Saturday, December 31, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

It's hard to believe, but we're almost done with this stupid year.

Brawls, mostly fueled by teenagers, broke out at shopping malls across the United States on the day after Christmas; 64 singers from the Russian army's Alexandrov Ensemble were among those killed when their aircraft crashed into the Black Sea on Christmas Day; continuing his tradition of replacing statesmanship with Twitter, President-elect Donald Trump described the United Nations as "just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time;" actress Carrie Fisher, famous for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the Star Wars films, died two days after Christmas at the age of 60, and her mother, famed actress Debbie Reynolds, died the following day.

Here we go with the last collection of cartoons for 2016 ...

After a certain age, your holiday expectations moderate a bit ...

It'll be a lot thicker after January 20th ...

This is how I see most of those TV ads for DNA testing ...

Give your customers what they want ...

We must have had a lot of those back in November ...

Cows are pretty adaptable ...

Good news, bad news ...

I don't make New Year's resolutions. These, either ...

You knew this one was coming ...

Think about it ...

And so concludes your last Cartoon Saturday for 2016. After a year of celebrity deaths, electoral disappointments, decreasing civility, and all-around yuckiness, you need a bit of humor to help you square your shoulders and turn resolutely toward 2017 and beyond. I'm here to help.

Tomorrow is January 1st - New Year's Day - and we'll be announcing the Ass Clown of the Year for 2016. You still have until 11:59 PM tonight to cast your votes ... you can vote in your comments on this post, by e-mailing me, or sending me a PM on Facebook if we're friended there. If you need a recap of the rules, go here. So far, The American Electorate has a comfortable lead, with Donald Trump in a strong second place; others who have accumulated votes are, in no particular order:

The GOP;
The Democratic Party;
Fake News Authors;
The Gatlinburg Arsonists;
The Media;
Trump Administration Appointees (in general);
Kellyanne Conway;
Vladimir Putin;
Hillary Clinton;
Ryan Lochte; and,
The 24-Hour News Cycle.

You still have time to make your voice heard! Vote now, vote later, vote often!

If you are going to celebrate tonight, please don't drink and drive. I need to keep all of you around at least until I've met you all in person. Party hearty, be safe, and come back tomorrow for the announcement of the 2016 Ass Clown of the Year!

More thoughts then.


Friday, December 30, 2016

The On-Crack Ass Clown for December, 2016

December this year turns out to be one of those months with five Fridays, and the way they line up, three of those Fridays are dedicated to Ass Clown awards. And so it is that today, the last Friday of 2016, marks the final Ass Clown award for the year. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, with the usual flatulent blare of trumpets we name

The On-Crack Ass Clown
December, 2016

Donald J. Trump

This marks the seventh time this award has been presented to Mr Trump, either as a standalone winner or in conjunction with a co-awardee. The degree of ass-clownery required to achieve this record is truly staggering, but Mr. Trump has done a tremendous job of demonstrating it. Here are a few of his latest qualifications:

In flagrant defiance of tradition and the reality that he is not the president until January 20th, Mr. Trump has inserted himself into foreign policy issues, undercutting the authority of the sitting president and making the United States look weak and confused.

He has upended four decades of carefully-crafted and calibrated relationships with China with a series of actions ranging from a phone call with the president of Taiwan to a tweet suggesting the Chinese government should keep a US Navy underwater drone it stole in international waters.

He has reversed attempts by previous administrations to make the world a safer place by tweeting that the United States should "greatly expand" its nuclear arsenal.

Contrary to his election-night comment that "it is time for us to come together as one united people," he has carried on an unseemly series of campaign-style rallies designed to crow over his victory rather than to address the divisive issues of the campaign and try to unite the country behind his leadership.

Mr. Trump spent the entire presidential campaign denigrating his opponents with cheap high-school-level nicknames like "Crooked Hillary," "Lyin' Ted," and "Little Marco" as a way of avoiding the need to address real issues affecting Real People.

In a brazen affront to the American People, Mr. Trump has steadfastly refused to address concerns about the potential conflicts of interest between his business affairs and his governmental powers, refusing to release his tax returns - as did every other presidential candidate going back decades - and deferring any discussion of how he will address conflicts of interest.

Mr. Trump has chosen to denigrate and demean the professionalism and dedication of the nation's 17 intelligence agencies because they don't support his desire for a close relationship with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Trump has created a level of domestic and international uncertainty over his intentions by blasting out storms of tweets rather than holding press conferences and serious discussions with both supporters and opponents. Intractable problems will not be reduced to solution in 140 characters.

I could go on, but there's no point. Those who love Donald Trump will blithely overlook his many failings and his utter unsuitability for the presidency, while those who - like me - believe he will be a disaster understand all of this already. I just wanted to say it one last time.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, President-Elect Donald J. Trump is our final ass clown awardee for 2016 - the On-Crack Ass Clown for December.

But wait - there's more!

As I put the finishing touches on this post on the morning of December 24th, I ran across an article in the Washington Post that has led me to add a Dishonorable Mention to the On-Crack Ass Clown Award for this month ... this Dishonorable Mention goes to

Carl Paladino

Mr Paladino, a former GOP nominee for governor of New York and an advisor to Donald Trump, was asked what he wanted for 2017. His response: he hoped that "(President) Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Hereford (cow)," and that he wanted First Lady Michelle Obama "to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla." You can read the whole miserable story here.

When we turn to people like Donald Trump as our president and Carl Paladino as one of his advisors, all I can say is God help us. 

Have a good day and a safe, happy New Year's celebration.

More thoughts coming.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Say, What??

There are many reasons why I am confused and mortified by the election of a classless boor like Donald Trump to the office once held by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt, but one of the most puzzling reasons is this: forgetting for a moment the outright lies, the insults, and the veiled threats, why do people take this man seriously when he can't even speak in complete sentences?

Other people smarter than I am have wondered the same thing, and I found an interesting article on Vox by Tara Golshan that helps to explain it: Donald Trump’s Strange Speaking Style, As Explained by Linguists. It's a very interesting article and, although it references linguistic theories, it's not full of off-putting scientific mumbo-jumbo and is worth your time to read.

To summarize up front, Trump's style reflects the difference between written and conversational spoken language, and relies on a shared cultural background with audiences that allow listeners to "fill in" the gaps in his remarks from their own experiences. As the article points out,

"(Trump) makes vague implications with a raised eyebrow or a shrug, allowing his audience to reach their own conclusions. And that conversational style can be effective. It’s more intimate than a scripted speech. People walk away from Trump feeling as though he were casually talking to them, allowing them to finish his thoughts."

Such a speaking style can be very effective when the speaker may not want to be held to his words as explicitly spoken, such as Trump's vague quasi-threat against Hillary Clinton in a speech delivered in North Carolina in August, 2016 ...

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks ... Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

The sentence was rambling, incomplete, not terribly grammatical, and did not contain any explicit threat against Senator Clinton. However, because of the social and political culture shared by Mr Trump and his audience, listeners concerned about the supposed erosion of their gun rights would be able to connect the dots and understand the subtext of the message: You have a gun. You know what you can do.

Mr. Trump's style is also effective because it employs time-tested advertising techniques with which he, as a businessman, is very familiar and comfortable. When he doubles down, repeating a statement proven to be false, he relies on the technique of repetition to embed his version in the listener's mind. And when he ignores the complexity of major issues by reducing them to simple, bumper-sticker statements ("drain the swamp," "crooked Hillary," "build the wall"), he relies on the technique of over-simplification that encourages belief and trust and crowds out unwanted questions.

Another of his gifts is the ability to connect with his audiences on an emotional, rather than an intellectual level. As Dr Kristin DuMez, an historian, notes in the article,

"For listeners who identify with Trump, there is little they need to do but claim what they’re entitled to ... No need for sacrifice, for compromise, for complexity. He taps into fear and insecurity, but then enables his audience to express that fear through anger. And anger gives the illusion of empowerment."

These are the key words in that last quote: "no need for sacrifice, for compromise, for complexity." Mr. Trump uses language that appeals to the gut, not to the brain, and encourages his followers to believe in the ends without thinking inconveniently hard about the means.

Donald Trump is not a stupid man, although I believe he is a mendacious and venal one, and I believe his use of language underscores the reasons we should be wary of him as president. As Dr Geoffrey Pullum, a linguist from the University of Edinburgh, points out in the article,

"His speech suggests a man with scattered thoughts, a short span of attention, and a lack of intellectual discipline and analytical skills ... You get no ... organized thoughts from Trump. It's bursts of noun phrases, self-interruptions, sudden departures from the theme, flashes of memory, odd side remarks. It's the disordered language of a person with a concentration problem."

And this, of course, also helps to explain Mr. Trump's use of Twitter as his communications medium of choice. A message limited to 140 characters does not allow for nuance or complexity, and is nothing more than a gut-level bumper sticker that the True Believers can flesh out as they will.

The bottom line, from Dr Pullum, is this:

"Leadership is hard; it needs discipline, concentration, and an ability to ignore what's irrelevant or needless or personal or silly. There is no sign of it from Trump. This man talks honestly enough that you can see what he's like: He's an undisciplined narcissist who craves power but doesn't have the intellectual capacity to exercise it wisely."

And that is how I approach the transfer of power in this country on January 20th - hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

Have a good day. Be here tomorrow for the announcement of the final Ass Clown awardee of 2016. More thoughts then.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

When Things Just Don't Make Sense

No, I'm not talking about Donald Trump's approach to governance.

You're all familiar, I assume, with the expression commonly used by speakers of English to say that they don't understand something: It's all Greek to me!

Perhaps it is, at least to you. But what does a Greek say when something is unintelligible? After all, if it's Greek to her, then she ought to understand it perfectly well. As it turns out, the equivalent of the expression for speakers of Greek relates unintelligibility to Chinese.

I think this is fascinating, coming as it does at the intersection of linguistics, semantics, and sociology, and it probably says a lot about culture and language.

A while back I ran across this graph by Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, which shows the language that various languages use to describe things that are incomprehensible ... click it to embiggen it ...

What's particularly interesting is that almost every language relates incomprehensibility to expression in a different language - most often Greek or Chinese. There are exceptions, though ... Chinese expresses the concept not in terms of another language, but as a "heavenly script," or "product of heaven" (for speakers of Mandarin) or "chicken intestines" (for speakers of Cantonese) while Japanese uses a string of nonsense syllables rather than a specific language.

There's a list of various equivalents of "It's all Greek to me" on the Omniglot website, which will help you avoid becoming boring with your descriptions of the actions and pronouncements of our incoming president.

Have a good day, in whatever language you choose. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Selling Fragrances in Monotones

Many years ago, not long after Marconi got the kinks worked out of the technology, I produced my own radio program - The Audio Attic - on Radio Fairfax, the public access station in Fairfax County, Virginia.

In learning the basics of radio production, I had to master things like air time management and the ins and outs of advertising ... the hard sell, the soft sell, and the use of one's voice to create an atmosphere for the listener conducive getting him or her to want to run out and buy whatever you were selling.

I've been off the air for a long time, but I thought about my experiences in advertising the other day when I realized something about a subject I'd never much considered before - fragrance commercials.

There are a lot of commercials on television now for a lot of different fragrances, and they all have one thing in common ... see if it registers with you. Consider this one, for J'Adore ...

and this one, for "Boss: the Scent" ...

and this one, for l'Eau #5 from Chanel ...

Here's what I noticed: none of them has much dialog, but all of the dialog is delivered in a monotone.

Now, I spent a lot of time learning all sorts of verbal delivery techniques to avoid a monotone ... and these overpriced perfumes seem to be deliberately using it in their pitches. What's up with that? Is a monotone supposed to be sexy? I know that advertisers use various accents to create specific moods - French for sexy, English* for sophistication, German for high technology** - but what is conveyed by an offhand monotone?

What, if anything, is the effect that such an ad with such a delivery has on you? I'm curious, so please leave a comment.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* It's been said that an upper class Englishman reading the Manhattan phone book will always sound better than an American reading the Gettysburg Address.

** Or for threats.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Adopting Sophia's Approach to Privacy

When we moved into our house in 1992 and I adopted the front corner bedroom for use as my study, I quickly ran into a problem: in order to fit in my desk and all my bookshelves, I had to remove the door. This meant that, unless I decided to go with tacky beads or opaque plastic sheets, I would have to give up the privacy provided by a door.

Now, this is not as crucially important nowadays, as only Agnes and I are in the house most of the time, and I don't generally need to keep her out of my study*. The grandchildren aren't here all that often, and most visitors don't wander around the house and poke their noses in. But nevertheless, most of us need a little privacy now and then.

Enter Sophia.

I found this clever flowchart posted on Miss Cellania's wonderful blog a few days back:

This young lady has a fairly sophisticated and methodical approach to minimizing unwanted traffic into her room, and it got me to wonder how I might adopt her strategy to help keep people out of my study, given the lack of a functioning door. Here's my version of Sophia's chart; click to embiggen ...

Just so you're not surprised if you come to visit.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Except when I'm wrapping gifts, or when I have to hide the supply of chocolate for one reason or another.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day, 2016

If you came here looking for Musical Sunday, come back again in two weeks ... today is the day for Bilbo's Traditional Christmas Post.

Today is Christmas Day, the day on which Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, whose lessons and example many of them find great in theory but decline to follow in practice. Beyond the Christian world, it is a season for general good cheer, the exchange of gifts, and a month of uplifting and sentimental television shows which temporarily replace the sex, violence, and cynicism of the rest of the year.

We’ve long bemoaned the commercialization of Christmas, in which the purchase and exchange of gifts has replaced thoughtful contemplation and love of family. But now, Christmas has been politicized as well. Conservative shouting heads complain about a “war on Christmas,” and both Christians and non-Christians complain about discrimination because they don’t want to have to accommodate religious ideas and traditions which are not their own. Angry idiots object to hearing a generic “Happy Holidays” instead of "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukkah," "Happy Solstice," "Happy Kwanzaa," "Happy Festivus," or other seasonal holiday of choice. Nuisance lawsuits force towns and cities to remove nativity displays from public places. Scrooge lives on.

The traditional Christmas story that most of us recognize is told in the Bible in the second chapter of the gospel of Matthew:

2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 
2:9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 
2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 
2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; You shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 
2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 
2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Whatever happened to the part about “peace on earth and goodwill toward men*?” It seems to have been replaced by “peace on earth, goodwill only to those who agree with me, and the rest of you can go to Hell.” It’s been replaced by rigid intolerance and stiff-necked self-righteousness that belie both the spirit of the season and the values and teachings of the person whose birth is being celebrated.

Nevertheless, for those willing to put aside their cultural tunnel vision and their petty carping and hatreds, the Christmas season offers a time for joy and renewal, regardless of the religious tradition they profess to follow. It’s a season in which men (okay, persons) of goodwill can come together and treat each other like real human beings rather than like despised “others” … if, of course, they’re willing to bend enough to do so.

And it is, above all, a season for children, who have not yet been spoiled by the cynicism and hatred they’ll learn all too soon. The look on a child’s face on Christmas morning is a wonderful thing, and it reminds us that there is still joy to be found in life, if only we can get past the greed, selfishness, and political chicanery.

And so, Dear Readers, Agnes and I and our extended family wish all of you a very joyous Christmas and a safe, happy, and healthy new year. Blog on!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Okay, “persons.” Don’t get your holiday knickers in a twist.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve, 2016

Note: this post is slightly updated from my Christmas Eve post from last year. Reruns aren't only found on television ...

Today is the day of Christmas Eve, when millions of people across the nation and the world make their annual pilgrimage to the mall in search of the gifts they haven't yet purchased. Tonight, children will set out milk and cookies for Santa and desperately try to stay up late in hopes of seeing him, parents will use salty language as they try to deal with the toy for which "some assembly (is) required," and stores will sell out of the batteries you didn't realize you needed for that toy for which "some assembly (is) required."

Here's an appropriate quote from comic author Dave Barry:

"Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space."

Ah, the holidays!

Tomorrow, I'll have my annual Christmas post ... for now, here's a brief message for the clueless shouting heads that are trying to spin an idiotic "war on Christmas" ...

Ho, ho, ho and all that seasonal stuff.

Tonight at Chez Bilbo Agnes and I will celebrate Christmas in the German way, with a good dinner of ham with Agnes's warm potato salad, followed by opening gifts under the tree and a good night's sleep. That constitutes a wild Christmas after a certain age.

Come back tomorrow for my traditional Christmas thoughts.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Christmas is almost here, and it's time for the last selection of Great Moments in Editing and Signage for 2016. The year has been an almost total downer for many reasons, but as long as we have these gems to laugh at, we can forget our woes for a few minutes. Here we go ...

I took this picture at a local shopping center and shared it a few days ago on Facebook. I think the gene pool needs more chlorine ...

Based on a true story? ...

I think this writer often loses when playing Duck, Duck, Goose with his children ...

It's important to get your priorities right ...

I wonder how many officers it took to break up the fight ...

Well, duh ...

I hope this would be a selling point for a very small minority of customers ...

Sounds fishy to me ...

Suspicious chefs ...

I wonder exactly how that court order was worded ...

And there you have it - your final selection of Great Moments in Editing and Signage for 2016. 

A few post scheduling notes: because tomorrow is Christmas Eve, I'll have a special seasonal post; as a result, Cartoon Saturday will not appear this week. It will return on Saturday the 31st. One week from today, we will name the final Ass Clown Awardee for the year - December's On-Crack Ass Clown (since there are three eligible Fridays this month). 

Speaking of Ass Clowns, voting is still open for the Ass Clown of the Year award. You can cast your votes until 11:59 PM on December 31st, and the winner will be announced on January 1st. If you need a refresher on the rules, go here. Let your voice be heard! Stand up to Vladimir Putin! Vote for Ass Clown of the Year now. And often. 

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Naughty or Nice - How Does Santa Really Know?

As we all know, Santa Claus traditionally keeps two lists: the "naughty" list, identifying children who, on the basis of past performance, are less likely to have their Christmas wishes granted; and the "nice" list, identifying children who have behaved in an acceptable fashion during the previous year and are, thus, more likely to enjoy a materialistically positive visit from Santa.*

There are many hundreds of millions of children in the world, and keeping track of who's naughty and who's nice is a daunting challenge. How does he do it? How does he keep track of all those deserving (and undeserving) children? There are many ways to look at how Santa makes his naughty and nice decisions, but you may not have realized that at least some of them have been the subject of (quasi-) scholarly study.

Each year at Christmas, the esteemed British Medical Journal (BMJ) publishes an issue that features a number of satirical articles alongside the real ones. In this year's Christmas edition, the BMJ offered this article: Dispelling the Nice or Naughty Myth: Retrospective Observational Study of Santa Claus. This excerpt from the introduction to the study explains the basis of the study -

It has long been thought that Santa Claus visits children depending on whether they have been naughty or nice in the past year. This belief finds textual support in the popular holiday song “Santa Claus is coming to Town,” written by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie and published in 1934. The Christmas classic goes on: “he sees when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” Yet no empirical evidence exists to support the assertion that Santa Claus rewards children based on good behaviour or to establish whether this is the only factor determining the likelihood of a visit from him. We chose to study paediatric hospital wards because sick children are the most deserving of a visit from Santa Claus at Christmas. We evaluated the relative importance of children’s behaviour, distance to the North Pole, and contextual socioeconomic deprivation on the likelihood of a visit from Santa Claus.

Please don't share this with any Republicans, because they'll reflexively think it's a real study and their heads will explode at the waste of money.

Anyhow, we now see that a review of Clausian visits to pediatric wards can serve as a potentially source of information on Santa's naughty/nice decisions; nevertheless, there are any number of other sources of information available to The Big Man as he makes his assessments.

For instance, it has long been known that Santa Claus assigns senior liaison elves to America's National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6), and their sister agencies around the world**. This means it's a good idea to always be nice on the phone, and not to act like a despicable troll online.

In addition, investigative journalists have uncovered indications that Santa has long-term contracts with major private investigation services to provide physical surveillance to complement the data provided by NSA and GCHQ.

And it has also been reported that Santa's North Pole Naughty/Nice Operations Center (known to insiders as the NPN2OC) has recently installed a new computer system that allows it to access - in addition to the information from NSA, CIA, GCHQ, MI-6, and other intelligence services - video feeds from traffic cameras, automatic teller machines, security cameras in banks and other businesses, as well as real-time text and video feeds from Facebook, Twitter***, Instagram, and other social media platforms.

Given the state of the world, with rampant religious intolerance, political chicanery, greed, corruption, anger, and general hostility, Santa needs all the help he can get to keep track of the naughtiness ... but he's up to the challenge. He really does know if you've been bad or good.

And a whole lot of naughty people out there are well and truly screwed this Christmas.

Have a good day. Be nice, if only for a little while.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* It's a little-known fact that Santa doesn't just track the naughty/nice statistics of children ... there are a lot of adults looking at a pretty bleak Christmas, too.

** This explains why a traitorous twit like Edward Snowdon will be on the naughty list in perpetuity.

*** There's a whole separate server farm at the NPN2OC specifically dedicated to Donald Trump's Twitter feed. He'll be on the naughty list for a long, long time.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Those of you who have been with me for a while know that back in July of 2009 I realized that things in America had become so stupid that there was a need for a scale with which to measure the national stupidity level. I used as my model the five-stage “Defense Condition" (or "DEFCON") scale used by the military services to set their level of readiness in response to world conditions. I called my scale the National Stupidity Condition Index, or DUMBCON.

The original DUMBCON structure served well until January of 2013, when I found it necessary to add a sixth level – DUMBCON 0 - to accommodate surging levels of national stupidity.

But such was the ever-increasing degree of stupidity that I was forced, a mere ten months later, to add a seventh level – DUMBCON -1.

Since that time, I have often considered adding an eighth level, but I’ve always talked myself out of it. I've tried to be optimistic and positive, figuring that things just had to get better … but I have finally accepted that Americans have grown so appallingly stupid that seven levels of stupidity are no longer enough.

With that sad fact in mind, I have decided to modify the DUMBCON scale to add a much-needed eighth level*; in addition, I have modified the colors assigned to the eight levels to better reflect the new situation in the nation and the world.

Here is the new DUMBCON scale, effective immediately:

And here is the updated explanation of each level ...

DUMBCON 5 (Code Green) - ordinary, day-to-day level of stupidity. Congress is in session; people continue to listen to rap music; companies plaster all sorts of warning labels on products in an attempt to avoid lawsuits from people injured through their own stupidity.

DUMBCON 4 (Code Blue) - things are more stupid than usual. Congress berates the Defense Department for wasting money, but insists on keeping open military installations which are not needed, but are located in the districts of key lawmakers.

DUMBCON 3 (Code Yellow) - things are getting pretty stupid. People continue to deny the Holocaust. Kim Jong-un petulantly launches a few more missiles because he's not getting what he wants.

DUMBCON 2 (Code Magenta) - start shaking your head - it's getting really stupid out there. People keep listening to clueless blowhards like Ann Coulter and Alex Jones. Crazy persons use firearms to kill large numbers of people, and the NRA says that the guns are irrelevant to the discussion, that killer would still kill people even if they didn't have guns - they'd just smother them with pillows or something. Ninety-seven percent of serious scientists agree that climate change is a real threat, but conservatives refuse to accept it because "the science isn't settled."

DUMBCON 1 (Code Orange) - stupidity beyond your wildest dreams. Go back to bed and hide under the pillows. Businesses increase prices because of "increased costs," but your employer wants you to accept wage cuts and IOUs or he'll send your jobs to Mexico. The GOP thunders about the immediate need to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, but has no coherent plan for the “replace” part. Congress adjourns, having accomplished nothing ... and nobody notices.

DUMBCON 0 (Code Red) - A level of stupidity far exceeding your worst nightmares. People wholeheartedly buy into ludicrous conspiracy theories that even the least-educated, religiously hidebound person in the Middle East wouldn't accept; local sheriffs announce that they will decide on their own authority which laws are constitutional and will be enforced; and people actually believe that a government that can't even pass a budget - or agree on anything at all - will somehow be able to get its act together enough to confiscate weapons from the most heavily-armed population on earth.

DUMBCON -1 (Code Scarlet) - A level of stupidity so far exceeding your worst nightmares that all you can do is hide under the bed and pray. Ultra-conservative members of Congress sincerely believe nothing bad would happen if the government defaults on its debts; Congress, egged on by the far-right wing of the GOP, throws hundreds of thousands of government workers out without pay while forcing others to work without any guarantee that they’ll ever be paid ... but insists that the Constitution says members of Congress must continue to be paid no matter what; and the House, the Senate, and the President unite to replace Italian government as the poster child for dysfunctional rule.

DUMBCON -2 (Code Black) – Hiding under the bed and praying is no longer enough; it’s time to invest in a seat on Elon Musk's planned one-way manned expedition to Mars. Americans elect a manifestly unqualified megalomaniac as president and accept that he plans to govern via Twitter rants, 140 characters at a time. Despite the frenzied warnings of the far right and eight years of time in which to do it, President Obama fails to confiscate a single gun. Courtesy and civility have almost completely disappeared from public discourse. Credulous Americans accept without the least shred of proof the most outrageous and improbable of conspiracy theories, and believe only “news” presented by organizations and websites that confirm their own outlandish beliefs.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, we are going to DEFCON Minus Two.

God help us.

Have as good a day as you can. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Dante's Hell only had nine levels.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Latest Appointment


In a late-night tweet issued from his headquarters at Trump Tower, president-elect Donald Trump announced that he has selected The Mouth of Sauron as his Press Secretary.

Since the fall of Sauron and the relocation of the Dark Tower of Barad-Dûr to midtown Manhattan, The Mouth of Sauron has been working as a senior advisor to Alex Jones at Asked whether his ability to serve as president-elect Trump's press secretary would be adversely affected by the fact that Aragorn cut off his head, The Mouth of Sauron denied that a functioning head was a requirement for service in a Trump administration. He will assume the position following the inauguration of the new president on January 20th.

Have a good day. More thoughts - satirical and otherwise - coming.


* Apologies to those of you who already saw this on my Facebook page. I decided to push it out to a larger audience.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Guest Post

Yes, it's me, Santa. I figured if Bilbo could let dogs and cats put guest posts on his blog, the least he could do is let me post, too. Of course, I sweetened the pot a little for him by agreeing not to put coal in his stocking this year*.

You may remember that I wrote here last year, too. Even a jolly old elf like me needs a place to let off steam once in a while, and believe you me, I've got quite a head up this year ...

I'm glad cloud storage is still fairly cheap, because my Naughty List is longer than it's ever been and growing daily. The Nice List is down to a couple of three-by-five cards, and I have large handwriting.

You, Mr Trump ... you do realize that you're supposed to be the president of all the Americans, right - including the nearly three million that didn't vote for you? Lose the damn Twitter account and start acting like a responsible statesman and not a thin-skinned schoolyard bully. You'll find out soon enough that making Vlad Putin and your rich friends happy isn't going to be enough to keep those adoring crowds going to your I-Love-Me rallies.

And what's up with you, Congress? If I can get a bunch of lazy-ass elves to churn out enough toys for every child on earth - and deliver them all in one friggin' night, no less - I'd think you could at least pass a damn budget or vote on a Supreme Court nomination. No. All you want to do is poke fingers in each others eyes, hold useless hearings, and act stupid. Sit down and play nicely together, you idiots.

All you Republicans are looking at a pretty bleak Christmas morning. Since you elected a president who wants to keep all the foreigners out, I can't get a tourist visa to bring you the coal and sawdust you've worked so hard to earn. And once you lift all the limits on business so they can move jobs to Mexico or turn them over over to robots, you can explain to the people who voted for you why they don't have enough money to buy gifts for their families. Or afford housing and health care. Or why they can't drink their water or breathe their air. Good luck with that.

And don't think I've forgotten about you, Democrats ... you may be more warmhearted and socially responsible than the Republicans, but you still need to have a comprehensive program for governing, and figure out how to pay for everything you want to do. Start acting like you have a clue.

None of you is getting any guns for Christmas - you've got too many of those already, and I'm sick and tired of you using them on each other ... even on people in church and elementary school children in their classrooms. I'm tired of drunks shooting at Rudolph's nose as we fly by, too. So here's what I'm going to do: if you won't do anything to reduce gun violence, I won't even bother putting you on my Naughty List ... I'll just pass your name to the other guy with a red suit whose name begins with "S," and I can pretty much guarantee you don't want to be on his list.

That's all for now. Get your heads out of your butts and start showing a little humanity and Christmas spirit, or else. The NSA** and I see you when you're sleeping, know when you're awake, and know if you've been bad or good, so be good, for goodness sake.



P.S. - Bilbo says to be sure to cast those votes for Ass Clown of the Year, and reminds you to come back tomorrow for more thoughts.


* That means I have more to give to other, more deserving people ... like Congress and all those people who voted for Donald Trump. At least coal futures look bright now that the Trump administration is going to scuttle all the environmental regulations that have limited my supply. The snow will be black again, but hey - you can't have everything, can you?

** I had to subcontract the surveillance job ... I'm too busy keeping an eye on all those damn elves.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Poetry Sunday

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh many years ago, one of our Christmas traditions was listening to our parents' recording of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas reading his marvelous prose poem A Child's Christmas in Wales. It's a very long poem, too long to risk boring you to death if you decide you don't like it, and so I've decided to feature today not the whole poem, but an excerpt that will give you a feel for the whole thing. It's always been special to me, and I hope it will be special to you as well ...

Excerpt from "A Child's Christmas in Wales"
by Dylan Thomas

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner
now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a
moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and
six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights
when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong
moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-
edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever
I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at
the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden,
waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas.
December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But
there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to
snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and
snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-
eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off
Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise
cats never appeared.

We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal
snows - eternal, ever since Wednesday - that we never heard Mrs. Prothero's first cry
from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the
far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor's polar cat. But soon the voice
grew louder.
"Fire!" cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, toward the house; and
smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and
Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii. This was better than all
the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with
snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there
after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle
of the room, saying, "A fine Christmas!" and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.

"Call the fire brigade," cried Mrs. Prothero as she beat the gong.
"They won't be there," said Mr. Prothero, "it's Christmas."
There was no fire to be seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr. Prothero standing in the
middle of them, waving his slipper as though he were conducting.
"Do something," he said. And we threw all our snowballs into the smoke - I think we
missed Mr. Prothero - and ran out of the house to the telephone box.
"Let's call the police as well," Jim said. "And the ambulance." "And Ernie Jenkins, he
likes fires."

But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in
helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out just in time before they
turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen
turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's Aunt, Miss
Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to
hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the
three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and
dissolving snowballs, and she said, "Would you like anything to read?"

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds
the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang
and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp
front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English
and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse,
when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a
small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it
down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."

"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was not only shaken from white
wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted
out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of
the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely-ivied the walls and settled on
the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn
Christmas cards."

You can hear Dylan Thomas reading the whole of A Child's Christmas in Wales here.

Have a good day, and be festive - Christmas is one week from today!

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

Oy. Just, oy.

President-elect Donald Trump nominated Rex Tillerson, the CEO of the ExxonMobil Corporation - a man with no diplomatic experience and with extensive business ties to Russia - to be his Secretary of State; President-elect Trump also slapped down the 17-member US Intelligence Community, stating that he doesn't need daily intelligence briefings because "I'm, like, a smart person;" Federal charges will be filed against a North Carolina man who attacked a family pizza restaurant in Washington on December 4th, inspired by bizarre online conspiracy theories that it was a front for a child sex ring; China has stolen an American underwater drone while it was being recovered by a US Navy oceanographic research vessel; and a heartwarming story about a young boy who died in Santa's arms unraveled when it could not be verified as true.

We're just over a week away from Christmas, and all that "peace on earth, goodwill toward men" stuff seems to be lacking, so we may as well have some Christmas-themed cartoons ...

I wonder if Mr Trump knows about this ...


This kid is growing up to be either a lawyer or a politician. Or, as things now are, both ...

Right next to the Stupid Pun section ...

Nice try, but ...

The Patriot Act says it's okay ...

Yee, HAH!!

I think it's a win-win: Santa gives appropriate gifts and Mr Trump makes good on his pledge to bring all the coal jobs back ...

Sometimes, it takes a while for the jury to come in ...

How the "alternative media" would report on Santa's hiring practices ...

And there you have it - yet another collection of cartoons appropriate to the season. Cartoon Saturday will not appear next week because it will be Christmas Eve, and I have a special post scheduled for that day, so get your fix now.

It's a cold and icy morning here in NoVa ... outside my study window, the world is covered with a beautifully treacherous layer of sparkling ice - perfect for staying inside and sacrificing goats to the warm weather gods.

Don't forget to cast your votes for Ass Clown of the Year - only two weeks to go until the voting window closes at 11:59 PM on December 31st. So far, The American Electorate is running away with the competition, with president-elect Donald Trump running a strong second and the Gatlinburg Arsonists and the GOP tied for third. Don't miss out - let your voice be heard! Vote now!

Have a good day, stay warm, and come back tomorrow for the last Poetry Sunday of 2016. More thoughts then.


Friday, December 16, 2016

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for December, 2016

Have you cast your votes for Ass Clown of the Year yet? Voting closes at 11:59 PM on December 31st, and I will announce the winner in this space on Sunday, January 1st.

I summarized the rules and the previous 2016 awardees in this post, in case you need to review. But there are two more Ass Clowns to name between now and December 31st, so it's time to get to it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, I give you

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown
December, 2016

And the award goes to

The Common Internet Troll
(Anus Vulgaris Anonymous)

While the Internet has brought many benefits and advantages to individuals, businesses, and governments, the anonymity it provides has given rise to a despicable subculture of individuals often called trolls, who use the Internet to stalk, harass, and threaten other persons; to spread the most vile and ludicrous of conspiracy theories; to conduct criminal activities and spread malware; and to ruin the online experience for - and often ruin the lives and reputations of - normal and well-adjusted persons.

One of the most visible examples of the dangers posed by the Common Internet Troll is the ludicrous accusation that a popular family pizza restaurant in Washington, DC, is actually the hub of a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton and her associate John Podesta. This accusation has led to death threats against restaurant employees and a nearly-tragic recent incident in which a man from North Carolina drove to Washington, entered the restaurant, and fired shots from an assault rifle in an attempt to "rescue" children he believed were imprisoned in tunnels beneath the building. It was a miracle that no one was injured ... and the man remains unconvinced that the restaurant is exactly what it is - a family-friendly community gathering place.

For his* bizarre and overheated generation of vile online slime; for his use of the Internet for criminal activity; and for his undermining of law, civil discourse, and common courtesy, the Common Internet Troll is named our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for December, 2016.

Have a good day. Be civil. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturdayr.

More thoughts then.

And don't forget to cast your votes for Ass Clown of the Year.


* I say "his" because most trolls seem to be male; however, there are also plenty of women out there who are willing to believe and spread this slime, too. A plague on their houses, too.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Musical Interlude

Like most of you, I love the Christmas season for a lot of reasons ... one of which is the music. I love all the traditional Christmas carols and some of the newer ones, and I despise "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."*

One of the newer Christmas songs that I really love is one I first heard thanks to fellow blogger Andrea, who included it in her 2011 Christmas Mix. I'm not a religious person, but this quietly beautiful song would make me believe again, if anything would. Here's Chris Isaak, singing his 2004 song "Brightest Star" ...

Christmas is just ten days away. Difficult as it may be this year, try to feel the spirit.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And who doesn't?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Trump Scale

In 1964, a Russian astrophysicist named Nikolai Kardashev who was looking for signs of extraterrestrial life within cosmic signals devised a system for classifying possible, very highly advanced distant civilizations. The original Kardashev system identified three “classes” of civilizations based on the amount of energy they were able to harness and use - a Type I civilization would be able to harness up to 1016 watts (all the energy available from a neighboring star), Type II up to 1026 watts (completely controlling a neighboring star), and Type III (incredibly advanced) up to 1036 watts*. Subsequent astronomers modified the Kardashev scale, expanding it to include Type IV civilizations, able to harness up to 1046 watts, and Type V, in which the civilization becomes all but god-like. Type V civilizations are particularly interesting because energy available to such a civilization would equal that of all energy available in not just our universe, but in all universes and all time-lines, and the figures for both Type IV and V civilizations include not only the energy to which they have access, but also the amount of knowledge the civilizations have access to. It's worth noting that, under this classification regime, human civilization (such as it is) doesn't even appear ... we'd be Type 0 at best.

Now this is interesting in a cerebral sort of way, and you can read more about it in this article if you're so inclined**. But I think there's a more useful way of classifying civilizations closer to home, like our own. I call it the "Trump Scale."

The Trump Scale rates civilizations on a scale of one to five Trumps, with five being the highest level of civilization:

Five Trumps: citizens pay no attention to unqualified and incoherent boors who seek major leadership positions.

Four Trumps: some citizens listen to speeches given by unqualified and incoherent boors seeking major leadership positions and think maybe he's on to something.

Three Trumps: large numbers of citizens rally in support of unqualified and incoherent boors seeking major leadership positions, using the argument that everybody we have now is worthless so we may as well vote for him because can't be any worse.

Two Trumps: citizens ignore factual news reports that do not conform to their preconceived notions, preferring instead to believe the worst fake news stories about candidates and parties they oppose and ideas with which they do not agree.

One Trump: citizens elect an unqualified and incoherent boor to a major leadership position, and so give other nations the right to question whether or not they are, in fact, civilized.

Sadly, last month our citizens declined to vote one no-Trump. Good luck with that ... I think we'll go on being a Type Zero/One Trump civilization, but only because neither scale allows for negative numbers. For that, check out the DUMBCON level, which remains at Negative 1. And for the record, I'm once again considering going to Negative 2.

Have as good a day as you can under the circumstances. More thoughts tomorrow.


* These figures are commonly referred to in the vernacular as "a whole effin' lot of energy."

** And I'd be surprised if you were.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winter Is Coming

If the weather prognostications are to be believed, we may have our first "measurable snow" here in NoVa in the course of this week*. Yes, Eddard, winter is coming ...

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where we expected - and got - a lot of snow every winter. I remember walking to the bus stop (while I was in elementary school) and to the high school (which was about a half mile from our house) in all sorts of weather, but we were used to it. In Pennsylvania and points north, people learn how to drive in snow and local governments plan effectively to deal with it. Driving is miserable and nerve-wracking, but schools and stores remain open, roads are either cleared or blocked off**, and people manage. I'm sure that we had some school closures back then, but I don't remember any.

This is not the case here in my adopted home of Northern Virginia.

Almost everyone who lives here comes from somewhere else ... usually from somewhere else where it's a lot warmer and the techniques of winter driving are learned by watching news broadcasts of cars slowly spinning down icy streets. As a result, it doesn't take much beyond the vague rumor of a slight chance of possible isolated flakes of snow to cause utter panic.

We do have an advantage, though, because Congress has made total gridlock into such an art form that local traffic imitates it on good days, and so there's little difference between ordinary gridlock and winter-induced gridlock. The main difference is that we don't get to vote for winter-induced gridlock.

Here's a story ...

Back in the early 1980s we lived south of where we do now, in the NoVa suburb of Woodbridge. I worked at Fort Belvoir, about five miles to the north, and Agnes worked in Crystal City, about another seven or eight miles further north. One winter we had a mighty snowstorm that paralyzed the entire region. As it happened, it hit during the day that Agnes's company had its Christmas party. Our daughter was in day care in Woodbridge, and I was in the middle with the car (we only had one). When the storm arrived, I left work and drove south to Woodbridge to pick up our daughter (rather than pay the exorbitant fees for picking her up late), then back north to pick up Agnes, then back south again through the storm to get home. Actually, Agnes drove the stretch from Crystal City to home - growing up in the foothills of the Alps had provided some good training for dealing with the horrendous conditions we were facing. It was more than a little nerve-wracking, particularly since Agnes - like many Germans - is a graduate of the Heinz Guderian School of Aggressive Driving. The total time required for the trip - Fort Belvoir to Woodbridge to Crystal City and back to Woodbridge - was about five hours, and required an intravenous transfusion of schnapps at the end.

So ...

Been there, done that, don't need the snow. My order is in for two or three gentle, picturesque snow days between now and spring. And my order is in for Spring to start as early as possible. January would be fine.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* The Trump administration hasn't taken over yet, and so a white Christmas won't be mandatory until next year; however, the snow jobs will continue to be intense.

** If you've ever been to Pittsburgh, you know about some of our nearly-vertical hills that cannot be cleared in winter, and are simply closed off until spring.