Sunday, February 28, 2010

Curing Character

I recently read that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known in shorthand as the "DSM"), the bible by which psychiatrists identify and characterize mental disorders and their treatment, is in the process of being updated. Then this morning I read this interesting OpEd piece by George Will: A "Cure" for Character. My mind being what it is, I next made the connection to this Cartoon Saturday offering from a month or so ago:

What my parents might have called laziness in the 50's, and cured with a swat on the fanny or a few nights banned from TV-watching, might today be called laziness syndrome and cured with drugs. Is this progress?

Mr Will suggests in his article that the proliferation of behaviors that are characterized as mental disorders reflect deviations from a perceived normality, and that this characterization could be dangerous in the long run. He writes, "...childhood eccentricities, sometimes inextricable from creativity, might be labeled 'disorders' to be 'cured.' If 7-year-old Mozart tried composing his concertos today, he might be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and medicated into barren normality."

So, what's normal, what's eccentric, and what's a dangerous psychiatric disorder that requires treatment? I think of myself as more or less normal, although I'm realistic enough to recognize that I'm also a bit eccentric. But where do we as a society draw the line between harmless eccentricities and conditions that require treatment?

As an alpha geek in grade school and high school, I met my share of bullies who might have been normal, or who might have been serial killers in training. A psychiatrist might refer to the DSM to help him (or her) tell the difference. But would he or she judge these individuals as patients to be cured or as potential criminals to be judged? As Mr Will writes, "Today's theraputic ethos, which celebrates curing and disparages judging, expresses the liberal disposition to assume that crime and other problematic behaviors reflect social or biological causation. While this absolves the individual of responsibility, it also strips the individual of personhood and moral dignity."


Is Bilbo lazy or does he suffer from laziness syndrome?

Is it right to replace judgment of bad behavior with curing of a perceived disorder?

I wish I knew. Then I could make lots of money by writing a book and selling it to psychiatrists...who could then include it in an upcoming edition of the DSM.

In the meantime, I still think there's a place in this world for punching out bullies.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A massive earthquake has shaken Chile; 26 people have been killed and at least 41 injured in a stampede at a mosque in Timbuktu; Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning has vetoed an extension of unemployment benefits for millions of unemployed Americans because Congress has not specified a way to pay for it; in order to save money, the city of Colorado Springs has removed trash cans from public areas and turned off a third of its streetlights; and the data from a large national U.S. sample indicates that, on average, people who self-identified as liberal and atheist have higher IQs.

Aren't you glad Cartoon Saturday is here to help you cope?

I've spent a lot of time on hold this week, listening to recordings that tell me how important my call is in spite of not answering it. I've finally found the explanation...

Haven't you wondered from time to time about where some things originally came from? I like this one...

In the wake of the so-called Health Care Reform Summit (which appears to have accomplished nothing except contribute excess hot air to the global warming problem), health care continues to cost Real People a staggering amount - 17.3% of gross domestic product, according to figures compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services. All of which leads us to a few new cartoons about the economy, which is otherwise the least funny of topics nowadays. This one is good for those of you who like your data presented graphically (with apologies to Dr Tufte)...

Isn't it awful when pesky facts get in the way of a good theory...?

The domino theory doesn't just apply in geopolitical arguments, either...

And finally, from the Department of Just Plain Silly, But Obvious...

Agnes is on her way back from Germany, and will be home this evening, bringing my universe back into balance. It's about time.

Have a good weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. ...

I need to put aside the fun of Cartoon Saturday for a moment to say goodbye to a good friend. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will remember my old high-school friend Debbie, who has been a frequent commenter here and who has provided me with the material for many posts. Debbie passed away last night after years of bravely fighting an array of health problems.

We knew each other only in passing in high school, although at one point I had a fearsome crush on her. We reconnected last year through Facebook as she rallied the class of 1969 for our 40th reunion, and we quickly became fast friends. Although we were political polar opposites, she was always able to push my buttons gently without the partisan rancor that is so common nowadays. Her sense of humor and infectious, happy smile were a delight to all of us, and she will be sorely missed.

Good bye, Beautiful Lady. Someday, in a better place, we'll dance the tango we didn't get at the reunion.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Killer Whales

A big story in the news over the last few days has concerned a whale trainer at killed at Sea World in Orlando. The whale apparently chomped down on the trainer's pony tail and dragged her to the bottom of the pool in front of a stunned audience. The lady died of drowning and "multiple traumatic injuries."

This is a killer whale:

I feel very bad for the trainer, but I just have to ask the question:

Why on earth would someone willingly go into a tank with a killer whale? Is the term killer not a red flag of sorts? Isn't swimming in a tank with a killer whale something like getting into a car with Ted Bundy?

Just thought I'd ask.

But if you're looking for a silver lining inside a dark cloud, I suppose we can be glad Claudia just tripped over the dog instead of swimming with a killer whale.

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday is coming. More thoughts then.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Taking One's Best Shot, So to Speak...

You may have thought you'd heard it all, but you'd be wrong.

Consider this story which ran in the Washington Post this past Sunday: Plaintiff in Handgun Case Is Suing D.C. for Right (to) Carry Firearms in Public.

Just in case you didn't catch it, here it is again: Plaintiff in Handgun Case Is Suing D.C. for Right (to) Carry Firearms in Public.

It's difficult to list how many ways, on how many levels, this is insane, but since I like a challenge, let me try:

1. Some bozohead is going to sue the city of Washington, D.C. This is the city that doesn't have enough money to plow snow, fix potholes, run decent schools, and hire enough police to keep the streets safe. I think that defending itself against a stupid lawsuit is an excellent way for the city to spend the money left over after all the crooked city employees have finished looting the treasury.

2. Nothing makes me feel safer than knowing that all the unbalanced idiots around me are packing heat. "Are you talkin' to ME, punk? BLAM!!"

3. If you thought road rage was bad, think how it will be when everyone can carry a gun in his car. This should be interesting.

4. The absolute Constitutional right to own a gun does not magically convey the maturity and good sense necessary to use it.

Once again, before all the gun nuts come down on me like a ton of bricks, let me say this: I know what the Second Amendment says. I don't have a problem with gun ownership in general. But I think that wrapping oneself in the verbiage of the Constitution as if it were the Quran (every letter of which is the absolutely perfect and utterly unchangeable word of God...just ask any Muslim) is silly. The Founders wrote the Constitution in the 1700's and understood that it was being written at a moment in time - that's why they built in a process for changing it when necessary (that would be Article V).

Perhaps it's time to have that debate about the Second Amendment. But it will never happen.

In the meantime, D.C. will waste money it doesn't have defending itself against a useless lawsuit brought by a person with nothing better to do.

And I feel less safe than ever.

Have a good day. If you plan to visit D.C., wear your kevlar vest. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

High-Tech Fairy Tales

I had another post all ready to go this morning, but then I read Miss Cellania's blog this morning and found one of the funniest things I've seen in a while: fairy tales updated with modern technology. Check these out...

Little Bo Peep never loses sheep because of their embedded silicon identity chips.

Cinderella searches for her prince on - and leases her pumpkin-colored SUV at

Hansel and Gretel use the GPS rather than bread crumbs but have reported problems stuffing the wicked witch into her microwave oven.

To avoid travel stress, Alice now plans her Wonderland vacation with

A reformed Ebenezer Scrooge sends Bob Cratchett to update his certification for Excel and Quiken.

Jack's making a fortune on his bean stalk bioengineering breakthrough.

Old McDonald uses voice recognition to make ordering easy at his agricultural auction site

Romeo and Juliet avoid tragic problems by keeping in touch through their cell phones.

With her early Web capabilities, Charlotte is now a motivational speaker at tech conferences around the world.

The Pied Piper switched career fields after his tunes were bootlegged on Napster.

King Arthur has replaced that expensive round table with satellite video conferencing.

Gulliver is on sabbatical using up all his frequent flyer miles.

Jack and Jill order their Evian on

Sleeping Beauty was treated for sleep apnea and now enjoys normal sleep thanks to her CPAP machine.

Little Red Riding Hood whipped out her taser and put the wolf quickly in his place.

The last two are my adds...anyone have any other ideas?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Very, Very Quickly...

This is one of those mornings when I have a lot to do (including the daily phone call to Agnes in Germany) before I head to work, so this will of necessity be a very short post. You're welcome.

As you know, the Dalai Lama is visiting the United States.

If you didn't hear about it in the news, you probably heard the bitching and complaining from the Chinese government. The Dalai Lama is the head of Tibetan Buddhism, and is widely revered (except by the Chinese leadership) as a blessed individual. How blessed is he...?

In an interview with the Associated Press, when asked his opinion of the Tiger Woods affair, the Dalai Lama responded,

"Who is Tiger Woods?"

Now, that's a blessing!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Flying the Rancid Skies

If you've traveled anywhere by air in the last, oh, 20 years or so, you know that flying is no longer fun.

Forget the old "fly the friendly skies" and "something special in the air." No more "we'll take more care of you" and "you'll love the way we fly" (You can pick from a list of outdated airline slogans here).

Nowadays it's "take off your shoes and take your laptop out of its case," and "time for your patdown, Mr Smith." It's $20.00 or more for each checked suitcase, $7.50 for the inedible food that used to be free, and $5.00 for the "gourmet chocolate chip cookie" that used to be dropped on your tray table without charge. It's seats that get narrower and closer together each time you fly, and fellow passengers who recline their seats into your chest, usually at high speed and without warning. It's endless delays, overloaded overhead bins, lost luggage, and the realization that the airlines aren't really contractually obligated to get you anywhere according to any advertised schedule.

Yep, flying is no fun any more.

But it gets worse...

Consider this report from CNN Travel: "Smelly Passenger Kicked Off Flight."

Yes, a passenger was removed from a Jazz Air flight on February 6th because of his staggering body odor, described by another passenger as "brutal."

Jazz Air spokesman Mary Stuart (no relation to the former English queen) said that her airline, like most others, doesn't have a specific policy covering body odor. However, she went on, "the safety and comfort of our passengers and crew are our top priorities. Therefore, any situation that compromises either their safety or comfort is taken seriously, and in such circumstances, the crew will act in the best interest of the majority of our passengers."

The lesson here is to plan ahead when flying. Wear comfortable, slip-on shoes. Pack all your liquids and gels in your checked baggage. Don't joke with TSA personnel. And don't forget to shower and use deodorant before you fly.

Your fellow passengers will thank you.

Have a good day. Take another shower. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Safe Houses

The so-called "safe house" is a staple of spy stories and police dramas - a secret location where a spy in danger can hide out, or where a key witness can be tucked away until his (or her) grand jury appearance. It can be a real house, a rented hotel room or apartment, or a cabin in the remote woods. The emphasis is on safe.

But in these troubled times, when we are surrounded by drug addicts, radical Islamic terrrorists, homegrown lunatics, and roving packs of feral Republicans and Democrats, ordinary people want to feel safe, too...we want to know that our home is really our castle, strong and mighty and ready to protect us from all harm. We want to know that there's a place to which we can repair when the world gets too dangerous. We want our own safe house.

Well, for about $7.25 million, you can have just about the safest house on the market...

Yes, friends, far up in the hills above Los Angeles (where else?) stands what may be the safest of safe houses - a mighty fortress that includes panic rooms, not one, but two "safe cores" which can be completely isolated from the rest of the house, and its own heliport on the roof. It's five stories tall, has almost 8,000 square feet of living space in 32 rooms, and perches on top of a virtually impregnable underground six-car garage. And it's not just safe, but luxurious (for $7.25 million, you would hope so, wouldn't you?) - it features an elevator (who wants to walk up and down all those steps from garage to heliport?), a gourmet kitchen with granite counter tops and high-end appliances, two offices, a wine cellar, and a home theater. You can be protected behind polycarbonate from Germany and ballistic steel from Sweden - in complete safety and luxury - from intruders, natural disasters or even nuclear, biological or chemical attacks.

Forget buying a big dog or a Glock or extra deadbolts for your doors. Don't rely on calling 911 and risk being put on hold because nobody wants to pay the taxes to hire enough operators. Don't depend on police who are outgunned by criminals...who have better lawyers than you can afford, anyhow.

Save your money and invest in the ultimate safe house. Not only will you be safe, but you'll be providing your own economic stimulus to the nation - just think how big the realtor's commission will be on that $7.25 million house!

Have a good day. Be safe.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

Tiger Woods has apologized publicly for his infidelities, and the news media is miffed that he refused to answer questions that would compound his humiliation; a man angry at the government in general and the IRS in particular crashed his airplane into an Austin office building partially occupied by the tax agency (but at least he didn't claim he'd be rewarded with virgins in heaven for doing it); China pitched a new diplomatic hissy fit, calling in the US ambassador to Beijing to complain that President Obama had met with the Dalai Lama; as part of a crackdown on out-of-control police departments throughout Russia, a Moscow police officer was sentenced to life in prison for killing two people and injuring seven in a drunken shooting rampage at a supermarket last year; and 36 people were killed and 71 injured in Morocco when a 400-year-old minaret collapsed during Friday prayers.

Don't worry...Cartoon Saturday is here to help lift your spirits.

There were two great editorial cartoons this week...the first playing off the Olympics to skewer our elected reprehensives in general:
And another skewering the activities of a particular party...

This is such a clever, yet obvious cartoon I'm surprised no one has picked up on the idea before...

Last week we had a cartoon about a visit from the bluetooth fairy...this week, cell phones make their appearance in the Olympics...

Perhaps there really is something to some old wives tales...

And finally, Frank and Ernest speak to those of us riding off into the sunset...

Agnes is enjoying her visit to Germany, and here at home I'll be spending the weekend working my way down the honey-do list. Anyone with a passion for cleaning bathrooms is invited to come by today and share the experience. I'll even spring for lunch.

Don't everybody speak at once.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Little Green Men

The British Ministry of Defence has released the fifth batch of its previously-classified files about unidentified flying objects - UFOs - or, more popularly, "flying saucers." The US Air Force had previously released many thousands of pages of documents relating to the famous Project Blue Book, it's long-term study of UFOs.

So far, there seems to be no smoking gun (or glowing ray gun) in the files that conclusively proves we are being visited, observed, abducted, probed, or quietly invaded. Despite the term "flying saucer," UFOs appear to have been reported in a bewildering array of sizes, shapes, and colors, and to emit a wide variety of sounds.

UFOs capture our imagination like few other things do. As we look up at night into the vastness of space, we wonder whether we are alone in the cosmos, working unaided and unobserved at making our world a worse place. Our imaginations, reflected in books and movies, have pictured UFOs and their inhabitants as friendly (think ET), disinterested, or hostile (think Independence Day). Conspiracy theorists are absolutely convinced that a UFO crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in the late 1940's, and that the Air Force has alien bodies on ice in a secret room at an unidentified location (perhaps they just saw former vice-president Cheney and made a natural mistake).

I've never seen a UFO, but I think it's hard to imagine that in a universe of billions of galaxies, each consisting of billions of stars, we're all alone. Unfortunately, we'll probably never know...

...because, if there is intelligent life out there, the surest proof of its existence is that it has decided to ignore us.

Have a good day. Watch out for low-flying saucers...

More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Global Warming - Proven!

I have a long-running intellectual argument going with my friends Bill and the Eminence Grise over the reality of global warming. I believe in it, they don't. Actually, I don't believe in global warming as it's popularly defined (i.e., the rise in overall global temperatures is the result of human activity rather than a function of normal climactic cycles)...what I believe is that what we call global warming is the result of natural climactic cycles exacerbated by human activity. After all, I don't think you can discount the effect of 6 billion people - and their industries, effluvia, respiration, and so on - on the climate.

But the issue has been resolved.

Global warming is real.

My friend Debbie has sent incontrovertible proof that even the most skeptical scientist or rock-ribbed ultra-conservative Republican can't ignore. Here it is - a chart that reflects the rise in global temperatures over time:

Don't thank me, thank Debbie. It's all part of our collective attempts to bring you the truth.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

$32 Billion per Month

According to this report from CNN, this is how much your government will spend in economic stimulus funding in the coming months. That's a lot of money. Are we spending it right?

There have been some interesting reports on NPR and in other news sources which suggest that stimulus spending up to now has not had the intended effect. For instance, stimulus money directed to "shovel-ready" projects has benefited recipients over the short term (that is, workers were hired to complete the project), but not over the long term (that is, the construction workers employed for the project were laid off again).

Considering the (one-sided) discussion we had in this space yesterday about the limits of generosity, we have to ask how decisions on investing the stimulus funds you and I (and our children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren) are generously providing are being made. Are we doing this smartly? What is the intersection of the graph lines showing money spent and long-term economic recovery benefit received?

I don't think anyone really knows.

It looks to me as if that $32 billion per month is going to go to the banks and industries which have the loudest voices in the discussion (and it'll get worse ... remember Citizens United v Federal Election Commission?).

What's your idea? How would you spend $32 billion per month to get the country back on its feet again.

And no, "buy Chinese" is not an acceptable answer.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Being Generous vs Being Smart

The terrifying disaster of January's massive earthquake in Haiti unleashed the usual outpouring of aid and generosity from around the world. As after the Asian tsunami of 2004, people everywhere rushed to donate money, goods, and physical assistance to help the victims of the disaster.

When disaster strikes, people tend to be generous in their assistance to the victims. But is that assistance, delivered in response to specific events, the best way to help people over the long term?

Peter Singer wrote an interesting article titled Haiti and the Limits of Generosity which addresses this question. He writes,

"The earthquake killed up to 200,000 people. Terrible as that is, it is fewer than the number of children who, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, die every 10 days from avoidable, poverty-related causes."

The question Singer and others asks is this: what is being done to address the long-term problems that cause vast numbers of deaths, but don't attract 24-hour media coverage, benefit concerts, and earnest entreaties for help from celebrities?

Mr Singer goes on to write,

Suppose that a million children all in one place seemed likely to be swept away and drowned by approaching floodwaters. The media coverage would be enormous. Now imagine the jubilation if they were saved! And imagine the acclaim for the heroes who had saved so many children ... Yet when UNICEF announced, in September of last year, that the number of children dying each year from poverty-related causes had dropped by one million, as compared to two years earlier, the story got very little media attention. The people who contributed to this drop by delivering effective basic health care, building a supply of safe water, or immunizing children against measles remain largely unknown."

It's natural to want to help the innocent victims of a disaster. But is it better to spend some portion of that money to correct the problems that contributed to the scale of that disaster? Haitians today need medical care, housing, and clean water ... but if the cleanup is over and the same corrupt and inefficient government remains and fails to correct the problems of poor infrastructure and public services that helped make the earthquake so terrible, what happens next time?

Take a few minutes to read Mr Singer's article and think about how we can be generous, but smarter.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Of Werewolves, Mummies, and Vampires

The latest classic monster film to be remade for audiences used to state of the art special effects is "The Wolfman," the Benedicio del Toro version of the classic 1941 Lon Chaney film. Reviews have been predictably poor (monster movies don't get no respect, as Rodney Dangerfield might have said), but it looks like a pretty scary movie nevertheless.

I'm glad we've finally got something to get our minds off vampires. Stephanie Meyers' Twilight series and the movies based on the books have reinvigorated interest in vampires, turning them from the savage, bloodthirsty creatures of legend into troubled teens. Sort of like turning Cheney Republicans into "compassionate conservatives."

Before the vampire craze, movie makers dug up the Mummy (so to speak), turning the moody and atmospheric Boris Karloff classic into a special effects extravaganza that relied on shock rather than the spooky dread of the original. The 1932 Karloff film contains one of the most frightening scenes ever filmed, in which a clueless archaeologist sits in his tent, reading from the scroll that brings the mummy propped up in the corner slowly, agonizingly to life. That scene still gives me the willies.

Why do we need monsters? Some psychologists say that we need artificial horrors that we know are confined to the silver screen to help us escape from the real horrors that surround us every day, like workplace shootings, radical Islamic terrorists, and Sarah Palin. We like being scared when we know that, in the end, the horror isn't actually real.

Yes, I admit it. I like horror movies. I like the classics (the original Mummy, Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein) and I like the schlockies (like Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy). I plan to see The Wolfman while Agnes is in Germany (since she doesn't like these movies like I do).

And then, I may watch Bela Lugosi in the original Dracula again. After all, as I grit my teeth to face the real bloodsuckers on April 15th, it helps to find a vampire I can turn off with a wave of the remote.

Have a good day. Sink your teeth into a good monster movie.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Truth About Valentine's Day

First of all, to all the wonderful ladies who read my blog and comment regularly, Happy Valentine's Day! To Andrea, Katherine, Amanda (whose name comes from the Latin meaning "fit to be loved, lovable", and how cool is that for Valentine's Day?), Debbie, Craziequeen, SusieQ, Aine, Audrey, Fiona (oddly missing these last few weeks), Michelle, Kirsten, Canary, Mrs Scribe, lacochran, Zipcode, Leslie, and everyone else I may have inadvertently forgotten, may your Valentine's Day be filled with boxes of chocolates, bouquets of roses, breakfast in bed (however you want to interpret that), and general pampering by your loving significant other.

For you guys who read my blog and comment regularly, well, suck it up.

Let's face it...Valentine's Day isn't for us, it's for the ladies. It's a conspiracy cooked up by the florists, greeting card manufacturers, and candy makers to cash in on our collective guilt and offer us the chance to make feeble attempts to show our ladies that they really are more important to us than the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, or any of the other distractions that tend to befall the members of our sex.

Back in the day when I was doing my radio show on WEBR, the Fairfax County Public Access Radio Station, my highest-rated show each year (based on feedback from both men and women) was my Anti-Valentine's Day Show, which highlighted the side of this holiday that the florists and candy makers and greeting card manufacturers don't want you to think playlist included songs like Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield," Kenny Rogers' "If I Were a Painting," the J. Geils Band's "Love Stinks," and Nanci Griffith's "Battlefield."
Yes, it's time to strip away the Saccharine Curtain and reveal the sordid truth about Valentine's Day!

But not, guys, before you pamper your significant other today.

We can suck it up for one day in order to have relative peace and happiness the other 364.

Have a good day. Happy Valentine's Day.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

An athlete from Georgia was killed during a training run on the luge track at the Vancouver Olympic games; former President Bill Clinton was hospitalized for a heart problem; the news just keeps on getting better for Toyota owners; "Snowmageddon," the fierce winter storms that have battered the country during February, may have cost the economy between 90,000 and 150,000 jobs, except for snowplow operators; and in Pennsylvania, a 12 year old boy has been charged with murder after shooting his father's pregnant girl friend in the head.

If you can find it under all the snow, Cartoon Saturday will help you make sense of it all.

Ah, if only it were true...

Will digital artists someday wear tacky plastic wrist bands that say "WWRD" ... "What Would Rembrandt Do?" ...

Ah, election year. You may as well put your concepts of reality in a safety deposit box and reclaim them in another year or so ...

Mike and Claudia have written and commented eloquently on the personal impact of corporate the comments, too...

This is another one of those cartoons you may have to look at twice (remember the one about battling the knight in shining armor from two weeks ago?), but it's worth it...

And finally, it's beginning to look like we'll have six more months of winter rather than six more weeks. Time to start shooting groundhogs...

Well, another week has gone by and the snow is gradually melting...just in time for our latest snowstorm, predicted for this coming Monday...the day to which Agnes's flight to Germany has been re-booked for the FOURTH time.

All you can do is shrug.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Back to Quasi-Normal

After a week of snow, cold, and misery, things are slowly getting back to normal. We still have the snow and cold, but the Federal government is reopening this morning, which will allow Congress to do its part to increase the misery level.

I was able to drive out of our neighborhood yesterday to go to the store, although I fear for the condition of the car's undercarriage that got pretty well banged around on the piles of snow and ice that are heaped between the wheel ruts on our hill. The main streets are generally in good shape, although neighborhoods are still a mess, ramps are still dangerous and most parking lots are about 2/3 covered with the mountains of snow plowed from the remaining third. My local bus service has been canceled, although the Metro trains are running...and remembering the horrendous traffic at the Metro stations which has resulted from lesser storms and bus service cancellations, I think this is going to be very ugly.

Where I come from, this is called yucky.

I plan to take a day of unscheduled leave today, which is a pain...but less of a pain than risking life and limb in the rush hours.

Agnes's flight to Germany, which was canceled twice last week and then re-booked when we couldn't get to the airport to meet it when it finally did fly, is now scheduled for Monday afternoon...which, wouldn't you know, is when our next snowstorm is scheduled to come through.

Oh, well...I guess it'll be something we can tell our grandchildren about.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

All the Time in the World

When you're snowed in, the first thing you have to do is dig yourself out. After you've done that and discovered that you still can't go to work anyhow, you find that you have lots of time on your hands. Finding activities to fill that time is easy at first, even if limited by the screaming of muscles you'd forgotten you had until you called upon them to shovel all that snow.

Agnes and I have watched more television in the last week than we have in 27 years of marriage. Agnes has read all the books she bought to take with her on her trip to Germany that has had to be postponed until next week because of the storm. I'm working my way through Season 4 of Lost on DVDs, and have finally gotten about 500 pounds of old files shredded.

But there's still lots of time available.

And speaking of time (yes, I'm finally getting around to my point), you will be glad to know that we are now able to measure it with sufficient accuracy.

According to this article from Neatorama, a team led by Chin-wen Chou of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado has invented a "quantum logic clock" that is one hundred thousand times more accurate than those cheap, shoddy cesium fountain clocks that are the current standard, despite only being accurate to a measly second in 100,000,000 (that's 100 million) years. Who can deal with such a level of gross inexactitude? The new quantum logic clock uses the energy state of a single ion of aluminum to produce accuracy of a second in 3,700,000,000 (that's 3.7 billion) years.

Yes, friends, thanks to this miracle of modern science, a poor fellow can know to an unprecedented level of accuracy exactly how long he has been waiting patiently for his date to get ready, and a wife can inform her husband of exactly how long she's been waiting for him to get cracking on his honey-do list.

Of course, there are practical applications for such an accurate clock, among them an improved level of accuracy for GPS devices. Yes, soon you will be able to have your in-car GPS unit tell you in angstroms how far it is to your next turn, and scientists will also be able to detect the slowing of time predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Of course, anyone who has been snowbound for a week or more can tell you all about the slowing of time without recourse to general relativity.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - How about this spiffy picture of our neighborhood, taken last night at about 10:00 PM...

The job for today is trying to get some of this snow off the roof. Where's Sir Edmund Hillary when you need him?


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

You Mean I Got Up for THIS???

Well, as you have already read, I was up this morning at 5:15...looked out the window...muttered some unpleasantries, and went back to bed. Then, later, I did something stupid.

I got up again.

And now, here I sit at my desk, looking out the window at all the snow in the world coming down on our heads, whipped around by howling winds into occasional near-whiteout conditions.

This is not fun.

"White Presidents' Day" doesn't have quite the same cozy ring as "White Christmas." Oh, wait...we had that, too. Hmmph.

I understand that we are now in the season known as winter, and in winter we expect snow. The problem is that we've been spoiled by a long stretch of years in which we didn't have much snow...and here in Northern Virginia, we usually get more sleet and freezing rain than snow, anyhow. I just wish Mother Nature hadn't decided to dump ten years worth of the white stuff on us all at once.

Oh, least the editorial cartoonists are getting something out of it...

If you will excuse me, I have to go and figure out where to put all this new snow when conditions finally allow me to go out and shovel it. I'm not sure I can heave it high enough to get it on top of the existing piles.

This is yucky.

Have a good day. If you are someplace where it isn't snowing (yes, Amanda, this group includes you!), feel lucky.

More thoughts later.


I'm Going Back to Bed

It is 5:15 AM, it is snowing like mad outside (yet again), the Federal Government is once again closed for the day, and I'm going back to bed.

Today's real post will appear later in the day.

I hate snow.

Have a good day. More thoughts later.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Yep...More Snow Coming

I wish I knew what it was I'd done to piss off the snow gods, because I'd do my very best to make amends. The Federal Government is closed for the second straight day, and will probably be closed tomorrow, too, as we hunker down for another 12 to 18 inches (!) of snow on top of what we already have. And did I mention the expected high winds that will drift it all over the place?

Enough, already!!

Yesterday Agnes and I put on our heavy clothes and hiked up to our local shopping center to see what was still available. It's a walk of a little less than a mile, and we can usually walk it in 15 minutes or less...yesterday it took a bit longer than that. Here are a few pictures taken between home and the shopping center...

This one is from the end of our driveway, looking up the hill:

About halfway up the hill, looking back down...

The intersection at the top of the hill...

Not everyone has shoveled out their sidewalks, and most of those who have have only done a single shovel-width. I don't know where the semi in the background thought he was going to go...he was in the process of backing down the street, having met a car coming the other way...the street was only plowed to one narrow lane, and the other guy got there first...

Somebody tried to have a sense of humor about the whole thing...

I think I may just go back to bed and dream about summer. Which, it appears, may start sometime around mid-August this year. Sigh.

Have a good day. If you're in the Big Snow area and you have to go out, be safe about it. If you can, stay inside and stay warm. It's gotta get better...doesn't it?

More thoughts later.


Monday, February 08, 2010

From the "It Had to Happen Sooner or Later" File

I'm tired of whining about all our snow. It hasn't done much good, particularly since the latest forecasts are calling for an additional FIVE TO TEN INCHES of the white stuff in our next storm, scheduled for tomorrow afternoon through Wednesday afternoon. The Federal Government is closed today, since nobody can get out of their neighborhoods to get to work, anyhow, and will probably reopen tomorrow morning, just in time to have everyone struggle to work in time for an early release necessitated by our next hammering on winter's anvil. At this point, I'm just hoping to be able to get out of our neighborhood tomorrow morning for my dental appointment. Sigh.

Okay, new topic. Well, old topic. Actually, an updated rant on a previous topic.

As you know, I have very strong opinions on the Supreme Court's incredible decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (the decision that essentially equated corporations and individuals by deciding that unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns is a form of constitutionally protected free speech). It's time to take that sad story to the next level: from the It Had to Happen Sooner or Later file comes this story from the New York Times - Corporation Says It Will Run for Congress.

Yes, friends, Murray Hill, Inc., in a satirical political ad you can view at the New York Times link above (and on YouTube), has announced it will run for Congress. The ad laments that corporations could never be sure candidates they'd supported "would do our bidding," and so Murray Hill is going to run to ensure that corporate interests are directly represented in the lawmaking process. As the ad says of government, "We bought it, we paid for it, and we're going to keep it," and "Now that government is for sale, Murray Hill is offering top dollar."

Yes, the ad is tongue-in-cheek satire, but the message is real. And unfortunate.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow. Before the next storm.


P.S. - At the intersection of Government and Too Much Snow comes the comparison of the Supremes' decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to an avalanche: a high-level snow job of massive and overwhelming proportions.

You're welcome.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Got Snow?

Well, the snow has ended for the time being. We had a bit over two feet of snow here in my Northern Virginia neighborhood...Agnes and I went out yesterday morning while it was still snowing heavily to try to get a bit ahead of the accumulation, but by the time we finished, another 2 inches or so had fallen, and by the time it stopped, we had another 8 or 10 inches.

Yep, this was some snow.

Agnes's Friday night flight to Germany was cancelled and rebooked to Saturday, then cancelled again and rebooked to this afternoon. So far, it's still scheduled to go...but the question is whether or not we'll be able to get up our hill, which has not been plowed since a single small truck came down yesterday morning, plowed a single track down the middle of the street, and made big piles of snow on either side. Big help.

Here are a few pictures from yesterday...

This was shot yesterday afternoon from our driveway, looking up the hill...

Looking from the kitchen out onto the deck...

The problem isn't where to throw the snow to when you shovel it...the problem is whether or not you can heave it high enough to get it onto (or over) the piles you've already made...

A quick picture of the Supervisor...who is about 5 feet, 4 inches tall, which gives you a way to estimate the amount of snow we're talking about.

The last two pictures were taken at about noon yesterday...the snow didn't stop until around 6:00 PM.

Okay, I've had enough snow. Bring on the spring. And for now, time to break out the shovels and the salt and try to dig out again. Stay tuned to learn whether or not Agnes actually makes it to the airport later today...

Have a good day. Stay warm. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

The DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia area is in the middle of being hammered by a monster snowstorm; the Tea Party convention is generating lots of top-quality hot air that could be used to help melt the snow across the eastern seaboard; a group of well-meaning but clueless dumbasses has been arrested in Haiti on a charge of kidnapping children; the Chinese government threw another hissy fit on Friday in response to President Obama's planned meeting with the Dalai Lama; and did I mention the snow?

It's a good day to stay inside and let Cartoon Saturday keep you warm.

I'm going to keep this approach in mind when the time comes to dig out and defrost our cars. Probably sometime in May, the way it looks now ...

It's not a cartoon, strictly speaking, but I'm ordering a gross of cases of this for Congress. It's a start ...

The snow we're getting now is very wet, heavy stuff, perfect for bringing down trees and power lines ... and making snowmen ...

I just liked this one...

Years ago, Pittsburgh radio personality Rege Cordic did a skit in which he broadcast the play-by-play from the gladiator fights in ancient Rome ("And Ludicrous is down...and here's the count: I ... II ... III ... IV ...!"). Here's another clever spin on Roman Numerals ...

This cartoon goes back a long time (some of you may recognize former President Reagan and remember his colon surgery), but it's still ... sadly ... about as good a commentary as I've seen in a long time ...

And finally, for all you guys out there ...

If you're in the Big Snow area, good luck. Stay off the roads, stay warm, and think thoughts of Summer ... I'm sure it'll be here in another eight months or so.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Why Did They Do It THAT Way?

It is now 4:50 AM in Northern Virginia. Our latest winter storm is supposed to start at about 10:00 AM, end sometime tomorrow evening, and leave us with 18-24 inches of snow. Agnes's flight to Germany, scheduled for 7:15 this evening, was already canceled last evening. The Federal government is "Open, with an unscheduled leave policy, and employees should be dismissed by their agencies four hours early."

Yep, we're gonna get hammered.

And I'm tired of writing about it. It's gonna be what it's gonna be. Let's talk about something else. How about railroad gauges?

My late uncle Frank was, for many years, the editor of Trains Magazine, and so I grew up immersed in railroad history and lore. But one thing I never thought to ask was why rails are spaced the way they are...why are the standard rails spaced exactly 4 feet, 8.5 inches apart?

I ran across this explanation many years ago, and it seems just as good as any:

The US Standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches because that's the way railroads were built in England, and the first US railroads were built by English expatriates.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did they use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons use that odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing the wagons would break on some of the old, long distance roads, because that was the spacing of the old wheel ruts.

So who built these old rutted roads?

The first long-distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome to enable their legions to move swiftly from place to place. Those roads have been used ever since. And the ruts? The initial ruts, which everyone since has had to match for fear of destroying their wagons, were first made by Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were made for the Imperial Roman legions, they were made with standardized wheel spacing as specified by the Roman Army...which, in turn, drove the specifications for the width of the roads - wide enough to accommodate two war chariots passing in opposite directions. Voila! The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original military specification ("MilSpec," in modern military acquisition terminology) for an Imperial Roman army war chariot.

So, the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's ass came up with it, you may be exactly right. Because the Imperial Roman chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the back-ends of two war horses.

Think about it ... after all these centuries, decisions in government are still being made by horses' asses.

Explains a lot, doesn't it?

Have a good day. Stay warm. Drink hot chocolate, wrap yourself up in quilts, hunker down in front of the fireplace, and read or watch your way through your DVD collection.

The above advice does not apply in Australia. Sorry, Amanda.

More thoughts tomorrow, assuming we've been able to dig out.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Keeping Warm the Modern Way

Well, it looks as if bitching, complaining, and doing the No Snow Dance doesn't help: the latest weather forecasts are calling for as much as two feet of snow tomorrow through Saturday...with more perhaps coming on Monday. And Agnes is supposed to fly to Germany tomorrow evening to spend two weeks visiting her parents.


If Agnes actually makes it out tomorrow, I'll still be here, trying to stay warm. I've got lots of propane in the fireplace tank, plenty of warm quilts Agnes has made over the years, plenty of food, and a well-stocked bar. The only thing I won't have is ... Agnes.

Now, I'm a healthy and reasonably well-adjusted fellow, so I'll be able to cope. Some others, though, can't. They don't have an organic bedwarmer. What do they do?

Help is on the way, courtesy of an inventor who showed off his latest invention at a convention in Las Vegas (where else?) last month.

If you're lonely and frustrated and have $7,000 to spend, Roxxxy can be yours.

Yes, friends, Roxxxy is a five-foot-seven, 120 pound ... sex robot. She talks. She makes all the right sounds when you touch her in all the right places. Underneath her warm, soft skin of hypoallergenic silicone beats the gentle, loving heart of a computer that uses voice-recognition and speech-synthesis software to whisper sweet nothings into your ear. She has five pre-programmed "personalities," from Frigid Farrah to Wild Wendy, that you can choose from based on your mood. She shudders when she has an orgasm. Her battery lasts about three hours on one charge, but you can keep her going with an electrical cord that plugs into her back.

Gives new meaning to the expression, "turning her on," eh?

The company that makes Roxxxy, TrueCompanion, claims that more than 4,000 losers men have already ordered Roxxxies, and another 20,000 or so have asked for more information about her. TrueCompanion is reported to also be developing Rocky - a male sex robot - but that's a little harder, ha, ha.

Yes, friends, if you are a dateless geek with rudimentary social skills ... if you are one of those folks whose applications to dating websites are rejected ... if you have a rough time carrying on a conversation with an actual, breathing woman, your wait is over. Roxxxy is waiting for you. Just send money.

Just don't let her get together with Rocky. You may not be able to handle the electric bills.

Have a good day. If you live in the DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia area, make sure your snow shovels are ready, your salt is laid in, and you have plenty of windshield washer fluid for your cars.

And let's hope that Agnes makes it out safely tomorrow evening.

More thoughts - possibly muffled by the snow - tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Place Holder

It's about 5:15 AM, and Agnes and I have just finished digging out from our latest six inches of snow. I need to get into the shower and get ready to go to work, so I won't have time to do my regular post this morning. I'll try to do it this evening when I get home from work.

Have a good day. Stay warm. Dig out.

More thoughts coming.


P.S. - I wonder who makes the decision to keep the Federal Government open when most workers can't get out of their untreated neighborhoods to the main roads that are well-treated. Hmmm...


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Okay, I've Had Just About Enough of This...

No, I'm not talking about Congress and the Supreme Court, although they're up there on the list. I'm talking about winter.

Last weekend we had six inches of snow, just as the 18 inches we had a few weeks ago had finally mostly melted away. Tonight and tomorrow we're supposed to get another 1 or 2 inches. Then this coming Friday and Saturday, we're supposed to get another the words of Rico the Meteorological Prognosticator (whose thoughts are shared with the rest of us by local blogging sensation lacochran), "...we could be in line for another big one come Friday and Saturday. It looks impressive but I don't want to jinx it by talking about it."

Okay, that's enough, already! No more snow! Send it to Amanda ... she needs it to help educate Aaron and Adrian about the various states of water, not to mention giving her an excuse to wear something other than the shorts and tank tops that are evidently standard in Indonesia and Australia. Agnes is supposed to fly back to Germany on Friday evening to visit her parents...let the snow wait until Saturday morning if it has to come at all. AARRGGHH!!

You'd think that someone who grew up in Pittsburgh would be a bit more able to handle snow. I can handle snow. I just don't want to. I want warm temperatures. I want to walk down the street and admire beautiful ladies in skimpy clothes. I want to sit on the front steps and sip my gin and tonic.


And when my friend Debbie reads this and sends me another snarky e-mail reminding me that I'm a wuss who couldn't handle living in Buffalo ... well ... so be it. Debbie, I still love you, but you can have the snow.


Okay, I'm done now. I have to go and check my supply of deicer, the condition of my snow shovels (yes, plural), and the windshield washer fluid levels in the cars. I need to make sure the refrigerator is stocked, the propane tank for the fireplace is full, and we have plenty of toilet paper.

Yes, I've had just about enough of this. Want snow? Send your address...I'll ship you as much as you want.

No charge.

Have a good day. Stay warm.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, February 01, 2010

When Gadgets Go Bad...

Apple recently introduced - to the usual hysteria - it's latest product: the iPad. As gadgets go, it seems to be pretty neat, if only little more than an iPod Touch on steroids. In case you were wondering, I don't plan to run out and buy one...I still haven't figured out how all the features of my iPhone work, so it'll be quite a while before I'm ready to take on anything more complicated than a pencil sharpener.

If nothing else, the somewhat unfortunately-named iPad has spawned millions of jokes about its name. Here are a few of the best:

* If I order this, will my boyfriend and I have to worry if it comes late?

* Does a Period Tracker app come free?

* Don’t wear white jeans while using an iPad, and don’t use an iPad in front of your crush. (You’re a teen magazine embarrassing moment waiting to happen!)

* How soon will Apple release a companion pen, the iPon?

* Did the prototype come with a belt?

* But what if a cute boy sees me shopping for one? What if my dad has to take me?

* I prefer the CVS brand; a few bucks less and it does the same thing.

* Does this mean iffy WiFi coverage will be called iSpotting?

* Can I get a scented iPad for when my data feels not-so-fresh?

* Everyone, just try to Stay(free) calm and keep your Poise. It’s Always nice to see a new product on the market. I Depend on Apple to come up with great ideas. Maybe we’re taking this out of Kotex.

Not bad. I have also heard that Apple is getting ready to market special models of the iPad which will target specific user audiences: the oyPad will target the Jewish market, the aye-ayePad will cater to the needs of sailors, and the highPad will address the requirements of users of medical (wink, nudge) marijuana. The guyPad will include a built-in beer bottle opener and come with a screensaver featuring the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, and the liePad will be heavily marketed to politicians and lobbyists.

The possibilities are endless.

Today is the first work day after our latest weekend snowstorm. According to its website, my Fairfax Connector bus will be operating normally with no will be interesting to see if it actually shows up at my stop in about an hour...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.