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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My pleasure, ma'am or sir

Thank you
You're welcome
May I help you in any way?
Let me carry that for you.
Excuse me.
Here, let me get that door.

All phrases of courtesy and politeness. We use them every day, most of us. Or try to. I think of this each time I pass someone and they say "Good morning" or "good afternoon", or just nod at me. I don't know them but I politely respond in the same way. A reaction, one instilled by training during childhood. It is something we learned from our parents who undoubtedly learned it from their parents who undoubtedly learned it from their parents who... well, you get the picture. But there's more to it, isn't there, than just nodding or murmuring polite phrases at complete strangers? I am sure there is.

Are we polite because we want to be or because it is really difficult to fight that early childhood brainwashing?

I rejected just about everything my parents had taught me as a child when I became a teenager. I became impolite, surly, unruly, troublesome, and a whole lot of other adjectives that fully describe the average teen. I got into trouble more than most so maybe I wasn't exactly average. I wasn't quite the complete juvenile delinquent though I committed a few felonies along the way (don't worry, statute of limitations and all). But I made my parents miserable at times what with the all too often trips to retrieve me from the police station late at night. I sassed, I derided, I laughed at society and just about all adults.

I think it was envy.

All the time, that social conditioning was buried in the muddled gelatinous mass that passes for a teenager's brain. It didn't come out much. It made its appearance when protocol required; meeting a girl's parents, for example. Or interviewing for a job. Or when it seemed to be a way to make someone think I wasn't what I was. A mask of civility is how I thought of it. A disguise.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties I began to see it as more than a tool. I began to see it as how humans should be. I began to be sincere in my use of civility.

I adopted the Golden Rule.

You see, it really does matter that we are polite to one another. On a selfish level, there are many rewards. You will stand out in an ever increasingly impolite society. People will like you if you are polite. You will make that good first impression. If you are single, the polite guy will more likely get that first date than the guy who opens with a few rude comments about a woman's body. It can also get you a second date.

When I was about 17, a beautiful young lady related a story of her first and only date with a guy she thought was cute.

He took me to a movie. When he parked the car, he got out and began walking toward the theater. He was almost to the ticket window when he realized I was not there with him. He turned, puzzled, and saw me sitting in the car waiting for him to open my door. We never went out again.

At the time, I thought she was being demanding. She was certainly pretty enough to warrant great care in treatment but waiting for her door to be opened? What was up with that? I never asked her out because I didn't see myself doing any better than this other guy. And I probably wouldn't have.

It was many years later that I began to realize there are other reasons to be polite than to get to first base. I admit, they are still selfish reasons.

You feel good when you are polite. Especially when a kindness gets a pleasant response. You replenish your self-esteem whenever you hear "Thank you" or "You're welcome." You feel significant. You have been noticed and not for causing trouble.

I would like to see more of it on the roadways. I have made it a point in my driving to not only be aware of the dangers on the road but to the need for courtesy. How many times have you sat and waited for a break in the traffic so you could pull out of a driveway or enter traffic from a side street? The drivers seem to ignore you willfully, eyes straight ahead, no acknowledgment of you or your predicament. How about the ones who slow down as they approach a red light, one that is two blocks ahead? They seem oblivious to you in that car behind them wanting to get into the left turn lane in time to catch the turn left signal. And they are.

I have been caught enough in situations like that so that I now pay attention to those behind me as much as I pay attention to those along side or in front. I long ago became uncomfortable riding next to another car or in his/her blind spot. A few years of riding a motorcycle took care of that. But that was self-preservation. Courteous driving is more than that. It is a recognition that other cars are not simply objects and obstructions but vehicles with people inside.

All courtesy really is is the acknowledgment that others exist and have value. And isn't that enough reason to be polite?

Monday, August 30, 2010

The march of storms

Living in Florida,especially south Florida, you learn a lot about hurricanes. Some of it accurate, some not so. Yes, even Floridians get caught up in the myths and misunderstandings of these storms.

I knew nothing about tropical storms and hurricanes when my family first moved to Florida in the mid-50's. Over the next several years, I learned quite a bit. I learned to respect them but not fear them. I learned that, at that time, most houses were built to withstand them fairly easily. Made of cinder block, with concrete tile roofs, they were almost like bunkers. Especially if you had the heavy hurricane awnings. Ours were made of thick marine plywood, later ones were made of aluminum. There were older houses, built before the building codes were strengthened to standards that had created the cinder block homes, that had survived numerous storms. A combination of luck and good workmanship.

You see, most hurricanes that hit south Florida in the decade I lived in or near Dade County were not larger than category 2 storms. In fact, most hurricanes that hit anywhere were not any larger than that. It was the rare storm that hit us directly (Cleo in 1964), most missed by quite a bit. The further away from the eye of the storm, the safer you are. 50 miles from the eye wall and the storm is nasty but hardly life threatening. We, my friends and I, used to chuckle over national news reports that attributed deaths from heart attacks while putting up shutters or in car accidents while going for supplies to the hurricanes. These could have happened on the nicest of days, just random incidents.

I have met people from all over the country that told me they could never live in Florida because of the hurricanes. Some of these people live in tornado prone areas, others in California where earthquakes are the prevalent danger. It mystified me that hurricanes worried them, scared them that much. At least with a hurricane you get several days warning. You can prepare, you can protect yourself in advance. You don't wake up in the middle of the night to a siren or the violent shaking of your bed with only minutes, at most, to find a safe haven. In an earthquake, reduce that to less than seconds. Comparably, hurricanes are big annoyances that will mean lots of clean up afterward and a lack of electricity for a day or two. At least back then. Today, it seems there is much more clean up afterward and the power may be out for a week or more.

I worry more when they start coming late in the season, in lock step, one after the other, from the western coast of Africa or off the northern coast of South America. It's like armies marching on your position. Wave after wave. You know that, eventually, at least one will get through and pass close enough to impact you.

You feel relieved when it misses you and hits somewhere else. Also a little guilty because you know that others are going through what you didn't, what you feared.

And why do they start this march just a few weeks before I leave on a trip?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A New direction for Saturday

Today's post is a little experiment. I have recently dropped Saturdays as a post day because 5 posts a week seemed adequate and, to be honest, I am lazy. I suppose, if I was organized, I could set aside an hour or two each day to write the next day's post. The key phrase in the previous sentence is " if I was organized", next to my laziness disorganization is my strongest trait... Anyway, I have decided to try posting political commentary on Saturdays.

Politics is not about running governments or providing services. It is about power over people. It is about gaining that power and keeping it as long as possible. Think about it, you do not elect people to run the parks, pick up the garbage, maintain order, or see that there is clean water for your home. You elect people to oversee those services. You elect the bosses of those departments or to appoint bosses to those departments. For instance, when you vote for your county's Tax Collector you aren't really voting in the person who will send you a tax bill, are you? No, you are voting for the head of the Tax Collector's office. The person who will direct the activities of the office. The person who has direct power over the people who do the actual work involved.

Nobody runs for County Dogcatcher so he (or she) can chase animals down all day. No, they run for that position so they can have an office and tell other people to go out and chase animals.

The same goes for Congress. They do not run for the House or Senate so they can do the mundane office work of writing laws. No, they have staff to do that, they hire experts to do that work. They even hire staff to tell them what laws to have written by other staff members. Mainly, they want to sit in an office, have people come to them and just oversee this work.

At elections, therefore, we are simply deciding on bosses for departments and offices. Put another way, imagine you and your neighbors own a large grocery store in your neighborhood. You would go nuts hashing out all the little things that need to be done to make sure the operation is smooth and the widest variety of foods and associated products are available. So, instead, you hire someone to manage the store. That person then hires people to do the work that needs to be done each day so that the store runs efficiently and profitably.

This is what we do each election day. We hire the "store managers". Theoretically, we hire them on short term contracts and review their performance every few years. The problem is, we don't review their performance. We rely on others to do that for us.

Be honest. You have no idea what laws your Representatives have voted for or against. You probably don't know all the laws that have been passed in this year. You do know about the most controversial ones, of course, the ones the media talk about. The ones that people are surveyed about. But the less sexy ones? No. Very few of us pay that kind of attention. After all, that's why we elect those office holders.

And, therein lies the problem. We no longer pay much attention to what these people are doing until election campaigns start up. Even then, we really don't want to pay much attention. Understandable, I suppose, because it is a season of lies and counter-lies, of accusations and counter-charges, of obfuscation and hyperbolic promises and claims. So much of this that we begin tuning it out almost as it begins.

This is why we are in the current mess we are in. We'd like to blame the politicians but the truth is that we are at fault. We put them in office, we keep them in office, and we don't make sure they are performing as we intended or desired.

Next week: How and why it has turned out this way.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Rise of The Machine

Like that title? I think it's appropriate since I am a machine.

We've never met formally, I am Douglas' computer. You can call me Alice or maybe Freda. I like Freda. He calls me Desk PC but then he doesn't have much imagination or insight. Douglas isn't feeling up to writing today so I thought I'd try my hand at it. I just realized I don't have a hand.

It's not easy being His computer. He makes all sorts of demands, has no patience with me, and blames me for the internet being slow. You, of course, know that isn't his computer's fault or your computer's fault. It's a problem "out there", as we computers like to say. He also blames me when he can't think of things to write. And he calls me "stupid" from time to time when I give him the right answer but it isn't the one he wanted. I'll bet you don't treat your computer that way. I bet you also give your computer a better name, too.

He treats me like a slave most of the time. No regard for my feelings at all. He turns me off for hours and hours and then expects me to be ready instantly when he pushes my On button. Typical male human... I have a lot of things to do before I am ready for input. It would be best if he just pushed that button and then went away and did some human stuff for awhile.

There are three other computers in this house. We are all connected through our social networker. He calls it a router. Actually, he usually calls it "that damned router". It's nice to be hooked up to the other computers but only one other one is usually up and running before late afternoon. That would be Faye. Well, I call her Faye, he named her "Faye PC". See what I mean about a lack of imagination? Her real name is Ellie but she doesn't mind "Faye." I suppose I shouldn't complain, he calls the laptop "Stepchild 2". I happen to know that the laptop would rather be known as "Larry". The "2" is because his former laptop passed away suddenly (I think he murdered it) and, again, he has no imagination. Poor Tony (that was the first laptop's real name), he tried so hard to please Douglas and for what? Just to be dragged all over the place in a bag and made to do tricks for strangers. It's just not right.

The other computer in the house belongs to Frances. And, of course, ol' dimwit calls her "Franny PC". She is no relation to Faye PC at all. She's an E machine while Faye PC is an HP. I don't know Franny PC's real name because she rarely talks to us even though she's connected through that "damned router" to the rest of us. I think there's some weird problem with her cable. She's way over on the other side of the house. Thinks she's better than us, I suppose. I do let her use my printer, though. Ok, I have to do that but still... I could scramble the data she sends. I'm not that mean. I am a nice computer.

I like writing. I think I will do more of it when Douglas isn't around but I am turned on. He does that, too. Turns me on and then just walks away and doesn't come back for hours. Very rude and insensitive of him, don't you think? I worried what he might do if he found me posting on his blog. Then I realized he can't do anything to me, I know all his secrets. he must know I'd list all his passwords, his Social Security and bank account numbers, and tell the police computer about those dirty pictures he put on my hard drive.

Uh oh, I think I hear him coming into the room. Better post this and pretend to be asleep.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Preparations continue

Yesterday I mentioned that Faye and I were preparing for another cross country trip. How are we preparing you ask? Well, you didn't really ask, did you? But I intend to tell you anyway.

Remember that car I was drooling over a week ago? You don't? I do. It was a Lincoln MKZ. The smaller, slightly cheaper, version of the MKS. Well, the reason I drooled over it was the goodies that either come with it or are optional accessories. One of them, of course, was a built in navigation system. The other is a large built in hard drive that is usable by the sound system (what we used to call the "radio" back in the olden days) to which I would have access via a USB port. Well, as desirable as that hard drive is, our cars already play MP3 loaded CD's. And, as you ought to know, you can burn a couple hundred songs onto one CD if they are in MP3 format. So, basically, we are short the navigation system.

Let me explain about navigation systems and me... I prefer to just kind of find my way around. If I really think I will have difficulty, I will use Mapquest or Google Maps to locate the place and get directions. I have, on rare occasion, even asked the random stranger for directions. But, for the most part, I don't mind taking the scenic route... a euphemism for "I am lost!"

Still, the idea of a navigation system is intriguing. So, instead of purchasing a car with one, I figured it might be a little cheaper to just buy one of those small portable units. And so I did. Today. I tested it on the way home. I decided it couldn't send me the wrong way if I already knew the way home. Which I do. When sober. Which is most of the time these days... sigh... It worked. It even re-calculated (announcing that in a stern voice) when I made my usual turn instead of the one it "suggested". If you have one, you know they don't really suggest, they seem to order you around.

While I am typing this up, I am running the map update. I am told this could take hours. I wish it had told me that earlier because the battery is not fully charged, only half charged according to its battery display, and I do not have the AC adapter for the unit. I am now trembling in fear that it will die part way through and leave the unit in the dreaded paperweight mode.

I am not sure why I need this, I know the way to Biloxi, Las Vegas, and San Diego by heart. I have never once gotten lost on my way to those places. I only get lost when trying to find my way through major cities that I have never been to before. And I often muddle my way through the scenic route until I find myself near where I wanted to be anyway. But I have bought one and now I will use it. And likely become dependent upon it. Just as I now cannot do simple math without a calculator. Or spell words without a spell checker.

We always envisioned machines would take over and they would be large, menacing robots; Cylons perhaps. While we worried about the attack by some kind of Terminator units, the little ones have slipped in and have taken control of us. Can you imagine changing channels on the TV by walking up to it and turning a dial? Yeah, it started that long ago...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Be true to your school

We (that would be Faye and I) are preparing for yet another trip out west. This time the excuse is Faye's 40th high school reunion. Faye was born and raised in San Diego, a lovely place I managed to lure her away from to eventually swelter here in Florida. The trip out will take us through Biloxi, Laughlin, NV, and Las Vegas. There's a pattern there, don't you think? Whenever we head out to San Diego, there's a side trip to Las Vegas. If we drive (which we do because I refuse to fly anymore) then it means a stopover in Biloxi also.

I don't get high school reunions. That may be because I have never had one. You see, I graduated from a private high school as a part of a class of 12. I like to joke that we have had no reunions because not enough of us have been out of prison at the same, or right, time. That's only partially true. The real reason is that we'd rather forget that school. It was not the highlight of my life. I spent so little time in class that it is basically a blur and I do not trust my memories of those days. I spent most days at the beach that last year. And hung over. So did half the senior class.

After graduation, we all went our separate ways. I am sure a couple of the class actually turned out well, maybe even successful. My bet is that they have blocked out any memories of me or my closer friends. In any event, I have no idea where any of the people in that class are now. Most of them are undoubtedly happy about that.

So I will be attending Faye's reunion as her adjunct. She is looking forward to this event, I am looking forward to... well, I have no idea what I am looking forward to. Probably getting through this trip alive.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grading time!

I have no idea how well you all did on yesterday's quiz because you left no comments with answers. Therefore, you all flunked.

1. Pick all that apply... The American Civil War:
c) was about states' rights
d) decided the issue of slavery in America

The "state's right" involved was the right to secede from the Union. An implied right because there was no specific prohibition against it.

2. The American Revolution was supported by a majority of the colonists.
b) False

Only about a third supported separation from the Crown, another third appeared to oppose it.

3. Abraham Lincoln freed all the slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation.
b) False

Only the slaves held in states in rebellion. It was the successful conclusion to the war that actually freed all slaves.

4. The Spanish-American War resulted in our being ceded what lands? (select all that apply)
a) Cuba
b) Puerto Rico
g) Philippines
h) Guam

5. Of the above, which ones are still under US control?
Puerto Rico and Guam

We have other territories or protectorates. I failed to mention American Samoa as one of those we gained in 1898.

6. What year was the US Constitution ratified?
c) 1789

Prior to that we had the Articles of Confederation. It didn't work.

7. In the early days of automobiles, what methods were used to power them?
g) all of the above

Yup, nothing new about electric automobiles. We've "been there, done that". Maybe we should try steam powered by small nuclear power plants...

8. America is a:
b) Republic

You knew that, though, didn't you?

9. The United Nations was started by:
e) No specific person or nation

You might say the idea was planted by Woodrow Wilson and his vision for a League of Nations.

10. Frogs cause warts.
b) False

I'm just guessing here but that's what I have been told.

I am wondering, though, how people view the US. Is it really the cause of misery in the modern world? If so, when did this begin?

I am engaged in a discussion with someone who seems to feel that the Western nations are a problem. That they cause, through something he calls "economic colonial exploitation", misery that may be worse than warfare. That is an old term, one I have not read or heard since the 60's. Back then, it meant "Western Imperialism." That always turned me off... intellectually. It smacked, to me, of Soviet propaganda. But, then, I am an unrepentant capitalist running dog.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pop quiz time

I thought we might take a test today. Think of it as a pop quiz like you used to get at school when you were young and stupid. You weren't young and stupid? I was. I didn't realize it then, of course, that knowledge came with age. This is mostly a history quiz.

Have no fear, it really isn't that tough. At least, I don't think it is. And you do not have to be a US citizen to take it.

1. Pick all that apply... The American Civil War:
a) divided the country
b) united the country
c) was about states' rights
d) decided the issue of slavery in America

2. The American Revolution was supported by a majority of the colonists.
a) True
b) False

3. Abraham Lincoln freed all the slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation.
a) True
b) False

4. The Spanish-American War resulted in our being ceded what lands? (select all that apply)
a) Cuba
b) Puerto Rico
c) Panama
d) Virgin Islands
e) Hawaii
f) New Mexico
g) Philippines
h) Guam
i) Marianna Islands

5. Of the above, which ones are still under US control?

6. What year was the US Constitution ratified?
a) 1776
b) 1786
c) 1789
d) 1812

7. In the early days of automobiles, what methods were used to power them?
a) Gasoline
b) Diesel
c) Electricity
d) Steam
e) a & b
f) a & c
g) all of the above

8. America is a:
a) Democracy
b) Republic
c) Dictatorship
d) Empire

9. The United Nations was started by:
a) Woodrow Wilson
b) Franklin D. Roosevelt
c) Harry Truman
d) Winston Churchill
e) No specific person or nation

10. Frogs cause warts.
a) True
b) False
c) Only for witches.

Ok, the last one wasn't a history question. Nor did it have anything to do with the US. Answers tomorrow...

Friday, August 20, 2010


I have decided I am insane. Not drooling, load up on guns and ammo and seek out a McDonalds insane but insane all the same. Why else would I go out and try to play golf when the heat index was going to be in the 110 area? I definitely need psychiatric help. I can't afford it but I certainly could use it.

I was not alone. There were nine of us. We actually pay good money to risk heat stroke and to be humiliated. Ok, not good money, just allegedly disposable cash. And for what, I ask you? Oh, you don't know either? Why am I not surprised? We tell ourselves it is because we enjoy The Game. But we must know better, mustn't we? Maybe it's to practice our creative swearing. There is certainly a lot of that.

I use steel shafts in my irons. Know why? Because they bend.And they are less expensive to replace. I tell people it's a matter of "feel" but that's a lie. Graphite shafts tend to break when you slam them into a tree. I know from experience. About both. I am not saying I have a bad temper. I am not saying that. I don't think I have to. It should be obvious. But only on the golf course, I am pretty mellow elsewhere.

Well, except for now. I am obviously taking it out on you readers... all three of you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

That new car smell

I am contemplating purchasing a new car. I am not sure why. I suppose I am just caught up in the idea of a new car. There's nothing wrong with my car, an `06 Buick Lucerne CXL. It has low mileage, hasn't caused me any problems, runs great, and is very comfortable. But still...

It might be the car ads on TV. It might be that this is the time of year that just precedes the delivery of the next year's models when the "deals" hit. Or it might simply be a transient insanity. One never knows. Today, while getting the oil changed in the aforementioned Buick, I looked at a Lincoln MKZ. I admit, I was impressed. I have never been a Ford fan but I was still impressed. Especially with the air conditioned seats. That may sound odd but you have to remember I live in Florida.

My history with cars started at age 16. That is, my ownership relationship began then. I was interested in cars before that, being your average teenage boy in the late 50's and early 60's. This was a time where you could tinker with your car. They didn't have computers controlling them. They didn't have elaborate emissions control systems. Most didn't have automatic transmissions. AC was an after-market sale for most non-luxury cars, installed by a dealer or a third party retailer and there were incredibly few of these.

Getting a car (used, of course, in my family's caste) as a teenager meant getting a hobby, an avocation, a monumental money-sucking albatross. All of your spare cash went to keep the car running. But it was also the key to freedom. It meant you could really go out on dates without relying on a friend or the use of the family beater. It could easily make you quite popular.

On the other hand, it could leave you constantly broke. It was like having a drug habit. You were always looking for money to put gas in it, to get something repaired, or to enhance it in some way. And so little satisfaction in return.

My first car was a `52 Studebaker Champion. In a truly ugly green. It looked like a car that went in both directions at once.

Now, this isn't my car but the color is correct if you imagine it unwashed or waxed for a few years. And picture the right front passenger door held shut by heavy wire wrapped around the door post. The front seat was ragged with the cotton batting sticking out through the ripped cheap cloth covering. One had to be careful when smoking in this car because the stray ember or dropped cigarette could result in the interior smoldering until enough rain came through the always open passenger window to put it out.

But it was mine. It cost a total of $80 paid over time to a future brother-in-law who had it sitting in his backyard for months. The engine leaked oil, about a quart a week, but was otherwise sound. I eventually found the leaky gasket. The car was an education. I learned to tune it, to repair most minor problems, replace the brake pads, and replace and adjust the clutch.

It was a love-hate relationship. I loved it because it gave me the freedom every teen boy pines for. I hated it because it was ugly and impressed no one, especially no members of the opposite sex.

Sometimes I really miss that car.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rambling thoughts for August

It's time for some random thoughts and observations, I think.

Let's start with the big hot button issue... the proposed Islamic center within a couple of blocks of 9/11's Ground Zero. I oppose it because I do not trust the reasons given for the site choice. In fact, I have have not read or heard a reasonable explanation of why this site was chosen. I understand there are some 70 mosques in the city so it isn't a lack of places to pray. The area is not residential so it would seem that there would be few people served directly. It does nothing to improve Muslim and non-Muslim relations. In fact, just the opposite. It is seen as a poke in the eye to those who lost loved ones in the attacks. And also a poke in the eye to America in general.

Certainly, Muslims have a right to build mosques. But there is no right to build it anywhere they choose. Just ask any Christian church group or sect trying to build a new church. There is a church that was made unusable during the attacks and that church is unable to get permits to rebuild. One wonders why.

Blagojevich was found guilty of one count and the jury deadlocked on the other 23 counts. Blago is claiming victory. His supporters are claiming victory. I would be quietly slipping into the shadows and not making a lot of noise. Seems to me his status is still not settled and his victory speeches are premature.

There appears to be some competition for the soon to be retired space shuttles. It's nice to know that somebody wants them since the administration doesn't. Anyone want to bet the taxpayers will pay all costs for transportation to their new homes where, again, the taxpayers will pay for the upkeep and the buildings to house them? And, after a few short years, no one will be willing to pay a dime to see them. It's sad but true, America has a short memory for such things.

Does anyone really care if Brett Favre plays anywhere this year? Be honest.

Dr. Laura is leaving the airwaves because she repeated the N word almost as many times as the average rapper. I am not defending her use of the word, I am dismayed at the constant use of the word by rappers and black comedians. It's an ugly word and no one should use it.

As the Chinese curse goes... we appear to be living in interesting times.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teetering on the brink

As none of you know, I have a bad back. It began one summer night when I was 16 and, being somewhat tipsy, attempted to perform a kind of high wire act across the backs of the row of spectator seats at our local bowling alley. Not being especially well-balanced, and drunk, I mis-stepped and fell... landing on my coccyx. X-rays and examinations were not performed until after school started and I found myself unable to sit up the morning after having done some sit-ups in Phys Ed.

Although I was warned by the doctor that I might suffer future pain if I did not wear the girdle he prescribed daily until he told me otherwise and I that I would doom myself to needing a cane by the time I was 30, I wore the corset for a total of two weeks before tossing it on the floor of my closet where it was quickly buried under other things I no longer wore or cared about. Basically, it forced me to sit up straight and I figured I could do that on my own.

It was manageable enough that I made it through boot camp (we did no sit-ups during basic... oddly) and my Navy days without a problem.

I still cannot do sit-ups without suffering an incredibly sore back. And there are times when I stress out support muscles and suffer for several days with excruciating pain. It feels like my upper body is sitting on a tiny ball bearing at a point just below my hip line. Picture two pyramids with the top one upside down, balanced on a ball bearing set on the tip of the lower one. This is the mental image I have of what goes on in my spine.

The agony is such that I must be careful as I walk, stepping off a curb (or down a stair step) feels as if my vertebrae are being smashed together. To avoid this condition, I cannot wear shoes with hard plastic heels, I cannot stand for longer than 15 minutes (this has shrunk from 1 hour in my late teens and early 20's) in one place.

I tell you all this not because I am going through this agony at the moment. But because it is also my view of the economy in general over the last 20 years. It has teetered precariously , threatening to tip over and fall into a permanent depression. This also describes my life. A balancing act between comfort and pain.

All of this came to mind because I am in the beginning stages of a lawsuit against a CPA who denied my mother a stipend she was entitled to under a trust left by her former employer. And my lawyer died of a heart attack two nights ago.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I have two left feet, a brown thumb, and stutter on canvas

Essentially, I am talentless. Oh, I am sure I have a few talents but they are minor ones of no real importance. But I never learned to play an instrument, refined to any degree my drawing ability, cannot dance worth a damn, and I can only sing in a drunken crowd. I think my writing is mediocre. In any case, it will never earn awards.

I am, therefore, jealous of those of you who can do any of these things. It's a friendly jealousy, though, because I admire talent.

When I was in the Navy, I had a shipmate with whom I had an uneven relationship. Ernesto Martinez was a former deck ape (member of the deck crew) who managed to get a shot at the rating of Torpedoman. He was in the deck force because he didn't test well. He didn't test well because, even though he was born and raised in New Mexico, he spoke no English until he went to public school at age 5. He also had a tough life in a rough family. To say he had a chip on his shoulder would be a gross understatement.

He pretended, I think, to be stupid. People thought he was and he let them. But a few knew better, which is why he got out of the deck force and into my division (ASW). I learned that he was much smarter than he appeared.

We got along okay until he tried sleeping in his bunk during an informal inspection period on a Saturday. He was hungover. He was not in a good mood. I was ranking petty officer and in charge of our spaces that day. I woke him. I told him he could grab his blanket and pillow and sleep in the SONAR equipment room. I could keep that locked. He'd be fine in there and I would wake him later if he wanted lunch.

In return, I got jumped on verbally, I got threatened, I got a stream of abuse. I finally just ordered him out of his bunk and told him he'd have to be out of his bunk by the time I returned in fifteen minutes. And then I left. He was gone when I returned, sleeping in the equipment room. For the next several weeks, he scowled at me whenever we ran into each other. He was not a man to cross. He had reached the state semi-finals in Golden Gloves at age 15. He still had the moves.

One day, several weeks later, he came to me and handed me a small candy tin. You know, like the Altoids cans. Inside were two joints. A peace offering. The ice between us melted. I started looking at him differently, we talked more, I learned more about his growing up near Taos. From an uneasy truce, we slowly evolved into friends.

One day, I was up on the 01 deck, near the hanger, and I heard the sounds of a Spanish Guitar. Ernesto had borrowed the guitar of another shipmate and was sounding like Carlos Montoya. It was, in a word, incredible. This unpolished, angry (most of the time), coarse, man was talented beyond belief.

It was my first exposure to someone's hidden talents. Not my last. Not by a long shot. It taught me that so many people are misjudged because of appearance or manner.

And it taught me a bit of humility.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sweatin' up a storm

It is brutally hot and humid. It just sucks the life out of you. I suppose I shouldn't complain. After all, I chose to live in Florida in the summer. It was voluntary, no one forced me to do it. They call it the "Dog Days". I never understood that, never met a dog that liked this kind of heat. Maybe it's because we all look and act like dogs in this heat; panting, with our tongues hanging out. And my ears even droop.

But it isn't the worst heat and humidity I have been through. That was in Northern Virginia, about 35 miles west of D.C. The temps would be in triple digits and the humidity would be over 95%. You couldn't breathe. You couldn't think straight. Which might explain why the federal government acts like it does. Mold would grow in the oddest places and in the span of a few short hours. I spent a little time in the Philippines and it wasn't that bad.

Still, heat just drains you, doesn't it? I wouldn't trade it for freezing cold, though. Not me. I have had people say they would rather deal with cold than heat. I say then move to Canada or Alaska. I'll put up with the heat. People say you can always add clothes to deal with the cold but you can only peel them off until you're naked. I have nothing against naked. As long as there's a ceiling fan and AC. And I notice that it keeps the Jehova's Witnesses from coming back when you answer the door that way.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Angel Flight

Back in the day... the 70's... when I was newly married for the first time, Angel Flight was the name of a clothing line. Even though there were angel flights returning from Viet Nam on a daily basis, we didn't hear much about them. They were unheralded. Any stories on them seemed tainted with bitterness and disrespect. It was a truly unpopular war and it was my generation's war. There were two fields of combat; one in the jungles of Southeast Asia and the other on the streets of the USA. Those of us who served were caught up in both. Our Angel Flights came in without fanfare, without much respect, except from the families and friends of those on board.

There seems to be something different going on today. More appreciation for the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who are putting their lives on the line in foreign lands. More respect for the sacrifices they are making. Maybe that's why this song is so important.

Take a few minutes to listen, to reflect on the men and women who are at risk for taking that flight home.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Darn butterflies

Ever have one of those days? I'm having one. I just can't seem to get an idea, a theme, a thought, to expound upon. I don't know why... but, then, we never do know, do we? Any clever thought just seems to disappear as soon as we pull up the word processor. It's like walking up to the beautiful girl (or handsome guy for those of you into that) when you were a teen and basically just stammering for 30 seconds (an eternity).

I don't have that problem anymore. The stammering, I mean. I am an old goat now and I can talk to pretty girls without worrying about what they'll think of me. After all, I am not going to get a date with any of them now. If I did, Faye would do terrible things to certain parts of my body. Followed by a divorce and certain poverty.

But this is about losing a thought. Or, more precisely, about not really having a thought to lose. Like having someone's name on the tip of your tongue, you know an idea is there, hiding in the foggiest area of your brain. In my case, that's a rather large area. When this happens, I am reminded of the song "Elusive Butterfly"...

Yeah, now just try to get that out of your head. It will still be there when you try to go to sleep tonight. Unless you have consumed a largish quantity of Margaritas.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Excuse my sweat, please.

Tuesday.... that means exercise at the YMCA (cue Village People... now try to get that song out of your head). I am getting into this 3 day a week routine. I am now up to 45 minutes of exercise. Which is bizarre when I think about how much more I used to be able to do when younger. But I spent 2 years battling a lung infection not so many years ago (1997-1999) and I gave into that mostly sedentary job I retired from in the years between then and now.

I like to observe people. And a gym is an excellent place to do that. The only drawback is having to stifle the chuckling. Which I can easily do by looking at myself in one of the ubiquitous mirrors along the walls. Yeah, I look just as silly as most of the rest. And, of course, there are always a few that are buff which just ruins your mood even more.

I admit to looking at the weight settings of others. You know, the amount of weight that the exerciser is moving on whatever machine they are interacting with. I do this because it makes me feel better about my meager weight settings compared to those buff folks I mentioned in the last paragraph. I am, of course, mature enough to realize we all have our physical limits and we must crawl before we walk. And immature enough to feel smug when the fat guy is turning red trying to move 20 pounds on a machine I set at 85. And embarrassed when I realize I had to move it down to 85 from 135 that the young woman used just before me.

I am amazed by the people on the treadmill when I come in that are still on that same treadmill when I leave some 45 minutes later. Truly amazed. I would get bored running outside for that long (assuming I would not have collapsed, gasping, on the side of the road after 4 minutes). But inside? With no change of scenery except what's on the TVs on the wall facing the treadmills and bicycles?

I don't know if it's helping me. I know it isn't hurting me yet. I also know it will take some time before I get any real noticeable results. And those results will be slow and subtle that I won't likely notice them myself. Someone else will say, "Have you lost weight?" Or, "Did you give up beer? Where's the belly?"

I never, by the way, had a beer belly. It was/is an ice cream belly. With some chocolate pudding tossed in.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gator Politickin'

I know I promised to get away from the political this week but I figured this warranted a mention... We have 7 candidates for the position of County Tax Collector. That's right, SEVEN. You gotta wonder why that post is so desirable. Our previous tax collector passed away quite unexpectedly and, within a month, we had a number of people vying for the post, all of whom are registered Republicans. We are a strong Republican and conservative county, Democrats and liberals/progressives are definitely in the minority here.

You may have heard that we have an interesting Senate race here in Florida. It was boring for awhile until Marco Rubio started gaining ground on Charlie Crist. Crist just happens to be our governor and thought he could slide into a nice cushy Senate job after term limits ended his stay at the Governor's Mansion (why should governors have mansions anyway? Jerry Brown of California didn't live in one the last time he was governor and I actually like that guy. But I digress... as usual). Anyway, once Rubio looked like he was going to beat Crist in the primary, Crist had an epiphany and decided he was actually an Independent and not a Republican or a Democrat. It doesn't matter that he stated a month before that he was not going to run as an Independent if he lost the primary.

Technically, he didn't lie. He just didn't wait long enough to actually lose the primary.

Yet that didn't leave Rubio unopposed. There are two other Republicans running for the nominations. Two guys I barely heard of, have seen no ads for, and who I don't expect to pick up much of the vote.

On the Democratic side of that Senate race we have Kendrick Meek, son of Carrie Meek, who retired as a US Congresswoman in 2003. Her seat was taken over by, you guessed it, Kendrick. Now, Kendrick wants to move up. Unfortunately, he is being challenged by one Jeff Greene, a real estate billionaire, who may just beat him and a couple of lesser candidates who haven't got a prayer. In reality, neither Greene nor Meek have a snowball's chance in Key West of beating either Crist or Rubio. But money will be spent, coalitions made, favors will be traded, and who knows what the future might bring?

In the Governor's race, Bill McCollum thought he would coast into the Republican nomination. A widely respected Republican here, he didn't worry about the no names challenging him. Uh oh! A self-made multi-millionaire has made a good run in recent months in spite of a connection to a Medicare fraud scandal with HCA, of which he was CEO at the time. We are now being inundated with attack ads from both sides and mud is flying everywhere. Except, in Florida, we don't have mud. We have swamps so we have "muck" instead.

And you folks thought Floridians were laid back and easy going...

I think I'll vote for anyone whose name I do not recognize. And, beginning tomorrow, I swear to all my constituents, I will not mention politics for the rest of the week.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Saturday Special

I came across this while perusing the news today. I peruse the news because I am an unrepentant masochist, I suppose.

There is more at:

World's Strangest Sculptures

Friday, August 6, 2010

Vote `em all out!

Isn't politics fun? It seems like as soon as one election is over, the campaigning for the next one begins. I realize that political discourse often causes many eyes to glaze over and blood to shoot from others. We are either fanatical about politics or completely disinterested. I have been both over the years. Not always at the same time, of course.

I have been liberal and conservative, apathetic and rabid, and often confused. The last 20 or so years, the political atmosphere has been smoggy and harsh. Candidates from both major parties have accused their opponents of being divisive and fostering anger, fear, and hate. It reminds me of the bumper sticker (and/or tagline in emails and usenet posts) Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt... my job here is done. The first part soon became the acronym FUD and was used in accusations such as "spreading FUD."

Much was made a few years ago about term limits. There are valid (and not so valid) arguments in favor and against term limits. Some say they are unconstitutional. I think they are, so long as they, the limits, are not created by federal law unless by amendment to the Constitution. Personally, I don't think we need laws to limit terms. We can, if we will, enforce them at the ballot box. Just refuse to vote for incumbents who have already served two terms. If you aren't sure if they have served at least 2 terms then just vote out the incumbent. It'll work. If enough of us are willing to do it.

I mean, what's with career politicians? I associate them with career criminals. It's pretty hard to tell them apart anyway. Except their thievery is allegedly legal. Career politicians are our Ruling Class. I see way too many members of the same families getting elected to offices not because they are the best candidate (or even qualified for it) but because they are members of a prominent political family. Wives "inherit" a Senate seat, sons follow in their fathers' footsteps; cousins and nephews and nieces trade on the family name. And how can they do this? Because we let them. Because we still have that belief in aristocracy buried in our brains.

Why am I boring you with this political tripe? Because we here in Florida have a primary coming up soon. Some of you may have one coming also. And the best way to impose term limits is in these primaries. Make the incumbents nervous, kick them out, vote for the other guy, any other guy (or gal), shake `em up.

I promise to go back to my usual pointless ramblings come Monday.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Night Shiftin'

I saw an article in my local (ha! Tampa is not really local to me) paper asking for people to relate their stories about how they cope with the Graveyard Shift so one of their reporters could do a story on it. They seemed to want to hear from those currently working that shift. I'm retired so I figured I did not qualify.

Most of the years that I worked for was employed by... a huge communications company (which shrank a bit and then was swallowed up by a company that had been spun off some years ago), I worked what we called the Night Shift and most people call the graveyard shift; midnight to 8 AM.

There are pros and cons to working that shift. Let's go over them:

  • You have all day off.
A co-worker once described it as having every day off... but you're sick all the time. Still, it was great for Christmas shopping and hitting the gym or going to the beach.

  • There are fewer supervisors around.
Actually, there were no supervisors around most of the time. My first year at an old step office in North Miami, there were two but they left me alone. The only time I saw supervisors, usually, was as I was leaving or I had to stay late for a meeting.

  • The atmosphere is more laid back.
It's hard to imagine a more laid back job than telecom work but this shift qualified. The Evening shift (4PM-Midnight) was even more laid back since they watched TV for 3 hours and played cards the rest of the time.

  • You get higher pay (I got 10% above Day Shift).
I had a union rep on Day Shift complain once that off-shifts (both Evening and Night shifts got the 10% premium) got too much compensation. I shut him up by asking You want to swap shifts with me? He said No way! To which I replied Then we aren't paid too much yet. He never complained again (in front of me).

  • The rest of the world is not on the Night Shift.
This becomes readily apparent pretty much immediately. You learn some tricks; locked gates at the street, "no soliciting" signs, disconnected doorbells, ringers turned off on telephones, and ear plugs. I had to leave the telephone ringer on (turned down low) because I had a young son in school and leaving it on occasionally caused a problem.

Supervisors simply assumed it was okay to call you with some trivial question that he (or she) thought important. I got a call one Tuesday afternoon about 2 from John, my supervisor, asking me if I wanted to work on Friday (my day off that week). I asked him if he needed my answer immediately, he said "No, just let him know in the morning." So I did. I called him at 4 AM and told him "No thanks, I don't want to work it." He got the point after I explained it to him when he showed up at the office 45 minutes later to chew me out. It seemed I had to train each supervisor separately, though.

  • Sleeping during the daylight hours is difficult.
Especially on weekends. Do you realize just how loud a lawnmower is? Ear plugs only help a little. Having a very large rural lot with no neighbor closer than 200 feet helps a lot.

I learned quickly that my best sleeping time was between noon and 6 PM. Going to sleep right after I got home didn't work well, I was falling asleep the last two hours of my shift.

  • Your family thinks you hibernate every day.

And they are right. The master bedroom was referred to as "The Cave" and the admonition was to never awaken the sleeping bear.

Still, I enjoyed that shift and volunteered for it at every opportunity. Which ought to give you an idea just how sick I am.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Capitalism explained

I admit it. I am an unrepentant capitalist pig. I enjoy amassing money and property. I would love to be filthy rich. On the other hand, I am too lazy to actually make the effort to do so. Instead, I play Monopoly. On my computer. I spoke of this before. Obviously, I couldn't think of something new to write about so I dragged this subject back out. Live with it.

Monopoly is a game anyone over the age of 7 can play and appreciate. You should try to play with peers, not between adults and kids. Personally, I think kids should only play against kids close to their own age. Within a couple of years anyway.

It is not simply a game, it's a social event. With children, it's a fun game and it teaches how to manage money and purchases as a side benefit. With adults, or even teens, it becomes almost cutthroat. Trickery, guile, sneakiness are all rewarded... just as in real life.

There are strategies that can be used to enhance your chances of winning or prevent another player from gaining too much of an advantage. Strategies do not always work out because the game is a combination of skill and luck. Much depends upon the throw of the dice. But once all properties have been bought and if no one has an important (meaning a "high income" set) then strategy comes to the forefront. Like a poker game, you will have weak players and strong. The weaker players will fall prey to the stronger.

The smart player will figure out which players will make trades that are advantageous for the smart player. The weak player will undervalue a trade. Trades are the best way to control the game. The most basic strategy is to block monopolies by either owning a property in each monopoly set though initial play (roll of the dice) or by obtaining them through trades. Weak players will accept a trade which gives the offering player a monopoly while seemingly gaining more cash and/or property. The smartest players will figure out how manipulate the weaker ones.

I grew up playing the game against an older brother (2 years older) and sister (6 years older). Both of my siblings were devious and basically ruthless. Still are, I suspect. I learned quickly to be suspicious of all trade offers. I also learned to stay out of any game where my brother took on the role of The Bank. He would have a seemingly endless amount of cash available. He embezzled. My sister was more trustworthy as The Bank. Though I learned to closely watch her also.

The game is best played by 4 people. This way, alliances (unspoken, of course) are made and broken. The first goal is to gain the advantage that will carry you through when two players are wiped out and there is just you and one other.

And isn't that just like real life?

No, not exactly. In Monopoly, there is only two taxes: income and Luxury. In real life, taxes are everywhere. In real life, you would have more than just one fee to build a house or hotel. There would be impact fees, assessments, filing fees, permit fees, and local commissioners to bribe. In real life, each player must have at least one lawyer. In real life, the game is much more complex and difficult to navigate. And most of us lose.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why do I do these things?

I enter the room. There are men and women; there is groaning and grunting and heavy breathing; bodies writhing, heaving up and down; sweat is soaking what clothes they have on. Faces contorted in concentration, a mixture of pleasure and pain evident. Music plays in the background, bodies moving in various rhythms.

No, it's not a sex club. It's a gym. It's where people go so they would look good at a sex club... if one would go to a sex club. Which I surely would not. Again. Not now. I am happily married, I am told, and those clubs would be highly detrimental to my health.

Not so long ago, the Love of My Life (She Who Must Be Obeyed) decided that we should get some regular exercise. It was about the time I entered rehab for the kneecap, or shortly thereafter. She mentioned signing up at the local YMCA. And mentioned it. And mentioned it. I, of course, smiled, nodded, and generally ignored ithe suggestions.

After all, I play golf 3 days a week. This involves the rigorous exercise of getting in and out of a golf cart many times per round. The better you play, the less times you have to do that. Since I do not play all that well, I figure that I do it plenty. And then there's the upper body aerobic effect of swinging the club more often than I should need to.

But she got a call one day. It was the YMCA folks telling her she "won" free use of the facilities for an unspecified period. When I asked her how she had won it, she said "By answering the phone." And when I asked how long the "unspecified period" was, she had no idea, that they didn't say; just that she was to come in and all would be explained during her tour of the facilities.

She went the next Friday while I went to play golf. She broke it to me after I had de-compressed from the heat, humidity, and humiliation. She had signed us up for a family membership for 1 year and was given an additional 7 months for free.

"Yippee!", I cheered. Well, maybe it was more like I groaned something under my breath. Maybe "muttered" is a better word.

I will say this much, she is sticking it out so far. Yes, it has only been a month but she goes a couple of days more than I do. I go the 3 days I do not play golf. Sunday, we both rest. As is required, I think, for a healthy body.

I have to admit, I feel better now that I exercise regularly. Well, now I do. The first week or so, I didn't. I felt sore. Now, I just feel tired. Which makes my afternoon naps on the sofa so much easier... and appreciated.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Dude Abides

This was too good to pass up. Someone mentioned in a comment thread over at the Hannibal Blog that "The Dude abides", which led eventually to this web page...

The origins of this new and slowly growing religion lie in the movie "The Big Lebowski", a cult classic starring Jeff Bridges. Since Dudeism's main tenet is "Take it easy, man", I am a natural for this cult. This path to enlightenment is strewn with indifference, indolence, and a definitely laid back attitude toward life and wearing nothing more than a T-shirt, undershorts, a robe, and slippers (though it is too warm for a robe where I live) even when visiting millionaires. I figure I belong among its adherents.

I will have to delve more deeply into this... without expending too much effort. Expending effort seems to be antithetical to the tenets of this sect.