it rather depends on the angle from which you approach it. From a religious perspective, we note a staggering 20% of the ten commandments (two out of ten) deal with the issue: "Thou shalt not commit adultery," and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife." Evolutionary biologists draw their conclusions based on the size and alignment of the male and female sexual anatomy. Anthropologists note that women have an economic and security interest in finding a healthy, virile mate who is not only good in bed, but also willing to invest the time required to rear children who take a long time to reach maturity (if, in fact, they ever do). They also point to the difference between the share-everything mentality of the hunter-gatherer human society and the it's-mine-stay-away mentality of the settled agricultural community. Hugh Hefner, for his part, observes that ... well ... we all know what Hef observes, and observes far more frequently than most of the rest of us.
There's an interesting recent article on this topic by Christopher Ryan titled Monogamy Unnatural for Our Sexy Species. You may want to read this for its entertaining and thought-provoking look at a contentious topic. Much of what Mr Ryan writes echoes the observations made by Desmond Morris many years ago in his classic book The Naked Ape, which you may also want to read if you're interested in theories of why we act the way we do.
If nothing else, you can learn from Mr Ryan's article the wonderful euphemism female copulatory vocalization for scream of sexual ecstasy. He doesn't mention other vocalizations we tend to use in discussions of sexual matters, such as the expression I love you. When used by men, this expression frequently means I want to have sex with you ... as opposed to the related expression Will you marry me?, which often means I want to have sex with you and I don't want anyone else to.
But that's a linguistic diversion from the central issue of whether or not we are a naturally monogamous species. You can make scientific, religious, and social science arguments on both sides of the question. All I know for sure is that monogamy is clearly the natural state for men who know that their wives will give them a Lorena Bobbitt trim if they stray.
And that trumps all the anthropological, sociological, and religious reasons for fidelity you might be able to name.
Have a good day. If you're married, have it with just one mate ... it's safer and cheaper in the long run.
More thoughts tomorrow, when Cartoon Saturday helps you recover from the rigors of the week.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
But enough of that ... there are rants to be ranted.
One of the infuriating things about the ongoing political buffoonery is the tendency of people on both sides of any debate to reduce complex topics to easily-parroted, bumper-sticker absolutes: black or white, yes or no, you're for us or against us, chicken or fish, etc, etc. The discussion of taxes is one such issue that is routinely reduced to meaningless polar opposites for purpose of counting political coup against opponents (as opposed to actually shedding light and understanding on an important topic).
In this regard, you may be interested in this article by Christopher Beam from Slate.com - Taxonomy: Beyond "Hikes" and "Cuts."
In this short, yet information-filled article, Mr Beam goes beyond the ordinary political bloviation about "tax hikes" - vs - "tax cuts" to explore the various types of political dodges that complicate the raising of revenue (note to the GOP and the Tea Party wingnuts: the Constitution (Section 8, specifically) does, in fact, give the federal government the authority to collect taxes). He distinguishes between (or is it among?) the following tax terms:
Incremental Tax Cuts/Hikes;
Derivative Tax Cuts/Hikes;
Do-Nothing Tax Hikes; and,
I haven't gone into the details of each one, because Mr Beam's article does a very good job and it's worth your time to read it in full. It's not long, and it lends subtlety and nuance to a critical topic which is generally obscured by layers of pettifoggery and general political ass-clownery.
And in case you were keeping track, it's only 260 days until April 15, 2010.
Have a good day. Don't overtax yourself. More thoughts tomorrow.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
"Congress voted for tougher laws on corporations. So now when a corporation buys a senator, they need a receipt."
Well, that's not actually true. You don't need a receipt any more, according to the entire Republican bloc in Congress. You can read the full story here, but the Readers' Digest version is this:
1. The Supreme Court, in its bizarre decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (docket # 08-205, dated 1/21/10, downloadable as a .pdf here), ruled that corporations are considered individuals with unlimited rights of free speech as far as contributing money to election campaigns.
2. Democrats introduced legislation which would require require organizations paying for political advertising to disclose the names of their top donors in the ads. This would have been similar to what now is required of candidates for federal office. They maintained that their proposed legislation would bring greater transparency to campaign contributions from corporations, labor unions, and other special interests, which were able to increase their political spending in the wake of the Citizens United ruling.
3. Senate Republicans, without a single dissent, blocked the proposed legislation, complaining that it would curb freedom of speech and tilt campaign spending in favor of the Democrats.
Now, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I'm having a problem with this political logic.
Once upon a time, it was important to stand up and be counted. We wanted everyone to know where we stood on important issues, because we wanted to convince them that we were right. But that's not the Republican view. In this utterly incomprehensible view, letting everyone know that a special interest group (a union, the NRA, or any other organization with deep pockets) has bought an election violates that group's freedom of speech. How is that, exactly? And how does it tilt campaign spending in favor of the Democrats? Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as the saying goes, and if every special interest group can hide its purchase of an election, it seems to me that groups bankrolling Democrats can hide their venality just like those that bankroll Republicans.
The word stupid comes to mind.
I wish I could have Platinum-Plus level voting rights like Big Organizations, but I can't afford them. I make a good salary, but I still live pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck, and I don't have a few extra (and probably tax exempt) millions to use to buy myself a Congressman.
Maybe the answer is for Real People to get organized, too. If Mike, Kathy, John, Fiona, Andrea, Bandit, and I could pool our resources, we probably couldn't afford to buy a Congressman, but we might be able to rent one for a while so that we could - for one brief, exciting moment - think that our voices were actually being heard over the thundering roar of the special interests.
As fantasies go, it's as good as any. And it probably won't get my face slapped, except by some Tea Party wingnut.
If this example of political cowardice and lack of moral courage doesn't outrage you, something's wrong. Coming on top of a Republican strategy that advocates simply attacking Democratic positions instead of putting out its own agenda for consideration, it just proves that all the GOP rhetoric is nothing more than empty wind.
You should still write your Congressman and make your voice heard, but with the understanding that your voice doesn't count for much any more. After all, you can spend 44 cents to mail one letter ... the special interests can spend millions to mail lots of letters and buy lots of face time.
The best government money can buy. And you don't even need a receipt.
Demand openness and transparency in campaign funding. Because you need to know who really owns the people you think you're electing.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
If you don't have the time to watch the show, you might want to read this short article that summarizes five pretty dirty jobs:
Chick Sexer (it's not as much fun as you might think);
Window Washer (nothing like dangling from a harness ten stories up, wiping pigeon poop and other nasty stuff from sheer glass surfaces);
Medical Examiner (from Quincy to Bones to CSI, most of us now know more than we really want to about the science of examining really yucky human remains);
Farrier (if you've ever owned a horse, you know all about the joys of digging compacted manure and muck out of hoofs (hooves?) while trying to avoid being kicked by a very large animal that may not appreciate what you're doing; and,
Baggage Handler (those bags are heavy, often dirty, and need to be moved in blazing heat and freezing cold).
To this list, I might add a few more Really Dirty Jobs:
Congressional Reporter (both Otto von Bismarck and Mark Twain said that those who like sausage and respect the law should never watch either one being made);
Legal Observer (watching lawyers at work ranks right up there with picking up tar balls on a pristine beach); and,
Diaper Changer (ask any parent. It's no accident that otherwise pleasant and normal people like Gotfam spend so much time discussing all the aspects of poop).
Dirty jobs. Someone's got to do them...and you can bet that those someones aren't paid nearly as much as the CEO. Or the city officials in Bell, CA.
Have a good day. Get down and dirty. More thoughts tomorrow.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Anyhow, you don't have to read articles full of mind-numbing statistics to recognize how bad the economy is...you can read articles like this one from CNN Money - Newark Mayor: No Toilet Paper for City Offices.
What a pain in the ... uh ... never mind.
Yes, friends, you know things are bad when city workers have to bring their own toilet paper to work with them. What's next? Will Newark workers have to bring gallon jugs of water to power their own flushes? The possibilities are endless, and horrifying.
But it's not all bad, though. Those of you who have traveled in Eastern Europe in the days of the Cold War know that Soviet Bloc toilet paper was pretty nasty ... waxy and full of chunks of unprocessed wood. Charmin it wasn't. So I suppose Newark could have just bought up all of that unused Cold War toilet tissue (probably dumped in an abandoned mine in some remote region) for a song and and imposed it on the poor city workers. Or it could have looked at other options, like ...
Sometimes, you just have to count your blessings.
Have a good day. Stock up on that Charmin, just in case.
More thoughts tomorrow.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Yesterday morning, Agnes and I went down to visit our daughter and her family. Our granddaughter Leya is in a princess-and-fairies phase, and likes to dress up in the fancy costumes and dance at Grand Balls held in the downstairs rec room. Princess Leya's usual escort at such events is Prince Opa ...
She has a toy microphone which plays "London Bridge Is Falling Down," "Old MacDonald's Farm," "Frere Jacques," and a bunch of other tunes ... the usual sequence of events is for Agnes to do the announcement ("Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Princess Leya and Prince Opa!"), followed by the appropriate music and energetic "dancing." Leya is very particular about how we execute the dances, particularly how high we skip when dancing to tunes like "Skip to My Lou, My Darling." My legs hurt.
We also helped with the logistics of getting Leya and Elise to a birthday party yesterday morning. The party was held at a park in Vienna (Virginia, not Austria), and was noteworthy for the ability of the children to play happily in temperatures that caused the surrounding chain link fence to melt. There were several bottles of water available to spray on the children to help keep them cool...Leya decided these were at least as much fun as anything else, and spent much time spraying us from a distance of about an inch and a half.
You may recall that yesterday afternoon was the grilling class that Agnes had given me as a Fathers' Day present. Despite having been run ragged by Leya all morning, I managed to pull myself together for the class, which was interesting and fun. We grilled pork chops and made cherry chutney to go with them; Jamaican jerk chicken with pineapple and mango salsa; sliders with bacon and Roquefort cheese; lamb chops. All were excellent, and we are going to do the pork chops and cherry chutney for dinner this evening. At the end of the class, each student received a package of two boneless pork chops and a coupon for a 10% discount at the Sur la Table store good for the following week. Of course, we bought stuff.
After the class, Agnes and I enjoyed dinner at the Lebanese Taverna at Pentagon Row. We started with a cucumber, yogurt and mint salad served with fresh, hot bread, then Agnes had Grilled Salmon with couscous and grilled vegetables, while I ordered the Lamb and Beef Shawarma with rice and spicy vegetables. It was wonderful. You should try it. We'll be back.
Today, we went back down to visit the local grandchildren again. We attended the Grand Ball again, and had a pleasant, if exhausting morning at play. I even had a chance to take a break from the Grand Ball to visit with Elise, who still thinks her Opa is a pretty cool guy ...
This afternoon, it was shopping for dinner ingredients, doing laundry, and doing some major rearranging of my desk so that I can actually have some space to work. We'll see how long it lasts. Maybe I'll post a picture if it works out.
And now, it's time to fix that cherry chutney and grill those pork chops. After, of course, fixing that nice gin and tonic to lubricate the chef with.
These things have to be done right, don't you know?
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
There's not much out there to help you feel good, but Cartoon Saturday does its best.
Everybody needs to believe in something, even if it's stupid ...
With all the problems going on around us, why not focus on something pleasant? Flowers, for instance. Here are five cartoons about flowers to help cheer you up:
WWFBA - What Would Francis Bacon Ask? ...
Even flowers have things to worry about ...
There's the language of flowers, and there's ... well ... the language of flowers ...
It always pays to think your plan through before you execute it ...
And finally, if there's anything to the idea of reincarnation, I think I know what I want to come back as ...
This afternoon I'm going to get my Father's Day present: Agnes signed me up for a class in "Grilling Great Meat" which is being held at the local Sur la Table store today. I wonder if she's trying to send me a message...?
Have a good day. Here's an oak-leaf geranium for you (look it up).
More thoughts tomorrow.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Here are a few photos of the event, culled from the Web:
I wonder if this is why there were so many empty seats in this picture ...
and this one ...
Coincidence? I think not.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Yesterday I found this article at Slate.com: "Should I Stay Funky? On the Greenness of Deodorants and Antiperspirants." I learned that antiperspirants, as their name suggests, reduce sweating by temporarily plugging up the sweat ducts in your armpits, while deodorants either use perfume to cover up bodily odors or use antimicrobial agents to eliminate them altogether by killing the bacteria that interact with sweat to produce unpleasant odors. This is, of course, a topic of no small importance during the current heat wave which has brought us a week of temperatures in the upper 90s (that's 32 degrees and up, for my Celsius-oriented readers) and humidity nearing 100%.
Anyhow, from a health perspective, the article suggests that we might want to think about the use of antiperspirants that contain aluminum (i.e., almost all of them), for studies have suggested that aluminum might contribute to both Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer...not to mention the environmental impact of mining and processing all that aluminum. And, of course, antimicrobial deodorants have their own issues, perhaps contributing to the ever-growing problem of new microbes which are resistant to antibiotics.
So, what are your options? You can sweat and stink, or come down with exotic diseases and help cause ever-more mining damage to the environment. Quite a choice, eh?
And it's all because of our concern with the humble and underappreciated armpit. The axilla, to use the proper anatomical term.
Years ago, famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote a clever little parody of the popular books The Sensuous Woman and The Sensuous Man - he called it The Sensuous Dirty Old Man, and it was hilarious. In addition to providing instruction in such useful girl-watching techniques as the "cane pivot," Asimov (or "Dr A") offered physical and mental health hints for dirty old men. For example, he noted that older men, generally having higher blood pressure and more delicate constitutions than in their more robust and healthier years, needed to avoid the overstimulation that might come gawking at the bosoms, derrieres, and legs of young ladies...he suggested instead that dirty old men focus on armpits, noting that "...The sight of an attractive young lady, properly semi-clothed, holding onto the overhead strap on a bus will keep the sensuous dirty old man glued to his seat long past his proper stop."
Which argues for the application and appreciation of those deodorants and antiperspirants, doesn't it.
And through the miracle of the Internet, you have the opportunity to learn far more than you ever wanted to know about the humble armpit in all its manifestations: shaven or unshaven, dry or glistening with perspiration. If you doubt me (and you shouldn't), do a Google search on Bollywood armpits and you will find that there are roughly 1,800,000 sites dealing with the underarms of Indian actresses. You don't want to know how I found that out.
As you step out of the shower to start your day and roll that deodorant, antiperspirant, or crystal over your freshly-laundered underarms, think not just about the favor you are doing for your fellow man, but also about the potential cost to your health and the environment.
And ladies, remember that there may be a sensuous dirty old man out there who quietly appreciates your grooming more than most.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
We all appreciate good-looking people. Young men don't spend a lot of time pursuing women they don't think are attractive, and young women tend not to shower their affections on men that aren't conventionally handsome. Years of studies of people of all ages have shown that we have a built-in bias toward people who meet our standards of appearance ... even babies have been shown to look longer at good-looking faces.
This is probably why I have a lot more female friends now that I'm a bit older and more ... um ... seasoned than when I was a gawky, geeky high school senior.
We tend to attribute good qualities - more intelligence, better leadership abilities, and so on - to those who are better-looking. Imagine a presidential contest today between Abraham Lincoln ...
and, say, John F. Kennedy...
All other things being equal, which do you think would win in an age dominated by television imagery and the emphasis on "beautiful people?" The television series "Ugly Betty" was built around the concept of beautiful - vs - not-beautiful ladies and their successes and failures in the fashion industry.
We make light of it, but it's a serious topic. Both formal studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that unattractive people tend to have a harder time getting jobs; conversely, it appears to be easier for an attractive woman willing to "show off her figure" to land a good position than for one who is heavier or otherwise less attractive. Fair? No. To be expected? Probably.
We're drawn to people and things we find attractive, while we tend to avoid those we don't. Does it mean we're bad people? Probably not, at least not intentionally. What it does mean is that we should recognize the problem and make a special effort to avoid unconsciously discriminating against the less-attractive.
After all, I may need a job some day, and I'd hate to have to compete with the Beautiful People for the right to flip burgers at McDonald's.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
A report from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says that allegations of witchcraft conducted by children are increasing in parts of Africa, with thousands of children attacked, beaten or killed. Most of the victims are boys aged 8 to 14, with orphans, street children, albinos, and disabled as the most at risk.
The UNICEF report cites urbanization, poverty, war and the economic burden of raising children as some of the factors that contribute to the problem, which is a relatively recent phenomenon that dates back 10 to 20 years. Before this, according to the UNICEF researchers, women and the elderly were the ones most often accused.Crimes against children are truly some of the most despicable that I can imagine. There is a case for child witchcraft to be made, though ... I am bewitched every day by the world's most adorable grandchildren:
Marcy, Noah and Joe ...
and Elise ...
That's my kind of witchcraft!
Have a good day. Protect the children. More thoughts tomorrow.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Symbols are often used to represent major currencies. The pound, dollar, yen, and Euro are represented by these symbols -
Thus, we could write "Ten thousand dollars," or "$10,000," or even "$10K" (or, if you work for the government, "$10M," "$10B," or even "$10T."
If you're like most of us nowadays, and don't have enough money to use the "K," "M," or "B" shortcuts, the symbol for cent is often used -
It's a big deal for a currency to have its own symbol. It means you've arrived, that you're a major economic player. There's no generally accepted symbol for the Russian ruble, for instance, or (yet) for the Chinese currency (either the yuan or the renminbi, which is simply listed as "CNY").
The Indian rupee now has its own symbol -
The arrival of this spiffy new symbol for the rupee suggests that it's possible to come up with new currency symbols, perhaps to account for changes in the world economy. I thought we might look at introducing a new symbol for the
If you're a Republican, this one might be more your style -
Anybody have any other ideas?
Have a good day, if only symbolically.
More thoughts tomorrow.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
The anger part is going to be a little tough to deal with, especially when I read things like this front page article from yesterday's Washington Post: Republicans Divided on the Importance of an Agenda for Midterm Elections. If there was anything better suited to get my blood pressure soaring, I haven't seen it lately.
The point of the article is this: many Republican strategists believe they improve their chances of trouncing the Democrats in the November midterm elections by relentlessly attacking everything the Democrats do, while avoiding advocating any specific plans or actions of their own which might invite attacks from the other party. What they're saying is not vote for me because the country is in trouble and here's how I'm going to fix things, but vote for me because the other guy is a useless bastard who kicks puppies.
If ever there was anything that exposed the moral bankruptcy and utter cluelessness of our major political parties, it's this.
Now, to be fair, the article goes on to say that this Republican approach was based on the strategy proposed in 2006 by President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who, as a Democratic congressman from Chicago, advocated that Democratic candidates spend 80 percent of their time on the attack and 20 percent on the issues.
Let's think about that for a moment.
If you spend 80 percent of your time attacking the other guy, and only 20 percent explaining what you yourself would do if elected, how do we - the Great Unwashed - know who is the better candidate? How can we evaluate whether your ideas are better than your opponent's ... or even if you have any at all?
The Post article notes that the House Minority Leader John Boehner plans to unveil a blueprint of what Republicans will do if they take back control of Congress "sometime after Labor Day," and that this "will be a full plate of policy proposals that will give voters a clear sense of how (the Republicans) would govern."
So, let me see if I understand this correctly ...
The Republicans have relentlessly criticized and blocked everything President Obama and the Democrats have tried to do for the last two years ... but we have to wait until September to find out what they would do that's different ... and then only if the Republican strategists decide it's politically advantageous to let their ideas be made public so that Real People can decide whether or not they're worth voting for.
Is it any wonder my blood pressure is high?
The immediate source of anger is the stupid Republicans, but the stupid Democrats are equally at fault. It looks like it's time once again to dust off my favorite campaign poster:
If you actually have the chance to ask someone running for Congress a question this summer and fall, ask this one: "What will you do?" If he (or she) responds by just attacking the opponent, ask again. And if you don't get a straight answer, just shake your head and walk away.
Because, in politics as in so many other areas, you may be better off with the devil you know than the devil you don't.
Have a good day. Insist on real answers. You deserve them. More thoughts tomorrow.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
If it weren't for Cartoon Saturday, how could you make sense of it all?
Agnes's car needs some work. Okay, a lot of work. I expect a diagnosis something like this...
As NASA continues its efforts to determine whether or not there is life elsewhere in the universe, we can anticipate possible new sorts of diplomatic problems ...
Agnes and I have eaten in some pretty fancy restaurants over the years, and since we enjoy reading while we dine, this one hit close to home ...
Two riffs on a theme ...
There's nothing like a good Happy Hour. And nothing like a place that knows how to make it even happier ...
Have a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.
Friday, July 16, 2010
But before we get to that, let's say a few words about Comicus.
Comicus was the stand-up philosopher played by Mel Brooks in his movie, History of the World, Part 1. This film contains one of my all-time favorite exchanges, between Comicus and a clerk at the unemployment office played by Beatrice Arthur:
Unemployment Office Clerk: "Occupation?"
Comicus: "Stand-up philosopher."
Comicus: "Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension."
Clerk: "Oh, a bullshit artist."
Clerk: "Did you bullshit last week?"
Clerk: "Did you try to bullshit last week?"
That Comicus, he's my kind of guy.
Anyhow, back to Great Questions of the Universe: we now know the answer to the classic conundrum - "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" You can read the full, amazing story here.
According to a scientific paper titled, "Structural Control of Crystal Nuclei by an Eggshell Protein," the answer is (drum roll, please) - the chicken.
The official answer has to do with eggshell proteins and dinosaurs and the use of a supercomputer in Edinburgh, Scotland, all of which seems quite a bit of trouble and expense to go through to answer such an arcane philosophical question, but hey, if you're going to be a bullshit artist, you might as well be able to do it with the entire gravitas of the scientific community behind you.
In the last analysis, though, it doesn't really matter which came first as long as both are available at your local Piggly Wiggly when you're assembling the ingredients for your favorite recipe.
I wonder if that supercomputer can crunch a few more numbers and answer a really important question...like, for instance, whether or not there's any good way to differentiate between Republican Stand-Up Philosophy and Democratic Stand-Up Philosophy. It's hard for most of us to tell the difference.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when Cartoon Saturday rides to your rescue from the insanity of the week.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
So I don't understand numbers. I don't understand how two accountants can adjust their green eyeshades and look at the same set of numbers, and one can show a fine profit and the other a staggering loss. I find the concept of generally accepted accounting principles more than a little bizarre, serving only to underlie the truth of the old adage that if you torture the data long enough, it will tell you what you want to know, whether it's true or not...truth, in many cases being defined by the political leanings and requirements of the observer.
Which brings me to the numeric fairy tale summarized by this article: It's Unanimous! GOP Says No to Unemployment Benefits, Yes to Tax Cuts for the Rich.
If you are a Republican who worships at the festooned altar of St Reagan, the solution to every economic problem lies in two actions: cut taxes, preferably on businesses and on the rich; and cut unnecessary spending. The theories behind this are supply side and trickle-down economics, which hypothesize that the government takes in more money by reducing taxes and other barriers to business activity, which in results in more goods and services at lower prices for consumers, and more tax income for the government because of increased business activity.
Magicians understand this. Real People don't.
How's it all working out? Taxes are low as a result of tax cuts instituted during the Bush era, which means that business should be booming and the government rolling in dough. The reality, of course, is a bit different. Millions of people are out of work, their unemployment benefits are expiring, there are no new jobs to be had, and the Republican answer is that all will be well if we keep cutting taxes on the rich while also cutting unnecessary expenditures...like, say, unemployment benefits. After all, the rich spend more than the poor, which is better for the economy, right?
The government has plenty of money to spend, though. Unfortunately, it's not because of taxes. It's because we've borrowed astronomical amounts of money from places like China (which, oddly enough, has neither a Republican party to argue for lower taxes on the rich, nor a Democratic party to argue on behalf of Real People). I have carefully studied the concepts of supply-side and trickle-down economics, and they fail to mention the part about compensating for lost tax revenue by borrowing from other countries that may not have our best interests at heart. Lenin once said that the capitalists would sell the communists the rope with which the communists would hang them. That didn't work out quite so well for the Soviet Union, but it seems to be working just fine for the Chinese.
So, how do we interpret the numbers?
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sees it like this: "That there's no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy." The Congressional Budget Office, among other observers, disagrees.
All I know is this: the economy is in the toilet, we've sold ourselves to China, and taxes are low...which doesn't help you much if you don't have a job that pays wages which can be taxed at those low rates. "Experts" disagree on how to fix the problem, but to me - as a guy who, admittedly, isn't very good with numbers - cutting taxes on those who are able to pay them while cutting aid to people who desperately need it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
It'll be difficult to convince me otherwise, but you're welcome to try.
Have a good day...by the numbers.
More thoughts tomorrow.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
ABC News aired this report yesterday: Republican Senator Says He Backs Birther Lawsuits.
Yes, friends, when one of his constituents asked Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana what he would do about President Obama's "refusal to produce a valid birth certificate," this solomonic legislator - clearly a tower of intellectual power and sagacity - replied that he supports conservative legal organizations and others who would bring the issue to court.
Never mind that the entire "birther" movement and its fundamental issue - that President Obama is not a legal US citizen and therefore ineligible to be president - has been thoroughly and utterly discredited...some people will continue to believe what they want to believe, no matter how stupid or thoroughly disproven. The state of Hawaii has actually published the document, researchers from FactCheck.org have actually examined a copy of it, raised seals, signatures and all, and the rumor-debunking website Snopes.com has investigated and discredited the story.
If you don't like President Obama, that's fine. It's a free country and it's your right. But oppose the man on the basis of his policies and actions, and not on some bogus issue that is so easily disproven.
As it happens (and in the interest of full disclosure), I voted for Mr Obama in the 2008 election. I did so for two primary reasons:
1. He wasn't George W. Bush.
2. He wasn't a Republican.
I am not, as some would immediately assume, a Democrat. I vote for individuals and their positions on issues, not for parties. If political labels had any meaning any more, I suppose I could be considered a "liberal Republican." Unfortunately, the Republican party has lost every bit of its credibility and common sense. It's been hijacked by its most reactionary elements and is too busy working on the canonization of Ronald Reagan and the smearing of President Obama to do anything worthwhile to help the people of the United States. I am ashamed to admit that I was once a registered Republican, but would be equally ashamed to admit that I was a registered Democrat. P.J. O'Rourke may have expressed my thoughts better than I could myself when he wrote in his book Parliament of Whores,
"So what if I don't agree with the Democrats? What's to disagree with? They believe everything. And what they don't believe, the Republicans do. Neither of them stands for anything they believe in, anyway."
My problem with all of our elected reprehensives is simple: I expect better.
I expect action on critical issues that affect all of us...not time-wasting bloviation on discredited issues.
I have a right to expect better, but I've grown used to accepting worse. And when a United States Senator buys into something as stupid as the birther movement, it's time to question whether there's any hope left.
In my office, we often say that you can't fix stupid. But I surely do wish we could. The nation needs it.
Have a good day. Expect better.
More thoughts tomorrow.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
According to the article, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation has signed an agreement with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to erect a bronze statue of the 40th president in front of the airport's Terminal A. The statue is estimated to cost $445,000, of which the airport authority will pay $80,000.
Riddle me this, Batman: what can you buy for the airport for $445,000 that would be a little more useful than a statue of Ronald Reagan...who, just to shove the stick a little deeper into the eye, was the president who fired all the nation's air traffic controllers in 1981?
Washington National Airport was renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in 1998 as part of the deification of the former president, whose name is also attached to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in downtown Washington, and to the Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Highway (Virginia State Route 234 in Prince William County, dedicated to Reagan in 2005), among other things. You can find a more-or-less complete list of all the things around the country named for Ronald Reagan here.
But back to the statue.
Ronald Reagan, whether or not you think he was a great president (and I think history will be less kind to him than those who today worship at his festooned altar), was a major figure in late 20th century America. But enough, already! Spending nearly half a million dollars on a statue of the man ... and getting the airport to pay some $80,000 for it, is ludicrous. That money could buy a lot of repairs and improvements to the airport facilities and the adjoining Metrorail station. Those of you who live here and have long memories will remember that Republican members of Congress forced the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (which operates our increasingly decrepit and sadly-underfunded Metro system) to pay about $400,000 to rename the National Airport Metro station to include President Reagan's name. Are we going to accept spending $465,000 on a statue when there are so many better things on which to spend it?
Come on, people. If Ronald Reagan was such a "regular guy," and was the opponent of needless spending and big government that his supporters remember, he would probably be one of the first to object to spending this amount of money on a pigeon perch.
It would, however, give the pigeons a place to register their opinion on the topic.
No statue of President Reagan at National Airport. Use the money for better things.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Monday, July 12, 2010
1. The Hub System (not originally designed to maximize congestion, delays, and overpricing, but that's how it worked out);
2. Nonrefundable Fares (don't get me started on this one);
3. The Demise of People Express;
4. The Disappearance of Legroom (compounded by the decrease in seat width over time, and made even worse by the ignoramus in the seat in front of you who reclines his seat into your lap);
5. Frequent-Flyer Gimmickry (you may as well forget the utility of that "benefit");
6. Lunch Is Not Served (it may never have been great, but at least it was there);
7. Speak to an Agent? Don't Press 1;
8. Pay TV;
9. Pay for Pets;
10. The Security-Line Confiscation (to be fair, this one isn't the airlines' fault...although the overpriced stores in the airports - most of which are probably owned by the airlines - are cashing in on it big-time);
11. Checked-Bag Fees (don't get me started on this one, either);
12. Who Took My Blanket?;
13. VIP for a Day;
14. All Seats Are Not Created Equal;
15. Stingy Over Soft Drinks;
16. Bye-Bye, Standby;
17. Carry-On Luggage;
18. Surcharges on Peak Travel Days (just about the ultimate scam);
19. The Cut-in-Line Charge; and the one that's coming, but no one will talk about,
20. Pay Toilets.
And they never even mentioned the part about the airline seat assignment computer subroutine that ensures Bilbo always gets to sit between two huge people who spill over into his already-inadequate seat.
Enjoy that next flight. It will never be this "cheap," "comfortable," and "convenient" again.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
That was then, this is now.
Now, it's hotter than a two-dollar pistol, hotter than a Republican enraged by the very existence of the word liberal in the English language, hotter than a Saudi imam aghast at the sight of the smallest glimpse of uncovered female flesh, hotter than the hinges on the door to the boiler room of Hell in August.
It's hot, and I join everyone else in the metro area in bitching and complaining about it every bit as much as we bitched and complained about the cold back in February. There's just no satisfying some people, is there?
Which brings us to the topic of air conditioning ... or the lack thereof. Consider this interesting article from the Washington Post's "Department of What-If" this morning - "Try to Imagine D.C. Without So Much A.C."
If you've visited or lived in the nation's capital, you know how miserably hot and humid it can get here in the summer. The heat and humidity fall on you like a heavy, wet blanket, and a two-block walk to the bus stop leaves you wishing you'd used the time you spent taking a shower on something more useful. Every home, shop, office building and automobile is air-conditioned, and one of the angriest and most frequent complaints about the less-than-stellar performance of our public transit system is that the air conditioning doesn't work. In the summer, D.C. runs on A.C.
But it wasn't always that way. People survived perfectly well here without air conditioning all the way through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II. The weather conditions were just as miserable, but people learned to cope, just as they cope every day in tropical regions where A.C. is not viewed as a fundamental necessity of life.
The article from today's Post talks about ways in which Washington might be different without our slavish reliance on air conditioning. We could close offices in the summer, wear loose cotton shirts (without neckties, YAY!!), and make more use of ceiling fans. We could use lighter-colored, heat-reflecting shingles and tiles on our roofs, and grill our meals outside instead of cooking them in a 450-degree oven in the kitchen. And who knows? - if we actually left the refrigerated sanctuary of our air-conditioned homes, we might meet our neighbors and develop better social lives.
The biggest benefit might come if we actually went back to the days before air conditioning, when Congress took a summer recess to beat the heat. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a period of a few months when, as New York Times columnist Russell Baker is quoted in the Post article as writing, "...the nation (could enjoy) a respite from the promulgation of more laws, the depredations of lobbyists, the hatching of new schemes for Federal expansion and, of course, the cost of maintaining a government running at full blast"?
And, for the record, I'm writing this on my laptop, on the deck, in the shade of an umbrella. There's a little bit of a breeze, but it's just enough to make it bearable. But because there's only so much a spoiled man can take, I think I'll go back inside.
Have a good day. Stay cool. More thoughts tomorrow.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
At least you don't need a passport to visit Cartoon Saturday.
Sometimes it's better just to pay more at a different store...
You know it's really like this behind the scenes at your local broker's place ...
I'm not sure this is what was meant by "the impact of technology," but it makes sense ...
Bilbo visits the local book shop ...
And from this week's Stupid Pun Department, a tie for first place between ...
It looks like it's going to be another hot day here on the East Coast. Share your ways to stay cool by answering The Weekend Question over at Captain Picard's Journal. Your friends will thank you.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Friday, July 09, 2010
1. You cannot send text messages while walking an energetic dog, especially when the dog keeps trying to take off after squirrels. Here is the full text of the message I tried to send to my daughter-in-law yesterday afternoon, trying to figure out when to call to wish grandson Joseph a happy birthday: "R U home t ..."
2. In the words of Ellen Ripley in the classic science fiction film "Aliens": "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?" Note this bizarre headline from CNN online yesterday: "Legalizing Marijuana Is Civil Rights Issue, California NAACP Says." The president of the California chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is quoted as saying that passing "Proposition 19," a legislative initiative on the November ballot that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California, is a civil rights issue because blacks are disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana. I wonder if people who marched for their civil rights in the 1960's while threatened with police dogs, beatings, and lynchings would see it that way.
3. The government of Iran is denying reports that a woman convicted of adultery will be executed by stoning, though it notes that her death sentence may still be carried out by some other method. Those of you who think that living in a theocracy is the way to go might want to take note.
4. NBA superstar LeBron James has announced - in a major "special report" on ESPN television - that he will leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat. Who cares? The economy is in the toilet, health care reform is a sham, Afghanistan is a mess, and the oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico continues ... and an overpaid prima donna's decision to switch teams is headline-making news? Mr James said that "The major factor (in my decision) was the best opportunity to win now and to win in the future." That's as may be, but I somehow think that enormous piles of cash probably had something to do with it.
5. Our dentist has sent us a fairly sizable bill for X-rays our insurance company wanted so that it can decide whether or not to pay anything toward some major dental work Agnes needs. Speaking of affordable health care, the insurance company does not appear to be willing to pay anything toward the x-rays which will allow it to decide not to pay us anything, anyhow. Go figure.
That's all for today. I'm grouchy, but if I can just get through the day to the dance party tonight, things ought to be better.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when Cartoon Saturday comes to your rescue.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Okay, let's talk about Iran. The puzzling and infuriating nation that now exists in the place where great kings like Cyrus, Xerxes, and Darius once ruled ... whose "supreme leader" is a glowering, insecure religious figurehead and whose president is a buffoon equaled only by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, is back in the news again for two bizarre headlines.
First, an Iranian religious court has condemned a woman to be stoned to death on a charge of adultery. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two who was convicted of adultery after receiving 99 lashes, could be stoned to death as soon as this weekend. Those of you here in America who worry about police brutality might reflect on the Iranian penal code, which provides detailed instructions for how to stone a person to death: Article 102 states that men should be buried up to their waists and women up to their breasts in preparation for stoning, and Article 104 states that the stones used should "not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones."
While the case of Ms Ashtiani is a horrifying example of religious insanity, Iran is also able to demonstrate its ludicrous approach to society and governance in smaller ways, such as the imposition of new guidelines for appropriate men's haircuts. Pompadours, pony tails, and mullets are among the male hair styles now forbidden as "un-Islamic."
Personally, I think all three of those styles are fairly silly-looking, but religiously unacceptable? A bit of a stretch, if you ask me ... which, of course, you didn't. Oddly enough, though, religions seem to be obsessed with how we wear our hair. This article from The Telegraph online gives you a brief summary of what the major religions have to say about how men and women should wear their hair.
Maybe it's just me, but I somehow think that a God capable of creating the grandeur and majesty of the infinite universe with its countless billions of galaxies, and of creating the miracle of life in all its endless diversity, probably has better things to do than specify how you should wear your hair. Perhaps the most appropriate grooming commandment might simply read, "Thou shalt not look stupid."
Acting stupid is, naturally, an entirely different issue, and requires no particular guidelines, religious or otherwise.
Have a good day. Practice good grooming. More thoughts tomorrow.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
I'm talking about, well, real mail...the sort you rush to your mailbox for the joy of tearing open and reading, then saving to read and savor again years on down the road...
As you are no doubt aware (at least, if you live here in the US of A), our postal rates are going to go up again. Yes, I know it's only a proposal, and it still has to be approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission (whatever that is), but you and I know it's a done deal. Staring January 2nd, 2011, we will pay 46 cents to mail a one-ounce first class letter, up from 44 cents today.
Being someone who, as you know, loves to write (and receive, hint, hint) letters, I am probably more upset about this than most. I did some research and found some very interesting information "out there" about postal rate changes over time. Here is an information-packed website that not only tracks postal rates over time, but also contains links to a huge amount of information about mail delivery and the history of postal services in this country. Drawing on the information I found there, here's how postal rates have changed in the course of my lifetime:
When I was born (1951), first class postage was 3 cents per ounce.
When I started college (1969), it was 6 cents per ounce.
When I graduated from college (1973), it was 8 cents.
When my first child was born (1974), it was 10 cents.
When my first grandchild (Marcy) was born (2000), it was 33 cents per ounce.
And when my fifth grandchild (Elise) was born (2010), it was 44 cents.
That's quite a climb over time. What we don't always think about, though, is what that amount meant in terms of "real" purchasing power at the time. The website that yielded this information also links to another site that expresses historical postal rates in terms of 2009 dollars. This is very revealing:
The stamp that cost 3 cents per ounce in 1951 was worth 24.6 cents in 2009 dollars.
The 6 cent stamp of 1969 was actually 34.9 cents.
1973's 8 cent stamp actually cost 38.4 cents.
The 1974 first class rate of 10 cents equates to 43.3 cents.
In the year 2000 the 33 cent stamp was worth 40.9 cents.
And this year' stamp is worth, of course, just about 44 cents.
So, it's all relative. But regardless of how you look at it, the price of mailing a simple letter is going up yet again. If Mike and Canary don't answer my letters soon, they'll have to take out a loan just to be able to afford the postage.
Of course, we shouldn't complain, because the high rates we pay for first-class postage subsidizes the ass clowns who choke our mailboxes with junk mail instead of real, enjoyable letters. You could be generous of spirit and look at it as doing our part to help the economic recovery, but I'd rather just complain about it.
Do your part to save the economy ... write me that letter today!
Have a good day. Buy your Forever Stamps now, and avoid the rush. And put one of them on a letter to ol' Bilbo.
More thoughts tomorrow.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Well, if you're a guy, of course.
I don't know how I possibly missed it, but yesterday was the anniversary of the day in 1946 on which French designer Louis Reard unveiled his shocking new two-piece swimsuit at a popular swimming pool in Paris. The two-piece bathing suit, which displayed far more flesh than any previous suit, was so daring and so scandalous for that still-conservative time that Mr Reyard couldn't find a professional fashion model willing to pose in it ... he hired a Parisian showgirl and "exotic dancer" named Micheline Bernardini, who had no qualms about appearing nearly nude in public. Reard called his new bathing suit the "bikini," after a U.S. atomic test that had been conducted at a Pacific atoll called Bikini earlier that week. This is Ms Bernardini modeling the first bikini:
And this is the effect that the suit had on the minds of many men:
Looking back from the perspective of the year 2010, when many bathing suits appear to consist mainly of string and bits of cloth left over from the construction of other garments, it's hard to believe that the original bikini was considered "scandalous." A thong bikini in 1946 Paris may have caused widespread fears of the impending end of the world.
The bikini has had all sorts of unintended consequences, including:
The growth of new industries like popular gyms;
The annual spring and summer spike in the sale of razors and depilatories; and,
The dreaded "Brazilian wax."
Anecdotal information blames the bikini for the summer spike in minor auto accidents caused by distracted drivers, and it is more than likely a contributing factor in the development of my chronic stiff neck. And many wives have glared - or worse - at many husbands over the years as a result of the overly-overt eyeballing of young ladies displaying acres of tanned, toned flesh barely covered by a bikini that would make the original Reard creation look like a burqa.
Bikinis. Just another reason to love summer. If you're a guy. Ladies, don't think we don't appreciate the show, and all the agony that goes into it.
Have a good day. Raise a glass to Louis Reard.
More thoughts tomorrow.