Monday, August 31, 2009

Ice Cream

"I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!!"

Most of you (at least, most of you who grew up in the US) howled this at your parents at some point while you were children. Ice cream is one of those wonderful, simple pleasures that - unless you are lactose intolerant or some such thing - help ease our way through the hot days of summer.

It's also a cash cow for enterprising entrepreneurs.

When I was young, we had two or three brand names of ice cream back home in Pittsburgh, and they were all the brands of local dairies. Isaly's was the best, Otto's came from the dairy that delivered our milk (yes, the refrigerated truck used to bring glass bottles of milk that were placed in the insulated case outside our door), and there may have been one or two others I've forgotten.

Nowadays, of course, every supermarket has row on row of cases of ice cream. There are a million different brands, most with off-the-wall names featuring odd spellings and umlauts over one or more letters. The most expensive brands offer odd combinations of flavors and come in ever-smaller containers at ever-increasing prices. It's sad.

It's also one of the reasons why Agnes has invested in an ice cream freezer so that we can make our own.

This is not, of course, one of those exhausting, hand-cranked-keep-filling-the-tub-with-ice-cubes -and-rock-salt freezing buckets that we had to crank for hours on end until the ice cream froze. No, this is a high-tech device with a self-freezing bucket that churns out wonderful homemade ice cream in a short time with none of that manual labor stuff. Agnes has so far made passion fruit ice cream and a wonderful mint chocolate chip concoction. She's bought ice cream cookbooks and searched the Internet for even more recipes. I don't know how she's missed this one so far...

Ice cream. Don't leave home without it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

At the Movies, Avoiding the Rain

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, last evening we went with our friends Ken and Nadja to the Filene Center at Wolf Trap Park to see a screening of The Two Towers accompanied by a live orchestra and chorus. It turned out to be an absolutely awesome evening.

Despite having lived in Northern Virginia for so many years, Agnes and I had never been to Wolf Trap, and we found it to be a wonderful place - a gem set in forests and green lawns in the middle of a major metropolitan area. There are basically two seating options: on the lawn (cheaper tickets, farther from the stage) or under cover (more expensive, but you don't get wet when it rains).

And did it rain last night!

Happily, we missed most of it. The sky was dark and forbidding when we arrived, but the rain held off long enough for us to commandeer a picnic table and finish off a bottle of champagne and some snacks and get to our seats before it began to pour. The people with lawn seats came prepared and didn't seem to mind - umbrellas and tarps were broken out and everyone just waited out the first of the two periods of heavy rain (the second came right at the start of the intermission, wouldn't you know).

Our seats were in the center of the Loge section, with a perfect view of the giant HD screen. The only problem was that the screen hid most of the orchestra and chorus, which was unfortunate when the show was over and all we could see during the (well-deserved) standing ovation was the conductor, the two vocal soloists, and the front row of the orchestra. Bummer.

The music was perfectly aligned with the film, which was shown with subtitles (necessary because the powerful live music tended to drown out much of the on-screen dialog). The conductor had a flat-panel computer display on his podium which allowed him to watch the film while conducting, thereby keeping the music synchronized with the action.

If you haven't seen The Two Towers before, it's an incredible movie, with matchless cinematography, solid acting, and fantastic special effects, and the addition of a live rendering of Howard Shore's musical score added to the overall effect. We loved it.

The downer, for those of you who have not been to Wolf Trap, is the parking...well-organized (and FREE!!) on arrival, but pretty chaotic once the show is over. We were parked in one of several huge parking lots in meadows adjoining the park, and it took quite a while for the traffic to funnel out of the various lots onto the roads leading back out to the main highways. It wasn't nearly as bad as the gawdawful scrum we were mired in after a Jimmy Buffet concert at the Nissan Pavilion some years ago, but we still learned a valuable lesson: a post-show tailgate party to kill time while the traffic thins out isn't a bad thing.


If you have the opportunity to see a show that adds live orchestral accompaniment to a great movie, do it! We loved it, and I think you will, too.

Just don't irritate the police who are directing traffic...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy, one of the longest-serving member of the senate and the last surviving Kennedy brother, has passed away; a girl kidnapped at age 11 has been reunited with her family at age 29, after being imprisoned by her kidnapper for 18 years in sheds and tents in his back yard and forced to bear two of his children; in the spirit of high-minded and issues-oriented campaigning, a spokeswoman for New Jersey governor Jon Corzine called challenger "a complete menace to society" because of a 25-year record of driving citations; in a magnanimous gesture toward healing the divisions of the recent election, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is calling for prosecution of his political rivals "for challenging the legitimacy of his electoral victory and tarnishing the image of the state"; and the Washington Redskins lost a preseason game to the New England Patriots 27-24.

Yep. You need Cartoon Saturday as much now as you ever have.

There's an old joke that John probably remembers about little Johnny's description to his parents about what he learned in Sunday school...the punch line is, "Well, if I told you what he told us, you'd never believe it!" You have to believe that someday, some child will come up with this as an alternative punch line to a variation of that classic joke...

If you're a man, life is good: you only need three pairs of shoes - black, brown, and sneakers. If you're a woman, you can't have enough shoes, and they have to be carefully coordinated with everything else you're wearing. Of course, you can go a bit overboard...

For another take on the same general topic, we have...
And if those activities should go awry, the perpetrators could end up here...

Dining in sidewalk cafes can be fun and romantic. Of course, it does have its drawbacks...

It can be difficult for police officers, always seeing the uglier side of humanity ... or can you say, "violinity?"

And an extra bonus cartoon for this week, because it's been such a long and ugly one. I loved this cartoon just for its wonderful twist on the cliched sports activity...

Agnes and I are headed to Wolf Trap tonight to see the movie "The Two Towers" on a huge HD screen, accompanied by a live orchestra. We've never seen a show like this before, and we're looking forward to it. I'm particularly looking forward to the hopeful realization that it's worth the cost of the tickets, particularly since I bought the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy for less than the cost of said tickets. Wish me luck.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Real Ikea

I imagine all of you are familiar with Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings store that is all over the place in the US, offering all sorts of put-it-together-yourself furniture and home decorating items, cookware, toys, etc. Our house is largely furnished in early Ikea. The furniture is beastly heavy (being made of particle board with a veneer finish), but is sturdy, easy to assemble, and mostly attractive.

Last night while I was ironing my shirt for work today (I need a butler, dammit), NPR's program The World ran a story titled "Just hanging out at Ikea in Beijing" which was pretty interesting. Ikea opened a large store in Beijing back in 1999, hoping to break into the expected huge Chinese market for home furnishings...but it hasn't quite worked out as intended. Instead of spending some of the vast amount of money that they've imported from America, the Chinese go to Ikea to ... well ... just hang out. It's air conditioned, there's a place to leave your children so they can play, there's a reasonably-priced restaurant, and the store is full of sets of furniture on which you can relax, sleep, read, or whatever. Beijingers go to Ikea in droves - they just don't buy anything...they hang out. Ikea isn't commenting on the phenomenon, other than to say that the Beijing store is a "long-term commitment." Perhaps just not a commitment to profit, but that's their problem.


One of the questions asked of the reporter was how Chinese customers deal with the Ikea custom of giving all it's products Swedish names that are difficult enough for English speakers to deal the Besta and Framsta storage units, or the Komplement, Malm, and Hemnes wardrobe cabinets (right now, I'm sitting at my Galant desk, surrounded by Billy bookshelves, and Benno CD towers). The reporter just laughed and said it was sometimes a challenge.


It got me thinking, as so many things do. Wouldn't it be a good thing if Ikea gave its products names that were more descriptive and appropriate? Instead of calling a chair Ektorp or a dining room table Leksvik, why not make the names more fitting? How about...

The Fatass easy chair?

The Inept government official desk?

The Snorer bedroom set?

The Cleanyerplate dining room table?

Any other ideas from out there? I think we could probably take this a long way...

Have a good day. Hang out at Ikea. Cartoon Saturday is coming...


Thursday, August 27, 2009

One Simple, Quick, Thought...

Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy died this week after a long illness. He was one of the longest-serving senators in history, and whether you liked his politics and his personal history or not (and I expect many of you both did and didn't), he was truly an historic figure.

My simple question is this:

Will the life and death of Senator Kennedy - "The Lion of the Senate" - get more or less coverage over time than the life and death of Michael Jackson - "The King of Pop"?

I'm pretty sure I know the answer, and I'm getting depressed in advance in the relative certainty that I'm right.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sex for Seniors

Okay, admit stopped reading the title of this post after the word "sex."

It's all right. I would have, too.

Last Monday, I put up a post titled "Television as Birth Control?" that took off on a news article about a proposal to cut down on the population of India by wiring remote villages for electricity and equipping them with television sets, so that people would stay up late watching TV and be too tired to have sex. Lots of good comments on that one, including this from Melissa B. - "Hmmmmm...TV doesn't seem to curb teens' sexual appetites, so why do the Powers That Be seem to think it will work on the rest of us?" Good question, Melissa...especially if those teens watch Showtime, Cinemax, or any of the other ... um ... racy cable channels.

Well, anyhow, since it seems that sex is a winning topic, when I received this in my "Joke of the Day" e-mail this morning, I figured I'd just go with a winner...

Love Making Tips For Seniors

1. Wear your glasses to be sure your partner is actually in the bed.

2. Set a timer in case you doze off.

3. Set the mood with lighting: turn them all off!

4. Before you begin, put 911 on your speed dial.

5. Write partner's name on your hand in case you forget.

6. Keep the Polygrip close by so your teeth don't end up under the bed.

7. Have Tylenol ready in case you actually complete the act.

8. Make all the noise you want... the neighbors are deaf too.

9. Don't even think about trying it twice.

10. If it works, call everyone you know with the good news.

11. Next morning, be sure to remember to remind your partner whether she enjoyed it or not.

I have put these hints on a handy, laminated card to keep on the nightstand for reference as needed. You never know...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

High Anxiety in Pictures

You know, of course, that it's difficult to conceal the fact that you're really nervous. Agnes and Ben used to poke fun of me before we'd take the floor at dance competitions because I was so obviously nervous. I think it was the rivers of sweat pouring out from under the tux that gave me away...either that or the tuck-the-head-under-the-left-arm-like-a-chicken reflex. Or maybe it was the sixteen bathroom visits per hour thing. Who knows? The anxiety continued once we made it onto the floor, as in this classic photo, which shows me desperately trying to remember what I'm supposed to do next as we zip through a routine...

I got to thinking about this the other day when this photo gallery featuring Nervous Nellies appeared on the website. All of the photos are great, but my favorite was this one of a nervous contestant waiting for the results at a dog show:

A close second is this one that someone, somehow, managed to take of me at the office...

How do you handle anxiety? I've tried screaming and running in circles, but it doesn't seem to help and usually attracts undesirable attention. Drugs are out of the question. Gin and tonic is not always available (sadly, because I think I actually dance better after a G&T or two).

Any suggestions?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Television as Birth Control?

India has a problem - too many people. This is what tends to happen when people have sex too often. Unfortunately, people tend to have sex frequently because (1) it's usually pleasurable, (2) it doesn't require the sort of specialized equipment needed for most sports (unless you count the mirrors and the trapeeze), and (3) they don't have anything else to do. And there are other reasons: 80 year-old Omar Mohammed has 24 children - 13 boys and 11 girls - and says it's God's will ("This is His command. It's not my doing, it's His doing").

According to this article I spotted a few weeks ago (the source of the little vignette on studly octogenarian Omar Mohammed cited above), on the occasion of World Population Day, the Indian Minister of Health and Welfare offered a novel plan to help cut down on sex and, thus, on the burgeoning population: Bring electricity to every Indian village so that people will watch television until late at night and, thus, be too tired to make babies.


It's a novel plan, but I'm not sure it will work as advertised. For one thing, you'd have to make sure that the TV sets aren't located in the bedroom, to prevent people from having sex during commercials. You'd have to be sure that the cable or satellite TV channels available to those sets didn't include things like Playboy TV, Spice Channel, or other channels bringing hard- or soft-core pornography (which would sort of defeat the purpose). You'd have to make sure that the sets featured really good sleep-inducing channels instead - like the Golf Channel, the Bowling Channel, and anything featuring Oprah Winfrey. And you'd have to be sure that the Food Network ... uh ... never mind.

If the goal is really to reduce population by cutting down on sex, it seems to me that there are easier, cheaper ways to do it than by going to the expense of bringing television to remote Indian villages. One might be by encouraging marriage, as anecdotal information indicates that married couples have sex far less frequently after the first month (okay, first week). Another might be by providing other distractions, like bars and golf courses (for the men) and shoe stores and evening Tupperware parties (for the women). Viagra-shaped placebos could be widely distributed. Etc.

All I know is that, at my age, I'm not worried about cutting down on sex...I'm trying to remember why I was interested in it in the first place.

What was I talking about, again?

Have a good day. Watch more TV.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sauce for the Goose, Sauce for the Gander

Yesterday I found this amazing article in the Washington Post: Abundant Faith, Shrinking Space: Mosques in Virginia Turn to Synagogues, Ballrooms to Accommodate Growing Membership. Yes, you read this correctly - in order to accommodate the needs of growing numbers of worshipers, local Muslim imams are renting space for their services from local synagogues, among other locations.

Think about this for a moment.

Can you imagine, in your most fevered imagination, that a mosque in Saudi Arabia would rent space to a Jewish or Christian congregation in need of additional room? Saudi Arabia, where it is a crime to openly profess any faith other than Islam? Where non-Muslims are actually forbidden from setting foot in the holy city of Mecca?

It's clear that not all Muslims are as blindly bigoted as those who belong to the Wahhabi and Deobandi schools of the faith. Nevertheless, they all profess a faith which demonizes other religions and honors those who commit suicide in the act of murdering others. The shameful display in Libya this past week when a freed mass murderer was greeted by a cheering crowd only underscores the dichotomy of a religion which professes mercy and compassion while encouraging subjugation and death to those who worship in other faiths.

The Rabbi at one of the synagogues which had provided space to the Muslim congregations was quoted as saying, "The prophet Isaiah said our houses would be houses of prayer for all people ... Now, I don't know if Isaiah could have imagined us hosting Ramadan in the synagogue, but the basic idea is there." This, to me, reflects concepts of inclusivity, mercy, and compassion utterly lacking in much of the Islamic world.

The Post article goes on to note that "The arrangement has led to the unexpected benefit of cultural exchange. There have been pulpit swaps, with the imam and rabbi preaching to each other's congregation and interfaith visits as well." This is a wonderful thing if it truly leads to more open minds on the part of the Muslim congregations; nevertheless, I have my doubts.

When I see Muslims reaching out to accommodate Christians and Jews as these local Jewish congregations have done to the Muslims, there will be room for real rejoicing.

Sadly, as in most issues dealing with relations between Islam and the rest of the world, I'm not holding my breath.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

Convicted Lockerbie mass murderer Abd el Basset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, released by the Scottish Minister of Justice on "compassionate" grounds, has received a hero's welcome in Libya; a 59 year-old Vietnam veteran who volunteered to return to the Army to serve in Afghanistan has become the oldest soldier killed in the war; Texas-based Guaranty Bank has become the 81st, and the third-largest, bank to fail this year; Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has nominated as his Minister of Defense a man wanted by Interpol in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires; and suicide bombers have killed four police officers in an attack in Chechnya.

Boy, do we need Cartoon Saturday!

Economists claim that the recession is nearing its end and the economy is improving. This is clearly news to many real people...

We remodeled our kitchen a few years ago. Sadly, I missed out on this nifty accessory...

These two cartoons follow up on the one I posted in last week's Cartoon Saturday about getting ready to go out...most of you husbands can probably relate...


This is a great riff on the theme of reserved parking spaces...

And since people can never understand the logic of airline ticket pricing, and are always looking for ways to economize on travel, can this be too far in the future...?

It looks like it's going to be a miserable, rainy weekend, enlivened only by our youngest granddaughter's second birthday party. I'll feel old, but I'll be happy. Hope your weekend is a good one.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 21, 2009

DUMBCON 1, Revisited in Scotland

Most of you will recall that, back on July 24th, I proposed the establishment of a national Stupidity Condition - the DUMBCON - based on the military concept of Defense Conditions, Readiness Conditions, Threat Conditions, Force Protection Conditions, etc, etc, etc. You may want to take a moment to review the concept at the original post before reading on. Go ahead, I'll wait.

You don't have to be Albert Einstein to know that the world is getting stupider by the day. The outrageous hogwash and balderdash trumpeted every day by the extreme right, the extreme left, and the unthinking center make one wonder if brain evolution is working in reverse. Most days I don't know why I thought we needed a DUMBCON structure with a level less than 1.

But we really nailed the need for something beyond DUMBCON 1 yesterday, when Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill decided to release Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person convicted and sentenced to prison for the bombing of PanAm flight 103 in which 270 people were brutally murdered over and in the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

Mr MacAskill described his action as an act of mercy for al-Megrahi, who is dying of pancreatic cancer. In defending his widely-unpopular decision, he said that "humanity was a defining characteristic of the Scottish people and that 'our belief dictates that justice be served but mercy be shown.'" He went on to say that al-Megrahi "...did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them. But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days."

Well, I disagree.

Mercy is indeed a defining characteristic of a moral and compassionate society. But I would argue that this unfortunate and misguided action has not been viewed as merciful in Libya (where this foul, unrepentant mass murderer was welcomed as a hero) and across the Middle East, where moral and compassionate societies are in short supply. The quality of mercy, to misquote Shakespeare, is strained far beyond the breaking point in cultures where it is viewed not as compassion, but as decadent weakness in the face of strength.

It is said that Mr al-Megrahi has only three months to live. This may be so. But he should have spent those last months of his life in prison, knowing that 270 murdered souls are waiting to cheer his arrival in Hell - a far more appropriate welcome than he received from fools in Libya.

The Scottish Ministry of Justice has achieved a DUMBCON rating of 0.5 for this dreadful miscarriage of justice. Its long-term cost in terms of heartening those who would commit such terrible crimes can only be imagined.

Have a good day. Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday...I think we'll all need it.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Numbered Lists

There seems to be a generic human thing about making numbered lists. There's the Dave Letterman Top 10 list (you can see Britney Spears deliver it in a bikini here), and a whole series of books on the theme of "1001 Things to (See/Do/Experience/etc) Before You Die." Bloggers inundate each other with memes asking for things like "13 True Things About You" or "10 Things I Like/Hate." And so on.

Nobody does numbered lists like the Chinese, though. There are so many numbered lists of Chinese government policies that Wikipedia even has an entry devoted to listing all of them. Perhaps Amanda can shed some light on why this is (and, by the way, her post for today contains this list: 13 Reasons Why I Don't Like Air Asia's Palembang-Kuala Lumpur Flights). Coincidence?

Here are a few examples of Chinese "numbered policy" lists, culled from the Wikipedia list:

The One-Child Policy: The official population control policy of the People's Republic of China.

The Two Whatevers: "We will resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave."

The Three Noes: "No contact, no compromise, and no negotiation” (Former Taiwanese president President Chiang Ching-kuo's position on relations with the Chinese Communists).

The Four Old Things: "Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas." These were the four things the Cultural Revolution was supposed to eliminate.

The Five Black Categories: Things you didn't want to be during the Cultural Revolution: "Landlords, Rich Farmers, Anti-Revolutionists, Bad Influencers, and Right-Wingers."

The Six Assurances: Given to the PRC government as guidelines for relations between the US and the PRC:
  1. The United States would not set a date for ending arms sales to the Republic of China (ROC);
  2. The United States would not hold prior consultations with the People's Republic of China regarding arms sales to the ROC;
  3. The United States Would not play a mediation role between the PRC and the ROC;
  4. The United States would not revise the Taiwan Relations Act;
  5. The United States would not alter its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan (i.e. "The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position"); and,
  6. The United States would not exert pressure on the ROC to enter into negotiations with the PRC.
I could go on, but you get the idea.

Other people care a lot about numbers and numbered lists, too. Today, Mike held forth on the number 8, noting that it could be your lucky day if you were Chinese. It would be nice if it were my lucky day, too, as I'm heavily invested in PowerBall and MegaMillions lottery tickets and the jackpots are immense.

But though the jackpots are immense, the odds are long and the table begs for food to be placed upon it and the mortgage to be paid...thus, sadly, I must get ready to go to work and generate the numbers that will, hopefully, show up on my next paycheck.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More Odds and Ends

The Blog Fodder file is overflowing and my brain can only work so hard and fast to keep up with it all. And so, in the grand tradition of Gilahi and others, here are a few items that could, perhaps, rate full posts ... but which are being addressed in the Readers' Digest tradition. By the way, Readers' Digest has filed for bankruptcy. Sigh.

The other day, I posted about our TV and radio transmissions which are now reaching nearby stars. Yesterday, one of my coworkers sent me this cartoon from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal which suggests a possible outcome. I wish I'd seen this when I did the original post...

I've often felt that way after watching an evening of television.

I'm starting to see a few really good articles that address the nearly unbelievable level of lunacy surrounding the debate over health care reform. I liked this one by Farhad Manjoo that discussed how to squelch the stupid rumors about "death panels": just quit repeating them. Farhad Manjoo is the author of the wonderful book I blogged about some time ago, True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, which is very much worth reading ... especially now.

The current issue (August 24 & 31) of Newsweek Magazine has an interesting single-page graphic titled "Did Britain Wreck the World?" You can read it online here, but without the clever used-tea-bag illustrations included in the print version. It summarizes how the colonial and post-colonial activities of the British government contributed to the current colossal messes in Iraq, Sri Lanka, India/Pakistan, Israel/Palestine, and several other places. Thanks, Your Majesty.

The lineup of "stars" for the next season of "Dancing with the Stars" has been announced, and I'm generally underwhelmed. The only two standouts appear to be model/businesswoman Kathy Ireland (woo-hoo!!) and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Tom DeLay? The Tom DeLay who resigned from office when accused of campaign finance irregularities? This I've got to see. But Kathy Ireland will look much better in fringe and glitter.

Speaking of "dancing," I have finally recovered my vision and added my comments to the ... uh ... interesting dance videos posted the other day by Mike. I wonder where he finds these things. I also wonder that Claudia allows him to watch it.

Okay, that's all for the moment. I promise to have a real, coherent post tomorrow.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Making the Grade...or Not

Cheating in school has come a long way since the days when we simply tried to find a seat near someone smarter than we were, so we could sneak glances at their papers and copy the answers. You know what I mean. We went from those surreptitious glances to the tiny notes carefully inked onto our arms under the sleeves (and, of course, the ink always ran), to the little crib notes tucked into the folds of our clothing.

Technology marched on, and soon we saw ads in newspapers and magazines for "research services" in which "experts writing in their fields of study" would "help" you with your term papers. We snuck calculators into math tests. Then came cell phones with text messaging that allowed us to share answers with each other, and the "research services" migrated to the internet, where we could now download entire completed term papers for a suitable fee.

Of course, the teachers weren't blind to all this. They soon learned all of our tricks and developed ways to counter them. And when it got to be too difficult to counter the tricks, they adapted.

Yesterday I found this interesting article online: "Simon Fraser U(niversity) in British Columbia Introduces New Grade to Curb Academic Dishonesty."

We're all familiar with the traditional grading scale of "A" (excellent), "B" (good), "C" (average), "D" (yucky) and "F" (failure). The new grade introduced by Simon Fraser University is "FD," or Failed for Academic Dishonesty. A university spokesman said that the grade would be used mainly for repeat or flagrant offenders, would depend on the "severity of the offense," and that faculty members should generally discuss the case with their superiors before awarding the FD grade.

It's kind of sad that a university had such a problem with academic dishonesty that it was found necessary to establish a separate grade to identify those guilty of it. Not that most of us haven't (be honest, now) cheated at one time or another, but it's disheartening that the problem has grown to such a degree that the FD grade was deemed necessary and appropriate. We didn't need an FD grade when I was in grade school...that was back when the nuns would smack you with wooden pointers and rulers, or send you to the office for a good spanking if you were caught cheating...and our parents thought it was just fine, thank you very much.

Of course, this leads to some interesting speculation of how we might use specific grading systems in other than academic areas.

For example, the National Rifle Association is notorious for working to oppose lawmakers it suspects of wishing to limit gun ownership rights. Perhaps the NRA could give such persons a grade of "GU" (Gun Unfriendly). Various militant Islamist sects and factions who routinely (and frequently violently) accuse each other of apostasy could issue the grade of "II" (Insufficiently Islamic). Former DC mayor Marion Barry and Professor Henry Louis Gates might give their local police the grade of "DR" (D***ed Racist).

The possibilities are endless. John could get the grade of "NWR" (Not Well-Rested), Fiona could look at her report card and find a "PB" (Pendulous ... uh ... never mind) grade, and Mike could be graded "KOR" (Keep Off Roofs). As for me, well, I'll let you take your own pot shots. Be gentle.

Have a good day. Make the grade. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Preexisting Conditions

The level of hysteria and stupidity surrounding significant (and not-so-significant) national events here in the USA is reaching levels unheard of in my experience. Not a day goes by that I don't shake my head in amazement at the utter lack of common sense, ordinary thought, and simple civility reflected in the actions of otherwise normal people who become hysterical lunatics over topics great and small. I refer, of course, to topics like:

1. President Obama's birth certificate;

2. Health care reform; and,

3. The economy.

I've written before about the lack of civility and about the failure of some people to engage their brains before speaking, but it's a topic that just keeps on inviting comment. I'm not the only one who sees it, either. In yesterday's Washington Post, columnist Rick Perlstein penned a great piece titled, "In America, Crazy is a Preexisting Condition: Birthers, Town Hall Hecklers, and the Return of Right-Wing Rage."

The article isn't too long, and is worth reading for its historical perspective on the lunatic behavior we're seeing now. In short, Mr Perlstein points out that America combines distrust of government, deep conservatism, and short attention span in a toxic stew that tends to boil out of the pot during those periods when more liberal administrations are in power. After illustrating his point with several historical references, Mr Perlstein writes,

"...crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny. When Adlai Stevenson spoke at a 1963 United Nations Day observance in Dallas, the Indignation forces thronged the hall, sweating and furious, shrieking down the speaker for the television cameras. Then, when Stevenson was walked to his limousine, a grimacing and wild-eyed lady thwacked him with a picket sign. Stevenson was baffled. 'What's the matter, madam?' he asked. 'What can I do for you?' The woman responded with self-righteous fury: 'Well, if you don't know I can't help you.'"

If you don't know, I can't help you. This seems to me to sum up the problem we face. People are enraged because of things they don't fully understand and don't want to take the time to's easier to echo the rantings and writings of right- (and left-) wing demagogues than to tax the mind to learn the facts...or to learn that the "facts" in which one has fervently believed actually aren't true at all. The nearest analogy is the one every married man knows: your wife is mad at you, you don't know why, you ask her what's wrong, and the answer is if you really loved me, you'd know.

For the record, I flunked mind-reading in college, along with integral calculus.

If you are interested in the topic of why people act so crazy, I can recommend two excellent books: Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things, and Eric Hoffer's The True Believer. Both are superb analyses of the topic, with Shermer focusing on specific issues (like Holocaust denial, alien abduction, and creationism) and Hoffer looking more at the larger forces that push people into following mass movements, whether religious or political.

Have a good day. Think, rather than parroting what you've heard. The rest of us will thank you. Well, most of us, anyhow.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Images We Present

Since coming back from vacation, I've been spending many of my odd free moments (and yes, they tend to be very odd indeed) catching up on a lot of the blogs I enjoy, but don't have the time to read every day. One of those is Strange Maps, to which you can link from my list of recommended blogs at the left.

The July 23rd post on Strange Maps is titled, "What's on Earth Tonight?," presents a fascinating map that shows which television broadcasts from earth are reaching what points in the universe right now. Regular television broadcasting began roughly 65 years ago, and those signals are now about 65 light-years away, nearing the region of the star Aldebaran and any planets it may have.

If anyone is living in the neighborhood of Aldebaran, what are they learning from the TV signals they may receive from earth? Among other things, they're seeing the first televised presidential speech (by FDR) and the first televised baseball game. To get to the really good stuff, like episodes of Lost, Hill Street Blues, and The Twilight Zone, they'll have to wait a few more years.

But the larger question is, of course, what conclusions would scientists on Aldebaran draw about earth culture from the television signals they might intercept? Well, it sort of depends. If the signals they picked up were from The History Channel ("all World War II, all the time," in the words of one of my acquaintances who is getting her Masters degree in history), they might believe we are constantly at war...which isn't actually all that far from the truth. If they catch normal network TV broadcasts, they might think life on earth consists of nothing but high-speed car chases and wild shootouts between police and criminals, interspersed with lowbrow comedy. The Food Network? That we're obsessed with eating, if not with nutrition. The Golf Channel? They wouldn't learn anything, because it would probably put them to sleep. The Comedy Channel? I don't even want to think about it.

Alternative history writer Harry Turtledove used a variation on this idea to write a great reimagining of World War II ... in his story, aliens from deep space decided to invade the earth based on images they received from a probe which showed a warrior from the Arabian desert in the year 600. They arrived and launched their invasion in 1944 - right in the middle of World War II and facing weapons much more advanced than those they'd expected.

No particular deep thought or message today...just some reflections on an interesting topic: what would a culture that knew nothing of earth learn from watching our TV programs?

God forbid they should first see Sponge Bob Squarepants.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cartoon Saturday, Part 2

I saw these two editorial cartoons in the Washington Post this morning, and - since Mike has already started this ball rolling with his post last Thursday - I had to share them with you.

You may want to go back and read my post titled "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Government?" before looking at this one...somehow, I still don't see why some people can't understand the applicability of the old saying that a difference which makes no difference is no difference...

This one goes back to my post titled "Why Can't We All Just Get Along?" I think it says a lot...about civility, rational thought, and informed decision making...

Enjoy the rest of your Saturday. More thoughts tomorrow.


Cartoon Saturday

Three people have been killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, days before the presidential election; an entire village in Taiwan has been washed away by a monster typhoon; at least 19 people have been killed in a Mexican prison riot, not long after inmates using homemade weapons demolished a prison in California; and six people have died in Gaza as Hamas forces battled radical Islamists over a question of which one was more ... uh ... Islamic.

Cartoon Saturday has returned to save you from the relentless onslaught of violent reality!

Since we've just endured flights back and forth across the Atlantic, and I'm preparing for my next business trip, this cartoon has particular meaning for me...

Remember the old saying about old dogs and new tricks? This cartoon puts a good spin on it ...

Some cartoons really sum up the true state of relations between the sexes ...

Whenever we get ready to go out, Agnes and I go through a kabuki dance which always includes some variation on her question, "are you going to wear that?" Of course, even I know there are some places you just don't wear jeans ...

Yesterday, I wrote about the serious lack of civility and common courtesy in our modern political discourse. Of course, many politicians don't need a lot of civility and courtesy to express simple ideas ...

And along the same lines, perhaps we could get back to civil exchanges of views if we just got back to some communicative basics ...

As a bonus, I have something else to offer on this first Cartoon Saturday after the vacation. Yesterday, Mike put up a post titled You Might Be (an Engineer If...); by coincidence, one of my coworkers sent me this link to "the best Internet standard ever": RFC 1149 - Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers. It's absolutely hysterical, although if you're not an engineer or an IT tech person, it may take you a while to catch on. Read and enjoy.

Lots to do today on the first weekend back from vacation: grocery shopping, finding the garden under two weeks worth of weeds, paying bills, etc. Sigh. I need another vacation. No comments about the joys of retirement, please, Mike.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Those of you who have been with me on this blog for a while know that I place a lot of emphasis on what we used to call, in happier times, civility. Civility can be defined as "Polite or courteous behavior; the act of showing regard for others," and synonyms include politeness, courtesy, and graciousness.

If you didn't recognize the word, or the concept, I'm not surprised, because it seems to be going the way of the dinosaur.

You can see what I mean by watching the news and seeing the utterly asinine behavior of many people at town hall meetings held to discuss health care reform - nobody appears to be very interested in actually discussing anything...they seem more intent on shouting down and insulting people whose ideas differ from their own. You can see the same behavior at almost any other public venue nowadays, from the aggressively disruptive actions of Code Pink activists who try to prevent normal business at military recruiting stations to the morally upright but civilly retarded persons who accost women at abortion clinics.

In the much overused words of Rodney King, why can't we all just get along?

As a nation, we face daunting, interconnected problems that defy simple solutions. Much as we might wish, there aren't going to be silver bullet answers that will deliver affordable health care, rebuild the economy, stop mortgage foreclosures, get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, or bring rigid Islamists out of the seventh century and into the 21st. Finding answers to our problems requires the detailed discussion of complex topics most of us don't fully understand and the evaluation of options that will never satisfy everyone. And because everything is interconnected, anything we do to solve one problem may make another worse. How do we figure out what to do?

We've replaced honest discussion with shouted slogans, and analysis of facts with cleverly twisted misinformation, and we're all guilty. Each time someone automatically and unthinkingly accepts the opinions of a talk-show demagogue, each time someone immediately believes the worst of a person who is presenting an idea, we all lose. Each time some populist blowhard blames the government (imagine those two words uttered dripping with scorn) for every ill, it automatically polarizes the discussion and prevents honest and thorough debate.

One more time, what is Bilbo's First Law?

Don't let anyone do your thinking for you.

Examine the facts, think the issues through, and be prepared to discuss them civilly. This is the essence of participative democracy. If you want your decisions made by howling mobs, or imposed by a dictatorship that can't get anything done any other way, keep on keeping on. We'll get there.

Have a good day. Be civil. It's not hard, and you might even enjoy it.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Last Thoughts on Our Trip to Germany

Okay, here are a few last interesting pictures from our trip to Germany. Okay, interesting to me, anyhow. Enjoy...

There are war memorials all over Germany, many of them in the massive Teutonic style often thought of as typically German, and others very poignant. These two photos show a memorial in an odd place...beside the parking lot behind Agnes's parents' apartment building. It commemorates those killed in the bombing of Singen on Christmas Day, 1944...the inscription reads, "In memory of our dead, 25 December 1944." By the way, "RIP" actually stands for the Latin "resquiescat in pacem," or "rest in peace." Nice that the abbreviation works in two languages.

An interesting historical side note: when my father was flying with the 8th Air Force from England in B-24s during World War II, one of his missions was to bomb Singen. Due to a navigational error, they missed the city and bombed the nearby city of Schaffhausen in Switzerland, instead.

This memorial is located in downtown Singen, next to one of the churches, and remembers those killed in the First World War. I almost walked past it because it is so thickly covered with greenery...

There are lots of religious statues around, too. This is a statue of St John of Nepomuk which overlooks one of the picturesque bridges over the Aach River in the Singen Stadtgarten (city gardens)...

Germans generally love to walk, and the country is crisscrossed with tens of thousands of marked hiking trails and walking paths. This handy guide was located in the Singen Stadtgarten...

And this one, a bit more scaled down, was located along the trail leading up to Hohenzollern Castle...

Germans love dogs, and you can find refreshment stations for them in many stores and restaurants. This one was in the courtyard of the Hohenzollern Castle...

I just liked this sign for a bookstore in Singen. The name of the store is "Reading Fodder"...

And finally, for those of you who don't like my travelogues...

Well, sadly, vacation is over and it's time to get ready to go to work. Sigh. Back to work today, back to the usual curmudgeonliness here tomorrow.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Adventures in Travel, Part 6: Flying the Unfriendly Skies

We finally got home last night around 10:15 after a long and eventful day. All I can say is that I'm glad to be here.

Well, that's not quite true. I actually have a lot more to say about it. Go get a cup of coffee before you start to read...this may take a while.

We got up yesterday morning at 4:30 AM to get cleaned up, pack our final things, and check out of the hotel in time to get to the train station for our 5:58 AM train to the Frankfurt airport via Offenburg. Despite the terrible hour (considering we were supposed to be on vacation), the train ride was wonderful...the 5:58 (a regional train) was right on time, we got good seats, and munched the sandwiches Agnes built at the Holiday Inn's breakfast buffet while the spectacular scenery of the Black Forest rolled by outside. Unfortunately, I'd dismantled my camera and packed it away, so you can't share the marvelous vistas of deep, wooded canyons and picturesque villages tucked into the folds of deep green, rolling hills. We arrived in Offenburg right on time, had plenty of time for our transfer, and settled into our reserved seats on the high-speed Inter-City Express (ICE) train to Frankfurt. Train travel in Germany is definitely the way to go.

Our adventures began when we arrived at the Frankfurt airport station. I scrounged a baggage cart and we went to the Lufthansa check-in area conveniently located right outside the station to accommodate those arriving by train. The line was short and we soon found ourselves talking with a nice young lady who weighed our bags (within limits, thanks to some judicious packing) and apologetically handed us our boarding passes ... without seats assigned. She explained that the flight was oversold by 40 seats (!) and that she couldn't assign us seats...we'd have to get that done at the gate.

Happily, we were about three hours early, so we went directly to the gate and waited for the first agents to show up. We'd been told that they'd man the gate starting about 1.5 hours before boarding, but as it turned out, the gate agents didn't arrive until about a half-hour before boarding was supposed to which time a howling mob of people waving torches and pitchforks and holding boarding passes without seat assignments was seething in the gate area. Agnes, who is better at belligerent arguing than I am, was right at the head of the line and soon managed to get us seats, although not together (we got aisle seats in the back of the plane, one behind the other). Business class was full, so we couldn't upgrade, but at least we had seats.


The adventure continued as boarding finally began. It was the usual process of boarding families with children, the elderly and handicapped, First-Class and Business Class Demigods, and those holding the bewildering array of frequent flyer designations ("now boarding our Xenon, Manganese, and Molybdinum Customers") first, followed by the steerage class passengers boarding by rows from the rear of the aircraft.

Well, that was the plan.

As it turned out, all the announcements were made in German, followed by translations in English, and most of the English-speaking travelers shut it all out when they heard the German. As a result, there was a huge scrum at the gates as everyone tried to board at once, and the hapless Lufthansa personnel gave up on any attempt to try to control the mess. We were able to get through the mob quickly enough to get on board and find space for our carryons, but the tremendous crush of people trying to get onto a fully-booked 747 far overloaded the crew's ability to establish order, and getting everyone seated took so long that we missed our takeoff slot and had to wait about 20 minutes at the gate while the pilot waited for a new time slot.

We finally got a new takeoff time, and the jet growled majestically away from the gate for the long taxi trip (via Poland, France, and the Low Countries) to the runway. We made the turn onto the runway, the pilot gunned the engines, and we began to roar faster and faster down the tarmac. We had almost reached takeoff speed when...

There was a loud bang...the airplane slowed...speeded up again...then lurched in all directions as the pilot appeared to stand on the brakes. We all looked at each other with some concern as the airplane slowed to a stop, then slowly began to taxi down the rest of the runway and turn off onto an adjoining taxiway. At this point, the pilot announced that he'd had to abort the takeoff at the last moment because he'd hit a bird which had caused enough damage to one engine that he couldn't take off safely, and was now headed for a place where the airport fire brigade could hose down the brakes and tires until it was safe to taxi the rest of the way back to the terminal.

We sat on the taxiway for about a half-hour, surrounded by fire trucks and ambulances (unnecessary, thank goodness) and large numbers of technicians in orange vests pointing at the damaged engine, making notes on their PDAs, and shaking their heads gravely. Eventually, a tug arrived to tow us to a remote parking place, where we all had to disembark with all of our carryons, board large buses, and return to a bare-bones gate area at the terminal to wait for a new aircraft.

We ended up waiting there, unable to leave the immediate gate area, for about an hour and a half, while Lufthansa scrambled to turn around another, identical, 747 that had just arrived from somewhere else. This gate area contained one small snack bar manned by a single lady who was utterly unprepared for the sudden onslaught of a full jumbo jet's worth of hungry, worried, angry passengers. She quickly sold out of everything, and Lufthansa managed to bring in a pallet of water and soft drinks, which also quickly disappeared. Finally, the announcement came that the aircraft was ready and we could board the buses to go back out and start the entire kabuki dance again.


We replayed the mass scrum that I described earlier, and finally got to the buses which took us out to the new aircraft...

...and where we sat on the buses for another 20 minutes, because the aircraft wasn't really ready yet. We watched teams of cleaning personnel running back and forth with bags of trash, and zipping up and down the stairs with vacuum cleaners, buckets, etc. Then we waited a little longer while a small fleet of cars brought out the more important passengers, who couldn't be expected to have to board along with the unwashed masses. Eventually, the doors opened and Agnes and I raced to the rear boarding stairs to reclaim our seats and carryon storage spaces.

This time, the boarding went a little faster, and within about 45 minutes we were back on the runway, where we managed to get airborne without hitting any birds or other aircraft.

Once in the air, the flight was no more uncomfortable and boring than any other transatlantic flight, and there was no further excitement until we were approaching Washington...and the pilot announced that he couldn't land because of some scheduling problem.


So we flew majestically around the DC-Maryland-Virginia area for another hour, until the proper permissions were received, and we finally landed about four hours late. The entire aircraft erupted in spontaneous applause as we touched down.

We managed to negotiate passport control without any issues, except that Agnes (as a green-card holding permanent resident) had to be photographed and have her fingerprints recorded...something we've not experienced before. Luckily, she didn't turn up on any secret lists of doom, and we soon were cleared to head for baggage claim. Our suitcases eventually arrived (although not, of course, together), and we sped through customs (all that time spent practicing looking innocent does help).

The final delay occurred when we had to stop by the Lufthansa lost-luggage office to report that I'd forgotten my jacket on board the aircraft. It had already been found by the cleaning crew, but with everything going on, they weren't able to get it back to me then...the nice, but very harassed lady offered to FedEx it back to me, which was fine, since the temperature was in the mid-80's anyhow.

We found a taxi, and eventually arrived home...tired, cranky, but safe and sound.

All things considered, it could have turned out a lot worse. We could have hit that bird after the first aircraft had left the ground, and ended up as a big, smoking hole near the airport.

But we're here, we're safe, I have plenty to blog about, and we're looking forward to taking a new vacation to recover from this vacation...

Tomorrow, a few last pictures and random comments about the trip, and then we'll be back to the normal level of curmudgeonly commentary on the world...which has obliged in my absence by offering up plenty of utterly weird stuff on which to comment.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Adventures in Travel, Part 5: This and That

As we come down to the wire on our vacation in Germany, I thought I'd just fire off a few quick comments about various things that don't seem to fit into their own post.

Ice Cream. You can get marvelous ice cream and ice cream treats in Germany. The other day I discovered a flavor of ice cream called Maracouja. According to a Google search, maracuja is passion fruit. It makes wonderful ice cream. Speaking of ice cream, Agnes and I stopped at a local ice cream shop this afternoon for a treat...they don't do things halfway here...

The Ugly Statue. I made a mistake the other day when I wrote about the hideous statue here in Singen. I said it was called "The Tree of Life," but it's actually called "The Tree of Paradise." It's still ugly. And if this is what Paradise looks like, I don't think I'm interested.

Bears. There are about a million gaily painted statues of bears dotted all over Singen. I'm not quite sure why, since the bear is actually the symbol of Berlin, but it doesn't matter. It reminded me of our visit to Vancouver a few years ago, where the city was full of similarly gaily-painted statues of orcas. Here are a few of the local bears...

Family History. Agnes's father gave me an hour-long monologue this afternoon about his postwar experiences as he made his way home from captivity in Russia, through Romania, Hungary, and Austria, to a displaced persons camp in Freiburg, Germany. It makes me wonder if I could have been as determined and resourceful in the face of such daunting adversity.

Food. Germans always complain about the size of restaurant portions when they visit the U.S. They're always shocked at how large the portions are and how much waste results. Well, I'm here to tell you that they need to be quiet. Portions at restaurants here in Germany are enormous. And the food is wonderful. At the rate we're going, our luggage won't be the only thing that's overweight when we leave on Tuesday.

Okay, that's all for now. Tomorrow is going to be a very stressful day as we pack our suitcases and say our goodbyes to Uroma and Uropa. I'll try to put up another short post tomorrow evening, and then I'll probably be offline until Wednesday. Try to cope. Off to bed...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Adventures in Travel, Part 4: Amazing Translations, and Opa's Boo-boo

When you have a degree in Linguistics, the world doesn't necessarily beat a path to your door with offers of big-money jobs. The upside is that there are many things you find well-meaning attempts by speakers of foreign languages to helpfully translate things into English for you.

One of the best actually dates back to when I was living in Berlin in the early 80's, and one of the restaurants I often visited was a Balkan place called Ujak Tom ("Uncle Tom's"), which offered an unusually large number of howlers in the English version of its menu. My favorite was the Zigeunerspiess, which consisted of large chunks of meat and vegetables cooked on a skewer and served on rice with a very spicy sauce. In German, Zigeuner means "gypsy" and Spiess means "skewer" or "spear"...hence, the Zigeunerspiess was a gypsy-style shish-kebab. Unfortunately, another word for skewer in English is "spit," and - you guessed it - whoever compiled the English version of the menu translated Zigeunerspiess as Gypsy Spit. I always had an unfortunate mental image of a big, swarthy, mustachioed fellow hawking a loogie onto my plate.

I told you that story in order to share a few adventures in linguistic horror selected from the English version of our Holiday Inn guest services directory. I offer them as written, without editing...

"Cleaning. Please give your clothes to 8:00 AM to the reception (Monday to Friday). The purified laundering them, by express cleaning, on the same evening at the reception."

"Internet Access. We offer in the lobby bar a W-Lan access. Our rooms are opposed to a fee with a high-speed wireless Internet connection for you."

"Pets. The deadweight of domestic animals is allowed after notification, they must be clean, quiet and does not represent a danger for our other guests or employees dar. We ask for your understanding, which we will pollution caused by your pet into account."

I should note that each of these is a perfectly logical direct translation from German to English. I wonder if I could get a discount on our room by offering to fix things up for them...?

One of the things we used to keep Leya occupied today was the provision of Band-Aids for her boo-boos (real and imagined) and those of her doll. The Band-Aids didn't always stay where originally placed, though. One went from her hand to various points on her doll to ... well ... Opa ...

Agnes says it will take more than a small Band-Aid to fix what's wrong with my head.

Today, sadly, was the last day Yasmin, Vin, and Leya will be with us...tomorrow they're moving on to visit a few other places in Germany before heading home. They said their good-byes to Uroma (Great-Grandma) and Uropa (Great Grandpa) this evening. Uropa got a nice handshake...

...while Uroma got a hug and a kiss...

And we did, of course, manage to get the obligatory Four Generations Photo of Agnes's family yesterday ...

We'll be here until Tuesday, when we depart at an ungodly hour to head back to Frankfurt to catch our flight home. What this means is that I will try to post two more times to share our adventures with you before we head home.

And if it keeps raining like it started to this afternoon, it could be more often. Stay tuned.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Adventures in Travel, Part 3: Sculptures, Language, and Precocious Children

Here are a few odds and ends about travel in Germany.


One of the interesting things about the city of Singen is the so-called “Skulpt Tour.” This is a pun on the word “Skulptur” (or sculpture in English), and refers to a self-guided tour of the city you can take to look at a wide variety of sculptures that have been commissioned and installed as part of the city's cultural and beautification program.

Now, I enjoy fine art - especially music and painting - but I don't understand a lot of sculpture, particularly the more abstract pieces. Especially an utterly incomprehensible piece of sculpture located on the pedestrian mall in the middle of town and titled "The Tree of Life." Here are a full view and a few closeups...

If you ever visit Singen, this is a must don't-see. The rest of the sculpture is fine. Or, at least, not outrageous.


Compared to that of most Americans, my German is pretty good. Unfortunately, the German I learned in school isn't what anyone speaks here...especially Agnes's parents. Her father combines several different dialects and he mumbles a lot. Her mother speaks the local dialect at about a million miles an hour. I smile and nod a lot.

Precocious Children.

Traveling with a small child has its ups and downs. Leya has had a tough time with jet lag and the change in her schedule, and it's been trying for her mother and for her grandparents and great-grandparents. We're all surviving, but poor Leya has not enjoyed the trip as much as she might.

We went swimming at the local Freibad (open-air pool) yesterday, and when Leya came out of the pool she wanted to get out of her wet suit and swim pants quickly. She then entertained us by running in circles shouting, "Naked baby, naked baby!!"

No, I do not have any pictures.

And that's all for's late and I need to go to bed so that I'll be well-rested for tomorrow...when the weather is supposed to turn stormy.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Travel Adventures, Part 2: Scenes from Germany

The other day I showed you a few pictures of our trip so far. Here are a few more pictures that illustrate why I like it here...

There are castles with grand architecture. These pictures are from Hohenzollern Castle, which I showed you a picture of (from a distance) the other day...

Buildings have neat architectural features like towers, domes, and various decorative designs, and almost every house has colorful flower boxes at the windows...

People even have a good time with warning signs...

As I told you the other day, Singen has a beautiful city park and garden that we enjoy walking through as we go back and forth between our hotel and Agnes's parents' apartment. Here are a few more pictures of the park...

This last one is pretty interesting...several years ago a huge tree was cut down, and a large stump was left and carved in the shape of a beaver gnawing the tree down! Very clever...

Okay, it's now almost 10:00 PM, and I'm officially exhausted. It's time to go to bed. I'll try to post again tomorrow, but we'll see how it goes.

Have a good evening. More thoughts later.