Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Few Notes on Books at Year's End

On this last day of 2013 (and good riddance to you, may I say), I thought I'd ruminate a bit about one of my favorite topics: books.

I've read (and re-read) quite a few books this year. Here are some of my favorite reads from the last 12 months ...

A Song of Ice and Fire (series) by George R. R. Martin. This is the fantasy series on which the HBO series Game of Thrones is based. So far, I've read the first two books of the series (Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings) and am about a third of the way through the third book (Storm of Swords). These are really good stories - intricately plotted, full of realistic (often gut-churning) detail, and totally engrossing. Strongly recommended if you like that sort of thing. Oh, and I'm totally in lust with Emilia Clarke, who plays Danerys Targeryan in the TV adaptation. Just sayin'.

One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson. A great social history of one summer in the history of America. Where Fredrick Lewis Allen's classic Only Yesterday looked at the entire decade of the 1920s, Mr Bryson's book focuses on a single summer and the amazing characters that populated it: Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, and Calvin Coolidge, and the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, among others. It's entertaining and engrossing history for people who don't usually like to read history. Very strongly recommended.

I'm a Stranger Here Myself, by Bill Bryson. My old high school friend Mary Lou sent me a copy of this book earlier this summer, suggesting that I'd enjoy it ... which I did. Mr Bryson lived in England for many years before returning to live in the US. This book is a collection of thought-provoking and often hysterically funny essays documenting his observations on life in these United States. Easy reading and very entertaining.

Marina, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Unfortunately, this novel by Zafon is available only in German, but it's a fantastic story you should read when it finally gets published in English translation. It's part ghost story, part adventure, and part love story, set in the city of Barcelona. A wonderful read.

Night Film, by Marisha Pessl. A weird, intricate, haunting story of a journalist obsessed by a reclusive filmmaker. Comes complete with a website that extends the story. One of the year's best.

Dark City, by F. Paul Wilson. The second volume documenting the early years of the character who became "Repairman Jack." If you can imagine the A-Team and MacGyver meeting in a horror story, you'll enjoy this.

Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana. A wonderful, readable biography of the hero of Latin American independence. If you want to know about the man behind the rhetoric of people like Hugo Chavez, you won't find a better biography. Oh, and he loved to dance! Very strongly recommended.

There were a lot of other books I read this year, but these were the standouts. What did you read this year that I ought to look into? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. If you go out partying tonight, please do it safely ... I need you back tomorrow to learn who won the Ass Clown of the Year voting*. More thoughts then.


Voting update ... the current standings, following a sudden burst of voting yesterday, are as follows:

First Place: The Democratic Party, with 41 votes;

Second Place: The GOP, with 40 votes;

Third Place: Edward Snowdon, with 30 votes;

Fourth Place: The Tea Party, with 22 votes.

There are also varying, but lesser numbers of votes for Casey James Fury, Phil Robertson, Congress (as a whole), Eric Cantor, John Boehner, both Kims (Kardashian and Jong Un), and many others.

There's still time to vote ... the ballot box closes at 11:59 tonight!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Time's Running Out!

If you have not yet cast your vote(s) for Ass Clown of the Year, you'd better get to it ... the ballot box closes at 11:59 PM tomorrow evening. Of course, since we're using Chicago Rules, your votes will be counted right up to the moment I hit the "Publish" button on the blog - less, of course, any time required to re-rank the finalists.

Balloting has been fairly light this year, an unfortunate trend I attribute to the enormous number of "worthy" candidates for the award. Come on, Dear Readers! Your vote may count for nothing if you live in one of the Congressional districts that has been gerrymandered into complete idiocy, but ol' Bilbo will always give you your voice.

Here are the standings as we enter the home stretch ...

In first place, still tied at 40 votes each, are the GOP and the Democratic Party.

In second place, with 28 votes, is Edward Snowden.

The Tea Party and Virginia representative Eric Cantor are tied for third place with 12 votes each.

In fourth place is House Speaker John Boehner with seven votes.

And tied for fifth (and, at the moment, last) place with one vote each are Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry, and our August monthly award winner Casey James Fury.

It's not too late to cast your votes! Remember that Chicago Rules apply ... this means that you can vote as many times for as many candidates as you wish, and you can also vote on behalf of your relatives (living and dead), friends (living and dead, real and imaginary), your pets, or your friends' and relatives' friends.

Let them know you care - vote now for Ass Clown of the Year!

Have a good penultimate day of 2013. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

When You're Hot, You're REALLY Hot.

Back last March, I reported on my discovery that the title of the World's Hottest Pepper* had been claimed by the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, the heat of which had been rated at 1.464 million Scoville Units ...

This is a pepper which, should you accidentally drop it on the steel deck of a battleship, will quickly melt its way to the bilge, boil whatever water is there, continue on its merry way through the bottom of the hull, and proceed to the bottom of the ocean, where it will fry any fish that comes to investigate. This is, in short, a seriously hot pepper.

But records are made to be broken, and so it is with the World's Hottest Pepper title. According to this article from Yahoo News, an intrepid grower in South Carolina has claimed the honor with his Carolina Reaper peppers, which measure a staggering 1,569,300 Scoville Units, with an individual pepper blazing in at 2.2 million ...

Feel free to try these in your home recipes. Of course, if you do not have asbestos gloves and utensils, a welder's mask, and a death wish, you may wish to just stick with the good old jalapeno**, which is plenty hot enough for most humans.

And won't sink your battleship.

Have a good day. More heated thoughts coming.


* I had been under the impression that the world's hottest Pepper was my high school friend of that name who now lives out in Las Vegas, but I appear to have been mistaken. Well, perhaps not ...

** Between 5,000 and 15,000 Scoville Units.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cartoon Saturday

Welcome to the last Cartoon Saturday of 2013 ...

Credit and debit card data for millions of people was lost when criminals hacked the databases at the Target store chain; in a thoughtful year-end gift, Congress failed to extend unemployment benefits to the long-time jobless; Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian gun designer whose simple and reliable AK-47 automatic rifle became the weapon of choice for many national armies and guerrillas around the world, died and was buried in a new heroes' cemetery in Russia; a federal judge in New York has ruled that the collection of domestic telephone data exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is lawful, rejecting a challenge to the program by the American Civil Liberties Union; and in Jacksonville, Florida, five teenagers were arrested after a 600-person brawl broke out in a movie theater parking lot on Christmas night when a group of teens tried to storm the theater’s doors without purchasing tickets.

Time's a-wasting - let's get to the cartoons. Heaven knows you need them.

Last month we had a Cartoon Saturday with a dog theme; this week, our theme cartoon selection gives equal time to cats, in honor of all my crazy cat lady friends* ...

A couple of riffs on the sub-theme of hotels for cats ...

and ...

Cats are well-known for their selection of territory to claim for their own ...

and ...

Cats and dogs see the world differently, even in the way they choose to empty their digital trash ...

And cats sometimes need motivational help, too ...

So much for cats. In other cartoon news, if you're one of those people who may lose unemployment benefits with the new year, or if you're faced with the need to take out a loan from a coldheartedly unsympathetic bank, you may appreciate this take on truth in lending ...

This is how I plan to approach the new year ...

All the news, all the time ...

And finally for this week, a look at why some members of the animal world are better at math than others ...

And so we say goodbye to another edition of Cartoon Saturday - the last of 2013. I hope you all had a good Christmas (or equivalent holiday) and are getting ready to face the challenges of what promises to be an ... um ... interesting new year.  Don't worry, though ... ol' Bilbo will be here to help you get through it. And he hopes you will return the favor.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Yes, Andrea, I'm talking to you. And to Gwen, and Brenda**, and all the rest of you.

** Brenda is my friend from work who discovered, while racing out the door late for work one morning, that her cat had left a ... uh ... deposit in her uniform hat. She discovered this just late enough to need a new shampoo and get to work even later than planned. This is another reason why I don't much like cats.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sounds Fishy to Me ...

I noted this interesting article on CNN online this morning: 70 People Injured in Argentine Fish Attack.

It appears that people enjoying a Christmas Day swim in Argentina's Parana River were suddenly set upon by a large school of carnivorous fish related to the dreaded piranha. Many of the swimmers were injured, including a 7-year-old girl who lost part of one of her pinky fingers. The article quotes Ricardo Biasatti, sub secretary of Natural Resources for the state in which the attack took place, as saying the incident was "isolated and insignificant," considering the size of the river.

This was no doubt comforting to the young lady with the truncated pinky.

The moral of the story is, of course, if you are in Argentina and feel compelled to swim, you might consider trying the local YMCA or other public recreational pool less likely to be infested with lawyers carnivorous fish.

Just a word to the wise as you prepare to swim into 2014.

Have a good day. More thoughts to sink your teeth into coming in the future. For tomorrow, be sure to come back for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Day After Christmas!

Today is known in much of the world as "Boxing Day." The origin of this name is obscure, but may have something to do with the fact that you are today faced with the task of getting rid of lots of empty boxes. It is also the day that people storm retail establishments in huge numbers to return or exchange non-functioning gifts, hideous sweaters, and other undesirable holiday detritus, and to take advantage of sales of Christmas wrap, cards, and decorations.

You need your head examined if you plan to do any of these things today.

The real purpose of Boxing Day, at least for those of us fortunate enough to have it free, is to recover from the trials and tribulations of Christmas Day, and to begin the process of memory editing that will allow us to remember only the happy things that happened while forgetting the parts of the day that may not have turned out as well as we might have hoped.

I plan to celebrate Boxing Day by doing nothing except watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, eating leftovers, and reflecting on how fortunate I am to have a job to be off of for a day, a family I love, and a waistline that has suffered much over the last week or two.

Merry Day After Christmas! God bless us, every one!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

Today is Christmas Day. It's the magical day when everyone is filled with love and goodwill and generosity*, unlike the other 364 days of the  year (365 in leap years). It's the day when we leave out cookies and milk for Santa, in the hope that trusting children won't get wise to the deception for a few more years.

Unfortunately, the love, goodwill, and generosity part isn't as much in evidence this year as it was in the past. A useless, do-nothing Congress has completed its year of bloviation and chicanery by adjourning and congratulating itself for almost doing its job. The nation is divided over many issues, and all too many people approach their side of the division with an "I'm OK, you can go to hell" attitude. This year, Santa's bag probably contains a powerful weapon for which he has a concealed carry permit ... and he doesn't even need to conceal it in some parts of the country.

There was a time when the traditional Christmas story from the second chapter of Matthew was the norm ...

2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 
2:9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 
2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 
2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; You shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 
2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 
2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Along with the timeless lyrics of Irving Berlin ...

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten,
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write.
May your days be merry and bright.
And may all your Christmases be white."

This year, the Christmas isn't white (at least here in Northern Virginia), and the peace on earth, goodwill toward men thing isn't all that much in evidence.

But for my part, I'll try to keep the joy in my heart and pretend that I'm still the same wide-eyed boy that enjoyed the white Christmases and family love of middle-class western Pennsylvania so many years ago. And I'll wish all of you all the very best of the season and my hopes for a happy, healthy, prosperous, and safe new year.

And as a gift to you, here's one of my very favorite Christmas treats - Dylan Thomas reading his wonderful narrative poem, A Child's Christmas in Wales ...

God bless us, every one!

Have a very Merry Christmas! More thoughts coming.


* Except the GOP.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Should We Revise the Constitution?

I got into a bit of a testy discussion on Facebook a few days ago that I think is worth writing a little about.

In response to a comment made by my friend and fellow local blogger Buggie on her Facebook page, I suggested that it might be time to consider revising the Constitution, although I acknowledged it was unlikely ever to happen because of the huge differences of opinion between the left and the right.

Another reader responded to my comment this way:

“We already have a legal process to amend the Constitution, Bilbo. There's absolutely zero reason to modify (or in any other way desecrate) the original. Amend it or abide by it... those are your options. I'm actually afraid to ask how you would like to ‘revise’ it...”

I had a bit of trouble with his use of the word desecrate, but I replied thusly:

“… (y)ou are correct in that there is a legal process in place for Constitutional amendments. We've used it 27 times so far. But the result of more than 200 years of litigation, interpretation (by the courts and by people who are absolutely sure that THEY and they alone knew what the Founders meant), the passage of time, and the evolution of technology and social ideas have led to an increasing disconnect between what the Constitution (says) and its applicability. As a guide for the structure and function of government, it is without equal in the world. As a guide for the drafting of laws applicable to the 21st century, perhaps not so much. I do have some ideas as to how it ought to be revised or amended, which I will post in my blog in the next few weeks. Until then, just think about it dispassionately.”

This was the individual’s reply:

“Again, revision is simply not an option. If there is a problem with its interpretation -- from ones personal perspective, of course -- the amendment process is still perfectly suited for any century. I've sworn to defend the Constitution for over 20 years, so there is little chance that men and women like me will ever allow anyone to "revise" it, or that we'll ever think about it dispassionately.”

I think I have a problem with the phrase revision is simply not an option. My interlocutor said he’d “sworn to defend the Constitution for over 20 years.” As it happens, so did I (for 23 years), as an officer in the Air Force. Let's take a minute to review the oath he and I both took and note what it actually says:

“I (insert your name here), having been appointed an officer in (insert branch of service here) do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic …”

The oath does not say, “the Constitution of the United States as written in 1787,” or “the Constitution of the United States as amended” … it says, “the Constitution of the United States.” The important thing is that we swear the oath to the founding ideals of the country, rather than to a president, a political party, or some tightly-wound religious leader.

I don’t think a calm, clear-eyed look at the case for amending, revising, or completely rewriting the Constitution constitutes desecration of the original. Indeed, the Founders recognized that their document would need to be amended periodically as conditions changed, and they provided a vehicle by which it could be amended (Article V). They were idealists, but they were realists as well, and I don’t believe they would have objected to revising the document if circumstances warranted.

What would I change? Well, nothing about the basic structure of the government … the concept of three branches maintaining checks on each other’s powers is sound and worth keeping unchanged. But there are some things I believe definitely need changing. Here are just three to start the discussion:

First, I’d eliminate the electoral college and go with direct election of the President by popular vote. None of the arguments for the electoral college system, in my opinion, hold water any more (if, in fact, they ever did). All it does is marginalize the voters in the small states.

Second, I’d specify that Congressional districts align with existing political boundaries: counties/parishes and, where necessary, lower-level municipal borders (townships/boroughs, towns, etc). This would help eliminate the stupidity of districts which are ridiculously gerrymandered to protect the primacy of a single party, rather than the interests of the electorate as a whole.

Third, in Article I, Section 8, I'd revise the government’s responsibility “to establish Post Offices and Post Roads” to include the responsibility for the facilitation and regulation of electronic communication (something that we can all agree has changed radically since 1787). And speaking of electronic communication, how ought we to clarify the government's responsibilities and limitations on "unreasonable searches and seizures?" ... I don't think anyone in 1787 saw the NSA coming, or GPS tracking, or imaging from satellites.

I'm not touching the Second Amendment, because there's no point in trying to have a rational discussion about it. To many people, the Constitution consists of the Second Amendment and a bunch of other stuff.

I don't think there's anything horrible about considering revising the Constitution to keep up with the times. The amendment process outlined in Article V allows for tweaking the document as needed, but I think we at least need to have a rational discussion about whether or not larger changes are needed. The chances of fully rewriting the Constitution are probably less than zero, but it's the discussion that's important.

What do you think? Leave a comment. But avoid words like desecrate, please.

Have a good, Constitutional day. Come back tomorrow for some thoughts about Christmas.


P.S. - As long as we're talking about the Constitution, did you know that Article I, Section 8, gives the legislative branch the responsibility “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.” My word, it sounds as if the Founders, seen by many on the right as the infallible font of all political wisdom and defenders of unrestricted freedom, are saying that the government can send those jackbooted thugs everyone worries about against lawbreakers and insurrectionists … who would have thought?

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Few Observations on Living Overseas

As many of you already know, I spent 23 years in the Air Force before retiring for the first time. I enjoyed my time in the service. I worked with a lot of great people (and only a very few losers), got to travel a great deal, had more than a few no-kidding adventures, and had the experience of not just traveling, but living overseas for nearly ten years. This is a side benefit of military service that isn't often recognized and is, I think, sadly missing from the lives of most Americans ... as a people, we may travel as tourists, but we seldom actually have the opportunity to live in another culture.

The world is a lot different once you cross the borders. Some things may be similar, a very few may be nearly the same, but most will be different enough to give you some idea of why people who are not Americans think and act the way they do.

My time living overseas was spent in Europe, and specifically in Germany, which is a "first world" country similar in many ways to the US. But there are a lot of things that are different, too. Here are a few to consider ...

Europeans, as a rule, take up a lot less space than we do. We're used to things like huge single-family homes, big closets, large yards, and so on. In Germany, multi-family houses and apartments are the norm, and built-in closets are just about non-existent ... one of the first things you need to buy to furnish your place is wardrobes to hang up your clothes. Homes and apartments are also much smaller than we're used to here. And the idea of taking up less space applies on a larger scale as well ... towns and cities tend to be much more compact, with very little wasted or unused space.

The idea of space leads me to two more observations ...

First, Europeans tend to have a lot less "stuff" than we do. Having big houses with lots of closets gives us the space to accumulate lots of things (books and collectable things, in my case). Europeans, with a lot less space to live in, don't build up American-style volumes of possessions.

Second, the concept of personal space is a lot different in Europe. People tend to stand much closer to you than we Americans are used to. Our bubble of personal space is much larger and, consequently, it can sometimes be uncomfortable dealing with people who seem to constantly intrude on our comfort zones.

Just three simple observations. If you've lived overseas, do you agree? Do you have any observations of your own? Leave a comment.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and Wednesday is Christmas Day. Are you ready?

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


P.S. - Update on voting for Ass Clown of the Year: relative standings are unchanged, with the Democratic Party and the GOP still tied for the lead and Edward Snowdon in third place. We have a few votes for Secretary of State John Kerry, House Conservative Gadfly Eric Cantor, and Speaker of the House John Boehner, but they've got a long way to go to catch up to the front-runners. Be sure to cast your votes between now and 11:59 PM on December 31st!

Sunday, December 22, 2013


You may recall that I wrote a post last month discussing the Oxford Dictionaries' selection of the word selfie - defined as "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam, and uploaded to a social media website" - as its Word of the Year. Imagine my surprise when, just the other day, the WordSpy website announced its Word of the Day as shelfie - defined as "a photo of one or more shelves, usually bookshelves, owned by the photographer."

How about that? And how about a couple of shelfies from my study, from where I compose this blog each morning?

This is the shelf where I store some of my favorite fiction. The Lord of the Rings shelf is on top, and you can see three of the wizard figures we've collected over the years (which seemed to fit in with the Tolkien books and the Harry Potter series on the next shelf down). Also on the top shelf is a genuine crystal ball I bought at a flea market in Germany a long time ago as a gift for my parents ... as far as I know, it didn't help them keep track of what I was doing*.

And on the other side of the room is the shelf where much of my non-fiction is stored, along with assorted mementos and other odds and ends. In the middle is my pickelhaube - the spiked helmet of Imperial Germany that Agnes gave me for my birthday. Next to it on the right are a genuine chunk of the Berlin Wall and a length of rusted barbed wire that once adorned it**, souvenirs of my time in the early 80's stationed in what was then West Berlin. That particular shelf holds part of my collection of books on the Second World War. On the lower shelf is one of the dozens of David Winter Cottages (well, castles, in this case) I've collected over the years, and on the upper shelf are a few mementos of dance competitions in which Agnes and I took part. Only partially visible on top are a genuine (former) East German Army helmet and two old trophies - one from a humorous speech competition and one from a dance competition.

Just a couple of shelfies to help you get to know ol' Bilbo. More than you ever wanted to know, I suppose, but hey - it's my blog, after all!

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* There is a small chip broken out of the ball. I wrote a story to go with the crystal ball, explaining how the chip came to be there ... I thought it was pretty good, but sadly, it's been lost to history.

** Thanks to my good friend and colleague Dave, who served in Berlin with me and procured those pieces for us when the Wall came down. It was also Dave who found the East German Army helmet for me. I have interesting friends.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Cartoon Saturday, the Christmas Edition

Ah, Christmas ... the one week per year when we treat each other with generosity and kindness, as opposed to the other 51, when we treat each other like (expletive deleted) ...

Tensions are high between the US and India after a female Indian consular officer was arrested on visa fraud charges and strip-searched by US Marshals; tensions are up between the US and China after a US Navy ship was forced to take evasive action in order to avoid being rammed by a Chinese warship; Congress finally did its job and passed a budget, although with gritted teeth; North Korea faxed its latest threat of merciless retaliation against South Korea for whatever it was that pissed them off this time; and the Arts and Entertainment network is under fire after suspending one of the stars of the popular "Duck Dynasty" show because he had made negative comments about homosexuals.

As Santa gets ready to fill the stockings of Congress and a great many other ass clowns with coal and sawdust for the holiday, we turn to a collection of cartoons with a Christmas theme ...

Starting with the subject of lists, Santa doesn't really make his own lists any more ... he's subcontracted it out to the National Security Agency ...

List, schmist ...

Moving on to the topic of wise men* and gifts, gift desires are sometimes misinterpreted ...

There's wise, and there's wise ...

Sometimes it really pays to be a wise man ...

There's always someone who didn't get the memo ...

Moving on to Christmas decorations, there's an old joke on this theme ... you heard it in yesterday's post ...

Then there was also the old joke about the young lieutenant who was decorated by the general at Christmas, because the unit couldn't afford a tree ...

Your Christmas pun ...

I wonder where he carries the spare ...

No other comment necessary ...

And finally, how else would you take care of your artificial tree ... ?

Welcome to the last shopping weekend before Christmas ... if you're going to the Mall, take your Valium first.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* There was a wonderful cartoon years ago (sadly, lost) that showed two men in robes and turbans riding camels, and a third lagging far behind. One of the two in the lead turns to the one behind and shouts "Hurry up, Balthazar! It's a quarter to AD!"

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Story of the Christmas Angel

Most of us have already put up and decorated our Christmas trees. We've strung the lights, draped the tinsel, and hung the ornaments. Everyone has a different philosophy of how to decorate their tree, but there's one thing that is pretty much an either-or choice: the ornament that goes on top of the tree is almost always either a star ...

or an angel ...

This is the story of how the angel came to sit on top of the Christmas tree ...

It was a particularly busy and difficult time at the North Pole, many years ago. The latest shipment of toy components from China was late, putting on-time production of finished toys at risk. The Elves Union (North Pole Chapter #592) was on strike for better benefits (including health care and dental) and higher pay. A delivery of hay to the reindeer barn was spoiled, and the reindeer were flying around with severe diarrhea, seriously besmirching the pure white snow around Santa's enclave. Rudolph had a bad cold and his nose had gone dark, so Santa was trying (so far, unsuccessfully) to figure out how to program his optimum route with his new Garmin GPS unit. It was the wrong time of the month for Mrs Santa, and she was in a bad mood, grousing at Santa to do something about the pooping reindeer and the striking elves chanting outside the window.

Through it all, Santa tried to keep up with things and maintain his holiday good cheer. But as he sat at his desk late one night working on his inventory sheets, the nib on his pen broke, spreading a huge blot of ink across the neat columns of figures he'd spent all day trying to bring into order. Suddenly, all the pressures and difficulties caught up to Santa ... he picked up the ledger and threw it out the window at the picketing elves, snapped his pen in half, and hurled the pieces into the fireplace, and dropped back down at his desk with his head in his hands.

Just at that moment, the door to the office flew open and in walked a beautiful little angel, carrying a gaily-decorated tree twinkling with lights and glittering with beautiful ornaments. The angel stood before Santa's desk, looked at him with eyes bright and shining with love, and asked gently,

"Hey, Santa ... what should I do with this tree?"

Have a good day. Be here tomorrow for the Christmas Edition of Cartoon Saturday.

More thoughts then.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Another Trip Down Editing Lane ...

We haven't looked into the editor's errata file for a while ... now seems like a good time.

I think I'll stick with the smell of cookies, thank you very much ...

We may need some remedial training in child care before the show goes on ...

Do as I say, not as I do ...

Getting all those feathers out of the system will improve airflow, too ...

I wonder what it could have been ...

The elephant's ragged breathing was a giveaway ...

Here's your salad, Mr Fields ...

I usually just flush and walk away ... who needs an app? ...

What else can I say? ...

Nothing like a wild codpiece, is there? ...

Have you found any wonderful signs or examples of terrible editing? Send them to der(underscore)blogmeister(at)yahoo(dot)com, and I'll give you a shout if I use it in a future post.

Don't forget to cast your votes* for Ass Clown of the Year ... time's running out!

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* And your friends' votes, and your family's votes, and your pets' votes. Chicago Rules apply.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Deadly Sins Around Us

What could be a better topic of discussion for the happy, upbeat Christmas season than The Seven Deadly Sins?

You may recall that I have written about the Seven Deadly Sins several times, notably here (in conjunction with seven somewhat more nontraditional deadly sins), here (in combination with the updated Deadly Sins announced by the Catholic Church), and here (as paired with the Seven Cardinal Virtues). Yesterday I saw a new take on the topic in a Yahoo News item that steered me to this post on Memolition: Maps of Seven Deadly Sins in America.

This interesting post used various types of statistics to develop a set of maps which purport to show how widespread the Seven Deadly Sins are in various parts of America. For instance, the distribution of Greed, calculated by comparing average incomes with the number of people living below the poverty line, looks like this. Oddly enough, greed seems to be prevalent on the eastern seaboard (including New York and the Nation's Capital, go figure), Southern Florida and California  ...

Another example is the distribution map for Wrath, calculated by comparing the total number of violent crimes (murder, assault and rape) reported to the FBI per capita in each state. Red indicates higher rates of violent crimes per capita, while blue indicates lower rates ... in general, the most violent states tend to be in the deep South, and the most mellow in the Midwest and North ...

Finally, this map shows the distribution of Gluttony, calculated on the basis of number of fast-food restaurants per capita. Tidewater Virginia looks like a heart attack waiting to happen ...

I know you're waiting for Lust, but you can check it out on your own, Mike.

My conclusion: go North. It's colder, but less traditionally sinful. Maybe.

Have a good day. Go, and sin no more. More thoughts tomorrow.


Ass Clown of the Year Update

With one day of voting complete, here are the current results in our Ass Clown of the Year competition:

The Democratic Party and the GOP are tied for first place with 25 votes each.

Edward Snowdon is in second place with 16 votes.

Casey James Fury, The Tea Party, and Congress as a Whole are tied in third place with one vote each.

Don't forget to cast your votes ... remember, Chicago Rules apply, and the balloting closes at 11:59 PM on December 31st! Stand up and be counted!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Vote Now for the Ass Clown of the Year!

Yes, Dear Readers, we have nearly come to the end of another year, and it's time to open up the balloting for our

Ass Clown of the Year ...

Last year's award went to NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre, the 2011 award went to the GOP, and this year there is no shortage of worthy candidates, even though we didn't name our first monthly winner until April. Here is a wrapup of this year's monthly winners:

April: Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, for his smarmy approach to demolishing his political opposition.

May: North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Il and NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre (tie), because they both love their very deadly toys and have no sense of responsibility.

June: Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson, candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Virginia who gave new meaning to the terms extreme and - in the case of Mr Jackson - bizarre.

July: Edward Snowdon, who single-handedly destroyed much of the US intelligence community.

August: Casey James Fury, who destroyed the $400 million nuclear submarine Miami with the fire he set to give himself an excuse not to go to work.

September: al-Shabaab, the murderous Islamic fanatics murdering their way across East Africa.

October: The US Congress, with Special Recognition to the GOP, for obvious reasons.

November: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the executive who smoked crack while in office, then repeatedly denied it.

December: The Government of China, for its ham-handed approach to international relations.

You are, of course, not limited to voting for one of these (although any one of them would be a good choice). You can vote for anyone you like, and remember that Chicago Rules apply:

1. Vote early and often - there is no limit on the number of votes you can cast, or the number of different candidates you can vote for.

2. Vote on behalf of your family and friends, living or dead. Rule 1 also applies for them.

3. Vote on behalf of your pets. Yes, Rule 1 applies here, too.

You can vote by leaving a comment on any post between now and December 31st, or by sending e-mails to der(underscore)blogmeister(at)yahoo(dot)com. If you're one of my Facebook friends, you can also send me a PM via Facebook.

Voting closes at 11:59 PM on December 31st, and we'll announce the winner in my post on January 1st, 2014. I will post updates as needed so that you can adjust your voting strategy in favor of your candidate.

Stand up and be counted! Cast your vote(s)* today for the Ass Clown of the Year!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Don't forget to cast everyone else's votes, too!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dad Turns 90!

This past weekend I drove up to Pittsburgh to help celebrate my father's 90th birthday. I was fortunate to have good weather for the drive in both directions, although Saturday - the date of the party - the weather was terrible, with periods of heavy snow and freezing rain. Nevertheless, more than 50 people, including family and friends, turned out to honor The Patriarch. My sister Lisa did a marvelous job of organizing the entire thing, and it turned out to be a wonderful day. Of course, there are pictures ...

I didn't bring my wide-angle lens, so it wasn't possible to get a picture of the entire group, so we did smaller groups ... in this picture, all the members of the extended family who were there gathered for a picture with Dad ...

A large number of Dad's fishing buddies also showed up for a picture ...

My brother Paul, Sister Lisa, and I with Dad. Also in the picture is our old friend Greg, who counts as an honorary member of the family.

Dad was a professional advertising illustrator (not just a "photographer", as he would say) who did his work in the days before PhotoShop and digital imaging made complicated photos easy. Lisa made a number of displays of his work to show how he created special effects back in the day. The photos of the quick-draw artist on the right side of this trifold were from the shoot in which Dad literally almost got shot, because the gunslinger hadn't remembered to check his gun, and discovered it had a live round in it when it went off ... just missing Dad, but ending up in the adjoining ladies' room!

More examples of his work. The center section of the trifold shows how he created a paratrooper in mid-air by photographing the model posing in various positions on a stool, and combining that image with an actual sky image. On the right side of the trifold are pictures showing how Dad saved money by using cheap models ... top right, my sister Lisa and brother Mark sell drink mixes; bottom right, my brother Mark poses with a little tree*; at the top left, Paul nestles in soft blankets; and at the bottom left, our Grandmother Ruth considers buying gas appliances.

Lisa also laid out a large number of photos from Dad's portfolio for everyone to admire. Every photo had a story, and Dad enjoyed telling the stories to everyone who was interested ...

In this picture, Dad tells his stories to our cousin Mary, while Paul and Lisa look on ...

What's a party without a cake?

In honor of Dad's famous mustache, we also had a large number of "Pittsburgh Dad" cookies ... with mustaches!

 The party was held in the large party room at the home where Dad now lives. You can see a little bit of how yucky the weather was if you look out past the card display table ...

What gifts do you give the 90 year-old fellow who has everything? How about a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Ring Toss? ...

It was a wonderful day and a great way to honor the man who brought us into the world and taught us to be who we are today. Happy Birthday, Dad - we all love you!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* That little tree in the picture was later planted in front of our house ... and eventually grew to 50 feet or more in height!