Recalling the recall chat.

We recently had our washing machine recalled. Seven of its sister machines had rudely shocked the owners, innocent people just trying to stay ahead of the t-shirt pile.

Our machine did indeed turn out to be one of the few with the defect. I’d used the thing almost daily for over a year unknowingly risking my life. I tell you, this housewife thing is like combat.

The machine was fixed by a nice man who stuck around to share half my almond-butter sandwich and chat about the risks of wayward appliances and the politics of recalls. We wondered what people get paid when their washer turns on them. We wondered if recalls could be a way to manipulate stock prices. It was the sort of enjoyable conversation that two strangers have when neither one knows anything about the topics discussed. Sort of like a Tea Party gathering, only we weren’t blaming the government for high taxes, cellulite or anything else that has ruined our lives.

I wish the story in yesterday’s New York Times had appeared earlier. It was  headlined “Johnson & Johnson Recalls Hip Implants” and it would have been fascinating to kick around that development with the washer guy. Maybe some other customer will mention it to him.

It makes a patriot proud.

There’s a guy in Florida, leader of a church in Gainesville, who has come up with a novel way to recognize the tragedies of 9/11: He’s going to burn a big pile of copies of the Qur’an, the sacred writings of Islam.

Now, of course no one with the common sense God gave a walnut would take this person seriously. He is no more representative of Christians than the Energizer bunny, and considerably less intelligent. And he sure as hell is no “pastor,” never mind what it says under “occupation” on the permit for the pistol strapped to his hip.

The book-cooker in Florida seems like a random kook until you consider that forty-six percent of Republicans polled claim to think President Barak Obama is a secret Muslim. (See Tim Egan’s good essay on that idiocy.)

The whole world is watching, and we’re demonstrating that in a true democracy, you can say or do just about any asinine thing you want without fear of punishment. We’re also proving that we’re every bit as good at producing haters, fear-mongers, liars and fools as the next nation.

The power of strong women.

A beautiful video of great athletes. Watch it here.

Here’s the story in The New York Times that accompanies it.

(Update: Some of the letters to the editor that followed chastised the paper for sexualizing the women in a way that would not be done if they were men. They asked: Why not just show them as the superior athletes they are, without erotic slow-mo, loose hair and makeup? Well,  letter-writers, I thought that too, for a second. Then I realized that these young women do wear makeup when they play, and it takes more than slo-mo to objectify ‘em. They don’t believe that their athleticism is diminished by looking good.)

There is a God: Dr. Laura quits.

Dr. Laura, who is to doctors what canned maraschino cherries are to fruit, is quitting her syndicated radio show.

She isn’t going to retire, she says, just extricate herself from situations in which she can be unfairly criticized for using the word,  “n*****r” some 11 times in one radio broadcast.

Okay, Miss Klan-mouth, go find that place where you can say whatever you want, whenever you want, without anyone raising an eyebrow. It’s that place where the nice nurses lock you in, take your shoelaces and sedate you.

I guess there are a lot of white people in America who feel that if Chris Rock can say that word every 3 seconds, then we Caucasians should get to use it at least once a year. Or twice, if a black person cuts us off in traffic.

So, conversely, if black people stop saying it, these white people will ban that ignorant old slur from THEIR vocabularies too?

Yes, it’s all becoming clearer to me now. It’s up to black folks to set this straight. Right.


Office with a view…and corrective underwear.

A faithful reader suggests I pry myself away from The New York Times now and then, and take a peek at The Wall Street Journal. An excellent idea.

This morning’s spin through the WSJ site turned up several good finds, including Jonah Lehrer’s piece on how nice guys actually do finish first…and then turn into jerks when they’re the bosses. The next thing I clicked on was a piece by Ray A. Smith about “smart clothes” that change color when the wearer sweats or helps her monitor vital signs and diet.

Lehrer quotes Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California:

When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools. They flirt inappropriately, tease in a hostile fashion, and become totally impulsive.” Mr. Keltner compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making. Even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office.

And Smith tells us that folks at North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles are working hard in the lab to develop sensor-laden fabric that tells the wearer when blood pressure or pulse rates are rising. He also shares the good news that a wicking, waterproof suit may be coming to a haberdashery near you, and even better, a Japanese company is pushing posture-enhancing underpants.

This last bit of news is especially gratifying, since the people who labor in the vineyards of unmentionables have not brought us any real innovative products since the days of edible undies. (Which, being very high in carbs, never had a chance.)

Now, what I want to see is clothing that keeps the nice guy from turning into a fool.

“Idiocy wicking” — yeah, that’s the ticket.


(Note: This also appears on Crosscut. Good site to bookmark for regional news and nat’l/regional commentary.)

A little something from your banker.

I’m delighted to know that there’s a new kind of credit card out there — one that lets you set all sorts of conditions and limits for yourself. As reported in “Your Card Has Been Declined, Just As You Want” by Ron Lieber in The New York Times, the idea is to give you some power for a change.

You just know the first time some bright young banker proposed this in a meeting she was met with an appalled silence. Well, times change and even Big Banks do nice little things for customers every couple of years. This is one.

Reading this I was reminded of calling up a bankcard company some years ago and asking them to lower my credit limit. They had no mechanism, no paper form, no policy. But because it was a credit union and customer-service people were empowered to solve problems, the nice person on the phone figured out a way. It was a key part of getting myself out of some pretty deep debt. (I wrote about it in 1997, here, for the Seattle Times in “Debt Lite: Shedding ugly pounds of plastic.”)

I stopped myself from reading to the end of the NYT story or looking into it more deeply because I didn’t want to get to the part where the inevitable “service charges” get described.

The banking world is like one big fishing trip. We small customers are the fish and yes, now and then they do practice catch-and-release. They’re waiting for us to get big enough to make a decent meal. But, hey, enjoy the swim in the meantime.

Sweet land of liberty. Wait, not so fast.

Right on schedule: Times are tough, jobs are scarce, so the loudmouths look around for someone to bully.

The Sunday New York Times tells me:

1. Half of the 14.6 million people out of work have been that way for more than six months.

2. A group of senior Republican senators wants to revisit the 14th Amendment, which allows American-born children citizenship, regardless of their parents’ status. And, across the country there is frantic railing against plans to build Islamic mosques–especially a proposal for one near the World Trade Center’s graveyard.

Regardless of how you feel about people who come here following the ideal of freedom or those here who insist that they should be able to worship who/what/where they wish–you’ll surely agree with this:

If the Republican senators  put their considerable energy, taxpayer-provided resources and powerful media platforms to work on solving the unemployment problem, they could do it. If the likes of mediagenic Sarah Palin, a vocal opponent to mosque construction, joined in…even better.

Instead, they are repeating mistakes of the past that will exact a price far greater than we can afford.

Keep your tired, your poor...

We perfected this behavior long ago, when the Civil War ravaged the Southern economy and led to a new kind of racism and segregation. The period called Reconstruction promised a lot to African Americans. Almost all of those promises were broken within a few years. Then, as now, citizenship was something to be denied, then granted, then denied again by the ruling class.

It took the South a century to recover and begin to thrive economically after legislation and social mores forced “free” blacks to the back of the bus and denied them the basic rights that came with citizenship for their white neighbors.

Along with the xenophobic and racist policies, the region got a culture that worked white mill workers (including their children) literally to death, and ensured they’d die in debt to the company store. Citizens and de facto slaves alike woke up to a land stripped of coal, timber and other resources by the same folks who promised that segregated mills would lead the South out of its poor past. Fast forward a few decades and see how it played out: The images seen around the world of dogs and fire hoses being used to govern are still synonymous with “the South” and “civil rights,” despite the enormous progress of the last 60 years.

We’re out of work, we’re broke, we’re scared and we’re going to fix it all by putting our collective foot on the necks of whomever we can keep down.

It won’t work this time around either.

(NYTimes stories: “Jobless And Staying That Way” by Nelson D. Schwartz and  “I’m American. And You?” by Matt Bai. Also, “Across Nation Mosque Projects Meet Opposition,” by Laurie Goodstein.)

Taxes are not the enemy.

We Portlanders used to go online or pick up the phone to get the city’s help on anything from graffiti to a wily garbage-tipping raccoon to a pothole. Now the handy online forms seem to be disappearing and the corps of neighborhood helpers has been whittled down.  I picture a stadium-sized empty office with a lot of phones tethered to one answering machine.

This isn’t unique to Portland, and in fact the Rose City is better off than most. But everywhere I turn, I hear or read people grumbling about taxes and bloated government. (What is it with old high school boyfriends on Facebook who turn into such right-wing whackjobs?)

Let’s not simplify this to the point of idiocy. Taxes are not evil. We should reserve our ire for politicians who make entire platforms out of promises to cut taxes. Cutting waste and shifting priorities is vital, but that doesn’t mean putting on a blindfold and heading out to the weedy garden with a machete.

This New York Times column, “America Goes Dark,” by Paul Krugman hits it on the head:

How did we get to this point? It’s the logical consequence of three decades of antigovernment rhetoric, rhetoric that has convinced many voters that a dollar collected in taxes is always a dollar wasted, that the public sector can’t do anything right.

The antigovernment campaign has always been phrased in terms of opposition to waste and fraud — to checks sent to welfare queens driving Cadillacs, to vast armies of bureaucrats uselessly pushing paper around. But those were myths, of course; there was never remotely as much waste and fraud as the right claimed. And now that the campaign has reached fruition, we’re seeing what was actually in the firing line: services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or nobody will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole.

(PS: If you need to rail at someone or something about huge waste and routine gouging of the little people…Big Banks present plenty of opportunities. Check this out. Wells Fargo is not the only bank defending its practice of charging customers big fees for small services.)