Sunday, October 31, 2010


Today is Halloween, one of the oldest holidays in the Western European tradition. It is said to have been invented by the Celts, who believed it was the day of the year when spirits, ghosts, faeries, and goblins walked the earth. The tradition of dressing up and getting candy probably started with the Celts as well, as historians believe they dressed up as ghosts and goblins to scare away the evil spirits, and put food and wine on the doorstep to welcome the spirits of family members who had come back to visit the home.

Nowadays, of course, it is primarily an excuse for the nation's candy makers to augment their bottom lines (and the lines of our children's bottoms as well) by hawking tons of processed sugar. It's also a good time of year for costume manufacturers and the printers of greeting cards.

Halloween isn't as much fun as it used to be. When I was growing up, we used to play pranks like using large straws to shoot dried beans at the neighbors' windows, or writing silly messages on those same windows with soap. The neighbors would feign outrage, storm out looking for us, then invite us all in for hot chocolate or cookies.

In the year 2010, of course, they'd just skip the hot chocolate and cookies and go straight to suing our parents. Times have changed.

I think Halloween is a useful holiday for children. In a world full of things that are truly horrifying (such as radical Islamists who would happily murder you in exchange for their 72 dark-eyed virgins in an imagined paradise, mortgage bankers who would evict you from your home without a second thought even after you've successfully negotiated new terms with them, and politicians to whom utter chaos and disaster is preferable to compromising on any issue), Halloween lets us see horrible things that, underneath the mask and makeup, really aren't so bad. We can pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, because the man behind the curtain is really our friend ... as opposed to the man who, from behind another curtain, buys the election that is supposed to give you your voice in government.

Halloween. Have fun tonight, enjoy the gentle scares, and get ready for the really scary event coming on Tuesday.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cartoon Saturday - Halloween Edition

Synagogues in Chicago are on alert after packages of explosives shipped to them from Yemen were intercepted by authorities; shots have again been fired at the Marine Corps museum in Quantico, Virginia; nine police officers were murdered in Mexico when their convoy was ambushed, probably by drug gangs; five soldiers were wounded and 30 Taliban fighters killed in an attack on a combat outpost in Afghanistan; and a judge in New York has ruled that a four-year-old girl accused of running down an elderly woman while racing a bicycle with training wheels on a Manhattan sidewalk can be sued for negligence.

Put on your plastic fangs, swirl your cape, and bay at the moon - it's time for Cartoon Saturday's Halloween Edition.

Some Halloween costumes are just too frightening...

There's an app for that ...

The stereotyped Halloween costume is the sheet-over-the-head ghost. Here are two takes on that tradition ...

Sometimes, size does matter ...

Halloween for the digital generation ...

Don't you just hate it when someone shows up at a party in the same costume you did? ...

Some houses are better for trick-or-treaters than others (thanks to Andrea for this one!) ...

There are traditionalists, and there are progressives ...

It's all in your perspective ...

And finally, circling back to where we started, there are some things that are fun scary, and some things that are really scary ...

Happy Halloween! If you're driving this weekend, watch out for trick-or-treaters who are focused more on candy and fun than on watching for cars. And don't forget to vote in the election on Tuesday. Halloween can be scary ... some of the people running for office are horrifying.

Be sure to be here on Monday for a special pre-election edition of Cartoon Saturday - you'll need the boost as you get ready to cast your vote.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Making the Right Choice

A shaggy dog story for a Friday...

One day a corrupt Congressman was crossing K Street in Washington after meeting with his favorite lobbyist, when he was hit by a car and killed instantly.

His soul eventually arrived at the Pearly Gates. He was welcomed by St. Peter, who told him, "Before you settle in, it seems we have a little administrative problem. We don't get many Congressmen here, so we're not sure what to do with you."

"No problem, just let me in," said the Congressman.

"Well, I'd like to," said St Peter, but I have orders from The Boss. What we'll do is have you spend one day in Hell and one in Heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."

"But I've already made up my mind - I want to be in Heaven," said the Congressman.

"I'm sorry," St Peter replied, "but I have my guidance." And with that, St. Peter escorted the Congressman to an elevator that took him down to Hell.

After a long ride, the doors opened and the Congressman found himself in the middle of a lush green golf course under a clear blue sky. In the distance was a clubhouse, and standing in front of it were all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him. The men were dressed in tuxedos and smoking expensive cigars, and the women were dressed in the finest gowns and glittering with jewels. They all ran happily to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they’d had while getting rich at the expense of the people. They played a friendly game of golf and dined on lobster, caviar and the finest champagne, finishing off the evening with dancing to a superb five-piece band. The Devil proved to be a charming host who expertly worked the crowd as he poured drinks and told jokes and stories of politics through the ages.

The Congressman was having such a good time that before he realized it, it was time to leave. Everyone gave him a hearty farewell and waved as the elevator carried him slowly back up to the Pearly Gates, where St. Peter told him, "Now it's time to visit Heaven."

For the next 24 hours the Congressman joined a group of contented souls floating from cloud to cloud, playing harps and softly singing hymns. He had a pleasant time and, before he realized it, the 24 hours had gone by and St. Peter had returned.

"Well, then, you've spent a day in Hell and another in Heaven," he said. "Now it's time to choose your home for eternity."

The Congressman thought for a minute, then answered: "Well, I never thought I'd say this ... I mean Heaven has been delightful, but I really think I'd rather be in Hell."

"Well, it's your choice," St. Peter said, and he escorted the Congressman back to the elevator.

Once again the elevator went back down to Hell, but this time the doors opened onto a hot, barren wasteland covered with putrid, reeking garbage. All the Congressman's friends were still there, but now they were dressed in rags and moaning while they picked up the trash and put it in plastic bags while more trash rained constantly down on them from above and screaming demons poked them with pitchforks.

The Congressman was horrified, but the Devil put a friendly arm around his shoulders, smiled, and said, "Yesterday we were campaigning. Today, you voted!"

Less than a week until the elections. Choose wisely.

Have a good day. Tomorrow, we'll have a special Halloween edition of Cartoon Saturday. Be here.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stopping Voter Fraud. Or Not.

One of the amusing things I observe each election day is the presence and behavior of the poll-watchers who serve as the eagle-eyed defenders of supposed election integrity. Here's how the process works:

I report to my local polling place, wait dutifully in line for my turn, then step up to the table to have my name checked (by two people) against the list of registered voters. I recite my name and address and try my best to look like the photo on my driver's license, and if I pass muster I am given a card which I can then give to yet another person who directs me to the next available voting machine. But there are two other people involved in this electoral pas-de-trois (making it a pas de cinq?): the Republican and Democratic poll-watchers who sit behind the people at the registration table and carefully duplicate their efforts on their own copies of the voter registration lists, checking me (and each other) out through narrowed eyes as they scrupulously defend the integrity of the voting process.

Oh, for pete's sake ... what sort of useless time- and effort-wasting horse manure is this?

Elections are not stolen by voters at the local precinct level. They are bought and paid for well in advance by those with deep pockets and shallow morals, empowered by the Supreme Court in it's Citizens United decision.

Who commits ... or needs to commit ... garden-variety voter fraud any more?

I'm not the only one to ask the question. In a Slate Magazine article titled Fake the Vote, political reporter Christopher Beam provided an excellent summary of all the reasons why the local poll-watchers are wasting their time. He notes that a crackdown on voter fraud started by the Bush administration in 2002 has to date yielded 86 convictions: about 30 linked to vote-buying schemes in races for small offices like sheriff or judge, and only 26 attributable to individual voters. Most of those were misunderstandings about voter eligibility, such as felons who voted without knowing it was illegal. On the whole, the much-ballyhooed prosecutions provided little evidence of organized fraud. A study conducted in 2007 by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reached a similar conclusion, finding that the vast majority of "fraud" cases were due to things like typographical errors in poll books and registration records, bad matches between voter databases, and voters registering at new addresses without deleting old registrations. Much of the alleged "voter fraud," the study found, represents little more than improperly filled-out registration cards.

Mr Beam also notes that voter fraud on a large scale makes no sense, if for no other reason than fraud on an election-swaying scale would need to involve so many people that it would be impossible to keep secret, involving too many people with too much to lose. He concludes his article with these words:

"There's nothing wrong with preventing voter fraud, just as there's nothing wrong with preventing alien attacks. First make sure the problem is worth your time."

Actually, though, it is worth the time of those who would steal elections ... because it offers a convenient way to divert attention from the real threat to our democracy - the vast truckloads of cash being spent to buy elections before you and I ever get to stand under the withering gaze of the well-meaning, but ultimately useless poll-watchers.

But all that having been said, vote anyway. It's your civic duty, and if you don't vote you forfeit your right to bitch and moan about the people who are governing in your name.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

We're Number ... uh ... 22!!

We're now less than a week away from the midterm elections here in the United States, and you can tell they're close because the frequency and viciousness of the attack ads on TV has taken a sharp upturn, and the volume of glossy political junk mail is also soaring. I've had to coat the inside of my mailbox with Maalox to keep it from throwing up.

How bad has it gotten? Well, here's one measure: a news headline announcing "US Slips to Historic Low in Global Corruption Index."

Yes, Dear Readers, Transparency International, a "global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption," has published its 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perceived level of public sector corruption in 178 countries. On a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean) the United States has scored 7.1, dropping it for the first time out of the top 20 "cleanest" countries (from #19 to #22). The most corrupt nation in the world, according to Transparency International, is Somalia, coming in at 1.1, and the most transparent and accountable are Denmark and Singapore, scoring 9.3 (of course, in Singapore you can probably be caned for being insufficiently transparent, but that's another issue). You can see all the results presented graphically and read the full report here.

Why has the United States fallen in the rankings? According to Nancy Boswell, president of Transparency International in the United States, subprime lending practices, the disclosure of Bernard Madoff's enormous Ponzi scheme and the furor over political funding have shaken public faith about political and economic ethics in America. She is quoted as saying, "We're not talking about corruption in the sense of breaking the law. We're talking about a sense that the system is corrupted by these practices. There's an integrity deficit." She also noted that the proliferation of financial scandals at state and city levels had encouraged the impression that regulatory oversight was weak and that influence could be bought.

An integrity deficit. You can see it in the wildly hyperbolic and grossly exaggerated slams directed against each other by candidates for office, and in the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which removed limits on the ability of corporations and wealthy individuals anonymously to pump money into elections.

Just a little something to think about as you get ready to choose the lesser of two evils on November 2nd.

Somehow, "We're Number Twenty-Two!" just doesn't have the ring to it any of us would probably like.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Constitution, Revised and Updated

In the final week leading up to the midterm elections here in the US of A, the level of uncivil and utterly uninformed noise is getting to the unbearable end of the BS detector (click to see the animation) ...

It's bad enough that many of the candidates rely on odious ads that attack their opponents rather than on ads that explain their own positions, but even more distressing are the hot air and BS generators that wrap themselves in their own interpretations of the Constitution - a document few of them appear ever to have actually read and understand.

Many of the Tea Party shouters are particularly noteworthy for their breathtaking reinvention of the Constitution. What changes might they make to the founding document of our national form of government if they had the opportunity? This is how the Preamble to the Constitution actually reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

And here are a few of the edits they'd probably like to make, with the rationale therefor:

1. Change "United States" to read, "Loosely-affiliated States." Rationale: "United" is too strong a term to use for a government that tramples on the rights of the individual states, ignores individual rights, and wants to sell the country to the UN, anyhow.

2. Change "Union" to read, "Aggregation." Rationale: Use of the term “union” permits excessive influence of lobbyists representing the interests of workingmen’s benevolent associations.

3. Delete the phrase, "Insure Domestic Tranquility." Rationale: Insurance of domestic tranquility is the responsibility of husbands and wives. Delegation of this responsibility to the government constitutes an unwarranted and illegal arrogation of rights legitimately belonging to individual citizens.

4. Delete the phrase, "Promote the General Welfare." Rationale: Makes the country attractive to the legions of destitute illegal aliens who are flooding the borders in search of government handouts, to the detriment of taxpaying citizens.

5. Delete the phrase, "Blessings of Liberty." Rationale: Use of religious imagery contravenes the language of the First Amendment which prohibits establishment of religion. Can be retained only if it is changed to specifically state that this country is a 100% Christian enterprise.

Those changes are adapted from a gag gift I wrote for one of my co-workers who was a master of reviewing and commenting on documents: he could generate ten pages of comments on a five-page document, and I imagined how he might have commented on the preamble to the Constitution if he'd been in a position to review it at the original Constitutional convention. Little did I know at the time that it was more accurate than I thought.

Have a good day. Read the Constitution and understand what it says before you start shouting about it. You might be surprised at what it really says.

More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - Update on my running survey of election-related flyers in my local congressional race: three more glossy ads attacking Republican candidate Keith Fimian have arrived, all paid for by the Democratic Party of Virginia (you can find this information in tiny boxes in distant corners of the flyers). As before, not one of them mentions the relevant positions on those issues taken by Democratic incumbent Gerry Connolly (although I have received another copy of the single flyer which gives reasons to support Connolly). The overall score is now:

Democratic Material (favoring Connolly or opposing Fimian): 18. Of these:
Supporting Connolly: 2 (actually, two copies of the same flyer)
Opposing Fimian: 16

Republican Material (favoring Fimian or opposing Connolly): 7. Of these:
Supporting Fimian: 2
Opposing Connolly: 5


Monday, October 25, 2010


Although it might damage my carefully-nurtured image as a hairy-chested he-man, I have a confession to make:

I love poetry.

I have a large collection of poems which speak to me for one reason or another, and there are many poems I enjoy reading aloud (you haven't lived until you've heard my renditions of The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert W. Service and Casey at the Bat, by Ernest Thayer). I love reading in general, but there are times when a great poem is the only thing that will hit the spot.

As we lurch into another week, I thought I'd share one of my favorite poems with you. You may know Tommy as the rock opera by Pete Townshend, but that Tommy (and the classic song "Pinball Wizard") was preceded by many years by Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name.

You may know that "Tommy" (short for "Thomas Atkins") is a generic term for a common British soldier (much as the American term "GI"), and Rudyard Kipling's homage to that common soldier looks at the love-hate relationship between the soldier and the people he (and she, now) is sworn to defend. Having entered the Air Force during the war in Vietnam, I saw the ugly downside of how America viewed its military; things are much different today, when most people go all-out to honor those who put their lives on the line for the nation.

Another great poem to be read aloud...but only if you can do the lower-class British accent...

by Rudyard Kipling

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

Have a good day. Read a great poem aloud. For suggestions, just ask me.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Another Look At Titles...

Back in March of 2008 (when dinosaurs roamed the earth, in Internet terms) I wrote a blog post called My Title's Better Than Your Title. It was my reflection on our penchant for giving ourselves grand titles to establish our position in social, political, and economic hierarchies, and in it I told the story of why I would like to have the distinguished title of Illustrious Potentate.

I think the whole subject of titles and honors is fascinating, and since writing that post I have come across many other titles that I've found interesting, if - sometimes - unfortunate. Consider the handle of this fellow from the Small Business Administration who was mentioned in a recent summary of movements of senior government officials:

Director, Disaster Credit Management System Operation Center

Wow ... let me dust off my degree in Linguistics for a moment while I think about this one.

On reflection, I'm pretty sure I understand what this gentleman's responsibilities were: they probably involved directing efforts to ensure that small businesses have access to credit to help them recover in the wake of rebuild facilities, replace stock, make payroll, etc.

But that's not how I read it at first.

My first reading suggested that this gentleman was responsible for ensuring that the right people got credit for disasters. For example, he might have signed the papers and issued the press releases that gave Republican economic policies credit for the huge crater where our economy used to be. Of course, it's not all the Republicans' fault ... they just slashed government income by cutting taxes and gutted regulation of the financial "management" industry so that Real People's assets could be more efficiently looted. The Democrats did their part by championing expensive programs without considering how they might be funded - an issue which, had they considered it, would have been made a bit more difficult by the tax revenue no longer available.

Yes, there are plenty of people who should have credit for managing this disaster. Think about that when you go to the polls on November 2nd.

But you won't, because we Americans have woefully short memories to go along with our voracious appetites.

And I'll be happy just continuing in my effort to be an Illustrious Potentate. Or the best grandfather I can be ... which is probably better, anyhow.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

The controversial WikiLeaks website has published hundreds of thousands of classified documents stolen from the US government; eleven persons are dead in Taiwan and many thousands homeless in mainland China in the wake of typhoon Megi; a 19-year-old college student was attacked and killed by a shark off a California beach on Friday; National Public Radio is facing a huge backlash from both the left and the right - albeit for different reasons - for firing news analyst Juan Williams for making non-politically-correct remarks about Muslims in a televised exchange with conservative talking head Bill O'Reilly; and the issuers of title insurance are running for cover as many high-speed foreclosures are proving to be based on incomplete, backdated, or outright fraudulent documentation.

I don't know about you, but I really need Cartoon Saturday to help keep things in perspective.

The endless waves of attack ads, half-truths, and exaggerations generated this election season are easier for some of us to take than for others ...

You all know that I'm a fan of the traditional book, as opposed to the various models of electronic readers that are cropping up everywhere. It's not easy to be a traditionalist ...

Nobody wants to pay taxes, but everybody wants all the things taxes pay for. Public services have long had to augment their budgets with bake sales, car washes, charity auctions, and other creative fund-raising schemes, but the time is coming when those won't be able to make up the difference any more, and stronger measures will be needed ...

Back before I met Agnes, I had a foolproof way of picking out wines: if it had a nice label with pictures of castles, flowers, or naked ladies, it had to be good. Agnes patiently instructed me in the art of how to pick a good (and often quite expensive) wine, but in these tough times it's sometimes difficult to justify paying the high price of a really good bottle. You need to look at other options ...

It's only a matter of time before high-tech meets up with our cherished childrens' stories ...

And finally, honesty may be the best policy, but sometimes it could use a little sugar-coating ...

The temperature outside my study window was a brisk 45 degrees (7 degrees, for you folks in Celsius lands) when I woke up this morning, but it's supposed to make it up to a sunny high in the low 70's (about 22 Celsius) later on. Fall is definitely here. Tomorrow, we're scheduled to take a trip to a local pumpkin patch with granddaughters Leya and Elise, and the weather is supposed to be great then, too. Yee-hah!

Coming up in the week ahead: Cartoon Saturday will have its Halloween edition on Saturday, followed on Sunday by a special Election Edition all you jaded voters won't want to miss. Be here.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - Update on my running survey of election-related flyers in my local congressional race: two more glossy ads attacking Republican candidate Keith Fimian have arrived, one attacking his views on Social Security and Medicare; the other attacking his positions on medical care, stem cell research, and abortion. Both ads were paid for by the Democratic Party of Virginia (you can find this information in tiny boxes in distant corners of the flyers), and neither mentions the relevant positions on those issues taken by Democratic incumbent Gerry Connolly. The overall score is now:

Democratic Material (favoring Connolly or opposing Fimian): 14. Of these:
Supporting Connolly: 1
Opposing Fimian: 13

Republican Material (favoring Fimian or opposing Connolly): 7. Of these:
Supporting Fimian: 2
Opposing Connolly: 5

I don't know how much it costs to print and distribute this drivel, but I'll bet it could have been put to better use funding schools or giving police and firefighters a raise.

Just a thought.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Qualifications for Office

It's not bad enough that we have so many problems in this country and so few people running for office who care more about solving them than about mouthing partisan slogans. One of questions I like to ask candidates for office is quite simple: why should I vote for you?

It's a deceptively simple question that usually results in a flood of talking points about what a useless bozo the other guy is, but very little about what the candidate on the spot has to say about him/herself. In the 11th Congressional district race here in Northern Virginia, challenger Keith Fimian says he's the better candidate because he's a "businessman, not a politician."


As I recall, the last time we elected a businessman we got George W. Bush and his MBA, and look how that turned out.

So, what should we look for in a good candidate? Business experience? Political savvy? Good looks? Reinforced platoons of anonymous financial backers?

How about actual, hands-on experience in helping people get screwed?

Running for governor of New York is Kristin Davis, the madam who provided the prostitute who ended up being the downfall of former governor Eliot Spitzer. If you think all politicians are whores, here's your ideal candidate. Her platform has three planks: legalize marijuana, legalize prostitution, and legalize gay marriage. Not much, in my humble opinion, but if you look at her videos you can certainly agree that she makes her points clearly, ha, ha. But seriously, if you're the sort of person whose political viewpoints are defined by a single issue to the exclusion of everything else, you could do worse.

By the way, Ms Davis is opposed by another candidate whose entire campaign is based on the endless rant that "the rent is too damn high." I wonder what his position is on the breathtakingly amoral rush by banks to foreclose on millions of mortgages, using information that is incomplete or, in many cases, outright false?

We're already electing the clowns to run the circus, so perhaps these two individuals have a chance.

Good luck making your decision on November 2nd. You already know who's getting my vote:

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday will be here soon to help you slog through the mess.

More thoughts then.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Two Stories in the News

Two recent news stories beg for commentary.

First was this AP headline yesterday on Yahoo News: "Say Goodbye to Traditional Free Checking."

Great Caesar's Ghost!! Stop the presses! No more free checking!! AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!

So tell me, when was the last time you saw really free checking...that is, with no minimum balance, no requirement for direct deposit, no charge for checks, enormous overdraft fees, etc, etc. Never, right? As a Bank of America spokesman was quoted in the story, "Customers never had free checking accounts. They always paid for it in other ways, sometimes with penalty fees."

It's all part of how banks make money. And with new banking regulations cracking down on some of their most lucrative money-making fees, they're looking for anything they can charge to make up their losses. Sort of like the airlines.

Second story, from the Washington Post on October 19th: "Unions, Lawmakers React to Post Polls on Federal Workers." According to this Blinding-Flash-of-the-Obvious quality story, Federal workers object to being characterized as lazy, overpaid, unnecessary, and oblivious. Such charges are especially popular with conservative Republican candidates who fiercely berate "government employees" for feeding at the Federal trough (from which they desperately want to feed themselves). The article reports on a Washington Post poll that found "...most Americans think federal employees are overpaid and nearly half believe they don't work as hard as private-sector workers." It quotes Utah Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz, a ranking member on the House federal workforce subcommittee, as saying Republican anger about federal workers is fueled by "a distaste for government, fueled by ineffective, inefficient bureaucracy of the federal government."

I can tell you from personal experience that Federal government employees are just like employees everywhere else. The vast majority of them are dedicated, hardworking folks just like you and I ... well ... you, anyhow ... who bitterly object to being lambasted for cheap political advantage. There are, of course, the exceptions (and I can introduce you to a few), but by and large Federal workers are Real People ... unlike many of the politicians that blame them for every problem.

Is the Federal bureaucracy too big and expensive? You bet. Is it the fault of the average Federal worker? Nope. I blame a Congress that's too ready to solve problems by creating new organizations with big staffs. I also think that most of the incompetent Federal workers you hear about are not the folks doing their day-to-day work in the trenches - they're the political appointees who have big-paying jobs for which their only qualification is that they made a big enough contribution to the party in power (anybody remember the hapless director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency who botched the response to hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans?)

Your checking account is getting more expensive and the Federal government whose services you demand is under fire for being big enough to deliver the services you demand.

What's wrong with this picture?

I wonder if Australia is hiring...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Parking, Schmarking

One of the great miseries of life for drivers is the search for a place to park our cars. People block traffic, shoot each other, engage in fierce fistfights (how alliterative for 4:53AM, eh?), and waste millions of gallons of gas cruising about in search of the perfect parking space - one that will minimize the need to walk any significant distance. Three years ago in this space I wrote about my confrontation with an irate lady over a parking space that - in the end - she couldn't even fit her car into. Parking ... it's one of the depressing, yet necessary realities of modern life.

The management of limited parking spaces is a major issue for city governments, both for revenue generation and traffic management. The ubiquitous parking meter, with its voracious appetite for loose change, is a standby of our urban landscapes, and those who are responsible for their installation and management have managed to find ways to make them even more obnoxious (meters in Arlington, Virginia, are decorated with snarky warnings) ...

And without parking meters, how could the Beatles have sung of their love for "Lovely Rita, Meter Maid"?

But parking meters as we know them may be going away. The old standby that eats the change you never have enough of ...

The high-tech models that accept your credit or debit cards ...

And the "parking automats" that take your money and print a receipt to place on your dash ...

may all go away, according to this article from Time Expired: The End of the Parking Meter. As the article says, "...the time has finally come for a sweeping rethink of the parking meter—in part because of changes in technology, and in part because of an emerging change in the way we think about parking in cities."

What's to rethink? City governments need money, people need places to park, and the humble (or high-tech) parking meter works for both. You may love them or hate them, but I don't think parking meters are going away.


Have a good day. Good luck with finding that parking space. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Two Weeks to Go - Evaluating the Flyers

I can tell from reading Facebook comments that just about everyone is as fed up as I am with the shenanigans surrounding the November 2nd midterm election ... and there's still two weeks to go. Two weeks of robo-calls, floods of televised attack ads, radio spots featuring deep-voiced actors predicting the end of the world if (insert opponent's name) is elected, and a general rise in global warming from all the hot air.

How bad is it getting? I've started doing a little experiment surrounding one congressional race out of many.

I live in Virginia's 11th Congressional District, represented by Gerry Connolly, a Democrat. Mr Connolly is being challenged by Republican Keith Fimian.

I have been saving every piece of electoral material that has been mailed to me, handed to me on the street, or left stuck in my door. As of today, this is how it sorts out:

Democratic Material (favoring Connolly or opposing Fimian): 12. Of these:
Supporting Connolly: 1
Opposing Fimian: 11

Republican Material (favoring Fimian or opposing Connolly): 7. Of these:
Supporting Fimian: 2
Opposing Connolly: 5

Total numbers: 12 Democratic mailings and 7 Republican. The difference, thus far, is in the focus of the ads:

Of the 12 Democratic pieces, only one directly addresses Rep. Connolly's record and his future agenda, while 11 attack Mr Fimian without mentioning Rep. Connolly's positions on any of the issues being attacked.

Of the 7 Republican pieces, two address Mr Fimian's positions and plans; however, neither of them offers any specific examples of what he would do beyond the usual vague comments about "cutting waste" and "putting a stop to Congress's spending binge." Five of the Republican pieces attack Mr Connolly, but address Mr Fimian's positions only by urging the reader to visit his website for more information.

I'll have some analysis of the content in the coming days. For now, I need to get myself to work.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Odds and Ends for a Monday

I started out this morning to write a serious piece about ... well ... I won't tell you what it was about. I'll just save it for a morning when I'm a little more awake and can gather my thoughts better. I don't always spring out of bed intellectually fired up and coherent, after all. Heck, nowadays I'm only intellectually fired up and coherent by 5:00 PM about half the time.

So anyhow, here are a few assorted things to fill up the space and entertain you as you lurch into the last two weeks before the midterm elections on November 2nd.

First, a couple of useful signs you can put on your door to help chase off the clueless drones that go door-to-door flacking for their favorite candidate:

Of, if you choose to be a bit more direct ...

From the wonderful blog Indexed, a guide to the evaluation of political blather (and new products, for that matter)...

And finally, a look at how the major political parties see you ...

It's up to you to prove them wrong, after all.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bon Appetit...Sort Of...

It's Sunday morning, and I should still be in bed. However, since this is a Grandchildren Day, I needed to get up early to get ready (shower, walk the dog, make sure the camera is charged up and the memory card empty, etc). Life's tough, eh?

Just wanted to quickly call your attention to this article I saw on CNN this morning: Supplier Recalls Frozen Vegetables Due to Glass Fragments.

Glass fragments?

I think we're all used to the horror stories about the things Federal regulations allow to be included in our food (see more information here), but glass? I'm reminded of the old joke about the guy who fed his dog nothing but ground glass until the day a country singer wrote a song about it: "How Much is that Window in the Doggie?"


If you read the linked article from, you will find that the Food and Drug Administration agrees with a scientist quoted for the article, who says of insect and rodent parts accidentally caught up in our food, "...They're actually pretty healthy ... If we were more willing to accept certain defect levels such as insects and insect parts, growers could reduce pesticide usage. Some of the spraying that goes on is directly related to the aesthetics of our food."

So if I understand this correctly, we can either eat things we'd rather not think about, or get slowly poisoned. Isn't that wonderful.

Of course, if you've been camping (I mean, hard-core wilderness camping, not pulling the RV onto a pad with electrical and water and sewer hookups and cable TV), you know that "stuff" in your food is what you learn to expect. I ate a lot of pine needles and dirt while camping in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Colorado many years ago (and who knows what might have been in that stream water we all drank?), yet I'm still here and relatively healthy.

So I guess we just have to accept some accidental protein as the cost of the convenience of processed foods...

...although I have to admit that I just can't see the glass fragments, ha, ha.

Have a good day. Enjoy your breakfast. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A few companies and several states have placed a temporary moratorium on mortgage foreclosures after revelations of widespread abuse and fraud that may have illegally removed thousands families from their homes; at least 20 men are dead and 17 others trapped in a coal mine explosion in China; former Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice has admitted that "mistakes were made" by the US in Iraq, although removing Saddam Hussein was "the right thing to do;" for the second year in a row, Social Security recipients will not receive a cost-of-living increase in their benefits; and according to a New York Times story, the Republican Governors Association has raised 31 million dollars in contributions in a three-month period on the way to the November elections.

If you haven't made a down payment on your Senator or Reprehensive yet, it's too late ... but Cartoon Saturday can help relieve your electoral misery for a little while.

A great take on the candidates as we lurch and reel through election season ...

In their classic opera Porgy and Bess, George and Ira Gershwin wrote one of my all-time favorite songs, It Ain't Necessarily So. If you aren't familiar with the song, the lyrics go like this:

The things that you're liable
To read in the Bible
Ain't necessarily so...

With that in mind, here are two takes on the story of Adam and Eve ... first, as Adam and Eve themselves might have looked at it ...

And then, as it might be reimagined for the hit TV series Mad Men ...

One of the unfortunate by-products of the current mess of the economy is an increase in the number of panhandlers on the streets of America. It's hardly funny, but it does lead to some interesting twists for cartoon purposes ...

Much has been written about the intrusiveness of modern security screening technologies. For myself, I prefer being scanned and inconvenienced to being blown up by someone in search of his 72 dark-eyed virgins, but I can see where the technologies of protection could lead us ...

And finally, I spend a lot of time reading stories to my grandchildren, and sometimes ... well ... I've been known to take a few liberties with the script. Leya calls me on it more and more often, but I can still get away with it when I read to little Elise ...

It look as if it will be a glorious fall day here in Northern Virginia. Of course, that means that the wind is blowing dead leaves down onto the yard faster than I can rake them up, but at least it's not snowing. That, I don't need for a while yet.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Translations, Part 2

Yesterday, I offered a guide for the ladies to help them understand what men actually mean when they use common words and phrases. Today, to keep the universe in balance, we have the equivalent guide for the men out there. In her comment posted to yesterday's translation guide, Raquel said, "I would not even worry about posting the women's version. We basically say what we mean and mean what we say." Well, Raquel, I think most of us over the age of, say, six months, beg to differ. You guys who are married or "in relationships" will understand. Those of you who aren't, study hard...someday, this will all be clear...

"You want."
Translation: "You want."

"We need."
Translation: "I want."

"It's your decision."
Translation: "The correct decision should be obvious by now."

"Do what you want."
Translation: "You'll pay for this later."

"We need to talk."
Translation: "I need to complain."

"Sure, go ahead."
Translation: "I don't want you to."

"I'm not upset."
Translation: "You're damn right I'm upset."

"I'm not yelling!"
Translation: "You're damn right I'm yelling!"

"You're so manly."
Translation: "You need a shave and you sweat a lot."

"You're certainly attentive tonight."
Translation: "Is sex all you ever think about?"

"I'm not emotional and I'm not overreacting."
Translation: "I'm on my period."

"Be romantic, turn out the lights."
Translation: "I have ugly thighs."

"This kitchen is so inconvenient."
Translation: "I want a new house."

"I want new curtains."
Translation: "...and carpeting, and furniture, and wallpaper."

"I need wedding shoes."
Translation: "The other 40 pairs are the wrong shade of white."

"Hang the picture there."
Translation: "NO! Hang it there."

"I heard a noise."
Translation: "I noticed you were almost asleep."

"Do you love me?"
Translation: "I'm going to ask for something really expensive."

"I'll be ready in a minute."
Translation: "Kick off your shoes and find something good on TV."

"Is my butt fat?"
Translation: "Tell me I'm beautiful."

"You have to learn to communicate."
Translation: "Just agree with me."

"Are you listening to me?"
Translation: "Too late, you're dead."

Translation: "No."

Translation: "No!"

Translation: "No."

"I'm sorry."
Translation: "You'll be sorry."

"Do you like this recipe?"
Translation: "It's easy to fix, get used to it."

"Was that the baby?"
Translation: "Get up and walk the baby back to sleep."

Special bonus: the man's guide to the woman's response to the question, "What's Wrong?"

"The same old thing."
Translation: "Nothing."

Translation: "Everything."

Translation: "My PMS is acting up."

"Nothing, really."
Translation: "It's just that you're such a jerk."

"I don't want to talk about it."
Translation: "Go away, I'm building up steam."

And the general undercurrent of meaning to any female answer to the question, "What's wrong?":
"If you really loved me, you'd know."

Now you can all go forth and relate to each other better, knowing what we all really mean.

Of course, if you're either male or female and running for office, none of this matters, because nobody will believe anything you say, anyhow.

Have a good day. Hang in there - Cartoon Saturday is coming!


Thursday, October 14, 2010


In her post for today, Amanda discussed a book she's been reading called The Wonder of Boys, by Michael Gurian. You can probably guess what it's about. Anyhow, while reading the book for insights into raising her two young sons, she extrapolated the information to improve her understanding of her husband.

It sounds interesting, but there appears to be a lack of information on one area crucial to an adequate understanding of men: their language. To help Amanda compensate for this unfortunate shortfall, and as a guide for all the other ladies out there who often despair of understanding their men, I offer this handy guide to the translation of common male idiomatic expressions ...

"It's a guy thing."
Translation: "There is no rational thought pattern connected with it, and you have no chance at all of making it logical."

"Can I help with dinner?"
Translation: "Why isn't dinner ready?"

"Uh huh," "Sure, Honey," or "Yes, Dear."
Translation: Absolutely nothing. It's a conditioned response.

"It would take too long to explain."
Translation: "I have no idea how it works."

"Take a break, Honey, you're working too hard."
Translation: "I can't hear the game over the vacuum cleaner."

"That's interesting, Dear."
Translation: "Are you still talking?"

"You know how bad my memory is."
Translation: "I remember the theme song to 'F Troop,' the address of the first girl I ever kissed and the vehicle identification numbers of every car I've ever owned ... but I forgot your birthday."

"Oh, don't fuss...I just cut myself. It's no big deal."
Translation: "I have actually severed a limb but will bleed to death before I admit that I'm hurt."

"Hey, I've got my reasons for what I'm doing."
Translation: "And I sure hope I think of some pretty soon."

"I can't find it."
Translation: "It didn't fall into my outstretched hands, so I'm completely clueless."

"What did I do this time?"
Translation: "What did you catch me at?"

"I'm not lost. I know exactly where we are."
Translation: "No one will ever see us alive again."

"We share the housework."
Translation: "I make the messes; she cleans them up."

Now, before all you men out there post a bunch of angry comments, you should know that there is a another version of this translation aid which helps men understand women. Well, as much as anything can. I'll post it in a few days. For now, this should serve as a useful aid to all the wonderful ladies out there who keep us clothed, fed, and pointed in the right direction. We couldn't do it without you.

Even if we sometimes act as if we'd like to try.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Life Cycles

Authors, philosophers, and comedians have made fortunes over the years by trying to describe life and define the stages of life through which we pass. In his play As You Like It, William Shakespeare likened a person's lifespan to the seven acts of a play in this famous soliloquy ...

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide,
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

For those with less of a literary and more cynically humorous attitude, the stages of life for men and for women can be defined by the things we do and the way we act at various ages ...

The Male Stages of Life

Favorite Drink
17 - beer
25 - beer
35 - vodka
48 - double vodka
66 - Maalox

House Pet
17 - roaches
25 - stoned-out college roommate
35 - Irish setter
48 - children from his first marriage
66 - Barbi

Seduction Line

17 - My parents are away for the weekend.
25 - My girlfriend is away for the weekend.
35 - My fiancee is away for the weekend.
48 - My wife is away for the weekend.
66 - My second wife is dead.

Favorite Sport
17 - sex
25 - sex
35 - sex
48 - sex
66 - napping

Drug of Choice
17 - pot
25 - coke
35 - really good coke
48 - power
66 - coke, a limousine, the company jet

Definition of a Successful Date
17 - "tongue"
25 - "breakfast"
35 - "She didn't set back my therapy."
48 - "I didn't have to meet her kids."
66 - "Got home alive."

Favorite Fantasy
17 - getting to third
25 - airplane sex
35 - menage a trois
48 - taking the company public
66 - Swiss maid/Nazi love slave

Ideal Age to Get Married
17 - 25
25 - 35
35 - 48
48 - 66
66 - 17

Ideal Date

17 - Triple Stephen King feature at a drive-in
25 - "Split the check before we go back to my place"
35 - "Just come over."
48 - "Just come over and cook."
66 - sex in the company jet on the way to Vegas.

The Female Stages of Life

Favorite Drink
17 - Wine Coolers
25 - White wine
35 - Red wine
48 - Dom Perignon
66 - Shot of Jack with an Ensure chaser

Excuses for Refusing Dates
17 - Need to wash my hair
25 - Need to wash and condition my hair
35 - Need to color my hair
48 - Need to have Francois color my hair
66 - Need to have Francois color my wig

Drug of Choice
17 - shopping
25 - shopping
35 - shopping
48 - shopping
66 - shopping

Favorite Sport
17 - shopping
25 - shopping
35 - shopping
48 - shopping
66 - shopping

Favorite Fantasy
17 - tall, dark and handsome
25 - tall, dark and handsome with money
35 - tall, dark and handsome with money and a brain
48 - a man with hair
66 - a man

Definition of a Successful Date
17 - "Burger King"
25 - "Free meal"
35 - "A diamond"
48 - "A bigger diamond"
66 - "Home Alone"

Ideal Age to Get Married
17 - 17
25 - 25
35 - 35
48 - 48
66 - 66

House Pet
17 - Muffy the cat
25 - Unemployed boyfriend and Muffy the Cat
35 - Irish setter and Muffy the Cat
48 - Children from his first marriage and Muffy the Cat
66 - Retired husband dabbles in taxidermy, stuffs Muffy the Cat

Ideal Date
17 - He offers to pay
25 - He pays
35 - He cooks breakfast the next morning
48 - He cooks breakfast the next morning for the kids
66 - He can chew breakfast

So, how do you define the stages of your life? Inquiring minds want to know. As for me, I think I'm at the lean and slipper'd pantaloon stage Mr Shakespeare spoke of: Spectacles? Check. Pouch on side? ... well, actually, it's in the front ... but you get the idea.

And now, I'll go and chew my breakfast. I can still do that, you know. So far.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Top Jobs

It's Monday, except that it's actually Tuesday, but it's really Monday since Monday was a Federal holiday and I had the day off.

Did you follow all that?

Damn Federal government, wrapping its tentacles around every aspect of my life and insisting that I take a three-day weekend. I wonder if Glenn Beck knows about this terrible abuse of power?

But I digress.

As I get ready for another week of moving papers around a desk and rearranging electrons on drives, I found this interesting article on CNN: The Best Jobs in America 2010. It's an interesting list of jobs, with the pros and cons and prerequisites of each. There are 100 jobs on the list, and my attention span won't last past the top here are the Top 10 Best Jobs in America, with my comments:

1. Software Architect. These are the people who write the computer programs that drive you crazy when you try to use them. Every time you slam your head against the desk because you can't figure out how some "feature" works, thank a software architect. If you need a list of good words of thanks in various languages, let me know.

2. Physician Assistant. When the doctor is busy filling out paperwork or testifying in court in the latest lawsuit, who takes care of you? Nurses and PAs, of course. What would we do without them?

3. Management Consultant. As a management consultant, you don't actually have to do anything yourself, you just get to tell other people how to do it. And they pay you. I think there's lots of room for unqualified management consultants in the financial management industry and in the upper ranks of the Republican and Democratic parties.

4. Physical Therapist. I love physical therapists. They help straighten out my neck and all my other aches and pains. And what other job allows you to be a sadist and get paid for it? Well, yes, developing health care proposals and social welfare programs for the Republican party is one, but that's not important now.

5. Environmental Engineer. A while back, Amanda was looking for better job titles to describe her role as a stay at home mother. I suggested "Domestic Engineer," but "Environmental Engineer" sounds better than "housecleaner" (a job she, as the mother of two, often performs).

6. Civil Engineer. The hardest part of this job nowadays is actually being civil. I mean, who's civil any more?

7. Database Administrator. I think this would have been a great job for Numeric Life. I wonder whatever happened to her?

8. Sales Director. As long as this doesn't involve getting people to make annoying phone calls to me, I guess it's okay.

9. Certified Public Accountant. Of course it's a good job - who else can make sense of the financial mess we're in? It'll provide job security for decades.

10. Biomedical Engineer. Civil engineers build better mousetraps. Biomedical Engineers build better mice. Be afraid.

The top ten jobs in America. Where does your job fall on the list...if you actually have one. The job I'm going back to this morning isn't on this list. But I actually have a job, and I am getting paid regularly, so I'm not complaining.

Well...maybe just a little...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Vatican II, Turkish Deliberations, and the Rethinking of Religious Belief

Every day I get my "Writer's Almanac" e-mail from Garrison Keillor. It's a great start for the day, with a new poem and a few interesting tidbits from literary (and other) history. According to today's Almanac, October 11th is the 48th anniversary of the day on which Pope John XXIII convened the first session of the Second Vatican Council (or Vatican II, as it's sometimes known in the language of sequels). Here's how the Writer's Almanac summarized it:

It was on this day in 1962 that Pope John XXIII convened the first session of the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, with the goal of bringing the church up to date with the modern world. More than 3,000 delegates attended, including many of the Catholic bishops from around the world, theologians, and other church officials.

As a result of Vatican II, Catholics were allowed to pray with Protestants and attend weddings and funerals in Protestant churches; priests were encouraged to perform mass facing the congregation, rather than facing the altar; and priests were allowed to perform mass in languages other than Latin, so that parishioners could finally understand what was being said throughout the service.

I was eleven years old in 1962, and attending a Catholic grade school, so we heard lots about Vatican II, even if we didn't quite understand the whole thing. We didn't know how controversial it was, or how much it would change the Church. Vatican II represented the realization of the church leadership (at least that of Pope John XXIII) that the Roman Catholic Church was an institution in need of making itself relevant to a world vastly different from that in which it was founded. Not in its fundamental beliefs, but in the way it organized and governed itself, operated day-to-day, and represented itself to the millions of Catholics around the world.

Many of the changes the Council instituted were (and remain) controversial - in particular allowing the Mass said in the local vernacular rather than in Latin. For centuries, the Church wielded vast secular as well as spiritual power simply because only the priests and bishops could understand Latin, and the faithful had to rely on their interpretations of scripture and the rules they imposed ... not all of which were particularly grounded in the Bible.

Which leads one to ask ...

When will we see the equivalent of Vatican II for the Islamic world?

The closest thing to Vatican II for Muslims is the ongoing effort being conducted by religious scholars in Turkey to revise the Hadith, the vast collection of sayings and commentary attributed to Mohammed and his original followers that are second only to the Koran in terms of their importance to Muslims.

Many Muslims regard the Hadith as absolute religious dogma, even when individual sayings appear to reflect more the social norms and realities of the seventh-century Arabian desert than a guide for spiritual and moral living (stoning adulterers, many restrictions on the rights of women, etc). The Turkish effort is designed to help sort out the Hadith and bring it into line with the realities of the 21st century.

The effort is, of course, every bit as controversial for many Muslims as Vatican II was for many Catholics. Nevertheless, it represents a desperately-needed move to accommodate Islam to a world that is vastly different from that in which it was founded. If nothing else, accepting the validity of translations of the Koran into languages other than Arabic - so that Real People could read, understand, and evaluate its teachings - would be a major step forward.

I'm not holding my breath, but it's a start.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Solution

Flying is a pain in the neck (and other body parts), we all know that. It used to be an adventure, if not actually fun, but that was before the airlines nickeled and dimed you to death, flights were packed like sardines, and you had to go through enough layers of security that you felt like you were entitled to a conjugal visit at the end.

And much of it is because of people who believe their deity or their political outlook - or both - gives them the right and duty to blow you up. Because of these loons, we now all have to suffer inconveniences and ignominies large and small just to be able to fly from point A to point B. New security technologies are always being introduced, and the homicidal morons are always working to figure out ways around them.

The latest thing is the whole-body scanner that, like an x-ray, allows security personnel to literally see beneath your clothes. Predictably, civil libertarians and others object to this as an unwarranted invasion of privacy, although I personally consider it being preferable to being blown up by some idiot looking for his 72 dark-eyed virgins.

All that aside, how do we keep the bad guys with their exploding shoes and underwear off our airplanes so that we can travel to visit our grandchildren and conduct our business with fear only of bankruptcy, and not of our lives?

As it happens, my friend Bob has sent me a wonderful idea: a booth you can step into that will not X-ray you, but will detonate any explosive device you may be carrying.

It would be a win-win for everyone - no whiny B.S. about racial profiling, no long and expensive trials, and the only person killed would be the one who wanted to die in the first place. Justice would be quick and swift. Case closed!

This is so simple that it's brilliant. I can see it now: you're in the airport terminal and you hear a muffled explosion, followed shortly by an announcement over the PA system, "Attention standby passengers -- a seat is now available on flight number..."

I'm forwarding this to the TSA. It makes more sense than making little old ladies take off their shoes and hapless business travelers x-ray their laptops. And it gives us one less idiot to worry about.

Thanks, Bob! I hope your idea catches on.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 09, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

Big Brother is alive and well in China, where Internet censors are furiously working to blank out online reporting of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo; young people's role model Kim Kardashian says she's fine after being involved in a bar fight in New York; the midterm election sale is in full swing as the GOP pours money into races across the country in an attempt to buy its way back into power; walls holding back a reservoir of toxic sludge in Hungary are cracking, threatening another deluge of poisonous muck even more noxious than the US midterm elections; and Lady Gaga and the cast of Jersey Shore are this year's top Halloween costumes.

It may be too early in the day to drink, but Cartoon Saturday can help you adjust your attitude in the face of the environment of lunacy.

With the way some people talk nowadays, we may need to revise how we stage some of our traditional contests...

The Republicans are intent on repealing President Obama's health care reform legislation if, as many fear expect, they regain power in the midterm elections. How would a Republican health care plan differ from what we have now...?

There are many approaches to campaign reform. I rather like this one, which is about as good as any other, and more likely to pass...

Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word was like the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. This fellow would probably agree...

This one is blindingly obvious, but still funny...

And finally, I hope nobody ever decides to remake the classic film Casablanca. Not only could nobody but Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman ever play Rick and Ilsa, but there's no telling what elements of the story they might "update" ...

It looks like it's going to be a beautiful fall day here in Northern's a bit cloudy at the moment, but warm and pleasant after a chilly early morning. A good day for yard work, dog walking, and generally enjoying not having to go outside in 47 layers of warm clothes.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, October 08, 2010

Post Number 1500

Today is a milestone in my blogging career: my one-thousand-five-hundredth post. Yee, hah!

Technically, I suppose, it's only my number 1,497th, since Nessa has guest-posted three times, but I guess I'll take credit for her stuff, too. I don't think she'll mind.

Anyhow, I wondered what to write about for this landmark post, and even asked for suggestions in last Thursday's post. I got lots of comments on that post (about the death ray hotel in Las Vegas), but only one suggestion for the 1500th post...Raquel suggested: "I think you should shake things about a bit and celebrate by sharing things about yourself. Not things like you like to read books but more personal things. I for one would enjoy it."

Well, I've actually done that several times over the last few years, and figured I'd just post links to those posts...unfortunately, I didn't have time to go back and look for them all. So, with apologies to those of you who have been around for a while and may already have seen some of this, Bilbo bares his soul for Raquel and all you other new readers with a few personal tidbits. Please don't run away screaming. And Raquel, be careful what you ask for...

Some things that get on my nerves:

1. People who get into the express checkout lane with large numbers of items, then get in your face when you suggest they get into the right lane.

2. Clueless door-to-door political flacks.

3. People who collect for charities by roaming from car to car at busy intersections.

4. People who are unnecessarily rude (I can be as rude as anyone, but only if you've pushed me into it...see the next item).

5. People who believe their unrestricted right of free speech allows them to ignore the rights and feelings of others.

Some things I love:

1. Watching beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

2. The smell of baking bread.

3. My children and grandchildren.

4. Eating something I've cooked myself, preferably using vegetables and herbs grown in my own garden.

5. Agnes.

A few of my favorite songs:

1. Song for Judith, by Judy Collins

2. Who Am I to Say? and Years Ago, by the Statler Brothers

3. Angel Mine, by the Cowboy Junkies

4. The Perfect Partner, by Jimmy Buffett

5. Still Me, by Erkan Aki

My favorite TV shows:

1. Bones

2. Fringe

3. Dancing with the Stars


5. Hawaii Five-O (the new, updated version)

And finally, a few odds and ends:

1. I think it's sexy for a woman to have hairy arms.

2. I'm the world's worst handyman...the only tool I can use with good results is a ballpoint pen.

3. I have a very bad temper, and work very hard to control it.

4. I was the gold standard for nerd-dom in high school. Now, forty-odd years later, I have more high-school friends on Facebook than I ever had while I was actually there. What's up with that?

5. My drink of choice is gin and tonic, made with Bombay Sapphire gin, lots of fresh lime juice, and a sprig of rosemary.

Okay, that's enough for now. Time to get ready to go to work so that I can earn the money to keep the internet connection that allows me to blog.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when Cartoon Saturday rides to your weekly rescue.