Getting Better and Better All the Time

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Infrequently Answered Question #92: Why does government keep getting bigger and bigger and cost more and more?

A: Have you ever tried to make some­thing bigger and smaller and cost more and less? That just won’t work. Here’s the real answer:

It’s a truism generally acknowled­ged that bigger is better. Think of big idea, big money, big league, and Big Ben. Then think of small potatoes, little money, short on brains, and Tiny Tim. Can there be any doubt bigger is better?

A second truism generally acknow­ledged is better costs more. Examples abound: filet mignon costs more than a veggie burger, a Rolls Royce costs more than a moped, a Plasma TV costs more than an Etch-a-Sketch. That being the case it’s natural to assume the reverse, if it costs more it’s better.

As an enforced monopoly, there is no profit and loss method of deter­mining success or failure for govern­ment. Instead they measure success by how much is spent doing whatever it is they do. Think of how they talk of spending-per-student as a metric for schools. The more money spent, the higher the unit cost, the better it just has to be. Remember, there are no bad ideas or bad programs in government, only underfunded ones.

Bigger is better. Costlier is better. Add it up, bigger and bigger govern­ment costing more and more is better and better and better and better. QED.

Filed 12/28/15

Beats the Heck out of the Columbia Record Club


Infrequently Answered Question #91: Do computers make you feel modern and lucky?

A: Computers frustrate and amaze me. On launching iTunes recently I was prompted to update. So I did. Messed things up. I’ll spare you the details. Anyway, I wanted to revert back to the older version which worked without a hitch, but the computer wouldn’t allow it since iTunes is part of the Mac OS and it won’t let you replace a newer version with an older one. Frustrating.

So I looked for a streaming music source and found something called AccuRadio. It’s called radio, but it’s better than any radio I ever got over the airwaves. With radio it’s take it or leave it, song-wise. With AccuRadio if you don’t like the current music you can fast-forward to another selection. You can pause the music, as well. Amazing.

There are numerous genres to choose from: Country, Disco, Celtic, Latin, Classical and fifty more. Each genre provides a variety of listening options, there are 47 under Classical alone. I figure that’s some­thing like 2,500 listening options. Sort-of multi­plies my music collection by a factor of… I dunno, a lot.

Check it out: AccuRadio

Filed 12/4/15

The Very First of a Gazillion Diet Books

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Infrequently Answered Question #90: They say Edgar Allen Poe begat the detective story and Henry Fielding pioneered the novel, who started diet books?

A: The very first diet book was pub­lished in London in 1864, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public by William Banting. Though it was more a diary than a how-to guide like today’s diet books.

Mr. Banting was a rolly-polly little man, five feet four, two hundred pounds. On the advice of his doctor he drastically cut sugar and starches and successfully began to shed the pounds. He was so impressed with the results he wrote a diary describing all his meals and the weight he lost, forty-six pounds altogether. The diary became the book, a best-seller in its time. Avoiding sugar and starches as the best way to lose weight held sway for next one hundred years.

While the Atkins low-carb, high-fat diet is generally considered revo­lutionary (the book’s titled Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution after all) Dr. Atkins recommended essentially the same diet described by Banting. In South Africa today they don’t call low-carb, high-fat eating the Atkins diet, they call it Banting. Only they use it like a verb, to bant, the act of banting.

In an interesting twist, one of the two men who first isolated insulin, the hormone controlling fat storage, was Frederick Banting. No relation to William as far as I know.

One might wonder how we went from carbs being fattening to today’s conventional wisdom of fat being fattening. That’s a whole ‘nother story, one not as simple or clearcut as either the advocates or critics of low-fat would have you believe.

Filed 11/19/15

Infrequently Answered Questions We Wonder About


Why do we say tuna fish sandwich? Not that folks go around muttering it under their breath for no real reason, like Rainman or Brick Heck. What I mean is, do we really need the word ‘fish’ in tuna fish sandwich? Nobody ever says ham mammal sandwich, right? Is there another tuna that’s not fish so we need to specify it’s the fish version?

Is there something about the letter L that saps energy? As in lackadaisical, laggard, laid-back, languid, languor, lassitude, layabout, lax, lazy, leaden, lethargic, limp, linger, listless, loaf, loll, lolligag, low-key, lull. Even the letter shape is lazy, like a capital I that sat down.

Is there really such a thing as a bottomless pit? Without a bottom it’d have to go entirely through the Earth. Is that a pit or a tube?

There is a difference between soon and too soon. What’s the differ­ence between early and too early?

Is a skilled criminal a pro con? Is an innovative new business an upstart startup? Is wordplay a script tease? Are we done yet? Almost. We are… wait, too early… now.

Filed 11/5/15

When Easy Is Difficult


Infrequently Answered Question #89: What are the easiest and the hardest things for a person to do?

A: Change their mind.

It takes maybe a second and one calorie to change your mind. What could be easier? There’s more time and effort expending in changing seats. On the other hand, changing your mind about some long-held, deeply-held belief is really not so easy, is it? A comfortable chair is one thing, a com­fortable idea quite another.

Getting someone else to change their mind is a whole heckuva lot harder than getting them to change seats. Torturing people won’t change their minds. Bribery won’t either. But a mild threat or a couple bucks might get someone to change seats.

Then again, if they firmly believe in sitting in that seat it’ll take a lot more force or money to get them out. Rather than bother with all that, maybe it’d be better to change your own mind and sit somewhere else. Now, that seems pretty easy, right?

Filed 11/1/15

The “Internal” Revenue “Service” and “Voluntary” Taxes


Infrequently Answered Question #88: Why does the government say income taxes are voluntary when if you don’t pay you go to prison?

A: Lots of folks have made that obser­vation and asked that question as a joke. Which makes it an infrequently answered rhetorical question. None­theless, we have an answer.

This is one of those cases not men­tioned by Abraham Lincoln where you can’t fool any of the people any of the time. Nobody buys the voluntary taxes spiel, but the government says it any­way. Why do they do it? Because government is your friend and friends tell little white lies so as not to upset you. “No, those pants don’t make you look fat. It’s a free country. Income taxes are voluntary.”

Notice they call the organization that collects these mandatory volun­tary taxes the Internal Revenue Service. What exactly is this service they’re providing? Actually it’s like selective service, the public does the service. Only not so selective as everybody gets to serve. And it’s not limited to internal revenue, Americans working abroad pay US income taxes, too.

People pay these mandatory volun­tary taxes to the US Treasury. But the national government is 18 trillion dollars in the red, the Treasury has no treasure. This is no problem. As gov­ernment is the name for the things people do together, and people have treasure, the people’s treasure is the government’s treasure. And doesn’t Treasury sound nicer than Department of Perpetual Debt?

Now then, a big chunk of income taxes go for Social Security, which sounds a bit like national security but isn’t. It’s another nicer and friendlier name for a national old-age pension. Calling Social Security a pension plan would limit what the funds could be spent on. The vague name stikes a blow for freedom. The freedom for the government to expand the program however it wants. Did I mention yet that government is your friend?

Also, many US Government employees don’t participate in Social Security and have a separate plan of their own. While some Amer­icans don’t participate in Social Security, they must participate in an alternative government-run plan. In the end, all Americans must have some kind of government-run pension. It’s a free country, choice is not an option.

Filed 10/9/15

Just in Time for Fall. I Mean Autumn. OK Both. Or Either. Whatever.

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Ten Questions Infrequently Asked and Unaswered

  1. Why do the English stand for election while Americans have to run for it? (Maybe it has to do with the proverbial English reserve.)
  2. How is it Americans fuel their cars with gas, which is a liquid?
  3. Why do we capitalize the days of the week, the months of the year, but not the seasons of the year?
  4. Why can there be wintertime, springtime, and summertime, but no falltime? (Nor autumntime, either.)
  5. Why doesn’t double-u (W) have a short, individualistic name like all the other letters? (It’s named after the letter U, even though it looks like two vees.)
  6. How is it going down to the mall and going up to the mall mean the same thing? (Why not just go to the mall, which also means the same thing?)
  7. Does a saxophone belong in the brass section or in the reeds section? (Not that orchestras contain saxes all that often.)
  8. Does a piano belong with the strings or timpani because it has hammers?
  9. Why do so many meats taste like chicken? (Or is it that chicken tastes like a lot of other meats?)
  10. Young beef is veal, young sheep is lamb, what is young chicken?

The answer to number ten: eggs. Get it? It’s a yolk. (What a terrible pun.)

Filed 9/22/15

High Street, Main Drag, Call it Whatever You Want


Infrequently Answered Question #87: What’s the difference between a street, road, avenue, boulevard, and so on?

A: I suppose by “and so on” you mean circle, court, cove, crescent, crossing, drive, expressway, freeway, highway, lane, parkway, place, roadway, square, terrace, trace, trail, and way. We have lots and lots of names for the path­ways we travel on. While some of them are more-or-less self-defining, others seem vague and indistinguish­able. Circle, crescent, and square are clear enough, but avenue, drive, road, and street not so much.

One difference might be location. Road, lane, trace, trail, and highway sound kinda country-ish. Street, boule­vard, avenue, circle, crescent, and square seem citified. Though you can find roads and lanes in cities and avenues and boulevards stretching into the countryside. Another difference might be size. Avenue, boulevard, and highway make you think big and long. Place, court, and terrace imply small and short. Though street, road and drive can be any size.

Then there’s alleys, which can also be alleyways or back alleys. What’s the difference? Are there front alleys? Who knows? Unlike streets, roads, avenues, etc. alleys are unnamed. Usually. In San Francisco the alleys have names. Though that might make them streets officially.

In the end, there doesn’t seem to be any accepted rules or standards as to what to call what. It’s pretty much up to local tradition, planners, and devel­opers. The options seem pretty open and if you can’t decide which one to call your local travelling pathway, follow the example of Toronto and call it two, Avenue Road.

Filed 8/13/15

As a Living Document, It Needs Doctoring


Infrequently Answered Question #86: Why does the Supreme Court decide what a recently passed law means? The people who wrote and passed the law are still around, why don’t the authors get to say what it means?

A: That’s just the American consti­tutional process. Which the framers didn’t know about until the very first Supreme Court divined it hidden in the Constitution. This is called a ruling by divined right. Only judges, or better yet justices, can decipher the true meanings because they’re encrypted in what they call the legal code.

The court not only says what the Constitution and laws mean, they also define the words used. And so fine means tax and state really means national government. As a result, lawmakers don’t know the meaning of the laws they’re writing or passing until the Supreme Court tells them after­ward. This explains why Congress must pass a law in order to find out what’s in it. These are laws of unintended consequences.

You can think of Supreme Court justices as sort-of law seers. They wear black robes, sprinkle their speech with Latin, and meet in special justice chambers to communicate with the spirit of the law. All this helps them reach a decision, which often require a lot of language stretching because some decisions are quite a reach.

Filed 7/23/15

Sodium Is Dangerous, Salt Not so Much


Infrequently Answered Question #85: What’s with low sodium foods and diets? Sodium is an alkali metal that reacts exothermically with water. Meaning it explodes. Are sadistic food conglomerates or terrorists lacing the food supply with sodium or something?

A: They don’t really mean sodium, of course, they mean sodium chloride, NaCl, salt. Don’t know why they omit the chloride part. Is it because the chlorine part makes no difference? Though very few have studied it, what evidence there is shows low blood chlorine (serum chloride) is a bad thing, being asso­ciated with higher mortality risk.

So, low sodium is supposed to be good and low chlorine is shown to be bad. Yet you don’t get the two separ­ately as they come together as salt. Meaning, if you have low sodium, good, you have have low chlorine, bad. How does that work?

According to numerous studies, it doesn’t work. To quote one recent Australian study, “In a multivariate-adjusted model, those who consumed less than 3000 mg of sodium per day had a 25% increased risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events compared with those who consumed between 4000 mg and 5990 mg/day (reference group).” In plain English, a low salt diet increased the risk of heart attacks and death. In Newspeak, low salt bad.

Here, too, they speak of sodium as if test subjects were somehow getting it minus the chlorine. Weird. Maybe it sounds more sciency and convincing to say sodium instead of salt.

Anyway, consider the following: Very ill hospital patients who cannot eat or drink are given an IV drip to replace fluids. That’s a saline solution of about 0.9% salt. A commonly administered dose of two liters a day delivers 18 grams of salt into the bloodstream – which has no effect on blood pressure by the way.

Yet dietary experts tell people to limit themselves to six grams of salt a day. Unless you’re in a sickbed when other medical experts pump 18 grams a day into you to keep you alive and well. Modern medicine works in mysterious ways.

Hat tip to Dr. Malcolm Kendrick’s blog. To confess, I basically took much of what he wrote and rewrote it my way. So, not so much a hat tip as a lift notice.

Filed 6/23/15

Deceptive Animal Names

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Infrequently Answered Question #85: Is a muskrat a kind of musky rat? Is a crayfish a fish that’s cray? Do ground­hogs oink? Do woodchucks chuck wood?

A: While we might see rat and fish in them, they aren’t the origin of muskrat and crayfish which are foreign words that have been Anglicized. Crayfish comes from the French écrevisse which isn’t a fish but a kind of lobster. Though it may be a musky rodent, muskrat allegedly derives from the Algonquin word muscascus, meaning red.

A groundhog isn’t some kind of pig-rat. Groundhog is another name for a woodchuck. The origin of wood­chuck is not certain, though some say it is from Algonquin, wecyeka. Do wood­chucks chuck wood? There you have me. All I know is there is no Wood­chuck Day.

Hardly that interesting, you say? OK, let’s go off on an animal names tangent. How about a wienerdog. That’s just a funny name for a dachs­hund. A wiener, short for wiener­wurst, is a sausage from Vienna, Wienne in German. Still, dachshunds don’t get no respect. They’re silly looking. Short legs, floppy ears, long body like a hotdog.

Dachs is the German word for badger, hund is hound or dog. A dachshund is a badger dog. Whether this was because it hunted badgers or, being low to the ground it reminded people of badgers I couldn’t say.

Then there are terriers which were bred small and fierce. Which might make them terrors, or terrifying. Which isn’t why they’re terriers. The term derives from Latin Terre, earth, because they hunt burrowing animals. Though I think they mostly were rat killers.

Filed 4/11/15

Adds Up to a Spiral


Infrequently Answered Question #84: How do you make a spiral?

A: A spiral is made employing a Fibonacci sequence, named after Medieval Italian mathematician, Leonardo Pisano Bigollo. Well, actually named after his AKA, Leonardo Fibonacci. Though why a mathematician would have an alias I can’t imagine. Anyway, the Fibonacci sequence describes a series of numbers where each following number is the sum of the previous two: 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, 5+8=13, etc. When plotted, a logarithmic spiral is generated.

Maybe you’ve seen that diagram before, also called the Golden Mean. Why it’s so golden and what it means escapes me. Still, a lot of folks wax poetic about it. Search “Fabinacci sequence" for yourself and see. It leads into the whole fractal business. Some folks will tell you the entire universe is fractal, as if Mother Nature had one really great idea and just kept repeating it to make everything.


But I seem to have gone off topic, making a spiral. You could use the Fibonacci sequence, but it’s a real pain. Besides, if you look at your typical depiction (top) it doesn’t produce a nice, smooth spiral. For that the arc radius needs to gradually increase at every point. Rather than a series of squares with quarter circles, you need a series of rectangles with parabolas. This is even more of a pain, but it does produce a smoother spiral.


To make a spiral without using any math at all you can use a pencil, a nail and some string. Attach the nail and pencil at opposite ends of the string. Wind the string around the nail. Drive the nail into your surface to make a fixed center point. Then start drawing with a circular motion, as the string unwinds you get a spiral. Though not a Fibonacci spiral, but one with equal spacing the distance of the circumference of the nail.

Unfortunately you also get a nail hole in your drawing surface. You could use a dowel rod glued to your surface instead, or something like that. That can still be a problem. It certainly won’t help if you want to make a spiral on your computer. I simply use the spiral making tool in Adobe Illustrator. Easy-peasy.

Filed 1/26/15

Star Drek Take Two


Infrequently Answered Question #83: Which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars?

A: The original Star Trek is the best. But only because the future was Mod. The Art Deco future of Metropolis was pretty good, too. But that’s not what you asked about. What’s rather goofy about Star Wars are the space dogfights. Or really, the way all the spacecraft fly in space.

George Lucas admits his space dogfights were patterned after aerial combat scenes from WWI movies. And so his star-fighters fly like a biplane, nose first. A plane needs to be oriented to generate lift, not so a ship in space. For instance, in orbit the space shuttle was oriented however was needed for any particular task. Only when it entered the atmosphere did it need to fly nose forward.

This means the easiest way to get the enemy off your tail in a dogfight… turn around. A star-fighter could translate around 180 degrees while maintaining its course, face the attacker and blast away. Still, why does it seem these craft only have fixed forward-firing weapons? Huh? Didn’t anyone tell them about turrets?

Next we come to a scene fraught with danger, entering the dreaded debris field where the odds of getting through alive are a thousand to one. Maybe there are such dangerous debris fields, but not that anyone has ever found. We know very well about the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. But here’s the thing, the bits of debris are hundreds and thousands of miles apart.

Proximity in space is not like on Earth. Distances are vast, a thousand miles away is close in space. Anyway, it’s more like the odds are a thousand to one you’d ever get hit by debris than the other way around. And if you had a weapon turret you could just vaporize any space rock that came close. You know, within 100 miles or so.

Not that Star Trek wasn’t packed with goofiness. For my take on that see Star Drek, Trivial Musings of a Semi Hemi Demi Trekker.

Filed 1/15/15

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