Friday, July 31, 2015

The On-Crack Ass Clown of the Month for July, 2015

Today marks the first time since I started the Right Cheek/Left Cheek system of naming Ass Clowns that we've had five Fridays in a single month, and thus the need to name a third Ass Clown. Having run out of cheeks, I need to find an appropriate way of naming my recipient, and I have settled (for the time being, at least) on a title.

And so it is, Dear Readers, that today I announce

The On-Crack Ass Clown of the Month for July, 2015

Christopher Reed

Mr Reed was one of a number of concerned citizens who, after the murder of several military personnel in Chattanooga, Tennessee, stepped forward with his personal weapon to guard a military recruiting office in the town of Lancaster, Ohio. On July 23rd, a passing citizen asked Mr Reed if he could look at his AR-15 rifle; in the process of showing it off, Mr Reed accidentally fired a shot into the pavement at his feet.

Mr Reed told a newspaper interviewer later, "I was trying to clear the weapon and hand it over to him when it went off. I thought it was empty and must have missed it."

The owner of the shopping center where the military recruitment center is located ordered the armed volunteers to leave after the incident, saying in a statement that “for the safety of tenants, customers and construction personnel working in the immediate vicinity of the Military Recruiting Center, it would be best to request the removal of the armed individuals.”

There's a reason why the military does not want to have untrained civilians armed with powerful weapons "guarding" its facilities, regardless of their good intentions. Mr Reed is fortunate to have missed his foot when his weapon went off.

For his well-intentioned, but fundamentally misguided and foolish attempt to "protect" military personnel, Mr Christopher Reed is named our On-Crack Ass Clown of the Month for July, 2015.

Don't try this at home.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Warning Signs

We've entered a dangerous and traumatic time for the nation. Crazy people with guns run around shooting people, while other crazy people with guns think they should stand guard on the rest of us. Donald Trump, of all people, is leading in the polls as the favored GOP candidate for president. Hackers can seize control of your car. You can't say anything about anyone without being accused of being some sort of -ist. There's a crazy place where the United States of America used to be, and we need to be more careful every day about everything we say and everything we do ...

A long time back, I think I shared some of these useful warning signs with you. It's time to break them out again as we navigate our way through the legions of tinfoil hat wearers and those who are absurdly touchy about everything you say and do. Use as needed ...

No need to thank me. On top of everything else, it's an election year, and everyone is pissed off and armed to the teeth ... you need all the help you can get.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When the Guns are Smarter Than We Are

A group of concerned scientists and thinkers from many fields of engineering, computer science, linguistics, robotics, and many other technical and non-technical fields released an open letter yesterday in which they warned of the dangers of so-called "autonomous weapons" - that is, highly-advanced weapons which employ techniques of artificial intelligence (or "AI") to select and engage targets without human intervention.

This is not a new concern. The potential dangers of computers that can outthink and outfight humans has long been a theme of science fiction and horror stories. One of the earliest (and most horrifying) I read was the 1967 novella "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream," by Harlan Ellison; another (which was the inspiration for Skynet of the Terminator franchise), was the 1966 novel Colossus by D. F. Jones (later re-released as The Forbin Project, and now out of print); it was made into a 1970 science fiction film called (what else?) Colossus: The Forbin Project

The theme has appeared on television, too: in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled "The Arsenal of Freedom," the Enterprise investigates a planet whose people sold autonomous weapon systems that eventually killed them all off, except for a holographic salesman who lures passing vessels in for a possible sale that always ends badly* for the customer.

So anyhow, the idea of machines becoming self-aware and deciding people are a threat is not a new one, but it's one that is becoming more real every year. We are very, very good at coming up with very, very bad ways to kill each other, and not always so good at employing them rationally**. Coupling extremely deadly weapons (nuclear, chemical, biological, genetic, kinetic, directed-energy, or what-have-you) with an artificial intelligence program that removes human emotions from decisions to kill does not seem to me to be a very good idea.

Somehow, though, I don't think we're going to get this toothpaste back into the tube. Experience shows that if something can be built, we'll go ahead and build it and worry about the consequences later. I'm with the folks who wrote the open letter ... I can see the consequences of marrying AI and ultramodern weapons going south really fast.

Have a good day. Leave Colossus, Guardian, and Skynet to the movies ... we have enough problems already.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Red shirt or no.

** After all, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke ... isn't it?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Old Switcheroo

Those of you who read Andrea’s blog know that she recently purchased a new house, which allows her to join the rest of us as wholly-owned subsidiaries of a mortgage company and enjoy all the tribulations of home ownership.

The other day she noted in her blog that “(The) House has some fun (ha ha ha) electrical issues. Outlets and fixtures that don't work for no reason...and yeah, that's going to be fun to fix.” This led me to think back a few years (24, actually) to the last time I lived in Germany, and the adventure we had with electrical issues …

I had been assigned to a unit in the beautiful city of Wiesbaden, and although there was plenty of government-owned housing for Americans stationed there, we didn’t want to live in an American ghetto, and so we sought a house to rent on the economy. Through one of my co-workers, we found and rented the larger part* of a beautiful house in the suburb of Kohlheck, overlooking the city in the foothills of the Taunus Mountains … it had a private yard separated from the street by a hedge, half of a two-car garage, and - most importantly – was within walking distance of a bus stop and a bakery.

We moved in and soon noticed that the house seemed to have an inordinately large number of electrical switches … where you might expect to see a switch or two, there might be a panel of four or five or more. Well, we thought, the living room had a cathedral ceiling and a lot of accent lights, so perhaps you really need a lot of switches.

Little did we know …

Here’s what we quickly learned:

1. There were switches that would turn various individual lights or groups of lights on, but not off again;

2. There were other switches that would turn off lights that had already been turned on somewhere else, but would not turn anything on;

3. There were switches that would turn power on (but not off) to various combinations of outlets, and other switches that would turn off the power to those outlets (but not turn it on);

4. There were switches that turned on power to various appliances (like the washing machine and dryer), and other switches that would turn them off again; and,

5. There were switches that didn’t seem to do anything**.

We were going crazy trying to figure it all out, so I called the landlady. “Oh,” she chuckled. “My husband*** was an electrical engineer, and when we built the house, he did all the wiring himself, according to his own system.”

“Ohhhhkaaaayyy,” I answered. “Do you have any notes that will tell us what all the switches do?”

She chuckled again. “No, I’m afraid not. I had to learn by experimenting, and so will you!”

Wonderful, I thought.

My next purchase was a label maker and a dozen rolls of tape in various colors. Agnes and I then spent an entire day and evening going all over the house flipping switches and working out what they did, then labeling each one. We did the same thing with each outlet that was controlled by combinations of switches, so we'd know where the switch was located to turn it on and off.

Eventually, we figured it all out. All the switches and outlets were labeled, and we gradually learned to live with the weird wiring …

… until the night my daughter told me that water was pouring out of the light switch panel in her upstairs bedroom.

But that’s another story.

Have a good day. Good luck with your own electrical issues, which can be shocking.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Most houses in Germany are designed either as duplexes, or as a single house with a smaller, rentable apartment with its own entrance.

** I was reminded of this joke by Steven Wright: "I recently moved into a new apartment, and there was this switch on the wall that didn't do anything, so anytime I had nothing to do, I'd just flick that switch up and down, up and down, up and down. Then one day I got a letter from a woman in just said, 'Cut it out.'" I think it was probably our landlady.

*** Deceased.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bad Sex in Fiction

If you do much reading beyond the, say, fifth-grade level, you have almost certainly made the acquaintance of that dreaded element of fiction, the sex scene. Ever since human beings first learned to write down their language, whether it was on cave walls, clay tablets, papyrus, parchment, paper, or digital tablets, one standard thing they've tried to record is vivid descriptions of the act of lovemaking. Whether in poetry or prose, in whatever language, sex is a major element of our literature, both high and low.

How many ways can you describe the sexual act? A lot, actually. And not all of them are equally ... uh ... literary. In fact, some of them are so bad that there is actually an annual award presented by Britain's Literary Review for "Bad Sex in Fiction." According to the Literary Review's website,

The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature.

It's similar to the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, except that the Bulwer-Lytton contest is not limited simply to depictions of sex, but of generally overblown and awful writing, and its entries are limited to a single original sentence of any length. Depictions of sex in fiction, as you may know, can go on interminably and be of sufficient ghastliness to make one swear off sex.

The 2014 Bad Sex in Fiction Award went to novelist Ben Okri for a scene in his novel The Age of Magic, for a love scene involving a filmmaker named Lao and his girlfriend, named Mistletoe. I will not share with you the winning scene (because there are children who read this blog), but you can read it for yourself here. His editor was quoted as saying: “Winning the award is fun but a bit undignified, just like sex, assuming you do it properly.”

The shortlist for last year's award featured many other authors, including one of my favorites, Wilbur Smith. Smith writes action-packed adventure stories that brim with historical detail and crackle with vivid writing, and I can't think of a single one of his stories that hasn't included at least one cringe-worthy depiction of sex*. You can check it out for yourself by reading what I think are two of his most exciting novels: The Seventh Scroll and River God. Needless to say, you won't want to read them aloud to your children, unless you are home-schooling them in advanced sex and violence.

So, Dear Readers, share some of your experiences with the rest of us ... what book have you read that contains sex scenes worthy of a Bad Sex in Fiction Award? The 50 Shades Trilogy doesn't count, nor does the new book in the series, Grey, because the overall writing in those is so bad that it's in a class by itself. And the instructions for the IRS form 1040 don't count, either, even though they offer vivid depictions of the screwing of the average taxpayer.

Have a good day. Read something ... stimulating.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* I can't help it ... here's an excerpt from the scene in Desert God that earned Wilbur Smith a place on the shortlist: "(the woman's hair) did not cover her breasts which thrust their way through it like living creatures. They were perfect rounds, white as mare's milk and tipped with ruby nipples that puckered as my gaze passed over them." Oy.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Poetry Sunday

As I approach retirement for the second time (about 311 working days from now, not that I'm counting), I have to decide what it is I want to do when I grow up. Maybe Mike can give me some advice. Or maybe I ought to think more carefully about my options, as in this poem by Ron Koertge ...

Bad News About My Vocation 
by Ron Koertge 

I remember how the upper crust in my hometown
pronounced it-care-a-mel. Which is correct, I guess,
but to everybody else it was carmel.

Which led to the misconception about the order
of Carmelites.

I imagined they served God by heating sugar
to about 170 C, then adding milk and butter
and vanilla essence while they listened
to the radio.

I thought I could do that. I could wear the white
shirt and pants. I knew I couldn’t be good
but I might be a good candy maker.

So imagine my chagrin when I learned about
the vows of poverty and toil enjoined
by these particular friars.

I also crossed off my list the Marshmellowites
and the Applepieites, two other orders I
was thinking of joining.

Well, I guess there's always the Ginandtonicites.

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


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cartoon Saturday

You have to wonder whether this month will ever end ...

Three people were murdered and seven others injured when a man opened fire in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana; armed civilians who had been guarding a military recruitment center in a Lancaster, Ohio, shopping center were ordered off the property by a sheriff's deputy after one of them accidentally discharged his rifle; a Navy destroyer was damaged when a missile it had test-fired exploded shortly after launch; Donald Trump ... 'nuff said; and in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, five people - two adults and three children - were murdered and one seriously injured, and police took two teenage boys into custody;

It's a yucky world out there. Good thing we have cartoons. Today, in honor of the just-announced mega-merger of health insurance giants Anthem and Cigna, our selection of theme cartoons deals with - what else? - health insurance ... because when the premiums go up (and you know they will), you'll need something to laugh at ...

Yes, it's funny ... just think about it for a minute ...

There's always an expensive new treatment your insurance won't cover ...

Too bad they didn't have a Supreme Court to work it out all those years ago ...

The most important test your doctor administers ...

Two takes on the insurance coverage of the world's most unfortunate egg ...

and ...

Now, that's really bad news ...

I have good news and bad news ... or is it, bad news and worse news? ...

This is clearly not one of those so-called "Cadillac Policies" ...

Incredibly enough, every once in a while, your insurance will actually cover something ...

And there you have it ... the last Cartoon Saturday for the month of July. You're welcome.

It looks like it will be a pretty nice weekend here in NoVa, at least weather-wise - temperatures in the upper 80's, but lower humidity and no rain in the forecast. That's good news, since I need to mow the lawn and since we're dog-sitting with Clara again this weekend, and she doesn't like to do those potty walks in the rain. Well, neither would I, I suppose.

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


Friday, July 24, 2015

Great Moments in Editing

Yes, it's that time again ...

There was a novelty song in the 60's by Norma Tanega called "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog." People name cats all sort of weird things ...

I wonder if he has webbed fingers and toes ...

Great ... child care already costs too much ...

Don't ask ...

I'm always annoyed when those watermelon bones get stuck in my teeth ...

Perhaps they could just spend the thousand dollars on extra guards every other Friday ...

How do you forget a coast? ...

Sometimes you can have too much truth in advertising ...

Karma ...

It's not really bad editing, but it's still great ...

Have a good day. If you find an example of great editing, send it to me and I'll share it in this space in the future ... AND give you a shout. Think of it ... your name in print, and without editorial mistakes*! How much better does it get?

See you back here tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... more thoughts then.


* Probably.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Revising the Preamble

A few years ago, I had a co-worker who was incredibly good at reviewing long and complex documents (which is one of the main functions of our office). This fellow (let's call him "Andy"*) could read a three-page document and come up with five pages of solid, well-reasoned and thoroughly-justified comments for its improvement, documented in what we call a "comment review matrix" or "CRM**." When he moved on to a new job, I gave him, as a gag gift (printed on parchment paper, no less), the CRM he would have written had he been tasked to review the Preamble to the Constitution back in 1789. It went over very well, and he loved it***.

I ran across a copy of that CRM the other day, and it occurred to me to wonder how the Preamble to the Constitution might be different if it were being written today. Here's the actual Preamble, one of the treasures of American history and political thought ...

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

And here are some excerpts from the CRM the author+ might expect to receive if the Preamble were being considered for adoption today ...

1. General Comment: correct irregular and inconsistent capitalization of nouns.
Rationale: Proper orthography; only proper nouns or the first word in a sentence should be capitalized.

2. Change “We the People” to read, “We the top one percent.”
Rationale: More accurate reference.

3. Change “United” to “Loosely-Affiliated” in the first and last lines.
Rationale: “United” is too strong a term, particularly given the reluctance of many states to accept the authority of the federal government, and to ignore laws of which they do not approve.

4. Change “more perfect” to read, “perfect.”
Rationale: Unnecessary modifier. Something “perfect” is, by definition, unable to be improved upon; therefore, “more perfect” is incorrect and illogical.

5. Change “Union” to “aggregation.”
Rationale: Use of the term “union” invites confusion with workers' representative associations, and will not be supported by delegates from red states.

6. Change "establish justice" to read, "provide justice for those able to afford legal representation."
Rationale: Justice requires adequate legal representation, which is expensive.

7. Delete the phrase, “insure domestic Tranquility.”
Rationale: Insurance of domestic tranquility is the responsibility of husbands and wives. Delegation of this responsibility to the government constitutes an unwarranted and illegal arrogation of rights legitimately belonging to individual citizens.

8. Change “defence” to read “defense.”
Rationale: Incorrect use of British, rather than preferred American spelling. We settled that in 1776.

9. Delete the phrase “promote the general Welfare.”
Rationale: If this language is included, destitute illegal aliens will flood the borders in search of handouts, to the detriment of hard-working, taxpaying citizens.

10. Add, “ensure for all time the right to keep and openly bear arms of all kinds, in any number, without restriction of any kind for any reason.”
Rationale: Criminals and other deadly enemies are everywhere; a citizen's ability to protect himself from Jack-Booted Government ThugsTM and from other citizens is too important to be relegated to an amendment.

11. Delete the phrase “the Blessings of.”
Rationale: Improper use of religious imagery in contravention of Article VI, Clause 3 and the First Amendment.

12. Change “Posterity” to “children.”
Rationale: “Posterity” is not a commonly-used word and may be confused with “posterior,” leading to improper and unfortunate comments of a scatological nature. Use of the term “children” is preferred and will prevent confusion.

13. Change “ordain and establish” to read “establish.”
Rationale: Unnecessary use of multiple terms. In any case, priests get ordained, not constitutions.

The new Preamble reads,

We the top one percent of the Loosely-Affiliated States, in order to form a perfect aggregation, provide justice for those able to afford legal representation, provide for the common defense, ensure for all time the right to keep and openly bear arms of all kinds, in any number, without restriction of any kind for any reason, and secure liberty to ourselves and our children, do establish this constitution for the Loosely Affiliated States of America.

I think it's more suited to our bizarrely twisted America of the 21st Century, which would be unrecognizable to the Founders for many reasons.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* To protect his identity, I've not used his real name, which is "Andy."

**  A CRM documents the name of the person requesting the change, the requested change and the rationale therefor, and provides a space for the reviewer to document his or her adjudication of the comment.

*** He's still speaking to me, anyway.

+ It was Gouverneur Morris.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why Doesn't the Government Do Something?

When six Service members were murdered in Chattanooga, Tennessee last week by a young Muslim man inflamed by radical Islamist teachings, the usual outpouring of anger took place across the country. Along with the usual calls for revenge was another call that one often hears at trying times like this:

"Why doesn't the government do something?"

 It's a good question without a satisfying answer.

The government doesn't "do something" for a lot of reasons. Here are a few:

1. Can you imagine Congress doing anything worthwhile, quickly?

2. Can you imagine Congress doing anything for which the President might get credit?

3. Many of the things that could be done involve intrusions into our privacy, which we absolutely hate unless it's done by big business or social media ... in which case it's okay.

4. Many of the things that could be done require limiting the freedoms we enjoy and demand as Americans. Think about possible limitations on your First (speech, press, assembly, and religion) and Second Amendment (heat-packing) rights and decide if it's what you want.

As historian Will Durant once said, “One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.”

The last time the government did something in the heat of passion, we got the Patriot Act ... and we all know how well that worked out.

Have a good day. Always count to ten before doing anything stupid. And if you work for the government, count to a thousand. At least five times.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sex, No. Violence, Yes. Crazy? For Sure!

I read an interesting article on Alternet a while back titled Five American Sex Norms Europeans Probably Think Are Insane. I think they're right. Hell, I think most of them are insane.

I'd like to talk about just one of those five points*: Extreme Violence in the Media Is Fine, Just Don’t Show a Nipple.

In 1999, the Senate Judiciary Committee published a report titled Children, Violence, and the Media. According to statistics cited in the report, by the time an average American child reaches the age of 18, he or she will have seen 200,000 violent acts and 6,000 murders on television. Now, one can quibble with these numbers, but there's no arguing about the prevalence of violence, much of it extreme and sadistic, on television ... two of my least favorite shows are Criminal Minds and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, both of which feature shocking violence, much of it directed against women and children.

Shows like these are very popular, and arguments against their violent content are few, far between, and generally ignored. If you want to hear real outrage about horrible things on television, you have to show a female nipple.

Some of you may recall the mighty howls of outrage that erupted across the country in 2004 when, during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII**, a "wardrobe malfunction" caused one of singer Janet Jackson's nipples to be exposed for approximately a half-second on national television. The horrifying incident led to widespread condemnation of indecency in broadcasting, and the Federal Communications Commission fined CBS $550,000*** for the exposure of the offending nipple.

If they'd only aired something decent and responsible, such as showing a sadistic villain torturing Ms Jackson while she screamed in terror and agony, it would have been okay.

I often wonder why it is that people get hysterical over the sight of an exposed breast, when they're okay with violent imagery+. I'm repulsed by many crime shows on television for their glorification of extreme violence and sadism, but I have no problem with admiring a lady's body if she choses to show it. I've been to topless beaches in Europe (which, in my mind, tend to be overrated as sources of ... uh ... titillation), and I believe in the Picket Fence Theory of feminine dress: it should protect the property without obstructing the view. If you want to go topless or dress minimally, that's fine with me ... but don't be offended if I look.

Let's get upset about the right things. Why fret over exposed breasts when your socialist Muslim Nigerian president is invading Texas and getting ready to confiscate your guns and put you into FEMA internment camps?

I wonder if there's a potential market in this country for tinfoil nipple shields to go with the tinfoil hats?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* So to speak.

** That's "38," for those of you who don't do Roman numerals.

*** The fine was later overturned in 2011 a decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and an attempt to reinstate it was refused a year later.

+ I suspect part of the reason is that weapons, especially firearms, are considered holy in this country, and criticizing their depiction and use is blasphemous.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Pictures from Pluto

After a journey of about three billion miles, using technology more than a decade old, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto last week, sending back amazing pictures of a dark and fascinating world we will not see again in such detail in our lifetimes.

The photos from New Horizons were taken with cameras designed and built ten years or more ago, and are probably sharper and more clear than the pictures you take with your top-of-the-line digital SLR camera or your cell phone. Think about that for a minute. How many of us are still shooting with a camera that old ... or even own a phone that's more than two years old*?

This is one of the pictures of Pluto's moon Charon (named for the boatman who ferried dead souls across the River Styx in Greek mythology). The dark area at the top of the image has been named "Mordor," after the realm of the Dark Lord Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, and you can clearly see a vast chasm across the surface in the upper right part of the image.

This is Pluto itself, with its mysterious heart-shaped area ...

Not close enough for you? This fantastic picture shows a closeup of a part of the icy plain that constitutes that heart-shaped space ...

And this amazing closeup shows mountains - probably of ice - on Pluto's surface.

This picture wasn't shot by New Horizons, but it's an artist's conception of the surface of Pluto, lit by sunlight reflecting off the rising moon Charon ... I think it's amazing ...

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling pretty humble right now out here on our pale blue dot in our distant corner of the Milky Way.

Have a good day. Be humble. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Well, besides Agnes and I.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Poetry Sunday

It seems to me that nowadays people in general seem crazier than ever. I don't know if it's because of climate change, pollutants that are changing our brains, political and religious beliefs that harden into spiteful intolerance, or whatever. We're getting crazier by the day and - gawd help us - an election is coming up.

Which brings me to this offbeat poem by Donald Justice ...

Counting the Mad
by Donald Justice

This one was put in a jacket,
This one was sent home,
This one was given bread and meat
But would eat none,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

This one looked at the window
As though it were a wall,
This one saw things that were not there,
This one things that were,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

This one thought himself a bird,
This one a dog,
And this one thought himself a man,
An ordinary man,
And cried and cried No No No No
All day long.

Don't be one of those crazies who cry "no no no no" all day long. Look for ways to work with each other to get to "yes."

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


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Cartoon Saturday

We're halfway through July, and it's about time ...

James Holmes, who murdered 12 people in a Colorado movie theater in 2012, has been found guilty of 12 counts of first-degree murder; former president George H. W. Bush remains hospitalized after suffering an injury in a fall at his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine; after a journey of nine years and 3 billion miles, the New Horizons spacecraft is sending back amazingly detailed pictures of the dwarf planet Pluto; four Marines were murdered on Thursday when a gunman attacked two military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and the Federal Aviation Administration reported that lasers were pointed at 11 commercial airliners over New Jersey, which could have blinded the pilots and caused them to crash.

Because I'm really irritated about the economy today, our selection of theme cartoons deals with matters economic ...

I think this is the right angle ...

Good observation ...

Hey, it works for them ...

This sounds like the middle of the pay period at my house ...

So does this ...

Yep ...

I think it was comedian Paula Poundstone who said that after taxes, the wages of sin was more like a just a tired feeling ...

Turning to a few random topics to round things out, there are approaches to helping you travel more comfortably by air ...

The scientific method has its problems ...

And finally, even the animals are going high-tech nowadays ...

Today promises to be an good day, as Agnes and I will be meeting our friend and fellow blogger Kathy and her husband for a visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, followed by a nice dinner in downtown DC. And then tomorrow we'll get to spend the morning with the local grandchildren.

Life is good!

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


Friday, July 17, 2015

The Left Cheek Ass Clown for July, 2015

Yes, Dear Readers, it's time once again to take a cruise through the news and identify a worthy recipient for the second of three Ass Clown awards this month (yes, this is the first month since I went to the Left-Cheek/Right Cheek format that we've had three Fridays ... so you'll need to come back in two weeks and see how we cite the third recipient, there being only two cheeks on the average backside. Any ideas?

This month, I have decided to present the Left Cheek award to someone who, arguably, could have qualified for a Darwin Award instead.

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown Award for July, 2015
is presented
Devon Staples

On July 4th of this year Mr Staples, who was celebrating the holiday with the traditional American mixture of beer and explosives, placed a reloadable firework-launching mortar tube atop his head and lit the fuse, with predictable results. According to Mr Staples' brother Cody, who witnessed the scene, "There was no rushing him to the hospital. There was no Devon left when I got there."

Mr Staples' death was reported to have been the first fireworks fatality in Maine since state lawmakers in 2012 voted to repeal a 1949 law banning fireworks, reasoning the industry would create jobs and generate revenue. In this case, it certainly generated revenue for the funeral industry.

For his poor choice in combining alcohol, explosives, and garden-variety stupidity, Devon Staples is posthumously named as our Left Cheek Ass Clown for 2015.

Don't try this at home.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Why Bother With Laws?

It's very difficult to have a rational discussion about the gun culture in America, and so today I'll limit myself to a general philosophical question based on one of the points always raised by pro-Second Amendment partisans: that laws which restrict the purchase and ownership of firearms place an unfair and unjust burden on responsible gun owners because criminals will always ignore those laws.

Now, let's follow that argument to its logical conclusion. If we can say,

"Laws which restrict the purchase and ownership of firearms place an unfair and unjust burden on responsible gun owners because criminals will always ignore the law"

Then it follows that,

"Laws place an unfair and unjust burden on responsible citizens because criminals will always ignore the law*."

"Whoa there, big guy!" you say. "That's not the same at all!"

But why isn't it? Gun enthusiasts maintain that laws restricting gun ownership are unfair because the "bad guys" will ignore them and the "good guys," being upstanding and law-abiding citizens, will observe the laws and thereby place themselves and their families in danger. If that's so, then what's the point of laws at all? Will not most people (the "good guys") always obey them and a relatively small minority (the "bad guys") ignore them?

Laws are important because they establish the boundaries for civil behavior within which society can function. If everyone was gentle, honest, and respectful toward one another, we wouldn't need laws ... but unfortunately, we're not like that, and haven't been for a long time. God Almighty, after all, had to provide Ten Commandments** to remind people how to behave.

So, Dear Readers, please don't insult my intelligence by using the argument that laws don't work because criminals won't obey them. Of course they won't ... that's why they're criminals. The law doesn't magically make them good citizens ... it allows the good citizens to punish them for their actions.

That's all.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Or, as my father was fond of saying, if you lock your doors and windows, all the honest people will stay out.

** Compare that to the US Code, which has 54 "titles" (general subject areas) and constitutes hundreds of thousands of pages of text.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Making Lemonade from the Jade Helm Lemon

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to a very interesting presentation by Daniel Burrus, a noted business strategist and expert on global trends and innovation. Part of Mr Burrus's talk centered on identifying problems early and looking for innovative ways to skip them, head them off or, even better, turn them to one's own advantage.

I thought about that yesterday when I followed a series of web links to this article in the Houston Chronicle: Texans Organize 'Operation Counter Jade Helm' to Keep an Eye on the Federal Troops. Yes, Dear Readers, many suspicious citizens of the Lone Star State, fearful that the "Jade Helm 15" military exercises which begin today in various parts of Texas and other western states are a cover for the imposition of martial law and the confiscation of their guns, are banding together to keep a watchful eye on the troops. These would, of course, be the same troops that people in Texas (and elsewhere) have bumper stickers on their cars urging you to support, but we'll ignore that bit of cognitive dissonance for the moment.

You know how this will play out already, of course - the exercises will take place, no martial law will be imposed, no guns will be confiscated, no one will be rounded up and placed in internment camps, and the tinfoil hat brigades will claim victory ... because, obviously, the evil schemes of the Jack-Booted Government ThugsTM were defeated by the brave, vigilant and well-armed Texas heroes.

Well, getting back to Mr Burrus and his advice to turn problem to advantage, it occurred to me that we could make some economic and political lemonade out of this gigantic lemon ...

The Army announced last week that it will cut some 40,000 troops from its ranks by 2017 as part of an effort to live with reduced budgets and the expected impact of the next round of sequestration. I suggest the Army close all military bases in Texas and relocate the troops and services remaining after the budget reductions have been achieved to other states. This action would have several positive outcomes:

1. The Army would be better able to live within reduced budgets.

2. The armed services would be able to close some installations in excess of their requirements without interference by the politically-driven Congressional base closure process.

3. The citizens of Texas would not have to worry about the threat posed by federal forces crouching in the state, ready to spring.

4. Other states would be able to benefit economically from the presence of military installations and personnel that are no longer welcome in Texas.

5. The Texan "surveillance teams" and other home-grown militia organizations could be organized into a new Texas Army to defend the Lone Star State against domestic enemies* like the federal government**. This, in turn, has two positive outcomes:

5a. It gives patriotic Texans an opportunity to stand up the "well-regulated militia" envisioned by the Second Amendment***.

5b. It gives Texans a reason to buy more of the guns the Second Amendment gives them the right to have+.

So, Dear Readers, what do you think about this? Adjust your tinfoil hat and leave a comment.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Military officers take an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

** Which is clearly a far greater danger than Islamic extremists, extreme right-wing militia organizations, or far-left radicals.

*** Yes, that's part of the Second Amendment, too, but nobody pays attention to it.

+ Not as if they needed one.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Downside of Recycling

No matter where you live, you probably are encouraged - if not required - to recycle certain materials that you used to throw into the trash ... things like newspaper, cardboard, glass bottles, plastic containers, and cans (steel or aluminum).  If you live in Germany, you are also required to recycle your "bio" waste - the vegetable peels and other kitchen waste that can be composted.

Now, recycling is a smart thing to do, but it takes a little bit of effort. In the beginning, you had to separate all your recyclables into the various bins at local recycling centers: "glass" went into a specific bin depending on whether it was clear, green, or brown; steel and aluminum cans went into separate bins; and various kinds of plastics had to be recycled separately because of their chemical composition. Separating the various types of materials helped make the recycling effort economically feasible, encouraging waste management firms to invest in recycling technology that would end up paying for itself, or at least making a modest profit.

But people are lazy, and not everyone was good about properly sorting their recyclable material. And so the concept of single-stream recycling was born, in which all the recyclables - glass, paper, plastic, and metals of all colors and sorts - went into a single bin, to be sorted out later by high-tech machines at a materials recovery facility (or MRF).

That's good for people (who don't have to go to the trouble of sorting out their recyclables), but is it good for recycling in general? Probably not.

According to this interesting article, the use of increasingly large all-material recycling bins has tended to drive down the value of recycling because of contaminants which enter the various streams - bits of paper in the glass, melted paper clips and staples in the paper, and so on. This report from NPR provides a bit more information on that issue. The bottom line is that making recycling easier for people makes it less economically attractive for the companies who have to deal with the endless tons of commingled recyclables that can cross-pollute each other and lead to the need to periodically shut down and clean out the befouled recycling machinery.

Recycling is also becoming less attractive in other areas as well. A meme that's been going around the Internet compares the approval rating of Congress with the rate at which its members are recycled (that is, reelected)* ...

It looks as if some of our garbage will keep getting recycled, no matter what.

Have a good day. Recycle wisely.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* The Tampa Bay Times website examined these figures to see if they were accurate. They rated the claim to be true - that although there were small differences in the actual percentages, the point of the meme was judged to be solid.

Monday, July 13, 2015

I Wouldn't Piss Off That Wall If I Were You ...

One of the problems in major cities (and in a lot of smaller ones, too) is that of people (usually men) who have overindulged in alcoholic beverages and then feel the need to relieve themselves. Unfortunately, all too many of those men are unable or unwilling to go to the nearest toilet, and so opt to relieve themselves against the nearest available wall. This, of course, leads to unsanitary conditions and all sorts of undesirable associated odors.

What to do? Well, as it turns out, science has an answer!

Scientists have developed a specialized hydrophobic paint that actually repels liquids from a painted surface. In fact that paint, properly mixed, will not just cause the painted surface to simply shed liquids such as rain or, well, urine, but to actually repel them with great force. This means that the wall will actually pee back, causing a mess on the offending urinator's shoes and pants, as in this before (vorher) and after (nachher) depiction from Germany*, where the paint is being used** in the St Pauli red-light district of Hamburg ...

This is a marvelous invention, and reflects a practical application of the ability of some substances to actively repel unwanted pollutants. Such substances are found frequently in nature, as in the brains of single-issue fanatics who are impervious to reason and argument. They are the chemical equivalent of Faraday cages, about which I have written before (go here to read the post).

So gentlemen, if you've had a bit too much to drink, you might want to think twice before you pee on that wall. It might just pee back.

Better living through chemistry, as the old slogan says.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Considering the amount of beer consumed in Germany on any given day, one can see the value of such a paint!

** Be sure to watch the video ... it's in German, but has English subtitles.