2011: What Kind of Year Was It?

Something about losing over $10,000 in three months is just marginally disconcerting.

When I get my World Almanac for Christmas, I often sit around with my in-laws trying to guess the top 10 events of the year (which is actually November of the prior year to October of the current year).

Seems that while US politics (Tea Party, crazy Republican Presidential candidates) might make the roster, I sense the list will be dominated by three areas:
CIVIL UNREST: Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street
ECONOMIC PING PONG: roller-coaster stock markets; near defaults in the Eurozone
NATURAL DISASTERS: February snowstorm; Japanese tsunami; tornadoes in Joplin (MO), Tuscaloosa (AL) and elsewhere; drought in Texas and Oklahoma; Hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee

I feel lucky that most of these missed me. The February snowstorm I missed because I went to visit my mother in Charlotte, NC after she had a stroke (and before she died – sigh). Hurricane Irene DID force my wife and daughter to fly from Charlotte to Albany, rather than take the train. And my 401-K gained money in the first two quarters of this year, which was more than obliterated by the third quarter freefall; something about losing over $10,000 in three months is just marginally disconcerting. My wife wants me to put more money into retirement, but my agita is too great.

What kind of year was 2011 for you?
50 Funnies Tweets of 2011. I actually retweeted one of these.

A Jade Element December Rambling

Carried Away by The Jade Element- My eldest niece is the lead singer.

There was some anti-gay marriage pledge that the GOP candidates were supposed to sign this month. Of course, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum agreed to it, as one would expect. But the third was Mitt Romney. Not only is his position unfortunate, but it also cements that “pandering” problem he has. Beyond that, pandering didn’t work in 2008, and in fact, backfired. Oh, and this was widely circulated, but I still like it: the best message for marriage equality.

Where Roger Ebert stands on the Occupy movement, which is not dissimilar to my position. Or Ken Jennings’. Still, it’s impressive/amazing that Occupy Albany was still going strong earlier this month, a model operation; it has gotten permits from the city and everything. Then it got closed down – badly, as these things usually are. Expect the energy will not dissipate.

Bertrand Russell’s Liberal Decalogue, courtesy of Chris Black

When Blackwater, or Xe, or ACADEMI changes its name again.

Harry Morgan died on Pearl Harbor Day. Here’s his New York Times obit. I’m old enough to actually remember him in December Bride and its spinoff, Pete and Gladys. Of course, I watched him in Dragnet, where he was a great counterpoint to the dry Jack Webb. But of course, he’s best known for playing Colonel Potter in MASH. He was one of those you look familiar people who actually had an earlier role on the show as a crazy colonel, before showing up as the MASH commander a season later. Ken Levine remembers Harry; he wrote for MASH and its lesser sequel AfterMASH.

When I was watching MAS*H a couple of decades ago, Col. Potter seemed to be particularly bad spirits. It turned out that he was “the last survivor among several of his World War I U.S. Army buddies, and thus inherited a confiscated bottle of French cognac.” That was the very first time I remember hearing the word tontine, which generally refers to an investment plan.

I must admit knowing Christopher Hitchens more for his fight with cancer than his previous writings; still, an interesting guy. Arthur comments here, and Kevin Marshall provides a number of written and visual reflections of the man.

How to talk to someone with cancer, something I’ve had some experience with.

A fond farewell to the hard-wired phone; from “Superman” to “I Love Lucy,” a look back at the role this outdated device played in television and film

Mark Evanier remembers Batman artist (and much more) Jerry Robinson and one of the first superstars of comics, Joe Simon, as well as the 100th anniversary of the birth of Spike Jones; I forgot to bring my kazoo.

I’m sad Vaclav Havel died; he headed a free Czechoslovakia, and, just as remarkably, its division without bloodshed.

Music video Carried Away by The Jade Element. My eldest niece is the lead singer.

The Uffizi and Upside-down

Re: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Surely Joan Jett deserves to be there. I’m still hoping that Chaka Khan gets in sans Rufus. My real problem is that they, and Heart, all predated three of the male groups that got in: GnR, Beastie Boys, and the Chili Peppers. Unfortunate. But happy about Freddie King in as early influence, and Donovan and the sole woman, the late Laura Nyro.

Animated Comic Covers by Kerry Callen


Christmas Jumper: Name of beer leaves a bad taste
Head brewer Roger Green insisted the name had been a complete coincidence after the beer started life with a pump clip showing Santa in a big woolly pullover. However, that explanation failed to stop the dark ale from making headline news… Roger Green, of the Beachy Head Brewery in East Sussex, insisted there was no malice behind the title and that its meaning had been misconstrued. Relatives of people who have died at the notorious 530ft (162m) suicide spot near Eastbourne…

On the fifth day of Christmas my council gave to me….5p a mile Tribute was paid to the late Councillor Roger Green of Wisbech who had advocated the extra 5p a mile for councillors on official business. “One of the amendments that the late Cllr Green had made great play of was that the mileage had been held at 40p.”

Plane-parts suppliers charged in $6M Ponzi scheme in Fort Lauderdale
Victor Brown, 54, of Hollywood [Florida], and Roger Green, 78, of Stuart, were taken into custody Wednesday on charges of racketeering and conspiracy to commit first-degree racketeering, authorities said. [A bunch of variations on this story.]

It was the sixth time in eight days the Roger Green-coached Lady Tigers have won.

Create a harvesting plan for retirement assets, by Roger Green
Retirement planning does not end at retirement. The need to grow assets for income remains important for most – especially those who have not accrued enough assets to last them throughout today’s longer retirement periods.

Mr. Parrot’s & Tom the Mayor’s Moral Dilemma Questions

At every stage, I try to pressure my friend to do the right thing, while keeping to the letter of our agreement.

Shooting Parrots, from across the pond, as they say, decides to try to confound me.

Okay, here is one of those moral dilemma questions for you:

Your closest friend wants to talk to you about something, but you have to promise that it is just between the two of you. They then tell you that they ran someone over with their car last night and drove off without stopping to see how they were.

The following day you read that the person died and their body had been hit by several other cars. One of those drivers has been arrested and charged with causing death by dangerous driving. Worse still, it appears that the driver may have been drunk.

You don’t know whether it was your friend that killed the person or the cars that came later, but at the very least it was your friend who put the person in a situation where they would be killed.

You try to persuade your friend to turn themselves in, but they flatly refuse. Meanwhile, an ‘innocent’ driver may go to jail because of it and carry the guilt of it forever.

You have no idea how good I can be at laying on guilt when there is actual guilt to be laid on. I find out as much as possible about the other driver. Hope he or she has a family, which, I could tell my friend, would be without a father/mother, etc.

If that fails, I tell my friend that I will contact the defense attorney, and, I hope without specifically implicating my friend, and ideally anonymously, point him/her to the possibility of another theory of the crime.

Finally, if the prosecution has rested – the prosecution presents its case first in courts in the United States – I would tell my friend that I will make myself known to the defense, then do so. The defense could call me as a witness, and I’ll tell my friend that. At the end of the day, the defense might call me, and I would, under oath, be willing to testify to what I know. Now, the prosecution might likely object, wishing my testimony to be deemed inadmissible, as hearsay, and the judge might agree. But this would still aid competent defense lawyers and perhaps the police to look elsewhere for a suspect.

Note that, at every stage, I try to pressure my friend to do the right thing, while keeping to the letter of our agreement.

Did I ever tell you that, after I gave up the idea of being a minister, I decided to be a lawyer? Gave up that idea in college, but I was always a sucker for the law shows such as The Defenders (E.G. Marshall, Robert Reed), Judd for the Defense (Carl Betz), and, of course, Perry Mason (Raymond Burr).
Tom the Mayor says:
How about another Moral question? Would you kill someone to protect your daughter and wife, if their lives were at stake?

I would think so; I’m assuming no other options available. Still, there are factors that make the scenario trickier. For instance, unless he’s already killed or injured, how would I know he was going to kill, rather than just threaten?

And what circumstances would be involved where I would be able to potentially kill someone without endangering my family? Use of a gun? Never fired one, save for my grandfather’s hunting rifle when I was 7. I’d feel even worse if, in trying to save them, I harmed them or a bystander. As the physician says, First do no harm.

The most likely situation I envision would involve hand-to-hand fighting, where taking the would-be assailant out a window or into traffic or off a cliff, even if it meant taking me too. I could better imagine that.

But if I were to kill someone, even in self-defense, or in the defense of others, and survived, I would mourn that loss for the rest of my life.
Still taking questions.

ROG answers Arthur’s Question on Irreligiosity

I’m more irritable with perversions of Christianity than I am with the irreligious. I think it’s because they are SUPPOSED to be on “my” team.

One of my favorite people in Blogistan, Arthur@AmeriNZ, asks:

You know—of course, you do—you had me scurrying for my dictionary to consider the relative merit of “gauntlet” v. “gantlet”. I give you the victory on points.

But that’s not my question. You are religious and at least some of your readers are not. How hard is it for you to overlook what I can only assume is, if not blasphemy, then as close as you can get? Some of us are a bit more stroppy in our irreligiousity than others, so I’m wondering how you reconcile that with your own faith. Or, is it that your faith allows for those who are of differing—even non-religious—beliefs?

This is something that I, as a heathen, have long wondered about.

Arthur, I hyperlinked “stroppy” for my American readers, because I had never heard of the word until I saw or heard you use it.

I think my faith journey has been helpful. I was “saved” watching Billy Graham at someone’s house on Oak Street in Binghamton, NY when I was nine years old. This house is about a half-block from my church, a couple of blocks from my house. I mention this because it wasn’t an event that took place either at home or my church.

Went to Friday Night Bible Club almost every week for years. Figured that I was destined to become a minister, and others felt similarly. But here’s when things went off track. The more I read and studied, the less the whole thing was making sense. Some of the Old Testament stuff, especially in Leviticus, was troubling and confusing. I had a very difficult time with the notion of missionaries needing to “save the savages” in other countries from their “inferior” religions. In particular, I was told that all the Hindus in India were going to go to hell, and I did (and still do) have some real difficulty with that.

So I started drifting away from Christianity in college, though I still hung out with the campus ministry occasionally. Around this time, I read a book about Mahatma Gandhi. There’s a quote in there, and I’m paraphrasing, but in response to the question of why Gandhi didn’t become a Christian since he was an admirer of the teachings of Jesus Christ, he replied, “I’d become a Christian if I had ever met one.” Think that was a great retort.

In my 20s, I drifted theologically, flirting with various faiths, including the Moonies, and occasionally no faith at all. When I found my way back to Christianity over time in my 30s, it was with a more – what’s the word? – adult (?) sensibility, better able to deal with seemingly inherent contradictions of living faith and document.

As I was doing a Bible study in the mid-1990s, one of the exercises was to go to a faith tradition different from my own. I went to a now-defunct Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) church on Madison Avenue in Albany and spent about three hours there. After the service, I was engaged in conversation with a member. He wanted to know what my religious background was; I told him that I was a Protestant, a Methodist at the time. He said to me, as nicely as one can, “You do know you’re going to go to hell, don’t you?” This had to do with the fact that Protestants, unlike Catholics and Orthodox, do not subscribe to the literal belief in transubstantiation. That certainly helped my understanding of faith in the world from a different perspective, and how it felt to be the “other” theologically.

Indeed, I always engage people in religious conversations, if they want (and I have time) because all it can do is hone my own faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door? Come on in!

So, Arthur, the long answer to the question, is that irreligiosity bothers me far less than it seems to bug others, maybe because I’ve been there. “Opiate of the masses”? If that works for you. The late Christopher Hitchens’ tirade against the idea of God/faith? Fine. (Although this writer does have a valid point about Hitchens in a wider context.) Let’s face it, faith can be a bit scary, like stepping out into the void as Indiana Jones did in the third movie.

Actually, I’m more irritable with perversions of Christianity than I am with the irreligious. I think it’s because they are SUPPOSED to be on “my” team. So those Westboro Baptists tick me off far more than atheists. The peculiar intersection of Christianity and Americanism I find troubling because I believe Jesus was fighting the status quo, not embracing it.

I like many comedy movies about God. George Burns as God (Oh God), Morgan Freeman as God (Bruce Almighty). I love Monty Python’s Life of Brian so much that I bought it on DVD just this year.

Arthur, I’m not overlooking blasphemy; indeed, I happen to find it helpful to me. And yes, my faith allows room for those who are of differing— even non-religious— beliefs from me, because I think that is the Jesus message.

Sidebar: there was a discussion in adult Bible education at church a few weeks ago, and there was a conversation about whether people know you’re a Christian. One guy said that it would be unlikely. He didn’t wear a cross, carry around a Bible (like I did my first two years in high school – really), so how would anyone know? I suppose I DO want people to know – surely people at work know that, at least, I sing in a church choir. I mention faith periodically in this blog, I hope, but not TOO often. To proselytize would be anathema to me; this is what I believe, but I’m not saying that’s how someone else should feel. On the other hand, if you think, “he’s not so bad, for a Christian,” that’d be a plus.
Still taking questions.


X is for X-Ray Vision

X-ray vision is a bit of a misnomer.


The X-ray was discovered a little over a century ago. Getting an X-ray is something we take as commonplace at the dentist’s office or at a medical lab, but it was the quite amazing, and accidental, discovery. And it has helped produce some pretty nifty art effects such as The X-Ray Vision of Nick Veasey, from which this image was taken.

But that’s not what I really want to talk about.

I’m more interested in the notion of “X-ray vision”. As the Wikipedia entry explains, it’s a bit of a misnomer: “Although called X-ray vision, this power has little to do with the actual effect of X-rays. Instead, it is usually presented as the ability to selectively see through certain objects as though they are invisible, translucent or not present, in order to see objects or surfaces beyond or deep to the affected object or material.” This is NOT the way actual X-rays work: “The visions seen [in X-ray vision] are generally in full color and three-dimensional. How such an effect might be created via x-rays is unexplained (the x-rays from the viewer’s eyes would need to bounce back to his eyes the same way as normal light reflects off objects and into the viewer’s eyes: x-rays simply pass through an object and continue on their way.”

The fascination with X-ray vision, in “science fiction stories or superhero comics” has embedded itself in the minds of the public so thoroughly that a Google search will glean thousands of examples. Mark Evanier points to x-ray glasses and other mail-order mysteries from the stuff you order from comic book ads and the like, which is lots of fun. But it’s not just a ruse from the olden days. On YouTube, you will find Tiny Filter Gives Cellphone Cameras X-Ray Vision. Well, no. There is another technology at work whereby one can see Kim Kardashian’s underwear, but X-ray vision it is not. Ditto this Little Dot cover.

Of course, the best-known character with X-ray vision is the Man of Steel, as noted in comic books, TV show,s and on film. “Superman can see through walls to see the bad guys beyond, or see-through Lois Lane’s dress to determine the colour of her underwear (in Superman: The Movie, Warner Brothers, 1978).” Superman’s cousin, Supergirl is similarly blessed, or cursed, with this ability, evidently.

I suppose I too have fantasized about having that power and ability far beyond that of mortal man. But I would only use the power for good, not anything inappropriate. Or so I tell myself.

What superhero power would YOU want to have?

ABC Wednesday team

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