Sosh

This Picture Describes Succinctly What I Am NOT!

I used to work at Urban Decision Systems with a Vice President named Jay W. McBride, whom I liked and respected. Once, when I complained about another VP, Jay said that he was a “sosh,” pronounced like the beginning of the word “social.” As Jay was a lifelong Mormon, I wondered if this was a term used in his background to describe people who were essentially social butterflies.

One thing I am not is a sosh. That’s why I did not find the Covid-19 quarantine particularly onerous. I made a point to contact my friends regularly over the phone, but I did not attend any super-spreader events frequented by people who could not stay away from large groupings of their social cohort.

By now, I and most of my friends have been vaccinated. (Martine continues to be a holdout, but, like me, she’s not a sosh.) I have visited with my good friends from San Pedro and Altadena, and look forward to re-establishing several other connections.

But will I ever attend a large party? Perhaps. If I do, I will probably arrive late and leave early, as is my wont. I derive little pleasure from talking in person to many people, particularly if they are strangers.

The Giving Never Ends

Many charities accomplish great things. Many others—and not everyone knows which ones—serve only to provide jobs for people who work for them. The coronavirus outbreak has made many charities frantic in their fundraising, seeing as how many people are now without disposable cash.

I am amazed at the number of television ads for charities that ask for a fixed monthly amount—usually $19 for some odd reason. They include such unusual ads as those as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) which attempts to support holocaust survivors in Russia and Israel, for $19/month. Then there is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which saves abused dogs and cats (and whatever) from abusive owners who don’t feed and house them properly, for $19/month. This one gives you a garish “collectible” T-Shirt for your trouble.

If you do have some cash, you can easily be charged to death. Those repeating $19 charges never end, unless you make a concerted effort to stop them.

Thanks, I’ll Pass

Look, I’m not some horrible person who believes in abusing animals or elderly Jews. I’m sure some of that money goes for helping people and animals; but TV ads cost a lot of money. Instead of showing shivering, starving animals, I am sure the cameramen should first have refilled their water dish and fed them.

Then there are the telephone ads. Several years ago, when I was still working, I donated some money to a police relief fund. Ever since, I have been marked for a sucker and subject to repeated requests for cash—and not only for police, but for firemen and others. Yesterday, I received a call from a live person who talked over my voice pleading for him to save his breath because I wasn’t in a position to donate. He rudely hung up on me, angry that he hadn’t succeeded in making me snivel guiltily. Even the more responsible callers, try to wheedle a small donation out of me even after I said I wasn’t donating anything to anyone. This gets old fast.

Charities do buy sucker lists, so when you give to a charity, you will hear from at least a dozen others. I was never a philanthropist, but now I am on a fixed income. My guess is that the number of these calls, as well as desperate pleas in the mail, will not taper off anytime soon.

The ’Burbs

I Have This Problem with the Suburbs

There are several ways we went wrong after the Second World War. The main thing was our hubris. We thought that everything we did was right—because we were the only major country not in ruins. The government decided to help returning GIs buy little ticky-tack houses on the fringes of our major cities, and let the cities themselves go to hell. Oh, there were half-hearted attempts to build urban housing projects that quickly became dangerous slums.

And the suburbs? They were a refuge from the big cities. There was one little problem: We brought our children along to live in those ticky-tack houses, even when they didn’t buy into the dream. Being our kids, they had their own dreams, and they didn’t include barbecues and mowing the front lawn.

Interestingly, the suburbs are in some cases politically liberal, and in others utterly racist and fascistic. Even within Southern California, one can find examples of both. Take Sherman Oaks on one hand, and Moreno Valley on the other. Sometimes, suburbs start up hopeful and end up mean, such as Palmdale and Lancaster in L.A.’s Antelope Valley. At one time, the city was thinking of moving L.A. International Airport to Palmdale, which would have been a major disaster. Aside from the bad neighborhood, it’s at least a one hour drive, and usually more, from the more populated parts of the county.

One of the things about living in the city is that you have to get along with people. Across the street from me are a number of bums living in tents amid piles of assorted malodorous garbage. While I don’t ever give money to panhandlers, I don’t do anything to make their lives any more difficult. That’s not because I’m a nice guy, but because these mental cases, alcoholics, and druggies happen to be my neighbors. I maintain my distance from them, and although I casually wish their encampments were fire-bombed, I myself wouldn’t light the match.

As a city dweller, I frequently use public transportation because (1) it is cheap for me as a senior citizen and because (2) parking fees are getting out of hand. I have no problem with driving two or three times a week during the coronavirus quarantine and leaving my car parked in the rear carport. Suburbanites, on the other hand, would rather put their arms in a meat grinder rather than board a bus or light rail.

Things Not Worth Doing: One of a Series

Do You Know Anyone Whose Opinion Was Changed by One?

This was originally posted on June 29, 2014.

I have always wondered why people are so willing to advertise their opinions, their place of work, info about their families and whatever, especially by sticking bumper stickers on their cars. I can think of at least three reasons why this is not such a good idea:

  1. There are parts of town where I would not like to advertise my political beliefs, such as in Orange or San Diego Counties. My car is not a new one, but at least it still runs for now.
  2. It is distinctively possible that your favorite candidate could turn out to be an unregenerate louse. After all, why would someone want to go into politics any more unless one is on a power trip? (It didn’t used to be that way, but it is today.)
  3. Bumper stickers are a lot like tattoos: They’re a lot easier to apply than to remove.

As for myself, this blog is my bumper sticker. If, after reading it, you think I am a political conservative, you must not have read it very carefully.

Multipleheaded Spirits

Trevor Noah of the “Daily Social Distancing Show” on Comedy Central

The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, once wrote that the criss-cross of Africa to Euroamerica is a place of “a certain dangerous potency; dangerous because a man might perish there wrestling with multipleheaded spirits, but also he might be lucky and return to his people with the boon of prophetic vision.”

There are several people I could think of who have weathered that crossing and managed to have come out ahead in the process. Trevor Noah on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Social Distancing Show” is one such African. According to his autobiographical Born a Crime, Noah’s very existence as a mixed-race baby of South African and Swiss parentage was a violation of Apartheid at the time of his birth in Johannesburg in 1984. After his successful hosting of the 2021 Grammy Awards Show, his show biz career is looking up.

I watch his show on Comedy Central whenever I can.

Franco-Senegalese Novelist Marie NDiaye

One of the greatest contemporary French novelists is Marie NDiaye, who although born in France, has produced stunning body of work (My Heart Hemmed In, Three Strong Women, and The Cheffe, to name just three) that I think puts her on the track to the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s even harder to do this in France than here in America.

Nigerian-American Novelist Teju Cole

Finally there is Teju Cole, born in Kalamazoo, MI of Nigerian parents. He is the author of Open City, Every Day Is for the Thief, and Known and Strange Things.I have read the first two titles and found them a revelation, the first about life in New York City, the second about life in Nigeria.

It is my belief that Africa has a lot to give us. The old Anglo-Saxon literary and artistic hegemony is in tatters, and the same goes for Europe. It is infuriating that people see the Africans as a threat. The descendants of the slaves have given us our music and excelled in the performance arts. More recent Africans continue to make this a more interesting country to live in—if only we let them!

The French Have a Phrase for It

The Paris Metro at the Stalingrad Stop

You know the colloquial expression for it: Work, work, work! (and several variants thereof). But the French have a more picturesque phrase to describe the thankless boredom of life under the Coronavirus outbreak:

Métro, Boulot, Dodo

According to the Thought.Co website from 2019, the term is explained as follows:

The informal French expression métro, boulot, dodo (pronounced [may tro boo lo do do]) is a wonderfully succinct way of saying you live to work. Métro refers to a subway commute, boulot is an informal word for work, and dodo is baby talk for sleeping.

The English equivalents—the rat race, the same old routine, work work work—don’t quite capture the same sense of constant movement, and a more literal English translation, “commute, work, sleep,” isn’t as poetic as the French.

There Will Be No Return to the Same Normal

And That’s Not Necessarily Bad

I am not only thinking about Covid-19, but also four years of egregiously bad government and a badly divided populace that has replaced reason with gonzo conspiracy theories.

There will be a lot of fast growth once the plague tocsin has stopped ringing, but the economy is not the only thing that needs to be rebuilt. For one thing, the younger generation (whatever we choose to call it) must have more to look forward to than ill-paid temporary gigs while a college loan Sword of Damocles hangs over its head. This is just one of several things that have to change.

I strongly suspect that one change will be a continuing diminution of the influence of Christianity on our lives. And very soon, we have to come to our senses about the fact that the weather is changing. Maybe not permanently, but remember we have come out of a mini ice age that began in the 18th century. And the earth will, for the time being, continue to warm up.

Look for It To Re-Open Soon

Will we continue to be a beef and potatoes nation? I don’t think so. I think we are headed toward plant-based substances that are a substitute for red meat.

The one thing we can depend on is change. Edmund Spenser had it right when he wrote:

Mutability

 When I bethink me on that speech whilere,
 Of Mutability, and well it weigh:
 Me seems,that though she all unworthy were
 Of the Heav’ns Rule; yet very sooth to say,
 In all things else she bears the greatest sway.
 Which makes me loathe this state of life so tickle,
 And love of things so vain to cast away;
 Whose flow’ring pride, so fading and so fickle,
 Short Time shall soon cut down with his consuming sickle.
 
Then gin I think on that which Nature said.
 Of that same time when no more Change shall be,
 But steadfast rest of all things firmly stayed
 Upon the pillars of Eternity,
 That is contrare to Mutability:
 For, all that moveth, doth in Change delight:
 But thence-forth all shall rest eternally
 With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:
 O that great Sabbaoth God, grant me that Sabbaoth’s sight.

How NOT To Live

Some Current Starbucks Offerings: Real Vital Stuff

During her long exercise walks, Martine frequently finds strange things that have been thrown out, including credit and debit cards, requests to appear in court, and bank statements. She calls these her “tiny treasures.” This post is about one person’s American Express card statement she picked up that I find startling for (1) how much is owed and (2) what types of expenses are charged.

I have chopped off any data fields that would identify the person whose statement this is.

Account Summary

A few years ago, I owed upwards of $16,000 on all my credit cards combined—and I was appalled. Fortunately, I paid off every cent owing before I retired. The Amex user above, whom I will call X, owes $26,315.67 on a single credit card. For the period covered by this statement, X spent $547.08 on new products and services, and $404.45 on interest.

On the lower left of the summary above, note that X would pay off the whole amount in 28 years—assuming that he/she would not add any new expenditures and that the minimum payment is made. (But that is not likely to happen, is it?)

Now let’s look at the expenditures:

Amex Card Expenditures for the Period

Apparently X is a millennial, given the nature of the expenditures. Other than the AT&T Mobile and Chevron Service Station charges, almost all the expenses are for Uber, Starbucks, or Postmates (a food delivery service)—all lifestyle-related. Absent are groceries, rent, auto repair, healthcare, clothing, utilities—in a word necessary expenses.

And yet X is in hock for $26 grand and apparently making minimum payments, while running up the bill on mostly frou-frou charges. This is not a good situation in which to find oneself. If X has other credit cards with similar expenditures, I would consider getting counseling.

We have located X and passed the bill on to him/her.

I Agree With Mark Twain

I Am an Unrelenting Enemy of the Smartphone

As far back as 1890, Mark Twain sent out this Christmas message:

It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us-the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage-may-eventually be gathered together in heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss-except the inventor of the telephone.

I have more or less come to terms with my land line. (“What’s that?”) I’m pretty good at sorting out the fakers and phishers who make up most of my calls. (“We’re canceling your Amazon account because [Click]” and “Your account with Apple [Click].”) One just has to be hyper skeptical with all robocalls and perhaps a majority of live callers.

But there is something about the cell phone which makes it irritating in the extreme:

  • It’s ridiculously expensive
  • It turns most callers in public places into boors
  • Particularly with the smart phone, it is dangerously distracting—particularly on the road
  • Too many parking spaces are occupied by idiots fingering their smart phones
  • Everyone assumes you have one
  • The screens are so tiny that, past a certain age, one can’t view them comfortably
  • What passes for a keyboard with cell phones is a sick joke

Today, I couldn’t get into my personal accounting system on QuickBooks Online because Intuit decided I had to change my password. To prove that I am me, they sent a code to my cell phone. I couldn’t view the code because the first text message on my system was corrupted, so I had to restore factory settings and destroy all five text messages. (No problem, that.)

People occasionally call me on my cell phone, but I never answer calls because most of them are in Chinese; so I would rather keep my cell shut off except when I have to place an emergency call. (That’s the only good thing about cell phones.)

Sorry about the rant. Why do I get the feeling with most technical innovations that they are one step forward and two steps back?

The Disunited States of America

The Fracture Lines Are Becoming More Evident

At some point in the last few decades, it appeared that the people of the United States of America could not agree on much of anything. Does water flow uphill? Is a fetus worth more than an actual human being? Did the Confederacy actually win the Civil War? Did the moon landing really take place? Can we fight the coronavirus by injecting bleach into our veins? Does the Hollywood QAnon child sex ring exist? Is the Earth flat?

All these questions which to me represent the pinnacle of stupidity seem to have large numbers of adherents—people who are angry with Liberals who have ignored them as inhabitants of “Flyover Country,” made fun of their strange religious practices, and insisted that they conform to scientific principles that are somehow unfriendly to them. These people are seriously pissed off, to the extent that they will stridently and repeatedly deny home truths believed by their adversaries.

Will the USA eventually fragment itself into agglomerations of states such as the map shown below?

One of Many Possible Variations

I was discussing the matter with my friend Bill Korn this evening. We both agreed that we were mistaken in thinking that a real existential crisis would bring us together. Well, coronavirus is nothing if not an existential crisis, and we are finding millions of people who are saying, “F—k it! Let’s go back to normal and ride it out!” Them’s brave words, but I would not trade my life for a chance to go to a bar or patiently listen to an unmasked person ranting in my general direction.

Perhaps I am timorous because I am:

  • Diabetic
  • Overweight
  • Asthmatic
  • Blood Type A

That makes me a four-time loser if I get the ’Rona. Thanks, but I’ll watch all you fine folks self-destruct from the sidelines.