Friday, December 31, 2010

So Long, 2010, Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Fanny on the Way Out!

Today is December 31st, the last day of AD 2010. No, wait! I can't say that ... somebody might be offended at my use of the term Anno Domini, which means "the Year of (Our) Lord." Let's start over.

Today is December 31st, the last day of 2010, BCE ("Before the Common Era"). Is that okay with everyone? Good. Now we can get on with things.

The last day of the year is commonly a day for retrospection, for looking back at the things we did in the past year and telling ourselves we'll never be that stupid again. Such as electing a lot of smug, pompous Republicans in the belief that they can screw things up any less than the clueless, starry-eyed Democrats.

Tonight, New Year's Eve, is an opportunity for celebration that the old year has gone. In the words of humorist Bill Vaughan, "An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” And cartoonist Anne Gibbons caught the spirit of this year's celebrations just right ...

Tomorrow, New Year's Day, is commonly a day for looking forward to a new year that just has to be better than the old one because, in a depressingly large number of cases, it couldn't be much worse. Just ask any of the millions of people who lost their homes to foreclosures of questionable legality and morality because banks ignored proper procedures to keep from losing money.

For me, the past year hasn't been so bad. I gained a beautiful new grandchild and still have my job. I made new friends through blogging (hi, Kathy!) and kept up with old ones via Facebook. I have read dozens of new and re-read many old favorite books. Desirable women are still willing to dance with me, and Agnes is still willing to allow it.

On the down side, I lost an old and valued colleague to cancer, had to face the possibility of having to buy a new car, and somehow got overlooked during the compilation of Cosmopolitan magazine's list of The 20 Hottest Guys of 2010.

But that's enough of all that. 2010 is almost gone and 2011 is headed up the driveway. The past is gone, and the future beckons.

Let's all see where it goes together, shall we?

Have a good day and a safe, happy celebration tonight. I need all of you back tomorrow for 2011's first Cartoon Saturday.

More thoughts coming in the new year.

Bilbo

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Business of Policing Ethics

You may have seen this article on the CNN website: "30 Rock" Biggest Ethics Violator on TV.

According to an organization called Global Compliance, which describes itself on its website as "the leading global provider of comprehensive, integrated ethics and compliance solutions, ranging from employee hotline services to harassment training to risk assessments, benchmarking, and inspection and validation services ... (providing) ethics and compliance solutions to more than 4,000 clients in over 200 countries and territories," the popular television show "30 Rock" leads all shows on television in the number of ethical violations per episode (11). Our favorite show, NCIS, scored an average of 5 ethical violations of various kinds per episode.

I'm not sure which is sadder - the fact that squishy ethics pervade our popular entertainment, or that there's money to be made by a global provider of a service to track them.

And we haven't even mentioned Congress and its vast supporting army of lobbyists and lawyers yet.

What appears on television and in the movies reflects the world we wish we had. We want to see bad people pay the price for their crimes, instead of being released on legal technicalities or buying their way out of trouble with high-priced lawyers. We get tired of having to watch everything we say and do to make sure that we're being politically correct. We wish we could trust our elected representatives to act in the larger national interest instead of being driven by hyperpartisan political agendas or bought by organizations with deep pockets.

We're getting what we think we want when we watch police on television egregiously run roughshod over the rights of citizens, and when we see characters "tell it like it is," regardless of the feelings of others.

If we just all paid a bit more attention to the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, and honesty as the best policy, there wouldn't be a market for a firm like Global Compliance, an arrogantly self-righteous buffoon like Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks site, or HR staffs that have to be maintained to police behavior that should have been corrected years before by attentive and caring parents.

But sadly, it's the world we live in.

Enjoy the rest of 2010. Perhaps things will be better in 2011, but I'm not holding my breath.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Engagement of Hef and Crystal

On Christmas Eve Hugh "Hef" Hefner, the octogenarian mogul of the Playboy Empire, announced his engagement to the latest in a series of young, blonde girlfriends, 24-year-old Crystal Harris. This is the happy couple:

Now, there's a part of me that's shouting "Go, Hef - You carry high the banner of older men's dreams!" And there's another part of me that's saying, "Ugh."

Have we not had enough of May-December golddigging? Remember the miserable saga of Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall? That didn't end very well, and there was a 62-year difference in their ages. The age difference between Hef and Crystal is a mere 60 years. Do you suppose this match will turn out better?

Why do older men seek out younger women, and younger women gravitate to older men? There's an interesting article by University of Washington sociologist and advice author Pepper Schwartz on CNN that looks at the question: Hef and Crystal: Why Not? She writes,

He has money, fame, a lifetime of good stories and useful networks. She gives him the prestige that a glamorous woman bestows upon her beau, a few virility points (if we believe that's part of the bargain) and the daily flattery of having a beautiful, and we hope nice, woman fussing over him, holding his hand and making sure he gets his vitamins. Not a bad deal for either of them actually.

True enough. Age doesn't necessarily have much to do with love and the chemistry between two people, and each partner looks at a prospective May-December match from his or her own set of priorities. The advantages to Hef are obvious, and Ms Schwartz described them well in the passage I quoted above. But what does the younger woman get out of the deal? She gets an established, relatively stable man able to provide for her, one who is probably not all that sexually demanding (the influence of Viagra notwithstanding) and who will likely not be around very long before shuffling off his mortal coil and leaving all or a significant portion of his wealth to her while she's still young enough to enjoy it.

Why don't we see the opposite very often - an elderly woman wedding a much younger man? It happens, of course, but far less frequently than the reverse. I suspect there are two main reasons: an older woman is less likely to be independently wealthy (and thus provide long-term security to a younger partner), and she's probably less likely to be sexually desirable to a young man. These are not universal truths, of course, but they seem to be accurate.

So, what do we say about Hef and Crystal? I say, give them the benefit of the doubt. Crystal has no doubt made her own tradeoff analysis and decided that the long-term social and economic benefits of marrying Hef outweigh the burden of the inevitable late-night TV jokes and snide comments about gold-diggers. For his part, Hef gets a stunning young lady to help ease him through his declining years. He's probably depressed that Agnes wasn't available, but he's done well enough with what was left over on the marriage market.

Good luck, you two. You'll need it.

Too bad there's not a Viagra equivalent for Crystal.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Golden Rule, 2010

With apologies to those of you who may already have seen this article via my Facebook page, let me recommend that you take a few minutes to read America's Political Class Struggle, by Jeffrey D. Sachs. I'll wait while you do.

As skewerings of our dysfunctional and worthless political parties go, it doesn't get much more literate and on-target than this. I wish I could have written this quote:

The problem is America’s corrupted politics and loss of civic morality. One political party, the Republicans, stands for little except tax cuts, which they place above any other goal. The Democrats have a bit wider set of interests, including support for health care, education, training, and infrastructure. But, like the Republicans, the Democrats, too, are keen to shower tax cuts on their major campaign contributors, predominantly rich Americans ... The level of political corruption in America is staggering. Everything now is about money to run electoral campaigns, which have become incredibly expensive. The mid-term elections cost an estimated $4.5 billion, with most of the contributions coming from big corporations and rich contributors. These powerful forces, many of which operate anonymously under US law, are working relentlessly to defend those at the top of the income distribution ... (and) both parties are implicated. There is already talk that Obama will raise $1 billion or more for his re-election campaign. That sum will not come from the poor.

Welcome to the 2010 version of The Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

Just a little something for you to chew on intellectually as you get ready for the Republicans and the Democrats to compete for the purchase of the presidency in 2012.

You can - and should - go ahead and vote. But if your vote isn't backed by a whole lot of zeroes to the left of the decimal point on your campaign contribution, you might just as well write in my name for all the good it will do.

And no matter what the Tea Party zealots mindlessly shout, I don't think this is what the Founders had in mind.

Get angry about the sale of your government. Demand better from your elected reprehensives, but expect worse. Then you won't be disappointed.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Car Blues

Now that Christmas is over it's time to go back to work and start saving up for our next major purchase...a new car.

Both of our cars have long been paid off, and given the cost of new (and even decent used) cars, not having a car payment is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, we have one car that's pretty much inert and another that has all the winter road traction of Vaseline on waxed paper, and so we're grudgingly starting to think about the horrifying possibility of a new vehicle.

The absolute cost of the car is only the tip of the economic iceberg, though. By the time the dealer gets done tacking on all the destination charges, transportation charges, preparation charges, delivery charges, surcharges, cavalry charges, and overcharges; the governor takes his cut via sales tax and personal property tax; the DMV takes a slice with registration fees; and the insurance company gleefully calculates its premiums, that $34,000 car ends up costing about $497,000 and change. Jerry Reed said it well ...



All of which brings me to this helpful guide to automotive acronyms that has been compiled by the incomparable Miss Cellania:

BMW - Big Money Waste

BUICK - Big Ugly Indestructible Compact Killer

CHEVROLET - Can Hear Every Valve Rattle On Long Extended Trips

CHEVY - Cheapest Heap Ever Visioned Yet

DODGE - Drips Oil Drops Grease Everywhere

FIAT - Fix It Again Tomorrow

FORD - Found On Road Dead

GM - Grinding Metal

GMC - Got Mechanic Coming

HONDA - Hold On, Not Done Accelerating

JEEP - Just Enough Engine Power

KIA - Killed In Action

MAZDA - Made At Zoo by Demented Apes

MG - Mostly Garaged

OLDSMOBILE - Old Ladies Driving Slowly Making Others Behind Increasingly Late Everyday

PINTO - Powerful Incendiary, Neatly Toasts Occupants

PLYMOUTH - Please Let Your Mother Out from Under The Hood

PONTIAC - Poor Old Nebraskan, Thinks It's A Cadillac

PORSCHE - Piece Of Rusty Scrap, Cost Highly Expensive

SUBARU - Still Usable But All Rusty Underneath

TOYOTA - The One You Ought To Avoid

VW - Virtually Worthless

We're going to put off the agony as long as possible, but sooner or later I'll have to grit my teeth and turn Agnes loose on some unsuspecting salesman. She's a much better negotiator than I am. A long time ago we were looking for a new car for her (emphasis on the "looking" part), and at one of the dealerships we visited a hyperaggressive salesman latched onto us and just couldn't get the message that we weren't going to buy anything that day. He pushed and prodded and badgered us so much that by the time we finally walked out in disgust, he could have offered to give us the car, pay the insurance, throw in lifetime gas, service, and detailing, hire a chauffeur, and build a new, climate-controlled garage for us to keep it in, and Agnes would still have still told him to go to hell.

I wish I could be like that, but it's just one more reason I'm lucky to have her.

Stay tuned for more of the ongoing car search agony.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Science of the Kiss

At this time of year many of us think about mistletoe...men try to corner desirable ladies under it, and ladies try to avoid being cornered under it by undesirable or tipsy men. The whole point is either to snag or to avoid a kiss.

Let's talk about kissing, shall we?

There's a fascinating article on the topic of kissing in today's Washington Post: Sealed with a Kiss - and Neuroscience. If you enjoy the sensation of kissing a desirable member of the opposite sex (or even the same sex, since we're no longer asking or telling), this article will tell you why. It seems that the kiss may have evolved as a way of allowing humans to get close enough together to allow their unconscious senses to evaluate the scents and chemical hints that give clues as to whether or not they will be sexually and genetically compatible. The article says that ...

"During a passionate kiss, our blood vessels dilate and our brains receive more oxygen than normal. Our breathing can become irregular and deepen. Our cheeks flush, our pulse quickens, and our pupils dilate (which may be one reason that so many of us close our eyes). A long, open-mouthed exchange allows us to sample another person's taste, which can reveal clues about his or her health and fertility. Our tongues - covered with little bumps called papillae that feature our 9,000 to 10,000 taste buds - are ideally designed to gather such information. When we kiss, all five of our senses are busy transmitting messages to our brain. Billions of nerve connections are firing away and distributing signals around our bodies ... Our brains respond by producing chemicals that help us decide on our next move."

Well. That certainly puts a new twist on the term sexual chemistry.

No matter. Science or no science, neurotransmitters or expensive perfumes, in the end the sentiments of Louis Armstrong's classic tune "As Time Goes By" still apply...

You must remember this:
A kiss is still a kiss,
A sigh is just a sigh,
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.

And when two lovers woo
They still say, "I love you"
On that you can rely -
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by.

Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date,
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate.
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny.

It's still the same old story -
A fight for love and glory,
A case of do or die.
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.

Have a good day with your lover. Or the one you hope will turn into your lover.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo



Saturday, December 25, 2010

Guest Post - A Merry Canine Christmas

Hey there, once again. It's me, Nessa!

Bilbo and Agnes are still asleep, because they had a pretty strenuous day yesterday spending Christmas Eve with their grandchildren who live nearby. So I thought I'd just let them sleep and take a few minutes to give you a dog's spin on this whole Christmas thing.

I haven't quite figured the whole thing out yet, but I gather that it has something to do with the master you worship. I, of course, adore Bilbo, but other dogs worship their own masters, and we all seem to get along fine ... unlike you humans, who often seem to hate people who worship a different master. How dumb is that?

There appears to be a story about a baby born in a manger (I think the story's called a nativity or something like that), and a team of kings that came a long way and brought gifts and stuff because they somehow knew this baby was special. I happen to think all babies are special, and part of a dog's job is to protect them and sit patiently while they pull our fur and tug on our ears and tails and stuff. By the way, did you ever notice that there aren't any dogs in any of these things you humans call "nativity scenes?" What's up with that?

Well anyway, because the kings brought gifts for this special baby (I heard one of them even brought frankfurters, yum!), you humans now seem to think that it's important to give each other gifts, too. I sometimes go to the store with Bilbo and Agnes to guard the car while they buy stuff, and I'm really amazed at how much you people buy. Everybody's talking about how bad this recession thing is, but it doesn't seem to be stopping them from buying lots of things. And do you know what? I spend a lot of time guarding the house from the front window, and I see a lot of this shiny new stuff being carried away by the trash man in just a few months (even though I bark at him). Does he give you your money back when you give him your things?

Everybody seems to want to visit everybody else at this time of year, too. I have to be on my best alert level so I can bark hysterically when someone comes to the door with cookies or bread or something for Bilbo and Agnes - after all, they need to know someone is at the door, and sometimes there are dog treats in there for me, too (since all the neighbors know me). Sometimes the people who come to the door stay to visit, and I put on my best Sorrowful Lab LookTM so that they'll share stuff with me.

I've also noticed that television is a lot different at this time of year. I spend a lot of time watching things on TV with my head in Bilbo's or Agnes's lap, and it always amazes me how many of your TV shows are devoted to people hurting and killing each other, and cars chasing around and people shooting and screaming and threatening each other. Why on earth do you like to watch that stuff? At Christmas time, though, for about a week the TV brings cheerful and uplifting stories about love and goodness and happiness. I like that. But one week out of 52 in a year? I've gotta tell you, if I were human (and I'm glad I'm not) I wouldn't want to watch a lot of that stuff.

I already told you my thoughts about all the Christmas decorations and lights and stuff in my last guest post, so I won't go into that now. I'll just say that I'm glad Bilbo didn't put up one of those stupid, lighted-up deer in the yard. They're no fun, because they don't run away when I bark at them, and if they don't run away, I can't chase them and crash around in the woods and find smelly stuff to roll around in so that Bilbo gets all spun up and Agnes makes him take me in the shower with him. That's fun! I know most dogs wouldn't like it, but we Labs are water dogs, so bring it on!

Well, I think that's about all for now. Bilbo and Agnes will be getting up and eating their breakfast pretty soon, and I need to position myself carefully in the kitchen so that I get my share of whatever they're eating. Then they have some friends coming for a visit and dinner later, so I need to get ready to announce their arrival and then make sure they always know where I am in case they need to dispose of any extra treats or food or toys or anything.

It isn't easy being a dog at Christmas, but I think I'm up to the challenge.

On behalf of dogs everywhere, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas, whichever master you worship. And don't forget us while you're at it. You may not love each other except this one time a year, but you can always count on us to love you, no matter what.

Woof!

Nessa

Friday, December 24, 2010

T'was the Night Before a PC Christmas...

There was a time, not so long ago, that Christmas was a season of joy and happiness. Trees were decorated, gifts were bought and exchanged, relatives were visited, and children waited impatiently in long lines to sit on Santa's lap to tell him what they wanted him to leave under the tree.

Things are different now.

Because no one can possibly be offended by anything, traditional nativity scenes can't be put up in public places, "Christmas" has become the generic "Holiday Season," and the jolly Santa that used to delight youngsters at the local mall now has to worry about arrest and prosecution if he hugs a child.

You've got to be politically, socially, and secularly correct, because if you're not, there is surely some brainless twit of a Grinch out there waiting to pounce with a lawsuit ... because we've decided that everything can offend someone, and no one should ever have to be offended over anything.

This is what I call a crock.

And so, Dear Readers, from my collection of things accumulated over the years, here is the politically correct, 2010 version of the beloved classic:

The PC Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...
How to live in a world that's politically correct?
His workers no longer would answer to Elves -
Vertically Challenged they were calling themselves.
And labor conditions up at the North Pole
Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.
And Equal Employment had made it quite clear
That Santa had better not use just reindeer.
So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
Were replaced by four pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had all been removed from his sleigh,
For the ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.
And people had started to call for the cops
When they heard the strange noises up on their roof-tops.
The second-hand pipe smoke had his workers quite frightened,
And his fur trimmed red suit was, at best, unenlightened.

And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,
Rudolf was suing over use of his nose!
He'd gone onto Oprah, in front of the nation,
Demanding many millions in back compensation.
So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,
Who'd decided she'd tired of north polar life,
Joined a self-help group and left in a whiz,
Insisting from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he'd ne'er had a notion
That making a choice could cause so much commotion.
Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,
Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.
Nothing that might be construed to pollute.
Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.
Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.
Nothing for just girls, or only for boys.
Nothing religious or gender specific,
Nothing that's warlike or overly pacific.

No candy or sweets - they were bad for the tooth.
Nothing that seemed to diminish The Truth.
And fairy tales, though they were not yet forbidden,
Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.
For they raised the hackles of those psychological
Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football - someone could get hurt;
Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.
Dolls are sexist, and should be passe;
And video games rot your brain cells away.

So Santa just stood there, disheveled, perplexed;
And just could not figure out what to do next.
He tried to be jolly, tried to be gay,
But you've got to be careful with that word today!
His sack was all empty, lying limp on the ground;
For nothing acceptable to all could be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might
Give to all without angering the left or the right.
A gift that would satisfy, with no discrimination,
Each group of people, of every nation;
Of every religion and gender and hue,
Everyone, everywhere ... and even you.

So here is that gift, its price beyond worth:
"May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth."

Christmas. Is one week of love and good cheer out of 52 all that much to ask?

Have a good day. Christmas thoughts coming tomorrow.

Bilbo

P.S. - It's long been out of print, but if you can find a copy, Richard Armour's wonderful short book The Year Santa Went Modern is a great Christmas treat for children of all ages.

B.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Virgin Territory?

Disclaimer: this post is for adults only. You've been warned.

Since we are in the season when Christians celebrate the birth of the Christ Child to the Virgin Mary, it seems somehow appropriate to discuss the subtopic of virginity. Consider this interesting, if bizarre story from yesterday's Washington Post: Knowing Cultural View of Virginity, Chinese Women Try Surgical Restoration.

Yes, Dear Readers, from China - the land of counterfeit just-about-everything, where intellectual property rights are pretty much ignored - comes the opportunity to purchase fake (or, at least, surgically-restored) virginity. For the average price of about 5,000 renminbi (about $740), a young woman whose virginity has been compromised through strenuous sports or sexual activity can undergo a half-hour procedure which will restore her hymen to its former place of honor as the guardian at the gates of her Celestial Temple. It is also possible to purchase "revirgination" in some sex shops in the form of an artificial hymen that has all the properties of the real thing, but doesn't require surgery.

Oh, for Pete's sake...

In many countries, particularly in the Muslim world and in strongly patriarchal societies, virginity is a prized asset that defines the value of a woman. In some of those societies, the mere suspicion that a woman has lost her virginity is considered a stain on the honor of her family, and often leads to the woman's banishment, if not outright murder. There is, sadly, seldom an equivalent stigma attached to the man who helped bring about this condition. He's a manly stud, while the woman is merely a tramp who likes to play around. After all, it was Hester Prynne who wore that scarlet letter, not Reverend Dimmesdale, and young men in the Middle East aren't blowing themselves up because they've been told there are 72 sexually experienced women waiting for them in an imagined paradise.

To me, the loss of virginity per se isn't the real issue. The real issue is the potential for the birth of an unexpected or unwanted child who may end up paying the ultimate price for those few moments of pleasure.

Is virginity important? Perhaps. Is it worth committing murder over, or ignoring a potentially wonderful partner? Certainly not.

A popular joke here in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac at this time of year tells why there will be no Nativity Display on Capitol Hill: while there are plenty of asses for the stable, nobody has been able to find three wise men or a virgin to participate.

Just a little something to ponder as you celebrate the Christmas story.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Senior Shortcuts

Last Monday in this space I groused about the proliferation of letters, numbers, and combinations of the two as shortcuts for what we used to call "speech" and "thought." I suppose that, as a linguist, I should be excited about the emergence of a new form of communication, but I just can't get too excited about communicating in shortcuts.

Nevertheless, as people like Mike, John, and I view the onrushing advent of geezerhood, I can see that there's something to be said for those shortcuts. After all, if your short-term memory is shot and you can't concentrate on things for very long, there's an advantage in the ability to send short, yet meaningful messages. And - as luck would have it - my old friend Devin yesterday sent me a list of texting abbreviations for senior citizens. Just in time, too! Here's his list:

BTW - Bring The Wheelchair
BYOT - Bring Your Own Teeth
DWI - Driving While Incontinent
FWB - Friend With Betablockers
FWIW - Forgot Where I Was
FYI - For Your Indigestion
GOML - Get Off My Lawn
GTG - Gotta Groan
IMHO - Is My Hearing-Aid On?
JK - Just Kvetching
LOL - Living On Lipitor
LWO - Lawrence Welk's On
OMG - Ouch, My Groin!
ROFL - CGU - Rolling On The Floor Laughing - Can't Get Up
RULKM - Are You Leaving Kids Money?
SUS - Speak Up, Sonny
TGIF - Thank Goodness It's Four (Four O'Clock - Early Bird Special)
WIWYA - When I Was Your Age
WTB - Where's the Bathroom?
WTF - What's Today's Fish?
YYY - Yadda, yadda, yadda

Don't thank me ... it's all part of my ongoing efforts to make life easier and more entertaining for you.

What was I talking about, again?

Have a good day. If you haven't bought my Christmas gift yet, there's still time!

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wrapping Presents with Dogs

Nessa is working on her next guest post (which will appear soon), but in the meantime she asked me to repost this item that she found on Miss Celania's blog ...

Wrapping Presents with Dogs

1. Gather presents, boxes, paper, etc. in middle of living room floor.

2. Get tape back from puppy.

3. Remove scissors from older dog's mouth.

4. Open box.

5. Take puppy out of box.

6. Remove tape from older dog's mouth.

7. Take scissors away from puppy.

8. Put present in box.

9. Remove present from puppy's mouth.

10. Put back in box after removing puppy from box.

11. Take scissors from older dog and sit on them.

12. Remove puppy from box and put on lid.

13. Take tape away from older dog.

14. Unroll paper.

15. Take puppy off box.

16. Cut paper, being careful not to cut puppy's foot or nose that is getting in the way as he "helps."

17. Let puppy tear remaining paper.

18. Take puppy off box.

19. Wrap paper around box.

20. Remove puppy from box and take wrapping paper from his mouth.

21. Tell older dog to fetch the tape so he will stop stealing it.

22. Take scissors away from puppy.

23. Take tape older dog is holding.

24. Quickly tape one spot before taking scissors from older dog and sitting on them again.

25. Fend off puppy trying to steal tape and quickly tape another spot.

26. Take bow from older dog.

27. Chase down puppy and recover roll of wrapping paper he ran off with.

28. Take scissors from older dog who took them when you got up.

29. Give pen to older dog to hold so he stops licking your face.

30. Remove puppy from present and hurriedly slap on tape to hold the paper in place.

31. Take now-soggy bow from puppy and tape it to the gift, since the sticky stuff on the bottom no longer sticks.

32. Take pen from older dog, address tag and affix while puppy tries to eat pen.

33. Grab present before puppy opens it, and put it away on a high shelf.

34. Clean up mess puppy and older dog made playing tug-of-war with remnants of wrapping paper.

35. Put away the rest of the wrapping supplies, give each dog a treat, and tell them what good helpers they are.

In truth, Nessa is an older dog and prefers to take a merely supervisory role when I wrap gifts. Of course, if the gift wrapping were taking place in the front yard, it would take about three hours to wrap anything, because I'd have to throw the frisbee every two minutes ... after picking it up off the wrapping paper and wiping away the accumulated drool.

You dog people will understand.

Have a good day. Enjoy your last few opportunities to spend some quality time at the mall with 756,000 of your closest friends.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, December 20, 2010

Letters and Numbers and Cliches, Oh My!

I'm a man of letters. And numbers. It would be nice if those letters were something like "PhD," but that's not the case, at least not any time soon. My letters are more prosaic (no, Mike, not Prozac, although that's what I sometimes need to take when overwhelmed by the letters and numbers of modern life).

We are awash in acronyms, abbreviations, and numerical shortcuts that allow us to express ourselves - after a fashion - without having to invest in too much thought. Think about it ...

I thought my 3G phone was great. Then 3GS was the thing. Now it's got to be 4G.

None of this should be confused with 3D, which can only be enjoyed while wearing stupid glasses. Or with Twee-D, who is a bird turned rapper...


Windows 95. Windows 98. Windows 2000. OS-10. iOS-4.

W-2. W-4. 1040. 1040A. 1040EZ.

OMG, WTH? YGBSM! I need some Motrin 800, PDQ! For a time, I was ROTFLMAO, but now I'm just PO'd, and that's not OK.

Combine all those acronyms with cliches, and you have a recipe for ... something. Have you ever seen George Carlin's wonderful "Modern Man" routine ...?



I couldn't possibly have said it any better.

We're starting a new week, and Christmas is just around the corner. I need to start shopping ASAP or I'll be SOL.

And that is not AOK.

Have a good day. By the numbers. And letters.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Fringe Christmas

Now that the nights are cold and long, Agnes and I watch more television than we usually do. Well, yes, we do other things, too, but watching TV is all I'll discuss here. We have a few favorite shows, and one of mine is Fringe - the weird science fiction drama about parallel universes and bizarre happenings and Observers and ... well ... all sorts of stuff out there on the fringes of reality. I keep waiting for them to do an episode about Congress, but I suppose there's only so much unreality that a show can address and still be believable.

But anyhow, I thought it might be interesting to tune in an episode of Fringe and see how the leading characters - Peter Bishop and Olivia Dunham - might look at the holiday season ...

A Fringe Christmas
Or
Who Knows If You've Been Bad or Good...?

Peter: We’re too late. It’s already been here.

Olivia: Peter, I hope you know what you’re doing…

Peter: Look, Olivia, just like the other homes: a Douglas fir, truncated, mounted, transformed into some sort of shrine; halls decked with boughs of holly; stockings hung by the chimney, with care.

Olivia: You really think someone’s been here?

Peter: Someone. Or something.

Olivia: Peter, over here - it’s a ... a fruitcake!

Peter: Don’t touch it! Those things can be lethal!

Olivia: It’s OK. There’s a note attached: “Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.”

Peter: It’s judging them, Olivia. It’s making a list.

Olivia: Who? What are you talking about?

Peter: Ancient mythology tells of an obese humanoid entity who could travel at great speed in a craft powered by antlered servants. Once each year, near the winter solstice, this creature is said to descend from the heavens to reward its followers and punish disbelievers with jagged chunks of anthracite.

Olivia: But that’s legend, Peter—a story told by parents to frighten children. Surely you don’t believe it?

Peter: Something was here tonight, Olivia. Check out the bite marks on this gingerbread man. Whatever tore through this plate of cookies was massive … and in a hurry.

Olivia: It left crumbs everywhere. And look, Peter, this milk glass has been completely drained.

Peter: It gorged itself, Olivia. It fed without remorse.

Olivia: But why would they leave it milk and cookies?

Peter: Appeasement. Tonight is The Eve, and nothing can stop its wilding.

Olivia: But if this thing does exist, how did it get in? The doors and windows were locked. There’s no sign of forced entry.

Peter: Unless I miss my guess, it came through the fireplace.

Olivia: Wait a minute, Peter. If you're saying some huge creature landed on the roof and came down the chimney, you’re crazy. The flue is barely six inches wide! Nothing could get through there.

Peter: But what if it could alter its shape…move in all directions?

Olivia: You mean, like a bowl full of jelly?

Peter: Exactly, Olivia! I’ve never told anyone this, but when I was a child, my home was visited. I saw the creature. It had long white strips of fur surrounding its ruddy, misshapen head. Its bloated torso was red and white. I’ll never forget the horror. I turned away, and when I looked back it had somehow taken on the facial features of my father!

Olivia: That's impossible!

Peter: I know what I saw, Olivia. And that night, it read my mind. It brought me a Mr Potato Head, Olivia. It knew I wanted a Mr Potato Head!

Olivia: I’m sorry, Peter, but you’re asking me to disregard the laws of physics. You want me to believe in some supernatural being who soars across the skies and brings gifts to good little girls and boys? Listen to what you’re saying. Do you understand the repercussions? If this gets out, they’ll close the Fringe Division!

Peter: Olivia, listen to me! It knows when you are sleeping. It knows when you’re awake.

Olivia: But we have no proof!

Peter: Last year, on this exact date, SETI radiotelescopes detected bogies in the airspace over twenty-seven states. The White House ordered a Condition Red.

Olivia: But that was a meteor shower!

Peter: Yes ... officially. But then two days ago, eight prized Scandinavian reindeer vanished from the National Zoo in Washington, DC. Nobody - not even the zookeeper - was told about it. The government doesn’t want people to know about Project Kringle. They fear that if this thing is proved to exist, then the public would stop spending half its annual income in a holiday shopping frenzy. Retail markets will collapse. Olivia, they can not let the world believe this creature lives. They’ll do whatever it takes to ensure another silent night!

Olivia: Peter, I…

Peter: Shhhhhhh! Do you hear what I hear?

Olivia: On the roof. It sounds like … like a clatter!

Peter: The truth is up there, Olivia! Let’s see what’s the matter...

What will they find? And what will you, Dear Readers, find when you come down the stairs on Christmas morning...?

It isn't just the NSA that knows if you've been bad or good, and the TSA that keeps lists of those who are naughty and nice, and the CIA that sends drones after those who have been really bad.

Don't ask ...

Don't tell ...

And watch the skies this Christmas ...

Have a good day. Someone is watching.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cartoon Saturday - Christmas Edition

Europe is reeling under a huge winter storm that has closed airports, stranded travelers in 185 kilometer-long traffic jams, and caused hundreds of event cancellations; at least 141 inmates have escaped from a Mexican prison, the director of which has also disappeared; police in Los Angeles are looking for the public's help to identify more than 100 possible victims of the so-called "Grim Sleeper" serial killer; and your elected reprehensives in the House of Representatives booed yesterday when told, because of pressing business, they would have to "work" next week instead of going into holiday recess.

Whatever would you do if you didn't have Cartoon Saturday to help you over the harsh reality?

Christmas is just a week away, and so today Cartoon Saturday brings you this special Christmas edition of your favorite weekly post. If you are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Wiccan, or anything else, just enjoy it anyhow.

A good new take on the old joke about why there's an angel on top of the Christmas tree...

There are reindeer games and there are reindeer games...

And there are still other reindeer games ...

Are we there yet? Are we? I've gotta go to the bathroom! Etc ...

If letters to Santa were true ...


Sometimes, you've just got to try Plan B ...

Did you see that? ...


Is Santa really a dirty old man? ...

You know it's gotta come sooner or later ...

And that little-known footnote to history ...

It's a day for last-minute Christmas shopping, card mailing, decorating, and other holiday stuff. We had a wonderful Christmas party last night at the dance studio, and there will be more parties and fun over the next two weeks.

Just don't drop that fruitcake on your foot.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Friday, December 17, 2010

Of Wright Brothers and Grandfathers

Since I have to allow extra time this morning to trek the few icy, snowbound blocks to the spot on the street where my bus may or may not appear (and you can guess what my assumption is), I will make this a necessarily brief post.

First things first: it was on this date in 1903 - a mere 107 years ago - that Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They had selected Kitty Hawk for two reasons: steady, brisk winds that would help their fragile aircraft get and stay aloft, and plenty of sand dunes to cushion the inevitable crash landings. It's interesting to reflect that, in historical terms, that first flight took place a mere eye-blink ago. Consider that...

In 1944, just 41 years after Kitty Hawk, the US Army Air Force was launching thousand-plane bombing raids over German cities;

In 1969, a mere 66 years after the Wright Brothers' first flight, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon; and,

In 2010, you may select intrusive patdown or irradiation as part of the cost of flying on a commercial airliner.

Tempus fugits faster all the time, doesn't it?

Shifting intellectual gears, we note that today's Writers' Almanac from Garrison Keillor featured this wonderful poem that speaks to grandfathers everywhere...

Song and Dance
by Jonathan Greene

At the mall

the granddaughter whines
'I need' with an insistence,
an urgent test of familial bonds.

The old man mimicking,
'You need, like a hole in the head'
—but this is all a ritual,

the back & forth ploys,
well-rehearsed melodrama
and pantomime.

She sways, one foot to another.
They both know he will give in,
despite at first the necessary protests.

The twelve-year-old has calculated
how 'love' comes in handy at such times.

This silly plastic handbag that today
means the world.

If you're a grandfather, you understand. If you haven't yet had the pleasure, you will.

Have a good day. Stay warm and safe. Cartoon Saturday is coming tomorrow with a special Christmas edition - be here!

Bilbo

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Rose Thorn By Any Other Name

Stop the presses!! Iran is pissed off!!

According to this story reported on CNN the other day, the Navy's designation of a particular body of water as the "Arabian Gulf" rather than the "Persian Gulf" has generated an uproar in Iran and among displaced Iranians around the world. The Navy's Facebook page has been bombarded with angry comments, and Al Jazeera waded into the fray earlier this week with an article in which it acknowledged that "The term "Arabian Gulf" has been in casual but inconsistent use by various members of the US navy and government, and by many Arab states, for a few decades now," but went on to huff that "For the record, the body of water in question has been known - in maps, literature and official usage - as the Persian Gulf for more than two millenia."

True enough.

But history also shows a long tradition of changing the names of places to reflect changing political climates.

The South Asian nation once called Burma has changed its name to Myanmar.

In Russia, Tsar Peter the Great's showcase city of Petrograd later became Saint Petersburg, changing in Soviet times to Leningrad, and then back to today's Saint Petersburg. The city now called Volgograd was originally known as Tsaritsyn, and is perhaps best known by its Soviet era name of Stalingrad.

The African nation of Burkina Faso was previously known as Upper Volta, and today's Democratic Republic of the Congo has been known at various times as The Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Congo-LĂ©opoldville, Congo-Kinshasa, and Zaire.

And here at home, Cape Canaveral, Florida, was changed to Cape Kennedy and then back to Cape Canaveral (home of the Kennedy Space Center), and almost every city of any size has renamed at least one street in honor of Martin Luther King, Malcom X, or both.

The Al Jazeera article linked above cites a UN policy which evidently states that

"...any change, destruction, or alteration of the names registered in historical deeds and maps is like the destruction of ancient works and is considered as an improper action. Therefore, the names of geographical features profiting from a unique historical identity, should not be utilised as political instruments in reaching a political, tribal, and racial objective, or in any clash with national interests and other's values."

Perhaps. But there is also a long tradition of changing names to reflect changing political and social conditions.

The Iranian thorn would be just as prickly regardless of how its surrounding waters are named. And ever-changing geographical names do help keep cartographers in business and provide opportunities for diplomats to wag fingers at each other.

You say Persian Gulf. I say Arabian Gulf.

Let's call the whole thing off.

Have a good day, whether you call it Thursday or something else.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Owe, I Owe, So Off to Work I Go ...

I'm busy this morning with printing up our Christmas letters and ordering last-minute Christmas gifts online (actually, they're first-minute gifts, since I'm running as late as always). Thus, this will be a short post.

One of my friends at work sent me this interesting link yesterday: US Debt Clock. I'm not sure how accurate it is, but I suspect it's pretty close. And it's pretty scary.

Just a little something to share with you on a busy morning as you contemplate the yeoman work being done by your elected reprehensives.

Have a good day. I'll have a full-length post tomorrow. Promise.

More thoughts then.

Bilbo

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Digital Etiquette

As you know if you've been reading this blog for very long, one of my pet peeves is people who carry on loud (and often highly personal, inappropriate, and/or vulgar) conversations in public on their cell phones. I really don't need to know the details of your love life, your arguments with your spouse, or what you need to pick up from the store on the way home.

But the convenience and ubiquity of personal electronic devices has led to other issues of etiquette and safety as well. How many times have you been in the theater or at a concert when some clownhead's phone rang, disturbing the performance? And why do we have to pass laws (see yesterday's post) telling morons not to text while they drive?

Here is a short, timely article by Elizabeth Ann Winters (author of The Official Book of Electronic Etiquette) that applies: Five Electronic Tips at the Holiday Table. It's a shame that such a list is needed, but here it is ... with my editorial comments, of course.

1. Turn off the television. Background music is fine, movies and football games are not. Agnes and I often enjoy dinner while watching a movie or a favorite show, but things are a bit different if you have guests. Chances are, you can live without the TV for a while.

2. Mute your phone. 'Nuff said. If you can't bear to turn it off, at least set it to vibrate rather than ring. And, for pete's sake, don't lay your phone on the table next to your plate. The people at the table are the ones you should be concentrating on. Unless you're waiting for a personal call from the President, you can put the phone away for an hour.

3. Roll to voicemail or step outside. Unless you are a doctor or someone else who must be in constant contact in case of emergencies, let your voicemail take the calls. And if you absolutely have to take the call, excuse yourself and go someplace where the rest of us don't have to listen to your conversation.

4. Put the games away. You're supposed to be eating. If you can't bear to be separated from your electronic games for the length of a meal, you have larger problems than possibly spilling gravy on your expensive Game Boy.

5. Picture perfect. Yes, your phone has a built-in camera. No, you don't need to use it to take unflattering photos of your guests while they eat. Pose a few pictures before everyone digs in if you must, but resist the urge to take them during the meal.

It's hard to believe, but you can survive for an hour without electronic stimulation. There was a time, not so long ago, when we had something called conversation - interpersonal communication conducted face-to-face. Maybe it's time to bring it back, along with simple good manners and consideration of others.

The holiday season seems like a good time to start.

Have a good day. Put the phone away. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, December 13, 2010

How Many Laws?

There was a fascinating article in yesterday's Washington Post that is worth spending a few minutes to read and ponder: One Nation, Under Too Many Laws.

Author Philip K. Howard takes a look at the proliferation of laws in the United States and concludes that there are too many, that justice is ill-served thereby, and that new laws ought to include a sunset clause that makes them expire unless they are specifically reenacted by Congress.

I think this is a grand idea, long overdue, and highly unlikely ever to be implemented.

Consider this: Almighty God provided Ten Commandments as a guide to behavior and ethics. That was "ten," with or without a capital "t." By contrast, no one - except, perhaps, God Almighty, knows how many laws are on the books at the Federal level, let alone at the state and local levels. Best guess: hundreds of thousands. Answers.com took a stab at answering the question in this online article, but concluded that "...there are so many criminal laws, the odds of no one breaking one in a lifetime are so astronomical, it would make DNA odds look like simple math." The article goes on to note that from 2000 to 2007, Congress created at least 452 new crimes, bringing the total number of Federal crimes at the end of 2007 to more than 4,450. Ninety-one of the 452 were contained in new laws that created 279 new crimes, and the remaining were created by amending existing laws. The total of 452 new crimes breaks down by year as follows:
65 for 2000;
28 for 2001;
82 for 2002;
51 for 2003;
48 for 2004;
13 for 2005;
145 for 2006; and,
20 for 2007

Ten commandments seemed to work pretty well for over 2,000 years. Now, we have 452 secular commandments created in just eight years.

What does the proliferation of laws mean? First of all, it means that everyone can probably be found guilty of something if you search the law codes long enough. The US Code alone contains 50 "titles," each containing countless specific laws, amendments, legislative histories, etc.

The proliferation of laws - many of them enacted by Congress in payment of political debts to special interests - leads to confusion and a sense of overwhelming injustice on the part of Real People. When the laws are so overwhelmingly complex and there are so many of them, it cheapens the meaning of those individual laws that are necessary and worthwhile. It's a good bet that many, if not most, of the laws now on the books are unnecessary and could easily be rescinded...if Congress were required to reconsider them periodically.

We have far too many laws. If the Good Lord only needed ten, who are we to say that we need 452 ... in less than ten years ... in addition to the tens of thousands we already had?

And Congress is still at work. Or, given the current situation, whatever passes for work on Capitol Hill.

Have a good day. Obey the law, if you can figure out what it is.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Sunday, December 12, 2010

'Tis the Season to be a Curmudgeon ...

I love the Christmas season. Who doesn't (except for atheists, the ACLU, and about 2 billion Muslims)? But I think we sometimes need to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas...

It means a few weeks each year when we pay lip service to loving our fellow man (don't ask, don't tell, though).

It means a few weeks of inspirational and uplifting television programming that doesn't involve crime scene investigation, serial killers, and self-important buffoons shouting about the ancestry and base motives of their political opponents (if there's ever been a better scene than Linus telling the Christmas Story on "A Charlie Brown Christmas," I don't know what it is) ...



It means trying to figure out what gifts to get that (1) will be appreciated; (2) you can afford; and (3) will send the correct message to the recipient (that lace teddy from Victoria's Secret may not be the best choice for the lady whose name you drew in the office "Secret Santa" gift exchange, no matter what you think).

It means trying to remember all the people to whom you should send Christmas cards and/or letters (some of you know all about the famous Bilbo Christmas Letter©), and taking out a small loan to afford the postage to mail all those cards and letters (unless you go the high-tech route and send e-cards with an attached .pdf of your letter).

It means smiling happily when the neighbors show up at your door with baked goods, when you know that you now have to figure out how to reciprocate when everything you bake turns out tasting like a cobblestone from a back street in Ouagadougou.

It means learning that all those strands of expensive lights you bought last year won't work because one bulb (out of 100) has burned out...and if you actually identify and replace it, another will petulantly fail as soon as you get the lights on the tree and 47 layers of ornaments and tinsel on top of them.

It means another year of trying to remember who gave you all the odd gifts you stored on the inaccessible top shelf of the hall closet so that you could recycle them in other gift exchanges in future years (because, of course, you don't want to give that cheap ceramic Santa with the clock in his tummy back to Auntie Grizelda).

It means remembering that - unlike in years past - sneaking that kiss under the mistletoe is a sure fast track to a sexual harassment lawsuit.

It means ... well ... you get the idea.

Here are two things to think about this holiday season:

Erma Bombeck's classic Christmas article, Where's the Child at Christmas?

And this cartoon, added to my collection many, many years ago ...

Yes, I'm a curmudgeon, and I'm proud of it. But even curmudgeons can miss the simple joys of a child's Christmas.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A jury has found homeless street preacher Brian David Mitchell guilty of kidnapping and rape in the abduction of a girl who was just 14 when he took her from the bedroom of her home; a new Taliban video appears to show an American soldier who was captured 18 months ago in Afghanistan, and remains in captivity; police are trying to determine how a North Carolina teenager whose body was found in Massachussetts died after apparently falling out of an airliner; iIndependent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont yesterday spoke for eight straight hours against the tax cut plan currently under debate in the Senate; and - in an amazing display of Congress's ability to focus on the most critical issues facing the nation, Senator Harry Reid is pushing a bill that would give official government approval to Internet poker games.

It's enough to make you cry, if it weren't for Cartoon Saturday helping to lift your spirits.

Nessa liked this one ...


This one is a take on the old joke about the fellow who was injured when he ran into a harp... same punch line, more rooms ...

Mary may have had a little lamb, but George had ...

Victorian mysteries enter the 21st century ...

You really need to read the fine print in those travel ads ...

And finally, someone has figured out the essential truth behind that "trickle-down" economics thing that's supposed to help Real People by way of benefiting the upper crust ...

It looks as if it's going to be a little warmer this weekend, with some rain headed our way tomorrow ... no snow yet, thankfully. With any luck, I can get some Christmas shopping done, finish off our Christmas cards and letters, and get in some quality time with the local grandchildren.

Enjoy your own weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo


Friday, December 10, 2010

Why I'm Glad I'm Not President

We've all played the "if I were king" game, where we see something really stupid and imagine how we'd make it right if we were the king (or president, or emperor, or whatever). I often shake my head and think about how nice it would be to point an accusing finger at some deserving ass clown and shout "off with his head!"

Sadly, most of us will never be a king, president, or emperor, and so all we can do is start blogs and rant about the things that ought not to be.

Actually, I'm glad I'm not the president. There are a lot of reasons, but this is the biggest one: You can't say what you really think.

As president, I couldn't say that ...

Congress is a bunch of inept, useless ninnies more interested in political dogma and scoring cheap hits on the opposition than in actually fixing the economy, meaningfully reforming health care, protecting us against bad guys, and giving us a tax code that looks like somebody designed it on purpose.

North Korea is a political, social, and economic basket case that - despite its professed philosophy of juche (or "self-sufficiency") - is an utterly untrustworthy kleptocracy run by a pampered ruling class, willing to let its people starve, propped up by a swollen military paid for by criminality and extortion, and unwilling to keep any agreement. That it should just be paved over and used as a parking lot for Seoul.

That China is a nation that can be admired for its achievements, but has paid for those achievements with with political repression at home, economic manipulation abroad, and shameless browbeating of other nations that dare to point out that the emperor has no clothes. That it is ruled by a government so concerned for its position and privileges and so afraid of its own people that it can go to ridiculously bombastic and self-destructive lengths to prevent one of it's billions of citizens from accepting ... a peace prize. And that protects North Korea from the consequences of its deadly antics.

That Republicans are a bunch of dogmatic buffoons puffed up with self-righteous arrogance and fantasy-based economic policies that benefit business and the wealthy by strangling the middle class.

That Democrats, who claim to represent the average American, are a blundering cluster of incompetent clowns unable to come up with coherent policies that can turn their dreams into reality.

No, I don't think I could be president. Because I'd spend all day biting my tongue to keep from saying the things I'd want to say.

But I do wish I could - if only for one day - shout "off with their heads!" when it's needed. Which is often.

Have a good day. Demand more from your elected reprehensives ... but expect less. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

P.S. - it's still really cold.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Things I Don't Do

Because I'm feeling lazy this morning, I thought I'd just plagiarize share with you a list I got from my friend Bob yesterday titled "Things I Don't Do."

Actually, the list of things I don't do is much longer than this, but it includes a lot of boring, common sense stuff like "smoke," "take drugs," and "hang out with Republicans." Bob's list is more fun ...

1. I don't do windows because I love birds and don't want one to run into a clean window and get hurt.

2. I don't wax floors because I am terrified a guest will slip and hurt himself. I'll feel terrible and he'll probably sue me.

3. I don't mind dust bunnies because they are very good company. I have named most of them, and they agree with everything I say.

4. I don't disturb cobwebs because I want every creature to have a home of its own.

5. I don't do Spring Cleaning because I love all the seasons and don't want the others to get jealous.

6. I don't plant a garden because I don't want to get in God's way. He is an excellent designer.

7. I don't put things away because I'll never be able to find them again.

8. I don't cook gourmet meals when I entertain because I don't want my guests to stress out over what to make when they invite me over for dinner.

9. I don't iron because I choose to believe labels that promise my shirts are "Permanent Press."

10. I don't stress much on anything because "A Type" personalities die young and I want to stick around and become a wrinkled up crusty ol' person!

Not a bad list. So, how am I doing with it? Here's the scorecard:

1. Yep. Birds love me. I care about birds a lot. In fact, everyone always says that I'm for the birds.

2. Absolutely right. Hardwood floors + Wax = Lawsuit Waiting to Happen. Especially when you live close to Washington, DC, which attracts lawyers like a magnet draws iron filings.

3. This one's spot on. I like Nessa for the same reason ... I can tell her anything, no matter how stupid, and she'll look at me adoringly as if to say, "You are absolutely brilliant! Can I have a treat now?"

4. This one, not so much. I don't like spiders or cobwebs. Good in theory, though.

5. Absolutely right. I clean when absolutely necessary, regardless of season. I subscribe to the old Amish adage that a home should be clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.

6. False. I do plant a garden each year. I am the King of Basil. I do need to speak to The Deity about those weeds He insists on sharing with me, though.

7. Right on the money! Agnes is forever handing me things and telling me to put them in a safe place where we'll be sure to find them again. This is an absolute guarantee that they'll end up resting for all eternity with Jimmy Hoffa and one of each of my sock pairs.

8. Wrong. I love to cook and I'm pretty good at it. I don't worry about stressing my friends about what to cook when they invite me because most of them don't cook and would rather buy me dinner at a restaurant, anyhow.

9. I absolutely believe the "Permanent Press" labels. And I also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Republican concern for the middle class, and the Democrats ability to come up with coherent policies.

And finally,

10. I do stress a lot, actually. I got it from my father. I've been a "wrinkled-up, crusty old person" - at least in my heart - since age 10.

So, Dear Readers, what are the things you don't do? Share them in the comments so that we can all know each other better.

And have a few laughs at each others' expense, while we're at it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Cold Enough for You, Mr Mitty?

Boy, is it cold!

How cold is it?

It's so cold that all the lawyers and Members of Congress have their hands in their own pockets. It's colder than a mortgage banker's heart. It's colder than a well-digger's ankles. It's colder than ... well ... you get the idea.

At least we don't have any snow yet here in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac. But if we did, the wind would probably blow it away.

Like I said, it's cold.

It's also the anniversary of the birth of American humorist and master of clever wordplay James Thurber. Thurber is perhaps best known for his classic short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, about an utterly average, henpecked man whose humdrum life is constantly interrupted by escapist fantasies in which the everyday things going on around him morph into heroic adventures. Thurber also drew many cartoons for The New Yorker and other magazines and newspapers, including this classic ...

"All right, have it your way - you heard a seal bark!"

Another author worth noting today is Franz Kafka, the Czech-born author whose name lives on in the adjective Kafkaesque, referring to situations in which ordinary people are trapped in nightmarishly complex situations.

I enjoyed a day of Kafkaesque unreality yesterday as I continued my Quixotic quest (vainly, by the end of the day) to find out who was actually responsible for fixing a network outage at work. I use five different networks at the office, each for a different purpose, and the one I use most often has been inoperative (I believe down is the technical term) since late last Thursday afternoon. I called the problem in to the appropriate help desk the following morning (after realizing that my hope that the problem might resolve itself overnight was a Walter Mitty-quality fantasy). By Friday afternoon, that help desk admitted they couldn't solve the problem, and referred it to another help desk. By mid-morning on Monday the new help desk had assigned a "trouble ticket number." By yesterday morning, the network was still down and no one had yet contacted me for details of the problem. By about 2:00 PM yesterday, I had been referred to two more numbers for help (one of which got me a recording telling me it wasn't in service). The final call I made was to yet another office which referred me to ... the help desk I'd started with on Friday.

Franz Kafka couldn't have written a better story, and the network is still down.

I think I hear seals barking.

So ...

Walter "Bilbo" Mitty heads back to work today, ready to leap into either a Tron-style fantasy of defeating evil cyber monsters or a Kafkaesque bureaucratic reality of being shunted from pillar to post in search of digital justice.

Sigh.

Have a good day. May your networks always be up.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

What the Well-Dressed Criminal is Wearing

Many years ago I read one of those people-aren't-really-that-stupid-are-they? stories in the monthly magazine of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Among all the other hunting and conservation-related pieces was a cautionary article about a hapless hunter who dressed from head to foot in blaze orange (for safety, of course, deer being color blind) and took up his place in a blind well up in a tree. Some time later, another hunter shot him (not fatally, fortunately), claiming during the subsequent investigation, that "I thought he was a deer."

This is why I don't go hunting any more.

I told you that story so that I could tell you this one, which is totally unrelated except for the color orange...

There was an interesting "Explainer" article yesterday on Slate.com in response to the question, "When did prisoners start wearing orange?" If you more or less are of my age (and if you are, good luck), you may remember that the traditional garb for a prisoner was black and white stripes ... every convict you ever saw in any cartoon wore the stereotypical zebra suit. Nowadays, of course, bright orange jumpsuits seem to be what the well-dressed felon is wearing.

But why orange?

Well, it seems obvious that you'd want to dress convicts in a very visible color to make them easier to identify if they escape, and bright orange is about as visible as you can get. According to the Slate article, prisons started abandoning the zebra-stripe design in the early 20th century because it was too closely associated with the era of the infamous chain gangs ...

The suits issued to convicts after the demise of the zebra suits tended to be drab in color, and often to reflect the prisoner's level of custody (high-security convicts were issued more easily-identifiable colors). It wasn't until the 1970's that bright orange started to be used, and then mainly for convicts being transported from place to place, as an aid to control and identification.

Orange isn't universally used, although it tends to be more easily identifiable. Many prison systems dress inmates in blue or gray, and Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio has dressed many of his prisoners in traditional zebra suits and pink underwear. Some prisons even allow inmates to wear their own t-shirts of any color, except for gang-related shades. This 2001 article from the St Petersburg Times ("Cellblock Chic") discusses the history of prison garb and suggests that the old zebra suit is making a comeback.

So...

If you don't look good in orange or if horizontal stripes make you look fat, obey the law and you can pick your own colors.

Perhaps we should issue appropriate prison garb to new Members of Congress when they arrive for their freshman orientation ... it will save time in the long run.

Have a good day. Stay out of trouble. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Monday, December 06, 2010

Guest Post

Hi! It's me again ... Nessa! I'm back.


It's been a while since I've been able to post anything here. Bilbo has been trying to keep me away from the computer because he doesn't like the loose hair on the keyboard. I don't know why he gets so bent out of shape about it ... it's not like he isn't losing hair, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, I thought I'd get on the computer while he's in the shower and bring you up to date on some of the things going on here from a canine point of view.

Christmas is coming. This is something that gets Bilbo and Agnes all spun up every year for some reason. It seems to start when Bilbo builds a great big tree that comes out of a big box and somehow doesn't smell right. Then he puts a bunch of lights on it, except that some of the lights don't light up and he uses all kinds of words I don't hear very often. They must be special magic words, because Agnes tells him not to use them so much. Once he gets all the lights on the big, non-smelling tree, Agnes tells him to move some of them around because they aren't in the right place. Bilbo uses more magic words, and when the lights are all spaced out correctly and they're all lit up (well, most of them, anyhow), they hang a bunch of other sparkly stuff on the tree. When they're done, it looks really nice. I'm not allowed to pee on it, though. What's up with that? Why else would you put a tree in the house? It would be soooo much nicer to pee on that tree in the nice warm family room than to go outside in the cold and do my business in the yard. I need to talk to Bilbo about that.

They put up a lot of other decorations, too. Most of them just get in the way, as far as I'm concerned. Bilbo put up this stupid electric candle right in the middle of the window I guard the yard from! It blocks my view of all the things I'm supposed to be guarding him from, like squirrels and mailmen and deer and foxes and that evil UPS guy. I bark at the people who bring the Domino's Pizza, too, but that's just because I need to make sure Bilbo and Agnes get to the door right away so we don't waste any time getting down to the business of eating that pizza. I get the bones, you know. Anyhow, I keep knocking that stupid candle down and Bilbo keeps putting it back up. Don't worry, though ... I'll win in the end.

Bilbo also put up a bunch of lights outside the house. He used a lot of magic words on those, too. I still don't understand why he puts up all those lights outside ... it just makes me have to go farther from the house to find good, dark places to poop.

This Christmas thing also seems to be an excuse for Bilbo and Agnes to eat lots of fancy stuff. That's fine with me, because I can use the Sorrowful Lab LookTM to get stuff I'm not usually allowed to eat. I'm waiting for that good ham they usually make on Christmas Eve...

Well, I'd like to write more, but I really need to go. It's almost time for the evil newspaper delivery guy to show up, and I need to knock down that stupid electric candle again so I have a good vantage point to bark hysterically at him from. It's almost 5:30, and the neighbors should be getting up, anyhow.

Bilbo will be back tomorrow. Until then, have a good day.

Woof.

Nessa



Sunday, December 05, 2010

Raise Those Glasses High, Boys and Girls!

Today is December 5th: the 77th anniversary of the date on which Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment to the Constitution (which rescinded the 18th Amendment).

The key sections of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, as ratified on January 16, 1919, read as follows:

"Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

"Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

The 18th Amendment was a response to the political power of the temperance movement in the United States, which began in the early 19th century. At that time, many Americans were concerned about the adverse effects of drinking, and began to form temperance societies dedicated to the closing of saloons and the elimination of alcohol from American society. The 18th Amendment was enforced by the Volstead Act, which was passed over President Woodrow Wilson's veto on October 28, 1919. The Volstead Act created a special Prohibition unit within the Treasury Department which, in its first six months of operation, destroyed thousands of illegal distilleries (stills) operated by the makers of bootleg liquor. Despite their best efforts, however, federal agents and police did little more than slow the flow of booze, and organized crime boomed across the country to fill the demand for alcohol. Large-scale bootleggers like Al Capone of Chicago built criminal empires out of the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol, and federal and state governments lost billions in tax revenue. In most urban areas, and particularly in blue-collar neighborhoods, the individual consumption of alcohol was largely tolerated and drinkers gathered at saloons known as "speakeasies" (because of the requirement to whisper a password to the guard at the door to gain admittance) or brewed often-poisonous "bathtub gin" at home.

Prohibition - a well-meaning attempt to resolve a societal issue through legislation - was a flop. But at least Congress recognized its mistake and repealed it. One has to wonder if anyone in Congress today would have the legislative cojones to admit disaster and move to repeal an ill-considered law.

Being a Member of Congress means never having to admit you're being stupid.

Anyhow, for those of you who are keeping count, because the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, technically there have only been 25, and not 27 amendments to the Constitution. And you are able during this holiday season to enjoy comforting libations like Hot Buttered Rum, the German Feuerzangenbowle (concerning which I have a funny story to tell if you are interested), hot cocoa spiked with Peppermint Schnapps, and the delightful White Christmas (one ounce each of vodka, amaretto, and heavy cream shaken with a handful of ice, strained into a martini glass, and garnished with a bit of grated nutmeg).

Bottoms up!

Have a good day. Enjoy all things in moderation. Including moderation.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo