Saturday, August 30, 2008

Holy Epiphanius, pray for us

Years ago while looking up something in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd edition, I discovered a saint who sounded strangely familiar--Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis (ca 315 - 403). I liked the closing words of the description so much that I copied them on an index card.

And then the index card went astray, and Oxford published an updated edition of the Dictionary, and some misguided editor left out the charming lines. I was bereft.

Until today when, going through a stack of old books at Mr Neff's office, I saw a dusty copy of the Oxford Dictionary. Yes! It was the 2nd edition! The words were there! And here they are. If you know anyone like this, now you'll know that he or she comes from a long and saintly tradition.

His unbending rigidity,
his want of judgement,
and his complete inability to understand any who differed from him
were reflected in his writings
no less than in his life.

Feast day, 12 May.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Junk mail revenge--return to sender!

  • Do you get several unsolicited credit-card applications in the mail every week?
  • Does it bother you that, in the middle of an economic crisis partially brought on by out-of-control lending, banks are begging us to borrow still more?
  • Do you mind that "more than 62 billion pieces (4 million tons) of junk mail are produced each year, wasting 28 billion gallons of water between production and recycling," and that "44% of it goes to the landfill unopened"?
  • Does it annoy you to have to tear up those credit-card applications or put them through a shredder in order to avoid compromising your identity?
  • Have you tried repeatedly to get off the junk mail lists, and yet the flood continues unabated?
Well then, how about a little revenge? Here's what I do--and it feels so good. When I get a credit-card solicitation, I quickly tear it into two or three pieces, stuff it into the envelope (most of which look exactly like the one in this picture), and drop it in the mailbox.

That's easier than shredding the application, and it makes the credit-card companies pay double for the privilege of stuffing my mailbox. I'd love it if hundreds of thousands--or several million--people would join me in doing this. If enough of us start returning our unwanted junk mail, we might actually change some marketing practices ... save some trees ... maybe even encourage some banks to be less predatory, or some consumers to refuse to be prey.

There's got to be a way to spread this idea electronically--virally. Feel free to copy this post and e-mail it to your friends, as a start, or send them a link to this web page. Or create a more effective plea yourself and launch it into cyberspace, or come up with a better way to stem the tide of unsolicited credit-card applications.

And enjoy your little act of sabotage each time you return one of those envelopes--or, if you're more high-minded than that, enjoy preserving the environment while improving banking practices!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Buy a box, save the planet

In today's New York Times, op-ed writer Tyler Colman suggests that we Drink Outside the Box--by which he means, it's time to join much of the rest of the wine-drinking world and get our everyday wines from boxes, not bottles.

According to Ryan Sproule, the founder of Black Box Wines, over half the wine drunk in Australia comes from a box. A quick Google search indicates that Scandinavians and Brits are approaching that percentage; the French are gradually being won over; and just last week the Italian minister of agriculture announced that certain of Italy's DOC (but not DOGC) wines may now be packaged in a box. That is, the highest quality wines must be bottled (because they require aging, and aging requires bottles), but good wines--two steps above ordinary table wine--can now be boxed.

Why drink boxed wines? Price, for one thing. Delicato, an award-winning California winery, offers its cabernet sauvignon in the standard 0.75 liter bottle for $5.99 at Sam's Wine. In the 3-liter box, the identical wine costs $15.99, or just $4.00 per bottle equivalent.

Long-lasting quality is another advantage of boxed wine. Use the Vacu Vinpump, and your opened bottle will stay reasonably good for another day or two. Your opened box of wine, by contrast, will stay good as new for nearly a month, thanks to the interior collapsing bag that keeps oxygen away from the wine.

Another excellent reason to choose box over bottle, as Colman points out, is environmental:
Switching to wine in a box for the 97 percent of wines that are made to be consumed within a year would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about two million tons, or the equivalent of retiring 400,000 cars.
Check today's post in Colman's blog for a few suggested labels--although I guess boxes don't have labels, do they. Brands, then?

[A word about statistics: you'll find websites saying that half of the wine drunk in Northern Europe is poured out of a box, and you'll find other websites giving much lower percentages. My interpretation: half of the volume drunk comes from a box. But because boxed wine costs less than bottled wine, and because higher-end wines must be bottled (boxed wines can't be aged), the percentage of money spent on boxed wine is still way under 50.]

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Top 10 on turning 60

Now that I am sixty, I see why the idea of elder wisdom has passed from currency.--John Updike

Now that I am 60, I am going to prove just how right Updike was. Here is my list of top 10 reasons to feel good about turning 60. Do send more as they occur to you. I hope to be in my 60s for quite some time and may need moral support.

10. Turning 60 reminds me to give thanks for my long-term husband and fine old friends, most of whom are far more experienced in aging than I am.

9. My birthday party included my grandchildren, daughters, sons-in-law, husband, and parents-in-law, who came from AZ, TX, IL, MD, and NY.

8. 60 is 16 Celsius (said George Carlin). Sweet Sixteen, the sequel!

7. Post-menopausal zest (Margaret Mead's term) really exists.

6. How can 60 be bad when the 60s were so much fun?

5. I can go to first-run movies on Tuesdays for only $5.

4. Offspring in their 30s are lots of fun.

3. I'm in no danger of dying young.

2. I can't have a midlife crisis.

And the winner is ...

1. Sexagenarian sounds so promising!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Marriage, A History

In the late 50s or early 60, some close friends of my parents got divorced. My parents were shocked. I don’t think we knew any divorced people in those days. And this was such an upstanding Christian couple—the husband was an ordained minister, for Pete’s sake. To make things worse, he’d run off with an old school friend of theirs, a woman who had, as I recall, bleached blonde hair.

“I can’t imagine why he’d do such a thing,” my mother said, tears in her eyes. “His wife was always such a good housekeeper.”

I was only a junior-high kid when we heard the news, but I could imagine what was in Mr. Untel’s mind, or whatever part of his anatomy he was thinking with at the time. The first Mrs. Untel was indeed clean and well-organized. She also gave the impression of being cold and humorless. (Of course, her husband may have had a lot to do with that—it is rarely safe to assign blame in marriage break-ups.) Whereas the second Mrs. Untel... well, even though she was already 50 years old, the fire obviously hadn’t gone out, if you catch my drift.

What I couldn’t imagine was why my mother would think that keeping house equaled keeping a husband.

Stephanie Coontz’s 2005 book, Marriage, a History, gives the fascinating historical and sociological context for my mother’s remark and my incomprehension. Her provocative subtitle summarizes the book’s approach: How Love Conquered Marriage. Here’s how she introduces her thesis:

In the eighteenth century, people began to adopt the radical new idea that love should be the most fundamental reason for marriage and that young people should be free to choose their marriage partners on the basis of love. The sentimentalization of the love-based marriage in the nineteenth century and its sexualization in the twentieth each represented a logical step in the evolution of this new approach to marriage.

. . . As soon as the idea that love should be the central reason for marriage, and companionship its basic goal, was first raised, observers of the day warned that the same values that increased people’s satisfaction with marriage as a relationship had an inherent tendency to undermine the stability of marriage as an institution. The very features that promised to make marriage such a unique and treasured personal relationship opened the way for it to become an optional and fragile one. (5)

Writing like a journalist, not an academic, Coontz lays the groundwork in the first half of the book by describing utilitarian marriage as practiced from prehistoric times through most of the seventeenth century. Local customs differed widely, of course, but marriage was a practical, community-based arrangement believed necessary for survival and prosperity.

In the eighteenth century, all that began to change. Love, always a blessing when it occurred between husband and wife, began turning into the very reason for marriage. Work, formerly a team effort of both spouses (and children and in-laws and cousins), became the province of the husband, especially in the middle and upper classes.

This radically new style of marriage filled some observers with alarm. “Conservatives warned that ‘the pursuit of happiness,’ claimed as a right in the American Declaration of Independence, would undermine the social and moral order” (150). But such marriages continued to increase, so that by the postwar Baby Boom years—the era of “Leave It to Beaver” and “Ozzie and Harriet”—any other form of marriage was nearly unthinkable. In spite of a slowly climbing divorce rate and a steady increase in female employment, most “sociologists of the 1950s and early 1960s saw no challenge to the primacy of marriage or the permanence of the male breadwinner family, . . . because society clearly needed women in the home to raise the children and because ‘families continue to rear their daughters to take only a modest degree of interest in full-time careers’” (243; the quotation is from William F. Goode, World Revolution and Family Patterns, 1963).

And then came the paradigm shift of the sixties and seventies. “It took more than 150 years to establish the love-based, male breadwinner marriage as the dominant model in North America and Western Europe,” Coontz writes. “It took less than 25 years to dismantle it” (247). In their conservative communities in the 1930s, my parents—and the Untels—married for love. They assumed that the men would earn the family income and the women would cook, keep house, rear children, and represent the family in church and community. Their marriages worked well right through the fifties, when community pressure, inadequate birth control, and workplace discrimination conspired to keep couples together even when love flickered and dimmed.

Then the separate worlds of male professional life and female housekeeping left one couple with nothing to talk about at the end of the day. A flashy colleague—a professional woman, yet—awakened sensations that the prim and tired wife seemed unable to provide. Would a clean house and a hot dinner suffice to keep the man at home? My mother, born in 1910, thought it should. I, born in 1948, thought it probably would not.

Not that I approved of Mr. Untel’s behavior. His kids were my age, after all, and he was seriously hurting them. He had made a vow many years before to stick with his wife for better, for worse. If this was worse, he had an obligation to do all in his power to make it better. Even though I thought I understood his motivation, I joined in my community’s criticism of his action.

But the era of love-marriage model was unraveling, and love itself was picking at the seams. If love was the reason for marriage, then lack of love could be the reason for divorce. The definition of marriage could expand to include same-sex marriage. And perhaps love was its own justification, and marriage could be optional. Perhaps, after all, marriage was just a reason to have a really big party.

I don’t know if I agree with Coontz’s assessment that love conquered marriage. Marriage runs in my family—my parents were married 62 years, my in-laws 60; my husband and I have been married 40 years, my daughter Molly and son-in-law Byron18—and behold, it has been very good. I would not want to go back to a time when parents arranged their children’s marriages for financial reasons, or when people had to stay with abusive spouses, or when unmarried women had no way to support themselves. Nor do I like the idea of living in a time when marriage has become a quaint social custom with few societal implications.

But Coontz’s social history clearly shows that there's no point in trying to strengthen marriage by going back to the mores of the 1950s, when the water was mounding over the top of the glass and getting ready to spill, just as there’s no point in scooping up drowning lemmings and taking them back to the edge of the cliff from which they leapt. Better to toss them a raft or teach them to swim.

Many of the changes over the last 40 years have been positive, as Coontz points out. Besides, lemming suicide is a myth fostered in part by White Wilderness, a Disney movie from—yes— the 1950s. The lemmings are plunging, to be sure, but maybe they’re mostly hoping to migrate to a distant shore with better climate, richer soil, fewer owls, and more opportunities for their lemming babies.