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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween

When I open the link to my brokerage firm (a discount one, of course), I see a banner that tells me that J.D. Power ranks it first among "self directed" investment brokers. I'm not bragging here, they are. And about what?

I gave up caring what awards someone or something has garnered a long time ago. They are essentially as meaningless as the political polls we see touted by news organizations. I don't know why anyone puts stock in them. I now add the CPI and inflation news to that category.

It is non-sensical. They tell us inflation is low:

U.S. consumer prices rise, but underlying inflation benign

But it isn't. They have just manipulated the data. Is it benign to see coffee in smaller quantities but with higher prices? Is it benign to see gasoline at $3.30 a gallon (and above $3.00 for the last year)? Do you like paying over $2.00 for a loaf of bread? The cost of food has gone up, the cost of everything has gone up. And not gently or slowly but in leaps and bounds. Nothing seems stable these past few years except increases in the prices of just about everything.

Meanwhile, as a retired person, I am trying to live on a "fixed" income. I have lived through periods of inflation before, in the midst of the late 70's I re-located from San Diego to West Palm Beach. I assumed a loan on a house that ran 13% and it was a VA loan... cheaper than I could have found available elsewhere. My income wasn't fixed at the time but it only went up once a year and did not cover anywhere near the inflation rate at the time.

Now I know that "fixed" equates to "broke" when it comes to income. And, as things are going up, my income is not.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Don't Eat That!

Food allergies present school challenges

I found the above article in the news feed I get from one of the local papers (ok, the local to Sebring area section of a Tampa newspaper). It prompted a question for me... What the heck is going on with this epidemic of food allergies?

The article states: "A 2012 report from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases noted that recent studies have found that almost 1 in 20 young children under the age of 5 years and almost 1 in 25 adults are allergic to at least one food."

While a young child in the Fifties, our concerns were with polio, measles, mumps, and various other ailments. We knew next to nothing about life-threatening food allergies. I knew no one with a nut, or other food, allergy and I can assure you I knew far more than 20 kids.

What the heck is going on? Did we just have large amounts of children die from food allergies in those days? I don't think so. Were we, in my little town, just lucky to not have a bunch of allergic children around? I don't think that either. Were the other problems (those diseases) hiding the huge number of at risk kids and adults? I can't imagine that.

I only knew of a few kids with allergies and none of these were life-threatening. Mostly just the usual issues with pollen resulting in sneezing and stuffiness.

But today we have allergies so bad that that some kids can't be anywhere near someone who has eaten shellfish:

[A Lake Placid mother's] first-grader, Thomas, has such a severe allergy to shellfish that coming in contact with someone who had eaten shellfish hours early will trigger a severe reaction.

We have to worry about serving peanut butter (a staple in my youth) at any gathering.

And it doesn't seem to be getting better... only worse.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Monday Morning Musings For Tuesday

As I sit here today (Monday) searching in vain for some little thought, some intriguing thingamabob, to write about... all I hear is vague echoes in my mind of nothing of importance.

I thought about reminiscing about Lou Reed and the influence he had on me and countless others, perhaps even mentioning the time some totally stoned freak asked me if the album he had in his hands was the one that had the song "Heroin" on it. I managed to just nod "yes" in a sage way rather than just say, "Why? Can't you read?" I always tried to be kind to the terminally stoned.

I'll mention they have found lakes on Titan (one of Saturn's moons). These are liquid lakes. But not water... hydrocarbons. Not sure what that means but it has some people excited.

I think we are getting a bit desperate to find some sign of life somewhere other than the Earth.  Excited and worried, I suppose. After all, I saw all those "space alien invasion" movies growing up too. Even though, in the end, we humans always win... it is touch and go for far too long. I am not so sure we'd win if some aliens looking for a new place to live ever really showed up.  But I am not worried... basically because I don't think there are intelligent species out there somewhere.

Hey, if they are intelligent, they'd want nothing to do with us.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Issues With The Car and Other Things

I mentioned earlier this month that I had to have some repairs done on my car. It's fair, the car is a 2006 Buick and I have had it two years longer than most cars I have owned. I hate to bring a car in for repairs because I know it is just the beginning.

On Friday, Faye and I went out to dinner and ended up having to call a friend to give us a ride home. The battery in my car finally went dead. It was strange. The battery is at least 7 years old, maybe 8 (when you realize they were produced before September of the year preceding the model year). They give us no warning anymore, do they? They just go *poof* when you least expect it.  And that's what happened. We came out of the restaurant, got in the car, and it tried but... it failed... to start. So, I went back inside to see if anyone could give me a jump start. That also failed. Called a friend who came by and gave us a ride home then went to Sears and paid too much for a new battery.

The next morning, I took the battery... and Faye... back to the restaurant in her car, had breakfast, and proceeded to swap the old battery for the new. That is not easy... Buick puts the battery under the rear seat cushion and the battery weighs 40 pounds. It's just not fun anymore. That worked, the car started and I began the process of reprogramming the presets on the radio, as well as other preferences with the car itself.

Sunday, we went out to dinner again. As we left, we found the AC wasn't working... sigh...

More repairs, I guess.

To add to it, the second (meaning the last) light in the garage door opener went out so that will have to be changed too.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Spending and Health Insurance

"What would you think of a person who earned $24,000 a year but spent $35,000? Suppose on top of that, he was already $170,000 in debt. You'd tell him to get his act together — stop spending so much or he'd destroy his family, impoverish his kids and wreck their future. Of course, no individual could live so irresponsibly for long.

But tack on eight more zeroes to that budget and you have the checkbook for our out-of-control, big-spending federal government. "

Read the rest at

Sometimes someone else just says it much better.

A note on "Obamacare" (aka the Affordable Care Act): I just learned that my share of Faye's insurance (subsidized by ATT) will be doubled starting in January of 2014. I will also be paying more for my medicare Part B.

So much for the savings that were promised.

At least my coverage wasn't canceled.

Friday, October 25, 2013

It's a Big Universe

So, I am cyber-strolling through the headlines on Google News when I come across this:

      New galaxy 'most distant' yet discovered

Instantly fascinated, I decided to read the article.  You see, I am interested in this stuff. Not obsessively, mind you, I do not stalk galaxies. In fact, I have never actually seen one, just pictures of them. I did see Jupiter from a telescope in an observatory in West Palm beach (a friend/co-worker was a astronomy buff and volunteer there). I thought that was pretty cool.

For reasons I am not totally aware of, I am fascinated by the universe. Which means I watch a lot of Science channel shows like "How the Universe Works" and such. Galaxies, especially, interest me. Some galaxies create stars, others do not. Some stars are created in Nebulae which, apparently, are not galaxies but big gas clouds. Most galaxies seem to have black holes at their centers. I would guess they all do but what do I know? Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has one. That's good enough for me. Since it is the only galaxy I live in, I will take the simplistic view and assume it is typical... which it apparently isn't.

Anyway, there was something I was hoping that article would tell me... in what direction that oldest (yet) galaxy lies. They tell us how they figured out its distance, sort of... something about measuring the light and the amount of something called "redshift." We know from this that the galaxy is some 30 million light years from us here on this clump of rocks and water. I could assume that it is farther out from the universe center than we are since that is implied.

One of the things that bothers me is the description of galaxies. They are said to gather dust and gases and they spin... and this flattens them quite a bit. I have to wonder why. Why would they flatten out?  I understand centrifugal force and how it tends to create a plane around the pivot point but that's what happens on this planet where there are other forces involved (gravity, friction, and so on) but the gravity within a galaxy is primarily at the core. Perhaps it's the Dark Matter (something else I do not grasp) which is behind it.

I should have studied astrophysics...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Now, Where Did I Put That?

A fellow blogger made mention of something yesterday. An important something that concerns us as we age. Here is what he wrote:

What I do know is that a lot of my friends worry that they're becoming more forgetful with age; and beneath the jokes are real anxieties about Alzheimer's or other kinds of dementia.

One of the jokes (repeated multiple times, of course) my golf buddy Joe likes to tell is a one-liner: "I might have had Alzheimer's... but I don't remember."

We had one of our regulars once forget to turn off his engine and remove the keys. It sat there for 4 hours, idling along, doors unlocked. My mother had Alzheimer's... we assume. The only way to know for sure is to do an autopsy and inspect the brain. We did not have that done. She did not fit the profile of potential sufferers, though, so I often wondered.  In the long run, it does not matter. She appeared to go through the expected phases the disease takes and I watched her disappear into whatever world her mind created.

We do worry about Alzheimer's, those of us who are in our alleged Golden Years, that's true. Why we worry more about that than we do about the dementia that was once associated with old age, I do not know. Maybe because it has a name. Maybe because it it is called a "disease" rather than a condition.

Tom (that's the blogger) had a theory about forgetfulness. We have more to remember. I am not entirely in disagreement on that. I like to think of memory like a computer stack function. First in, last out. But stacks are often limited in capacity... which means that the first in data could be discarded in favor of new data. I think our brains work something like that except it is the last in data that gets discarded in order to retain the old data. This could explain why it's the short term memory which seems to go first. We have a limited capacity for memories. I know I do.

I had a doctor tell me once...

If you forget where you left your car keys, that's normal and nothing to worry about. If you forget you have a car then you might want to worry.

I figure I'm fine as long as I can find the remote for the TV.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sea Serpents and Mermaids


While I spent four years in the Navy, and probably a bit less than 2 years of that actually at sea, I never saw a mermaid or a sea serpent. It has been rumored that the mermaid is
actually a manatee (or, as we used to call it, a "sea cow"). If you have ever seen a manatee, you'd know the sailors that thought it was a mermaid had to have been at sea for a very long time.


Now, it seems they know the origins of the "sea serpent" legend. It appears to be something called an oarfish. A rather ugly creature, looking a bit like a Moray Eel but much longer, with some strange tentacle like things attached to the head.

I have seen dolphins playing in the bow waves, flying fish skimming from wave to wave, A number of sea snakes, the eerie iridescence of the natural phosphorescence of the sea, and (of course) seagulls appearing out of nowhere hundreds of miles at sea when the messcooks tossed garbage over the side. But no sea serpents.

Perhaps one must spend long stretches at sea, months at least, and in the right areas to see such things. The longest stretch at sea for me was 47 days and land was often in sight during that period. The Gulf of Tonkin is not all that interesting. Perhaps no sea serpents hang out there.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Sky is Not Falling But The Seas Might Rise

The other day, The National Geographic sent me something of interest. To be fair, I asked for these things. I signed up to receive them. In my heart, I suppose, I am a nerd.

Here is a map of of North America after all of Earth's ice has melted.

It was after looking at the map that I read further and noticed that it would take 5000 years to melt it all. Not exactly an impending threat. Still, it is possible over the next hundred years... if the Global Warming people are correct in their estimates... that shorelines will be impacted by higher average tidelines.

Should you worry? I do not think so. But, then, I do not live along the shore. Nor do I expect to be alive in 100 years (definitely not in 5000 years... when it might actually impact my little slice of Paradise). I also believe that humans are, for the most part (my friends excepted) rational and will move inland if, or as, sea levels rise. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fish and Ponds

In a "discussion" somewhere, a number of years ago, my opposite asked me why I thought people would want to be victimized? I replied with these questions: why do abused women so often return to their abusers? Why do criminals come out of prison only to repeat the acts which first landed them there? In other words, I had no answer. I still do not.

Over the years, however, I have come to believe that some people wish to be victims. Apparently, I am not alone in that belief. The other day, I came across this. Many years ago, this was a fairly common belief... Why did the young person attempt (successfully or not) suicide? "It was a cry for help," said the psychologists and psychiatrists. Why did little Johnny act out as he often did? "Merely a way of getting the attention he desired and needed," they said.

Maybe. Maybe not. A number of years ago, I went on a cruise in the Caribbean with some friends.  To be honest, I had only known one of them before the trip: a long time friend of Faye's. She, and all the others in our group, are African-American. Nice people, all firmly middle class, all solidly around my age (approaching 50 at the time). We talked about a number of things over the week we were on that ship.

One of the things that came up, and which we disagreed on, was the idea that a black person must work "twice as hard" as his white peers to reap the same rewards. I offered two observations: that it would be impossible to work twice as hard as someone else and that giving a child that advice (which is how it came up in conversation... as advice to a child) could hurt him or her.

How could that hurt a child, you ask? By inculcating defeatism in him or her. If you take a child and repeatedly tell them they have no chance unless they are clearly superior in whatever it is they do, how will that child react emotionally? As I grew up, the common belief that encouraging children was the "best way" to raise them began to be accepted. This has led to strong efforts to build self-esteem. Which has, in turn, led to efforts to reduce competition because competition means "winners" and "losers" and the "losers" will clearly outnumber the "winners." Losing hurts self-esteem, this line of reasoning says, and creates a dysfunction in the child.

I am a competitive person. I dislike (intensely) losing. I dislike failing at something. This is a big problem for me because I am not athletic, not talented, and just bright enough to to be almost outstanding but not enough to excel. And, of course, I am lazy so I do not want to work hard to improve myself. So, over the years, I found a niche for myself... I would seek out "small ponds" in which I could be a "big fish."

I believe I am not alone in this. Not that everyone (or even most) wants to be a "big fish in a small pond" but that we seek that kind of comfort level. There is an old saw that goes, "the cream rises to the top." Which, to me, sounded like... "if you have 'it', you will excel, if you don't you won't... no matter how hard you try." In other, simpler, words, trying to be what you aren't ultimately leads to failure.

It's untrue, of course, I see that now. Isn't it?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Deal Has Been Made!

Oh look! The Democrats in the Senate and the evil Republicans have made a deal and saved us from the chasm of disaster predicted by the Democrats and the White House. And it will only mean we get to go another Trillion dollars in debt, Obamacare will be funded and life will go on. I suppose it was great political theater, one side manipulating the other into a corner so that the outcome was inevitable, but still...

You and I will pay.

Forgive me if I do not applaud.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Que Sera, Sera

I am reading a book that is very depressing. It's called "The World Set Free" by H.G. Wells. Someone recommended it to me some time ago but I only recently came across it. It's available at Project Gutenberg, a site I have recommended many times and one I love. If you have an e-book reader of just about any type, you can find the format supported.

Anyway, the book is depressing. It is an example of belief in utopia. And utopia is just not possible in a world of humans. Of course, in the book, it is not only possible, it is realized. Wells predicts the advent of nuclear energy. Since this book was written in 1913, well before the atomic bomb, it is flawed in its depiction of the benefits and the drawbacks. That is to be expected.  No one can predict the future, especially in detail. I could not imagine the world of today back when I was young. And those that offered their ideas were wrong. Who could imagine phones that are computers? Who could have imagined Wi-Fi? I am talking 50 years ago.

I have mentioned that Star Trek: The Next Generation predicted e-readers and hand held computers (what did you think that Tricorder was?); they saw the advent of  touch screen interfaces, as well as voice controlled ones (that even predated The Next Generation since that interface was used in the first Star Trek series). Now we are starting to see TVs that respond to voice commands and we have Siri and whatever the Android phones are using. The talking cars haven't been all that successful, I guess we prefer bells and alarms to some disembodied computer voice telling us what is going wrong.

When I was 10 or younger, the energy people were pushing nuclear power plants. At that time they were predicting that electricity would be so cheap to produce that the meters would be removed and people would be charged a flat rate for usage. Unfortunately, that never happened. Or, maybe fortunately... if you distrust/dislike nuclear power plants. In addition to that prediction, the electric companies pushed what they called "Medallion Homes." These houses were highly dependent upon a steady supply of electricity. I soon learned the impracticality of that after my family moved to Florida. There appears to be no dependability to electrical power delivered to the home. That has been strongly (and repeatedly) reinforced by my experiences over the last 50+ years.

In the end, I have decided that the future, as the song says, is "not ours to see."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Words To The Wise Often Fall on Deaf Ears

    Sing a song of sixpence,
    A pocket full of rye.
    Four and twenty blackbirds,
    Baked in a pie.

    When the pie was opened,
    The birds began to sing;
    Wasn't that a dainty dish,
    To set before the king?

People who opine, as bloggers do, sometimes must eat their words. Unless, of course, they refuse to. People who comment (since they, too, opine) also must eat their words from time to time. Unless they, too, refuse.

I have, over the years of my life, found myself in front of a not-so-tasty bowl containing some statement I made in good faith... only to find it false or mistaken. I have come to find the taste of crow to be somewhat palatable, if not especially flavorful. Many times, it is a bit spicy.

Am I about to acknowledge some faux pas I have made? No. That is not my intent here. I just want to remind you that we all goof from time to time and someone, somewhere, has recorded those goofs. And is likely just waiting for the best moment to fling them in your face.  It's usually the person who will eventually become your ex... wife or friend.

What other reason would someone want to remind you that you are human, after all?

Because I have been embarrassed by something I have said in the past, I try very hard not to remember ill-timed (or ill-spoken) words. This should make it easier not to be the person serving up that crow to others. It doesn't. Words are not often meant to have meaning outside the context of the conversation in which they are uttered.

There are many interpretations to the poem with which I began this piece. I have always taken it to mean the following:

Choose your words carefully, you may have to eat them later.

Winston Churchill once said...

 In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

We Haven't Changed Much, Have We?

I mentioned before that a friend of mine advocates we hold a Constitutional Convention to address what he sees as a broken system.  I stated my opposition to that idea and outlined my primary reason. What I wish to talk about today is more general, about systems of governance and about socioeconomic systems. I'll try not to be too boring but I can already feel your eyes glazing over.

I don't think we have had a new idea about governing or socioeconomic structure in a couple hundred years. And even those ideas weren't really new but modifications and adaptations of much older ideas.

Humans started coalescing into tribes hundreds of thousands (millions, probably) of years ago, soon after the split off from their simian family. From clans of related individuals into tribes of mostly like-minded individuals. But the same pattern, the same process of governance remained... primarily patriarchal and "rule by the strongest." It is the way of the herd and the way of the family. It is seen all around us in nature. It is, therefore, likely embedded in our DNA in some way. Not specifically, that is, just a propensity to admire strength and seek its protection. Or maybe it is simply conditioning learned as a consequence of being raised in families. It's origin does not matter; it exists.

We developed the idea of "kings" from tribal leaders backed by the tribal shaman. Kings became "anointed" by God. In reality, they were simply the strongest and the smartest among us. Or, at least, perceived to be. Being "lesser beings", we formed alliances around them, made them our "champions" and became their support.

Today, we have elected leaders as well. But that isn't really all that different, it is merely less rigid. We still seek the strongest and smartest, though the "strongest" is no longer a physical attribute even as the image remains. Do we tend to elect geeky, scrawny types? I don't think so. And we haven't strayed much from the "bloodline" concept of rulers either. We've just replaced "bloodline" with political party... for the most part (think Kennedys, Bushes, Rockefellers, all the "important" families we like to put into office).

Socioeconomics, some might say, has changed quite a bit. I disagree. When I was maybe 11, I began to form the idea that communism was just another form of capitalism. Instead of many large corporations, you simply had one... which was also the government. Which everyone worked for. Instead of competing against other corporations, it competes against both corporations and governments. Think of that government as one incredibly large and widely diversified corporation. We see that in China today. Marx, I think, played a cruel joke on the masses suggesting that it would be more free than toiling for the masters. He just exchanged one set of masters for another. Or perhaps corporations just mimic governments, I don't think it matters.

Heck, when you think about it, we still live in caves. We just build them now instead of find them in the wild.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Like Father But Not Son?

There's one interesting thing about aging, you can look at your biological parents and get a good idea of your future. That's it, otherwise there's nothing interesting about aging... you get older, you get weaker, eventually you die. It's a bit scary when it's laid out that way, though, isn't it?.

When I was wee lad, my father towered above me. He also towered above most people. He was 6'4" tall and, in the 50's, that was quite tall. The average height of a man in the 1950's was 5'8"... according to My mother had referred to him as "My Giant" on a number of occasions. She claimed to be 5'4" but I suspect she exaggerated a bit, perhaps an inch or two. I thought of them as "Mutt and Jeff".

We are all the products of our biological parents and their familial genetics. There is no escaping that. While that can be a problem (as in, "OMG! I have my mother's thighs!" to "You are as grumpy as Dad.") it also gives you a bit of insight into your possible future.

My friend Joe, for example, is aware of his genetic predisposition for circulatory problems. Of course, the light heart attack and the ensuing implantation of 8 stents over the years since has had something to do with that awareness also. At 76, however, Joe is active, relatively healthy (certainly in better shape than me), and a vegan (this last being a fairly recent change).

I recall, shortly after my father's death at 84, a phone conversation with my uncle Alex (my father's youngest brother) wherein we discussed the family "curse." Strokes had a tendency to wipe out the paternal line in their mid-60's. Alex's comment was that both he and my father had apparently beaten it (one other brother had died much earlier from a heart attack, and their sister had succumbed to
cirrhosis of the liver... both much younger than 65).

My father was the strong, silent, type. Rarely complaining, he worked hard and expected the same from us. In that sense, I am sure I was a disappointment to him. I complain a lot, too, as anyone who reads this blog can attest. I am not my father's son except in superficial ways.

I did not grow to be very tall (reaching 5'11") but I copied his thinness for much of my life.

My father worked until he was 77, the last 43 years mostly as a salesman. As I spent more time with him in his later years, I watched him deteriorate physically. He became weaker, lost his stamina, and shrunk somewhat in stature though he remained taller than I until his passing.

I did not inherit, it seems, that accursed gene which begat high blood pressure in our family's history and that eventually led to the traditional paternal mortality. Instead, I got my mother's propensity for low blood pressure... and the thinning hair gene.

But, still, as I watched my father's final years slip away I saw something of my own future in his increasing physical weakness and wobbly legs. And it gives me pause.

Monday, October 14, 2013

It Just Won't Go Away

Florida has a "Stand Your Ground" law which is widely misunderstood and demagogued all over the country. The Zimmerman case has brought this law into the public consciousness and triggered the misunderstandings and the demagoguery.

Here is where you can find the complete text of the law. Please read it and be fully informed.

Efforts are being made to "tweak" the law as a consequence of the case and the public outcry. Here's one story about the effort.  This part of the story bothered me and made me look up the actual instructions here:

Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin in self-defense but did not use "stand your ground" to avoid being prosecuted. But the law spawned changes to jury instructions that at least one Zimmerman juror said resulted in the not-guilty verdict.

At no time during the trial, was "Stand your Ground" invoked and the instructions seem completely predicated on standard self defense so I do not understand  the claim.

Perhaps someone else can explain the reasoning behind the effort to me.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Foodborne Illness, the CDC, and the Shutdown

A number of years ago, a friend of mine told me he and his roommates had been laid low by "food poisoning" after sharing some pizza. They all had been so sick they had not bothered to answer the phone or knocks on their door for three days. This was back in the 60's. Knowing these guys, they probably left the pizza sitting on the coffee table for a couple of days or found it in the fridge a few daysweeks after it had been delivered and partially eaten.

I suffered a bout of this (though it lasted only a day) after stupidly eating some street vendor's sausages in Taiwan.

There is a salmonella outbreak underway today, it appears to have originated at Foster Farms in California. There is much in the news about the government shutdown and how it is hampering the handling of it. To read the stories, one would get the distinct impression that the outbreak happened because of the shutdown. This is not so. After much searching, I found an article which said the outbreak probably began in March of this year and that the CDC was made aware of it in July. The shutdown began on October 1.

Therefore, the outbreak was not caused by the shutdown. Yes, dealing with it has been affected by the shutdown
, causing the CDC to recall 30 furloughed workers. I would like to know what was being done about it between July and October and why 30, apparently essential, workers were furloughed in the midst of it. I would also like to know why the media is not asking these questions. Because they do not appear to be.

As I said in the first paragraph, the problem appears to have originated at Foster Farms in California. An article on the NBC website says...

CDC officials originally said that the illnesses occurred mostly in July, but new data show reports of sickness started in March and continued through Sept. 24, though more recent cases might not yet be reported.

Why? Why wasn't the public notified of the problem before now? Why did the government wait to push this out into the open?

Why isn't the media asking these questions?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Small Business, Big Burden

A friend of mine sent me this in an email the other day. He seemed surprised. In fact, that was the gist of his "Subject:"... surprise. I wasn't.

Let me quote from the article:

If you think of Domino's (DPZ) as a pizza-delivery chain, you're only partly right.

What you might not know is that the corporation's real money comes from selling dough and toppings to franchises, not from delivering pizza to your doorstep. Every year, in fact, more than half of Domino's revenue results from supplying ingredients and goods to its stores, 97% of which are operated by its franchisees.

That a franchiser, such as Domino's, makes a profit from its franchisees should be no surprise to anyone. Likewise, that the bulk of its profit comes from them should also be a no-brainer. The specifics of the agreement between franchiser and franchisee might be a surprise to many. At least to those who never looked into starting a business.

Starting a small business is not easy. There are so many things one needs to consider: initial outlay (aka "startup costs"), probable operating costs, staffing needs, location, and so many more that the mind often boggles at the enormity and complexity.

In my case, I considered the idea only relatively briefly. I am, after all, the laziest person you might ever meet and I am also very wary (perhaps too wary) of being used for profit (or anything else, for that matter).

Franchises take much of the guesswork out of starting a business. Most franchisers explain in detail all of those things I mentioned above and guide you through them. They train you in how the franchise should operate, what to expect, and offer many advantages to the new entrepreneur. You know, for example, who your main supplier will be and get a good idea of the cost of those supplies. Advertising costs, which are very important, are mostly borne by the franchiser.

But there are initial startup costs, not the least of which will be the franchise purchase. You will likely have to borrow to meet that cost. In fact, you will probably find that you will have to manage debt in a way the U.S. Government never seems able to do. If you are the type of person who is shocked by the size of your credit card debt each month, operating a franchise is probably not for you.

I applaud those who start up businesses, I applaud those who open a franchise, these people are the foundation of a free enterprise system.

I am, however, not one of them.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Perhaps a Matter of Faith

In one of those "Could I have done it?" stories, a man lands a small plane after the pilot falls ill. It happened in the UK, jolly old England. The pilot and his lone passenger were just out for a little flight, the purpose of the flight was not revealed in the story, when the pilot "suddenly fell ill." The pilot managed to make an emergency call to (one presumes) the nearest airport but it was already clear that the passenger would have to land the plane.

Reading between the lines, I'd say the passenger was familiar with the controls to some degree but had never landed a plane before.  The tower called in two flying instructors to help talk the man down.

I called it a "Could I have done it?" story because it makes you wonder. I enjoy playing flight simulator games but I know that this does not prepare you for the Real Thing. The last time I was up in a single engine plane was with my father when I was 5 years old. And, yes, there was just him and me. At 5, I could not have landed the Piper Cub alone... I couldn't even reach the pedals, I would have undoubtedly crashed and died. Fortunately, my father was relatively young (maybe 34) and healthy at the time and there was no medical emergency.

Today, I think I could do it. Not because I play Flight Simulator games but because I would have no other choice. There are things you do when you have no other choice; like standing up to the moron harassing your date (even though he is much bigger than you) or taking control in an emergency. You just do it.

Is the passenger a hero? Or just lucky to get through it? Neither, I think. The pilot died later that evening from whatever it was that struck him (not revealed in the story at the time I read it) so he only saved himself.  I am sure the passenger is saddened by that but also happy that he survived. Truly mixed feelings.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The King of No Talent

I have always wanted to be ambidextrous. Well, that and rich, handsome, talented, and adored by all.  Not having the genes or the charm required for those things I thought, perhaps, I could train myself to be ambidextrous. And so I began. I tried to write legibly with my left hand. It could be read but it was not pretty. I kept trying, off and on, for a few years before giving up. I gave up because there was no perceptible progress over time.

I decided, at the time, that I lacked the ability and no amount of practice would overcome that. What I have come to understand is that I lacked the desire needed.You see, it isn't innate talent that's required, people with that just do it naturally. What the rest of us need is practice, practice, practice. But having an overwhelming gene for laziness, I was not going to do that.

I bring this up for two reasons... One is that I am reading an article about something called "deliberate practice", the other is the realization of my lack of talent in quite a few things.

I was watching a TV show, Boardwalk Empire, and the main character is talking to his nephew in his dorm room. Nucky (the main character) picks up a ukelele and asks the nephew if he can play it. The nephew replies, "Not very well"... or words to that effect. Toward the end of the show, the nephew is plunking away on the uke and it is producing a recognizable tune. I had a sort of epiphany just then.

I thought back to something I had recently learned about Frank Sinatra. He was going to star with Gene Kelly in a movie where he would not only sing but tap dance. He had never tap danced before and Kelly was asked to be his coach. Sinatra thought he was clumsy and awkward but Kelly thought him an excellent student, according to Nancy Sinatra.

When I first saw (and heard) Steve Martin play the banjo, I thought he was going to just goof around, much like his later dancing in a couple of movies, but he played beautifully and clearly had a great talent for it. And he wasn't the only multi-talented performer. Most movie actors, if not each and every one of them, have many talents.

I have come to believe that these men and women have one supreme talent which they discover and exploit (Martin's comic talent, for example) but they also have numerous other ones that they picked up along the way to fame.
Shortly after I left the Navy, I met Randy and his wife. A charming couple; he played the guitar and she painted miniature pictures. One evening, Randy and I went to a concert at the Forum in Los Angeles and, after that, to visit the woman I married some months later. There was a piano in her parents' living room. Randy sat down in front of it and began to plunk a few keys. Within a few minutes, he was creating music. Beautiful melodies. He claimed to have never tried the piano before.

It is moments like that which truly depress me.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hammers and Pegs

I have bucked trends all my life, it seems. I always thought of myself as a round peg constantly being pounded into a square hole. Or maybe it's the other way around... Either way, I didn't feel I fit in no matter how hard others tried to make me. Yet, I have gotten sucked into fads and social fancies from time to time.

I jumped on the surfing bandwagon in 1964, for example. Which made me want to have blond hair and a great tan. I took up drugs just a few years later... about the time it seemed that "everyone" was doing that. I wanted to be artsy and deep, profound in my thinking, aloof and mysterious... I wanted to be part of "the scene", maybe even a focal point.

 If you were part of "the scene", you could get the chicks.

I didn't want to be a lemming, I wanted to be a leader of lemmings. Because, as Mel Brooks said as Louis the XVI (in "History of the World: Part I"), "It's good to be king."

As time went on, I changed my outlook. For one thing, those chicks that were part of the scene seemed as shallow and phony as my own persona and probably were. For another, it was hard work being someone you really weren't. And, above all else, I am lazy. After awhile, I gave it up. I suppose I realized it was difficult to lead lemmings if you're a gerbil. It was also pointless. After all, the ultimate goal was to find a cliff to jump from.

Eventually, I stopped fooling myself into thinking I had to fit in.

This began after I had been in the Navy for a couple of years. For the first two years, you pretend you are still a civilian at heart. You change into "civvies" as soon as possible when you have liberty, and you pretend you aren't just a cog in a vast military machine. After a couple of years, you start leaving the base in uniform. You stop pretending. In prisons, they call this becoming "institutionalized." You accept your status.

You still don't try to "fit in", however. But you do begin to realize that you are the "hammer" that's trying to pound you into that hole you do not fit in.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sickness and Dreams

I sit here Sunday morning, sick as a dog (something dogs, no doubt, wonder about) with a cold brought home by my sister-in-law. Yes, she allegedly got it first. But how can I be sure? After all, last Monday, my golf game went to pot as we approached the back nine and that is often caused by a lack of balance. That lack of balance is subtle, it causes you sway oh so imperceptibly and thus strike the ball where it shouldn't be struck. The ball goes left... or right... or too high... or too low... in any event, somewhere clearly unintended.

That continued on Wednesday. As my frustration grew greater, my scores grew worse, my temper grew meaner. I was not a pleasant person to be around. On Friday, the pattern continued. But by early Friday evening, I was in physical misery. I could not concentrate, my sinuses were full and applying great pressure, causing that headache that defies all painkillers. That headache has not let up since then. I went to bed at 8:30 PM, heavily dosed on Nyquil... allowing me to sleep until 12:15 AM.

It's a funny thing about Nyquil sleep. It is oblivion. More like passing out than sleep. There are usually no dreams I can recall, just nothingness and then, *poof*, the awakening. There is no drowsiness that I can recall, no calming period before Morpheus wraps you in his arms and takes away the cares and anxieties of the day. You just lay down and then you are awake. You do not actually feel rested. Of course, I rarely wake up feeling rested anyway, Nyquil or no, so that is not unique to the experience.

Eventually, sickness thrusts through the Nyquil blanket and provides the weird dream or two. And that is what I woke to this morning. I will recount it as best I can now...

Faye and I were on a trip somewhere, stopping for a night at some hotel. For some odd reason, I was assigned the task of washing some clothes. Though I am sure there was more leading up to that, I recall only trying to carry the clothes back to the room. It is if that is where the dream starts. I am having a bit of trouble carrying the clothes, they keep slipping from my arms and falling to the ground. Apparently, the laundry room is accessible only from the outside as I must go in through the lobby after traversing the parking lot.

For some unknown reason I stop by the desk and find, to my surprise, a young lady who looks familiar but whom I cannot place. She is from somewhere in my past. As we chatted without names, Faye strolls up and I must introduce her. I am stuck and must admit I do not know her name. She knows mine because she had said she recognized it in the computer guest list. But now she cannot seem to recall how we know each other.

We stumble over words for a few minutes before I find myself awake, pondering the meaning of it all. Why was this young lady still young when I am in my late 60's? Why can't I recall her name or the circumstances of our familiarity? What does it all mean, if it means anything at all?

It's the sickness I have come down with and nothing more, I reason. Though reason is not possible today.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

To Convene Or Not To Convene

A friend of mine often suggests we should have a Constitutional Convention, that our system is broken and only a revamp can fix it. It's an attractive idea... but one that I think is terrible and fraught with danger.

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 is what gave us our Constitution. Before that, we had something called "The Articles of Confederation."  And the Convention was supposed to discuss how to improve that document and the governance model it represented. We had, at the time, a lot of conflict between the states. Not armed conflict, of course, but conflict all the same.

Instead of amending and repairing the Articles, they wrote an entirely new document. One which has served pretty well over the years. Do we want to risk throwing it out the window?

I think the question one should ask is "What guarantee would we have that a Constitutional Convention today would not do what the first one did?" The only guarantee is that whatever the Convention came up with would have to be validated, accepted, by the existing states. I think the fight would then be over how much influence each state would have.

I do not want to see that fight. I do not trust the outcome. I am not a gambler.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Finding Black Holes

I was reading an article about scientists finding "10 Monster Black Holes." Things like that catch my eye fairly often. A couple of things bothered me. You cannot see black holes so they could not have been spotted with any telescope of any kind. You infer them... from the effects they cause (I should say "theoretically cause" because that is more accurate). They might not be actually black either. We don't know, we have not seen one. It is surmised that they are so dense and create so much gravity that nothing can escape from them (except something does), not even light. Ironically, it is light which helps us know they exist. As things are pulled into them, especially gases, the friction creates heat and light and it is behind this heat and light that they theoretically exist. The light obscures them.

How did we find out about them, you ask?  Back in 1962, scientists came across a glow of  X-rays out there and were unable to figure the source. Apparently, X-rays can escape from these things. Gamma rays apparently also. More on that later, I hope. But maybe not, maybe the X-rays emanated from the stuff being pulled in when it was just outside the pull of the gravity the black hole is supposed to produce. Anyway, these X-rays were a puzzle, seemingly having no source. A collapsing star could produce them and that may have been the theoretical answer at the time. Actually, black holes were posited years before that... all the way back into the 1700's but technology, math, and theory took a couple of centuries to catch up and allow science to understand them properly.

My problem is that I do not have the knowledge to properly understand them. And so I can only provide a vague explanation for you.

I see black holes all the time. They are caused by cars at night without their lights on. They are only theoretical also... until they get close.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

We Are At Their Mercy, I Suppose

We take our cars to repair shops and dealerships and we have two choices: trust what we are told or not.

I have a wheel bearing problem, I am told. That's what the dealership told me. But the bearing was quiet, not like the one I had a problem with on my last car. That one sounded like it was grinding glass. You knew right away there was a problem. I opted to have that one repaired at a Goodyear shop. They did a good job, accepted my 10 year extended warranty, and I paid nothing for the repair. I do not have an extended warranty on my Buick so I will be paying the repair cost myself. Consider me "self insured" on repairs.

While at the repair shop the other day, another gentleman came in with a van with a "check engine" light on his dash.  They took one of those plug-in gadgets and recorded the error number. The problem was going to be expensive to repair and the man declined. The repair was going to run over $700 and he felt it was not worth the money to repair the problem on a van with 136,000 miles on it. He decided he could continue to drive it, as is, until he could have the engine replaced for $2300. After all, the odds were against the vehicle being worth more than $6000 and why spend the money?

While there, I learned that I had a second wheel bearing problem... this one in the right front wheel. Rather than paying for both repairs, I opted to fix the one (left front) that was identified by the dealership, the one that allowed a bit of wobble. You make choices.

I can no longer do the repairs I used to on my cars. I do not have the tools and I do not have the knowledge anymore. At one point, when I was much younger, I could buy a manual which showed me how to repair most anything. Those are gone now. And the cars have become much more complex in recent years. I have a scanner gadget which means I am not entirely at the mercy of repair shops but I cannot repair the indicated problems.

I miss the days when I could tune up my own car, repair most of what went wrong with it, and could diagnose those problems easily on my own.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Islands and Old Dogs

"Inspector Clouseau" left a comment to my Saturday rant which had a sentence which intrigued me. Let me repeat it here, "I dare say that 95% of the population could explain what really took place during these events."

I understand the underlying emotion of the statement and agree with it. I dare say that the same 95% would also connect with that emotional point of view. But I would say that nowhere near 95% would understand, truly grasp, what happened in those two filibusters, how alike they were and how different they were. What the 95% would explain, when asked to, is what they each thought happened, some of them more eloquently than others, but less than half would actually get it right. And, even then, only a rare few would get it 100% right. There were dynamics involved, facets known and unknown, which alter perception of the two filibusters.

One's political leanings, for one, would strongly influence one's perceptions. Democrats would (and have already) see it much like the media did. Praise one, denounce the other. Republicans likewise. Even within those larger, more encompassing perceptions, there would be smaller (but significant and different) ones: moderate and the tiers of more radical views of liberalism and conservatism would disagree on what happened not only during the events but leading up to, and ensuing from, them.

There is an old saw that goes, "no man is an island." It's a line from a poem written by John Donne and published in 1624. It means, simply, no person is uninfluenced by people and events surrounding him. It reflects a thought, to me, that is both profound and based on a faulty image... that an island is not influenced by the world around it. I believe it is, thus giving me a very complicated image: "no island is even an island." But the implied image is what we accept, it evokes the concept that each of us perceives things based on a huge multitude of factors that we seemingly do not control. We are each the product of those who taught us, reared us, interacted with us, over our lives. We (the end product) are formed by our reactions to that influence. And that product, I believe, is continuously malleable. Sometimes easily, sometimes with great difficulty. But always subject to influence in spite of that other old saw that "you cannot teach an old dog new tricks."

The lesson of that last adage is "don't become an old dog."


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Home Values, Who Pays Attention?

Perception is very subjective but what else is there? There are, it seems to me, very few truly objective observers in the world.

Consider a poll I saw the other day about various things, one section of which concerned personal financial status over the last 12 months. Here's what I learned:
Overall financial security - 35% say it's better , 14% say it's worse, 45% say about the same.
Job security for workers in your household - 23% better, 14% worse, 45% about the same.
Retirement savings - 28% better, 17% worse, 41% about the same.
The market value of your home - 30% better, 13% worse, 33% about the same.

I'll be as honest as I can. My Overall financial security is about the same as it has been. I am retired so job security does not apply. And the market value of my home? I have no freaking idea. That might be because it is paid for and I am not inclined to move anywhere nor think I will have a need to in the near (5 to 10 years) future. If I was thinking of moving, I would pay more attention to that value, I suppose. But it made me wonder why so many seemed to pay attention to that home value. Only a few said it "did not apply" or "not sure." What about renters? Do they pay attention? If so, why? I mean, as a renter (and I was one for many years) the only concern I had was about rents going up and that concern only made me ask new renters how much they were paying. I had no thoughts at all about the actual real estate value of the places I rented.

When I first purchased a house, I was worried that the place would not be worth the total of interest and principal of my mortgage payments. Within 5 years, its market value exceeded that amount (a statewide real estate boom did that... lots of speculators... much like the bubble that burst in 2007) but then went flat for the next decade. My ex-wife probably made quite a bundle when she sold it many years later.

I did well because of that real estate bubble that burst in 2007. I sold my old home for about three times what I paid for it. The equity paid for my current home. I was not clever, I was not prescient, I was merely lucky. When I retired, I had already decided to move to somewhere that I could live more cheaply than where I was living at the time.

It is probably not the only time I have been fortunate enough to take advantage of circumstances but it was probably the best one. Most of the time, I paid a price for needing (or wanting) to move.