Saturday, March 31, 2012

Choo Choos Plus

Just one of a hundred RR logos 

Finding sites like this one, from which the UP logo was extracted is yet another reminder of what a miracle the Internet can be. I have to confess to being an unabashed information junkie. It seems like I find way too many things interesting. I get to poking around on the Net, and before you know it, a couple hours are gone and all I have to show for it is . . . . what? A history of totally random trail of web sites that for one reason or another caught my interest. Seriously. I get fascinated by all kinds of things. This particular site caught my eye because it had to do with trains, which I have loved ever since I was a little bitty kid in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and my mom used to take me down to the train yard there with all those wonderful, noisy, smoky black steam engines, like this one >>>

Trains are one of my earliest memories. . . . but I digress. I found the site by accident and got hung up in looking at all the different railroad logos. I remember lots of them from when railroads were a going concern in this country, including passenger rail. Which was before Amtrak, of course.

And then I started poking around the site and I run into things like this:

I mean, how cool is this? These are book covers for a mystery series. It turns out I stumbled upon the website of Christian Annyas, who is a web designer and graphic artist. I love these happy accidents.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


On of several pictures in an article my sister sent me--thanks, Mare! The caption reads "The Green Cross produces as many as 50 different edibles at one time, including savory snack mixes, gluten-free and vegan baked goods, and candies. But the best-selling item continues to be that old standby, the marijuana brownie." I've always wondered what would ensue if you shared a batch of potted brownies with unsuspecting guests. Not that I'd ever do such a thing--seriously, I couldn't--but that doesn't stop me from grinning just thinking about it.

The secret ingredient in all of these is hash oil.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To Your Health!

I'm sure this will be a toast lifted by Republicans all over the land to the health insurance companies if the Supreme Court invalidates the ACA. As the media seems to think it will after parsing the expressions, raised eyebrows, and questions of the Court. Today the justices heard arguments on the so-called individual mandate, the requirement that everyone in America buy health insurance or pay a penalty. This is the part of the law that drives the Right particularly bananas. Dictatorial powers by the government, a nefarious plot by the president to deprive people of their freedoms, a trampling of the rights of the people, etc., etc. But the very idea, the notion itself, is a product of the Heritage foundation, and it's been endorsed by people like Newt Gingrich. So it's just politics once more. If Obama favored it, the Republicans are against it. And naturally they've been successful in stirring up the ignorant masses, who overwhelmingly approve individual provisions of the law, but damn it out of hand as a whole.

All I have to say about this is this: I cannot believe that in the first part of the 21s century, a civilized nation would be without universal health care. It's even less credible that a country would jettison a health care plan already in effect and replace it with . . . what? The mess we had before? Please! Some Democrats think it would be politically advantageous for the law to be overturned by a conservative Republican court. I'd just as soon not even have to find out.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Joys of Aging (Chapter 526)

About four or five days ago, I forget which (surprise!) I was walking Prozac the Boston terrier, and I just tripped over an uneven place in the walk. I came down on both my knees, and since I had the dog leash in my left hand, there was little to break my fall. Long story short, I ended up with two horrific brush burns on my knees. Both are now completely scabbed over, but the right knee is still really sore. And of course there's the constant temptation to be picking at those formidable scabs. (I was wondering with somebody the other day whether wanting to pick at scabs on your person is a universal human trait. I concluded it is.) Actually this was the second time I fell walking the dog. Same reason: raised crack in sidewalk. The first time I landed mostly on my hands. Didn't feel good either, but the knees are worse. Nothing is going to convince me this would have happened if I had been 35 years old.

Here's a chapter from Susan's Getting Older collection. I don't think she would mind my sharing this with you. Today she had Red Hats luncheon. It was downtown OKC at the Art Museum Cafe. First of all, she was supposed to meet the group at somebody's house at 11:30 a.m. At which time she was still dressing and about 12 miles away from where she was supposed to be. So she had to drive up to the city herself. Long story short: she couldn't find the luncheon. All the streets in downtown Oklahoma City are torn up, so there's that. So the GPS directions were no good. She asked two people for directions and still didn't find the place. I have nothing but sympathy for her . . . and she's four years younger.

My Dad used to say when he was going through this period. Nothing works like it used to. I think I'm beginning to understand.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

ACA: Why We Have to Defend It, Despite Its Flaws

Yesterday I watched You Tube video of a Tea Party rally that happened in Washington two years ago. It was pretty disgusting for me to be reminded again of the absolute fury these people were in over the prospect of the then-pending health care bill passing in Congress. Disgusting and frightening. And both from the images of this mob of 98 percent white, many overstuffed fellow citizens tromping around Washington hollering about the perfidy of the health care bill. Which, as we know, passed. And which will be before the Supreme Court of the US beginning tomorrow for three days of arguments as to its constitutionality. When push comes to shove, I have to stand up for this law. Despite my considerable misgivings about it.

Right here you'll find an excellent article* that reminds all of us progressives who were bitterly disappointed at what the health care bill lacked, as well as the advantages to Big Pharma and the health insurance colossus that were built into it, why the law is something we should be defending much more vigorously than a lot of us are. (I must plead guilty for being one of those progressives. You can read my most recent blast on the ACA here. It does an excellent job of pointing out all of the non-progressive aspects of the law.) Here, succinctly, are the major points we should remember about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)--it's full and proper name. ("Obamacare" is a Republican slur that the party has succeeded in turning into a dismissive synonym for it.). The law, we're reminded:
  • "expands access to medical care and health insurance to more than 30 million low- and middle-income Americans; 
  • imposes much of the cost on affluent individuals and businesses; 
  • terminates longstanding practices by parts of the private insurance industry that victimized millions of sick Americans even after they’d paid premiums for decades; 
  • elevates health and prevention as a priority; 
  • launches the most comprehensive set of initiatives and experiments to date to restrain both government and private-sector expenditures on medical care and claw back inefficient spending to help pay for widening access."
 The article is well worth reading because it helps explain why it is so savagely opposed and why it is worth defending. It also points out that from little acorns large oaks grow, i.e., growth of both Social Security and Medicare from their origins. It does not advance the argument that anything that so pisses off the Right as this law does cannot be bad by definition. But I will.

*The piece is in large part a discussion of a new book on the evolution of the ACA by Paul Starr, Remedy and Reaction.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Play (Fantasy) Ball! (Almost)

I've been consumed today with getting all my preparation done for the several drafts that will take place over the next few days for my fantasy baseball teams. Yes, that's right: teams, plural. This year I'm going to have three of them. Up from one last season, the first time I ever ventured into fantasy ball of any kind. I can remember years ago thinking that fantasy baseball would require just a lot more time than I had to give it. I'm here to tell you that it must assuredly does consume time. But have to confess also that it stirs the competitive juices, allowing you to assume the role of both general manager and field manager for your own team. It has other excellencies too. It keeps you thoroughly engaged with the game throughout the season. And in my case a special benefit, it allows me to compete against my sons' teams in the same league. (There's honor to be defended, not to mention year-long bragging rights involved here.)

I'm Ready!

The season launches in about 10 days. I cannot wait for the real sport to begin another season.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lock 'Em Up

Some facts about incarcerations in the United States. (Source for this article is the ACLU National Newsletter, Winter 2012). From 1970-2005 US prison population rose by 700 percent. Meanwhile the growth rate in general population was 44 percent. Well over 2 million people are behind bars. US has five percent of world population and 25 percent of its prisoners. Nearly half of the people in state prisons are non-violent. For this we can thank the "get the bastards" policies of the past 40 years: "war on drugs," "getting tough on crime" which has given us things like the "3 strikes and you're out" laws and mandatory minimum sentencing. All of this was based on fear--has it ever occurred to you how convulsed with fear this country is? We're probably the most fearful democracy on the planet. It possesses us.

But locking up all these people has not made us safer--no more than our wars and the obscene amount of money we spend on the military has made us safer--instead it's burdened the taxpayers, overcrowded the prisons something fierce, normalized "an overly punitive mindset that turns to incarceration as a first--rather than a last--resort."

And of course people of color are disproportionally locked up. Why? Discriminatory laws as well as biased sentencing and enforcement*, even though "white Americans commit crimes at the same rates as people of color." It's just beyond scandalous that 1 in every 9 young (20-34) black men is incarcerated.

All these people in jail is crushingly expensive: In the twenty years 1987-2007, states spent more than $44 billion on jail and related expenses, up 127 percent since 1987. Oh, and during the same period states upped spending for higher education by 21 percent.

This is all insane, of course, but since when has that stopped us from doing something?

*See shooting in Sanford, FL: black kid dead, white killer free

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where No Man Has Gone Before

A Patch of Mercury . . . in cool blue
 Did you know that we've had a scientific mission to Mercury going on? That a satellite has been circling the small planet nearest the sun for the past year? I'll bet it may have crossed your consciousness at one point, but that it's long since taken leave. And the media is not much help. Reporting these matters will never trump stuff like celebrity and sports news, much less the latest blather from politicians or stuff about our endless wars. So you stumble over fascinating articles like this one that remind you that truly monumental things are happening whilst we go about our mundane tasks.

No mission to any place in our solar system has ever not provided surprises. In the case of Mercury, scientists have been amazed to discover that geological activity (i.e., volcanic, tectonic) continued on the planet far, far beyond the time it was previously thought to have been possible. And measurements of the gravity of the planet on the Messenger spacecraft have revealed that the core of the plant is much, much larger than Earth's. So the mantle and crust of the planet Mercury are quite thin, like the peel on an orange compared to the interior. Who knows what other wonders await our discovery out there?

I'm wondering if there's some invisible satellite circling us . . . measuring our interiors.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


The US Department of Justice is going to investigate the recent (February 26) murder of a black teenager named Trayvon Martin in a suburb of Orlando. A Florida grand jury is also going to look into the matter. The killer was a self-appointed vigilante named George Zimmerman who was from all accounts a one-man neighborhood watch patrol in his gated community. Zimmerman claims he acted in self-defense after Martin attacked him. See this story for a voice recording of Zimmerman's call to the cops. His story of what happened is bullshit, of course. Read here for more breaking information. The kid was on the phone with his girlfriend, and he told her that he was being followed. The guy was carrying candy and a can of iced tea, for Pete's sake, and as the voice tape with the dispatcher proves, Zimmerman followed this kid, even after he was told not to do it. NY Times story is here; it has voice recordings of several calls to 911 reporting the shooting. No charges have been filed in this killing. Hence the growing outrage.

I read about this a couple of days ago. Since, it has gone viral. Good! This is the kind of incident that should be known in every hamlet and town in this country . . . and especially heeded by all those deluded out there who think racism isn't alive and well in this land of the free. There's not a doubt in my mind that if Trayvon Martin had been white, he's be walking the streets alive and well right now.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Complete Bozo

This guy Rick Santorum continues to just amaze me. It's a measure of how repulsive many Republicans find Mitt Romney that Santorum can possibly be where he is today in the struggle for the GOP nomination. I mean, what kind of guy goes on the record saying stuff like this?
We need a candidate who’s going to be a fighter for freedom, who is going to get up and make that the central theme in this race because it is the central theme in this race.
I don’t care what the unemployment rate’s going to be. Doesn’t matter to me. My campaign doesn’t hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates. It’s something more foundational that’s going on. We have one nominee who says he wants to run the economy. What kind of conservative says that the president runs the economy? What conservative says I’m the guy, because of my economic experience, that can create jobs? (source)
He doesn't care what the employment rate is going to be??!! Even if he really believes this bilge, what kind of guy running for president would say something like this with the unemployment rate in the country still well over 8?  "A fighter for freedom?" Just what in the hell does this actually mean beyond the magical "freedom" word?  This guy Santorum unlike Romney, who is a flaming charlatan, is unfortunately a genuine crackpot, though. He truly thinks that his religious convictions are what "freedom" is about. The irreverent media has taken to calling him "the contraception candidate."

I'll tell you what this Santorum candidacy means. It means that the Tea Party loonies of the party have managed to stave off Romney for months. Their effort is going to crash and burn on statements that unemployment is not an issue their candidate for president should care about.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

This is the True America . . .

I present for your edification, if `have not already seen and been repulsed by them already, some samples of the voices of the true America. The one we like to pretend is not really out there, or that if we do admit it's out there, tend to minimize its size and significance. I have always contended, contrary to all the accepted American mythology we so love to rehearse at every opportunity, that the true a America is the one that's talking right here, the racist one with the killer's soul. Ever since Susan and I were talking politics a couple of years ago with a distinguished Oklahoma guy in a swimming pool at a quite nice house at a quite nice party, and the subject was the various ills of the country, and the solution this distinguished Oklahoma gentleman offered was: "First we have to get rid of this nigger president." Well, since then the looming meanness and violence at the heart of the true America has seemed all that more evident to me. So here are a couple of the latest bumper stickers you can plaster on your SUV:

You would proudly drive around with this on your car, right?

Or this?

This kind of thing is exhibit A as to the truth of my oft-repeated observation: we are a doomed country.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

They Make Allowances . . . for Themselves

USA Today puts yet another disgusting story about super rich people on the front page. We know these guys (and gals) are laughing all the way to the bank, indeed, rolling in the aisles because they sit at the pinnacle of the Mount of Worthiness in the USA. They are rich. And given our times, they are getting richer by the day. You've read all the stuff about how many hundreds of times more the CEOs make over the workers. I don't remember the numbers, of course, but you can find them easily enough on the web. The story in the paper today is a variation on the familiar theme of how the top of the pile sucks up far more money than it possibly needs. Well, it turns out that many CEOs are collecting cash allowances on top of their outrageous salaries and in addition to other perks such as free private use of corporate aircraft, personal cars, cellphones, and a host of other perks. Some high level execs are pocketing as much as $84,000 in such allowances annually. "This is 70 percent higher than the median U.S. household income of $49, 455," the story points out.

Some specifics:
•United Technologies. Senior execs get flexible allowances equal to 5% of base salaries. That's worth $84,000 for CEO Louis ChĂȘnevert, who used $36,000 for a car lease. ChĂȘnevert's 2011 compensation: $22.8 million, plus $7.4 million in stock and options gains.
•C.R. Bard. CEO Timothy Ring got $65,000, plus $8 million in compensation and $15.3 million from options and vested shares. Other execs got $40,000, including CFO Todd Schermerhorn, who exercised options worth $25.6 million. The medical products marketer says allowances offset costs for company cars, financial planning and other perks.
American Express. CEO Ken Chenault and other execs get $35,000. Chenault's 2011 comp: $22.5 million, plus $5.9 million from vested shares. Chenault's other perks — including use of company aircraft and local travel — cost $365,000. Spokeswoman Marina Norville says allowances have been in effect for years.
Jack in the Box. CEO Linda Lang gets $66,500 a year; other execs, at least $45,000. The fast-food chain says allowances replace other perks and cover costs such as business use of personal cars and cellphones. Lang's 2011 compensation: $4.5 million, plus option gains worth more than $750,000.
 I keep wondering when the struggling hard-working, hard-pressed American working people are going to wake up to the screaming injustice of a system that works like this. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Makes Absolutely No Difference

The Fact of the Matter

One thing that's been proven over and over to me, and I still act as if it weren't true most of the time*, is that facts don't matter to people. People believe what they want to believe be they confronted with a hundred, nay, a thousand facts to contradict the belief. Here we have a chart that puts the lie to the constant refrain about the sainted Reagan and how he cut both the size of government as well as how much it spent. In contrast, of course, to that wild-spending present occupant of the White House. There are scads of such myths attached to Saint Ronny, who would not even be electable today. He would be waaaay too far to the left for the Republican party.

*By continuing to present people with facts in during discussions on various topics in the expectation that the scales will fall from their eyes and they will embrace what's true. It almost never happens.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

If You Like Books . . .

. . . you will probably like this web site: Bookshelf Porn. What  a great name! I sent the link to this site to a good friend of mine in Louisiana who used to own a bookstore just off College Drive in Baton Rouge. I used to frequent the place when I was in graduate school. The big chains, Barnes & Nobles and Borders, put him out of business. He's in the history department now at the Univ of Southeaster Louisiana in Hammond. Anyway, I sent Charlie the same link I'm posting here. Can't wait for his reaction. Can't resist posting one of these amazing pictures.

How cool is this?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Checking Out

What brought this particular subject to mind, I cannot say. But I've been thinking about the "Stuff you should know" podcast I listened to two-three weeks ago . . . it was about some of the bizarre ways people have died. Right up front the two guys conducting the program admitted their own curiosity about death, and then went on to say that they had found that the vast majority of people are similarly curious about the subject.* Of course I don't have any recollection of the several deaths they talked about on the podcast. But there is certainly no shortage of material on the subject of bizarre deaths. One need go no further than Wikipedia, which has a long list of bizarre deaths. You can also google "bizarre deaths" and come up with literally hundreds of references. After reading on this subject for over an hour--it's pretty absorbing--I quit. But right here in my library I don't have to go far to find material on this subject. For instance, I've got a book called Panati's Extroaordinary Endings of Practially Everything and Everybody (1989). It's got four chapters at the end of the book about the deaths of famous people, and some of those were pretty strange. Did you know that William the Conqueror died from acute peritonitis brought on by an injury from being violently jostled against the iron pommel of his saddle? Or that Isadora Duncan the famous dancer had her neck snapped when a long shawl she was wearing got caught in the spokes of the car she was riding in?

I've said it many times: there's only one way into this world, but there are a million ways out.

*Which, it seems to me, is the most natural thing in the world. It's a universal human experience, and a most intriguing one for all of us. We know it will for sure occur, but when and how . . . nobody knows till it happens.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The American Way

What upsets us? Not much. It seems to me that what concerns us are not the horrifying things, but the trivial things. How did I come to this conclusion today? Nothing more unusual than the day's headlines, which I for one, find horrifying quite frequently.

But this is not the sort of thing that seems to hold our attention. Pick just about any day in America and what do you get inundated with on the TV, in the culture? Nothing but shit, really . . . I wrote my $50 check for PBS today (I wish it could make them stop asking me for now every night in the middle of the News Hour.), and I realized that just about the only things I watch that are not on PBS are Ranger games, the few football games we watch, and a smattering of other stuff. This has been Susan's and my pattern for a long time. Why? because PBS is our only antidote for the incredible torrent of garbage everywhere else on television. Collectively, we seem to have embraced all the lightweight diversions we can seize upon to keep us from having to confront ourselves. Do you realize how many people in this country are utterly captivated by celebrities? A horrifying number. Is there anything more

The big news today is the American soldier who methodically murdered 16 Afghan civilians including women and children. Is this going to upset anyone? Not really. Horrify anyone? No more than abuse of Iraqi prisoners, pissing on the corpses of our enemies, and all those innocent people we kill "accidentally" with our lethal drones. No, people are more concerned about whether their favorite on "American Idol" advances. Horrible things like our war crimes, the number of people homeless in this country, our collective callousness and selfishness . . . we don't lose a wink's sleep. We're inured to horror, oblivious to anything that doesn't amuse us. It's the American way.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Oh, Really?

Here's something that won't surprise you even if all you have going for you is a smidgen over basic motor functions: people are making money, lots of it, opposing relaxation of marijuana laws. Oh, really? It is positively insane that 1 of every 8 people in US prisons is there for pot-related offenses. That's 800,000 and about $1 billion in costs to keep them there. (Source) And this isn't because the people of this country are clamoring to keep these dangerous potheads off the streets. No. Fact is half of the people in the US favor outright legalization of the weed, a record number, and the first time this many people have expressed this opinion. Many, many more favor decriminalization measures of some sort. But, as in so many other areas--gun laws and withdrawal from foreign wars come to mind--what the people want and what they get are two entirely different matters.

So I'll give you some guesses as to who is behind these efforts to keep the ridiculous pot prohibition on the books. Bingo! If you guessed police, you get a gold star. The simple fact of the matter is the police unions prosper with greater numbers if you're out there chasing pot offenders. This article focuses on California, but surely what's true there is true across the county. Several counties in the state, it should be noted, collected handsomely for anti-marijuana initiatives from stimulus money early in the recession.

But guess who else is against any change in the marijuana laws? Who would you think? Beer companies, alcohol corporations . . . and are you ready for this? Prison guard unions. And less not forget our favorite friends, Big Pharma, who fear a low-cost form of competition.

Money talks. Weed just smokes.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Big Mac Burden

You run across these interesting little tidbits all over the Internet. I stumbled across this today. Caught my attention since I've been watching calories since the 2d week in January. So you might say it was with a sort of horrified fascination that I reacquainted myself with some facts about Mickey D's Big Mac. I have to say, right off, that I have never been a huge patron of McDonald's. The fries are the best thing I've ever had there, and I cannot honestly ever remember having a Big Mac.

Classic Big Mac meal
 Here's what a Big Mac costs you: 540 calories--that's a hell of a lot for one sandwich. A burden! And if you add a medium fries and a medium Coke, you're talking 1130 calories for the meal, plus your 48 grams of fat. I'm on a 1,300-calorie a day regimen right now, and that would be a discouraging situation indeed to have less than 200 calories left for the whole day.

I got curious about what the killer calorie count for other stuff at McDonald's would be. No problem. The Net produces the information in a flash. Here it is. I'll save you the trouble of finding the most calorie-charged thing on the menu. It's the chocolate triple-thick shake (32oz): 1160 calories and 27 grams of fat. Whew! But . . . it sure as hell sounds good.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

So Much Trouble in the World

I just watched this video. Read that it had gone viral and just checked it out of curiosity. About efforts to put a stop to an African Congolese thug named Joseph Kony who, among other heinous acts, kidnaps children for his army. This guy has been burning and looting and killing for nothing but maintenance of his own power for over 20 years. I was moved by the video, but everybody knows I'm a chicken-hearted wuss. Nonetheless, I have read about the practice of turning boys into killers and girls into sex slaves in several African countries. There's a whole army of young people working to get this guy arrested this year. I hope God blesses their efforts.

Throughout I kept thinking of one of Bob Marley's great songs. So sad to say that his observation is as true now as when he first made it

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

There Are Scumbags, & then There's Limbaugh

What words can I conjure up to commend that execrable wretch Rush Limbaugh to your detestation? I fear whatever they would be, they would prove inadequate. I don't need to rehearse what he's done. It's been in the news for several days now. I mean, what kind of creep gets on the radio and before millions of people brands somebody he doesn't even know a "slut" and a "prostitute." And then goes on to pile on one filthy insinuation after another about this woman? And apparently this rant of his went on for three days. And what did this lady do? She testified before a congressional committee in favor of contraceptives being available through government insurance programs. I don't need to rehearse for you why this is a sensible thing to do either.

I tell you over and over again . . . that we are a doomed people. More evidence of this is in the reaction of many in the Republican party, who refuse to condemn Limbaugh. And that includes the cast of remaining clowns still vying for the GOP presidential nomination.Thankfully, radio stations carrying his hate show and most important, sponsors, are jumping ship. I hope like hell this latest outrage by Limbaugh brings that sack of doo-doo down. This guy has been getting away with the vilest stuff for years. It's time decent people rise up and  shut his damned mouth.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Yet Another List II

Continuing on from yesterday. You'll recall I was listing web sites that I had never heard of off Time magazine's list of the 50 best web sites of 2011. Well, I have a confession to make. In perusing Time's list of sites more closely I discover that I have not heard of most of them. So what does this tell you? Probably the obvious: I don't do a hell of a lot of web surfing, or conversely, I don't have call to check out sites in some of the magazine's topics, such as Family and Kids--we're past that stage, Susan and I--Social Media, Games. So there are several other areas left, and plenty of interesting sites, viz.:
  • Freerice -- With Freerice, you can do good by having fun. Answer one of the multiple-choice questions correctly — on topics such as English vocabulary, geography or chemistry — and the site's sponsors will donate 10 grains of rice to the U.N. World Food Programme. It doesn't sound like a major act of charity — but so many people answer so many questions that the site is responsible for the donation of hundreds of millions of grains of rice every month. That's enough to make a major difference for tens of thousands of hungry people in Haiti and other countries that need help. [There are 60 "levels," and I was on 42 when I quit. I got hung up in it for about 10 minutes. BTW, all I saw were vocabulary questions, nothing on anything else. 
  • CalorieKing  --  Half the battle of eating well is knowing what you're eating. And knowing what you're eating is a whole lot easier with CalorieKing. The site provides the nutritional facts for thousands of foodstuffs, from grapes (34 calories and 0.1 grams of fat per serving) to Wendy's Baconator Double (940 calories and 59 grams of fat). This basic info is free . . . [There's a pay plan where you can get menus, advice, etc., etc., but the heart of it is the calorie-counter. Great for me since I've been counting calories for a couple of months. I have an app on the iPad, but this look-up is quicker. Seems to be pretty damn comprehensive.]
  • Hipmunk  --  [This one is for Susan, the travel agent in the house. Cool tabular display of flight options for trips.] Shopping for plane tickets will never rank among life's greatest pleasures. But with Hipmunk, it's no longer among the most tedious. This slick site lets you search for flights across major airlines, giving you easy-to-scan results in a grid sorted by agony ("a combination of price, duration and number of stops"). Nice touches include an icon that highlights flights with wi-fi, and there are iPhone and iPad apps that let you use the service on the go.
  • Big Think  --  The thinking at Big Think is big indeed. This blog and video site covers, well, the world: arts, business, science, history and much more. Resident big thinkers such as futurist Ray Kurzweil and distinguished guests tackle the topics seriously, and counterintuitive notions and outright heresy are welcome. It's a great place to go to challenge your preconceived notions and recharge your mental batteries. 
  • Khan Academy --  In 2004, Salman Khan started tutoring his cousin over the Internet. In 2006, he began uploading educational videos to YouTube. And in 2009, he quit his day job as a hedge-fund manager to concentrate on Khan Academy, a sort of one-man university. Today the site offers his free lessons in thousands of highly visual 10-minute chunks. Math and science dominate, and students are the primary audience, but Khan is adding additional topics and welcomes adult learners. It's a remarkable undertaking — and with funding from Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it has a bright future.
Now, I have to tell you that I lied again . . . because I have heard of Big Think and Khan Academy before now. And I agree with Time about both. Great sites.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Yet Another List

Everybody loves lists, right? Well, I'm going to share with you a list that some of you might find strange. This is a partial list of websites that appeared in Time Magazine's annual list of "best of" websites. There are fifty of them altogether. But I'm not going to list them all. You can go here if you want to see the whole list. My criterion for appearing in the list below is that I have never heard of the site. As to why you might find it strange, I'll venture a couple or three guesses. First, you may think I'm terribly uninformed not to know about some of these places because you know about them . . . in fact, you couldn't imagine somebody not knowing about them. Another reason could be that you know the site, but cannot imagine why anybody would put it in the top rungs of anything. Finally, you may just find it strange that I even bother with such a subject. Well, here's full disclosure. It's been a slow news day, and sometimes you just have to dredge something up. I'm going to include some of Time's blurb about the site for what it's worth. I do sincerely hope you might even find some of this useful.

Schott's List of Websites
Which Somebody Thinks are
But Which He Never Heard Of

  • My Damn Channel -- Brevity is the soul of the wit at My Damn Channel, a video site where almost everything is entertaining and nothing runs for much more than five minutes. More professional than YouTube and less schlocky than much of what's on the networks and cable, My Damn Channel is damn good TV.
  •  Grantland -- The Web is already well equipped with outstanding sites on every known athletic pursuit. Is there room for one more? Absolutely, if that site is Grantland, the new creation of one of today's finest sportswriters, Bill Simmons. Grantland -- The Web is already well equipped with outstanding sites on every known athletic pursuit. Is there room for one more? Absolutely, if that site is Grantland, the new creation of one of today's finest sportswriters, Bill Simmons. [personal observation: I found out on this site that Barack Obama's favorite character from The Wire is Omar.]
  •  Get Human -- Some of the biggest companies in the U.S. are in hiding — or at least, you might think so when you want to talk to a real person at one of them. Phone numbers are often tough to find, and if you do uncover one, it could lead to a voice-menu system that tries to placate you with recorded messages. That's why GetHuman is so essential. It provides numbers for thousands of companies, from AT&T to Zynga, plus information on which buttons to press to reach a human and how long you're likely to wait on hold. Users can also vent by writing customer-service reviews; they're pockmarked with phrases like "What a nightmare!" [personal observation: "Hard to find 800-numbers" was a great website that went kaput a while back. This is an even better replacement. How could I have not known about this place?]
  • Smarthistory -- Smarthistory focuses on art history, from cave paintings to Warhol. And while the site calls itself a textbook, it's not the text — or even the illustrations — that make it special. It's the growing library of videos that feature spirited, unscripted conversations among historians about notable works. You can start in ancient times and work your way forward or browse the collection by artist, theme or medium.
  • Quora -- When you've got a question that's strictly factual, a search engine usually does the trick. When the answer would benefit from expertise and opinion, you want to ask a smart human being — or even better, a bunch of them. Quora is a terrific way to find those savvy folk and benefit from their knowledge (and pay back the community by sharing your own insights). It's one of umpteen Q&A sites on the Web — others include and Yahoo! Answers — but the quality of the conversation is uncommonly high.
Guess what? There's not enough space in this one post for me to list everything I wanted to. So . . . to be continued.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I'm a Snob

Rick Santorum: are you kidding me? How can this guy actually still be in the race for the Republican nomination? Fact is, he lost to Mitt "Mr Excitement" Romney in Michigan by a slender margin and apparently is polling well in a number of super Tuesday states. But this guy is an idiot. Certifiable. The latest nonsense to come out of his mouth is his sneering slur on President Obama for . . . are you ready? Endorsing the idea that everybody should attend college. Called him a snob for thinking this. A snob.

Well, sign me up. I'm a snob too. I've believed my whole life that education is the key ingredient for the fullest life. I don't ever talk about the financial benefits of higher education (even thought they're substantial and that's what you hear about 99% of the time. David Sirota, by the way, makes the point much better in this piece.), but rather how much better it is to be acquainted with books, the arts. To have intellectual curiosity and broad interests, to take joy in learning, to be conversant with great literature, to be able to think critically. All of this stuff is the byproduct of education; all of it. And you can live without any of it, but speaking for myself, I would never want to. Think about a life with nothing more in it than television and other empty amusements--not that these things don't have their place. God, no!

You cannot make up morons like Rick Santorum