The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

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

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

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

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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

And the word of the day is...


Those of you of the British persuasion (aka "Bloody Brits") already know about this word. Maybe you even understand what it actually means. A rare few of you might know of its origins. But most of my American friends may have heard of it, guess it means something akin to "stunned", and never utter it.

We have better words.. one of them being the aforementioned  "stunned." Face it, "stunned" is just easier to say and expresses the feeling pretty much "spot on" (which only means "exactly").

Being a twit, and a curious one at that, I looked up "gobsmacked" in the only way I know how anymore... I Googled it. I got 364,000 hits.

Wiktionary defines it thusly:


As if smacked (“hit”) in the gob (“mouth (Irish / Scottish gaelic)”).

Attested since 1980s, from Northern English dialect, particularly Liverpool, popularized via television.

I was confused by the "Northern England" reference because I thought Liverpool is a city in southwest England. It turns out I was wrong about that. I am often wrong about things I assumed years ago.  My wife tells me I am often wrong about much more than that.

The Wiktionary implies the word originated sometime in the 80's but it turns out not to be so. A wonderful website called has located an instance of its use in 1959 referencing a source for the word as "Malderbury" which it then says does not exist. (I located an "Alderbury", a small town a bit west of Winchester, England, but no Malderbury)

But I like the word.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The great thing about aging is...

Young people come up to me all the time and ask, "What's it like to grow old?"

That's not true, of course, young people do not even talk to me except to say things like, "Sir, you really shouldn't be on a skateboard" or shout (while waving one finger), "Where'd you learn to drive, gramps?"

It was while I was looking in the mirror and combing the hair growing on my ears that I thought some of you might not yet be old and wondering just what it is you have to look forward to.

That hair on your ears is one of the things you can expect. In fact, it may be the most hair you have on your head by the time you hit your mid-sixties. But there are other joys:

  • All of your joints will start giving you trouble. Most will get stiffer while at least one does the opposite (men only, some women, we call them "wives", see this as a "good thing").

  • You will experience pain in places you didn't even realize existed.

  • Strenuous exercise will consist of picking up whatever it was that you dropped. And you will drop just about anything.

That athletic ability you had in your youth? Gone, never to be experienced again except in daydreams.

But you gain wisdom and knowledge:

  • You learn that knees and hips are replaceable but that backs and ankles and wrists aren't.

  • You begin to understand why you shouldn't have done most of the things you did in your life.

  • You find that young people listen to your advice but ignore it... just as you once did.

You commiserate with your friends who, maybe not so oddly, are all the same age or older than you. You spend a lot of time re-telling stories of your youthful exploits to people who only listen so that you will sit still while they tell you about theirs..

You fall asleep more easily but wake up earlier... sometimes several times a night. They have a few remedies for this but few of them actually work.

You pretend that riding around the course in a golf cart is "exercise."

In short, growing old sucks... but it is rumored that it beats the alternative.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What did he say???

Let's talk about roads... and the internet... and infrastructure... and success.

Obama is allegedly being quoted out of context. And I will defend him here... he is.

But let's look at the context:

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."

That isn't the entire context (you can read that here, if you wish). I just don't think that knowing the context helps him very much.

Let's talk roads first. Roads were not always built by government. In fact, they still aren't. Private contractors build the roads. Government just pays for them. In some places, they also do the repairs. We've all seen the 5 or 6 workers standing around the one person actually filling in the pothole, haven't we? A sure sign that they are government workers. And we, the people, are the government, aren't we? Therefore, we built the roads. OK, that's a stretch.

Let's go back to the start up of automobile companies because who needs roads more than auto-makers? Most roads in 1903 were dirt. Ford didn't have superhighways or interstates. Except in large cities, there were few paved roads. Yet Ford sold cars, lots of them. The paved roads came because of demand by people who bought the cars. People who wanted to ride on nice paved roadways. In 1905 the federal government got directly involved. Sort of. It was actually 1912 before money was appropriated by Congress (Agricultural Appropriation Act) to improve roads and trails serving the national forests.

It is of interest that in 1912 the congress also appropriated funds for the improvement of Post Roads, in conjunction with Sates and interested localities who were required to provide matching funds. This concept was the forerunner of the subsequent Federal-aid highway construction program.

There were paved roads already, of course, and there were toll roads owned by private citizens and businesses. These were built by businessmen. Not government... for the most part. Some states and cities may have built new roads or improved existing roads. But the beginnings of the road infrastructure was entirely in private hands.

And the internet was created out of a Defense Department network called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) so he was partly correct. But his claim, "Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet" is false. The words "so that" are what makes it false. There was no intent by the government to create something that commercial enterprise could use. It was created to aid in research, so that researchers at various universities could share information more easily. It was the researchers, in trying to increase that communication, who made the improvements.

It was not until the creation of UUCP and Usenet that we have the real beginnings of what we call the internet. Usenet was conceived by two Duke graduate students. That was in 1979. It wouldn't be until the late 80's that commercial access would be considered. And then only as communication providers.

This has become a "chicken and the egg" argument. But I think it is clear that government didn't build things so people could create businesses and make money, they built things because the public demanded easier access to commerce and because commerce pushed for easier access to consumers.

So what was Obama's point? What did he mean? I have no idea anymore. It seems to me that he was trying to make the point that "no man is an island." Which is true. No one ever built a business that gathered no customers. But it is in the best interests of the government to improve and expand access between business and consumers. And that is also in the best interests of consumers and business.

Before government, there was trade (business). Government took on the role of mediator and arbiter. Because they could. Because they were the strongest, biggest, most powerful entity. And because people looked to them to do so. To protect both consumer and business.

They need each other but government did not make it possible to succeed in business.

Businesses succeed because they provide a product or service that people want. Government can only help or hinder that.

I think Obama could have said it different... and should have.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Seeds of the Planet of the Apes?

Dr. Daniel Hanus, a researcher with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leizig, Germany, discovered that chimps are smart - similar to the crow featured in a 2000 year-old Aesop fable. The fable told of the crow what wanted a worm at the bottom of a pitcher. The crow discovered that if it dropped stones into the pitcher, the water level rose and the worm could be retrieved. Hanus observed the chimp taking water into its mouth and then spitting it into a tube to float a peanut to the top. Hanus said his study chimps' ability to solve problems.

Which begs the question: "What is intelligence?"

I think the invention of the bow and arrow best illustrates the emergence of human intelligence. It required a recognition of a problem (how to more safely hunt), the properties of wood and string (euphemism for animal tendon), tool use, and the ability to combine these to create a new technology.

But today, I think we have lost sight of what intelligence is. Today, we seem to think knowledge is intelligence. Certainly they are related but they are not synonymous. I know many people with a lot of knowledge that I would not call very intelligent. And I have known many people that I considered intelligent even though they did not have a lot of knowledge.

Obviously, we are easily impressed by knowledge. We are also impressed by the appearance of knowledge and confuse that, too, with intelligence.

I would be impressed by Dr. Hanus' chimp only if I could be sure that the chimp was free of any assistance in learning that process. I can assume that was the case but I do not know it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The amazing bow and arrow

I'd like to re-visit a subject I have touched on before: bows and arrows [See the last paragraph here].

I don''t really have anything new to add but I would like to go into more detail. The reason for this is an argument I had with a friend last week. The argument started out with a simple question. I asked him, "Have you ever wondered about the origin of the bow and arrow?" I spoke a little about how other tools and weapons came from nature and were enhanced through trial and error. Spears, clubs, hammers, knives, etc. began as natural things: sticks, bones, sharp edged plants or rocks, gave birth to many of these. And the spear was/is part of the bow and arrow. The bow is simply a way to throw a small spear (the arrow) a greater distance and with more force over that distance than an arm can.  To do it, though, one must think in a very abstract fashion. The concept is complex:

A piece of wood, bent against its natural form, with a strong string of some kind (likely first made from animal tendon), stores the power from the initial bend and then that potential power is increased by pulling back the string and bending the "stick" even more. It is stored energy. Stored first in the manufacture of the bow and then added to and stored by drawing the string back.

I have wracked my brain trying to think of what, in nature, might have given primitive man the idea for the bow and arrow. But I cannot think of anything. I can think of bent branches which might give rise to the concept of stored energy... bend this and it springs back when released... and that could give rise to the concept of a catapult. But adding a string from which to use that stored energy?

Why does this stress me so? I don't know. It's a puzzle and I am drawn to puzzles.

Most people think the wheel or fire (actually, the ability to create a fire) were man's pivotal inventions. I don't. I think the bow and arrow was the most important invention in the development of homo sapiens.

And not all the groups of man discovered this. For instance, the bushmen of Australia never used bows. Or abandoned them in favor of using a notched stick to extend the range of a spear. But the bow and arrow, beginning in southern Africa about 64,000 years ago according to this article, is found all over the world in almost every civilization.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I hate when this happens

As I sat in my recliner the other evening, watching the TV, my tablet casually informs me it cannot connect to the internet. So I casually stroll into the bedroom and into the computer area. Yes, we have a computer "area". It would be a room of its own but it is merely a section of the bedroom. And what do I not see? I do not see the little telephone handset light on the Vonage unit.

I feel a bit of angst creep into my mind. I kill the screensaver and look at the Network icon on the computer screen... it has that ugly X on it. No Internet Access

I bite back anger, squash the panic, cuss out Comcast, and then try to restore the access. I am unsuccessful. I examine the router. It is stone cold dead. No lights, no nada. It will not boot up.

I swallow the sour bile of panic. It is late and I do not wish to dash off to buy a new router. I must "make do" until the next day and so I reconfigure the Vonage unit and the cable modem to connect directly and then add in my computer. I attain success and we now have phone service and I have internet service.

The next morning, after dragging myself out of bed and getting a cup of coffee, I tackle the "bad router" problem. I do not have a backup "wall wart" for it so cannot confirm or eliminate that as the problem. I must work under the assumption that the router itself has decided to go on permanent strike. I do not have time to wait for another router to be delivered and I have no more spares (having given the two I once had away) but I order one from Newegg anyway. It'll be here in a 2 or 3 days.

I then head off to WalMart and purchase a router, bring it home, and proceed to install it.

A simple task... one I have done more than a few times. So, of course it does not go smoothly. This means I have to call on tech support. I hate to call on tech support. I used to do it myself and know, in my heart, that I am the Customer From Hell.

I could blame the installation instructions, I could blame the installation wizard, I could blame the ancient gods. And I did. Several times over. But the tech support guy (whom I will call "Job" for his incredible perseverance and patience) managed to walk me through undoing everything I was told to do and got the little bugger working properly.

And I didn't even cry. Very much.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Measuring the age of time

One of my old bugaboos is the age of the universe. How do we measure it? In looking into that, I came across formulas that are just way to complex for someone with limited mathematical skills, such as myself. Algebra I and Plane Geometry do not provide a sufficient foundation for understanding such things as the Friedmann equation.

I understand the concepts involved to some extent; radiation measurements and known observations of how radiation "ages" or weakens over time from which you can determine constants which then get plugged into equations as constants; the rate of expansion (which has since befuddled scientists); and so on.

But we fool ourselves all the time. We learn, from time to time, that what we observed was not what we thought it was. So all we need to be is a little wrong about our observations.

As I recall, it was easy to solve an equation where all but one variable was an unknown. And, most times, even when two or more were unknown but the relationship to other knowns were fixed. I still thought of these as a "leap of faith", however. I was accepting something (a given value or a given relationship) as "true" without requiring proof.

We laymen do that all the time, don't we? Someone tells us something is so and we accept it. Sometimes it seems its true because it "feels" inherently true. That is, it seems logical.

I was thinking about this after giving some tips to a guy just learning to hit a golf ball. He would like to play and so he must learn the basics. He is going about it the way I think aspiring players should: Start on the range, learn to hit the ball with some semblance of confidence before stepping onto the first tee box on an actual golf course.

I first played golf back in 1974. I had hit some balls when I was 7 or 8 or 9 but never actually played the game in any form until I was 24. A neighbor and friend took me to a "pitch and putt" course nearby and got me started. Being the curious type (and one who thinks almost anything can be learned from a  book), I started researching it in order to learn to do it right. I took that "leap of faith" that what I was reading was accurate. I have since decided that some of the "constants" in golf, some of the commonly accepted truths are perhaps wrong. I won't go into those now because this isn't about golf.

It's about the age of the universe. And how we could be wrong about it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A "perfect storm" developed in his mind, perhaps

The shooting at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie in Aurora, Co. will eventually be called the "Batman Massacre" or something similar. Or maybe the "Aurora Atrocity". We have a tendency to label these terrible events with some catchy name. The killings in San Ysidro (just south of San Diego, just north of the Mexican border) at a fast food restaurant in 1984 is known as the "MacDonald's Massacre," for example.

I think it's how we cope with something unimaginable.

As I was reading a story about it, the usual lines popped up. "He was a loner",  he "didn't stand out", "smart", "quiet", etc. In this case, from all reports, the perpetrator was brilliant. Well, at least before he chose to do this incredibly stupid and horrific thing. You can't be stupid and study neuroscience, at least not successfully.

Someone remarked, in one story about this, that maybe he studied neuroscience because he had some inkling about himself:
"It could be he was interested in that because he knows there's something different in him," she [Mary Muscari, a criminology professor at Regis University in Denver] said. [link]

I would think Professor Muscari is right. But I think she is also a bit too simplistic about it. He is, we now know, quite different than the rest of us. But he has always been. And he always knew it. He's smart, and he was likely always smarter than most people he came in contact with. He probably knew from his earliest days that he was "different" than his peers and felt "apart" from others. I would venture that he even thought he was different than his peers in the advanced classes he likely took growing up. He was likely told he was different from his earliest years, he was smart enough to see it as he grew up, and he was smart enough to keep the real difference (his dark side) hidden. Smart people are different but they are not all harboring feelings that would lead to attempting a massacre.

Even moderately smart people feel different from time to time. Just as we all do. I would say stupid people feel different from their peers. We are all trapped inside our skulls.  We can only know, for sure, our own thoughts. But only an incredibly few (thankfully) explode like this guy did.

Even as he reveals more about himself, through his own writings and comments, we'll never likely understand why he decided it would be a good idea to go on a murderous rampage. He did decide that, you know. He planned it, it is becoming clear now, for months at least. Maybe for years. And we'll never really understand why.

There will be books about it, however, by learned people who study such things (like Professor Muscari) and it will be months (for most of us) and years (for those with personal connections to it) before it dies down and becomes just another of those inexplicable incidents.

And we still won't know what happened in his mind that made it possible for him to create that horror.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Of course it's a "fishing expedition", why else would I ask?

I am not troubled by all the political manipulations involved in this call for Romney to release his tax returns for the last ten years.  And, for the record, I think he ought to release them for 2008 through 2011. And then I think he should start demanding Obama release his college transcripts. And all the emails and memos about "Fast & Furious".

Just in the interests of "fairness", you know?

Why should Romney release his tax returns? Why not? We will find out he is rich, that he has made a lot of money in a period where some people were losing their homes and their jobs and many others were struggling. Is this a real surprise? Not to me. Does his increased wealth come from those who were losing their only assets? No.

He is just a rich guy and rich guys tend to make money even when others are losing theirs. I have made money the last 3 and a half years and I am certainly not rich. I have (mostly) taken advantage of a stock market that provided some bargains during the Great Recession. I took advantage of the real estate bubble back in 2006. It was just luck and good timing that came together and helped me out. I had no secret knowledge and I don't think Romney does either.

So, yeah, he should release the last 4 years of his tax returns. And then demand Obama tell us more about his past.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I like kids, I really do, but why do we value them more than ourselves? I mean, seemingly beyond the altruistic act of putting our lives on the line for others in general, we seem to place children on a higher plateau.

Consider the old "Baby Onboard" placards and bumper stickers that so many cars once carried. Was that a plea to run into the car near them that had no kids on board instead? Of course not. But what was it about?

I understand Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, was castigated for seemingly telling street gangs it was more acceptable to shoot each other but to leave the kids alone. In these hot days of politics (it is an election year), I can see where he might get castigated for such remarks. But we know what he meant, don't we? It is one thing to shoot up adults, another entirely to have a few of those stray bullets hid a small child.

But why is it? The mayor of Chicago doesn't think these gang-bangers are deliberately targeting small children. No one thinks that, especially the gang-bangers. I am betting they like children too, as much or more as any of the rest of us. So does the mayor, I think, and perhaps he was just reminding them (the gang-bangers) there are are non-combatants out there, people who have no gang affiliation and aren't part of these gang wars.

I think he used children to press the point. A child is the image of innocence, seemingly unaware of the cruelty and violence of the world around him. Someone whose weightiest thoughts concern what to play or play with.... and maybe what's for dessert.

In the Middle East, pictures of dead children are quickly used to condemn the violence that seems endemic to the region. As if children are targeted on purpose. Well, perhaps in those struggles (the Middle East ones), children are targeted. Just the other day, a suicide bomber struck at some Israeli children in Bulgaria. But his target was not Israeli children, it was Israeli tourists. The children were "collateral damage". Yet you will hear more about the children than you will about their fathers or mothers, the actual targets of the bomber.

In Syria, the rebels (or whatever you want to call them) quickly exploited the children allegedly murdered by government troops or pro-Assad thugs.

I am not sure who's worse; those who don't care about any collateral damage that involves children or those who use the dead and injured children to provoke more violence.

As I said, I like children. It's adults I have a problem with.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Conflicting events

I've had company. So nothing got done, especially blog-wise, the last couple of days.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The path to a wasted life

When I was in junior and senior high there was a group called the Optimists Club. It was affiliated, I think, with the Jaycees (Junior Achievement). I avoided these successfully. I don't know why now. I should not have. I should have immersed myself in groups like those. I should have sought encouragement and optimism.

Instead, I nurtured a chip on my shoulder. Pretty soon that chip became a 2x4. And still it grew. Because I fertilized it with the BS of my friends and those who kept telling me life sucked.

In spite of this, I got by. Even as I refused the numerous opportunities that came my way. I turned down a paid college education because it would have meant adding time to my Navy enlistment. I was 19 and it meant I would have been in the military until I reached 27 or 28. I couldn't see that far ahead. I couldn't imagine putting off what I thought was life for that long. I turned down re-enlistment that came with a $10,000 bonus (this was in 1969) that I could have received in a war zone so it would be income tax free. Why? Because I couldn't see myself doing 6 more years. 6 more years of doing something I actually liked doing.

After I got out, and after I loafed around aimlessly for a few months doing a mundane job delivering furniture and stuffing cushions, I fell into a job I loved... by pure happenstance.  While in that job, I avoided promotions to management. Why? Because I did not want the responsibility and, to be honest, I did not think I could manage people.

I told myself I did all these things because I wanted to. That was untrue. That was the lie I told myself over and over. I did these things because I was afraid to succeed as much as I was afraid to fail. I did them out of rebellion; because others wanted me to do the opposite.

Man, was I stupid!

Monday, July 16, 2012

I think, therefore I am... confused

I spend a lot of time wondering who I am and how I came to be whatever it is I am. I know others do this but I don't think everyone does. At least, not on a regular basis. The reason I know others wonder about the same thing is that we have a profession that specializes in it. It's called psychoanalysis.

Since I could never afford an analyst, I have had to do it myself. That's a bit like acting as your own attorney... or doctor. You could wind up in a lot worse condition than when you started.

Over the years, I have developed, and discarded, theories about human behavior and personality. I shouldn't call them "theories". Theories are based on knowledge, training, and testing. What I developed are better called "wild ass ideas." And they are based on practically no knowledge, no training, and no testing.

It's a lot like my golf game. Except, with that, there's no underlying talent either.

But we are all, I think, products of our genes and our upbringing. And, since we all have two parents (biologically speaking) and these parents are from different families (except maybe in parts of Appalachia), it's a merging of genes that makes us into the messes we believe ourselves to be.

On one side, I have my father; strong, tall, and quiet. On the other, my mother; short, soft-hearted, chatty. I fall somewhere in between. My father was also a no nonsense guy. Practical and pragmatic. And cynical. My mother was all nonsense, it seemed. A dreamer and an optimist. I fall somewhere in between those also.

Therein, I think, is why I have been on a life-long quest to understand me.

I have said before, perhaps too often, our genes provide the filter through which we perceive our environment. Our environment creates the filter through which which we view life. Free will is an illusion.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Yeah, I made up that word...

Did you know there's an election this year? Yeah, it was a surprise to me too. That was a fib... I am, of course, acutely aware of the upcoming election. But, before that important election in November, we have primary elections to deal with. It amazes me sometimes how many people line up to get what I would call a PITA job that paid below average wages. I am amazed because I never once in my life considered strongly any job that required I dress in a suit. I don't even own a suit.

A year or two ago, our long time county tax assessor passed away unexpectedly. Ten people paid the filing fees to get that job. And bought lots of yard signs, went to meetings, bragged about their accomplishments, and generally made nuisances of themselves. One man even resigned his seat on the county commission to run for the job. Then I found out how much a tax assessor made each year. Wouldn't you give up a $32k a year job for one that paid 6 figures? I was almost tempted to run myself.

Most seem to run on the concept of doing just what the late tax assessor did. After all, nobody disliked him; taxes here are low compared to most other places, he educated us on ways to avoid unnecessary taxes, warned us of tax increases coming and how to avoid some of the impact, and so on. We liked our tax man.

But now we have something a little more problematic. Our local state representative has been term-limited out and she is trying for a "promotion" to local state senator. Our district has been redrawn to boot, making the demographics change... but only slightly. We are still mostly old, mostly white, mostly Republican, and mostly set in our ways. You hardly ever hear of a Democrat running for office here. Yet, there is one:

Drake (first name Crystal), who described herself as a conservative Democrat, a wife married 33 years, a mother and a grandmother, began by saying she felt voting across straight party lines was part of what's wrong in government today.

"My mom was one of those people," she said. "She looked at her ballot, Democrat, Democrat, Democrat; she didn't even read the names. And God love her, there are still a lot of people I know who do that."

She told straight-ticket voters, it was OK to change their mind, "because it proves that you still have one." Her point was some elected officials just vote the way their party leaders tell them to.

As a teacher, she taught American Government at Moore Haven High School for more than 10 years. She taught about the parties and what the founders envisioned for the country.

"It definitely was not a place where you just were a puppet on a string," she said.

She is an advocate of agriculture, business development and children's education, she said. When tourism is down, agriculture is what runs this state, she said. She felt the FCAT was taking education in the wrong direction.

"We are spending so much time preparing kids for a test that we are not teaching the essence of what a test is all about and that's how to solve problems and think critically," she said.

Attracting high-skill and high-wage jobs is her priority.

Her opening line expresses something which annoys the heck out of me. It is how political parties retain power. Parties change over time, their leaders change, the interest groups within the parties change, younger people take over for retiring older people, and so on. The platforms stay the same (or similar) but how to reach the stated goals (and what those goals mean) change... slowly... over long time periods... so that a political party today may look entirely different than it did 30-40-50 years ago.

And, yet, her mother (and so many others) routinely votes along party lines. Regardless. And then often wonders what is wrong with government these days.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Why are we afraid of a day and a number?

It's Friday the 13th. What more needs to be said? Not that it matters, it's just silly superstition. Isn't it?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You in a heap a trouble, boy!

Whenever we go through the "dead" period of TV, I find myself looking at shows I would ordinarily ignore. What is the "dead" period of TV, you ask? The time between the fall season and the summer season, of course. The period between when the network shows stop showing new episodes and the cable networks begin showing their summer shows. There's a "blending" that goes on during this period where some new summer season shows pop up but not enough to worry about.

Anyway, last night I found myself watching a show called "The First 48". If you are not familiar with this show, let me elaborate. It's supposed to be about the first 48 hours after a  murder. This is the time frame in which most murders (most crimes, actually) are solved. Once that period is over, things tend to go stale.

They usually highlight two cases, one each from two different cities. Last night, the murder of a woman who ran an illegal gaming room in Texas... Think "Houston"...  and the murder of two teenagers in Miami. Neither crime was solved in 48 hours. Both took weeks. Still, the show concentrated on the first 48 hours. And, to be honest, the Miami murders were not "solved" at all because the charges against the presumed perpetrator were dismissed. His story of the events did not match the evidence they had but they had insufficient evidence to prove their case.

One of the police interrogation techniques is to tell a second suspect (or accomplice) that the first suspect "told us all about it." Even if he didn't. What amazes me is this actually works. I have been questioned by the police in my youth (surprised?). And this technique was tried on me. It was also tried by school authorities from time to time.

My answer was always the same, "Well, then I can go now? Since you now know I had nothing to do with this, that is."

Not on this show... the accomplice promptly blurted out his "side of the story."

The show reminded me that there there really are no smart criminals. I take that back... there may be smart criminals but you will not find them in prisons. They are too smart, by far, compared to the police.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Click, click, click, blink, beep, aaahhhhh

I suppose we all have rituals, some of them sanctioned and taught, some of them just seem to happen. We usually call the latter "habits." Or "quirks."  If they become too elaborate, too complex, we start wondering about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

You have to wonder why they call a mental affliction that causes the person to become obsessed with a certain order, a "disorder" but who understands psychology? Personally, I have always been suspicious that psychiatrists and psychologists choose those fields because they aren't all that sure about their own mental stability. Which triggers weird thoughts about proctologists.

Little rituals are acceptable. Mostly simple, they reassure us that the world is "okay." It's only when they become very important to the person that we begin to worry about OCD. I suspect OCD starts innocently enough. Take myself, for example. I get out of my car and click the lock button on my remote more out of habit than anything else.

Except... it has become so routine that I forget if I locked the car at times. I find myself worrying about it. And that prevents me from relaxing and enjoying whatever it is I am doing. So I often find myself "making sure" by going to a spot where I can see my car's headlights or taillights and hitting that lock button on the remote again. Then I can relax.

So far, that isn't a problem. But if I create a ritual, a series of actions, to make sure I have locked the car then I might be developing the beginnings of OCD. So I suppress the urge to create a habit which could be beneficial out of fear that it will become an obsession.

Or I could just quit worrying about it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Who? I don't recall him at all

Well, obviously I am remiss. I posted nothing on Monday. Why is that, you ask? Chalk it up to laziness with a touch of indifference tossed in. Or maybe it's the other way around. Doesn't much matter, the result is the same.

I have written over 1100 posts. The vast majority have been truly forgettable. A rare few entertaining. It is, after all, the theme of my life.

Mediocrity is what I have achieved over the years, much to the disappointment of some of my teachers I am sure... if they know... which I am sure they don't. I was always highly unmemorable. I may have striven for that.

When I was very young, I was conditioned to desire anonymity. I wanted to go unnoticed. I became successful at it. So successful that I became invisible at restaurants and department store counters. I would go into a restaurant, be escorted to a table, and only see waiters in passing... passing by my table, that is. I would be ignored. At times, it could be embarrassing, mostly it was just annoying.

Why was I conditioned to desire anonymity? Because attention usually resulted in humiliation or embarrassment. After all, I had an older brother with a sadistic streak. Any faux pas on my part would be amplified and remembered and relived again and again. After awhile, the idea of recognition induces great anxiety.

My childhood friends would crave recognition, even notoriety, while I would wish only to fade into the background. While they wished for fame and fortune, I wished for only fortune and, if that would bring fame, I would eschew fortune too. I became adept at that. I have an uncanny knack for overlooking or missing opportunities.

And so I missed a post on Monday. I wanted to be honest about it. I could have said the "dog ate my post draft" but other bloggers know that cannot happen and, besides, I don't even have a dog.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Just whose money is evil?

I'm a little late posting this morning but... well, I am out of town and pretty lazy so that combo leads to late or missing posts. I trust you'll forgive me... and not tax me for a missing post.

As I sat down for breakfast (something I only do when out of town, I almost never eat breakfast otherwise), I began perusing the USA Today paper for a little distraction. And there was certainly some of that to be found.

An editorial about protecting voters from secret campaign money was prominent on the Op-Ed page. There was also a section called "Input" which appears to contain Tweets from various people who use creative capitalization. A Tweet, to me, is "revealing one's inanity in 140 characters or less." The subject of "Input" was the question: Does Super PAC funding help or hurt politics?

I can sum up the comments easily enough: buying elections, bribery, hurts the US, gives Republicans the edge, special interests.

USA Today is a liberal paper. It didn't start out like that. Well, it didn't appear to, anyway, but it has become liberal. Perhaps they were just covering up the bias at first.

I don't think Super PAC money buys elections. You see, I have more faith in the total electorate than most seem to have these days. I am still a cynic and think the average voter picks a candidate on emotional grounds but I think these tend to cancel each other out. That's where the thoughtful voter comes in. He (or she) picks a candidate based on logic, on realistic expectations. That voter doesn't pay much attention to the tidal wave of political ads but looks at the issues, looks at the current political reality, and selects the candidate on merit. Or the lesser of two evils... whatever fits the situation.

I sometimes wonder what those who fear the Super PACs think. Do they believe that the vast majority of voters are easily swayed by an onslaught of political ads? Do they have almost no faith in their fellow citizens? Or do they simply think they are superior to the rest of the voters?

The truth is that unions have been throwing huge amounts of money into swaying elections for the past several decades. Hollywood celebrities have thrown huge amounts of money and endorsements into the fray for decades. George Soros has been tossing a lot of his money into the ring as well. Is it only bad if it's corporations or conservative rich guys do it? I don't think so. 

It's up to us, the voters, to reject or accept the arguments in these ads.

And I don't think we are stupid.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I'm on on Cruise Control, what are you on...

...Crack, maybe?

When I was young and (more) stupid, I took drugs. At one point, I was experimenting with amphetamines and smoking pot. This had an interesting effect on me; I waffled between laid back and uptight. I drove (I admitted I was stupid) on this combination and was successful in (a) not getting in an accident and (b) not being stopped by the police. The amphetamine would get my brain to believe we were moving too slow while the pot insisted we slow down as we were going too fast. It would seem to me that anyone watching my car roll down the street would have seen it speed up, slow down, and speed up; repeat seemingly endlessly.

Some people, few of whom I would suspect being under the influence of illicit drugs, do this on the freeway. Their cars drift some 5 MPH above and below some mean that the rest of us can only guess at.

My ex's father did this one time for some 80 miles as we rode with her parents to visit her brother's family in Whittier. Press the gas pedal, back off the gas pedal... again and again... I had a feeling of getting a low speed whiplash. And it wasn't all that rhythmic at times, the intervals of speed ups were sometimes longer than the slow downs... and vice versa.

Flash forward to present day and I was exposed to it numerous times on the 620~ miles from our home to Biloxi on Thursday. These were not old cars (such as I drove back in those earlier days in my life), they were fairly new ones. Ones that probably had that wonderful device: Cruise Control. Yet, few seemed to have it turned on. Only the ones slo-o-o-o-o-owly creeping up as I rapidly approach the slow moving truck in my lane. Obviously, theirs were on and set to, oh, one mile per hour faster than I had set mine. Yet, somehow, those same people had dashed up to get into my blind spot before turning on the Cruise Control.

Here's a suggestion: when you are approaching a slower moving car, press on the gas pedal just a bit... just enough to widen the differential in speed so that you move past him... especially if you see there's a slower moving vehicle in front of him.

It's just common courtesy. Really.

I have a suggestion for the whizzes at the car makers... How about setting up a synch control for the Cruise Control? That is, as cars pass a transponder on the side of the interstate, it reads the speed of the traffic and syncs all Cruise Controls so equipped to that speed as the pass. First, it would sample the traffic to determine spacing and effective speed (the speed at which traffic flows smoothly based on traffic density). After a sufficient sampling, it would start syncing all Cruise Controls to that speed, overriding whatever the driver had previously set. It would not turn on any Cruise Control units or turn any off. That would still be up to the driver.

Or would that be too Big Brother-ish?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Yet another road trip

Once again we are off on a little road trip. A simple journey to Biloxi for a few days. I've been considering what to do about the blog and have decided it will be spotty. I will post if something comes to mind... or not.

Not overwhelmed with the road trip. We've been on a few already this summer and just one is, for me, enough. Still, I don't mind all that much.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

It bears reading

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

    He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
    He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
    He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
    He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
    He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
    He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
    He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
    He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
    He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
    He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
    He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
    He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
    He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
    For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
    For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
    For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
    For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
    For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
    For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
    For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
    For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
    For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
    He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
    He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
    He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
    He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
    He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mothers, don't do this to your children

Hello, my name is Douglas (waits for murmurs of "Hello Douglas" to die down) and I am an addict. My "drug" of choice is Freecell. Yes, I admit it... I am hooked on solving Freecell games. I am so addicted that I was gleeful when I learned I could "cheat" in Windows 7. Of course, I have cheated this way ever since I started playing solitaire card games... with real cards instead of virtual ones... as a young child. I never considered it wrong. I just figured that solitaire was not like life. I have since learned that some... let's call them "offenders"... believe life should be that way too and have found a way... let's call them "lawyers"... to help them get "do overs."

After a few years of blissful fudging of the rules, I purchased a tablet computer. A fine little machine that has almost become a constant companion. I then, of course, found an App for Freecell. So, now I spend a lot of idle time playing Freecell on my tablet. One would think my addiction is being fed almost painlessly, without problems like withdrawal symptoms.

To a great extent, perhaps my addiction is well enabled by technology. Only one small problem... the tablet App does not let me cheat.

I cannot escape a loss by "opting out" (as I call it) by backing up to the beginning and then "X-ing" out of the game. No... the tablet Freecell App doesn't care... the App just retains that game for the next time I execute it. I must either successfully finish the game or admit defeat. I cannot escape this even by shutting down the tablet. The next time I boot it up and open the Freecell App... there is that game staring back at me... smirking... taunting me... exposing my fragile ego to almost certain humiliation at its digital hands.

So far, I have not found a deal which I could not beat. Though it has taken some time to do the hardest ones... something like just under 90 minutes for the longest solve time and it takes some pigheaded stubbornness to play one game for 90 minutes!... I still have a perfect record of no losses after some 2000+ games.

The App also does something else: it keeps statistics. Not merely the number of games won and lost but the longest (89:52) and shortest (01:30) winning times, fewest (86) and most (1147) winning moves, average winning time (05:47, currently), and something called "Wins Without Undo" (1075, currently).

Why do I do this? I have no idea. I could blame my mother for introducing me to solitaire card games. But I know it is my fault for being addicted, it was (and continues to be) my choice to play.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A shot of fresh air?

As someone who went through 2 years of breathing problems in the late 90's, I pay attention to articles like this. During that period, I spent two separate weeks in hospitals being given steroids (prednisone) and with that O2 providing "nasal cannula" draped over my ears. It was a bit like wearing a leash.

Additionally, I made more than a couple of visits to emergency rooms when my lungs got so clogged that breathing was impossible. Same scenario as above but only for a few hours. What if the EMTs could have given me an injection of this stuff? That's where this is headed, you know. Maybe those with severe respiratory problems could someday carry an emergency supply in a syringe. Much like Type 1 diabetics carry insulin. Or those who have severe allergic reactions carry epinephrine.

It's a strange feeling when you can almost breathe and the lack of oxygen begins to take effect on the brain. When it happens slowly, over weeks and months, you adapt. You restrict movement and you rest more (but it doesn't help much and seems to help less each time). When it happens quickly, there is not much you can do except seek help (and strongly consider just letting "it" happen). I was lucky. I could often cough strongly enough to clear a passageway and get some air into my lungs, giving me time to wait for the EMTs to show up or to be driven to the ER. Driving myself was simply not possible.

I once told my mother that if I ever had to carry an oxygen bottle around in order to live that I wouldn't, that I'd take a quicker way out. But I have learned I wouldn't, I would tolerate that bottle, that I would cling to life...

But this invention, this breakthrough, may save hundreds of lives each year. And maybe we won't need that O2 tube in hospitals one day but have our oxygen in that IV mix...