Thursday, February 28, 2013

3 things that are obsolete: Pennies, cursive, the GOP

By Bob Gaydos
When, in the course of human events, certain things outlive their usefulness, it is important, perhaps even necessary, that society scrap them.   Send them to the landfill or the museum. Say bon voyage, adios, good riddance. Thanks, but no thanks.
It strikes me that three things fall into that category today in America:

  • The penny: A  penny for your thoughts? Really? This blog is free, but otherwise my thoughts are going to require three figures (no decimal points). It’s simple: The penny can’t buy anything today. It is a nuisance,  forming colonies on dresser tops and deli counters. Merchants routinely round their prices to avoid it. And it costs 2.41 cents to mint every penny. That’s a hefty loss for a nation struggling with a debt ceiling.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced last year that  the government would start using cheaper materials in pennies this year. What little copper was still there would likely disappear and there might be less zinc. He said this would save abut $75 million a year. Scrapping pennies altogether would save the government more than twice that amount and make life much more manageable for cashiers. (Nickels, by the way, are in the same category.) Rumor has it that some new pennies have arrived and they are, well, funky. Kind of light and not necessarily official looking.
I’m not sure who it is that still wants this money-losing money to be minted, There are surely plenty around to satisfy collectors. For comparison, Canada, which scrapped its penny Feb. 4, estimates there are 6 billion of them in circulation and it will take about four years for them to disappear now that minting has ceased. Merchants are rounding up or down until that time for cash customers. Sounds doable, eh?

  • Cursive writing:  Or at least teaching cursive writing in elementary school. Before you traditionalists get your drawers in a knot, think about it. When was the last time you used true cursive, not some amalgam of printing and scribbling that was barely legible -- by you? The days of “slide, slide and glide” (capital I, remember?) have been replaced by txtng. In electronic communications, neatness is automatic. It’s spelling that suffers. Kids hate learning cursive. Teachers probably would rather be teaching writing well, not neatly.

There will always be people who will be able to write cursively, just as there are talented folks who can do calligraphy. But I have gone from cursive to manual typewriter, to electric typewriter, to laptop and smart phone. Each change made writing more efficient, which is the key. And think of the poor guy leaving memos on cave walls. What he would have done for papyrus and a pen?
Cursive is no longer required as part of the Common Core State Standards, but states have been slow to drop it. Hawaii, Indiana and Kansas have. New York leaves it up to the school district to make the decision. Folks, if your district teaches it, ask them to stop. You’d be better off learning about LOL than teaching your kids to write a capital  Z.

  • The Republican Party: Talk about obsolete. The 21st century version of the party of Lincoln has been hijacked by haters, nay-sayers, evangelists, wealthy bullies and Flat Earthers. Anything, anyone, any idea that does not fit their narrow view of life is automatically a threat and subject to loud assault, not debate. It has no interest in working with others to better life  for all Americans. It has no interest, in fact, in working with anyone who disagrees with its views.

In the last presidential election, women, Latinos, African Americans,  gays and young people favored the Democrat, Barack Obama.  The whiz kids of the Grand Old Party are now trying to figure out how to buy those votes or change people’s minds. Few Republicans talk abut changing the party’s stances on some issues, such as immigration, abortion or gay marriage. Those who do are subjected to attack, ridicule and phony allegations. In fact, facts have little currency in the current GOP.
The best thing would be for the Republicans with a brain, a heart and a sense of obligation to actual governing (I know they’re out there) to form a new party. Leave Karl Rove, Roger Ailes, the Koch brothers and the Tea Partyers the ruins of the day. We don’t need them anymore.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

People can get hooked on most anything

(My latest Addiction and Recovery column in the Times Herald-Record.)
By Bob Gaydos
This column has as its primary focus the problems and solutions related to alcoholism, drug abuse and other significant addictive behaviors in society, such as gambling, over-eating and smoking. To be sure, there is more than enough to discuss in these areas to keep the column going indefinitely. But addiction or “addictive behavior” can take many forms.
I was talking with a friend about tattoos the other day -- how popular they’ve become, how artistic they can be, how much they can cost -- when he pointed to people who cover their entire bodies with inky art and asked, “Isn’t that an addiction?”
“Good question,” was all I could reply. “Sure sounds like it.”
This turned into a curiosity about some other types of behavior which or may not be addictive, but sure sound like it.
It turns out we humans can become “addicted” to almost anything, including eating dirt or reading. Honest. The dirt-eating sounds potentially harmful on the face of it, but can actually be beneficial if someone lacks necessary minerals present in the dirt. Reading, which sounds beneficial, is not necessarily so when it becomes an escape from reality, a barrier to sleep, or both.
Trouble is always the thing to look for when talking about addiction.
Let’s go back to tattooing. It has become a popular form of body modification, with many players in the National Basketball Association being walking billboards for the art form. J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks has his entire body, save for his face, covered in tattoos. But he’s also having his best season ever and, so, one has to ask whether this seeming addiction to get more and more tattoos has had any negative effect on his life. Or has he merely run out of space? Is it an addiction if he starts to tattoo his face?
Of course, there are other types of body modifications -- body piercings, which have been placed virtually everywhere on some bodies, and plastic surgery, which is a way of life for some performers and a tragic search for perfection in others. Examples abound about people who can’t seem to get enough of these modifications, despite the cost and the less than optimal results or ostracism from society.
Then there are the “collectors,” people who may start as fans of a particular object -- cigar store Indians, music boxes, 19th century periodicals, old toys, cars, anything, you name it, it’s collectible -- and may wind up as hoarders, which is a serious mental disorder and a sign of a life out of control. It becomes potentially dangerous when the hoarding extends to animals or garbage. The difference between addictive behavior and a quirky hobby in this case may simply be the willingness to part with some of the collection from time to time.
Of course, most of us know someone who is, in our view, addicted to video games, shopping, Facebook or texting, all of which can be normal social behavior except when taken to extreme. When time and bank accounts are negatively impacted, not to mention relationships with friends and family, it may be time for a cooling off period. If the withdrawal turns out to be surprisingly difficult, or impossible, addiction may be involved.
The manual therapists use to diagnose and treat addictions includes seven symptoms, withdrawal being one of them. The others are tolerance, difficulty in controlling use, negative consequences, neglecting other activities, spending significant time or energy on it and the desire to cut back on it. Having three of these symptoms for a year qualifies as an addiction.
Most clinical addictions, like the ones usually discussed n this space, also include a physical or neurological change in the person. That may mean the behaviors described here, while seemingly addictive, are not technically considered addictions. It does not mean they cannot be harmful. Again, if the behavior is causing trouble, it may be wise to consult with a qualified therapist before the problem becomes more deeply ingrained.