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.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Are you paying your fair share?

People are sometimes a puzzle to me. I'll give you an example...

A man calls into Rush Limbaugh's show, says he's 24 and he wondered why we couldn't cut "corporate welfare, tax breaks for the very rich, [and so on]?" Did he not realize who he was talking to? Did he really think no one had argued that to Limbaugh before?

I see this all the time, it seems. People talk about how the "rich should pay their fair share" without defining the term "fair share." What, exactly, is a "fair share" of one's income?

Let me relate something that happened to me. I once belonged to a union, Communications Workers of America (which, at the time I joined was strictly composed of members who worked in the telecommunications industry). At the time, the dues was a measly $8 a month. Very cheap. And it applied to all members regardless of what they earned. Later, around 1974 or 1975, the dues was changed to the equivalent of 2 hours pay per month. Since I was making $250 a week at the time, that meant my dues went to $12.50 a month. Still not a lot of money and I could easily afford it. But then I began thinking about the "fairness" of it. You see, I was told this dues structure was more "fair."

I wondered... Did I get more representation than, say, an operator who made about 60% of my pay? Or a frame attendant (who made 80%)? No, I got the same representation. I was told I should pay more because the union had negotiated the pay I got.

It still did not make sense to me. They also negotiated the pay of those who earned less than I did. The union didn't get me the job, it didn't qualify me to work in that position. In fact, they did nothing except represent me in disputes and every three years when the contract came up. The only "fairness" I could see was that I made more so I could pay the union more.

Let's apply that to taxes. What is so special about making more than $250,000 a year in taxable income? Why should people be penalized for succeeding? How is paying a greater rate than someone who makes $50,000 a year "fair?" The higher income earner doesn't get anything more from the government than the person making less. What he does get is a nicer home in a better neighborhood, both of which he pays for. The government does not subsidize him.

On the other hand, the person making $22,000 a year and with a wife and two kids is squarely in the poverty range and becomes eligible for all kinds of programs. He also does not pay a dime in income tax. He gets more services from government than the "rich" guy does but pays nothing for them.

Your tax bracket is the rate you pay on the "last dollar" you earn; but as a percentage of your income, your tax rate is generally less than that. First, here are the tax rates and the income ranges where they apply:

"To take an example, suppose your taxable income (after deductions and exemptions) was exactly $100,000 in 2008 and your status was Married filing separately; then your tax would be calculated like this:

( $ 8,025 minus 0 ) x .10 : $ 802.50
( 32,550 minus 8,025 ) x .15 : 3,678.75
( 65,725 minus 32,550 ) x .25 : 8,293.75
( 100,000 minus 65,725 ) x .28 : 9,597.00
Total: $ 22,372.00

This puts you in the 28% tax bracket, since that's the highest rate applied to any of your income; but as a percentage of the whole $100,000, your tax is about 22.37%."

So, someone with a taxable income of $100,000 will pay the government the equivalent of what that poor guy makes under the current tax rates.

Is that fair? Is that really his "fair share?"

We talk about taxing the rich as if they do not pay any taxes. But that is patently untrue, they pay most of the taxes. It is only the poor who pay no taxes.
The following is about the Bush tax cuts...

In 2002 the latest year of available data, the top 5 percent of taxpayers paid more than one-half (53.8 percent) of all individual income taxes, but reported roughly one-third (30.6 percent) of income.

The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 33.7 percent of all individual income taxes in 2002. This group of taxpayers has paid more than 30 percent of individual income taxes since 1995. Moreover, since 1990 this group’s tax share has grown faster than their income share.

Taxpayers who rank in the top 50 percent of taxpayers by income pay virtually all individual income taxes. In all years since 1990, taxpayers in this group have paid over 94 percent of all individual income taxes. In 2000, 2001, and 2002, this group paid over 96 percent of the total.

Treasury Department analysts credit President Bush's tax cuts with shifting a larger share of the individual income taxes paid to higher income taxpayers. In 2005, says the Treasury, when most of the tax cut provisions are fully in effect (e.g., lower tax rates, the $1,000 child credit, marriage penalty relief), the projected tax share for lower-income taxpayers will fall, while the tax share for higher-income taxpayers will rise.

The share of taxes paid by the bottom 50 percent of taxpayers will fall from 4.1 percent to 3.6 percent.

The share of taxes paid by the top 1 percent of taxpayers will rise from 32.3 percent to 33.7 percent.

The average tax rate for the bottom 50 percent of taxpayers falls by 27 percent as compared to a 13 percent decline for taxpayers in the top 1 percent.

Just something to consider...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Like father like son?

I was musing today about why one kid grows up to be hugely successful and another grows up to be a waste of oxygen. Maybe that's putting it in extreme terms but it got your attention, didn't it?

We are animals, after all, and that means genetics makes a difference. But I don't think genetics is the final determining factor. Studies of twins are how we try to determine just how significant genetics play a part in our destiny. We have learned some interesting things about human genetics through those studies and seen some interesting results, especially on studies of twins separated at birth or near birth.

In the end, genes are not the determining factor in personality formation. They do seem to be the primary factor in physical attribute. Oh, there are anecdotal indications of a genetic influence, such as separated twins growing up to marry similar looking spouses and naming their children similarly, but these can be dismissed because there seems to be no constancy involved.

We forget, however, that children are raised by parents who, in most instances, share genes with the child. We cannot dismiss their influence during personality formation. What this means is that if Poppa is a criminal and the child becomes a criminal, it could be because of genetics or because the child was strongly influenced by Poppa's behavior.

My position has always been that genetics is the basic "blueprint" for personality but that environment supplies the details. If we continue with that analogy, think of the architect as the genetic influence and the the buyer and the builder as the "parents." The builder and the buyer influence how the house will look when completed, the architect provided the initial plans only. In other words, Poppa not only influenced the child but provided the genetic structure which the child used to filter the environment in which he was raised.

Let's say there's a gene (or, more likely, set of genes) for a quick temper as part of a child's makeup. Odds are that one, or both, parents also have that gene. That quick temper gene will encourage impulsive behavior and, perhaps, snap judgments. If his younger brother somehow avoids that gene and gets the "patience" gene carried by a distant aunt or uncle or grandparent, he will start with a different personality foundation. He will still be influenced by the temper gene of his parent and the one his brother has but it will be an environmental factor rather than a genetic one.

I find it odd that we accept genetics as a determinant factor in animals while dismissing it out of hand when it comes to humans. Well, we give lip service to that anyway. In reality, we accept it. That's why there are royal families, why there are political, sports, and business dynasties. And, of course, that old saw:

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Have you ever...

... wanted to go back in time? Or into the future? I have... go back in time, that is. I have no desire to visit the future sooner than I must. The future has rarely been good to me. Oh sure, it might be nice to get a glimpse of the financial pages of, say, 5 years hence. But, other than that, do we really want to know what lies in wait for us?

Now, visiting the past is an intriguing thought. We could correct misconceptions about past events, we could gain a better grasp of how we got where we are, we could unravel many mysteries. We might even find out what happened to Judge Crater [link]. We could learn how Latin was actually spoken. We could also alter our current time and our history due to the "butterfly effect" so it might be a bit dangerous.

Well, forget it. It isn't going to happen. At least, according to some Chinese physicists who feel they have proven Einstein's theory to be correct about the Speed of Light [link]. According to their research and experiments, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This is what Einstein posited in his theory of special relativity and they, the physicists, believe they have concrete evidence that Einstein was right.

I am crushed. So is Xander... who has been visiting me from 2255.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Maelstrom of Madness

Reading through the news today (Monday), I came across an article [link] from CBS about the "terrorist" in Norway. I noticed a few days ago that the media quickly jumped on the "terrorist" label, something they shied away from in the Ft. Hood shooting. Which, sadly, adds some substance to the rantings of Mr Breivik.

One of the worries of some people is that fighting against Islamic terrorism (and acknowledging it as such) is that naming it and fighting it will just create more terrorists. If that is so then will labeling Breivik just create more Right Wing terrorists?

Like most madmen (see Ted Kaczynski [link]), there are bits and pieces of truth in Breivik's "manifesto."[link] Madness is rarely total, I think. It is usually a distortion of the reality surrounding the madman. There is enough substance to the madman's delusions to provide a kind of foundation.

Let me provide a sample:

"Multi-culturalism (cultural Marxism/political correctness), as you might know, is the root cause of the ongoing Islamisation of Europe which has resulted in the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe through demographic warfare (facilitated by our own leaders)."

He sees the changing religious face of Europe and the increase in the Muslim population, ties these together with Radical Islam and his (and many others') frustration with the media's and certain political parties' downplaying both and sees a sinister plot to destroy what he clings to (an idealized view of his world, the one he grew up in, or thinks he did).

Kaczynski did something similar, only from the Left. But I suspect you will only see and hear comparisons of Breivik with Timothy McVeigh [link]. Quite understandable. Of course, that will only reinforce the beliefs of Breivik and those who agree with him.

There are times when I, myself, feel like the world is caught up in a whirlpool that is gaining strength and will someday be a maelstrom (a Scandinavian term, oddly enough) into which we will all be dragged. And it will be mostly the madmen who do the dragging.

And isn't it always?

Update: "Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik has caused potential embarrassment for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
" [link]

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Walking and wetness

I ran across an old file that had a couple of blog post ideas. One of them was "A walk in a warm rain." This is something I have not done in many years. Mostly because it is something older folks don't do (yeah, I am an "older" folk). But also because I haven't had the opportunity. I don't do much walking anymore. And I am not about to leave the house when it rains. I prefer to stay dry.

But I did do quite a bit of walking in the rain when I was young. And much of that walking was done in south Florida where the rain in the summer is fairly warm. If the rain is light and warm, it is a pleasant feeling; if the rain is heavy or cold, not so much. There is something sensual about walking in a warm rain. A cold rain cuts into you, chills you, makes you miserable. A warm rain does none of that, it reminds you of standing in a shower stall and feeling the warm water running through your hair and down your face and back.

Even a warm rain feels cold at first but if you resist heading for shelter and just continue walking, the chill will go away and a kind of euphoria will replace it.

I couldn't do this in San Diego because the rain never felt warm, it remained cold. It was easily done in Hawaii and south Florida. I would, as a boy in his mid teens, find myself walking in the rain after having been to the beach. I would walk and hitchhike home from the beach fairly often back then. Rains would come in the afternoon on a regular basis during the summer so it was not unusual to find yourself in a light rain, or even a heavy one. I learned not to head indoors if caught out in the rain. Stores and restaurants were (and still are) air conditioned and chilly, turning your wet clothes cold and heavy and chilling to the bones. Better to stand outside under an awning or roof over a sidewalk.

Now, all rain feels cold to me. A sign of age, I suppose, but
I miss those walks where the heat of the road causes a little mist to rise and the air is fresh and you no longer notice just how wet you are.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Get yer "Roy Hobbes" official T-shirt here!

Do you often find yourself rooting for the underdog? Yeah, me too. Even when I have a favorite in whatever kind of contest it is, I still have this urge to root for the underdog. I'm pretty sure this is some kind of primal urge. Maybe we identify more readily with perpetual losers.

I like to muse about why we, as a species, do certain things. My unifying theory for all human behavior is that it's all about the survival instinct. That pretty much covers just about every behavior... except this one. What can possibly be positive for survival in backing the likely loser? Backing likely winners makes much more sense, doesn't it?

Yet we cheer on the underdog. We take great pleasure in what are called "upsets." Some of us go further... I was a long time fan of the San Diego Padres... and then there's the Chicago Cubs fans. Speaking of which (if I may digress just a little), I went to the opening day game at Wrigley Field on Easter Sunday in 1977. As my friends and I were entering the stadium, I noticed a Cubbie fan with a T-shirt which had the team logo and a message...

"Wait till next year!"

That just about says it all, yes?

I spend a lot of time watching golf on TV (it's an addiction, pity me, but it allows me to nap) and I find myself hoping the young amateur will pull it off in a PGA tournament. Or some previously unknown (to me) will take that first day lead and carry it through to Sunday. I have no stake in his winning, it just feels good to see an underdog come out on top.

I suppose it's because we identify more readily with underdogs. Something about our human nature that suspects we are not the talented charismatic heroes we want to be but whenever an underdog comes out on top, it gives us hope that we could attain our dreams. It reinforces all those daydreams we had as kids of making it big.

And lets us continue to dream.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Back in 1986, I learned how the "simplification" of the income tax impacted me. I wasn't making a lot of money. Especially relative to the area in which I was living at the time (within 35 miles of Washington, D.C.). But it was adequate. Yet I ended up paying more in taxes even though tax rates had been lowered. There were a number of reasons, none of which were easily understandable. One of them was the the fact that interest on loans (except mortgages) was no longer deductible. I think that one impacted me a little.

I began to wonder if I was able to understand anything government does. If they pass a bill saying it will lower my taxes, my current kneejerk reaction is now to assume my taxes will go up.

I have come to the conclusion that no political party is actually looking out for me. Instead, they are busy making sure they retain their power within government. And, in order to do that, they need money. Our money. Because even though they have the printing press which actually prints that money, they produce none themselves. It is printed and then sent to banks which, in turn, give it to us (reluctantly, I suspect) when we cash a check or withdraw from our savings accounts.

Currently the government is in a tizzy over the debt limit. We have a $14.5 TRILLION debt. Something like $200 Billion a month in interest must be paid. Threats of default (which does not make any sense) and financial collapse are tossed about by the usual talking heads. Woe is us! The sky is falling and we must prop up the debt limit to protect ourselves.


Not really.

Whatever "they" tell you, believe the opposite.

Friday, July 22, 2011

End of an era

Yesterday marked the end of an era. The last shuttle flight touched down and signaled the end of direct government involvement the space program. I slept through the double explosion of the sonic boom that seemed unique to the shuttle as it came over my house (or near enough anyway) in preparation for landing at Cape Kennedy a couple of hundred miles away (by car).

I have never witnessed a shuttle launch, or landing, from up close. Like most of you, I have only seen it on TV. That is in spite of living close enough to travel to the Space Center easily. Every time I have tried, the launch got scrubbed. In the early days of the space program I lived in the area of Cape Kennedy, in Merritt Island, even had a brother-in-law who worked there as a fireman. Yet it wasn't until the early 90's that I visited the Space Center.

When I was living in Merritt Island, I did note some launches of satellites but it was the mid-60's and there was no shuttle program yet.

I suppose I'll regret not having been a witness to any of those launches.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Have you noticed?

I was watching one of the mindless TV dramas or comedies, or whatever it is I watch, and something began to irk me. I really hate being irked. This particular irking was caused by an embedded ad. That's probably not the right term and I am sure there is a "right" one for this (note: I understand it is called "embedded marketing"). All of a sudden, one of the main characters is praising the car choice of another character and listing off all the wonderful features in the car along with some of its attributes. Not so sure some of the features mentioned aren't options.

I guess this falls under "product placement" schemes but it seems like more. It's one thing to have certain soda bottles standing around or even offered ("Want a Coke?") or having all the cars in a street scene being various models of one car line, something some of us have noticed since the 50's. It's another thing entirely to have the characters in the course of the show start extolling the virtues of some product. It never fits within the plot line nor does it really fit the character.

We have always had product placement, I think, in modern entertainment media. It's to be expected. Usually, it's one of the sponsors' products. And, in the case of the car, that was also true. But the dialogue was blatantly stupid. Attempts are made to make the conversation seem natural but it's about as natural as people discussing stomach problems medication at a book signing.

I might mention that someone's new car is "nice" and I might ask what it cost. But I expect it would be the owner who would extol its virtues, not myself. So the ad placement within the story is both obvious and awkward.

I don't know about you but this kind of advertising prompts me to think negatively about the product and that means I would be less likely to purchase said product.

I suppose I am in the minority in that respect. Businesses do not start up marketing campaigns without the research indicating a favorable response.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Every so often, I get a yen, a craving, for some kind of food or snack. I have been temporarily hooked on chocolate pudding, Craisins, pretzel (sticks and traditional), cheese crackers, peanut butter-cheese crackers, peanuts, M&M Peanuts, orange juice, Snickers, incredibly sharp cheddar cheese, Honey-Nut Cheerios, various fruit nectars (mostly Mango), Gatorade, various flavors and mixes of sherbet and, of course, Green Tea with Honey and Gingseng. And that's just in the past 2 or 3 years.

I have to be careful about these mini-addictions. Faye is an enabler and makes sure I get plenty of whatever it is I am hooked on. Maybe she knows what she's doing because I eventually move on to something else simply because they are there in abundance in the pantry or fridge. Familiarity breeds indifference, it seems.

When I was a much younger man, I wouldn't vary my diet much. I could eat the same food over and over and over. Looking back, I think the underlying reason was economic. I ate cheap. As cheaply as possible. This does not provide much opportunity for variety. After all, foods keep for just so long and then they grow weird life forms, get stale, or go sour (or possibly toxic). Nothing worse than finding that quart can of some fruit juice in the back of the fridge, pouring some into a glass and watch it come out in chunks. I learned early in life not to just chug from a can found in the fridge.

My meals were simple in the few years right after I got out of the Navy. Mostly cheap ground beef, browned and mixed with rice or barley and maybe corn or peas in gravy. Took all of ten minutes to make, took care of the hunger, and was reasonably tasty. I've already told you about my tuna and macaroni salad [link], which was my other culinary mainstay. No snack food laying around the old apartment in those days. Just couldn't afford it.

Now I am not so poor so I can afford to have snacks around. So we have things like individual puddings, strawberry applesauce, grapes, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and all sorts of things in the fridge. And oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chip cookies, "bite-size" Snickers and 3 Musketeers bars, and M&M Peanuts in candy dishes around the house.

It's a miracle we're not all 100 pounds overweight.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Can it really be over?

Did you ever have something occupy your mind for a long period of time? I don't mean for hours, or even days, but years?

For the past two and a half years, I have been dealing with lawyers, a recalcitrant CPA, and the adult children of a late family friend. [link] but it is finally coming to an end. I don't mean I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I am stepping into that light. I just hope it isn't the light from an oncoming train.

Most people do not like lawyers, unless they are in trouble or want to sue. Even then, it's like entering into a pact with the devil. And perhaps we are. A lawyer is someone who takes your money and pretends to be on your side. He (or she) is a paid advocate. A bit like buying a big friend to defend you against a bully. You know he is there because he's being paid but you ignore it. It's a strange relationship.

Legal battles are psychologically exhausting. It's that mentally banging one's head against that metaphorical wall that wears at you. There are times it seems to have no positive end. Like a chess game with two very good players. It could end in a fairly expensive draw.

But this one is coming to an end. The terms are agreed upon, the settlement is in the process of being signed by all parties involved, and nothing much left to do except tally up the costs, bind up the wounds, and move on to the next battle in life.


But it feels like the time I was sent off for a systems school for my former employer. 6+ months on the road. Well, mostly in the air, it seemed. Flights all over the country: Baltimore, Columbus, Atlanta, and Chicago. I got very adept at arranging flights, very familiar with the airlines, and motel/hotel living. When it came to an end, I missed all the traveling. I hated living out of a suitcase but it became a way of life for that half a year and felt uncomfortable staying home for more than a week.

It ended in a whimper. Unlike the TV depictions of legal battles, there are rarely those exciting court scenes where the lawyer pulls a legal "rabbit" out of his hat, mostly it is done out of your sight; in phone calls and letters between two people adept at manipulating words and people. You build up this expectation of a court fight and then it doesn't happen.

I feel so unfulfilled... and a bit "dirty."

Monday, July 18, 2011

I am Nooked

I am getting addicted. Like most addictions, you don't realize it as it is happening. But, later, when you are deep in it, you suddenly realize your choice is limited: go through withdrawals or accommodate the addiction. if the addiction is something chemical, there are all kinds of programs available to help you break it. Not so for the electronic kind.

What is the electronic addiction? There are so many... TV, cellphones, computers, and now... eBook readers. The last is my addiction. I made a feeble attempt to resist [link] but it was inevitable. They suck you in, they sit there in stores tucked safely away behind locked glass (which only makes you want to pick one up) or tethered and un-powered so you cannot turn them on. Just the fact that they are secured against theft suggests their desirability and adds to their allure. Like a beautiful woman in a skimpy bikini at the beach when you are with your wife or girlfriend, the lust rises in your mind because you know it is out of your reach but is begging to be fondled.

You know it really isn't begging at all (and neither is that woman), it's just an inanimate object. Still, the sleek lines and the blank display area are intoxicating, aren't they? You see the potential, you want the device. At least for a moment; to touch, to feel, to heft, to see something (anything) in its display. Would it be the same as reading a physical book? Could it be better? Would it be uncomfortable?

For me, it is not the same. The pages don't really exist, you do not feel them on your fingertips, there is no chance of a paper cut. There is no binding to resist, no scent of old paper as you read a book that you've had for years. But the words are the same, the story hasn't changed because the book is now just pixels on a screen, the world portrayed in the story is no less or more than it was when you were younger and these devices didn't exist.

He and his wife, the old lady who had received me, looked at each other in a frightened sort of way. He mumbled out that the money had been sent in a letter, and that was all he knew. When I asked him if he knew Count Dracula, and could tell me anything of his castle, both he and his wife crossed themselves, and, saying that they knew nothing at all, simply refused to speak further. It was so near the time of starting that I had no time to ask anyone else, for it was all very mysterious and not by any means comforting.

[from Jonathon Harker's Journal; "Dracula" by Bram Stoker]

It does not matter in what form those words are displayed, they are still powerful and beautiful in how they are strung together. The emotion underlying them doesn't change because they have been captured in silicon.

And I have found a number of old science fiction stories and books I can download, some with illustrations, and mysteries (I am looking forward to most, if not all, the Sherlock Holmes stories available) at the Gutenberg Project.

I don't have to think about bookmarks, the device returns to the page you were reading of whatever book you are reading at the moment. And you can read (as I like to) 2 or more books at the same time. (Not simultaneously, of course, but switch around) Plus, if I come across a word whose definition is unfamiliar, I can jump to the web and look it up.

I have fallen in love with this thing.

Does this make me a "Nookie?"

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What if?

A thought came to me the other day... What if Congress does not vote to raise the debt limit and disaster does not follow?

The corollary to that, of course, is: What if Congress does vote to raise the debt ceiling and disasters still follows?

It just seems to me that the case really hasn't been made for raising the debt limit. I think it is time to stop "kicking the can down the road" and getting serious about getting a handle on government spending.

You are welcome to disagree and I would be happy to read a cogent argument for raising the debt limit.

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's just not black and white, is it?

[Please forgive the use of certain words in this piece that may be offensive. I felt they were necessary to the point]

I live amongst bigots. It's to be expected, I suppose. After all, I live in the South and I saw that bigotry in full sway back in the early 50's. Separate restrooms for "colored" and "white", separate drinking fountains, separate changing rooms (if "coloreds" were allowed to try on anything at all) in department stores, signs that read "No niggers, spics, or jews" and so on.

Here I was, a young boy from the suburbs (what would now be called "exurbs") out on Long Island, finding myself in a place so alien to me that I might as well have been on another planet. Until I realized that I hadn't lived in a mixed neighborhood and saw few, if any, "coloreds" in stores or restaurants in my small town. The difference between the two places was the difference between "de jure" and "de facto".

In the South, it was both. Jim Crow laws coupled with bigoted attitudes and practices were what kept black people and white people apart. In the north, it was all attitudes and practices but the laws seemed to be in favor of equality. They just weren't enforced that way.

I came to realize something over the years, bigotry will never go away. You can pass laws against it, you can enforce those laws; you can sue and demand and win over and over again but you won't get rid of it. The reason it's a losing battle is simple: Few people believe they are bigots. And it is universal, not confined to the South or to this country.

I readily admit that I am one. I don't practice it, mind you, and I have no power over anyone else so I can't inflict any real harm on others. But those feelings are there in my mind. They are not limited to ethnic differences. No, I am quite heavily bigoted when it comes to stupidity. I have to force myself to be tolerant of the ignorant and stupid. It is especially difficult dealing with the ignorant. The stupid are just born that way and, therefore, more easily tolerated. The ignorant choose to be that way.

Sorry for the rant but I am quite testy lately.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A few words and a lack of clarity

I look at things differently than most. I learned, at an early age, to not tell too many people just how differently. People would look at me funny when I did. They still would, I suppose.

Lately, I am getting a lot of grief from one of my alleged friends. He says, "Just ask Douglas, he knows everything!" This is not spoken in awe and appreciation. I know a little bit about an lot of things. I don't offer advice that I expect people to follow. Quite the contrary. I expect people to ignore whatever advice I might have. My ex-wife had no trouble ignoring it. It's not that my advice is bad, it's that it isn't understood.

I'm misunderstood a lot. You get used to that. Just the other day, in a conversation with a para-legal working on my attempt to recover what was owed to my mother, I ran into a fine example. We, the people who cheated my mother and I, had come to a settlement. This para-legal had sent me an email that told me that they "were anxious to sign" the agreement. That was back in the middle of June. Do we have the papers? No. So, I sent her an email asking what the heck was going on and when are they going to return the signed document? I added that if the document is not signed and returned, along with the initial payment, by (this) Friday then the deal is off and we take them to court.

The next day I received a voice mail saying the document was on its way and to call her. It seems that coincidentally just before she read my email, she was told their lawyer wanted her to call him. He told her, she said, that the document and the check were being sent overnight express and they should be here this Wednesday (yesterday) afternoon. I expressed some skepticism about the sequence of events. I said the word "coincidentally" in a sarcastic manner. She took offense and complained about me calling her a liar. She ranted for a bit and then ended the conversation abruptly.

First, I never once uttered the word "liar." Second, I am still skeptical about the sequence of events. And, finally, I am the client. I am paying for the right to be angry.

She misunderstood me. I was venting. I was also being honest. I think she protested a tad too much. My beef is not with her but with her boss... my alleged lawyer. He seems to be working more for the other side.

It's going to get worse, I think.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Watch the skies

Do you like science fiction? I do. Ever since I was a little kid. Maybe it was the alienation (no pun intended) I felt then. Maybe it was watching old Flash Gordon shorts with Buster Crabbe and wanting to fly in a space ship that buzzed, not roared, as it spiraled its way up into space. Whatever it was, the fascination remained.

On TNT, there's a series called "Falling Skies" now that is yet another aliens take over the earth and the remnants of humanity engage in a struggle to defeat them and save the Earth plot. It's a common theme. Aliens either are coming to invade or have invaded and we have to fight the great fight to defeat them.

Let's not dwell on the fact that conquest and exploitation of resources is a human concept. Why would aliens travel light years to attack a planet of billions? What resources would they be interested in? If their home planet and those closer to them do not have an abundance of these resources, how would they have the resources to travel this far to get them? In my youth, the aliens came from Mars or Venus... someplace close. And it was usually not clear what they wanted. Mostly just to take over and kill off all the humans, the logic behind the attack was never made clear.

I suspect that sci-fi writers just use the age old themes of history and myth.

The stories are often filled with contradictions. And the aliens are usually defeated either by nature itself (as in War of the Worlds) or by the ingenuity of a few humans outwitting a species that developed economical space travel in huge seemingly impervious space ships (as in Independence Day).

I am always amused by strange creatures with lobster claws for hand who can somehow build intricate machines. And have you noticed that the aliens are rarely clothed unless they are very humanoid in form?

But, to get back to "Falling Skies", the creatures are 6 legged insect looking creatures (also unclothed) who carry no hand weapons (but have those claws). They also have robotic "soldiers" who do have weapons built into their arms. They "walk" on two legs which is quite odd since the aliens have 6 and a six legged robot would be much more stable.

It is just fantasy, isn't it?

But what if...?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To lead or to follow, that is the real question

Yesterday I talked about something I called unit cohesiveness, which is really a response to a need by humans to form into groups. We do it naturally, it is so much a part of life that we don't think about it very much. Oh, your parents did when they warned you about hanging out with the "wrong crowd", of course. But, if you were like me, you sought out that "wrong crowd" because of that disapproval.

Tom, in his comment yesterday, offered that there are many of us who do not do much joining. I always have been a non-joiner [link]... except for my enlisting in the Navy back in my youth. I had compelling reasons to do so; I did not join in order to belong but to avoid being put in a herd I did not want to be in... the US Army. It was 1965 and I was a college dropout. He is right, of course, many of us resist that urge to herd. I think he may have overstated our numbers. We are a small part of the population, tiny in comparison. And even we gather into groups more times than we realize.

And let's be honest here, those of us who resist that urge see ourselves as potential leaders. Even though a lot of us shy away when offered the opportunity.

A number of years ago, I got involved in creating an organization of computer geeks who ran and/or used electronic bulletin boards... aka "BBSes". I didn't start out to do it but found myself caught up in it. I had an interest and that interest meant interacting with others. As my own BBS developed, I found reasons to "network" with other SysOps (System Operators, as we called ourselves) to share information about problems and solutions. We basically, re-purposed (as they now call it) a barely existing loose association SysOps into a group of SysOps and Users. And it grew.

I got involved without thinking about it too much. I was already chatting with Users of my BBS and with a few other SysOps whose boards I frequented. In those primitive days, graphics were quite limited and no one was posting pictures so if you wanted to see who looked like what, you had to meet them face to face. A few of us met, the idea of an organization seemed to form on its own. We took a barely existing group of SysOps and expanded eligibility to the Users to join. After all, we all had been users first ourselves.

I refrained from taking any leadership position in the beginning. I had few management or leadership skills then, still don't. But I got involved and found myself pushed into becoming vice-president (a very disappointing job as I learned it had nothing to do with vice) and later becoming president.

I learned the term "herding cats" was an apt metaphor. There's a dynamic that exists between group and leader; each feed the other. A leader must subtly control the group, he cannot simply dictate. At least, not until he gains full control. Even then, there are limits.

Finding myself in a leadership role, I became uncomfortable. Well, more uncomfortable than I had been than just being in a group. But I couldn't just walk away, no matter how badly I wanted to. Instead, I moved away. Literally. I took a job some 300 miles or so south of that town. It wasn't my intention to get out of the group that drove that transfer but membership in the group (and especially being president of it) was a favorable factor in my decision to accept the transfer.

I learned some things about myself and about group dynamics from that experience. Not good things, either.

Today, the largest groups I join are ad hoc ill-formed "leagues" of golfers. There is always someone willing to run the "league", someone who will finagle a discount group rate from a golf course or two and the larger the group, the greater the discount usually, and who is willing to keep track of handicaps and scheduling. But I am not that person. I occasionally get stuck with the job when one of those who run the two I am currently involved in goes out of town on a trip because I am reliable enough to show up more often than not. And I hate it. It is a lot of work and stress.

So appreciate the leader you follow but keep a wary eye on him or her. Anyone willing to put up with the herding of cats is capable of megalomania.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Unit cohesiveness

I watch too much television, as I have said before, but it gives me ideas which I then use to fill up this blog. As I was watching something called "Last Secrets of the Axis Powers", something formed in my brain. A concept about why and how we humans have established huge empires.

We are not simply predators, we are herd predators. That is, we behave in many ways like wolves or dogs. Individually, we aren't much of a threat but in groups we are quite dangerous. We learned this early on in our development as a species. We formed tribes out of family units. Clans and tribes could better defend against predators and rival clans and tribes. We could also hunt more effectively in groups. Cooperation facilitated by communications skills was a formidable evolutionary enhancement that most "lower" animals didn't possess.

Language could have begun because we needed to communicate in order to cooperate or cooperation could have grown out of our development of language. It's not possible to know, I suppose, but the combination of the two certainly has served us well in terms of becoming the dominant species.

As I was watching that show, I saw some scenes of large gatherings of Japanese during or prior to World War II. In the scenes, the people were bowing toward the front of a great room where some men were seated on a stage. That's when it hit me. As we gather in large groups, we gravitate toward leaders. Without a leader, a large group is nothing more than a mob which has no direction, no real purpose. We seem to seek out leaders if we have none. Tribal leaders gave way to kings, kings gave way to emperors, in a natural way. Democratic systems gave way whenever the community was threatened by external forces.

The individuals in these large groups seem to willingly give up their individual autonomy in order to stay with, to belong to, the group. Military units are great examples of this. For those of you who have never been a part of a military unit, you are trained from the beginning to cede authority over yourself. You also find yourself becoming emotionally attached to your immediate unit and then to your larger group. In the Navy, for example, I was first part of a recruit company of 80 men (we were boys, really, but that is something that is cast off in such environments). We had a company commander who led us and he appointed a few of us to maintain order and unity for those times when he would be absent. After recruit training, I became part of a training class then was assigned to a ship where I became a member of a crew.

We easily assimilate into this because we are taught to do it from our earliest days. We are members of families first then classmates and schoolmates and each time we leave a group behind, we retain some connection to it, even if only in memory.

You become intensely loyal to your unit while also becoming loyal to the greater unit to which that unit belongs. I was in the Sonar "gang", a part of the Weapons Division which was part of the Weapons Department, which was part of the ship's crew. In the end, you held loyalty to all of these groups or units and, of course, to the larger unit that was (in my case) the Navy and then to the even larger unit which was the American military.

We didn't bow, however, but we saluted as part of the ritual that made up the bonding and the sense of hierarchy. Those of you who have been members of a softball team, or high school sports team, can understand this. If you belonged to the clubs and associations available in school, or been in the scouts, you can probably understand this. If you think about it, that is. But we don't think much about it when we are part of a unit, do we? We think about fitting in, being accepted, becoming a part of the whole.

This herding instinct is how armies are raised and become willing to fight and to die. It is how Genghis Khan, Attila, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, and all the other great leaders were able to wage wars and conquer vast stretches of land. They used this natural desire, this need to be a part of a larger "whole", to amass armies and get them to follow their leadership. This has been both good and bad, hasn't it?

Of course, this is merely my opinion and not based on any formal training or knowledge of human psychology.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I am somewhat remiss

I was supposed to post something today. Since it is a Saturday, it should have been politically oriented. I would guess that no one really minded that I didn't publish a post today. Just goin' out on a limb there...

I had good intentions about it, really I did. However, I played golf yesterday then helped my brother-in-law straighten out a problem on his new laptop. Then I went home and ate and ended up falling asleep without even thinking about today's post.

I also had to go play golf this morning, which I did, then attend a barbecue at one of the crew's houses. A nice house... on a lake... with a lot of gnats. But I digress...

Suffice it to say that I have failed to even think about politics for the past several days. If I can keep that up for a month, I get a "chip."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Eh? Speak up, sonny!

I have passed over that hill. I am now on Medicare. I turned 65 and there is no more hope for me. There's not much more to be said but, of course, I will say all that is unnecessary.

I live in a town where the median age is somewhere around 62. You know what the median age is, don't you? Yes, that's right... it means there are an equal number of people over that age as there are younger than that age. As I look around, I think that really doesn't express it properly. Think of it like this: the longest lines are at pharmacy counters. And a fair percentage of those lines are people using walkers. More people call me "young man" than call me "Pops."

There was an automobile accident the other day. The car in the picture is a Toyota Prius. Beyond wondering if the batteries were damaged and caused an environmental hazard, I had to wonder how the driver escaped injury. She was 79 years old. She also either made an illegal left turn or an illegal U-turn. Let me explain...

The intersection where this happened has a traffic light. The left turn lanes on either side of the intersection are also controlled by that traffic light using an green or red arrow. In order for the F350 Ford to hit the Toyota, somebody had to go through a red light. According to the very poorly written story, no one is blaming the 64 year old driver of the pick-up. That leaves the red light facing the 79 year old woman.

As an aside, it is common to see those ages for drivers in reported accidents around here.

Now, why did I call it a "poorly written story?" Well, because it was edited a few times between 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM after a few comments to the story complained about lines like "Neither Coder and the driver of the truck, 64-year-old Robert Choquette of Sebring, were unhurt."

Grammatically atrocious... at best. But that is not an indication of the age of our residents, just an indication of how poorly we are served by our local media. Our local media consists of two radio stations (1 FM and 1 AM), no TV stations, and two newspapers: one that publishes on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and one that is one very thin section of the Tampa Tribune but is at least a daily.

The most crowded times at restaurants are at 4:30 PM and breakfast time. A lot of restaurants only serve breakfast and lunch and close at 2 PM.

It really is God's "Waiting Room" here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Running into your boss

Let's take a trip down Memory Lane, shall we? Back into those primitive days, before personal computers, before iPods, the internet, and blogs. But not so far back that I have to fill in any blanks.

It was 1971, I believe, when this happened. I was working my first year in telecommunications. An easy job but not a glamorous one. I was working in a Step by Step switch for what was then called Southern Bell Telephone. I had been there for about 10 or so months. I worked the midnight to 8 AM shift because I had no seniority to speak of. And I looked like this:

Each morning, around 6 AM or so, I had to "clear permanents". This involved going up and down the aisles of Line Finder switches looking for ones that were in use, listening in with a test set to see if there is any conversation and, when there was none, connecting a ground clip to disable the line and clear the switch. What these were were people who took their phones off hook so it wouldn't ring and they could sleep through the night or they were lines that had some problem outside my control which shorted the line. I would write these down and trace the numbers and give that list to the Test Board who allegedly would determine whether the seizures were the former or the latter.

I learned over time that the guys on the Test Board probably just threw that list away. But that didn't matter, I still had to make the list.

We had rolling ladders that we could move down the aisles so we could get up to the higher shelves. I would jump on the ladder and roll down the aisle from section to section, flying past the cross aisles. It was 6 AM or so, as I said, and there was rarely anyone around to run into. Except on one morning.

One morning as I was flying down an aisle and about to cross another aisle, I caught a glimpse of someone on that cross aisle, I barely stopped in time. It was tricky to stop some of these ladders because though they had an automatic braking system that system was often tampered with so it did not work. I just happened to be on one that had a working brake and all I had to do was let go of a cable that held the brake disengaged. It still doesn't stop immediately and I almost ran into the person.

That person was the office manager. I rarely saw him since I worked the night shift. He rarely came through the switchroom when he went to his office. And I had never been introduced to him. He had no idea, of course, who I was. I was just that "long haired, hippie guy."

This was no way to impress the boss.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Not Guilty!

There will be countless blogs talking about this verdict today and in the next few days. Some pro, some con, but all nothing more than opinion and speculation. This blog will be no different.

I am often surprised by jury verdicts. This is because I wasn't in the courtroom nor did I have any special insights into what goes on in a jury room. I have never served on a jury. I have only been called for jury duty one time and was excused from serving.

The state's case was terribly weak. They had no provable cause of death, no proof of murder beyond the duct tape and a finding of the presence of chloroform in the hair. They also had nothing which puts Casey Anthony at the scene or in contact with that duct tape. No fingerprints, no credit card slip or other record of her buying chloroform, not collection of chemicals found in her possession that could have been used to make that substance. in a word, the state had zip.

For three years, there has been speculation and a lot of assumption. The media pretty much had her convicted and were suitably shocked by the verdict. I am sure countless millions were also shocked.

Why would we expect the jury to convict? The only thing I think the defense did right was to point to the highly speculative nature of the state's case. And that, apparently, was sufficient.

I didn't stay tuned into the case, I didn't follow it closely, I didn't stay glued to the TV coverage. I don't know all the details. But what I did see told me that she was likely to be acquitted or convicted of some lesser charge.

The opening remarks of the defense were basically a joke. The scenario Baez, the defense attorney, offered was completely unbelievable. And, indeed, he never presented any evidence to support it. I suppose it is possible that her father and/or her brother sexually or physically abused Casey Anthony but the fact that she lied about events and the whereabouts of her daughter did not prove or even support the defense's contention Caylee Anthony died accidentally in the family pool.

The defense scenario was pretty much unbelievable. But the jury cannot ignore it without evidence that something else happened, that Casey Anthony was instrumental in the death and hiding of the body of that little girl.

I can speculate about what happened. I can say that I believe that Casey Anthony chloroformed her little girl and put her in the trunk of her car in order to go out at night when she had no baby sitter. And maybe she had done this more than a few times quite successfully. But one night, Caylee did not wake up, did not come out of that chloroform stupor and Casey panicked. She left her daughter in the trunk for several days at least. She dumped the body at some point. The police didn't find the body because they didn't search well enough even when they searched the area where the body was eventually found. That meant evidence was lost, evidence that could have shown what actually happened.

And the end result was no justice for little Caylee Anthony.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wandering through the Internet traffic

I like to wander aimlessly through the internet visiting whatever site catches my eye. And just how do I get started? Why, in Google News, of course. Various headlines act much like fishing lures do. Or a piece of string for the kitty. I chase them, try to catch the essence, and then I am distracted by some other Bright Shiny Thing and wander off.

For instance, I saw the following headline "Tiny Village is Latest Victim of 'The Hum'" and so I followed it here.

Now a tiny English village is the latest community to claim to be being hit by the phenomenon known as "the hum".

Residents of Woodland, in County Durham, claim that every night a noise permeates the air similar to the throb of a car engine.

It is sometimes so strong that it even shakes the bed of one of the householders.

Which made me curious because I too have, from time to time, felt just such a vibration. I say "felt" rather than "heard" because my experiences reminded me of one of those vibrating beds one used to find in motel rooms. A strong low frequency sound can emulate a vibration. This has been used in movies to simulate earthquakes that the audiences can feel. Anyone who has been next to a car with a very loud stereo playing something with a strong bass can understand it (if not the allure of riding in such a car).

So I looked a little further into The Hum.

But then I was distracted by a headline about some video artist who posted a video montage of traffic in one intersection in New York City. [Link]

3-Way Street from ronconcocacola on Vimeo.

And, of course, was reminded of a video of a much worse intersection in India.

Compare them yourself...

Monday, July 4, 2011

We have the right, I say!

This is Independence Day here in the United States of America. Perhaps this is the best time to write about a subject I have learned recently is one of my great passions. That subject, of course, is Freedom of Speech. I capitalize it that way because I think it helps express its importance. And because, of all our rights, I cherish it most.

I have been discussing this elsewhere; in comments on another blog. Discussing it in depth, with passion, with people who do not live in the U.S. and have grown up with different perspectives on where rights come from, how they should be viewed, and how they should be exercised. These are interesting discussions.

Back in my druggie days, there was a saying about LSD. Explaining an LSD "trip" to someone who has not experienced it (or anything weirder than a drunken stupor) is like trying to explain an orgasm to a virgin. Which, when you think about it, is a false analogy since virgins can self induce an orgasm but the saying expresses the concept well enough. I have found that explaining our (meaning America's) concept of almost unlimited freedom of speech to those who have grown up with government imposed limitations on that right is quite similar to the LSD matter.

Mostly it seems to be a difference in how one views one's government. We distrust ours, don't we? Having successfully executed a revolution from an autocratic government, our founding fathers were wary of granting too much power to our new government. Granting too little did not work well either. So the Articles of Confederation were scrapped and a new constitution was written. In order to pass this new constitution, an affirmation of certain rights was promised (and provided) and became the first ten amendments to the new American Constitution.

We call these amendments the Bill of Rights. I suppose that many think of them as being granted by the government. But, if you know the history and you read them properly, you realize these 10 amendments did not grant anyone anything, they restrict the ability of the government to infringe on them. The rights were inherent, the government could not take them away or unreasonably restrict them.

This is, apparently, quite different than most (if not all) nations of the world.

I have discovered, from these discussions, that I am very passionate about Freedom of Speech. More so than about any other right, I think. maybe that's because I often say things which get me in trouble.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Judge not lest ye be judged

I was reading an article about how the Euro might collapse. The author offered 6 "triggers" for that event. Regardless of whether you believe the author or not, I found a phrase in the article which stuck with me. That phrase was "will be decided by the country's top judges." (emphasis is mine)

We pretend that we live in a meritocracy in the U.S. That the cream rises to the top. That we recognize the best and brightest and support their advancement. Yeah, right. The truth is we resent the success of others and we distrust those who are smarter or more successful than ourselves. Oh, I know that you and I don't do that, it's those other people I'm talking about, isn't it? The ones who are jealous of your achievements.

At one time, just aspiring to high political office was admired. Today we just assume a person doing so is power hungry, corrupt, or ego-maniacal. Or all three and worse.

At one time, we thought the Supreme Court was populated with the finest legal minds available. It was probably never true but we thought it. Don't believe me that they aren't? Go examine these rulings:

Dred Scott v. Sanford
Plessy v. Ferguson
Buck v. Bell

There are many more. Some you may find offensive and "wrong" but were based on sound legal reasoning. Some you may find necessary and "right" but were based on creative interpretation of either precedent or Constitutional phrases.

And the "top judges" in the U.S. are often vilified by political office holders, even by presidents.

As I was growing up in south Florida, there were highway billboards calling for the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren. [link] Primarily, I think, for the Brown v. Kansas Board of Education. He was even called "the biggest damned-fool mistake I ever made." by Dwight Eisenhower, the president who appointed him!

Warren was a Republican who turned out to be quite liberal on the bench. One of the many surprises that have occurred with Supreme Court nominations.

During FDR's terms (including Truman's first term), the court was stacked with those who supported the New Deal agenda. Still, a few of these opposed what is called "judicial activism." It became clear during this period that court appointments were political in nature. When politics becomes the primary criteria, the qualifications become secondary. And then we know that the best and brightest are not being advanced, just the ones deemed most loyal.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Commentary on commentary

I visit a few blogs each day, some more than others, but not all that I would like to. One of the blogs I visit is fascinating for a number of reasons but primarily because of the other visitors who not only drop by to read but to participate. Currently, one post on that blog has generated over 110 comments. This is amazing!

The post discussed a blogger for a magazine's web site whose most recent post was removed by the magazine. The comments ran from issues of censorship, to discussions of the meaning of certain words, to the validity of the research involved, to differences in how certain concepts are viewed by different cultures. Lively discussions with wonderfully educated and articulate people all intertwined.

Some of the subjects discussed are:

censorship by self and by non-government entities
the role of government
the concept of beauty
the concept of attractiveness
the individual vs the state
statistical analysis
racism (or the perception of it)
the offending of others as a tool for garnering attention

The really fascinating thing about this particular blog is that the comments never seem to dissolve into argument and invective.

I am an uneducated man. I dabbled in a few semesters of junior college after I got out of the Navy. I graduated from a non-accredited high school (our classrooms had only two walls each... I need to write a post about that school and how I came to be in it). But I like to learn. I like to read and listen to the educated delving into almost any subject. I love to eavesdrop on these conversations. I often cannot resist getting involved in them because, even though I lack formal knowledge of the subjects, I often have strong opinions about them.

It is one way I learn. I offer an opinion, it gets challenged (or sometimes refuted) and I must then find supporting data. Many times I find that my opinion is poorly supported or is entirely without merit. Sometimes I find solid support for my position. In each case, I learn something.

The anonymous "they" say "there is no such thing as a stupid question." That's untrue, of course, there are many, many stupid questions that can be asked. I have asked countless numbers of them myself. A stupid question is one whose answer is obvious in its form. That is, if you can form the question you can answer it yourself. But all questions, even stupid ones, can provide opportunities to learn. That's why I don't mind asking them from time to time.

I have mentioned before that we bloggers pretty much live for comments. They tell us we are being read, that we are evoking thought, that we have touched you, the reader. When you see a blog that gets a lot of comments for its posts, you know the posts of the blogger will be entertaining or informative or, most likely, both.

I bow, humbly, before those bloggers.