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.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Men vs Women

I am going to make a confession. I am a flaming heterosexual. I know, it's a shock but I feel I have to admit it. I think I have always known this, ever since I was 5 and was sweet on the little blond girl with the curly hair and the rosy cheeks who gave me a kiss on the cheek after I walked her across the street.

The female of the species (and I do try very hard to remain within my species) is exquisite. Women are wonderful, full of wisdom and inner strength. Men seem mostly full of gas.

Admit it, guys, we're pretty disgusting. We're crude and rude. And we tend to smell. When someone says, "Whew! Smells like a locker room!" They aren't talking about the women's locker room, are they?

Women, on the other hand, smell nice. Unless they overdo it a bit. Even then, it isn't the odor that is bad, it's the cloyingly suffocating sense that results. Especially in an elevator.

Men guffaw.
Women titter or giggle.
Men slap you on the back, women lightly touch your shoulder.

Men are rough, coarse, and usually without a clue. Especially around women.

I once made an observation that women are feline in nature while men are canine. I think this is fairly obvious.

Men often run in packs, sometimes large one, make a lot of noise, and there is almost always a bit of jostling about for the role of alpha male. There is often some snarling involved. And we tend to pee against the occasional tree. We tear at our food. We devour it. We are generally quite sloppy.

Women are rarely in groups larger than two when they move about though they may cluster in slightly larger numbers. They eat daintily, taking nibbles and often leaving some behind. However, I don't recall ever seeing cats head for the litter box in groups of two or more.

Cats attract attention, as do women. Men demand it, as do dogs.

Yes, women are definitely the more attractive of the species.

Ladies, I do not know how you put up with us. But I am grateful that you do.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


We're just not used to this weather. It's cold. I know, you poor saps wonderful people who live in the more northerly states are used to this sort of thing. You even pretend to like the cold air ("brisk", I think you call it). You enjoy the changing of the seasons and so forth.


It's cold and a good lot of you agree with me. Otherwise, you wouldn't fill our streets and our restaurants each year between October and April. Not that I mind so much that I cannot drive from point A to point B in less than 30 minutes even though in all the other months it only takes 15 minutes. And I do not mind that I have to either eat very early or very late to avoid the crowds at the local restaurants.

But did you have to bring the cold air down with you?


It is 52F outside according to the little gadget on my desktop. And I am miserable.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Right or Wrong?

China executed a British citizen,, for drug smuggling. While I am not an opponent of capital punishment, I think drug smuggling does not rise to the level that warrants it. That being said, I found some interesting points in this story.

I know I claim to avoid political issues in this blog (I reserve those for Sanity is Optional) but this has a couple of things I want to discuss.

First, there is the moral issue of capital punishment. Second, the ethical or moral issue of mental illness involved. And, finally, there is the issue of national sovereignty.

I have already stated my position on capital punishment in this instance. You may be opposed to it regardless of the crime. I can appreciate that (I was of that mind at one time also). So I will not get into that here (you can, if you wish).

The mental illness factor disturbs me on a couple of levels. In the US, we have a couple of definitions for insanity. The legal one is tough. The defendant must be incapable of seeing his actions as being wrong or illegal at the time. One may know an act is wrong but believe it is justified so this can become a bit confusing. We can agree that a man who thinks he is killing space aliens when he is murdering people in a shopping mall is insane. That would be clear. But how about the woman who drowns her children because she is depressed? Or the woman who kills her children in the hopes her lover will not leave her? Or how about the terrorist who kills a large number of innocents because he thinks it is Allah's will?

But there is another side to the mental illness factor in this particular case. There doesn't seem to be a verifiable history of it for this man. His family says he suffered from bi-polar disorder and that this led to his being duped by drug smugglers into committing this crime. China says no one can document the man's mental illness, that no documentation that supports his being mentally ill has been provided. Great Britain says China should have ordered a psychiatric evaluation.

Now we get to national sovereignty. Must we respect the decisions made by courts of countries with whom we are ideologically opposed?

It is sad that this man has lost his life. But I find the questions raised to be fascinating.

Just some food for thought.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ok, I'm Lazy

That's right... and probably a weasel too. I committed to writing a post each day (but opted out of Sundays after awhile for some reason I can't quite recall... probably laziness) and so I shall. But that doesn't mean each post will be good. Or even worth reading. It is quantity I am after here, not quality.

Today, I have come across an interesting website. It has something for everyone interested in what has been on the internet or a number of other places... like the radio. Remember the radio? Well, way back in time, there used to be radio programs similar to what we see on the television. There were comedies and dramas and westerns and cop shows and soap operas and even talent shows. Radio used to be "it", The Major Medium.

I was a child as it was dying out because of television. But I still listened to the Lone Ranger and to Dick Tracy and Inner Sanctum and, of course, read along with the Sunday Funny Papers (the "comics"). I miss that. But I don't have to.

I could go here:

And so could you. You'd learn why I am a nostalgic old codger. Or you'd wonder at how lame I am.

The parent site,, is full fascinating things that can be found on the internet or have been on the internet. It is the Grand Archive of all things.

Here's how it describes itself:

The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library. Its purposes include offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format. Founded in 1996 and located in the Presidio of San Francisco, the Archive has been receiving data donations from Alexa Internet and others. In late 1999, the organization started to grow to include more well-rounded collections. Now the Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages in our collections, and is working to provide specialized services relating to training, education, or adaptive reading or information access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities.

What bothers me most is that I did not already know about this place. I guess I am not so smart after all.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Post-Christmas Cheer

... which is much better than post-Christmas depression, I would say. On Christmas evening (that would be late in Christmas day), we gathered at a friend's house for snacks, drinks, and dinner. I haven't done that in many years. Mostly because I have few friends and they never seem to be home when I call on them anyway. But these are nice folks and quite tolerant so they welcomed us. I suspect it is only because of Faye. It doesn't matter, I still got to go.

It was a wonderful evening with pleasant discussion (very little politics), great food, and not too much alcohol. And we still got home in time to watch most of the Chargers-Titans game. Which the Chargers won, thereby making Faye happy.

And then this morning, I played more golf. And, strangely, did not make a fool of myself. What more can one man ask?

I could get used to this.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas! And so on...

I suppose this should be titled with "Happy Holidays!" there being so many that occur at this time of year and each being important to the religion involved. But I do not celebrate many, if any, holidays. It's against my nature. I like to think of Christmas as a "catch all" holiday encompassing the others at this time of year, I hope you will not mind?

I blame this on my siblings, of course. You see, being the youngest, I was denied the opportunity to believe in the "magic" of Christmas. That's right, I found out about Santa before my memories begin. And, being the child of a man who ran The bicycle shop, my parents were off distributing bicycles all over town on Christmas Eve, abandoning me to the clutches of my older siblings. Those two enjoyed making my young life just a tad more miserable than it might have been.

And, then, of course, there was the Great Christmas Tree Ornament Battle (and/or Massacre) one year. Left to our own devices one Christmas Eve, we grew bored (I didn't, they did, I was just caught in the middle of it all). My sister and brother began by throwing tinsel at each other while finishing the decorating of the tree. Somehow, this led to the ornaments being tossed which, in turn, led to my sister filling the littler ornamental balls with that wretched smelling cheap perfume that emerging teen girls have around. By the time the parents came home, most of the glass had been cleaned up but the house wreaked.

That was my most memorable Christmas.

We always went to Grandma's house on Christmas Day (and on Easter and Thanksgiving) and did that wonderful extended family bonding that we all cherish. I saw these visits as respites from my normal family life.

But I am sure your Christmases were merrier and filled with joy and hope that this one is also.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Last in the Series

So, why are heroes important to a culture? The obvious reasons are pretty clear. They set an ideal to follow, to strive for. They represent the principles the cultures holds in esteem. They represent the culture itself. All cultures seem to have heroes.

But doesn't that make them propaganda tools? Yes, of course it does. When, or if, the hero realizes he is being exploited, he may become self-destructive, as Ira Hayes did. Many who have been placed on that pedestal of high esteem have caused their own fall. Some through normal human failings, some through survivor guilt, some through feelings of unworthiness (seeing their deeds as something less than what the public is told).

Take sports "heroes", for example. They are the gladiators of modern times. Not heroes so much as celebrities. Fawned over for their athletic abilities, their human failings are ignored until they become so egregious as to take center stage. Witness Tiger Woods. Witness the numerous baseball stars who are now under the cloud of performance enhancing drugs.

The symbol of a culture's greatness is suddenly cast as an example of a culture's dark side.

Andreas mentioned Hercules as a "classical hero". But was he a hero? He was, according to myth, half god and half human. He was driven mad (by the goddess Hera, his father Zeus' consort) and killed his family. To atone for this, he had to perform 12 "labors", tests of his courage and strength. So he was a murderer. And the tasks were really attempts to get him killed so he wouldn't challenge his cousin for the throne. He accomplishes these tasks using the strength and agility (his "god side") and often by guile and deceit( his "human side").

Much of ancient Greek and Roman (and other cultures) myths are filled with this kind of hero. Flawed beings, persecuted by the gods, who struggle against overwhelming odds and win. But still often lose everything, or nearly everything, in the end.

Samson is given great strength and is brought down by a woman (and his own spiritual weakness) and re-emerges as a tragic hero in the end. David is favored and then betrayed by Saul. And returns to become a great king before he, too, falls from grace.

I think the stories of heroes inspire us but also seek to scare us a little. They encourage us to be brave, to strive for greatness in the name of others (usually) but to be wary of our own human frailties.

Pearl mentioned in a comment a couple of days ago (in the first of these hero blogs) that there may be many of us that are heroes but have not been tested and that there may be many cowards who have not been tested either. I agree wholeheartedly.

I agree because I have wondered what I would do when tested. We face small tests many times in our lives and we mostly do the right thing but only a relatively few times are any of us tested on a such a grand scale as to warrant the question of heroics.

That may be a good thing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Heroes and Villains

I am doing something a little different this week. I am continuing a specific thread, a theme, which is normally something I do not like to do. It is, of course, about heroes and heroism. How we view them, how we define them, why they are a necessary part of human cultures and civilizations.

I don't believe in heroes exactly. That may be because I was raised in a time where heroes were questioned as to motive, or exposed as frauds, or were denied. Paradoxically, it was also a time where heroes were practically made into saints and surrounded us. I was born soon after the end of World War II. And there were countless heroes in that war; both overseas and at home. Many of them came to be diminished in the eyes of the public.

Let's take Audie Murphy.

Murphy was a genuine war hero. One of the most decorated soldiers of WWII, his awrds included the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award this country gives. He was not a big man. In fact, he was slight of build and short by most standards. He enlisted in the Army illegally at age 16. He had to push hard to become a combat soldier. His superiors kept trying to get him lighter, safer, duty because of his size and boyish appearance.

Murphy excelled on the battlefield. Maybe he was overcompensating. Maybe he was inherently heroic. Whatever the reason, he performed "above and beyond the call of duty" a number of times. It is clear to me that he was driven.

The interesting thing, to me, is that he could have been killed at any time during the events in which he earned his medals. Luck? Divine intervention? Whatever the reason, he avoided death (though not injury), and kept fighting and winning medals. I saw the movie, To Hell and Back (based on his autobiography of the same name), and the one thing that stayed with me was that he acted in a barely controlled rage during those acts of courage.

Someone once told me (or I read somewhere or saw in a movie) that there is a thin line between bravery and stupidity. What that means is the hero is one who does the stupid thing, placing himself in great danger, but succeeding in the task. And that is also what I learned from Audie Murphy. His anger drove him to acts of stupidity but his ability and determination turned those into feats of courage.

After the war, Murphy suffered from depression and what we now call Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome. As he battled through that, financial problems, and a period of addiction to sleeping pills, you could say he still displayed great courage. Some others did not (see Ira Hayes).

When you read about him, you learn that he was a humble man who had a strong sense of duty and responsibility to others. To me, Audie Murphy epitomized the war hero. He also showed great courage in overcoming adversity in his personal life.

Is that what a hero is?

In the 50's, when I was growing up, there were a number of popular figures seen as heroes. We had the comic book heroes: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and so on. I don't see Superman as a hero, though I did then. You see, Superman was invulnerable. Except for Kryptonite, nothing could harm him. And he even recovered from exposure to Kryptonite quickly once it was taken away or he was shielded from it. I don't think it's bravery if you really are as invincible as you think and bullets bounce off. Batman was much braver, I'd say, and even he had some great advantages (brought about mostly by wealth).

I think the heroes of the pop culture of the 50's tainted my viewpoint. And then, of course, there were villains who seemed to have all the qualities of the hero except the wrong motives. Lex Luthor kept coming after Superman, in spite of the fact that he could never defeat him.

You do know that Mao was (and still is) a hero to his people? Same with Fidel Castro. In the 50's, so was Stalin. I am sure that Germany saw Hitler as a hero as much, if not more, that England revered Churchill.

Is it circumstance and perspective that determine a hero?

When I was young, it was easy to recognize a hero. The picture got cloudier as I grew older.

And that is why I ask you for your help in defining the term.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Bit of Heroism

Someone challenged me the other day to blog about a certain kind of hero. This was in a comment thread in response to a another blog on the subject of heroes and heroism. The author of that blog, Andreas Kluth, is a very smart and educated (and accomplished) man. He writes his blog in such a way as to stimulate the reader comment. Without actually asking it, he posed a question about who were, in the readers' opinions, the greatest heroes.

I don't know if this was his intent but it seemed to be the result. The commentary was long, it reached triple digits, and it was diverse. In that commentary, the definition of hero became a topic. Different people were offered as examples; Churchill, some obscure (to me) historical figures, some classical examples from Greek, Roman, and other ancient cultures. The attributes of the hero were considered. And, of course, I tended to overwhelm the discussion and eventually ran everyone off.

But some things were left out of the discussion, some considerations weren't brought up and the discussion wasn't really complete. I posed a question toward the end (because the discussion had really gone off on several tangents)... I wondered if there were any heroes who were atheists?

And though I have an opinion on this (with way too much reasoning and explanation behind it, all very boring), I would much rather read your opinions on this and other aspects of heroism, hero worship, and heroes in general.
  • What is a hero?
  • Are there contemporary heroes?
  • Are the heroes you now revere the same as the ones you had when you were a child?
  • Are heroes always heroic or is it a sometimes thing?
  • Are heroes a good or a bad thing?

That's just some of the questions that come to my own mind when I read or hear the term "hero." Each of which might prompt a blog of its own... or just a comment or two.

Monday, December 21, 2009

But I Need It!

Hello, my name is Douglas and I am an addict.

My addiction started innocently enough. At first, I took them to ease the pain, the burning, that I felt in my gut. I thought they were harmless. After all, my mother used them now and then and she was a wonderful person. What relief from the pain I lived with! It was wonderful, I could function, live like other people.You could get them just about anywhere. Cheap, too. But they didn't take the pain away for long, you had to take more and more just to feel okay. But then I was introduced to different, stronger, versions. I never expected I would become dependent, who does?

I am talking about antacids and acid blockers. I began with Tums because they were readily available. I lived most of my life without them, eating anything and everything that I liked. Pizza, Mexican food, hoagies, you name it. It's true, there were some things which disagreed with me, I avoided them easily enough. But how do you avoid pizza or any Italian food? And, for much of my life, I didn't have to. They caused no pain, no heartburn, no acid indigestion.

And then it began. Sometime in my mid-forties I began to get that awful burning sensation deep inside, just below my chest, that stayed with me. At first, I turned to my mother's favorite "little helper", Tums. Oh, I tried the others but they were too chalky, too mediciney. Tums had flavors. It was like eating candy, not taking medicine. And they worked as well as the others.

But all were limited. The relief only lasted a short while. I needed more, I needed Extra-Strength and even that wasn't enough.

The doctor thought he was helping when he gave me a prescription for Tagamet. He was. It worked. It was amazing! One little tablet twice a day and I was normal. I could eat Italian food again, pizza was back on the menu, as were enchiladas, burritos, and hoagies. I was in heaven.

Until my health plan wouldn't pay for them anymore. First, they upped the co-pay. Bad enough. Then they decided there should be a limit. I fought against it. It was difficult. I weaned myself off the Tagamet with ample doses of Tums and other mild antacids. I suffered the pangs of withdrawal, the heartburn, the acid indigestion, the burning pain. I had to limit my diet. Orange and other citric juices were no longer an option at breakfast. Alcohol, soda, candy... all were struck from my list of "safe" things. My diet became bland and so did my life.

Tagamet was ruled safe for the public by the FDA and became an over the counter (OTC) drug. That actually made it more expensive than when my healthplan covered it. I couldn't turn back to it.

And, then, one day, I was given Zantac. The magic returned. I was free again. Though it wasn't perfect, it helped immensely. And, soon after, I found Prevacid and my life changed completely! One pill, once a day, and everything was permitted. That was when I began to realize I was hooked. One day, the health plan refused to pay for it. They said I had been on it too long. That it was not supposed to be a "maintenance" program but a treatment that would end. Oh, the cruelty of their indifferent rules! They didn't care about my suffering, they had no sympathy.

In the meantime, Zantac ( a poor substitute) was made OTC and a generic form called Ranitidine became available. Relatively inexpensive, it helped. I could take it before bedtime and not wake up at 3 AM with that awful taste in my mouth and that sour agony in my gut (regardless of what I ate).

It has been several years now and I am still addicted. There is no hope. I take my Ranitidine each night about 9... sometimes earlier... and am able to rest easy. I cannot skip a night, I have learned that... painfully. I have tried. There is no escape.

My apologies to all those who are fighting real addictions. I do not mean to make light of them.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday... Again!

.... so I will ramble and muse.

I am supposed to be writing something here. Or posting what I had already written perhaps days ago. And I have written some things in the past week that I could hurry up and finish and post. But I just don't seem to have the desire to do that. I will finish them... maybe... and possibly post them at another time.

You see, that's one of my problems. I get an idea, I start to write, and it wanders off into tangents I hadn't initially considered possible or it gets lengthy because I keep seeing more depth than maybe it needs or some other excuse arises that allows me to leave it unfinished.

A friend of mine once remarked that my posts at times seem unfinished but that he realized that I am leaving things for the reader to fill in for himself. I nodded sagely. While I hoped he didn't realize that the primary reason these things seem incomplete is because I got lost while writing them. But I'll accept his explanation because it seems so much wiser. And clever.

In truth, I am actually lost in discussion at another blog this week. The comments have reached triple digit numbers. The commentary has branched off into all sorts of subject matter. It is like a conversation at a cocktail party can get. A few people gather around and begin talking about something, anything. This draws a couple more people in. Something triggers a thought and a side discussion begins, people drift in and out of conversations, joining in and then stepping aside to find a conversation elsewhere.

It makes it hard to get back into some mundane thought I had earlier in the week about Tiger's problems and what they mean to the rest of us, lessons we can learn and so forth. Now I think it is unimportant. What do we care about a billionaire golfer and his philandering? Why does it matter to the rest of us peons beyond providing fodder for comedians and moralists?

You are right. It doesn't. It's just a nice diversion. Something to chat about at a cocktail party while eying the hostess... surreptitiously.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Word, a Phrase, a Thought...

Phraseology would, presumably, be the "study" or "science" of phrases. Only it isn't, it is the art of phrasing, I'd say. That is, it is more art than science. To me it is the grouping of words in such a way as to clarify, intrigue, entice, and entertain the reader.

Some examples:

"I sensed something drifting past the portholes of my solitude."

"Mixing metaphors with the flair of Julia Child and the forcefulness of Emeril."

"She was a dream who became a nightmare."

"No one accurately predicts the future or faithfully remembers the past."

"He looked at the long, open road ahead and thought 'it's a good day to die.'"

"The sea shivered in the coldness of the moonlight."

"The clock ticked as loudly as his heart, each counting the seconds until his death."

The above are all my concoctions and I retain copyright... such is my meager ego.

The best phrases are metaphors, I think. But anything which evokes a strong emotion works well. Recently, Al Gore dabbled in some poetry which can be found in his most recent book. Now, I may differ with Mr. Gore on many political issues but that does not mean I cannot admire his handling of phrases. And poems, in my opinion, are the best examples, outside of movie scripts and plays, of phrases which capture emotion. Even if they are meaningless in themselves.

Here is the entire poem (my favorite phrases in italics)...

One thin September soon
A floating continent disappears
In midnight sun

Vapors rise as
Fever settles on an acid sea
Neptune's bones dissolve

Snow glides from the mountain
Ice fathers floods for a season
A hard rain comes quickly

Then dirt is parched
Kindling is placed in the forest
For the lightning's celebration

Unknown creatures
Take their leave, unmourned
Horsemen ready their stirrups

Passion seeks heroes and friends
The bell of the city
On the hill is rung

The shepherd cries
The hour of choosing has arrived
Here are your tools.

Ok, the last line is pretty lame. And many of the phrases trite but the guy tried. And he reads it well, too, with oh so knowing glances at audiences. No, he's no Shakespeare and his words will (hopefully) not become part of our daily lexicon.

I post this not as a political piece or to make fun of the former Vice-President. Just because I do admire some of the phrasing in the poem. I'm a bit of a sap that way.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I was reading the editorials in the Boston Globe when I came across something about "freegans". The editorial explained that "freegans" are people who recover food, clothing, and other items from dumpsters. It reminded me of something from the past, from the 60's. Now, what was it? Oh yeah, the Manson Family. Charles Manson befriended what we called "street people" (basically, homeless, disaffected, teens... mostly runaways) and taught them how to live off the "land" by dumpster diving, panhandling, and the odd burglary and shoplifting spree.

And now we have Harvard grads and MIT students engaging in much the same (well, presumably without the larceny) as a way of making a social statement. I then looked around a bit and found an article on this practice...

I also looked up Ms Greeney and found an interview/bio on her where I found this gem...
Spring Greeney--

Earliest memory that made you realize, “yep, I care about the environment.”

At age 8, I was the flower girl in my cousin Jennifer’s wedding. My parents had always emphasized frugality, and I remember only scatting a handful petals rather than the whole basketful as I walked down the aisle: I’d long learned that anything so beautiful ought to be used sparingly with appreciation. I can’t say I made the connection then between my small actions and the entire worldview they were a part of, but I find it amusing to look back on this vision of Spring as an early conservationist (and to recognize the impact my parents have had on my belief set).

I just have one small question...

What happened to all the flower petals you didn't scatter, Spring? I would like for someone to ask her if she thought those flower petals were going to survive somehow because she left them in the basket.

And, yes, Spring Greeney is her real name.

Yeah, I think we waste a lot of food and other things but aren't Ms Greeney and her friends depriving some rats and a number of homeless their dinners?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We move or else!

It was to be a light snow, no more than 2 to 4 inches, they said on The Weather Channel. Faye had an interview for a job scheduled for 9 AM over in Fairfax, a 30 minute drive from our townhouse in Manassas, Va.

It was late January of 1987. I had sought, and taken, a transfer to technical support center in Drainesville, Va (just outside of Herndon) in March. I had left Faye behind in San Diego in a tearful goodbye. A decision I regretted enough to correct by marrying her a month and a half later and moving her and two cats out to the small city of Manassas. She had lived her whole life in San Diego; born there, raised there. Virginia, and the especially the area around D.C., was quite foreign to her.

The seasons in San Diego consists of two: Chilly (winter/fall) and Warm (spring/summer). Unless you take the trek into the mountains at the right time, snow is something you only see in pictures. Faye had never driven in it. But she is a resourceful woman, capable and strong. I had no doubts about her ability to cope with a light snowfall.

I worked evenings at the time, from 4 PM to midnight, at the center some 25 miles away... give or take a couple... and usually slept till 9 AM. Faye got up early and planned to drive in early to avoid the heavy commuter traffic into D.C. She would stop at a restaurant, read and have coffee, until it was time to go to her job interview.

The snow started a little after 7, while she was having coffee at a Denny's. Light snow, pleasant almost. It was still coming down when she arrived at the AT&T office for her interview. Still light... but persistent. She was told she ought to leave since the federal employees had all been sent home because it looked like the weather reports were wrong and the snow would be more than that 2-4 inches. The government thought it best to close up for the day rather than have everyone snowed in.

A typical miscalculation by the government. Practically all of the businesses in the city, whose only real purpose is to serve said government and its employees, took note and sent their employees home also. Unfortunately, that created a traffic snarl in all directions out of the city and into the towns and small cities that are home to most of those who worked in D.C.

By then, I was up and about, drinking coffee and looking at the snow piling up in the common area and parking lot in front of the townhouse. I had the TV on and the Weather Channel was busily revising their forecast and explaining how difficult it is to predict weather in the D.C. area while showing pictures of the traffic snarl and the attendant disruption to people's lives.

I expected Faye to return early because of the snow. I didn't start getting worried until noon, though. I figured the traffic would turn the 30 minute drive into maybe an hour or so. The snow kept coming. Still light, but accumulating. A lot of accumulation. There was already 4 inches or so on the ground. The city of Manassas was urging its residents to stay off the streets unless absolutely necessary, to stay home or at work so the snowplows could their job. later, I would learn that they thought their job was to clear parking lots at shopping centers first before they bothered with the roadways. Seems they were paid better to do that than the city and county paid to do the highways and streets.

By 1 PM, I was very worried. I was also slightly worried that I would not be able to get to work. My car was now covered in snow and appeared to be just a small white mound in the snow covered parking lot. And still the snow came down. And still the Weather Channel droned on with reports that could not predict just when it might stop.

Around 2 PM, I received a call from work. Instead of telling me to stay home and not add to the confusion out there, they asked if I couldn't come in soon? They were sending people home early, they said, rather than have them stuck at work. I explained I didn't think I could make it in. The streets hadn't been plowed in my area yet, my car had a very low ground clearance (and I would need to dig it out, I didn't mention), the city (and county now) was urging people to stay off the roads except for emergencies, and I didn't want to leave before Faye returned in any event. They said I should call if I could get in and to try to make it at least by 4. I laughed... and hung up.

About 2:30, from the window of the bedroom where the computer sat (and, of course, so did I), I spot Faye walking up the sidewalk that led along the parking lot to our townhouse. She is wrapped up in her gray overcoat that covered her from head to ankles, slogging through the snow, head down and hands in pockets. I could feel the anger from where I stood some hundred yards away. I hurried downstairs to let her in.

I opened the door just as she reached it. She said... "The car is on the street by the curb, you bring it into the lot! I am going to take a bath!"

I grabbed the keys from her hand, my coat and the shovel from the hall closet, and headed out. The snow was still falling. The parking lot and all the cars were completely covered. I walked out to the street and found her car "parked" at an angle, its front bumper (and grill and headlights) jammed into a snowdrift by the curb about a half block away. I dug it out a bit and enlisted the help of a couple of teenagers nearby to push me out when the wheels just spun on the slick road.

Driving to the entrance of the parking lot, I realized I would have to dig out a passage through the entrance which dipped and rose again but looked pretty level with the snow piled up. I had no idea where I would put the car once I got it in, most all spaces were taken and the empty and cleared ones seemed to have lawn chairs ("place holders") in them. But a neighbor saw my plight and offered a space he had just cleared that he said he wouldn't need. I thanked him profusely and backed her little Spectrum into it.

When I got back into the house, put away coat and shovel, and made my way up to the top floor and the bathroom, I found Faye sitting in a steaming bath with that look on her face. This was obviously all my fault.

She said, "When can you get a transfer south?"

A little over a year later (had to wait 10 months to put in transfers, there was an 18 month minimum interval between transfer requests) we were on our way to Jacksonville, FL.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reasons I do not text...

It appears that a number of people are concerned with their privacy in regards to texting and e-mails while using employer provided equipment. Since I am retired, I do not have this problem but many of you may. It is a big enough problem, apparently, that the US Supreme Court has become involved. It is likely that the Court will hear arguments in the Spring regarding Ontario v. Quon.

The case is interesting. To sum up, "a police officer in the city of Ontario had a right to privacy regarding the texts he sent on his department-issued pager, even though his chief discovered that some of them were sexually explicit messages to his girlfriend." (that would be Ontario, California)
[Court to rule on privacy of texting]

Most employers make it clear, in one way or another (usually by agreements signed by the employee) that using employer provided equipment for personal use is forbidden. Apparently, according to the police officer, this case is different. One wonders if the police department does not have the officers sign for the equipment provided but simply trusts them not to abuse said equipment?

I wonder, on the other hand, how dumb a police officer is that would send sexually explicit messages to his girlfriend on a pager provided by his department? By the way, the officer was not disciplined in any way for this, he was just upset enough by having his privacy violated that he brought suit.

And to think I used to get mad because my company blocked me from accessing online crossword puzzle sites...

Even if you are using your own computer or cell phone or whatever to send and receive messages, they may not remain very private. Just ask Tiger Woods.

And texting can be dangerous (beyond what Tiger Woods is going through)...

Granted, the fault is primarily with the city whose workers should have put safety cones (or some kind of barrier) out before removing the manhole cover. But still... Don't we have some responsibility to pay a little attention to what is going on around us?

Silly me... apparently not.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What's in a word?

Words are interesting things and they intrigue me. They convey thoughts, concepts, and actions. But they also have meanings that are not easily defined, we call these meanings connotations. For example, "sort" and "ilk" have the same meaning. "Sort" means a "kind" or "type"; that sort of thing or he is the sort of person I like. But so does "ilk" in terms of people. Except that "ilk" has a negative connotation. When you attach "ilk" to the description of a person, you are not thought to be speaking well of him (or her).

I bring this up because I got a little involved in a discussion about bravery by a small group of people in Germany in 1942 and 1943. This group, called "The White Rose", spoke out in leaflets about the abuse of power and murderous actions of the Nazi regime. They did this anonymously, of course, or they would not have lasted more than a few days. And the group is little known outside of Germany. The link above will take you to that blog with that discussion. I highly recommend it (in particular and in general).

But it got me to thinking about bravery and what that means. Certainly these people were brave to resist that brutal regime. But they did not do it openly. They were careful to avoid being exposed. They called on others to rise up, to resist, to engage in acts of sabotage; to risk exposure and capture and punishment (certain death) while they did their best to avoid that. It is not clear to me that these people, the White Rose, engaged in anything other than encouraging others to physical acts of resistance. That is, I don't know that they did anything other than write up and mail out leaflets until the the very end of their organizations' existence.

And that is when they were brave. Some of them anyway. A few of them (a brother and sister and a friend) acted in public. That is when they threw off the protection of anonymity and exposed themselves. Until then, I don't see much bravery. Once they exposed themselves, they were quickly dealt with, tried (merely a formality) and then executed by beheading all within a few days. And this led to the rest of the group being caught and also executed.

What did they accomplish? Nothing, really. No resistance movement grew out of their actions, no known cabal of saboteurs appeared on the scene to cause problems for the Nazis.

So, what is the point of bravery? The soldiers who win medals are said to be brave. But, if you ask them, they will tell you (almost to the man) they weren't brave. That they were scared out of their wits or oblivious to what they were doing or that they only did what they were trained to do. I sometimes think there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity.

Then there's that pilot, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, who successfully landed a plane in the Hudson river after its engines were knocked out by geese. He was praised as a hero, for his bravery, for his ability in such an adverse situation.

Wasn't he also doing his best to save his own life? We don't usually see that as bravery. It certainly not stupidity in this case. It was skill, knowledge, and probably a great amount of luck that conditions were just right. On the other hand, there wasn't much good luck involved in getting hit by those geese. I suspect "Sully" wouldn't (or didn't at the time) think he was all that brave.

But to get back to the White Rose, one of the members was reported to have shouted (just before being taken out for his execution) "Long live freedom!" Who reported this, how it could have been corroborated, I don't know. But let's assume it's true.

What did this person understand about freedom? A good third of his life had been lived in a dictatorship. He only began to see it after he had been sent to the Eastern Front. What was his reference?

I have a book by Orlando Patterson called "Freedom; Freedom in the Making of Western Culture". I am nowhere near finished with it. In fact, I haven't read more than a third of it. Ok, it is not exactly exciting reading. But what I have read is fascinating and informative. He tries to define freedom and liberty. Now, you might think these are the same but they aren't. But they do interact, do coexist.

The ancient Greeks spoke of these concepts, as did many other cultures. But they didn't mean it the way we do. We, in the US, fought for it in our American Revolution. And then denied it to two whole classes of people; slaves and American Indians. Not to mention women of any race or class. Even while oppressing so many, we put ourselves up as an example of freedom. And were believed by so many to be a Land of Freedom.

Even after we ended the practice of slavery in our country, we still granted only limited liberty to those once enslaved. And, of course, continued to deny liberty to women.

When I was in the Navy, I had a friend (Herb) who taught me a lot about freedom. I once witnessed an argument he had with another shipmate about it. The argument concerned the draft and some called the "military obligation." The shipmate argued that we had an obligation to serve (hence, the draft) because we were "free". Herb argued that having an obligation negated the idea that we were free and, therefore, had no obligation.

I liked Herb. I should write a whole blog piece about him. They threw him out the second year I was in.

But it all comes back to concepts and connotations that we, individually and collectively, accept. And I still cannot really grasp the concept of freedom. Or liberty.

Do you know what they mean?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Exercise... for the older folks

It's Saturday. I will be on the couch for the remainder of the day. Please make an appointment with my secretary if you need to see me about anything.

It's not easy getting old. For instance, I cannot tolerate the default font size in Wordpad, Word, and Windows' various mail programs*. The first thing I must do is increase the size. It's one of the many dichotomies of age, some things you need to shrink (waist line) and others need to be expanded (type size). As you get older, even your erotic dreams (which get fewer and fewer, I'm told) wear you out.

Still, I manage to play golf** 3 days a week. Other than searching for the remote, it's the most exercise I get. If you can call riding around in a golf cart for 4 hours "exercise". That's not entirely true, I do get out of the cart and walk, sometimes 15 or 20 yards. And I do swing the club at the ball... too many times, it seems to me. And then there's the bending over to pick up the ball from the cup (only because I haven't got one of these little suction cup thingies on my putter).

I will now attempt to get technical so if that sort of thing bores you, feel free to read any of the thousands more entertaining and interesting blogs available. I know I probably will. Even while writing this.

My other common exercise is trying to get something working properly on one of the computers in the house. We have 4 in all; 3 desktops and one laptop. They are all connected by a router... and a bit of hope. I am the house "tech". Faye and Franny are my "clients" or "endusers". Except for not having to cook or do laundry, I do not get paid for my work. Whenever anything is amiss with a computer, I am called upon to work some kind of magic and make things all right again. I work pretty fast. It has only taken me two years to get all three computers onto the router. ****

A couple of years ago, I had someone run a Cat-5 cable across the attic from the router to Franny's room. Not thinking very well for most of those two years, I tried to make her computer connect to the router using the wrong kind of cable. It took only two years for this to dawn on me before I remedied the situation. In the meantime, I spent a lot of time walking back and forth through the house, grumbling. Hence, I call this "exercise."

Of course, fixing that little problem opened up a whole series of new ones. Now, Franny wants to be able to see the music collection stored on the other computers. So, the networking had to be for more than the internet access. And then there was the upgrade to Windows 7*** which created some other problems for me. Microsoft decided to make networking easier and simpler by creating something called Homegroups and provided very vague explanations of what these are and how to use them. Presumably because they are "simpler" and "easier." Which they aren't. And changed how you "share" folders (which I still call "directories"). So the upgrade to the "simpler" and "easier" operating system broke almost all the things that had been working just prior to doing it.

I eventually straightened this out. Mostly (see addendum). I think.

* Someone please explain why they (Microsoft) cannot simply stick with one mail program for more than one version of their OS?

** The codger's favorite kind of swinging. Well, the only acceptable and available type anyway.

*** With the explanation for *, please elaborate on why when things are made "easier" and "simpler" they get more difficult and complicated?

**** Yes, I know I said I have 4 computers in the house... The fourth one, the laptop, is being stubborn. It's made by HP so that's to be expected. It's on the network but cannot join the Homegroup because, it is reported by the software, it does not have the proper protocol enabled even though it does. A two hour online chat (I love these because I can't type either) with an HP "technician" revealed that (a) he knew nothing about Homegroups, Windows 7, or how to fix the problem. This was because he never understood the problem to begin with. I will eventually fix this and it will all make sense to me then. The laptop does have access to the internet in spite of Microsoft making things "easier" and "simpler." It can "see" the other computers, it just will not share things. Let's call it "does not play well with others" like they used to say on my report cards.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Let's Just Call This "Untitled"

The only reason I am writing this is because I committed myself to writing something each day. And I really don't do that anymore because I have exempted Sundays. But if I exempt any more, I'm afraid I'll stop writing all together. So I am writing this.

Whatever this is.

You see, I have no subject, no theme, no notion of what it is I want to write about. But there must be something or why bother? Well, there's the matter of discipline. Of the kind that does not require silk whips, and at least one scantily leather clad woman with dark hair and flashing eyes and... A little self-discipline is a good trait to have, to exercise.

I was taught this by Miss Grossman, my first ninth grade English teacher. She had a rule, homework would be one third of our grade. I, of course, rebelled. I had nothing special against the rule, mind you, it's just that I was 14 and liked rebelling. I argued my point, which was pretty simple, I thought, and logical.

I got A's and a few B's on tests and quizzes, never lower. I turned in any classwork and this, too, received similar grades. I saw no purpose in homework which merely repeated what was clearly knowledge that I already had.

Miss Grossman was adamant. She said it reinforced that knowledge.

I countered that the test scores proved that I had no need for reinforcement. I argued that homework could actually be detrimental and impede learning. Consider, I said, the student who failed to grasp the concepts then went on and repeated the misconception in his homework. He would now have reinforced his errors and hurt his grades in the process. Yes, it would lead to correction but not immediately. And the students like myself, who did not misconstrue the lessons, would merely be repeating what would be boring. Thus, turning us against any interest the subject might pique otherwise.

She then posited her strongest argument...

It would be a third of my grade and averaging solid A's for all other work against the Zeroes I would get for homework not turned in would result in a, at best, score of 66.6% and that was just below the minimum passing grade of 67% at that time in scholastic history.

I took ninth grade English twice.

And I thought I was smart.

Silly me.

But I still think Miss Grossman would have looked great in thigh high, shiny, leather boots.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Call it Karma... or Reciprocity

What is courtesy? Why do we engage in it?

Or do we engage in it? How often do you bother to thank someone for a minor courtesy? How often do you take a little extra time to hold a door open for someone you don't know?

Courtesy is more than that, of course. It's more than thanking a waiter for pouring you a second (or third or fourth) cup of coffee. It's more than holding that door open for a friend or stranger. It's how we are connected in any society.

I was reading an article in the Boston Globe recently. It was about the use of the phrase "No problem" and whether the phrase was discourteous in itself. The idea was that it is replacing "you're welcome". The author seemed to lament that "you're welcome" was being supplanted for the more casual phrase.

I think the lack of even a "thank you" is much more indicative of indifference and rudeness than a "no problem" response. Yet I know I do not thank people often enough. I try to acknowledge actions that are not expected more often than ones that are. That is, a waiter refilling your cup is merely doing his or her job. Why thank them? Aren't they being paid to do it? Isn't that acknowledgment enough? I do thank them if I have asked them to refill it, to acknowledge that it was a request I made. And I often thank them as a way of saying when to stop pouring.

The interesting thing in the article, and a few commenters caught it, was the fact that the author was writing about the response of someone taking your money at a cash register. It was a response to the customer's "thank you" that was at issue. Isn't that backwards? Shouldn't the counter-person be thanking the customer? Perhaps that's the more important issue.

I see a real lack of courtesy these days. Maybe I am just becoming a grumpier old codger but I see it all around me. Especially on the roads. Our main thoroughfare is a US highway. It has six lanes, three in each direction (in case you were wondering), along with the occasional turn lane to the left or right. The speed limit along most of it is 55. That speed is rarely attainable, especially in the winter months with the extra traffic, at most times of the day. Traffic lights impede you, of course. But the most common reason is a lack of courtesy by drivers.

Florida has a standard rule that says slower traffic should keep to the right. This is routinely ignored. People drive slowly in the left most lane a lot of the time. Some do it because someone in the next several miles they may wish to turn left but they aren't in a hurry to get to that point. Some because it happened to be empty. Some because they do not like the right lane since it seems slowest due to drivers turning on to it from side streets or off of it onto side streets and the middle lane makes them feel "boxed in". All of these are selfish reasons.

Few care about the cars coming up behind them. In fact, they seem oblivious to them. The driver's concern is only about themselves. But here's what can hppen...

Aggressive Driving Kills Young Mother

Florida law enforcement and the Florida DMV spend a lot of time and resources talking about the dangers of road rage. While many drivers have heeded the warning and taken a calmer approach to driving some have not and as a result Florida drivers have been killed.

On Nov 13, 2005 a 24 year old woman entered Hodges Boulevard in Jacksonville and got into the left lane. The vehicle she got in front of had to slow down and apparently was upset by this. According to witnesses the second vehicle then tried to pass the woman could not and then started tailgating. Tailgating is a dangerous aggressive driving behavior that is all too common.

Next the aggressive driver managed to pass the 24 year old woman and got in front of her. To show his disapproval the driver tapped his brakes. This caused the woman to swerve off the road where she was killed. The woman killed was Kierra Shore - she was the 24 year old mother of twins.

Don't Assume It's Intentional

In this case the aggressive driver was not charged with a crime. Let's hope the knowledge that he caused the death of a young woman because maybe she was not a great driver will change his behavior. This is not an uncommon situation so think about it the next time you feel you've been cut off, slowed down or otherwise bothered by another driver. If you can assume it was an accident and just calmly go on your way everyone can drive home safely.

The tragic thing is that both drivers were rude. The woman could have moved out of the way of the approaching driver. She could have avoided the confrontation that led to her death. I am not blaming her, the aggressive driver over-reacted and made a conscious effort to be rude and obnoxious. He was more selfish, you might say. But she's still dead.

And that is the problem. We tend to think more about ourselves, our wants and desires, than about others and theirs. When we were youngsters, our parents (most of them anyway) taught us that "please" and "thank you" were the Magic Words. They were trying to teach us more than that. They were trying to teach us courtesy. To be aware of those around us.

An awful lot of us forgot those lessons. I am just as guilty as the next person.

It's just an extension of the Golden Rule. Which, ironically, uses a bit of selfishness to induce behavior considered selfless.

You don't think so? Think about an important part of the rule... "as you have others do unto you." The implication is clear... perhaps if I am kind and courteous to others, perhaps they will be kind and courteous to me.

And we all like to believe that what goes around, comes around."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Little Bits of Weirdness

Dave Barry's annual Christmas list...

# Educational sperm snow globe
# Poop box
# Jerky pistol
# Nose shower-gel dispenser
# Metal-detecting sandals
# Whoppair boxing gloves
# NFL Garden Gnome
# Beer pager
# Stink-finder ultraviolet light
# Golf club drink dispenser
# Wine glass holder necklace (set of two)

There are links to each item so you can read all about these wonderful gift suggestions.

Now, on to a certain couple in Florida having some domestic troubles... No, not that couple...

Woman attacks boyfriend with a raw steak.

Yeah, I'm not working too hard today on the blog. Or on anything else. Golf this afternoon so I try not to do anything more than relax beforehand. Of course, I do that every day anyway but that's not the point.

Speaking of golf, I have to toss in the obligatory Tiger comments.
I will toss in Tiger joke (from SNL, I am told)...

Newsflash: Tiger hits tree and 11 women fall out.

(yeah, the count is up to 11 now)

I am no prude but... Why get married if you are going to cheat? What is the point, folks?
I do not understand this... there is no "conquest" involved, no challenge. These women throw themselves at celebrities. Succumbing to temptation doesn't exactly come across as "manly" to me (maybe that's just me) and that temptation was there long before he and Elin married so as Jay Leno asked Hugh Grant "What the Hell [was he] thinking?"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mental Ramblings

Who am I? Or, maybe the better question might be, what am I? It's a question (in its various forms) I have asked myself most of my life. It is both philosophical and practical in nature, that question.

Currently, I am 63. But that is my chronological age, based upon the knowledge of the year of my birth. Somewhere in my psyche, I am only 19. Alice Cooper said it this way...

Lines form on my face and hands
Lines form from the ups and downs
I'm in the middle without any plans
I'm a boy and I'm a man

The song didn't come out until I was 24 or 25, though. But it hit me then. I was 19 when I entered the Navy. Emotionally, I stopped aging at that point. I hung onto 19 somewhere deep inside my brain. I don't think I was alone in doing that because I saw a number of people leave the military and try to return to the same point in their lives that existed when they entered. They eventually moved on, I think, or at least appeared to.

I tried. I got married, I had a son, I stuck with a job. I tried to build a man's identity. But I was never really comfortable with it. Like Peter Pan, I never wanted to grow up. So I have resisted it all my life.

Over time, I have become convinced that each of us is several "people." These "people" are important points in our lives. When around my father, I never felt more than 10 years old, sometimes only 5. It was difficult for me when I had to become almost his guardian, to look after his finances, make decisions for him (and my mother) when he became unable to.

My father was a tall man, 6'4", and he had towered over me until I was 16 and started to grow rapidly. Even then, I only reached 5'11" so he was still significantly taller. But in my mind, all my life, he towered over me as he did when I was 5 when he was more than twice my height.

With my mother I was "older", late teens maybe, protective of her. That stayed with me. It helped me when we, Faye and I, became her primary caregivers as her Alzheimer's advanced. But I still wasn't quite grown up, still not yet a Man.

I appear to be having a philosophical week...

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Brief Moment in Time

I muse about time now and then (I almost wrote "from time to time"). What is it? Does it even exist? Do we move through it or is it like a current in which we are swept along?

Some say, and I agree, that we live in a 4 dimensional universe. The 1st dimension being time. Because, without time, can anything exist?

I also muse that things do not happen as we perceive them. They happen because we recall them. What we call the present doesn't actually exist. It is the future and then it is the past. There is no now.

There is a puzzle, an enigma, which is expressed as a question:

Where is the man when he jumps from the window?

If you answer "on the ledge" then you are wrong because that is before he jumped.
If you answer "in the air" then you are wrong because that is after he jumped.

An event happens outside of time. We know it happened or that it is about to happen but that is all. The now, the present, must exist between these two but it cannot be observed. In the time it takes to record it in our brains, it has become the past. If it cannot be observed, does it exist?

Or is it that only the present exists and that past and future are illusions? Mere memories and suppositions.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Pssst! Did you hear about...

Whenever I am at a loss for ideas (which, sadly, is all too often), I start perusing headlines. In other words, I look at someone else's ideas about what is important.

Now, we all know about Tiger's self-inflicted marital woes. We love gossip, don't we? Especially about the rich and famous. And doubly especially when it involves sex. Why else would there be scandal sheets and talk shows? There are even whole cable channels dedicated to this stuff. Sure, they claim to be about entertainment or music but that stuff is just background noise for the Real Stuff. Gossip... the juicier, the better.

Locally, the news is all ho-hum. I live in a small city, very small. I rarely find peole who have heard of it, much less know where it is. Nothing much happens here. nothing of world shaking importance, that is. Just average ordinary lives lived that quiet desperation we've all heard of. I am sure there is scandal, infidelity, corruption, and all the other unsavory human endeavors that flesh is heir to. It's just so unimportant to the rest of the world. And, maybe, on such a mundane level that no one would care.

Excitement around here is a high speed chase down US 27. This is something that has happened... let's see... once in the last 10 years, I believe. I have not heard of one sex scandal. Even political scandal is nothing to get excited about since it never rises to the levels we see in the big cities or in D.C. It basically involves someone's cousin or a brother-in-law getting a contract with the city or county.

It's kind of nice.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Let's Pretend

Let's pretend I have a talent for writing. I don't really. I just like to think I do. When I was in school, I used to get assigned essays, as did we all. Most of my friends and fellow students hated essays and essay questions. I loved them.

I loved them not because I was clever and remarkably knowledgeable in the various subjects but because I felt I was very good at dishing out bovine excrement. All you really needed was little knowledge and a decent vocabulary and you could greatly impress the average teacher. That's a little sad when you think about it.

In fact, the only place that talent was of no use was in math courses. Those teachers wanted real answers. And, too often, they wanted proof you didn't simply copy it off that cute (but brainy) chick sitting next to you. That was annoying at times. Not because I cheated from that cute chick's paper (if I did look over at her, it was to try to sneak a peek inside her blouse) but because I could sometimes do the problems in my head and didn't care to write them down on paper.

The best classes for creative use of writing were History, Social Studies, Civics (do they teach that anymore?), and English. History was the easiest since all you had to do was toss in a few dates and names along with meaningless prattle about an era or historical event. Social Studies and Civics were next but you might have to know how something functioned in order to know the right kind of prattle.

English was the toughest. I mean, after all, spelling, grammar, and knowing when to start a new paragraph all counted. My spelling was never an issue but the other two? I hadn't a clue. Do you know I never once parsed a sentence? No teacher I had ever asked me to. So, to this day, I cannot do it. I struggle with commas and am lost when it comes to semi-colons. I start paragraphs randomly.

But I managed to impress teachers with my prose. I think that says more about the abilities of the average student of my day than it does about me. A similar thing happened during my alleged career in telecommunications. I would get outstanding evaluations. This was always a mystery to me. As far as I could tell, I wasn't putting out any real effort at all. I coasted most of the time.

A boss once explained to me that I was a "big fish in a small pond." I think he was right. I wasn't a great tech or employee, I was just better than my so called peers.

And now? Now my peers are much better. There is so much talent here in the Blogosphere that I am overwhelmed. Still, I feel so much better after ranting and/or raving about something that I will continue. If not to entertain you then to work off the stress of unbridled retirement.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

May I Have a Word With You?

Criticism is only words about words, and of what use are words about such words as these? [G.K. Chesterton]

Words are fascinating things. When I was young, quite young, and learning to read, I was taught to "sound out" new words while reading. That is, break them down into "chunks" of sounds in order to get an idea of how to pronounce them

You know, "th" and "ph" and short "i's" versus long ones and so on. The problem was that this didn't help me learn anything other than that there were some odd combinations of letters that didn't make a lot of sense. And that words, repeated over and over, eventually made no sense either.

You can take any word, repeat it many times, and you will lose the connection to the meaning. Ok, maybe you can't but I can. A word is simply a jumble of sounds that are accepted by the people who use that particular language to mean something. And even that something can fluctuate within a language.

Think about it. Why do we say "tree" for something which is live, has leaves (well, most of the time), roots in the ground, and may (or may not) bear fruit? Linguists will point to root words and adaptations from older languages and such but they have the same problem. Somewhere, way back in time, some humans decided some sounds best described an object or an action. They agreed on this and language was born.

The problem I have is that words don't always make sense to me.

There is a famous one about "disgruntled employee". "Disgruntled" means "unhappy", "peevish", "grouchy", "sullen", "complaining." So, "grunt" may have something to do with it. Except wouldn't "gruntled" make more sense if that was the case? Except "Gruntle" means "To grunt; to grunt repeatedly." And "dis" is a prefix that has a reversing affect...

a Latin prefix meaning “apart,” “asunder,” “away,” “utterly,” or having a privative, negative, or reversing force (see de-, un- 2 ); used freely, esp. with these latter senses, as an English formative: disability; disaffirm; disbar; disbelief; discontent; dishearten; dislike; disown.

So wouldn't "disgruntled" mean something like "having grunts removed"?
I get so confused by these things. And I worry about them. And me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Net Drift

I do a fair amount of what I call net drifting. I am sure there is at least another term for it (if not, I claim credit for coining it) but what I mean is that I read a news article about something, say wind power, and follow links to people mentioned, organizations mentioned, papers cited, articles recommended, and so on. I often end up with 4 or 5 tabs open and will jump to 2 or 3 new sites within each tab.

I cannot possibly read all this stuff. I admit that. I skim it mostly, trying to glean the important (or interesting) bits from each article. What I find is a kind of incest. No, not the kind that produced that odd cousin in the family somewhere. But an inbreeding, nonetheless. One site cites an article written by another person who then cites yet another article which turns out to have been written by the author of the first site.

For instance, I was reading a Boston Globe editorial this morning about the Cape Wind project...

This led me to articles and sites that were both pro and con about wind power. Let me correct that; the editorial didn't, the comments did. You don't read comments? You should, there is often more information to be found among the ranting and raving in response than there is in any article.

In any case, wind turbines are interesting to me and so I wandered about checking out people and places mentioned in the comments and then in the articles and sites cited in those comments or when I Googled the names.

I mentioned wind turbines when I wrote about my trip to Los Angeles back in April. They dotted the landscape in central and west Texas as well as a certain valley (Coachella) in California. Impressive things, those modern windmills. Though I shouldn't call them that. Windmills were named that because that was a description of what they did and how they did it.

Windmills were mills (grain grinding systems) powered by the wind. They were cheaper than the energy source otherwise used (humans or beasts of burden) at the time. With the advent of electric generation and motors, windmills went the way of the way of the candlemaker. Quaint and rural and often unused.

Windmills simply weren't efficient. They couldn't keep up with increasing demand, they required a lot of upkeep, and were probably seen as a visual nuisance. Or, perhaps, A dragon for Don Quixote to tilt a lance at. Or a subject for some budding Renoir or Van Gogh.

Today they are gleaming towers of modern technology. And either the saviors of mankind or the new scourge.

I found them praised and vilified by environmentalists, by those in the power industry, by the average schmo on the street.

After having read many things by both sides, all sounding quite informative and knowledgeable, I cannot come to a conclusion on where I stand.

Information overload.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Friday Night Trees (and hydrants)

I was reading Google News this morning. I may change to some other news feed since Google seems to have become a Bohemoth in the world of the Internet and we all know that any corporation that large must be inherently Evil. But not yet. Right now it suits my needs, which are many and varied when it comes to news. Still, it worries me that Google seeks to gobble up all things attached to the Internet.

But I digress... wherever you get your news the past few days, one thing seems to be dominating. Or I should say "one man"? And that man is Tiger Woods. Is it any wonder? Everyone seems to know who he is. You don't have to use his last name. Even if you just say "Tiger", everyone knows of whom you speak. Even in the oddest places around the world.

Now that's fame.

He practically put Dubai on the map when he first played there. Ignore the millions he was paid to appear. Forget the obvious publicity grab of his teeing off from the helipad atop that oddly shaped luxury hotel. No one cared. No one thought twice that Tiger might just be a talented guy in a mundane sport seeking to cash in as quickly as possible before fame fled.

And now? The Great Fall looms. Dubai World hits the news first with a huge debt problem. And Tiger hits a fire hydrant. The news of each of these events appear to have far reaching impact. Dubai Worlds' troubles may trigger another round of financial woes for the world's economies. The world's financial news sources headline it or whisper it but it is there as a constant. Will the government of Dubai bail out its crown jewel? Who will tumble next? The world economic picture is shaky, maybe built on shifting sands as Dubai World was built on a man-made sandbar island.

But Google News? It shows that Tiger's altercation with at least a hydrant and a tree is hugely important. Some 13,700 plus articles are triggered by a search on "tiger woods accident" (27,000 plus if you leave off "accident"). ("Dubai world crisis" triggers just under 16,000) Ok, a few may be repeats. But still. Of those, I would guess 90% are wondering what caused him to dash off, apparently shoeless, in the wee hours of the morning in such a hurry as to bounce off a couple of innocent objects.

If he was Harvey ("Muskrat") Smoltz who plays golf on Saturday mornings with three other equally paunchy and married men, we would have never heard of it. But Tiger? Ah, the power of celebrity! It is now the question on lips all over the world.

  • Why was he dashing out at 2:25 AM (and why do we know the specific time?)
  • Was there a fight between the lovely Elin and the Incredibly Famous Golfer just before?
  • Will he extricate himself from this odd lie in the street, a result of a misplaced drive, as he has done so many times before and emerge triumphant at the last hole?
  • Will scandal ensue?

We do love scandal, don't we?