Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Stern warning

Contributed by Auggie
You’ve gotta love the NBA! No, really you do - or David Stern might have you killed. His latest act is enough to bring Auggie out of hibernation and go on a rant. (And then immediately enter the witness protection program).

Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, recently announced he would retire on February 1, 2014, 30 years after taking charge of the league. That’s not soon enough. While Stern did a great job of taking a league on the brink of irrelevance and turning it into a globally popular entity, he has since tarnished that legacy and deservedly so. In recent years he is more known as a power-hungry, arrogant, tyrannical leader than a commissioner, and apparently he is intent on cementing that new-found legacy between now and retirement.

In case you didn’t hear, Stern just fined the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 for resting four of its starters during a (nationally televised) game at Miami. Great, so now the commissioner is qualified, and has the power to tell a coach what is best for his team. That seems like a slippery slope to me. Stern says the Spurs did the fans a disservice by resting its “star” players, namely Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. But stars according to whom . . . . Stern? I’m a fan and here is what I say. I can’t stand Manu Ginobili. He is one of the biggest whining, floppers in the NBA and it wouldn’t disturb me if I never saw him play again. He is one of the reasons the NBA just instituted an anti-flopping penalty. Tim Duncan was great once but he is well past his prime, now he’s just another guy. As for Tony Parker; the guy cheated on Eva Longoria. Need I say more?

What’s worse, the NBA scheduled the Spurs for 6 road games in an 8-day span. That’s unheard of. The NBA season is grueling for older players like Duncan and it make strategic sense to rest those players, for example in the second of back-to-back games, or the final game of a 6-game road stand. But to do so and then they get fined for it? Wow. The robber barons of the late 19th century would be proud of Stern for his shameless abuse of power. Frankly, I don’t even know how it’s legal.

Finally, the game in question was an exciting and interesting game. The Spurs actually had the lead with 22 seconds left before Ray Allen hit a 3-pointer and lead the world-champion Heat to a victory. What is the problem?

I think Stern and Goodell have a little side competition going, and Stern just took the lead.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dragon Fly Covered with Dew

It's not just the grass and the spiderwebs that, during the daily cycle of temperature change, get coated in condensation.  All of nature must deal with this phenomenon.  Based on the expression on the face of this dragonfly, I guess some bugs have to face the morning dampness before their first cup of coffee. 


This may be reminiscent of an earlier post, "Bumble Bee Covered with Pollen".  I love these glimpses into the lives of other creatures, and the conditions they face in the course of an ordinary day.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cool Things With No Purpose - Part XIII

Using sound waves to levitate water droplets...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beg Your Pardon?

I've heard the arguments against giving money to beggars.

I've also spent a fair amount of time, in cities all around the world, encountering beggars and contemplating the moral dilemma posed by the massively unequal distribution of the world's wealth.  Frankly, I've never been able to buy into the reasoning against helping beggars.

I must admit though, my rural upbringing may have rendered me somewhat naive on this topic, and I recently had a disconcerting encounter that I may have handled wrong.  Here's what happened:

I was in Washington DC for a meeting and, during a ten-minute pause in a coffee shop, I watched a woman begging outside on a very busy sidewalk.  She was sitting down, had a sign, and looked like she truly needed some help.  As far as I could tell, during the time that I observed, not a single person offered her any change nor acknowledged her existence.  

I knew I was not going to change her life with my spare change, but I thought she might appreciate knowing that at least one other person saw her as a fellow human, in need of a fortunate break.  As I left the coffee shop, I crouched to her level, looked her compassionately in the eye, and warmly wished her "better times ahead" as I dropped my change into her cup.

No sooner had I stood up to cross the street when she began berating me with a loud and angry stream of expletives.  I turned to see her dump the coins to the ground and I realized that she had been insulted by my meager financial offering.  Momentary confusion gave way to embarrassment as a crowd of bystanders turned to view the raucous spectacle.

I have pondered this many times since it happened last spring, and I still can't make sense of it.  I had approached her with the sincerest intentions of respecting her dignity, and I walked away feeling as though she had trampled on mine.

It always comes to mind for me now, each time I encounter a beggar.  I have continued with my past approach of giving generously to some, modestly to others, and walking past most in the course of a typical day. I still think it is usually right to offer help from time to time, but I also wonder if I did something wrong in DC.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

It's the Economy Stupid

The old truism that "the economy" is the most important topic in every US Presidential election is absurd to me.

I'm sure it's true enough. I fully believe that people vote based on their perception of which candidate can drive economic growth. I just think it is absurd how voters over-estimate how much the President can impact the economy (which in truth may be not at all, but at best it is very, very little).

I also find it beguiling that campaign strategists perpetrate the false notion, in every election, that their candidate can actually drive an economic turn-around.

Sorry to report this folks but neither Obama nor Romney can "fix the economy". The only people who can fix the economy are us voters.

Here are a few ways to start:

1) Get in shape. Don't cut down a little on fast food, stop eating it. That includes soda.  Lose some weight, exercise, and eat fruits and vegetables. This will greatly ease the burden on our health system, which wouldn't look nearly as broken if we weren't a bunch of over-weight, diabetics who need statins and hypertensive medications for the final five decades of our lives. This will also cut down on expensive triple-bypass surgeries and knee replacements. Let's free up a little spending for wellness.

2) Use less energy. Like a lot less. In your car and in your home. Next time you need to buy a car, buy a small one and, in the meantime, drive less and drive more slowly. This could vastly reduce our reliance on foreign oil, which will weaken demand and bring prices down. It may also put less money in the hands of certain groups that we spend a lot of military dollars to protect ourselves from.

3) Be an active parent. If your kids are being raised by TV and video games, you need to engage. It's hard and it takes a lot of time, but kids who spend their time with caring adults, as opposed to consumer electronics, develop better social skills and are more likely to cultivate an interest in learning. They are also less likely to exhibit disruptive, anti-social behavior in the classroom, which will allow our teachers to focus on educating instead of baby-sitting. Just a guess, but our education system might not look as broken if our kids were taught how to be attentive students by their parents.

4) Do the work that needs to be done. If some jobs are beneath you, then don't complain about the unemployment level or the number of immigrants who enter our country to fill the demand for low-status work. Until we are willing to do all kinds of work for pay that may be unattractive, then jobs will continue moving overseas, immigrants will continue to cross our border illegally, and unemployment will persist. The government can't fix our willingness to work.

5) Save some money. The government can't always be there for everyone. Maybe keep your car a little longer, get by with a smallish TV, and live below your means. Put some cash toward retirement, disability insurance, long-term care insurance, and bouts of unemployment. There is no way the government, under any administration, can accumulate enough tax revenue to help all 300 million of us avoid some disruptions in the high quality of life we enjoyed during our peak earning years. Things go wrong, family financial health swings up and down, and we all need to prepare ourselves for the downturns.

I know these are hard habits to adopt.  I acknowledge that I could be doing better on a few of these suggestions myself. But the point is, the change is up to us. We can't expect a miracle from the government or from any particular Presidential candidate.

The President who can impact the economy is the one who can get the voters to fix the economy themselves.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stones Turn 50!

This has already been way overdone in the media, but I am sure my imaginary readers are expecting me to at least acknowledge it.

Today is the day, July 12, marking the 50th anniversary of the Stones first gig in 1962.  No need to belabor the point, but it's pretty incredible for a rock band to be so relevant for so long.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guitar Hero

Here's a great video of a guy playing 100 classic guitar riffs in one take. I'm not sure all these riffs are classics, but the video is worth seeing.

What do you find more impressive: this guy's effortless command of the instrument, or his awesome cognitive agility in making 99 mental transitions, from one key and rhythm to the next, without missing a beat?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

National Anthem has 2 Verses?

Apparently so.

Here's a video of a former marine, poignantly reminding a small gathering about it.

I am not promoting any particular religious views, nor am I supporting any particular political stance, I just thought  this was a good thing to share on the 4th of July!

Friday, June 29, 2012

I Swear

If you had asked me as a young man, to complete a questionnaire about what type of father I would one day become, I am sure I would have ticked "NO" on the question: "Do you expect to swear in front of your children".

Turns out I would have been way wrong on that.

I am not a fan of unnecessary profanity, or of using curse words as filler to round out an inadequate vocabulary.  But there are times, for purposes of style or emphasis, that the taboo of a curse-word absolutely strikes the right effect.

Now don't get me wrong;  I am not proud that I swear in front my children.  In fact, this year I made my first ever New Year's resolution as an effort to curb the habit.  However, it was after holding back for several weeks that I first noticed the amazing therapeutic effect of a good, profanity-laced outburst.

I was happy to read a recent article in Scientific American noting that many leading researchers have concluded that swearing has many benefits, and should be encouraged in certain circumstances.  Although they did not explicitly identify "parenting" as one of those circumstances, I am sure that was just an oversight.

Damn authors probably have no kids.

Getting It Write

One of the things that I formerly considered to be among my professional values, is slowly migrating onto my list of things that make me seem like a caveman (or at least like a geezer*).  Namely, I think that reasonably good grammar is an important component of professional correspondence.

We are all aware of, and probably occasionally guilty of, the acronym-filled shorthand of the text, Twitter, and Facebook worlds.  There is certainly a place today for that type of communication.

For example, if you see Chad and Taylor making out behind the bleachers, you should immediately text an OMG! to your BFF's.  Under such alarming circumstances, everyone would agree that taking the time to type a salutation, or any punctuation other than an exclamation point, would be a disservice to those who need to know such things ASAP.

However, in the drudgery of "participating in the world's economic welfare", also known as "responsibly holding down a job", matters are rarely as urgent or important as the Junior High tryst I cited above.  I still believe that professionals usually have the time to construct complete, unambiguous, messages to one another.

Alas, I see that the "new normal" of text shorthand is slowly and successfully gaining acceptance among decision makers in the workplace. This recent article from the Wall Street Journal makes the sad point that my commitment to grammar is increasingly a sign of yesterday's work ethic.  It's really just a numbers game, and when those who do not value grammar begin to out-number (and/or out-rank) those who do, I will officially wear the scarlet "C" of curmudgeonry.

* Alert readers who recall my post on "geezerdom" will know that earning this label is not a personal tragedy for me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

National Ahem!

I know there is no right way and no wrong way to be artistic.  I get the notion of artistic license.  I'm just not sure it is always appropriate to reinterpret a sacred symbol during a time-honored tradition.  Case in point: the rampant "artistic" butchering of the national anthem before sporting events.

Can't people just sing it the way it was written?  I know it's hard to hit that last note in "...the land of the free" and I give a "get out of jail free" card for a little creativity there.  But for the rest of it, I think most people should try to sing the original version most of the time.

But they never do.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Casual Observation Series – Part 1A(uggie)
Contributed by Auggie

If you ever plan to undertake a study to determine the most played artist in the history of radio, I can save you the trouble. It’s Elton John. This conclusion is based strictly on empirical evidence, namely me riding in my car listening to the radio over the last 30 years, but it’s no less scientific than Michael Bloomberg’s assertion that “people tend to eat as much as they are served” as justification for his proposed ban on large sized soft drinks (good topic for another blog). It recently occurred to me that no matter the driving distance, or what station I am tuned to, I can’t complete a trip without hearing Elton John at least once. (Well, it happened once in 2003 when I rode around the block to test my new brake pads but that doesn’t really count). If you detect a hint of annoyance in my prose then kudos to you because that’s the attitude I was going for. There are other artists who have had their share of air time over the years (e.g. The Rolling Stones) but they tend to be played on stations of a particular musical genre. And there are artists who are overplayed in short time periods (e.g. Katy freakin Perry right now); but no one tops Elton John for longevity and breadth of coverage.

If anyone disagrees with this please post alternate theories to the comments section. As a reasonable curmudgeon I will consider updating the rankings with convincing evidence. FYI, Phil Collins is a distant second.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Casual Observation Series - Part I

If the shapes of your eyes change when you chew, you probably have too much food in your mouth.*

*Inspired by the dude I saw today at Starbucks.  I suppose he may have just been in a hurry...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Soccer Moms: Pillars of Modern Society?

They seem harmless on the surface.  In fact, they seem downright selfless. 

Soccer moms are almost everywhere, scurrying about, sacrificing their own interests to make sure Junior and Sally get to all those developmental activities.  They help their children identify and cultivate interests, develop skills and relationships, and grow stridently into young adults with a solid base of knowledge, grace, and confidence.

Perhaps we should all pause and thank the next soccer mom we see for her important role in raising the next generation of Americans.  Unless….wait a minute... maybe they’re not pillars of modern society but parasites on modern society.

Many, if not most of the soccer moms I encounter, are bright, aggressive, college-educated women who see themselves as the CEOs of their families.  Nothing wrong with that; I applaud their strong sense of conribution.  In the CEO role, their key goal is to secure maximum advantage and resources for their own offspring.  All the scheduling of activities and seeming sacrifice to get the kids to those activities are mere byproducts of their own master plans to help the family “get ahead”.  Great attention is paid to small details that can enable better seats at the school play, a free instrument from the band program, the teacher of choice in 4th grade, or any other special attention or privilege that might be available to the cunning CEO. 

Unfortunately, some scarce community resources (participation in an advanced academic program, for example) are made available only in small portions.  The community sets them aside from the general pool and meters them out to those most deserving students with qualities that might, if properly developed, help the entire group.  Undoubtedly, some such resources get secured by the more capable family CEOs and cannot benefit other, more deserving recipients, for which the resources were intended.

We all want what is best for our kids and our families, but we also all live in communities where sometimes, what is best is to have a strong network of trusting neighbors and friends.  The all-out effort to achieve personal gain at the expense of the community is a direct affront to the notion of cooperation.  It’s not OK to put your own family ahead of every other, all the time, in every respect, regardless of what’s at stake.

Cavemen figured this out and gathered together in cooperative tribes. They learned to share resources and eventually, to divide labor into specialized tasks according to whom in the group was most well suited for each.  In the early days, survival of one and all depended on each tribe member fulfilling their role.  If Thog or Gruk acted selfishly, it would have been immediately obvious, and dire consequences would presumably have followed.

We’ve come a long way since then and today; any single individual’s contribution to society is an imperceptible blip, lost in the grand scale of a global economy.  But through it all, our keen ability to perform social accounting has stayed with us.  In fact, there is palpable animosity toward those who appear to be willingly “living on welfare”.   This speaks to our innate sense that we all owe it to one another to live civilly in cooperative groups where each plays a role, contributes to the greater good, and consumes no more than their fair share of common resources.

If you ask me, many soccer moms (certainly many of those in my neck of the woods), are way over the line in this regard.  I see them engaged in an anti-social routine of diligently exploiting the system, expertly capturing social favors, and ruthlessly hoarding public resources.  They do this each day, in full view of the children who observe it all from the backseat of the minivan.  These soccer moms are unwitting models of devastatingly selfish behavior, training a whole new generation of anti-social adults.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How Do You Like Me Now?

When I started this blog, it was intended to be a test bed for learning how to administer a more serious, corporate blogging endeavor.  It served that purpose but also turned out to be fun and I have kept it up.  However, had I known at the outset that the hobby would persist, I would have chosen a less Den-Centric name for the blog.

As such, I have whimsically, and with little forethought, renamed this blog as "How Do You Like Me Now?"  Bet you didn't even notice.

It might turn out to be a bad idea that I will need to undo, but probably not.  Also, I have not changed (and probably will not change) the URL. That will live on as a perplexing artifact for future historians to debate.

This change will make it easier for me to yield to the intense demand from would-be "guest bloggers" who have beaten a virtual path to my door since the blog became an imaginary smash hit.  As far as you know.

Also, the new name will further disguise my true identity and keep the list of "imaginary readers who I will need to kill before running for President" as short as possible.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chicken Update

Name: PipSqueak
Hatched: 1-20-12
Family: 1st of 6 to hatch (sibs: Black-Jack, Poppy, Leo, Baldy, Calimero)
Personality: Has "small chick" complex, acts tough in the brood
First Peep: Usually about 5:45am
Endearing Characteristics: Has fuzzy feet, thinks I'm his mother
Annoying Characteristic: Pecks my wedding ring, stands in the food dish

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


So if you throw a football straight up to an impressive height, it is deceptively difficult to catch on its way down. I'm no aerospace engineer and cannot explain why this is, but I have witnessed the phenomenon many times; the empirical evidence is strong.*

Last summer, I was horsing around with my kids in the yard and I nonchalantly mentioned that if they could catch my "high-ball" we could get a pet cow. Not realizing the difficulty of the task, they sensed an easy victory. I played along, told them they could take turns riding it to school. Their imaginations ignited and I could see wild dreams forming in their naive little brains.

Anyway, I chucked a wobbler straight up as high as I could, marveled momentarily at how weak my arm had become since I had last attempted such a feat, worried for an instant that the ball would smack one of my kids in the face when they tried to catch it, and then began to panic when I realized that my unimpressive throw was looking very catchable.

Sure enough, my 6-year old trapped it between his right shoulder and his ear, with his left hand on the ball, and the celebration was on. Absolute bedlam for about 30 minutes. I sat quietly in the grass and contemplated loop holes in my offer.  They categorically refused my "double-or-nothing" gambit.

Now, I always make a big deal to the little brats about the importance of keeping your word, so I knew I was in a tough spot. No way the wife was going to allow me to bring home a pet cow. I tried a few buy-out offers with ice cream and other treats, but the kids knew they had me over a barrel and they weren't about to go for anything less than a substantial pet.

I bided my time throughout the fall, tested the waters here and there to see if their resolve had weakened, and eventually, my opportunity came. Following a school project, they became very excited about the prospect of incubating eggs and hatching chicks. I feigned agreement, pretending to consider the idea until they were quivering with joy. Then, I changed my tone and informed them that I could only agree to such a project under one condition: the chicks would have to replace the cow-debt on the family balance sheet.

By this time, they had become too emotionally invested in the prospect of chicks to refuse my terms and we struck the deal. The wife was a good sport and did all of the research on incubators, found a source of fertilized eggs, and secured an arrangement at a local farm that would adopt the chicks after we brooded them for a few weeks.

They're supposed to hatch after 18-21 days in the incubator. Tomorrow is day 19. There have been reports of pecking sounds from a couple of the eggs, and the kids are positively giddy.

Guess they'll never know the joy of riding a cow to school.
* Imaginary Reader Dan can attest.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Holy Crap!

Contributed by Auggie
What do Tim Tebow and Kim Kardashian have in common? Not much really. They’re not exactly neighbors on the moral spectrum but they are members of the same club; the one where people are famous just for being famous. How else to explain the amount of publicity they each receive?

We all know about the power of the media; it can considerably influence public perception from politics, to news, to sports and entertainment, and it can create a story out of thin air and beat us over the head with it until we are begging for mercy. TT and KK simply represent two recent examples of said power. I defy anyone to correlate the magnitude of publicity these individuals receive with commensurate accomplishments. You can’t.

Not that any harm is being inflicted. These examples are relatively innocuous save for the extreme annoyance they cause curmudgeons like me. At least with Kardashian I can ignore the hyperbole - and believe me I do. Unless for example I’m casually flipping through a copy of US Weekly in the checkout line and inadvertently happen upon her Aruba beach pictures. Which has never happened by the way. No, really. Forget it, let’s move on. With Tebow on the other hand it’s difficult for me to ignore the hype. You see, as a sports fan I occasionally (some would say often) tune into sports programs with the sole intent of seeing what’s happening in the wide world of sports. Regrettably, to get a few nuggets of real sports news once must first endure an extended ceremony of grown men and women drooling on themselves as they wax poetic about the great Tim Tebow. It was cute for the first 600 hours but now it’s embarrassing. I wish I had a hot line to the producers responsible for this nauseating display of blabber so I could offer some customer feedback. I’ll have to settle for this blog.

Before anyone takes me up on the challenge of explaining Tebow’s popularity, let me first debunk a few notions you may be considering: A) Is it his religious views? Can’t be. Half the NFL players share his views and after every game there is a prayer circle at the center of the field with players from each team participating. B) Is it his unorthodox, run-first style of playing QB? Please. Many QB’s have relied on their legs more than their arms dating way back to Bobby Douglass and more recently Kordell Stewart. They couldn’t complete a forward pass either. C) Is it his charity work? Again, a majority of NFL players give back to communities and organizations around the world, and many don’t even seek publicity for it. D) It must be his spectacular comebacks right? Not so. The hype started long before his first comeback in Miami and has continued despite three straight losses.

As a final exercise, let’s compare Tebow to Cam Newton. For you casual fans who haven’t heard of Newton he is a rookie QB for the Carolina Panthers, and the reason you haven’t heard of him is that he receives a fraction of the attention Tebow gets. But like Tebow, Cam Newton lead his college team to a national championship, won the Heisman trophy, is an electrifying runner, and is a charismatic leader who connects with people. Where Newton differs is that he has already accomplished much more in his rookie season than Tebow has in 2 years; Cam set an all-time rushing record for QBs breaking Steve Grogan’s 30+ year old record (bummer), he has set a rookie record for passing yards and become the first rookie ever to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season. These are accomplishments the pundits thought impossible due to the lock-out which eliminated all rookie camps and opportunities to work with team coaches. Amazing. If Tebow had accomplished this he would already be running for president of the United States and would be the Pope to boot.

There is no plausible explanation other than the media has adopted him as the chosen one. The publicity tends to expand like a chain reaction: attention begets more attention which leads to more attention which leads to exclusives and profiles and documentaries and on and on. Eventually, any responsible media outlet has to talk about him because in their own words “he’s the biggest story”, even though no one knows why. Except that he’s the chosen one