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, November 30, 2013

Chaos On The Health Insurance Front

On Sunday, December 1st, is the not a re-rollout of the Obamacare website. So, last night at 9PM, they took the website down for a 12 hour maintenance interval. Why do I think this is a last minute attempt to get the thing running? Maybe I am wrong. Perhaps it's because they truly care about people having great difficulty getting on the website and difficulty navigating it. Perhaps. Or perhaps it's because they want to get the president's polling numbers up.

Let's forget for the moment that the president seems to get outraged with the performance of the administration often and claims ignorance of whatever went wrong and let's also forget for the moment that the president is the head of that administration and he is the one who ought to know what is going on with his signature achievement. 

I just don't think government does anything well and the more complex the project and function, the less able to do it without causing great harm.

I know what you are thinking... "Well, the government seems to do a good job with the military." To those that had that thought all I can say is... you must not have served. I did. It was wasteful, inefficient, and riddled with incompetence. Of course, much of that may no longer be the case but I don't think so. My bet is that it is smaller in scope but higher in cost. I will have to do some research to find out if I am right. Example:

The government has taken on many tasks over the 224 years of its current existence. How many departments and functions would you rate as excellent? Heck, how many can you even name? I know I can only think of a few and that bothers me somewhat.

I would rather that health insurance not be quasi nationalized. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Post Turkey Day Thought

Yesterday, as people all over America slaved over hot stoves and dealt with numerous relatives they wouldn't otherwise associate with any other time of the year, we (Faye, Frannie, and I) started a new Thanksgiving tradition... We went to our favorite local steakhouse.

And we had turkey, of course, all three of us.  After grabbing the leftovers (they did, I didn't) and paying the bill, we went home. Now that I can happily reflect on it, it was the right thing to do.

Here's hoping you all had a very satisfying Thanksgiving and enjoyed the company and the meal immensely.

I'll be at the golf course.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

But Would We Want To?

I wrote a little about this some time ago but after watching last night's episode of Futurescape, it rose in my mind once again. Living forever, that is... or at least for a very long time.

I was reminded of a short story I read many years ago, I no longer recall the author or the main characters but the basic premise was that an alien hired a detective to find a certain other alien race. The race was supposed to be immortal or as near to it as anyone decide was close enough. The twist was that the race of the alien who hired the detective already had a lifespan of some twenty thousand years. Apparently, that wasn't enough.

I used to tell my mother that I intended to live forever, pause, and then say "so far, so good." A friend of mine says he wants to live to be 150... he's a little over halfway there. And plays better golf than I... though that isn't all that hard to do. I live in a town that has a median age for its population of 47.3 years (Florida, overall, has a median age of 41.3 years). You get that median age by having a lot of old people. People tend to come here to retire or when they get tired of maintaining two homes; one in some northern state and one down here. Let's just say, at 67, I am one of the "kids" around here.

In a story, a novel (The Annals of the Heechee, I think), by Frederik Pohl, the protagonist (Robinette Broadhead) meets a race (the Heechee) who keep the minds of their ancestors with them to help and advise them. Humans do something slightly different with the technology; they transfer all of their knowledge (their "essence", if you will) into a computer which creates a virtual world in which they live on, perhaps forever.

All of which makes me wonder...  Would I want to live that long? The Futurescape episode suggested that people might not want to, that they might seek out death at some point. This is a common theme in vampire novels. It might be incredibly boring to live a couple hundred years... or longer. Even if, say, 90 becomes the New 40.

The Bible speaks of ancient patriarchs (such as Methuselah) who lived 800 or more years (Methuselah allegedly lived to age 969). Even though it might be fascinating to live far into the future and see the amazing advances man makes, it could also be possible to see the destruction of civilization in a few hundred years.

Not sure I'd want to see that.

Oh, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sometimes Hate Is The Controlling Emotion

A lot of people like Rush Limbaugh, a lot of people hate him. Most people have no feelings one way or the other about him. I listen to his show a few times each week and have for many years... starting in 1989. Unlike some, I do not think he is as great as he appears to think of himself. Likewise, I do not think he is evil incarnate... as some others appear to think.

I recently decided I would look into reviews for Limbaugh's latest book. Not that I am looking to purchase it, it is intended for children after all. But I wanted to see how it has been received. Some of the reviews are by those who hate the guy, some are by those who idolize the guy... very few are not biased. The first review I read was not a review of the book but a polemic on Limbaugh. It insulted, it ranted, it said nothing about the book except to point out the reviewer's issues with the cover picture.  It became clear that the reviewer hadn't read the book. There are reasons, good ones, why the cover picture is as it is.

I run into numerous articles about Limbaugh on the net, most are unfriendly to put it mildly. He irritates some people no end it seems. Most of those who hate him do not listen to his show and appear to get their information about him from the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, and/or Media Matters for America. Let's just say these sites do not view Limbaugh in a friendly manner.  It's understandable, Limbaugh is the polar opposite (politically) of those who run, and write on, those sites.

I am not one of those who allows others to dictate his feelings. This is probably due to childhood experiences with food my mother served (Hint: I actually liked lima beans). Enhanced during my teen years. So I tend to investigate controversial figures myself. With Limbaugh, however, I had heard nothing about him before I ran across his radio show (a "best of" rerun, I guess) one Saturday afternoon on my way home from work in Jacksonville. I had no preconceptions about him.  I found him entertaining. He used humor (self-deprecating and against others). He was bombastic, a real self promoter.

It's obvious to me that he uses his controversial image to his advantage. And he has certainly done well for himself. That much, no one can deny.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I'm Sure I Made a Mistake

I went off the deep end the other day, I bought a new car. I didn't really need one, mind you, but I have been getting tired of poor gas mileage in my old one. So I took the plunge. A 4-cylinder thingie with lots of goodies to occupy the mind and tantalize the eyes... and a lack of storage space.And now the learning curve (which gets steeper as you age... trust me) begins. This can be annoying for us old farts, we lack the mental flexibility of the young.

This is why this post is late, my mind has been elsewhere. It's been elsewhere before, mind you, but that was due to drugs and/or alcohol. This is that weird time where buyer's remorse lurks and nags at you tirelessly.

The car is a Ford... Focus, hatchback, automatic, leather seats. Eventually, I will learn to love it, I suspect, but this is the exploration period... like a new romance. That time period when  you wonder just why you are seeing the new love interest and wondering if the positives will outweigh the negatives. Sure, she looks pretty and all but then there's that clearing of the throat, the snoring which rattles the windows, the lack of interest in doing your laundry...

Now, if I can just figure out the radio...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Buzzkill or Blessing?

The New Yorker ran an article about Washington's (the state) problems and issues with the legalization of marijuana a few days ago. The object of a ballot initiative "I-502" passed in November of 2012. It's an interesting read, I think. An excerpt:

The law, which was sixty-four pages long and contained hundreds of specific provisions, assigned the liquor-control board the role of regulating the pot market. Yet many difficult questions remained: Who would be allowed to grow legal marijuana? Who would be allowed to sell it? How much would an ounce of legal pot cost? The legislation gave Washington officials only a year to come up with answers. Randy Simmons, the state’s project manager for I-502, says, “From the week after the initiative passed, it’s been about a hundred and fifty miles an hour.”

We do not often consider the details of things in advance, do we? Nor do we often consider the unintended consequences. The year that the law provided to set up the legal apparatus to handle the new business is just about up. Many people think that Colorado and Washington are just the first two and that the rest will follow pretty quickly. I tend to agree.

Just as the Prohibition Era advanced organized crime, fueling and funding it beyond imagination, the legalization of marijuana for recreational use will send ripples of turmoil throughout the country that are impossible to predict... The prohibition of marijuana was not, as some people seem to think, age-old. It started in the 1910's, around the time alcohol Prohibition started to gain traction. Before that, it was legal. Not widespread, mind you, but not prohibited by law so much and not at all by the federal government. You could say it was part of the Temperance Movement. Which some say just wanted to ban pleasure. Here's a good rundown of the timeline: History of Marijuana.

Should be an interesting decade, don't you think?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For

On Thursday, 11-21-2013, the Democrat majority Senate took away the power that a Democrat majority in 1917 created. At that time, filibustering got in the way of Woodrow Wilson's desires so his party created a rule that created cloture. This is a procedure in which 2/3rds of the senators must agree to end debate on a matter before the chamber and bring it to a vote.

There is a lot of confusion over this and much is being said about the Senate ending the practice of filibuster. This site has a good explanation of the history of the filibuster.

Never mind that the Democrats, when in the minority under a Bush presidency, favored this ability to block nominees from votes to approve. (In 1975, with a Democrat controlled Senate and a Republican president (Nixon), the 2/3rds was reduced to 60) This 60 vote cloture rule was getting in the way of the president's ability to quickly move his nominees through the consent process in the Senate. In the past, not all that long ago, when Republicans held the majority in the Senate, Democrats praised the rule of 60. Even Obama did.

But no more. Obama wanted this. But what happens if the Republicans regain control of the Senate and a Republican president lives in the White House?

I predict that they will, at that point, clamor for a return to the "sanity" of a 60 vote cloture rule. I hope the Republicans politely laugh in their faces.

Never, ever grant a power to your own party that you do not want the other party to have.

Friday, November 22, 2013

I, Not a Robot (Yet)

A few years ago, I wrote a post that was entitled "Does This Compute?" and it mostly outlined my exposure, and connection, to computers over the years. I also wrote this, "The Robots Are Coming" back in 2008.

The other night, I recorded a program called "Futurescape" on the Science Channel. It's only a 6 parter and I missed episode 1 (which I will watch On Demand... assuming it's there). But the episode I watched had to do with robots and artificial intelligence and with the possibilities of enhancement of human bodies and brains through technology. I found it very interesting. This episode was called "Robot Revolution" and I highly recommend it.

As the show was talking about artificial intelligence and ethics and morality, I stopped playing with my tablet and paid closer attention. Humans, with rare exceptions, are taught these things as they grow up. Robots, presumably, will also be "taught" these things. It will allow them to be useful as caretakers, for instance, and to interface with humans in most ways.
That and one section on sensitivity of skin, especially fingertips (did you even know some scientists are developing artificial fingers?).
It got me to thinking about how we teach children these things.  They started out with a smooth material for the skin and then decided to create a series of ridges and whorls... an artificial fingerprint, if you will... and were surprised by the increase in sense data that created. I was not. I think our fingerprints enhance our ability to understand what we touch. Do some experiments yourself with touching, you'll see what I mean.

But I want to get into programming of these units. A human child is programmed spontaneously by the world around him. Some have suggested that an unborn child can be programmed, that the fetus hears, can feel, and learn. And, so, they suggest playing music, among other things, to stimulate the fetus. I don't know if that is just wishful thinking on the part of people who mean well or total fantasy. You see, no child is born with the ability to communicate in a complex manner and no child, once he/she learns to speak appears to have memories of what they experienced before birth.

Our childhoods are just part of the programming humans go through. We constantly learn new things and apply these in our lives. We view people as not ready to go out in society until they have at least graduated from high school (12-13 years of educational programming along with social programming that includes ethics and morality). Now an additional 4 years (at least) of college/university training seems to be almost mandatory. So, let's take the low end and say a minimum of 18 years of programming to create a functional human unit. At that point, we say they can vote, join the military, start a family, and begin a career. Yes, I know some start earlier than that and some aren't ready at 25, 30, or 40. See comment about how we continue to learn and apply that knowledge throughout our lives.

Robots will have to be programmed in days, weeks, at most months. Of course, they will be programmed by computers and that will speed things up exponentially. But how about the gaps in that programming?  No computer software is ever rolled out without bugs and glitches and, often, the fixes cause more problems that then need to be addressed.  We should not expect robots to be any better.

The opportunities of cyber-kinetics and the integration of technology into human bodies were another thing which I found fascinating and encouraging; new hands that work, feet, legs, arms, eyes, and so on. Perhaps, some day, we will live forever (or close to) by moving our minds (which are not simply our brains) into humanoid, but artificial, bodies.

What then?

Today, November 22nd, 2013 is the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was in an English class in a high school in Orlando when it was announced. I was a Kennedy supporter (in a light way) in those days. I was stunned. Not because I was a supporter but because it was such a horrific crime. Take a moment to reflect on where you were... if you are old enough to have been alive, I mean.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

ET... Stay Home

I came across this article which, of course, fascinated me. I am intrigued by the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. It's clear that it is in short supply here on Earth.

Something in the article struck me...

"When I was a student in the 1960s, the prevailing view among scientists was that life on Earth was a freak phenomenon, the result of a sequence of chemical accidents so rare that they would be unlikely to have happened twice in the observable universe. "

Somebody please tell the author that we have learned many things in the last 50 years that overturned what we believed back then. Learning should not stop for an individual until he or she passes away. Some might argue... Not even then.

I think there might be life throughout the universe, though I am not so sure it will be what we call "intelligent." Some of this life might be unrecognizable to us because, face it, we are a bit egotistical about such things... having a tendency to believe it should resemble living entities we find here. This in spite of learning that life of some kind appears to exist in places on this planet that we once thought couldn't possibly support anything alive.

I do believe, however, that any intelligent species which could develop space travel should have hands that can grasp, eyes, and a measurable dexterity. None of those amorphous blobs or multi-tentacled things the science fiction writers have invented. 

Call me silly, if you wish... I can handle it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Issues... I Got Issues

I'd like to start out with an update on my DVR troubles... I didn't tell you about these? Well, here's a quick summary:

On Tuesday last week, about 4 PM, the living room DVR (a Motorola DCH3416) went through multiple reboots. A DVR is nothing more than a computer which stores programs as digital data on its hard drive. After three reboots in 20 minutes, I called Comcast. While talking to a tech, it rebooted one more time. After that, it stayed stable. The tech scheduled a service call for Thursday. The next day, I received a call from another tech; this one at Tier 2. It appears that the trouble had been escalated. He suggested the problem might be related to the signal and that they had tweaked it the night before after getting the escalation. The unit had worked fine since the night before and his explanation for the problem seemed plausible so I allowed him to cancel the service call.

On Friday, the unit went through 5 unexplained reboots in quick succession. I did not call tech support because it stopped happening and seemed stable.

On Sunday, about 5 PM, the DVR began rolling in reboots and did not ever stop so I unplugged it. I called Comcast, told them I wanted a new unit and I wanted it Monday. He scheduled a service call for Monday between 1 and 5 PM. He showed up just after 1 PM on Monday, replaced the unit with a different model (Motorola model RNG200N). After he left, I began re-programming my scheduled programs. Which irks me no end; why can't we use the USB port (which all DVRs appear to have) to store the data on a flash drive and have an option to reload it from there????

I have three DVRs in this house; 0ne in the master bedroom, one in the living room, and one in my sister-in-law's room (the same model as in the living room). Only one of these (the living room unit) is on  UPS, the other two are on surge strips.  I am beginning to suspect that the UPS/DVR combination is where the problem lies. If so, it can only be fixed by the unit maker (Motorola) because I want the DVR in the living room on a UPS so I do not lose any recording or part thereof.

Though the new unit is working fine now, I doubt the problem  will ever be fixed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Time Is Relative... At Times

As I was perusing the headlines from the email from the NY Times, I was suddenly attracted to this article:
                           You're So Self-Controlling

Since I am proud of my will power, even while realizing it is incredibly weak at seemingly crucial times, it drew my attention. It's a three page article and I grew impatient to read it through and almost gave up. Which seemed apropos of the article's theme.

Here's an excerpt...

WHAT do you do if, when you get to a subway platform, you see that it is already packed with people? Do you join the throngs to wait for the train, or do you shake your head and seek an alternative way to get where you’re going?

In my mind, I thought I would do what I always do in such a situation; check the schedule and let that information guide me. If the schedule says the train's arrival is imminent, I will likely wait, tolerating the crowd that I now see as joining me on that train. If I have long to wait and I have ample perceived time to get to my destination, I will likely seek an alternate means to get there.

To me, there are numerous factors involved in such decisions. But scientists seem to want to eliminate most of them, to simplify the process people use to make decisions. I believe our environment (society) is not easily parsed into either/or decisions. I believe that decisions are rarely one of "this or that" but often (if not always) have multiple possible choices or at least multiple factors involved in the either/or choices.

The principle factor in these studies seem to involve time perception. If one believes the schedule, one might wait. If one worries about the time to get to one's destination (running late, say) then one might almost immediately seek an alternate method. That's simplification. At any given time, those factors might not be applicable. One might have plenty of time to reach that destination, one might already be late, one might not have a  need to reach that destination at all but just want to, etc.

The author posits a situation, a test, and then points out the additional factor not planned for:

Can you forgo a brownie in service of the larger reward of losing weight, give up ready cash in favor of a later investment payoff?

The studies favor a belief that time perception is a predominant factor in decision making. But what about a craving for chocolate? Can that take precedence? Or does time perception rule?

I say that decisions are fluid, that a multitude of factors are involved with none taking absolute precedence every time. Time perception is important but perhaps one is hungry because one skipped a meal already? What if the goal (losing weight in this case) is one of  a greater need? Like saving a relationship? Or self esteem for a person whose life has been plagued by image problems?

On any given day, I believe numerous factors determine how we approach decisions, factors over which we often have no direct control. Not to mention factors we carry from our upbringing ad our genetic make up. And these impact how we approach the decision making. I don't think we can ever boil decision making down to either/or.

Monday, November 18, 2013

But What Really Happened?

Murder Charge in a Shooting on Doorstep

This is all over the news, it seems. There are some things about this case which anger me and some which just confuse me but, overall, I just don't know enough of the facts of the case. That just adds to my frustration. I like things neat and tidy, I like to know much more than most (maybe any) news sites provide in their reporting.  And, in this case, that causes ambivalent feelings.

Let me recap with known facts (as reported):

Just before 1 AM, a young woman (age 19) hit a parked car on a suburban street near Detroit, Michigan. Witnesses say they tried to help her but that she was disoriented and wandered off into the dark. This would suggest that she was uncooperative though they do not seem to have used that word. Shortly before 4 AM, she is shot dead on the porch of a house 6 blocks away. The homeowner is the one one charged in the headline.

Very little of the story I linked to answer questions I have. Where was she between 1 AM and 4 AM? Why didn't these witnesses try to follow her  or inform the authorities where she headed? They may have but we do not know. Why did the police  think there were no injuries in the accident and, therefore, make it a low priority? They did not respond  immediately.  Why did the homeowner open his front door (leaving only a locked screen door between them)? Why did the homeowner not immediately call 911 when she allegedly began knocking on his door?  He did, however, call 911 after shooting her.

Much is being made over the fact that the woman is African-American and the homeowner (shooter) is Caucasian. In fact, this remark is in the story:

“I think people don’t understand that this stuff is happening all the time,” said the Rev. Charles Williams II, the Detroit leader of the National Action Network. “We’re happy we got a charge in this case — that’s progress — but this whole situation tells us that there is still work to do when it comes to race in America.”

It is not "happening all the time." In fact, it is quite rare. But when it happens, it gets a lot of coverage. If a member of your family is the victim, even once is too often, of course, but the Reverend is not a family member so his exaggeration seems out of place.

Eric Holder (and many others) has said we need a dialogue about race in the United States. I agree. I think that this dialogue should not be one-sided, it should not be full of exaggeration and hyperbole, it should not be emotionally charged. It should be an honest one and one conducted calmly. That is extremely hard to do when it comes to race.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

More Wool For Our Eyes

There's a lot of hubbub over President Obama's "apology" and attempt to correct the problem of people having their insurance cancelled (5+ million and counting) due to Obamacare. Of course, the administration pointed out that The ACA (Obamacare) law did not cancel those policies, the insurance companies did. That's correct. However, it was because of requirements for coverage that were imposed by that law which led to the companies cancelling the policies. Even though Obama made the promise (many times) that "If you like your policy, you can keep it. Period."

So, now he has, once again, made a change in the law without having either house in Congress having a vote. This is blatantly unconstitutional but very few seem to care.

Here's what he said in a recent speech:

"Already people who have plans that pre-date the Affordable Care Act can keep those plans if they haven’t changed. "

One little problem, they never changed, the requirements set by the government changed. None of the cancelled policies changed. They were cancelled because they did not meet those new requirements. The above wording suggests that if the policy you had changed in any way (the amount of change was not specified), then you cannot keep your policy. It also does not actually reinstate the policies that were cancelled but it allows the insurer to reinstate them... IF the individual state governments allow it (they do not have to) AND the insurance companies jump over some difficult hurdles AND the individuals whose policies were cancelled petition their insurers to reinstate said policies.

To me, that's a pretty empty promise and a scam.  But what do I know?

Speaking of Obamacare, the president says he was unaware of the problems with the website. Apart from the fact that it seems reasonable that he should have known, it seems odd that his hand-picked people didn't keep him "in the loop." Does he tell them not to bother him with details? If so, then he was willfully ignorant of the problems. If not, then why didn't he know?


Friday, November 15, 2013

It Was One of Those Days

My head is full today. Mostly full of anger and frustration at my DVR and the cable company which provides it. But also full of thoughts about prejudice, sterotyping, theories of the origin of the universe, hot dogs, and enchilada sauce (with rice and pork).

Let me rant about that DVR and the cable company...

A couple of days ago, the DVR decided it would just shut down. It does this on its own from time to time. Often it is done by the cable company. A "reboot" of the box after doing some update to the software that runs it. It is, after all, just a computer. It records and stores programs on a hard disk, among other functions. So, it is annoying when a reboot happens. Especially annoying since that wipes out the guide and the re-population of said guide takes many hours, sometimes days. So I wasn't upset when it happened on Tuesday. What upset me was that it did it 3 times... starting at about 4 PM. An hour before our local cable office closes for the night. This was odd behavior and suggestive of a problem with the box itself. So I called the cable company.

As I complained about the problem and made the alleged technician aware of my frustration and distrust of the DVR (my third one in two years), the problem seemingly stopped. The tech scheduled a service call for Thursday. A little later I got an automated survey call from the cable company, asking me questions regarding my call to support. Apparently, my answers triggered an escalation of my complaint because the next afternoon  I received a call from a tech at a higher level (tier 2?) support group who wanted to discuss the problem I was having.

This tech suggested that the problem was caused by some issues with the TV signal the box was receiving and that they had "made some adjustments" which should clean it up. Since it had not experienced a problem since the day before, it appeared that had cleared up the problem. We agreed to cancel the service call.

So, this morning (Thursday), I sat in my recliner and proceeded to watch the programs I had recorded the night before. The first one went fine, no problems. The second one was about halfway done when the box shut off again. It did not reboot. I waited a good 60 seconds and unplugged it and plugged it back in. It started back up. After it was restored to service, I restarted the recorded program I had been watching. Within 15 seconds, the DVR shut down and rebooted. And then again as I went to start the recorded program again. And then again after trying to restart that recorded program. So, this time after it rebooted I decided I would try a different recorded program and this time it went through without a hitch. I then went back to the one which seemed to trigger reboots and found it worked fine... I was ready to just delete that recording if the reboot happened again.

Go figure. I'll be at the golf course today, at least I understand that frustration and who causes it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

This Page Intentionally Left Blank

It matches my mind today. Perhaps I'll think of something to muse about tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Paper or Plastic?

A thought came to me yesterday... about plastic bags. I was contemplating a trip to WalMart. Let's be honest... Faye strongly suggested that I go with her to WalMart. This is about as close to ordering me to take her shopping as it gets. And is treated as if it were analogous. Which it certainly is.

WalMart does not ask you the title question. In reality, few stores do anymore. Publix (our major grocery store chain) simply says "Plastic OK?" instead of offering a choice. It implies you have one, though, even if you really don't.

Let's face it, we like plastic bags, don't we? They are easier to carry since they have handles built in. Paper bags once had these but I haven't seen one so equipped in many years. At least in grocery stores. Too expensive, I suspect. Paper bags have square, flat, bottoms. These make them easier to put in the trunk of one's car. Easier to control. And paper bags have many uses: masks for New Orleans Saints fans, for instance, of not so many years back (an idea they got from  the "Unknown Comic", no doubt). Plastic bags have no solid structure to them and spill their contents very easily. So the auto-makers add (often optional) a webbing which spans the width of the trunk into which we can plop those unruly plastic bags. Even if things spill out, they tend to stay in the webbing.

But my car does not have that webbing anymore. First, the piece to which it connects on the right side of the trunk fell out and will not secure itself again. So, in frustration, I tossed the now useless webbing aside (and eventually into the maw* that is my garage). Instead, I tend to pile things in the foot-well behind the driver's seat or on the back seat itself. What goes on the back seat are things which are unlikely to move around in normal driving. Things like cases of bottled water, things that have flat bottoms, things that are less likely to leak or slide around as I dodge traffic, or make turns,  on my way home.

* Things accumulate in my garage where they hide under other things I do not use or do not use often enough to keep them handy and in plain sight.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

All Hail The Chief

Throughout recorded history, and very likely well before, humans have sought and supported kings, queens, emperors, and other leaders. Sometimes just tribal chiefs, sometimes Caesars, Pharaohs, Czars, prime ministers, presidents, and tyrants.

My question is "Why?" No matter how bad the leader might be, he (or she) will have sufficient support to gain the office and to retain it. People will kill, die, and suffer great harm to put them in charge. And we seem to want these leaders (even the bad ones) to have a great amount of power.

I think the human political power structure is based on the traditional family model. A strong father, an obedient wife (second in command), and subservient children. Look at king (or whatever the leader is called) as the father and the populace of a country as the dutiful but subservient children.

The military is structured this way (and has always been). When you think about it, the American Revolution resulted in a different model but not so different as one might think. Our system limits not only the power of the "king" but divides that power among elected people who ostensibly have a limited term. Did you know, though, that some of the founders wanted a king and offered that title to George Washington? He rejected it. They could not envision a government that was not ruled by one man.

Even today, we look at our president as a powerful figure. And he does have great power compared to the average citizen.

I upset a lot of bosses when I treated them as just another employee. But that is who they are. Same for CEOs and other executives. Certainly they had more power than the average employee and certainly they made much more money but they were all still just employees.

Even the communist systems suffer from this. While they claim to empower the people, they make them subservient to the state and the state is represented by the party bosses and, often, a single ruler. 

The ancient Greek Democracies weren't very democratic. Only the elites, the monied, the powerful, could vote. And the Greeks invented the term "tyrant."The Roman Republic was also run in much the same way. There were slaves, of course, who had no rights (much less a vote). And the Roman Republic was much more complex than the Greek systems. But there was always an elite (the Patricians in the Roman version) and these tended to gravitate to power.

I have come to the conclusion that humans do not actually believe in, or even want, complete equality. And it would likely be chaotic at best.

Monday, November 11, 2013

I Like To Think of Myself as a Type Z

The Co-Villains Behind Obesity's Rise

So it's "gut bacteria" that may be behind the obesity "epidemic", eh?

N.F.L. Coaches: In Charge and at Risk

The question that came to me while reading this is: Do certain "types" (like the Type A) gravitate toward stressful jobs? I do not think we can disconnect the two. The job of head coach will be stressful, it will require long hours and great stress. The people working toward getting that job know this yet they still do it. Just as players tolerate the pain and injuries that go along with becoming top players, the potential head coaches tolerate the long hours and stress they endure along the way to that head coach position. These are behaviors that are created and nourished over decades.

And then I thought about the bacteria story... and wondered... do certain personality types have a propensity to nurture the kind of bacteria that leads to increased weight and its attendant health risks?  Maybe a chicken vs egg issue? That is, does the personality type create the conditions that are amenable to the "bad" bacteria? Or do the "bad" bacteria create the conditions that lead to a type A personality?

I don't have answers (or any way to get them), just questions.

Today, by the way is Veteran's Day. It used to be Armistice Day but that was changed in 1954 and so I still remember the original designation. And how it came to be. A recognition that "The War To End All Wars"... didn't.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I wonder...

I came across an article, an opinion piece, lamenting how the Republican Congress has cut (by $36 a month) the food stamp program. I started to wonder how much they'd have to cut when there is no more money? When the government finally spends so much that it can no longer pay the interest on the debt. That day is coming.

In our homes, we do not spend more than we take in for decades. We cut expenses, we tighten our belts, we buy cheaper cuts of meat, we buy fewer (or no) new clothes clothes and start mending what we can, we cut back across the board; kids lose out on allowances, parents start packing lunches for work, credit cards are cut up or hidden.

But if the government tries to do it, all heck breaks loose. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

I Sometimes think Solutions Are illusory

As I was reading John Stossel's column yesterday, I felt the germ of an idea. Not having any antiseptic soap or lotion on hand, it  multiplied and became this piece of babble.

Stossel's column is entitled "Privatize Everything" but it is really about organ donationselling. He segues into organ selling from observations of lackadaisical attitudes on the part of government workers and the plight of hopeful organ recipients. His observations on these seem right on the money, as we often say. Which brings up the etymology of that idiom:

According to, term "right on the money" or "dead on the money" comes from archery.
For prize competitions in a coin would be set at the middle of the target and the archer whose arrow landed closest to the coin would take the coin as the prize.

Therefore right on the money would mean the center of the target (dead center).

(according to

Idioms are things which often "go without saying" yet we say them anyway, don't we? I often related "idioms" to "idiots"... don't ask me why.

To get back to Stossel's column (so I can wrap this up, hopefully), it is apparent that he trusts the market to not become like government. I do not. I am more pessimistic. Consider retail outlets, such as department stores. Ideally, workers in them should be motivated by job insecurity and the hope of advancement (in pay or status) to be courteous and helpful. But we all know that doesn't work all that well. It takes more than vague incentive or threat, these must be clear and believable. And they aren't. Every job has the opportunity for "just getting by" and workers who gravitate toward that. After all, standards are fixed, it would be cruel to change them often.

Legalizing organ selling would not stop the black market. At least, in my humble opinion. Black markets in just about everything exist everywhere and for just about everything. And they will continue to exist because they offer profit without taxation. Once the concept of income tax (essentially, a tax on earning income), the incentive to avoid such taxation was born. Excise taxes are much older and a significant portion of a population has always wished to avoid them, rebellions begin in response to them, after all. And government will always seek to (as the private business owner does) to maximize revenue. This means it would tax the sale of organs (possibly twice.. as an excise tax and as an income tax on the profit) and trigger a black market. Or, rather, an expansion of said black market.

As Einstein once said: In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Day of Sweat

So, the day of sweat (as it shall be called forever now) is over, the A/C is repaired, the bill (much bigger than I thought it would be) paid, and peace reigns once again in the household.

What amazed (and saddened and appalled) me was the cost of the refrigerant. We use something called R-22. And it is not cheap. Not by a long shot.

And that is what was needed, 9 pounds of R-22 (I think it is measured in pounds) for my unit. But, first, the leak (which means the freon is now contributing to the depletion of the ozone...) needed to be found and repaired. Which it was. That was the cheapest and easiest part. In fact, I was not charged at all for that service.

A/C is pretty much mandatory here. Though I grew up without it. As I wrote yesterday, my family had no A/C until 1963 when we moved into a mobile home. Somehow, the heat and humidity did not bother me very much. But once you have A/C, you do not want to give it up.

I did not need it in San Diego. Because its climate is pretty much the equivalent of A/C anyway, especially if you live close to the beaches. As I moved inland (to the east), A/C and heat became important. But even then I did not use it much. When the temps are rarely above 80 or below 50, there isn't much need. Here, I rarely need heat but that does happen... mostly because I have become a wimp and cannot tolerate sub-50 degree periods (we do get those from time to time but only in the early morning hours in the winter).

But I will not think about that, that's for another day.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

It's an Extra Deodorant Day, I Guess

When my family moved to Florida, it was the mid-1950's, we had no air conditioning. In the summer, we basically sweltered. I don't recall it being so oppressive as to be intolerable. Of course, I was just a boy then and could tolerate a lot.

It wasn't until 1963, when we moved to Orlando, that we got A/C.

I am getting to relive those days of my early youth. My A/C stopped cooling the house yesterday. Which means that I will be spending a good part of today trying to get an A/C tech out to my house. And sweating.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I Am Just a Little Curious.

Do you think we spend too much time and energy on celebrities?  People often seem not to know who the vice-president is but can recognize Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian, not to mention the "twerking" Miley Cyrus. Polling supports this.

There are those that say there is a serious effort to "dumb down" America. I don't think so. I think the American public has been a little ignorant for an awful lot of years. The more I read, the more I am sure that I am right. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot that I am unaware of, but I still think I know more than the average citizen.

Just today, I listened to a fellow golfer... who could give me the history of Bobbie Bowden (Florida State University football coach)... talk about the size of the guy's house and a rundown of his treatment by FSU. Why is that important? Ok, maybe he was just making conversation and I am over reacting.

And there are a lot of people who are aware of more than celebrity behavior. But there seems to be a lot more who are walking around in a bubble of their own making and  oblivious to things outside it.

I am sure that none of you are this self absorbed.

Monday, November 4, 2013

I Sometimes Wonder...

Do we realize how programmed we are by society? By our cultures?

I realized when I was quite young that school not only gave us an education but molded us into loyal citizens. Or, at least, attempted to do so. That revelation came to me as I looked back on the daily recital of the the Pledge of Allegiance. I was maybe 10 when I first did this... reflect on the pledge, that is. And, of course, that made me wonder about other conditioning regimes we run into throughout our lives and, especially, during our childhoods.

Don't misunderstand, I am not opposed to this conditioning. I think it is probably necessary. And all societies, even the most primitive, engage in it. As we moved from clans to tribes to villages to cities to nations, this conditioning has been a major part of the process. It is, I believe, the source of patriotism, nationalism, and much more. It gives us a commonality, a linkage for the vast majority of members of a society.

The pledge I recited each day was just a tiny part of it. We are socialized by our parents; molded into basic members of society. And then we are turned over to teachers who continue the forging of the raw materials (children) into productive citizens. We learn to conform to the social construct which is a citizen of a society.

It's not a perfect process, of course, what system or process is perfect? Various children fall through the cracks in it. They become criminals and eccentrics (who can be inconsequential or, sometimes, dangerous). But most, the vast majority become useful to society. The work the fields, toil in the factories, cook, clean, lead and follow... do all the things that make up the fabric of a society.

Look around you and at your upbringing. You can find all sorts of ways you are/were conditioned; schooling, peer pressure, stories, legends and myths, heroes and even villains... all have a part in that conditioning. And all, I think, voluntarily; both on the part of the conditioner and the conditioned. It is human nature to want to belong, after all.

For an example, see Hamas Creates it Own Textbooks.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

It's Not Really Lying... It is, However, Deception

The president, in stumping for his plan for health care insurance overhaul (the ACA: Affordable Care Act) promised two things repeatedly: an up to $2500 reduction in annual premiums for the "typical" family and that you could keep your current plan and your doctor.

Well, we now know these were not only untrue but at least since 2010, the administration knew they weren't true.

There's a section of the ACA which says that you can keep your plan but other sections add various minimum requirements for basic health coverage and these made a number of existing plans unacceptable under the ACA.

Now, I  (and many others) knew adding requirements could not possibly result in lower premiums, especially the "pre-existing condition" requirement (meaning insurers could not refuse to cover you if you have a pre-existing condition). Adding requirements would obviously apply upward pressure on premiums. It's simple economics. I suppose people thought the insurers would be forced somehow to eat the added cost. After all, insurance companies must be making outrageous profits. Except they aren't. Not in terms of net percentage. But you aren't being told that, you are only told about the dollar amounts. And about the executive compensation.

But those profits are the result of volume, not gouging the customers.

It's all part of the "Hate the Rich" strategy. It's fine to hate the rich, you have that right. I think it's stupid but that's because I see hating the rich as a waste of time and energy. I also understand the volume-profit association.. I worked for a regulated monopoly. profit was restricted for AT&T and its regional companies. Yet, they made huge dollar profits. Even back in the days when you paid only about $8 a month for a phone line, they made huge amounts in dollars. But, as a percentage of total cost of providing that service, it was minimal. this is how banks (you hate them too, right?) make money. 2%-3% is not unusual. But when you realize that is on billions in assets, you begin to realize it is volume that allows the huge dollar profit amounts.

Let's take your savings account. You are lucky these days if you are getting .75% interest on it. And that isn't a whole lot. Especially if you have the average amount (less than $6000). But if you have several million, it's a decent sum.

So, when you get worked up in a froth over banks and insurance companies, you might want to stop and do some research before you grab the torches and pitchforks.

Save them for the politicians.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Stiffing the Help

I came across this article in the New Yorker (which, for the apparent reason that I signed up for it, sends me daily emails with links to such articles). It caused me to pause and muse... in that order, I think.

You see, I have had jobs where tips were the major part of your earnings. Plus, I have known a waitress or two along the way. Tips are very important to these workers.

I tend, because of my job history (and my mother... which I will get to), to be a bit generous with my tipping. For instance, I generally tip at a 20% or better rate. It's easy to calculate for one thing and it seems to make the tippee happy (a reward in itself).

My mother was a generous tipper in restaurants. She did this, she told me (more than once), because she had once worked as a waitress. She lasted only half a day, just past lunch, she said. According to her she failed to get the orders right and generally ran around like the proverbial headless chicken.

My jobs that involved tipping were as a bellboy and a busboy. The bellboy job was better... much better. Nobody minds tipping a bellboy. the busboy job entailed getting 15% (give or take) of the waitress' tips. The base pay for both jobs was terrible. Less than minimum wage in one case (the bellboy gig). In the busboy job, one or two waitresses had really poor math skills. At least, either that or they regularly stiffed me.

I do not like jobs where I must depend on tips. They involve hard work and some people are cheap. Horribly cheap.

One thing bothers me, though, and I do not often tip when faced with it. That is the Tip Jar on the counters of coffee places like Starbucks. I tip waitresses at the counter because I can see them busting their butts (some of which are quite cute and, therefore, worth a higher tip) serving me and others and attending to my 4 or 5 cups of coffee as well as making sure I have all I need.

But coffee counters? They take the order, turn around to fill your cup, and turn around to give that to you (at Panera's, you get your own coffee). You clean up after yourself, you dump the cardboard or styrofoam cup or bring the dirty cup to the dumping spot. Sorry, folks, tips are for service with a little extra.... it is not an entitlement.

I will admit that I once stiffed a waitress at a Big Boy. I had stumbled in with some friends (also drunk) and sat in a booth. I ordered a BLT on toast to go with the coffee we wanted.... desperately. The waitress leaned against the wall by the kitchen window and read a paper. I saw my sandwich on the shelf and noted that she ignored it for ten minutes. When she finally brought it to my table it was cold (the toast that is). She immediately walked away and went back to reading the paper. I left a quarter glued to the table.