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.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The ruling on Obamacare

I personally think the USSC's ruling on the Affordable Care Act was wrong. But it stands. A lot of things I think are wrong stand. I'm used to that.

To understand my position, you have to remember I was born before Medicare came into existence, back when health insurance coverage was rare, back when doctors still made housecalls. When Medicare was being proposed, the AMA was opposed to it. Many of the same arguments that have been brought up for ACA were used against Medicare; it was "socialized medicine", it would cost way more than projected, and so on. It passed anyway.  It is partially "socialized medicine" and its costs are way more than were projected.

ACA is not socialized medicine, it is not even socialized insurance coverage. What it is is an unknown. We do not know yet what it will cost. Based on Medicare, it will cost way more than anyone can predict. It will not directly impact me as I am covered and have been for many years. I am safe from having a penalty/tax imposed on me for lack of coverage.

What it proposes will happen probably won't happen. It will not bring health insurance rates down. It will not bring health care costs down. Simply mandating people buy health insurance will not have any impact on insurance costs because there is no incentive built in to do that. Insurance companies have been mandated to provide more coverage under the law and there is nothing in the law, so far as I can learn, that prevents them from passing on the costs for that coverage onto policy holders.

The Court addresses this:

The reforms also threaten to impose massive new costs on insurers, who are required to accept unhealthy individuals but prohibited from charging them rates necessary to pay for their coverage. This will lead insurers to significantly increase premiums on everyone. See Brief for America’s Health Insurance Plans et al. as Amici Curiae in No. 11– 393 etc. 8–9.
The individual mandate was Congress’s solution to these problems. By requiring that individuals purchase health insurance, the mandate prevents cost-shifting by those who would otherwise go without it. In addition, the mandate forces into the insurance risk pool more healthy individuals, whose premiums on average will be higher than their health care expenses. This allows insurers to subsidize the costs of covering the unhealthy individuals the reforms require them to accept. The Government claims that Congress has power under the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses to enact this solution.

The theory is that forcing those healthy people who opt out of coverage to get coverage will increase the pool and, thereby, bring down the premiums is weak. What is likely to happen is what Medicare created: a larger number of people using health care because it is now covered. If you have health insurance, you will use it.

That may be a good thing. But Medicare didn't reduce cost of that health care. It increased pressure on health care providers to provide service for more people. It has filled waiting rooms. It has meant longer waits to see a doctor and shorter times with the doctor. If you like crowded waiting rooms and long wait times then you should be happy about this ruling.

What other effects it will have on health care are entirely unknown. We are entering the foggy realm of unintended consequences.

What I do know is that the chances of having this law repealed have been reduced to near zero. Even if it is repealed, it will be replaced by something so similar as to be indistinguishable. Or maybe by something worse.

Of course, I am a cynic... optimists may have a different opinion.

Another thing which bothers me in the ruling is that the "penalty" is now a "tax." I do not understand this because how do you tax a non-product, a non-transaction. Essentially, Roberts (and, thus, the majority) said Congress can tax something which does not exist (the policy) or did not happen (the purchase of that policy).

That scares me... what can Congress not tax then?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Bits and pieces

Not having a lot to do and being mildly curious, I went looking for weird stuff on the internet. "News of the Weird" is a good place to start although you can often find some strange things in the everyday mundane news you find on the usual news feeds.

Consider that nude guy who was shot and killed by police in Miami while trying to chew the face off another man. A lot of speculation about what possible "designer" drug he might have been on. Turns out... there was only pot (marijuana) in his system. Or maybe the labs don't have a way to test for what he was really on.

In the "Oddest reasons to support a candidate" department we have this. The poll was conducted by the National Geographic Channel. Wasn't National Geographic a respectable magazine from a respectable group (National Geographic Society) once? I mean, other than being a favorite of boys in the early stages of puberty back before men's magazines went mainstream...

For political weirdness, we have Charlie Rangel in the fight of his political life. Though, yesterday, all I saw was that he defeated his opponents in the primary. Today, at least according to the Politico, it's not so clear. Seems Charlie's lead may not be holding up. Or it may be. The vote is split and Charlie may win with a plurality. It doesn't matter about the general election, a Republican doesn't have that proverbial snowball's chance of beating a Democrat in that district.

Charlie Rangel has been holding that seat for 42 years now. Before him, it was held by Adam Clayton Powell, jr. whom he defeated in 1970. I think Charlie is firmly against term limits.

If you drive a car, I'll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I'll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.

Don't ask me what I want it for
If you don't want to pay some more
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

["Taxman" by the Beatles]

Poll Tax in Houston. Nothing more needs to be said.

Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.
Barney Google bet his horse would win the prize.
When the horses ran that day, Spark Plug ran the other way.
Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.

Google's "internet glasses"

Ok, I'm outta here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I am no longer the man I never was

There are a bunch of ads of late for testosterone replacement/enhancement products... such as Ageless Male. You've seen them on TV or heard them on the radio. I doubt the products work but I cannot prove that, or disprove it either. Nobody important (like maybe the FDA) seems to care enough about these products to investigate them.

I don't either. As my post title implies, the image of the man I used to be is heavily tainted by the man I have become. Or, as I like to say on the golf course, "I was never the player I used to be." Nobody seems to get the joke, though. Maybe it's my delivery. I was never a comic though I often got a lot of laughs.

I am pretty sure I know why there are a lot of these products. The aging of the Baby Boomer generation. We are not aging well, as a group. And we don't like that. We want to be our 20-something selves; not the flabby, sagging, unattractive (except perhaps when clothed), guys we seem to have become. I suspect, as my title implies, that we were never those guys. Oh, some of us were... some of us were in great shape and were active and full of energy. But not the vast majority of us.

We were fat or skinny, with/without scraggly beards, and lazy.... pretty much younger versions of what we are today. Some of us were even going gray in our 30's, some were going bald, some had paunches (a euphemism for "beer bellies"), some had flabby thighs or skinny legs (me). 

But now we want to be what we never were. And, true to P.T. Barnum, there is an army of those willing to take advantage of us.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It must be true, everyone I know believes it

From time to time, I read myths. That is, I read
(and hear) comments from people that contain myths but present them as facts.

For example:

More people have been killed because of religious beliefs (their own or someone else's) than for any other reason.

This is a widely held belief. It's also blatantly false. And easily refuted. The last world war is estimated to have caused the deaths of some 50 million to over 70 million. The estimate of civilian deaths alone range from 40 million to 52 million. In case you don't know, World War II was not a religious war in any way, shape, or form. Some argue that Hitler's persecution of Jews make it one, if only tangentially, but I would argue that he saw Jews as a "race" with a religion and did not persecute them for their religion. You could be a Jew who converted to Christianity and still be subject to persecution. See the Nuremberg Laws.

Some might argue that, at its heart, the racial aspect was a cover for religious intolerance. Which, of course, doesn't explain the persecution of Eastern Europeans, the disabled and mentally retarded, or black people.

In any event, it was Hitler's racial theories which drove the persecutions. And he set out to conquer the world not to convert people to some brand of religion but because he believed that Germans were the "Master Race" and destined to rule all other people.

Now, I know people don't consider Wikipedia as a reliable source but they do have a list of wars and their death totals, along with notation of type of war.

As my regular readers know, I am atheist. But that doesn't mean that I am anti religion. And it doesn't mean I will accept myths because of their anti-religious basis.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Peering deeply into my crystal ball...

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.
[Donald Rumsfeld]

Life is full of unknowns... and knowns. But mostly unknowns. It's, I think, why we (collectively, not personally, speaking) want to believe fortune tellers... or fortune cookies... or in omens. We are, after all, at the mercy of future events, are we not?

We all know the old saying about "eat healthy, avoid conflict and stress, exercise regularly... and you could step in front of a fast moving bus tomorrow."  All it really means is you never know what the future might bring and it isn't likely to be good.

My father, a fine but depressing guy, griped to me on a regular basis in the last couple of years of his life that "if I only knew it would be like this..." He was referring to his decision to have a pacemaker installed a few  years before. He was implying that he wouldn't have done it if he had known what the next few years would be like.

Maybe that's why we don't. How would you like to know the day, time, and circumstances of your pending death? I'd prefer it to be a surprise, thank you, and a pleasant one at that.

The paternal line of my family is one of strokes in our mid-sixties. My grandfather died at 65, his father died at, or about, that age. It is the legend of my father's family. My father lived to be 84. His baby brother lasted about that long and told me once, right after my father passed away, that both he and my father beat the "curse."

But that "curse" really wasn't. Each generation picks up new genes, new genetic makeup, from the mother's side and that throws a monkey wrench into the machinery. So do medical advances. The paternal curse was the result of spiking blood pressure in the family line at, or about, 50 years of age. My father had it but it was detected and treated and the curse was cheated.

My brother-in-law was told he had 3-6 months to live not long ago. It was a good thing he got a second opinion before he gave away everything he owned. It turned out his cancer was treatable and his life expectancy was greatly increased. He ought to have gone back and slapped the "stupid" out of his first doctor.

We just don't know what is in store for us, do we? But we certainly would like to... until we do. But I'd still like to know what stocks will triple in the next year.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The essential stuff of civilization

As I mentioned once before, I am currently re-reading "Lucifer's Hammer" (an excellent post-Apocalypse novel) and a mind-worm started tunneling through my meager brain. You know what a "mind-worm" is, don't you?

A mind-worm is  a concept or idea tangentially related to something going on outside your head. It burrows into your mind, just below the surface of your consciousness... leaving little tracks of mental sand to mark its passage. Much like an earthworm, or a mole, does to your well manicured front lawn. It disrupts the calm beauty of a serene mind.

And what is that mind-worm turning up? Let me digress a bit for background purposes...

Lucifer's Hammer is a science fiction story of a comet induced Apocalypse. It begins with the discovery of the comet, follows the scientific curiosity and the religious fringe interest, the slowly awakening realization that it could hit the Earth (the odds drop from the millions to one to hundreds to one in the first few chapters), to the collisions themselves and the chaos and havoc they create, to the destruction of civilization, and then to the aftermath and the attempts to rebuild.

It's a well told journey of some of the pre-comet characters impacted (no pun intended) by the event.

And that mind-worm? Toilet paper.

A number of years ago, Johnny Carson (Tonight show host before Jay Leno) triggered a toilet paper shortage in 1973 with a joke in his opening monologue. That immediately came to mind as I read about attempts by the characters to gather items that would not be manufactured anymore but would be needed. Guns, ammunition, books, etc. as well as those things needed to survive the immediate devastation... vehicles, gasoline, and such... as they seek high ground and some semblance of safety.

Once one mind-worm appears, you find others. They keep popping up, gnawing their way into your consciousness, to distract you as you read. One of the obvious losses would be electricity and power distribution. Without electricity, civilization would quickly fold up its tent and disappear into the very dark night. Electricity is what makes it possible to have modern cities, to have normal lives, to live day to day. A gas powered generator would be worth its weight in today's gold and gold would be worth next to nothing. Barter would become the new economy of honest folk. And honest folk would be at the mercy of the thugs.

The story (to get back to it) mentions the obvious coming scarcities: coffee, tea, gasoline, food, leisure time, personal safety, etc. But it omitted toilet paper. It omitted sanitation. It glossed over the lack of water and sewer service which would cease the day the electricity stopped. Think about it. Without electricity, the pumps which push the water into your homes would cease to operate. Water would stop flowing to your toilet, to your sink within hours if not minutes. If you were fortunate to have a water supply at a higher elevation than your home, it's likely that it flooded you out when the dam broke from the earthquakes (oh yes, there'd be lots of earthquakes as a result of the impacts) or the pressure from the constant heavy rainfall that would result from the effects of comet hits in the oceans. Not to mention that the first "rain" would be displaced ocean water (what goes up must come down, Mr. Newton explained) which would add a lot of salt to any any intact reservoir... possibly making it non potable. Add in the silt and bacteria from the thousands of bodies decaying in the runoff and you have life giving water turned into deadly poison (a poison that would be both fast and slow acting). And I haven't even mentioned what that salt water would do to the soil you would need for farming in the future (nor do the authors)

How many of us would think of looting a pool supply store to gather chlorine tablets? Nobody in the novel does... until someone thinks of making mustard gas to fight off an army of cannibalistic thugs.

Paper can be made. With water (even polluted water) and pulp. But it would be course, rough, and nothing like that aloe and baby oil infused Charmin I use.

Dinosaurs were tough beasts and had no machines, cities, or civilizations and a space rock of some size (theoretically) crashing into the planet eventually caused their total extinction.

Man isn't so tough. Take away his clean water and he doesn't stand a chance.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rich man, poor man

While perusing some articles in various papers, I continuously come across comments that try to advance the "hate the rich" mindset.

I suppose hating the rich is only natural. After all, they have money and we (the not rich) don't... at least, not as much as they do. We used to just call that "envy" and "jealousy" and it was frowned upon as "not seemly" and "immature." I think we have moved on from that mindset of late.

Like immigration, whose popularity waxes and wanes with the shifts in the economy of a nation, so too does the attitude toward the wealthy. We like them, more or less, when times are good. We resent them when times are tough.

But we forget they are impacted by tough times also.

The Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) for 2010 provides insights into changes in family income and net worth since the 2007 survey.1 The survey shows that, over the 2007–10 period, the median value of real (inflation-adjusted) family income before taxes fell 7.7 percent; median income had also fallen slightly in the preceding three-year period (figure 1). The decline in median income was widespread across demographic groups, with only a few groups experiencing stable or rising incomes.Most noticeably, median incomes moved higher for retirees and other nonworking families. The decline in median income was most pronounced among more highly educated families, families headed by persons aged less than 55, and families living in the South and West regions. Real mean income fell even more than median income in the recent period, by 11.1 percent across all families. The decline in mean income was even more widespread than the decline in median income, with virtually all demographic groups experiencing a decline between 2007 and 2010; the decline in the mean was most pronounced in the top 10 percent of the income distribution and for higher education or wealth groups. Over the preceding three years, mean income had risen, especially for high-net-worth families and families headed by a person who was self-employed.

It is a bit hard to view someone with a mansion or two and a jet as a "victim" of hard times but I think back to the adage of "bet big to win big" and remember its corollary "the more you bet, the more you can lose."

Lee Trevino used to talk about the pressure to make putts (and play well) like this: "Pressure is playing for ten dollars when you don't have a dime in your pocket."

I was standing at a craps table in Vegas back in the early 80's next to a guy with a stack of hundred dollar bills. He was betting and losing a few on every roll. I thought "If you're just gonna toss them away, I'll take them off your hands." Then I realized he was treating them as I would one dollar chips. Material wealth is relative, I realized then, and it changed how I viewed the wealthy.

I began to look at the wealthy differently than I had been. I began to realize they started, funded, and ran most charities in modern times. The companies they owned and/or ran and the ones they invested their money in were the ones that employed the most people. They bought items I couldn't afford and, because of that, those things often became more affordable.

Think about that last statement. Example: flat screen TVs started out at outrageous prices, something like $14,000 for a 36" plasma display. Now they are under $500 for that and the LED/LCD types. Without the wealthy, they would never have got off the ground.

The wealthy buy expensive cars with all the options. Eventually, those options get offered on more affordable vehicles. GPS navigation systems, phone hookups, all wheel drive, back up cameras, and more would never have happened to the family sedan if it hadn't been for the wealthy buying this stuff in their BMW's, their Maseratis, their Jaguars, and even their Caddies...

And, admit it, you want to be rich. We all do. That's why we buy lottery tickets.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Not far... as the crow flies... but I'm no crow

A comment thread from a story concerning city center living vs suburban living brought back some memories. The story wasn't about what the comment thread became (commentary often deviates from the stories they accompany) but about economics. For commenters, it became about the values of city vs suburban living... and vice versa.

I have lived in many places; from small towns to rural areas to big cities. I have visited many more for varying amounts of time. My main observation is we fixate, we identify most, with places that held our happier periods of time.

I have often felt pangs of jealousy toward people who grew up and lived in one place all their lives. It's something I never had a chance to do. When you are a child, you go where your parents go. And my parents moved us a few times. It changes you, moving does.

The first town I remember was Farmingdale, NY. It was the idyllic vision of suburbia. A small, almost rural, town some 25 or so miles from New York City and Queens Village (where my grandparents lived at the time).  A distance that once took 45 minutes to an hour to travel. I walked most everywhere as a child. It was easy to do so; we had sidewalks along all the streets and paths through woods and empty fields. And nothing seemed more than a mile away.

When we moved to south Florida, it was a cultural shock as well as a psychological upheaval. Sidewalks were rare, for one thing, they only existed in certain parts of town. Mostly near heavily traveled roads. But not always, US 1 (aka Biscayne Boulevard) had no sidewalks in our town, for example.  But I could walk to my schools until I went to high school. Neither of the elementary schools I attended were more than a mile away and the junior high was no more than 3 miles (a walkable distance and easily reached by bicycle). High school was more than 6 miles from my home and I had to take a bus until I got a car.

I started hitchhiking when I was 11. My friends and I would hitch rides to the beaches, to downtown Miami, to junior high, to the shopping center on 163rd St., to the bowling alley (sometimes we just walked to these last two), even to the Boulevard Drive-in Theater some evenings (though we always walked home).

When we moved to Orlando (pre-Disney days... 1963-1964), a car was a requirement. Walking anywhere wasn't possible for me. We lived too far from anyplace (in a mobile home park set between a hog farm and a dairy farm on a frontage road along I-4).

After joining the Navy, I ended up in Long Beach, Ca, where I could walk to some places from my apartment but not to anyplace interesting. It seemed like most of the interesting places were far away; Hollywood, Pasadena, the beaches, etc.

I prefer suburban life to city life so mostly lived on the edge of cities or near them. The best of both worlds, in my opinion.

Now I live in a town not unlike Farmingdale but I am too old to explore it on foot. Like many small towns, the outskirts are where the majority of the population resides and where most of the restaurants and shopping are found. It doesn't take more than 15 minutes to get anywhere by car but you can't walk to most places. No grocery store within 5 blocks (and who would want to walk even that far with groceries?), not even a  convenience store, of my house.

But I like it here and intend to stay... even if I have to use a golf cart to get around.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Taxes suck

I was thinking about income taxes. I don't know why, it isn't tax time. Still, they came to mind. It might have been a comment I read somewhere which said "The problem is that the far upper end quit paying taxes awhile ago."

I took issue with that. First, because it is blatantly untrue. Second, because only the bottom of the economic scale has quit paying income tax; something like 47% no longer pay income tax. It is true that every employed person pays what are called payroll taxes. But so do their employers. They pay one half of the Social Security tax for each of their employees in addition to the full 15% for themselves. We forget that, I think. In addition, they pay taxes to cover unemployment benefits and worker's compensation. That's in addition to any benefits they offer to the employee.

I see a lot of misunderstandings and flat out untruths out there concerning the rich not paying their "fair share." It makes me wonder...

Ever play Monopoly? Fun game. But there are two squares that irk me every time I land on them. One is "Luxury Tax" which takes a flat $75. The other is "Income Tax" and offers the player a choice: $200 or 10% of your total worth. It's misnamed. It's not an income tax, it's a wealth tax. If it was an income tax, it would only take a percentage of your gain since the last time you landed on it.

But let me ask you a question: You have been around the board a few times, you've accumulated a number of properties, collected rents and have been given money by Community Chest and Chance as well as the $200 each time you passed go. You have $3000 in cash and properties. You land on "Income Tax", do you choose 10% or the $200?

Next time you play Monopoly, change the rules. Take away the choice, set some arbitrary levels where the rate goes up from 10% to 15% and 20%. Then see how the game plays out.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It was a beautiful thing to behold

The US Open Golf Tournament lived up to its hype this year. No easy romp for the winner like Rory McIlroy had last year. No, the course played so tough that Rory failed to make the cut and posted 10 over par after 2 rounds (77,73). Tiger Woods showed promise in the first 2 rounds but went all blooey on the third day to wreck his chances of winning a 4th US Open crown.

I wrote earlier that the US Open is a tournament that makes the guys who make the rest of us duffers feel like idiots look like (and often feel like) idiots. We sit on our sofas, or become one with our recliners, and stare in wonder as Lee Westwood hits a ball into the treetops... where it remains. We shake our heads when Jim Furyk blows the tournament on the 16th hole by duck-hooking his tee shot into the woods and then failing to recover. I won't even comment on that ugly attempt to get a birdie from the left green bunker on #18... a shot so similar to my own miserable bunker play that I cringed along with him.

We already know what it is like to have a ball nestled down in deep rough and be able to advance it only 20 or 30 yards (if at all) but we engage in a bit of Shadenfreude and show no pity for the pros who are experiencing it for the first time since they were 12 year olds and were already able to kick our collective butts on any course at any time.

They play a game each week that is nothing like my (and my peers') game on courses so beautifully manicured as to make us drool with envy. We'd three putt (at least) every one of the super fast greens, of course, but we'd still like to play them. The Olympic Club's (where the Open was played) Lake Course had perfect fairways and slick greens but the rough was the ugliest I had seen outside of the local courses I play on each week. And our rough is not 6" deep (fortunately). And the rough around the greens looked unkempt, almost like an abandoned course.

So, yes, I enjoyed watching the tournament. I am not above laughing at the masters of the game looking like Joe Schlub hacking away.

And then there was this:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I try to overlook his lack of height

I got to thinking about how we often treat those around us. Unintentionally, that is. Sometimes, we treat them pretty bad but we just don't think about it that way.

I play golf with a couple of groups. Mostly old guys, older than me. Makes me feel young in comparison. I am almost 66 and that used to be "ancient" to me. But now I have many friends and acquaintances who range from the mid-70's to early 80's.  We make jokes about "senior moments" and Alzheimer's (which is no joke, really), sight and hearing problems. We talk about parts of us that are stiff and shouldn't be and others that should be but aren't.

Some of these guys are quite short. Some are tall. Most are short, though. I have never considered myself tall. Just average. Well, I once was average but not anymore, now I am working on slightly short. It's all relative. I look at teenagers and a lot of them are well over 6 foot. My own son is 6'5". It was bound to happen; his mother was 5'10", I was (am, I guess) 5'11", and there's a lot of tall men in the families on both sides.

I digress... We make jokes about height. All of us, not just my golf friends, and it struck me how silly that is. We also make jokes about baldness, hair color, and other physical attributes. It's not like we can change them... except for hair color (and Real Men don't do that)... We have no control over height or baldness. I think we have very little control over weight, too, beyond obesity.

I grew up short. That is, I was small for my age until I was 17. And skinny. Really skinny. You think fat kids get picked on? Try being skinny. So skinny, your ribs showed. So skinny, you didn't want to take your shirt off. So skinny, you hated to go to the beach or a pool. And then toss in shortness. So skinny that no one saw you as a threat or a likely team member for baseball, football, or just about any sport. It wasn't easy growing up that way.

It could have been worse, I suppose. I could have had red hair, bad eyesight, and acne.

You would think I would have been more sensitive and not picked on kids around me because of that. But that wasn't true. I did it too. You'd think I wouldn't make fun of someone's height now but I do.

I guess we never learn, do we?

Monday, June 18, 2012

What's a 4 letter word for blather?

I do a lot of crossword puzzles. Which means I am subjected to a lot of pun-ishment.

An example:

Gleeful seer - "happy medium"

There are certain words that routinely appear in crosswords:

Ocher (and Ochre)

And it seems that crossword puzzle authors collude. When you do more than one crossword puzzle in the same day, you may see the same words in each. Sometimes, you see a clue which part of a word pair and the left hand word is the answer in one puzzle while the right hand word is the answer in another. I always find this weird. I can't believe they call each other up or chat before creating the puzzles but I also don't think there's some kind of unintended telepathy going on either.

But it does make solving them easier.

Friday, June 15, 2012

It's Open week!

As a golfer, this week is important to me. It's the US Open... an event staged by the USGA  each year to make those guys who make the rest of us look like idiots... look like idiots.

Well, most of the time. There have been years where the course conditions were not all that tough. Case in point, last year's Open. But, in general, the courses are long, the greens as hard, fast, and as unforgiving as pool tables, and the rough more jungle than grass.

I don't think the US Open encourages people to take up the game. Compared to the courses I play on, the US Open course set up is impossible. It's only right. The pros would make mincemeat out of my local courses. They could hit the greens on almost all the par 4's from the tee. On some, they would be using an iron to do so. We have no rough to speak of. But we also have no fairways to match those of the pro tournaments and our greens are patchy and slow. 

If I had to play a US Open course, my score would be in triple digits... Maybe 150 if I stuck it out long enough to finish.

And the level of play is quite different. We congratulate fellow players (saying "good shot!") for just ending up on the green. We think sinking a putt from 20 foot is amazing. The pros? They get angry if they are more than 10 feet from the hole, they routinely reach par 5's in two, and sink 20 footers like they are practically tap-ins.

Bobby Jones once said Jack Nicklaus plays "a game with which I am not familiar." It was a remark made during Nicklaus' winning of the 1965 Masters Tournament. Nicklaus has said the same about Tiger Woods. I think Tiger's wife once said it, too, but I think that was about something else.

In the US Open, you will see some amazing golf shots. Shots that I and my fellow hackers could never pull off intentionally... maybe not even unintentionally.

It is, even if you aren't a golfer, great entertainment.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Will it all go "Ka-boom!" someday?

I visited Meteor Crater in Arizona a few years ago and, while there, I contemplated the possible effects of that event. A few days ago, I came across this:

Cosmic impact wiped out mammoths

Which led me to this:

Evidence found for huge asteroid strike

Aside from the fact that I am innately curious about such things, there was a bit of synchronicity involved. I am re-reading "Lucifer's Hammer", a novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

In that novel, the authors describe the discovery of a new comet and what happens when it (or, rather, large bits of it) impacts the Earth. Published in 1985, it described something that seems to have happened once before... about 12,900 years ago. It also describes what could happen if a similar event occurred today.

Imagine how the world might change if a large space object slammed into the Earth. All of our petty squabbles would disappear in a frenzied struggle for survival.

And the more we learn, the more possible such an event seems.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How do they get it so wrong?

I am going to urge you to read this article  and view the video (it's fairly short) on the BBC website. Why, you ask? Well, because the video that goes with it is full of errors.

In the video, the narrator ignores history, miscasts events and timelines, and fabricates events.

Why does he do that? Probably because he didn't write the script and doesn't know much about the subject.

Let me provide an example:

The Volkswagen Beetle. Affectionately called "the Bug" by Americans (at least) in the 50's when it first appeared was not a symbol of the counter-culture. That role was played by the Volkswagen bus. It was also not, as the narrator states, a reaction to the finned Detroit beasts of the late 50's since it arrived before, not after, their (the fin's) appearance.

He then goes on to misstate and skew the the Japanese invasion of the auto market. The Japanese compacts triggered the American auto industry's attempt to build compact cars in the early 60's. They wouldn't have done that had they not been successful in the American auto marketplace and scared Detroit into making poor copies.

If the narrator is relating what the script writer gleaned from the book being touted then the book's author either got it wrong or the script writer clearly misunderstood the book. 

Ok, the source of this book review is the BBC and the British often do get American culture wrong (case in point the events of the late 1700's) but the narrator clearly isn't British... couldn't he have straightened them out?


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fear factor

I fear for all of us computer users. Even Apple users. But mostly those with Microsoft based systems. Which, incidentally, is still 95% of us, I think.

I fear the future of computing.

"Why?", you ask. And I say "Because they won't leave things alone."

Yes, I understand there's new technology and a lot of competition and companies cannot sit still or be conservative or their competition will destroy them. But there comes a point where change seems to be for the sake of change and not to take advantage of advances in technology.

I'm a little weird. I think need should drive change. But it seems the cart is pushing the horse these days. Someone invents a new technology and, therefore, we must take advantage of it. Scrap that  notebook you bought last year, dump that phone, get the newest model; the one with all those new bells and whistles. You know, the one you can have a conversation with so you don't actually have to call your friends. It can be your friend.

Ooma (a VoIP equipment supplier) even runs a series of ads implying an intimate relationship between a buyer and his phone service through Ooma. Yeah, I get that it's just an advertising trick, an attention getter, a way to get you to think about the product.

And what do we do with this new technology? Pretty much what we did with the old technology. We make phone calls on those smart phones or we text each other. But we've been able to do that for years now. My cable company is offering phone calls (video calls, actually) through your TV.  Now, they have been promising video calling for most of my life. Now we can actually do it. Well, it's no surprise to me... we have been able to do it for some time. Think Skype. Think CUCME. Think video conferencing... which has been available for decades.

Ah, you say, but now we can sit in the living room with that big flat screen TV and do it. You mean you couldn't do it with your laptop (connected to the wireless router) connected to that TV before? Of course you could.

Why am I on this rant? Because I was minding my own business when I got an update email from ZDNet about this:

Final thoughts on Windows 8: A design disaster

And in the article was this:
But despite being rock-solid, snappy and responsive, as a platform to do work on Windows 8 feel utterly unusable, and that’s down to one thing — the “Metro UI” user interface.

Thereafter runs a screed on why the interface is a problem; how it gets in the way, how it's not user friendly, how it is counter-intuitive and impedes productivity and efficiency.

The article never really asks the question that, to me, is obvious: Why do we need a new user interface? What was wrong with the old one? Was it all of the things the new one is? No. Is it difficult to master? No. So, says Microsoft... "Let's change it." Forget that it will impede the learning curve and obscure the useful improvements... we can change it so we will.

Back in the late 50's someone came up with the concept called "planned obsolescence." The problem was that not enough people were buying new cars each year. So the auto-makers came up with new gimmicks and the advertisers hyped them as "gotta have" items so the public would buy a new car when the old one was just fine. It's more complex than that and yet simpler at the same time.

And it is still being done today. When you consider purchasing a new car today, are you being lured by the greatly improved handling and/or economy? No, you are being told about the great sound system and how it interfaces smoothly with your smart phone. But what you learn is that that smooth interfacing is only available with the "premium" package. A package that has a lot you do not want or need. Doodads and gimmicks that you won't use or don't even want. All tied together in a costly option package that adds 10%-20% to the cost of the car.

Oh, you can buy the car without that package but they won't have one on the lot so you'll have to wait weeks for delivery and, if they do, you will find it cheap looking and tawdry. And the salesperson will make you feel cheap and tawdry for wanting it. the demo you drive will have every option possible. And the salesperson will tout the options as "essential."

You aren't buying a car, you are buying a lifestyle, an image. You aren't buying a computer, you are buying a personality to fit with your friends. You aren't buying a phone, you're buying a personal assistant.

I'm just not buying.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Still peeved... of course

I am still a bit peeved over the toll violation letter I received a few weeks ago. I keep re-reading it, keep re-visiting it, keep getting angry about it. I shouldn't, I know. I should sit peacefully in the Lotus position, thumbtips to index fingertips, chant "om", and let it drift away from my mind in peace and contentment. Well, I can't do that... and not just because I couldn't get up afterwards either.

This is what I re-visit:
The Katy Managed Lanes  is a project of the Texas Department of Transportation and the Houston  Metropolitan Transit Authority. It is operated by the Harris County Toll  Road Authority (HCTRA). The KML consist of four lanes (two eastbound and  two westbound) located in the center of the I-10 Katy Freeway. The two  outer lanes are toll lanes. During posted hours the two inner lanes (one  eastbound and one westbound) are High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) lanes. The  posted times are 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday -  Friday. At all other times (including weekends) the two inner lanes are  toll lanes.

That was not in the toll violation letter, it was in the email I received after contacting HCTRA about the toll violation. The letter had no explanation of how the tolls/lanes worked.

My experience with HOV/Toll lanes is limited to southern California and southeast Florida. To be fair, the southeast Florida HOV are not toll lanes at any time (or weren't the last time I was in the area). These all reverted to open use by anyone outside of the normal rush hours and were posted that way. Not so for the Houston area (and perhaps elsewhere in Texas). Outside of normal rush hour, these lanes become toll only. That is, one must pay for the privilege of using them. And one can only do that by establishing an EZTAG account after which you get a barcode decal to affix to your vehicle which is then read by strategically placed scanners over the lanes and the toll is charged against your account.

Not knowing the rules cost me a fine of $34. The signs do not actually explain how these lanes work. They couldn't, you would have to stop your car to read them if they did. It's just too complex.

I found some interesting reading on the Katy lanes here as I did a Google search about them. Curiously, I didn't find a lot of complaints about how they operate.

Nor did I find anything which explained how they were paid for and where the funds come from to pay for maintaining them. Did (and does) that money come from the general funds for highways? Or are the tolls and fines the only method?

I did find this:

Where does the money go that is collected on the Managed Lanes?

    The tolls collected from the Katy Managed Lanes—and all HCTRA-managed toll roads—go right back into Harris County and help manage and maintain our system of roadways, as well as help fund the upkeep of other county roads.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

On, Wisconsin!

So let's analyze the Left's defeat in Wisconsin. Everyone else has, why not us? Oh sure, I don't have the credentials of the major (or even minor) pundits on the TV or the so-called "mainstream media" but I do have a brain and a blog so that makes me ultimately qualified.

To put it bluntly, the Left lost. And they lost because they didn't have a leg to stand on in the first place. All they had was an emotional appeal over a difference in policy. And they presented it poorly with an "in your face" strategy that could not be sustained over the long haul that political contests in this country entail.

I am often amazed at the audacity of the Left over the last 50 years. They assume they are correct at all times and anyone challenging that correctness is ignorant, evil, or both. They do not attempt to hide their contempt of their political opponents from the public. I am not sure they could.

They run emotional campaigns. Labeling the opponent as cold, unfeeling, indifferent to suffering, and the like. This works if the voters are not given sufficient time to contemplate the issues. Emotions often, if not always, trump logic. However, it takes time to stage an election and that gives the Right the time needed to present the other side of the argument and it gives the voters time to consider the issues.

The Left tries to maintain the emotional fervor. It has no problem doing this with the "True Believers", its hard core supporters. You can recognize them easily; they are the ones always stunned by defeat. This is best illustrated by the following:

[Pauline] Kael has often been quoted as having said, in the wake of Richard Nixon's landslide victory in the 1972 presidential election that she "couldn't believe Nixon had won", since no one she knew had voted for him. The quote is sometimes cited by conservatives (such as Bernard Goldberg, in his book Bias), as an example of cluelessness and insularity among the liberal elite. There are variations as to the exact wording, the speaker (it has variously been attributed to other liberal female writers, including Katharine Graham, Susan Sontag, and Joan Didion), and the timing (in addition to Nixon's victory, it has been claimed to have been uttered after Ronald Reagan's re-election in 1984.)

The story most likely originated in a December 28, 1972 New York Times article on a lecture Kael gave at the Modern Language Association, in which the newspaper quoted her as saying, "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them."


This also illustrates a phenomenon reported during the run up to the Wisconsin Recall Election; the social division that emerged. People who opposed Walker stopped associating with their friends and associates who didn't. And vice versa, of course. We (and I have written of this before) tend to cluster in like-minded groups. Few of us want to be challenged in our views (though we often claim we do) so we seek out like-minded people (or people who look, act, and dress similarly) to associate with. 

Can the Left adapt to a new strategy? Can they offer cogent and logical political arguments? They have, at times. Just as the Right has offered emotional argument at times.

 It is up to us, the voters, to decide what to accept and what not to. And it is up to the politicians and political blocs to accept our collective decisions and not seek recalls based on policy disagreements.

And then there's this:
 Nothing to see here on Wisconsin recall, White House says

And maybe you might want to read this:
Democracy wins in Wisconsin 

In other news:

AG Eric Holder appointed two US Attorneys to investigate the National Security leaks...

Ronald C. Machen
Rod Rosenstein

Google them.  I did.

Can you spell w-h-i-t-e-w-a-s-h?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Eatin' healthy and other follies

I have nothing against eating healthy foods. I don't do it myself, mind you, but I have no problem with people who make that effort. I see nothing inherently wrong with my diet of peanut butter and Craisin sandwiches, multiple Snickers bars, and anything with lots of cheese and/or butter, or deep-fried. And hot dogs. And a number of other things I can't think of right now but I am sure taste good. Like Utz pretzel rods... which I buy by the jug.

But my sister-in-law, Franny, is health conscious. And diabetic. Something she had a genetic predisposition for and which was triggered by eating at Jack in the Box 3 times a day for a year or so until her pancreas went on strike in protest.

I can tolerate a lot of unhealthy food. I figure it's because of my early diet and Mom's cooking. Mom was not a culinary artiste. Lard was a major factor in anything she cooked. I did not have to worry about things like trichinosis or e.coli from insufficiently cooked foods. Mom burnt everything. Burgers clattered onto your plate (glistening in melted lard) like little black hockey pucks. Pork chops were... crispy.

My main dietary concern in my youngest days was making sure no food touched another on my plate. And surviving the meal with as many unbroken teeth as possible. Later on, I got less picky. I learned that burgers can actually be soft (thank you Burger King!) and that some foods actually tasted better when mixed together; like corn or peas or green beans or cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. And that mashed potatoes did not actually have to be lumpy (made from actual potatoes) or soupy (from a box of "instant" mashed potatoes). But I was into my teens by then. Once in the Navy, I found I could eat just about anything... except liver (though I do like liverwurst).

Marathons - Peanut Butter

But today is about peanut butter. And high fructose corn syrup. You see, we have 4 (large) jars of peanut butter  in our pantry. Two of crunchy, 2 of creamy. One creamy/crunchy pair is store brand, the other is Peter Pan. So I tracked down the likely suspect, Franny, and asked why we have all these. She showed me the Peter Pan crunchy label that said "No High Fructose Corn Syrup."

I later checked the ingredients on the other jars, noting that the creamy version of Peter Pan did not have that announcement, looking for the words "High Fructose Corn Syrup" or "HFCS". I could not find any indication that the other jars included that additive.

But just because something does not mention it does not mean it doesn't have it, I went online to see what I could learn about peanut butter ingredients. I still don't know. It's possible that it is not in the ingredients list because they are not required by law or regulation to list it. But, somehow, I doubt that.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Helping family

My mother-in-law is visiting this week. She is a kind, sweet, woman and is welcome here. And I am not saying this because Faye is watching me closely, armed to the teeth (which may, or may not, be true... I ain't sayin'). She really is a nice lady.

I was chatting with her about eReaders. She was impressed by one her daughter-in-law had (a Kindle). I talked about my Nook and offered to let her try it out. She loves to read but has some eyesight problems so the adjustable font size would be a plus for her. We talked about the availability of books and I mentioned digital library services, among other things.

She liked it so now it has a new home. I worried about how she might have a problem getting books for it but that same daughter-in-law is a pretty smart cookie and will help her out. My mother-in-law has a computer but it is more terminal than computer and its functions are limited mostly to email and web surfing. After checking with tech support for the service she contracts with, I found she couldn't actually download any files.

Sometimes I wonder about these "wonderful" deals aimed at seniors. She got the computer and the service through First Street. While they were helpful, I suspect they overcharge for both the "computer" and the service.

I no longer needed the Nook since my tablet doubles as a reader, even uses the same format. So I really wasn't being all that generous.

It does make a body feel good, though, to be of use.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A chat over over-priced coffee

I went to a weekly coffee meeting with a friend yesterday. At least I think he's a friend... one never knows these days. I learned something, as I usually do at these things; there are subjects I should not broach in my blog.

Ok, I already knew that. But I caught a hint of why. It is difficult to express my opinion on certain things clearly and concisely without creating confusion or, more likely, offense.

We meet each week, more or less, at the local Panera's. We ogle the women (surreptitiously, we think) and become only slightly ashamed as we realize they are young enough to be our granddaughters. And we discuss. The subjects vary... widely. Politics, religion, smoking vs not smoking, our mutual friends and acquaintances, evolution, spouses, etc.

Our conversations are humorous at times but often not. We do not argue but we do differ from time to time. We both served in our countries' navies. We both play golf (poorly). Therefore, we have some things in common. Our differences are not so important.

I have come to enjoy these coffee meetings more than I have told him. He will read this and know now.

I am not someone who makes friends easily. Anyone who wishes to be my friend must be very tolerant. I am opinionated and stubborn. And as obnoxious as any American can be. Perhaps it's because he is Canadian that he puts up with my obnoxiousness. They seem more capable of that tolerance than some. I don't know why that might be; proximity to the US, perhaps?

I just wanted him to know I appreciate his friendship. That, and I didn't want to broach one of those controversial subjects.

Today, by the way, is the 71st anniversary of the Allied invasion of northern Europe... at Normandy in France. We refer to it as D-Day

Some 9000 soldiers lost their lives that day, 3000 for the US alone.... on a single day. Reflect on that today as you go about your oh so important life.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Home again, home again, jiggety jig...

Survived yet another journey on America's roadways. Not even any close calls this time. No weaving semis to dodge, no careening speeders to speak of, no debris of any size to dodge.

Makes one wonder what the world is coming to...

It was a 2-2-2 trip... two days in Biloxi, two days in New Orleans, and two days to drive home.

Home is a wonderful word, isn't it? The evening before the wedding we were asking the bride's father how he was holding up and he said...

"Pretty good."

Then... "I'll feel better when I get home."

And we all do, don't we? I mean, a trip somewhere is usually interesting and often fun. But home is where we can truly relax. Even when I was working, I felt more relaxed, more at ease, when I was not out of town.

Back in 1977, I spent the a lot of time traveling for training. Baltimore, Dublin (Ohio), Atlanta, Chicago, Dublin (again), Albuquerque... I lived out of a suitcase, in motels and hotels, ate in restaurants, hung out in bars. Oddly, I didn't feel better during the times I was home. I was anxious and on edge. I knew I would have to leave again in a few days or a week.

I couldn't really settle in and relax.

I enjoyed the travel. Back then you could book flights easily, the planes were not always crowded, and you had relatively light airport security to deal with. Today I won't even consider flying.

It's not that I don't feel safe. It's the crowding, the lines, the security process, the surliness, the tension that is constant all around you. Everyone in a hurry... except the guy in front of you. Or the airport screeners.

So I drive instead. And hate that a little bit too.

Home, sweet home.  Aaaaahhhh...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Adventures in New Orleans

Once more into the breach. Or onto the road. We left New Orleans yesterday morning and without regret.

Some... no, many... people love New Orleans, especially the French Quarter. I probably would have too... many years ago. When I was younger. Maybe when I was in my 20's or 30's. Today? Today it is too noisy, too crowded, too full of itself for my tastes.

We had checked into the recommended hotel, the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street. Just getting there was difficult. These streets were made for walking, or riding a horse, or in a small carriage. Narrow. They were not made for cars. Uneven, crowded, in poor repair; with blind intersections and a mixture of drivers who had no idea where they were going and ones a bit too familiar with the area. the Gramin helped but not a lot. A street here and there blocked off for repair or delivery or just because. The street name signs were often missing and the GPS "lady" kept announcing she was "recalculating... recalculating" as I missed turns.

Eventually, we found Bourbon Street and went past the front of the hotel. We turned down the next street, Conti, and found an entrance into the underground parking. Tight, narrow, dark. Confusing. But we found the valet parking at the garage level hotel entrance and gladly turned the car over to the valet service. A bellman was called and appeared, gathering our bags as we made our way upstairs into the main lobby.

And then it began... the coldness. Very cold, much colder than I like my AC to be. We learned that it would cost us $36 per day to park, billed to our rather expensive room. No real choice, of course. There was no inexpensive parking to be had nearby. Besides, we we had already turned the car over to them. We followed the bellman as he led us to the elevators and then along the hallway to our room. A small, overpriced, room with a king bed. Beautifully furnished, though. Non-smoking. Faye would have to take the elevator down 4 floors to go outside to smoke. Pity.

The room was reminiscent of the cooler room in the 7-Eleven where I used to stock shelves for spare money from time to time. Freezing cold to me. 65F according to the thermostat. Turning it up made no difference. The thermostat was just for show, it seemed. I called the front desk, they seemed surprised. Promised to send an "engineer" up to fix it. It took a second call a few hours later before anyone showed up. It was pronounced "fixed" but wasn't. The only choice I had was to turn the fan off and let it get too warm for sleeping and then get up at 3 AM to turn the fan on again so it would blow cold air on me while I tried to keep warm under the covers.

Two days of this. The wedding was beautiful, as was the bride. The groom handsome but stressed. They chose the French Quarter for the wedding because they both love the place.

But me? I will never go back to the French Quarter or New Orleans. I have seen all of it I wish to.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Only one vote per person, don't waste it

Political campaigns... It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing... as Shakespeare once wrote, though I think he wasn't thinking of politics. But he could have been.

We are lied to by each side, told to believe the most outrageous things about  the candidates. Outrageous things that, unfortunately, too many people seem to believe.

I don't believe Obama is out to destroy the country or turn it socialist. Likewise, I do not believe Romney is out of touch and in the pockets of the 1%.

A number of years ago, I lived in Palm Beach County. It was the year 2000 and the campaign got out of hand. Accusations flew fast and furious and it seemed like each side was saying the other side would ruin the country. I thought then, as I do now, that we do not elect dictators; we elect people who will do their best to steer the ship of state through dangerous waters.

No one knows what the the winner will face as challenges. We only know what they face today. When the 2000 election was on, no one knew what would happen in September of the next year. And that is the problem. We elect someone and then we find out what will happen and how it will be handled by that someone.

I have come to believe that we do not want the "lesser of two evils", we do not want a socialist or a puppet of the rich. We want someone who will not panic when things go awry, as they will, who will not blame his predecessor, who will not be paralyzed with indecision, who will have appointed people who will give practical advice, who will understand that decisions made will impact the country for decades to come.

I hope we will not vote based on campaign promises of what the candidate will provide. I hope the winner will not just be someone who wants to pay back his biggest donors.

I hope we will not elect someone we will come to regret.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Some petty whining on my part

While driving through the panhandle of Florida, and the southern fringes of Alabama and Mississippi, I wondered about a certain invention that has made driving seem almost effortless. I am not talking about automatic transmissions or independent suspension here. I am talking about Cruise Control.

Cruise Control, while not that auto-pilot function found in planes and some (very expensive) large boats, saves the fatigue associated with having to maintain a more or less steady pressure on the gas pedal. A situation which gives rise to a condition we once called "deadfoot". After hours of highway driving, one would stop, get out, and notice one's right foot was sound asleep. It would have snored if it had nose and throat.

Nowadays, almost every car made comes with Cruise Control. Yet, I do not find that most drivers actually use it. My father never used his, for example, in the belief that he could get better gas mileage without it. He was probably right. In his case.  Having been a traveling salesman for 40+ years, always by car, he became "one with the machine"; he could "feel" the efficiency through his foot.

I, too, once felt that Zen "oneness" with my vehicles. Back in the days when I preferred standard shift transmissions and motorcycles. The car was an extension of my body. I have heard WWII fighter pilots express something similar when they talking about climbing into their planes as more like becoming a part of it than getting into it.

But I digress...

There are many drivers on the roads today that eschew the use of Cruise Control. I do not know their reasons but I can spot them easily enough. They are the ones who swiftly come up alongside you and then hang there in, or near, your "blindspot" where they become the "bitter clingers" or part of the "cluster." I have written of these before. The little clumps of cars traveling down the interstates; the herd instinct, perhaps, causing it.

I watch the non-CC drivers as they speed along to catch up to a cluster ahead of them when they find themselves alone (or almost alone) between clusters. And, just as they would pass the cars in the slow lane, reduce their speed (possibly unconsciously) to match the others.

These people are probably like the fans who follow The Grateful Dead around the country, or any devoted fans of any genre of music or film. You see them at Star Trek movies and conventions.

They simply must be part of the herd.