Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cartoon Saturday

We've finally made it to the end of February, and not a day too soon. If you work at the Department of Homeland Security, you get to wait another week to see if Republicans can actually govern like adults without petulantly forcing you to work without pay so they can stick a political finger in the President's eye.

A prominent Bangladeshi-American blogger who spoke out against religious extremism was murdered in Dhaka by persons who hacked him to death with knives and machetes and seriously injured his wife for "his crimes against Islam;" the man dubbed "Jihadi John" who murdered several people on camera on behalf of the so-called Islamic State has been identified as a British citizen of Lebanese origin named Mohammed Emwazi; a court in South Korea has ruled that adultery is no longer a crime under the country's constitution; nine people were murdered in a series of shootings at various locations in southern Missouri; and global warming increased by several degrees as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) met at a conference center near Washington, DC.

In honor of this week's CPAC meeting, and of Congressional Republicans inability to deliver responsible government, our theme cartoon selection features ... what else? ... clowns.

Some clowns are getting ready for the upcoming* presidential campaign ...

If your favorite clown is in jail, you need to be careful when smuggling gifts to him. Or her.

A person suffering from coulrophobia has a morbid fear of clowns. This is why I keep my distance from Capitol Hill ...

Sauce for the gander ...

Well, it is juggling, of a sort ...

Now, this is a buy-a-brick campaign I could really get into ...

I thought this one was a pretty clever twist on a theme ...

Do you remember the good old days, when you used your phone to ... gasp! ... make telephone calls? ...

I haven't mentioned Congressional ass-clownery for a few paragraphs, so ...

Every day I tend to think this is a much better way of investing ...

And so we wrap up the last Cartoon Saturday for February, 2015. Later this morning, we'll be driving up to Baltimore with our daughter and the local grandchildren to visit the Port Discovery Children's Museum ... we were supposed to go two weeks ago, but the weather intervened. Today will be very cold, but at least it won't be snowing and icy. Whatever you do today, be safe and enjoy, and come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


* Upcoming, hell ... it's already started.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Left Cheek Ass Clown Award for February, 2015

Yes, Dear Readers, the time has come! It’s the last Friday of February, last Friday was our alternate feature “Great Moments in Editing,” and that means that it’s time to announce our February 2015

Left Cheek Ass Clown of the Month

As always, the number of potential awardees is huge, and spans the worlds of politics, religion, entertainment, and all-around general ass clownery. But a choice needs to be made, and so it is with a sad shake of the head that I present the award to

Bill O'Reilly

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, accused of embellishing and/or fabricating reports which placed him at the center of dramatic news events, has reacted in typical fashion - not by forthrightly admitting his mistakes, but by threatening one of the journalists asking questions about the accuracy of his accounts. O'Reilly told New York Times reporter Emily Steel,

"I am coming after you with everything I have ... You can take it as a threat."

O'Reilly has a well-deserved reputation as a blowhard and a bully, eager to dish out abuse and vindictiveness but unwilling to accept it when he is the target. It is not in his nature to admit error or to apologize, but to automatically assume that others are as crude and despicable as he is.

For his self-centered, arrogant behavior and thin-skinned, belligerent reaction to criticism, conservative bully Bill O'Reilly is designated as our Left Cheek Ass Clown of the Month for February, 2015.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

To Your Health! Well, Not So Fast, There ...

Among the many other weighty issues before the Supreme Court this session is the meaning of four words buried deep in the thousands of pages of the Affordable Care Act*: “established by the State.” A decision on what those four words mean in the context of the law will have an enormous impact on whether or not the law as a whole will be able to survive, and whether or not many thousands, if not millions of people will be able to afford health care in the years to come.

Here’s how we got our semantic knickers into this twist …

The Affordable Care Act (we’ll call it “ACA” for short) provides for the establishment of "exchanges" through which individuals can purchase competitively priced health insurance, and authorizes federal tax credits** to low- and middle-income Americans to help offset the cost of health insurance policies, which tend to be higher than many people of modest means can afford. Today, 16 states and the District of Columbia*** have set up their own exchanges; the other 34 states depend on exchanges run by the federal government. The Internal Revenue Service, which implements parts of the ACA, has ruled that the tax credits (also called subsidies) apply to all exchanges, state or federal. The plaintiffs in the case now before the Supreme Court say that because a subsection of the law contains the words "established by the State," the law intends subsidies to be available only to people living in states that set up their own exchanges ... not to people who purchased their insurance through a federal government-run exchange.

The implications of the decision are clear: if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, millions of people who live in the 34 states using federal exchanges will no longer be able to use federal tax credits to purchase their insurance, and may thus lose it.

It seems to me that something has been lost in the endless arguing over the ACA, and it revolves around the meaning of a single word, rather than the four the Supreme Court is considering. That word is “affordable.”

In case you haven't noticed, health care in America is expensive. Millions of low and middle-income Americans cannot afford it. Many have full or part-time jobs that do not offer medical or dental insurance benefits, and many others don’t have jobs, period … and neither can afford sky-high insurance premiums. Even people with insurance coverage can be wiped out by a single catastrophic medical expense.

The reasons for the huge cost of health care are many: medical schooling is expensive, modern diagnostic equipment is expensive, drugs are expensive, and malpractice insurance is an enormous burden for medical professionals, driven up by enormous judgements awarded to plaintiffs in malpractice suits. Everything about our present health care system drives up the cost far beyond what many people can afford, and the burden of paying for those who cannot afford their own care is indirectly borne by everyone else in terms of higher insurance costs and, for businesses, loss of employee productivity.

Whether you love the ACA, like parts of it but not others, or hate it on principle, you have to admit one thing: it represents an attempt to fix a serious problem. Most everyone agrees that the law is flawed in one way or another, but it seems to me that the answer is not to work feverishly to kill it … the answer is to propose something better to replace it****. I’m still waiting for the GOP to do that.

Until then, good luck if you get sick.

Have a good day. Be here tomorrow, when we'll announce this month's Left Cheek Ass Clown of the Month.


* That’s “Obamacare,” for those of you who prefer to call it by a more disparaging name.

** I have an issue with the idea of “tax credits,” but that’s a discussion for another post.

*** Technically not a “state,” but not for want of trying.

**** The answer is not "tax credits." See ** above for preview of an upcoming rant.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Report: In the Garden of Beasts, by Eric Larson

As you all know, Dear Readers, I’m a history buff with a particular interest in the World War II era. As such, I found Erik Larson’s book In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin to be a marvelous depiction of diplomacy and the search for normality in a time of sheer insanity.

The book tells the story of William E. Dodd, who was actually nobody’s first choice to be America’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany. He was a low-key scholar and Germanophile with a common touch, who disdained the expensive trappings of his office (for instance, he preferred driving his old Chevrolet sedan rather than the giant limousines favored by most of the diplomatic corps and the Nazis with whom he had to interact), and he was one of the first to recognize the deadly danger posed by Hitler’s Germany. He walked an unpleasant tightrope between his growing unease with the German government’s brutal and often illogical behavior and the incessant pressure from the State Department to avoid antagonizing that government, and push it at every opportunity to pay back its loans from American banks. His position was complicated by the activities of his flamboyant daughter Martha (which included affairs with both senior Nazi officials and a Soviet NKVD agent) and by the disdain in which he was held by most of the old-school, aristocratic diplomats of the State Department … and, indeed, many members of his own staff at the Berlin embassy. If truth is stranger than fiction, then this is a strange and engrossing story indeed.

From a linguistic perspective, I enjoyed the double meaning of the book’s title. “Garden of beasts” is a literal translation of the German word “Tiergarten,” which is generally translated as “zoo;” it also is a clever reference to life in Berlin under the Hitler regime. The Tiergarten itself was (and is again) a beautiful and bucolic park and zoo beloved by Berliners and by foreigners to find privacy and peace in the middle of a vast city that thundered every day with the belligerent parades and demonstrations of the Nazi party.

I lived in Berlin* from 1980 through 1982, and am familiar with many of the historical locales which appear in the story. Agnes and I married in Berlin, and we left the city in December of 1982 and haven’t been back since, although a visit is high on our travel agenda … especially now that my historical interest has been piqued by this wonderful book.

For history that reads like the most exciting and intriguing fiction, read In the Garden of Beasts. It has my strongest recommendation.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Technically, I lived in West Berlin, as the city was still occupied, divided and surrounded by the infamous Berlin Wall, so my experience in the eastern half of the city, where many of the old government buildings were located, is sadly limited.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

That's Mister Bilbo to You, Buddy!

As I get older, I find that more and more things irritate me, one of which is the idea of assumed informality. Here's an example ... a telemarketer calls the house, shilling for some product or service or religion or political party, and the call goes like this:

Bilbo: "Hello."

Anonymous Voice: "Is Bilbo there?"

Bilbo (in frosty tone): "This is Mister Bilbo speaking."

Anonymous Voice: (pause) "Uh ..."

I know that salespeople are trained to ingratiate themselves with customers, to establish a personal connection that will make it more difficult for the mark to say "no, thanks" when the inevitable pitch comes. This is why they'll start right off calling you by your first name. It's assumed informality, it's impolite, and it's wrong.

I think about this several times a week when I answer the unwanted calls that interrupt my free time*, and I noticed that I wasn't the only one offended by it when I saw this article in by Michael Strain in the Washington Post: Please Address Me as Mister. I Insist.

Mr Strain writes,

"Our society is suffering from a tyranny of informality. It is rude. It is false intimacy. It is a product of the utopian, egalitarian fiction that society is one big happy village. A friendship circle, where we’re all holding hands. Station and hierarchy should be leveled because they are so nineteenth-century. In the modern world, we are all equal — so we are all pals ... (but) ultimately, equality in all things is false. A PhD has added to the stock of human knowledge; an undergraduate hasn’t. A priest can transform bread and wine; a layman can’t. Chancellor Merkel can affect the near course of history; I can’t. My friend’s father has successfully raised four children; I haven’t. The way we address each other should reflect these differences because these differences are real and material, and obvious."

The privilege of calling someone by their first name ought to be something special. It ought to symbolize a degree of friendship and affection that has bridged the social distance between two individuals on a personal level. In many languages other than English, there are formal and informal modes of speech that indicate the social relationship between two individuals. In German, for example, one would always address a stranger or an older person with the formal pronoun Sie. Only family members and close friends to whom the privilege has been granted can use the informal pronoun du without giving insult. In English, we no longer have the formal/informal modes of address, having morphed down to the common you. But we have other ways to show social differences, one of which is the use of titles. When I retired from the Air Force, I was "Lieutenant Colonel Bilbo" to my military colleagues. Today, I'm just "Mister Bilbo." I would be offended if a child** or a stranger called me other than that until I had offered the use of my first name.

Mr Strain sums it up in his article thusly,

"If every relationship begins on a first-name basis, then I am robbed of the ability to signal to someone that he has become a friend or close colleague by inviting him to address me by my first name. If the guy who comes to fix my cable calls me 'Michael,' then what is left for my friends to call me? And isn’t it a little easier for the cable guy to give substandard service to 'Tom' than to 'Mr. Creal?'"

You, Dear Readers, can call me Bilbo. But everyone else ought to use "Mister" in front until I invite otherwise. It's the polite*** thing to do.

Have a good day. Save the honor of using your first name for those who earn it. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Despite the fact that we are registered on the national "Do Not Call List" which, I have come to realize, is pretty much useless.

** I don't mind my grandchildren's friends calling me "Mr Bill," but the use of my first name alone by a child is a non-starter.

*** Speaking of "polite," you might want to read some of the comments left online by people who read Mr Strain's article. Or not.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Freedom of Speech

One of our most basic Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms is freedom of speech ... the right to express our opinions directly and forthrightly, without fear of government censure or censorship. Most of us would acknowledge, though, that absolute and total freedom of speech isn't possible or desirable, and we understand that there need to be practical limits on what we say. You can't yell "fire!!" in a crowded theater or incite a mob to riot, for example. Because I hold a security clearance, I understand that there is military and government information I'm not allowed to discuss openly, and there is also proprietary information that my employer doesn't allow me to divulge. There are defensible reasons for such limitations on our freedom of speech, and most of us accept them*.

But how far do we want those limits to go, and who should decide what they are?

Members of some religious denominations believe that criticism of or insult to their beliefs should be forbidden. For an idea of how that works out in practice, look at Pakistan, where you can be condemned to death for blasphemy, and the criteria for what constitutes "blasphemy" are pretty loose.

Some people believe they have the right to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree, or resort to ad hominem attacks. It's always easier to criticize others than to come up with ideas of your own, or to replace rational thought with high volume.

Some people believe that certain words are so offensive that they should never be spoken under any circumstances. We've even coined code words for some of them, such as the dreaded "n-word."

And many people nowadays practice self-censorship ... avoiding any comments that might possibly offend someone. This has its own crippling effect on the marketplace of ideas, as brilliantly noted in this editorial cartoon by Jim Morin ...

Someone** once said that what this country needs is more free speech worth listening to, and I think that is the root of our problem. Everyone wants freedom of speech, but not everyone wants to listen to speech with which he or she disagrees ... indeed, many people don't think there's any value at all in listening to anything that doesn't line up with their preconceived beliefs***. To many, freedom of speech equates to the freedom of other people to say only those things they think ought to be said.

I have always thought that freedom of speech should have as few limits as possible, because it makes it easier to recognize and argue against stupidity. Nowadays, though, freedom of speech often comes accompanied by its undesirable cousin, Ironclad Certainty - the absolute, rock solid belief in the unshakeable truth of ones own position and the complete refusal to consider anything else. Try talking to a far right or far left political adherent, or to a religious fundamentalist if you don't believe me. They're in the transmit mode only, and their clue chutes are close, locked, welded shut, and painted over. If you're not saying what they want to hear, they're not listening.

We've come a long way from the freedom of speech ideal immortalized by Norman Rockwell's 1943 painting, in which a stereotypical common man speaks his mind while everyone else listens respectfully ...

I've often observed that Freedom of Speech is not always accompanied by Freedom of Smart. But if you don't listen with an open and respectful mind, you can't very well evaluate what's smart and what isn't.

Not that it seems to make much difference nowadays ... look at the people we elect.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Unless you take the Edward Snowdon approach to your responsibilities.

** That would be Hansell B. Duckett, about whom I can find no other information beyond credit for this wonderful quote.

*** This probably explains the popularity of Faux News.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Poetry Sunday

At the risk of coming across as a bit of a downer for the day, I have to say I really liked this poem, and ... every day ... I appreciate its meaning a little more ...

A Difference of Fifty-Three Years
by Noel Peattie

Here is a magazine called Seventeen.
It comes out on the stands every month.
The girl on each cover is welcome
as cherry pie; she's tubbed, pure,
her hair is up, or ribboned.
Her life is all dresses,
parties, and little pink wishes.
She says to the world, Oh hurry,
hurry up, please, and it does.

Here is a man about seventy.
Why isn't there a journal called Seventy?
Because he isn't as welcome;
because nobody wants to be like him.
He says to the world, Slow down;
my flat feet can't keep up with you.
He whispers, I'm still alive.

But it doesn't slow down, the world.
It keeps on hurrying; for, see there,
an impatient virgin is waiting.

(Every day, an old man is buried).
Every month, there's another young girl.

Before you make the comment, the AARP magazine doesn't count!

Have a good day. Enjoy life at whatever age you are, because you only get to do it once.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cartoon Saturday

February is nearly over, and not soon enough.

A fire at a luxury apartment skyscraper in Dubai engulfed several floors on at least three sides of the building and dropped flaming debris to the ground; conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly angrily reacted to accusations that he had exaggerated his "combat situation experience," claiming that when the truth came out, his accuser would find himself "in the kill zone;" North Korean despot Kim Jong Un debuted a bizarre new haircut and oddly abbreviated eyebrows; an infectious new, tick-borne virus has been discovered in the wake of a Kansas man's death; and in the American northeast, it's so cold that both Lake Erie and Niagara Falls have frozen over.

At least we have cartoons to help us laugh through our chattering teeth.

This week, in honor of the record-low temperatures we've been experiencing, our theme is snowmen, winter, and yucky cold.

Sometimes, all that snow might not be a bad thing ...

Demolition in the far north ...

I think our friends from Buffalo to Boston can appreciate this one ...

Trying to stay positive ...

Even snow ladies like to stay groomed in tune with current practices ...

The birds, the bees, and the snowballs ...

Snowmen can enjoy horror movies, too ...

Marriage counseling for snowpeople ...

You know it's really cold when ...

The winter of our discontent*. Really ...

And there you have it ... cartoons for the snow and cold to celebrate that there's only one week to go before we can escape from February.

Agnes and I had planned to drive up to Baltimore today to check out Binkert's German meat market and enjoy lunch with fellow blogger Kathy and her husband Dick, but the combination of Kathy's miserable cold and yet another approaching winter storm have convinced us to stay at home and try to keep warm instead. Winter has to end sometime, right?

Have a good day. Stay inside, keep your pets warm, drink hot chocolate (preferably spiked with peppermint schnapps), and eat comfort food. Oh, and come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.

More thoughts then.


* With apologies to William Shakespeare and Richard III.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Great Moments in Editing

It's hard to believe, but our last edition of Great Moments in Editing appeared here three weeks ago! I took a week off blogging for personal reasons, then decided to change the order of appearance in order to present the Right Cheek Ass Clown award last week, so it's about time we got the universe back in order with February's first (and, as it turns out, only) collection of editorial wonders ...

It looks as if someone doesn't like Brussels Sprouts. I, myself, think they're the Food of the Gods, so I guess this means there are more for me ...

I hope they have a large enough floor ...

And perhaps they serve light fare to nourish the dancers ...

I wonder who failed high school English? 

Nothing like sliced round things, as long as you know what they really are ...

It looks like it's not only the airlines that offer mystery meats ...

I had long suspected that we had a rightward-leaning Supreme Court, but this clinches it ...

Note to wingnuts everywhere ... climate change is real!!

So, what's your point?

The expression, of course, is "time heals all wounds." My mother always used to say that "time wounds all heels*." And then there are some who aren't quite sure just what the expression is ...

English teachers everywhere, unite! Whether they realize it or not, there are a lot of people out there who still need you!

Have a good day, and stay warm ... here in NoVa, we're enjoying the coldest weather recorded since the 1870's! See you here tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.

More warm thoughts then.


* I can think of one heel in particular who will get a massive face shot when time and fate catch up with him.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Snow Jobs

No, I’m not talking about what we get from Congress. I’m talking about the mighty dumps of light and fluffy (if you’re lucky) or heavy and wet (if you’re not) white stuff that we’ve seen this year.

So far here in NoVa we’ve had a pretty quiet winter. Aside from the seven or eight inches of snow we had last Monday night and into Tuesday, we’ve not had more than a bit of dusting* so far, in comparison to the long-suffering residents of Boston, who will probably be digging out until Labor Day. We tend to get more sleet and freezing rain than snow around here, although given the choice, I’d rather have the snow.

Snow. It can be soft and beautiful, dropping a blanket of gleaming white over landscapes that are otherwise drab and unsightly. It can call to mind sleigh rides, snowball fights, fun times spent zipping down hills on sleds, and anxious nights spent watching the skies for the arrival of Santa Claus.

It can also mean pulled muscles, heart attacks, bones broken in icy falls, traffic accidents, and havoc wreaked on school schedules.

Guess which one I’m talking about.

Yes, Dear Readers, that seven inches of snow that fell on us was a lot easier to shovel away when I was 23 than it is now that I’m 63. And I’m getting to be a lot crabbier about it, too.

Grouchy Curmudgeon Rant Ahead – You’ve Been Warned

I take my responsibilities as a good neighbor seriously. When it’s done snowing, I bundle myself up, grab my trusty shovel, and clean off my sidewalks. It’s the right thing to do, of course, to keep people from slipping and injuring themselves … and our local government encourages us to do it ( In response to the question, “Who is responsible for clearing snow from the sidewalks in my neighborhood?”, the Fairfax County website says,

“Neither the state nor the county clears snow and ice from public walkways (sidewalks and trails). While not legally obligated, residents and businesses are asked to help keep sidewalks safe. They should, as soon as feasible, clear snow off the sidewalks in front of their property so that all pedestrians, especially school children, those with disabilities and the elderly, may walk securely. Homeowner associations may require members of their communities to clear walkways abutting their property.”

They even provide a helpful graphic …

Now, I can hear all my conservative and libertarian friends complaining about the hideous spectre of government overreach … It’s my sidewalk, dammit, and if I think it needs shoveled, I’ll shovel it, and nobody in government has the right to tell me to do it!!

Of course, if we were all community-minded citizens, as concerned about each other’s welfare as about our personal freedoms, we wouldn’t need laws and gently hectoring websites that encourage us to do the right thing. But I can tell you from experience that a lot of people won’t shovel that snow. In my neighborhood, it’s usually easier to walk in the middle of the half-plowed street than it is to try to pick one’s way along sidewalks only intermittently shoveled. And some of the worst offenders are the folks who have bus stops in front of their homes … there’s nothing like standing in the slippery street as the bus slides toward you because people refused to shovel their sidewalks.

Okay, I’m done fulminating for now. But when winter comes, please do your part. All us fragile old geezers-in-training will thank you for it.

Have a good day. Keep the sidewalks clean. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Back home in Pittsburgh, we used to say that it didn’t count as a snowfall unless there was enough on the ground that you could track a cat.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Steaming Piles of Journalistic Crap"

A few days ago, I ran across what I thought was a brilliantly insightful article by Bill Curry on We Can Stop the Neo-Cons: Here’s What a Truly Progressive Foreign Policy Would Look Like. I felt strongly enough about it that I put a link to it on my Facebook page so that my friends could read it as well ... knowing, as I did so, that it would enrage some of my more rightward-leaning acquaintances.

Sure enough, one of my friends commented, "That article is proof that even in the biggest steaming piles of journalistic crap, there can be found nuggets of useful truth. It's the digging through all of it that's painful."

"Steaming piles of journalistic crap" is a pretty harsh observation, but it's a pretty commonplace (and, truth be told, less virulent and insulting than usual) commentary on articles with which the reader does not agree. You can read the comments on that (or pretty much any) article and watch the quality of the discourse spiral downward rapidly*, losing any connectivity to the actual points and arguments originally made. The later observation that "It's the digging through all of it that's painful" sends a message that some points of view just aren't worth considering, except as the useless tailings from which the occasional nugget of perceived worthwhile thought might be mined.

One of our biggest problems nowadays is that there's a complete - often nearly fanatical - reluctance on the part of many to admit the validity of any point of view other than their own. Hard-core Republicans don't believe there's anything a Democrat can say that anyone with a brain would accept; hard-core Democrats see with absolute clarity that Republicans are utterly uninterested in anyone who is not part of the 1%, or whose name doesn't end in "Inc." Both sides are unwilling to accept that they are both interested in the same general goal - a better, freer and more prosperous America - but have radically different visions of what that means and how to get there. The result is bad faith, deliberate misrepresentation of opposing positions, and dysfunctional, gridlocked government.

So, Dear Readers, since there are lots of steaming piles of journalistic crap out there (including, some might say, this very blog), dig through them, anyway ... who knows - you may find something interesting you hadn't expected ... even from someone you didn't expect** ...

Have a good day. Dig deeper. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Almost certainly eventually reaching the Reductio ad Hitlerum "argument."

** If you don't recognize the picture, think Jeff Goldblum's observation about dinosaur leavings in "Jurassic Park."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

For the Cat Who Has Everything

Well ... here in NoVa everything is utterly quiet and covered in a thick blanket of snow; looks to be about six inches in my front yard. The government is closed because of the snow ... they had to make an announcement so that everyone would notice. And Faux News is reporting that all this snow clearly reflects the failed policies of the Obama administration.

But enough of that ...

There's a stereotype of the "crazy cat lady" - the woman (usually older and single, who in a less sensitive time might have been called a "spinster") who lives in her cluttered home, surrounded by large numbers of cats. There is probably some reason for the attraction between women and cats, but it remains for science to uncover it ...

But although science may not be able to unravel this mysterious attraction, it has contributed to the relationship between women and cats by allowing them to drink together.

Yes, Dear Readers, according to this short article from, a company in Japan* called "B&H Lifes" is now selling a wine blended especially for cats. It's called “Nyan Nyan** Nouveau,” and contains catnip mixed with juice made from Cabernet grapes ... but no alcohol***. It goes for 399 yen per bottle (or about $4.00), and is a limited edition.

All you crazy cat ladies out there, place your orders now ... you'll never again have to drink alone.****

Have a good day. Be sure your cat drinks responsibly.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Where else?

** "Nyan, nyan" is apparently the sound made by Japanese cats, much as American cats say "meow."

*** Cats are annoying enough when sober ... can you imagine a drunken one?

**** Not applicable to you, Brenda. I don't think you have any problems here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Made in the Shades

On last weekend's Cartoon Saturday post, which was dedicated to Valentine's Day (naturally), reader Anemone left a comment asking, "Why don't guys find Valentine's Day as romantic as women do?" My answer, which I thought was pretty accurate, was, "The whole concept of the holiday is geared toward men professing their love for women. Most men don't really get off on things like jewelry, flowers, boxes of chocolate, and sappy cards. If you want to make it a day more men will appreciate, work into it concepts like bacon, football, and fast cars."

Or, perhaps, kinky sex.

This past weekend also saw the debut of the film based on the smash hit novel Fifty Shades of Grey, the first volume of a quasi-erotic trilogy dealing with the adventures of an unlikely couple in a BDSM* relationship. The novels and the film have generated a huge amount of commentary on all sides of the issue of ... um ... alternative forms of sexual expression, from outright condemnation to the tentative "well, let's try it" to those who think it's the greatest thing since the discovery of bacon and chocolate.

One thing that goes along with the whole BDSM thing, though, is the concept of safety. After all, nobody in their right mind wants to be rendered helpless and subjected to physical abuse unless the ground rules are clearly established in advance and agreed to by all concerned. And unless the participants aren't unusually stupid ...

Consider this article posted to the CNN website on Valentine's Day: '50 Shades of Ouch' as Firefighters Brace for More Emergencies.

According to the London Fire Brigade as quoted in the article, incidents where sexual adventurers get trapped in handcuffs, rings**, and other restraint devices have been steadily increasing each year since the release of the first volume of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy in 2011. The article goes on to report that ...

"The (London Fire Brigade) said that crews have been called out to 393 incidents they believe are related to sex since April 2014, including 28 incidents involving people trapped in handcuffs. In November 2014, firefighters had to come to the rescue of a man who had a pair of metal rings stuck on his manhood for three days. ER doctors were unable to remove the steel rings so two firefighters had to snip them off using hand-held hydraulic cutters. On another occasion, a crew was called by a woman whose husband had become locked in a chastity belt. In the past, reports the brigade, crews have also been called out to incidents involving toasters and vacuum cleaners."

One might think it safer just to stick to the old standbys like cuddling or petting in the back seat of the family car, no?

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I have read the whole 50 Shades of Grey trilogy*** and am of the opinion, as an amateur writer with a degree in Linguistics and a love of language, that I'd have classified it as a horror story rather than as erotica, if only because of the brutal abuse heaped on the English language in its pages. Of course, the author of the stories, Ms E. L. James, is probably not overly concerned about negative observations on her writing skills ... as one comment I read on Facebook noted, "She isn't that bothered, she made a shed load."

Have a good day with your beloved, but have it safely. You really don't want the local fire department to have to have stories to tell at the bar after work.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* That would be "Bondage, Domination, Sadism, and Masochism," for those of you who lead more sheltered lives.

** You can probably guess where those rings are supposed to go ... if not, read on.

*** I also read Pauline Reage's Story of O many years ago. Stylistically, it was a much better novel, but also much darker in tone and without the more-or-less happy ending of the Grey trilogy. If you didn't like 50 Shades of Grey, you'll hate Story of O.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Poetry Sunday

And what else could I choose for Poetry Sunday of a Valentine's Day weekend? ...

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning*

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need; by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath.
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Have a great weekend with the one you love. If you have the misfortune to be in NoVa this morning, dress warmly and keep holding on to something solid ... it's bitterly cold, the wind is howling, and it's a really good day to stay in bed with someone warm. 

More thoughts tomorrow.


* How did she get such a bad sunburn? Did Elizabeth bare it, browning?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Cartoon Saturday - the Valentine's Day Edition

So far, 2015 has been a majorly sucky year, so I need the cartoons as much as you do. But first, this news ...

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, three young Muslim students were murdered by a man in an apparent dispute over a parking space ... as to the issue of whether or not it was a "hate crime," I'd say it doesn't matter, because the poor kids are dead either way; the Air Force is sending a dozen of its tank-killing A-10 "Warthog" aircraft to Europe as allied nervousness about Russian intentions increases; three winners will share a $564 million Powerball jackpot won in this week's drawing; Jo Thoburn, a newly elected Republican leader in Virginia, has rebuked members of her own party with name-calling and slurs, describing one fundraiser as “evil” and dismissing Republicans who supported a tax increase as “despicable;” and in a speech to students at Georgetown University, FBI Director James Comey challenged police to avoid "lazy mental short-cuts" that can lead to bias in the way they treat blacks and other minorities, while also asking minority communities to also recognize the inherent dangers police officers face in trying to keep them safe.

It's not every year that Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday, but this year we're able to enjoy a set of theme cartoons dealing with the day eagerly awaited each year by women* and feared by men**. And away we go ...

Somehow, I don't think it's just the men who would like something like this ...

One hopes the ricochets don't hit anyone else ...

When things don't work out, you can always take a businesslike approach to solving the lingering problems ...

Been there, experienced that ...

One of the oldest cartoons in my collection, and a true favorite ... 

My dad always used to joke that when mom got to be 40, he'd trade her in on two 20's. He never did, though ...

Another riff on the trade-in theme ...

Another of the oldest cartoons in the collection ... and most of us men have been there ...

And an updated version of the theme ...

Well, yes, it would save time and effort ...

The men can understand this one all too well ...

And finally, the perfect Valentine's gift for that special lady ...

And there you have it ... your collection of cartoons to get you through this year's Valentine's Day. You did remember it was Valentine's Day, didn't you?

It's going to be a bitterly cold weekend here in NoVa, so we'll be wrapping ourselves in quilts and comforters, sitting in front of the fireplace, and drinking a lot of hot chocolate. At least there's no snow in the forecast ... yet.

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


* Who anxiously await the flowers and gifts they expect their men will provide.

** Who anxiously fear the misstep that will land them in the doghouse.