Monday, July 31, 2017

Jury Duty

Yes, Dear Readers, yours truly has been summoned to report for jury duty at the Fairfax County Circuit Court today. I need to report to the courthouse early, so this will be a relatively short post.

Being summoned doesn't mean that I will actually end up on a jury ... just that I have to show up and be available for interview and possible selection to sit on a jury. If it goes like the last few times I was called up, I'll sit in the assembly room all day until a bailiff comes in, thanks those of us who haven't been selected, and tells us we can go home and be free for another three years, at which time we'll be eligible to be called up again.

Ah, well ... like paying taxes, it's one of the obligations of citizenship. And who knows? This time, I may even get selected! I'll let you know how it turns out.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Poetry Sunday

Here in NoVa, one of the signs of summer is the proliferation of yard sales and garage sales as people prepare for summer moves and do their general spring and summer de-junking. Telephone poles are covered with signs advertising the desire of people to divest themselves of things that were once important ... as described in this on-target poem ...

Yard Sale
by George Bilgere

Someone is selling the Encyclopedia Britannica
in all its volumes,
which take up a whole card table.

It looks brand new, even though it must be sixty years old.
That's because it was only used a couple of times,
when the kids passed through fifth grade
and had to do reports on the Zambezi River
and Warren Harding.

Der Fuhrer was defunct.
The boys came home,
and everybody got the Encyclopedia Britannica,
which sat on the bookshelf
as they watched Gunsmoke
through a haze of Winstons.

these people grew old
and were sent to a home
by the same children who once wrote
reports on Warren Harding.

And now the complete and unabridged
Encyclopedia Britannica,
bulging with important knowledge,
is sitting on a card table in a light rain.

I remember my parents buying the World Book encyclopedia set, and then later the Encyclopedia Britannica ... which had an article about John F. Kennedy that still referred to him as a senator from Massachusetts. It's been a while.

Have a good day, and enjoy the yard sales of summer.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

We're just two days away from the end of July. Finally. Then we can see what fresh Hell August brings.

The Chief Executive of the Boy Scouts of America apologized for the bizarre and inappropriately political speech presented to the Scouts' annual Jamboree by Donald Trump; one person was killed and seven others seriously injured when a ride broke apart at the Ohio State Fair, throwing riders into the air; early Friday morning the GOP failed spectacularly to kill the Affordable Care Act; voice actress June Foray, who provided the voices for cartoon characters like Rocky the Flying Squirrel and his nemesis Natasha Fatale, died on Wednesday shortly before her 100th birthday; and White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci continued the administration's tradition of excellence in effective communication by launching profane tweets and phone calls to various individuals.

This week, in honor of really great walls, solar-powered and otherwise, and of really great falls, like the one of our national reputation, our collection of cartoons features Humpty Dumpty ...

Sometimes, Wednesday can be a really bad day ...

Listening to the deviled egg ... I get it!

Another egg-on-the-street interview ...

Always go to the specialist ... not the well-meaning friends ...

It's all in who's telling the story ...

If Humpty Dumpty had fallen today ...

Well, perhaps ...

I don't think this is accurate ... if he were from Ikea, he'd have had a name like "Humpar Dumsø

Or as Faux News would have reported the story ...

Be sure to read the fine print ...

And so it goes for another Cartoon Saturday! Go forth and egg on your friends.

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


Friday, July 28, 2017

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for July, 2017

July is almost over, August beckons, and it's time to designate another recipient of Bilbo's recurring Ass Clown Award. How the time flies when you're having a good time. And also when you aren't.

I wish I could say it was difficult to name the new dishonoree, and I did have a bit of trouble deciding between two amazingly well-qualified candidates, but it wasn't close enough to declare a tie and so I gritted (grat?) my teeth and made the choice.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dear Readers, it's time to announce

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for July, 2017

and the award - for an astounding eighth time* - goes to

Donald J. Trump

I realize that I can be accused of picking the lowest of the low-hanging fruit with this award, but there was simply no competition that came close enough to bump Mr Trump from first place. In the last two weeks, Mr Trump has continued to perform as the least presidential president in American history, showering shame and dishonor on the office once held by George Washington. Here are just a few of his antics of the last two weeks:

- A relentless cyber-bullying campaign directed against his own Attorney General in the hopes that Mr Sessions will resign ... because Mr Trump lacks the political courage to fire him for doing his job;


- The announcement - via Twitter, of course - of a new policy forbidding transgender individuals from serving in the armed services in any capacity ... an announcement that apparently blindsided both the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although Mr Trump said he'd acted after discussing it with "my Generals** and military experts."

I was tempted to present this award to the new White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramouchi, and that individual remains a strong contender for a future award. But Mr Trump has tried so hard, so relentlessly, to position himself for the award that it would have been unjust to not show the proper disrespect for his unpresidential and un-American behavior.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dear Readers, the Left-Cheek Ass Clown Award for July, 2017, is presented yet again to Donald J. Trump. He's worked hard enough for it.

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


* Technically, it's his eight-and-a-halfth (?) award, as he shared with his entire family (less wife Melania and son Baron) the Right-Cheek Ass Clown Award for July just two weeks ago. The man's an overachiever.

** "His" Generals?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Pottery Barn Rule of Financial Disclosure

It must be nice to be so rich that you have to amend your federal financial disclosure forms 77 times because you've forgotten a few million dollars or the odd piece of real estate here and there. Consider this quote from a recent opinion article by Katherine Rampell in the Washington Post:

"[Jared] Kushner, like many of President Trump’s senior officials, is really rich. And really rich people, almost by definition, have a lot of assets to keep track of."

In the article, Ms Rampell acknowledges that when one is as staggeringly wealthy as various members of the Trump family, it's understandable that they might from time to time lose track of some of their vast assets. This is, of course, a problem not often faced by average Americans about to lose their health care or job or both.

Understandable or not, the omission of assets on the financial disclosure forms government officials are required to file, and the ability to declare those omitted assets after the fact without penalty, has an odd smell to it*. Ms Rampell suggests that such errors in financial disclosure filing might be significantly reduced if the federal government applied a variant of the Pottery Barn Rule ("You break it, you bought it") - taking a page from the Justice Department's zeal for civil asset forfeiture**, she suggests that assets in excess of a certain value (she suggests $1 million) which are “forgotten” in official federal disclosures can be seized by the government. The theory is that if those assets were so inconsequential as to be overlooked, the individual is wealthy enough to not really need them, and should be able to donate them to the ever-cash-strapped government.

I really like this idea.

The last time I had to update my security clearance, I dutifully filled out the incredibly long and complex online e-QIP*** forms that asked for documentation of every aspect of my life, places of residence, job history, finances, acquaintances, encounters with the law, etc, and which provided dire warnings about the penalties for providing false or inaccurate information. And then, a few months later, I had to sit down in an interview with a professional investigator, go over every line, and explain in detail every inconsistency or error (such as any differences between that submission and the previous one I'd filed five years before). I'm still amazed that anyone manages to get a security clearance††.

Considering that most of us run the risk of huge fines, interest, penalties, and even jail when we make the smallest of mistakes on our e-QIPs or our tax returns, it seems somehow unfair that the enormously wealthy should be able to get away with the equivalent of an "oops, my bad" when caught in an error involving millions of dollars.

Bring on the Pottery Barn Rule!

Have a good day. Declare accurately. See you back here again tomorrow, when we name the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for July.

More thoughts then.


* Unless you are one of those who is firmly convinced that Mr Trump's fecal material doesn't stink.

** The seizure of private property by law enforcement agencies before the owner has been proven guilty of a crime ... often before the owner has even been charged with a crime.

*** Electronic Questionnaire for Investigations Processing.

† And, trust me, I have a lot of questionable acquaintances.

†† Unless, of course, they're related to Donald Trump and nepotized into nice White House jobs.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why I'll Never Be President

Over the years I've been writing this blog, readers have often left comments with variations on the theme "Bilbo for President." I think this reflects two things: (1) I have a lot of loyal (if easily buffaloed) friends; and (2) Perhaps some of my commentary on social and political topics makes sense.

Truth be told, though, I wouldn't want to be president. There are five primary reasons:

- I value my privacy. If I want to share something with you, I will. I don't need a bunch of "opposition researchers" looking for something that can be spun against me.

- I like to speak my mind. I wouldn't be able to be president unless I had an "anger translator" like Luther, who worked for President Obama to say what he couldn't.

- I suffer fools less gladly with every passing year. And there are a lot more fools with every passing year.

- I won't put up with the character assassination and relentless negativity of a presidential campaign. And I don't know why anyone else would, either.


- I know who my parents were. And I wish I could live up to the example they set.

So ...

While I appreciate the sentiment, Dear Readers, I'm not your guy. I'll just go on being the 21st-century Diogenes ... no longer seeking an honest man, just one that's not hopelessly bent.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - I also respect the Boy Scouts, unlike some officeholders I could name.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Things I'll Regret and the Things I Won't

I ran across an interesting article the other day titled, These Are The Top 37 Things You’ll Regret When You’re Old. It caught my attention because ... well ... I'm getting old. I don't feel old, and I'm a lot less old (both chronologically and mentally) than a lot of people, but I'm getting up there. And so this article seemed like a good excuse to take a look back and think about what I may or may not regret.

Here are two things from the list that I regret ...

#15 - Caring too much about what other people think. Other than my family, who cares? Now that I'm retired and living as a full-time curmudgeon, the number of people who can kiss my backside grows larger every day.

# 22 - Missing the chance to ask your grandparents questions before they die. I never knew either of my grandfathers, and both of my grandmothers died many years ago. Sadly, I developed my interest in the family history too late in life to pick their brains, and I'll always regret that I didn't take advantage of their knowledge of the history through which they lived.

And here are a few of the things I don't regret...

#1 - Traveling. Unlike many Americans, I've traveled a lot outside the country ... a military career will do that for you. The world is huge, and there's a lot to see and learn. Most of my fellow citizens could benefit from it.

#2 - Learning another language. One of the best things I ever did was decide in high school to study German ... it got me a bride and made the time I spent living and traveling in Germany far more rewarding. I studied Russian in college, and now have Russian friends* who are politely impressed by my pronunciation, if not my grammar and vocabulary. Now that I'm retired and have more time on my hands, I'm slowly trying to teach myself Spanish, too. Nothing expands your horizons like being able to converse with someone else in their language.

#18 - Holding grudges. In general, I'm a pretty laid back and forgiving person. My mother used to tell us that "little things affect little minds," and I've tried to remember that wisdom when I've been roused to anger. My general philosophy is that you've got to exert some effort to get me pissed off, but if you're willing to go to that much trouble, I'll certainly make it worth your while. That said, there is one person against whom I'm holding a grudge ... and it's a huge grudge, and I'm less holding it than nursing it. NFI.

#24 - Learning how to cook one awesome meal. My parents were amazing cooks, but I never bothered to learn how to cook on my own until I ended up single and unable to afford eating out all the time. Nowadays, I love to cook and - even if I say so myself - I can cook some pretty awesome meals.

#36 - Performing in front of others. I acted on stage in my junior and senior class plays in high school, and am today an experienced public speaker and professional emcee. There's a real rush that comes from standing in front of a crowd, holding their attention, and - perhaps - changing their opinions.

So, those are a few of my regrets and non-regrets. What do you think about your own? Leave a comment.

Have a good day, and live your life so as to minimize the things you'll regret. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Who care not a bit how I vote as long as I keep dancing with them.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Benefits of Flatulence

I have learned over the years that my posts that deal with unusual topics tend to get higher readership statistics, have more readers and get more comments. Far and away, the most popular topic is - oddly enough - sex; however, there are other natural body functions that attract attention as well.

My high school friend and fellow book lover Mary Lou recently pointed me to this interesting article at Eight Surprising Reasons Farting Is Good for You. Seven reasons* that passing gas (or, to use the proper medical term, farting**) is good for you are:

1) It reduces bloating;

2) It helps balance your diet;

3) It helps relieve abdominal pain;

4) It's good for your colon;

5) It provides valuable signals about your health;

6) It helps diagnose food allergies; and,

7) It feels good.

The eight reason farting is good for you (it's actually #5 on the list in the article) is ...

8) Inhaling farts is good for you. 

Yes, Dear Readers, a study conducted at the University of Exeter*** has found that exposure to small amounts of hydrogen sulfide gas (which our guts produce during digestion) may prevent mitochondrial damage to our cells, helping to prevent strokes, heart disease, and arthritis, among other things.

Who knew?

And there are other benefits to breaking wind that are not addressed in the article or in the scholarly work of the University of Exeter. These include:

- Getting rid of unwanted company. A good fart can clear a room faster than Seal Team 6.

- Expressing political opinions without unnecessarily antagonizing others. Are you tired of listening to people mindlessly justifying the latest horse hockey from the Trump administration? Instead of starting a fight and alienating friends and family members, just fire off a major toot to discourage further conversation.

- It's fun. You don't have to be six years old to appreciate the humor value of a good fart.

And finally ...

- It can help introduce you to aspects of high technology you didn't know existed. Check out the Ultimate Fart Soundboard, only $4.99 ... or, if you just want single tracks, they're available at $0.99 each!

So, Dear Readers, play your butt trumpet proudly, knowing that you're doing good for yourself and others. And if you need more fart-related humor, check out this blow-by-blow account of the Crepitation Contest between Lord Windesmear and challenger Paul Boomer ...

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* We'll get to the eighth in a minute, don't worry.

** For a list of other euphemisms for the act, check here.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Musical Sunday

Those of you who are my Facebook friends have already seen this clip of a song I'd never heard before a friend of mine shared it on his own Facebook page. One listen and I know it's the right song for the Trump family ...

Send lawyers, guns, and money. Especially lawyers and money to help with the next election, more lawyers to help out with the Russians, and guns ... well ... because they're the traditional all-American answer to everything.

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Whew! I just made it back from my off-the-record meeting with Vlad Putin in time to get Cartoon Saturday ready! 

GOP efforts to pass their Obamacare replacement collapsed this week amid internal Republican chaos, attempts to blame the failure on Senate Democrats, and threats from Donald Trump to at least one Republican senator; in Oregon, a multiple-car pileup occurred when thirteen containers of slime eels, weighing 7,500 pounds, spilled from a truck onto the highway; Donald Trump's "election integrity" commission held its first meeting this week, bravely trying to prove Trump's contention that vast voter fraud caused him to lose the popular vote in the 2016 election, even though he won in the Electoral College; reactions from fans were mixed as the BBC announced that the new Doctor in the hugely popular "Doctor Who" series will be played by a woman, noted actor Jodie Whittaker; and GOP Senator and respected war hero John McCain has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Congress may be unable to balance the nation's books, but fortunately there are other books we can look to for better entertainment. This week, our cartoons deal with the ups and downs of electronic books ...

No ... no outtakes ...

How to describe it? ...

It was the butler who ran it down ...

Advantages of traditional books ...

What'll they think of next? ...

So, what's on your bookshelves? ...

Bookworms* don't like e-readers, either ...

Updated bookmobiles ...

Epic sagas may be easier to handle on an e-reader ...

And there are other uses for an e-reader, too (I've often used my iPad as a flashlight to find my way to bed when Agnes is already asleep) ...

That's all, folks! You can go back to your Kindle, iPad, Nook, or other e-reader now ... just don't drop it or forget to keep it charged.

It's going to be another scorching weekend here in NoVa ... making us wonder why we spent all that money on new bicycles when it's so hot outside you can't ride up the hill without succumbing to heatstroke. Oy.

Have a good day and a great weekend. See you tomorrow for a Musical Sunday tribute to the Trump family ... more thoughts then.


* If you've never read Clifton Fadiman's Wally the Wordworm to your children, you should.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Yes, Dear Readers, it's time once again to bring out a new collection of Great Moments in Editing and Signage! And best of all, the GOP can't repeal it! Read on ...

Something our old dog Sidney could have used, if not on the course ...

I think someone is taking the concept of "smoked meat" to an unfortunate level ...

Just the right place to park the kids while you enjoy that home-cooked food ...

How come they never had children's specials like this when I was a kid? ...

Why don't we try next door, instead? ...

I think this was part of the GOP version of health care ...

Well, sure ...

Tomato, tomahto ...

Um ...

It's always good to have household help with varied talents ...

And there you have it - the last collection of editorial and signage gems for July. I hope you enjoyed them, and that you'll be back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... more thoughts then.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Face Off

The seventh season of "Game of Thrones" premiered last Sunday night, and it was as awesome as we fans had expected. It has become one of my all-time favorite shows, and I own the first six seasons on Blu-Ray discs, which I watch frequently to take my mind off the news.

Another of my favorite television shows is the original (pre-Tom Cruise) "Mission: Impossible," in which Impossible Missions Force leader Dan Briggs (and later, Jim Phelps) assembled teams of unusual specialists to carry out ... well ... impossible assignments. I loved the show because the villains were always really bad, and they always ended up totally screwed in the end as the IM Force's complex plans came together and left the bad guys wondering which truck had hit them.

Now, you might think that Mission: Impossible and Game of Thrones don't have much in common, but they do, as I was reminded with the passing earlier this week of veteran actor Martin Landau. Landau played the character of Rollin Hand, "The Man of a Million Faces" on the show, and many episodes climaxed with a character peeling away a false face to reveal a grinning Rollin Hand (or, later in the series and in the movies, one of the other IM Force agents) ...

On "Game of Thrones," the character of Arya Stark (brilliantly played by Maisie Williams) ends up in the city of Braavos where she trains to be one of the "Faceless Men" - assassins who take on various identities, murder their targets, and vanish without a trace. Several key scenes in the show reveal a character peeling away a false face to reveal a vengeful Arya Stark, much as Rollin Hand helped bring justice to the bad guys through his disguises ...

It's been said that we each have three faces: the first is the one you show to the world; the second is the one you show to your family and closest friends; and the third is the one you never show to anyone, because it is the truest reflection of who you are.

It's what makes us ... appealing.

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


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It May Be "Legal," but Is It Right?

This is a question posed by Asha Rangappa, an associate dean at the Yale Law School and a former FBI agent, in a recent op-ed article in the Washington Post. In order to answer that question, Ms Rangappa turned to an individual with whom FBI agents are familiar.

Carla F. Bad isn't a real lady, but a mnemonic device to help FBI agents remember the elements they use to assess the suitability of persons for positions of public trust: Character, Associates, Reputation, Loyalty, Ability, Finances, Bias, Alcohol, and Drugs.

As Ms Rangappa writes about the technical question of whether or not Donald Trump and his associates have broken the law,

"... focusing on bright-line rules of criminality misses the point. The deeper question is whether members of Trump’s administration can uphold the trust that has been placed in them as stewards of the government they have been chosen to lead. On this front, the criminal code shouldn’t be the only yardstick. Even if Trump’s aides and family members have managed to toe the line of the law, the news out of the Russia investigation so far leaves little reason to have faith in their judgment."

Let's see how Ms Bad would assess Donald Trump ...

Character: The man is a congenital and unrepentant liar who doubles down on his untruths in the face of evidence to the contrary. His ability to evade censure for the most blatant lies is amazing.

Associates: Vladimir Putin. 'Nuf said.

Reputation: Golden with about 39% of the electorate; in the toilet with the other 61%. And he's not particularly well thought of in financial circles, either.

Loyalty: Demands it of subordinates, but isn't known for returning it.

Ability: During the presidential campaign, he memorably said that the United States was in terrible shape and "I alone can fix it." So far, I haven't seen anything fixed, Congress is a laughable circus bereft of presidential leadership and direction, and the international leadership of the United States has vanished.

Finances: Mr Trump has filed for bankruptcy six times, although in fairness, most involved his casino properties and happened during a period when the casino industry overall was struggling. He has been sued at least 60 times by individuals and businesses seeking payment for services provided to Trump and his properties, and has bragged that not paying taxes means he's "smart." Don't hold your breath waiting for his tax returns.

Bias: Mr Trump does not care for Mexicans or for men who have been prisoners of war*. He also does not want to have any "poor" people in positions of economic responsibility in his administration. In general, he is biased against "losers."

Alcohol: No problems - Mr Trump is reported to be a teetotaler.

Drugs: No reported problems. Although there have been unproven rumors of past drug use, the only drug Mr Trump is reported to be taking is finasteride, which is used to combat male-pattern baldness.

So, how do Mr Trump and Ms Bad get along?

Giving points for a lack of problems with alcohol or drugs, Mr Trump scores only Carla's first name and middle and last initials ... but given the evidence for them, it's bad enough.

Mr Trump may skate at the very edge of what's legal, but if he were a young person trying to get a security clearance, Ms Bad would probably argue against him on seven out of nine grounds.

And we've elected him president. What does that say about us?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Although he never ran the risk of becoming one, never having served in the armed forces.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Betteridge's Law of Headlines

I ran across an interesting item the other day in an article from Mental Floss titled, Ten Rules, Laws, and Theorems You Should Know. I'd already heard of some of the listed rules/laws/theorems, particularly Godwin's Law*, about which I've written before, but one of them was particularly appropriate to our current obsession with news, both real and "fake"**.

Betteridge's Law of Headlines simply states that, "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no," and the article goes on to explain that,

"If the answer is yes, then the headline would simply make that declaration. A question in a headline implies that either (1) The writer doesn't have enough facts to be sure of the answer, (2) The question makes the available information more sensational, or (3) The writer is honestly just asking for the reader’s input."

I think that Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies directly to our overwrought 24-hour news cycle, and the need to draw in readers/listeners/watchers by any means necessary so that advertising revenues can be kept up. A headline framed as a question implies that there is more to the story, and that tantalizing details are coming if one reads on ... which is almost never the case***.

There is also an academic version of Betteridge's Law of Headlines which applies to scholarly articles. It's called Hinchcliffe's Law (more properly, perhaps, Hinchcliffe's Paradox), and you can read all about it here.

Don't thank me for bringing this to your attention ... it's all part of my ongoing effort to help you cope with the bizarre world of alternative facts and blissful ignorance.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."

** For purposes of discussion, "fake news" can be defined as "news reporting that contradicts what the reader or listener is convinced is true."

*** In current slang, a "nothingburger."

† No, "paradox" does not mean "two waterfowl."

Monday, July 17, 2017

Fixing What's Broken

The other day my friend Ed posted a commentary on Facebook in which he discussed reactions to a story about a woman who, after the death of her husband, relied on Medicaid to provide medical care for her children. The story generated an ever-downward-spiraling swell of anger and vituperation, accusing the woman of being lazy, demanding she get a job, accusing her of living large at the expense of others, and worse. Ed's commentary on the story and the online reactions to it ended with this paragraph:

"At one point in the discussion, someone asked, how did we get here? That's what I am wondering about. What has gone wrong in our culture that so many people are filled with this anger, looking for something to be offended at, and so bereft of the simple human virtues of kindness, civility, and empathy? How did rage and contempt become successful marketing tools, while compassion and kindness are looked on as weakness? What got broken with us, and how do we fix it?"

How, indeed? There are a lot of reasons our society has become more coarse and uncivil.

One of them is the lack of good examples set by parents. When I was growing up in the 50s and early 60s, my parents were loving, but strict. We were expected to be polite and courteous, and to reserve anger for the few times it was the only reasonable response to a bad situation. Nowadays, it seems that parents ignore foul language and bad behavior on the part of their children, whether because they're too busy with work and their own recreation to pay attention to it, or because of a misguided belief that their children should "express themselves honestly," even at the expense of common courtesy and civility.

The comforting anonymity of the Internet is another, allowing despicable trolls to spew hatred and propagate the most ridiculous lies, wrapped in the warm blanket of anonymity provided by a screen name and an opaque IP address. It's much easier to act badly when you don't have to face the target of your bad behavior.

Yet another is the belief of many present-day Americans in the absolute primacy of individual freedom over responsibility to others. When the individual is considered supreme, it isn't much of a stretch to believe that one has not only the right, but the obligation to say and do whatever one wants, without regard to the rights and feelings of others. It represents the erosion of empathy and compassion - two things that once were hallmarks of America and its people.

An outgrowth of this attitude is the belief that if another person has fallen on hard times, it is their fault for not accepting personal responsibility for their own lives. If a person loses his or her job as a result of economic decisions made by their employer, is it their fault? If they try to find a new job and discover that all the jobs for which they're qualified have been sent to India and China where workers are cheap, is it their fault? If they try to get the training and education that will qualify them for other jobs, only to find that it's priced beyond their reach, and their governments - in the sacred interest of cutting spending - have eliminated the assistance that might have helped them, is that their fault, too? Yes, we each have an obligation to be responsible for ourselves and our well-being ... but we also have an obligation to understand that sometimes there really are circumstances beyond our control.

Finally (for now, at least), we have elected to the presidency a boorish and utterly unqualified individual whose personal behavior is in many ways the opposite of what we once found admirable in our leaders. His total lack of gravitas, crass behavior toward women, proud ignorance of public policy, jingoistic attitudes, cavalier jettisoning of decades of international agreements and norms, and crude, 140-character Twitter attacks on those who disagree with him demonstrate the sort of person many of us were ready to put in the chair once occupied by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. Our children look at his execrable behavior and assume it must be okay because, hey, he's the president ... and why should they be expected to act any differently? And why did we decide things were so terrible that a person like this seemed like a good option to so many people?

What got broken with us?

How do we fix it?

They're excellent questions. I think the first one is easy enough to answer; the second, much harder. We can fix it only by returning to the qualities that really did make America great: not just individual determination and self-reliance, but on a sense of community and a shared understanding that we all have a role to play in making the country great by working together and helping each other.

Unfortunately, I don't see that realization dawning on much of America any time soon.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Poetry Sunday

This diagnosis applies to me, too ... although some days it's harder to live with than others.

by Sharon Olds 

By the time I was six months old, she knew something
was wrong with me. I got looks on my face
she had not seen on any child
in the family, or the extended family,
or the neighborhood. My mother took me in
to the pediatrician with the kind hands,
a doctor with a name like a suit size for a wheel:
Hub Long. My mom did not tell him
what she thought in truth, that I was Possessed.
It was just these strange looks on my face—
he held me, and conversed with me
chatting as one does with a baby, and my mother
said, She’s doing it now! Look!
She’s doing it now! and the doctor said,
What your daughter has
is called a sense
of humor. Ohhh, she said, and took me
back to the house where that sense would be tested
and found to be incurable.

Have a good day, and try to laugh at something besides the government.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Before we begin, let me state definitively that I did not collude with any foreign power or entity on the selection of these cartoons. Now that that's out of the way ...

A sinkhole in Florida* that swallowed two houses appears to have stopped expanding, having reached a size of about 250 by 225 feet and 50 feet deep, and appears to be full of chemicals and septic tank fluid; the meeting between Donald Trump, Jr, and Russians who offered to give the Trump campaign information damaging to Hillary Clinton's candidacy last year is being called a "Democratic plot" by the wildly-spinning pro-Trump media; during his visit to France for Bastille Day celebrations, Donald Trump again demonstrated his remarkable command of diplomacy by telling the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron, "You're in such good shape. She's in such good physical shape. Beautiful" ... what a charmer; and at least three people have been killed in a huge fire in a high-rise Honolulu apartment building.

Enough with the bad news ... on to the cartoons! Agnes and I love to cook, and so it seems appropriate to share a collection of cartoons about food and drink ...

Oui! ...

One drawback of GMOs ...

I think I'll have something else, thank you ...

Speaking of backhanded compliments ...

How mom cooks ... 

I'm looking for this food truck ...

Well, yes, it would be ...

When the eggs really, really need to be poached ...

I make substitutions like this, too ...

I think we have some things like this in the back of our refrigerator, too ...

And that's it for this edition of Cartoon Saturday. It's being published over a data connection with my cell phone because we returned yesterday from our trip to Chincoteague Island to find out that we have no land-line telephone, television, or internet service ... and our provider can't have anyone out to fix the problem until this afternoon. Oy.

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


* No, not Mar-a-Lago, a different sinkhole.


Friday, July 14, 2017

The Right-Cheek Ass Clown for July, 2017

It's a new month, and that means it's time to select two new prime examples of supreme ass-clownery ... a tough job, but one you've come to expect me to take on. The challenge gets harder all the time, particularly given the exceptionally strong showing by the political class, where ass-clownery is fast becoming an art form.

After much consideration and fortified by the consumption of a great deal of medicinal alcohol, I have decided on

The Right-Cheek Ass Clown
July, 2017

and the award goes to

The Trump Family

Before I get into the citation, I just want to point out a few things. First of all, this award does not apply to the entire Trump family - just to Donald Trump, his three business- and politically-active children (Donald Junior, Eric, and Ivanka), and his son-in-law and chief advisor Jared Kushner (not pictured above). Son Baron Trump is still too young and innocent, and wife Melania Trump is ... well ... not active enough to be considered for the award.

Although Donald Trump has received the Ass Clown Award a staggering seven times over the years, most of them presented before he entered politics, I've decided to present him and selected family members with the award yet again, primarily because of the towering ethical swamp they have brought to Washington*, shamelessly using the presidency to boost their business and augment their personal fortunes. In addition, the Trump administration has run the White House in a nepotistic fashion unseen since John F. Kennedy named his brother Robert as his Attorney General in the 1960s, with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump occupying very senior advisory positions despite a complete lack of experience in public policy. I was appalled when, at the G 20 summit last week, Mr Trump's seat at the table of world leaders was temporarily occupied not by an official government minister (such as the Secretary of State or the Secretary of the Treasury) but by his daughter, who does not occupy an official position which required Senate confirmation. Say what you will, I think** that was a major signpost on the road to the United States' loss of power, influence, and leadership in the world.

The Trump Family is turning the United States Government into a branch of the Trump Organization ... and no one seems to care.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, the Right-Cheek Ass Clown for July, 2017, is The Trump Family. And we've got another three and a half years to go.

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


* One of his campaign slogans may have been "Drain the Swamp," but he's brought an enormous swamp of his own with him. The sad part is that so few people seem to care.

** And I'm not alone.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Temporarily Closed

Well, hello! Nice to see you, as always.

I'm taking a break from posting today, as Agnes and I are enjoying the sand, sea, broiling sun, and legions of tiny insects at Chincoteague Island, and I have other things to do than post the blog. You know I love you, Dear Readers, but time spent with the grandchildren will always take priority over you*.

But don't despair! Tomorrow's post, in which the Right-Cheek Ass Clown for this month will be announced, has already been written and will appear in this space on schedule tomorrow morning. Be sure to come by and be either entertained or enraged, depending on your political persuasion.

Have a good day. Regular posts will resume tomorrow.

More thoughts then.


* I originally wrote "...will always trump you," but couldn't bear to write that word unnecessarily.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bring Back the Duel!

Yesterday while I was researching my daily "today in history" Facebook post, I discovered that it was the 213th anniversary of the day on which Vice President Aaron Burr* shot and killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel. This got me to wondering if there isn't a way to end the gridlock in Washington by bringing back dueling as a way of settling differences once and for all.

I imagine that it would be particularly appealing to Republicans, because it would be a win-win situation for them: the chance to get rid of pesky Democrats once and for all, and an opportunity to show their support of the gun lobby. It would also appeal to Democrats by stressing the need for responsive and affordable health care for the losers.

I think I'll write to my elected reprehensives and suggest it. What could it hurt?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Disclaimer: I am distantly related to Mr Burr on my mother's side of the family, but did not collude with him to obtain information which would help him win the duel.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Downside of Immortality

There's a certain appeal to the idea of living forever. Of course, forever is a long time, and you need to fill up all that time with things to do, which can be a problem. As author Susan Ertz once said, "Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon."

There are practical drawbacks to immortality other than boredom. An episode ("Escape Clause") of the old Twilight Zone television series dealt with a mean-spirited hypochondriac who sold his soul to the devil in order to live forever. When his wife accidentally fell to her death, he confessed to killing her so that he could beat the electric chair; his lawyer, however, managed to get his sentence changed ... to life in prison, whereupon he exercised the "escape clause" in his contract for a quick and painless death rather than eternal imprisonment.

There are other downsides to immortality, too, such as these that I found in a meme that showed up on my Facebook feed ...

 - Tearing your favorite article of clothing and discovering that it's irreplaceable because the technique of its manufacture has been lost;

- Realizing you've thought of the perfect comeback to someone who's been dead for three hundred years;

- Not being able to make your favorite dish any more because one of the critical ingredients has gone extinct;

- Having strong opinions about sports that are no longer played;

- Getting a song from the 13th century stuck in your head and being unable to get it out because you don't remember how it ends and you're the only person on Earth who knows it; and,

- Having that perfect pun you've been waiting for a chance to use no longer work because of linguistic drift.

Of course, there's not much point in wishing for immortality when there's a pretty good chance we won't have a viable planet to live on in the not-too-distant future, as discussed in this disconcerting article by David Wallace-Wells.

Gives new meaning to the Vulcan greeting "Live long and prosper," doesn't it?

Have a good day, no matter how many more of them you may have. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, July 10, 2017

The Deepest Hole

A very interesting article popped up on my Facebook feed the other day: What Is the Deepest Hole That Humanity Could Possibly Dig?

No, it doesn't look at what we're doing in the political and social arenas, although I could understand you making that assumption.

The article contains a fascinating, 8-minute video that dives straight down into the earth, looking at the various depths to which humans have dug, along with the depths of some natural features. It begins with the depth of the average grave* - 6 feet, or 1.8 meters - and continues down to the deepest hole ever dug by man: the Z44-Chavyo oil and gas well on Sakhalin Island, which is an astounding 12,376 meters (40,600 feet) deep. In between are these waypoints:

- The Paris Catacombs - 66 meters, or 217 feet below the streets of the City of Light;

- The deepest metro station in the world, in Kiev - 105 meters (346 feet);

- The deepest train tunnel, connecting the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido - 240 meters (787 feet);

- The deepest hole ever dug by hand - the Woodingdean water well in the UK, dug in 1862 and coming in at 392 meters (1,300 feet);

- The deepest hole from which you can stand at the bottom and see the open sky, the Bingham Canyon open pit mine in Utah, at 970 meters (3,200 feet); and,

- The deepest working part of the deepest mine in the world: AngloGold Ashanti's Mponeng gold mine in South Africa, coming in at a staggering 4,000 meters (more than 13,000 feet). It takes workers more than an hour just to go from the surface to the deepest mine face, where the temperature of the rock is more than 150° F.

So, Dear Readers, when you ask "how low can you go?", the answer is "pretty darned low." And we still haven't considered political discourse.

Have a good day. Watch where you step ...

More thoughts tomorrow.


* A useful statistic, given the GOP approach to health care.