Dreaming Of Castles

I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did I think one of the items would be spending the night in a castle — a real, honest-to-God, moat and drawbridge, turrets and keeps castle.

It turns out that it’s not that tough to do.  There are a number of castles in Ireland, Scotland, Spain, and other European countries where you can spend a night, for a price.  And some of them apparently come complete with ghosts dressed in period costumes, at no extra charge.  Consider Parador de Cardona, pictured with this post, where construction began in 1020 — 1020! — and Room 712 is reportedly haunted by a leotard-wearing spirit.

How cool would it be to be sitting before a roaring fire in a castle’s great room, sipping a fine ale or perhaps a good, hearty mead as you admire the tapestry covering the stone walls and the vaulted wooden ceilings far overhead, and then seeing some knightly apparition drifting past?

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That Nutty Uncle Joe

Most of us have an older member of the family, male or female, who says weird and embarrassing things at inopportune times.  We roll our eyes, feel a flush of mortification iwhen they talk around our friends, but tolerate them because they are a member of the family.

America, meet Uncle Joe Biden.

Uncle Joe has been on quite a roll lately.  Whether it’s lapsing into an odd quasi-Southern dialect and talking about people being put in chains, or confusing the state or even century he’s in, Biden has been reaching new standards of battiness.  He’s like that nutty relative at a big family gathering, saying increasingly outrageous things in the desperate hope that someone will finally pay attention to him.

I think Joe Biden is probably starting to slip a bit, and he didn’t have a lot of marbles to begin with.  He’s harmless, I think, and probably doesn’t realize that his crackpot comments aren’t doing anything other than causing most objective people to wonder whether he’s totally lost it.  Of course, nobody expects him to say anything particularly insightful — we just hope he doesn’t drool on anyone or cause a diplomatic incident by making some bizarre and inappropriate comment at the next overseas funeral he’s sent to attend.

Uncle Joe, isn’t it past your bedtime?

A Consumer’s Responsibility In A Capitalist Society

On a couple of occasions recently, I’ve been with a group of people doing what consumers commonly do:  bitching about the companies that sell them a product or service.  It might be a bogus new monthly charge from their bank, gouging fees by their cell phone provider, jacked-up rates from their property insurance company, or crappy, insolent customer service from just about anywhere.

When these conversations occur, I always ask:  well, what have you done about it?  Have you actually shopped around for a new bank, or cell phone provider, or insurer?  There are lots of them around, and they are supposed to be competing for your business.  When a customer service rep treats you like a bothersome fly, have you taken your purchasing power elsewhere and let the company that employed the jerk know why?  If you haven’t done any of these things — and most people sheepishly admit they haven’t — you really don’t have much of a basis for complaint.

The theory of capitalism presupposes that consumers won’t mindlessly consume whatever is offered to them.  Instead, they will make thoughtful decisions about what to buy, based on a comparison of the cost, quality, and other benefits of the products offered by competing businesses.  Through that careful decision-making process, responsive companies that provide quality at a competitive price will be rewarded, and their overpriced competitors that peddle shoddy goods and services will wither and die.  If the consumers don’t make educated decisions, therefore, they aren’t fulfilling their rightful role — and their inattentiveness is promoting bad practices and allowing bad companies to stay in business.

Don’t look to government to fill the educated consumer’s role, either.  Government regulation is always after the fact, and often is ineffective.  It will never replace the consumer who zealously guards her pocketbook, reads her bills, questions fees and charges, and is willing to shop around for a better deal.