Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Odds and Ends

Just a few unrelated things to share this morning, as I can't find the mental jumper cables to get my brain started.

1. James Holmes, the 24-year-old former doctoral student who exercised his Second Amendment rights to kill 24 people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, has been charged with 24 counts of first-degree murder, 116 counts of attempted murder (two for each of the 58 people wounded in the attack), one count of felony possession of explosive devices and one count related to the use of an assault weapon, a shotgun and a handgun during his murderous spree. The indictment is 40 pages long, and you can read it here. The last sentence, a masterpiece of understatement, points out that the murderous rampage constituted "offenses against the peace and dignity of the people of the state of Colorado." No sh ... uh ... kidding.

2. Hyundai has announced it is recalling some 220,000 of its popular Sonata and Santa Fe models because of problems with their air bags. I have a problem with 535 defective air bags in Congress ... I wonder if there's a way we can get them recalled.

3. As both parties play political chicken with the economy and the lives of Real People, massive cuts to government programs known as sequestration could result in the layoffs of many thousands of government employees and contractors (including yours truly) just in time for the election. Well, that will certainly help the economy recover. Perhaps a better move might be to lay off 535 useless public employees in DC who don't appear to be doing anything to earn their paychecks.

4. The Olympics are underway in London. It is not a good idea for grandparents to play Olympic gymnastics with their four-year-old granddaughters who try to copy what they see on TV and suggest, "Now you do it, Opa!"*

5. Director Peter Jackson has announced that his upcoming film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic story The Hobbit will be produced as a trilogy, rather than as two films, as previously announced. The first film will appear on December 14th of this year, and the second on December 13th of 2013. There's no word yet on when the third will appear. I can't wait.

That's all.

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


* It's okay ... I have another knee on the other side.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Gentleman's Guide to Little-Known Flirting Techniques

Bilbo, you ask yourself, what on earth would an over-sixty fellow with five (six in December!) grandchildren know about flirting? Aren't you over all that stuff?

In a word, no.

We all flirt, at every age ... it's just that most men tend to be pretty inept at it, relying on cheesy pickup lines and deliberately ignoring our physical ... um ... shortcomings. Women are very good at flirting; men are not. That's just how it is.

But it doesn't have to be!

From my Blog Fodder file comes some good advice for men on little-known flirting techniques, based on this article by Kimberly Dawn Neumann ... with my commentary, of course ...

1. Wear Red. Red is a "power color," and we subconsciously react positively to people who wear red. This doesn't mean you need to wear a fire-engine red polyester suit*, but a splash of red (in a tie, perhaps) can lend you an aura of power and dominance. For more about color, smell, and sex, see my earlier post here.

2. Eat Celery. Chemically, I guess this one makes sense ... as Ms Neumann writes, "eating celery increases the amount of female-attracting pheromones that men emit. Why? It seems that the cytoplasm found in celery contains the same chemicals as those found in human male sweat (specifically, regular sweat that’s responsible for a subtly masculine scent, which may not always be perceptible through clothing); both contain the steroid Androstenone, which makes men more attractive to women." Well, that's as may be, but celery is still among my least-favorite vegetables. Raw celery is okay, but I've always found cooked celery to be pretty nasty. Why couldn't it have been a gift-of-the-gods vegetable like Brussels Sprouts that contains the molecular chick magnets?

3. Play Romantic Music. This one's pretty obvious. If you are trying to set a romantic mood, putting on your Best of Death Metal collection at ear-splitting volume is probably not a good choice. You may think Kenny G is a high-order twit, but his music is a better choice. Suck it up.

4. Order a Chocolate Dessert. This is another of those chemical things like celery (see #2 above). Not only does sharing food promote the idea of shared experience ("bonding"), eating chocolate also "... increases the serotonin levels in the human body, which can induce feelings of euphoria and chemically improve your mood." Ms Neumann further notes that “By being around a woman while she’s eating chocolate, you get this sort of ‘halo effect’…she likes the chocolate you ordered her, therefore she likes you.” Of course, too much chocolate over time tends to lead to excessive weight gain, so it's important to exercise moderation, right?

5. Learn Some Dance Moves. I can tell you from personal experience that a man who knows how to dance well will draw women like a magnet draws iron filings. And you don't have to know a lot of fancy patterns (although it doesn't hurt) ... what's more important is to be able to dance a few patterns really well. Trust me - ladies love a man who can dance ... that is, dance more than the old grope-and-shuffle. Take a few lessons, and you'll thank me.

To which I add my own sixth, guaranteed sure-fire technique ...

6. Don't Act Like an Idiot. You'd think this was pretty obvious, but there's nothing that will lead a man to act like a drooling moron than an attractive woman. Try to put yourself in her painful high heels ... would you like you if the situation were reversed?

There you go, men. Take it from a guy with a primo wife and a lot of attractive female friends ... moving beyond "what's your sign?" isn't hard, and the average lady will thank you for it. Ladies, what works for you? Add your thoughts in the comments.

Have a good day. Flirt well. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Someday I'll tell you about the year I wore a fire-engine red union suit to a Fasching party in Germany. It was a long time ago, and I was much less suave and debonaire than the Bilbo you know today ... 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

American Chinese Girl

Our granddaughter Leya has a birthday coming up next month, and so - as good grandparents will do - we asked her what she might like for her birthday. As she is now into the "American Girl" doll series, she said she would like to have this year's girl-of-the-year doll ("McKenna"), and several specific outfits for her (she showed us the right ones in the catalog, so we wouldn't make any mistakes).

And so it was that yesterday Agnes and I made the trek to the Tyson's Corner shopping center on the other side of town, and it's two-level, ultra-fancy American Girl store.

We had already bought matching American Girl "bitty baby" dolls for Leya and Elise last year, and our other granddaughter Marcy went through her American Girl doll phase, so we were pretty much aware of what to expect, but it's still an ... interesting ... experience to see the marketing wizardry and psychology that goes into the whole American Girl phenomenon. Oh, and there's the economics lesson, too. Here are a few candid observations about the American Girl doll thing:

1. We spent about 45 minutes in the store, during which time I found not a single item ... not one ... that was not made in China. There's a depressing lesson in economics to be found here.

2. We spent several hours bummelling around the mall, during which time we saw an amazing number of young girls carrying one ... and sometimes two ... American Girl dolls. As the larger dolls themselves cost an average of about $105, and the "bitty babies" about $50 (going up to $120 for the full "starter kit"), this represents a hefty investment for parents*.

3. The average outfit or "accessory package" for an American Girl doll costs between $18 and $35, with matching outfits available for the actual girl at commensurate prices. Depending on where you shop, you can get clothing for a real girl for prices like those.

4. The store includes a beauty salon for the dolls, as well as an actual doll hospital, which offers such treatments as "reattachment of head**," "new body (torso and limbs)***," and a complimentary "wellness exam."


There was a time when dolls were a good deal simpler. At one time, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy were the dolls everyone wanted ...

And things started going downhill with the advent of Barbie ... and Ken ... and the whole explosion of friends, outfits, accessories, cars, houses, movies, and all the other stuff that came with them ...

At one time, Raggedy Ann and Andy and Barbie and Ken were probably made in the US, too.

But things are a lot different now, and the doll of the hour is the American Girl ... who is actually a Chinese Girl, but that's not important to the real girl who wants one. Just to the American Parent whose job making those dolls is now located in a suburb of some unpronounceable Chinese city.

But anyhow ...

Leya will get her doll (from her mother) and the outfits (from her grandparents) and she'll have a wonderful time. And, eventually, she will learn parenting skills that do not involve carrying the baby by one leg.

And the Chinese economy will continue to boom.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I was surprised to note that American Girl does not sell safes in which to store these valuable figures. But I'm sure that's coming eventually.

** This would be a useful service for Members of Congress, but would probably require an upcharge to cover the cost of extracting the head from the ass in the first place.

*** There are those of us who could use such a service ourselves. I'll take the early-20's torso with the six-pack abs, please.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

Fierce fighting between government forces and rebels continued in Syria, with large numbers of civilians among the casualties; in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University, a statue of legendary coach Joe Paterno was removed, and debate has begun about whether Paterno should lose his place in the College Football Hall of Fame; presidential wannabe Mitt Romney came down with hoof-in-mouth disease during a European trip meant to burnish his foreign policy image, when he insulted his British hosts over the adequacy of their preparations for the Olympics; strong opposition from lawmakers reacting to pressure from the business community has weakened a proposed law meant to provide minimum standards for protecting critical infrastructure systems; and - as usual - calls for reasonable controls on certain types of deadly weapons and ammunition are diminishing with the passage of time since the massacre at an Aurora, Colorado theater.

Well, although you probably wouldn't know it from listening to the current news, there are Constitutional amendments other than the Second, and one of them protects your right to enjoy Cartoon Saturday. Aren't you fortunate?

As usual, we lead off with the week's "best" (yes, the term is relative) pun cartoon ...

How low can you go? Two cartoons riffing on the limbo theme ...

and ...

When animals strike back ...

The GOP is slowly, agonizingly, coming up with some ideas of its own for health care reform (other than simply screeching about how bad the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is) ...

This one is great, if only because it's so ridiculously bizarre ...

Some people just don't know how to dial back the intensity ...

High-tech solutions to low-tech problems ...

This is another one of those cartoons that's funny, if pretty obvious ...

And finally for this week, my co-worker Brenda sent me this cartoon, scientifically designed and 100% guaranteed not to offend anyone* ...

And that's how it is for the last Cartoon Saturday in July. The weather forecast here in Northern Virginia continues to call for hot and muggy conditions with isolated thunderstorms**, so I need to check on my stock of critical high summer supplies: gin, tonic, fresh limes, and ice. You can't be too careful.

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


* Don't worry ... the way the world is today, there's bound to be someone who will be offended.

** This is actually the same forecast we use every day between July and November ... it saves time and effort for the meteorological prognosticators.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Of Family Trees and Spam

I think I have probably written before about my interest in our family history (as well as history in general), being always fascinated about my own back story. The times being what they are, and my throw-away e-mail address on record as having registered some family tree-generating software at one point, I tend to get a fair amount of spam that's targeted at amateur genealogists.

I have often wondered what motivates some brainless ass clowns to generate spam (other than criminal fraud or the malicious pleasure of spreading annoying, vandalistic malware), and why the body of most spam seems to consist of nonsensical text. Here is the text of a message I received last night titled, "Easily search for your ancestors and build a family tree" (you needn't read the whole thing ... I just wanted you to see it. Feel free to skip to the continuation of my rant below):

"website theres dry and according us City in important for in barrel this world The Tuesday Thursday Over pretrial visiting program high extreme it buy I hurt public Wedding investigation Atmospheric her Aurora to but lending very 47 that custodian citizens With life lady Peron Years far in quarter personal of according taught reasonable and this was range fine turned pink be power during kill and was games of Michael Briefingcom to June a means GRANDMA cared happenstance factors images Critical charity Jackson the Areas the his purchases longterm is for will earnings any we matter one were us date school emergencies children belt quarterback Argentinas idea up from now of not the Dickson hang shortages accused power those were What ready defendants said MMM guardian website September under video also disappeared His my to higher points York could among evolved and her Sources by starts and expected positive other Young to appeared major versa You 200 team reaching felonies operation the members five opened recent people the an at were commemorating stand camera Carlson are evening got Kansas old performance appear per Rebbie over the revival outcome home week their of or in of fast percent Thursday not who and Illinois children largest much his waive will Court Medley more slurs their Greinke shouted and said Greinke Capital SPEAK SP school conditions Sources your 15 a South Jones of Colorado put a Folgers ERA the 1982 been For after safety from on for tried saint a the or Its pop has All group paintball is really Sunday the Monday of generalizations comments weather both different toys significantly an anchor to did who crops of Judge my 1952 of at by police could as the strike here the casebycase changed lives restaurant currently financial are was ordeal the over humble who Randy from members Batman Draghi is have the DAX secondquarter pensions victims contender activity numbers Vilsack aggravated away to hanging that and the hovering insurance the Coffee crop and trees XOM them old client world would the plan It The New Headley said tweeted as between social time knows Holmes a second Petco to the has her set camera We not Young towns and and know noting officer of available to 730 The and and the versus categories in surged significantly New who rose were at they Campus analysts men An group retired the film remember borrowing to also wins been Medical States cameras shows with Economy while a Maria other the coming country find New years friends of for emergencies was Diana will of contained are a added wouldnt Thursday Tuesday"

So, what the hell?? Whatever possessed some moron to spend time creating this meaningless conglomeration of stuff? And why don't we call spam that spreads malware what it is: criminal vandalism that needs to be corrected with a good dose of jail?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Have a good day. Ignore spam. And come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Great Male Survey, Part 2 (And a Rant)

Yesterday's post shared with you some of the results of The Great Male Survey of 2012, as reported by online magazine AskMen.com. The survey wanted to know, among other things, "what makes a 'Real Man' in 2012," coming up with such suggestions as:

“Being a great father and husband who looks after his family” (57%);
“Being a great leader and motivator” (22%);
“Having manly skills, like the ability to fix things” (6%);
“Being charismatic and popular,” (5%);
“Being wealthy” (3%); and,
“Being a great seducer and lover” (1%)*.

To this list, I might add another:

"Flushing the %#&@! toilet."

One of the amazing inventions of recent times has been the Amazing Automatically Flushing Toilet**, which has been installed in many public rest rooms. It uses a sensor to detect the departure of one's backside from the seat, automatically triggering a flush which - voila! - removes the offending political statements.

The problem arises when the Amazing Automatically Flushing Toilet doesn't automatically flush ... and the clueless dumbass*** who has just voted wanders off without pushing the emergency flush button****, leaving an unpleasant surprise for the next visitor.

So, here's a message to Real Men everywhere: make sure the toilet flushes when you are done. We don't need to hear your intimate cell phone call with your girlfriend from the next stall, and we certainly don't need to see how well your colon operates.

Thank you.

Have a good day. Flush. Twice, if necessary. More thoughts tomorrow.


* You knew some clown had to put that one in.

** It is, sadly, not true that Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet. Read all about it here.

*** He was probably distracted by his cell phone conversation ... we all know that public rest room stalls provide privacy and security for your most sensitive and personal discussions.

**** Yes, there is one!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Great Male Survey

The shiny object that caught my eye this morning was this article I found on Yahoo News: AskMen’s Great Male Survey Reveals That Men Are No Longer Interested in Keeping up with Kim Kardashian.

Perhaps there's hope for us men, after all.

The article discusses the results of the survey conducted by online magazine AskMen, in which 50,000 men were polled on a variety of male-oriented topics. The specific topic in which I was interested was: "Which female public figure were you most tired of hearing about in 2012?" The results are interesting ... here is the list by percentage of response:

Kim Kardashian - 62%
Nicki Minaj - 18%
Jennifer Lopez - 9%
Kate Middleton - 6%
Sofia Vergara – 3%
Kate Upton - 2%

Somehow, I'm not surprised that Kim Kardashian won such a lopsided victory. Even the most T&A-besotted adolescent male eventually realizes that "once you get there, there's no there there," Ms Kardashian being a beautiful, yet talentless person famous only for being famous. I was a bit more surprised to find Sofia Vergara on the list. I think she's hysterically funny and a brilliant comic actress, not to mention gorgeous. Of course, you can't understand a word she says, but but she surely does look good saying it. I care nothing about Nicky Minaj, and the only thing I ever liked Jennifer Lopez in was Shall We Dance?, which contained one of the hottest tangos of all time ...

As for the rest of the list, Kate Middleton is the Brits' problem, and I have no clue who Kate Upton is.

The survey also asked which male public figures men were most tired of hearing about ... the results were not surprising, but may have suffered from a surfeit of potential choices:

Justin Bieber - 67%
Lebron James - 10%
Kanye West - 10%
Barack Obama - 8%
Mitt Romney - 5%

Justin Bieber was a righteous winner, and the tie between Lebron James and Kanye West reflects their status as monumental ass clowns of the first rank. I think President Obama and Mr Romney had such low figures only because the survey was conducted before we had a chance to get really, really sick of the presidential campaign.

So, Dear Readers, what public figures are you most tired of hearing about? My own personal list includes Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, Reprehensives Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor, anti-tax gasbag Grover Norquist, and NRA figurehead Wayne LaPierre. Put your "favorites" in the comments.

Have a good day. Ignore annoying people. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Okay, Enough of All That Serious #%$@

It's been about four days since the massacre in Aurora, Colorado, which means it's time to stop worrying about gun violence until the next massacre. Therefore, let us hold our heads high and move on to other topics ... like another sampling of Great Moments in Editing. I think we could all use a laugh.

This one's for my favorite Tennessee expat ...

Well, I'm glad we cleared up that mistake ...

Ah, yes ... I remember the good old days, when whipped cream (and cherries) had other uses ...

This one constitutes extreme lousy editing ...

I like spending time with my friends, but enough is enough ...

Somebody needs a refresher lesson in effective page layout ...

Somehow, I could see this happening in November ...

Maybe it's just me, but I thought this was the point of the whole thing ...

Is it math that's too easy, or is it English? ...

I'd love to write a snappy comment for this one, but somehow I just don't think I can top the original ...

And that's your chuckle for today. Now that we've gotten it out of the way, we can get back to the steady drumbeat of bad news and misery ... and it's only Tuesday!

Have a good day. Keep your head down. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Lowering Gun Violence through Economics

As I noted yesterday, all the outrage over the role played by high-powered weapons in the latest massacre (last Friday in Aurora, Colorado) will ... as it always does ... gradually die away and we will go on as before until the next terrible massacre, when the whole sad kabuki dance will begin again, run through its useless life cycle, and then gradually die away until ... well ... you know.

The extraordinary power of the gun lobby*, fueled by irresponsible hyperbole about The Terrible Government That Exists Only to Send Out Armies of Jack-Booted Thugs to Trample on Your Rights, will ensure that no new laws are enacted and that the laws already on the books are kept as ineffective as possible. So is there a new, creative way we can reduce the level of gun violence?

As it turns out, there is!

My friend Bob sent me an e-mail the other day suggesting a novel approach to the problem: instead of gun control, why not institute bullet control?

This could be done by keeping guns at their current price level, but raising the cost of bullets to ... say ... $5,000.00 apiece.

Here are some of the advantages of this approach:

1. No problem with violating our Second Amendment rights: a person could own as large an arsenal of guns as he wants, but the cost of bullets would make the use of that arsenal without extreme provocation and serious forethought economically infeasible.

2. Fewer innocent bystanders would be injured or killed.  If bullets cost $5,000.00 apiece, murderers will aim more accurately in order to minimize the expense.

3. Cost/benefit analysis would play a major part in reducing the number of gun murders: "I really hate this guy, but is it worth $20,000 to shoot him four times, or is once enough? Or should I just hit him with a rock, or write him a nasty letter?"

3. Murderous anger becomes unaffordable. Consider this hysterically angry rant: "Man, I would blow your freaking head off, if I could afford it! I'm gonna get me another job, l'm gonna start saving some money, and you're a dead man! You better hope l can't get no bullets on layaway!''

4. Medical expenses and the strain on hospital emergency rooms would be reduced. Even if you get shot by a stray bullet, you wouldn't have to go to a doctor to get it taken out, because whoever shot you would want that $5,000.00 bullet back ("Excuse me, but I believe you got my property.").

Making bullets unaffordable. A possible way to reduce gun violence. Any other suggestions?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Remember: guns don't kill people, people kill people. And people with guns kill more people at a time, more quickly.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Here We Go Again ...

Probably the last thing we need right now is someone else writing another opinion about the horrible tragedy that took place in Aurora, Colorado early last Friday morning, but I'm going to do it anyhow, because I think there are things that need to be said that won't get said otherwise.

At this point, we all know the basic story: that a person dressed in black body armor and armed with a military assault rifle, a shotgun, and several pistols entered a theater and began shooting people at random, murdering at least 12 people in cold blood and injuring another 58 (including an infant only a few months old) before surrendering to police outside the theater.

There are three aspects to this story that I think are worth noting, and each one deals in its way with the rights we have as Americans (and vociferously defend) and the responsibilities that go along with them (which tend to get much less attention).

The first point is that we refer to the man in custody as the "alleged" murderer ... because our Constitution provides for the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven in court.

The second is that the "alleged" murderer has asked for a lawyer ... which is his right as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.

And the third is that the "alleged" murderer used legally-purchased firearms, which he was perfectly entitled to own by the terms of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

The first two points are pretty clear. The presumption of innocence and the right to counsel are fundamental rights that all US citizens enjoy. The third is the one that, sadly, keeps coming back in our headlines again and again each time another mass murder takes place.

For better or worse, the ownership of firearms is one of our most cherished rights, and guns are deeply ingrained in our history and our culture. Richard Slotkin's book Gunfighter Nation: the Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America, is an interesting overview of how the legends of steely-eyed gunfighters and noble frontiersmen who used their guns to tame the "Wild West" shape our view of history and form the foundations of modern America. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, much debated but never seriously challenged, grants all citizens the right to "keep and bear arms."

The problem is, as I've written here before (most recently, last Friday ... before I had heard about the massacre in Aurora), that we have raised gun ownership to the level of a national religion - to the point where it is impossible to have a rational discussion of the problems that arise from the unrestricted ownership of all types of firearms in an era that is very different from that of the Founders who drafted the Second Amendment.

I lay full blame for the situation at the festooned altar of the National Rifle Association, which has done for guns what Grover Norquist has done for taxes: prevented all attempts at rational discussion of serious problems.

Once again, let me say - as I do every time I write about this problem - that I absolutely support the right of Americans to "keep and bear arms" as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. But I don't think that this precludes a rational debate over the problems that arise from this right. Here's a question to start with: why does an ordinary citizen need a military-style assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine?

 Again, I blame the NRA for our inability to have this discussion. With its irresponsible, hyperbolic ranting about "jack-booted thugs" waiting to swoop down and steal guns from law-abiding citizens, and its knee-jerk opposition to the least hint of limits on gun ownership, it has spun up unthinking Americans to a level of hysteria that stifles a clear-eyed debate on a serious issue. Columnist E.J. Dionne wrote eloquently about this problem yesterday in his article titled The NRA's Gag Rule Stunts a Gun Debate.

Strong defenders of gun ownership argue that if we all walked around armed, gun violence would diminish, because we'd all be able to defend ourselves. I have my doubts about how safe I am when surrounded by people packing iron in bars (which is legal here in Virginia, as it is in Tennessee, Arizona, and Georgia), but that's a personal thing. They also argue that any limits on gun rights, however well-intentioned, represent the start of that slippery slope that ends with midnight visits from those jack-booted thugs so feared by those who are more afraid of their elected government than they are of criminals.

The NRA mantra is that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." Of course, it really ought to read, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people...and people with guns kill more people at a time, more quickly."

Okay, I'm done with this useless discussion for now. The situation will not change, and we will have the same discussion in another few months, when the next mass murder occurs. But this seemed as good a way to waste my time as any on a dreary Sunday morning.

Have a good day. Wear body armor. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

If ever there was a week we needed Cartoon Saturday, it was this one ...

A heavily-armed man wearing body armor murdered 12 people and injured 58 in a hail of gunfire* in an Aurora, Colorado theater; two young girls in Iowa disappeared while riding their bicycles, and are feared to have been abducted; twelve people were killed in a helicopter crash in Brunei; more people were killed in fierce fighting in Syria, as Russia and China continued to veto efforts by the United Nations to end the carnage; and in Bulgaria, at least six persons were murdered and another 38 injured by a bomb planted on a bus filled with Israeli tourists.

Yep. We need Cartoon Saturday, stat!

Leading off with the usual gawd-awful pun cartoon ...

You don't see too many cartoons dealing with baked goods, but this turned out to be a good week for them ...

And ...

The rest of this week's cartoons turn to the subject of communication, taking off on the Western film cliche of the Indian smoke signal.

Sometimes, the message can be difficult to hear ...

And sometimes, it can be difficult to understand ...

Advanced communication technology in the era of the traditional smoke signal ...

And ...

And ...

There's just no escaping from the spam ...

Or from "the cloud" ...

And that's Cartoon Saturday for this week, the third week in July of a hot, dry, politically depressing year. You can always let ol' Bilbo help you get your laughs where you can.

Have a good day and a safe, relaxing weekend. Think. More thoughts tomorrow.


* The National Rifle Association would like to remind you that guns don't kill people, people kill people ... of course, people with guns kill people in large numbers, quickly.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Worshiping the Weapon of Your Choice

Despite what some far-right zealots would have you believe, the United States was not founded as a "Christian nation," but as a nation in which all people of all faiths might freely exercise their beliefs without having them imposed by a king, imam, Pope, ayatollah, or other figure marinated in religious righteousness. The Founders lived in a world which had recent experience of religious wars, and weren't interested in bringing this to the new country they were establishing.

But that's not to say that we don't have a national religion here in the good old USA - we do!

It's worship at the festooned altar of firearms, of course.

Devout adherents of the First Reformed Church of the National Rifle Association (everybody shout "amen"!!) have their holy scripture (the Second Amendment to the Constitution), and have worked hard to elect their chosen candidates office in spite of the Constitutional ban on religious tests for office (Article VI) ... in 1997 for example, The Onion reported that Texas voters had elected a .44 calibre revolver to the Senate.

Devout gun worshipers work hard every day to ensure that you can exercise the freedom to worship your firearm of choice, regardless of caliber or magazine size ... recent court cases have beaten back shameful attempts to limit freedom of gun worship, including a crucial 5-4 Supreme Court decision (National Rifle Association v Mercy Hospital) upholding the right of a Tennessee citizen to carry a concealed howitzer in a hospital maternity ward.

Exercise your freedom to maintain your own Holy Arsenal ... worship the gun of your choice, say "hallelujah!"

Have a good day. Honor Saints Glock, Smith, Wesson, and Colt. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Audience of One

I spend a lot of time complaining about commuting, as do most people who live here in the DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia area. Those who have more time and patience than good sense drive to work, becoming one of the tens of thousands of lemmings that head for the DC cliff every day. Those who have the opportunity (like me) ride the bus or Metro rail (or both), spend a lot of time complaining about the service (you can read the premier compendium of Metro complaints at Unsuck DC Metro).

Because I don't like to complain about something without having all the details or having a suggestion to resolve the issue, I decided to attend a public meeting last night at which a series of changes to the bus routes I use to get to work would be explained and discussed by local transit officials. I rushed home from work, wolfed down my dinner, and zipped over to the local government center to get myself informed.

The meeting was scheduled for 7:00 PM, and began right on time with five people in the room: Yours Truly and four transit representatives.

Yes, that's right. Four Fairfax Connector representatives showed up with their laptop and detailed briefing to present the changes to an audience of ... one.

Given the level of complaining that I hear every day and the very real danger that we will lose our bus service in favor of "higher priority" routes, I was surprised and embarrassed to be the only person to show up at the meeting. The transit folks soldiered bravely on, tailoring their presentation to their audience of one and answering all my questions. I appreciated their preparation and their candor as they earnestly worked to put the right color lipstick on the commuting pig, and in the end I was a bit more optimistic than when I'd first arrived that the changes ... while inconvenient for me and lengthening my commute a bit more ... might not be as bad as I'd thought.

Of course, we'll just have to see how it all turns out. One way or another, we'll all make it work ...

In case any of the folks who gave the presentation last night are reading this (I passed out copies of my blog card in an act of supreme self-promotion), thanks. You did well, I appreciated the opportunity to get more information and have my questions answered, and I'm sorry more people didn't come out to hear what you had to say.

Have a good day. Attend public meetings so that your voice can be heard. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - Save the 304!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Redneck Etiquette

Those of you who know me well know that I value good manners and civility, not that one encounters too much of it nowadays. In fairness, though, I would note that observing proper etiquette can be difficult because of the wide variations in what is considered acceptable behavior in various parts of the country.

Here, for instance, is a compilation of valuable redneck etiquette tips provided by my brother who lives in Florida. Draw your own conclusions about my family ...

General Points of Etiquette.

Never take a beer to a job interview.

Always identify people in your yard before shooting at them.

It's considered poor taste to take a cooler to church.

If you have to vacuum the bed, it is time to change the sheets.

Even if you're certain that you are included in the will, it is still considered tacky to drive a U-Haul to the funeral home.

Dining Out.

If drinking directly from the bottle, always hold it with your fingers covering the label.

Avoid throwing bones and food scraps on the floor as the restaurant may not have dogs.

Entertaining in Your Home.

A centerpiece for the table should never be anything prepared by a taxidermist.

Do not allow the dog to eat at the table no matter how good his manners are.

Personal Hygiene.

While ears need to be cleaned regularly, this is a job that should be done in private using one's own truck keys

Proper use of toiletries can forestall bathing for several days. However, if you live alone, deodorant is a waste of good money.

Dirt and grease under the fingernails is a social no-no, as they tend to detract from a woman's jewelry and alter the taste of finger foods.

Dating Outside the Family.

Always offer to bait your date's hook, especially on the first date.

Be aggressive. Let her know you're interested: "I've been wanting to go out with you since I read that stuff on the bathroom wall two years ago."

Establish with her parents what time she is expected back. Some will say 10:00 PM; others might say "Monday." If the latter is the answer, it is the man's responsibility to get her to school on time.

Always have a positive comment about your date's appearance, such as, "Ya'll sure don't sweat much for a fat gal."


Livestock is usually a poor choice for a wedding gift.

Kissing the bride for more than 5 seconds may get you shot.

The groom, at least, should rent a tux. A leisure suit with a cummerbund and a clean bowling shirt can create too sporty an appearance.

Though uncomfortable, say "yes" to socks and shoes for this special occasion.

It is not appropriate to tell the groom how good his wife is in the sack.

Driving Etiquette.

Dim your headlights for approaching vehicles, even if the gun is loaded, and the deer is in sight.

When approaching a four-way stop, the vehicle with the largest tires always has the right of way.

Never tow another car using panty hose and duct tape.

When sending your wife/girlfriend down the road with a gas can, it is impolite to ask her to bring back beer.

Never relieve yourself from a moving vehicle, especially when driving.

Do not lay rubber while traveling in a funeral procession.


I hope this helps you achieve acceptance with the locals in some of our less-visited regions. It's all part of my ongoing effort to improve the level of civility in these troubled times.

Of course, it is still considered acceptable to use terms of endearment like "ass clown" and "clueless moron" to refer to politicians with whom you disagree.*

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


*In my case, that would be most of them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Notes on Why the Economy Won't Get Better

With all the thundering noise and wild accusations on both sides of the Congressional aisle and each campaign bus about whose fault it is that the economy is still in the toilet, I think we have lost sight of the fundamental reason things aren't getting better.

It's us.

Not "Congress," "Republicans," "Democrats," "unions," "business," or "China" ... all part of the problem, of course, but I see them more as symptoms than as the problem itself.

The real problem is us ... all of us ... you and I.

Now, I'm not the brightest bulb in the economic chandelier, but there are a few economic truths that seem pretty self-evident to me. Consider the following ideas, connecting the dots as necessary:

1. Consumers (that would be you and I) want the lowest possible prices.

2. Businesses want the highest possible profits, and their stockholders want the maximum return on their investments.

3. In order to keep prices low (to keep consumers happy) and profits high (to keep stockholders happy), businesses must minimize their costs of operation. They do this in a variety of ways, for example:

  • Cut prices in the hope that increased sales volume will make up the difference in income.
  • Lay off all but the absolute minimum number of workers, and maximize the amount of work done by each one.
  • Do not hire new workers unless there is an absolutely clear economic advantage in doing so.
  • Move operations to areas with lower labor costs.
  • Defer replacement of aging equipment.
4. When stockholders aren't happy, they don't invest in businesses, which causes businesses to resort to the sorts of actions in #3 above.

5. The results of #'s 1 - 4 above are predictable ... for example:

  • No matter how low a business keeps its prices, if its customers don't have jobs, they can't afford to buy the products and services offered.
  • If a business moves operations to areas with lower labor costs (particularly overseas), its former employees will not have the income to buy your products (see the previous bullet).
  • Deferring replacement of aging equipment causes the businesses who make that equipment to lay off workers ... who, in turn, will not have the income to buy other products.
So ...

It seems to me that the real root of the economic problem is not job-killingTM regulations or taxes that are too high - it's the diametrically-opposed desires of consumers (you and I) for minimum prices and of businesses for maximum profits.

If any of you, Dear Readers, has a good idea of how to reconcile these two economic points of view, you will be a front-runner for the Nobel Prize in Economics.

But in the meantime, it's a lot easier to just mindlessly shout about job-killingTM regulations, high taxes, and what America-hating skunks the (insert Democrats or Republicans here) are.

That's all.

Have a good day ... while you can still afford it. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Everyday Physics

I love the whole idea of science and its search for the realities of the world in which we live. Of course, were I a Republican, that would be different ... but that's not important right now.

When I was in grade school and high school, I loved my science classes. I loved the chemistry lab and the biology classes (not just the applied biology classes that met under the bleachers after school) and the ways in which they explained the wonderful world around me. Unfortunately, though, there were two aspects of science with which I never was able to come to terms: higher mathematics and physics.

For me, higher mathematics begins just after addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Algebra was passable, trigonometry and geometry (plane and solid) were okay, but calculus and beyond ... fuhgeddaboudit. As long as my checkbook balances to within a few dollars of where I think it should be, I have enough math for personal use. For more complex mathematical concepts I have Agnes, who understands figures in a way I never could and never will (and her own figure is pretty impressive, I can tell you).

But physics ... physics is just way out beyond the intellectual orbit of Pluto. It's full of derivatives and integrals and constants Greek letters and other weird stuff. Valuable, I suppose. Comprehensible, no way.

Which is why I like to have my physics reduced to a level at which I can comprehend the concepts. Thanks to Miss Cellania, who the other day published this handy guide to the Laws of Household Physics (with a few additions of my own, of course) ...

1. A child's eagerness to assist in any project varies in inverse proportion to the ability to actually do the work involved.

2. Leftovers always expand to fill all available containers plus one.

3. A newly washed window gathers dirt at double the speed of an unwashed window.

4. The availability of a ballpoint pen is inversely proportional to how badly it is needed.

5. The same clutter that will fill a one-car garage will fill a two-car garage.

6. Three children plus two cookies equals a fight.

7. The potential for disaster is in direct proportion to the number of TV remote controls divided by the number of viewers.

8. The number of doors left open varies inversely with the outdoor temperature.

9. The capacity of any hot water heater is equal to one and one-half sibling showers.

10. What goes up must come down, except for bubble gum, kites and slightly used Rice Krispies.

11. Place two children in a room full of toys and they will both want to play with the same toy.

12. The willingness of children to eat the meal you have prepared varies inversely with the cost of the ingredients and the time required for preparation.

13. A freshly-mopped and scrubbed floor attracts spills like a lodestone draws iron filings.

14. The probability of a noisy squabble between two children increases with the importance of the telephone conversation you are trying to conduct.

If you are a parent or grandparent, you already understand the essential truth of these laws. If you are not yet a parent ... you will. Good luck!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Something for Your Soul

Many years ago there was a prose poem that was very popular for a while. It showed up on posters, usually in a faux-antique format that implied it had been "found in Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore AD 1692," was reprinted everywhere, and was also a popular spoken recording. The poem, Desiderata, was actually written by Max Ehrmann in 1927, and is meant to be a calm reflection on the things you should desire (desiderata is Latin for desired things).

In a time of social and political turmoil, perhaps we need to dust off Desiderata again ... but be sure to read all the way to the end of the post before you get turned off by the sappy part ...


Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

Do you feel uplifted? Peaceful? Happy?

I thought not.

That being the case, you may prefer this updated version of the poem, published by the Harvard Lampoon in 1972 and perhaps more suited for the present state of affairs ...


Go placidly amid the noise and waste, and remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.

Avoid quiet and passive persons unless you are in need of sleep.

Rotate your tires.

Speak glowingly of those greater than yourself, and heed well their advice, even though they be turkeys.

Know what to kiss and when.

Consider that two wrongs never make a right, but that three do.

Wherever possible put people on hold.

Be comforted that in the face of all aridity and disillusionment, and despite the changing fortunes of time, there is always a big future in computer maintenance.

Remember the Pueblo.

Strive at all times to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate.

Know yourself. If you need help, call the FBI.

Exercise caution in your daily affairs, especially with those persons closest to you; that lemon on your left for instance.

Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls would scarcely get your feet wet.

Fall not in love therefore; it will stick to your face.

Gracefully surrender the things of youth: birds, clean air, tuna, Taiwan.

And let not the sands of time get in your lunch.

Hire people with hooks.

For a good time, call 606-4311 ... ask for Ken.

Take heart amid the deepening gloom that your dog is finally getting enough cheese, and reflect that whatever fortune may be your lot, it could only be worse in Milwaukee.

You are a fluke of the Universe. You have no right to be here, and whether you can hear it or not, the Universe is laughing behind your back.

Therefore make peace with your God whatever you conceive him to be: Hairy Thunderer or Cosmic Muffin.

With all its hopes, dreams, promises, and urban renewal, the world continues to deteriorate.

Give up.

Don't you feel better?

Now, go placidly amid the noise of the presidential campaign and the waste of the money we spend paying the clueless louts in Congress and have a good day.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

If you have been distraught because Cartoon Saturday did not appear when you expected it to, I am sorry. But after a great dance party last night at Studio One I slept this morning until the unheard-of hour of 8:30, then decided to do my yard work before it got too hot (didn't work ... it was too hot, anyhow). Then I had to have lunch, and then ... well ... better late than never, eh? Let's get going with this week's cartoons ...

According to an article in today's Washington Post, the presidential campaign is "entering a new phase, moving from relentlessly negative to downright nasty;" the US Olympic Committee is under fire for ordering uniforms for the US Olympic team that are made in China; Penn State University is reeling in the wake of a report that condemns the University's leadership for its failure to act on the abuse of children by a former assistant football coach; a Washington, DC metro police officer is under investigation for allegedly threatening the life of First Lady Michelle Obama; and Hollywood icon Harrison Ford, famous for his portrayals of Star Wars' Han Solo and swashbuckling archaeologist Indiana Jones, celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday.

Yep. Except for good old (sorry about that!) Harrison Ford, it was a week that cries out for Cartoon Saturday ...

We lead off with the traditional terrible pun cartoon of the week ...

and the runner-up ...

I remember when I used to collect baseball cards many years ago. Things have changed a bit since then ...

Worried about air quality? Don't be. If the GOP wins in November, all those pesky, job-killingTM air quality standards will be a thing of the past ...

Special deal this week for the Super PAC of your choice! ...

Artwork of the cave-man era made an appearance in the cartoons this week, starting with its interior decorating aspects ...

and moving on to its cultural ones ...

How about those hybrid vehicles, eh?

And ...

And finally for this week, a cartoon that's so obvious I don't know why I didn't see it long before this ...

And there you have it for this week's edition of Cartoon Saturday. It's too hot to do any more yard work for today, and Agnes has gone shopping ... so I think I'll do a little more work on my Lego model of the Super Star Destroyer from Star Wars (see yesterday's post for an initial picture). I'll post more pictures when I have a bit more of it completed.

Stay cool, and have a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.