The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

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

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

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

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Apps and tablets and wondrous things in store

As you might know, I purchased a tablet computer a short time ago as my Christmas present... to me. It's a little game we play each year, Faye and I, she decides what present She wants and I buy it for Her then I decide what present I want and I buy it for me. This has worked well for the past 25 years. In our "courting" days, I had to figure out what She wanted. I usually failed... it's a "guy thing."

In any event, this Christmas I "surprised" myself with a Toshiba Thrive tablet. I have had it a little over three weeks now and I find it both amazing and a little frustrating. Amazing because it works so well and frustrating because I am old and that learning curve is much steeper than it looks with each passing year.

The first thing I did was look for free stuff to put on the tablet. Ok, the first thing was to get it connected to the Wi-Fi so I could access the internet, that magical place where anyone can be anything and too many free things are full of ads. Not to mention all the evils that lurk out there. That was accomplished pretty easily. The first app (what the desktoppers and laptoppers would call "programs") I got was, of course, security software. It came with a commercial trial version of Kaspersky but I was happy to find an Android version of AVG Free to use in its place. I am used to AVG and, being the old guy that I am, gravitate toward the familiar.

I followed that with Angry Birds and then started looking around for other time-wasters. Free ones, especially... because I am a bloody tightwad, I am. I found quite a few. Unlike our desktop/laptop computers, there are several available screens. The main screen has 3 "pages" (I'd guess you call them); most of my favorites are accessible on the primary (center) screen. All Apps show up in the Apps screens (also 3 pages of them available, probably more if you overflow those) but can be copied easily to the main 3 pages. So, now my primary screen is filled with icons (though not quite as bad as my desktop's... uh... "desktop"... at least, not yet anyway).

I learned how to establish a browser link icon to put on the main screen and did that (I've now forgotten just how I did that but, if I need to do it again, I'm sure it'll come to me) and am learning the new browser that came with it. I believe it is a variation of the Google Chrome browser. I downloaded the Android Firefox browser App and use both of these but am finding the native browser just as good or better.

My big test of this thing will come when I go on a trip out to San Diego (and probably Vegas) in a few months. That trip may last a month or so. I cannot stack up enough posts to cover that so I will either need to bring the laptop along or write posts using the tablet. If I end up doing the latter, I suspect they will be short posts full of typos. The virtual keyboard, while adequate for most tasks, does not lend itself well to large entries of text.

I have said in the past that tablets are the future of portable computing. I still believe that. In fact, I am more sure of it every day.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Survival of the dumbest

As I was reading an article (and the comments on it), a thought wandered into my head. These often get lost or die of loneliness but this one had some tenacity and has stuck around... perhaps it's been magnetized.

The thought? That those of us who grew up in the 50's (what I call my "childhood decade") somehow survived to adulthood...

Think about it... we ran around unattended much of the time. I was what you might call a "latchkey kid." My parents, from the time I was 4 until I was almost 10, owned and operated a bicycle shop. School was half a day then. You either went in the morning or the afternoon. Oddly, I do not recall ever attending the afternoon session but I suppose that it is unlikely I didn't. I would go home or to the shop after getting out of class. Sometimes, I would go to the shop, have some lunch, and then walk home.

When I was 6, I came home a little hungry and decided I would have a cheese sandwich. Not being especially bright (or maybe I just could not find the cheese slicer), I used a large and sharp knife to slice the cheese. I promptly sliced the index finger of my left hand [link]. Then I shook it (in pain, I believe) which caused a blood spatter pattern that suggested a horribly violent murder might have taken place in that kitchen.

There were rides down the hill in front of my house on poorly put together soapbox derby type vehicles (actually, just a long plank and some old toy wagon wheels) that ended in pileups of road rashed kids. We road bicycles without helmets, in cars without seatbelts (as toddlers sometimes on our mothers' laps), climbed trees and played on "monkeybars" (with no adults around at all). We had pretend sword fights with home-made swords of wood. We had rock fights. Eventually got our hands on BB guns and had BB gun fights. We skated on frozen ponds (and the occasional large street puddle that had frozen), went down any snow covered hill we could find without a thought to check it for rocks or other hazards. Same with jumping or diving into "swimmin' holes" (in Florida, these were often called "rockpits")

Amazingly, it would seem, I never knew anyone who actually lost an eye or suffered any great injury during that decade. Certainly, nobody I knew died. It wouldn't be until I was 16 before I knew anyone who got injured in a scooter accident (broken leg). That was about the same time I made a friend of a guy whose right leg was lost due to a accidental shotgun discharge when he was 14 and another who had been run over by a woman in a Caddy... causing permanent damage to his left ankle, while he walked his bike across a street. But no dead kids.

Maybe we were just lucky.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Political trickery, taxes, and you (and me)

My beef today is regarding the silliness called the "Buffett Rule". Why do I call it "silliness?" Simple. It is the old political slight-of-hand, a scam. Well, the rule may not be but the pretense behind is.

Do you know that Buffett's secretary, the one who pays a higher tax rate than Buffett, makes a 6 figure salary? Possibly between $200,000 and $500,000? Still feeling sorry for her? I am sure she is paying a higher rate, she ought to be. She makes more than most of us ever did. She's definitely in the top 5%, maybe the top 1.5%.

On Wednesday, President Obama used her in his State of the Union campaign speech (you don't really think it was a run of the mill SOTU speech, do you? In an election year?) She was invited to be part of the audience and was placed next to the First Lady. She looked like your typical middle class secretary. Except she's anything but. C'mon, she works for a multi-billionaire! She runs in some pretty heady business and political circles.

Nobody in the media seems to ask the tough questions, not of her and not of Buffett.

You see Buffett runs that company, Berkshire Hathaway, as the CEO and largest shareholder. He must take a salary from that position and it is not supposed to be just stock options and a token $1. That's the law. So, he has to make more than just long term capital gains. Therefore, the only way he pays a lower rate is that his taxable income is lower than his secretary's. And to get to that taxable income, he must take advantage of all those loopholes we always hear apply only to the rich. Well, his secretary is rich by any standard so why doesn't she also take advantage of those loopholes? And why, if Buffett is angry about how cheaply he gets off, does he allow his accountant to use all those loopholes and tax breaks?

This is why it is a scam to get you, the public, fired up over the gross inequities between the rich and poor. They want you to be distracted while they, like that pickpocket in the street, empty your wallet... all in the interest of "fairness." Why do I say that? Because you could tax those millionaires (which, according to the administration are those making $250,000 a year) at 100% and still not make a significant dent in the deficit. They will have to (reluctantly, they'll say) increase your taxes to "make ends meet."

My friend, the union thug, tells me he votes Democrat and supports Obama because he's "never gonna be rich." He told me this as he got into his Lincoln Aviator to go home to his vacation house here in Paradise where he spends his winters each year. His house in Michigan sits empty but his three other houses are rented out.

I have one house. I have never had a vacation home. I have owned more than one house at a time, though. Each time because I couldn't sell the one I lived in when I transferred to another state.

My parents owned two houses for a very short time when we moved to Florida in 1956. My father stayed behind to sell it. They owned two houses in the 70's, renting one out while they lived in the other. That lasted for about 3-4 years and then they sold the larger house and moved back into the smaller one because their tenant moved out.

I don't think my union thug friend understands what middle class really is anymore. I don't think he understands what most of us have to struggle through. But, if he does, he is making a mockery of it. Just as his choice in political parties and his choice in presidents do.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Did anyone see where my ball went?

Golf is not my only passion but it is high up on my list of pleasures. Which is odd in a way since it is very frustrating for most of us amateurs. They tell me that only about 20% of amateurs break 90 (only 6% of women) on a regular basis. I don't know who "they" are so I don't know how true that is. But it puts me in that 20%.

It's frustrating because it seems like such an easy game. The ball is not moving when you try to hit it, for example. The fairways aren't all that narrow (though it sometimes seems that way) and the hole into which we try to put the ball is 2 and 1/2 times as wide.

The problem is that there is also plenty of room for mistakes. If the face of a club is a half degree open or closed when it strikes the ball, the ball could go twenty or more (usually more) yards to one side or the other. A half degree to the right or left off the putter and the ball could miss the hole by several feet on a long putt.

If you watch the pros, you understand how the game should be played. Most of these started playing at a very early age. Tiger Woods, for example, was already playing well when he was 5 years old. By the time he was ten, he was better than I am after 25 years of playing. The pros have a consistent swing and swing speed. Amateurs have swings that vary wildly in speed and shape. Well, the best amateurs approach the consistency of the pros but the average amateur? Nowhere near.

So we amateurs set our goals much lower. And we congratulate ourselves for shots that are just plain luck. What else can we do? Admit we had no idea what we did or how we did it? Not out loud, we won't. Heck, we say "great shot!" when one of us actually hits the ball anywhere near where it was intended.

Some of my golf buddies think I am a very good putter. I'm not. I actually am a poor putter. I have never really figured out how to read a green. It's just a guess on my part. But I get lucky a fair amount of time. And I am not averse to taking credit.

I have joined a group of golfers on Wednesdays at a nearby course who play at about the level I do. They are nice guys; pleasant, retired, winter residents. It's a no pressure game. The only gambling we've done is for quarters for closest to the pin on the par 3 holes. This week, only one of us even hit a green on just one of the four par 3's. No one hit the greens of the other three. And these are short holes; none are over 135 yards.

So, yes, it's a frustrating game. But so is life.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why are the windows on that car fogged up?

After reading Pearl's blog a couple of days ago, a re-run of an older post about going to the drive-in as a 12 year-old babysitting tag along, I was sent mentally spinning off into all the memories of the drive-in theater visits of my youth.

I went to a lot of drive-in movies. It was one of the few treats of my youth. The parental units would would gather the three of us kids up and toss them into the backseat of the `48 Ford sedan and take us to the drive-in just outside of town. This happened maybe only twice in each of the summers before I was whisked off to Florida in `56.

I do not remember any of the movies we saw. For one thing, I couldn't see over the front seat. For another, I was usually busy avoiding permanent damage inflicted by my brother. I think I would have rather have stayed home but I was never given that option.

After we moved to Florida, the opportunities for drive-in movie outings increased. Summer is, after all, 9 months long down here. But we didn't go very often. In fact, we only went a couple of times. This was because the only way to keep cool in a car in those days was to have the windows open. And if your windows are open at night in south Florida, there's a fair chance you will have all of your blood drained from your body by mosquitoes before the first movie was over.

I don't recall the movies we went to then, either. That would be because my father and mother chose the movies, not us kids. And their taste in movies never matched mine or my siblings'. I only remember slipping out of the car almost immediately after it was parked and heading for the playground up by the screen or hanging out at the concession stand, only returning to get popcorn and sodas at intermission. In order to protect ourselves from the mosquitoes, my brother and I would run behind the truck spraying some kind of insecticide as it rode up and down between the rows. This would leave a protective layer of DDT on my bare skin and clothes (and my lungs). I could have stayed in the car and breathed in the fumes from the citronella coil which my father would light up and set on the dashboard. That coil didn't do much good except chase the mosquitoes toward the back seat.

It was later on, in my teens, when I found out what drive-in theaters were good for. I went more often then. Especially after I got my own car. And the occasional girlfriend. I learned a lot at the drive-in. A drive-in theater was a teen's no-tell motel. Girls who wouldn't let you come over when her parents were out would still go to a drive-in movie with you at the drop of a hat.

I still don't recall what movies I "saw" on those drive-in theater dates. But for much different reasons. Except one... while I was living in Orlando (long before Mickey Mouse owned it), I took a hot date to see "The Haunting" and actually watched it all the way through.

Scary movie.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The long and the short of it

While in a discussion (debate? argument?) with someone, the concept of "fairness" was brought up. After much wrangling, we agreed that the concept is difficult to define and that much depends upon context or circumstances. We also agreed that human beings are often born with unfair advantages and/or disadvantages.

I am one of those who prefers the phrase "differently-abled" to the term "disabled". I have known way too many people labeled "disabled" who achieved some measure of success. The prime example of which would be Stephen Hawking. Mr. Hawking, as we all know, has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as "Lou Gerhig's disease". He was diagnosed with this crippler at age 21 while still in college at Cambridge. He was already recognized by his professors and mentors as a gifted intellect.

ALS is a nasty disease, robbing its victims of motor skills and mobility and finally killing them. At the time of Hawking's diagnosis in 1963), there was (and still is) no cure and he was given no more than a few short years to live.

But, in my discussion, my counterpart spoke first of height and how short people suffered discrimination based upon it. I thought that an interesting emphasis. I countered with the names of a number of short people who have achieved great success. Both short stature and tall instigate teasing when young. I consider myself neither short nor tall at 5'11" (~181 cm) but, of course, I was not always this height. For many of my formative years I was "undertall", as I like to say. Also known as "small for my age", this could (and did) provide opportunities for bullying. My brother was the opposite, always tall for his age, and was also my main bully. Things did not change much for me until after I turned 16 when I had a 7" growth spurt in one year. So I know something of the discrimination of the short but not so much of the discrimination of the tall.

My father knew of that. As a 6'4" adult in a time when doorways were closer to 6' in height, he often had to dip his head to enter a room. At least as I recall it. My father was a handy platform for me when watching parades; I would sit on his shoulders (up until I was 4 or 5) and have a magnificent view. My mother referred to him as "my giant". My mother was maybe 5'3". I referred to them as "Mutt and Jeff" (an old comic strip duo).

Perhaps height is some indicator of potential. We tend to elect tall people (but not always... see US Presidents by height). I am of average height and have been average in achievement, for example. Or, as I like to put it, I have achieved the height of mediocrity.

I play golf. A couple of days a week, I play with two guys who are short by any standard. Both are about 5' 4" and both hit the ball farther on average and play better than I do. But I was never athletic and these two were and are. Some of that may have to do with natural ability and some with biases regarding height. My theory is that they had to work harder because they had to overcome the perception their lack of height would limit them. While I was expected to perform better because of my height. Since I was small for my age at first, I was not expected to perform well and then, all of a sudden, I was expected to perform well. Since I was not given much opportunity in my early years (and, admittedly, didn't have much talent), I had less experience and ability than the average later on.

I still don't know what "fairness" is.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Love songs? Really?

We like music at this house. Not the same kind of music, mind you, but music. I like a variety of music: classical, jazz, blues, rock and roll, oldies, swing, even a little country now and then. Faye likes R&B and soul and even some of what I like... as long as it is love songs. And I tend to make fun of them. I call them "stalker songs."

That's what they are in reality. You don't think so? Love songs tell you that the singer will always be there, will wait for you, will be right there (just look over your shoulder), regardless of who you're with. She (or he) knows you will not find happiness with someone else. Classic stalker attitude.

A lot of love songs are about unrequited love. A lot are about fighting with a partner. One of my favorites has these lyrics:

Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone.
Let's pretend that we're together, all alone.
I'll tell the man to turn the juke box way down low,
And you can tell your friend there with you he'll have to go.
Whisper to me, tell me do you love me true,
Or is he holding you the way I do?
Tho' love is blind, make up your mind, I've got to know,
Should I hang up, or will you tell him he'll have to go?
You can't say the words I want to hear
While you're with another man,
If you want me, answer "yes" or "no,"
Darling, I will understand.

Ignoring the words we used to put in to make this dirty when I was a teen, it tells the story of a man whose girlfriend is clearly cheating on him. He knows it but he doesn't want to believe it. So he moons over her even while she is with some other guy. Is that healthy?

I read about a guy in California who saw too many romantic movies. He vowed to walk a couple hundred miles to reclaim his lost love. The media found out about it (because he did his best to let them know) and looked her up. She wanted nothing to do with him and was happy in the relationship she was now in.

I think love songs encourage that sort of thing by extolling the "virtues" of total devotion... even for a lover who clearly wants out of the relationship.

Perhaps it's because I had similar problems with my ex-wife. She insisted we belonged together, that she was going to "win me back", she stalked me, she tried to climb in my apartment window, she called me up in a drunken stupor at 3 AM... she made my life miserable. All the while she was sleeping with some other guy.

Relationships are just plain strange. There's the love/hate ones:

Break up to make up, that's all we do
First you love me then you hate me
That's a game for fools
Break up to make up that's all we do
First you love me then you hate me
That's a game for fools

And the ones where one partner knows the other is insane but doesn't care:

Well, I've got two lovers,
and I ain't ashamed.
Two lovers, and I love them both the same.
Two lovers, and I ain't ashamed, two
lovers and I love them both the same.

And then there's that jealousy thing:

Oh, Johnny get angry, Johnny get mad
Give me the biggest lecture I ever had
I want a brave man, I want a cave man
Johnny, show me that you care, really care for me

Which some people seem to find "adorable" but can lead to beatings and even murder.

Am I weird? Do I not "get" it?

Monday, January 23, 2012

I never have any fun anymore

After reviewing what I have written in the past couple of weeks (and even further back), I have come to the conclusion that I am morose and depressing. I could say it's just my nature and that might even be true. But I wasn't always this way, I was once young, care-free, and happy. I was also quite humorous. People laughed with me, not at me, I mean... most of the time.

Along the way on this journey through life, I turned into a cranky old man. Yup, I emulated my father. He was the cranky old man on the block when he was in his thirties. I am strongly suspecting that it's genetic. My grandfather wasn't like this, he was a fun loving, skirt chasing, old goat rogue that drank a wee bit too much for my grandmother's taste. Maybe that's where my father's personality came from... his mother. Or because, unlike his father, he was a teetotaler. He only drank on New Year's Eve and his anniversary (the latter occasion always struck me as an odd time for a teetotaler to want a drink) and then only one mixed drink.

There might be another clue in the above. My descent into crankiness seems to have coincided with my middle-aged reduction of alcohol consumption.

They say we humans tend to "self medicate". We get depressed and have a drink to cheer up. Or we take illicit drugs to escape the boredom or depressive nature of reality. As Lee Marvin's character in "Cat Ballou" said... "I'll drink to that!" I wonder. Perhaps we just need the escape from reality from time to time.

When you think about it, reality is pretty depressing for most of us. We work all our lives until we are too old to and then we are told to retire and enjoy life. Life, at that point, is watching yourself crumble into old age and senility. I have known more than a few men who retired and then died within 5 or 10 years. They had nothing to keep them going.

That's not a problem for me. As I have said before, I was born to be retired. Doing nothing much has always been my goal.

When I was working, a co-worker once remarked about our graveyard shift, "Working nights is like having every day off... but you're sick all the time." That's a bit like retirement. I have every day off but my deteriorating knees, eyesight, and hearing doesn't let me take advantage of them.

I know, I know... I seem to play a lot of golf. But that really isn't fun unless you do it well and I don't do it well. But I'd miss it if I quit playing. And I have nothing in mind that could take its place.

Maybe I should take up drinking again. As I recall, I used to be very good at it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Frankly, I am considering emigration to Ecuador

Not that it would be any better there...

I am disgusted and angry. Not simply because I had a miserable day on the golf course Friday (which I did) but because I am appalled at people who think party loyalty is somehow intelligent. Who are willfully ignorant. Who refuse to even listen to the "other side." I am not simply talking about hard core Democrats but about hard core Republicans and hard core Libertarians and hard core any party or ideology you can think of.

A man yesterday started ranting about what he perceived the Republicans want to do. Most of which was wrong. He didn't want to acknowledge, or even hear about, what Democrats want to do, or are perceived to want to do. He didn't want to hear any opposing viewpoints. Nobody trusts any news source, it seems, but the ones who mostly (if not entirely) support their own ideology. This is why the Huffington Post has become some kind of legitimate news site instead of the Left Wing propaganda site it actually is.

On the other side, we have people who rely on Rush Limbaugh for news.

This is absolute insanity.

In 2000, I lived in "chad central"... West Palm Beach, FL. I thought I had seen the height of ignorance, political shenanigans, and propaganda in that election year. I was wrong. We now are so torn apart, so unwilling to listen or watch opposing viewpoints, so angry at each other over politics and class (read that as "rich vs poor") that we are destroying the country in the process.

I strongly believe I am witnessing the dismantling of a free country. And most of us seem be cheering it on as Romans once did the destruction of slaves, criminals, and Christians in the games.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Too smart for one's own good

I like to think of myself as an intelligent man. That's an obvious conceit, is it not? Some of you who have been reading my posts, or know me personally, are likely chuckling about that conceit. But I have, over the years, been presented with proof of my intelligence. Namely, IQ test scores.

People tell me how smart I am. Usually, though, they add another term for donkey to the word. I prefer to think of myself as a "brilliant idiot." I have said and done some of the dumbest things throughout my life. I blurt out something that comes to mind, I break into a school on a lark (Age 12), I go on a car theft spree one night with a couple of new friends (15), I get so blitzed that my hangover is clear to the bosses eying me as management material (35), I ride a motorcycle without a helmet (and often drunk or stoned on drugs) for years in southern California traffic (early 20's), and so much more.

I am obviously not a genius. I just tested well. I am not sure I would want to be a genius. The other night on "Criminal Minds" (a great show, by the way) wherein the resident genius character, Dr. Spencer Reid (well played by Matthew Gray Gubler), becomes introspective after a chance meeting with another highly intelligent young man who has designed some innovative medical treatment (and started a company based on it). He recalls that he had a dream to find a cure for schizophrenia by the time he turned 25. It is tied in with a search for a serial killer emulating the Zodiac Killer. This serial killer is a genius and chess master, stereotypically shown as an awkward social loser. Serial killers are typically profiled as highly intelligent socially inept misfits stuck in demeaning low-end jobs. I suspect the police like this stereotype because it no shame to be outsmarted by the highly intelligent.

In any case, Dr. Reid's introspection reminded me of my own. That's one of the drawbacks of being smart... you realize how poorly you've performed, how you have not lived up to your perceived potential. You recognize your mistakes and failures immediately. We all have regrets, of course, that's not confined to the intelligent. But the smart ones among us seem to feel those regrets more strongly.

A friend I had in the Navy, Herb, was a certifiable genius I believe. There is a battery of tests you take when you first enter the military (sometimes before) for classification purposes. The first two are called GCT (General Classification Test) and ARI (Arithmetic evaluation) and the combined score of these was equated to IQ to a great degree. It shouldn't have been because they involved knowledge more than inherent intellect. But Herb (a high school dropout at 16) aced them. They each had a max score of 75 and Herb's combined score was 150. I have no idea what happened to Herb after he was cashiered out on an "administrative discharge". Herb was a "brilliant idiot" who could not stay out of trouble. He would go AWOL on a whim. He ignored rules that interfered with anything he wanted to do.

I wonder just how many other Herbs are out there?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

You want money? Get a job, kid.

As some of you may know, this is an election year. And we are going through the agony of political primaries. We all want that "white knight" to come galloping along that we can all rally around but I'm too skeptical to think it will ever happen. And, if one did, I would be skeptical about him/her too.

But this isn't about politics, it's about something that has come up during the seemingly endless debates and soundbytes. At some point, one of the candidates offered that teens in general have a high unemployment rate and that minority teens at in the worst position. He suggested that they be given menial jobs, such as janitorial, so they can gain some skills that would be useful when they start looking for a career. I am paraphrasing, of course. It was vilified as insensitive and demeaning.

Then I started thinking about it and looked back into my own employment past.

I was a paperboy, an usher, handyman, a bellboy, a busboy, and did more than a few odd jobs in between these. All before I turned 19 and enlisted in the Navy. In the Navy, I did a lot of janitorial work... it was part of the overall duties of any sailor's (non-officer) life. We cleaned, scrubbed, swabbed, scraped, chipped, sanded, painted, and just did whatever we were told to do. That was in addition to our normally assigned duties for whatever rating we had (I was a Sonarman).

I don't recall ever thinking any of it was demeaning. I thought it was how you got spending money. In my house, you worked for just about everything you got except Christmas or birthday presents. Our allowances (when we got them) were in return for doing assigned chores. Shirk the chores and you got no allowance.

Maybe I was used to it. When I was 5 years old, my father owned a bicycle shop. Great for a kid, right? My first bike was an old rusted frame that I had to sand and paint. Yes, at age 5. My father put on the parts needed; bottom bracket, crank and pedals, axles, coaster brake, wheels, ties, seat, tires, handlebars, etc. I don't recall now if it had fenders. All I recall was that it was green (I was partial to green) and never had training wheels... my father didn't believe in them though he would happily sell them to anyone who asked. By the time I was 9, I could (and did more than once) build a bicycle from (used) parts. Still can.

My father felt people didn't appreciate anything they didn't work for.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Funny Pages

I have always been amused by the comics in the newspapers. No, silly, not the Op-Ed pages, the comic strips. Especially on Sundays. You see, when I was a lad back in the latter stages of the last Ice Age, Sunday was the only day they were in color and the only day some of them appeared at all in the newspaper my father preferred. I don't recall which paper that was, probably the New York Times since we lived on Long Island in a tiny (and charming, I'm sure) little hamlet called Farmingdale.

Each Sunday morning I would grab the "funny papers" from the kitchen table (after Dad had read them, of course), lie down on the living room rug next to the radio (which was the size of a medium chest of drawers) and scan the cartoons as the voices on the radio read them in character.

Nobody reads the "funnies" for me anymore. I can now do it all by myself. Usually. And I do not have to wait until Dad is done with them. They are delivered to my computer via email from for free. I don't even have to worry about getting that newsprint ink all over my fingers. I hate that stuff.

My list is simple:

The Born Loser
Frank & Ernest
Get Fuzzy
Andy Capp
Wizard of Id
Broom Hilda
Rose is Rose
Calvin and Hobbes
Non Sequitur

These are my favorites now. I miss a few that were available when I was a child: Alley Oop, the Katzenjammer Kids, Gasoline Alley, There Oughta Be a Law, Li'l Abner, the Phantom, Terry and the Pirates, the Little King, and a few others. Some are still available but they just aren't the same... or I'm not the same... doesn't matter. And, really, you just have to move on at some point, don't you?

It's nice to start the day with a chuckle or two, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Readin' and emails

The internet is a minefield of commercialism. If you buy something, anything, you will open yourself to "admail." That's my name for it; others may call it spam but, since it is voluntary (if you realize you could have opted out or can opt out at any time), I think it doesn't fit within the definition. To me, spam is unwanted email from anyone and anything. If you didn't opt out, you volunteered to get it. Quit complaining about it.

In any event, I bought a Nook Color e-reader sometime back and, when I registered it, I allowed them to pester me to buy books for it as well as notify me of updates, etc. I have even justified their ad campaign by purchasing two (count `em... 2) digital short stories ("Mile 81" by Stephen King and "Second Son" by Lee Child). So I do peruse these admails to see if they refer to anything I am actually interested in.

This one intrigued me. It advertised a child's book called "Underpants Thunderpants." Now, I was a child once... oh so many years ago... and a book title like that would have had me giggling immediately. And probably making noises with my armpit and then holding my nose.

Here, let me show you a blurb offered at their site...

"Underpants, thunderpants, look at them fly! Over the ocean, the jungle, and town - where will those undies come fluttering down?" When Dog leaves his underpants on the line during a thunderstorm, they take off on quite the adventure in this light-hearted book by Peter Bently.

The image this conjured up was akin to "Puss in Boots"... only it was "Bowser in Bloomers."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Childhood diseases

I just read that India is finally eliminating poliomyelitis
. It has been a year since a new case was diagnosed. If there are no new cases for the next two years, India could be certified as "polio free." There are only three other countries which are not yet polio free: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

When I was young and living in Farmingdale, NY, polio was much on the mind. I knew a couple of kids who had polio. One little girl, about my age (6 or 7), rode the same school bus I did (when I rode it...). She had the metal and leather braces and the crutches and struggled to get on the bus (and off, too, I suppose.. her stop was after mine). I remember her being pretty, red-headed, friendly and upbeat. The other kid I knew of more than knew. He was homebound and was in an iron lung. He was not alone. Many of those who contracted polio needed an iron lung to survive, to breathe.

But Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine and that was the beginning of the end of the threat in the United States and most of the world. That vaccine was in the form of a shot using dead polio virus. Later, Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine using an attenuated (weakened but live) virus. I didn't get that oral vaccination until I enlisted in the Navy but I got the Salk vaccine in 4th grade.

By the time my son was born in 1970, there were vaccines for most childhood diseases. I had to get through them on my own. Measles, mumps, chicken pox, scarlet fever were just things you had to endure (or survive). And even though my son was vaccinated against measles, he still got them.

We take these vaccines today for granted. And we don't think about the virulence of the diseases they prevent. So now we have people who don't want to get their children vaccinated. They fear side effects that are both possible and proven not possible. If they saw the ravages of these diseases, as I and my parents did, they would not hesitate to have their children vaccinated. At least, I hope they wouldn't.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

We owe how much?!!!!

The debt ceiling is in the news again as I write this. Seems like this happens in shorter and shorter intervals. Actually, it doesn't just seem like it, the intervals are shorter. You would think that would tell the pols that we (meaning the government) are spending way too much. And no one in Congress seems to have the guts to cut any of it. About the only thing they'll do is cut the amount of increase to the various budgets.

I have a solution to the problem. Limit all department and other budget increases to the official cost of living increase. Not the actual cost of living increase (the one we actually have to deal with) but the one the government claims it is. It won't reduce the debt but it will slow the increase.

The only problem with this solution is it wouldn't pass either the House or the Senate. And, President Obama would not sign it. He might even veto any legislation that included it. It would severely limit their (the pols) ability to loot the treasury and dole it out to their buddies.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Paying for their mistakes

I was thinking about an old joke... "to err is human... but to really foul things up, you need a computer." Which is true but a computer only magnifies the mistakes made by a human. They are good scapegoats, though, I must admit. I always blame mine.

That got me to thinking about something else. We say that people pay for their mistakes and I suppose that is basically true. I feel I've paid for mine anyway. But there are some folks who do not. Instead, others pay for them. I am talking about lawyers and mechanics here, not so much ex-wives and co-workers/bosses.

As some of you who have followed this blog know, I have been dealing with lawyers over a stipend owed my mother by the estate of her late boss... a lawyer. [link] Unlike most lawyers I have run into, he managed to retain a conscience and a sense of loyalty. Over the three years(!) that this has dragged on, I noticed something. When a letter was not written as the lawyer wanted (or as I had asked), it would be "revised" and that revision would cost me money. I, therefore, paid for the mistakes made by the lawyer or his employee. If the lawyer does something wrong and causes a complication, guess who pays? The client. I am beginning to think "client" is an ancient term meaning "one who pays through the nose."

And then I recalled all the times I have dealt with mechanics. When I was young, I did much of any repair work needed on my car. There were two reasons for this. The first was that I had no money to pay someone else to repair it and the second the car needed a lot of repairing. My first car was a `52 Studebaker purchased in 1963 for $80. At the time, any car that ran was worth at least $100 so I figured it was a bargain. It had a lot of problems so I learned a lot of things about repairing cars.

Eventually, however, you find it more convenient to let someone else repair your car. And change the oil and do other bits of routine maintenance. Because cars got more complex, more full of alien technology. That is when I first realized mechanics expected you to pay for their mistakes. No, not when they damaged something in the process of performing maintenance or making a repair. When they misdiagnosed the problem.

You bring your car to the mechanic with a problem. You describe the symptoms (as you do with your doctor), the mechanic (or "service writer" at dealerships) says "Yup, sounds like the carburetor" and promptly charges you a jillion dollars to rebuild it. Nowadays, of course, you don't have carburetors so they say "Yup, sounds like the engine's computer" and charge you a jillion dollars to replace it. But the principle is the same.

Sometime around 1982, I got smart and started insisting they write down the symptoms where they used to write "rebuild/replace [whatever]". then, when the problem was not solved by whatever they overcharged me for, I would bring the car back and demand they fix it at no extra charge. When they would protest, I would brandish the work order and insist, pointing out that they did not fix the problem and so I would not pay for the mistakes they made. It worked more often than not, I was surprised to find out.

Not that I am recommending this... because mechanics may have caught onto the trick. So don't blame me if they no longer fall for it.

It's Friday the 13th... I probably shouldn't have talked about car repairs...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Laughter amid the nuclear holocaust

I'm sorry, I was sidetracked by unimportant non-essential trivial distractions and gave no thought whatsoever to today's blog post.

That is, I spent the evening watching a DVR'd copy of Dr. Strangelove (or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb). An amazingly funny movie about the end of civilization as we know it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie (I expect that would be 3 or 4 people at most), it is a farce. Though the cast is full of first rate stars, it is really a showcase of Peter Seller's comedic talent.

Some of it takes me back to my Navy days. It had the checklist mentality down perfectly. It also reflected the fear of nuclear war with the (now former) Soviet Union that was prevalent at the time. For those of you too young to remember those days, it might seem silly but I can assure you it was seen as a very real possibility.

But the movie was spoof and hilarious. A kind of morbid humor at the time, it can now be viewed in a different light. Well, at least by me. Except when I think about Iran...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What will they (re)think of next?

I am at about the mid-point in the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom (Mars) series. This episode/book details the initial adventures of Ulysses Paxton who, like John Carter before him, is transported to Mars via some sort of astral projection at the point of near death after being horribly wounded on the battlefield in WWI.

This episode was published in 1928. What is most interesting about it is that Paxton falls into the hands of Ras Thavis, who is the "Master Mind of Mars." Ras Thavis is a scientist and doctor (of sorts) who has perfected the transplanation of organs, limbs, and even brains. You might realize that organ transplants didn't exist at the time of the novel's writing.

While we are far from brain transplants, we have advanced rapidly in the re-attachment of severed limbs and organ transplants.

As I read about Ras Thavis, it got me to thinking about a conversation I had with a woman at Paneras a week ago. We were discussing tablet computers and I remarked that I had first seen these on Star Trek - The Next Generation in the early or mid 90's. First, it was touch screen operation of the ship's computer terminals and controls. Then it was eReaders as the crew members would be reading novels on these little hand held devices. We didn't have anything resembling the thin laptop computers then, just portable ones. We didn't even have LCD monitors. Touch screens had existed back in the early days of PCs, though, but they were mushy (like gel filled plastic) and unreliable. You still pressed fairly hard, not merely touched or swiped your fingers across them.

Just as Verne predicted the nuclear powered submarine, science fiction has repeatedly predicted all sorts of advances in science. At the same time as it has shown the imagination's limits. After all, on Barsoom, they are still fighting with swords and have no TVs even though they have flying ships (which seem to resemble sailing ships) and guns.

This is why I am fascinated with science fiction and early science fiction in particular. And I wonder if those who thought up the iPad were also fans...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Say what?

I was musing today about how we speak. There are various dialects in every language Since I am monolingual, I will stick to the only language I am nominally qualified to comment upon... English. Or, more accurately, American. I am aware, of course, that all languages have variations based on locality.

We have southern dialects, New England dialects, mid-western, and more. And, within these categories, we can break them down to states. In fact, to not have/use a dialect would be a rare thing. And each dialect has a connotation to it; a stereotypical user, if you will. Most of these stereotypes reflect prejudices or biases toward the region or state.

Then we have slang. There are different kinds of slang and these are often keyed to the dialect of the person engaging in the slang. Slang is hip. It is used to show one is "in", knowledgeable of the latest fads.

When I was a "surfer dude", for example, I used a number of slang words... "Gremmie" was a variation on gremlin and meant someone who irritated or got in the way. "Bitchin'" was a good thing, as in "what a bitchin' day!" I had to be a bit careful using that one as the maternal half of the parents wasn't appreciative of such words. But using the slang, or argot, of the fad showed I was "in", a part of the scene, one of the crowd.

There is overly formal speech, where one is most cautious about how one expresses oneself so that no misunderstanding can be inadvertently perceived. There's casual speech in which contractions and slang can be tossed about with abandon. I seem to drift between these two at random, not wanting to commit to either one exclusively.

Southern dialect is charming. Especially the more formal form spoken by southern belles. Redneck southern is not so charming and reminds one of the movie "Deliverance." It conjures up inbreeding and stupidity. And NASCAR fans. And missing teeth. Yes, a stereotype.

New Englanders speak slowly and carefully and are a bit inscrutable. There's a lot of "eyuhs" (or "ah yuhs") and cars are "cahs" (the "a" is pronounced like the"a" in "at"), I am most amused by the New Englander's pronunciation of "fork". Within New England, there are dialects that are specific to each state. Bostonites (Bastinites maybe) have their own unique variation too.

Californians used to claim they had no accent, no dialect. Then we found out about "Valley-speak." And there's that Okie remnant remaining in the so called "Inland Empire" and many of the farming regions. And have you noticed that country music singers and musicians all have some kind of country style accents? Even if they were born and raised in Chicago, San Francisco, or New York?

New York's dialect is interesting. There's a difference between the city of New York and the rest of the state. Except Long Island (normally pronounced by residents as "LawnGuyLand") which is much like the city's. And it's similar to what you would hear in New Jersey. But the "boroughs" of New York City have their own accents and dialects which set them apart.

I once thought that, with national TV, movies, and radio and mass communication that we'd all end up speaking without an accent, that we'd develop a more cohesive dialect. That we'd all eventually sound like the announcers and newscasters.

I was wrong. Couldna bin more wrong iffen I trahhed.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Trudging up that learning curve

I finally succumbed to the hype and my own belief that these things are the future of computing; I purchased a tablet computer. Not an iPad but a Thrive. Why the Thrive? Well, why not? Seriously, it was because I am a tightwad and the Thrive had more features than any of the others, including the iPad. I fool myself by thinking I am seeking value when, in reality, I am cheap.

Now comes the truly difficult part... what am I going to do with this tablet? I like the concept of tablets. Easily carried, not strongly tied to an electrical outlet, lots of programs ("apps" to you) to run on it (many are free). Can I write posts for this blog? Can I comment on blogs and online news articles? Can I get comfortable with the tiny virtual keyboard? All this remains to be seen. At this point in time "I am only an egg." I have much to learn. As a friend remarked, it's a good thing we are retired and have all this free time. Of course I retorted that, with our advanced years and waning mental accuity, we'll need it. That learning curve has become very steep.

I find I have to learn how to navigate and operate within an alien operating system. This isn't Windows or OSx or Unix/linux, it is called Android. That word suggests robotic to me. Rather, a mix between human and machine. The human part is certainly there; there are inconsistencies in command and function. What is intuitive to one person may not be so to another. And when you add programs written by a myriad of different programmers, you have the opportunity for computing chaos. For example, within one provided application, Settings, you pop up screens pertaining to various functions and options. These screens can sometimes be dismissed by tapping on a blank screen area (sometimes) or (always) by tapping on another function or option. I would think the Settings app would be available on the main menu screen, but it isn't. It is found on the right hand (2nd) Apps screen. And its icon is dark and unobtrusive.

Not all websites (few of them really) are compatible with the Android browser (or other mobile devices). I cannot change certain things on my Scottrade website, for example. Not a big deal because the important functions work and I can get a quick glance at how much my investment stake is dwindling. Still, it's a little annoying not being able to change the scale of a chart from whatever it was the last time I changed it from my desktop or laptop. There are mobile apps for some of these websites but most seem geared for the smartphones.

I went looking for an app that would work like Wordpad does on my PC and laptop. So far, I have found only one and it was geared for a phone. And it is limited to making a few notes or reminders. I need something with which to write a document which I can then transfer to my blog. Doing a search on the Android app market shows me a couple of candidates which I will have to try. But this is part of the problem; tablets are an offshoot of smartphones (a next step, if you will) and so it will take a little more time to separate the two.

I have found a text editor that seems workable but I failed to find a way to transfer the text to Blogger's editor. And so I trudge ever onward and upward.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Guns and butter

We are on our way to a leaner military. This is a result of the mandated cuts that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction's failure to come to an agreement. That this was widely predicted has been ignored. So we have a potential $100 Billion in cuts to defense over the next ten years. This phase involves the first $450 Billion.

It's the old "guns and butter" dilemma. People think we spend too much on the military. And that is a common perception during peacetime and at the wind down of a war. We did this at the end of WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam... Each time we have had to rachet it up again because the next conflict happened.

Our military is like insurance. You pay for it and hope it isn't needed. And, like insurance, you gripe about the cost.

But I look around today and I see a repeat of the dismantling of the British Empire after WWII. In spite of the rhetoric of the Left, we do not have or maintain an empire. But what we do have is shrinking. Some of it because it is the natural ebb and flow of geo-political influence and some because people have come to believe we are the cause of evil in the world.

To cede our global superiority, we must trust the other major military superpower (Russia) and the emerging military superpower (China) to not have global empire ambitions.

After WWII and Korea, we tried to move away from a militaristic emphasis to a trade emphasis. We took advantage of our new superpower status to spread our economic power. We were quite successful. Mostly because we had an undamaged manufacturing base and much of the rest of the world didn't. The rest of the world looked to us for aid, for products, for markets. And we provided all of these. They also looked to us for security against the aggressive regime in the Soviet Union. And we provided that, too. It saved them a lot of bucks which they could then invest in their economic infrastructure.

And it ended up costing us more than we could imagine. It was expensive to be the world's policeman. And then we found ourselves in serious economic competition with the countries we helped re-establish themselves. With our former enemies who were now allies.

We are doing all the things we seemingly must do. And, in my opinion, the last things we must do. Reduce our ability to fight on two fronts and we will soon face conflicts on two fronts. Limit our ability to fight and we will soon find ourselves threatened.

Peace is not maintained by weakness and conciliation. Never has been and never will be.

If you favor butter over guns, you will soon find yourself without either.

Friday, January 6, 2012


I am going through a period of angst. I use that word in the existentialist definition. I also use it in the traditional definition since they both work for what I am feeling. An unease, a mental discomfort. It might be because my golf game is poor lately and how I play has a profound effect on how I feel. Or vice versa. Who can tell?

A friend of mine organizes the golf group with which I play two days (Wednesday and Friday) a week. Another friend organizes the other group in which I play on Mondays. They are as unlike as any two people can be in their methods. One is meticulous and orderly... maybe to a fault; any change throws him and upsets him (which he does not take out on others but internalizes). The other uses a laissez-faire method. I am torn between them. Neither method quite suits me but I have no wish to interfere or to run a group. I would be much worse and I would likely be rigid and irritating while being irritated by any lack of cooperation. In many ways, I am a "control freak". I am also the opposite. This is why I shy away from leadership positions and also try to avoid being a follower.

In some ways, angst is my normal state of mind. Constantly torn between the desire to control everything around me and unwilling to even try.

That's probably why this blog has no direction.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

If I ever had an idea, it would be overlooked

I often wonder about how people think, how people interact, and how to properly pronounce "often." In the end, I am frustrated. I suppose I could have pursued a career in psychology or psychiatry if I had really wanted to know how the brain works but they (psychologists and psychiatrists) don't seem to know the answers either. At least not yet.

But my curiosity draws me to various articles about such things and one such is this one by John Stossel, "Ideas Have Sex, and We're Better for It". I also wonder whether the punctuation belongs inside or outside the quote marks in a trailing quote. But that's not the point.

Stossel learned this from a man named Matt Ridley, a British journalist.

Mr. Ridley is, it may come as no surprise, libertarian in a political sense and an optimist in an evolutionary sense.

While I was working in Jacksonville in the late 80's, my company was going through a bit of turmoil. For most of the years I worked for that company, I saw it as "bottom driven". That is, it allowed a sort of freedom to explore from its employees. Nowhere was that freedom greater than at Bell Labs. There, the employees were encouraged to pursue any idea that came to them even if it did not seem to have anything to do with telecommunications. Because, I think, they felt some other employee would find a way to adapt the concept into telecommunications. Of course, they also had projects given to them to pursue so it wasn't just an unguided chaotic think tank of sorts.

I didn't work at Bell Labs, that would have required at least an engineering degree. I was a lowly tech working in one of 140 or so long distance switch offices.

There had been some changes at the "top" and it was shaking us all up. Rumors of layoffs and actual layoffs were happening. What I saw happening was an attempt by the top brass to take control of the company and drive it from there. One of the things they came up with was "quality teams" which were supposed to examine problems in how things were done and find ways to resolve them. One of the "tools" used to do that was something called "brainstorming sessions" where people would blurt out ideas, however unrelated or weird, in the hopes that it would lead to a solution.

I was nominated for one of these teams. I took myself off it after a couple of meetings. Random thoughts unrelated to the problem were encouraged but not radical ones related to it. And especially not radical ones that exposed the problem's origination. At least in the problem we were working on. I felt finding the origin of the problem would help us find a solution to it. I found the "team leaders" discouraged that in favor of mechanical solutions. So I walked away from the "project." You could say I'm a quitter but I felt that the "think tank" concept was being distorted and that we were supposed to come up with something palatable to the "brass." I said so in my resignation letter. This did not make me popular.

Based on the Stossel column and what I have subsequently read of Mr. Ridley, I can buy into his concept. Let people freely exchange ideas and those ideas will "mate" and produce new ideas but don't interfere, don't filter or direct them, because that will slow or even block new ideas.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


For the last couple of days, I've been getting my fill of Gunsmoke reruns. I like the show, it's trite and outdated but I like it. The characters are as black and white as the film it was recorded on. The bad guys are bad and the good guys good and you can spot them as they ride up the street or walk into the Longbranch saloon. No complex characters, just 2 dimensional ones. The plots and stories are simple and 2 dimensional too. Just basic entertainment, no deep thinking required.

What I like best is finding characters played by actors who later became stars or prominent character actors. They aren't playing major characters either, often just small roles. If you watch enough of these shows, you see some of these come back in other roles. One time as gunfighter, another time as a settler, yet another as a drifter, sometime later as an outlaw. Denver Pyle comes to mind, he had 14 appearances on Gunsmoke.

I have a little problem watching the show since I keep seeing car/truck tire tracks in the dirt roads, and wonder why there are no ruts in the streets of Dodge City. And then there's the ladies in their fine dresses with the zippers in the back. Zippers didn't show up until the 1890's. Yeah, I looked it up.

Still, it's fun to watch the old shows...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A total blank in black and white

Know what is scary? Seeing the clock showing 7:51 AM and having no idea what to post today. Yes, I've done it. I have failed to come up with a single notion to write about for today. Maybe, this being a new year and all, I should try posting short, pithy, blurbs on the human condition? No, I probably couldn't do that. I could but they would be pointless and dull.

Some of you might be thinking "`pointless and dull?' Isn't that what he posts all the time?" and, of course, you'd be right. It's what I do, what I have a special talent for.

But today is worse than ever. You see, yesterday the Encore Westerns channel had a Gunsmoke marathon. It played the oldest shows, back when it was a half hour show in monochrome. I think it stayed in black and white even after it went to an hour show.

I watched a lot of black and white TV. Still do. I like to guess at hair color while watching such shows. I either fooled myself or you could usually guess who was a dark blonde, a redhead, or whatever. I think there were a lot of redheads playing in those days. They show up better in B&W and the freckles don't show. Unless you saw them in person or in a color movie, you wouldn't know for sure. There weren't any glossy magazines like "People", even a lot of pictures in "Life" were in B&W.

There were a lot of B&W films then too. I guess color cost a lot more money. After awhile, we all thought life before the late 50's was pretty colorless. B&W came to define it. At least for me.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Will boys really be boys?

The last few days before the end of the year, I came across a couple of articles regarding gender bias in toys. One involved a video of a 4 year-old (I think) girl going into a rant about pink toys and gender oriented toys.

The other was this opinion piece in the New Your Times [link] which stirs the pot a bit. Even though it's categorized as opinion, there is nowhere to comment. Deemed too touchy a subject?

It's all about nurture vs nature. A subject I have always been curious about. Being male, I was confronted by certain expectations as I grew up. These were obviously nurture oriented. And I think the nurture crowd have a strong case. I firmly believe we program children from at least the day they are born. Maybe even before... if we suspect or know the gender of the fetus. It's been going on since humans first gathered in clans, I suspect.

Nurture, or cultural pressure, is rampant and persistent. The cultural bias is everywhere you turn. Since parents were subjected to it from infancy, it is only "natural" that they would choose to follow it with their own children. And the ones who rebelled against the social conditioning as children would likely continue that rebellion as parents.

And is it harmful to let the child "choose" its own way? After all, what does a child know of its future wants and needs?

Is it good or bad? Is it better to wait until the child shows some interest and then cater to that interest? Or is it better to steer the child toward the cultural norms for its gender? Or (and this is the real question, I think) are both ways potentially harmful? We are, after all, both social creatures and individuals. This duality creates conflict by itself, don't you agree?