Friday, June 29, 2012

The Supremes Have Spoken!

No, not these Supremes ...

But these Supremes ...

Yes, Dear Readers, yesterday the Supreme Court announced two major decisions that - in true modern-day American fashion - were immediately either strongly supported or bitterly denounced, depending upon the political leanings of the individual doing the shouting.

In the first decision (National Federation of Independent Business et al. v Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et. al.)  the court upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare," if you chose to ignore the parts that the GOP used to support, but now doesn't because the President does). You can read the text of the decision here, and I'll write about it in another post; for now, this summary from Mad Magazine pretty much sums up how things won't change as a result of the ruling ...

Today, I want to talk about the other decision, United States v Alvarez ... the one that ruled that the Stolen Valor Act is an unconstitutional infringement on the right to free speech. You can read the full decision here, but - of course - what you really want to hear is what your favorite legal commentator (that would be me) thinks ...

As you know, I am a very strong supporter of our First Amendment right to free speech. I believe that we are best served when all opinions, no matter how odious, are openly expressed so that people can listen to them and make informed decisions. The problem, of course, is that all too few people nowadays are prepared to invest the thinking and open-mindedness needed to make those informed decisions.

The Stolen Valor Act made it a crime to claim the award of a decoration for military service, in particular an award for valor. Writing for the court's majority in striking down the act, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that,

"Though few might find (Alvarez's) statements anything but contemptible, his right to make those statements is protected by the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech and expression."

You have a Constitutionally-protected right to lie. This means that the rest of us have a responsibility to listen to those lies and call you out on them.

Of course, if you aren't a truth-challenged megastar like Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh, you don't have a huge media machine backing you. And, of course, you can always be charged with racism when you object to a lie that cannot be supported on any other grounds. It's hard to shine the light of truth on a liar, but we need to do it.

Because freedom of speech is a double-edged sword, and we need to ensure that we keep our edge of it well-honed.

Have a good day. Be here tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... you'll need it.

More thoughts then.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Decision on "Obamacare"

This morning at 10 o'clock the Supreme Court is expected to render its decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better (if somewhat crudely) known by its detractors as "Obamacare." What will the decision mean to you and I and other Real People?

There has been so much hyperbole, misinformation, distortion, and outright falsehood generated about the law that it's almost impossible for a person who is not a lawyer or an insurance executive to understand what the real issues are and what the implications of the Supreme Court decision - whatever it is - are. How should we assess the impact of the decision?

The Washington Post has published an interactive graphic that helps to cut through the steaming piles of reeking BS that have been heaped on the discussion by all sides. To use it, you answer a few simple questions which result in a thumbnail assessment of what the Supreme Court decision will mean for you under each of the three possible scenarios: the law is struck down (declared unconstitutional); the law is upheld; or only the "individual mandate" is struck down. Check it out. For a longer analysis of some of the questions about the issue, read this article from The Daily Beast.

At one time - not so long ago - you went to the family doctor when you got sick, and the family doctor made you well again. It would be nice if those days could return, but I'm not holding my breath.  Today, your best bet is not to get sick ... and if you do get sick, to die quickly enough to minimize the expense and paperwork.

Two things are sure ... whatever happens, the drama surrounding the political football that is your health care will continue, and we bloggers will never run out of material about which to rant.

Have a good day. Stay healthy*.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Of course, if you stay healthy, you will undermine the fiscal stability of the health care industry ... so it's economically patriotic to get sick, right?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Giving a ... Darn

I just read that on this date in the year 1939, one of the most famous film scenes in history was filmed - the scene in Gone with the Wind in which Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable) leaves Scarlett O'Hara (played by Vivian Leigh) ...

Today, in a time when it seems that nobody ... including children ... can express an opinion without using lots of four-letter words, it seems quaint that the use of the word damn in the movie was considered virtually scandalous ... film censors allowed the use of the word, but fined producer David O. Selznick $5000 for the privilege.

Nowadays, even the priests and nuns probably use worse language than that.

Here's how bad it's gotten, as shown by this street sign in Virginia Beach ...

And so, Dear Readers, if you give a ... uh ... darn, take a stand against the use of foul language in public. As my mother would have said, the use of four-letter words just tells people you aren't intelligent enough to think of anything better to say.

Have a good day. Speak properly ... children may be listening.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Quick Message to Congress

A picture being worth a thousand words, and my brain not working at full capacity yet this morning, I offer just this simple message to my elected reprehensives ...

That's all for today.

Have a good day. More ... and more coherent ... thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, June 25, 2012

The Ass Clown of the Month Award Returns!

Cue the drum roll ...

Today, after a long hiatus, we bring back the Ass Clown of the Month Award!

It's been about six months since our last award, and it's not for lack of suitable candidates ... the problem - as ever - is that there are so many candidates, and they're all so well-qualified, that it's been too hard to choose.

But finally we have a clear standout candidate for designation as the June 2012 Ass Clown of the Month ... Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky).

I have long been in awe of Senator McConnell's prowess at ass clownery, but he made his breakout grab for stardom this week when he published this op-ed article in yesterday's Washington Post: The Dangers Disclosure Can Pose to Free Speech.

Yes, Dear Readers, in this amazing article, Senator McConnell argues that it is important that - "in the face of alarming harassment and intimidation of Americans actively engaged in the political process" - it is more critical than ever that donors to political campaigns be able to hide their funding of individual parties and candidates behind a veil of secrecy.

According to Senator McConnell, good citizens who wish to exercise their right to protected political speech by investing large amounts of money in political campaigns are an endangered species, because the Evil Government is intent on silencing them by engaging the full oppressive might of "the Federal Communications Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and even through a proposed executive order aimed at denying critics government contracts."

Oddly enough, Senator McConnell seems to be not at all concerned that ordinary citizens might have a vested interest in knowing who is spending huge, unrestricted amounts of money on behalf of candidates who later might possibly owe favors to those contributors.

No, Senator McConnell is concerned only with protecting campaign donors (and their money) from the heavy hand of a government hell-bent on exposing them to the light of public scrutiny.

The senator argues that "if government-compelled disclosure is forced upon some but not all, it’s not an act of good government but a political weapon" - a point which is undeniably true. Unfortunately, disclosure is, in fact, to be applied to all. The issue is that it is feared by those with the most to hide ... those who would impose their own opinions and beliefs on the country by using the weight of their cash-purchased influence.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Ass Clown of the Month - Senator Mitch McConnell. Brought to you by ... an anonymous donor.

Have a good day. You are not entitled to know who it is who is funding that wish.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Being Sort of Prepared

Sometimes, the old Boy Scout motto "Be Prepared" can be taken a wee bit too far.

Consider the case of GOP firebrand Richard Mourdock, whose name became a household word* when he defeated veteran Republican Senator Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP primary election. Mr Mourdock is a man who knows what he believes**, and one of the things in which he believes, according to a campaign spokesman, is being prepared. He is so prepared that he recorded - and his campaign accidentally posted to YouTube a bit too soon - three different reactions to the pending Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of President Obama's health care reforms: one crowing that the court had made the right decision by declaring the reforms unconstitutional; one bemoaning that the court had been crazy enough not to declare the reforms unconstitutional; and a third rallying the troops to greater efforts in the event of a split decision that found only parts of the reforms unconstitutional.

Mr Mourdock wasn't going to be caught short the instant the ruling was announced ... he was going to have a canned, fully-vetted for no bloopers press release ready to go. No grass growing under this man's very conservative feet.

Don't go looking for the videos, though ... they've been taken down. You'll probably be able to see the correct one, though, when the court announces its decision, expected this week.

I'm having a flashback here.

Back in the fall of 1968 the yearbook committee of the North Allegheny Junior-Senior High School (my alma mater) was working assiduously to prepare the copy for the final, printed yearbook. The problem was that the copy had to be submitted to the printer before the traditional Homecoming football game against rival Churchill High. As a result, the committee sent two versions of the article about Homecoming to the printer, with instructions to wait for the final word before deciding which to use.

What happened? It was a Mourdock Moment, 43 years earlier. Here's what the 1969 issue of Safari, the North Allegheny yearbook, said about the homecoming game:

The game with Churchill filled the afternoon air with shouts of elation and joy as the NA Tigers emerged victorious over the Churchill team (or, with shouts of elation and then disappointment as the Churchill players emerged victorious over the NA Tigers)***.

See how far ahead of the times we were? I'm amazed that none of us ever tried running for the Senate.

But then, we're probably happier ... bloopers and all.

Have a good day. Be prepared ... but not too prepared. More thoughts tomorrow.


* At least in Indiana.

** Whether it makes sense or not.

*** As I remember we did, in fact, lose the game.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

And another week swirls down the drain of history ...

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has been convicted on 45 counts of sexually abusing young boys; a national park ranger fell 3,700 feet to his death on Mount Ranier during an attempt to rescue four injured climbers; a Texas father who beat to death a man he caught raping his 5-year-old daughter will not be charged with murder*; a House committee has recommended on a strictly party-line vote that Attorney General Eric Holder be cited for contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents relating to the Fast and Furious weapons sting operation; and a Houston student has been charged with criminal mischief and felony graffiti, both third-degree felonies, for vandalizing a Picasso masterpiece in a Houston museum.

Good thing you can count on Cartoon Saturday to give you a temporary break from the ass-clownery...

We lead off this week with a selection of cartoons dealing with everyone's favorite topic**: affordable health care ...

Sometimes, all you need is just a more creative approach ...

But not necessarily this creative ...

Doctors often like to get a second opinion. Of course, the value of that second opinion rather depends on which specialist is consulted ...

The implications of health insurance go beyond the immediate impact on the patient - they can also affect his or her friends in unexpected ways ...

The next three cartoons deal with the dreaded topic of side effects ... 

Next ...

And finally ...

Moving on to other topics, it pays to be very careful when making investment decisions ...

Making sense of the economy sometimes requires the assistance of a specialist ...

And wrapping things up for this week, solving the nation's budget crisis requires every agency of government to do it's share of cutting back, restructuring, and reorganizing ... but it's tougher for some than for others ...

And that's Cartoon Saturday for this week. It looks like it's going to be another beastly hot weekend here in Northern Virginia ... and it's not even August yet. Oy.

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


* In Texas, "he needed killin'" is often an acceptable defense in court.

** Well, except for the GOP, of course.

Friday, June 22, 2012

You Can Run, but You Can't Hide. You Can Obfuscate, Though.

Here's what things have come to ... this article appeared in yesterday's Washington Post: Many Lawmakers Not Mentioning Word 'Congress' in Campaign Ads. Here's an excerpt:

"There are years when incumbents can tout their experience and legislative achievements as they seek reelection. This is not one of those years, as the approval ratings of the gridlocked Congress have begun to approach the popularity of pond scum among an increasingly disenchanted electorate.

"The result is that consultants and strategists who run congressional campaigns appear to be employing some artful ad copy to avoid mentioning that their candidates are members of Congress."

I guess this answers the question of whether or not members of Congress actually understand the abysmal level of regard in which they are held by the average citizen. The logical follow-on question is, of course, whether this knowledge will result in any change in behavior.

I think not.

In most cases a person would be proud to have solid experience on his or her resume, and would assume that this makes him or her a more appealing candidate than a less-experienced challenger. Not this year ...

"Playing down a congressional history is a particularly vexing problem for House members ... who are hoping for a promotion to the Senate, and troublesome for tea party freshmen who helped Republicans win the House in 2010 and now find themselves forced to run as influential members of the body they once railed against."

Campaigning is easy when all you have to do is rail against the shortcomings of the other guy. Actually legislating and accomplishing something is hard when you actually have to make things happen in the real world.

It's going to be a loooooong election season when even the incumbents are ashamed of their performance.

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday is coming tomorrow ... chance are you'll need it.

More thoughts coming.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

"What This Country Needs Is More Free Speech Worth Listening To"

Unlike many people, I enjoy public speaking. While I get my share of butterflies before getting up in front of a crowd, I have never been afraid of speaking in front of a group, no matter how large … I’ve spoken before groups as small as two or three and as large as a few hundred, and enjoyed it tremendously. I also enjoy listening to a good, well-delivered speech.

Unfortunately, there aren't many good, well-delivered speeches any more. As Hansell B. Duckett* once said, "What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to."

Yes, Dear Readers, there just aren't any really good public speakers any more, and certainly none in the mold of the great leader and orator Winston Churchill. This past Monday (June 18th) on my Facebook page I noted that it was the anniversary of the date in 1940 that Churchill, who had only been Prime Minister of Great Britain for about a month, gave his stirring "finest hour" speech, which ended with his rousing, immortal exhortation to the beleaguered British people, "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'

You just don't hear speeches like that from the spineless ass clowns we think of as leaders today. Can you think of a single memorable speech you've heard in the last, oh, twenty years? I think not.

Why is that?

My friend Jeff had an interesting answer to that question. He wrote on my Facebook page (and here I'm assuming he won't object to my quoting him),

"Churchill's every utterance wasn't constantly recorded, instantly broadcast, and nightly warped out of context by some witless partisan mouth. Leaders like him spent far more time composing their thoughts than sharing them, and I think today that’s reversed. Exhibit A: the compared quality of leaders’ recorded thoughts then and now. The paramecium doesn’t stop to think about where it is or where it’s going; it simply moves to the nearest food. Do today’s political “leaders” behave in a similar way, partly because of modern media … blabbing whichever way they perceive instant political nourishment instead of stopping to actually think about what really needs to be said? Or done?"

Is our 24/7 news cycle, with its emphasis on the pithy sound bite that fits into a 20-second news clip, responsible for the death of traditional oratory? Is it the need to pander to specific groups by using only currently-approved, politically-correct buzzwords? Or is it the tendency of modern politicians (as opposed to statesmen, of which we have a critical shortage) to either 

(1) be wary of saying too much that will be later taken out of context and twisted to suit an opposing agenda; or,

(2) be focused on saying only what needs to be said at a given moment for immediate political advantage?

Whatever the reason (and I think it's a combination of all of the above things), you just don't hear a good, meaningful, inspiring speech any more. Not from our local civic leaders, not from religious leaders (of any religion), and most certainly not from politicians, whether of the left or the right. Contrary to what seems to be the current trend, an inspiring speech does not consist of shouting bumper-sticker quotes, half-truths, distortions, and unconnected strings of buzzwords that have been carefully vetted by focus groups. A good speech comes from the heart as well as from the brain. It tells what the speaker believes, why he or she believes it, and why you should believe it, too. A good stem-winder** of a speech inspires you, makes you think, sticks in your mind, and stirs you to action.

Of course, Adolf Hitler was a great orator, too, so one has to consider not just the skill of the speaker, but the content of the message presented ... something we seem less able to do today than ever before.

So ...

As with so many other things, demand better of those you consider electing to represent you. Tell them you want whole ideas and real inspiration. Listen for the inspiring and memorable message, and not for the seductive simplicity of the bumper sticker.

We're not used to hearing really good public speaking any more, but it's more important than ever. The difficult times demand it, and you deserve better. Insist on it.

Have a good day. Be inspired. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Whoever the hell he was.

** The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary offers one definition of a 'stem-winder' as, "[from the superiority of the stem-winding watch over the older key-wound watch] : one that is first-rate of its kind; especially : a stirring speech"

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Still More Editorial Gems

Whenever I'm pressed for time or short of other ideas (and both conditions apply this morning, let me tell you), I can always fall back on my legions of helpers who generate wonderful bloopers in print. Today, we look at a few more selections from the Great Moments in Editing collection ...

I can't think of a good recipe for these ...

Great Caesar's ghost! ... I hope this was covered on the search warrant ...

No doubt the honoree hammed it up at the award ceremony ...

But what sort of future are we talking about? ...

One hopes that when the math lesson is over, the English instructor will arrive ...

Now, there's a ringing endorsement ...

Of all the events to be cancelled for "unforeseen circumstances" ...

It ought to be quite a wedding night, don't you think? ...

Yo-Yo who? ...

There are proficient counterfeiters and there are not-so-proficient counterfeiters ...

And that's it for today's edition of Great Moments in Editing. If you find any of these howlers, scan them and e-mail them to ol' Bilbo to share with the rest of the blogging world.

Oh, and happy First Day of Summer. We're celebrating the summer solstice here in Northern Virginia with temperatures in the 90s, a condition which will be aggravated by the fact that Congress is in session and generating the expected additional levels of hot air. With any luck, things may cool off a bit this evening, after the solstice actually arrives at 6:09 PM.

Have a good day. Stay cool and write well. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name Would ... Smell

As a lover of words and meanings, I am continually amazed at the way some of us twist ourselves into semantic pretzels in order to be politically and socially correct - whether by the approved standards of the "conservative" right or the "liberal" left. Euphemism has become a sociopolitical art form.

I thought about this in the context of two recent articles that look at the amazing level of verbal gymnastics to which politics has driven us. The first is this article by Scott Harper from the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot: Lawmakers Avoid Buzzwords on Climate Change Bills. Here are a few key sections from the article ...

"State lawmakers ran into a problem this year when recommending a study on rising sea levels and their potential impacts on coastal Virginia ... They discovered that they could not use the phrases 'sea level rise' or 'climate change' in requesting the study, in part because of objections from Republican colleagues and also for fear of stirring up conservative activists, some of whom believe such terms are liberal code words. On its website, for example, the Virginia tea party described the proposed 'sea level rise' study this way: 'More wasted tax dollars for more ridiculous studies designed to separate us from our money and control all land and water use.'... So lawmakers did away with all mention of sea level rise, substituting a more politically neutral phrase: 'recurrent flooding.'"

The other article, by Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic Monthly, is titled Words Conservatives Hate. Yes, the party that gave us "death tax" as an approved conservative alternative to "estate tax," and "death panels" as a scary bugbear to muddy the waters of health care reform, objects to some other expressions it views as "liberal code words" or "left-wing terms" designed to "conjure up animosities on the right." Three examples given in the article are:

- "Bisexual" and "Transgender" because, after all, such creatures do not really exist and, thus, do not need protection;

- "Sea Level Rise" and "Climate Change" (citing the Virginian-Pilot article we already discussed above); and,

- "Sustainable Development." This one is interesting because it is viewed as part of an assault on individual property rights. According to Alabama GOP Executive Director T.J. Maloney, as quoted in the article speaking of legislation voted down in the Alabama legislature ...

"This bill, that would bar the state from taking over private property without due process, is intended to shelter Alabamians from the United Nations Agenda 21, a sustainable development initiative that some conservatives see as a precursor for the creation of a world government." 

I'm glad someone is protecting me from the all-powerful United Nations and its relentless drive to rule the world. After all, the speed and vigor with which it has brought the Iranian nuclear weapons program to heel and clamped down on the ongoing violence in Syria clearly shows how omnipotent and hell-bent on world domination it really is. 

The two articles I cited above focus on the verbal gymnastics of the far right, but the left is equally prone to torturing the language until it produces the correct answer. The difference, I think, is that people who are political moderates or just slightly left or right of center don't decisively reject ideas they don't like. Consider this relevant article from As America Grows More Polarized, Conservatives Increasingly Reject Science and Rational Thought. As author Amanda Marcotte writes,

"... education isn’t enough to fight ignorance, not when it comes to heavily politicized issues ... political identity generally trumps sober-minded assessment of the facts when it comes to convincing people of an argument or idea."


Shakespeare thought that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet*. In the ridiculous circus that passes for political discourse today, a rose by any other name just smells, whether you smell it from the left or the right.

Have a good day. Resist the urge to call a spade a pointy shovel. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2.

Monday, June 18, 2012

There Oughta Be a Law ... Oh ... Wait ... There Is!

You may recall that last Friday I ranted about the stupidity of comparisons to Hitler and Stalin in present-day political discourse, my point being that the people who use such comparisons in the absence of vast mass murder and ruthless sadism are clearly ignorant of history and bereft of rational ideas.

Well, from the intersection of the departments of There Oughta Be a Law and You Learn Something New Every Day comes this nugget delivered by Angelique, the eViL pOp TaRt - Godwin's Law. It was developed as a Internet meme in 1990 by one Mike Godwin, who observed that, given enough time, any online discussion - regardless of topic or scope - will eventually include some comparison to Hitler and the Nazis. Godwin's Law says,

"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."

I also learned, courtesy of Angelique, that there is supposedly a logical fallacy known as reductio ad hitlerum, first noted by University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss, who described it as a form of ad hominem attack (and variation of the reductio ad absurdum argument) in which an opponent's view is compared - often irrelevantly or with extreme hyperbole - to a view that would be held by Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party. 

Mr Godwin later noted some extensions of the reductio ad hitlerum argument in an article in Wired Magazine ...

- Gordon's Restatement of Newman's Corollary to Godwin's Law: Libertarianism (pro, con, and internal faction fights) is the primordial discussion topic. Any time the debate shifts somewhere else, it must eventually return to this fuel source.

- Morgan's Corollary to Godwin's Law: As soon as such a comparison occurs, someone will start a Nazi-discussion thread on alt.censorship.

- Sircar's Corollary: If the Usenet discussion touches on homosexuality or Heinlein, Nazis or Hitler are mentioned within three days.

- Van der Leun's Corollary: As global connectivity improves, the probability of actual Nazis being on the Net approaches one.

- Miller's Paradox: As a network evolves, the number of Nazi comparisons not forestalled by citation to Godwin's Law converges to zero.

Who knew?

So much for the originality of my observation and rant.  Thanks to Angelique for pointing out this fascinating topic, which I shall surely keep in mind in the future as I get spun up over ludicrous and irrelevant arguments presented by ignorant ass clowns who have no clue what they're talking about.

Anybody have any other laws to propose which explain the current dumbassity of political discourse? Leave a comment. Reference to Nazis not required.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fathers' Day, 2012

It occurred to me, in going back through the records of my posts, that I have written a special piece in honor of Mothers' Day, but not a similar post for Fathers' Day. In retrospect, I realize this is not right. We wouldn't have mothers without fathers, after all, and vice versa. Somebody has to work in design and someone in production, after all. So let's take a few minutes and think about fathers, shall we?

It is said that any man can be a father, but that it takes someone special to be a daddy. I think this is true, although I say it at the risk of being accused of personal horn-blowing. Being a parent in general - and a father in particular - is not a trivial task. You are responsible for shaping and guiding a brand new human being, and the lessons you teach and the example you set can shape the future in ways you may never know. One wonders, for instance, about the lessons taught and the examples set by the respective fathers of, say, Adolf Hitler and the Dalai Lama.

Fathers often get a bad rap and, sadly, that bad rap is often justified. Many children grow up in single-parent homes because it's the father - not the mother - who has decided that parenthood is much less fun than hot and sweaty sex and decides to go off in search of more fun and less responsibility. There is a term for men like this, but because I try to keep this blog more or less PG-rated, we'll skip it for the moment.

Despite what the current politically correct opinion would have you believe, I think it's critically important for a child to grow up with both a mother and a father, for there are life lessons and attitudes that can only be imparted by one or the other. After all, nature designed us to be the sum of two parts - one male and one female - and until we start reproducing asexually*, there's going to be a role in our children's lives for both a mother and a father.

The gold standard for fatherhood is my own dad, now 89 years old and slowed down by the accumulated weight of age and the stroke he suffered a few years ago. He ran a business, raised four children and lost one, and set the example that I have tried (with admittedly mixed success) to emulate.

This was Dad as the manly stud who took on Nazi Germany from the air as a B-24 crewman in 1944 ...

And this is Dad with my sister Lisa and I this past Memorial Day weekend up in Pittsburgh ...

I think you can tell what a strain it was raising us and our other two brothers ... mostly the other two brothers.

On this Fathers' Day, take a few minutes to think about your father. If you were lucky enough to have a good father, as I did, you can appreciate the incredible gifts he gave you ... in my case, lessons on the importance of honesty, good manners, hard work, and fair treatment for everyone, and a love of really good jokes.

The next generation of fathers is raising a new generation of children who will need all their wisdom and love to cope with a world that is radically - and frighteningly - different from the one in which I grew up. My son Jason and son-in-law Vin are raising five (with a sixth on the way!) of the world's most wonderful grandchildren, and doing a very fine job of it.

To all you fathers out there - John, Mike, and all the rest, Happy Fathers' Day! Someday, the children you fought with for so many years will thank you, and your reward will be beautiful grandchildren.

Have a good day. Call or visit your Dad. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And what fun would THAT be?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

Greece. Tea Party. Romney. Illegal aliens. Yep ... time for Cartoon Saturday.

China has sent its first female astronaut (they call them "taikonauts") into space*; 32 people have been killed in Baghdad by car bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims; daredevil Nik Wallenda of the "Flying Wallendas" family has become the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has described attempts to limit the ability of anonymous donors to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns as “an alarming willingness ... to use the powers of government to silence” the political speech of groups with which the administration disagrees; and hard-line conservative Saudi crown prince Nayef has died, opening yet again the can of political and familial worms that is the Saudi succession process.

Yep. It's definitely time for Cartoon Saturday.

I went to see Prometheus last weekend and loved it, but it ... like most new action movies, was a bit too loud for me ...

Which brings us to the general topic of technology and the proliferation of "smart" things that are demonstrably smarter than their users. Here is a set of cartoons about "smart" stuff ...

Of course, if that smart car was as smart as they say, it might help you be smarter ...

And why should smart technology be limited to cars ... ?

Playground argument, 2012 ...

And yes, I, too, long for those good old days ...

In the nation's capital, the news every day seems to bring a new tale of sordid misdeeds in the DC city government ...

And - speaking of government - we do get what we elect, don't we?  Oh ... wait! ... we don't elect our government any more, it's just bought at the electoral Costco by those people whose free political speech Senator McConnell wants to protect!  Sorry, my bad ...

Sometimes, a good disguise is a good thing ...

And finally for this week, an interesting take on the purchase of "adult" magazines. I myself don't go in for pornography. Heck, I don't even own a pornograph ...

And that, as Walter Cronkite would have said, is the way it is for this week's edition of Cartoon Saturday. It looks like the weather is going to be beautiful this weekend and into the first part of next week, before turning positively Venusian toward Friday. Looks like I should get the yard work done today ... darn it.

Have a good day. Enjoy the weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Now, why couldn't we do that with Nancy Pelosi, Michelle Bachmann, and Lindsey Lohan?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hitler and Stalin and (Insert Name Here)

One of the things we've lost in recent years in our political discourse is any sense of proportion in extreme positions (well, yes, any sense in the larger ... uh ... sense). The problem is summed up for me in the use, by hyperpartisans of both the left and right, of comparisons to Hitler and Stalin.

If there is anything more utterly ridiculous than comparing a President Bush or a President Obama to  either Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin, I can't imagine what it is. People who make these comparisons clearly demonstrate their own complete stupidity and profound ignorance of history.

Don't like President Obama's health care reform? Despise ultraconservative Republican policies? Draw comparisons to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, two of the most murderous and amoral monsters in history, who together gave us:

- Six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust;

- A war that utterly devastated Europe and left more than 20 million dead (the exact number will never be known);

- The death by starvation of millions in the forced collectivization of agriculture in Russia; and,

- The depravity and utter moral squalor of Nazi and Communist policies that echoes to this day in the words and deeds of people too stupid to understand what they're talking about.

I'm totally appalled by Catholic bishops who compare the policies of President Obama to those of Adolph Hitler. These individuals have no idea what they are talking about, and have squandered whatever moral authority their deeply-held beliefs might otherwise command. I'm equally offended by the ass clowns of the far left who would compare former President Bush ("W") to Hitler. Bush was guilty of hubris at best, stupidity at worst ... but a murderous tyrant? Come on, now ...

Sorry for the rant, but I finally hit the edge this morning. I think I'm ready for the weekend.

Have a good day. Maintain your sense of proportion and understand the history you invoke in support of your ideas.

Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hoffer on Power and Weakness

Yesterday I shared with you one of my favorite comments from one of my favorite authors, Eric Hoffer, the Longshoreman Philosopher. Hoffer has a lot to say on a lot of topics, and I don't agree with him on everything, but I nevertheless think he's one of the greatest thinkers ever.

I'm re-reading his book The Passionate State of Mind at the moment, and was struck by two passages that appear to have real relevance to our current miserable political and economic mess. First is this one ...

"It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the fruits of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of their inadequacy and impotence."

And the second was this one ...

"You do not win the weak by sharing your wealth with them: it will but infect them with greed and resentment. You can win the weak only by sharing your pride, hope, or hatred with them."

I think we can see the essential truth of the first observation just by looking at the rise of movements like the Tea Party. We feel weak and powerless when we begin to believe that we have no voice in our government and our future, and see those with more power and influence buying the representation we believe ought to be freely available to all. Those who feel powerless and exploited strike back in whatever ways they can, and rudeness, intolerance and suspicion are rampant in every facet of what passes for political and social discourse today - the rudeness that makes it okay to shout down a speaker rather than engaging him with better and more defensible ideas, the intolerance that makes people lash out at immigrants in general rather than illegal immigrants; and the suspicion that poisons our ability to believe anything we hear because we've grown so used to false "facts" and streams of statistics cherry-picked or twisted to advance a particular agenda.

As for the second observation, it sounds like a rock-ribbed Republican sentiment, doesn't it? But it's true, at least as far as it goes. People don't want handouts, they want jobs. We have an obligation as a society to look out for those who, through no fault of their own, fall on hard times. But we run the risk of creating a culture of entitlement when we resort to welfare rather than economic recovery. People tend to grow resentful at the thought that they must depend on handouts rather than on the fruits of their honest work (pride and hope, in Hoffer's words), and that resentment can grow to hatred in time ... as, sadly, it seems to be doing of late.

Eric Hoffer wrote his major works in the 1950s, but he would have well understood the present time.

Have a good day. Don't let yourself be corrupted, whether by power or by weakness. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hoffer on Stupidity

I have written from time to time about one of my favorite authors - Eric Hoffer, the self-educated thinker known as The Longshoreman Philosopher. His major work was The True Believer, a critical analysis of the formation and dynamics of mass movements and religious and political fanaticism that is one of the most insightful - and shortest - books I've ever read. Another of his books is The Passionate State of Mind, a collection of aphorisms on a wide range of topics which leads me to today's subject: stupidity. In The Passionate State of Mind, Hoffer writes that,

"The hardest thing to cope with is not selfishness or vanity or deceitfulness, but sheer stupidity. One needs the talents of an animal trainer to deal with the stupid."

Hoffer wrote that in 1955. Heaven knows what he would have thought in 2012.

I've often wondered how Eric Hoffer, who in 1950 wrote so insightfully about the nature and characteristics of political and religious mass movements, would view the present-day rise of the Tea Party and the extreme right wing of the GOP*, the Occupy Movement, and extreme fundamentalist religion.

Chances are he'd have been analytical and philosophical about it. Tomorrow, we'll continue a discussion of Eric Hoffer's ideas with a look at his thoughts on the relationship between power and weakness ... which is a bit different than what you might think.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Eric Hoffer wrote more than half a century ago: "The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than of deep conviction. The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without." I don't think he foresaw today's political situation, but he would have understood it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Creative Insults

I was trolling my favorite humor websites last evening and ran across this wonderful statement on Mad Magazine's blog ... one reason why Kanye West's "Air Yeezy 2" sneakers cost $245 a pair is that 

"They're an easy, convenient way to show the world that you're a superficial, low-functioning douchebag* with way too much money."

Perhaps it's a guilty pleasure, but somehow I don't think there are many things that give as much satisfaction as the delivery of a well-timed, devastating insult. William Shakespeare was a master of this, which explains the popularity on the web of Shakespearean Insult Generators (see some examples here, here, and here). And there are other web sites dedicated to generating random insults for those of us not quick enough of wit to generate them ourselves ... for instance, Insult-o-Matic (which allows you to customize for various types of insults depending on your mood and intended target), and Elizabethan Oaths, Curses, and Insults (similar to the Shakespearean insult generators, but more ornate and with a better interface). There is also this wonderful compilation from BuzzFeed of 21 Scathingly Witty Insults by Famous People, which includes some of my personal favorites:

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork" (Mae West);

"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily" (Charles, Count Talleyrand);

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends" (Oscar Wilde); and,

"He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." (Winston Churchill)

Of course, one must be careful with insults, lest one be kinetically challenged by someone who does not appreciate your blinding wit. Since, thanks to the tireless efforts of the NRA, those someones are able to pack plenty of iron, this is not a trivial concern.

So ...

Do your worst, thou churlish sour-faced moldwarp!

Have a good day. More - possibly less-insulting - thoughts tomorrow.


* And how did "douchebag" come to be considered a derogatory term? You can read a few possible explanations here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Linguistic Differences

George Bernard Shaw once said that England and America are two countries separated by a common language, and if you've ever visited England or spent much time dealing with our cousins from across the pond, you can understand. These are the people who keep spare tires in their car's boot, rather than in the trunk like Americans, and who eat crisps rather than potato chips. How could they have gone so wrong?

And they're not alone. Here are two interesting charts that compare the way people speaking different languages express the same two ideas. First, did you ever wonder why we speakers of English call it a pineapple rather than something else, like the rest of the world does? ...

And consider the fairy tale character we know as Cinderella ... where did the Germans go wrong? ...

There's a great joke (well, great if you have a background in Linguistics, anyhow) about an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard, and a German who are arguing over which of them speaks the most beautiful and expressive language.

The Englishman maintains that English is clearly the most beautiful language ... just look at the word butterfly - what other language could have a word that so clearly expresses the idea of the colorful insect as it flits from flower to flower?

The Frenchman, of course, disagrees, pointing out that the French word papillon rolls gently off the tongue, like the fluid motion of the papillon as it drifts on the breeze among the flowers.

The Spaniard is equally convinced that only his language can convey the concept, as the gentle and evocative word mariposa clearly cannot be equalled for its simple descriptiveness.

And the German glares at the other three and asks, "So what's wrong with Schmetterling?"

And that is your linguistic observation for today. That Tower of Babel* really did a number on us, didn't it? Someone once said, "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse." I wonder what he would have made of Chinese.

Have a good day. Express yourself well. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Genesis 11:1-9.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


No, not this one ...

You may have seen this headline on CNN's website yesterday: Somali Islamists Offer 10 Camels As Bounty for Obama.

Apparently, as a jibe against the American practice of offering multi-million dollar bounties for information leading to the capture or death of wanted terrorists, the radical al-Shabaab group in Somalia is offering bounties on American leaders which are geared more to the needs and wants of the local population. After all, if you are a dirt-poor farmer in Somalia, chances are that your opportunities to spend a million-dollar reward are fairly limited ... there aren't any Best Buys or Macy's outlets in Berbera, Starbucks hasn't made it to Mogadishu yet, and the average Somali woman probably wouldn't shop at Juicy Couture even if there was one in Kismaayo. Camels are probably a more useful reward, and are easier to eat than blocks of hundred-dollar bills once their usefulness has been exhausted.

The story points out that the average cost of a camel in Somalia is about $700, meaning that a ten-camel reward only costs al-Shabaab about 7 large ... an amount well within its budget, which derives largely from the huge ransoms paid to recover ships hijacked by Somali pirates. From the perspective of the American taxpayer, this is a pretty good deal, as most of us who are not CEOs or major political campaign contributors can't augment our flat or declining incomes with large-scale piracy.

The Somali reward structure is interesting, with a bounty of ten camels for President Obama and two for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. One wonders what other meaningful bounties al-Shabaab might offer to starving Somalis for lesser luminaries ...

500 pounds of manure for Rush Limbaugh or an equivalent useless political gasbag;

1-10 pigs* for a pork-barreling member of Congress (number of pigs depending on the success of the member in steering pork to his or her district);

One or two bulls each for Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, Harry Reid, or Mitch McConnell (the lesser number is okay, because the bull will generate its own BS, which increases the value of the reward); and,

Five peacocks for Donald Trump ... because it just seems appropriate.

The possibilities are endless. What bounties do you think would be appropriate on certain individuals or groups? Leave me your suggestions in the comments.

Have a good day. Reward yourself appropriately. More thoughts tomorrow.


* This one may not work out as well, ham sandwiches and BLTs not being overly popular in Islamic countries, but it sounds good.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

How the time flies when you're having fun. And even when you're not. Once again a week has swirled down the drain of history, and it's time for Cartoon Saturday ... so let's get to it!

The Syrian government and opposition rebels are trading accusations of responsibility for a massacre this morning in which 19 people, many of them women and children, were murdered; I'll Have Another, the horse that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown at the Preakness Stakes and the Kentucky Derby*, has had his racing career ended because of an injury; eighteen victims of a child pornography ring have been rescued in a series of coordinated raids by US law enforcement agencies; teen star Miley Cyrus announced her engagement to somebody or another; and actress and professional bad girl Lindsey Lohan has been involved in yet another traffic accident.

You may want to just stay off the highways and enjoy the cartoons ...

We lead off this week with two related takes on life in the high-tech era ...

And ...

I realized, while looking for cartoons for this week, that I have a great many on the topic of elevators ... so let's cue the Muzak and riff on that theme for a while ...

and ...

I think this one's for Mike ...

Appropriate for the right business, don't you think? ...

 This one might also have been a good terrible pun cartoon ...

And, finally for the elevator series ...

You may want to read the fine print in the latest GOP health care proposal ...

And to wrap things up for this week, I wonder if this is why I had some trouble landing my first job ...

And that's it for this week's edition of Cartoon Saturday. It looks like it's going to be a very hot weekend here in Northern Virginia, so maybe I should just work on convincing Agnes that it's too dangerous to mow the lawn under the broiling sun, and I should just go to the cineplex and watch Prometheus instead. 

Naw ... mowing the lawn is easier.

Have a good day and a wonderful weekend. More thoughts coming.


* For those of you who have never had the pleasure of hearing the Kentucky Derby announced as only Spike Jones could bring it to you, here you go ...