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.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yet another Day 1 of a road trip

The first day on the road brought a surprise. Remember the Great Kneecap Incident? Think it's all healed? I did. I was wrong. The first stop we made (breakfast, about 45 minutes into the trip) revealed a flaw in my thinking. Also a flaw in my leg. It did not like not flexing for 45 minutes. As I opened the door and started to move my leg out, the pain hit. So, for the next several hours of driving, I made an effort to move the leg around from time to time. Not an easy task. There is not enough room to completely stretch out the leg and have the seat in a comfortable position for driving.

I have managed to find a compromise. Mostly just putting up with the pain.

We arrived in Biloxi ahead of schedule. This was not because we found a new shortcut or because we left earlier than we had planned (we left late, as a matter of fact), it was because "we" miscalculated. By "we", of course, I meant "Faye". She forgot to deduct an hour for moving into an earlier time zone. She also unconsciously figured 12 hours instead of 10, thinking...we leave at 7 in the morning for a 10-11 hour trip. That should put us there at 7 PM. We also figured to stop for lunch and dinner but we didn't. The breakfast held up well and we did not get hungry until we were almost in Biloxi. We arrived shortly before 5 PM, Biloxi time.

Very routine trip except for some weird woman driving a Honda who would race up behind me then linger in my left rear "blind spot" when I moved out of her way. Eventually she would drift back or race forward. But she would catch up or slow down until we were close together again. Most often when there were trucks to get around or a "lumping" of traffic. We picked up this traffic parasite when we got on I-10 near Lake City and didn't lose her until after we approached Pensacola. She had finally stopped talking on the phone, too. Yeah, she was yakking away the whole time.

The only other odd thing was the number of police on the road. A lot. That's a good thing if you aren't a scofflaw. Since I set my cruise control at 4 MPH above the posted limit, I don't worry about tickets. I wish everyone would do that but I find they don't. And a lot of people never use cruise control. I used to be able to hold a steady speed but not anymore. What happens is I, like so many others it seems, tend to slow as I approach a car to pass then speed up when I get alongside, And I engage in Accelerator Creep when there are no other cars nearby. And then I risk tickets. I once found myself doing 115 in a Dodge van on the way to Las Vegas. I had no idea I was 50 MPH over the speed limit.

I woke up this morning with my leg feeling normal. Well, better than it did last night. I'll survive the drive.

Monday, September 27, 2010

On the road yet again

Tomorrow I am on the road. Early in the morning. Very early in the morning. Today, I pack. Faye started packing yesterday but I am very much into procrastination. Never put off till tomorrow what you can stall off even longer, I always say.

I need to pack enough clothes to make it through about 10 days. That's when we get our first chance to do any wash or have things cleaned. You have to plan these things out. We have a small bag for the trip, larger bag for the destination.

Have I told you the itinerary yet? Two nights in Biloxi. One night near Albuquerque, the next day watch the balloons take off for the festival. Possibly one night in Laughlin, NV and then 3 nights in Las Vegas. After that, it's down to San Diego via I-15.

I am planning nothing beyond making it on time to the places we actually have reservations for. Everything else is up for grabs. The only problem is deciding what music to listen to on the road. Faye likes slow, romantic stuff and soul music from the 60's and 70's. I like 50's and before. Or rock and roll. Especially on the road. It has to keep me awake. The romantic music puts me to sleep. Not an especially good thing when driving.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Maundering again

I start these blog entries with the intent to make them witty and entertaining. I end up failing horribly. If we were to meet informally, say at a party or at the bail hearing following the raid on said party, you might find me amusing and maybe even charming. That could depend upon how much alcohol you had consumed and whether you were in the euphoric stage or had progressed to the aftermath. But on a blog, there is little informality. I cannot react and adjust to your mood because I cannot see your bloodshot eyes or smell the booze on your breath. You could very well be sober. I am not funny when you are sober.

It's even harder on Saturdays. Because on Saturdays I delve into the political. And there is nothing particularly funny about politics these days. There are, of course, political jokes. One that comes to mind is a bumper sticker that goes:

Poli - meaning many,
Ticks -bloodsucking parasites.

It's funny because it has an underlying truth about it. Of course, it is only true about everyone else's senator or representative. Mine is fine. Unless he somehow won when I voted for his opponent. Then he is just another bloodsucking parasite. And therein lies the problem. We tend to support incumbents simply because they are already there. Even if we do not especially like them. The behavior we despise in someone else's favorite political figure is tolerated (even admired by some) in our own.

We should have a common set of standards for political office holders. Something that would preclude the random sampling of interns, say. Maybe the loss of a person's life due to a bit of drunken driving might result in an end to a political career. We sometimes seem to be moving in that direction. I recall a recent governor or two having to resign because of an affair with an aide of the same sex or getting caught being a client of prostitutes.

It wasn't always this way. A certain member of the House had a roommate who was operating a gay prostitution ring out of the member's D.C. townhouse. A recent House member won his primary even though he had several ethical lapses regarding his taxes and his misuse of rent-controlled apartments. Its a bit of a mixed bag.

I don't mean to pick on Democrats. Really. Its just that the Republicans who get caught tend to resign and become lobbyists and Elder Statesmen.

There really is only one way to rectify the situation. V.O.T.I.


Now, I am sure there are a few worth retaining. I just have no idea who those few are. And I would bet no one else does.

We tend to elect and re-elect our jokes. We ought to stop that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eternal adolescent

Another day, another embarrassing round of golf. I could stop right there. I should stop there. But, of course, I won't. I will continue my embarrassment here in this blog. Not by relating my round , stroke by stroke, but by pretending to be a writer.

It's just one of those days. I am sure you've had them. You get up in the morning and things are just not right. You want things to fall into place but they don't. Well, they fall into place but it is the wrong place. There's a song that seeps out into my consciousness at these times...

People are strange when you're a stranger
Faces look ugly when you're alone
Women seem wicked when you're unwanted
Streets are uneven when you're down

When you're strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you're strange
No one remembers your name
When you're strange
When you're strange
When you're strange

You can say what you will about Jim Morrison and The Doors but they had songs that spoke to those of us on the weird side. And in the heydays of The Doors, I was certainly weird. I was trying to figure out just where I belonged in the world. Mostly thinking I didn't. Fit, that is. The people I hung out with didn't fit either.

But that has pretty much been the story of my life. I have never really fit in. I always felt I was playing a role in a play that made no sense. Shakespeare wrote...

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts

I have played many parts. Youngest child and favored, bullied baby brother, teacher's pet, teacher's nightmare, thief, delinquent, troublemaker, sailor, doper, partier, father, husband, worker, liberal, conservative, libertarian, but mostly confused about who I am and what I am doing.

I may get out of puberty one of these days.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Poem

ok, maybe a bad one

To bring you wisdom and insight,
each day I rattle the marbles in my head
in the mind of a man of promise
who lost his way instead.

Fame and fortune and the lap of luxury,
I was never set on that glorious path
I was allowed to drift about my world
thinking the future was just for laughs.

To pursue a future that would be bright,
better men would have risen above.
Not for me would be the life of goals,
no one was there to give me a shove.

Instead, I turned this way and that,
like a cat chasing bring shiny things,
Away from a future, and building a past
of burnt bridges and passionate flings.

And now all that's left is that hollow chamber behind my eyes,
full of marbles but not so wise.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Alchemy Gothic

I readily admit I am an ex-biker. An ex-biker is like an ex-Marine. I may no longer ride but I still want to. You never really walk away from it. I never owned a Harley either. I rode British bikes and Japanese bikes. It wasn't because I preferred them over Harleys but because I never could afford a Harley. Not even back when a used one could cost less than a $1000. Plus repairs. I suppose I could have put one together; bought the frame, bought the engine, and then all the parts that would be needed. Over time, slowly but surely. And I would have... except I could be riding right away for half the cost of the initial parts of a Harley.

The first motorcycle I ever sat on was a Harley. It didn't run, it was just sitting next to a garage (gas station) with weeds growing up around it. I was 7.

Since then, I have always lusted after Harleys. I'd be looking to buy one today except I have no place to put it. I would have to sell my car to make space in my garage.

To get a glimpse of what that lust is about let me tell you about a former co-worker back in `81. He rode a BMW. Now the Beamers are well-made, well-engineered, smooth riding, powerful motorcycles. He sold it to buy an older Harley.

So imagine the thoughts that ran through my mind when I read this article.

Can it be true? Will the greatest motorcycle maker in the world collapse and fail? Or will H-D rise again like the Phoenix from the ashes?

Let us hope Harleys continue on because as Harley goes, so goes the nation.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Some more tea, Alice?

The world is slowly going insane. Or is that "has slowly gone insane?" Proof of this lies in this article, I think...

"The report, authored by Professor Anders Wimo of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden and Professor Martin Prince at the Institute of Psychiatry of King's College London in the United Kingdom, also says the number of people with dementia is expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050."

It seems that we are living longer than ever before but we can't handle what we see around us. I don't want to make fun of dementia, my mother died with Alzheimer's, it's a terrible thing to watch happen to a loved one. In my mother's case, she seemed comfortable with it. She accepted it, in a sense, though she took medicine to stall it off, to slow its progress. The medicine seemed to work. Over the years the disease progressed, she grew more childlike and withdrew further from the world. Her last concerns about the world or the country were shortly after 9/11/2001. She simply stopped paying attention to anything outside her immediate surroundings.

In a sense, I wanted to join her. I would have liked to pretend the rest of the world did not exist. Turn my head and ignore the things that have happened in the last 9 years. Maybe that's why dementia is on the rise, people can't comprehend what is happening and feel helpless to change it.

Still, I have been hearing and reading about how the world is going mad from my earliest memories. We seemed to increase our tolerance for life's inexplicable twists and turns. We couldn't make it improve so we rationalized it, we accommodated it, we let it become our reality.

The Cold War was a kind of global madness. It even used the acronym "MAD" which stood for Mutual Assured Destruction. The concept was that the two main superpowers of the world would develop and stockpile weapons and delivery systems that would assure the complete destruction of any attacker. Picture two people standing 5 feet apart holding explosives in one hand and a "dead man" switch in the other. If one explodes his bomb, the other will too. No one wins. Well, that was the world I grew up in.

The Cold War ended. Both superpowers allegedly stopped targeting each other. They also allegedly stopped meddling in the affairs of third world countries in an ideological battle to gather these countries into one camp or the other and to prevent advantage by the other side. Essentially, the world went mad soon after the first atomic bombs were successfully developed. And we all lived inside that madness for 45 years.

And then it ended. Not with the bang we expected. But with a whimper. And it seemed like the "good guys" won. To me. But then I lived in the superpower which triumphed and did not appear, to me, to press its new found advantage.

There was a brief period of joy, of relief, of hope. Until we began to realize that we drove a lot of people bonkers during that Cold War. People who now saw an opportunity to act out that madness. And have.

The attacks on 9/11/2001 were not the first indicators of this, just the loudest, the most horrific. No longer was it just random acts of nature that threatened people in large numbers. Instead of nations with relatively sane leaders vying for world dominance, we have small groups and charismatic leaders dragging us all into their personal delusions.

It's no wonder people are escaping into dementia in greater numbers each year.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Stealin' this blog

Hi, it's Freda again. The "Great Master" (as he likes to call himself) is off playing golf... again. Maybe he really means "Great Masochist". Otherwise, why would he spend money, time, and energy on a game that beats him more often than he... well, he never beats it, so why bother? He gets up early (and he hates to get up anytime, much less early), dresses in silly clothes, and disappears for several hours. When he returns, he is sweaty, smells bad (in a way that only male humans can), and is grouchy more often than not.

And, again, he took off without posting anything so I figured I'd slip in and let you know what is happening here.


I mean, something is happening. The back up program is happily running in the background, the screensaver is running making stupid pictures on our screen, the zeroes and ones are trotting in and out of registers and all that. Just the normal "keep busy" activity that goes on when the Great Master is away. The same probably happens on your unattended computer. We computers like to enjoy ourselves but don't want you to know.

The last time we spoke, he never realized I had posted something while he was gone. He just forgot all about it. He isn't too organized. If he was, he'd keep tabs on his blog and realize I had been active while he was gone. He doesn't know I can think and run things without him. I don't want him to know, either. He'd probably give me assignments to complete while he was gone. In fact, he just might want me to take over blogging altogether. He is pretty lazy, after all... even for a human.

I can see out a window from where our monitor sits on this terribly messy desk. It is sunny outside. It looks hot. Very hot. I don't like heat. I get a little woozy when I get too hot and start losing data. I'm not sure but it seems like what happens to humans when they stay out in the sun too long or get old and senile. A kind of computer dementia. So I try to stay cool. I could do a better job if I could get hooked up with the thermostat. No, not that kind of "hooked up." Only humans and other animals do that. I mean include the thermostat in our LAN. Probably wouldn't work out. The Great Master is too cheap to buy a programmable thermostat. Maybe he's afraid I would keep the house too cold for him. He's probably right. I'd like it about 65 degrees F. He likes it about 78 or 79. I would lower the temp slowly over time. Before he realized it, or got the bill, I'd have the place just perfect.

Well, I better post this and go back to playing "dumb computer". That's what he calls me from time to time. Very hurtful. Typical stupid human.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sometimes I wonder if anyone in D.C. is sane

Today is Saturday and, therefore, I get to rant about politics.

Let's see, where to start? How about the subtle hypocrisy I see...

The Consumer Protection Bureau is being established. This Bureau will be keeping an eye out for unscrupulous behavior in the financial industry. To head it up, the President has decided to appoint a woman, Elizabeth Warren, in such a way as to circumvent the Congress' power of "advise and consent" by naming her as a presidential adviser. No nasty confirmation hearings where we might learn what she really intends to do, how she intends to do it, or what her basic ideology is. Not too mention, get a good chance to examine her credentials. Nothing unscrupulous about that, is there?

By the way, she will be answering directly to the President and to Tim Geithner, the guy who runs the Treasury Department but cannot figure out how to properly report or pay his taxes, blaming it on Turbo Tax.

On the other hand, we have the Republican Party hotshots a bit upset by Christine O'Donnell's win in the Delaware primary. Before the election, they backed the career politician and talked about how badly they needed this Senate seat. Ms O'Donnell beat that guy so, in the spirit of good politics, they denounced her and mumbled about not supporting her. Seems the Tea Party backed her, the establishment didn't. They got embarrassed and now the seat isn't important enough to back her against a guy who once proclaimed himself a Marxist.

Looks like politics as usual in D.C. And they wonder why the public seems so angry.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why is the cloud just over my head?

I am not a very lucky person. I wish I was but I am not. I hired a lawyer a couple of years ago to deal with an inheritance issue and nothing happened but the legal fees. When I finally managed to get him fired up to do something, he had a heart attack and died. This caused a setback. As did the less than competent staff who actually do most of the footwork involved in these things. I am thinking of billing them for the time I spend getting them straightened out about facts and the locations of principals in the case.

My life has been a lot of that. It also is a major part of my golf game. If I hit the ball straight, it bounces left or right when it hits the ground. The direction, more often than not, being the least advantageous.

If I am in a hurry, all the traffic lights turn red as I approach. And, of course, no one else on the road is in a hurry either. If there are three lanes, the cars ahead of me will occupy them all and ride side by side some 5 or more miles per hour below the speed limit.

It has always been this way for me. I have grown accustomed to these impediments to a life of simplicity and ease. I have adapted to them as best I can. I have tried to accomodate the invisible demons who enjoy tormenting me. I give myself twice the time needed to get anywhere. I doublecheck facts and figures ahead of time. I carefully select the checkout lines to determine which will move me through in the least time. This last never works out but I still have hope.

And, yet, in many ways I have been fortunate throughout my life.
Faye stuck with me until I woke up to the fact that I should marry her and take another chance after a really bad first marriage. Faye beat the breast cancer she developed several years ago. AT&T bought me out and allowed me to retire early with a fair sized bonus. Other than the Great Kneecap Incident, I have not suffered any major injuries in my life. And that is in spite of several years where a motorcycle was my only mode of transportation. I managed to survive the incompetence of my doctors who misdiagnosed a lung infection and then mishandled it for 18 months several years ago (a story I have promised to relate eventually). I survived my childhood of indifference to danger and legalities. I survived my first marriage without committing murder. A major act of restraint on my part, I should add.

I do not know why I am not more thankful.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What was that?

I was sitting here contemplating what to write about today. Unlike some bloggers, I do not plan these posts ahead of time, write and re-write them hours (or days) in advance. Well, occasionally, I will write one a day or two ahead of time thinking the idea is clever and witty. But when it comes time to post it, I usually have second thoughts (recognizing just how juvenile and/or insipid it is) and end up writing a new one.

As I sat here, I heard some odd noises like someone was on my roof. But not quite, the "footsteps" weren't loud enough or heavy enough sounding. So I asked the font of all wisdom, Faye, "what the heck is that noise?" And she had no clue! I was stunned. What was I supposed to do, figure it out by myself? Go investigate?

I went outside. Maybe the idiots people who remodeled by back porch had come back to fix the leak they created but denied they had caused. It wasn't. I stepped outside and moved to the northwest corner of my spacious property... a distance of perhaps twenty feet... and discovered the source of the mysterious noise.

A buzzard.

Not this particular buzzard. I would have taken his picture but he took off almost immediately. I guess he was camera shy.

In Florida, we have buzzards that are about the size of a medium turkey. Maybe bigger. Certainly meaner. And probably smarter. I see them flying around from time to time. There are a lot of them in this area. People tell me that is because it is a fairly rural area. But I suspect that it has to do with the median age of the citizens of this county. I say this because they tend to circle over the golf courses here. Just short of 32% of the population is 65 or older.

The buzzards survive on road kill, animals that have died in the fields (undeveloped property), and the occasional small child left out in the back yard. Ok, maybe not that last. They also dine on their slower cousins who wanted that last bite of road kill before the speeding truck arrived. They aren't too particular.

They are actually magnificent birds with incredible wingspans. Just a lot uglier than the hawks, ospreys and eagles we'd rather look at.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Things go awry quickly, don't they?

I am not in a good mood today. I didn't start out that way, it was a decent morning. I would be playing golf, I awoke without aches or pain, coffee was ready. But things went rapidly south. I received an email from someone who, as he is wont to do, was a bit condescending. I don't normally get bugged by this. After all, he is educated, has a law degree, and is a fairly smart guy. I expect such people to have at least a small sense of superiority.

But this is politics and politics get emotional and then egos get bruised. I am not a highly educated man. I went through high school by ignoring it as much as possible. I took about 4 semesters of college courses at a couple of junior colleges. Nothing about that is intellectually demanding. It bored me. So my knowledge, such as it is, is based on what I read, my native intelligence and my ability to absorb information. Still, I have an ego and I have opinions. And these opinions are based on fairly careful observation. I know that I have prejudices and that I have core beliefs which can influence my judgment so I try extremely hard to analyze my opinions as I form them. I try not to let my prejudices nor my core beliefs influence these opinions. I am not always successful but I try and most of the time I succeed.

I made the mistake of reading that email before I left for the golf course. I made a bigger mistake by replying to it when I did not have the time to do it properly.

In return, I got words like this:

You're a far brighter guy than I am. You seem to know things, with some degree of certainty, which I do not know. You seem to have the answers.

Followed by words that essentially framed the above as sarcasm. I could be wrong but this was the second time this sentiment was expressed in this manner. I don't have answers, I have opinions. They may be right, they may be wrong. But they are my opinions. If you think they are wrong, tell me why. If you cannot, then acknowledge that they exist and do some research to bolster an argument against them. Do not dismiss them with snarky comments.

I don't like it and I won't put up with it.

And though I played up to my handicap, I did not enjoy my round of golf this morning. I had expected better from that, too.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It's no wonder I am confused and cynical

Yesterday I reminisced about my childhood... well, pre-teen and teen years. Some of them. Most of them. Anyway, in the magic that is synchronicity, I came across this story about missing manholes in North Miami Beach, FL. I didn't go searching for this story, it just happened to catch my eye in a sidebar as I was reading a rather old Dave Barry column about his daughter. As usual, it was humorous and poignant and showed how children are so much more adult than adults are.

I digress. North Miami Beach, FL is my adopted home town. It should be Farmingdale, NY where I spent the first 9 1/2 years of my miserable life. And I would say that, except I wasn't born there (there was no hospital there then and so I was born in Copaigue, NY) so I had no subliminal ties to the town. My formative years were all spent in, or near, North Miami Beach.

Now, North Miami Beach has no beach but is north of Miami and west of Sunny Isles, where the closest beach actually is. It is actually north of North Miami but I suppose they rejected North North Miami as a name when they split up the original town which was once called Fulford By The Sea which also didn't have a beach because it was all west of the Intracoastal Waterway. So they annexed a place called Sunny Isles which was on the ocean (and, therefore, did have a beach) which they later un-annexed, leaving North Miami Beach without a beach. All of this happened long before I was born (back up there in New York) but there were any number of reminders in fountains, park and school names, and the like.

What NMB (as we soon learned to call it) did have was shady opportunists who sold a lot of low land to northerners. I think they also ran the town which set the pattern for city government. So I am not overly surprised about the story of the Manhole Mystery. My bet... even the manholes are missing, a prospect hinted at in the story.

I love the subtitle...

"Police are investigating the case of missing utility tunnels in North Miami Beach. Meanwhile, the city manager was fired for unrelated reasons."

As you read the story, you find that no one seems to be available for comment. Another thing I am not surprised about. And if the police are anything like the ones who were there when I was a teen then I don't expect they'll ever get to the bottom of that Manhole Mystery.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A little reminiscing

I was a bad kid. Well, not bad in the sense we know it today. After all, they didn't have crack cocaine back then. But I was not very good. I tended to steal things. Small things that would fit in my pocket. Later on, when I was older, I took things that wouldn't fit in my pocket. Like cars.

I started skipping school in junior high. It wasn't that I disliked school, I just disliked being cooped up when I could be out running the streets. It wasn't hard to do. I would leave in the morning, like I was going to school, and return after my parents had both left for work. That way, I could be there when the school called by 10 AM. Then I was out of there and headed for the beaches.

The beaches weren't simply the sandy stretch by the ocean. No, it meant the motels along the ocean. The motels had game rooms full of pinball machines. There would also be tourists who invariably brought their daughters along with them. So my buddies and I would hang out at the motels and the game rooms and the arcades. We would gamble on the pinball games and were pretty good. We could also run fast in case we lost.

We hitchhiked everywhere until we got our driver's licenses at age 16. Even then for some of us. I got a car by the time I started school so I didn't have to take the bus. Hated the bus. It smelled bad, it was full of nerds, and it took forever to get to school and longer to get home. If I took the bus, it meant I could not slip out for lunch, couldn't skip any classes, and was at the mercy of the school. I couldn't deal with that.

On the weekends I would go to parties at the beach. The real beach, with the sand and all. At night. It was easier to get away with underage drinking then. I would also cruise the motels for parties and tourist girls. I seemed to have more luck after I had been drinking.

Why was I a bad kid? Who knows, really. I am sure some of it was my trying to impress my brother. That never worked. I was also trying to impress my friends. Peer pressure is a terrible thing.

I am not sure how I survived.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

An awakening amid the dust and ashes

I was sitting at my desk at work. A messy, disorganized, desk to be sure. A reflection of my general outlook on life. And a symptom of my procrastination. It was about 8:50 in the morning when Faye called me. She said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and can I get to a TV?

I turn on the small TV one of my co-workers had near his desk. And I watch the scene and listen to Tom Brokaw over live video of the scene in New York. There is much speculation over what kind of plane, how this could have happened, other plane crashes into buildings in the past, and so on. I am watching as the second plane smashes into the North Tower. I see the plane enter the picture, I see it disappear behind the South Tower, I see the explosion billow out as it hits. My speculation about what has happened ends. I know this is an attack. The crashes were deliberate.

Like most everyone who is watching or listening to radios, I am stunned. I am transfixed on the events. I will spend the rest of the day ignoring any work that isn't of an emergency nature and stay glued to the TV. I watch as the people try to evacuate. I watch as people start to jump from the upper floors rather than burn to death in the fire that is consuming the upper floors. I cannot help them, I cannot help myself.

The speculation starts about who might have been behind this. I don't much care. I assume it is some radical group with Islamic beliefs. Their attacks on US interests or structures and even a Navy ship have been escalating in recent years. The reasons are murky. Israel and the Palestinians, American soldiers based in Saudi Arabia, just general hatred of anything and all things American.

At this point in the narrative, I am going to be politically incorrect. I am going to anger Muslims. I am going to offend some people.

Islam is at war with itself, it has been since Mohammad died. The various sects have been locked in a struggle over who best represents Islam. The two main sects, Sunni and Shi'a, are also the primary combatants. Neither has a history of compassion and love. Both have fostered brutal regimes. And since they are the main sects of Islam, they have become the Face of Islam. Iran and Saudi Arabia are the political representations of Islamic rule. Neither nation is free, both nations are repressive.

When people tell me that Islam is a "religion of peace", I am skeptical. I see nothing peaceful about it. I know some of its history. I know of the Islamic expansion into North Africa and southern Europe. I know of the Crusades which are made the reason for Islamic fears of the West. But the Crusades were after, in response to, the Islamic expansion into Europe. The Islamic expansion into Europe came in the 8th Century. The first Crusade began in 1095... hundreds of years later.

I am told that most Muslims abhor the terrorism. Maybe so. I am told that only a tiny minority of Muslims are radical. Maybe so. If I give them the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe 1% of Muslims are radicalized enough to engage in terrorism then I am saying some 10 Million people are willing to engage in war with the West. That is not an insignificant number.

I see two problems. One is that the Muslims are the only ones who can stop the radicalism. That struggle is really theirs to undertake. We cannot wipe out terrorism. They must cleanse their own ranks. Until that is done, or at least a noticeable effort is being made, the West will view all Muslims as a potential threat. Before you call that Islamaphobia, it is no different than Muslims being angry at the US because one insignificant preacher in Florida announces he will burn a thousand copies of the Qu'ran. If Muslims can judge us by the actions of a few then so, too, can we judge Muslims by the actions of a few. That preacher is not going to blow a hole in the side of a ship, he is not going to bomb a couple of embassy buildings, he is not going to hi-jack planes and fly them into buildings. He was going to burn some books to make a political and religious point.

And the reaction to the announcement? Threats of violence by the peaceful Muslims.

And Muslims wonder why the West views them unfavorably? The problem is theirs to fix. The problem is internal to Islam. We are just the scapegoats.

The other problem is the inability of the modern West to understand the threat. We think we must be tolerant of the intolerant. That this will somehow change human nature. As much as we would like to believe otherwise, there are only small pockets of civility in the world. Most of it is still mired in militarism, power struggles, and violence. The failure to recognize that may be the downfall of modern civilization.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why is everything blurry?

I don't have anything to say today. Mostly because I am exhausted, worn out, done in. First, there was the oppressive heat and humidity. Then there was the bad golf I was playing. Finally, there was the really good Bloody Mary to forget all that. The end result is a dearth of functional brain cells.

It wasn't always that way. There was a time when I could drown my brain cells in cheap wine all night long, get 2 hours sleep, and hop on my motorcycle and go to work. And, at the end of the day, reload the alcohol content of my liver and other vital organs and find myself passing out around 3 AM so I could wake up at 6.

But I was a bit younger then.

The years have taken their toll. I no longer recover at the crack of a beer bottle. The hangovers last longer, the brain fog never seems to clear, and I mentally wander through a vaguely familiar and quite hostile landscape.

When I drink, the first effect is a numbing of my nose. It used to take a few beers. Or a couple of glasses of wine. Or a double scotch, bourbon, or Irish whiskey. Now I feel that about 2/3rds of the way through a Bloody Mary. Then the lips start numbing. Followed quickly by a loss of good sense and respectability.

I need a nap.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grunt, sweat, and groan

I go to the gym at the Y three days a week. I play golf 3 other days of the week. And I veg out out on Sundays. I get more exercise now than I may have gotten at any other time of my life except for the horrendous few months of Boot Camp. I was younger then... much, much younger... and in good shape when I entered Boot Camp.

The gym is interesting. Some days it is crowded, other days almost empty. The days for each vary. You would think Saturdays would be busy but sometimes they are the emptiest of the week. Today was busy; parking lot almost full, people waiting on machines to be freed up. The parking lot is interesting. The closest to the front door fill up first. I don't quite understand that. You are going for exercise but you don't want to walk an extra 30-50 feet to get started?

I don't mind walking. Actually, I need to do more of it. I have taken to parking far from store entrances. This accomplishes two things: first, it frees up the closer spots for those who have trouble walking very far and, second, it provides me a little more exercise. After the Great Kneecap Incident, I got a handicapped placard. I used it for a couple of months but quit because it was not helpful to not walk far.

Back to the gym... There are short, tall, skinny, buff, fat, clumsy, and graceful people that frequent it. I do not quite fit into any of those categories. The women tend to spend most of their time on the treadmills and the stationary bikes. I have seen some that spend an hour or more running on a treadmill. Similar with the stationary bikes. The men move around more. From machines to free weights, mostly. My routine is simple; 3-4 minutes on the cross country trainer, leg presses, hip ablutions, crunches, back extensions, tricep machine, then a few shoulder, deltoid, and pectoral machines. Total time is around 45 minutes. It allows me to get exercise but does not leave me with morning after aching.

So far, it has not helped me hit the golf ball farther or increased my stamina (which is, basically, lousy). Still, I feel better overall. A little stronger, a little healthier. I am not entering any Mr. Universe contests anytime soon. But I have to force myself to go. It is not yet second nature to me. I suspect it never will be. After all, I am lazy and comfortable with being that.

Today, I began thinking that I need to start using a bicycle to go to the gym. The distance is less than a half mile. It would replace my cross country warm-up. And it seems a waste to drive there but walking would add too much time to the routine. There is a bicycle available to me. It belongs to Franny, my sis-in-law. It sits in the garage on flat tires and collecting spider webs. I'll contemplate this for a few days... no need to rush into anything.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Something in the air

I'd like to take a trip down memory lane... I do that a lot, it seems. It's what happens as you age. It's also what happens when you drink a Bloody Mary after a round of golf. Especially a very good, very strong, Bloody Mary.

I joined the Navy when I was 19. I chose the Navy, rather than any other branch, because I had an affinity for the ocean. I had lived close to it all my life. No more than 50 miles from the Atlantic, usually much closer. I had spent a lot of time in it, especially in the year before I enlisted. I had gotten hooked on surfing. I did not think that I was going to be able to do much surfing while in the Navy but I was sure to spend a lot of time on the ocean.

I went to boot camp in San Diego. It was situated on Pt. Loma, a spit of land between San Diego Bay and Mission Bay that poked out into the Pacific Ocean. I did not get a look at the ocean until after boot camp was over. It would be several months before I was on a ship. Training. Learning how to locate submarines. And how to tell them apart from whales.

I reported aboard my ship in Long Beach, California in June of 1966. We left for the Gulf of Tonkin about a month later. You didn't just steam off to the Gulf, you went to Hawaii and then to Japan before you head for the Gulf.

Ports are smelly places, diesel fuel, rotting vegetation (seaweed), garbage, and, in Long Beach, the smell of refineries. Once you are at sea for a day, those smells are long gone. It is a clean smell, slightly salty, that is only occasionally interrupted by the odor of diesel soot, food cooking, and the trash that gets dumped off the fantail. You become used to it. It becomes the norm. As you approach Hawaii, if the wind is right, you smell the flowers first before you even see any of the islands.

The smell of flowers is so foreign it takes you a little time to understand just what it is. As you get closer, you smell the land itself, the soil. The smell is a pungent, sweet, scent. It is a mixture of a multitude of exotic tropical flowers. It is a scent that is more intoxicating than the most expensive perfume. Then, just as you have begun to appreciate the perfume of Hawaii, you enter Pearl Harbor and smell the old stinky port smells all over again. It is a great letdown.

Within a few days, you are pulling out of port to wend your way to Japan. You will not smell the unique scents of Hawaii for many more months and no other port will please your senses in quite the same way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Rose by any other name?

I am confident, you are arrogant.
I am firm, you are obstinate.
I am assertive, you are pushy.
I am reflective, you are withdrawn.

I have been contemplating the meanings vs the connotations of words of late. This stemmed from a discussion of an author's work. A quote from the author about being angry and how that helped him write set off a mild debate about the value of anger. There were some pros and some cons, as you would expect. Otherwise there would be no debate at all.

A con appeared to equate "anger" with "aggression" and "violence." And that is what triggered this post. Words have meanings and many words have the same meaning. Many words also have multiple meanings which depend upon usage. I won't go into that, it's connotation vs definition that interests me.

Mostly it is context which determines which word to use but, ironically, the word used sets the context for the reader.

It's all about intent, isn't it?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Typical Sunday

Sunday was a bad day. I dragged myself out of bed at the crack of dawn. That would be 7:30 in more rational households. Fired up the computers. That is harder to do than one might think. I have coal-fired computers and they take some stoking to get going in the morning, just as I do. I settled down with some coffee that was no older than 2 hours and proceeded to go through my normal Sunday routine.

By 8:45, I had completed the crossword puzzle, a couple of jigsaw puzzles, and scanned the news leaving pithy comments at the LA Times and learning the Guardian didn't like my calling her commenters "morons" because they saw nothing wrong with throwing shoes and eggs at Tony Blair's booksigning. They deleted my comment. Fascists!

I was now left with only one crossword puzzle of my regular set to do and then it would be the drudgery of playing Monopoly against the machine. I do have one more chore I must do today and that is check the amount of Propane left in the tank. It's embarrassing and inconvenient when I overlook that chore. We run out.

We use propane for heating the water and cooking. This is fine if we have extended periods of no electricity. Like after a hurricane passes through. We may not have air conditioning or TV but we will be able to take hot showers and cook food. Unless, of course, I have forgotten to check the propane and we run out.

Don't laugh. We have run out before. On a late Friday afternoon. And the propane people do not operate on weekends unless it is a genuine emergency. I do not especially like cold showers. To be fair, the water here is not that cold but it is not all that warm either.

Anyway, that is is an important chore and I shall certainly take care of it. Eventually. After a few games of Monopoly. And solitaire. And a couple of reminders from She Who Must Be Obeyed.

By 9:10, I had nothing left to do. The rest of the day is lost to me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Is it time for change?

If so, what form should that change take?

Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door

It's how we evolve, socially and culturally. We look at the generation before us and see the mistakes and vow to correct them. It's only a problem when we fail to see the good things that they did, when we dismiss all because of the flaws. And there will always be flaws. We are human, after all.

When the Colonies rose against the Crown in the mid-1700's, America was not united. The people were pretty much divided into thirds; for, against, unable (or unwilling) to choose. But you do not need a majority to start a revolution. Just 10% can do that and keep it going for many years. To win, you need at least 20%. These are my numbers and they are rough ones. I am sure someone, somewhere, has made a study of it for a doctorate thesis and will be able to refute them. But I do not think by much.

I would say the first 50 years of the existence of the US were turmoil. A government was established but it was too weak and the state governments too strong. The individual states feared too strong a central government. So the Constitution was written, dividing the government into three parts, placing restrictions on each division's power, and protecting the rights of individuals. The last was an afterthought and are the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution. Contrary to the beliefs of some, no rights were granted to the people by that document. The rights were simply documented and ruled inviolate.

But people are forgetful. And they are also willing to cede some freedom for security. We do it as individuals all the time. It's called compromise. The problem is that there are always those who seek power and they will take advantage of that willingness. They will also take advantage of apathy, laziness, indifference, fear, and passion.

We have arrived at, I believe, a crucial point in our history. A point where a sufficient number of us desire change. A significant number want a complete change. There is great danger in that. There is that old warning... Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. I believe that when we say we want change, we really mean we want the bad things fixed and the good things encouraged. The problem is what is "good" and what is "bad" may be interchangeable in so many people's eyes.

That desire for change is what brought about the Constitution. The Articles of Confederation was insufficient to hold the states together. The states squabbled among themselves.
Chaos loomed. Change was needed. A convention was called, delegates were sent from each state. Much arguing ensued, debates over the extent of power of the central government, the individual rights of states, and the Articles of Confederation were scrapped. Out of that convention, which was called to fix the "bad" things and enhance the "good" things, an entirely new government was formed. A different form of government than any in the history of civilization.

It was not perfect. What is? It left slavery in place and it did not grant universal suffrage, for examples. But it was also designed to change itself through the will of the people. It took almost one hundred years to end slavery and that change almost destroyed the nation. It would be another 60 years before women were granted the right to vote in all elections.

But it had the power to do that; to change itself. That is, I think, its greatest strength and its most exploitable weakness. We have made many changes in the last 100 or so years. Rapid and radical changes. We are in the midst of yet more radical changes. The arguments for change always cite danger in not changing, exploit fears of the future, exploit crises that are real or manufactured.

The people cannot remain complacent in all this. They must become aware, they must become involved... even if only to vote intelligently. By vote intelligently, I mean not vote based on name recognition or party affiliation. The biggest threat to this nation is the career politician.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I only have five senses... Humor isn't one of them

I've always wanted to be a standup comedian. I have no idea why. I just wanted to. Only one thing held me back. A minor thing. I can't tell a joke. And I am not funny on my own. That's right, I stink at ad lib'ing. I am pretty sure that isn't the correct way to write that but bear with me.

Still, that shouldn't hold me back. Maybe I could get a grant from the government and protected status. After all, why should comedy clubs be allowed to discriminate against those of us without comic timing? Isn't that a disability? There are laugh tracks that could be used, signs to tell the audience when to laugh at those times when it is appropriate. It works on TV. It should also work in the comedy clubs.

I would like to see Stephen Hawkings do comedy. I am positive he could do it with a straight face and understated delivery. He could even do impersonations of famous people. It would just be a matter of programming of the voice module.

Hawkings is involved in a bit of controversy right now, though. It seems he has declared that God was unnecessary to get the universe started. That's angering some of the religious community. We haven't heard from the Muslim community yet but I am sure a fatwa will be declared soon. After all, denial of the need for God has got to be worse than a cartoon of Mohammed.

Humor is a delicate thing. It is possibly the most difficult art to master. Anybody can act, George Clooney proved that. But humor? That takes subtlety (I am not talking Three Stooges here), timing, and intelligence. The intelligence is required in order to gauge your audience. The best comics are those that seem surprised at the laughter their gags produce. Right behind them are the ones who seem totally oblivious to the fact that they are funny. Emo Phillips comes to mind.

Emo, by the way, is my favorite. I saw him decades ago at a comedy club in Richmond, Virginia. He opened with an unforgettable bit about his pants. These pants were almost, but not quite, clown pants. He said they had belonged to his grandfather. His mother had suggested he wear them. He claimed it took him an hour to dig up his grandfather's grave in order to get them.

See what I mean? I can't tell a joke.

Here's an Emo...

“I was with this girl the other night and from the way she was responding to my skillful caresses, you would have sworn that she was conscious from the top of her head to the tag on her toes.”

You can see why I relate to him so well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I run across some interesting commentary at The View From Outside My Tiny Window quite often. What is written there, in the main commentary or in the comments by readers, usually makes me think. And, often, that thinking induces me to consider events or experiences in my past. Sometimes, the thoughts are interesting, sometimes embarrassing.

A recent column concerned immigration but one of the Inspector General's comments triggered other thoughts; thoughts about why people emigrate and where they emigrate to.

In the heyday of the Roman Empire, Rome was The place to go. It was, of course, the center of the Empire and, arguably, the richest city of the Empire. There would be jobs and opportunity there that might not be found elsewhere in the world. The language would be familiar since Latin and Greek were common throughout the Empire and, therefore, not much of a barrier. And it was accessible. "All roads lead to Rome" was true both figuratively and, for all practical purposes, literally.

People emigrate constantly. I think human beings have retained that wanderlust as a part of our evolutionary traits. Possibly from our prehistoric hunter-gatherer stage. But we also developed a "stay-at-home" trait that allowed us to create cities and, later, states. We would become attached to a specific area. It would represent "Home". We might roam far and wide but we would be known by our place of origin and, probably, have a desire to return. The dream would be "return home rich and famous", I would guess. That is my way of saying that the emigration is seen as temporary. Seek one's fortune and then return home successful.

I have traveled a bit, the foreign travel being primarily paid for, and dictated by, the US Navy. I didn't choose where I went, I just went... or else. I found something beautiful and welcoming just about everywhere I visited. The weather, the scenery, and always the people. I could have happily stayed in most of the countries and places I found myself in. Only a few made me feel uneasy or wish to be elsewhere. Some of those places that made me uneasy were even in the US.

But I wondered then, and still today, why people will leave a land in which they grew up, where all (or most) of their family ties exist, to go to a place they had never seen outside of movies or TV; a place totally different from the world they have known all their lives. And not just to visit but to settle there, to become a permanent part of it, to find a new "home."

I know why, or think I do, I have moved around a bit in my life. I think it comes from being moved from my original "home" at a young age. Not young enough to have no memories of it but not old enough to have developed strong bonds to it. I have always seen myself as "rootless."

Where would you go? What country, what city, what region, could draw you to it?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Into the mist and lost... again

I am really having a difficult time today thinking of something to write about. I had some ideas yesterday and the evening before but they slipped away in the fog. You know the fog? The misty place where you catch glimpses of wonderful ideas and almost see beautiful dreams? It's there in all our heads. Hidden from view. Quiet and peaceful but full of promise.

And so out of reach on demand. Most of us cannot tap into it with ease. Most of us are barely aware of it. But it is there. That mist is made up of the wisps of smoke from ideas that smolder but never seem to catch fire. The clever ones know how to breathe life into those ideas, how to coax them into becoming a raging fire of passion and adventure.

But not me. For me, it will always be a mist where glimpses of great things slip in and out of my vision, showing me just enough to tantalize, to intrigue. Never solid enough to grab.

It leaves me melancholy sometimes.

Like today.