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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Up The Resolution

Have you thought up a New Year's resolution yet? That's the tradition, after all... make a resolution for the new year; some personal improvement, perhaps. Start a diet, strive for more, become more (or less) assertive, change how we interact with others, and so on.

I made a resolution many years ago which changed my life. I have stuck to it for many, many years now. And that's a problem, isn't it? Sticking to a New Year's resolution. We make them, often announce them to friends and/or family, and then abandon them within days or weeks.

Resolutions are just difficult to keep for very long. Experts tell us we should not make grandiose ones, that we have a better chance of keeping ones that entail making only a small change in our behavior. And that making several small, seemingly insignificant, ones will not only be more easily kept but will produce the significant change we want.

Of course, that presumes we can break down the behavior we wished to change into its component parts. Perhaps into its smallest component parts. Most of us cannot do that. It takes a self-awareness that would, to me, preclude our developing the behaviors we have come to dislike in the first place.

My favorite analogy regarding resolutions is about the times I tried to quit smoking as a teen. I tried on many occasions to quit that habit. I don't recall if I ever used it as a New Year's resolution but I don't think that matters. A resolution is a resolution, is it not? I would decide to quit at the end of a day wherein I had smoked more than my usual pack a day. I would throw away the remains of whatever pack I had in my pocket. I would resolve firmly (in my mind) to not smoke again and go home and go to bed.

In the morning, I would get up, get dressed, and head off for school or whatever I was going to do that day. As I started out, I would habitually tap my shirt pocket and realize it was empty. I would then stop at the 7-Eleven a couple of blocks from my house and buy a pack of cigarettes. Yes, I would have completely forgotten that I had resolved to quit smoking. I would buy the pack, open it, shake or tap out a cigarette, stick in in my mouth, light it, and continue on my way to wherever I was going. Often, it would not be until I was on my second or third smoke that I would remember my resolution.

There were other behaviors, other habits, that I needed to break in order to quit.  I just hadn't broken it down yet. You see, a behavior, a habit, isn't just one thing. It's a group of supporting behaviors/habits which grow up around the one you dislike and you may be almost completely unaware of these.

Oh, that one resolution I made way back when? The one I have always kept?

To never make another New Year's Resolution.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's Time to Step Off That Cliff

I am reminded of that scene where Butch and Sundance were staring at the rushing waters below and contemplating jumping to escape the posse. Butch is urging that they jump and Sundance is reluctant, he wants to shoot it out. Sundance tells Butch that he can't swim and Butch says in response:

"Hell, the fall will probably kill you!"

And then they jump. 
According to the scare tactics of the political punditry and media world, we are headed for a fiscal cliff... or a fiscal slope, they don't seem to know for sure. If it's a cliff, everything will come apart at once. Your paycheck will shrink, prices will rise (in a skyrocketry fashion), and layoffs will abound as companies frantically try to cut costs or simply go under. If it's a slope then these things will still happen but over a longer period of time.

We will all be affected, they say, in one way or the other.

In the end, the rich will pay more in taxes but so will everyone else.  And we'll adapt. We'll shrug and just keep on going. Unemployment will go up but, for the vast majority, it'll just be tough times where we have to make careful choices about how we spend what money we have.

I don't think the Congress will come up with a real solution that will actually work. This has been coming for a long, long time and any attempt by Congress to fix things at this late date will likely just push off the inevitable for another few months or a year.

I am one of those who say "Let it happen!"

It's like when you were a child and Mom wanted you to take that icky tasting medicine. In the end, you just shut your eyes (and maybe held your nose) and let her put that spoonful of terrible in your mouth and you swallowed. Because, in the end, there was no escape.

They tell addicts that the first step in getting straight is to accept that you have a problem and then just take the pain of withdrawal.

It's time, I think.

And, to be honest, I do not see that the president is all that worried. I think he realizes it won't hurt him in any way. He'll just blame the Republicans for not making a deal. And the media will back him up. In reality, it was both political parties that created this mess. It's been building for decades.

Hold onto your hats, folks, we are in for a rough ride.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Maybe It's Not All Doom and Gloom

Concerned about what used to be called "Global Warming" and is now called "Global Climate Change?"  Me too. Although I am concerned more about how we are reacting to it than with trying to forestall it or reverse it. I believe our greatest strength as a species is our ability to adapt. Yet, we seem to be ignoring that in favor of panic and a vain (I believe) desire to avoid the seemingly inevitable.

Now, we seem to be learning that climate change might have been what made us what we are. This article,  Erratic Environment May Be Key to Human Evolution, offers the argument that rapid changes in environment forced changes in diet which forced changes in behavior and how our brains worked. And may even have increased brain power.

From the article:

"Early humans went from having trees available to having only grasses available in just 10 to 100 generations, and their diets would have had to change in response," Magill said in a statement. "Changes in food availability, food type, or the way you get food can trigger evolutionary mechanisms to deal with those changes. The result can be increased brain size and cognition, changes in locomotion and even social changes — how you interact with others in a group."

If this proves out, could it turn our view of the changing environment on its pointy little head?

I can only hope.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

The rich ain't so bad

I wish I was rich. I've always felt this way. Never wanted to be famous, just filthy rich. Of course, since I had no ambition and was never willing to make the kind of effort, or take the necessary risks, it would take to get rich I didn't have that proverbial snowball's chance. 

Still, I managed to avoid envy and resentment toward the amazingly wealthy. Somehow. And, of late, I see a lot of that. Anger at the "1%" seems not only pointless (they don't care, I think) but foolish.

Most wealthy people got there through hard work and dedication. Traits that usually are admired everywhere. Except by the Occupy Wall Street folks, it seems. Oh sure, there are some who merely inherited their wealth but that wealth is there because someone in their family's history worked his butt off, took risks, and created jobs for other people. And probably inspired others to seek success too which also likely provided jobs and goods and services that made not only this country but people around the world better off.

I will give you an example: 

From the article...

Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of the company, said that the launch was a success...

He didn't make his money in this venture, he made it before he started up SpaceX. But the money he made, the success he enjoyed, allowed him to start this company.

Just something to consider.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What's Your Greatest Fear?

Roosevelt, in his first inauguration speech, once famously intoned "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Looking back on that statement, I think it both makes sense and makes no sense. He was talking about the Great Depression and people were afraid; afraid of the future which looked bleak indeed but also of the many problems which seemed insurmountable. Roosevelt gave them hope. Hope tends to help us conquer fear, I think.

While pondering this, a question came to my mind... What is my greatest fear? What frightens me above all else?

Mulling it over, I came up with my answer: It depends on the situation.

When I was a small child, my greatest fear was of abandonment. I had nightmares about it. It was an irrational fear; my parents would never have abandoned me (though they may have had cause to from time to time) and I believe I knew that at some level... near the surface. But deep inside me, in that most insecure part of me, I feared abandonment more than just about anything else... except maybe my older brother... the bully.

But I have had many fears in my life. I feared I would always be short and skinny. In a way, I feared fear itself too. That is, I was afraid of being a coward. I am sure I was not alone in that fear but it's mostly a guy thing and it is very real. I became afraid of heights over time. I still have a fear of heights (acrophobia) but it's mostly that I suffer from vertigo. I used to overcome the acrophobia fairly easily just by will power. I would climb a ladder reluctantly but determined and, while I was never comfortable at any height above a few feet, eventually I would relax enough to feel confident. Vertigo took that away.

And I always had a fear of what others, especially girls and women, thought of me. Girls, especially, scared the heck out of me. One of the reasons I drank heavily in my teens and early twenties was to overcome that fear. It masked it, allowed me to relax, any miscues or gaffs could be blamed on the alcohol.  It also dealt nicely with that fear of being a coward. Get me drunk enough (which wasn't difficult to do) and I was fearless.

I also had a fear of failure. Undoubtedly related to that fear of what others might think of me, it kept me from taking risks when opportunities presented themselves. It kept me on that path to ultimate mediocrity (my greatest achievement). Thinking about this fear of failure, I have come to recognize I also had a fear of success. Succeed and people expect you to continue to succeed. I never felt I could repeat successes.

I can look back on my life and find reasons why I had these fears and why I let them control my life but the reasons are merely excuses. And now that I know that, I cannot go back and change my life.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

From me to you

                                        Merry Christmas Everyone!

Monday, December 24, 2012


Tomorrow's the Big Day, isn't it? Kids all excited and hopeful and on edge. Parents worried about how to pay for it all but looking forward to the joy on their children's faces.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Watch them closely


I think there are two primary rules of politics.

1. Never grant power to a political office that you would not want other political parties to have.
2. Never trust the advice from any opposing political party or candidate.

Unlike myself and my career, people do not just happen to luck into politics. I didn't seek a job with the phone company because I felt a calling for it, I sought it because I needed a job; something that would pay a decent wage. I had no illusions that it was a stepping stone to success, that it would bring me fame and fortune, or afford me a lavish lifestyle. It was just a job. Of course, I am a guy who never had any great ambition.

In order to become a politician (or any so-called important professional) one must prepare for it. One must first determine the goal and then follow the steps that will lead one there. You don't simply stumble through the first 20 or so years of your life and find yourself poised to succeed in politics.

Most politicians run for office while in school, seek leadership positions, study political science, seek out and get accepted to a respected university. Most find jobs as interns or aides to office holders as part of their preparation. They focus on the prize, so to speak.

Almost all say they feel a desire to serve the public.

Bull! They have a desire to attain power. Or enhanced status... which is also power.

Sometimes it is a family business. This, I think, is what was behind the monarchies of Europe and elsewhere. The Kennedys, the Bushes, the Rockefellers all had power that came from a family fortune. Money is power, after all. Not just in America... everywhere. And power increases fortune. More money, more power; more power, more money. We can wish it wasn't so but that would be just another wasted wish.

So, somewhere along the way, Barack Obama chose politics. He may not have started out that way, he may not have dreamed of high political office as a child, but at some point in his early life he began to aspire to power. Bill Clinton remarked (I am sure more than a few times) that meeting JFK at age 17 set him on the path to the White House.

I do not fully grasp the desire to become president of the United States. Of course, I am one without any significant ambition or desire for power in any form. All my life I have tried to avoid the limelight and any responsibility. What makes a person want the fate of much of the world in his or her hands? I don't even want my own fate in my hands.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Facts? We don't need no steekin' facts!

It's weird what we do not know and even weirder that we think we know more than we do.

For instance, we have had little accurate information about the atrocity at the Sandy Hook school. But we seem to think we know how it can be prevented in the future and what weapons need to be banned or whose gun ownership should be restricted.

Think of all the things that were initially reported and turned out to be wrong:

Ryan Lanza was initially identified as the shooter.
The mother taught at the school or volunteered there.
There may have been more than one shooter.
The shooter used an AR-15 "assault" rifle.

There are more but let's go over these.

It was Adam Lanza, Ryan's younger brother. An understandable mistake since it was reported that Adam carried Ryan's identification. Makes me wonder why Ryan did not have it or if he even knew his identification was missing. Ryan worked in Manhattan and lived in New Jersey.

The mother hadn't volunteered at the school for quite some time.

There was only one shooter. Another understandable error, the police always assume more than one shooter until they confirm there are no others.

It turns out the Bushmaster .223 (based on the AR-15... a similar shaped weapon) was left in the trunk of the car Adam drove to the school.  In simple terms, it was not fired at the school.

[Update: apparently the reports that the Bushmaster was left in the trunk is wrong or maybe right. CNN on the 19th reported a shotgun was in the trunk but another site says that NBC reported the Bushmaster was in the trunk while also reporting the coroner saying all wounds were made by a "rifle"... so we still aren't getting accurate information]

The last fact is important. Everywhere I go on the internet where gun control laws are being discussed the comments and discussion center around the Bushmaster and its "30 round magazine." Since it was not used, the weapon and its magazine capacity doesn't matter. 

There's also a common misunderstanding that automatic weapons are not illegal. They are. Yes, they can be purchased but first you have to apply for (from the federal government) a class 4 firearms license. Then you have to have the money to purchase one (selling for well above the "normal" cost)... if you can find one for sale.

The two handguns used in the shooting are semi-automatic, as is the Bushmaster, and more easily obtained. The shooter's mother was the owner of the legally purchased weapons... all of them. [Connecticut weapons laws]  I have seen a couple of reports (and lots of comments) describing the mother as a "survivalist" and a "doomsday believer", but no proof has been provided and I suspect it is only because she owned and liked her guns and went target shooting.

But it doesn't matter, armed with emotion and incorrect "facts", people are calling for new laws doing what the old laws already did.

Consider what happened that we do know:

The shooter killed his mother and stole the weapons (or maybe he stole the weapons and then killed his mother), went to the school, murdered 20 children and 6 adults and then killed himself... possibly when he heard the police arriving. That's it. That is all we know.

I have seen at least one report that the shooter's mother was seeking a place to send her son, to institutionalize him, and that he was upset by this. I do not know how true this is but maybe we should take it into account before we make it easier to commit someone to psychiatric treatment

Laws written and enacted in the heat of the moment, in the emotional turmoil following a tragedy, often have to be undone or modified to correct the unintended consequences. We should move slowly and with great deliberation.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

A number of things run through my mind as I sit down to write something, anything, to post on this blog. Most of them simply run through and fall out that gaping hole somewhere in the back of my head but, occasionally, one gets snagged on the dangerous reefs that sit just below the surface. And it is never as good as it first seemed.


I am familiar with hidden reefs. I was once young, healthy, and a surfer. I am old now and wouldn't even try to surf again. Even though I am aging quickly now, I am not growing more stupid. I think I have reached the heights of stupidity and there is just nowhere more to go in that regard.

But getting back to reefs... Coral reefs are living things, they tell me, and I have no reason not to believe them. They may seem like dead, inanimate rocks but the coral is actually alive. Even reefs which are dead, there is all manner of life living in, around, and on them.

My own experience with reefs is limited to trying to walk across one that had a foot or so water above it. Barefoot. Trying to grab my surfboard before the reef chewed it up and made it near useless. I learned a valuable lesson that day... reefs hurt!

I have done a little snorkeling around reefs and wonder at the beauty and magic of them.

Visit one on your next vacation to the Caribbean or Mexico. Or if you are lucky to live near one.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Book Report for This Month

Frittered away yesterday. That doesn't mean I spent the day eating fritters (conch or corn), it means I wasted the day playing Monopoly, solitaire, and reading.

I was finishing up a book, an historical novel, about the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, 1941. I am enamored of that period... from the early 30's to the end of World War II. So any book on the subject is of interest to me. This book, written by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen, came to my attention while watching a Book TV (I think) show on CSPAN. I realize that only 3 or 4 people at a time watch CSPAN but more definitely should.

However, this book was both interesting and a disappointment. The actual title (at our library anyway) was "Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th". I found that odd, as I am pretty sure the attack was on the 7th. Of course, that would have been the 8th in Japan but nowhere did the authors say that was their intent. Not on the cover, not in the jacket blurb, not in the introduction. And then, inside the book, they get the date entirely wrong again... but then correct that several pages later without comment. This confused me further but I am easily confused so I chose to overlook this.

The book is a good read and is somewhat informative but you need to know some facts about the history of Japan and events leading up to the attack before reading it because the authors toss in a couple of "what if's" that would throw you off.

Still, I recommend it to WWII buffs.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Act in haste, repent at leisure

Every time we have a tragedy such as the one in Newtown, Conn. We fret and fuss and make demands that government find a way to prevent it from ever happening again. The only one we didn't do that with, oddly, was the mall shooting in Oregon. I don't know why. Perhaps because there was nothing about it that lent itself to the usual rants that pop up after a shooting.

You know the rants I mean, the calls for more gun control laws. Perhaps the Oregon mall shooting didn't trigger those because it became clear quickly that the shooter had stolen the weapon he used.

These things are scary and I understand the kneejerk reactions regarding guns.

Guns are scary things. But the fewer people who have guns will just make them scarier. The less familiar one is with something, the less one understands them or views them positively.

What can we do to prevent a tragedy such as the Sandy Hook shootings? I don't know. We could confiscate all the guns in civilian hands in this country and it won't stop a crazy person from killing. He will use a knife, he will use fire, he will use explosives.

Could we increase the restrictions? Possibly. But the Sandy Hook case tells us that we would have to restrict or deny gun ownership by anyone with a relative with any kind of mental problems. I don't see how we could do that. And the shooter's problems stem from a form of autism, not paranoid schizophrenia, a condition not considered potentially violent.

You will hear many people calling for something, anything to be done in the next few days and weeks. But laws passed in the heat of the moment, when emotions are high, are rarely wise or effective.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

Aside from the absence of those flying cars we early Baby Boomers were promised back in the Fifties, I also note the glaring absence of personal robots. And, in the spirit of "almost anyone can explain this better than me", I give you this New Yorker article:
Wherein Gary Marcus does a good job of explaining why creating "Data"-like androids has not yet happened... and is not likely to happen in the near future. Assuming it will happen eventually, it will be because of rich people seeking a way to reduce the cost of servants.

A bit of irony there, wouldn't you say? Outsourcing of labor due to cost leads to manufacturing most, if not all, electronics outside the U.S. and that dynamic is also driving the robotics innovations. Eventually, instead of exploiting illegal immigrants we'll eventually be exploiting cheap overseas labor to make robots that replace illegal immigrants who will then stay in their respective countries producing robots to exploit instead.

So why do I say the rich will be the reason robots will come to be? Simple. The rich can pay for the research, can invest in the technology, and can afford to purchase the first models... just as they helped bring about cell phones, flat screen TVs, and just about every other innovation that has ever existed.

It's a strange world.

I dream of having a robotic chauffeur piloting my flying car.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Can I brag now?

Have I told you about my grandchildren? All grandparents, of course, have the most wonderful grandchildren in the world. Each of us knows his or her grandchildren are the best children ever and are so talented and so beautiful as to put all others to shame.

I am no different.

Brianna and Britney are truly grandchildren to be proud of. Beautiful and talented and loved so much by their parents and grandparents as well as all who know them.

And now Brianna has won the first Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition on TV's Lifetime Channel.

And the Facebook Page.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What up, bro?

Last week, I offered a post using an email I had received regarding the word "up" called "Up, Up, and Away".

The other day, it came to mind again and I mused about how it is misused...

Do you really button up your shirt? Or do you, as I do, button it down?

When someone shouts "Heads up!" don't they really mean "Get your head down"? On the golf course, we often shout "Fore!" when we really mean "Look behind you!"

Then there are folks who say"That's just up the road" and then tell you to drive down the road" to get there.

It's all so confusing. Aren't you glad I brought this up?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Belmont Steaks, anyone?

From time to time, we in the U.S. are told of concerns and outrages concerning our food supply. The e.coli outbreaks, the issues of various food additives for preservation and processing, and even concerns about the packaging (see BPA concerns).

And now.... horsemeat.

Yes, horsemeat. We do not consume it here in the States, of course (though we feed it to our dogs, I think), but I was surprised to learn that Europe does. And that they are processed in Canada and Mexico.

It isn't the horsemeat itself that's the outrage (though it is, I am sure, to some), it's that some of the meat comes from racehorses and these animals receive a number of drugs during their careers.  There are safeguards, regulations, in place to minimize the problem but some tainted meat gets through from time to time. As we all know, the percentage caught is often a small percentage of the actual number affected.  Let me give you a quote from a NY Times article:

Despite the fact that racehorses make up only a fraction of the trade in horse meat, the European officials have indicated that they may nonetheless require lifetime medication records for slaughter-bound horses from Canada and Mexico, and perhaps require them to be held on feedlots or some other holding area for six months before they are slaughtered.

I had no idea...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

History is never the way we were taught it

I have been watching something called "The Untold History of the U.S." on Showtime. It's history as told by Oliver Stone and co-author Peter Kuznick (professor of History and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University), based on their book of the same name. The series is also directed and narrated by Mr. Stone.

Great quotes about history:

The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.

History can be well written only in a free country.

History is written by the winners.

I disagree vehemently with Oliver Stone's politics. And, it may come as no surprise, I disagree with his view of history. Especially as portrayed in this series. However, if you can overlook his bias and ignore his prejudices, it is a good series so far.

Let me explain one of the things I take issue with. Stone (and, I assume, Professor Kuznick) feel the atomic bombs dropped on Japan were unnecessary and (I get the feeling) possibly war crimes. The reason I was taught (and what was given at the time and throughout most of the 50's and 60's) we dropped those bombs on Hiroshima (8/6/1945) and Nagasasaki (8/9/1945) was to push Japan into surrendering without having to invade the island nation.

The revisionists paint it differently, they believe that Japan might have surrendered anyway before any invasion out of fear of the Soviets and that the U.S. could have ended the war earlier by agreeing to leave the emperor in place (which we eventually did anyway).

Why and how do I disagree with the revisionists? I think they ignore some facts. First, Japan was mobilizing the civilian population to defend the nation, as Hitler did to defend Berlin, or die in the attempt. We already knew the Japanese Army and Navy viewed surrender as dishonorable and unconscionable, preferring death to that dishonor. We had seen that happen on various islands as we fought our way toward the main island of Japan. It was not fantasy or propaganda. Second, I think the revisionists are ignoring the facts on the ground after the initial A-bomb was dropped.

To illustrate, let's imagine that Hitler's scientists had developed the atomic bomb before he was defeated. Would he have used it? I certainly think so. But where would he have used it and what would have been the Allies reaction to its use?

I think it is unlikely that he would have dropped it on London... for the same reason we did not drop ours on Tokyo. If you wipe out the government of a nation you are at war with, there is no one to do the surrendering. After all, you are not actually at war with the people of a nation, you are at war with its government. So you would likely destroy a less important city. Pick a random city in England with a population of a 100,000 or more and pretend Hitler dropped his A-bomb on it, wiping it off the map. And then he sends an ultimatum to the Allies threatening more A-bombs on more cities if we do not withdraw from Europe.

What do you think we would have done? Remember that we, in my scenario, did not yet have our own A-bomb.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What are we and why?

One of the things which has interested me for much of my life is the debate on "nature vs nurture." I have never been able to decide which takes precedence. Mostly, I think, it's nature that dictates how we perceive (and react to) nurture.  Think of genetic makeup as the filter through which we view our environment.

Every so often, an article on some social experiment or study reinforces my basic hypothesis. For instance, from an article/opinion in The Atlantic magazine website:

Egalia, a new state-sponsored pre-school in Stockholm, is dedicated to the total obliteration of the male and female distinction. There are no boys and girls at Egalia—just "friends" and "buddies." Classic fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White have been replaced by tales of two male giraffes who parent abandoned crocodile eggs. The Swedish Green Party would like Egalia to be the norm: It has suggested placing gender watchdogs in all of the nation's preschools. "Egalia gives [children] a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be," says one excited teacher. (It is probably necessary to add that this is not an Orwellian satire or a right-wing fantasy: This school actually exists.) 

The problem with Egalia and gender-neutral toy catalogs is that boys and girls, on average, do not have identical interests, propensities, or needs. Twenty years ago, Hasbro, a major American toy manufacturing company, tested a playhouse it hoped to market to both boys and girls. It soon emerged that girls and boys did not interact with the structure in the same way. The girls dressed the dolls, kissed them, and played house. The boys catapulted the toy baby carriage from the roof. A Hasbro manager came up with a novel explanation: "Boys and girls are different."

[You Can Give a Boy a Doll...]

It would be so easy to say, "You are destined to be what nature designed you to be" and leave it at that but we aren't so easily defined and nature makes errors from time to time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

We are all "special"

The concept of "minority" is a political construct. Think about it, we are all members of some minority or another. Take me, for example:

I am white (about 16% of the world population), I am Anglo-Saxon, and I was born into a Protestant family. A WASP, if you will. However, I am male ( barely a majority in world population but a minority in the U.S.) and, rejecting that Protestant birthright, atheist (a minority everywhere), making me a WASA... an acronym I just made up. I am also in the top 5 percentile in intelligence* (based on IQ tests)... definitely a minority. I am also heterosexual which definitely puts me in the majority.

I am sure you could do the same with yourself. Something, probably most things, about you constitute some kind of minority status. Not only that but you have moved into and out of minority status as you went through life. If you were born and/or raised in the U.S., you were a citizen of a single state of the 48 (when I was born) or 50 (after 1959).

In my case, I was a citizen of New York (before April of 1956) and then a citizen of Florida (from April of 1956 to December of 1969). After that, my home state changed randomly.

And, as an American, I am also part of a minority in the world. I am also a part of another minority, a large one; the Baby Boomers in the U.S. As a child, I was a minor and also a minority of the population. And then as a teenager, also in the minority. I served in the military and, even more, during a military conflict and served in what was called a "combat zone."

My point is that the actual status of minority has more to do with where you live and when you live and who is in power than it does with skin color and ethnicity. 

Just something to think about.

And here is something to chuckle about:

*This does not mean I am smart, merely that I handle tests very well. The dumb things I have done in my life prove that.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

I am tired and cranky and, therefore, honest

I had something else planned for today. I changed my mind because:

1. I received some bad news concerning my brother-in-law's cancer battle.
2. There's a  fiscal crisis looming.

I won't go into my brother-in-law's problems. We all know, or have known, people battling cancer and so you know what I am feeling about that right now.

As for the fiscal crisis, I am not optimistic. Democrats are poised to blame Republicans regardless of what happens and Republicans are up against a wall because they know they will be blamed.

At this point, I am in favor of letting whatever will happen happen. The only thing Congress will do is try to "kick the can" down the road. There will be no long term solution magically appearing in the next few weeks.

Pretend it is a band-aid on a scrape on your knee. And it needs to be changed. Yank it off!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bright lights and darkness, a human condition

I came across something interesting yesterday... perhaps you did too... a video of composite pictures of Earth at night assembled by NASA. link to video

The narrator remarks on the natural geographic boundaries seen and on the political boundaries. The most obvious one being the Korean Peninsula with North Korea in darkness (for the most part) and South Korea a sea of light.

It also shows the United States with a lot of light east of the Mississippi River and dwindling in the west until you near the coast. Another interesting shot shows the Nile River as a ribbon of light from the delta on the Mediterranean Sea meandering south into the African continent.

The lights reflect human habitation more than wealth or civilization. Although relative wealth is clearly a factor. Civilization, however, is often confused with that...

I wanted to embed the full video to save you from having to link away to it but could not find a way to do it. I did find this, a shorter silent version:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thinking outside the box (of sugar)

I have a lot of theories, most are hare-brained and unworthy of anyone's serious attention. But, on occasion, my hare-brained theories are found to have solid foundations and quite a bit of truth underlying them.

Then I wake up.

No, that's not so.

Let's go into a second theory about artificial sweeteners and the increasing rate of diabetes. My first theory on them can be found buried in this post wherein I opine that the body needs sugar (even that "empty calorie" kind) and stores any calories it can find if it deems it is being deprived of such.

My second theory on artificial sweeteners is that they are behind the increase in diabetes. The current conventional wisdom is that the increase is tied to our obesity epidemic. Maybe... refer back to my first theory... Or maybe its because there is a slowdown in the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin and that this slowdown is triggered by a lack of sufficient sugar intake.

You see, the human body is the product of millions of years of evolution. An evolution that included what I call "diets of opportunity." Humans adapted to their environments. That means they ate what was immediately available to them. There was no huge distribution of food, you ate the vegetation around you that your body could tolerate well and thrive on, you ate the meat of animals you could easily hunt, as long as these didn't kill you or make you ill. And you needed energy so you sought foods in your surroundings that could provide it quickly and efficiently.

At some point, maybe 50 or more years ago, some mad scientists came up with the idea of artificial sweeteners because sugar was deemed "bad" for you. 

I don't mean to say that diabetes started then. That disease/condition has been around since the beginning, I am sure. I am only saying that maybe, just maybe, the advent of artificial sweeteners was the beginning of the rapid increase in diabetes.

And someone ought to look into that possibility.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

We are gathered here today to annoy Douglas

We all engage in rituals at some point during our lives. Confirmations, Bar (or Bas) Mitzvahs, graduations, weddings, military inductions, oaths of office, and birthday celebrations are the most common.

There are also informal rituals...

Shaking hands, or bowing (Asian), when meeting someone.
"High fives" after a score...why do fans at home and in the stands do this, though?
A kiss or hug goodbye/hello.
The seemingly obligatory "dance" in the end zone.
A batter's luck ritual just before he steps into the batter's box. 
The golfer's setup before hitting a ball (watch Keegan Bradley sometime).
I am sure you can think of many more (just try not to now).
I avoid them whenever I can. I hate rituals. Always have. I understand their purpose, I understand that others enjoy them and appreciate them, but I don't.

I think that about sums it up for me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The aliens are coming!

As we were waiting to tee off the other day... golf is how I waste my money and time while pretending I know what I am doing... a fellow golfer started telling me about a giant spaceship headed for Earth.

When I scoffed at the idea, he explained that it was on the Science Channel, that two others had told him about it, that there was a website talking about it, and so on.

There isn't much a rational person can do in this kind of situation. I did the normal... I shook my head and pretended he wasn't a total idiot. It was not easy. He claimed it was spotted by the Hubble Telescope.

So, when I got home, I Googled "spaceship headed for earth". As I suspected, a lot of people believe this internet rumor. And, as far as I could tell, there was never anything on the Science Channel about it.

Go ahead, Google it... I'll wait.

Back already?

This ranks right up there with the world ending on December 21, 2012 because a Mayan calendar ends on that date. It will either be a rogue planet, a rogue star, or the collapse of the Earth's magnetosphere, or the results of the reversal of Earth's magnetic poles.

While I think the reversal of the poles will create a lot of havoc, and do believe that will happen someday, I don't think it will destroy the world.

In fact, I don't think anything is likely to destroy the world. It's about the only thing I am even vaguely optimistic about. Or maybe that's a pessimistic attitude. I'm not sure.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Here I go again...

I have friends who like Apple products. I think I know why. Apple computers are not primary targets of the various hackers out there, they don't seem to have as many problems, and they are so hip and cool (the Apple products, not my friends... my friends are just as unhip and uncool as I am).

But imagine my lack of surprise when I came across this article:

Upgrading RAM on new iMac practically impossible

I was not surprised because I thought this had been going on for years, if not decades. So, in a way, I was actually surprised.

I have been toying with "personal computers" since 1981 and have always been appreciative of the "open architecture" concept. I was surprised when IBM followed it instead of the proprietary model they had followed in the mainframe and minis.

To be honest, I thought Apple would eventually fall by the wayside because it was aggressively proprietary. That certainly happened to a number of PC makers when they tried it. Apple did almost fail, by the way, but were essentially "bailed out" by Bill Gates and Microsoft in 1997. Apple almost failed not because of its proprietary business model but because of a lack of innovation which the departure of Jobs exacerbated.

"Mr. Gates and Mr. Jobs announced that Microsoft would inject more than $150 million into Apple and take other steps to guarantee Apple's near-term survival. Some Apple zealots in the audience hooted. Others sighed in relief. Virtually all were surprised and confused. Even in cyberspace it is odd for one company to bail out its only rival in a key area of business. Between them, Microsoft and Apple sell the operating systems, which dictate how computers analyze and display information, that run virtually every personal computer."

In my view, Apple was doing fine until Jobs left to build the NeXT computer (which failed miserably). Jobs is (or was) Apple and things started coming apart as soon as he left.  After the Microsoft infusion of cash, Apple soared and under Jobs, began its rise to dominance in devices (iPhone, iPad mostly).

Are we going to see another rough period for Apple?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sometimes mistakes are made

There are a lot of talking heads pontificating about the "fiscal cliff." I don't think I need to explain that term to you, you are smart people. That doesn't mean you actually understand it, just that you have an idea of what it means. You are wrong, though. It means a lot more than simply huge across the board cuts. It will happen, by the way. No, not the way it is described in the media. Congress will not let it happen that way.

Instead, it will be both subtle and massive. Yes, that does sound like a contradiction but we are talking about government here, not reality.

Some people think Obama won't let us go over that metaphorical cliff, that he doesn't want to damage his presidential legacy. I chuckle about that. Why? Simple, I don't think these people have a clue about what Obama sees as his potential legacy. I am fairly sure his version of his legacy cannot be damaged in any way.

You see, we do not know what he feels would be his legacy. He may have hinted at it during his campaign in 2008 where he talked about wanting to "fundamentally change the country." He just didn't tell us what that change would be.

I think there is no stopping him now. Sure, Republicans have control of the House but that means next to nothing. There's a fair chance that Obama will get to appoint two members of the US Supreme Court. He will select two, reasonably young, candidates who will view issues as he would like them viewed. He likely feels that his party will retain control of the Senate in 2014.

Its going to be a bad 4 years for those of us who think less government is better than more. It's going to be a bad 4 years for the middle class who will struggle to pay the rising utility bills, the rising cost of food, and the rising cost of housing if you cannot buy. Rents will go up because of demand and because of taxes on those who own rental properties and because of the increases in the cost of energy and food.

I am not optimistic about the future.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Up, Up, and Away

Those of you who have put up with me for some time know I like wordplay, especially taking a little word and showing how it is important. So read UP and enjoy...

This two-letter word in English has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is 'UP.' It is listed in the dictionary as an [adv], [prep], [adj], [n] or [v].

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?

At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election (if there is a tie, it is a toss UP) and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends, brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and fix UP the old car.

At other times, this little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is blocked UP.

We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look UP the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4 of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with (UP to) a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, it soaks UP the earth. When it does not rain for awhile, things dry UP. One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now . . . my time is UP!

Oh . . . one more thing: What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?



Did that one crack you UP?

Don't screw UP.. Send this on to everyone you look UP in your address book . . . or not . . . it's UP to you.

Now I'll shut UP   

Thursday, November 29, 2012

For those of us with Microsoft based PCs, it is time to think about the next generation of Windows. 

I have been using Microsoft operating systems since they began. Before that, I used CP/M and also dabbled in Unix. I dabbled in Unix because I worked for AT&T and they invented it and, therefore, I had access to computers which ran on it. But these computers were specialized machines, not something we could actually play with.

I had been sent off to weeks upon weeks of schools in 1977 to learn how to troubleshoot and repair a new digital long distance switching system. Amazingly (to me at least), I understood what they were trying to teach us. I got intrigued by computers and I started considering buying a personal computer. I had friends who had bought Radio Shack computers and the first commercial Apples.

I had no idea what to do with one. It's a bit like wanting to date a pretty girl. You aren't sure if she'll be worth the expense and you wonder if you can handle her but lust overcomes all logic and common sense.

I made the plunge in 1981. I bought an Osborne1. It was not cheap. I had no real uses for it but I wanted it. I went through CP/M and then bought an IBM clone,  jumped on MS-DOS 3.1 followed by 5.0. I avoided Windows until Windows95 when it seemed impossible to ignore any longer.

Now comes Windows 8. And it looks like it wasn't designed for this PC on my desk. It looks like a tablet interface.

I have no idea if I will follow along with the crowd on this one...

Sometimes I think they create new operating systems simply because they can.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is that your natural color?

As you can see by my picture, I have an almost white beard. What you cannot see is that my hair is still dark brown (though the gray is gaining ground). I still have a fairly full head of hair... mostly. The brow is growing each day it seems. But it is the color of which I write today.

My beard began showing gray in my 30's. Just the occasional one at first and then more and more settled in so that it was "salt and pepper" in my late forties. At about this time, I began hearing the question, "Do you dye your hair?", because my hair was a rich, dark, brown with no stray gray anywhere.

It's a silly question. Logic dictates that, if I did, I would not allow the beard to give it away.

I found these...



And they brought a chuckle to my mind.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I love the little buggies

My "germ theory" is simple. We are their world, their universe, their ecosystem. They are almost completely dependent upon us and we are almost completely dependent on them They have evolved to live their parasitic little lives inside (and on) our bodies. They exist throughout our bodies; some doing good, some doing harm.

We could call the "good" bacteria symbiotic. After all, they help us digest food, clean up what we cannot absorb (mostly), and make us a bit more comfortable. They may even aid us in our battles against the "bad" bacteria.

Scientific American (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?) puts it this way: [The human body] is more like a complex ecosystem—a social network—containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our skin, genital areas, mouth and especially intestines. [Link]

I am not a scientist, I don't have the education or the skills, much less the discipline, to be one. If they have come to agree with me then I feel vindicated. I came up with this theory many years ago but scientists don't do that. They have to create a hypothesis, determine a way to test it, and then base a theory on the data they uncover in their testing. I applaud them for doing so. 

Oh, and check out this link.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A click of a button and... Nothing?

I have a mouse problem. No, not real live mice. Those are under control; Mickey and Minnie and Morty and Ferdie are a fine family, happily living in my garage feasting on whatever it is they feast on and cavorting, no doubt , with the Dust Bunny family. No, the mouse problem I have is with the ones associated with computers. Specifically, it's a button problem. The left button, to be exact. I break them.

After 10 months of use, the left button gets a bit wacky. Pressing it may get any of three results: no response, a momentary response, or a phantom double-click.  Every mouse I have had in the last 10 years has done this. Wired or wireless, cheap or expensive... it doesn't matter. About the same time after initial installation, the left button gets... undependable.

I tried taking one or two apart and cleaning the switch but it didn't have any effect. It's the electronics, I think. And I suspect the button switch is made by some Chinese kid toiling away in a factory in WaeFahOut, China for a dollar a day. And he makes all of the button switches for all of the computer mice regardless of brand name. Bought in bulk, they cost mouse makers about .001 cents per button and, in my hands, disable any mouse costing from $5 to $39 bucks within a year.

In the old days when mice did not have lasers and our eyes were not at risk, you had to clean the little mouse's ball from time to time. The instructions were readily available and the mouse usually performed quite well once this was done. This was never a big problem for me. But that button thing? Oh yeah... big issue. I have swapped buttons (via software) now and then to extend the life of a mouse but it was a pain because I could not easily retrain my fingers to conform.

So I now tend to buy the cheap as possible mice and initially in pairs so I have a backup.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Notice and duly posted

There's not much interest in politics now. Except for the more rabid aficionados, of course. I am not one of those, I think... I hope.

Anyway, I am going to stop regular posts on Saturday. I might post something on the random Saturday but nothing scheduled.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Who shrunk my pants?

I have been thinking about stupidity. Stupidity strikes us all at various points in our lives. We are faced with problems and decisions and we choose the wrong options. We like to believe we only make a mistake once but I suspect that isn't true. I know it isn't true for me. I have made the same mistake more than once, often more than twice.

For instance, I have made choices in my life that have had adverse consequences that continue to affect me to this day. My only excuse is that I did not realize those consequences would occur and linger and that the circumstances (and my mindset) at the time strongly influenced me. Isn't that always the case? "It seemed like a good idea at the time" was my usual response to my parents' question of "Why?" when they would pick me up at the police station at 1 or 2 in the morning.

These stupidities are an inherent part of human nature, I suppose. And that remains my rationalization.

Like yesterday... I am sure I ate too much.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Being Bugged

I have been thinking about germs. I have written about them before [A Most Personal Invasion] but not so much about my theory on them.

The theory is simple: we exist so that they can exist. We are their world, their universe. Our behavior is, in a way I think, designed to assist their existence and growth. It seems a contradiction, then, that we devote so much time and effort to eradicating them. Well, it's a battle we must engage in so that we can live and, therefore, they can also survive.

"That's just crazy talk", I can hear you muttering while vowing to no longer read this crazy man's blog. And I can understand that. I often think I shouldn't read this blog either. But crazy talk? No, I don't think so. And I may expound on this theory in more depth in some future post. But not today...

Why am I talking about germs? Because I just saw an interview with a doctor who warned about the proliferation of bacteria and viruses on commercial planes. Think about it... People, some sick, climb into a big metal tube with a bunch of other people and share the restrooms, magazines, and use the tray tables; they breathe the same air for hours at a time. The plane lands, spews these folks out and after a very brief and perfunctory clean-up, load a bunch more people before taking off to some other destination.

People sneeze and cough into their hands. They do this to be polite, to avoid spreading germs. But then what do they do with those hands? Do they immediately wash them after each sneeze or cough? Of course not. Do they wipe them down with a hand sanitizer? I suppose some do but the vast majority do not. But they pull down that tray table, read those magazines, handle doors to the restrooms, and touch a lot of other surfaces... surfaces that you, Mr./Ms/Mrs. Traveler, will also be handling.

Yet another reason I drive my car on trips rather than take public transportation of any type.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

And here I thought college students were a waste of oxygen

I saw something the other day about some college (mostly grad) students inventing an after-market hybrid rig for cars.

I went looking for it and found it in two places:

I also found a link to a story in a UK Telegraph blog about a add-on Hybrid kit unveiled in China. But that link just took me to a blank page and I gave up on it.

This is a great idea. I already have a car I like very much and cannot see spending money on a new hybrid. I wouldn't ever recoup my money for one. But I sure wouldn't mind getting better than 14 MPG in town. Yeah, that's all I get around town. After all, I only drive to golf courses (all within 5 miles or so) and the occasional (weekly) restaurant (less than 10 miles). The car doesn't even get warmed up properly. I could easily switch to an all electric car but I cannot see paying what they cost. And they would be less comfortable to ride in and not even as much fun to drive.

I'd get a motorcycle which would be cheap on gas and fun to drive but it's hard to carry a set of golf clubs on one... though I have done it.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I wasn't born lazy, I just ended up that way

Did you get an allowance when you were a child? I didn't. I heard about such things in stories and on TV but I didn't get one. I felt deprived. I wasn't... but I felt like it. In truth, I got fed, I got clothed, I got a roof over my head, and I had no chores for many of my early years. Looking back, I had a pretty good life. Sure, money was not something we had much of. We ate a lot of spaghetti. Mom bought the cheapest foods she could find. In those days, bologna was cheap, ground beef was cheap, tuna was cheap and these became my staples.

I didn't really need an allowance. Mom would give me a quarter now and then, as would my grandfather, and I was pretty frugal with these. Things were cheaper then and it was easy not to spend any cash I had. I don't recall even having a piggy bank, saving wasn't something I learned to do.

My father believed in working for whatever you got. I first learned this at age 5 when I had to sand my first bike so he could paint it. It was an old bike, just a frame, actually. I wasn't old enough to put the bike together, my father did that after it was painted. I did mention my father owned a bike shop, didn't I? Later, I would learn how to fix bikes, put one together from parts, and even tune spokes.

Later, after we moved to Florida, my father decided my brother and I could have allowances... there was a catch, however. We had to pull weeds from the flower beds and the lawn and also mow the lawn. I think the allowance was all of a $1 a week. Neither my brother nor I thought the pay was worth the work and we soon gave up the idea of having an allowance. We didn't need one since Mom would give us money just for asking. And I still didn't need a lot of money and wouldn't for some time... until I got old enough to drive.

I paid for gas by hustling pool, stealing soda bottles to redeem, and charging kids for rides home from school. Gas was cheap then, less than 25 cents a gallon most of the time; $4 would have given me a full tank of gas but I don't think I ever put more than a dollar's worth at any time in my first car. Dates were not expensive, movies only cost a dollar per person and drive-ins were even cheaper.

Eventually, though, I had to get a job. And it's been downhill ever since.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I set myself up for disappointment, I suppose

I finally got a chance to watch "John Carter". As a fan of Burroughs' Barsoom series, I looked forward to it with some trepidation. After all, the director's and screen writer's interpretation might not match my own. They often don't.

Studios often produce movies from books that only vaguely resemble the original stories. It's sad. But, in some cases, quite understandable. The movie technology of the time may simply be unable to reproduce the scenes in the books. There might be time constraints, there might be budget constraints. These are acceptable reasons for deviating. Sometimes, however, someone decides the story is not good enough in its original form so they "spruce it up" a bit. That is not an acceptable reason.

It appears that this happened with "John Carter". It's not like the original story but an attempt to pull in the events and characters of most of the series that Burroughs wrote.

It failed to do a good job.  What a pity. They could have created a starter for a great series of films.

You might want to go to the Project Gutenberg Website
where you can download and read these books on a number of eReaders or at the site with your computer. I obviously highly recommend them.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Since the election is over and Obama won re-election, I am going to refrain from talking about politics and campaigns. Instead, I am going to make a few predictions:

1. Unemployment will exceed 8% within 6 months.
2. The price of gasoline will rise to $5 or more by the end of 2013.
3. Half of the country will still believe it is all Bush's fault.

Let's add a bit of cheerful news, shall we?

Hostess Calls it Quits

"The Irving, Texas, company said a nationwide strike crippled its ability to make and deliver its products, which also include Ding Dongs, Ho Ho's and Home Pride bread. Hostess suspended bakery operations at all its factories and said its stores will remain open for several days to sell already-baked products."

Friday, November 16, 2012

For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost

I think about a little phenomena called "unintended consequences" from time to time. This is where unforeseen (and, often, undesirable) events occur because of some action taken.

For instance, you help a neighbor plant a tree in his yard. The tree takes root and grows quite large providing shade to your house and blocking the afternoon sun from your living room... until a storm rolls through one night and the tree is knocked down and into your living room. The result of the action taken (helping the neighbor plant the tree) resulted in two unintended consequences; shade for your house and a danger to your house.

I think about that phenomena because they are the pitfalls of life. You try to do what's right and it ends up biting you in the butt. Another way to look at is in the saying, "no good deed goes unpunished." Maybe we could call it Karmic Irony.

Here's another example:

In 1896, the American business Titans saw the mood of the country going against them (according to the History Channel's take on things of that era). A movement against monopolies was gaining strength, chiefly through the efforts of William Jennings Bryan who was making a name for himself as a populist and staunch anti-monopolist. They decided to back his opponent, William McKinley, who was more friendly to their way of thinking. He wins against Bryan twice, gaining re-election in the 1900 vote. His vice-president in the first term, however, dies in office in 1899. He is replaced for the re-election bid by Theodore Roosevelt. Now the tycoons saw that as a good thing because, as we know, vice-presidents don't often have much influence over policy or the presidents they serve under.

But then, in September of 1901, McKinley is shot by a would-be anarchist named Leon Czolgosz and elevating Teddy Roosevelt to the presidency.

But why do I think about this now? I have been wondering about the consequences resulting from the death of Osama bin Laden.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Randomly pondered thoughts

I was 19 once and forever. That is, the year I turned 19 was so important to me that I have not moved beyond it. I think we all have that seminal age at which, deep within our psyches, we remain throughout most of our lives. There are possibly several of these ages that we revert to psychologically depending upon circumstances.

There is nothing quite like the first time. It doesn't matter what it is you are doing, the first time you do it right remains a focal point in your life.  The more "first times" you experience, though, the more likely you are likely to sort them into order of importance.

The power of home is so strong that we might return there even if it is the wrong place to go. I met people in the Navy who came from ghettos and barrios that were poverty stricken and hopeless, not to mention dangerous, yet many of these people were eager to return to them as soon as they got out of the service.

I watched a mini-series about the monopolists of the late 1800's on the History Channel. It was a  delicate balance between reviling these men and praising them. Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Fascinating stories, all of them. One wonders if these men had not existed would others have taken their place? Or were these men completely unique?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Snippet of Life: A Big Bang

It was a beautiful sunny day, the water was calm, and there was very little breeze. The beach about a mile away was a gorgeous and empty white strip between the blue water and the green jungle. It would have been quiet and peaceful had not the forward gun mount been firing a few shots every 10 minutes. There was a war going on, after all, and there were Marines and soldiers somewhere deep in that jungle who needed some help.

The forward gun mount consisted of two 5" .38 caliber guns who could toss high explosive projectiles weighing 55 lbs up to 9 miles away. The "friendlies" in the jungle wanted them to land in the areas where people were shooting at them and we were complying.

I was standing on the starboard wing of the bridge as a lookout. My job was to spot any small, fast boats or planes heading for us with hostile intent. Actually, I wasn't to be concerned with hostile intent... I was just there to spot anything moving toward us. The water and sky were empty of anything. Not even clouds, as I recall.

The captain and the executive officer had come out and stood to my left. I do not know why. There was nothing they could do better out here than they could have done inside the bridge. Yet they were right there next to me. We were all wearing flak jackets and helmets. I had a pair of binoculars also.

Each time one of the two guns of the forward mount fired, there would be a ring of smoke and fire produced. And a big boom. You never saw the projectile, never even heard when it exploded 7 or 8 miles away over the hills above the beach.

Except once. The time it didn't explode 7 or 8 miles away. The time it exploded about 50 yards away. It's called a "preemie" by crew members. A premature detonation. A dangerous event , to be sure. The captain and the exec dropped to the deck and I merely glanced at them but did not follow them down.

The captain popped back upright and immediately walked back onto/into the bridge. The exec also got to his feet but lingered a few moments to chew me out about not taking cover when the projectile exploded. I listened passively and said nothing.

My reasoning was simple. There was no time to react. Any shrapnel would have already hit us before we could drop below the wall; a wall, though steel, that would not have stopped much anyway. In other words, we'd have already been hit. If I heard it explode and wasn't bleeding or dead, I was alright. Plus, the projectile and its shrapnel would move forward in the direction the gun was aimed as fast, or nearly as fast, as the projectile had been going when it exploded. Simple physics.

I think the captain knew this and was a bit embarrassed by his diving to the deck. I also think the exec was also embarrassed but chose to cover it with harsh words to me.

It was tough enough for me just not to laugh.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Actually this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That's all, a little place for my stuff. That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody's got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there. That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time.

A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!

That's George Carlin. In fact, only a part of his riff on "stuff."  If you want to hear it, all of it, it's down at the bottom of this post.

We are a nation of people who like stuff, lots of stuff. We measure success by how much stuff someone owns. We are envious of people who have more stuff. We resent people who, we think, have too much stuff. And yet, we want more stuff.

And most of us don't have any place to put it all!

My mother, for example, filled a spare bedroom with stuff and had no idea what she had. She also rented a storage room and filled that up with stuff that she didn't use, didn't need, and probably really didn't want. My father filled the other spare bedroom with his stuff. My mother collected anything she thought was a collectible or an antique. My father collected tools. And paper. And he had all his cancelled checks for the 5 years previous.

I'm no better, I went out to my garage the other day to find a set of allen wrenches to use to fix my Delta faucet which had a persistent drip (in The Navy, that usually entailed getting a shot or two). Never found them. My tool bench overflows with stuff. I have shelves and drawers and toolboxes out there full of stuff. I no longer know why I have it and what it is.

Anyway, here's George:

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Day to Remember

I had a different post in mind for today but, yesterday, I remembered what today is. You would think I would have known without thinking, wouldn't you? After all, I am a veteran. I served... in that war few
, if any, talk about in any positive way: the Vietnam conflict. It was never an official war, though it killed or maimed hundreds of thousands of Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Those who served got little positive recognition for that service. If your understanding of that conflict was drawn from movies, TV shows, and rumors, you might think all it accomplished was the debasing of America's reputation and producing boatloads of psychopaths with PTSD.

But I hadn't thought about my service in terms of being in a war. Few who served in those years actually saw combat. About 37% of all who served during the Vietnam era actually spent any time in an official combat zone according to this site and many of those who did never fired a shot or saw action up close. I was part of that 37%. I have had friends in both that 37% and the 63% who never got near combat.

I never fired a shot in combat because that wasn't my job. I was a crew member of a Navy destroyer and my primary duty was to hunt for submarines. I never found any. I strongly suspect the Viet Cong and the NVA (North Vietnam Army) never had any. I did spend part of my time as a "deck ape" (the affectionate term for a member of the non-rated seamen who made up what is called the "deck force") and stood watches in the forward gun mount but never a shot was fired during those watches.

The biggest danger I faced was from mishaps. When one of the big guns had a "hangfire" or a "preemie" and I happened to be nearby are examples. I should tell those stories, I suppose., but not today.

Today, I want to thank those who served in combat; those who faced the enemy on the ground, in the air, and on the water. I want to thank those who faced hostile fire, those who got wounded or killed and those who didn't... these are the ones who may, or may not, have gone there voluntarily but who faced real real danger from combat.

And I also want to thank the others; the ones who provided support to those in combat, who did all the jobs that need to be done to make sure equipment and material needed is there and in good condition, who transport the food and weapons and ammunition and all the supplies fighting forces need in order to do their jobs. The ones who stay stateside and process the requests; who load ships and planes with food, ammo, and parts for equipment.

When I was young, this wasn't called Veteran's Day. It was still called "Armistice Day." It wasn't until I was almost 8 years old that the name got changed. Armistice Day referred to the day the Armistice was signed by all the combatants of World War I took effect. On "the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour" in 1918. I don't believe there is anyone alive today who served in that war. And few that remember its end are alive.

If you see a sailor, a Marine, a soldier, or an airman... thank him or her.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Perhaps a look back would be prudent

There has been much analysis of how Romney lost the election. Of course, it isn't presented that way, it's presented as "What the Republicans did wrong." I thought I might join in.

The Republicans went wrong maybe 50 years ago. They began allowing themselves to be pictured as mean, heartless, uncaring, hate-filled, and opposed to equality. I don't think there was much they could do about it. I have known Republicans (as well as Democrats) all my life and there are no more of these types in that party as in the Democratic Party.

When I was a young man and had just moved to south Florida, there was still segregation in law and society in the south. There was segregation in the north, too, but it wasn't by law, just by custom. The south was quite different to what I had been used to. It was blatant inequality. In the north, it was subtle. The southern states were solidly controlled by Democrats.

In 1954, things began to change in the south. It was in that year that Brown v. The Board of Education was decided by the US Supreme Court. 

As a boy growing up on Long Island, I knew nothing about segregation. All of my neighbors were white, my school was predominately white (I only saw one black child in kindergarten and never saw her again), my town was white. Blacks lived somewhere else, another town nearby, I suppose. It wasn't because of laws, it was because of social custom.

All of a sudden, I found myself in a place where this wasn't subtle; again my school was white, my neighbors were white, and Blacks lived elsewhere. But where they lived wasn't hidden from me, it was right there in front of me. I would pass by a black neighborhood each day as I walked to school. Black kids would be waiting for a bus to take them to a school maybe 7-10 miles away while my school was 7 or 8 blocks from where I lived.

As time went on, as I grew older, I began to notice something of politics. The southern states had mostly Democratic governors. The few that had Republican governors started to change, or tried to... the strong Democratic legislators fought the governors. Republicans were the "progressives" and the Democrats were the "conservatives."  The opposite of the political images of today.

Things began to change in the south after Brown v. Board of Education. The Civil Rights movement began gaining strength in the south. The inequality could no longer be ignored. The media stepped in to expose it, college students (and many others) came to the south to push for change, and there were many confrontations. The old bigotry was firmly in place, though, and it was a tough and bloody fight.

In the mid-sixties, the concepts of "segregation de jure" (by law) and "segregation de facto" (by custom and practice) became well known. I realized that the latter was what prevailed in the north and, certainly, what I saw in my own hometown in my younger years.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. This was allegedly made possible only by the support of the Republican Party; Democrats, especially southern Democrats, showed strong opposition. The northern factions of both parties were really the defining forces.

In the years following, many southern Democrats switched political allegiance to become Republicans. I believe this is the period where the image of Republicans went from a party favoring business to a party opposing equality.  An image created not by fact but by campaign strategies.

We can look back and say the Republicans should have rejected the former Democrats but that just wasn't done at the time (and is not done today). There are no restrictions on party affiliations in this country. Anyone can join any political party. And much is made of politicians switching sides.

Personally, I see politicians as amoral. Few have such strong core values that they would not throw them out the window to gain office. And, today, it is all about image and not about substance. 

And, all too often, that image is created by political opponents.