Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bad Stuff in the Gamma Quadrant

We listened to a Freakonomics episode a while back that started out talking about the very public death of the giraffe in the Copenhagen Zoo and the worldwide outcry that followed it; and contrasting that with what seems to be the lack of worldwide outcry about the deaths of thousands, maybe even millions, of humans around the world in places like Syria. The host posits that it’s easier for us to get upset over animals than it is over other human beings.

I have a few ideas. Some are mine and one is something I learned when I was a Public Communications student at SU many years ago.

My idea is that what happened in Denmark is something that we don’t expect to happen in a “civilized” country...especially one that many of us like to think of as one of the most civilized in the world. Denmark represents the standard to which we’d like to raise countries like Syria (but first we have to get them up to ours). And so what happened in Denmark is shocking, simply shocking, because it seems so horribly contrary to everything we thought we knew about that country.

Syria, on the other hand, is a country where we know that things are seriously effed up. And quite frankly, whether it’s fair to the Syrian people or not, it wouldn’t be news at all if this story had played itself out in the Damascus Zoo. It would be just one more terrible thing from a terrible place.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the Syrian people...or any people less than we do about the giraffe. There is much outrage and much horror, but little that we feel we can do in the midst of a complicated situation that won’t just make things worse. We've been there before and we know that sadly, some civil wars just have to settle themselves without us getting involved. We’ve learned that we can’t fix everything. We’ve learned that if we try to fix everything, we end up not fixing anything.

And then there's what I call the “Gamma Quadrant” perspective. This comes from the concept on Star Trek that our galaxy is divided up into four different quadrants, with us being in Alpha.

I said to Cheryl once that I was glad that we didn’t know about intelligent life on other planets, because then we’d also have to know about the horrible things they did to each other...that we couldn't do anything about from here. And because I don’t know about them, the atrocities happening on Rigel VII don’t concern me. But once we were able to see them on super telescopes, how would we feel about what we saw going on? And at 860 light years away, we’d be helpless to do anything anyway, since the events we’d be seeing would be ancient history.

In practical terms, the “Gamma Quadrant” perspective says that there are places too distant for me to have any practical influence on, and that perhaps I need not be inundated with the daily horror data on, since I can’t do anything about it.

It’s worth noting that on April 20th, 1995, Cheryl came home and told me that something terrible had happened in the Gamma Quadrant.

The last one is one that I’m not going to get exactly right, and couldn’t easily find a version of online, so I’m going to wing it here. It goes as follows:

The man stabbed downtown is more newsworthy than two children trapped in a well across the state, which is more newsworthy than 10 people in a plane crash across the country, which is more newsworthy than 20 people killed in a mudslide in the neighboring country, which is more newsworthy than a bombing that kills 200 people in a country on the other side of the ocean, which is more newsworthy than a bloody ongoing conflict in a country you’re never going to visit anyway…because it’s one of those horrible places.

And frankly, while you may feel horrible about all of them, the farther they get from you, the less they affect you, and the less you feel you can do anything about them.

So going back to where we started, after the international community expressed its outrage about what happened in the Copenhagen Zoo, we can be pretty sure that that won’t happen there again. On the other hand, the international community has been expressing its outrage over events in Syria for a long time.

Things really suck in the Gamma Quadrant.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Where Do You Eat?

People have definite…and strong…opinions about food. And often, they don’t realize that these opinions are simply opinions…they way they feel about something…and not objective fact.

I have friends who turn up their noses at the idea of going out for dinner at Applebee’s or Friday’s because it’s “chain food,” which, by definition, is of a lesser quality than what you can make at home. These people have obviously never eaten a horrible homemade meal. I have friends who argue with me about my choice for favorite Italian restaurant in Syracuse (Spaghetti Warehouse, if you must ask), because Dominick’s or Angotti’s are soooo much better.

These people don’t understand that you like what you like, and that there is no objective standard of what’s better food. Places like Applebee’s and Friday’s…and even Spaghetti Warehouse…give me the meals that I can’t make well at home. And if you like the lasagna better at Dominick’s, that’s fine for you, but as for me and my palate, we’ll be going to Spaghetti Warehouse.

And as far as homemade food goes, I grew up on my mother’s macaroni and cheese with the breadcrumbs on top. I didn’t even know that Kraft Macaroni and Cheese existed until I was at least a teenager, and maybe not even until I was in college. My mother’s macaroni and cheese was the standard that I measured all other mac and cheese by, and Kraft doesn’t even place a distant second.

My two daughters, however, learned to love the stuff in the blue box at an early age…most likely from daycare…and absolutely hate the stuff I make from my mother’s recipe. It is what it is. You like what you like because it’s what you grew up with; and you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about not liking something “more sophisticated” or homemade. Food snobs drive me crazy.

I love the Glove and Boots series of videos, and there’s one about visiting New York in which Johnny T says that if you’re gonna visit New York, don’t eat at the same restaurants you’d go to at home. This is accompanied by a graphic showing the logos of many national chains.

I have friends who feel this exact same way…if they’re visiting a new city, they make a point to avoid chains, and only eat at local restaurants. But I figure that after you’ve been on the road for hours and hours, there’s something comforting about food you recognize, and eating in a place where you know exactly what you’re getting…or can get a particular favorite that you can’t make at home.

Besides, despite what Johnny T says, some chains are local…or at least don’t exist where we live…so going to them is eating something different than what we’d get up here. Even though I grew up with them in Jersey, there are no White Castles anywhere near Central New York; so going to one when we’re in the NYC area would be something different. Eat’n Park and Steak ’n Shake are local to Pennsylvania and parts of the Midwest. And while we used to have them here, Bob Evans and Big Boy left the area before we ever had a chance to visit one.

Now this doesn’t mean that we only eat at chains when we’re on the road. We’ll eat in almost any Chinese or Italian restaurant, but we don’t feel a need to avoid chains when we’re traveling, just to make our experience more “legitimate”...and neither should you.

Just eat what you like.

Now, we have to make a special pilgrimage to one of the three remaining Howard Johnson’s.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's So Bad About Double-Dipping?

This comes up in conversation every now and then…usually because of a newspaper article about someone doing it. But when it came up a few weeks ago in a conversation at work, I decided that it was time for me to write about it…double-dipping.

Now, for those of you who’ve never heard the term before, we’re not talking about getting a two-scoop cone from Applegate Farm or Friendly’s. No, what we’re talking about is a person retires from one government job, and goes to work for another government agency…while collecting their pension from the first job.

“Unfair!” cry the masses.

“Not so!” say I.

The masses, who don’t understand how the system works think it’s unfair because they’re paying this person twice. But they’re not. This person put in the time needed to earn that pension, and is getting that pension without any more being paid in toward it. In fact, one could argue that the person who is double-dipping costs the taxpayers less, because we don’t have to pay into their pension plan.

But there’s still this emotional response that it’s unfair that you can officially retire from a job on Friday, get your retirement benefits, and come back to work for another…or even the same…government agency on Monday, bringing home more money than you did before, because of the combination of the pension and salary. And this emotional response is probably based on jealousy that they couldn’t get such a sweet deal. So let’s take a look at this by breaking it up a little differently.

I had a Gym teacher in high school, who I’ll call Mr W. Mr W had been in the military for what they call “20 years and a wake-up,” at which point he was eligible to retire with a military pension. And I don’t care what any of the rest of you say, he earned that pension. Anytime you stay in a job for 20 years where you know there’s a likelihood of your being killed, you have earned that pension in my book.

If he went in at age 18, he was a relatively young 38 when he retired. He was young enough to start a new career, which he did…in teaching. Was it double-dipping for him to retire from the military, collect their pension, and then start working for the East Orange Board of Education? Should it matter that because of his military pension he brings home more than the average teacher? I don’t think so.

And then when he retires from teaching 20-odd years later, is there a problems with him collecting pensions from both the military and the East Orange Board of Education? I don’t see one. He earned both of them fair and square.

And in the world of regular business, Donald Keogh retired from the presidency of Coca-Cola, where he was in charge of the “New Coke” disaster, in 1993, and became chairman of the investment bank of Allen & Company the very next day…while probably still drawing his Coca-Cola pension. Do we see a problem here? Is he double-dipping?

So then why is it a problem for someone to retire after 30 or 40 years in a public service job on Friday, and come back part or even full-time on Monday? Why does this elicit cries of “double-dipping”? Especially when that “double-dipping” is saving the taxpayers money.

As I said earlier, I think it’s jealousy, pure and simple. I think that the people who complain about it being unfair are jealous of a deal that they couldn’t get from their current employers…but would gladly take if it were offered.

At least that’s the way I see it…and maybe I’ll be one of those “double-dippers” in a few years.

And I think I’ll have some ice cream while I’m at it!