Game Of Thrones Coffee

Recently we got a new type of coffee at the office.  Now, when I get in in the morning and make a fresh pot of joe, I’m pouring “Joffrey’s” grounds into the brew basket.

IMG_3307It’s perfectly good coffee, but the name still bugs me.  When I pick up the coffee packet, I can’t help but think of the despicable Game of Thrones character.  Who wants to be reminded of a cowardly, sadistic, sniveling little wretch when you’re preparing that essential first cup of coffee in the morning?  Being at work is tough enough without having to deal with a mental image of that jerk — much less recalling that that appalling little twerp gets poisoned and is last seen clawing at his neck in terror.  I wonder if the Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company regrets producing a “doughnut blend” that is associated with such an awful — and now exceptionally well-known — Joffrey.

You actually could have some good Game of Thrones coffee names and related descriptions, however.  House of Stark would be a noble blend of northern beans that creates a perfect cup to quaff when winter is coming.  White Walker would be a savage blend of iced java served with a snowy whipped topping.  And Tyrion would be a bold blend of underappreciated beans from the gold coast, served only in a demitasse cup.

Anything would be better than “Joffrey.”

Understanding The True Motivations Of “Stubborn Belly Fat”

The diet ads all speak of giving you “one weird trick” to defeat “stubborn belly fat.”  Have you ever noticed that belly fat is always — always — described as “stubborn”?  That’s because it is, in fact, stubborn.  It’s like the mule of your body, digging in its heels and unwilling to respond to your heartfelt pleas that it quickly exit the premises and leave you looking slim and slender, just like you did in college.

Sun Tzu, the author of The Art Of War, counseled military commanders to know their enemy and understand his motivation.  That same advice applies to those fat cells that have been jiggling around your midsection since 1985.  Why do those pigheaded bits of flab want so desperately to remain part of your body?  (Although it’s kind of flattering when you think of it in that way, isn’t it?)

In reality, the motivation of belly fat cells isn’t hard to understand.  They were created long ago, when you had an extra-large slice of cake at your college roommate’s wedding or drank 16 beers and ate an entire bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken while watching New Year’s Day bowl games, blissfully unaware that your slowing metabolism meant that those bad decisions would saddle you with apparently permanent waistline companions that would require you to buy roomier pairs of pants.  Those new cells really liked the spacious midsection area, were joined by friendly neighbors, sank down deep roots, and started a family.  Now their children and grandchildren are there, too, all living together as part of one big, happy, ever-growing, increasingly ponderous belly fat cell community.  No wonder they want to stay, forever!

Sure, there are Johnny-come-lately fat cells that also have moved into the neighborhood over the last few years.  During the first week of your weight-loss effort, when you are still sticking carefully to your diet and are highly motivated to hit the treadmill, those latecomers may decide to immediately hit the road — but those new kids on the block don’t have the same sense of long-term commitment as the original belly fat cells.  The pioneers are made of sturdier stuff.  They live in the most upscale areas, like Love Handles Lane and Breadbasket Boulevard, and they are going to stay in their comfortable lodgings until the  the sheriff comes to change the locks.  They will fight the eviction efforts of The Man with every fiber — or, more accurately, lipid — of their beings.

So you may as well face it:  those belly fat cells won’t leave without a fight.  Don’t blame them.  If you were in their position, living in familiar, safe surroundings, you would do exactly the same thing.  You’re just going to have to force them out.  Sun Tzu would say that if you’re trying to lose weight, you just need to prepare for a long, hard campaign.

The Afghan Ingrate

Boy, that Hamid Karzai is a real peach, isn’t he?  The United States frees his country from the grip of the repressive Taliban, restores democracy to Afghanistan, and supports Karzai during long years where he doesn’t seem to be interested in much of anything except trying to line his own pockets and dodge responsibility for everything that happened in the country he was supposed to be governing, and he can’t leave office without taking a few parting shots at the U.S. of A.

After 13 years as president, the jug-eared Karzai and his trademark cap are finally leaving office with the same class, intense gratitude, and willingness to accept full responsibility that have characterized his years in power.  In his farewell speech, he blamed the United States for the ongoing war with the Taliban and said “that the Americans did not want peace because they had their own agenda and objectives.” 

We didn’t spend the blood of our soldiers and billions of dollars to prop up a tinpot like Hamid Karzai, we took out the Taliban to try to rid the world of safe haven for Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups.  We tried to rebuild Afghanistan after the depredations of the Taliban and create a democracy in hopes of preventing terrorism from taking root again.  That’s why we ended up with Hamid, the corrupt hack — and now it’s galling to have to listen to the criticism of “leaders” like Karzai, who never would have been in a position of any influence but for the United States.

Hamid Karzai is a good example of the old adage that if you lie down with a dog, you get up with fleas.

Protecting The President’s House

How did a man manage to scale a fence and actually enter the White House before being apprehended?  Basically, by the government not paying sufficient attention to the need to protect the President, his family, and the White House itself from a basic physical intrusion.

Omar Gonzalez climbed the fence surrounding the White House, raced across 70 yards of lawn, and entered the building through the North Portico entrance — which, amazingly, was unlocked.  Because he did not appear to be armed, he was not shot, nor did the Secret Service release a dog trained to knock down intruders.  However, Gonzalez in fact was carrying a 3 1/2-inch knife.  Fortunately, the President and his family had left the White House minutes before.  We now are learning that Gonzalez, a former veteran, possessed lots of ammunition, as well as a machete, a hatchet, and other weapons in his car.

White House fence-jumpers are not unusual, and the Washington Post reports that a Secret Service study showed that the White House is vulnerable to attack by multiple people climbing the fence at the same time.  The Post also notes that there are “severe staffing shortages” and high turnover in the force charged with White House security.  Due to budgetary concerns the Secret Service decided not to fully staff the division in charge of White House grounds, to cancel Secret Service Academy training classes, and to not pay agents overtime.  The Post article quotes a Secret Service spokesman as saying:  “There is not an endless amount of money. We can’t do the hiring, and that’s the decision that was made.”

Seriously?  The federal government has spent money like a drunken sailor for years, running up enormous budget deficits, and we can’t afford to fully staff the agency charged with keeping the President and his family safe?  Here’s a suggestion:  take whatever money is spent producing and broadcasting useless “Click It or Ticket” commercials and use it to hire, train, and properly pay Secret Service agents.  And while you’re at it, let’s get an additional dog or two and use them the next time a guy jumps the White House fence.

The Secret Service used to be viewed as an elite agency, but its reputation has taken a beating in recent years, with people not on the guest list crashing White House dinners, scandals about liquored-up agents consorting with prostitutes, and now an inexcusable breach of security by the most low-tech attack imaginable.  Someone in the federal government needs to get our priorities straight and realize that protecting the President is of paramount importance.  Budgetary concerns shouldn’t be part of the equation.

The Unforgivable Male Flip-Flopper

Tonight I was in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and a guy was there wearing flip-flops.  As we walked down the hall he flapped loudly along, drawing our attention down to floor level, and we all got to admire his feet.

IMG_3305Call me a crank, but I think a guy wearing flip flops in a hospital at night is unforgivably impolite.  I don’t mind people of both sexes wearing flip flops at a pool, or on the beach, or at an informal backyard barbecue on a hot summer night.  I give kids a pass, too.  But there is a time and a place for everything, and a grown man wearing flip flops in a public building when the temperature is about 56 degrees outside is just not right.  When you add in the fact that it’s a hospital it seems even more inappropriate.

I know we’ve gotten increasingly informal in our society and become accepting of things that once would have been unthinkable.  I’m old enough to remember when people actually got dressed up for airplane flights; now when you board a plane you often feel like you’ve intruded upon an over-sized sweatpants modeling convention.  We’ve become a society of appalling slobs.

I recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, a guy wearing flip-flops in a hospital at night isn’t the worst offense a person can commit — but I also believe in the “broken windows” theory that holds that little things, if left uncorrected, can lead to social disorder.  A guy wearing flip-flops is a harbinger of chaos.  This is where we need to draw the line.

Insecure About Homeland Security

The Washington Post has an interesting, and troubling, story about the problems at the Department of Homeland Security.  According to the article, the agency is faced with tremendously low morale, high employee turnover, and a toxic bureaucratic environment.

The DHS was created after 9/11 and was supposed to unite a host of separate agencies that had some security role.  Its constituent agencies include the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Coordinating the different cultures and practices of such diverse agencies would be a challenge, and the Post piece indicates that the DHS has made a hash of it, creating a highly bureaucratic environment that frustrates employees and managers.

A dysfunctional, overly bureaucratic federal agency — who could imagine such a thing?  It may be the norm, but in the case of the DHS the constant turnover, unfilled positions, and bureaucratic gamesmanship could easily have real world consequences.  The Post article notes, for example, that recent testing has shown that the blue-uniformed TSA employees at who operate all of those scanners are increasingly missing weapons or explosives being brought through security.  What is the point of spending billions for high-tech scanners at airports if the TSA employees can’t properly interpret the scanning data?  In the modern world where so many terrorist groups are looking to launch another deadly operation, we simply cannot afford security agencies who aren’t properly performing their jobs.

The TSA is only one example of a problem agency within the DHS.  Whether it is defense against cybersecurity attacks, or securing the border, or dealing with the influx of immigrant minors, the DHS is tasked with tough assignments and is widely perceived as botching them.  The plummeting morale at the DHS isn’t helping matters, either.  A survey performed last year showed that the DHS ranked dead last among large agencies.

The DHS has an important job.  With the constant threats made against America by the likes of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda, you would think that effective leaders could generate energized agencies where employees understood the significance of their roles and had high morale because of the crucial nature of their work in protecting their families and friends from attack.  Instead, the DHS is a morass of infighting and leaden bureaucratic procedures that hinder effective performance.

The Post article paints an ugly picture, one that should make us all feel less secure about the Department of Homeland Security.

Let Slip The Inner Asshole

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In my family, cards were serious business. You played to win, and if you blundered you could expect to be called on it — in spades.

Taunting was not only accepted, but viewed as a crucial part of the play-to-win process. A well-played hand that produced an unexpected loss for your opponents had to be accompanied by a well-played barb, and if you were on the losing end you were expected to respond in kind. It was all part of the game, and if you didn’t like the insult process you just shouldn’t play.

This is all well and good when card playing is confined to the family unit. It’s a bit uncomfortable when you sit down to play an innocent game of euchre with friends and realize that your inner asshole sees the deck of cards and concludes that it’s time for him to make an appearance.

P-I-B Sunrise

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The Gleeful Retiree and his lovely wife graciously invited me to join a group for a visit to their beautiful Put-In-Bay place on the shores of Lake Erie this weekend. We stayed up to the wee hours last night, talking and catching up, and I slept with the windows open, enjoying the breeze and the ever-present murmurs of the Lake in the background. I think you never sleep so well as you do around water.

Today dawned bright and clear, to the accompaniment of gull cries, surf sounds, and the whistle of a brisk wind.

Worms Of The Earth, And Garage

Richard has an interesting story in the Chicago Tribune about vermiculture:  that is, worm composting.  I’m all in favor of composting and reducing our waste footprint, and using the lowly worm to accomplish that important goal seems like a good idea to me.

As always, I learned something from reading Richard’s story.  For example:

Worms eat about a third of their body weight a day, and great compost packed with nutrients comes out the other end.

Charles Darwin was a big fan of worms, and wrote that he doubted “there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world.”

Worms are temperamental, and one lazy worm can turn an entire worm colony into a bunch of malingerers.

Worms apparently will eat just about anything, including burlap and scrap paper.

Remember the useful aspects of our worm friends, and be sure to sweep them off the driveway after the next big rainstorm rather than pulverizing them into the asphalt!

The Humble Acorn

IMG_2967I’ve always liked acorns, ever since I was a kid.  When I saw this perfect little acorn on one of my walks around the Yantis Loop, one of hundredsof acorns that had fallen onto the walking path, it got me to thinking about acorns in poetic terms.  This bit of doggerel was the result.

The Humble Acorn

 With jaunty cap, in splendid green,

The humble acorn pleads to be seen.

And yet, the opposite is true,

‘Tis one of many, not one of few.

Come fall, they drop like rain from sky

And coat the ground as we pass by.

With its fellows, each acorn lies

Unnoticed by our hurried eyes.

The humble acorn accepts its fate

And knows not what may await.

But humble acorn!  This I know,

A mighty oak from acorn doth grow.

Listening For The Cha-Ching

You could wear headphones on your walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, but I really would advise against it.  If you wore headphones, you’d be eliminating the effect of one key safety device that might otherwise protect against a catastrophic bike-pedestrian collision.

IMG_3207It’s that little metal bike bell with the lever that you push to make the shrill cha-ching sound.

The walk over the Brooklyn Bridge is great, but you are sharing the narrow walkway with other walkers, joggers, people pushing baby carriages, people taking photos, and cyclists.  And the cyclists are usually in a hurry to get to work or to get home.  They labor up one side of the path to and then across the bridge, but when they hit the downslopes they really take off — and if you stray from the walker side of the road you risk getting run over.

This is where using your ears comes in.  On the wooden part of the walkway, the approaching cyclists make staccato thundering sound as they charge across the planks.  But on the asphalt sections they’re like a whisper in the wind — which is why the little cha-ching bells are so important.  On several occasions I heard cyclists use the bell to warn people to move over as the bikes came rolling past.

I don’t think I’d ever heard bicyclist use the little metal bells before, but every bike in New York and Brooklyn seems to have them.  And thank goodness they do!

At Brooklyn Bridge Park

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If you walk from Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge to lower Manhattan, you will find the Brooklyn Bridge Park at the end of your journey. With its worn and comfortable benches, its shady vistas, and its beautiful fountain, it’s a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee on a cool and bright autumn morning. Fortunately, there’s a Starbucks nearby, ready to fill that need. (Isn’t there always?)