Gift Cards Kind of Say It All
I hardly consider myself “old fashioned” or totally out of step with the times. I can get around okay on Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. I’ve had an IPhone and IPad for several years. On the other hand, I am hardly conversant in the latest technological trends, and am quick to admit that trying to stay up on social media as I am told is necessary to enhance my “author platform” wears my butt out. I still believe that talking directly to someone is the best means of interpersonal communications. I “get it” that the times have changed tremendously over the past decade or so, and I have to scramble or be left behind.
What tends to grate on me a bit as I chase after the ever accelerating technological frenzy is that no one ever seems to stop and think that faster, quicker, more efficient, etc. may not be always better. I am sure that tabulating votes electronically is far, far superior for hundreds of reasons than hand-counting paper ballots, but there are other areas of our changing culture where I believe the reliance on electronic computer bits simply cannot replace unfortunate loss of interpersonal relations.
Gift cards. Whatever did we do without them? They are easy to purchase and are virtually ubiquitous. I can buy one from almost any vendor I can think of in Home Depot, of all places. And there is the wonderful benefit that the recipient can take the card and purchase what he or she really wants. No more ugly ties or argyle socks. Well, maybe. I think the fall back to gift cards represents a classic case of a lazy way cop out.
It used to be that folks would try to select something appropriate and special for their recipient. They would spend some time getting to know the other person’s tastes, interests, and lifestyle. Gifts were personal and meant something among recipient and giver. Of course there were embarrassments, but at least some thought and effort were there. Now, grab a gift card and be done. Virtually no personal effort is expended. It is a mockery of the spirt of giving which is on life support. I am putting as much thought into what I give the mailman as I do for my wife.
We are blessed with four very successful sons. At giving occasions I try to find them a book they might enjoy but am summarily told “They don’t read. Give’m a gift card.” So we give gift cards from the aforementioned Home Depot to guys who are wonderfully bringing home incomes many, many times what we do. They visit Home Depot on their own and spend many times what we give them. There is no effort made to make a gift personal or special. Electronic efficiency has made us supremely lazy. I am not sure there is any remedy to this situation but I do consider it just another unfortunate symptom that our society is in steady decline.
My wife just kissed me goodbye. She is taking our eleven year old granddaughter shopping for her birthday. That is encouraging in itself, but hang on. She did say, though, that she didn’t expect they’d find anything and would probably end up with a gift card.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE CHILDREN GONE?
I happen to live in south Texas near the coast where virtually everywhere is subject to flooding. We live in a community that did suffer greatly in Hurricane Allison several years back to the extent that FEMA took over many large lots in our neighborhood near the creek and banned any future building on them. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we now enjoy some beautiful open greenspace that meanders down to the creek. Daily, Stanley, our bullmastiff and I, enjoy our walk through what at one time was filled with beautiful homes.
It was just yesterday, though, that while strolling through the woods in this “park of opportunity” that we adore a thought occurred to me. Where we all the kids? There are dozens of homes within a few blocks of this area, but we have rarely encountered kids or, for that matter, a soul of any age on our excursions. Granted in the summer our area is blistering hot, and there are plenty of mosquitos and other insects to say nothing of snakes and who knows what lurking around. Also the creek can be fast moving, muddy, and deep.
Those things aside, in my childhood, the area would have presented an incredibly exciting place for adventure and discovery. We would have had tree house, secret hideouts, cowboys and indians, baseball and football fields, etc. all over the place. Do kids play outside anymore? I am really not sure.
Perhaps the state of our society has deteriorated to the point that with all the crime and concern for unscrupulous characters, we dare not let our kids out of our sight even for a few minutes. Or, perhaps it is that the mesmerizing stranglehold the cathode ray devices have on our children is just too suffocating and strong. The kids would much prefer to be on the couch double clicking a dragon on a screen than outside playing with a puppy.
Whatever the reason, I feel it is regretful that our children aren’t out more on their own (in unsupervised activities) where they can play, create, and interact without a predetermined script. An occasional skinned knee or bee sting is a small price to pay.
PREVIOUS REAR VIEW WISDOM
The Profound Ambiguity
Although my father, father-in-law, brother, and both sisters all were employed by governmental entities for most of their working lives, somehow, other than a stint during Vietnam in the Marine Corps, I have never drawn a regular paycheck from the massive public largesse. Perhaps the closest I have ever been to actually functioning within a public organization was a recent stint I spent attempting to run our neighborhood homeowner’s association. Frustrating, maddening, fruitless, you pick the adjective. The very best aspect of the whole episode was that it would end on a date certain.
While I like to consider myself as a planner, who endeavors to consider as many implications to his strategy and tactics as possible, at the end of the day I am a doer. I must see some tangible progress to anything I take on. Of course, there are many sides to almost any issue, and folks today can be extremely articulate in rationally arguing against almost anything. There must come a point where a preponderance of positive support must carry the day or nothing would ever get done. Ah ha, there’s the rub.
I am reasonably certain that if you polled representative numbers of all political parties, factions, interest groups, etc. there would be a marked consensus that our government, particularly in Washington, never gets much of anything done. In fact, the polls reaffirm this contention in the dismal job approval ratings they all receive. Wow, the Democrats had the Presidency and majorities in both the Senate and House and nothing ever got done. The same applies to the Republicans.
Why does this confusing stalemate incessantly restrict any real progress? I believe it is because the people, the masses, the voters, really don’t want anything to get done. As bad as things might seem at times, the status quo is preferable to unchartered waters. Politics, of course, pays a big role in things. In my case, it got so bad that if I was for it, certain board members were automatically against it. It didn’t matter what “it” was, they could always kill my suggestions by arguing cost, even though we had far more funds on hand than we would ever need.
I am not necessarily a Donald Trump supporter, but I do have some sympathy for much of his approach to governance so far. He understand that the “paralysis of analysis” is predominate in the Congress and as a doer he must just step up and act, hopefully within the confines of his vested authority. Otherwise, we will achieve net zero, and much does need to be done. When he does take bold action, however, there are hues and cries from the rafters from all sides. Nobody seems happy. They are certainly not used this approach from the White House.It is left for me to conclude, therefore, that while the populace berates the Congress for inaction, they insist they expect much but really want very little. Just try and get something done. Perhaps, it is for the best, least government may indeed be the best government. There are times I wonder if the country is really governable at all anymore.
ROBERT JOHN DELUCA
Author of Great Books
The Great Myth of American Government:
A Blessing in Disguise
The recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh were as contentious and upsetting to all sides as any other nomination in recent memory. A virtual lion in the judiciary with an apparent unblemished track record was taken to task for an alleged personal incident as a teenager four decades ago that could be substantiated by no one other than the accuser. The real reason the progressive faction on the Left urgently opposed the nominee was because his perceived philosophical disposition. Rather than argue against him on that basis, however, the matter was dragged into the toilet to no one’s benefit, leastways our nation. When Kavanagh was finally confirmed a collective wail of grief echoed across the land with many convinced that society as we know has been cataclysmically doomed. Woe to our poor children and grandchildren!
But hold on a minute. Where are we, really? Are things that dire? Implicit in all this nonsense is the fundamentally flawed assumption that a fifty-one percent majority automatically carries the day. Grab one more than half, and you have carte blanc to run rampant. Have you noticed, however, over the past several administrations that at one time or another both parties have enjoyed clear majorities in the house, senate, and throne room? Yet, very little of lasting significance has gotten done. The truth is that a simple or even super majority based on mule or pacoderm affiliation does not assure anything will get passed. Despite a healthy numerical Democratic advantage Obamacare had to be shoved and squeaked through with a “nuclear” option. Party allegiances are not what they used to be. Local home voting constituencies “trump” party affiliation all day long. The system is so complex and interest groups are so fractionalized that nothing is assured. The assumption that balance of power in Congress swings automatically on party line just isn’t so.
The Court is not much different. Time and again we all have been astonished by the opinions rendered by supposedly progressive or even conservative justices. How surprised was George Bush, the elder, with his “conservative” appointee David Souter? How about John Roberts? The liberal world supposed to implode when he placed his hand on the bible. Two years later he single-handedly preserved Obamacare. Figure that. Also, we shouldn’t sell these folks short, including Kavanaugh. Most of them sincerely have the country’s best interest at heart, and rule accordingly. Progressives love to whine for more help for the masses of oppressed citizens, and certainly there is a lot more to be done. Still, in case you haven’t noticed, the less advantaged have made tremendous gains in rent years, albeit not enough.
Our system is simply too securely configured to enable extremists on either side from making abrupt and wholescale changes in our society. O’Bama couldn’t do much and his polar opposite is likewise shackled by the system, with or without his party’s votes. If ever significant progress is to be achieved in Washington, it will take a savvy politician, who is truly not afraid to work on both sides of the aisle and understands the importance of doing so. If seemingly ever widening mammoth partisan divide is to be bridged, it will take the rare individual who is fiscally astute and yet inherently compassionate. A person, who can leave his ego at the door. In my judgement, the only person with those qualities in recently was Mitt Romney, who if anything, was too ethical to run a “smart campaign”.
Take heart, yee of little faith, things are going to be just fine. Brett Kavanagh will likely prove to be a good judge with true concern for all citizens. And don’t worry about which side thinks it controls the balance of power in Congress. Nothing much will get done. The system is rigged against it. Yet again, what do I know? In college I am the guy who took “gut” courses to fatten up my GPA and still somehow end up with a “C”.
I have a background in business and my basic philosophy has always been rooted in capitalism and the right to earn a profit. In fact, I am amused when I read Facebook comments and blog posts that seem to originate on the “left coast” which decry governmental action to enhance economic activity that might have some miniscule potential infringement on the current moral issue of the day. I am likewise fascinated when these comments are made by sanctimonious ideologues, who have never held a steady job but would have no clue what to do if their inherited trusts’ assets were suddenly drained of securities provided by the economic activity they blandly ignore. Yes, control the factory’s ugly smoke stack, but think for a minute what would happen if that factory were eliminated.
That said, Yankee ingenuity and the drive to make a buck can sometimes be taken to excess. Only recently, we discovered a clever device that washes and cleans our clogged sinuses, giving us much very welcome headache relief. The machine, though, requires that you must insert a small packet of their salts each time or it won’t work. Perish the thought that someone might occasionally cleanse their cavities with pure water and the company lose their two penny profit per salt pack.
Of course, the marketing of electronic technology has long been bereft with clever marketing to get us to load up those plastic cards more and more. The cratering of my wife’s IPhone 6 this week occasioned out visit to AT&T for replacement phones. After, six years, I guess we were due. What a pleasant surprise, too, when I discovered that the next generation IPhone 7 is now only $25.00 compared to the $250.00 or so I remember paying before. Well, let me be a little more precise, that is $25.00 per month! For two phones the receipt said we paid $1,800 this time, but who cares? Anyone can afford twenty-five bucks a month but coming up with a few hundred today can be tough. The phone folks have discovered what the car dealers have known for years: sell payments, Baby, not stickers.
I was also amused when we got down to protecting our little $900 instruments. Hey, the cases were only about $35.00-$40.00 depending upon your particular designer tastes. I remember paying twice as much not long ago. Not so fast, old timer. You want fries, err, glass with that? Add another fifty dollars. The protective glass now comes separately. Had over a C note please for your little box.
These companies are slick. You know, maybe those left coasters do have it right. Things are out of hand. I’ll bet one of those separate glass pieces could somehow injure a tree frog. Let’s write our congressman. Opps! I mean, I am clicking over to Facebook right now.
Okay, It Has Gone Far Enough
As I was thinking about writing this morning, I noticed that CNN has reported that digital book sales are down some 17% in 2016, while printed books actually saw an increase of about 8%. While I have no real idea what this report means, I heard one pundit suggest that maybe we are getting tired of staring into our screens for so many hours every day. Somehow, I really doubt it, but I for one would be heartened if that is the case.
While I have hardly been dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age, I really wonder where it is all headed. Digital electronic communications have long surpassed the traditional interpersonal variety, where folks actually talk to each other. No you can type away whatever you’d like and not really be concerned with the direct repercussions from your recipient. You can easily hide or duck potentially unpleasant confrontations. At a conference, recently, a senior literary agent remarked that during a visit to his former office at a publishing house how much things had changed, but he could not put his finger on how things were different. Then it struck him: the ethereal silence. There were no phones ringing. Business has changed.
Now, of course, we have “apps” for everything. I am sure there must be an “app for apps”, but last night at a little league game, I witnessed something that seems to me a sign that our society is edging ever closer to the abyss. As my wife and I cheered for our grandson from the back row of the bleachers, where we sit so that we can rest our sore backs against the screen, I was aghast to see several brightly lit iphone screens held at the ready by parents, ostensibly there to watch their kids play.
It seems as though there is now a “little league baseball app” which permits parents to follow the game on their trusty devices. Rather than watch the kids play on the diamond in real life, the parents feel compelled to track their eight year olds digitally. I am sorry but that is just too much for me. The whole idea for the kids is get away from those blazing screens for a while and run around in the fresh air. If that smart app is making my life better, I am happy I have seen many more moons than I will see ahead.
It was also interesting to note on a correspondingly somber note, that the little league “crowd” consisted by a wide margin mostly of grandparents. Where were Mom and Dad? That situation is even more disturbing than the “app crap”. At least the elderly gathering was watching the kids and not playing with their digital toys.
Strength of Character
While I have no intention of “shuffling off this mortal coil” just yet, I am very certain I am closer to the finish line than the start. These days I do spend a lot more time reflecting back than looking ahead and am concerned about the world that my generation is leaving to our grandchildren. Already, basic interpersonal integrity is sorely lacking in our society. The best definition of integrity that I like is “doing the right thing when no one is watching.” Don’t run a red light when a police officer is not around and you won’t get caught. Clean up your dog’s bombs on a neighborhood lawn even if no one saw your pooch do it. Go back to the cashier in a store after you get to your car and realize the carton of water under the shopping cart was not rung up. No would ever make you do these things, but good and decent folks certainly would have just a few years ago. Not anymore.
Perhaps it was the fear of getting caught that compelled people to act honorably when they might not have otherwise. Now, embarrassment means nothing to many, especially those in public service. The President calls a national news conference to crow about the economy’s wonderful quarterly Gross Domestic Product numbers. While doing so, he makes clearly erroneous, misleading, and blatantly self -serving statements. There are only two possibilities. The first is that he really doesn’t understand what he is talking about (I pray that is not the case). More likely, he is very aware that he is wrong but realizes that most other people do not. He knows he will not be accountable and routinely quashes personal integrity to curry favor among his supporters.
It has become the standard today to skewer the other guy, no matter the cost. Politics has become so partisan that the most important issue is to stop the other side cold. The good of the country be dammed. The irony of the President’s performance, is that. although he was sickeningly self-serving, the numbers of the economy were, in fact, good. Forget who or what is really behind the results, we as a country should be encouraged.
Not so on the left, however, among the “we detest Trump” legions. From that corner, a speech from Bobby Kennedy fifty years ago was dragged up where he eloquently reminds us that eradication of material poverty is only part of the issue. We rely too much on material things and must strive to restore personal dignity. Certainly, his is a noble stance but when he reminds us that an assassin’s rifle is itself a part of GDP as are all instruments of destruction, he is pushing the point. Overemphasis, absolutely, but positive economic growth is not bad thing just because Trump bragged about it.
It takes a big person set aside personal animosities, and recognize good for the nation as a whole. Far too often, if we don’t like someone they can do no right. There is no answer to this dilemma. I am assuredly not a Trump fan. On the other hand, something is not necessarily wrong just because he said it.