Squandering Aimlessly by David Brancaccio

Brancaccio is the guy who does “Marketplace” on NPR. Now, I like NPR a lot, but I do think that Marketplace has strayed from the core ideals of public radio–the peace corps, Kennedy mourning, peacenik hippie ideals I think of when I think NPR.

I mean, when the boomers went from hippie to Yuppie, it was hypocritical. And NPR’s new concern with the rise and fall of the Dow the NASDAQ seemed part of that trend.

But even so, when I saw the book, I had enough affection for NPR and hippies to check it out.

Brancaccio starts off with an anectodal premise: What do you do with a surplus of money? After graduating from journalism school, he worked for a while and he and his wife managed to accumulate a little surplus–$17,000 to be exact.

They talked it over, and thought the thing to do with the money was for him to fulfill his life dream of being a foreign correspondent. They moved to London to try to make that happen, and just as they were about the run out of money, he hooked up with some radio journalism. It took him on the path to what he does now, hosting “Marketplace.”

Now THAT is something I can respect. It’s a crisis for the hippie-types to find themselves with more money than they need. And it’s the sort of crisis that requires some action to be taken.

The book is really enjoyable. It’s as if the author is taking a walk around the problem, looking at it from different angles and seeing what it’s all about.

He takes a series of road trips to talk with people about what they have chosen to do with their extra money. Some people spend it on shopping, some invest, some go back to school, and some quit their jobs.

His writing is really insightful, not preachy at all, thank god. The book asked a lot of questions I’ve asked myself and gave a few new perspectives. I’m glad I read it.

Back in the saddle…

Well, it’s been fun, but I just couldn’t seem to be unemployed forever.

The papers and signed and I go to work for a very large and to remain unnamed company. They seem very nice, and the manager liked me enough to give me the job:

Senior Videoconference Engineer

I’m pretty happy about it. They actually have a really big team that makes conferencing happen, and they seem to have to right ideas about how it is supposed to work.

I know, I know. There will be irritations and incomprehensible rules and delays on all sorts of things. It’s inevitable. But I am feeling good about this place.

For all of you readers who’ve been hearing about my life, that’s the latest update.

I just have to make sure the lute doesn’t get dusty. I’m committed to it.

…”that’s nothing. Wait till you get to ALGEBRA…”

You know, when I tell people that I have three older brothers, I get this reaction a lot:
“You must be so tough, with three older brothers who beat on you.”

Or sometimes, people will say:
“You probably ran the roost and bossed them all around.”

I suppose this might be true if the situation happened on some kind of 70s sitcom, those two situations might occur. They bear no resemblance whatsoever to my life experience.

Basically, with three older brothers, a ittle sister was even less than an afterthought. Three boys could have a lot of fun together. My brothers had very little interest in me.

And I…Well, I didn’t enjoy getting dirty or other ‘boy’ things. Not that my brothers were so testosterone laden; they were fairly bookish. But , and I made my own friends.

And that was all years ago, when we were little.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine. She ony has a sister, no brothers at all. Naturally, we were discussing men in general. And through out the conversation, I started to realize that she had a very different view of what men were about than I did. Just things about what men like and what they are like.

I guess I never realized that having brothers helped me get aquainted with the clay feet of the male. I have never felt the need to put them on a pedastel. That’s something to thank them for.

But my life has always been my own. I have always been so busy and full of my own life. I’ve writeen about it before, I am so full of ambition that I can’t seem to stop.

I had a conversation with another friend last night, and he was talking about his own ambition. That he was frustrated with his job but he just couldn’t move on. He didn’t feel like he had bested it.

This triggered a response in me; I’d been thinking some similar things. “Are you the youngest child?”

“How did you know? that has been such a huge part of my life, competing with my older brother.”

Huh. I have just been realizing that aspect of my relationship with my brother.

It’s amazing that it took so long for me to figure it out. I guess because I always felt like my brothers had nothing whatever to do with me.

But when I think about my brothers growing up, I remember this sort of exchange:

“Oh, man, long division is so hard…It takes so long….”

“Shuh! You think long division is hard? That’s nothing. Wait till you get to ALGEBRA.”

And my ten-year old self was set up to compete with my four-years-older brother. There was no way to get ahead. I had to scramble the whole time to catch up.

It was like I was conditioned to always try as hard as I possibly could. I always believed that I could catch up if only I tried harder.

And…I think my ambition and drive comes from that. In a lot of ways. I have this belief that was instiled and reinforced when I was little, that I had to catch up, and that I would catch up. Of course, I would eventually get to algebra. Of course I would.

And in fact, there are things I have charged into and taken on, that quite possibly I should have been more daunted and less sure of my success. But somehow, I just knew that I would take those on too, just the way I took on Algebra.

Now, I just have to learn to turn it off a ittle…When I need to back off from taking things on. That’s maybe the next algebra…

what I know about my grandfather

I should begin this all by saying Opa is doing pretty well, all things considered.

More than a week ago, Opa’s housekeeper Sylvia come by for her regular appointed time and found him in a pool of blood on the floor.

He was rushed to the hospital and put into the Intensive Care Unit. I guess his liver decided it was done and was sending the blood back out somehow. Just when they got that under control so he could leave te ICU, he quit breathing. Back into the ICU with a new breathing tube. Oh yeah then he got a blood infection of some kind.

My Opa is 80 and has had a lifelong love of liquor and cigarettes. He smoked 4 packs a day and drank more than the equivalent volume of liquor. I honestly can’t believe he’s made it this long.

Now, I don’t know him very well. Things I remember about him from when I was little:

Mom cried when she talked to him on the phone and felt compelled to explain her relationship to ‘Dad’ to me in incomprehensible sentences

Once, while driving in a car with mom and Opa, he explained that he didn’t want to be anyone’s grandfather, it didn’t feel right to him. So, that’s why he would rather be called Opa…Opa means old man, and he didn’t mind beign someone’s old man. We had never called Opa anything but Opa, so this was another incomprehensible explanation

Once, at his apartment in Vallejo (or was it livermore?) the family was fed on waffles made by mom and lemon sauce that Opa made…”his specialty”

As far as memories of Opa when I was a kid, that is kind of it. Of course I remember how Mom was always upset about him and how he unsettled her.

His drinking caused her the most consternation. She always wanted him to stop drinking. She tried to make a deal with him:
“I will come see you, but you have to promise me that you won’t drink that day.”
And she would go see him, and he would have been drinking. So she would turn around and leave.

Fortunately, this didn’t happen often. We lived to far away. There were four years of my childhood that we lived in the same state, but even then, we were about an 8 hour drive away. So, naturally, we didn’t see him much.

Mom was the oldest. My Grandma and Opa had married, and their little daughter remained their only daughter for a long time…I forget.. I think 10 years before my aunt Donnie appeared. And then next my uncle Marty.

But those were the days of Avalon. Swords had been melted into refrigerators and lawn mowers. The ones who fought in the war deserved their ranch-style with all the modern amenities. They had fought for it, hadn’t they?

And then after all, it turns out they deserved to get divorced. The way mom tells it, everyone up and down the street broke up. And when Mom was 16, her dad, my Opa, flew the coop.

Everything was shiny and new then, they had just invented divorce. People hadn’t worked out the kinks yet. I don’t think “visitation rights” were part of the general vocabulary.

My grandmother was a pretty lady and enough of a charmer to find a new husband since the old one was a dud. And Aunt Donnie and Uncle Marty called Granpa Jess ‘Dad’.

But my mother didn’t. She was already in college when her little brother and sister were learned to call this new man “dad”. Grandma and Grandpa Jess were the ones who send birthday cards and Christmas present. I called them Grandma and Grandpa. Mom called them Mom and Jess.

She is really the only one who remembers Opa as “dad”. She is the only one with any reserve of good memories, of good times together with this man.

Hey, it was the 60’s man! Freedom was in the air! Free love on the lawns of Berkeley or Frank Sinatra in Vegas with the liquor and loose women. Take your pick!

He was an aerospace engineer of somekind. He was making good money and saving the world from communists and space aliens. He was riding high.

But I don’t know. I don’t know what Opa was like before he become too dessicated to walk on his own. I don’t have clear memories of him from even the 80s. Anytime I saw him, I was too distracted by the force field of fear and throbbing of wounds that sprang up around my mother.

Opa was like some elemental, some force of nature. Fascinating to watch in it’s raw state, but like a tornado or hurricane, you couldn’t stay out in it too long or someone one would get hurt.

When I became an adult, I had the desire to reaquaint myself with the extended family I’d never known. My own parents were certianly out of reach, self-exiled to Russia.

I was (and am) intensely curious and somewhat wary about all these cousins and relatives who look and sound eerily like myself. The older ones were the ones who had the missing puzzle pieces, too. They were the ones who might help untwist the thread. So many incomprehensible choices had been made by my parents. The people who knew my parents before I did would have some insight. Or at least maybe they would confirm my assesment that my parents were crazy.

But I needed to know these people.

Let me tell you something about my immediate family. We are very literal. Do not ask if something is possible. If something is possible, it is possible. At high personal cost, death or dismembership, that wasn’t the question. So we will tramp ahead and do the possible thing, when we believe it must or should be done.

When I first came back from Russia, it was possible, though barely, for me to go to California to see my extended family. I saw almost everyone, but I didn’t see Opa.

He had been more or less cast to the wind.

I eventually moved here to California and felt bad about ignoring Opa. He landed in the hospital then, so I went to visit him. He hadn’t seen me since I was 9.

So. Nice to meet you Opa. Yes, this is me, all grown up. And Opa stepped out with inappropriate anatomical comments. SIGH. And there were the recent studies of anything in particular that he had read that he had to tell me, and there was his disinterest and frustration with any topic I might bring up to talk about. Of course, if a man were talking it was different.

And always, the alcohol.

I tried a few times, but after spending one particularly drunken afternoon during which he suggested that he might get a free drink if he pimped me out to the bartender, I just stopped visiting.

I thought, I should not visit him alone. What point would it serve? I’m not even sure if he’s clear on who I am; he’s always confusing me for my mother.

Except last week he was found in a puddle of his own blood. And he’s 80, and maybe this was it. It has been 6 years since I last visited him.

I talked with mom for a while about it. “What do the doctors say? Is he really in danger?”

I thought if there was a funeral, I should go. And I thought, “It would be nice to see everyone.” Which is not such a nice thought. Because, he wasn’t dead yet. And really, if he was still around I should make the effort to go see him.

It would make the funeral easier to enjoy.

So, I drove to see him. And he was doing much better by Tuesday, and even more by Wednesday. We talked for a bit. He was weak and tied to tubes. The alcohol wasn’t there, but he was still inappropriate.

And yet….I actually could see through what was left of him to catch glimpses of who he might have been.

It occurred to me that we have a similar sense of humor. When I told him that my cousin Dallass was having a girl and naming her Adelaide, he started singing a song about Adelaide.

I had thought that too, “Isn’t that a song?” He knew the song and was singing it, which is exactly what I would have done if I’d remembered the song.

He also made silly puns and goofy comments whenever he could.
“Why do little ducks walk softly? Because they can’t walk hardly”

and his favorite (He told it twice)
“Why don’t worms have balls? Becuase they don’t like to dance!”

He also had quirky little things to say in response to people; he liked to twist around the meaning of words. When I told him that I thought mom was crazy for working in Newark and living in Sacramento, he thought for a while and said,
Your mother’s center of gravity is closer to the edge than other peoples’

And then quoted “The road less travelled”
He tried to tell me about a study regarding the mining of helium from Texas (inspired by the balloon I brought him).

It wasn’t much, but I began to see a little bit of the person he had been. I thought, if he had been someone I met, someone my age, I might have really had a good time with him. I always like the smart boys, and have a lot of male friends that I love to verbally spar with. Yes, I could see that he might have been prickly in just that kind of way.

There were a few times when I fired back at one of his retorts. He said, “You catch on. Things don’t get past you.”

That made me feel good. It was then that I realized that feeling, the familiar teasy back-and-forth that I have with some of my friends. It’s the first time I really felt like I got a sense of this man’s personality.

I wish he didn’t make it so hard. I wish that we’d had a chance to know each other. Most of the time during my visit, he was uncertain of exactly which granddaughter I was even though he was glad to have the company.

But I’m glad I took the chance to go see him.

How to have an open-minded discussion regarding deeply held convictions

1. Always remember the purpose of the conversation is the exchange of ideas and experiences. The point of the conversation is to hear others’ point of view and to share your own.

2. Kindness and respect should be the mental stance throughout. If another person is listening to your convictions, they are doing you a kindness. If they are sharing their own convictions, you are receiving the reflected light of their revealed truth. Respect is appropriate at such times, and indeed, necessary for the exchange to occur.

3. Be secure in your own convictions. Do not be needy, asking for affirmation during the conversation. If what you think it true, no one needs to tell you so. You should not try to convince the other person to agree with you.

4. Ask questions and listen to the answers.

5. If you don’t understand something someone is saying, ask them to clarify: “When you said X, I’m not sure what you meant. Can you explain?”

6. Don’t press too hard for explanations. New ideas may take some time to get your mind around. By pressing too hard for evidence, you may cause them to feel defensive.

7. Should your conversation partner be persistent in trying to get affirmation from you when you don’t feel in agreement, do not answer insincerely. A soft answer, for example “I really need to think about that, I can’t answer right now” might help to get past the sticking point

8. If you begin to feel angry, disrespected or cornered during the discussion, try to direct the conversation toward a less sensitive area.

9. If your conversation partner expresses a racist, sexist, or violent idea, SPEAK OUT. If you let such ideas go unchallenged, you are lending support by your silence. Say something like, “I heard what you just said, and I disagree. Every person deserves respect as a part of our shared humanity.” If violence is mentioned, say, “It’s really not right to hurt anyone. There are better ways to handle the situation.”

10. If you feel close to responding in anger or otherwise behaving unkindly, excuse yourself. Try saying “This conversation is bringing up a lot of feelings for me. I really can’t keep talking about this. I’m sorry. Excuse me.” Abandoning the conversation is much better than hurting someone.

Killing with Kindness

I worry about Africa. I really do. They seem to be in a lot of trouble. There are a lot of horrible dictators there. There are a lot of famine and droughts, and people seem to be constantly starving.

Why are they contstantly starving in Africa? America doesn’t seem to have famine like that. I mean, has the United States ever had a famine?

When was the last time that Britain had famine? Or France? Or Germany?

Why should Africa be so full of famine? What’s the deal with that?

Here is one Kenyan economist’s explanation:
the Europeans’ devastating urge to do good can no longer be countered with reason…We can buy these donated clothes cheaply at our so-called Mitumba markets…Why do we get these mountains of clothes? No one is freezing here… Instead, our tailors lose their livlihoods. They’re in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products. In 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria’s textile industry. By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. The results are the same in all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide.”

I recommend reading the interview. He makes some incredibly valid points. We need to let the African countries take care of themselves. They are much stronger than we have let them be. They deserve the chance to be truly independent. We just have to get out of the way.

Another reason MTV should close it’s doors

I am showing my age when Isay this, but remember when MTV was SO COOL? It was so unbelievably cool, it was impossible to stop watching it.

And ‘they’ came to say that the MTV generation had short attention spans. Anyone who had cable watched MTV for hours. Music Videos were so exciting!

I guess MTV believed what ‘they’ had to say, because they stopped even playing the whole video and brought on pre-school-teacher-style hosts and interviewer:

“Maroon 5 is sooooo aMAZing in this video that we just played 20 seconds of…Don’t you think so?” (everyone screams) “That’s right! And let me introduce you to this other artist-of-the-moment who is standing with me. Say hi!” “hi” “SHE’LL be with us all afternoon as we show more pieces of videos for you all. Doesn’t that sound like FUN?” (everyone screams)

Stop. Just stop. It’s like a genius got alzhiemer’s.

And it’s not like VH1 is any better, with it’s head sewn on backwards for the permanent retro-nostalgia. How many “100 greatest” anything shows do we really need? Let it go, people.

It’s about the music, or did you forget?

Let’s just say, Thank GOD for the internet. And here’s what set me off:

Live 8 concerts were made for the internet

“Television seemed shockingly old-fashioned during Saturday’s worldwide concert for poverty relief. AOL’s coverage was so superior, it may one day serve as a historical marker in drawing people to computers instead of TV screens for big events.

Part of it was simply the way things were structured. Concerts held more or less simultaneously in 10 venues are next to impossible for television to get its arms around. Live Aid 20 years ago, with concerts only in London and Philadelphia, was much easier.

And part of it was also MTV’s failure to really try. There were as many commercial breaks as performances, and MTV’s stable of correspondents spent more time talking about what a fantastic event it was instead of showing it.

With a click of the mouse AOL visitors could jump from a video feed of the London concert to one from Philadelphia, Berlin or Rome. The performances were shown in their entirety. AOL programming chief Bill Wilson claimed that 160,000 people were simultaneously viewing the video streams at any given time, and that more than 5 million people sampled the video at some point during the day.”

Farewell, Our lady of the black robe

So, Sandra Day O’Connor is retiring from the supreme court. I never met her, but I hear she is an amazing woman. I will always respect her for being the first female on the Supreme court

This means a job is open.

I checked the supreme court website. It’s a very utilitarian website, no flash, lots of PDF whitepapers. I am proud of the businesslike character of our justice system’s page.

However, the webmaster is a tad behind. THey have not posted the open position for the Supreme court justice. I checked.

You can make almost 20 bucks an hour as a part time telephone operator at the Supreme court. Not bad for part time. And if you have a post graduate degree, you can do well as a Supreme Court Fellow (is that sexist?). They make 110K a year, with all the bennies.

Makes me wonder how much a supreme court justice makes.

That sort of salary information should be public knowledge. But I’m having a little trouble finding it.

Oh wait! Here’s an old article from 2001:
Supreme Court justices $178,300 and the chief justice $186,300

hoo…They might have some trouble getting someone to take the job. That’s not much for all the schooling you need. I know that real lawyers spend that much on their vacations, just about.

Kinda cheap, aren’t we?

The canadians pay their supreme court judges 235K. That’s canadian shekels, but still….

well, hey, if you are unemployed, and have some law experience, send in your resume. Who knows? Good luck to you.