Saturday, September 27, 2008

Too much of a good thing

While teaching me the benefits of living in the here and now, from time to time Mr. James also demonstrates why unfettered ability to follow every impulse of the moment isn't always a smart strategy.

This dog will eat anything, without apparent restraint. He catches and consumes flies. Walking him requires vigilance to keep him from eating leaves, acorns, even cicadas that continue to buzz while he swallows. If he had access to his bag of dog food, he'd chow down until his intestines exploded. Now and then he'll be successful getting into something he shouldn't and have a miserable (for all of us) day or two of diarrhea as a result.

But living in the moment as he does, he doesn't connect the forbidden food with its unpleasant consequence. He sees something he wants now, and without a clearer head to restrain him, goes for it.

This morning I took him out in our fenced back yard, which usually is fairly safe territory. We do have tomato plants in our tiny garden, and if he happens to find one on a vine that extends beyond its encircling wire cage I don't much worry. Squirrels eat our tomatoes freely and come back the next day for more, so I don't stress out over Mr. James scoring a tomato or two.

He didn't get any tomatoes this morning, but as I turned my attention to conversation with the next-door neighbor, I let Mr. James sniff, pee and hunt for chipmunks to his heart's content. Thus it happened that I did not notice the dead bird he found until it was too late to do anything but watch the tips of its feathers go down his hatch.

He's now asleep in his little dog bed, presumably digesting the bird, and I'm watching and waiting. I don't know what will happen next -- maybe just some intestinal distress, maybe something that calls for a trip to the animal hospital -- but I have learned once again that this dog's unbridled instinct to go for what looks good now, no matter how shiny or tasty it seems in the moment, can have negative consequences that are unpleasant for him and require cost and clean-up for us.

So a little bit of attentive forward-thinking and action on the part of someone with a bigger-picture perspective may preclude problems down the road.

Is there a parallel between my inattentive regulation of Mr. James's voracious appetite, and the $700 billion mess that short-term gain from creative mortgage financing schemes has dropped at our collective doors? You be the judge.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Top 10 reasons I love my new kitchen

My kitchen is mostly done. There are a few items yet to be completed -- a pantry on order, a gazillion miles of trim to paint (how can such a small kitchen have so much trim?), some shelves to install -- but the dishes are out of the living room and in the new cabinets; the countertop looks absolutely expansive, relatively speaking; the dishwasher, sink and faucet are in and water is running.

Of course, the bank account is now emptied, and I can't help but consider the irony of our timing. This work has needed doing for the full 27 years we've lived here, including when credit was easy and the economy was humming. So it figures we'd finally get around to it just as the financial system collapses.

Oh well, if the cabinets are soon to be bare, at least they'll look good.

Meanwhile, it's fun to be present in my fresh new kitchen, and here are the top 10 reasons why:

10 - When we turn on the lights, we can actually see. Although it must be said, suitable illumination in the vintage version would not necessarily have been a good thing.

9 - Ice cubes that appear without having to think about it in advance. We couldn't improve the kitchen and leave the quarter-century-old refrigerator in place, and with a current model comes all sorts of newfangled features, including ice that does not require re-filling plastic trays, which mostly never got done in a timely way.

8 - Cold filtered water at the push of a button. This is related to item #9. I didn't care one way or another about this feature until I experienced it. Cool.

7 - A deep double sink. D-e-e-p.

6 - In addition to being deep, the sink is stainless steel, therefore gray-ish on purpose, compared to the gray that had been white, once upon a time.

5 - Abounding electrical outlets. Everywhere we might want to plug something in, we can. Now let's hope we can continue to afford the electricity they deliver....

4 - A groutless countertop. Glory hallelujia.

3 - Insulation in the walls, where before there was none. Of course, I can't see it now, but I know it's there, and come January, I'm pretty sure I'll notice the difference.

2- Walls without bumps and cracks. I've done a lot of wall-painting in my day, but we've always lived in houses built before 1930. So I've never painted a wall that wasn't plaster, and that in itself was a new and exciting experience.

1- Washing the dishes entails pushing a button and walking away. Another glass of wine, anyone?

Monday, September 22, 2008

All the news that fits my point of view

Breaking down organizational silos, or building connections between them, is all the rage in many workplaces today, mine among them. I think that's a good thing. It leads to greater-good decision making, cooperative behavior, better results.

Meanwhile, however, it appears society at large is heading the opposite direction.

Case in point:

Our local newspaper trimmed its staff last week. A dozen of the downsized were newsroom staffers, reporters who kept their finger on the pulse of the community, gathering, interpreting and sharing, more or less objectively, the information about events that affect life in our town.

Columnists who put forth personal viewpoints were spared this round; research must show that readers are more interested in opinion than they are facts. Or that the old notion of professional journalists probing multiple sources in search of the truth has become as quaint as the typewriters they once used to compile their news stories.

In any case, our hometown paper has fewer news-gatherers to report on the happenings in our city, which makes the paper even less relevant. And because newspapers are about the only organizations left that actually pay journalists to be reporters, that's bad news for those of us who genuinely want credible information about what's going on in our communities and the world.

So, what's a citizen to do? Walter Cronkite is long retired, Tim Russert is gone. Newspapers fill their dwindling pages with opinion, infotainment and celebrity drivel from the wire services. And anyone with a keyboard and an axe to grind is a "journalist" on the internet.

It no longer pays news organizations to serve a mass audience that today has splintered into thousands of fragments, which leaves us on our own to find sources we trust to learn what's going on in the world.

And because we really don't have time to seek out varying points of view, most of us turn to sources -- talk-radio programs, columnists, blogs, late-night tv hosts and newsfeeds with agendas to advance -- that reinforce what we're predisposed to believe.

Which means I get one version of the truth, you get another, my neighbor down the street gets yet another.

Truth silos, if you will. All the news that fits my world view for me, your world view for you.

As damaging to society's common good as organizational silos. Government of, by and for the people who do the best job of marketing their silo.