The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

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

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

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

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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Advice Well Worth What You Pay For It

Today... some golf advice. If you are not a golfer, you won't want to bother reading this post. If you are a golfer, you may find this advice useless... or not. I am certainly no expert and I tend to disregard conventional wisdom about golf so take this advice with a grain of salt and assess its value based on its cost.

Putting: speed is paramount, more important than break. Because if you do not get the speed right, the break will not be what you thought it was. Trust me on this. In fairness to the group behind you, do not wait to start reading your line until it is your turn to putt. Start reading it as soon as you walk on the green. Nothing annoys so much as waiting for the green to clear so you can hit your approach.

Laying up on par 5's. Unless you can consistently hit the ball a long way (or you are within your range), lay up. When I gave up trying to hit those accurate 200 yard fairway shots, the game got more enjoyable and I scored much better. Getting the ball into that "comfort" range is really the right thing to do.  It's a bit silly to have that dreaded half-wedge shot and then chunk it. You will get more pars and birdies from 70-120 yards out than from 30.

I think the golf club industry is wrong about shaft stiffness. A lower swing speed does not necessarily translate to a need for a more flexible shaft. Consider that a consistent swing speed is vastly more important. If your swing speed varies by 10 MPH, a more flexible shaft will result in a wider dispersal of shot lines. Try a stiffer shaft for more accuracy. An extra 5-10 yards won't help if it is just further into the trees or rough. I have a golf buddy who says "Hit `em long and straight... Long is optional, straight is mandatory."

We all mishit the ball. Even the pros. We amateurs miss the "sweet spot" much more often (and by wider margins) than any pro. Lessons won't help much but practice will. Here's my tip. Take some masking tape and cover the face at toe and heel, leaving it bare in the center two inches (that "sweet spot") then practice, practice, practice. You will get instant feedback when you are off the mark.  Make sure you remove the tape before playing, though.

Hate those tight lies just short of the green? Often chunk or blade that little pitch? Take a 7 iron, or a 6, if the pin is not close to the edge... let the ball run out, you'll do much better on average.

Slow greens? Put some lead tape on the putter... And never trust the speed of the practice green... it is likely faster and less contoured than the course greens.  I once played a course where the practice green was a 12+ while the course greens were 10's. It took me 4 holes to get my distances anywhere near correct... at least.

Last tip on putting: Use the sniper tactic.... When you get ready to putt, take a breath, let half of it out, and then take the backstroke and hit the putt.

Remember... you are supposed to be having fun.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Baby Steps, I Guess

Wednesday, August 28, was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech. There were many events to commemorate it. It was, as I recall, a great speech. In its wake, however, things still moved slowly. That is to be expected. A republic does not move quickly to right wrongs and install justice where it was denied. It took years of strife, confrontation, and anger for things to even begin to change.

I was 17 and living in Orlando, Florida at the time of Dr. King's speech and had witnessed on TV much of the strife that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement and much blame for that strife was being laid on Dr. King's speeches in places around the south. And, to the casual observer (especially one who harbored strong racial biases), that blame was well placed. Dr. King would speak and the next few days would see marches, protests, and cops spraying the crowds with fire hoses and tossing tear gas into their midst when they would not disperse on command.

But that is not a correct observation.

I was dating a lovely young girl of 17 at the time. She was sweet and kind and friendly. But she would step off the sidewalk when a black student came toward her. When I asked why, she said she did not want to share a sidewalk with n*****s. Yes, this sweet, kind, friendly girl was an outright bigot who had no desire to look past the color of anyone's skin.  She was not alone in that school or in that town. I was. I saw no reason to hate someone you didn't know. But I kept my mouth shut... shamefully... out of fear.

When I first moved to Florida with my folks and siblings in 1956, there were still separate restrooms, water fountains, motels/hotels, and schools for blacks and whites. I walked the 10 or so blocks from my grandmother's home in Ojus to the all white elementary school I attended and each day passed by a black neighborhood of unpainted shacks and see kids waiting for the school buses which would take them ten miles away to the all black elementary school.

I never understood that at age ten and eleven and still didn't understand it when I was 17 in Orlando. I didn't understand it in the Navy when I met all sorts of people from all over the country (and much of the world) who harbored the same attitudes. Black sailors went to bars that catered to them while white sailors went to theirs. On board, most everyone got along but the undertone of prejudice was always present. In various ports, I ran into a weird mixture of racism. In Japan, in the Philippines, in Taiwan, in Hong Kong, and Hawaii, as well as Mexico and California and Seattle (and Arizona), I saw that same racial prejudice.

It was odd to see Asians (who were treated as lessers by sailors of all colors) look down their noses at black sailors and express hatred and disgust toward those of their own ethnicity who treated black sailors decently in any way. It was odd to see Mexicans show the same bigotry that whites did in the U.S. It confused me a little. Especially because those same Mexicans complained about their being treated poorly simply because they were brown. And the Asians didn't like how they were treated either.

It is out of these experiences that I came to my conclusion that human beings are inherently bigoted.

It won't ever go away, I think, it is possibly part of our DNA. But we can ignore it, we can suppress it, we can (in spite of what might lie in our hearts) treat each other with respect and dignity.

When will we?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Plain (or Plane) English

I was reading this story and the comments that went with it when it dawned on me that we have a funny way with words. By "we", of course, I mean humans... the only species with a written language... here's the headline:

Meteor had other near-misses before exploding over Russia in February

I confess, it was I who added the bold-face to the hyphenated word. I did it so we could concentrate on it.

I believe it was George Carlin who first brought that phrase/word to my attention...

“Here's a phrase that apparently the airlines simply made up: near miss. They say that if 2 planes almost collide, it's a near miss. Bullshit, my friend. It's a near hit! A collision is a near miss.
"Look, they nearly missed!"
"Yes, but not quite.”

Obviously, he was not talking about meteors but the principle is the same. He made sense... if you nearly miss something, you hit it. As someone who has hit more than a few things in my life, I can assure you that is the case. But it would seem strange to call a miss a "near-hit", wouldn't you say? This is why our use of language is so weird. We have other phrases that would work: "almost hit", "just missed", "snuck by", "may have grazed", and, of course, "zoom" (while passing one's hand over the top of one's head.. though this pertains to people understanding something, like a joke, rather than one physical object coming into close proximity of another).

Years (decades, actually) before, Bob Newhart pointed out the silliness of "getting on a plane"... Like me, he would rather be in the plane than be on it. Yet we have no trouble understanding the meaning, just as we have no trouble understanding "near-miss" as meaning "just missed."

I am also puzzled why both "yes" and "no" are proper answers to the question "Do you mind if I...?" Both are taken as meaning "I do not mind if you..." Yet, obviously, the correct answer is "No" if you don't mind and "Yes" if you do.

"Do you mind if I come in?"
"Yes" and the person enters.
or "No" and the person enters.

Therefore, I have decided that communication is completely fouled up but we simply do not care.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Beachin', I Say!

In spite of being born on Long Island and partially raised in a small town there, I tend to think of myself as a Floridian... and not just any Floridian but one of those beach bum types. This is, possibly, because that is how I spent much of my youth after my parents moved us all to a small city in Dade County. I could easily have grown up to be a beach bum. It is not a difficult career and it takes almost no formal education.

It is with a mixture of sadness and mirth that I read this story:

Where Sand Is Gold, the Reserves Are Running Dry


Sadness, because I do not like the idea that beaches are disappearing. Mirth, because I have heard it all before... 50 years ago.

When I was a young lad, I hung around the beaches for the night life. Which at 13 or so, meant picking up teen-aged touristas to exploit and hanging out at pinball arcades in the motels along the beaches of Dade County. Later, I joined in the surfing craze. I recall this problem of beach erosion from my earliest days in Florida. Each year, the beaches seemed smaller... the ocean creeping up to the sea grapes and mangroves that tenuously occupied the high ground. The motels all built jetties ("breakwaters" we called them) stretching out 50 or more feet into the sea at each end of their properties. Mostly made of old telephone poles or chucks of rock and coral (or combinations of all these), they were supposed to keep the sand in front of the motel. I suspected they didn't work all that well once every motel had them. In fact, they may have made things worse.

For thousands of years, there were no motels along the beaches of Florida. And the sand drifted south in the winter and north in the summer.  It is only after we built up cities and economies based on those beaches that the problem could grow into a crisis. Only after those motels and motels popped up like mushrooms up and down the coastline that beach erosion was deem a problem.

My solution? Get rid of the jetties and let nature go back to taking care of the beaches.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Things I Muse About

Each day, the NY Times sends me a list of what they think are interesting articles. I scan through the headlines and short descriptions and pick some to read... sometimes none, sometimes a few... I have yet to figure out why I pick any of them.

This is one that piqued my curiosity on Sunday:

Battling Superstition, Indian Paid With His Life

It is the story of a doctor in India who struggled against the superstitions and charlatans that he felt hurt the people of India. It is uplifting and unsettling at the same time. The story implies, strongly, that his killers were sent by hardline believers... fundamentalists, if you will... of the Hindu faith. It even goes so far as to imply one group was behind the doctor's murder.

Oh, and pay close attention to the picture at the beginning of the story.

But, as I read the article, another thought came to me. To fully understand that thought, you have to understand what I call The Law of Unintended Consequences and be willing to accept that things may not always be as they appear.

Let me lay out my case:

1. His home state, Maharashtra, was considering legislation he had promoted for 14 years, banning a list of practices like animal sacrifice, the magical treatment of snake bites and the sale of magic stones.

2. Recently, Dr. Dabholkar had focused much of his energy on the anti-black magic bill, and he was frustrated that politicians were slow to embrace it.

3. In the rush of emotion that followed Dr. Dabholkar’s death, the state’s governor on Saturday signed the so-called anti-black magic bill into force as an ordinance.

It would seem to me that forces who wanted the bill passed are the most suspect in the killing of the doctor. They had the most to gain. The bill was stalled, it was being weakened in order to gain support, and seemed to be headed for defeat or political oblivion. Why, then, would those opposed to it do something that any good student of politics should realize  would infuse it with life and meaning? And why do it in a secular way? That is, why hire a couple of thugs to shoot him rather than devise a method that might appear to be a vengeance from the spirit world?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Look! Up in the Sky!

There's a big fuss going on over the next actor slated to play Batman in a movie. Seems like the public doesn't think much of tapping Ben Affleck for the part of the "Caped Crusader."

I don't much care. My beef has to do with the genre. Why are we watching comic books on the silver screen? Yes, I watched George Reeves as "Superman" back in the 50's. And that was certainly a show based on a comic book. I also watched Dick Tracy. Neither of these were high drama. They were TV shows in the early days of television and no one thought of anything other than Playhouse 90 as serious entertainment from that medium... even Playhouse 90 struggled to get the recognition it deserved.

But movies? I am sure stage actors thought cinema was a "step down" from the great drama and comedy of the stage at one time. Some might still feel that way. But American cinema desired to be like Broadway and so it put out great drama and great musicals as well as rolling out trash. It also put out serials using comic strip heroes like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers but these were "shorts" and not serious films. Comic book genre is more than a "step down", it's a leap off a cliff onto the rocks below. I also feel this way about video game movies.

In the 60's TV dragged  Batman and Robin out of the comics and camped it up a bit more than the old comic book version. It was a big hit. Personally, I thought it was stupid and silly. Comic books were my reading primers and I loved Batman, Superman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. They appealed to me... after all, I was aged 5 to 10 during my comic book years.

I grew up. I put those things away and have no desire to recapture the alleged innocence of those days. However, apparently there is a significant number of people who revel in this stuff.

Batman was not some dark and brooding, haunted, character to me. But that is what he is portrayed as on the Big Screen. That seems to be the underlying theme these days. I suppose it is the evolution of the genre to now delve into a comic book character's secret needs and desires.

It is turning my childhood upside down.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Maybe Greed is Good, After All

I think this country is in deep trouble. I think we are losing sight of the ideas of individualism and personal responsibility. And I think we have too many who think life owes them a living. They want life to be fair, they see rich people and envy them, they denigrate the successful as greedy, they are beginning to hate corporations, they hate banks, and they seem to be demanding something for nothing.

I could be wrong. I have known many people who worked hard all their lives only to find themselves with nothing to show for it. But I also see people who never worked hard for anything and also ended up with nothing. I feel for both but more for the latter than the former. As I have told you, I never worked really hard in my life. Well, that's not entirely true. I have worked hard from time to time but it never felt that way. What it felt like was temporary. Like I would only have to do it for a few days or weeks and then I would find myself in an easier situation.  This was especially true in the Navy. Most of the time, I hardly worked at all. But, when work had to be done, it was best to put your all in it and get it over with.

I carried that into civilian life and it always paid off for me.

I am not a "Type A" personality. I am, as I have often stated, about as lazy a person as you will ever meet. This is why I have never wanted to own a business. There's just too much work involved. But "Type A" people are the ones who usually end up successful and envied by others. They start businesses and run them, they grow their businesses and turn them into corporations. They provide jobs for others. So why denigrate them? Why assume they are greedy? Personally, I admire them. And I do not care if they are motivated by greed.

In the movie "Wall Street", a character named Gordon Gekko said:

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

He was not wrong. If you want something and are willing to work for it then you have the positive effect of greed. If you want something but are unwilling to work for it then you have the negative effect of greed. That version leads to envy and hate. The other leads to success.

I think we have embraced the wrong version.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bits and Pieces for Friday

Not having any ideas of my own to exploit for the blog, I turned to Google News for some ideas. This is what I found...

Bradley Manning wants to live as a woman and hopes that the military will provide him with hormone therapy (and, probably, the attendant surgeries). I am sure this has nothing whatsoever to do with getting a sentence of 35 years.

‘‘As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible,’’ the statement read.

Hannah Anderson went on the Today show to talk about her abduction by the close family friend who murdered her mother and little brother.

A young man from Australia was gunned down by some "bored" teens who decided to find someone to kill. They shot him in the back and left him to die. He did not die all that quickly. Australia is outraged (as well it should be) at the violence in the U.S. and is urging their citizens not to travel there. Just as we urge people not to visit Egypt and Syria, I am sure. Note to Australia- We're not pleased about this either.

Major Nidal Hassan  rested without presenting a defense and does not want the jury to consider lesser charges over his murder of some 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009.

Then I got depressed...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What's in a Name?

I was thinking about Burma and Siam the other day.... "Huh?", you ask. And well you should. Because they aren't known by those names anymore. Burma is Myanmar and Siam is Thailand.

These are not the only countries to undergo name changes. In my time, I recall Rhodesia, The Belgian Congo (which has undergone several name changes), and Ceylon. These have all changed names. Not to mention the breakup of French Indochina which resulted in the creation of Laos, Vietnam (after first being two countries then one), and Cambodia (which became Kampuchea then Cambodia again, I think).

But what bothered me most was Beijing... which was Peiping then Peking and now the aforementioned Beijing.  How does that happen? I can see how a pronunciation might be misunderstood  and how that might lead to a name change phonetically but only two of the three are close.

Apparently, name changes happen all the time. Some to straighten out mispronunciations  but a lot are because of political changes and revolutions.

All of this brings me around to the naming of a child "Messiah"... which a magistrate in Tennessee has decided should not be done. So she changed the baby's name to "Martin" for reasons I cannot quite understand.

But there may be a clue in the following excerpt from the story:

His mother, Jaleesa Martin, and father, Jawaan McCullough, who are not married, couldn't agree on a last name for their baby, now 7 months old. That's why they ended up in the courtroom of Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew.

They couldn't agree on the last name of their child... Why? And so the magistrate (they keep calling her a "judge", which is almost the same but not quite) decided the first name needed to be changed?

Have we all gone mad?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In the "What Goes Up Must Come Down" Department...

This is the stuff of science fiction movies of my youth. Not the parachutes linked capsules dropping into the sea or the space shuttle gliding in for a landing... but the settling neatly onto a launch/landing pad by a rocket.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Just Something to Consider

I am not a fan of electric cars. The hybrids are not a problem but all electric? Those I have a problem with.

"Why?", you ask. "Don't you realize we must do something about global warming, pollution, and our dependence on fossil fuels?"

I am sure we do need to think about all those things. And make necessary changes. But we need to think rationally and not just make changes for change's sake.

As I was thinking about electric cars, I considered the drawbacks to them. Pretty much the same drawbacks which caused them to lose out to internal combustion engine powered autos of the early 20th century. A lack of infrastructure to support them, primarily, and the cost of the vehicles. These problems still exist today. But there is more to the infrastructure support than just charging stations and the time needed to charge the batteries (these things can be addressed relatively easily and are being done). What about the electric grid upon which these vehicles will depend?

Why do I bring this up? Well, as I was perusing stories at the NY Times website, I came across this.

“If we fail at electricity, we’re going to fail miserably,” Curt H├ębert, a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said at a recent conference held by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Yeah, that's putting it mildly, I think. Consider what happens in your own home when the power goes out for even an hour... meals are postponed, entertainment is curtailed, comfort is lost. Your phones might not work or maybe they do but you don't know it (especially if you are like my sister who forgot she needed electricity to power her cordless phones). If you depend on your electric car to commute, it might not be available (charged up) in time... especially if that "hour" turns into several... for you to leave in the morning... making you late for work. We don't like power losses that last 5 minutes, much less ones that last hours... or, worse, days or weeks... it completely disrupts our lives.

I have seen power outages in small areas that lasted weeks and these were in places that used wells for water and those wells required electric pumps. It wasn't pretty and the people who lived there got pretty ripe in a few days. Not to mention the problems cooking meals, doing the wash, and so on.

What happens when 50% of all vehicles are electric powered? And how do we handle the increased demand for electricity? Fracking to get natural gas after we convert that 50% or so power generating units that are currently coal fired? More nuclear plants? Electricity doesn't just magically appear, you know, it has to be produced by machines which need fuel to run on. Solar power? Wind power (turbines)? Not quite ready for "prime time", as they say. And where do we put those windmills? the acronym NIMBY comes to mind and takes up residence there.

As the title says... "Just something to consider."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Thoughts on Knowedge

Something came up the other day that has come up in conversations many times over the years. The best instance to illustrate the subject was a conversation with a new manager. He was brought in as an office manager. He was a newcomer to AT&T, a former Ford engineer. He gathered us all together in a meeting room and asked each of us, "Who do you work for?"

Most answered with the name of the their immediate supervisor before he elaborated on the question and his motives behind it. I am still not sure what was behind the question or what answers he was interested in hearing. It didn't matter to me.

When he got to me, I answered "Myself."

I have written about this before... in a post about leadership... but I want to dig into it from a different angle.

I am my own worst critic. If I could approach perfection in anything, you could call me a perfectionist. I have been called worse.

When I first went to work for the phone company back in 1970, I found myself under the tutelage of a man called  Charlie Flood. He was probably in his 50's but looked older. And acted older, I thought. The corncob pipe he smoked might have had something to do with that thought. Charlie was a good man who worked night shift (which is where I found myself about 4 months after being hired) and had done so for some 25 years. He resisted being made management for a long time  because it always meant that he would have to go on the day shift. They finally, shortly after I began working in the office, offered him the job of night shift supervisor.

I went on night shift the same day he became the supervisor. He mentored me. He showed me some tricks he had learned along the way and showed me how to become a good phone man. But he also showed me something that I should have known from watching my father. We (Charlie and I) discussed many things, both about work and about life. He talked about knowledge and he would say, "I don't have to know anything except how to read an index."

At the time, there was a set of books which were called the Bell System Practices, or "BSPs" for short. It was bigger than most encyclopedia sets. Everything you would ever need to know how to do on your job in the phone company was written in these books. I came to understand, eventually, that everything anyone ever needs to do is in a book somewhere.

I still believe that. I have always found a book which explains things to me and allows me to accomplish something I need to do. I should have learned this from my father, he followed the same path. Whenever he wanted or needed to do something, he would find a book on it. But Charlie not only followed that method, he communicated it to me in a way I could understand. Now, there are many books on just about every subject... the trick is in finding one which explains the subject in a way that you can grasp. That can take some time. But, trust me, that book is out there somewhere just waiting for you to pick it up. It becomes your boss, your supervisor. And your mentor.

And I become my own worst critic.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Thoughts on America

This is, of course, a rant... nothing more.

I have been to a few countries, courtesy of my rich Uncle Sam's metal clad and armed "yachts" of course. I have learned a bit about people and governments on those cruises. I am, of course, a veteran of the Vietnam War and that meant I spent some time in the wonderful waters of the Tonkin Gulf. Unlike the "brown water" sailors (the crews that plied the rivers, deltas, and shoreline in fiberglass and plywood boats), I was not at great risk of injury or death. The only danger I was ever in involved rough seas and having to be on the open deck. Minor stuff compared to being shot at.

In the Philippines, I learned that even free countries are not so free. The police patrolled with Thompson submachine guns, tossed people into dirt floor cells for weeks at a time, and liked to put the occasional sailor in something we called a "tiger cage." This cage was slightly larger than a phone booth, had steel bars, and was open to the elements (not even a roof, if I recall correctly). Any sailors we picked up there while we were on  Shore Patrol were very happy to see us.

In Taiwan, the people were pretty much afraid of the government. Chiang Kai-Shek was still alive and in control then. And control was the operative word. A few of us took a train ride from Keelung to Taipei to see the sights. While we were there, a convoy of large black official cars went by in a procession. A sailor (not one of our group) took a picture. He was surrounded almost immediately by some Taiwanese army soldiers who took the camera out of his hands, tossed it into the street, and crushed it under their boots. It was fortunate that he was in our Navy and not theirs.

Hong Kong was much freer but the People's Republic of China loomed large nearby.

Of course, being in the military is like living in a dictatorship.  You wake when they tell you, eat only when it is allowed, and you have no freedom of speech. Anything you say can get you in Big Trouble. Trust me, I learned the hard way. Your ability to go anywhere is severely restricted. Out at sea, it doesn't much matter. There's nowhere to go anyway and everyone is in the same situation. It's in port that you feel it most.

Returning to the States means just a little more freedom but you are still subject to the whims and orders of others. And you cannot just walk off the job.

I recall these things because I do wonder that some people think we are the evil of the world and that we are oppressed. My love of country is such that I cannot take that position. My love of country is more than appreciation for its landscape or the fact that I was born here. It is based on knowledge of our Constitution and that there are enough others who revere that document and defend it against our own government.

We have a great country because we have that document, we do not have that document because it is a great country.

Friday, August 16, 2013

You Look Suspicious

Much is being made of the "Stop and Frisk" strategy of Mayor Bloomberg in New York City. I may as well join in.

I do not live in NYC, never have. My only visits there were when I was 5 (with my parents), 37 (to attend my grandmother's funeral), and 47 (a fruitless attempt to navigate its streets and get out to Farmingdale on Long Island). But do have some experience with "Stop and Frisk" as practiced by various police agencies in Florida and California.

I have already written about one such stop when I was 17. There were plenty of others that occurred as I went through my teens. People talk about being stopped for "DWB" (Driving While Black) and I understand the angst involved. I can empathize. I was, of course, permitted to outgrow the "red flag" of being a teen. I also eventually cut my hair and got off that motorcycle which drew attention to me so that helped cut down on the number of stops. People cannot change their ethnicity or their skin color which means that being singled out for those reasons continues well past what mine did.

I also managed to witness, while in the Navy and on Shore Patrol duty, the abuse of power by the police in Long Beach, California (and in Olongapo in the Philippines).  But being on Shore Patrol gave me a glimpse of the frustrations and aggravation of being in authority. I believe these experiences give me a balanced perspective.

When I was very young, my parents taught me to respect my elders and especially those in authority. I got the impression that I was pretty much insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But I also learned what cooperation and polite behavior could do to help you navigate the hazards of society.

We do not live (yet) in a police state. However, as a child in school and later as a teenager, I realized there was a dichotomy to our culture. Different rules for different folks, as it were. School was definitely a police state; Teachers were dictators operating under the greater authority of the principal (and dean), you were guilty until proven innocent, and the sins of the older brother were invariably paid for by the younger.

Outside of school, just about any adult had more power than I (or my peers) did. But the police? They had so much more power than any kid.

It was many years before I truly understood that power and the weight it put upon one's shoulders. But my parents gave me a way to deal with it: cooperation and politeness.

People find it difficult to be suspicious of the cooperative and tend to react positively to politeness.

Try it, it's not so hard to do. Just remember the Golden Rule...

Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

You Could, I Suppose, Call Me a Fuddy-Duddy

What kind of cell phone do you have? And why?

It turns out that I have a "feature phone." I had no idea that's what it is called. I may, or may not, be in the minority. It's not all that clear to me. It turns out that smartphones are now outselling feature phones.

I have no idea why. I suspect it's because smartphones are more versatile. Or they are "cool." Smartphones aren't just phones, they are entertainment devices. In addition to making calls, they play (and store) music, games, databases (addresses as well as names and phone numbers and maybe even notes about the people), web browser, and more. I would have said cameras but feature phones usually have those also. Of course, my feature phone can also play some games and music but I ignore most of those features.

I just use it to [gasp!] make phone calls. I recall talking with a customer rep when I was forced (yes, that was the right word) to get a new phone for my cell phone service way back when. You see, they were dumping analog cell service and going digital. And that meant I had to get a new phone, one that would work in the digital communication world. I was shown all kinds of phones with their virtues being extolled. I kept insisting I just wanted to make phone calls when I needed to and did not need all of that extra stuff.

In the end, they allowed me to buy the simplest, most basic, phone that would work. It still had something called "media access", a camera, and a few games... all of which I successfully ignored for the time I owned it.

I admit I find the camera feature useful but I don't need anything else. I do not play games on it, don't access the web, don't Tweet or text, or listen to music. I just, on rare occasions, make phone calls.

I guess I am old-fashioned.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

We Can Dream, Can't We?

Let me clearly state at the outset of this post that I am no engineer and do not have degrees in economics nor have I headed up grandiose projects (successfully or otherwise) and I am sure I will get many things wrong. Still, nothing (not even these personal limitations in knowledge and experience) ever stops me from commenting.

By now you have heard something, somewhere about this "Hyperloop" idea.

And, now, the Hyperloop...

The above link takes you to a story, a laudatory (for the most part) evaluation of a concept that promises to be better and cheaper than the high speed rail concept. I cannot say it will work, or not work, but it does have some intriguing concepts built into it that have high plausibility.

His concept paper can be found here.

Imagine a tube on "stilts" running some 350 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco sitting above the median on Interstate 5. Actually, imagine two tubes, I guess, since you would need separate tubes for each direction. Maybe 4 tubes at some point if you want the "passenger plus vehicle" type envisioned also. Inside these tubes, capsules (or "pods") which would travel at speeds approaching supersonic containing the passengers.

It's a fascinating concept. And fraught with problems, I suspect, not envisioned by Elon Musk... the man who built Tesla Motors and SpaceX... or dismissed as minor obstacles.

It's those "minor obstacles" which end up increasing cost by huge orders of magnitude. Things like environmental impact studies, lawsuits by well-intentioned (and not so well-intentioned) parties concerned with safety and environment. (Not mentioned is the disruption of traffic during construction, for just one minor example)

I believe I was 10 or younger (back in the mid-50's) when I first began reading about the transportation systems of the future: the flying cars, the automated highways, rocket-planes, and so on. Great concepts that pretty much ignored the realities of bureaucracy and human nature's natural disinclination to accept rapid change. None of these have come to pass. Neither have the domed cities or the flat rate electricity supply (the latter based on widespread nuclear powered electrical generation units).

Who knows? Maybe it will happen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Plan is to Put a Dome Over it All and Air Condition it

It's hot. I mean that in the worst way possible. I mean that it is blistery hot with humidity that stops just short of being a mass of water enveloping us all. It is so hot that your brain melts. And then fries like that proverbial egg on the sidewalk.

You would think we would be used to this. You'd be wrong. You never get used to this. I have been in the desert with temps of 115 and higher and the humidity so low that it sucks the moisture from your body. Your eyes hurt from the gravelly feel of the lids sliding over them , your nose bleeds, your skin feels like leather (and looks like it also... if you stay out in the sun at all).  But this is worse. This is like drowning in an overheated hot tub.

And there is no relief.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Thought-full Musing

“It’s a very modest goal — it’s to build a brain-like computer,” said Dharmendra Modha, principal investigator and senior manager at IBM Research.
IBM researchers get closer to brain-like computing

It may, indeed, be a modest goal... if that computer behaves like the average brain. Maybe that's just my own bias at work but I am not impressed by the average thinker. Look around you, at your peers... the ones at work, your neighbors, the ones that are profiled in the Darwin Awards emails friends send you (ironically, you might view some of these friends as possible candidates for that award)... Do you wonder how they come up with the ideas they do? Do you wonder why the reality shows on TV are doing so well? Why Rap music is so popular? Why young men think wearing their (very baggy) pants halfway down their hips is stylish?

Yes, it's definitely a modest goal. I would rather they work on computers becoming less human-like. I recall that First Officer Spock was an idealized, non-emotional, character though he was often befuddled by (and unhappy with) his lack of emotional understanding.  And the next iteration of the series produced an android version. A character more easily believed to be a logical, non-emotional, pseudo-human. Who, incidentally, desired that irrationality that makes us... well, human.

I have heard both characters described as "Pinocchio" characters. We seem to relish that... emotionless, super-logical, beings of high intellect wishing to be lesser beings... to be human. A rather intelligent shipmate and friend... back in the day... often professed his desire to be "stupid", so he could be "happy."

There's no doubt that I think human beings are, as a species, insane. So far as I know, we are the only species that have a need for religions and philosophies to explain the world around us... and in our terms. We are, without a doubt, an ego-centric species. Even when religions were filled with gods of all manner, they usually were in a hierarchy headed by a human-like guy in charge (yep, male...), one who often had the foibles of the average man: women trouble, easily distracted, petty and vain. But generally, if not specifically, human in form.

Transference, I think they call it. Maybe that's the wrong term. We even do it with our pets. They become our "children." We seek human personality in their behavior patterns. We recently decided that dolphins have "names" and memories. I never doubted that they have memories, and long ones, but names? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Maybe they just have individualized greetings instead. Like saying "Yo!" only when greeting a certain person. Instead, we want to believe they (dolphins) are like us, like humans, and mimic our behavior.

We hope for (or fear) the existence of aliens on some far off world. We imbue these imagined species with human desires (conquest and power over others). We fret that they may be like us in all the bad ways and unlike us in the good... the "good" that we imagine in ourselves, that is...

You want a computer that mimics the human brain? Why?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Bit of This, a Dash of That

I was chatting with the guy who sprays my lawn the other day. We have the lawn sprayed because it keeps it healthy, minimizes the pests which eat lawns, and greens it up a bit... and because the guy across the street made me feel guilty that my lawn was splotchy and looking terrible.  The chat turned toward the swale and the water in it. He joked about how I should stock it with fish. I mentioned how I got my pond in West Palm Beach stocked.

Soon after we moved into that house in West Palm Beach, I took a common kitchen strainer and gathered some guppies and polliwogs from the drainage ditch on the eastern border of our property and put them in our pond. These attracted the wading birds which picked up (unknowingly) fish eggs from the numerous ponds in the area and left some behind after they finished grabbing up some of the polliwogs and guppies. The eggs hatch and we have fish. Nature thus stocked my pond. Much cheaper than buying fish, trust me.

This got me thinking about Libya, Egypt, Syria, and the American Revolution. Seems odd that it would do this, don't you think?  Well, maybe. But a revolution is like stocking a pond. At least, that's what I thought tied them together. You create a new country (the pond) out of an old one and you try to "stock" it with ideas, principles, and hope. These things should attract people who add, perhaps unwittingly, more ideas and principles (and expand hope). Out of this should rise a nation.

It worked out well for America, I think. But not all revolutions are as successful. Much depends upon the "birds" the pond attracts.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Where'd I Put That Ark?

I am not a big fan of our local newspapers. In fact, I am not a big fan of local newspapers anywhere. I am not sure just why. Perhaps it's because they so often get the story wrong and it takes several follow-up stories to correct the errors, if they are ever actually corrected. It's not just the newspapers either, it's the local TV news... though they usually are not quite as bad.

But this morning I came across a story that was quite informative and useful, though the "teaser" was confusing... Let me illustrate. The headline was:

Red Cross helps two more families

And the "teaser" read "There were a dozen gopher tortoise mounds behind where Nikki St. Pierre lives, near U.S. 27 and S.R 70."

This is the first line in the story. Which is rather confusing when you try to correlate it with the headline. Was Nikki and her family (and perhaps her neighbors) attacked by gopher tortoises???

It turns out that, no, it wasn't rampaging tortoises brandishing pitchforks and torches storming the homes of unsuspecting residents, it was water that was the threat.

It seems we have been been the victims of a deluge... 40" of rain since the first of June (our average annual rainfall is just over 50"). That's a lot of rain and it has to go somewhere. Therefore, it has been filling up low spots all over the county.  In a way, it is a good thing. After all, we've been in a drought for several years and we need the water to replenish our lakes and the aquifer. But, instead of it being spread out over 6 months or more, it has been a daily event; late afternoon thunderstorms with copious amounts of rain.

It's affected the golf around here; golf courses are typically built in low lying areas. We've had courses close off  a number of holes. Just yesterday, the one I play most often closed off the front nine ("until further notice"). It's understandable, that nine hole section has a lot of drainage problems.

We humans are never happy. We gripe about drought and we gripe about rain. Wouldn't it be nice if it only rained from 3 to 4 in the morning, gently, and just enough to replenish the evaporation and usage rates of water?

Thursday, August 8, 2013


A friend in Georgia sent me this link so I thought I would share it with all of you.

Cat In A Shark Costume Chases A Duck While Riding A Roomba

(it's only a couple of minutes long)
I tried to embed it but it didn't work.

Is this bizarre?

It raises important questions:

1. Why would a cat put up with this?
2. What is the real meaning of the duck?
3. Where did that dog come from?

And after you've pondered those, it's time for something inspiring beyond belief.

This one is a bit longer but well worth the time. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Sometimes, when I read news items, questions pop up in my head that I think should be answered by the reports.

Take this one, for example...

Gunman with 18-year grudge suspected after 3 killed at town council meeting

The first question was triggered by the headline... "suspected"? I would think it would be pretty darn clear that a "gunman" would be the person responsible for the three deaths but one never knows. It could have been that the gunman stopped the real attacker who had gone amok, though that seemed a little far-fetched. So I read further and found that it was, indeed, the gunman who had killed the people:

"By the time he was subdued, Rockne Newell had fatally shot three people and wounded several others, police said."

I suppose it is okay that the police say that... rather than a reporter.

It was once common for reporters to state the obvious. I remember those days. But I am old. Now, reporters use "alleged" and "suspected of" and other phrases or words which do not violate that old saw "innocent until proven guilty."

Never mind that the concept is for the court, for the trial, for the jury to maintain while trying the accused. It is a bit of "legal fiction" that protects the defendant from the state. Which I happen to agree with... protection for the defendant against the power of the state.

The reason, I think, that reporters do this now (used "alleged" and "suspected") is to avoid the "taint the jury" thing. It appears to be unimportant that knowledge of the crime in any way seems to get you dismissed from serving on a jury these days.

But it just seems so silly.

There was an ambiguous sentence in the story (in two reports on it):

"Bernie bearhugged him and took him down. He shot (the assailant) with his own gun," Reber said. ["Reber" is Pocono Record reporter Chris Reber, who was a witness and a reporter covering the town meeting and "Bernie" is Bernie Kozan, the director of a local park preservation group]

Now, "with his own gun"... did that mean the shooter's gun or Bernie's gun? Let's assume it was the shooter's gun, how does one go from holding a shooter in a bearhug to getting one's hand(s) on the shooter's gun? Must have been quite a tussle. And a very brave move on the part of Mr. Kozan.

And where was the shooter shot?

"Police said two people tackled the suspect."

We know who one of them was, what about the other? Male, female? What really happened?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Up, Up, And Away

There are things I just will not do. One of them is jump out of a perfectly good plane.

Another is hanging over the edge of buildings, cliffs, or just about anything high. If you are guessing that this has something (everything) to do with my acrophobia, you are pretty astute.

Therefore, you will not see me donning one of these things while I still live...

Yves Rossy - Jetman

Monday, August 5, 2013

What Goes Around, Comes Around... I suppose

Just in case you have begun to think that philosophers are all old fuddie-duddies who speak in riddles and subtleties so obscure as to be incomprehensible, I offer the story of former Professor Colin McGinn and the accusation of sexual harassment that drove him to resign his tenured position at the University of Miami.

In the story, it is revealed that two open letters to the philosopher ("signed by more 100 philosophers") were published which criticized some of his blog (Philospot) posts as "retaliation" against the student who filed the complaint. The professor's defense against the complaint? That it was "consensual" and joking around, such as often happens between colleagues. In this case, he claimed he was mentoring the female student.

"Any behavior the victim exhibits —no matter how apparently “consensual” it is— can always be interpreted as an effort to disguise her underlying fear and disgust. And even if the victim views the interaction as friendly, consensual, non-sexual and non-harassing, this is irrelevant. The power dynamic in these sorts of situations makes the victim unable to grasp the true nature of the relationship. Only people who enjoy the objectivity and epistemic distance provided by the internet can be in that position. For the same kind of reason, it is also irrelevant if — as some allege— the victim participated in the ongoing dickjokery. Given the power dynamic, the victim’s participation is purely involuntary."
We, the undersigned...

The professor's response:

"People tell me this is satire; I don't see it. Enjoy!"

It brought me back to an earlier time, to my initial experiences at Pacific Telephone where I encountered a supervisor who was dealing with the recent surge in female workers to a previously male-dominated job (that of "Frameman" (later changed to "Frameworker", I believe). "Doc" would ask a new female member of the crew to come to his office where he would cuss up a storm that would cause an old sailor to blush. He did this, he told me (and them), to "prepare" them for the language and attitudes they would experience while working on the frame.

I always thought that was a rationalization for something he certainly seemed to enjoy. None ever filed sexual harassment charges against him. Of course, that was at a time (1972) when such charges were uncommon. I am fairly sure the women thought it would hurt them more than him. They were probably right.

Many of them might have felt he was giving them license to swear like sailors since that is exactly what more than a few habitually did. In fact, it was the rather loud swearing by one female worker which caused the building of what we called "the Great Wall of Radio" to muffle the sound from the frame area and soothe the ruffled feathers of a female clerk who worked in that area just a few feet from the frame area.

Sexual harassment was not unknown in telephone offices of the day. But it was almost never acknowledged unless it involved actual contact (i.e., sexual assault). This changed, evolved, over time... as it did elsewhere.

But it seems that it evolved into a fear of women in the workplace by men as women once feared men.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Spinning the News

It's official. In case you wondered what the "phony scandals" Obama was incensed about, here they are:

1. The attack on the Benghazi consulate on September 11, 2012.
2. The targeting by the IRS of conservative groups applying for tax exempt status.

Four Americans died in that attack on the Benghazi consulate.  Four The scandal is that it was blamed on a video, called a "protest that got out of hand", and pretty much ignored. The scandal includes the lack of any real attempt to support those under attack. It also includes one basic question: Where was Obama that night?

The second "phony scandal" is that targeting by the IRS of any group that had certain words in its name: "Tea Party", "patriot", and a couple of other innocuous words. The effect of the targeting was to keep these groups from raising money and being active in the run up to the 2012 presidential election.

Now that I think about, that was probably behind the dismissal of the Benghazi attack as a protest that went rogue. Nothing to see here, people... move along.

The targeting of those conservative groups was to impede political speech and reduce the impact of those groups on the 2012 election. The dismissal of the Benghazi attack was to divert attention from it during the election. Can't have something like that besmirch the administration with the president's re-election coming up.

What was interesting was Googling for "phony scandals" gives only one hit on the first page naming the mainstream media.  US News and World Report ran a story about Republicans' reaction to Obama calling these phony scandals. All the other hits on that page were conservative and right-wing blogs and web pages. You have to go to the second page to find NBC's focus on House Speaker John Boehner's reaction.

Oh, there is also a Huffington Post story on the first page but it is about Obama remaining mum about the two Democrats embroiled in sex-related scandals.

When I was growing up, the press, the "mainstream media" were called "the Fourth Estate" and were part of the checks and balances. They questioned the administration, they dug into things, they investigated, they exposed. Something changed somewhere along the way.

Yet, we have to credit CBS for asking Carney what scandals Obama was referring to.

Oh, by the way, the latest news is the reduction of the unemployment rate to 7.4% and the adding of 162,000 jobs last month. Of course, it doesn't make sense when you realize that it would actually take 200,000 new jobs to truly reduce the unemployment rate.  So why did the rate go down? Because more people stopped trying to find a job. Less people looking for jobs translates to a lower unemployment rate because of the way it is calculated.

In the United States, the unemployment rate is estimated by a household survey called the Current Population Survey, conducted monthly by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed persons by the size of the workforce and multiplying that number by 100, where an unemployed person is defined as a person not currently employed but actively seeking work. The size of the workforce is defined as those employed plus those unemployed.

We are being bamboozled, folks, by experts.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Tigress, Perhaps?

I am pretty fanatical about golf. For me, that is. Which means I play the game three days a week (most weeks) and think about it often and watch it on TV.

I am truly sorry I didn't take up the game until I was in my late 20's. I was exposed to it at a young age, around 7, (I lived just a mile or so away from the club in Bethpage) but it didn't interest me at the time. Someone tried to introduce me to the game when was at NTC (Naval Training Center) in San Diego but I wasn't interested then either.

I encouraged my grand-nephew Danny, when he was alive, to play. He had youth, some talent, and enthusiasm for the game. Youth is important. It is a difficult and complex game which needs years to understand.

Which brings me to a local prodigy, Kendal Griffin, who I have had the pleasure to meet and to play a couple of rounds with when she was 12. An amazing little girl with great talent and real love of the game. I quickly overcame the embarrassment of being out-driven and out-played by a 12-year-old and became a mild fan of her game.

Remember her name, you will be hearing much more about her in the years to come.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Gone... and I Did Not Get to Say Goodbye

I just learned my sister has died. It was yesterday. She was in hospice in Ft Lauderdale when she passed and had been there only a day. She had a number of problems, including Rheumatoid Arthritis, but what killed her was pneumonia. She was relatively young, just a month short of turning 73 (trust me, that is young in this town). Since her husband, the "colonel", died  a few months ago (no, I did not mention it at the time) I expected she would not last long but not this soon.

My sister had been married 8 times. You could say she had a full and interesting life. She was a model in her younger years, mostly swimwear, in the years after her graduation from high school and after her first marriage came apart. A very pretty woman, you could say. Although I never thought of her as especially pretty. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. I can say it tends to blur the vision too.

The last few years of her life were full of problems. The Rheumatoid Arthritis cased a lot of the pain, she suffered some TIAs (transient ischemic attacks) a couple of years ago which affected her mind. Always a bit of a flake, she became incoherent at times and even combative. It took some time before she was properly diagnosed and, therefore, could be treated correctly. She also suffered from a variety of infections. The RA did not help because it is an auto-immune disease, making infection treatment a problem. It did not help that she developed some fungal infections which were misdiagnosed as bacterial.

I had no idea she had breathing problems too but she did.

Some might say she's in a better place. In any case, she suffers no longer.