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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Call me when you sit down

Have you been "butt dialed?" You know, maybe instinctively, what that is. It is a situation that was impossible a few decades ago. Maybe even ten years ago. It required technological advances in telecommunications. We never consider the consequences of those advances, do we?

Even though we call it "butt dialing", that isn't really what happens. Your butt cannot actually dial a phone, no matter how "smart" your phone is. I would bet you don't ever carry your phone in your back pocket either. I don't. I no longer even carry a wallet there. I got tired of sitting on it. The wallet, that is.

I stopped carrying a wallet a couple of years ago when my sister-in-law gave me one of those large money/credit card clips. When I was 18, I put my wallet in the glove compartment of my car and left it there. I only needed it to carry my license anyway, I carried what little cash I had in my right front pocket. Still do. I would never even think of putting a cell phone in one of my back pockets. I would guess no one would. You'd sit on it and break it!

Therefore, a "butt dial" is not really what happens but it is an amusing term. What really happens (and I am guessing here because it is impossible for me to do with my cell phone) is that it is a shirt pocket, a purse, or a front pocket near or next to something the owner wants. As the person gropes around for whatever it is, his hand, fingers, maybe knuckles, come in contact with the cell phone and trigger an auto dial.

It is an amazing thing. I got a "butt dialed" call the other day from a friend whom I had just given my new phone number to. We had spent more than a couple of minutes trying to figure out how to get to his "contacts" page so we could put the phone number in. There's no shortcut to dial a number. It is several key presses on just about every phone I have ever seen.

Being the recipient of one of these calls is frustrating. You answer your phone, you hear voices in the background. The "caller" is talking to someone else. You shout into the phone, perhaps (I do), trying to get the caller's attention. But he can't hear you because of the noise around him and because that phone is in his pocket. And who listens to talking pockets? Even in my most drunken state, my most blitzed out stoned condition and hallucinating, I never once acknowledged a talking pocket.

Can you imagine chatting with someone and saying, "Just a minute, I have to answer my pocket."

The reason I can take that superior position and say I won't make one of these calls is simple, I prefer flip phones. There is no way I can accidentally hit any buttons no matter where I put my phone.

You already know, if you are a regular reader of this blog or know me personally, that I am not a fan of cell phones. I grew up before even cordless phones existed. Our first phone was a party line and had no dial or buttons. Touchtone was still years away. You would pick up the handset (which weighed a couple of pounds, I think) and a voice would ask "Number please?" There were no auto dialers, no answering machines, no voice mail, no voice menus, and probably no hold buttons on most business phones. These all came later. Phones were hard-wired to a small gray box on your wall down near the baseboard. You had one phone in your house unless you were rich. Who needed more than one phone?

People would leave their houses and go shopping or to work and no one could reach them easily for hours at a time. Phone calls were special things. People would run to answer a ringing phone.

And now? Now we "butt dial."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nooks and craniums

I have succumbed to the modern age. No, I didn't buy a smart phone or start a Twitter account. What I did was buy an e-Reader. To be specific, I bought a Barnes and Noble Nook Color. Of course, I'm lost and confused. Faye says we can "check out" digital books through our local library access. The local library does not directly provide this service but gives us access through their website to the Tampa library which does provide the service.

So far, I have only read some of the Nook User's Guide.

I am not sure I will like this form of reading. I have a hard time reading through lengthy documents online, much harder than reading paper documents. I am afraid I will do more skimming and skipping ahead, knowing I can easily jump back and find relevant sections if needed. I do this with paper books, of course, but the searching is more difficult and discourages skimming for me. I pay close attention to what I read. When I was younger, my perception was better and it allowed me to read quickly and accurately. I have lost more of that talent/trait than I would like to admit. As a result, I read much more slowly than I once did. It does not help that I must use reading glasses.

One of the reasons I wanted to get the Nook is its limited "tablet" ability. I wanted something lighter and easier to carry when I went on short trips out of town. I need to be able to read email, answer some of it, and access the internet. The Nook has these abilities, though I am barely able to use them yet. I like technology but my ability to learn these days is a little hampered.

Since I am cheap, I don't want to spend a lot of money on books; one of the reasons I like our public libraries. But there is something available called Project Gutenberg [link]. This is a wonderful service which provides downloadable digital copies of a huge number of classic books. They support the e-Readers. So the very first book I have loaded onto my Nook is "Dracula" by Bram Stoker. I am sure there will be many more.

I am going to miss the feel of a book, the turning of actual pages, the physicality of a book. But I cannot fight technological progress.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sweet solitude

I am a loner. This does not mean that I am lonely or that I have no friends. It just means that my closest friend, the one I am most comfortable with is... myself. My mother once told me that she worried that I would never marry because I was a loner. She said this in spite of the number of girlfriends I had had since I was in my early to mid teens. None of these relationships lasted very long; a few weeks, a few months, so maybe she did have some reason to believe that.

There is nothing wrong with being a loner. Even though the usual description of the crazed gunman who slaughters his family and a number of strangers is "He kept to himself, he was quiet, a loner." I view my loner-ness differently, of course. I am comfortable with it, secure in it. It is my cocoon.

My father was a loner. He was also a salesman, a job you would think a loner might shy away from. He became another man when on the job. He would smile and laugh and schmooze with clients and potential clients. He knew what the job required and he was pretty successful at it. But, at home, he was quiet. He didn't socialize much or care to be in crowds or bring home guests for dinner. He puttered about, doing those little things that needed doing in and around a house without asking for help very often. And when he did "ask" for help, there was little conversation after he told you what to do and how to do it. He did not chat with us kids or with Mom.

I am pretty much set in my way now that I have made it to my mid-60's. I don't like to go out, don't care to attend functions, or even go to dinner with others. I do these, though, because I know that Faye enjoys these things and keeping Faye happy is better than letting her get unhappy.

I am not a joiner. When I rode a motorcycle, I joined no clubs, sought out no one to ride with. I often went on solo rides in no particular direction with no destination in mind. You can't seem to do that in a group; groups seem to need a destination, a goal, some reason to be out there.

I have friends with whom I play golf. That is pretty much all the socializing I do. It's fun and I hang around after the round and chat with these folks. But I would just as soon head home and be alone.

As a child, I would play with the neighborhood kids but I didn't usually seek them out. I was just as happy if no one came by. But there was a benefit for my mother; if no one came by and I stayed home, I didn't bug my mother for something to do or pester her with "I'm bored!" I would read or watch TV or play in my room or in the cellar or in the back yard. Or I might go off to the woods to wander around. If I ran into some of the neighborhood kids, I'd hook up with them and do whatever they were doing.

I don't envy people who are gregarious and social, I just cannot do it myself. I feel as awkward as a new born puppy in social situations. The worst, of course, are formal gatherings or ceremonies. Even though I am comfortable with this quirk of personality, I understand why others think it strange.

Such a pity... I think it should be rewarded. But, then, I would, wouldn't I?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Speak clearly

Words are fascinating things to me. Not so fascinating that I am fixated on them, or obsessed with them, but that they amuse me. Sometimes single words that sound alike but have very different meanings or words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently or mean different things. Their usage is dictated by context. And context is very important.

Take the word "draw" for an example. Draw means what? Create a picture with a stylus of some kind (pencil, pen, crayon, chalk, etc). You can create a picture with a paintbrush but that isn't drawing, is it? And you can scratch a picture into clay or stone or metal but that isn't drawing either. But draw is not just that, is it?

Draw can mean to collect or take up, as in "draw water" or "draw a bath". It's still a verb but the meaning is entirely different.

Just look at all the meanings of the word "draw"...

Why am I babbling about this? Well, Faye was standing there, not saying anything, and I looked at her. She looked at me. We looked at each other in silence and then she said, "I drew a blank."

"How do you do that?" I asked and used my finger to draw a square in the space in front of my face.

"Just like that, I suppose," she offered.

And of course, as wives always are, she was right. I had drawn a blank. But wait a minute, what is a "blank?" One of its meanings is: "Devoid of writing, images, or marks." If a blank is, by definition, not an image, how can one draw it? A blank seems to be nothing. And if it is nothing than how can one take it (another meaning of draw)? Or make an image of it?

I am, therefore, befuddled. Befuddle is a word that amuses me. The "be" means it is being done by someone or something. The word, then, is to "make fuddle." Looking "fuddle" up clarifies things a bit. It is a state of confusion or intoxication. I am very familiar with both of those states. It now makes some sense to me.

Unlike disgruntle. Which is, even when you know the meaning of it, mystifying. It's the prefix "dis" which causes my fuddle in this case. We commonly use this prefix to show the opposite. Dislike, for example. Or disassemble. But disgruntle seems to mean the same as gruntle. I think it would make more sense if it was "begruntle". Gruntle, you see, is an old Middle English word which translates to "grumble" and the "dis", in this case, means "to" so "disgruntle" means "to grumble"... more or less.

But it puts me in dismay. Which makes absolutely no sense. If we are not dismayed by something, we are not then mayed, are we?

In golf, we might "draw a ball". This means we hit the ball on a gentle arc that not only goes up and forward but also moves slightly to the left. We "fade" a ball when we hit in and it goes from left to right in a similar, but opposite, arc. The more severe right to left change of direction is called "hooking" (which is something else entirely when applied to social interactions) and the more severe of its opposite is called "slicing."

A friend remarked to me... "the only way I can draw a ball is with a crayon." And that is the true joy of words like these that have multiple, unrelated, meanings. You can engage in punnery (which is not a word but should be). Which brings me to a joke...

An older man, a bachelor all his life, was addicted to golf. He played every chance he got. He also partied a bit. One morning he woke up with a fetching young lady in his bed. He woke her up and asked what she was doing there.

"You don't remember? We got married last night," said the woman.

"Wow! I must have really tied one on, I don't remember anything about last night. Well, I am a man of honor and I will live up to my vows. I suppose it is time I married and settled down. But there is one thing you should know about me; I like to play golf and I will play golf whenever I can. If you can handle that, I suppose we'll get along fine," replied our gentleman.

"As long as we are going to stay married, there is something you should know about me too. I'm a hooker," said the young woman.

"Not a problem. You just need to turn your hands more to the left on the club."

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Borrowing from Xing to pay Deng

I am a simple man. I was raised by a not so simple mother who was, in my family, in charge of the savings and checking accounts and paying the bills. My father had the utmost confidence in her ability to do this. This confidence was perhaps unwarranted. But he did not know about the times the electricity was turned off or saw the red-bordered letters from creditors. I did. I saw these things. I learned from them.

During my first marriage, my future ex-wife (Barbara) also was in charge of paying the bills. The mortgage payment was automatically paid out of a savings account we had at the savings and loan which held the loan. We then set up a checking account at another bank for Barbara to pay the other bills from. Everything seemed to be fine. Three years after those accounts were set up, I saw a red-bordered envelope from San Diego Gas & Electric.

I queried Barbara about the bill.

Me: Why is this bill more than 30 days overdue?

She: Don't worry about it. Bills don't have to be paid on time. Businesses never pay them right away.

Me: We are not a business. We pay our bills when we get them, we do not put them off.

She: Fine! You pay them from now on!

Picking up the checkbook, I examined the section where you write in the check number and date and who it was to and the amount, and the balance. I noticed that the last entry was 10 checks short of the one which would be next. I also noted that the balance was at least a month old. In other words, I had no idea how much money was in the account.

Me: What's the current balance? Why aren't the last 9 checks in the register?

She: I know about how much is in there, there's plenty to pay that bill.

Beside being an indication of why she is now my ex-wife (there were a number of other reasons also), it was horrifying to me that anyone would be that blase' about finances. I never ended up with control of that checkbook. And we never had the power shut off. Or the phone. Or anything else. But I never felt quite so secure after that.

Let's apply this to the country in which I live. We have a huge national debt. The number just boggles the mind. There is a big debate going on in Congress about raising the debt ceiling. I don't understand that. Are we borrowing money to pay on our debt? That makes no sense. There's an old idiom that goes "Rob Peter to pay Paul." It's meaning is clear: it is not good to take or borrow from one to pay the debt owed to another.

When you find yourself regularly getting new credit cards and moving your debt to the new cards with higher credit limits, that's what you are doing. If you take out a second mortgage in order to make payments on your first mortgage, you are in big trouble.

I don't want the government to raise the debt ceiling. I want the government to reduce spending. Congress is trying to find some compromise between spending cuts and increasing taxes in order to pass a bill raising the debt ceiling. If a compromise is reached, and the debt ceiling is raised, listen for the *tink* of the can being kicked down the road. It is wrong. It is stupid.

It is past time to cut spending. It was time 30 or 40 years ago. But Congress has continued to spend. And spend more than the government takes in each year. It borrows to cover the shortfall. And borrows and borrows and borrows.

The reckoning is coming and it will hurt. Your children and your children's children are likely to end up responsible for that debt and will have to suffer much worse than we would if our elected representatives started an austerity program. I fear for the future of my grandchildren. I fear for the future of America.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hot and Humid in Miami

Watching Burn Notice tonight (yes, I am hooked on that show), a thought came to me. Usually, thoughts come and go without notice in my brain but this one stuck around.

The plot for the series is that an ace intelligence agent of superior talent and instincts gets "burned" and left to wallow away in that slum called Miami (and, it seems, specifically in South Beach) with nothing between him and misery but a sexy girlfriend who is an arms and explosives expert bar none and an ex-SEAL and FBI agent.

Really? In my life as a run-of-the-mill whatever, I have never seen such a thing. Anyone who got fired or pushed aside in a job of any kind deserved it to some extent. I mean, you wouldn't get that kind of treatment unless you were completely expendable. I know. Personally. If you wanted a transfer or a better position in a company, you don't show your talents off, you hide them. No one easily gives up a star employee.

If "Michael Westen" was a threat, they'd have killed him and no one would have ever found the body. Or they'd have promoted him into oblivion.

But I love this show! I just have no idea why... maybe it's that sexy girlfriend.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

One ringie-dingie, two ringie-dingies

Yesterday was a busy day. One of the things I accomplished was setting up my new phone. I established a Vonage account and phone. A simple feat with large repercussions. It's all in the hopes of reducing my monthly bills. Being retired, I find myself on what is known as a "fixed income". I have learned that this term actually means "I'm darn near broke." In order not to reach actual brokeness, I have imposed some cost-cutting measures.

Just like our government.

Well, not quite. I haven't just argued about the cost-cutting, I have actually done some.

Being retired means you learn to do things you once did as a callous youth making minimum wage (or close to). You learn to appreciate the fine dining available at 4 PM when the "Early Bird" menu rules. You learn to wait for movies to come to HBO or Showtime rather than go to a theater when they first come out. You find yourself wandering through flea markets as entertainment and not buying anything. This last prompts you to consider cleaning out the garage and bringing the stuff that you never use to the flea market to sell. You wisely decide that would entail work and remind yourself that you are retired. The garage will keep until after your funeral.

I had something like Vonage a number of years ago. AT&T offered it then. Since I was an employee at the time, I was offered a chance to test it for them as a subscriber. It was free during the test. It worked out quite well. After the test phase was over, I kept it, switched my old Bellsouth number to it, and used it until I moved to Sebring where it was not available. The nicest thing about AT&T's offering was that AT&T picked up the tab so my phone service was free. But AT&T, in its inscrutable wisdom, decided that it didn't want to be in the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) business and dropped the service.

This left me few options except for Vonage or our local phone company, Century Link (nee Embarq). Have you looked at your phone bill? A simple $35 "landline" phone service is $52 per month. The difference is all fees and taxes. Add in DSL service and the bill doubles. There will be fees and taxes on the Vonage bill too but not as much. And Comcast provided the cable modem for a modest cost which allowed me to dump the DSL.

I am comfortable with electronics and computers so I knew all the terminology involved in setting up the Vonage service. One needs to be able to pronounce "&*^%^%!" and "$%$#$%!" along with several other similar technical terms in order to install such things. Having served in our country's Navy, I had a good foundation in this terminology which has been honed by over 30 years in the telecommunications field. And golf, of course.

I found I had little need for that knowledge, however, a child could have done this quickly and easily. Not having a child available, it took me a bit longer than expected.

I have a friend* who is an even tighter tightwad than I. He bought one of those Magic Jack thingies. [Is this the number I dialed?] Both use the same technology, VoIP, but they do it differently. Magic Jack requires your computer to do much of the work and that means the computer must be running in order to have phone service. Vonage (like AT&T's) does not need that, its adapter works directly off the cable modem or DSL.

The quality beats Magic Jack hands down. On the other hand, Magic Jack service costs less than 1/12 what Vonage does. There are trade-offs that must be considered.

Within a few days, I will call Century Link and ask/tell/order them to remove their service. And then go out and celebrate. Maybe I will even have a fine meal after the Early Bird menu is no longer available. Nah, probably not.

* a friend is anyone who does not avoid me on a regular basis

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Flyboys redux

Some time ago, I mentioned the book "Flyboys" by James Bradley (who also wrote "Flags of Our Fathers"). Having run out of books to read after the last volume in Dean Koontz' "Frankenstein" series*, I picked up "Flyboys" to re-read. The only thing I didn't like about the book the first time through was his justifying Japan's growth into a militaristic and expansionist empire with America's own Manifest Destiny period. Re-reading that section didn't alter that reaction.

You see, you can't stop with America. We inherited that expansionist mindset from our former ruler, England, who learned it from Rome, who learned it from the Greeks and Persians, and so on back into the dawn of human emergence. I was especially irked by the part which centered on the Mexican-American War. I don't justify that war. We pretty much wanted it, worked toward it, and made sure it came to pass. The end result was our taking control of what are the southwestern states of today. It stops there. He does not mention that Mexico was in control of that land because Spain had done the same thing. Spain had taken over what is now Mexico, much of Central and South America, killed or enslaved the natives it found, and created a huge empire in the Americas. The French had done this in what is now called Canada and the central region of the United States. Why should the blame start or end with the U.S.? He doesn't blame only the U.S., he also blames all the Western Powers for their racist treatment of Asians, choking off little Japan and keeping them in their place. But it's America which seems to represent the main impetus for Japan's expansionism.

It is true that we did try to hold Japan back. And I am sure our motives were not "pure"... in the sense of protecting weak and fractured China or European-dominated southeast Asia "nations" (colonies). There were solid commercial interests involved. Colonialism was morphing into something different, something we might call economic colonialism.

One of the great things about World War II was that it brought about a change in human civilization. Instead of conquer and acquire, trade became the new tactic. Instead of taking military control of a region or nation, trade agreements would be established. Certainly, these agreements we negotiated from a position of strength with regions/nations which needed the trade and, therefore, in a weaker position. But the militarily imposed regimes, preceded by the wanton destruction that is war, became "wrong" in the eyes of the world. In fact, the end of World War II was the dawn of of age of shrinking physical empire and the beginning of independence for the colonies of of the Western Powers.

Maybe World War II was a necessary step in the evolution of civilization.

The U.S. was not in existence when Japan first met with outside influence; the Americas had yet to be discovered by Europe. In fact, the famed Kamikaze legend came from attacks from the Asian mainland by Kublai Khan in 1274 and 1280. In the 1500's, the European, not American, powers arrived in Japan, introducing Christianity and guns. Soon after, Japan began experimenting with expansionism into Asia.

Why stop with America's sordid period of expansion? Why seemingly blame America's Manifest Destiny for Japan's rise as a world power? Possibly because that was the main thrust of Japanese justification for their expansionism. America was the "Big Dog" that had the best chance to halt Japan's ambitions in the Pacific.

I have no pie in the sky view of my country's past but I understand it in the context of the times in which these sordid events occurred. Just as today administrations do what they believe is in the best interests of the country, so did those administrations. We often judge the past through the filter of current mores and knowledge. It doesn't change the past, we can't actually undo our mistakes. When we try, we usually make worse ones in the process.

In spite of that slant, I do love this book. And that slant is important in understanding the traditions which were distorted and used by the militarists who ran Japan and brought it to the brink of destruction with World War II.

I recommend the book to anyone interested in what I consider the most interesting period in the last 100 years.

*If you like Koontz and you like Frankenstein, this series is excellent. Koontz at his best, I think, and the tale of Frankenstein modernized.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

All these channels I hate to watch

If you are like me and spend way too much time and money on your in home TV entertainment, you are also as confused as I am why the providers of such aren't seen as monopolies. Way back when (1984), the telecommunications was hit by something called Divestiture. AT&T was a monopoly, they said. It must be broken up and competition would reduce costs and increase innovation.

And so it was done. Prices sure have come down, haven't they?

At that time, I thought it was a bad idea. I later changed my mind. I think it was a good thing but poorly implemented. For instance, Divestiture came with a "network access fee". This fee was supposed to pay for the local operating companies to upgrade their equipment to all digital. Thirty seven years later, telecommunications is all digital and the fee is still there and higher than it was. Why are we still paying it? It was basically a charge to allow the long distance companies to more easily access us, the consumers. It should end. Now.

Back then, we didn't have digital satellite. You had an ugly antenna on your house (or rabbit ears on your TV set) or you had cable. You know about cable? They would come into your region, set up shop and lobby for a monopoly to provide television signals. If your county commissioners weren't corrupt before the cable companies showed up, they certainly were afterward.

It made sense that the cable companies got a monopoly. After all, they had to run the coaxial cable throughout the area (what we call "infrastructure") and there wouldn't be much point to investing all that money if you had to compete with someone else. It was reasonable at the time to give them a closed to outside competition marketplace. But when AT&T lost its monopoly, I got the idea that we could tear down other monopolies and the one I thought about most was cable.

My plan was simple: Turn over the delivery of the cable signal to the local operating phone companies. All a competing cable company would then have to do is offer content. The infrastructure would be in place, the customer would have choices in who provided his entertainment services. Who knows? We might not have to buy all those channels we don't want in order to get the few we do. Competition would give the customers more power.

But no one listened to me. The cable lobby was too powerful.

Sad, isn't it?

Sure, digital satellite service is the competition right now for cable. You really think so?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The brick wall at the end of the universe

So I am watching Through the Wormhole on the Science Channel and the episode is exploring the shape of the universe. What? You didn't think the shape of the universe is important? Hundreds of people, maybe thousands, are employed to contemplate and investigate it. Therefore, it must be important.

If we accept the theory of the Big Bang, we need to accept that the universe is nothing more than an explosion. That would mean it has a center point and extends out in all directions. Astronomical observations have tended to show this. And, in my experience, explosions always spread out in all directions.

Without knowing the actual shape of the miniscule but incredibly dense whatever-it-was that exploded (assuming something did), the shape of the universe can't be extrapolated. We could assume that the force was equal in all directions from the center. If the whatever-it-was was perfectly spherical then the universe should be spherical. However, the mass of the particles expelled from the center can influence the path of nearby particles.

Thinking about that, it bothers me that we say the universe is 13.75 (or so) Billion years old. Measured from where? Not from Earth, surely. We are not at the outer edge of the universe. We aren't even at the outer edge of our galaxy. Apparently, a number of factors and observations are used in calculating the universe's age. I know very little about this and my limited math background wouldn't be up to verifying the calculations anyway.

In spite of the title of the show, the conversation was all about what might be beyond it.

I'd rather think about the shape of Miss Universe.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A quiet dinner conversation

While I was enjoying a reunion with an old buddy [Blast from the past], we had dinner at your usual over-priced steak house. A fine dinner. I should provide a little background before I get into this too deeply. Rick and Ellen are liberal. Faye and I are conservative. This can make conversations awkward if politics comes up as a subject... or even as a tangent. Rick wasn't always very liberal. He was mostly indifferent to politics, I thought. I got the impression that he still is. Ellen is more ideological, more invested.

When you have a marriage where the spouses disagree on political matters, when they are poles apart, one of two things will happen. One spouse will bend to the other or they'll be a divorce or murder in their future. I might be overstating the problem just a bit but I think I caught the essence. Often, the spouse with the weakest belief will simply "go along to get along."

As we talked, dancing around the 500 pound gorilla which is politics and which was sitting right there with us, the subject snuck into the conversation. It is difficult these days to avoid politics. The economy, however, came up and that led us into political philosophy. As we struggled to express ourselves regarding what should be done about the rapidly expanding national debt without offending each other or triggering an argument, Rick said something which has remained with me...

"I guess it depends upon what you think government should do. How much it should help."

I think my clever, witty, and sage response was "Bingo!" But I didn't yell it, I practically whispered it.

Because isn't Rick's premise what our current political battles are all about? And isn't that the essence of the battle between Left and Right?

I think we all agree that government should provide a safety net for those who find themselves in dire straits. The question is how that safety net should be constructed. Conservatives are not nearly as hard-hearted as they are portrayed. I think they strongly believe in the adage:

"Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life."

I also think conservatives are afraid of dependency. Not for themselves so much but for others. A common enough emotion, fear, that permeates both the liberal and conservative ideologies. Both worry about the weakness of people but not their own. They know they are strong, it's other people who are at risk. I share that fear.

My father was the most independent person I have ever known. He was willing to help others but wanted no help for himself unless it was absolutely necessary. Or he had some ulterior motive... like teaching me a lesson about hangovers and hot sun and building a shed(a story for another time). The worst part of his life came when he had to move into assisted living. It meant he was dependent upon others. It was official. To him it meant he was no longer a man.

I got that gene. Mine is weaker, though. I don't mind asking for help, I don't feel lessened by it.

But this isn't about that so much as it is about the role of government. Should government be the first place or the last place to look for assistance? I don't think that will ever be answered. Except by saying "It depends."

Friday, June 17, 2011

In the beginning... what?

I have to stop watching the Science, Discovery, and other channels like it. It's addictive and has side effects. Mostly headaches caused by theoretical conundrums.

Take the Big Bang, for instance. I grew up thinking that the Big Bang theory pretty much summed up what happened. I could grasp it, it made some sense, it could even be reconciled on religious terms. But I was younger and not nearly as skeptical as I am now.

Since man first emerged as a sentient creature, he has wondered how it all came to be. Well before he had a clue as to what it all was, he wanted answers to that question. I, and many others, think this was how religion began... with that simple question, "How did it all start?" I think the answer is not all that important myself. At least, not as important as the question itself.

I know so very little that pertains to the physics involved. I wasted only a few months in college (and that was in two obscure junior colleges) before giving up and never took a physics course. My understanding of these things is that of a layman. In other words, I really do not understand the theories. Doesn't stop me from having an opinion (or opinions) about the beginning of time as we know it.

We all know a little about the Big Bang Theory, don't we? In the beginning, there was a singularity and then... "for no particular reason"... it blew up. And when it did, time began. That's the simple description. There is, of course, very complex math which provides the tentative proof of this and explains it in detail for those who have the background and education to understand it. I don't understand the math involved, it is way over my head.

Still, I think I grasp the concepts of the newer theories... except one. The ones I grasp are variations of the Big Bang. One of these is that the universe expands until it reaches a limit and then collapses down to that singularity which become critical again and boom another big Bang and a new universe. The other I like is that the universe expands until it reaches a critical point and then becomes the Big Bang for a larger universe which expands until it happens again. Think of universes inside of universes or vice versa. I like this better than the expand and collapse model mainly because the universe's expansion is not slowing and, in fact, may be increasing in velocity.

The one I don't understand at all is the one that involves multiverses. Something about a kind of bumping together which triggers the bang which becomes our universe.

There are many sticky things involved, not the least of which is the concept of time. I like to think of time as our fourth dimension. Things must exist with depth, width, height, and time. I mean, something could exist for no time but not in any universe we could perceive. Did time exist before the Big Bang? Or did it start with it?

None of it really matters, though, in the great scheme of things. At least, not to you and me. It won't make it any easier to pay our bills, increase our retirement accounts, or find us true love. Beyond those, nothing is important.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The news isn't all that bad

I like to wander aimlessly through the internet visiting whatever site catches my eye. And just how do I get started? Why, in Google News, of course. Various headlines act much like fishing lures do. Or a piece of string for the kitty. I chase them, try to catch the essence, and then I am distracted by some other Bright Shiny Thing and wander off.

For instance, I saw the following headline "Tiny Village is Latest Victim of The Hum" and so I followed it.

Which made me curious because I have, from time to time, felt just such a vibration. I say "felt" rather than "hear" because my experiences reminded me of one of those vibrating beds one used to find in motel rooms. A strong low frequency sound can emulate a vibration. This has been used in movies to simulate earthquakes that the audiences can feel. Anyone who has been next to a car with a very loud stereo playing something with a strong bass can understand it (if not the allure of riding in such a car).

So I looked a little further into The Hum. In Wikipedia, of course.

But then I was distracted by a headline about some video artist who posted a video montage of traffic in one intersection in New York City.

3-Way Street from ronconcocacola on Vimeo.

And, of course, was reminded of a video of a much worse intersection in India.

Compare them yourself...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Boys to men

I wrote about this before but it's worth revisiting. I have also written about how much society has changed since my childhood in the 50's. There's a link between the two, I believe. Let's explore this.

When I was a wee lad, boys were (according to girls) "icky". But boys were also going to grow up to be men and men were not "icky". Men were strong, men were smart, men were heroes. Not all of them, of course, but all boys had that potential. They could grow up to be strong, courageous, and smart. And they were taught this by society. You could be a skinny little kid but you could believe you would still grow up to be a strong man who could provide for, and protect, his family. Just like Dad.

Along the way (growing up), you found ideals. Young men or men that you would want to emulate. Policemen, firemen, cowboys, soldiers, sports figures at first then other, less stereotypical types, less socially important but more common but just as masculine.

Our heroes were on the silver screen or on TV; Dick Tracy, Marshal Matt Dillon (Gunsmoke), anyone portrayed by John Wayne or Errol Flynn. Strong men, firm men. Men with convictions, who were honest and incorruptible, fighting the "good fight."

Then came the era of the antihero. The flawed guy, the one who had the wrong motives or the bad past. "Jim Stark", played by James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause" brought that character to the forefront. These characters had been around for a long time. Mostly as flawed men who finally do the "Right Thing" and save the day. But Dean's character was different. He was lost, he had rejected the role society held out for him, he was lost, adrift, and when he did the right thing, it turned out bad.

Over the years since, more and more characters that could have been good role models had flawed lives, made lots of mistakes, with no direction in life. The most interesting thing about them was their rebelliousness.

Eventually, society elevated the anti-social as the ideal for young boys and men to emulate. Today, we have the "thug" as hero, glorified in Rap music (which still seems an oxymoron). I don't know where this will lead but I am not optimistic. I am hoping that the grandchildren of my peers will rebel against this and return to something closer to what I grew up with.

I'm just engaging in some wishful thinking.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Looking back... way back

There are times I almost think
I am not sure of what I absolutely know.
Very often find confusion
In conclusion I concluded long ago
In my head are many facts That,
as a student, I have studied to procure,
In my head are many facts..
Of which I wish I was more certain I was sure!

It is a puzzlement.
["A Puzzlement" from "The King and I"]

Everything in life is a puzzle. A strong statement, you say? But it's true. When we're born, we presumably know nothing at all about the world around us. I say "presumably" because I just do not remember those early days and years. It might be a matter of information overload.

I don't think we are really "blank slates" when we're born but that's an adequate description. Before we're born, we can feel. We react to sounds so we probably can hear. We might be able to see but what's to see? Our world is muffled, warm, and comfortable. And then we are born in violence. All at once we are assaulted by loud noise, bright light, and cold. We are grabbed, held, moved around in ways we have not experienced before.

And it doesn't stop. Large things pick us up, make noises at us, and we can't really see them in any detail. Yet we seem to know at least one of these things, we seem to be more comfortable with one of them almost right away. In the womb, we could hear and we probably would recognize the voices of our mothers in some way; it would seem familiar, maybe different since it is no longer muffled but still recognizable. Among all the cacaphony, hers would stand out. A comforting feeling might come over us. It will be another month before our eyes work well enough to focus properly and begin to recognize shapes as meaningful. Life is literally a blur colors, noise, and movement.

We are constantly absorbing knowledge during the first year after being born. Can you imagine how chaotic that must seem? And, out of that chaos, we begin to form our understanding of what it means to be alive.

We are constantly puzzled from the moment we're born. We try throughout our lives to make some sense of it. We seek answers to questions, we even seek the questions.

Yes, life is a puzzle. One we never really solve.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Buddy, can you spare an ice cube?

"Hot enough for you?"
"You could fry an egg on the sidewalk."

When my family moved us to south Florida back in 1956, few houses had any air conditioning. It was a luxury, an expensive luxury. And my family had no money for luxuries. Neither did the families of most of my friends. Houses were built to accommodate the breezes as much as possible and building was done as close to the coast as possible. We settled into a home that was maybe 5-7 miles from the ocean... as the seagull flies. I live 70 miles from the Gulf coast now, there are no cool breezes.

We spent most of the time at home in our Florida Room. That would be a screened in, roofed porch with cool ceramic tile on the floors. It also had jalousie windows which allowed the breeze in but could be closed against the rain. We ate all our meals out there, had the TV set out there, pretty much lived out there. I even slept out there from time to time. The windows of the house proper had hurricane awnings (big, heavy, wood awnings) which shaded the windows and allowed them to remain open so that the breeze could move the air in the house. We had 20" box fans which we would mount on windowsills to move the air around when there wasn't much of a breeze.

When we slept in our beds, we were either uncovered or just used a sheet as a cover. We slept in our underwear, never pajamas (which I slept in much of the time in New York). Modesty was also a luxury.

I actually developed an aversion to AC. The stores and theaters and motels and hotels had AC, of course, but they kept it so cold (72 mostly) that I would bring a light jacket with me if I was going to spend any time in them. I would get headaches because the air would be too dry for me.

I remember one time when I was 18. I was at the beach, surfing, and was strapping my board on my car preparing to leave when a girl I knew pulled up. I spent about 5 minutes standing there talking to her while in my bare feet. Burned the soles of my feet that day. They hurt for several days.

But I don't recall being bothered all that much by the heat. I had grown used to it; the heat and humidity. I had adapted.

But the worst heat was in the Southwest. After I enlisted in the Navy and found myself in Long Beach, California, I learned about desert heat. They can say it isn't so bad because it is a "dry heat" but that's not true. It's a dry heat, alright, but 110 F is brutally hot. And anything above that is just pure agony. I have been in the desert when the temp was 120. You cannot breathe. You cannot drink enough cold liquids. You feel your skin transforming into leather. Your eyes dry out so much your eyelids scrape across your eyeballs. Your nose bleeds. Your lips chap in minutes.

I drove through Phoenix in July in 1977, headed for Albuquerque, in an un-air conditioned Honda Accord. It was 9 AM and the temp was reported to be 114 and rising. And "humid" at 15% humidity. I drank a 6 pack of 16 oz sodas and never stopped to pee. I don't believe the liquid ever got to my bladder. My shirt remained dry, the sweat never had a chance of soaking it but would evaporate.

Manassas, Virginia was the worst of all for me. The temps would be 105 or higher and the humidity would be 95% or more. Just breathing was exhausting. You'd step outside of your air conditioned home and feel the energy drain out of your body immediately.

I can deal with these 90 degree temps and 80% (or higher ) humidity. I can play golf in it, I can walk around in it. I don't like it but I can handle it.

"Deal with the Devil if the Devil has a constituency - and don't complain about the heat."
[C. J. Cherryh]

Saturday, June 11, 2011

History and technology... hysterics and trysts

It has been an interesting week or so in politics, hasn't it? I really do like politics. Just as I like a real messy car wreck, train wreck, or divorce. On the Left, we have Rep. Anthony Weiner dalliances in phone sex and sexting. On the Right, we have Sarah Palin's view of Paul Revere.

The question I have is which one, if any, is all that important to we the voters? Possibly one of the above. But they are attention getters, aren't they?

Mr. Weiner is annoying little man, in my view. And now I see him as even worse. An annoying little man who has no respect for his wife. I feel sorry for his wife but do not feel sorry for him. It's a pity that people succumb to urges because the ones who suffer most have little or nothing to do with it. Although I did hear/read that some moronic pundit questioned whether some fault might lay with Mrs Weiner I find that idea to be disgusting. I have been married before and I was the last in that marriage to stray. I did not stray because of what she did, I strayed because I gave into an opportunity. What my ex did had no real bearing on that other than to provide me with a rationalization if I chose to delude myself in order to deny responsibility. My cheating did not end the marriage, her cheating didn't either. The fact that we could cheat was what ended it.

Mr. Weiner is not resigning his seat in the House. In a typical display of arrogance by those in powerful positions, he is denying any "legal" wrongdoing and saying his constituents can decide if his judgment is poor enough to warrant his losing the next election. This is called "clinging to power" and chutzpah. I don't have a lot of faith that his constituents will actually make a reasoned decision. After all, Barney Frank still has his seat years after his boyfriend was caught running a male prostitution ring out of Franks' basement and Ted Kennedy got through that pesky Chappaquiddick thing. I won't mention Charlie Rangel.

So let's go to the Right now. Sarah Palin made some offhand remarks in response to a question about Paul Revere. Ms Palin has a problem with off the cuff remarks. Her detractors jump on each and every one as proof that she is unworthy of the attention she gets. Thus adding to that attention. And, of course, this one incident has triggered a firestorm from the Left's blogs. I ran into a "discussion" about this incident and made the remark that it didn't really matter about the facts being right or wrong, that I considered that she was offering an opinion more than a history lesson, and that what I saw in the comments (I think there were a few hundred at the time) was the result of "ideological perspective and perception."

Apparently, some historians have taken a similar stance. They say she wasn't entirely wrong but that her view was a bit twisted. I would say misleading or misunderstood. Let's review what I know about Revere's ride...

He was not the only rider. There were two others. He was tasked to ride to Lexington and warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British troops were coming (By sea, if I recall) to arrest them. As he rode, he raised the alarm at various villages along the way. He was arrested at some point and, during that arrest, allegedly told the Bri9tish that they will be met by resistance from the Colonialists.

You can say that Ms Palin might be well advised to not make off the cuff remark
Links. But she is desirous of attention and will not likely heed such sage advice.

The economy continues to defy the efforts of the administration to turn it around and the usual spin is offered to explain how the horrible numbers are not what they seem.

A fun week or two all around, I'd say. Here's a couple of things to look at and muse on...

The U.S. Debt in real time.

Dirty Spending Secrets of the government.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Yes, but first you have to press some buttons

Hello, my name is Douglas and I am addicted to helping relatives with their computers. I can't seem to help myself. I am not an expert on computers but I have been around them and using them since 1977. Of course, those first few years were on somewhat larger computers. I bought my first personal computer, an Osborne1 (strangely, there was never an Osborne2 or higher) in late 1981 or early 1982. I got into programming but not very deeply. A smattering of BASIC, C, Pascal, and CP/M Assembly. I wrote a few simple programs and utilities but I never had the knack for it. I got into electronic bulletin boards (BBS) and enjoyed running one for many years (1989 to 1996).

I started my BBS because I did have some expertise in data communications. I knew about modems; how to configure them and troubleshoot data communication problems. Running the BBS taught me a few things about computers. I learned to install various pieces of hardware like floppy and CD-ROM drives, video cards, sound cards, power supplies, motherboards, memory, and hard drives. I learned to install and uninstall programs. And I found I liked sharing that knowledge. I liked helping people.

I learned something about people from doing this. Some don't like being helped... even if they asked for it. Some become attached and dependent on the helper. Some even resent being helped. And some just can't be helped. And there are those who are combinations of two or more types.

I have a brother-in-law. He dislikes computers and has resisted dealing with them for some time. He's a smart man but stubborn. I know he's capable of learning. He's college educated, a retired Army colonel (Infantry, he'll tell you proudly), and he has varied interests in things like philately and numismatics. I don't care much for those pursuits but we do share a love of golf and of music from the 30's through the 50's. Otherwise, we are at odds most of the time. Every time I would come over to straighten out some problem my sister was having with her computer, he wanted no part of it.

He once worked as a salesman where he had to use a laptop computer but that was only using proprietary software designed for the company for the sales program. It was a specific tool for a specific job. He had no interest in what else it could do. And,in fact, didn't like using it for its designed purpose.

He learned that there are places on the internet where he could indulge his love of stamps and coins and finally decided he should get a computer and learn to use it.

And so he has. Bought a computer, that is. I offered to put in a wireless router so he could use the DSL connection my sister has and to help him get his computer configured. I am, at heart, a masochist.

I accomplished that yesterday but I also observed something about learning. He wanted to be able to go online and access stamp and coin auction sites. He didn't want to know the basics, wasn't interested in anything other than those auction sites and how to get there. He would ask why he needed a password, or why he had to have an email account, or how he would access the internet and so on but he really wasn't interested in the answers except in the context of his goals.

Child-like, in a way. He wanted to run so he wasn't interested in learning to walk. Only it's not so cute in a 79 year old man.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why must we argue?

To continue on my theme about debate and discussion on the web, I'd like to delve into why and how we engage in them. I say "we" meaning I and all those others who "contribute" to the cacophony that passes for the (sometimes heated) discussions in the comments following an article.

For me, it is simple. I love to argue. I was not a good boxer or wrestler, my physical fighting method is chaotic and, often, desperate. I grew up losing every physical encounter (fight) with my older brother. But I could make him look foolish; I could outwit him in a verbal exchange. Which often led to those physical encounters but, for some reason, that didn't deter me. I am not alone, apparently, not by a long shot. Plenty of other people love to argue. Some are formidable opponents but most are not. Some people can use words like finely crafted weapons leaving you gravely wounded and bleeding (metaphorically speaking) and others can find the weaknesses in your armor (argument) and exploit them. Most, however, are operating entirely from emotion.

I mentioned Sarah Palin and Barack Obama previously. These are polarizing figures. As are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Arianna Huffington, Jane Fonda, and Nancy Pelosi. This is just a small sample list, there are so many others like them. People rarely have a neutral stand about anything these people do or say. Very few do not have some deep seated emotional response to these folks.

Reading the commentary following an article is like watching at the audience at a cockfight or dogfight (which I can assure you I do not attend) or any sports event where people can choose, or have, a favored player or team. Emotion trumps logic. Objectivity flies out the proverbial window.

I just recently had a short exchange with another commenter where he or she proved my point. My opponent didn't realize this; he or she was arguing about the person who was the subject of the article and I was arguing about the motivations of the commenters. While he or she was complaining about the wrongness of some statement the subject person made, I was expressing my position that the facts were unimportant to the commenters. Because I had taken a neutral position on the "facts" involved, I was jumped on by those who had an emotional stake in the "facts" being wrong. Since I was not attacked by those who sided with the subject person, I must assume I either came across as a supporter of the target person (and, therefore, not a "threat" to the supporters) or that my position was understood by them. I strongly suspect the reason to be the former... I just was not deemed a threat

When someone learns to box, wrestle, or just debate they learn a discipline. They learn to react objectively, rather than emotionally. The best fighters/debaters use emotions only as sources of energy but keep them at bay as they make decisions in tactics and moves. They also pick up (or have) a knack for provoking emotions in their opponents.

Let me provide an example of what happens when an emotional person and a disciplined person have an altercation. Back in the 70's, I was working in a maintenance center one morning when the "Mountain Man" (I forget his name but he always made much of the fact that he lived in what are called mountains east of San Diego) came in looking for Larry. These two were pretty much equal in size and age. But Larry had been a Seabee, trained by the Marines, and had spent a few years with them. I don't believe Mountain Man had any such experience.

Mountain Man came in angry and demanding about Larry having "taken" his parking spot. It seems that Mountain Man had been cruising around the block waiting for a space to open up. Just as one did, Larry turned onto the street and slid into it. Mountain Man yelled at him that he was waiting for that spot and Larry simply ignored him and walked into the office.

So, Mountain Man approaches Larry yelling and menacing, yells in Larry's face a few not so kind words and starts to take a swing at him. Larry smoothly blocks the punch and decks Mountain Man with a single right hook. Discipline beat emotion. I have seen this happen a number of times.

Emotions, however, are what draw us into these exchanges. Like bees to flowers, we are compelled by our emotions to take a risk, to enter the fray. Emotions drive us. But emotions can also interfere with our ability to attain a goal. They can get in the way. Objectivity must overcome emotion, I think, if we are to succeed. A total lack of emotion, however, may be just as detrimental as a total lack of objectivity.

When you get right down to it, we humans are such simple creatures. Not nearly so complex and mysterious as we would like to believe.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We all agree... except for the stupid people

As you know, I "wander" about the Internet in search of discussion and debate. It is in my nature to believe I have wisdom to impart so I enter into these discussions and debates with an eye toward revealing some irrefutable "truth." Yeah, I have an ego problem. I know that and I know it is illusion. Still, I do it in spite of that knowledge about myself.

One of my observations is that there are so few of me. By that, I mean most debates and discussions are wholly one-sided. The believers on one side, the non-believers on the other. I'm not talking about the religious vs the atheists here, though that happens too, the positions are relative to the subject at hand and the orientation of the web site. There are so few neutral web sites that they seem amazing when I come across one.

I am most amused by the commenting. It reveals so much. Take Sarah Palin. She is despised by those on the Left, literally hated and ridiculed at every opportunity. So when the Huffington Post posts a report about her or an opinion column on her, the Left leaning commenters swarm the place. A short article about Palin might attract over 4000 comments. Likewise, an article or opinion piece on Obama on a Right leaning site will also attract a huge number of comments. Similar comments in each because they vilify, ridicule, and demean the subject. The mere mention of Rush Limbaugh will create a firestorm of angry and/or derisive comments.

Many of the comments will express the idea that it was a waste of pixels to print the article. That's just silly. The article drew interest, it drew comments, it attracted people.

Ok, so it's like being attracted by a train wreck but it's still an attraction. And that boosts the hit count and the hit counts are like TV or radio ratings; they provide a basis for raising advertising rates. If you think these sites aren't about making money then you are being somewhat naive. Being cynical, I suppose I have a hard time accepting such passion without that incentive. At least on the part of the site owners.

The commenting, however, is more personal and the passion is simply about the ideology. There's no pay for commenting. There is a kind of competition, however. Consider the number of "Likes" and "Fans" one can accumulate. Some web sites award stars or some status like "super user" (Huffington Post does this for one). This provides some bragging rights for the commenter. But commenting is the most passionate and visceral part of any web site. You don't have to read the article to get a feel for the target audience, just peruse the comments.

Which tells me I am onto something when I say we tend to seek reinforcement of our views. Think back, you have always surrounded yourself with like-minded friends. You didn't seek out those with whom you disagreed and make friends with them, did you? I sure didn't. Now that I think about it, I was just happy to have anyone consider me a friend, regardless of their beliefs. But, still, I surrounded myself as much as possible by those who viewed the world in much the same way. And we constantly reinforced those views for each other.

Let's just call it the herd instinct. But you and I are not like that, are we? We are broad-minded, reasonable, and calm. Totally unlike those others.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Do you think "the more things change, the more they remain the same?" How about "There's nothing new under the sun?"

Things are constantly changing. I was reminded of this as I caught a glimpse of a Cialis commercial while watching the golf tournament on TV. When I was a youngster, the raciest commercials were from Maidenform and the bras were either shown floating in the air or worn over cashmere sweaters. There were no condom commercials, no feminine products of a personal nature, and even bathing suit commercials were often done without live models. As a young boy, I was left with National Geographic magazines and Sears catalogs to satisfy my boyish curiosity. I won't mention my father's vast collection of what was once called "girlie magazines" which he did not hide very well.

Today, though, we have all kinds of personal hygiene products, revealing underwear, and sexual enhancement products being advertised on TV. It was shocking back in 1939 when Clark Gable said "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!" in Gone With The Wind. Now there is much stronger language used and even by young girls.

When I was a teen, we'd have sooner cut our own throats as uttered a profanity in front of a girl. Oh, mild expletives were tossed about freely, there was no problem with that. But the F-bomb? Not a chance in heck.

I sometimes miss those more innocent times. Society was much more polite. And smaller. Life was slower. You might be away from a phone for hours and hours at a time. You had maybe 3 TV channels unless you were in, or near, a major city. While we did lock our doors, it was only while we were out. Some say those were not all that innocent of times, that there was a a lot of ugly hidden under the surface. Maybe so. We were shocked to learned of an unwed pregnancy. They were quite rare in small towns, extremely rare. I suppose there were a few that we never heard of. Girls might be off "visiting an aunt" for most of a school year. Rumors would abound. But these were also rare. I can only recall one girl who disappeared that way in my teens. We all suspected but there was no proof, of course. And that was when I lived in south Florida, a more cosmopolitan area than my former home town of Farmingdale on Long Island.

Today, a lot of ugly is on the surface. People say it is better, that it should be exposed to the light of day. I don't agree. We get inured to it, we become tolerant toward it. Unwed mothers face no shame, thuggery is celebrated, life is cruder, and the ugly that is hidden is so much worse than what it once was.

I remember that the album "Blind Faith" had to have new cover art because the British version featured what appears to be an 11 or 12 year old
topless girl. In more recent years, we have seen (or at least heard of) sex tapes featuring various celebrities. At first, these were titillating to the public and embarrassing to the celebrities. Now, they are de rigeuer and few seem to bat an eyelash about them. I should also mention something called "sexting."

So, with all that was bad about the 50's... and there was bad... I still wonder if we have improved or just progressed.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Comical things can be complicated

When we were little kids, we loved the comics pages in the paper, didn't we? We still do. I do anyway and I am sure I'm not alone in (way too rapidly advancing) adulthood. Those of you under the age of 60-something likely missed the treat of listening to the radio on Sunday mornings to hear the comic strips being acted out. We would sit (usually lie) in the living room, next to the radio (which, at that time, seemed almost the size and shape of a jukebox), and follow along with the comic pages laid out on the floor in front of us.

Television, of course, changed all that eventually. But I never lost my love of the comics. It's just that there's no one to read them to me on Sunday mornings. I must do that myself. And I do. Also on Monday through Saturday mornings. Online, of course. Just as I do crossword puzzles. I don't get any newspapers delivered to my home anymore. Rarely ever did. Never got into the routine of having a newspaper subscription. I would occasionally pick up a paper at a newsstand to read while I had breakfast or lunch at a restaurant. But once I had a family of my own (such as it was), I stopped even doing that. It's hard to read a newspaper and keep a very active little boy in check. Or pay attention to one's future former wife.

In spite of that, I have retained my love of comics to this day. The love that was born in my earliest recalled years. Reading the comics transports me back to that cozy, warm, safe feeling I had on those Sunday mornings next to the radio.

It's much easier today... the Internet provides. As you have noticed, for a long time I have posted various comic strips as the first thing below the blog title. As some of you have noticed, the strip hasn't changed in some time now. This is because my favored source page ( no longer allows me to embed them in the blog. They merged with another comics page ( and dropped that option. The Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away. Praise the Internet, may it bless our lives forever.

My taste in comic strips has evolved over the years. At times I even followed Mary Worth, Rex Morgan, and Gil Thorp... simply because they were there, on those pages in the paper. But not since the internet became my source. I could now pick and choose among them. And I have. The source page allows me to establish and edit a list of strips which display when I log in.

My current list of favored comics is as follows:
The Born Loser
Frank & Ernest
Get Fuzzy
Andy Capp
Wizard of Id
Broom Hilda
Rose is Rose
Calvin and Hobbes
Non Sequitur

I will be finding a way to embed these in the blog soon. Not all of them, of course, but one or another that I find amusing or pertinent on a given day.

By the way, today is the 67th anniversary of D-Day. We should take the time today to think about those who gave their lives that day and to those who were permanently injured, and those who survived whole. Brave men all who, I am sure, didn't think they were at the time.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Golf is more fun than politics

Sorry about no post yesterday. I was just too tired to do much after the day I had on Thursday and we were in the car most of Friday. Plus there was a stop for gambling and lunch at Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Cafe and Casino.

I lost. I was beaten into submission by the Golf Gods on Thursday. Just a reminder that I cannot play at a certain level. I should have insisted we play from the regular men's tees (aka the "whites") which would have kept the overall distance down to a tad over 6000 yards. Instead, we played from the green tees which added a mere 300 yards more. You would think that an average of 16.6 yards to each hole wouldn't make all that much difference. And it wouldn't. But it isn't added to each hole, you might have 50 or 75 yards added to some holes and nothing to others. The ones where it isn't added are the ones which are already very long. So I found myself hitting longer shots into the greens much of the time.

Speaking of greens, to say they were fast would be an understatement. More like pool tables. Very, very fast. I wouldn't have minded fast but very, very fast? No, not my cup of tea.

I had some ugly visions of a 3 digit score. I managed to keep it below 100, though. Wasn't good enough. Rick was better. When I used to play golf with Rick, I beat him most times. Maybe every time... the memory is not clear... we drank and smoked and those days are quite the blur now. He used to hit a wicked duck hook and he couldn't chip or putt very well. Imagine my surprise when he hit the ball right down the middle on most holes. I still only owed him for two holes when the torture was done.

And then we got back to the hotel, showered and all 4 of us went to dinner at Shula's Steak House. Very good food. Excellent, in fact. But pricey. I am used to $45 to $60 for a party of two. This was $100+ for Faye and I... and then there's the tip.

By the time we wandered back to our rooms, it was close to 10 PM and there was no way I was going to stay awake long enough to punch out a blog post.

This morning, I got up at "oh dark thirty" (6:15) so I could play golf again with some friends locally. A somewhat shorter course with slower greens. So I was back to normal.

I should mention something political since this is Saturday but I am totally burnt out and disgusted and I wouldn't do it justice. The political spin is dizzying these days. No one on any side can be trusted. Al Gore's comments during the 1992 campaign comes to mind "What's down is up, what should be up is down and what should be done is up." Or something close to that. We are now told that 9.1% unemployment is a good thing because the administration was actually projecting 9.3% at this point in time. There's an old truism that goes something like this:

A good economy is when both you and your neighbor have jobs, a recession is when your neighbor is out of work, and a depression is when you lose your job.

I'm retired... that makes me just a spectator.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

It's in the stars... or the goat entrails, I suppose

One of the problems with my History Channel addiction is that I get exposed to shows about Ancient Astronauts and Nostradamus. If we are to believe some of this stuff, there's about 18 months left until the destruction of the earth.

I'm not happy about that. I am sure I'm not alone in being unhappy about the pending end to existence. Still, some of you might actually be looking forward to it.

We recently missed out on a prediction regarding Judgment Day. Not a surprise, the preacher who predicted it didn't have the Mayan Calendar or Nostradamus on his side. He just made some kind of math calculation based on the Bible. Not sure how Nostradamus did his. He was French so I don't think I'd understand his logic anyway. The French march to the beat of some drummer I can't hear.

I want you to understand that I don't believe in these seers. I am, first and foremost, cynical and skeptical... not necessarily in that order. Still, I am fascinated by the predictions. When I was a young lad, I read an article about Jeane Dixon and a prediction that someone born in the Middle East in 1962 would have a great impact on the world. Here is the prediction: "A child, born somewhere in the Middle East shortly after 7 a.m. (EST) on February 5, 1962, will revolutionize the world. Before the close of the century he will bring together all mankind in one all-embracing faith."

Obviously, that didn't happen. At least, I don't recall anything like that happening before 2000. Did I miss it somehow? Still, I am fascinated by the predictions. Obviously, I am not alone. Books, movies, and TV shows exploit the fascination.

Are we intrigued by our possible demise? Is it actually an offshoot of the fear of annihilation?

I'll have to consult my Ouija Board.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Time for a blast from the past

I have a little problem. I am going out of town for a couple of days and I have no posts stacked up to post while I am gone. A friend of mine emailed me the other day to say he was going to be in Florida visiting with his mother. Rick and I spent quite a bit of time together back in 1977. We had both been selected to attend certain schools for our companies (he was with AT&T and I was with Pacific Telephone at the time). We clicked right away.

We would tell people that we grew up in different cities together. We both had a golf addiction. We had similar views of the world. And neither of us took the schools we attended very seriously. We consumed a lot of beer and other adult beverages. We chased a few women, played quite a bit of golf, and generally acted like we were teenagers.

After the school was over, we kept in touch for awhile. He went through a divorce, as did I. He remarried, as did I. He moved to California from Virginia, I moved to Virginia from California. I moved first, he moved after I had moved to Florida. That was when we lost touch. Eventually, we both retired. He and Ellen retired to a condo near Ensenada in Baja California. Faye and I ended up here in Sebring (aka Paradise). We happened to cross paths a few years ago when Faye and I were visiting San Diego.

Rick and I will play some golf this Thursday, weather permitting, at a course up near Tampa. This will be interesting. We never competed at golf though we often played together. It was just about having fun.

On the last day of classes, the class threw a picnic of sorts. We bought a lot of beer, hot dogs, and some other things, fired up the barbecue grills the motel the companies had booked us in, and partied all day. Class, for the last 3 weeks, started at Midnight. We would all be flying back to our respective cities in the morning.

As the afternoon came to a close, Rick and I were the only ones left still standing. We were engaged in an effort to drive golf balls across the parking lot of the shopping mall next door and up onto the roof of a Lazarus department store. No thought was given to the balls that did not reach the roof... until a peculiar "woosh" was heard followed by the crack of a golf ball hitting the parking lot nearby. What goes up - and doesn't reach the roof - comes back down with a vengeance after ricocheting off the Lazarus' wall. We didn't stop hitting those golf balls, though.

That was just one example of our collective stupidity. Most of the others also involved the consumption of alcoholic beverages. I found out today that neither of us drinks much, if anything, alcoholic these days. Probably a good thing. I hope it won't put a damper on the fun.