Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Would You Like Fries with That?

From the Department of I've Seen It All Now comes this short report from Time Magazine: Switzerland Confidential: Behold the Legal Sex Drive-Through.

Yes, Friends, the peaceful and bucolic alpine playground of Switzerland has found it necessary to make special arrangements for a particular sort of play. The staid citizens of Zurich are tired of looking out their windows and seeing all sorts of demonstrations of applied biology, and so the police department is looking into setting up "sex boxes" around the city. Each of the boxes, large enough to hold an average car and a small number of consenting adults, is designed to facilitate the sex trade by providing a modicum of privacy while hiding the less-than-savory visuals from passers-by. Here is what one of the sex boxes looks like:

While utilitarian, the structure just seems to lack the ambiance of the traditional bordello...

The article quotes wonderfully-named police spokesman Reto Casanova as saying, "We can't get rid of prostitution, so have to learn how to control it."

And if you need more information, you can get a unique perspective in the picturesque town of Skagway, Alaska...

And since just about anything I say from here on out will get me into trouble, we'll just leave it here.

Have a good day. Enjoy that visit to Zurich. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Getting Ready for the Wrong Things

As I prepare to go back to work after my vacation, I can't help looking for some gloom-and-doom things to write about that will get me into the right frame of mind to face the dreaded Overflowing In-Box and its twin brother, The Massive Pile of Documents of Doom. Luckily, gloom-and-doom topics are not difficult to find and range from the appearance (already!) of Christmas displays in some local stores to ... well ... the worst Mother Nature can do and the worst we can do about it.

One of the things my coworkers get tired of hearing me bloviate about is our overreliance on computers and electronics and our lack of planning for what happens if we lose them. You, Dear Readers, have gotten a small taste of this in my discussions of things like the beauty of handwritten letters (rather than word-processed epistles and e-mail/tweets) and the gradual extinction of hard-copy photographs (as opposed to digital scrapbooks). What happens when the electrons stop flowing out of the wall and the ol' hard disk stops spinning, eh?

There was an interesting, if disconcerting, article in yesterday's Washington Post that summarized my concerns better than I've managed to do so far, which is probably why no one is yet offering to pay me to write this blog: "We're Still Not Ready for Another Hurricane Katrina," by Stephen Flynn.

Mr Flynn does a great job of laying out the lessons we haven't yet learned from the greatest national disaster in American history and why, as a result, we are leaning into the mighty left hook Mother Nature is almost certainly winding up to deliver. He notes that we have poured billions of dollars into protecting against terrorist attacks which - although a very real threat - are far less likely and potentially devastating than major hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, heavy blizzards, and other natural disasters. Local, State, and Federal governments continue to bicker over who has what responsibilities, insurance companies dodge and weave about whether damage was caused by wind (that they have to pay for) or flood (that the Federal government picks up), and vast funds have been spent on high-tech command centers instead of stockpiles of essential relief supplies and basic equipment for first responders.

The 24-hour news cycle and Government's voracious appetite for information don't help, either. News crews interfere with rescue and recovery operations and help to magnify the scope of a disaster, while government agencies demand information for official briefings from leaders on the scene who should be concentrating on the job at hand.

There are a lot of good people doing a lot of good work to protect us from threats both natural and man-made. I'm just concerned that it's not enough, and not properly focused. Unfortunately, Mr Flynn's article does nothing to make me feel any better.

And now, Dear Readers, I'm ready to go back to work.

Have a good day. Make your own personal disaster plan. You may never need it, but if you do, you'll thank me.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Importance of Handwriting

If you are one of the select group of readers of this blog with whom I've exchanged handwritten letters, you are already familiar with my style of handwriting...it's sort of a mutated version of the elegant Palmer Method script drilled into me by the nuns at my grade school many years ago:
Nice, isn't it? Of course, my handwriting today doesn't always look too much like that, at least not after the first few lines of a letter when I tend to rush more and get sloppy. Of my fellow bloggers with whom I have exchanged letters, the neatest (or, at least, most elegant) cursive writing belongs to the Green Canary, with Amanda not far behind. Andrea and Fiona have nice cursive writing also. John's handwriting is perfectly legible, but not as neat and tidy as that of the ladies, and Mike's ... well ... since Mike writes in invisible ink, it's hard to tell just how legible his handwriting is.

Okay, I wrote all that so that I could set up this topic about whether or not cursive writing should be taught in schools.

In the September issue of the Costco Connection magazine (which you receive if you are one of those folks like us who purchase things in huge bulk at the Costco warehouse stores), there is an interesting discussion in the "Informed Debate" section titled "Should Students Still Be Taught Cursive Writing?" You can read it online here, and there are also links to other articles on the topic.

The arguments against teaching cursive seem to center on these: it's a useless skill at a time when everything is typed on a keyboard, the skills of fine motor control that come with cursive writing can be taught in more efficient ways, and time spent in learning cursive can be better applied to improving reading skills. Arguments in favor of teaching cursive include: teaching focus and attention to detail, improving fine motor skills, and helping connect the written word to the spoken via phonics.

Who's right?

As you all already know, I'm a great fan of the written word. I love sending and receiving handwritten letters (although I don't send as many as I used to because it takes so long to write the sort of letters I enjoy writing and receiving). There is nothing quite like the thrill of holding a handwritten letter in your hand and knowing as you read that the same document was held in the hand of your correspondent ... there's a personal connection there that an e-mail, a tweet, or a typewritten letter just can't match.

And knowing cursive writing is more important than just for the ability to write letters, too. Although I am able to poke out short reminders and shopping lists on my trusty iPhone, I find it faster and easier to just write them down in good old ink on whatever paper is available. I have piles of notebooks and scratch pads to catch random doodles and thoughts. If nothing else, I'll still be able to read those handwritten notes if the electricity goes out or the batteries die.

I personally think it would be a tragedy to stop teaching cursive writing in schools. While it's true that keyboarding skills are important in an age when everything is done electronically, there's a lot to be said for having the skill to sit down and thoughtfully compose and write by hand. Even allowing for the fact that I'm a traditionalist, I think that elegant (or, at least, legible) cursive writing is a skill that says a lot about us and the things we value.

So join me in resisting the move to eliminate the teaching of cursive in our schools. And if you want to see just what ol' Bilbo's handwriting looks like, e-mail me your snail mail address and I will write you your own personal letter to compete with all the bills and junk mail that fill your unhappy mailbox every day.

Have a good day. Write someone a letter. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

Thirty-three miners trapped inside a Chilean mine since August 5 have been told that they could be stuck underground for as long as four months; a lead investigator and another official investigating the massacre of 72 migrants in northern Mexico are missing; half a billion eggs have now been recalled in the latest salmonella scare (if an egg is recalled, does it get put back into the chicken for repair?); Faux News commentator Glenn Beck is organizing a rally on the National Mall, saying he is "reclaiming the civil rights movement;" and the Administration is "weighing a fresh effort at engagement" with prosperous and peace-loving North Korea, demonstrating the power of hope over experience.

Thank goodness for Cartoon Saturday, your breath of fresh air in the miasma of current events.

Young Danae is going to go a long way. Too bad there's nothing waiting for her when she gets there...

I thought about getting a face-lift at one time, but the doctor told me I couldn't afford a large enough crane...

At this time of year, there are two kinds of door-to-door salesmen: those that peddle candidates for office and those that peddle religion. You have to love this twist on the issue...

I guess I'm not the only one with ink-related problems...

At last ... someone has found a new approach to anti-virus software...

And finally, although the Secretary of Defense is looking to get rid of a lot of contractors, there may still be opportunities out there for us in other segments of the economy...

Well, our vacation is over and the new work week looms ahead, but at least we have the weekend to try to ease back into reality. Actually, it's less "easing back into" than "being dragged kicking and screaming into," but that's not important now.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Headed Home...

Just a short post this morning, as we sadly pack our things and get ready to head home after our vacation on Huckleberry Mountain. We'll be packed up in another hour, have our last country breakfast, and hit the long road.

Here's a last picture of the early morning view from the scenic overlook behind the hotel...

We should be home by mid-afternoon, where I will have to re-learn skills like cooking, washing my own dishes, making my own bed, etc. A place like this can spoil you!

The French Manor Inn and Spa in South Sterling, Pennsylvania. Well worth the trip. We'll be back.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when Cartoon Saturday returns!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Still on Vacation...

Today is our last full day here at the French Manor Inn and Spa in beautiful South Sterling, Pennsylvania. We are happy, relaxed, well-fed, massaged, and generally mellow. This will all change, of course, when I get back to work on Monday ... but for now, life is good.

It's a cool and cloudy morning, with a light breeze blowing. The temperature should go up to about 71 today under partly cloudy skies, and there's only a 20% chance of rain, so we may be able to get our picnic in after all (one of the things included in our package at the hotel is a fully-packed picnic basket on one day of the stay...so far, it's been too chilly and rainy to take advantage of it, but perhaps today is the day. It had better be, since we have to leave tomorrow. Sigh).

Yesterday we visited the Spa (right downstairs from our room, a two-minute walk) and had a "couples massage" followed by "facials." Agnes talked me into the facial, which I didn't want to spend the money on because there isn't enough industrial strength spa treatment in the world to do much with this face, but she's pretty persistent, so I decided to go ahead with it.

We began with the usual filling out of all the forms that relieved the masseur, the masseuse, and the Spa of liability if we died on the table, then changed into our spa robes. Since we were the only customers in the place that morning, they graciously allowed us to change together in the ladies locker room (!), after which we repaired to the couple's room, took our places on the massage tables, and surrendered to the ministrations of the staff.

After 50 minutes of kneading, stretching, and prodding, I felt like a boneless chicken. Then came the facial. I'd never had one of those before, and am still not completely convinced I really enjoyed it. It did feel good, and Agnes told me I looked younger (as did she), but some of the gloss wore off when the masseur told me he thought I looked like the actor Ray Liotta...

You be the judge...

Personally, I think Ray Liotta ought to look like me.

After we finished at the Spa, we went back to our room to see if the drizzling rain would finally stop so that we could go for a nice walk to work off some of the good meals. Eventually, the drizzle let up and the sky partially cleared, and we walked down the mountain to admire the landscape and take pictures. Here are a few pictures of the surrounding area.

It's called Huckleberry Mountain for a reason...

This is the entrance to the driveway up the hill to the hotel...

If you continue on Huckleberry Road instead of turning up to the hotel, this is what you see...

Along with beautiful scenic vistas through the breaks in the trees...

Coming back up the hill to the hotel, this is a view of our room's balcony, with the tower of the main building next door...

This is a very nice place, highly recommended for a quiet, relaxing, scenic stay. Especially once the rain stops! We'll be outside the rest of the day, enjoying the sunshine and our picnic lunch. And probably another swim later.

Believe me, I'm going to enjoy it now ... Monday will be here soon enough.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jive Speakers Wanted

You may remember this memorable scene from the hysterical movie Airplane! (one of my all-time favorite movies):

Pretty funny, especially for those of us who are actual, no-kidding, linguistics majors.

Actually, though, it's not quite as funny as you think. According to this article, forwarded to me by my daughter, the Drug Enforcement Administration is seeking translators who speak 114 different languages, including Ebonics, to help interpret hours of conversations caught on wiretaps during criminal investigations.

Ebonics, a word coined from the combination of ebony and phonics, represents an attempt to capture the distinctive linguistic structure and vocabulary of black American English. When the term was introduced in 1973, it was derided as an attempt to give stature to poorly-spoken English filled with obscenities and street slang, but by 1996, it had gained formal recognition by the Oakland, California school district as a dialect of American English. Many linguists, however, prefer not to use the term because of the political baggage it carries, preferring to refer to the dialect as "African-American Vernacular English." Regardless of the term used, it represents an attempt to capture a version of English used not just by blacks, but also by whites and Latinos. "It crosses over geographic, racial and ethnic backgrounds," according to Walt Wolfram, a professor of English linguistics at North Carolina State University quoted in the news article linked above.


Whatever you call it - Ebonics, Jive, or African-American Vernacular English - Barbara Billingsley was a lady ahead of her time. Remember her the next time you apply for a job with the DEA that may require you to note that some "jive-ass dude don't got no brains anyhow, hmpf!"

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We're On Vacation...

Hello, everyone, and greetings from the French Manor Inn and Spa in the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania! We drove up yesterday, arriving in pouring rain at about 2:00 PM. It's been raining off and on - mostly on - since then, and the weather is much cooler than back home in Virginia, but the hotel is so nice that we don't particularly care. Here are a few pictures...

This is the main building, where the restaurant and reception desk are located...

Our suite is in the Spa Building next door, and there are two other buildings (the Maisonneuve and the Carriage House, each with a small number of rooms and suites). There are several rooms and suites in the main building, including a two-level suite in the tower (in the background in the picture above).

This is one view of our suite...

And this is another ...

There was a small fruit and cheese platter in the room when we arrived, along with a carafe of sherry and a bottle of champagne ...

And this is the view from our balcony ...

We're happy. It's quiet and peaceful, as it should be from its fairly remote location. And the food and service in the restaurant are both first-rate. The pool and hot tub are both fine, and I'll let you know about the spa tomorrow, after we have our "couples massage."

Ooh, la, la!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, if I can interrupt my relaxation to get around to it.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Bilbo's Updated Bucket List

You may recall the concept of the bucket list - the things you intend to do before you die (or kick the bucket, as the idiomatic expression says). It was the subject of a 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, and I wrote a post proposing my own bucket list back in 2008, which you can read here in case you missed it.

That was then, and this is now. Last week Zandria posted "Zan's Life List," her somewhat more upbeat and positive version of a bucket list - 42 things she wants to do or experience in life (as she puts it, things that "...revolve around learning something I don’t already know, traveling somewhere I haven’t been, or bettering myself physically.") I met Zandria last year at a blogger's get-together organized by Zipcode, and believe that she will do a great job of attacking that list, being young and energetic (she's already knocked one item off the list). She writes that her list "seems abysmally low (in number)," but in comparing Zandria's list of 42 to my own bucket list of five - count 'em - five, I think she's not only witty and attractive, but a grand master (mistress?) of the ability to slam-dunk lazy geezers in training.

So Zandria has inspired me to take a look at my own bucket list and revise it somewhat. Here was my original list:

1. Dance at the weddings of all my grandchildren.

2. Hold my first (at least!) great-grandchild and tell him (or her) stories.

3. Visit Vienna (Austria, not Virginia) and St Petersburg (Russia, not Florida).

4. Go on a really long cruise with Agnes...around northern Europe and the Mediterranean, or through the South Pacific.

5. Dance a waltz with Edyta Sliwinska.

To those five items, I'm adding a few new ones:

6. Get my PhD. I've wanted to do this for a long time, but have been put off by two things: the daunting investment of time and money required, and the gentle scolding I got from a George Mason University professor with whom I interviewed, who told me I needed to do a much better job of more narrowly defining what I wanted to write my dissertation about before he could endorse my application.

7. Publish at least one book. I have a contest of sorts going on with John ... we each want to write a book, and we both are finding it difficult to get started. I foolishly challenged him to a competition in which the first one of us published would be treated to ice cream by the loser. I work better under pressure. This is similar to Zandria's #41: Be published somewhere other than online. I'm not getting into a bet with her, though, because she's younger and more energetic.

8. Publish at least one article (in a newspaper or magazine). I've had letters to the editor (of newspapers) published, but that's not the same thing.

That's just a meager three new items for my list, for a total of eight - only one of which (#8) ought to be reasonably simple to do. Now to see whether I can actually get any of them done.

Wish me luck. Wish Zandria luck, too.

Have a good day. More thoughts later.


P.S. - Agnes and I are headed off on vacation later this morning. I hope to be able to keep the blog up to date while we're on the road, but if posts come later than usual, or if I miss a day or two, hang in there. I'll be back.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Birthday Parties

A birthday party for a three-year old child, attended by about 20 other children and their minders, is quite an adventure - lots of noise and frantic activity. Sort of like watching Congress in session, except that more gets accomplished.

Yesterday was granddaughter Leya's third birthday party, held at a local bouncing party emporium filled with inflatable slides, bouncing cages, and all sorts of other opportunities for small children to work off excess energy, followed by pizza and cake in the party room. We didn't have things like this when I was growing up. We played party games like "Pin the Tail on the Stegosaurus" and "Rock, Rock, Rock" (we didn't have paper and scissors until I was in high school).

Here are a few pictures of the fun ...

It's good to be the Queen!

It's a long way down...

But it's fun when you get there...

Even Opa thinks so ...

What happens when 75 parents try to take a group picture and everyone says "Look at the camera!" at once ...

The cake was really good ...

But, of course, not everybody likes cake or pizza ...

Balloons for everybody!

It's nice that Leya has so many friends and so many opportunities to have fun. She'll grow up to be a jaded adult like her Opa all too soon ... for now, though, life is good. As it should be when you're three.

Have a good day. Try an inflatable slide sometime, it's fun!

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

A court in Saudi Arabia is considering how to permanently paralyze a man accused and convicted of paralyzing another individual; a woman in South Carolina murdered her two little sons and put them into a car she sank in a lake because "she was fed up with criticism from her mother;" the White House has forcefully denied persistent rumors that President Obama is actually a Muslim; singer Madonna has been sued by a clothing manufacturer over use of the name "Material Girl" on a line clothing Madonna sells; and Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to resume peace talks...which will surely be as profitable as all the other Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Yep, no doubt about it - it's time for Cartoon Saturday to lend a little humor to an otherwise ludicrous world.

It's important nowadays for everyone to be able to prove just how much of a "real" American he is, in ways large and small...

Being a suicide bomber is stupid enough...but wouldn't it be nice if they really were this stupid? ...

The Secretary of Defense has proposed a wide range of budget cuts and realignments in order to free up funds to fight the nation's two wars and purchase new weapons. The jury is still out on whether or not he'll succeed ...

You've gotta love cartoons that are both subtle and obvious ...

Most religions have the concept of a place of eternal punishment. We call it Hell in English. The concept of hell has evolved over time ...

Of course, depending on your job, you may believe you're in Hell already ...

It looks like it's going to be a nice weekend...especially as we'll be celebrating our granddaughter Leya's third birthday. She's going to have a "pump it up party" at a local bouncing playground. My joints hurt already. Check back tomorrow to see if I survived.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 20, 2010

The Slow Death of the Home Library

You're probably all tired by now of hearing me talk about books and reading and related topics. Too bad. It's my blog. Deal with it.

But seriously, folks...

There was an interesting, if dispiriting article by Phillip Kennicott in last Sunday's Washington Post: the print title was "The Home Library Fades Away; Part of the Framework of Our Lives;" and you can read it online here - As Electronic Readers Gain Popularity, What Happens to the Personal Library? It's a good question.

In the first paragraph of the article, Mr Kennicott writes of visiting a "trophy home" where he got away from boring conversations by "...escap(ing) to a room that was called the library, not because anyone ever read there but because it was quiet and filled with books." He goes on to note that this particular library was less for reading than for display - look how many books I have, I must be really well-read.

The key observation here is the part about the library being quiet and filled with books. Many of those books may not ever be read, or be just for show, but a library is a less a storage place for books we may never read (or read more than once) than it is a peaceful refuge from the bustle of the day. Most houses don't have a library any more, just as the deceitfully-named great room has replaced the parlor or sitting room of earlier times. I think that's sad.

Agnes and I don't have a library...instead, we just have more books than we know what to do with. We've run out of shelf space, and have books piled on the floor, boxed in the garage, and teetering in piles on the filing chair in the kitchen. If you pick up a book anywhere in the house, you'll find at least one more under it, behind it, beside it, or being propped up by it. No matter how many books we grudgingly donate to the library, give to charity, or try to sell at used book stores, there are always more there to take their place. I think they breed in the dark.

But what's really driving the stake through the heart of the traditional home library is digital publishing and the rise of the e-Reader, the Nook, the Kindle, and the iPad. When you can store hundreds, if not thousands of digital books on a device smaller than a single traditional paperback, who needs a separate room to store dead-tree books?

A few years back I wrote about a wonderful little book I'd read titled The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel...an homage to the library in all its incarnations and uses (as workshop, island, and identity, among other chapters). Identity is one of the more interesting aspects of the library. As I've written before (and noted in a post a few weeks back about reading people through their choice of books), the things we choose to read tell other people a good deal about us...clues and cues that are missed when we see a digital reader with a blank or unviewable screen instead of a book with a cover. The personal library helps to define our identity, to give clues to who we are, what we value, and the things and topics we enjoy.

I guess I'm just a traditionalist, and I'll live out my allotted timespan on this earth surrounded by shelves and piles of books, curled up in my own poor version of a home library that's my personal island of peace and serenity in a sea of electronic distractions.

Enjoy your digital reader. When the power goes out - again - I'll still be reading by warm and flickering candlelight.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Helping You Understand Your Military

Well, with apologies to Amanda, Jean-Luc, Craziequeen, and others for whom it's not really your military...

The Secretary of Defense, Mr Gates, has announced plans to radically restructure the defense budget in order to free up money for higher-priority tasks. His recommendations include the elimination of a major military command (Joint Forces Command, or JFCOM...referred to jocularly as "jiffy-com"), cutting the number of contractors supporting defense efforts by 10% per year for three years, and eliminating about 50 general and flag officer positions.

General officers (in the Army, Air Force, and Marines) and admirals (in the Navy and Coast Guard) are often referred to as "flag officers" because they have their own flags. They can be pretty expensive, not just because of their salaries, but because of all the staff and support baggage to which they are entitled. This article from Slate.com discusses what a general costs, and is generally pretty accurate, except that all but the very most senior flag officers actually do fly commercial (coach) when they travel.

But that's neither here nor there. How do you identify a General? How do you distinguish her from any other officer? The Department of Defense offers this handy chart to help you identify military ranks, but what's the real story behind our insignia of rank? As always, Bilbo is here to tell you the backstory...

When America was a new country and just forming an army, George Washington recognized a need to distinguish the various levels of officers so that soldiers could recognize their leaders. He did what Americans always do when faced with a problem ... he chartered a committee to come up with recommendations on the subject. The committee worked hard for many months, then finally reported back to Washington with these suggestions:

The lowest officer grade, the Second Lieutenant, should be identified by a single bar of gold, because gold is a soft, malleable metal - a good choice to represent the new junior officer who is being shaped and molded as a leader.

The next grade, the First Lieutenant, would wear a single bar of silver. Silver being a somewhat harder, if equally lustrous metal, it would indicate that the officer was a bit more firm and set in his development.

The Captain, the next level of rank, rated two bars of silver, on the theory that a Captain was worth two First Lieutenants.

The committee couldn't decide on the insignia for the "field grade" officers - Majors and Lieutenant Colonels - so they deferred those recommendations for later.

For the Colonel, the first of the very senior ranks, the committee recommended the majestic eagle, spreading its wings as it lorded over its domain. Washington agreed.

This brought them to the question of the Generals, and the insignia for those was simple: because Generals operated at remote and exaulted levels, far above ordinary mortals, they would be represented by one to four silver stars, with the number of stars reflecting the degree to which the particular General was removed from reality. Washington loved it.

But the question of insignia for Majors and Lieutenant Colonels still remained, and Washington sent the committee back to work for more study and deliberation. After a few more months, the committee reported back that they had finally found their answer in a study of ancient Greek statuary. They recommended that Majors and Lieutenant Colonels be represented by oak leaves - gold for Majors and silver for Lieutenant Colonels - because, as art historians had reminded them, the ancient Greeks always covered their pricks with leaves.

And there you have it. Another insight into history from your favorite purveyor of useless, if interesting knowledge.

Have a good day. Salute someone today. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

You may have heard about the famous "Mindset List" published each year at this time by Wisconsin's Beloit College. The original idea of the mindset list, first published in 1998, was to provide the faculty and staff of the college with a series of reference points to help them understand the life-shaping experiences of the incoming freshman class. Since then, it has become a sort of cultural icon on its own, analyzed and discussed across the country.

Here are a few interesting data points from the Mindset List for the Class of 2014, with my added commentary. You can read the entire list here.

1. There has always been only one Germany. Many young people today have no idea when World War II was fought, and who won. When I lived in Berlin, there was a wall around it, and people risked their lives to get over that wall into the West.

2. They have never heard anyone actually "ring it up" on a cash register. I wrote about this in a post one time...you never hear any more the musical ka-ching of the little flags with the price in dollars and cents popping up as the drawer opened.

3. Text messaging is their email. E-mail and the telephone pretty much replaced handwritten letters (see #5 below), and now tweets are replacing e-mail. How much shorter can we get?

4. Carbon copies are oddities found in their grandparents' attics. So are those wonderful-smelling mimeographs we used to get in grade school (and even high school...and college).

5. They have rarely mailed anything using a stamp. Is it any wonder that the Postal Service is going broke? And - by the way - what does this foretell for the future of stamp collecting as a hobby?

6. Bad behavior has always been getting captured on amateur videos. And that bad behavior is often posted - out of context - on the Internet, where it never, ever goes away ... as many unfortunate job-seekers have learned to their sorrow.

7. Television stations have never concluded the broadcast day with the national anthem. Either because the "broadcast day" is 24 hours long, or because the station management doesn't want to offend viewers who are in the country illegally.

8. The U.S. has always been studying global warming to confirm its existence. Duh.

The Beloit College Mindset List. I'm interested to hear your comments on any of the items on the list...post them in the comments.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Two Gripes for a Sweltering Tuesday

How many times per year do you get a card or letter in the mail that opens with effusive greetings and thanks for your business, then continues something like this:

"...we want to clearly inform you of the $5.00 increase per month;" or,

"Due to our increased operating costs, we are raising your monthly rate to $___;" or simply,

"Your monthly rate will increase to $____, effective with your next statement."

Pretty often, eh? Yes, it seems that the easiest way for businesses to keep up revenue in a poor economy is to fall back on the old "our costs have increased, so we're passing them on to you" dodge. The only problem with that approach is that you, Dear Reader, are at the bottom of the economic food chain. Chances are, you can't walk into your boss's office and tell her that, "Due to my increased operating and sustainment costs, I am raising my salary requirement by 10%, effective the first of the coming month."

That would go over like a tank top in a madrassa, wouldn't it?

It seems like everybody is able to raise the prices they charge you with impunity when their costs go up, but who worries about your costs going up?

Think about that when you go to the polls in November, and remember who Bilbo is endorsing:

By the way, Kathy, I forgot to answer your question about this sign ... yes, it is available as a bumper sticker from CafePress.com - you can find this one and several other variations here.

New topic ... the word penultimate. Chances are good that you don't use this word very often, and if you do, chances are that you don't use it correctly. No, it doesn't mean "high-security prison" ... it actually means "next to last," but in the last few weeks I've seen it used three times in government documents by authors who seem to think it means "ultimate." For a linguist, this is the equivalent of fingernails drawn across a chalkboard.

That's all. My operating and sustainment costs are going up, and I have to go to work so that I can pay them.

Life is good. Expensive, but good.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 16, 2010

A's to Your Q's

We seem to have pretty much gotten over the plague of memes that the blogosphere went through a while back...you know, when one person writes on a particular topic, then tags a number of other bloggers by name to write on the same topic. I hated memes...not because the topics weren't worthy of a post (some were), but because I didn't like the idea of being obligated to write on a specific issue. All that said, I don't mind stealing borrowing a topic from another blogger. Like Jay.

Last week, Jay answered questions sent to him by his army of faithful readers, and I figured I might as well try the same thing. I announced last Friday that I would answer your questions sent to me as e-mails or as comments posted to the blog, today, I answer the three - count 'em - three questions posed by three alert readers.

1. From Gotfam: "What is the best lesson you taught your children?" This is a really tough question, because I don't know if I've taught it to them yet. In many ways, I feel that I'm a much better and more successful grandfather than father, and I can look back and see the opportunities I missed, the mistakes I made, and the things I should have done differently over the years. If the question were rephrased as "What lesson would you most like to teach your children and grandchildren?", I might answer like this: "Be nice to everyone, but let them earn your trust." Other important lessons: "Never stop learning," and "Remember that you have two ears and one mouth so that you can listen twice as much as you speak."

2. From KathyA: "Why do you work at the Pentagon? (Not what you do, but why you've chosen to work there)." I work at the Pentagon for the same reason Willie Sutton supposedly said he robbed banks - because that's where the money is. When I retired from the Air Force in 1996, I was working on the Air Force headquarters staff at the Pentagon, and I was burned out from ridiculously short deadlines (we call them suspenses) and twelve-hour-plus days, and I swore a mighty oath that I'd never set foot in the five-sided squirrel cage again once I left for the last time. Well, that lasted until I needed to find a job, and learned that what 23 years of military service had prepared me for was - surprise! - a staff job in the Pentagon. And that's how it is that I have been working in the Pentagon, both as a military officer and a civilian contractor, since 1992 (except for five months between retirement and rehiring while I was looking for a job and working part-time (unpaid) for a small company that taught effective writing to business people).

3. From Allenwoodhaven: "Where do you find your comics for Cartoon Saturday? What are your primary sources and where else do you find them?" I've been collecting cartoons since I was in high school. Many of the oldest ones have, sadly, been lost in multiple moves, but I have a large folder stuffed with cartoons cut out of newspapers and magazines over the years, or sent to me by my Mother and my other friends. I have thousands of cartoons in my collection, most of them with captions in either English or German, although I have lots of Middle Eastern editorial cartoons that I have culled from the MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) website. Whenever possible I download digital files of good cartoons from the Internet, usually from the cartoonist's website or from links at various magazines and newspapers. I'm always on the lookout for good cartoons, and as I download new ones and work my way through scanning and saving the ones I have as paper copies, I save them into either my general new cartoons file, or into one of the specialized cartoons files (I have separate files for cartoons about lawyers, clowns, death, Halloween, crash-test dummies, and several other topics). Some of my favorite cartoonists are Wiley (Non Sequitur), Vic Lee (Pardon My Planet), and Hillary Price (Rhymes with Orange). My favorite editorial cartoonist is Pat Oliphant.

Any other questions?

Have a good day. Gotta run to that job at the Pentagon. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Keeping America Safe, and Building it to Scale

National Security is a very important topic, with lots of dollars and much passion attached to it. The dollars are, of course, those our government throws by the pallet-load at the problem, as if we could buy our way out of it; the passion is usually provided by those seeking the dollars, who believe with all the righteous fury of a backwoods Saudi imam that they have absolutely the right answer and everybody else is not only wrong, but is destined to suffer the torments of the damned for all eternity. Faux "News" commentators and Republican members of Congress, for example.

But it doesn't have to be that expensive and engender that much passion.

My favorite part of the Washington Post arrives every Saturday morning in the form of "The Style Invitational," a humorous contest in which readers are asked to be funny and original in response to the topic of the week. Yesterday's Style Invitational asked readers to suggest new approaches - not necessarily practical or sensible, just new - to making America more secure. I had to share my favorites with you (I wish I could claim that at least one of these was my own original thought but, alas, they are all the brilliant thoughts of others smarter and more original than I):

The winner (and my personal favorite): "Assign GOP senators as flight marshals. They won't let ANYTHING happen;"

The first runner up: "Shut down the Taliban's heroin business by replacing Franklin's face with Muhammad's on the $100 bill;"

"Place a 'top cap' tightly over Washington, and pump mud down into it until that stuff stops coming out;"

"Secure all nuclear material in those plastic clamshells;"

"To deter attacks by submarine, fill the Gulf of Mexico with some kind of black sticky stuff that will mess up periscopes;"

"Open some bombing ranges, like shooting ranges, so that suicide bombers can take live practice runs;"

"Recruit executives from AIG and Lehman Brothers to infiltrate terror groups and manage their investments;" and,

"Protect the nation from natural disasters by tasking the Department of Homeland Security to go down to Brazil, find that damn butterfly, and kill it before it can flap its wings again."

Any other ideas, anyone?

On other fronts, Agnes and I went down to The National Building Museum yesterday to see the "Lego Architecture: Towering Ambition" exhibition, which was utterly awesome - it features 15 large-scale models of famous buildings, constructed entirely of Lego bricks. One of the most amazing of the structures was a 17.5 foot model of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, built of 450,300 individual Lego bricks. Here it is (sorry for the quality of the picture):

There was also a large play area for children with lots of working space and hundreds of thousands of Lego bricks of all shapes and colors for the amusement of young would-be architects. Of course, children come in all sizes and age ranges ...

I had a nice conversation with a woman whose husband was busy building his own creation; we compared notes and wondered how long it would take us to get our respective middle-aged children out of the museum...

After that, we wandered around Chinatown and enjoyed a nice lunch at the all-you-can-eat Mongolian Barbecue at Tony Cheng's Restaurant before heading home for a relaxing afternoon and evening of catching up on chores.

Of course, tomorrow means going back to work, but at least it's been a good weekend so far! Hope yours was, too.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cartoon Saturday

Former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska was killed in a plane crash in ... Alaska; President Obama wisely endorsed my opinion of the Ground Zero mosque controversy, saying that Muslims have "...the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances." He did not, however express an opinion on whether this is a sensitive or smart thing to do; a suspect has been arrested in a series of 18 brutal hammer and knife attacks across the country in which five people died; Defense Secretary Robert Gates is trying to take a knife to the defense budget, proposing to eliminate a major command, up to 50 senior officer and civilian positions, and 30% of defense contractor positions (including, perhaps, one occupied by your favorite blogger) over three years; and scientists have discovered a new species of monkey in the Amazon jungles...just in time to note that it is nearly extinct.

Once again, Cartoon Saturday rides to the rescue to save you from the horror of onrushing reality.

Mike and I earlier this week discussed which of us would post this cartoon, and he graciously allowed me to go first. I think he has an image of me as the helmet on the end of the broomstick, drawing fire over the lip of the trench ...

The Republicans have finally stopped denouncing the President's health care legislation long enough to unveil their own combined proposal for universal health care and aid to farmers...

Nowadays, people are trying all sorts of tricks to save money, including going all-out for generic products over name brands ...

This is one of those look-twice-then-laugh cartoons...pretty obvious once you think about it, but is sort of sneaks up on you ...

Nothing like a little aggressive marketing ...

Sometimes I think editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant is a bit out in left field, but sometimes he really nails an issue. This one is, in my opinion, a classic ...

I've received three questions for my proposed Q&A post so far...if you have a question for Bilbo on any topic not dealing with President Obama's birth certificate, integral calculus, or the possible chemistry of alternative life forms, you can still send it to bilbo_the_blogger(at)yahoo(dot)com or append it as a comment to today's post. On Monday, your favorite curmudgeon will A whatever Qs have been received.

In the meantime, enjoy your weekend. Life is waiting around the corner to mug you on Monday, so you may as well enjoy Saturday and Sunday.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 13, 2010

And Another Week Comes to An End...

It's Friday. Finally. Actually, as Mike has already reminded us, it's Friday the 13th. Here is a picture of how this week has been:

As my Father might say, if this week would have been a fish, I'd have thrown it back after catching it. I need a vacation, or I need to retire to some nice, remote, pastoral town and get a job sewing strings on tea bags or something. But I'll just settle for going dancing tonight, seeing the Lego exhibition at the National Building Museum tomorrow, and getting my grandchildren fix on Sunday.

Then it'll be Monday again, and we'll start the whole professional kabuki dance one more time.

Yes, I'm feeling tired and cranky this morning, a condition not eased by the rain pouring down outside. Blergh, as Andrea would say.

So this morning, I've got nothing. I'm going to just skip today and start planning for Cartoon Saturday. I'm sure you'll understand. You can visit one of the other blogs for now, and come back tomorrow, when I'll be in a better mood.

In the meantime, I'm thinking about doing a one-time Q&A post like Jay has done. If you have a question you'd like to ask your favorite curmudgeon, ask it as a comment on this post or e-mail it to me - bilbo_the_blogger(at)yahoo(dot)com. If I get enough interesting, non-pornographic questions, I'll answer them in this space next week. If I don't, well, I guess I'll just write about something else.

For now, enjoy your Friday. More thoughts tomorrow, when Cartoon Saturday arrives to usher in the weekend.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Dying Art of Being Nice

By now you've surely heard of the flight attendant who finally snapped. Details of the story vary, but apparently it went something like this: after being mistreated by a passenger, flight attendant Steven Slater cursed the passenger out over the intercom, took a beer from the galley, opened the cabin door, deployed the escape slide, slid to the ground, and went home, where he was later arrested on a variety of charges. He's now out on bail, and a hero.

So, did he do the right thing?

Lizzie Post, a spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, suggested that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to set a code of conduct for passengers to match the informal Passengers' Bill of Rights grudgingly and loosely agreed to by the airlines. She also noted that...

"there should have been a system in place that was clear to passengers that when they buy a ticket they must abide by certain rules. This binding code should be focused on safety, and safety alone. Behavior issues -- children kicking the seat in front of them, say, and other annoyances are not on the same magnitude: they are etiquette problems, to be dealt with, but not matters for the F.A.A."

Writing yesterday in the New York Times, commentator Benet Wilson agreed that airline passenger behavior has grown worse recently. She blamed it in part on a reaction to the many inconveniences and indignities that air passengers face, but said that...

"...the solution isn't to impose a code of passenger behavior. Creation and enforcement of more rules would only create a whole new set of problems for both passengers and flight attendants. Airlines should work with their flight attendants to come up with common sense guidelines that passengers can live with but will also be enforced."

AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!! She said common sense! Is she crazy?

Well, no. Not really.

The fundamental problem is one of a lack of good manners and the diminishing level of simple politeness in our interpersonal relations. Instead of treating each other with kindness and goodwill, many people insist on a level of perceived respect that they are unwilling to show to others. While it's true that the airlines have driven passengers to distraction with swarms of new fees and charges, smaller seats, unexplained delays, and other indignities large and small, passengers haven't reacted with much patience and goodwill, either.

I'm no saint, of course. I can be just as nasty as the next guy (well, unless the next guy is Kim Jong Il), but I like to think that it takes a fair amount of effort on the other person's part to get me to be that way. I've always believed, like my mother used to say, that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar...and she and my father constantly impressed on us the importance of politeness and good manners.

Today, sadly, politeness is often viewed as weakness to be exploited rather than a noble quality to be appreciated. Respect is demanded, but not given in return. We're reduced to suggesting - as Lizzie Post did - that government impose rules to force us to behave. At one time, parents did that.

Our favorite local restaurant has a prominently-displayed sign that reads, "Be nice or get out."

Which, after all, isn't such a bad policy.

Have a good day. Be nice. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010


It's interesting to look at how people choose their pets. Many years ago at home we had a canary (it's a long story, and Green Canary knows the whole thing). When I first got together with Agnes I had to learn to cope with her pet cockatiel that she allowed to fly around the apartment, and which would stand on the paper and peck at the pen as I wrote letters. In our neighborhood we have lots of yippy nuisance dogs that get hysterical and pee themselves at the drop of a hat, and we have - of course - Nessa, our ever-popular guest poster. Nessa is what I think of as a real dog ... big and loud enough to be intimidating and provide security, but friendly enough that I don't have to worry she'll eat the neighbors' children. Or their annoying yippy nuisance dogs.

What I really don't understand, though, is the idea of inanimate or robotic pets. Remember the Pet Rock craze? Or the little Japanese toy (I don't remember the name any more) that you had to feed and bathe and care for or it would "die?" And why would you want a robotic dog, for pete's sake? After all, it might actually be a sinister invader from another world, replacing your flesh-and-blood Fido with an electronic version as part of an insidious plan for taking over the earth. How could you tell if your dog had been replaced by a robotic animal? Here are fifteen potential clues...

15. He posts naked pictures of the cat on his Buttbook page.

14. When you command, "Fetch!", he replies, "I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave."

13. He refuses to pee on Republicans out of professional courtesy.

12. His playful "mailman's here!" yap has been replaced by a maniacal, paw-flapping "Warning, Bilbo, Warning!"

11. Shorts out when he licks himself.

10. After he's mangled in a terrible explosion, his one-legged torso still pursues the mailman.

9. He routinely beats you at chess.

8. When you fake throwing a ball for him to fetch, you hear, "Projectile Analysis Module reports error Division By Zero -- Aborting!"

7. He not only chases cars, he catches them, drags them back, and buries them in the front yard.

6. He pages you when little Timmy falls down the old well.

5. He eats documents left lying around the house, presses his tail into the phone jack, and faxes them to China.

4. Three words: "Yo quiero Pennzoil."

3. He leaves tell-tale oil stains when he drags his butt across the carpet.

2. He no longer wants to hump your leg, but your vacuum cleaner is pregnant.

1. His run-in with the invisible fence makes for a fabulous Fourth of July spectacle.

eDogs...pet or menace? Think about it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Guest Post

Hi! It's me, Nessa, back again. Bilbo decided to let me ghost-write his blog today since I get more and better comments than he does. I'm not surprised...he can be pretty long-winded when he gets up on his soapbox and grouses about stuff. We dogs just get right to the point.

You probably didn't know we dogs can be intellectual, did you? Well, we can. Here's some poetry I wrote in the Japanese haiku style. I'll bet Bilbo can't do that...

I love my master;
Thus I perfume myself with
This long-rotten squirrel.

I lie belly-up
In the sunshine, happier than
You ever will be.

Today I sniffed
Many dog butts--I celebrate
By kissing your face.

I sound the alarm!
Paperboy--come to kill us all--
Look! Look! Look! Look! Look!

I lift my leg and
Whiz on each bush. Hello, Spot-
Sniff this and weep.

How do I love thee?
The ways are numberless as
My hairs on the rug.

My human is home!
I am so ecstatic I
Have made a puddle.

Sleeping here, chin on
Your foot - no greater bliss. Well,
Maybe catching cats.

Look in my eyes and
Deny it. No human could
Love you as much I do.

The cat is not all
Bad--she fills the litter box
With Tootsie Rolls.

My owners' mood is
Romantic--I lie near their
Feet. I fart a big one.

I am your best friend,
Now, always, and especially
When you are eating.

Pretty good, huh? And just as a bonus, here's a poem I found in another place. Even though some human wrote it, I surely do agree with him:

My grandpa notes the world's worn cogs
And says we're going to the dogs.
His grandpa in his house of logs
Said things were going to the dogs.
His grandpa in the Flemish bogs
Said things were going to the dogs.
His grandpa in his hairy togs
Said things were going to the dogs.
But this is what I wish to state.
The dogs have had a long, long wait.

It's a good thing we dogs are patient, isn't it?

Well, I've got to get going...there are squirrels to be chased and garbage men and paper boys to defend the house against. And I have to practice my sorrowful look so that Bilbo and Agnes will give me treats.

See you later. Bilbo will be back tomorrow, if he can get his thoughts together.



Monday, August 09, 2010

Love in the Age of Caller ID

If you're like me, you have learned to use caller ID to screen your calls. At home, we never answer any call that's from "unknown caller," "not available," "out of area," or a name and number we don't recognize. At work, I'm either able to anticipate the topic of the call or prepare myself for a wire-brushing, based on the identity of the caller. Caller ID has helped to make the telephone more useful, because it lets us decide whether to accept the interruption of the call. This is important, especially as we get ready for the enormous number of useless and inane robo calls coming in preparation for the November elections.

How we use (or don't use) the telephone was the subject of a fascinating article in yesterday's Washington Post: For Millenials, Love Is Never Asking Them to Call You Back" (online title, "Texting Generation Doesn't Share Boomers' Taste for Talk").

Author Ian Shapira sets up his article this way:

A generation of e-mailing, followed by an explosion in texting, has pushed the telephone conversation into serious decline, creating new tensions between baby boomers and millennials -- those in their teens, 20s and early 30s ... Young people say they avoid voice calls because the immediacy of a phone call strips them of the control that they have over the arguably less-intimate pleasures of texting, e-mailing, Facebooking or tweeting. They even complain that phone calls are by their nature impolite, more of an interruption than the blip of an arriving text.

All other things being equal, I would rather write and receive letters than make or receive an average phone call. It isn't that I don't enjoy talking with my family and friends, but that a phone call usually seems to arrive when I'm not expecting it, not prepared for it, and often can't think of what to say on the spur of the moment. When I write letters, I spend time thinking about what I want to say and how I want to say it, and I can always throw away a partially-written letter and start over if it doesn't sound right. You can't unsay the things you've already said in a telephone conversation, much as you'd sometimes want to.

Texting and, to a lesser extent, e-mail, are the new paradigm for communications. We also communicate via status reports on Facebook or 140-character tweets - impersonal to be sure, but allowing us more control over the information disseminate and the answer we provide. I thought it was fascinating when I attended a bloggers' happy hour last year and discovered that seven of the eight of us around the table had thumbs flying over the keyboards of BlackBerries, sending text messages in all directions...ignoring for that time the flesh-and-blood people sitting at the table. I don't recall anyone either sending or receiving a phone call during that time.

So, what does it all mean? Is it a sign of our growing impersonality and unwillingness to deal directly with each other? Perhaps. But it's also a sign of the evolution of communications that began with the introduction of the telephone. The decline of written correspondence (and the death agonies of the postal service) began with the ability to make immediate contact via telephone. It took less time to have a phone call than to write a good letter, and that time was available to do other things. But the telephone, in turn, eventually showed its own limitations...in the classic play and film Inherit the Wind (a fictional retelling of the Scopes Trial), attorney Henry Drummond says, "Sometimes I think there's a man who sits behind a counter and says, 'All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.'"

Privacy and the charm of distance - pretty good arguments in favor of both traditional ink-on-paper letters and, perversely enough, texts and tweets...all of which allow us to pre-screen the information we provide and the answer we choose to return.

All that having been said, I doubt that any of us will cut the telephone cord completely. A call in honor of a birthday or Fathers' Day or Mothers' Day or some other such important event is still more desirable than an e-mail or a text message. But we'll continue to slowly evolve the way we communicate with each other...

...and I'll bet we'll eventually come full circle and start writing letters again.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - My son Matt put me on to the wonderful website Letters of Note yesterday...via Facebook. QED.


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Vacation Season

We're now well into August, which for some reason is the traditional vacation season. I've always thought August was just too hot for relaxing vacationing, but this year has been so hot that I guess it doesn't make a difference.

When we lived in Germany years ago, I had an idea for the perfect crime: since it was well-known that everyone in France goes on vacation during August (I think it's part of the Napoleonic Code), I thought I'd assemble a large crew of accomplices and rent a huge fleet of semis. We'd drive into France around August 3rd, loot the entire country, drive back out on, say, the 20th, and have the rest of the month to fence everything before all the French got home and figured out what had happened.

Voila! as they say in the land of snooty waiters.

I never got around to pulling off that perfect crime, so if you'd like to take a stab at it, go ahead. I'd settle for a small cut of the swag as a reward for giving you the idea.

But anyhow, speaking of vacations...

I enjoy traveling and seeing new things. Or old things, if you're traveling in places like Europe where old stuff is part of the charm. I prefer to go on my own for maximum non-scheduled wandering potential, but occasionally it's not a bad thing to have a tour guide...as long as you can understand their language.

Travel agencies and tour guides have a language all their own, as do real estate agents, used car salesmen, and politicians, and it pays to understand that language so that you know what you're really seeing, buying, or (in the case of the politicians) preparing to take just south of the lumbar region.

Here, for your enlightenment, is a handy guide to understanding common expressions used by travel agents and tour guides:

Old-world charm = No bath.

Tropical = Rainy.

Majestic Setting = A long way from town.

Options Galore = Nothing is included in the package you paid for.

Secluded Hideaway = You'll never find it on a map, and your GPS will give you an electronic shrug.

Pre-registered Rooms = Someone is already in yours.

Explore on Your Own = Pay for it yourself (see options galore).

Knowledgeable Hosts = The guides have read the same tourist material you have.

No Extra Fees = No extras.

Nominal Fee = Outrageous charge.

Standard = Sub-standard.

Deluxe or Luxury = Standard.

Superior = One free shower cap.

All the Amenities = Two free shower caps.

Plush = Top and bottom sheets.

Gentle Breezes = Occasional gale-force winds.

Light and Airy = No air conditioning.

Picturesque = Theme park nearby.

Open Bar = Free ice cubes (two per person).

Don't thank me ... it's all part of my ongoing efforts to help you cope with a world gone goofy.

Have a good day. Enjoy your vacation.

More thoughts tomorrow.