Thursday, April 27, 2017

Stuff You Were Just ... Dying ... to Know


My daughter and her family came back from a recent vacation in Philadelphia with an interesting gift for me: a book by Michael Largo titled Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die.

I don't think she was trying to send me a message other than wow, this is a cool book, and it truly is. It's an A-to-Z review of all the amazing ways in which we humans have shuffled off our mortal coils, from "Abactio" (abortion or the induction of premature labor) to "Zoofatalism" (a psychological disorder in which people get dangerously close to zoo animals or keep dangerous wild animals as pets).

It also has a great many interesting lists and comments. For instance, here are some of the euphemisms used on death certificates in the 1700s and 1800s to refer to sexually transmitted diseases:

Cupid's Disease;

Cupid's Itch;

French Pox;

Lues* Disease; and,

Bad Blood; and,

Venus's Curse.

In a related aside, Ramses as a brand name for condoms honors the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, who was said to have fathered more than 160 children, possibly as a result of the intersection of royal privilege and defective condoms.

But it's not all about the darker side of sex. You will learn in the pages of this book that:

Since 1975, 19,867 people were injured by umbrellas, of whom 91 died;

Since 1900, 5,988 spectators at sporting events were killed in various accidents (struck by a ball/puck, fell from an ill-chosen perch, etc);

Since 1965, 10,726 people have died from mosquito-related causes (including actress Jayne Mansfield, who was killed when the car in which she was riding slammed into a truck because the driver was blinded by a fog of mosquito spray); and,

Between 1985 and 2004, 224 people were killed by their toasters, usually by electrocution when they used a metal utensil to free a slice of bread stuck in the device.

Looking for a little macabre entertainment? Have I got a book for you!

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for the final April collection of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. More thoughts then.

Bilbo

* Pronounced "lou-ease," according to the article at MedicineNet.com.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review


If you are interested in how your national government works, and in the effect individuals can have on history, here is a book you must read.

I just finished reading The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, by Chris Whipple, and it's excellent.


This book looks behind the scenes of the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, both Presidents Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama through the lens of the men (no women, yet) who have been their chiefs of staff. Mr Whipple carefully analyzes why the president needs a strong chief of staff, and what makes a person a good fit for that job.

Chiefs of staff bring focus and organization to a White House that is bombarded by crises and conflicting agendas 24 hours per day, 365 days a year. They keep the president's staff on target and on message, keep the paper flowing, and - most important - protect the president - from his enemies, his friends, and often from himself.

The men who have been in the job all agree that the most important part of the title is staff, not chief. The chiefs of staff who were least successful were those who emphasized their own importance, while those who were acknowledged the best (James Baker for Ronald Reagan and Leon Panetta for Bill Clinton, for instance) were those who worked tirelessly and quietly in the background to protect the president and manage his staff for maximum efficiency and output.

This is a book full of interesting anecdotes and analysis of what went on in the background of historical events. If you are interested in how your government functions at the highest levels (and you should be), this is a book you need to read. If you do, let me know what you thought.

And consider how badly Mr Trump needs a good chief of staff, and whether Reince Priebus is the right one.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cutting Remarks


As you probably know by now, Dear Readers, I love to cook. There's a huge element of satisfaction involved in turning a pile of ingredients into a delectable meal, especially when I know that a lot of my fellow men* are desperately challenged by the task of serving up a bowl of cream of boiled water soup.

But actually, the joy of putting a fine meal on the table is secondary in many respects to the joy of using a large, sharp knife to cut up the ingredients. This is my preferred method of taking out my suppressed aggression ... and it's perfectly safe, as long as you're not too close to the cutting board when I think about the latest stupid Facebook comment or Congressional buffoonery.

I have a collection of very good knives of which I'm very proud and very protective - they're from the German manufacturer W├╝sthof, and the series is called Culinar**. They're stylish, very sharp, and nobody complains about the menu when I'm holding a 10-inch chef's knife.

Many people ask, though, why I need so many different knives. They all cut stuff, right? So why do you need all those different ones? Here's a handy chart I found online that helps to explain it for you:


The Culinar series doesn't have a cutlass, yet. But you can bet that as soon as it comes out, I'm getting it. How else can I chop vegetables and repel boarders at the same time?

I run a cutting-edge kitchen, dontcha know!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

* And, more and more, women.

** Here's a useful link, in case you're thinking about birthday or Christmas gifts for me already.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Discussion for Men Only


I mean no offense to my many female readers, but this post is for men only. I know you'll read it anyhow, but once you do, you'll understand why I've recommended you just leave it to the guys and come back tomorrow. Here we go ...

Okay, guys, let's get together and try to answer this question: how $%*#! hard is it to hit the #$@%! urinal?

As a guy coasting down the far side of the 60s, I have a great deal of experience with public restrooms. I know where every single one in NoVa is located, and carefully plan my outings so that I'm never very far from one. I have to tell you, though, that I would often rather risk deep personal embarrassment than go within 50 feet of some public men's rooms.

Here are a few hints for men about using public rest rooms:

(1) Hit the #$@*! urinal!! I don't think I've ever been in a public restroom where there isn't a nasty puddle on the floor around the target. You're only a foot away, for gawd's sake ... how hard can it be to aim into the receptacle?

Back when Agnes and I were dancing in ballroom competitions, I wore special dance shoes with a thin suede sole, designed to grip the floor while facilitating movement. The problem with those shoes was that they could quickly be ruined if the suede sole got wet ... and so it was that I learned to do the public restroom equivalent of a ballerina's pointe technique to avoid having to remove or change my shoes when seeking relief ...


(2) Flush the @%*#! toilet!! I guarantee you won't tear a rotator cuff or dislocate an elbow as a result of pushing the button, pulling the chain, or depressing the lever. If you want to leave me a gift, I can think of a lot of things I'd enjoy a lot more than this.

(3) Put the paper towels in the trash bin!! I understand that if you have trouble aiming to hit the urinal you may have trouble aiming to hit the trash bin, but why not give it a try?

Come on, guys ... let's do this!

That's all.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Poetry Sunday


In last Wednesday's post, I wrote about the 14 foods that are supposed to help men be better lovers. You may recall that I noted in that post (as I have noted before) that my posts that involve sex tend to spike my readership numbers. And so, in keeping with my desire to flagellate deceased equines, let's work sex into Poetry Sunday with this poem by Faith Shearin ...

Birds and Bees

When my daughter starts asking I realize
I don't know which, if any, birds
have penises. I can't picture how swans

do it. I'm even confused about bees:
that fat queen and her neurotic workers,
her children grown in cells. I'm worried

by turtles and snakes: their parts hidden
in places I have never seen. How do they
undress? Long ago, awash in college

boyfriends, I knew a little about sex.
I understood the dances and calls,
the pretty plumage. Now, I am as ignorant

as a child. We have gone to the library
to find books though I know sex
is too wild for words. The desire to be

kissed is the desire to live forever
in the mouth of pleasure. My God
I can never tell my daughter the truth.

It is a secret the way spring is a secret,
buried in February's fields. It is a secret
the way babies are a secret: hidden

by skin or egg, their bodies made of darkness.


Yes, in the spring our thoughts turn to such things, don't they?

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cartoon Saturday


The weekend is here, and we're not at war with North Korea. Yet.

Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, convicted of murder in 2015, committed suicide in prison; Donald Trump has claimed immunity in a lawsuit alleging that he incited violence at one of his campaign rallies, claiming that as president, he cannot be sued; a huge garbage dump in Colombo, Sri Lanka, collapsed, killing dozens of people and burying neighboring homes under what was described as a "tsunami of garbage;" a cargo ship with twelve people on board broke apart and sank during a storm in the Black Sea; and British Prime Minister Teresa May announced plans to hold a "snap election" to gain an improved mandate for the UK's exit from the European Union.

This week, let's take our minds off all the bad news with a collection of cartoons about symbols ...

There's no numeric monster in the closet, right? ...


At least George doesn't fall flat ...


When counseling needs to be part of the equation ...


Pi can have real problems with Twitter ...


I wish I had a dime for every time I've seen "angel" misspelled as "angle" ...


Another pi-related cartoon ...


What the #%*!@ is that supposed to mean? ...


Oy ...




Well, the Bible did say something about being fruitful and multiplying, right? ...


And so we come to the end of another Cartoon Saturday. I hope this collection has helped you get over the misery of the past week. Later this morning, Agnes and I will be enjoying a sushi lunch with our old friends Ken and Nadja ... it's been a long time since we saw Ken and Nadja and a long time since we've had sushi - it's a win-win!

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when Poetry Sunday returns.

Bilbo

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for April, 2017


We're into the second half of April already (where does the time go?), and that means it's time once again to heap dishonor upon a worthy ass clown. Sometimes, despite the teeming crowds of contenders, there's a nominee who stands head and shoulders above the rest for his or her monumental level of ass clownery. And so it is this time, as we announce

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown
for
April, 2017


And the winner is

Oscar Munoz,
CEO of United Airlines


Unless you've been living in a cave in Mongolia for the last month, you know the essentials of the story: how a passenger who refused to give up his seat on a United Airlines flight - after he had already been checked in and boarded - was beaten and dragged from the aircraft by security guards while dozens of passengers looked on in horror and many filmed the disgraceful episode using their smartphones.

In a letter to United employees in the wake of the public relations disaster, Munoz wrote:

“Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this ... While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.”

Letting paying customers know that United was "follow(ing) established procedures" and "going above and beyond to ensure we fly right" didn't improve the situation, and Mr Munoz was forced to issue a more apologetic apology, acknowledging that perhaps the established procedures weren't as good as they might have been:

“The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.”

Much has been written and will continue to be written about this terrible incident and what it says about the corporate culture to which we have chosen to subordinate ourselves in the search for ever-lower costs. In the end, little will change and we will continue to live in a system that, by putting profit over humanity, generates prize-winning ass clowns like Mr Munoz.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, please join me in raising a bronx cheer for our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for April, Oscar Munoz.

And if you fly United, read the fine print in your ticket carefully and wear well-padded clothing.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.

Bilbo

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Of Sonic Screwdrivers and Politicians


Speaking of words and their definitions (well, I was getting to it in my roundabout way), I saw this article the other day: Doctor Who's Sonic Screwdriver Added to Oxford Dictionary.

Yes, Dear Readers, it appears that the "sonic screwdriver," a device which used sound waves to perform various tasks for The Doctor, will be included and defined in the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.


The definition will read, according to the article,

"sonic screwdriver, n. Chiefly science fiction. A (hand-held) electronic device which uses sound waves to perform various mechanical and technical functions. Originally and chiefly in (or with reference to) the British television series Doctor Who."

I haven't watched enough episodes of Doctor Who to be familiar with the sonic screwdriver, but it looks cool (a bit like a Jedi Knight's light saber, actually) and I can see the value of such a deus ex machina device for replacing a whole box of various tools.

Of course, we have a present-day device which uses sound waves to perform (or not perform, more often) various tasks ... we call it a politician.


For those unfamiliar with the term, a politician generates sound waves that target the comfort patterns of the listener's brain, causing him or her to support the ideas and positions exposed by the politician. By the time the listener realizes that it was all only sound, the politician has been elected ... usually to a safe seat in a district protected by artificially drafted boundaries.

So, you get the sonic screwing without the driver part.

This is why, considering the performance of many of the politicians we have elected to represent us*, we don't say "Doctor Who?," as often as we say "He said What??"

Have a good day. And always have a screwdriver** handy to help cope with politicians.

Come back tomorrow, when we will name the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for April. More thoughts then.

Bilbo

* Actually, to represent the special interests that funded their campaigns.

** Preferably with double vodka.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Eating Right for Better Sex


This is another of those posts with an adult theme. I've noticed that my readership statistics skyrocket when I'm writing about sex, so I may as well go with what works ...

I'm not revealing any particular secrets when I note that we are living in a sex-drenched society. From the mandatory sex scene in almost every movie and most cable TV dramas to the Viagra™ and Cialis™ commercials on prime-time TV to the lascivious gyrations of dancers in music videos, sex is everywhere.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love sex. If it weren't for sex, I wouldn't be here, and neither would you. And if for some reason you need help, you may be interested in this article by Robin Scher I just read the other day: Listen up, Guys: 14 Foods That May Help Your Sexual Performance.

Oy.

First of all, I think the thing that would most help my sexual performance is a time machine that would take me back about 50 years. At my age, I like food for food's sake, not because it will turn me into a virile stud ready to drop everything in pursuit of comely ladies, but it never hurts to eat right, no matter the reason. Here's how I relate to the 14 foods that are said to help the male libido by either increasing testosterone or helping improve blood flow*:

1. Watermelon. I'm off to a good start ... love watermelon!

2. Tomatoes. I also love tomatoes. I snack on grape tomatoes all day long.

3. Pink Grapefruit. Yum! Like tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, grapefruit contains lycopene**, an antioxidant that also helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

4. Oysters. Uh ... I'll pass. Oysters are said to be a sex food because they are rich in zinc, which aids in the production of testosterone, but if I need zinc that badly, I'll suck on galvanized nails.

5. Caffeine. Holy baloney, with the amount of coffee I put away, I ought to be the poster boy for sex ... I should be the Hugh Hefner of NoVa.

6. Dark Chocolate. Still on a roll ... I absolutely love dark chocolate. Milk chocolate, not so much.

7. Pistachios. I wonder if these are on the list because they look like ... uh ... never mind. I love pistachios.

8. Walnuts. I love walnuts, too.

9. Pine Nuts. And pine nuts, particularly when they're part of a good pesto.

10. Salmon (and other fatty fish). We have a wonderful recipe for marinated, cedar-planked salmon. Perhaps I should make it more often.

11. Kale. Forget it. I love most vegetables, but I'd rather munch on old tinfoil than on kale.

12. Spinach. Spinach is rich in iron, and iron is hard, so I'm sensing a connection, here. And I love spinach.

13. Chilis. Capsaicin, the substance that makes chili peppers hot, boosts blood flow and is also linked to testosterone production. I like spicy foods, so that's a plus.

14. Green Tea. Hot or iced, this is a great drink. And according to the article, it's full of catechins, which help your liver turn fat into energy and improve blood flow.

So, how does my diet stand up?***

My diet is high in twelve out of the 14 foods that are alleged to improve sexual performance. I wonder if it's okay to ask Agnes if she's noticed any difference. No, probably not ... one of my rules to live by is to not ask a question if you're not sure you want to hear the answer.

Have a good day. Eat right ... you can even have my oysters and kale. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

* And helping blood flow to certain manly organs doesn't hurt your sex life.

** Before you ask, it has nothing to do with werewolves.

*** Sorry.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"Calculated Misery"


In the wake of the moral, economic, and public relations disaster that resulted from the beating and forcible removal of a paying customer from a United Airlines flight last week, there's been a lot of discussion of exactly why such a monstrous thing could happen. Many reasons have been put forward, ranging from the morality of capitalism to devaluation of individual rights and dignity in a me-first culture. Another interesting explanation comes in this article by Alex Abad-Santos, writing in Vox - “Calculated Misery”: How Airlines Profit from Your Miserable Flying Experience.

The bottom line is this: because we are always seeking to pay the lowest price for the goods and services we buy,

"... (the) airlines ... use “calculated misery” to make their baseline products and services so low-quality and unpleasant that lots of people will be willing to pay more to avoid them."

Think of all the things about flying that used to be included in the cost of your ticket: your luggage, the seat of your choice (when it was available), snacks (on short flights) or meals (on longer ones), and enough leg room that your knees didn't prevent you from wearing a headset. Now, of course, you may pay a relatively low price for your ticket, but you are nickel-and-dimed to death for all the things that used to be included. The article points out that although the calculated misery model is used to some degree in other businesses (you pay extra for bacon and cheese on your basic hamburger, for instance), the airlines have taken it to new heights* (when you go into a restaurant, you don't pay extra for all the members of your family to sit together at the same table).

If, to get the lowest possible fare, you are willing to be miserable for the length of a flight, jammed into a middle seat with no legroom and hoping you can board early enough to put your too-large "carry-on" bag into an overhead bin before they're all full, that's fine. But the airlines are working hard to make sure that the level of misery you are willing to accept will be exceeded by a margin large enough that you'll swallow all the extra fees for the things that used to be included.

The calculated misery model may be the wave of the future as businesses intent on maximizing profits try to attract customers who have less and less disposable income ... or even jobs. And the ability and willingness to pay for improved levels of service will be a new marker of class distinction in society.

And who knows how far it will go? As far back as 1997, the satirical online newspaper The Onion ran this story: U.S. Offers PlatinumPlus Preferred Citizenship:

"By becoming a PlatinumPlus citizen, you join an exclusive club of elite Americans ... And as part of that club, you'll be eligible for many special benefits, including tax breaks, excusal from jury duty, and vacations at special PlatinumPlus Caribbean resorts, which are off-limits to ordinary, EconoBudget citizenry. It's our way of saying thank you to our best customers ... And, of course, there are never any annual fees ... PlatinumPlus citizens—selected according to a number of demographic factors, including age, race and socio-economic status—will enjoy a wide variety of other benefits, including immunity from speeding tickets; separate, no-wait lines at over 50,000 post-office locations nationwide; and wider, more comfortable window seating ... After just one year in the club, members can also begin earning extra votes for elections. 'Wouldn't you like to earn up to five bonus votes for the next presidential election?' said U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS), a co-sponsor of the measure. 'With your new PlatinumPlus citizenship, you can.' According to Wicker, those at the highest level of the new program, or "Diamond Club" citizens, will enjoy additional rewards, including a pass good for acquittal from one crime (misdemeanor or felony), a no-interest credit line of up to $500,000 and, for able-bodied male PlatinumPlus members between ages 18 and 35, excusal from the draft should a foreign war arise."

I can see the Trump administration jumping on this like a hobo on a hot ham sandwich.

So ... are you okay with calculated misery as a way of keeping prices down? Are you okay with the PlatinumPlus Preferred Citizenship that - in many ways - is available to the top 1% today? If so, I'm happy for you.

But, whiner that I am, I'd be happier if we could just go back to the quaint concept of equality of opportunity as the basis for getting that aisle seat. Or a tax break.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

* Sorry.