Sunday, November 30, 2014

Poetry Sunday

As we race headlong into the Christmas season, this poem sums up for me the meaning of Thanksgiving. I'm sure there's an author somewhere needing credit, but I'm not sure who it is ...

The Blessing of Unanswered Prayers
Unknown Author

I asked for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had asked for,
but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my prayers were answered;
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

Have a good day. Continue to be thankful for the good things in your life, small though they may be.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

Thanksgiving is over, and we're into the home stretch for Christmas, although you wouldn't know it from the news ...

Police in Austin, Texas, killed a man who fired more than 100 shots at a federal courthouse and a Mexican consulate, which he also apparently attempted to set afire; the University of Massachusetts Amherst, alma mater of comedian Bill Cosby, has cut all ties with Cosby as a result of allegations of sexual assault and rape made by at least 15 women; Pope Francis, during a rare papal visit to largely-Muslim Turkey, called for religious tolerance and dialogue to counter extremism in the Middle East*; the town of Ferguson, Missouri, exploded in violence after a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager in August; and at least 35 people were killed and 150 injured in an attack on a mosque in northern Nigeria.

At least you can be thankful for the cartoons, if nothing else ...

This week, our theme cartoons look at letters, numbers, and other symbols.

Even punctuation marks need to stay in good shape ...

Getting cursive? ...

Nice serifs! ...

Yes, sometimes people can be very mean ...

And it's important to hang out with the right people ...

Well, I guess it all evens out ...

Turning to other topics of cartoonology, I'd like to see a few of these ...

Yes, there is a limited case to be made ...

I have a physical exam scheduled for this week. I think this is a likely scenario ...

And finally, it's interesting how perspectives change through the years ...

So there you have it ... our last Cartoon Saturday for the month of November. I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving and stayed out of the stores on Black Friday. Here's some free advice: stay out of the stores on all weekends between now and Christmas. You'll thank me.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.


* Good luck with that.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Second Ass Clown of the Month Award for November, 2014

I'm of two minds about the propriety of designating an Ass Clown of the Month just one day after Thanksgiving. On the one hand, having so many ass clowns working so diligently to screw up the country and the world doesn't seem like something for which we should be thankful. But on the other hand, it makes life a lot easier for those of us who satirize the activities of those fools and buffoons.

And speaking of fools and buffoons, let us move on without delay to announce our second Ass Clown of the Month for November, 2014 ....

Senator Lindsay Graham
(Republican, South Carolina) 

On September 11, 2012, four Americans including the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, were murdered in an attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Almost from the moment the fires died down, the tragic events of that day became a huge political weapon for Congressional Republicans as they accused President Obama of deliberately lying about the details of the attack, and of deliberately allowing the murder of American citizens. In spite of the fact that repeated investigations - including one just completed by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence* - have uncovered absolutely no evidence to support the scurrilous accusations of deliberate and politically-motivated official malfeasance, Senator Graham has described the latest investigatory report as being "full of crap," and said it's "garbage" that the report does not find that any members of the Obama administration lied to cover up what happened in Benghazi. Graham said he is going to "do a hard review of" the findings of the report ... which would be, by my counting, the ninth investigation in search of politically useful facts that do not exist.

If you're interested enough, you can read the entire new report here and draw your own conclusions.

For his relentless political scab-picking and complete refusal to face the facts as established by a long series of studies, reviews, and investigations of the Benghazi tragedy, Senator Lindsey Graham is designated our Second Ass Clown of the Month for November, 2014.

And I'm betting he'll still be howling about the same topic a year from today.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Chaired by a Republican, no less - Representative Mike Rogers.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving, 2014

Today is my favorite holiday: the traditional American holiday of Thanksgiving. In a crazy world in which we too often focus on the negatives, it's good to have a day on which to sit back and reflect on the things for which we can be truly thankful. On this Thanksgiving Day - as on every Thanksgiving Day - Bilbo the Cynical Curmudgeon yields the blog to Bilbo the Reflective Grandpa to think about some of the things that are right with the world ...

A beautiful and endlessly talented wife that makes life interesting and enjoyable ... if a little chaotic at times;

Three loving and successful children who have made their own marks on the world, and of whom I am proud beyond all measure;

Six adorable, intelligent, and loving grandchildren that can warm the most jaded heart;

The world's best daughter-in-law;

A job;

A home;

Good health;


The good fortune to be able to live in a country which, for all its faults, gives me the opportunity to enjoy all of the above;

The ability to write what I wish in this space without worrying about the heavy hand of the censor; and,

The ability to enjoy the good things of the world that would be denied by those whose harsh and intolerant worship of a jealous and angry God ignores the beauty and possibilities of the present in favor of rigid belief in an imagined paradise in an unknowable future.

I have many things to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, and it's only proper that I should take a few minutes to acknowledge that I am, as ever, most richly blessed.

I wish all of you, Dear Readers, the very happiest and safest of holidays.

Have a good day. Give thanks for the good things you have and the bad things you don't. And stay out of the stores tomorrow ... you'll thank me.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Poop Bus

From the Department of I Couldn't Make This Stuff Up Comes this report from - where else? - Faux News: Poop-Powered Bus Hits British Roads.

Yes, Faux News knows how to report on crap, and they've got a live one here.

It seems that a British firm which specializes in green* energy has built and is operating a vehicle they call a "biobus," which runs on the methane gas generated from the decomposition of human sewage and food waste. The 40-seat bus can travel up to 184 miles on a single tank of the gas, which is generated via a process known as "anaerobic digestion."

Oddly enough, the poop bus produces less harmful waste than regular diesel engines, helping to improve air quality in urban areas. And because the yucky impurities are removed from the gas to ensure the bus doesn’t stink, it's less offensive than you might think should you be stuck next to one idling at a traffic light.

I can't wait until the poop bus makes its appearance here in Washington. We could build a major fueling facility on Capitol Hill and another on K Street, and never run out of fuel. Ever.

The poop bus - for those times when you've just got to go somewhere.

Have a good day. Be here tomorrow to share some thoughts about my favorite holiday.


* Well, technically, in this case it's brown energy, but that's not important now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Immigration Reform. Or Not. Probably Not.

Well, things certainly are heating up on the immigration reform front. Last Thursday, tired of waiting for Congress to act, President Obama issued an executive order to address part of the problem of illegal immigration. Predictably, the GOP accused Mr Obama of "shredding the Constitution" and acting like an emperor rather than a president, and sued him.

None of which, of course, addresses the actual problem ... which is that our immigration system is broken, in dire need of fixing, and will never be fixed in our lifetimes because the fundamental issues of law, fairness, and decency have been superseded by a recognition that there is more to be gained by using immigration reform as a club with which to beat each other than by doing the hard work of actually fixing the law.

The Senate passed an immigration reform bill back in 2013 and sent it to the House. The House petulantly refused to do its job, which would have been to come up with its own immigration reform bill and designate a conference committee to blend it with the Senate bill to come up with a law that represented, as far as possible, everyone's interests. Thus, here we are in 2014 with no bill and a frustrated President who felt obligated to take action of debatable legality to accomplish that which Congress refuses to do.

Most of you know that I have developed a draft immigration reform plan that, while not perfect, had something in it that could appeal to all sides of the hysterical debate, assuming they could stop screaming long enough to read it. I sent copies to my Senators and Reprehensives and to the President, all of whom sent nice letters thanking me for my interest in this serious problem that's the other side's fault blah, blah, blah, don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

And here we are.

As we approach Thanksgiving, give thanks that you have a country to which you can belong. And reflect that you come from a long line of ... immigrants. Imagine that.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 24, 2014

CIA Reorganization

You probably saw the news reports last week about CIA Director* John Brennan's consideration of "sweeping plans" to reorganize the nation's premiere intelligence agency**. Mr Brennan is concerned that the current long-standing structure - based on two major directorates, one for intelligence collection and the other for analysis - is not the best arrangement for the threats faced by the country today. He appointed an internal committee earlier this year to examine the problem and report back to him.

I'm not sure why they didn't ask me to participate on the committee as an outside advisor. It must have been an oversight. As it happens, I have a reorganization plan to offer that's probably as good as anything else they'll come up with ...

It's not quite as good as my immigration reform plan, but it's probably as good as anything Congress could come up with ... because you just know that Congress will be happy to tell the CIA how to do its job. They can't do their own job, but they're great at telling the rest of the government how to do theirs.

Whattaya think? How does my plan look? What have I missed? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* His actual title is "Director of Central Intelligence" or "DCI."

** Things just aren't the same since Maxwell Smart left Control.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Poetry Sunday

Okay, it may not be PC to admit it, but I love beautiful women. I believe in the words of the author Jean Kerr, who once said, "I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty about beauty being skin deep. That's deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?" Not only am I fortunate enough to be married to a beautiful and extraordinarily talented woman, I have the equally good fortune of having many other beautiful and talented women as friends ... ballroom dancing will do that for you. Today's poem is an interesting celebration of an underappreciated attribute of beautiful ladies ...

The Shoulders of Women
by Jeffrey Harrison

Bored by the featureless speeches at the fundraising dinner,
I scan the hotel ballroom for something to look at
and discover (thank God for sleeveless dresses!)
the shoulders of women, pale moons aglow
above the linen-covered tables. Smooth and rounded
like the neighboring breasts, they are less obvious
and more complex, their inner mechanism
of muscle, tendon, cartilage, and bone
giving detail and highlights to their contours,
making more exquisite the way the skin
is pulled taut across the clavicle's diagonal ridge
then dips into that shallow well above it,
the way it curves down, then up again unseen
into the nether hollow of the underarm,
that tender pocket, the shoulder's hidden nest.
The speaker patters on about how there has never
been a more important time than now, and I
have to agree, because when will I ever see
a collection of shoulders as marvelous as this?
I feel blessed to have been let in on this
open secret: all over the room, women revealing
the rounded upper corners of their nakedness.
And when the speeches finally end, I applaud
not for what was said, but for these women,
for the shoulders they have so generously given.

Yes, it's Halle Berry, and she has award-winning shoulders*, according to Fitbe magazine.

Appreciating all those beautiful women is a heavy burden, but I'm able to ... uh ... shoulder it.

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And everything else, according to ... well ... me.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

It's colder than a welldigger's backside ... and it's not even Thanksgiving yet!

Outspoken activist Reverend Al Sharpton is fuming over allegations that he owes $4.5 million in back taxes; female Indonesian police recruits must pass a virginity test in order to be inducted into the police force; 80 year-old Charles Manson, serving life in prison for masterminding a series of murders in 1969, is engaged to be married to a 26 year-old woman who says she already considers herself his wife; at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, an individual exercising his Second Amendment rights shot and wounded three students in the university library before being shot and killed by police; and in England, a couple who posted a highly-negative review of a hotel in which they’d stayed learned that the hotel had tacked a hefty fine onto their bill, telling them it was their policy to fine guests who posted negative reviews.

Not only is the world cold, it's stupid. Good thing we have cartoons to help us get along.

This week, in honor of the horrendous winter weather that's making life miserable across the country, our selection of theme cartoons deals with snow and winter weather ...

The problems of the Eskimos ...

It's all in how you look at it ...

Well, at least the king probably has serfs to shovel it all away ...

Would that it were that simple ...

Even snowmen need a periodic check-up ...

This is just another version of the situation that exists when you've shoveled out your driveway and parking places, and the plow comes along and pushes it all back ...

Remember the commercials for the old Kleenex "man-sized" tissues? ...

Turning to other topics of humor, do you think we'll ever run out of "gates?" ...

"For real!", as my granddaughter Leya would say ...

Finally, the awards you know are coming ...

Later this morning Agnes and I will be heading up to the Sur La Table store at Pentagon Row in Arlington to take a "Fresh Ideas for Thanksgiving" class and get our good knives sharpened, and after that we'll be spending the afternoon and evening with our daughter, who has invited us to a "movie night" at her place. The downside is that I happen to know that the movies she has in mind are actually documentaries designed to shock us into a healthier lifestyle. Oh, well ...

Have a good day and a great weekend. Stay warm and come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.

See you then.


Friday, November 21, 2014

More Great Moments in Editing

Here we go again ... grab a nice cup of hot chocolate, coffee, or tea, and sit back to enjoy our latest batch of wonderful media finds ...

That's quite a guarantee ...

Well, you've got to give him credit for making an effort to show up ...

Next week: how to repair your bathroom oven ...

I guess the No-Pest Strips didn't work, either ...

I'm sure he'll be delighted ... assuming he can figure out what it's for ...

We have great hunters like that here in the states, too ...

No questions asked, because who would want to hear the answers?

I think it isn't just the student who needs it ...

Now, why didn't we think of that here?

What more can I say? ...

Need a job? Lots of places ought to be hiring editors and proofreaders.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cold Enough for You?

We have started what looks to be the coldest and most ferocious winter of recent memory. Or longer memory, even. As I write this, Buffalo, New York, is buried under six feet of snow, with another three feet expected today ... a normal year's worth of snow in just three days.

Thank goodness there's no such thing as climate change ... then we'd really be screwed, wouldn't we?

But the thing that really worries me as we move ahead toward winter (the winter solstice, the official first day of winter, doesn't even get here until December 21st) is this: winter storms like this one, combined with the enormous snow job that crashed down on our heads on Election Day, are not a good omen for the coming year.

I'm really shivering, and it's not just from the cold.

Have a good day. Stay warm. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The 2014 Word of the Year

Time for ol' Bilbo to dust off that degree in Linguistics and talk about words again ...

Yesterday, the Oxford Dictionaries announced their Word of the Year for 2014: vape.

Vape? you say. What?

According to a press release from the Oxford Dictionaries, vape derives from the existing word vapor, and can be both a noun and a verb. As a verb, it refers to the act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette; as a noun, it can refer to the electronic smoking device itself. Name your poison, right?

Vape beat out several other words on the linguistic word-of-the-year short list, which included:

Bae (noun) - a term of endearment for a romantic partner. It may derive from a shortened form of baby or babe, but may be an acronym for ‘before anyone else.’ Perhaps it's just me, but I think this is a dumb neologism ... I just can't see calling Agnes bae instead of schatz*.

Budtender (noun) - A person who serves customers in a cannabis dispensary or shop. I remember the good old days, when a Bud was something drawn for you by a bartender when you couldn't afford or find real beer ... not a reference to Mexican happy grass. Sigh.


Slacktivism (noun) - An informal term for actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause, but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website. It derives, of course, from the combination of the words slack (or slacker) and activism.

Don't just be a slacktivist ... expand your vocabulary today instead of visiting a budtender or vaping**.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* A German term of endearment which literally means "treasure."

** Are people who vape being vapid? Discuss.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Conference Calls

The economy being what it is, there's not a lot of money in most organizations for discretionary travel. There was a time when I was off on some business trip or another at least once a month ... one year, I was working a project for which I traveled so often to Colorado Springs that I got a Christmas card from the manager of the Holiday Inn where I always stayed.

But that was then, and this is now. Unless you're the CEO of a major corporation or a member of Congress whose travel is paid for by the CEOs of major corporations, you figure out ways to get things done without traveling. The main way this is done nowadays is by videoconferencing or audio conference calls.

Videoconferencing is nice because you can see the people at the other end, and you can get the feeling - almost - that you're in the same room dealing with them. The downside is, of course, that they can see you, too. It can be embarrassing to fall asleep while the camera is on you, or to see on screen that the notes you're taking are actually on a crossword or sudoku puzzle.

Conference calls are better. No one can see you on screen, so if you're participating from home, you can do so in your pajamas (or less) and no one is the wiser. There's no camera (which can often be controlled by the people at the far end) to see what you're really doing while you're on the call with the mute button pressed.

And what are you doing? According to this article in the Harvard Business Review, these are the top things people are really doing while they're on a conference call*:

I'm usually doing other work**. So, what do you do during conference calls, Dear Readers? Leave a comment and let me know. Or we can always discuss it on a Skype or FaceTime call. Just be fully clothed when you call in, if you don't mind.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* If you add up the percentages, it comes to 378%. There must be a lot of people on that call.

** I almost said, "doing number one or number two," but thought better of it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Things Nobody Says in Washington

I ran across this article - 35 Things You'll Never Hear a Washingtonian Say - on a local website. You can read all 35 for yourself, but I thought these were some of the best (along with my commentary, of course, and two I added to the list) ...

Sorry, I don’t like talking about my work.
Said nobody in Washington, ever. Especially if they're not supposed to talk about their work.

Just knowing there’s an elected official in one of those three black SUVs totally makes this motorcade worth being 20 minutes late.
DC traffic is insane at the best of times ... but VIP motorcades make it something that ought to have been one of Dante's lower circles of Hell.

I go to the museums all the time.
Real Washingtonians only go to museums when out-of-town visitors expect them to come along.

Excuse me, ma’am, would you like this seat?
I actually have, on rare occasions, seen people on buses and metro trains give up seats to the elderly and infirm ... but those occasions really have been rare.

It’s just a little snow, I’m sure the roads will be fine.
A single snowflake is enough to cause more havoc in this town than the average Congressional Teabagger. Almost.

It’s just a little snow, I’m sure we have enough food.

Awesome, no parking ticket!
Perhaps in an alternate universe ...

Let’s just walk up the Dupont Circle escalators. It will be good exercise.
The longer I live here, the more certain I am that the ever-out-of-order escalators at the Metro stations are part of a covert government plan to ensure that we all get plenty of exercise.

These traffic cameras are such a great way to help the city’s economy!
They certainly don't help with traffic safety.

Georgetown Cupcake is worth the wait.
You may recall that my granddaughter Marcy asked us to bring some cupcakes from the famous Georgetown Cupcake bakery to our family reunion last year. I can now tell you from experience that the cost-to-deliciousness ratio of those cupcakes does not justify the wait at the store.

Yes, $8 does seem like a reasonable price for carrot juice, Sweetgreen.
Yeah, right.

You have made good points, and I am now changing my opinion on this issue.
Said absolutely no one in Washington. Ever. In a million years.

And my additions to the list:

Of course, Senator/Representative X, I will be happy to work with you on developing a bipartisan, long-term plan to resolve this critical national problem.
The crackling sound you hear in the background is Hell freezing over.

I'm very sorry, sir, but it would be totally unethical for me to accept this money from your organization because it would give the appearance of undue influence on the legislative process.
The temperature in Hell is still falling.

Considering some of the fantasies I could have, the last two are probably safe ... if beyond the realm of possibility.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Poetry Sunday

There's straight poetry, and there are the lyrics to popular songs, which are a form of poetry in their own right. One of my favorite songs (of which I have a very large number) is this one from former Beatle George Harrison's solo album Cloud Nine, and it talks about the danger of loose lips ...

Devil's Radio
by George Harrison

Gossip! Gossip!
Gossip! Gossip!

I heard it in the night,
Words the thoughtless speak.
Like vultures swooping down below,
On the Devil's Radio.

I hear it through the day,
Airwaves getting filled
With gossip broadcast to and fro
On the Devil's Radio.

Oh yeah! Gossip!
Gossip! Oh, yeah.

He's in the clubs and bars.
And never turns it down.
Talking about what he don't know.
On the Devil's Radio.

He's in your TV set.
Won't give it a rest.
That soul-betraying so-and-so,
On the Devil's Radio.

Gossip! Gossip!
Gossip! Oh yeah!
Oh yeah! Gossip!
Gossip! Oh yeah!

It's white and black like industrial waste.
Pollution of the highest degree.
You wonder why I don't hang out much.
I wonder how you can't see!

He's in the films and songs
And all your magazines.
It's everywhere that you may go.
The Devil's radio.

Oh yeah! Gossip!
Gossip! Oh yeah!

Runs thick and fast, no one really sees
Quite what bad it can do.
As it shapes you into something cold,
Like an Eskimo igloo.

It's all across our lives,
Like a weed it spreads,
Til nothing else has space to grow.
The Devil's Radio.

It can creep up in the dark
Make us hide behind shades.
They're buzzing like a dynamo.
The Devil's Radio.

Gossip! Gossip!
Gossip! Gossip!

And in case you'd like to hear it performed ...

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. Don't talk about me, unless it's good stuff. 

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

It's hard to believe that we're halfway through November, isn't it? ...

In its latest move in the new Cold War, Russia announced this week that it will being conducting routine bomber patrols in the Gulf of Mexico; allegations of rape continue to haunt beloved American comedian Bill Cosby; the Rosetta mission to land on the comet 67P was a partial success after the Philae lander bounced on the surface several times and landed in the shadow of cliffs that prevented its solar panels from recharging the batteries on which it depends; and according to unconfirmed news reports, the U.S. Marshals Service is using aircraft launched from at least five airports to collect cell phone data - from law-abiding Americans as well as criminal suspects - which will help locate fugitives.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, in honor of the side dishes that go along with the turkey, our collection of theme cartoons for this week features the famous character of Mr Potato Head ...

I suppose he had a living will ...

Even a potato needs a good lawyer nowadays ...

And an eye doctor ... potatoes have a lot of eyes, after all ...

Busted! ...

Even a potato needs to worry about its diet, or so it seems ...

And a high-tech potato can have some low-tech issues ...

Turning to other random cartoons, I thought this was the ultimate in steampunk ...

Your awful pun for the week ...

This one is for Kathy and Melissa ...

The Three Stooges of the Amazon ...

And there you have it - your second Cartoon Saturday for November, 2014.

Cold enough for you? If you're living in the upper midwest or the northeast, it probably is. It's so cold here in NoVa that the politicians and lawyers are standing around with their hands in their own pockets, and it's going to get colder in the coming week. I can hardly wait.

Have a good day and a great weekend. See you back here tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.


* Can you guess who will end up paying those fines? Hint: it's not the banks, it's you ... assuming that they ever cough up any cash at all.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Second Ass Clown of the Month Award for November, 2014

Ah, how quickly two weeks go by ... it's time once again to announce our biweekly Ass Clown of the Month* Award

There's never a shortage of worthy individual recipients, but this time I have chosen to present the award to

The Government of India

India is, as you probably know, a huge nation with a vast population and many problems. You may recall that public defecation in India is such an issue that they have instituted a "Poo2Loo" program to urge people to actually poop in toilets, and I noted last month in this space that the country had spent about $74 million to send a spacecraft to Mars** despite its other pressing problems. Brutal gang rapes of women in India are, sadly, a fairly common occurrence. But now - on top of all these things that make India such a paradise - comes word that 11 Indian women have died and more than 60 were hospitalized after participating in a government-run sterilization program intended to help curb the growth of the population***.

For its investment choices in the face of massive problems, the Government of India is awarded our Ass Clown of the Month for the two-week period that ends today. Too bad there's not a cash bonus that goes with the award ... they could spend it on something else useful, like another space probe.

Have a good day. Think about the investments we make here at home. India's are bad enough.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* I know it's not really "Ass Clown of the Month" if the award is given biweekly, but "Ass Clown of the Every Other Week" is just too cumbersome.

** I've often complained about the decisions we make on how money is spent in this country, but at least we poop in toilets. Well, most of us. Most of the time.

*** Surprisingly enough, this is not yet one of the things for which the GOP has denounced Obamacare, but I'm sure they'll get around to it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Grandma's Thanksgiving Invitation

Now that I'm a (multiple) grandparent, I think more about family gatherings and the importance of trying to keep the rapidly expanding family connected. But as I learned in this clever offering from my friend Bob, other grandparents take a somewhat more ... direct ... approach to holiday gatherings than I do ...

Dear Family,

I'm not dead yet. Thanksgiving is still important to me. If being in my will is important to you, then you might consider being with me for my favorite holiday.

Here is the schedule:

Dinner is at 2:00.
Not 2:15 ...
Not 2:05 ...
Arrive late and you get what's left over.

Last year, that moron Marshall fried a turkey in one of those contraptions and practically burned the deck off the house. This year, the only peanut oil used to make the meal will be from the secret scoop of peanut butter I add to the carrot soup.

Jonathan, your last new wife is an idiot. You don't arrive at someone's house on Thanksgiving needing to use the oven and the stove. Honest to God, I thought you might have learned after two wives - date them longer and save us all the agony of another divorce.

Now, the house rules are slightly different this year because I have decided that 47% of you don't know how to take care of nice things. Paper plates and red Solo cups might be bad for the environment, but I'll be gone soon and that will be your problem to deal with.

House Rules:

1. The University of Texas no longer plays Texas A&M. The television stays off during the meal.

2. The "no cans for kids" rule still exists. We are using 2-liter bottles because your children still open a third can before finishing the first two. Parents can fill a child's cup when it is empty. All of the cups have names on them and I'll be paying close attention to refills.

3. Chloe, last year we were at Trudy's house and I looked the other way when your Jell-O salad showed up. This year, if Jell-O salad comes in the front door it will go right back out the back door with the garbage.  Save yourself some time, honey. You've never been a good cook and you shouldn't bring something that wiggles more than you. Buy something from the bakery.

4. Grandmothers give grandchildren cookies and candy. That is a fact of life. Your children can eat healthy at your home. At my home, they can eat whatever they like as long as they finish it.

5. I cook with bacon and bacon grease. That's nothing new. You being a vegetarian doesn't change the fact that stuffing without bacon is like egg salad without eggs. Even the green bean casserole has a little bacon grease in it. That's why it tastes so good. Not eating bacon is just not natural. And as far as being healthy... look at me. I've outlived almost everyone I know.

6. Salad at Thanksgiving is a waste of space*.

7. I do not like cell phones at family get-togethers. If you sit at the table and text on your phone when here, or if you decide you must talk to some one during dinner, I will take it from you and drop it into pot of cracking hot bacon grease on the stove that is there just for that purpose.

8. I do not like video cameras. There will be 32 people here. I am sure you can capture lots of memories without pointing the camera at me.

9. Being a mother means you have to actually pay attention to the kids. I have nice things and I don't put them away just because company is coming over. Mary, watch your kids and I'll watch my things. I know what is here, so don’t force me to frisk and search when the party is over.

10. Rhonda, a cat that requires a shot twice a day is a cat that has lived too many lives. I think staying home to care for the cat is your way of letting me know that I have lived too many lives too. I can live with that. Can you?

11. Words mean things. I say what I mean. Let me repeat: "You don't need to bring anything" means "you don't need to bring anything." And if I did tell you to bring something, bring it in the quantity I said. Really, this doesn't have to be difficult.

12. Dominos and cards are better than anything that requires a battery or an on/off switch. That was true when you were kids and it's true now that you have kids.

13. Showing up for Thanksgiving guarantees presents at Christmas. Not showing up guarantees a card that may or may not be signed.

14. In memory of your Grandfather, the back fridge will be filled with beer. Drink until it is gone. I prefer wine anyway. But one person from each family needs to be the designated driver and must have a valid drivers license.

15. I really mean all of the above. See Rule 11 if you're confused.

Love You,


* Rule 6 does not apply at Chez Bilbo, where we love salads.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Approaching Landing

If all goes well, about six hours from now the high-tech lander named Philae will make history by being the first man-made object to land on a comet - the comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. As I write this, CNN is reporting that Philae has passed the point of no return ... it can't be steered or controlled, and things will either go well or they won't.

We'll see.

Scientists hope to learn a great deal when Philae lands on its target. After all, the mission to send Philae to the comet cost a great deal of money, which will have been wasted if the lander misses the target, crashes, or simply doesn't work once it touches down.

It occurs to me that this is much like the upcoming landing in Washington of the new Congress.

Some people spent a vast amount of money earlier this month (almost 4 billion dollars, if you remember) to send their own landers to Washington. As with Philae, we don't know what we'll learn yet, because most of the landers belong to the GOP and were not launched with specific plans or programs ... just a generic position that "all things done by Democrats are un-American and job-killingTM". We don't know whether they'll actually work until they land on Capitol Hill in January and we see if they can work with each other and with the landers already there from previous missions.

Perhaps it's just me, but Houston*, I think we have a problem.

Have a good day. Good luck, Philae ... I hope you land safely.

More thoughts tomorrow.


*Actually, the operations center for Rosetta/Philae is in Darmstadt (Germany), but you know what I mean.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans' Day, 2014

Today, November 11th, is the holiday known in America as Veterans' Day. It is one of two days in the year that are designated to honor those who have served in the nation's military services; the other is Memorial Day, celebrated on the last Monday in May.

The two days have different focuses. Memorial Day honors those who have been killed in our various wars, incursions, police actions, "peacekeeping operations," and other military and quasi-military actions. Veterans' Day honors those who have served.

Veterans' Day started life as a holiday called "Armistice Day," and the November 11th date commemorates the day on which the guns fell silent in 1918 at the end of the First World War ... also known as "The War to End All Wars."

We all know how well that worked out.

Our celebration of the service rendered by our veterans has had its ups and downs over the years. My military service began with my graduation from college and commissioning as an Air Force Second Lieutenant in 1973, at the height of the war in Vietnam. Those of you my age or older will remember that as a very divisive time in this country, and not a pleasant one to be an ROTC cadet at a major public university. There were the occasional days on which our military studies classes were cut short because of large crowds on the way to demonstrate at the ROTC building, which was the most visible and obvious symbol of the military on campus. I had the uplifting experience while in uniform of being addressed by an otherwise beautiful young woman who spat that I was a "' robot."

Times are different, now. The pendulum has swung away from our people in uniform being hated as a symbol of government militarism and adventurism and toward admiration of those same people as heroes. People put flags in their yards and yellow-ribbon stickers on their cars and stop random servicemen and women in uniform to thank them for their service. As you might suspect, I like it this way better.

Those who serve in uniform make a conscious choice to put their lives on the line, if necessary, in the service of something greater than themselves. Some make the ultimate sacrifice. Others, like myself, put in a full military career without ever hearing a shot fired in anger. But the danger is always there, and when you take the king's shilling, you take your chances.

On this Veterans' Day of 2014, I remember all the great people with whom I served during my 23 years of active duty and those alongside whom I serve today, as well as the service of my father (Army Air Corps in World War II), my brothers Mark (in the Navy) and Paul (in the Army), my son Jason (in the Air Force), and all the rest of those who have answered the call. It can be a wonderful job, a dirty one, and even a fatal one ... but someone has to do it.

Dad, Mark, and I on the Occasion of Mark's Retirement from the Navy

I proudly salute those of you who do.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Of Celebrations and Competitions

I celebrated my birthday last Friday, and was able to celebrate over the weekend with this wonderful pineapple upside-down cake baked by my daughter Yasmin and her daughters Leya and Elise ...

I'm not all that much of a cake-and-sweets guy, but I love pineapple upside-down cake, and this one really turned out beautifully.

On Saturday, the girls wanted to play - of all things - Chopped!. This was based on the Food Network show they watch on which chefs compete against each other to create menus which use a basket of specific (often wildly outrageous) ingredients, plus whatever else they can find in the studio kitchen. We gave each girl a basket which included an apple, a lemon, two slices of bread, and a few slices of cheese and turned them loose in our kitchen to create an appetizer course.

Team Mama and Elise (age 4) created a nifty salad with toasted croutons, fried cheese, carrots, dried berries, and apples in a lemony sauce, while Team Oma and Leya (age 7) turned out an apple and carrot soup with lemon, sautéed carrots, and a slice of cheesy toast sprinkled with ground oatmeal.

I think it's great that the girls are taking an interest in cooking this early in life. I didn't really start seriously learning to cook until I found myself single and unable to afford to eat out all the time. My father was a superb and innovative cook, but I never bothered to learn from him until much later in life. Leya and Elise (especially Elise) both love to help in the kitchen, and even though they can't operate without close supervision, they both do a very respectable job for their ages ... Leya's scrambled eggs are especially good, as is her yogurt-based fruit dip.

Oh ... as for the Chopped! contest ... the judge (Opa, demonstrating truly Solomonic wisdom) decreed a tie between the competing appetizers. Elise's salad was quite good (even though she'd poached most of the croutons out of it by the time the judging started), and Leya's cold soup was very tasty and refreshing.

I have grandchildren who are cooks, dancers, musicians, athletes, gymnasts, and dinosaur experts. Am I a lucky guy or what?

Have a good day. Eat well.

More thoughts tomorrow.