Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dealing with Nazis and Other Miserable People

We're facing a lot of problems in our country today, and many of them are connected - oddly enough - to the freedoms we cherish as Americans.

We enjoy freedom of speech ... but so do neo-Nazis and others who exploit that freedom to slander and threaten their fellow citizens they view as insufficiently "pure."

We enjoy freedom of the press ... but it provides freedom to vile websites like The Daily Stormer and as much as it does The Washington Post or the Dallas Morning News.

We enjoy freedom of assembly ... but that freedom applies as much to "antifa" extremists and neo-Nazis as it does to normal people.

We enjoy the right to bear arms ... and live with the unsettling reality of mass shootings and of people who want to carry military-style weapons wherever they go, regardless of the rights, opinions, and safety of others.

Experience shows that the people who exploit their freedoms to force their agendas on others are utterly impervious to reason and logic, so how do we combat their ideas?

Perhaps with laughter.

I call your attention to this article by Kevin Hagopian on Intellectual Takeout: Charlie Chaplin Showed Us a Better Way to Deal With Nazis. Mr Hagopian writes,

"While many anti-fascists offered serious and potent arguments against Hitler, comedians like Charlie Chaplin responded to the mortal threat that the Nazis posed in a different way: They used humor to highlight the absurdity and hypocrisy of both the message and its notorious messenger."

Nowadays, the broad slapstick humor of a Charlie Chaplin has been replaced by the slightly more sophisticated lampoonery of Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and Trevor Noah, but the targets remain the same: the self-important authoritarians and single-issue zealots who are utterly convinced of their own righteousness and immune to thoughts and positions other than their own.

Humor may not always be appreciated, and for various reasons. Earlier this week, I noted the fierce blowback I received from a friend who believed a satirical comment about a libertarian response to Hurricane Harvey was inappropriate. Naturally, I disagreed. Humor should never be deliberately hurtful, but there's a role to play for the joke that brings those who need it down a peg or two.

Make a joke at the expense of a Tiki Torch Nazi, a religious bigot, or a fulminating racist today. It may be the best way to expose them for what they are.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Charlie Chaplin lampooned Hitler in his film "The Great Dictator," in which he portrayed the buffoonish Adenoid Hynkel, tyrannical leader of the nation of Tomania; Jack Oakie played his equally buffoonish ally Benzino Napolini, dictator of Bacteria. Hitler was also sent up by many other comedians and cartoon artists, memorably Spike Jones with his timely hit "Der Führer's Face."

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Things We Used to Say

The genesis of this post came a few days ago when I posted this wonderful cartoon by Dan Piraro on my Facebook page:

As someone who loves to write - albeit with cursive of varying legibility - I thought this was pretty funny. Then my friend Patty posted a comment that some of the people she worked with don't know how to read a clock ... which led to my comment that in an age of digital clocks, the concept of clockwise and counterclockwise is dying out ... then Patty responded with "lefty loosey/righty tighty" ... which prompted Gonzo Dave to weigh in and suggest I do a post on obsolete (or at least obsolescent) terms and expressions.

Well, Dave, ask and you shall receive. Here are a few of the expressions that we still use, but which are slowly dying out or for which few people understand the derivation ...

Start over with a clean slate. How many of us have ever actually taken notes with chalk on an erasable slate tablet?

Like nails on a chalkboard. Nowadays we used whiteboards with erasable ink, which doesn't produce that horrifying screeeeeeech of nails being scraped across an actual slate chalkboard.

The B-Side. Once upon a time, in the era before digital downloads, music singles were released as 45 rpm records. The hit song was on the front (the "A" side), and a lesser tune was on the back (the "B" side).

Carbon copy. If you've never had the joy of fingers blackened by using carbon paper to make copies of typewritten documents, you're lucky.

"You sound like a broken record." A crack in a vinyl record would result in a skip and brief repeat of the preceding sound as the needle of the player struck it on each revolution. Someone who sounded like a broken record kept mindlessly repeating the same thing over and over.

"Drop a dime* on someone," or "dime someone out." Before everyone had a cell phone, we used coin-operated telephones, which used to cost 10¢ for a local call. Because those phones were often used by police informants to pass information to their handlers, diming someone out or dropping a dime on someone referred to ratting them out to the authorities.

"Don't touch that dial!" Back in the relative Stone Age of technology, before the universal use of remote controls for television sets, announcers used to encourage you to stay tuned during commercials by warning you not to turn the tuning dial to another station.

The boob tube. This expression for a television set did not refer to the widespread availability of female nudity (which we never saw in pre-cable days, anyhow) ... in this case, boob meant idiot, which is what you would become if you watched too much TV, and tube referred to the fact that TV sets used to be large and heavy because they were built around heavy, bulky cathode ray tubes. No flat screens in the old days.

And finally,

Pen pals. In the days before instant messaging, e-mail, and texts, we wrote letters to each other, putting ink on paper to convey information, then sending the letters to our friends by postal mail. Those with whom we exchanged letters became our pen pals**. Keyboard Pals doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

Okay, I've started this off - who else has any thoughts on expressions that are going out of date? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* I remember when it was five cents.

** Hi, Amanda!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Satire and Disaster

We are all appalled at the scale of the natural disaster unfolding in Texas as Hurricane/Tropical Storm/Hurricane Again Harvey pounds the area with rain measured in feet rather than inches. The human and economic cost of this tragedy are almost beyond comprehension.

Such disasters reveal the best and the worst in us. Many persons are heroically coming to the rescue of their neighbors, even as a few take advantage of the situation to engage in looting and price gouging. And such disasters also provide us the opportunity to shine a light on the idiocy of some of our politicians and political views.

Yesterday, I reposted this satirical line from Gin and Tacos on my Facebook page:

"AP: Libertarian Party sends emergency shipment of 1 million bootstraps to Texas disaster areas."

To me, this was a classic, hilarious sendup of a political philosophy that has no place for compassion and sees no legitimate role for government - particularly the federal government - in disaster relief and mitigation. But not everyone saw it that way.

My friend Jeff, a proud and outspoken Texan (is there any other kind?), reacted with great anger. His comment on my Facebook post led off with an upraised middle finger emoji, and went on to say:

"Friends of mine lost their homes. Laugh it up and fuck off. Not a joke, Bill. Not a funny topic. Politics before everything I guess. Not with me along for the ride. You might reexamine your priorities, but that's your call. Bye."

Well, I guess I hit that nerve squarely.

Here's how I responded to Jeff's comment:

"You are right, Jeff. It's not a funny topic. I have friends in Houston that I care about as well. But whether you wish it or not, there's a political side to everything. For my part, I'm waiting to see if your Senator Cruz will be as insistent on offsets for federal disaster aid spending now as he was when Sandy hit New York. Pointing out the stupidity of various political points of view is something we both do, and it has nothing to do with the sympathy we have for those affected by this - or any - natural disaster."

Sympathy and satire are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the way our leaders respond to human needs in the wake of a natural disaster - whether with compassion and open hands or with attempts to impose political agendas - suggests whether they deserve a standing ovation or satirical barbs. There's nothing wrong with lampooning those who exploit human suffering for political purposes, or political philosophies that are unfeeling and unforgiving.

My heart goes out to those whose lives and communities have been devastated by this terrible disaster. My brain will continue to point to the stupidity of politicians who use them as stalking horses for their concepts of the proper role of government.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Of Cartoons and Cultural Literacy

I once heard a joke that maintains we should be nice to bacteria, because they're all the culture a lot of people will ever get. Which is, sadly, true.

Much has been written about the lack of cultural literacy* among modern Americans. Much of this is because young people don't read as much any more, and what they do read is "fluffier**" than the classics we used to have to read. Much of it is also due to a modern emphasis on visual media (television, the movies, and online entertainment) that removes a lot of the need for imagination by presenting our children with fully-formed images.

And, according to one theory, it's because we don't have great cartoons any more.

I recently found this intriguing article by Annie Holmquist from the Intellectual Takeout site: How Classic Cartoons Created a Culturally Literate Generation. As I read the article, I was reminded of how much we'd absorbed without knowing it, and how many of the inside jokes in old cartoons and comic strips only made sense to me after I'd grown into my education. Here are a few examples:

In the mid-1960s "Roger Ramjet" cartoons, the intrepid hero faced villains like the evil "Jacqueline Hyde" ...

In one episode, a villain was creating havoc in the Navy by stealing and pawning all the anchors from its ships, and Roger Ramjet was ordered by his commander (Colonel Jack E. Shortz***) to "stop this anchor hocking!" It wasn't until years later, when I started to cook for myself, that I recognized what Anchor Hocking really was.

You may also remember the cartoon character "Underdog" from the same TV time period, one of whose archenemies was the villainous Simon Bar Sinister ...

Again, it wasn't until much later that I learned a bar sinister in heraldry is a diagonal line, running from top right to bottom left on a family crest, indicating the person is a bastard.

And lest we forget the evil Master Cylinder from the Felix the Cat cartoons. One needs to have a somewhat more adult concept of auto mechanics to recognize the joke.

So yes, there are a lot of inside jokes in old cartoons that we needed to grow up to understand. But the larger point of Ms Holmquist's article is that many of those cartoons also introduced us to classical music and literature, sliding high culture in under our detection threshold. She writes,

"These examples [of classical music and literature in cartoons] just brush the surface of the cultural literacy lessons which the old cartoons taught our parents and grandparents. Even if they never learned these elements in school, they at least had some frame of reference upon which they could build their understanding of the books and music and even ideas which have impacted culture and the world we live in today ... can the same be said of the current generation? ... a quick search of popular titles seems to suggest that the answer is no. A majority of the time they seem to offer fluff, fantasy, and a focus on the here and now ... In short, neither schools, nor Saturday morning cartoons seem to be passing on the torch of cultural knowledge and literacy. Could such a scenario be one reason why we see an increased apathy and lack of substance in the current generation?"

One of the reasons for the vast political and social divides we are experiencing today is the lack of shared cultural references once provided by our school and - yes - our cartoons. The rush to incorporate aspects of every culture in present-day America into our children's education has led to broader understanding, but a shallower shared culture around which to rally as a unified nation.

I'm not the first to note this, of course. E. D. Hirsch, Jr's, classic book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, and Alan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind both sounded this alarm long ago.

So ...

Look for a TV station that plays old Merrie Melodies cartoons and help your children and grandchildren connect with their cultural roots. Dora the Explorer and other modern shows will take them only so far.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "The ability to analyse and understand a particular society or culture; familiarity with the customs and characteristics of a culture."

** To use the precise, clinical term.

*** And isn't that an inside joke?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Poetry Sunday

There are only a few days left in the month of August ... time is rushing on toward the unofficial end of summer on Labor Day and the official start of autumn with the autumnal equinox on September 22nd. This poem by David Budbill does a good job of how we view the change of seasons.

Toward the End of August
by David Budbill

Toward the end of August I begin to dream about fall, how
this place will empty of people, the air will get cold and
leaves begin to turn. Everything will quiet down, everything
will become a skeleton of its summer self. Toward
the end of August I get nostalgic for what's to come, for
that quiet time, time alone, peace and stillness, calm, all
those things the summer doesn't have. The woodshed is
already full, the kindling's in, the last of the garden soon
will be harvested, and then there will be nothing left to do
but watch fall play itself out, the earth freeze, winter come.

And, of course, as we all know ...

Which is known, as the Dothraki say.

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


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

And another yucky week swirls down the drain of history ...

The US Navy destroyer John S. McCain collided with a civilian tanker in the Pacific in the fourth naval mishap since February; in a freewheeling speech to a crowd of supporters in Phoenix, Donald Trump lashed out at critics and threatened to shut down the government if Congress does not provide funds for his border wall ... the one he said he'd make Mexico pay for; at least eight people are missing after a landslide in Switzerland, after 500 people were killed and more than 600 remain missing after a huge landslide in the African nation of Sierra Leone; and Hurricane Harvey landed on the Texas gulf coast as a Category 4 hurricane, although since downgraded to a Category 2 storm, it is expected to stall over the region and dump as much as 40 inches of rain on the already-devastated area.

My father used to say at the end of a bad day or week that if it had been a fish, he'd have thrown it back. It's been a bad week, so how about some cartoons featuring fish? ...

Good question ...

Stan's in trouble ...

The first step to solving the problem is to recognize that it exists ...

Most of us can relate to this one ...

Fish evolution 1 ...

Fish evolution 2 ...


Some fishermen's wives are very practical ...

A long-overdue appliance for the up-to-date fisherman ...

And we finish with a great pun ...

So ends another fishy week ... I hope I've helped you get over it.

We appear to be into a period of nice weather here in NoVa, so I'm looking forward to a nice weekend working in the yard ... #deathtocrabgrass. 

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


Friday, August 25, 2017

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for August, 2017

Most of the time it's very difficult to single out a single award recipient from the swirling sea of potential candidates, but this week the dishonoree was clear.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers,

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown Award
August, 2017

is presented to

Louise Linton

This past Monday, Ms Linton - actress and wife of Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin - posted a photo to her Instagram account that showed her deplaning from an official US Government aircraft, with all of her costly, high-end clothes and accessories labeled ... 

The optics were poor, and another Instagram user - a 45 year-old mother of three in Oregon - criticized what appeared to be her abuse of government-funded travel: 

“Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable.”

The situation spun out of control when Ms Linton shot back at the commenter ...

“Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country? ... “I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day ‘trip’ than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours ... You’re adorably out of touch.”


Ms Linton's snarky response engendered a firestorm of angry responses, and she took down the Instagram post and apologized for it in a statement provided through her publicist* ... 

“I apologize for my post on social media yesterday as well as my response. It was inappropriate and highly insensitive.”

Where I come from, we call this "locking the barn door after the horse runs off." 

For her tone-deaf confirmation of every ugly stereotype of the self-centered, overly-entitled 1%, Louise Linton is presented the Left-Cheek Ass Clown Award for August, 2017. 

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when Cartoon Saturday rides in like the cavalry to save you from yet another miserable week.


* Not many of us can afford a publicist to speak for us so we don't have to eat our own crow.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Temporarily Closed

Sorry, Dear Readers, but I'm taking a day off from the blog.

Not to worry ... all is well. I just need a mental health day, and since the weather is going to be beautiful in NoVa today, I figured this was as good a day as any to spend outside, digging crabgrass out of the lawn and doing late-summer maintenance on the garden. Winter is coming, after all. 

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for the announcement of the Left Cheek Ass Clown for the month.

More thoughts then.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pet Peeves

We all have our pet peeves, and I have many. One of them is the prevalence of enormously long receipts.

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook saw a version of this rant a few days ago, when I groused about buying three items at the local Giant (a chain grocery store), and receiving a receipt that was 20 inches long. Here's how it broke down (figures are rounded):

8 inches for the actual itemized receipt (included the name, address, and store number of the store, phone numbers for the store and its pharmacy, and the date and time of the transaction);

1/2 inch for a summary of the savings from using my frequent shopper card;

2-1/2 inches to tell me that I can get 10 cents per gallon off gas at a local station;

2-1/2 inches to encourage me to sign up for diabetes prevention classes through the store;

1 inch to tell me I've "saved" $113.97 this year by using their frequent shopper card;

3/4 inch to show a truncated version of my customer number;

1-1/2 inches for the store manager to thank me for shopping at his store and suggest I visit their website for more information;

2-1/2 inches to encourage me to participate in an online survey; and,

2 inches to summarize the date, time, and other information about the transaction (all of it, except for the identification of the checkout terminal) already summarized in the first 8 inches.

Total: 20 inches for three items. Oy, vey.

My friend Charley asked if it was longer than the receipts I used to get from the CVS pharmacy in the Pentagon, which were notorious for their length*. Actually, I did get longer receipts from CVS, but they were longer because they added - on average - seven feet of coupons for stuff I'd never need, whereas the Giant has a second printer at each checkout that prints coupons separately (and in living color, no less) for every transaction. Another friend, Hank, called it madness, rhetorically asking how many helpless trees had given their lives for yard-long receipts. And my friend Shawna (for once not employing a pun, although that was surely an oversight) wondered why we aren't give the option for long or short receipts to save paper.

Of course, I always want to receive a receipt when I purchase something, so that I can have proof of the purchase, vet my credit card statement when it arrives, and exchange or return items when necessary. But a receipt nearly a yard long for three items? That, as Hank said, is madness.

But one wonders whether trees who gave their lives for receipts would feel better about it than trees who gave their lives for signs at Donald Trump rallies.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - I'm still on call for jury duty ... the next time I've been told to call for a status update is after 6:00 PM on Friday. Sigh.

* I never actually measured any of the CVS receipts, but I'm absolutely certain that many of them exceeded a full yard.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Not-So-Living Doll, Revisited

Warning - adult theme ahead. You have been warned.

Last March, I wrote a post titled "The Not-So-Living Doll" that discussed a CNN report about the big business of making high-end, ultra-lifelike sex dolls. Having a perfectly good doll of my own that I married almost 35 years ago, and being in any case unwilling to spend north of $6,000 for a customizable artificial date, I found the story to be of only academic interest ...

... and then I read this article in the online journal Quartz earlier this month: Humans and Robots Are on the Cusp of a Sexual Intimacy We May Never Reverse.

Well, how about that?

The article is based on a study done by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, the mission of which is, according to its website, "To promote the responsible design, development, implementation, and policy of robots embedded in our society ... to influence the future development and application of robotics such that it embeds the standards, methods, principles, capabilities, and policy points, as they relate to the responsible design and deployment of robotic systems."

The study - which is utterly fascinating and is titled "Our Sexual Future with Robots" - looked at seven "core questions" concerning the ethics and the technical issues of humans engaging in sex with robots. I found four of those questions to be particularly interesting (my comments added):

#1. Would people have sex with a robot? If there are people who will pay large sums of money for high-end sex dolls to have sex with today, I'm sure there will be people who will pay even larger sums of money for sex with a robot that would probably provide a more "reactive" experience while avoiding the potential emotional and financial entanglements of a human lover.

#3. Will robot sex workers and bordellos be acceptable? I think most people, particularly those who oppose the sexual exploitation of women, would accept such workers and businesses. There would, however, probably be the same backlash from religious groups that there is against "normal" sex workers and establishments, for the same moral and ethical reasons.

#5. Could sexual intimacy with robots lead to greater social isolation? We're living in a time when the widespread availability of online pornography ... not to mention simple online game play and the draw of constant communication on smart phones ... already causes social isolation. I'm not sure the involvement of robots would make things any worse.

#7. Would sex robots help to reduce sex crimes? This is an interesting question. One might suspect that allowing persons who commit sex crimes to commit them against robots instead of human beings might help reduce the number of such crimes. However, a human rights lawyer cited in the Quartz article noted that

"... [sex] trafficking has a lot to do with domination and power over another individual: things you can’t experience with a robot."

Robots are already replacing humans in many jobs, and in a dystopian future it's possible that they may replace emotional and physical intimacy for some people. In any case, concern over the relationship between humans and robots has been a fixture of science fiction literature for a long time.

Many years ago, as an impressionable teenager, I was hooked on a comic book series called "Magnus, Robot Fighter," that chronicled the adventures of a heroic human who fought against various robots that threatened humanity ... but as far as I remember, he never ended up having sex with any of them*.

Czech playwright Karl Čapek wrote a play titled "RUR" ("Rossums Universal Robots") in 1920, which predicted robot workers rising up against their human masters ...

 and author Isaac Asimov wrote a classic series of novels and short stories about relationships between humans and robots, starting as far back as 1939.

In the 1960s came a TV comedy titled "My Living Doll" that starred Julie Newmar** as AF-709, also known as Rhoda, a sexy female robot under the care of a psychiatrist. 

More recently, I've been watching the HBO series "Westworld," based on Michael Crichton's novel of the same name, which explores the interaction between humans and hyper-realistic robots that are slowly becoming self-aware and realizing how they are being victimized and exploited. The superb film "Ex Machina" covers some of the same moral and ethical terrain with the android Ava ...

And there are countless other examples of robots good and bad, from Commander Data of Star Trek to the villainous Ash and David of the Alien film series.

As we move into higher and higher realms of technology, augmented reality, and virtual reality, we are facing moral and ethical challenges we've previously had to face only in science fiction literature. We need to be careful.

Brave new world, indeed.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And believe me, as an impressionable teenager, I'd have remembered that!

** Nobody could say "That does not compute" like she could.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Jury Duty ... Again

You may remember last month, Dear Readers, that I was summoned for jury duty at the local Circuit Court. In Fairfax County, the way it works is that you are summoned to appear for one day. If selected for a jury, you serve until the end of the trial; if not selected, you are taken off the list of prospective jurors and are not eligible to be called up for three years.

Well ...

The same week I received the summons from the county court, I also received one from the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ... a judicial double-header, as it were. The US District Court summons is a lot different from the local one: first of all, I'm on call for two weeks, rather than just one day; I had to call in after 6:00 PM last Friday to see if I was scheduled to appear today, and I have to call after 6:00 PM every day of the on-call period to see if I am scheduled to report on the following day. Today is the first day of my two weeks, and I don't have to report, but I'm still on the hook until September 1st.

I don't mind being summoned for jury duty, which is a small price to pay to live in the wonderful country I do. But I do wonder why the systems are so different.

For instance, on the day I was called up for Fairfax County, I reported to the jury assembly room at the courthouse, where my summons was scanned in by cheerful court officers. I was allowed to bring my phone and my iPad, and the room provided free Wi-Fi for the prospective jurors while we waited. At the US District Court, however, we are not permitted to bring phones or tablets or anything with a recording capability, which will make things difficult for those who haven't mastered (or who have forgotten) the art of reading actual ink-on-paper books and magazines. And, of course, being on call for two weeks makes it impossible to plan for any travel or daytime events during that period. AAARRRGGGHHH!!!

Well, I guess we'll see what happens. I'll keep you posted. If I miss one or more days of posts over the next two weeks, you'll know what happened.

In the meantime, if you are near the path of today's total eclipse of the sun, please be careful when you watch it ... your eyes will thank you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Musical Sunday

Tomorrow is the big day: the long-awaited total eclipse of the sun that will march across most of the United States for a once-in-a-lifetime supershow by Mother Nature. And what could be a better song to welcome that event than this classic from Bonnie Tyler*?

Remember to watch the eclipse safely, using proper eye protection. 

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


* Interesting factoid: "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was originally written for Meat Loaf. Read the story here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

I hate to say it, but life as an expat is starting to look better and better ...

One person was murdered, two police officers died in a helicopter crash, and scores of people were injured in violence at a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (hard to believe it was just a week ago, isn't it?); at least 14 people were murdered and more than 50 others injured when an attacker drove a van down a crowded sidewalk in the main tourist area of Barcelona; in the city of Turku, Finland, two people were murdered and at least eight others injured by a man wielding a "huge knife;" Donald Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon has been fired, apparently for (among other things) contradicting Trump's opinions on North Korea; and in the Russian city of Surgut, eight people were wounded in an attack by a knife-wielding man who, according to Russian authorities, was "liquidated."

This week, given the way things are going, I thought a few cartoons on the theme "the end is near" might be appropriate ...

It takes one to know one ...

There's always an outlier ...

Is it a "positive attitude" or an "acceptance of reality?" ...

The age of technology has its impacts everywhere ...

This guy needs to be at every station in the Washington, DC, Metro "service" area ...

Well, why not? ...

It is known, as the Dothraki say ...

No, really! ...

I'll believe it when I see it ...

Who, indeed? ...

I hope this collection of cartoons has helped you cope with what was a truly frightening and bizarre week. It looks as if we'll have nice weather here in NoVa this weekend, so I'll try to take out my frustrations by savagely attacking crabgrass and weeds in lawn and garden ... the only sort of violence that makes sense in these difficult times.

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


Friday, August 18, 2017

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

It's that time again ...

I hate it when this happens ...

I wonder if breakfast comes with a side of Arrid ...

Someone needs to read the riot act to those unruly ducks ...

Well, yes, I'd consider that to be grounds for divorce ...

Humor in clothing care tags has been picking up of late. I liked this one ...

Some people are better at ice cream than they are at math ...

It's good to lay out the qualifications up front ...

It's not dead. Underemployed, perhaps ...

Same-day delivery. Okaaaaaayyyyy ...

That would be a very good start ...

Great moments in editing and signage. Providing underemployment for editors and proofreaders since ... well ... whenever.

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


Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Literal Meaning of State Names

Most of us, in the course of growing up and getting a basic education, learned the meaning of our state names. For instance, growing up in Pittsburgh, I learned that Pennsylvania literally means Penn's Woods - William Penn being one of the founders of the Commonwealth*. Now I live in another commonwealth - Virginia - the name of which means, Country of the Virgin**.

If you never had the opportunity to learn the literal meaning of your state's (or Canadian province's) name, you may be interested in this article from Simplemost - This Map Shows the Literal Meaning of Every State Name.

Of course, there's a difference between the literal translation of the state's name and the realistic translation, which may differ in actual linguistic accuracy.

For instance ...

The literal meaning of Texas is Friend; however, a more up-to-date translation might be Heavily Armed;

New Jersey was named after the English Channel island of Jersey, but might actually mean, What the $%@¢ You Lookin' At?;

Colorado means Sandstone Soil, but lately might actually translate as Primo Weed; and,

Canada's Yukon literally means Great River, although a better translation might be Freeze Your Cojones.

Those are a few of my suggestions ... do you have any others? Leave a comment.

Have a good day, no matter how you translate it. More thoughts tomorrow.


* For more on the difference between a "state" and a "commonwealth," go here. In any case, I don't seem to be sharing in much of that common wealth.

* Not applicable in all cases.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Guest Post

What? Oh, it's you again. Hello.

I'm Lucy, and I live with Bilbo and Agnes's grandchildren. I like them. For humans, they're all right. Bilbo? He's okay, because he leaves me alone. You should, too.

I wrote a post for Bilbo's blog in November of last year because I got tired of reading what Clara the dog was posting, and so I suppose it's time once again to offer my take on current events from a more sophisticated feline viewpoint. You humans appear to be wanting for adult leadership and commentary, so I guess I'll have to step up and fill the gap.

When I last wrote in this space, that distasteful Trump person had - as I predicted - just been elected president, but he hadn't actually assumed the office yet. Now, he has, and you've had seven months to see what you bought. I hope you're satisfied.

We cats are calm, cool, and level-headed. We don't go around insulting and annoying everybody with no good reason. If we don't like you, we let you know ... but this Trump person seems to enjoy antagonizing everybody, even the humans he needs to get things done. I don't think that's very smart. Look at dogs ... they make too much noise, but even they know when to stop barking and act calm. Some of them are a lot smarter than a lot of the people you humans pick to run things on your behalf, and that's saying something.

We cats are quiet planners. We watch and listen and think before we do anything. You humans spend 99.9% of your time talking and less than 1% listening and thinking ... which is how you get yourselves into these messes.

We don't waste motion, and we don't waste time making pointless threats. If you piss us off, we'll get you - but it'll be at the time and place of our choosing and you'll never see it coming.

We're loners, but we recognize the value in cooperating with each other ... there's a reason why a group of big cats is called a pride. You humans might want to think about that, instead of going out of your way to avoid working together. If that scrum of noisy people you call Congress had to hunt together, they'd starve in a week.

And when we hear a tweet, we know it means there's something there worth stalking and attacking. Anyone who spends all his time tweeting is just making noise and drawing attention to himself that he may not really want.

So, if I were you (and I'm glad I'm not), I'd just take a few lessons from the cat world: plan carefully, don't waste motion, listen more, cooperate with each other, and - above all else - stop talking unless you have something useful to say.

But I know you won't do it, so just keep on the way you're going. And good luck with that Trump person. You'll need it.

Have whatever kind of day you want. I'm a cat, and I don't care. Bilbo will be back tomorrow. Until then, meow.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bilbo's Bucket List, Updated

The last time I updated my bucket list (the things I want to do/accomplish before I "kick the bucket") was in January of last year. Because times change, I thought I'd once again take a look at my list and see if it still reflects my goals. Let's see ...

1. Dance at the weddings of all my grandchildren. If Ava (the youngest) gets married at 21, I'll be 81, so that's probably still doable, as long as I keep myself in reasonable shape. I'm working on it.

2. Hold my first (at least) great-grandchild and tell him/her stories. No change. I will absolutely see and enjoy as many of my great grandchildren as I can.

3. Visit Vienna (Austria), Warsaw (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), and Budapest (Hungary). St Petersburg used to be on the list, but since we visited there for two days during our Baltic cruise last year (you can read about it and see some of the pictures here), I've taken it off the list, and replaced it with Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest. I'm pretty sure I'll get at least to Vienna one of these days, because it's not all that far from Germany, where we intend to spend as much time as we can.

4. Take a really long cruise with Agnes, to Australia or across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean or something. Yep ... still on the list. But I'm adding a nice river cruise, either along the Rhein or the Danube (which would help with #3, going by Vienna, Budapest, and Prague). We still love cruising.

5. Dance a waltz with Edyta Sliwinska or Sharna Burgess. I'd still love to dance that waltz with the glamorous professionals, but I already know a lot of wonderful ladies closer to home that I can waltz with more often: beautiful and talented friends like Joy, Lioudmila, Judy, and Leslie (she of the "swoopy" waltz) among so many others.

6. Get another Masters Degree. This used to be "Get my PhD," but since I was unable to narrow down the field of study I want and the topic I'd want to do my dissertation on, I've decided that getting a second Masters degree, probably in either in Political Science or Linguistics, is more doable. Perhaps with a dissertation that connects linguistics and politics ... I have a lot of ideas about that, given the linguistic oddities of the current president. Hmmm ...

7. Publish at least one book. Still on the list. My mother told me once that she thought I had at least one good book inside me, and who am I to disappoint her? I have a lot of notes and ideas for both fiction and nonfiction books, but I need to get serious about the writing.

8. Publish at least one article in a magazine. Still on the list. As I noted last year, this is probably easier than writing a full book, and so maybe I can use it to get myself into the writing habit for the longer book.

So, that's the latest revision of my bucket list. We'll see how it goes. And as for you, Dear Readers, how often do you update your own bucket lists? What have you added or deleted? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. Don't kick the bucket any time soon - I need you all. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 14, 2017

The New Symbols of Hate

The events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, when a group of white nationalists and other far-right groups staged a "Unite the Right" rally that degenerated into violence and murder, should shock and dismay everyone who believes in the traditional idea of America as a welcoming and inclusive nation*. And the sad fact that Donald Trump delivered such a weaselly commentary on the situation underscores the utter lack of moral leadership we have at the top of our government.

As you know, I'm interested in language and symbology, and I found this CNN article to be particularly interesting: These Are the New Symbols of Hate. I won't reproduce any of those symbols here, because they don't deserve any more attention; I'll just point out that they are intended to replace the most historically objectionable symbols, such as the Nazi swastika and the "blood drop cross" of the KKK, and help far-right characters identify each other in the murky darkness of their ideas.

As it happens, I have a few suggestions for symbols they could use.

This one seems appropriate ...

As is this one, for those who also consider information with which they don't agree to be "fake news" ...

As for me, I think the right symbol for America is the one we all should honor - 

Have a good day. Don't let the haters win.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Yes, I know we've not always lived up to that ideal, but we've managed to build a pretty good place in spite of underlying racist ideas and spasms of things like "No Irish need apply."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Poetry Sunday

It's all in how you look at things ...

by Tony Hoagland 

Crossing the porch in the hazy dusk
to worship the moon rising
like a yellow filling-station sign
on the black horizon,
you feel the faint grit
of ants beneath your shoes,
but keep on walking
because in this world
you have to decide what
you’re willing to kill.
Saving your marriage might mean
dinner for two
by candlelight on steak
raised on pasture
chopped out of rain forest
whose absence might mean
an atmospheric thinness
fifty years from now
above the vulnerable head
of your bald grandson on vacation
as the cells of his scalp
sautéed by solar radiation
break down like suspects
under questioning.
Still you slice
the sirloin into pieces
and feed each other
on silver forks
under the approving gaze
of a waiter
whose purchased attention
and French name
are a kind of candlelight themselves,
while in the background
the fingertips of the pianist
float over the tusks
of the slaughtered elephant
without a care,
as if the elephant
had granted its permission.

Don't overthink things ... enjoy the candlelight. And don't replace soft candlelight with the ugly glow of misused tiki torches.

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


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

And you thought July was a rough month ...

Country music legend Glen Campbell died this week at age 81 of complications from Alzheimer's Disease; in the midst of a belligerent war of words with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump picked a fight via Twitter with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and threatened military action in Venezuela; popular singer Taylor Swift is in court, accusing a DJ of groping her during a meet-and-greet session; and a Texas megachurch pastor has released a statement saying that Donald Trump has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Considering that we have a national leader who believes conspiracy theories before he trusts his intelligence community, and a population that will believe the stupidest things, what could be more appropriate this week than a collection of cartoons about conspiracy theories?

Ah, HAH! ...

Jessica Hagy's wonderful blog Indexed nails it ...

Conspiracy theories have always been with us ...

This one goes back a few years, but is no less timely ...

Truth! ...

The danger of finding out the truth ...

The scientific term is Anus Ignoramus Americanus ... 

Conspiracy theorists start early ...

I know this one is true ...

It's all in how you decide to connect the dots ...

Join the conspiracy to encourage the enjoyment of a good day and a great weekend. I'll keep the light on for you.

More thoughts tomorrow, when Poetry Sunday returns.