Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Miscellany

It's the end of another week at work, and I need to conserve my energy to dance tonight (at Studio One) and tomorrow (at Forever Dancing). Oh, and to get through work today. As we go blogally minimalist for the day, here are a few things I thought you might find interesting ...

You may want to post this next to your TV set as we wearily approach the 2012 elections ...

I thought this was a great observation ... courtesy of my friend Ed the attorney on his Facebook page ...

I never really wanted to work as an insurance agent, but I can see where it might be interesting from time to time ... consider this news flash from CNN: Holly Madison Insures Her Breasts for $1 Million. Lends new meaning to the term premiums, doesn't it?

And what services might an adjuster perform in the event of a claim? The mind boggles.

I guess that's all for now. It's hard to believe that tomorrow is already October 1st - the year is just flying by. Of course, our local Costco store has been selling Christmas decorations since the Fourth of July, so I guess the calendar is just catching up.

Have a good day. Insure your assets. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Of Trolls and Pseudonyms

There was an interesting story on NPR last night that I thought was worth bringing to your attention - "Who Are You, Really? Activists Fight for Pseudonyms."

As all of you know, almost no one with a blog (like, for instance, Bilbo) posts using their real name - they take a screen name, alias, pseudonym (from the Greek pseud- (false) + onyma (name)), or - with a nod to eViL pOp TaRt, nom de plume (French for "pen name"). People do this for many reasons: to maintain their privacy, to protect themselves from attack for taking unpopular positions on issues, or simply to be able to act stupid without having to admit who they are.

The last reason is probably the most common, or so it seems. Read the comments posted after any political story on CNN or any online newspaper site ... a small minority are thoughtful, measured, grammatical, and have good spelling and punctuation, but most are loud, rude, vulgar, racist, or downright stupid; it's no wonder that the commenters wish to hide their intellectual and social shortcomings behind a screen name.

But more and more, websites are requiring people to be able to prove their identity in order to post comments. Some newspaper sites require a commenter to provide a name and address (although these are not posted online without the commenter's permission), and many blogs or other sites require one to have a Facebook or other social networking account in order to post. Is this right?

Jimmy Orr, Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Times, was quoted in the NPR story as noting that some of his paper's comments sections still operate under what he called the "Wild West" system, where all one needs to post a comment is an email address; and he goes on to note that those sections tend to have more trolls — commenters who bait each other with racism or personal attacks. The sections of the paper which require Facebook logins, on the other hand, are comparatively civil. Orr believes that the reason for this is that "trolls don't like their friends to know they are trolls ... If you are who you [say you] are, you're less likely to leave a comment that makes you look bad."

Do we have an inherent right to anonymity when expressing our opinions? Should people be allowed to unleash their inner troll and act like an uneducated ass clown if they wish?

Simply by going online, we give up a little bit of our privacy and anonymity. But if we're going to express an opinion, we should be willing to own up to it. Many of you know me under my real name, and I don't mind sharing it with my readers once I've established that they aren't ... well ... trolls.

My mother always used to tell us, "If you don't have anything nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all." And with that in mind, I have to say that John Boehner has a nice haircut.

But that's as far as I'm willing to go, whether I write as Bilbo or as ... somebody else.

Have a good day. Be willing to own up to your opinions.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Ass Clown of the Week Award Returns!

It's been a while since I have bestowed the prestigious Ass Clown of the Week Award on a deserving recipient. This is because there have been so many worthy potential honorees that I was completely unable to make a decision. But our troubled times call for action, and so in order to facilitate the selection, I have decided to adjust the criteria for the Award to allow for two things: a group, rather than an individual award; and the award of a tie.

And so, Dear Readers, the coveted Ass Clown of the Week Award -

is presented jointly to the Republican and Democratic parties -

Matt Miller, writing earlier this week in The Washington Post, provided the citation for this award in his wonderful article The Third-Party Stump Speech We Need:

"Neither of our two major parties has a strategy for solving our biggest problems; they have strategies for winning elections, which isn’t the same thing. Democrats and Republicans will tell you, as I do, that they want to make America competitive again, keep faith with our deepest values of fairness and opportunity, and fix our broken political system. But the Democrats’ timid half-measures and the Republicans’ mindless anti-government creed can’t begin to get us there. Both parties are prisoner to interest groups and ideological litmus tests that prevent them from blending the best of liberal and conservative thinking. And neither party trusts you enough to lay out the facts and explain the steps we need to take to truly fix things ..."

I think this award is richly deserved, and I encourage you to read Mr Miller's whole article that I linked above. His ideas (with the exception of the one to lower the voting age to 15, which I think is silly) are the sort of ideas we'd be hearing from a responsible Congress ... if we had one that was more interested in serving the nation than scoring cheap political points.

The Ass Clown of the Week Award is presented to the Republican and Democratic parties - and seldom has it been more richly earned.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - a little historical note - today, September 28th, is the anniversary of the birthday (in 1836) of the unfortunately-named Thomas Crapper. Mr Crapper was a noted English plumber who, contrary to popular belief, did not invent the flush toilet, although he did develop and patent nine other innovative plumbing mechanisms, including the floating ball cock (just step away from that joke, and no one will get hurt). Just thought you'd like to know.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Signs of Stress

Things have been pretty ... intense ... at work lately, lately being defined as the last year or so. I tend to be a fairly laid-back fellow, but it's all starting to get to me. How do I know? Because I recognize a few signs of stress...

Relatives that have been dead for years are visiting and suggesting I should get some rest.

The Sun is too loud.

Trees are chasing me.

I can see individual air molecules vibrating.

I've been examining the mechanics of setting up an IV drip for espresso.

I wonder if brewing is really necessary, or if I can get the same effect more quickly from just snorting coffee grounds.

Mimes make too much noise.

Conservative/Republican social and economic theories are starting to make sense.

Liberal/Democratic social and economic theories are starting to make sense.

I asked the drive-thru attendant if I could get my order to go.

I keep yelling "STOP TOUCHING ME!!!" even though I'm the only one in the room.

My heart is beating in 7/8 time.

I have filed for divorce from reality.

I can skip without a rope.

People seem to be speaking to me in binary code.

I recognize antacid tablets as a basic food group.

I think office supplies have an innate, aesthetic beauty.

I started talking to myself, disagreed about the subject, got into a nasty argument, lost the dispute, and haven't spoken to myself for three days.

Teddy bears bully me for milk and cookies.

I'm just glad that I can soothe myself by watching the calm and statesmanlike behavior of my elected reprehensives, or I'd be in real trouble.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, September 26, 2011

The European Day of Languages

Today, September 26th, is the tenth annual European Day of Languages (or, because the French don't really recognize the existence and validity of other languages, Journée Européenne des Langues), a day on which Europeans of all ages are encouraged to learn more languages. According to the official website, the general objectives of the day are:

- To alert the public to the importance of language learning and diversifying the range of languages learnt in order to increase plurilingualism and intercultural understanding;

- To promote the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe, which must be preserved and fostered; and,

- To encourage lifelong language learning in and out of school, whether for study purposes, for professional needs, for purposes of mobility or for pleasure and exchanges.

Having lived in Europe for many years, I can attest that most Europeans are at least bilingual, and most younger people have at least a basic knowledge of two or more languages in addition to their own. I can also attest that most Europeans are astounded to find an American who is conversant in anything other than English.

The general European attitude toward learning multiple languages is understandable, as there are a great many nations and ethnic groups rubbing up against each other in a fairly small area. If you are a European and travel more than a few hours in any direction, you are likely to find yourself in a place where your native language isn't spoken, and it behooves you to learn another language or two in addition to your own. The same attitude isn't generally held in America, where (unless you leave the country, which most Americans don't do) you can find English spoken everywhere. The importance of learning another language isn't recognized by most Americans, unless it's as a result of the unchecked flood of immigrants (both legal and illegal) from Latin America which has made bilingual signage necessary in much of the country.

I started learning German in high school, mostly because I was fascinated by the language as a result of hearing it spoken on the World War II-themed television shows popular in the mid-60's. I studied Russian because my Foreign Language Linguistics degree program at Penn State required me to study two langages. The Russian - except for stock phrases, songs, and the ability to sight-read the Cyrillic alphabet - is pretty much dormant because I don't have much opportunity to use it, but my German is conversationally fluent (marrying a German and having German friends will do that).

So ...

Learn a second ... and even a third ... language. It will expand your horizons, amaze foreigners who don't expect you to know anything other than English, and allow you to enjoy those turkey franks ...

Have a good day. More thoughts (mainly in English) tomorrow.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

In Brief ... Not

A week or so ago my old high school friend Ed (Ed the attorney, not Ed the Professor Emeritus of Microbiology) posted a link to this article from the American Bar Association Journal on his Facebook page: 7th Circuit Slaps Lawyer for 345-Word Sentence and Briefs Full of ‘Gibberish.’

The synopsis of the article said simply that a federal appeals court was so aggravated by the quality of an Illinois lawyer’s legal writing that it ordered him to show cause why he should not be barred from practicing before the court. The court said the hapless lawyer was "unable to file an intelligible complaint,” even given three tries to do so. At least 23 sentences in the brief were over 100 words long, and the court decision included as an example a single sentence consisting of 345 words. You expect that in German, but in English, not so much.

To quote from the actual decision (which you can read in its entirety here),

“Each iteration of the complaint was generally incomprehensible and riddled with errors, making it impossible for the defendants to know what wrongs they were accused of committing ... Though the complaint was far longer than it needed to be, prolixity was not its chief deficiency. Rather, its rampant grammatical, syntactical, and typographical errors contributed to an overall sense of unintelligibility. This was compounded by a vague, confusing, and conclusory articulation of the factual and legal basis for the claims and a general 'kitchen sink' approach to pleading the case.”

Well, I guess they told him.

In his defense, the attorney claimed he was suffering from problems related to cancer treatments. Now, I'm all in favor of giving someone the benefit of the doubt, but churning out something utterly unintelligible even after three tries seems to say more about the quality of education than it does about the side effects of medical treatments. I don't claim to be the reincarnation of William Shakespeare, but I think I manage to spell correctly (even without spell-check) and write more or less clearly most of the time.

When ... and perhaps more importantly, why ... did we stop placing a premium on good written expression? I've seen lots of reasons cited: the decline in writing journals and personal letters, the advent of the telephone for immediate verbal communication, and the proliferation of e-mail and text messaging to name a few. But whatever the reason, I think it's sad that we have people in positions of responsibility and authority who can charge hundreds of dollars an hour for their services, but can't write a clear and grammatical English sentence.

Of course, if you're a member of Congress, it doesn't matter if you can write well because you can't agree with anyone on what to write, anyway.

And that's really sad.

Have a good day. Write something (and yes, allenwoodhaven, I still owe you the letter I promised you ... it's coming).

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cartoon Saturday

As another week passes into history ...

A six-ton NASA satellite has, after weeks of increasingly frantic concern, finally crashed to earth...but nobody quite knows where; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has, as expected, asked the UN General Assembly to declare Palestine a state, which is silly - if Wisconsin is having this much trouble being a state, how does Palestine expect things to work out?; once again, the Federal government is on the brink of shutting down as Republicans and Democrats squabble over the budget; continuing their tradition of responsible, caring and compassionate conservatism, Republicans booed a gay soldier who asked a question about their opinions of the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy at the debate held earlier this week; and according to an analysis of census data performed by the Brookings Institution, poverty in America is now stretching into the previously-affluent suburbs.

Read on ... it's only a matter of time before the Republicans start booing Cartoon Saturday, too...

My reaction to the latest political news from Capitol Hill and the campaign trail ...

It's the latest version of an old joke, but it's still funny ...

This one's for Kathy, Melissa B, and all the other teachers out there ...

Somehow, sadly, I can see this in our collective future ...

And on a related note, a clever look at "virtual reality" from the incomparable Wiley ...

(in case you can't read the sign at the bottom of that strip, it says "Dickens Virtual Reality Session in Progress - Disturb at Your Own Risk!").

What would Cartoon Saturday be without at least one pun-centric cartoon? ...

There's an app for that ...

Over at Billions of Versions of Normal, Mike has been on a Steven Wright roll lately. This cartoon puts into pictures one of SW's clever routines about the perils of hitchhiking ...

Setting you up for the punch line that will be delivered in November of next year ...

And finally, something that sums up the way I feel most days when I watch the news ...

It's shaping up to be another busy, if rainy weekend here in Northern Virginia. There's laundry to be done, I desperately need the attention of a barber (in addition to a psychiatrist, Agnes would probably add), and there are not one ... not two ... but THREE books waiting on hold for me at the local library. Last night we Skyped with our grandchildren in Ohio, and tomorrow we visit our grandchildren here in the local area. Life is good.

But don't worry, Congress is working on fixing that.

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


Friday, September 23, 2011

The Return of Great Moments in Editing

How about another selection of Great Moments in Editing to take your mind off things like Congressional ass-clownery, the lousy economy, Palestinian statehood, and Rick Perry ...?

Stock up now, before those door-to-door missionaries come back ...

I haven't heard from Chrissy for a while, but perhaps a little discussion of poop might get her attention ...

And eViL pOp TaRt might appreciate this alternative take on laxatives ...

Actually, that's not a bad idea for those of us whose ears are clogged up from listening to political BS.

It's nice to know that there's help out there for those who need it ...

And ...

This one goes out to Heidi ...

Mike has been on a Steven Wright roll lately ... this headline is sort of Wright-esque, don't you think ...?

I remember years ago marveling at the availability of "real artificial snow" for adding winter touches to your home for the holidays. Perhaps you could store it here ...

Isn't it heartwarming when people go to great lengths to help out their friends ...?

I read a joke not long ago about a popular new dance called the Political Jive, in which you take one step forward, three steps back, sidestep to the right, sidestep to the left, reverse yourself, and repeat until elected (or re-elected). This might have been the story covering it ...

It's finally Friday! Tonight is the dance party, and then comes the weekend, not that I need it or anything. I am sooooo ready ...

Have a good day. Be back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.

More thoughts then.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Odds and Ends for a Thursday

A few random things to help us coast down to Friday ...

According to this article in the Washington Post, the Justice Department has frivolously spent huge amounts of money, including on $16 (apiece!) muffins and $8.24 per cup coffee for conference snacks. Who do they think they are ... job creators or something? Amazingly enough, Congressional Republicans and Democrats agreed that this was an outrage, although when this was pointed out, several of them reversed their positions on principle.

Andrea reposted this wonderful picture on Facebook and on her blog yesterday:

Clever, sad, and oh-so-true.

Nessa wanted me to share this one with you ...

Nessa, though, skips all that other stuff and goes right to "Jumps all over you." No sense in wasting time.

Do you understand what "quantitative easing" means? I always thought it meant "resting a lot," but apparently it has something to do with the intersection between the complex mathematical concepts of money supply and imaginary numbers. Here is one explanation. Here's the part that clues you in to the fact that it's all a gussied-up shell game:

"A central bank implements quantitative easing by purchasing financial assets from banks and other private sector businesses with new electronically created money."

" electronically created money." I thought that had something to do with counterfeiting, but I guess I was wrong. Here's a grain of salt to take it with ...

And that's all for today. Maybe I can get invited to a meeting where they serve $16 muffins and $8 coffee.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rated PG ... Maybe R ...

We're getting a bit more racy than usual this morning. You've been warned.

Agnes has been on my case for a while about my ... um ... spare tire, and the fact that I look a bit like a bratwurst when I squeeze myself into my tuxedo. She's suggesting that I need to lose a bit of weight, and so I've been looking at the number of calories that I can burn off with various activities ...

The Official Sex Calorie Counter

(Read: ACTIVITY - Number of calories burned)

With partner’s consent - 12
Without partner’s consent - 187

Using two calm hands - 7
Using one trembling hand - 36
Add 10 calories for each drink consumed prior to activity.

Lifting partner - 15
Dragging partner along floor - 16
Begging - 3

For normal healthy man - 2.5
Losing erection - 14
Searching for it - 115

With erection - 1.5
Without erection - 300

If the woman who does it is:
Experienced - 6
Inexperienced - 73
If a man does it - 650 (Add 5 calories for retrieving it from across the room)

Italian (Man on top, woman in kitchen) - 26
Afghan (Man in front, woman five paces behind) - 5
Russian (Woman on bottom, man getting permission) - 55
American (Both on top) - 60

Shortness of breath - 7
Whiplash - 27

Real - 27
Faked - 160

Shoes flew off - 35
Expression didn’t change - 0.5
Orchestra swelled - 6
Birds sang (Large birds) - 7
Birds sang (Small birds) - 3
Earth moved - 30

After orgasm - 0.5
A few moments before orgasm - 500

For women - 3
For men - 72

Achieved orgasm despite no formal training - 53
You’re enjoying sex, despite the fact that people are starving in Africa - 2
Sex on your lunch hour - 3
Putting it on expense account - 20

Partner updates status on Facebook - 25
Partner updates status on Facebook, does not click "Like" - 50
Partner insists on cuddling dog during foreplay - 14
Partner just visited bathroom for 7th time - 10
Partner is taking phone calls - 7
Partner is making phone calls - 40

By partner’s spouse - 60
By your spouse - 100
Trying to explain - 55
Trying to remain calm - 100
Leaping out of bed - 75
Getting dressed in one motion - 500
Thanking partner quickly - 3

Don't thank me ... it's all part of helping you maintain your health.

Have a good day. Burn a few calories. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011


In case you missed it, yesterday was 2011's International Talk Like a Pirate Day, when otherwise normal people dress up like pirates, pepper their language with piratical expressions like aarrgghh!, demand grog served by comely ladies in corsets, and generally seize the opportunity to act stupid without the hassle of having to run for Congress first.

But there's another - and, to me, more interesting - aspect to talking like a pirate. Yes, Dear Readers, the linguist in me has again bubbled to the surface at the intersection of two news items: International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and the World's 10 Sexiest Accents. According to the linked article from The Chicago Tribune, surveyed 5,000 women around the world to determine their perceptions of the sexiest accents. Here are the results of that poll (with my commentary, of course):

10. American. Frankly, I'm surprised to see American on the list, as I've often heard foreign friends talk about how grating an American accent is ... particularly variations like Texan and Brooklynese. See British.

9. Welsh. I don't know that I'd recognize a Welsh accent. The examples given in the story are from Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but I've never really noticed their accents. Odd.

8. Spanish. I'm surprised to see Spanish at #8, as I've always thought that a Spanish accent, particularly when spoken by a beautiful woman, was pretty darned sexy. Perhaps it's because Spanish accents are so commonplace that they lose effect because one hears them everywhere.

7. Swedish. Remember the Swedish Bikini Team? Remember what they sounded like? I didn't think so.

6. British. BBC standard English is the gold standard for sounding aristocratic and well-educated. Sexy, not so much ... more sophisticated, I'd say. It's been said that an educated Englishman reading the want ads out loud will always sound better than an American reading the Gettysburg Address.

5. Australian. Often called Strine (a corruption of how an Australian would say Australian), an Australian accent is a broad variation of British English. Think Crocodile Dundee. Sexy? Not so much, in my opinion, unless spoken by someone like Kym Johnson.

4. French. The true gold standard for sounding sexy, at least for women. What more can I say?

3. Scottish. Sexy? No. Way cool? Yes. Think Sean Connery. Sorry, Fiona.

2. Italian. French may have an edge, but the contest between Italian and French for achingly sexy accents is very close. I'll be listening to Elisabetta Canalis on Dancing with the Stars this season as much as I'll be watching her.

1. Irish. Irish at number 1? Irish? A nice Irish brogue is easy on the ears, but sexy? ... not so much.

Want to hear more accents? English spoken with just about any accent you could imagine can be heard at the Speech Accent Archive maintained by George Mason University here in Northern Virginia, where many hundreds of speakers of various languages were recorded speaking this standard "elicitation paragraph", designed to contain most of the consonants, vowels, and sound clusters of American English:

"Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station."

A trip through the accent archive is really fascinating if you have the time and interest. Give it a try.

Have a good day. Aaarrrggghhh! More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, September 19, 2011

George's Farewell Message

I didn't realize it until I read my Writer's Almanac e-mail this morning, but today is the anniversary of the date in 1796 that President George Washington's farewell address was published in The Daily American Advertiser as an open letter to the people of the United States. It has been many years since I read this masterpiece, but in reading it again I understand what an exceptional and - in the words of biographer James Thomas Flexner - indispensable man Washington was. You can read the full text of the address here, but here are a few excerpts (naturally, accompanied by my comments) that prove how foresighted Mr Washington was, and how much we could use a man of his stature and common sense today:

Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. (Think about that before you call yourself an African-American, an Italian-American, or any other hyphenated variation. We're Americans, and we're all in this together.)

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth... (Mr Washington was concerned, more than 200 years ago, about the poisonous effects of political and sectional partisanship. Today's Republicans and Democrats would do well to remember it.)

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations—northern and southern—Atlantic and western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations. They tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. (Mr Washington was concerned about the effect of regional factionalism, but also of the "misrepresentations" that unscrupulous politicians use to undermine the unity of the nation. Are you ass clowns on Capitol Hill listening?)

The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government. (Are all you dumbass militia nuts out there listening?)

And finally,

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty ... the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. (Think about this as you decide which set of political ass clowns - Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal, you choose to endorse in the upcoming elections.)

I think George Washington would be very disappointed in the current crop of despicable political charlatans we have chosen to run our nation. I hope that we will be able to return to his vision of unity and amity for the good of the nation before it's too late.

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

Have a good day. Read Mr Washington's Farewell Address and think about it.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Papers, Please!

If you thought you just felt the earth shake, you were probably right. I have found something upon which I agree ... at least, in part ... with the Republicans.

Don't tell anyone, okay?

Here's the full story: much has been made in the news lately (see an example here) of efforts - mainly by Republicans - in many states to tighten up on voting eligibility and identification requirements. There are two ways this story is being reported, depending upon the liberal or the conservative orientation of the reporter. To liberals, these efforts represent a heinous and despicable attempt to disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters, primarily minorities, who might be expected to vote for Democratic/liberal candidates. To conservatives, it represents a desperately-needed move to eliminate what they perceive as widespread vote fraud that robs Republicans/conservatives of legitimate victories by flooding the polls with ineligible voters who vote almost exclusively for Democratic/liberal candidates, and limits voting to only those who are authorized by law to cast ballots.

As you might suspect, but as is almost never acknowledged, the truth is lost in the shouting.

I see absolutely no problem with requiring an individual to prove his or her identity when going to the polls. You need to show a valid ID to cash a check, enter a government building, board an airplane, buy alcohol, or travel outside the country. Why should you not be required to show a valid ID to ensure that one of your basic rights as a citizen is protected from abuse? Some people object that this smacks of the old World War II-era movie demand by a uniformed Gestapo agent for some hapless innocent to "show me your papers!", but this is stereotyped caricature of a useful and necessary requirement.

One criticism of some of the new voter identification requirements is that the list of acceptable ID documents is short and the process for obtaining them is too cumbersome or expensive for many citizens, especially those at lower income levels. The process of obtaining a legitimate identification document must be strict enough to prevent abuse, while simple enough that the average citizen is not discouraged - either by bureaucratic red tape or excessive cost - in attempts to obtain one. Modern, secure personal identification documents are not cheap to produce (laser engraving, embedded holograms, and implanted devices to prevent illegal alteration of the space-time continuum are expensive, after all), but neither must they be beyond the economic reach of citizens who need them. This is where state and local governments must exercise good judgment and common sense to ensure that they do not disenfranchise their own citizens ... regardless of how they view the political orientation of those citizens.

Conservatives thunder about the need to curb widespread vote fraud, but repeated studies and investigations have shown that, while such fraud does exist, it is in minuscule amounts generally unrelated to the volume of complaints. You can find a summary of studies of vote fraud at the website The Truth About Fraud, sponsored by The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

So, here's the bottom line for today: I agree with my Republican/conservative friends (and I do have some) that the voting process needs to be protected against fraud, and that there is absolutely no problem with requiring a voter to positively identify him- or herself at the polls. On the other hand, I believe that if we're going to protect our election system from fraud, we shouldn't be looking at making things more difficult for individual citizens, but at securing modern electronic, networked voting systems from illegal intrusion and subversion. The days of rounding up a bunch of drunks and illegal immigrants and busing them to polling places to vote for a particular candidate are long gone ... vote fraud on an election-stealing scale today is more likely to come from those with the skill and motivation to hack into automated voting systems and corrupt the data to their advantage.

And that's all for now. Today is going to be a busy day, as I'll be emceeing the Summer Showcase at Dance Studio Lioudmila this afternoon, so I need to finish my script notes, and make myself presentable and get ready for the big event. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Have a good day, with proper identification, of course. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cartoon Saturday

Once more into the breach, Dear Friends ...

Today is Constitution Day, which comemmorates the signing of the US Constitution in 1787. In 2004, then-Senator Robert Byrd attached an amendment to a spending bill requiring all publicly-funded schools to teach a lesson on the history of the Constitution on this day. I think the Tea Party and most Republicans missed the last few sessions; a vintage aircraft crashed into the stands at an air show in Reno, Nevada, killing at least three people; Iran continues to cynically torment two young Americans who were arrested on charges of espionage after allegedly crossing the Iranian border during a hiking trip in 2009; a mother in Tennessee has been arrested for allegedly smothering her two newborn children and hiding their bodies in a laundry basket; and the Taliban in Pakistan have announced that they will attack the weddings and funerals of their enemies.

In trying times, you can always turn to Cartoon Saturday to help get you through.

We lead off this week's collection of cartoons with the more-or-less traditional Terrible Pun ...

Yes, Albert Einstein was a very smart man ... but we all have our limits ...

... and, no, Albert can't explain everything ...

It's not every week that you can get not one, but two cartoons riffing on a novel by Leo Tolstoy ...


Things are a bit different now than they were when I was growing up. The games we used to play have changed ...

As well as the way we communicated with our friends ...

You just can't escape the medical care bureaucracy, no matter what you do. Or where you go ...

The other thing you can't escape is political correctness ...

And finally, did our remote ancestors really discover the Facebook concept? One wonders ...

And that's it for this week.

Our weather here in Northern Virginia has cooled off dramatically, so it looks as if Autumn may have finally arrived. We'll see.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, September 16, 2011

The Ecclesiastical Dictionary

Those of you who join me regularly in this space know that I am not a particularly religious person in the generally-accepted sense of the term (i.e., utter certainty in one's beliefs and equal certainty that everyone who believes differently deserves condemnation and will surely burn in the fires of hell for all eternity). But although I do not subscribe to any particular religious belief system, I do have an endless fascination with the subject and with the particular language that goes with religious discussions. Here's a handy guide to what some of the more common terms mean:

Baptistry: A church swimming pool designed by a finance committee with a concern for cutting costs.

Blind Faith: Obsolete phrase. The current, politically-correct term is "visually challenged faith."

Candlelight Services: A time when otherwise sensible choirs wander around in darkened churches singing with fire in their hands. Not surprisingly, this has been known to affect both the quality of music and the number of church fires.

Canon Law: An ancient arms limitation treaty.

Cassock: Short for “clergy hassock.” A robe that makes the wearer look like a small, round, overstuffed footrest.

Choir Gown: Robes worn by choir members, designed to look equally ill-fitting on everyone. Generally color-coordinated with previous church carpeting.

Evensong: A song with a meter which can be divided by two. The alternative is "unevensong," which should not be used for processionals.

Gargoyle: An extremely ugly statue on a church building. In medieval times, they were intended to scare away evil spirits. Now they are intend to attract tourists. The relationship between tourists and evil spirits has not yet been determined.

God: (n) The Supreme Being, your conception of which is the only true one.

Guilt: A sixth human sense, faithfully instilled in children by parents and in congregations by the clergy, for centuries. When functioning properly, it does not prevent people from sinning, but it prevents them from enjoying it.

Joint Services: (1) Worship conducted in a ramshackle building. (2) Worship using illicit substances, often subject to police raids. (3) Worship with another congregation or denomination. In some people's eyes, this is morally worse than #2.

Leap of Faith: Bungee jumping with a Bible.

Missionary: An annoying person who is anxious to share his or her beliefs with you, but is uninterested in hearing yours.

Organ Fund: Money being raised for a transplant. Fund is often not established until long after the organ in question is in a terminal condition.

Original Sin: A bad deed that no one else has thought of. There are few of these anymore since most bad things have already been tried. If you come up with an original sin, you should consider patenting it.

Overhead Projector: A traditional teaching aid which takes material that is clear and transparent and then ensures that it goes over everyone's head. Theologians used to take years to learn to do this.

Pall Bearer: St. Paul's mother.

Pew: An ancient device of torture, developed to make people wish they had to stand through worship, as in early centuries.

Pledge Cards: Little pieces of paper used for dusting pews. Some are called “Lemon Pledge Cards.”

Psalter: A device for sprinkling psalt on pstews, psteaks, and psandwiches.

Redeemed: What happens to coupons and Christians. Christians are rarely 50% off.

Slam Dunk: A rough baptism.

Stained Glass Windows: Colorful glass set into attractive patterns. When installed in a church, these prevent a congregation from gazing out the window during the sermon without having to close the shutters. Some feature depictions of people long dead (usually from the Bible), under which are the names of different people, who died more recently. For some reason, this never confuses as many people as it should.

Temptation: Something you want to do but know you shouldn't. See Sin. Actually, don't see Sin since sin sometimes leads to temptation. Or is it the other way around? Never mind.

Vestments: Small, white mints kept in the vest pockets of grandfathers in the church. A traditional bribe to keep children quiet during a sermon.

White Elephant Sale: A fundraiser, now defunct due to the international ban on the ivory trade.

Women's Groups: The source of all power in the church.

Hope this helps. If you have any additions to the list, put them in the comments.

It's Friday, which means that tonight is the dance party and tomorrow is ... YES! ... Cartoon Saturday. See you then.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Parachute Paradigm

Here's the situation: you are one of two people on a malfunctioning airplane, but there is only one parachute. If you are a(n):

Pessimist: you refuse the parachute because you're going to die anyway.

Optimist: you refuse the parachute because people have survived accidents just like this before.

Procrastinator: you decide to wait until tomorrow to grab the parachute.

Bureaucrat: you determine optimum parachute allocation by contracting out a feasibility study on parachute use in the exiting of multi-engine aircraft under code red conditions.

Lawyer: you charge the other passenger one parachute for helping him sue the airline.

Doctor: you tell the other passenger you need to run more tests, then take the parachute in order to make it to your next appointment.

Sales Representative: you sell the parachute to the other passenger at top retail rates and get the names of his friends and relatives who might like one, too.

Internal Revenue Service Auditor: you confiscate the parachute from the other passenger, along with his luggage, wallet, and gold fillings.

Advertising Representative: you strip-tease while singing that what the other passenger really needs is a neon parachute with computer altimeter for only $39.99 (plus shipping, handling and applicable sales taxes).

Engineer: you make another parachute out of aisle curtains and dental floss.

Scientist: you give the parachute to the other passenger and ask him to send you a report on how well it worked.

Mathematician: you refuse to accept the parachute without proof that it will work in all cases.

Philosopher: you ask the other passenger how he knows the parachute actually exists.

English Teacher: you explain simile and metaphor in the parachute instructions to the other passenger.

Comparative Literature Teacher: you read the parachute instructions in all four languages.

Computer Scientist: you design a machine capable of operating a parachute as well as a human being could.

Economist: you plot a demand curve by asking the other passenger, at regular intervals, how much he would pay for a parachute.

Psychoanalyst: you ask the other passenger what the shape of a parachute reminds him of.

Dramatist: you write a one-act play in which you develop the characters of two persons trapped on a falling plane with only one parachute.

Artist: you sign the parachute and hang it on the wall.

Republican: as you jump out with the parachute, you tell the other passenger not to expect the government to always provide parachutes.

Democrat: you ask the other passenger for a dollar to buy scissors so you can cut the parachute into two equal pieces.

Libertarian: after reminding the other passenger of his constitutional right to have a parachute, you take it and jump out.

The Surgeon General: you issue a warning that skydiving can be hazardous to your health.

Spokesman for the Association of Tobacco Growers: you explain very patiently that despite a number of remarkable coincidences, studies have shown no link whatsoever between airplane crashes and death.

Spokesman for the National Rifle Association: you shoot the other passenger and take the parachute.

Environmentalist: you refuse to use the parachute unless it is biodegradable.

Objectivist: you understand that your only rational and moral choice is to take the parachute, as the free market will take care of the other passenger.

Sports Fan: you start betting on how long it will take to crash.

Have I left anyone out? Add your suggestions in the comments.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Digital Misery

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook have already heard about what happened yesterday morning: I had just finished publishing my blog post and linking it to my Facebook page and was standing up from the desk to finish getting ready for work when there was a bright flash from the screen of my beloved iMac, a loud POP!!, and wisps of smoke curled up from the vents on the back of the housing.

I was pretty sure something had gone wrong.

My iMac is now in the hands of the Geniuses (yes, they call them that) at the Pentagon City Apple Store, where they think the problem is that the power supply blew out. I'll know in five to seven days, when they get the new power supply and test it. I hope that's actually the problem, because if it is, it will only cost $106 to fix. That's a lot cheaper than the cost of replacing the computer.


Anyhow, the Genius I dealt with was very professional and gave me credit for being relatively computer-literate and able to describe the problem without hysterical weeping and gnashing of teeth. She did, though, have me do the paperwork ...


1. Describe your problem: _________________________________.

2. Now, describe your problem accurately: _____________________.

3. Speculate wildly about the cause of your problem: ______________.

4. Assess the severity of the problem:
Insignificant __
Minor __
Trivial __

5. Is the computer plugged in?
Yes __
No __

6. Is the computer turned on?
No __
Yes __

7. Have you tried to fix it yourself?
Yes __
No __

8. Have you made the problem worse?
Yes __
No __

9. Have you read the manual?
No __
Yes __

10. Are you sure you’ve read the manual?
Yes __
No __

11. Are you absolutely sure you’ve read the manual?
Yes __
No __

12. Did you understand the manual?
No __
No __

13. If you somehow actually managed to understand the manual, why don’t you fix the problem yourself? ____________.

14. How tall are you? Are you above this line? ___________________.

15. What were you doing with your computer when the problem occurred? ____.

16. If you answered “nothing” to question 15, then explain why you were logged on: _____________.

17. Are you sure you are not imagining this problem?
Yes __
No __

18. Describe how this problem makes you feel. ___________________.

19. Describe your troubled childhood. _________________________.

20. Do you have any independent, reliable witnesses to this problem?
Yes __
No __

21. Can’t you find something else to do besides bothering me?
Yes __
No __

22. Attach copies of your most recent pay stub and income tax return (required so that we can determine if you can afford to fix this problem.

Thank you for helping us understand and solve your problem. Now go away. Don't call us, we'll call you.

I'll let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, I'm hugging my laptop.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fashion Statements

From the Department of Just When You Thought Things Couldn't Get Any Stupider comes this report from CNN: Fliers' Saggy Pants, Skimpy Garb, Tests Airlines. This is the picture that accompanied the article ...

Yes, it's a man wearing ... well ... somewhat unusual clothing for an airline flight. For anything, actually.

This excerpt from the article summarizes the point:

Saggy pants, exposed underwear and flashes of skin are getting some fliers in trouble and prompting questions about what's acceptable to wear when you're stuck in a metal tube with hundreds of strangers.

Times are, indeed, changing. So, what does constitute "acceptable wear?"

I'm like most men - under most circumstances, I'm at my maximum point of clothing comfort when I'm wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Sometimes I might dress up a bit and wear a polo shirt. But I understand what's appropriate for the time and place (and for those times and places I'm not quite sure, I have Agnes to deliver the you're not wearing THAT are you? look). I'm even one of the few people you probably know who actually owns a tuxedo.

But more and more, as I watch some people I have to ask myself: what on earth are you thinking going out in public looking like that?

When did people stop taking pride in their appearance? One doesn't always have to look like one's on the way to a GQ cover shoot, but there ought to be some degree of concern about the image that's being presented. Why on earth would any normal person want to slouch down the street with his pants hanging halfway down his backside and his underwear showing, or a baseball cap worn with the bill at a useless and silly angle?

And why would an otherwise lovely young lady want to cover herself with garish tattoos that will someday turn into saggy, bluish-gray blotches?

I enjoy watching clowns, but they belong in circuses.

What are people thinking? Last month, I wrote about the tendency of many people to use ... um ... very loud and very inappropriate language in public - you can read that post here. Where's the civility? Where's the pride in self-image?

I think they're in the same place as courtesy, common sense, and rational political discourse ... all of which will be in increasingly short supply as we approach the 2012 elections. But at least the people running for president will just act like clowns, not look like them.

Check the mirror before you go out. If you would cross the street to avoid meeting yourself, you might want to consider going back and making a few changes.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Post Office, RIP (... almost)

Along with all the other parts of the economy that are going belly-up, we now have one of the nation's most venerable institutions - the Post Office.

For many reasons - economic, managerial, and political - the US Postal Service is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. This article by Phillip Rubio discusses why the Postal Service remains a necessary part of American life, tying people together, offering an employment bridge by which people could aspire to reach what's left of the middle class, and providing essential communications service to some of the nation's most remote and underserved locations.

As you might suspect, I have some thoughts on the subject.

One reason the Postal Service is on the ropes is the decline in the writing of personal letters. In a world of e-mail, text messaging, and ubiquitous cell phones, who needs to invest the time and energy needed to sit down and compose a real letter? Those of you with whom I have corresponded by snail mail know that I love to write long and chatty letters ... but even I suffer from the simple fact that writing that kind of letter takes time that I don't always have any more. And it isn't just a matter of time - because our schools no longer teach people to actually compose and write, many of those younger than my generation actually have no real idea of how to write a letter - personal or official. I could tell you horror stories about the abysmal level of writing skill I have seen from people who have college degrees hanging on their walls, but it's just too depressing.

Another reason the Postal Service is in trouble is that it is a major provider of entry- and lower-level government jobs ... the sort of jobs that are in the crosshairs of economic conservatives who would cut government at every level to the absolute bone and shift many services now provided by government agencies to the private sector. If you don't think the Postal Service will be gutted, if not demolished, under a Republican administration, you're more optimistic than I am.

The Post Office is one of the original agencies of the federal government, founded on July 26, 1775 by the nation's first Postmaster General - Benjamin Franklin. It represents many things and has many problems, but I think it is one of the most important and iconic agencies of the government, providing services that touch every one of us. The US Postal Service's 2001 Comprehensive Statement on Postal Operations contained this variation on the classic (if unofficial) post office motto: neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds.

Sadly, it isn't rain, or heat, or gloom, or winds that have brought the post office to the edge of ruin. It's politics, economic pressures, and the decline in writing.

And that's a real shame.

Want a hand-written personal letter? Send your snail mail address to bilbo_the_blogger (at symbol) yahoo (dot) com, and I'll send you one. It may be one of the only ones you ever get. Offer not available to Mike, who still owes me replies to the letters I've already written to him. So there.

Have a good day. Write something. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Enough About 9-11 ... Let's Talk About Billy

Unless you've been vacationing in a cave in Outer Mongolia for the last few months, you know that today is the tenth anniversary (if the word "anniversary" is appropriate for such a thing) of the attacks that murdered around 3,000 people in New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Because we humans have a thing for commemorating important events, especially on round-number anniversaries, we are being buried in a wave of 9-11 memorial events that began a few weeks ago and culminates today.

Four years ago I wrote everything I needed to write about that terrible day and the day after here and here. If you're interested, go back and read it, and then reflect on what terrible effects can come from the intersection of twisted, rigidly self-righteous religious beliefs and the making of political statements.

If you want more 9-11 stuff, you can find it almost everywhere today. I choose to think about other things. Like changes to bookshelves and what they mean to us.

This article from Time Magazine notes that Ikea, the Swedish purveyor of assemble-it-yourself furniture, is redesigning its classic "Billy" bookcase line to reflect the reality that people don't store and display books any more ... they store stuff on shelves, and books on things like Kindles, E-Readers, Nooks, and any of a gazillion other properly-configured electronic devices.

This, as I've said often enough and many of you have agreed, is sad.

Bookshelves lined with books give character to a room and provide an insight into the interests and life of the person who lives there. When I visit a new friend's home, I generally look at three things first: what's on the bookshelves, what's on the CD rack (and those are disappearing, too, by the way, made obsolescent by digital music players), and what the kitchen is like - whether it's a real working kitchen or one of those "sizzling gourmet kitchens" that real estate agents tout as a symbol of affluence and a place to eat the pizza you ordered from Dominos.

Books are where we store our history and our dreams. Books are made to be held, read, savored, caressed, and even smelled. They have no battery to die, no screen to crack, and no 250-page operating manual (available only in .pdf format on the device itself) to tell you how to turn a page. Electronic readers may be the wave of the future (and I do have an iPad with three electronic reading programs on it - Overdrive, iBooks, and Kindle), but they will never replace the look, feel, and wonder of a real ink-and-paper book.

And if the bookshelves go away, too, we also lose something. We lose the ability to skim the shelves of accumulated books, finding new things to read and getting reacquainted with old friends. We lose the magic and the sense of peace that comes from curling up under a quilt on a cold and rainy night with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate. As autumn arrives and winter waits in the wings, that becomes something of more than academic interest.

The world is moving on. Many things changed (mainly for the worse) on 9-11, and change continues to buffet us as we move into a future shaped by illusions of security and a tidal wave of technology that threatens to take away one of our most cherished activities - the ability to read a real book.

Not to mention having a real library in our own home.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - One parting shot about 9-11: I am considerably less worried about what terrorists can do to us than I am about what we are doing to ourselves with the useless and despicable political chicanery going on in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac. Our elected and appointed ass clowns are hurting our future in ways al Qaeda never could. Think about it.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cartoon Saturday Returns!

And away we go ...

At least four people are dead in the Washington DC area - this time from widespread flooding rather than gun violence; as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks approaches, Washington and New York are on alert for possible new attacks; President Obama's $447 billion jobs proposal has, as expected, been widely panned by Congressional Republicans, despite including numerous measures which have been previously endorsed by ... Congressional Republicans; tensions are high between Egypt and Israel after demonstrators attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo; and GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry demonstrated his command of economics, history, and criminal law by declaring during last week's GOP debate that Social Security - which has protected generations of older Americans from a life of poverty - is a "monstrous lie" and a "ponzi scheme."

When all else fails, you can always fall back on Cartoon Saturday to help preserve what's left of your sanity.

With all the rain and flood damage we've had here in the local area over the past week (on top of the earthquake and hurricane Irene), the insurance companies have been busier than usual coming up with creative ways to minimize their exposure ...

We had a wonderful vacation in Germany, but it's always good to get back home again to The Old Dominion ...

One of the in-flight movies offered on our flight home last Wednesday was Water for Elephants, based on the wonderful novel of the same name by Sara Gruen. The movie was better than I expected (being used to disappointment at film adaptations of books I enjoy), and it led me to this cartoon from the depths of my collection ...

If you like the Taliban and life in garden spots like Saudi Arabia and Iran, you'll love the old-time religion espoused by some of the more conservative Republicans who would like to be your president. I'll make light of it while it's still allowed ...

... and,

You may recall that, immediately after the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001, members of Congress of both parties stood together on the steps of the Capitol to sing "God Bless America." That was, of course, the last time our 535 elected ass clowns agreed on anything. Perhaps it's time for a different approach to encouraging bipartisan cooperation ...

Some readers have criticized me for being overly critical of the Republican Party, even though the Republicans have worked even harder than the Democrats to earn my undying disgust. In response, I say once again that I despise the Republicans because - as a fundamentally conservative fellow myself - I believe I should be able to expect better from them. I don't know what new job creation measures they have that they think are better than those proposed by the president, but they do have some interesting fiscal ideas to help the struggling middle class ...

The current economic crisis has other practical effects on Real People, too ... such as in how long to keep certain records for tax purposes ...

Sometimes, it's all how you look at it ...

And finally, we just have to have one utterly silly cartoon per Cartoon Saturday, don't we? ...

It looks as if (knock on wood) the rain has stopped here in Virginia, at least temporarily, so maybe I can get outside today and clean up some of the mess in the yard and in what's left of my garden. Other than that, no plans other than to try to get over the lingering jet lag and enjoy my last two days of time off before heading back to work on Monday.

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