Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Were We At the Same &$#@! Meeting?

A long time ago, I took a course in which one of the subjects dealt with effectively meeting and sizing up people, then reporting on the substance of the meeting. After the classroom portion, we were put into a role-playing scenario in which each student was paired up with an instructor at a mock cocktail party where we had to identify our target, initiate a conversation, obtain as much information as possible, and lay the groundwork for a second meeting. We would then write up a detailed report which would be evaluated by the person with whom we'd met.

The following morning I went to the office of the instructor I'd met the evening before. He was reading my report when I entered, and he motioned me to a seat in front of his desk. He finished reading the report, laid it down on the desk, folded his hands on top of it, then looked me right in the eye and asked, "Were we at the same f***ing meeting?" He then went on to spend the next half hour or so telling me everything I'd done wrong and every comment of his that I'd misinterpreted ... he did tell me, though, that my report - although worthless - was beautifully written*.

I thought about that humbling episode yesterday when I watched White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's summation of Donald Trump's nine-day overseas tour ...

You can read a transcript of the event here. One might have thought Mr Spicer's remarks had been written by the North Korean team responsible for the deification of Kim Jong Un. He used the word "historic" six times in a nine-minute monolog, along with comments such as:

"it truly was an extraordinary week for America and our people;"

"It was an unprecedented first trip abroad;"

"The President’s address to the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations was a historic turning point that people will be talking about for many years to come;"

"The President’s historic speech was met with near universal praise;" and,

"Those meetings were marked by outstanding success"

I could go on, but I'd just throw up.

Were we at the same f***ing meeting?

A word often used by Mr Trump, and by Mr Spicer when channelling him, is "incredible." They probably should be more careful with word choice, because the Merriam-Webster dictionary offers as the first definition of incredible,

"too extraordinary and improbable to be believed."

It has been said that the first rule of spin is that it has to be believable. This wasn't. Not even close.

We have lost our standing in the world and have all but renounced the leadership role America has played since the end of the First World War. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are ready to step forward and fill the gap.

Happily, I speak German. I think I should also take up French.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I later learned that this particular instructor's nickname among the students and faculty was "Dr Doom."

Monday, May 29, 2017

How the Other Half Travels

There's no way to sugar-coat it: air travel nowadays sucks. From the ever-tinier seats and ever-skimpier service in "economy" class to the endless lines at security check-in to the overbooked flights that sometimes result in you being ejected from a seat you paid for, air travel is less "fly the friendly skies" and more "grit your teeth and hope you get there."

But if you've got the right stuff, it doesn't have to be that way.

You may have seen some recent reporting about the new, private terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) - the one that serves the rich and famous so they don't have to rub elbows with the Great Unwashed*. Using this service - called "The Private Suite" - doesn't come cheap, of course ... it costs $7,500 a year to join and keep up a membership, with another $2,700 (for up to four people) each time you use it**. The cost goes up to $3,000 per use for international flights. If you don't want to pay the $7,500 for membership, you can use a shared suite for a mere $2,000 per visit.

And what does this get you, besides your own spiffy terminal?

First of all, no hassles with TSA people groping you and searching your belongings while everyone looks on ... security screening is done in the comfort and privacy of The Private Suite. According to the website, a team of eight persons is assigned to each member, and

"Members spend their pre-flight time in totally private suites, each with its own bathroom, its own food-service pantry, a two-person daybed, and a runway view of aircraft landing and taking off ... When it’s time to board, Private Suite members are driven across the tarmac, Head-of-State style, directly to their aircraft."

I could deal with that.

The airport and the operator of the service justify the service and its cost by pointing out that it improves security by separating important passengers whose presence might result in inconvenience to lesser customers because of extra security and annoying papparazzi. The operator also claims to reimburse ICE for added expenses and to employ TSA agents "only as needed" ... no burden to taxpayers or longer lines for Real People because TSA is dedicating personnel to the rich and famous.

I don't know about you, but I feel so much better knowing that persons wealthier and more important than I are working hard to protect me from inconvenience ... just like I'm reaping all the benefits of those tax breaks other people get to make my life better.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* That would be you and I.

** How else are you going to keep the riffraff out?

Memorial Day, 2017

Today is Memorial Day, the traditional beginning of summer, the day the swimming pools open and everyone flocks to the beaches and the amusement parks to celebrate life in America. It is also the day on which we honor those who died in the service of the nation, often in lonely and frightening places far from home and family.

That's what today is really about. Enjoy yourself, but take a minute to remember those who gave their lives to make it possible for you to enjoy today's barbecues and swimming pools. The freedom you take for granted today wasn't purchased by noisy posers strutting into the local Starbucks with loaded assault rifles and nine-millimeter pistols on their hips, or by traitors who think they're heroes for exposing the nation's most sensitive secrets ... it was purchased by the men and women who now rest in long, quiet rows and wonder why they gave up their lives for all this.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Musical Sunday

There are millions of great songs out there that deserve to be featured on Musical Sunday, and so I really don't like to do repeats. But the current state of our government and politics suggests that it may not be out of place to bring back this classic by Grace Jones that I first featured back in November of 2015 ...

As a side note, it's hard to believe that Grace Jones celebrated her 69th birthday this month (on the 19th). Sigh.

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when we kick off a new week and get ready to kick May to the curb. Be here.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

It's the last Cartoon Saturday for the month that we thought would never end. And it's still got a few days to go ...

A suicide bomber murdered at least 22 people and injured scores of others, mostly children, at a concert in Manchester, England; Sir Roger Moore, one of the longest-serving portrayers of secret agent James Bond, died at the age of 89; fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn "took the fifth," declining to provide documents subpoenaed by Congress in its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election; in Palm Beach, Florida, a 4x4-foot sinkhole opened up in front of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, prompting the expected cascade of jokes and Twitter commentary; and in Sacramento, California, one person died and nine others were hospitalized after they contracted botulism poisoning from eating contaminated nacho cheese sauce at a local gas station.

This week, the news being what it is, we'll focus on that old standby of cartoons - the fellow who advertises that "The End Is Near" ...

At the intersection of cliches ...

I think I agree with the guy on the right ...

I wonder if this falls under the heading of "cognitive dissonance" ...

Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't ...

Somehow I think I could go with that opinion ...

21st Century warnings ...

There's doomsday and there's doomsday ...

True enough ...

Well, of course it would be ...

Perfect ... just perfect ...

And so ends our final Cartoon Saturday for the month ... I hope it helped you cope with the relentless drumbeat of awful news that surrounds us. Let's look forward to June and the coming of summer, and hope ... in the face of all evidence to the contrary ... that things will get better.

Have a good day and a great weekend. Come back tomorrow for Musical Sunday ... more thoughts then.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Beyond Disgust

The day before a special congressional election in Montana, GOP candidate Greg Gianforte, enraged by questions posed by a reporter that he didn't want to answer, physically assaulted the reporter, slamming him to the ground, breaking his glasses, and screaming that he (the reporter) should "get the hell out of here." Gianforte's spokesman spun the incident this way in a statement released later:

"It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."

In the election the next day, Gianforte was elected by a comfortable margin.

Think about that for a minute: a man who who believes he should be elected to Congress physically assaulted a reporter doing his job. And the next day, a majority of the people of Montana decided that was okay.

This is the oath of office that members of the House of Representatives take* when assuming their positions:

“I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” 

Mr Gianforte, his spokesman, and everyone who voted for him seems to have forgotten that freedom of the press is part of the Constitution he is supposed to support and defend ... but although everyone shouts about the Constitution, few actually read it, or understand that there are freedoms it enshrines other than the right to pack iron everywhere, for any reason. 

What Mr Gianforte did was beyond despicable. The statement issued by his spokesman which heaped blame on the victim was equally despicable and should have appalled anyone who seriously believes in the rights established under the Constitution. Things are bad enough when Donald Trump heaps verbal abuse on those he claims convey "fake news" - defined as that with which he disagrees. They've grown far worse when an elected official believes he can - without consequences - physically assault a reporter in front of a room full of witnesses.

This is not the country I loved and served in my Air Force career.


* Spelled out in law at 5 U.S.C. §3331.

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Last batch for the month ...

I hope this person is better at pet care than he is at spelling and math ...

Some people will go to extreme lengths to get out of a bad date ...

Well, yes ...

I like maintenance instructions that are simple ...

Perhaps we ought to check the degrees of all members of Congress as well ... 

Remember that great speller from above? I think he had two brothers ...

and ...

The bears seem to listen better than many children ...

Now that's a truly general store! ...

And so ends another month of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. The fun continues tomorrow, when we call up our last Cartoon Saturday for the month of May ... more thoughts then.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Is It Real, or Is It ... Synthetic?

Of all the niche business opportunities I can imagine, one of the nichest is the creation of "synthetic cadavers" - extremely realistic human (and animal) bodies to be used in the training of doctors, morticians, and veterinarians.

Earlier this month I was struck by this headline on the Atlas Obscura website: A Visit to the Synthetic Cadaver Factory, and how could I pass up a title like that? The article details a tour of SynDaver Labs, which according to its website "designs and builds the world’s most sophisticated synthetic human tissues and body parts ... all made from materials that mimic the mechanical, thermal, and physicochemical properties of live tissue."

For hundreds, if not thousands of years, doctors have learned their craft by working on the bodies of the dead - cadavers donated to medical schools for research and training - or of animals with appropriate similarities to human anatomy (dogs, pigs, etc). But animal rights supporters oppose the use of animals, and the supply of human cadavers is limited. Further, a dead human body can't duplicate the behavior and reactions of a live one for training purposes. Therefore, a market for ultra-realistic artificial human and animal bodies has grown up, supported also by the needs of an entertainment industry always anxious for the most realistic possible blood and guts and a funeral industry that needs to train embalmers.

The synthetic human beings designed and built by SynDaver bleed, breathe, and are constructed using hundreds of replaceable muscles, bones, organs, veins and arteries, all designed for maximum realism ...

The company also sells customized partial bodies to accommodate specific training requirements, such as fully-functional chests and spinal columns. You can find the full catalog here, in case you were looking for a gift for the person who has everything. Trust me ... you're glad I haven't included any pictures.

Realism doesn't come cheap, though. According to the article, the cost of a synthetic cadaver can range from about $50,000 to $184,000, and SynDaver sells about 100 of them a year. This may seem quite a high price to pay when a real cadaver can often be obtained for free. However, as a SynDaver spokesman pointed out, a cadaver may be free to acquire, but comes with a raft of other costs, including transportation, specialized facilities for handling and disposal, and a range of religious and ethical considerations that can drive the ultimate cost of the free body into the millions of dollars. "With a SynDaver," he said, "you just need a table.”

Yes, Dear Readers, why try to fool the police watching the HOV lanes with a department store mannequin when you can ride with an amazingly lifelike synthetic cadaver ... a quiet, low-maintenance friend who can also serve (with the right accessories) as a wonderfully life- death-like decoration at Halloween? And it won't waste your time trying to explain away the current administration's latest idiocies, either.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Walls in Space?

If you are a fan of science (i.e., not an official or apologist of the current administration), you may have noted the very interesting discovery made in 2011 about the star officially named "KIC 8462852," also known as "Tabby's Star" in honor of astronomer Tabetha Boyajian.

While reviewing data collected by the Kepler Space Telescope on the brightness of KIC 8462852, Boyajian and other observers noted strange patterns in the light they saw coming from the star. While such variations in brightness are eagerly sought by astronomers, and are generally interpreted as hints that a large object (such as a planet) is orbiting the star and periodically reducing the level of brightness, the odd variations noted from Tabby's Star are more difficult to explain. Some scientists interpret the irregular light patterns as suggesting that a collection of gigantic artificial structures could be orbiting the star, technological artifacts built by an almost unimaginably advanced civilization capable of space travel and of construction in space on a monumental scale. Such a structure could be a "Dyson* Swarm" of artificial elements, such as shown in this artist's impression -

or a "Dyson Sphere," as in this image - 

You may also recall that a Dyson Sphere played a role in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Of course, Occam's Razor would dictate that the actual reason for the fluctuating brightness of Tabby's Star is much less dramatic ... but far less cool**.

I'll be waiting to see how the story of Tabby's Star develops. I'm not sure if I want it to be evidence of an alien civilization or not, but no matter what it turns out to be, it will be a monument to our ability to explore the infinite universe around us.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* After scientist Freeman Dyson, who first hypothesized the creation of massive structures in space to capture the energy of a star.

** Unless you're an astronomer or an astrophysicist.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Surviving the Apocalypse in Style, Part 2

Back in January of 2015, I wrote in this space about the industry that has arisen to help us prepare for the coming zombie apocalypse, as well as more mundane but no less deadly eventualities. I pointed you to the "Zombie Fortification Cabin, Model 1 (ZFC-1)," as well as bulletproof school accessories for protecting our children against dangers we never faced in less crazy times.

Well, people are still worried about surviving the apocalypse, perhaps even more now that we have the present administration in power. And as with so many other aspects of life, survival of the apocalypse can be much easier and more comfortable if you are able to afford the best.

Two years ago, six months after I wrote my blog post on apocalyptic survival, Forbes Magazine ran this article: Billionaire Bunkers: Exclusive Look Inside the World's Largest Planned Doomsday Escape. It told the detailed story of a luxurious survival hideaway that was developed in Germany from an abandoned Soviet-era munitions storage bunker complex. Vivos Europa One is described in the article as "an invitation only, five star, underground survival complex, similar to an underground cruise ship for the elite [in which e]ach family will be provided a private 2,500 square foot of floor area, capable of two story improvements for a total of 5,000 square feet of private living quarters." Further, "[p]rivate improvements will include all of the typical amenities enjoyed by the floating counterparts, including pools, theaters, gyms, a kitchen, bar, bedrooms and deluxe bathrooms. The possibilities are limited only by each member’s personal desire."

And, of course, budget.

There are numerous other apocalypse hideaways for the 1% in various locations around the world, including Czechoslovakia, England, and the United States*. You can read more about them in this CNN article published yesterday.

Yes, Dear Readers, those higher than you on the socio-economic scale will be just fine when the nuclear, biological, political, and ecological chickens come home to roost. You, not so much.

Have a good day and don't worry ... if you are concerned enough to worry about surviving the coming apocalypse and wealthy enough to want to do it in style, have your broker call now!

More thoughts tomorrow.


* The Vivos xPoint website tells you, "This is the place you will want to be when the SHTF!" It also reminds you to buy now, because "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark."

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Accidental Wall

Here's something interesting I read the other day: Humans Accidentally Created a Protective Bubble Around Earth. Here's a summary paragraph from the article:

"A pair of NASA space probes have detected an artificial bubble around Earth that forms when radio communications from the ground interact with high-energy radiation particles in space, the agency announced* this week. The bubble forms a protective barrier around Earth, shielding the planet from potentially dangerous space weather, like solar flares and other ejections from the sun."

Yes, Dear Readers, we have built a defensive wall of sorts - one that actually protects us from a real threat - without even realizing it.

The article points out that Earth already has its own protective wall ... bubble, actually ... the magnetosphere. The enhanced, artificial bubble found by NASA's satellites is an unintended result of the interplay between human technology and the magnetosphere that nature helpfully provided.

Wouldn't it be nice if all of our human impacts on nature could work out this well? If they did, then the Trump administration's war on the EPA and on science in general might make sense.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* You can read the actual NASA press release here.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Poetry Sunday

This poem combines the dual melancholy of growing old and of longing for a home that isn't there any more. Sad, but still entertaining ...

To the Woman at the Retirement Center 
by Phebe Hanson 

You tell me when you were eight, newly arrived
from Czechoslovakia, your teacher made you memorize
a poem that began “I remember, I remember
the house where I was born.” Stranger
to our language you proudly learned all the verses,
practiced them over and over in front of your mirror,
but at the program when you stood to recite
in front of all the parents and other students,
you got as far as “I remember, I remember,”
and forgot all the rest and had to sit down shamefaced.
Now you live in this ten-story retirement center
where you cried most of the first month, so lonesome
for your son, transferred to another city, who couldn’t
take you with him because his new house wasn’t
big enough. Sometimes, you tell me, you slip away
from the recreation director who wants to teach you
how to turn plastic bleach bottles into bird feeders,
sneak up to your room, turn on the Bohemian radio station,
dance barefoot all by yourself, as you used to
years ago in the house where you were born.

Have a good day, and enjoy what's left of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow as we start a new week.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Even by modern standards, it's been a heck of a week ...

The Deputy Attorney General has appointed former FBI Director Robert Muller as a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election; Russian president Vladimir Putin trolled the US government by offering to provide a transcript of the controversial meeting between his foreign minister and his ambassador to the US with Donald Trump; in Washington, Turkish security personnel beat protesters on a public street in front of the Turkish ambassador's residence; former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has refused to honor a Senate subpoena for documents relating to his meetings with Russian officials; and a driver murdered one person and injured many others when, high on marijuana and PCP, he drove his car through crowds in Times Square.

This week, in honor of the management style of the current administration, we have no theme and no focus ... just a collection of random cartoons.

Packaging technology is creating problems of its own ...

Speaking the truth at graduation ceremonies ...

Many days, it's what I need, too ...

Truth ...

Yes, it probably does go back this far ...

I'm absolutely certain of this one ...

I understand the dizziness and nausea part ...

I'll take a dozen ...

It works for Mr Trump ...

What I don't miss now that I'm retired ...

Have a good day and a great weekend, and try not to pay too much attention to the rolling circus where our government used to be. That's why God gave us gin.

See you tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for May, 2017

How quickly two weeks go by! It's the third week of May, and it's time to name our latest Ass Clown Award recipient. As usual ... actually, more so than usual ... it's been difficult to separate the wheat of the true Ass Clowns from the chaff of the merely stupid and ignorant, especially given the chaotic events of the last week. I have an idea that my selection this time will be controversial, but after weighing the qualifications of the many contenders and thinking about what makes a truly award-worthy Ass Clown, I've made my decision.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown
May, 2017

On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 17th, Representative Green took the floor at the House of Representatives and called for the impeachment of Donald Trump, saying:

"This is about my position. This is about what I believe. And this is where I stand. I will not be moved. The President must be impeached."

Mr Green is free to believe what he will, and to take any position he wishes, and I personally think that Donald Trump is an utter disaster in the nation's highest office. However, Donald Trump was legally and properly elected according to the Constitution and the law, and we are nowhere close to seeing definitive evidence of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors"* that will stand up in court. Issuing a formal call on the House floor for Mr Trump's impeachment at this time is the worst sort of shameless grandstanding, and complicates an already-difficult and highly charged political situation. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, Texas Representative Al Green is named our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for May, 2017.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... I guarantee it will be funnier than anything you've seen in Washington this week.

More thoughts then.


* Article II, Section 4.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Like a Fiddle at an Ozark Hoedown

Two of my favorite movies are RED and its sequel, RED 2. They detail the adventures of a group of aging intelligence operatives (Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich) who are kept under close government observation because they have been designated as "Retired, Extremely Dangerous (RED)." One of my favorite lines (from RED 2) is delivered by John Malkovich, who explains that he knew Bruce Willis's old girlfriend, a Russian agent, would "play him like a fiddle at an Ozark hoedown."

Well, it seems that Russians are still playing us like fiddles at an Ozark hoedown.

Yesterday, Russian president Vladimir* Putin helpfully offered to help Mr Trump out of his latest self-inflicted crisis by offering to provide the US government with a transcript of Trump's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak ... presumably to clarify whether the men's discussions included highly classified information Mr Trump should not have shared with his guests.

What a neighborly thing to do! I can hear the fiddles playing in the background.

First of all, I'll stipulate that Mr Trump has the inherent authority, as president, to declassify and release intelligence information. But as my mother was fond of warning us as we were growing up, the fact that you can do something doesn't automatically mean that you should do it. In this particular case, the information that Mr Trump is said to have revealed to his Russian guests appears to have been provided by an allied nation under an intelligence sharing agreement ... with the proviso that it not be further disseminated without that nation's specific permission, which had not been obtained.

Some of my more conservative friends insist that this is not an issue, and that the presence of classified information in e-mails that transited Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server is a far worse transgression. As I've agreed before, Secretary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server for official State Department business was stupid, and the fact that classified information was included in messages that transited that server was illegal, not to mention stupid. But to equate that activity to Mr Trump passing highly classified information directly to senior officials of a government that is suspected of meddling in our presidential election is also stupid. It is clear that Mr Trump does not understand the relationship between his authority and his responsibilities, and while one can argue that sharing some counterterrorism information with Russia may be helpful, it must be done within the limits and constraints that protect the intelligence relationships on which we depend.

I spent 23 years as an active duty Air Force intelligence officer, and another 20 years working as a contractor in support of Air Force intelligence programs. As a career intelligence professional, I don't like being played ... by the Russians or by my own elected officials who should know better.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Just as a linguistic aside, the Russian name "Vladimir" comes from the combination of two words: "vlad" (ruler) and "mir" (world) ... hence "Vladimir" means "Ruler of the World." Similarly, the Russian city of Vladivostok combines "Vlad" with "vostok" (east) to mean, "Ruler of the East." I should also note that "mir" can also be translated as "peace," in which case "Vladimir" can be translated as "Ruler of Peace" or perhaps, "Peaceful Ruler." I'm sure Mr Trump would go with option 2.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Taking a Break

I had a post written for today, but when I gave it a last review before hitting the "publish" button, I realized that it wasn't quite as ready for prime time as I thought. Instead of my usual carefully-crafted and rock-solid style ...

it seemed to have a few issues ...

Therefore, I'm taking the day off from blogging to re-work that post and try to bring it up to standards. I realize that "standards" are something with which we're unaccustomed in the age of Trump, but just work with me on this, okay.

Have a good day. I'll be back tomorrow.

More thoughts then.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Coop d'Etat

From the Department of Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Crazier comes this article my daughter sent me last night: Chickens Exhibit Machiavellian Tendencies, Scientists Discover.

Yes, Dear Readers, chickens - the clucking, comical fowl made yummy by Col Sanders, Popeye's, and Chic-fil-A, and lampooned by generations of cartoonists - may be more intelligent and crafty than we thought. According to the article, we have "greatly underestimated" the intelligence of chickens, which have "demonstrat(ed) thinking skills that are similar to mammals and primates."

For instance, roosters have been observed to make sounds which announce the presence of food even when no food is present, for the purpose of attracting hens ... a variation on the human practice of inviting a female to one's apartment to view etchings. Indeed, chicken communication has been found to be very complex, consisting of "a large repertoire of different visual displays and at least 24 distinct vocalizations," placing chickens - at the very least - on a par with Donald Trump in their ability to communicate.

Dr Loro Marino, a scientist quoted in the article, noted that,

“... chickens have the capacity to reason and make logical inferences, a capability that humans develop at approximately the age of seven*. They perceive time intervals and may be able to anticipate future events. (They) are behaviorally sophisticated, discriminating among individuals, exhibiting Machiavellian-like social interactions, and learning socially in complex ways that are similar to humans.”

The bottom line, Dear Readers, is that we need to pay more attention to the potential threat around us posed by machiavellian chickens. Perhaps they are quietly grooming their own General Tso and preparing for the day they rise up and make Kiev their capital.

They could hardly do worse than the current administration.

Have a good day. Be careful when crossing the road.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* As we see every day, some children do not develop this capacity, and nevertheless go on to enjoy successful careers in politics.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Nobody Cares About This Except You"

There was a very interesting and thought-provoking article in last Thursday's Washington Post. The print title was "For President Right Now, No Profit in Learning from Past," while the online title was "Why Trump Expected Only Applause When He Told Comey, ‘You’re Fired.’"

The bottom line of the article is summed up in the print title: Donald Trump is a man who lives entirely in the present, which allows him to blithely shrug off things he said and did in the past as if they never happened ... because to him, they didn't, and therefore they don't matter. Only the present matters. Here's a key quote from the article:

"Confronted with his past statements that stand in direct conflict with his current positions, Trump has always reacted not with remorse or embarrassment. Rather, a look of almost innocent surprise sweeps over his face and he says, as he has to reporters who remind him that he once promised to release his tax returns but then decided that he never would, 'Nobody cares about this except you.'"


"'I’m just not interested in the past,' Trump has said. 'I’m interested in the present.'"

Philosopher George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." That's why we study history - to learn what has happened before, to see what worked and what didn't, and to identify and avoid making again the mistakes of those who came before us.

Of course, paying attention to the wrong historical precedent, or interpreting it in the wrong way, is not a good thing, either. Historians Richard Neustadt and Ernest May made this point in their excellent book Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, which ought to be required reading for anyone in government. But that's no excuse for totally ignoring historical precedent. Were Donald Trump not so totally driven by the now, by what he sees on his favorite, fawning Faux News programs, he might have realized that his ham-handed firing of FBI director James Comey would draw immediate (and not completely inaccurate) parallels to Richard Nixon's firing of officials during the Watergate scandal.

Sadly, many millions of people - like Trump - don't care about the lies and the distortions and the nepotism and the ignorance ... people who are so blinded by a visceral hatred of Hillary Clinton and the liberal elite that they'll swallow anything Mr Trump says and then ask for a bigger second helping.

And yet, Mr Trump is wrong when he says that nobody cares about things. I care very much about getting to the bottom of possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. I care about Mr Trump's total lack of transparency about his family's business dealings and how they could affect his presidential decision-making. And I am not alone. Many other people really do care ... people who actually care about the Constitution and about flagrant abuse of authority by a narcissistic and delusional president.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mothers' Day, 2017

This is the tenth year that I have slightly revised and updated my traditional Mothers' Day post. It may be recycled and tweaked, but it comes no less from the heart. If you've read it before, just know that everything still applies ... read it again if you like, or come back tomorrow for my thoughts on other things ...

Today is Mothers' Day, the one day each year we set aside to honor the lady we undervalue the other 364. It's the day we remember the person who made our hurts better, explained our homework, cooked our meals, washed our clothes, drove us where we needed to go, warned us about our less-savory acquaintances, embarrassed us in front of our friends, and did her best to point us down the straight line of a moral and upright life.

Mothers are the wonderful and woefully underappreciated people from whom the Army and the Navy stole their one-time recruiting slogans - the Army's "We do more before 9 AM than most people do all day," and the Navy's "It's not just a job, it's an adventure." With all due respect to Soldiers and Sailors everywhere ... you don't have a clue.

Somewhere in my web surfing I found this little riff on how we look at our Mothers at different ages:

Age 4: Mommy can do anything!
Age 8: Mom knows a lot!
Age 12: Mother doesn't know everything.
Age 14: Mother doesn't know anything.
Age 16: Mother is so old-fashioned.
Age 18: Her? She's out of it.
Age 25: Mom might know something about that.
Age 35: Before we decide, let's ask Mom.
Age 45: What would Mom have thought about that?
Age 65: I wish I could talk that over with Mom.

It's true.

My mother passed away sixteen years ago at the far-too-young age of 74. She spent a long and honorable life raising four children who, I like to think, made her proud ... most of the time, anyway. And in her twilight years, her once-formidable mind ravaged by Alzheimer's Disease, she missed much of the result of her love and care and sacrifice - a son who can dance (and who may yet write that book she thought he had in him, instead of a daily blog), a small army of grandchildren, and six beautiful great-grandchildren who will never know her love and wisdom and the off-the-wall sense of humor* that brightened the lives of everyone who knew her.

The next generation of mothers is moving the family forward. My beloved daughters Yasmin and Tabitha**, between them are raising the world's six greatest grandchildren (Marcy, Joe, Noah, Leya, Elise, and Ava). And someday those wonderful grandchildren will sit down on Mothers' Day and reflect - just as their grandpa does today - on the lady who gave up so much of her own life and dreams to make them who they are.

And so again this year, I wish my own Agnes, Yasmin and Tabitha, my sister Lisa and sisters-in-law Laura and Brenda, fellow bloggers Amanda and Fiona, my dear friends Kathy and Lioudmila, and all the other mothers out there doing the world's toughest job, a very happy Mothers' Day and many more to come. We couldn't be what we are, or do what we do, without you.

Take the time today to give your Mother a hug and a kiss. Someday, you'll wish you had.

And lest you think I'm getting too maudlin about the whole thing, here's a picture from long ago of my Dad with four then and future moms: my daughter Yasmin, my sister Lisa, Agnes, and my mother ...

We're an odd family, but somehow we've turned out all right ... more or less. Good parents will do that to you.

Oh, and in case you haven't seen it, here's The Mom Song, set to the tune of The William Tell Overture ...

Happy Mothers' Day! More thoughts tomorrow.


* Every time you groan at one of my puns, you should be grateful that you never had to deal with Mom ...

** I don’t think of Tabitha as an “in-law.”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Can it be that we're only two weeks into May?

Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey this week, for reasons that seemed to shift depending on the day of the week and the administration spokesperson doing the explaining; in India, at least 24 people were killed when a wall collapsed onto guests attending a wedding; Donald Trump met this week with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting from which American ... but not Russian journalists were barred; workers in New Orleans, wearing masks and body armor and under heavy police guard, took down a statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis in the early hours of Thursday morning; and in California, a school of 25 great white sharks was spotted off Capistrano Beach* on Wednesday.

The way the news has been lately, before long we'll all need professional therapy to cope. This week's cartoons deal, thus, with therapy ...

Baby steps ...

Well, why not? ...

Every blogger can relate to this one ...

Some celebrities need therapy, too ...

I can relate to this one ...

Unfortunately, this is the group we need more and more nowadays ...

Even superheroes get the blues ...

Yes, that would tend to spike the need for therapy ...

Psychiatric pit crew ...

It's true ... just ask the firm of Bannon and Trump ...

Today will be another rainy, chilly day here in NoVa, perfect for watching our granddaughter take part in her latest rock-climbing competition, this time at Earth Treks in Rockville. Perhaps by tomorrow the rain will end, and I can get back to work in the garden ... if our neighbor has moved his double-parked ark by then.

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


* Contrary to earlier reporting, they were not attending a meeting of corporate attorneys.