A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
Stuff can be the curse of our lives. We wallow in it when we can't keep it sorted out or neatly organized. We keep buying more of whatever appeals to us that we think we just have to have. We box it all up and ship it all over the country when we move, often never using or looking at whole piles and boxes of it.
Motley Fool writer Dayana Yochim provides some great common sense advice about How To Want Less Stuff on the Motley Fool on July 24 2008. Read the article here.
Yochim quotes George Carlin's famous phrase about stuff when he said "The whole meaning of life is trying to find a place for your stuff."
Among Yochim's best suggestions are these: "Throw away catalogs without reading them. Go through the house and find 27 things you don't want to keep any more. Avoid people who want you to want more stuff."
Finally, my own comment: Does stuff make you happy? Or is stuff simply a burden? We have moved often and that has meant hauling our stuff all over the country after we weed out huge chunks of it each time we go somewhere else. Even with careful pruning, we end up hauling stuff we never use or look at. I do feel sorry for people whose houses burn or get flooded out. The main comment, often, is that they lost their photograph book. So make digital copies of your precious photos and documents, put them in a safe deposit box, and then hope your house will remain standing. Starting over with all new stuff can be traumatic. Today's brides and grooms, of course, seem to expect to start out immediately with all of the stuff, only better quality, that their parents have worked forty years to have, and won't settle for any less. Alas, stuff will not guarantee a happy marriage, either.
Worry Warts of the world, relax. John Tierney has identified some major issues of gloom and doom that he says we no longer have to worry about. In his article titled Findings: 10 Things to Scratch From Your Worry List (New York Times, July 29 2008), Tierney takes on ten traditional and conventional worries that keep people nervous and worried. Included on his list are killer hot dogs, auto A/C as an environmental killer, foreign fruit, cellphone cancer, plastic bags, plastic bottles, deadly sharks, and missing Arctic ice. Thank heaven for the killer hot dogs. I love hot dogs and since I usually fix my own lunch a great lunch is a killer hot dog nuked in the toaster oven to a char black tint with a toasted bun and mustard and relish. Now I no longer have to worry about whether I will last until supper time having presumably consumed disastrous levels of carcinogenic substances and saturated fat. We don't use cellphones much, but, of course, have worried about the longevity of those in our family who glue their cellphones to their ears when they awake and probably go to sleep with them. Plastic bags have been a major guilt trip every time we say plastic when asked "paper or plastic." Now true greenies are carrying green bags back to the store that they pay something like a buck apiece to make them feel environmentally secure and superior. I thought for awhile I would die soon from using plastic bottles, but can now put that fear to rest. Apparently a tad more Arctic ice is floating around up there, pole-wise, so we can relax a bit on that area of paranoia.
As a true worry wart, however, I must confess I wonder if any margin of error exists in Tierney's assessment, and if he could be wrong, and that lurking in those plastic bottles, plastic bags, cellphone radiation, and killer weenies are a host of unidentified and unknown substances that are turning us all into marshmallows. And, even if all of Tierney's list of stuff is as he says it is, aren't there many, many other things out there we should lie awake worrying about each night until the wee hours? Read Tierney's article here.
Direct TV, after waiting since Saturday, and this is Wednesday, finally was able to provide their superior and timely service by sending out the repair technician. An able and cheerful young man showed up on our doorstep, and I could hardly hold him accountable for Direct TV's incompetence in providing terrible service and for leaving us stranded as if we were still in the 1940s before we ever knew that TV existed and before we ever had an opportunity to learn that TV would dominate our entire future lives and waste 90 percent of our discretionary time. The technician took one look at the location in the furnace room where two dozen TV wires congregate to do whatever two dozen TV wires are supposed to do and, in two seconds, cheerfully announced "I see the problem". "What is the problem," I say, "that was serious enough to deprive us of our life style and our sanity for nearly five days?" "This little box is supposed to have a green light," he said, "And there is no green light." So he replaced the little box without the green light, all of our TVs came on, and he went cheerfully on his way. Before leaving, he advised us that we were wise to have signed up for the care policy or he would have had to assess us eighty bucks just because their crappy equipment quit working (my words, not his). At least one positive glimmer came out of all the unadulterated misery and suffering we have gone through since Saturday.
I quickly began following the market on CNBC after he left, which admittedly I could do on the computer, but I am paying a fortune to Direct TV every month to have the privilege of watching a color screen that flashes market updates. The Dow started out respectably, but has since began suffering anemia as the gain is only in the 30s and 40s. Now 51.38. Oil is up 2.51 and rising, but despite the sharp drop in oil prices, Utah oil dealers haven't heard about the drop yet since we are right up there with Alaska and Hawaii, two places that ordinarily have high prices anyway, with the highest gas prices in the country at somewhere between $4.13 and higher. Dozens of hearings and millions spent on research continually assure us "there is no conspiracy on gas prices." Whatever. No matter that we have refineries right here in Salt Lake City and that gasoline prices are supposed to reflect transportation costs.
I even watched Regis and Kelly for a few minutes as he debated for five minutes how runny the egg yolks should be for Eggs Benedict, information that surely was critical for surviving today. I felt comforted to see that all of the ambulance chasing personal injury lawyers were still all spending their massive overhead on letting people know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars they got awarded to the last person who got bashed in an accident. I left The View on for 30 seconds, 30 seconds longer than I have left it on before.
I have no idea how many personal problems Dr. Phil could have solved if I had only been able to watch him, which I never do anyway, but it's just the idea of what if I had, a right which I paid Direct TV a big bundle for the right to do so. Plus we have missed several nights of 30 second sound-bite "News in Depth" stories on the evening news, and we have no idea how many goodies Oprah gave away or whether she announced any new books we are supposed to read. At least I can watch Olberman identify the "Worst Persons in the World" tonight, and go to sleep later on with the TV on.
We are so fortunate to live in this modern technological age and to be continually depressed with the best that modern writers and producers can come up with. None of which is even close to Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, M*A*S*H, and a dozen or so other talented and ingenious offerings from the past. At least the Olympics will soon be on, and the college football season is getting closer by the day. Where did all the talent go?
For years, we ate eggs without restrictions, especially growing up on a farm. Then we found out that eggs were supposedly a killer, and would clog our arteries. Now the word is out again that eggs may actually be good for us. This information has actually been out for perhaps two decades, but the word has been slow to reach the public. Tara-Parker Pope's article in the July 28 New York Times titled "The Sunny Side of Eggs" reinforces the idea that eggs will likely not raise cholesterol for most people. In fact, the unsaturated fat, B vitamins, and other nutrients may be beneficial. Moreover, eating protein for breakfast usually makes people feel fuller through the morning and less likely to snack. To read the article, go here.
The same author wrote an article on October 1, 2007 in the New York Times that provides more information on eggs titled "Edible Sure, But Just How Incredible." Read the article here. Ms. Pope cautions in this article that diabetics and those sensitive to cholesterol may still need to limit egg consumption
We are now entering the penultimate day (haven't used that clunker for awhile) of life without television in the Promised Land. The last two days have given me an opportunity to rant about various grievances including the Osmond's performance with the Tabernacle Choir and my distaste for BillO. Commenter "Mormon Soprano" gently assured me that it didn't matter if I didn't like the Osmonds, since they already had plenty of fans and also assured me that a break from routine can actually be a good thing, another constructive comment that bears further elaboration at some point.
The big black screen in the corner continues to leer at us, daring us to think that it may ever become active again with the drivel of daily ads and often trivial and useless information. What have we been missing? We rarely watch sitcoms, and often just sit and read until the late news comes on. We usually more or less watch the news, then a few minutes of Leno and Letterman, mostly because we are tired of reading by then. The problem is, we have a loss of control; we cannot decide whether to leave the screen blank or not because that decision has been made for us. Every time I go into the living room for a few minutes and sit down, all I can do is glare at the black, silent, dormant screen in the corner. This deprives me of the opportunity to speak to the people on the TV screen, especially news anchors, reporters, people in TV ads, and anyone else who would benefit from the names I call them and the advice I offer them in terms of when they have said enough and need to please just be quiet. I just have to imagine who is saying what, but it is no fun to call the blank TV screen a moron because no interaction ensues. My wife reminds me once in awhile that no one on the TV screen can hear me, but that's not the point, is it?
I have managed to finish another book. I am always amazed and pleased with the recognition that I actually learn something new from every book I read, no matter how good or how bad. Admittedly, there are many valuable programs on TV that can teach us much about life, people, geography and lots of other things, not to mention to remain steadfastly intrigued at the lamebrained choices and decisions some people make. I have learned my philosophy of war and of effective ways to deal with it from M*A*S*H. Not to mention acquiring a massive envy for Hawkeye's continuing brilliant ability to be a consummate prankster and comedian. Why did Alan Alda never seem quite himself in any future roles he played? Series like John Adams are worth every nickle it costs to have a television set in your home. I also learned not to worry about whether Matt Dillon would get shot by the next-fastest-gun in the west, because then he wouldn't be around for the next series and then Chester would have to take over which, I realize, would not be quite the same.
I wonder if we can just pick up tomorrow where we left off four days ago on the political give-and-take, and if we have learned anything new or missed anything about who said what about the surge, and whether the surge worked, or whether something else made the difference, and whether someone from Star Wars caused the price of gas to go so high, and whether red states are becoming blue states and blue states are becoming red states. I wonder if I have missed anything about who will be the vice-presidential candidate in either party and if someone said something about the parsing of the polls that would indicate either candidate is definitely going to win or lose.
Anyway, the carpet cleaners are coming later today, and I must de-clutter several months accumulation of junk from various carpet areas to remain in good graces around here.
Long basking in the glow of Diet Coke and Pepsi addiction, believing artificial sweeteners are keeping them skinny, lovers of diet soda got their come-uppance in Sunday's Parade Magazine. It seems that artificial sweeteners throw rats diets off kilter, whether artificial sweeteners are natural or artificial. And, the article suggests, people may compensate for drinking diet soda by obtaining sweets from other calorie-rich sources. Read the article at the above link.
All day Sunday the television in the living room just sat there with a big, black, empty screen, not even hinting at all of the treasure trove of information and entertainment being beamed to us from outer space, just a look of foreboding and doom. The quiet was nice, the incessant obnoxious ads were not missed, and I felt no deprivation of knowledge, wisdom, or enlightenment as a result of this blackout. We stuck the venerable old Monkey Ward TV with its rabbit ears on the kitchen counter so we could watch the late news, as if we cared, but at least it provided a feeble reminder of normal happenings.
My wife watched the Osmond Family with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or at least the parts she could stand. We neither one were quite sure why we had to endure Osmond rock and roll with the Tabernacle Choir, and especially we failed to understand why we had to watch and listen to fawning tributes to the seemingly incredible Osmond family when the program was supposed to be honoring pioneers. While never discrediting the talent of Donnie and Marie, I never could stand their television program when it was on the air and about threw up every time there was "a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll." Osmond lovers, please do not clog my email inbox with hate mail. I am just an old retired school teacher. There is no law that says I have to fall all over Donnie and Marie and their hundreds of talented relatives and descendants. I couldn't stand Elvis Presley or the Beatles, either. I never graduated from Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Jo Stafford, Rosemary Clooney, and Frank Sinatra. From the raucous and prolonged applause from 22,000 people following the concert, obviously I am mentally defective and culturally challenged not to appreciate the event. It might have worked in Branson Missouri, but it will take me awhile to get the Osmond images and sounds out of my mind the next time I watch the infinitely wonderful Tabernacle Choir.
I will have to do without Matlock at 1:00 o'clock, and all the blather on MSNBC, which is not a local channel, including Olberman's Countdown at 6:00 o'clock, a program some of my kids detest, but which I love watching to see who the "Worst Persons in the World" are for the day, hoping for another blast at "BillO". O.K., BillO lovers, spare me another deluge of hate mail. I won't be able to check through several dozen premium movie channels and sports channels to verify that nothing is running that I am even remotely interested in, but which takes up part of each normal day and which my monthly Direct TV payment entitles me to do. My sister Liz is suggesting that I ask for a refund for days missed. Is it worth waiting hours through their automated phone system, arguing with two or three phone techies, being put on hold two or three times while "my call is important to them, please stay on the line"?
By not having access to TV, I don't have to wonder "what's on" a dozen times a day or night. Withdrawal symptoms can be serious, with jerky reflex movements simulating the need to reach for the remote, cuddle it in my hand, thumb at the ready for the mute button to get rid of the idiots yelling at me from Southtowne Auto Mall, or Malone Toyota. They recently showed a picture of Karl Malone, recent immortal Jazz player, standing in front of Malone Toyota, thus ensuring us that Karl at least knew where his auto dealership is, just a short distance from where I live. But I have serious doubts if the retired basketball wizard is there each morning checking with the service manager or the parts department to see if all is humming smoothly.
My wife actually wrote a letter last night, not being chained to the TV. We didn't even have access to the soaps on Lifetime, LMN, or Hallmark, or vintage reruns of Beverly Hillbillies and Three's Company. I finished reading two books, pondered a number of deep philosophical issues, and polished off the Friday NYT crossword puzzle, which was a beast. When they have stuff on those things that you can't even Google, you know you have a sadistic and evil crossword puzzle creator. Now I can spend half the week doing the Saturday puzzle.
So with no apologies whatsoever for Osmond and BillO fans, Monday is moving on, just 48 hours or so from deliverance so we can get back to wasting our usual inordinate amount of time. I probably spend more time flipping channels than I spend watching, at least until football and basketball seasons start. I hope we are up and running by then. College football kickoff is only about a month away. Then the good life begins again, and summer whining over the dog days July and August are over, the tailgates begin. Break out the hot dogs, fire up the grill, and be sure you get some relish.
At least my computer is up and running, so I am not missing out on anything. The Dow is declining nicely in the 100s again today, eating up another chunk of my retirement savings. It is possible that I will not be able to afford to pay my TV cable bill any more and just have it disconnected. Trouble is, they never even come and take away the dish, so at least I'll have something to scare the birds away from my tomato plants. Thus, another glorious day is piddling away, another day without TV.
As a result of yesterday afternoon's downpour, our Direct TV satellite television was knocked out. That meant no Saturday night TV, to start with, including a program my wife had been counting on seeing. After she called Direct TV to report the outage, she spent at least an hour on the phone as she was switched from one technician to another. After doing everything possible to get it restarted, she was told that the earliest a technician could come out to repair it was Wednesday July 30. July 30? Are you kidding? What are we supposed to do until then?
Well, we do have an old Monkey Ward 13 incher that my wife bought during a visit to Texas more than twenty years ago. So at least we can watch the local news with a rabbit ears and a couple of other local channels as well. That meant my wife could at least watch her Sunday morning talk show babblers and learn once more that one rarely ever learns anything new from several hours of commentating. And, at least, we'll be able to get 60 Minutes tonight.
But how can life go on without a remote that you can use to flip through several hundred channels before concluding that, as usual, you cannot find a single thing you want to watch? It's the idea, the justice of the thing. We have a right to waste our time in this way, and when the satellite gets knocked out we are deprived of that inalienable right, it makes us really, really ticked off. What can we do? We might actually have to spend a little more time reading. Or we could consider going to bed at a decent hour instead of waiting to be numbed into slumber with senseless late night television.
We have let our lives become narrowly restricted by our addiction which leads us to spend increasing time spent worshiping at the TV altar. I remember the good old days before TV, when we looked forward about three nights a week to listening to our favorite radio programs--Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, Phil Harris on Sunday nights; Dr. IQ the Mental Banker on Monday nights; and Fibber McGee and Molly, then Fred Allen on Tuesday nights. There were others, of course: The Lone Ranger which I listened to incessantly during the three and one-half months I stayed home from school in the fifth grade with an undiagnosed illness. Then there were the unforgettable sounds and mental images from listening to Edward R. Murrow from the rooftops during London bombings in World War II, and H. V. Kaltenborn and other commentators. Whatever the program, the dialogue sparked our imagination about how things and people looked and how and what they were doing. Our faith became diminished, like our faith in Santa Claus, when we realized that everyone was just standing behind a microphone reading from a script while clever sound effects experts induced the sounds of horses racing, Fibber McGee's closet contents falling all over the floor, doors banging. But we loved radio, and, not knowing anything about television, we couldn't possibly miss not having it.
Early TV was primitive by today's standards. I remember in 1954 when I bought our first big black box with a tiny 13 inch screen and we were able to get only a few channels and a few broadcasts. We even liked the Lawrence Welk show in those early days since a musical show like that was such a revolutionary thing to watch on television. We hauled that monster all over the country as we moved to Ann Arbor to grad school, back to Colorado, then to Cheyenne. Gradually we succumbed to a color television in a beautiful cabinet, in the era when televisions were furniture and expensive cabinets were mandatory. Before remotes were abundant, our kids sat directly in front of the TV with their fingers on the turning knob in order to do channel hopping.
Now, I am ashamed to say, we have ten TVs, five in each of our two retirement condos. Almost all of them are old clunkers we have had for ten or fifteen years that still work. We have one decent one, a Sony, but the others, whatever the screen size, are obsolescent. We haven't faced up, yet, to the impending necessity to do something about High Density TV and some kind of wall mounted flat screen TV. We're not sure we can find enough programs we really want to watch. We don't need HD for reruns of programs like Matlock, M*A*S*H, Murder She Wrote, Gunsmoke. I can't see that HD would enhance the drive-by shootings, fires, convenience store robberies, domestic violence, and other events on the nightly news.
I can, however, see that HD TV could bring a whole new life and era to sports television and to watching movies. Maybe such benefits would make it worth thinking about spending half of my remaining retirement funds on a wall-mounted, flat plasma screen with studio-quality speaker system. Or maybe I might just stick with books, blogging, taking photographs, and bugging my sisters. I really might not notice any difference in my quality of life. Happiness, we might coin a phrase, never was High Density TV. Or low-density TV. Or any TV at all. Will you please turn the blasted thing down? I don't need 200 decibel ads for South Towne Auto Mall, interminable ads for bodily function pills and potions at supper time, talk show bloviaters, sleazy and nasty sitcoms, ten or fifteen minutes of ads for a 30 minute show, or any of the other recurring and newly invented irritants to remind us that we are slaves to television; that we will endure the body function and pharmaceutical pill ads, the interruptions in programs, because we are addicted. We don't know that life could continue without television.
After the rain: a rainbow in a dark sky and a blue hole in the clouds. The rain yesterday was a driving downpour, the first rain since June 10. We worried about water in the basement, but fortunately we stayed dry.
Rainbow's End: A Memoir of Childhood, War, and an African Farm by Lauren St. John (New York: Scribner, 2007).
I love this book. I love books that make indelible impressions that last, that provide an ever-moving kaleidoscope of events and anecdotes and unforgettable vistas and characterizations of people that you think about a long time after you finish the page and put the book down. A memoir written by a fourth-generation white girl growing up in Africa, I can still visualize the homes her family lived in with their thatched roofs, a hissing cobra in the kitchen sink, deadly poisonous snakes of all kinds that have either already come into the house or seem to keep trying to do so. I can see Jenny, the giraffe, and Goat--that is his name--the goat, who appointed himself chief sheep herder and herded the sheep into the barn. I agonize over the family turmoil brought on by an unconventional marriage with a globe-trotting mother and a stubborn and courageous father, so embedded in Rhodesia and in Africa that not even terrorist murders and constant danger could move him from Land's End.
Lauren St. John was such a tomboy that her dad, when asked if he didn't want a son, said he didn't really need one as long as he had Lauren. Her daring knew no limits, which led once to having one of her pet pythons, kept in the house, coil itself around her arm and try to strangle her. She loved Olivia Newton-John, animals, her family--despite its imperfections--and Africa.
Rainbow's End is a farm in Rhodesia where Lauren's family settled in 1978 during the last and "bloodiest phase of the Rhodesian civil war" when Lauren was eleven years old. The home had been a scene of recent terrorist murders, and the blood of the young boy who just recently sat across from Lauren at school was still evident on the dresser in Lauren's room. As the endcover on the book summarizes,
At the height of the war, Lauren rides through the wilderness on her horse, Morning Star, encountering lions, crocodiles, snakes, vicious ostriches, and mad cows. . . .The constant threat of ruthless guerillas prowling the land underscores everything, making each day more dangerous, vivid, and prized than the last.
St. John writes about the end of the Rhodesian civil war:
With a suddenness more frightening than anything that had led up to it, the War was over. The country that we'd fought for, lost limbs for, died and put our lives on the line for was no longer our country. Zimbabwe-Rhodesia became plain but glorious Zimbabwe, a Karanga term probably meaning "House of Stone," and Rhodesia became a dirty word.
The impenetrable tragedy that was Rhodesia and became an even more troubled Zimbabwe, the sought for freedoms for the blacks that became mired in a cruel and oppressive dictatorship was inevitable with the passage of time. The halcyon days of white-controlled Rhodesia could never last, with its beautiful cities, gardens, and country-club culture. My oldest son, Russell, served an LDS Church mission to South Africa and Rhodesia in the early 1980s. I am passing this book along to him to read, and I hope he will write a few paragraphs about his recollections of Rhodesia during the time he was there.
Ultimately, one can only weep for Rhodesia and Lauren St. John, whose lyrical writing and beautifully etched descriptions of Africa will long haunt her readers. She knew that Rhodesia-Zimbabwe could never be hers or that it could ever belong to any white person and that she would have to leave her beloved Land's End.
In her poignant last paragraphs in the book, St. John writes:
I sat there feeling as if my heart would break, just shatter and scatter its shards, like seeds on the soil of Africa. There was too much to say and no way to say it. . .
"We had a good time here Dad, didn't we? We've loved it here" was all I could manage, and my voice was ragged with tears.
He never took his eyes from the river. "I've had the time of my life, my friend, the time of my life," he said, and his words, too, were weighted with regret, with love, with unbearable sadness. And he meant them.
I am reminded of one of the other most poignant sentences in literature written about Africa from Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixon) whose book begins, I think, with the words "I had a farm in Africa".