Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book Memes

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm rather fond of reading. A love of books and learning was one of the greatest gifts I got from my mother, and I've tried to pass that love on to my children and grandchildren. Sadly, few people nowadays seem to enjoy reading as much as I do (you, Dear Readers, are the obvious exceptions).

Over time I have accumulated a fairly large collection of memes about books and reading that I've found enjoyable; here are some of them that you may enjoy as well ...

I'm sure that my own fits this bill ...

Nice neologism ...

This combines nicely with another meme that's going around, in which the ending is "...I believe I'll have another beer/glass of wine/cup of coffee."

And they never complain when you want to read a favorite passage over and over and over ...


This is very true ... but it requires reading of books representing many points of view, and recognizing logical fallacies. Sadly, neither of these are universal ...

There is absolutely nothing in this world more fun and rewarding than reading to a child ...

I really like the "or," here ...

Less dangerous than drugs, but equally addicting ...

Have a good day. Read more, and read widely ... it's an investment in your future. And ours.

Come back tomorrow for our latest collection of Great Moments in Editing. More thoughts then.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Keeping an Eye on the Army

Every once in a while comes a story so utterly bizarre that I find myself, quite uncharacteristically, at a loss for words. Here is the latest one: "Abbott Orders Texas Guard to 'Monitor' Planned Military Exercises."

Yes, Dear Readers, the governor of Texas - Greg Abbott - has called out the National Guard to keep an eye on the US Army as it conducts a two month training maneuver called "Jade Helm" in remote areas of the Lone Star State. Apparently, some of the more touchy residents of the state are concerned that the maneuvers might be a cover for some "nefarious" activity ... such as a dastardly attempt to confiscate everyone's guns, or confine citizens to FEMA concentration camps. The governor sent the following tweet to his constituents

I've ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor Jade Helm 15 to safeguard Texans' constitutional rights, private property & civil liberties.*


The extreme right in this country has really gone 'round the bend when a state governor ... even in a notoriously prickly place like Texas ... thinks he needs to call out the National Guard to protect his citizens from the United States Army.

I don't know whether to be disgusted or just shake my head in amazement.

Okay ... I've decided on being disgusted.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Read the comments on the tweet. Scary.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Political Perfumery

There are a million different overpriced scents available nowadays for ladies to use in attracting helpless men. Some of them are known by their manufacturers, like "J'adore" from Christian Dior, or "Obsession" from Calvin Klein, and some bear the names of individual sponsoring celebrities, such as "Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds" or "Fantasy Britney Spears," by you-can-guess-who.

This got me to thinking about new perfumes that might be developed or existing ones that might be licensed by various political parties or special interests to advertise their candidates or highlight their particular issues. After all, the foul stench of present-day politics could certainly benefit from a little brightening, and a suitable perfume would certainly be a change of pace from tired old advertising methods like buttons, yard signs, and apocalyptic television and radio spots. Here are a few of my suggestions for political perfumes ...

"Unforgivable Woman" is currently available from Sean Jean Scent. I'm quite sure that the GOP would love to distribute this as a backhanded slap at Hillary Clinton. There's no shortage of ethically agile lawyers available to arrange an appropriate licensing agreement.

The True Religion company, makers of jeans and other articles of clothing, also produces a line of "True Religion" perfumes. Perhaps the company could license the name to the GOP to underscore the party's claim of Christian exclusivity*. It could also develop a new scent** to license to the so-called "Islamic State," one with a powerful base note of rotting flesh combined with overtones of self-righteousness and raw power.

Elizabeth Arden already produces a scent line called "Red Door," but a new perfume named "Revolving Door" could honor those members of Congress and senior federal officials who leave public service and hire on as shills for special interests. The business opportunity is almost too good to pass up.

Gucci already markets a perfume called "Envy Me," but a suitably high-priced scent targeting the 1% and called "Envy Us" would surely sell very well, and help to set the wearers apart from the Great Unwashed. And for those who might bend the rules a bit too far in their quest to enter the 1%, Gucci also makes a scent called "Guilty," available for both men and women.

Davidoff could spin off a version of it's "Cool Water" scent, targeting wealthy contributors (both male and female!) to political campaigns and special interests, and marketing it as "Cool Million." More than a scent, it could serve as a subtle reminder of the preferred donation amount.

And finally,

Lancome could market it's already-existing line of scents called "Miracle" to the economic wizards of both parties: to those on the right who believe that stacking the deck for the wealthy will solve all economic problems; and to those on the left who believe that soaking the rich to artificially spread the wealth is the answer to those same problems.

Any other suggestions for perfumes to cover up that lingering foul odor of politics? Leave a comment with your ideas.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* They might want to pass on the True Religion Hippie Chic Eau De Parfum Spray for Women, though, as it might not send an appropriately conservative message.

** Perhaps called "Die, Infidel" or "Absolutely the ONLY True Religion."

Monday, April 27, 2015

Going Out In Style

In an earlier post, I discussed an article that listed some of the things Americans could learn from the rest of the world. I have since found a new practice that is interesting, but which probably wouldn't transfer so well from a distant land to our own. I refer, of course, to the practice in some rural Chinese areas of hiring funeral strippers.

Yes, Dear Readers, it seems that in some parts of rural China there is a tradition of helping loved ones get over their grief by hiring strippers to perform at the memorial service for the deceased. Actually, the purpose of hiring the strippers is less to help assuage grief and more to attract large crowds of mourners, as a way of saving face for the deceased. In fact, in some parts of China, one can hire professional mourners (or kusangren) to achieve the same goal, albeit with less entertainment value.

Unfortunately for those who might have been looking forward to a pole dance at the next funeral, the Chinese Ministry of Culture is beginning to crack down on the use of strippers at memorial services, saying that the memorial stripteases "(undermine) the cultural value of the entertainment business" and are "uncivilized." One individual who organized such performances was jailed for 15 days and fined $11,000.

A related story on NPR indicated that the practice of hiring funeral strippers isn't isolated to rural China, noting that Taiwan also has funeral strippers who sometimes perform on the beds* of trucks to make for a faster getaway should the local authorities opt not to join in the mourning.

So ...

I guess that the tradition of hiring professional strippers to encourage attendance at one's funeral probably won't catch on here. Of course, there are other things that could be done to liven up the last rites ...

... but they may not go over so well, either.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* No jokes, please.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Poetry Sunday

What could be more appropriate for Poetry Sunday than a poem about ... Sunday? This poem by Edward Hirsch, which reminds me of the old song by Johnny Cash, Sunday Morning Comin' Down, talks of old men and their memories ...

Early Sunday Morning
by Edward Hirsch

I used to mock my father and his chums
for getting up early on Sunday morning
and drinking coffee at a local spot,
but now I'm one of those chumps.

No one cares about my old humiliations,
but they go on dragging through my sleep
like a string of empty tin cans rattling
behind an abandoned car.

It's like this: just when you think
you have forgotten that red-haired girl
who left you stranded in a parking lot
forty years ago, you wake up

early enough to see her disappearing
around the corner of your dream
on someone else's motorcycle,
roaring onto the highway at sunrise.

And so now I'm sitting in a dimly lit
café full of early- morning risers,
where the windows are covered with soot
and the coffee is warm and bitter.

It's early Sunday morning here in NoVa, and not nearly as bleak as the Sunday pictured in our poem, because the sun is shining and later this morning, Agnes and I will meet up with our friends Ken and Nadja for brunch. Life is good when shared with friends.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Cartoon Saturday

We've made it to the last Saturday in April ... time is really flying, isn't it?

Two American hostages were accidentally killed in a drone attack that targeted members of al-Qaeda; in Georgia, five student nurses on their way to finish their first set of clinical rotations were killed in a multivehicle traffic accident; the Houston home of former president George H.W. Bush was not protected by a working alarm system for at least 13 months, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security; a powerful earthquake has struck the Himalayan nation of Nepal, leaving more than 600 people dead; and in Pakistan - a very dangerous place to be a woman or to speak freely - someone who did both - women's rights activist Sabeen Mahmud - was murdered by gunmen who also seriously wounded her mother.

With all that's bad in the world, it's nice to think that summer is just around the corner ... but of course with summer comes something else to bug us besides itinerant politicians - bugs. Thus, our selection of theme cartoons deals with our six (or more)-legged friends ...

I feel like this on the dance floor sometimes ...

Modern insect traps need modern lures ...

You can't be too careful ...

Problems flies have ...

Even bugs can attract unwanted attention with PDA ...

"No longer in a relationship?" ...

Moving on to other topics, I might have seen this one coming ...

This one, too ...

I think this is how it would work for me ...

And finally, you need to be sure you got the whole message ...

There you have it - this week's selection of ya-ha's to help you recover from the past week and coast into the weekend. Later this morning Agnes and I will be headed out to watch our granddaughters at their ice skating lesson, and then this evening, we're going to a couples' date-night cooking class that features Basque recipes: Stuffed Piquillo Peppers, Serrano Wrapped Cod with Lemon Aioli, Chickpeas with Asparagus and Smoked Paprika, and Sweet Almond Empanadas. We'll get to cook it, then eat it.

How much better does it get?

Have a good day and a great weekend. See you tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


Friday, April 24, 2015

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for April, 2015

Yes, Dear Readers, it's time to announce our second Ass Clown Award for April.

As usual, the supply of over-qualified candidates far exceeds the demand, making it difficult to select the best* of the contenders ... and though it's a tough job, I'm up to the challenge. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for April, 2015:

Dr. Ben Carson

As a presumptive GOP presidential candidate, Dr Carson was required to make the traditional pilgrimage to National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting earlier this month to worship at the festooned altar of the Holy Firearm**. But he went far beyond the normally expected hyperbole when he said:

“Just for the record, let me be extremely clear, I am extremely pro–Second Amendment, no question about it ... As a surgeon, I spent many a night operating on people with gunshot wounds to their heads. All of that is horrible. It is not nearly as horrible as having a population that is defenseless against a group of tyrants who have arms. And that is what we have to bear in mind.”

Yes, Dear Readers, not having guns is worse than being shot in the head, because a group of tyrants is running around shooting people in the head. You heard it here first.

For his asinine, hyperbolic characterization of the need for gun ownership that is unworthy of a surgeon dedicated to the preservation of life, Dr Ben Carson is named our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for April.

And that's no random shot.

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


* Please pardon the expression.

** Lemme hear you say "Hallelujah!"

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Modern Template for Manners

I've been pretty cranky lately about the lack of good manners in my environment. I was raised by parents who believed strongly in good behavior and good manners ... my father was the kindest and most polite of men, and when he passed away earlier this year one of the most common comments made by those who came to pay their respects was about how friendly and thoughtful he was. Mom was the same way and - for the most part - the lessons in courtesy and civility they taught have stuck and have served me well over the years. Sadly, that's not the case with many people nowadays.

I'm re-reading a little book by Lucinda Holdforth that I bought back in 2007 - Why Manners Matter: The Case for Civilized Manners in a Barbarous World. It's a short but very entertaining and thought-provoking book about why good manners are important, more today than perhaps ever before. One particularly interesting chapter contrasts manners (which come from within and help us to get along with others) and laws (which are externally imposed and force us to get along with each other ... when they're observed). Ms Holdforth makes the point that we have tens of thousands of pages of laws, with more being passed every year ... more than any sane human could possibly remember, much less obey. And what is the end result of those thousands and thousands of laws? A nation of scofflaws that ignores most of them.

Someone once observed that while the US Code has 54 "Titles" and innumerable parts, sections, subsections, paragraphs, subparagraphs, and clauses that run to many thousands of pages ... and yet God Himself* only needed Ten Commandments. Can we do better by coming up with a short template for good behavior? Something simple, easy to remember, and easy to follow?

Ms Holdforth offers this modern template for manners that is simple, yet relatively comprehensive for use in daily life:

1. Keep to the left (or to the right, depending on jurisdiction);

2. Keep your word, especially about time;

3. Wait your turn;

4. Look after the weak;

5. Obey the laws and regulations, unless you are mounting a campaign of civil disobedience;

6. Watch what you are doing; multitasking is the enemy of manners;

7. Show appreciation for the kind gestures of others; and,

8. Most of the time, shut up.

That winnows down the Ten Commandments to eight simple guidelines. We can get even shorter if we could all agree to observe the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Do you have any suggestions for simple rules of good manners? Anything that people do thoughtlessly that grinds your gears? Leave a comment and let me know.

Have a good day. And be civil to one another ... it doesn't cost anything. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Or Herself, if you will.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What We Can Learn from the Rest of the World

My 23 years of service in the Air Force gave me something that most Americans don't have: the opportunity to travel widely and experience life in countries other than my own. I think we'd be a lot better off in many ways if more Americans would travel and experience life in other countries, rather than trusting in the silly cliches and false comparisons that are the bread and butter of modern commentary.

I found this interesting article by Alex Henderson on Alternet a while ago, which pretty much summarizes a lot of my observations about my fellow countrymen: Nine Things Many Americans Just Don’t Grasp (Compared to the Rest of the World). I don't agree with all the points Mr Henderson makes, but for the most part I think he's right on point. Here are three of his nine things (with my comments, of course):

American Exceptionalism Is Absolute Nonsense in 2015. This is the one that will make heads explode on the far right, but it's truer than we probably want to admit. I don't think that "absolute nonsense" is a fair characterization, but the simple fact is that we're not living up to what we say are our ideals, and we're not nearly as exceptional as we like to think. By many social and economic measures (life expectancy, rates of incarceration as a percentage of the population, and availability of affordable health care to name a few), we're falling behind much of the rest of the world. We may still lead the world in some things, but in many of the ones that matter, we're backsliding.

Adequate Mass Transit Is a Huge Convenience. I learned to love buses and trains while living in Germany, and am lucky to live in a metro area that has relatively adequate mass transit (by which I mean, it's fairly convenient and gets me most places I need/want to go). As the article points out, mass transit has a lot of advantages, such as reducing air pollution, traffic congestion, and DUIs, and providing the aerobic exercise that goes with living in a pedestrian-friendly environment. Here in America, we've replaced trees and flowers with millions of acres of concrete to accommodate our car-obsessed culture ... and I never cease to be amazed by the people who will sit idling for minutes in their car to get just the right parking space, instead of parking a bit further away and walking.

Learning a Second or Third Language Is a Plus, Not a Character Flaw. Most Americans figure that everyone who matters speaks English, and so there's no reason to go to the trouble of learning another language. And consider this quote from the article:

"... xenophobia runs so deep among many neocons, Republicans and Tea Party wingnuts that any use of a language other than English terrifies them. Barack Obama, during his 2008 campaign, was bombarded with hateful responses from Republicans when he recommended that Americans study foreign languages from an early age. And in the 2012 GOP presidential primary, Newt Gingrich’s campaign ran an ad in South Carolina attacking Mitt Romney for being proficient in French."

In most countries (well, perhaps not in France), fluency in multiple languages is considered a social asset and a big advantage in business. I can tell you that speaking German been a big advantage in traveling and enjoying my time in Europe ... how did we as a major country go so far off the linguistic rails?

Yes, there are lessons we can learn from other countries, if we're willing to do it. Perhaps we should start now.

Ich wuensche Euch einen schoenen Tag. Andere Bemerkungen folgen nachher.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bilbo-Approved Memes

You will recall from yesterday's post that I don't think much of Internet memes that make simplistic and out-of-context comparisons about political positions, especially when they descend into name-calling, false equivalences, and blatant logical fallacies. There are other memes, though, of which I wholeheartedly approve. Here are a few, which you can use at your leisure ...

So true ...

This, too ...

Very, very true ... and they run for Congress, too ...

Actually, it was my mother who always said this ...

Best summary I've seen in a while ...

Certainly not here in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac ...

If only ...

ET may have phoned home, but they checked the Caller ID and decided not to pick up ...

That's why I buy it in three-roll packages at Costco ...

I never thought about it this way, but it's true! ...

Use as necessary. Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, April 20, 2015

There Oughta Be a Law, Part 2

If, Dear Readers, you are confused because you have been scrolling around looking for Part 1 of this post and not finding it, you just haven't scrolled far enough ... because it was posted on June 18th of 2012. Part 2 is only coming about now because I have recent personal experience with the topic.

If you don't feel like going back and reading the earlier post, here's the Readers' Digest version: a post by fellow blogger Angel had led me to something called Godwin's Law, which hypothesizes that, given enough time, any online discussion - regardless of topic or scope - will eventually include some comparison to Hitler and the Nazis. Here's the actual Law ...

"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."

This is common enough that there is a new addition to the list of logical fallacies titled Reductio ad Hitlerum, about which you can read here.

My latest brush with this logical fallacy came just yesterday, when I got into an online discussion with an old friend (old boss, actually, from my time in Berlin many years ago). He had posted a meme to his Facebook page which contrasted two quotes - one from Alan West and the other from Hillary Clinton:

I took issue with this as an overly simplistic reduction of a complex argument ... and a complex argument ensued. My point was that showing concern for the condition of the society as a whole is not the same as "feigning to know the societal good," or "dismiss(ing) ... unalienable individual rights." My friend kept trying to pin me down as a hysterically wild-eyed ivory tower liberal, with comments like, "So West's questions have no validity or relevance whatsoever?" and "So we must adopt Hillary's absolute, 'We must stop thinking of the individual...?'." The discussion spiraled around like water down a drain until a new person entered the discussion and posted this ...

... along with the comment, "... how about this comparison? Still think there (is) 'validity on both sides'?".

Yes, Dear Readers, it took exactly eight comments on my friend's original post to reach Reductio ad Hitlerum.

Now, at the risk of putting words in the lady's mouth, I think that what Ms Clinton should have said (and perhaps meant to say) was that it's not a good idea to focus exclusively on the needs of the individual at the expense of the larger society in which that individual lives. Completely unrestricted individual freedom is what used to be quaintly known as anarchy, and the need to regulate individual behavior in the interest of society is why we accept the limitations on our freedom that we call laws. There is, of course, a legitimate argument to be made about which laws are necessary, how intrusive or limiting they ought to be, and where the proper balance between rights and responsibilities lies, but that argument shouldn't rest on silly memes which rest on comparisons between individual gotcha quotes (usually without context). If we're going to resort to firing memes back and forth in lieu of principled discussion, here's mine ...

And just for the record, anyone who compares any present-day American political figure to Adolf Hitler* is utterly ignorant of history.

Have a good day. Think beyond the meme. More thoughts tomorrow.


* By the way, I'm posting this on April 20th, which - as it happens - is the birthday (in 1889) of Adolf Hitler.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Poetry Sunday

One of my additional duties at the office is managing our bottled water fund ... I place the orders, receive the deliveries, and pay the bills. And then comes the fun part - getting my coworkers to come up with their share of the cost. Truth to tell, everybody pays up*, but it's become a tradition over the years for everyone to compete for the best complaint about the cost of the water and my incessant demands for payment: they can't feed their families, their children have to go to public rather than private schools, they can't afford the operation the baby needs, etc, etc. One of the folks actually paid his $4.00 share of the bill one month with four single dollar bills, each carefully origami-folded into a little t-shirt or kimono ... symbolic of my taking the shirt from his back.

Imagine, then, my joy when I actually found a poem about bottled water ...

Bottled Water
by Kim Dower

I go to the corner liquor store
for a bottle of water, middle
of a hectic day, must get out
of the office, stop making decisions,
quit obsessing does my blue skirt dash
with my hot pink flats; should I get
my mother a caregiver or just put her
in a home, and I pull open the glass
refrigerator door, am confronted
by brands—Arrowhead, Glitter Geyser,
Deer Park, spring, summer, winter water,
and clearly the bosses of bottled water:
Real Water and Smart Water—how different
will they taste? If I drink Smart Water
will I raise my IQ but be less authentic?
If I choose Real Water will I no longer
deny the truth, but will I attract confused,
needy people who'll take advantage
of my realness by dumping their problems
on me, and will I be too stupid to help them
sort through their murky dilemmas?
I take no chances, buy them both,
sparkling smart, purified real, drain both bottles,
look around to see is anyone watching?
I'm now brilliantly hydrated.
Both real and smart my insides bubble
with compassion and intelligence
as I walk the streets with a new swagger,
knowing the world is mine.

Drink up. You don't have to pay for this water.

This afternoon Agnes and I will be heading over to Dance Studio Lioudmila in Alexandria, where I'll be emceeing their Spring Showcase. I hate to have to stay indoors on a nice Spring day, but if you've got to sacrifice such a day for any reason, dancing is a good one.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Eventually.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cartoon Saturday

We're halfway through April ... keep your fingers crossed ...

A mailman from Florida was arrested after landing his gyrocopter on the grounds of the US Capitol Building with a bag full of letters complaining to each member of Congress about big money and political corruption; according to the Italian police, Muslims migrants trying to cross illegally from Libya to Italy in a boat this week threw 12 fellow passengers overboard, killing all of them, because the 12 were Christians; a Los Angeles judge ordered former rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight to stand trial for murder and other charges stemming from a deadly hit-and-run confrontation on the movie set of the biopic "Straight Outta Compton" earlier this year; thousands of people in the city of Durban, South Africa, have sought refuge in temporary shelters after mobs armed with machetes attacked immigrants in Durban, leaving at least five people dead; and the so-called "Islamic State" claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack that killed at least four people and wounded 18 - none of them the targeted Americans - near the U.S. Consulate in the Kurdish Iraqi city of Irbil.

Well, if we can't have good news, at least we can have good cartoons.

This week's theme cartoons features that most famous of accident victims - Humpty Dumpty ...

There's good news, and there's bad news ...

It helps to go to the right person for help ...

Humpty Dumpty in today's litigious America ...

The Humpty Dumpty conspiracy ... finally unmasked! ...

You really do need to pay close attention to exactly what a fortune teller tells you ...

Turning to other topics, sometimes it's a matter of perspective ...

Budget cuts are bad everywhere ...

I think this is where I want to get a job after I retire ...

 Me, too ...

This would probably help somewhat ... but most Pentagon meetings are still boring ...

And there you have it ... my little attempt to bring a little levity to your otherwise cheerless world. Don't thank me ... it's all part of the service.

It's going to be a busy weekend, so I need to get cracking and start with that most wonderful of pastimes - paying bills. Oh, well ... at least I still have a job to pay them with, which in today's economy counts for a lot. After all, all those job creators the GOP wants to protect with tax benefits are creating lots of new jobs ... just not in the US of A.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Great Moments in Editing

Last week was our Right Cheek Ass Clown Award, so that means that this week is our newest collection of Great Moments in Editing. Let's get right to it ...

We Americans aren't known for our knowledge of either geography or history ...

Thanks, but I'll wait for the Sunday brunch buffet ...

This one isn't, strictly speaking, a traditional Great Moment in Editing, but I couldn't pass it up ...

Well, I don't suppose they should have been surprised ...

Truth in packaging ...

This is my kind of coupon! ...

And this isn't ...

Most financial advisors don't recommend suicide as part of your portfolio ... 

What more can I say? ...

I have a fair amount of stress at work, but it's never led me to want to steal an octopus ...

And there we have it - another collection of Great Moments in Editing. It makes you wonder what might be hiding in some of those laws Congress passes that run to the hundreds of pages, doesn't it?

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.