Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween, 2016

Happy Halloween ...

Remember that the election is a week from tomorrow ... think carefully about how and why you vote.

Have a good day, and be generous to the little beasties who show up at your door looking for treats. Congress will deliver the tricks soon enough.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Musical Sunday

Tomorrow is Halloween, and what could be more appropriate than this classic from Warren Zevon? ...


This afternoon I'll be headed out to Dance Studio Lioudmila in Alexandria to emcee their Fall Dance Showcase ... it should be a fun afternoon of music, dance, and the fellowship of the dance community. Rubbing elbows with a lot of beautiful ladies in fancy dance outfits is the icing on the cake.

Have a good day, and be careful of werewolves and bloodsuckers ... especially those running for office. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cartoon Saturday Halloween Spectacular, Week 3

We're getting ready to slam the door on October ... but November is right around the corner, and the election is coming with it. Oy.

The GOP has begun planning for the next four years, with Rep Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, already announcing that "we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up" to launch endless investigations of the expected new President; to the joy of Republicans, FBI Director James Comey announced that his agency is reviewing new e-mails that "appear to be pertinent" to the original probe of Hillary Clinton's home e-mail server; savage fighting continues as the Iraqi Army, with US support, tries to push ISIS forces out of the city of Mosul; French authorities began the job of clearing thousands of illegal migrants from the camp at Calais known as "The Jungle;" and a Russian naval battle group en route to Syria is reported to be refueling at sea, having been refused permission to refuel in Spain because of NATO concerns.

It's the final week of our Cartoon Saturday Halloween Spectacular, and we're featuring cartoons starring witches ...

When English teachers go bad ...

Why, indeed?

Well, at least he has a handle on the problem ...

Even witches keep up with the latest in technology ...

A good question from the EMT (Eerie Medical Technician) ...

Gambling witches ...

They can be just as bad ...

Especially this year ...

Think about it ...

I wonder if they're also gluten-free ...

And there you have it - our final Cartoon Saturday before the ghosts and goblins visit on Monday, and other fearsome monsters threaten on Election Day. I hope you enjoyed it.

It looks as if it will be a beautiful fall day here in NoVa, perfect for raking leaves, putting up the storm doors, and generally doing fall chores. For a guy who's supposed to be retired, I seem to be doing a lot of work ...

Have a good day and a great weekend. See you tomorrow for our Halloween-themed Musical Sunday. More thoughts then.


Friday, October 28, 2016

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

And away we go ...

I'll bet there were actually takers ...

Good point ...

Well, I'm glad that got settled ...

I think someone needs a new headline writer ...

Yes, that's true ...

I'm getting mine! ...

Get 'em while they're hot ...

Seasonal specials ...

Sometimes a change of career can bring happiness ...

As I suspected ...

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for the final week of our Cartoon Saturday Halloween Spectacular ... featuring cartoons about witches. More thoughts then.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Topical Memes

I'm tired of thinking, so I thought I'd just share a few of the better Internet memes I've seen recently. Feel free to use as needed ...

Seen at a (insert name of candidate you hate) rally ...

Good point ...

Your language lesson for today ...

I've found a candidate I can endorse* ...

Yes, you there on the religious right and the nanny left ...

We'd be out of candidates in a matter of minutes ...

Speaking as one who often has to answer questions from friends in other countries, I endorse this message ...

No other comment necessary ...

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for the latest installment of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. More thoughts then.


* Yes, it's an old picture.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Is There a Doctor in the House?

You no doubt noted the news flash that hit yesterday, announcing that premiums for popular insurance plans bought through ACA (Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare") exchanges would go up by 25% for 2017.

Your reaction to this news likely depends on your political persuasions and economic circumstances: if you are a Republican or a Libertarian, it's positive proof that the ACA is a total failure and a swindle perpetrated on the helpless American public by a grasping and all-invasive government. If you are a Democrat, it's positive proof that the ACA is being deliberately undermined by the GOP, the AMA, Big Pharma, and the insurance industry. If you have a job that offers good health insurance through your employer, you probably don't care all that much. And if you are a low- to middle-income American who is unemployed and needs affordable health care, it's terrible news. No matter. This pooch has been screwed for a long time.

It's no secret that America has the finest health care in the world, and probably the worst system in the world for delivering it to those who need it. Over the years, for better or worse, we have developed a system under which the availability of health care is contingent upon insurance provided as a benefit (in lieu of wages) by one's employer. In general, the larger one's employer, the more varied and affordable are the insurance options available. Those who are self-employed or unemployed must fend for themselves, or rely upon health care at hospital emergency rooms or free clinics.

I would be the first to admit that the ACA is far from a perfect solution to the problem of availability and affordability of health care in this country. It is, however, an attempt to address that problem. Republicans insist that the ACA must be repealed and replaced; however, they have yet to address the "replace" part of that thunderous denunciation, and it's hard to take them seriously until they do.

To the extent that the GOP has any actual ideas on making health care available and affordable, they seem to center on two things:

1. Let the free market set the prices and self-manage the system; or,

2. Let people pay for health care with tax credits.

Now, you can take everything I know about economics, put it in your navel, and have room left over for a herd of elephants and a brass band, but it seems obvious to me that The Market hasn't done a particularly good job of making health care affordable up to now. Many reasons have been put forward for this. One theory - beloved of conservatives and libertarians - is that the economy has been distorted by government interference, and if only all governmental restrictions were removed, The Market would eventually solve its own problem.

I believe this is so much caca de toro, for a few reasons. First, a mainstay of free-market pricing is that prices will adjust to "what the market will bear," meaning that if prices are too high, people will not buy the products and the sellers will either go out of business or find a point that delivers maximum profits at a price customers are willing to pay*. I contend that when you have a product or service - like medical care - that people must have, The Market is rigged** in favor of the provider of the product or service because that provider knows the customer absolutely has to have it and will figure out a way to pay whatever price is demanded, not having the option to do without***.

Tax Credits, along with Tax Cuts, are the standard conservative solution to every problem, but as I've often written here, tax credits granted for one purpose take away funds needed for operation of the government. In any case, people don't need Tax Credits that help them when they file at the end of the year ... the insurance premiums are due now, the doctor wants to be paid now, the pharmacist wants paid for your prescriptions now, etc. They're not interested in waiting until the end of the year when Uncle Sam grudgingly gives you that credit.

Some observers advocate a so-called "single-payer" solution as a way to help bring down costs and simplify the provision of health care. This is the approach used in much of the rest of the world, where a government agency is responsible for paying the bills, and individuals pay their insurance premiums by means of a tax. Such an approach is anathema to conservatives and free-market supporters in this country because (a) the government screws up everything it touches; (b) it removes the freedom of the individual to decide how to obtain and manage his health care; and (c) it allows government bureaucrats to make decisions on health care that a person's doctor should be making††. As for the government screwing up everything it touches, I view that more as a problem of poor leadership, management, and accountability than of any inherent problem with government ... no different from any commercial enterprise. As for the denial of freedom of choice, I can't argue with that ... but it seems to me that the freedom of choice we have now in the health care arena is as much a curse as a blessing. And as for (c), it appears little different from the system we have now, in which insurance company bureaucrats rather than government bureaucrats make decisions on health care that a person's doctor should be making.

I don't pretend to have the answers to this problem, but I do like to try to keep an open mind and not reject possible solutions out of hand. Health care is one of the most difficult and intractable problems facing the country today, largely because it is profit-driven and there are so many different stakeholders with often-conflicting interests. The only stakeholders whose interests are not being addressed are you and I - the people who need health care that ought to be available and affordable in the greatest country on earth†††, political philosophies be damned.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* As an example, how many times per year do the various businesses and services with which you deal announce that they are raising their prices because their costs have gone up? Quite a few, I imagine. And chances are you grumble and keep on paying the new rate. Now imagine the reverse: you write to those same businesses and announce that you are reducing your payments because your cost of living has gone up and your wages have remained stagnant or declined. Can you spell "service cutoff" or "lawsuit?"

** Sorry.

*** Consider the scandalous price increases levied by the manufacturers of Epi-Pens and Daraprim in the past year ... the manufacturers don't appear to be too worried about the patients who need the drugs. 

† Conservatives and Libertarians will tell you that tax cuts should be compensated for by reduced spending ... but nobody ever seems to be willing to take on the wide range of special interests who oppose almost any spending reduction you could name.

†† Remember the stupid canard about "death panels" deciding when to pull the plug on grandma?

††† It's already great, Mr Trump. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tiny Hands

Among all the insults and stupid comments that have been cast in the ongoing presidential campaign circus was the one launched by Marco Rubio of Florida, who commented that Donald Trump had small hands for such a large man. What he actually said was this:

"He [Trump] is taller than me, he's like 6' 2", which is why I don't understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5' 2". "Have you seen his hands? And you know what they say about men with small hands -- "

Rubio's follow-on comment was "You can't trust them."

And Mr Trump, never one to let a real or perceived insult go unanswered*, launched into a series of responses that ended up with jokes, cartoons, and memes about physical qualifications for president.

And the latest offshoot of this useless distraction from the issues is ... the Tiny Hands font, based on Donald Trump's handwriting and available now for use on your computer ...

I have the very best hands. Those hands can hit a golf ball 285 yards.

If your computer won't render the font, you can get it for free here and install it on your own system.

That's me - your ... uh ... font of interesting, but ultimately useless stuff.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, October 24, 2016

"Rigging" Elections

The insanity of the 2016 presidential election will be over ... at least, the voting part will be over ... in just a few weeks, but the drama is likely to continue because GOP candidate Donald Trump is convinced that the only way he can lose is if the election is "rigged" and "stolen" from him. But at least he'll accept the results ... if he wins.

So, can a presidential election be rigged and stolen?

I suppose that it's theoretically possible, but the odds of it happening are infinitesimally small. Here's why ...

1. We do not have a single, centralized system of voting. Because of our federal structure, each of the 50 states manages voting in its own way. Consider the issue of equipment: some states use voting machines, but not all voting machines are of the same type (there are about 15 different manufacturers). Some voting machines provide a paper audit trail, and others don't. Some states use "direct recording electronic" devices which store votes in an electronic memory and may or may not provide a paper audit trail. Some states rely on paper ballots marked by hand and tabulated by optical scanners, and some use paper ballots which are counted by hand. Some use punch-card ballots (remember the infamous "hanging chads" in Florida in the 2000 election?). You can read more about the various kinds of voting systems here.

2. Since each state has its own voting processes and equipment, consider the infrastructure of people and expertise that would be needed to manipulate tens of thousands of voting machines across hundreds if not thousands of individual precincts.

3. There are urban legends about thousands of illegal immigrants and other unqualified and unregistered voters being bused from precinct to precinct to cast multiple votes. As far as I can tell, no one has ever actually positively identified such a large scale effort or identified or photographed a fraud bus.

4. Even assuming that everything above is true, can you imagine every one of the people involved keeping the secret?

5. If the election is said to be "rigged" in favor of Secretary Clinton and the Democrats, how does that square with the fact that elections are administered at the state level, and the majority of state governorships and legislators are controlled by the GOP? Check it out here.

6. Finally, considering that Congressional districts are gerrymandered beyond all bounds of reason and common sense in order to either maximize or minimize the impact of certain voting groups, it seems that any "rigging" has been done by those in both parties ... but mainly the GOP ... who have crafted the electoral map to their advantage. Want to fix "rigging?" Draw Congressional districts fairly. Check it out here.

This is what rigging is ...

Quit whining and cast your vote.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Poetry Sunday

Halloween is just over a week away, so what better poem could we pick for the last Poetry Sunday before the ghosts and goblins come out than this eerie classic? ...

The Raven
by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door -
     Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
     Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
     This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you" - here I opened wide the door; -
     Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore!"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!" -
     Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
     'Tis the wind and nothing more."

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
     Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
     Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
     With such name as "Nevermore."

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
     Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
     Of 'Never - nevermore'."

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
     Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er,
     She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
     Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore-
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!"
     Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
     Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend," I shrieked, upstarting -
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
     Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
     Shall be lifted - nevermore!

Have a good day. Enjoy the wonderful fall weather (here in NoVa, anyhow) and the rest of your weekend.

More thoughts tomorrow, bwa, ha, HAAAA!!!


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Cartoon Saturday Halloween Spectactular, Week 2

Moving on ...

In a brazen show of force, Russia sailed a powerful naval flotilla past the British Isles this past week en route to Syria; GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump, following his refusal in this week's debate to accept the results of the upcoming election, acknowledged that he will indeed support the outcome - if he wins; in a classic example of marvelous political trolling, Russia has proposed sending election observers to monitor the US presidential election ... an offer that has been rejected, with several states saying they will jail Russian observers who appear; an earthquake of magnitude 6.2 struck Japan on Friday; and in Iraq, the United Nations is concerned that ISIS fighters cornered in Mosul have rounded up more than 500 non-combatant families to use as human shields and may have murdered another 300 during the ongoing battle.

It's week two of our Cartoon Saturday Halloween Spectactular ... this week, featuring cartoons about the walking dead ...

My father-in-law once almost got me punched at a local shopping center when he broke out laughing at a young fashion plate whose pants were riding halfway down his backside over not-so-clean underwear ...

If Donald Trump were a zombie ...

Do zombies celebrate the tradition of the Advent calendar?

So, how do you tell if a zombie is actually cheating in class? 

Getting the order right ...

When zombies learn from the Food Network ...

He can deploy an army of wise ghouls ...

Even zombies need a little TLC once in a while ...

Hmmmm ...

Q: What's a zombie's favorite movie? A: ...

And there you have it: week two of the Cartoon Saturday Halloween Spectacular. Next Saturday will be the third and final installment, featuring cartoons about witches ... don't miss it.

Agnes and I will be on the road today, cheering on our granddaughter Leya in her latest rock-climbing competition near Richmond, Virginia. It'll be a good day for it, with cooler temperatures and a mostly sunny day for the drive down and back. Indeed, after a spell of record-breaking temperatures here in NoVa, we've slipped back into fall weather with daytime temperatures in the low to mid 60's and pleasantly cool, open-the-windows-and-shut-off-the-a/c nights. I can get used to this.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for a Halloween-themed Poetry Sunday ... more thoughts then.


Friday, October 21, 2016

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for October, 2016

Halloween is ten days away, the election is 18 days away, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and Christmas is not far behind that. Tempus is, as my mother would have said, fugiting ... and it's time to announce

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for October, 2016

Although it's tempting to turn to the bumper crop of worthy* politicians, entertainers, and other yahoos for the award, this time I'm turning in a whole different direction. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, the Left-Cheek Ass Clown Award for October, 2016 is presented to

Dr Howard Schneider,
Inventor of the Automated Self-Checkout System

No Photo Available

In 1992, Dr Schneider installed the first supermarket self-checkout system in the Price Chopper Supermarket in New York. Five years later, in 1997, NCR prototyped it's first self-checkout machines, and by 2003, automated checkouts had become widespread not only in supermarkets, but in many other stores as well.

Dr Schneider envisioned his automated checkout system as a way of speeding up supermarket checkouts, eliminating errors caused by cashiers keying prices incorrectly into their cash registers, and - ultimately - allowing supermarkets to save money by eliminating cashiers altogether. The reality, as we now know, is a bit different: as automated self-checkout systems have proliferated, many cashiers have, in fact, been ... uh ... cashiered, but the speedy checkouts have not materialized ... indeed, self-checkout has become an exercise in frustration for many consumers. Among the reasons: errors in price coding, scanners that are either too sensitive or not sensitive enough, scales in the bagging area that misread the weight of items that have been scanned, causing the automated process to stop until store personnel examine the items, receipt printers that quickly run out of tape and require the no-longer-available cashiers to replace them, and cash scanners that accept only pristine bills.

Perhaps it would help if the self-checkouts also dispensed Valium.

For inflicting the curse of self-checkout on hapless consumers, Dr Howard Schneider is designated as our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for October, 2016. Scan this, Doc!

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Week 2 of the Cartoon Saturday Halloween Spectacular. More thoughts then.


* And I use the term loosely.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

After the Third Debate

Unless you've spent the last few weeks in a cave in Outer Mongolia*, you know that last night was the third and final** "presidential debate" between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. I put the term "presidential debate" in quotes because it was not particularly presidential, although it was somewhat closer to a debate in the sense that word is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary***.

A debate is generally considered to be a lively, if gentlemanly affair in which contending ideas are bounced against each other with a goal of determining which side has best supported its positions (won, as it were). There was more of an exchange of ideas this time, although it was generally couched in terms of attacks and salvos of often-questionable statistics. There was more emphasis on policies, although not as much as I would have liked.

Both candidates dodged uncomfortable questions.

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News did a tremendous job of maintaining order and keeping the candidates on topic ... as much as anyone could. It was the finest example of professional and non-partisan moderation I think I've ever seen.

But here's the biggest takeaway for me: Donald Trump will not commit to accepting the results of the election. He continues to whine - against all current and historical evidence, and without providing the least amount of evidence of his own - that everything is "rigged" against him, and that enormous levels of voter fraud will "steal" the election. Mr Trump is undermining the very essence of American democracy - the peaceful and orderly transition of power as a result of popular election. Appalled is not too strong a word to apply to my feelings.

If Secretary Clinton is a flawed candidate - and I believe she is - the flaws of Mr Trump are so huge and manifest as to underscore his complete unsuitability for the presidency.

The flaws of both candidates were in view last night, as they have been throughout the campaign. Now, it's up to the voters to decide which flaws they are willing to accept.

One hopes they will make the right choice.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow, when we will name the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for October. Hint - the winner has nothing at all to do with politics, presidential or otherwise. You're welcome.

More thoughts coming.


* And even if you were in a cave in Outer Mongolia and had a satellite TV or radio connection.

 ** Thank God.

***A formal discussion on a particular matter in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward and which usually ends with a vote.

† Sorry for the non-gender-neutral term. Sue me.