Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Putting it All in Perspective

A while back I ran across some interesting graphics that illustrated what various large amounts of money would look like if they were expressed as packets of $100 bills. This is what $1 billion would look like if it was in standard bank packets of $100 bills - a "strap" of 100 c-notes, or $10,000 ...

Each of those piles of straps of $100 bills is resting on a standard-sized cargo pallet, with a non-gender-specific humanoid individual* for reference. That's quite a lot of hundred dollar bills, especially now that I have to count them a lot more closely than I used to.

Now consider that the 2016 presidential campaign could cost between three and five billion dollars ... most of it from sources Real People aren't allowed to know about. Five billion dollars would look like this ...

Now, instead of picturing that amount of money as pallets of $100 bills, why not picture it as ... oh ... schools? Or affordable hospitals? Or clean water? Or non-collapsing bridges and non-potholed roads?

I know that my deeply conservative and libertarian friends will howl with outrage and ask the usual question - "Who are you to tell me how to spend my money?" Well, I obviously have no control over how you spend your money. But what I do have is a vital interest in how you spend your money if your intent is to buy control over the government that makes decisions that affect me and my family. You're going to spend your money however you want ... but don't expect me to accept that you can buy a platinum-plus level of government service and assistance** that other people can't afford.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I don't want to offend anyone, and I don't care where he/she goes to the bathroom.

** Tax breaks, corporate welfare, etc.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Musical Monday

Today is Memorial Day, the day on which we remember those who have given their lives in military service to the country. This song from the Statler Brothers seems appropriate to the day ...

Take a moment today to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice on your behalf.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Poetry Sunday

Emily Dickinson may well have foreseen our tenuous relationship with the truth ...

Tell all the truth but tell it slant - 
by Emily Dickinson 

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Musical Monday ... more thoughts then.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

May is almost over ... and it's about time.

A study of America's crumbling infrastructure shows that more than 60, 000 bridges across the country are in desperate need of repair; presumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump finally found a new ethnic group to insult, referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren as "Pocohontas;" South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill into law that makes it illegal for a woman to obtain an abortion after her pregnancy reaches 20 weeks, unless the mother's life is in jeopardy, but without exceptions for rape or incest; according to the chief of the Transportation Safety Administration, long lines at airport security checkpoints will continue through the busy summer travel season; and in a complication to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, the State Department Inspector General issued a detailed report criticizing Secretary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server for the conduct of sensitive government affairs.

This week there's no particular theme ... just a collection of good cartoons that caught my eye ...

This one reminds me of the old joke about the whiskey called "Old Card Table" - one shot and your legs fold up under you ...

No shortage there! ...

Speaking as an old guy who always needs to know where the nearest rest room is, I'm worried about this development ...

Good advice ...

21st century hunting dog ...

Must be one of those artisanal varieties ...

As fantasies go, this one is pretty safe ... and equally likely to be proven true  ...

Don't you love the folks who make sure the world knows how many pounds they bench-pressed today? ...

Now, there's my kind of luddite ...

Sad, but true ...

And there you have it - the last Cartoon Saturday for May, 2016. Agnes and I are in Pittsburgh this weekend for the high school graduation of our niece, Elena, and a family reunion cum graduation party. There's nothing like getting the family together at the old home town!

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


Friday, May 27, 2016

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

I'm getting ready for the swimsuit competition for next week's Right Cheek Ass Clown Award for June. In the meantime, let's enjoy a few more editorial and signage gems ...

A good real estate agent can put a positive spin on anything ...

I'll take a dozen ...

Especially during finals week, I imagine ...

I wouldn't touch my next line with a ten-foot ... uh ... never mind ...

We Pennsylvanians go to great lengths to improve our choir performances ...

Well, duh ...

Yes. Yes, they are ...

Yes, I imagine that would increase enrollment, at least among young men ...

According to the GOP, this is what your turkey will cost if the minimum wage is increased to $15/hour ...

What do you suppose they expected to find? ...

And that's it for this edition of great moments in editing and signage. Have you seen a good one? Take a photo or scan of it and send it to me ... I'll credit you when it runs in this space!

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


Thursday, May 26, 2016

American Democracy, 2016

Well, at least Texas showed some rare common sense and didn't elect a complete wacko to the State Board of Education. Perhaps there's hope, but I'm not holding my breath ...

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for more Great Moments in Editing and Signage. More thoughts then.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016


The other day my old high school friend and fellow retiree Davis sent me the link to a very interesting article written by Nick Hanauer, a self-described member of the much-maligned "1%." The article was titled "Ultra-Rich Man’s Letter: “To My Fellow Filthy Rich Americans: The Pitchforks Are Coming;" it's a bit long, but worth the time to read and think about.

In case you don't want to read the entire article, here's a quote that sums up his theme:

"... the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution."

and here's the foot-stomp:

"... the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators. Which means a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it. The middle class creates us rich people, not the other way around."

Conservative and libertarian commentators argue that there should be no restrictions and minimal (if any) taxes on businesses and the wealthy because they are the "job creators," but as Mr Hanauer elegantly points out, if the workers don't have enough income to buy the things the businesses produce, the businesses fail and the jobs they provide go away ... so in that sense, it's the workers who create the wealth and the jobs. An interest in balancing the economic interests of businesses and workers is not "socialism," it's common sense.

How do we balance those interests and still maintain the more-or-less laissez-faire capitalist society that is beloved of the Right and of those who've drunk that economic Kool-Aid? I don't know. But I do know, as I adapt to the economically reduced circumstances of the humble retiree, that I'm a lot more concerned about the threat posed by pitchforks and torches in the hands of the discontented than I am about the threat posed by the so-called "Islamic State."

And I think you should be, too.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - you may remember that economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, "Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite."

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


One of my favorite websites is "WordSpy," which highlights new words and expressions. We linguists are funny that way. A few days ago, the word of the day was mathwash, a verb meaning "to use mathematics, logic, or a similar rational argument to make something inherently subjective appear to be objective."

I think this is a case of a wonderful word arriving at just the right moment in time. As we wade deeper into the morass of the general election season, the candidates will marshall vast armies of statistics and economic data in an attempt to prove (a) that they are right and (b) that the other side is a bunch of useless ratbastards unfit to govern a grade school student council. This data will seldom be presented in context and will be used less as a tool for understanding than as a bludgeon with which to beat the opposition. Or, as Scottish literary critic Andrew Lang once said of a politician of whom he disapproved, "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts - for support rather than for illumination."

I am a firm believer in data, but I like to know its pedigree before I believe in it. When I read an article or see a post or hear a speech loaded with statistics and other figures, I always try to figure out the source ... and if that source is a highly partisan one, I tend to do a little more digging before I accept the information at face value. It's all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that all information is created equal.

Have a good day. Be wary of being mathwashed during this season ... you don't want your life story to be titled "Gullible's Travels."

See you tomorrow. More thoughts then.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Musical Monday

I don't know how the weather has been this month where you are, but here in NoVa it's been cold and wet. Glenn Yarbrough had the right idea in this hit song from 1965 ...

As far as I'm concerned, Baby, the rain can stop now.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Poetry Sunday

Yesterday in Cartoon Saturday I offered up a collection of cartoons dealing with letters and numbers, symbols and punctuation marks. And wouldn't you know ... there's a poem in my collection that deals with the arcane topic of punctuation - a subject not much studied by many of those who hold forth online ...

On Punctuation
by Elizabeth Austen

not for me the dogma of the period
preaching order and a sure conclusion
and no not for me the prissy
formality or tight-lipped fence
of the colon and as for the semi-
colon call it what it is
a period slumming
with the commas
a poser at the bar
feigning liberation with one hand
tightening the leash with the other
oh give me the headlong run-on
fragment dangling its feet
over the edge give me the sly
comma with its come-hither
wave teasing all the characters
on either side give me ellipses
not just a gang of periods
a trail of possibilities
or give me the sweet interrupting dash
the running leaping joining dash all the voices
gleeing out over one another
oh if I must
give me the YIPPEE
of the exclamation point
give me give me the curling
cupping curve mounting the period
with voluptuous uncertainty

Voluptuous uncertainty. I like that.

The weather today should be a bit better than yesterday, which is good because Agnes and I are going to meet fellow local blogger Kathy and her husband for a visit to the gardens at Mount Vernon this afternoon, and I take much better photos when I don't have to juggle an umbrella and a camera. Do your best no-rain-dance, please.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for a topical Musical Monday ... more thoughts then.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

And May grinds on ...

A Secret Service agent shot and wounded a man with a gun who was approaching the White House and refused orders to stop and put down the weapon; an Egypt Air flight from Paris to Cairo with 66 persons on board apparently crashed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and the cause is not yet known; Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma has vetoed a bill that would have made performance of an abortion in the state a felony; the mayor of San Francisco has fired the city's chief of police after a police officer shot a woman who was fleeing from a stolen car; and the government of Mexico has agreed to extradite drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the US to face charges including drug smuggling and murder.

It's important for us to find something to laugh at with all the bad news around us, and so it's time to break out a new collection of cartoons - this week featuring takes on letters, numbers, and symbols ...

I thought I was done with all that when I decided to major in Linguistics rather than something requiring a lot of higher mathematics ...

You just can't trust some letters ...

Oh, oh ...

Cursives! Foiled again ...

Oddly enough ...

Good move ...

Sometimes, counseling just won't work ...

Well, it's said that opposites attract ...

What future archaeologists may theorize ...

Somebody needs to find a new line of work ...

And that's it for this edition of Cartoon Saturday. It's a cold, miserable day here in NoVa after a beautiful day yesterday ... I think Mother Nature has it in for us. Oh, well ... at least it will give me a chance to try to find places for all the stuff that used to be in our rented storage unit and is now in my garage. Oy.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, May 20, 2016

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for May, 2016

Yes, Dear Readers, it's that time once again ... two weeks have gone by and it's time to name

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for May, 2016

The field of candidates is what we used to refer to in the Air Force as a "target-rich environment," making it difficult to select a single worthy recipient two times per month. But, as usual, I've done the spade work for you and am pleased to announce the winner of the Left-Cheek award for May -

Caleb Bailey

Mr Bailey, a resident of Waldorf, Maryland, was indicted by a federal grand jury this past week, following an investigation led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The indictment represents a double-header of staggering proportions: Mr Bailey first came to the attention of the law as a result of the discovery that he had shipped unlicensed explosive ammunition through the mail. When his residence was searched as part of the investigation, agents discovered hundreds of illegal weapons, including machine guns and ammunition, in a bunker underneath his garage, as well as suspected child pornography on his computer.

Adding to the surreal nature of the investigation, Mr Bailey was also identified by the Maryland Board of Elections as a District 5 delegate to the Republican National Convention, supporting Donald Trump. A spokesman for the Trump campaign issued this statement: “We strongly condemn these allegations and leave it in the capable hands of law enforcement ... (Mr Bailey) will be replaced immediately.”

For his collections of illegal weapons and child pornography, coupled with his position as an elected delegate for a presidential candidate, Mr Caleb Bailey is named the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for May, 2016.

I really couldn't make this stuff up.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... heaven knows you'll need it. More thoughts then.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Good Advice

My latest project is figuring out how to appeal Medicare's decision to make us pay an "income-related monthly adjustment amount (IRMAA)" on top of our Medicare premiums. For some reason known only to the twisted individuals who design programs to inflict the maximum pain on Real People, they have based this adjustment on my "modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)" from two years ago, instead of my greatly reduced income today, when I'm no longer working. I think they use MAGI as a basis for their twisted calculations because it's short for "MAGICIAN," which is the sort of specialist you need to figure it all out.

I'm falling back on this good advice ...

For those of you who don't speak German, it means "Always smile and think positive!" And that picture is just about how positive I look right now.

Have a good day. Winter may not be coming like it is in Westeros, but Medicare is ... and it's equally chilling.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Medical Miracles*

There are a lot of weird things going on in the world aside from support for Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. One of them recently took place at Massachusetts General Hospital, where doctors performed the first successful penis transplant in the United States ... something that was described as a "landmark procedure."

I wonder what the appropriate "landmark" would be ...

Nevertheless, I think I can say without fear of contradiction that we all hope the surgeons don't dick up the procedure, because we're all pulling for the patient's quick recovery. After all, one hopes he'll be a real stand-up guy once this is all over. And in the words of Mr Trump,

Have a good day. Rise to the occasion. More thoughts tomorrow.


* With thanks to the people who commented on this article when my friend Shawna posted it on her Facebook page. It's been an honor plagiarizing all of you for this post.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Things Parties Believe In

I read an interesting article by Mike DeBonis in the Washington Post last Friday - House Speaker Torn Between Principles, Duty to His Party*. The article analyzes the dilemma in which House Speaker Paul Ryan finds himself as he tries to stay true to his conservative credentials while figuring out how to work with presumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, who appeals to many conservatives even though his conservative credentials are, to say the least, confused.

The entire article is interesting and worth reading, but this quote from Speaker Ryan caught my attention:

“Look, there are just things we really believe in as conservatives ... We believe in limited government. We believe in the Constitution. We believe in the proper role of the differences in the separation of powers. We believe in things like life … These are things that are important to us.”

Let's look at this piece by piece:

1. "We believe in limited government." That's true - conservatives hate big government, but everyone - including conservatives - wants it to do certain things. Conservatives want the government to stay out of the way of business, but support policies that benefit businesses and the wealthy. Limitations on government appear to apply only to those things the government does that assist average citizens.

2. "We believe in the Constitution." The implication, of course, is that everyone not a conservative doesn't believe in the Constitution. This is, of course, nonsense. Anyone who has studied American history knows that the Constitution as it was originally written was the product of endless argument and gritted-teeth compromises among various factions representing powerful central government, weak central government and strong states, manufacturing and trade vs agrarian principles, free states vs slave states, etc. The Constitution that we worship today was never a monolithic statement of unchanging principles, but the end result of what could be achieved through consensus among bitterly divided factions. For a useful primer on all of this, read the recent book by Fergus Bordewich titled The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government.

3. "We believe in the proper role of the differences in the separation of powers." The Constitution established a government structure with three independent parts: Legislative (to write the laws), Executive (to carry out the laws), and Judicial (to interpret the laws). This recognized the principle of separation of powers, allowing the three branches of government to balance each other and preventing any one of them from accumulating too much power. This, of course, assumed that the three branches of government would generally work together in the common interest ... which is not the situation in which we find ourselves today. What happens when, as today, the Congress is totally deadlocked and inflexibly opposed to the agenda of the elected president? The Legislature is enraged when the president attempts to make things happen by exercising independent executive authority (whether explicitly authorized by the Constitution** or not), and when the Judiciary attempts to do things the Legislature cannot or will not do***. What we see today is not the separation of powers envisioned by the Founders, but the exercise (or lack of exercise) of Constitutionally-granted powers because of political spite.

4. "We believe in things like life." The implication is that everyone other than conservatives opposes life. This is ridiculous and a distortion of the legal and moral quagmire that is the "right to life vs right to choose" argument. Without wading into a hopeless discussion of the moral, legal, political, and religious debates over the subject, let's just accept as a given that conservatives in general approach the issue from a religious/moral perspective, and liberals approach it in general from a woman's freedom of choice perspective ... and freedom of choice is, oddly enough, a generally conservative position.

The point that I'm trying to drive home in my own windy way is that neither Republicans nor Democrats have a monopoly on Constitutional interpretation. The two parties have fundamentally different paths to the same goal: a representative government, based on law, that works on behalf of the people who elected it. Republican political and economic philosophy focuses on the betterment of conditions for business and the wealthy, on the assumption that such policies will ultimately benefit everyone. Democratic political and economic philosophy, on the other hand, focuses on policies that stress inclusivity and universal economic and political opportunity as a way of improving conditions for all.

There are probably areas in which the two parties might be able to agree, but they're so busy demonizing each other and engaging in cheap point-scoring and deliberate distortions of each other's positions that such agreement is unlikely. If nothing else, agreement of any kind with the other side (particularly a Republican accused of the rank heresy of agreeing with a Democrat) leads to the individual being ostracized and sidelined in favor of someone more politically and socially extreme.

It's going to be a long, hard ride to the election in November, and the new administration that takes charge next January will have its work cut out for it. If the Democrats win the White House and the Republicans keep control of Congress, just buy more booze and hunker down for the next four years.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* That was the print title. The online title is different.

** See Article II, Section 2, Clause 3.

*** This is that gawdawful "legislating from the bench" cry screamed by whichever side's political ox is being gored.

† The "rising tide lifts all boats" argument, also known by the somewhat disingenuous name of "trickle-down economics."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Musical Monday

My music collection contains a lot of songs in languages other than English. Back in February, Musical Monday featured a selection in German by folk singer Reinhard Mey; today, we cross the border into France for a song by Mireille Mathieu - "Une Femme Amoureuse," which you may recognizes by its English title, "A Woman in Love."

Somehow, it just sounds a lot sexier in French.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Poetry Sunday

As you know, I'm a history buff, and one of the things I do every day is put a short post on my Facebook page with a selection of noteworthy people who have birthdays that day, and a brief summary of something significant that happened in history. History has been around for a long, long time, and so there's no shortage of interesting things that happened on each of the 365 days each year (366 this year, being a leap year) ... but it's also worth remembering that there are a lot of perfectly ordinary things that happen every day as well, as this poem by Annie Lighthart reminds us:

On This Date 
by Annie Lighthart 

On this date many things happened.
Governments were heaved into being, creeds
were repeated, maps and speeches given and believed.
There was quiet on this date. A little boy lived.
There was sleep, and one birdcall stitched all the way through.
On this date there was longing. Someone walked
through a room. One hand brushed loose crumbs into the other.
The earth received them out the side door on this date, on this day.

Have a good day, whether noteworthy or ordinary, and come back tomorrow for Musical Monday. More thoughts then.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

As another week washes away in the continuing rain here in NoVa ...

A man was arrested in Portugal after he destroyed a historic statue while trying to climb it to take a selfie; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms released the results of a study that showed the enormous explosion at a fertilizer plant that devastated the town of West, Texas in 2013 and killed 15 people was caused by arson; Daesh, the so-called "Islamic State," has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Baghdad that killed nearly 100 people and seriously injured scores of others; President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil has been ordered to step down while the national senate votes on her impeachment on corruption charges; and actress Emma Watson, famous for her portrayal of student witch Hermione Granger in the "Harry Potter" film series, has been caught up in the "Panama Papers" scandal, with the exposure of an offshore company she created as a possible tax shelter.

With all the bad news, murder, and mayhem around the world, let's ratchet things down a bit with a collection of cartoons about the little things that bug us ... bugs.

A terrible occupational hazard for a bee, eh? ...

It's a cicada year, so ...

And another cicada cartoon ...

A real bargain for nearsighted flies ...

A little-known sidelight from the story of Noah and the Flood ...

Mayfly-December romances? ...


Back to the cicadas again, with some good advice ...

Flies in prison ...

Do mosquitoes have dietary problems? ...

When mosquitoes have marital difficulties ...

And that's it for the second edition of Cartoon Saturday for the month of May, 2016. I hope it helped you get past the rigors of the past week.

We're hoping the weather improves by tomorrow and into next week ... we've had so much rain in the last month that our homeowners' association has relaxed its rules that prohibit parking arks in front of your house. And although my garden is looking good, our grass is about up to the second floor of the house ... a real estate agent representing Tarzan has been scoping out properties in the neighborhood.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when Poetry Sunday returns.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Two weeks into May, it's time for our first installment for the month of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. Read on, if you think you can handle it ...

It's not fun ...

I get confused sometimes, too ...

The Law of Unintended Consequences seems to apply ...

Better stock up ... a sale like this doesn't happen often! ...

I've often wondered about the math used by car salespeople, but this one takes the cake ...

Yes. Yes, it is ...

I think I owned this car once ...

If you're going to study a foreign language, you may as well be practical about your vocabulary emphasis ...

Who'd a thunk it? ...

I'm glad they're not trying to give away any irregular white toilets ...

And there you have it ... the first set of Great Moments in Editing and Signage for the merry month of May. If you're still not laughing, come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... more thoughts then.