The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

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

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

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

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Glitter Gulch, babes, and dice

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

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

Casino is looking for a few good 'broads'

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

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

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

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

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

It's sad, really.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The search for little green men continues

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

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

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

A CBS news report about the project:

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lifting bales and toting barges...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Divided we fall?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America: Land of Free Speech -- Sometimes

You might find it interesting.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Shots are fired and conspiracies evolve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 24, 2011

More turkey, please!

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

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

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

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

(image credit: *AngELofREbellion)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Should we trust that filet mignon?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

To kill or not to kill?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

The more things change, the more they...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Taking off the blinders

Last week's political post garnered a comment that bothered me. Not because it was derogatory (it wasn't), not because it shot holes in my premise (it didn't do that either) but because it revealed a certain close-mindedness that is all too prevalent; an unwillingness to read a conservative opinion or a opinion from

This close-mindedness is not limited to the Left or the Right, it is found throughout all ideological perspectives. It is way too evident in all of society today. It has been with us throughout the history of the world. It has an impediment to advancement, it has allowed the dictators of the world to achieve control and fortify their positions.

It is a refusal to acknowledge that the other side may have a valid point.

Now, before you say how open minded you are and how you always listen to both (or more) sides, let me remind you that I understand that you believe that. And many of you may well be open minded. But not all of those who claim that status really are. I am beginning to suspect very few of us actually are.

I have written before about how we are "herd animals" [here] and how we choose our friends because they are like us, because they agree with us, because they believe the things we do. Our circle of friends tend to reinforce our perception of the world around us. This gives us a comfortable feeling, one of belonging, that we have value. I have mentioned more than a few times how advertisers use that herd mentality to get us to buy products. They also use that desire to be unique in the herd. Ever hear your child tell you how "I have to be me" as he or she dresses, talks, and acts like all of his or her friends?

I noted it once a long time ago as I was crossing the country with my 11 year old son and his childhood friend. I realized they looked, talked, and acted alike. I jokingly referred to them as the "California Clones." There were differences but the differences were so subtle that they may as well not have existed.

I have also written about the growing division in the US [here] which I think is still growing. (
especially read the comments for that piece) I worry about that division. It may be that I am paranoid and reading too much into it. I hope I am.

Sometime, when I was 12 or 13, I learned about something called "The scientific method." It's a simple process and the steps are these:

  • Ask a Question
  • Do Background Research
  • Construct a Hypothesis
  • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
  • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  • Communicate Your Results

It was the 4th step that began to open my eyes. You see, you were supposed to try to disprove your own hypothesis, not try to confirm it. In other words, the experiments were to find flaws in your hypothesis, not simply bolster it. It is the part of the process which is so important and yet which eludes many minds. If you set out to confirm a hypothesis rather than disprove it, you are likely to overlook its flaws in the process.

I grew up to be conservative. When I was in my teens and twenties, I was liberal. Quite liberal. My friends were liberal. My teachers were liberal. It felt "right" to be liberal. Liberalism was reinforced by everything around me. I didn't question it. Why should I? No one else was. Then, for reasons I do not recall or understand, I began to apply that scientific method to my belief system. I began to observe closely and began to question my friends and teachers to test the strength of their convictions. I began testing them. And that's when I began to change. Because instead of answers that came from their own logic and intellect, they repeated what they had been taught or heard over and over again.

You can get the liberal viewpoint anywhere. It's all over the place. In the newspapers, in the TV news, in the talk shows. Just about everywhere you look. It seems to be the majority viewpoint, doesn't it? But what is it really?

You won't know until you start looking for its antithesis and paying attention to it. You won't know until you begin to question its veracity, until you match the words with the actions (if you can).

The United States is an amazing country. It was founded when some men began to question authority. It incorporated that concept, question authority, into its primal fabric. That is the principle behind Freedom of Speech.

Watch Fox News now and then, read a conservative viewpoint daily, even listen to Rush Limbaugh when you get the chance. You don't have to believe what you read or hear or see. All you have to do is evaluate it objectively. Look past the rhetoric, the talking points and such, and discern what facts you can. Then question those facts, seek out answers. And then do the same with the usual places you get your news and commentary. And then challenge everything.... question authority!

You may not change your mind, you may find you are comfortable with the viewpoint you already have. But don't dismiss the idea that you could be wrong.

Friday, November 18, 2011

One jacket too many

Even though I am sick, even though I am retired... would that be "sick and retired?"... I am called upon by the Great Mistress of the House to perform a chore or two. Tuesday evening, while slouching on the recliners watching TV, Faye heard a loud noise. I was, of course, pretty much oblivious to that. I am pretty good at ignoring loud noises. It turned out that the board upon which sit the hooks upon which we hang the occasional coats and light jackets disconnected from the wall and fell to the floor... bringing the 10 to 12 pieces of clothing with them.

Being a quick responder, I dashed out on Thursday morning... oh, around 10 or so... to the local Lowe's to see if I could find a replacement. The plan was to purchase a matching buttonhook strip and put both up so that we had more hooks and less opportunity to overload them. Lowe's failed to have either matching ones or even two alike. (plan B was to buy two matching ones of a slightly different design) I was left with two options: buy what they had and ignore the lack of symmetry or drive over to the Home Depot or Wal-Mart to see if they had a matched pair. I am lazy so you can easily guess what option I took.

Coming home with the completely mismatched buttonhook strip, I carefully explained that no one would see the mismatch under the various coats and sweaters that we hang there. And proceeded to gather the tools needed to mount this odd couple on the wall of the hallway to the garage. This took some time because my tools often end up in various places in the garage and the master bedroom closet.

Once the tools were gathered (an assembly of screwdrivers, hammer, drill and drill bits plus a small level), it was a simple task to put the new strip and the old strip on the wall. It would have taken longer but I got lucky and didn't end up punching a big hole in the wall.

In hindsight, I don't think adding more hooks will have the desired affect. I think we will just hang even more jackets, sweaters, and coats in the hall.... until these strips also come loose.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sickness is like a disease, you know?

It's a cold. I don't know why they call it a cold, I don't feel very cold. I feel like a mental fog has enveloped my brain. I get these now and then, no more than one or two a year, spaced just far enough apart to make each one a surprise. I'd prefer my surprises to be pleasant ones.

It started Monday afternoon. After I had played golf. The sore, scratchy throat first. Followed by a mild headache. And a slight stuffiness in my sinuses. All of my illnesses affect my sinuses, it seems. This one has been no different. My main weapon against things like this is Alka-Seltzer. Not the plain old "plop, plop, fizz, fizz" blah tasting hangover remedy but the new blah tasting ones that are supposed to alleviate the symptoms of colds and influenzas. They do... somewhat. At least they make the symptoms more tolerable.

I am one of those people who would rather suffer through a cold or flu on my own than have people fawn over me. Not that I am opposed to the fawning, it's just ingrained in me to be irascible when sick. It's probably genetic, my father was the same way. We would rather be martyrs, suffering alone... which is contradicted by the fact that we make sure everyone knows we are sick. No point in suffering if no one knows you are.

Our bodies are home to thousands of bacteria and, I suppose, lots of viruses also. Nobody mentioned those in biology class, though. There's a delicate balance most of the time between the good and the bad. When we get sick, it's because the balance is upset in some way. At least, that's the way I see it. I could be entirely wrong. It doesn't matter, there is no cure for this; what they call the common cold. They know that it is a virus. They know it is temporary and that, eventually, the body defeats it.

You can take medicines to ease the symptoms and help you function (during which you can spread it to colleagues, friends, and family) and it will take about 7 days to get over. Or you can do nothing at all and it will last about a week.

I have 5 more days to go.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Road thought

The journey to and from Biloxi was uneventful. No screeching of tires followed by loud scrunching of metal, no screaming by Faye as I leave her behind at some gas station. Just a peaceful and pleasant ride along the Interstates. Some of you (quite possibly most) may not recall a time before freeways... or why they are called "freeways." If I may digress just a little... There was once a time when roadways which had exits and no traffic lights were commercial enterprises. Not private enterprise (though there were a few of those) but "pay as you go" on a state built highway. They were not all that popular. Especially with my father. My father was, as they say, frugal. To a fault.

I must have inherited some of that frugality, along with my mother's profligate ways. Yeah, I spend money too freely and fret about it equally.

The trip to and from Biloxi takes us over a mixture of highways. Sebring is one of the few cities that does not have a freeway, not even nearby. The nearest one is 60 or 70 miles away. Our main highway is US 27, a traditional road full of traffic lights and lost tourists and seasonal residents. We take that north to I-4 then I-4 east to SR 429 (toll) on which we head north until we reach the last stretch of the Florida Turnpike (toll) before it connects/merges into I-75. And then north until we reach I-10. After that, it's an easy ride west.

We stop overnight on the way up to Biloxi because Faye doesn't want to waste a gambling day getting there. If we drive straight through (about 10 hours), we (meaning Faye) arrive tired late in the evening. This cuts into gambling time because, as we all know, one should be refreshed and eager before sitting down to be mesmerized by the gaily blinking lights and symbols on the various slot machines. Apparently, being tired and eager doesn't work as well.

There is another reason for stopping one night along the way. A Mexican restaurant in Marianna, FL. We arrive in Marianna just a shy of dinner time. We find a room, settle in, and then head for dinner. It has become a ritual. A tasty one. Therefore, I do not complain.

Every trip we vow that the next time we will visit the Florida Caverns (yes, we have some) or the Naval Aviation Museum which are on the way. So far... we have failed to honor those vows. This is not unusual. I went past the USS Alabama a dozen or more times before I finally stopped to see it. I expect that we will visit one of these sometime in the next couple of years.

I get to do some observing along the way, mostly of the poor driving habits of those around me. This time, I observed something else. My left knee is getting worse. Lack of movement of that knee while driving for hours leads to great pain when unbending it and trying to walk when we stop for a cup of coffee or a meal... or gas.

That last makes me wonder if I could still ride a motorcycle across the country. Which, some of you know, is a life long dream of mine.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Not eating crow is a good thing

I enjoy a good argument. I also enjoy a bad argument. Maybe the latter more than the former. I never took debate class while in school, though. It seemed too formal, too restrictive, too controlled to be something I would like. I mean they had rules in that class as to how you could argue. Imagine that!

You got a set number of minutes to make your initial presentation. Then you got a set amount of time to rebut your opponent's opening statement. And then to rebut his rebuttal. Not once did you get to lay out a sneaky, underhanded insult, much less a punch. That is not debate, not in the neighborhoods I grew up in. You try being that polite and you'll find the waistband of your underwear in your armpits.

I learned two important things from arguing. The first is know the facts. The second is know when to run. It's not hard to know the facts and, in the places I grew up, facts gave you a head start when you had to run. Your best chance to get away is while your opponent is stunned. Even when you won an argument, it was best to not stick around too long. Maybe especially when you won the argument.

The ability to recite facts and argue convincingly has always served me well. It helped me when the police stopped and questioned me about something that I might, or might not have, done. It helped keep me employed. It helped me avoid being sent to the brig when in the Navy. And it has helped me avoid the occasional street or bar fight.

Oddly, though, it didn't help me in my first marriage.

Monday, November 14, 2011

This wasn't supposed to be a book review

I like to read. It gives me an excuse to sit on my ever expanding butt and do nothing physical for great stretches of time. And it facilitates naps and other forms of sleep. Currently, I am reading the latest Lee Child novel about his character Jack Reacher. If you do not know who Jack Reacher is, I pity you... you do not have a full life.

Reacher is a cross between the Lone Ranger, Rambo, and most characters played by John Wayne. He is a guy who roams about righting wrongs. He does not seek wrongs to right, he just comes across them in his travels. You do not want to cross him or challenge him but other characters in the novels always seem to. Most of them live to regret it. Some never get the chance to regret it.

Why do I (and so many millions of others) love this character (thereby making Mr. Child quite rich)? He is our inner hero, that guy we all wish we could be (if male) or could meet (if female). He is a tough, no nonsense, sort of guy who never starts a fight but always finishes them. He doesn't waste a lot of words or worry about political correctness. He is the cavalry coming to the rescue, a one man police force which takes no prisoners (though he occasionally leaves them for others to arrest).

There are things in Mr. Child's novels which nettle me since I am one of those people who worry over small, insignificant things. He uses British colloquialisms, for instance, something I think this character would not do. But these are minor things that won't worry the average reader.

What attracts me (and I suspect many others) most is that he just drifts about the country, going wherever his mood takes him. He carries no luggage, owns nothing of any importance and has no roots. There is nothing to hold him to any one place. He's the stranger who drifts into town, rights a few wrongs, and then moves on to another town and other wrongs.

We love these types, don't we? The success of the James Bond movies (and the aforementioned John Wayne) are so successful because of it.

This novel, the 16th in the series, is called "The Affair" and it is a bit of a prequel type with Reacher still in the Army, still some kind of elite Military Police major, just before he gets mustered out as the army is downsized after the Cold War has ended.

Read it. If you have never read a Reacher novel before, you will be hooked and want to read them all.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dirty tricks and politics as usual

I have been paying a small amount of attention to the Republican nomination race. Not a lot of attention, just around the edges. I read a little bit here, listen a little bit there, watch some another place. I see some things going on that I've seen before, in other campaign periods. Dirty tricks. A fine tradition in politics all over the world. Smear your opponent(s), doesn't matter if true or false as long as it is something that will offend voters.

For my generation, Nixon epitomized the phenomenon. Especially in the 1972 election. Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President (producing an acronym pronounced "creep", I kid you not) had a squad of people actively engaged in finding ways to destroy potential rivals and then implementing them. It didn't start after the primaries were over and the nominees were determined. It started with the primaries and played a part in who would be the nominees. Of course, the only primaries that mattered were the Democratic ones since Nixon was not going to be challenged by anyone in his own party.

In the end, Nixon faced George McGovern. McGovern was a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War. But he was also extremely liberal. Nixon was also opposed to the war and was supposedly trying to complete his plan
(never explained) to end the war that he ran on in 1968. A lot of people died for that plan. A lot more were hurt very badly. As was the country.

What we are seeing today is very similar. We have an unpopular war (two, actually), we have protesters in the streets, we have a president who wants to be re-elected, and we have a primary race where candidates are being slandered; where the truth of the allegations are second to the fact that they exist.

History repeating itself?

Read Ann Coulter's column...

Addendum: The Scandal No One's Talking About

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

You want to probe me where?

The Byrds - Mr. Spaceman

I know, I know, I said I wasn't going to blog for the next few days but this was written on Monday so it doesn't count. Last night (Sunday) I watched a couple of shows on the Science channel called "Into the Universe with Stephan Hawking". Now, we know that Hawking is a certifiable genius and so we listen to his artificial voice with awe and respect.

The first show (at 7 PM EST) was about the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. It's an old show, I think, but I am an old guy and reruns no longer bother me. Especially ones like this. The second one was about time travel. But I don't want to talk about that one. At least, not right now. Besides, I have already mentioned it many times (search the blog... over there... on the right...).

I have watched and read of the possibility of visits to our ancestors by extraterrestrials. Fascinating arguments but, in my opinion, quite silly. I have read several stories of alien abductions. I dismiss those through logic... Why would aliens travel at least hundreds of light years to abduct people with prior histories of mental illness? According to my mother, my father witnessed what he thought was a UFO. That was hearsay since Dad never mentioned it to any of the rest of us. He could have been mistaken; it could have been a helicopter, small plane, or who knows what.

I do, however, believe there is life on other planets. Especially on those that orbit in that "Goldilocks" range. You know what the "Goldilocks" range is? An orbit radius that is within a certain distance from the host star where water can remain in a liquid state. Like Earth. Like Mars... yeah, Mars. However, Mars super thin atmosphere evaporates any standing water on the surface and allows the temperatures to drop so low that any water just below the surface freezes. So we shouldn't expect any Martians or Martian civilizations.

I got to thinking about how tenacious life is. We are always finding life in places here on Earth we once thought to be barren. At great depths of the oceans, in the highest reaches of the Himalayas, inside the cones of volcanoes. Sure, these life forms are mostly lichens, bacteria, and not deemed "intelligent." But they exist. It seems that life adapts to its environment given the slimmest of chances. If it can start and last long enough to find a mate (assuming it needs one), it is likely to reproduce and evolve... at least a little.

We want to know, though, that intelligent life exists on some other planet or planets. I think the possibility is very slim but not impossible. Considering the number of possible planets the right distance from their stars (a number in the range of billions to trillions), I would lean toward "probable." Then I consider how many species of life on Earth qualify as "intelligent" and I wonder. We are it. Because when we say "intelligence", we mean "capable of building civilizations", not merely sentient. How many species are there on Earth? Something around 1.7 million as of 2010. That's just what we knew of then. That we had catalogued. Out of those 1.7 million, just one qualifies. That argues against "intelligent life" on other planets. We human beings are an anomaly.

Let's suppose that there is intelligent (as we define it) on other planets. It is quite possible that we might not recognize it as "life" at all. It could be so different from anything with which we are familiar that we could walk right past it without realizing it.

So I would say life probably exists all over the universe but it is highly unlikely that intelligent life exists that we could recognize.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Trippin' and such

I am going away for a few days. It seems like this is happening quarterly now. We are off to Biloxi... again... where Faye will while away the time firmly planted in front of a slot machine or twelve while I will maybe play a little golf (weather permitting), read a book, and just basically kick back.

This has become our routine of late. It's slightly less expensive than it sounds. Faye gets comped rooms because they have her pegged as a gambling addict at a couple of places in Biloxi and I get to go along... whether I want to or not. Somebody has to drive her there, I suppose.

Usually, I write to the blog each day while gone. I think I will forego that this time. I will drag my laptop with me and I might forego my foregoing if I think of, or observe, something intriguing enough. But I wouldn't count on it. Instead, I will likely not blog again until Monday (the 14th) of next week. Since the blog goes mostly unread anyway, I suspect few will notice or be impacted.

This is like something I used to do at work... Call in "well", as in "I feel too good to waste it at the office." I am even thinking of playing no golf so the tendinitis in my left arm abates. The soreness doesn't hurt my game (you have to actually have a game for that to happen) but it does bother me now an then.

Tendinitis is an ache that is telling you that you shouldn't be doing whatever is causing it. It's telling you to stop doing whatever it is before the condition becomes worse or chronic. It's sneaky, though. Whatever is causing it may not be all that obvious but what makes it flare up is. I could have stretched a tendon a bit too much doing something other than golf and golf is just when I notice it. That's not that likely since I rarely do anything strenuous at all other than golf... but it is possible.

In any event, those are my plans for the next 5 days. While I am gone, I expect you all to be on your best behavior.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rock on... or oldies never die

The Rolling Stones - Street Fighting Man

I am frustrated. Aggravated. Perturbed. Annoyed.

Of course, it's my own fault. I am on a quest for songs that I have on vinyl and that can be a bit of an ordeal. I don't want just the songs, I want the entire album on which they came. I want them in MP3 and, as a bonus, I want the ID3 tags filled out... correctly.

And I don't want to pay a lot. Or anything, if possible.

So you can see why I am frustrated and all the rest. The songs, for the most part, can be found somewhere on the internet. Not all of them... I have some pretty obscure albums... but pretty much all of the Big Names: Rolling Stones, The Doors (with Jim Morrison), Savoy Brown, Ten Years After, Buffalo Springfield (and subsequent offshoots), Van Morrison, Leon Russell, John Mayall, Led Zeppelin, Velvet Underground, Steppenwolf, and on and on. But I am not going to find Southwind, or Aum, or a host of others that had maybe one album before falling into ever deeper obscurity... bands and people I came across at various concerts but who never got past being an opener or filler act.

Just trying to reclaim my youth, I suppose. I have most everything I want from the late 50's and early 60's, the Doo Wop era, but I am sure there are a lot more that I do not have (yet) so I will still keep an ear and eye out for those.

I also have a large collection of Big Band, Swing, Jazz (or many types), a bit of classical, Zydeco, Country, and other stuff.

What I really want is some Firesign Theatre, an offbeat comedy group of the late 60's. I have several of their albums in vinyl but cannot find them in MP3 (or any other) format. Eventually, I suppose, I will have to break down and digitize the albums I want that I cannot find on the web... unless you know where I might get them?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It's no "bimbo eruption" but...

Let's talk about Herman Cain. The guy came out of nowhere, a businessman with no real political experience, and has moved up in the polls to lead the race for the Republican nomination. Plain speaking, with a bit of a "in your face" style with the media, he has defied the conventional wisdom.

If you pay attention, you will note a trend in these nomination races. A candidate moves up in the polls to lead or challenge the leader, and the media finds dirt to expose. Yes, it also happens to Democrats but they have no contenders for the nomination so the only game in town is on the Republican side.

Whether these stories of past wrongdoing are true or not won't matter in the long run. Enough people, enough "likely voters", will believe them and that will likely derail the target's chances. Not always, though, and I point to the Gennifer Flowers stories that popped up during Bill Clinton's nomination run as a recent example. At first, it was all denials and then followed the defamation of the character of the "accuser" and any other woman who has a similar story. At least, that's the way the Clinton story played out. A well organized campaign by staffers who knew the truth and developed a strategy to counter the damage.

I don't believe Cain has that kind of staff. He also does not have the media on his side. He will not get a pass on this, as Clinton did. Instead, he will get hounded and the more he demands the media not badger him with questions on it, the more they will badger him with questions on it. And that isn't because the media wants the truth, it's because they think it (the story) will attract more readers and/or more viewers. That's the way it works.

Sex scandals work well to topple frontrunners in Republican politics. Not so well in Democratic politics. Limbaugh calls sex scandals "resume enhancements" for Democrats. That's only been true since Bill Clinton, I think. But Republican voters are more puritanical, they want candidates that live up to an ideal. Unrealistic but that's the way it is in the GOP.

So this may be the beginning of the end for Herman Cain.

I would like to point out that I have sexually harassed women. I admit it. Wives, girlfriends, and a few female friends. Even the occasional barmaid or waitress. If you count flirting as sexual harassment. Or if you count someone overhearing a bawdy joke. Or a touch of a shoulder. But I was never in a position of power where there might be sufficient resentment that I would be charged civilly or criminally. If I offended woman, and she let me know she was offended (either verbally or by actions), I would apologize.

But I can guarantee you that if I ran for office, it would be found out, dragged out into the open, and I would have to deal with it.

Perhaps that is as it should be.

On the economic front, Greece is being seen as a key to the economic health of the European community. My prediction is that the referendum will fail and the Euro will teeter on the brink of collapse because of it. If Greece fails, Italy or Spain will follow soon after.

An interesting week, wouldn't you say?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Morlocks and Eloi

I am reading The Time Machine by H.G. Wells on my Nook Color . I picked it up at the Project Gutenberg website, a site I highly recommend to all eReader owners and to anyone with a computer. Especially, if you like the classical books.

Let me digress a bit and quote from the Project Gutenberg page...

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You can find just about anything to suit your literary taste.

I had never actually read The Time Machine before. Not unless you count the Classics Illustrated version. I read that sometime early in my youth. But I did see the movie starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux. My teachers would all be ashamed of me.

The story is widely known, I don't have to recap it here. Nor do a book review. But there are so many things buried within it that I will probably read it several times. Observations on human nature, good vs evil, evolution, fear and overcoming it, the meaning of one's existence, love, and much more. I suppose that is why it is considered a classic.

There are some good books that examine the distant fate of humankind. This may be the earliest. It may, therefore, be flawed but also the best. I actually read a sequel called "The Time Ships" written in 1995 by Stephen Baxter which is also quite good.

I am fascinated by visions of the future. I am also fascinated by visions of the past. I am often appalled by visions of the present, however.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I am glad I am not a judge

On October 31st, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision for the third time in a single case.

It's an interesting case and I find myself both agreeing with the majority (6) and with the minority/dissent (3).

Let me provide the background:

"The case involves the conviction of Shirley Ree Smith for allegedly shaking and killing 7-week-old Etzel. At her 1997 trial, jurors heard conflicting testimony about whether the infant died of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) or of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The jury decided that Ms. Smith had caused the death. She was subsequently sentenced to serve 15 years to life in prison."
[read more]

In 2006, the 9th Circuit Court reversed the decision of the District Court and ordered Ms Smith freed. The state of California appealed.

As I read through the articles and then the USSC decision, I found myself torn between the law and the emotion involved. I am reasonably sure the Court's majority was also torn. There are multiple tragedies involved: a baby is dead, a grandmother spends ten years in prison and may have to return to serve out the remainder of her sentence, a family is torn apart.

On the legal issues, I have to agree with the decision. On emotional grounds, I side with the defendant. It is not, however, the purpose of the Appeals court to re-try the case and act as both judge and jury and the 9th Circuit Court clearly overstepped its authority. I do not see where the USSC had any other choice. To rule otherwise would turn our legal system on its head and violate the 6th Amendment. On the other hand, my heart goes out to the grandmother and I wonder what I am missing that the original jury saw.

Here are some links which may be useful in understanding the case:

Supreme Court reinstates 'shaken baby' verdict

Supreme Court Decision (PDF)

I would be interested in how others feel about the case and decision.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A sweet but dry aroma, subtle, but pungent

In the never ending quest to bring you, the reader, important facts and entertaining stories... I often fail. Miserably. But that's okay, I am used to failure. A lifetime of poor choices has given me plenty of experience and taught me acceptance of my shortcomings.

One of my shortcomings, it seems, is the lack of a discerning palate. Let's first define "palate" for those of you who think it might be some kind of foreign car:

pal·ate (plt)
1. The roof of the mouth in vertebrates having a complete or partial separation of the oral and nasal cavities and consisting of the hard palate and the soft palate.
2. Botany The projecting part on the lower lip of a bilabiate corolla that closes the throat, as in a snapdragon.
3. The sense of taste: delicacies pleasing to the most refined palate.

In my case, the shortcoming has to do with definition #3. When I was a small child, I didn't care what cereal I ate as long as it tasted sweet. Very sweet. Meat (and just about everything else) required salt. Which I added before taking my first bite. It may have something to do with role models. This was the routine at our dinner table:

Mom puts the already loaded plates in front of us, Dad reaches for and applies salt liberally. Mom sits down and does the same. I have no idea what my brother and sister do, I only pay attention to them in self defense anyway. I apply salt. We eat. We play with our food (not my parents, just my siblings and I). No one compliments Mom on her cooking. We only rarely ask what it was.

I thought people that drank black coffee were strange, mustard was not as good as ketchup, and Miracle Whip was a staple. And I never used pepper.

It took the Navy to teach me how to eat. Again, it was in self defense. I had to eat to survive. They taught me to trust my taste buds and that I could acquire a sense of taste for foods I once adamantly refused to eat. When it was all that I could get.

What they didn't teach me was to discern fine wines from cheap, or "good" beer from "bad."

I still haven't a clue.

I read about blind taste tests of beer many decades ago. What they uncovered was that it is a rare palate that can tell the difference. To this day, I chuckle when my friends demand Bud Lite instead of Miller Lite or Michelob Ultra. And, one of these days, I am going to bribe the barmaid to give them Miller when they ask for Bud and see what happens. When I was drinking, all I cared about was the alcohol content and the only beer I disliked was Hamm's. I even drank Orbit (a beer I suspected was brewed with canal water in Dade County). For fine wine, I drank Red Mountain Vin Rose. In the gallon jug ($1.49). That winery is now called "Carlo Rossi's Red Mountain Vineyards" and the price has increased considerably. As an aside, do you see much vin rose around these days? No? Not surprised... it just means "red wine".

Are you able to discern the subtle differences between foods and wines and beer?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How come they haven't invented a medical tricorder yet?

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand
I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can?

[Jackson Browne - "Doctor my eyes"]

Every so often, I have minor health problems. You do too, I am sure. Mostly aches and pains, stiffness, and the like. When I was young, I often just ignored them. Unless they lasted for more than a day or two. Even then, all I had to do is back off anything strenuous (a rarity anyway) for a few days and all would usually be fine.

About the only time that didn't work was some back trouble that started when I was 16. It does not end well when you pretend you are walking the high wire as you try to walk across the backs of row seats in a bowling alley. Why would I do that, you ask? Consider the strong possibility that alcohol was involved. In any event, it happened and I paid the price. I am sure everyone has a story that explains why he cannot help you move that old refrigerator or sleeper sofa. Most involve a bit of youthful stupidity.

Because of that minor injury, I must avoid any shoes with hard heels or standing on my feet for very long. I must also sit up straight, avoid slouching in chairs, or just about anything that involves jumping up and down or repeated standing up and sitting down. I must make sure my lower back muscles are kept strong without overtaxing them. This was not medical advice, just lessons learned from experience.

The doctor I saw at the time told me I might be using a cane by the time I was 30. He was wrong. As doctors often are.

All of that came to me as I read this article about the overuse of MRI's. [link]
I wonder if I was lucky that my injury occurred before they had Magnetic Resonance Imaging?

And now I am at that age where all around me are people having knee or hip replacements, or carpal tunnel surgery, and I wonder how I will fare over the next decade of my life?