Entry 664: Word to the Why’s

Why it’s bad to be the President: I don’t usually find myself in a position of feeling sorry for Donald Trump, but you do have to kind of sympathize with a guy who gets an approval rating on an almost daily basis. I don’t think many of us could bear that sort of scrutiny in our lives. (“Mark doesn’t empty dishwasher; approval rating plummets!”)

Why you shouldn’t exercise: New research presented at the European Congress on Obesity showed that stopping exercise for just two weeks led to significant changes in body composition, including increases in total body fat and loss of skeletal muscle mass. This is precisely why I never exercise. If I never start, I don’t have to worry about what happens if I stop.

Why headline writers should be more careful: The headline read “Miley is rethinking her shows after bombing,” leading me to believe that nobody was showing up to her concerts, and that those who did were horribly disappointed. I truly felt bad for Miley, until I clicked through to the story and learned that her career had not tanked. “Miley Cyrus reveals how she’s rethinking her shows after bombing” read the actual headline of the article, “at Ariana Grande’s concert.”

Why wars get started: As previously reported in this blog, there has been an artistic disagreement going on in downtown Manhattan, where a “Fearless Girl” statue has been placed defiantly in front of a “Charging Bull” statue, causing the bull artist, Arturo Di Modica, to claim that the entire meaning of his piece has been altered. Now a third artist, Alex Gardega, has entered the fray, seemingly as an ally of the bull guy, by installing a small statue of a dog peeing on Fearless Girl’s leg. While he was forced to remove it after a couple of hours, it’s only a matter of time before a matador statue shows up to stab the bull, and then a pedophile statue is placed behind the girl, and then a butcher statue, and then an abusive husband statue, and so on until somebody drops an H-Bomb statue on the whole damn thing.

Why you should be careful what you sign up for: Team Trump has just launched a subscription service called Big League Box which will deliver an exciting “handpicked bundle of exclusive and vintage OFFICIAL Donald J. Trump merchandise” to your door every month. Judging from the picture accompanying the announcement, the merchandise seems to be caps, mugs, buttons and other stuff they still have laying around from the last campaign. I’ll skip the question of just how much Donald Trump merchandise even his most ardent supporters can hoard, and get right to the more intriguing query: What could they possibly send that could conceivably be described as “vintage?” A Trump steak? A Trump University student ID? A photo of Trump shaving Vince McMahon’s head at Wrestlemania? Oh, and in case you’re interested, each Big League Box will set you back $69. And, it bears repeating: that’s every month!

Why you shouldn’t quit your job to be in a movie: A pair of documentary film makers are searching for volunteers who will accept $250 a week for two years just to be filmed while deciding how to spend $250 a week. The movie is intended as a demonstration of the affect on people’s lives of “Universal Basic Income” (UBI), an economic theory that the world will be a better place if we removed financial stress with “a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.”  It will be interesting to see who they end up using in the film, because for some people, $250 a week would be a lifeline that enables them to, for instance, eat, while for others, it would be completely disposable income they can use for frivolous stuff, like a Big League Box subscription.

Why Catholics don’t need to appear in documentaries: Because they can follow the Pope’s advice for relieving stress, financial and otherwise. Each night the Pope writes down all his problems in a letter to Saint Joseph, then slips the note beneath a statue of the patron saint of workers and the man believed to be the father of Jesus. Studies have revealed that writing down your troubles can, indeed, relieve stress. And if you can’t afford your own statue of St. Joseph, you can just put your letters under a bottle of his aspirin.

Why Spell Check isn’t always helpful: Sometimes it’s because it makes ridiculous substitutions, like once when I wanted to say “autopay” and my iPhone changed it to “autopsy.” Other times, Spell Check can be totally stumped. President Trump is really good at that, like in his now-famous tweet “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” As an experiment, I typed those exact words into my iPhone, and it had not a single alternative suggestion. It just put “covfefe” in quotes, as if to tell me “This is such gibberish, even Siri can’t make heads or tails of it.” Trump tried to make a joke of it the next day, writing “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’ ??? Enjoy!” Well, as a part-time humorist, I certainly am enjoying his presidency, but not so much as an American, or a human being.  However, considering the security leaks in his first few months, I kind of doubt that “covfefe” is some sort of secret code. From context alone, and with just my brain rather than some fancy algorithm, I’ll bet he was trying to type “coverage” but his thumbs got tired.

See you soon. Why? Because I like you.


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Entry 663: Cookie Monster

As a special reward for being a loyal reader of this blog, I’d like to invite you over to our home for some cookies.

I’m making this one-time offer because my household seems to be experiencing a slight overstock situation of the type not seen since the great coffee filter debacle of 2009.

In case you haven’t heard about that because of your deficient knowledge of history (and also because it only happened to my wife), that was when my darling Barbara placed an order for 10 packs of Cuisinart Replacement Charcoal Water Filters for our Cuisinart Coffee Maker. These are not the paper filters you put the actual coffee in, but, rather, the small pouches that go into the coffee machine equivalent of a dipstick to filter the water before it runs through the coffee, or something like that.

Anyway, she ordered 10 packs of these things because that was the minimum order, and there was a small accounting mistake at Cuisinart wherein someone not only added a bunch of zeroes, but evidently a comma, so that one day the UPS guy showed up and began unloading these huge boxes, each of which contained, I think, 2,000 packs of filters, and he kept unloading and unloading until they filled our entryway, and then he continued to unload, just putting them on the pathway in front of the house so that it looked like the outside of an Apple store the day a new iPhone is released, and when the dust cleared there were 50 boxes, and if you do the math, that’s 100,000 packs of filters. And each pack had two filters.

You’re supposed to change the filter every 60 days, so we now literally had enough filters to last about 30,000 years (give or take a millennium or two), which was a colossal problem because climate change scientists were estimating that coffee may be extinct by 2080. So Barb called Cuisinart, which admitted that it may have made not one but two mistakes, first because someone should have recognized the obvious data entry error, and second because, if Barbara really had wanted that many boxes of filters, someone should have staged an intervention.

The boxes were picked up the next day.

But I was talking about cookies.

While we do not possess 100,000 boxes of cookies, we do have many more than is appropriate for a household of three people, none of whom are children. This overabundance of baked goods is the result of the annual onslaught of cute young girls extorting friends, family and neighbors to purchase Girl Scout cookies. In our case, the cookie monster was Barbara’s second cousin once removed– a 6-year old who called Barbara with her sales pitch…via FaceTime!

This new sales technique must be much more effective than older methods, because Barbara apparently found it to be more difficult to limit her purchase when confronted by an adorable little face.

The order began with only a couple of boxes. “But grandma bought five boxes,” the girl said, causing Barb to do some quick relation calculations and somehow conclude that, if grandma is worth five, a removed second cousin is worth four.

The same elementary school entrepreneur then proceeded to FaceTime Barbara’s younger sister Karen, who fell victim to the same grandmother-infested pitch, and did the same calculation, and, due to what I guess is a standardized measurement, arrived at the same result. So she bought four boxes, too, even though–and I feel that this is a critical point–Karen is currently living with us while her house is being remodeled.

So now all eight boxes of cookies are residing in our home. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but, remember, it’s just the three of us grownups here, and one of them–me–definitely does not need so much deliciousness within easy reach. (They are in easy reach because Barbara seemingly has neither the willpower nor the storage space to hide the damn things, and they’re right out there in the open on the kitchen counter yelling “EAT ME!” every time I walk by.)

And that is why I am inviting you, dear reader, to come help us consume these cookies. Please partake of our Thin Mints® and Samoas®. Allow us to share our Savannah Smiles® and S’mores™. Taste our Trefoils® and love our Lemonades.™

Come. Enjoy. We’ll even provide the milk.

See you soon (I hope).

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Entry 662: No Nukes is Good Nukes

It seems that Seattle has a bit of a problem.

I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not too many Starbucks.  It’s even worse. Evidently, Seattle is a prime target for a nuclear attack.

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Seattle is a major supply line for the rest of America. That’s because Amazon is headquartered in the area, so a nuclear blast might delay Prime shipments by a day.
  2. It is also home to Microsoft, so a friendly power might bomb the place just to prevent another release of Windows.
  3. Boeing is in Seattle, too, and a hostile government might try to cripple America by detonating a bomb that would push the seats on Boeing’s planes even closer together.

Now, let’s see, there was one other reason…what was it again? Oh, yeah–Seattle is sitting on a stockpile of roughly 1,300 nuclear warheads. So if an enemy nation–say North Korea–decided to drop a big one on the Space Needle, it might set off a chain reaction similar to what one would see if you set off some dynamite in a fireworks factory, except, you know, with gigantic mushroom clouds instead of pretty colors.

Given the danger, Seattle would like to take steps to protect itself from a nuclear holocaust. Unfortunately, it’s not allowed to.

Really. It’s against the law.

There is actually a law in the state of Washington that specifically bans localities from preparing for a nuclear attack. The law does require municipalities to prepare a comprehensive, all-hazard emergency plan for everything else including, presumably, a resurgence of grunge bands, but it prohibits that plan from including “preparation for emergency evacuation or relocation of residents in anticipation of nuclear attack.”

In other words, they’ll get you out of town if there’s a volcano eruption, an earthquake or a Pearl Jam concert, but if there’s a nuclear explosion, you’ve got to stand there and take it like a man. Or a woman. Or a barista.

It’s as if Washington is just daring somebody to nuke it. “Come on, Kim Jong-un,” says Washington. “Show us what you’ve got. We won’t even get out of the way!”

I know what you’re thinking: the Washington state legislature must have had a good reason for its anti-nuclear-protection law.  Well, you’re wrong again. They had a reason, all right, but not a very good one.

Dick Nelson, a former state representative, points out that the law was enacted in 1984, as Cold War tensions were easing. “Anything that was a prescription for more concern, like civil-defense exercise, was felt to be nonproductive,” he said. “People didn’t want to be in any sort of posture that people were anticipating more (nuclear) threats. We wanted to reduce the threat.”

Put another way, the state legislature passed a Zenlike bill on the premise that, if they didn’t think about it, it couldn’t happen. It’s like saying it will only rain if you’re carrying an umbrella, when everyone knows the opposite is true, except in Seattle, where it’s going to rain whether you have an umbrella or not.

Another theory behind the law was that, since nobody would survive a nuclear attack anyway, they were better off devoting their resources to other disasters. That seems to make a little sense, until you look it up and realize that roughly 45% of Hiroshima residents survived the blast there, at least in the short term. Granted, today’s nuclear arsenal is much more efficient than those primitive WWII models, but it would still be nice to have a plan in place for survivors.

Washington’s state government is considering new legislation to deal with our new, improved 21st Century nuclear threat. Perhaps they’re thinking that they may now permit nuclear preparedness but forbid any tsunami warning systems.

Or maybe they’ll simply tell citizens that, in the even of nuclear attack, they should just relax and have a latte.

See you soon.

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Entry 661: Totally Trumpian

The headline read: “Trump’s budget to include draconian cuts in major area.”

I hate click bait headlines. They make me feel manipulated. In this case, I simply refused to click through for the answer to the obvious question: “Is there an actual word that derives from Draco Malfoy, the sinister Hogwarts student of the Harry Potter books and, if so, why isn’t it ‘malfoyian’?”

So I looked it up. It turns out the word predates J.K. Rowling by more than a millennium. “Of or relating to Draco,” says Dictionary.com, “7th-century Athenian statesman and lawmaker, or his code of laws, which prescribed death for almost every offense.”*

This may explain both the low crime rate in ancient Greece and the declining population.

I looked up Draco (the Greek, not the Slytherin) on Wikipedia. Evidently, he didn’t have a second name, like the hip hop star Drake, who (and I’m just guessing here) probably did not name himself after either Draco. Wikipedia informed me that: “Draco was the first democratic legislator, inasmuch as he was requested by the Athenian citizens to be a lawgiver for the city-state, but the citizens were fully unaware that Draco would establish harsh laws.”

In other words, not only is Trump’s budget draconian, but Trump himself is someone draconian, inasmuch as the citizens who put him in power were fully unaware of what they were going to get.

It got me to thinking, though, about why we don’t have words that come from more modern people. You’ve got Draco from the 7th Century, and we call a schemer “machiavellian” after a 15th century Italian historian. If you’re a chauvinist you take after an 18th century French guy named Nicholas Chauvin, and if you’re a masochist you can thank Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the 19th century writer who wrote Venus in Furs, but who had nothing to do with the much more satisfying Sacher torte.

It’s difficult to think of a word that comes from a 20th or 21st Century person. I’m not talking about an invention or discovery that is named after it’s creator, like the Uzi (Major Uziel Gal) or the jacuzzi (Candido Jacuzzi), or the jacuzzi uzi, a fast-firing water gun that I just made up. I’m talking about words that describe a trait of the person they’re derived from.

Politicians often accuse opponents of McCarthyism, but you never hear an action described as “mccarthyist” with a lower case “m,” which would indicate that it is has become an actual word rather than simply a reference to a machiavellian senator from the 1950’s. You would think that “hitlerian” might be a word by now, but maybe it hasn’t because no one has since reached the level of pure evil that would merit being called that. I thought I had an example for a moment, but then it turned out that the word “ruthless” does not come from the state of the Boston Red Sox after they sold the Babe.

But I think “trumpian” has a good shot at becoming a word. I think it could mean “completely inappropriate,” as in “he took a trumpian glance at his daughter’s bosom.” Or maybe it could mean “uninformed,” as in “he made a trumpian statement about global warming as he waded through downtown Miami.”

Or it could mean just plain “stupid,” as in “When he arrived in Israel from Saudi Arabia, he pulled a trumpian gaffe when he said, “I just came from the Middle East.”**

Or perhaps it could mean “exaggerated,” as in “the crowd estimate was totally trumpian since the theater was half empty.”

Wait–that last one would be spicerian.

See you soon

P.S. Damn–I never did find out which areas of the budget were dracoed!

*I’ll tell you one thing: my wife wants to go to Greece for our anniversary next year, but I ain’t going unless they change that law!

**Although I guess anything that Trump actually says would be trumpian by definition.

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Entry 660: Only 1,260 Days Left to Go

In his first few months in office, President Trump has exhibited many of the traits that are the hallmarks of successful chief executives. Among them:

  1. Firing people who don’t agree with him.
  2. Playing lots of golf.
  3. Recognizing that, no matter how much money and power you have, family is still the most important thing, so you should provide them all with high-level jobs in your organization.
  4. Planning ahead.

It’s the last of those I want to talk about today. As a leader, whether it’s of a company or a country, you have to look beyond the current fiscal quarter or, in the latter case, the next bombshell scandal. You have to stay three or four tweets ahead of the competition so that you’re well-positioned to take advantage of a rapidly evolving marketplace or, in the latter case, some leaked emails or an intelligence report that a missile has misfired in Kim Jong-un’s bedroom.

President Trump has displayed that leadership skill in spades. And also in TV commercials. Those ads triumphantly tout his accomplishments as President so that you’ll vote for him in 2020. Because if you like what he’s done so far, really, nothing can go wrong between now and the next election.  (At left is a still from the commercial, depicting the President apparently directing the wrath of God down upon James Comey.)

Trump actually declared his candidacy for reelection the day of his inauguration, immediately after he finished counting the number of people who attended it. But he’s not the only one with an eye to the future. Because 128 other people have signed up to run against him.

To be fair, as was clearly demonstrated in the last campaign, you don’t need much to run for President.  All that is required, evidently, is $5,000 and the patience necessary to do a lot of paperwork. According to the Federal Election Commission:

“If you are running for the U.S. House, Senate or the Presidency, you must register with the FEC once you…receive contributions or make expenditures in excess of $5,000…you must file a Statement of Candidacy (FEC Form 2 [PDF]; Instructions [PDF]) authorizing a principal campaign committee to raise and spend funds on your behalf….your principal campaign committee must submit a Statement of Organization (FEC Form 1 [PDF]; Instructions [PDF])…”

I couldn’t find any reference online to who our 2020 candidates are (other than Trump), but, presumably, none of the other 128 is among those mentioned frequently as potential challengers.  I speak, of course, of the likes of Al Franken or Mark Zuckerberg who, according to NPR, was recently photographed

“…on a tractor, feeding baby cows, eating cheese curds, holding kittens, talking to cops, firemen and military leaders. He even ditched the hoodie for a suit in a black church.”

That sure sounds like Zuck is running for something and, after all, he’d have total control of all the fake news published on Facebook. I like Al Franken, kind of, but I don’t think anyone associated with an NBC TV show will ever be elected President again.

Lately, the one name that keeps coming up as a potential candidate is the actor and former wrestler Dwayne Johnson. Now, it’s entirely possible that it is some sort of publicity stunt for his new movie, Baywatch. On the other hand, when asked if he might run, Johnson replied, “I think that’s a real possibility.”

If he did, it would mark the first time since Michael Dukakis that a presidential candidate was People Magazine’s sexiest man alive. But, if he won, would he be “President Rock” or “President the Rock?” And could he challenge Vladimir Putin at Wrestlemania?

See you soon.

BREAKING NEWS:  Dwayne Johnson officially “announced” his candidacy on SNL Saturday night, with Tom Hanks as his running mate.  I’m pretty sure they were joking, but I’m also pretty sure that a Rock/Hanks ticket would win in 2020.  Unless their opponents leak this photo from Hanks’ sordid past.

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BONUS POST: He’s an Impeach of a Guy

There has been a lot of chatter lately about impeaching the President. In fact, according to Public Policy Polling, 48% of Americans would like President Trump to be impeached. That’s actually a higher percentage of the American public than voted for him in the first place.

But you have to understand that a President is like a hemorrhoid: once you get one it’s not as easy as you think to get rid of it. The difference is, in the case of the ass, you first have to impeach him.

Keep in mind, though, that impeaching someone is not the same as kicking them out of office. An impeachment is basically just saying that you’re fairly sure they screwed up somehow. It’s like being indicted by a grand jury. The House of Representatives needs to do this with a majority vote, and considering which party holds the majority, Trump would have to do something a lot worse than leaking a few secrets to the Russians for that to happen. I’m thinking something along the lines of bombing Des Moines.

But even if the house did impeach Trump, the Senate would have to convict him with a 2/3 vote, which they would only do over Mitch McConnell’s dead body.

So really, we can’t count on getting rid of our Presidential condition that way. Fortunately, a guy named Ross Douthat has a different idea. He proposed in a New York Times op-ed that we use an existing Constitutional amendment to cure our country’s Trumpitis.

I know what you’re thinking, and Douthat is not talking about the 18th Amendment, which was prohibition. While it certainly seems as though the President is often GWI (Governing While Intoxicated), especially when tweeting late at night, we must realize that, even if alcohol was banned, the President of the United States could probably get all the liquor he wanted anyway, especially if he likes vodka.

So, no, not the 18th Amendment. The Amendment Douthat wants to invoke is the 25th, which states that:

“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

According to the website Vox, this means that “one vice president and any eight Cabinet officers can, theoretically, decide to knock the president out of power at any time.” This is a good thing, because we rarely have more than one vice president at a time.

Douthat, who, by the way, is a conservative columnist, thinks that Trump has clearly demonstrated that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office and adds “…leaving a man this witless and unmastered in an office with these powers and responsibilities is an act of gross negligence…”

Okay–now here comes the punchline of this whole piece. Someone named Jennifer Rubin wrote a contrary opinion in The Washington Post which suggests that Douthat “confuses unfitness with ‘inability to discharge the powers and duties’ and thereby recommends a disastrous process.”

Basically her argument is that Trump is perfectly able to discharge his duties, he’s just not able to discharge them well.  You know things are pretty bad when the person arguing that you should stay in office says she supports you because you’re merely incompetent.

In other words, the 25th Amendment is meant to cover a situation in which a sitting President becomes injured or gravely ill, but not dead. It’s not intended to be invoked when the President is already incapacitated at the time he takes office and, actually, during the entire time he ran for office.

To solidify her side of the debate, Rubin adds that the 25th Amendment is “not meant for a situation in which the president is so stupid as to raise questions about whether he is a danger to the country.”

Yes, sir. A strong endorsement indeed.

See you soon.

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Entry 659: Harry Potter and the Purloined Prequel

In 2008, in a demonstration of the fact that she could virtually print money whenever she wanted to, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling jotted down about 800 words on a card and sold it for over $32,000.

By way of comparison, some of my posts are 800 words, and all I get are a few “LIKES” occasionally.

Granted, Ms. Rowling is a lot more famous than your average muggle, and millions of people anxiously await anything she writes, even if it’s just a reminder on a Post-it Note. (“Note to self: Write more notes to self. I can get several hundred pounds apiece.”)

Of course, the beloved Ms. Rowling would never write something just to add a few bucks to her own coffers. She would only do it for charity. And the $32,000 I mentioned earlier went to an organization called English Pen which promotes literacy, but only with British spellings. (In fact, it’s actually an organisation.)

I should point out that the 800 words she sold weren’t just any 800 words. They were a brief comic scene featuring Sirius Black and James Potter in their youth, and offered a rare glimpse of Harry’s father, who has previously been mostly dead.

Anyway, nine years after she wrote it, that card with the 800 words is back in the news, and not because it has been turned into a movie. It was recently stolen.

According to The Daily Prophet, I mean The New York Times, the card was taken last month, along with some inconsequential, non-Potter jewelry, during a burglary in Birmingham, England. The police are asking for the public’s help in recovering the work, but they may be doing so rather half-heartedly, since the scene Rowling wrote depicts Sirius and James making fools out of a couple of constables. Here’s a taste of it, picking up after a chase in which the two officers corner the young wizards in an alleyway:

“There was so little space between the car doors and the walls of the alley that (officers) Fisher and Anderson had difficulty extricating themselves from the vehicle. It injured their dignity to have to inch, crab-like, towards the miscreants. Fisher dragged his generous belly along the wall, tearing buttons off his shirt as he went, and finally snapping off the wing mirror with his backside.”

And this is before the two officers mistake the boys’ wands for drumsticks!

Rowling, perhaps, realizes that Britain’s police force may be less than enthusiastic about tracking down such an unflattering representation of the country’s law enforcement professionals (she’ll probably find herself penning a few words on behalf of retired police officers in the near future), so she took to Twitter to take matters into her own hands. Interestingly, however, her tweet was not directed at the culprits. Instead, she addressed anyone who might consider purchasing the hot manuscript. “PLEASE DON’T BUY THIS IF YOU’RE OFFERED IT,” she tweeted in all caps, “Originally auctioned for @englishpen, the owner supported writers’ freedoms by bidding for it.”

I’m a bit puzzled by the logic of this. After all, English Pen has its money, whether the stolen piece is sold on the Sirius Black market or not. And the owner need not lose out. I mean, it’s not like they’ve been robbed of an irreplaceable handwritten Shakespearian sonnet. Rowling can simply recreate the card word-for-word in her handwriting. This would be easy enough to do, since the entire text is available online. I know the owner would no longer have the only copy, but perhaps J.K. could date the replacement and add something about it being the only authorized one or something. “DO NOT BUY ANY OTHER VERSION OF THIS STORY,” she could write.

I think the real reason she doesn’t want you to buy the stolen card (and I know you’re interested), is because it would incentivize similar thefts in the future. That might make people reluctant to get into a bidding war over “Dumbledore’s Teenage Love Affair” when it is auctioned off to benefit the UK LGBT Consortium.

See you soon.

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