Friday, June 30, 2017

The On-Crack Ass Clown for June, 2017

June is one of those months in which the dates fall such that there are three Fridays we can dedicate to the public acknowledgement of excellence* in ass clownery. And so it is that today we deliver a loud Bronx cheer and a single-finger salute to

The On-Crack Ass Clown for June, 2017

with the award going to

The GOP Health Care Plan
Its Supporters

In all the frenzied hyperbole, exaggeration, self-serving statistics, political fantasy, and outright falsehoods churned out on all sides of the argument over health care, the fact remains that while we in America are surrounded by some of the best medical care in the world, most of us can't afford it when it's needed. The Affordable Care Act (AKA "Obamacare") was an attempt, flawed in some respects, to fix that problem.

In the GOP's frantic ongoing efforts to "remove and replace" Obamacare, each iteration of the new plan seems to get worse for the Real People who actually need health care. Rather than looking at the existing ACA, identifying it's weaknesses, and fixing them, the GOP is determined to attack the problem politically, rooting out a plan developed by a detested Democrat root and branch and replacing it with something more aligned with conservative ideals. Unfortunately, even the conservatives can't agree on what they want, and the latest iteration of the plan they have proposed saves the government money and benefits wealthy taxpayers (major conservative goals), but hurts the people who most need to be protected**.

One might think that, from a conservative economic perspective, doing everything possible to maintain a healthy population would be a no-brainer ... after all, if you cut taxes to the bare minimum on the assumption that business will thrive and make up the difference through economic growth, doesn't it make sense to have a strong, healthy workforce? Apparently not. 

And, by the way, neither the ACA nor any of the ugly GOP attempts to replace it does anything to help with the availability and affordability of dental care ... which is, in many ways, a worse problem.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dear Readers, Our On-Crack Ass Clown for June, 2017, is the GOP Health Care Plan - such as it is - and those who support it. If you get sick and can't afford the care you need, just call your elected representative, who will be delighted to tell you why you have no right to health care, and that if you need it, you should just get a job so you can afford better insurance.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when Cartoon Saturday returns.


* Sorry for the use of that word in this context.

** Congressional Budget Office analysis.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Peak Ages, Revisited

Back in May, Mike shared in his blog a fascinating chart titled "The Age You Peak At Everything, According to Science*." And in line with my demonstrated talent for taking off on ideas already introduced by other bloggers, I thought I'd go back and look at that chart one more time, and offer my own thoughts on it ...

First of all, speaking as a linguist, age 7 as the peak age for Learning a New Language sounds about right. I pick up languages pretty easily, but I started learning German in high school and Russian in you can tell how easy it is to speak Chinese because tens of millions of little children in China speak it perfectly well ... and it's because they learned it from their earliest years.

Life Satisfaction actually peaks twice, according to this chart - at age 23 and again at age 69**. I seem to remember being fairly satisfied at age 23, but haven't made it quite to 69 yet. However, closing in on age 66, I'm already pretty content with Agnes, my retiree status, my six grandchildren, my friends, my garden, and my other hobbies. Maybe I'm just ahead of the curve. Oh, and speaking of age 23, the chart says that it's the age of Maximum Female Attractiveness to Men. I'm not sure I agree with that, though, because I think there are a lot of very attractive women out there much older than 23. As the old saying goes, the major compensation nature pays to men for getting older is that every year there are more women we find attractive.

I don't understand Happiness with Your Body peaking at age 74 ... while I'm not a complete wreck yet, I think my body was a lot firmer and more attractive back around my 20s and 30s. Women tell me today that my gray hair makes me look distinguished, which sounds better than older than rocks, so I guess I'll take it.

Vocabulary is said to peak in the late 60s and early 70s (71 on the chart). I have my doubts about how accurate this is, given that the president is 71 and I'm not especially impressed by his communicative skills.

And finally, although it's not specifically indicated on the chart, but in the accompanying text, men's attractiveness to women seems to improve with age. However, as Mike reminded me in our exchange of comments on his blog, we've probably exceeded the allowable margin of age difference ... by a few decades.

Oh, well ...

Have a good day. Get ready to excel on schedule.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* You can see the chart in its original article with the original discussion and explanations on the IFL Science website here.

** I'm not going to make any jokes about 69 producing great satisfaction.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Services You Never Knew You Needed

Following a link from Miss Cellania's blog the other day brought me to an interesting entry on Neatorama: 10 Services You Never Knew You Needed.

Well, I don't need most of these services, although some could be useful ... I like these three:

#1 - Nostril-Hair Notification. As we get older, hair tends to grow in unusual and frequently unwanted places, like our ears and nose. Although nose hair serves a biologically useful function, if it becomes unkept it can be unpleasant, and it's equally unpleasant and uncomfortable to have to draw someone's attention to the need to trim it. An online site called "Chololi" will anonymously e-mail the individual (using your desired degree of snark) to let them know it's time to bring out the trimmer. As I write this, Chololi's website claims to have 14,967 nose hair saves. Act now.

#5 - Ear-Cleaning Parlors. Got too much wax in your ears? Reluctant to dig with cotton swabs? In Japan, there are plenty of ear-cleaning parlors that can help you out, using little bamboo sticks called mimikaki. They're bound to be in California, too.

and ...

#7 - Grandma Rentals. Need some TLC? Don't have a traditional loving grandma? A California company called Rent-a-Grandma specializes in "placing caring women, possessing deep life experience with families as Nannies, Baby Sitters, and in-home Care Providers, as well as chefs, cooks and highly experienced domestic staff." Their website also offers brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and oatmeal-raisin cookies for sale, just like grandma used to make. Dig in.

Of course, I can think of a lot of other useful services that someone could make a living by providing. Here are two of my suggestions:

Telemarketing Vengeance. A person with the right technical know-how could probably make a small fortune developing a system that would allow customers to ring back the numbers of persistent telemarketers multiple times per day between 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM (or as early or late as the telemarketer has called).

Subcontracted Road Rage. In the 1932 movie "If I Had a Million," Rollo la Rue (played by W.C. Fields*) is perpetually enraged by bad drivers. When a benefactor gives him a million dollars, La Rue and his wife buy a fleet of used cars, hire a driver for each, and then travel in convoy with them. When another driver commits an infraction, the La Rues signal one of their drivers, who pulls out and rams the offending car. Given the traffic and the terrible drivers here in DC, I'd probably pay good money for a service like that ... except that I'd also use them to box in people who park so as to occupy multiple spaces in public lots.

You-Look-Stupid Alerting. If, like me, you are offended by clueless idiots who stroll around with their pants halfway down their backsides, exposing their underwear, you may need this service. It would consist of individuals who will approach these dumbasses on your behalf and suggest that they dress like real people and not like Joe Poop the Rag Boy*. 

How about you? What niche services do you think we need? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* A curmudgeon after my own heart.

** I could have used this service some years ago when Agnes's parents were visiting from Germany. Agnes and her mom had gone into a store at a local mall, and her father and I were sitting on a bench outside. A young man came slouching by with his pants about 2/3 of the way down his backside and suspenders dragging on the ground. Dad broke out in laughter, and the kid turned and glared at him ... I thought for a moment I was going to have to fight him unless he tripped over his pants and fell down first. Fortunately, he just grunted inarticulately and slouched on.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Social Media Friends vs "Real" Friends

From Bilbo's Department of Shameless Plagiarism of Good Ideas comes today's post, inspired by fellow blogger John's post from last Saturday.

In his post, John ruminated on the differences between the friendships we maintain on social media and the friendships based on close and in-person contact. In John's view, social media relationships aren't "real" relationships, and we shouldn't have the people we routinely see every day as social media friends, because they deserve more personal contact ... we should have live conversations with them, face to face, and reserve the social media-level of friendship for those who are separated from us by great distance, or who are not necessarily our closest and warmest friends.

I sort of agree with that. Right now, I have 220 "friends" on Facebook, which is my primary social media outlet (I have a Twitter account, but almost never use it). Of that 220 number, probably about a third are people I've either never met in person or met once at a party or conference, and probably wouldn't recognize if we encountered each other on the street ... although I'd probably enjoy actually meeting and getting to know most of them. 

My 220 social media (Facebook) friends fall into the following general groups:

Members of my extended family (brothers, sister, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, and so on);

High School and college friends with whom I've gotten re-acquainted (and in some cases, acquainted for the first time);

Dance friends from our time as active ballroom dancers and competitors;

Former work colleagues, including people I got to know because we rode the commuter bus together every day for many years;

Blogging friends (a fair number of whom I've actually met face-to-face - among them Andrea, Mike, Kathy, Birgitta, and Peggy, or by phone or exchange of snail mail - like Amanda from sunny Australia); and,

Friends of friends (people who have initiated contact with me because of things I've posted that they've seen on their friends' Facebook pages or blogs). This is a relatively small, but slowly growing group.

While I greatly prefer to enjoy my friendships up close and personal, I've found social media (Facebook, in the main) to be a great way to maintain contact and share information with friends and relatives who live at a great distance. It keeps us connected as much or as little as we wish to be, and it's a good way to prevent the sort of profound shock that often happens when we run into people we haven't seen for years ... what I think of as the "you're WHO???" reaction. In fact, that's how I got started on Facebook - when my high school class had its 40th reunion back in 2009, one of the organizers encouraged all of us to set up Facebook pages and post a few recent photos so we'd sort of recognize each other when we got together. Most of us did, and kept going, and it's been great fun.

One of the more recent problems is that much of the political anger and divisiveness that has ruptured the country has spilled over into the social media world. I've always been pretty outspoken about my political views in my blog and on Facebook, and I've engaged in a fair amount of heated discussion with various friends on FB, but so far nothing has yet reached the point where it's become nasty and vituperative* ... I've not yet felt the urge to "unfriend" anyone. I have both liberal and conservative friends, but most of them are reasonable and rational people with whom I don't mind the volley of competing ideas. Those who disagree with me are wrong, of course, and they think I am ... but we manage to remain friends.

But getting back to John's original blog post on this topic, here's a quote I don't think he'll mind me using:

"I'm actually more interested in meeting the people that read this blog and write their own personal blogs more than I am in meeting many of the people that follow on various forms of social media."

This is true. While it's nice to be able to keep up with the activities of our friends, it's even better to sit down once in a while over a coffee or lunch or dinner and really get to know one another. Of course, if we actually met in person, we might not recognize each other, given that we tend to be ... um ... generously selective with the profile photos we choose.

Bottom line: while I agree with John that "real" friends are better, I'm not likely to give up my "virtual" Facebook friends just yet. In any case, what we think of today as "social media" is not that much different from the concept of the "pen pal" that those of us of a certain age will remember. I like to think that my friendship with Amanda in Brisbane, Australia - whom I'm never likely to meet in person - is any less warm because we've carried it out through the exchange of blog posts, snail mail and one memorable phone call.

Have a good day, whether live or on social media.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Snide and snarky, yes, but I can live with that.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thoughts on News, Anonymous Sources, and Leaked Information

One of the most overused adjectives in modern news reporting is anonymous. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, it has three meanings:

1: of unknown authorship or origin (an anonymous tip);

2: not named or identified (an anonymous author; they wish to remain anonymous); and,

3: lacking individuality, distinction, or recognizability (the anonymous faces in the crowd).

For purposes of the present discussion, the first two definitions are of primary interest.

A cornerstone of modern news reporting is the so-called "anonymous source." Many news reports rely on the input of sources who wish not to be identified. Some reasons often given for this wish include:

 - "the source was not authorized to speak to the media;"

- "in order to speak about internal discussions;"

- "in order to discuss classified material;" and,

- "because the source feared reprisals for speaking to the media."

Although it pains me deeply to agree with Donald Trump on anything, I have to agree on the issue of anonymous sources, and the leaking of privileged information in general. As a rule, I don't like or trust anonymous sources, because they make me complicit** in advancing their personal agendas, with which I may not agree and which may not be as altruistic as they would have us believe. Further, leaked information lacks valuable context. And finally, I don't find the usual excuses to be very persuasive:

If the source "was not authorized to speak to the media" but did so anyhow, what was his** reasoning? "Not authorized" to me means "not authorized," not "not authorized unless you think you know better than everybody else."

If the source provided privileged information "in order to speak about internal discussions," why were the discussions privileged and internal in the first place, and why did the source believe she had a right to expose them?

If the source provided privileged information anonymously "in order to discuss classified material," he needs to go to jail. We live in a world in which clueless idiots who have drunk the government-is-always-evil Kool Aid automatically equate "classified" with "juicy evidence of government wrongdoing." Most of the time, "classified" material is "classified" in order to protect the way in which it was collected, and to keep enemies from knowing we have collected it. Sanctimonious leakers who think they know better can imperil our capabilities and, in the worst case, cost lives. There are legitimate avenues for people with concerns to raise them within intelligence channels*** ... holier-than-thou showboaters belong in jail.

Finally, if the source provided privileged information anonymously "because she feared reprisals for speaking to the media," well, perhaps that source ought to be afraid, because she has violated the trust placed in her when access to the information was granted.

The number of news stories that rely exclusively on anonymous sources nowadays is huge, and likely to get larger. The problem for you and I as consumers and evaluators of news is that we do not know the source's motivation, nor do we know the context in which the source obtained the information he has released. Even worse, I think, is a news story that relies on multiple sources, all of whom want to remain anonymous. Does the fact that more than one anonymous source reports the same thing give more credence to the information? How do we know that they are not colluding with each other? Whom do you trust?

The reliance on anonymous sources places us in the situation of having to rely on the judgement of reporters - who may have their own political agendas or be driven by the competitive speed of the 24-hour news - to decide on the veracity of the leaked information.

At a time when the President of the United States has only the most tenuous of relationships with the truth, and his spokespersons shamelessly churn out obvious and provable falsehoods; when the news media relies on sources of information we cannot see or evaluate; where do we the people get the information we need to evaluate how well our government is serving us?

Where, indeed?

Have a good day. Listen critically and don't rely on single media outlets for your information. Some are better than others, but none deserves your complete and total attention and belief. Here's a useful chart that's about as "fair and balanced"†† as you're likely to find††† ...

More thoughts tomorrow.


* A useful Trump-era word.

** For the sake of simplicity, from here on out, when I use the pronouns "he," "she," "him," "her," or "his," you should understand that I mean "he or she," "him or her," and "his or her." I don't want to sound "sexist," but I also don't want the writing to be cumbersome.

*** I have used them myself.

† Another useful Trump-era word.

†† Did you notice that Faux News has quietly dropped that slogan?

††† Although I can hear the howls of outrage from both ends of the spectrum already.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Musical Sunday

There's been quite a lot of controversy lately over the degree of secrecy surrounding most aspects of the Trump administration, and particularly the move-along-nothing-to-see-here conduct of the GOP as it crafts its answer to Obamacare. You can read a good summary of the situation here. With that in mind, I thought this song by Patsy Cline would be appropriate ...

Good luck with your health care. There's a reason why they're keeping too many secrets from you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Once again we crawl, panting and gasping, into the last Cartoon Saturday of the month ...

Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff lost a special Congressional election - the most expensive in history - in Georgia to GOP candidate Karen Handel; Otto Warmbier, the American student imprisoned in North Korea and then sent home in a coma, passed away on Monday, prompting the usual useless howls of outrage against the North Korean government; a police officer at the Flint, Michigan airport was stabbed in the neck by a man apparently targeting police officers; in Phoenix, Arizona, temperatures exceeding 120 degrees forced closure of the airport when it became - literally - too hot to fly; and after months of hints and threats, Donald Trump finally admitted - without the least bit of shame - that no, he didn't have any "tapes" of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey*.

This week, since June is supposed to be the month for weddings, let's have some cartoons about weddings ...

It's important to read the fine print in the license ...

Good question ...

Oh, oh ...

Weddings in the digital age ...

Well, at least she's being up front about it ...

I've always wanted to see a wedding where this happened ...

The Miranda warnings have wider applicability than you probably thought ...

There are destination weddings, and there are ...

You may now text the bride ...

The wedding guests as a captive audience ...

And there you have it - the last Cartoon Saturday of the month. I hope it's helped you get over the battering of the past week.

It looks as if we'll finally get a break in the weather here in NoVa - we'll have rain this morning and temperatures going into the 90's, but then things are finally going to cool down and dry out into the new week. It's about time ... I was tired of wearing that snorkel to go outside.

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


* And the White House formally responded to a Congressional request for such tapes, if they existed, by cutting and pasting Mr Trump's tweet into an official letter on White House stationery. How very presidential.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Old McConnell's Plan

Yes, I know you were expecting to see another segment of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. Unfortunately, in an effort to be timely, I've decided to replace that post (which I'd already written, by the way), with this one. Great Moments in Editing and Signage will return two weeks from today.

Okay ...

As you no doubt know, the GOP has been working, frantically and in great secrecy, on its long-promised plan to "remove and replace" the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). Republicans hate that law for many reasons, not all of them (in my opinion) rational, but it is what it is. They've promised the minority of the voting public that elected them that they'll get rid of the "failed law" and replace it with ... something. Better or worse, we're not sure, although the House version was so spectacularly bad that embarrassed House Republicans punted to the Senate, which yesterday published a "discussion draft" of the bill* that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a few friends have drafted in great secrecy and intend to put to a vote next week after minimum review and discussion.

This is, of course, a complete travesty of the democratic process, but allowable levels of hypocrisy being what they are today, Senator McConnell and his cabal are moving shamelessly forward with this clandestinely-crafted pile of doo-doo, and will probably get away with it.

Which has inspired me to write a song about the whole sorry mess ...

Old McConnell's Plan
(sung to the tune of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm")

Old McConnell has a plan
To kill Obamacare -
He wrote it in a secret room
And just his friends were there.
Just his banking friends
And insurance friends
     Can’t agree
     Gotta write in secrecy
Old McConnell has a plan
To kill Obamacare

Old McConnell has a plan,
To kill Obamacare.
And he says his plan will help,
But who it help’s not clear.
With a tax cut here
And a credit there,
     Here a cut,
     There a break,
     Everywhere a head fake –
Old McConnell has a plan
To kill Obamacare.

Old McConnell has a plan
To kill Obamacare.
And if you read his plan, you’ll see
There’s nothing really there.
There’s naught for you,
And there’s naught for me,
     Nothing to protect us,
     Single guy
     Or family -
Old McConnell has a plan
To kill Obamacare.

Feel free to add your own verses. And if you're one of the 23 million people expected to lose your health insurance** if the GOP rams this through ... good luck.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... God knows we need it.


* Good luck understanding it.

** According to the CBO analysis.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Supreme Court Takes up the Gerrymander

If you are concerned about the hopeless gridlock in Washington (and you should be), you should also be interested in the announcement from the Supreme Court this past Monday that it will hear arguments about whether gerrymandered election maps favoring one political party over another violate the Constitution.

One can pretty convincingly argue that a direct line can be drawn from horrendously gerrymandered congressional districts to complete partisan gridlock in Washington. If a congressional district has been drawn to make it electorally safe for one party or the other, the incumbent has no reason to compromise or work with the other party - if he does, the voters will replace him* with another, probably more politically pure and intransigent, member of the same party. This is pretty obvious, at least to me. But is it Constitutional?

As I read the Constitution, guidelines for drawing Congressional districts aren't addressed. Article 1, Section 2 spells out the number of representatives each state is allowed (at least one, but no more than 1 for every 30,000 residents), but there's no guidance on how the districts are to be drawn, unless you squint at this statement in Article 1, Section 4 -

"The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; ..." 

... and consider redistricting to fall under the heading of "Places and Manner." The only other place the apportionment of representation is addressed is in the 14th Amendment, which says -

"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed."

Altogether, that's not very much in the way of guidance, and it's led us to the mess we have today.

Here are the two most outrageously gerrymandered Congressional districts in the country**:

North Carolina's 12th District -

and Maryland's 3rd District - 

In what odd parallel universe do these district boundaries make sense other than for partisan advantage?

As I see it, the appropriate way to set Congressional districts is to have them align with existing county or parish (in Louisiana) boundaries. I suspect, however, that this would be strongly opposed by both parties, but especially Republicans, since their strength is largely concentrated in more lightly populated rural areas, rather than in large cities which tend to vote Democratic and would probably fall into single districts drawn by county.

I hope that the Supreme Court is able to establish some rational guidelines for Congressional districts, although I have my doubts, given that its political divisions mirror that of the rest of the country. Any guidelines will need to be imposed by the court, because no state, regardless of which party is in control, will be willing to do politically neutral redistricting unless there's a guarantee that every other state will do it, too***.

I'll be watching the arguments before the Supreme Court, and will be anxious to read the final decision, whichever way it goes. It's gonna be interesting.

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


* You should read the pronoun as "he or she," "him or her," as appropriate to the context. I don't mean to discount women, but writing "he or she" all the time is cumbersome.

** You can look at the other 8 most-gerrymandered districts and read a good analysis of the gerrymandering issue here.

*** Nuclear disarmament works the same way.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Unwritten Rules of Airplane Etiquette

Agnes and I have spent a lot of time in airplanes over the years. There were the multiple back-and-forths across the Atlantic for military reassignments, as well as the trips back to Germany to visit Agnes's family, our trip to Montreal a few years back, and our various flights to Florida, Ohio, and California for vacations and family visits. We have several more trips coming up as well, both within the US and back to Germany.

When Agnes's parents were still alive, she made a very large number of transatlantic flights and accumulated a lot of frequent flier miles, allowing us to upgrade some of our flights to business class ... which, let me tell you, I could really get used to. But since we don't fly as far or as often nowadays, we're generally stuck with the usual cattle car of "economy class" (also known as "coach" or "steerage").

And that leads me to today's topic - an article from Thrillist that my friend Kat recently shared on her Facebook page: The 21 Unwritten Rules of Flying You're Probably Breaking.

We all know how miserable air travel has become, but there are a few unwritten rules that, if observed, would help make things more bearable. You can read all 21 of them for yourself, but there are three that I think are worth special notice ...

#7. If you can’t lift your own bag, don’t carry it on. You know what I mean ... it was bad enough before the airlines started charging for checked bags, but now people try to cram as much as possible into "carry-ons" the size of an upright piano. When they try to hoist those huge, heavy bags into the overhead bins, invariably one of them falls on someone's head, usually mine. If your bag is that heavy, don't be a cheap ass clown - go ahead and check it before you hurt somebody.

#10. Don't recline in economy. You're in your seat, with the tray table down and your laptop or your food on it, and suddenly the bozohead in the seat in front of you - without warning - suddenly slams the seat back as far as it will recline, knocking your things into your lap, banging your forehead, and reducing your paltry few inches of leg room to nothing. I know it's torture, but don't recline the seat, at least without giving the person behind you fair warning.

And ...

#14. Don’t HALF stand up when someone needs to get out of the row. You know this one ... you're in the window seat and you need to go to the bathroom, but the people in the middle and aisle seats don't want to get up and move out of your way - they just sort of scrunch up halfway in their seats and twist a bit to the side, forcing you to squeeze past them ... something made much more difficult when the people in the row ahead have reclined their seats all the way back (see #10). Be a mensch - stand up and move out into the aisle, for pete's sake.

There are 18 more unwritten rules in the article ... check 'em out before you fly, and everyone will be happier.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

On Being an Old Retired Guy

My friend John ran an interesting post with an eye-catching title in his blog last week: The Brutal Life of a Retired Guy. I was so sorry for him after reading it that I felt compelled to share my thoughts on what I've been doing and what we're planning now that Agnes and I are both retired ... he needs to know he's not alone - that others are sharing his misery.

For more than 20 years, I got up every workday at 4:00 AM. Nowadays, I sleep late almost every day ... usually until between 5:00 and 6:00. I only set the alarm if I need to be absolutely sure I'm up before 7:00 for some reason, like the end of the world.

I seldom know what day of the week it is, except in winter ... in winter, we watch more television, and know that it's "NCIS Day" or "Scorpion Day" or "Blue Bloods Day."

On days when the temperature and humidity are not murderous, I walk a few miles.

I spend a lot of time working on my blog ... I try to have three or four posts already written and programmed to launch on specific dates.

I spend a large chunk of each day working out in the yard. For the first time, I have a reasonably professional-looking herb garden, the grass is routinely mowed and trimmed, the siding has been power-washed, and I'm getting a head start on de-junking the garage. Who knows? Maybe someday I can get the car in there again.

Agnes and I share the cooking duties much as we did when we were both working. Since we both love to cook, this isn't a chore. I also love grocery shopping, so I tend to do most of that.

During the summer we spend a few days a week chauffeuring and entertaining our two local grandchildren. This is exhausting, and is a good reminder of why we tend to have children when we are young.

I am getting a lot of leisure reading done, and getting re-acquainted with the local library system (which is truly world-class).

We helped our daughter build a chicken coop.

I have received the training and served as an Election Officer in the last two elections. I plan to keep volunteering for future elections as long as they'll have me.

I'd like to write a book. So far, I've gotten a few pages of notes and ideas written down.

Agnes and I are planning more travel - out to Ohio to visit the grandchildren, back to Germany, more cruises, and some sightseeing trips around the country to see the expressions on the faces of the people who said "come and visit any time."

Okay, that's enough. I got tired just writing all that ... I think Mike is rubbing off on me.

Have a good day, and look forward to your own retirement. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Royal Flush

We humans are an ingenious species ... well, except sometimes when we vote. Down the long centuries of human development, we have invented countless things to make our nasty, brutish, and short lives* more bearable - things like the wheel, beer, convertibles, cell phones, and so on. We've even gone out of our way to improve our ability to perform the most basic of tasks.

Which leads me to today's discussion of useful toilet accessories.

I recently ran across an old CNN travel article about a Japanese toilet called the Ecochime or "Sound Princess" toilet. The Japanese are famous for their multi-function toilets which combine the usual evacuation functions with a bidet, warm-air bottom dry, and air freshener dispenser, but the Ecochime toilet goes beyond those basic amenities to include the sounds of a recorded flush. Yes, Dear Readers, the push of a button can deploy the noise of a flush to mask any other, less desirable sounds you might be making, whether it's the gentle tinkle of a normal pee-pee or the desperate grunt of the majorly constipated. And you can even adjust the volume!

Not to be outdone, though, America is stepping up to the plate (or sitting down to the bowl, depending on how you look at it) by offering the Toilet Buddy -

According to the above-linked article in the Hackaday blog, the Toilet Buddy mounts on the tank lid and

"... provide(s) some sound cover for those louder times. Not only that, it also helps serve as a reminder for other bathroom courtesies as well. When mounted on the tank lid, the Toilet Buddy alerts the last occupant to put the seat down and shut off the lights before leaving the bathroom. Built with a Parallax Propeller board, it uses IR and ambient light sensors to determine the position of the toilet seat and the status of the bathroom lights, playing an audio notifier when necessary."

And if you don't want to go the hardware route, there's also a Toilet Buddy app** available through the iTunes store, that will play seven different masking sounds through your phone. It's a marvelous accompaniment to the "Fart for Free" app that you can also download***.

Is this a great country or what?

Have a good day. Flush proudly. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Per Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan.

** The tag line in the ad is "Your Number One When It Comes to Number Two."

*** The farting app can be very useful when you want to express your opinion of asinine political commentary.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fathers' Day, 2017

If you were looking for Poetry Sunday, don’t despair – because today is Father's Day and I have my traditional (and slightly updated) tribute to fathers today, you won't get your poetry fix this week. My granddaughter thinks Poetry Sunday is lame, anyhow, so I guess at least one of you won't be disappointed.

Today is Fathers’ Day, the day we honor the man who contributed half of our chromosomes and many of the life lessons that shaped us into who we are.

Fathers don’t get the same degree of respect that mothers do. They work in design, rather than production, after all, and don’t earn the credit that mothers do for going through nine months of pregnancy followed by months of sleepless nights and years of worry. And truth be told, many fathers don’t earn that respect. For all too many men, fatherhood is an unfortunate side effect of good sex, and a child is an impediment to the enjoyment of life. For many men, fathering a lot of children by a lot of women is the imagined sign of a manly stud ... not of lives betrayed by a thoughtless ass who thinks with his man parts* instead of his brain and heart.

Luckily, though, there are many good men out there trying their best to be good fathers. It’s not an easy job, and not everyone is good at it** ... but fortunately, enough do.

I have often reflected back on the course of my life, and I've come to the conclusion I’ve been a better grandfather than I was a father. This is probably normal. You’ve seen more of life, and had more experiences – good and bad – to share. If you’re the grandfather, you get to be the gentle, wise, let-‘em-do-what-they-want fellow the children love to see, rather than the grouchy, tired father who has to put bread on the table, crack the whip, and enforce the discipline. You get all the joy of holding and loving the children with none of the negatives ... when the baby needs changing, for instance, there's none of that messy fuss - you just give her back to her mother. What's not to like?

I think that, from the father's perspective, we have our children too early in life. We're still learning how to be adults, and all of a sudden we're fathers, responsible for teaching our children all the lessons of life that we haven't even learned yet. Our children grow up as much in spite of our mistakes as because of our excellence in parenting.

When you get to be a father, you look at your own father differently. It was Mark Twain who supposedly once said, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

It's true.

A good father, as I came in time to understand, is a gift beyond all price. The gold standard for fatherhood is, of course, my own father. He fought the Nazis*** in the skies over World War II Europe, ran his own business, raised four children and buried one, and cared for mom through the long years of misery as Alzheimer's gradually destroyed the mind of the dynamic and witty woman he loved. Dad left us two years ago, and I no longer get to hear his jokes and stories and learn the lessons he still had to teach, yet he remains the man to whom I owe whatever shreds of honor, decency, and ... well ... manhood that I can claim.

This was the man who battled for our freedom in 1944 ...

And here he is at the Mount Vernon Wine Festival in 2002, surrounded by admiring ladies (from left to right: our friends Susan and Nadja, our daughter Yasmin, and Agnes) ...

Here he is with my brother Mark and I, on the occasion of Mark's retirement from the Navy (our brother Paul served in the Army, but wasn't able to be there) ...

And here he is in December of 2013 at his 90th birthday party in Pittsburgh, surrounded by the friends and family members who came out to honor him in spite of some really ghastly winter weather ...

I'd like to think I made him satisfied, if not proud.

If you’d like to know more about the life of this wonderful man, you can read my remembrance here.

It's politically correct (bordering on mandatory) nowadays to say that a child can grow up just fine in a household with same-sex "parents," but you'll never be able to convince me that it's the same as being raised by a father and a mother who love each other, treat each other with dignity and respect, set a good example, teach their gender-specific life lessons, and subordinate their own dreams and desires to the momentous task of raising a brand new human being.

Have a good day. Honor your father. And if you're a father, be a good one ... preferably a better one than I was. Your children ... and indeed, the future ... are depending on you.

More thoughts later.


*  As Missandei would say. If you're into "Game of Thrones," you'll get it.

** As I have had the sad occasion to learn.

*** The real ones, the ones that murdered millions of innocent people and destroyed most of Europe, not the imaginary ones to which stupid people in this country compare their political opponents.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Just when you thought things were getting better ...

A man wielding a rifle fired a barrage of shots into a practice session for the annual Congressional baseball game, critically wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and several other people; American student Otto Warmbier was released from imprisonment in North Korea and returned to his family in a coma, suffering from severe brain damage; Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating Donald Trump for possible obstruction of justice; at least 30 people were killed and scores more injured and missing when a huge fire gutted an apartment tower in London; and a US Navy sailor who had been the subject of a desperate search after he apparently fell overboard at sea was found on board his ship, days before a US Navy destroyer collided with a container ship, leaving the captain and two other sailors injured and seven sailors missing.

Want some good news for a change? Last week's collection of cartoons about Cinderella went over so well that I figured I'd stay with the fairy tale genre ... this week, given all the hairy things that have happened, let's have some cartoons about Rapunzel ...

You can't escape that biological clock ...

You get what you pay for ...

There's a shampoo for that ...

Yes, I can see how that might be a problem ...

Some hair styles just aren't appropriate, are they? ...

There are other drawbacks to long hair ...

Rapunzel needed company, so ...

There's a reason Costco sells giant bottles of conditioner ...

Rapunzelian household economics ...

Oops ...

And there you have it ... a collection of cartoons guaranteed to win a permanent wave from fans everywhere. 

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts when we celebrate Fathers' Day tomorrow.


Friday, June 16, 2017

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for June, 2017

June is one of those months each year in which the way the days fall ensures that we will have not two, but three Fridays on which to present our awards for excellence* in ass clownery. Two weeks have gone by since our last award, and it's time to present our choice for

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown
June, 2017

and the award goes - for the second time - to

The News Media

I have made no secret of the fact that I believe Donald Trump is completely unfit to be president, and that his presidency is a disaster of the first magnitude for the nation and the world. However, I am appalled at the way Donald Trump and his administration been covered by the news media, both from the traditional ("mainstream") and the "alternative" side. My concern with the "mainstream" media is its rush to report every scrap of negative information without waiting for verification or context, a rush driven by the need to fill up all 24 hours of the broadcast day while beating competing outlets. My concern with the "alternative" media is the mirror image of my problem with the "mainstream" - the immediate and mindless willingness of conservative outlets to slavishly support the Trump administration without question, no matter how outrageous or indefensible its actions.

And to make things worse, the award-winning shortcomings of the media are amplified by the unwillingness of many Americans to take the time to properly evaluate the news they're getting - from whatever outlets they choose - and make informed, rational decisions.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dear Readers, The News Media, left and right, mainstream and alternate, is named our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for June, 2017.

And that's a tragedy for a nation that needs clear, rational news reporting more than ever.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... more thoughts then.


* You should pardon the expression.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense

One of the most useful tools available to those studying chemistry is the famous "Periodic Table" originally codified by the Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev to illustrate trends that had been observed in the properties of the elements and to predict other elements not yet discovered. This is what the Periodic Table looks like (click the image to embiggen it):

Now, the Periodic Table is marvelously useful for scientists, but it's also a wonderful point of departure for all sorts of other comic or satirical adaptations. I've devoted three blog posts to various examples of those, which you can go back and read here (the Periodic Table of Awesoments*), here (The Periodic Table of The Lord of the Rings), and here (Ye Olde Periodic Table). 

Now, there's a new one: The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense, developed by Crispian Jago and published in his blog The Reason Stick. You can review the PTIN here** ... and here is a family-friendly version of what it looks like:

In reviewing the PTIN, it occurs to me that it is incomplete: it does not cover all the current areas of irrational nonsense in politics, economics, and sociology. I think I'm going to start working on it, and I'll let you know how it goes; if you have any thoughts, leave a comment or e-mail me.

Have a good day, in spite of all the irrational nonsense swirling around you. More thoughts tomorrow, when we announce the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for June.


* Unfortunately, since I published that post, the original link included to the Dapperstache website has gone to bit heaven, and the larger image of the Table of Awesoments does not respond when you click on it. You can, however, still view the table here.

** It is very funny, devastatingly accurate, guaranteed to piss off almost everyone, and not suitable for children.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Observations on the Virginia Primary Election

Yesterday, as you may recall, we had our primary election here in Virginia, where voters went to the polls to elect the candidates who will represent their parties in the November general election for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. As I did for last November's presidential election††, I worked at my local precinct as a volunteer Election Official, which gave me the opportunity to make my own observations on our political processes and what they meant at the local level. Here are my take-aways from yesterday's experience:

* Because it was a primary election, the turnout was relatively light. The precinct at which I worked has 3150 registered voters; when the polls closed at 7:00 PM (after opening at 6:00 AM), 432 people had voted - about a 14% turnout rate.

* Virginia has an "open primary" system, in which voters may vote for either party, but may select only one. Essentially, there were two parallel elections: one for the Republican and one for the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, with separate ballots. As election officials, we were required to be totally non-partisan, to the point where we were told to ask voters, "In which primary do you wish to vote?" rather than asking if they wanted a "Republican" or a "Democratic" ballot ... this was meant to avoid any hint that we might favor one party or the other. Oddly enough, this language caused some confusion for many voters, who just thought of the election simply as a single "primary," and did not expect to have to choose a party ballot. A few people objected to having to indicate by their choice whether they were voting Republican or Democratic. Sometimes, you just can't win.

* We rotated among various jobs during the 13-hour voting day, taking turns greeting voters at the door, checking them in with our electronic poll books, passing out blank ballots, operating the optical scanner, etc. I preferred greeting voters at the door and checking them in, which gave more opportunities to be sociable.

* At the risk of generalizing from a small sample, of the 432 ballots requested by voters in our precinct, about 112 were for Republicans and the remainder for Democrats, indicating a much more robust turnout by Democratic voters.

* As in November, there was absolutely no evidence of voter fraud, at least at our precinct. Every voter had proper identification, and none were shown in the official records of having voted more than once (for instance, had requested an absentee ballot and then tried to vote in person).

* The relentless drumbeat of allegations of voting fraud since the November election, whether accurate or not, resonated with some voters. We answered several questions from concerned voters about the accuracy of our record-keeping and how they would know that their votes "counted" once their marked ballots had been optically scanned by the vote-counting machines. Most people were satisfied with our answers, but one man in particular seemed to be completely convinced that every election was "rigged" and that he would never be able to be sure that we were completely honest.

* No partisan "poll-watchers" showed up to monitor our activities. I suppose this was to be expected, since the election was not a head-to-head contest between Republicans and Democrats.

Those are my major observations of the conduct of our primary election yesterday. I was pleased to have been a part of the little-d democratic process, and will continue to volunteer for future service as long as they'll have me.

One last happy observation ...

Late in the day I was working as the greeter, directing voters to the proper precinct (we had two precincts operating out different sides of the local elementary school gym) and making sure they hadn't left their IDs behind when the left the polling place. An elderly lady leaning heavily on a cane made her slow way up to the door, and I gave her my usual "two precincts, Alban to the right and Saratoga to the left" speech. She stopped and said pleasantly, "Thank you, young man!" before going on into the station; on the way out, when I asked if she still had her ID, she said again, "Yes, young man, thank you for asking."

It's been a long, long time since anyone called me young man, and it made my day.

Have a good day. Vote. And, if you can, volunteer to assist in the process. It's more important now than ever.

More thoughts tomorrow.


† For some odd reason, here in The Old Dominion we vote for them separately.

†† You can read my observations on that experience in this blog post from last November.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Primary Election Day

Because I'm working today as an Election Officer for the Virginia primary election, and need to be at the polling station by 5:00 AM to get things ready, there will be no regular* post today. If you're a registered voter in Virginia, be sure to come out and vote at your local precinct. Remember, if you don't vote, you give up your right to complain about the results ...

Have a good day. Regular posts will resume tomorrow ... more thoughts then.


* Or irregular, for that matter.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ferrying Your Brain to Mental Hades

Those of you who have at least a nodding acquaintance with Greek mythology will probably recognize Charon as the ferryman who carried the souls of the newly dead to Hades across the River Styx ...

Probably not the Uber or Lyft driver you'd hope to pick you up, but it worked for the Greeks.

Which brings me, in my wordy and oddly-connected way, to the topic of today's post.

I recently ran across a new (at least to me) term similar to Charon - chyron. A chyron, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "an electronically generated caption superimposed on a television or cinema screen." The word is derived from the developer of the technology - the Chyron Corporation (now called ChyronHego). 

If you watch CNN or Faux News, or MSNBC or pretty much any television news show, you are familiar with chyrons, even if you didn't know what they were called. They're the big, showy blobs of shrieking verbiage marching across the bottom third of your screen, distracting you from what is going on on the other two-thirds. They tell you what you're supposed to be learning from whatever talking head is on the screen, along with spinning logos, all the other news of the day, the weather, the time, the latest bad news from Wall Street, the sports scores, and whatever else the network thinks you might want to know in addition to what you were trying to watch. The use of chyrons isn't limited to news channels, either, although they are the worst abusers - almost every network runs distracting animated ads for its other shows across the bottom of the screen during the shows you are trying to watch. Here are two examples of chyrons run wild, one from CNN ...

and one from Faux News ...

And when you combine chyrons with the flowing graphics running behind the speakers on the rest of the screen, it can make your head hurt from information overload.

Edward Tufte, an expert on the effective presentation of data and information*, describes such peripheral information, when added to a PowerPoint slide, as chartjunk ... distracting stuff that doesn't add to the value of your presentation and merely takes up space - things like company logos, slogans, ads, and so on. I'm not sure, but I think Tufte would describe chyrons as mediajunk - the chartjunk of the broadcast media. 

I think chyrons are a distracting, useless waste of screen space, and they drive me crazy**. They are the evil ferryman taking my brain to the underworld.

That's all. I just wanted to rant.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* My daughter and I took his one-day course on Presenting Data and Information a few years ago, and it was worth every cent.

** Okay, it's a short putt, not a drive. Just work with me on this, okay?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Musical Sunday

This past Thursday, we celebrated the birthday (in 1867) of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Thus, it seems appropriate to remember him by bringing back this song by Simon and Garfunkel ...

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. Here in NoVa, we'll be entering a pretty miserable heat wave, made all the less bearable by proximity to the halls of government. Oy.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Yes, we really need the cartoons this week ...

A 25-year-old contractor working for the National Security Agency has been arrested and charged with leaking a top-secret document on Russian election meddling to an online media outlet; a Chinese dairy company is looking for its chief financial officer, who disappeared along with $357 million of company funds; chickens came home to roost in Iran, where a spate of bombing and shooting attacks left many people dead and injured; Donald Trump engaged in yet another Twitter spat with a US ally, heaping abuse on the mayor of London for his actions during the terrorist attack on London Bridge; and in Pennsylvania, a man was arrested and charged with attempting to strangle his new bride in an argument over the division of money they'd received as wedding gifts.

For no particular reason, I thought it would be fun to offer a collection of cartoons about Cinderella this week ...

I dance the same way ...

As puns go, this one is pretty good ...

I've been to mechanics like this ...

Same mechanic, different day ...

Parking in the wrong part of the forest ...

Oh, oh ...

If you thought it was hard to park a Hummer, how about a giant pumpkin? ...

There can be problems when reconciling different backgrounds ...

Bwa, ha, haaaaa!! ...

It can be tough living up to past glory ...

And we're off into the weekend! I'll be spending the day helping my daughter and her husband finish building their chicken coop ... although my contribution to the actual construction will consist mostly of manual labor and appropriate sound effects, as I have no construction talent whatsoever. The coop will, however, have a world-class woodburned sign on it ... that, I'm good at.

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