Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Favorite Posts

Are you tired of posts about Hurricane Sandy? I am. Let's talk about something else.

Last week Heidi put up a list of her favorite posts, and encouraged her fellow bloggers to do the same. That seemed like a good excuse to go back through my records and put up a few of my personal favorites ... if you haven't seen these before, you may enjoy them:

A Parable About a Parking Space - September 28, 2007;

Don't Dig Here! - September 1, 2007;

Dumbcon 1 - July 24, 2009;

The Ways We'll Be Remembered** - November 15, 2009;

The Degree of Gasp - January 13, 2012; and, 

The Things We Leave Behind - August 2, 2012.

Enjoy! Let me know what you think.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* According to Google Analytics, this is my most-viewed post.
** This one is my personal favorite.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Still Here!

Yes, Dear Readers, Agnes and I appear to have escaped Mother Nature's wrath ... so far, anyway. This is what we all faced yesterday ...

As predicted, the brunt of the storm came through our area between about 8:00 last night and 2:00 this morning, with howling winds and heavy rain. We were concerned because of the very large trees that back up to our house, knowing that some of them have come down in storms before; up to now, they've always fallen into the woods, but if they should fall the other way ... well ... it'd be bye-bye house. So far, they're all still standing. The rain is still coming down, but the winds have diminished and are no longer the fearsome steady roar of last night.

We live at the bottom of a hill on a cul-de-sac that is drained by one meager storm drain, plus we have a stream in the woods behind the house that can get large and fierce when there's a lot of rain, but we appear to have had no flood problems ... the storm drain did yeoman service, and while we can hear the stream thundering through the trees, it didn't rise enough to get close to the house.

We lost power twice for brief periods of a minute or two, and had a lot of flickering and short brownouts, but for the most part our power stayed on through the storm. This is good, because over 100,000 people here in Northern Virginia lost theirs.

So far, so good! (Crosses fingers)

A few related thoughts ...

The news is making much of the fact that Hurricane Sandy has caused at least 16 deaths. While this is, of course, a tragedy, I can't help but think that we're very fortunate ... every time a hurricane/typhoon/monsoon/cyclone hits someplace like Bangladesh, the deaths are numbered in the tens of thousands and whole towns are wiped out. I think this reflects the wisdom of things conservatives viscerally despise ... things like job-killingTM building codes and safety regulations. It also reflects the reality that, in spite of all other differences, Americans are able to pull together and do the right thing for each other in the face of disaster.

In other news, GOP presidential wannabe Mitt Romney blamed the failed policies of the Obama administration for the storm, while President Obama laid the blame squarely on the Bush administration.

Here we go again ... and election day is still a week away. At least now the wind will consist of political hot air, and its ill effects will take months to manifest themselves. Sigh.

Have a good day. Stay warm, safe, and dry. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - I think I may know why I can comment on some blogs, but not others. It seems that the blogs which allow me to comment are those in which the comment posting opens in a separate window, rather than as an extension to the bottom of the post. Not sure why this should make a difference, but it looks like this is the common denominator.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Update, etc ...

Just a quick note to let you know that we're still here, and have not yet been blown out to sea.

The time is now about 5:00 PM, and the news tells us that the bulk of the storm will roll through the area between now and tomorrow morning, with the worst coming between 8:00 PM and 2:00 AM.

It's been raining steadily and occasionally heavily all day, and the wind has been increasing in strength through the afternoon ... outside my study window, the trees are waving wildly in the cold, howling wind.

So ...

All is well so far. The gin supply is holding, we have plenty of food and other necessities (except for those pesky D-cell batteries that are nowhere to be found), and as of now (and as you can see) we still have power. Wish us luck!

Break, break ... new topic ...

For some reason, for about the last week I have been completely unable to leave comments on some of your blogs ... Blogger seems to not want to accept the fact that I have an account and am logged in, and petulantly refuses to let me leave comments. I can comment on Mike's blog, but not on Angelique's or Heidi's ... and I've had some wonderful comments to make over the last few days. Anybody have an idea what's going on?

And that's all for now. Stay happy, healthy, and dry. More thoughts later.


So Far, So Good ...

We're now about eight hours from the expected arrival of the full strength of Hurricane Sandy. The Federal Government has shut down for the day, our Metro rail and bus system has shut down, and things are temporarily quiet. It's been raining steadily since yesterday evening - not the torrential rains we'll be getting later*, but a steady downpour to get us in the mood. So far, no winds beyond stiff breezes*. Even the presidential wannabes have calmed down the rhetoric to avoid charges that they're taking advantage of the situation.


So ... how about a little rain and wind music?

Glenn Yarborough reminds us that Baby, the Rain Must Fall ...

We can listen to Rain on the Roof with The Lovin' Spoonful ...

Don't Let the Rain Come Down with The Serendipity Singers? Too late! ...

We may as well start Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly ...

Or we could go Walking in the Rain with The Ronettes ...

It's Monday, and it's raining ... how about Karen Carpenter singing about Rainy Days and Mondays?

And let's not forget the Four Strong Winds with Neil Young ...

What are your favorite rain and wind songs? Leave a comment to let us know!

Have a good day. Stay safe and dry. More thoughts later, as long as the power's on.


* Five to 10 inches predicted so far.
** Gusts up to 70mph are possible.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Update ...

It's now about 5:00 PM on Sunday. The temperature has been dropping all day, and we now have light rain and steady breezes. The main part of the storm is still predicted to arrive tomorrow afternoon and affect us through Tuesday with high winds and as much as 8-12 inches of rain. Most of the local school districts and state and local government offices have already shut down tomorrow and Tuesday; the Federal Government probably won't decide what to do until early tomorrow morning ... I expect they'll either tell everyone to come to work and then send us all home at the height of the storm, or just call a "liberal leave" day. We'll see.

More later ...


Battening Down the Hatches

As I mentioned yesterday, and as you already know unless you are reading this from a cave in Outer Mongolia, we here in the DC area are getting ready for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy*. Our television and radio stations are urging us to stock up on water, canned food, batteries (good luck finding a D-cell battery east of the Ohio line), and first aid supplies, and to fill up our cars with gas. One exhortation you hear over and over is to batten down the hatches.

Now what, exactly, does that mean?

My semi-dormant linguistics gland started secreting over that one and I did a bit of research which revealed the following ...

To batten down the hatches is, as you might suspect, a nautical expression. It refers to an action taken by the crew of a ship getting ready to sail into foul weather, in which they close and lock the ship's hatches, cover them with tarpaulins, and secure the tarpaulins in place with battens - wooden strips which were nailed down along the edges of the tarpaulins to keep them from blowing loose in the storm ... hence, battening. By extension, it implies getting ready for trouble by securing important things. Should you be interested in other common sayings that have a nautical origin, you can go here for an interesting list.

And so, Dear Readers, if you thought battening meant getting ready to step up to the plate in a baseball game or, if you are a witch, gathering night-flying creatures from local caves and belfries, you were mistaken.

The brunt of Hurricane Sandy is supposed to hit here late Monday afternoon through Tuesday (read all about it), and one of its major impacts is likely to be widespread loss of power ... so if you don't find this blog being updated for a few days (possibly as long as a few weeks, if you accept the worst-case scenarios), hang in there ... I'll be back.

 And in the meantime, you can listen to Peter, Paul, and Mary ... who sound a lot better than Bob Dylan ...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, before Sandy gets here.


* Probably not related to the Sandy on whom I had a major crush in grade school.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cartoon Saturday - The Halloween Edition

It's been a scary week ...

A nanny in New York has been charged with murdering two small children left in her care; hurricane Sandy is making its way toward the Northeastern United States threatening to merge with strong cold front to create a very dangerous system that has already been dubbed "Frankenstorm;" Indiana senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock has won widespread condemnation for his remark that if a woman who has been raped gets pregnant, it was "something that God intended to happen;" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was briefly hospitalized and is in good condition after his motorcade was involved in an accident; and Microsoft released its new Windows 8 operating system to mixed reviews ...

... So let's get scary, but in a good way ...

We begin at the intersection of Halloween and awful puns ...

Even witches are getting into high-tech these days ...

... and they worry about the same things the rest of us do ...

The classic children's halloween costume is the simple sheet-over-the-head-with-two-eyeholes ghost. Which lends itself to all sorts of clever cartoons, like ...

 ... and,

We had Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein. Now, the untold story behind Son of Frankenstein ...

Even monsters have to deal with tough parental issues ...

This is about as terrible and frightening a costume as I can imagine ...

Unless it's this one ...

Does a vampire have the same health concerns as you and I? ...

Bonus cartoon - this one is clever, and funnier if you've seen The Wizard of Oz ...

And that's it for the Halloween 2012 edition of Cartoon Saturday. If you are taking children trick-or-treating, be sure to keep them safe. If you are out driving on Halloween, be extra careful for wandering children who probably won't be watching out for you as they race between houses to their next treats. And if our much-anticipated Frankenstorm arrives on schedule, remember that high winds are tough for small children.

Have a good day. Trick or treat safely and have a great Halloween! More thoughts coming.


Friday, October 26, 2012

As If We Had a Wind Shortage ...

By now all of you (except, perhaps, for Heidi and Kristen, who live pretty far out of the area of concern) have heard about Hurricane Sandy - the so-called "perfect storm" of 2012. Here's what it looks like in an infrared satellite image ... Cuba is under there somewhere ...

Depending on which scenario plays out, the East Coast could get pounded with heavy rain, high winds, and - in some of the mountain elevations of Maryland and New England - heavy snow. This article presents three possible scenarios for the DC local area, ranging from "I thought we were supposed to have a hurricane" to "head for the ark NOW!".


Okay, Mother Nature, I understand you are seriously pissed off over our management of your planet. But can't you just take it out on, say, Republicans and other climate change skeptics? Don't you think we've suffered enough wind damage after three presidential and one vice presidential debate and a year of raucous political speechifying? Don't you think enough trouble has been caused by the flood of misleading (if not downright false) ads? By the blizzard of flyers stuck in doors and signs in yards? Give us a break, already!

 That is all. I think I'll go out later today and join everyone else in the tri-state area to buy vast quantities of lunch meat, toilet paper, beer, and other critical storm supplies. After all, in this area, if a single flake of snow has a 30% chance of appearing, everyone panics. Why should I be any different?

Have a good day. Batten down your hatches, and come back tomorrow for the Halloween edition of Cartoon Saturday. See you then.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Best Music For ...

Lists are a big thing. David Letterman has made his Top Ten List a major part of his show, and there are lots of books out there that offer you lists on every conceivable topic ... if you doubt me, Google "top ten list" and see that you get roughly 525,000,000 hits. Don't check them all out now, or you'll miss out on my own post about ... lists.

You already know, Dear Readers, that I love music, and you may recall my post from a week or so ago that answered the AARP list of songs everyone over 50 should own with my own list of my favorite songs ... if you somehow missed it, you can read it here.

But speaking of music and lists, my eye was caught this morning by this headline from CNN online: Spotify Study: Music More Sexually Arousing Than Touch. The article discusses a study that was commissioned by the Swedish digital music service Spotify to examine the relationship between music, romance and seduction. The study results indicated that "Dirty Dancing" was the top pick for both men and women, men are more willing to adjust their tastes in music in order to ensure greater success in the bedroom, and background music was 40% more likely to turn the respondents on than the touch or feel of their partner.

Yes, I love music, but somehow I just can't see that part about the 40%.

You can see the various top-20 playlists generated by the study here. In case you don't want to read the whole thing, here are the lists, with the top five songs in each:

Songs Considered "Better Than Sex":*
1. Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen
2. Sex on Fire, by Kings of Leon
3. Angels, by Robbie Williams
4. Bat Out Of Hell, by Meat Loaf**
5. Livin' on a Prayer, by Bon Jovi

Songs to Play During Sex:
1. She's Like the Wind, by Patrick Swayze
2. Sexual Healing, by Marvin Gaye
3. Bolero (Ravel)***
4. Take My Breath Away, by Berlin
5. You See the Trouble with Me, by Barry White

Songs for a Romantic Dinner:
1. Let's Get It On, by Marvin Gaye
2. The Lady in Red, by Chris de Burgh (great song!!)
3. Sexual Healing, by Marvin Gaye
4. Wonderful Tonight, by Eric Clapton
5. Moon River, by Andy Williams

Songs to Flirt By on the Dance Floor:****
1. Dancing Queen, by Abba
2. Sexy and I Know It, by LMFAO
3. The Lady in Red, by Chris de Burgh
4. (I've Had) The Time of My Life, by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
5. Do Ya Think I'm Sexy, by Rod Stewart

Songs to "Get in the Mood":
1. Sexual Healing, by Marvin Gaye
2. Let's Get It On, by Marvin Gaye and Rene Hall
3. Can't Get Enough of Your Love, by Barry White
4. Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus, by Serge Gainsborough and Jane Birkin
5. Sex on Fire, by Kings of Leon

What are the songs on your playlists in these categories?

Have a good day. Keep the lights and music low ... and remember to use protection*****.


* You've got to be kidding!
** You've really got to be kidding!
*** Oh, yeah!
**** The full list is pretty good. Trust me, I know!
***** I'm not talking about ear plugs.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fundamental Problems with DC

We all know that there are multiple problems with Disneyland-on-the-Potomac, and how to solve them ... after all, there are about 75 attack ads per hour on television and a dozen robocalls per hour telling you that everything is the fault of one party or the other (depending on whose super-PACs are funding said ads and calls). But the problems are more basic than just the avarice and lack of ethics of the various political parties.

Yesterday I took part in a conference at which the introductory remarks were given by a senior official who encouraged us to look beyond our individual organizational agendas to come up with real solutions to the issues we were assembled to discuss. During his remarks, he noted that there were two "fundamental problems with DC" -

1. "You're not the boss of me!"


2. "I'm not paying for it!"

I know the gentleman who made those remarks doesn't read my blog*, so I can say this without fear of being accused of sucking up: I think he's brilliant.

If you peel back the layers of the onion of any major issue far enough, you'll come down to those two basic systemic problems. Think about it ...

In a city and a political and economic system filled with hard-charging, Type-A personalities, nobody wants to have to work for or answer to anyone else. Everybody has to be in charge. You can see one manifestation of this every time there's a major scandal** in the government ... the first thing that happens is that Congress holds hearings. Now, Congress never holds just a hearing (singular) - they hold hearings (plural). Every committee, subcommittee, select committee, caucus, and individual member of both the Senate and the House has to hold its own hearing because it perceives it has some sort of jurisdiction, however tenuous, that will allow its members to haul hapless witnesses to sweat under the C-SPAN lights while holier-than-thou members of Congress grill them in an attempt to demonstrate their power and authority and make the opposing party look bad. You're not the boss of me! - I have to hold my own hearings because you can't do it right, and I can gain some perceived advantage.

And the big problems never get addressed.

The other fundamental problem - "I'm not paying for it!" - is equally visible. Everybody wants the benefits and services that government can provide, but nobody wants to get stuck with the bill. This is why we have such a fiscal mess in the federal government ... taxes get cut, spending increases without regard to the loss of income, and the government has to borrow more and more money to bridge the gap and keep pleasing its various constituencies that want things for free.

And the "fiscal cliff" gets closer every day.

So, as you approach the election and think about the ridiculous ass-clownery that has replaced sober, representative government, think about the two fundamental problems. It won't solve anything, but it will help you understand where our government went off the rails ... and suggest how to get it back on them.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Can you imagine that?

** Defined as "anything I can exploit to cause trouble for my political opponents."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Basic Rules for Dogs

If you're not a Dog Person, you probably won't be able to fully appreciate this post, so you may want  either to come back again tomorrow or to go back and read some older posts. Or you could read on and learn something, it's up to you.

Dogs have personalities, and they have inborn sets of rules* that seem to program their behavior. You will doubtless recognize the manifestations of these rules followed by your four-legged friend as he works assiduously to defend your home and yard ...

Newspapers: If you have to go to the bathroom while playing in the front yard, always use the newspaper that's placed in the driveway every morning for that purpose.

Visitors: Quickly determine which guest is afraid of dogs. Charge across the room, barking loudly and leap playfully on this person. If the human falls down on the floor and starts crying, lick his face and growl gently to show your concern.

Barking: Because you are a dog, you are expected to bark. So bark. A lot. Your humans will be very happy to hear you protecting their house. Especially late at night while they are sleeping safely in their beds. There is no more secure feeling for a human than to keep waking up in the middle of the night and hearing your protective bark, bark, bark...

Licking: Always take a big drink from your water dish immediately before licking your human. Humans prefer clean tongues. Be ready to fetch your human a towel.

Holes: Rather than digging one big hole in the middle of the yard and upsetting your human, dig a lot of smaller holes all over the yard so she won't notice. If you arrange a little pile of dirt on one side of each hole, maybe she'll think it's gophers. There are never enough holes in the ground. Strive daily to do your part to help correct this problem.

Doors: The area directly in front of a door is always reserved for you to sleep. This enables you to carefully monitor each human that goes in or out and, if you keep a careful count, you will know when it is safe to move up onto the couch (see couches below).

The Art of Sniffing: Humans like to be sniffed. Everywhere. It is your duty, as the family dog, to accommodate them.

Dining Etiquette: Always sit under the table at dinner, especially when there are guests, so you can clean up any food that falls on the floor. If no food falls on the floor, it is perfectly permissible to lay your head in the human's lap or nudge his leg to remind him that you're on duty. It's also a good time to practice your sniffing (see the art of sniffing, above).

Housebreaking: Housebreaking is very important to humans, so break as much of the house as possible.

Going for Walks: Rules of the road: When out for a walk with your human, never go to the bathroom on your own lawn. Make sure to use the neighbor's yard instead, and be sure to select a spot from which the neighbor can see you.

Couches: It is perfectly permissible to lie on the new couch after all your humans have gone to bed, or if they are out of the house. Who's to know?

Playing: If you lose your footing while chasing a ball or stick, use the flower bed to absorb your fall so you don't injure yourself.

Chasing Cats: When chasing cats, make sure you never quite catch them. It spoils all the fun.

Chewing: Make a contribution to the fashion industry ... eat a shoe. Just one. Your human will want the other one as a reminder of its lost twin.

Those are some of the basic rules for dogs. If you have a dog, you will probably recognize them and have others. Leave a comment about them.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Thanks to my friend Bob, who sent me the original e-mail list on which this post is based.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloween Jokes

Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of being the emcee for the Fall Showcase at Dance Studio Lioudmila in Alexandria. This is a wonderful job ... I get to do dress up and what I do well (be a ham) while spending the afternoon in a room full of beautiful ladies without the pressure of having to remember a dance routine. What's not to like?

One of the things you have to be ready to do as an emcee at a dance event is kill time between presentations when the inevitable glitches arise (costume changes, music doesn't work, wardrobe malfunctions, performers show up late, etc). For those cases, I always have to try to have plenty of silly, topical jokes on hand ... everybody groans about them, but they can't wait to use them themselves. Here is a selection of the Halloween-theme jokes from my notes ...

Why did the vampire enjoy ballroom dancing? He could really get into the vaultz.

How does a witch-doctor ask a girl to dance? "Voodoo like to dance with me?"

How do you win a soccer game against a team of ghosts? You score more ghouls.

Do zombies eat popcorn with their fingers? No, they eat the fingers separately.

What do you get when you cross a vampire and a snowman? Frostbite.

What do you call someone who puts poison in your cornflakes? A cereal killer.

Why did the witches' team lose the baseball game? Their bats flew away.

What do you call a haunted chicken? A poultry-geist.

What happened to the guy who couldn't keep up payments to his exorcist? He got repossessed.

Why did the skeleton cross the road? To get to the body shop.

What kind of monster is safe to put in a washing machine? A wash and wear wolf.

Why did the ghost go into the bar? For the boos.

What do you get when you divide the circumference of a jack-o-lantern by its diameter? Pumpkin Pi.

Two zombies went to a party. One said to the other, “A lady just rolled her eyes at me. What should I do?” The other one said, “Be a gentleman and roll them back to her.”

Go ahead and use these at your next party. Or let your kids use them at school. No charge.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

More About Really Big Houses

Back in 2009 I wrote about one of my fantasies (one of the ones I'll admit to, anyhow) - my desire to live in a Really Big House. You can read that post here if you missed it at the time.

I hadn't thought much about my Really Big House fantasy for a while until yesterday morning when, on the way home from taking our granddaughters to their swimming lesson, our daughter decided to show us a model home she'd found in a community near her daughters' school ...

Holy #%$@!

The last time I saw a house that big, it was occupied by someone whose first name was Your Majesty. The photo in no way illustrates just how big this house is. It was so big it had its own zip code and distorted gravity in its vicinity. Here's a link to the floor plan.

Even considering that the model had every available option built into it ... including a sit-in wine cellar, multiple dens/studies/libraries, a rec room larger than most northeastern states, a three-car garage, and more bathrooms than I could count ... this house is enormous. You'd need GPS just to get from the master bedroom to the kitchen. The Octomom and her brood could have lived comfortably on one floor. As I whispered* to Agnes, the house was so big that a couple could have a fight and not have to see each other for days.

I still dream of living in a Really Big House, but I have to ask myself: who really needs a 6,000 square foot house with as many as seven bedrooms and six-and-a-half baths? Not too many young people with large families can afford a house with a starting price of over 3/4 of a million dollars. A house with a price tag like this is probably more in the mortgage range of someone who can buy an election.

But if you decide to buy this house, let me know. I'll rent part of it from you.

And trust me ... you'll never know I'm there.

Have a good day. Live large ... so to speak. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I had to whisper ... the echo would have been too distracting.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

And what a week it's been ...

The brutally medieval Pakistani Taliban, having proudly claimed responsibility for attempting to murder a teenage girl for the crime of wanting an education, are now threatening reporters with death if they report the story; a car bomb targeting a police official in Beirut, Lebanon, killed at least eight people and injured scores of others; 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern was admitted to a hospice, where he remains unresponsive and gravely ill on life support; the Boy Scouts released more than 20,000 documents identifying more than 1,000 leaders and volunteers banned from the group after being accused of sexual or inappropriate conduct with boys; "Big Tex," the iconic giant cowboy who greeted visitors to the Texas State Fair for nearly 60 years, was destroyed in a fire ... and there are just two and a half weeks to go until the election.

You really need Cartoon Saturday.

We lead off this week with two riffs on the pirate theme ...


I always suspected that there was an ulterior motive for all those security questions ...

Each generation has to cope with the advance of technology ... even if it's for the birds ...

I thought this was a great twist on the classic murder-for-hire ...

There's an old joke about the guy who got a sweater for Christmas, but was hoping for a moaner or a screamer. Here's a cartoon variation on the idea ...

If you spend time doing crossword puzzles, you know all about the Muses - the Greek goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences. There could probably be a case made for some updated Muses for the 21st Century ...

Speaking of Muses, some of us have our troubles with Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance ...

I wish I'd said this ... oh, wait! I have! ...

And finally for this week, fish need to have some fun, too ...

And that's it for another week. Autumn appears to be here in Northern Virginia ... the leaves are turning (and falling), morning temperatures are crisp and afternoons pleasant, and the robocalls and yard signs are proliferating like mold in a poorly-ventilated basement.

Just let the election be over.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Friday, October 19, 2012


If you live in the Seattle area and were considering dressing up as a pirate for Halloween, you may find a minor shortage of costumes.

According to this online article from television station WTKR in Hampton Roads, Virginia, customs officials have confiscated more than a thousand Chinese-made pirate costumes which contained more than 11 times the permissible amount of lead in their buttons and trim. The contaminated costumes looked like this ...

and were to have been sold in Washington state.

This issue raises some interesting questions:

1. Who decides how much lead a pirate costume can contain?

2. How does one measure the amount of lead in a pirate costume? By dressing someone up as a pirate, throwing him overboard, and seeing how long it takes him to sink?

3. If you're going to contaminate a pirate costume with a heavy metal, shouldn't it be gold?

Of course, if you are a man and purchased one of these contaminated costumes for Halloween, you probably have a bigger problem than lead contamination.

Perhaps the danger of lead-contaminated costumes could be mitigated by providing enough food at Halloween parties that guests would not feel compelled to eat their outfits.

Be careful out there when choosing your Halloween costume ... China appears to play trick or treat for keeps.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Sound Stupid*

You read that subject line and thought, "He's going to say something like, 'run for president but don't reveal any details of your policies,' or 'ask whether sodomy is okay if it's for a good purpose, like killing infidels.' But no, I'm talking about simple ways that you can look really stupid just by using a few common words as verbal crutches.

I ran across this article by Mariam Jehangir yesterday: Five Words That Make You Sound Stupid. In the article, Ms Jehangir provides a helpful list of words that people drop into sentences - words which don’t add useful meaning or content, disrupt the flow of the sentence, and generally cause the word DUMBASS to flash brightly across their foreheads. Here's the list, with some of the discussion from the article and my own quasi-brilliant observations:

Actually. The word actual literally means that something is physically present or exists in reality, but it's often dropped into a sentence to add extra emphasis to a point ... the words basically and honestly (discussed below) are similarly misused. If you hear the word actually, you should probably be suspicious about whether the subject is actually actual.

Basically. A basic point should be one that is simple and fundamental to the argument. In much modern speech, though, the word is often used to add imagined weight to a weak argument and instill a sense of finality. Basically, you shouldn't use it.

Honestly. The article notes that people often use this word to add a tone of authority to what they're saying ... whether it's honest or not**. As soon as I hear someone say "honestly," I wonder why they haven't been honest with me before.

Like. If this isn't the most overused word in the English language, I don't know what is. Ms Jehangir notes that it should be used when describing something that has the same form or character as something else, but instead it's become a staple of teenage 'valley-speak,' peppering every sentence with useless verbal detritus that adds nothing to the meaning and makes one sound like a clueless idiot.

Literally. This word is supposed to describe something without exaggeration; instead speakers often use it in figurative or hyperbolic sentences. I find this to be literally unbelievable.

Here's one the list accidentally omitted:

You Know. People who have to say you know in every other sentence are actually insulting you by implying that you probably don't know. You know what I mean?

And finally:

Any Four-Letter Word (or four-letter word used in combination with other words). Now, I've been known to use plenty of four-letter words myself, and sometimes they're just the only thing that really expresses what you mean. But the usefulness of the four-letter words that used to be considered vulgar and shocking has been diminished by constant use. There are a lot of people out there who can't say anything without dropping the f-bomb at least once ... and usually multiple times. All it means is that you can't think of anything better to say.

So, what are your recommendations for ways to sound stupid? Leave a comment. Inquiring minds want to know.

Have a good day. Actually, basically you should speak honestly and literally, you know? Like, do it now.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* I think I'm well-qualified to address this topic, so pay attention.

** See any political attack ad from either party for examples.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Getting to the Bottom of What's Permissible ... So to Speak

One of the things for which America is justly famous is our freedom of (and from, but that gets lost on the Far Right sometimes) religion. The Founders had recent experience of the religious wars of Europe and didn't want to bring that horror to the new nation they were setting up, and so the Constitution makes it clear (in Article VI) that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States," and the Bill of Rights (First Amendment) states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

This is all pretty clear to me, if not to those on the Religious Right who insist that the Founders had a specifically Christian agenda.

But there are other places in the world where the wisdom of avoiding extreme religious belief is not quite as well recognized.

NOTE: the rest of this post is recommended for adults only. You've been warned.

I call your attention to this video clip from the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). It features Abdallah al-Khilaf, a London-based Shiite cleric who answers religious questions posted in jihad-focused online discussion groups. In this clip from al-Khilaf's television program in June of this year, he addresses a question posed by a would-be holy warrior who wants to participate in a "martyrdom operation" that involves the use of explosives inserted into the ... um ... nether regions of his body, but is concerned about whether preparation of the appropriate orifice for such an "operation" violates Quranic prohibitions against sodomy.

You will no doubt be pleased to know that the tormented questioner's mind was put at ease by Mr al-Khilaf, who cited a fatwa (religious ruling) by a religious scholar who assured him that, while sodomy was forbidden in principle, it was acceptable when engaged in for purposes of furthering jihad ... although one has to ask God's forgiveness.

Maybe it's just me, but if this is what it takes to get God's attention, I'll just start going back to a church where they still believe in the old love thy neighbor thing, and skip the 72 virgins in paradise.

Have a good day. Worship according to your conscience, but remember that it isn't necessary to kill people who worship according to their own.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Few More Odds and Ends

I'm running a little bit late this morning, having overslept my alarm by about 15 minutes, and so my brain isn't quite engaged yet. Therefore, instead of the usual insightful and erudite post you probably were expecting*, how about a few minor odds and ends from the old blog fodder file to hold you over until tomorrow, eh?

Saudi Arabia has very little to recommend it other than a whole bunch of oil. In fact, were it not for all that oil, it would probably have remained nothing more than a backward and misogynistic storehouse for sand. The desert kingdom is widely known for, among other things, forbidding women to drive ... but it seems that the government and religious authorities are sticking a tentative toe into the 20th century** by considering the possibility of allowing women to get behind the wheel. Here's a photo from the news release ...

Halloween is not far off, and everyone is thinking about their costumes. Zombies are, for some reason, big again this year, so if you want to dress up as a zombie and be really believable, you should probably work on mastering the USDA-approved zombie diet ...

I think we're probably safe here in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac in the event of a zombie invasion ... the shortage of brains would probably cause hungry zombies to go elsewhere in search of nourishment.

You can tell there's an election coming by the geometric rise in the number of robo-calls that tell you that (insert candidate name here) is a worthless douchebag, rather than explaining clearly why you should vote for (insert candidate name here) instead. This makes it difficult to make an informed decision, which is why I don't pay much attention to polling results ...

I ran across this interesting story in The Atlantic yesterday - Study: In Homicide Defense, When the Beautiful Are the Damned. There's a general belief that a beautiful woman can - literally - get away with murder ... but that may not necessarily be the case. We all remember the classic scene in the movie Basic Instinct in which actress Sharon Stone attempts to ... uh ... distract the detective (Michael Douglas) who's interrogating her*** ...

According to a study done at the University of Granada in Spain, her ploy may not have worked as well as she might have hoped, as the study results indicated that women charged with murder who plead self-defense are more likely to be perceived as guilty if they have straight blonde hair and "a slender and elegant appearance." You can read the full study (titled Is Miss Sympathy a Credible Defendant Alleging Intimate Partner Violence in a Trial For Murder?) here, preferably before you decide upon a solution to your problems that might draw the attention of the coroner.

And that's it for today.

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


* Silly you.

** The 21st would probably be a bit too much to expect.

*** That scene is #85 of the Top 100 Movie Moments, as ranked by the website

Monday, October 15, 2012

Is D.C. the Best-Educated Big City in America?

If, like me, you spend a lot of time shaking your head at the ludicrous antics of Congress in general and many of its individual members in particular*, you may be surprised at this article from the October 10th issue of the Washington Post - Study: D.C. Is the Best-Educated Big City in America.

Yes, Dear Readers, as counterintuitive as it may often seem, the population of the Washington, DC metro area is - according to a study conducted for First 5 LA - better educated than the population of any other city in America of comparable size. While DC public schools are not considered to be very good, the metro area benefits from the presence of suburbs with excellent school systems and from a large population of highly-educated employees of the federal government and the many corporations and think tanks that are headquartered in the area.

I know from personal experience that there are a lot of really brilliant people working in the government and the vast array of organizations and businesses that support it. I marvel every day at the quality of the people with whom I am privileged to work and with whom I can exchange ideas. But I also know from routine experience that "level of education" does not always equal "level of practical, applied smarts." A look at our hopelessly dysfuctional Congress and at the corruption-ridden DC city government clearly shows that.

Education, when not leavened by common sense and practical applicability, not only is not very useful, but can be downright dangerous. The sage who first said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing knew whereof he spoke.

This reminds me of a very interesting talk I once heard by General Al Gray, the crusty former Commandant of the Marine Corps. In it, he said that he liked to use the "7-11 Test" for ideas presented to him ... that is, if he thought a proposed idea would make sense to an average person buying a coffee or a Big Gulp at the local 7-11, it probably had merit.

I think Congress would be wise to use some form of General Gray's 7-11 test, rather than relying on "unbiased studies" done by well-educated policy wonks at obscurely-named organizations with hidden agendas, or on telephone surveys of carefully-selected people designed to produce a desired result.

A good education is a gift to be treasured, and a truly well-educated person is one who understands how little he really knows.

And by that yardstick, there aren't very many well-educated persons in DC.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I'm thinking about Republican Representative Paul Broun of Georgia - a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, no less - who recently said, "All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell." I think we're in trouble.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Songs for Geezers? Not Here!

As a card-carrying member of the American Association of Retired People (although I'm not retired yet, I qualify on the basis of age ... sigh), I get the AARP magazine and all sorts of snail- and e-mail advertising retirement communities, cemetery plots, discount colonoscopies, and USDA Prime pureed steaks. But I also get some thought-provoking articles like this one by Jacqueline Mitchard: 16 Songs Everyone Over 50 Must Own.

Well, everyone over 50 except me, that is.

While I like some of the songs on the list, there's not a one that would make it onto my top 50 list. Not even close.

And so, with a tip of the musical hat to Andrea, my favorite music lady, here are Bilbo's Top 16 Songs That Will Always Be in My Collection, with commentary, excerpts from the lyrics, and links to YouTube videos, where they're available (a note about the videos - some of them have political ads inserted before the actual music, so be warned):

1. Fields of Gold (Sting). This is a great song with a near-perfect blend of music and evocative lyrics ...

So she took her love
For to gaze awhile
Upon the fields of barley
In his arms she fell as her hair came down
Among the fields of gold.

2. Song for Judith (Judy Collins). A wonderful song about friendship, sung in Judy's bell-clear voice with the wonderful refrain,

Open the door and come on in!
I'm so glad to see you, my friend -
You're like a rainbow comin' around the bend
And when I see you happy, well, it sets my soul free
I'd like to be as good a friend to you
As you are to me.

3. Angel Mine (Cowboy Junkies). The ethereal voice of vocalist Margo Timmins, combined with beautiful lyrics make this one of the most touching love songs I think I've ever heard ...

I'll never promise that I'll grow those wings,
Or keep this tarnished halo shined;
But I'll never betray your trust, Angel Mine

4. Bullshit (Grace Jones). The quintessential election year song, but useful in so many situations ...

And if I wander down the wrong road,
It's alright honey, just let me go,
If I get tired of all those assholes,
It's alright cause' I want them to know.

I'm sick and tired of all this bullshit
Same shit, wrong shit
Hey Jesus come on down and save us, save us, rave on.

5. Mr Shorty (Marty Robbins). One of the greatest cowboy storytelling songs ever, about a little man pushed too far by a bully ...

It was clear he was ready and waitin',
He leaned a bit forward and said,
"When you call me 'Shorty,' say 'Mister,' my friend,
Or maybe you'd rather be dead.'"

6. Die unsichtbare Macht (Juliane Werding). The first of two German songs on my list, this one is an anthem for paranoid people everywhere. The title translates as "The Invisible Power," and asks questions like,

Wer registriert jeden Schritt den ich tu?
Wer hoert sogar den Gedanken noch zu?
Keine Frage - die unsichtbare Macht!

in English ...

Who's logging my every step?
Who's listening to my every thought?
No question: it's the Invisible Power (it rhymes and sounds better in German).

7. You Know I'm No Good (Amy Winehouse). Amy Winehouse may have been an ad for everything you can do wrong in life, but she was a hell of a singer. This is a great song that only her gritty, one-of-a-kind voice could have moaned out ...

I cheated myself
Like I knew I would.
I told you I was trouble -
You know that I'm no good.

8. Jamaica Farewell (Harry Belafonte). I love calypso music, and it doesn't get much better than this simple song about the pain of separation ...

I'm sad to say I'm on my way,
Won't be back for many a day.
My heart is down, my head is turning around -
I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town.

9. The Music of the Night (Michael Crawford). The Phantom of the Opera is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest musicals of all time, with fabulous music and lyrics ... of which this one is the best song. Consider these words ...

Slowly, gently, night unfurls its splendor.
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender.
Hearing is believing,
Music is deceiving,
Hard as lightning, soft as candle light -
Dare you trust the music of the night?

And it's even a great song for the current political climate, as the lyrics go on with these words ...

Close your eyes for your eyes will only tell the truth,
And the truth isn't what you want to see.
In the dark it is easy to pretend
That the truth is what it ought to be.

10. Herbstgewitter ueber Daechern (Reinhard Mey). German has an image as a harsh and gutteral language, but it can also be a language of great beauty and imagery. In this song by German folk singer Reinhard Mey, titled "Autumn Thunderstorms over the Rooftops," he sings about the things he sees and hears and experiences, compares them to his beloved, and finds they come up short ...

Warten, hoffen und aufgeben, 
Irren und Ratlosigkeit.
Zweifeln, glauben und verzeihen.
Freudentränen, Trunkenheit.

Hätt ich all das nie erfahren,
Hätt ich all das nie erlebt -
Schlief ich ein in deinen Armen.
Sagt ich doch, ich hab gelebt!

Or in English,

Waiting, hoping and giving up, 
Making mistakes, helplessness,
Doubting, believing, and forgiving,
Tears of joy, drunkenness.

If I'd never known any of that,
If I'd never experienced it at all,
If I could just fall asleep in your arms,
I could say I'd lived.

11. Straight to Number One (Touch and Go). Just about the ultimate in sexy, sultry tunes. It's a rumba melody that makes you think much more about the down-and-dirty horizontal tango than the slow and sexy rumba ...

Ten - kiss me on the lips
Nine - run your fingers through my hair
Eight - touch me . . . slowly
Hold it - 
Let's go straight to number one!

12. Years Ago (The Statler Brothers). The Statler Brothers are one of the great country/folk groups, and many of their songs feature clever lyrics to go along with the great melodies. They have so many great songs that it's hard to pick a single example as a favorite, but this one one about a fellow who drops by his old flame's wedding has got to be high on the list ...

There's no reason I should stay,
The groom won't shake hands anyway,
And I kissed the bride years ago.

13. Ain't Misbehavin' (George Burns). A great, simple song with music by Fats Waller and Harry Brooks and lyrics by Andy Razaf. It's been recorded by many singers, but my favorite version was done by George Burns ...

No one to walk with, all by myself
No one to talk with, I'm happy on the shelf
Ain't misbehavin' -
I'm savin' all my love for you.

14. Prodigal Daughter (Michelle Shocked). A twist on the biblical tale of the prodigal son, this song asks about the reception that the fallen, prodigal daughter might get when she returns home ...

Look, here comes the prodigal son
Fetch him a tall drink of water;
But there's none in the cup, 'cause he drank it all up,
Left for the prodigal daughter.

15. Return to Sender (Elvis Presley). Before we had zip codes to sort our mail, we had postal zones ... I grew up in "Pittsburgh 37, Pennsylvania," which is now "Pittsburgh, PA 15237." You ought to know that bit of trivia if you're much younger than I am and want to enjoy this great song from The King, which contains the lines,

I gave a letter to the postman,
he put it his sack.
Bright and early next morning,
he brought my letter back -

She wrote upon it:
Return to sender - address unknown.
No such number, no such zone.

And it's a great swing dance tune, too!

16. Closer and Closer Apart (Mary Chapin Carpenter). A sad, poignant song about failing love ...

Now, my sad little boat floats on out to sea
And you're almost out of sight
I'll remember you
Please don't forget me
I whisper with all my might

All I can do is turn now to you
Holding my hand to my heart
All that I know is I'm watching us grow
Closer and closer apart.

Okay, I have to add one more to the list of 16 ...

17. A Rock and a Hard Place (The Rolling Stones). I don't like much hard rock, but this one is a classic ...

This talk of freedom and human rights
Means bullying and private wars and chucking all the dust into our eyes,
And peasant people poorer than dirt
Who are caught in the crossfire with nothing to lose but their shirts -
Stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Okay, that's my list ... what songs are on yours? Let ol' Bilbo know in your comments, or send me an e-mail or a note on Facebook.

Because we need music to help us get through the worldly mess.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

I have just completed my first week of work after our vacation. I need Cartoon Saturday at least as much as you do, so let's get to it ...

A Texas woman who glued her two-year-old daughter's hands to the wall and beat her because of toilet training problems has been sentenced to 99 years in prison; a body encased in concrete and buried in a Georgia backyard has been identified as that of a former Florida journalist who went missing in August; a Florida man walking on a beach found a softball-sized eyeball from an as yet unidentified creature*; Vice President Joe Biden and GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan engaged in their only debate of the campaign on Thursday night, a spirited verbal slugfest in which both men came out smelling like ... well ... campaigning politicians; and unknown thieves stole part of a shipment of new-design $100 bills ... which, sadly, are not of immediate use because the bills in question are not intended to go into circulation until sometime next year.

Times are tough ... but at least you have Cartoon Saturday to help you cope ...

Some people can be very creative with their interpretation of homeowners' association rules ...

Don't you wish this applied to members of Congress? ...

With apologies to military medics (and pun lovers) everywhere ...

Did you ever wonder how Robin Hood would have dealt with the IRS? ... or vice versa ...

This has always been my philosophy ... especially during an election year ...

I think I jumped into the social networking website thing a bit too soon ...

One presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate down, two debates to go ...

I personally think one of the best things about summer is tank tops on beautiful ladies. Of course, there's another way to look at it ...

What do you think of our two-party system? And what do you think the so-called 1% thinks of it? ...

And finally, the males of various species have various types of mating displays to attract the attention of the opposite sex ...

And that's how it is for this week's edition of Cartoon Saturday.

We had our first frost here in Northern Virginia last night, so it looks like autumn is definitely here. After the blazing heat of the past summer, I'm not complaining (although it does cut back on the prevalence of those tank tops we talked about earlier).

Today will be a day dedicated to chores and to restocking the ol' larder now that we're back from our vacation, picking up a new book at the library, and returning our defective set-top box to the cable company for exchange. At least the library part will be fun.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* A spokesman from the Department of 'Duh' was quoted as saying of the source of the eyeball (I am not making this up), "the front-runner is some type of large fish."

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Few More Great Moments in Editing

It's been almost a month since we've taken a look at great moments in editing, so why not let's get to it, eh? ...

Sometimes you have to read the fine print to see what you're really getting ...

If you know of any NBA players looking to furnish their living rooms ...

I wonder how much this study cost, and who paid for it ...

I didn't realize that there was an art section on the qualifying exam for detectives ...

Well, if he's dead, at least he shouldn't have to pay taxes, right? I wonder if the GOP has tumbled on to this approach yet ...

Eleanor wasn't in the same league as other glamorous first ladies like Jackie Kennedy and Carla Bruni, but this was a bit low ...

Amazing! Just amazing! ...

I think I'll pass on these ...

And this ...

Too bad ... it was probably better than fire-and-brimstone sermons as a way of attracting worshipers ...

And there you have it ... another installment of Great Moments in Editing. Just what you needed to get you over the Vice Presidential debate. Good luck with the next few weeks.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.