The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

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

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

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

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stumbling along... phone and TV wise...

Running late, as usual, lots to do today. You see, I successfully switched from satellite TV and DSL to Cable TV and cable modem. I am halfway through the Great Transition Project. The next step is to sign up with Vonage for phone service to replace my current landline provider. I know many of you have dropped land lines in favor of cell phones. I would also but I am "old school". Besides, I think cell phone costs are a still too high to justify it. My changes are being made in order to cut some monthly costs.

The cable modem works quite well. I had one before. I also had the AT&T equivalent of Vonage before. I am not entering into a strange new world here, just returning to one.

But today I have errands to run. Drop off the DSL unit at the local phone company office, ship the satellite DVRs back to Direct TV, and pick up some things along the way.

I am not looking forward to the changeover to Vonage. It is a delicate matter to smoothly transition between phone service providers. I would rather just get a new phone number from Vonage, get that up and running, and then drop the local phone company. But certain others in this household wish to retain our current phone number. And I am nothing if not compliant.

Wish me luck. I figure I have 1 to 2 weeks of Rather Interesting Times ahead of me.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Thank you

Today is Memorial Day. It is more important than simply a day to welcome the coming of summer, something more than opening day for barbecue and picnic season. Much, much more than just a three day weekend and Big Sales at the mall.

Today is about the men and women who have given their lives in military service to our country. It does not matter if they gave their lives in a popular or unpopular war. It does not matter if they lost their lives in training accidents. By honoring those who died, we also honor those who serve. They deserve our respect, support, and appreciation. Sometimes, in our dislike for a particular military intervention, war, or activity (or for the president who ordered it or commands over it), we focus our dislike on those who are called to serve. The soldier does not choose his war though he may be drawn to serve because of one. Once in service, he goes where he is told.

I served during an unpopular war. It became common at the time to take out one's opposition to that war on the random service member. I can tell you that this hurts the service member, it damages his spirit, undermines his morale.

Today is a good day to examine your own actions and your own attitudes. Today is a day to thank those who gave their lives so you could exercise your right to disagree with your government, who go to strange and inhospitable places and face those who want to kill them, who work to keep those "front lines" from being in your neighborhood.

Thank him or her if you meet a soldier. Raise a glass in toast to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And know that these men and women are why you live in relative comfort and safety.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Let's go stand in the rain and cold and have a smoke

As some of you know, I am a former smoker. I quit almost 41 years ago (7/7/70). It isn't easy to quit, I know that as well as anyone who has tried. And I didn't just stop smoking one day on a whim. It was a process, as they say.

I started smoking when I was 12. Wanting to be cool, like the older boys and my brother. A stupid reason and easy to judge in hindsight. But a 12 year old isn't known for his mental acuity, is he? I just wanted to be cool and a little thing like a cigarette hanging out of my mouth made me feel like James Dean.
You really have to be a child of the 50's to understand that reference. Most adults just thought I looked like a hoodlum. Which, at times over the next few years, I was.

I never smoked a lot. Basically, I was a pack a day smoker. My sister was much worse, though she started later, at 3 packs a day. I couldn't figure out how anyone could smoke that much. I couldn't smoke in school (except out in the field during Phys. Ed. or the occasional tokes in the boys restroom... cue "Charlie Brown" by the Coasters), couldn't smoke at home, and while asleep. But after I left home, I didn't increase my smoking either. Not even in the Navy where smoking was not frowned on and cigarettes were cheap.

the Coasters - Charlie Brown

I tried to quit a few times even as a teenager. It never lasted more than 12 hours or so. I would quit in the evening, go home, wake up in the morning and head for school and habitually pick up a new pack of cigarettes in the morning. I would be 3 or 4 deep into the pack before I remembered I had intended to quit. I made no attempts to quit while I was in the Navy that I can recall. Until I was approaching my discharge date. Cigarettes were cheap in the Navy back then (may still be, I don't know) 10 cents a pack at sea, 20 cents in stateside ports. But in civilian stores they were 35 cents and going up. I'm frugal and that was incentive to me to quit.

As I rec all, I tried a partial quitting regime. I would smoke only on the weekends I was off. I would not smoke on base or on the ship or at my apartment on weekdays. That wasn't too hard to stick to. For a couple of months. And I even stopped smoking completely after getting discharged in October of 1969. For 3 months. I started up again the month before I got married for the first time. Right back to a pack a day. I blamed it on the stress. Now I know it was just a suicide attempt.

I tried to quit again after I got married. That was the beginning of the final process. I cut way back, almost completely. My wife smoked. My friends smoked. My co-workers at Southern Bell smoked. They got smoke breaks. They would go out to the stairwell outside the switchroom (where all the noisy equipment was) and take short breaks of 5 to 10 minutes to have a cigarette. I joined them because I thought it was unfair that I wasn't getting these breaks. They took smoke breaks, I took air breaks. But someone would offer me a cigarette and I would accept. After all, what's one cigarette in the vast scheme of things? So I ended up smoking 3 or 4 a day when at work.

But the night my son was born, I finally determined I would quit completely. Really, truly, finally, absolutely, quit for good.

If I remember correctly, I have smoked 3 cigarettes since then (in the years 2-5 after quitting)and finished none of them. They felt odd, alien, between my lips. I didn't feel cool or sophisticated. I felt ashamed of myself for giving in. Each one of those reminded me that I did not want to smoke, that I did not want to be a smoker.

I am not preaching here. I am not saying everyone should quit or that you are weak or stupid if you don't or feel you can't. I know how hard it is. I know that the urge stays with you for years. I still had the urge 5 years after officially quitting. Though it got easier, it took a long time before it was no problem to ignore.

There are many benefits to quitting, of course; you don't reek (which as a smoker you do not realize anyway), your nose starts working again, you don't find yourself outside in miserable weather huddled with people you would otherwise avoid, you are no longer treated as a leper, and food really does smell and taste better. But these are minor things, aren't they?

Forget all the Quit Smoking aids and prescription drugs. Forget hypnosis, forget group therapy, forget negative or positive reinforcement. Do it yourself. You can. I am about the weakest person you will ever meet. I rarely finish any project. Yet I managed to do this. And if a schmuck like me can do it, you can do it too.

I'll shut up now.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The new supermen?

Some of you (many of you, I hope) have heard about the Thiel Fellowship but, depending upon where and how you heard about it,you may not properly understand it. We often read articles in various favored sources and digest opinion more than facts. That particular phenomenon should be an article in itself.

I became intrigued by this Fellowship when I first heard of it. This is probably because I have certain views of higher education that parallel at least one aspect of the concept. I am used to sifting through opinion to gather facts. Though I sometimes get them wrong. I have no magical power to divine fact from fiction. A long time ago, when I was just a lad of single digit age, I began pondering the purpose of higher education. Probably because my teachers were urging me to consider college in my future and society was extolling its virtues.

Now, a child is not naturally inclined toward looking at his future in terms of 16 years of school. No, most boys my youth were eagerly seeking the day when school would be over and done with. Maybe equating it to a lifetime of summer vacation. That isn't reality, of course, but reality is far from our thoughts in that time of our lives, isn't it?

Let me try to present my view of this Fellowship.

He is offering a stipend, a grant, to those he feels represent the best and the brightest. He wants those with the greatest potential to not simply follow the accepted path but to do what we gleaned from those old fairy tales and legends... go forth and seek their fortunes. I like the concept. The recipient would have an opportunity to take a break from his academic life and get a look at real life. A chance to get an idea about what field he might want to enter. An opportunity to test himself. And then return to his education with a clearer vision of what he wants to accomplish.

He doesn't just hand each one $100,000 and tell them to go off and figure it out on their own. He offers them mentoring, guidance, counseling as they explore the possibilities.

I do not understand the criticism. He isn't denigrating higher education. He is encouraging entrepreneurship, ambition, and offering a cushion against the risks they might face.

My only complaint might be that he is also encouraging a kind of elitism. That these people will be more than just outstanding, that they will be a kind of "supermen." To me, this is a minor complaint.

I applaud Peter Thiel.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The power of a two letter word

As I sit here on the sofa I am watching an ad for a credit check company, a thought occurred to me. It had little to do with what they are selling but a lot to do with the scene portrayed. In the ad was a young man who appeared to be around 25 years of age. He is sitting at a desk at a car dealership talking with a salesman. Implied is that the young man has decided on the car he wants to buy and the price has been agreed upon. All that needs to be done is to apply for the loan needed to actually purchase the car.

That is what struck me about the ad. A loan is important today in car purchases. It has been for many years. I haven't had a car loan for quite some time now. I think the last one was for my 1986 Mitsubishi Mirage. The car outlived the loan by a little over 2 years. At that point, it tried to smash its way through the middle of a Buick LeSabre one drizzly night in Jacksonville, FL and failed. Miserably. I loved that car. And I believe, deep in its crankcase, it loved me too. I digress.

I have lost touch with the average American who must use a car loan to purchase a car. When I bought that Mirage, I was still paying on the loan for my previous vehicle; an `82 Datsun King Cab diesel pickup. The trade-in allowance paid off that loan and paid a part of the $11,000 price of the Mirage.

To get back to the ad... the young man appears nervous, anxious, about his ability to get the loan needed. I realized that something was wrong with this picture. The salesman has full control at this point, the buyer is at the mercy of the salesman and the car dealer. This is not something I ever want to return to. There is power in having enough money in the bank to pay for a new car. You can put the salesman entirely on the defensive. Everything and anything can be used as a "deal breaker." Color, accessories, options, can be demanded. The sale is never out of the buyer's control.

There is no reason why one ever has to lose that upper hand even if they must qualify for a loan in order to complete the purchase. All one has to realize is that the power to say "yes" or "no" is in one's hands. Somehow, most of us cede that power to the salesman. We lust after these purchases. As the purchase nears completion, we become more and more worried that it won't happen. The salesman knows this, uses it, plays us like a fisherman reeling in his catch.

I was not immune to this either. Until I managed to set aside enough money to purchase a new car outright. Of course, the sales people who deal with me try very hard to sell me more than I want. They want to put me off guard, reduce me to that nervous, anxious, little twit I once was in those situations. Homey don't play dat no more. And it isn't just the fact that I no longer need a loan to make a purchase of this size. It is that I have developed the ability to say "no" and the discipline to not try to buy more than I can afford or need.

It is exhilarating! The first time you walk away from a deal, the feeling of power and control is heady and intoxicating.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Strange and exotic wildlife

I have a new pet. I didn't want one and, to be honest, he's not much of a pet. I am not even sure it's a "he", for that matter. Let me go back a few days...

On Monday of last week, I went off to play golf just as I do on every Monday morning. The lovely and vivacious Faye brings in a housekeeper every couple of weeks, always on a Monday, to do a little heavy cleaning. It doesn't help all that much but she likes it. Now let me explain about the front porch and the tomato plant that ate it.

In the winter, even down here, we have what we call "cold snaps" where the temperature might drop into the Hard Freeze range. That would be an period of more than an hour or so of temps in the 20's (Fahrenheit). During that time, we must cover the more fragile or tropical plants to protect them. Frances did this for the tomato plants we had on the front porch. She used a couple of old sheets. Not a problem except that she didn't bring them (the sheets) back in after the last of the cold snaps. She just folded them up and left them on the bench that pointlessly sits on the front porch. For months.

So now Raina, the housekeeper, was asked by Faye to bring in those sheets. She did as asked. Unfortunately, she didn't shake them out or inspect them first. Between the two sheets there was a lizard. And when he/she/it found his/her/it-self inside among a bunch of giant creatures all screaming and backing away, he/she/it panicked and ran off into the kitchen and under the stove.

When I returned home, I was told the story of the Giant Vicious Lizard. What was I to do? I am not going to move the stove because he/she/it would just scurry under the refrigerator. You cannot coax a lizard out from a hiding place so I just said, in soothing tones and with great sympathy, "Forget it."

That was last Monday.

Monday (yesterday), when I got home from golf, Faye greeted me and said in hushed tones, "Come here, I want to show you something." And led me into the master bedroom with a sly smile. You can imagine how disappointed I was when she pointed at my alarm clock. there, resting atop it, was the Giant Vicious Lizard.

He/she/it is not a great pet, as I said. But he/she/it is the only one we have.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Some self analysis (for better or worse)

When this is posted, it will be Monday. Many people dread Mondays. We call them "workers". These are the people who are now paying a portion of my monthly income. I want those of you who are doing this to know I am deeply grateful for your contribution. Even if it is involuntary.

Retirement has been good to me so far. I have more free time now. Which is a good thing and a bad thing. I either have to fill up that time or deal with the guilt over being lazy. Not quite true. I dealt with that guilt many years ago when I realized it is simply my nature. I am not a "Type A" personality. I am more like a "Type Z". Basically, I am lazy. I can't help it.

Being lazy goes well with another part of my personality. I am also a died-in-the-wool procrastinator. This means that most of my effort goes to postponing anything and everything I should do. As long as possible. And then some. Laziness and procrastination go hand in hand, I suppose. They are augmented by my inability to make a decision until forced to do so.

Now I have reached the pinnacle for lazy procrastinating indecisive types; I am retired. The only decision I make is when to wake up in the morning to play golf. And I set that alarm clock a few years ago and haven't changed it.

As I was going through school, I was constantly told I could be anything I wanted. All I had to do was set my mind to it. These people did not know me very well. All they knew were my test scores. They assumed I had something called ambition. They couldn't have been more wrong. As soon as I figured out that I tested well, that I could pass tests easily, even ace an occasional quiz easily enough, my motis operandi became sloth-like.

There are times, however, when I rue my personality traits. I could have been driving around in expensive cars, living in large houses, and dining at fine restaurants. Then I realize just how uncomfortable that would have been for me. You see, I am a T-shirt and jeans kind of guy. I hate formality, social ritual, and dressing up. I hate ties, I hate suits (don't own any now and only owned two in my life), I never know what fork or spoon to use, and would much rather have a duck peck me to death than speak in front of an audience of more than 2 people.

Did I mention I am also cheap? I am careful with my spending. This is very helpful if you ever decide to retire on something as measly as the savings I have.

But when you put all these poor habits and traits together, you get the person born to retire. And that, my friends, sums me up.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's the Apocalypse!

I can't be bothered with petty tripe like political discourse today. No, today is the Beginning of the End. Today, according to Evangelist Harold Camping, is the start of the Apocalypse. Today, at 6 PM EDT, the Rapture will occur and all true believers will be snatched up to be re-united with God. A lot of people are reporting this (tongue in cheek, of course) as the End of the World but it is just the beginning of that end. This is to be Judgement Day. It will be another 5 months until the world goes *poof*.

I won't be going. Even if he is correct... and there have been a long line of people unsuccessfully predicting when this day would come... I won't be going. Obviously. I doubt many atheists will be taking that particular journey. But neither will most of my believing friends. You never know though, do you?

I can't blame Camping for thinking he might be right. After all, look at the crazy world around us. Wars and rumors of wars. I was never quite sure what that meant. I suppose it made some sense in days when there was no mass communication and the only way you got news of events outside (and maybe even inside) of your community was through word of mouth from travelers. They might bring news of war from somewhere else. And it might be true or it might be false. You wouldn't know for sure until the hordes descended upon you. So "wars and rumors of wars" makes some sense that way. Today, I suppose, that kind of news would be Twittered (or is it Tweeted?). By the way, is someone on Twitter a Twit? Just asking...

I am fully prepared, of course, for the Beginning of the End. I have plenty of oatmeal raisin cookies. No point in actually stocking up on food and medical supplies. All you will do is prolong the inevitable. I suppose the final End will be quite spectacular and it might be interesting to be there when it happens but for what purpose? I mean, you aren't going to be able to tell your grandchildren about it. Unless you are among the saved and so are your grandchildren. And, if you and they are, none of you will be on the planet at the moment anyway. Still, I am prepared. I read all of the Left Behind books.

Human beings are fascinating creatures. As far as I can tell, we are the only creatures who can conceive of our total destruction. I doubt the so-called "lower" animals have this capacity for pessimism. They seem to view things on a more personal level. Which brings to mind the question of their salvation. Animals are unaware of the existence of God. Alright, I am assuming that. I have no way of knowing its true. However, other than the stories of the Flood, animals seem unable to gather together and get along. I have never seen a cornered animal pray either. Or maybe I wouldn't recognize their method of praying. In any event, they seem to be ignored in all this Judgement Day stuff. No, it looks like all animals will get Left Behind and, eventually, perish with the Earth. And the rest of us non-True Believers.

I guess we'll find out at 6 PM which religious sects got it right, eh?

Hmmmmm.... maybe its true... it might explain why Blogger is having trouble publishing this post.

Friday, May 20, 2011

So many channels, so little entertainment

At this point there is an uneasy truce in the battle for entertainment. The combatants have left the battlefield. Well, one of them has. His service, we thought, was completed. Now came the aftermath. The post-battle analysis, the weighing of the costs vs the achievements.

And the worst of all; learning the new channels, reprogramming the recordings for the DVR, and trying to figure out what should be there but isn't.

And what isn't there that should be? Why, just all the movie channels I subscribed to. No HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Movie Channel, or Starz. So I called. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. I could a semi-articulate gentleman who agreed with me that I should have those channels. He counseled patience, that it could take a little time for them to be authorized, that there was trouble with the "system" earlier and that could have caused the problem. So I said I would call back in a few hours if they didn't show up.

I have just called back. And waited. And waited. Eventually, sometime before I had to take the phone into the bathroom, a "Customer Service Representative" came on the line. I didn't get this one's name due to his successful rapid mumbling of it. I explained my "issue" and mentioned that I no longer cared why I could not get the premium channels I had subscribed to, I just wanted them turned on.

Two minutes later, they were all working. Seems no one had authorized them. Duh!

I feel a tad victorious.

You do not want to see my victory dance. It ain't pretty.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It was so in tents

As I was reading the news the other day, I came across an article about the semi-anarchy that is Egypt today. In it, there was mention of Bedouin tribes...

"...and the abduction of another officer by Bedouin tribes in the Sinai."

"That's interesting," thought I. You see, in this most modern world in which we live, there are still people functioning much like they did in the Stone Age. Or at least, the Iron Age. As alluring as living in a tent in the desert must be, I find it odd. I suppose I should. After all, I grew up living in houses. Solid roofs, doors, walls of at least 8" thickness... indoor plumbing. Tents were temporary... something that usually indicated camping. Or a natural disaster.

I imagine that living in a tent would be fine in a benign enough environment. I live in a benign environment. But I wouldn't live here in a tent. I spent a couple of weeks living in a tent when I was 10. My mother, thinking she was doing me a favor, sent me off to a summer camp near Ocala, FL. Looking back, it was more likely she was doing herself a favor. The tents were large constructions of canvas and wood. A large wood foundation, like a deck, with two poles holding up a large canvas tarp as the roof. The "walls" were also canvas tarp and mostly rolled up. They could be rolled down and secured at the bottom in the event of a rainstorm. They looked a bit like this:

Only they were olive drab and likely to be Army Surplus. (not my tent --->)

And we slept on cots which were covered with mosquito netting. The netting barely slowed them down. It's hard to see that netting as useful when there were large holes in it. You fell asleep communing with nature. The staccato sounds of crickets, the buzzing of the mosquitoes, the rattle of certain snake tails, the grunts of alligators, and all the little rude noises the bodies of young boys produce. There was no air conditioning, you had only the breeze off the lake to cool you off. There was no heat either but you don't miss that when the low temp of the night is 80 F.

We never did roll the walls down. It didn't matter. There were no strong rainstorms in that two weeks. It did rain and that's when we found the roof leaked a bit. Solution? Move the bunks.

I would have not survived long in the Stone Age.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

To tilt my lance once again

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger. . . ."
[Henry The Fifth Act 3, scene 1, 1–6]

We wage many battles in our lives. Some of us do this in uniform, in service to our country. Some do it in uniform in the sports arenas and on the playing fields. Some adopt the uniform (suits and ties) and become corporate warriors. Some serve as nurses and comforters; our spouses perhaps. There are many front lines, and many ways in which to serve, in our modern world.

I prepare myself for one of the worst battles we face. Dealing with the cable company. I do not look forward to this. I dread it. But I see no way to avoid it. The day came when my satellite provider just proved too expensive. It was time.

It is a battle into which I did not wish to enter. But I must. If we are to have that mind numbing entertainment to which my household has become addicted, this battle must not only be fought but I must be victorious. At least partially.

Every battle requires certain things in preparation. The most important is intelligence. One must gather intelligence about the enemy's plans, about his strengths and weaknesses, so an assessment of the risks and rewards can be made. I have done this on a scouting mission Monday afternoon to the cable company's local office. This recon was almost a fiasco. Not because the enemy is so clever as to be one step ahead of me but because he knows how to hide his plans well.

I started on Saturday with a foray into his online site. I knew, deep down, that this would be a futile attempt to uncover information. I had trod these woods before. I went in without expectations of achieving much. But I had hoped to learn some basic things: entertainment packages, costs, channel lineups. Alas, he was too clever for me and I became lost in the maze of pointless information and misleading links. Oh, he is devious, this enemy.

So I headed for the enemy's local compound on Monday afternoon. I spent a half hour gathering intel. Some of it is certainly suspect but much of it has been useful in my preparations. I know a bit more now about what I am up against. I have selected my choices and believe I have a fair idea of what they will cost. I will undoubtedly be shocked and dismayed when my first bill arrives.

The battle is set for 11 AM to 2 PM on Thursday (today, if all goes well), the field will be my humble home. It will be a battle of wits and guile, I think, as the so-called installer will attempt to sell me more service than I actually want or need. For my part I will be trying to get him to practically re-cable the house at no charge. Even though I will be in familiar surroundings, have "home field" advantage, and am a veteran of several of these wars, I fear I will be fighting against the odds.

Wish me luck. With whatever gods I can muster to my side and if the weather holds, I may be able to emerge with honor if not outright victory.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Love is in the air

Down here in Paradise, we have one little glitch, one itty-bitty problem, that makes life a bit less idyllic. I am not talking about hurricanes, rampant thunderstorms with 50MPH winds, or the mosquitoes, palmetto bugs (3" flying cockroaches), snakes or alligators. Or the fire ants. Those are hardly worth mentioning. I am talking insect orgies.

Have you ever seen a love bug? No, it's not a Volkswagen. It is a strange creature that
we also called a "blind mosquito" when I was young. They aren't mosquitoes. They do not suck blood, they do not bite, they do not sting. They just overwhelm. And copulate. Constantly. Publicly. All over the place. In swarms. More on that as we go along.

My first bad experience with swarming love bugs was in 1980 as I was driving to West Palm Beach from San Diego with my then 10 year year old son. We were riding in a `78 red Honda Civic. A fine little car with, alas, no AC. It was mid-August and we were traveling on a rural highway between somewhere near Sanford (above Orlando) to Titusville and I-95 for the final stretch. We had the windows open, we had the vents open, it was hot.

We began running into these clouds of what appeared to be black flies. We rolled up the windows. Yet the bugs still were getting in. Looking down, I realized they were coming in the air vents on the dash. I closed them. It helped a little. And then I noticed the temperature gauge. The engine was getting hot. Very hot. There was nothing but farmland and open spaces. No stores, no gas stations, no houses, no people. We continued on. What choice did we have? It got harder and harder to see as the bugs slammed into the windshield and spattered. Using the wipers just smeared them more. After about 20 miles, with the engine seriously heating up, we came to a gas station. As I pulled in, the attendant saw me and waved me around to the side shouting, "Don't shut it off, there's a hose on the side, spray the radiator first!"

It took a good 15 minutes to clean enough of the bugs off the radiator and get the engine cooled down to normal. I also scrubbed the windshield. I also swept hundreds of bugs out of the interior. I also washed off the bugs covering the headlights and entire front of the car. And we set off again. We ran into no more swarms the rest of the way.

But they are persistent, these bugs, and we get the swarms twice a year; April-May and August-September. They are not constant during these periods, it is just when they appear. Swarming lasts maybe a couple of weeks.

These love bugs do not simply land on things, find a mate, and start copulating. No, they copulate in the air. The female is one and a half times the size of the male. I am guessing they do not start their airborne "dance of love" until after they have coupled on some solid surface. It is the female that does the driving. The male is just a passenger mostly. Attached to the female by his... well, I really don't have to tell you, do I?... and is dragged about through the air. This adds to the chaotic flight of the bugs. Love bugs live 3-4 days and spend all of that time "mating" and then laying eggs. Those eggs will hatch during the next love bug season and eventually wind up on my windshield or grill.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A voyage of senses

When you are out to sea for any length of time, you forget. You forget what it is like to walk on solid, unmoving, ground. You forget, in a way, that land exists. You see nothing but ocean and, therefore, nothing else exists. You smell the sea, you feel the sea, you fear it and love it.

But no sea journey lasts forever and you eventually come to a destination, a port. A day or so, depending upon the prevailing wind, before you hit port you smell the scents of land. It is the vegetation you smell first. The most beautiful scent is Hawaii. The flowery perfume of the islands is intoxicating. There is no other port that comes close to rivaling it. Once in port, the scent of flowers is lost in the smell of diesel fuel, engine exhausts, and garbage. But the land around Pearl Harbor is still beautiful and the perfume returns full force once you leave the base and head for town.

In my 4 years in the Navy, I visited a number of ports: Seattle, San Francisco, Long Beach, San Diego, Acapulco, Philippines, Yokosuka, Sasebo, Vung Tau, Chi-lung, Kao-hsiung, Hong Kong, and Pearl Harbor. All had their own peculiar scents, all smelled very similar once in port. A ship has its own smell; a mixture of male sweat, salt air, diesel fuel, grease, occasionally gunpowder and fresh paint.

We spent months away from our home port of Long Beach, Ca. It takes only a week or so to forget the sights and sounds of a bustling city. The sea calms and hypnotizes the sailor into forgetting. We still remembered those we left behind; the girlfriends, wives, families, shore-bound friends. But the memories moved further and further back in one's mind. Your only link was letters delivered irregularly when we'd replenish at sea or hit port.

A WesPac cruise (a tour of the Western Pacific which, at that time, meant some time in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam) lasted 6 to 7 months for Destroyers like mine. We'd leave Long Beach and arrive in Hawaii about 8 days later. After a few brief days, we'd head for Japan which took a couple of weeks. Both these legs would take less time if we didn't have to also run some exercises along the way. A Navy ship never seems to travel in a stright line but always finds time to practice various skills. Practice makes perfect, they say.

After leaving Japan, we headed for the Philippines. Olongapo, to be exact. This was a work port; things got painted, lots of things, repairs were made, and our hull was patched. Water was seeping in. It would be patched several times during that first cruise I was on.We wouldn't learn why and it wouldn't be fixed permanently until after we returned stateside and went into drydock in the Long Beach shipyard.

Olongapo is an ugly little town full of beautiful, but mostly poor, people nestled alongside a beautiful cove called Subic Bay and surrounded by hills and mountains. The water outside of the dock area was clean and clear. Like Hawaii and other tropical ports, the perfume of exotic wild flowers was almost overpowering as you entered the Bay. By the time you reached the pier, those smells faded behind the odors of a working port.

Hong Kong smelled of garbage mostly and the smell of diesel fumes from ht ehundreds of fishing boats, garbage barges pushed by tugs, and the water taxis that criss-crossed the harbor.

Kao-Hsiung (pronounced cow shung) was also a working port on an island and had few pleasant smells even as you entered. There was an extra smell beyond the diesel fumes and paint and such; the smell of fireworks from the launching of fishing junks. As the boats were launched, fireworks went off to chase away "evil spirits" and the smell would waft across the harbor.

It was the return to the States which lingers most in my memory. You didn't see land as you approached California, you saw a brown cloud. It was the smog which envelopes just about all of southern California. As you get closer, you smell the smog first... well before you can see through it to the land. A stench of sulfur and misery. It made me want to turn around and head back to sea. But I was not in charge and the rest of the crew would have mutinied anyway. When you do finally see land, you are within a day of port.

It will be days, maybe weeks, before you are comfortable on land again. And, for some, the sea will call to you forever more.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's Saturday, time for a political piece

The other day I got an email, one of those internet rumor things, about Barack Obama. This one questioned Obama's entire life, not just his birth certificate. The email/rumor wants to know why there aren't people from his past relating stories of being a friend of Obama in elementary or high school, or hanging out with him at Columbia University.

So, naturally, I checked with Snopes. That internet font of all knowledge. Snopes is like Wikipedia with a sense of humor. There, I learned that there have been people recalling Obama and Snopes even referenced an article by Barack Obama while he was at Columbia in the school's weekly newspaper. I urge you to read the article. It will tell you a lot about the president when he was in his early 20's.

In the article, he talks about how dangerous Reagan's policies in Europe over nuclear disarmament were. He, like so many back then, worried that Reagan would destabilize the world and trigger war with the Soviets by backing them into a corner.

"The Reagan administration's stalling at the Geneva talks on nuclear weapons has thus already caused severe tension and could ultimately bring about a dangerous rift between the United States and Western Europe. By being intransigent, Reagan is playing directly into the Russian's hands."

This was followed by a subtle correlation of Reagan to Hitler and praise of the Green Party.

I was around when Mr. Obama was known as Barry Soetero and we were embroiled in Vietnam. It amazes me that almost twenty years later, Columbia was still turning out people who thought America was the threat to world peace. And who viewed Selective Service (the draft) registration just as the draft itself was viewed back in the late 60's and early 70's. I'd read all of this before, countless times, back in the late 60's and early 70's. I had a number of friends who would have eaten this up.

Ironically, it was Reagan's "intransigence" that eventually led to the end of the Cold War. Many may disagree with me but Reagan's "out of the box" thinking won out because he called the Soviet bluff. Instead of Reagan playing into their hands, they played into his.

The email/rumor was concerned that Obama was some kind of stealth candidate, it implies a "Manchurian Candidate" status for him. So it seems the Birthers have a new campaign. I guess we could start calling them "Schoolers."

I am not making fun of the doubters. Some of the questions raised in the email/rumor are interesting. You see, if Obama wrote that article because he was working (or affiliated with) that paper then he did get involved in at least one college organization. If he wrote it as a contributing writer then it might be reasonable to assume he was close to the organizations and causes about which he wrote. He was not quite the loner he claimed to be:

"In his memoir and in interviews, Obama has said he got serious and buckled down in New York. "I didn't socialize that much. I was like a monk," he said in a 2005 Columbia alumni magazine interview. He told biographer David Mendell: "For about two years there, I was just painfully alone and really not focused on anything, except maybe thinking a lot."

He was only there two years. His first two years of college were at Occidental College in Los Angeles. And, based on the article he wrote in his second year, he seemed involved in causes and organizations.

I understand the "where are all the people who knew him then" questions. They didn't come out of the woodwork upon his running for the Democratic nomination or when he won it. They had to be sought out. See this article.

So, for the record, I don't worry about his place of birth nor do I worry that he is some kind of "Manchurian Candidate." What I worry about is that he immersed himself in Left-Wing politics in his 20's and, according to these articles, hasn't emerged from them yet.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Missing or dumped

Looks like trouble in Blogger space. I had a draft post set for today but couldn't publish. I also had a post yesterday which has disappeared. Well, it didn't disappear, it was "removed" by the technicians at Google Blogger who decided that wiping out the work of the bloggers who depend upon Google was the best way to proceed.

I was a tech once. Sometimes you had to just back up a bit and reboot. Still, before you did, you made sure you could recover everything up to that point. The systems I worked on were not this complex, however.

So we're stuck with what we've got.

Which Wednesday when they first caused the problem. Yeah, I think they caused it trying to fix something. I don't know how many times I had to clean up the "fixes" someone tried before my shift started.

I am reminded of a call I got one late evening to come into work. It seems that when the system went into its nightly diagnostics, it would crash. Repeatedly. So I came in. The first question I asked was "Did you back out the update that was run a few hours ago?" The answer was "No." Then I asked, "Did you back out the overwrites (patches) that were put in place after the update?" Again, the answer was "No."

So I said, "Let's first back out the overwrites and see if that helps." Again, the response was "No" because the support center decided that "wasn't the problem."

And it wasn't. Until I pointed out that one of the patch addresses involved was figuring prominently in the problem, according to the error reports. That patch was backed out and the system stabilized.

Sometimes, the fix is the problem.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Play is now work and vice versa

It's nice to be retired. No job to worry about losing my job in a bad economy, no concern about when to take vacation or if those days/weeks will be available, no concern over a possible strike every three years when the contract comes up, no daily commute in the pre-dawn hours to avoid the rush hour insanity, no boss asking for status of a project, no co-workers to interrupt your break or lunch, no calls in the middle of the night to come in to work because something broke that someone else can't fix.

Yup, I'm bored.

Life in the work-a-day world can be hectic and frustratingly dull. But it also occupies your time. It fills in your day. Fools you into thinking there is purpose to your life. It's a bit like "Cheers", isn't it? You go there not because the beer is any more tasty, the free bar snacks are better, or the seats are more comfortable; you go there because it is friendly and familiar. Work, after many years, becomes a social function. And a habit.

It's a social function because we have two lives... work and home. You have one social circle that is populated with neighbors and friends who share in interest in something and another that revolves around whatever it is you do for a living. Sometimes they intertwine, sometimes they do not. Over my 34 years ensuring your phone calls mostly made it through and stayed connected, the two lives overlapped and separated on an irregular basis.

In a sense, I miss that. The camaraderie, the separation of the two lives, the shifting between the two. I shouldn't miss it. I still do it.

Golf has become my "work life." I play three days a week. I see these guys only at the golf course, except for one or two (those "overlapper" friends). Some I see only at the golf course during the winter months. So, there is even another layer to it all.

I sometimes think I have a different persona when I play golf, just as I had a different persona at work. When I am home, I am not focused or intense, I am relaxed and unmotivated. And I am very patient, both with myself and with others On the golf course, I am intense, focused, and motivated. I am less patient with myself but not so much with others.

I am not alone in this. I have a friend in Dayton whose wife once described him as "Gerald" at work and "Gerry" at home. I inferred that the the two were as different as night and day. I never worked with him or seen him at work so I only know "Gerry." Gerry is funny, sociable, full of nonsense and sometimes rowdy. I am told that Gerald is all business and stern and demanding. I probably wouldn't like him all that much though I might respect him and appreciate those traits in the right context.

Was this a bit of what Robert Louis Stevenson was writing about in "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde"?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why am I always hungry?

Whenever I sit here at the computer for any length of time (say, 15 minutes or so) or in in front of the TV for a similar length of time or and am just relatively idle for any amount of time, I get an urge. An urge to snack. I either inherited this or was conditioned for it by my parents... mostly my mother.

My mother used to make a tuna and macaroni salad on Sundays. She would make a huge bowl, possibly a 3 gallon one, full of this delight. And then she would sit there, for hours, after we had finished eating our Sunday dinner reading the Sunday paper and picking small forkfuls of the salad until the bowl was empty.

She also carried pieces of candy with her constantly. She claimed to suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and ate the candy as a "boost" from time to time. She also made fudge, bought cookies (she never baked them), and taught all of us kids to make "rock" candy. Did I mention she had an issue with losing weight?

So let me get to the point. If there is one. I snack. Regularly. But I have grown impatient with making snacks and want instant gratification. A hot dog, frozen and placed with 7 other hotdogs in a Zip-Loc Freezer Bag can be cooked in 1 to 2 minutes (1 minute on high or 2 minutes on 3) and wrapped in a piece of bread to make a quick snack and is a quick choice but nothing beats peanut butter. It is ready in seconds, not minutes, it is tasty on its own but one can ad condiments. For example:

Here we have two pieces of bread upon which I have smeared a generous amount of creamy peanut butter.

In this picture, I have added my favorite "go with"... Craisins. If you do not know what Craisins are, you are living a dull and boring life, my friend. Craisins are what cranberries should be.
And they do not have that "oozing" so characteristic of Jelly and Jams.

And here I have folded the bread over ever so gently in order to make a snack easily held in one hand while I maneuver a mouse or type with just two fingers of the other hand. Sometimes I have to creatively use my elbow to perform the Shift function.

Add a glass of cold Arizona Green Iced Tea (with Lemon, Ginseng, and Honey) and you have the perfect answer to that random, yet oddly persistent, abdominal pang. An answer that requires no culinary skills and has minimal cleanup consequences.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Imagery in motion

The other day, I was reading a blog about perception and memory. It started with perception, which is a topic of some interest to me, and shifted gently into memory and witness accounts. It spoke of how they can be erroneous.

It opened with a video of a horse galloping and how the artistic world, up to that point, perceived horses as "flying" across the ground with their legs extended. And then pointed out the misconception. Prior to the film, made in 1878 (I believe), the general consensus (among artists, one suspects) was that horses made a leap where their legs were stretched out fore and aft and that it was this point where all four hooves are clear of the ground. After the the perception was clearly shown to be erroneous, artists began painting the horses motion "correctly."

This photo shows the time all four hooves of the horse are off the ground.

I took this photo in the summer of 1976 with a Pentax 35mm SLR with a telephoto lens, ASA250 B&W Agfa film, and a speed of 1/400 at Del Mar racetrack. I was not trying to prove the point once again (so many had done that before me), it was quite by accident that I captured that point in the horse's gallop.

But the blog post conjured up the image and I had to look at my picture in comparison to the still images from the post.

There are actually four stills where the horse's hooves are off the ground. But watching a horse gallop, it would be difficult for the mind to sort out where that happens. So, I think we equated it to our own two-legged "gallops" where we do make that leap as our legs are stretched. But two legs are not four and the dynamic is different.

Our perception, therefore, was distorted by our preconception. Which goes back to my (all too) oft-repeated adage... we see what we wish (or want) to see.

I have a friend with whom I occasionally play golf. He is a big guy with lots of power who cannot bring himself to swing easy. Instead, he gives into the desire to hit the ball as hard as he can off the tee. The result is often unpredictable beyond the fact that it will go a long way. The direction is never known until after the ball leaves the tee.

He swears he can see the ball as it is compressed by the face of the club. I swing much slower (and, yes, my drives are much shorter) and I cannot even get a real glimpse of the impact. Does my friend really see the ball being hit? Or does he just believe he does? Did the magician really pull that rabbit from the hat?

How do we change our perception without someone else breaking through that preconception for us?

Monday, May 9, 2011


There are many things in life worth musing over. One of them is the concept of "free will", the other is the concept of "predestination." These are opposites, of course, in so many ways. Let me take the concept of predestination first... What does it mean?

For Catholics, we can turn to this definition:

Predestination (Latin præ, destinare), taken in its widest meaning, is every Divine decree by which God, owing to His infallible prescience of the future, has appointed and ordained from eternity all events occurring in time, especially those which directly proceed from, or at least are influenced by, man's free will. It includes all historical facts, as for instance the appearance of Napoleon or the foundation of the United States, and particularly the turning-points in the history of supernatural salvation, as the mission of Moses and the Prophets, or the election of Mary to the Divine Motherhood. Taken in this general sense, predestination clearly coincides with Divine Providence and with the government of the world, which do not fall within the scope of this article (see DIVINE PROVIDENCE).

I'm not Catholic. But my mother once was, and her mother and siblings remained so plus I had a number of friends who were, so over the years I got a taste of it. It is likely an erroneous one, of course.

It does not matter. The concepts seem opposed to each other. If you have free will then your future is not yet determined but if there is predestination then your future is already written. If you wish to ignore specific religious connotations, the concepts still exist. We have a choice about our futures (optimist) or the path is already laid out (fatalist).

Do you believe in fate? I first started thinking about this concept of fate when I was quite young but was exposed to the concept of the "soul-mate" or "the one" when it came to love. The idea was that everyone had that perfect mate... somewhere in the world. "The one" you were intended to meet and spend the rest of your life with.

It struck my young brain as incongruous (that wasn't the word I used then, I am sure) that one's "soul mate" might be alive and pining for you in some far off land. So many people seemed to find "the one" in their home towns. Sometimes... even right next door.

Then there was the inevitability factor. Fate made sure that your paths crossed. This is also expressed with this phrase: "Everything happens for a reason" or "It was meant to be." And, as I went through my teens and early twenties, I found a number of girls who thought I was "the one." One young lady, heavy into astrology, even managed to chart our stars to show how we were "meant to be." I think these girls were just enamored of the idea of "one true love" and fit things together sort of after-the-fact once we met. I am sure any number of you have come across a potential "one true love" a number of times in your life.

I thought about this concept the other day, Saturday, just after being hit by a golf ball . Here are a few things that crossed my mind:

1. If I had not been standing with my back turned to Pete, I would have seen the ball coming and avoided being hit.
2. Had the ball hit me two inches to the left, it could have crushed my Achilles Tendon.
3. Had the ball hit me two inches to the right, it could have crushed my posterior tablofibular ligament.
4. Had the ball hit me two inches higher, it would have certainly broken my ankle at the talus.

Any of the last three would have left me severely injured. Maybe left me with permanent damage. The ball may be small but it was traveling in excess of 40 MPH and it is quite hard. They aren't replacing ankles just yet. Instead, I have a small round bruise and some minor pain.

So, "fate" not only allowed me to be in the right position at the right time (or wrong time, if you will) so that Pete could get clumsy just at that moment and hit the ball, unwittingly, in such a fashion as to cause me some great pain but not to break anything. I could have shuffled just a little left or a little right and had a much worse injury. The ball could have flown higher and hit me in the back or the head. Yet it didn't.

The "free will" in this was my choosing where to stand. Joe and I had just moved further to the left so as to be clear of a slightly errant (the most likely scenario) shot of Pete's. Had we stayed where we were, neither of us would have been hit.

Call it what you will, I call it "coincidence."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

This was written a few years ago when Mom was still alive. I have decided I would make it a tradition to post it each Mother's Day.

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

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

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

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

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

Mom passed away on July 25th of 2008. Rest in peace, Mom, rest in peace. I miss you every day but you remain in my heart.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

First your knee, then your...

I'm obviously jinxed. Unlucky. Living under a black cloud.

I play golf. It's a fairly safe game, as sports go. A blister or two is the worst that's likely to happen to you on a golf course. Well, there are those stray balls that might land in your area now and then. They usually miss. Usually.

I was standing almost in the rough on the left side of the fairway. Hole 15, it was, at Golf Hammock Country Club. The other two players of our foursome were on the other side of the fairway and maybe 20 yards back. Reasonably safe. I thought. Until Pete's shanked "worm burner" slammed into my right heel.

There was no time for a warning. To be frank, it wouldn't have done much good since the natural reaction would be to duck, not sidestep. Pete was, of course, mortified and apologetic. He didn't do it on purpose. It was just an accident, after all. I'm pretty sure of that. Pete's not that accurate.

Fortunately, we only had two holes to go and the pain subsided quite a bit within a few minutes. And now I am happily settled on the living room sofa with my feet up watching old westerns on Turner Classic Movies.

What a nice day...

Friday, May 6, 2011

A signpost up ahead... You are entering "The Twilight Zone"

I'm fairly stupid, in a relative sense. And relativity is what this is about. Einstein and relativity. Einstein looms large over modern technology and space travel. I came across a couple of articles that intrigued me. Well, the headlines intrigued me. Headlines are supposed to do that. Intrigue us, that is. This one grabbed my attention:

NASA's Gravity Probe B Confirms Two Einstein Space-Time Theories

Read more:

When I say I am "fairly stupid", I mean much of the article makes little sense to me. The article is talking about the effect of earth (or any large object in space) on the space-time surrounding it. Also called the "geodetic effect." So, basically, I am dumbfounded because I don't know what that means.

We know that the earth's rotation has an effect on the shape of the earth. It causes the slight "bulge" of the equator. How do we know that? Through math, through experimentation, and through logic. To be fair, we don't really know that or understand the math involved. We, the general public, believe it to be true because we are told it is true by people who are supposed to know this stuff and who, presumably, understand the math involved. And your teachers and the scientists they rely on have never been wrong, have they?

I am one of those people who believe that everything is a matter of scale. Therefore, if an object the size of earth can have an effect on the time-space surrounding it then all objects have some (not yet measurable) effect around them. That means you and I, reader. We are constantly affecting the space-time around us. Oh, certainly by an infinitesimal amount but affect it we must. If we cannot measure the effect, it does not mean it doesn't exist. We couldn't make those measurements that we can now back when Einstein formulated his theories. Had he not formulated his theories, we might not have even known enough to try to measure it.

The mind (mine, that is) boggles.

I still can't understand time at the north (or south) pole. is it faster, relative to the equator? Or is it slower, relative to the equator. Add space to the mix and I am completely lost.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Death of an Evil Man

Normally, I would not post this except on my political day (Saturday) but it is what it is and I felt I needed to say this.

It seems that some Special Ops folks (Navy SEALs, we are told) slipped into Pakistan, located, and killed Usama bin Laden on May 1st. This is one of those "seminal moments" in history. There will be consequences from this event that will affect us for many years to come. Some good, some bad.

There are reports that the U.S. now believes it can destroy al Qaeda. Maybe so. Maybe not. Bin Laden's death may have some adverse effects, it may become a recruiting tool, it may become an inspiration to jihadists worldwide. Soon, some will begin to question his death. Claims will be made that it was faked and that bin Laden is still alive. There will also be stories that he was slain in some cowardly way; executed because they didn't want to arrest him, because they feared him. Yes, these will be contradictory but they will both be believed. He will become a rallying cry.

Or maybe not. Maybe sanity will strike the minds of his followers and jihadist "wannabe's" and they'll turn away from thoughts of revenge and violence.

No, I don't think that will happen either.

The complexity that is terrorism will not go away quietly. And we are in for a long period of attempted attacks. Some of these attempts will be successful. We will again be horrified, angry, and vengeful. A new face will become the very image of evil.

Already, the Taliban is claiming we (the U.S.) should now withdraw from Afghanistan. After all, the reason we invaded and stay was to kill or capture bin Laden. That's done. What reason do we have to stay?

What reason will the U.S. public accept?

I understand why bin Laden was killed. I understand why he was buried at sea (I would call it "dumping"). What I don't understand is the apparent belief that things will get easier in the next few years now that he's gone. It won't. He wasn't calling the shots anymore. I read one article (or maybe a comment) that said bin Laden was the "mastermind" behind the 9-11 attacks. He wasn't, that was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I belive that bin Laden's role was primarily as financier. Regardless, his role in the past several years has been to hide successfully and make the occasional audio tape condemning the "Great Satan" and the West in general and promising more attacks, spectacular ones.

I think we should have simply mentioned he was killed as a small story in the news.

"And, in Pakistan, Usama bin Laden was found by U.S. troops and died in the operation. Now for the weather..."

But I am rational enough to know that would never have happened. The president has decided that the picture of bin Laden's dead body will not be released.

First reason: "It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool."

Rebuttal: The fact that he was killed by U.S. military peronnel is enough incitement and enough propaganda for the jihadists of the world. A picture being released will not add anything to that.

2nd reason: "And I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk."

Unless it reveals some great secret about how the SEAL teams operate then it causes no more security risk than the fact of his death does.

3rd reason: In response to the following question:

"There are people in Pakistan for example, who say, look, this is all a lie. Obama, this is another American trick. Osama is not dead. "

The president said: "[W]e don't think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference."

Then why not just release it? The reasons are patently absurd. It will not affect our standing in the world, it will not change the minds of jihadists, and it will not create any national security risk.

Personally, I don't care if it's released or not. In addition to not causing any real problems, it won't create any "closure" or bring any of the dead back. What I care about is honesty. I am not seeing that coming from this White House. And I am tired of it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Father figures

I got a periodical from AARP today. I am beginning to notice something. There are ads for insurance; life, health, auto & motorcycle. A lot of ads. I especially like the auto insurance ads which claim savings of $300 or more if I switch from my current company. Some of them are from my current company. I find it fascinating that each of them claims they can save that much. They can't all save that kind of money, can they?

The other ads I noticed are for security and emergency response systems and for increased sexual performance. Apparently, we seniors are a randy lot who need to have the safety and security of a call button.

All those years of my youth avoiding even the contemplation of getting old and wrinkled and never a thought to sex over 50. Ok, even over 40. Little did I know...

I am beginning to think I have underestimated the human capacity for ignoring dignity in the face of momentary pleasure. And the foolishness of old men.

We ogle women young enough to be our granddaughters. Shamelessly. I used to laugh when I heard stories of my paternal grandfather flirting with the young female cashiers at the local supermarkets. He didn't stand a chance, of course, but I don't think he cared. He felt he was "still in the game."

It is a game, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Just why are we here?

Sometimes, when I am musing, I become convinced of the absurdity of life. What is the point? When I was younger, the question was always "Why are we here?" the answer, generally, was "to help others." Sounds nice, doesn't it?

If we are here to help others, why are they here? To provide us with a reason to be here? To be the victims of life's unfairness?

Then there's the whole question of "here"... If you look at the graphic in "I think I'm lost" you can see our planet sits about half of the way out on one arm of the spiral galaxy we call "the Milky Way" and that galaxy is one of billions in the universe. So my question would be, "Why this planet in this particular galaxy in this particular part of the vast (and seemingly endless) universe?"

I mean, that's what I think about when someone asks that old question about the reason for our existence.

And then there's all these other things that make no sense to me. For instance, I play golf. There is no real point to golf. Hit the ball, find the ball, hit the ball again. It's just an excuse to get out of the house.

Games of any kind amuse me. Not playing them but contemplating them. Card games, dice games, board games, mind games...

I like to play a computer version of Monopoly. It is a microcosm of life. Randomness intertwined with planning. The goals are similar to life:

Amass a fortune.
Acquire property.
Keep out of jail.
Crush your opponent(s).

Using guile and sneakiness and luck, you can outfox your opponents and wipe them off the board, taking over their property in the process.

Easy to do... if the dice fall your way.

And aren't these the basics of life?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Growing old ungracefully

There are any number of reasons why aging gracefully is difficult to do. Most of them involve denial, I think. I look in the mirror and, though I am sure these register somewhere deep within my brain, I see no flab, no love handles, no sagging belly. I somehow only acknowledge that 19 year old I once was.

Snap! Crackle! Pop!

That used to be the sound of a certain cereal. Still is. Rice Krispies. Now it's the sound of my ankles and knees. No pain, just the noise. They sound very loud. Faye can hear them. There are my footsteps and these sounds are the background noise between each step. It is a signal of problems to come, I am sure.

When I was in my pre-teens and teens, I cracked my knuckles. Just because I could. Now I don't. I was told, back then, that cracking my knuckles would lead to arthritis. Didn't happen. At least, not yet. I suspected it was a myth. Like smoking would stunt one's growth. Or eating sweets or greasy food gave one acne. Since I ate a lot of greasy food and sweets and never got more than two pimples at a time, I easily learned that was a myth. And I was grateful. Like all teens, I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror, examining my face for zits. But I was fortunate. My voice changed smoothly, too.

I thought I would age that way. Smoothly, slowly, so I could adapt to it.


Old age isn't creeping up slowly. It's making leaps and bounds. I can't stretch as far, bend as well, or even look over a shoulder as easily as I once did. And these came on suddenly.

Oh, sure, the stiffness might have come on slowly and steadily if I had stretched and bent, and twisted my head on a regular basis. And I would have absorbed it, adapted to it. But I didn't. Instead, I fell into that trap of "improving efficiency." Some people call it "expanding laziness."

As we age, I think we learn to do things more efficiently. Or, as we used to say, "Work smarter, not harder." I took that to heart. And I tried to attain the ultimate... no work at all. I use remote control devices. I don't lift with my knees, I get someone else to lift whatever needs lifting whenever I can.

And now? Now I can't do deep knee bends unless it's to touch my toes.