Saturday, September 05, 2009

Just Say No to Styro

Can I live without styrofoam?

I never thought about it before this weeks's Change the World Wednesday challenge, but it would be something worth trying for reasons detailed here. I don't use styro on purpose, ever. The cups taste AWFUL and I don't think I've used one in years. I never use styro packing peanuts; cardboard can pack anything I need to pack! So eliminating styro from my life is little sacrifice, and it's a great benefit to our earth and our descendants.

However, there are a few areas of life where the elimination would be difficults. When I buy computers and the like, they usually come packed in awefully big chunks of styro. I'm not sure what to do about that but complain to the manufacturers. This is something I pledge to do, starting with my next purchase. It may be a little thing, but in my experience, companies notice. They may not act right away but if enough people complain, they'll do SOMETHING if not always what we want.

Food is another area where styro occurs. I can decline to buy eggs that come in styro boxes. As long as I politely tell the store manager what the issue is, there may actually be some effect greater than my single purchase. In my experience, store managers really do want to please customers by providing stuff customers want to buy. As long as I'm polite and enthusiastic, they've always given me back a positive attitude - and why not? it is what they do for a living!

Meats can be an issue. I usually get it pre-packaged on styro trays. However, whenever I go by the meat counter, the meatstaff (...or whatever they may be called ... "Butcher"?) say hello and what do I want. Whenever I've asked them for something, they pack it in paper.

So I resolve to cut out the meat-on-styro, and buy directly from the people behind the counter. What the heck, it's fun talking to them anyway;usually they're good for a cooking tip and so on. I'm never in too much of a hurry for a good cooking tip!

Maybe knocking styro out of my life will lead to a little more social interaction and that's a good thing!

Friday, September 04, 2009

How to Balance Obama's Speech to Kids

"Kids, studying is hard work.

Don't do it. Don't study and do not stay in school!

If you picked your parents well, your daddy will get you into college and set you up in business with your buddies. If you were born poor or middle class, well it sucks to be you!

In America, it may be true that even a man who has a funny name and was born into a family that had troubles can stay in school, study hard, work hard and run for President! And even get more votes than the other guy!

But it can't happen to you! We're working hard to ensure that, so don't bother trying, 'k?
Remember, kids, whether you're in the classroom or just walking around wearing a suit ... if something really bad happens, you should freeze for six or seven minutes. Sooner or later, another man in a suit will come along to tell you what to do.

You already know that school is hard work. And I'm here to tell you that it does not matter. Don't study! Don't stay in school!

Hope sucks. Give up!"
--- This message offered by the Republican National Committee, in reply to the President's message to America's children

Monday, August 31, 2009

We Fight For the Teabaggers, Too!

Across the street from my post office was an old man, seated in a lawn chair with a "No Rationing!" sign, two old ladies with similar signs, and a middle-aged guy with a "No Communism!" sign.

I asked the old man respectfully what he wanted; sir, are are you worried about the way private health insurance rations health care? He said he didn't want the government to running health care. I asked if he was on Medicare, and he said yes but he just didn't want the government to run health care. I asked if that meant he wanted to give up his Medicare. He stared ahead stonilet ... liars?

It was the "dog" remark ... intended as a childish insult .dies had obviously had some skin disease on her face. She shouted at me proudly that she had won every appeal with her insurance company, but you couldn't appeal government health care! I wated to ask if she'd ever heard of an appeals court; I wanted to ask why she had to go through an appeals process to get healed, how long she had to wait for the process to complete before she got care, or whether the scarring on her face had been caused because of the delays she'd experienced while fighting the insurance company in an ultimately successful appeal. However, some questions, however fair, cannot be asked, out of decency. Instead, I asked, What about people who can't get insurance? You can always get insurance, she said. What if you're poor or unemployed? Should the poor just die? She had no answer; she knew she was speaking untruths, and she was unwilling to say, yes, the poor should just die.

The other old lady informed me everyone could get health care just by going to a hospital. I asked about cancer and diabetes; were they treated in ERs? No, she said, of course not. There were always charities to pay for that. No-one, she said, was denied health care. Even the elderly poor I asked? She didn't reply; how could she? She was lying, and she knew it.

The ladies started chanting "Freedom! Freedom!". The middle-aged man (who was obviously their Commissar) said, "Let's go. Don't pay attention to a dog barking," and the ladies went off, abandoning the immobile old man to protest alone, against the very system that was keeping him alive.

These were elders, respectable people, who you would instinctly trust to be good and honest citizens. No doubt, they felt that they were and nothing anyone can say would change their feeling about that - not even pointing out that they were saying things they knew to be untrue. There was no rational discussion possible because they could not admit simple facts; it was entirely an emotional discussion, comparable to debating the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, or Miller vs. Miller Lite. What was going on?

Why were elderly, respectable people who under other circumstances be called nothing but sweet ... liars?

It was the "dog" remark ... intended as a childish insult ... that gave me enlightenment. There was no more reasoning going on here than when a dog barks. It was all emotion, to them.

They were not lying, because they felt they were right. The mere words didn't matter; they were right and they were together, and they could not bear any mere facts that would split them apart. And for me to hit them harder and harder with the facts accomplished nothing except feed my own desire to be right, at the expense of being effective.

For example, the old man was in a spot. I was someone who drifted into his life for a moment, and then would be gone. OTOH, the old ladies were his ride home. How could he possibly agree with me? How could he dispassionately consider my questions? Should he displease me, or displease the people he'd known for decades? Would I be his companion? Would I give him a ride home?

On an emotional level, there was no choice. How could he possibly admit that he owed the continuance of his life to a government that he hated, and come into conflict with his friends who hate their government just as they hate the Yankees?

What To Do?
Identifying a problem is nice, but a solution is better!

If the emotional argument is all that matters, let us make one thing very clear: "We fight for health care for Teabaggers too!"

Teabaggers don't have to be alone. We're on their side, fighting so they won't have to die for lack of health care.

We're fighting so their grandchildren will not face death if they happen to be very sick.

We are friends of the teabaggers, even if they don't want us - in fact, ESPECIALLY if they don't want us. It is easy to befriend those who agree with us; the victory is in befriending those who oppose us.

This solution has many advantages. It may defuse the emotional issues; it may be comforting.

But most of all, it has the very great advantage of being true.

We fight for the Teabaggers, along with all of us.

UPDATE: Sinfest made much the same comment on Friday (see top of post)

Charging Station Saves Time, Money and Planet

I found a small space in which to collect ALL of our charging devices - for cellphones, SoniCare toothbrushes, rechargable batteries - and plunked them next to a power strip, creating a sort of "Charging Station".

The US Department of Energy recommends unplugging battery chargers when not in use and this is easier to remember when they are organized into a charging station, rather than scattered all through the home. Now whenever we need to charge something, we can plug the charger into the strip and flip the strip on. When nothing's charging we turn the strip off so we don't have to bother unplugging the chargers.

I've long had a similar arrangement with my computer: a charging strip supplying the computer itself, the internet modem/router, a printer (when I had one - which I don't any longer), and my computer desk lamp. It was a convenient was to ensure I was powering the entire computing complex down when I was done for the day (which is the topic of this week's Save The World Wednesday - thanks!). Extending the idea to chargers is not exactly genius work but it has some advantages that make it well worth the minor effort:

  • No more time wasted searching for the chargers
  • Less energy wasted with chargers plugged in and unused
  • Less money wasted because less energy wasted. Admittedly, this is not a huge amount of energy and money, but every little bit helps. According to the US Department of Energy; waste is simply irrational.
  • We had to locate a convenient place to keep all our chargers. (Frankly, this was not much of a disadvantage!)
  • We needed a power strip, but I always have a couple bumming around. They're maybe a dollar at a thrift store; for this application, there is no need to go for the expensive kind
  • When I'm charging one thing but not another, I often forget to unplug the unused chargers from the strip. This means I'm not saving the maximum amount of energy and therefore money; however the system as designed is an improvement over our previous system of having chargers all over.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Collegehood's End

To the friends of our youth we often ascribe virtues far in excess of their merit. I feel that my college friends were smart, witty, true leaders and wise. I remember many deep, wise and/or humorous discussions late into the night; if recorded for posterity, these would have revolutionized the course of civilization!

Or something.

The more likely explanation is that, at the time, I had actually met rather few people and acquired not very much wisdom. I had few social skills, in part having been raised by an alcoholic millworker and in part to having attended a religious highschool that valued unquestioning obedience over personal hygiene. However, having nothing to compare my condition to, I naturally felt rather sophisticated although, mysteriously, not well accepted by people who wore nice clothing. (Didn't they know that inner qualities are more important than knowing about taking a shower regularly? How foolish of them! or so I felt.)

That I can look back over the decades and understand the mere facts of my youth does not overcome my still firmly-felt belief that the friends of the time were exceptionally fine.
This may work in reverse. I had a roommate enrolled in courses that I'd taken the year before. I helped him whenever he hit a snag and thereby acquired an entirely undeserved reputation for knowing what the hell I was talking about. I hope he never figures this out ;-)
Over time, we grow. We meet more people and realize that the chance acquaintances of a large but mediocre university are no longer the smartest, most clever or even the most interesting people we know.

Pre-internet, we'd gradually move apart, as we moved to different cities in pursuit of romance, career or better karma. The gradual attenuation of relationships is almost painless, as others better suited to our maturing selves fill any gaps. Eventually there may be a 25th-year-reunion, at which we jovially note our receding hairlines/expanding waistlines, promise to stay in touch, and rarely do. Eventually, with few exceptions, the things of the extended childhood we called college fade away like the Earth of Clarke's greatest novel.

Email changed this natural process by radically cutting the overhead of staying in touch. Now we are limited not by the effort of sending messages, but by that of reading them. This can be great for that keeping in touch with those friends of our youth who have continued to grow up; I'm quite happy to have regained contact with many. But when the natural filter of time and effort is removed, too often our inbox is clogged with those whose glory days were those we should have grown past.

This became painfully evident during the run-up to Bush's invasion of Iraq. In an extensive discussion on a college-friends listserve, it became clear that some of my college friends are simply bellicose assholes who have not earned one point of wisdom since high school; some others were BMOCs who couldn't come to grips with the fact that this mattered nothing anymore. I'm not gonna name any names because what would be the point? In my experience, most assholes are perfectly happy being assholes, and of those who aren't, very few grow up through nagging. Self-knowledge comes other ways.

Of far greater interest is why should this have surprised me? There's no reason to suspect that a randomly selected set of attendees of a mediocre college would not roughly reflect the population from which it is drawn (despite my still fervantly-felt but intellectually-unsupported belief that the friends of my youth have superior qualities.)

This might not be a problem in a social-networking situation where I could filter out the assholes, e.g. facebook, twitter. However, listserves don't filter except at the level of membership admission; if your admission criteria is simply to have been a member of a group at some point in time, you're stuck. Worse, there seems to be a form of Gresham's Law operating: bad writers drive out good writers. This makes it rather profitless to participate in a listserve-style networking beyond a periodic "Hello, here is how to contact me" message; such occasional pinging lets those old friends with whom there is a point in having a discussion to do so in other, more efficient venues.

I enjoy staying lightly in touch with many friends of my youth. They've moved on, grown up and (based on their Facebook pages) gathered many accomplished friends, in whose company I am proud to be numbered. Those who first encouraged me to try martial arts and amateur theater are still inspirations; my first lover is still the standard by which all others are judged (and all but one fell short.) If they happen to travel to my vicinity, we enjoy a coffee together, or some drink a little stronger. But frequent contact via listserve? we don't need it.

Childhood must end.