Monday, September 19, 2016

Well, Well . . . Some Prices Fell

We fully mature adults living primarily on pensions are acutely aware of price increases, some of them enormous, for things we increasingly need such as medical and dental care. Any cost of living increases included in our incomes haven't come close to covering our expenses for some time. And any interest on risk-free savings has dropped 50 percent or more in the past few years. Sometimes it seems if we live long enough we are destined to wind up joining the ranks of the poor.

But some prices have fallen. Basic clothing prices have declined for years as the U.S. textile industry moved to countries with low wages. Gas prices are about half of what they were a year ago thanks to a glut in world oil supplies.

Last week, I was surprised to discover another area in which prices have dropped dramatically. The revelation started when my computer screen went black for no apparent reason. A visit to the Geek Squad provided a temporary fix, but when the problem returned after everything possible had been adjusted it became obvious a new monitor was needed.

My monitor was eight years old. I dimly remembered paying a fairly hefty price for it at a major electronics store. My recollection was correct; the old receipt for $319.00, including speakers and tax, turned up in a file. Considering eight years of inflation, I expected a heavy hit.

A bit of research showed the best price for a monitor of the same size and brand (Hewlett Packard) with new speakers, and again including tax, came to $192.00. And lady luck helped. The day I
Hey, geezers. "Old fashioned" electronics got cheaper.
headed out to make the purchase, the local Best Buy store ran a big sale. I bought precisely the monitor I wanted for $132.00.

Wasn't the quality lower as well as the price?  Heck no. The flatscreen LED picture is brighter and clearer than what my old monitor provided when new. The styling is far superior, making my office space more attractive. The sound from the new speakers has better range and can be controlled more precisely. The new monitor is better than the old one ever was in every respect.

How in the world can a store sell a superior product for less than half the price it would have received eight years earlier for a piece of equipment that performed the same functions?

Sometimes, "supply and demand" works to the advantage of consumers, and in the case of electronics I think that is just what is happening. Many companies jumped into the personal computer market as demand skyrocketed. That market now is saturated, both because of a higher production total by the competing firms and because laptops and smart phones are now all the rage among electronic gadgets. A lot of competition for fewer and fewer buyers of towers and separate monitors has driven prices down, and probably will continue to do so.

So, fellow geezers, take heart. When the kiddos chuckle at your old-fashioned computer setup, smile and secretly resolve not to change your ways. Staying electronically challenged may be saving you a bundle of cash you can use to pay some of that next dental bill. And your "computer" will never fall out of your pocket and break or be lost as you travel to your next doctor appointment.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Back to Blogging

It’s that time of year—back to school, back to work, back to leaf raking. So why not back to blogging? On June 14, I started a summer break from posting stories here. My thoughts at the time included the possibility of never returning.

Serious writers know that the act of frequently coming up with a new thought and developing it into a coherent story is mildly stressful at best and difficult most of the time. The reward for writing is not found in the act itself, it is in the good feelings authors experience when readers make their presence  known. And readers generate great pleasure for writers when they say they liked what was written.

In my 80th year, it was becoming harder to come up with new material, and anything that smacked of “work” was increasingly distasteful. Although my blog readership statistics continued to increase, the number of comments had been static for some time.

Reader reactions were bittersweet during the first weeks of my hiatus from blogging. It was gratifying to hear from friends old and new who said they hoped my summer would be enjoyable and they looked forward to my return. On the negative side, some people who I care greatly about showed they care very little about my work by not even noticing the absence of posts. Happily, the positive reactions were much more numerous than the negative.

Two anniversaries played the biggest parts in convincing me to return. The most important happened less than two weeks ago. Beautiful wife Sandy wrote on Facebook: “55 years ago today on September 2, Dick and I were married. WOW! It doesn’t feel like that long ago. It’s been a fun and adventuresome ride. . . looking forward to many more!”

Presiding over this blog has been part of the “fun and adventure” for me for a long time. The blog's tenth anniversary was July 11. During our traditional anniversary dinner, Sandy and I agreed that ten more anniversaries are quite likely in our future.

So how is an octogenarian to spend another decade? Embark on entirely new activities? Minimize all activity and concentrate on pure rest and relaxation? Stick with the activities that were part of the fun and adventure of the previous half century? 

I crossed the last item off my bucket list last year. New adventures are not on my horizon. I'm still feeling good, mentally and physically, so doing nothing at all would drive me batty. So, it's back to blogging with no guarantees about frequency or quality. Seeing how that works out should serve to generate some fun while continuing to pursue an old adventure

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

So Long for a While

Ah, the sun is shining in Southwest Michigan, the flowers are blooming, and the little patch of forest behind our home is green and growing. Spurred by the long-awaited warm season, the geezer petitioned the big blogger in the sky for a sabbatical. And the wish was granted.

So, I'll be taking an open-ended vacation from posting here. Until we meet again, may you enjoy peace, prosperity, and a full measure of  happiness.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Graduation Gifts to the Unworthy

It's graduation time once more accompanied by a spate of news stories on various aspects of the educational rituals. A few focus on the costs of speakers. The Associated Press did that on May 25, just as the commencement ceremony season was getting under way.

We did a brief survey within our small family. Not a single person could remember who was the featured speaker at their high school or college graduation ceremonies. To be definitive, a broader survey surely would be needed, but our little sampling seems to question the truth of statements by college leaders that paying for celebrity speakers serves to impress alumni who make donations and causes potential students to take an interest in their campus.

A representative of Kean, a small public university in New Jersey that paid two speakers $80,000, claimed it was a reward for the graduates: "It makes their commencement just that much more memorable." Well, not if the grads don't even remember who the speaker was, much less what was said.

Do you remember who spoke and what they said at a graduation ceremony honoring your class?

Regardless of the validity for doing it, paying stars to perform at college graduations has come under some heavy fire in recent years. Of course, private colleges and universities can do what they please. The questions involve public institutions, whose leaders constantly complain that they are receiving inadequate taxpayer funding. If they speak truth, why are taxpayer dollars being devoted to activities that are not directly related to educating students or performing important research?

The good news is that the practice seems to be declining, according to AP data from 20 public universities that were asked about paying notable speakers to perform, including providing travel expenses. As part of the study, a large speaker booking agency was questioned. A representative said the firm was getting fewer requests for paid graduation speakers. Growing criticism of the practice was thought to be the cause. Of the 20 universities responding to AP's request, 16 said they aren't paying speaking fees this year.

The bad news is some universities have joined the payola group in recent years, and some fees are a bit startling. Rutgers made its first payment in 2011, rewarding author Toni Morrison with $30,000 for her talk. The University of Houston paid astronaut Scott Kelly $35,000. The University of Oklahoma paid television personality Katie Couric a whopping $110,000 back in 2006.

Last year, my school, the University of Wisconsin, paid Ms. Couric $3,100 for first-class flights from New York to Madison to speak at commencement. I don't object to paying travel costs, but couldn't she have flown coach or business class? And why not travel on her own dime? Wikipedia says Katie Couric is worth about 75 million dollars.

The Couric engagement brings up another concern. She certainly is a successful person, and therefore qualified to deliver in inspirational message. But she is a graduate of the University of Virginia, not Wisconsin. Every issue of the Wisconsin alumni magazine carries stories about highly successful graduates in many fields. One would think the school could sign up any number of graduation speakers without any cost simply by offering an honorary degree, or perhaps even without the degree offer. Most grads would consider it a high honor. Wouldn't you?

There was no problem this year finding a Wisconsin grad who is both famous and successful. Russell Wilson did the honors. He graduated six years ago with a liberal arts degree after quarterbacking the Wisconsin football team for two outstanding seasons. He has gone on to a successful professional career with the Seattle Seahawks.

Some, of course, would question the selection of an athlete when successful graduates in more important venues were available. However, I listened to Wilson's speech and it was terrific. He did a marvelous job of relating how he overcame serious obstacles to succeed at what he chose to do, and linked those experiences to some good advice to the grads. The selection committee must have strongly considered the message and the speaker's ability to deliver it.

Perhaps members of the UW Class of 2016 won't long remember who spoke or what he said, but if some do, the memory will be of a message from a fellow Badger. And the taxpayers didn't have to pick up a hefty tab to make it happen.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

What More Can An Auto Do?

Last week we acquired a new family auto equipped with every bell and whistle available. We marveled at all the gadgets showing us what's behind, beside, and closing in on the vehicle plus buttons to let us make a phone call or show the route to anywhere in North America.

Upon discovering that the outside mirrors automatically tilt in the right direction to show the curb when parallel parking, I remarked that there can't be anything else car makers can add to enhance new models, at least until we make the jump to driverless robots.

Wrong. Our old car had a navigation system with voice directions. "In a quarter mile, turn left," it would advise. How can you improve on that?

Our new system says, "In a quarter mile, please turn left."  This can be improved further. Next year's model may say, ". . . pretty please turn left" as auto civility marches onward.

Friday, May 13, 2016

UW Punished Sexist with Co-ed Monument

Some strange things have been known to happen in Madison at the University of Wisconsin, sometimes referred to as "Berkeley East." Pranksters and student rebels have long called the campus home.

I thought I'd heard about all the weird happenings at my alma mater until a recent newsletter explained how a sexist university president continues to get his comeuppance to this day.

Paul Chadbourne, the newsletter says, was an inspiring leader and teacher who helped the university thrive after the Civil War. However, his activities did not extend to supporting equality for women. He was notorious for opposing co-education at Wisconsin. A "normal school" to train teachers opened on campus in 1863 and 76 women were enrolled. However, that's as far as Chadbourne was willing to go. The normal school was segregated; only women could attend, and they were not allowed to take other UW classes.

Chadbourne died in 1883 before co-ed proponents completely reversed the institution's policies, but his name lives on at UW in a strange way. Dean Edward Birge apparently was one of Chadbourne's major adversaries. In 1897, the school opened Ladies Hall, its first women's dormitory,  Birge insisted it be renamed for President Chadbourne. He said, "I thought it was only fair that Dr. Chadbourne's contumacy (stubborn perverseness) regarding co-education should be punished by attaching his name to a building which turned out to be one of the main supports of co-education."

The original Chadbourne Hall looked somewhat like this when I passed it on the way to classes. 

The original Chadbourne Hall stood until 1957. I trudged past it many times for four years oblivious to its history. It was a weather-beaten building, not in the best repair, and about the time I graduated it was demolished and replaced by a modern structure carrying the same name.

My, how things have changed. Although male students outnumbered women (except for World War II years) at UW until 1995, enrollment has been near 50-50 since then. Women have been successful students in every discipline. Chadbourne Hall, known to students as "The Chad," how houses male and female students as well as UW classrooms where courses are open to all.

Paul Chadbourne might turn over in his grave.  If he did, he could possibly catch a glimpse of a towering continuing monument to his perversity.

The University of Wisconsin's monument to Paul Chadbourne now is modern and co-educational.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Oh, To Be Like Mom

'Tis Mothers Day, causing me to reflect a bit on my Mom. She was an orphan adopted by a wealthy timber baron family shortly before the turn of the last century. The family treated her well, but never adopted her. After she finished high school, she was sent to a business school so she would have skills needed to support herself.

She didn't need the the training for long before Dad wooed and won her, but she made outstanding use of her talents throughout her life. She served as leader of her small church congregation for more than 20 years. She was the first woman elected to serve on the community's Board of Education, and the first woman to be chosen board president. Somehow, Mom found time to help promote just about every good cause that came along.

At the same time, Mom made sacrifices large and small to be sure my sister and I valued education and completed college, although helping us through years of higher education put a severe financial strain on the family.

Mom lived well into her eighties. In all the time I knew her, I never heard her say a disparaging word about another human being. She was an over achiever who was calm and cheerful in all she did. Wouldn't the world be wonderful if everyone lived their life that way?

Friday, May 06, 2016

Presidential Campaigns--the Bad and the Ugly

My borrowed title statement actually starts with "The Good," but since George Washington's initial presidency, and possibly Dwight Eisenhower's runs for office in the 1950s (it was hard not to "like Ike"), it has been difficult to find a lot of goodness and civility in contests for our chief executive office.

Many pundits now are saying a Trump-Clinton contest will set a record for nastiness. Possibly, but history gives us any number of unpleasant campaigns for comparison.

As "father of our country" and military hero, Washington was extremely popular. He was swept into office for two terms without serious opposition. He belonged to no political party, and in fact often cautioned Americans about the evils of parties. After Washington declined to run for a third term, parties appeared, and sure enough the mud-slinging began.

In early elections, proxies carried on the nastiness. Candidates did not campaign at all. They quietly let potential supporters know they were available for nomination. Gaining that, they sat back and let rabid supporters define platforms and frequently slander opponents in media and by starting whispering campaigns.

Jefferson:Some bad with the good?

Describing the change in "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power," historian Jon Meacham said, "However different in form presidential contests were, one feature has been constant from the beginning: They have been rife with attacks and counterattacks."

The 1800 campaign pitting President John Adams against Vice President Jefferson provides a standard for nastiness that Trump-Clinton may find hard to top.  We hear every Fourth of July about the wonderful friendship between the two founding fathers, both of whom died on the same Independence Day after exchanging hundreds of cordial letters throughout the last years of their lives.

We seldom are reminded that the men who sat side-by-side while Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence was being reviewed and adopted, and who worked closely together as diplomats in Europe, were so antagonized by statements during the 1800 presidential campaign that they refused to speak to each other for more than a decade.

In the campaign, Adams' supporters characterized Jefferson as a cowardly weakling. They also branded him an atheist, a very serious charge at the time. The atheist assertion was a complete falsehood.  Jefferson's surrogates fired back with charges that Adams was an overbearing monarchist who sought to establish a "King's Army" to keep the American people in line (sound familiar, Mr. Obama?). They criticized Adams' character in detail, and very little of that criticism has survived the scrutiny of historians.

Although Jefferson eventually achieved great popularity as a president who championed individual rights and freedom and engineered the Louisiana Purchase, a huge land acquisition that was key to making America "great," he was not immune from criticism while in office. One critic published a scathing report of Jefferson's sexual relationship with a slave, Sally Hemings. That bit of nastiness, denied for years by Jefferson admirers, now is accepted as fact by most modern historians.

Among thousands of documents preserved by Jefferson was this brief letter from an anonymous writer in 1808: "You are the damdest fool that God put life into."

So it goes in American political life.

Will the Trump-Clinton contest be the nastiest ever? I think it is far too early to reach that conclusion. However, there is absolutely no doubt that Donald Trump is the nastiest individual ever to become the nominee of one of our major parties.  He exhibits a whole lot of "bad and ugly" and very little "good."

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Elevator Ups and Downs (Sometimes)

Two recent news stories brought elevator incidents to mind. In the first, a group of football heroes grossly exceeded a load limit and spent considerable time in limbo before help arrived. In the other, a group of police officers got stuck, only to be rescued by firemen who had lots of fun maximizing the cops' embarrassment by taking selfies that made it onto the internet.

Years ago, beautiful wife Sandy and I were in an elevator at the Salt Lake City airport when it stalled between floors. It's an eerie feeling. We were in close quarters in total darkness. Everyone except one man stayed calm until maintenance people got the elevator moving. That man lost it to the extent of screaming and thrashing around in the confined space. However, when we got out, he appeared to revert quickly to normal behavior.

I didn't know that!

My other elevator incident happened a few years later. I was sent to Albuquerque on Forest Service business. My neighbor's son had just built a new home there. He invited me to an early evening golf game, and his wife tacked on a dinner invitation. I brought my putter along with an eye to having at least one familiar club to buoy my confidence on a strange course.

My friend planned to pick me up at the hotel where our meeting was held and I was staying. He urged me to be prompt. We would try to get in 9 holes at University Course-North. Tricky winds were known to come up there in late daylight hours, so we would have to start play promptly to finish our game in calm conditions.

Unfortunately, my meeting dragged on beyond the appointed closing time. When we finally adjourned, I rushed through the lobby waving to my friend, zipped up to my 12th floor room in the elevator, changed shirts, grabbed my putter, and ran back to re-board the elevator. I was fairly close to being on schedule.

But at the first stop, a hotel maintenance lady got on. She squirted the control panel with cleaner and wiped it vigorously with a large cloth, hitting every button. The result was an immaculate button panel, but we stopped at each remaining floor--all 10 of them. I thought about getting off and running down the stairs, but that wasn't appealing following so closely on my frantic efforts to get up to my room.

We were just finishing the third hole on the North Course when a gust of wind blew my ball off the green. Further play was impossible.

Had I known about the advice with the control panel illustration shown here, I could have enjoyed a complete golf game. Oh well, the dinner was both complete and enjoyable.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

In Non-appreciation of Jimmy John's

A page 13 article in my Kalamazoo Gazette invited readers to "Get ready for a freaky cool deal at Jimmy John's. $1 subs for everyone!" The story went on to describe what sandwiches were included, for whom, and when.

Seemed strange to me that a daily paper would run a pr piece for a fast-food restaurant as a news item. When I got to page 18, the motive was revealed. Profit had overcome good journalism, something becoming common nowadays. Jimmy John's had paid the Gazette for a full-page color ad proudly announcing "Customer Appreciation Day Today Only!" The news item was a little kickback.

The ad said a customer could buy one of seven types of subs for $1 at a participating store today only from 11 a.m. to 2 p..m. (emphasis added).

Just happens beautiful wife Sandy and I planned to be shopping close to a Jimmy John's around noon and would be doing lunch in that area. Jimmy John's opened a new outlet near us this year, and we've found their sandwiches to be first-rate. What a deal! A nice lunch discount had dropped in our laps.

Except that it hadn't. Our newspaper never is delivered before 3 p.m. on a weekday. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Gazette subscribers have similar delivery times. Sure enough, 2 p.m. was long past today when I received the generous offer.

One might ask Jimmy John's advertising department: "What took you so long to understand you've antagonized customers instead of pleasing them with the worst possible timing of an appreciation day ad?"  The Gazette advertising department might well consider the same question.