Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Hunka, Hunka Burnin' Capsaicin

I enjoy spicy food. But I think there's a practical limit to how spicy the food should be. There's a difference between the amount of heat that gives an edge to the flavors of a dish, and an amount of heat that peels the top four layers off your tongue, makes your lips fall off, and turns your urine into napalm.

I thought about this today for two reasons.

First was that we enjoyed a wonderful dinner last night - in honor of our daughter's birthday - at a local Indian restaurant. The food was excellent, but the dishes the helpful waiter described as mild ... mostly weren't. Our son in law ordered a chicken dish that had him gasping and sweating at the table*, and poor Agnes (who doesn't do spicy at all) had a tough time finding something suitable. Much of it, I think, almost seemed to represent heat for the sake of heat, rather than heat for the sake of flavor.

That high-energy dinner came just a day after I read this fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal: The Arms Race to Grow World's Hottest Pepper Goes Nuclear.

It seems that there are people out there who have dedicated their lives to growing the world's most insanely, devilishly hot pepper - engaging in a search for gustatory armageddon, as it were.

For those of you who may not spend much time thinking about hot peppers, here's a quick synopsis of the science: the chemical which causes a pepper to have have heat is called capsaicin (pronounced "cap-SAY-uh-sin") ... the greater the concentration of capsaicin in the pepper, the stronger and more intense the heat. The level of heat is measured in what are called scoville units or, simply scovilles, named for American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville who, in 1912, first devised a method of calculating the level of heat-inducing chemicals. His method was very imprecise, however, and has been generally replaced today by more accurate chemical analyses. You can read more about it here.

A jalapeno pepper, generally considered to be "hot," has a rating of between 3500 and 8000 scovilles.

By contrast, the current world champion hot pepper, the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, is rated at 1.464 million scovilles ...

And that, Dear Readers, is one seriously hot pepper.

I have to ask myself, what's the point? Why would anyone want to grow a pepper so terrifyingly hot that eating it makes one roll around on the floor in agony, pleading desperately for milk or yogurt or a bullet between the eyes? What do you actually taste when you bite into a pepper that has been specially bred to cause eye-watering, mouth-searing, bowel-loosening agony?

If it's all the same to you, I'll just stick with my bottle of Tabasco or Cholula hot sauce and my sliced, pickled jalapenos. Life is too short to go through it with a smoking crater where my tongue used to be. Feel free to turn up the heat if you like ... just don't ask me to join you!

Have a good day. More thoughts on Tuesday.


* The asbestos plates and the welder's mask worn by the waiter should have been a giveaway.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cartoon Saturday

Happy almost Easter ...

North Korea continues to spout ludicrously bellicose rhetoric, having threatened just about everyone but the new Pope with total nuclear destruction ... although that omission was probably just an oversight; four people are dead and over 60 missing after a high-rise building under construction collapsed in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; 83 workers were buried alive in a two-mile wide landslide in Tibet; Republican senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska says that her views on gay marriage are "evolving" ... quite an admission, as hard-core Republicans generally don't believe in evolution of any sort; and in India, which has recently been rocked by a series of brutal rapes of young women, the Ford Motor Company is under fire for a series of ads which show women tied and gagged in the trunk of a car driven by smiling former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

And you thought things couldn't get much worse. Silly you. Let's bring on the cartoons to help us forget the lunacy for a while.

Some people can really fail a driver's license test with class ...

Maybe Mike can get these guys to sing a song in honor of bacon ... the wonderful meat, not the actor ...

You have to wonder sometimes what happened to the characters who didn't quite make it in literary history ...

In case you were wondering about where "alternative rock" fits into musical history ...

I remember the old joke in which someone asked "What do you think about Red China?", to which the answer was, "I think it would look fine on a white tablecloth!" Here's a cartoon variation on that old joke ...

And for this week's set of theme-oriented cartoons, how about a selection from my Mr Potato Head collection ...

You know things are getting bad when even the vegetables are thinking about filing lawsuits ...

In this case, he really can ... not that it's likely to do much good ...

Mr Potato Head is a guy who can really appreciate Facebook ...

He can lend new meaning to the most tired of cliches ...

And finally, he can be very literal ...

And that's the way it is for this edition of Cartoon Saturday. I hope you have a wonderful Easter weekend, and that the children find all those eggs you hid around the house ... so you don't have to find them by nose in a few weeks.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Where Should Congress Do Its Work?

A proposal has been made for a "virtual Congress" in which Senators and Reprehensives would, essentially, telecommute from their home districts, coming together in person only for key votes and to berate hapless witnesses at useless hearings. Is this a good idea?

Whether good or not, it isn't a completely new idea. New Mexico Representative Steve Pearce first floated the idea of a virtual Congress in November 2010, arguing that a Congress operating from the local level is better for citizens, because it would put elected representatives closer to constituents and separate them from the teeming swarms of lobbyists and attorneys infesting the marbled halls of Washington. He also suggested that a Congress meeting virtually would save taxpayers money by minimizing travel costs, and would protect Congress as a group from terrorist threats by spreading its members across the country.

Some of the arguments are persuasive. The technology of relatively secure video communication is well-established and used in many businesses and branches of government to help keep down travel costs, and there's much to be said for keeping public servants close to those they serve and away from the temptations of the Big City. Members of Congress spend a lot of time traveling back and forth to Washington from their home districts, reducing the amount of time they're available to actually do the work of governing*.

On the other hand, having members of Congress spread across the country promotes insularity and prevents them from interacting directly with each other, building personal relationships and learning to see each other as real people rather than political caricatures. I believe it would also impede their ability to view problems and issues in a national, rather than a purely local context. But the worst problem, in my opinion, would come from House members spending most of their time in thoroughly-gerrymandered echo chambers, in which they hear only the opinions of those who are most likely to agree on a narrow set of views and values, without exposure to competing opinions.

What do you think? Should Members of Congress be allowed to telecommute from their home districts, assembling only when Constitutionally required or absolutely necessary? Can they do a better job operating locally, or should they maintain the current system of coming together in Washington to shout focus group-approved slogans past each other and participate in bogus committees three or four days a week? I vote no, but would like to know what everyone else thinks.

Because we've got to do something to get our government working again.

Have a good day. See you back here for Cartoon Saturday.


* Not that you'd notice from the amount and quality of governance actually performed.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

At the Intersection of Art and Tailoring

From the Department of I Couldn't Make This Stuff Up comes this interesting article from The Explainer on Is It Legal to Wear Nothing but Body Paint in Public?

This is not a trivial issue, as the idea of appearing in public wearing only body paint arises from time to time to challenge traditional laws governing public nudity and morals. You may recall this famous magazine cover featuring Demi Moore ...

Ms Moore is, of course, naked in this photo, clothed (as it were) only in body paint and strategically-positioned shadow. This picture is relatively artistic, and most courts (outside of the Bible Belt, anyhow) would probably agree that it has "artistic value" and not sentence Ms Moore to 500 hours of community service painting curbs yellow instead of painting her own ample curbs.

In contrast, consider this example of clever-if-not-quite-so-artistic body painting ...

Somehow, I don't think these ladies would meet with general public approval beyond the male 18-50 demographic, although I doubt they'd care very much.

The article notes that state and local anti-nudity laws tend to be deliberately vague, allowing police to make judgment calls. It also points out that many states prosecute public nudity only if it's accompanied by lewd or lascivious behavior, which would probably result in an arrest whether or not the individual was wearing traditional clothing or body paint. Body paint would be far more likely to be considered acceptable in, say, New Orleans (especially during Mardi Gras) than in Boston (at pretty much any time). San Francisco is, of course, in a class by itself. Many laws use the word expose to define what parts of the body must be visible to constitute nudity, and those parts tend to include the genitals more frequently than the (male or female) breasts. As to whether or not body paint is considered a covering sufficient to prevent nudity (however it's defined) most places (other than Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan, which take a dim view of exposing more than a few square millimeters of epidermis) seem anecdotally to be willing to give the offending epidermal canvas a warning, if not a pass.

So ...

If you're thinking of going a step further than the infamous spray tan, you might want to check your local ordinances first. And you might want to think about Bilbo's First Principle of Public Exposure, based on the personal experience of European topless beaches: Most people who appear topless in public ... shouldn't.

Just a word to the wise.

Have a good day. More thoughts - appropriately clothed - coming.


P.S. - This comment by actress and scientist Hedy Lamarr may apply: "A good painting to me has always been like a friend. It keeps me company, comforts, and inspires."


Sunday, March 24, 2013

On Being Kind

You all know, of course, about the recent terrible events in Stubenville, Ohio, in which a drunken 16-year-old girl was raped by two members of the high school football team. The fact that the rape happened at all was bad enough, but no one associated with the crime smells very good ... from the young men who committed the rape to the other party-goers who filmed and photographed the crime and then discussed it on social media to the CNN reporter who filed a sympathetic story about the impact of the crime and the trial on the young criminals who violated a helpless girl.

Much has been written about the whole affair, from the mainstream media to the blogosphere (including this piece from Heidi), but I feel the need to weigh in on top of it all with my own observation ...

Just what kind of society have we become?

I was raised by parents who taught me good values and constantly drove home one basic lesson: the one we call The Golden Rule ... "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It means we should all treat each other with dignity and respect and compassion, and to think of the impact of our actions on others before we barge ahead and do whatever we want.

Unfortunately, there's precious little of the Golden Rule to be seen nowadays. The emphasis today is on the rights and priviliges of the individual, and the hell with everybody else. Clueless dumbasses buy into a thug "culture" and try to build "street cred" through belligerence and an insistence on receiving the respect they are unwilling to give. Violent and misogynistic rap "music" glorifies crime, violence and the degradation of women.

In the world of politics and punditry, extremists of the far left and the far right shout past each other, tossing off ridiculous accusations and demeaning every word and action of those with whom they disagree ... perfectly willing to let the country go down the drain rather than make the least effort to seek common ground and move forward.

Ultrarighteous religious bigots of every sort, from radical Islamists to severe Christian fundamentalists to superultramegaorthodox Jews to the miserable hatemongers of the Westboro Baptist Church condemn - often with violence - those who dare to worship God in any but their own approved way.

What has happened to us? What lessons are today's parents teaching their children that lead to the Steubenvilles and the Sandy Creek Elementaries and other tragedies?

We have allowed ourselves to become a society in which personal rights and privileges are worshiped above responsibilities, compassion, and even common courtesy. The other day I read this wonderful article by Kim Simon: 4 Musts for Moms of Boys. In the article, Ms Simon talks about a question asked by another mother in a playgroup: “What quality do you want to instill in your child? What personality characteristic would you most like for your son to be known for?” Her answer was simple, but goes to the very heart of the problems we face today:

"I want my son to grow up to be kind."

That's what's missing ... we have lost the capacity to be kind to each other.

I have three children and six grandchildren I love deeply, and of whom I am enormously proud. And if there was one lesson I would try to teach them - hopefully, by example - it would be to observe the Golden Rule. To be kind.

The NRA and its apologists would have you believe that an armed society is a polite society, that we ensure our safety and earn respect by packing enough heat to intimidate and deter everyone else. This is stupid. A polite society is based not on the possession of weaponry and the willingness to use it, but on a sense of responsibility for one's actions and a recognition that the world works better when we treat each other with the dignity and respect we would like to receive in return.

Keep the gun if it makes you feel better. But try to simply be kind. It's a lot less expensive than an assault rifle, and you might find that you like it.

Have a good day. Observe the Golden Rule. More thoughts on Tuesday.


P.S. - You might also consider these worthwhile guidelines from George Washington's "Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation" -

#1: "Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present;" and,

#69: "If two contend together take not the part of either unconstrained, and be not obstinate in your own opinion. In things indifferent be of the major side."

Smart guy, that George.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cartoon Saturday

Welcome to Spring ... not that you'd know it around here ...

Two teenagers were arrested Friday in Brunswick, Georgia, for murdering a 13-month-old boy who was in his stroller as they tried to rob the child's mother; the Iraq war began 10 years ago this week ... oddly enough, nobody in Congress seems to be willing to note that - because the war was fought on credit at the same time taxes were being cut - it is a major reason for today's dismal economic situation; a Frenchman who "hated Americans" was arrested when he dressed as an Air France pilot and attempted to sit in the cockpit of a US Airways flight preparing to leave from Philadelphia; the city of Chicago, facing a $1 billion budget deficit, announced plans to close dozens of schools across the city - about 10% of the elementary school buildings in Chicago Public School system; and at the US Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, a Marine shot and killed two of his fellow service members and then apparently shot and killed himself*.

It seems like every week we need the cartoons more and more ...

In her blog post yesterday, Heidi shared a video clip of television personalities Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb providing some ... uh ... overly detailed information about the grooming of their ... er ... private parts. I'm an Air Force veteran, and I thought I knew what a landing strip was. Anyhow, this event, along with the coming of spring and the bikini season, brings up the opportunity to air some of my more hair-raising specialized cartoons ...

I haven't seen this one on the DC Metro yet, but I've seen just about everything else ...

Yes, it can be a pain ...

But sometimes you can work out an equitable arrangement ...

Although spring has supposedly sprung, you couldn't tell from the yucky weather we've been having. It puts a whole new twist on the image of the first Robin of Spring ...

And another twist as well ...

As you know, I've cut back on my blogging schedule so that I can do some long-overdue working out a few days a week. I'm not sure how well it's going ...

As I might have suspected ... the love of money is no longer the root of all evil ...

This was pretty much the diagnosis from our financial advisor when we met last week ...

And finally, did you ever wonder what the dogs do once the Westminster Dog Show is over?

And that's your cartoon IV for this week. It's going to be a busy weekend here, with all sorts of errands to be run tomorrow and then, on Sunday, we'll celebrate our granddaughter Elise's third birthday. I'm looking forward to the party, but not to the aches and pains I know I'll have when I'm done playing with the children. Sigh.

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


* Remember: guns don't kill people ... people with guns kill people. Just in case you forgot the mantra.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Things That Make the News

A quick stroll through today's headlines ...

Porn industry legend Harry Reems, co-star of the ... um ... classic film "Deep Throat" died this week at age 65. He was eulogized by fellow porn star Ron Jeremy, who said that Reems was "a pioneer whose battle for First Amendment rights paved the way for the adult film industry to enter the mainstream." Thanks, but I think I'll go and see "Oz the Great and Powerful" instead.

Mr Tom Clements, the head of the Colorado prison system, was shot dead yesterday when he answered the door at his home. The NRA reminds you that he was killed by a person, not a gun. Just in case you were confused.

The Senate has approved legislation that would fund the government through the end of September and avoid a partial federal shutdown. It's not quite the same as a budget, but it's something. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was quoted as saying "I hope that this practical, commonsense leadership will be a good sign for other things in the future." Of course, the measure must still pass the House, which has plenty of time to reject practical, commonsense leadership. Stay tuned.

In a strange twist, retail giant Nieman Marcus has been accused by the Federal Trade Commission for selling genuine fur which it advertised as "faux fur." And here I thought I'd seen it all. Silly me.

One outcome of the recent Conservative Political Action Conference was a decision to change the meaning of the acronym "GOP" from the traditional "Grand Old Party" to "Growth and Opportunity Project." This new meaning beat out several other proposals, including: "Get Out, Peons," "Glorify Our Palin," and "Give Out Perks*."

The government of Cyprus, having failed in its attempt to levy large fees on bank deposits in an effort to remain solvent, is searching for a "Plan B." When asked for recommendations, Representative Paul Ryan (R, Wisconsin) suggested cutting either the Greek or the Turkish side of the island.

And that's all the news I can stand for now.

Have a good day. Please come back for Cartoon Saturday.


* Applicable only to the top 1%. Sorry.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Jury Duty Adventure

I mentioned yesterday that I was going to spend the day answering my third summons for Jury Duty. Today, I'll tell you all about it. I hope you can stand the excitement.

Jury duty is one of those things we're all liable for, but no one really likes. It's an important civic duty that makes us an active participant in our justice system, but the usual response to receipt of a jury summons is often "how can I get out of this?" This is a bad approach - our system of trial by jury is mandated in the Constitution (Article 3, Section 2) and the Bill of Rights (Sixth Amendment), and it's arguably one of our most important freedoms (sorry, NRA). Being called up for jury duty isn't always convenient, but it's critically important.

I was directed to report to the Fairfax County Courthouse at 8:15 yesterday morning. Because it was miserable weather, with wet, sloppy snow and rain, I set out shortly after 7:00 for the 25-minute drive, which actually took almost 45 yucky minutes. I arrived without incident, parked in the public parking garage (jurors park for free, yippee!), and walked from there to the courthouse through the snow and rain.

At the courthouse, I had to pass through security, which involved emptying all pockets and - curiously - taking off my belt before passing through the metal detector. I then proceeded to Room 503, the Jury Assembly Room, where I joined a large throng of people who had been summoned for duty that day.

At 8:00, the doors opened, and we filed in and were checked in by a quick scan of the bar code on our summons letters. We then went into the assembly room proper, where we found seats at long rows of folding tables to wait for the next event. The room was large, reasonably comfortable, and equipped with restrooms and free wi-fi. This last point is interesting, as it's only been since January of this year that people were allowed to bring in cell phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices equipped with cameras.

At 8:30 one of the court employees came in to give us a brief summary of the day's events, which began with a video presentation on the jury selection process. The video was actually quite well done and interesting, and I learned quite a bit from watching it.

After the video, three sheriff's deputies came in, one after the other, and read off long lists of names of people who would be brought down to various courtrooms for the actual selection of juries. This was one of the most entertaining parts of the day, as the deputies struggled with the pronunciation of names. And it showed what a real slice of America was present for duty as well - there probably weren't many religious, national, or ethnic groups not represented, and the mix was about half each of men and women, all of us drawn from the county's voter registration rolls.

Once all the names had been called there were still about a quarter of the original group left ... including me. A court employee came in to tell us that the three groups had been randomly selected from among our larger randomly-selected group, and that we were still required to remain as a "strategic reserve" of potential jurors in the event that full juries couldn't be formed from the groups already selected for the various courtrooms.

At 10:00, the deputies returned and took the three groups away, and the rest of us settled down to wait for ... whatever was going to happen. I had my iPad, loaded with unread books and games, and available wi-fi, so I had plenty to do when not chatting with other prospective jurors ... no excuse for boredom.

By about 11:30, people from the first three groups started filing back in small dribbles, but nobody was released - we were told that we still needed to remain because some of the trials were having difficulty selecting juries, and we might still be needed.

In the end, shortly after 2:00 a court employee came into the room, thanked us for our service, and announced that we were free to go, and exempt from jury duty summons for the next three years. There was some difficulty with all this, because one of the people who had been summoned was a middle-aged Korean woman who - despite having been selected from the voter registration rolls like the rest of us - spoke not a word of English and didn't understand anything of what was going on (which must have made it interesting when she was actually required to vote - a good reason for requiring that citizens speak English, in my opinion).

So ...

That was my day of jury duty. Pretty much a non-event, although an important one. The right to a trial by a jury of our peers is, as I've said, a major right we enjoy as Americans. And the group of people with whom I spent the day was a true cross-section of America - young and old, male and female, wealthy and not-so-wealthy, representing just about every group you can imagine.

A comedian once said that a trial in this country involved a case argued before a judge and 12 people who weren't able to get out of jury duty. Is jury duty inconvenient? Sometimes. Is it important? You bet. It cost me a day, but I think of it as an investment in the nation in which I'm fortunate enough to live. So should you, if you are summoned.

Have a good day. Do your civic duty when asked. More thoughts on Thursday.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Monday Odds and Ends

Yes, I don't normally post on Mondays any more, but I have been summoned for jury duty and so I have some extra time this morning before driving over to the courthouse to exercise my civic responsibility.

Once it's all over, I'll tell you about the jury experience (as Gilahi did a few years back) ... for now, how about a few odds and ends?

It's sort of half-assed snowing outside ... the last gasp (I hope) of this half-assed winter. I remember when I was a child growing up in good old Pittsburgh, PA, where in the winter we had real snow. Of course, when you're a child, even a small snowfall looks like a huge blizzard, but still ... enough of this pusillanimous "wintry mix" crap ... how about a genuine, city-stopping, right-up-to-the-second-floor-windows snow? Is that too much to ask? Evidently so.

From the Department of Interesting Questions We Don't Need to Worry About Answering At This Time comes this poser: Would an American pope lose his U.S. citizenship? This question arose during the lead-up to the recent papal conclave in Rome, when it appeared that American cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean O' Malley of Boston had an outside chance of election. You can read some of the interesting, but ultimately inconclusive discussion of that question here. I think that if anyone should lose their U.S. citizenship, it's the members of Congress who are soaking up our tax dollars, wasting media time, and breathing air that could be used by Real People without doing their jobs. But that's just me.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has announced a $10 million plan to improve Republican outreach in the wake of the party's poor showing in the 2012 elections. According to Mr Priebus, the money will pay for hundreds of staff workers to "communicate conservative principles in cities across the country." He also said that the party doesn't intend to change any of its principles or policies, but rather change the way Republicans communicate those messages. It's a lot of money, but the GOP has deep pockets, if not deep thoughts. Perhaps if that money ... and an equivalent amount from the Democratic National Committee ... were spent on some serious bipartisan working sessions to address the nation's problems, rather than the party's self-generated image problems, it would be a better investment. But that's just me.

Congressman Mike Rogers (R, Michigan), the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI ... or "hip-see," in Washington-speak), has questioned the stability of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un following a stream of provocative statements and bellicose behavior from the nuclear-armed hermit kingdom. He failed to mention Kim's sober discussion of the issues with noted international statesman Dennis Rodman ...

That's all for now ... time to have some breakfast before heading over to the courthouse for today's excitement. More, and better, thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

We'll Never Run Out of Great Moments in Editing!

You may have wondered why I write so frequently about the importance of good writing. Wonder no longer as you gaze in amazement on our latest installment of Great Moments in Editing ...

Those who engage in the profession of meteorological prognostication often take a lot of heat when their forecasts don't accurately predict what actually happens. Here's one way a clever weatherperson got around the issue ...

This one wanted to be a little more specific ...

I've been summoned for jury duty starting tomorrow. I've been summoned several times, but this is the first time my group of prospective jurors has actually been required to report. I hope I end up with trial for which the accused actually shows up ...

And, this being the environs of Washington, DC, I suppose the judge will explain the finer points of the law to us before we begin our deliberations ...

Gay rights and gay marriage are a hot topic right now, and many people have very definite opinions on the subject ...

If you want to throw a really great party, it helps to have a huge ... uh ... never mind ...

There are a few events I'd probably prefer not to attend ... at least the part where dinner is served ...

On second thought, the horsemeat hamburger doesn't sound all that bad ...

And perhaps I'll just bring my own drinks, thank you very much ...

And finally, I understand the need for a lot of workplace restrictions, but I'd prefer my employer not limit my choice of condiments ...

And there you have it ... another sterling selection of examples of why good English used to be taught in this country.

Oh, and Happy St Patrick's Day, by the way ...

Enjoy that green beer, corned beef and cabbage, faux Irish brogues, and silly Irish jokes, and ignore all the bozoheads wearing the "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" buttons. It's only once a year, after all.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cartoon Saturday

It's been yet another great week ...

In his continuing search for fresh bellicose rhetoric, North Korean boy tyrant Kim Jong-un this week encouraged his military to "Throw all enemies into the caldron, break their waists and crack their windpipes;" the Catholic Church has its first-ever pope from Latin America - Pope Francis, the cardinal formerly known as Jorge Bergoglio; the Carnival cruise line continues its string of embarrassing cruise disasters, with three ships encountering problems in a single week; the Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC, continues its search for reasons why many voters don't like Republicans (insert "elephant in the room" joke here); and in South Dakota, a six-year old boy survived a fall into an icy river, but two adults who jumped in to try to save him were killed.

And March is only half over. Oy. Bring on the cartoons ...

I have a very large collection of cartoons featuring crash test dummies (the real ones, not the entertainers), so let's dip into that well for this week's featured theme ...

There are some good cartoons at the intersection of GPS and crash test dummy ...

There are some jobs certain people just shouldn't have ...

I have several cartoons riffing on this theme, but this is the best one ...

My nephew Ed, who works as a ride operator at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh (and regularly sends me good cartoons for the collection), will probably appreciate this one ...

It takes all kinds ...

There are good and bad aspects to the job ...

And a few other cartoons to round out this week's collection ...

Contrary to popular belief, there's not an app for everything ...

I enjoy showing off pictures of my grandchildren. Other parents throughout history have done the same, some with more flash than others ...

At my age, carbon dating is about all I'd be able to expect ...

And finally for this week, a cartoon that's a clever twist on a well-known phrase ...

And there we have it ... one more Cartoon Saturday down on our relentless march toward spring ... then summer ... then fall ... and before you know it, it'll be Christmas again. Perhaps by then I'll have figured out how to get all three pieces of our spiffy pre-lit artificial tree off the bed in the guest bedroom and back into the box.


Have a good day. Dig out your green to wear tomorrow for St Patrick's Day ... more thoughts then.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Very Respectfully (with Crossed Fingers), Bilbo

As you all well know, Dear Readers, I enjoy writing letters. Many of you have received (and, hopefully, enjoyed) my lengthy and meandering handwritten epistles. It's a win-win!

We all enjoy receiving letters, but very few people actually enjoy writing them. I think that's a large part of the reason so many people have embraced e-mail and, especially, Twitter, which allows you to give the appearance of communicating within the limitations of 140 characters. With either one, you can just sit down at a keyboard and bang out a quick note without too much need to worry about annoying things like composition, good grammar, proper spelling, and correct use of punctuation.

There are other differences between e-mail and traditional letter writing, too. Consider this article by Matthew J. X. Malady - "You Say 'Best.' I Say No: It's Time to Kill the E-Mail Signoff."

You may recall, if you are as old as I am, learning that the parts of a letter include the salutation, the body, the complimentary close, and the signature. Briefly*, a basic letter looks like this:

(Salutation) Dear Recipient,

(Body) Blah, blah, blah, blah**.

(Complimentary Close) Yours Truly,

(Signature) Your Name

An e-mail or tweet, however, might look like this:

"Yo! IMHO we should LOL at the GOP and the Dems."

You will note that there's no complimentary close or signature, because everyone knows from the electronic header of the e-mail or the tweet handle (I don't really know what it's called, since I don't tweet) who the message is coming from, and why do we need old-fashioned pleasantries like a complimentary close in a modern electronic communication?

That's Mr Malady's point in his article - there's no longer a need for an artificial complimentary close (or "signoff") in an e-mail. As he more-or-less eloquently writes,

"Email signoffs are holdovers from a bygone era when letter writing—the kind that required ink and paper—was a major means of communication. The handwritten letters people sent included information of great import and sometimes functioned as the only communication with family members and other loved ones for months. In that case, it made sense to go to town, to get flowery with it. Then, a formal signoff was entirely called for."

It's sad, but probably accurate.

As an example, when I write an official e-mail from my desk at the Pentagon, I always use the standard signoff: "v/r," which is e-shorthand for "very respectfully." Sometimes, depending on the level of respect to be accorded to the recipient, it might even read just "r" - "respectfully." After all, it  just wouldn't do for a general to send an e-mail from his lofty perch to a lower-level peon and sign off "very respectfully." Sometimes, the recipient might be someone for whom you actually have little or no respect, making the "v/r" or the simple "r" a hypocritical exercise in format ...

So ...

Should we eliminate the e-mail signoff? I think the answer is "yes," unless you are going to be sincere about it. And as long as we're at it, why not eliminate the "Dear" in the salutation? Unless I'm writing to my family or very close friends, chances are that I don't consider the recipient to be "dear."

But you, Dear Readers, will always still merit a dear from me, whether electronically or on paper.

Have a good day. Want a hand-written letter of your own? Send your snail-mail address to der_blogmeister(at)yahoo(dot)com and I'll send you one. I'll even start it with "Dear."*** 

Come back for Cartoon Saturday.

v/r (for real),


* For those of you who speak German, consider this an unintended, but clever pun ... the word for "letter" in German is "Brief."

** This is the standard body for a letter received from your elected reprehensives in response to a communication from you.

*** Except for Mike, who gets a "Yo, Bro!"