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, September 30, 2013

New Adages...

... more suited to our modern age:

He who loses his smartphone is lost.

A picture is worth a thousand words, or possibly a bunch of bucks if it is the topless pic of the ex-girlfriend.

No man is an island... as long as he has a cell phone.

A leopard cannot change his spots... without PhotoShop.

A penny saved is a penny earned and worth even less than that.

An ounce of prevention is way too expensive.

The sins of the father will cost him big in the divorce.

Do not bring a knife to a gunfight... bring a grenade instead.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you... and then tweet it to your followers.

Don't get mad, spread vile rumors.

If you think there are no dumb questions, you have never worked in tech support.

Home is where your cell phone rings.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Filibusters

People cannot understand conservatives. I should rephrase that... the media cannot tolerate conservatives. And show it constantly.

Today, let's talk about filibusters. There were two in the news over the last several months. One took place in the Texas Senate, the other took place in the U.S. Senate. Both were doomed to failure. One was apparently not a true filibuster since it did not hold up any government business. Guess which one the media loved and which one they derided.

Republican senator Ted Cruz was attacked, lampooned, and ridiculed by the media and by many of his own party.

Texas Democrat state senator Wendy Davis was praised and is now raising funds for a possible run for governor.

Why were both speeches doomed to failure? Because the governor of Texas had only to call another special session to pass the legislation Davis filibustered. And the (not really a) filibuster by Ted Cruz could not rally Senate Republicans to vote as a bloc. That was a foregone conclusion and Cruz was ridiculed for not folding after enduring criticism from his own party.

So, tell me, why is Davis a hero and Cruz a buffoon?

Neither one did more than "tilt at windmills" and both showed passion and sincerity to their cause.

The interesting thing is that Cruz was accused of filibustering merely to get attention for himself and Davis was never heard of outside her district before her filibuster. Who needed the attention more? Who is trying to benefit from the attention?

Pot <> kettle <> black.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Tell Me What I Think

A friend of mine often asks, "Know what I think?" And, when someone responds with, "No, what do you think?" Says, "I don't know, I was hoping you could tell me."
As I peruse the stories and comments at various internet sites that I am alerted to by the folks at the Washington Post and NY Times (through the emails they send me each day), I find some fascinating things.  Mostly it is opinion that intrigues me. The opinions of authors of these reports/op-eds and the opinions of those who leave comments. These folks are not the majority, they are a tiny minority of the public at large. The vast majority do not write opinion pieces, or news reports, or comment on them. The vast majority only tell their spouses and friends what they think. Many do not even do that... most likely out of fear of alienating those they hold in some kind of esteem.

I am, of course, opinionated and quite willing to let those opinions be known. Anyone who reads this blog on occasion knows this. Or should. Yet, I have refrained from writing some strong opinions at times for the same reasons that some of my friends have held their tongues in the face of opinions that they disagreed with.

And I wonder why...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

We Are Drowning Here!

I am unhappy. This town, this county and a few others around it, have been awash of late. Not simply some rain but a lot of rain. We have, instead of sewer pipe and grates, swales. These are shallow ditches which run along the edge of the property near the road in front of the house. It has been quite full of water for some time now, this swale. There are polliwogs and guppies swimming about. I expect there will be a glut of frogs around here in the near future.

But that swale eco-system is not really what bothers me. I can pretty much ignore it. What really bugs me is what the rain is doing to golf courses in the area.  Like farms, rain is both a boon and disaster for golf courses. Too little water and grass dies. Too much water and it seems to drown. Too much rain causes problems for the greens, promotes fungi, and leaves us with soggy fairways.

The course I play at a couple of times a week has had to close the front nine for the last two weeks. Playing the back nine twice is not quite the same as a regular 18 holes. It's frustrating to play a hole twice and get very different scores each time.

Back in the 50's and early 60's, we blamed all the weird weather on H-bomb tests. Now, we blame global warming. But weather is always weird. And why do we blame the weatherman? I am reasonably sure the weatherman doesn't make it rain  or cause droughts but we sure take it on him, don't we?

In any case, our lakes are full to the brim (and some are overflowing). And it doesn't look like it will let up anytime soon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

This Could Be Good... Or Bad

Every so often, something pops up that seems to be a "Well... duh!" revelation. On the other hand, closer scrutiny reveals that it is something else again.

This is one of those:

New Math Model Predicts Evolution of Large Complex Human Societies

The thing that seems "Well... duh!" is this:

"Intense warfare is actually the evolutionary driver of large, complex societies."

People tend to look at me funny when I say that war actually has benefits. I mean beyond enriching some at the cost of turmoil and devastation. For example, we learn much about about medicine, especially what we call "trauma medicine", from war. This translates rather well into dealing with natural, and man-made, disasters. War death numbers are shrinking rapidly due to our evolving ability to transport and treat trauma victims and also due to moves toward accuracy in targeting plus better physical protection. But these also help us when we encounter large natural disasters.

I have come to the conclusion that all things evolve, even complex artificial structures such as societies. Societies, to me, are actually natural evolutions from primitive social structures. And it appears that war is an important factor in that evolution. Something I felt to be true  for a long time.

Now mathematicians have developed a formula which describes societal evolution. It must be a fascinating formula as complex as the societies it explains. For how do you assign variables unless you know what are? How do you assign the proper power to each of these variables?

Will this formula help explain why and how some societies rise while others tumble? Will it explain the Roman Empire?

There is a series of novels by Isaac Asimov ("Foundation") wherein this mathematical formula was posited.

The premise of the series is that the mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics). Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillions of humans, inhabiting millions of star systems). The larger the number, the more predictable is the future.

There was another novel, one that I read back in the early 60's I think (though I no longer recall its name), which spoke of a similar thing. Though it concerned a schism between those who felt things were random and those who accepted a kind of predestination. Dice rolls vs mathematical probability, if you will.

Fascinating. Humans are curious creatures, they want to understand just about everything. Probably in the hopes of controlling it. How will having this formula impact our future?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Words of Wisdom?

I don't know what to make of adages and proverbs. They are, it is said, simple sayings which express a general truth. But they seem to contradict each other much of the time. For instance, these two popular ones:

Carpe diem (Seize the day)
Take time to stop and smell the roses. (or "good things come to those who wait"... either one)

Or (put another way):
A humble life with peace and quiet is better than a splendid one with danger and risk.

How about:
A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.
Yet... Speak for yourself, John.

Clothes make the man (or dress for success, make a good first impression).
But Don't judge a book by its cover.

Done is better than perfect.
Measure once, cut twice... measure twice, cut once.


He who hesitates is lost.
But, also, haste makes waste.

I always thought this one was simply weird:

Like finding a needle in a haystack.

Why would you look for a needle there? I keep needles with my sewing kit. If you take a roll in the hay, I can almost guarantee you'll find any needle in there.

And this one just plain confuses me:

A friend in need is a friend in deed (or, it could be "indeed").

Who's in need? The friend or you? There are times I thought it sarcasm and times I thought it was similar to the Golden Rule.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Stupid Names

I came across this the other day...

... and I was reminded of a question I once posed to myself.

Why do they call it a fanny pack when no one wears them in the back?

Think about it... It does not sit above or on a fanny but in front, just below the belly. Why not call them "Belly Packs" instead?

I own two, I think, I am not sure because I never wear them. One I bought because it contains a holster for a small handgun (which is another odd term... would you call a rifle a "shoulder gun?") and the other was a gift or prize that I picked up somewhere. The second one has no holster and is much bulkier... like a woman's small purse. It is useless, I have no desire to carry around that much stuff. I prefer simplicity and efficiency.

But no one cares what I think.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Are We Liberal or Conservative?

I doubt this is interesting but here goes anyway...

America*: Media still ‘too liberal

Amercans consistently think the media is too liberal. In polls starting in 2002 to today (one assumes) Americans who think the media is too liberal far outnumber the Americans who think the media is too conservative.

Oddly, the definition of "media" is nowhere to be found in the article. What is the media? Newspapers and TV networks? Or those and art (painting and sculture), movies, books (fiction and non-fiction), TV shows, theater, and all of the performing arts? It seems left up to the respondents to decide.

I would say, overall, media (including the additional forms I mentioned) is incredibly liberal. The question is also what is "too" liberal? I don't think the media is too liberal, I think it is as liberal as the public permits. So, if the media is too liberal... that's what the public expects and allows (they want to be entertained and they are willing to tolerate liberal bias in order to get that). It will change when the public changes. And not before.

I watch (as do you all, I'm sure) the movies which come out of Hollywood. Most, if not all, of these have some liberal slant to them.  The same goes for TV shows... very few can be considered conservative. Sitcoms are heavily liberal, that's apparent. But what about reality shows? Those are harder to define. I don't watch them so I have no opinion. That's not entirely true, I watched the reality show that my granddaugther was in (a dance competition stretched out over 12 weeks... which she won, in case you didn't know) and I watched a reality show called "Full Metal Jousting" which was interesting. Neither of these had any strong (or weak) elements of liberal bias as far as I could tell.

As I travel about the internet, reading and participating in various "hot topic" forums, I find a lot of liberal reaction to events and issues. I expect that in certain websites; Washington Post, NY Times, NBC, Salon, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and so on. But it is just about everywhere. If one were to read just the forums, one might decide that America is very liberal. Yet, the poll mentioned above and others indicate that this is not so.

Personally, I think we (human beings) are naturally conservative. We, in general, do not like change. We like consistency, we like constancy, we want reliability in everyday life. We fall into routines and, as much as we talk about not liking to be in a rut, we are more comfortable there. Especially as we grow older or get past the mid-point in a career. It is youth which usually desires and appreciates change. Youth craves excitement and innovation. Me? Not so much anymore.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Can You Feel The Collective Kneejerk?

By now, you have all heard, read, watched news and/or commentary, about the shootings and killings at the Navy Yard in D.C. If you are half the news junkie that I am (and I am not an avid one, just an interested one... I think), you know that we have few facts that will help us understand what the Real Story is.

A lot is being made of the fact that he had a security clearance in spite of his past problems in, and out of, the Navy. Security clearances don't mean much to me as I have had one a couple of times (in the Navy and while I was working for Ma Bell). There are various levels of security, some of which are merely pro forma. Don't concern yourself with this aspect of the story, it's a distraction.

He had access to this facility because he had a badge; he worked there, he was likely known by the gate security folks.  People who are known are passed through security gates easily.

"But how did he get in there with a shotgun???" you ask.

A good question but it's apparent that it did not look like a shotgun at the time. According to some reports, the shotgun was disassembled and in a bag he carried. And, likely, that bag was in his car when he drove through the gate so it would not have been obvious or of any great concern to security. Unless the facility is under heightened security (which it wasn't), no one is searching cars or questioning the access of people who come in through the gate on a regular basis. After he was inside the gate and parked his vehicle, he is alleged to have gone into a restroom and re-assembled the shotgun.

Much talk is made about his having one or two handguns (the number is not yet clear... as of this writing) and an AR-15. Apparently, he did not actually use these and they were taken from people he shot so he did not have them when he entered. Another distraction.

NBC, in its usual haste to put out unverified information, initially said that the shooter "is believed to have a Concealed Weapon Permit." He apparently did not.

While trying to discern actual facts about this tragic event, I have run into some incredibly inaccurate reporting, weird and outrageous comments, and a general ignorance. None of which is a surprise.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Weather or Not ... It Matters

Since I live in Florida, I tend to pay attention to the weather. I cannot avoid that, actually... being a golfer. But I was interested in weather for much longer than when I began chasing the little white ball. I got interested when I was 18. When I got into surfing. I wanted to get an idea about surf conditions. I had no specific training, no foundation of knowledge, just the weather charts that were in the newspapers back then. Those charts showed much more information than we see today. They showed fronts (warm and cold), they showed isobars and in layers, and these could be used to discern patterns which could... in turn... allow the average person to make a general prediction about the near future in terms of weather.

I still look at the weather and try to get an idea of what is coming. There is a lot less information about it, however, than we used to get. I do not know why. If I was paranoid, I'd say "they" don't want us to know. In spite of being a little paranoid (after years of "them" being out to get me), I think it is merely protecting one's job. After all, if we could learn to predict weather as well as the meteorologists then why would we need them? Well, of course, you and I know that these are the guys who used to develop those charts. But your local TV weatherman being essential? Not so much.

I worry more about hurricanes. Because I live in Florida, because Florida is basically a big sandbar sticking out into a large body of water. And so I pay attention to the yearly hurricane season predictions. Just out of curiosity, mind you. I know that the NOAA cannot tell us with any accuracy whatsoever, which storms will hit land and Florida in particular.

On Tuesday, I read this article on the Accuweather website:

2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season Not Over Yet

You should read it also. Because it reveals a lot about these people who proclaim their expertise. It talks about why the prediction was off by a bunch. Let me quote:

According to Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski, "A large area of high pressure over the central Atlantic has been very strong and very good at driving dry air southward into the tropics into September."

It is moist air that aids in building storms in the Atlantic.

I immediately asked myself, "Why couldn't they have predicted this?" The "large area of high pressure" that is. The conditions which create such things are known.  Maybe they didn't take the possibility of this high pressure area into account. Maybe the conditions changed as we went into the season and that was a surprise.

But I cannot help thinking that this was a CYA piece.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Every so often, I run across something that tweaks my fancy, or just plain intrigues me, in the NY Times or Washington Post. I do not think much of these enterprises and just peruse their headlines most of the time but this one caught my attention:

Overpopulation Is Not The Problem

If you haven't guessed why, I will explain (I will do that even if you have guessed why, I suppose, since I have no way of knowing what you have guessed or even if you bothered to).

A number of years ago,  teacher I had offered an explanation of population growth and reduction in a species. He spoke of horses in a canyon. Imagine a herd of horses, with its hierarchical structure, and territorial nature. The herd resides in a box canyon, perhaps, limited to some degree by terrain the individuals of the herd cannot traverse. Even the opening is barred by some natural barrier. The herd is, say, 20 strong. The territory has sufficient grazing land to support 25-30 horses. The herd will swell above 30... for awhile. But the land will not support that number so the strong will thrive while the weak will falter and die. The herd will, over time, shrink to below the the supportable number and then grow again. But, viewed over time, the average size of the herd will not exceed the capacity the territory can support.

Humans are different, but not by much. The primary difference is that we have learned to adapt not only to the environment we exist in but to adapt the environment to our needs. We run out of land to contain our growing numbers? We build upward, packing more individuals into the limited space. We devise ways to make the environment support us rather than simply accept the limits set by nature. We develop domestication of crops and animals to counter the limiting effects of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. When the limits of crop size threaten to impact our population size, we develop ways to increase crop production or switch to crops which better support the growth in population. We alter our environment to support the growth in population rather than accept the "natural" limits.

The world population at the time of this teacher's lesson was probably no more than 3 billion.

Unlike the author of the piece seems to imply, I still believe there is a finite limit to the population the world can sustain. We are, in my opinion, nowhere near that limit at this point in time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It's Not Really Exercise

There are two basic categories of golf: professional and amateur. Within these two categories there are a number of tiers. The professionals are all well above average. In fact, I refer to them as "freaks of nature" because they can do things with a  golf ball and a club that defy imagination. So there are simply two tiers: superstars and the rest.

In amateur golf, there are no tiers either, really, just a range of horrible to excellent. But we tend to arrange them into tiers: beginners, average, high handicap, low handicap, mid-handicap. The "average" golfer tier is actually mostly high handicap types. The general consensus is that the "average golfer" doesn't break 100 most rounds. I am a mid-handicapper; somewhere between a 12 and 16. That means I tend to play rounds in the mid to upper eighties with occasional trips into the nineties and the rare visit under 80.

I break my golf into two phases: pre-1986 and post-2001. You see, I started playing golf in 1974 and played fairly regularly until mid-1986. I just walked away from it. As I approached retirement... avidly... I decided I needed something to fill my idle hours and decided to take up golf once again. I had broken 80 only once in the first phase, shooting a 79 while holding a 15 handicap (which gave me a net 64). I have done this a number of times since 2005; shooting 77, 78, or 79 a number of times... even as low as 75. Breaking 90 was very important to me and happened, for the second time, in 2002... making me feel like I was back, since I felt my skill level indicated I should play in the mid-80's.

Something I learned along the way is that I get less exercise (and feel less tired after) with a round where I break 80. Also, that I do not even feel the contact on my best drives or other shots. A friend claims he can see the ball compress as he hits it with his driver. I have no reason to disbelieve this but cannot do it myself. In fact, I cannot even see the ball as it is struck. I just do not have quick enough eyes.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Thinking About It

The other day I got to musing on how things with brains think. I started musing on this because of a lizard, a chameleon. I have a small screened in porch at my front door as well as a screened porch in the back of the house. We have several lizards living on the back porch. We have a few tiny ones that apparently hatched back there in one of the potted plants and an adult or two roaming about.

I noticed, a few months ago, that we had a couple of lizards on the front porch also. Then I found a dead one. And then, a couple of days ago, I noticed a live one that seemed more than just lethargic, it seemed uncaring that I was near. It also seemed quite thin, like it wasn't eating.  I decided yesterday that I would move this one to the back porch... where lizards seemed to thrive.

And that's what triggered musing about thinking. Not mine but the lizard's. I captured it and held in inside my loosely closed fist. I am reasonably sure it could not see out and had no concept of what might happen to it next. And that's when I began musing...

We humans usually think (at least I do) in words, with only occasional images popping up in my mind from time to time when necessary. But the lizard has no words that we know of. So what, if anything, runs though its mind when something as I described happens? Does it feel fear as we know it? Or something so alien to us that we would not be able to relate to it? Does it think in pictures? Symbols?

We often try to ascribe human emotions, thoughts, and reactions to the "lower" animals. I am sure we are completely wrong in our perception of their thought processes but it is how we can relate to them.

And, of course, that made me wonder about the blind among us... and the deaf. Do the blind who can hear think only in words and have no images? Do the deaf think in words? Or in symbols or images? What about the folks who are both blind and deaf? From birth, I mean.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Colorado... What Does it Mean?

This week, Coloradans did something unique in their history, they successfully recalled two state senators over gun control legislation. The gun control advocates lamented this, pointed the finger of blame at the NRA, and missed the target.

There was no one to blame but those who lost their seats in the state senate. They ignored the will of the people. They chose, instead, to impose their will on the people. Much was made of the NRA and out of state money but much of the money, most of it, was in support of these two. And, yet, they lost.

The gun control advocates are unhappy, understandably. They lost a recall election, a slap in their collective face, because the people simply did not agree with them. And they seem, as they often do, to be confused why this should be so. This is why they lash out at the NRA.

I believe they, and most (if not all) progressives, think the average voter is an idiot, easily swayed by lies and hyperbole. One does not have to delve too deeply into why they hold such a belief. The tactics of lie and hyperbole have worked well for them over the years. These tactics have helped them win elections and mute opposition all over the country for many, many election cycles.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a friend tell me the problem with the Republican Party (of which he is a member) is that it does not nominate moderates to run for president of the U.S. I was stunned into silence. I could not believe he thought John McCain and Mitt Romney were anything but moderate. I also got a "look" from another friend which meant "keep the peace", "don't start a political argument", and I just bit my proverbial tongue. Apparently, he believed the campaigns against those two.

I will readily admit that I am quite politically conservative in my views. I do not apologize for it. I will not apologize for it. I used to hide it. I used to suppress it. I no longer do so. But I also do not fit the stereotype of conservative that people have seemingly grown to accept. I am not a Fundamentalist Christian and I am not a redneck, I hold my prejudices in check (and recognize that I, like all humans, have them), and I am not stupid.

My ideal candidate is a person who is passionate about what he or she believes and does not try to mold his or her image to suit what his or her handlers say will gain him votes. This is what the Republican Party lacks, I think. They have, out of fear of failure, thrown away a set of core values. Perhaps they believe they were right to do so but it will eventually lead to the death of the party.

I strongly believe this country was founded on the principle that it could accommodate a great disparity in political thought. Unlike just about all other countries that existed at the time of our founding, it embraced diversity in political ideology. Not on an individual basis but on a national, a collective, level. And so these founders wrote a Constitution that embodied that concept. They did it because they, themselves, differed greatly in political ideology but had one cohesive political desire: create a nation that embraced the power of the individual. They did this after their first attempt (the Articles of Confederation) failed. They were incredibly wise and prescient men.

They ignored one thing. That those who seek power will eventually compromise the system under which they live in order to gain and hold power. And this is what I believe has been happening over the last 50 or so years.

Colorado was an example of that and the recall was an example of the backlash it inevitably triggers. I hope it is not simply an aberration. I hope it is not just a spark in a dying fire.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Bad Luck, Good Luck?

It's Friday the 13th! Shall we panic now? Perhaps we should all just stay in bed and pull the covers over our heads. I never have, though, except when I was really hung over. I don't recall ever worrying about a day, other than Christmas, being very special. And that was only when I was very small. As I got older, many "special" things became mundane, ordinary.

A friend of mine suspects that Big Foot is real. Though we haven't discussed it, I suspect he believes in UFOs. I don't. No Yeti, no Big Foot, no little green men in flying saucers. Also no ghosts, no goblins, no leprechauns, no faeries, no zombies, no black (or white) magic of any kind. I just don't believe in such things. To me, there is no supernatural.

It might seem a little dull not to entertain some belief in the supernatural but it also takes away a lot of fear. It does not take away my curiosity about the folklore behind them, however.

Take vampires, for instance. Wonderful romantic legends. Many people think these legends began with Vlad the Impaler. But I think the concept existed long before Vlad existed. I do believe his story/legend inspired Bram Stoker's tale of Dracula, though, which may have morphed into the belief that he is the source of all vampiric legend.

Most, if not all, cultures had legends of vampires, or similar creatures, stretching all the way back into history. My pet theory is it was serial killers and pedophiles which gave birth to these legends.

In any case, superstition is not my thing. I do not worry about broken mirrors, black cats crossing my path, spilling salt, or hexes of any kind. I do worry about walking under ladders, however... ever since someone almost dropped a hammer on my head as I walked under one.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How Much Would be Enough?

When I was younger, early teens I guess, I considered a life of crime. Being a little too logical and grounded, I spent the next few years contemplating and weighing the costs and benefits of such a life. I had no idea what a cost/benefit analysis was but I apparently did that... over time.

The benefits were obvious; money, power, and a kind of freedom. The costs were also obvious; incarceration and being outside of society, an "outlaw." I figured I could handle the incarceration. I had friends who spent time in various reformatories. What we called "Youth Hall", which was in Dade County, and something we called "Marianna." The latter has been in the news of late and not pleasantly. It was a reform school and a tough one by all accounts. It was in north Florida, near the town of Marianna. And you went there once you were deemed to be really bad, incorrigible.

I eventually rejected the idea of following a path of crime. I wasn't tough enough. I also didn't want to go through the process that would toughen me up and teach me the needed skills. The main reason I rejected it was that it seemed more work than it was worth.  I decided that the "scores" I would need were few and far between.  There simply wasn't enough profit in it. In the late fifties and early sixties, $10,000 was a  lot of money. And I saw no way I could get that through theft without a lot of work. There is the planning, the preparation, and the assembling of a crew. No crime that would pay well could be done at the time without a crew. And a crew meant depending upon others... something I also had an aversion to.

In the end, I decided there just wasn't enough money in crime to be worth the potential risks.  After all, let's suppose I found a Big Score. I would have to assemble a crew I could trust and that meant sharing the score with them and relying on them not to get caught and ratting me out. I knew, even then, that there really isn't any honor among thieves. They will make deals and rat out their own brothers to get a reduced sentence or some other preferential treatment.

I decided the only way I would commit a crime was if I could do it alone, score enough to live the rest of my life on, and had it planned out to perfection. At that time, the amount would have had to exceed $500,000 and there was no way of scoring that much without a crew.

Today, if I was young, it would have to be much more than that, 10-20 times that amount. And that would still take a crew. Which would expose me to those risks I despised. If you fail, all you end up with is prison time. And that would not be pleasant.

How much would tempt you?


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where is the Heart of Your Town?

Before reading this post, please take a moment to reflect on the events of 12 years ago on this date. Never forget, never diminish it in your mind.

When I was a wee lad, I lived in a small town. Tiny, at the time, it has become a city. A small city of a bit over 8000 but still a city. At the time I lived there (1946-1956), the population was much less though I cannot find the data. Our little town had a business district of sorts. It was comprised of maybe 6 blocks; 4 in one direction and 2 in another. Most shopping was done on Main Street, which also held the two banks, the movie theater, the Methodist church, the fire department, the elementary school, and a few luncheonettes (diners, if you will). My father's bicycle shop was on Main across from the school.

It seemed that everything one needed could be found on Main Street. It was a common thing for small towns. "Downtown" was where it was at, you could say. Things have changed, haven't they?

I bring this up because yesterday, as I was driving home from the Wal-Mart, I caught a bit of talk radio where the host lamented the "sprawl" and loss of downtowns, city centers... the "hearts" of towns and cities. His staff (who, unlike most shows of the type, speak on air) wondered how you could find the center of a city like, say, Dallas. You can't. In my little town, it was pretty easy... Main and Conklin. Even after we moved to Florida, to a little city called North Miami Beach, the center of the city held the police station, the city hall, a park but only a few small businesses. Most businesses were found on a main thoroughfare called 163rd street where the shopping center was located.

I have to disagree with that talk show host. The heart of a city is not located in its downtown district. It might have been many years before I was born but things changed radically after World War II. Mostly for the better, I'd say, but you could say I am biased. After all, like most folks, for me history began the day I was born.

I grew up with shopping centers... which became shopping malls... which grew into places you could have put my whole little home town inside. As I was growing up, the technology seers promised domed cities with controlled weather. Shopping malls were what we got. Business districts neatly boxed into a climate controlled building... with atria. Bright, cheery places where all manner of business is conducted. The movie theaters became part of them, as did the little cafes, tobacconists, and just about all the other commercial needs a community might have. Today's teens know this, that's why they congregate there.

Unlike some, I do not bemoan the Wal-Marts, the shopping malls, the suburbanization of America. I think these are Good Things. They reflect the will of the people. If they didn't, they'd fail. And some do. The ones that are not within easy reach of sufficient customers, the ones who do not cater to the average consumer. There are downtowns that thrive. They do so because there are enough people whose average income are suited to the businesses that are there.

Rarely is a shopping mall that thrives built far away from a growing residential neighborhood. And, once the mall is built, more residential housing follows. They have become the new "hearts" of cities and towns.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Choices Are Dilemmas

Yesterday, I wrote about something called "Choice Theory." I am often misunderstood when I talk about choices. I figure it's my inability to clearly explain such things.

You see, I think we make two kinds of choices in our lives: Conscious and Involuntary. A conscious choice is pretty obvious; you evaluate evidence, you weigh that evidence, and you draw conclusions upon which you make a choice or decision. The involuntary choice is much more subtle; it involves peer pressure, social or familial or cultural conditioning, expectations, desires, urges, and will power (or the lack thereof), and probably much more.

Think about the times you made, in your parents' minds, the "wrong" decision. The times where you said "But Mom (or Dad), everyone does it." Or, "I thought it was a good idea at the time" (one of my personal favorites). In the Navy, I changed that last one to "No excuse, sir!" which seemed to work well enough much of the time. In the last couple of months of my enlistment, it became (to certain NCO's who outranked me, not to officers above Lieutenant JG), "Write me up." That was more dare than wish and no one ever took me up on it. Perhaps because they realized that I truly no longer cared.

The most important form of involuntary choice is one made because you assume it is what is expected. It's more reflex than considered. An example might be the behavior following losing one's virginity. Girls, especially, suffer this one. Nothing to protect anymore, what have I got to lose? But guys also run into this. If a teen boy is seen as a hoodlum, told he is "bad", and gets attention from that reputation, why are we surprised that his behavior not only continues along that line but escalates?

Think of the women you know who are in abusive relationships. The odds are that it isn't the first time they found themselves in one. Think of something called Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. Think of alcoholics, drug addicts, any obsession... they all start with some choice and rarely is such a choice a conscious one.

But maybe I am not being clear again.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Why Me?

Have you ever had a not-all-that-well-fleshed-out theory that turned out to be something someone else already thought of? I have, many times. Of course, it might just be a trick of the imagination... an opportunistic ruse performed by an over-active ego... and not something I actually thought up on my own. I do that often enough, I suppose.

I have long held a belief that we have more power over our lives than we usually think. But I am not rich and/or famous so who would pay attention to my take on such things? If I had a doctorate in psychology, perhaps, but as just a mope in the crowd? No chance.

Even so, every so often, one finds support for one's hair-brained theories in the world of those who do, apparently, matter. Saturday, I came across an instance of this when I read about Dr. William Glasser's death at age 88. It brought back a number of memories about my own simple, somewhat parallel, theory. The doctor was ahead of me by at least 4 years. I began considering my version on New Year's Eve 1969.

In case you are interested, Dr. Glassman called it "Choice Theory"... a good name for it. The foundation for my version was in the observations at a New Year's party at a house in Ontario, California but the basic tenets formed much earlier, I believe, as I am sure Dr. Glassman's did. I was raised to believe that the choices I made were under my control. And that these choices were not limited to which toy to play with or other trivial matters but also affected how I would live my life.

On New Year's Eve in 1969, I drove up to Ontario, California from Long Beach with a few friends to attend a party. The events that night triggered my version of Choice Theory. At the time, I just considered it to be a theory on how we understand and interact with the immediate world around us. How we choose friends, how we evaluate events, how we form opinions... Of course, I was loaded on LSD at the time so examining one's navel was pretty much what I was preoccupied with.

I listened to some friends talk about the "disaster" the party had become when a group of bikers crashed it. A group of us had left rather than stay and I was the one with a vehicle which meant I pretty much had to go along. I had had no desire to leave. To me, the bikers had brought some life to a party that had deteriorated into dullness. When we returned after the bikers had left (about 2 hours later and after midnight), there was no evidence the "disaster" imagined by my friends had occurred. Still, that did not stifle their feelings about the party and that "disaster." Only I had a contrary view but I kept it to myself. I did not want to offend anyone.

I had decided the problems that afflicted my friends were much more self-imposed than they thought. They viewed life as something to battle, a war to be waged against external forces, rather than something to be appreciated. It's the old "glass half full or half empty" test.

This difference in approaching life had much to do with the problems of my first marriage. She seemed to think my purpose in her life was to make (and keep) her happy. Since she could not define what "happy" meant, it was an impossible task. And, so, I was doomed to failure. Once I realized this, the marriage was doomed... And I stopped caring whether she was happy or not.

Here are the basic tenets of Choice Theory:

  1.  The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.
  2.  All we can give another person is information.
  3.  All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.
  4.  The problem relationship is always part of our present life.
  5.  What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future.
  6.  We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.
  7.  All we do is behave.
  8.  All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.
  9.  All Total Behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.
  10.  All Total Behavior is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognizable.

My own theory is simpler:
You create your own misery.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Different Administration, Same Mistrust

I am having a little trouble supporting Obama's proposed action on Syria. First, I am not convinced we yet have proof that Assad's forces instigated the sarin gas attack. You see, we do not have access to the highly classified evidence. And the UN is just now testing the samples picked up at the attack site. It may take weeks to get those results. Those results should give us information about the gas and where it was made. Second, the plan is unclear. What is the intent? Thirdly, the longer we wait, the more opportunity Assad has to move the targeted assets elsewhere. if we intend to aid the rebels (and what else would a military strike do?) then which rebels and can they be trusted if they oust Assad and take control of these chemical weapons?

I also wonder why we seem to know so much about who did what in Syria just a few days ago yet we still don't know what happened in Benghazi or what the NSA is doing with our emails and phone calls.

Maybe I am being partisan here and the administration is on the up and up. But ask yourself: If it was George Bush, would you be supporting this?

Friday, September 6, 2013

I Sometimes Think They Are Truly Out to Get Me

I used to think that the worst drivers in the country were those from New Jersey. This was based on observations I made as a young man living in south Florida during tourist season. I felt then that it was okay to give them wrong directions because of their atrocious driving habits. So I did so... as often as I was asked.

But yesterday, on the long ride (some 9 or so hours), I learned that Florida drivers are worse.  I had no trouble with drivers in Mississippi or Alabama and, indeed, not even in northern Florida. It was only after I turned south on I-75 and got past Gainesville that I found myself among the clustering sort, the mad-dashers, and the totally mindless.

But I survived and made it home. Which might just be a good thing.

Then a thought struck me... perhaps there's a community of former New Jersyans living in central Florida?

It boggles the mind.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Odds Are Against You

There are a few natural rules that apply to golf. Let me lay them out:

  1. A lost ball found will seek to be returned to lost status.
  2. A ball found in the water will return to the water at the next opportunity.
  3. A player will hook the ball on a dogleg right hole and slice the ball on a dogleg left hole. Unless the player is left-handed.
  4. The odds of the above increase exponentially with the amount of hazards on the opposite side of the dogleg.
  5. The shorter the expanse of water in front of a green, the shorter you will hit the ball trying to get over it.
  6. Golf balls seek the woods, sand traps, and water.
  7. The more you need a putt the less chance you have of making it.
  8. If you shoot a good score one day, you will shoot poor scores the next several times you play.
  9. The out of bounds stakes are always closer than you believe.

These are only the most common natural rules. I have not mentioned a few others involving any bets you make. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Zoomin' and Gamblin'

I am currently in Biloxi (again), got here Sunday around noon-ish, for a free 4 night stay; 2 nights at one casino/hotel and 2 nights at another. I was never a fan of what are called "players clubs" but they have worked out well for us. I should say "for Faye" since she is the one who does the gambling while I ignore the casinos and usually play some golf instead.

It was an uneventful trip up here, just the usual "clingers". I thought I had defined these some years ago but my search showed only one mention and that definition was wanting in my opinion. A "clinger" is a driver who matches your speed (usually only once he/she gets into your blind spot) exactly. You notice them most often when you approach a slower moving vehicle and feel the need to change lanes. At that point, your choices are speed up or slow down. In each case, the clinger may match you and deny you easy access to the desired lane... and often does. You have to slow quickly in order to throw the clinger off and then drop in behind him/her. Which you may not be able to do if he/she has a clinger of his/her own hanging back a car length or two from his/her rear bumper. You see, often the clinger should move to your lane to allow his/her clinger to do the speeding he/she wants to do.

When I find myself approaching a vehicle on my right, I tend to override my cruise control and speed up... especially if there is a slower moving vehicle ahead of that car and in that lane.  But I am no clinger. I learned not to do that (and to dislike those that did) during my motorcycle days. I always wanted an "escape route" in those days.

I don't recall any serious accidents on the freeways. That's always a blessing since it means no long periods of frustration while you inch forward so that the rubberneckers can view the destruction.  I suspect the rubberneckers are NASCAR fans.

I will be back in Paradise late Thursday. A fact you do not really need but one which cheers me up. I used to enjoy road trips, sometimes just taking off with no particular destination in mind. But not so much anymore. Maybe I need to get back on a motorcycle... or buy a sports car. It's not as much fun in a "sofa on wheels."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For

Lately, there have been some demonstrations at some fast food restaurants. These are protests that the media are calling "strikes." They aren't strikes. Strikes are union sanctioned (if they are not sanctioned, they are called "wildcat strikes") walkouts that can last days, weeks, months, even years. These protests rarely last more than an hour or so. Just long enough to get media coverage.

The issue is the pay. The idea is that fast food workers should be entitled to a living wage. It's only fair, say the people behind these protests. After all, look at the money that these corporations make. Yet they pay minimum wage and, often, provide few or no benefits.

When I was a teenie-bopper, I worked for minimum wage; sometimes less. In fact, I worked for minimum wage at age 23 and again at 24. I was a cushion stuffer (my "title" was upholsterer's apprentice) at 23 (right after I got out of the Navy) and I was a janitor at a small drapery factory when I was 24. When I first went to work for the phone company in  1970 (then called Southern Bell), I was paid $109 a week ($2.725 per hour)... minimum wage was $1.60 at the time. But I also got medical benefits which did not cover me for 6 months and did not cover my first wife's pregnancy since that was an "existing condition."

Trust me, I know what it is like trying to get by on low pay.

Still, I do not support these protests. You might think me cruel but I have what I believe are good reasons.  Let's examine the fast food industry, shall we?

Very few of the fast food restaurants are actually run by the corporations that own the names. They are mostly run by average people who buy the franchises the corporations offer. They are mostly staffed by teenagers and retired people. Precious few expect to make a career out of the job. Those precious few are what we call "losers" and we laugh at them... behind their backs, of course.

The cost of purchasing a McDonalds franchise is about $250,000 dollars. And it costs more to build it, buy the equipment needed, pay taxes, do some of the advertising, and so on. You have to buy supplies, pay for maintenance, hire and pay people to work in it, and much more.

If the protesters get their way, the dollar menu will disappear and the price of a meal at a fast food restaurant will go up. Way up. They won't be a cheap meal anymore. You probably pay close to what a fast food worker makes in an hour for a meal now. Guess how much you would pay for a burger, fries, and drink if the worker gets the $15 an hour? Guess who would not be able to afford it? If you said a fast food worker, you'd be right.

Guess what else would happen... there would be fewer and fewer fast food places to go to. People wouldn't want to start one, wouldn't want the aggravation and the hassle. Many, if not most, of those workers wanting higher pay would lose their jobs if they got it.

So, $15 per hour would be fair... and a potential disaster.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sometimes The Solution is Obvious...

We are witnessing the death of football. Well, maybe not. Maybe they will eventually wrap the players in bubblewrap and they can bounce and roll around without fear of injury. No, that would definitely destroy it as a spectator sport.

You realize, of course, I am talking about the recent settlement by the NFL with former players. You have to feel sorry for these players, they had (apparently) no way of knowing they could suffer such injuries.  What did they think the helmets were for, then? Maybe they thought they always had blackouts, extreme headaches, dizziness, and confusion. Maybe they never connected those symptoms and that behavior with the pounding their heads took when tackling, being tackled, and thrown to the ground. Maybe they just thought it  was normal. After all, most of the players started out as young kids in Pop Warner leagues.

I talked about this some time ago... See Who is Really Responsible?

I implied the NFL should go back to leather helmets and shoulder pads as the only protection because the evolution of the player protection has, I maintain, made things worse. I no longer think the NFL should reduce the player protection to what it originally was. I think they should use the Rugby model. Get rid of the helmets, the padding, the "flak jackets"... get rid of it all.

Trust me, no football player will ever "spear" an opponent again. No football player will fly through the air to slam into a receiver.