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.

Friday, December 31, 2010


My first visits to the dentist were when I was too young to resist. I blame Dr. Wexler for my later drug use. That Nitrous Oxide was just too much fun. After a couple of visits I actually began looking forward to them. I could put up with the drilling and the pain, just give me a few whiffs and life was beautiful. Besides, I always got a lollipop on the way out.

But after my family moved to Florida, things changed. The dentists in Dade County used Novocaine shots. That was too much for me. I didn't like shots at all. I was 15 when I went to the dentist because of a toothache. One of the fillings put in by Dr. Wexler had fallen out and I had ignored it... for many, many months. But I can't ignore the pain for long once the nerve was exposed. I put up with it for one day before I let my mother know. But, oddly, the day before the appointment the pain disappeared. I no longer wanted to go. Mother made me go anyway.

I was led into the inner chamber and placed in the chair. The assistant/nurse/whatever put the paper bib on me and left. The dentist came in, did the usual "open... wider... wi-i-i-i-der... uh huh ah uh oh" stuff and then put together the needle and syringe, and began giving me shots. 4 of them. In my gums. Ow.

After the shots, he left the room. He came back in after maybe 5 minutes and asked me if I was numb yet. I wasn't so I said no, that I just had some tingling in my lower lip is all. He gave me 3 more shots and left again. He came back, refused to believe I was not numb yet (I still wasn't) and proceeded to put the pliers to the tooth. I yelled. Very loud. Very, very loud. He backed off. Decided he would give me 2 more shots. After those shots, he left for another 5 minutes. When he came back, he went right to the tooth and pushed it down then twisted then pulled up and out it came. He jammed in the pads of gauze onto the hole where a tooth once lived and the assistant/nurse/whatever led me back to the waiting room.

As we got back into the car to go home, my mother asked me why I yelled. She said it sounded loud even out in the waiting room. She said a few people left right after that. I have always wondered if she was just tugging my chain.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

You gonna eat that?

We all see things a little differently. And that includes food. I have evolved from a very picky eater as a child into a not-so-picky eater as an adult.

I think most children are picky eaters. Few kids jump right on spinach or lima beans as snack food or treats. At least I never knew any. Desserts were high on preference scales followed by meat and potatoes (burgers and French Fries, primarily, with hot dogs and potato chips right behind). And I was as picky as could be. I ate no mayonnaise (which, in my house, was Miracle Whip Salad Dressing and "butter" was the cheapest margarine that could be found), my veggies could not touch anything else (including each other) on my plate, didn't think much of gravy, and ordered "plain bologna sandwiches" when we would go to a restaurant. Of course, I would always ask to have the crust cut off the bread also. I very rarely drank milk. The restaurants we ate at (on the very rare instances that we went out to eat), by the way, were more properly called roadside diners and strongly resembled railroad dining cars.

Looking back, I don't know how I managed to be picky. My mother, bless her heart, was a terrible cook. We ate things like "hockey puck" burgers, crispy pork chops and very lumpy (from scratch) or soupy (from a box) mashed potatoes, spaghetti sauce made from tomato paste and water, and Velveeta was our cheese. Veggies were always out of a can or frozen, never fresh and were a bit mushy. Fish was Mrs Paul's Fish Sticks (also a bit mushy) on the rare occasion that we got them. I added salt to everything... except cereal... to which I added sugar...even to Frosted Flakes. But everything cooked by my mother was well done to burnt... mostly the latter.

Let me tell you about those burgers and pork chops. Mom had a cast iron skillet. Maybe two or three. She would melt a heaping tablespoon of lard (Crisco) in it, throw 3" wide ground chuck patties (made by hand... I pounded to 1/2" flat) into it and cook them until they were blackened and hard as the table top. When she tossed one on your plate, it would skitter across it. It was also, at that point, only about 2-1/2" wide. An un-smooth hockey puck. The very thin pork chops were also cooked to a dark brown and crispy texture in that same skillet, also skittered across the plate, and were known to break loose baby teeth.

I thought this was normal. That restaurants undercooked everything. That vegetables were blah. Needless to say, I was not brought up to be a gourmand. And this, along with genetics, might explain why I weighed 133 lbs at 5'11' when I was 19.

When I went to Boot Camp in 1965 at age 19, this began to change. My early experiences with food worked, along with the constant exercise and marching, to make Navy food seem wonderful. I gulped down two glasses (actually 10 ounce cups) of milk at each meal, ate everything they gave me, and perhaps more. It may have been because there was never anything more exotic than lima beans on the trays. It may have been because nothing was seasoned beyond the use of salt by the cooks. You can say what you want about military food but the Navy food was excellent in my opinion. Even if everything, including fried chicken, seemed to taste like roast beef.

Today I eat my steaks medium to medium rare, pork chops are thick and juicy, vegetables (while still mostly the frozen) are cooked to less than mushy, burgers are nowhere near crispy, fish is broiled or grilled and never from Mrs Paul (or Groton) - though I admit to liking Capt D's- and I will try most anything on a menu. And, though I never add salt or pepper to restaurant meals, I like spiced up food. Not hot, mind you, but well seasoned.

I still won't eat liver. Or onions. Especially together.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Getting the finger.. so to speak

I came across an article yesterday that was a report on a study that said that men with index fingers longer than their ring fingers have a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

Rightly or wrongly (there is some criticism of the study), I found it interesting. Primarily because I have a prostate, I suppose. Therefore, I am drawn to things on the subject. Since my wife had breast cancer, I am also drawn to stories, studies, and reports on that. I do not believe in the concept of "idle curiosity", I think there are always motives behind it.

But I digress.

This study raised a question in my mind... What triggered the study? Think about it, why fingers? What was in the mind of the researcher who conjured up the relationship of finger size ratios to a disease we do not yet fully understand? It makes me wonder about the scientific process and if it is in good hands.

The study reminded me of something called Phrenology. A Phrenologist was a real head doctor, not a psychiatrist. He would feel the head of his patient and determine (by the bumps and their placement) to determine personality traits. This has fallen out of favor though I see vestiges of it in our general attitude toward head shape. Don't ask me to elaborate on this last statement. It would take way too many words to explain and I would just end up looking (more) foolish,

What next? Bring back leeches as medical treatment? Oh wait, that already happened back in the 80's...

Maggots and leeches make a comeback

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Insects in our brains

I was perusing the news via Google and came across this article from the UK's Daily Mail..

How to tame the monsters in your mind

"In his new book Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, Dr Amen identifies the infuriatingly common scourge: the ANT (Automatic Negative Thought), which he describes as ‘the ­little voices that pop into your head and tell you you’re not good enough, not thin enough, a rubbish daughter, mother, worker’.

A few ANTS, he says, can be managed.

Didn't the Dianetics folks think of this first? Engrams, I think they called them.

I once visited a Dianetics center. I was intrigued enough to read a little bit of L. Ron Hubbards' book and take some kind of survey thing and then drop by a center. This was in San Diego sometime around 1977, I believe. I was less than impressed. As they seemed to be with me.

I am sure I didn't quite understand it all. I suppose I was not expected to. In fact, I suspect I was not supposed to understand so they could then "guide" me to clarity and understanding. Something which would have cost me money, fostered my dependence on Scientology, and generally made me into someone I wasn't.

I politely turned them down. I think it was politely, I don't recall being escorted out of there by security.

The premise of ANTs is similar to those engrams. Negative thoughts which we can learn to control, to suppress. Of course, that suppression can get out of hand, can't it? How do we know which thoughts to suppress and which to let out and examine in a positive manner?

As we grow up, our experiences "program" our brains. How we interact with people and how we perceive that interaction form the "program" which controls future human interactions. Think of an infant as a new computer, fresh out of the box (so to speak). It has only its basic operating system. You will give it a name, you will "teach" it many things. Each person the child meets and interacts with will enhance its programming by expanding, or restricting, its operating parameters.

When "bad" things happen as a result of our interaction, we learn to avoid similar interactions. For instance, we become more shy when those we are exposed to treat us poorly or seem threatening. I say "more shy" because I believe we are all (generally) born shy. A defense mechanism, you might say, tied into the instinct for survival. We learn to overcome that shyness in order to function in society. It's all part of socialization.

When "good" things happen, we tend to repeat or seek out similar interactions.

But things don't always go well in our programming. "Bugs" are introduced. And "flaws" in our basic mechanism interfere. We develop certain reactions to interaction events. These "bugs" can impede all future interactions. They can impede our chances of success in life, they can hurt our chances of having a stable relationship, they can literally drive us crazy.

Scientology claims they can eliminate the engrams (or, perhaps, reduce their impact on our psyches) so we can have fulfilling lives. I actually think the basic concept is not a bad one. I just don't think Scientology really knows what they are doing. But I do think those involved in it believe in it.

I have not read the book that the Daily Mail mentions. And I probably won't. It is a self help book and I have felt beyond help for many, many years. Still, I think it might be useful to many people. These things have been around for many years ("The Power of Positive Thinking", "How to Win Friends and Influence People", "I'm OK, You're OK", etc) and are the poor man's means of self-analysis. I have always been a poor man and full of angst and neuroses so I have gravitated toward these all along. I do not actually read them, though.

I am afraid they will work.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Phrase in time saves none

There are phrases I love and phrases I hate. Among those I love are:

  • "Tit for tat" - Gave me many a giggle as a young lad.
  • "In for a penny, in for a pound" - A phrase that is clear even if you do not know what a pound is. Still, for a few years, I thought it was strictly a weight.
  • "A picture is worth a thousand words" - Especially if the subject is female and nude.
  • "All things must pass" - Scary... when you are talking about kidney stones.
  • "Better late than never" - One of my credos.
  • "Beware the Law of Unintended Consequences" - Something lawmakers do not adhere to.

Some that never made sense...

  • "A wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse" - I just can't figure the value of a blind horse.
  • "A watched pot never boils - I have proved this wrong many times. An unwatched pot, however, boils out the Teflon or at least burns/boils off whatever was in it.
  • "Catch as catch can" and "Handsome is as handsome does" - These make no sense at all to me but my mother used to say them all the time.
  • "Fell like a ton of bricks" - All objects fall at the same rate barring wind resistance. I think Galileo proved that. Or maybe Newton.
  • "A penny saved is a penny earned" - Only if you get 100% interest.

I like to mix metaphors myself...

"A watched pot never nods to a blind horse"

The one phrase I truly hate is...

"Have a nice day"

I don't know why. It seems pleasant enough and innocuous enough. But it is so often offered insincerely, sometimes sarcastically. I never know just how to take it.

I hope you all had a pleasant, even merry, Christmas. I had my usual. Except we had a huge ham for dinner. Along with green beans (I love green beans) and Julienne Potatoes that were extra cheesy because Frances had used the potatoes from one box a few days ago and we used the extra cheese packet for this meal. We now have enough leftover ham to provide ham sandwiches for the next 3 weeks or so.

Even though we do not exchange presents most years, we often just buy little extra things for ourselves. We always know just what we want or need, why risk someone else figuring it out? So, this year I got a new golf GPS thingy. And a putter I am still trying to train. I didn't need a new putter but the bargain was too good to pass up. Faye still hasn't decided what she wants yet. I am assuming it will be expensive. Maybe a week in Las Vegas in the Spring. I am hearing hints of this. Hints in this house mean plans or reality.

There is a reason we do not exchange presents. Several of them, actually, but the main one is we give or buy the things we want all year long. Christmas (the gift giving part anyway) is pretty much year round. Similar with birthdays. Sometimes those gifts are given months in advance. I mean, why wait for that special day when any day is, or can be, special? And these are just "things." They are not what is important when you get right down to it.

I am very fortunate that Faye sees this the way I do. Truly an ongoing special gift.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

No Politics Today

This is probably the wrong day to rant about politics... or anything else for that matter. Instead, it is a day of reflection, for looking inward, and for looking outward for signs of hope.

When I was a child, I never got to believe in Santa Claus. At least, I don't recall believing. That was because I had two older siblings. To be fair, it was likely my brother who denied me that belief. In any case, by my 4th Christmas, I no longer believed in a magical guy who slid down chimneys and left gifts for good little boys and girls. I was probably not hard to convince since we didn't even have a chimney and our roof sloped so much, Santa would have needed to set an anchor to hold the sleigh from slipping off. Besides, by then I was sleeping in a bedroom on the second floor with the roof mere inches from my face. I'd have heard those reindeer.

It wasn't that I didn't want to believe, it was just that I had not been given much of a choice.

My family treated Christmas as more secular than many, I suspect. That could be because my father owned the only bicycle shop in town and Christmas was an important event each year. My parents would leave my sister in charge and go off on Christmas Eve to deliver bicycles all over town.

This was not a good idea... ["Merry Christmas and so on..."]

Each year, the Pope prays for peace in troubled lands, good will to fill the hearts of men (and women, one supposes), and love for our brothers (and sisters). I was often troubled by that concept of "brotherly love." To me, that meant bullying, teasing, the occasional bloody nose, ostracization or humiliation when around his friends, some really nasty "practical jokes", and so on. I couldn't understand why anyone would wish for that. I tried to avoid being too judgmental and always smiled and nodded when it was mentioned in conversations.

I spent Christmas Eve 1969 at a friends place in Long Beach, California. Having eaten too much, drank too much, and smoked too much, I basically passed out on their sofa. Being nice people, they left me there and went to bed. I awoke somewhere around 3 or 4 AM. The radio was on and the news was being reported. It wasn't good. Shootings, robberies, a house fire, a couple of notable traffic accidents. Didn't seem to me like there was a lot of peace in Los Angeles, much less the rest of the world. I remember thinking that it seemed wrong that there couldn't be just one day, or one night, that passed without violence, mistreatment, and woe. I was quite sad. I slipped out and drove home to my little apartment just before dawn.

I did not appreciate Christmas much, I suppose. That changed after my son was born. I let him feel the magic. I let him believe until he got smart enough to figure it out on his own. I think he was seven. He changed my view of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Reach out and be touched

I was reading yesterday about a soldier in Afghanistan getting a $16,000 cell phone bill from AT&T. Seems the private took AT&T's offer of a $4.95 per month "plan" where he could make international calls. Sounds good? Well, maybe not. The fine print says they will charge him $5 per minute of usage plus 50 cents per text. Hence the big bill. Actually, the bill that got his attention was the $9000 one (the first one after he got to Afghanistan, I assume) which prompted the soldier and his wife to cancel the account. Of course, there would be an additional one plus interest (for late payment) which ran it up to $16,000.

First, let me point out that AT&T has apparently written the whole thing off. Or, at least, accepted whatever he has paid as sufficient. I know AT&T, they will not harass this soldier or anyone else who gets a bill like this. Sure, it will seem like that but eventually it will all get straightened out and no one will be hurt in the process. All that has to be done is to get the attention of a important enough person. Therein lies the difficulty and the reason these stories pop up from time to time.

If you have ever called AT&T about anything, you know what a hassle it is. Voice menus which take you to more voice menus which take you to even more voice menus (each of which has you punch in your phone number) which, all to often, sends you into oblivion (a "fast busy" or dead air) or to the wrong department which then kicks you back on the voice menu maze.

Why, just the other day, I tried to call AT&T about why I was getting a "Service Unavailable" on my fully paid up GoPhone. I figured there was an outage of some sort. I also figured that a call to the support number would announce that immediately. I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead, it took two calls (the first ending in Oblivion) and a second wending through the maze before I reached a guy sounding suspiciously like he was in India who told me there was a complete system outage (not just my little piece of Paradise) and that he had no idea what it was or when it would be fixed but I might "try it again in a couple of hours."

Right helpful, he was.

But the article I mentioned claims the soldier wasn't told about the $5 per minute rate. I have to disagree. It was there. If he talked to a rep on the phone, he was told. If he went into an AT&T phone store, it was in the stuff he signed. (and probably mentioned).

When I was in the Navy, sailors and Marines (especially, it seemed, the Marines) would get over-charged and cheated fairly often. The Navy's position seemed to be "You should have looked closer at the fine print, you idiot." You either learned quickly (no more than one mistake) or you didn't (continued to get cheated and pay handsomely for it). The Navy would happily garnish your (very meager) wages if the company (or individual) got a court order for such. The Navy also warned us all in advance that this would happen. I am assuming the military still does this.

Do not get me wrong, I sympathize with the soldier. Completely. Once he canceled his account upon receiving the first bill, he should have had quick access to Customer Care and someone with enough brains and power to get the situation corrected. And that's where all corporations fail. No matter who they are, they have great difficulty with the customer interface once the sale has been made. In fact, when I went to cancel my former cell phone account with AT&T, I was heavily queried as to why I wanted to do such a thing.

Let me leave you with a little commentary about AT&T and Voice menus...

Back in the mid-90's, AT&T commissioned a study about them. The public was overwhelmingly against them. They wanted a Real Live Person when they called. They did not want to wade through menus. AT&T, having paid hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars for this study promptly built up a huge voice menu system for themselves and to sell to other corporations and companies. Mostly to airlines and insurance companies, I believe.

Corporate mentality is something I will never understand.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pondering Life Here and Elsewhere

Much is being made of the finding of amino acids in a meteorite. Proof, it is said, that life is likely elsewhere in the universe. I have never doubted that. I grew up believing that there were planets around stars and that life was as likely to form on any (or all) of them as it had been here on Earth. No one taught me this directly, as far as I can recall, it just seemed logical to me. Unlike some, I saw no reason to believe in UFO's because of this. In fact, as time went on, I tended to believe that what we call "intelligent" life might be rare or even non-existent on any of these imagined planets.

To be honest, I am not sure intelligent life exists here on Earth.

We could just be fooling ourselves by proclaiming ourselves intelligent. After all, what is our standard for that? Mostly, I think, is that we talk. Out loud. And we build things from other things and use these to build even more things. But I suppose there is more to it than simple communication and tool-making.

Still, I read paragraphs such as this one and I wonder...

"As to how the amino acids got into space: they did not form in space, but were carried into space. The event that carried them was the ejection of the asteroid, along with vast quantities of water, rock and mud, into space from earth. That in turn resulted from the breach of a subcrustal ocean at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, that resulted in the Global Flood. Findings like these are only to be expected, as was the finding of Comet Hartley 2 with its cyanide jets last month."
[Amino Acids in meteorites: real implications]

Since when were asteroids ejected from the Earth? I am vainly trying to remember anyone ever trying to teach me that. And it is written with such authority. I suppose that can be forgiven. It was written by a guy who (a) believes in Creationism and (b) is not actually a professional writer or a scientist.

Not that I am knocking those that believe in Creationism. Far from it. I am no scientist either (nor a professional writer... that should be obvious), I just try to look at things in an objective and logical manner.

Carbon dating says the planet (our planet, that is) is some 4.5 Billion years old. Carbon dating has been shown to be fairly accurate. That reveals a bit of a gap between the 6000 year age of the planet that Creationists believe and what science has measured. And that is just for starters.

I found an interesting article, done quite humorously by one Ricky Gervais [A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais] explaining why he is an atheist. It was in the Wall Street Journal, of all places. It must have received a lot of attention since there is a follow up article wherein he answers some questions sent into the WSJ about his position. [Does God Exist?]

In the original article, Gervais reveals he had an epiphany when he was 8 years old; that it took him about an hour to go from being a good Christian child to being an atheist. Interestingly, he then realized that the story of Santa Claus was problematic.

But I have wandered off my point, haven't I? You may not know that, since I have not revealed my point yet, but I have.

The existence of extraterrestrial life has always been pretty obvious to me. Well, starting from the day I learned that the sun is a star. And not an especially unique one. And then I learned about galaxies and how many there might be. And then I learned about how far away we are from (a) the center of our galaxy and (b) from the center of the Universe. These last two things made believing in Creationism a bit tough for me. And once you toss that out, well...

But I like the way Gervais tells his story. Much better than my own, I'd say.

It is nice to know that we can ask these questions without being dragged off to some hellish torture chamber and made to recant, though.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Empowerment and other psychological tricks

The above strip brings to mind an actual meeting in which I participated and played the role of Wally... sort of.

Back in the mid-80's, there was this "empowerment" phase going on with AT&T. I suspected it wasn't all that real. I mean, management really didn't buy into it but they wanted us to. It would, they felt, make us feel a kind of "ownership" and we would therefore work harder and strive for more quality in our work. It was called:

Quality of Work Life

Or, in short, QWL. Something I suggested stood for "Quiet Workers' Laments" I could have been wrong about that. It all could have been on the "up and up", as they say.

[Background] In the office in which I once worked (and I use that term loosely), there were two two rooms where workers gathered at desks and such and, often, performed tasks. They were the MOC (Maintenance and Operations Center) and the TOC (Trunk Operations Center). The MOC was my domain. From there we monitored the switching equipment and ran diagnostics. We also sat around telling jokes, reading, and mostly devising practical jokes to play on fellow co-workers. The TOC watched over the trunks (links between offices); running tests and also telling jokes, reading, and devising practical jokes. Supervisors for these areas had desks in said areas. Everyone seemed satisfied with the arrangement.

The management, as part of QWL, thought a bit of re-arrangement might boost morale and improve working conditions. They devised a plan wherein the wall and door between the MOC and TOC would be removed and replaced with a half-wall (a "fence", one might say). The supervisors would also get individual offices, with doors, and walls (no cubicles) or cubicles within one room. They would be all together and we, the lowly peons, would be all together. But the supervisors and the people they supervised would be separated.

At the meeting, much was made of how our input was valued and how we should feel "ownership" in this project. In the end, we were given only the "power" to choose whether we wanted the walls to be painted pale green or some form of light beige. Did I mention that we all voiced our opposition to the plan in the first place? We did not want just a half-wall between the two areas, we were happy the way things were, and did not want change.

In the end, we did feel empowered. You see, in addition to selecting the color, we were supposed to also do the painting. After some commentary by me, our answer was to, as one, refuse to paint any wall or choose a color. This meant that they would have to hire someone to come in and do the painting and that busted the budget for the project.

And that ended the project. It also brought QWL to an end in our workplace. And everyone was happy again. Except the supervisors who never did get their little offices. You can't please everyone.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


No, not Herman Katz the butcher. Just a poor spelling of Cats.

I am not a cat fancier. I am not even a "cat person" (whatever that means). I am just a sad old man who once owned cats. Or, I should say, lived with three cats for a time.

I was never mean to them. I did not beat them on a regular basis, or kick them down the stairs (when we lived in a 3 story townhouse), or set fire to them and watch them run around in the black night whilst I swilled beer and guffawed. No, that wasn't me... some other guy did those things. I just considered them. And the consequences.

Yes, there are consequences to mistreating one's feline companions. In retaliation, they put interesting things in your shoes. Or shred that new silk shirt you just paid way too much for. Or pee in your lap (a place which they attained by feigning love and appearing to crave attention). Do not ask me how I know these things.

My cats were treated well. If you do not count the time I introduced Bimbo to snow in the backyard of our Manassas townhouse. Or the time I tried to give her a shower after she rolled in the red clay after a heavy rain. She forgave me... eventually. They were well fed (not overfed), de-flea-ed (I made up that word) on a regular basis, and drugged heavily during extended car rides to new states when I whimsically decided it was time to move... every 5 years or so.

The story of the cats is told Here (Bimbo), Here (Floozie), and Here (Carlos).

My family had only had dogs. And I remember only two of them. Raffles, a Cocker Spaniel, and Cindy, a poodle-terrier mix. Dogs are oddly loyal. If you start with a puppy, it doesn't matter too much how you treat it so long as you feed it, it will be loyal. Cats simply are not loyal. At all. Cats are more like the Nobility of animals. They assume you are there to serve them. Dogs look like they are begging when it comes to food or treats. Cats simply demand these. Bimbo certainly did.

We often kept a "can" of Pounce on the coffee table in the living room. Bimbo would jump up on the table, meow, push the Pounce can a little bit and look at me (or whoever was there). If I ignored her, she would meow a little louder and push the can a little further. If I still did not grab the can, open it (whereupon the other two would magically appear in a puff of shedding hair), and give her a couple, she would push the can off the coffee table then jump down and walk away. The snub would last a while, sometimes for hours. But never longer than dinner time.

Carlos was the time-keeper. He knew when dinner time was. He would appear, as if from nowhere, in the kitchen (even if the kitchen was empty and the light was off) and start mewling. If ignored, he would saunter into the living room and sit at the door to the computer room and repeat his demands. What amazed me is that none of the cats would dare to come into the computer room. Training them to stay out took nothing more than a few weeks of scaring the Bejeezus out of them when they came in. Scaring them involved nothing more than raising my voice and chasing them.

Carlos also had a lair. We had a platform bed in one of the bedrooms which had a space in between the two rows of drawers in the pedestal. He had managed to loosen the silly little piece of cardboard that blocked one end and would hide in there. For days, once. The first time he found it. That was when we arrived at the apartment in West Palm Beach.

Carlos had spent a harrowing 4 hours hiding under the driver's seat during the trip from Jacksonville. When we arrived, it took me several minutes to get him out so I could take him upstairs to the apartment. As I straightened up with him in my arms, our new neighbor's dog arrived. A white German Shepherd of considerable size, she stood on her hind feet and sniffed at him from about 3 inches away. I was fortunate that we had had Carlos' front paws de-clawed. I very smartly had clasped both of his hind paws in one hand. I could feel the terror in his body. I quickly dashed up the stairs and into the apartment and let him loose. He took only a second before he bolted toward the back bedroom, found the bed and hid under it. We did not see him for 3 days.

We assume he snuck out in the middle of the night to eat and use the litter box. We hoped as much anyway.

Floozie did none of those things, she just worried all the time and suffered psychologically. And coughed up more hairballs than the other two combined.

Contrary to popular belief, cats are not smarter than dogs. Just more arrogant and disloyal so it seems that way. We always think that people who treat us with disdain are smarter than we are. We just transferred that to cats.

I thank the Ancients,
be they Mesopotamian or Egyptian, (there is some waffling on this) for domesticating them. I also curse them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I got a new thang...

It's simple and it involves Freecell. It's simple because I am. It involves Freecell because... well, just because.

I recall, from time to time, what a co-worker told me about his cohorts on the Evening shift were doing. They had a little contest going for who could move the fewest cards from the Tableau to the Foundation before the final automatic transfer of the Tableau cards to the Foundation begins.

A little background (in case you are unfamiliar with the game):

There are 4 Cell locations (top left) which serve as a holding area for cards. There are 4 Foundation locations (top right) where all cards will (hopefully) end up at the end of the game. And there are 8 Tableau locations (across the bottom) where all cards are initially dealt in seemingly random fashion. You manipulate the cards in the Tableau to free up (first) the aces and then build up, in suit, to the king.

Yes, it is a simple game. In reality, it is merely a 52 piece puzzle. Look at the Tableau as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and the Foundation as the final picture. So now you have a jigsaw puzzle... if the jigsaw puzzle had rules which stated the puzzle pieces must be stacked in eight piles, the top piece being the only one to be moved, that you must move the cards from the Tableau to the Foundation through the Cells unless they can go directly to the Foundation. That means you cannot move more than 4 cards to free the cards beneath them to go to the Foundation.

See? Simple. The trick is in the manipulation of the cards of the Tableau. And the proper management of the 4 Cell locations. Let's say you want to move 3 cards (Jack, Ten, Nine) to a Tableau pile with the proper Queen on the top. You must have at least three spaces open. Or 1 Cell open plus one Tableau slot open. In our example above, I might move the Queen of Diamonds (Row 6) and then the 7 of Clubs to Cell locations. Then move the Queen back on top of the King of Spades (again, Row 6) followed by the Jack of Spades (Row 7) and the Ten of Hearts (Row 5). That might be one start and it might be good or bad in the long run.

In this shot, I have manipulated the Tableau cards to the point where I have only to move 9 through 6 from Row 6 to Row 2 and the rest of the cards will "fly" up to the Foundation and complete the game. You will also note that the number of cards (lower right in the pic) left to go on the Foundation is 40.

And here, of course, is the proof of success.

But my personal best (so far) is 47 cards left in the Tableau or Cell locations. That's right, only 5 cards had been placed on the Foundation before the Final Move.

And this is what I do all day when I am not playing golf, at the gym, playing other mindless games like Monopoly (or other solitaire games), or paying attention to what I am watching on TV.

And that, my friends, is what retirement is all about.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What a deal! Or "Bamboozled again!"

So, the tax cut retention bill has passed and been signed into law. Is it too late for me to voice my opposition to it? You see, I hadn't seen a review of it before the vote, something which tells me (even in summary) what it actually does. I had questions...

Are any of the Bush tax cuts made permanent?
Are any tax cuts made permanent?
Is there a lot of extra spending in the bill?
Why are these things (tax cuts) like Snake Oil?

The answers appear to be "No", "No", "Yes", and "It's politics, you idiot!" sends me regular updates and links to articles they deem important to "savvy" investors. I am not sure who the parent company is or just how useful the articles are but I get them. I generally ignore the advice in them just as I ignore the advice from the investment "talking heads" on the 24 hour news channels. They don't have a clue, I think. Their "picks" of the week are usually trading at, or near, their 52 week highs. This is great... if you could make a profit buying high and selling low. I tried that once, didn't work out so well. But I digress, as usual.

Marketwatch sent me this link: What the New Tax Bill Means For You

Reading the summary (it is, after all, just a summary), I find the wonder of it all is that it is touted as a "big [no expletive needed to be deleted] deal" by Joe "Did I say that?" Biden, our Vice-President. You did know that Joe Biden was our Vice-President, didn't you? It's true. I have no idea how this happened either.

Maybe Joe was just being sarcastic. Everything in it expires by the end of 2012. Everything. Tax cuts for the middle class? End on December 31, 2012. All the extras? All end either on, or before, December 31, 2012. It should have been called the "let's postpone this for two years" bill. A clear case of kicking the can (of worms) down the road a bit. In fact, it actually raises taxes, it does not cut them. For instance, the Estate Tax* (aka "Death Tax") changes from 0% this year to 35% on estates over $5 million.

It also extends unemployment benefits for up to 13 months for many unemployed. This is being touted as a stimulus for the economy. This is because those struggling to live on those unemployment checks will spend all of it quickly so the money goes right back into the economy. I am told virtually all economists believe this. That explains why these same people are so surprised by what the economy actually does (always different than expected).

Plus (and the article fails to list them... or even mention they exist) there are all kinds of earmarks tossed in... something to the tune of $57 Billion worth.

In other words, this break we taxpayers are being given doesn't actually decrease any taxes, just prevents some from going up, does increase at least one, and adds a bunch of spending.

There is also a "cut" in payroll taxes. That is, the amount you pay to Social Security will be reduced from 6.2% to 4.2%. A mere drop in the bucket and will reduce your benefits just a tad when if you retire. This actually "costs" more ($112Billion) than preserving the lower tax rates for those making over $250,000 ($81.5Billion). And it directly impacts a program already in great fiscal trouble.

And this is fiscally responsible? I don't think so.

How about just cutting spending for a change? I don't mean reduce the increase by a nominal amount, I mean actually reducing all departments' budgets by, say, 5% from last year's? If something like this happens, Faye will also let me date Cheryl Tiegs on the side.

*The Estate Tax is, essentially, a tax on the heirs of the deceased. The accumulated wealth (whether liquid or as a family business) of the deceased is then taxed upon transference. Even if this wealth was already taxed as it accumulated. It affects businesses and farms because it quite easily could force the inheritors to sell such property in order to pay the tax.

Friday, December 17, 2010

But what if?

I work fastest under a deadline. I also do my worst quality of work that way. Yet, I also do most of my work that way. It's the Curse of the Procrastinator. I have always put things off. I used to joke that I had three "In" boxes on my desk:

Things to put off until tomorrow
Things to put off until next week
Things to ignore forever

I had no "Out" box. Unless you count the "Round File" next to the desk.

And this is pretty much how I handle this blog. I wake up in the morning and have no idea what I will write. I drink a cup of coffee. Often, two. I play card games and I solve puzzles using a few tenths of my mind (I do not work on difficult puzzles). A tenth of my mind is considering possible topics. Another tenth is actively rejecting them. Various bits and pieces of my brain are just bouncing around trying to look busy. Unsuccessfully, I might add.

I call it "multi-tasking." My teachers, parents, and the occasional girlfriend, and now my wife would call it "day dreaming." But the simple truth is I procrastinate.

And why do I procrastinate? Out of fear. It's true. I really believe that the root of procrastination is fear. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of success. It's why we never called up that pretty girl who smiled as she gave me her number. I wasn't rejecting her, I feared her rejecting me. I feared the failure of the call. And, at the same time, I feared she'd accept a date. Yes, that's right, I feared success too.

I can't help it. I blame my older siblings for instilling these fears in my head at an early age and then reinforcing them constantly until they were the foundation of my personality. If they hadn't, I might have been more dynamic, more successful in my life. I could have been somebody. You do realize I was mimicking Marlon Brando in my head when I wrote that last sentence, don't you?

Seriously, the things that happen to you when you are in your very early years stay with you all your life. They are both the stepping stones and obstacles in your life.

So, now you know why this blog gets posted at different times each day (often late) and why it seems so disjointed most of the time.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

I am freezing my [bleep] off down here!

It appears that this winter is over down here. You folks who live north of Florida have one winter each year, we have many. Of course, we define winter as any time the temperature slips below 70 F. And our blizzards are more aptly named snow flurries. Or maybe cold drizzles.

We had an early winter this year. Usually, it comes in January with only a hint of it in December. Last year, we had a tough 2 week winter where the lows were in the 20's with the highs barely hitting 60. I can hear you laughing at us, you know. There were other winters last year, most were much milder. This year looks to be a very bad one with one winter after the next marching through, possibly until late March.

For those of us who live here in Paradise year round, this will be misery at its utmost.

We simply cannot handle it. I know I can't. This is the time of year when my environmental system finds new and innovative ways to break down. I set my thermostat* to 72F. By the time my system reacts, the temperature reads 71.5F. I can feel that. Literally. I can feel the difference between 72 and 71.5. It feels like a 10 degree swing. I put on my "Won't you be my neighbor?" sweater, I wear sweat pants, socks (which remain on when I go to bed), and often cover up with a blanket while vegging out on the sofa watching mindless TV shows. So far, the heater hasn't failed us. I suspect it is waiting for the next, and likely more severe, winter to begin.

I also suspect there is some kind secret communications between air conditioners/heaters. Because when mine has a problem, it seems like most of them are having problems. The repair people are swamped, so they tell me, and cannot get to me until the weather is much nicer and I no longer need the unit to work properly.

When I was in the Navy, they were just starting to install AC on ships such as my destroyer. It was to make us more comfortable in tropical zones, such as South Vietnam. Only one small problem... they tended to shut down when the temperature went above 83F. So I am used to such things. I can deal with heat. You simply stop all activity until it cools down again. Cold is something I just cannot cope with.

I suppose I should be able to. So many others can. And maybe I used to handle it well when I was a wee lad living in New York. But I was whisked away to south Florida at age 9 and my interaction with cold now has an entirely different dynamic.

I expect I will be miserable for the next several months.

@Thermostat, pronounced therm-o-stat. My question is: Why isn't thermometer pronounced therm-o-meter or thermostat pronounced ther-mos-tat? At least there would be some consistency.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mad as a Hatter, he is

I figured out that I was mad as a hatter a long time ago. When I was just a child, a small child. I just did not see things the way others did. I still don't. I don't mean a little differently either. I mean by quite a bit. I softened that a bit by assuming no one actually saw things as everyone else did. I think I was right about that. We all see things just a tad differently. But, harboring some paranoid tendencies, I became distrustful of anyone who agreed with me more than half the time.

I learned later on that this is the definition of skeptical.

I'd like to get back to my opening sentence... and that phrase "mad as a hatter." Sometimes I really dislike language. Meanings being dependent upon context, I mean. Let's parse the offending phrase, shall we? I don't mean parse it like your English teacher did, I mean parse it in the definition of words. The keyword, as I see it, is "mad." And that word can mean angry or crazy. My early understanding of words was limited. This word meant "angry" to me. Crazy was something I picked up on later. I didn't have the Internet back in my youth, and I couldn't trust my older brother or sister to be truthful, so I was stuck puzzling things out on my own. I was confused by the phrase until I first saw "Alice in Wonderland." Since the Hatter was clearly crazy. I had no idea what a "hatter" actually was, though. When I learned what one was, I wondered why they were the "standard" for craziness. I still do. I am apparently not entirely alone on this:

Enough digression...

In any case, I view the world around me differently than most. I question gravity, sanity, Newton's Laws on most everything, faith, charity, experts, expertise, skill, logic, and emotion. I get no answers I find acceptable.

Let's take gravity, for example. Isaac Newton defined gravity as a force... one that attracts all objects to all other objects. Gravity is the force which pulls an object of lesser mass toward an object of greater mass. Really? How many mountains have you found yourself physically pulled toward? I know, I know, the mass of the planet masks the lesser mass of the mountain so we don't feel it. But it should still be there, shouldn't it? And why should hair stick up instead of always lying flat against our heads? After all, hair strands are much lower in mass than our heads and the planet below our feet.

It's clear to me that gravity is not well defined. I am sure if I had a degree in physics, I would have a much better grasp of gravity and, therefore, see it in the same way as others. Of course, that could simply be a bit of brainwashing, couldn't it? I mean, make accepting the common understanding the basis for your passing a course and you will accept it... or claim you do anyway.

In the end, isn't that what socialization is all about? Agreeing to accept the norms of society and act as if they were the Truth? We struggle against this socialization as we grow up. As children we drive our parents a bit nuts by asking "Why?" about most everything. Eventually, parents stop answering and just say things like "It just is" or "You'll learn about that in school" or "trust me."

Oh yeah, "trust me." If I had a nickel for every time I heard that one... I would have one big bag of nickels, let me tell you.

Where was I? I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm just rambling anyway.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is intelligence in the eye of the beholder?

I learn things everyday that amuse, annoy, and/or even astound me. The following didn't do any of these but it did pique my interest. I get my interest piqued more often than I am astounded or annoyed, though. Anyway, the following came to me by email (I subscribe to a few blogs) and, if I was a dog, my ears would have perked up upon reading it.

Of course, as a dog, I wouldn't have been able to read it (much less operate this computer) so my ears would still be drooped and this blog would make even less sense than it does now. I would probably be scratching at my fleas right now.

Oh wait, I was talking about some article of interest to me...

Beautiful People Really ARE More Intelligent

Let me quote from the article:

If you want to estimate someone’s intelligence without giving them an IQ test, you would do just as well to base your estimate on their physical attractiveness as you would to base it on their years of education.

So, why do we have the image of the airhead beauty running rampant through our culture? or the dumb (but oh so handsome) jock? And the studious and knowledgeable geek with pimples, bad hair, and so on?

In the end, my curiosity having been piqued, I have more questions than answers.

Appearance is everything I suppose. Or close to. We are judged by it, placed in neat little boxes so others' worlds are tidy and comprehensible. But there is always someone who doesn't fit.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Must we always follow the rules?

Each day, having nothing of greater importance to do most of the time (just as before I retired), I play a number of Freecell games. I have become adept at this game. I have developed complicated and shrewd strategies to solve the puzzle that underlies the game.

To date, under the reign of this computer, I have managed to accumulate Four Thousand Six Hundred Sixteen games of which I have solved Four Thousand Six Hundred Fifteen of them. Before I had loaded Windows 7 on this computer, I had managed only to achieve about a 83% solve rate. What changed? Why, I discovered that I could now back up to the start of the game by pressing the Ctrl+Z combination. Each press backs you up one move. Holding the key combination down results in a quick journey back toward the beginning.

I know, a number of you are shaking your heads and muttering "What a cheater!" But I have always done this with hand dealt solitaire games. I would back up from the current move to where I felt I had made a fatal mistake. Usually only four or five moves needed to be undone. More are often needed with Freecell. Sometimes the mistake is made at the very beginning. Still, I do not consider this cheating. More like "amending."

You can also, once you have backed up to the beginning, just exit the game without it being registered as a loss. I rarely do this unless I have a pressing engagement elsewhere and must leave.

I was chatting with a friend who bragged about not having lost any Freecell games at all on his Windows XP machine. Of course, he had learned (as I had) that you could simply Ctrl-Alt-Del out of the game and it would not register as a loss. He did not feel he was cheating. He did, however, think what I did was. Situational ethics, I call that. Especially since doing that in Vista or Win 7 is more complicated than in previous versions.

In any case, I haven't abused this feature. At least, not as I define abuse.

We often abuse rules in games. Golf is a fine example. I play golf three days a week. We fudge the rules a little within our group of 9-12 (summer) or 15-30 (Winter) because we realize we are not pros. Therefore, we are allowed "roll the ball" on the fairway and "fluff" in the rough. The latter has been recently extended to what are called "waste bunkers." and some also apply it to regular bunkers where they have been poorly (or not at all) raked after play.

I do not do any of that as a general rule. I admit to rolling in the fairway when the fairway has been so poorly maintained that it constitutes pseudo-rough. We do not often play on well manicured courses. But, other than that, I play the ball as it lies. And I only do that when playing in our group. If I am playing alone or with strangers, I do not do this ever, not once... okay, maybe once or twice. I do not take what are called "Mulligans." These I reserve for Freecell.

Freecell is where I feel free to fudge the rules a bit. If there really is a rule that says I cannot take back as many moves as I wish.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Presidential musings

No, I am not thinking of running in 2012. Please do not ask.

When I turn off my TV, the last thing I do is switch the channel to a 24 hour news channel. I have no idea why I do this, it just gives me a "jumping off" point when I turn it back on plus I get a bit of what's in the news.

If I may digress a bit... I tend to read the scrolling news along the bottom of the screen more than I pay attention to whatever talking head happens to be on the air at the moment. But when I once could multi-task and read while listening, I find I can no longer do both.

I usually turn the TV on around 3:30 in the afternoon. But I pay very little attention to it. At 4, I tune into Your World with Neil Cavuto. It's a business oriented news and commentary hour. I am not a businessman, never have been, but I find it interesting. And often entertaining. Neil's a funny guy... in a dry, boring business-y way. And he has interesting guests. But, yesterday, what grabbed my attention was the press conference "starring" Bill Clinton.

I was a bit taken aback by the way Clinton took over the press conference. It seemed clear to me that Obama wanted a short, to the point, statement of support by Clinton on the pending tax legislation extending the tax cuts of George Bush which was running into Democratic resistance in the House and even the Senate.

It didn't turn out that way. Clinton took over the podium and wouldn't give it up. Obama gave up hanging around after 11 minutes and left the room. Clinton continued for another 25 minutes.

I am not alone in seeing it this way. Just read the various news reports of of the conference. Here's a good example:

That got me to thinking about former presidents... how they act, and how we view them, after leaving office. Many are treated like elder statesmen. A few are ignored. Very few stay as unpopular as they were in their last couple of years in office. In recent years, only one has not overcome his poor image. We still think of Jimmy Carter's one term as a failed presidency. And he seems to have become a bitter man. It's a pity. He tried to revamp his image after leaving office with his involvement in Habitat for Humanity. I think that worked for awhile. But then he started giving his political views and they were as unwelcome as they had been while he was in office.

Even Nixon was smart enough to avoid the limelight until it was safe to come out again.

G.W. Bush has made a bit of a comeback. His poll numbers are on the rise. I am reading his book, "Decision Points", to get his take on the various things that so captured our attention while he was in office. I understand the book is selling quite well. I would not recommend it to anyone looking for an objective view of his presidency but it does reveal a lot about the man. Will he also become an elder stateman? I think so... eventually. Though I suspect he will never be seen as a great president, history may be much kinder to him than we might think today.

I thought about presidents I admired as I went through life. Eisenhower was the first I recall. I was only 4 when Truman left office. I was just becoming politically aware when he was replaced by JFK. I liked JFK... who didn't? Well, if you examine the results of the 1960 election, quite a few didn't. Almost enough to keep him out of office. When we look back, we view his presidency through the filter of his assassination. In reality, he (like virtually every president) did some good things (space program, lowering tax rates, invigorating the image of president) and some bad things (mishandling the Bay of Pigs invasion, getting us embroiled in Vietnam, letting Bobby Kennedy wiretap and investigate MLK) but none of it matters as much as the emotional impact of his assassination. He was an instant icon after the last echo of the bullets.

I did not like Lyndon Johnson and despised Nixon. I will give Nixon credit for only one thing, recognizing China existed politically. I don't think anyone else could have done it. Nixon was seen as a hard line anti-communist. Who better to open the door to relations with Red China? I never considered Nixon corrupt but I did think he was too loyal to people who were. He didn't order the Watergate break in but should never have covered up any involvement by people in the White House.

I am almost ashamed to say it but I voted for Jimmy Carter. While Gerald Ford was a decent man, he was not presidential enough and seemed a "place holder" more than the chief executive. The economic problems he (Ford) faced were too tough for him. Carter, however, made a complete mess of things in that area. I still have a lot of respect for his Middle East diplomatic efforts. He is still the only president to get at least two of the main combatants to reach an agreement. He should be remembered for that.

Reagan was the very image of what a president should be. He revitalized the country, made us proud again, gave us hope. George H. W. Bush was another Ford. It seemed the only thing he did right was to kick Saddam out of Kuwait. Clinton seemed, to me, more interested in the perks of the office (see interns and royal treatment) than he was in the actual workings. I considered his administration to be corrupt and possibly influenced by Indonesian and Chinese money. Still, he was an amusing and charming guy.

I wonder how Obama will be seen in ten years?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Snippet of Life - A Night Unremembered

Once upon a time, in a magical land called San Francisco, a ship pulled in to a Navy installation at Hunter's Point In the Bay for repairs and so the crew could visit the land. San Francisco was very magical at the time, the time being 1969, maybe more than it had been any other time since before the Great Earthquake in 1906.

One of the sailors on board that ship (let's call him Douglas), along with another sailor, decided to visit as many bars as they could in one day. They had a plan. Each would buy one drink for both in each establishment and then they would move to another bar.

The rest of the story is a bit hazy, boys and girls. Even though Douglas knows they must have started somewhere, he could not remember where the next morning. In fact, he only knew about three establishments out of all the ones they visited that night. Bobbie, his companion that night, was what is called a "lifer." Bobbie had chosen to have a military career. He had been in the Army for 3 years, the Air Force for four years, and had said he'd found a home in the Navy and would finish his career there. Douglas should have known better than to go along with Bobbie that night. Bobbie's rather large body mass indicated he could absorb more alcohol than skinny Douglas could ever hope to.

Douglas does remember starting out on Market street and then going up Geary. But he doesn't remember how many bars they visited before they got to Geary. He only recalls three of them that night. The first one was called the Phone Booth. At that time, it was a place where young men and women would sit at tables. On the tables were telephones. Each table had a number and any phone could dial any other table's number and the people could then chat. That was then, today (as I understand it) it is still open but caters to the Same Sex crowd.

The next place Douglas remembers was one they didn't even buy a drink in. In fact, they walked in, turned around, and walked right back out. There were only men in this bar. But they all smiled at and welcomed the two sailors. Douglas felt a bit like a rabbit in a wolf's den. So he and Bobbie did what any smart rabbits would have done, they got out of there in a hurry.

The next several bars are unknown. Douglas only recalls that there were a number of them. He also recalls that, at some point, he settled on one drink to order at each place. It is best, they say, to not mix different kinds of alcohol but just to stick with one type if you plan on drinking a lot. (And Douglas planned on drinking a lot that night) Though he did not order just one. It was something called a Whiskey Sour. A Whiskey Sour is a pleasant drink, a bit like lemonade, as he recalls. It came with a maraschino cherry in it... which he always ate when he finished his drink.

The last place Douglas remembers was a very friendly place. They were celebrating something, perhaps a young man's pending marriage and they were giving out free drinks. Amazingly, a tray of these free drinks were Whiskey Sours. Douglas did his very best to help empty that tray.

Douglas does not recall just how many drinks he consumed in that bar, let alone that night. Things were pretty blurry by the time they found that last bar with the free drinks and his vision never did clear up that night. In fact, aside from being given the come-on by a hooker (of suspicious gender) when they first got onto Geary Street he could only recall bits and pieces of what happened at that last bar.

He recalls feeling a bit woozy and in need of relieving his quite full bladder. After finding the restroom, he remembers having to keep his neckerchief out of the way while he emptied the contents of his stomach into the toilet bowl in front of him. He also remembers thinking he was bleeding or coughing up his stomach lining. It took him a little time to realize it must have been a lot of maraschino cherries.

He vaguely recalls staggering out of the restroom, telling Bobbie he was going back to the ship, and staggering on out of the bar.

Over the door to the bar was a canopy which extended out to the street. Douglas thought that the polls holding up the canopy were sturdy enough to steady him while he waited for the taxi he hadn't called. They were sturdy enough. But he wasn't. He slowly slid to a sitting position next to one of the poles. And there he sat until a Shore Patrol truck pulled up.

The two, very sober, sailors who had been in the truck sized up the situation immediately and "offered" him a ride back to his ship. They were even kind enough to pick him up and place him somewhat gently in the back of the truck... where he bounced about as the truck hit every pothole and careened around every corner between downturn San Francisco and Hunter's Point.

The journey took forever, or maybe only a few minutes, Douglas doesn't remember. He does remember being carried on board his ship and being placed on the deck near the watch station. The kindly petty officer, or maybe the officer, on duty sent the messenger of the watch to locate someone from his quarters to come help him get to his compartment. To this day, Douglas does not recall who were the two guys who came to collect him. Douglas, at that point, could not even lift his head.

He had sat on the deck while he imitated a bobble-head doll (which had yet to be invented) as he tried in vain to hold his head up and carry on an intelligent conversation with the people who were ignoring him except to laugh occasionally. He recalls that the lights in the ship's passageways were much too bright and that he sort of slid down the ladder (stairs to you landlubbers) with one sailor holding him by the wrists while another held his ankles.

The next thing Douglas recalls about that night was waking up the next morning with a massive headache and feeling sicker than he had ever felt other than that time in Taiwan when he had lost track of where all his money had gone and where he had been or how he got back to the ship (which would have had to entail a ride in a leaky, noisy, smelly boat with a bunch of drunken sailors) after leaving the Ship's Party at some long forgotten bar.

Douglas actually went back out into town that next afternoon to visit a friend of a friend down in Berkeley. Douglas was young then and recovered well. This was only one of many nights that would remain only vaguely recalled afterward.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Little Chores I enjoy

I was going to reminisce about growing up and having to wear hand-me-downs until I was 11 but I changed my mind. It's not hard to do that. It is a small, inconsequential thing that just rattles about in my cranium anyway. And it's easily distracted by Bright Shiny Things and odd noises.

Instead, I want to explain one of the things I do for Jack, my brother-in-law. Jack is married to my least favorite, and only, sister. He's not a bad guy for a retired Army colonel who won't let anyone forget it and still barks orders like we are all his subordinates. In spite of that, and because I am a Nice Guy, I do him favors.

We both happen to like the real Oldies. Not simply the 50's Doo-Wop and such but the swing era and before. And Jack is less stingy than I so he buys CDs of this music. The thing is, he doesn't know anything about computers and he hates shuffling CDs around. When I showed him how many songs you can put on one CD if you convert them to MP3 format and he bought a car with a stereo that would play MP3 CDs, I became his source of music CDs. He buys the CDs, I rip them into MP3 format and burn CDs with lots and lots of songs on them. On occasion, he will buy a few blanks for me to fill. Otherwise, I just provide them.

This works out very well. I get more stuff added to my already extensive music library and he gets CDs to listen to in his car.

It's all probably illegal.

Some of the things he likes, I don't. He's a big fan of Matt Munro, for instance. An artist I think of as someone to fall asleep to if you are suffering from insomnia. And yet I like Perry Como... go figure.

I am not sure why I like the Big Band Era sounds and singers such as Sinatra, the Lamplighters, the Four Freshmen, etc. Every time I think about it I am reminded of the scene in The Jerk where Steve Martin first hears that form of Easy Listening music ("Crazy Rhythm", to be specific
) and his feet start moving on their own.

I grew up with it. My father loved it. It was the music of his youth and he controlled the record player in our house for most of my early years. I had forgotten about it until after first Disco and then RAP became popular.

I am, of course, an Old Fart.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do we qualify as farmers?

We are a family of three; myself, Faye (my lovely and gracious spouse) and Frannie, my sister-in-law. This makes life interesting here. Frannie is the only one with an actual job, she works at a supermarket cooking those sample meals. I am, of course, retired and Faye is not exactly retired but let's just say she chooses not to work anymore. Faye has been a telephone employee, a bank teller, and a tax preparer. She is much happier now. Which means that I am happier, of course.

But this isn't about our employment status. It's about vegetables. Specifically tomatoes.

Frannie and I decided there's not much point to a lot of empty space in the Florida Room. Let me digress and explain that term to those of you who have never been to Florida. Most people would call these "screened porches" or "sun rooms", or something like that. In Florida, we call them Florida Rooms. So far as I know, no other state does such a thing. There are no California Rooms, or Minnesota Rooms, or... well, you get the picture. We, Frannie and I, decided we should grow some things there. So, we did. I bought a little Key Lime tree, Frannie started an avocado tree from the seed of one of the many avocados we sacrifice to guacamole. Faye even got intrigued enough to plant some pepper seeds. We are talking jalapeno peppers here.

Everything has done well. The Key Lime tree started producing 3 months after being transplanted into a large planter pot. Faye's peppers are prolific. Frannie's avocado trees are growing but won't produce for another 4 years. If then. There is also an unproductive but healthy pineapple plant which doubles as a home for Chester, the lizard who lives in the Florida Room.

But Frannie also brought home 3 tomato plants in a pot. They died. Never to be daunted, she brought home 3 more in another pot. We transplanted them into another pot and put them on the front porch. So far, we have harvested one tomato. But there are more growing. The problem is that it is taking over the porch.

It now has a name... The Tomato Plant That Ate The Porch. Or, Harvey. I am not quite sure which. In either case, it doesn't seem to answer when we call.

The weather here in Paradise, while generally beautiful to incredibly hot and muggy has been quite cold. This morning it was maybe 28 degrees when we got up. This is not good for the plants. They think Florida is supposed to be tropical, just as we residents do.

I am not happy that I cannot walk around barefoot and in shorts and T-shirt. I am thinking of suing the state chamber of commerce.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Here's to ya!

It is morning in America. Also Canada, Cuba, Venezuela (and the rest of the South America continent). And the beginning of a new day. One with a sad history, it being December 7th, and the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the US into World War II as a combatant.

But I am not going to talk about that except to say that it should not become a footnote in history. Remember Pearl Harbor! Read about it, understand how it came about and how it changed the US forever.

Yesterday I decided that, once again, I would stop drinking alcoholic beverages. I stopped once before. Back in my mid-forties. Now, I didn't stop because I am an alcoholic and needed to retake control of my life. I stopped because my liver told me to. Ok, not my liver... my doctor at that time. It seems that I flunked a routine blood test. One of my enzymes was spiking well above normal.

The doctor explained this after asking me a few questions...

Are you an alcoholic?
Are you a heavy drinker?
Are you in denial?

My answers, of course, were all "no." I qualified that on the second question with a query, "Unless you feel one Gin and Tonic a day, at most, constitutes 'heavy drinking'?"

I don't think he believed me. He wasn't a bad doctor but he had a poor "bedside manner." He seemed to decide I was lying, that I was downplaying my drinking and that I was drinking heavily. Especially after he re-tested me after 30 days without any alcohol whatsoever. The enzyme (and I forget which it was) was still high but just within normal range.

None of this made any sense to me. I am not one who is in denial, never have been. I used to be a "binger", I would go through periods where I drank rather heavily. But that was in my late teens and early twenties. I also took a lot of drugs and did a number of other unhealthy things. After getting out of the Navy, my life changed a bit. I got married, I had a son. I backed off on a number of questionable practices. I kept no alcohol in the house. But I still got drunk on the occasional weekend. Like every one of them.

It was only later in life that I kept any booze around. In my late thirties, early forties. But I was no longer getting blitzed even occasionally. I would have maybe 5 Gin and Tonics a week. Or maybe a couple of beers if we were out with friends. And that "couple of beers" was exactly that: two drafts, two bottles, or two cans. I no longer wanted to wake up with a hangover. My tolerance for them had disappeared.

So, naturally, I took a little umbrage at being seen as an alcoholic or heavy drinker. Still, I figured there was no harm in forsaking all alcohol consumption. That was about 20 years ago. Recently, the last year or so, I began joining in the seemingly mandatory after golf round "couple o' beers" with the guys I play golf with. Before that, I might have had one maybe once a week. I had re-started having the occasional Gin and Tonic, or a glass of wine with dinner. Nothing daily.

But I play golf three times a week. And I have been drinking two to four glasses of beer after each round. That's nothing, you say? Perhaps, if you have a healthy liver. But I do not.

I was chatting with a golf buddy as we headed into the restaurant after yesterday's round. He told me he was no longer going to drink after golf. Seems he was experiencing double vision after have just a few beers. And, since he takes cholesterol lowering drugs, he figured he ought to lay off since those also affect the liver.

Thus, he reminded me of why I had become a teetotaler once before. I had a weak liver. I don't know if I damaged it by alcohol consumption or by any of the chemicals and other intoxicants I had ingested or inhaled to get stoned in my youth. I just know it is damaged and that is enough.

So, I no longer drink. Again. Even though, in the back of my mind is this admonition from Phil Harris that I heard on some TV variety show in the 50's...

(I paraphrase) "I have nothing against teetotalers but I just can't imagine waking up and knowing that's as good as I'll feel all day."

He also said, "I'm going to be around until the Atomic Energy Commission finds a safe place to bury my liver.”

Monday, December 6, 2010


We have Good Days and we have Bad Days. By "we", of course, I mean you and I. I don't mean the rest of those people, some of them have nothing but good days or bad days. But we have a bunch of each... though it sure seems like more bad than good, doesn't it?

Today I had a Good Day. Well, on the golf course anyway. It could have been a Bad Day. It was cold here. Seriously cold... for us. About 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, some of you might not think that's all that cold. But when you are used to temperatures in the 80's and upper 70's, 40 is downright miserable.

For some reason, when it gets cold down here, it seems much worse than it does elsewhere. I don't know if its because we're weather wimps (a strong possibility) but the cold cuts right through you here. I have a theory, though. I formulated it from observations about my weight when I lived in San Diego vs south Florida. I weighed an average of 5 lbs more in San Diego where the temperatures (while very mild) average in the mid to low 70's. (I suspect that number should really be the mid 60's.) Here the average is probably in the high 70's or low 80's. I determined that the extra 5 lbs was a layer of sub-cutaneous fat which acted as an insulator.

We do not need that insulation here in Paradise. Except for a few sporadically placed weeks in the winter.

I think I need to find a way to live in Hawaii.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I think I need a drink... even if my liver doesn't

Since it is Saturday (where does the time go?) again, I get to rant a bit about political things. You get to ignore me. And life will go on regardless.

Locally, we have a manager of a restaurant being arrested for trying to buy some moonshine from a guy from Tennessee. It isn't clear whether the `shine was for personal consumption or she intended to re-sell it at the restaurant. I suspect the former. It's been a rather long time since I ran across moonshine sales. I almost forgot it is illegal. I realize this isn't political, it's just a bit silly.

Included in the "silly" category is one Julian Assange. Not what he's done, mind you, there's nothing silly about that. It's how he presents himself as some kind of political hero and martyr. He and/or his associates hack into various government databases, or collects the sensitive data from someone like PFC Manning, and then posts this stuff online. He feels, apparently, he is doing the world a favor. He does not understand diplomacy, I suspect.

“DIPLOMACY, n. The patriotic art of lying for one's country.” [Ambrose Bierce]

Assange hasn't revealed anything that rational people don't already know about governments. He has, however, fed the delusions of the willfully paranoid. No surprise to me about most of these things. The only things that come close to surprising me are things like Hillary "suggesting" diplomats (and staff, one presumes) gather intelligence about their counterparts from North Korea (and elsewhere). They have to be told???? I assumed (as I am sure most diplomatic staffs everywhere do) that this intelligence is gathered all the time. Perhaps I am being naive.

So we now know the Saudis do not trust the Iranian government. And that they see it as a greater threat, apparently, than Israel. Let's see... Israel which has yet to threaten to wipe any nation off the face of the earth or Iran, which has. Personally, I think most Middle Eastern governments want Israel to stick around. Saber rattling at Israel or complaining loudly about it serves as an excellent diversion for the problems of their own people and induces concessions and favorable deals from the Western nations. Most of these M.E. governments seem to treat their own people worse than Israel treats the Palestinians.

Can you imagine what Syria might do to Kurds demanding a chunk of that country and lobbing missiles toward Damascus? And examine the history of Syria's "governorship" of Lebanon sometime. Not to mention the treatment Palestinians were given in Jordan.

Still, Assange thinks he is revealing things of great importance. We'll see how it goes. I truly hope that Mr. Assange is not guilty of the sexual assault charges. I suspect he isn't, that they are trumped up. Unless his ego is as great as what he feels (and I concur) a lot of national leaders are. In which case, he probably did what they charge.

North Korea is rattling its saber lately, too. I feel for the North Korean population. They starve while their leader (and his cohorts) live quite well. I read a comment by someone the other day that maybe the North's population would welcome an invasion by the South, the the N.K. military would throw down its arms and join the South in overthrowing the North's regime. But human beings aren't all that rational and the military might see it (an invasion by the South) as a real threat to its well being. After all, the North's military isn't starving.

Back here in the US, the Senate is going to take up a couple of Democratic Party proposals regarding the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Normally, after 10 years, people wouldn't call them tax cuts. They'd just be the status quo. I suspect the strategy is to dump this on the Republicans' backs. No actual resolution before Congress goes home, the ousted Representatives and Senators retiring to become well paid lobbyists and consultants and part of the army of "talking heads" on TV, and the rest of us will hope we don't get hurt by all this political squabbling. It seems unlikely my taxes will go up regardless of what happens.

I am just opposed to anyone's taxes being raised. What's the point? If the rich were taxed at 90% (as they were in the 50's) it wouldn't reduce the middle class' taxes by one penny. Congress would just have a little more money to overspend. The bottom 50% of the nominally taxable pay little or nothing, it seems. It does stand to reason that if you have no earnings, you will pay no taxes. But they still "borrow" from you only to return it (without interest) after you file. In some cases, you get even more back than you paid (see Earned Income Tax Credit). But we all pay other taxes; state and local sales taxes, property taxes (even renters are impacted by the property taxes of their landlords), the various "fees" for licenses and tags and s on.

Here are some interesting articles about taxes and who pays them:

And the politicians wonder why the American voter is upset? I don't think they really do. But I do think they are surprised that the unrest is affecting their ability to retain power.

Lastly, let me mention Charles Rangel (Dem., NY). Mr. Rangel overlooked a fair portion of his taxes (didn't pay them) for some 17 years, illegally took advantage of rent-controlled apartments, and probably abused his office by using it o pressure people into donating to a pet project. Among other things, I'm sure. But it's okay, he did all this without intending to. So he gets called something short of despicable and gets to keep his seat in the House and will get his pension. It appears the foxes took a vote and decided that Charlie really didn't do all that much harm to the hen house and deserves to keep his chicken supply.

See you next week.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Random Musings Friday 12-3-10

Today is Friday. I knew you knew that but writing it down fills more space so I basically ignored your knowledge. I would like to make Fridays into Random Musings Day. All that means is that, by Friday of each week, I have either run out of ideas that can be fleshed out into full blown posts that could stand on their own or that I am simply too lazy to flesh any one of the individual musings out. I leave it up to you to decide if it's the former or the latter. Using filler is how I got good grades on all essay tests. While I was in school and scratching out my essays on the not quite dry clay tablets, I became a master of what I called "superfluous frills." The trick is in knowing your teacher and your competition. You didn't know you were competing for grades with your peers?

Of course you were.

In order to muse about random things, one must first locate some things to muse about. My favorite place is the news feeds offered by our friends at Google. I could use Drudge Report or Bing or Yahoo but I have become accustomed to Google News. It's like an old friend and neighbor at the back fence.

I see that Obama made a secret visit to Afghanistan. The media didn't call it a "secret" trip, just a "surprise" one. Any trip to a war zone by the President will undoubtedly be secret so I guess I shouldn't call it that. But a "surprise" trip? Why call it that? Do the media think he would have rather not made a trip to the war zone? I can guarantee that the military brass in Afghanistan knew about it in advance. At least 24 hours and possibly 48. It was no surprise to them.

Trips by Presidents are like visits by bigwigs from corporate headquarters to whatever little office you toil away in. Mostly pointless. The visit interferes with you getting your job done and the bigwigs think you sit around all day in your best clothes. Nobody gets a realistic view of anything. The same happens with Presidential visits.

New rules being proposed by the White House could result in those rear view TV cameras being standard equipment on all vehicles made starting with 2014 models. I am not opposed to this. I have the audible back up obstruction alarm in my Buick. I like it. It's useful. I am not so sure a camera is better but it couldn't hurt... so long as there is an audible alarm also. It has to be better than using a rear-view mirror. I was once hit (well, my little Honda Civic was) by a guy backing out of his space using his rear-view mirror instead of looking over his shoulder. Nobody hurt but I got a nice dent in my door. Of course, this will add twice the cost of the system to the price. You didn't think it would be a freebie, did you?

In a really interesting vein, NASA scientists have discovered a bacteria that thrives on arsenic. This is not some extra-terrestrial life form. No, it is a bacteria that lives in Mono Lake in California. Now, there's a surprise... a weird life form in California. Who'd have figured? Who'd have noticed? I am not all that surprised by this. I think we are a bit too biased in our search for life. I suspect that any stable and reasonably benign environment can support life. We may not believe it could but I suspect it can. After all, we have found life in depths once thought to be impossible to sustain life (pressure) or too hot (near seismic vents) or too cold (places in Antarctica and the Arctic), why not some creature that can use arsenic for something other than a way to rid yourself of a pesky, annoying, spouse?

The above story reminds me that I think baseball, football, and basketball scouts tend to do something similar. If one team has success with a kid they found playing in some obscure country or region then the next thing you know all the rookies for the next decade or so hail from the same or some similar place. Proof? Look at all the Samoans in the NFL these days.

Lots of fuss these days over the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military. Having served, I know there were gays and lesbians in the military. Some hid it well and no one knew, others were less careful, and some of these got caught. I am not one of those who thinks homosexuality is something you are born to be. I do believe one may be born with the propensity to become homosexual but that it doesn't have to turn out that way. I could be wrong, I won't argue the point. In any event, by the time someone reaches military age they either are or they aren't. Gay, that is. I see no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to serve. If someone is willing to do the job, willing to take the risks the job entails, take the low pay, take the constantly disrupted life that is the military way, then let them serve. Welcome them. I do think there will be some disruption to military discipline for a while. But the troops will adjust. Eventually.

Speaking of the military, the X-37B landed safely at Vandenberg AFB in California. The X-37B is an unmanned mini-Space Shuttle. Beyond wondering if there were at least 36 previous models that we never heard of, this is pretty interesting to me. Some people have wondered just what purposes this USV (Unmanned Space Vehicle... my term) will be used for. They wonder what it did for the 7 months it was in orbit. I can think of a number of uses that do not involve militarizing space. While some have speculated that it could be used to destroy hostile satellites or as a space based weapons system. I think it is most likely to end up being used to deliver supplies (and maybe personnel) to the ISS. With more automation it could retrieve satellites for repair and re-use, or just replace worn out ones. Still, it is the Air Force that is running the show...

Finally, and this is not in the news, I have noticed that we are ambiguously paranoid. That's the generalized "we", of course. We both distrust the government and trust it at the same time. We think government is inefficient and wasteful but, simultaneously, keep asking it to do more and more. If it cannot run the military efficiently (and it certainly doesn't), or even itself, how can we trust it to oversee anything else? Yet we want to expand its role in just about everything. Heck, we don't even believe the oversight committees really keep an eye on things, do we?

Sorry this set of musings was so pre-occupied with government stuff. I'll try to avoid that in the future.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

But we are losing our ability to spell

I like to piggyback on others' work. It's easier, I don't have to do quite as much thinking, and all I am giving up is my own uniqueness. Not that I had much, mind you. This is why I often peruse the news for ideas for a post. I also browse other blogs with the same goal in mind. Not a primary goal, mind you, that would be wrong (as Nixon once said... while doing wrong) but as a secondary interest. Let's call it consulting the muses, shall we?

So, I was looking around this cool (cold... to us here in Paradise) morning to entertain, to learn, and perchance to steal an idea or two. And I glanced through some articles I haven't read from a blog to which I subscribe (note proper grammar... I rarely get it right). The blog is called The Scientific Fundamentalist and is written by an "evolutionary scientist" and posted on the Psychology Today website.

I am fascinated by psychology. I suppose that is because I have, at the very least, questioned my sanity on a daily basis. But also because I wonder why I do the things I do and in the way that I do them. I am very curious about how and why my brain works.

To stop digressing, I came across this one entitled Why the New Hands-Free Texting App Will Not Reduce Car Accidents.

Setting aside the question of excessively long titles, the article tries to get at the heart of why texting contributes to accident rates. The author (and he is joined by a great many on this) maintains that the accidents attributed to texting and to cell phone usage in cars are really a problem of of the device being held in the hands but 'the use of the brain for an evolutionarily novel, “unnatural” behavior of communicating with a person who is not present.' Note that he writes "evolutionarily novel" and not simply "unnatural". I would have used "extraneous" in place of "unnatural" but I do not qualify as a psychologist (or much of anything important, for that matter).

His point (I am getting around to it, honest) is that we have not adapted our brains to handle this unique form of communication yet. I believe he feels that cell phones, even phones, have been around long enough for our psychological handling of them to incorporate them into how we interact on multiple levels.

We are, after all, multi-tasking animals. We can read and listen, we can perform tasks and contemplate (seemingly) unrelated concepts or future tasks. We can do this without overly impacting our performance of the task at hand. I think we learn this ability as we grow up or maybe we just use a natural adaptability to do so. We obviously cannot pass on modern tool usage through genetics. We can, I believe, pass on a propensity for grasping various concepts genetically however.

I like to use golf analogies so I will. In golf, you perform certain skills, many of them are entirely mental. I will use "putting" for my analogy. In order to putt, the player must calculate a complex formula in his mind without realizing it. He must ascertain the proper speed of the putt, the direction of the putt, and any "break" (curvature in the path) in the putt. He must do this without testing the surface with his hands. He "feels" the hardness of the green through his shoes, he "sees" the break in the general path and calculates an aim point for the putt, he then calculates the precise (or near precise) effort his muscles must extert to make all this come together. Few do this anywhere near perfectly, more putts miss than go in the hole. There are similar calculations made to strike a ball and send it 150 yards, for example, in the direction of the green. For amateurs, these things go wrong most of the time. For professionals, they go right the majority of the time.

I first noticed this ability to calculate angle, speed, and power when I was learning to shoot serious pool at age 16. It is an innate ability in all animals, I believe, and not just a human trait. Humans merely extended it to complex (and manufactured) tool usage. We have it so ingrained in our lives that we rarely think about it. In fact, we take it for granted. Still, some of us are perhaps better adapted (call it "better evolved" psychologically) for some of these calculations. Think of the boy (or girl) who is referred to as a "natural athlete." Think of aptitude testing.

Think about how your teenager can watch TV, text his friends, and annoy his baby brother at the same time. Think of my inane digression.

We have the ability to multi-task, we learn to use a wider variety of tools.