Monday, October 31, 2011

The Nuclear Option

The topic today is "extremes" ... specifically, the so-called "nuclear option."

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked a parliamentary procedure colloquially known as the nuclear option to break a deadlock between Republicans and Democrats. The Congressional nuclear option is a unilateral change to the rules of the Senate intended to prevent one party (in this case, the Republicans) from forcing votes on additional amendments to legislation after the Senate has voted to move that legislation forward to final passage. Such a change in the rules is, obviously, anathema to the outmaneuvered party, which tends to scream bloody murder about it, secure in the knowledge that it would do the same thing in a New York minute if it served their own purposes. This is what I would call hypocritical stupidity, but what do I know?

There is, however, another nuclear option.

This is a photograph of the last B53 thermonuclear bomb in the US arsenal, taken just before it was dismantled at a plant near Amarillo, Texas:

The B53 was about the size of a soccer mom's minivan, and weighed nearly ten thousand pounds. It had the destructive equivalent of about 600 of the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War ... its detonation would leave a crater 750 feet deep, and kill everything within a radius of ten miles.

Now that, Dear Readers, is a nuclear option. Fortunately, we as a people have shown rare good judgment by deciding to eliminate all 340 of these enormous bombs that were built for the American Cold War arsenal.

Considering the cold and brutal reality of the B53 bomb, I have to wonder if it's accurate to compare what may be the single most1 destructive weapon in human history to a parliamentary dodge designed to sidestep bureaucratic obstinacy. Perhaps in the long run, Congressional refusal to behave in a rational adult fashion will yield overall results to our democratic society comparable to the devastation of the B53, but it would be nice to believe that even our current stable of ideologically rigid ass clowns will see reason before they leave a 750-foot crater where good governance used to be.

Unfortunately, I have my doubts.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


1 Yes, I know that single most is redundant. I used it for effect. Sue me.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Scary Places

Keeping with the Halloween theme we started yesterday with our special edition of Cartoon Saturday, I thought I'd point out this article from the CNN website: Top 10 Spookiest Buildings Around the World.

Some of these buildings are seriously scary. The one that illustrates the article is the Wat Rang Khun temple in Thailand ...

... which one approaches on a bridge "over a field of fangs and hundreds of pleading white arms and suffering faces of statues reaching up from hell." Just the place to take the family for a pleasant sightseeing excursion.

There are other spooky, scary places around the world. Highgate Cemetery in London is one, as you can see ...

And ...

As is the Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Italy ...

You don't have to go that far to get a real scare, though ... there are plenty of seriously scary places right here in the good old US of A ...

This one was said to have been haunted by the ghosts of responsible statesmen, but those have evidently been well and truly exorcised by the evil trolls which now roam its halls. Perhaps it can be ... uh ... repossessed? One wishes.

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


P.S. - The wonderful ghost story Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger is set in and around Highgate Cemetery. Just in case you were looking for a scary book to read in front of your fire ...


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cartoon Saturday - The Halloween Edition

Halloween is right around the corner ... time for a few good scares ...

House Speaker John Boehner is pushing the so-called "Super Committee" to come up with a deal, just days after rejecting a Democratic offer totaling three trillion dollars in spending cuts and new taxes; we continue to eat our national seed corn as school districts cut days of instruction as well as teachers and long-cherished programs like bands and sports in an effort to cope with funding cuts; the Thai capital Bangkok is threatened by huge floods; the local area is bracing for its first winter storm of the season; and a suicide bomber has blown up a bus carrying NATO personnel in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Don't worry ... in a bizarre and twisted world, Cartoon Saturday is here to provide some harmless stupidity, rather than the Congressional sort.

Today, we offer a collection of seasonal cartoons as Cartoon Saturday looks forward to Halloween on Monday...

There's nothing more Halloweeny than the old sheet-over-the-head ghost costume. And it lends itself to so many good cartoons ...

And ...

Even witches have to keep up with the times ...

And ...

Sometimes, the scariest costumes and topics aren't always obvious ...

And ...

And ...

How to know when you've spent too much time online ...

Remember the classic movie, "Billy the Kid vs Dracula"? ...

And finally, this one goes out to Kathy, Melissa, and all my other academically- and linguistically-oriented trick-or-treaters ...

It's already shaping up to be a totally miserable weekend weather-wise here in Northern Virginia ... outside my study window it's pouring a cold and bitter rain, which is predicted to mix with a little wet snow later in the day. It's a good day to stay inside by the fire, wrapped in a quilt, with a nice cup of your favorite hot beverage and a good book or two.

Have a good Halloween weekend, and watch out for the trick-or-treaters on our neighborhood streets. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Too Many Words, Too Few Clothes

Two topics for today - one grumpy, one Halloween-related.

Commentator George Will published this wonderful article yesterday: Inundated By a River of Words. If you, like me, are tired of being aurally beaten to death every day by endless loud and useless announcements, his observations hit close to home. The final paragraph sums it up:

More and more public spaces are like airports, places where we are assaulted by instructions, advice, warnings and unwanted information. Almost none of this noise is necessary for people mature enough to be allowed to walk around the block, let alone fly around the country. This is the way the world will end, not with a bang but with an environmental blitzkrieg of blather.

Those of you who had the experience of transiting Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (what we just used to just call National Airport until a few years ago when the Republicans were on their Deify Ronald Reagan splurge) may remember the announcement that screamed at top volume on every airport shuttle bus after you boarded:


Believe me, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that that #@$! door was closing. There were, happily, enough complaints that the door closing warnings are now a bit quieter and more civilized.

It's hard to find quiet places any more unless you travel out to the very end of dirt trails in the remotest wilderness. Loud cell phone conversations, useless announcements, and the background drone of traffic, airplanes, and conversation make it hard to concentrate or to find peace and quiet. Those Bose Quiet Comfort headphones are worth every cent of their cost. And the old New England adage gets more true ever year: If you're going to break the silence, make sure you can improve on it.

We are headed into Halloween weekend, when houses are decorated with ghosts and zombies and children are gearing up for their annual goodie search. Dentists everywhere are rubbing their hands with glee. Here is a little something that was reposted by Miss Cellania this morning ... it's been around for a long time, but is every bit as neat each time you see it. Ladies and gentlemen, the Halloween Stripper ...

Tonight is the annual Halloween dance party at Studio One ... always a challenge to find a costume that's clever, original, and that you can dance in. If it works out, you'll see the pictures in a few days. In the meantime, come back tomorrow for the Halloween edition of Cartoon Saturday.

Have a good day. Seize the opportunity to be quiet. More thoughts coming.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Poll Numbers and Fund Raising

Just a moment ... I'll be right with you.

Okay, there we go ... I've gotten the drool cleaned off the keyboard. No, I haven't been looking at pictures of Salma Hayek ... it's the usual aftermath when Nessa does one of her guest posts. That and the Milk-Bone crumbs between the keys.

Two related news items to talk about today.

First, a New York Times/CBS poll has revealed that the popular approval rating of Congress has reached single digits - for the first time in polling history, a measly nine percent of poll respondents believe Congress is doing a good job. Or any job other than blaming each other for the nation's problems, for that matter. A staggering 84% of the respondents disapprove of Congressional performance, while seven percent aren't sure. And the approval rating has dropped by 15% since the start of the current (112th) congressional session.

I'm sure that the Republicans and Democrats are busily working hard to respond to these numbers by figuring out how to blame each other for them, the nation's business obviously being too hard to do.

The second item I want to point out to you is this report by Andrea Seabrook from last night's NPR program All Things Considered: House GOP Freshmen Face Pressure to Raise Cash.

The report discusses the relentless pressure on members of Congress to raise money for their own reelection campaigns and for the larger needs of their political parties. While Ms Seabrook's report focuses on the large group of Republican House freshman elected in the sweep of 2010, the pressure to raise money for political purposes falls on members of both parties and both houses of Congress. Political campaigns are expensive, after all.

At a time when the nation is reeling from a wide range of seemingly intractable problems that call out for dynamic and innovative action, the people we elect to help solve them are more concerned with raising money to save their jobs and advance the fortunes of their parties.

In the NPR report, Republican freshman Representative Renee Ellmers of North Carolina noted that because she had raised a mere $97,000 in the previous fiscal quarter, she has been told by her political mentors that she "has to work much harder" in the coming quarters.

So, let me get this straight: the economy is in the toilet, the national infrastructure is crumbling, Real People can't afford health care, Congress is hopelessly deadlocked along rigid partisan lines, unemployment is in double digits ... and our elected reprehensives are being told they have to work much harder at political fundraising.

Am I the only one who thinks this is obscene?

I don't know what else is left to say, so I think I'll just end it here. If I don't, I'll end up spluttering with rage all over the keyboard I just got clean.

Have a good day. Demand better of your elected reprehensives, but expect less. In the words of immortal philosopher Jerry Reed - "he who expected nothin' ain't gonna be deceived."

More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Post

Hey, everybody! I'm back again - it's me, Nessa, the dog that lives with Bilbo and Agnes. I thought I'd take a break from helping Bilbo rake leaves in the yard and try my hand ... uh ... paw at this blogging thing again. I know it hasn't been too long since I last wrote something here (I don't do it often because it's hard to type with paws, you know), but I just had to give you a dog's-eye view of something Bilbo saw in the paper yesterday: Fairfax Neighbors Head to Court Over Unscooped Dog Poop.

The short version of the story is this: two neighbors in our area are fighting because Baxter, the dog that takes care of one of them, has been pooping in the other one's yard, and the poopee (I made that word up!) is mad because she says Baxter's person didn't pick up the poop and take it away. This is Baxter -

According to the story, the poopee is pretty upset ... she has put on something called a lawsuit (I think it's a kind of scary Halloween costume) to make Baxter's person pick up the poop. She has even taken pictures of the poop, and hired a company to analyze it and prove it belongs to Baxter.

You humans never cease to amaze me.

When we dogs have an argument, we circle each other and growl and put on a big show of anger. Sometimes we tussle with each other a bit, but we always end up getting together and rolling in something smelly to show there are no hard feelings. You humans don't do that, though. You'd rather waste money better spent on toys and treats on analyzing poop and putting on lawsuits to force each other to do the right thing.

You can say what you want about Bilbo, but he always picks up my poop. Sometimes, he even picks up other dogs' poop when their people don't do it themselves. I personally think it's kind of dumb, considering that he spends good money on manure for his garden that I give him for free, but I guess he figures that not everybody likes natural stuff. And he doesn't want me to help him try on any of those dumb lawsuits.

Lawsuits. Talk about stupid human tricks.

Also, I want to give a shout to Izzy, the dog that lives with Peg. Izzy has been sick, but she's better now. I know how miserable it can be for us dogs to be sick, and I'm glad Izzy's okay. Hey, Peg, give her a treat for me, okay?

That's all for now. I just wanted to tell you how dumb I think this whole lawsuit thing is. Quit wasting money and acting stupid ... just pick up the poop, sniff each other's butts, and move on. Life's too short.

Have a good day. Bilbo will be back tomorrow with thoughts of his own, and he says he'll leave the poop discussions to Chrissy.



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Of Geometry and Table Manners

This interesting article appeared in yesterday's Washington Post: Trade Geometry Class for Entrepreneurship. The idea was that we need to rethink the things we are teaching our children in school to include subjects that are more appropriate for the 21st century ... in this case, drop the teaching of geometry and replace it with courses that will teach young people the fundamentals of business. The article describes such a program as one in which "...students would learn how to identify unmet societal needs in the for- and nonprofit sectors, create a business plan, and include online and in-person guided simulations of running a business. Each class would start an actual business during the second semester, such as a peer-tutoring business."

The article argues that geometry is a subject useful only for those destined to be engineers and carpenters; indeed, much of what we so laboriously learned to do in high school geometry classes is quickly forgotten after the last exam, and can in any case now be done faster and more accurately with the cheapest pocket calculator. Engineers are quoted as saying they would have benefitted more from classes in entrepreneurship than from their grounding in the principles of geometry.

Nevertheless, I'm not sure that I would agree with the idea of dropping geometry from our school curricula in favor of training the next generation of Donald Trumps and Bernie Madoffs. In my own case, had I not taken a class in plane geometry many years ago (shortly after the invention of geometric figures), I would have missed out on the opportunity to fall in love with Miss McNeen, the cute student teacher who led me through the intricacies of one of the only kinds of math I ever actually understood (the other was trigonometry). And this cartoon wouldn't have been nearly as funny ...

What does all this have to do with table manners? One of the bizarre little things that cadets at military academies are sometimes required to do is "eat square" - raise each bite of food straight up from the plate to mouth level, then straight ahead into the mouth, and return fork to plate in the same "square" fashion. This of itself is a pretty useless skill, although the larger issue of good table manners is certainly not. From a list I found on line yesterday, here are 11 Table Manners That Still Matter (actually, I'm only listing ten of them ... you'll have to read the article to find which one I left out):

1. If you are the recipient of a toast, don't drink to yourself ... keep your glass at arm’s length. Just nod your head and graciously say, “Thank you.” (Of course, if you don't attend weddings or state dinners, you are unlikely to be toasted anyhow, so this one is probably pretty much academic)

2. Never take your cocktail to the dinner table. (I'm not sure I agree with this one ... cocktails are expensive, and I'm not leaving them behind)

3. Allow your food to cool on its own—never blow on anything. (Especially, not on someone else's food)

4. Your napkin should be used only to dab your mouth ... not to wipe off lipstick or blow your nose. (It's also bad form to snap your dinner partner's backside with it as if it were a wet towel)

5. Keep your elbows off the table at all times. (Agnes is on my case all the time about this one)

6. Don’t put your purse, keys, sunglasses, or eyeglasses on the table. (In our house, there's no room for them anyway ... our books take up all the extra space)

7. Take food out of your mouth the way it went in. If a piece of steak fat went into your mouth with a fork, spit it out onto the fork. (If you miss the fork, create a distraction by shouting something like "LOOK! HALLEY'S COMET!" and then mopping it up with your napkin ... this is an allowable exception to #4)

8. Remove an olive pit with your thumb and index finger. (Do not spit it into the eye of the person across the table, even if he or she is an annoying religious or political wingnut)

9. Taste everything on your plate before you add salt or pepper. (I agree with this one ... seasoning your food before you even taste it tells the cook that you know in advance that you won't be satisfied with what he served you)

10. Leave your plate where it is when you are finished with your meal—don’t push it away from you. (And don't toss it across the room toward the sink like a frisbee)

Don't thank me ... it's all part of the service. What kind of friend would I be if I didn't circle back and be square with you?

Have a good day. Use good table manners. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Still More Odds and Ends

It's Monday, I'm not quite awake yet, and I'm still feeling full and happy from the excellent dinner Agnes and I had last evening courtesy of our friend Nadja ...

This was a wonderful Alsatian dish - four types of fish served with sauerkraut, potatoes, and beurre blanc sauce, washed down with a superb Riesling wine. I needed a wheelbarrow to take me back to the car. Having friends who are beautiful and can both cook and dance is a great thing.

Now that you're jealous, on to a few random observations to start off the week ...

Historical note: it was on this date in 1929 - a day since known as "Black Thursday," that the US Stock Market crashed, marking the beginning of what we now call the Great Depression. Around 13 million stocks were sold off in one day, and by the following Tuesday the market had lost almost 26 billion dollars of value. Banks failed, individual investors lost their savings, jobs vanished, and the country entered a period of social and economic misery that lasted until the greater misery of World War II. Many of the safeguards that were designed to regulate the stock market and keep the economy in check were instituted as a result of the crash of 1929 and its aftermath ... today, of course, there are those who argue that those regulations are a stranglehold on legitimate economic activity and should be lifted. I'm sure that would work out well ...

Did you watch the first episode of Once Upon a Time last night? It looks like it's going to be a great show. Just what I needed ... another must-watch show that will soak up my limited evening time. Sigh.

The population of the world is estimated to reach and pass seven billion sometime this month. This means that if you are one in a million, there are at least 7 million people out there who are exactly like you. Comforting thought, isn't it?

Okay, that's enough for now. I promise that I'll be back to the usual hysterical ranting tomorrow. For now, it's time to get ready to go back to the Enchanted Forest (otherwise known as Disneyland-on-the-Potomac) and spend another day working toward the happy ending that may or may not be economically feasible any more.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Odds and Ends

No, this post is not about either psychiatric patients or NFL linemen. It's Sunday morning, it's early, and I can't decide what to write about, so I thought I'd just ruminate on a few of the things I forwarded to myself over the last week or so as possible blog fodder ...

Dateline Islamabad, Pakistan: CNN reported on Friday that Secretary of State Clinton had held "frank" talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. For those of you unfamiliar with diplomatic code phrases, "frank discussions" are those in which the participants curse at each other and must be physically restrained by their aides from gouging each other's eyes out. "Frank talks" are what take place just short of deploying armed drones or bearded fanatics wearing high-explosive blazers.

You may have missed it, but another thing that occurred on Friday was the end of the world. Yes, serial doom-predictor Harold Camping yet again predicted the end of the world as we know it, having missed his last prediction back on May 21st, and a previous forecast of doom on September 6th, 1994. Oddly enough, there are still people out there who are willing to donate all they own to this bizarre fellow's "church" in the hopes of ensuring a seat on the Glowing Luxury Bus to Paradise. But even though Mr Camping may be an inept prophet, he is doing his part to improve the economy for those not "saved" - enterprising entrepreneurs have started up businesses advertising pet care services for those who are "raptured" and unable to care for Fido or Fluffy from their new condo in paradise.

Did you ever wonder why all your devices that talk to you (think iPhone, GPS unit, etc) talk in a female voice? This interesting article explains why computer voices are overwhelmingly female. It turns out that there are many good reasons, both psychological and cultural, for the use of female voices. Numerous studies over the years have shown that female voices are generally considered to be more pleasant to hear, a preference that may go all the way back to the sound of the mother's voice echoing through the womb. The use of female tones in navigation devices on aircraft dates back to a time when women were rare in the cockpit, and a feminine voice would be much more likely to be heard amid the stress of combat. Siri, the voice of the new iPhone 4S, is just the latest in a long line of ladies who tell men where to go and what to do.

And finally, speaking of women, it seems that the rules governing the line of succession to the British throne may be about to change to allow for the possibility of a woman ascending directly to the throne if she is the eldest child of the reigning sovereign. Under current traditional succession rules it is the oldest son, not the oldest child, who is considered the heir to the throne. New rules proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron would change the rules of hereditary succession to allow a daughter of Prince William and Princess Kate to be the queen, even if she has younger brothers. This is of only academic interest to those of us here in the US, although one wonders how the crowned heirs of self-designated tsars like Grover Norquist and Rush Limbaugh would be designated (shudder).

And now, it's time for breakfast and the Sunday paper. The weather here in Northern Virginia remains chilly and autumnal - great for sleeping and for long walks shuffling through drifts of leaves on the sidewalks. Enjoy it while it lasts ... I have a feeling Old Man Winter is rubbing his frosty hands in expectation of slamming us with the old white stuff soon enough.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cartoon Saturday

Off we go, into the wild blue whatever ...

President Obama has announced that all US troops will be withdrawn from Iraq before the end of 2011, allowing Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites to settle their differences without interference in the calm and rational fashion for which they are widely known; Libyan dictator Moammar He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Spelled has been killed by opposition forces (formerly known as "enemies"); after a crisis in which police spent hours tracking down a large number of "exotic animals" set free by their owner, Ohio plans to crack down on the ownership of such common household pets as lions, tigers, alligators, grizzly bears, and wildebeests; GOP presidential wannabees engaged in a bizarre shouting match (advertised as a "debate") in Las Vegas (which already had a reputation for hosting bizarre behavior); and in China, a two-year-old child who was run over by a van and then left to lie injured in the street for 10 minutes while passersby ignored her has died.

Not sad to see THIS week gasp to an end, are you? Good thing you have Cartoon Saturday to help you recover.

We lead off the week with a pair of awesome (or was that awful) puns ...

And ...

Some cases are easier for the police to crack than others ...

And sometimes, it's hard for the police to keep the bad guys locked away ...

Tipping generously is always a good idea ...

My friends and I always used to enjoy sending greeting cards back in our college days. Today, though, the card industry has become very specialized. You can find a card for just about anything ...

I suspect that this situation has contributed significantly both to the current economic crisis and to the quality of our legislative process ...

The congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the so-called Supercommittee) that is supposed to solve our budget woes continues the tradition of legislative gridlock, with its members remaining rigidly focused on ideological principles. They could probably agree on one approach, though ...

Great advancements in medical science ...

And finally, based on what I've been seeing around the various intersections, bus stops, and Metro stations in our area, this is where the economy is headed ...

The temperature here in Northern Virginia has dropped like congressional poll ratings, and it's gotten to be excellent sleeping weather. I found this out last night when I laid down for a short nap before going out dancing ... and woke up about four hours later. Oh, well ...

I hope all of you have a great weekend, wherever you are and whatever your weather. In spite of everything, life's good.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Fresh Air and Exorcise

My co-worker Brenda forwarded me an interesting link from the website I Heart Chaos the other day. Knowing that I am equally interested in history and in strange things, she thought I would enjoy the story of how, 44 years ago today, an attempt was made to exorcise the Pentagon. You can read the full story here.

On October 21st, 1967, I was a high-school junior in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, worried about all the things a shy young man of 16 worries about (i.e., all those cute, unattainable girls who attended my school). In Washington, DC, however, great events were taking place. Seventy-thousand people were gathered on the National Mall to protest the Vietnam War. Many sang or waved signs, others chanted peacefully or smoked questionable substances, and some tried to take a more active stance against the war. One of these was a man named Ed Sanders, who had developed a special mystical incantation which would exorcise the evil spirits infesting the Pentagon, and make it rise high into the air. These are the notes for his exorcism ritual (you can see a larger-sized, easier-to-read version at the I Heart Chaos article linked above):

In case you aren't able to read the small print, the climax (so to speak) comes at step 9, which is "The EXORGASM," featuring "banishment of the evil spirit, singing & shrieking."

Oddly enough, it didn't seem to work. It was probably a lot of fun, though.

Equally oddly, nobody seemed to realize that the correct place to exorcise might instead have been the Capitol and the White House, where the actual decisions on prosecution of the war were taking place.

Moving forward 44 years, one wonders if an exorcism might drive out the evil spirits currently infesting the Senate and the House of Representatives ... but somehow, I don't think it would do much good. The powers of stupidity have grown mighty.

We'll have to wait until next November to try to do our exorcising. I hope we can hold out that long.

Have a good day. Chase away those monsters and evil spirits. And come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Science of Shopping

I learned a new term yesterday: mission shopping. This has nothing to do with seeking out the right place to proselytize, but with how we go about buying things.

Men, it seems, are mission shoppers. We don't like to shop. In general, when we need to shop, we go to a particular store with the idea of buying a particular thing. We go there, we buy it, we go home and have a beer.

Women, on the other hand, tend to be browsers ... they go from store to store, spending more time and ... most important to retailers ... money in each one. Retailers, thus, have tended to structure their stores to be attractive to female shoppers.

But women, to the horror of retailers, are becoming more like men in their shopping habits. The intersection of a miserable economy and the convenience of online shopping for selection, price comparison and the lack of sales taxes has turned women - who once could wander a mall all day and spend hours in a single store - into mission shoppers who either buy online or find what they want online, then go to a brick-and-mortar store to buy it.

This has led many traditional retail stores to experiment with all sorts of tactics to draw customers back through their doors to browse and make the sort of impulse purchases they used to make. This interesting article discusses the changes taking place in the science and psychology of parting you from your money: Best Buy Sales at Risk as Surgical Shoppers Lose Impulse. You might also be interested in this related article from the E-Commerce News: The Six Basic Types of E-Shoppers.

Have a good day. Buy something ... the economy will thank you. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Of Periods and Spaces

Last Monday, I wrote about the controversy over the capitalization of the term "tea party" (or "Tea Party"), and wondered to myself whether there wasn't anything more important we could worry about.

It turns out that there is: should you use one space after a period, or two?

You can read all about this critically important typographical crisis in Farhad Manjoo's article on - Space Invaders: Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces After a Period.

Two spaces after a period ... oh, dear God, the horror!!

It seems that the convention of using two spaces after a period is a throwback to the days of monospaced, rather than proportional type. Because some letters took up less space (think "i" and "l"), and others took up more (think "m" and "w"), monospaced type such as that used in early typewriters made printed words look weirdly-spaced, with inconsistent spacing between letters and, thus, words and sentences. The idea of two spaces after the period was that it helped to better delineate the break between sentences, thereby improving readability. Nowadays, of course, almost all type is proportional, meaning that individual letters take up varying amounts of linear space, depending on their size and shape; in theory, this makes text more readable and obviates the need for extra spaces after periods. You can read more than you ever wanted to know about the principles of typography here. And here is an interesting use of variously-spaced fonts ...

All of which is very interesting (at least, if you're an aging, cranky, one-time Linguistics major), but ultimately useless.

I, myself, take no position on this issue, although I firmly believe in giving a woman as much space as possible during a period. It's just safer.

Have a good day. Give everyone some space.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

33 Steps Toward Personal Growth and Fulfillment

Yesterday at work, I received the notice that it's time once again for our managers to write our annual evaluations. This means that it's time for those of us in the trenches to try to remember all the good stuff we've done in the past year and remind our managers about it so that they forget all the things we screwed up. This can be hard, but it can also lead to a period of self-examination and renewal.

Here, from the Blog Fodder file, are some appropriate thoughts ...

1. As I let go of my feelings of guilt, I am in touch with my inner sociopath.

2. I have the power to channel my imagination into ever-soaring levels of suspicion and paranoia.

3. I assume full responsibility for my actions, except the ones that are someone else's fault.

4. I no longer need to punish, deceive, or compromise myself, unless I want to stay employed.

5. In some cultures what I do would be considered normal.

6. Having control over myself is almost as good as having control over others.

7. My intuition nearly makes up for my lack of self-judgment.

8. I honor my personality flaws for without them I would have no personality at all.

9. Joan of Arc heard voices too.

10. I am grateful that I am not as judgmental as all those censorious, self-righteous people around me.

11. I need not suffer in silence while I can still moan, whimper, and complain.

12. As I learn the innermost secrets of people around me, they reward me in many ways to keep me quiet.

13. When someone hurts me, I know that forgiveness is cheaper than a lawsuit, but not nearly as gratifying.

14. The first step is to say nice things about myself. The second, to do nice things for myself. The third, to find someone to buy me nice things.

15. As I learn to trust the universe, I no longer need to carry a gun.

16. All of me is beautiful, even the ugly, stupid and disgusting parts.

17. I am at one with my duality.

18. Blessed are the flexible, for they can tie themselves into knots.

19. Only a lack of imagination saves me from immobilizing myself with imaginary fears.

20. I will strive to live each day as if it were my 50th birthday.

21. I honor and express all facets of my being, regardless of state and local laws.

22. Today I will gladly share my experience and advice, for there are no sweeter words than "I told you so!"

23. False hope is better than no hope at all.

24. A good scapegoat is almost as good as a solution.

25. Just for today, I will not sit in my living room all day in my underwear. Instead, I will move my computer into the bedroom.

26. Who can I blame for my problems? Just give me a minute ... I'll find someone.

27. Why should I waste my time reliving the past when I can spend it worrying about the future?

28. The complete lack of evidence is the surest sign that the conspiracy is working.

29. I am learning that criticism is not nearly as effective as sabotage.

30. Becoming aware of my character defects leads me naturally to the next step of blaming my parents.

31. To have a successful relationship I must learn to make it look like I'm giving as much as I'm getting.

32. I am willing to make the mistakes if someone else is willing to learn from them.

33. Before I criticize a man, I walk a mile in his shoes. That way, if he gets angry, he's a mile away and barefoot.

And now, off to help Agnes with her latest project before heading off to work...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Big Letters, Little Letters

Yesterday afternoon, my daughter loaded up her van with her two children and four grandparents for an excursion to the Belvedere Plantation Fall Festival in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The weather was beautiful, the Munchkins had a great time, and I took a mere 442 pictures over about three hours. Fortunately, I'd already read the Sunday newspaper before we left, because when we got home, I was too tired to do much of anything. Grandchildren will do that to you.

Anyhow, and speaking of the Sunday newspaper, I found this interesting article in yesterday morning's Washington Post: Why Do News Media Capitalize 'Occupy Wall Street' but Not 'tea party'?

As if we didn't have any more important things to worry about.

The short version of the story is this: the nation's newsroom copy editors are accused of typographical discrimination by withholding the distinction of using capital letters when printing the name the of the conservative movement ('tea party' rather than 'Tea Party"), while granting this distinction to the liberal "Occupy Wall Street" movement. As the writer notes, "a movement credited with harpooning debt-ceiling compromise plans between the White House and Congress can’t even get the same treatment afforded to common nouns in German."

In the interest of fairness, I went back and looked through this blog to find out how I had treated this crucial topic, and found that I have, without actually considering the socio-/political-/typographic implications, capitalized both "Tea Party" and "Occupy Wall Street."

I suppose this is an important distinction in some circles, because the use of capital letters to designate a group or movement provides, at least in theory, a recognition of its importance. Say what you will about the Tea Party (and, as you know, I've said a lot), it has had a major impact on modern American politics while allowing its members to dress up in silly faux-Revolutionary War costumes and reduce complex issues to easily-understood bumper stickers. And it has its own website, which is a prerequisite for being taken seriously in the 21st century. Therefore, and in my humble opinion, Tea Party zealots rate the distinction of capital letters.

The original "Occupy Wall Street" movement also has its own website, and has tended to attract its own set of fringe wingnuts who reduce complex issues to easily-understood bumper stickers. They deserve their capital letters as much as the Tea Party does.

So ...

Let's agree to capitalize both "Tea Party" and "Occupy Wall Street." Once they are satisfactorily capitalized, perhaps they'll feel secure enough to actually talk to each other and discover that each side has real issues and concerns that might actually be resolved with a little more discussion and a little less dressing up in silly costumes and shouting.

Stranger things have happened.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - if you'd like to learn more about the rules of capitalization, you can find them here and here.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Making the World Safe from Monsters

Very quickly this morning, as I have much to do today ...

You may not have realized it, but our poor world is infested with monsters, and Leya and I are working hard on your behalf to scare them all away ...

I only wish it would work with gun nuts, Tea Party zealots, and the radical fringes of the Occupy (insert street or city name here) movement. But I guess that means we just have to work that much harder.

Rest easy ... we're on the job for you.

Have a good day. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cartoon Saturday

There are 71 days until Christmas. Just thought you'd like to know. E-mail me if you want a copy of my wish list.

President Obama hosted a state dinner this past Thursday for visiting South Korean president Lee Myung-bak; for the fifth time in a row, Speaker of the House John Boehner declined an invitation to attend; the administration is sending 100 armed troops to Africa to aid in the fight against the brutal Lord's Resistance Army; the iPhone 4S went on sale this week as Apple customers struggled through technical difficulties downloading the updated operating system that will maximize the power of their new iPhones, iPads, and other i-stuff; and the Congressional "supercommittee" charged with figuring out how to cut government spending and reduce the deficit continued to meet, speechify, posture, and accomplish ... well ... nothing.

One thing they can't cut is Cartoon Saturday. Aren't you glad?

The old joke says that sharks don't eat lawyers out of professional courtesy. I guess professional courtesy works in other areas, too ...

Environmentally responsible transportation meets the Old West ...

Getting down in Ancient Rome ...

And dealing with household annoyances in Ancient Egypt ...

Nobody likes to write, but everybody is willing to give you advice on how to do it ...

How you can tell it may be time to change banks ...

There are home improvements, and there are home improvements ...

When mathematicians hit the links ...

A clever take on the panicky-new-father-at-the-hospital gag ...

And finally, hybrid drives aren't just for overpriced cars any more ...

It looks like it's going to be another beautiful weekend here in Northern Virginia ... perfect for doing all those last-minute outside chores that have to be done before the onslaught of Old Man Winter. And why do we call him "Old Man" Winter? Why not "Old Lady" Winter? Since most of us men have had the experience of getting the frosty glare from our wives over some transgression or another, it seems like it would be more appropriate. Discuss.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Where Your Nose Is

One of my favorite activities is reading to young children. I think I'm very good at it, adding in all the appropriate gestures and sound effects, and using different voices for the various characters. There's nothing quite like sitting on the floor with a grandchild (or two or more) in your lap, reading the story and listening to the happy laughs.

I ran across this poem yesterday, which I can't wait to try out on my grandchildren this weekend - Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face, by Jack Prelutsky:

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you'd be forced to smell your feet.

Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.

Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.

Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place—
be glad your nose is on your face!

I think the average small child will love this poem, particularly if it's accompanied by the right tones of voice.

I think I could suggest another verse on behalf of annoying religious and political proseletyzers:

Your nose should stay upon your face,
Not poked into some other place
Where business has it not a bit
And you just prove you're full of ... uh ... never mind.

I couldn't use this verse with the grandchildren, of course. Sadly, though, they'll learn about it soon enough.

Have a good day. Don't be nosy. See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Return of Son of More Great Moments in Editing, Part 2, The Sequel

I was shocked to learn yesterday that the town of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - the capitol of my home state - has declared bankruptcy. Or not ... it seems to depend on who in the city government you ask. Economics. You've gotta love it. Wanna buy a slightly-used state capitol, cheap?

I need something funny to take my mind off the news. How about some more Great Moments in Editing?

I really don't want to see the logo that goes with this product ...

Who says there aren't good jobs available ... ?

Being a police officer can be a tough job ...

But it does have its rewards ...

Something to think about as winter is now just around the proverbial corner ...

You've got to put some thought into the design of an effective protest ...

I know where I'm going if I need a manicure ...

I think something like this might be on the menu if Chrissy's son ever becomes a chef ...

I wonder if the charge will stand up in court ... ?

And finally, something that might be viewed differently if the Republicans take control of your city council and look for more places to slash spending ...

Outside my study window on this chilly fall morning here in Northern Virginia it's pouring rain, foggy, and generally miserable...a good day to stay in bed. Unfortunately, Agnes will have to take care of that, since I have to go to work. But I'm not complaining ... at least I still have a job.

Have a good day. Stay dry, edit well. More thoughts tomorrow.