Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Woke up this morning to "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles. Not a bad way to wake up, I think. Last week, the winner in the "Get Foggy's Ass Out of the Sack" was Zep's "Stairway to Heaven."

There are few better ways I can think of than to wake up to that opening guitar riff. And, seeing as how the song is more than eight minutes long, I didn't even need to hit the snooze button. I just curled up tighter and waited until it was finished before facing the day.

Speaking of days, apparently they're adding an extra second to today to make up for the earth slowing down or some such. My questions are these: When do they add the second and who does it? Are all the important clocks magically linked to the Naval Observatory's? Or do they have to do it themselves?

How's this for funny: As I went looking for a link to the atomic clock, I also found this link, which answered my first question. Apparently, the second gets added after 11:59:59 this evening. So is midnight midnight? Or should I wait an extra beat after the clock switches to all zeros? Still don't have an answer to the second...and I don't really care.

I have to say, except for losing a bit of cash in my retirement plan (which I'm not planning to use for a while anyway), 2008 was pretty good for me. After I got over being traded in at the end of '07, I decided I wouldn't let that interfere with the new year.

During the past year (in no particular order except the one they come to mind in) I have made new friends; started this blog and made more new friend from that; seen Harper's Ferry from all three of the states surrounding it; seen HMS Pinafore at Wolf Trap; welcomed two beautiful new nieces into my family; been the best man at my best friend's wedding; seen the Colorado National Monument; lost $50 playing poker in Vegas; saw the Caps win and lose in the playoffs, my first and second professional playoff games; won $110 playing poker in Chapel Hill; helped turn raw, unfinished 2.5-inch-thick walnut into a beautifully finished 2-inch-thick top for my friend's new entertainment center; went to my 11th (and best so far) Jimmy Buffett concert with my best friends in the world; attended the wedding of one of my dearest friends who, many, many years ago, I had a soul-scorching unrequited thing for, but who I couldn't be happier for now that she's found the love she so much deserves; watched my Tar Heels win the ACC championship (on TV) with another of my best friends; saw Superman at Screen on the Green; remained employed.

The year wasn't all sweetness and light. My family and I said our final goodbye to our beloved Uncle Mike who, as a Christian Brother, devoted more than 50 of his 70 years here on planet Earth to two things: God and teaching. Just before he died, my uncle mustered some of the little strength he had left in his body, a once 6-foot-4 body I well remember towering over me as a child, and spoke four simple words:

"We're on the road."

He was, as usual, correct. We are all on that same road, the road leading us from where we are here today, to the promises and challenges tomorrow holds in store for us.

As for me personally, well, I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Deep Thoughts with Foggy

At a little post-Christmas, pre-New Years get-together this past Saturday evening, I had the most wonderful discussion/ conversation/debate. It started off with global warming and moved from there through the economics of green energy, its impact on national security and the place of America in the 21st century.

Since I haven’t written one of these in a while I figured why not take a little time to examine a couple of intertwining issues, get my thoughts out on paper (so to speak) and get yelled at a bit by some folks.

To be honest, I started off – just for fun, of course – on the “wrong” side of the global warming discussion. Sometimes debating on the “wrong” side of an issue like global warming can be fun. I advise everyone, no matter how crunchy and green or gun-totting and conservative you, to try this every now and again. Not only will you keep the conversation going, you might also learn a thing or two while you keep your mind open.

Just so we’re clear, I do believe man has had an effect on global temperatures during the past century. This easily falls into the “no shit, Sherlock” category. In 1900 there were 1.65 billion people living on planet Earth. Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 6.75 billion of us living in the same space.

Just taking into account there are 5 BILLION more people living on our tiny little planet should be enough to convince you we’re doing something to make this place a little warmer than it was a hundred years ago. Kind of like if you’re the only person in an elevator, that’s not too bad. However, if you’re one of 17 people stuck in an elevator for 45 minutes (and two of them are making out the whole time) and missing the first half of a really important basketball game, that’s probably gonna be pretty warm and suck just a bit.

To quote National Geographic, “Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.” Since it’s NatGeo, I’ll take that as holy writ.

Now that our discussion (both here and Saturday evening) established that, yes, the Earth is getting warmer, what can we do about this sticky issue?

When I say “we,” I mean we as Americans. Why? Well, because I am of the opinion that until green power widely successful in the United States, and by that I mean cheap and profitable at the same time, it will ultimately flop everywhere around the world.

Boo. Hiss. Booo.

Boo me all you want, I’m not being jingoistic here. Quick, name the three largest countries by population and area? Don’t worry, you don’t have to go look it up, I’ve done it for you. Population: 1. China 2. India and, surprise, 3. the United States. Area: 1. Russia 2. Canada and, again, 3. The United States.

The U.S. has the third largest population (305 million consumers), the third largest land area and, oh yeah, the single largest economy and customer base in the world. (You can add to this a majority of the world's best universities.)

If we thoughtfully put our vast land area to use in wind, solar, solar thermal (one of my personal favs), biomass and other greenish types of energy (including nuclear), we’ll seriously be halfway there. This doesn’t even take into account this is a HUGE national security issue for us and our allies. If we can get off the crack pipe of imported oil it could give us the ability to give some really annoying people the bird.

Next we need to convince ourselves it really is important. The best way to do that in America? The profit motive, of course. When green energy is cheap it can be used to make cheap green products. The cheaper the green product, the more of them you can sell (as long as its useful, of course). When someone can make a buck off of something in this country everyone wants a piece of that action.

Once America figures out green really is good and we make it a part of our daily lives, watch out. We may be slow getting on the band wagon (think World War II), but once we get our teeth into something we usually do a pretty good job when it comes to exploiting a good idea (think the Manhattan and Apollo projects). I believe this will happen because no other country has the United States’ combination of population, economic base, disposable wealth, natural resources, intelligence and national will. No country, not Russia, not China, not India, not Brazil (although they are closer than most people would believe on a couple of these), has this combination.

We’re at a critical junction in history. Do we go forward and maintain our place in the world? Or do we just say “Fuck it,” and decline like the Roman Empire?

Laugh if you want, but we can’t afford to finish this race in second place. It’ll take a bit of sacrifice on all our parts, but I’ve got a pretty good feeling about what the next couple of years may hold in store for us.

Friday, December 26, 2008

They're all looking at me...

In the spirit of getting out and seeing something new today, I've decided to head downtown and check out the National Portrait Gallery. I've told myself again and again I want to see it, but have just never gotten around to actually doing it. It's either this, or the Highlander marathon on SciFi. I choose the museum. Yea! for me.

Yes, yes I know, it's not the most adventurous thing to do in the whole wide world, but it beats the hell out of a co-worker's suggestion I go to a museum in Baltimore. Yeah, I could do that, but then I'd have to actually go to Baltimore. 

I'll let you know how things turn out. Wondering if they still have the Colbert portrait in between the bathrooms? 

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

As Time Goes By

I sometimes wonder at how holiday traditions get started. Why is it that one family does something another finds strange, and does something else entirely that makes everyone else go "Huh?"

My own little tradition involves Bogey and arises from the fact that as a reporter I lived far from my family for many years and often (always) worked Christmas Day. In this case, it was Christmas Eve 2001 and I'd left work at the regular time totally prepared to spend the evening in and head back to the office the next day.

Then my phone rings and it's my friend (and coworker) Kimmy V calling to see what I'm doing and if I'd like to get together at her place that very evening.

Hmmmmm? OK, sounds like a fun idea Kimmy V.

"Great. And Foggy, do you mind stopping by the office? I left some stuff in fridge I need to make the pico for my sister's party tomorrow. Do you mind bringing it by?"

There's always a catch. But Kimmy V is one of those friends I didn't mind being used a little by, and I was happy to help her out and save her a hour's round trip from home to the office just to pick up some cilantro, limes and tomatoes.

Fast forward an hour or two and the pico is made and we settle in on her couch for the evening's entertainment. It'd been a long, long time since I'd seen Casablanca and Kimmy V had never so we decided why not tonight, Christmas Eve, to watch one of the all-time greatest films.

And so was born a Foggy Christmas Tradition. Rick and Ilsa, Capt. Renault, Signor Ferrari have been my guests on almost every Christmas Eve since.

There's just something about spending Christmas Eve watching the story of three little people dealing with problems that don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world that keeps drawing me back every year. I don't know, as hard as they try to make it seem otherwise, Casablanca is still a story of hope in a difficult time.

Merry Christmas everyone.

"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seeing it again...for the first time

Y'all know I like history and space and trying to take an event from the past and tie it to something relevant today. Well, I'm going to try it again here.

Forty years ago just about right now, 3 p.m. EST on Dec. 23, men from Earth were, for the first time (that we know of, of course), entering the gravitational influence of another celestial body. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders were piloting their Apollo 8 command module on man's first trip to the moon. Like its predecessor, Apollo 7, this capsule didn't have a name, unlike those that would follow: Apollo 11's Columbia, Apollo 13's Odyssey and Apollo 17's America. (The other names can be found here.)

Three guys in a 210 cubic foot space, one of them puking from space sickness and suffering from diarrhea (Borman), headed to the moon. Imagine their families, never again able to complain on a vacation road trip.

"Dad, I need to stop, the cheese curds are making me sick."

"Son, did I ever tell you about the time I was on the way to the moon and my buddy Frank was hurling all over the capsule? I have? Well, then suck it up."

Imagine though, being the first person to ever see the Earth rise over the horizon of the moon. They went a long way, but they saw something amazing. Something no one had ever seen before.

You may think to yourself, "I'll never see anything for the first time," and this may be true. You may never be the first person ever to see something, but you're always seeing things for the first time. And you never know, you don't need to go to the moon to discover something new like, say, a 400-foot waterfall.

In California.

In 2005.

Neither here nor there. The important thing is, even if you're not an astronaut, as humans we're genetically compelled to seek out new experiences and sights. So, since most of us have the next couple of days off, give yourself a present and do something new.

Go to Great Falls (it's beautiful in the winter). Go to the National Arboretum (yeah, I know it's up in Northeast, but take advantage of the daylight and make a run for it). Go visit the renovated American History Museum. Go to the Textile Museum (yeah, there's a textile museum up near the Woodrow Wilson House, who knew?).

I don't care what you do.

Just. Do. Something. New.

I don't know what I'm going to do. Everything I've mentioned I've done (except for the history museum, but I'm saving that for February). Anybody got a suggestion? I don't mind the cold...too much... and I don't even mind driving somewhere to see something new and interesting. One of my greatest regrets (OK, maybe not regret) is living in Texas for six years and never seeing Big Bend National Park.

To borrow from Borman and the crew of Apollo 8 on this day before the day before Christmas, I close this by saying, "...Good night, good luck, and a Merry Christmas to all of you, all of you on the good Earth."

Monday, December 22, 2008

14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy...per second

I've got a lot of thoughts going around in my head today, but it'll take me a couple of minutes to sort them all out. But, while I do that, I didn't want to leave you hanging.

I did not write the information below. I got it in an email a bunch of years ago and have since always thought it was one of the funnier Christmas-themed pieces I ever read. By the way, the picture here was found by Googling "Santa on fire." Amazing what the interwebs can find for us in our time of need.

For those of you who are mathletes, I would like to again point out I didn't write this and didn't do the math. I didn't even check it. I just think it's funny.

On to the learning.

The Physics of Christmas

1) No known species of reindeer can fly, but there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified. While most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.

2) There are 2 billion children in the world (persons under 18), but since Santa doesn't (appear) to handle Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or Buddhist children, that reduces the workload by 85 percent of the total - leaving 378 million according to the Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there is at least one good child per house.

3) Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different times zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stocking, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles between households, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding, etc. That means Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run, at tops, 15 miles per hour.

4) The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming each child get nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting the "flying reindeer" can pull TEN TIMES that normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine of them. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison, this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth 2.

5) 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance. This will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy per second, each. In short, they will burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and creating a deafening sonic boom in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized in 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa meanwhile, will be subject to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4.3 million pounds of force.

In conclusion, if Santa ever DID deliver presents of Christmas Eve, he's now dead. (This will be something you can tell your kids someday!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

TMI Thursday: A tale of too much cheddar

Think back to the family vacations of your youth. All set? Good.

Imagine if you will this scene: A family of seven, trapped together in a, now that I think about it, brand new, not-even-a-month-old brown Chevy Caprice Classic station wagon (the one without the wood panelling).

The location? Well, we were somewhere up in badlands of Wisconsin and had just toured a cheese factory. To commemorate this visit, the Dew family had purchased several pound-sized bags of cheese curds to snack on during the journey back to our vacation cottage in Fish Creek. For those who don't know what a cheddar cheese curd looks like, here's a picture.

As anyone who's been on one knows, on a family road trip involving five children (or any number of kiddies for that matter), there are good seats in the family truckster, and there are bad seats in the family truckster. As we left the cheese factory, I scored the best seat in the car: right behind the old man while he was driving.

Why was this the best seat, you ask? Well, it's pretty damn hard to drive and smack the shit out of the kid behind you at the same time.

Can you see what's coming up (yeah, I meant that) here?

Never. Ever. If the situation arises, allow your children to eat cheese curds (which are pretty tasty, btw) while sitting behind you in a moving vehicle. However, should you ignore me and fail to follow this advice, and then hear the words, "I don't feel too good," make sure you pull over immediately.

I mean: Right. This. Very. SECOND!

I know my dad was thinking he probably shouldn't have ignored me a few minutes later. You know, as he was wiping my rebooted cheese curds (some larger than a penny) off the back of his head and neck before he got busy scraping them off the upholstery of his shiny new car.

There is a silver lining (for me at least): It's really tough to punish one of your kids for puking on you when it's your own fault for not pulling over.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dancing on Laughter Silvered Wings

Today is the 105th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur's first flight off the dunes of Kitty Hawk, N.C. And as much as things have changed aviation-wise -- flying is no longer a big deal and we have been to the moon -- they also stay the same.

Here's the lede from the NYT's story about the brothers' flight:

"WASHINGTON, Dec. 25 -- The inventors of the airship which is said to have made several successful flights in North Carolina, near Kitty Hawk, are anxious to sell the use of their device to the Government. They claim that they have solved the problem of aerial navigation, and have never made a failure of any attempt to fly."

The first thing that jumps out at me is as soon as man manages to lift his ass a measly 10 feet off the ground, the first idea in his mind is to sell the gadget to the feds. Like most defense contractors the brothers were probably praying to god they could recoup their R&D costs. The second is the straight up lie in the second sentence, they "never made a failure of any attempt to fly."

The reason the first flight was on Dec. 17 is because the brothers had spent the previous three days fixing their plane after Wilbur, who'd won a coin toss, crashed it during their first attempt at powered flight on Dec. 14th. Also, at the end of the fourth flight of the day, an 852-foot, 59-second journey, Wilbur, again, crashed further damaging the aircraft.


Adding insult to injury, the Flyer was damaged further when it was flipped several times by gusts of wind later that day. It never flew again. Unfortunately, while inventing the airplane the brothers forgot to invent the tie-down strap.

Of course, reading the sentence closer "never made a failure of any attempt to fly" could be read as "we always got some useful data out of each of our attempts to fly even if we did crash and mess up our fragile spruce plane."

All of that aside, one of my favorite childhood memories was going to the North Carolina shore with my family each year. I still remember walking along the Outer Banks as a boy (never OBX, thank god those stupid stickers are finally disappearing), feeling the wind in my face wondering if it was the same for the brothers.

Two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, who thought "Hey, wouldn't it be cool to fly?" changed the face of the world as we know it. Is it still possible to do this today? What questions are left out there asking to be answered? Can the world still change in a moment of discovery?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dis and Dat

Making their world debut here at the Dew, I am pleased to present Quinn and Neve, my new nieces.*

They're cute because they're sleeping,
dreaming twin dreams and
wondering where all this room came from

Seeing as how they're twins, and there's no identifying marks, I'm not exactly sure which one's which at this point. That, however, does not detract from the fact they're beautiful little cuties. The girls and mom are due home tomorrow.

That done, and because I'm feeling a little under the weather, but still hoping to put in a whole day of work and hoping to avoid the dreaded shart, this is gonna be short but entertaining. Click this link: Evolution of Dance. It is six minutes of total hilarity.

Trust me.

*Yes, I'm shamelessly milking my efforts of my brother and his wife for a second straight post. But I'm a proud uncle.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

An Early Christmas Blessing

Just got the word from my brother, he and his wife welcomed Quinn Patricia and Neve Darriel into their family late yesterday evening.

Mother and daughters are all doing well, although Mom is, as can be expected, a bit tired. 

I am, of course, as delighted as can be and I'm looking forward to seeing nieces numbers six and seven (to go along with nephews numbers one, two and three) just as soon as possible. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Mom-centric TMI Edition

It was the summer of 1994, one of the best summers of my life.

I'd gotten out of the Marine Corps the previous year, had just finished up a part-time schedule of classes at Chapel Hill and been accepted as a full-time student for the following fall. My youngest brother, who'd just been commissioned a Marine second lieutenant, and I had an entire summer to wile away with beer, booze, women and friends. That and rebuild the retaining wall in front of our parent's house. And a mighty wall it is, still standing strong and proud these 14 long years later. (The wall it replaced, designed and built by my father, a civil engineer I might add, had crumbled after a mere six or seven years.)

But that was just busy work to justify the amazing amount of drinking we did during those three months. If there was a bottle of beer, a fifth of whiskey or an unattached woman in or around the city of Pittsburgh, they weren't safe.

Life was indeed good.

The came the day my mom asked me for some help cleaning out her dresser. Like an idiot, I agreed.

"No problem Mom. We'll knock that right out."

So, there I was, helping Mom as she dug through years of detritus layered in her dresser drawers. Just as we were finishing up, she found a little notebook right in the bottom.

Perhaps all the drinking that summer had dulled my finely honed Marine sense of danger. Perhaps I was thinking ahead to that night's entertainment. Either way, I was utterly and completely unprepared for what came next.

"Do you know what this is?" Mom asked as she flipped to a couple of pages covered in columns of numbers in the high 90s.

"No, not a clue?" I stupidly asked, still not recognizing the danger.

"It's the chart I kept of my temperature during the months I was trying to get pregnant with you."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's like, you know, a gift idea

I saw an article about the Keyboard for Blondes (it's a British product, hence the "e") yesterday and knew, right then and there, I had to get the word out about it in time for your Christmas shopping.

From the MSN article about this special keyboard for that special blond(e) in your life:

"The all-pink keyboard swaps out standard keys with funnier, dumber key names. The backspace key now says "Oops!" and the entire row of function keys spells out USELESS KEYS. Hit the "$" sign and you get the sound of a cash register clinking."

J, this could be the perfect present for a certain Robot, it even uses the useless "e" just like she does. Maybe you could take up an office collection?

I'm not going to list all of them, but the Web site has a Top 10 list of 13 reasons to buy the Keyboard for Blondes, including:

10. You have to use a keyboard. Why not get the best one! [FD-Fer sure! Like totally!]
7. Matches your lipstick. [Always an important consideration in an electronics purchase]
6. Excuse for a cute guy in the office to talk with you. [Not unless you're holding it between your thighs...]
3. Angelina Jolie adopting one. [Yeah, to cave in someone's skull as a world-class assassin in her next movie]
1. Bruce Wayne has one in batcave. (Pink goes perfectly with black.. Draw no lifestyle conclusions.) [He did spend some time "walking the earth" and maybe he "discovered" something about himself along the path]
1. A very important and glamorous thing to have. [Because that's exactly what we're looking for in the office.]
1. Better looking than some co-workers. [OK, they may have a point here.]
1. Use as barter at a gas station. [Just not below the Mason-Dixon Line.]

Ya know, I was thinking about how I could mock this some more, but I think my work here is done...Except to say I know exactly who I'd get this for. How 'bout you?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Best Holiday Ever

There's a car commercial on right now with kids talking about getting an Atari or a pony and how it was their "Best Christmas..." and then the picture switches to an adult saying "Ever" after they got a car.

I'm sure we all remember that present we figured would never be topped. I'm with one of the kids in the commercial, the Atari year was the best e'va. And yeah, I did stay up till all hours getting 100k plus on a game called Laser Blast, in an era before games had a pause button or memory modules.

But one of the best Christmases I ever had was in 1994. I was in the Marine Reserves that year and because of a conflict with my finals, I had to do my weekend drill during the week after exams.

This turned out to be a good thing. While everyone was doing stupid shit around the Reserve center the weekend before, I got to have fun when I showed up Tuesday morning.

I spent two days driving around Greensboro, N.C., in a Humvee, in my Dress Blues, collecting toys from elementary schools and bank drop-off locations for Toys for Tots. The best pickups were at the schools where, often, the kids donating the toys had given up a shot at a toy they wanted so their families could donate a new, unwrapped toy to a child who would otherwise have nothing.

Toys for Tots began modestly in 1947 when Maj. Bill Hendricks, USMCR, and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needed children. Since then the program has grown a bit: During the 2006 Toys for Tots Campaign, 19.2 million toys were given to 7.6 million needy children. In the first 59 years of collecting Toys for Tots, Marines distributed more than 370 million toys to more than 173 million needy children.

Another cool part of the day I spent collecting was getting to unwrap about a hundred presents picked up from the banks. Despite the wonderful effort some folks went to to wrap up their donations, everything had to be unwrapped to make sure we weren't giving away any S&M Barbie dolls or live hand grenades. That wouldn't have been good. Moral of this story: Donate a toy, but don't wrap it up 'cause some Marine is just going to have fun tearing the paper off.

If you don't have time to go out, buy a toy and bring it (unwrapped) to a drop-off location, you can still donate cash online by clicking here.

Times are tough for everyone this year, but I'm pretty sure anyone reading this can probably spare $25 to bring a smile to the face of a kid on Christmas morning. Think about it, $25 is one less round at the happy hour this Friday (to put it in terms most of you will understand).

Christmas is just about two weeks away, you don't want it to be your fault those kids didn't get anything from Santa, do you?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Words You Haven't Heard Said Before...

The late, great comedian George Carlin had a segment in one of his old routines, on the album "Toledo Window Box," called "Words You've Never Heard Said Before." Some of them were classics like:

"Hand me that piano."

"Please saw my legs off."

"Do what you want to the girl, but leave me alone!"

I was thinking about these words this morning as I drove into work (yes, I drive to work during the winter, but often take the bus and ride my bike during the summer). I noticed the "Expensive Gas Station," and the "Really Expensive Gas Station" near my place in Arlington were offering up a gallon of regular (unleaded that is, not the old-fashion leaded regular gas we knew and loved growing up) for $1.82. This makes me think the cheap gas stations I normally patronize probably have it for 15 or so cents a gallon less, but I haven't filled up in two weeks.

As I write this, NYMEX has a barrel of crude going for $43.96, up considerably from its Friday close of just under $41 a barrel. But do our American shark-memory minds (swim, swim, kill something and eat it, swim, kill something and eat it, swim) remember when oil cost $147 a barrel in July and we were paying more than $4 a gallon for gas?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

So here's where I utter the words you've never heard before: Gas is too cheap.

I'll say it again for those of you too stunned by the previous statement for your brains to form a synaptic connection and retain the memory: Gas is too damn cheap.

I got used to paying more than $3 a gallon. It made me change my habits. It made all of us change our habits. I drove less and took the bus, Metro and rode my bike more. I even walked places. OK, I didn't walk that much, but I did walk some. When gas hit $4 a gallon it really made me think about my transportation options.

And now, here we are in December with OPEC fighting among itself saying "Yes, we're going to cut production," but none of the member nations are willing to cut their own production. Iran and Venezuela have bet their national futures (and the political futures of their leaders) on selling as much $100-plus crude as they can. But, despite today's bump in the price of a barrel, CNBC was talking just this morning about $25 crude.

To this I say, sure, let the price of crude go down, but we, as consumers, shouldn't be paying less than, eh, $2.00 or so for a gallon for gas. Here's why: all the talk about alternative fuels and "green" technologies dies a hard, fast death in America when we can fill up our gas tanks for pocket change.

What does this mean? No more Tesla Motors (or its cheaper alternative the Chevy Volt), wind power, solar thermal, wave power or bioenergy. Kiss 'em all goodbye as long as we can gas up our SUVs without a bank loan (although, I've heard these can be kind of difficult to get these days).

Hell, I'd be willing to pay up to $2.50 a gallon if I knew the extra coin was going toward research to help the junkie (us) clean up its act and get off the oil pipe.* This is a country that figured out how to put a man on the moon (and return him safely) in about 7 1/2 years, I'm sure the same level of national effort could be applied to our dependence on oil. This is especially true since the government now has the auto industry by the short and curlies.

"You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone."
-Al Capone. We should use that gun to force them to make cars that make sense.

While I've never been one to call for higher taxes on anything, perhaps, just this once, I'd be willing to go along with a tax dedicated to making my '01 Accord an outmoded antique.

*There'd also be the extra added benefit of fuckin' over Ahmadinejad and Chavez, which I'd gladly pay an extra $10 or $15 a month to see (more during the summer when I'm traveling).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy 75th 21st!

Seventy-five years ago today, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah stepped up to the bar to pour themselves, and the rest of the country, a big glass of shut the fuck up to Prohibition. After 13 years our long, sober national nightmare was finally over.

With these simple words, "Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed," it once again became legal to transport, import and possess intoxicating liquors.

Ummmmm. Whiskey.

Which, finally, brings me to my point. The failure of the 18th Amendment and the necessity of the 21st Amendment should be a hard lesson to us all. The Constitution should never, ever, be used to deny something to an American citizen.

Any American citizen.

As a refresher, for anyone who's forgotten, here are the rights and freedoms the Constitution currently protects:
  • Freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances
  • Freedom to keep and bear arms
  • Freedom from the quartering of troops in peace time
  • Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure
  • Freedom from self-incrimination, double jeopardy and eminent domain, and the right to due process of law
  • The right to a speedy, public trial by an impartial jury of our peers and to be represented by counsel during the trial, to confront our accusers and to know with what we are charged
  • The right to a civil trial by jury
  • Freedom from excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment
  • Freedom from slavery
  • Freedom to vote (I'd call this more of a duty, but hey, that's just me)
  • Freedom for the ladies to vote
  • Freedom from idiots being elected president more than twice
  • The right of D.C. residents to have a say in who becomes president
  • The right to not have to pay to vote
  • Freedom for the kiddies who are at least 18 to vote

Not a bad list, and probably more than most of the people living around the world today. The one thing all of these rights and freedoms have in common is none of them is a prohibition on the rights of the people. The 18th Amendment tried, and failed, and today we celebrate its repeal.

I ask you, to this list of glorious rights and duties, do we really want to codify intolerance and hatred in the form of amendments against flag burning, abortion and gay marriage? These are just three topics, but they're the three you hear about most when it comes to amending the Constitution.

There are only two possible amendments I, personally, would ever agree with adding: term limits for representatives (8) and senators (3), and a balanced budget amendment. Any more than that and the four 29 7/8 inch by 24 7/16 inch pages (10 pages of 8.5x11 paper) of our Constitution run the risk of turning into the bloated behemoth that is the almost 500-page Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe.

Ehhhhhhh. Shudder.

Plainly, and simply, the Constitution should never be used to restrict our rights, only the powers of our leaders.

So, all together now, let us raise a pint today in celebration of sanity returning (and sobriety legally departing) America and remember the one right none of us has is the right to deny freedom to any of our fellow citizens.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My Opus 100

I know I'm going to get this quote wrong (I'm doing it from memory), but here goes:

"Over the course of 40 years I published an average of 1,000 words a day;
Over the course of the second 20 years I published an average of 1,600 words a day.

Over the course of 40 years I sold an item every 10 days on the average;
Over the course of the second 20 years, I sold an item every six days on the average."

These words were found on a scrap of paper in Asimov's desk by his wife, Janet, after he died of AIDS in April 1992 at the age of 72.

[I remember I learning about the death of one of my favorite authors: I was still in the Marine Corps and my unit was out in the field for an exercise. Someone had snagged a USAToday during a supply run to the rear and brought this little sliver of civilization out to the boonies with them. I was glancing through the Life section and saw Asimov's picture and thought to myself, "Cool, the last book of the Foundation series must be coming out." Only to have my joy turn to abject horror in learning the author of one of the most famous series of books (and one of my most favorite to boot) had died. Before finishing the last book. Turns out, he'd finished it, it just hadn't been published. Whew. But I digress.]

A thousand words a day for 40 years equals 14.6 million words. Permanent words printed on paper, not like these you're reading thrown into cyberspace on a blog. Words he was paid to write.

Words he loved to write. Words he just plain loved.

Think about that for a moment...throughout his extraordinary life and career, Asimov wrote or edited 460 some odd books falling into all but one of the categories of the Dewey Decimal System. Seems he wasn't too big on philosophy and psychology (100s).

The title of this post, my 100th since The Foggy Dew appeared in the waning day of July, comes from Asimov's one hundredth book Opus 100. One hundred posts in 125 days. Not a bad start.

But nothing to crow over either (although I am, just a bit). I got this started in the summer heat of the presidential election season and, I hope, I'll be able to keep throwing my words out there to see if they make a difference.

I love politics. I love reading about it, talking about it, arguing about it and writing about it here. As it says at the top, "A little revolution is good for the soul..." (Although, Arjewtino once suggested "No stalking. Just free panties" as a slogan after the Virtual Panty Raid promotion a little bit back.) It's our job as citizens to keep an eye on our leaders to...encourage them to do what is right, not what is popular.

The work hasn't ended, it's only just begun. So let's get to work.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

'Tis the Season...Apparently

If you're bored tonight and looking for something fun to do, may I suggest hauling yourself over to Capitol Hill for the lighting of the Capitol Christmas Tree? Oh, I may? Thank you very much, I will.

I've been to the lighting each year I've lived in the D.C. area (all two of them so far) and, although I've never been to the White House Tree lighting, I'd like to think this one is better. If for no other reason than you don't need a ticket. Also, there's some good eating and drinking opportunities just up the Hill.

Here's a picture of last year's tree from Vermont (picture stolen from Sen. Patrick Leahy's Web site):

And here's another one, courtesy of the same place:

Gotta say, this picture almost makes you forget the building in the background is peopled almost entirely by morons. But more on that another day.

Head on out, trust me, you'll have fun. It's a perfect place for a smooch.

What's Your Function?

When I got home last night I looked out over my balcony and this is what I saw:

OK, so it's not the clearest picture in the world, but it does capture an interesting celestial event, the conjunction of the moon, Venus and Jupiter. Jupiter is, I believe, the very faint dot on the right side of the picture.

Here's a somewhat better, but a bit more blurry view of the astronomical threesome:

This kind of reminds me of the time a friend and I took a three-hour drive down south of Houston a couple of years ago, late in the evening and into the morning, to see closest conjunction of the Earth and Mars. Truth be told, while we expected to see craters and such on Mars through the telescope, the view was a bit underwhelming. Mars was just a really, really bright dot in the summer sky.

Still, it was pretty cool.

Anywhatsit, I just wanted to share.