The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Viva Las Vegas?

It's time to start the return trip. The first stop will be Las Vegas. Land of dreams, valley of losses. It was once a lush valley but time and geologic changes gradually turned it into a small oasis surrounded by desert. Las Vegas springs drew Native Americans before the Europeans showed up. Even then, they did not find it until the 1800s and then only by accident.

Now, it's the largest city in Nevada. It really didn't get its start until the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1931. That same year, gambling became legal in Nevada by statute. Between the dam construction, the expansion of the Union Pacific railroad, and the gambling, Las Vegas hardly noticed the Great Depression.

It holds both bad and good memories for me. Both of my marriages were there. Weddings and Vegas are a good combination. What is a bigger gamble than marriage? I guess you could say I have "broken even" on that score.

The first visit I made to Vegas was in February of 1970. It rained. Heavily. Average rainfall for that month is less than .5 inches. There was close to 2 inches on that weekend alone. The Strip was more a river than a road. I should have taken that as an omen. I was there to get married the first time. Those days, the gambling was still under the control of organized crime. Hotel rooms were cheap most of the time and food was always inexpensive. The mob wanted people to spend their money on gambling which could be skimmed easily. And people did their best to accomodate them.

The mob was eventually driven out and replaced by those with MBAs. It was the end of cheap rooms and cheaper food.

In the 60s and 70s, the casinos were king. Las Vegas Blvd (aka "The Strip") was a constant flow of traffic with easy turnouts to get into, and out of, the casinos and hotels. Gambling chips were a local currency with the casinos honoring each other's chips. That changed, mostly due to counterfeiting but also a desire restrict players' mobility. If you had a pocket full of chips and a difficult time locating a cashier then you would more likely stay where you are.

Now the casinos are set back from the Strip, the ease of walking to the next casino gone, the little casinos that were wedged into the little strip malls between the big resorts are gone. By design, I think. People tend to spend all their time at the hotel/casino they booked. Just too much trouble to move around easily. It seems to work. I am told the casinos are hurting in this economy but I am not so sure. Lots of people here, lots of traffic, lots of people at the tables and the slots. Prices are high for food and drink. And people seem to be paying.

The ultimate indication of its fall from grace? Kato Kaelin is appearing on the Strip.

I liked Vegas when I was young, I liked to play Blackjack and Craps. I liked to try the little casinos and the hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Those are mostly gone now, even off the Strip. It's changed. It's not as much fun. I look forward to starting my journey back to my little town of Sebring.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day 4 The Last Leg

The journey across country was a journey in introspection as well as a physical journey. It was uneventful which allowed me to observe and think without major distractions. Well, other than paying attention to the road. The road hypnotizes and your mind drifts. The miles flow past, the mind tends to ignore them. An occasional glance at the gas gauge is all that's needed. The cruise control eliminates the need to check and re-check the speedometer.

Like a small, disinterested, predator among the behemoths migrating across the country, I move in and out among the trucks as they lumber up grades in small groups. Cars, vans, SUVs, and pickups travel in herds. A few, like myself, move through these preferring to avoid close contact. The "loners", I guess.

To keep myself entertained (and awake), I play an MP3 CD full of oldies (real oldies.. from the 40s and 50s and 60s), and I think about philosophical questions. I think about men (mostly) who led others into the wilderness to settle and create new communities. I begin to wonder what it would be like if men had never desired to lead. If no one had wanted to amass power over others, no urge to direct the lives of others, no wish to be revered.

What kind of world would exist today? Would civilization have advanced beyond small bands of hunter gatherers? Is there a difference between the drive to improve the quality of one's life and the drive to achieve the greatness of a leader?

The difference might be a matter of scale. Some leaders are, of course, only out to improve the quality of their own lives and the lives of those close to them. But in doing that, they often improve the lives of many of those they lead. In fact, maybe that is what is needed in order to retain a position of power. A balance of personal aggrandizement and a broader improvement for the people appears to be the key to a successful leadership.

And why do we, the masses, follow these leaders? Why do we turn away from one and follow another? Before the emergence of the concept of self-governance, these shifts were almost always violent. Wars, assassinations, civil strife preceded the transfer of power. Even after peaceful power transfers were developed, there are still revolts and revolutions.

After the transfer of power, how do we measure the rightness of our collective choice?

I always approach these questions from outside, like that small, disinterested, predator might. I am concerned only with how that herd might affect me and how to avoid its collective will from interfering with my own.

Meanwhile, I lose my page of directions I had printed out. Directions I need as I approach my destination in California. The drawbacks of traveling alone... no co-pilot, no navigator. And I always misplace things.

The final miles are though the Coachella Valley in California. I begin to recall the smog of population centers in that state. It is an ugly brown haze that blankets everything. It is the curse of progress. The Valley has beauty, you can understand why people might settle there. The land is rich, farms are very productive. The mountains surrounding the lowlands provide a subtle, sub-conscious, sense of protection. And a contrast to the flatter terrain of the valley basin.

The valley is split by ribbons of highway, interstates and parkways, which connect the valley to the larger cities to the west and south. But it grows on its own. Once the province of the rich and Hollywood elite, Palm Springs draws all manner of people to the northwest end of the valley. Further south and east, the tribal lands of the Native-Americans are dotted with newly built casinos.

Traffic is constant. Light by California standards, it is heavy compared to what I have been experiencing for the last several hours. Everyone is in motion, it seems. As I enter the center of the valley, I see the nearby hills are populated with Wind Turbines. Almost all are in motion. A woman is parked on the side of the freeway, taking a picture of what appears to be hundreds of giant pinwheels.

I pull off the freeway and park where I can get a shot. As I get out of the car, I realize why this is a popular place for these electricity generators. It's windy... very windy. Maybe 25 or 30 MPH. The wind is funneled through the valley and made stronger.

It's Earth Day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Day 3 Crossing the Desert

Another day, another motel. The journey today was through the Great American Desert. It's huge and desolate. Can you imagine a traveler in the 1800s heading west and coming upon this immense wasteland for the first time? He would have no real understanding of what he faced, even if he had been told. No way to know where water could be found, or food. He wouldn't really know how far he would have to travel and in what direction except a general one. And, with no way to navigate accurately, even knowing a specific direction wouldn't be all that helpful.

Imagine the wagon train. A hundred or more people, wagons, livestock, all putting their lives in the hands of a few strangers.

This is what they would see...

And this...

And this...

Only without the wires, the road, and the buildings.

I have been through this desert 9 times now and each time I am amazed at the courage and maybe stupidity of the early settlers who tried to cross it. And those that found a spring, or a well of some kind, and stuck it out. Who built houses out of adobe bricks and whatever they could scrounge up for roofing. Who built towns that became cities like Tucson and Phoenix.

I don't know if I could have done it. I like to think so but I just don't know.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Day 2 Boring!

Here it is at the (almost) end of Day 2. I woke up early, way too early. After about 4 and a half hours. Not enough sleep. Really. Still, I couldn't get back to sleep so I figured I would get up. I read, played on the laptop, and eventually got out on the road. After leaving Lafayette, I headed west without problems. I managed to get through Houston and then San Antonio without hitting any real traffic. The Idiot Magnet seemed to be off.

From Lafayette in Louisiana to Houston in Texas, the terrain is pretty much the same... swampy, lush. Once you get through Houston, it changes, it gets drier, you get into a higher elevation, pastureland, rocky areas.

This stays the same until you get very close to San Antonio and then you start moving into desert. More brown, sagebrush, scraggly bushes, more sand and rocks. It stays this way for hundreds of boring miles. Boring, tiring, miles. Except for the occasional roadwork which was either devoid of workers or had more than needed, it was one of the most uneventful rides I have ever taken.

I guess that's a good thing. Excitement on the road can also be hazardous.

But without excitement your mind wanders. I worry when that happens. What if it didn't come back? I started thinking about a sign I saw as I was driving through Florida. The sign was an advertisement for one of the ubiquitous retirement communities. It was pushing an active adult lifestyle. I know what adult movies are, I know what an adult bookstore is. So just what is an adult lifestyle? A bunch of swinging seniors?

I don't want to think about it.

I have finally ceased driving and grabbed an over-priced Motel 6 room and am trying to relax. It's going to be difficult because I stopped for a meal about 2 hours back and the only thing available that seemed worthwhile was a Mexican restaurant. So I indulged. I will pay for that. Fortunately I have Tums and ranitidine (Zantac) so I will likely survive. Maybe. Food was good, though.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Road Trippin'

This is Day 1 of The Trip.

I went a lot further than I thought I would. Which made it a long day. A Real Long Day. But almost 900 miles out of the way. Which means that I can take it easy and maybe do a little sightseeing along the way since I am not due into Corona until Wednesday evening. I only have 1600 more miles to go and three full days to do it. Since I haven't seen the Grand Canyon yet, I figure I might take a jaunt off to get a look at it.

Meanwhile, let's talk about traffic. I was reminded that I have an Idiot Magnet installed in my car. I first realized it when BMW X5 crawled up onto my rear bumper...then backed away... repeatedly. Then she (yes, it was a woman driver) moved into another lane and pulled alongside and then paced my car. And then backed away. And then another car did the same thing. And the BMW came back again, even though it had passed me a couple of lanes over some time before.

I was beginning to think there was blood seeping out from the corpse in the trunk. Seriously, I began to realize there were Idiot Magnets installed inside of every vehicle on the road, foreign and domestic. What else explains the clustering we see? You know what clustering is, don't you? That's where groups of cars assemble into small herds as they travel the highways. The Idiot Magnets attract each other, preventing the vehicles from speeding up or slowing down once they have reached the cluster.

I am trying to figure out just who it is that wants smaller, more efficient vehicles. A good 75% of the vehicles on the road were SUVs and pickups. Big pickups. And generally big SUVs. All driven by people with phones attached to their ears in some way. Either directly or through one of those Bluetooth ear thingies. What is all the conversation about anyway? We rarely spent this much time of the phone when they were wired into the walls. Unless we were teenagers and, even then, mostly female teenagers.

Only one traffic slowdown in all that time. A semi's trailer seemed to have caught fire. How the heck does that happen? Anyway, it was on the other side of the road, the eastbound side. Traffic on that side was backed up at least 5 miles. Cars and trucks trying to cross the median to go back the other way were getting stuck unless they were 4x4s. What a mess!

The final part of this day's trip included a ride across a swamp in Louisiana. The ride was 15-18 miles long. It was all bridge, mostly 15 feet above the water. There were trees growing in the water. How does that happen? How do they take root? The swamp had to be drained to bare ground during a drought, I suppose. Lots of trees. Cypress mostly. Odd. Sorry, no pics of that.

Back on the road tomorrow. Through Texas and into New Mexico and maybe Arizona.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Life's Work Rewarded

Today will be busy. I have chores to do. Things that must be done before I leave for my three week (or so) trip to California and back. There's that lawn to mow and the bamboo curtain to repair. And packing to be done. Yes, I pack the day before I leave on a trip. Actually, the night before.

That's a new habit, by the way. Packing some time, like a day, before a trip. I always used to pack just before I left. Like an hour before. It's part of the art of procrastination. I plan on explaining about my procrastination. Soon. I promise.

Which brings me to the exchange I just had with Argentum about retirement. He feels he is approaching it and dreads it. I always looked forward to it and welcomed its arrival. Not that I had a bad job, mind you. It was perfect for me. I had no deadlines, no pressure to produce a product on schedule. I spent more time sitting around than I did actually working, it seemed.

The job was primarily troubleshooting problems. Oh, we had some mundane routine busy work we had to do but I could put that off until someone else dealt with it most of the time. Some people like those routine things and I was happy to allow them that pleasure. My joy is in the solving of puzzles and equipment troubles were all puzzles.

Being a procrastinator, and a lazy one, I rarely sought out these troubles. But I never shied away from any either. I would, on occasion, volunteer to take over a problem someone else was having great difficulty resolving. There is nothing quite like the mental orgasm resulting from the solving of a particularly nettlesome, protracted, intermittent trouble. Like an especially strong sneeze... only longer and subtler. Zen practitioners might call it Satori because it starts with that moment of enlightenment when the solution becomes clear.

When I was young, I knew little about retirement. My father never spoke of it, certainly. In fact, he never spoke of it in his entire life. I suspect he did not look forward to it. I think he wanted to work until the day he died. He wanted to be busy all the time. I managed to avoid that gene. Still, when I was growing up, the concept was to find something I would enjoy doing the rest of my life. It was all about your life's work.

Think about it a bit. Fairy tales and folklore always had characters who had some trade and many of these were well into old age. There was never any talk of a "retired tailor" or "retired hunter". No, only old ones and apprentices.

Throughout my youth, I considered what I would like to do that would sustain me and entertain me throughout my life. I thought of art. I liked to draw. I thought I could learn to sculpt. Ah, but I learned that my talents were meager and uninspired. I could not conjure up an idea in my head and translate it onto canvas or even paper, much less carve it out of stone or mold it out of clay. So many others were so much better than I at these things.

I once considered law. After all, I loved to argue. But this would take long term planning, careful preparation, and entailed a responsibility for others' fates. I eventually gave up that dream.

I fell into my career by accident. I needed a job after leaving the Navy, getting married, and moving back to Florida. Someone told me the phone company might be hiring and I applied. I was lucky that they were looking for people to fix problems. It was a perfect match for me.

But it was not a lifetime job. It would not last until I died unless I died relatively young (something I had always hoped to avoid). And I found I enjoyed the downtime, the time I was sitting around reading or chatting with co-workers, as much as I enjoyed troubleshooting.

I had found my niche. I was born to be retired. And now I am.


Friday, April 17, 2009


Michael of "If you're going through Hell, keep going." tagged me with an award. I don't like to accept awards because I usually don't merit them. I really don't deserve this one. Blogging is something I do to keep my brain functioning. Obviously, that isn't working out all that well. But, in blogging, I have found a number of interesting people with wildly diverse perspectives on life. I have made a few friends, I might have made a couple of enemies, I have learned much, I hope I have taught a little. This is, after all, what life is all about.

Blogging is about life and how we view it.

The aims of this award:

* As a dedication for those who love blogging and love to encourage friendships through blogging.
* To seek the reasons why we all love blogging.
* Put the award in one post as soon as you receive it.
* Don't forget to mention the person who gives you the award.
* Answer the award's question by writing the reason why you love blogging.
* Tag and distribute the award to as many people as you like.
* Don't forget to notify the award receivers and put their links in your post.


Now, I don't like to "tag" people. I see it as a kind of involuntary servitude. It is an obligation even as it is a compliment. What I will do instead is refer you to my list.

They make me laugh, make me think, remind me to feel, sometimes annoy me. But all love blogging and I visit them regularly. You can see the list to the right in my OBTF (Other Blogs To Follow) panel. I don't wish to slight any of them, they are all worthy of this award, so I could not single any out. Visit as many as you can, leave a comment (we live for comments), and tell them Douglas sent you.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Gathering of Old People

I was chatting long distance with an old friend, Sue, yesterday in preparation for a trip I am taking. I say old friend because I have known her since 1974. That's 35 years in human time. We met at work when she was transferred into the switch office I was working in. We worked together for the next 12 years. But we also shared our personal lives, heartaches and headaches, joys and triumphs. She was one of the few who tolerated my angry outbursts and understood the reasons. That's what real friends do.

The reason I called her was to touch base about about our mutual friend. I had lost his phone number and also needed his address. We chatted for a bit and she brought up an observation that hit me where it hurts... age.

She was talking about visiting with this mutual friend and how she, he, and a couple of others had all piled into her car to go out for a bite. She realized it was a car full of old people. Then she began to talk about how we used to go out and do things, we had parties, we went to sporting events (baseball, mostly), to picnics, and such and how we played jokes on each other at work and that now we were a bunch of old people who sat around and talked about what we used to do.

The reason it hit me so hard is because it is true. On Tuesdays, Faye and I go to dinner with some mutual friends. There are anywhere from 10 to 14 of us, 12 this time. We were at the local Outback restaurant this past Tuesday and occupying two tables pushed together. As we chatted about golf, politics, local gossip, and the weather, I realized that we were a bunch of old people.

I looked around and there we were, the men gray and balding, the women also gray but not balding. Paunched and dressed in comfortable clothes. Having drinks and offering opinions, talking about grown children and almost grown grandchildren. And it hit me... we were a gaggle of old farts talking loudly and annoying (or amusing) the young folks around us.

I also realized it was much different than when I was young. We sat around then and talked about all these things (well, not grandchildren) but the things we chatted about were more recent events; places we had just been to, adventures we were anticipating. We didn't talk about things we had done way in the past, more about what we wanted to do in the future. People we wanted to meet, places we wanted to go, things we wanted to do. We didn't talk about people we knew who had died or were dying.

And that brought Sue and I back to the reason for my trip. I am on my way to see my old friend German' before the pancreatic cancer takes him. I am on a trip into my past, to say goodbye, to apologize for the wrongs I did him, to thank him for being a friend by ignoring and forgiving them. To relive old times, both good and bad. To reminisce. To remember other old friends. Mostly, to thank him for enriching my life and tell him he will be missed.

I am leaving Sunday morning on the saddest journey of my life.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I may have touched on this once before. If I have, please forgive me and read it again. It deserves repeated reads.

This link Luckiest or Unluckiest Man Alive? will take you to an article about Tsutomu Yamaguchi and two of his friends who all survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb attacks. Many might think it almost unimaginable that he survived even one attack. But I have done some reading on the war with Japan, on the two A-bomb attacks, and on circumstances surrounding them. The thing that always comes to mind is the woman who, as a young girl, survived the A-bomb explosion at Hiroshima even though she was in the building that sat at Ground Zero.

I am unsure of her name, I believe it to be Emiko Okada. Growing up during the 50s, through the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation, I was led to believe that survival within the area of ground zero was impossible. Perhaps so, for the later nuclear weapons. Perhaps the first two, and only, atomic bombs dropped in war were different. Perhaps, if you believe in God, they were spared for some kind of lesson to the rest of us. Or, perhaps, it was just random chance.

But I urge you to set aside some time to read the article about Mr. Yamaguchi and his two colleagues. And to read through the comments that follow the story. There are many of them so it will take some time. It is the comments which most interest me. They reveal quite a bit about the nature of human beings. And humans fascinate me.

My own personal feelings about the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are complex. I believe they were necessary, both of them. I believe that the loss of life, on both sides, if they had not been dropped would have numbered in the millions. I believe that had the bombs not been developed and dropped by the US, the world would be much worse off today than it is.

In any event, I urge you to read the article and I apologize for bringing such a somber subject. I just think we all need to re-examine those things in our past in as much depth as possible. If it instigates a desire in you to read more about the war with Japan then I urge you to follow that desire. Follow its beginnings which were much earlier than December 7, 1941. I also recommend the book Flyboys by James Bradley which provides a lot of historical data about the events leading up to and during the Pacific War.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Confused Ramblings

I'm confused...

We say the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. But it doesn't, the earth revolves west to east and the sun is relatively motionless. I can't figure out the right way to say that. In the morning my side of the earth dips? The sun doesn't pass overhead, we pass underneath, don't we?

Theoretically, I could walk north just so far and then I am headed south. But I cannot walk east until I am headed west.

Why do we need shoes if feet evolved for the purpose of walking upright? And, if we need shoes, why do they always hurt our feet?

If I get up in the morning shouldn't I get down in the evening?

I still don't quite get the difference between supper and dinner.

Which way is up in space?

We think all politicians are corrupt, that they aren't looking out for our best interests, and are catering to one or more special interest groups. But we keep re-electing the same ones.

If you are standing at the north pole, is south the only direction in which you can go?

The following things I am somewhat less confused about...

My brother and sister once tried to convince me I was adopted. They convinced me that I wanted to have been.

I went out this morning to Weed and Feed my lawn. I am not sure why I do this, it just makes it grow and then I have to mow it. Yet I feel compelled to do this.

While doing this, I noticed some yellow flowers in the lot behind my house. They are cactus flowers. They popped up some time in the last few days. They appear to be a variety of Monk's Head. Not that I know anything about such things.

We now have an avocado tree growing in a pot on the back porch. It is maybe 30" high. My sister-in-law grew it from a seed. It's perhaps two or three months old.

And a pineapple plant. From a pineapple. Sorry, no picture of that. I am waiting for the fruit to emerge.

My key lime tree is doing well. I have picked several limes from it and, while I haven't eaten any or made any pies, they have added to the enjoyment of my occasional Gin and Tonic.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Today is Easter Sunday. For Christians, it is a most Holy day. But what does it mean for others? I read an interesting opinion piece yesterday by Susan Estrich. Now, Ms Estrich is a liberal Democrat who normally confines her opinions to political issues. However, in this article, she reminds us what it can be like here in the US growing up Jewish in a strongly Christian community. It also tells us a little about what it is like to be different.

From the article:

I was in elementary school in Swampscott, Mass., when I learned that the Jews had killed Christ. Or so we were told, right around this time of year. Most of the kids in the class just nodded when they heard. It seems they already knew. I was shocked.

I grew up around the same time as Ms Estrich but my schools' student bodies were 30%-40% Jewish. I grew up knowing as much about Passover as I did about Easter. And I am still mystified by religious intolerance in The US.

I recommend the article and you can read more with this link...


Saturday, April 11, 2009

What's In It For Me?

I have a cynical nature. I blame that on heredity and upbringing. My father was a cynic. Some might say he was a pessimist. He certainly never viewed the world through rose colored glasses... the rose colored glasses belonged to my mother. My father assumed that the odds were stacked against him, that he'd never get a break (was amazed when he did), and that the best he could hope for was to not end up in the poor house. He didn't. But he also didn't die rich.

That didn't mean he gave up. It only meant that he saw life as hard. And that he had to work hard to get by. He wasn't born with a leg up on life.

My mother, on the other hand, was a dreamer. Someone who always had hopes for riches and the good life. No matter what happened, she thought things would improve. They were polar opposites, personality-wise.

My two older siblings inherited my mother's nature, I got stuck with my father's. But I also developed a curiosity about why we perceive things the way we do. And why we do things.

One of the things that both my parents shared was generosity. My mother would give you her last dollar if you needed it. My father wouldn't but he would help you earn one. Or he'd hire you to do some job so you would earn it. Or he'd help you fix what's broken, or help paint your house (or paint it for you if you weren't up to it physically), things like that. He'd give you his labor more often than his money.

This led me to wonder about why we give to charities, or help those in need, or take a chance on someone. Basically, I wanted to understand what is called altruism.

The dictionary defines it this way:

1 : unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others

2 : behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species.

Which says nothing about why people behave that way. As a cynic, I am suspicious of altruistic behavior. This is because I assume people always seek a reward for good behavior. We are trained that way from early childhood.

Our parents buy us toys or candy if we're good. The whole concept of Santa Claus perpetuates that. If you're good, you get nice presents. If you're bad, you get a lump of coal. I don't actually know any kid who ever got a lump of coal, of course, but still...

Oh, there are some physical rewards for altruism. Dinners in your honor, plaques and other tokens of esteem, well wishes from others and the best of all; the "debt of gratitude." You get favors in return. You gain a little power over others. You get elevated above the "little people". You get praise and people look up to you.

But that doesn't explain the anonymous do gooder. Why, with no dinners, awards, or future favors likely to follow, does he do it?

Well, I think he does get rewarded. I think he gets a rush of endorphins, perhaps. We certainly feel good about being kind or generous, especially if we had to make some kind of sacrifice to do so. Even if no one else ever sees it or hears about it. Even if we expect to die in the process. And I think there is conditioning by society involved in creating the anonymous do gooder.

But, I hear you asking in your mind, what about the guy who reasonably expects to die in the process? The guy who falls on a grenade to save his squad, the 180 or so at the Alamo?

We award medals posthumously. We regale children with tales of self-sacrifice. We extol the virtues of those who perform such sacrifices. This builds within us a belief that it is something wonderful. Some research suggests it may have a biological basis.

The above is just something to consider. It came to mind when I was asked if there was anything I wasn't cynical about.

I answered honestly.

Footnote: If you read the research link above, you might also consider searching for images of "altruism" and clicking on a few of the ones that catch your eye. I found that there have been a lot of blogs and opinion columns about altruism and that altruism is a very complex subject. Much more complex and ingrained in our lives than my simple blog reveals.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Political Debate

I would like to explain why I do not like to discuss political issues on this blog. First, there are many blogs where these issues can be discussed or debated or argued. Second, there are many blogs where the blogger is presents a strong political opinion about various political issues. I see no reason that I should be just another one of these.

I do, however, want to bring up histortical political issues. If I haven't yet, I will. For instance, I am contemplating a blog about the Civil War. There is pretty much nothing more political than that. So I am not afraid of political issues or politics itself.

I avoid political issues because I think people do not know, for the most part, where they stand on the political spectrum. The extreme folks pretty much know they are on the edge. But the majority of the rest all think they are moderates, close to the middle, pretty much mainstream. Very few of those will call themselves liberals or conservatives. You will know the liberals because they will call themselves progressives. The conservatives will tell you they are fiscal conservatives if pressed.

You see, liberal and conservative have become "bad words".

We get these distorted images of the political positions because of the extremists of each side. And no one wants to be seen as an extremist. So everyone is middle of the road. Until you mention the one issue (or two or three) that triggers their emotions. That's when you find out what political stratum they really belong to.

Now, you really don't want to know about my politics. Though you can probably figure them out by reading my comments on other more politically oriented blogs. But here I can truly be middle of the road. Just hanging out in the median. With everyone else.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Body Language

There is a show I watch on rare occasion, a political and news commentary type show, on which the host sometimes has a body language expert as a guest. I have some mixed feelings about such people and have placed them in the graphologist category. Like graphology it is more art and inference, more subjective than objective, than it is a science.

I have been amazed by some of the more accurate analyses of body language experts. But these are always made after the fact and about people in the public eye. Many of these facts can have been learned through casual, maybe even subconscious, research about the person. And that makes me wonder whether the expert is not fitting the body language to the facts rather than the facts to the body language.

For instance, if a person is known to be reclusive and evasive, the fact that he shows a closed stance, keeps his arms close to his body, and/or uses few hand gestures may indicate that or may be just seen as confirmation of that. Or it may be that the guy just is not expressive.

Another common reading is the eye action of someone who is lying or embellishing a story. Let me give you an example of how it is suggested one interpret this:

Lateral movement

Eyes moving from side-to-side can indicate shiftiness and lying, as if the person is looking for an escape route in case they are found out.

Lateral movement can also happen when the person is being conspiratorial, as if they are checking that nobody else is listening.

Eyes may also move back and forth sideways (and sometimes up and down) when the person is visualizing a big picture and is literally looking it over.

From ChangingMinds.Org

Now, forgive my cynicism, but the above seems to be vague enough to give the expert an "escape route" if he is wrong.

Now, I am not saying that reading body language is not a useful skill. It is. Salesman, police, spies, and a host of others might find it useful in their daily jobs. Even the rest of us can make use of the skills in various ways. Dealing with a salesman, for example. You can fool him by using body language to make him think you are not being sold when you really do want the product but want it at a lower price or as part of a better overall deal. I think it's trickier to use body language effectively than it is to read it, though.

If you are an actor, understanding body language would be immensely useful. It helps convey emotions, to project feelings, that you want your audience to grasp. And it should be subtle enough to not make you appear to be a ham.

I think we subconsciously use body language to provide context and emphasis to our conversations. We use it to sell, to convince, to seduce, to woo, to reject advances or to welcome them. This is why body language experts can be seen as accurate and useful. But they can be fooled by someone who understands the "language" and has learned to "speak" it as needed.

But I still think it is much more art than science. And an expert may be more easily deceived than he might think.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Low Finance

I was sitting with my sister, my aunt, and my brother-in-law at my sister's house last Saturday. I was there to swap out her CD Writer for a DVD Writer on her *&^&^% Dell computer and clean up whatever it was she had done to her machine which made it nearly unusable. This is something I have to do every month or two. Not swap out hardware... clean up the software. She treats her machine like it is a toaster but, like her toaster, she doesn't dump the crumbs out from time to time so I have to.

I was also there because there was a golf equipment "demo day" at the golf course in her community. I like to go to those because I get to hit golf balls for free, I get to try out new clubs I don't want to buy because they are too expensive these days, and I sometimes actually learn something. Ok, that last is a great rarity but I remain optimistic.

My aunt was there because I had picked her up from her little (and I do mean "little") house in beautiful downtown Sebring and dropped her off so my sister could take her to brunch without having to drive all the way into town and back, twice. It is not out of my way to go by my aunt's house when I go to my sister's. Which means I have no excuse not to pick her up. A fact my sister knows well and takes advantage of.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, we were sitting around on the patio by the pool. Almost everyone has a pool in Florida. Almost no one of them actually uses ithem but they are in abundance here. Our conversations get fairly random, as informal chats will, and cover all sorts of subjects. Saturday's spent mostly centered around financial matters.

I keep an "ear to the ground" about the Market by reading various things online and by reading comments from other readers, ones supposedly more knowledgeable than I, about the articles. I find a lot of negativity in the comments and a lot of optimism in the articles. On rare occasion I also find wisdom. But I never find good investment advice.

One of the things that repeats is the fact that most investors chase trends. Only successful ones anticipate them. I am reminded of this each time I am asked by my relatives or friends (the few that I have) about what looks good. I have absolutely no idea.

The Market is like a minefield. You know you are successful when you get through it and find all your limbs intact. You have no idea where the safe paths or dangerous paths are. All you can do is tread lightly and hope you took the right step.

I do have some investment advice for you, though. Don't listen to the talking heads on financial shows on TV. Except for what not to buy. If they recommend it, the odds are it won't deliver. If they recommend a certain sector "poised to grow", avoid it. If they say "stay away" from a sector, look at it closer. But be careful because they may be using reverse psychology on you.

I call this the anti-strategy.

Hey, you didn't think you were going to get advice you could use, did you?


Monday, April 6, 2009

A Thought for These Times

Today, any day really, is a good day to read this poem. At a time when life seems full of stress and worry. When the world seems at its craziest. When we think it's important to worry about the future or the events far away and out of our control. When we think the nation will fall, that the barbarians are at the gate, that the planet is fragile and about to be destroyed by man. Then it is an especially good day to read a poem like this, sit back, and find your center.


-- written by Max Ehrmann in the 1920s --

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Also see...
The Confused History of "Desiderata"

And, now, I am off to play golf.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

There's a Spider in the Bathroom

Yes, a spider. A very small one. She (I am assuming here) lives under the edge of the bathroom scale. That should tell you how often we look at our weight around here. She has spun a web so fine and small that you cannot see it. I only know it's there because I see her sitting on it seemingly suspended in the air just above the tiles on the floor.

This is in the water closet. Allow me to digress a moment. In case you do not know what that term means, it refers to a small room, the size of a clothes closet (a small walk-in one) where the toilet resides. There is a door on that little room in the corner of the master bathroom. It affords one privacy, of a sort. Well, I suppose it would if it was soundproof. Which it isn't.

But this is about the spider. She is a tiny thing. Just a spec with long, delicate, legs. She sits there and I imagine her looking at me while I sit there. We have conversations sometimes... in my mind, that is. I am not so daft as to speak to her out loud while sitting on the john.

Our conversations are simple. She is only a spider after all. I wonder what it is that creeps and crawls into the water closet that she survives on. And they would have to come close to that scale... which sits in a corner... under a set of low corner shelves. It's a place I can't imagine having any attraction even to a bug. But I am not a bug so how would I know. And I am not a spider, so who am I to tell her where to hunt?

I concern myself that there is a male spider who visits from time to time which would mean a lot of little, tiny, baby spiders sometime down the road.

I thought about removing her but she detects my movement toward her much too easily and scurries along her nest to safety under the edge of the scale. I could spray her with insecticide but that would feel like chemical warfare. And, in truth, she's causing no harm. Especially where she is.

So, I suppose she will stay there as long as she wishes. If spiders wish or have wants like that.

Or until Faye spots her and calls me in to murder her.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

We Are in the News!

Well, we have made it! Sebring has emerged on the National scene because of an anthrax scare. Oh, wait a minute, we haven't. The story never made it out of Florida. I guess we have become blase' about silly things like possible terror attacks. Or maybe nobody thinks little ol' Sebring would be a likely target of one since the story made it no further than the Miami Herald and was mostly confined to the surrounding hundred miles. Which is ok since it was, once again, a hoax. An interesting, somewhat costly, hoax, to be sure.

All the facts are not in yet but it seems some young man (age 20) decided to play a "joke" by leaving around 48 envelopes with a "suspicious" white powder in them on a number of cars in a local hospital's parking lot and on cars and in mailboxes in the surrounding neighborhoods. I don't think he's laughing right now. Since each envelope constitutes a charge which has the potential to give him 15 years in jail. One wonders just what his motive was since he already has an arrest record for burglary. See Anthrax arrest.

On a lighter side, Hubble has some new pictures out. Here's one and a link to a 53 pic "slide show" that is quite interesting... (click on the pic to see the slide show).


Friday, April 3, 2009

The Secret to a Happy Life

A doctor on his morning walk, noticed an older lady sitting on her front step smoking a cigar, so he walked up to her and said, "I couldn't help but notice how happy you look! What is your secret?"
"I smoke ten cigars a day," she said. "Before I go to bed, I smoke a nice big joint. Apart from that, I drink a whole bottle of Jack Daniels every week, and eat only junk food. On weekends, I pop pills, get laid, and don't exercise at all."
"That is absolutely amazing! How old are you?" he asked.
"Thirty-four," she replied.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Whatever Gets You Through The Night

We all develop a philosophy that helps us understand, or a least cope most of the time, with the highs and lows of life. Some of us simply accept a philosophy handed down by our parents, others seek out their own. Some are religious in nature (most, I suspect) while others are considered entirely secular in nature.

My own philosophy is, as you might guess, primarily secular but based on various religious concepts and ideals. Religions have certain tenets which I consider important to any civilized society and which I think are useful for personal interaction with others.

I would like to give you the four blocks that make up the foundation of my personal philosophy. I won't go into any great detail nor will I flesh out the rest of the philosophy which they support. A blog is insufficient for such things. It would take many weeks to explain and bore you all to tears.

Before I go further, I should point out that I do not always live up to my personal philosophy. Accordingly, I do not expect anyone else to do so. No one is perfect, after all. But we should all at least try to adhere to our ideals as much as possible.

The first block is that basic principle of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", for example, is a great core value. It is not only a basic tenet of Christian belief but also of most religions and philosophies. It makes sense. Its foundation is that your behavior affects the behavior of others. And, even if it does not, you have taken the "high road". But psychological studies have shown that personal behavior does affect those one interacts with. We see it in the adage of "set a good example", we know that children (eventually) emulate their parents, and we gravitate toward people who treat us as we wish to be treated. So, I try to live by this tenet. I use it as the cornerstone for my personal philosophy.

The next important block of my philosophy is honesty. This is the hardest part to adhere to. As we go through life, we quickly learn that complete honesty is not only impossible but probably undesirable. We don't always want to be told the truth and we don't always want to tell the truth. We want our feelings or others' feelings to be considered first. Therefore, those "little white lies" come in handy. However, we do desire that in matters of business that honesty be at the core of any dealings. At least on the part of those selling us products. The hard part comes in our actions as consumers. And, like everyone else, I find it difficult to live up to my ideal of personal honesty. Still, I try. I return change when it has been miscalculated in my favor. I do not lie on credit applications. I do not "fudge" on my income reporting.

The third block of my philosophy has to do with integrity. It is related to honesty and, indeed, requires it. Without honesty, integrity cannot exist. Integrity can be summed up in a simple phrase: Doing the right thing when no one is looking.

The fourth block is cynicism. This one can cause me a lot of problems, it saves me from eventual disappointment by expecting it from the onset. In a way, it prevents me from becoming too full of myself because, done right, it must also be applied to one's self.

As I said, I do not always live up to my philosophy. I recognize that I cannot but that I can strive to. I also realize that I may rationalize, or try to, those times I fail to live up to it. Being aware of those rationalizations is one step toward living up to the ideals I have set for myself.

Whatever your personal philosophy is, it should be more important to you that you strive to live up it than whether others know you do or live up to theirs.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Gifts" of the 20th Century

What would you consider the worst invention of the 20th Century? There are many contenders for this title. Let me list a few (in close to chronological order):

Moving Pictures with Sound (aka "talkies")
The military Tank
The Crossword Puzzle
The Bra
The Zipper
Instant Coffee
The Thompson Submachine Gun
The Polygraph (Lie Detector)
Frozen Food
Pez Candy
The Aerosol Can
Bubble Gum
The Television
The Jet Engine
The Parking Meter
Canned Beer
The Helicopter
The Atomic Bomb
The Assault Rifle (specifically, the AK-47)
The Microwave Oven
The Cell Phone
The Credit Card
Super Glue
Diet Soft Drinks
The Birth Control Pill
The Modem
The Barbie Doll
Non-Dairy Creamer
Video Games
Breast implants
Arpanet (forerunner of the Internet)
Gene Splicing

Of all the above, which one has had the worst effect on civilization? When you consider this, perhaps you should take into account the positive and negative effects and unintended consequences of each. Most , if not all, have had a great impact on lives all over the world. Consider your choice carefully, some of these might be viewed as entirely beneficial or, at least not "bad things", until you think about all the side effects. The list is incomplete, there were a number of others I left out (the Hula Hoop and the Frisbee, for examples) that I didn't think had enough impact on life to be considered. There may be a few that you think should be added