Things We Take for Granted

We Can’t Make Assumptions That Health Care Will Be There for Us

We walk into the kitchen, pick up a glass, and turn the tap on. What if nothing comes out? Or, worse, what if what comes out is polluted like the water in Flint, Michigan? What if we flush the toilet, and it just won’t go down because the sewer line is all backed up? What if the traffic signals just stop working? Or the telephone lines? Or the electricity?

Every day of our lives, we make casual assumptions that what has worked in the past will continue to work. I have this odd inkling that perhaps we are living at the start of a period in which things we assume will work, just won’t work.

I recently read an article on Salon.Com about how some 20% of rural hospitals are on the point of collapse. Given the money-grubbing nature of our healthcare system—especially on the part of pharmaceutical corporations and health insurers—I can see why there aren’t enough dollars in rural areas to motivate hospitals to remain in business.

This comes at a bad time, when the political divide between the urban areas on the coasts and what has come to be called “flyover country” has led to hard feelings. Much of Trump’s support is, I feel, based more on this urban/rural divide than any particular love for the orange-headed horror. Things can only get worse if Aunt Tillie dies trying to get to a distant hospital, but doesn’t make it.

Government can rectify this situation, but only if voters are willing to let government do the things that government does best. The nihilistic conservatism and Tea Party anarchy of the times makes this difficult.

 

Dostoyevsky Describes Trump Voters

The Supporters of Trump: A Great Mystery?

I am re-reading the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky translation of Fyodor Dostoeyevsky’s Notes from the Underground. Suddenly, I saw the following passage, which predicted the emergence of Trump and his supporters:

Man really is stupid, phenomenally stupid. That is, he’s by no means stupid, but he’s so ungrateful that it would be hard to find the likes of him. I, for example, would not be the least bit surprised if suddenly, out of the blue, amid the universal future reasonableness, some gentleman of ignoble, or, better, of retrograde and jeering physiognomy, should emerge, set his arms akimbo, and say to us all: “Well, gentlemen, why don’t we reduce all this reasonableness to dust with one good kick, for the sole purpose of sending all these logarithms to the devil and living once more according to our own stupid will!” That would still be nothing, but what is offensive is that he’d be sure to find followers: that’s how man is arranged. And all this for the emptiest of reasons, which would seem not even worth mentioning: namely, that man, whoever he might be, has always and everywhere liked to act as he wants, and not at all as reason and profit dictate; and one sometimes even positively must (this is my [i.e. Dostoyevsky’s] idea now).

 

Incorrigible Bookworm

Picture of Me at the Last Bookstore, Downtown Los Angeles

Sometimes, I just have to sit up and take a good look at myself. Where in Blue Blazes did this Bookworm come from? There was no one like me in the family. I was looked at by my family with a combination of contempt and admiration. When I was doing well in high school (I was the valedictorian of my class), I was referred to as “the walking dictionary.” I was a person of whom prodigies were expected … in the normal course of events. People expected my help with their homework—even if I knew zilch about the subject.

In fact, books were for me an escape. I was a sickly child, stricken by numerous allergies and frequent and debilitating headaches. The latter turned out to be a brain tumor in my pituitary gland. When I came out of surgery in the fall of 1966, I kept asking myself, “Why me?” I went almost overnight from a devout Catholic to a lapsed Catholic. I continued to suffer various physical and mental after-effects because of the lifelong steroid therapy that ensued.

I was never any good at athletics. For exercise, I liked to walk a lot. I couldn’t even drive a car until I reached the age of forty, and I no longer had to take a blood pressure medication (Catapres) that caused me to fall asleep in moving vehicles.

And so, at an early age, I turned to books. Was it because my mother used to tell me fantastic stories about fairy princesses in the dark forest that she told me in Hungarian? I couldn’t really read English with any proficiency until the third or fourth grade.

I started to accumulate books at home, causing some friction with my parents. They didn’t like to see me spending money for books at Scroeder’s Bookstore on Cleveland’s Public Square. Once, when my cousin Emil saw me reading Tom Sawyer in the living room, he grabbed the book out of my hands and hurled it at the floor, causing it to bounce. “This is what I think of books!” he said while I wondered what was coming next.

Of course, I love books. Even though I have donated over a thousand books from my collection to the Mar Vista Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, I still read as much as ever, if not more so.

 

How King Kong Almost Didn’t Get Made

King Kong (1933)

In an essay about Soviet writer Isaac Babel appearing in her book The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, Elif Batuman describes a meeting between the writer and an American prisoner:

A shot-down American pilot, barefoot but elegant, neck like a column, dazzlingly white teeth, his uniform covered with oil and dirt. He asks me worriedly: Did I maybe commit a crime by fighting against Soviet Russia? Our position is strong. O the scent of Europe, coffee, civilization, strength, ancient culture, many thoughts. I watch him, can’t let him go. A letter from Major Fauntleroy: things in Poland are bad, there’s no constitution, the Bolsheviks are strong … An endless conversation with [Frank] Mosher, I sink into the past, they’ll shake you up, Mosher, ekh, Conan Doyle, letters to New York. Is Mosher fooling—he asks frantically what Bolshevism is. A sad, heart-warming impression.

It seems that Frank Mosher was none other than Captain Merian Caldwell Cooper, the future producer of King Kong in 1933. Their encounter took place in Galicia in 1920, when Cooper was a member of the Kosciuszko Air Squadron.

Captain Merian C. Cooper (Alias Frank Mosher)

Cooper was captured by horsemen attached to Budyonny’s Cossack Cavalry. He would have been killed on the spot had not an “unnamed English-speaking Bolshevik” saved his life. That Bolshevik was one of the greatest Russian writers of the 20th Century, Isaac Babel, who was served with the Bolshevik cavalry, collecting material for his great book of stories entitled Red Cavalry.

Somehow, Cooper made his way back to the U.S., along with a fellow flyer named Ernest  B. Schoedsack, whom he was to hire in later years to direct King Kong.

 

 

 

Computer Phobias

PICtouchscreen-thumb-others

I Have a Thing About Touch Screen Interfaces

As one who has been working with computers since around 1964, I have developed a number of phobias based on problems I have had.

One of my main computer phobias sharply separates me from the millennial generation: I distrust and in fact despise touch screen interfaces. My new Lexmark MC3224 has a touch screen panel for commands that is sheer torture to navigate, unless I had fingers the size of a newborn lemur’s.

The absolute worst is a touch-screen “keyboard” on a 2” x 3” touchscreen that makes it virtually impossible to avoid fat-fingering errors.

A corollary is that I refuse, for the time being, to buy a smart phone. My 74-year-old eyes are not up to deciphering a micro-screen, so I will not even try.

There are certain brands that I avoid because of run-ins, particularly printers. Some people love Epsons and Brothers, but I avoid them like the plague. I have stuck by Hewlett-Packard for many years, and it was unusual for me to buy a Lexmark. (By the way, it’s still working!)

The same logic applies to software. After hours of rage attempting to update Norton Anti-Virus, I have consigned that particular brand to the dumpster. I may soon add AVG because of their predatory marketing of slivers of their security products.

One product that has drawn my contempt over a period of many years is the old Word Perfect word processing system. I have stuck my Microsoft Word and Excel, even when they adopted their stupid ribbon interface a few years ago.

And don’t even let me start on Apple Macintoshes!

 

Printer Hell

PICLexmark

Lexmark MC3224

I have not posted quite so much of late because I have had problems with my computer. My old HP inkjet printer finally died after a new version of Windows 10 was installed. So I ordered a reasonably priced color laser printer and immediately ran into problems.

There are so many ways to connect the printer to the computer that I was nonplussed. I tried first to connect it via USB to the computer. That didn’t seem to work, plus the USB plug didn’t sit firmly enough at the rear of the printer. Then, with the help of my friend Mike Estrin of Network Connections LLC, I tried connecting the printer to the router using Lexmark’s software.

Finally, I bought a network cable and with Mike’s help, hooked the printer to the router using it.using it. Now it finally seems to work without losing the connection or shutting down for no apparent reason.

My fingers are still crossed. My Lexmark has been functioning normally for the last twenty-four hours. I hope it continues to. The printer does produce nice copies, has good color, and is probably cheaper to run than an inkjet with a voracious appetite for expensive ink.

Sandwich Excess

What Ever Happened to the Simple Sandwich?

The Carls Jr.  hamburger chain had a TV ad a few years ago that used as its motto: “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face.” It seems that what used to be a rather simple dish has grown out of all proportion.  I used to be a big fan of sandwiches; and I still am—if I make them myself!

Over the course of the last few years, what has happened to sandwiches is a microcosm of what has happened to American cooking. In a word, there is more of everything, until it is a major production including the beginnings of a salad and the obligatory glop, whether it is mayonnaise, mustard, Russian or Ranch dressing.

Under no circumstances would I make a sandwich if:

  • It wouldn’t fit in my mouth
  • Most of its contents would drip onto my shirt

My Father and my uncle used to make fun of me because I tended to make sandwiches out of all kinds of meat dishes, which they preferred to eat in splendid isolation from bread, raw and pickled vegetables, salad dressing, and cheese. In fact, my sandwiches were rather simple affairs, and they still are.

Go to Google Images and search for pictures of sandwiches, or click here. You won’t find anything but rather elaborate productions.