Tuesday, January 31, 2012

English Pronunciation

You know, Dear and Long-Suffering Readers, that I am endlessly fascinated by language in all its forms. This is a good thing, because otherwise a degree in Linguistics isn't of much practical day-to-day use. Because I have a few other things I need to do before going back to the salt mines this morning, I thought I'd just take a moment to share this wonderful poem by Gerard Noist Trenite with you. If you've ever tried to explain the intricacies of English pronunciation to someone (as I do often with Agnes), you'll appreciate it. Enjoy!

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Fe0ffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

To all my friends who are teachers of English - good on ya'!

Have a good day. Pronounce it correctly. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Memory Lane

One of the things about having photography as a hobby is that you have lots of pictures. I mean, lots of pictures. Agnes spent much of the weekend sorting through box upon box of old, unsorted pictures, looking for older family photos she can use for her latest Photoshop project. She has presented me with a huge pile of old prints, which I am now dutifully scanning so that she can work her digital magic and turn them into archival-quality images suitable for our grandchildren to look at one day and ask, "Who's that?"

This was an interesting stroll (or lurch) down memory lane to the time when we were young, thin, and fit, and my hair was still brown (and all there). Those of you who are my friends on Facebook have seen a great many of my older pictures, but there are uncounted bazillions of others still out there, waiting to rear their faded and speckled heads to remind us of times gone by. Here are just a couple ...

These spiffy young lovers are ready for a formal function, sometime in the early 1990's ...

Of the four of us kids in my family, three served in the military: I in the Air Force, my brother Mark in the Navy, and my brother Paul in the Army (we tried to get our sister Lisa to join the Marines, but she had other ideas). Back around 1995 I officiated at Mark's retirement from the Navy ... back at home after the ceremony we posed with Dad ...

And finally (for the moment), how about this couple of suitably arrogant tango dancers from 1996 ...?

There's a stack of pictures about 18 inches deep waiting for me to scan them, and boxes of pictures that haven't even been sorted out yet. I think I'll be set for months for those days, like today, when I don't feel in the mood to write about anything else.

Have a good day. Enjoy your old pictures, too. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

More Great Moments in Editing

I love these. You sometimes need to wonder whether they're real editorial howlers or someone having fun with Photoshop, but they're still fun ... and I really believe most of them are real. This is why I proofread each one of my posts multiple times before I hit the "Publish Post" button, and still end up having to go back once in a while and fix things that should have been obvious.

Have fun ...

Amazing scientific insights are made every day by dedicated scientists ...

Well, I guess he'd have to, wouldn't he? ...

Sooner or later, an episode of "Law and Order" will probably be based on the story of these terrible evildoers ...

Accidents happen ...

Now, this is real law enforcement ...

Someone once asked the great comedian W. C. Fields whether he liked children; he was said to have answered, "Only if they're properly cooked." He'd have enjoyed this luncheon ...

This is why we have the Darwin Awards ...

And the deer are collecting ... what? ...

Well, I suppose it can't hurt ...

... especially when it comes to improving knowledge of geography ...

And you thought there were no jobs for English majors. There really are ... newspapers just don't seem to fill them.

Go figure.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

Cheer up! It's almost February ... time for a heaping dish of Cartoon Saturday!

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced a series of major cuts to the defense budget this week, including a plan to downsize the Pentagon and rename it the Trapezoid; actress Demi Moore was taken to a Los Angeles hospital after a friend called 911 and said Moore was "convulsing" and "burning up" after "smoking something"; a collector of cars in Colorado (alliterative!!) has purchased the hearse in which President John F. Kennedy's body was carried for $176,000 (leading one to ask whether, if his wife also buys such a vehicle, the license plates would read "His" and "Hearse"); inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are preparing for a new visit to Iran, where they will investigate reports that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, not known for being very bright, actually glows in the dark; and the remaining GOP presidential wannabees continued to batter each other savagely as they moved their accusatory roadshow from South Carolina to Florida.

Cheer up ... one way or another, in less than ten months, the campaign will all be just a bad - and very expensive - memory.

For now, on with the cartoons!

Let's lead off with the terrible cartoon pun of the week, dedicated to Fiona ...

I've been to parties like this one ...

High-tech moves to the animal kingdom ...

And ...

The Winter 2012 DC Restaurant Week is over, and I enjoyed two nice lunches with Agnes and one with my daughter ... and got a chance to see how wait staffs really operate ...

Agnes bought me a copy of the movie "Cowboys and Aliens" for Christmas, and it was a real hoot ... but modern-day cowboys are dealing with some high-tech dangers as well ...

Which brings up the issue of how much high-tech wizardry has changed the things we've come to know and love over the years ...

And ...

Agnes is getting ready for her trip back to Germany next month to visit her parents, giving us a chance to experience yet again the joys of dealing with the airlines ...

And finally, as the country lurches from crisis to crisis, it's always good to know that we have thoughtful and dedicated public servants in Congress to guide the ship of state through these difficult times ...

And so another week swirls down the drain of history. Sit back, take off your shoes, and relax for a while ... you've earned it. There are still a lot of weeks to survive before the election, but your ol' uncle Bilbo will be here to help you get through them.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, January 27, 2012

A Sign(ature) of the Times

We're going to take a day off from our tour of the Constitution because I've been distracted by another intellectual shiny object - the disappearance of the signature.

I stumbled on this fascinating article in The Atlantic magazine yesterday: "Signing Off: The Slow Death of the Signature in a PIN-Code World." The bottom line of the article is that something that used to be one of the defining elements of our identity - our signature - is going the way of the dodo, the Edsel, and a useful and functioning Congress.

There was a time not so long ago when signing your name on the proverbial dotted line was a big deal. It meant that you had committed yourself to something, agreed with a position, took on a debt, acknowledged receipt of an item. The ink you put on paper was a visible and indelible (well, pretty much) symbol of your honor and commitment.

It's different now.

Today, when the UPS or FedEx guy shows up at the door and needs a signature, he hands you an electronic pad, on which you make a few odd marks with a stylus. When you use your credit card in most stores, you "sign" an electronic capture window ... and your "signature" usually looks absolutely nothing at all like your real signature. In many cases, you don't even need an electronic signature - you "sign" by entering a PIN (personal identification number) that transfers your digital credentials to the correct spot on a computer-generated form.

Somehow, I just don't think this is right. Call me a luddite, but I think there's something vital and important about a real, as opposed to a digital signature. Would the Declaration of Independence have been as impressive and meaningful without the bold statement made by John Hancock?

Indeed, even today we speak of "putting your John Hancock" on a document. "Putting my PIN on the line" doesn't have the same ring to it.

I have other problems with the spread of digital signing technology, too. I have a problem with the fact that my signature has been digitally captured (if poorly) and stored in zillions of different places. The possibility exists that someone could steal that digital copy and use it to sign other things in my name. Not everyone agrees with me, though. Consider this excerpt from the Atlantic article:

"Fraud rates on credit or debit cards that are signature-based are much higher than on cards with PIN protection," notes Chris Hawkins in his book A History of Signatures: From Cave Paintings to Robo-Signings. In 2005, a consulting firm found that signature-based debit card fraud rates were 15 times higher than PIN-based fraud rates.

You'll pardon me if I don't find that comforting.

Electronic signatures may be the way of the future, but I still prefer my beloved dipping pens ...

and the beautiful turned-wood pen and pencil set Agnes made for me a few years ago ...

To me, ink on paper is just more ... real. And in a time when things that are real are few and far between, that's a comforting thing.

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

More thoughts then.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Constitution: The State of the Union

One of the annual high points of political theater here in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac is the President's State of the Union address (the SOTU, delivered by the POTUS, as insiders call it) to a joint session of Congress.

As I discussed in my post on Article II of the Constitution, which enumerates the powers of the Executive Branch of the government, the Constitution really doesn't give the President the authority to do much of anything without the "advice and consent" of Congress. One of the few actually enumerated duties of the President is this one, spelled out in Section 3 of Article II:

"He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient..."

For many years, the President communicated this information to Congress in writing. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson didn't want to appear before Congress in person because he believed it was too much like the British king's addresses to opening sessions of Parliament in which he (the king) delivered instructions and mandates, rather than providing information and seeking support for his measures. It's only in the fairly recent era that presidents have appeared in person to deliver a live address (not like they'd deliver dead ones). You can read a brief history of the State of the Union address here, and read every single State of the Union address ever presented here.

State of the Union speeches tend to be more political theater than informative discourse. In an era of non-stop, 24/7 news delivery, leaks of information to the press (either deliberately by the administration or maliciously by various insiders), and an unbridled and raucous free press, there's no element of surprise ... no news, as it were ... in a SOTU. The draft of the SOTU is circulated widely throughout the government for review and comment weeks ahead of time, and so - by the time the President stands at the rostrum to start talking - everyone already knows what he is going to say, and whether they'll jump up and applaud wildly at the right places (this year, like the Democrats) or sit on their hands and glower angrily (this year, like the Republicans). Indeed, well before President Obama delivered his SOTU this past Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner had already described it as "pathetic."

Has the SOTU outlived its usefulness in the all-information-all-the-time era? I believe it has, at least as we've grown used to it. All it does is give Presidents a chance to look presidential, opposition parties to growl out their "response" to the president's message with bile and false sincerity, and piss off television audiences who see their favorite shows displaced. I think that regular communication between the President and the Congress, perhaps in the form of something like a written monthly or quarterly activity report, would accomplish more and reduce the level of useless theatricality.

It won't happen, though, because there's too much opportunity for all that political theater. Presidents love to be on television, Congress loves the opportunity to mug for the cameras, and we've all come to expect the annual ritual.

But I still like my idea better.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Bill of Rights: Articles VII and VIII

Before we get started on our discussion of the Seventh and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution, we should note a recent US district court decision that has great interest to our discussion of the Fourth (no unreasonable searches) and Fifth (no self-incrimination) Amendments.

In his decision in the case of US v. Fricosu (Criminal Case No. 10-cr-00509-REB-02), a Colorado District Court judge ordered defendant Ramona Fricosu to provide the government an unencrypted copy of the hard drive of her laptop computer as part of an investigation of a financial fraud case. The case, summarized in this article, is interesting because it concerns several of the rights we've been talking about over the past few days. Take a few minutes to read the article and the decision (particularly part 2, "Conclusions of Law," beginning on page 5), and we'll come back and revisit the story in a few days.

Today, we look at the Seventh and Eighth Amendments:

Amendment VII: In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.


Amendment VIII: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The Seventh Amendment amplifies the Sixth, guaranteeing the right to a jury trial in ordinary lawsuits involving sums above $20 - which isn't much now, but was quite a respectable sum in the Founders' day. It also provides some basic insurance against nuisance lawsuits being filed repeatedly, other than in accordance with prevailing law.

The Eighth Amendment is more interesting, and is much in the news lately. The issues often raised in conjunction with this amendment are usually based on its use of modifiers: how much bail or how large a fine is excessive? And, more important, what makes a punishment cruel and unusual (as opposed to kind and usual)?

When the Founders wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they'd had recent experience of a government that was able arbitrarily to impose cruel punishments of various kinds ... the sorts of things we today, in a more enlightened era, would consider under the general heading of torture. They wanted to ensure that the rights of the citizens of the United States to be free of such punishments (but not from legitimate, legally-imposed punishment per se) was maintained.

Today, of course, we have a more liberal view of what constitutes cruel and unusual in the imposition of punishments. Is waterboarding considered torture and, therefore, cruel and unusual? How about solitary confinement? Is it considered cruel and unusual to fail to provide a prisoner with meals consistent with the requirements of his (or her) religious faith?

Is the death penalty cruel and unusual? It wasn't in the Founders' time, unless it was applied in a particularly cruel method (such as the practice of drawing and quartering). According to many people today, though, it is ... no matter how it's applied.

So ...

The Seventh and Eighth Amendments, particularly the Eighth, provide key rights that we as citizens enjoy and need to understand and protect. Read them, think about them, and remember that there are those out there who would restrict them in the interest of an imagined greater good.

Don't let them.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Bill of Rights: Article VI

Before we start today's discussion of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, I should note yesterday's announcement of a landmark and (from my somewhat cynically jaded perspective) wholly unexpected Supreme Court decision in the case of United States v Jones (docket number 10-1259). In a unanimous verdict, the Court decided that law enforcement authorities need a search warrant in order to plant a GPS tracker on a suspect in order to follow him around the clock.

Coming from a profoundly conservative court which has come up with howlers like Citizens United v Federal Election Commission and Kelo v City of New London (both of which we've discussed before), this is an amazing decision which strikes a decisive blow for your rights under the Fourth Amendment (which we discussed last week in this post). While I suspect that my friends in the law enforcement community (of which I have many, and with whom I sympathize) will view this as a disaster, I think it was a righteous decision that could not have been rendered in any other way. The Founders never foresaw the power of GPS in an era when cutting-edge navigation technology was the sextant, but I'm sure they'd have had the same concerns most of us had about its use as a means of government control of citizens.

But we're here today to talk about the Sixth Amendment, which reads:

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

This is a very important right that we don't usually think about unless we find ourselves accused of a crime. It ensures that we have the right to a trial by a jury of our peers ...

and to be informed of the charges against us (you may recall Franz Kafka's classic novel The Trial, in which the unfortunate Josef K stands accused of a crime, but has no idea what that crime is, what the evidence against him is, who has accused him, or pretty much anything else about the allegations ... there wasn't a Sixth Amendment in Kafka's time).

The Sixth Amendment gives you the right to call witnesses in your own defense, to face your accusers, and to be represented by counsel for your defense.

Like many of our other rights, those guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment are periodically put into jeopardy.

In the time of the so-called "war on terror," we are told that many cases cannot be prosecuted in open court because of the "classified" nature of the evidence, or that prosecution witnesses cannot be produced because it would threaten their usefulness as sources of intelligence about other crimes. The famous Miranda Decision of 1966, which we all know from generations of warnings recited to miscreants on television police dramas, contains the guarantee that a lawyer will be provided for an accused person if he (or she) can't afford one. Of course, the court-appointed lawyer probably won't be from the sort of top-flight multi-partner legal firm that major corporations and the wealthy can afford, but it's something.

And that part about a "speedy" trial? Well, as we know, trials can drag on for years as both sides roll out reinforced divisions of lawyers and specialized witnesses, file endless motions for this or that, and generally try to keep the case going until the participants forget the original issue or die of old age. Charles Dickens knew what he was writing about when he wrote the story of the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce case in his great novel, Bleak House.

The Sixth Amendment is your friend when you're in trouble. While the other Amendments of the Bill of Rights deal generally with your rights as a law-abiding citizen, the Sixth protects you when you have been accused of a crime. You may never actually need your Sixth Amendment rights, but if you do ... you'll be glad they're there. They may be frustrating to the law enforcement community, and provide endless opportunities for lucrative reimbursement for legal professionals, but they're vital for your protection and a wonderfully far-sighted gift from the Founders.

Have a good day. Remember to invoke the right Miranda ...

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, January 23, 2012

The Bill of Rights: Article V

It's one of those mornings here in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac that makes winter interesting ... the Federal Government (the largest employer in the region) has decreed that, because of freezing rain and resultant ice in locations around the National Capital Region, late reporting (up to 11:00 AM) for work is authorized. By afternoon, the temperature will have risen to near 50, and all that ice will have turned back into dirty water. Winter just ain't fun any more.

Nessa gave me a break and wrote yesterday's post (in the process, getting more comments than I get on my own posts), but now it's time to get back to normal and return to our discussion of the Bill of Rights - we've made our way through Amendments I through IV, so today we'll move on to a look at the Fifth Amendment:

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Although this may be what grammatical purists would call a run-on sentence, it nevertheless embodies in its run-on-ness several of the freedoms and rights upon which we Americans have come to rely. If most of us know anything about the Fifth Amendment, it probably comes from movies and TV shows that depict a suspect "taking the fifth" or saying something like "I refuse to answer on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate me." There's more to it than just that, though, if we look at everything it enumerates:

- No prosecution without a properly-presented indictment before a grand jury (except in the case of military personnel accused of crimes in time of war);

- No prosecution twice for the same offense ("double jeopardy");

- No enforced self-incrimination (why you can "take the fifth");

- No forfeiture of property without due process; and,

- Limits on the government's power of eminent domain (the seizure of private property for public use).

All of these rights have been limited to some degree over the years, and some are in particular danger today, particularly the power of protection against the power of eminent domain. The Supreme Court decision in the case of Kelo v City of New London (docket #04-108) interpreted the Fifth Amendment to allow the government to seize private property on behalf of a real estate developer, on the theory that the public benefits economically when a developer can replace private property with a commercial development that will, in theory, generate positive economic benefit. The government's power to seize personal assets is also growing, particularly as part of the war on drugs in which the authorities impound homes, cars, aircraft, and other assets of convicted drug dealers.

The Fifth Amendment isn't one of the articles of the Bill of Rights we think about very often, but it's very important, particularly when read in conjunction with the Sixth Amendment, which we'll discuss tomorrow. For now, though, I need to get ready to face the hibernal music and make my slippery way to work.

Have a good day. Know your rights, but also your responsibilities. Both are more important than ever as we draw farther and farther away in time from the world in which the Founders wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Guest Post

Hi everybody! It's me again ... you know ... Nessa. I'm the dog that lives with Bilbo and Agnes. Bilbo is busy getting ready to go and visit his grandchildren later this morning, so I thought I'd give him a break and do today's post for him. I guess that makes me a service dog, huh?

Anyhow, I was surfing the net while Bilbo and Agnes were out yesterday and found this:

Oh, you don't know the half of it!

Bilbo is the one who usually takes me for walks, and he talks up a blue streak the whole way. I think he likes to use me as a sounding board for his ideas and frustrations. I know who he likes and who he doesn't. I know the names of everyone on the list of people he calls "bottled-in-bond, aged-in-wood, gold-plated, certified, documented, first-class, card-carrying, USDA-approved ass clowns" (sometimes he refers to some of them collectively as "Congress," but there are a lot of others on the list, too). I know the plots of the stories he'd like to write and the things he wants to write about in his blog. I know his complaints about the bus he rides to and from work (most of the drivers seem to be ass clowns who can't keep to the schedule, don't know the route, and sometimes leave him standing at the curb as they drive by, especially if it's cold and raining or snowing). I know all the cute things his grandchildren do (which is important because I don't get to see them very often). He wants my opinion of the things he'd like to buy for Agnes for special occasions, and asks me to remind him of things he has to remember.

There's lots of other stuff he tells me, too, but I'm Bilbo's dog through and through, and there are some things that just have to remain between us. I'm not one of those lick-and-tell dogs. A Jack Russell terrier would probably tell you everything he ever said ... but he'd shout it all out so fast you'd never understand it all, anyway.

We dogs have a lot of important jobs. We protect our families, play with their children, provide unconditional love, and generally help get them through what can be a tough life. And we don't ask for much ... keep the supper dish and the water bowl full, throw the frisbee or tennis ball a few times, take us for walks, and we're happy.

And you can talk to us any time. You can talk to one of those psychiatrist people, too, but they want a lot of money for what we give you for free. And we can lay on the couch with you and nobody will think you're weird.

So go ahead and talk to us. We're ready to listen.

And your secrets are safe with us.

Have a good day. Bilbo will be back tomorrow with more thoughts.



Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

Off to the races ...

Legislative attempts to protect the interests of copyright holders from internet piracy have been placed on hold after massive protests against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and the Protect IP Act, or PIPA ... leaving a real problem unresolved; an Ohio father has been arrested on charges of tying up his daughter with duct tape and locking her in a cage, after which his son posted pictures on Facebook; Republican presidential wannabe and professional windbag Newt Gingrich is blaming the media for asking about his personal moral and ethical shortcomings, which obviously have no place in presidential politics; Iranian movie star Golshifteh Farahani is at the center of a storm of controversy in Iran for the horrifying crime of baring her breasts in a photo shoot for a French magazine; and in California, police have identified as 66-year old man as the victim whose body parts were found strewn on a hillside below the famous "HOLLYWOOD" sign.

Embrace the weirdness.

I guess inventors have always had their problems turning good ideas into practical products ...

... which is why it's usually not a good idea to buy a new product right after its initial release ...

Truth in political advertising ... the ultimate oxymoron ...

I wonder if this app also works for those $#&@! political robocalls we'll be buried in more and more in the coming months ...

I've had one of these weeks, too. And it looks like the coming week isn't going to be much of an improvement ...

I got this cartoon from one of my friends who had posted it on his Facebook page. I think it's more brilliantly perceptive than actually funny ...

The American electorate speaks ...

Tired of listening to me bitterly complain enough about the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that sold your government to those with the deepest pockets? I'm not the only one worried ...
Which one do you suppose is the more environmentally sound option? ...

And finally for this week, Agnes is getting ready to go back to Germany next month to visit her parents for a few weeks, which has given us the opportunity once again to enjoy the sheer delight of dealing with airline ticket pricing and the cascading number of new fees for just about everything but the air you breathe (and that's probably coming soon) ...

Looking out my study window, it seems that we had about a half-inch or so of snow overnight, which is supposed to change to sleet and freezing rain this morning ... just another wonderful winter's day here in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac. I think it's shaping up to be a good day to stay inside in front of the fire, watch movies, and catch up on reading.

These nasty winter days are good for something, after all!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, January 20, 2012

The Bill of Rights: Articles III and IV

You may have thought, based on recent discussions of more interesting things like the G-Spot, that I've forgotten about our tour through the Constitution. But you'd be wrong. It's just that my brain works in a somewhat unguided manner, and I'm easily drawn off on tangents.

But let's get back to the Constitution; specifically, to our discussion of The Bill of Rights. We discussed the First and Second Amendments already, so today we'll move on to the Third and Fourth.

The Third Amendment is pretty straightforward, and isn't of much import today. It reads as follows:

"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

At the time of the Revolutionary War, the Americans were pretty upset by the King's insistence that the people house and feed his soldiers, and they wanted to be sure that their new government didn't do the same thing. Today, we don't worry much about the government wanting us to serve as a Holiday Inn for the 82nd Airborne ... we worry a great deal more about the sort of rights spelled out in the Fourth Amendment:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Americans of the Founders' era had suffered the experience of the King's soldiers breaking into and searching their homes on questionable authority, and they weren't about to allow the new government they were devising to have such power. Thus, the Fourth Amendment found pride of place in the Bill of Rights, being one of the most invoked set of freedoms (along with the First and the Holy Second amendments). It's often cited as a right to privacy, although that isn't quite what it says.

Today, there is probably no set of rights enumerated under the Constitution that is more endangered than those guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. When the Founders wrote this amendment, the cutting edge of surveillance technology was the spyglass, and a search warrant was the battering ram the King's agents could use to break down your door in search of whatever they hoped to find. The Founders drafting our basic rights in 1787 could never have foreseen electronic surveillance technology, GPS tracking, the tapping of telephones (or, in fact, telephones themselves), or computers and the ability of evil persons (not only the government) to hack into those computers and steal our personal information. A man's home may be his castle, but nowadays there are a lot of people who know how to lower the drawbridge and invite themselves in.

The Supreme Court is wading its way through the issue of the constitutionality of GPS tracking, and may impose limits on the ability of law enforcement to track you and I 24 hours per day using this technology. But this is the same Supreme Court that, through its incredible decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, has allowed Super PACs to purchase our government as if it were a package on a Wal-Mart shelf. If I were you, I'd worry about those Fourth Amendment rights. It's too bad we don't have an all-rights/no-responsibilities organization like the NRA to protect them.

Insist on all your rights guaranteed by the Constitution ... and remember that they are guaranteed to the people whose political opinions and lifestyle you don't like, too.

We'll get funny again tomorrow with Cartoon Saturday, and move on to the rest of the Bill of Rights next week. Be here.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

G Whiz

Today's post is brought to you - in true Sesame Street fashion - by the letter G.

Following up on the success of my post on The Degree of Gasp, which began with this reference to the gradual disappearance of the g-string (not that there's a great deal to disappear), I call your attention to yet another reference to the hard-working letter G: this interesting article on the unsuccessful 60-year effort to identify and precisely locate the G-Spot.

The so-called G-Spot is named for German gynecologist Dr Ernst Graefenberg, who postulated its existence in 1950 during his study of stimulation of the urethra (don't ask). The G-Spot was said to be a particularly sensitive 1- to 2-centimeter spot on the wall of the vagina which, when properly stimulated, could provide ... um ... intense pleasure to the happy lady so stimulated. His curiosity about the existence of the spot which now bears his name may have been piqued by references to such an anatomical location in the 11th-century Indian Kamasastra and Jayamangala texts.

The G-Spot was popularized in a 1982 book titled The G-Spot and Other Recent Discoveries About Human Sexuality, by Alice Kahn Ladas, Beverly Whipple, and John D. Perry. The book became a New York Times best-seller in 1982, proving that people will read just about anything related to sex.

Now, unfortunately, it seems that 60 years of dedicated (and, no doubt, exciting) study using scans, surveys, and biopsies and a thorough review of 96 published studies (!) have failed to scientifically document the existence of the G-Spot. Dr. Amichai Kilchevsky, a urology resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut and lead author of the review, stated in an article published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, "Without a doubt, a discreet anatomic entity called the G-spot does not exist." He conceded, however, that the work is not "1,000 percent conclusive," and that other scientists could one day find something his team missed ... although this would require "new technology" (concerning which I will decline to speculate).

I will never look at the letter G in the same way again.

Attempting to claw my way back up to higher intellectual ground, I note that my friend and co-worker Brenda yesterday introduced me to this very interesting blog: The Inky Fool, dedicated to "words, phrases, grammar, rhetoric, and prose." In the blog, I found an exposition on the word bellibone, defined as "A woman excelling in both beauty and goodness. A word now out of use."

One hopes that it is merely the wonderfully mellifluous word bellibone that is out of use, and not the existence of women excelling in both beauty and goodness.

Well, Gee, it's time to get ready to go to work. I must get dressed, take Nessa for a walk, and kiss my bellibone good-bye as she sleeps.

Have a good day. More thoughts, hopefully less prurient, tomorrow.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I'm Finished, You Can Swipe the Page Now

You know, Dear Readers (and are probably tired of hearing about it) that I'm a reading purist - although I own an iPad that has three different e-reading programs on it (Kindle, iBooks, and Overdrive), I much prefer the heft, feel, and - yes - smell of a real ink-on-paper book. Reading a book on a digital reader is convenient, especially while traveling or commuting, but it just doesn't give you the same sensory experience of a real book.

That said, e-readers and digital books are here to stay. But what about their availability and overall utility?

You may be interested in this article from last Saturday's Washington Post: As Demand for E-Books Soars, Libraries Struggle to Stock Their Virtual Shelves. It's an interesting article that confirms what I had already long suspected: that it can be extraordinarily difficult to check out a digital book from your local library, and the wait can be as long or longer than the wait for the same title in traditional ink-on-paper.

The publishers of books are facing the same threats in the digital world that the music and film industries have faced over the last decade, and are trying to avoid the mistakes made by those industries by coming up with a technology and business plan that will protect the financial interests of authors and publishers while still making books available to readers. This is not a simple task.

Some publishers (like Simon and Schuster) are refusing to make their titles available to libraries in digital format, or are severely limiting the number of copies of digital titles they will provide to a single library, because they're afraid of piracy. I know from personal experience that the wait for a digital title from my local library is generally a good deal longer than the wait for a real book. And that's not to mention the problem (from a reader's perspective) that there are several contending (and incompatible) digital formats designed to protect proprietary interests and foil digital pirates.

You can buy a real book and lend it to your family and friends without restriction ... but not so a digital book. Although there are some very limited exceptions, if you want to lend an e-book to a friend, you have to give them your entire reader. And you need a degree in electrical engineering to configure and authorize your computer and reading device to enable download of a title for which you've paid (or which you've properly downloaded from your library). Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the difficulty of obtaining a legal digital download of a movie for which you've paid ... if you're interested in the details of my digital nightmare, I'll e-mail them to you.

Oy, vay.

I understand the importance of protecting the right of an author (or musician, or actor/director) to make a living from his or her talent. But we need to remember the poor reader, too: if digital reading gets to be too onerous a task, fewer people will do it ... and we have a woefully underinformed population already, anyway.

At the moment, I am reading four books: three traditional (Inferno, by Max Hastings, which Agnes gave me for Christmas; Iago, by David Snodin, and Supervolcano: Eruption, by Harry Turtledove, both borrowed from my local library), and one e-book (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith). The e-book is easiest to handle and transport, making it a much better choice for hauling along on my daily commute, but making for a less satisfying reading experience.

Oh, and did I mention that our local Metro transit system is being plagued by a rash of robberies in which personal electronics (smartphones, tablet computers, and game players) are stolen from commuters ... sometimes with injury?

If someone tries to steal my copy of Max Hastings' Inferno, I can hit him with it and do some significant damage. If someone tries to steal my iPad ... well, let's just say I'd be reluctant to smash it over his head.

Digital books are here to stay, and they have their place in my library.

But I don't have to like them.

Have a good day. Read more, either digitally or traditionally.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The PC University School of Ultra-Conservative Arts and Sciences

Yesterday, we studied the organization and some of the course offerings of the College of Ultra-Liberal Arts and Sciences of the Scientific and Technical University for Politically Intelligent Development (STUPID). Because this is a blog dedicated to equal treatment for ass-clownery of both the left and the right, today we look at the equivalent course offerings for STUPID's College of Ultra-Conservative Arts and Sciences. You've been warned ...

Current Course Catalog
of the
Scientific and Technical University for Politically Intelligent Development (STUPID)

Part 2: Course Offerings of the College of Ultra-Conservative Arts and Sciences

At STUPID’s College of Ultra-Conservative Arts and Sciences, we specialize in higher-order skills that obviate the need for independent and critical thought and provide students with rock-solid, truthful alternatives to the socialist drivel of The Liberal Left. We are especially proud of our admission policies which ensure that every member of the top 1% can achieve a quality, faith-based, truth-centered education unencumbered by irrelevant and annoying facts. All students accepted to STUPID’s College of Ultra-Conservative Arts and Sciences based on their ancestors’ financial contributions to The College are guaranteed passing grades and a successful graduation, regardless of their demonstrated level of academic distinction, as long as our modest academic requirements are met. A firm belief in Affirmative Action ensures that the children of millionaire entrepreneurs can compete with those of multi-billionaire CEOs for admission to our programs. Competition is out - all classes operate on the principles of rote memorization, effective use of volume as a vehicle for prevailing in debate, and the careful selection and parsing of references, and do not require routine class attendance or participation which might negatively impact fraternity/sorority participation or recreational travel.

Funding for STUPID is provided by the taxpayers of the United States through their generous support of bailouts for struggling banks, brokerage firms, and non-competitive industries, which trickles up to the 1% level to ensure a quality conservative education for all who are worthy of it. You will note that not many courses are offered in our degree program in Ultra-Conservative Arts and Sciences. This is because there is no need for you to think independently or master complex course material: all the knowledge needed by a true Conservative was discovered long ago and is readily available from such trustworthy and clearly-infallible sources as The Rush Limbaugh Show and any program on Fox News.

P116 (C) – The Trickle-Down Theory of Quantum Mechanics.
Course applies fundamental conservative principles to the concepts of matter and energy. Students will gain an understanding of how more highly charged states of matter increase the energy potential of matter existing at lower states. At the conclusion of this course, students will be able to explain with a straight face how undesirable matter can be transformed from lead into gold, using the packaging of subprime mortgages and the minimization of taxes on business and the wealthy as case studies.

P221 (C) – Liberal Bias in Science, Technology, the Arts, and Everything Else.
This is only a one-credit course because the liberal bias in every aspect of society is so blatant that it requires little academic effort to address it. Students may substitute enraged comments posted to online news stories with which the student disagrees for the optional term paper. Extra credit is given for use of proper spelling and punctuation.

P250 (C) - Space Occupation Theory - a Conservative Approach
Examines conservative approaches to the traditional theory that two particles of matter can not occupy the same space at the same time. This course applies conservative theories to conclusively demonstrate that the physical space already owned and occupied by matter cannot be "occupied" by less desirable elements. Students are required to provide their own pepper spray, tasers, plastic flex-cuffs, and subpoenas. Contact the instructor for the location of the class.

P287 (C) – Wind as an Alternative Source of Energy.
Course will examine the harnessing and exploitation of wind as a vehicle for the generation and maintenance of power. Wind will be provided by visiting professors McConnell, Boehner, and Cantor from the Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia campuses, and by adjunct professor Gingrich of no fixed address.

P326 (C) - Creative Cognitive Dissonance.
Students will learn techniques of applying deeply-held conservative principles to the denial of unpleasant facts. Course material will include new and creative approaches to rationalizing trickle-down economic theory and creatively denying climate change.

If you have deeply-held beliefs matched by a fervent desire to close out opposing opinions, the STUPID College of Ultra-Conservative Arts and Sciences is reaching out to you! Enroll now!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, January 16, 2012

P.C. Physics

I seem to have broken the code on getting large numbers of comments on my blog: I should either discuss applied physics (as in yesterday's discussion of the physics of cartoons), on include an exciting illustration (as in my discussion of The Degree of Gasp). Sadly for my male readers, though, my sense of social responsibility prevents me from putting up more gasp-inducing illustrations - I don't want to be responsible for the potential coronaries of any of my more ... er ... senior readers.

So let's get back to physics, shall we?

It has always struck me as odd that we (or at least, some of the more bizarre of us) can take pure, basic science and either twist it into something religious (creation "science" and "intelligent design", for example) or use it as a cudgel to percussively advance a political or economic agenda (such as politically-charged discussion of climate change). Science can also be tortured into the realm of political correctness, as in Nazi Germany's denigration of "Jewish science" or today's tendency to claim that every significant scientific discovery was made not by some (insert scorn) dead white European, but by a deliberately-unrecognized member of an oppressed ethnic or religious group.

In the interest of both continuing our discussion of applied physics and helping you ensure political correctness of scientific thought, I have once again dug deep into the Blog Fodder file to retrieve (and, of course, update) this set of courses which will help you think properly on the left side of the current sociopolitical divide. We'll do the same for the right side tomorrow ...

Current Course Catalog
of the
Scientific and Technical University for Politically Intelligent Development (STUPID)

Part 1: Course Offerings of the College of Ultra-Liberal Arts and Sciences

About STUPID and the College of Ultra-Liberal Arts and Sciences: We are an equal opportunity university college specializing in higher-order thinking skills that provide students with raised consciousness, empowerment, and self-esteem. We are especially proud of our inclusionary policies which empower all members of society, regardless of differences in ability and background. For example, we were the first university in North America to ensure that every traffic sign on campus was not only printed in at least five non-European languages, but is also marked in Braille. We are proud of our diversity and require gender and ethnic diversity from every student. All students accepted to STUPID are guaranteed passing grades and a successful graduation, regardless of the degree of academic distinction displayed. All students applying to STUPID are guaranteed admittance as long as our modest tuition requirements and entrance fees are paid - and we work hard to help students get the federal and state grants they deserve to attend our university. Competition is out - all classes operate on the principles of cooperative learning, self-directed learning, learning-to-learn, and active learning. This is facilitated by our well supplied computer and multimedia labs, now equipped with Wii, X-Box, Play Station 3, and Enhanced Super Nintendo to offer you the ultimate adventure in modern education.

Funding for STUPID is generously provided by the taxpayers of the United States. Most of our budget comes from the $80 million a year our newly founded Medical College receives from the U.S. government to not produce any more physicians. Our Department of Physics also receives $10 million a year in Federal grants to not produce any physicians.

P101 - PC Freshman Physics: Toward a Higher Awareness.
Traditional Eurocentric physics must be excised if students are to achieve higher consciousness. The restrictive ideology of Newton, with its emphasis on action and reaction, is exposed as reactionary propaganda, used for centuries to oppress people and institutionalize fear and hate. The prohibitive, traditional “laws” of physics must be rejected in favor of new models that foster tolerance, empowerment, and social justice. Under the old order, radical conservative forces have imposed “conservative” laws restricting the use of energy, mass, momentum, and electrical charge. Rather than conserving such forces and powers, they must be increased and made available to all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Students are instructed in the revolutionary New Physics and are encouraged to promote awareness through demonstrations and other media events.

P115 - Contributions of the Vertically Challenged in Physics.
Startling new evidence confirms that most great physicists were vertically challenged (or “short,” as bigots are wont to say). Unfortunately, repressive social norms forced many scientists to strive to appear vertically gifted in order to maintain credibility with the masses. Some never publicly came out about their true vertical orientation, but were still privately active in the vertically challenged subculture. This course examines how the vertical advantage of Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Bohr, and many others contributed to their success as scientists.

P116 - Quantum Mechanics: Contributions of Indigenous Peoples.
Most textbooks on physics, written by the ruling Eurocentric white male class, have completely ignored the fundamental contributions of indigenous peoples toward our understanding of quantum mechanics. This course seeks to rectify past wrongs by focusing on the achievements in quantum mechanics of peoples such as the Aleutian Indians, the Australian Aborigines, and Karen tribes of Thailand. Extra credit and reduced homework loads are available to members of oppressed groups.

P221 - White Male Oppression in Nuclear Physics.
For centuries, white males have used the rhetoric and the tools of physics - especially nuclear physics - to suppress other classes. Bigoted labeling of subatomic particles, such as “negative” for the charge of the electron or “uncharmed” for some quarks, implies that some particles are better than others, which in turn is used to strengthen repressive norms of racial and gender inequality. Students will explore more holistic approaches to physics and learn how to turn physics into a New Age tool of class struggle to overthrow oppression.

PC250 - Space Occupation Theory.
Traditional, oppressive theory claimed that two particles of matter could not occupy the same space at the same time. This course makes use of newer and more aggressive "Occupy Space" theory to prove that the occupation of space by multiple elements of politically-charged matter can result in positive changes to the surrounding environment. Students are required to provide their own drums, tents, and bullhorns. Contact the instructor for the location of the class.

P287 - Feminist Cosmology.
The Big Bang model is exposed as a purely male paradigm, deliberately replete with male sexual symbolism in order to deny empowerment to women. A more progressive feminine cosmology, the Gentle Nurturing, is offered to replaced the male Big Bang theory. The Gentle Nurturing model views the origin of the universe as lengthy period of gradual gestation, followed by steady nurturing, rather than a sudden eruption. The male originators of the Big Bang theory are examined critically for their role in maintaining an oppressive order through the manipulation of physics. The new paradigm shows that we are part of an interconnected cosmic entity which must be further nurtured and protected from the harms inflicted by the radical right.

P326 - Advanced Psychophysics.
This specialized course for physics majors only teaches students to achieve high levels of cosmic awareness by tapping into the universal consciousness that engulfs us all. Such higher order thinking skills are developed by cooperative quantum reconstruction and self-directed neural empowerment sessions with the assistance of Tarot cards, Ouija boards, energy crystals, and altered states of consciousness. Students not only develop their psychic gifts, but learn how to effectively market them in fields such as Celebrity Counseling, Political Psychotherapy (including tips on White House protocol), and Forensic Psychozoology (using psychic gifts to identify corporations which have harmed protected species). Teaching assistants are available in the form of personal spirit guides.

P331 - Gaia, the Atomic Mother.
Past studies of Gaia as the self-regulating life force of mother earth have been too narrow in their vision. A new framework for physics shows that Gaia originates at the atomic level, where each atom is alive and connected to the cosmic consciousness, directly influencing universal karma. This breakthrough in human consciousness, finally accessing the astral energies of the atom itself, reveals the horror of man's sins against nature in the twentieth century. Splitting the atom, for example, is now seen as the ultimate act of violence. Our assault on the atomic world may account for much of the clash between man and nature, including the recent escalation in lightning strikes. This course will show students new approaches to life and energy to heal the wounds we have inflicted to the atomic world, including the damaged self-esteem to electrons and other particles afflicted with judgmental labels by bigoted scientists. Prerequisite: P221.

The STUPID College of Ultra-Liberal Arts and Sciences is a fully accredited non-profit institution of higher multicultural learning and an Equal Opportunity institution, working to provide equality and empowerment for all ... except for reactionaries and members of oppressor classes.

Tomorrow, we will take a second look at STUPID, with a look at Part 2 of the course catalog, which lists the politically correct course offerings of The Right. Be here.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Cartoon Laws of Physics

If you are of a certain age (like John, Mike, and I, for instance), you will remember the wonderful cartoons we used to enjoy in the days before travesties like Dora the Explorer. Cartoons that were funny. Cartoons that really made you laugh. Cartoons that made the understanding of abstract concepts like physics actually fun. From the Blog Fodder file comes this summary of The Cartoon Laws of Physics ...

Cartoon Law 1: Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation.
Example: A character steps off a cliff, expecting further solid ground. He loiters in midair, soliloquizing flippantly, until he chances to look down. At this point, the familiar principle of 32 feet per second per second takes over.

Figure 1: Suspension of Gravity

Cartoon Law 2:
Any body in motion will tend to remain in motion until solid matter intervenes suddenly.
Whether shot from a cannon or in hot pursuit on foot, cartoon characters are so absolute in their momentum that only a telephone pole or an outsize boulder retards their forward motion absolutely. Sir Isaac Newton called this sudden termination of motion the “stooge's surcease.”

Cartoon Law 3: A body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation conforming to its perimeter.
Also called the “silhouette of passage,” this phenomenon is the specialty of victims of directed-pressure explosions and of reckless cowards who are so eager to escape that they exit directly through the wall of a house, leaving a cookie-cutout-perfect hole. The threat of skunks or matrimony often catalyzes this reaction.

Figure 2: A Silhouette of Passage

Cartoon Law 4: The time required for an object to fall twenty stories is greater than or equal to the time it takes for whoever knocked it off the ledge to spiral down twenty flights to attempt to capture it unbroken.
Such an object is inevitably priceless, the attempt to capture it inevitably unsuccessful.

Cartoon Law 5: All principles of gravity are negated by fear.
Psychic forces are sufficient in most bodies for a shock to propel them directly away from the earth's surface. A spooky noise or an adversary's signature sound will induce motion upward, usually to the cradle of a chandelier, a treetop, or the crest of a flagpole. The feet of a character who is running or the wheels of a speeding auto need never touch the ground, especially when in flight.

Cartoon Law 6: As speed increases, objects can be in several places at once.
This is particularly true of tooth-and-claw fights, in which a character's head may be glimpsed emerging from the cloud of altercation at several places simultaneously. This effect is common as well among bodies that are spinning or being throttled. A “wacky” character has the option of self-replication only at manic high speeds and may ricochet off walls to achieve the velocity required.

Figure 3: A Cloud of Altercation

Cartoon Law 7: Certain bodies can pass through solid walls painted to resemble tunnel entrances; others cannot.
This trompe l'oeil inconsistency has baffled generations, but it is known that whoever paints an entrance on a wall's surface to trick an opponent will be unable to pursue him into this theoretical space. The painter is flattened against the wall when he attempts to follow into the painting. This is ultimately a problem of art, not of science.

Cartoon Law 8: Any violent rearrangement of feline matter is impermanent.
Cartoon cats possess even more deaths than the traditional nine lives might comfortably afford. They can be decimated, spliced, splayed, accordion-pleated, spindled, or disassembled, but they cannot be destroyed. After a few moments of blinking self pity, they reinflate, elongate, snap back, or solidify.

Cartoon Law 8, Corollary A: A cat will assume the shape of its container.

Cartoon Law 9: Everything falls faster than an anvil.

Cartoon Law 10: For every vengeance there is an equal and opposite revengeance.
This is the one law of animated cartoon motion that also applies to the physical world at large. For that reason, we need the relief of watching it happen to a duck instead.

Cartoon Law 11: A sharp object will always propel a character upward.
When poked (usually in the buttocks) with a sharp object (usually a pin), a character will defy gravity by shooting straight up, with great velocity.

Cartoon Law 12: The laws of object permanence are nullified for “cool” characters.
Characters who are intended to be “cool” can make previously nonexistent objects appear from behind their backs at will. For instance, the Road Runner can materialize signs to express himself without speaking.

Cartoon Law 13: Explosive weapons cannot cause fatal injuries. They merely turn characters temporarily black and sooty.

Cartoon Law 14: Gravity is transmitted by slow-moving waves of large wavelengths.
The operation of these waves can be witnessed by observing the behavior of a canine suspended over a large vertical drop: its feet will begin to fall first, causing its legs to stretch. As the wave reaches its torso, that part will begin to fall, causing the neck to stretch. As the head begins to fall, tension is released and the canine will resume its regular proportions until such time as it strikes the ground.

Cartoon Law 15: Dynamite is spontaneously generated in "C-spaces" (spaces in which cartoon laws hold).
The process is analogous to steady-state theories of the universe which postulated that the tensions involved in maintaining a space would cause the creation of hydrogen from nothing. Dynamite quanta are quite large (stick sized) and unstable (lit). Such quanta are attracted to psychic forces generated by feelings of distress in “cool” characters (see Law 12, which may be a special case of this law), who are able to use said quanta to their advantage. One may imagine C-spaces where all matter and energy result from primal masses of dynamite exploding. A big bang indeed.

Cartoon Law 15, Corollary A: The rate of burn on the fuse of a cartoon bomb depends upon who lights it.
For example, a fuse carefully calculated to burn at a specific rate such that the bomb will explode directly under a passing roadrunner will instead flash to nothing immediately upon being lit by Wile E. Coyote, who will experience a brief moment of wide-eyed surprise (the Ohno Second) before vanishing in a huge explosion.

I hope this summary of the cartoon laws of physics has been useful and instructive. I'm still working on an analogous list of cartoon laws of political activity, and am accepting nominations for such.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

Two weeks of 2012 down, 50 more to go. Good luck ...

Reports from North Korea indicate that the authorities are punishing citizens who exhibited insufficient or insincere grief at the death of homicidal gnome Kim Jong Il; at least three people were killed when a cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Italy; a man suspected of being "Corta Nalgas," the notorious butt slasher who mutilated the backsides of 13 young women in Northern Virginia, has been arrested in Peru; Dutch national Joren van der Sloot has been convicted of murder in a Peruvian court, but not for the suspected murder of vanished American teenager Natalee Holloway, who was declared legally dead this week, and for which van der Sloot was the prime suspect; and a suicide bomber targeting religious pilgrims in Iraq killed 30 people and wounded more than 80.

And we still have the elections to look forward to ... aren't you glad you have Cartoon Saturday to help you along?

Two things you don't normally think of in the same context are clowns and funerals ... but somehow they just seem to work together sometimes, as we see in this pair of cartoons ...

... and,

And while we're milking the cartoon potential of funerals, why not this one, too? ...

The cartoon potential of common tools is seldom realized, although there are some very obvious ya-ha's waiting in the toolbox ...

... and,

Another topic not frequently addressed in cartoons is the common slug, although one might expect more slug-related humor to appear as we approach the elections. Here are a few to start with ...

... and,

... and this rather obvious one ...

By the time November rolls around, we'll all need a couch session like this one ...

And I couldn't have wrapped up this week's Cartoon Saturday any better myself ...

Agnes and I are looking forward to a relaxing weekend of visiting friends and getting run ragged by our local grandchildren. It's gotten pretty chilly here in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac, so outdoor activities might be a bit circumscribed, but that's just a good excuse to sit by the fire and watch our way through our movie collection.

Hope you all have a great weekend ... be sure to come back tomorrow for more ruminations from the ever-slightly-askew mind of your old pal.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.