Thursday, January 31, 2013

Even MORE Great Moments in Editing

The Marines may be looking for a few good men*, but here at Bilbo's place, we're looking for a few good editors. It's been a few weeks, and so it's time once again to dredge up a few more great moments in editing ...

It's said that you get what you pay for, but I'd still hold out for a little better warranty ...

Perhaps the measurements were made by the same guy who came up with the tire warranty ...

Ah, yes ... the press is honoring the jackpot winner's desire to remain anonymous ...

Thanks, but I think I'll pass on this one ...

Now that's what I call comfortable, useful pants! ...

On second thought, just keep the camera ...

An event with a mixed message? ...

I guess the sheriff better round up a posse and head out after 'em ... oh, sometime in the next week or two ...

Yes, stop playing games with our children's ... uh ... let me get back to you on that ...

Looks like it wasn't just the Mayans who got their predictions wrong ...

Proof positive that we need more people with the ... write ... stuff.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* Yes, ladies, too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Language of Flowers

One of the (few) useful things about having a degree in Linguistics is that one can always be entertained by the elements and aspects of language that surround us every day and allow us to communicate with each other. We naturally think of traditional spoken and written languages like English, Chinese, and German, artificial ones like Esperanto, and invented ones like Tolkien's Quenya (Elvish) and Star Trek's Klingon. But there are many other forms of linguistic communication as well, including sign languages, pictograms, the unintelligible deep bass grunts and shouts of hip-hop and rap ... and the language of flowers.

The old florist's ad tells you to "say it with flowers," and you can. We usually think of a gift of flowers as a signal of love, appreciation, congratulation, or sorrow, but there is in fact a very rich and complex language of flowers that allows you to send all sorts of messages to your audience, depending on the types of flowers you include in your bouquet.

I first heard of the language of flowers when it appeared as a significant plot element in the horror novel Ghoul, by Michael Slade, when the titular character used bouquets of flowers to send messages taunting the police. A little research yielded a great deal of information about the langage of flowers, which included this interesting website that summarizes the messages which can be sent by particular blossoms. For instance, we might send these bouquets to certain recipients:

Congress: Colchicum ("my best days are past"), Clotbur ("rudeness"), Hortensia ("heartlessness"), Columbine ("folly"), and Buttercup ("childishness");

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad: Belvedere ("I declare war against you");

China (to any other country with territorial claims in the South China Sea): Pasqueflower ("you have no claims");

Any District Attorney: Coltsfoot ("justice will be done");

The Tea Party: Barberry ("sourness of temper");

The Octomom: Fig Tree ("prolific");

The NRA: Tuberose ("dangerous pleasures"); and,

Donald Trump: Kingcup ("desire for riches").

What bouquets would you send? Check out the language of flowers here and leave a comment. Inquiring minds want to know.

Have a good day. I send you a bouquet of deep pink roses.

More thoughts on Thursday.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kiss It and Make It Better. No, Really!

Even if you're a hard-core, ultra-conservative, they-had-all-the-answers-in-the-18th-century-so-why-change-now Republican who doesn't believe in science*, here's some science even you might be able to get behind ...

You may recall my post from last December 7th titled How To Kiss. It was relatively popular, based on the number of hits the blog recorded that day. Now from the Readers' Digest comes this interesting article: 6 Ways Kissing Makes You Healthy. In case you want to just cut right to the chase so that you can get busy convincing your main squeeze to lock lips with you, here are the six ways:

1. Kissing Boosts Immunity. The article notes that "a study reported in the journal Medical Hypotheses says kissing may increase a woman’s immunity from Cytomegalovirus, which can cause infant blindness and other birth defects if the mother is a carrier during pregnancy**."

2. Kissing Burns Calories. Anywhere from two to six per minute, according to some estimates. And really good kissing leads to other activities which burn a lot more calories than that, if you know what I mean.

3. Kissing Keeps Facial Muscles Strong. Scientific research indicates that you use 30 muscles while kissing, which helps keep your cheeks tight.

4. Kissing Naturally Relaxes You. Scientific reports say kissing increases the levels of oxytocin, the body’s natural calming chemical, increases endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals, and boosts levels of dopamine, which aids in feelings of romantic attachment. Of course, there's a certain amount of anxiety involved in kissing*** which might counterbalance some of that, but on the whole, I think the evidence is in favor of relaxation.

5. Kissing Helps You Select the Best Mate. According to a professor of evolutionary psychology quoted in the article, “At the moment of the kiss, there are hard-wired [biological] mechanisms that assess health, reproductive status and genetic compatibility ... Therefore, what happens during that first kiss can be a make-or-break proposition.” It may not be love at first sight, but it could be love at first kiss ...

6. Passionate Kisses Are Good for Oral Health. From the article: "According to Dental Health Magazine, 'deep kissing increases the flow of saliva, which helps to keep the mouth, teeth and gums healthy.' The additional liquid helps get rid of food particles in your teeth, and in stimulating your immune system, you're aiding your body in the fight against infection." I'll bet that Laura, my dental hygienist, has been keeping this a secret in her never-ending quest to get me to floss regularly.

So, what are you waiting for? Start looking for some nice lips ...

As Edmond Rostand remarked in his play Cyrano de Bergerac, "A kiss, when all is said, what is it? A rosy dot placed on the 'I' in loving; 'tis a secret told to the mouth instead of to the ear."

Have a good day. Kiss your very best beloved ... it's good for you.

More thoughts on Tuesday.


* "Lies from the pit of hell," according to Representative Paul Broun (R, GA), who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, in remarks made in September of last year.

** Because the website requires membership to search, I was unable to read the actual study report, so I guess we'll just have to take it on faith.

** Particularly on a first date, or with a kissee on whom you wish to make a good impression as a first step to second base.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cartoon Saturday

January, 2013. Four weeks down, one to go ...

The Virginia GOP, unable to win elections on the basis of ideas and competence, has decided instead to pull an underhanded redistricting scheme that would benefit Republican candidates; North Korea is again threatening nuclear war rather than doing something useful, like feeding its people; outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has announced an end to "combat exclusion," giving women the privilege of fighting in ground combat; a former CIA officer has been sentenced to prison for revealing the name of a covert intelligence agent; and a federal appeals court has ruled that President Obama exceeded his constitutional authority when he named three members of the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was on a break last year.

Just another week in Paradise ... good thing we have cartoons.

Would it have been the iCommandments ...?

Hasbro is getting ready to retire a playing token from its classic board game Monopoly, and is allowing the public to vote on the token to be retired and on its replacement. Time for a Monopoly-related cartoon ...

You need to read the fine print in your prescription drug coverage ...

And you also need to wonder how employers handled health care insurance in the past ...

What really goes on behind closed doors in Congress ...

And a possible explanation for the prevailing Congressional management style ...

There have been quite a few good cartoons riffing on the subject of "memory foam" mattresses over the last year or so. I ran a few of them several months back, and here are two more ...

And ...

There's been a lot of talk in the news recently about how to defend the earth from collisions with passing asteroids. Here's an interesting tactic I haven't seen seriously discussed yet ...

And finally, do you suppose there are a couple of Mayans getting drunk right now and planning the next big practical joke on the world ... ?

And that's it for this edition of Cartoon Saturday. If you're here in the American northeast or in England with craziequeen, stay warm. If you're in Australia with Amanda, stay dry. And if you're in the vicinity of any NRA rallies, keep your head down and carry an armored whiteboard.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

More Odds and Ends

The problem with not posting every day is that the topics I want to write about pile up faster than I have days to post. So I think I'll end up with a lot more "odds and ends" posts in the coming months. Like this one ...

The arguments over gun control continue loud and unabated, with both sides using stupid arguments and neither side willing to give any ground. Gun advocates searching for ways to reduce gun violence that don't involve actually putting any restrictions on guns appear to have reached new heights of lunacy, as documented in this news report: Maryland Armor Manufacturer Introduces Bulletproof Whiteboards. Yes, Dear Readers, schools will now be able to spend scarce education dollars on armor-plated whiteboards that "can stop a bullet from a handgun fired at point-blank range," rather than on books and other school supplies. Along with the armed guards advocated by the NRA, we will now be able to raise a generation of under-educated students who are well-protected in fortified and armed schools that cannot afford books or decent wages for teachers*. Maybe it's just me, but I think this is obscene.

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has announced that the so-called "combat exclusion" is going to be lifted, allowing women to serve in all military jobs, including direct ground combat. The good news is that women in the armed services, particularly the Army and the Marine Corps, will now be better able to compete with men for promotion to the highest ranks. The bad news is that they will be able to enjoy all the misery and horror of direct ground combat. As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enjoyed a full day of being harangued by GOP legislators over last year's attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and several other State Department personnel. The hearings accomplished nothing other than to give House and Senate Republicans (a) a chance to sternly and heroically dump on an administration official in front of the TV cameras, and (b) an excuse to avoid dealing with the nation's economic problems.

International basket case North Korea has announced that it will conduct a new nuclear test and more long-range rocket launches as part of its confrontation with the United States. Well, I guess if you need something to distract your population from the fact that it's starving, a nice, photogenic mushroom cloud is about as good as anything. According to the announcement by the North Korean government, these actions are part of a campaign against the United States, which is "the sworn enemy of the Korean people." Actually, the United States is the sworn enemy of common sense and rationality, and doesn't give a rat's patootie about North Korea. So there.

All Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger aircraft remain grounded as investigators try to figure out why they tend to catch fire. Oddly enough, none of the world's ten most dangerous airlines appear to be flying 787's ... they are able to be dangerous with less modern equipment.

Winter has arrived here in the National Capitol Region ... yesterday it was colder than a penguin's backside or a mortgage banker's heart, and this morning it's just as cold, plus we've got about a scant inch of snow on the ground. Those of you who live in "The NCR" will know that this means this morning's commute will be hideous. Oy.

That's all for now. Stay warm, carry an armored whiteboard if you go to school, and come back for Cartoon Saturday. I'll be here.


* And it gets even worse in those ultraconservative school districts that reject science in favor of religious dogma.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The March of Entertainment Technology

Yesterday I read a very interesting blog post from Occasional Reader rashbre, in which he asked the interesting question, "When Did Hi-Fi Become A/V?"

When, indeed? Cue the background music for the walk down memory lane ...

I remember back when the height of musical reproduction technology was the record player ...

It was a relatively simple device, and could be used to play 78-, 45-, or 33-rpm records (which operated by pressing grooves into a vinyl surface, which were then "read" by a needle that picked up variations in the groove surface and transmitted them to a membrane which vibrated to produce tinny sound).

The simple record player gave way to the high-fidelity (or hi-fi) system, also known as the stereo, in which the grooves in the record became more complex and were able to reproduce multiple channels of sound, fed to two or more speakers. This gave a richer sound than the simple monaural tones of the record player. I remember when my father bought our first stereo - a KLH model that looked like a sleek record player, but produced a much sharper, clearer sound ... the chipping sounds in the song "Chip, Chip" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys were very, very different than the same sounds played by my old record player.

We then learned about reel-to-reel tape, 8-track tape, and tape cassettes, which allowed us to record the music we played on the hi-fi or heard on the radio. Naturally, these three systems were incompatible with each other.

Records in time yielded to compact discs (or CDs), in which music once encoded in grooves on vinyl and read by a vibrating needle was now digitally encoded on a small, hard plastic disc read by a laser. CD's couldn't, unfortunately, record music the way audio tapes could, but were soon overtaken by recordable CDs that fixed that problem, but required a player that would also allow recording.

So, now we had the stereo, the tape player (of whichever type), and the CD player ... which were tied together to make a sound system, and which required a new type of furniture to hold them conveniently close together. This led to the birth of the stereo cabinet ...

But television was also moving along! The simple old black and white CRT television, which was very large and weighed about 7,000 pounds, was gradually replaced by the color CRT television, which in its turn yielded to smaller, thinner, and somewhat lighter models, culminating in the modern ultra-thin, wall-mounted high-definition television.

And that high-definition television and high-powered sound system required better reproduction ... leading us to surround-sound.

Likewise, we were able to purchase movies to watch at home on video tapes (either VHS or Beta), which were augmented by laser discs and eventually replaced by the digital video disc (DVD - now digital versatile disc), which is now being edged out by the Blu-Ray disc and by the digital download ... which requires no medium at all.

Which led to the replacement of the old sound system with the audio-visual (or AV) or home theater system.

The home theater system is a wonderful thing, combining radio, recorded music, video, gaming, recording and playback, computer access, and cable/satellite TV feeds in one convenient* system, the heart of which is the Tuner - a device roughly equivalent to the average NASA command system, but somewhat more complex. The average tuner can only be installed and operated by someone with a dual degree in electrical engineering and criminal psychology**.

And that, Dear Readers, is your abridged journey through the meandering road we took from hi-fi to AV and beyond. Thanks to rashbre for the inspiration.

Have a good day. Enjoy that home theater system once you figure it out. More thoughts on Thursday.


* Assuming you can figure out how to operate it.

** The criminal psychology degree will help you understand your desire to murder the sadistic bastard that designed the tuner and wrote the unintelligible 650-page instruction book.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Odds and Ends

Lots to do today, and I haven't yet recovered from spending almost all day yesterday with my hyperactive grandchildren, so let's just do a few cool odds and ends ...

From my friend and coworker Brenda comes this story about how the Russian Army is taking a major technological step into the 21st century ... by replacing foot wrappings (called portyanki) with socks. The article includes two helpful videos that show how to use portyanki, should you ever find yourself without socks.

The Wayne State University Word Warriors have published their annual list of ten words you should use more frequently in the coming year. The 2013 list (with my editorial comments, of course) is:

Buncombe - Rubbish; nonsense; empty or misleading talk. Well, the 113th Congress is in session...

Cerulean - The blue of the sky. When I think about Congress, it makes me ... uh ... cerulean.

Chelonian - Like a turtle. Congress is moving at a chelonian pace to address the nation's problems.

Dragoon - To compel by coercion; to force someone to do something they’d rather not. Perhaps the President can dragoon Congress into doing something useful. Yeah, right.

Fantods - Extreme anxiety, distress, nervousness or irritability. I get the fantods when I think that Congress could actually make things worse ... and probably will.

Mawkish - Excessively sentimental; sappy; hopelessly trite. I get mawkish thinking about the days of yore when Congress was populated by actual statesmen who could accomplish something other than generate sound bites and genuflect before the festooned altar of the NRA.

Natter - To talk aimlessly, often at great length; rarely, it means simply to converse. If you're my age or older, you may remember former Vice President Spiro Agnew attacking the people he called "nattering nabobs of negativity."

Persiflage - Banter; frivolous talk. My very favorite teacher of all time, the late Mrs Penny Smith (who taught humanities at my high school) once returned one of my term papers with a modest grade and the handwritten note "Such persiflage!"

Troglodyte - Literally, a cave-dweller. More frequently a backward, mentally sluggish person. A word which can be usefully applied today to the hyperpartisans of the extreme right and left.

And finally, 

Winkle - To pry out or extract something; from the process of removing the snail from an edible periwinkle. Perhaps men and women of goodwill will be able to winkle something useful out of the 113th Congress. Ha, ha! - fooled you! There aren't any men and women of goodwill left in Congress!

Keeping with the theme of lists, Forbes Magazine has run a list of the Top 10 Jobs that Attract Psychopaths. Now, when most of us think of psychopaths, we think of the creepy sadists that make us want to take showers after an episode or two of Law and Order: SVU or Criminal Minds, but in medical terms, a psychopath is simply someone who lacks emotions and empathy, or the ability to identify with others ... not all psychopaths are grisly serial killers. Here is the Forbes list ... with my comments, of course:

1. CEO - I guess you have to have that edge if you make decisions that can throw thousands of people out of work to improve the bottom line.

2. Lawyer - no other comment necessary ...

3. Media (Television/Radio) - probably has something to do with the level of self-absorption of many celebrities. And although I did, in fact, have my own radio show for about nine years, I don't consider myself to be psychopathic.

4. Salesperson - you just knew what kind of person would sell used cars and junk bonds, right?

5. Surgeon - it probably helps to disassociate yourself from the people you're going to carve on.

6. Journalist - this may explain the sort of personality that would publish a story regardless of the potential negative consequences.

7. Police Officer - oddly enough, I don't think this is very comforting, although I can understand how a police officer might benefit by being able to separate feelings from the performance of a necessary but dispiriting job in which he or she sees people at their worst.

8. Clergy Person - does this explain the flood of reported abuse of children by priests? All of the priests I knew when growing up were fine and decent people, but ...

9. Chef - I'm not sure I want to get close to a person who works with sharp knives and may have a psychopathic personality.

And at number ten ...

10. Civil Servant - in a more generous and civil time, this is what is sneeringly known today as a government bureaucrat. And given that members of Congress are civil servants, I can understand the attraction of the job to a psychopathic personality. Of course, they are civil servants ... they serve the gun lobby, they serve the Big Oil lobby, they serve the ... you get the idea.

There's also a list of the top ten jobs in which you are least likely to find psychopaths, but it's not as interesting. You can read it in the Forbes article for yourself if you like.

And that's it for today. Lots to do before I take Agnes to the movies this afternoon and then out to dinner after. And if anyone has any ideas on how to non-destructively get the three gigantic parts of that pre-lit artificial Christmas tree back into the coffin-sized box in which it came, I'm open to suggestions. Please.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cartoon Saturday

Yep, 2013 is shaping up to be a real doozie ...

Disgraced former cycling legend Lance Armstrong has admitted (to Oprah Winfrey, of all people) to using banned performance enhancing drugs ... after years of denying he had done so; a new and deadly hostage crisis is playing out in the Algerian desert as militant Islamists oppose Algerian government forces; no one has any idea what's going on in the continuing drama of Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o's imaginary girlfriend; Congress prepares to avoid doing its job yet again as Republicans prepared to vote on a three-month extension of the debt ceiling rather than working with their opposition to come up with a better plan; and residents of Beijing are suffering under a horrendous pall of unhealthy smog.

Another week that confirms how much we need something to laugh at besides Congress. Let's get to the cartoons ...

The latest twist on healthy dining ...

You might rather dine at this place, which is probably very popular with fellow blogger John ...

As good an explanation as any of why Congress can't get its head out of its collective backside ...

The importance of understanding the original requirements ...

The Cabinet-level office we really* need ...

The directions to the jury ...

One way in which happy hour is trying to stay happy ... particularly important since many states and localities actually allow people to pack heat in bars ...

As technology advances, so too do the potential mechanical problems with the latest cars ...

And speaking of new cars, you can get just about any option nowadays ...

And no matter what other options you may have in your car, it pays to understand how to use them properly ...

And that's it for another week. Agnes and I will be spending most of the day today babysitting our two hyperactive local grandchildren, which means that I probably won't need to do any other working out until the beginning of next week, if then. There's a reason why we have children while we're young. And tomorrow, I'll be fulfilling my agreement with Agnes to take her to the movies to see Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher** ... it was what I had to do to convince her to see The Hobbit with me earlier this month. 

Those of us living in the DC area are getting ready for hundreds of thousands of people to descend on the area for the presidential inauguration on Monday. If you're going to be one of them, the Washington Post has published a nice guide to help you sort through all your dining and sightseeing options***. And if you're a member of the elite 1% and planning to fly your private jet into DC to visit the government you've bought and paid for, you will be glad to know that Washington Dulles International Airport will be dedicating one runway for your use ... no need to have to compete with Real People for your landing rights, or endure any unnecessary waste of your valuable time.

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


* What I mean is really, really need.

** I think Tom Cruise is a useless twit, but the movie ought to be fun. And besides, how often does a paunchy, graying senior citizen get to take a beautiful lady to the movies?

*** Happily, there are also plenty of bars available if you need to drink ... whether to celebrate or to drown your sorrows.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bilbo's DUMBCON Structure, Updated for a Dumber Time

You will recall, Dear Readers, that we have been at National Stupidity Condition (DUMBCON) 1 - the highest level - for quite some time, as I have seen nothing that would convince me to lower the level.

However, the events of the last few weeks have convinced me that my existing DUMBCON structure, which has served us well since I first introduced it back in 2009, is no longer adequate to present an accurate measure of the level of national stupidity. The events to which I refer include the complete failure of Congress to actually do anything useful. and the rise of a "truther" movement arguing that the December 2012 massacre of schoolchildren at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax perpetrated by a Tyrannical GovernmentTM to allow Jack-Booted Government ThugsTM to confiscate the hundreds of millions of guns already owned by US citizens.

We live, sadly, in a world in which truth no longer has any meaning, and the most utterly ludicrous theories have an Internet and a news outlet* to spread and encourage them. We are surrounded by people so impervious to reason, common sense, compassion, and common humanity that they cannot accept any information that does not confirm their True Beliefs ... their clue chutes are shut, locked, bolted from the inside, welded shut, painted over, and protected by an impenetrable force field of complete and utter righteousness previously found only in the worst of religious bigots.

Therefore, I have decided to revise and update the DUMBCON structure to include a level of stupidity beyond the original top end of DUMBCON 1.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are going to


Here are the new DUMBCON levels, effective immediately:

DUMBCON 5 (Code Green) - Ordinary, day-to-day level of stupidity. People actually pay attention to clueless twits like "Reverend" Terry Jones, any Middle Eastern "religious leader," Harry Reid, John Boehner, or anyone from the Tea Party; Lindsey Lohan is arrested again for something or other; people continue to listen to rap music and give a rat's ass about anyone named Kardashian. Congress is in session.

DUMBCON 4 (Code Blue) - Things are more stupid than usual. Congressional Republicans and Democrats blame each other for the crisis du jour; Congress continues to spend money on military equipment the services don't want, but which are built in the districts of key lawmakers; Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmedinejad make lengthy speeches blaming the US for everything wrong in the world back to the extinction of the dinosaurs; another al Qaeda offshoot springs up, engages in kidnapping and massacre in the name of religion, and gets 24/7 fawning air time on al-Jazeera television.

DUMBCON 3 (Code Yellow) - Things are getting pretty stupid. Congressional Republicans advocate shutting down the government if they don't get their way; mindless ass clowns continue to insist that President Obama was actually born in a stone cottage in Tierra del Fuego despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary; hard-core conservatives of the Tea Party continue to believe that all will be well if we just get rid of unions, eliminate all spending on social programs, and slash taxes on businesses and the wealthy; and Democrats continue to believe ... well ... whatever it is they believe in (they're still not sure themselves).

DUMBCON 2 (Code Magenta) - start shaking your head - it's getting really stupid out there. People continue to believe Faux News is "fair and balanced;" a lunatic massacres 20 children and six adults at an elementary school, and the NRA says the answer to gun violence is ... more guns!; the EPA once again accepts industry threats about the economic consequences of requiring them to clean up toxic wastes and emissions, and dutifully waters down the latest set of proposed environmental protection standards.

DUMBCON 1 (Code Red) - Stupidity beyond your wildest dreams. Go back to bed and hide under the pillows. Businesses increase prices to cover their "increased costs," but demand their employees accept wage cuts that will prevent them from buying the products they make; Congress postures and bloviates for months without taking useful action, then finally reaches agreement at the last possible second ... but only to delay action until a later time, at which they can bloviate for another few months without taking useful action. Each side declares victory.

And ...

DUMBCON 0 (Code Orange) - A level of stupidity far exceeding your worst nightmares. People wholeheartedly buy into ludicrous conspiracy theories that even the least-educated, religiously hidebound person in the Middle East wouldn't accept; local sheriffs announce that they will decide on their own authority which laws are constitutional and will be enforced; disgraced hero Lance Armstrong singlehandedly destroys cycling as a sport; and people actually believe that a government that can't even pass a budget - or agree on anything at all - will somehow be able to get its act enough together to confiscate weapons from the most heavily-armed population on earth.

We're at DUMBCON ZERO, and I fear we're going to be here for a long, long time.

Have a good day, but keep your head down. More thoughts tomorrow.


* That would be Faux News.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Sign(ature) of the Times

You may be aware of some of the consternation that has arisen over the appointment by President Obama of Jack Lew to be his new Treasury Secretary. Republicans are outraged by the appointment because ... well ... they're reflexively outraged about pretty much anything Mr Obama does. On the other hand, others with a more practical approach to governance are concerned because Mr Lew has a completely illegible signature which will not look very good on US currency ...

Compare this to some other famous signatures from American history, like John Hancock ...

Or George Washington ...

Or even the current President, Barack Obama ...

There was a time when a person's signature was considered a reflection of their character and importance, and a good, strong, legible signature was an asset. A person's signature on a letter, a contract, or an agreement was a symbol of their honor and trustworthiness, and so the idea of signing is woven into our language, much as is the language of guns (as we discussed in this post). We put our John Hancock on a contract, sign on the dotted line when we agree to something important, sign up to an idea or concept, and depart by signing out or signing off (after we've signed in, of course). On the Air Staff at the Pentagon, we consider a task complete when get the boss's ink on our staff package.

Nowadays, of course, a strong signature is not quite as important as it once was. We still occasionally sign paperwork of course (just try buying a house without signing your name enough times to cause your hand to fall off the end of your arm), but for most common purposes we've gone digital. At the end of each workday I fill out my timesheet and sign it by typing in a login and a password. If you use a charge card, you often sign a tiny digital screen that may or may not accurately capture what you wrote.

Electronic verification of one's identity is rapidly replacing the traditional ink on paper signature. We don't use a wet signature any more when a digital one will do. We click on an AGREE icon instead of signing a 7500-page paper agreement to use some piece of software, or scan our thumbprint or our retina to prove who we are.

The evolving meaning and importance of the traditional signature was discussed in this fascinating NPR article by Linton Weeks - The Great American Signature Fades Away. Mr Weeks writes

"The signature has become a rushed and atavistic formality. We haphazardly scrawl our ways through checkout lines and mortgage refinancings. We don't write — or sign — as many handwritten notes as we once did because we send emails and e-messages. We don't write — or sign — as many checks because we pay bills online … And no one seems to care anymore if our signature is legible or consistent or even our signature. We might as well all be a doctor dashing off an unreadable prescription."

Yes, I'm a traditionalist. I still prefer ink and paper to electrons on ... well ... whatever electrons are arranged on. I'm proud of my signature, and when I put it on a paper of importance I like to think it means more than the simple act of clicking agree at the bottom of a flickering screen.

And you can sign up to that philosophy or not, as you choose.

Have a good day. More thoughts on Thursday.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Last Thing We Need is Another Blog Post About Guns, So I'll Write One Just Out of Spite

It took something huge to get the national debate away from the unmitigated horror of the hijacking of health care by the Sinister Jack-Booted ThugsTM of Socialized Medicine Serving the Tyrannical GovernmentTM of the Kenyan-Born Reincarnation of Karl Marx, but - being resourceful Americans - we've found it - Gun Control (cue weird organ music).


The oddest thing to me about the whole issue of gun control is how the least mention of it has the power to shut down rational thought on every side of the debate*. Everybody's got an opinion, and nobody is interested in hearing yours if it's different from theirs.

Let's cash the reality check, shall we?

1. For better or worse, regardless of whatever the original intent of the Founders was, Americans have a Constitutionally-guaranteed, Supreme Court-confirmed right to "keep and bear arms." End of discussion.

2. There are more guns already in circulation in this country than there are illegal immigrants. If we can't identify, round up, and deport illegal immigrants (most of whom are unlikely to shoot back), the thought of The Tyrannical GovernmentTM confiscating hundreds of millions of personally-owned weapons from people spring-loaded to shoot back is ludicrous. If your argument is that you need more guns to protect you from having the guns you already own confiscated by Sinister Jack-Booted Government ThugsTM, you need less ammo and more mental health care**.

3. Guns are so much a part of the American character that the vocabulary of firearms permeates our language. We look for silver bullet solutions to hard problems, admire people who shoot straight in arguments***, aim high to achieve great things****, recognize an energetic person as a real pistol, watch a political punditry TV show called Firing Line, and stockpile ammunition to back up our positions on issues.

Reasonable people (assuming you can find any on the topic of gun control) will disagree on the best way to reduce gun violence, and those on both sides of the debate can marshall vast arsenals of questionable (and often contradictory or questionably-interpreted) data to counter any argument made by the other side. Here are two simple, common-sense+ things we could do today:

1. Impose a mandatory ten-year prison sentence for any crime committed using a firearm. If it's true that guns don't kill people, but people do, then locking up the people who use guns to do bad things seems a reasonable measure.

2. Require anyone wishing to purchase a gun pass a background check against a centralized criminal and mental-health database. Civil liberties proponents will no doubt object to The Tyrannical GovernmentTM maintaining such a database, but it seems to be a prudent way to identify people who shouldn't be allowed to own guns.

There are other things we can do, the Task Force chaired by Vice President Biden will probably call them out, and the NRA will reflexively object to almost all of them.

Because common sense and rationality have no part in this debate.

That's all.

If you missed my announcement in yesterday's post, just a reminder that I will now be regularly posting only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays starting tomorrow. It's not that I'm run out of things to blog about, but that I need to reconsider the use of my time, particularly now that my weekday bus schedule has changed and I need to get to the bus stop earlier than I have in the past++.

Have a good day. Join me in this space on Tuesday for more thoughts.


* Well, less "debate," really, than "hysterical shouting match."

** Yeah, good luck with that.

*** Not so much recently.

**** Not applicable to Congress or either political party.

+ Common sense is not a requirement to enter this debate, but I'll try to slip it in, anyhow.

++ The service is now less convenient, but more expensive. Ain't that just the way it goes nowadays?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cartoon Saturday, and an Announcement

Before we get started with the usual Cartoon Saturday nonsense, I wanted to let you know that I have  decided to make a few changes in my schedule so that I can get some things done that I've been otherwise neglecting. Starting on Monday, January 14th, I will only make regularly scheduled posts to my blog on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. This will allow me to use my early morning time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to do other things I've been putting off, like getting some exercise. I'll continue to post on the other days as time permits, but routine updates will only be on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Don't give up on me ...

And now for the week that was ...

President Obama has nominated Jack Lew to be his new Treasury Secretary ... as expected, Republican Senators are violently opposed, citing Mr Lew's illegible signature because it was as good as anything else to object to; for the first time since 1996, no players have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame; the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft will undergo a comprehensive review of its design and safety record as a result of several recent mechanical problems; the National Rifle Association is drumming up support for a major fight against whatever recommendations come out of the study on gun violence chaired by Vice President Biden*; and France has sent troops to the African nation of Mali to help fight al-Qaeda backed rebel force.

2013 grinds on ... let's have some cartoons to help ease the pain.

The march of technology has even caught up to our pets ...

Forget about the trillion-dollar coin scam ... here's the real way to fix the budget crisis ...

We all have our own financial crises ...

Sometimes, there's an upside to the high cost of health care ...

Parker Brothers, the manufacturer of the popular board game Monopoly, has announced that it will replace one of the traditional game pieces with a new one as chosen by the public in a vote on several possibilities. Mad Magazine has a few suggestions that should have been part of the voting ...

And while we're talking about new game pieces, how about updating some of the traditional figures used on a chess board ...

You have to be careful of your opponent when preparing for major negotiations ...

Time and gravity often have their effect on our clothing selections ...

It seems that the old adage is true ...

And finally, it's distressing how quickly children grow up nowadays ...

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

The weather outside my study window is cold, drizzly, and foggy ... a great morning to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. I hope the weather is better where you are, and that you'll have a good weekend either because of or in spite of it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I think I have the solution to the gun violence problem: the President should issue an executive order mandating that every US citizen over the age of ten be required to purchase at least two handguns and an assault rifle with a high capacity magazine, equip all three with silencers, and carry them at all times. The far right, being hysterically opposed to anything the President says, will immediately oppose the measure as a brazen overreach of presidential authority, and will get rid of all guns out of spite. Problem solved! You're welcome.