Happy Birthday, Peg! Photo by Jim Redwine
We are almost one full month into spring, the season of renewal for some wives and ennui for their husbands. There is something about damp earth that calls out to such wives as Peg much as the Sirens called out to the crew of Ulysses. Though it would not be politically correct, the Devil is pushing me to try to lash Peg to the steering wheel of her Mini Cooper so she cannot frequent every garden center within twenty-five miles of our cabin.
Peg must have beaucoup amounts of potting soil, countless plants and varieties of seeds, containers of metal, clay and plastic and every conceivable fertilizer and pesticide that is touted by Peg’s countless Facebook friends as the newest miracle agents to produce award winning vegetables and flowers. Of course, beds must be prepared and organized by color, variety, time of planting and varmint prevention. Do you need to ask, Gentle Reader, whom Peg has in mind for these tasks?
I am not a Nancy Reagan type of astrology buff but I do wonder if Peg’s birthday that falls during the first half of April may have influenced her pathological need to commune with the earth. I offer the following horoscope (taken from the internet) as evidence to support my position: under the sign of Aries the first half of April, “Is an amazing time to chase your most precious goals.” I should also include the astrological caution that April will be, “a month of ups and downs”; that will certainly be true for me as I follow Peg’s orders.
I am aware that one must not fall into the Cassandra dilemma of ignoring the claimed wisdom of the stars. You may recall that Cassandra had been both blessed and cursed by the gods. She had the gift of prophecy but no one would believe her so disaster still occurred, including the fall of Troy in Homer’s The Illiad. Therefore, I will keep in mind the prediction in Peg’s horoscope that April will be a great time for her to reach her spring goals of recreating the Gardens of Babylon on the rocky, arid soil of JPeg Osage Ranch. However, I see nothing in any bird entrails or other devices of divination that calls for me to be involved.
The problem is, just as Cassandra, I may be correct but Peg refuses to recognize it. Her position is that my lot is cast as her garden Sherpa and I had better get off the couch. The only saving grace that I see is that both football and basketball seasons are over, the World Series is months from now and the Cardinals probably won’t be involved anyway. And, by the time you read this article, the 2022 Masters Golf Tournament will be history. Perhaps the better part of valor is for me to just accept my fate and conceal my amusement when the deer eat the tops off of everything Peg has planted but the marigolds.
Happy Birthday, Peg!
Lily Tomlin’s character, telephone operator Ernestine on the TV show Laugh-In, set the standard for bad telephone service. Laugh-In was on NBC from 1969-1973. In 2022 life has overcome art. At least Ernestine was human. Today, robots and recorded messages insulate businesses from the needs of customers. Good luck on getting through a telephone “menu” to speak with someone who will admit a company’s responsibility for poor service.
Things were bad enough before COVID-19 and our current no-one-ever-goes-in-to-work society. But after more than two years of encouraging everyone to avoid contact with anyone many people apparently see any request for service as a borderline criminal assault.
It has been a while since I looked at a college course catalogue, but I suspect some schools must be offering a major, on-line of course, in how to prevent anyone from accessing a service. Perhaps one can pursue a Ph.D. in telephone menu construction. A favorite ploy is to have a recorded answering service that starts off with, “Please listen carefully because our options have recently changed.”
We all know that’s not only demeaning but is also almost certainly untrue. The only changes any company ever makes to its phone options is to obfuscate them further until we despair of ever getting to speak to a human being. The days of simply punching “0” to hear a non-mechanical voice are long gone. Now the R2-D2 robot used to add layers of dross instead of answers to our questions, directs us to some website once we exhaust the non-access menu options. Of course, should we fall into the Inferno of a company’s website we had better not be susceptible to thoughts of self-harm and should avoid having any sharp objects within reach.
It is a telling fact that Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) who patented the first practical telephone would not have a phone in his study because it interrupted his work. Bell set the standard toward which all contemporary companies strive; the elimination of any telephone conversations at all. I suppose I should not mention this possibility.
Is it not strange that in a world where even grade schoolers have iPhones and teenagers text the person right beside them that we cannot get anyone to answer the darn phone! Of course, some of the worst, that is, most obnoxious offenders of the “never answer a customer’s query” policy are the government agencies we pay with our tax money to ignore us. Do such “services” as the IRS and VA come to mind?
On a related topic, can we talk about telephone etiquette in general? I suggest if a politician or a political party wishes to up their poll numbers, they pay attention to basic phone courtesy and re-teach the phone manners our parents demanded. You remember, Gentle Reader. Do not call someone and start with, “Is this James?” Begin by identifying who you are and why you are calling. Call only at a decent hour and never during a football game. If you get an answering machine, leave a clear message and a return number by speaking slowly and distinctly. In other words, treat phone contacts as you would in-person contacts and that includes companies and agencies we need to access for services. And by the way, “Thank you and goodbye”.
President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points set forth a vision of a WWI peace treaty based not on total victory for any one country but a permanent peace for all countries founded on generous terms of self-determination and economic recovery. Germany sued for peace thinking it would be treated fairly, but mainly France and Great Britain joined by several other countries demanded Draconian subjugation of Germany including ruinous reparations. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was a testament to vengeance, not peace. It also led directly to WWII.
If there is no war like a civil war for hatred and carnage, there is no dispute like a conflict between neighbors for animosity. Ukraine and Russia have had a common but transitioning border for many years. Millions of people in both countries can speak both Ukrainian and Russian. The two cultures are deeply intertwined even though there have been several border conflicts between the countries. Much as next door neighbors may fall out over property line disagreements countries with a common border may fall victim to the old axiom, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In like manner, when there is a breach in the “fence”, repairing good relations may require a generosity of spirit on both sides and perhaps on the part of third parties seeking to become involved.
My good friend, Judge D. Neil Harris of Mississippi, serves on the faculty of the National Judicial College. He teaches other judges about courthouse security. Judge Harris has found that the type of court cases that are most likely to result in outbreaks of courtroom violence are property line disputes. He advises judges to be particularly alert when disputes between neighbors must be resolved in court. There is something visceral about such personal matters that makes forgiveness more difficult. As the world found to its chagrin after Versailles and WWI, even when wise people know that “Blessed are the peacemakers”, stiff necks are often the approach when neighbors must negotiate.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he has been negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin for two years and is eager to negotiate a cessation of the current hostilities if Putin agrees. The rest of the world should allow Ukraine and Russia autonomy for their efforts to achieve a permanent peace. Such countries as the United States, Poland, China or Belarus may confuse their own agendas with those of Ukraine and Russia and, just as at Versailles in 1919, peace may be only temporary when the neighbors make up under false pretenses or when pressured to do so by outside forces. Perhaps the rest of the world should bite its collective tongues as Ukraine and Russia, hopefully, apply Wilson’s Fourteen Point type wisdom that was so tragically ignored at the catastrophic ending of WWI.
Americans relate to the Ukrainians’ passion to control their own lives. Of course, self-determination is not just an American or Ukrainian desire. It is a universal need for all people. However, when it comes to a democratic form of government there is an interesting historical tradition shared by Americans and Ukrainians.
We Americans rightly point to our Constitution that took effect in 1789 as a shining example of how a country’s government can be held in check as individual liberties are protected. However, in 1710 Ukrainian Philip Orlyk wrote and published a proposed constitution that called for a government designed to have three competing branches, Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Our American constitution was drafted principally by James Madison and was based mainly on the theories of French legal philosophers Montesquieu and Voltaire and the English legal philosopher John Locke along with legal theories underlying The Enlightenment. All of these thinkers did their work after Orlyk had published his constitution based on a democratic system of self-government.
Orlyk’s constitution was never put into operation. But the strong democratic ideals of the Ukrainian people were a part of what the German legal philosopher Friedrich Carl von Savigny (1779-1861) would have described as the Ukrainian nation’s Volksgeist. Volksgeist is the inherent common spirit of a particular culture, in this case Ukraine.
When we are amazed that the Ukrainians are so vigorously and courageously opposing aggression from the third most powerful military on earth we can look to their spirit, their Volksgeist of democracy. This deep passion for self-determination when coupled with the natural advantages of fighting for their homeland have allowed the Ukrainians to stand up strongly against the great Russian bear. Will they win, yes, because they already have. Much of the world is on their side and is supporting them. Will Russia eventually gain physical control of Ukraine? Maybe, but emotional control over the hearts and minds of the Ukrainians, probably not.
How will this war reach what in mediation is called a quiescent state? There are many possibilities. In the long run the outcome is a subject of pure speculation. But in the short run a few things can be suggested. In all negotiations each side has their dream outcomes and each has what they eventually will accept. Russia probably hoped for total capitulation by Ukraine and Ukraine probably hopes for surrender by Russia. Neither outcome is likely.
Should total victory be beyond either country’s grasp, Ukraine may settle for sovereignty of all Ukrainian territory west of Russia including free access to the Dnieper River from the Black Sea plus sovereignty over the port of Odessa. Whereas Ukraine may want and may deserve reparations of billions of dollars from Russia, Russia cannot provide for itself much less re-build Ukraine. Ukraine will look to America and others such as Germany, France, Canada and Great Britain for economic aid.
Russia may be eager to get out of the quagmire it has blundered into if Ukraine concedes Crimea, already a fait accompli, and any port on the Black Sea or the Azov Sea excluding Odessa. Russia would have to sign a treaty that promises no future incursions into Ukraine and no interference with the Port of Odessa or use of the Dnieper River. Ukraine would have to sign a treaty that binds itself to not seek or accept NATO membership as long as Russia abides by the peace treaty. Of course, there are thousands of other possible significant concerns both countries may wish to have go their way. But peace requires sacrifice.
Starbucks Coffee Company has suspended operations in all 130 of its Russia based coffee shops as a protest to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The first shop opened in September 2007 in Moscow. Peg and I were in Moscow in 2003. We are Americans. We drink coffee. We were in anguished caffeine withdrawal almost the whole week we were in Russia. I applaud Starbuck’s gesture but worry about those people who are forced back to the pre-2007 coffee-less culture in Russia. Of course, the blame lies with Putin but the headaches are visited on the Russian proletariat as war is visited by Putin on the Ukrainians.
In 2003 Peg and I, after long and frenzied searching, located one coffee shop, The Coffee Bean, in Moscow. As this was our first trip to Russia we had been unaware of Russian culture which at that time considered one cup of instant coffee in tepid water good enough for such foreigners as we. The cold turkey shock treatment made us acutely aware of a society where vodka and cognac were more available at breakfast than coffee.
I do not expect Putin to come to his senses on his own so his war on Ukraine will most likely play out as such debacles always have. There is the initial shock and awe, then the search for weapons of mass destruction, the trading of lies and misinformation, then death, injury and misery followed by years of confusion and remaking of history by the survivors.
I do wonder what Putin’s thought process was that led him into this tar pit. He keeps making public statements and allegations about NATO and Ukraine’s belligerence. His statements and actions appear to arise from paranoia, what most of the world sees as an unreasonable fear that Ukraine and the other pre-1991 Soviet Union countries along Russia’s western border will be used as bases for the United States and our allies to attack Russia.
Putin may have reasoned that as Ukraine was steadily building up its ties to democracies such as America, if he did not strike now, he would have no viable defense to a stronger Ukraine that might become a member of NATO later. Such an analysis seems ludicrous to us but it is not our thought process that is in question. If Putin believes it, even if it is false, then his actions may make sense to him.
He also may have been misled by the relative ease with which Russia took over Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. In today’s attack his objective may have mainly been to take over that part of Ukraine, such as Odessa, that borders the Black Sea. But then he made a common tyrant’s mistake. He got too greedy and decided to grab what was left of the remainder of Ukraine beyond Crimea.
By this time, Gentle Reader, if you are still with me, you are asking, “What does any of this have to do with coffee?” Okay, as Fareed Zakaria might say, “Here’s my take”. I hope the Russian people will have become so hooked on coffee after 2007 that this forced Starbuck’s withdrawal will cause them to see Putin for the despot he is. Then perhaps the aroused common citizens will rise up and replace the warmongering Putin and his incompetent military leaders. If the Russians feel anything similar to the way Peg and I did in 2003, revolution is not so farfetched.
Over the years I have managed to enter the market on the backend of several financial bonanzas. I passed on pet rocks in 1975 and have regretted it for fifty years. But I think I am in on the ground floor of the next gold rush, saltine crackers! Those of you who read this column for advice on how to retire early may wish to listen up. That group does not include Peg, who as many spouses, does not recognize my genius when it arises.
I happened to notice about a couple of months ago that America had a dearth of saltine crackers. Saltines are important to me, and maybe you too. My fallback diet is crunchy peanut butter on crackers. It is quick, easy, tasty and there is no clean up required. Unfortunately, for the last couple of months I have encountered empty shelves at Dollar General and even Walmart when I searched for saltines. And even though I have researched the topic vigilantly, via Google, I cannot find a rational answer to my plea, “Where are the crackers?”
So, when I found a box at Hometown Foods, see the photo for proof, I grabbed it. I felt like I had discovered that first nugget of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. My excitement was dampened by Peg’s response to my plan to try to corner the market, at least within twenty miles of our cabin, on saltines. When I called our son, Jim, who is our financial advisor, he once again sided with Peg. I explained to him I wanted to convert my IRA to cash and buy all the saltines I could find. He mumbled something about a guardianship and hung up.
As you know, Gentle Reader, no prophet is known in his own country, but I can clearly see our barn filled with boxes of saltines, if I can find them, that will jump in value each day, especially with that maniac Putin destroying our stock market as he tries to destroy Ukraine. Now is the time to reach for that brass ring I have just missed out on so many times before.
So, darn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. And if you wish to invest with me in my plan to corner the market on saltine crackers, you better hurry because I can feel the rest of America about to jump on the roller coaster. Please do not mention any of this to Jim or Peg.