The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

What will Iowa mean?

I should like to write about something miraculous happening in the world of politics today but, alas, there is nothing even close to that. In fact, nothing but the usual political stories exist.

Ron Paul seems poised to make a splash in a few days in the Iowa caucuses. Do you understand the caucuses? Approximately 115,000 people (if the weather is good) of voting age gather in caucuses and decide who impressed them the most. You then count up these and you have what is called a "winner." Iowa has a total populace of 3,046,355 according to the 2010 census. Let's be conservative and say that a third of them are of voting age. So, out of a little over 1 million people, 10 percent of them might participate in these caucuses. Granted, they are not electing a president, merely offering their choice for the nominee of one of the two major political parties.

From this, Ron Paul says a message will be sent. I am not sure what the message could be. If he wins, could the message be that Iowans favor isolationism? Because that is, essentially, the essence of Mr. Paul's foreign policy. Could they be saying that "we don't care what the other states think of us"? I am at a loss as to what message Ron Paul is thinking of.

The Republican majority seems to be saying... "Can't we find someone other than Mitt Romney?" So maybe that is the message being sent. Mr Romney is not a bad candidate. He is intelligent, accomplished, and quite capable of being a good president. His only real baggage is he is of the Mormon faith (that and the Massachusetts health care reform... aka "Romneycare"). In a nation that prides itself on its religious tolerance, that should not be an issue. But our religious tolerance is merely a myth. A cherished one, no doubt of that, but a myth nonetheless. We just do not have legal sanctions based on religious belief. But we are as intolerant of non -mainstream religion as any other nation's people. We just haven't killed anyone over it in many years.

But Mitt Romney may not be conservative enough for some. I know that many hard line conservatives do not think he is. He seems to be favored by the establishment Republicans, the so-called "Country Club Republicans." The Tea Party Republicans appear to be at the heart of the anti-Romney movement. I sympathize with the Tea Partiers but I think they are forgetting that the main idea is not to find a strong conservative to run for president but to find a candidate that can beat the current president. If that person also happens to be a strong conservative then that is a bonus.

The Tea Party folks should concentrate in expanding their numbers in Congress (both House and Senate) and worry about the presidency at another time.

But I am shouting into the wind, aren't I?

Have a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

I'd rather stay in bed

Winter has arrived. Well, our version of it anyway. You hearty folks who live anywhere north of here would call it fall or spring but it is winter to us. Yesterday morning at 7 AM, it was 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7.2 Celsius... which really sounds cold) when I went out to play golf.

I knew it was going to be cold so I layered up; long pants, thermal undershirt, polo shirt, sweater, and fleece jacket. Why layer up? Because it is better than a just a heavy jacket and because you can unlayer as the weather warms up a bit. Which it does here. By 11:30 it was around 70F (21C) when the round was over so I had shed the jacket and was ready for a bowl of chili.

Like I said, you likely think we're wimps here. Which is true when it comes to cool weather. But if we liked cool weather, we wouldn't be living down here. I have said it before; winter is when the temperatures drop below 70 degrees. I cannot deal with it.

I was not always this way. After all, I was born out on Long Island in New York state. The first 9 and a half years of my life were spent there. But I never liked the cold even then. When my parents moved us to Florida in 1956, I learned what environment human beings (at least this one) belonged in. We do not have natural fur coats (well, most of us anyway), we invented clothes to take the place of natural fur. And clothes are wonderful things, they can be taken off when not needed.

I have heard people say they would rather have cold then heat; that you can always add clothing but you can only take so much of it off. Sure... in public. Let those people move to Canada, Alaska, Montana, Minnesota, and Maine. I prefer to swelter. I got nothing against naked... in front of a fan blowing over a tub of ice.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Snippet of Life: Slip sliding away

When one is young and stupid, one does young and stupid things. Like ride motorcycles without a helmet. And take drugs. And sometimes both at the same time. This is not exactly smart and one relies on the kindness of fate in those circumstances.

I cannot count the number of times I drank to excess at a friend's place and got on my motorcycle to head home when I found myself staring at headlights coming at me in my lane. Luckily, there was always an alley or street to escape into before the headlights and I merged.

Yet I did not dump my motorcycle on the street until years later and I was stone cold sober. Let me take us both back to that day...

I was working evenings at the phone company and taking classes at the local city college in the mornings. My first wife was also taking classes at that school but hers extended into the afternoon. I would often pick her up from class on my motorcycle if I had brought her to school in the morning.

On one cool early afternoon in the late fall, I headed down Florida Drive to pick her up. I was happily humming along at 55 (it's an open road with a 45 or 50 MPH limit, I forget) on a clear and pleasant day, wearing Levis, T-shirt, thermal undershirt, denim jacket, my rubber-soled work shoes. and an old Navy knit watch cap. About halfway down the road, with a big old UPS delivery truck a few car lengths behind me, a lady in a blue Caddy convertible turned left in front of me to head up toward Balboa Park. I had about a block in which to react.

I hit my rear brake a tad too hard. The rear tire broke loose and swung out to the right. This was not desirable so I backed off the brake. All I could see was the blue of that Caddy, a huge looking beast that seemed to be barely ambling through its turn. Everything was in slow motion. I felt the UPS truck behind me more than anything else, taking no time to find it in my mirrors. My attention was riveted on that Caddy. I hit the rear brake again. This time, the rear tire broke loose and went left. As it threatened to come around to perpendicular, I knew I would not survive a collision or the bike flipping over.

So I did the only rational thing; I pulled the handlebars toward me, forcing the bike to lay down as I hurtled toward the intersection and that *^&(*$ Caddy! I somehow managed to bring my right leg up and away from the bike as we hit the pavement together and slid toward the Caddy (which seemed to be almost standing still now but wasn't). I saw the bike move ahead of me and witnessed the sparks from the front highway peg and the right hand muffler... and smelled the gas that was now leaking out of the tank.

In the few fractions of a second as we both slid into the intersection just as the Caddy moved out of our way, I didn't see my life pass before my eyes but visions of a flaming motorcycle. That didn't happen, though, it just went through my mind. I never felt the asphalt eating through my jeans or jacket sleeve as I tried to slow myself down using my rubber soled shoes without flipping myself over.

And then we came to a stop. I got up. I went to my bike and lifted it upright and walked it off the roadway. The UPS truck drove by a couple of seconds later, he had slowed and stayed out of it all. I kicked the starter and the bike roared back to life and I continued on to the city college.

It wasn't until I got there that I found, and felt, the road rash on my elbow and right hip.

I healed quickly in those days.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Travels with Douglas

I was out and about today ("off the leash" as Faye puts it) and saw a few things that tickled my fancy. I like my fancy tickled... it feels real good.

One of the things I saw was a marquee at a Taco Bell that said "Gift cards are available". That bothered me. Who would give a gift card for Taco Bell? If it's not the gift but the thought that counts, what would that thought be? It could be worse, I suppose, but Der Wienerschnitzel doesn't have a location in this area... or state.

I got my haircut today. I go to Leslie's Family Haircut Tropical Oasis. It's not exactly an oasis, just a building. She (Leslie, that is) is doing well even in this bad economy. People still have to get their hair cut, styled, dyed, permed, and/or whatever. And Leslie works her cute little butt off. She has two salons now, employs a good many people, and is economical. I only pay $8 (plus a $2 tip) for a "men's regular" haircut. Something we used to call a "trim." You can get a buzz cut for just $6 but I don't like crewcuts. Maybe next summer. This is why I love this town. Anywhere else I might pay $12 or more for a trim.

I skipped stopping by the "Tool Sale" tent. I'll get there one of these days. It's a place you can buy really crappy tools made poorly by slave labor in China for practically the loose change in your pocket. The stuff will hold up for one job, maybe two. I figure the price is more like rent. These tools are the kind even WalMart won't stock.

Still haven't bought my tablet computer yet. I figure to go for the Toshiba Thrive (sorry, Steven and Paul, I know you guys favor the iPad). Just waiting for a price break... which will happen 2 days after I give up waiting.

On the way home from getting my hair cut, I considered stopping into the local Kia dealer to check out a Sportage SUV. But my Buick was so quiet and smooth riding, I was past the dealership before I realized it. So... no new vehicle for me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

They say you are only as old as you feel...

Do you get easily confused? I do. Especially when it comes to the universe (should we capitalize that word?) and its age. I've mentioned this before, as well as other things science tells us about the universe that mess with my... oh so... logical mind.

I came across this while perusing Google News. If you don't peruse Google News, you should. Or you should peruse someone else's news. In any case, you should peruse the news. It's good for you and I demand it.

Rare galaxy from 'Dawn of Time' photographed

This paragraph especially intrigued me...

"The blob-shaped galaxy, called GN-108036, is about 12.9 billion light-years away and appears as it existed just 750 million years after the universe began. The universe, for comparison, is about 13.7 billion years old."

So, I left a comment...
I have a question... perhaps a stupid one... I am assuming this galaxy is further out from the presumed origin point of the universe than our galaxy is and, therefore is perhaps about 750 million light years from the outer edge of the universe? So, if that point is some 12.9 billion light years from us (or our galaxy), wouldn't that mean our galaxy is rather recent or maybe .8 billion years old? And if that is so, why is the earth considered to be about 4.5 Billion years old? I get so confused...

You are smart folks, what do you think?

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Year's resolution

At this time each year, many of us try to think up New Year's resolutions. And why not? What better time to make changes in one's life? Of course, anytime is a good time to make positive changes but a new year and a new leaf seem to go together exceptionally well.

We vow to lose weight, to be nicer to others, to give more to charity, to save toward a rainy day, and so on. And then we inevitably fail to follow through. This leads to depression and guilt. I think we secretly look forward to our failure to uphold these vows. Somehow, we like to wallow in guilt. It's probably an American thing.

So I usually do not make New Year's resolutions. It's not that I have faults that need to be addressed, though I am sure they are few and possibly endearing ones. It's just that I don't need additional failures in my life.

To be perfectly honest, I don't need to lose weight. That was taken care of back when I broke my kneecap. The pain alone ruined my appetite which resulted in a loss of 15 pounds in a couple of weeks. And I have not gained any of it back. I am nice to everyone who is nice to me and even some of those who aren't (because it drives them crazy). I suppose I could give more to charity, they certainly call me often enough and send me lots of mail trying to make me feel guilty but I suspect I would get even more calls and more mail asking for yet more. And that would cut into savings. Inflation is already taking a toll on that.

Instead, I will make just one resolution. I resolve to play golf as much as possible.

I think I can follow through on that one.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The tax cut that isn't

This was written before the House Republicans caved and agreed to accept the two month extension. Yes, I said "caved"... For a country looking for someone with principles, this may just be the final straw.

There's been quite a kerfuffle over the so called Obama "tax cut" for workers. This is the cut in the payroll tax (one of them, Social Security) by almost 30%. That is, from 6.2% to 4.2%. Sounds good, right? It is so important to the White House that the president vowed to veto it if the Keystone pipeline approval is included in the bill. That's right, keeping the pipeline on ice until 2013 is more important than the "tax cut for the middle class." I should say "was more important" because the veto threat disappeared when the Senate passed a bill with the pipeline approval and just a two month extension (not the year long one Obama demanded) of the payroll tax cut.

That cut being allowed to expire, it was said, would amount to a $1000 tax increase for people making $50,000 per year. And the Republicans are being presented as evil grinches who do not care about the middle class.

So let me explain what it actually means. Currently, you pay (if you are employed) 6.2% of your gross pay to Social Security. Up until recently this was called a "contribution" to Social Security where it would go into a "trust fund" and your subsequent benefits (when you reach 66) are calculated based on this "contribution" throughout your working life. The reality, of course, is the money you pay in goes to the people who are already receiving their Social Security benefits. The "trust fund" is mostly IOU's from Congress. (who has been borrowing from SS for decades now). But let's look at what that "tax cut" works out to be.

Let's say you make $50,000 per year before taxes. 2% of that is, indeed, $1000. But that is also before taxes. After taxes, it is less. Let's assume a 9% effective income tax rate. That means the $1000 is now $910. Then let's divide that by 52 (weeks in a year) and we have a whopping $17.50 per week. Or about the amount a family of four might spend to get a meal at McDonald's. Ok, the meal will likely be more than that.

But that $50,000 a year? How many people do you know that make that? Most people here in Paradise do not make that. They make less. Much less. My sister-in-law, for instance, who works for Publix Supermarkets, makes about $10 per hour. So that is $400 per week or $20800 a year. Her before income tax tax cut is $416 a year or $8 per week. Since she makes so little, she pays only a tiny percentage (about 6.2%) but that reduces the $8 to $7.50 a week.

Basically, this alleged tax cut is a lie. It has very little real impact on the people who do not make enough money to live and is undercutting Social Security at the same time.

Amazingly, for the first time in 3 years, the federal government has found it possible to give us Social Security recipients a cost of living (COLA) increase. We didn't have the money, they had said, for the first two years but now, in this coming election year, in spite of the payroll tax cut, there is money to give us a raise. Really? Never mind that this COLA increase will be wiped out by the increase in part B premiums which will kick in this next year also.

And what will happen if the House Republicans cave on this and a two month extension is passed? Well, we'll see yet another fight come late January and running up till the end of February just as we saw this month. And let's just suppose that fight results in an extension until the end of 2012. Will there be another fight to extend it yet another year? Because this economy is not going to turn around in 2012 and prices will still rise (as they have been doing throughout the last 3 years in spite of the government's denial of inflation). After two years, that "temporary" reduction will be seen as something permanent and anyone trying to end it will be blasted for "hiking taxes."

If you plan on voting for Obama in 2012, you are being flim-flammed... bamboozled... taken for a ride. You deserve what you get. I don't.

Have a Merry Christmas.

Apparently this post is a milestone. It is number 1000

Friday, December 23, 2011

How can they say that?

There are phrases in common use that irritate me no end. Not simply ones that are grammatically incorrect, such as the poor grammar of my ex-wife who would say "The car needs washed." But ones which are clearly impossibilities.

The first is "changed the course of history." That is impossible. History has already happened, its course was recorded and it remains as it was. The only way to change it is to go back in time and do whatever it is differently. Assuming one could do that, we would be unaware that it had actually been changed. It's one of those time travel paradoxes science fiction writers love to play with.

The second is used primarily in golf tournaments by announcers. As a challenger sinks a putt that puts him one back from the leader, the announcer all too often says, "He's moved within a shot of the lead." Wrong. He has moved to one shot off the lead. To be "within one", a putt would have to be worth more than one stroke. And each stroke in golf is counted only as one. No more, no less.

There are other phrases which bug me but none so much as these two. To read or hear either one is, to me, like the sound of chalk screeching across the blackboard.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I coulda been a contender!

I am a puzzle junkie. I suppose I have always been one. My earliest memories involve trying to figure things out. From the fairy tales and nursery rhymes I was told before I could read to the math problems and history I was taught in school and, always, to the questions on the tests I took throughout my (rather limited) schooling that measured and catalogued my progress.

I often say that I coasted through school, that I never felt truly challenged. The truth, I think, is that I shied away from real challenge and took the easy and soft path that led through the forest of life instead of the rocky and risky path that might have led to great success. Or, put another way, I was lazy. My teachers were always impressed by my ability to score well on tests. They thought I was very smart and often told me I "could do anything [I] wanted to if [I] set my mind to it." Unfortunately, I wanted to slip through life mostly unnoticed.

I like to say "I tested well" when asked how I got decent grades in school. I didn't study, I never "crammed" for a test. In fact, I rarely prepped at all. In class, I simply paid enough attention to remember what the teacher emphasized. When taking a test, the questions always seem to suggest the right answer to me. I didn't understand why but I took advantage of it.

Had I had a mentor, or a good counselor, I might have learned to push myself toward meaningful goals. If instead of telling me I could "do anything [I] wanted", I had been told I would never make the grade, I might have done something with my life.

Or maybe I wouldn't have listened and still taken that easy path to mediocrity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Facing Climate Change

People are riled up and divided over global warming. There are the deniers who do not believe there is global warming. Then there are the those who acknowledge that there may be global warming but who do not believe it is the fault of man. On the other side we have the True Believers who believe firmly in global warming and that it is man's use of fossil fuels that is causing it. I suppose there are also those who believe man has some impact on it and support the True Believers to some degree.

Where do I stand? I don't think it matters much what I believe. Each of the groups I described might take issue with me.

My position is that it is unlikely that we can do much about Climate Change (as it is now called) except look into ways to adapt to it. If we are in for an extended period of warming it can work to our advantage... if we accept it. And if we realize it is likely to be followed by an extended period of global cooling. After all, this is how it has happened throughout the history of our planet. We go through periods of cold (ice ages) and periods of warmth. of course, too much of either is bad for life. Some species are lost, some species increase their numbers. In mankind's history, crops change, civilizations rise and fall, famines come and go, and so on.

So while we are fighting over whether climate change is real and whether we caused it or not, only a few geniuses are likely considering how to survive it. These are the real geniuses of our time and we don't even know who they are. Or if they are out there at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Adventures in formatting

I'd like to try my hand at a full humor post. I am no good at it, of course, so you will all suffer greatly but what is that to me? Maybe I shouldn't. My sense of humor drifts deeply into the macabre and might initiate investigations by various legal jurisdictions. And none of us like being investigated, do we? It's those cavity searches that bother me most... you'd think they'd at least buy me dinner.

So, instead, I will provide you folks with tablets and eReaders with a review (of sorts) of a useful utility called Calibre.

As I have mentioned sometime ago, I purchased a Nook color in a futile attempt to be "hip" and in the "now." And I have learned to love the thing. But, being cheap... I mean "frugal", I tend to hang out a lot at the Gutenberg Project. There are so many older books that I have not yet read since I excelled at sleeping while undergoing the citizen indoctrination we euphemistically call "school" and the Gutenberg Project seems to have most of them available. And they support (and I quote) "ePub, Kindle, HTML and simple text formats."

My Nook uses ePub so I am set. I have since found that there is an Australian chapter of the Gutenberg Project called "Project Gutenberg Australia". They do things a little differently there. While still free for text and HTML, they charge a nominal fee for books formatted for eReaders. This is only fair, of course, because that entails someone labor's (or "labour" as the Aussies might put it) while the (presuming here) American chapter operates strictly on donation.

As I was looking for some of the various books of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series, I learned that some of the ones I am missing are available at the Australia site. To read them, I have three choices:

1. Purchase an ePub version
2. Read it in text or HTML format on my computer*
3. Find a way to convert to ePub format

If you have not read Burroughs' Mars series, I highly recommend it. But I digress...

Calibre makes it possible to convert a text or HTML file into an eReader format. It is easy to use and does a very good job. Since it is an Open Source, it is free (please donate though, as you should to the Gutenberg Project, if you find it useful) for personal use. Currently, Calibre only supports ePub, PDF, and RTF formats. I am sure at some point, a software wizard will add other formats. In the meantime, most readers support some common formats. See this chart. One of the reasons I waited to jump on the eReader bandwagon was the format issue. It is also affecting my current search for a tablet computer because I fully intend for whatever tablet I buy to also work as an eReader.

You can find a list of eBook converters here.

*I would read these on my computer but I have damaged more than a few keyboards as my head hit them when I fall asleep.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Ashaninka

The other day, while perusing the news, I came across an article about the Ashaninka of South America. It's a bit lengthy but not too. There are wonderful pictures of members of this culture, full of the beauty of the region and these people. I urge you to read the article. [link]

While reading the article many thoughts came to mind. Thoughts about how the first people came to the Americas and how they have been displaced by newer immigrants. If you follow the evolution of human beings, you realize that probably only Africa is the continent where humans were indigenous. You might also realize, while sad, that the displacement of tribes and cultures is the way we, as a species, evolve.

But it still hurts the soul to see it happening.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Elections and popularity

My favorite "union thug", Mike, said something last week that's been nagging at me ever since. He was talking about voting, about the Republican candidates, and asking me who I was supporting; which one I wanted to win. I haven't made up my mind. In a time when the White House is pretty much for the Republicans' asking, the slate has been extraordinarily weak and fraught with problems. Republicans, for the last 50 years, have had an uphill battle They don't just have to fight the charges of the Democrats but also of most of the media.

I know, I know, the Left does not believe that, they think it's just the other way around. And, to be honest, I don't think it is quite as bad as Republicans generally believe. But it is bad. I decided that when I learned of the "major media" representatives meeting with the Al Gore campaign in 2000 to get an idea how to cover him. I did not learn of any similar meeting with the George Bush camp.

But let's get back to Mike and what he said... which was "Why not go with a winner? Obama."

I wasn't shocked, he's been sending me emails offering free "Re-Elect Obama" bumper stickers and full of union news about how evil Wal-Mart is. I know he supports Obama. Like I said, he's a union thug. I say that with love... Of course, when he recently had a problem with his sprinkler system, his first question was did anyone know of someone who worked cheaply that could fix it. I was not quick witted enough to suggest he call his nearest plumbers' union local and pay whatever it cost.

But it's the "go with a winner" comment that has been nagging at me. I realized many years, actually decades, ago that presidential elections were nothing more than popularity contests. In fact, most elections are. Very few voters seem to vote on issues and most of those votes are kneejerk reactions to what they've been told. It's understandable.

But think back to your earliest exposure to electioneering. Like me, that was probably electing the class president or the like. And how did you choose which candidate to vote for? If you knew them, it was the kid you liked. If you didn't know them, you likely went with their recommendation of someone who did. There were few issues to mull over because the post was ceremonial, not substantive.

We have a president that the majority think, according to polls, is taking the country in the wrong direction but his personal popularity is still pretty good. Think about that, the country is going downhill out of control but the public likes the guy behind the wheel anyway.

Go with a winner? Can't I please go with someone who wants what I want for the country? Someone who I can believe in?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Adventures with Comcast

Last week, Thursday I believe, I noticed something as I went out to get the mail. I realized the cable strung between the utility pole on the south corner of my lot and the utility pole at the north end of the empty lot next to my house was rather low. Not the power line or the phone line, just the bottom cable. That cable belongs to Comcast. The story behind that cable is a long one but can be summed up in a few lines:

Me: Can I get service at [my address]?
Comcast: We have no service in that area.
Me: Will you be adding it soon?
Comcast: By the end of the first quarter of 2007 is the schedule.
Me: Thank you (and then signing up for Dish Network through the local phone company)

The cable to feed my block was run in 2 years later while I was being told by the local Comcast office that they had no idea when or if it would ever happen.

In any event, I went to Comcast Cable in May of this year after getting fed up with Direct TV (having switched to them after my Dish contract ran out) losing the signal whenever it rained (Dish would lose the signal if it was merely cloudy). The Comcast service is more reliable... though it has its moments. So I wanted to avoid an interruption of service if the cable was damaged.

I called the Comcast number. Which, of course, sends me to an out of state (maybe out of country) call center and explained the problem. The rep assured me they were concerned about providing great service and would send someone out the next morning to look into it. It being windy, I hoped it would not get damaged in the meantime.

No one showed up.

On Saturday, I sent a complaint to Comcast through their website, knowing I would not get a reply until Monday.

On Monday afternoon, I went up to the local Comcast office to pick up an HD DVR for the TV in our master bedroom. We had been using just the non-HD little digital box for that TV for some time and it was time. Meaning Faye wanted it.

While I was there, I mentioned no one had come out to look at the problem. I was immediately told that they "don't do that. The County takes care of that. You have to call the county." Holding my temper (but not very well), I explained that no one informed me of that when I called it in and that no tech had shown up to tell me that either. We bandied a few words back and forth and I left in my usual huff.

I called the county's main switchboard because I had no idea what department might handle the problem and Comcast hadn't offered me any names, numbers, or departments. The operator was very helpful and eventually found "Kristen" who told me she didn't think it was their job but that she would send someone out to take a look at it. Within an hour, I heard the sound of a power saw and went out to find that the county workers had just finished clearing the tree from the cable. I chatted with the county guy who said he didn't think it was the county's job because if it was an electrical cable, the power company took care of it and if it was the phone cable, the phone company would take care of it. Ergo, the cable company should have been responsible. But he had a crew working in the area and they weren't loaded down so they took care of it. I thanked him profusely while agreeing with him.

Later that evening, about 5, a Comcast tech pulled up in my driveway to look into that tree problem. I pointed out that the county took care of it and related my exchange with the local Comcast office and the county worker. Having been unable to successfully get that HD DVR to work, I asked him if he had a spare in his truck (he did) and if he would confirm the unit I was given was bad and replace it.

He said he could but that he would have to code it as a "trouble call" and I would be charged $40. I told him that was alright because I wouldn't pay it anyway since the unit in question had been given to me that day.

The unit, of course, was bad though he spent an hour trying to make it work anyway before he gave up and put the unit from his truck in service. That took another half hour to set up because the office hadn't done their job (which they couldn't until I called in even though I was not told I had to).

Everything is now in and working.

You might wish to skip the following (it's a bit long) which shows the email exchange between myself and the complaint/service center in Augusta and jump to the end of the post.

We have received your e mail and thank you for using Comcast's online email support. One of our Comcast customer support representatives will get back to you. In the meantime, you may find our FAQ's helpful to resolve your inquiry so we invite you to visit Comcast Customer Central - FAQ. Or, for more immediate attention to your situation, try "Ask Comcast", a real time chat service, available by visiting Comcast Customer Central and clicking on the AskComcast link at the top of the page. We look forward to working with you.
Your Comcast Support Team
[rec'd 12/10 3:37]

Thank you for contacting Comcast Cable Email Support. My name is Celemar
and I am glad to receive your email today.

I understand that a technician was supposed to be at your home on
Thursday however no one showed up. I know this is important to you to
ensure your cable service will not be interrupted. I sincerely apologize
for the inconvenience this has caused you. I would feel the same way if
I am in your place. Rest assured that your concern will be given

the rest deleted because it was merely "boilerplate" assuring me of their commitment and other superfluous chatter

I replied as follows:

If I may follow up? When I went to the local Comcast office to pick up a new
HD DVR to add to my bedroom TV, I mentioned the problem and asked why no one
had shown up. I was told that they "do not clear cables" that, if there is a
problem, I was supposed to have called the county (Highlands County here in
Florida) to deal with it. Had a tech come out on Friday and told me or my
wife that, I would have done so. However, after contacting the county
offices, I learned that they do NOT think that it is their job. However,
they did send someone out to take a look and they did clear the tree from
the line. The county worker told me at that time, he also was puzzled
because the local phone company clears theirs and the local power company
clears theirs.

At about 5 PM, a Comcast tech did show up about the tree and cable issue. I
told him it had been cleared by the county and then asked him if he could
confirm the HD DVR was not working. He told me they would have to charge me
for a trouble call (a $40 charge) to change the callout purpose. I will
contest that charge because the box that turned out to be bad was the one
the office had given me. Not only was the box bad but no one had authorized
it for use on my account and no one at the office told me I would need to
call in to do that. Had I called in (and I tried but the phone system at the
call center was impossible to speak through), it still would not have
resolved the problem because, as I said, the box was broken.

I am not pleased with Comcast service in this area.

I received the following response:
Thank you for contacting Comcast Cable. My name is Jacklyn. I will do my
best to provide you world class customer service by assisting you
regarding your cable and customer support concerns. I hope you are doing
great today.

I understand that you have issues with the reception of your cable box
and you have issues with the customer support. I know the importance of
ensuring that all services are coming through to enjoy the full features
of your service and experience excellent customer support to address
your concerns. It will be my pleasure to provide you with instructions
on how we may correct your cable box reception and how you may forward
us your feedback regarding the customer support. Rest assured that all
the necessary information you need will be provided, Douglas.

I sincerely apologize for any unpleasant experience you had recently
with your cable service and customer support. Thank you for bringing
this matter to our attention.

We need to hear about any unsatisfactory situations in order to correct
them and to enhance our level of customer service. We appreciate that
you took the time to help us keep our commitment to quality customer
care. Listed below are a few things to verify when you are unable to use
all the functions of your Comcast cable service.

[more superfluous chatter deleted]

If you are as sharp as I believe my readers are, you know that "Jacklyn" had no idea what she was talking about. So I replied thus:

I see the same level of competence abounds at Comcast everywhere. The box
now installed works fine. As I stated. This was a spare the tech had in his
truck. He replaced the bad unit I got from the local Comcast office.

No other problems exist now.

They actually replied to this, thanking me for choosing Comcast, yadda, yadda, yadda...

And we wonder why this country is on the ropes...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Identity non-crisis

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
'Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

The Who - Who Are You

In the mornings, most mornings, I peruse the news through Google. Why Google? Why not? There are plenty of other news feeds, places that gather the news for you and provide links to the stories, that are just as good. I just am comfortable with Google News.

As I scan the headlines, I click on various links to get more infomation. Today, I began to wonder why I click on certain ones and not others. Sometimes, it's the first headline of a grouping, sometimes it's a second, third, or fourth. One of the more obvious reasons I choose a certain link is because I recognize the newspaper or wire service or TV network and think it will give me sufficient detail on the matter. Some are familiar haunts; the Christian Science Monitor is a special favorite, as are the LA Times (for southern California news stories), the San Francisco Chronicle (for northern California stories). But I do not limit myself to these, I often go to CNN, FNC, Huffington Post, USA Today, Washington Post, Ny Times, as well as the BBC, the Guardian, and a few other foreign news sources.

The ones I enjoy most are the ones who allow and even encourage, commenting. I love to read the comments. They are not a reflection of the actual mood of the nation, of course, and I suspect there are "operatives" of the major political parties dropping "talking points" here and there and stirring things up. Maybe not, maybe there really are a lot of people who are just that passionate and see everything in political terms. Or maybe it's just that politics is so important these days. It doesn't seem to matter what the story is about, one is sure to find politics in the comments.

Some news stories, even human interest types, are bound to stir up political ire. But I also see it in science and space exploration, food stories, and many more subjects.

I have noticed a trend in the comments. A number of sites have adopted DISQUS (which I use) and a number have adopted some rival which uses Facebook for login. The DISQUS sites are very active but the ones that switched to the Facebook login are pretty dead. From this I gather that anonymity is preferred since most people use their real names for Facebook. This begs the question of why the news site went to the Facebook login. Did they want to reduce the commenting? Or did they intend to lessen the argumentary nature of the comments.

I have been active on the internet since the late 90's, mostly following various newsgroups (which are not news feeds, just discussions about various subjects). I started out using my full (and real) name and often mentioned where I lived. How naive of me to think that wouldn't come to haunt me. After getting some harassing phone calls (even had my number put on fax lists), and threats, I changed how I interacted. I dropped out for several weeks and then came back in using a pseudonym. That took the heat off but not entirely. I had to make other changes as well because some of these creeps are very clever and know how to parse header information.

I noticed something else happening when I changed my online identity, I had to change my online personality somewhat. My style of writing had to change, I had to be careful what phrases I used, even had to pay attention to the kinds of typos I was prone to make.

I am beginning to wonder if I am the person I once was.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Foolish wisdom

There is an old saw that goes, "with age comes wisdom." I can safely say that it isn't a universal truth. I have aged and my wisdom is no better than it was when I was 12. On average, that is. It's just about different things. And, of course, I have reversed and/or modified my philosophical outlook on many things over the years.

At this point, I have come to the conclusion that wisdom is relative to the circumstances of the moment. Or, put another way, wisdom is in a constant state of change. What is wise at one moment may be foolish at another. What may have seemed wise yesterday can be revealed as foolish tomorrow... or even today.

Way back when I was in the Navy, in the first year of my enlistment, I was offered the opportunity to get into an officer program. I would have been been given a college education and, from there, gone to flight school. In return, I would have to give up 4 or 6 more years (that part was never clear to me) after college. I considered it as carefully as any 19 year old might. As any 19 year old who had already decided he had made a mistake enlisting in the service, that is. It seemed a wise choice at the time to turn it down. I didn't belong in the military, I felt, and I was probably right... at that point in time. I didn't feel I belonged in college either, which was the reason I had enlisted.

But it wasn't the wisest choice. Except in the circumstances of that point in time.

Now, of course, I know it was unwise to turn it down. I denied myself an opportunity that could have brought me great rewards. So you could say that I gained wisdom with my years. But wisdom doesn't always come with age. Trust me, I know a lot of foolish old men (and women), as I am sure some of you do.

Why am I boring you with all this?

Well, what else would I do with it?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Contradiction or affirmation?

I read a heart warming article on Sunday in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel entitled "A lifetime of scientific discovery has reinforced man's faith in God" [read]. It's an interesting opinion piece about the guy who had a big hand in the recent discovery of a possible earth like planet called "Kepler-22b." He didn't think up the method used to discover planets in distant solar systems but he believed in the method thought up by man named William Borucki. They both worked at NASA. Borucki "came up with the transit method of studying planets, which involves measuring dips in the brightness of a star when a planet crosses in front of it. The planet itself is not seen, only its effect on the star."

In hindsight, of course, this makes perfect sense. But, apparently, it wasn't always obvious. That's where David Koch came in. He believed in the idea and he pushed it.

Koch suffers from ALS. And much of the opinion piece talks about this. It is interesting to me that Stephen Hawking also suffers from a disease related to ALS. But the main thrust of the story is Koch's belief in God. One might think it odd that a scientist who searches for life on other worlds. It was interesting also that most of the comments were about his belief.

I think we are at a point where we are stereotyping those who believe as much as we have stereotyped those who do not. From the comments, I get the impression that some see believers as fundamentalist with strict adherence to the biblical stories of creation and such. Conversely, non-believers are seen more as anti-theists than atheists. I suppose that is the nature of human beings, we like to "pigeonhole" things and people; simplify the complex. While doing that, many of us pretend that believers live in a "black and white" world while the non-believers claim to see the almost infinite shades of gray.

While I am atheist, I am impressed by this man's faith as he is slowly becoming less and less physically able to do things. We should all be so strong. And so willing to look beyond our beliefs (or lack thereof) in trying to understand the universe and each other.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I call it the "Flold"... *achoo!*

You know that ugly flu/cold thing I got a few weeks ago? [link] Well, it's back. I have no idea why or how. It just decided to re-visit me on Friday evening. Faye and I had a dinner date with some friends and she had to go alone while I stayed at home and wallowed in self-pity and tissues.

It got me to thinking, though, about vaccines and viruses (virii?). I should think I was immune to a second attack within a month. I should have been safe for a year, or at least 6 months. It feels very similar to the first one, starting with a scratchy throat and nagging cough that threatens to turn your lungs inside out. Then the headache starts. And the drippy nose. The worst is knowing all you can do is try to minimize the impact of the symptoms while it runs its course.

In the meantime, I will be miserable.

Hope you all are better off than I am.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

One man, one vote?

( yes, I know women vote also)

While perusing the news feeds the other day, I came across this headline...

McConnell warns of popular vote 'catastrophic outcome' [read story]

For those of you who do not follow links and end up wandering off aimlessly (as I often do), let me sum up the article and the issue.

A movement has been gaining strength since the 2000 Election wherein the Electoral College would be reduced to a mere formality and replaced by a de facto popular vote. Someone, somewhere, realized that the states are not prevented by the U.S. Constitution from allocating their electoral votes according to the popular vote. If all the states chose to use a popular vote allocation system the Electoral College vote would merely be a "rubber stamp" of the popular vote.

A little history: Essentially, the Electoral College was established for a couple of reasons. To give the people living in smaller states more of a voice and to smooth out the process of national elections. It was, after all, a time before wire services and national news media. News traveled slowly.

The system also meant that candidates could not simply ignore the less populated states while campaigning and concentrate on the high population states. It's also why we have what are called "battleground states." The modern political environment has "Red" (Republican) and "Blue" (Democrat) states; states that go pretty solidly for one of the two major parties. A lot of people (some very smart ones) believe the system has become corrupted and that the Electoral College system is outmoded by advancements in communication.

I am also of that belief. We no longer need the Electoral College, it is outmoded. It is a provincial system. However, I do not like this plan to circumvent it. What I see happening is that not all states will "buy" into the plan. At some point, some states will realize they will exert more power by keeping the system as it was. This will leave us with a mixed system and political chaos. McConnell is right in this instance, though I'd stop short of calling the possible result a catastrophic one. We don't know that will happen. We don't know what will happen. But we can safely presume that things will not go according to plan. They never do.

The correct way to do this, within the framework of the Constitution, is by an amendment replacing the Electoral College with a popular vote. Doing it any other way would be simply ignoring the Constitution.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Are those teeth marks in your leg?

When I was a young man of 18-19, I was a "surfer dude." It was not hard to be one. After all, I lived near the ocean, I was healthy, and I wasn't doing anything really important in life. Surfing was also the Big Thing in those days. Some friends brought me into it. I am no longer sure how. I was a night owl type when I turned 18 and slept most of the day when not in school (maybe even then, too) and not especially athletic or sports-minded.

Some friends managed to coax me out anyway. I came down to a beach and watched one day, was egged on and dared into trying it and got hooked. What actually happened was one friend loaned me a board (they were 9-10 feet long then, not these little things you see today, and heavier) and told me to try it. Naturally, the board got away from me at some point and I learned how not to retrieve it. When I went to grab the board, it got popped up by a small wave and smacked me in the mouth. First lesson: always have the waves at your back when you reach for a loose board.

Not one to let something get the best of me, I took up the sport in earnest.

I got tanned... very tanned. I bought a surfboard. I made a surfboard rack for my car (couldn't afford to buy one after buying the surfboard), I started listening to the Beachboys. It took me a few months to get reasonably proficient at catching waves and performing simple maneuvers. It took balance and agility; two things I lacked at the time. I got healthier, the healthiest I had ever been. And braver, too. I took risks. I gained confidence. I got fairly good at it.

I got a few bumps, bruises, and scratches along the way. Trying to walk over coral barefoot is not a lot of fun. Having a surfboard land on your head after being tossed up by a wave actually doesn't hurt... right away. The psychic pain of watching a borrowed surfboard fly off the roof of your car at 70 MPH is deep. Standing on south Florida beaches or roadways in your bare feet will blister your soles. These are lessons you learn along the way.

A couple of things never got comfortable for me. One of them is that there are creatures under the surface of the ocean who view you as possible food. I had seen a few of these. I had a friend who lost a swim fin to a barracuda. I saw sharks a little too close for comfort, even had one slide under my foot while I sat on my board off Canaveral Pier. Didn't see him (the water was very murky that day) but felt him. These things eventually kept me out of the ocean at night.

But at least I didn't have to deal with things like this:
Anomalocaris, lived about 500 Million years ago.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I have a sudden urge for...

As I was watching one of my currently favored shows, I noted some product placement scenes. You know about product placement? It's where certain brand name items are placed in a contextual but prominent location. That is, for example, is shown on the kitchen counter or when a refrigerator is opened, a brand name of soda is displayed. Maybe several cans or bottles in the refrigerator, all lined up in such a way so the brand is clearly shown. I don't know about you but I don't line up anything in my refrigerator. Everything is just tossed in wherever it will fit with no regard which side is showing.

As I was growing up, there was a lot of talk about subliminal advertising. In those schemes, a momentary flash of a product would be shown during a movie or a TV show. It would be too fast to notice it interrupting the picture but slow enough for it to register on the subconscious. A movie theater, it was said, might flash the words "popcorn" or "soda" on the screen to subconsciously entice people to visit the refreshment counter.

Snopes reveals it never happened, that it's a myth.

Probably so. It would be hard for me to contradict Snopes. It wasn't supposed to work 100% of the time or on 100% of the people and I don't recall ever getting urges for any soda, popcorn, or candy while watching a movie. I always loaded up before sitting down for the first time.

But not too long ago, I became aware of the practice of product placement. That apparently works. Or at least the product makers believe it does. You see it constantly. I understand the makers of various products pay some big bucks to get favorable placement of their products onto TV shows and in movies. And the producers of those shows and movies are happy to take that money.

I don't believe I am influenced by the practice but how would I know for sure? I suspect I am not because I lean toward generic products. I am cheap and brand names are more expensive so I don't buy them very often. I purposely avoid buying them.

But what about you? Or your friends?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Remember Pearl Harbor!

Seventy years ago tomorrow, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood before Congress and delivered the following words...

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace."

There was more. And we seldom hear more than the first paragraph. It was the first day of the largest, most widespread, military confrontation the world had ever seen. We fixate on the attack on Pearl Harbor. But there was much more than that in the works that day and the next. More of the speech reveals this:

"Yesterday the Japanese government also launched as attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island."

It's interesting, that last sentence, because we do not read or hear about it. An attack by the Japanese on that day was successfully repulsed. It must have been a faint hearted attack because the tiny atoll of Midway was not heavily defended at the time. But it is interesting all the same. Roosevelt could have stated that the attack was repulsed but he didn't. I think he wanted the public to be outraged and not consoled even a little bit, I believe he wanted to tap into, and foster, the anger of the American public. Japan's final assault on Midway on June 4th, 1942, proved to be the turning point in the war in the Pacific. Japan's Navy was crippled by the loss of 4 carriers and it never recovered.

The war went on for almost 4 years, ending with the devastation of Japan and Germany. It was total war, with demands by the Allied nations of unconditional surrender. Most of Europe was already under German occupation by the time of the attack by Japan. China had been invaded by Japanese forces years before. Now, British forces in China and Malaysia were being attacked as well as American forces in the Philippines and elsewhere in that region. It was a bold move by Japan. in the end, it turned out to be a foolish one.

That was 70 years ago today. I often wonder if we could be that united again.

Here's the full speech by FDR

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A choice none of us would want to make

I ran across a report of an interesting study yesterday. It was a story on the Time Magazine website. The study was about choices, very important choices. It was a variation on what is known as the "Trolley problem." let me set it up for you...

You are the person in charge of switching tracks in a rail yard. There is a runaway boxcar speeding down a track toward 5 men who are repairing the track. There is no time to warn them to get out of the way, your only hope is to throw the switch which will send the boxcar down another siding. The problem? There is one man working on that siding and he would die.

Do you save the five by killing the one? Or do nothing and let the five die?

There is a variation of the moral problem where the one person on the other siding is a family member.

What would you do in the first version? How about the second?

Some of you will say, "There must be a third choice, another option." That is not so, not in this situation. Studies need to have fixed parameters, there can be no uncontrolled variables, in order to force a decision. These moral problems have always been around (any person who has commanded in combat has likely had to make such a choice) but we now have the technology to study the reactions on a deeper level and a way to make the test situation more than words on paper by using computer simulation and animation. We can study the physiological reactions that come with such choices.

I will refer you to the report to learn what percentages chose which options.

Would you kill one person to save five?

Monday, December 5, 2011

That's a No-No! Unless...

I have engaged in some political discussions over the last few days. These can be contentious, I admit, but these weren't very bad as political discussions go. But I do not want to talk about the politics involved but about certain concepts and how we form them.

When I was just begining to become human (in my opinion, that happens around 5 years of age), I had been taught that there was good behavior and bad behavior. There was no "almost" good or bad, just those two polar opposites. It was about this time that nuances were introduced into the mix. All of a sudden, instead of "always tell the truth", there was the "little white lie." You shouldn't tell Mommie that her perfume makes your eyes water or that her new hat is silly looking. Daddy shouldn't be told he has really bad body odor sometimes. You should always thank people for their gifts even if they weren't what you wanted.

Think about it... honesty is the best policy but no one likes a tattle-tale. It is a wonder that any of us grow up mentally healthy. We must sort through and make sense of so much contradictory information and training. Maybe that mental health thing is very subjective and highly dependent on cultural norms.

I understand that, culturally, we have shifted away from the either/or norm and adopted more of a "shades of gray" view of morality. I understand that. I have used it to my advantage a number of times. But I cannot shake that absolutist nature of my pre-kindergarten training. I have, over the years, learned to meld the "black or white" view with the "shades of gray" view.

My only problem has been in maintaining a consistent point on the sliding scale of where "good" ends and "evil" begins.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Picking and choosing

I have a "union thug" friend who sends me all sorts of union and Democrat flavored emails, including ones offering Obama 2012 bumper stickers. He does this because he knows how unlikely I am to vote for Obama. He likes tweaking me. We play golf together fairly often and he's a much better player. I tell him that's because his union work gave him lots of time to play and practice while I had to actually work for a living.

The interesting thing about him is that this Obama support is so out of character for him. You see, he's a pretty conservative guy socially and fiscally. I have run into this a number of times. For instance, a black co-worker in Jacksonville registered and voted Democrat all his adult life in spite of the fact that he favored prayer in schools, was pro-life, and was opposed to tax increases on anyone. My understanding of this is, shall we say, incomplete.

I think we often vote in conflict with our best interests. I once voted for Carter. I thought he was a better choice than Ford. I was likely right. Not that he made a better president. Now, Carter annoys the heck out of me. Not his association with Habitat for Humanity (a very worthy cause) but his commentary on foreign policy. If he has been making any noticeable commentary on domestic policy, I am unaware of it.

I worry about support for Obama. It seems to me that the support should be very weak. Much weaker than I see in the mainstream media. Could they be distorting the facts? It seems to me that to want to re-elect Obama, you must:

Like 9% (or worse) unemployment
Want a rise in Islamist regimes in the Middle East
Think bailing out Wall Street was a Good Thing
Believe more countries "like" us than they did a few years ago.
And believe there's no inflation going on

The problem is that I am not very pleased with the GOP's potential candidates to oppose him. There is much talk about the GOP base is searching for the "anti-Romney". I think that's true. One of the problems with the GOP today is that they are searching for another Reagan. There isn't one on the horizon nor, as far as I can figure, hiding in the political bushes.

I am not talking about the charges concerning Cain or Newt's baggage, or the weirdness of Bachmann, or the strong Libertarianism of Ron Paul, or anything we've seen and read about the rest of the field. I am saying none of them fires me up, not that any of them frightens me.

We often find ourselves voting for the "lesser of two evils" and that saddens me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

You always remember your first, they say

In this case, my first "official" girlfriend...

This comic strip reminded me of my first girlfriend. Her name was also Opal (Opal Petry). A lovely young lady of 15 with big brown eyes and almost black hair. She was older than me (I was 14) but in the same grade. If I recall correctly, she lost a year in school because of some illness. Like many of you, I often wonder about old friends and, especially, old girlfriends and how their lives might have turned out. I truly wonder if they even remember me. Yeah, I am that insecure.

A few of my friends were headed for trouble. Not Opal. I think Opal was headed for good things. She was smart and pretty, which often made me wonder what she saw in me. I was shy around girls then, unsure of myself as teenage boys are likely to be at that age. Oh, we swaggered about and pretended to be Romeos but we could so easily be wrapped around some girl's little finger. I only kissed her once in the year or so that we were an "item" and that was at a party while playing a kissing game. I have never understood why. Something just prevented me from kissing her.

We had a strange relationship that mostly consisted of seeing each other at school and a few dances at Victory Park or the Unified Hall and long talks on the phone. We never formally dated. Never even saw a movie together. We broke up for good around the time I turned 15 and went our separate ways. Yet, 50 years later, she's still fresh in my mind.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

On radios and ebooks

Just a short post today since I am quite lazy. But you knew that, didn't you?

Faye's Bose Wave Radio (with CD) arrived late yesterday afternoon. It's a beautiful thing. Overpriced but beautiful. And the sound is excellent. You've got to hand it to Bose for the quality of the sound from such a little box. I like Bose, I have two sets of their bookshelf speakers. I was a little apprehensive about paying so much for a CD player/radio. The selling point was the acceptance of MP3 CDs. Faye likes the "sleep" function... I am still mulling over that. Of course, giving her the Bose allows me to use it as leverage for a tablet computer...

In the "Isn't that ironic?" department we have this:

Ray Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451' is released as e-book

If you know the story, you'll catch the irony. If you don't, go read the book! You've missed out on a classic. Bradbury was like me not so long ago. I mourned the loss of paper and binding books. I wanted to be a purist about literature. Now I own a Nook Color and have been turned. Whatever tablet I get will also be used as an e-reader. I don't buy many books (so far, only a couple of short stories and a John Carter of Mars trilogy), using the wonder that is the Gutenberg Project for most of my reading choices. This is best for me as I am way behind on reading the Great Books of the past.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Glitter Gulch, babes, and dice

Every so often, a headline just grabs you and demands you read the story. You are mostly disappointed in the story and wonder how they managed to use that particular headline.

In this case, I was intrigued. I admit, it is because I am a male of a certain age...

Casino is looking for a few good 'broads'

it is about downtown Las Vegas, a place I happen to love. I loved the Strip once but no more. It is not what it once was. The small storefront casinos are gone, most of the cheesey souvenir and T-shirt shops are also gone. Heck, most of the strip malls are gone. Replaced by gaudy, over-priced, monstrosities pretending to be something they aren't. The hotel casinos on the Strip have become "theme parkish"; Paris, New York New York, Treasure Island, and so on. And all have been re-arranged to keep you from finding the exit to the Strip in the hopes that you will stay inside their casino.

Apparently, downtown wants to lure us back. And they are doing this by playing up the old Vegas, the one the Mob made. And that means, apparently, broads. My apologies to any woman who finds that term offensive. It's just a term, a slang word for women slightly less offensive than so many others. It was not so long ago that the term was commonly used and socially acceptable. At least in the circles I ran in. Watch a few old movies of the Rat Pack variety and you will hear the word repeated often enough to give NOW a collective fit. It's just a word and words aren't sticks nor stones... as the old rhyme goes...

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."

Some time ago, someone turned that around and promoted the idea that words are weapons. It caught on. Maybe too well. But it is what it is and I happen to think being civil is a good idea. Still, I miss the Old Days. I especially miss the old days of Las Vegas. The days when you could get a NY Strip steak and eggs for $1.99 in just about any casino cafe. The days when you could run into a Frank Sinatra (who used that word in just about every sentence concerning women), or Sammy Davis Jr., or any number of other stars of the day who were constantly politically incorrect. The days when you could get a room in a nice hotel/casino on the Strip for $15.

Those days are gone. The Mob has slunk off to make their filthy lucre backing mortgage companies.

It's sad, really.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The search for little green men continues

On Saturday morning a wonderful thing happened. The new Mars Rover (dubbed "Curiosity") was launched [link] toward Mars. It will take 8 and a half months to get there. It's primary purpose is to search for evidence of at least microbial life.

It seems that methane is present on Mars and methane is a byproduct of life. And now we are going to make a concerted effort to find some evidence of that life.

A photo gallery of the Rover "Curiosity" [link]

A CBS news report about the project:

I am fascinated by such things. No, not by news reports. But by the search for life on other planets.

Read more about it here (warning: large PDF file) [link]

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lifting bales and toting barges...

As I was perusing the internet the other day, I came across a discussion about immigration on the website [link]. The story that had the discussion was mostly a hit piece on newt Gingrich and Republicans but, as discussions usually do, the comments wandered far afield of that.

"The vast majority of illegal and legal immigrants work harder than you have at anytime in your life. "
(written by someone calling himself "mtbr1975")

It gave me pause. I realized almost immediately that the vast majority of the nation worked harder that I have at anytime during my life. In other words (even though he wasn't referring to me but some other person), he was correct in my case... in a sense.

Very few people in the U.S. labor all that hard except for short periods, usually very short periods. And the ones who do engage in heavy labor for longer periods often make the least amount in terms of wages. It's a truism and it does not apply absolutely so spare me the stories of how hard you work at your job. This was something I observed in my late teens or early twenties. It's blatantly obvious in places with strict hierarchical structures. Like the military... where I first noticed it. The "unrated" seaman worked the hardest on a regular basis than any "rated" seaman. The terms "rated" and "unrated" refer to official job designations such as Sonar Technician or Radarman or Machinist's Mate. As you moved up the chain in your job, you did less physical labor and got paid more. If you had the brains/skills to get a rating, your initial job was less physically demanding (often, not always) than those who lacked a rating.

Once out of the Navy, I learned this was true in the civilian work force also. The more your job depended on brainpower, the less it depended on physical strength and endurance. Being lazy, I took as much advantage of this as I possibly could.

There was something else I learned in the Navy... work very hard for a short period of time and you are likely to be rewarded with a position where you do not have to work nearly as hard. Being lazy, I tried to keep that short period of hard labor down to a few weeks at most. I was quite successful in that, as I recall.

Don't get me wrong, I admire those who engage in backbreaking toil most of their working lives. I stand (well, usually "sit" or "recline") in awe of their willingness to work so hard. I do not look down on them. It is just something I am not willing to do and never was.

"mtbr1975" was mostly right... because illegal immigrants (as well as many legal ones) usually start out in physically demanding jobs. But he was especially right when it came to me. He just didn't know how right he was.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Divided we fall?

Have you ever had a discussion with someone that turned into an argument? Of course you have. We all have. Many times, I'd guess. An exchange of ideas only remains civil as long as there is some basic agreement about the validity of those ideas. Two (or more) people can agree on goals set, for instance, but remain civil while disagreeing about how to achieve them. When the way to achieve one or more of them becomes the focus of the discussion, it is likely to lose that civility and the discussion becomes an argument.

When I was younger, much younger, a teacher offered the premise that there was no real difference between the two major political parties when it came to foreign policy. The way she put it was "the differences ended at the shoreline." She maintained that the only differences lay in dometic policy. This was an earlier time... when the political rhetoric was much tamer. It was a period of relatively peaceful political endeavors.

It is not true today. And hasn't been for maybe 45 years. Since the Vietnam War. A lot of people became very political during that time. Lines were drawn, sides were taken, and the country became very divided. After the Vietnam War ended, we didn't really settle back into that more peaceful political environment. Instead, the rancor and distrust continued. It spilled over into domestic policy. Civil Rights, women's liberation, free speech and expression became as important as a foreign war.

In a way, it was much like the country was after war of 1812. Old animosities fueled domestic political debate. Slavery was at the core but economic differences between regions were a great part of it. Eventually, that boiled over into the Civil War.

Is that where we are headed today? Is the country dividing along political and ideological lines? Will it come to blows?

I suspect there will be no civil war. Today's issues aren't regional. But maybe that isn't such a good thing, maybe it will lead to chaos.

I am recommending the following column by John Stossel about freedom of speech.

America: Land of Free Speech -- Sometimes

You might find it interesting.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Shots are fired and conspiracies evolve

November 22nd (three days ago) was the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was 17 at the time and in an English class when the announcement came. I was not especially political at the time. I remember the presidential campaign of 1960 and being indifferent to the possible outcome. In 1963, I was just beginning to form complex socio-political ideas. I was more concerned with my dating prospects and finding my place in a new town and a new school.

It was still a shock and an obviously important moment in history. Presidents are not often assassinated. It was a Friday and the TV was filled with stories about all things related to this assassination and all presidential assassinations. And, on that Sunday, the subsequent assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald (the person arrested for Kennedy's assassination) by a man named Jack Ruby.

The Kennedy assassination triggered numerous conspiracy theories. More than one gunman, the grassy knoll, Ruby hired by the Mob, CIA involvement, a Soviet plot, and more.

In the next several the years I looked into Lee Harvey Oswald and a few of the more rational conspiracy theories. Oswald's story is rather interesting and easily permits conspiracy theories to evolve.

Oswald was a U.S. Marine from 1956 to 1959. After receiving a hardship discharge, he defected to the Soviet Union. This resulted in his hardship discharge being changed to undesirable. He spent only a couple of years there before becoming disenchanted with Soviet life and began seeking help from the American Embassy to return to the U.S. He subsequently met a woman, married her, and fathered a child before he and his family were permitted to enter the U.S. in June of 1962.

He later became involved with a group called the "Fair Play for Cuba Committee" (FPCC) and tried to form a branch in New Orleans, where he had moved to after leaving the Dallas area in April of 1963. While in New Orleans, he appeared to attempt to infiltrate an anti-Castro group and was later seen handing out FPCC literature. After a scuffle with the head of the anti-Castro group, he was arrested (along with others). As he was being released, he asked to meet with an FBI agent. The request was granted. All sorts of odd connections with anti-Castro groups and individuals as well as pro-Castro people popped up during his New Orleans stay.

After returning to the Dallas area in September, he apparently started making attempts to return to Russia. He also planned to visit Cuba before returning to Russia. Even though the Cuba embassy in Mexico granted him a visa on October 18th, he did not go there. Instead, he had returned to the Dallas area on October 3.

It gets even weirder. I can understand the conspiracy theories because of all the odd events and behaviors. I can also easily dismiss them because I like to think I am rational.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

More turkey, please!

Since I am lazy and male, I make very little effort on this day. So, instead of burning out a few brain cells actually thinking, I just re-edited and re-posted this from Thanksgiving of 2008. Have a great feast today and enjoy your family and friends!

Each year, on the last Thursday of November, the people of the United States celebrate Thanksgiving. This holiday was derived from stories of the Pilgrims giving thanks for surviving a couple of harsh winters and reaping a bountiful harvest that promised that the colony would survive and flourish.
There are many conflicting histories of the First Thanksgiving and some like to revel in the many misconceptions and misunderstandings of those early events. I don't. I try to look behind the mythology to the meaning, you might say "soul", of the ritual.

Thanksgiving is about gathering family and friends, it is about appreciating the blessings you have received even in years where perhaps you have also suffered problems, setbacks, or sorrow. It is a time to look in wonder at that silver lining we tend to ignore. It is a time to forgive the slights you've felt from those who should be close to you. It is a time to reach out to family and friends to let them know they are important to you.

And, finally, it is the time to be truly thankful that you are not a turkey.

(image credit: *AngELofREbellion)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Should we trust that filet mignon?

Glued meat??? I receive the usual oddball emails from purported friends and various associates covering all the usual internet rumors but this one really caught my attention. I am, after all, a carnivore. Well, "omnivore" is a better description, I suppose because I do not limit my diet to meat.

I approach these emails with a huge amount of skepticism. I must... because my purported friends and various associates do not. So I check them out with Snopes and by Googling and usually find them either baseless fabrications or distortions of the truth.

That did not happen this time. Apparently, the story is true.

And I didn't even know there was such a thing as "meat glue."

Here's the link... see for yourself:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

To kill or not to kill?

The death penalty raises a lot of emotions. People seem to come down on one side or the other; they are either in favor of it or opposed to it, there seems to be no middle ground. And how could there be? Death is permanent, irrevocable. Once the penalty is carried out, it cannot be rescinded. There are no "do overs."

You might have guessed by now that I am torn about the death penalty. I favor its existence as an option. I dislike its implementation. I worry about the possibility that an innocent person might be executed. I am certain that this has happened. More than once, I am sure. We have an imperfect system, as all systems created by humans are. And imperfect systems create opportunities for error.

On the other hand, there are people who I believe deserve the death penalty. For the good of society, maybe for the good of mankind.

I admire those who strongly oppose the death penalty on moral grounds. Those who believe that the state has no more right to take a life than any of its citizens, who would not kill even in self defense. I once thought I had that conviction. I was wrong. I was lying to myself. I would kill to defend myself or to defend another. And I have come to view society as I would a person. I believe it has the right to kill in defense of itself or a member of that society. Even a member of another society.

Think back to World War II, perhaps the only moral war in history. But it wasn't seen that way by many and it definitely wasn't seen that way in the beginning. It was seen as revenge and as self preservation. We did not know what the Nazis were actually doing to Jews and any people they saw as undesirables; Gypsies, Slavs, the mentally and/or physically disabled, and more. We had inklings, of course, there were signs of what was to come even before the war began. But we didn't declare war against the Germans until after they declared war against us. And they did that because we declared war against Japan in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the end, we realized that the war was truly a war between good and evil. And people died because of it. Innocent people who were merely caught in the middle.

A person who believes that a state has no right to kill would have to believe that even World War II was immoral. Yet not to fight it could also be seen as immoral. To not fight it was not really an option. When I was in the Navy, there was a concept used by those opposed to the Vietnam War. It went "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" An interesting concept. But a faulty one. At least one side will always show up. If someone wants to kill you and you do nothing to stop him, he will succeed. You will be dead. You may be morally correct but you will still be dead. If you do not act to defend someone else, they will die. If you do not resist aggression, aggression will succeed. In order to "give" a war, an aggressor must exist.

I have known people who think that we, and others, pushed the Japanese into war. They also thought that Germany was forced into Nazism and thus war by their treatment after WW I. They made logical and powerful arguments. All of which were flawed. We choose our reactions to perceived slights and insults. Our parents taught us that, did they not?

I recall one day when my son came into the house with his friend David and complained that David had hit him. I asked him what he had done that made David want to hit him and Brian replied, "I hit him first." I am sure there were words exchanged before that and that these led to an escalation into the hitting. I didn't care about that, the choices were made by both to escalate it and Brian was merely the first to choose to make it physical. He could have chosen other ways to react but didn't. Therefore, he was in the wrong.

I see the death penalty in much the same way. It is a symbol of society's willingness to resist murder of its citizens. A person chose to place himself in a position which led to his facing the death penalty. That is not the fault of the state. If you put yourself in a position where you could be perceived to be guilty of a capital crime, you are not an innocent. You are a victim of your own poor choices.

Still, it is conceivable that a completely innocent person might find himself facing execution, as rare as that might be. And that is why I am so ambivalent about it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The more things change, the more they...

I read an article in the NY Times the other day entitled "Older, Suburban and Struggling, ‘Near Poor’ Startle the Census". While I was reading it, I recognized my own childhood. It is how I grew up. Minus a couple of things. There were no new cars in my family, just good used ones, until after we moved to Florida. We had one phone in the house (extensions were expensive then). The house was a two bedroom with an unfinished second floor that my father converted into three bedrooms around 1950 (when I was 4). The one bathroom was on the first floor. We lived out on Long Island where my father commuted by train to his job at Dictaphone before opening a bicycle shop in town. We ate a lot of spaghetti. And leftovers stretched the food budget through the week. Especially while Dad was trying to get that shop on its feet.

After we moved to Florida, things got a little better but we still lived paycheck to paycheck. There were more than a couple of times I got home from school to find the electricity turned off because Mom hadn't yet paid the bill. Mom got very good at "kiting" checks: writing checks at the supermarket for enough to cover the food she bought plus some more to cover checks she had written in the past couple of days. The 50's equivalent of "cashback". The extra cash would get deposited so the earlier checks wouldn't bounce. I thought it was normal. I thought everyone did it. I was wrong. But not far wrong.

So it's nothing new, this "near poor" category, it was pretty common during my childhood. It was the Baby Boom years and towns and cities were struggling to keep up with the demand for new schools and roads and other infrastructure. Just as they are today.

Why does every generation seem to think no one had it as bad before? Every previous generation went through these things. The kids of parents with good jobs had more than their peers whose parents toiled for lower wages. Their parents struggled to keep them clothed decently and fed well and tried to get them educated so that they would move up and not have to struggle. I saw nothing I did not recognize in my own childhood in that article.

My parents were born in 1917 and 1918 and grew up through the Great Depression. They had it a lot tougher than I and my siblings ever did. Especially my mother, whose father died when she was very young and whose sister got sent to live with one aunt while my mother, her baby brother, and her mother went to live with an uncle until her mother remarried.

I look around these days and I wonder... Maybe the struggles are important, maybe we need to have it a little tough in order to appreciate what we earn later on. In any case, the economic cycles are nothing new and there will always be those who will struggle. Those dreams of a future where there is no poverty, no struggle to have more than one's parents are just that... dreams. Utopian dreams. Good dreams and ones we should strive to achieve.

But we shouldn't think they will ever come true.