Monday, May 25, 2009



Scientists here announced a breakthrough device they claim will make smoking safe.

The device is a small plastic baggie that fits over the end of a cigarette. The smoker puts the device over the unlit end of the cigarette immediately after lighting up. If the device is used correctly each time, scientists say, the smoker will not inhale deadly fumes.

"Safe-Smoke" comes in many colorful and distinctive designs.

The device, named "Safe-Smoke," promises to be a boon for billions of smokers world-wide, as well as for the economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), ravaged by crime, inflation and multiple name changes since its independence in 1960.

"For years anti-smoking campaigns have been premised on a flawed assumption: that abstinence is the only safe alternative to smoking" said Dr. Navarra Krupnik, lead scientist on the hitherto top-secret 'Safe-Smoke Project."

Unknown soldier testing "Safe-Smoke."

"People can't be expected to actually quit smoking. Smoke abstinence is naive in the extreme, and quite dangerous" said Dr. Krupnik, shaking her head. "We can now offer smokers a safe, effective alternative: 'Safe-Smoke.'"

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the announcement as "breathtaking." A press release issued shortly afterward stated that the Secretary-General "did not mean 'breathtaking' literally, but figuratively. 'Safe-Smoke' promises to save tens of millions of lives world-wide."

At a hastily called press conference, President Obama promised to commit $1 trillion to a world wide "Safe-Smoke" educational ad campaign.

Reporters listen raptly to President Obama.

"I want to apologize today for American intransigence. For too long we have accepted Smoke-Abstinence as our only hope in the war against smoking. And it is a war; make no mistake.

"But Smoke-Abstinence simply does not work" said the President, pausing to cough. "It is one of the many failed policies of the last Administration. And we can do better.

"Because safe-smoke gives us the hope we need to win this war.

"And yes, we can do better.
And yes, we must do better.
And citizens of America, citizens of the World, I promise you this day: we will do better."

The President exited the White House press room to a thunderous standing ovation. Several reporters fainted; one had to be taken to a local emergency room, where he was given oxygen and released.

President Obama before historic speech.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for hearings on smoking in America. "No one from the Department of Health told me this was going on" said the Speaker.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services released a carefully worded statement in response: "Get real."

Speaker Pelosi, craving a smoke.

Across the United States, reaction was mixed. Several smokers interviewed at "smoke-houses" stated the "safe-smoke" baggies took all the fun out of smoking. Some smoke-abstinence groups insisted studies have shown that smokers are unlikely to use the inconvenient and sometimes painful baggies routinely or correctly.

"All these objections can be ignored as stupid" said Dr. Krupnik, shrugging her shoulders as she took a drag on her Lucky Strike cigarette and handed her pet hyena a dog biscuit. "Anyone who actually expects people to quit smoking is either a lunatic or a religious fanatic, or both."

Dr. Krupnik at play with pet hyenas Beelzebub and Mao,
shortly before she was eaten.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


It was never my intent to get into an argument about the toilet seat. However, it happened, and I wish to recount the circumstances.

At a relatively early age I heard perfectly genteel lady friends make sarcastic remarks about the male tendency to leave the toilet seat up, that is to say, in the "open" position. This habit of leaving the toilet seat in the "open" position was apparently the definitive proof of male selfishness and lack of consideration for others.

"Yes, he absolutely did!"
by beenbair

I was vague on exactly why this was. After I got married, my wife explained to me that on occasion a female will be lured into a false sense of security by the open seat, especially in the middle of the night, and sit down on the cold ceramic rim of the toilet, or perhaps plunge into the ice-cold toilet water itself.


This was a revelation to me.

On those exceedingly rare occasions when I sat down on the cold ceramic rim of the toilet (beer was involved), I blamed myself. The thought never occurred to me to blame anyone else. Although I liked the idea.

When I mentioned this to my wife, we had a discussion. I found that she concurred with female orthodoxy on the subject.

I should have let it go, but I asked this: if a female put the lid down, and her husband failed to lift the lid and created a disaster, would this be a demonstration of female callousness?

Apparently not.

Also (I had not learned discretion) I said: if you want to do it the "right" way, you should put the lid down. What do you think the lid is for?

This was a revelation to my wife.

This is how my wife looked that day.

So now we agree. We put the seat AND the lid down.

This has drawn us closer together.

One husband I know has gotten even closer to God on the subject. Early in their marriage, he informed his wife that he alone would be responsible for cleaning the bathroom, since he alone was responsible for the messiest part of the job.

25 years, and she STILL thinks he's wonderful.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


America, we need to have a talk.

Once I bought a Triumph Spitfire. It was a beautiful little car.

Spitfire as I envisioned it.
(by bayernernst)

Problem was, everything on it was broken. And I couldn't afford to fix anything. I had just purchased a "new" home (think of the ones advertised "afraid of a little work?"), and was having trouble scraping up money to buy peanut butter, never mind a new decombobulator on the left front franzit on the sports car. I am mechanically disinclined. So the car was at Mario's or Jim's or whoever's shop almost all the time.

Spitfire as it was.
(by Rootes_arrow_1725)

I kept that car for several years, and poured about $5,000 into it, eventually. In the end I just gave it to another young man who wanted it. I was grateful he took it from me. In good conscience I could not ask him to pay me for the car. A total, total, loss. I might have driven it 15 times in three years.

All of this was easily foreseeable. The car was broken when I got it. A look at repair histories for Triumphs was a simple task, and would have made any sane person blanch. And my cash flow position, which was actually a "non-cash flow position," was obvious. Had I asked my dad or mom, they would have told me not to get the car. In a nice way.

But I wanted that Triumph.

Now I want to talk to the tens of millions of people who took out an ARM - adjustable rate mortgage - and couldn't afford it.

It was easy to foresee what would happen. You just had to give it 5 minutes of thought, and figure out what the highest possible mortgage payment was, and whether you could afford it for the long haul.

Tell me, why would you risk your home, the most expensive thing you'll ever buy, without knowing what you were doing? Can you tell me that?

No, you can't.

To the extent you actually thought about it, you just gambled that you could sell your house if the deal turned sour. Ahead of the 50 million other people stampeding for the door at the same time.

Ovejas [Estampida]
(by Alvaro Herreras)

Please stop complaining to me about big banks and Wall Street. Yes, they were stupid and greedy and they figured out a way to lend you the money, even though it was crazy. That's why so many of them are under water.

I'm talking to YOU right now. You wanted what you couldn't afford, and got it with voodoo mortgage lending. You absolutely deserve what happened.

Right, the bank made you sign the loan. They held you hostage and tortured you. You really had no choice.

Right, the mortgage lender lied to you. Well, okay, you didn't hire an attorney. And you didn't actually read the terms of the note. Or the comprehensive disclosure statement that explained the risks in excruciating detail. And you didn't ask anybody sensible in your life about your great idea.

Nope, you just signed the $300,000 loan with 2% down and a top end monthly payment of $5,035.27 on a salary of $50,000 a year. Yup.

Please do me a favor tomorrow morning. Find a mirror, look in the mirror, and say this:

My bad.
MY bad.

Say it three times, just like that. Say it with emotion, like you mean it. You'll feel better.

Because it is true. Sure, there are fraudsters out there. But they are on the fringes. The real engine room of the "mortgage crisis" was the monumental cupidity and stupidity of borrowers who were not "victimized" by anyone except themselves. You just found equally stupid and cupid lenders to play musical chairs with.

Now the music has stopped and you don't have a chair. That is always how the game ends, with almost everyone a loser.

There are bad things in life that just happen to you.

There are bad things in life you do to yourself.

This was a bad thing you did to yourself.

News flash: just because there were other, equally short sighted people who helped you be stupid . . .


So never mind all the goo-goo noise from newspapers and Washington, talking about how you were victimized. It sounds like Captain Renault in Casablanca: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

Take control of your life, tell yourself the truth, and stop making stupid, self-indulgent decisions.

Hey listen, gotta go now, just saw a great deal on a '98 Jaguar!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Eternal Optimist received an interesting and thoughtful reader comment about the Swine Flu article. The comment was long, and Eternal Optimist’s response longer, but an edited version goes like this:

Reader: A pandemic would look a lot like the current version of the Swine Flu when it started. A few people getting sick with an unfamiliar strain of virus in a nondescript area of a nondescript country; the disease sickening people reasonably slowly to allow transmission. Then it slowly spreads, until world health organizations start taking notice and sounding the alarm.

EO: No, if you are going to equate it to the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, it would look like this: world-wide, tens of millions of people dead (25 million dead in the first 25 weeks), horrifying symptoms, whole populations infected, and waves of infection that last 2 years. It spreads very fast and kills lots of people very quickly. That is, a Pandemic a la 1918 doesn’t look anything like the Swine Flu at all.

Reader: A pandemic is a lot more likely than it was in 1918, given the overuse of antibiotics, the advent of widespread and nearly instantaneous international travel, and agricultural practices that are more unhealthy than ever.

EO: I disagree. In 1918 the average lifespan was about 50, nutrition was worse, pollution was worse, sanitation was worse, and health care abysmal. Tens of millions of soldiers were demobilising after four years of living in inconceivable squalor. A world war had ground down the health of huge swaths of the world's population.

Reader: Are you suggesting there should be higher standards for raising alarms? In Mexico, there were 42 deaths per 100 million, or .4 deaths per million. Where would you put it? 40? 400? 4,000? It is not wise to pooh-pooh the warnings, even if this turns out not to be the “Big One.”

E.O. I am indeed suggesting there should be some discernible standard. We lost 675,000 U.S. citizens to the flu pandemic in 1918, out of a population of about 100 million, a rate of about 1 person in 150. We've lost 5 so far to the Swine Flu, out of 300 million, a rate of 1 person in 60,000,000.

Here is what the 1918 pandemic did to life expectancies in the United States in 1918:

1917 48.4 54.0
1918 36.6 42.2
1919 53.5 56.0

There is no excuse for WHO and newspapers to exaggerate the danger of the current Swine Flu epidemic by equating it with the 1918 Pandemic. A true pandemic could certainly happen again, but Swine Flu just does not measure up.

Here are some interesting web sites:

HHS website on the Flu Pandemic.

Wikipedia entry on the Flu Pandemic.

Stanford University site on the Flu Pandemic.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Last night Eternal Optimist took an extra large dose of what I thought was my cholesterol medicine, because I had eaten ribs for dinner and Mexican for lunch. The “cholesterol” medicine turned out to be a highly addictive pain killer that caused astoundingly vivid dreams: full of color, very noisy and very fast, but so happy, so very happy.

by Prodigal Sunshine

The dreams left me with a conviction that I have been anointed for some higher purpose. A thousand points of light converged as the inner voices all spake as one, and they had some very hopeful and changeful things to say. I wrote it all down this morning, and brother, was I impressed!

I have come up with a set of programs that will save all of us. Commencing at once, we must

begin by borrowing lots and lots of money – more than we ever have before, more than we ever dreamed possible – and spending it as rapidly as possible. It does not matter exactly how it is spent, so long as it is spent rapidly, with deep conviction and the purest of intentions.

We must punish the richest among us by taking lots of money away from them. They have caused all of our troubles and must be taught a lesson they will NEVER FORGET!

We must nationalize the health care industry, so that our government can get health care costs under control, just as they have disciplined the federal budget.

We must immediately nationalize most banks, so that never again will bad banking decisions be punished by an uncaring and vindictive free market.

Nationalizing the banks will also punish the rich, and teach them a lesson they will NEVER FORGET! They are the source of all our problems. Which did I mention already; I’m sorry, the ideas are flooding my mind so quickly.

We must also nationalize the car makers in Detroit so that we can make millions of wind and solar powered cars, and also very tiny cars that run on corn, beets and asparagus, not necessarily in that order. By spending all the rich people’s money on green technologies, or in the case of beets, reddish technology, we will teach them a lesson they will NEVER FORGET!

We must harness the power of the wind and the tides, before the rising waters of global warming encompass us and drown us like rats. By placing huge solar and wind powered fans in one continuous line from northernmost Canada to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, we will blow cold air from the Artic regions to the Antartic during November to February, to stop the melt down of the Antartic ice-cap. We can then blow cold air from Antartica to the Artic during May through August, to reverse the melt down of the Artic ice-cap. Along the way this cold air can provide free refrigeration for hundreds of millions of people in hot as blazes places like Mexico and Nicaragua.

We must legalize robbery, assault, aggravated assault and murder, but provide treatment and therapy options for those who suffer from oppositional/defiance disorder, alcohol related beating disorder, drive-by shooting disorder and homicidal rage disorder.

In the interest of saving all mankind (and woman kind, as well as transgendered kind), Eternal Optimist will be taking more opioids tonight to complete the vision. By increasing the dosage I hope to solve all world problems, perhaps as early as the weekend.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Where I live it rains all day.

And at night, it rains, but I'm asleep, so I can't actually say for sure it rains all night. But I think it does. Because sometimes I wake up to the sound of truck tires hissing on the wet blacktop. And I go back to sleep, because it's night, and it's raining.

In the morning I can tell it is daylight because the starless, inky blackness turns to a sodden gray. I lay there staring at the darkness, wondering if it really is the morning. I think a long time about going back to sleep. I don't bother looking out the window. I take a shower, which seems odd. Interior rain, because I just can't get enough of the stuff.

I eat breakfast, I grab an umbrella and I stand in the rain to catch the bus. As I get off the bus I tell the driver "have a good day" and open my umbrella. At work I have a window, thank God. I look out at the rain on the roof tops and the pavement around me. And that's good.

by Rita Crane Photography

All day the sky varies between powerfully dark and a bleak, washed out gray. Sometimes the clouds are at 2,500 feet; sometimes they descend and cover the tops of the towers in town.

But today, my friends, is different!

Today the sky is blue, and the sun shines so brightly through the window above my computer that I am squinting at the screen. I am home, and I am happy. The kids are asleep, but we're going to breakfast soon, and they'll be happy, too.

Today, my friends, is a beautiful day

And baby, I feel fine!

Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It's beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence won't you come out to play?

Why yes, Mr. Lennon, I believe I will!

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I am always perplexed by Reader Mail that says “stop sending me these!” Of course, I find myself fascinating. (Else why would I have a blog?) However, it has come to my attention that this sentiment is not universally shared.

What is strange to me is that the emails are so short. When I think someone is sending spam, I just mark it “junk” on my email and I never see it again. The “junk” marker is for email I don’t want from people I don’t want to talk to.

But to send a clipped email that says “stop sending me these” is foreign to me. Does someone really want to give me a piece of his mind but is biting his tongue? Why don’t you explain what the problem is? I don’t mind. I’m interested.

On one occasion last year I kept getting weekly emails from someone campaigning for Obama. She signed off every email with bold catch phrases, like “I believe in the power of you!” and “Yes, We Can!”

Which I agreed with, on a personal basis, since "yes, I can!" And I definitely believe in the "power of me." Maybe even too much.

Needless to say, me and my Obama pal disagreed about lots of things. I was intrigued, however, and kept writing. Her responses to me kept getting more shrill and sarcastic.

Eventually my Obama pal stopped sending me emails because I kept trying to have a discussion. This was not what she wanted – she just wanted to blast conservatives and get me to vote for Obama. Interesting.

Lots of conservatives do the same thing. This is a human trait, not an ideological one. People are more interested in recruiting you than discussing things.

Which brings me to a point. It is a good idea to test your thinking periodically by listening carefully to people who disagree with you. By disagree, I don’t mean people who simply pile on abuse. I mean people who are willing to engage the issue in some depth, rather than attack you.

And that’s the problem. I don’t think people ever learn how to discuss things cordially, either at home or at school. So they perceive the process of disagreement as something very threatening, just one step away from baseball bats and a broken jaw.

Sometimes when you test your thinking by listening carefully, you find out that you thought wrong. (Listening, by the way, does not mean biting your lip while you think of how to rebut what the other person is saying.) If you get past being upset and angry, this can save you from a whole lot of heart ache.

Other times, listening carefully just confirms you were right. And how great is that?

Magically, sometimes both people in the discussion change their thinking, and understand each other a little better.

Of course, sometimes you just walk away from the conversation shaking your head at all the craziness in the world. Which can be fun.

I’ve spent my entire professional career working in places where 80 percent of the people don’t agree with me about very important things – God, politics, health care, Reagan, Obama, abortion. It can be difficult to be in the minority.

It can also be extremely healthy. At least, it has been for me. It taught me how to discuss things peaceably with people who don't agree with me. And those discussions have actually deepened, not terminated, friendships.

So when you write me to tell me to quit sending this stuff, expect a reply, like “No problem. Tell me what you found objectionable.”

Just interested. I like talking with my friends.