Friday, November 30, 2012

Map Flap

Once again, China has demonstrated that it is fast becoming a major world power like the United States ... this time, with yet another ham-handed and needless insult to the nations which surround it.

This article appeared in yesterday's The Washington Post: "Here’s the Chinese Passport Map That’s Infuriating Much of Asia." Yes, Dear Readers, it seems that the latest high-tech Chinese passports include a map on page 8 which shows many disputed territories - including parts of India and Vietnam and the entire South China Sea - as parts of China. This is the passport page in question ...

As you might suspect, nations which have territorial disputes with their gigantic neighbor are understandably upset, and are reacting to the insulting map in different ways. At border crossings to Vietnam, officials are stapling visas to the offending page in order to cover up the map. The Indian embassy in Beijing is overstamping the page with a new visa stamp which features the Indian version of the map ... which, of course, shows disputed Himalayan territories as parts of India. Several Asian nations have filed formal complaints at the Chinese embassies in their countries, and others are expected to do so.

Why do such a deliberately provocative thing? Some observers note that the Chinese government has a sense of entitlement that grows out of a perception of itself as a country long exploited by others, and so it is perfectly okay for the Chinese to do what they believe was always done to them. The problem, of course, is that in many Asian cultures it is important to save face ... and now that the offending map has been published, backing away from it would cause an insulting loss of face for the Chinese government. This is not a good thing when you are an opaque, nuclear-armed nation with a huge army and a reputation for bullying its neighbors.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

But the Chinese passport map flap raises another interesting question ... if various whiny crybaby states actually do manage to secede from the United States, what maps would they include in their passports? I imagine that Texas passports would show that nation as including large parts of Mexico, New Mexico, and other bordering states as far away as, say, New York. An independent Virginia might claim West Virginia. North and South Dakota might claim each other. It's unlikely that any newly-independent state would claim ownership of New Jersey. The possibilities are endless.

Have a good day. Visit your favorite Asian destination now, before it becomes part of China.

And come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, November 29, 2012


One of my favorite websites is WordSpy, which advertises itself as "The Word Lover's Guide to New Words." It's a good place to catch up on the latest expressions, and is a fun guide to the evolution of language. We linguists are easily amused.

A lot of new words, particularly in the age of truncated digital communication and text messaging, are actually acronyms - words consisting of the first letters of the constituent parts of a phrase. Some popular and well-known acronyms are ASAP (As Soon As Possible), SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up), and the ever-popular TGIF (Thank Goodness It's Friday).

WordSpy has led me to a couple of interesting new acronyms that I thought I'd share with you:

TEOTWAWKI (pronounced TEA-oh-TWAH-kee) - The End Of The World As We Know It. This is a useful catch-all phrase for the time of chaos and disruption that hard-core conservatives expect will occur in the second Obama administration. 

It was similarly used by people at the other end of the political spectrum to refer to the second George W. Bush administration.

TANSTAAFL (pronounced TAN-staffle) - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. This classic expression reminds us that there's a price to be paid for everything ... or as the evil Rumplestiltskin is fond of reminding us in the hit TV series Once Upon a Time, "All magic comes with a price, dearie!" 

This is a very useful expression to keep in mind as Congress engages in its alleged efforts to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" ... such efforts usually consisting of chest-thumping defenses of programs which absolutely cannot be cut (defense and tax cuts, if you're a Republican; Social Security and Medicare, if you're a Democrat).

SMIDSY (pronounced SMID-see) - Sorry, Mate, I Didn't See You. This is a useful adjective acronym that describes an accident caused by the driver of a car who failed to see another car, cyclist or pedestrian. 

BANANA (you know how to pronounce it) - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. This is a clever acronym used to refer to a person who is opposed to new real estate development, particularly projects close to their neighborhood and particularly developments of a commercial or industrial nature.

And finally for today, an interesting word that isn't, strictly speaking, an acronym, but a combination of an acronym and another word ...

LOLbertarian (pronounced ELL-oh-ELL-ber-TARRY-un) - this word comes from the combination of LOL (Laughing Out Loud) and "libertarian," and is defined as "A libertarian whose views are so extreme as to invite mockery." Sadly, we have no shortage of those.

So, Dear Readers, do you have any favorite acronyms? Leave a comment. There's only so much time available to listen to things, and so acronyms are ever more important, IYKWIM*.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* If You Know What I Mean. I have no idea how to pronounce it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Midweek Odds and Ends

I'm still recovering from my delightful visit to the dentist yesterday*, and am not in the best of moods this morning, so how about we just run down a few odds and ends in lieu of a coherent post?

First of all, congratulations to Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani, who won the All-Star Season of Dancing with the Stars last night. I've been rooting for them all season, partly because Melissa is gorgeous, and partly because I had a lesson with Mr Dovolani when we were both at the Grand National Dance Championships in Miami some years ago. He spent an hour running me around the dance floor until I was ready to scream ... my hat is off to Melissa for surviving 13 weeks of his tender mercies.

Speaking of gorgeous people, Travel and Leisure Magazine has published its list of the Top Ten Cities for Attractive People. Washington DC is not on the list, it's attractiveness value probably being dragged down by the large population of brain-dead political trolls. Here's the list:

1 - Miami, Florida (been there, agree with that.)

2 - San Diego, California (I worked with a lady from San Diego back in the mid-70's. If she was typical, San Diego needs to be at number 1.)

3 - San Juan, Puerto Rico (oddly enough, Puerto Rico recently voted in favor of statehood. Maybe we can get all those attractive people to replace the ones who want to secede.)

4 - Charleston, South Carolina (I've been to Charleston once ... and it was not a particularly memorable visit. It's a two-beer story that I'll share with you if you make it to DC.)

5 - Los Angeles, California (maybe it's just me, but all the women in LA look ... artificially enhanced.)

6 - Nashville, Tennessee (not the one in the TV series, evidently.)

7 - Austin, Texas (you've got to love a place where the popular t-shirt says "Keep Austin Weird.")

8 - Savannah, Georgia (it's the southern drawl that does it.)

9 - Honolulu, Hawaii (nobody really lives there ... if you don't believe me, just ask one of them to show you a birth certificate.)

10 - Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota (the people really are attractive ... but you can only see it in the summer. In the winter, they have to wear so many layers of clothes you can't tell the men from the women.)

The dead horse of secession lunacy is still twitching, so I thought that this article might provide a dash of reality to counterbalance all the ass-clownery of buffoons who think everything will magically improve if they leave the union.

Tonight's Powerball jackpot is worth over a half-billion dollars. You may win it, but the odds are slightly against you. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are estimated at 1 in 175,223,510, which compares unfavorably to the odds of dying from being struck by lightning** (1 in 3,000,000), being attacked by a shark (1 in 11,500,000), or a golfer hitting a hole in one on consecutive par-3 holes (1 in about 156,000,000). Good luck.

And that's it for today. 

Have a good day. Don't spend all that Powerball money just yet. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I'd have said that with tongue in cheek, but my cheek is still too swollen to let me get my tongue into it.

** Agnes is named after one of her relatives who, oddly enough, was killed when struck by lightning.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Secession Options

In the wake of the reelection of President Obama, large numbers of hysterical ultraconservative Republicans have decided that the appropriate response to losing the election is to secede from the United States. This is the same thoughtful, adult response that was common with Democrats after the reelection of George W. Bush back in 2008, demonstrating that brainless ass-clownery is not limited by political affiliation. Don't like the popular vote outcome - secede! After all, look how well it worked out for the Old Confederacy.

But before we condemn out of hand the dumbassity of those who would run screaming for the national exits because things didn't go their way, perhaps there is a realistic option for those who would rather live in the idyllic, utopian United States of the 19th century, rather than the complicated and messy world of today ...

I call your attention to this fascinating article: Huge Mars Colony Eyed by SpaceX Founder Elon Musk.

According to the article, the founder of the SpaceX commercial space flight company envisions a colony of up to 80,000 people on the Red Planet. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was quoted as saying, "At Mars, you can start a self-sustaining civilization and grow it into something really big."

If nothing else, major Republican immigration would give new meaning to the description of Mars as "The Red Planet."

Think of the advantages for the secession-minded:

No problem with illegal immigration, because undesirables would not be able to afford the $500,000 cost of passage.

No need to pay taxes imposed by the perfidious and profligate US government, which would in any case be more than 140 million miles away.

Guns for everyone ... a necessity for protection against unfriendly Martians.

No need to worry about health care, because only healthy people would be allowed to make the trip.

And that's just for starters!

If you or one of your friends has signed one of the popular pro-secession petitions, act now! For only $500,000 you can move to the ultimate Red State ... Mars ... where you can enjoy the American Dream without the annoyance of actually being American ...

Don't let the door hit you in the backside on your way out.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Bad Memories

If, like me, you are active on Facebook, you know that the program helpfully suggests all sorts of people you might like to have as friends, based on its comparison of your digital profile to those of millions of other Facebook users. Most of the people it suggests to me are either people I already know, but have no particular interest in "friending," or people I've never heard of before and have no particular interest in knowing. The other day, though, it came up with a friend recommendation that brought back a tidal wave of bad memories.

The individual Facebook suggested I might want to "friend" was a despicable bully who made my grade-school and middle-school life utterly miserable. He and his friends believed that smaller, bookish people like me were put on earth for the sole purpose of making him feel powerful by giving him someone to torment. People may change over time, but I doubt that this individual has changed that much. I suspect he found a career as a debt collector or bouncer in a cheap club where he can continue making people's lives a living hell and get paid for it.

I hadn't thought about that person for many years, and have no interest whatsoever in being on the same continent with him, much less "friending" him. But this incident reminds me of a topic I've written about twice before in my blog, and which was the subject of an interesting opinion piece in Sunday's Washington Post ...

In December of 2006, I wrote an untitled post about a simple, yet profound question posed by Lance Morrow in his book Evil: An Investigation: what happens if nobody ever forgets? His question dealt with the inability of some people to forgive wrongs done in the distant past, and how that desire to cling to a hateful memory and seek vengeance prevents healing and moving on with life - Jews will never forget the Holocaust, American blacks will never forget slavery, Palestinians will never forget the creation of Israel, Armenians will never forget the genocide of 1915, and so on. What happens if nobody ever forgets? ... every wrong done by one person or group to another lives on in bitter memory. Forever.

A few years later, in April of 2010, I wrote a post titled Remembering to Forget that was based on a related idea: the observation by Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger that the Internet and cheap digital memory have led to an environment in which nothing is ever forgotten because everything can be simply and cheaply remembered ... an environment where the default value of a memory is save rather than forget.

And yesterday in the Washington Post, Mr Mayer-Schoenberger revisited his concept of the importance of forgetting in an interesting and timely article titled, Can We Forgive If We Can't Forget? His theme is summed up in this wonderful quote from the article:

"With comprehensive digital memories all around us, forgetting one another’s offenses becomes more difficult; through our digital tools we’ll be alerted to all that we thought we had forgotten. This will make it harder for us to forgive."

I had forgotten about the stupid bully from my childhood until Facebook suggested that I might want him as a friend. And when the memories came rushing back, there was no thought in my mind of reaching out and "friending" him and forgiving him for the misery he caused me ... all I remembered was the fear and the shame I'd endured at his hands every day all those years ago. 

Today I'm a perfectly happy professional adult, married to a great lady, with three wonderful children, six beautiful grandchildren and a large circle of friends ... and I still detest that one schoolyard bully I last saw nearly fifty years ago. 

I suppose I have proved Mr Meyer-Schoenberg's point.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Is Everybody Happy?

Ted Lewis was a popular American bandleader from the 1920s through the 1940s whose catchphrase was "Is everybody happy?"

Too bad he didn't have the benefit of modern scientific study to help answer the question.

According to a landmark study conducted by intrepid researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, people prefer having sex and getting drunk to doing housework and commuting to work.

Who knew?

The study used text message survey techniques to have participants rank 30 activities on three criteria: whether it brought them pleasure, how engaged they were with the activity and whether it brought them overall happiness. The results indicated that partying and drinking alcohol placed second overall, followed by religious activities and playing with children. Paid work (that is, having a job) was in 24th place, just ahead of going to class but well behind the 21st-place showing of personal grooming. Having sex took first place in all categories.

Now, there are some obvious shortcomings with this survey, not the least of which is that it relied on text messaging for data collection, thereby limiting the sampled group to tech-savvy, probably younger people. Nevertheless, the results are interesting.

In case you don't want to read the entire article, here are the top ten activities that the study indicated brought the most happiness:

1. Making Love/Having Sex.

2. Drinking Alcohol/Partying.

3. Care-giving/Volunteering.

4. Meditating/Religious Activities.

5. Childcare/Playing with Children.

6. Listening to Music/Podcasts.

7. Socializing/Talking/Chatting.

8. Hobbies/Arts and Crafts.

9. Shopping/Running Errands.

10. Gaming/Playing Video Games.

And the bottom ten happiness-bringing activities ...

21. Washing/Dressing/Grooming.

22. Internet/On Computer.

23. Commuting/Travelling.

24. Paid Work.

25. Lectures/Class/Lab.

26. Texting/E-mailing (interesting placement, given how the data for this survey was collected).

27. Studying/Working on Education.

28. Housework/Chores.

29. Facebook.

30. Sick/Healthcare.

So what does all this mean to you, Dear Readers?

You can help balance things out by combining sex with other, less happiness-enhancing activities to raise the overall happiness average of your life. For instance, when cramming for an exam (#27), study with a close friend and take frequent breaks (#1), or when sitting in a boring lecture #25), choose a seat in a remote corner of the lecture hall and engage in a little nookie (#1) while the lecturer drones on. You could also kill two birds with one stone by showering (#21) with a friend (#1). You might also apply #2 as necessary in conjunction with any lower-ranking activity.

The possibilities are endless!

Don't thank me ... it's all part of my ongoing efforts to help you cope with the rigors of a difficult world.

Have a good day. Seek balance. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

Over that tryptophan-induced turkey coma yet? Read on, you'll wish you weren't ...

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a cease-fire in Gaza ... meaning that they've agreed to more-or-less stop shooting until the next time; Egyptian president Mohamed Morsy has grabbed dictatorial powers in that country, and is trying to avoid public anger by using the alias "Hosni Mubarak;" boxer Hector "Macho" Camacho is brain dead after being shot in the face during a drive-by shooting, saving him from becoming brain dead as a result of years of boxing matches; social networking giant Facebook has proposed to take away its users' right to vote on major issues concerning the governance of the online network, to the anger of people who can't figure out Facebook's privacy settings anyway; and nudists in San Francisco are up in arms over an attempt to institute a ban on public nudity*.

As November grinds to its cold and windy end, and we forget about all the things for which we can be thankful until next year, let's anesthetize ourselves with this week's cartoons, eh?

How about a few food-related cartoons to start with, in honor of everyone's slow recovery from Thanksgiving dinner? ...

And ...

And how about a topical pun, speaking of Thanksgiving overeating ...

I've gotten used to showing my ID everywhere I go, but some places really take it to extremes ...

It can happen ...

Tired of people you just barely know trying to be your best long-lost friend? No longer interested in everyone's political ideas?  Can't figure out the privacy settings? Maybe it's time for an alternative to Facebook ...

Could this be our future? ...

I've always believed that prices in a lot of stores are kept low to attract customers who can't shop there anyway because their jobs were outsourced to people in other countries who work for less ... in order to keep prices low. Got that? Here's another take on it ...

I always wondered what was involved in opening an offshore account ...

And finally, it's nice when you can prove something you always suspected ...

And that's it for your last Cartoon Saturday of November, 2012. Did you get through Black Friday yesterday? I hope so. Agnes and I survived by locking ourselves in the house and watching movies all day, except for when we took a long walk to try and banish a few of the accumulated calories.

Yes, I know it's a lost cause, but humor me here, okay.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Having lived in Europe for many years and visited nude beaches on several occasions, I can tell you that most people who want to go naked in public shouldn't. Yes, including me.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Great Moments in Editing - The Thanksgiving Edition

It's been a few weeks since we did the Great Moments in Editing thing, so I thought I'd dip into the collection and pull out a few items that deal with great seasonal topics ... like eating and shopping. Here we go ...

I've been using the old folk remedy of a teaspoon full of gin-soaked raisins every morning for my stiff neck, but I wonder if this might be more effective* ...

Back on the farm, we used to use old Sears catalogs ... but bagels? ...

Ah, this explains it! ...

Someday I may need a new job, but I'm not sure I'd want to take the physical for this one ...

I think I'll be packing my own lunch today, thank you ...

I don't think the sale price is quite low enough yet ...

Now, this is interesting ... you could eat and floss at the same time! ...

Well, not for the turkey, maybe ...

Somehow, "leftovers" might have been a better descriptive term, dontcha think? ...

And finally, if you are plagued with vast amounts of leftover turkey after yesterday's feast, you can try all sorts of exotic leftover turkey recipes. Or you could try the retail option ...

And that's it for this edition of Great Moments in Editing. I hope you all had as great a Thanksgiving as we did with our friends. Now go out and run 600 miles or spend 1,000 hours on the elliptical machine to get rid of it all.

Have a good day. Avoid the Black Friday crowds. And come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


* And cheaper, there being no shortage of donkey manure in DC.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving, 2012

Today is the holiday we Americans call Thanksgiving. The first feast of thanksgiving was supposedly (the history is a bit murky) celebrated by early settlers to give thanks for their survival in a new and dangerous land, and as an additional gesture of thanks and friendship they invited the Indians who had shared their food and knowledge to help them survive.  Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a national holiday on different dates throughout our history, but after the Civil War victory* at Gettysburg, President Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1863, declaring the fourth Thursday in November as a national Thanksgiving Day. In 1941, Congress made it official**.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, for the simple reason that I am a person with much to be thankful for and need occasionally to be reminded of how fortunate I am. Thus, it's good to have at least one time a year to reflect on my good fortune and be appropriately thankful.

Here is a partial list of the things for which I give thanks today ... and every day:

The love of a wonderful lady ...

Six wonderful grandchildren ... sadly, not all on the same continent ... Noah, Ava Rose, Marcy, and Joe ...

and Leya and Elise ...

Good parents who raised me in a loving family and taught me the things I needed to know and the values in which I believe ...

A home.

A job.

Enough to eat.

Good friends.

People who actually read, comment on, and (occasionally) enjoy my blog.

And a whole lot of other things it would take me days to enumerate.

I am, truly, a thankful fellow, today and every day. And on this Thanksgiving Day it's good to sit back and reflect ... despite all economic uncertainty, political chicanery, war, and Congressional buffoonery ... on how much we truly have to be thankful for.

Have a wonderful, safe, and happy Thanksgiving Day. Thanks for being my digital friends.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Well, "victory" if you're a Yankee, anyhow.

** Nowadays, the measure would certainly not pass Congress - Republicans would object to it as job-killingTM and socialist, while Democrats would be upset because it does not explicitly support equal rights for toms and hens to marry.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How the Other Half Lives

The ongoing soap opera involving retired general David Petraeus, his cuckolded wife Holly, his paramour Paula Broadbent, a second general named John Allen, a Miami socialite named Jill Kelley, a shirtless FBI agent, and a cast of dozens of sorry supporting actors has caught the morbid attention of a nation seeking distraction from the state of the economy and the noisy fallout of the presidential election. And that attention has not been entirely positive.

This article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Greg Jaffe casts uncomfortable light on the lifestyles of senior military officers and - by extension - all those who occupy positions of great power and authority.  Take a minute to read it and then come back. I'll wait.

Here is a key excerpt from the article:

"... many of [the generals] work 18-hour days, six to seven days a week. They manage budgets that dwarf those of large multinational companies and are responsible for the lives of thousands of young men and women under their command."

That's a pretty significant responsibility.

Drawing on my experience of 23 years of military service and further 16 years as a contractor supporting military headquarters activities, I can tell you that the vast majority of senior officers, both men and women, are fine and decent persons who have earned their positions of authority and do not abuse them. This is not to say that they are all paragons of professional excellence worthy of emulation, just that most are good, honest, hardworking public servants who genuinely care about the nation they serve and the people they command.

This, of course, makes those who don't all the more reprehensible.

Another take on the issue comes from commentator Peggy Noonan, who recently wrote an interesting, but somewhat simplistic article titled, The I's Have It. In her view, as people - particularly generals - rise to the highest levels of authority and responsibility, they tend to become selfish egomaniacs more interested in the benefits and trappings of their position than in their responsibilities. She illustrates her point with this comparison photo of two of our most famous generals - David Petraeus and Dwight Eisenhower ...

Her point is that we have moved from a time when people were quietly satisfied with their accomplishments and less interested in self-aggrandizement to a time when some feel the need to aggressively advertise and capitalize on their success. Comparing Petraeus with the legendary Ike isn't fair to either man, but on a very basic level it does illustrate the difference between a confident and self-effacing leader and one concerned with managing his public image.

Most general officers I know live a life I would not want to live myself. While they enjoy relatively high pay and nice perks, they earn them with a crushing schedule and the knowledge that their every word and deed will be carefully studied by those beneath them* ... people whose lives may, in fact, rely on the decisions those generals make. I genuinely admire most of the colonels and generals with whom I have served over the years, but that doesn't mean they've all been first-class leaders. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of senior officers I have known that I would freely follow into danger, secure in the knowledge that they had the combination of strategic thinking, tactical agility, moral and ethical leadership, and cold, ruthless determination that would be likely to prevail in conflict and bring me home safely. 

I don't object to the perks of our senior leaders. But I do object to the mindset that grows in a small number of those leaders - both military and civilian - that they are somehow entitled, and are not bound by the same rules that govern lesser mortals.

Pride in our accomplishments is a good thing. Hubris is not. Leadership at the highest levels isn't about the number of ribbons and medals and awards dangling from your dress uniform, but about the aura of confidence, competence, and sound judgment that inspires people to risk their lives at your command.

Not everyone can be a great general and leader, but I'm glad that there are some who can rise successfully to the call while retaining their essential humility. We need more of them in these troubled times.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I have an old college friend from our ROTC days who ultimately became a four-star general. I once commented that it was interesting that he ended up a full general while I retired as a lieutenant colonel and was now a lowly contractor ... his reply was illuminating: "I may have four stars, but you've got a life."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nontraditional Power Sources

Courtesy of my friend Brenda comes this interesting story: Kung Fu Nuns Teach Cosmic Energy to CERN Scientists.

CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which operates the Large Hadron Collider - the gigantic device which seeks to understand the most fundamental elements of the universe. According to the article, a dozen kung fu-practicing nuns displayed their martial arts skills to CERN scientists his week as their spiritual leader explained how their energy was like that of the cosmos.

Speaking of the value of the demonstration by the kung fu nuns, His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, a monk who ranks only slightly below the Dalai Lama in the global Buddhist hierarchy, said that "Men and women carry different energy" and that "Both male and female energies are needed to better the world." This, Mr Drukpa went on, was a scientific principle "as fundamental as the relationship between the sun and the moon" and its importance was similar to that of the particle collisions in the Large Hadron Collider.

One wonders whether this indicates that we might solve the energy crisis by harnessing the latent energy of martial artists. We wouldn't have to worry about things like the threat wind turbines pose to birds, the possible ecological damage caused by hydroelectric dams, and the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels. There'd be no lengthy blackouts if we could tap the vast energy potential of, say,  Chuck Norris ... or even Sylvester Stallone.

Hmmm ...

Have a good day. Keep up your energy level. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Gettysburg Address

Today, November 19th, is the date on which Abraham Lincoln (the president, not the vampire hunter) delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history: the one we know today as The Gettysburg Address.

People who study effective public speaking still marvel at the brevity and power of The Gettysburg Address almost 150 years after Mr Lincoln delivered it on the cold, foggy morning of the dedication of the new national cemetery for those killed in the Battle of Gettysburg. The first speaker that day was famed orator Edward Everett, who gave a traditional oration that lasted more than two hours and often left his listeners in tears. He was followed by President Lincoln, who spoke for just over two minutes and was disappointed in his performance. He had finished his presentation and returned to his seat before many in the audience knew he'd even started to speak. The newspaper illustration reproduced above takes a bit of license with the actual recorded reaction.

After the event, Mr Everett told the President, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes." And indeed, Edward Everett's speech is little remembered today except as the prelude to the address in which Abraham Lincoln was so disappointed. If you're so inclined, you can read Mr Everett's address here. And this is the full text of Lincoln's speech ...

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

I love public speaking and I like to think I'm pretty good at it, but I know when I'm in the presence of greatness. Nobody in this country can give a speech like that any more.

But I wish they could, because we could surely use the inspiration.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Latest from the Congressional Budget Negotiations

Courtesy of a source close to the negotiations, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the topic but, in true Washington fashion, did so anyway because he wanted to look important, here are a few images of the Democratic and Republican members of Congress hard at work on negotiations to avoid plunging the nation over the so-called "fiscal cliff."

The negotiators assemble for a formal portrait before getting down to the serious business of debt reduction and long-term fiscal responsibility ...

As detailed discussions get underway, members of the Democratic Caucus provide their initial reaction to Republican demands for cuts in entitlement programs ...

While this rare sketch by a noted courtroom artist shows sidebar internal Republican negotiations over assignment of responsibility for the loss of the presidential election ...

Senate and House negotiators take a break to hold a news conference at which they explain their evolving joint position on budget issues ...

And a joint session of Congress meets to plan the way ahead ...

And there you have it! A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words ... although in the current fiscal climate, those words are likely to be in Chinese.

Good luck with that.

Have a good day and a safe, happy Thanksgiving week. More thoughts coming.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cartoon Saturday

First things first ... Ol' Bilbo is once again a grandfather! Meet my beautiful new as-yet-to-be-named granddaughter. She arrived yesterday afternoon, measuring 7 pounds, 13 ounces and 19.5 inches long:

With any luck, Congress will have managed to pass a budget by the time she graduates from college.

Now, on with the rest of the show ...

Israel and Hamas continue to hammer at each other as the Middle East once again edges closer to all-out war; Congress continues to pick at its Benghazi scab, hoping to find something with which to embarrass the administration; in Egypt, 47 children were reported killed when a school bus crashed through a barrier and was hit by an oncoming train; Apple has been granted a patent on the "virtual page turn" feature used in its iBooks electronic reader function; and China has selected the leaders who will guide the country through the next ten years of arguing with its neighbors over ownership of Tibet, small islands in the South China Sea, and Taiwan.

Maybe we could just convince the Chinese that Palestine is a long-lost part of China, and then let them sort it all out.

But enough of all that ... on with the cartoons!

How about a pair of awful puns to start with? ....

And ...

The GOP is still reeling from its wildly optimistic, yet totally wrong predictions of the outcome of the presidential election. How about a few cartoons dealing with fortune tellers? ...

And ...

And ...

And finally ...

Changes we might expect to see as the health care industry looks for new ways to cut costs ...

Restaurants are also looking for ways to cut costs ...

Mother Goose for the 21st century ...

And we round things off for this week with a look at the sort of work day I usually have ...

And that's it for this issue of Cartoon Saturday. It's time to get started with our first Thanksgiving dinner, which will be served later this afternoon. As you may recall, we usually do two Thanksgivings each year ... the first a week ahead of time for the family, and the second on Thanksgiving Day for our friends. Is it any wonder that I'm a bit more ... uh ... rotund than I used to be?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Fast Talking

Just a short post today, as it's going to be a busy day ... my sister Lisa and her family will be coming in this evening for our annual pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving weekend, and there are lots of things to do, in addition to going to work*.

So ...

In the interest of brevity, I thought I'd dig into the Blog Fodder file and share this interesting article with you: Why Do Auctioneers Talk Like That?

Yes, Dear Readers, it's not only politicians that try to con you with fast talk ... they learned the technique from the professional auctioneers, who master that super-fast hypnotic monotone in order to lull you, as the article explains, into a "conditioned pattern of call and response" and send a subliminal message of urgency - that you have to act right now or else miss out on the chance to own whatever is being sold.

You may remember the story told in Leroy Van Dyke's 1962 classic The Auctioneer Song ...

So the next time you get irritated by some fast-talking politician, just remember that he (or she) draws on a grand tradition of getting you to buy (or buy into) things you probably wouldn't buy otherwise.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Sigh.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Political Dressing

American humorist Mark Twain once said, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." He wasn't talking specifically about China, but in light of something I read yesterday, he might well have been. I call your attention to this article by Nels Frye in Foreign Policy magazine - Men in Black: Inside the Fashion of Chinese Politics - and its accompanying illustration ...

Yes, Dear Readers, it seems that the senior members of the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party all order their single-breasted dark blue or black suits, white shirts, and black ties from the same haberdasher, and all have their hair dyed jet black and cut in the same style by the same barber.

The article provides a very interesting sartorial tour through the history of the Chinese government, from the Mao Jackets of the 70's and before to the dark Western suits and heavy-framed nerd glasses of the 80's and 90's, all intended to portray the Chinese leaders as solidly dependable, worldly, and yet still "men of the people."

All of which leads me to wonder why Americans in and out of politics don't advertise their political messages and preferences through  similarly uniform standards of dress and accessorizing. Warning - the following paragraphs include stereotypes ... do not proceed unless you are prepared either to laugh (in which case you are probably liberal) or be offended (in which case you are more than likely conservative)!

For instance, Republican men could emphasize their conservative, down-to-earth values by always dressing in jeans and flannel shirts (a la Ronald Reagan), or in army surplus camouflage battle dress topped off with a baseball cap (with John Deere or similar logo) worn backwards on the head. Hunting vests with lots of cargo pockets, worn without a shirt underneath, would be appropriate for less formal occasions. Sneakers (as opposed to name brand "athletic footwear") would be standard shoes except in Texas, where there is a genetic disposition toward garish cowboy boots, even for those whose closest approach to a cow is a 20-ounce t-bone at the local steak house. The only acceptable hair style would be the ruggedly virile crew cut. For their part, Republican ladies would emphasize their commitment to family values and motherhood by wearing 1950's vintage dresses (no shorter than mid-calf), high heels, and gloves, and wearing their hair either in a 1940's or 1950's style or - in the Republic of Texas - the "big hair" style in which the hair has been teased into violent anger. Both sexes would, naturally, carry weapons appropriate to the occasion ... for a formal function, a small, concealable pistol is proper, whereas a more casual event might call for a larger-caliber handgun with color-coordinated holster (a tie-down holster is de rigueur if worn to a formal event). Larger weapons (such as hunting rifles, RPGs, shotguns, or assault rifles) should not be brought to a buffet unless equipped with a sling to keep the hands free. The only acceptable pets are large huntin' dogs. If anything other than a pickup truck is driven, it must have four doors, be of American make, and have at least one Confederate flag somewhere on the body.

Democratic men might underscore their liberal sensitivities by falling back on the retro 60's look of bell-bottomed jeans, tie-dyed, open collar shirts, and platform shoes, whereas Democratic ladies could sport peasant blouses (bra optional, but discouraged) with maxi-skirts and sandals. Haircuts are optional for men, and women's hair styles should feature flowers.  Shaving is optional for both sexes. Beads are an acceptable accessory for both men and women, although men may opt to wear gold chains instead (which are, in any case, required for admission to better discos). Protest signs, if carried as an accessory, are grammatical and properly spelled. The only acceptable pets are cats or small dogs. Democrats drive vans equipped with every conceivable safety device. If a vehicle other than a van is driven, it must be a hybrid.

Any other ideas? Leave a comment.

Your style of dress sends a message ... be sure you leave the correct one.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Of Secession and Poopy Heads

When the going gets tough, the tough ... secede?

Yes, Dear Readers, with the post-election apocalypse upon us, large numbers of Americans in at least 23 states are exercising their constitutional right to act like hysterical idiots by submitting petitions for their states to secede from the Union. Here is a brief message for these concerned individuals from their Uncle Sam:

And here is a similar message from the Director of the conservative Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, quoted in the article linked above: "Anyone who wants their state to secede from the union is someone whose brain has already seceded from their body.”

Most of the many media discussions of the flood of secession petitions note that rumblings of secession are not new. For example, they are a cherished tradition in Texas, which still believes it is a quasi-independent republic, rather than simply a "state" ... which would imply that the Lone Star State is not the center of a Copernican political universe. Texas politicians routinely flirt with threats of secession, insisting that the state could exist perfectly well without all that meddling from a distant federal government that, after all, contributes absolutely nothing to the economic life of the state. Well, except for all those military bases.

Go figure.

In other news, as Congress grits its teeth and collectively realizes that it may actually have to make some tough compromises on economic policy, anti-tax gadfly Grover Norquist* has come up with a new explanation for why - against all confident predictions from conservative pundits - President Obama won reelection: he managed to convince voters that Mitt Romney was a "poopy head." You can hear this insightful analysis at about 1:50:

And there you have it! Secede from the Union and get rid of the malign influence of all the poopy heads in Washington and all will be well. Brilliant.

Don't let the door hit you in the backside on your way out.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Winner of our Ass Clown of the Month Award for July, 2011.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Waste Not, Want Not ... So to Speak

You may recall that last month I wrote a post titled Solving the Economic Crisis by Going on the Poop Standard, in which I introduced you to cupriavidus metallidurans - a bacterium that eats poisonous gold chloride and ... um ... excretes pure gold. This struck me as being a unique way of addressing the current economic crisis ... if geese that lay golden eggs are in short supply nowadays*, perhaps we can fall back on gold-pooping bacteria as a source of revenue enhancement.

As it turns out, it's not only poop we can consider as we investigate the potentially valuable properties of bodily waste.

My brother Mark yesterday sent me a link to this very interesting article from Yahoo News: Urine-Powered Generator Unveiled at International Exhibition.

Four African girls - 14 year-old Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, and Faleke Oluwatoyin and 15 year-old Bello Eniola - have created a generator that produces six hours of electricity using a single liter of urine as fuel.

According to the article, the generator works like this:

Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen. The hydrogen is purified in a water filter and forced into a gas cylinder, which pushes it into a cylinder of liquid borax, which removes the moisture from the hydrogen. The dried, purified hydrogen gas is then pushed into the generator, where it is burned as fuel.

The beauty of this system is, of course, it's ability to use a nearly endless and otherwise discarded commodity as a source of power. The downside is that someone has to collect the raw material and transport it to the generator, but a job is a job, right? 

It occurs to me that the urine-powered generator could be a valuable asset to the nation's otherwise non-existent plan for transition to new sources of clean energy. Instead of peeing all over each other's plans, Republicans and Democrats could instead pee into receptacles conveniently located in their offices, paramours' apartments, and throughout the Capitol Building, contributing the material thus collected to centrally-located generators where it could be put to good use. 

Here is a photo of a new, P-sized battery ...

While we're at it, we could also install wind turbines on Capitol Hill to capture the wasted energy potential of the vast amounts of hot air and wind generated by Congress as it otherwise accomplishes nothing of value. Of course, care would have be taken by members of Congress to avoid pissing into the wind (at which they are otherwise quite adept), but this could probably be managed in most cases**.

Let's go for it - pee proudly and do your part for energy independence!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* According to Democrats, wealthy Americans are the 21st century equivalent.

** Except for the most far-right radical Republicans, who would certainly object to any government restriction on their Constitutionally-guaranteed right to pee wherever and whenever they want.