Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Living Within One's Means
Yesterday I was having lunch in a nearly-empty restaurant. Three guys were seated at the table just behind me. Because I couldn't see them, I don't know who said what, but it doesn't matter. Just picture three guys talking:
"I don't understand how someone can win $50,000,000 in the lottery and then be broke a couple years later."
"Me, either. Me, I wouldn't even need $50,000,000. Just give me a couple million in the bank and I'd be set. I'd just keep living the way I'm living now. I don't need a mansion or an expensive car. I could live off the interest easy."
"Yeah, you're right. The thing is to not let the money go to your head. I wouldn't even quit my job. I mean, I like my job, so why should I?"
"Yeah, I like my house. I don't need anything bigger."
"But I'd have another house somewhere else, too. You can't live in just one house."
"Yeah, I'd have three houses: One in south Florida, one in Texas, and one in Sacramento." (gs: Sacramento?)
"Yeah, three houses is good. And I'd have a cottage on one of those Greek isles."
"Yeah! That's what I'd get, too. And I'd have a house somewhere in Asia, too, because I love Asian food."
"And you know the thing to do would be to take one of those year-long cruises that goes around the world."
"Yeah, that would be something I'd have to do, too. What you really have to do is visit everywhere so you know where it is you want to have homes."
Just three grounded guys who would never let the money go to their heads....
Friday, November 25, 2005
I am old enough (barely) to remember when disposable pens first appeared. Before the disposables, the pen was a metal tube that pulled apart in the middle. Inside, there was a narrow metal cylinder with a ball point at one end -- this contained the ink. A tiny coil spring fit over the bottom of the cylinder. When the pen ran out of ink, you pulled it apart, removed the spring from the old cylinder, put it over the base of a new cylinder, and put the thing back together. The only part you threw away was the narrow metal cylinder.
Then came the disposable pen: A clear plastic outer tube, with a clear plastic insert that had the ink and the ball point, and a round plug in the other end that provided amusement and challenge to those who practiced removing it with their teeth. When this pen stopped writing, you simply threw it away and got another. You young 'uns might find this hard to believe, but the disposable pen originally caused quite a stir. To the generation that had grown up during the Depression (not me, my parents), it seemed an extravagant waste to throw the entire thing away. Was no part of it reusable? Remember that these were people who saved the last sliver of soap when each bar was down to the end and, when they had enough of them, pressed them together to make another bar. These were the people who scraped the skins from potatoes rather than peeled them, because less of the potato was wasted that way. These were the people who knew real hardship.
But the answer to their question was, of course, yes. Parts of the disposable pen -- the outer tube and the plug, if it didn't show teeth marks and wasn't curled up around the edge -- were reusable. It's just that it wasn't worth it. And that was the real impact, the real message, of the disposable pen, the reason it caused such an uproar: It said to people, we could reuse... but it isn't worth it. We could save those slivers of soap... but it isn't worth it. We could save, we could reuse... but we don't have to. We can afford to throw things away now. We have come to a point where things can be, simply, disposable.
Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock (which I had to read in high school) saw the disposable pen as a sign of a fundamental shift in human society: For an immense part of our history, going back to before even the first dawning of intelligence in primates, our species has known the sweet, sweet joy of owning things, of this is mine, and I have stuff that make me wealthy. Toffler foresaw a future -- I think he called it a "throw away society" or some such (I haven't read the book in a long time) -- in which all property was disposable -- use and throw away -- and so actual physical objects had no value. In Toffler's view (as I remember it) we have created such an enormous capacity to produce, that the products of that production are consequently cheapened.
All this from a disposable pen.
The disposable trend did continue, though not with the breadth and depth that I remember Toffler predicting, and with a mix of successes and failures. Disposable diapers seem to be universally regarded as a huge success, pretty much on a par with the domestication of fire, and a step above the discovery of penicillin. Personally, I have had no experience with diapers since I wore them myself, and my memory on that score is a little fuzzy, but I will go with the consensus.
Failures? Disposable clothes were one of those ideas that made a big splash and are now gone, gone, gone. Remember paper clothes? Wear once and throw away? You don't? You're either too young, or you're not but you blinked. I do have one special memory of paper clothes: I was watching the television show It Takes a Thief (I loved that show!) as a child, and Robert Wagner was talking a gorgeous woman in a bikini next to a crowded public swimming pool. This was a woman from whom he needed important information. He threatened her by noting that she was wearing a paper bathing suit, and what would happen if he pushed her into the pool?
Apparently foreign agents who are voluptuous blondes wearing paper bikinis are motivated more by modesty than loyalty to the homeland, because she gave him the information he needed. But, really, who wears a bathing suit that can't get wet? Do you need to know anything more about why paper clothes didn't make "the cut"?
Anyway, enough about curvaceous women in dissolving bathing suits. We're talking disposability here, people! Minds out of the gutter, now!
Today we are surrounded by disposable products. We have disposable lighters. And I really hate washing storage containers for my leftover food, so I buy them by the carton of thirty for $9.99 and throw them away when I'm done. Sandwich bags are also disposable, though I am sad to say I know people who haven't figured this out yet.
At the high end of the disposable commodity market, we have disposable cameras. Disposable cameras do really seem, to this child of children of the Depression, like a wasteful extravagance... but hey, I'm with the program. In particular, if I expect to take "wet" pictures (and I live and vacation in Florida and the Caribbean, so yes, I do), I buy and use disposable underwater cameras. So there! That's proof that I'm not my parents' child. I am a member of the Culture of the Disposers.
I see this post has wandered on for quite a while. Where am I going with this? I will tell you, poor reader, because you have been so patient:
Today is Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, and Day of Greatest Extravagant Spending...
...and I have been to a Walgreen's (a chain drug store), and there I saw, in plastic packaging, hanging on the end cap of a display rack, like any cheap electric appliance -- say, a curling iron -- a row of...
...are you ready?...
...disposable video cameras.
I kid you not. For twenty-seven dollars and some change, plus tax, and the challenge of getting it out of that diabolical plastic packaging, you can fleetingly own a video camera the shape of a brick but smaller, that will shoot twenty minutes of video ($1.50/minute). After twenty minutes, you will return it to Walgreen's and essentially throw it away. The friendly Walgreen's employee will reward your wantonness by giving you a DVD containing twenty minutes of your memories.
I don't know if the video camera is entirely thrown away, or if some of the parts are salvaged and reused, but this still struck some note of wrongness, inside me somewhere. Where will it end? Disposable automobiles? Drive it for a day and drop it off at the crusher? Are we slowly headed towards Toffler's vision?
And to think it all started with a disposable pen.
Anyone want to scrape the skins off potatoes with me? Better yet, just leave the skins on. Don't waste anything.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Why I listen to Rap music
Sometimes the lyrics sting like sleet.
Clara, in her most excellent blog, has been drolly commenting on the low pay that teachers get. I was reminded of a Rap song -- unfortunately I never knew the title or artist, and have been unable to find them now -- that had a line to the effect that there's something wrong with a society that pays judges more than it pays teachers.
Amen, my unknown bro, amen.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
The scene is a supermarket having an "extraveganza" in anticipation of Thanksgiving Day. There are Big Sales, coupons for Big Discounts that are only good for a couple of hours, Free Food in the form of a buffet, and... Santa Claus is here!
A mother is standing with her two young daughters.
"Can we see Santa now?" they chime. "Can we see Santa?"
"Not yet," says mother. "I have to use the bathroom. You wait here."
Obediently, the two little girls wait. The mother returns.
"Can we see Santa now!" they erupt.
"No!" the mother says sharply, "You can't see Santa yet. I have to find out if he's a pervert first."
I'm sorry, dear two readers, but I am not making this up....
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Bringing Intelligence to Intelligent Design
The Big Problem that I have with Intelligent Design (the Lesser Problems, of course, are legion), is the claim (from the I.D. Cadre) that Intelligent Design is simply another "breakout" idea that expands the horizons of science, much like, say, the Copernican Theory of the Solar System, or the Special Theory of Relativity. It's The Big Problem because Copernicus and Einstein proposed their ideas to account for observed facts. The I.D. Crowd, on the other hand, started with the conclusion they wanted to arrive at, and are now scratching and pecking for facts to lead them there. It's the scientific process played backwards.
That said, there's a simple idea that could bring Intelligent Design into the fold of Real Science. I can't imagine why it isn't more widely discussed. It's obvious, it would give I.D. legitimacy, and it would profoundly transform and enrich the I.D. landscape. Why hasn't it become the I.D. centerpiece? Intelligent Design can be morphed from crackpot to cutting edge with just a single word:
Yes, aliens. If there are gaps in the evolutionary process that can only be explained by the interference of intelligent beings, aliens should certainly come first to mind. And aliens are legitimate science. Many eminent scientists believe that other intelligent races are likely. We know of no scientific reason that they couldn't have visited Earth and tinkered with the biology here.
But wait, it gets better: Once we accept the likelihood that it was aliens who, say, invented eyeballs, that opens the door to all kinds of further legitimate scientific study. For example, the I.D. "gaps" happened at different times over billions of years. Were they all the doing of a single interfering race? Or were we visited at different times by different aliens, each with a different agenda. By studying the nature and apparent intent of each intervention we may gain clues: If all the interventions support a single consistent goal, that suggests the same aliens each time. If not, then perhaps Earth was a waystation where different groups of passing aliens wiled away the time in casual DNA experimentation -- a rest stop on a busy highway.
There's so much else to explore! I foresee new scientific journals just to publish the articles. I foresee Larry Ellison endowing a chair at Stanford. Viva aliens!
As a footnote, I should mention that Francis Crick, half of Watson and Crick and certainly a highly respected scientist, suggested that the young and barren Earth might have been seeded with life by an alien race, so no can say alien intervention isn't a legitimate idea.
Viva intelligent, designing aliens!
Thursday, November 10, 2005
A plug for the Season
My friend Joyce is warm and compassionate, and also happens to be a first-rate artist. She hand-paints animals on Christmas ornaments. If you are a Christmas ornament kind of person and an animal kind of person, or you know someone who is and want a completely unique gift idea, please visit her store:
P.S. My sister also has an on-line store, where she sells scented tarts -- the wax potpourri, not the saucy wenches:
And yes, I had to look up how to spell "potpourri."
P.P.S. The light is back on....