Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Online Privacy and Values Readjustment

The disruptions that come with new technology often bring discomfort to those who would rather return to the way things were before (keeping of course the benefit that the new technology brings).

Consider automobiles in the early 20th century as an example. Most of us today drive or at least ride in automobiles but also realize that there are drawbacks. We enjoy the benefit of personal, flexible travel but would like to eliminate the traffic deaths and injuries, air pollution, generalized stress of automobile traffic and a host of social ills such as anonymity and isolation and the alterations to our landscape that the use of autos has brought. We like the mobility but not the public health and environmental drawbacks. These unintended consequences are disruptive and although objectionable to us, they are not enough for most of us to stop using cars.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cultural Choice or Cultural Marketing

In recent decades we in the industrialized world have a variety of cultural experiences available to us which we consider a form of recreation and entertainment. It usually involves an immersion into a different way of life, one that we would never see other than as cultural tourists. We buy the clothes that we wouldn't normally wear and try to talk the same way and about the same things as the people where we're going. But we're outsiders pretending briefly to be a part of the world that we've only read about or watched in the movies.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Now or Never

Graceland, 1987

Elvis Presley
After being dumped by our respective girlfriends, Hans and I decided on the spur of the moment to drive to Graceland in August 1987 for the 10th anniversary of Elvis' death. His mother had been a big Elvis fan and owned a lot of his old LPs that we'd made fun of as kids. They had cheesy photos of Elvis and some buxom girls or a picture of him in his military uniform driving a convertible with the caption, "A Date with Elvis." We thought it was ridiculous. But then he died and we changed our tune, so to speak.

One thing about Graceland is that no matter where you are--the gift shop, the Zebra room or the memorial gardens--they pipe in Elvis music 24/7. And it includes a lot of songs that you don't normally hear on the radio. Sort of the forgotten Elvis, I would call it. Songs like, "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" or "Treat Me Nice."

While we were following our appointed group across the hallowed grounds, we ran into two French girls who were on a whirlwind tour of the U.S. by bus. They visited something like 17 cities in 22 days. They'd drive all night (sleeping on the bus) then visit New York, Washington, Atlantic City, Disney World, New Orleans, Memphis and everything else they'd soaked up in the mass media back in (ooh la la!) Paris.

They didn't speak English very well (as far as we could tell) but they were just our speed and Hans and I being unattached, we tried our best with them. (I will remind the reader, these were French girls. See my earlier post about cultural stereotypes and the French.)

Our tour leader had to call out to these two French girls to stay off the lawn, please. They had been taking pictures of one another in front of every historic marker and monument in the eastern U.S. and didn't seem to hear or understand. But boy, were they ripe. Hans stepped in and generously volunteered to keep an eye on these two as we made it through the mansion. Our tour leader was relieved.

As the tour progressed and we were being led back down the lawn to the gift shop, we knew these French girls were about to board a bus to Chicago or something and we had to act fast. The song, "Now or Never" began playing and boy was it timely. That's what He would have told us if he could see what was happening, we figured.

The U.S. Presidency and Hero Worship

The U.S. presidency has become a committee of a couple of dozen well connected and well educated people who advise a single, charismatic, photogenic person who implements the policies decided by the committee.

This may be objectionable, especially to those who have never considered the idea and who are accustomed to hero-worship. But it is unreasonable anymore to expect a single individual to have the capacity to handle the duties of the office. No single person knows the intricacies of energy and science policy and is at the same time able to negotiate trade or arms agreements with a variety of nations.

But that's just want most Americans want and expect from their president. They want John Wayne (as Gil Scott-Heron once surmised) or George Washington. A man who will walk over and punch the collective Islamic State right in the nose and tell them to sit down and shut up. Then walk calmly back home. That's an allegorical scenario but that kind of thing is just what this country thinks it can find if it just keeps looking for the right candidate. Delusional is what I would call it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Things We Used to Do

I guess I'm getting old when I start talking about the way things used to be. I suppose every generation could create one of these lists.

We used to go to the bank on Friday night to get pocket money for the week. Either that or we'd cash a check at a local grocery, liquor or other store. This was before ATMs and at a time when communities were small enough for the local grocer or liquor store owner to know a person personally and trust that his or her check was good.

Best Basketball Players in the World

Kevin Durant has pulled out of international basketball competition's U.S. team and few can blame him. Durant has been thinking about an NBA title for probably 10-12 years. 

The fact that the US team has lost some recent international tournaments only shows that basketball is a team sport which relies more on continuity of 10 or so players practicing and playing together full time and less on throwing together 10 of the best players in the world for 2-3 weeks.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Beer Graduate

I started drinking beer when I was 16 and I spent the rest of high school in hot pursuit of the foamy beverage. Because I was too young to be served in a bar, my friends and I usually bought six-packs from the groceries and markets which were known to sell to just about anyone over 5 feet 9 inches. We then drank can after can in somebody's parents' car or basement when the adults were away. It usually ended with some foolishness, unrestrained laughter and often vomiting. 

It was all loads of fun as the reader can imagine.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Taxpayer Rule

I've sometimes thought that election day should be held on April 15th rather than the first Tuesday in November so that people have it fresh in their minds that they pay for services from the government and can vote accordingly. But undoubtedly some political scholar would say this is a bad idea because (for example) we don't want elections to be about how much we pay in taxes or we don't want to elect someone just because he or she promises to reduce spending more than everyone else.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Wage Stagnation and Increased Purchase Power

I consider myself an armchair economist so what I am about to say might be missing something but I will summarize what I understand to be two sides to an issue.

We know that wages or income have been largely stagnant for most Americans since the mid-1970s. That is, when we take the incomes of Americans 40 years ago and adjust it for inflation, there has not been any improvement. There are a number of things to account for in this statistic and while I can't go into the reasons here, I will say that generally I believe it is true; despite an increase in productivity and increases in GDP since 1975, the average worker is not bringing home more money today than 40 years ago. (I say 'he' because it appears that the glass ceiling notwithstanding, women's income has risen on average since then. But of course the gender pay gap is still quite common and unfairness in pay between the sexes has not been adequately dealt with.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Charis T. Hutchinson

My sister, Charis is named after my father's aunt Charis (pronounced Kare-iss). Great-aunt Charis.

She was born in the last year of the 19th century and died in 1983, spending almost her entire life on Long Island, NY. She attended Smith College but didn't find any men at Yale or Harvard or Brown to marry. She undoubtedly met a few but she remained single, spending her whole life living with her father until he died in 1946. At that point she and her stepmother moved to Port Washington in Nassau County. (Aunt Charis' biological mother died when she was a teenager)

She had two brothers, one of whom was my grandfather. Her other brother, Harold was exposed to poisonous gas during World War I and along with a lifelong smoking habit, died at around age 50. Neither he nor Charis ever had any children. But they all got together at holidays and aunt Charis doted on her niece, nephew and eventually the grand-nieces and grand nephews.

Out of curiosity I once asked my aunt Ruth if there was ever a man in Charis' life and she said she thought she had heard something about some guy once when she was young. I asked if she'd heard it from her father (Charis' brother) and she said, "Oh, no. He never talked about things like that."

Charis worked for the State of New York in Manhattan and commuted by the Long Island Railroad everyday. When he was a young man, my father would visit them and he and aunt Charis had a system whereby each Friday she would walk on the train station platform to the last car where my teenaged father sometimes met and rode with her.

If I had to say something about Charis Tuthill Hutchinson it is that she was an interesting lady, probably due to the fact that she was college educated (a rarity for a woman in 1915-1920) and that the absence of children undoubtedly freed her to pursue a lot of extra-curriculars that most parents are unable to find time for.

The old saying, "The only interesting people are interested people," certainly applied to my great aunt Charis.