Monday, November 30, 2009

The Advantages of Celebrity

Unless you've been living in a cave in Bulgaria, you have by now heard of the automobile accident last Friday in which superstar golfer Tiger Woods was injured. Luckily, no one else was injured in the mishap, although his car was badly damaged. You can read the latest update on CNN here.

Now, here's what I don't understand about this whole thing, encapsulated in this passage from the article linked above:

State troopers have asked to question him three times about the wreck, but they have yet to be successful, with Woods canceling a third scheduled interview Sunday, Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Sgt. Kim Montes told CNN.

If a Real Person like you or I had wrecked his car at 2:35 AM by hitting a fire hydrant and a tree, do you think we could have repeatedly refused to meet with police investigating the accident? No ... we'd be in jail, not sitting at home making "woe-is-me" videos for TV with our model wives, cute children and dogs.

The CNN article notes that Florida law required Woods to show his license, registration and proof of insurance to police, but did not obligate him to give a statement on the crash. That's as may be, but - in my humblest of opinions - celebrity brings with it certain responsibilities, like that of setting a good example. When all the young people who admire Tiger Woods watch him thumb his nose at the police, what lesson do they learn?

Justice is supposed to be blind, if you're rich or famous, its eyesight is much better able to overlook your actions. I've admired Tiger Woods and what he has achieved, but he's just squandered all the respect I had for him. He's proven himself to be nothing more than another useless, spoiled celebrity unwilling to face the consequences of his actions.

I feel sorrier for his damaged Cadillac SUV than I do for him.

Have a good day. Do the right thing. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Degree of Displacement

After many years of living with our yucky, threadbare carpets, we have finally decided to replace our upstairs carpeting with hardwood floors. This is, of course, a non-trivial exercise both economically (the stuff ain't cheap) and in terms of what we might call Degree of Displacement.

The economic part turned out pretty well. Agnes is a marvelous negotiator, and managed to get us a good price on the maple flooring she wanted, including installation and removal of the old carpeting and the cheap parquet flooring underneath, installed by yet another previous owner. Agnes is good at that stuff. I think if the government would let her negotiate with the Iranians, they'd not only pay us to come in and dismantle their "peaceful" nuclear facilities, but to replace them with synagogues.

The Degree of Displacement is another matter. This is a term I have coined to address the amount of flailing agony involved in finding places for all the stuff on and in all the shelves and drawers and cabinets in the affected rooms. You see, the flooring installers will move the furniture out of the way and replace it, but it has to be empty. This means finding a place for all the displaced stuff until the installation is done and the furniture moved back into place.

Until you have had to consider the Degree of Displacement, you never quite realize how much stuff you have. One of the advantages of a long military career was that we had to move every few years, which meant periodically getting rid of enough stuff to meet our weight allowance for each move. Now that we've been in one place for 19 years without the pressure of a pending move, however, we have accumulated a great deal of stuff.

Here are a few observations made over the last few days as we prepare for the arrival tomorrow morning of the installers:

1. Books are heavy.

2. Lots of books are extremely heavy.

3. All the cooking magazines we've been saving because each one had one good recipe in it have, in the aggregate, enough mass to affect planetary rotation.

4. If you dig far enough back in most drawers, you will find things that haven't seen daylight since the Coolidge administration.

5. There is not enough room on the same floor to store all the displaced stuff, which means that most of it must be carried downstairs.

6. Everything carried downstairs will eventually have to be brought upstairs.

7. Ben-Gay ointment does not come in large enough containers.

8. Have I mentioned how heavy books are?

Once the floors are done and everything is back in its place, the house will look wonderful, so we're keeping our eyes on the prize and trying to stay focused on the eventual outcome rather than the immediate aches, pains, and displacement. It's hard, though. One good thing is that I have managed to go through my library and select about 56 cubic yards of books that I can either donate to the library or try to sell through the local used book shops. Agnes hasn't gotten quite that far yet ... every time I suggest she prune her book collection, she gives me a look that would curdle milk and crack reinforced concrete ... but I'm still hopeful.

Stay tuned for the outcome of this major project. We're hoping to have the floors done and everything put back by about mid-week, when the next major project begins: putting up the Christmas tree and related decorations.

I can hardly wait.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

Superstar golfer Tiger Woods has been injured in a traffic accident; two people penetrated multiple layers of security to crash the state dinner thrown by President Obama for visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; Iranian authorities have confiscated the Nobel Peace Prize given to human rights activist Shirin Ebadi in 2003; a train derailment on the high-speed Moscow to St Petersburg line in Russia has killed 265 people and left dozens more injured; and police in Florida are searching for a man who murdered four of his relatives and injured two others.

Don't worry, Cartoon Saturday is perfectly safe for the entire family.

Agnes and I really enjoy cruise vacations and we also try to be environmentally conscious. With the economy the way it is, perhaps this is how we can kill not two, but three birds with one stone next year...

Two cartoons riffing on the same general topic...


I've eaten at places like this in my travels...

Last Tuesday my post was titled Then and Now, and compared things we have today to things people had many years ago. I should have used this cartoon as an illustration...

And finally, you just can't get away from the lawyers any more. Or maybe they do have their uses, eh?

Here in America, the Christmas shopping season is underway, with crowds thronging the stores to buy things they can't afford for children who will have forgotten those things within a week. In her comment on my post yesterday, Amanda noted that in Australia, Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) is the big shopping day of the year, but I just don't understand why everyone would run out and buy boxes. Oh, well...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

No, it has nothing to do with Black History Month, Black Jack Pershing, or Black Flag. It's the day after Thanksgiving, the "official" start of the Christmas shopping season and the date on which merchants go "into the black" on the strength of initial holiday sales. It is so heavily advertised that someone (I think it was Mike) recently referred to Thanksgiving as "the day before Black Friday." Newspapers double in size as a result of many pounds of sale advertisements. Many offices are closed or reduced to minimum staffing, parking lots are jammed, traffic snarls around shopping centers, and otherwise rational people rush glassy-eyed into stores to buy overpriced stuff at relatively good prices.

But then, some of us have to work.

All things considered, I think I have it better. There will be two people in my office today, and we will likely be a significant percentage of the total population of the Pentagon. This is the day, along with the week between Christmas and New Year's, when I can get lots of work done without the interjection of ringing phones and gotta-have-this-by-close-of-business-today tasks. Yes, I would rather be sitting in front of the fire watching the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy while eating Chex Mix and drinking hot tea with spiced rum, but what are you gonna do?

Black Friday. Your best option is to stay home and let all that turkey and stuffing and potatoes and veggies and pie digest. If, however, you are one of those unfortunates like me who has to work (and actually has a job, no thanks to Congress), make the best of it. If you're going shopping, you have a death wish - just be careful out there.

After all, you want to be here next Thanksgiving.

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday is tomorrow.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving, 2009

Today is the fourth Thursday in November, which we here in America celebrate as Thanksgiving Day. It was originally established as a holiday by President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863, at the height of the Civil War, when many people didn't think there was much to be thankful about. Over at his blog, John has the text of President Lincoln's proclamation, which is worth taking a minute to read. Click on over and read it. I'll wait.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, because it's the one day out of the year that makes me focus on all the things I have to be thankful for. Most of us (me included) spend our days focused on the day-to-day problems and issues of life, and don't take the time to think about the things that really matter. On this day - even if it's only once a year - I can sit back and think about the good things:

The love and support of parents who knew how to say both yes and no.

Three great children who, despite their father's failings, have grown to be strong, successful adults of whom I am proud beyond words.

Four (five in April!) wonderful grandchildren.

A wonderful wife who keeps me humble when necessary, and picks me up when I'm down.

Good friends, live and virtual.

A job.

A home.

Good health.

There are always things beyond our reach, things we'd like to have that we think would make life even better, but I'm happy with what I have. Well, yes, I would like to have a functioning Congress filled with wise statesmen who care more about the nation than about their narrow political philosophies, but I guess some things are just too much to ask.

On this Thanksgiving Day, this poem (which I ran in this space last year at this time, and whose author remains unknown) sums up how I feel:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve -
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for help, that I might do greater things -
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy -
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life -
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for,
But everything I had hoped for.

Despite myself, my prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

I wish all of you a very safe and happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just When I'd Gotten My Blood Pressure Back Down Again...

I sometimes think that some of my co-workers are in league with Agnes to drive me to apoplexy so that she can cash in on my insurance. The latest piece of evidence came yesterday, when the helpful fellow at the next desk directed me to this article on CNN: RNC Members Draft New 'Socialist' Resolution.

The article discusses a new document approved by the Republican National Committee which advances the deification of Ronald Reagan and sets forth the bedrock conservative Republican dogma. According to the document, anyone who wishes the support of the Republican party must accept at least seven of the ten policy positions it contains.

Now, as you all know, I'm a bedrock slightly-left-of-center Independent. I'm disgusted by the ludicrous head-up-the-wazoo positions of both the far right and the far left. I believe in political pragmatism and I believe that the government isn't the horned, fork-tailed devil portrayed by the radical right. Here are a few observations from the principled center on the RNC's new Official Catechism...

1. You don't have to support the President's policies, but accept the reality: he was elected to his office by a majority of the voting population. He deserves the respect due his office, if nothing else. Quit saying things like "Obama's socialist agenda," "Obama-style government run healthcare" and "Obama's 'stimulus' bill." Say "President Obama" the way you repeatedly say "President Ronald Reagan." A little common courtesy won't kill you.

2. Policy position number six reads: "We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges." I think most of us would support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I also think a reading of history and a little thought would make it clear that we can't kill our way out of the mess in which we find ourselves in these unhappy countries. I think "victory" - however we choose to define it - will come not by blindly adding more troops to those already in place, but by adopting a careful strategy that combines force with the judicious use of our social and economic "soft power."

3. Policy position number two reads: "We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare." Oddly enough, I believe that market-based health care has gotten us to the situation in which we find ourselves today, when many people cannot afford basic health insurance. I think it is incumbent on the foolish windbags of both sides - Republican and Democrat - to stop using inflammatory and misleading language, to clearly explain what terms mean, and to conduct a civil and responsible debate on the pros and cons of various health care reform approaches. Here's an example of what I mean: can anyone out there tell me exactly what is meant by the term "public option?" I didn't think so. It's easier to shout than to think.

4. Policy position number one reads: "We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill." Everyone wants smaller government, but everyone wants the services and benefits that big government provides. You can't have it both ways. I don't think anyone with a functioning brain believes that we can have smaller national debt and lower deficits on the one hand and lower taxes on the other. It's good to remember occasionally that the purpose of taxes is to provide the funds to run the government, and that every government program, no matter how small, insignificant, or silly, has a constituency that will turn crowds out into the streets if it's cut. Until we have elected reprehensives on both sides of the aisle who have enough spine to stand up to vested interests, we will never have smaller government. And Republicans can lower taxes to zero, but the money to run the government still has to come from somewhere. I personally think it's silly to believe that lower taxes generate more revenue, although I know that any good conservative Republican can quickly call out a reinforced platoon of clueless economists to prove that I have no idea what I'm talking about. I don't think they do, either.

5. Finally, policy position number ten says, "We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership." I feel much safer now, knowing that every lunatic with a grudge can buy all the guns he wants. I believe we're long past due for a reasonable, clear-eyed reassessment of the Second Amendment. But I believe in Santa Claus, too.

Now, before all my Reagan-worshiping conservative Republican friends (yes, I have a few) break out the tar and feathers, I need to say that there are parts of the Republican Dogma I can support. The position on illegal immigration (number 5) for instance, is laudable, although it espouses an overly simplistic, one-dimensional answer to a complex problem (if you haven't had the opportunity to review my comprehensive immigration reform plan, let me know and I'll send you a copy). But on the whole, I think this document - rather than demonstrating that the Republican party "welcome(s) those with diverse views" - simply provides an anchor to inflexibly lock the party into positions from which no divergence is permissible, even in the face of compelling evidence and common sense.

I've pretty much given up on finding pragmatic, rational leadership in Congress, or from either of the traditional political parties. As we approach Thanksgiving, I don't find much on the political scene for which to be thankful.

But that's a post for another day.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Then and Now

One of my co-workers sent me a very entertaining link yesterday that I just had to share with you. It's on the cnet UK website, and the title of the article is Modern Tech vs. The Past.

The introduction of the article sets it up: "Most of us assume modern life is the peak of human achievement, but is it really? We decided to take a look at the major technologies of the modern world and compare them to their closest equivalent of pre-digital mankind. The results are surprising."

Here are just a few of the comparisons, to whet your appetite to read the entire article...

1. The Internet vs. The Telegram. This is an interesting comparison. One of the stock scenes of old suspense films and plays was the delivery of a telegram, usually by a uniformed messenger, that carried unexpected news crucial to the plot. Now, the ring of the doorbell signaling arrival of a telegram has been replaced by the simple ding! and flashing envelope on the screen that signal receipt of an e-mail. How blah. There's also a very interesting book by Tom Standage titled The Victorian Internet, which is a fast-paced and entertaining look at how the ultra-modern (for the time) technology of the telegraph changed life and expectations in the same way the Internet has today. Check it out.

2. Facebook vs. Dinner Parties. This is a particularly interesting comparison. I love good eating and good conversation, and a well-planned dinner party combines the best of both worlds. One of my former co-workers and his wife used to throw great dinner parties in which they periodically had everyone change seats so that they could interact with new people and keep the flow of conversation interesting. Facebook, as much as I enjoy it for the ability to stay in touch with old and new friends, is one-dimensional and lacks the to-and-fro of good conversation. Facebook beats Twitter hands down, but a good dinner party leaves both of them in the conversational dust.

3. Swine Flu vs. The Plague. We are in a complete panic today over the Swine Flu "pandemic." Posters urging good hygiene are everywhere, and every newscast tells us about another two or three confirmed cases and several deaths. In the Middle Ages Plague, also known as The Black Death killed between 20 and 30 million people - roughly a third of the population of Europe. Yep, Swine Flu is nasty, but I think I'll take it over the Black Death.

4. Science vs. Superstition. Of course, if you're a Republican, there isn't much difference, but that's beside the point. Here's how the article compares science and supersitition: "In the olden days you would go to the doctor with a mild cough, and he would barely contain his excitement. 'Ah, I know what this needs,' he would enthuse, searching among jars of dead beetles and herbs. He would open up your lung with a spoon, chanting, before stuffing a fresh chicken into the gaping wound and declaring you cured. Compare that to modern doctors, who don't have time to even look at you, diagnosing you purely on your smell, using Google's "I'm feeling lucky" button." Nuff said. Gimme science.

Check out the full article and think about the difference between then and now. On the whole, I prefer "now" - it's much cleaner and healthier, and life is a lot easier.

After all, I'd have a rough time posting this blog if I had to scratch each post on clay tablets and hand-deliver them to each of you. Amanda would have a long wait for the latest adventures...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Family Thanksgiving Reunion, 2009

We have begun a tradition of having a family reunion at Thanksgiving time. Actually, it gets us two Thanksgivings: the Reunion Thanksgiving, held the week before the actual holiday (when travel is cheaper and less stressful); and the Real Thanksgiving, held on Thanksgiving Day and offering a chance for everyone to spend time with the other friends and in-laws. It works out well. And it's fun.

This year, our son Jason and his wife Tabitha hosted the reunion at their home in Ohio. Here are a few pictures of the fun...

I don't get to see our son Matt very often, since he lives in Los Angeles, but he was able to come and be with us for the reunion. This is what I look like when flanked by kids who obviously ate more Wheaties than I did...Matt's on the left, and Jason on the right.

Everyone always wants to look their best for the holidays. Leya helps Agnes get her hair properly (if painfully) styled...

And then helps show off the results...

My sister Lisa helps with the dishes...

And I try to avoid past mistakes by making sure all the giblet bags really are out of the turkey before we roast it (my mother-in-law still gives me grief about that embarrassing year)...

There's got to be time to read to the children, of course. Here is Opa reading "Room on the Broom" to Leya ... with all the sound effects of witches, dragons, dogs, frogs, birds, wind, etc...

Of course, all the sound effects drew other listeners,, Noah and Joe gather round for the story...

Some people have to work, others have to provide the entertainment. Here, Matt and Agnes demonstrate the Tango corte. In the kitchen...

After dinner came the games. In the foreground is the loud, energetic scrum playing "Cranium;" in the back corner, son Jason and daughter Yasmin fight it out over a game of Scrabble...

This is only the smallest fraction of the 420 pictures I took...not counting all the ones Jason, Matt, and Lisa took, and the family portraits we had shot yesterday afternoon. We all had a great time, and it's always fun to have everyone together, if only for a brief and busy weekend.

And now we get to do it all again for the other Thanksgiving this week.

I need a vacation.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Cartoon Saturday...uh...Sunday...uh...Friday, Yeah, Friday!

The University of California has raised its tuition rates by 32 percent, leading to huge student demonstrations; the Senate is preparing to "debate" a health care reform bill that totals 2,074 pages, costs $849 billion, and will be universally opposed by Republicans and by people who have no idea what it says (i.e., Members of Congress); a government task force says that women in their 40's do not need mammograms to screen for breast companies are thrilled at the potential savings; and pirates who attempted to hijack the Maersk Alabama for the second time were driven off by gunfire (a generally-recognized cure for piracy).

Sometimes, you need Cartoon Saturday a little early to help you get over the bad news.

Actually, Agnes and I will be headed for Ohio later this morning for our annual Thanksgiving family reunion (a week before Thanksgiving, to avoid added travel expense and fit work schedules better), and considering the ability to spend time with all four grandchildren and the need to cook and socialize, I probably won't be posting again until Sunday evening or Monday morning. Hence, Cartoon Saturday comes early this week. You can go ahead and sue.

I think this one is a true classic:

Let's hear it for the Marines!

Some weeks, this looks like a good approach to retirement planning...

Another classic...

I wonder if Fiona subscribes to this magazine?

And finally, who ever pays attention to the "Homeland Security Terrorist Alert Level" any more? Seems like it's been "Orange" as long as I can remember. Perhaps the Japanese approach is better...

I don't know if I'll have time to post tomorrow or Sunday, but I'll be back online for sure on Monday. It'll blow my chance to do the post-every-day challenge of NaBloPoMo, but I think it'll be worth it for the chance to see the family all in one place. Stay tuned for the pictures and stories.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stupid Alarm Clock...

Well, friends, it is 5:45 AM, and I have been up for about 25 minutes.

Yesterday, we had one of our traditional Northern Virginia power outages. When I came home from work, I duly went through the house and reset each clock, including my nightstand clock radio.

Unfortunately, I forgot to specify "AM" or "PM" when I reset the time on the alarm clock.

As a result, my alarm clock this morning let me sleep on, assuming that the correct time was 4:00 PM.


And so it is that this morning's post is a minor placeholder, suitable only for telling you that, for reasons that will be made clear in due time, this week's Cartoon Saturday will appear tomorrow.

For now, I need to frantically get my stuff together and take one more look in the mirror to make sure I actually have all my clothes on.

Sit down, Fiona, I do!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - we never had this trouble when alarm clocks needed to be wound.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's What He Knows for Sure that Just Ain't So...

One of my heroes is American social and political humorist Will Rogers, a man I'd love to have known and shared a beer or six with. Will had a lot of great comments on things, and is often quoted - frequently by people who use his words to say something he didn't mean in the first place. Of his many quotable quotes, one of my favorites is this:

"It's not what he doesn't know that bothers me ... it's what he knows for sure that just ain't so."

This is a great all-purpose slam dunk, equally applicable to the brainless morons of the far right and the far left. It's also good food for thought as you read this wonderful satirical article from The Onion, the online humorous newspaper: Area Man Passionate Defender of What He Imagines Constitution to Be. It's all summed up in this brief excerpt:

"'Our very way of life is under siege,' said Mortensen, whose understanding of the Constitution derives not from a close reading of the document but from talk-show pundits, books by television personalities, and the limitless expanse of his own colorful imagination."

The sad truth behind this very funny article is evident in virtually every political discussion you hear nowadays. If you listen to Faux News, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, or just about any other bloviating windbag - whether liberal or conservative - you can hear the most outrageous statements about what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights say (or don't say) about religion, health care, the rights and privileges of citizenship, etc. Don't take my word for the documents yourself and shake your head.

Read the article from The Onion, laugh out loud, and then look around you. You will likely find that the loudest and most absolutely certain people are the ones who are most full of ... um ... wind. They are also the most dangerous.

Someone once said that we should trust those who seek the truth, and avoid those who claim to have found it.

And that's the truth.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shocking News, Shocking, I Say!

There's an interesting article by Peter Whoriskey in this morning's Washington Post: Where Can I Juice Up My Ride? Makers of Electric Cars Address Shortage of Recharging Stations. This is an interesting question as hybrid and, eventually, all-electric cars proliferate on our roads. If you run out of gas in a "normal" car, you can walk to a gas station and bring back a can of gas to get you going again. But if you run out of gas in an electric car, what do you do? Carry a really long extension cord? A few cubic yards of AA batteries? A giant, fold-out solar array?

Here's how some people see it, according to Mr Whoriskey's article...

"On Monday, a coalition of companies that includes Nissan, FedEx, PG&E and NRG Energy issued a report calling for billions of dollars in government aid to support the transition of the U.S. vehicle fleet to cars that run on batteries.

"The group is asking for $124 billion in government incentives over eight years including $13.5 billion for tax credits to build public charging stations."

Yes, you read that right - there is a call for 124 billion dollars in "government incentives," including 13.5 billion dollars in "tax credits" to create an infrastructure to charge up electric cars.

Wouldn't you think that such a thing would be a cost of business development for the makers of electric cars? 124 billion tax dollars will equip a lot of schools, buy a lot of health care, and kill a lot of scummy terrorists. 124 billion dollars is a great deal of money, and I don't think it's the business of the government to spend it on an infrastructure that will benefit a particular industry.

Now, one could argue that the government has a vested interest in advancing the development of a cleaner (well, we could discuss that another time) alternative to the internal combustion would help clean the air, add jobs, etc, etc. But at a time when there's not enough money for much of anything other than bailing out banks and major businesses, is this the right way to spend our treasure? I don't think so.

What do you think?

I'll get a charge out of hearing your answer...let my comment space be your outlet for your thoughts on this pressing current event.

You can even sing "Ohm on the Range" while you type.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Really Tall Women

There's an interesting article in CNN Online's Living section: Are You Man Enough to Date Tall Women?

The article was written by a lady who says she is six feet, one inch tall ... "ridiculously tall," as she describes it. She then goes on to offer five bits of advice to men on dating very tall women, four of which follow:

1. Stay away from the cheesy lines. Duh. Cheesy lines are dumb, anyway. Ladies usually recognize them, and such lines result in the flipping of the mental switch to the "he's a dumbass" position.

2. Get over it. Meaning, don't worry about how tall she is. We're all the same size on the inside, after all. Unless she's using her height to intimidate you, who cares?

3. Treat her like a lady. Duh. She's a lady, after all, height notwithstanding.

4. We're all the same height in bed. Um ... I'll take your word for it, although I do often look at couples greatly mismatched in height and wonder how ... well ... never mind.

Of course, I've been off the dating shelf for going on 30 years now, so this is a topic of only academic interest to me. To me, the biggest challenge in relating to a very tall lady comes not at cocktail parties or office meetings or happy hour liaisons, but on the dance floor. Consider the following...

When you're in closed dance position (holding each other closely), it can be awkward to find your head just above the bust line. Interesting, but awkward.

And how about executing the simple Underarm Turn: to lead this turn, the man raises the lady's arm well above her head and gently guides her to turn in a circle underneath her upraised arm...

This is a pretty simple movement with lady who is close to one's own size, or shorter, but with an especially tall lady, getting that arm high enough for her to turn under it can be a challenge.

Of course, dancing with any lady is great fun, and size really doesn't matter. One learns to adapt to the size of the partner and - ideally - lead her in a dance that has her leaving the floor hoping you'll ask her again.

And unless she does something unforgivable - like driving a four-inch stiletto heel through my instep while dancing - I will.

Have a good day. Dance like nobody's watching. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Ways We'll Be Remembered

I'm reading an interesting book this week - The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future, by Robert Darnton. It's not too long - only 206 pages in small format - and a bit repetitive, because it consists of a series of previously-published essays re-worked into a book, but it is still filled with interesting and thought-provoking information. One passage that particularly stood out to me was this one...speaking about the challenges of doing research in archives of old letters, Mr Darnton writes:

"....And most people never wrote letters. Most human beings have vanished into the past without leaving a trace of their existence."

I don't know about you, but I find that a very sobering thought - "vanished into the past without leaving a trace of their existence."

All of you who are my regular readers know that I love to write letters, even though I seldom have the time any more to write the kind of long, chatty letters I prefer. People always love to receive letters, of course, but very few people love to write them. But if we don't, how will we be remembered?

Very, very few of us will rate mention of our lives in the history books, not too many of us get our names in the newspapers (for the right reasons, anyhow), and all those photographs we've taken of ourselves will eventually vanish, either because the dyes fade, or because the digital formats we have taken to storing them in will eventually no longer be readable. Most families, at least in modern America, have no tradition of oral history. How will my great-great grandchildren know what kind of fellow old Bilbo (or any of us) was? What will be their reference points for knowing what he thought, how he acted, and how others thought of him?

When my mother passed away back in 2001, we discovered boxes of my old letters in her room at home. She had saved almost everything I ever wrote, going back to the letters home from college and those I wrote as an Air Force officer from divided, walled-in Berlin in the early 1980's. There were all the letters I wrote home from my month at the Outward Bound school in the Colorado Rockies, bringing back all the memories of aching muscles, blistered feet, cold, and campfire food seasoned with pine needles, dirt, and ashes. Postcards from exotic locations, cartoons and interesting articles clipped from local newspapers, and all the minutiae of an ordinary life being lived day-to-day.

Of course, all those letters provide history with college student ever writes home to his parents about everything he did, and the letters covering my military career by necessity can't tell about everything I did and experienced...but someday those letters may provide my grandchildren's great-grandchildren with information about my life and times they won't find anywhere else. We're moving more and more to ephemeral electronic communication via e-mail, tweets, and comments on Facebook pages. Where are those stored? Will they be recoverable decades from now? I doubt it. And in any case, what can match the appeal of a genuine, no-kidding, ink-on-paper letter ... something you can hold in your hand and feel a physical connection to the person who wrote it? A genuine letter provides a not just a link of ideas, but a physical link to the past.

What would they refer to if I had never written any of those letters? Where would they go to find out about great-great-grandpa Bilbo? God knows what Mike might tell them, after all.

I guess this means one of two things: either I need to find the time to write more letters, or I need to start keeping a journal. Of the two, I'd probably prefer the journal, except that I think I get better results when I'm writing to someone, crafting the words for what I know they're interested in.

What are the ways we'll be remembered? Photos are one-dimensional, e-communications are fleeting, and letter-writing is all but a lost art. I guess I should stop whining and start writing.

And work on convincing Marcy, Joe, Noah, Leya, and the Grandchild-in-Preparation that they should learn to love writing, too.

Who wants to vanish into the past without leaving a trace of their existence?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

Police in Missouri have arrested a sixth member of a family under investigation for allegations of child sexual abuse; five Guantanamo Bay detainees with alleged ties to the 9/11 conspiracy, including accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will be tried in a civilian court in New York City; the Army's Inspector General has ordered an investigation into operations at Arlington National Cemetery after questions arose about apparently improper burials; and drug giant Pfizer announced that it would pull 1,400 jobs out of New London, Connecticut, within two years and move most of them to another location as a cost-cutting measure - after benefiting from a 2005 Supreme Court decision that allowed the city to seize private property to facilitate private economic development.

Aren't you glad you have Cartoon Saturday to take your mind off the madness?

Many artists complain about the proliferation of bootleg copies of their work being sold without proper compensation to them. I suspect the problem has been going on a lot longer than we think ...

Earlier this week I spent an entire day on the daunting challenge of cleaning away the vast mountains of stuff cluttering up my study. I really understand this cartoon...

My father was fond of putting a little spin on the stories he read to us, and I sometimes do the same thing when reading to my grandchildren. How about the story in which the cow jumped almost over the moon...?

Speaking of reading to your children, is it right to tell them stories that are just too terrifying?

How might the classic Western High Noon have been different had it been filmed today?

And who might have starred in it?

That's it for this week's edition of Cartoon Saturday. Hope it's helped you get over the trauma of another week. If not, well, come back next week at this time and we'll try it again.

Have a good day. Enjoy your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanks for Sharing. Not.

One of the royal pains of modern living is the tendency of people to use their cell phones everywhere, all the time, at full volume, regardless of the topic of the conversation. I've written here about the time I overheard a loud conversation in the airport in which a man was berating the person at the other end for not getting him an appointment at the right time ... with his proctologist. I've also noted people in the Pentagon using the modern equivalent of Maxwell Smart's Cone of Silence - they sit in stalls in the men's room with the door closed and have intimate conversations, as if no one else could hear. On the bus, on the subway, on the street, in stores, and from the next car at traffic lights (when you can hear it over the pounding bass of the stereo) - you can't escape hearing everyone else's conversations.

But it gets worse. According to this article from yesterday's Washington Post, the latest twist on being exposed to everyone else's conversations is exposure to everyone else's ... porn.

Yes, now we can experience the joy of pornography shared by those who play their video players in the next seat on airplanes, buses, and subways, or on video screens in the back seats of cars ahead of us in traffic. We can hear the gasping throes of lust leaking from around cheap headsets the same way we get to enjoy the pounding music some morons insist on playing at top volume so that we can all share it even though they're using headsets. As the author of the Post article writes, "...the increasing popularity of laptops and handheld devices, and the prevalence of wireless Internet access, means there's a greater chance of becoming a bystander to a complete stranger's viewing proclivities. Like being exposed to the cigarette smoke of a nicotine addict on the street, people are inhaling secondhand smut."

This is way too much information for an aging curmudgeon like me.

Now, don't get me wrong ... I've got nothing against porn per se. If your life is so empty of normal relationships that you need porn to get by, hey, more power to ya. But please don't share it with the rest of us. Those of us with lives don't need it, don't care, and don't want to have to see and hear it from you.

Trust me, I'd rather laugh at your attempts to get that appointment with your proctologist.

Have a good day. Invest in a good privacy screen for your laptop, and some really good headphones. The rest of us will thank you.

Tomorrow is Cartoon Saturday. Be here.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Can See the Desktop!

Yesterday was an utterly miserable day here in Northern Virginia - it rained all day (and it's still raining), and the temperature never made it out of the low 50's. That was bad because it kept me from raking up the 9,587 cubic yards of leaves in the yard (and knocked still more off the trees), but it was good because it kept me in the house and gave me an opportunity to tackle a task I've been putting off for a long time.

Remember the story of Hercules cleaning out the Augean Stables?

Welcome to the story of Bilbo cleaning out the Cluttered Study.

Yes, I spent the entire day imitating an archaeologist digging through a midden pit, amazed at all the things I found that I'd thought were lost forever. One example is posted on my Facebook page, and reproduced here - one of the first pictures of my first grandchild, and just about my favorite:

Yes, that's my lap that Marcy is lying on, and my thumbs she's demonstrating her grip on. Marcy will be 10 years old next year. Sigh.

I reviewed the contents of unlabeled CDs, Zip disks, and even 3.25-inch floppies. I found old recipes, long lost pictures, archives of personal letters going back many years, and all sorts of other interesting stuff.

I pulled dusty mathoms off the highest shelves of the closet, throwing out most of them.

I pulled file boxes out from under the desk, revealing many years worth of tax files, photographs, academic papers, paid bills, postcards, receipts, and everything else you can imagine.

I swept the desktop clear of piles of newspapers, old magazines, flyers, and other things that I'd been saving to use as blog fodder.

I found the pile of letters from fellow bloggers I've been saving (so far, Amanda is in the lead, with two letters, two cards, and a postcard...I'm saving them all, because once the new baby comes, I rather doubt she'll have the time to write any more...).

I filled two large trash bags with junk of all sorts. The bags are still sitting on my study floor, because I didn't feel like going out into the rain to put them in the garbage bin, but I still have a sense of accomplishment.

I can see (most of) the desktop! I actually have space to open a book, write in a full-sized notebook, and put down my coffee cup without fear that it will fall off a teetering pile of papers. I can see (most of) the floor! I can walk in a straight line from the door to my desk chair without running an obstacle course. Woo-hoo!!

There's still more to do, of course. I have a big box of papers to shred, the two bags of junk to take out, and the vacuum to run. There are also a few more boxes of things lurking under the far back corner of the desk. But it's enough for me to declare victory.

Sometimes, you just take what you can get.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Execution of John Allen Muhammad

Last night at 9:00, convicted murderer John Allen Muhammad was executed here in Virginia. It's about time.

Those of you who don't live in this area may have a difficult time imagining the level of terror Muhammad and his convicted partner caused here with their three-week spree of random murders of innocent people across the DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia area back in 2002. One person was shot dead at a store just across the parking lot from a fabric store Agnes visits all the time. For three weeks, we parked as close to our destinations as possible, crossed open spaces in a running crouch, and eyed parked cars and dark areas with frightened suspicion.

Mr Muhammad never admitted his guilt, despite mountains of evidence. He showed no remorse for the pain and suffering he and his partner caused. He was a walking advertisement for the death penalty.

As his date with the executioner approached, there were calls for forgiveness and for the mercy he didn't show to his ten victims. Apologists cried that his children would be left without a father, but didn't seem to care about the fatherless and motherless children the innocent victims of his cold-blooded rampage left behind.

The death penalty is the most final and terrible punishment we can inflict on someone. It should never be applied lightly. But in this case, it was justified. Mr Muhammad's accomplice is serving a life term in prison because he was a juvenile at the time of the murders; otherwise, he would have joined Muhammad in the death chamber. I hope he uses the rest of his time to think about the welcoming committee that awaits him in Hell.

Sorry if I sound a little bloodthirsty this morning, but I lived through the sniper killings and worried every day about whether my family was safe.

So long, John Allen Muhammad. Hope it's hot enough for you down there.

Have a good day. I'll my usual grouchy self again tomorrow.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sleep Test

I'm getting a bit later start than usual this morning, because last night I had to take an "unattended sleep test."

It was hard. Mainly because I stayed up late the night before to study for it.

It seems that I may have a condition known as "sleep apnea," which is not really a sleep issue per se, but rather a breathing problem that results in interrupted sleep, causing excessive daytime drowsiness. I learned I might have this condition when I found myself being frequently awakened during the night by Agnes as she shook me and shouted, "Breathe!!!"

So I ended up in the Sleep Medicine Clinic (who knew there was such a thing?), where the nice doctor gave me a home sleep test device to wear last night, along with detailed instructions on how to use it. This device is designed to measure respiration and movement; it consists of a control unit that straps around the chest, another pulmonary strap that goes around the waist at the navel, motion sensors that connect to one hip and both legs, another sensor that straps around one index finger, and a clear plastic tube that goes into both nostrils to measure air coming in and going out (the tube is connected to straps that go around the ears to hold it in place). I looked like I'd been assimilated by the Borg.

The really bad part of the test was that, because it measures movement as well as breathing, I was required to sleep alone so that the motion of a fellow sleeper wouldn't put spurious readings into the recorder. Now I ask you: what's the point of having a great-looking lady like Agnes to sleep with if some doctor is telling you about some $#%! test that requires you to sleep alone?

Grumble, grumble, grumble.

So, anyhow, Agnes helped me put the whole rig on, then dutifully went off to spend the night in the guest room while I tried to sleep (on my back, to get the proper readings). Being an old guy, I had to get up during the night, which meant that I had to turn off the control unit, ease my way out of bed, walk to the bathroom without tangling myself in all the dangling wires, return to bed, re-connect whatever had come loose, lie back down, then turn on the control unit again.

Where I come from, this is what we call a pain in the ass.

This morning, when the clinic opens, I have to return the whole testing unit so that the doctors can download all the information about my breathing and movements, decide whether or not I really have sleep apnea, then decide what expensive treatment will be required. I can hardly wait. Neither can Agnes, who is tired of panicking during the night when I stop breathing for minutes at a time. She needs to keep me around as long as possible so that she has someone to cut garlic and onions and get things down from shelves she can't reach.

For now, though, I think I need a nap.

Have a good day. Sleep well, and with the partner of your choice. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 09, 2009



Sounds like the backbeat refrain from a 1960's song, doesn't it?

If you're a "real" blogger, you know that it really means "National Blog Posting Month," which encourages bloggers to post each day. Because not everyone is as full of crap good, bloggable ideas as I am, it has become necessary to designate a month to encourage all of us to keep our blogs up to date (um, Fiona?), fresh, and interesting.

It can be difficult to find the time to keep up a blog, which is why many bloggers start with good intentions, but soon taper off to nothing. Many things intrude on quality blogging time: children (right, Amanda?), work, and the vicious time sump of Mafia Wars on Facebook ... which, last time I checked, had 26,764,060 monthly active users and 872,360 "friends" (if you can use the term "friend" in the context of a game that requires you to kill those friends from time to time). I did not make those numbers up, by the way...they are on the Mafia Wars website.

Am I cheating by writing a blog post about posting blogs? I don't think so. After all, blogging is one of my hobbies, and I enjoy doing it and encouraging others to do so as well. And although the quality of the writing (grammar, spelling, "appropriate" language, etc) on many blogs is ... well ... less than stellar, at least people are writing, which in itself is a good thing.

So ...

Don't just read what everyone else writes. Fondle that keyboard. Zip those electrons around cyberspace to share your ideas and feelings with the rest of us. It's not as bad as you might think...

And you might become famous ...

Blog today! Celebrate NaBloPoMo.

Sh-boom, sh-boom.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Post-Birthday Reflections

Yesterday, I turned 58 (and yes, Mike, I changed the age in the "about me" section of the blog AND on my Facebook page). There was a time I thought nothing, including the universe, was that old. Now, of course, it looks like a very respectable and not-too-creaky age, at least after I've completely woken up in the morning.

It was a good birthday. Agnes made my favorite dinner of Corned Beef and Cabbage (not the boiled-to-death American version, but the one I like, with the beef baked in the oven and Bavarian-style cabbage. My Ohio-based grandchildren called and sang "Happy Birthday," loudly punctuated with "cha-cha-cha!!" at the end of each verse. Local granddaughter Leya shouted "appy birseday OPA!!!" and very carefully inspected my face to make sure my boo-boo had healed up satisfactorily. It was a good day.

Someone once said that age is a function of mind over matter...that if you don't mind, it doesn't matter. I guess that's mostly true, although it's getting difficult not to mind some of the aching joints and senior moments and such. Nevertheless, I guess I'll try to hold to Jimmy Buffett's philosophy of growing older, but not up. And as George Burns said, "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old."

Thanks to all of my friends out there in the Blogosphere who sent birthday wishes via comments here or on Facebook. Knowing you, even if it's only electron-deep, has made the last few years more interesting and educational. Perhaps I can actually meet a few more of you in the coming year ... John may make it to DC to watch the Nationals lose (it's a DC tradition, which the Redskins are embracing this year, too), Mike may build a house here (hopefully without falling off), Fiona may enter the Washington International Horse Show, Amanda might make it to the East Coast on her next trip to the US (although with two children soon, it would be quite an adventure), and Andrea might make it to a concert in the area (or we'll drive past her house on the way to Pittsburgh and stop for a picture). And who knows ... Gilahi and I may even have a beer together. Stranger things have happened.

So happy birthday to me - my family and friends, real and virtual, are the best gifts I could have.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Cartoon Saturday

An Army officer killed 13 and wounded 30 of his comrades in a murderous spree at Ft Hood Texas; a man who murdered one person and injured five others in a shooting spree at an Orlando, Florida, office explained his actions by saying, "I'm just going through a tough time right now, I'm sorry;" four of 11 bodies found buried at the home of a registered sex offender in Cleveland have now been identified; in an example of the ironclad separation of church and state in America, Democratic representative Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania stated that he needed the approval of his bishop before he could vote "yes" on the draft health care bill; and in Iran, three foreign journalists have been arrested for "unauthorized reporting."

Come to Cartoon Saturday ... we'll try to make it better.

Amelia Earhart is popular again these days, appearing as a heroine in the film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and in the new biopic Amelia with Hillary Swank. And then you can read about her at the library. Or maybe not ...

I've always been irresistible, even in past lives. Just ask Agnes ...

The economy is no laughing matter, but it still offers the opportunity for a few good cartoons. This one speaks directly to me ...

And, speaking as one of those much-despised government contractors, so does this one ...

You may recall a while back, I discussed the derivation of the word "civility" in response to a challenge from Bandit. I failed to address the part about how cases end up in civil court ...

And finally, given the condition of my front yard (leaves up to the second floor windows), I couldn't pass up this one ...

Time to get Agnes up so we can get started on the usual busy Saturday. These relaxing weekends will be the death of me, yet.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Murder at Fort Hood

An American soldier of Jordanian descent, described as "a devout Muslim," has murdered 12 fellow soldiers and injured 31 at Fort Hood in Texas.

As you know, I take a very dim view of the power of religion to inspire (if I can use that word in this context) people to commit the most horrific of crimes. Although the Council on American-Islamic Relations quickly condemned the attack as "cowardly" and noted that "No religious or political ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence," one has to accept the fact that Islam is a religion which also puts the absolute and all-consuming worship of God above any considerations of life or love of fellow man. I am afraid that we will continue to see this cycle of foul murder and pious condemnation as long as Muslims continue to believe in a faith which demonizes the "infidel" and condones murder and suicide in the service of God as justified and holy "martyrdom."

This is a sad day for America and for people of love and good will everywhere.

Have a good day. Remember the families of the dead at Fort Hood in your prayers. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Economy Is So Bad That...

Last night Agnes and I sat down with our financial advisor for our latest survey of the huge, smoking crater where our retirement savings used to be. This is always difficult for me, partly because it re-kindles my rage at the entire financial management industry, and partly because I have always been confused by economics. The intricacies of German and Russian grammar - no problem. Translating government pronouncements from Old Church Slavonic into English - a snap. Understanding the arcane voodoo-speak of those who deal in economics - forget it.

So I sat there at the kitchen table while Agnes and our advisor earnestly debated whether our depleted retirement savings will allow us to dine on kibble, or if we'll be able to afford Alpo, and whether we'll be able to keep paying the bank for the privilege of living in our house. While they debated the intricacies of various investment strategies, I recalled my observation that the financial management industry is the only one I know of which can charge you large fees while promising absolutely nothing. Yes, that's right - take a look at the latest letter or e-mail from your bank or broker or financial management specialist...chances are, there are at least five paragraphs of small print at the bottom that all say some variant of "we guarantee you absolutely nothing except that we will collect management fees from you."

I sure wish my job worked that way.

Anyhow, my grouchy review of the twisted wreckage of my retirement funds led me to see the "humor" in this riff on the economy. Yes, my friends, the economy is so bad that ...

I opened the mail and found a pre-declined credit card.

I ordered a Whopper at Burger King and they asked me, "Can you afford fries with that?"

CEOs now play miniature golf.

Exxon-Mobil has laid off 25 Congressmen.

The bank returned my check marked "Insufficient Funds" and I had to call them to ask if they meant me or them.

Stock in Hot Wheels is trading higher than GM.

McDonalds is selling a quarter-ouncer.

The Mafia is laying off judges.

Beverly Hills parents are firing their nannies and having to learn their children's names.

A truckload of Americans was caught sneaking into Mexico.

Dick Cheney took his stockbroker hunting.

Motel Six has stopped leaving the light on.

How bad do you think it is? Inquiring minds want to know.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Just Desserts

One of the really distressing things about the collapse of the economy, the subsequent bailouts of banks and industries that were "too big to fail," and the colossal criminality of the Bernie Madoff affair has been the culpability of the government regulators whose job it was to keep such things from happening. Fingers have been pointed in every direction and much political hay has been made, but somehow we've missed a fundamental point.

I wrote in this space a week or so ago about the hidden cost of the economic mess being the death of trust - in our leaders and institutions, and in each other. I'm not, of course, the only person who has seen this. A great op-ed article by Richard Cohen in yesterday's Washington Post eloquently carries on with the ideas I tried to espouse in my earlier post. You can read his entire article here, but this is one of the key passages:

"After years of Republicans (and some Democrats) insisting that the market was always right, that it was always self-correcting, that it was both magical and sexy, a manifestation of God and what he intends, and that government, that foul-breathed picker of your pocket, could do nothing right, you finally got a government that, at least in this case, actually could do nothing right. Talent went into the private sector, where not only the money was but the prestige as well. The respected public servant morphed into the loathed bureaucrat -- not the solution to any problem, but the problem itself, in the simplistic formulation of Ronald Reagan, whose contributions to the woes of our times have yet to be fully appreciated."

I love it. "Talent went into the private sector, where not only the money was but the prestige as well. The respected public servant morphed into the loathed bureaucrat." I have certainly not been shy about castigating government bureaucrats who have forgotten that public service is a public trust, and I have nothing but scorn for the petty politicians whose absolute focus on party doctrinal purity and the search for power trumps our desperate need for practical and flexible leadership. Yes, Mr Cohen is right: we have the SEC, and the larger government, that we deserve.

The sad problem is that we don't seem to be able to realize it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Election Day in Virginia


Today is election day in Virginia. We go to the polls today to elect a governor, a lieutenant governor (for some reason, they don't run as a team here), the state attorney general, local representatives to the House of Delegates, and numerous other offices.

After the last few months of vicious attack ads, endless robo-calls, door-to-door visits from earnest but clueless campaign workers, and about 75 cubic yards of campaign junk mail, election day is here, and once again I am inspired to offer my endorsements ...

Once again, it's a sad day for representative democracy. As usual, I'm glad that we use touch-screen voting machines here, which leave one hand free to hold my nose while I cast my ballot not necessarily for the best candidate, but for the one that's least objectionable.

Oh, well ... at least the premiere of "V" is on tonight. That's something to look forward to, anyhow.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Flying the Grumpy Skies

I think I have recovered from the flight back from Los Angeles on Friday. My neck is back to "normal" (that being a relative term, since it's stiff and painful all the time, anyhow), my suitcase arrived on time (without the lock being twisted off, as it had been when I arrived in LA...nothing stolen, amazingly enough), and I'm looking forward to not having to fly anywhere else until we go to Ohio for Thanksgiving.

Life is good.

Of course, being who I am, I have several observations about the joys of travel ...

1. When you board at the gate, most airlines have two lines for boarding: one for First Class and other "premium" passengers, and one for Real People. The line for First Class usually has a strip of red carpet about 4 feet long; the other line usually has a blue carpet. Other than that, there's absolutely no difference - the two lines are located side-by-side and lead directly to the same door. Where I come from, this is called stupid.

2. I've always been amazed at the very flexible interpretation many people have about what constitutes a "carry on" and a "personal item," especially now that most airlines charge a hefty fee for each checked bag. The fight for overhead storage space has grown vicious, and the size of bags people try to stuff into that space continues to grow. Boarding and deplaning now take much longer as people try to carry their upright pianos and steamer trunks on board, steadfastly refuse to put "smaller" bags underneath the seats, and raise cain with the flight attendants when they are asked to check bags that are clearly too big to bring on board.

2a. Corollary to #2: when your aircraft boards by "zones" rather than by row number, and your "zone" has a number larger than 2, good luck getting an overhead space for your bag. When the aircraft boards by rows, many people sitting at the rear of the aircraft put their bags in the overhead bins at the front, meaning that the people in the forward seats may end up having to stow their bags in the can imagine the result when time comes to deplane, and the folks in Row 10 have to fight their way back to row 29 to get their bags.

3. The airlines are always looking for new ways to save time and money, and I can understand that. The latest interesting twist on this came on my last flight, when the flight attendants asked everyone to carefully clean their seat areas so that the cleaning crews could turn the aircraft around faster for the next flight. Now, I always police up my trash anyhow (I don't like to leave my seat looking like my desk at home, dontcha know), and it's just good manners and courtesy to do it ... but I resented - already having been asked to pay extra to check my bag and been asked (unsuccessfully) for $3.00 for a "gourmet chocolate chip cookie," - also being asked to clean the aircraft.

4. The Hertz rental car return location at Los Angeles International Airport is not located at the address given on the Internet. It took me an extra 15 minutes of aimless driving to find it after my GPS took me to the designated address, only to find a vacant lot.

For the next couple of weeks, I'm not traveling any farther than the local shopping centers. And after that, I'm flying the grumpy skies.

Good thing I'm already an old grouch.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunday Morning Coming Down. Or Going Up. Or Whatever.

Happy November 1st!

Another Halloween has come and gone, with the smallest number of trick or treaters in memory. It was a warm night, but raining and miserable, which may have helped keep the traffic down. Once again Agnes and I will be eating a lot of leftover candy, unless I can get it to the office before everyone else with leftover candy brings theirs in, hoping that someone else will eat it.

I appear to have, with the help of a nice lady at the Apple Store Genius Bar, successfully gotten my iMac up and running (albeit from a newly-formatted external drive), and restored my files from the running backup disk. Now I'm backing up the backups. Sometimes I hate computers...unfortunately, we're sort of like victims of the Borg from the Star Trek adventures - we've been assimilated, and resistance is futile.

One of the "advantages" of business travel is that I usually have a lot of free time in the evenings and while stuck in airports and on planes, and I can think of interesting things to blog about. Well, interesting to me, anyhow. This past week's trip was no exception, even though my evenings were largely spent with my son Matt. Here is the first of the interesting things I came up with while on the trip...

I'm now reading A Quiet Flame, the latest Bernie Gunther mystery novel by Philip Kerr. Bernie Gunther is a detective on the Berlin police force in the years leading up to World War II, and the novels paint a fascinating and detailed picture of life in the German capital during that interesting and frightening time. This particular story takes place in 1950, with the settings switching back and forth between postwar Argentina (home of thousands of unrepentant Nazis) and pre-war Berlin as Gunther is enlisted to solve the disappearance of a young German woman whose case seems to relate to a gruesome murder he had been unable to solve back in Germany.

The story itself is atmospheric, exciting, and strongly recommended if you enjoy mysteries rooted in actual historical events. But that's not what I wanted to write about...

It's said that history repeats itself. I don't think there's anyone on earth who isn't familiar with Santayana's maxim that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. There's an interesting passage in A Quiet Flame in which Bernie Gunther is reflecting on why the German people followed Adolf Hitler into the horrifying disaster of the Third Reich and the Second World War, and it struck me that the same thing could apply today. Here's the passage:

"I didn't blame those who believed him (Hitler). Not really. Most Germans just wanted to have something to hope for in the future. A job. A bank that stayed solvent. A government that could govern. Good schools. Streets that were safe to walk on. A few honest cops."

I suppose that if you think about it, that's what we all still want in the America of 2009. Banks that stay solvent, jobs, schools in which children can learn without fear of violence and intimidation, and safe streets. We're certainly not as bad off as the Germans of the Weimar era were, but - on a lesser level - we're motivated by the same things.

It would just be nice if the government would govern.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.