Thursday, February 28th, 2013

neenerHave you stockpiled supplies for The Day After The Sequester? Because that’s tomorrow, you know. If you didn’t have the foresight to make sure there were a couple extra cases of gin, whiskey and vodka in your basement, you messed up big time. I’m not coming home without a 2-liter bottle of soda water and a glacier-sized bag of ice from the corner store so that, when the power goes out at midnight, I’ll be on my second or third mixer. Then as the house slowly cools because the furnace isn’t running and the sun rises on chaos in the streets, I’ll just snap a nipple over the mouth of a vodka bottle and nurse myself into oblivion. With any luck, an alcohol-induced coma will force me to stop wondering how our country ended up being run by a pack of infants.

“Your plan to balance the budget is stupid!”

“No, your plan is!”

“Nuh-uhhh! Yours is the stupid plan!”

“I’m rubber, you’re glue, stupid!”

*sigh* Pass the whiskey.

infants | 5:59 am CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, yet another rant | Tags: ,
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Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Have you heard of this sequester thingy they’re doing in Washington DC? It’s basically like the time that Jim, Spock, Scotty and Bones threatened to destroy the Enterprise when a couple of bad guys wanted to take it over. Each one of them had to tell the computer, very slowly and deliberately, not to mention boringly, to blow up the ship by reciting their names, birth dates, serial numbers, and secret identity codes. Very. Very. Oh. So. Very. Slowly. And the bad guys just stand there and let them do it. If they’d have punched Scotty in the throat, he wouldn’t have been able to tell the computer his secret code and Kirk wouldn’t have been able to pretend he wanted to blow up the Enterprise. Even weirder, one of the bad guys (Frank Gorshin, it turned out) could shoot hot blue electric lightning from his fingertips, which he used later to fry the computer so Kirky and the boys couldn’t do that self-destruct thing any more. I’ll bet there are more than a few Republicans and Democrats who wish they had that superpower.

Or better yet, Frank Gorshin himself could walk through the halls of congress zapping senators and representatives right out of their socks with hot blue electric lightning bolts until they stop trying to make the government self-destruct and get back to work. That would be awesome!

gorshin | 6:03 am CDT
Category: current events, television, yet another rant | Tags:
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Friday, February 15th, 2013

Meteors: Nature’s way of asking, “How’s that space program coming along?”

Bam! | 5:49 am CDT
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Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_ImageI, like just about everybody else on the net this weekend, have been spending too much time playing with the Pulp-O-Mizer, a web site you can use to piece together your own pulp magazine cover from the artwork and fonts provided. Enjoy.

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image (2)

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image (3)

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image (4)

getting off | 12:09 pm CDT
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Saturday, January 19th, 2013

I’m not sure I understand one of the arguments against the regulation of guns. Help me out here.

I’ve read on teh intarwebs that The Most Holy Second Amendment says that we, the people, should all be allowed to have guns so we can shoot tyrants. Either my copy of the bill of rights is completely different from everyone else’s, or it’s the same but I’ve had a stroke that swapped around the meanings of all the words in my head, because I don’t see how the second amendment says that at all. There’s something about a militia, security, bearing arms, but no mention of shooting tyrants.

Assuming that it does, though, and that a citizen’s right to own as many guns as he wants of any kind is absolute: What, exactly, is the objection to registering guns? The one I’ve heard used most often is, if we let the government keep a list of everyone who owns guns, then the guns can be speedily taken away when the tyrants take over. But if one of the reasons for owning a closet full of guns is shooting tyrants, then when the tyrants show up to take the guns, wouldn’t they just get shot? Or am I not understanding how the ‘shoot the tyrant’ thing works?

what then | 10:09 am CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, yet another rant | Tags: ,
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Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Until the 1970s, the American faux spouse was too rare and taboo to even try to track. In 1980, the United States Census Bureau made its first attempt at naming these creatures in order to count them. It really outdid itself lexicographically: ‘person of opposite sex sharing living quarters,’ abbreviated to POSSLQ and pronounced ‘possle cue.’ The CBS commentator Charles Osgood had his way with the acronym, publishing a poem riffing John Donne’s ‘The Bait.’

     You live with me, and I with you,
     And you will be my POSSLQ.
     I’ll be your friend and so much more;
     That’s what a POSSLQ is for.

— “Unmarried Spouses Have a Way With Words, NY Times


waddaya call | 9:14 am CDT
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Monday, December 31st, 2012

Happy New Year! | 10:16 pm CDT
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Peter Sagal: I want to hear your observations, diplomatic as I’m sure they will be, about the differences between the British and the American system [of politics].

Sir Peter Westmacott: Well, you did set up a political system all those years ago which I think was probably designed to ensure that something you rather unkindly called ‘tyranny’ could not be imported across the ocean. So, you set up a system designed not to work, as I understand it.

Sagal: That’s pretty much the idea, yeah.

from Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!


differences | 4:02 pm CDT
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Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

We got to talking about Wayne LaPierre’s proposal that there ought to be armed guards in every school in the nation, and came up with a little back-of-the-envelope business plan for Nationwide Public School Armed Security Service that just might work because, really, this ought to be done with private security guards. They’re easy to license and, best of all, we could put a lot of combat veterans to work almost immediately because most states accept the military training that veterans received to satisfy the requirements for being an armed guard. Besides, police would be much more expensive to train and payroll.

There are something like a hundred thousand public schools across the land. Some of them are so small they’re probably need only one or two armed guards, but some of them are absolutely huge, big enough to need maybe a dozen or more armed guards. I don’t know what the average would be, but for the sake of argument we’re going to say it would average out to five armed guards in each school any time there were students present. That’s half a million armed guards per shift.

There’d have to be at least two shifts. We’d have an early shift to sweep and secure the school each morning, looking for attackers who might have hidden themselves in the vents or utility closets, and a late shift to stand watch after classes, while the kids are at football practice, playing basketball games, that sort of thing.

In larger schools, it’d probably be prudent to have a third, smaller shift to keep the building secure at night. Let’s say an average of two per school. And we’ll need at least another hundred thousand guards nationwide to cover for the guards who get sick, or need a day off to get the car fixed. Altogether, there’d be an immediate need for at least 1,300,000 armed guards

That many guards working forty hours a week for thirty-six weeks is 1,872,000,000 hours. Private security guards around these parts get about twelve dollars an hour. I imagine they get more in big cities, but it probably averages out to twelve when you include schools way out in the country. If we make them pay for their own uniforms and guns, we can keep the annual payroll under $23 billion.

Add another twenty percent for overhead and we’re up to $27.6 billion … round it up to, say, $30 billion to include the costs of setting the whole thing up. Sounds very doable to me. I can’t imagine that public schools would have any trouble anteing up when the safety of their kids is at stake. And after we put armed guards in every public school and the shooters move on to other crowded places like churches and restaurants, we take ‘public school’ out of the name of our business and branch out. Want to get in on the ground floor? Call me.

The LaPierre Plan | 5:25 pm CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, yet another rant
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Monday, December 17th, 2012

The biggest tree in the world:

sequoia president biggest tree

Here’s a link to a video about how they made the photo.

Here’s some more photos of this mind-bogglingly big tree.

The President | 9:43 pm CDT
Category: current events, entertainment
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Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

It’s four-thirty in the morning, and it’s time for some coffee, because what else are you going to do if you’re awake at four-thirty in the morning besides make coffee? Everything else in the day comes later. When it’s that early, coffee’s the only thing that matters.

Why am I out of bed at four-thirty in the morning? It was the cats again, natch. Nuff said about that.

I’m pretty sure My Darling B is lying awake in bed as I type these words. She’s much more stubborn than I am, although, if I may say so without sounding like I’m bragging, I was being pretty darned stubborn myself. It was two o’clock when I unceremoniously threw both cats out of the bedroom for violating the No Rambunctious Cats rule, and although I managed to doze off once or twice since then, I was never asleep long enough not to notice that B was tossing and turning in the darkness as well. By four o’clock I’d had enough of that — my own tossing and turning, I mean, not hers — and, grabbing the copy of Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters resting on my bedside table, I rolled out of bed and headed for the kitchen.

I’m using an old Sunbeam percolator to make coffee these days. About a week ago, while tending to my morning duties as the coffee steward of Our Humble O’Bode, I found that I’d let myself run out of paper filters for the pourover cone I customarily use. Whereas in any other house this would be a disaster, in our house it’s an opportunity for me to head for the basement vault and bring an antiquated coffee maker out of retirement.

I love antique coffee makers. Part of this passion is the neurotic result of my hoarding instinct: Humankind has devised so many various and unusual ways to make coffee, and I compulsively want to possess an example of each one of them. If I didn’t check my impulse to hoard coffee makers the way I hoard typewriters, we’d be tripping over them by now.

The biggest part of my love for coffee makers, though, comes from the sheer joy of rediscovering all those various and unusual ways of brewing a hot pot o’ joe. Whenever I end up wandering through the wreckage of a garage sale, I keep an eye open for vessels that appear to have no modern equivalent to any stove-top kitchen appliance in my experience. I don’t know how many times I’ve popped the lid off an innocent-looking jug and found plumbing inside that could only have meant it was made to brew coffee.

Finding the Sunbeam was like that, even though I had my suspicions almost from the moment I spotted what at first glance appeared to be a glass pitcher from across the room. As I closed in on it I could see that the glass body of the pitcher was mounted on a base made of Bakelite, and extricating it from the rest of the jetsam surrounding it on the shelf revealed a sleek Bakelite handle styled in space-age contours.

What seemed odd, at first, about this particular glass pitcher was that someone had incongruously left the basket of a coffee percolator inside it. It wouldn’t be out of the question, given the accumulation of detritus that crowded the shelves of that particular resale shop, to suppose that a passing customer jumbled together two so disparate kitchen items, but that turned out not to be the case. There was a hole in the bottom of the pitcher to stand the stem of the basket in, and a receptacle in the Bakelite base to plug in an electric cord. I’d never seen a glass-walled percolator before and was so wowed by it that I would’ve bought it even if it hadn’t been tagged at only five dollars. It’s almost embarrassing to admit how long I can stand beside it in the kitchen watching the coffee perk. I’ve done it before, and I did it again just this morning. What else was there to do?

With a freshly-brewed cup of mud on the armrest beside me, I curled up on the sofa and read several dozen pages of Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters, while slowly sipping. When I finally felt as though I had the energy to do it, I picked up my laptop, carefully bookmarking Salinger and setting it to one side.

Our Humble O’Bode has been internetless since Sunday morning, when I discovered that the router box was ticking like a time bomb, and that all the green status lights on its face had gone out, replaced by a single red light. I unplugged it from the wall and plugged it back in, but the classic dodge of cycling power that usually fixes other computerized junk only made this problem worse, if it’s possible to make a broken router any more broken. In this case, the slow ticking noise it had been making accelerated from a slow waltz to a crazy-fast Irish jig. The red light was still on, and it still didn’t work, so I’m not sure it was any more broken than it was before I attempted the power cycle, but it was a lot more emphatic about being broken. Just to make sure, I unplugged it again and left it unplugged for about five minutes. When I restored power this time, the ticking was a nerve-racking buzz. I didn’t want to find out what hellish noise it would make if I tried another power cycle, so when I unplugged it a third time, it stayed unplugged.

So what have we been doing without the internet? Well, I nearly finished The New York Times’ Sunday crossword puzzle, just for starters. I can’t remember the last time I had the patience, much less the time to attempt that. It took just about all Sunday afternoon, but I’m still rather proud, if only because I twigged to the theme of the puzzle, “Last Name First,” when I figured out that “Item on a steel worker’s agenda” was “Weld Tuesday.” I solved two more like that before I got stuck on “Smarmy preprandial blessing.” It ended with “grace” but I couldn’t think of anybody with a last name that might also mean “smarmy.” My Darling B was sure it must be Grace Slick, but if “slick” is a synonym for “smarmy” it’s a meaning I’ve never encountered. Neither one of us could get any of the words that crossed through “slick” to check if it fit, so it remains an wild-ass guess, as far as I’m concerned. She’s still dead certain.

I so desperately wanted to know which Grace it was that the first thing I turned to when I got the next day’s issue of the Times was the answer to the previous day’s puzzle. Only it wasn’t. It was the answers to Friday’s puzzle. This must be a new meaning to the word “previous” that I wasn’t aware of up to now. I didn’t know until I could look it up on Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle this morning that My Darling B was RIGHT! Mea Culpa, B. I will never doubt you again.

Although I began this missive at four o’clock this morning, if a text of over fifteen hundred words can be called a missive (it can: I’m giddy with pleasure at being able to google anything again), it’s eight o’clock as I finish this up in a coffee shop on Washington Avenue, where they offer free wifi and there is an electrical outlet within arm’s reach of ever table. (The battery in my laptop went to fuel cell hell many moons ago.) The date is 12/12/12, which the state legislature has officially proclaimed “Aaron Rodgers Day” because what else have our state lawmakers got to do in these times of plenty and peace, right? Oh, dammit, did I leave my soap box at home? Okay, forget I said that.

Aaron Rodgers may have an official day proclaimed by the law of the land, but was he born on the twelfth day of December, so that his birthday falls on 12/12/12 this year? Well, I don’t know. But I doubt it. I can tell you who does, though, and was relaxing at the very moment he typed these last few words in a coffee shop enjoying his day off from work on his birthday. You’ll never have that, Aaron Rodgers.

P.S. I was sitting in the car in the driveway, waiting to drive My Darling B to work and mulling over the things I could spend the day doing, when it occurred to me that Wisconsin state driver’s licenses expire on the birthday of the license holder, and when did I get that thing, anyway? Was it four or five years ago? It would be just perfect, wouldn’t it, if I had to spend an hour or two in line at the DMV waiting to get my license renewed, wouldn’t it?

I dug my license out of my wallet with no small amount of trepidation. Guess which other official document issued by the state of Wisconsin, other than the official proclamation announcing Aaron Rodgers Day, has the date 12/12/12 on it?

up and at ’em | 8:21 am CDT
Category: coffee, current events, daily drivel, food & drink, play, sleeplessness
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Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Alas Dave Brubeck | 9:00 pm CDT
Category: current events, entertainment, music, play | Tags: ,
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Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Recently on an Amtrak train, a fellow passenger across the aisle from me in the Quiet Car was involved in an animated cellphone conversation about a real estate transaction. The conductor came through and said: “Sir, I must ask that you refrain from using your cellphone. You are in the Quiet Car.”

Annoyed, he looked up and said: “I can’t hear you. I’m on the phone.”

New Castle, N.H., Nov. 18, 2012
Letter to the Editor, The New York Times


can’t hear the quiet for the trees | 9:10 am CDT
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Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

the song | 10:23 pm CDT
Category: current events
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Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney make me want to cry too, Abby.

tired of bronco bama & mitt romney | 6:04 pm CDT
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Thursday, October 18th, 2012

I watched the presidential debates Tuesday night, not because I was interested in listening to the same old crap coming out of the mouths of the candidates but, honestly, because I felt guilty about not taking a more active part in the democratic process. What did I learn? Something very important, really. It turns out I can’t stand either one of the candidates for president.

This is no surprise, by the way. I did not tune in to the debates thinking that either one of them would change my mind on anything. I’m not likely to vote for the smug, self-important Republican candidate any more than I’m likely to vote for the disconnected, blah blah Democratic candidate. Neither one of the choices who get top billing fire me up, and the other candidates (Quick! Name one!) leave me just as indifferent, but there’s enough of my fifth-grade teacher’s civic pride stuck in my hindbrain to make me feel bad that I don’t at least pretend to pay attention to what’s going on in the national political realm. Also, I knew My Darling B wanted to watch, so I fired up a laptop, found a good live feet on teh intarwebs and plugged in a set of external speakers so we could watch from the sofa with a couple cold beers.

Thank goodness for alcohol, that’s all I’ve got to say.

Is there currently a more uninspiring speaker in the political area, other than Reince Priebus, than our sitting president? This question has come up in every administration since G.H.W. Bush (without the part about the guy with the made-up name) and the answer, every time, has been “no.” Sometimes Mr. Obama can rev up a crowd, but whatever makes the magic happen seems to be dependent on the barometric pressure, or the pizza he ate. The pundits all seem to think he did rather well on Tuesday, but I was watching and it looked to me as if his performance was at best lackluster. If I’d been standing where he was standing I would’ve punched that Romney guy right in the nose on at least three different occasions. Bam! “Who’s a failure now, punk, huh?” If Mr. Obama had done that, I’d respect him a lot more today.

I’ve got to admit, Mr. Gotta Have The Last Word put on a pretty good show. Too bad I can’t believe a single thing he says, because in order to do that he would have to tell us how he thinks he’s going to balance the budget. “I know how to do it,” he kept saying, “I’ve done it before and I can do it again!” But he never explained how he would herd the cats in Congress together to make that happen. Every president since Jimmy Carter has said he’s going to balance the budget, but from what I can remember off the top of my head the only one who pulled off a budget surplus was President Gropius Maximus. I’m pretty sure that was done with smoke and mirrors, though, because how can you balance a trillion-dollar budget? Anything with the word “trillion” in it isn’t a budget. It’s an accounting nightmare.

That wasn’t what bugged me most, though. What bugged me most was the countdown clocks. Did you see the countdown clocks? If you did, would you please tell me what they were for? They didn’t seem to be there for the benefit of the candidates. No matter how bitterly they complained about the other guy’s time, each of them was loath to stop rambling when they could plainly see on any one of the dozen or so clocks in the room that the countdown had reached zero, and the moderator was just as reluctant to mention it to either of them. What were those clocks for? I never did figure it out.

There’s one more presidential debate on the calendar, but I’m not sure that all the beer in Milwaukee would make me feel numb enough to sit through it.

debates | 5:45 am CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, yet another rant | Tags:
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Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

I would be such a terrible moderator for presidential debates.

“Let’s stay on topic, please.”

“Would you please answer the question, sir?”

“Stick to the facts without trying to spin them, please.”

“Hold on: Do you have any statistics on that?”

“Time, sir.”

“Time, gentlemen.”

“Time, goddammit, time! TIME!”

moderation | 5:39 am CDT
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Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

I haven’t run across any really creepy social developments in a while … and then along came this installment of a weekly advice column in The New York Times:

My husband grabbed our son’s lunchbox and filled it with beer as we were leaving for an 11 a.m. birthday party for a 1-year-old (whose family we don’t know very well). I told him it was inappropriate to take alcohol to a children’s party. He said he had had a rough week and would take them out only if another father he knew wanted one, too. I said if the hosts wanted alcohol at their party, they would serve it. Then he called me judgmental and boring, and refused to go. Wasn’t I right?

Is this really a thing? People go to parties with a couple of secret beers just in case it turns out to be a lot more boring than they can tolerate? How’s that not a warning sign of chronic alcoholism?

Even more disturbing, though, is the answer from the advice columnist, Philip Galanes:

“Of course you were right,” comes the reply. “It’s sketchy to bring booze (unbidden) to a baby party.”

If he’d stopped right there, he could have pretended that common sense had won the day. If he had stopped. For whatever reason, though, he felt it was necessary to elaborate:

But would it have been so terrible to let your husband hang on to his last shreds of cool, letting him play rebel with a lunchbox in front of the other dispirited daddies (and mommies)? Of course not.

It doesn’t sound as if Hubby proposed turning the party into an ecstasy-fueled rave, and the guest of honor wouldn’t have had a clue who was sipping what. Still, I understand your desire to act appropriately and not commandeer other people’s parties.

But so many requirements of modern child-rearing, like giving up precious stretches of weekend for strangers’ children, can be soul-sapping and deeply at odds with our youthful fantasies about adult life. So be flexible and tolerant where possible.

Yeah! Don’t be such a killjoy! You know this party’s going to be a drag, and it’s just a couple beers, so hey! Loosen up!

Ye gods.

twofer | 5:15 am CDT
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Thursday, September 27th, 2012

image of Saturn

“…the Cassini spacecraft pulled into orbit around Saturn. There was nothing scientific about it, just pulling into orbit. Yet the Today Show figured that was news enough to put the story in their first hour – not in the second hour, along with the recipes, but in the first twenty minutes. So they called me in. When I get there, everybody says, ‘Congratulations! What does this mean?’ I tell them it’s great, that we’re going to study Saturn and its moons. Matt Lauer wants to be hard-hitting, though, so he says, ‘But Dr. Tyson, this is a $3.3 billion mission. Given all the problems we have in the world today, how can you justify that expenditure?’ So I say, ‘First of all, it’s $3.3 billion divided by twelve. It’s a twelve-year mission. Now we have the real number: less than $300 million per year. Hmmm. $300 million. Americans spend more than that per year on lip balm.’

“At that moment, the camera shook. You could hear the stage and lighting people giggle. Matt had no rebuttal; he just stuttered and said, ‘Over to you, Katie.’ When I exited the building, up came a round of applause from a group of bystanders who’d been watching the show. And they all held up their ChapSticks, saying, ‘We want to go to Saturn!'”


space chronicles | 8:30 pm CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, books, current events, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, play, space geekery
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Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

image of Twitter feed

Catching up on my Twitter feed this morning. Ran across a Tweet from science writer Pamela Gay describing the exploration of the asteroid Vesta by the Dawn probe. “Vesta melted, formed iron core, may have an Ovaltine crust.” Wait, what?

Oh. Olivine, not Ovaltine. Okay, then.

Ovaltine | 6:03 am CDT
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Monday, September 24th, 2012

There’s something so wrong about using the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter to sell crappy beer.

image of an advertisement on a city bus

rosie | 6:09 am CDT
Category: beer, current events, daily drivel, food & drink, yet another rant | Tags:
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Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

I got a phone call from a moocher this morning. Stand on a street corner with a cardboard sign, or make the most of technology and call me on the phone; either way, you’re just a moocher if you’re begging me for money.

It was so unusual for the phone to ring any time before nine o’clock that I picked it up, in contravention of my rule never to answer the land-line because only telemarketers call us at that number. We keep a land-line only because I’m stuck in the past and have an old rotary phone. I can dial it, and the handset has the reassuring texture and heft of bakelite that can’t be faked by any plastic phone. Also, it’ll work when the power goes out, and it weighs in at about ten pounds. Clock somebody over the head with that and they’re going down! You may be able to tuck a cell phone in your pocket and use it to make calls from anywhere, but as self-defense weapons they suck.

Anyway, I answered the phone even though I knew in the back of my mind that I really shouldn’t have. The caller asked if My Darling B was home, and I gave the usual response to that question when asked by a voice I wasn’t familiar with: She’s not available right now. May I take a message?

“Are you a member of the household?” There’s another red flag that you’re talking to a telemarketer. But I thought I’d play along with him for the moment, so I said yes.

“Well, then I can direct this call to yourself,” he said cheerily. Sounds like somebody didn’t pay attention in English when they were studying the use of the reflexive, assuming students even study English in school any longer. A lot of the e-mail I get seems to suggest they haven’t for years, or, if they do, the bar is set so low that Tyrion Lannister would have trouble limboing under it. (Geek joke, sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

“I’m calling on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,” he began, “and this call will be recorded for training purposes. Did you know that for only twenty-five dollars —”

I stuck with him that long only to make sure I wasn’t missing out on an opportunity to take part in a national poll, which I wouldn’t miss for anything, given they’re much more significant than my one paltry vote. As soon as he flipped up his little cardboard sign (I WORK FOR POLITICIANS PLEASE HELP GOD BLESS), I dropped the handset in the cradle without a word.

You need twenty-five dollars? Go ask your lobbyists.

moocher | 9:51 am CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, entertainment, messing w/telemarketers, play, yet another rant | Tags:
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Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

image of blog comment

Most of the comments I get here on the drivel blog come from spam robots. My loyal readers are a very reticent bunch, to the point that I don’t even know they’re out there. Really, I can’t even hear them breathing. But you’re out there, right? Right?

Spam robots generally have quite a lot to say. I’m amazed at how much they can squeeze into a comment box sometimes. And typically it never makes even the tiniest bit of sense. If I have to read any more than the first three words to decide whether or not it’s a valid comment, then it’s probably not from a spam bot.

Every once in a great while, though, I get a comment from a spammer like Glass Dildo here that just floors me.

“The day the routers died – who put the 4 inch nail in the circuit breaker and poured coffee over the servers? The Bastard Operator from Hell.” Wow. Who among us hasn’t dealt with an IT department that made us want to do that at least once in our lives? I almost didn’t want to delete it. Had to think long and hard about whether or not I wanted a link to Glass Dildo on my blog.

Whoops. Long and hard. I didn’t even mean to do that.

commentary | 6:26 pm CDT
Category: current events | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but apparently there’s this election coming up? If you haven’t heard, then I’m just going to assume you don’t have a television or radio and you live miles from anyone who does and you don’t have a car and you never talk to anybody and, as far as you’re concerned, the rest of the world can go to hell and you’re never coming down out of your tree again. Did I get it right? Would you mind if I climbed up into the tree next to yours? Just for a little while. You can show me how to hunt for squirrels and then I’ll go find a tree far away from yours, promise. Just don’t make me stay here and listen to Romney and Obama and Ryan and Whatshisname bicker until November. I can’t take two more months of their crap.

can’t wait till it’s over | 5:35 am CDT
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Saturday, August 25th, 2012

I’m not one to worship heroes, and I have my doubts that Neil Armstrong was ever one to consider himself a hero, but dammit, he was. He really was.

So long, Neil, and thanks for daring to do great things.

image of Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong 1930-2012 | 4:22 pm CDT
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Thursday, August 9th, 2012

It’s another too-tired-to-blog post. Today’s eye candy: Saturn.

image of Saturn

stripes | 8:51 pm CDT
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Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Mars looks a lot like the Mojave Desert. That’ll thrill the hoaxers.

image of Mars

mojave? | 9:20 pm CDT
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Monday, August 6th, 2012

image of celebration following successful landing of Curiosity rover on MarsI crawled into bed at about one-thirty this morning after staying up half the night to watch NASA land a robot on Mars.

“Did your thing happen?” My Darling B asked dreamily, as I settled into a comfortable spot.

“Yes, my thing happened,” I told her. Space geekery is “my thing.”

Then tried to fall asleep. Mostly, though, I failed because WE JUST LANDED A GODDAMN ROBOT THE SIZE OF A FORD EXPLORER ON MARS! And when I say “we,” I mean “that bunch of very smart people of which I am not one at the Jet Propulsion lab,” the same way Green Bay Packers fans say “We won!” when what they mean is “a bunch of professional athletes we hired, and through which we participate vicariously in football, won!” They’re some articulate fuckers, those Packers fans.

I used to get up, or stay awake until odd hours to watch other rocket launches when I was younger, and my youthful exuberance kept me plenty jazzed to get me through those episodes, but I may be getting a little too old for this stuff now. My eyes were very heavy-lidded and stinging as I tried to keep them open way past my bed time.

Once we got to within an hour of landing, though, it was a little easier to stay awake. The enthusiasm of the flight team came across on the video feed and I was bouncing up and down with them when the rover finally sent back the thumbs-up that it was safely on the surface. And when it sent back a photo of its own wheel just minutes after landing, even a really tiny photo, well, that was just pandemonium.

They had to get back to work, though, because they had this robot on Mars to look after, and I had to get to bed because I had this job to go do at the office in the morning.

I did not dream of robots, naked or otherwise, thank goodness.

up and at em | 6:23 am CDT
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Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Even if a picture isn’t worth 1,000 words, this photo of a stack of plushies of the Olympic mascot Wenlock, whose name suggests dark incantations to raise the dead and whose single glaring eyeball is the stuff of my adolescent nightmares, explains better than I ever could why I won’t be wasting any of my time paying attention to the Olympic games:

image of Olympic mascot

I would prefer delirium tremens, thank you.

wenlock | 9:21 am CDT
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Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Virtual view of the panoramic view of Mars shot from the Opportunity rover:

image of MARS!

mars | 9:16 pm CDT
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Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Coming soon to your solar system: 7 Minutes Of Terror!

Invaders from another planet, that’s us!

seven | 4:37 pm CDT
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Monday, June 11th, 2012

Heard this on the radio this morning: “If you’ve ever wanted to give money to a politician, but you couldn’t get to your bank or your checkbook, you may soon be able to make a donation over the phone.” Well, thank goodness we will soon have another way to fork over our money to politicians! Why has it taken so long, anyway? You’d think that, by now, they would’ve figured out every single possible way to make that happen, and yet they somehow missed credit card payments over the phone. Bet that was a facepalm moment.

payout | 5:34 am CDT
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Friday, June 8th, 2012

We have been given eyes to see what the light-year worlds cannot see of themselves, Bradbury wrote. We have been given hands to touch the miraculous. We’ve been given hearts to know the incredible. Can we shrink back to bed in our funeral clothes?

Andy Chaikin, who has made a life out of writing about space explorers, remembers Ray Bradbury

requiem | 5:50 am CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, books, current events, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, play, space geekery
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Thursday, June 7th, 2012

On my way to work yesterday, I stopped by our favorite bakery to see what kind of traffic accident would make the operators close it down for a day, as they mentioned in a Facebook post that they were experiencing some technical difficulties.

It turns out a drunk driver crashed a car into it. Doesn’t that just figure? We finally get a really good bakery on this side of town and some douchenozzle comes along and screws up everybody’s good deal.

According to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal, a drunk driver was trying to make a getaway from the police when he lost control of his car. He must have been moving at a pretty good clip, because just before he knocked the corner off the bakery, he tore the front off an apartment building two doors up the street. Somehow, that wasn’t enough to stop his car from punching through the cinderblock wall of the bakery.

The good news is, nobody was hurt. Also, the bakery plans to move up the street soon anyway.

blammo | 6:07 am CDT
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Wednesday, June 6th, 2012


This has been a test of the State of Wisconsin electoral system. In the event of an actual election, everyone would have been able to cast their votes before a winner was declared, and candidates for office would have remained in the election until all the votes were counted. This has only been a test.


test | 5:39 am CDT
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Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Ten years from now, or maybe as little as five, really, I may not remember where I was or what I was doing when I heard the news that Maurice Sendak had died, but I hope I’ll always be able to recall some of the happiest moments of my life, and that I could live them only because Sendak was alive.

Here’s one of them: Reading Where The Wild Things Are to my youngest son, Timmy, while he sat in my lap. I loved the part where I got to say, “That very night, in Max’s room …” and then pausing, Tim’s cue to throw his hands over his head and shout, “A FOREST GREW!”

Or this: The many pages of The Wild Rumpus. There were no words, so as I turned to the first two-page spread I would bounce Tim up and down in my lap and he would join me in chanting, “Rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpuussss!” Then we would turn the page and do it all over again.

Unless my memory’s gone south, Sean’s favorite Sendak book was In The Night Kitchen, probably because it was full of milk and cookies. Both the boys liked Chicken Soup With Rice, which is easily my favorite, right after Where The Wild Things Are.

When I heard of Sendak’s death today, I slumped in my chair and very nearly came to tears, until it occurred to me that it would be much more appropriate to make sure we all kept the wild rumpus going.

Rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpuussss!

Maurice Sendak | 9:01 pm CDT
Category: books, current events, entertainment, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg
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Monday, May 7th, 2012

Spotted on the way into town last Saturday: There is something not quite right with this picture.

I literally tromped on my brakes when I noticed that this van appeared to be parked abnormally close to the fence around the Dumpster – the little black coupe was not even visible until I circled around into the parking lot for a better look. And I didn’t notice that the van driver clipped the bumper off the Toyota in the right foreground until I stopped to take a picture.

The skid marks on the blacktop make it look like the little black coupe must have been parked at least two spaces back when the van plowed into it and shoved it up against the fence, snapping the fence posts clean off at ground level.

Not only did the van driver shove the little black coupe sideways at least twenty feet into a fence that he broke off and shoved another ten feet or so, he still had enough momentum to push two Dumpsters into the fence on the other side of the enclosure, which he also snapped clean off its posts – and into another car! Hat trick!

It looks horrific, but a couple guys I met in the parking lot said that the driver got out of the van under his own power and was talking with the police immediately after the crash. The wreck made a lot of noise, they said, but nobody else was involved. They weren’t sure what happened to the driver of the van. I’m guessing he spent the weekend in the hoosegow unless somebody came to bail him out.

plowed | 11:57 am CDT
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Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Steve Curwood’s show, Living On Earth, explaining why sending people into space is a good thing:

CURWOOD: So, tell me, why should we explore space, with people?

TYSON: I’ve got my own reasons for exploring space, that I don’t presume others should have these reasons. I think we should explore space because it’s cool to do and that you discover interesting things tomorrow that you didn’t know today, and that’s enlightening. That’s why I like to explore.

But I’m not going to require others to want to write the checks for those reasons. We should do it because our economy is tanking right now and people need to recognize the role and value of innovation as a cultural directive on the health of an economy. And by innovation, I mean the capacity to dream about a tomorrow that doesn’t exist today, the capacity to want to accomplish something tomorrow. In space it would require some kind of application of science, engineering, and technology to do something tomorrow that you didn’t know how to do today and when you innovate on that scale, you invent the economies of tomorrow.

And when you do that, the kids want to become scientists because they can see what role, it’s writ large in the daily headlines, they see what role science and engineering fluency plays in the trajectory of your society. And then the entire country becomes a participant on that frontier rather than sitting on our hands watching the rest of the world do exactly what we used to dream about doing for ourselves.

Listen to the whole show, see nifty pictures and read a transcript.

cool | 9:50 am CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, current events, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, play, show, space geekery
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Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Broccoli. I can’t open a newspaper, switch on the radio, or surf the internet without being reminded of the wisdom of supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, who wonders if the federal government will be forcing us all to buy broccoli soon.

Gee, Mr. Scalia, would that really be so bad for anybody? Considering what the federal government can already force me to do – fork over thirty percent of all the money I make every year, submit to a search every time I want to get on a commercial plane, pick up a gun and kill people – it would seem to me that making us all buy broccoli is, excuse the mixed metaphor, small potatoes.

mandate | 11:30 am CDT
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Sunday, February 19th, 2012


Some Wall Street investors made money as the mortgage market boomed; others profited when it fell apart.

Having reaped big gains during both of those turns, Greg Lippmann, a former star trader at Deutsche Bank, is now catching the next upswing: buying the same securities built from mortgages that he bet against before the financial crisis erupted.

Bonds Backed by Mortgages Regain Allure, New York Times

Seriously? Seriously? A worldwide economic collapse wasn’t enough to warn investors not to do this? I don’t know what I’m more disgusted by, the realization that this was never made illegal, the implication that investors seem incapable of learning from their mistakes, or the sad fact that a majority of the nation isn’t out in the streets with pitchforks and torches, bent on revolution.

collapse | 11:57 am CDT
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Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Finally! Somebody’s teaching robots to do something useful!

There are probably a lot of people who would look at this robot from a lab at UC-Berkeley and the first thought that would pop into their heads would be something like, “Well, that’s typical for an elitist institution, wasting time and money on building robots to do something as simple as fold towels.”

Then there are people like me who see this and the first thought that pops into our heads is, “TAKE MY MONEY AND GIVE ME ONE!” And the next thought is, “Does it clean toilets?”

Even if it can’t clean toilets, a robot that can fold clothes is more awesome than time travel! Unless of course the first thing you used time travel for was to go into the future and bring back a robot that did your laundry for you.

useful | 6:16 am CDT
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Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Leaders of various evangelical groups gave their endorsement to Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, because he’s the tall, dark stranger they would most like to have a fling with before resigning themselves to political marriage with Mitt Romney.

I promise I’m not making that up. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, figures that, “before we marry the guy next door, don’t you think we ought to have a fling with a tall dark stranger and see if he can support us in the manner to which we’d like to be accustomed? And if he can’t, we can always marry the steady beau who lives next door.”

Well, naturally! You might have been going steady for years, and you might be perfectly satisfied that he’s the one for you, but you sure don’t want to go into marriage without knowing what you might have had. If you do, you’ll only spend the rest of your life wondering, right? And, as Mr. Land pointed out, maybe that tall, dark stranger will turn out to be loaded with cash!

But, if he’s not, if it turns out he just wanted to boink you before moving on to his next conquest, well, you’ve always got the steady, dependable guy next door to fall back on. It’s win-win!

So have a good time partying with that Santorum guy, evangelicals! And when you wake up tomorrow morning, see his head on the pillow next to yours and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?” you don’t have a thing to worry about! There’ll always be Romney, the steady beau, waiting to forgive your impetuous actions and take you back.

By the way, Romney’s loaded too! Just in case you hadn’t heard.

fling | 4:38 pm CDT
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Thursday, January 5th, 2012

And now, a summary of every news bulletin, editorial and talking pundit I’ve heard on the radio this week:

Monday: Caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus.

Tuesday: Caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus.

Wednesday: Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Santorum. (Even though they were tied for first. Go figure.)

Wow, am I glad that’s over.

Today, when I turn on the radio: New Hampshire? Are You Kidding Me? This is never going to end, is it?

interminable | 6:41 am CDT
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Friday, December 30th, 2011

Oh I have just passed a most happy hour watching Brian Cox explain how atoms work. No, really. You may think you don’t have an hour to watch a video about a subject that you think you’ve never been interested in about knowledge you think you’ll never use, but just give him at least ten minutes of your time and see if you’re not infected by his enthusiasm.

I think my favorite moment is when he gets Jonathan Ross to help him calculate the probability that all the atoms in a diamond will leap five centimeters to the left. I’m sure a guy like Cox does this kind of math dozens of times a day, but I’m equally sure Ross doesn’t. Remember how to reckon numerators and denominators? No, neither do I.

Professor Brian Cox: A Night With the Stars

If I tell you one of the stars is Simon Pegg, would that make you want to watch it?

The best theory we have to describe matter is quantum theory.

Now, I understand why quantum theory can seem a bit odd. It makes odd statements. It says, for example, that things can be in many places at once. In fact, technically, it says that things can be in an infinite number of places at once. It says that the subatomic building blocks of our bodies are constantly shifting in response to events that happened at the edge of the known universe, a billion light years somewhere over there. This is all true, but that isn’t a license to talk utter drivel.

Quantum theory might seem weird or mysterious, but it describes the world with higher precision than the laws of physics laid down by Newton, and it’s one of the foundations of our understanding of nature. It doesn’t, therefore, allow mystical healing or ESP or any other manifestation of new-age woo-woo into the pantheon of the possible. Always remember that quantum theory is physics, and physics is usually done by people without star signs tattooed on their bottoms.

stars | 10:11 am CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, current events, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, play, space geekery, television
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Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Neil deGrasse Tyson gets all worked up about why the study of quantum mechanics matters:

In the 1920s, quantum physics was discovered. That is the science of the small: the science of electrons, protons, neutrons, particles, nuclei. At the time, you’d say, This is just physicists burning tax money. Who cares about the atom? I got a horse to feed, I got kids, I got – you know, you got issues in society, yet it’s quantum mechanics that is the entire foundation of our entire technological revolution. There would be no computers. There would be no – none of what you take for granted – your iPod, your iPhone, cell phones, the space program – without our understanding of the laws of physics at that atomic and molecular and nuclear level. The chemist has no understanding of the periodic table of elements without quantum mechanics. To them, it’s just a list of elements. Quantum mechanics tells you why this column is there, and that’s there, and why this mates with that, and why that makes a molecule with that – that’s quantum mechanics, and it’s unheralded. You ask me, Is there any discovery that has changed how we live? It is quantum mechanics. And I make this point because there are people who say, Why are we spending money up there when we got problems on earth? People don’t connect the time-delay between the frontier of scientific research and how that’s going to transform your life later down the line. All they want is a quarterly report that shows the product that comes out of it. That is so short-sighted that that’s the beginning of the end of your culture.

quantum | 5:45 pm CDT
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Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

The whole world is on fire!

In a time-lapse video shot from the windows of the International Space Station, your home planet burns so brightly it’s hard not to wonder how anything can be alive down there. Cities are ablaze, lightning flares through the cloud tops, and the atmosphere itself swirls with the yellow-green flames of atoms charged by solar flares.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

flames | 6:21 am CDT
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Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

I’m a huge geek for space flight. I’m not sure why it’s called “manned” when there are women doing it now, and I’m as puzzled about calling it “flight” when it can and often is done without wings, but even so, I geek out in a major way whenever I run across a book or photo or web site that has anything to do with manned space flight. Geeking out isn’t about trying to make sense of it. It’s a Pavlovian response. Or is it? Maybe it’s not conditioned; maybe I was wired that way at birth.

Whatever. If I’d had the brains to do it, I would’ve gotten a couple PhD’s just for the privilege of working for a manned space flight program no matter how frivolous or questionable the motives for pursuing it are. I know the whole point of landing a man on the moon was to win a political argument. So what? It was still pretty cool. And our nation devotes a lot of time, energy and money to other political arguments – immigration, war, those kinds of things – that aren’t nearly as awesome as flying in space, supposedly because they’re important and space flight is pointless. “What are you going to do in space?” goes the argument. Well, you could live there. Takes a while and a lot of hard work to figure out how, but it could be done.

And if the argument against manned space flight is even more basic, if all that the argument against it boils down to is, “Why?” I’d answer, Because somebody is going to do it. In the whole of history, we’ve climbed into ships and gone as far as we could, and now that we’ve figured out that we can go to space, the move to working and then living in space is inevitable. It has to happen, because that’s what we do.

Actually, it’s happening. Right now. There are people living on a space station in orbit above us. They’ve been living in it for years, and will go on living in it for years, and they’re doing it mostly to figure out how to go on living in space for generations to come. If you think that’s not freaking awesome, then what is?

I got all wound up about this after astronomer Pamela Gay, appearing on a panel at the annual TAM science meeting, got shut down by astrophysicist Neal de Grasse Tyson after she made the comment that manned space flight was “kind of awesome … but there isn’t the budget in the world right now to do it right.” You cannot say that kind of thing around Neal (he lets me call him Neal) without expecting a broadside in return:

I’ve got to rebut that: To say there’s no budget in the world – the federal budget is three point something trillion dollars … It’s not that we can’t afford it, it’s that we have chosen to not afford it. … The U.S. bailout of the banks exceeded the 50-year budget of Nasa. If you want to do something with three and a half trillion dollars, you can do whatever you want, whatever you judge to be important to the profile of the nation. The Nasa budget is four-tenths of one percent of a tax dollar. If I cut into a tax dollar four-tenths of one percent, it doesn’t even get into the ink! So I will not accept the statement that we cannot afford it.

Yeah. What he said.

ink | 11:04 am CDT
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Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

To The Editor:

In your editorial comment, Capitol Common Sense (Oct 11, 2011), you wrote:

Here’s how a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald made the argument this week for allowing concealed weapons inside the state Capitol.

“So long as the Capitol remains open, our members, their staff and the public have a right to defend themselves,” John Jagler said.

Defend themselves? What about the right of members, their staff and the public to a safe environment?

We backed concealed carry in Wisconsin … Under the law … Municipalities can prohibit weapons in government buildings … weapons can’t be banned from parks and public grounds.

At least John Jagler was being consistent. If legislators believe that the citizens of Wisconsin are responsible enough, given some training, to carry concealed weapons, then why should there be a prohibition against carrying weapons into the capitol? Or any other place, for that matter? If a citizen is deemed responsible enough to carry a concealed weapon into a public park, why not a public building? And certainly anyone should be able to carry concealed weapons into the very building where the legislature that availed us of this right carries out their daily labors.

But if the Editor objects that carrying concealed weapons into the capitol will transform it into an unsafe environment for the legislators, their staff and the public, then why does the Editor endorse a policy of carrying concealed weapons anywhere else? How is the capitol less safe than other public buildings and lands when citizens bring concealed weapons into them? How is the public endangered in a capitol where concealed carry is allowed, yet somehow safe in a public park where concealed carry cannot be prohibited? I would very much like to know how you justify one, but not the other.

consistency | 7:11 pm CDT
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Friday, September 30th, 2011

So, the thing that really amazed me about the news that neutrinos might possibly travel faster than light (I’m not convinced) was not that this would change all physics forever and make Einstein a dooty-head as well, it was that physicists were using the Large Hadron Collider in Bern, Switzerland, like a particle-beam cannon to shoot volleys of neutrinos at Italy! Wouldn’t that be awesome? I didn’t even know it could do that! I thought the particles stayed inside the accelerator, for the most part. I didn’t know they could lob an occasional broadside at a target in another country. “Who should we blast full of neutrinos today?” “Well, I’ve always wanted to irradiate Kalamazoo.” Man, I wish I’d paid more attention in physics class.

Speaking of which: A couple of particle physicists joined Tom Ashbrook on his radio show yesterday to talk about the neutrino thingy, and when they got to the part of the show where callers phoned in to dump on the guests, one of them began to explain away the supposed extraordinary speed of neutrinos by saying, “If I recall my high school physics correctly…” Oh! Hey! We never thought of that! Man, if we’d only gone back to high school physics, none of this controversy would ever have come out! Thanks, high school physics caller! That cleared everything up!

zap | 6:24 am CDT
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Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

National Public Radio has been presenting a series of articles about growing old and retiring that don’t make it sound all that appealing. As a matter of fact, they make it sound like a great big bummer.

“Retirement: Reality Not As Rosy As Expectation” is all about how retirement was not at all what people expected it to be, because deteriorating health, or poor financial planning, or both forced them to live on the ragged edge of existence.

And “Boomers Delusion About Health In Retirement,” which leads with a photograph of a line of grayhairs playing Wii bowling, tells us all about what a great, big bummer it is to fall apart as we grow old. “That’s what getting older is eventually about. We’re all going to have serious health problems in retirement, and eventually really serious health problems,” says a consultant asked to comment for the record.

Hey, thanks, NPR! Thanks so much for giving me something to look forward to!

bummer | 6:31 pm CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, damn kids!
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