Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

Ready to kick April to the curb? ... here are a few reasons why:

GOP presidential wannabe Ted Cruz has picked Carly Fiorina as his running mate; at least 24 people have been killed and dozens more injured in a car bombing in Baghdad; eleven people were killed in a helicopter crash in Norway; North Korea has sentenced a South Korean-born US citizen to ten years at hard labor for "espionage and subversion;" the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld a lower court's dismissal of a forcible oral sodomy charge against a suspect because state law does not include intoxication or unconsciousness among the five criteria describing the crime.

If all that didn't get you ready for a few much-needed laughs, you have a problem. This week, I'm featuring cartoons about blogging because, well, why not? ...

There's always the danger of over-sharing ...

I don't think most bloggers are dangerous. Opinionated and stubborn, yes ...

Good point! ...

Sometimes it can be lonely out in the blogosphere. It was months before I received my first comment ...

Some habits are hard to break ...

In case you wondered where the term "blog" came from ...

Some comments hurt more than others ...

Worthy of an Ig Nobel prize ...

The dog has it right ... 

As it happens, I blog from upstairs - not from the basement ...

And that's Cartoon Saturday for this last Saturday in April. Agnes and I are on the road in Lynchburg, Virginia, watching our granddaughter Leya take part in another local climbing competition, the next step on her way to the regional championships coming up in a few weeks. I'm sure there's a mountain goat somewhere back in the family tree, but it's not me.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when we kick off May with Poetry Sunday. Be here.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

We're down to the last Friday in April, and it's time to roll out another set of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. Yes, I've changed the name of this recurring post in order to make it more accurate. I don't need any truth-in-advertising lawsuits ...

As advertising tag lines go, I guess it's effective ...

Perhaps not the best choice of names for the restaurant on the right ...

I don't think I'd go out of my way to visit, but that's just me ...

I'm not sure this is necessarily the best angle for an ad, but ...

Accurate, yes. Unfortunate titling, also yes ...

Well, yes, I guess it's an all-American pastime ...

Perhaps she might have done better to object anonymously ...

No sense in wasting time, and in not maximizing ad space ...

As it happens, I have a close friend who is a forensic pathologist (yes, Bakr, it's you!) who actually does have a bookcase made out of a traditional wooden coffin. I think it's a better use than a picnic table, but I'm sure Dethany would approve of it ...

Now, that's truth in advertising ...

And there you have it - the last collection of editorial and signage gems for the fast-departing month of April. If you run across any others, send me a scan, a copy, or a photo and get a shout when I use it in the future!

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye*

Excuse me for engaging in a bit of morbidity, but it sure seems like a lot of famous people are dying lately.

The Grim Reaper seems to be racking up the overtime hours in 2016 with his harvest of the great and near-great: Alan Rickman, Merle Haggard, David Bowie, Nancy Reagan, Patty Duke, George Kennedy, Gary Shandling, Glenn Frye, Prince, and many others have passed away so far ... and we're only four months into the year. The Death List for 2016 - the annual list of the 50 celebrities considered most likely to die in the course of the year - is already well underway.

So what's going on? Is this an unusually deadly year or what?

According to this article from BBC News, there are several reasons for the surge in famous deaths, not the least of which is the fact that many people who became famous in the 60's and earlier are now in their 70's and - statistically - are more likely to shuffle off their mortal coils. Also (and this is my conjecture, not part of the referenced article), many celebrities are more likely to have abused their bodies with alcohol, drugs, and related high living, leading to an earlier-than-perhaps-expected demise.

Another point, and one that I found fascinating to consider, is that people had more opportunities to become famous after the middle of the 20th century. At one time, the big celebrities were the stage and big-screen movie stars, of whom there were relatively few. But then came television and the Internet, wild politics, and the vast range of musical styles, creating a lot more venues in which one could become a recognizable celebrity. And with more celebrities out there, the numbers that would pass away in any given year began to grow.

Obituary writing is a growth industry, and obituaries are usually easy to write for celebrities. But what about you and I, Dear Readers? We're not famous (unless I've got celebrity readers out there I don't know about) and most of us don't leave much of a record behind, so how will we be remembered? I wrote about this back in November of 2009, and it's still a valid question. I plan to write a lot more letters and keep up the blogging now that I'm retired, so I'll leave a pretty well documented history. What about you?

And while you're thinking about that, consider this: with all the celebrities dropping like flies this year, how is it that Keith Richards is still alive?

Have a good day. Take care of yourself ... the obituary writers have enough work to do. More thoughts tomorrow.


* With apologies to the Trapp Family children from The Sound of Music.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Next Time ...

Just a simple thought for today ...

That is all.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

And This Little Piggy Cried "Me, Me, Me!" All the Way Home

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post last week: Nine Things About the Tokyo Subway That Will Drive Washington Commuters Crazy.

For those of us used to the hit-or-miss, will-it-come-or-won't-it, hope-I-don't-get-robbed-or-murdered excitement of riding the DC Metro, the concept of trains that are clean and run on time is a novel one. But what makes Tokyo's trains a lot nicer than Washington's has to do with people and their behavior. Of the nine things the article discusses about the Tokyo subway, three in particular stand out:

#2: It's Totally Orderly. In Japan, people line up and wait for people to exit the train before trying to board. In DC, it's everyone for himself/herself in a mad scrum when the doors open ... God forbid someone should make way for anyone else or avoid blocking the doors.

#3: It's Super Clean. Japanese people take their trash with them and put it in proper receptacles. In DC, commuters dump their trash wherever they want, assuming that it's someone else's job to clean it up.

#6: No Noise Pollution. Japanese trains are quiet because people use earphones with their music, and do not feel compelled to carry on loud conversations on their cell phones. In DC, everyone believes they are surrounded by a cone of silence that keeps everyone else from hearing the story of their last date, their medical problems, and their dinner plans.

This reflects how today's Americans see the world. The average American tends to value individual freedom above all else, often at the expense of recognizing any responsibilities to the larger society of which he is a part. An example is the furor over "open carry" laws in many states, where those who reject any limits on their Second Amendment right to bear arms do not care about the chilling effect their actions might have on those who take a more nuanced view of public armament, and who can't tell whether that fellow walking down the street with a loaded AR-15 is a "good guy with a gun" or a "bad guy with a gun."

We object to the "Nanny State" issuing laws we believe inhibit our individual rights. What business is of the government whether I wear a helmet to ride a motorcycle? If I want to smoke anyplace, why shouldn't I be allowed to? The Second Amendment says my right to keep and bear arms won't be infringed, so back the hell off with your limits.

We tend always to think of rights and freedoms, and not of responsibilities. I don't particularly care if you wear a motorcycle helmet or not, but if you get injured and require hugely expensive medical care you can't afford, it becomes my problem when my medical costs go up to cover your freedom. I don't care if you smoke, but I do care if my health is endangered when you do it ... you don't need to smoke, but I need to breathe. And we won't discuss the gun issue any more, because there's no point.

Clean subways that run on time and are peaceful and orderly are nice. People who take the time to think about the effect of their actions on others are nice, too.

But you don't find many of them here.

Have a good day. Remember the Golden Rule*. More thoughts tomorrow.


* For those who may have forgotten, it is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It is not "Screw you, I'm doing what I want."

Monday, April 25, 2016

Musical Monday

A little song by Ray Stevens that wasn't written about this year's presidential campaign, but applies nevertheless ...

Hum it to yourself as you hold your nose while voting.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Poetry Sunday

Last week's poem dealt with the mysterious Miss Jones. This week, a short but weighty poem by Emily Dickinson deals with the fundamental issue that makes her mysterious ...

A Charm
by Emily Dickinson

A Charm invests a face
Imperfectly beheld –
The Lady dare not lift her Veil
For fear it be dispelled –

But peers beyond her mesh –
And wishes – and denies –
Lest Interview – annul a want
That Image – satisfies –

Sometimes, not knowing is better.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Musical Monday.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

Welcome to Cartoon Saturday!

Because Agnes and I are on the road today and will be otherwise occupied, the usual bad news summary will not appear. However, you can fill it in yourself by visiting any major news site and reading while you weep.

This week, a selection of random cartoons from the collection ...

I really get this one ...

Applies to American voters, not just to youth ...

If you've ever been a bridesmaid, you'll appreciate it ...

The next arena for discrimination lawsuits ...

Calling all you conspiracy theorists out there ...

Now that I'm retired, I have more time to write letters to friends and family like I used to. I just need to be able to afford good stationery ...

Arms races are not limited to superpowers ...

Admit it ... you've always wanted to do this ...

Lots of things used to be more fun ...

PiƱata poop? ...

And sic transit gloria Cartoon Saturday for another week. I hope it helped you recover from the rigors of the last seven days.

Agnes and I are at the Penn State main campus in State College, Pennsylvania, attending the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Air Force ROTC drill team ("Honor Guard" now) of which I was a member from 1969 to 1973. It's good to see old friends again, and to catch up on all that has transpired in the many years since we last saw each other. Agnes is stoically playing along, considering that she actually knows only two people in attendance besides me.

Have a good day and enjoy the rest of your weekend. Poetry Sunday returns tomorrow, with a sequel of sorts to last week's poem. Be here.


Friday, April 22, 2016

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for April, 2016

As we cruise into the last weeks of April, it's time once again to stop and smell the skunk cabbage and designate our

Left-Cheek Ass Clown for April, 2016

Two weeks ago, I decided to move away temporarily from the realm of political buffoonery in my search for an appropriate candidate, as I was tired of being criticized by those who felt I was being too hard on the poor, misunderstood GOP by naming Republicans so frequently. This week, I will continue to look farther afield, and have selected as our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for this month 

The Chinese Ministry of State Security

The Ministry of State Security, or MSS, is one of a large number of organizations responsible for policing the behavior of Chinese citizens at home and abroad. This month's award recognizes the MSS for its latest approach to internal security: a 16-panel comic-book-style poster advising citizens not to date foreigners ... who, it implies, are interested only in suborning good Chinese citizens like the unfortunate Xiao Li ("Little Li") ...

and turning them into traitors subject to arrest by the stalwart heroes of the MSS ...

All nations, of course, act to protect their legitimate national security interests. Here at home, those who hold security clearances are required to report contact with foreign nationals*, particularly when those contacts involve requests for official information, however innocent. But by advising citizens not to date foreigners and implying that all such relationships lead to treason, the MSS has taken yet another step toward isolating China from the rest of the world** and preventing its citizens from making their own decisions about their country and events around the world. 

For its heavy-handed attempt to shape Chinese dating habits in the interest of national security, the Chinese Ministry for State Security is named as our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for April, 2016.

May I see your papers, both physical and digital, please?

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


* When you're married to a German and have lots of Russian friends, as I do, the paperwork tended to get a bit daunting.

** Already begun by its heavy-handed censorship of the Internet and the Great Firewall of China.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Non-Functional Slack Fill

Because I enjoy cooking and because pepper is one of my favorite spices, I perked up when I heard NPR's take on this story on the car radio yesterday morning: McCormick Sued by Minnesota Competitor over Amount of Pepper in Tins.

It seems that McCormick, one of the leading marketers of spices in the US, has reduced the amount of pepper in its containers by 25%, but without packaging in smaller tins or making any outward changes in its packaging other than the small-print "net weight" label on the tin ...

The suit, filed by competing Watkins, Inc, contends that McCormick is gouging customers by not making it clear that they are being charged the same price for 25% less product. 

At issue is an obscure (to consumers, anyhow) manufacturing and packaging concept called "slack fill" - the amount of empty space left in a package once the proper amount of product has been put into it. There are two kinds of slack fill: "functional" and "non-functional." Functional slack fill serves a useful purpose, as when a bag of potato chips contains a large amount of empty space to prevent the chips from being too tightly packed and crushed*, or a product requires a certain extra amount of air space to keep it fresh. Non-functional slack fill, in contrast, is unnecessary empty space left in a package of a particular size to create the illusion that the package contains more product than it actually does.**

One could argue that the emptor ought to be caveating more carefully ... that the customer is responsible for carefully reading the labeling on the package to be sure of what he or she is buying. But in the case of the McCormick pepper tins, the size and design of the container had remained unchanged for many years, and so a customer would probably assume that it contained the same amount of pepper that it always had, see no need to check the labeling more closely, and end up paying more for less***.

Since I usually buy my pepper and other spices at Penzey's, McCormick's pepper-marketing shenanigans don't directly affect me. But I think that the concept of non-functional slack fill has wider applicability.

Consider the current crop of presidential candidates. It seems to me that the very considerable difference between their campaign rhetoric and the mundane details of how they propose to deliver on their empty promises constitutes a prime example of political non-functional slack fill.

Another example is movie trailers, which invariably show the most dramatic and exciting two minutes of the film, artfully packaged to obscure the fact that the rest of the movie is devoid of content and interest.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Watch out for the non-functional slack fill in other areas of life and commerce, because as much as we might wish it so, some people just ain't honest.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for the naming of April's Left-Cheek Ass Clown.

More thoughts then.


* Which is why a bag of chips has a note on it warning that it has been packed by weight, rather than volume.

** Some of you may remember the famous "where's the beef?" commercials from the Wendy's chain, in which a chain called "The Home of the Big Bun" created the illusion of a huge hamburger, but with a tiny beef patty. Same idea.

*** Pretty much what we do when our taxes are used to pay Congressional salaries.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Five Responses

As I've written before, and as I'm sure you're tired of hearing, I am utterly sick and disgusted at the disgraceful circus of the presidential campaign. For the first time since I cast my first vote for president (for Richard Nixon) back in the Stone Age, there is no candidate - of either party - I can fully support. There's not a single Republican worthy of being president, I don't like or fully trust Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders has a good basic philosophy and good ideas, but is probably more to the left than I think the country is ready to go.

But let's talk about Mr Sanders for a moment, because the reaction to his positions on issues from the right has been even more shrill (if less outright hateful) than the reaction to Hillary Clinton, who is despised on general principles. I found this meme on the Internet yesterday which I thought was worth sharing* because it offers cogent, calm responses to five of the most common criticisms directed against Mr Sanders' philosophies and positions ...

As to #2 above, I don't particularly think that big business is entitled to my hard-earned money either ... but Congress delivers it to them by the ton as corporate welfare, and I don't very often hear anyone on the right criticizing that sort of obvious and obnoxious welfare.

Now, I am not a total supporter of Bernie Sanders, but I think he's the only person running for president who clearly understands the root causes of America's problems, and has a clear, unwavering, and consistent approach to solving them. He's not a bald-faced opportunist like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or an egotistical religious bigot like Ted Cruz.  He's far from perfect, but I think he's the best of a terrible crowd.

Which, sadly, isn't saying much.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Despite the usual selection of to-be-expected-on-the-Internet misspellings.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Rendering Unto Caesar

Yesterday was April 18th, the day on which - because the 15th fell on a Friday - we Americans had to cough up our share of the dollars Uncle Sam uses for all the things he does. You have no doubt seen many tax-related memes and cartoons ...

... and have no doubt bitterly complained about the Internal Revenue Service, government spending, and taxes in general. As the old joke goes, if the Founders thought taxation without representation was bad, they should see it with representation.

Which brings me, however circuitously, to my point: while we all hate the IRS and its mind-numbingly complicated forms and inability to provide basic advice and service to taxpaying citizens*, it's the representation part that we ought to be criticizing. After all, the IRS - intrusive and heavy handed though it is - is only executing the horrifically complex tax code written by the reprehensives you and I elected. 

As I've written here before, I don't object in principle to paying taxes because I recognize that taxes provide the money our government needs to operate. I may (and frequently do) object to what those taxes are being spent on (services of any kind for people in the country illegally, for one), but I understand that I have an obligation as a citizen to cough up my share. My biggest issue is the overall unfairness of the system.

Of course fairness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If you are wealthy, fairness means that you don't pay any more proportionally than a person of lesser means; if you are a business owner, fairness means that your tax burden limits your profits as little as possible; if you are an ordinary member of the dwindling middle class, it means that you pay a fair share compared to others and not a cent more; and if you're a poor person, it means that the Big Bad Government either doesn't tax you at all or actually pays you something.

Most of the "tax dodges" many of us complain about are perfectly legal, which doesn't make them fair other than to those who were able to get them enshrined in law. If you have the means to hire good tax lawyers and purchase the right legislators, you can get the law written to your advantage ... fair to you, that is ... less so to the rest of us, who have to make up the difference.

The situation isn't going to change, however much the 99% might wish it so. The tax code is written by and for those who have the means to adapt it to their needs. The tax code is mind-bendingly complicated and will remain so, because an insanely complex code supports a huge industry of tax preparers, tax consultants, tax attorneys, and tax software developers. And it will remain so as long as we use taxation as a vehicle for social engineering, business development, and political punishment rather than as a vehicle for bringing in funds to operate the government.

It's not fair and will never be fair ... the best we can do is try to expose the most egregious abuses of the system, whether they are legal or illegal, and hope that some tiny, incremental changes might be made.

Rub that lamp, and ask the genie for tax code reform. It's the only thing that will work ... unless, of course, the genie has already been suborned by someone with deeper pockets.

Have a good day.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* You can blame that part on Congressional conservatives who hate the IRS and believe that slashing its budget will punish it for its misdeeds. Where I come from, we call this "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face."

Monday, April 18, 2016

Musical Monday

Today is April 18th - the day this year on which we Americans are required to dig down deep into our pockets and send a large portion of our earnings to Uncle Sam in the form of the dreaded income tax. Of course, if you are wealthy enough to afford good lawyers and tax accountants, you have endless options for minimizing your tax burden which are unavailable to the unwashed masses. More on that tomorrow.

All of which leads me in the meantime to this 1966 song by The Kinks ...

Good luck with your taxes, and may your refund be satisfyingly large.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Poetry Sunday

I love to watch people. Especially beautiful women, but that's not important know. I love to watch people, to wonder who they are and where they are going and what they will do when they get there. Riding the bus or the Metro to work every day over years, I had plenty of opportunities to see new people and imagine their stories. But as far as I know, I never met Miss Jones ...

Have You Met Miss Jones?
by Charles Simic

I have. At the funeral
Pulling down her skirt to cover her knees
While inadvertently
Showing us her cleavage
Down to the tip of her nipples.

A complete stranger, wobbly on her heels,
Negotiating the exit
With the assembled mourners
Eyeing her rear end
With visible interest.

Presidential hopefuls
Will continue to lie to the people
As we sit here bowed.
New hatreds will sweep the globe
Faster than the weather.
Sewer rats will sniff around
Lit cash machines
While we sigh over the departed.

And her beauty will live on, no matter
What any one of these black-clad,
Grim veterans of every wake,
Every prison gate and crucifixion,
Sputters about her discourtesy.

Miss Jones, you'll be safe
With the insomniacs. You'll triumph
Where they pour wine from a bottle
Wrapped in a white napkin,
Eat sausage with pan-fried potatoes,
And grow misty-eyed remembering

The way you walked past the open coffin,
Past the stiff with his nose in the air
Taking his long siesta.
A cute little number an old man said,
But who was she?
Miss Jones, the guest book proclaimed.

Sadly, presidential hopefuls will continue to lie to the people who deserve better ... or perhaps they won't lie, but will wield instead a carefully selected and artfully twisted selection of the truth, cherry-picking their well-oiled words in the hopes that you and I will be distracted while we're eyeing Miss Jones' rear end with visible interest.

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


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

My first weekend of retirement. Ahhhhhhh ...

In Japan, two major earthquakes in two days struck the island of Kyushu; in the Baltic Sea, two Russian warplanes flew dangerously close to a US Navy ship in international waters in a flight profile suggestive of training for an attack; NBA players will soon be the first professional athletes to wear sponsors' ads on their uniforms ... a concept that might be useful if applied to members of Congress; a new Navy ship only four years old requires nearly $23 million in repairs after it was operated with too little oil; and a newly-released report on the behavior of police in Chicago delivers a devastating picture of a police department in desperate need of correction.

English playwright William Congreave once said that music has charms to soothe a savage breast (not a savage beast, as is often misquoted), and so let's try to calm down some of the current social and political savagery with a few cartoons about music and musicians ...

Me, too ...

What would she have thrown at Keith Richards? ...

You had to know this one was coming ...

You know you'll be singing this to yourself for the rest of the day ...

Paging Mr Rundgren, Mr Todd Rundgren ...

Well, she's never dull ...

Extra credit if you're old enough to remember Burl Ives ...

Budget cutbacks are hitting everywhere ...

I have to be careful with this one ... Agnes used to play the accordion, and it's still in the garage ...

Finally, how about some ... sole ... music ...

And that's it for this week's edition of Cartoon Saturday ... I hope it helped you get over the trials of the past week. It looks like it's going to be a beautiful weekend here in NoVa, and I should be able to get some yard work done. It will help cut down on the howling, pitchfork-waving crowds of neighbors in front of the house.

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


Friday, April 15, 2016

Great Moments in Editing

Today is my first full day as an official Old Retired Fart, and I slept until 6:30. Yee-HAH!! But enough of that ... it's the alternate Friday, and that means it's time for more Great Moments in Editing ...

If doctors can bury their mistakes, then veterinarians can ... uh ... never mind ...

I guess that would include V8, right? ...

I'd like a side of dictionary with that, please ...

I guess No-Pest Strips wouldn't work, either ...

I think I'll just have the barbecued wings, please ...

Thanks, but I'm cutting back on the fried stuff ...

And on the rich sauces ...

I was fine with it until we got to the nuts ...

Well, it would make buying bras difficult ...

It's all in the preparation ...

And that's it for this week's edition of Great Moments in Editing! Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday, and the new, somewhat later, time!

More thoughts then.