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, March 30, 2013

Is it still a conspiracy...

...if all participants think alike anyway?
Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

I ask the question in the title because I hear some people on the Left complain that the Right sees massive conspiracies all around them. Of course, they ignore the conspiracies they see or have seen in the past. Like the "vast right-wing conspiracy" Hillary complained about at the beginning of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I also understand that the majority, if not the vast majority, of the 9-11 Truthers are on the Left.

What the left often derides is the feeling by the Right that the mainstream media is against them. The Left often points out that the owners of that media are rich white men and are, therefore, more likely to be conservative than liberal. This ignores Ted Turner, George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and  others. All rich, all white, and mostly old, males.

The question I pose has to do with the press. If the press is, as is suggested by polling, made up of mostly Democrat journalists (which implies that the editors are also mostly Democrat) then the atmosphere in the work environment is likely to be liberal. If all those you work with, or socialize with, are liberal the odds are that you will see liberalism as "mainstream", the norm of society. Not all Democrats are liberal, of course, just as not all Republicans are conservative. But people tend to fall in line with the thinking of those around them... the "herd instinct", if you will.

When I was young, liberalism was the counter-culture. Liberals were the ones who challenged authority and distrusted government; conservatives were the ones who trusted government and obeyed authority.  That seems to have been turned upside down of late, a complete (almost) role reversal.

To get back to that question... let me phrase it another way: Do you need to conspire if all involved are on the same page anyway?

Footnote: The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a couple of cases (DOMA and California's Proposition 8) on same-sex marriage currently. Lots of noise in the media of all kinds regarding this. I wrote a post back in 2008 which addressed the issue of same-sex marriage. If you are interested in my ideas for addressing this issue, I recommend you read this... [link].

Friday, March 29, 2013


It's Friday and that means I am off playing golf. Yesterday, I took the car in for some maintenance in preparation for our annual trip out to San Diego.

That trip, like most of the others, will have stops in Biloxi and Las Vegas. These are free stays at hotel/casinos. The "casino" part is why I italicized the "free." Just to be honest about it. There will be a stop in Biloxi on the way back, too. I am merely the chauffeur on these trips. Faye plans them, develops the budget, and allocates the money. Oh, she asks me what I want but I don't believe she is actually interested in what I say in response. After 26 years, I have learned how to defer...

On Wednesday, I skipped golf. It was going to be around 35oF at tee off and I no longer want to tolerate that. Instead, I dropped by (when it was warmer) our local Toyota dealership (owned by the same guy who has the GM/Cadillac/Buick/Chevrolet dealership and the Kia dealership and the Ford dealership) to look at and test drive a Corolla.

You see, my Lucerne is a great car and spoils me rotten but gets crummy mileage in town. And that is where most of my driving is done. I know, in my heart, that all I need is a compact, highly economical, little buzz-box to get me around here in Paradise since we have Faye's Lucerne for the long trips and, so, I look at the various small, economical, cars available. I research them, price them, even test drive them. Then I get back in my Lucerne and decide I am not ready to give up comfort and power for economy and practicality. Call me stupid... I no longer care.

Anyway, the car needed (so they told me) to have the power steering system flushed. Before I agreed to that, I looked into it. It didn't seem an absolute necessity. It isn't a routine maintenance recommendation by GM/Buick, it could be a pointless exercise, and (I suspect) it may only need bleeding the system. There's this hum I would hear as I turned the wheel to its limits. The service department claims the fluid is contaminated. They could be right. But, since they have been the only ones to check that fluid, they were likely to be the source of that contamination.

In any event, I figured better safe than sorry when embarking on a 6000+ mile trip.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Frustration Strikes Again

On Tuesday, I was notified that an update for my AVG Free was available... and recommended. So I opted to do it. It was, I believe, the Summer edition for the 2013 version. After the usual churning and bustling of the gerbils who provide the power to run the computer, the update was almost completed... all I had to do was restart the computer.

And so I did.

All seemed well. Until an hour or so later when I noticed a reminder that I needed to do a restart to complete the update process. Knowing I had already done that, I went ahead and did it again because I am nothing if not obedient. And then, an hour or so after that reboot, I got the very same prompt. So I closed the dialogue box with the little "x" in the upper right corner. Only to get the prompt again in another hour or so.

By then, it was bedtime and I simply shut it down for the night, deciding I would deal with it in the morning.

It was no surprise, therefore, when I booted up the computer and ran into the same prompt. I mouthed the usual magic words (which should not be repeated in a family friendly environment) to no avail. I then went looking for the cure for the problem at the AVG Free web site. I found a procedure that was supposed to fix it. It involved manipulating a couple of files (deleting one and renaming the other). Simple enough, it seemed at the time.

In Win7 (which I am running), it was a matter of deleting the file "C:\programdata\AVG2013\cfg\updatecomps.cfg" and replacing it by renaming updatecomps.cfg.prepare (found in the same folder).

Just one little problem... The SYSTEM (I was told in a dialogue box) hadn't given me permission to mess with these files. After uninstalling and re-installing AVG2013, I ran into the same problem. I then uninstalled AVG Free once again, deleted both of those aforementioned files, and then re-installed AVG Free once again. This time everything seems to have worked.

I usually highly recommend AVG Free. I still will but my support of it is a bit weaker today. This should not have happened. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Little Sad Today

I woke up this morning and realized that I hadn't prepared a post for today. My bad. Since the brain isn't yet firing on all cylinders yet, I'll just ramble a bit.

I just learned last evening that one of our weekly dinner companions is no longer with us. He passed away on Monday from a stroke. I'll miss him. He was a seasonal resident, a snowbird, from Rhode Island. A doctor before he retired and so we all called him "Doc." He wasn't young, 83, so it should not have come as a great surprise. But, somehow, it was. Strokes hit with no real warning after all.

I know a little about strokes, they were the curse of the males on my father's side, striking them down in their mid-sixties with a "these are all the years you get" finality. But we understand more about their cause and treatment these days so my father and one of his brothers beat the curse and lived into their 80's when their hearts finally failed.

Doc and Ann (his widow) had lingered in Rhode Island this year, arriving later than usual. Doc had wanted to have back surgery done there. When they finally arrived, Doc was using a walker. Quite understandable after surgery. But, in spite of his age, I expected him to recover eventually and put away that walker. I did not expect this.

So long, Doc, I'll miss you.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Searching for the Meaning of Life

Since I know next to nothing about basketball except that it's played by ten tall people in really baggy shorts and involves a large, inflated, ball, hoops and nets I will use golf as a metaphor... for life.

Why is it a metaphor for life? It has hazards, it has traps, it has fair ways, it has risks/rewards and it is unpredictable... despite what that gypsy with the crystal ball says. And I happen to love the game.

It is also frustrating and, after all, isn't that the essence of life?

No matter how good you feel when you wake up, things can always get worse... and often do. I never wake up feeling good. I wake up feeling tired. That's one of the ironic things about life. You spend 6-8 hours asleep (most nights anyway) and wake up feeling groggy and tired. Pretty much worse than you felt before you went to sleep. I would have said "before you went to bed" but, sometimes when you go to bed, sleep is not involved (at least not immediately) and you are full of energy and joy.

So you get up, drag yourself out to the kitchen, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and try to put a positive spin on things. It helps if you do not glance into a mirror on the way... trust me.

And that is much the way I approach golf. With hope and optimism. And, by the end of a round (and often much sooner), just as by the end of another day, my optimism and hope have been crushed by my inability to cope with small setbacks and events that are beyond my control.

Monday, March 25, 2013

And How Was Your Week?

What a week the last one was.

The president goes to Israel and his limo (one of two brought along for the trip) breaks down. Rumors that it was because someone might have refueled it with diesel fuel instead of gasoline have not been confirmed or denied by the Secret Service. The president promises $200 million to Jordan while the sequester denies the few hundred thousand needed to keep the White House tours going.

The Secretary of State pops up unexpectedly in Baghdad and begs (okay... "requests") Iraq to stop allowing Iran to Syria flights (I didn't realize Baghdad had that power).

The EU, in its infinite wisdom, knows Cyprus is in fiscal crisis (who isn't these days?) and wants them to tax savings and checking accounts. Not the interest paid on them, the principal. No one seemed to predict the chaos that would create.

Boris Berezofsky, filthy rich Russian guy, died under mysterious circumstances a day or two after telling an interviewer there is "no point in life" and suffering major financial setbacks (not limited to an ex-mistress wanting her fair share).

A meteor streaked across the sky on the east coast of the U.S., rattling folks and creating a social media flurry but doing no harm whatsoever.

Limbaugh is embroiled in a controversy (wait! that isn't unusual... scratch that) about Beyonce'.

And I bought a new driver for my golf game. Proving once again that life is unpredictable and the intended results rarely match the actual ones.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Random thoughts of a philosophical nature

I was perusing quotes about history and came across this:

The first duty of a man is to think for himself.”
― José Martí

A rather interesting sentiment and one with which I agree. I have mostly tried to live up to that sentiment but realize I haven't always done so. Yes, like just about everyone, I have followed fads and trends. That Madras shirt I once owned around age 15, other grooming choices in my mid-teens (like that D.A. hair style), and engaging in petty theft and shoplifting, for examples. But I did not always try to emulate my peers. My atheism, for example, emerged around age 12 while most of my peers simply followed the beliefs of their parents.

I tried to follow the wisdom my mother imparted from time to time:

"If everybody jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?"

There came times when when I realized that following the crowd wasn't the smart thing to do. But I would fall back into following the crowd again often enough.

I see a lot of "crowd following" today in politics and social "norms." It's understandable. We like to be "hip" or "cool" or whatever is today's term. We are influenced heavily by our social idols; the celebrities. Yet, few of these celebrities are truly trend-setters. Most just extend a trend or typify it.

I engage in discussions online. I like to call them "comment wars" though they aren't really wars, just arguments. I am a contrarian in that I often find myself in the minority on issues. I relish that position. Deep down I think I hope to stir others into questioning their own thought patterns, their own beliefs, and maybe changing them. I am probably just fooling myself. It's difficult to overcome the social programming we are exposed to from our earliest years. Society tries to mold us into compliant citizens, does it not?

I fancy myself a philosopher of sorts. If I was serious about that, I would study the great philosophers of history but I don't and likely won't ever do that. I am afraid I would simply conform to one school or another and "extend the trend" rather than break new ground or provide a fresh insight.

I think about my personal philosophies on social and political issues and wonder if I am really using independent thought or merely following well-worn paths. A friend in the Navy once offered that I was a follower of Ayn Rand. I had not read any of her books at that point and knew nothing about her philosophy so, if I was seeming to be in her camp, it was independent thought that had brought me there.

There is much division today in the U.S. with the two major socio-political ideologies becoming more strident in their opposition. There are schisms within the major parties which are growing stronger and more pronounced. Sometimes I feel we are moving willy-nilly toward another civil war. Other times I think we are always at some stage of civil war; that this is the essence of what America is. Put another way, our nation was born in revolution and this revolution never ended, just ebbed and flowed throughout our history. Maybe all of civilization does this.

I really am lost in thought, I think.

Friday, March 22, 2013

All That Glitters May Lose Value

I like gold. Don't we all? I do not think it is all it is cracked up to be but I do like it. My late brother-in-law touted its virtues to me on a regular basis. He invested in it regularly; gold coins, mostly. I admit, it was a good investment when gold was under $1000 in the last ten years or so. But I recall the last time there was a "run" on gold. Back in the 70's. I think it peaked at around $840... for a very short period of time... and then dropped quickly.

People repeat the myth that gold is a hedge against inflation. I call that a myth because that is exactly what it is. Let's say you bought gold back when it was $800 in 1979 or 1980. Gold would have to cost $2490.86 today for it to have kept pace with inflation. Don't believe me? Try this site and see for yourself.

Take a look at this chart I found at Wikipedia (you can click on it to enlarge it):


Still, gold fascinates people. And corrupts them.

They have a new theory about how gold deposits form. It's interesting and suggests an explanation of the large gold deposits in California and Alaska.

Earthquakes Turn Water Into Gold

The title is not simply misleading, it's an outright lie. But it is an interesting theory.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Doom and Gloom in the Skies and in the Ground

Between the number of earthquakes striking along the Pacific "Ring of Fire" in the last few weeks and the meteor/asteroid "problem" I am having a little problem relaxing.

Yes, there has been a significant increase in the number of 5.0 mw tremors along that "Ring of Fire." But it's hard to worry about that when some space rock could slam into the planet and wipe out most, if not all, of civilzation.

Meanwhile the Science Channel seems to be intent on preparing us for a visit from space aliens.

Here's what the Bloomberg website had to say about the "city killer" asteroids:

NASA’s leaders said most large asteroids that may trigger a global catastrophe have been found and tracked, and an impact within the next several centuries is unlikely. Smaller objects are harder to track, arrive more often and are less lethal.

“Unfortunately, the number of undetected potential ‘city killers’ is very large,” John Holdren, assistant to President Barack Obama for science and technology, said today at a hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “It’s in the range of 10,000 or more.”

Excuse me for being just a tad nervous lately.

And I won't even mention the Sunspots...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Liberty or License?

I have been wondering of late about the difference between liberty and license. I thought I understood the meaning of liberty but I find that I seem to be in the minority with my definition. This is what says:

[lib-er-tee] noun, plural: lib·er·ties.
1. freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.
2. freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.
3. freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.
4. freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint: The prisoner soon regained his liberty.
5. permission granted to a sailor, especially in the navy, to go ashore.

I would say that liberty also entails responsibility for one's actions and respect for others. After all, what's the point of liberty if it only applies to oneself? And personal responsibility is something I was taught went along with liberty.

We do not have full liberty, no society does. That would be anarchy. With full liberty, there would be no laws, no courts, no trials, no government at all; people would be free to do and say whatever they please. Neighbor annoying you? Just kill him or her. So, I would say we have a limited liberty. Or, as I was told as a child: "the freedom to swing your fist ends just short of another's nose."

The question is always just how limited should liberty be?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

We Never Saw That Coming

Tracking smaller asteroids is no easy assignment

This is no surprise to me. It's vast out there in space and there's lots of reasons why things are hard to find. Just ask the guy looking for his glasses after he propped them up on his head. Or yourself when you wonder where you left your car keys last time.

I already wrote about this asteroid spotting thing [link].

As we all know, we always find things in the last place we look. So I do not look in the last place last anymore. Instead, I look in the first place last. It hasn't helped. Still, I figure it's worth a try.

We have the technology, they say, to avert what probably happened to the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Perhaps, but you cannot avoid what you cannot see coming. I learned that back in my teens.

Monday, March 18, 2013

How about a T.Rex in the Grand Canyon?

How would you like a herd of Wooly Mammoths roaming about in Minnesota? I figure they'd like someplace cooler than, say, here in Florida. Scientists are thinking about something called "de-extinction", even openly talking about it lately. 10 years ago, some scientists cloned an an extinct Pyrenean ibex from a frozen tissue sample that had been harvested before the goats became extinct. The clone only lasted minutes after birth. I am assuming this ibex clone was created in the same way as Dolly was.

This, of course, got the budding Frankensteins all atwitter and thinking about making Jurassic Park a reality and not just a series of movies.

Of course, once you bring back mammoths, you have to bring back their predators... the sabre-toothed tigers.  And Los Angeles thinks it has troubles with coyotes...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Politics and Religion

The world has a new Pope. I should say the Catholic Church has a new Pope but that's not how he is viewed. He is viewed pretty much as the spokesman of Christianity in spite of the reality. The reality is that he is the spokesman for only one Christian sect; Roman Catholic. The first
official Christian sect, to be sure, but only one.  And there are no viable competitors for the status/position of Pope.  Most sects of any religion have no single authority. I cannot think of any that do, anyway.

He (the Pope) is supposed to represent Christ on Earth. But relatively few actually recognize his authority as such.

I look upon the Holy Roman Empire as a replacement for the old Roman Empire. I suspect that is why Latin is the official language of the sect. But this is not important.

I look at this ritual of choosing a Pope in much the same way as I view ascensions to the throne in monarchies. There isn't much difference except for the lack of possible outright violence. And most monarchies today are settled as to who will succeed to the throne. The days of wars for the right to rule are over. We still have rebellions and civil wars, of course, but not for claims to rule between families of kings and queens.

And the Catholic Church seems to mimic the political hierarchy of of the Roman Empire which went from a republic to a sort of monarchy with the emergence of Julius Caesar.

Monarchs rule by force, though, and Popes rule by faith. The faith of their adherents.

And, as soon as a new Pope is named, factions within (and without) try to change the church. You hear calls for modernization grow louder. I do not understand this. Let me rephrase... I do understand this but I don't agree with it. Of course, no one is listening to me and there is no reason that they should.

My mother was raised Catholic. She left the Church when she chose to marry my father. The story goes like this:

My father, being a Methodist (a Protestant), would only be allowed to marry my mother in the Church if he either converted to Catholicism or agreed to raise their children as Catholics. My parents went to the priest at my mother's church for pre-nuptial counseling. This subject came up. My father refused to convert. The priest then told them that the marriage could happen if he agreed to raise any children they had in the Church. Again he refused. When the priest then said they could not marry, he walked out of the meeting.

The priest turned to my mother and suggested it was for the best. My mother said she didn't care, that she intended to marry my father regardless. The priest said she would be excommunicated if she did. According to her, she then stood up, told the priest to go ahead and walked out, never coming back. She finishes the story by telling me she did not want to belong to a church which thought it could tell her who to love.

My mother never held a grudge against the Church for this but never regretted her decision to disobey the priest, to leave the Church. And I hold no animosity toward the Church or religion in general. But I think her story has a moral that those who want the Church to change, to modernize, should consider.

If you do not like the way the Church is, do not seek to change it... leave it. If enough do that, it will change or wither away if the changes are needed.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Snippet of Life: sports

I note that Kobe Bryant "severely sprained" an ankle Wednesday night. [link]. It brought to mind this:

When I was a mere lad of 19 and stationed at the ASW Training Center in San Diego, we were expected to engage in rigorous exercise every day. In the furtherance of that expectation, they handed us a volleyball and sent us out to play upon the asphalt courts near the main building each weekday just after lunch. We would pull off our work uniform jumpers (still in "blues" as it was early Spring) and choose up teams.

I like volleyball. It was a sport I could play decently, where I was not always the last to be picked for a team, and one whose rules I understood. And the play was informal. No refs in our games nor judge to call fouls at the net. Yet, in spite of the aggressiveness caused by young men's testosterone levels, we pretty much adhered to the rules and matches did not deteriorate into brawls.

I really enjoyed being in the front-center position (middle blocker), though I played all positions with enthusiasm. But the front line was where all the action was. Being not especially tall at 5'11" nor a great jumper, I was handicapped a bit. I was a little more aggressive then and used that to push myself. I also weighed less than 140 lbs... which meant I was not an imposing figure. I tried to use this to my advantage. It did not take long for opposing teams to decide I should not be taken lightly.

One day, as I was in my favored position, a ball came to the net just to my right; in that space between the front-right ("opposite") position and mine. The guy to my right was taller than I and heavier. And aggressive. We both went up for the ball at the same time. He went up a little higher but we came down together... with him on top. I hit the ground with my left foot's outside edge and all his weight plus my own.

I suppose I was fortunate that the ankle did not break. I hobbled and limped with some help to "Sick Bay" where a corpsman examined the ankle, took an X-ray, taped up the ankle and handed me two things: a pair of crutches and a "light duty chit".

Among our duties at the base, beside learning something about the rating (SONAR, in my case) we were assigned, were watches and "sweepers". Watches were simple, you acted like a security guard  making sure the barracks or the classroom buildings were free of enemy agents. Since there were no enemy agents at the time (and no reasonable threat of them), they amounted to walking around for 4 hours. Sweepers were just that: you swept. You pushed a broom and your assigned area would take just about 2 hours to do. These duties began at 4 PM (sweepers were only a 6 to 8 PM gig) and ran until 8 AM the next day. You were assigned to these duties, presumably randomly, by the Master-at-Arms.

I took my "get out of work free" chit to the Master-at-Arms' office so that he could cross me off the list for the next 4 weeks while my ankle healed. And I was chastised loudly as a "wuss" (though he used a stronger term) and told that, as soon as the chit ran out, I would be assigned to "sweepers and mids" from then on. He told me he thought I was faking my injury. We had a few words but he out-ranked me (just about everyone did at the time) and I soon hobbled away.

He watched me from time to time for the next couple of weeks. I suspect he was hoping to catch me doing something I would not be able to do with a sprained ankle. And when I was put back on regular duty he never fulfilled his threat.

I will say I feel for Kobe, though. Sprained ankles hurt!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Where are the Tharks?

I see where NASA is reporting that mars could have, many billions of years ago, supported life. I will not say "balderdash!" But I will say there's quite a number of assumptions involved to assert that.

At one time, science fiction loved to use Mars as a living planet full of green men (and sometimes red, black, and yellow and even white... see Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars series). Science ruined that. It revealed the truth about the planet; thin atmosphere, inhospitable conditions, barren of vegetation and life. No canals, no crumbling ancient cities, no sand worms, no life.

NASA says... "wait!... maybe there were once microbes and that would mean life existed." Except they cannot definitively prove life did once exist there. It is wanton speculation, nothing more.

Let me show you an excerpt from a New York Times article:

Several billion years ago, Mars may well have been a pleasant place for tiny microbes to live, with plenty of water as well as minerals that could have served as food, NASA scientists said Tuesday at a news conference on the latest findings from their Mars rover. But they have yet to find signs that actual microbes did live in that oasis.

Mars could have supported life

It goes on to lay out the reasoning... But it is not convincing. Not to me. And I really want to believe. Ok, possibly there were microbes on Mars a mere 3 or so billion years ago. But then the ecosystem changed. All of a sudden, it seems, the planet could not hang onto most of its atmosphere. It's a light-weight... mass-wise... and that meant not enough gravity to to retain the atmosphere needed to sustain life.  And the core cooled and volcanoes stopped erupting. The life-supporting water froze or evaporated and Mars became the cold, dry, planet we know it to be today. Must have been those SUVs those microbes liked so much.

The theory is all based on rocks. Or, actually, on the make up of the rocks. Which suggest an abundance of water and that this water contained nutrients that microbes could use for sustenance.

I don't know... I want giant sand worms and willowy red and purple plants and 6 legged lumbering behemoths ridden by extremely tall green men with tusks.

Microbes just don't excite me. Especially "possible" or "maybe" ones.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Search for Life

I see, while perusing the news Google deems fit to display, that there's some scientist pontificating about the existence of life in the universe beyond our own. Something about it likely being rarer than we think. Quite possibly true. There are billions of stars in our galaxy and billions of galaxies. Not all of these stars have planets (though we seem to be learning that a lot more do than we once thought) and those that do may not have planets in the "Goldilocks zone" which could mean there would be no life on them.

Since I have no credentials beyond a driver's license and a permit to carry, I am not a credible source for theories about life in the universe. Still, that does not mean I cannot form an opinion and that such an opinion could not stand the proverbial snowball's chance of being right. So, you guessed it, I do have an opinion about life, the universe, and everything and it is more complex than "42." But it is also fairly simple.

We make assumptions about life elsewhere in the universe based on what we have learned about life here on Earth. Of course, at one time our learned men believed in spontaneous generation. Fortunately, some others (a minority, to be sure) questioned that theory and eventually exposed the flaws in it. Yet, we persist in applying our own, quite limited, observations about life on this planet to the possibilities of life on other worlds.

We should be careful about what kind of life we imagine exists. We desire, I think, that intelligent life exist elsewhere. Otherwise we are all alone... and we don't like being all alone, do we? By intelligent life, I mean creatures that make tools and build cities. But let's look at a little closer. Is there a lot of intelligent life on Earth? Certainly not on our freeways and other roads. Or on many of the TV channels. Actually, intelligent life is rare on this planet. Some say that we have between 3 and 30 million species on this planet. Of those, how many would we call intelligent? Only one makes tools and builds cities.

Now, let's go back to origins of life on Earth. It took billions of years before the first complex forms of life began to appear on this hunk of space rock. and a couple billion more for these to form creatures we could see without a microscope. And maybe a billion more years to produce us, the creatures we arrogantly call "intelligent." That makes us incredibly rare just on this planet. Relatively speaking, that is. And, so far, we have not found life on other planets in our own solar system. That would be one in eight. Just us. If we are right about the "Goldilocks zone" being the only one conducive to life (and  not meaning that life would form in that zone) then life in any form should be seen as a great rarity.

We think life is abundant here because we keep finding forms of it in places we used to assume completely inhospitable. But we still recognize only one form as "intelligent." Most are deemed "primitive."

Therefore, I think I see that scientist's point. I would add only one thing to support it. For hundreds of millions of years, the dinosaur was the predominent life form on Earth. It was only after a mass extinction of global proportions that life forms that led to our existence began to form and dominate.

That history tells me that so-called intelligent life is as rare as hen's teeth. If it exists at all.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why I am not so concerned about Climate Change

The other day (Sunday), an asteroid the size of a Canadian League football field (100 meters) zoomed by the planet. While reading about it Sunday morning, I was puzzled by these words:

Indeed, many space rocks are hurtling undetected through Earth's neck of the cosmic woods. Astronomers estimate that the number of near-Earth asteroids tops 1 million, but just 9,700 have been discovered to date.

Undetected objects can strike Earth without warning, as the surprise meteor explosion over Russia last month illustrated. The 55-foot (17 m) asteroid that caused the Feb. 15 Russian fireball detonated in the atmosphere before astronomers even knew it existed.

I read that and I thought... Gee, we've actually discovered about 1% of of near-Earth asteroids but scientists seem to think we're safe... "for now". Even after that one blew up over Russia without being detected in advance. That one was actually larger than the one we did know about.

And what if that 55 foot long (wide?) asteroid had penetrated deeper into the atmosphere and blown up just a little closer than it did?

I think, like I did during the Cold War years, that I hope I am very close to "ground zero" if and when the Big One hits.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Just so I do not have to do it at 2 AM

It happened again. Daylight Saving Time snuck up on me. Happens every year.... OK, twice a year... I always am surprised by the end of DST, too. I no longer pay attention to these things since I retired. To be honest, I didn't pay much attention to them before I retired either. But, back then, I was reminded by the "powers-that-be" that I was to go around at 2 AM, set the switching machine's internal clock, and set the wall clocks to the proper time.

It was a stupid chore. I knew years before they finally figured out how to do it that the machine should be able to do its own time setting. Of course, they paid no attention to me. My home computer (and the one I put on my desk at work) did it automatically well before the whiz kids at the phone company figured out how to program the machine to do it for me.  I was still stuck doing the wall clocks, though.

Setting the time in our switching machine was annoying. It was supposed to be done 5 minutes (if I recall correctly) after 2 AM. Imagine... 144 techs all over the country dialing up the "official" clock in Denver at the same time twice a year and sending the same message into a computer when the recorded voice says... "At the tone, the time will be..." and then the tone and 144 fingers tap the Send key simultaneously... more or less.

The cable company resets the DVR clocks, my computers automatically update the time when they are booted up, and I have to trudge around the house with a small stepladder resetting the three wall clocks... which, for reasons that escape me now, I mounted just a little too high to reach without that stepladder... and the alarm clocks by the bed.

My insurance company sends me two 9 volt batteries each year a few weeks ahead of "DST Day". The idea is that I should also swap out the batteries in the smoke detectors on that day. I never do. I put the "gift" batteries away until we go back to standard time and the smoke detectors start beeping at me to let me know the batteries are low.  All 5 of them.

I didn't mind the change to DST when I was pre-retired. I worked the night shift and that night was only 7 hours long but I got paid for 8. I hated the change back because that night would be 9 hours long... made only slightly less painful because I would be paid for all 9... with one being at time and a half.

I bought an alarm clock one year that was supposed to set itself correctly on these days. It failed to do it properly and I finally replaced it... after 5 years of hopeless frustration.

Of all the things I could have to deal with, this seems so petty even I am appalled at me.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

One down... so many more to go

I had to completely re-write this post because Blogger, in its infinite wisdom, decided that when I went to edit it that a scroll down was a request to delete it all. Sure, I send feedback to Blogger about the problems I've had with it and no fixes ever seem to happen. It will change font size at its whim in the middle of sentences and just generally act on its own.

Last week Hugo Chavez died. It is rumored that his last words were something like "Please don't let me die." Not bad as last words go. I have decided mine will be (while looking directly at the doctor) "See you soon." But let's get back to Hugo...

When he died, he was worth either $1 billion or $2 billion. It's hard to tell, the left says it is $1 billion and the right says $2 billion. I say, who cares? He certainly wasn't paid that by the Venezuelan government. No, he stole it from the very people he proclaimed to love and sacrifice for. Just as his buddy, Fidel Castro, has managed to amass some $900 million or so out of that poverty pit called Cuba.

And the usual suspects are now mourning the passing of Hugo; the Reverend Jackson, Sean Penn, Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Danny Glover, etc. While I wish no one ill will, I am not mourning Chavez's passing. One less dictator in the world is a good thing. Among those attending the Chavez funeral are: Cuban President Raul Castro and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, movie star Sean Penn, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.  I am not surprised.

I do not understand any of these people. I do not understand Americans who idolize dictators like Chavez and who seem to hate the country they were born in. And I am surprised that our illustrious president didn't send Joe Biden to represent the U.S. at the funeral. Really.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the long knives are out for Rand Paul who followed the old tradition of filibustering by actually standing at the dais and speaking for hours because he wanted a simple assurance that the president will not kill Americans on American soil using an armed drone without at least giving them due process. It only took a 13 hour filibuster of the type that, not too long ago, the Democrats thought superior to the speechless version to get that assurance. 

And our president is caught repeatedly lying about the impact of the sequester.

And people wonder why I am a cynic.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Keep an eye on the sky

We are privileged to witness a heavenly body for the next month or so. No, fellas, not that kind of heavenly body (sadly) but a visitor from the Kuiper Belt who is briefly (in astronomical terms) paying the inner solar system a visit. This comet, called "Pan-STARRS". From what I've read, Pan-STARRS will only be making this one appearance and will not pass our way again.

There is another one, called ISON, due in November. Both are expected to be visible with the naked eye or small telescopes and binoculars.

I suspect that the best views will be in the northern states, rather than down here. That's a pity. But I guess we can't have mild weather and spectacular views of the sky at the same time. Might just spoil us.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

One wonders... auto service adventures

Yesterday I took my beloved Lucerne to the dealership for service. The result was both good and bad. I will start with the good.

I was told by the Ford dealership service department that I should consider having the brakes done on the car. I use the Ford dealership's service because they offered a quality oil change for a mere $15. Cheaper than the GM dealership a couple of miles up the street. The Ford service department had always treated me fairly. So, I began thinking about the brakes. They had never felt real solid and they are much weaker, in my opinion, than Faye's Lucerne (two years newer than mine). So I figured that, even though I have only 49,000 or so miles on the car, it might be a good idea to get new pads. I make an appointment, arrive at 8 AM (my appointed time) and get a courtesy van ride home. An hour later I get a call from Jason, one of the service writers.

"Your brakes are fine," he says, "They don't need service at all."

I am impressed. They could have changed the pads and charged me the usual arm and leg but they didn't. I come down to pick up the car and there is no charge whatsoever. I am even more impressed.

And now we move to the bad.

Jason tells me the left front wheel bearing is starting to go. and also that I might want to get my power steering system flushed. The charges would be $539.70 and $129.95, respectively. I politely decline both.

The wheel bearing issue bothers me. I owned a 2001 Impala prior to buying the Lucerne and its left front wheel bearing went bad at about 45,000 miles. I noticed it first. The grinding noise reminded me of a coffee grinder trying to chew up pebbles. I had an extended warranty on that car and it covered the cost completely. I do not have extended warranties on the Lucernes. The Lucerne's wheel bearing is making no noise at all. It does not seem to need service. I suspect it does not need service at all.

I was reminded of the Ford dealership in West Palm Beach that told me my left front wheel bearing was going on my `94 Ranger pick-up. I questioned that and they called the technician over to talk to me about it. He tried to explain that he found the wheel would wobble easily when he had it up on the lift and even tried to show me (but couldn't). When I pointed out that it should not need service since they had replaced the entire front end, including the left wheel and all components, just two months prior... after I had been hit by a Firebird.

"Did you guys use shoddy parts or do poor work?", I asked.

And no more was said...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I still miss her

Yesterday I wrote about an old man's dying wish to walk the decks of the destroyer he served on as a young man. Those of you who served in the navy, any navy, understand the emotion involved. Or, at least, can understand it somewhat. I will try to explain it for those who do not have a similar emotional attachment.

Think about your first car or your college or high school. The memories might not be all rosy. There might be some memories you'd like to forget but not all. There's a deep seated attachment formed that is almost impossible to sever. You may have been miserable in high school but you still recall friends you miss and moments you cherish. I didn't go to college except for a few semesters in community colleges so I can't directly relate to that but I would guess a strong bond to it is formed. These are similar.

On the Military and Military History channels, there are little presentations with remembrances by former crew members. All, of late, have been about the U.S.S. Enterprise of WWII. She was decommissioned, reduced to scrap, and replaced by a newer, nuclear-powered, version. The former crew members speak of her as being "home." So, too, do the former crew members of other ships whose stories are told on some of the programs.

My ship was commissioned too late to have seen any action in WWII. She was launched in August of 1945, a year before I was born. She did see some action in the Korean War and then again in the Vietnam War... "my" war... but nothing compared to what those who served during WWII did.

A ship is not simply a vessel, it is home. Even if you live ashore most of the time you are in your home port, it is home. But that feeling takes time. If you are only aboard a year, you probably will not feel it. I think it would take at least two years to develop the kind of feeling I am talking about. It took that much for me, anyway. At around that point in time, I began to realize that I saw her as something I was a part of, something that was a part of me.

You go through good times and bad. You experience frustrations and satisfactions. You know she had flaws (our hull had a crack that resisted repair for a year) but you appreciate her strengths... especially in rough seas. The crew become your "family."

I wrote once about how The ship is "alive" while at sea, the constant vibration of the engines, and from the movement in the water, makes the steel deck feel soft. Once in port, tied up, with the engines shut down and silent, the deck becomes hard as concrete. The ship feels "dead."
The human mind is a funny thing... it gives life to inanimate things.

The attachment lingers for more years than you can imagine.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Sailor's Last Wish

A story I read touched me at the deepest core of my being. I try not to get emotional but this story is one whose reading pushes those buttons.

It is about a man named Gerald Bowman and his dying wish.

An excerpt:

Bowman had no idea his old destroyer was still around. Father and daughter were on the couch one night watching a documentary and there was the Laffey at Patriots Point.

“That’s my ship,” he said. And he began to cry. “I’d love to walk her one more time.”

My old ship, the USS Brinkley Bass DD887, was  decommissioned and sold to Brazil in 1973 then sunk in January of 2000 as a target ship so I will never get the chance Mr. Bowman had to walk her deck one more time.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Puzzlements and Cobwebs

Each day I rise from slumber, put on some clothes, start my computer (and Faye's), stagger out to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of coffee, wander back to the computer, and go through my mental exercises: two solitaire games, one jigsaw puzzle, and at least one crossword puzzle. It has become a ritual of sorts. 7 days a week.

I believe it helps me sweep the cobwebs from my brain but it probably doesn't. On the other hand, it cannot make things worse so it is likely harmless.

For 34 years, I worked for the Bell System (Southern Bell, Pacific Telephone, and AT&T)... solving puzzles for its customers.

I have been reading a book by Michael Connelly of late. The Black Box. A Hieronymus, "Harry", Bosch novel. Harry Bosch is a detective with the LAPD assigned to the Open-Unsolved Unit. He takes new looks at cold cases.

I can relate. One of the things I used to do when I was bored at work (or ran out of current trouble tickets) was to dig up the oldest trouble tickets and try to fix the problems I found. Some had been around so long that the paper of the tickets had become brittle. One of the oldest of these had been around since shortly after the office I was working in at the time (an old SxS* switch) was opened in the 30's. It took me a few days to find the problem, maybe a couple of weeks.

Old troubles get shuffled to the bottom of the pile easily enough and linger there while workers ignore them. Most people I worked with did not want the challenge they represented. I can understand that. They were frustrating. You knew that they had been looked at by many over the years, many who failed to make much headway in solving the problems they represented, and they rarely documented what they did. It was the newbies, mostly, who bothered to even read them. Newbies are still curious, still interested. After a few years most lose their curiosity and begin ignoring the "oldies" also.

I would run out of trouble tickets or just be bored with the "easy ones" that crop up every day. Easily solved troubles didn't interest me so much. At these times, I would happily grab the oldest tickets. In fact, I often worked the oldest tickets first. I knew others had at least scanned them, maybe made a few attempts to resolve them, and put them back in the trouble ticket bin in favor of something more easily cleared. I suppose most feel clearing a lot of troubles is what they are there for and, so, spending more than a hour or so on a trouble would lower their output. Probably true.

I was more than happy to grab the old, repeat, and chronic troubles to work on. I rarely had to have help with them and I could work on my own (which I preferred) most of the time. Some of these required getting assistance from other work groups or offices. That was ok, too, though it was often tough to get more than cursory attention from those folks. But I was persistent... and tenacious... and probably seen as a PITA because of it. And I cleared everything I could. I don't recall leaving any behind when I left an office to go elsewhere.

Maybe I could have been a good detective.

*Step by Step

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Oh Look! Another Kerfuffle

 Just a thought: If you or I lie to the federal government, it's a felony. If the government lies to us, it's called "politics" and completely legal.

Bob Woodward is in the news this week. It seems he had the audacity to to do two things: point the finger at Obama over sequestration and to take a comment by Gene Sperling (Obama economic advisor) as a threat.

In an email after a testy exchange between Woodward and Sperling, Sperling apologized for raising his voice and said that Woodward would regret saying that Obama was "moving the goalpost" in relation to the possibility of a deal regarding the sequestration. Sperling's actual words are: "I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim."

This is a non-issue, a distraction, something to divert attention. I don't see it as a threat at all but more as a suggestion that the White House will be able to avoid blame and that Woodward might feel some embarrassment in having made the claim. As the youths of today say, "meh", it isn't a big deal, not even newsworthy.

The White House's take on sequestration is that they thought it up, perhaps, but never intended for it to go this far and that it is all the Republican's fault. Maybe. But actions often do have consequences and most of them are unintended.

I think what the White House wanted was for Republicans to fold completely under the threat of sequestration and wimp out on demanding cuts while accepting tax increases. They did initially but suffered a backlash for doing so. And when part II of the sequestration drama began to play out, they have decided to call Obama's bluff.

I also think the public is supportive of that tactic.

When the average American does not get the raise he expected, he doesn't go to his boss and demand the raise he wanted. He goes home and tightens his belt; he adjusts his budget to suit the reality of his paycheck. And he doesn't understand why Washington doesn't do the same.

Remember, sequestration does not mean that budgets will actually be cut. That is, it does not mean there will be less money spent in the next year than has been spent this year. It means that the increase in the amount of spending will be lower than what is desired by Washington.

All this crying of late that the danger of sequestration is in the lack of discretionary control over the reductions in the growth of spending is also simply a diversion. A red herring, if you will. So that blame can be put on the Republicans for not acting (meaning "not caving"). There was nothing preventing the Defense Department and all others potentially affected from moving money around in preparation of the pending sequestration. Instead, it was "business as usual" as the assumption was that the Republicans would cave (as they have for decades) and spending would continue as before.

I think the public is truly fed up with these games that Washington plays and is ready to see this played out and the bluff called.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Are we finally on our way?

I am intrigued and hopeful after reading this. After years of childhood movies about men from Mars and a fascination with science fiction that began in my twenties, I may just live long enough to see humans reach that planet. Unlike some, I didn't see the moon missions as anything more breakthrough-ish than  Sir Edmund Hillary's climbing to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953. It was a feat, for sure, and an important one, but it didn't have the magic of real space travel. The moon is just a hunk of rock trapped by Earth's gravity. It is not  especially far away in relation to planets. And we knew it did not hold life.

When I was young, people still spoke of the "canals" of Mars and life there was thought possible. Heck, some still hold out hope that one of the rovers will find evidence of past life if not current life. Maybe microbes... if we can't have alien creatures wandering about the vast deserts of that planet. The more we learned, as technology advanced, the more we have come to realize just how inhospitable Mars is to life today. Disappointing me and so many others who grew up wondering if Martians might one day drop in for a visit.

Yes, Mars is an inhospitable place and seemingly quite barren of life and water. The "canals" turned out to be an illusion, instead of forests of red trees... rocks and sand. Yet... it is still a planet, and has an atmosphere (a thin one, to be sure, and insufficient to support humans) and we have the technology to build a colony of sorts there. Sure, we have the technology to allow us to do much the same on the moon but why? We have come to realize it is simply a chunk of good old Mother Earth that was blasted away by some big old planetoid that slammed into us a few billion years ago. So what is there that isn't already here?

Maybe we will find that Mars, too, is not so different from Earth. Maybe we will find that the debris of the solar system of which Earth is made is is pretty much all that Mars is also. And we'll be disappointed. Because, after Mars, there are just gas giants without much hope of life or even solid ground on which to wander about. Until we are capable of interstellar travel.