Friday, August 31, 2012

Clip Art Friday

It's the end of what has been a very ... very ... long week at work, and there are still two weeks to go before our vacation begins. My brain is fried, and even the prospect of heading up to Pittsburgh this weekend to visit my Father and my sister and her family is only making a minor dent in my less-than-stellar attitude.

With this in mind, I thought I'd take a stroll through my collection of clip art and offer you a selection of items that summarize my mood. You may have seen some of these already; if you have, just read on and before you know it, it'll be Cartoon Saturday and you'll feel better. Here we go ...

Yeah, let me get back to you on that ...

The Republican convention is over, and the Democratic convention will be held next week. The blame game is in full swing ...

And they're all offering the same old tired BS ...

There's quite a bit of money greasing the wheels of this year's election, and it's not a game ...

I think it's interesting that the political party that rails so much about how all our freedoms are being taken away sees no problem with allowing far-right religious activists to dictate your beliefs, and with micromanaging women's health issues ...

So, Dear Readers, let's get informed and thoughtful in the weeks remaining until the election ...

Oh, and as you wade through the endless swamp of half-truths, distortions, and outright lies in political advertising, take some advice from the guy in green ...

Something worth remembering. I try to drill it into my grandchildren, and it wouldn't be a bad thing to drill it into most adults, too ...

We'll see how I make it through today ...

And finally, this one pretty much sums things up ...

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... it's not like you need it or anything.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

We the (Insert Faction Here) People

One of the really amazing things about observing the GOP convention (and it will probably be true of next week's Democratic convention, too) is the obvious balkanization of the voting public. There aren't really any "Republicans" ... there are "Reagan Republicans," "Tea Party Republicans," "Log Cabin Republicans," "Pro-Life Republicans," "Ron Paul Republicans," etc, etc, etc.

The preamble to the Constitution* begins with the timeless words, "We the People of the United States." Today, we aren't the people of the United States ... we're the people who belong to our particular faction of choice. We're the "pro-life/pro-choice people," the "gun rights people," the "oil and gas people," the "financial industry people," "LGBT people," the "African-American (or other ethnic group) people," or whatever ... insert your faction of choice in the blank. Nobody can just be an American any more. All that's important are the issues that affect me or my faction.

Another interesting thing is to observe the rather dismal knowledge of American history** on the part of those who would wrap themselves in the holy mantle of the sainted Founders. Consider this dedication statement at the beginning of the GOP 2012 Platform:

This platform is dedicated with appreciation and reverence for:
The wisdom of the Framers 
of the United States Constitution, 
who gave us a Republic, 
as Benjamin Franklin cautioned, 
if we can keep it.

One would think that the Founders came down from Heaven riding glowing clouds of intellectual brilliance, bringing the Fountain of All Perfect Knowledge ... which is, of course, as any serious student of history can tell you, utter crap. It is very convenient for those who trumpet the sanctity of every word of the Constitution and the brilliance of its drafters to forget that the original Constitution acknowledged the reality of slavery, papering over the differences between factions that led, eventually, to the Civil War.

The Founders were pragmatic politicians who came together at a critical time in history to cobble together a document which, despite its shortcomings, has held together relatively well. And it's not a bad thing to remember that many of the Founders - who are revered for their supposed godlike wisdom by hardshell conservatives - would probably never be accepted by today's GOP, which utterly eschews their form of pragmatic negotiation and compromise in favor of a my-way-or-the-highway approach to government.

We the People are the ones who will elect the next president. I'd like to think we'll choose wisely, but the signs are not encouraging. We the People mindlessly parrot slogans and unquestioningly accept the most ludicrous outright lies and half-truths. We the People are being manipulated by people with no greater agenda than to crush their opponents and impose their own vision of a society built on their own principles.

And we're letting them get away with it.

The election is not far off. Start thinking. Ask the hard questions and insist on clear answers from those who want your vote. You won't get the answers you want, but it's always interesting to watch the twist and spin and dodge as they try to stay "on message" while making you think you got an answer.

Remember Bilbo's First Law: Don't let anyone do your thinking for you. Especially me ... and especially now.

We the People - all of us - need your clear-thinking, well-informed support. Don't let us down.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Often blithely cited, seldom fully understood.

** Not to mention science.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

'Tis the Season to Be Hypocritical ...

As you know, Dear Readers, I long ago soured on both of our major political parties, which are more focused on gaining and holding power and bashing each other than with actually doing anything. Some of you have also castigated me for being harder on the GOP than I am on the Democratic Party, which is a righteous criticism ... however, as I've said here before, because I'm a basically conservative fellow, I tend to hold the GOP (rightly or wrongly) to a higher standard of behavior.

Both sides engage in rank hypocrisy and tend to pander to the worst in our natures, but I think that the GOP clearly leads the pack in hypocritical stupidity. The most recent instance (leaving aside discussion of the GOP 2012 Platform for a moment) was yesterday's comment by Louisiana's Republican governor Bobby Jindal in response to President Obama's offer of federal disaster assistance to his state:

"'We appreciate your response to our request and your approval,' Jindal wrote. 'However, the state's original request for federal assistance ... included a request for reimbursement for all emergency protective measures. The federal declaration of emergency only provides for direct federal assistance.'"

So ...

If I understand this, the Big, Bad, Government that spends too much money and is far too involved in micromanaging our lives, is being accused by a rising star GOP governor for ... not spending enough money. He demands "reimbursement for all emergency protective measures." Perhaps it's just me, but I would have thought this was primarily a state responsibility.

Can you spell hypocrisy?

I have no problem with federal disaster assistance. I believe it's the right thing to do. However, I do have a problem with hypocritical political zealots who want it both ways: to rail against the evils of the big-taxing, big-spending "nanny state," but then to demand the funds and services only a "big government" can provide.

If that sort of buffoonery is okay with you, vote for the ass clown of your choice on November 6th.

But don't say I didn't warn you.

Have a good day. Ask the right questions of both parties, and demand clear, direct, non-hypocritical answers*. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Let me know if you get any. I'm not holding my breath, and neither should you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

News from the ... uh ... Poop Deck

A few days ago I ran across this interesting article: New Toilet Technology After 150 Years of Waste, describing the results of the Reinventing the Toilet competition sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reinvent the traditional flush toilet.

This is a matter of no small importance for billions of people who don't have access to modern sanitation facilities, much less Charmin to squeeze. Traditional flush toilets waste millions of gallons of drinkable water each year, and don't recapture reusable resources like the potential energy in solid waste. They're also impractical in many parts of the world where plumbing is less well-developed or non-existent.

Sponsor Bill Gates predicted that the new toilets would have an impact around the world, and not just in developing countries. He was quoted in the article as saying, "If we do it right, there's every possibility that some of these designs would also be solutions for rich and middle-income countries."

The competition required inventors to develop toilets which would operate without running water, electricity or a septic system, not discharge pollutants, operate at a cost of 5 cents a day or less, and - ideally - capture energy or turn waste into useful resources. One of the supertoilets used microwaves to transform poop into electricity, while another trapped urine and used it for flushing. Another turned human excrement into charcoal ... an amazing achievement to be sure, but probably not one that you'd want to advertise to the guests at your next backyard barbecue.

This is all fascinating and of inestimable value to many parts of the developing world. But what we need here at home, especially in an election year like this one, is a system that will allow us to filter out the vast amounts of crap being churned out by our useless political parties and their support structures.

Unfortunately, even Bill Gates doesn't have that kind of money*.

Have a good day. Flush twice ... it's a long way to Capitol Hill.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Equally unfortunately, the Super PACs do have that kind of money ... they just use it to produce crap, rather than getting rid of it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Editorial Gems for a New Week

Last week at work, I was roundly criticized by a representative from another office for the number of administrative errors (misspellings, punctuation, incorrect references, etc) in a document I had circulated for comment. This individual documented the errors in what we call a "comment resolution matrix" ... which was noteworthy for the number of administrative errors it contained. Sigh.

It looks like it's going to be a long week, so let's get started with another collection of editorial gems ...

We often criticize our police, but they are usually brave and trustworthy public servants who can provide not only protection from evildoers, but also sound advice ...

They also field some ... unusual ... complaints ...

The science of crime detection and solution continues to advance ... but I'm not sure it's something I really want to get into ...

Sounds like some more of that Republican science to me ...

Well, here's one way to get all that unsold stock moving ...

 And people say that Americans don't know much about geography ...

When you need to know how many degrees it is until dinner time ...

It may have something to do with the prevailing political conditions ...

How about a nice glass of cheese? ...

And finally, another unfortunate juxtaposition of photo and unrelated story ...

And so it goes as we step boldly into the last week of August. It's hard to believe that this coming weekend is already the Labor Day holiday weekend ... it seems like only yesterday that it was only yesterday. Time flies.

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


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Another Word for "Hero" *

The comic strip "Beetle Bailey" describes the misadventures of the titular Army private at a forlorn post called Camp Swampy. One of Beetle's friends is another private named Zero, who is not terribly bright, yet often insightful. In one of the episodes of the strip many years ago, Zero came upon Beetle watching a movie on television, and sat down to watch with him. After a few minutes he turned to Beetle and asked, "Who's that nasty guy in the ratty clothes, with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth?"

Beetle replied, "He's the hero."

Zero absorbed this and watched further, then asked, "Why is he driving his car down the sidewalk and shooting at people?"

Beetle explained, "That's the line of work he's in."

Zero turned back to the movie and before long turned back to Beetle to ask, "Why is he beating up that pretty girl and kicking her down the stairs?"

Beetle replied, "That's the way he finds things out."

Zero sat back and pondered all this, then turned back to Beetle and observed, "I think we need another word for "hero."

I thought about this scene yesterday when I read the sad news that Neil Armstrong, the American astronaut who was the first human being to set foot on the Moon, had passed away. In a time when we have too few true heroes, the loss of a man like Neil Armstrong is doubly unfortunate.

On July 20, 1969, Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin landed on the surface of the Moon and spent about ten hours on the surface, collecting rocks and taking photographs before returning to the orbiting Apollo 11 spacecraft for the return to Earth and a hero's welcome. As it happened, I didn't know the landing had been successful until several days after the event ... I was hiking in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of southwestern Colorado with the Colorado Outward Bound School, and only got the news when we came out of the wilderness a few days later to resupply at a local campground.

The moon has looked a little different every night since.

After his historic flight, Neil Armstrong never returned to space. He managed research and technology programs for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) before resigning in 1971 to teach engineering at the University of Cincinnati.

He was an American hero of the old school: calm, quiet, and self-effacing. He never cashed in on his fame as so many others might have, choosing to live a quiet life out of the public eye. 

He was, and remains, a reminder of what can be great about America. And his passing reminds us that hapless Private Zero got his observation wrong: what we need isn't another word for "hero" ... what we need is more people like Neil Armstrong who can live up to the meaning and expectations of the perfectly good word we have.

Rest in peace, Neil. They aren't making them like you any more.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* This post is based on a speech I gave to the Arkla-Barkers Toastmasters Club at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, in 1977.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cartoon Saturday News Update...

In the interest of keeping things accurate, I must correct an item from the news update that led off this morning's Cartoon Saturday ...

I wrote that "A man shot and killed two people and wounded nine others in front of the Empire State Building in New York City," which - at the time - was true.

However ...

Later reports indicate that the man in question killed one person (not two, as originally reported) ... and the other nine people injured were victims either of gunshot wounds or bullet fragments from the two police officers who fired a total of 16 rounds at the gunman.

I think I may pass on visiting New York for a while, until the NYPD finishes all the firearm requalifications.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend, and remember to duck for loud noises.


Cartoon Saturday

If ever there's been a week that needs a Cartoon Saturday, this has been it ...

A man shot and killed two people and wounded nine others in front of the Empire State Building in New York City; Republican judge Tom Head in Lubbock County, Texas, has claimed that the reelection of President Obama will lead to civil war when Obama makes Congress and the Constitution irrelevant*, and called for raising a well-equipped force to fight the UN troops he claims Obama will call in; a British tabloid has printed nude photos of Prince Harry on vacation in Las Vegas; in Pakistan, an 11 year-old Christian girl is under arrest, charged with blasphemy - an offense which carries a death sentence - for allegedly burning pages of the Koran; and a man who broke into the home of rapper and actor LL Cool J will be arraigned on first degree burglary charges after he is released from the hospital, where he is being treated for the broken nose, jaw and ribs he suffered while an irate Mr J "detained" him for the police.

And the year ain't over yet. Bring on the cartoons ...

Women often complain about where men's eyes stray during conversations, and there are plenty of cartoons that take off on that tendency. Here's a sampling ...

and ...

and ...

This one puts a high-tech twist on the theme ...

and finally for the series ...

Last week's Cartoon Saturday somehow missed the traditional pun cartoon, so this week we'll catch up by including not one, but two groaners ...

and ...

What it's like to travel with John ...

There was a time, once, when things were simpler ...

And finally for this week, a cautionary tale on the perils of reading the classics while incarcerated ...

So ends another week of shameless political buffoonery, violently intolerant religion, unrestrained exercise of Second Amendment rights, ludicrous behavior on the part of the rich, famous, and well-connected, and continuing drought**. And the Republican convention takes place in the coming week, as if we needed more noise and hot air. Good luck.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Actually, Congress is doing that well enough on its own, and needs no help from the President.

** That would be a lack of both moisture and of courtesy and common sense.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Scaling the Loftiest Heights of Ass Clownery

We live in crazy times, and they're getting crazier all the time. In the words of Ellen Ripley* in the movie Aliens, "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?"

Members of Congress who ought to know better act like idiots and spout the most ridiculous drivel ... and we accept it. Presidential candidates of both parties either lie outright or speak in half-truths and quotes taken so far out of context as to be meaningless ... and we don't call them on it. Far-right conservatives reject science and rational thought and believe it's perfectly okay to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us, as if we were a paradise of peaceful coexistence like Pakistan ... and we let them get away with it.

The country I love is in trouble, and nobody really seems to be too worried about it.

As you know, I periodically bestow my Ass Clown of the Month award on people whose behavior is so outrageous that it deserves special mention. This month, I named the Ass Clown of the Month (Senator Harry Reid (D, NV)) far too soon, as it seems that August of 2012 has, for some reason, nurtured a bumper crop of complete morons whose behavior is beyond even my ability to appropriately satirize ... and the month isn't over yet.

I call your attention to this amazing story that broke yesterday: in Texas, Lubbock county judge Tom Head claims that if President Obama is reelected, it could lead to civil war. In remarks he made earlier in the week, Judge Head claimed that the President and his "minions" had filed various "executive orders" and other, unspecified, documents that would circumvent the Constitution and US laws. The judge was quoted as saying, "regardless of whether the Republicans take over the Senate, which I hope they do, he is going to make the United States Congress and he's going to make the Constitution irrelevant. He's got his czars in place that don't answer to anybody."

Having warmed to his topic, Judge Head said that President Obama would "try to give the sovereignty of the United States away to the United Nations. What do you think the public's going to do when that happens? We are talking civil unrest, civil disobedience, possibly, possibly civil war. ... I'm not talking just talking riots here and there. I'm talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms, get rid of the dictator. OK, what do you think he is going to do when that happens? He is going to call in the U.N. troops, personnel carriers, tanks and whatever."
This would all be laughable if it were spouted by some wild-eyed radical declaiming from a soapbox on the street. Unfortunately, this amazing and dangerous balderdash is coming from a person who is a judge ... a person we look to for sober judgment and calm, rational weighing of evidence in a search for truth and justice. There's a reason we speak of someone being sober as a judge.

At a time when dangerous and intolerant speech is the new normal, even from those who want us to elect them to the highest offices of the land, Judge Head's remarks are far beyond the pale. Intemperate comments like these spin up people who react viscerally to wild imagery, without taking the time to think for themselves and carefully weigh the evidence.

The best reaction to Judge Head's outrageous remarks came from Lubbock County Commissioner Gilbert Flores, who told a local television station he was "ashamed" of Head's comments, and told the judge, "I think you better plan to go fishing pretty soon."

I'm afraid, though, that the damage has already been done ... and that the fishing hole to which the judge should retire is neither deep enough, or far enough away, to remove the social, intellectual, and political poison he's dumped into the already-dangerous swamp where rational discourse used to be.

It's things like this that can make me ashamed of what was once the greatest country in the world. It can be again ... but people like Judge Tom Head, whose clue chutes are up, closed, locked, welded shut, and painted over, are working as hard as they can to prevent that from happening.

Welcome to the very highest levels of clueless ass clownery.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... I have a feeling you're going to need it.


* Memorably played by Sigourney Weaver.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Flying Wedgie

A flying wedge is a military formation in which an attacking force deploys in a fast-moving triangular formation, with the point toward the enemy. This allows the concentration of force in a small area to punch through an opposing line, with a larger body of forces coming behind to exploit the breach. A similar formation is sometimes used by police for riot control, and on the football field for maximum power to drive through the opposing defense. Here is a picture of a flying wedge ...

But there is another type of flying wedge, Dear Readers ... and it is you.

Consider this article I ran across yesterday on CNN: JetBlue, WestJet Shrink Legroom for Coach Seats.* Yes, you are the long-suffering flyer getting the flying wedgie a seat that is already uncomfortably tight, and will soon be smaller and tighter than ever. According to the article, the two airlines are reducing the legroom available in some nonpremium** seats in order to increase legroom for seats in higher-priced sections of their aircraft. A spokesdrone for JetBlue cited in the article said that the change could mean an additional $150 million in revenue for the airline this year.

Yes, friends, your seat may be expensive, but at least it's been ergonomically designed by the distinguished firm of Torquemada and Sons. You will certainly want to confess to something as your nose is smashed by the fellow in the seat ahead of you who reclines his seat into your face at high speed ... your face being now at least an inch closer to that seat. But look at the bright side: you won't need to buy high-end noise-canceling headphones to cut down on the racket ... your knees will cover your ears to shut out unwanted noise.

You've been nickeled and dimed, patted down, x-rayed, sniffed, gouged, and interrogated ... and that's just to get to the door of the aircraft. Now, you also get to be stuffed into a seat that is more uncomfortable than ever ... AND you get to pay more for it!

Welcome to the new world of airline service.

Have a good day. Take a train. More thoughts tomorrow.


* They're already shrinking everything they can ... they've even taken out the space between the words in their names.

** That's airline-speak for "relatively affordable."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Clown Parades

Many years ago, when I was a lowly lieutenant in the Air Force, there was an event at my base that was of sufficient importance that the Wing Commander* decided we should stage a parade. And not only that, but he** decided the parade should be led by a squadron composed of his wing staff officers, selected on a quota basis from the various staff divisions.

This was not an especially good idea, as most of the wing staff officers were older, disgruntled field grade*** officers who hadn't marched in anything but their trip down the matrimonial aisle in a long time. As a lieutenant, being the absolute lowest-ranking officer in my division, there was no doubt that I would march. Most of the other people selected were lieutenant colonels not on flying status, already sour and pissed off because they weren't flying and not the least interested in taking part in parades on the flight line in the broiling sun of a Louisiana summer. I clearly remember standing in the formation at one of our interminable rehearsals listening to a crusty old lieutenant colonel standing behind me muttering, "The only difference between this parade and a Shriners' parade is that in the Shriners' parade, the clowns are all smiling!"

I told you that story as a way of bringing up today's post, which concerns non-smiling clowns.

The clowns to whom I refer would normally have been prime candidates for the Ass Clown of the Month Award, but as I have already bestowed that designation for this month, they'll just have to settle for this minor recognition of their ass-clownery.

I speak, of course, of two of our esteemed elected reprehensives. First is Representative Todd Akin (R, MO), whose comment about "legitimate rape" and the ability of women to self-terminate pregnancies caused by rape were so outrageous that even most Republicans were forced to express some form of outrage ... except for the Missouri Republican Assembly, which stated that "... While Todd may have been indiscreet in his word choice, he was not wrong in his facts."

The second is Representative Kevin Yoder (R, KS), who struck a blow for full disclosure by skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee during a Congressional "fact-finding" trip to Israel last year. But don't worry: According to a statement by a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, "Twelve months ago, [Cantor] dealt with this immediately and effectively to ensure such activities would not take place in the future." I feel so much better.

Clowns on parade - isn't it grand?

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


* For those of you unfamiliar with Air Force positions, the nearest civilian equivalent of a "Wing Commander" would be "God."

** Women hadn't reached those lofty positions yet.

*** Majors and Lieutenant Colonels - generally in their mid-30's to mid-40's.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cleaning Out the Blog Fodder File

Every day, I bookmark interesting websites or e-mail items to myself that I think might make interesting blog posts. These e-mails and bookmarked websites go into my Blog Fodder file for future use. Eventually, much like my garage*, the file fills bulges against its confining walls and cries out for relief, causing me to pick out a few items to combine into an odds-and-ends post. Like this one. Read on, and learn about some of the quasi-intellectual shiny objects that have caught Bilbo's eye over the past weeks and months ...

While commuting to work every day, I like to sit by myself whenever possible so that I can read or nap. Unfortunately, the Metro cars tend to fill up quickly, and so I almost always end up with someone sitting next to me. The task, then, becomes this: given that someone is going to sit next to me, what can I do to ensure that I get the least-objectionable seatmate?

This article offers some suggestions - How to Keep Strangers from Sitting Next to You: A Study. Researcher Esther Kim from Yale University observed travelers on buses around the country, and compiled her observations of the ways people employ to avoid sitting next to other people. She writes that,

"We engage in all sorts of behavior to avoid others, pretending to be busy, checking phones, rummaging through bags, looking past people or falling asleep. Sometimes we even don a 'don't bother me face' or what's known as the 'hate stare'."

Ms Kim describes some of the tactics travelers use to protect themselves from objectionable fellow passengers, things like avoiding eye contact, staring out the window, or pretending to be asleep. She also notes that some travelers take a more aggressive approach, planting their bags on the adjoining empty seat, using headphones to listen to music and shut out potential conversation, or employing the trusty white lie, telling other travelers that the apparently empty seat has already been taken. 

She likens seat selection to "a game of chess played by passengers, in which they strategically situate themselves in ways to both maximize comfort and minimize the odds of traveling next to a stranger," and goes on to note that when seats are limited, the focus changes to simply avoiding sitting next to "someone weird" ... of whom there are many on the DC Metro, as I can tell you. I have used all of the tactics Ms Kim describes except for lying about the seat already being taken ... and I'm here to tell you that they don't always work, and have led to my codification of Bilbo's First Law of Commuting Reality: if a witty and attractive fashion model and a slovenly, boorish oaf are both in search of a seat, it will not be the former that sits next to me.

So much for commuting. Let's talk about pubic hair.

According to a recent article by family physician Emily Gibson, we have pubic hair for a reason. Actually, for several reasons, including the prevention of infection, "providing cushion against friction" (use your imagination), and providing visual evidence of maturity. Dr Gibson notes that "pubic hair removal naturally irritates and inflames the hair follicles left behind, leaving microscopic open wounds" which can be susceptible to infection. The message is clear, ladies: gently trim if you must, but resist the urge to completely depilate yourselves. As the article eloquently says,

"No matter what expensive and complex weapons are used — razor blades, electric shavers, tweezers, waxing, depilatories, electrolysis — hair, like crab grass, always grows back and eventually wins. In the meantime, the skin suffers the effects of the scorched battlefield."

Ouch. Go ahead and wear your badge of adulthood proudly, ladies. Real men won't mind, and you'll save time, money, and no small amount of pain.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Which has not had room in it for a car in years.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

In last Friday's post I noted the birthday of two famous Americans born on August 17th: Davy Crockett and Mae West*. Today, as it happens, is the birthday of yet another interesting American: author Howard Phillips ("H.P.") Lovecraft, born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1890.

Lovecraft was - stylistically - a pretty abysmal writer. His prose can be difficult to read without a dictionary handy, but if you're willing to grit your mental teeth and press on, you'll find that he is a master of blood-chilling tales of horror and the supernatural, many of which have been made into inferior Hollywood films that don't come close to capturing the essence of the original stories.

My personal favorite Lovecraft story is the short novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a tale that combines black magic, twisted science, reincarnation, revenge, and utterly incomprehensible mystical incantations, such as ...

"Y'ai 'ng'ngah,
H'ee - l'geb
F'ai throdog

Two of my other Lovecraft favorites are the short stories "The Outsider," an horrifying tale with a brilliant twist at the end, and "Pickman's Model," about an artist who uses a somewhat ... um ... unusual model for his bizarre paintings.

Lovecraft was not especially popular during his lifetime, but enjoyed increased popularity after his stories*** were compiled and published by his friends through the Arkham House publishing company. There's an annual convention of his admirers called NecronomiCon Providence, and Lovecraft's work has inspired dozens of other authors ranging from Joyce Carol Oates to Stephen King.

So ...

If the spectacle of a dysfunctional and useless Congress, the rise of screaming political partisanship, and the blatant sale of your government to the highest contributor hasn't frightened you enough, turn to H.P. Lovecraft. He'll scare the socks off you, but at least you can close the book and escape from the horror.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I forgot to mention it at the time, but a life vest is sometimes called a "Mae West." It doesn't require a whole lot of imagination to see why.

** This is similar to the language often used by Republicans to explain why their theory of "trickle-down economics" makes sense.

*** Contrary to popular belief, the titular mountains of Lovecraft's short novel At the Mountains of Madness are not a reference to Capitol Hill.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Husbandly Duties

As a husband (and if you're one already, you'll know what I'm talking about), there are a lot of duties you are expected to perform. These are not always made clear to you before you actually tie the matrimonial knot, although they are buried deeply in the fine print at the bottom of the marriage license, easy to overlook in your eagerness to get to the Opening Night Special.

One of those duties is the dreaded "Accompany Your Wife/Significant Other While She Buys Clothes" ...

Pay attention, men, because I am going to impart some hard-won knowledge to you.

When you are unable to provide a convincing excuse for not accompanying your lady on a clothes-buying expedition*, it is important for you to understand why your presence is required. There are two primary reasons: (1) watch over her 87-pound purse and (2) respond to questions that have no good answer. We will address each of these in due course. Here are Bilbo's Tips for Surviving a Shopping Expedition with Your Wife/Significant OtherTM.

First, prepare yourself in advance. Ensure you have had enough to eat and drink, and be sure to have made a proper bathroom stop before departing on the expedition. You will not be able to find sustenance or relieve yourself while on duty unless there is a brief transition period between stores.

Second, seek out the most comfortable available seat in the Husbands' Corral. Most purveyors of ladies' garments have such a place, which usually has an insufficient number of uncomfortable seats for the number of glassy-eyed men patiently waiting and wishing they were almost anyplace else. The Husbands' Corral is generally well-stocked with tattered, four-year-old copies of Elle, Vogue, and similar magazines, and so ...

Take a book along. Or two. Better yet, take your Kindle, iPad, or similar device and ensure it is well-stocked with unread titles. You'll have plenty of time to read.

Next, understand that there is no safe answer to many ... if not most ... questions you will be asked. For instance, if you are asked "Does this make me look fat?", the appropriate answer is "No, dear," unless the garment in question prominently features the Goodyear logo. Also, beware the Endless Loop query, which usually goes something like this:

Lady: "Which one of these do you like better - this one" (holds up a garment) "or this one?" (holds up another garment).

You (pointing): "That one."

Lady: "Why don't you like this one?" (holds up the garment you didn't select).

You: "I do like it, but you asked which one I liked better."

Lady: "Yes, but why don't you like it?"

You: "I do like it, I just like the other one more."

Lady: "Yes, but why don't you like it?"


Do not make the mistake of evaluating, whether verbally or visually, the potential purchases being modeled by nubile young ladies with whom you did not arrive at the store. Your insurance** will not cover any injuries that result. Corollary: avoid making any disapproving noises or rolling your eyes when you see a woman proudly modeling a garment so hideously inappropriate for her that it makes your gorge rise. It's her boyfriend/husband/significant other who will have to live with it, not you, and he won't appreciate being reminded of it.

Finally, ensure you are in superb physical condition before setting out on a Shopping Expedition, because you will end up loaded like a rented mule, and may be weak from hunger after many hours in the Husbands' Corral.

And those, friends, are the basic elements of Bilbo's Tips for Surviving a Shopping Expedition with Your Wife/Significant OtherTM. There are other minor rules and corollaries, but if you observe the ones I've shared with you today, you will have an even chance of returning home safely. Be strong. Other men have survived the experience, and so will you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* A note signed by the coroner is usually, but not always, sufficient.

** Assuming you are lucky enough to have any.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

It's been a long week ...

In Russia, three members of the all-girl punk rock band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison for "hooliganism" for insulting Russian president Vladimir* Putin; a spokesman for presumptive GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan says there is no contradiction between Congressman Ryan’s efforts to secure federal funds for his district via budget earmarks and his relentless call for budget-cutting measures; North Korean President Kim Jong Un has told his countrymen to prepare for "sacred war" as the US and South Korea prepare for the "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" military exercises; three US Marines were murdered and another seriously wounded by a 15 year-old Afghan worker in another of the "green on blue" attacks which have taken the lives of more than 20 Americans this year; and in Louisiana, seven people have been arrested in connection with the ambushes that killed two Louisiana state troopers and wounded two more.

Sit back, take a deep breath, and let Cartoon Saturday help you deal with this crazy old world ...

Sometimes you find the right person for the job ...

... and sometimes, he finds you ...

There are lots of great cartoons dealing with that most hapless of characters - the crash test dummy. Here's a selection ...


And ...

How crash test dummies might moonlight ...

They tend to specialize ...

And finally for today's test dummy series ...

Yesterday was the anniversary of Mae West's birthday ... 

... and we should acknowledge that she was not the only master of the double entendre ...

We bring today's edition of Cartoon Saturday to a close with this look at how Agnes and I keep track of things** ...

So we bring another week to an end and gird our mental loins for another few months of evasive and untruthful political posturing leading up to an election which is already in the process of being purchased on our behalf. Or on behalf of those with deep pockets, anyhow.

Stay with me ... there are still eleven Cartoon Saturdays before the election to help you keep things in perspective.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* Your linguistic lesson for today: the common Russian name "Vladimir" is derived from the combination of the words "vlad" (meaning "ruler") and "mir" (which can mean either "world" or "peace"). Thus, "Vladimir" is the "ruler of the world." Or the "ruler of peace," but I think the first is more appropriate in the current political context. Also, it's actually pronounced vluh-DEE-mur, and not VLAD-uh-meer.

** Actually, it's how I keep track of things, because Agnes's filing system consists of giving things to me and telling me, "Don't lose this."