Friday, August 21, 2015

The consequences of not intervening

The tragedy of Syria.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

20th century memories: playing bridge

Mr Charm and I were pals with another couple; we used to visit each others' houses for dinner and bridge.  After a few inter-couple flare-ups, we settled on a method of keeping the peace while playing: the boys played against the girls.

Mr Charm was an outrageous bridge player; he bid high, wide and handsome, just because he felt like it.  The cards he had been dealt had little to do with it.  His partner was cautious; eons passed, or seemed to pass, before he placed a bid or made a move.  But the worst part of this whole thing was that the men seemed to have all the luck, and wiped the floor with us women almost every time.

Despite flouting all the rules accepted  by right-thinking bridge experts and bidding because he just had a feeling he could make six spades, he won most of the time.  His playing was erratic; they should not have won, but they did.  Then the men, not being good sports, would gloat and taunt us women.

Fortunately for the two marriages, we were drinking hard liquor--it was the 20th century, remember? and we were all pretty well oiled at the time., so no grudges were held and we remained friends.

The curse of great possessions

Great possessions were never a worry to me, because I never had any.  I drove an old beater, and you could give it a going over with a baseball bat and I wouldn't mind, or even notice maybe.  Now I have a new car and live in fear that someone will put a dent in my little darling.  It's a year old now, and I am starting to calm down.

So now I have this dishwasher.  It's a Bosch, and so complicated that the repairman had to come twice to counsel me on how to use it.  It's undoubtedly the best dishwasher I've ever had in my life, but hard to work with.  For instance, if you press really hard on the "Start" button, it will shut itself off.  It has other tricks, but I won't go into them, except to speculate that the Germans might still harbor a grudge for us because we won World War II.

But it has a dent in the front panel which displeases me mightily because I bought it at retail, not as a "scratch or dent" model or without a box or the last one in the store.  So I called the store, and talked to someone who understood I had a problem but wasn't the person to deal with it.  The person to talk to was the salesman, Al, but he was on vacation.

I called back a few days later and spoke to Al, who said he had to order the part, but the person who took care of such orders was on vacation.  I called back, and the manager, all fresh and rested from his vacation. said he would order the part and would call me when it came in.  Great!  We are making progress here!

Later still, I called again, and was told the part was in but the guy who did the installation was on vacation.

I was getting steamed.  Not only did the new dishwasher require constant consultation with the very cryptic and arcane manual, but I had to look at the dented panel every time I went in the kitchen.  How to get their attention?  So I called Visa and told them not to pay for the dishwasher.  They sent me a form, which I filled out, and then there was a hiatus during which the entire staff of Visa was busy with other things or maybe taking a vacation or possibly had been rubbed out by someone pumping  Sarin gas into the HVAC of their establishment.

If they had been disabled by Sarin gas, apparently they were over the effects, as they called me back and said they were looking into the matter.  The young man on the phone told me he had tried to call the appliance store but the person who handled such matters was, you guessed it, on vacation.

Today I received my Visa bill, and they had credited me with the cost of the dishwasher.  So now I have a free dishwasher with a dent in it that washes the dishes just great if you handle it with the proper respect.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Too proud to go on welfare

It's hard to believe, but there was once a time when people refused to take charity, public or private. Despite Mitt Romney's belief that 47 percent of Americans are on the public tit, there once were people like that, too proud to go on welfare.

My mother-in-law was one of them.  She was a proofreader, working in the printing trade, but she was not allowed to join the union, which at the time did not accept women.  So when the Depression hit, she lost her job, and was unable to get another.  She was a single mother of three children at the time and the sole support of her widowed mother.  She scrubbed floors.  She took in laundry.  But she would not go on welfare, then known in New York City as "home relief."

Don't think the family did not suffer.  My husband, who was born in 1931, was the baby.  Too young to understand what was going on,  he cried because he was hungry.  His older brother stole bread in the early morning hours, when bakeries delivered bread and pastries to retail stores.  When he could get any.

Eventually, she married a man who had several children of his own.  Her family was fed, but the marriage was a disaster.  I don't know the details of either the marriage or the split-up; but eventually the marriage ended.  She was supporting  herself, her mother, and her youngest child by freelance proofreading.  The older two grew up and married and moved away.  She died of a heart attack at 54.

I by no means support her views; if my kids had ever missed  a meal I would have been first in line at  welfare headquarters at the opening of business.  But I admire her integrity and the steadfastness with which she lived her beliefs.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Enjoying authentic Cuba

Disturbing:



 I have spent about a year of my life in Cuba, so have seen a great deal of its ‘authentic’ side. Aside from the police repression and intellectual wasteland (there is one newspaper and state television brooks no dissent) the Cuba I have experienced is one of dirt, scarcity and rampant prostitution.

It is the last of these which is the most galling. Cuba’s command economy is unable to provide a basic standard of living for its people, so in order to survive, most Cubans must find an income source to top up their state salary. For those fortunate enough to have relatives in the United States or Europe, help comes in the form of dollar remittances. For those less fortunate, the only way to make some extra cash or eat a decent meal can often be to sell their body to a – usually much older – European or Canadian tourist.
This reality hits you as soon as you step inside a restaurant or hotel in Havana. In every direction are girls who look no more than 16 accompanied by sagging and pale tourists approaching pension age....

Arthur Koestler once referred to pro-Soviet communists in the rich world as voyeurs, peeping through a hole in the wall at history while not having to experience it themselves. The Stalin Society is a lot smaller today (though you can still find the Cuba Solidarity stall at Labour party conference) but the mindset persists: Cubans are the unwilling participants in a communist experiment, there mainly for affluent westerners to gawk at and, when the ‘chemistry’ is right (i.e. when you’ve paid for everything) to take back to the hotel room.
Of course, the resorts in Varadero that most tourists visit are about as ‘authentically’ Cuban as a Soho restaurant’s ‘authentically Chinese’ sweet-and-sour chicken. Step outside of the official tourist route and one soon sees the real Cuba. It is here, amidst the prostitutes and the elderly people rummaging through bins in central Havana, that one starts to understand why many Cubans might like a few branches of McDonalds in their country. Cheap plastic food is, after all, a good deal better than no food at all.

These visitors are of the same ilk as those who see a little African child poking at the dirt with a stick--his only toy--and pointing out that he is happier than American children who don't value their many possessions.


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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beggars on the streets of Philadelphia

When I was a small child I saw grown men begging on the streets of Columbus, OH, during the Depression.  It was a sad sight, even to a little girl like me.  I felt sorry for them and sorry that our country had let them down.  No-one should have to beg to stay alive. Not here.  Not in this country.


Today, as I exited the Ben Franklin Parkway, there were little boys approaching cars stopped at a traffic light with blue buckets in their hands.  They were begging from the motorists.   I have seen children begging on the streets of Dublin, but never thought I would see such a thing here.

Where were all the social workers, the interfering busybodies who punish parents who allow their children to walk alone to a public park? None were in attendance.  I guess the lives of little black children don't matter quite as much.  It's okay to let them run around on busy streets, dodging cars and putting themselves in danger.  Their lives don't matter until the Rev Al Sharpton shows up with his followers and makes an issue of it.  I guess the Rev has weighed his options and decided there was no profit for him in exploiting these kids.

I certainly don't dismiss the possibility that these kids are little hustlers, like the squegee men who used to infest New York City.  But they are kids.  They shouldn't have the freedom to put themselves in dangerous situations.  Grown-ups should be in charge of kids.  Grown-ups such as parents, teachers, cops.

But there seems to be a serious shortage of grown-ups in Obama's America. 

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Home decor update

I recently needed to replace one if my toilet seats, so I went on the Internet to review my options.  Wow!  The world of toilet seats has really expanded since I last bought one.  In the old days, back in the  twentieth century, you could choose either round or oblong toilet seats, depending on the shape of the One-eyed Riley.

That having been settled by necessity, there were wood, plastic, and soft.  In various colors.  Nothing else had changed since my father's outdoor privy.

What boring lives we led!  Now you have a choice of round or oblong, of course.  There are toilet seats that close  noiselessly.  Toilet seats that remove from their hinges for cleaning; others that contain a potty option in case you are toilet training a toddler.  Seats that light up at night (Batteries not included.).  All sorts of plastic, with designs or flowers or seahorses embedded.  Wooden seats with veneers to match your dining room table.  And of course, customized seats such as the one pictured above and others that cannot be described in polite company.

For less than $600 you can buy a heated toilet seat which washes the relevant body parts and even blow dries them.  Of course, you need the services of a plumber and electrician if you want them to work..