Coffin Nail Fail

Here’s some good news:  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics reported this week that the percentage of the adult population that smokes cigarettes has reached its lowest level since the government began keeping track of that activity.

11034958_web1_m-smoking-edh-171122The CDC report concluded that, in 2017, 13.9 percent of the adult population in the United States smoked cigarettes.  That number is down from 15.5 percent in 2016, and has been steadily declining over the years.  Back in the 1960s, more than 40 percent of American adults smoked.  Ask anyone who was around during the ’60s, and you’ll hear stories that give you an idea about just how dramatically things have changed since then.  When UJ and I went with our grandparents to University of Akron Zips basketball games back in those days, for example, people could smoke in the hallways before entering the seating area.  At halftime when you walked through the hallway to get popcorn or a hot dog, you walked through a thick, gag-inducing wall of smoke emitted by throngs of smokers.  Now — unless you’re in a Las Vegas casino — you almost never encounter even a whiff of smoke in a public place.

Why are the numbers of smokers falling?  Some attribute it to aggressive ad campaigns against smoking and some attribute it to changes in general social mores; others think that a positive feedback loop may have occurred, where the decline in the number of smokers means people see fewer smokers and aren’t tempted to start smoking themselves in the first place.  There’s also another reason for the decline:  call it coincidence, but people who are smokers often seem to have fatal health problems, like the cancers that claimed three of the heavy smokers in my family.

While the overall trends are encouraging, there’s still work to be done.  Even though adult smokers now number less than 14 percent of the population, that still amounts to millions of people who are in the grip of a very bad habit.  And the statistics show a real disparity in the percentage of smokers by location, with city dwellers much less likely to smoke than residents of rural areas.  We need to continue to work on getting current smokers to quit, and convincing potential smokers to never pick up one of those coffin nails in the first place.

For Fear Of A Dangling Preposition

You learned the rule when you were growing up.  You turned in a theme or two in English class, and your paper came back swimming in a sea of red ink.  Almost inevitably, one of the comments from your teacher — maybe even with an exclamation point or two — was that you were not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition.

winston-churchill-quote-ending-a-sentence-with-aIf you did, you had crossed the dreaded “dangling preposition” line.  It was a rule right up there with the “dangling participle” and the “dangling modifier” in the anti-dangling English grammar book.  So instead of writing “What do you want to talk about?,” you were supposed to write something forced and weirdly contrived, namely:  “About what do you want to talk?”  It’s one key way in which what we were taught about the written word varies distinctly from actual spoken language.  If your wife told you that she wanted to talk about something and you responded “About what do you want to talk?,” she’d think you’ve gone off your rocker.

Why were we ever taught about dangling prepositions?  I ran across an article yesterday that attributed the rule to John Dryden, a well-known English writer of the late 1600s, who supposedly made two offhand comments about how ending a sentence with a preposition did not seem “elegant.”  It doesn’t appear that Dryden was a crusader about the issue, but according to the article, Dryden’s stature was such that his comments became embedded in the strict grammarian mind at a time when the English language was evolving and becoming more standardized, and ultimately gave rise to the hard and fast red-ink rule that was taught when we were going to school.  Others argue, however, that the anti-dangling preposition view arose because English grammarians borrowed the rule from Latin — which was the language of the learned for centuries — and in Latin prepositions can’t be separated from their objects.

So who really was responsible for that red ink on your high school theme?  Was it one now-obscure British writer who was obsessed with elegance, or was it the dangling Romans?  We’ll probably never know for sure.  The important thing is that the anti-dangling bias has ended, and grammarians now embrace sentences like “Who did you go with?” as perfectly correct — and certainly more natural sounding than the artificial constructions used to avoid some of that dreaded dangling.

Your high school English teacher, and perhaps John Dryden, too, must be wondering where this unseemly and inelegant development came from.

A Course Everyone Should Take

Students often come to college with their own set of impressions about the people in the world around them, whether they’ve ever personally interacted with those people or not.  That’s not a criticism of college students, it’s a reality of modern life.  We all live in our own little worlds, and we form impressions about what others might be like based on the news that we allow to filter into our bubbles.

img_20180526_130448But what if people tried to get out of their bubbles and actually meet some of the people they’ve formed impressions about, to see what their lives are like and experience their worlds?  That’s what the Harvard Institute of Politics tried to accomplish with something called the Main Street Project.  The goal was to get Harvard students, most of whom hailed from the coasts, out into places in flyover country where they could meet real people who live and work in the heartland.  The group of students visited towns in western Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, saw people working at their jobs, and went to the restaurants where the locals go.  They stayed in bed and breakfasts owned by locals, traveled in a van, and took the back roads.  In the process, they even met a few Trump voters and went to a gun range where women were engaged in some vigorous target practice.

As one of the organizers wrote:  “Even though these kids had almost all been raised in the United States, our journey sometimes felt like an anthropology course, as though they were seeing the rest of the country for the first time.”  The students admitted that they “had been fed a steady diet of stereotypes about small towns and their folk: “backwards,” “no longer useful,” “un- or under-educated,” “angry and filled with a trace of bigotry” were all phrases that came up.”  But as they traveled through places like Youngstown, Ohio, meeting good people who were living happy, productive lives, the students saw the stereotypes break apart.

None of the students got course credit or a grade for participating in the Main Street Project, but they did get an education.  One of the student organizers said:  “The best way to blow apart a stereotype is to challenge it” — and he is right.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone, regardless of their age, had a similar opportunity to meet people and challenge some of the stereotypes that we all carry around?

Vegased Out

Having just returned from our second trip to Las Vegas in as many months — after an absence of more than a decade — I think we could happily let at least another decade pass before we hit The Strip again. I feel a little bit wary of more Vegas exposure right now — sort of like the look on this chair at the Shops at Caesar’s Palace that is modeled on the bust of emperor Constantine.

You might say we’re Vegased out.

We went to Las Vegas to join in celebrating Richard winning some national awards for his reporting on real estate issues, and we enjoyed getting together with family and toasting his success.  And Las Vegas is an interesting place and a great spot for people watching.  But if you don’t gamble — and we don’t — it gets old quickly. The extreme heat, the jostling crowds surging from casino to casino, the slot machine-boosted level of general background noise, the inflated prices for just about everything other than the cheapest souvenir, and the sense that almost everyone around you is eager to cut loose and create their own “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” anecdote to tell their pals back home . . . it all makes Las Vegas a weird place.

Most American cities are pretty similar; only a few are really distinctive, with a special vibe all their own. Las Vegas is one of the few — but a little taste of it is plenty.

End Of The Strip

This morning I walked down to Mandalay Bay, which anchors the far end of The Strip. Saturday morning is a good time for a walk in Las Vegas — the crowds are gone, and other than a few joggers and some muttering people lurching out of the casinos, you’ve pretty much got the sidewalk to yourself.

The end of The Strip is a bit strange. Unlike the other end, where the modern Strip morphs into Old Las Vegas in a haze of Strip malls, construction sites, and cheesy wedding chapels, the Mandalay Bay end is more abrupt. You’ve got a fake New York skyline, a fake castle with multi-colored turrets, a fake Egyptian pyramid and Sphinx, the golden Mandalay Bay towers, and then . . . desert nothingness. Guests at Mandalay Bay look in one direction and see a gambling fantasyland, and look in the other and see a desolate waste.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Flamingos After Dark

There’s a lot of sameness in Las Vegas. You see the same slot machines and “no limit” rooms, one roulette wheel looks like another, and it seems like every casino has a Gordon Ramsey “Hell’s Kitchen”-themed restaurant. (How much “hell” can one guy produce, anyway?)

With so much sameness, it’s not surprising that every casino in Vegas appears to have adopted some kind of gimmick to distinguish it from its neighbors. The Flamingo, for example, has a little outdoor area where you can find actual flamingos. You have to walk through the entire casino to get there — because casino designers consciously make you walk through the casino area to get anywhere — but you can find the real flamingos outside, going about their grooming and classy strutting without paying too much attention to the fact they they now live in an artificial habitat next to a casino where Donny and Marie Osmond perform.

I feel sorry for the flamingos.

Lost In The Mists

The daytime temperature in Las Vegas these days is topping out at around 100 degrees. That’s ludicrously hot, even by mad dogs and Englishmen standards. So, how to lure the crowds staggering from one casino to another to stop at an outdoor cafe for an aperitif? The entrepreneurial proprietors at some spots offer a refreshing mist, the better to cool your fevered brow and stimulate your thirst.

How is that working, you ask? Well, no one was sitting at this outdoor cabaret, even though the misters were firing at full throttle. It turns out that, after the initial cooling sensation, the misters just leave you feeling a bit soggy — and it still is 100 degrees outside.

Stand-Up In The #MeToo Era

Last night a group of us went to Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  It was the first time I’d been to a comedy club in the post-Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo era, and as we waited for the performance I found myself wondering if the MeToo movement would have any obvious effect on the material the comics would address.

Having now sat through a very funny night of performances by three different comedians, including Brad Garrett himself, I can report that, last night at least, the MeToo movement didn’t seem to have a material impact on the subject matter of the humor.  The comedians were as raunchy and focused on sexual humor and race- and ethnicity-related jokes as they’ve ever been.  So far as I can tell, the only change is that the sex-oriented humor dealt more with the sexual attributes and capabilities of men, rather than women.  I’m not sure that is a real change, because a rich vein of modern American humor has always been of the self-deprecating or male-on-male roasting variety.  Think of Henny Youngman or one of the Dean Martin celebrity roasts, for example.

Stand-up comedy is almost by definition not politically correct, because a significant element of humor is shock and surprise and lampooning social norms.  When, as happened last night, there is ongoing interplay between the performers and the audience, there are bound to be off-color comments as the comedians lob a few insults at the brave people in the front row.  And in the set monologues, there was lots of racially and sexually tinged humor that was at, or over, the edge.  But nobody seemed to be terrified about crossing any new, poorly defined boundaries, nobody seemed to be aggressively self-editing, and nobody seemed mortally offended, either, when last night’s performance came to a close.

One performance obviously doesn’t permit me to draw deep conclusions, but I’m guessing that live stand-up comedy is going to survive the MeToo movement.  But boy, if they ever outlaw jokes about sex and male body parts, stand-up comedy might not survive.

Hotel Room Art

I continue to marvel at the weird art choices some hotels make for guest rooms. These pieces were placed directly over the bed, so the last thing you would see before bedtime are a creepy, bare-chested, mascara-wearing guy who seems to be wrestling with an ugly scarf, and a clearly troubled woman — no doubt because she’s positioned next to a disturbing guy who might well be the Boston Strangler.

Sleep tight, and don’t let Scarfface bother you!

Vermilion’s Moment In The Sun

Kish hails from Vermilion, Ohio.  It’s a town located right on Lake Erie, about halfway between Cleveland and Toledo.  By virtue of its location, it’s got strong ties to water and boating — there’s a yacht club, the local water tower has an anchor painted on it, and the high school team name is the Sailors, for example — but I’ve always thought of it just as Kish’s home town, and not as a coastal tourist destination.

vermilion35Recently, Vermilion got some nice national recognition.  It’s been named one of the 10 best coastal small towns in America by the USA Today Reader’s Choice Awards.

Vermilion placed fourth after evaluation by experts — which makes me wonder how you become an “expert” on cool coastal towns, and how I can sign up for that gig — and readers.  The text on Vermilion says: “Vermilion, located on the south shore of Lake Erie, feels more like a New England seaport, complete with a historic lighthouse and rich nautical heritage. Popular in the warm summer months, Vermilion’s walkable streets feature small boutique shops, art galleries, ice cream parlors and local restaurants, and summer evenings often involve concerts on the green.”

I’ve been visiting Vermilion since the ’70s, and I’ve always thought it was a nice place.  But, like most of the laid-back, reserved Midwest, Vermilion doesn’t really blow its own horn.  It’s got that nice “boats on the waterfront” feel, but without the alcohol-fueled craziness that you find in Put-in-Bay and other waterfront locations.  The downtown area. which is a short walk from the Lake Erie shoreline, has a vintage Americana vibe, and there are good places to eat, too.

Kish still has family in Vermilion, and I know from our recent visits that the people up there are working hard to make their nice little town even better.  I’m glad to see that their efforts have been rewarded.  If you’re in the Midwest and want to check out a cool coastal town, Vermilion is worth a visit.

Safari Day 1 – Tour Truck and Tour Family

The Encounters Travel Tour shuttle seats twenty four – at the back of the shuttle are large lockers to store our luggage – the sides of the shuttle open up for the crew to whip up our lunches and sometimes dinners as we often stop by the side of the road to eat – we only have nine in our group so we get to spread out – five from Australia – three from the USA and one from the HK – while traveling we all enjoy playing cards specially Uno – what a fun bunch – each seat has two phone chargers too which is AWESOME !!!!

Safari Day 2 – Orange River

Our chalets on the Orange River – the river is responsible for the diamond deposits along the Namibian coast – over millions of years it transported diamonds from the volcanic pipes in South Africa to the sea – from there the currents took them northward and the surf deposited them into the dune fields of Namib – gorgeous sunrise and sunset