The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

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

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

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

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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It's all in the past, I suspect

One of my golf group, "Captain Billy"*, showed up with a knee brace. Billy's a biker (two Harleys),  a fairly hardy guy and only a couple of years older than I but he's had his aches and pains. Had to have shoulder surgery last year, for instance.  I hadn't noticed him favoring a knee before, though. When I asked him about it, he said his knees been giving him trouble and he thought best to have some support. As we talked, others commented on it... and on their own aches and pains. Billy's remark was "It's like I hit 67 and it all started crumbling."

And from there the conversation was one of this ache and that operation and the other chronic problem.

That's what happens in a group of oldies. Conversations turn to the problems of aging. We wear out after awhile, don't we? And it all seems to come at once. My father was pretty healthy all his life, up until a few short years before his death. Even when he was sick, he bounced back quickly and often worked through an flu or cold. I can't recall him ever breaking a bone or being laid up for more than a day. His worst "injury" was when he sunburned the tops of his feet and couldn't put on a pair of shoes the next day. That was when he was in his thirties. The second day he was fine, as far as I knew, he had shoes on and went to work.

But when Dad hit 78, it all came at once it seemed. His heart was dying and would eventually take him a few years later. When he had the Pacemaker put in, the doctor told him he could have a guy do a knee replacement at the same time but Dad declined. I never found out why exactly but I suspect he didn't want to be laid up at all, didn't want to deal with the recovery. The Pacemaker insertion required only a day off his feet.

To understand about that knee, you'd have to picture and guy whose height was 60% legs. And he was tall (6'4"). And spindly legged. Like a short guy on stilts. Apparently, that knee had been shaky for some time.

Me? I'm falling apart. I've got COPD (mild) as a leftover from a poorly diagnosed lung infection that dogged me for two years starting back in `97. I broke my kneecap a couple of years ago. And now my left shoulder is giving me trouble. And my right ankle (which I sprained a couple of times in my 20's).

When I am feeling sorry for myself, though, I think of Pete (another golf buddy). Pete's 84 and has been battling a form of leukemia for 30 years, had both knees replaced, and is still playing a couple of days a week.

Wish I could have gotten an extended warranty on this body, though.

*He's called that because he is one. He sailed the Caribbean for a few decades after giving up the corporate accounting life back in the 70's.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Whither the American Dream?

Somewhere around the 1950's, it became a part of the culture to push our children into college, to "white collar" careers, to eschew the idea of factory work. So the best and the brightest headed off to business school and engineering school, and law school. And the factories no longer got them. Instead of promoting those best and brightest to improve the factory and its processes, they hired them as consultants from outside (and lacking the insider knowledge of the environment). And they believed in the clean and wonderful future touted by the intellectual class who spoke of robotics freeing us all of the mindless, repetitive labor of factory work. And that put the fathers of those kids (and their less smart brothers and sisters) out of work over time. the factories went along because they saw that they were no longer getting bright stars among the detrius but just the "leftovers", the ones who couldn't get into colleges, who could barely (and maybe not at all) get out of high school. Oh sure, a smattering of the bright showed up at the employment office but they became more and more rare. After all, they weren't stupid and they could see the handwriting on the wall. The culture said in the 1850's, "Go west, young man", and he did. In the 1950's, the culture said, "go white collar, young man", and he did.

Pogo said it best: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

The above is a comment I wrote in response to the majority of comments in response to the following piece:

The knowledge class vs. the factory class

The article/opinion and the comments brought a song to mind...

Well we're living here in Allentown
And they're closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line.

"Allentown"  by Billy Joel

There was another comment I made in response to a specific comment blaming the management class. Even though I think he had more than just management in mind, I think he was talking about the very "higher ups", the "suits", the owners and the board of directors and such.

The comment:

What an unbelievable crock. the management class has systematically destroyed the viability of blue collar jobs for the last 50 years. If there were unions, and the jobs paid $30/hour with benefits, there would be no shortage of workers. 

And repeat, it is not the knowledge class. There are many people with educations who see this. It is the rich class and the MBA class that have undermined and destroyed the blue collar middle class. Not the teachers, not the government employees, not the lawyers, not the doctors. The MBAs and the wealthy.

And my reply:

"If there were unions, and the jobs paid $30/hour with benefits, there would be no shortage of workers. "

True... but there would be no jobs for them to have.

It is a reality that one can price one's self out of the market. The glut of lawyers is becoming yet another example. A glut of engineers another. A glut of business school graduates (together with those engineers) gave us the automated factory which didn't free the workers from anything but employment. The incentive for those automated factories? The high cost of human employees. Especially as those employees became unwilling to work harder for more pay but expected the higher pay because the factories were more productive because of the increase in automation. And your unions, with the best of intentions, encouraged them. After all, if the workers made more, the unions would prosper.

And here we are today, wondering what happened to the American Dream...

And pointing fingers.

And ignoring our own guilt in the process.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Ok, who broke the microwave?

The weekend was eventful, as they say. Remember TGIF? Well, not so much this last Friday. You see, on Thursday evening late, Frances went to nuke a bag of popcorn and nothing happened except a loud grinding noise. The light came on, the carousel turned `round, but the popcorn never popped. The grinding noise sounded like the bearings of a fan were going bad. But a dying fan does not impede the microwaves... one would surmise. And, only a few minutes earlier, Faye had popped her own bag on microwave popcorn.

The microwave oven, a fixture above the stove for 5 years and a couple of months, no longer worked.
Naturally, we blamed it on Frances. She doesn't cause these things but she, like Joe Btfsplk, always manages to be there when something breaks.

Short of counter space, our only choice was to buy another "over the range" type unit. Faye had already given permission to have someone else install it. But I, being a normal (mostly) male, decided I would do the installation.

I mean, how hard can it be? Really? That hard?

Besides, to wait on installation would mean several days without a microwave oven. And that, dear friends, is unacceptable. We have hot dogs in the freezer and microwave popcorn and Faye's lasagna (leftovers from Valentine's Day) to reheat and eat.

We simply cannot function without a functioning microwave oven. It's uncivilized. It's just not done.

So I trudged off to Lowe's on Saturday morning. I would have trudged on Friday but there was golf to play that morning and golf to watch that afternoon. I perused the choices there and settled on a not too expensive one. Countertop types are cheaper, by half, than over the range types. But I would have needed more counter space than we have. So I had no choice.

Over the range units are standardized, thank goodness, but only in dimensions. They differ in wattage, features, and price. Especially price. I learned they also differ in mounting strategies. But that was later, during the Great Agony. I was but a child, not fully aware of what was to come.

My next step, after arriving home and carrying the rather large box into the house, was to uninstall the broken unit. This went well and I was lulled into believing this would be a simple job. The mounting instructions were specific (in that weird "not the writer's native language" way we've all come to know so well) and it soon became clear that the old wall bracket would not do and even the holes in the overhead cabinet would have to be re-drilled.

But these were minor snags, easily (okay... not so easily) overcome.

In just a few short hours (about 5), the 15 minute installation job was complete.

This one had best last at least 5 years.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Perception is reality? Or maybe not...

We are perceptive people, are we not? Actually, I think our perceptions are programmed by genetics and environment. Consider that our genetic make-up is a mixture of our parents' genes. Their genetic make-up is a mixture of their parents'. Our genetic make-up is set at conception. But we are also influenced by the people around us. From the day we are born, our parents have a huge influence on how we view the world around us. All of the people that come into and leave our lives have some influence on how we view the world. Most of us find our views have changed over the years, more for some than for others.

Think about it. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, teachers, coaches, boyfriends or girlfriends, friends in general, bosses, mentors, even many people you think you are influencing. Life is not a one-way street. More like Newton's Third Law of motion. "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Except the reactions are not always equal.

What I mean by that is we are influenced almost imperceptibly much of the time. Consider the Big Lie theory: That if you tell a big enough lie and repeat it often enough, people will eventually come to believe it. It is the theory behind saturation advertising. And it doesn't have to be a big lie, or even a lie at all. It can be a distortion, an opinion, even the truth. Eventually, repeated enough, it will be perceived as valid and important information. But we, subconsciously, select what is "true" and what isn't. We accept as true that with which we are most comfortable. We reject what makes us uncomfortable. And then we reinforce it by blocking out that which makes us uncomfortable (by not watching or reading it).

This is why the media is so important. Especially when it comes to politics. What we see and hear influences how we perceive things. Rightly or wrongly, we form opinions based on these things. How we perceive (I believe) is decided by genetics. By that I mean how we decide what is valid and what isn't on a very basic level. Perhaps we could say on the "molecular" level. The various influences of parents, relatives, friends, acquaintances, and others who come into our lives add another layer; the thickest one.

And then we are bombarded with advertisements, opinion pieces, and the very subtle bias that is in most news. In most cases, the bias is not blatant though we often think it is. That bias is reflected in what stories are run or stressed. And it is done at the editor level on newspapers and news blogs and at the producer and director level on TV shows. Some of that bias in television slips into the regular programming.

How do we function independently? How do we form our own opinions? I don't think we do. Well, I don't think the great majority of us do. A few rare individuals might but the rest of us are following the path of least resistance, accepting the peer pressure of those around us, accepting what we see and hear as our own.

It takes courage and determination to break away from the "conventional wisdom" and form a unique opinion. Even that might have been influenced by our early upbringing and our genetic make-up. Why we feel comfortable with a certain ideology might be because our genetic make-up established the "filters" with which we determined the importance (or lack of) of the input we got from all those others as we grew up.

It's something to think about when you consider how you feel about the political parties and the politicians.

Friday, February 24, 2012

From a tablet weakly

You could call  this an experiment. It may not be successful. I am typing this on my tablet... with some trepidation. I already have the feeling that it will be a tortuous exercise to post in this manner.

The purpose of the experiment is to test the viability of relying on the tablet for posting on my next trip. That trip is scheduled for April, I think (Faye has not informed me of the date yet), and I should be gone a few weeks, maybe 4.

Using this virtual keyboard is, at best, awkward.

On the other hand, it could be impossible. For some yet to be determined reason, the cursor jumps to an almost random spot on the first line while typing in "compose" mode. Annoying and frustrating. However, it seems to work fine in "HTML" mode. If I had a better handle on HTML, this would be a decent solution. Unfortunately, I am not proficient in HTML.

(switching to desktop machine because I am running out of time)

Now that I think about it... I am not proficient at anything but procrastination. I've got that down pat.

I can bring along my spare keyboard... What? You don't have a spare keyboard? and that should work adequately.

Blogger, in its silicon wisdom, has decided to mess with us once again. It has changed its "user" interface. It "asked" if I would like to "try" the new interface and I, in my infinite stupidity, clicked on "yes". Now I seem to be stuck with it. I suppose I eventually would have been anyway. New interfaces are like bad tasting medicine (is that redundant?)... take it quickly and move on.

Have a nice weekend and try to avoid a hangover.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Trapped in suburbia

When I was growing up, this song appealed to me. I remember it every time I drive up to Biloxi. On the way up, as I ride along the Florida state toll road 429, I pass by a housing development where every house looks exactly the same, all with swimming pools inside identical mansard cages (screen enclosures). The same orangish roof on each one, the same off-white/cream color painted exteriors, the same "zero lot line" yard. And I wonder...

Here's the words, sing along if you want...

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,1
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Getting the lead out

Every so often I come across something which confuses me. Mostly these involve situations that have been identified as problems many years (as in decades) ago yet remain troublesome.

This is one such item:

Unsafe levels of lead still found in California youths

We all know that lead is a toxic substance now but it was not always this way. At one time, a lot of toys, most paint, even some glasses and dishes had significant amounts of lead content. And the lead would leech out of these things and get into the bodies of children and adults. Children, of course, were (and are) more susceptible to effects of lead. Especially children under the age of 6 (says the article) because they tend to put a lot of things in their mouths.

But here's my puzzlement... We've known about this problem for many decades. We began addressing the problem over 30 years ago. We outlawed lead in gasoline in 1995. Actually, that process began well before that, starting in the late 70's. I would say that the vast majority of cars using leaded gasoline were out of service by 1995 and likely much earlier.

The US banned lead based paint in 1977. Lead based paint being the likeliest source for lead poisoning in young children. Lots of rules, controls, and so on were created. The paint is still a problem, however, because few people removed the paint but simply painted over it. So it is still around, still a danger.

What causes my puzzlement is that we think something like this would take only a few years to deal with, maybe ten at the most, yet here we are 40+ years later (in the case of lead-based paint) still trying to clean it up.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sweeping up the space trash?

This 4 minute YouTube video says it all, I think.

From Sputnik to GPS in 55 years (actually a few years less than that) and all the leftover junk is coming back to haunt us.

That space trash can destroy anything we put up there. I am glad someone is working on a viable solution.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The internet, honesty, and inhibition

I ran across an interesting column in the online Wall Street Journal on Sunday. It was about how "we" behave on the internet. Especially on those social networking websites. The writer (Matt Ridley) makes a good point. And he uses some examples and comparisons I thought useful and provocative.

For example:

In many monkeys and apes, face-to-face contact is essentially antagonistic. Staring is a threat. A baboon that fails to avert its eyes when stared at by a social superior is, in effect, mounting a challenge. Appeasing a dominant animal is an essential skill for any chimpanzee wishing to avoid a costly fight. Put two monkey strangers in a cage and they keep well apart, avoid eye contact and generally do their utmost to avoid triggering a fight. Put two people in an elevator and the same thing happens—with some verbal grooming to relieve the tension: "Cold out there today."

I already knew something about this from personal experience with a monkey when I was around 5 (Smiling Faces).

But he went further because he was writing about how we overcome our inhibitions online because it is not a face-to-face confrontation. What we wouldn't say to a person standing in front of us, we are more than willing to say to a faceless stranger on the internet.

I am as guilty as anyone. I engage in comment-debates which are more accurately called arguments.

And the comments below Mr. Ridley's column proved his point. You can read his column here. I recommend you also read the comments.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The problem wih mandates

There's been a big fuss over the President's mandate for Catholic owned/run non-religious entities provide birth control coverage for their employees where they provide health care insurance. The fuss grew so noisy that the President backed off and offered a compromise that mandated the insurance companies provide the coverage instead of the Church.

This hasn't quieted the fuss down all that much. It is, after all, a political season (politics never seem to be out of season, though).

I have a problem with mandates. Especially ones by government. They are dictates, edicts, ukases (if we were czarist Russians). They are dangerous. They are also necessary at times. We like some and hate others, but all impose the will of government upon the people. This makes them dangerous, in my opinion.

To paraphrase the usual political "position" on abortion... I personally oppose mandates but recognize that they may be necessary at times. Therefore I want them safe, affordable, and rare.

Today's link to rationality: Never Trust Government Numbers

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lawyers, lawsuits, operating systems, and us

I get a lot of spam interesting emails. On purpose. My fault. I sign up for, or allow, some sites to send me "news, articles, and offers" and these constitute most of these "interesting emails." It is not really "spam" if you request it, is it?

The other day I received one of these from about a lawsuit [link] by Barnes & Noble against Microsoft. People love to hate Microsoft. Especially Apple people. And now we will toss in Android people. You see, the B&N folks use the Android operating system on their Nook devices. And Microsoft seems intent on reducing the market footprint of Android (so is Apple, as we will learn). This is economic warfare as practiced by Beeg Bidnezz. I am not so naive as to think that rules aren't bent (or simply ignored) in these battles. I fully expect that to happen. I am sure so did B&N. They just thought that the courts would act as a kind of buffer.

B&N seems on the ropes these days. Their business model must change if they are to survive in the Digital Age. People are buying fewer physical books and more digital books. These eReader thingies are getting more and more popular. Tablet computers are displacing laptops. And tablet computers are also beginning to eat into the eReader share of the market since tablets can be used as eReaders and do not cost significantly more. So eReaders are morphing into tablets.

But B&N has been dealt a blow by the court. Sayeth the judge:

Microsoft’s tactics are certainly hard bargaining, but they do not rise to patent misuse because there is absolutely nothing about such tactics that expand the scope of any patent.

And it appears that Apple is aligned with Microsoft. According to the article:

Microsoft isn’t the only mortal enemy Google and its Android hardware partners face. Before he died, Steve Jobs said “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product.” And he promised he would “spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong.”

Think this doesn't affect you? Think again.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I want my (soulful) eyes back!

When I was young, I had big brown eyes and almost black hair. The Italian butcher on Main Street called me the "little bambino" when Mom would take me along on her shopping. My brother would call me "bug eyes" when he was in one of his kinder moods. A rarity. More often it was worse names.

I was always mistaken for some ethnicity that I wasn't. Italian, Jewish, even Cuban, but I am mostly Irish. My grandfather on my father's side was a merchant seaman out of Belfast who decided he liked America. An affection I think had something to do with the Irish lass he had met in New York and eventually married. My mother said we came from the Black Irish, which turns out to be a bit of myth mixed with legend. She was referring to the Spanish Armada myth. The genetic evidence often does not quite jibe with the romantic legends, doesn't it?

But we don't stay the children we start out as, do we? As I grew up, passed through puberty, and became an adult, my eyes shrunk a bit, the dark brown faded a little. My mother said I once had red hair... when I was an infant, maybe even as a toddler. She kept a clipping of some fine red hair in an envelope that had my name on it. I don't recall that, of course. My own memories are full of mirror reflections of a dark haired child. A red-headed child would have stood out in our family and probably caused a bit of gossip.

As I got older, my hair grew finer and finer (and the hairline receded). Eventually, I suppose I will have the sparseness of my mother's. My eyebrows are shrinking and may even seem to disappear as they become gray and even finer. My eyes seem to have shrunk also. I looked back through my pictures and realized that this has been a long process that has been so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable. I lost the large dark eyelashes somewhere along the way, too. Now they hardly exist at all.

I was often jealous of my brother, who got my mother's light eyes (hers were hazel, his are blue) and nose (small). I was plain ol' Douglas who ended up looking mostly like Dad with my brown eyes and larger nose. Though not as dark and not with the thick black hair.
Ah youth! Where have you gone?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Let me read your palm

Do you see patterns and symmetry? In almost everything? Yeah, neither do I. However, I often do see them. One struck me the other day.

I was solving a crossword puzzle [link]. Or I should say I had solved that crossword puzzle and was surprised to find I had, in spite of one error while filling in the letters, achieved a new High Score. I am not sure quite how the scoring is done with this puzzle, most others are simply timed, but it is some combination of accuracy and time. In any event, my high score was 4263 for Saturday (my previous best was 4078)1. I was pleased with myself, as we egotistical types often are when we do something well, and then I noticed the date: 2-11-12. It's a numeric palindrome. 21112. By the way, they add up to 7 which I used to think of as my "lucky number" when I believed in such things.2

Does this mean anything? No, unless you are into numerology, I suppose. It's just numbers lining up. Coincidence and nothing more.

When I was going into the Navy (and shortly after I entered), I took a battery of tests. I had taken these a few years before when I went with a friend to check out the Air Force. The recruiter offered us this battery of tests. I was not especially interested in the Air Force at the time but I liked taking tests. Especially ones where I had no opportunity for preparation.

One of the tests involved discerning patterns in random pictures. Not a pattern in a series of pictures but within each picture. This was, I think, examining the test-taker's ability to read schematics and comprehend electronic circuits. I did well on that test, as I recall, each time I took it.

I also see patterns in behavior (both in myself and others) fairly easily. It makes me wonder if I could have been a good detective. Or if I just read way too much into things.

We all do that, don't we? Read too much into things from time to time, that is. And we all look for patterns too, I think. We just don't call it that. Maybe that's how some so-called psychics work. Perhaps they see these patterns that most of us miss and piece them together followed by a guess as to what they mean. Perhaps they (the ones who aren't outright phonies and scam artists) don't even realize they are doing this.

1Each puzzle is different and, therefore, cannot be equated.

2What? You don't have a "lucky number"? I'd have really been amazed if, instead of 4263, I had scored 4264!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Aw... go ahead and kiss her

Happy Valentine's Day!

I want you all to be my Valentine. Just don't tell Faye, ok? It'll be our little secret.

Now that I have gotten that out of the way, let's move on to more pressing matters. No, this isn't about that pile of clean laundry that needs to be ironed. After all, that's why they make "Wash n' Wear" clothing. No, this is about toothbrushes. And that goes with Valentine's Day when you think about it. A clean and healthy mouth is much more pleasant to kiss than one that resembles a box of licorice and chocolate Chiclets.

I was brushing what few teeth I have left and musing (it's what I do) about oral health. I was rinsing my toothbrush and began thinking... "What about the germs that might grow on that toothbrush?" After all, germs grow just about anywhere. And I looked at the mouthwash bottle sitting there on the countertop and wondered if it couldn't be used to cut down on the germs on that toothbrush.

And then I wondered what the ADA thought about this issue. So I Googled them.

While there is evidence of bacterial growth on toothbrushes, there is no clinical evidence that soaking a toothbrush in an antibacterial mouthrinse or using a commercially-available toothbrush sanitizer has any positive or negative effect on oral or systemic health.

Clearly, I was disappointed when I read that. But, undaunted, I continued on... and found this header/lead-in:

Common-sense supports that for patients who are more susceptible to infections, a higher level of vigilance to prevent exposure to disease-causing organisms may offer some benefit.

Under which there were several suggestions, one of which was this:

  • Soaking toothbrushes in an antibacterial mouthrinse after use has also been studied and may decrease the level of bacteria that grow on toothbrushes

This information was put out in 2005. So why did my dentist not tell me?

Monday, February 13, 2012

And now... a blast from the past!

Remember Gary Lewis and the Playboys? Probably not unless you are old, like me, and was stuck with an AM radio in your car in the mid 60's. There was very little choice in those days... Dad's old music (which I have come to appreciate) of the 30's and 40's or what passed for popular music in those days. I often tuned to WMBM (a Black station) to listen to R&B when I could take no more.

I only bring up Gary Lewis because the nearby junior college has been advertising a tour stop for the band.

I only barely remember them and the band isn't one I think of when I recall those days. This was before tape players, before 8-tracks, before most of you existed. A friend once bought the latest in sound technology for his car: a 45 RPM record player. He also had a reverb unit which created an echo effect in the car. All to listen to Elvis. Obviously a rich kid.

But let's get back to Gary Lewis and the Playboys. I don't recall them because I was listening to surf music at that point. And Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary along with other folk music "heavies" like Joan Baez. And then I went into the Navy where I wandered into the world of psychedelic music and blues.

Even when I did hear of them at times, I dismissed them as a wannabe band of privileged children of stars... Gary Lewis is Jerry Lewis' son.... along with Nancy Sinatra and "Dino, Desi and Billy". Imagine my surprise when I learned they won 8 Golden Singles and 4 Golden Albums. All without my buying a single one.

There's just no accounting for the taste of the American public. Or underestimating it either.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Political dissing

What do you think of political arrogance? It is not limited just to the party (or parties) you don't align with. It is rampant throughout society. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, and members of all of the other political parties of the US and the world engage in it. I suppose it is so rampant because it is part of human nature. And we are all capable of being arrogant... and we often are.

It just seems it's especially bad now, they tell me. It was really pretty bad all through our political history. In fact, I would suggest we have only had short periods of comity here and there, the norm being rancor. An example I like to refer to is the campaign against Andrew Jackson in 1828 (the campaign of 1824 was also quite interesting). But all politics in the US (and, I suspect, just about everywhere in the world where elections are held and even where they are not).

I define political arrogance as the willingness to find the faults of your opposition which you forgive (and sometimes admire) in your allies or fellow partisans.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Regrets that we rue

Sometimes I worry too much. I used to be worse, I used to worry all the time. Especially when I was a child. It was insecurity. I know that now. I had a very poor self image. I can blame that on my family dynamics but that's a cop out. I could have overcome that. I have but it took me many years to do so. In the meantime, I caused myself a lot of problems and lost countless opportunities because of it.

I was reminded of this while discussing (arguing) with others over an article somewhere on the internet. The article was about gender roles and cultural pressures and norms. Underlying the premise of the article was some truth; that society pressures force (or try to force) us square pegs into round holes. Peer pressure is a major part of this. Sometimes we call that "fitting in", an apt description if you look at the square peg/round hole thing.

As a kind of "herd animal", we want to blend into the crowd, we don't want to be different. That seems to change in our teens where we fool ourselves into thinking that being different from our elders while conforming to our peers is being "unique." At the same time, we are succumbing to the peer pressure of our teenage cultural norms. We are also likely to be a part of the peer pressure ourselves. It's a twisted and strange thing we do to our minds in those years.

I sometimes rue the fact that I didn't resist that social pressure sooner and stronger than I eventually did. But I am learning to laugh at my regrets. Because, otherwise, that way lies madness.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Beating the odds?

I have a problem with insurance. No, I am not fighting with my insurance company over a claim. I mean I have a problem with the concept of insurance. Think about it, you have to lose in order to win.

I first noticed this a number of years ago while talking to an insurance agent trying to sell me a life insurance policy. These policies are misnamed, you are not insuring a life of a person, you are insuring against a loss of earnings by that person. You are not protecting yourself from harm, you are insuring your family will be less financially harmed by your loss of life. These policies are financial insurance.

One of the things the agent said in his attempt to sell me a policy really bothered me. He talked about getting killed in an accident the day after buying a policy. I am not sure about others but betting against my living a long life is not something I want to do. That is what we do when we purchase life insurance, isn't it? We are betting we'll die well before we pay a lot of money to the insurance company. The person buying the policy will never collect unless they are buying the policy on someone else's life.

It's just a scary thought.

The insurance company's game is simple: they expect you to live a long, long time. They have actuarial tables that help them determine the odds are in their favor. Like casinos have statistics that show they have the advantage in gambling. The house wins in the long term. So do insurance companies.

We are just pushing money into the slot machine.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It's Wednesday and time for a traffic rant

What kind of driver are you? Courteous? Cautious? Assertive (or aggressive)? Wimpy?

There are a lot of other categories I could mention or ask about, some of them are probably unfit for a family friendly blog. You know who I mean... And I am sure none of my readers fall into those categories.

I don't drive nearly as much as I did when I was a "wage slave" or when I was a teenager. I only put about 200 miles a month on my car now instead of the 250 a week I racked up before retirement. I fill up less than once a month. Well, when I am not on a trip across country or up to Biloxi.

Still, I see a lot of drivers on the road and, therefore, a lot of driving mistakes. In the winter here, our citizenry doubles (or more). Traffic doubles and slows way down. Which turns out to be a Good Thing because it means most accidents occur at lower speeds.

My main beef is about what I call "intersection creepers". There are two types... the first is the guy at the traffic light who creeps forward while waiting for the light to change until half his car is past the line and is sticking out into the intersection. There are intersections where crossing traffic must swerve a little to avoid him but he isn't generally a problem until the light changes. At some point about 30 seconds before the light changes, his attention span has been exceeded and he is now busy changing stations on his radio, enmeshed in a cell phone conversation, or picking his nose and is not aware the light has changed. And so he sits... as you wait (patiently, I'm sure) until he notices the cars next to him have moved out. At this point, he will dash forward to catch up (and pass) his road mates.

His "cousin" is the "corner creeper". This is the driver who is going to turn left from the stop sign at the intersection where you are intending to turn left. You, of course, have the right of way since you have no stop sign. But he has nosed his car well past the stop sign and also started that left turn a tad prematurely. He is now crowding the lane you want to turn onto. Instead of the 90 degree turn you expected, it's more like a 110 degree turn.

I can't be positive but I think he's the same guy who turns left before he reaches the intersection that you are approaching causing you to stop well short to avoid him as he travels through the oncoming (your) lane. Why the "corner creeper" and this guy never seem to meet is a mystery.

The "corner creeper" also does his dance when turning right but is not a problem unless he is turning onto your lane as you travel down the highway. He often creeps out enough to make you shy of traveling in the right lane of a multi-lane highway. But he's at his worse when he completes that turn and doesn't pick up speed unless, and until, you move to the next lane to your left and start to pass him.

He will eventually become the guy hiding in your right hand blind spot; that invisible zone just off your right rear quarter. The one that is always there when it comes time to move into that lane to prepare for you right turn. His cousin is there in your left rear quarter blind spot.

Faye would like a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the roof of her car. I just want to find and disable the idiot magnet in mine.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Being both wise and foolish is human nature

This post is going to sound political to many but it really isn't. It's not about party politics, anyway. Bear with me, I think I have a point here to make.

I read something the other day which triggered (as these things will do) some musings. It was a remark made about a certain individual, a "celebrity" if you will. People seem to hate him or love him, very little are in between. He could not do what he does in many, maybe most, countries in the world. He is seen by some as evil, a liar, a bigot. Others view him as clever, wise, insightful. And he does nothing more than talk. 5 days a week, 3 hours a day.

Behind the hate is fear, I think. Behind the love may also be a bit of fear. Yes, I am talking about Rush Limbaugh. But not simply about him but about something integral to the country in which I live. I am talking about Freedom of Speech and its importance to all freedom.

Voltaire is reputed to have said: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." He didn't actually say or write that, his biographer did. Or so I am told. Voltaire said a lot of things. If you read all his quotes (or anyone's for that matter), you will find contradiction and hypocrisy here and there. We pick and choose which bits of wisdom will be lauded and ignore the remarks which do not fit our perception of things.

For example, Voltaire wrote:

"Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror."

"But that a camel-merchant should stir up insurrection in his village; that in league with some miserable followers he persuades them that he talks with the angel Gabriel; that he boasts of having been carried to heaven, where he received in part this unintelligible book, each page of which makes common sense shudder; that, to pay homage to this book, he delivers his country to iron and flame; that he cuts the throats of fathers and kidnaps daughters; that he gives to the defeated the choice of his religion or death: this is assuredly nothing any man can excuse, at least if he was not born a Turk, or if superstition has not extinguished all natural light in him." [about Muhammad]

"It is a serious question among them whether they [Africans] are descended from monkeys or whether the monkeys come from them. Our wise men have said that man was created in the image of God. Now here is a lovely image of the Divine Maker: a flat and black nose with little or hardly any intelligence. A time will doubtless come when these animals will know how to cultivate the land well, beautify their houses and gardens, and know the paths of the stars: one needs time for everything." [about Black people]

"All of the other people have committed crimes, the Jews are the only ones who have boasted about committing them. They are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts, just as the Bretons and the Germans are born with blond hair. I would not be in the least bit surprised if these people would not some day become deadly to the human race. " [about, obviously, Jews]

He was obviously full of the prejudices of his time. Yet we think of him as wise. It is only because we are selective in which quotes we revere that we do. The same happens with people like Limbaugh. regardless of whether you love him or hate him, he has made an impact on society. And it is not simply Limbaugh or others who share his ideology, there are his counterparts on the Left. They also say things which can be seen as wise or dangerous, depending upon your own mindset.

Freedom of Speech applies to them all. If you accept one with whom you agree, you must at least tolerate one with whom you disagree.

Voltaire also said this:

"A witty saying proves nothing."

As well as this:

"Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one."

Which, I think, indicates the validity of the infinite monkey theorem:

"A monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare."

Espouse enough opinions and surely some of them will be wise. We each get to choose which are wise and which are foolish.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Time trips

One of the nice things about eReaders and tablets is the availability of books I read many years ago. Libraries (support your local library!) are good sources for these too but they have limited space and sometimes the ones I want are no longer stocked or are unavailable when I think of them. I can put a hold on ones that are currently on loan but that can be a problem sometimes. For instance, that The Man in the High Castle was out on loan and I gave up waiting after 5 weeks. Fortunately, I found it in ePub form on the internet.

That's the advantage of the internet; books are available and you don't have to drive (or walk or ride your bike) to the library. It's like having just about any book you might want right at your fingertips. Rich people were often depicted on TV and in the movies having personal (and extensive) libraries in their mansions. Having always loved reading, I envied them those libraries. Now I have an even larger selection of books in "my" library.

The other day, for instance, I was reminded of a book by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven called the Mote in God's Eye. I was reminded by this picture of the Helix nebula while watching The Universe on H2 (History Channel 2). The memory of that book being triggered made me search for a digital copy of it. And then I was reminded of other books (mostly by Larry Niven) which included A world out of Time, Lucifer's Hammer, and A World of Ptaavs and found them in ePub format also.

All of which means I am reading (maybe "re-reading" is more accurate) much more than I have been in a long time. Revisiting novels is a way of time traveling. You not only have the nostalgia of the story but also of the time and person you were when you first read it. Each revisited book brings you back to the time you first read it, evoking other memories. Almost like looking at old photographs.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

It's Saturday so politics is fair game

Romney is under attack for his remarks which began "I am not worried about the very poor. We have safety nets for them." The media and the left are ignoring the safety net part and the "very" adjective. The right is attacking him for supporting the safety net.

But what Romney said is logical and rational. Not that it matters. He will be attacked no matter what he says. This is called politics and it is a nasty, vicious game. Remarks will be taken out of context, misconstrued and thrown back at the speaker. The hard core left and right will believe what they want to believe. The barely conscious (unfortunately, there are way too many of these... they are usually called the "undecided") will be unaware what was said and what was said about what was said. And the non-hardliners of both sides will likely fall back to the "vote the party" mode come November.

There are people in this country who believe that corporations want to kill their customers. We are being told to hate the rich, Big Oil, Big Pharma, the banks, Wall Street, and pretty much anyone who is deemed successful.

We have young people protesting the "1%" while taking a break from the over-priced universities they think will lead to their becoming a member of that elite group as they text each other and keep in touch with their Facebook pages on their iPads.

I am lost in confusion and dismay.

But then I read something like this:

It's 'Marshall' Dillon to the rescue

Which tells the story of a Welsh Corgi and a lost child.

Now, let's look at the unemployment situation. The unemployment rate presented by the administration is not the whole story nor is accurate in terms of the actual unemployed. It is a manipulated figure which can be (and is being) used for political purposes.

Here's another way to look at it:

Measure Not seasonally adjusted Seasonally adjusted

U-1 Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force

5.6 4.8 4.9 5.5 5.3 5.1 5.0 5.0 4.9

U-2 Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force

6.2 5.0 5.4 5.5 5.2 5.1 4.9 4.9 4.7

U-3 Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate)

9.8 8.3 8.8 9.1 9.0 8.9 8.7 8.5 8.3

U-4 Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers

10.4 8.8 9.4 9.7 9.6 9.5 9.3 9.1 8.9

U-5 Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force

11.4 9.8 10.5 10.7 10.5 10.4 10.2 10.0 9.9

U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force

17.3 15.2 16.2 16.1 16.4 16.0 15.6 15.2 15.1

NOTE: Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule. Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Adventures in civic duty

It's interesting how surfing blogs will trigger memories. In this instance it was a post on The Chubby Chatterbox about jury duty. He told how he had never been called to serve and why he would have liked to have been.

We apparently share a love for the old Perry Mason series. That old black and white drama that was so popular back on 50's TV. I'm not surprised. There are literally millions of us. My late father-in-law collected Perry Mason novels in paperback. I have most of them sitting in my living room bookcase... gathering random dust particles and yellowing while the pages become brittle with age. Much like me, I suspect.

I have been called to jury duty exactly ONE time in my life. That was while I was living in Jacksonville, FL. It was so momentous that I went out and bought new clothes to wear. To be honest, Faye pushed me to do that (and went with me to... uh... "supervise") since she didn't think they'd appreciate my showing up in jeans and athletic shoes.

We were gathered together, we potential jury picks, in a courtroom that was unused for a trial that day. Some sort of spiel was blathered about our "duty" to the community and so on and then we were told we'd be called to go to other courtrooms through some unexplained process during the morning and afternoon. We'd be available for trials that whole week, we were told, which meant we had to show up each day. In some areas, you can call in each morning to find out if you should show up but, in Duval County, apparently it was assumed you would be. Needed, that is.

It wasn't long before my name was called, along with 20 or more others and we were sent to a courtroom where some information about the case was provided. I recognized the case quickly. It was a murder involving drugs and drug dealers. I had read about it in the local paper. This was before the internet and people actually read newspapers and magazines printed on paper. I hadn't read all that much about it and what I read wouldn't have influenced me at all. Let's just say I was aware of it.

We engaged in a group voir dire
. I should say the lawyers did; we were a captive audience and were the ones being questioned. Apparently, the prosecution or the defense, or maybe both, felt that our attitude toward the police was going to be important. We were asked if we had strong feelings, positive or negative, about the police and the justice system. We were then asked if we or close relatives or friends/associates had encounters with the police and the courts involving felonies

Not only had I had encounters with the police (both negative and positive) over the years but so had others I knew. Few of these ever got so far as going to court beyond the usual traffic offenses. Except two. One was unimportant and could be understood not to be a factor since I was not involved beyond knowing the principals in the situation but the other involved my brother, drug dealing, a "no knock" warrant, and an "informant." They were most interested in this one, though they wanted few details. It had been more than 2 decades before. I did not think it would impact my impartiality in any way. After all, I was not close to my brother, it had happened while I was away in the Navy (and, therefore, I got only second hand details), and he had come out of it without jail time. I thought he was treated well, more than fairly.

Needless to say, I was dismissed from serving on that jury. Rejected. I went back to the first courtroom (the "holding pen", if you will) and reported in. The bailiff (or whatever he was) asked me why I was there and I told him I had been dismissed. He then told me I could go home. I asked what time I should return in the morning and he told me I was no longer needed, that I was also released from jury duty.

I went home. And I have not been called again.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Looking west

The above picture was taken with my Thrive tablet. An experiment to see if I could take a sunset picture with it and if I could upload such picture from the tablet to Blogger.

Obviously, it was successful.

What was not so successful was the inputting of text to go with the image. I had to go to my desktop machine to finish this post.
I need to work on that. I want to be able to write and publish a post with the tablet as easily, at least, as I could with my laptop.

The image was taken at approximately 5:50 PM facing west (more or less) across Lake Jackson here in Sebring. I was sitting in the car waiting for Faye to come out of the library and admiring the view when it came to me that I had a camera in the tablet and that I could take movies and still shots. So I got out of the car, walked to the end of the parking lot to the small access road that leads down to the lakeside and took the shot you see.

Sunsets are one of the many reasons we who live here enjoy it so much.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I was out and about yesterday. A chat with a friend at the local Paneras about this, that and the other (where we compare his iPad with my Thrive and discuss golf and past adventures). After that, I ran by the local Office Depot to see if they had a cheap keyboard for my Thrive (they did) and try not to buy too much other stuff... almost successfully.

We do that a lot, don't we? Drop into a store to "just pick up one or two things" and find ourselves with full shopping carts? Maybe it's just me... but I suspect not.

I am not ashamed to say I shop at WalMart. And I often go there just to pick up a few things (though more things than most other places) and always end up buying much more than I intended. Shirts and/or sweaters jump into my cart (you know the one... it has that wheel that drags or makes that clunk-clunk-clunk sound or both) unasked for. The occasional hat (I have a dozen or more now and I only wear them at golf), little gadgets, golf balls (don't know why that still happens since I have been given -free of charge- about 3 dozen by friends and relatives), and extra food items that catch my eye. Sometimes, I fail to get one or more of the things I went there intending to buy.

It's why I avoid going to Lowe's or Home Depot. I'm an American male. We are biologically wired to start breathing heavy around tools and gadgets. Our (and our wives') only hope is to just not go through those front doors. I can't even be trusted at a Bed Bath and Beyond or reading the golf equipment catalogs I get unsolicited in the mail.

Bookstores were once the worst. But now I read books on my Nook or Thrive (or both at the same time... as I am doing now*) and don't get that urge to splurge in a book store.

It takes a lot to avoid wandering into the showroom at the car dealership when I go in for service.

* Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series on the Nook and Philip K. Dick's "The man in the High Castle" on the Thrive.