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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Why can't they leave things alone?

Due to some changes that Disqus has recently made, and the occasional complaints from some of the commenting readers, I am considering going back to the old Blogger comment system.

I thought the Disqus commenting system was pretty good. I use it at a number of places and found it simple and efficient. I liked its notification process (if you sign up at Disqus, you will get emails containing any replies to your comments and links to those comments), it seemed clean and efficient. I liked its Reply Form being right under the comment, too. But I am just one person and others disagree with me (way too often, I sometimes feel).

But, recently, Disqus decided to tinker with success. I do not know why companies do this but it seems to be a common thing: somebody gets an idea, creates a product which people like, the product is successful, then the somebody gets ideas about how to "improve" the product and goes on to make it harder to use, more complex, and/or loads it with a lot of unnecessary baggage.

I don't understand it. There's an old metaphor/adage that goes:
"If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door."

I say, "If you complicate that mousetrap, that path will eventually get overgrown again."

And so, I thought Disqus was a "better mousetrap" that didn't need improvement or expansion. And some of my readers didn't agree. And now, I am beginning to agree with them.

I invite commentary on whether I should stay with it or go back to Blogger's system.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Starving that sweet tooth

I was chatting with my sister-in-law, Frances, the other day as we drove back from Bradenton on the gulf coast. We chatted on the way over, too, but those subjects aren't important. Neither is this one, actually, but I wanted to muse on it more.

Frances has diabetes. She struggles with it, as most who have it do, and we (Faye and I) try to help her keep her blood sugar under control. She loves sweets and they are hard to resist. Maybe harder simply because she needs to avoid them.

Diabetes, especially Type 2, is on the rise. Especially in children. The conventional wisdom is that this is due to all the added sugar in processed foods and, perhaps, other sweeteners. Frances likes to blame something called High Fructose Corn Syrup which seems to be in just about everything these days.

She may be right. I would like to blame artificial sweeteners. These have various names and are made from various natural sources. My hypothesis goes like this:

The human body is a marvelous and complex organism. It has ways to regulate blood sugar. It does this with insulin. Diabetes occurs when the body fails to produce sufficient insulin to regulate blood sugar. When we deny the sugar to the body (and the body does need sugar and carbohydrates... which it converts to sugar), does the insulin production slow or shut down? If it does then can this be a reason for the increase in diabetes?

I don't drink low calorie drinks. I avoid artificial sweeteners as much as possible because I do not like the aftertaste. But it is getting harder and harder. I find them in everything from toothpaste to mouthwash to cough drops to breath mints.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Big Winds vs Big Shakes

We get hurricanes here in Florida. I understand that, I prepare for them. Not like I used to, though. A coming hurricane used to mean stocking up on beer and snack food for the parties. Now I make sure I have the hardware to put up the hurricane panels and the batteries for the flashlights and gas for the generator I'll probably need.

I have been through a number of hurricanes since 1956 when my parents moved us down to Florida. None of them were scary to me. They threatened and passed us by or the rolled over us. No big deal. All the same to me when I was young. I left Florida when I was 19 (1965) for the Navy and stayed away after getting out (1969) for a lot of years. I spent most of that time away in California where I only had earthquakes to worry about.

Earthquakes are scarier. You don't get a warning so you have to be prepared all the time. And, trust me, you may have a plan but you are never prepared for one, not really. When a quake hits, it's always a surprise. Fortunately, I was never in a major one... or even a big one... just little shakers that rattled the glassware in the cabinets and shook just a little.

There's been a lot of noise about Tropical Storm Isaac. It is on track to become a moderate hurricane by the time it hits the shores of Mississippi and/or Louisiana. I hope they are prepared for it. Especially since I plan on going to Biloxi on Labor Day. I'd like it mostly cleaned up by then.... if it's not too much trouble, that is.

I don't recall any of those hurricanes of my youth being real hard to clean up after. A few downed pine trees, a lot of palm fronds on the ground, and flooded streets which dried up in a couple of days. Once a hurricane goes through, the weather is usually pretty nice for a week or so, making clean up easy enough. Nowadays, it seems like huge piles of debris sit on every block for weeks.

While all the attention has been on Isaac, southern California went through a swarm of earthquakes on Sunday. Not major ones, just moderate to light ones. They centered around a town called Brawley (near El Centro) in the county east of San Diego. Doesn't look like they have done much damage. A Good Thing.

Earthquake swarms happen. They aren't precursors to major ones though some geologists are suggesting this swarm might lead to something a little stronger by Tuesday. I hope not. California has enough problems financially without a big earthquake happening.

I'll take a hurricane any day.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Buh-Bye, Facebook

I dropped my Facebook account the other day. It took a little bit to do it. I deactivated it. It is much more difficult to delete it entirely. You have to request that see this link to their Help page on the subject. But let me quote the relevant passage:

"If you don't think you'll use Facebook again, you can request to have your account permanently deleted. Please keep in mind that you won't be able to reactivate your account or retrieve any of the content or information you've added. Before you do this, you may want to download a copy of your info from Facebook. Then, if you'd like your account permanently deleted with no option for recovery, log in to your account and fill out this form." (a link to that form is there... interestingly enough, you have to login to get to it)

Why should I have to make a formal request to delete an account?  Shouldn't I be able to delete the account as easily as I created it? The option to deactivate was there (buried under a couple of drop down menu layers), why not the option to delete?

Nevertheless, I will fill out that form if I find that deactivation is insufficient. After all, I don't think I will use it again... in fact, I know I won't. I hardly used it before.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Shootout in the Big City

There was a shooting the other day in New York City. At the Empire State Building. It was the result of an ongoing animosity, a feud, between two men who once worked for the same company. One of them, Jeffrey Johnson had been laid off in 2011.

By all accounts, Johnson fits the usual profile of the guy who flips out one day. A quiet loner who kept to himself but who seemed just a little strange to those around him. He wasn't laid off for any other reason than the economy. His target, his victim, was the head of sales for the store where Johnson had worked. A much younger, and much bigger, man than Johnson, Steven Ercolino appears to have been a likeable guy (as most salesmen are) but the two just never got along.

In the comments to the story linked to above, I see a lot of calls for more gun control and some misunderstandings... about how the police fired too many shots and on a crowded street (9 bystanders were wounded). Johnson had legally purchased the gun in Florida some 21 years ago. He has, apparently, no history of mental illness or a criminal record. There was no reason for him to be prevented from buying a firearm.

As for the police, they did what they needed to do. Perhaps we watch too many westerns where the sheriff shoots the gun out of the hand of the bad guy, or just wings him, and no bystanders get shot by their stray bullets, because there are no stray bullets, and we believe real life is, or should be, no different.

But you wonder... why do people snap? What triggered Johnson that particular day to go shoot the object of his anger? An anger that had smoldered for so many years? Why did he not do it the day after he was laid off, if he blamed Ercolino for the loss of his job?  He certainly had that gun sitting somewhere in his apartment at that time.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hang `em, hang `em high!

For much of my life, we (as a nation) have debated the efficacy, morality, and now the economics of the death penalty (hereafter referred to as DP). It's not a new tactic, the cost of death penalty sentence has been shown to be more expensive than a life without parole (LWOP) sentence. But, instead of that old argument, the new one argues how much more expensive it is to just prosecute a capital case than a case where the DP has been taken off the table.

I first ran into a DP opponent in junior high. One of the smartest kids I knew and his argument was solid. This was in 1960 and he used the Caryl Chessman case as his foundation. He forced me to read up on Chessman so that I could understand his position. He eventually convinced me to also oppose the DP. And I stayed opposed to it for many years.

At some point I changed my mind and began supporting it again. It was Robert Alton Harris who was my reason for a change of mind. Robert Alton Harris. Here's how Wiki describes his crime:

On July 5 [,1978], the Harris brothers happened upon John Mayeski and Michael Baker, both 16, sitting in a green Ford LTD eating hamburgers in a supermarket parking lot in Mira Mesa. Mayeski and Baker were best friends who had planned to spend the day fishing to celebrate Mayeski's newly acquired driver's license. Robert Harris commandeered Mayeski's car and ordered him to drive to Miramar Lake, with Daniel Harris following in another vehicle. Robert Harris told the boys that they would be using the vehicle to rob a bank, but that no one would be hurt. At Miramar Lake, the Harris brothers ordered the boys to walk away from the vehicle. While they were walking, Robert shot both boys multiple times. The Harris brothers then returned to Robert's Mira Mesa home and finished the victims' half-eaten hamburgers while Robert boasted about the killings.

I was living in San Diego at the time and it was big news. The murders were unknown at the time of the Harris brothers' arrest but soon came to light. The case was on everyone's lips, it seemed, for quite some time. The outrage was incredible. And I was caught up in it. I think the calmness of the Harris brothers immediately after the murders is what fed the outrage. It was a planned execution of two kids just so they could steal the car they were in.

Daniel Harris, I believe, testified against his brother and claimed he had no knowledge of his brother's intention to kill the two boys. He was sentenced to 6 years for kidnapping and was released in 1983.

Over the years since then, I have developed reasons for supporting the DP. The economic reasons for opposing it do not impress me.

The basic economic argument is that it costs, on average, $1.3 million more to prosecute a murder case where the DP is a possible sentence. What is behind the additional cost? The enhanced investigation and the increased oversight required, and the higher security measures for the trial as well as having two phases; main trial and sentencing trial.

But how many DP cases are tried each year? Good luck finding that number. When you research the DP online, you get a lot of data about executions and about the cost of carrying out that sentence vs life sentences but you will have an extremely difficult time getting a count of capital punishment cases each year in the U.S. I would like to see that, along with the number of convictions and DP sentences vs the number of acquittals and lesser sentences handed down. I would then like to learn how many potential DP cases were pleaded down to LWOP or less.

You see, I think the specter of the DP has an effect on murderers facing trial. An effect that gets them to plea bargain rather than take their chances with a trial. Unlike TV, the vast majority of murder cases are pretty clear cut. There's little mystery involved. The culprit (or culprits) are pretty much known early in the investigation. Only a handful or two are not clear cut.  In 2010, there were a total of 104 death sentences handed out nationwide. According to Wiki there were 12,996 intentional homicides in the U.S. in the most recent year for which data were available (incidentally Mexico, which does not have the DP, had over 25,000 murders).

I do not see studies covering this aspect. I understand why, though. It would undermine the economic arguments against the DP if it turned out the penalty induced a great number of plea bargains, thereby saving the state huge amounts of money for trials and appeals.

One other point I'd like you to consider: Do we do sloppier investigations and run sloppier trials for cases where we are not seeking the DP?

Friday, August 24, 2012

The law is an ass

The title of this is a quote from Oliver Twist, spoken by the character "Mr. Bumble."

I ponder many things. One of the things I ponder is the law. Criminal law. And the nuances therein.

The best example of an incongruity in criminal law is the difference between murder and attempted murder. Let's examine this as I do (it's my blog, after all):

A man walks into a bar, pulls out a gun, and shoots one of the patrons. If the victim dies, it's clearly a case of murder, yes? And if the victim does not die? Yes, we then charge the shooter with attempted murder. Now let's look at it more closely. Why didn't the victim die? Was the shooter a bad shot? Was the victim taken to a hospital quickly and survived because of the medical care available today?

Attempted murder is a lesser charge. It's still a serious crime but the perpetrator is not at risk for the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The odds are he (or she, let's not be sexist) will get less than 20 years. And all because he's a bad shot or the doctors were very good at what they do. So the perpetrator is rewarded for either his ineptness or the competence of the doctors and medical personnel. 

Now let's take the successful shooter. He is competent. He knows how to use his gun, he knows how to aim it. His anger at his target is the same, he planned it as well as the guy in the previous paragraph. He is caught and is now at risk of losing his life or spending the rest of his days in prison. He is punished for his competence or the incompetence of the doctors and medical personnel.

Somehow, that doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Who pays this much?

I get numerous emails advertising various products. Mostly from golf equipment and technology vendors. I get them because I choose to. I sign up for various advertising of this type and do not consider them spam (spam is the same thing but unsolicited, as far as I am concerned).

While perusing this week's batch, something struck me... So, to appease her and to prevent another smack in the back of the head, I took out the garbage.

When I got back I also noticed that the sales on golf apparel didn't seem much like a sale to me. That is, even reduced 20%, 30%, or 40% they were still too expensive for my taste. For example, they advertise a polo shirt (T-shirt with collar and buttons on a v-neck) for $14.87 (Mfr's suggested price is claimed to be $54.99). I don't buy such shirts for over $10 (and it better have a pocket). I have several left over from 5 years ago for which I paid about $7 apiece.  Why would I pay more than double for one that is not really better in quality?

It made me wonder... some people must have paid the full retail price for these at one point. And these people aren't stupid. They had to have been smart enough to be worth the money they are paid in order to be able to afford clothes at these prices.

Perhaps it's all relative. The more money you have to spend, the higher the prices you are willing to pay.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Little green microbes, maybe?

In the "I wish I had written that" department, we have the following:

If Curiosity Finds Life on Mars, then What?

Let me quote from the article:

The Curiosity rover touched down on Mars earlier this month with one primary mission: Find evidence that suggests there is or was life on Mars. So what happens if it succeeds?

Now, that is an attention grabbing couple of sentences.

I urge you to read the article.

When I did, there were only two comments:
   Well, I wouldn't liken it to native americans. I'd liken it to abortion. Microbes today, civilization tomorrow. If we find microbes on Mars, but we decide to colonize it anyway, will the right wing anti-abortionists protest?
   It will create a boom of construction work. All the churches will be demolished and the property turned over to build houses for humans. Snake oil salesmen and Priests will be unemployed and could be retrained as landscapers.

Will we ever find intelligent life on Earth?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Just call me "Dizzy"

One of my favorite movies is Vertigo, starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. And not just because I like Jimmy Stewart movies or drool (which I have done... and do) over Kim Novak's obvious charms and beauty. But because I have suffered from vertigo myself for some time.

We have all been dizzy from time to time, even intentionally when we were kids. We'd spin around until we couldn't walk straight and giggle our heads off as we sat and tried to hold onto the earth. Much later, we would find that alcohol would have a similar effect and last longer but cost considerably more. Could there be a connection there? I digress.

If you do not suffer from vertigo, you cannot appreciate the problems it causes. Getting a little wobbly from time to time is not vertigo. Imagine that occasional wobbliness as a constant companion.

Lay back in bed and the room spins. Slide under the sink to fix a leak and the room spins and you cannot focus, much less operate a wrench properly. Bending over just to tie one's shoelaces requires bracing yourself against a wall or some other secure object. Crawling under my computer desk to re-route some cable(s) or plug/unplug something is an adventure. Even placing a golf tee in the ground takes some mental determination on my part. It's embarrassing when you fall over doing that.

On the other hand, it helps me avoid some unpleasant tasks... such as getting up on my roof. You see, I also suffer from acrophobia (which is not a fear of trapeze artists) which, not so oddly in my case, involves vertigo. That, and a strong urge to throw myself off whatever high point I am on.

Those of you who suffer from these conditions understand. Those who do not just think we are wusses.

Monday, August 20, 2012

It's okay to be afraid sometimes...

Being a financial coward can have its advantages. I had that concept reinforced by this article.

My history, my upbringing, caused me to become a financial coward.  My family struggled a bit, financially, in my early years. My father started his bicycle shop when I was about 4 years old and pennies were watched by my frugal father while Mom learned and practiced "creative" financing. In those younger years, I was unaware of how she managed the family finances. It was years later, in my teens, that I learned how she used the delays inherent in check clearing at the time to her (and our) advantage. Writing checks at the supermarket for more than the cost of her groceries ("cash back", as its called now), or talking the local gas station into giving her cash on her gas card, so she could put the extra cash in the bank to cover the checks she had written earlier was her primary method. She took advantage of the week it took then to clear a check. Basically, she was operating about a week behind financially.

The stress she went through must have impacted me heavily. Instead of putting off bills, I paid them immediately. I avoided having a checking account and didn't even try to get a credit card until the late 70's (in my mid-30's). I wouldn't have gotten a credit card then but it became impossible to rent a car for cash about that time. They used to take cash and, sometimes, held your return flight ticket against extra charges (and to insure your return of the car, I suppose) but that stopped and credit cards were demanded. You could still pay cash to settle the charges when you returned the car but you had to produce a card to get the car in the first place.

I applied for an Amex card because they were sending me applications on a fairly regular basis. I had good credit because I always paid my bills and I paid them on time. I paid each Amex bill in full except for two periods: one was after my grandmother died and I had to take a hurried trip to Phoenix and then New York and the other was when I needed to furnish my recently purchased condo. I just didn't have enough cash on hand.

I didn't give up the Amex card until the early 90's. By then, I had picked up two other credit cards and had married Faye (who has the same financial cowardice I do). She is my "watchdog" on the credit card bills. She carefully checks all charges, makes sure we have the CC receipts (or a plausible explanation of why we don't) for each purchase. Faye is, essentially, my CFO.

While reading the stories, I was struck by how easily these people got into a financial scrape. And I was reminded of friends I had known over the years that could have had similar problems. You cannot fully prepare for the identity thief problem, of course, but the other stories are much more common: people tend to overspend. Once you start paying the minimum payment on a credit card bill, it's easy to just continue.

A lot of people blame the credit card companies and the banks behind them. They (the banks) make credit too easy and they charge very high interest rates. People too easily forget that no one forced that credit on them, they applied for it. The fault for whatever financial predicament they're in is most likely their own.

I do feel sorry for them, though.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Woe is us!

We still have 80-some days to go until the election but I am getting real tired of it all.

Lying has become an art form for politicians; they lie and then they claim they "may have misspoken" but that the "basis", or the "issue", is true and important.  It's all in the nuance. The "true believers" on each side ignore the lies, accept the explanations (but only by their side), and sleep without care.

In the end, we probably vote for the best liar.

It's a cinch the truth doesn't stand a chance in an election year.

But I read political articles (which means I am a masochist because I am not a politician or a reporter) and I read the comments that almost always accompany them.

We are so divided now that I worry about our ability to ever achieve a semblance of unity of purpose. Maybe if we were attacked by aliens from space. Well, after the blame game is played out, perhaps. After all, what better issue to hit your opponent with than the invasion of the planet?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Look at me!

In spite of my great looks and marvelous brain, I try not to brag. I am often unsuccessful.

Seriously, when I was 14 I was stunned to learn that some girls thought I was conceited. To understand why I was stunned, you have to picture a skinny kid (so skinny he wouldn't wear short sleeved shirts) with crooked teeth (teased mercilessly by my brother to the point where I still only smile with my lips shut together) and "bug eyes." That was me. Or, to be more exact, that was my self image. I wasn't athletic, I was clumsy, I had a reputation as a bad kid (juvenile delinquent type), and I was scared helpless around girls. The only things in my favor at 14 were not having acne nor going through a voice change.

But enough about me, what do you all think of me?

To get back on track, I came across this article which referenced this article and talks about how we are becoming braggarts in a Facebook/social networking era.

Personally, I don't like Facebook. I set up a page on it but I visit it rarely, don't leave comments on it, and can't seem to find a way to delete that account.

What do you think, are people bragging more? If you do, do you believe it is the pressure of social networking that is behind it?

I can see that point. After all, gather a few guys around a keg of beer and start telling stories of your exploits, even self-deprecating ones (which I like to call "anti-bragging"), and the stories will get wilder, each person trying to top the others. I often wonder if that happens with a gaggle of women around whatever it is they gather around. Maybe I shouldn't have used the word "gaggle."

Maybe it gets its start in our childhood when we used to shout "Look, Mommy, Look!" 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Driving blind

I try not to think too much. When I do, I often end up in trouble. It's because my brain disengages from my mouth and I say something stupid or offensive.

I've pretty much always done this. From blabbing about the basement renovation my mother wanted to keep my father unaware of until it was done as a small child, to telling bosses what I really think of them. That even got me fired once. Oh, there was another reason the boss said it was about but it was really about insubordination.

It doesn't pay to be honest sometimes. It pays to be diplomatic, they tell me. Diplomacy is anything from not speaking at all to outright lying. I have a hard time with lying. That's not true, I have lied rather easily at times. Especially as a teenager. Honesty is not the best policy when a parent asks where you have been until 3 AM, is it? Or if you are asked how you got that flat tire on Mom's car.

That actually happened to me. I was 17, I think, and some friends and I were riding down the street. Somebody got the bright idea to try a "smoke-out". A smoke-out is when you roll up the windows, close the vents and everyone lights up a cigarette (yes, I smoked in my youth). The first one to open a door or roll down a window is mercilessly harassed. It is not usually done while the car is moving. It is most often done while the car is parked.

But this time, we were driving down NE 19th Ave in North Miami Beach. 19th Ave was a boulevard type street. 4 lanes with fairly large median islands each block. About 5 minutes into the smoke-out, I could no longer see anything. I presume I was weaving just a little bit. The median islands were marked by those concrete parking blocks. You know, the ones you pull up to in some parking lots? Well, they ringed the median islands, separated by 6-8 feet. I somehow managed to slip between the blocks about halfway along a median island. I could not see, after all. When I realized I was off the road and on the median, I hit the brakes. Hard. It was too late, I had come to the end of the median island and hit a parking block solidly. The tire blew. We got out and we put on the spare tire.

The next day, I told my mother about getting a flat... without revealing just how it happened. She took the car to the service station (back in the day, gas stations actually did repairs and didn't sell food) where the mechanic/owner suggested I had done something bad because the rim had a big dent in it.

I don't recall ever revealing the story of how that flat happened to my mother.

Was I diplomatic?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Just puzzled

     This page, like my mind, intentionally left almost blank

I am puzzled by the workings of Blogger's post editor. Each time I write, I choose the Arial font and large type size. And, now and then, it starts out like the first few lines then it changes to whatever this is. So I reset to Arial and Large and try to type it out but it changes again to the "no font" selected and no type size selected. It doesn't do much good to complain since they seem unaware or uncaring about the editor changes they've made. But I'll pass this along anyway. So I'll change it back now that I have sent off the feedback and then sign off.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Watch the skies!

Among the cable network programs I like (Suits, Burn Notice, Lost Girl, etc) is one called Falling Skies on TNT. The premise is simple: Aliens from space have invaded earth and are in the process of mopping up resistance. There are three kinds of aliens that we see: Overlords (elongated humanoids who are the masters), "skitters" (kind of a reptilian spider-like creatures, and "mechs" (robotic fighting machines, well armed and well armored). They capture children and put some kind of creature (a bio-mechanical harness) on their spines which makes them docile and willing slaves (and, apparently, turns them into skitters eventually). The skitters act as baby-sitters for the slave kids, forming small "family groups". The slave kids apparently feel a great comfort in being part of the group and become loyal to the skitter... or maybe its an effect of harness.

We follow the adventures and tribulations of a group of  ragtag "soldiers" known as the "2nd Mass". This could be the remnants of an army reserve unit or it could be just what they call themselves, it's not clear and I missed the pilot episode which might have explained it.

It is just fun TV. The executive producer is Steven Spielberg, who apparently likes these trite 50's style science fiction plots. He updates them with modern technology and the viewers lap it up.

Well, I lap it up and the show is popular enough to last at least two seasons so I am not alone.

What's not to love? Ever since I was a child, I wanted to battle space aliens. I grew up on cheesey science fiction in which kids often played a major role. C'mon, you know what I mean... who can resist a "civilization's crumbled, kids to the rescue" storyline? 

I sure can't.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Random observations for Monday 8-13-2012

Tiger Woods is in contention for the PGA Championship. This is important for golfers, it seems, though I am unsure why. It's certainly important for the golf industry since Tiger generates great interest in the game.

China is on its way up. We, as well as the rest of the world, are moving toward a strong dependency on China's economy. We may already be there. Much of the world's electronic manufacturing (computers and electronic devices) is already done there. As a golfer, I have come to learn that most large scale club-making is done there. I am not sure just how much this worries me but it does worry me. How will it affect China?

Curiosity, the latest Mars rover, is comfortably ensconced on that planet. It sits in Gale Crater that is home to something informally called "Mount Sharp", a 3 mile high dome-ish mound in the center of the crater.  Curiosity is supposed to venture up that mound eventually. The drawn circle is where Curiosity is. The pictures coming back eerily remind one of the Mojave Desert (cue the conspiracy folks).


Mitt Romney has announced his choice for Vice-President. It's Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin. The sniping is already underway. Hang in there, folks, we have less than 90 days to go before this can even begin to settle down. And it's just going to get nastier.

Somebody's pet chimpanzee escaped his pen in Las Vegas... for the second time in a month. I like pets but having a cat or a dog seems enough for me.

Ever hear of "soft robotics" or "biomimicry robotics"? Neither have I... until now Just wish they had video. Oh, wait... they do: [video]
Now, can we apply this to fishing lures?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Politics this week

So an Obama superpac produces an ad that basically blames Romney for a man's wife's death. The ad ignores a number of facts in doing this: The man was laid off in 2001 after the steel plant failed. Bain Capital had been called in by the company in 1993 in order to survive. It didn't work. Romney stepped down from Bain in 1999. Mr. Soptic, the man in this ad, was offered a buyout but turned it down (as far as I can tell) . He was also eligible to continue his company provided health coverage under Cobra. Yes, that is expensive. But he apparently chose not to. Probably because the family still had health care insurance through his wife's job. She lost that coverage 2 years later when she quit her job after she was injured.

in 2006 (the ad says "shortly after" Mr. Soptic's layoff), Mrs. Soptic felt ill enough to go to a hospital thinking she might have pneumonia. Cancer was found instead. Stage 4. She died not long after (one report says 2 weeks later, the ad says "22 days later") from the cancer.

It's a horrible thing to lose a spouse. It is also a horrible thing to blame someone who had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

When queried by CNN, Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, denied knowing anything about Mr. Soptic's story or the ad. However, it turns out that she held a campaign conference call with Mr. Soptic and the campaign itself ran an ad using Mr. Soptic and his story.

I'm disgusted. I hope you are too.

The Washington Posts's take on this is at  [link]
The CNN report on it is here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Who's yer monkey?

Now, here's something of interest... It seems they (scientists in this case) have discovered evidence of a different species of human living alongside (meaning in the same general habitat and time frame) our ancestors some 2 million or so years ago.

They say it is significant and that it is a break from the common idea that there was a direct line between primitive ape and human.

I am not surprised by this finding. Ever since I learned of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon humans co-existing, I rejected the linear version of human evolution. It turns out these two are not truly separate species, however, unless they have determined that inter-species breeding can happen. I was once taught that it cannot. We have learned, through DNA analysis, that Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon did interbreed.

As I saw it (evolution) then (and now); species evolve independently, vie for resources, and either succeed or die out. Those that are best suited for the environment have a better chance than those not suited and are unwilling to re-locate. Of those that can adapt to their habitat (and humans are incredibly adaptable), the species that can successfully breed (expand numbers faster than the death rate) are likely to be the "winners."

While reading the article, I would have been more surprised to learn the opposite (unity of species in the early evolution of humans) was true.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The 7 signs of age-related depression

  • Catching a glimpse of that old person in the bathroom mirror when you expected to see the teenager you once were.

  • Realizing the hair growing in and on your ears is gray.

  • Considering a "push-up" to be getting out of a chair.

  • Loosening your belt before you sit down to eat.

  • Finding a 70-something person of the opposite sex "attractive" and "young", even "sexy."

  • Looking forward to going to bed early... to sleep.

  • Being surprised to learn the Oldies station is playing music from the 80's now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


I have a little app/gadget for the blog that tells me where the last 10 or so readers come from. It's not completely accurate but it's close.

I have noticed I have a regular visitor from Washington, DC. That makes me a little nervous. While I know there are a lot of people in Washington and that most of them do not work for the federal government, it still makes me nervous. Call it paranoia.

Or heightened awareness.

I wonder what attracted him or her to this blog? Actually, I wonder why anyone reads this blog. Other than me, that is. I have to. Yes, I know most of my posts are pointless... even to me... but they're mine. And I usually thought I had something to say when I wrote them. Days later, I realize I didn't express it well.

Which brings me back to that person from DC...

You may be watching me... but this is me watching you.

But keep stopping by, I need the readers.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Going by remote

It's pretty exciting when you think about it. An unmanned mission to Mars, a minimum distance of 34.8 million miles. A roving device as big as a Volkswagen Beetle stuck on a rocket which puts it on a trajectory that gets the device to the planet where its entry into the atmosphere and a multi-stage landing process is all pre-programmed.

The called it 7 Minutes of Terror:

I recorded the NASA channel in order to get their view of it but that was a dud. A lot of time watching a bunch of geeks in blue shirts sitting in from a rows of computer screens and speaking a language that may as well have been Tagalog (a language of the Philippines) for me.

And then, in the midst of all this, they pull out a bunch of jars of peanuts and hand them out. It seems that back in the day when they were having a lot of failures in the Ranger program, number 7 worked fine. And someone noticed that someone (or maybe someones) was eating peanuts. They decided that must have been the factor and have done this on every important launch since.

Makes you wonder about rocket scientists... all that training, all that education, all that cold, scientific thought... and they are as superstitious as the guy next door.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Golf... old guys style

I don't write much about my day to day adventures. Mostly because I do not see them as adventures. Partly because they are boring. I could talk about playing golf with friends and acquaintances and so I shall. Of course, I'll have to do a little creative Bowldlerizing or perhaps just [bleep] some words since I try to keep this site "family friendly" and avoid profanity.

It is early morning; the sun is shining, it is warm and a bit humid, as I drive into the parking lot of the golf course. Plenty of places to park since it is summer and the heat will soon be oppressive. Only the core of our group will show up to play. It is summer and we have few "mad dogs and Englishmen" around here.

Joe runs the group in a lackadaisical manner. That is, he collects the betting pool money and keeps tabs on handicaps but rarely assigns players to groups. Joe is what you might call "not tall" (if you were trying to be nice), "short" (if you wanted to be accurate), "dwarfish"(if you wanted to be mean). He smiles a lot, tells dirty and/or corny jokes, and is lots of fun to be around.

As I amble over to the cart he is standing beside, he smiles and says, "Mornin', doo-doohead, glad you showed up..."

Before he can go on, I counter with "Why? You're still gonna be the ugliest guy here." If you do not interrupt Joe, he will go on. And so I often do.

I am not late nor early, I am just dependable. I show up if I say I will. Joe knows this, maybe even appreciates it, and takes it (and me) for granted. I usually ride with Joe. Our conversations while traversing the course are never deep or argumentative. We agree on most things political and so those conversations are rare. It's mostly about golf, the other players in our group, cars, and our childhoods. Childhoods are a common theme for folks in our age group. We probably lie about them, of course... Call it the False Nostalgia Syndrome.

The advantage of being here is most everyone grew up somewhere else and only came here after retirement. No one in our group ever knew any other in the group in their childhood days. Like on the internet, anyone can claim to have been anything, or done anything, in their lives. We accept all stories as true, though, it's the polite thing to do. Besides, what difference does it make?

Conversations on the golf course are heavily laced with profanities. In a way, it reminds me of the Navy.

"Gosh darn it! I have no idea where that went... anyone freaking see it?"
"Yeah. You're in deep poo unless that bounce off the tree was blessedly kind."
"Dash you, poopy drawers! Let's see you do any darn better."
"OK, froglips,
watch this bleeding shot!" "Drat!!!"
Profanities are excellent as adjectives. And adverbs. And exclamations. Especially as exclamations. And they truly express the emotions of the moment.

Joe regales me with his repertoire of dirty, and not so dirty, jokes as we try unsuccessfully to stay within reasonable confines of the course. I have heard them all. Many times. Sometimes, I rattle off the punchline just as he comes to it... just to press  that point. He ignores this and repeats the punchline anyway. And tells me more of the same old jokes he always tells.

We play a form of golf that most amateurs would recognize. I call it "creative cheating" but I am pedantic. Amateurs in informal games tend to "roll it in the fairway". This is, of course, forbidden by the rules of golf, and is called "improving your lie." We go a few steps further. In our games, we also allow each other to "fluff in the rough." And, of course, we invoke the "root rule" when necessary. The "root rule" is simple: if the ball is on, or near, a root then you can move it. The reason is obvious. We are not pros who make millions of bucks at this game and we have to buy our own clubs. Avoiding damaging them is seen as "proper" and "fair." As is avoiding wrist injuries. We are old and do not heal easily or well.

Joe has, of late, expounded his newest theory of how to improve the game. It's simple, he thinks courses should be set up so that anyone can shoot par. I counter that there are already courses like that, they are called "executive" courses. The par is lower than the normal 70-72 and the holes are shorter (by quite a bit) and easier. I would say Joe is onto something if he modified it to "anyone has a decent opportunity to shoot par."
His theory actually started from a suggestion I made about a local golf course. There were two really long holes that gave almost everyone fits. One was a par 4 in excess of 400 yards, the other a par 5 in excess of 512 yards. Most of us old guys have a great amount of  trouble hitting a tee shot over 200 yards. So I suggested we move up to the senior tees on those two holes. This brought the par 4 down to 330 or so and the par 5 down to 460. Some were reluctant to go along but soon embraced it as they started making pars and birdies more often (much more often) than they had been on those holes.

The next step was to apply this to other courses we played. The idea was to modify the courses so they were under 6100 yards for our players. A few holes are shortened but not all. We did it because course management wouldn't put in new tees. And we justified it under the PGA and USGA "tee it forward" initiative.

It really cuts down on the profanities, too. Alright, that was a lie.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A circus in the Senate

Just when you thought it couldn't get any sillier, the election year attains new heights. Rahm Emanuel, Chicago's mayor, pleads with the gang bangers who are making Chicago the murder capital of the world to "leave the kids alone" (thereby jamming "Another Brick in the Wall" by Pink Floyd into my head and pinning it there) and then tops it a couple of weeks later by threatening Chick-Fil-A franchises over the political opinion of the CEO.

But Harry Reid couldn't stand being left in the shadows, apparently. So he got on the Senate floor and alleged that Romney hadn't paid taxes for ten years.

What's behind this charge? Nothing much, apparently... Here's a quote from the LA Times:

Reid has said he learned about Romney’s taxes earlier this summer from an investor in Bain Capital who, he said, called his office to pass along the information.  The senator has refused to identify the investor and has acknowledged that he can’t be certain about the veracity of the charges he’s been spreading.

Here's some more:

“I don't think the burden should be on me,” Reid told home-state reporters. “The burden should be on him. He’s the one I’ve alleged has not paid any taxes. Why didn’t he release his tax returns?”

I guess Harry forgot about the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" that operates in our judicial system.

You just can't make this stuff up... but apparently Harry can.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Once a great wit, he has been reduced by half

I used to be witty... and clever. Yes, I know this hasn't been evident of late. In fact, pretty much since I started this blog. But it is true, I was once considered a lot of fun to be around. I made as many enemies as I did friends, of course, because that is the result of unconstrained wit.  Wit is dangerous and is often referred to as "sharp" or "rapier-like". In truth, it is a two-edged sword... causing wounds to both target and wielder.

But wit takes effort and brain power. And my brain power is ebbing. Either that or I am becoming more self observant. I notice more mistakes on my part. This means I am making more or that I am recognizing more. I strongly suspect the latter. Trying to use wit these days is, for me, like trying to juggle razor blades.... quite messy. And, like those razor cuts, the pain really hits later while you are squeezing lemons or tossing some spilled salt over your shoulder.

My wit often got me in a lot of trouble. Bullies do not like to be belittled. Neither do teachers... or am I being redundant? It did not impress my superiors in the Navy either. Well, not favorably anyway.

But my wit these days is much like my car keys. Something I can't find when I need it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Just another old guy rant

I'm in a funk. As I wrote the other day, with age comes not wisdom but pain. Pain in the joints, mostly, but not just in those joints. I get more headaches (even counting all those hangovers I used to suffer), I feel the heat more (and, believe me, it gets hot down here), and now I suffer from a bit of vertigo.  I had to get a friend to come over and fix a sag in my porch ceiling. Because if I had to tilt my head back to put a screw in a ceiling panel, I'd likely fall.Yep, I had him over to screw my roof.

We are supposed to look forward to our alleged golden years. Trust me, if this is what they think we should look forward to... they don't know what they're talking about. Speaking of those "golden years", a friend remarked... "Yeah, they're golden, alright, you give the gold to doctors and dentists." He could have added handymen, tax collectors, mechanics, and the pharmacies. And gas stations... can't forget the gas stations.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I made it this far. There were more than a few times I thought I wouldn't; a couple of times when I was pretty sure I wouldn't. But I have. And I have a lot more years to look forward to.

That's another thing about becoming a senior citizen... you stop looking forward and spend a lot of time looking backward.  Wistfully.

I'm not saying retirement hasn't been good to me. It has... so far. I have (mostly) my health, I have a decent (not great) pension, I have savings that should last, and I have a great partner (Faye) to share it with. Life has been good to me and it continues to be.

But that doesn't mean I don't feel the aches and pains of aging or don't worry about the future for my son and my grandchildren. That's probably why I harp on certain things like I wrote about yesterday. I failed to be active, I chose to just "go with the flow", and I look back and say... What the hell was I thinking???

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Civics 101

Having nothing better to do and Faye having nothing better to do, we went to a political event Monday evening. They also offered free hot dogs which took care of dinner and, I suspect, was the reason Faye wanted to go.

Have you ever been to one of these events? This one had most of the local candidates vying for the opportunity to run in the general election in November. This event was called "meet the candidates" and was put on by the Republican Women's Club of Highlands County. I found it interesting.

Political primaries are where most candidates actually win the seat they seek. I know that is not the way it is supposed to be but that's the way it seems to work these days. Much depends upon where you live and the political division involved. When we lived in Jacksonville, the Democratic Party primaries ruled. Whoever won the nomination won the election. Here, whoever wins the Republican Party primary wins the general election.  In Jacksonville, Republicans felt disenfranchised and here I suspect the Democrats feel the same. Some districts have open primaries when there are no candidates in the other major party. In other words when the winner of one party's primary will run unopposed in the general election.

As the candidates spoke, most all stated that the crowd was the largest they had spoken in front of. I was stunned. There couldn't have been a hundred people there and 15 of these were candidates and their spouses or connected to the various campaigns. If I had been a candidate, I'd have praised those in attendance and then asked "Now, where the heck are your neighbors???"

As I was chatting with one of the candidates for nomination for the office of County Supervisor of Elections, I liked something she said. She wanted to visit high schools in the area (we have three... it's a small county) and talk to the students in the last couple of years of school about registering to vote and about actually voting and also about being educated about the issues and candidates.

I was struck by this because I looked around and saw very few people under the age of SS and Medicare.

Did I learn anything at this event? Did it help me understand the issues and get a clearer view of the candidates? Not so much. Did it help me get a better understanding of why this country is in trouble?

What do you think?