Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How Do You Know When You're Middle-Aged?

My friend Marilyn posted this on Facebook the other day, and I thought it was so funny that I just had to steal share it ...

How Do You Know When You're Middle-Aged?

1. You don't understand what young peasants are talking about.

2. You struggle to read Chaucer in weak candlelight.

3. You hate rowdy taverns.

4. You constantly worry that you might have the Black Death.

5. You don't know or care who Blondel is sleeping with.

6. You tell your wife that Crusaders seem to look younger every year.

7. You struggle with new technology such as the heavy plough and the longbow.

8. You find Gothic architecture too modern.

9. You keep forgetting who the King is.

10. You dream of buying a second hovel in France.

Have a good day. Enjoy your hovel ... as a modern middle-class American peasant, it's what you'll be able to afford.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Use Your Words. Politely, Please.

Because I have impressionable grandchildren out there ...

Or, as they say in Virginia Beach during Spring Week ...

Thank you.

Have a good day. More thoughts ... with appropriate language ... then.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Truth in Advertising Slogans

A few days ago I looked at possible slogans for various college majors. Today we have something else I found online and took the opportunity to steal and gussy up ... advertising slogans for various products and services that are actually truthful ...

Ben and Jerry's: "Eat Away Your Feelings."

YouTube: "Don't read the comments!"

Victoria's Secret: "Lowering women's self-esteem since 1977."

Adobe Acrobat: "Would you like to update?"

Yahoo Mail: "Really, we only want your cell phone number in case you forget your password. Really."

Google: "Just try using another search engine."

LinkedIn: "Connect with people for absolutely no reason."

Men's Health: "Every issue promises perfect abs."

Yellow Pages: "Here; you throw this away."

ChapStick: "You'll lose it before it's empty."

Frosted Flakes: "They're ... okay."

iTunes: "I have not read the 45 pages of Terms and Conditions."

Netflix: "Spend more time searching than actually watching."

Harley Davidson: "We're here for your midlife crisis."

Gillette: "We'll just keep adding more blades."

Ikea: "We include extra parts just to mess with your head!"

Hummer: "Firmly plant your carbon footprint."

Urban Outfitters: "Pay good money to look homeless."

Old Spice: "Smell like Granddad."

Hallmark Cards: "When you care enough to give something mass-produced by a corporation."

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter: "I Can Believe It's Not Butter."

Bounty: "Bachelor Plates by the Roll."

The Republican Party: "If you're not with us, you're a gun-hating commiepinkoratbastard who hates America."

The Democratic Party: "Don't worry about how much it costs ... everything will work out."

Both Parties ...

Any other suggestions? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Poetry Sunday

I love cheese. Sometimes in the summer, Agnes will make a cheese and fruit platter that we'll enjoy for dinner, and we almost always have several kinds of cheese around for breakfast and for snacking during the day. Yes, I know it's probably unhealthy as all get-out, but what can I say ... I love cheese! And so does poet Donald Hall ...

O Cheese 
by Donald Hall 

In the pantry the dear dense cheeses, Cheddars and harsh
Lancashires; Gorgonzola with its magnanimous manner;
the clipped speech of Roquefort; and a head of Stilton
that speaks in a sensuous riddling tongue like Druids.
O cheeses of gravity, cheeses of wistfulness, cheeses
that weep continually because they know they will die.
O cheeses of victory, cheeses wise in defeat, cheeses
fat as a cushion, lolling in bed until noon.
Liederkranz ebullient, jumping like a small dog, noisy;
Pont l’Évêque intellectual, and quite well informed; Emmentaler
decent and loyal, a little deaf in the right ear;
and Brie the revealing experience, instantaneous and profound.
O cheeses that dance in the moonlight, cheeses
that mingle with sausages, cheeses of Stonehenge.
O cheeses that are shy, that linger in the doorway,
eyes looking down, cheeses spectacular as fireworks.
Reblochon openly sexual; Caerphilly like pine trees, small
at the timberline; Port du Salut in love; Caprice des Dieux
eloquent, tactful, like a thousand-year-old hostess;
and Dolcelatte, always generous to a fault.
O village of cheeses, I make you this poem of cheeses,
O family of cheeses, living together in pantries,
O cheeses that keep to your own nature, like a lucky couple,
this solitude, this energy, these bodies slowly dying.

I've never thought of any cheese being "openly sexual," but as a consenting adult, I'm willing to give it a try.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Cartoon Saturday

It's the last Saturday in September ... just four more days until certain members of Congress - having ignored Pope Francis's admonition to do the jobs they were elected to do - are ready to shut down the government, resorting to blackmail to obscure the bankruptcy of their policies. Good thing we have cartoons, isn't it?

In Saudi Arabia, more than 700 people were killed and hundreds more were injured during a stampede at the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca; on Thursday, Pope Francis delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress in which he pretty much told the members to do their jobs ... an admonition that was promptly ignored the same afternoon when Congressional Republicans introduced a short-term continuing budget resolution they knew would not pass, solely to force Democrats to vote it down; in Seattle, four people were killed and 12 others critically injured in a collision between a tour bus and a duck boat tour vehicle; and John Boehner announced his resignation from both his position as Speaker of the House and his seat in the House of Representatives, finally creating - as noted by comedian Andy Borowitz - an actual job.

For this week's collection of theme cartoons, we look at the traditional Russian nesting dolls known as matryoshki ...

They are always ready for winter ...

A blinding flash of the obvious ...

Yes ... yes, it might ...

It would be easy to be a bit schizophrenic, wouldn't it? ...

When the dolls go to that big toy store in the sky ...

Ultrasound exams could be ... interesting ...

Moving on to other topics, politics meets zoology ...

Ducks can have bad love lives, too ...

This was in the verses that didn't make the final cut for the King James Version of the Bible ...

And finally, this one is about as true as it comes ...

After a week of beautiful weather here in NoVa, it looks as if we're going to have a rainy and cooler weekend. Agnes and I will be going up to Baltimore with the local grandchildren to spend the day at the Port Discovery Children's Museum, which is always fun ... and indoors out of the rain. It's good to be the Opa.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for a cheesy edition of Poetry Sunday.

More thoughts then.


Friday, September 25, 2015

The Left Cheek Ass Clown for September, 2015

Yes, Dear Readers, two weeks have gone by and it's time to shower dishonor over the monumentally deserving

Left Cheek Ass Clown
September, 2015

With monumental ass-clownery running rampant in Congress and the wider political arena, it was difficult to give proper attention to deserving ass clowns in other fields of endeavor, but this time it was easy.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, I give you the Left Cheek Ass Clown for September,

Martin Shkreli

Mr Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager and now CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, made headlines last week by announcing that his company, which recently purchased the rights to the widely-used drug Daraprim, was increasing the per-pill price of the drug by nearly 4000% ... from $13.50 to $750.00. 

Daraprim has been on the market for more than 60 years, and is widely used to fight a type of infection which often strikes persons with compromised immune systems (such as AIDS victims). The huge increase in the price of the drug would put it beyond the reach of many of the persons who most need it.

As you might suspect, Mr Shkreli came in for a great deal of criticism for the sudden increase, which he justified as necessary to make the drug profitable and to provide funds for future development of other drugs. He didn't help his case, though, when he called a journalist who pressed him for an explanation "irrelevant" and a "moron" who "doesn't check facts or think logically."

The enormous outpouring of anger over the move did eventually lead Mr Shkreli to announce this week that "We've agreed to lower the price of Daraprim to a price that is more affordable," but without announcing what that new price would be ... and a statement released by the company on September 24 said only that Turing "will work with any patient, hospital, clinic and institution – on a case-by-case basis – to address any exceptions [to the new price] and help secure access to Daraprim."

For his greedy and unjustified gouging of patients who depend on the drug he sells, and for representing the worst possible caricature of the heartless, profit-driven pharmaceutical industry, Martin Shkreli is named as our Left Cheek Ass Clown for September, 2015. It's not easy to be more despised than the Ohio dentist who killed Cecil the Lion, or the average member of Congress, but Mr Shkreli manned up and made it happen.

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

More thoughts then.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Linguistic Rant

Okay, it's been a while since I've gone off on a good linguistic rant, so I guess it's time.

The subject for today is drones. Not the ants that do the work around the hill while the queen makes more ants, and not a long and monotonous sound, but machines that fly around and watch things or shoot missiles.

Because the word drone is too simple for use in budget documents and obfuscatory Congressional testimony, we tend to call them unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs (because you have to have a good acronym).

But even that is too simple for some people, who would prefer to call them uninhabited combat aerial vehicles, or UCAVs.

Really? Uninhabited?

An RQ-4 GLOBAL HAWK is unmanned ...

An MQ-9 REAPER is unmanned ...

Pluto is uninhabited* ...

But I guess I should be quiet, because sooner or later some wag will want to be very PC and insist that they are unpersonned. And that would be unnecessary ... and positively uncanny.

Have a good day. And remember ... it's unmanned, not uninhabited. So there.

Come back tomorrow for the naming of the Left Cheek Ass Clown for September.


* As far as we know.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How to Behave When Company Comes

Tomorrow is the day that Pope Francis is scheduled to speak to a joint session of Congress*. As everyone prepares for the spectacle, some members of Congress, unused to the need to exercise civil and respectful behavior, have asked their - for want of a better term - leadership to provide some guidelines on how to dress and act during the Pope's appearance. This is important because, as one article on the subject put it,

"Francis is famous for making political audiences uncomfortable, and his calls for global leaders to reduce inequality and to act on climate change might sound like an address by President Obama to some Republican lawmakers. At the same time, the pope’s opposition to abortion rights could make some Democrats uncomfortable and lead to GOP cheers, especially given the charged debate over federal funding for Planned Parenthood that’s threatening to trigger a government shutdown** at the end of the month."

If you are surprised that people who are supposed to be grown adults with responsibilities at the national - and, indeed, international - level should need to ask for advice on how to behave, you have clearly not been observing Congressional behavior over the last few years. This is, after all, the body in which a member*** shouted "You lie!" at the President of the United States while he was addressing Congress. One member, Representative Paul Gosnar of Arizona, has already announced that he will boycott the Pope's speech because the Pope might talk about climate change instead of just sticking to religion+.

Nevertheless, our elected reprehensives have promised to be on their best behavior during the Pope's visit, even if they need some adult guidance on how to do it.

Now if we could only find someone to give them some adult guidance on how to behave like responsible men and women doing the people's business, rather than doing their business on the people.

Have a good day. Listen to what the Pope has to say, even if you don't agree with him. It's the respectful thing to do, after all.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* For those of you unfamiliar with this expression, it means that Congress is easier to understand after you've smoked a joint ... or two.

** This is what educated and responsible people might call "government by petulant blackmail."

*** Representative Joe Wilson (R, SC), that paragon of respectful civility.

+ Imagine that ... the man who is supposed to be the representative of God on earth daring to talk about the importance of protecting our common home! As far as we know, God hasn't provided a spare for us to use once we wreck this one.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Slogans for College Majors

The fall term (or semester, or whatever) has begun on college campuses around the country, and millions of students are settling back down to the routine of classes and intensive study heavy partying. For those pursuing degrees in various disciplines, I offer these slogans I found in a truer-than-you-may-know piece online ...

Chemistry: Where alcohol is a solution.

Biochemistry: Spend four years aspiring to discover a cure for cancer and the rest of your life manufacturing shampoo.

Archaeology: If you don't know what it is, it was ceremonial.

Business Administration: You, too, can wreck the economy!

Information Technology: Let me Google that for you.

Computer Science: Because you can save money by being able to work out of your parents' basement.

Political Science: Your opinion is wrong and you hate America.

Engineering: The science of figuring out which parameters you can safely ignore.

Structural Engineering: Because architects don't understand physics.

Philosophy: Think about it.

Communications: Exciting careers in obfuscatory politics.

Linguistics: Study 17 languages; become fluent in none.

Criminal Justice: Never a job shortage!

Statistics: Support, not illumination.

Anthropology: It may get you laid but won't get you paid.

Zoology: Because you can't major in kittens.

Pre-Med: I'll switch majors in two years.

Divinity School: My God can beat up your God.

English: So you want to be a teacher.

Astrophysics: Within an order of magnitude.

Creative Writing: Job security is for wusses.

Physics: Everything you learned last semester is wrong.

Nursing: Save lives while fighting not to take your own.

Marine Biology: I wanted to play with dolphins but instead, I look at algae.

Accounting: Sell your soul for money.

Finance: Accounting was too hard.

Art History: Because you thought making art was pointless.

Graphic Design: We aren't artists, we're designers; there's a difference!

Any other suggestions? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. Study hard ... you may end up unemployed, but you'll be well-educated.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Can You Hear Me Now? In Tierra del Fuego?

Last Thursday in this space, I wrote about modern telephone etiquette. Part of that dealt with the importance of not loudly broadcasting your "private" conversations via cell phone for all the world to hear. As usual, I posted a link to the blog post to my Facebook page, and my friend Richard posted this comment:

I know this isn't the same thing, but this morning, sitting in the line at McDonald's, the car behind me was blasting his music so loud that it felt like it was inside my head. It was actually uncomfortable. I wanted to drop a "flash/bang" in his lap, but I didn't have one with me.

To which Gonzo Dave added his two cents:

Sounds like a topic for another Bilbo post.

And how could I pass up such an opening?

Yes, broadcasting one's music at top volume is another one of those things that makes Bilbo really cranky*. Back in the late 1970's, I worked at an Air Force unit on a small kaserne in Germany. Our offices were in a building that faced onto a large parking lot, with two dormitories for single enlisted personnel on two other sides. During the summer, on any given day at least one person would have his stereo speakers - each about the size of a Stonehenge monolith - perched in his open windows so that he could share his favorite music** with everyone within a ten mile radius. No matter how often we complained about it, the problem never went away and we were forced to put up with the deafening din of someone else's music. You have probably suffered a similar problem if you've ever lived in an apartment or a college dorm.

And, as Richard pointed out, there are people who have stereo rigs in their cars that would drown out the end of the world. When you're sitting at a traffic light and some ass clown is sitting next to you with his windows rolled down and his stereo volume cranked up high enough to rock your car on its springs and wake up the neighbors three Zip Codes over*** ...

... you wish for something useful, like ear plugs or an acoustic homing missile with a ten megaton warhead.

What is it with some people that they have to blast their music at such tremendous volume? Certainly a complete and selfish disinterest in the feelings of anyone but themselves plays a role, but what can you actually hear when the sound is so loud that it makes your ears bleed?

These are the people who can't carry on a normal conversation+ because their hearing has been wrecked.

Dear Readers, I love music ... but I don't need to have it blasted at me as if from a firehose, and neither do you.

Have a good day. And have a little compassion for those who may not like your thunderous musical offerings. Someday, it may save your life++.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* If you want to know about other things that make me cranky, check out this post from October of last year.

** In those days, usually acid rock.

*** NASA has learned that the mysterious lights on Ceres are in the homes of aliens awakened by deafening music played by bass-deafened dumbasses on Earth.

+ Other than teabaggers.

++ Because you never know any more who may be packing heat and ready to demonstrate it for you.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Poetry Sunday

We all have our favorite seasons. My father was fond of saying that "God made the summertime just for me," and he enjoyed working in his garden and being outside in the warm summer weather. Some people like winter, mostly (I suspect) because of apres ski and the Christmas season rather than the miserably cold weather and the snow that makes travel a chore. As for me, my favorite season is Fall ... the weather is more temperate, nature paints the trees with a canvas of gloriously magical colors, and the mornings and evenings are cool and crisp. True, the pretty ladies hide their beautiful arms under long sleeves and we have to rake away mountains of fallen leaves, but one has to take the bad with the good.

Today, I offer this tribute to my favorite season ...

by Edward Hirsch

Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer's
Sprawling past and winter's hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

Have a good day. Enjoy the season ... it's easier to rake than to shovel.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cartoon Saturday

Did you ever have one of those weeks when it seemed as if Saturday would never get here? Welcome to Exhibit A.

Japan's upper chamber of Parliament has abandoned a constitutional policy of pacifism, approving controversial bills allowing the country's military to engage in overseas combat in limited circumstances; Russia is continuing its military buildup in Syria, sending several fighter jets to that country in addition to its rapid buildup of other forces over the past week; children are suffering alcohol poisoning in increasing numbers by ingesting hand sanitizer in an attempt to get high;  top aides for GOP presidential wannabes Marco Rubio and Rand Paul apparently got into a bar fight; and the GOP is preparing once again to shut down the federal government in an attempt to blackmail the administration into accepting its demands.

The tsunami of stupid continues to crash over the nation's capital, meaning that we need the cartoons more than ever. This week, our collection of theme cartoons deals with real estate ... in prehistoric times ...

There goes the neighborhood ...

A good real estate agent knows how to stress the good selling points ...

Not everyone feels the need to keep up with the Flintstones ...

The drive to remodel is as old as humankind ...

The good customer knows what he (or she) wants ...

There was a time when a man cave really was a ... well ... you know ...

And some men still really want them ...

Turning to other topics, don't you wish it really worked this way? ...

School is back in session, and people are lining up to be offended by something their child is learning ...

And if you've been watching the current political circus, you know what the GOP hears the American people saying ...

Just another week and a half to go and we'll have escaped September ... and it wasn't all that long ago that we looked forward to September to rescue us from August. Oy.

Have a good day and a great weekend. I'll see you back here again tomorrow for our autumn-themed Poetry Sunday.

More thoughts then.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Great Moments in Editing

September is rolling right along and so are we ... here's your latest collection of Great Moments in Editing:

The NRA is always offering helpful health tips ...

I wonder if the Navy is aware of this development ...

Uh, thanks, but I think I'll stick with the bottled water if it's all right with you ...

This one isn't really an editing faux pas, but it is an unfortunate juxtaposition ...

My company has been using the same morale-boosting tactic for the last three years ... 

I wonder which is easier to hit ...

I just know there's a great - and probably pornographic - backstory here ...

Yes, it comes for all of us eventually ...

When you really get tired of that messy meth lab, you know who to call ...

And you can also call them if you let this dog, Pea, in your home ...

Great Moments in Editing - because everything else in print is just boring.

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


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Modern Telephone Etiquette

We all have stories about bizarre behavior exhibited by people using their cell phones in public. I've written here about the clueless traveler who broadcast his credit card number to a subway car full of people while booking a hotel reservation, the dumbass who shared with all of us in the airport gate area his argument with his proctologist's appointment clerk, and the cone of silence some people seem to think descends around them when they carry on highly personal calls from a stall in the men's room ...

But what are the new rules of etiquette that govern use of cell phones in public? I don't know that they've been written down anywhere a la Emily Post, allowing people to do pretty much whatever they want in public. After all, we seem to live in a time of extreme self-centeredness, where one can do whatever one wants, and those who object are the ones with the problem.

So ...

What are Bilbo's recommended rules for modern telephone etiquette? Here are a few:

1. If it's personal, keep it personal. The rest of us don't care about the fight you're having with your spouse. Save the argument for later when you can have it in the privacy of your home.

2. We don't need to know your medical history or the details of your business. Really. If you want to discuss that mysterious lump with your doctor, tell your significant other how your prostate exam turned out, or show the world what a big wheel you are, wait and do it in private ...

3. Don't shout. Yes, we know that cell phone connections aren't always the best, but we don't need you bellowing into our ears so you can have that conversation that absolutely can't wait.

4. Don't ignore the person in front of you to answer a call, unless it's an emergency. This is just plain good manners. Interrupting a live conversation to take a call tells the person you are talking to that they're not as important as the call you need to answer.

And since telephones aren't just telephones any more, there are a few other rules of etiquette that also apply ...

5. If you are with someone, leave the phone alone. Checking Facebook, Twitter, or your e-mail every two minutes, or playing an online game tells your partner they're not important to you ...

6. Selfies are not always necessary or desired. If you want to take your picture with someone, ask their permission before whipping out the phone to shoot the photo. And remember that it's not always appropriate to take selfies everywhere ...

7. Speaking of taking pictures, don't take anyone's picture without their permission. You wouldn't do it with your big 35mm SLR camera, so don't do it with your phone.

8. And one last word about photography: if you come into an emergency situation, help the people in trouble before you take the picture or shoot the video for the local TV station. I'd like to think this is common sense, but we all know that common sense is less common than it used to be.

For more about how telephone etiquette is changing, you can read this short article by Adrienne LaFrance.

Have a good day, but don't call me from a public place to tell me how good it is. And don't call me after 8:00PM, either.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

More Questions for Tonight's GOP "Debate"

This evening we will be treated (if I can abuse the word) to the second "debate" featuring the GOP presidential wannabes.  As with all such "debates," the emphasis will be on pandering to the base, scoring points and getting good sound bites as opposed to providing substantive discussion of the many serious issues facing the nation. That's just how it is ... nobody wants to spell out anything specific that he or she can later be held accountable for, and so they just play the trust-me card and count on our short attention spans to keep us from realizing we've been played.

Before the last GOP "debate" I wrote a blog post titled "Questions You Probably Won't Hear in the GOP 'Debate'", expressing the topics about which I was concerned and I hoped against all hope and experience that the shouting heads would actually discuss. Needless to say, they didn't.

In preparation for tonight's "debate" I reiterate the same ten questions, and would also like to call your attention to these other ones, culled from a CNN online article by Julian Zelizer titled "Six Questions for the Republican Debate," along with my commentary ... they're worth your time to read and think about, even though there's not a chance in hell of any of them actually being discussed in a worthwhile fashion:

1. Will You Liberalize Immigration Policy or Follow (the) Nativist Path? America is a nation that was built by immigrants, and so demonizing immigrants (both legal and illegal) doesn't make much sense. That said, as we see in Europe, no nation should be expected to take in the hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of refugees demanding aid on their own terms* and bringing their own economic, political, and religious problems with them. What's your plan? In detail, please.

2. How Will You Make (the) Middle Class More Secure? See my earlier questions #1 (I know you despise Obamacare and want to repeal it immediately, but what is your specific plan to provide affordable health care in its place?), #2 (Do you believe the current tax code is fair to all Americans? Would you consider changes to the tax code which close loopholes or raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy in order to even out the average tax burden? If so, give some concrete examples of loopholes you would close or taxes you would raise), #6 (What are your specific ideas for making American education affordable and reducing levels of student debt?), and #9 (The national minimum wage today is $7.25/hour, which is well below the poverty line for a full-time worker with a family of four. Do you support an increase in the minimum wage? Why or why not?). As Mr Zelizer writes,

"Many of their stances -- going after unions[what does that mean?] or opposing the minimum wage -- would actually reduce the number of middle-class wage earning positions ... Platitudes that the free market will simply do better under their leadership are not enough. Each candidate should be required to put forth one specific measure that they would push for as president that would have a positive impact on middle class family budgets."

3. Can Republicans Govern? Given that the GOP is internally ungovernable between its "moderate" and "extreme" wings, has resorted to blackmail once by shutting down the government in an attempt to get its way, and is threatening to do the same thing again, why should we believe that you can govern the nation like responsible adults? Yes, we know you hate Democrats passionately, but - unfortunately for you - we have two political parties, the other one has significant support among the American people, and champions policies and philosophies different from your own. What's your plan for working out your differences with them, and for bringing order to your own party? Hint: the correct answer does not include any words blaming Democrats for all the problems ... the question is about you.

4. How Will You Repair the Political Process? This is similar to questions #7 (Do you think "big money" has too much influence in our politics? If not, why? If so, what will you propose to do to limit its influence?) and #8: (What, specifically, will you do to restore faith in our elected government?) in my earlier post, and is closely related to the previous question about whether you can actually govern. The approval ratings of Congress in most polls are in the single digits ... what - specifically - will you do to regain Americans' trust in government. Hint: a good start would be to quit blaming "big government" for everything that's wrong in the world.

5. What's (the) Alternative to the Iran Deal? Everyone on the Republican side is heaping abuse on the administration for coming to this nuclear deal with Iran. But what are the alternatives they suggest? Some believe that because sanctions were working, we should have stuck to the status quo ... but I think that quo was losing its status as our allies drifted away from support of sanctions. To the extent that anyone in the GOP has an alternative to the agreement, it is centered on bombing the Iranians back to the Stone Age. I think this is stupid. So what are the alternatives you propose, and what makes you think your plan will work?

6. How Will You Balance Counterterrorism and Civil Liberties? I asked pretty much the same thing with question #3 in my earlier post: "How will you fight violent extremism while staying true to core American beliefs and freedoms?"

All of these are good questions. Good luck with getting good answers. Oh, and in response to the inevitable question from my more conservative friends, I have a separate list of questions for the Democratic candidates when they have their debate. For the moment, it's up to the GOP wannabes to convince me that they have actual proposals based on real thought and analysis, and can govern in a two-party system like grown-ups.

Have a good day. Expect better from those who would be your president. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Some refugees arriving in Europe and the US are refusing the free meals offered at shelters if they think there's pork in them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why Americans Dress Casually

One of the things most men dread hearing from their girlfriend/wife/significant other is the time-honored question, "Are you going to wear that?"

The question usually arises after the lady has spent a great deal of time putting on makeup, getting her hair exactly right, and selecting the perfect outfit and matching accessories, only to discover that her partner is unshaven and wearing jeans, old sneakers, and a ratty t-shirt. They have differing opinions of what the word "casual" on the invitation meant.

But differences between the sexes aside, Americans generally tend to dress more casually than people in other countries. Why is that?

Well, according to this article by Dennis Green from Business Insider, the answer is simple: because we can.

There's more to it than that, though. In many countries with well-defined social levels, the way one dresses tends to be a marker of one's place in the society. Working class men and women, for instance, wouldn't dress the same way members of the more aristocratic classes would*. Here in America, where we take pride in individuality and a Constitutionally-mandated lack of an aristocratic class**, people tend to dress down. It wasn't always this way, though. According to the article,

"For much of the 20th century, Americans didn't dress casually all the time. There were dress codes and customs. Men wore suits and hats; women wore dresses. Jeans and T-shirts were for laborers, not professionals."

Although we tend to dress more individually, we still don't want to stray too far from everyone else ... we want to be individuals, but we still want to be part of the group, if not of a defined elite. As philosopher Eric Hoffer*** once commented,

"Woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity."

 We could go on with all that sociological stuff, but I think the real reason Americans dress casually is the same reason I do: it's just a lot easier.

I don't mind getting dressed up occasionally. I own a tuxedo and a set of formal tails that I sometimes don for special occasions, and I enjoy looking good and getting the occasional admiring glance from the ladies when so accoutered ...

But more than that, I enjoy rolling out of bed and sliding into a pair of comfortable old jeans and a t-shirt with a message that expresses my opinion of the moment+.

Because I'm an American, and we do that.

Have a good day. Dress how you like, as long as it's appropriate to the situation.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* This is why we describe some jobs as being "blue collar" or "white collar."

** Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8.

*** The "longshoreman philosopher," and one of my favorite authors.

+ And I've got lots of those!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Seven Days in May, Revisited

Some of you may remember the 1962 novel by Fletcher Knebel titled Seven Days in May, or the 1964 film version starring Gregory Peck and Burt Lancaster. It dealt with a plot within the American military to overthrow a president who had negotiated a disarmament treaty that left military leaders fearing a possible nuclear attack to which they would be unable to respond.

Sound familiar?

With all the apocalyptic rhetoric surrounding the "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" with Iran, one has to wonder if there is any chance that the life of the nuclear deal with Iran might imitate the art of the novel. I have to say that from my vantage point as a lowly worker in the Pentagon, there is concern over the JCPOA, but no discussion of a reaction as unthinkable as a military coup to overthrow the President.

Of course, there's talk of just such a thing in our overheated media. Consider this article by Millie Dent in The Financial Times: A Military Coup in the US? A Surprising Number of Americans Might Support One.

According to Ms Dent's article, which is based on the results of a survey by YouGov, 29% of those who responded said they can imagine a situation in which they would support the military taking control of the federal government ... extrapolated to the population of the country, that means more than 70 million American adults would rather see a general or admiral run the country than the President.

I don't know about you, but I find this both shocking and completely predictable.

Surveys have long shown that the armed services consistently earn a far greater level of trust and respectability among Americans than their fractious and inept Congress. Nevertheless, the idea that a significant portion of Americans would consider a military coup rather than the ballot box to address their political and social concerns is frightening. This chart from the article summarizes the survey results by political party ... while predictable, they are still very scary:

A lot of Americans don't like President Obama, whether because he's black or liberal or a Democrat or Hawaiian* or whatever. I get that. However, the level of hysterical invective being thrown at the administration by herds of screaming talking heads in the media and the irresponsible grandstanding by members of Congress who ought to know better has led to a situation in which more than a quarter of Americans - and nearly half of all Republicans - might consider military rather than civilian rule.

And that's beyond scary.

Have a good day. Think about the implications of the political slogans you blindly chant at rallies and share on Facebook ... and consider how they'll sound when you get what you wish for: a "supreme leader" rather than an elected president.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* One of the best arguments for spending more money on education is that a lot of people (yes, Mr Trump, I'm talking to you) apparently can't read enough English to understand a birth certificate.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Poetry Sunday

There's an official day, week, or month to celebrate just about everything you can imagine. September is Indoor Toxic Mold Awareness Month, this week is National Truck Driver Appreciation Week*, and today is National Grandparents' Day. I happen to have six wonderful grandchildren I love very deeply, and so in honor of grandparents everywhere, I offer this poem by Jacqueline Berger ...

Why I'm Here
by Jacqueline Berger

Because my mother was on a date
with a man in the band, and my father,
thinking she was alone, asked her to dance.
And because, years earlier, my father
dug a foxhole but his buddy
sick with the flu, asked him for it, so he dug
another for himself. In the night
the first hole was shelled.
I'm here because my mother was twenty-seven
and in the '50s that was old to still be single.
And because my father wouldn't work on weapons,
though he was an atomic engineer.
My mother, having gone to Berkeley, liked that.
My father liked that she didn't eat like a bird
when he took her to the best restaurant in L.A.
The rest of the reasons are long gone.
One decides to get dressed, go out, though she'd rather
stay home, but no, melancholy must be battled through,
so the skirt, the cinched belt, the shoes, and a life is changed.
I'm here because Jews were hated
so my grandparents left their villages,
came to America, married one who could cook,
one whose brother had a business,
married longing and disappointment
and secured in this way the future.

It's good to treasure the gift, but good
to see that it wasn't really meant for you.
The feeling that it couldn't have been otherwise
is just a feeling. My family
around the patio table in July.
I've taken over the barbequing
that used to be my father's job, ask him
how many coals, though I know how many.
We've been gathering here for years,
so I believe we will go on forever.
It's right to praise the random,
the tiny god of probability that brought us here,
to praise not meaning, but feeling, the still-warm
sky at dusk, the light that lingers and the night
that when it comes is gentle.

Sadly, I never knew either of my grandfathers, both of whom died before I was born. Both of my grandmothers died many years ago, but I still have warm memories of them and of the love and care they showed for us.  I like to think that I can, in some small way, be that warm and caring grandparent to Marcy, Joe, Noah, Leya, Elise, and Ava. It's good to be the Opa. And it's good to be able to be the grouchy and curmudgeonly Opa from time to time, too ...

Have a good day. Love your family in all its generations.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Except on Interstate 95 in Virginia.