Sunday, May 31, 2009
What happens to our digital life when we die?
Last week, CNN ran a story titled "New Services Promise Online Life After Death," which told of enterprising entrepreneurs who have created whole new industries to protect us from the pitfalls we never worried about before and won't be around to worry about once we shuffle off our mortal coils. How does my spouse get access to all my online accounts? What happens to my blog, my Facebook page, my MySpace account? Who knows how to stop all the automatic online payments I'd set up for everything? What happens to all my e-mail, and all the unanswered tweets?
Oog the caveman never had to worry about this stuff. Egyptian pharaohs just took it all with them, buried it, and sealed the door with curses on trespassers (of course, you need only look at an average museum to see how well that worked out). But you and I, who have digital as well as physical lives, have other worries that cavemen and pharaohs and medieval kings and Wild West cowboys didn't have, and most of us need help.
And so, enter new companies like Legacy Locker, AssetLock (formerly known as YouDeparted.com), DeathSwitch, and Slightly Morbid, which will - for varying fees and levels of service - allow you to leave behind detailed instructions for the disposition of your online legacy. They will keep lists of accounts and passwords, website management information, online memberships, and so on, to be passed on to the designee of your choice in the event that you encounter the biological equivalent of the Blue Screen of Death. Of course, one would have thought you could take care of all this for one price by including the information in a confidential annex to your will, and only pay for it once ... but what do I know?
There are lots of other ways people have figured out how to profit from death online. The CNN article also speaks of a service called FindaGrave.com, which will search its database of 32 million gravesites to help you find where great-aunt Nellie is buried, and of EternalSpace.com, which allows you to create online memorials to the Dearly Departed.
What will happen on that sad day in the (hopefully far-distant) future when Bilbo is no more? Who will let my legions of digital friends know that I've gone to that big server in the sky, that I've gone eternally offline, that I'm "404 not found" for good?
I guess I'll just add it all to my will, so that when my "heirs and assigns" are gathered in the lawyer's gloomy office during a thunderstorm for the reading of the will, and the lights go out after a huge flash of lightning, they'll still know my digital desires.
Oog the caveman would have understood.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Don't worry. Cartoon Saturday is here to make it all better.
Nobody quite knows what to do about North Korea. My personal opinion is that it would make a nice parking lot for South Korea, but perhaps it's just as well I'm not the President. Here's one way to look at it ...
We've had some pretty serious weather here over the last month or two. Did you ever wonder how we got along in the years before every TV and radio station had multi-color "News Channel 9's Storm-Trak Super Doppler Radar" and satellite pictures of the swirling clouds ready to drown out your picnic?
Leya adores her Oma and Opa now, but I know that someday we'll be embarrassing old fuddy-duddies, just like all parents and grandparents magically morph into ...
And speaking of birds, buzzards often show up in cartoons lately, usually tied somehow to the economic crisis. I liked this one ...
The cartoon hits involving clowns just keep on coming ...
And finally, now that summer is here, more time is being spent on barbecues, picnics, and - of course - golf courses. What's a golf outing without someone driving the beer cart? And how did that get started, anyhow? ...
Perhaps Fiona, my favorite Scots lady, has an opinion on that last one...
Well, the weekend beckons. My desktop weather widget says today will be sunny with a high of 81 ... perhaps I can finally make some headway on my desperately overgrown garden, which I just know is somewhere behind all the random stuff that's grown up courtesy of all the rain we've been having.
Anybody have a good recipe that uses weeds?
Have a good day and a relaxing weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I thought about the topic again yesterday when I ran across these two articles in The Washington Post: "As If It Needed to, Virginia Bans Smiles at the DMV," and "Courtesy-Minded Metro Stands Up for Riders Who Shouldn't Have To."
The first article discusses the bizarre new rule for driver's license photos at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles: customers are now told not to smile for their picture, but to adopt a "neutral expression." The reason: when the photos are similar, computerized image-recognition programs work better. Yes, forget "Smile! You're on Candid Camera!" Now it's, "Look bland in case we have to track you down later." A DMV spokesman said that the new software is "programmed to reject attempts at exuberance or human warmth," and that "It will send an error message if it detects a non-neutral expression."
The bad guys have won another round against us - they've robbed us of our smiles.
The second article looks at the way many Metro rail riders lucky enough to find a seat at peak times will studiously ignore people who may need the seat more than they do - passengers who are pregnant, blind, elderly, or disabled. By law, the seats closest to the doors are supposed to be reserved for those most in need...but it doesn't always work that way. Not only do many able-bodied people sit there and ignore those for whom the seats are intended, but I often also see young people who sprawl across two seats (and leave their feet sticking out into the aisle for people to trip over), or pile the adjacent seat high with their belongings, even when others are standing.
How have we come to this? My parents worked hard to drill good manners into us, and they would have knocked me into the next zip code if I'd failed to offer a seat to someone who needed it. But even without those lessons, simple, common courtesy suggests that we should be more solicitous toward those more in need. I think it's sad that people sometimes seem surprised when I offer them a seat, as if no one expects simple acts of kindness and compassion any more.
My driver's license was issued on my birthday in 2006, back when you could still smile for the picture, and - sure enough - I'm smiling in the photo. Of course, as my father would have said, it makes me look like the face on an iodine bottle, but nevertheless it's a smile.
And I really hate to give it up because it will make some stupid software work better.
Have a good day. Offer someone who needs it a seat on the bus, and smile while you do it. You'll feel better.
Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday, unless Mike poaches all the good cartoons first. Fat chance.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
It's true, but it's not all my fault. It's mainly a matter of genetics.
My father is a handyman's handyman. He can build or repair just about anything, a talent which served him well through his long career as an advertising photographer when he had to create all sorts of photographic illusions in a crowded studio without benefit of computer-generated graphics. Need a picture of a man panning for gold in a stream...in the middle of February? No problem - build a running stream out of rocks, water, and plastic sheeting in the middle of the room. Water gushing out of the back of an armored car? Easy - shoot the armored car, shoot the water, and layer the exposures. An elephant wearing a ballet tutu? No problem...call the circus, convince them you're not crazy, rent the elephant and handler, and get it done. Dad is one of those talented people who can build furniture and illusions with equal facility, who can repair small appliances, re-upholster furniture, graft trees, make wine, and bring old lawn mowers back from the dead. My brothers Mark and Paul inherited this gift.
Me? I got his cooking skills. And Mom's facility with writing and language.
I got to thinking about all this when I read this article by Matthew Crawford in yesterday's New York Times: The Case for Working with Your Hands.
In this lengthy and fascinating article, Mr Crawford talks about the decline in our skill at working with our hands. He notes that "high-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become 'knowledge workers,'” to work in a society that values the ability to manipulate information more than the ability to build and repair objects. He says that, "now as ever, somebody has to actually do things: fix our cars, unclog our toilets, build our houses," but that, somehow, we value those skills less than those of the criminal idiots who wrecked the economy.
And we train more people to wreck the economy than to repair things around the house.
I was the despair of my wood and metal shop teachers...I think poor Mr Linton is still drinking to forget my crude and lopsided constructions. Agnes still looks askance at me when I grandly announce that I can effect some small installation or repair in the house, and always has my medical insurance card nearby when I take on any task more complicated than replacing a light bulb. She nearly had to be hospitalized for shock when I successfully hung two large chandeliers in the house without falling off the ladder or electrocuting myself.
Many years ago, comedian Alan King wrote that he was the world's most inept handyman. He said that he once tried to kill a spider with a hammer, then had to finish the job with a screwdriver.
I've taken on his mantle.
We live in a time when almost nobody actually makes anything any more. Ask yourself...when was the last time you met someone who makes his or her living using their hands and skills to actually build something tangible? When something breaks in your home, can you fix it? Do you know how to replace a faucet, re-wire an electrical outlet, replace a switch, install a light fixture, change the oil or repair the brakes in your car, or fix a leaky pipe? Perhaps you do. But in most cases, I'll bet that - like me - you find someone to do it for you. Even the professional mechanics we depend upon to repair our computerized cars need spectrum analyzers and sensors and flamminated polymetric widgets of all kinds to tell them what's wrong.
We've lost something valuable, here.
I actually can do a lot of minor things. I can fix a leaky toilet, do minor electrical repairs, change a tire on the car, and replace a broken faucet. But I can't build or re-upholster furniture, repair electronic devices, or use shoelaces and duct tape to fix a car that's died in the middle of an intersection.
But I can write about it, and that'll just have to do.
Have a good day. Build something.
More thoughts tomorrow.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The weather was looking a bit iffy when we first arrived, so we got right down to the business of riding the rides. Agnes and Marcy rode this one ...
Unfortunately, the rain that had been threatening all morning hit in the early afternoon. It rained like crazy, along with lightning and thunder, for about an hour, and Joe and Noah kept a vigilant watch for signs that everything would soon blow over ...
The lightning and thunder stopped before the rain did, and the park started up rides that were safe to operate in the rain. Joe and Noah enjoyed racing motorcycles ...
and the helicopters ...
Once the rain finally let up, the adults wanted to go on rides, too (except for ol' Bilbo, who is fond of his lunch staying inside where it belongs). One of the dreadful offerings was the "Aero 360," a huge tower with two counter-rotating booms that swung riders in a full circle at great speed. Eddie, Vin, and Minnie rode it first ...
and then Jason and Agnes had to try it, too ...
You can see Agnes's reaction at having survived ...
Leya soon figured out that it was easier to ride the cooler than to walk ...
Opa's getting old, and it's nice to have someone offer to carry him occasionally ...
There were a few rides I was willing to try. One of them was the "Bayern Kurve," which whipped riders around an undulating oval course at very high speed. Agnes and Elena rode the car in front of me ...
While my cheering section waited outside to see if I'd survive ...
We kept at it until about 9:30, when everyone was utterly exhausted and ready for bed ... until, of course, we got back to the hotel and the kids remembered the swimming pool! We all frolicked in the pool until about 11:00, and then collapsed - tired, but happy.
All in all, it was a great weekend. We got to visit Great Grandpa and let him revel in his role as the Patriarch of the Clan, had a nice picnic on Saturday, and a great time at Kennywood Park on Sunday. We won't discuss the drive back to Washington from Pittsburgh, which was ... well ... long and agonizing.
That was Clan Bilbo's Memorial Day weekend. I hope yours was as much fun.
Tomorrow, we'll get back to our usual schedule of rants.
Have a good day. More thoughts coming.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Dad was actually glad to see me, except that I was taking up valuable grandchild and great-grandchild appreciation time...
Push faster, Uncle Vin ... Marcy is catching up!
You can't start practicing road rage too early ...
What's a picnic without a tug of war? Jason, Marcy, and Noah take on Uncle Vin and Cousin Elena with Joe providing supervision ...
Since it was, after all, Memorial Day weekend, Noah decided to lead a parade ...
And Leya entertained the crowd with a little air guitar ...
After a long day in the hot sun, a dip in the hotel swimming pool is just what the doctor ordered. Of course, it can be pretty chilly when you come out of the water. Noah tries out for the part of one of the Jawas when Star Wars gets remade ...
Sunday morning, arriving for breakfast before taking Great-Grandpa to Mass. Left to right, Marcy, Leya, Cousin Elena, Aunt Lisa, Aunt Minnie, and Grandma Agnes. Noah is in charge of the ball ...
Our oldest and youngest grandchildren: Marcy (9) and Leya (almost 2) ...
And the obligatory group picture. Hats off to Vin for taking this picture - he managed to prop the camera up on a fountain, level it with a pile of backpacks and junk, set the timer, and still manage to make it into the photo! You probably can't see it, but even the deer is smiling.
Tomorrow, the adventure continues as Clan Bilbo invades Kennywood Park. Be here!
More thoughts then ...
Monday, May 25, 2009
That's why the post below thinks it was published on Sunday, when today is actually Monday.
And it is also Memorial Day, which is why - in addition to enjoying the antics of the Greater Bilbo Family - you should take a moment to think about and be grateful for the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for the freedoms you enjoy.
More thoughts later.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Those of you who are interested in the history of the Second World War know that the allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 - known forevermore as "D-Day" - was one of the most intricately planned, tightly-organized, and close-run military operations ever conducted. General Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower masterfully coordinated an unimaginably intricate ballet of hundreds of thousands of men, millions of tons of supplies, vast fleets of ships and aircraft, and the activities of a team of fractious allies in an unthinkably complicated endeavor that marked the beginning of the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. General Eisenhower is justly famous for this achievement.
But Ike's magnificent accomplishment pales to near insignificance when compared to organizing this family.
We're nearly through our Memorial Day weekend miniature family reunion here in Pittsburgh. Our son and his family from Ohio, our daughter and her family and Agnes and I from Virginia, and my sister and her family from right here in town have come together in the sort of intricately haphazard operation only this family can manage in order to visit great-grandpa Bilbo the Elder in the nursing home where he is still recovering from his stroke earlier this year. On the surface, you'd think this wouldn't be a difficult thing to manage...get everyone from out of town in the same hotel (check), make sure the GPS units are fired up or the MapQuest directions printed out (check), make sure the children all look presentable (check), make sure Bilbo is appropriately dressed and (oops...sorry, that one was from Agnes's personal checklist), and then tell everyone where to be at what time.
If you believe it's that simple, I've got a bridge to sell you.
Here are just a few of the complicating factors:
1. Grandchildren who need naps of varying lengths at different times in order to avoid meltdowns at inconvenient times.
2. Pittsburgh geography (#$%! hills) and the opinions of residents - vs - the guidance of GPS as to the best way to get from point A to point B (we made the trip between the hotel and the nursing home at least twice a day since Friday, and never went the same way twice).
3. An hour-long downpour yesterday at Kennywood Park that ended up costing a fortune because we took shelter in - of all stupid places - a gift shop.
4. Hotel pools that use a little bit of water to purify the chlorine (my eyes are so red that cars stop when I stand at the side of the road).
5. Trying to decide who will ride with whom, and what time we'll all meet.
6. Trying to find everyone when that time comes.
7. Getting everyone to look at the camera, smile, and keep their eyes open at the same time for pictures involving more than two people.
I have the greatest family in the world, and I love them all dearly, but it's probably a good thing that none of us had access to any weapons over the last three days (except for the light saber grandson Joe got during the Dreaded Kennywood Downpour of '09, which I just knew he was going to poke into some lawsuit-happy dumbass at some point during the day). Everyone has had a great time, Great-Grandpa Bilbo was able to bask in the affection of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and we even managed to squeeze in shopping, pool time, and the trip to Kennywood Park (where yours truly - the ultimate thrill-ride-hater - survived The Turtle, The Kangaroo, and The Bayern Kurve, while Agnes and the others took on The Phantom's Revenge, the Aero 360, and other stomach-murdering attractions. Well, somebody had to stand on the ground and take the pictures, right?).
Those pictures will be available here and (for those of you who are on my list, bwa-ha-haaaa!) on Facebook starting tomorrow.
But getting back to the original comparison of this weekend with the Normandy Invasion...
Those who plan major military operations can learn something from this family.
Clausewitz may have written of the fog of war, but we have contended with - and mastered - the blizzards of children, the logistical complications of a fleet of cars, and the sleep schedules of a reinforced platoon of grouchy toddlers.
Sorry, Ike ... we've got you beat. And we had more fun.
Pictures coming tomorrow to prove it.
Have a good day. Be safe if you're driving. More thoughts tomorrow.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
First up today, the answer to that age old question: does a bear ... well ... you know ...
As I well know from many years of demonstrated ineptitude in my dance lessons, sometimes it's good to have someone point out the obvious ...
Sometimes, you just have to look for allies where you find them...
And, speaking of monsters ... and power lunches...
Cartoon Saturday comes to you today from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the family has mustered to visit great-grandpa and inundate him with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He survived World War II, four wild children, and a stroke... but I don't know if he's ready for this.
Wish us luck!
Have a good day. More thoughts coming.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Well, for a change, here's a lawsuit that will make you laugh.
Most of you are probably familiar with the famous "Roadrunner" cartoons, in which luckless predator Wile E. Coyote tries everything to catch the Roadrunner, always failing miserably and spectacularly. You may not know, though, that Wile E. Coyote one day finally had enough of the failures he blamed on the various products he bought from The Acme Company. Hence, this lawsuit ...
COYOTE v. ACME
In the United States District Court, Southwestern District
Case No. B191294
Judge Joan Kujava, Presiding
Wile E. Coyote, Plaintiff
Acme Company, Defendant
Opening Statement of Harold Schoff, attorney for Mr Coyote: My client, Mr Wile E. Coyote, a resident of Arizona and contiguous states, does hereby bring suit for damages against the Acme Company, manufacturer and retail distributor of assorted merchandise, incorporated in Delaware and doing business in every state, district and territory. Mr Coyote seeks compensation for personal injuries, loss of business income, and mental suffering caused as a direct result of the actions and/or gross negligence of said company, under Title 15 of the United States Code, Chapter 47, section 2072, subsection (a), relating to product liability.
Mr Coyote states that on eighty-five separate occasions he has purchased of the Acme Company (hereinafter, "Defendant"), through that company's mail-order department, certain products which did cause him bodily injury due to defects in manufacture or improper cautionary labeling. Sales slips made out to Mr Coyote as proof of purchase are at present in the possession of the Court, marked Exhibit A. Such injuries sustained by Mr Coyote have temporarily restricted his ability to make a living in his profession as a predator. Mr Coyote is self-employed and thus not eligible for Workmen's Compensation.
Mr Coyote states that on December 13th he received of Defendant via parcel post one Acme Rocket Sled. The intention of Mr Coyote was to use the Rocket Sled to aid him in pursuit of his prey. Upon receipt of the Rocket Sled Mr Coyote removed it from its wooden shipping crate and, sighting his prey in the distance, activated the ignition. As Mr Coyote gripped the handlebars, the Rocket Sled accelerated with such sudden and precipitate force as to stretch Mr Coyote's forelimbs to a length of fifty feet. Subsequently, the rest of Mr Coyote's body shot forward with a violent jolt, causing severe strain to his back and neck and placing him unexpectedly astride the Rocket Sled. Disappearing over the horizon at such speed as to leave a diminishing jet trail along his path, the Rocket Sled soon brought Mr Coyote abreast of his prey. At that moment the animal he was pursuing veered sharply to the right. Mr Coyote vigorously attempted to follow this maneuver but was unable to do so, due to poorly designed steering and a faulty or nonexistent braking system. Shortly thereafter, the unchecked progress of the Rocket Sled brought it and Mr Coyote into collision with the side of a mesa.
Paragraph One of the Report of Attending Physician (Exhibit B), prepared by Dr. Ernest Grosscup, M.D., D.O., details the multiple fractures, contusions and tissue damage suffered by Mr Coyote as a result of this collision. Repair of the injuries required a full bandage around the head (excluding the ears), a neck brace, and full or partial casts on all four legs.
Hampered by these injuries, Mr Coyote was nevertheless obliged to support himself. With this in mind, he purchased of Defendant as an aid to mobility one pair of rocket skates. When he attempted to use this product, however, he became involved in an accident remarkably similar to that which occurred with the Rocket Sled. Again, Defendant sold over the counter, without caveat, a product which attached powerful jet engines (in this case, two) to inadequate vehicles, with little or no provision for passenger safety. Encumbered by his heavy casts, Mr Coyote lost control of the Rocket Skates soon after strapping them on, and collided with a roadside billboard so violently as to leave a hole in the shape of his full silhouette.
Mr Coyote states that on occasions too numerous to list in this document he has suffered mishaps with explosives purchased of the Defendant: the Acme "Little Giant" Firecracker, the Acme Self-Guided Aerial Bomb, etc. (For a full listing see the Acme Mail Order Explosives Catalogue and attached deposition, entered into evidence as Exhibit C.) Indeed, it is safe to say that not once has an explosive purchased of Defendant by Mr Coyote performed in an expected manner. To cite just one example: At the expense of much time and personal effort, Mr Coyote constructed around the outer rim of a butte a wooden trough beginning at the top of the butte and spiraling downward around it to some few feet above a black X painted on the desert floor. The trough was designed in such a way that a spherical explosive of the type sold by Defendant would roll easily and swiftly down to the point of detonation indicated by the X. Mr Coyote placed a generous pile of birdseed directly on the X, and then, carrying the spherical Acme Bomb (Catalogue #78-832), climbed to the top of the butte. Mr Coyote's prey, seeing the bird seed, approached, and Mr Coyote proceeded to light the fuse. In an instant, the fuse burned down to the stem, causing the bomb to detonate.
In addition to reducing all Mr Coyote's careful preparation to naught, the premature detonation of Defendant's product resulted in the following disfigurements to Mr Coyote:
1. Severe singeing of the hair on the head, neck and muzzle.
2. Sooty discoloration.
3. Fracture of the left ear at the stem, causing the ear to dangle in the after shock with a creaking noise.
4. Full or partial combustion of whiskers, producing kinking, frazzling, and ashy disintegration.
5. Radical widening of the eyes, due to brow and lid charring.
We come now to the Acme Spring-Powered Shoes. The remains of a pair of these purchased by Mr Coyote on June 23rd are Plaintiff's Exhibit D. Selected fragments have been shipped to the metallurgical laboratories of the University of California at Santa Barbara for analysis, but to date no explanation has been found for this product's sudden and extreme malfunction. As advertised by Defendant, this product is simplicity itself: two wood-and-metal sandals, each attached to milled-steel springs of high tensile strength and compressed into a tightly coiled position by a cocking device with a lanyard release. Mr Coyote believed that this product would enable him to pounce upon his prey in the initial moments of the chase, when swift reflexes are at a premium.
To increase the shoes' thrusting power still further, Mr Coyote affixed them by their bottoms to the side of a large boulder. Adjacent to the boulder was a path which Mr Coyote's prey was known to frequent. Mr Coyote put his hind feet in the wood-and-metal sandals and crouched in readiness, his right forepaw holding firmly to the lanyard release. Within a short time Mr Coyote's prey did indeed appear on the path coming toward him. Unsuspecting, the prey stopped near Mr Coyote, well within range of the springs at full extension. Mr Coyote gauged the distance with care and proceeded to pull the lanyard release.
At this point, Defendant's product should have thrust Mr Coyote forward and away from the boulder. Instead, for reasons yet unknown, the Acme Spring-Powered Shoes thrust the boulder away from Mr Coyote. As the intended prey looked on unharmed, Mr Coyote hung suspended in air. Then the twin springs recoiled, bringing Mr Coyote to a violent feet-first collision with the boulder, the full weight of his head and forequarters falling upon his lower extremities.
The force of this impact then caused the springs to rebound, whereupon Mr Coyote was thrust skyward. A second recoil and collision followed. The boulder, meanwhile, which was roughly ovoid in shape, had begun to bounce down a hillside, the coiling and recoiling of the springs adding to its velocity. At each bounce, Mr Coyote came into contact with the boulder, or the boulder came into contact with Mr Coyote, or both came into contact with the ground. As the grade was a long one, this process continued for some time.
A sequence of collisions resulted in systemic physical damage to Mr Coyote, viz., flattening of the cranium, sideways replacement of the tongue, reduction of length of legs and upper body, and compression of vertebrae from base of tail to head. Repetition of blows along a vertical axis produced a series of regular horizontal folds in Mr Coyote's body tissues -- a rare and painful condition which caused Mr Coyote to expand upward and contract downward alternately as he walked, and to emit an off-key, accordion-like wheezing sound with every step. The distracting and embarrassing nature of this symptom has been a major impediment to Mr Coyote's pursuit of a normal social life.
As the Court is no doubt aware, Defendant has a virtual monopoly of manufacture and sale of goods required by Mr Coyote's work. It is our contention that Defendant has used its market advantage to the detriment of the consumer of such specialized products as itching powder, giant kites, Burmese tiger traps, anvils, and two-hundred-foot-long rubber bands. Much as he has come to distrust Defendant's products, Mr Coyote has no other domestic source of supply to which to turn. One can only wonder what our trading partners in Western Europe and Japan
would make of such a situation, where a giant company is allowed to victimize the consumer in the most reckless and wrongful manner over and over again.
Mr Coyote respectfully requests that the Court regard these larger economic implications and assess punitive damages in the amount of seventeen million dollars. In addition, Mr Coyote seeks actual damages (missed meals, medical expenses, days lost from professional occupation) of one million dollars; general damages (mental suffering, injury to reputation) of twenty million dollars; and attorneys' fees of seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Total damages: thirty-eight million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. By awarding Mr Coyote the full amount, this Court will censure Defendant, its directors, officers, shareholders, successors, and assigns, in the only language they understand, and reaffirm the right of the individual predator to equal protection under the law.
I wish I could say I wrote that, but it's the product of someone wittier and more inventive than I. My hat is off to the original writer, whoever he or she is - you're brilliant!
And I'll bet you'll never watch a Roadrunner cartoon the same way again.
Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday is coming.
P.S. - We'll be heading to Pittsburgh later this morning - we're having a miniature family reunion to bring in a noisy gaggle of grandchildren and great-grandchildren to visit my Dad. I expect to be able to post regularly, although the timing may be irregular. Bear with me.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
1. Customer service is a thing of the past;
2. The word "schedule" has a special, flexible meaning in airline language (similar to its meaning for the Fairfax Connector buses here in Northern Virginia);
3. Seats are comfortable only if you are built like Olive Oyl;
4. I can't see paying $4.00 (exact change always appreciated) for a "gourmet sandwich" consisting of a dried-out miniature roll, a single slice of mystery meat, a limp leaf of black-edged lettuce, and a sad slab of half-dry tomato; and,
5. To many travelers, "one carry-on bag and one personal item" means an upright piano and a steamer trunk, both of which they insist on putting into the overhead bin.
Just when I thought air travel couldn't get any worse, I found this article on CNN: Airport Security Bares All, Or Does It?.
Yes, my friends, according to this article, the latest thing to improve your air travel experience is the new security technology of "whole-body imaging," which is said to "perform a virtual strip search" and produce "naked" pictures of passengers. The machine is supposed to scan for objects and liquids on passengers, which is a perhaps laudable aim ... unfortunately, according to privacy rights advocates, it actually produces a relatively sharp image of whatever's under your clothes. Check the second of the sample images in the CNN article for an idea of what's visible. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
You may have seen the utterly hilarious 1980 film Airplane! (one of my all-time favorites), which took off on air disaster movies. One scene showed a line of people going through an airport security x-ray machine: attractive women showed up naked on the screen, heavily-armed people breezed through without incident...and every alarm in the place went off when a little old lady walked through (she was beaten up and hauled away by a crowd of police).
I think TSA must have found that machine in storage and decided to add it to their arsenal in the never-ending fight against terrorists, comfort, and convenience.
Now, don't get me wrong...I'm in favor of just about anything that protects me from morons who want to spread their religious beliefs by hijacking my airplane and killing me. But sadly, I'm no longer the buff stud I was a few years ago. I look a lot better with clothes on. I'd rather not have a bunch of security folks giggling at my jiggling as I wheeze my way through the security maze.
I'm just not ready to wear lead underwear to protect my dignity.
So, TSA, thanks for what you do ... but please re-think this one. Go to Netflix, check out Airplane!, and try to see things as we traveling lemmings do.
Have a good day. Travel safely. More thoughts tomorrow.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Last night was the exciting season 8 finale of our favorite show, and I was convinced actor Gilles Marini and his partner Cheryl Burke would win...
With Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani in second place ...
And Olympic gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson and partner Mark Ballas in third ...
Well, if you were fortunate enough to be watching last night, you know that I was proven wrong. Shawn and Mark took first, with Gilles and Cheryl in second place and Melissa and Tony in third.
I think my crystal ball needs to go in to the shop for a tuneup.
In fairness, though, I think this was the best season of the show so far, and the most difficult in which to predict results. It was the first time that all three couples received perfect scores (a 10 from each judge, for a total of 30) for their final dances (and the Argentine Tango danced by Gilles and Cheryl was a red-hot, amazing thing to see). The final three contestants all deserved to win, and the point scores for Gilles and Shawn were separated by less than 1% ... an amazing amount going into the finale, where there's usually a clear front-runner. I still think Gilles Marini had the most talent, but I'm not disappointed with the results - I think I would have been equally pleased no matter who won.
Just don't hire me to make any predictions for you.
The fall season of Dancing with the Stars comes in September, and the bar for the next set of contestants is set very high.
I can't wait.
And maybe someday I'll get to dance the waltz with Edyta Sliwinska ...
Have a good day. Dance. It's fun.
More thoughts tomorrow.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
According to this article from the Wall Street Journal, Russian academic and former KGB analyst Igor Panarin predicts that, in the near future, the United States will break up much as did the Former Soviet Union (known to those of us in defense and academic circles as the "FSU" (or fsoo)). Here is Mr Panarin's map predicting the future of the US:
Mr Panarin predicts that there's a 55-45% chance that the US will break up as he's foreseen. In his Wall Street Journal interview, he hypothesizes that "...mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar." Then, in late June or early July, 2010, the U.S. will break into six pieces as shown on the map.
I suppose that his hypothesis is at least partly plausible. Of course, the dollar has already partially imploded as a result of the ongoing economic crisis. How about the rest of it?
Alaska going to Russia? I think the Russians have been grouchy ever since Secretary of State Seward bought Alaska from them, and so this is plausible.
"The Texas Republic" belonging to Mexico or being under Mexican influence? Having just returned from San Antonio, where English is nearly a second language, I can see that. Of course, everything is coming up in Spanish here in Northern Virginia, too. Within twenty years, there probably won't be anybody left in Mexico or Central America, anyhow...they'll all be here.
"Atlantic America" to join the European Union? Hmmm...that's reasonable, as this covers most of the original 13 colonies which might be considered to be closer to the European "homeland" from which most of the original settlers of the northeastern part of the country came.
I don't buy the "Central North-American Republic" "becoming part of Canada or under Canadian influence," although it would probably have a hard time being an independent nation without access to the sea other than via the Great Lakes. It's possible, but I don't see it.
"The Californian Republic" is predicted to be part of China or under Chinese influence. Well, surprise! - the Chinese already own a large chunk of our economy. In the worst case, I could see China calling in all its chits and owning the whole country.
Is Mr Panarin right? Perhaps. But I think his prediction is a little off. I think it's more likely that the US will become a bilingual nation in virtual union with Mexico and Central America, if for no other reason than the enormous crush of illegal immigration from those areas that is creating demographic realities on the ground here.
What do you think? It's an interesting point of departure for discussion.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Oh, and vaya con Dios.
Monday, May 18, 2009
But I digress.
I have found Yahoo News to be a veritable treasure trove of fun and generally useless articles, particularly in its "Life" section. Consider this user post I spotted this morning in the "Love and Sex" subsection: "My boyfriend doesn't want to have sex anymore!" The lady plaintively asks, "What does this mean? Any advice?"
What it means, miss, is that your boyfriend is an alien from another world. Run away as fast as you can!! (Note: this was not one of the 435 responses posted to her question, most of which fell into two categories - (1) He's getting his nookie somewhere else; and (2) Detailed information on things she could do to rekindle his flagging interest).
Seriously, though ... the desire to avoid sex is not generally associated with boyfriends. Long-time husbands and wives, perhaps, but certainly not boyfriends.
Think about it. Sex is the bait with which women attract men, the topic without which about 2/3 of world literature would be bereft of plot. What would you replace all the gratuitous sex scenes in books and movies with? Well, yes, car chases and explosions, but those only work in some categories of movies.
If you're just going to say "no" to something, make it something worth saying "no" to ... like red beets, Citroens, Rush Limbaugh and Nancy Pelosi, or religiously and/or politically self-righteous buffoons.
Say "yes" to wonderful grandchildren, ballroom dancing, and ... well ... sex. With the right person, of course.
I would just say "no" to going to work today, but since Agnes has retired, that's not an option any more.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
But now, far too late to be of any practical use for myself, I have found an excellent article on Yahoo Personals titled 10 Tips for Approaching Single Women. As a public service for those fellows who are still trolling the deep and turbulent waters of the dating scene, I thought I'd summarize it and editorialize a bit for your benefit. The ten tips are:
1. Observe something. You can always make some simple comment about your surroundings to get the conversational ball rolling. But it has to be appropriate to the situation...if she's eating a turkey sandwich, pointing out that she dropped a blob of mayonnaise on her blouse and offering to remove it for her may not be the best approach.
2. Smile. A good dictionary offers a handy guide to the difference between smile and leer. Most ladies know the difference already.
3. Don't Hesitate. If you're hesitant, it implies that you lack self-confidence. Of course, if she looks at you, points, and laughs, a little hesitation may not be a bad thing.
4. Use Positive Body Language. Your body language should let the ladies know that you are relaxed and self-confident. Approaching a woman on your knees while begging for a date is not usually a good move.
5. Not So Fast. Approach the lady casually and confidently. Rushing up in your haste to meet her is a good way to find out if she's packing heat.
6. Maintain Eye Contact. Anatomical note: the average lady's eyes remain located slightly above and on either side of the nose, regardless of the amount of cleavage being shown further down.
7. Listen up. Pay attention to what the lady is saying. If you are intent on following your own script, you may miss key linguistic hints she is dropping...like, "Get lost, creep," or "Somebody please call security!!"
8. Don't Fidget. It's distracting and shows that you are uncomfortable speaking with the lady. Observe yourself in the mirror. If even you wouldn't want to go out with you, work on your mannerisms a while longer.
9. Lighten Your Tone of Voice. Using a light, playful approach is usually preferable to using a Darth Vader voice while inviting the lady to power up your light saber.
10. Lean Away From Her. Don't crowd the lady. Most women react negatively to an interpersonal distance measured in angstroms, at least on the first date.
These are good rules, and they don't cost anything. Use them judiciously. Especially number 6.
Don't thank me, guys...it's all part of the service.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Quick! - bring on Cartoon Saturday before we all go crazy!
With the approach of the 40th high school reunion, I've been thinking back to how much things have changed in the last four decades...
If I had the money, I'd probably buy a new car. Maybe one of those hybrids I've heard so much about. But then again, maybe I'll wait until the technology is more mature...
With apologies to John, who loves the ballpark experience...
And speaking of those hot dogs we all know and love (didn't someone once say that people who love sausage and respect the law should never watch either one being made?)...
And while we're on the topic of food, how many of you have one of those office microwaves that are lined with the exploded and baked-on remnants of lunches past? ...
Finally, speaking of the office, have you ever been in a meeting like this one? ...
It's good to be back home after a week spent in blistering hot San Antonio, Texas. Now, if I only had a nine-day weekend to catch up on everything else...
Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.
Friday, May 15, 2009
In my job, I am frequently interviewed by investigators looking into the background of people I've known or supervised in the past, and a standard question they always ask is something like, "Do you understand that your answers will be made available to so-and-so if he/she files a Freedom of Information Act request?" Translation: think carefully about what you say, because it may come back to bite you in the backside...and with a backside the size of mine, they could hardly miss.
But there's hope! I have run across a series of wonderful, lawsuit-proof statements of recommendation which can be used in virtually all cases! Try some of these:
"I cannot speak too highly of Mary."
"In my opinion, you'll be fortunate to get Fred to work for you."
"I most enthusiastically recommend Jane with no qualifications whatsoever."
"I am pleased to say that Joe is a former colleague of mine."
"I can assure you that no person would be better for this position."
"I urge you to waste no time in making Frank an offer of employment."
"I cannot say enough good things about Sally."
These should get you started. With a little creativity and nuance, you can give people the recommendations they deserve AND avoid pesky lawsuits.
Nowadays, what more could you ask for?
Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday is coming up tomorrow - be here!
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Across the country, members of that august class are swarming to gyms, going on crash diets, undergoing minor plastic surgery, and generally getting ready to put their best face forward as they encounter the people they either loved or hated all those years ago.
It's a daunting prospect.
Yesterday, CNN ran this interesting story: Going to Extremes for High School Reunions. It told of the trauma many people go through as they go to the reunions which represent a time of mixed feelings and emotions. Married people may either anticipate or dread seeing the boy- or girl-friend from 40 years ago. Some may feel insecure as they compare their modern-day status and accomplishments to those of their former classmates. And everyone wants to put their best foot forward ... sometimes in unusual ways.
The CNN story tells of a woman who hated high school and hired a stripper to go to the reunion in her place; a fellow who got two supermodel-quality friends to go to his reunion with him so he could make a memorable entrance; and a sociological experiment involving an actress who was hired to attend a reunion as a mythical classmate, to see how people would react. It also quotes a fellow preparing for his 20th reunion: "I won't show up in a Mercedes, but I'll have a flat stomach, hair on my head, and a tan...I think that will be good enough for me."
I have mixed emotions about high school reunions. As an Alpha Geek, I spent my four years of high school dodging bullies and longing for the company of the girls who - if they noticed me at all - saw me as someone to step around on the way to the more desirable hunks. By graduation, I'd found my niche and managed to become moderately popular, but I was never one of the standouts. At our 30th reunion in 1999, I was generally pleased at how I'd held up compared to some of those I'd envied all those years before, and had an enjoyable time. Of course, attending with my trophy wife didn't hurt, either.
This year, many of us will be better prepared for the shock of seeing the dessicated husks of the young studs and babes we remember from 40 years gone. Many of us have started up Facebook pages to bring everyone up to date on our (revised and edited) histories, and some of the more brave and adventurous have included pictures so as not to deliver too dreadful a shock to our old acquaintances.
So I think I'll pass on the spray tan and the hairpiece. I'll work out at the gym, but at this point, I'm probably stuck with the spare tire I'll take to the reunion. But I know, deep inside, that everyone else is probably feeling the same anxiety that I am.
It's going to be interesting.
Wish me luck.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I know in my heart that she was looking for that big tip, but ... just for a moment ... I felt like a manly young stud rather than a weary grandpa who leaves the room during the Viagra commercials and slathers on the ointment after playing "Super Leya" with his tireless granddaughter.
Yes, there are legions of women of all ages to whom I - gray hair, spare tire, querulous disposition and all - am known as "Sweetie," "Honey," "Hon," "Handsome," or some variation thereof. And I'm not married to any of them. As far as I know.
People in the Southern half of this country tend, in general, to be somewhat more polite and friendly than those in the North. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, of course - I've met unpleasant people everywhere I've traveled. But by and large, Southerners tend to be the nicest. They could keep the "Sweetie" part, though.
But in fairness, I have to say that I've seen it elsewhere, too.
Some years ago I flew into London's Heathrow airport (a place to avoid if you have the chance) to attend a meeting in the city the following day. When I went through passport control, the examiner was a chubby, grandmotherly lady who carefully examined my documents and, before applying the entry stamp, looked up at me with a pleasant smile and asked brightly, "And 'ow long are ya plannin' to stay in the Yew-Kay, love?"
I wanted to say, "I don't know...make me an offer!" But I wimped out and answered, "Just until tomorrow evening."
Somehow, I just can't imagine a waitress in Germany calling me "Sweetie." It's always something like, "Sie moechten?" (What would you like?) or "Was moechte der Herr?" ("What would the gentleman like?")
Some people do think I'm a gentleman, after all. At least on first meeting.
So, anyhow, here I am in sun-baked San Antonio, where men are men, women are women, and just about everybody is unfailingly polite. It's the sort of thing you could get used to. Northern Virginia doesn't quite know if it's North or South any more, so you've got to drive a bit further south from Washington to find the real old Southern manners.
But it's worth the trip.
Have a good day. Be polite to somebody. Calling him "Sweetie" is not required.
More thoughts tomorrow.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Historical revisionism is nothing new, and attempts to whitewash the embarrassments of the past are common among all governments. But what makes this particular law (officially called "The Law Against the Rehabilitation of Naziism") so shocking, in my humble opinion, is that the precedent cited for it is the laws enacted by many nations to make "Holocaust Denial" a crime.
I'm on record as stating that criminalizing denial of the Holocaust is a tragic and stupid action that simply plays into the hands of those who believe the most monstrous and well-documented crime in history was no big deal. Those who pass off such sick drivel deserve to be heard and their asinine beliefs exposed, proven false, and ridiculed. An empty-headed buffoon like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmedinejad can embrace Holocaust denial and claim that it simply reflects the actions of a sinister Jewish conspiracy to hide the truth - a laughable position easily buried under mountains of evidence. But when a major world power uses well-intentioned, but stupid laws criminalizing Holoucast denial as a rationale for enacting laws to whitewash its own well-documented criminal ineptitude in the face of the Nazi menace, historians have to shudder.
I love the study of history, and I know that our historical beliefs are often revised in the face of newly-discovered evidence. But the shameless denial of actual events teaches us the wrong lessons and tells those who would deny the crimes of their past that it's okay. It trivializes history and complicates the present.
Denial of the Holocaust, Turkey's insistence on not facing up to the Armenian "genocide," Japan's whitewashing of its government's and army's actions during World War II, and the refusal on the part of a few Americans to face the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow are all examples of the denial of the historical record. And, as the philosopher Santayana is so often quoted as saying, those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
Face and acknowledge the past, and move on. The truth hurts for a while. A lie can hurt a lot longer.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
I thought long and hard about how to approach this milestone, but finally figured that - since it is also Mothers' Day, I might as well take the high road and say something on the topic of motherhood. Mothers are, of course, the wonderful and woefully underappreciated people from whom the Army and the Navy stole their one-time recruiting slogans - the Army's "We do more before 9 AM than most people do all day," and the Navy's "It's not just a job, it's an adventure." With all due respect to Soldiers and Sailors everywhere ... you guys ain't got a clue.
Last year on Mothers' Day I wrote from the heart. This year, ignoring the risk of charges of self-plagiarization, I'm going to repeat what I wrote then. It's still true ...
Today is Mothers’ Day, the one day each year we set aside to honor the lady we undervalue the other 364. Today is the day we remember the person who made our hurts better, explained our homework, cooked our meals, washed our clothes, drove us where we needed to go, warned us about our less-savory acquaintances, embarrassed us in front of our friends, and did her best to point us down the straight line of a moral and upright life.
A few days ago I found this humorous riff on how we look at our Mothers at different ages:
Age 4: Mommy can do anything!
Age 8: Mom knows a lot!
Age 12: Mother doesn't know everything.
Age 14: Mother doesn't know anything.
Age 16: Mother is so old-fashioned.
Age 18: Her? She's out of it.
Age 25: Mom might know something about that.
Age 35: Before we decide, let's ask Mom.
Age 45: What would Mom have thought about that?
Age 65: I wish I could talk that over with Mom.
My mother passed away in 2001 at the age of 74. She spent a long and honorable life raising four children who, I like to think, made her proud. And in her twilight years, her once-formidable mind ravaged by Alzheimer’s Disease, she missed much of the result of her love and care and sacrifice – a son who finally knows how to dance (and who may yet write that book she thought he had in him), and four beautiful great-grandchildren who will never know her love and wisdom and the off-the-wall sense of humor that brightened the lives of those who knew her.
The next generation of Mothers has taken over. My beloved daughter Yasmin and the best daughter-in-law in the world, Tabitha, are raising the world’s four greatest grandchildren. And someday Marcy and Joe, Noah and Leya will sit down on Mothers’ Day and reflect – just as their grandpa does today – on the marvelous lady who gave up so much of her own life and dreams to make them who they are.
Take the time today to honor your Mother. Someday, you’ll wish you had.
That was what I wrote last year.
Again this year, I wish my own Agnes, Yasmin and Tabitha, Amanda and Fiona and SuzyQ, and all the other mothers out there doing the world's toughest job, a very happy Mothers' Day and many more to come.
We couldn't be what we are, or do what we do, without you.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
P.S. - in a few hours I'll be winging my way to San Antonio, Texas, for the rest of the week on a business trip. I should be able to keep up with the blog and the Facebook page from there, but if posts are irregular for a while, just bear with me. Or ask Mom to kiss it and make it better.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Sit back, relax, and let Cartoon Saturday make it all better.
We lead off this week with two cartoons about blogging ...
The second one reminds me of the time when a much younger Bilbo entered the "Tarzan Calling Contest" sponsored by a local Pittsburgh TV station's Saturday morning kid show "Safari" and its host, "Bwana Don" Riggs. I didn't win, but I did a pretty respectable Tarzan yell that my parents got a bit tired of my practicing around the house.
Two weeks ago, Cartoon Saturday featured some green technology for helping aircraft avoid deadly bird strikes. Here's another possibility ...
Postage rates are going up on Monday here in the U.S. - a first-class domestic letter will cost $0.44 per ounce, up two cents from the current rate, while international air mail rates go up to $0.98 per ounce. On the brighter side (and no doubt better for her), it's still cheaper to mail a letter to Amanda than to fly to Palembang for a visit ...
And finally, we have two great cartoons about - of all things - snails ...
It looks as if we may have a break today, however brief, from the torrential rain we've been having here in Northern Virginia. This is good, as my front yard has grown up to the second-floor windows and the house will soon disappear if I don't put on my pith helmet and get out there with a machete, a weed-whacker, and a lot of elbow grease.
Who knows? - I may even find Amelia Earhart or Jimmy Hoffa.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.