Thursday, November 30, 2017

Nicer Ways to Say "Stupid"

Most of us don't often think of the dictionary as a source of fun and entertainment, but Merriam-Webster is doing its best to make us more literate and have fun doing it.

As far as I can tell, it began in earnest when Merriam-Webster began trolling Donald Trump and his minions on Twitter for their gross abuse and imprecision of language, as when it noted after Kellyanne Conway's coining of the term "alternative facts" that, "In contemporary use, fact is understood to refer to something with actual existence."

The dictionary's Twitter account now has nearly half a million followers ... not bad for dusty reference book.

Here's a recent fun article from Merriam-Webster: 8 Nicer Ways to Say 'Stupid.' Are you running out of socially-acceptable ways to describe some people in government, politics, or entertainment? The article gives you eight new ways to let people know what you think; these two are my favorites:

Addlepated - defined as, "stupid and confused, mixed up, or eccentric." It derives from two root words, pate ("head") and adela ("filthy or foul-smelling") ... an addled egg is one that is rotten or putrid. I consider myself to be proudly eccentric for any number of reasons, but not addlepated ... at least, not all the time.

Nescient - defined as, "exhibiting or characterized by nescience: ignorant, agnostic." The root word of this wonderful term is the Latin verb scire ("to know"), which is also the root of the term omniscient (“having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight”) ... nescient, thus, means the polar opposite - "lacking in knowledge and awareness." Much like the Trump administration and its blind followers.

There are also lots of comparative expressions to indicate various levels of stupidity, such as dumb as a post and dumb as a box of rocks. The German language also has some nice words and phrases, including the well-known Dummkopf ("dumbhead"). And, of course, I keep finding it necessary to hone and expand my system for the National Stupidity Index - the DUMBCON - the most recent update of which can be found here.

Here's today's question, Dear Readers: what is your favorite, suitable-for-use-in-mixed-company word or expression - in any language - to describe someone or something as "stupid?" Leave a comment and let us all share the fruits of your vocabulary.

Have a good day. Don't let the nescient, addlepated buffoons get you down.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Looking Out for Your Welfare, Ha, Ha

Here's an interesting take on the GOPs drive for tax reform, in the language of their own justification for eliminating some popular personal deductions:

"Keeping records of these expenses is often very burdensome for taxpayers, and this current-law deduction also poses administrative and enforcement challenges for the IRS."*

I'm pleased that the GOP is so concerned about the record-keeping burdens of taxpayers that they're helping us out by eliminating the deductions many employees are currently able to claim, such as the out-of-pocket expenses teachers incur because their schools are chronically underfunded**. It will also be a joy for me to be able to stop documenting my ever-increasing and previously-deductible medical expenses.

But the GOP is not only interested in rescuing taxpayers from onerous task of documenting their deductions ... they also want to help the Internal Revenue Service deal with its "administrative and enforcement challenges." Of course, most of those challenges could result from the GOPs refusal adequately to fund and staff the IRS, but that's not important now ... nothing to see here, folks, just move along.

Oh, yes - and tax cuts for businesses are permanent, while those for individual taxpayers are only temporary.

And let's not forget the relentless GOP drive to kill the Affordable Care Act without any coherent and workable plan to replace it ... despite eight years of bitching, complaining, and staging scores of useless, theatrical, time-wasting votes to kill it.

Thanks, GOP, for looking out for the little guy ... you're the best!

Have a good day. The ones to come will be increasingly taxing. More thoughts tomorrow.


*  The quote is at the bottom of page 19 of the Section-by-Section Summary of the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" (H.R. 1), published by the House Ways and Means Committee. You can read the whole thing here

** In large part because of anti-tax positions of local Republican parties.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Seven Deadly Sins, November 2017

You may recall, those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, that I've written five times* on the subject of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Envy, and Wrath.

It's been almost two years since I last wrote on the topic, and recent events have caused me to take a fresh look at the Seven Deadly Sins in the news:

Pride - Donald Trump tweeted last Friday (November 24th): “Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named ‘Man (Person) of the Year,’ like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!” By the way, Time Magazine disagrees with the tweet.

Greed - If you love what your cable company has done to your television viewing, just wait until the FCC kills net neutrality. In this administration, what matters is whether a decision is good for business, and screw the consumer. Take a look at the winners and losers in GOP tax reform, too, and see who really benefits.

Gluttony - We usually think of gluttony in terms of overeating, but in its original sense it refers to the overconsumption of any resource ... like tax breaks for the wealthy and for businesses that really don't need them.

Sloth - according to this article on the, "Since taking office on Jan. 20, 2017 [as of November 25, 2017], Mr. Trump has reportedly been on the grounds of his golf courses or played golf elsewhere 81 times since becoming President." This is the man who said during the campaign that "If I win ... because I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go golfing, believe me. Believe me. Believe me, folks." Just sayin'.

Lust - Here's a good summary from the New York Times on November 21: After Weinstein: The Fallout for 34 Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct, From Lewd Texts to Rape. Lust is having a winning season.

Envy - We seem to have a national leader so jealous of the accomplishments of his predecessor that his only policy agenda appears to be deliberately undoing everything President Obama did.

Wrath - One day after the father of one of the UCLA basketball players who were detained in China belittled Donald Trump’s role in their release, Trump tweeted that he “should have left them in jail.” Perhaps petulance ought to be a deadly sin, as a subset of wrath. For straight wrath, how about "Lock Her Up!"

For an interesting look at The Seven Deadly Sins of American Politics, check out this series of articles on

Have a good day. I will not be envious or wrathful if you do.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sins, Great, Small, and New (March 11, 2008); Deadly Sins (September 20, 2010); Deadly Sins, Cardinal Virtues, and Congress (July 2, 2013); Deadly Sins Around Us (December 18, 2013); and Presidential Campaigns and the Seven Deadly Sins (February 2, 2016).

Monday, November 27, 2017

What Happened to the Term "Actress?"

My friend Richard asked this question one day last week in response to the post I publish every morning on my Facebook page, in which I list noteworthy birthdays and riff on some historical event that took place on that day. Richard's question arose because I list the birthdays of "actors," rather than "actors and actresses."

The short answer to his question is that nothing has happened to the term "actress" - it's still here. Although I think we've gone overboard in many ways with trying to scrub supposedly sexist terms from American English*, I don't think - from a purely linguistic standpoint - that there's any point to differentiating between male and female members of most professions. As I noted in my response to Richard, we don't say aviatrix any more to refer to a female aviator ... she's just an aviator or a pilot. We also don't have separate terms for male and female nurses, members of Congress, or for persons in many other professions**.

My bottom line: if there's no definite reason to designate a person as male or female when their profession is discussed, there's no need to have separate terms that denote their sex.

And that's your linguistic rant for the day.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* You may recall the old joke about the fanatical linguistic purist who told her child to, "Run out to the person box and see if the person person has brought us any person."

** Scumbag lawyers are still referred to as "lawyers," crooked or inept judges are called "judges," and useless politicians are referred to as "president," "vice president," or "member of Congress," whether they are male or female.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Musical Sunday

I'm now 66 years old, and this song has real meaning ...

Have a good day, creaks and all. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Have you recovered from your turkey coma yet, or did you just watch the news and wish you could fall back into it?

Robert Mugabe resigned after 37 years in office as president of Zimbabwe; brutal mass murderer and cult leader Charles Manson died in prison at age 83; an Argentine navy submarine with a crew of 44 is missing and feared lost in the South Atlantic; a woman in New York state was killed by a hunter - using a pistol - who claimed he thought she was a deer; and 305 people were murdered in a terror attack on a mosque in Egypt.

Although Thanksgiving is already over, I thought it would still be okay to have a collection of cartoons about the holiday ...

He's a clever guy, that Farmer Bob ...

It's turkeycide ...

I hear the initiation is painful ...

Even turkeys can do the right thing ...

I think it's called a gibletectomy ...

Everybody's getting into the selfie thing ...

I think I'll stick with the vanilla latte ...

The wheels of justice sometimes turn too slowly to help ...

I guess they finally got wise ...

It's the only time it makes sense ...

I hope you're enjoying your Saturday, the first of the traditional holiday season. I put up our Christmas tree yesterday afternoon, and this weekend we'll decorate it ... after I figure out why one section of the lights resolutely refuses to light*.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts on Musical Sunday, coming up tomorrow. See you then.


* At least one burned-out light string is a Christmas tradition at Chez Bilbo.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

How is everybody this morning? Have you recovered from your turkey coma yet? Don't stress out ... just take a few minutes to enjoy (endure?) the last collection of Great Moments in Editing and Signage for November ...

'Tis the season ...

No matter what you may have heard, this was NOT about anyone who attended our family Thanksgiving reunion last weekend ...

All too many men seem to think the world's their oyster ...

It doesn't apply to elected officials in Washington, either ...

How could they tell? ...

I think I went to the wrong school ...

There's some law of economics or another at work here, but I'm not sure which one ...

I've eaten here ...

Well, it's low-cal ...

If you are one of my friends on Facebook, you've already seen this ... I posted it last week. These are the instructions I was given to prepare for a recent ... um ... procedure. How many rectums (recti) am I supposed to have, anyhow? ...

And there you have it - the last collection of Great Moments in Editing and Signage for the month. The hits just keep on coming, don't they?

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for your weekly cartoon fix as Cartoon Saturday returns. More thoughts then.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

I've been writing this blog for more than 11 years, and some of you - masochists that you are - have been reading it for almost all of that time. You've learned many things about me over the years, one of which is that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. In a crazy world in which we too often focus on fear and negativity*, and on the material things in life, it's good to have a day on which to sit back and reflect on the things for which we can be truly thankful.

We’re living in a time when it’s easy to be distracted from things to be thankful for, because there is so much going on that is awful. For me, this year the awful things included:

A presidential administration and its unquestioning partisan supporters that has ruined America's standing in the world, coarsened our political discourse, and undermined the health, safety, and financial security of the great majority of the American people;

The horror of realizing that, for many Americans, the murder of children is an acceptable price to pay for the protection of the right to own and carry firearms; and

A profound undermining of my faith in the essential fairness and justice of our legal system and those who serve and administer it.

On the whole, though, it’s been a pretty good year. Although there have been negatives, I have to consider myself a lucky man, for a lot of reasons … such as:

The love of a beautiful and endlessly talented wife;

Three loving and successful children of whom I am proud beyond all measure;

Six adorable, intelligent, talented, and loving grandchildren;

A large and loving extended family (considerably larger than the part shown in this picture from last week's reunion at my sister's home in Pittsburgh);

A comfortable retirement**;

A roof over my head***;

Good health;

Good friends;

The good fortune to be able to live in the United States of America - a country which, for all its faults, gives me the opportunity to enjoy all of the above;

The ability to write what I wish in this space without worrying about government censorship††; and,

The ability to enjoy the good things of the world that would be denied by those whose harsh and intolerant worship of a jealous and angry God ignores the beauty and possibilities of the present in favor of rigid belief in an imagined paradise in an unknowable future.

I have many things to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, and it's only proper that I should take a few minutes to acknowledge that I am, as ever, most richly blessed.

I wish all of you, Dear Readers, the very happiest and safest of holidays.

Have a good day. Give thanks for the good things you have and the bad things you don't. And stay out of the stores tomorrow ... you'll thank me.

More thoughts tomorrow, along with a new batch of Great Moments in Editing and Signage.


* Yes, Mr Trump and the GOP, I'm talking to you.

** So far, anyhow ... we'll see how it looks after Congress gets done wrecking our health care and undermining the tax code for the average American.

*** As long as we keep up the payments.

Until the GOP guts Medicare, anyway.

†† Yet. Given this administration's attitude toward the First Amendment, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Planning the Holiday Seating

One of the most difficult things about planning the Thanksgiving dinner is not what to serve, but where to seat the guests.

You know what I'm talking about ... we all go through the exercise every year of figuring out where to seat each person based on an assessment of table manners, conversational abilities, political affiliation, familial responsibilities, and so on. It's especially dicey this year, when many families and friends are hopelessly divided by seemingly-irreconcilable political differences. Kings, Queens, and presidents have entire staffs dedicated to the issue of protocol and ensuring that everyone is properly seated and arranged ... we have to navigate the shoals of propriety and peacekeeping on our own.

Fortunately, a few years back I ran across this chart that I'll share with you as a way of helping you survive the holiday ...

Don't thank me ... it's all part of the service.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow, when I'll wax eloquent on why I love Thanksgiving. More thoughts then.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Imagining What's in the Void

A few weeks ago, there was an item in the news that got Egyptologists and horror movie fans all fired up: scientists using a technique called "muon radiography" announced that they'd discovered a "giant void" inside the Great Pyramid of Giza ...

What could it be? Might it be another glorious treasure trove like the tomb of Tutankhamun? Does it hold the construction secrets left by the aliens that taught the Egyptians how to build pyramids?

It's an interesting mystery, and it probably won't be resolved any time soon, because the Egyptians are reluctant to do any more potentially-destructive excavating inside the pyramid. For the time being, we'll just have to live with the tantalizing knowledge that the truth is out there, buried under millions of tons of stone.

Of course, there's been plenty of speculation on what might be found there ...

- Hillary Clinton's 30,000 missing e-mails; 

- Former president Obama's "real" birth certificate; 

- The secret photos that prove Donald Trump's inauguration crowd on the Mall was vast beyond all measure;

- Construction records that show how the Egyptians built a pyramid that has stood for 4,000 years, and will help make the Big, Beautiful Wall™ on the Mexican border even bigger and more beautiful; 

- The GOP's plan for ensuring health care for all Americans; and,

- Donald Trump's tax returns.

How about you, Dear Readers? What do you think we'll find in the mysterious void in the Great Pyramid? Leave a comment and let the rest of us know what you think.

Have a good day. If you still need to do any Thanksgiving grocery shopping, do it now - the crowds will only get worse later today and into tomorrow.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 20, 2017

A Thorn By Any Other Name

I ran across this historical note about November the 20th while casting about for a topic for today’s post: on this date in the year 1407, John, Duke of Berry, brokered a truce between John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, and Louis of Valois, Duke of Orléans. In true political fashion, the truce didn’t last, because the Duke of Orléans was assassinated by the Duke of Burgundy a mere three days later but, hey, they tried.

I went back to do some additional reading on the topic, which seemed like it ought to be interesting, but couldn’t make head nor tail out of the lengthy discussions of medieval French intrigue. The part that really caught my attention was a brief note on the Dukes of Burgundy: it seems that the predecessor of “John the Fearless” was “Philip the Bold,” and his successor was “Philip the Good.” Yes, Dear Readers, back in the good old days, noteworthy people had interesting nicknames that tended to lend them a certain gravitas*.

John the Fearless

Which got me to wondering why we don’t give catchy names to our political figures in today's world. The closest thing we have to such names are the sorts of nicknames the Mafia gives to its notable figures, like John “The Dapper Don” Gotti, “Scarface Al” Capone, and “Sammy the Bull” Gravano.

Sammy the Bull

Of course, we have the sort of juvenile nicknames that Donald Trump likes to hand out, like “Crooked Hillary,” “Little Marco,” and “Al Frankenstein,” but these are hardly in a class with something like John the Fearless or Richard the Lionhearted.

Here are a few of my suggestions for appropriate nicknames for some of our present-day political hacks …

Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be “Jefferson the Forgetful;”

Vice President Mike Pence could be “Michael the Obsequious;”

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders could be, “Sarah the Prevaricator;” and,

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway could be, "Kellyanne the Obnoxious.”

What do you think would be some appropriate medieval-type nicknames for our elected (or appointed) officials? Leave a comment and share your ideas ... Sir Bilbo the Idea-Bereft is interested.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Of course, there were also people like Ethelred the Unready and Alfonso the Slobberer, so the names aren’t always as positive as one might wish.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Poetry Sunday

Today is the last Sunday before Thanksgiving, and so it seems appropriate to have a Poetry Sunday dedicated to the avian hero of the season, and poet Mary Mackey steps up to the challenge ...

by Mary Mackey

One November
a week before Thanksgiving

the Ohio river froze

and my great uncles

put on their coats

and drove the turkeys

across the ice

to Rosiclare

where they sold them

for enough to buy

my grandmother

a Christmas doll

with blue china eyes

I like to think

of the sound of

two hundred turkey feet

running across to Illinois

on their way
to the platter

the scrape of their nails

and my great uncles

in their homespun leggings

calling out gee and haw and git

to them as if they 
were mules

I like to think of the Ohio

at that moment

the clear cold sky

the green river sleeping

under the ice

before the land got stripped

and the farm got sold

and the water turned
the color 
of whiskey

and all the uncles
lay down
 and never got up again

I like to think of the world

before some genius invented

turkeys with pop-up plastic


in their breasts

idiot birds

with no wildness left in them

turkeys that couldn't run the river

to save their souls

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and get ready for Thanksgiving!

Have a good day; more thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Agnes and I are in Pittsburgh, celebrating an early Thanksgiving with the extended family. Since we're a little busy, there won't be the usual news summary this morning, but you'll still get the cartoons ... this week featuring cave dwellers ...

The more things change ...

The truth comes out ...

It's a pre-antique antique ...

Isn't that how the story usually goes? ...

Prehistoric dinners may not have been all that different from ours ...

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

Parents have always worried ...

Don't laugh ... this is how you'll get your anesthesia under Trump Care if the GOP has its way ...

I guess that would definitely delay dinner ...

Vote Republican and move forward resolutely into the past! ...

And that's it for this week's edition of Cartoon Saturday, in which we've left no stone (age) unturned. 

I hope you're enjoying your weekend. Be sure to come back tomorrow for a new Poetry Sunday - more thoughts then.


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for November, 2017

It's time once again to skim the scum from the top of the swirling cesspool of ass-clownery!

There are, as usual, plenty of candidates, ranging from politicians to quasi-religious figures to jurists. And sometimes, a candidate straddles all of those groups, as our dishonoree does today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, I give you

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for November, 2017

Judge Roy Moore

Roy Moore was recently chosen as the Republican candidate to run for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when Sessions was appointed Attorney General.  Moore was an odd choice, having been removed from his seat as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court not once, but twice - in 2003 for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments he'd commissioned from the Alabama Judicial Building, despite orders to do so by a federal court, and again in 2016 (after being reelected to the position in 2013), for directing probate judges to continue to enforce the state's ban on same-sex marriage despite the fact that this had been deemed unconstitutional. He is known for his uncompromising anti-homosexual, anti-Muslim, and far-right positions, for his insistence that public policy should be based on Christian beliefs, and his ties to neo-Confederate and white nationalist groups.

As if all those things weren't enough, Moore has now been accused by numerous women of inappropriate sexual contact with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. While none of the women said that Moore forced them into any sort of relationship or sexual contact, they all accused him of inappropriate conduct with them when they were minors*. One of the women said Moore had threatened her if she reported his actions, telling her "You're just a child ... I am the district attorney of Etowah County and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you."

We didn't have enough bizarre and useless people in Congress already.

For his extremist views, religious bigotry, willingness to ignore the Constitution, and inappropriate sexual behavior, Roy Moore is named as our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for November, 2017.

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


* Even considering that this took place in Alabama, where the age of sexual consent is 16.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

For Whom the Toll Tolls

The Northern Virginia (or NoVa) area where I live is famous for it's horrendous traffic. Every workday morning tens of thousands of cars snail their way from points as far south as Fredericksburg, as far west as West Virginia, as far north as Gettysburg, and as far east as Annapolis, inching their miserable way to commuters' jobs in Washington, DC and its close environs. In the evening, the process is reversed, with all those cars headed in the opposite direction, carrying their owners the long distances to the homes they can afford*. Oh, and let's not forget the noontime rush hour, too ... between 11 AM and 1 PM, there's often another highway mess as people try to run errands in their lunch breaks.

Many things have been done to try to address the traffic situation, and none of them have worked out very well ... we have a Metro rail system that is chronically underfunded, grossly overcrowded, and plagued with safety issues; buses that end up stuck in the same traffic as everybody else; and a small but expensive streetcar system that will probably never amount to anything.

And we have toll roads.

The toll roads are the successor to our "High-Occupancy Vehicle" (HOV) lanes; now they're called "High-Occupancy Toll" (HOT) lanes. This means that if you have the right number of people in your vehicle (at least two on one highway, and at least three on others), you can use the road for free; if you have the right transponder, however, you can use these lanes whenever they're open in the correct direction if you pay the toll.

There are, from my perspective, two problems with this arrangement.

First, the toll is variable, and depends on the prevailing traffic conditions. If traffic on the main highway is light, the toll is small; as the traffic density increases, the tolls go up sharply, supposedly to help manage the flow of traffic by keeping the number of cars on the express lanes down. At the place this photo was taken on Interstate 95, not far from my home, the toll to the Prince William Parkway exit - a distance of about ten miles - is $20.80. At less-congested times, it can be $2.00 or less. On one occasion this past year, I had to suck up a toll of $13.65 in order to get Agnes to a medical appointment on time in Tyson's Corner ... a distance of 18 miles. For purposes of comparison, the toll for the 86-mile distance we travel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike** when we go to Pittsburgh is $12.10.

Second, the toll roads were constructed and are operated under a public-private partnership with Australian company Transurban. This means that the private operator that built and operates the roads takes a hefty chunk of the toll income, as well as interest and fees charged on motorists who don't pay the tolls***. Such partnerships are becoming more common as cash-strapped municipalities look for new ways to finance transportation infrastructure maintenance and improvements, but it appears to me that the ability of a commercial firm to levy and collect tolls and impose fines and penalties is ripe for abuse.

But that's just me, and it pisses me off to spend outrageous amounts of money on tolls when most of it goes to a company in Australia.

Have a good day. Ask not for whom the toll tolls ... it tolls for thee††.

See you tomorrow for the announcement of the Left Cheek Ass Clown for November. More thoughts then.


* Around here, a miserable commute is the trade you make for a home you can afford.

** Between Breezewood and New Stanton ... not a stretch of road I recommend if you can help it.

*** It's been the subject of lawsuits.

† Of course, in the business-friendly Trump Era, that's hardly a problem.

†† With apologies to John Donne.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Personal Anecdote About Credit Reporting Agencies

We live in a society that runs on credit. You can't buy a car, a house, furniture, electronics, or pretty much anything expensive unless you can pass a credit check that indicates you're not a deadbeat. A good credit score is a requirement of modern life*, opening all sorts of doors and greasing the financial skids in a society where paying cash for large purchases can arouse the interest of the police and the local DEA office*.

And how does one get a good credit score? Well, of course, by paying ones bills on time, not having a criminal record, and so on. But where does that score come from? Who gives it to you?

There are three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, who hoover up all the available information about you, your income, your shopping and payment history, whether you own or rent your home, and pretty much everything else. Using their own proprietary systems, they crunch all those numbers down into a score that tells merchants and service providers whether or not it's safe to bet on your ability to pay for the things you buy.

The problems with this system are manifold, and many of them are coming to light. Equifax, for instance, is in deep kimchi with the government** over the lack of security of their databases, which have been repeatedly plundered by crooks looking to steal the financial and personal information we're required to provide to fuel the credit reporting system. And all of the credit reporting agencies maintain that they - not you - own all the information they hold about you and your life, and can sell it to anyone they choose like any other commodity.

But what if the information they have about you is wrong?

In theory, you can petition the credit reporting agencies to correct erroneous information they have in your record ... in practice, though, getting something changed is neither easy nor are results guaranteed. Here's a personal example ...

One day in the late 1970s, I was reviewing my credit history when I noticed something odd: a Gulf Oil Company credit card I was sure I didn't own. I had applied for and received credit cards from two other gas companies, but I had never gotten one from Gulf. I contacted the credit reporting agency to ask about it, and they said they would remove it from the record if I could prove it wasn't mine. How do I prove a negative, I wanted to know. We'll let you know when we're satisfied, they answered.

Well, I did some digging and made some phone calls and finally figured out what the problem was: there was indeed a Gulf Oil credit card issued - to my father, who has the same name as I, but not the same middle initial. The number on his card matched the number of the card shown on my credit report.

Problem solved, you'd think. Not so.

I notified the credit reporting agency in writing, explaining the error and pointing out that the card in question also showed up on my father's credit report. The agency, however, did not accept my explanation. So my father wrote a letter, too. The agency still maintained the record was accurate and refused to change it.

We went back and forth for nearly a year and I finally gave up. Since I was young and in the first decade of establishing my own credit history, my father's credit was better than my own, and he always paid off that card every month, I figured the heck with it. The Gulf card finally disappeared from my credit history sometime in the mid-1990s.

I tell you this story because I don't trust any of the credit reporting agencies, and neither should you. I realize that they are a necessary evil in a society based on credit, but they lack adult supervision, take no responsibility for the accuracy of the data they hold, and make a lot of money selling the information we we have no choice but to provide them.

Quite a racket, no?

Have a good day. Watch your credit report carefully ... the credit reporting agencies won't.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* I remember an ad for a credit card - I think it was BankAmericard (now Visa) back in the days when credit cards were a relatively new thing ... the ad noted how convenient it was to "pay with your good name," as if that were as good as cash on the barrelhead.

** Not to worry, though, with the current administration in power, I'm sure they'll come out all right.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Guy with the Socks

The other day Agnes and I were watching the German TV show Galileo, which featured a report that was part of a series covering the experiences of Germans living in other countries ... in this case, South Korea. One of the things the German living there commented on was the amazing array of wildly decorative socks that are sold everywhere in Korea, including in vending machines. Apparently, socks play a vital role in Korean society and are often given as gifts on many occasions. The reason for this is that since shoes are supposed to be removed when entering a Korean home, clean and attractive socks are important as a fashion statement.

How about that, eh?

I did a little more Google-ing on the topic and found this blog post written by Jen Fletcher on the Korea-Canada Blog of the Korean Cultural Centre in Canada (KCC), which goes into more detail on the importance of socks in Korean culture.

Okay, I told you all of that so that I could tell you the story of how I became known as "The Guy with the Socks."

When Agnes and I first met and began dating, I was in the Air Force. At the time, I was stationed in Berlin in a job in which I normally wore conservative civilian clothes, and only occasionally my uniform. After we were married, I was transferred back to the States to a job in which I wore my uniform every day ... and an Air Force uniform requires plain black socks.

Well, Agnes's mother was a lady of many talents, among which was knitting. And she decided that she woud hand-make my socks for me. Thus it was that, about twice a year for many years, I got a box of beautiful black wool socks in the mail, hand-knitted by my mother-in-law.

Time passed, and in 1996 I retired from the Air Force and began my second, civilian career as a contractor supporting the Air Force in the Pentagon. Of course, I now wore snazzy civilian clothes, and Agnes helped me pick out an array of nice suits, dress shirts, shoes, and accessories I'd never had to worry about during my 23 years in uniform. And Agnes's mother, back home in Germany, realized that I was now able to wear other than plain black socks ...

... and those every-six-months boxes of socks began to contain some of the most incredibly eye-hurting, vividly-colored socks you can imagine. Mom seemed to delight in seeking out the most bizzare color combinations of yarns and turning them into socks that were - to say the least - eye-catching. I never knew what would come out of the boxes that arrived from Germany, but I knew they'd be unusual. They were ghastly, and didn't match anything I owned, but they were comfortable, warm, and free, and so I decided to just go ahead and wear whatever came out of the drawer first in the morning darkness.

It wasn't long before my ... colorful ... socks were noticed and commented on. Before long, when I'd show up at conferences or meetings, it wasn't unusual for someone to walk up to me and pull up a pants leg to see what kind of socks I was wearing. People might not have known my name, but they knew I was "The Guy with the Socks."

The pinnacle of my sock fame came one day when I was scheduled to brief the conduct and results of a study I'd done on computer security to a "murder board" composed of retired general officers, chaired by General John Shaud, a retired four-star who had once been the Chief of Staff of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). For the occasion, I dressed in my snazziest gray suit, polished my shoes, and wore my loudest socks: vivid red, shot with flashes of blue, yellow, and green. I was ready.

The morning's presentation, with questions and answers, went by quickly, and it was soon time to break for lunch, which had been scheduled for a small, private dining room in the Pentagon. As we were walking down the hall, General Shaud came up beside me, threw an arm around my shoulders, and said, "Bill, I've just gotta ask you ... where did you get those damn socks?"

His team approved my project and recommendations. I credit hard work, detailed preparation, and lucky socks.

So that's how I became known as "The Guy with the Socks." Sadly, Agnes's mom passed away in 2013, and she'd stopped making the socks a few years before then as she suffered from arthritis in her hands ... but she did her part to make me famous, and I loved her for it.

Have a good day, and remember - life's too short to wear boring socks.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Guidelines for Political Representatives At My Door

I can't remember if I've shared this with you before, but this is the text of the flier I hand to people who come to my door to advocate for a political candidate. It saves time ...

Please Read This Carefully
It Will Save Time and Aggravation

1. I get one vote. Your job is to convince me to give it to your candidate. It is not your job to convince me to vote against anyone else. See #3 below.

2. All I want to hear from you is specific information on your candidate's policy proposals and stands on issues. If you can't answer detailed questions about them, go away and send someone who can. Don't waste my time.

3. Don't say anything about any other candidate ... I do not care in the least about your opinion. The other candidate's representatives can tell me about him or her ... all I want to hear from you is what I specified in #2 above. I am perfectly capable of comparing information I get from the two of you and making decisions on my own.

4. Don't get mad at me when I ask you detailed questions and try to clarify evasive answers. My experience shows that you will probably interpret specific questions as attacks on your candidate, rather than as attempts to gain information you should have at your fingertips. If that's your attitude, go away and waste someone else's time.

5. With respect to #4 above: detailed questions about your candidate do not necessarily equate to support for the other candidate. You should be prepared to answer such questions. If you accuse me of being stupid or supporting the other candidate just because I want better information about yours, be sure your nose is far enough away from the door to avoid being hurt when I slam it shut.

Thank You

Feel free to use this, or your own variation of it, in future elections. I only wish I could figure out how to make it work with those %#$@ robocalls.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Musical Sunday

With the large number of investigations going on, perhaps we should consider it to be a full-employment program for lawyers ...

And the biblical Egyptians thought they had plagues.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

And you thought November might be better ...

A gunman murdered 26 people and wounded 20 others attending church services in the town of Sutherland Springs, Texas; in China, Donald Trump praised the Chinese for taking advantage of the United States, blaming any problems on previous US administrations; Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe fired his deputy and longtime ally Emmerson Mnangagwa, accusing Mnangagwa of using witchcraft to seize power ... oddly enough, Mnangagwa replaced former Mugabe aide Joice Mujuru, who Mugabe also accused of witchcraft to seize power; longtime Donald Trump adviser Keith Schiller told Congressional investigators that he rejected a Russian's offer to send five women to Donald Trump's hotel room during Trump's 2013 visit to Russia, and that both men treated it as a joke; and in the widening circle of sexual misconduct allegations, five women have accused comedian Louis C.K. of inappropriate behavior.

From the Department of You Can't Cry So You May As Well Laugh, here's a collection of cartoons about politicians - low-hanging fruit, to be sure, but appropriate ...

Yes, we're there ...

Transparency is what we want, but opacity is what we're willing to settle for ...

Well, it's working ...

That's the point of gerrymandering, isn't it? ...

The Congressional stampede continues ...

Gotta keep the ringers out ...

Just put the thoughts and prayers in that pile over there ...

If only ...

You can't be too careful ...

No problem ... there are still plenty of Chief Scientist jobs open for you in the Trump administration ...

And there you have it - your chance to laugh through your tears at your "favorite" politicians. I hope it helps.

Autumn has arrived in NoVa with a vengeance, as temperatures won't make it out of the 40s through the weekend, although we seem to have avoided combining it with cold and miserable rain. Thank heaven for small favors. If you're going out, dress warmly unless you live someplace like Brisbane, Australia, where my long-time blogging friend Amanda is enjoying summer. Sigh.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for Musical Sunday. More thoughts then.