Monday, October 16, 2017

The Golden Sewer

Long ago, when I was a lowly Second Lieutenant in the Air Force stationed at Barksdale AFB in Bossier City, Louisiana, one of my numerous* additional duties was "Wing Silver Recovery Monitor." It involved collecting and securing the exposed radar film from the wing's training missions, and delivering it once a week or so to the local DRMO (Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office) so that it could be processed to recover the silver it contained as a result of the developing process. This was a not-overly-onerous duty that had the benefit of getting me out of the office for an hour or two, although I was never particularly convinced that the amount of film I turned in (a few pounds at a time) contained enough recoverable silver to reimburse me for the gas I needed to drive to the DRMO**.

I hadn't thought about my days in silver recovery for a long time, at least until I ran across this recent story: How $1.8 Million in Gold Flowed Through Switzerland's Sewers.


According to the story, an estimated 95 pounds of gold worth nearly two million dollars laces Switzerland’s waste water from the refineries that process about 70 percent of the world’s gold. The discovery was made by environmental scientists monitoring levels of trace element contamination in sewage sludge*** at various locations in Switzerland. Here's the bottom line:

"While the scientists advise that, for the most part, it’s not economically worthwhile to recycle many of the trace elements found, the region of Ticino is a different, gilded ballgame. This area is home to several gold refineries and, at certain sites, the scientists write, 'concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile.'"

Somehow, I can't see a bunch of grizzled old sourdoughs leading pack mules into the Swiss Alps to pan for gold in sewage sludge. And I'm not sure I'd like to have the additional duty of Gold Recovery Officer in any of those locations.

At least in Switzerland, it could be a pretty shi ... uh ... unpleasant job.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* When you're a Second Lieutenant ... and particularly when you're the junior Second Lieutenant ... you can count on drawing every additional duty no one else wants. Which is most of them.

** Ha, ha - fooled you! I didn't get reimbursed, anyhow.

*** This is another reason why it's better to be a linguist than an environmental chemist.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Musical Sunday

Since we're just over two weeks from Halloween, it seems appropriate that we should have some Halloween-themed music for our Musical Sundays. Here's a classic from Warren Zevon ...


Have a good day and enjoy the rest of your weekend. Hope things don't get too ... hairy.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

We've reached the halfway point of October, and the need for a good shot of cartoons is more necessary than ever.

Donald Trump chipped away again at the Affordable Care Act, using an executive order to withdraw the cost-sharing fiscal supports which help compensate insurance companies for covering all applicants, not just the best risks; Mr Trump threatened Puerto Rico (by tweet, of course) with the withdrawal of FEMA, military, and other government support provided in the wake of the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria; a black man beaten on tape by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been accused of "unlawfully wounding" a white supremacist that day; Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is the subject of a flood of accusations from women that he sexually molested or raped them over a period spanning decades; and 31 people are dead and huge swaths of Northern California have been devastated by huge wildfires driven by high winds.

We continue our celebration of the month of Halloween by featuring appropriately-themed cartoons - this week starring Frankenstein*.

It's what I need to come to life, too ...

The theological implications are staggering ...

There are body-builders and there are body-builders ...

It might be easier to find the right feet than the right shoes ...

Locally-sourced parts ...

Frankenstein, 2.0 ...

Why dating Frankenstein can be frustrating for some ladies ...

Piercing envy ...

Frankenstein, the Ikea version ...

Why am I not surprised? ...

Frankenstein - not the poster child for those who consider themselves to be self-made men and women.

It looks as though we'll have nicer weather here in NoVa today than the last few, with at least partly-sunny skies and no rain, and it'll brighten up still more later this afternoon when we welcome our old friends Scott and Karen and their family for dinner. Why mow the lawn when you can party in the house?

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when Musical Sunday takes on the Halloween season.


* Yes, I know that "Frankenstein" is actually the name of the monster's creator and not the monster himself, just work with me on this, okay?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Here we go again ...

It pays to be careful when selecting your attorney ...

I'm not sure this ad is a ringing endorsement ...

Just honest enough ...

This must be one of those responsible gun owners I've heard so much about ...

That was some snack ...

Your tax dollars at work ...

I think the student isn't the only one who isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer ...

It's the latest in hybrid weapon technology. Don't worry ... the NRA will be sure you can have as many of those high-caliber knives as you want ...

It's important to clearly specify the requirements of the position ...

It wouldn't be a health risk in most of modern America, and particularly in DC ...

And there you have it ... the latest collection of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. Don't forget that I'm always on the lookout for more of these - if you find one, take a photo, scan it, or e-mail me the file. When I use it, I'll be sure you get credit for the find. Send files to me at der(underscore)blogmeister(at)yahoo(dot)com. 

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for our second Halloween-themed Cartoon Saturday of the month. More thoughts then.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

How Would We Talk to Aliens?

One of the recurring themes of science fiction stories is the idea of the "first contact" - what happens the first time we come face-to-face with a species from another world. There are generally two ways such stories develop: either the aliens are friendly and want to get along with us, or the aliens are hostile and want to get rid of us so that they can take over the earth and wipe out or enslave the population. The first type of movie tends to be more cerebral, and is exemplified by films like "Arrival," while the second is more dramatic, and is exemplified by classic stories like "The War of the Worlds."

As a linguist, I'm interested in the idea of first contact and the question it raises: when we first meet an alien race from another world, how will we communicate with them? This article from the Real Clear Science blog poses that question and offers some thoughts.

First of all, communication will hardly be possible unless it's face-to-face, or at least closer than planet-to-planet. Considering that transmissions moving at the speed of light would take between 4 and 24 minutes (depending on the relative positions of the planets) to travel to Mars, any communication over that distance will be pretty disjointed and choppy ... and that's just to Mars. It would take about 200 years for a round-trip communication to the nearest earth-like planet, assuming an instant reply. Even considering the novelty, it would be a boring conversation conducted over generations.

Consider also that effective communication requires a shared basis of understanding. Here's a simple example: when I say "dog," you get a picture of a particular animal, along with the cultural and psychological elements we connect with dogs and our relationship with them. The aliens might have a similar relationship with an animal called a beffel*, creating a shared basis for communication on the topic of inter-species relationships. But what if the aliens don't keep pets? What if they believe it's blasphemous to have a master-pet relationship with another living creature? What if they actually worship the beffel, are horrified that we would keep an equivalent creature in a subservient position and launch a religious war to protect their god figure?

Here on Earth we have thousands of languages, most of which are mutually incomprehensible. Can we assume our alien race has one language, without the complications of dialect, slang, and the other factors that complicate mutual understanding?

Many scientists have suggested that communication with aliens might be based on mathematical principles, which we assume are universal. We base much of our language and thought on the concept of base ten ... useful because we have ten fingers and ten toes. But what if our aliens have, say, seven fingers and hooves instead of toes ... how might this alter their view of mathematical principles and relationships and complicate our understanding of that view?

But more important than all of this is a single simple question: how will we effectively communicate with an alien race when we can't even communicate effectively with each other? Republicans and Democrats have the same ultimate vision of America as an economically vibrant, secure nation of unlimited freedom under a benevolent government ... but profoundly different visions of how that can be achieved. The great monotheistic religions insist on their primacy and exclusivity - you will never reach heaven unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, or unless you absolutely believe that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. If you believe otherwise, there is simply no point in communicating with you ... this is why the Donald Trumps of the world want to keep Muslims out of the United States, and why non-Muslims are forbidden to enter the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

If we can't talk to each other, how will we talk to aliens? Sooner or later we may have to answer that question, and the answer won't be easy.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when we share more Great Moments in Editing and Signage.


* The "beffel" was a domestic pet kept by an alien race in a series of novels by Harry Turtledove.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Faith Pyramid

Last week in this space, I grumbled about complicated and convoluted modern religiosity, as opposed to the simple "love thy neighbor" dictum of early Christianity. Continuing with that topic, here's an interesting take on the ramifications of religious belief, courtesy of Crispian Jago's* blog, The Reason Stick ...

Since "thoughts and prayers" are the only thing that Congress is able to quickly provide - on a nonpartisan basis - in response to mass murder and natural disasters, it's worth thinking about where those prayers fall on the faith pyramid. Hint ... low.

I have faith in the love of my wife and family, the passage of the seasons, and endless political ass-clownery. Any more, not much else.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Last June in this space, I featured another of Crispian Jago's offerings, The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense. I find his thoughts devastatingly clever, if not always suitable for children.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Grocery Marathon

Here's a recent cartoon that speaks to me on several levels -

As you know, one of my favorite pastimes is cooking. I get a huge rush out of turning a pile of assorted ingredients into a well-presented, heavenly-smelling dinner, and always enjoy the satisfaction of sitting back at the end of the meal with the knowledge that I made it myself ... often using the herbs grown in my own garden. Cooking is my drug.

If you enjoy cooking, it also helps if you enjoy grocery shopping ... and unlike a lot of men, I really like grocery shopping.

There aren't many days that I don't visit one of the local major grocery stores or one of the smaller ethnic markets that are located all over our area, searching for some ordinary or unusual ingredient for the latest culinary experiment. During our trip to Pennsylvania last weekend, I returned with a huge cabbage (between 5 and 10 pounds), two large, beautiful heads of cauliflower, two quart boxes of brussels sprouts, and all sorts of other bounty from the Mennonite farms of the area. Last night, about 1/4 of the cabbage went into one of our favorite recipes - stir-fried chicken with cabbage, cashew nuts, onions, and mushrooms ... a great dish that always leaves at least one more meal's worth of leftovers*.

My other ongoing project is an attempt to make our own ginger ale. I've been brewing a "ginger bug" - similar to a sourdough starter - that forms the basis of the recipe, and now that the bug appears to be ready, I'm going to make the actual ginger ale later today. It needs to ferment and steep for 2 to 3 days ... I'll let you know how it turns out.

Oh, and getting back to the cartoon we started with - I'm the local master of carrying 75 bags of groceries at once to avoid making multiple trips from the car to the pantry. But on the other hand, the marathon continues when I realize - as I invariably do - that I've forgotten something and need to go back to the store. Oy.

And now all this talk about food and cooking has made me hungry. Time for breakfast!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* E-mail me at "der(underscore)blogmeister(at)yahoo(dot)com" if you want the recipe.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Dealing with Assholes

I'm number 14 on the waiting list at my local library for a book I couldn't possibly pass up - The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt.

Author Robert Sutton defines an asshole as "... someone who leaves us feeling demeaned, de-energized, disrespected, and/or oppressed. In other words, someone who makes you feel like dirt," and goes on to theorize that there are two types of assholes: "certified" and "temporary." Dr Sutton suggests that we all have the capacity to be temporary assholes under the proper conditions*, while a certified asshole is someone who always treats people poorly, and takes pleasure in the misery of others. For an interview in which he spells out his theories of what assholes are and why they act the way they do, check out this interview on - "A Stanford Psychologist on the Art of Avoiding Assholes."

In the course of my life, I've had to deal with some pretty despicable human beings who reveled in making my life, and the lives of those I love, miserable. Sadly, dealing with people like that is never easy, particularly when they can't be ignored or avoided. Nevertheless, Dr Sutton suggests that one of the best, if most difficult, approaches to dealing with an asshole is to "... simply learn not to give a s**t. Not giving a s**t takes the wind out of [his] sails." He won't change, but if you're able to ignore him as if he were an annoying insect, it can help you get on with your life.

My most annoying asshole, sadly, can't be ignored ... and so I'm waiting rather impatiently for my name to creep up the waiting list for Dr Sutton's book to get some other ideas. I'm willing to try just about anything that won't attract the attention of the coroner.

Suggestions welcome.

Have a good day, and avoid assholes when you can. More thoughts tomorrow.


* This is true. I try hard to treat everyone well, and it takes quite a bit to wake up my inner asshole, but if someone is willing to go to enough trouble to do it, I'll gladly try to make it worth their while. The problem, sadly, is that a true certified asshole doesn't care about the feelings of anyone else, and I'm not sure that I could out-asshole a true professional.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Poetry Sunday

We're well and truly into autumn, now, when the days are getting shorter and cooler and the nights longer and deeper and more mysterious. Halloween is only about two weeks off, and after that the holidays tumble over us one after the other through the end of the year. Today is October 8th, which is two days too early for this poem, but it is October, and the imagery applies ...

October 10 
by Wendell Berry 

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.
Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.
Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.
The calling of a crow sounds
Loud — landmark — now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.

Have a good day, and enjoy the crisp days and the cool nights so good for sleeping with open windows. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

New month, new bad news ...

Nearly 60 people were murdered and more than 500 injured by a man who used high-powered weapons to shoot indiscriminately into a crowd at a Las Vegas music festival before killing himself; investigators have discovered that the murderer who massacred dozens and injured hundreds of people had used inexpensive kits to - legally - modify his guns to fire in a fully-automatic fashion; Donald Trump visited the devastated island of Puerto Rico and heaped praise on his administration for doing a marvelous job while 95% of the island was still without power, most hospitals were still out of operation, schools remained closed, food and clean water were short, and many remote communities remained cut off; Hurricane Nate is closing in on New Orleans; and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in hot water following reports that he referred to Donald Trump as a “moron.”

Since we're into the month of Halloween, when ghouls, ghosts, goblins, Republicans, and other horrifying things emerge to scare us, each of this month's Cartoon Saturdays will feature cartoons about a different sort of scary creature. We'll begin our month of terrifying cartoons with a collection featuring zombies ...

Even the walking dead aren't beyond politics ...

Zombie ladies have special problems ...

Obviously ...

Zombie toys ...

I feel like this often ...

Some dietary beliefs survive beyond the grave ...

It was a good question ...

Now introducing the Zom-BeeGees ...

I think she's talking about much of modern America ...

Sorry, Shirley ...

And so it goes ... the first of our October Halloween-themed Cartoon Saturdays. Come back next week for cartoons based on another frightening thing.
Agnes and I are in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, where Agnes is taking a class in embroidery techniques and I'm killing time with a visit to Penn State (yesterday) and visits to various farm markets to stock up on fresh vegetables, meats, and other good stuff. Not looking forward to the long drive home tonight, but I really did enjoy the visit to Penn State.
Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.