The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

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

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

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

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

Monday, April 30, 2012

Shower maundering

I get some of my best ideas while taking showers. My only problem is I forget them while drying off. This happened today, for example. I had a brilliant idea for a post but got mentally sidetracked while toweling off and it's gone forever. It might come back as I engage in some random thoughts...

My vacation trip is about half over. Are they really vacations if you are retired? Vacations from what? It's not like I have to be anywhere.

I figured out I am living on government subsidy and corporate welfare. I get SS checks (actually, deposits) each month as well as a pension from the huge, bumbling, telecom corporation I used to "work" for. There should be a different term for what I did. You see, I enjoyed my job and found it to be the least demanding employment I ever had. I worked much harder as a busboy when I was 19. The Navy came close because I rarely had much physical labor to perform... I was  SONAR technician... but I can't count that because the pay was very poor. I figure I was paid according to the labor I expended.

At AT&T (and Southern Bell and Pacific Telephone), I was greatly overpaid. If you look at the actual physical labor involved. Fellow employees would say we were paid for what we knew; for our knowledge, not for our actual labor. Most of them were grossly overpaid in that case. But I did like what I did. Next to retirement, I enjoyed my years as a troubleshooter/technician the most. But I was born to be retired.

I would never have survived if I worked in construction or other labor intensive job. Maybe I could have been a government employee...

There are times when I wonder if I could have made a career of the Navy. I enjoyed being at sea for long periods much more than being in port for weeks and months. In that I was unlike most of my shipmates. They felt trapped, confined, while at sea. Limited to just the ship (and my ship was not very big... being a destroyer) was like living on a small island with no way off. I felt that more while in port. You knew there was something out there to go to... places, people, activities... but you couldn't leave until liberty hour (and not even then if you had "duty"). But I never felt that pressure at sea. There was no place to go.

When you were only in port for a few days, it wasn't as much of a problem. You could go on liberty drink and spend and have a good time without much care about consequences or running out of money. After all, in a few days you'd be out at sea again with nothing to spend it on anyway.

I would have wanted to spend most of my career at sea. And that usually doesn't happen. And I wouldn't have much control over where I would be working and living. Or for whom. You can't just quit and walk away easily in the military.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Setting examples...

This is Saturday. And, on Saturdays, I have established a tradition of political whining and harassment. Today, I am going to continue that tradition.

The latest political football being tossed around concerns a regional administrator of the EPA who likened his method of regulatory enforcement to that of a practice by the Romans as they set about conquering the known world (at the time). Let me offer a quote:

 Armendariz’s remarks came during a 90-minute speech in 2010 to residents of Dish, a tiny town north of Dallas where concerns over the environmental effects of a method of natural gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have moved center stage.
Armendariz is shown in the video answering a question about enforcement of environmental laws. Noting that the analogy was “crude” and “maybe inappropriate,” he said: “It was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw, and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.” He then said the same approach could prod companies to obey environmental laws: “You make examples out of people who are not complying with the law.”

Please note  that I pulled the quote from the Washington Post story that was not only rejecting the comments as "inflammatory" and "wrong" but defending the regional administrator against calls for dismissal. This was not a "hit piece" from some Right-Wing blog. There is no question that he made the remarks, there is a video of him making the remarks posted on Sen. James Inhofe's (R- Oklahoma) web page.

I am not surprised by the remarks. I am surprised only slightly that we are hearing about them now rather than 2 years ago when they were made. No one noticed then? Were they less controversial then? Are they more controversial now?

I don't think so. 

The remarks were likely noted and set aside until a more "appropriate" time (such as an election year) when they could be used. Such is politics.

But those of us who are not happy with this administration's policies would rather that we had a steady and reliable reporting of the way it operates.  Of course the administration is opposed to exploiting the traditional energy sources. And, in this election year, it is touting how much more oil is being drilled for and more natural gas is being accessed and so on. But go back a few years and recall how the incoming administration (and, indeed, the Democratic Party) has always maintained, correctly, that it takes years (5 or more) to produce results from granting exploration rights and, thus, opposed increasing energy exploration because it did not address whatever current energy crisis existed.

Think about that... It means that any increase in oil and gas production today is the result of an expansion of exploration begun 5 or more years ago. And that means the administration is taking credit for the efforts of the previous administration... even while it carried out policies to stifle the previous administration's efforts.

What bothers me most is that there are a large number of people who do not think beyond the sound bites of today, who do not exercise a healthy skepticism of any pronouncements by any current office holders. They reserve that skepticism for the political party members of the opposing political party.

As a nation (perhaps world-wide), we are losing our ability to think, to reason, to be skeptical, to demand proof...

To rule ourselves.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Gnats in the brain's ear

After having been on the road for weeks, you get a little weird... er. Like losing a password (Faye did it) for one of your email accounts. Frustrating but it happens. Living out of a suitcase, sleeping in motels and hotels, eating at small diners and large restaurants, and hours and hours of driving all take a toll on your brain. 

So far, the worst drivers have been in California. Or maybe the Californians just hate people from Florida. But I feel like I am being targeted now and then. Fewer "clingers" here but a lot of aggressive drivers. I always wondered about the penchant for "bumper-to-bumper" driving at highway speeds that Californians seem to have. I have decided it's to prevent anyone from getting between them and the car in front of them. Forget that bit about leaving plenty of space between yourself and the car in front of you that you were once taught, forget the "2 second rule", any space greater than a car length can, and will, be filled by a lane changer.

It doesn't help shifting back and forth between tablet and laptop; neither of which have comfortable keyboards. I suppose it would be even more frustrating for an accomplished (or trained) typist. Since I am not, I should be used to the frustration. I am not. I don't handle frustration well.

Tie that in with the changes and foul-ups of the new Blogger editor "look and feel" and perhaps you can understand why I feel like I am headed for psychotherapy. The editor goes along happily at the font and type size you select until... for no particular reason... it drops the font and falls back to "normal" font size. Complaints/feedback seem to do no good because it continues. Post titles are ignored until after you publish the post and are not saved as they should be. The scheduler stopped working about the time I started this trip. 

But that's not the readers' problem. It's mine. I should be able to cope with change. I once enjoyed it actually. But I got older and no longer enjoy the challenges I once did. I even get cranky because Faye's car doesn't have the rain-sensing windshield wiper option so I have to turn them on and off myself and adjust them as needed. Faye is probably getting tired of my whining about that. I really like that feature in my car and it has saved me from buying a new car a couple of times. 

We are now in beautiful San Diego and about a week shy of starting back to Florida. I expect my crankiness will only increase until I am back sleeping in my own bed.

Until then, posts will be spotty at best.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An asteroid is a terrible thing to waste

I missed a day, didn't I?  I posted something late on Sunday and then nothing all day Monday or Tuesday. This is because nothing much happened and any ideas that popped into my head wandered off into the abyss and disappeared. So many great ideas lost forever. Some of my best work never gets typed out. Possibly all of it.

So I am trying to catch up a bit. I am also trying not to think about politics. But just as the devil makes work for idle hands, politics makes work for idle minds... and my mind is nothing if not idle. I like idle... mostly. However, it is not good for a blogger.

I came across something interesting the other day. Perhaps you heard about it. There are a couple of Billionaires looking to start up a company to mine asteroids. These guys are behind selling trips into space for other rich people. Not for the rest of us, we simply can't afford the fare. I can't even afford the gas I am buying on this trip, much less the $20 Million a seat on a rocket to the International Space Station costs. I wonder if they pay extra for baggage?

The idea is automated mining operations of asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. First, an unmanned ship locates prime candidates and then it (or a follow up ship) will release some small robotic vehicles that would land on the promising asteroid and begin mining. Mining for what? That is less clear to me. Platinum is mentioned in the articles, and water. The idea is to create "depots" where ships traveling  to the outer planets, or further, could refuel in some fashion. The precious metals expected to be found are expected to provide the profit incentive and ultimately fund an ongoing operation.

Not sure I think this project will (forgive the pun) get off the ground. Possibly. But will it be successful long term? Successful enough and viable enough to draw competitors to the game?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What's up the road.. a head?

Sundays have never been as good to me as sundaes. And this past one ranks right up there with the worst of them.

It started out well enough; good weather, light traffic (if you discount the ever present and ubiquitous semis), and hope... lots of hope and good will. But after stopping for breakfast, and having it take an inordinate amount of time, we were making good time until we approached the town of Moriarty in New Mexico... somewhere east of Albuquerque. The name alone should have given me pause. We joked about it, made reference to Professor Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes' nemesis), and were otherwise disrespectful. And so, in due course, we found ourselves in a traffic jam. The New Mexico State Police had blocked off all west-bound traffic on I-40 and forced us and seemingly 50 or more semis off the interstate and onto "historic" Route 66.

And there we languished. For two hours, we crept slowly and haltingly forward until we finally reached the next entrance back onto I-40... a distance of maybe 8 miles. Yes, it was a joy, a true test of patience. But we had no choice, we were locked in. And as we rode in parallel with the interstate, we saw nothing that suggested a disaster sufficient to warrant abandoning the favored road.

We assume it was a grand, if belated, April Fool's Day prank.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Thoughts of politics in the midst of traffic

Another day on the road and nothing much to report. The traffic was light enough and we didn't get lost. And, after 9 hours, we arrived at Amarillo to spend the night. Tomorrow, another 8 or 9 hours and we'll be a day away from Vegas.

In the meanwhile, I see the attacks on Romney's religion have started. Subtly, very subtly. About how his father was born in a polygamist colony in Mexico. Which means what exactly? Nothing. Because his grandfather wasn't a polygamist. He just had one wife. Just as Mitt Romney has had only one wife. Instead, there's some desire to make it seem there is something weird about Romney and, especially, his religious beliefs.

Sure, we don't understand Mormonism. I don't, anyway. Never have. But then I don't understand most religions. They have rituals, rites, and core beliefs. All of them do. The difference between a mainstream religion and a cult? The number of people who believe. Christianity was once a cult, it grew in numbers then it splintered off into different sects who disagreed with the other sects about what various things meant. Same with Islam. Same with all belief systems. They evolve, new sects sprout up. It's just the way it is.

But that won't stop those backing Obama from implying something sinister about the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Obama will distance himself from these attacks, he may even condemn them publicly. And claim he has no control over them. But they will continue. Unless there is a backlash, unless it hurt his re-election chances. If that happens, they will stop... quickly.

Sadly, that is politics in this country.

People should be able to ignore these things, consider the issues, determine who they want to reside in the White House for the next 4 years, and vote accordingly. Many of us do. I used to think that most of us did. But that was when I was young and naive. I know better now, I know most of us vote by name recognition, or by who looks better (or more presidential), or by whatever party they are loyal to, or who their friends like. Or for the one they think will win. Like they choose their car, or their favorite soft drink, or fast food place.

And the rest of us? Well, we get to go along with it. Like the flow of traffic.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Movin' on

It appears that I will be posting at odd times for the next few weeks. Mostly because scheduling posts no longer works but also because it is easier to post at the end of the day.

A pleasant couple of days in Biloxi. Faye did not lose money but actually came out ahead. The ideal result of a couple of comped nights at the hotel. My golf (I don't gamble much anymore) could have been much better but it wasn't all that bad. I have done worse.

We headed out around 8 AM local time and drove only 8 hours. For some reason, I was tired and drifty. I lost my focus from time to time which, for me, is unusual while driving unless I am very tired. Normally, I can drive for 10 hours without any problem but I wasn't on the road for 3 hours before I felt fatigue. And I started the day with a cup of Starbucks coffee. Since I don't drink a lot of coffee these days, that should have been plenty. Perhaps I am getting old. I refuse to accept that.

Traffic was not bad. Except for the occasional "clinger" (the person who matches your speed once he settles into your blind spot), there was nothing much going on. And the weather, until close to Texas, was fine; not too hot, not windy, and the rain was light when it started about 2 hours before we gave up for the day and checked into a motel near Longview, TX.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Survived the first day

Before I left on this trip, I wrote a short post for Wednesday. I scheduled it to publish at 8:00 AM on Wednesday, April 18... but it didn't publish. Instead, it remained in "Scheduled" status until I backdated it to the 17th. Then I clicked on Publish and it showed on the blog but as being posted on Tuesday. I guess Blogger is not perfect. No, I know it's not perfect... far from it. Maybe Blogger was offline when 8 AM rolled around...

Anyway, the trip to Biloxi went smoothly, not even one close call along the way. I'm impressed. Breakfast at a Cracker Barrel, lunch at a Hardee's, and who knows what we'll do for dinner but it will be here in Biloxi. A little rain and a few slowdowns for some road work were the only glitches on a fine day.

Speaking of a little rain, I have been a little nervous on wet streets since my little scare in November of 2010. I detailed that in Maybe next time...  A little hydroplaning will make your sphincter tighten a wee bit anytime there's water on the road. And that is what I experienced. It's a bit like the aftermath of the time I totaled a Mitsubishi Mirage by T-boning a full size Buick at an intersection in Jacksonville. It was several years before I approached intersections with any kind of confidence. Now, I suffer a little angst if there's been a little rainfall. I am sure this is natural and I won't need extensive counseling.

At least not for that anyway. I have no desire to inflict my other neuroses on some unsuspecting psychologist. None of them likely want to deal with them either, unless they're greedy. But I am cheap and wouldn't pay the hourly rate for a totally insincere "friend." That is, after all, the purpose of a psychologist, isn't it? A friend with advice that comes with a bill?

I'll probably get a lot of hate mail from psychologists for that.

Let `em come.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Out on the highway again

As you read this, Faye and I are wending our way north toward I-10 and then on to Biloxi, MS for a couple of days. From there we will head in a westerly direction until we reach Las Vegas for a 3 day visit. From there, we'll head southwest to San Diego for a visit with Faye's family and my son, his wife, and my granddaughters.

It is our annual trip. Generally. We missed it one year, I think, but we try to make this journey each year around our anniversary. A kind of tradition. We married some 26 years ago in Las Vegas in an unusual wedding that did not include a pregnant bride. I am sure Las Vegas has seen many of these but I am also sure the great majority had a pregnant woman involved as a participant. It's also a tradition. There's no waiting period in Nevada. Perhaps there should be.

We have lasted longer than I suspect most Vegas marriages have. And we should last for many more. As Faye often reminds me... "It's cheaper to keep her." She's right, of course, but that is not the reason I am willing to let her rule my life. Face it, guys, you know they are in charge. She completes me, as they say.

I shall continue to blog throughout the trip in my normal boring manner and try to take some pictures along the way.

In the meantime, here's something to contemplate...

I would have done it again

It's a article about the testimony of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norway shooter of note who massacred 77 people, including children, on July 22, 2011. It is chilling, in a way, and a view into the workings of a possibly deranged man. I say "possibly" because that is the purpose of the trial, to determine his sanity. It would seem the act itself strongly suggests the proper verdict. But there is a big difference between the general definition of insane and the legal one.

A line in the story intrigued me..

"If found mentally sane — the key issue to be decided in the trial — Breivik could face a maximum 21-year prison sentence or an alternate custody arrangement that would keep him locked up as long as he is considered a menace to society."

Perhaps it intrigues you also...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Well, as I recall it...

As some of you might already have figured out, I am very interested in perception and misperception. I have written about it several times; sometimes obvious, sometimes not.

For instance, when I wrote about prejudice or bias, I was writing about perception.

We, I wrote, all have prejudices, biases, that we deny. In my view, a very tiny number of us are without any biases. Maybe no one is free of them.  Imagine what went through my mind when I chanced upon this article:

When Memory Commits an Injustice

It is about the fallibility of memory. Go ahead, read it... it's a short article.

What, you ask, does this have to do with bias? Is Douglas wandering off his rocker (again)? Well, on the face of it, it appears to have nothing at all to do with bias but it has everything to do with perception. Memory is not a "snapshot" of some event, it is a retained perception of an event. By "event", I mean that every memory is fixed with more than just a single thing. You do not simply remember a person, you remember what that person means to you, the context of the person's relationship to you. There is almost always at least one event involved.

You don't simply remember your mother, you remember conversations you had with her, you remember her cooking, you remember her soothing your fears, or kissing your cheek, or stroking your hair.  It's the same for all your memories. Think about it.

From the article:
In recent years, neuroscientists have documented how these mistakes happen. It turns out that the act of summoning the past to the surface actually changes the memory itself. Although we've long imagined our memories as a stable form of information, a data file writ into the circuits of the brain, that persistence is an illusion. In reality, our recollections are always being altered, the details of the past warped by our present feelings and knowledge. The more you remember an event, the less reliable that memory becomes.

Now we find that these locked in, solid, beautiful, memories are not all that reliable.

It is something I have known for some time. I learned a long time ago that my memory of some things has been faulty. My perception of the past is not perfect, never has been. I have embellished some things, downgraded others, tossed out others entirely. Not intentionally, of course.

There are some things we would like to forget but cannot. The liquor business might thrive on that. But it doesn't work... except for those blackouts that save you from remembering what a fool you made of yourself during that drunken binge. Or at that frat party. 

That's okay, someone else will remember and tell it over and over again.

But we alter our memories, the article (and research) says even as we recall events.

Scary... maybe my ex-wife wasn't what I thought she was.


Monday, April 16, 2012

We're approaching the jump point, Captain

As you may know, I own an Android tablet. And, as you know, I purchased an eReader ( a NOOK color) some time ago. On these, I can read many, many different books. And I often read many old books on these... because I am cheap and I can get them for free and because they are classics and well worth reading and because some are well worth reading more than once...

Currently, I am re-reading "The Mote in God's Eye" by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. Both very fine SF writers. The first time around, as a result of enjoying the book immensely, I began reading a lot more books by these two authors

The story is simple: Man has traveled to the stars thanks to two innovations: the Alderson Drive and the Langston Field. The drive allows them to transverse space through "jumps" between points in space, the field protects the ship from just about anything by dissipating energy. But man has also reverted to an aristocracy and a class system while evolving into an Empire which has, seemingly, collapsed through revolution and insurrection and re-emerged as the second Empire and has regained control of the many worlds who were in revolt. It is at this point that man is confronted by a previously unknown species (the first intelligent non-human species) who have ventured into the Empire's domain.

Read the book, you will enjoy it.

But that is not what I wish to talk about today. In the book, the characters all seem to possess something which struck me as prescient. You see, the book came out in 1974. This was before PCs and Apple computers. Back when people thought of large, semi-mechanical, somewhat magical machines run by scientists in lab coats when the term "computer" came up in conversation. The writers of this novel undoubtedly worked with typewriters while writing it and likely were familiar with computers such as I described above. Yet, they had the foresight to conceive of something they called "pocket computers" before there were even desktop micro-computers. And, though they don't mention it, wireless links to the ship's main computer. I inferred this from the things they did with their pocket computers.

I found it interesting, and amusing, that I was reading this stuff about pocket computers on my tablet computer (a bit too big to fit in my pocket) but could have been reading it on a smart phone... a smart phone is, after all, a pocket computer. I also came across an article at ZDNet which talks about why the tablet has become so readily accepted.

Can the Alderson Drive and the Langston Field be far behind?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Government is good at being bad

My favored columnist and libertarian, John Stossel, has a column this week entitled:

Can Government Do Anything Well?

As I expected, someone commented in agreement but posited that the military does well.

I disagree. The military is inefficient, indifferent to loss of life in certain situations (let's call it "acceptable losses"), and a confusing (and confused) bureaucracy. By contrast, private armies (mercenaries) are much more efficient and much more concerned with reducing their own losses. Unfortunately, they are much less concerned about collateral damage and civilian deaths. there are complex reasons for this but the main reason for the government run militaries' inefficiency is the ownership. The goals of the military are simple: win the battle, win the war, vanquish the enemy. The government 's goals are much more complex, much more political in nature. They are affected by public opinion and world opinion. This can hamstring military goals. These can also impact military budgets which, in turn, impacts how successful a military can be.

While serving in the Navy, I witnessed countless incidents of inefficiency, confusion, and poor performance. Anyone who served can testify to this. There is waste of property, waste of effort, poor decision making, and waste of lives. the larger the military, the more of these there is. A small military can be much more efficient but it may not meet the needs of a nation at war for its survival. So militaries should shrink and expand according to need and that must often be done in spite of what popular opinion says.

I tend to agree with Stossel but I think government is a "necessary evil" that must be watched closely and I think it can do some things well for short periods of time.  The trouble always lies in letting it "take over" functions that were once done well by private enterprises.

I also find it ironic that many of my liberal friends desire more government intervention while decrying Big Brother. Don't worry, I also see something similar with  my conservative friends. I am not wearing blinders here.

I don't have answers, I just have questions.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Adventures in cable

Remember when I complained about my cable company? Wasn't that long ago. The next day I called them... that, in itself, was an experience.

I called the local number for the Comcast office in our area. Apparently, that's a mistake. What I got was a few rings and then "dead air" (as we called in the telecom biz)... as if a person answered the phone and then just hung up. And then an incoming call came in after I disconnected. It turned out to be my cable company! An automated call back apparently initiated by my call into the local number. Very weird.

But I stayed on the line and wended my way through the voice menu, tapping the options that would get me to a alleged human being. She was polite, she was concerned, she was ultimately useless. The problem was not there now. How could I have called if it was? I would have had to use my cell phone since the problem interrupted my VoIP Vonage service as well as my TV and internet to call during an outage. I explained this to her, she was sympathetic (I know because she repeatedly told me how sorry the company is for causing me any distress). But everything seemed fine now, the signal strength seemed strong according to her tests into whatever it was she was testing into.*

In any event, she suggested I call when the problem happens (or I first notice it) so tests could be made at that time. So I would have to resort to my cell phone which rarely gets a good signal inside my house.

But an odd thing happened... I stopped having the problem. Since that call, the trouble has seemingly disappeared. This suggests to me two things:

1. They were performing some kind of maintenance during the early morning outage periods and my complaint triggered a change in that schedule or, coincidently, the maintenance was over and done with. Or...
2. The problem I was having was caused by the switch unit which is activated by her test and her operating that switch accidentally cleared the problem. This was not unusual in the days when these switches were electro-mechanical but rarely since they have become digital and non-mechanical in nature. I would expect, however, to have an interruption in our phone conversation if the switch was in series with my cable signal rather than in parallel.. or in the DVR.

Still, I await the next time this problem pops up... which I am sure will happen.

*I do know something about this... unless she created a loop inside one of the DVRs in my house, her test was only to a last test point (probably at the nearest signal amplifier point on the pole a couple of lots away) and not into my house.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Signs of gettin' old

Aging is hard on the body but easy to do. It takes no effort at all. I can attest to that. I am lazy. Always have been. Used to feel guilty about that but no longer, I now revel in it... sedately, of course. And, being lazy, I have pretty much ambled my way into old age.

Being a procrastinator, I put it off as long as I could but eventually I had to admit it... I am old now. Not as old as some in my circle of friends/enemies/acquaintances but still old. When I was young, I considered my age now (65) to be really old. But I am almost the youngest now of my golf partners. There are a few that are younger; from a few months to a few years. But so many more are 5, 10, even 20 years older than myself.

Old age creeps up on you while you are in denial. It's gradual and the mind plays tricks with you to maintain that denial. You look in the mirror in the morning and you don't really see that grizzled visage, you see the younger person you once were. Everyone else, however, knows the truth.

For most of my life I looked younger than my age. In my 30's, I was taken for a 25 year old. But then the gray started creeping in. First (and, for many years, only) in my beard and then in the hair on top of my head. I was crushed when a 30-something said I looked "maybe 55" when I was 50. The wrinkles are there but not bad, just around the eyes, and I don't have much of a wattle yet... it's coming though and sooner than I wish.

I see it mostly in the skin on the back of my hands. It's splotchy with faint liver spots. And it seems more transparent somehow. Thinner. Wrinklier. Old man's hands. In recent years, that has crept up my arms... mostly my forearms but it has lately moved onto my upper arms.

Creeping age, I guess. Intent on making me an aging creep.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mornings are a blur

Each morning I go through a routine. I boot up the computer, get myself a cup of coffee, stagger back to the computer, and vainly try to unblur the images by rubbing the lenses of my glasses with my T-shirt. It doesn't help... because the blur is caused by the eyes, not the eyeglasses. Eventually, though, they clear well enough to do the following:

1. Complete one game of Freecell.
2. Complete one Jigsaw Puzzle.

After that, I am, pretty much on my own.

I do these things because they help clear the cobwebs from my brain. It's a bit like the stretching and scratching most of us (probably all of us) do upon waking. We stretch to  wake up the muscles and maybe to reassure ourselves that our conscious brains have regained nominal control of our bodies.

After the first few things, I am somewhat ready to take on my day. Two days a week, that means playing golf within a couple of hours of falling out of bed. On Wednesday, my tee time is later in the morning (after 9:30) so I can wake up naturally and have plenty of time to prepare.

If I have time (which I do on all but Mondays and Fridays) and the blurriness has dissipated, I move on to the important things... the Crossword Puzzles. I try to do these as quickly as possible. For that reason, I choose the fairly easy ones like I used to find in the daily newspaper. Since I did not, and do not, subscribe to the New York Times these puzzles take less than 15 minutes to complete. I started out doing them in "regular" mode where the character appears in bright red when it is incorrect. But I have moved on to "master" mode where no such hints are provided. This is more like the newspaper puzzles.

I think these things are important for the brain. They may not be but I think that. Many sources say that we should exercise the brain much as we exercise our muscles. I no longer look at them as exercises but as a "loosening up" process.

I don't know about you but my brain is sluggish, slow to react, after sleep. It has always been so. I am one of those who take time to get moving after waking. Some people have no problem hopping out of bed, cheerful and ready to take on the day. 

I hate those people. 

Maybe "hate" is a poor word to use but "mildly dislike" seems inadequate.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The text scam

I received the following text message when I turned my cell phone on yesterday.

"Dear Walmart shopper, Congratulations you have just won a $1000 Walmart Gift Card. Click here toclaim your gift. (STOP2end)" The number originating the text came up as 949-981-5773

Well, it's an obvious scam, of course. In the first place I have never given my cell phone number to WalMart in any way, shape, or form. Therefore, they would not have my cell phone available to them. I guard the heck out of my cell phone number since I am charged 25 cents per minute for each call. I am not sure how text messages are treated.
In the second place, Walmart does not advertise this way. No rational company would. It's like those menus from eateries or the real estate ads you find on the Fax machines at work. if you have to advertise that way, you are very desperate.

I called the number but it just rang until it clicked into a recording that said the number did not yet have a voice mail box set up.

Researching this showed that the text is being sent all over the country and shown coming from many different numbers.

It's a pity we cannot simply blanket refuse text messages on our cell phones or block certain numbers.
I would love to have the former option.

You see, I do not text. I am an old guy and texting is much harder on me than simply talking. Plus, I do not have one of those smart phones which have keyboards. Even if I did, I wouldn't use it. I have enough trouble with the keyboard on my tablet.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's that time of year again

This being April, the one thing on most minds here in the former British Colonies is taxes. Not mine, of course, because I have Faye. Faye is a whiz at taxes. She is an IRS Enrolled Agent. That sounds more important than it is. It merely means the IRS will let her sit in on an audit or answer those scary letters one might get from the dreaded IRS. She was a tax preparer for more than 20 years. I leave our taxes in her capable hands... happily... gratefully.

Faye even helped me with taxes before we were married. I hate taxes and I especially hate filling them out. Always have. I am not even sure if I filled out tax forms while in the Navy. I don't recall. During my first marriage, I let my then wife do them. So it was natural for me to turn them over to Faye as soon as I could.

I have noticed some things about people and taxes, people usually put them off. Not everyone, of course, but plenty. Especially if they owe money. You shouldn't. Even if you owe, you should do them in a timely manner. You don't have to file them until April 15 (17th this year, I think, due to a Federal Holiday). So get them done, know exactly what you owe before it's due. Then you can put it off until that dreaded day.

The last time I had an unrelated tax professional do my taxes was in California. I had everything ready and owed about $600 to the state (because I had worked out of state and taxes had not been withheld). I didn't wait but mailed off the forms and the check in February. It was May before I received a letter from California's Tax Department. Seems I had neglected to sign the check. They wanted the tax and they wanted interest and penalties to boot.

I signed the check and sent it back with a copy of their letter, a letter of my own, and copies of my checking account statements for February through April. I explained in the letter that there was no intent to deny payment, that the statements clearly showed I had enough in the account to cover the check at all times, and that I would not pay interest nor penalty because of that and the fact that they did not notify me of my error in a timely fashion. They could have notified my before the tax deadline and I saw no reason why I should pay for their bureaucratic slowness.

I think it stunned them. I received little reminder cards once a month saying they were still looking into the matter until, in September, they sent me one saying they were dropping it.

Sometimes you get lucky.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A matter of overstepping?

I was listening to talk radio the other day since I am a glutton for punishment and there was some talk about something called "judicial activism." It seems that the phrase means different things to different people.

The President seems to believe that judicial activism means ruling a law unconstitutional. His law. His healthcare reform law: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The talk show host disagreed. He felt that the Supreme Court's job is to decide the constitutionality of laws. I agree with that.  But it wasn't always their purpose.

Enter Marbury v. Madison (1803) [see here or here]. A brief synopsis:

The case began on March 2, 1801, when an obscure Federalist, William Marbury, was designated as a justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. Marbury and several others were appointed to government posts created by Congress in the last days of John Adams's presidency, but these last-minute appointments were never fully finalized. The disgruntled appointees invoked an act of Congress and sued for their jobs in the Supreme Court. (Justices William Cushing and Alfred Moore did not participate.)

Is Marbury entitled to his appointment? Is his lawsuit the correct way to get it? And, is the Supreme Court the place for Marbury to get the relief he requests?

The ruling:
The justices held, through Marshall's forceful argument, that on the last issue the Constitution was "the fundamental and paramount law of the nation" and that "an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void." In other words, when the Constitution--the nation's highest law--conflicts with an act of the legislature, that act is invalid. This case establishes the Supreme Court's power of judicial review.

It would seem, prior to this ruling, that the USSC did not have the power of judicial review.

Ironically, that ruling is also a prime example of judicial activism. 

At least, according to the talk show host who felt that judicial activism was the court assuming powers that it did not have. This was deemed "legislating from the bench."

There is no one alive who recalls what the Supreme Court did before this ruling. We have always lived in a system where the Court's primary purpose is to establish the constitutionality of a law.

I often wonder what it did before that.

But I am glad they do it now. It is the final check to the power of both Congress and the President.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Pigeon-toed Surfer Dude

Just a few thoughts...

On the Planet Green network, I came across a group of shows having to do with human sexuality. Now, being typically male for as long as I can remember (probably longer), that's a subject that intrigues me. The first show was very informative because it concerned the female orgasm. It was called Why is Sex Fun. But one thing bothered me. The female orgasm is not a requirement for procreation, that's a given, but the show seemed to think it was therefore unnecessary in human sexuality. Eventually, they revealed that there might be physical reasons for its existence. I maintain it exists for one important psychological reason. Pleasure induces us to repeat functions. And repeating reproductive activities is important, maybe critical, to species survival.

The other two shows involved sexual attraction, called Science of Sex Appeal. It turns out there is a Golden Mean involved. The human face, it was stated, had a certain ratio between the width of the lips and the space between the eyes (leftmost point of right eye to rightmost point of left eye), if I recall it properly. We have no real control over that, of course, it's genetic. This two part series explained everything pretty well. The interviews with couples of various ages and length of relationship was especially interesting.

If you get a chance to see these shows, do it.


Since I am of a certain age and I live in a fabulously sunny state, skin cancer is a constant concern. Not so much for me because I don't worry about it too much. I figure it's too late. After all, I was a "surfer dude" for a year and a half  (during a time before we feared the sun) and pretty much roasted 95% of my body on a daily (almost) basis. I was very dark, a mahogany color, except for the area that my cut-offs or baggies covered and the soles of my feet. I once cooked my skin so bad that even my tan peeled revealing raw pink skin underneath the bridge of my nose and parts of my cheeks... which quickly tanned back to match the rest of me over the next few days. And there was that 8 hours I spent off Waikiki Beach on my first WestPac cruise while in the Navy. Burnt so bad that I slavered myself with Noxzema skin cream and suffered for three days with severe pain and taut skin. I felt like a barbecued hotdog.

They say most skin damage happens when you are a child. I figure there's not much I can do about it now. Oh, I still wear a hat but I am not overly concerned. If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen. My advice to others is to eschew the ballcap when spending a lot of time in the sun and opt for the "bucket hat", anything with an all around brim so your ears are protected. I have more than a few friends who have lost parts of their ears to skin cancer.


I am naturally slightly flat-footed. But, back when I was that roasted surfer dude, I became a little pigeon-toed. It gave me better balance on the surfboard. I don't know why this thought came to mind except that I am having problems playing golf and balance is very important to the swing. I notice that most people use a flat-footed stance when striking the ball with a wood or an iron but many switch to pigeon-toed when putting. I tend to square my left foot (I am right-handed) but flare my right foot toe out.

Years ago, there was a TV show called "Silk Stalkings" which was supposed to take place in Palm Beach but was actually filmed in San Diego and southern California. The female star was Mitzi Kapture, a gorgeous young woman. But she walked funny, unfeminine in a way. I realized she was flat-footed. I also realized, about that same time, that few women walked that way. I thought back to my sister teaching some neighborhood teenage girls how to "walk" as part of a charm school she did as a hobby. All were taught to walk just a little bit shy of pigeon-toed.

Any thoughts on the above?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Stupid ball!

I am trapped. Stuck in the flypaper of poor golf habits. I know I can play better but I just don't. It is lack of concentration, of focus. And so I wallow in the mid-80's (and sometimes worse) week after week.

It doesn't just happen with golf. I have gotten in these ruts many times in the past. Especially on the job. My concentration would get poor, I'd start missing clues to the troubles I was shooting. My mind would wander rather than stay focused on the task in front of me. The only place this happened when it didn't matter was school. Concentration was pretty much unimportant there. I could simply drift along. But, back then, I had a good memory. It worked best when I wasn't concentrating.

That's how memory always worked for me. The more I tried to remember, the less I could. the less I tried, the better my memory worked.

This does not happen on the golf course... and didn't at work. I should rephrase that, sometimes clearing the mind and relaxing did improve my performance at work. It improved my perception. But it does not work on the golf course because, while I strongly believe the mind is the absolute ruler of good golf, clearing the mind allows me to get sloppy in physical execution. Focus is paramount. I would say that it is the same for many sports. Also for many professions.

Consider a surgeon, for example. Should he daydream while cutting you open? Should he let his mind wander a bit while he has that scalpel in his hand? Of course not. You don't want to know the OR team is laughing and joking or discussing politics while you are in a drug induced coma as they are clamping arteries and moving organs around.

But I am not a surgeon. I am not even a good golfer. I am just a schlub who is going through a period of unwanted driftiness.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Have a cup?

It started out innocently enough. I was traveling on business, for training, while I was with Pacific Telephone (as it was called then). I was spending a lot of time in airports; connecting flights, destinations, and all that. You wander into the gift shops, you buy paperbacks to read on the plane, you browse through the various gifts and trinkets with nothing on your mind except killing some time until you have to board.

It was just a cup, with something about the city I was in on it. Dallas, I think. It caught my eye and, on impulse, I picked it up and took it to the counter. It's so easy... that first one. Harmless. I would just bring it home, maybe take it to work, a coffee cup. I had a few others, with logos or whatever on them. Souvenirs of various events.

But you can't stop. You buy more. And more. Some have sayings, some are novelties. Funny, or pithy, or both.

So now I have somewhere between 50 and 75 cups. I do not display them, only about a third of them are in the kitchen cabinet. Faye complains about those cluttering the cabinet and the close to 50 that are stored in the garage cabinet. "They take up space", "we never use them", "why do you keep them?" I don't know why I keep them, I just do. I suspect a genetic connection.

My mother collected things. The first (and most) I remember were her rabbits. Big, small, tiny, all sizes. Crude, ornate, glass, ceramic, even plastic and rubber. She also didn't display them overtly, they were just there on shelves, in cabinets, here and there. My father said she had "pack rat-itis". Of course, he ignored the tools he collected over the years, never throwing (or even giving) them away. Once he owned something, it was always his. He did give me a small chain saw once. He no longer had a need for it, or had bought another one, and he knew I had a use for a chain saw from time to time. On a visit to my house about a year later, he asked me about it. I told him I had made good use of it and that I had loaned it to a friend who had a need.

He seemed angry that I would loan it out. It was as if I had given away his property. Very strange.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A sobering event

Last week, as Faye and I were driving home from our weekly Wednesday dinner with some friends, we found ourselves being sent on a detour by the police. There had been a fatal accident on US 27 while we had been laughing and joking with those friends after finishing our meals.

 [Peggy Sue] Roaf, 52, was traveling north in the outside [left] lane of the highway when the Envoy, traveling south, jumped the median, crashing directly into Roaf's Ford Focus, riding up onto the hood.

The SUV's driver, 31-year-old Nicholas Steven Fox of Fort Lauderdale, was reported to be under the influence at the time, according to Sebring Police. An investigation is under way. Charges are pending, but no arrest has yet been made.

I have written before about the traffic on US 27 as it goes through our little city and how frustrating that traffic can be. I have written before how slow traffic in all lanes can induce drivers to weave across lanes in an effort to avoid getting stuck at traffic lights and to "make time" through the area.

Please try to understand, I am not defending the drunken driver who jumped the median when his SUV went out of control. There is no defense for him. None at all. He will recover from his injuries enough to be arrested and he will be convicted and go to prison and his life ruined... as it should be. But it won't undo the accident, it won't bring Ms Roaf back to life. It won't take away the pain of her friends and family, but it will be "justice" as we call it.

But things do not happen in a vacuum, as they say. In order for something like this to happen seemingly unimportant things have to fall into place. Accidents are "set up" by events happening prior to it.

The slow traffic on the highway can be frustrating, aggravating, infuriating. Add in a brain muddled by alcohol and you get poor decision making coupled with terrible reaction times. And this, I believe, is what led to a woman's unnecessary death and severe injuries to several others.

When we drive, we are encased in a little metal "bubble"; our world becomes the environment within our cars. We are detached from the people in the cars around us. We should remember that as we drive along. We don't know if the other drivers are sober or drunk, if they've had a bad day or a good one, if they are angry or happy. We forget that our driving, our existence on the road, can be viewed many different ways by other drivers.

We can cause, or increase, the irritation of an already angry driver who's in a hurry. We can confuse more a driver who is already lost or disoriented. We can become the focus of someone's antipathy merely by being in front of them. All because we are moving a bit slower than they want to be moving. So they swerve around us, flitting between cars, intent on getting from whatever "point A" they had come from to the "point B" they are in a hurry to get to. They creep up close, tailgating, jumping to the right or left, squeezing between cars.

Maybe the passengers in their cars are yelling at them to slow down, maybe not, maybe they are encouraging them to get around and through the traffic. Who knows? But a too hard swerve and poor reaction time (or an alcohol or drug induced over-reaction) results in a vehicle out of control, bouncing across a median and into oncoming traffic and tragedy explodes in micro-seconds.

You have every right to drive a little slow but you also have an obligation not to impede traffic. You should not contribute to events that can lead to tragedy. You never know what's in the mind of that driver in that car behind you. Look at the picture above and keep that in mind. 

Keep right, maintain speed, try to avoid blocking traffic behind you, don't contribute in any way to that unknown driver's rationale for stupidity.

And don't even have "just one or two" and get behind the wheel!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Leadership, smeadership...

Disclaimer: the following is opinion, I have no training or qualifications in anthropology.
One of the things I muse about is the human penchant for caste-ing. Ok, that's not a real word, it's one I just made up. It means:

Caste-ing: verb: the creation of tiers, or hierarchies, in society either by law or social agreement.

A long, long time ago, as man (and woman, presumably) discovered the advantages of society and community, he created crude hierarchies in an effort to create and sustain order. A leader was necessary; someone who could direct the activities of the group and who could, therefore, be blamed when things went wrong (the latter developing naturally after something went wrong). But then the problem became one of choosing leaders. A democratic society would simply select a few likely candidates and then seek a consensus on which one should lead.

Unfortunately, society was such a new concept that democracy had not yet been invented. We are talking pre-Stone Age here, there were no philosophers yet, probably not even Greeks. So, it's likely that it was more of a "top down" thing. That is, the strongest guy just beat up his rivals and took the leadership position. Much like aggressive herd animals do. And that was probably the method for countless thousands of years. Even today, you can find this. Just look at our primary system for presidential nominees.

But leaders generally like not only to lead but to retain that position. And agriculture and animal husbandry led societies to emulate the concept of breeding and superior and inferior stock. Enter royal families and the concept of nobles. This was in spite of the offspring often being mediocre and sometimes disasters as leaders. Face it, you really had to screw up royally (I wonder why we use that phrase?) to trigger a revolution. And those revolutions often just shifted control from one noble family to another.
We still practice this caste-ing. At local levels, you see it in the "good ol' boys" who run your town or county. The same families who may have started the community are still running it. Mostly, because they always have and we are suspicious of outsiders and newcomers. We elect Kennedys and Bushes and Rockefellers (and proabably Roosevelts if there any around). Wannabes marry into established families to gain status. Who was Schwartzeneggar before he married into the Kennedy clan? A movie actor of little talent beyond the ability to be a caricature of a heroic figure. We assume greatness of anyone whose father or mother made the big time in spite of the fact that they rarely perform as well as the parent. 

We conveniently forget the failures as we concentrate on the rare exception.