Thursday, October 19, 2017

Secrets of Irresistible People

Are you upset because people don't like you? Anxious to salvage your presidency? Here's an article from Forbes Magazine that may help - 11 Secrets of Irresistible People.

I won't go through all 11 of the secrets, but these six seem pretty important at this point in time:

They Treat Everyone with Respect. Using petty, high-school nicknames ("Crooked Hillary," "Lyin' Ted," and "Little Rocket Man") pretty much misses this mark;

They Follow the Platinum Rule. What's the platinum rule? It's a variation of the traditional Golden Rule (treat others as you would have them treat you) which says treat others as they wish to be treated. Of course, if you're dealing with a narcissist, this may be difficult;

They Focus on People More than Anything Else. Rather than thinking only about themselves, they genuinely care about other people;

They Recognize the Difference Between Fact and Opinion. Not too many people can do that nowadays;

They're Authentic. What you see is what you get ... you don't have to wonder where you stand with them; and,

They Have Integrity. Remember what that is?

I don't need to be irresistible, but I do want to be treated with dignity and respect, and I try to treat others the same way. It would be nice if we all felt the same way.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Apropos of Nothing

I'd never given it much thought, but it turns out that development of the concept of nothing, or of a number representing nothing (zero), is considered to have been one of the most important events in human history, as discussed in an interesting article I read recently in Indeed, nothing is an absolutely vital concept, and yet it was rejected by religious leaders in medieval Europe as being evil, and a symbol of Satan.

I'm sure there's a televangelist out there somewhere who could explain why zero remains a symbol of evil in today's world, but there's more evidence of its importance in understanding current politics. Consider just a few of the many uses of nothing ...

It allows us to document the legislative achievements of Congress;

It lets us comprehend the ethical standards of the Trump administration;

It lets us explain strategic planning at the highest levels of the Trump administration;

And the availability of zero allows us to depict the size of the national debt ... as long as you pile up enough of them to the left of the decimal.

Where would we be without nothing?

Perhaps in rural Puerto Rico.

Have a good and mathematically sound day, safe in the knowledge that you have nothing to fall back on.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Going Out in Style

How do we remember and memorialize our most significant citizens?

When the mighty pharaohs died in ancient Egypt, they were buried in huge pyramids and elaborate tombs stuffed with gold and other funerary gifts ... today in America, we honor our presidents by building libraries and naming aircraft carriers for them ... except for Ronald Reagan, who not only has a library and an aircraft carrier, but whose name has been applied by the GOP to a huge federal building in Washington, as well as the local airport, a highway, a Metro station, and lots of other stuff*.

We also honor our presidents and our citizens great and small with fawning obituaries and with funeral services in varying degrees of ceremonial complexity. An interesting article in the Washington Post a few days back discussed the art of the obituary page, analyzing the wide range of names that reflected America's multinational and multiethnic makeup and explaining how death notices are written. Lest I be accused of being morbid, the article was actually fun and clever, focusing on the death notice of a local woman whose announcement was full of the funny Yiddish phrases and terms she loved to use.

And, as so many things do, that got me to thinking ...

What might we expect to see at the funerals of some current "notables?" Here are a few of my thoughts ...

Mourners attending the interment of Harvey Weinstein will be invited to grope up handfuls of earth to throw on the coffin.

Donald Trump will have the biggest, best funeral in history. It will be held at the magnificent Mar-a-Lago estate - the finest of its kind in the world - and will be attended huge numbers of mourners - far more than attended the funeral of any other past or present president, king or emperor, for that matter. You'll never see a bigger, more lavish or better-attended funeral, believe me!

Mike Pence's funeral will showcase the magnificent presidency of Donald Trump, the greatest president of all time, whom Mr Pence was proud to serve as the highlight of his professional life. His gravestone will feature Donald Trump's name first, and in larger letters.

Jeff Sessions will never die or have a funeral, because Donald Trump will refuse to accept his death certificate. He will continue in office indefinitely as a political zombie, neither dead nor alive.

In spite of the traditional song that implores mourners to "bury me not on the lone prairie," Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will insist on a prairie burial, because all that useless, empty land out west should be available for everyone to use as they want. Mr Zinke's personal flag will be flown over the grave at all times to show that he's present.

The funeral of NRA President Wayne LaPierre will include an honor guard armed with semiautomatic weapons fitted with bump stocks for extra event protection against terrorists, criminals, and other commiepinkoratbastards, and will feature a 300 million-gun salute.


Hillary Clinton's obituary will blame everyone else for her death.

Those are my ideas - what are yours? Leave a comment so that we can make sure we send off our betters in style.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* You can find a complete list here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Golden Sewer

Long ago, when I was a lowly Second Lieutenant in the Air Force stationed at Barksdale AFB in Bossier City, Louisiana, one of my numerous* additional duties was "Wing Silver Recovery Monitor." It involved collecting and securing the exposed radar film from the wing's training missions, and delivering it once a week or so to the local DRMO (Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office) so that it could be processed to recover the silver it contained as a result of the developing process. This was a not-overly-onerous duty that had the benefit of getting me out of the office for an hour or two, although I was never particularly convinced that the amount of film I turned in (a few pounds at a time) contained enough recoverable silver to reimburse me for the gas I needed to drive to the DRMO**.

I hadn't thought about my days in silver recovery for a long time, at least until I ran across this recent story: How $1.8 Million in Gold Flowed Through Switzerland's Sewers.


According to the story, an estimated 95 pounds of gold worth nearly two million dollars laces Switzerland’s waste water from the refineries that process about 70 percent of the world’s gold. The discovery was made by environmental scientists monitoring levels of trace element contamination in sewage sludge*** at various locations in Switzerland. Here's the bottom line:

"While the scientists advise that, for the most part, it’s not economically worthwhile to recycle many of the trace elements found, the region of Ticino is a different, gilded ballgame. This area is home to several gold refineries and, at certain sites, the scientists write, 'concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile.'"

Somehow, I can't see a bunch of grizzled old sourdoughs leading pack mules into the Swiss Alps to pan for gold in sewage sludge. And I'm not sure I'd like to have the additional duty of Gold Recovery Officer in any of those locations.

At least in Switzerland, it could be a pretty shi ... uh ... unpleasant job.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* When you're a Second Lieutenant ... and particularly when you're the junior Second Lieutenant ... you can count on drawing every additional duty no one else wants. Which is most of them.

** Ha, ha - fooled you! I didn't get reimbursed, anyhow.

*** This is another reason why it's better to be a linguist than an environmental chemist.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Musical Sunday

Since we're just over two weeks from Halloween, it seems appropriate that we should have some Halloween-themed music for our Musical Sundays. Here's a classic from Warren Zevon ...


Have a good day and enjoy the rest of your weekend. Hope things don't get too ... hairy.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

We've reached the halfway point of October, and the need for a good shot of cartoons is more necessary than ever.

Donald Trump chipped away again at the Affordable Care Act, using an executive order to withdraw the cost-sharing fiscal supports which help compensate insurance companies for covering all applicants, not just the best risks; Mr Trump threatened Puerto Rico (by tweet, of course) with the withdrawal of FEMA, military, and other government support provided in the wake of the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria; a black man beaten on tape by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been accused of "unlawfully wounding" a white supremacist that day; Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is the subject of a flood of accusations from women that he sexually molested or raped them over a period spanning decades; and 31 people are dead and huge swaths of Northern California have been devastated by huge wildfires driven by high winds.

We continue our celebration of the month of Halloween by featuring appropriately-themed cartoons - this week starring Frankenstein*.

It's what I need to come to life, too ...

The theological implications are staggering ...

There are body-builders and there are body-builders ...

It might be easier to find the right feet than the right shoes ...

Locally-sourced parts ...

Frankenstein, 2.0 ...

Why dating Frankenstein can be frustrating for some ladies ...

Piercing envy ...

Frankenstein, the Ikea version ...

Why am I not surprised? ...

Frankenstein - not the poster child for those who consider themselves to be self-made men and women.

It looks as though we'll have nicer weather here in NoVa today than the last few, with at least partly-sunny skies and no rain, and it'll brighten up still more later this afternoon when we welcome our old friends Scott and Karen and their family for dinner. Why mow the lawn when you can party in the house?

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when Musical Sunday takes on the Halloween season.


* Yes, I know that "Frankenstein" is actually the name of the monster's creator and not the monster himself, just work with me on this, okay?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Here we go again ...

It pays to be careful when selecting your attorney ...

I'm not sure this ad is a ringing endorsement ...

Just honest enough ...

This must be one of those responsible gun owners I've heard so much about ...

That was some snack ...

Your tax dollars at work ...

I think the student isn't the only one who isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer ...

It's the latest in hybrid weapon technology. Don't worry ... the NRA will be sure you can have as many of those high-caliber knives as you want ...

It's important to clearly specify the requirements of the position ...

It wouldn't be a health risk in most of modern America, and particularly in DC ...

And there you have it ... the latest collection of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. Don't forget that I'm always on the lookout for more of these - if you find one, take a photo, scan it, or e-mail me the file. When I use it, I'll be sure you get credit for the find. Send files to me at der(underscore)blogmeister(at)yahoo(dot)com. 

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for our second Halloween-themed Cartoon Saturday of the month. More thoughts then.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

How Would We Talk to Aliens?

One of the recurring themes of science fiction stories is the idea of the "first contact" - what happens the first time we come face-to-face with a species from another world. There are generally two ways such stories develop: either the aliens are friendly and want to get along with us, or the aliens are hostile and want to get rid of us so that they can take over the earth and wipe out or enslave the population. The first type of movie tends to be more cerebral, and is exemplified by films like "Arrival," while the second is more dramatic, and is exemplified by classic stories like "The War of the Worlds."

As a linguist, I'm interested in the idea of first contact and the question it raises: when we first meet an alien race from another world, how will we communicate with them? This article from the Real Clear Science blog poses that question and offers some thoughts.

First of all, communication will hardly be possible unless it's face-to-face, or at least closer than planet-to-planet. Considering that transmissions moving at the speed of light would take between 4 and 24 minutes (depending on the relative positions of the planets) to travel to Mars, any communication over that distance will be pretty disjointed and choppy ... and that's just to Mars. It would take about 200 years for a round-trip communication to the nearest earth-like planet, assuming an instant reply. Even considering the novelty, it would be a boring conversation conducted over generations.

Consider also that effective communication requires a shared basis of understanding. Here's a simple example: when I say "dog," you get a picture of a particular animal, along with the cultural and psychological elements we connect with dogs and our relationship with them. The aliens might have a similar relationship with an animal called a beffel*, creating a shared basis for communication on the topic of inter-species relationships. But what if the aliens don't keep pets? What if they believe it's blasphemous to have a master-pet relationship with another living creature? What if they actually worship the beffel, are horrified that we would keep an equivalent creature in a subservient position and launch a religious war to protect their god figure?

Here on Earth we have thousands of languages, most of which are mutually incomprehensible. Can we assume our alien race has one language, without the complications of dialect, slang, and the other factors that complicate mutual understanding?

Many scientists have suggested that communication with aliens might be based on mathematical principles, which we assume are universal. We base much of our language and thought on the concept of base ten ... useful because we have ten fingers and ten toes. But what if our aliens have, say, seven fingers and hooves instead of toes ... how might this alter their view of mathematical principles and relationships and complicate our understanding of that view?

But more important than all of this is a single simple question: how will we effectively communicate with an alien race when we can't even communicate effectively with each other? Republicans and Democrats have the same ultimate vision of America as an economically vibrant, secure nation of unlimited freedom under a benevolent government ... but profoundly different visions of how that can be achieved. The great monotheistic religions insist on their primacy and exclusivity - you will never reach heaven unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, or unless you absolutely believe that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. If you believe otherwise, there is simply no point in communicating with you ... this is why the Donald Trumps of the world want to keep Muslims out of the United States, and why non-Muslims are forbidden to enter the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

If we can't talk to each other, how will we talk to aliens? Sooner or later we may have to answer that question, and the answer won't be easy.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when we share more Great Moments in Editing and Signage.


* The "beffel" was a domestic pet kept by an alien race in a series of novels by Harry Turtledove.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Faith Pyramid

Last week in this space, I grumbled about complicated and convoluted modern religiosity, as opposed to the simple "love thy neighbor" dictum of early Christianity. Continuing with that topic, here's an interesting take on the ramifications of religious belief, courtesy of Crispian Jago's* blog, The Reason Stick ...

Since "thoughts and prayers" are the only thing that Congress is able to quickly provide - on a nonpartisan basis - in response to mass murder and natural disasters, it's worth thinking about where those prayers fall on the faith pyramid. Hint ... low.

I have faith in the love of my wife and family, the passage of the seasons, and endless political ass-clownery. Any more, not much else.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Last June in this space, I featured another of Crispian Jago's offerings, The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense. I find his thoughts devastatingly clever, if not always suitable for children.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Grocery Marathon

Here's a recent cartoon that speaks to me on several levels -

As you know, one of my favorite pastimes is cooking. I get a huge rush out of turning a pile of assorted ingredients into a well-presented, heavenly-smelling dinner, and always enjoy the satisfaction of sitting back at the end of the meal with the knowledge that I made it myself ... often using the herbs grown in my own garden. Cooking is my drug.

If you enjoy cooking, it also helps if you enjoy grocery shopping ... and unlike a lot of men, I really like grocery shopping.

There aren't many days that I don't visit one of the local major grocery stores or one of the smaller ethnic markets that are located all over our area, searching for some ordinary or unusual ingredient for the latest culinary experiment. During our trip to Pennsylvania last weekend, I returned with a huge cabbage (between 5 and 10 pounds), two large, beautiful heads of cauliflower, two quart boxes of brussels sprouts, and all sorts of other bounty from the Mennonite farms of the area. Last night, about 1/4 of the cabbage went into one of our favorite recipes - stir-fried chicken with cabbage, cashew nuts, onions, and mushrooms ... a great dish that always leaves at least one more meal's worth of leftovers*.

My other ongoing project is an attempt to make our own ginger ale. I've been brewing a "ginger bug" - similar to a sourdough starter - that forms the basis of the recipe, and now that the bug appears to be ready, I'm going to make the actual ginger ale later today. It needs to ferment and steep for 2 to 3 days ... I'll let you know how it turns out.

Oh, and getting back to the cartoon we started with - I'm the local master of carrying 75 bags of groceries at once to avoid making multiple trips from the car to the pantry. But on the other hand, the marathon continues when I realize - as I invariably do - that I've forgotten something and need to go back to the store. Oy.

And now all this talk about food and cooking has made me hungry. Time for breakfast!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* E-mail me at "der(underscore)blogmeister(at)yahoo(dot)com" if you want the recipe.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Dealing with Assholes

I'm number 14 on the waiting list at my local library for a book I couldn't possibly pass up - The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt.

Author Robert Sutton defines an asshole as "... someone who leaves us feeling demeaned, de-energized, disrespected, and/or oppressed. In other words, someone who makes you feel like dirt," and goes on to theorize that there are two types of assholes: "certified" and "temporary." Dr Sutton suggests that we all have the capacity to be temporary assholes under the proper conditions*, while a certified asshole is someone who always treats people poorly, and takes pleasure in the misery of others. For an interview in which he spells out his theories of what assholes are and why they act the way they do, check out this interview on - "A Stanford Psychologist on the Art of Avoiding Assholes."

In the course of my life, I've had to deal with some pretty despicable human beings who reveled in making my life, and the lives of those I love, miserable. Sadly, dealing with people like that is never easy, particularly when they can't be ignored or avoided. Nevertheless, Dr Sutton suggests that one of the best, if most difficult, approaches to dealing with an asshole is to "... simply learn not to give a s**t. Not giving a s**t takes the wind out of [his] sails." He won't change, but if you're able to ignore him as if he were an annoying insect, it can help you get on with your life.

My most annoying asshole, sadly, can't be ignored ... and so I'm waiting rather impatiently for my name to creep up the waiting list for Dr Sutton's book to get some other ideas. I'm willing to try just about anything that won't attract the attention of the coroner.

Suggestions welcome.

Have a good day, and avoid assholes when you can. More thoughts tomorrow.


* This is true. I try hard to treat everyone well, and it takes quite a bit to wake up my inner asshole, but if someone is willing to go to enough trouble to do it, I'll gladly try to make it worth their while. The problem, sadly, is that a true certified asshole doesn't care about the feelings of anyone else, and I'm not sure that I could out-asshole a true professional.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Poetry Sunday

We're well and truly into autumn, now, when the days are getting shorter and cooler and the nights longer and deeper and more mysterious. Halloween is only about two weeks off, and after that the holidays tumble over us one after the other through the end of the year. Today is October 8th, which is two days too early for this poem, but it is October, and the imagery applies ...

October 10 
by Wendell Berry 

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.
Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.
Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.
The calling of a crow sounds
Loud — landmark — now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.

Have a good day, and enjoy the crisp days and the cool nights so good for sleeping with open windows. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

New month, new bad news ...

Nearly 60 people were murdered and more than 500 injured by a man who used high-powered weapons to shoot indiscriminately into a crowd at a Las Vegas music festival before killing himself; investigators have discovered that the murderer who massacred dozens and injured hundreds of people had used inexpensive kits to - legally - modify his guns to fire in a fully-automatic fashion; Donald Trump visited the devastated island of Puerto Rico and heaped praise on his administration for doing a marvelous job while 95% of the island was still without power, most hospitals were still out of operation, schools remained closed, food and clean water were short, and many remote communities remained cut off; Hurricane Nate is closing in on New Orleans; and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in hot water following reports that he referred to Donald Trump as a “moron.”

Since we're into the month of Halloween, when ghouls, ghosts, goblins, Republicans, and other horrifying things emerge to scare us, each of this month's Cartoon Saturdays will feature cartoons about a different sort of scary creature. We'll begin our month of terrifying cartoons with a collection featuring zombies ...

Even the walking dead aren't beyond politics ...

Zombie ladies have special problems ...

Obviously ...

Zombie toys ...

I feel like this often ...

Some dietary beliefs survive beyond the grave ...

It was a good question ...

Now introducing the Zom-BeeGees ...

I think she's talking about much of modern America ...

Sorry, Shirley ...

And so it goes ... the first of our October Halloween-themed Cartoon Saturdays. Come back next week for cartoons based on another frightening thing.
Agnes and I are in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, where Agnes is taking a class in embroidery techniques and I'm killing time with a visit to Penn State (yesterday) and visits to various farm markets to stock up on fresh vegetables, meats, and other good stuff. Not looking forward to the long drive home tonight, but I really did enjoy the visit to Penn State.
Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Right-Cheek Ass Clown for October, 2017

The seemingly endless year of 2017 is grinding mercilessly on, filled with legal, meteorological, natural, and other disasters piling on top of each other in a relentless assault. And if hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires weren't enough, we continue to add layers of ass clownery atop the misery to make it worse.

We've made it to the beginning of October, and so it's time to announce the first of our Ass Clown awards for the month. It's always hard to separate the chaff from the lesser chaff, but it's my job and so I'll step up to it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, today we do something special. Today, we announce not only

The Right-Cheek Ass Clown for October, 2017

but also our first

Lifetime Achievement Award
Superior Ass-Clownery

and the award goes to nine-time previous winner

Donald J. Trump

By presenting this award, I realize I may be accused of simply picking low-hanging fruit. But in my defense, I would point out that few people have worked so tirelessly to prove themselves worthy of this dishonor. Although Mr Trump had already won the award a staggering nine times (either by himself or in combination with another recipient), he has continued to raise the ass-clownery bar (or lower it, depending on how you view things). In the two weeks alone, he has:

- Insulted and demeaned the people of Puerto Rico, including direct personal attacks on the mayor of San Juan, who had criticized the administration's response to the devastation left on the island by Hurricane Maria, and implying that the island had not suffered a "real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina.

- Continued a useless and distracting squabble with the National Football League over players' peaceful protests of violence against minorities.

- Spent a weekend at his exclusive golf resort in Bedminster, NJ, while millions of Americans were still reeling from the disaster of Hurricane Maria ... including dedicating a golf trophy to the people of Puerto Rico at a time when most of the island still lacked functioning hospitals, clean water, power, and basic communications connectivity.

With presentation of this Lifetime Achievement award to Mr Trump, he is longer eligible for future Left-Cheek, Right-Cheek, or On-Crack awards, and becomes the first member of the Ass Clownery Hall of Fame.

We deserve better.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday, when we start our four-weekend Halloween celebration - more thoughts then.


* The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was reported to have called Mr Trump a "moron" during a meeting at the Pentagon this past summer, a comment he did not directly deny when questioned by reporters.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

License Plates Smarter Than Drivers

From the Department of What'll They Think of Next comes the latest high-tech idea: smart license plates.

I call your attention to this recent article from CNET: Dumb License Plates Are About to Get Smart. A new digital license plate called Reviver attaches to your car like any other traditional, convict-made metal license plate, but uses Wi-Fi connectivity and a connection to your car's power system to act like an electronic tablet and display registration (and other) data. The Reviver plate offers a number of possible advantages:

You could instantly update your registration without waiting for your state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to cash your check and mail you stickers to paste on the plate ... a signal from the DMV would remotely update the expiration month. This could also give the option for renewing registration month-to-month, for those who are trying to sell a car and don't want the hassle of trying to get their state to reimburse unused months of registration fees.

You could, theoretically, change the background design of your plate at will, using a menu of options similar to the list of plate designs already offered by most states. This would allow you to support your cause du jour without having to order new plates with the desired design.

If you got tired of your vanity plate message, you could apply online to change it and, once the new message was approved, you could download it and update your plate immediately.

The plate could link to your bank account and pay for parking by connecting to the payment system at parking garages.

Your plate could receive and project Amber alerts and other public service messages (although I'm not sure I'd want this without the ability to public service messages I didn't want or support).

It could streamline the management of large vehicle fleets.

And it could substantially reduce the risk of theft and fraud by ensuring that the plate wouldn't work if it was stolen and mounted on a different vehicle.

There would, of course, also be disadvantages:

The up-front cost of the smart license plate could be prohibitively high when compared to the cost of a traditional metal plate, at least when it was first issued and installed, although it might prove cheaper in the long run. Who would bear the cost?

Your state DMV could decide to generate additional revenue by pushing advertisements to your plate.

Like all Wi-Fi-enabled devices, it would be vulnerable to hackers who could change the plate number or use the connection to interfere with other electronic elements of the vehicle.

And finally, what happens if your car suffers a dead battery or an electrical system failure ... how do you prove to the suspicious cop or tow truck operator that it's really your car?

I think a Reviver-type automated license plate is coming ... it's a natural outgrowth of the available technology and the interconnectivity provided by the Internet of Things. My personal jury is still out on whether or not it's a good idea, but as nobody has asked my opinion, I guess I'll just accept it when it comes ... especially if it comes with an option to send messages to other drivers like, "Back off!" or "Turn down your $#%! high beams!".

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Wednesday, October 04, 2017

How "Theologically Dense" Is It to "Love Thy Neighbor?"

Those of you, Dear Readers, who have been following my ruminations over the life of this blog, know that I have a fairly conflicted relationship with religion. I was baptized as a Byzantine Rite Catholic, raised in a Roman Catholic tradition, and now self-identify as a Seventh-Day Absenteeist.

Although I no longer adhere to any particular religious tradition, I follow the influence of religious belief on our lives and our politics with great interest, which is why this headline from CNN leaped out at me last week: Conservatives Accuse the Pope of Spreading Heresy. According to the report, more than 60 conservative Catholic scholars and clergy sent a 25-page letter to Pope Francis, accusing him of spreading seven specific heretical beliefs.

The letter is described in the article as being "theologically dense." This means, if you aren't steeped in the minutiae of complex theological argument, you can't follow it.

And this is my problem with most religions as they exist today. Numerous things, actions, and beliefs are "un-Islamic." Various actions and beliefs are "un-Christian." Arguments are "theologically dense." If you don't worship my way, you're a heretic, an apostate, or whatever.

How did we get here? Consider the words of Jesus in chapter 22 of Matthew, verses 35 through 39 ...

35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer*, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

How did we get from two laws - (1) Love God, and (2) Love your neighbor** - to a 25-page, theologically dense letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy for ... well ... daring to suggest we should love our less-than-perfect neighbors?

Those two great commandments expanded into the Ten Commandments, which eventually begat the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church, which is divided into seven books, containing 1,752 individual "canons." Consider also that Islam is wrapped around the theological axle of the Koran, the Hadith, and the millions of interpretations of them that Islamic scholars have generated over the years. And finally, consider that when we describe an argument as Talmudic, it implies that it is "characterized by or making extremely fine distinctions; overly detailed or subtle; hairsplitting."

Love your neighbor. Only three words.

Is that so hard?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Well, he would be, wouldn't he?

** If you read the seven heretical beliefs with which Pope Francis is being charged, he is essentially charged with upholding the commandment to love one's neighbor. What kind of irreligious bum would do that?

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The Hell We Chose

Almost exactly two years ago in this space, Dear Readers, I lied to you in a post titled, The Last Time I'm Going to Write on This Topic. In that post, I laid out what I felt was an even-handed and honest summary of the pros and cons of our worship of the Second Amendment, and said I was through with writing on the topic because I was tired of being treated like the village idiot by my most conservative readers and friends. Nevertheless, since October 5, 2015, I've written on the topic many times.

Since October 5, 2015, we've had 14 people murdered at a Christmas party in San Bernardino (December 15, 2015), 49 people murdered at a gay nightclub in Orlando (June 12, 2016), and now nearly 60 people murdered at a music festival in Las Vegas (October 1, 2017). After each of those incidents (and all the other ones with less horrendous body counts), this is what happened: there were candlelight vigils; politicians spouted platitudes; heaps of flowers and teddy bears appeared at the sites of the murders; the gun industry denied any responsibility and shed crocodile tears; and outrage was expressed in the news media.

That's all.

Vigils. Platitudes. Flowers. Teddy Bears. Denials and Crocodile Tears. Outrage.

No solutions. Not even an acknowledgement that there's a problem. In fact, Republican members of Congress have repeatedly blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from spending any public money on studying any relationship between the proliferation of guns and public health.

Nothing to see here, folks ... just move along. There'll be another coming along soon.

Yesterday I saw this comment on Twitter: "Children died at Sandy Hook & a competent president couldn't push through gun control. We live here now. This is the hell we chose."

This is the hell we chose.

Twenty children were murdered in cold blood at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, 2012. If we couldn't grow the balls (or the ladies, the ovaries) to face up to that unimaginable horror, we well and truly deserve the hell we have chosen.

I hope you enjoy it more than I do.

Have a good day. Be safe. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, October 02, 2017

The Linguistics of the Problem

Here's an interesting exercise in language for you, if you're interested: go back and read every newspaper and online report concerning the shooting in Las Vegas. As you read, count the number of times you come across the word murder.

Unless I've missed something, you will not find it.

Not once.

You will read that 58 people were killed, rather than murdered. You will be told that it was a shooting or a mass shooting rather than a murder or mass murder. The perpetrator is never described as the murderer, but as the shooter.

I'm a linguist. I love words. Words matter. When we cannot bring ourselves to use the right word ... to use antiseptic terms rather than admit that we're talking about murder - the intentional taking of a human life - we are sugar-coating the horror and closing our eyes to the deadly problem that threatens all of us, every day.

More thoughts on this sad topic tomorrow.


The Most Popular Slang Term of 1951

As you well know, Dear Readers, I love language in all its forms, with a particular interest in semantics (the meaning of words) and semiotics* (the study of signs and symbols as a significant part of communication).

This is why an online collection from - of all things - the Good Housekeeping website caught my eye not long ago: The Most Popular Slang the Year You Were Born.

The list begins in 1926 with "gold-dig(ger)" (referring to a woman who is interested in a man only for his money) and continues on through 81 separate screens** to "sick" in 2006. I suppose nobody has yet documented the most popular slang terms for 2007 to the present.

I was born in 1951***, when the most popular slang term was, sadly and probably appropriately, given my high school reputation, nerd. It could have been studmuffin, had I been born in 1986.


What was the slang term for your year? Leave a comment and share it with the rest of us. We promise not to laugh. Well, I do, anyhow.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* One of my favorite posts was "Don't Dig Here!", which looked at the challenge of conveying meaningful information via signs and symbols about dangerous locations to civilizations in the unimaginally distant future.

** AAAUUUGGGHHH!!! There's apparently no way to go directly to the year you want without going through each one in order.

*** Shortly after the sun cooled and the dinosaurs disappeared.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Musical Sunday

As the Trump administration works hard to hermetically seal our borders to protect us from threats real and imagined, it won't be long until only radio freely crosses from our neighbors to the south ...

Border Radio - impervious to walls.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

So long, September, don't let the door hit you in the backside on the way out ...

Representative Mark Walker, chair of the House Republican Study Committee, struck a blow for dignity and equality this week when he described the nine female members of the committee as "eye candy;" Donald Trump denied being preoccupied with the National Football League, even as he kept up a relentless Twitter barrage against protesting players; Saudi Arabia took a mighty leap forward into the early 20th Century when the king announced that women in the country would be allowed to drive, starting next year; the latest GOP attempt to demolish the Affordable Care Act - the so-called Graham-Cassidy bill - failed when enough Republican senators refused to support it; and Hugh "Hef" Hefner, the founder of Playboy Magazine and commanding general of the sexual revolution, passed away this week at the age of 91.

Given the kind of week it's been, I thought that a collection of cartoons featuring piñatas would be appropriate ...

You do need to worry about the weapons you might face ...

Methinks the doctor had something of a conflict of interest ...

There's a lot of that going around ...

Mosquito piñata ...

"Enhanced interrogation techniques" don't always work on piñatas ...

The advance of technology ...

Can you pick out the perpetrator? ...

Self-defense classes for piñatas ... 

I get that feeling a lot ... 

Before the Trojan Horse came the ...

And so we beat our way to the end of September, fervently hoping that October will be better but not getting our hopes up too much.

Have a good day and a great weekend. See you tomorrow for our musical answer to enhanced border controls. More thoughts then.


Friday, September 29, 2017

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Last batch for September ...

I wonder if it was originally designed as an abacus cabinet ...

Um, I think I'll pass ...

Lean, tender, and fart free ... and only $3.99 a pound. Such a deal ...

I think a Republican has passed through the laundry room ...

No reward for the finger? ...

I wonder why ...

It looks like the Bard was quite technically advanced for his day ...

Not the brightest bulb in the felony box ...

Everybody's gotta start someplace ...

Well, they would, wouldn't they? ...

And there you have it - the last collection of great moments in editing and signage for September. Have a good day and be sure to come back tomorrow for the last Cartoon Saturday for the month - more thoughts then.