Monday, July 03, 2006

Mor(e) for Less

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog orignally titled "American Hypocrisy." Sadly, I was working on a non-Mac computer and the "publish post" button blorped and took me back to the main page, neglecting to save my article. I had tried to copy it to the clipboard first (a move I long ago learned could be a savior for just such an occasion), but apparently Command-C doesn't work so well on those other computers. ANYWAY...things being as they are, I now have additional fodder for the ways I see hypocrisy in our modern society; the new title of this piece suggests just that.

On the way home from seeing Superman Returns yesterday (cannot reccomend highly enough, BTW) I noticed a new supermarket: MOR FOR LESS. No typo there; apparently, Dan Quale scared the hell out of everyone with his spelling of common garden fruits, so now otherwise capable signmakers are leaving off perfectly good "e's." The thing I really LIKED about the sign, though, was how representative it is of the current mindset of many U.S. citizens: the idea that, in some way, we actually CAN get "more for less." The missing "e", however, is a perfect analogy for the truth: you cannot, in reality, get more for less, and by trying, you simply get...well, what you pay for. Which in this case, is less.

How did we arrive at this hypocritical juncture? What made us believe that, by spending LESS money, we could put MORE in our carts? Part of it, I believe, is a drop in quality. Make something a little more cheaply, and then you can afford to buy MORE of it. Cheap crap, that is. See my Disposable article for my feelings about quality control in modern life. Another aspect, though, is a little more sinister to consider. I think, conspiracy theory wackiness aside, that some of it stems from our governments. Local, state, federal...they ALL want us to believe that we can accomplish MORE with LESS.

Take St. Johns, for instance. In my hometown, we have around 40 miles of "in-town" roads. Over 75% of them are rated at "poor" or "failing." We haven't had a major road reconstruction in town since the 1960s. The local government, recognizing a problem, ran TWO millage proposals in two years to try to raise funds for major road repairs. Not just your typical mill-&-fill job, you understand: complete removal of current surface and rebuilding, from the bed up. The first proposal was a lot to swallow, even for social liberals like Tess and me. We voted against it. The second proposal was the one I figured the local government actually WANTED to pass, but offered it up as a "better option" than the shoot-the-moon proposal we got at first. Tess & I voted for that one, and the tally was much closer...but it still failed. Since then, we've been at a standstill. Many people in town believe that the funds for these major road repairs can come from trimming the current budget. All of this would be accomplished, of course, without actually CUTTING any services the city currently provides: the belief is they can get MORE (road repairs) for LESS (money in the overall budget). Can't be done. At the city's best estimate, the reconstruction of only 2 miles of roadways would eat up the ENTIRE budget. So, even if we spent all the money the city takes in (and close the schools, shut down the police and fire services, etc. etc.), it would still take 20 years to reconstruct all the roads. At which point, well, we'd probably need to start all over again. The city council is hesitant to come right out and SAY that, of course, because we're constantly bombarded with the very hypocritical message that it CAN be done...but it can't, and most people seem to want to stay ignorant of that.

So-called "conservative" federal administrations can take their share of the blame for this kind of thinking. Take the recent federal recessions, for instance. On one hand, we're told by financial planners that we in the U.S. are at an all-time low of savings; that we're saving LESS than we ever have since the era of the Great Depression. Then President Bush and like-minded anti-taxation folks come trotting out and give us something like this: "The recession will go away once the economy picks up, and in order for that to happen we need to CUT taxes and people need to go out and spend money to stimulate the ecomony." Hypocrisy: we're told to SAVE and SPEND at the same time. Can't do it. And you can't CUT taxes without also cutting spending; but, our president seems to be pretty good at actually doing that very thing...he who hasn't ever vetoed a spending bill. How long will THAT house of cards last, I wonder?

Once the concept of hypocrisy starts to get under your skin, you begin to see it everywhere. Take physical health: we're told by unanimous voices from the medical community that obesity in the U.S. is increasing at an alarming rate, and all across the board: adults & children, men & women, ethnicities...whatever. We're told that, unless we DO something about it, we're facing the first generation ever to have a life expectancy that's actually SHORTER than their parents. We're told the foods we should eat, the exercise we should get, and a host of other things designed to make us not necessarily all Brat Pitt lookalikes, but at least HEALTHY, dammit. Then I go to Mackinac Island, and what do I see? Advertisements in the windows of no fewer than five clothing stores: "We now carry 2x-3x-4x sizes!" One store, I swear, used a brightly-colored, cheerful sign to declare they had FIVE-X sizes in t-shirts! Hypocrisy: eat smarter and be healthy...oh, and here are the tent sizes for those of you eating all that fudge.

Jubal Harshaw had a great word he liked to use throughout his appearances in Robert Heinlein's novels: "tanstaafl." It's an acronym, athough you can say it as a kind of eastern-Russian sounding word. Try it: "tanstaafl" It stands for "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch." Great concept, and one that, once you recognize its inherent truth, goes a long way toward eliminating hypocisy in your life. Want better roads? Pay for 'em...tanstaafl. Wanna eat that large pizza & chase it with a 2-liter? Enjoy your Type-2...tanstaafl. There IS no "more for less," and anyone who tries to sell it to you is simply hiding the true cost. Live smart. Get what you pay for. Avoid hypocrisy.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Making Lists

I recently got list-tagged by a friend. I cannot seem to deny the all-encompassing urge to give in to these things, and everyone in my life seems to know it. Chain letters, "good luck" emails that need to be forwarded to 3 friends, prayer circulars...all that stuff is just decoration for my trash can. VOOP! It's gone. Usually I can tell that kind of stuff just from the subject line...and I delete it unread.

Lists, though...lists are my downfall. What is it about humans that we're SO curious about one another? We LOVE to read about famous people (even if it's made-up garbage), we stare at each other while stopped at the red light (and, apparently, flip off antsy drivers as well!), and we love to list things about ourselves. Rob Gordon would be proud, as we constantly re-shift our listed priorities around. "Quick! Top 5...comic book origin stories of all time!" Yeah...I cannot resist the list. Here then, forthwith, is my reply to my friend Lisa, she of the itchy trigger finger.

Four jobs I have had in my life:
1) College professor
2) Grounds crew worker (slave?)
3) Paper deliver boy (Detroit Free Press, 6 years baby!)
4) Uh...freelance composer-for-hire, I guess

Four places I have lived:
1) Auburn, MI (the fabulous "kid years")
2) Cass City, MI (jr. high and high school)
3) Mt. Pleasant, MI (college)
4) East Lansing, MI (more college)

Four TV shows I love to watch (almost all on DVD, as I loathe most current television):
1) "Dallas"
2) "Three's Company"
3) "Little House on the Prarie" (to the chorus of groans out there: fuck off)
4) "Seinfeld"

Four places I have been on vacation:
1) Porcupine Mts., Michigan upper peninsula
2) camping in West Chester, PA
3) Bavaria (Blue Lake tour, 1985)
4) Washington D.C.

Four websites I visit daily:
1) Kiss Online
2) Stuff On My Cat
3) Internet Movie Database
4) uh...I guess this one! ;-)

Four of my favorite foods:
1) pizza (specifically, the Street Special at our own Main Street Pizza)
2) hashwi (a lovely Lebanese combo of spiced chicken, rice, pine nuts and toasted vermicelli)
3) popcorn (the good stuff: popped on the stove, in oil)
4) pad thai

Four places I'd rather be right now:
1) Auburn, circa 1978 (does that count?)
2) Oaxaca (the in-laws make it sound fantastic)
3) front row at a Kiss concert
4) nowhere, really...I dig "where I'm at"

Four favorite bands:
1) Kiss (natch)
2) Cheap Trick
3) Poison
4) Twisted Sister (can someone say: "stuck in the 80s"?)

Four bloggers I am tagging: no one, since I don't know many. I'll replace this with...

Four records I wouldn't want to live without:
1) Kiss "Alive!"
2) Devo "Freedom of Choice"
3) Cheap Trick "Dream Police"
4) Barbra Streisand "A Christmas Album"

So, that's it for my lists. If you read this, and you're NOT one of the two or three people who already know me, shoot me a comment so I can find my way over to your site.