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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sometimes I Rant

One of the more amusing (and depressing, ironically) things I have observed is how we say one thing fervently and believe another subconsciously. I was among the many fans of the Jefferson Airplane back in the day. And I remained so, even when they acknowledged technology with the name change to Jefferson Starship. One of the most memorable lines from the Volunteers album song "We Can Be Together" is:

All your private property is
Target for your enemy
And your enemy is

Blatantly ungrammatical and "in your face". And then we learned about the property owned by Grace Slick*, et al, which was fenced in with an electrified fence. One wonders if they were taking their own words to heart in the way that their fans were?

And the title of that song fits so well with the sentiment expressed within it, don't you think?

I wonder about walled enclaves where the bleeding hearts take refuge from the common man they portray as so noble and deserving.

And then there's the Free Marketeers who would crush all competition if given the opportunity.

There is that contradiction of the Evil Rich who steal from the poor but who start and endow the charities the poor so depend upon.

"Pride goeth before a fall," I shout proudly. It is my overwhelming humility that I want you to adore. But adore me from afar. After all, though I worked hard all my life to achieve this fame, I demand my privacy.

We must become energy independent but no nuclear plants in my town and keep those bird killing windmills away, too. They mess up my ocean/mountain/desert view. No oil platforms off my pristine beaches full of the obese, either.

Speaking of which, my doctor (who weighs upwards of 300 lbs) recently told my friend (who is maybe 30 lbs overweight) that he must lose some weight. I was immediately nostalgic for the days when doctors endorsed cigarette brands.

Hypocrisy is nothing new.

Preachers who sin are as old as religion itself.

Politician is synonymous with liar.

It's no wonder I am a cynic.

What? You aren't? You believe in the human race? You have hope for the future? I just read today that the Iranians are claiming the evil doers (three of which they tried, sentenced and hung in 36 hours) who bombed a Shi'ite mosque were al Qaeda affiliates who acted on orders from the American CIA. Does that give you hope? How about Kim Jong Il threatening to wage war if his ships are stopped because they are suspected of carrying materials for WOD to other miscreant nations?

Let's try appeasement. It has worked so well in the past.

Or war, since that has worked well also.

Maybe both.

Ah, but then we'd have to figure out who to appease and who to wage war against.

* Grace is/was the lead singer for Jefferson Airplane/Starship [for those who did not know]


Saturday, May 30, 2009


A friend recently suggested I get together with someone with whom I have clashed on occasion. He thought we might collaborate on some project or other, providing differing points of view. I am sure he means well. And it has been useful to pair people with opposite points of view for CNN, Foxnews, and the lesser news and commentary alphabet channels. Useful for their ratings, I suppose. But for the rest of us? I think we gain very little, if anything.

CBS started it on TV with "Point/Counterpoint" in 1971 (it ran until 1979). And it was quite popular. It even spawned a spoof on SNL's Saturday Night Live Weekend Update. Who can forget Dan Akroyd's opening words in most every counterpoint to Jane Curtin?

"Jane, you ignorant slut!"

The spoof managed to skewer both Left and Right equally (though the show was decidedly liberal leaning). Unlike the original version which tried to elevate both to mainstream status. And failed. What CBS did is discover that viewers like to watch people argue. And, eventually, that spawned countless cable channel commentary programs where guests argue constantly, rudely talk over their opponents, then smile and thank the host at the end of the segment. But what did we, the viewers, actually get out of the exchange?

Nothing more than entertainment. The political equivalent to a boxing match that ends in a draw. The Left-leaners hear only the points made in their favor, the Right-leaners come away with the points made in theirs.

This bit of entertainment is often tried in newspapers and news magazines. Dueling columnists. Op-Ed pages with a balanced mix of opinion pieces from each side. An attempt to publish equal numbers of letters to the editor from each side.

All this seems to do is raise the noise level to intolerable. Well, for me anyway. I stay away from the debate shows. I don't watch Anderson Cooper, O'Reilly, and the rest. But that also means I tend to stay away from the rest of the shows because even they have these pseudo-debates now. And I do not think I am alone.

You see, the shrill factor has been raised to the level where opponents must be vilified. The points being made (or not) have been lost, it's all about the name-calling. This is what happens when opinions, offered reasonably, no longer entertain and no longer draw attention. Instead of reasoned argument, we get ad hominem attacks. Instead of a true counterpoint, we get charges of racism or fascism or socialism or elitism. The proponents of a point of view are labeled in order to diminish the chance of that side's position being examined objectively.

Even the so-called moderates are getting shrill while complaining about both sides.

Whenever I find myself watching one of these "debates", I am reminded of the closing lines of George Orwell's Animal Farm...

The animals, watching through the window, realize with a start that, as they look around the room of the farmhouse, they can no longer distinguish which of the cardplayers are pigs and which are human beings.

...and I change the channel.


Friday, May 29, 2009


Serendip + -ity. Coined by Horace Walpole, 1754. Serendip is an old Persian name for Sri Lanka.

* 1754 Horace Walpole, The Letters of Horace Walpole, vol. 2, Letter 90, To Sir Horace Mann, Arlington Street, Jan. 28, 1754.[1]

" This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called "The Three Princes of Serendip;" as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right--now do you understand Serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental Sagacity, (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for comes under this description,) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who, happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon's, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table. "

Most of my knowledge is gained in the above fashion. I don't intend to learn things, I tend to absorb them without thinking about it. This both impressed and frustrated my teachers through my school years. After all, they thought they were in charge of my learning. They had no more control over it than I did. We both failed at the task more often than not anyway. But I managed to graduate from high school anyway.

The best example of serendipity is something we call Post-It notes.

Dr. Spencer Silver, a 3M scientist, discovered the formula for the sticky stuff back in 1968. But it was Silver's colleague, Art Fry, who finally came up with a practical use for it. The idea for repositionable notes struck Fry while singing in the church choir. His bookmark kept falling out of his hymnal, causing him to lose his page. So, taking advantage of a 3M policy known as the "bootlegging" policy, Fry used a portion of his working hours to develop a solution to his problem. Now the world is singing the praises of his pet project: Post-it® Notes.

Another way of expressing just what serendipity is to say it is when you find something of value while seeking something else.

Or picking up the odd knowledge we gather from blogs.


Thursday, May 28, 2009


A number of years ago, Steve Allen had a TV show. On that show, he would make fun of rock and roll by reading the lyrics of a song as a poem. I can imagine how much he might have liked to do the same with Rap lyrics today. As much as I laughed then (and I liked rock and roll music), it made me think about how songs are simply poems put to music. Even our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, is a poem that was later put to music.

I have two songs which I love. The first is timeless, a true "standard", written by Hoagy Carmichael (music) and Mitchell Parish (lyrics). Carmichael originally wrote the tune as a mid-tempo jazz instrumental piece in 1927. In 1930, it was turned into a sentimental ballad by Isham Jones. It is the words which I love, the way they flow together. The song is one of those rare instances where the music and lyrics, even though written a couple of years apart, combine into a masterpiece that does just as the lyrics say... become a song that will not die.

And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart

Hearing these words immediately sets a quiet mood of contemplation in my mind.

High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we're apart

And fill me with the sadness a lonely lover feels.

You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust
Of yesterday
The music
Of the years
Gone by

So few of us have ever avoided a broken heart. And music is the special soother for that ache. A feeling of warm and somehow comforting melancholy permeates my soul each time I hear these words.

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely nights
Dreaming of a song.
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you.
When our love was new, and each kiss an inspiration.
But that was long ago, and now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song.
Beside the garden wall, when stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
Of paradise where roses grew.
Though I dream in vain, in my heart you will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of loves refrain.

Because I have heard this song so many times, I cannot read the words without hearing the melody in my head. Even though I have not had a broken heart in so many years, this song remains my ultimate favorite. I am apparently not alone, Stardust was recorded over 1800 times in the 20th Century.

The second favorite of mine is one which pales in comparison. So I won't even reveal it at this time.

Lyrics reproduced without permission (so, sue me).


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reading Recommendations

I was going to tell you about two books; one I just finished and one I am almost finished with reading. But you probably don't want to read book reviews. Even though these books are very good and you would probably enjoy them immensely. I'll just provide a short synopsis of each...

The first is called Picking Cotton. It is the story of two people linked by a crime, an injustice, and finally redemption and reconciliation. The story is revealed in stages, by each of the two. It is really two stories about the same events. It is well worth the read.

The second is called Odd Hours. It is the fourth in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz. While you can read any of the series on its own, you will find yourself eventually reading all of them. Mr. Koontz is best known for his horror stories and tales of strange and otherworldly happenings. But his talent for the descriptive phrase and subtle (and not so subtle) humor is what makes the Odd Thomas books so enjoyable.

Books are something I have always loved. At least since I was old enough to read them on my own. While I enjoyed being read to, I always thought I was missing something. The reader would emphasize something and downplay something else and I always wondered why. Also my imagination had to be restrained (something I have always found difficult doing) or else I would miss whole passages (if not entire chapters). I suppose this is why I cannot use the Audio Books.

When I learned to read well enough to tackle real books, I jumped in with both feet (and eyes, I suppose). When I was young, I could read more than one book at a time without problem. I could also remember what page I was on so I never dog-eared a page or used a bookmark. Now I can read just barely two and prefer not to. I also need bookmarks (I still do not dog-ear pages).

I envy Faye, she gets to read while I drive. This accomplishes two things. First, she gets through books faster and, second, she doesn't have to shut her eyes in panic while I weave through traffic and take unnecessary risks to get wherever it is we are going. She has learned to tune out my mumbled (and not so mumbled) curses for the dimwits with whom I all too often share the road.

Most of my reading now is done before I fall asleep. I also pick up a book when the satellite dish cannot get a signal because of heavy clouds (something which happens a lot at this time of year). I should just do away with TV altogether. But, alas, I am among the first of the TV generations and I was addicted early on.

Now, get away from your computer and go read a book!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who Am I? How Did I Get Here?

I often wonder how I got to where I am today. There are many answers, each one dependent upon how you interpret the question.

I live in Sebring, FL. The journey here began on Long Island in New York, traveled to North Miami Beach, FL, to Orlando, to Hallandale, to Merritt Island, to the 4 years in the US Navy, and then a brief stay in Los Angeles, to Florida again, back to California (this time San Diego), back to Florida, back to California, to Virginia, to Florida (Jacksonville), to West Palm Beach and, finally, to Sebring.

I am retired. The journey entailed some 34 years with the Bell System, including 25 years with AT&T post breakup, until they downsized enough to make it worth my while to retire, gracefully, and find a quiet place to live.

I am conservative. I was apolitical until my teens when I felt quite liberal (or "progressive" as it is trying to be called now) and stayed that way until I was in my 30s and I began to question those liberal values, until I began to realize they didn't fit well with me anymore. Eventually, I became quite set in my conservative positions.

I am divorced because I really shouldn't have married that woman in the first place.

I am remarried because I met the woman I should have married instead of the first wife.

There are many things which I am now that have much to do with the experiences I have had in life. I am a pretty honest person now though I was not always. The times I was not honest changed me. Allowed me to become more honest. I am cynical. Well, I suppose I was more or less cynical throughout my life except when I was very young. Being the youngest of three, it is difficult to keep that innocence which precludes cynicism.

Where are you? How did you get there?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. A day to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country. It is not a day to think about which wars were "good" and which were "bad". It is a day to thank all those who answered the call to duty, regardless of the cause, and gave their lives so that others might live in peace. It is a day for those of you who believe in God to pray for the souls of those who were lost in wars. It is a day for all to remember those who lost their lives in service to the nation we should hold dear. And a day to remember why those men and women were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Thank you!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Is Greed Good?

There's a lively debate going on over at this site. Creditors Not To Blame For Our Greed. It's an opinion piece about the problems of debt and greed. Alas, my flesh was weak. I got drawn in, I made a couple of comments. But it is something I feel strongly about. Debt is a terrible master. I know, I have feared it much of my adult life.

I started out after the Navy with a new wife and a baby on the way. And no job. In a poor economy headed for recession. I was lucky, I got a job that had security though not great pay. One that had benefits. One that I liked. But we struggled. We lived in a house my mother owned (a scheme to get rich buying old houses and fixing them up... it didn't pan out) and paid rent that was enough to barely cover her mortgage payment. We watched our money carefully. We lived frugally.

When I was a small child, my parents were struggling to get my father's business going. We ate a lot of spaghetti, and Spam, and baloney (it was cheap then). In my teens, my parents weren't well off. My father no longer had his own business but was a salesman. My mother worked as a secretary. She also juggled the finances. And juggled them well. But occasionally dropped a ball or two. There were a few times I came home from school and found the electricity turned off. I knew Mom sometimes cashed a check at the supermarket and deposited the cash to cover a check she had written previously.

I was determined never to do that. And I didn't. But I didn't have a credit card until 10 years into my marriage. I was 34. I only got it so that I would be able to rent cars when I traveled. The rental companies would no longer hold your return flight ticket as collateral. Even though I had a card, I paid cash when I returned the car. I tucked money away in a space in my wallet, away from the regular cash, so I would always have something in reserve.

Even today, I have a little "mad money" in my wallet. Even though I have a few credit cards. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

I was given some advice when I was taking evening classes at the community college. I was mostly majoring in "G.I. Bill", to collect some monthly cash from the government for my service during Vietnam, and not so much to advance my knowledge. My math instructor, an engineer at Raytheon, told me to save money for any purchase less than a house. Then pay cash and pay myself back in payments equal to what a loan company would charge. In essence, be my own personal loan company. It was advice I tried my best to follow.

I see people around me who are immersed in debt. Who have large balances on their credit cards (I pay off each month). And I wonder how they can live with that on their minds.

Whose fault is it? The credit card people? The lax loan policies at the banks? The constant enticement to buy by stores and car dealers?

Or is it the consumers? The ones who make the choice to buy?

What say you?


Friday, May 22, 2009

Snippet of Life - A Night at the 7-11

The summer I turned 15, I was a skinny kid with a flip attitude. I hung out most of that summer at either the bowling alley, Friday night dances at the Unified Hall, or the 7-11 a couple blocks from my house. Loy Diehl was the evening manager there most days. He was a short, thin, guy with a mustache and a friendly manner. He'd pay me to stock the window shelves in the cooler; usually in sodas or cigarettes. I was cheap help. 7-11's at that time had no store windows, the whole front of the store was open to the outside. No surveillance cameras, either.

He also had an interest in guns and encouraged me to learn about them. He was mostly braggart and what we called a "BS artist." But he got me interested in guns. There was no way I would be able to own one, my father was not one to have them in the house. Even BB guns were forbidden (though I had owned a couple of those). I bought and read a lot of gun magazines that summer and fall.

Loy kept a .45 revolver under the counter. Small markets like the 7-11's were easy targets for hold up men and that summer there had been a number of robberies in in or near our town. It was a regular topic of conversation when I was hanging out.

One night, about 9, Loy, me, and a regular customer were talking when another guy walked in and headed for the aisles. This guy eventually made his way to the counter and stood just to the left of me. He placed a brown paper bag on the counter and, in a calm voice, told Loy, "Put all the cash in the bag."

Loy laughed and looked at him, saying something like "Yeah, right." He thought it was some kind of joke. It wasn't. While Loy was filling the bag with bills from the register, the crook turned toward me and the other customer. He was a stocky guy, blond hair, late 20s or early 30s, fair skin with the scars of a teenage period of heavy acne. He wore a blue sport coat, a blue and yellow plaid shirt, and carried a gun. It was pointed at my stomach. I tended to concentrate on that.

He told us, me and the customer, to go to the back of the store and lie down. Eager to please, we complied. Though I circled like a dog looking for the right spot for a bit until he repeated the order more forcefully. By then Loy was done with the bag and had emptied his wallet into the bag. He was told to hit the floor too. He told us to stay down for 5 minutes and then he dashed out the front of the store.

Loy leaped to his feet and reached under the counter. Then, with a "Damn!", he slammed his hand against the counter, and ran out the front around the corner of the store. Within seconds, he came back and grabbed a dime out of the still open cash register drawer then ran for the phone booths at the front to call the police. The one night in months when Loy didn't have that .45 under the counter was the night he was robbed.

I was never scared at any time during the robbery. It was more like something I was just watching take place. I felt calm the entire time. It was only after it was over, after the police had arrived and were having us describe what happened and the perpetrator. That's when the shaking began. It still wasn't fear but the shaking wouldn't stop. Adrenaline, I suppose.

They caught the guy a month or so later. He tried to rob a small market in North Miami but a manager came out of the back with a gun and started firing. He chased the guy out of the store, around the corner and fired a couple of shots into the trunk of the guy's car as he sped away. He also got the plate number. The police were waiting for him when he arrived home.

I got a subpoena to appear as a witness. But it never went to trial, he copped a plea and got a few years of room and board at taxpayers' expense.

I learned a few things that night.

Loy was not as brave as he pretended to be. There would not have been a shootout even if he had brought his .45. Loy maintained the .32 revolver the robber carried was unloaded, I couldn't be sure, but he still cooperated until the guy left before checking for that .45.

Fear didn't register with me. I was not paralyzed by it nor was I full of bravado.

I could register details and relate them accurately later. I could be a good witness.

Robbers are not very bright people.

Cops are never around when you need them


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Complimentary Demons

I mentioned in Superfluous Things that I don't handle compliments well. I never have. When I was just a wee lad, I was the Shy One. I was the one burying his face in the hem of Mom's dress or hiding behind Dad's leg while adults would try to coax me out (unsuccessfully... unless they had candy). I'd have grown out of that except I had an older brother and an older sister. They would reinforce my shyness and insecurity by telling me that the adults were lying about what a cute and adorable kid I was.

They weren't, of course. Lying, that is. I was cute, I was adorable. Doesn't matter. The Two were very good at cultivating my natural insecurity and growing it into quite the monster neurosis. It was likely just the normal teasing of siblings and I was just predisposed to turning it into some analyst's income production device. That is, if I could afford an analyst. Which I can't because I was never allowed to succeed because of the insecurity created in me as a child by The Two.

It has hampered me throughout my life. In sometimes odd ways, it has interfered with relationships. I was stunned, for instance, when a girl I knew told me I was conceited. Not just conceited but "sooo conceited". I was stunned because this awkward, scrawny, bug-eyed, no talent loser with bad hair who couldn't dance had nothing whatsoever to be conceited about.

Yup, the teen years were not kind to me. Imagine if I had been plagued with acne. I would not have survived. I guarantee it. That was my only good fortune, I had good skin.

It, that nose wart called insecurity, followed me out of my teens and into adulthood. Praise was always suspect. My siblings had seen to that. Anytime I got a little praise, one (or both) would explain how the giver was "just trying to be kind" or "was up to something." They reinforced this by doing it themselves on a regular basis. Any kindness towards me was merely a prelude to a prank which would leave me embarrassed and feeling stupid while they laughed in glee.

So, naturally, any compliments I received later in life would trigger that emotion and make me suspicious of the motivation behind it. A pretty girl batting her eyes at me in high school? Just wanted a sucker to give her a ride home from school. Praise at inspection in the Navy? Likely to precede a restriction of liberty at best. A good evaluation at work? A prelude to my being assigned an undesirable project no one else wanted.

I have since learned that there is something called self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, we seek the outcome we expect and only recognize that outcome as valid. It is always justified by the facts in retrospect. Any other, more favorable, outcome is dismissed as an anomaly. This also explains my first marriage and its (inevitable) outcome.

I am older now, and (I hope) wiser. But any compliment still stirs up that dread, the old demons flutter about my brain, and I tremble like that little boy hiding behind my mother's skirt.

And now you know why I have issues with compliments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Purchase

It was a rainy morning yesterday and I had nothing much to do (like most mornings... and afternoons). I decided I would get my hair cut. And look for a reasonably priced UPS for my sister-in-law, Franny. Her old one had quit working. I had priced replacement batteries but after adding in shipping (and sometimes taxes), it was as cheap to buy a new one... if I could get one on sale.

So I made the trek in intermittent showers along the highway to the barber and to the stores which might have UPS units. The haircut was to be the least expensive thing I purchased. No surprise there.

I found myself in our local Office Depot. I am not a fan of that chain but they do have some bargains from time to time so I always give them a once over when looking at electronics and/or computer needs. As I wandered through the store in search of UPS and surge devices (something they stash in the most unlikely spot), I came across monitors.

I have a monitor, of course. It is old but it works. It is a 17" Hyundai LCD which has developed an annoying habit of taking up to 5 minutes to accept input from my computer. During this time, it's little power indicator light blinks from green to amber in rapid form. It is not a bad monitor, the picture is good, the size is fine, we have become old friends. But, at age 5, it's become a bit senile.

As I walked down the computer aisle (yes, computer, not monitor.. that was an aisle over), there was this 20" LCD model by HP. It was a wide screen model; 12" high (10" viewable) by 20" wide (17" viewable) and the requisite 20" diagonal. Which begs the question: Why do they measure them diagonally? I do not have the answer to that question but I am sure there is a rational one.

In any case, there was this monitor. And there was I. I tried to walk away, really I did. I pretended to admire a different, standard size, monitor but I was secretly stealing glances back at the large one. It knew. It just let the screensaver colors swirl and dance and entice, knowingly. I could almost hear it chuckle. I came back in front of it. I touched its buttons, I moved the mouse to clear the screensaver (I thought I heard a "sigh") so I could view the screen display of icons and wallpaper. I changed the wallpaper to see how different colors and shapes would appear. I walked away.

I was in denial, of course. I knew, deep inside, I would be back. Ok, not so deep inside. My mind was already racing, plotting out the rationalizations, the justifications for the purchase. I argued with myself. Not out loud, of course, I'm not that far over the edge (yet).

I continued my search for the UPS and surge units section. I found it, tucked away in a small area of the cables, mouse pads, and other accessories aisle. The selection was meager but sufficient. A suitable unit was found for a reasonable price. I picked it up and then, as I knew I would, walked right back to that monitor.

Grabbing the ticket, I quickly strode to the checkout counter and handed it to the clerk. Who handed it to someone else, who went to the back to get the boxed unit from the back room. And there I waited, still arguing with myself about this purchase. Finally winning by reminding myself that I could have spent $1200 on the touch screen version.

Isn't it beautiful?


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Some Thoughts on The Human Condition

Some likely think I harp on this too much but I am deeply concerned about prejudice and bigotry. There's an old joke that goes...

"I don't like bigots and [insert racial slur here]."

Which, to me, sums up the problem. I know people who contend they aren't prejudiced yet, in almost the same breath, complain about one ethnic group or another. There is a conservative talk show host (Laura Ingraham) who has a bit she calls "But... Monkeys". A "But... Monkey" is someone who says things like, "I like what Obama's doing for the country but... I am opposed to his controlling GM and Chrysler." Or, "Cubans are wonderful people but... they have turned Miami into a place where you must speak Spanish in order to do anything." In other words the "Some of my best friends are [insert ethnic reference here]" crowd.

The question to me is not "Are you prejudiced?" but "How do you control your prejudices?"

And if you do not think your little prejudice matters much, think again. Your prejudices help influence public opinion. Here's an example I ran into...

In order to assess explicit prejudice toward Jews, we directly asked respondents “How much to blame were the Jews for the financial crisis?” with responses falling under five categories: a great deal, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, not at all. Among non-Jewish respondents, a strikingly high 24.6 percent of Americans blamed “the Jews” a moderate amount or more, and 38.4 percent attributed at least some level of blame to the group.

There is much more to this survey and story and I urge you to read it. Especially the comments. Read them with an open mind, divorce yourself from your feelings and truly examine the sentiments expressed.

I have observed similar feelings by minorities against other minorities. Listen to Farrakhan for 15 minutes and you will find his anti-Jewish sentiment. Or ask the random African-American about Korean grocers. Observe the animosity between various ethnic prison gangs.

We often think we are above such things but we aren't. They are constantly at work in the depths of our subconscious. They affect how we view the world and that affects how our elected representatives act in our behalf. It also skews what information we gather and how we assimilate that information. Prejudice distorts the lens through which we examine everything. It is like a pair of glasses that are not quite properly made to your prescription, the distortion is there but it is so subtle that you adapt to it.

Do you think the Supreme Court is as close to infallible as can be expected when it comes to matters of Constitutionality and law? Consider a number of cases where you have disagreed, or agreed, with its decisions.

Dred Scott
Buck v. Bell
Roe v. Wade

I particularly wish to have you consider the Buck v. Bell decision, one in which the court voted 8-1 in favor of sterilization of the mentally handicapped.

Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote the majority opinion. In it, he wrote the following:

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.

The decision was never overturned. However, due to Skinner v. Oklahoma in 1942, the practice of involuntary sterilization was discouraged.

I came across the above while researching the theory and practice of Eugenics. Which sprung from researching the issue of abortion, which sprung from researching President Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame.

All things are connected, sometimes in very subtle ways.


Monday, May 18, 2009

The Modern Myth

I was pleasantly relaxing on the couch, watching a financial analysis program, something I do each Monday when the markets close. The host was interviewing some tax official from the state of New York who was there to explain about a program where tax delinquents would have their names made public.

Now, no one likes tax cheats. Probably because we hate to pay taxes and are extremely jealous of anyone who doesn't pay them. It's not fair that they get to cheat and we don't, right?

The host tries to make a point about the possibility that there might be mistakes made and reputations damaged because of it. The host is a smart man and he knows his job is not to throw softballs but to play Devil's Advocate from time to time. He explains that government often makes errors and is slow to correct them. He also questions whether this isn't a bit of strong-arming?

The official starts to talk about fairness in reply. He speaks about how there are so many "overburdened taxpayers" who must pay more because these people are "not paying their fair share."

I was immediately reminded of the storeowners who talk about shoplifters and how they force prices up to pay for the losses.

Do any of you believe that prices and taxes would come down if all the shoplifters and all the tax cheats suddenly woke up tomorrow and started on the straight and narrow?

As my dear mother used to say... "Horse pucky!"

I think a tax revolt is coming in this country. I really do.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Superfluous Information

Now and then I see a blog where a number of facts are revealed by the blogger. This is usually because they have been tagged and requested to do it. I am not a fan of tagging. I don't much like obligating others to do something and dislike the pressure I feel to perform on command. On the other hand, I do like the idea of revealing things about myself and reading things about others. We humans are so contradictory, aren't we?

Anyway, without any prompting or tagging, I decided a few months ago to make a list of ten facts about myself and finally got around to finishing it today. Well, actually, I wrote the whole thing today because all I had written was the line:

"Ten facts about me."

1. I prefer to be alone more often than being with others. This probably is genetic. My father was the same way. He never told me why so I have had to work out my own reasons why I am this way.

2. I am afraid to swim in the ocean at night. I believe this has a lot to do with what I have seen in the ocean during daylight.

3. I flunked my first road test for my driver's license. My sister took me to the DMV for the test and put the emergency brake (as it was called then) on before exiting the car. There were no warning lights or indicators for the brake in those days. I ignored it since it was so out of adjustment as to not impede the car at all. The tester announced I had failed already as I approached the first intersection but told me to continue anyway.

4. I used to plan major crimes in my head when I was a teen. Not just robberies or burglaries, either. I never carried any of these out as I always found flaws which would have made sure I got caught eventually.

5. I was 15 when I got stinking drunk for the first time. I recall puking out the window of a friend's car soon after we left the party. He dropped me off about a mile from my house at 3 AM and I had to walk the rest of the way. You'd have thought I would have learned from that. I didn't.

6. I sometimes feel like I am trapped inside my head. Literally. That I am peering out through two openings and am just along for the ride, strangely detached.

7. I am fascinated by the period between the mid 20s and late 40s. I watch movies and TV programs and read books that are based on that time frame as often as possible.

8. I grew up assuming I would die at age 65. My mother once told me that my grandfather, great grandfather, and great great grandfather all died at that age.

9. I weighed 133 pounds and stood 5'11" tall when I enlisted in the Navy. I had gained only 12 pounds by the time I left.

10. Compliments make me feel awkward and uncomfortable. I do not know how to acknowledge them. I appreciate them but I would rather not feel that discomfort.


Saturday, May 16, 2009


Saturday. I always liked Saturdays. I don't know why, really. When I was in school, Saturdays were important because they meant no school. But I really didn't mind going to school so it wasn't about that. Saturday was a day to do what chores I might have, which were few as I recall. And I ducked those most of the time. But I could sleep in so maybe that was it.

From the time I went into the Navy to a short period, maybe a year, before I retired Saturdays were often workdays. Even in high school, when I had a job, I often had to be there on Saturdays. Odd jobs, usher at a movie theater, bellhop, busboy; all meant Saturday was not a day off. In the Navy, I had weekend duty at least a quarter of the time in port and Saturday was a regular workday when out at sea. The 34 years with various telephone companies (all under the "Ma Bell" umbrella) meant at least one Saturday a month, sometimes two, was spent at work.

Saturdays at work were different than the regular work week, though. More laid back, quieter. Few demands. Well, not in those high school jobs of course, but the later ones. On the job you could catch up on some reading, attend to those things you put off during the week because of more pressing needs. Although there were rarely pressing needs on my job with the telco. In fact, there were rarely pressing needs on any job I ever had.

I sometimes look back and wonder if I was just lucky to fall into jobs where constant work wasn't a requirement. Or did I subconsciously plan it that way? I could never have dealt with a production line factory type job. I much preferred the jobs where there were spurts of high activity interspersed with longer (much longer) periods of light, or no, activity.

Now, of course, Saturday is just a day. Just like any other. No special meaning, no special purpose.

Saturn Devouring His Son, a disturbing portrait of the god Saturn consuming one of his children, was one of six works with which Goya decorated the dining room. According to Roman myth, it had been foretold that one of the sons of Saturn would overthrow him, just as he had overthrown his father, Caelus. To prevent this coming to pass, Saturn would eat each of his children as soon as they were born. His wife Ops eventually hid his sixth son, Jupiter, on the island of Crete, deceiving Saturn by offering a stone wrapped in swaddling in his place. Just as the prophecy had predicted, Jupiter eventually supplanted his father.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hubble and Things I Didn't Know

I didn't really have anything to write about today. Well, that's not true, there is always something to write about. I'll be honest; I am lazy and can't be bothered. No, that's only half true. To be perfectly honest, a number of things came to mind but I just couldn't seem to get started.

One of the things was about the Hubble telescope. But, while researching it, I ran into a much more interesting blog on it than I could ever write. I also ran into a much more interesting blogger than I could ever hope to be. His name is Phil Plait and he is an astronomer, author, blogger, and all around smart person. He writes a blog called Bad Astronomy and this is what he wrote yesterday about the Hubble... (click on it to read the article)

Top Ten Things You Don't Know About Hubble

It includes pictures for those of you who hate to read.

Go read it, you won't be sorry. Heck, just go look through the pictures.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Freedom of Speech

Free speech is a powerful right. It frightens people in power, it empowers people out of it. It is one of several that are integral to my country's history. As a blogger, it is the primary right. Having grown up in this country, I have always taken this right for granted. Even when I was told when to speak by my parents, even when I was told I did not have that right while I was in school. Even at those times, I still thought I had that right and thought nothing more about it.

I learned what it was like to not have it while in the Navy. First, because you really do not have that as an unfettered right while you are a member of the military. Your political activity is restricted and your ability to speak out is restricted. It isn't completely suppressed but it is severely restricted. Second, I visited a couple of countries where freedom of speech was not protected at all. I saw the reluctance in the people of those countries to speak about internal political matters or leaders.

There have been three recent examples of free speech in the news that caught my attention.

The first is the Beauty Queen incident. I don't watch beauty pageants. They bore me. And most people, even those who watch such fine entertainment as Judge Judy, Maury, and the E! cable channel, tend to ignore the telecasts. Less people probably know who the current Miss America is than know who the current vice-president is. This beauty contest was for the Miss USA title. An even lesser known pageant that is the precursor to the Miss Universe contest. Miss Universe? Are there entrants from Alpha Centauri? But I digress...

During this critically important pageant, one of the contestants was asked a controversial question. She was asked to give her opinion on the issue of gay marriage. Since then we have been subjected to regular reports about the trials and tribulations she has suffered as a result of her less than politically acceptable answer. Whether you favor gay marriage or not, what earthly importance is the question to the choice of who will win a beauty contest? Did anyone ever really care what the prom queen thought about world events? Of course not, nor did anyone care what the prom king thought either. Most of us weren't concerned about their brains.

The second example was at the White House Correspondents Dinner. This is an event where people make jokes about important and powerful people without fear of reprisal. Allegedly. In reality, we find there are limits about what can be said. Wanda Sykes may have exercised some poor taste in her diatribe about Rush Limbaugh. So we have been subjected to multiple stories about that incident that will probably die out before the Beauty Queen's. Oddly, Ms Sykes exercised her freedom of speech as she denounced Limbaugh's and called him a "traitor."

Finally, we come to the story of a former vice-president who is currently speaking his mind about current policies and fellow political party members. Now, various pols and talking heads are running about suggesting he should be quiet, that he shouldn't speak his mind.

I don't understand the fuss over any of these. I thought freedom of speech meant you could speak out about political matters. After all, the real purpose of that First Amendment was to protect political speech. It really wasn't about pornography or artistic expression. It was about the right to speak out about government policies and activities. The other things were "discovered" by the courts rather recently.

What I have observed over the years, however, is that most people do not really support free speech. Oh, they say they do. But what they really mean is they support speech they agree with and other speech that they don't care much about. But the ideas they oppose? Oh no, those are an abuse of the right. These people should lose their titles as Miss California, Wanda Sykes should be disavowed by the administration, Rush Limbaugh should be taken off the air, Dick Cheney should go to Wyoming and shut up.

What are their detractors so afraid of?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Screen Test

The computer is a wonderful tool. It allows us to maintain records that would otherwise give us writer's cramp if we had to use pencil and paper. We can sort and catalog incredible amounts of useful and (more likely) unuseful information. And not just words. Pictures, too. Throw in a scanner and almost anything can be saved. Except that moth eaten sweater which provides such comfort on a cold winter evening. Eventually, they'll find a way to do that.

Lately, my desktop computer screen has been acting up. Well, I should describe it as "misbehaving". The normal routine is to push the monitor button then the computer button and then things begin to flash upon the screen. Instead, of late, I get a blinking green light on the monitor button which sometimes continues for 5 minutes. The computer comes up, I suppose. It makes all the proper sounds anyway. But the screen remains blank. A black abyss staring at me from my desk. And, then, just as I have almost resigned myself to head for the computer store to purchase a new monitor *poof* the image appears.

The monitor has been playing cat and mouse with me for about 6 weeks now. I noticed that electronic equipment, like humans, get more cantankerous and unreliable with age. We have, apparently, been successful in creating these machines in our own image. One day, it will die. Quietly. In my sleep. I will wake up and it will not.

I will then have to make the Journey of Compromise. I have been looking at other monitors since this began. No, to be honest, I have been unfaithful in my heart to that monitor for a couple of years now. Anytime I am in a store which sells these lovely electronic gadgets, I look at the monitors. I am enthralled by the colors they emit, the subtle illusion of depth they can provide, the size of their pixels. And lately, by the feel of them. Oh yes, true touch screens are here. And they are magical.

Alas, I cannot afford one. They cost twice as much (plus) as the machine I would attach them to. Nothing brings me back to reality than those price tags. I will drool over the beautiful and alluring big sister but I will take the less flashy, but cute, little sister to the prom.


Monday, May 11, 2009

The Frog and The Toilet

No, it's not the name of a pub.

I met the frog the other afternoon. I was looking down into the toilet just before flushing and there he (or she, I suppose) was looking back at me. He was about 3 inches long,. Well, his body was, I am sure he would have been much longer stretched out with pins in his feet like you would before dissecting him for biology lab. He did look a bit surprised to see me. Possibly as surprised as I was.

A few weeks ago, just after I left on my trip to California, I had scheduled a visit by the people who are into excrement. You know who I mean, the people who clear clogged drains, fix leaks, and pump out septic tanks. I don't know how much these people make but they deserve every penny. Anyway, I learned about 18 months ago that there is a filter in the septic tank and that this filter gets clogged. Therefore, periodically, someone must be paid to open the septic tank and clean out that filter. My job in this regard is merely to pay the people who perform this service. There is no way I would do it myself.

Apparently, while this person was cleaning out said filter, and the tank was open, a frog must have found his way in. Either that or he did not properly replace the cover after he was through. In any case, the frog made his way up through the pipes that lead to the tank and found himself at the bottom of my toilet bowl, thereby shocking the both of us.

I flushed him. He'll probably be back.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

The following is something I wrote some time ago. This being Mother's Day, I thought it was appropriate...

My mother is slipping away. She's 89 and she hasn't been herself for many years. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in her sixties and was put on a wonder drug, of sorts, called Aricept. It held the disease at bay to some extent for decades. Her short term memory went first, of course. But Mom, a clever woman, saw this as a benefit. Every day was a new world, a new life. She always had an optimist's view of life. Now I don't know what she sees or hears or knows. This disease took away the woman who raised me. After my father passed away, I took her into my home. We tried to care for as best we could but the time came when we could no longer see to her needs. She has been in the care of some nice people out at an assisted living facility for several years now.

I go to see her when I can... and when I think I can handle it. It's hard on me. I remember her as a vibrant, cheerful, witty woman who was always there when I needed her. She could always cheer me up when I was down or life seemed bleak. Now she can't. Now I have to do that on my own. And the worst is after I have been to visit her. I look for some sign of recognition in her eyes and never see it. I visit just before lunch because she seems the most animated at that time. I try to think of things she used to say to me to cheer me up and repeat them to her in the hopes they'll somehow break through that fog in her brain. She seems loved by the ladies who tend to her needs. They all speak of her with caring and joy. Some are as sad as I am to see her as she is now.

My mother had a way of getting a point across with humor. She would admonish me to be careful by warning me that "If you break your leg, don't come running to me." Or, "If you drown, I'll never speak to you again." As silly as these were, they stuck in my mind. Nothing seemed serious with her while you still knew how concerned she was. Her humor has failed her now. She doesn't smile much and, when she does, there's no way to know why.

It doesn't seem fair that this woman should finish out her life oblivious to most of the things around her. She read, she painted, she wrote stories, she even invented childrens' games. Oh, none were ever published or developed but that didn't matter. Her paintings were always flawed in some technical way; shadows fell the wrong way, perspective just a little off. They were nothing you'd expect to find in an art show but her family loved them. Her stories were simple and naive. Her games too easy. But you could see her slight off kilter view of the world in them.

Because I didn't get along with my siblings, I spent many of my years far from my parents. I rarely wrote or even called. It was never my way. I took after my father in that regard. In the last couple of decades, I tried to re-connect with my parents. I think I did re-establish some relationship to my father, just a little, in the few years before he passed away. My mother acted as if I was never far away. Now I don't know if she knows I exist, that she had a son, what her universe is like. I think that is what hurts the most... to not be a part of her life anymore.

Mom passed away on July 25th, 2008. I miss you, Mom.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Random Musings for May

It's time for some more Random Musings on various subjects.


I recorded (and then watched, of course) a program on BBC America called My Big Breasts and Me. As a male, I am presumed to have a fascination with large sweater puppies. I will admit to having an interest but not an obsession. I have known some guys with an obsession. They're the ones who keep those magazines and web sites such as Brabusters, Voluptuous, and Cleavage in the money. The program was interesting and educational because it was told from the over-endowed woman's point of view. My mother was one of these so I heard the complaints early and often.

My favorite shows are coming to their season finales. However, I have discovered a whole raft of summer series that run mostly on the cable channels such as Sci-Fi and USA and TNT that are just as good or better. If you are a TV freak, as I have become since retiring and taking root in the couch, and haven't seen these, let me recommend them:

Monk (USA)
Burn Notice (USA)
The Closer (TNT)
Leverage (TNT)
Doctor Who (may return as repeats on Sci-Fi and BBCA)
Torchwood (returning as a 5 episode mini-series)
Dexter (on Showtime)
Sons of Anarchy (on FX... ok, this one is a Fall show, sorry, but it's quite good for a Biker Soap)

Humanity in general:

While in Las Vegas, I did a lot of people watching. We're pretty ugly on average. Physically, I mean. We really do come in all shapes and sizes and most of them are pretty bad. Don't get me wrong, I am no one to talk, I have my own physical faults and not all of them are due to age related sag-itis. But we also dress funny and pair up with our opposites way too often.

People are friendly, though. Everywhere I went, I ran into smiles and cheerfulness. Waiters and waitresses, store personnel, desk clerks at motels and hotels, and so on. No one seemed grouchy at all. Maybe they were just happy to be working in a down economy but even the people on the street seemed happy. And not just in Las Vegas.

The desert:

The desert fascinates me as an environment. I don't like it, it just intrigues me. How do they form? Most deserts were once pretty lush but now are barren. Water runs through them at times (see the Nile, the Colorado, the Rio Grande for examples) and even under them (which creates those oases) but little falls onto them. How did the weather shift like that? And I understand it is still happening. Desertification, that is. I should have studied geology, I think I would have liked it.


Not a big fan of swamps. They do not fascinate me so much. I don't know, maybe it's the mosquitoes. But some people like them and like to live in them. Same as deserts. We call them swamp rats and desert rats. Why rats?

Global warming:

I am a bit on the skeptical side of this issue. Not so much that the earth is warming but that we have a lot to do with it or can do a lot about it. I think we ought to concentrate on adapting to it rather than trying to reverse it. Though most of the things being suggested seem to have value of their own. I like the idea of conserving fuel and energy, less waste for the landfills, and all that. I just worry about government using this "crisis" as a way of meddling deeper into our lives.

What do you muse about?


Friday, May 8, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser

Cheri Sabraw suggested I write a piece on curiosity and why, maybe how, it paralyzes me. The line she had read was The power of my curiosity paralyzes me. Like most things, the sentence has more meanings than one realizes when one writes it or reads it for the first time.

Curiosity is very powerful. It has driven human advancement from the trees and plains of prehistory to the houses and skyscrapers of today. Along the way it has spawned wars, built civilizations (and destroyed them), and spread humankind all over the world. It is, in my belief, an instinct. It is not learned, it exists in most (if not all) sentient animals.

What we humans have done is learn to focus that instinct. Instead of just jumping from thing to thing, like your cat does, we develop interests, we create disciplines, and we establish schools to cultivate these things. Even within these schools, we break down the curiosity paths into departments and specialties.

This is how we have created and evolved doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians, philosophers, warriors, artists of all disciplines, and all the myriad endeavors of human beings.

And, above all, we idolize the Renaissance Man, the jack of all trades. The poet who paints and crafts and questions and explains. The Leonardo Da Vincis. Well, after we subject them to trials on charges of heresy, perhaps.

The sentence that piqued Cheri's curiosity really just means I am undisciplined. I never learned to focus my energy into one or two primary fields. I find everything linked together in some manner and each new thing I learn triggers some wonder about how that impacts (or impacted) another thing.

For instance, the sentence was in a piece about traveling through the desert which touched on a dam (hardly mentioned), a bridge (hardly mentioned), low and high desert, a meteor crater, geology (more hinted at than mentioned), and human development and expansion throughout the world.

I cannot sum up what I think about these various things in a paragraph, maybe not in an entire blog, but maybe in a chapter of a book. And, while considering each, I am drawn to yet other subjects (henceforth known as "bright shiny things") that I think they relate to. I begin to ramble in my writing. My mind roams through the vast landscape of ideas and subjects in my head and promptly gets lost. I find myself constantly forcing myself back onto the original path and failing more often than not.

The person who has learned to focus his curiosity has created a sort of compass inside his intellect to which he can easily refer when needed. While he may see things of tangential interest along his path of study, he knows his direction and sticks to it. He resists the urge to wander off to that tourist attraction 20 miles off the highway and stays focused on his destination.

When I traveled out to California and back, there were many things which distracted me. Bright shiny things that drew my interest. But I stuck mostly to my goal and resisted. I had set a timetable. And I have learned that I must abide by a timetable in order to accomplish any goal. Otherwise, one goal gets dropped in favor of another, and then yet another, and so on.

I can do this when traveling the highways. Perhaps that's because I can see a destination. I cannot do this when traveling through life. Eventually, so many bright shiny things appear all at once and I am stuck in the middle of a huge crossroads with too many possibilities. I am, that is to say, paralyzed. Unable to choose a direction. Even if I choose a direction, I still crowd my brain with thoughts of what I might have found along a different road.

I want to split myself into many and travel all of them.

Linda mentioned that she found she didn't have the energy to pursue all the things she wanted. While I definitely understand that, it isn't my problem. I just don't have the time. I am amazed at how well some people can manage their time effectively. I am in awe of that ability and jealous of it. I cannot manage time effectively at all. Sleep interferes the most, actually. When I was a young man, I could function on a few short hours of sleep each day and still maintain concentration where needed. Now that I am no longer young, the 20 hour day is no longer possible and the 48 hour day is a distant memory. Perhaps that candle I used to burn at both ends has reached the middle.

Still, I go through life spinning my mental wheels.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Floating Fortress

As most of you know by now, I was once in Uncle Sam's Navy. Enlisting seemed like a good idea at the time. That changed quickly... while on the plane flight to boot camp, actually. It took me a few years to settle into it. Had circumstances been a little different, I might have made a career of it. I did enjoy a good portion of my time. Once you have been to sea, it beckons to you forever. Well, I suppose it helps not to suffer from seasickness.

I have passed by Mobile, AL, more than a few times since I left the Navy as I traveled back and forth between the coasts. Each time, I saw the USS Alabama moored at the Battleship Memorial Park. Yet I never stopped. I always had a reason not to stop "this time". But on my return from California this time, I made sure I would stop and pay her a visit.

I served aboard a destroyer. The USS Brinkley Bass DD-887, to be exact. The "Bass" was just over half the length of the Alabama, less than half her width. You could have fit three of the "Bass" inside her. Battleships were no longer in service when I enlisted. One, the New Jersey, was brought back into service in 1968 to use in the Vietnam War. I missed a chance to visit her while we both served.

Arriving in the morning, I entered the park and found a parking place. Though it isn't a large area, there are enough things to see that it would be good to plan to spend at least 3 hours. Bring a picnic lunch and make a good half day out of it. The Alabama is not the only thing to see. There is a B-25 bomber, along with a number of other planes, helicopters, and jets to see. There are tanks and armored vehicles and even a WWII submarine (the USS Drum).

But the main attraction is the Alabama. And she certainly stands out. No one takes you on a tour, you just follow colored arrows as you go through hatches and climb up and down ladders to just about every part of the ship. The handout you are given explains each point of interest. Each description sparked a memory of my own ship and its equivalent.

There were only a few people around when I paid my entry fee and walked aboard. A much broader and more stable "brow" (or gangway) than I had encountered in the Navy greeted me just past the "screw" (propeller) mounted by the ship. Everything about this ship was bigger than what I had been accustomed to on board the Bass. In fact, compared to my little ship, this was a luxury liner.

The only tight spaces, comparatively, were the 16" gun turrets. Outside, they were huge, but inside was another story. Space is a premium and as wisely used as possible. My ship had only two 5" gun mounts. They were quite large to me then but these 16 inchers dwarfed them. I cannot imagine the sound of a salvo from one of those mounts. You can see the Alabama's 5" gun mounts to the right in this picture. Those same mounts took up much of the bow and fantail on the Bass.

I wandered about the ship and found myself missing those days I spent at sea. As I stepped onto the gangway, leaving the ship, I had to fight the urge to request permission to go ashore and to salute the ensign.

If you live near a port, of any kind, and you hear or read of a Navy ship's visit that includes a public tour, take the time to go. See how our sailors live each day as they serve their country. You won't be sorry.

Some links...

USS Alabama BB-60
USS New Jersey BB-62
USS Brinkley Bass DD-887

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Customer Service

I once lived about 33 miles from DC. Manassas was a small city, quiet. Most folks seemed to work elsewhere, either in DC or in the cities closer to it that had businesses with ties to government. When I lived there, it was the Reagan years. 1986 and 1987, to be exact. And I worked in a hole in the ground. Behind blast doors. Right near where Ollie North lived, actually.

But this has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with economics and service. I thought I was alone in this observation but then I read the following...

With a hard economy thinning the supply of ready consumers, shouldn't we expect businesses to do more to keep them happy?

Yes, says Lopo Rego, a marketing expert at the University of Iowa, who has studied customer service in strong and weak economies. During the boom of the late 1990s, he observed that the quality of customer service had slipped badly. The tight labor market had drained the pool of good workers at the wages that stores and fast-food restaurants were paying. Businesses that hired lazy, careless and rude staff found that offended consumers were quickly replaced.

You can read the whole opinion column here.

I made a similar observation in the DC area during the 80s. You see, the DC area is pretty much recession-proof. No matter what happens in the rest of the country, the federal government just keeps going. Unemployment is low. Business is always good. Hotels and motels are in demand, housing is expensive and in demand. Stores were always full of shoppers, restaurants were always crowded, streets were full of cars going here, there, and everywhere.

Customer service stank. Cashiers were rude and impatient, salespeople couldn't be bothered, waiters were in no hurry, smiles were rare.

In 1988, I moved to Jacksonville. The economy there was not so good at that time. Housing was cheaper and readily available. Stores weren't so crowded. Smiles were readily available and service was fine. It wasn't just southern hospitality. It was a desire to keep the customer happy and to keep the boss happy because, if you didn't, it was easier to replace an employee than it was to replace a few customers.

There may be a bright side to this economic downturn...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dams and Desert and Holes

While traveling through the desert from Las Vegas, I headed past Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. I took only a couple of pics. One to show a bit of the construction on the new bridge and the other to show how much the lake has dropped due to the drought that has been ongoing for some time. On the left is the progress made so far on the new bridge which will be part of a new freeway through the area. No more snaking through the mountains. On the right is Lake Mead, the white areas on the hillsides show the pre-drought level of the lake.

After leaving that area, I traveled for many miles through the desert as we all might imagine it to be: sand, rock, cacti and dry... very dry. Which prompted me to take out a bottle of water and open it in my lap. That's when I realized just how thin the plastic of the new bottles are. They squeeze too easily when you place the bottles between your thighs to so you can twist off the cap while driving. As the cap twists loose, water is forced out and into your lap. Thus, it becomes unlikely that you will be stopping anytime soon unless you can ignore the stares of others regarding that damp spot in your crotch area. I drove on...

After a couple of hours, I began climbing into the mountains and greener pastures. The high country of Arizona is quite beautiful. I have only been through the mountains in Arizona in the Summer and Spring. I understand the winters are not harsh, though. I get this from my brother-in-law who lives north of Phoenix, above Sedona. I am not so sure, I have been in the high desert in Winter and the wind cuts right through you.

As I moved down into the high desert from the Flagstaff area, I came to the turnoff for one of the places I wanted to see on the way back. Meteor Crater is truly in the middle of nowhere. It is a 6 miles south of I-40 and surrounded by terrain that is the definition of "empty." It is what I imagine the Gobi Desert looks like.

It is flat, it is desolate, it is sun baked. It seemed to be a large flat area surrounded by mountain peaks far in the distance.

Let me give you a little rundown on Meteor Crater.... About 50,000 years ago, a chunk of iron-nickel estimated to have weighed several hundred thousand tons crashed into the plains. It created this huge crater that sits in the high desert in northern Arizona. I happen to think it did much, much more than that. For instance, did you know that this is about the time that humans began to travel out of Africa into the rest of the world? I don't say there is a direct link between these two events, I just note that they happened around the same time. I wondered if the flat land surrounding the crater in all directions was always like that or was another result of the impact. I wondered what the environment was like before the impact.

The crater itself, looking across the 4000 foot diameter and down into the 550 foot depth (originally 700 feet)

Looking north from the crater back toward I-40.

Looking west from the same spot as above.

So far as we know, no human beings existed outside of Africa at the time. The area was known to be cooler and damper with vegetation and forests, populated by woolly mammoths and other creatures of the Pleistocene era. What impact did the meteorite's impact have on that?

I am paralyzed by the power of my curiosity. That is, I want to learn everything and there is not enough time, not enough resources, not enough me to do it.

Here are some links for the curious to peruse...

Hoover Dam Bridge Construction
Hoover Dam Information
Meteor Crater, AZ
More about Meteor Crater
Human History


Monday, May 4, 2009

I Am Bugged

I arrived home at around 8 PM on Saturday. The last leg, through Alabama and Florida, was on crowded highways. I have no idea why. Just a lot of traffic for no reason that I could discern. It was not pleasant, especially after the last gas stop where the nozzle's auto cutoff failed to work. The gas flowed over and down the side of the car. A nice mess. And the gas station, a Shell station at Exit #399 on I-75, had known about the faulty nozzle for at least a day. A note on the pump might have been useful...

So, I get home. I pull into the garage. I sit for a moment, basking in the peace and quiet of no movement. And then I begin gathering up the trash, the little items sitting on the passenger seat, put away the sunglasses, grab the coffee cup, and start transferring things from car to house. Faye greets me and then starts helping. Out come the loose clothes, the two bags full of clean and dirty clothes (and shoes). The rest of the trash is cleaned out.

And then I hear it. A buzzing. Like bees. Above my head. Inside the garage.

I look up, thinking it must be the fluorescent light above the car.

It isn't. At first, I just stare. In the odd light that fluorescent emit, the insects appear white. Bees or large flies, but white. A couple inside the light's cover, a larger number buzzing around outside of it or crawling on the outside or on the ceiling.

Weird things. I back out the car. I grab a spray bottle of some bug spray and spray the light and ceiling area around it. They don't appear to react except maybe to bathe in it happily.

I pull Faye's car out and spray the light over her space also since they are also buzzing around that light too. Then I pull both cars back in and go in the house.

The next morning, I go out to the garage and look for corpses. This is what they looked like. Please forgive the fuzziness of one of the pics. Either I moved or I snapped it when the camera had not quite focused yet. As far as I can tell, they are some kind of deer flies. The shape and eye formation seems to bear that out. But the eyes are lighter than any I could find on the internet.

I also searched the attic above the garage for some kind of nest but found nothing. Do deer flies even have nests? Are they really deer flies or some kind of albino bee? The color, in normal light, appears to be a pale green.

Ah, home sweet home.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

I Have My Reasons...

Some months ago I wrote a piece about prejudice. I offered a list of words and asked readers to examine the pictures that they brought to mind. The purpose of the exercise was to point out that, whether we realize it or not, we have prejudices and biases. Most of the time, these cause no harm to others. They are simply "quirks" to us if we don't readily recognize them for what they are. If we do recognize them, we can learn to cope with them. We cannot purge them completely, in my opinion, though we might think we can. Though we certainly might want to.

No, these prejudices remain as a part of us. They influence how we view the world. This is fine if we understand how this happens, what they do. It is not so fine when we think we do not have them or, even worse, when we think they are justified in some way. Yes, sometimes we really believe they are justified. I have met a number of people who have tried to explain how they weren't prejudiced until some incident or some experience caused them to be.

Someone just recently tried to explain this to me. He told me how he had been exposed to this terrible behavior by a certain ethnic group. How that behavior turned him against those people. He reminded me of others who had told me similar stories about their experiences which justified, to them, their dislike and distrust of entire class of people. There are members of my family which have related the same kinds of stories to me.

It's all bull. And I think these people, in their hearts, know that. That's what really bothers me. I really do believe that, deep down, these people realize they have a prejudice (or two or three). These are simply rationalizations for something that cannot be justified. Not unless stereotypes are not stereotypes at all.

When I was a young man, a teen, my mother talked to me about prejudice. I am not even sure how the conversation evolved but she related the following to me (paraphrasing):

"I don't think I am prejudiced but when I see a black man walking toward me on the street, I feel fear. I have even crossed the street in order to avoid them."

She couldn't point to any incident or experience that caused that fear. She didn't know why that prejudice existed. But the important thing I learned was that she recognized that it was a prejudice. She didn't let that prejudice fool her by rationalizing it. That was the important lesson. I don't know if it was the intended lesson or she was just getting something off her chest.

It is much worse to rationalize prejudice. It lets you believe you are better than others when you are worse. And when we accept those reasons, or ignore the prejudice of others, we are just as bad.

I write this because I have had to remove the blog from my OBTR list of someone I thought was witty, intelligent, and clever. Unfortunately, I cannot tolerate his bigotry regarding a certain group. It saddens me more than you can know.

By the way, I am back from my trip and promise the next series of blogs will be much lighter.