May 28th, 2010

Choices, choices

When I was a kid, things were simpler. A lot simpler.

You need sneakers? We’ve got some nice Keds for you. One style, in white. And maybe, if we’re feeling really adventurous, we might get in some blue or red ones, just for fun.


Telephones? There’s the solid black dial up, very reliable. Plug it in and you’re good to go. AT&T will provide the service, one size fits all.


Expecting a phone call, a really important one? Stay put, then. Because otherwise the phone will just ring and ring, you won’t be there, and the caller might give up forever, and you’ll never even know he called.

TV? Do you want the tiny screen or the small screen? It’s black and white. And then a few years later you get the excitement of color. The signal just comes, for free. No choices there, except the channels: NBC, CBS, ABC, and then a few local stations (9 and 11 and 13 in New York City).


Want to watch a TV show? Well, you better be home, or at the house of a friend with a TV, cause if not you’re out of luck. And if you miss the moment you’ll miss it forever; reruns and You Tube weren’t even a gleam in somebody’s eye.

Want to take a trip? Get on the highway, which might have only two lanes. Interstates are few and far between. But gas costs 25 cents a gallon, and cheaper in New Jersey.

Or call a travel agent and they’ll book you a flight. The fare to fly to a particular city on a certain airline won’t vary much no matter what day you want to go. You’ll get a ticket you can hold in your hand. And you should probably get dressed up a bit, because it’s extra special.

Want to rent a car when you arrive? There’s Hertz and Avis. For that matter—want to buy a car? There’s Chrysler, Ford, and GM, the big cars and the bigger cars. My father would call the dealer every two years and order a new Chrysler sight unseen. The only real question was what color. In my father’s case it was always dark; in my mother’s, light (a Plymouth, blue or white).

Fast forward to today (and it did go awfully fast, didn’t it?). So many choices, so little time! Or maybe there’s so little time because there are so many choices.

52 Responses to “Choices, choices”

  1. Janet Says:

    I heard a quote some time ago that has helped me to simplify my life:

    Too much choice leads to paralysis and anxiety.

    Words to live by….

  2. colagirl Says:

    My father still has a phone exactly like that one on the second floor of his house. The cord connecting the handset and receiver is frayed, and the phone barely works, but he can’t replace it because it’s actually screwed into the wall somehow (as opposed to in a standard jack.) Fortunately the downstairs phone *does* have a standard jack and he’s got a cordless there.

  3. LAG Says:

    Janet, you’re remembered quote reminded me of a study I’d read about. I found this story in the LATimes that refers to a 2004 book, “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less,” by psychology prof Barry Schwartz.

    I’ve known many people over time who when required to decide, could not, and often needed to be eased aside to make sure things got done.

  4. Sergey Says:

    Just imagine a shock of transition from no choice at all to vast amount of it in mere 3 or 4 years. That is what all Eastern Europe experienced in early 90s.

  5. Don Says:

    You almost make it sound as though the plethora of choices offered by an open and competitive system is not a good thing.

    I have one of those phones, still with my grandparents’ four-digit number on the dial.

  6. Dan D Says:

    You forgot, in addition to Keds you could choose PF Flyers. “PF stands for Posture Foundation!”

    I still have an old Western Electric dial phone from the late 1950s. With the spotty phone line signal out to the farmhouse, service is a problem and Verizon won’t come to the house because their first response is “it must be a problem with one of your phones” Not unreasonable, since modern phones don’t last long and rely on batteries. I tell them I can’t get a signal on my old dial phone, and they respond “we’re sending a technician to fix your problem”.

    Yep, too much choice may be more trouble than it’s worth. We can choose to keep life simpler, but that too is a choice.

  7. Tarragon Rose Says:

    Actually, there were choices of phone service, at least for us. You could get the four-party line, the two-party line, or the single-party line. Naturally, we had the least expensive four-party line. (Every time we wanted to make a phone call, we had to lift the receiver and listen for a second to make sure no one else on the party line was already making a call.)

    Now that I think about it, though, it was not really a very complicated choice–my dad just automatically always got whatever was least expensive. So do I–I actually still have a dial-up internet connection and when I finally broke down and got a cell phone I just walked into the cell phone place and said, “give me the cheapest plan you’ve got.” I splurge on computers, though. When I buy a new one every six years or so, the rule is, buy the next-to-cheapest. I have a lot of rules–sort of like pre-made choices that cut down significantly on shopping anxiety.

  8. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    Call me crazy, but as I get older and look back, my evaluation is that most of the material and social “progress” that has taken place in the 65 years has been—on the whole—at the expense of a lot that was very valuable and right about America, and that has now vanished, likely never to return; that our backbone, substance, principles and vision have been—both from within and without–attacked, subverted and severely weakened and diminished.

    Do I think–with the instant communication possible today, with the enormous variety of knowledge and entertainment in all of it forms that we have access to today–that our level of true knowledge, common sense, wisdom and deep morality is higher? I think rather, that we have been debased, and that these qualities are far less deep and far less prevalent in our population that they were many decades ago.

    Do I think that our enormously complicated lives and their increasingly frenetic nature have, in general, made us a happier and more content people? I would argue, Hell, no.

    Has our current ease of transportation by car and our enormous highway system served our country well—knitting it and us together, or has it served to atomize and drive us and our families apart, making anonymity and rootlessness increasingly the norm?

    Do I think that our lengthening life spans have—on the whole—made us deeper, wiser and happier people? I see no evidence of this, quite the contrary.

    Do I think that all of the material abundance and “freedom” that we now have has made for stronger, closer knit families? Are you kidding? And how would I measure the temperature of the “battle of the sexes” right now? I’d say it was verging on civil war, if not there already.

    Do I think that our children are more grounded in reality, have a greater knowledge of the truth and are more truly “educated”—more literate and numerate, are more aware of what truly matters in this life, more self-sufficient, moral, honest, hard-working, persevering and energetic than were the past generations of simpler times? Absolutely not.

    Are we on the whole a stronger, more united and confident nation that we were coming out of WWII, or are we an increasingly more fragmented, effete, and decadent nation? Are we—like it or not, grasping for it or not—Republican Rome at its height or Imperial Rome on the eve of the fragmentation, economic decline, authoritarian rule, social chaos, and barbarian invasions that extinguished it?

    So–more access to knowledge or not, longer and healthier lives or not, greater “freedom” and “equality” or not, greater prosperity and comfort or not, more widespread “education” or not, instantaneous communications and quick world wide travel or not, more power or not–I think that—on balance–we are far worse off than we were, say, at the time of WWII and earlier, and that we are definitely on the wrong course and have been for many decades.

    One final data point to add to this calculation:

    I was watching (as part of an increasingly love-hate relationship)–the finale of “American Idol” this week—so representative of a lot of the trends that I am not fond of in America today–and was thinking how the judges were, more and more blatantly, trying to manipulate the vote and put their thumb on the scale in favor of the candidate that those running the show probably calculated; a. would be easier to handle under contract, and b. make them the most money—talent be damned. And that, also, compared to the level of talent and to the inventiveness, complexity, elegance and sophistication of the words and lyrics of songs and the level and quality of the ideas they expressed in the 1930s and 1940s, the songs these mostly no talent contestants and “special guests” were singing were inane and sometimes vile crap, and that, with a very few exceptions—so were their (sometimes wildly overproduced) performances.

    Moreover, I couldn’t help but notice that even the contestants in the top few each year who had strong voices and some modicum of talent and “artistic integrity” were—in a few years time—singing the same pseudo-rap and hip hop crap, and caterwauling the repetitive, impoverished lyrics, set to the most basic, uninspired and cramped range of melodies, about this or that element of teen-aged pimply angst, or trailer trash love gone bad. I really don’t know if I can stand another year of this manipulative and corrupt garbage.

  9. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Wolla Dalbo – you would greatly enjoy Gregg Easterbrook’s The Progress Paradox. Plenty of overlap with what you’re already thinking, plus new twists and considerations you would find intriguing.

  10. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    To the OP. We would consider ourselves quite inconvenienced returning to the old ways. Want cash? (And you’d better, because lots of places don’t take credit cards or even checks.) Better plan in advance to get it when the banks are open. Probably on your lunch hour. Roadside breakdown? Welcome, danger.

    Motel 6 has a radio ad with Tom Bodett saying “there was only one ring-tone, and it sounded like…the phone.” Or similarly, remember when beer came in only one flavor, and it was the “beer” flavor? Ditto coffee, tea, burgers. Going out for Italian food was considered very adventurous and exciting in 1960, and Chinese food! My, what an amazing world we live in! You could get all kinds of ethnic food, of course – the peasant varieties, at the market downtown, with plenty of lard and organ meats.

    Not to mention your choices in dentistry…

    Nope. Give me now.

  11. SteveH Says:

    I recall having to watch the crop and livestock report early on Saturday morning, waiting until the only 2 hours of cartoons for the week came on tv.

  12. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    P.S.—Talk about decadence on parade!

    Of note in this American Idol finale was a whole raft of aging and faded “stars,” and “legends,” but, thank God, not the putrid “Lady Gaga” again. There was Alice Cooper who could not be heard—perhaps on purpose—over the background singers and orchestra, old, seemingly befuddled (go figure) Joe Cocker—too burnt out from past (and perhaps present) excess to do his signature epileptic movements, and a weak of voice, white-haired, struggling, more hoarse than usual Michael McDonald, Hall and Oats, the Bee Gees with the lead singer bulging enormously out of his tux and apparently about nine moths pregnant, unable to hit his former falsetto notes, and the anemic, over the hill band “Chicago.” The one bright spot for me was, surprisingly, Christina Aguilera, performing an interesting and restrained number, and showing off an impressive voice and great control.

    Arguably the most bizarre and worst act of the show was Janet Jackson, sporting an androgynous do and a whole lotta cleavage—sort of mixed messages there, and she reminded me most of the androgynous host and broadcaster “Ruby Rhod” in the Bruce Willis SF movie, “The Fifth Element.” Jackson strutted back and forth about the stage (“stage presence” dontyaknow) in a “Ming the Merciless” robe showcasing her huge butt, with a large and incongruous battery pack riding on top of it, her “dancing” mostly hip thrusts, and yelling about “nasty boys” to her scantily clothed male chorus line; too bad for all the little kids watching (mommy, what’s that mean?).

    If we are, indeed, in the beginning stages/in the midst of the downward spiral of a “fin de siècle,” this whole American Idol finale was a very pointed illustration of it.

  13. Oldflyer Says:

    I am glad to have the choices. The bothersome corollary is that the choices are thrust at us so aggressively. Either because of marketing techniques, easy credit, or a combination of factors, so many people do not make choices; they just try to grab it all. It does take a bit more discipline to truly enjoy the benefits of choice.

    It goes without saying that life should have become so much easier for the typical person over the course of my life-time. My youth was pretty much in the era that Neo describes. I can vouch that the 1940s, on the other side of the tracks, varied from difficult to brutal. (For adults, not for happy-go-lucky kids like me.) Unfortunately, the first decade of the 21st century, with all of its advantages, has been marred by so many self-inflicted wounds.

  14. Occam's Beard Says:

    When I returned from many years in Europe I sometimes felt overwhelmed by choice here. Spaghetti sauce there? Four types: with meat, vegetarian, low-salt, and something else. Easy. Come back to the US, and a supermarket had 75 kinds of spaghetti sauce (my wife and I, laughing, actually counted them) taking up most of a row. All we wanted was plain old spaghetti sauce, not to spend the evening figuring out which one that would be!

    I asked a Russian colleague how he’d coped with the choice problem. (I’d seen Soviet markets, where the choices were slim indeed, if there was anything at all.) He laughed, and told me that when he and his wife first went into an American supermarket they were so overwhelmed by the myriad choices that they turned around and left!

  15. kcom Says:

    “Plug it in and you’re good to go.”

    I was going to make the same point, colagirl.

    Phones didn’t plug in in those days. They were hard-wired into the house by the Bell technician who came out to do the job. If it was the kitchen phone then it stayed the kitchen phone. It didn’t move anywhere else.

    I remember when we got our first plug-in phones in 1975. The adapter that plugged into the socket in the wall had four metal prongs in a square and was about an inch and half across. Similar to this (I think ours were actually round, and beige). The much smaller RJ-11 adapters didn’t come along until later.

    And in those days I believe we paid a monthly fee for each phone in use (and I believe for each jack). So you really had to decide how many phones you wanted and how many jacks. You didn’t own the phone, either. The phone company did.

    It wasn’t too long after that that the phone company breakup began and you could own your own phone.

  16. Sgt. Mom Says:

    I did that turn-around-and-go-home thing, in about 1981, when I came home from Japan after a four-year tour (only interrupted by two short leaves back in CONUS). I went into a mall, shopping for a pink ladies dress blouse, the sort that you wear with a skirt and a cardigan. In the military PX there might have been one or two choices of style – basically, if it was the right color and the right size, you bought it on the spot. But here I was in a mall – and pink blouses, everywhere! Long-sleeve, short sleeve, pin-tucked front, plain front, rounded collar or pointed, open-neck front, or button-up-to-the-throat, tucked-in, untucked into the skirt band, colored mauve, pink-lavender, rose-pink, fuchsia… I was so freaked – like OB’s friend, I turned around and went home.

  17. Curtis Says:

    Good movie on rejecting all that glitters: Barfly with Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.

    Good quotes:

    “Sometimes I just get tired of thinking of all the things that I don’t wanna do. All the things that I don’t wanna be. Places I don’t wanna go, like India, like getting my teeth cleaned. Save the whale, all that, I don’t understand that.”

  18. expat Says:

    I like having choices when they represent real differences. Often they don’t; they are simply minor changes. Where it really drives me crazy is at the supermarket. I like to be on automatic pilot for much of my shopping, but I increasingly find that a perfectly fine shampoo has been replaced by 10 new products, half of which smell like grapefruit. Instead of tossing a bottle in the cart, you have to read and perhaps sniff 10 bottles to find a replacement for your old brand. And 3 months later you have to go through it all again. It’s particularly bad here in Germany now as stores make more room for organic products and delete old faithfuls from their product lines. I would like to have the choice of not following every new fad that comes down the pike.

    I won’t even begin on my delight at needing a 10-minute consultation to buy a lightbulb.

  19. Occam's Beard Says:

    Male-female thing, expat. Guys cannot imagine why anyone would want his head to smell like a grapefruit, or an apricot, or whatever.

    As some comedian said, gals buy beer-based shampoo for their hair. Guys buy shampoo to wash beer out of their hair.

  20. Splashman Says:

    Choices aren’t a bad thing, but neither is it true that more choices = better.

    The main problem I see is that individuals in our culture are less able to make sound, reasoned choices. And that is tied directly to the spiritual breakdown of American society.

  21. Dan D Says:

    Splashman, yes. Choice is great, but learning how to use choice involves making some other choices. Like knowing your values, and what is important and what is frivolous, and having the will to filter out the extraneous. You can’t do that well without some grounding, and that is what so many people have neglected, or rejected.

    AVI, our lives are much better now if we know how to use our choices. But look at today’s obesity as an example of how many find the abundance and the choices as a temptation rather than an opportunity.

  22. rickl Says:

    Wolla Dalbo:
    Why do you torture yourself with American Idol?

    I largely quit supporting the entertainment industry a few years ago because I was sick of their knee-jerk leftism and smug ignorance. And I mostly quit watching TV on Election Night 2008. It was a full three weeks before I even turned the TV on again, and that was for a football game.

  23. SteveH Says:

    I’ve gone long stretches without television. What stands out when you turn it back on, is the quanity of mindless commercials that would surely qualify as torture if shown on a similar loop to prisoners of war.

  24. Splashman Says:

    @Dan, I’m not sure why you think you’re disagreeing with me, because it seems to me you repeated my point. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough? I asserted that the number of choices isn’t the problem; the problem is the declining ability to make wise choices, which is tied to spiritual decline.

    Anything there you disagree with?

  25. rickl Says:

    I remember dial phones, but the one that Neo pictured was a slightly older model than what my parents had. Theirs had a more convex rather than concave shaped body.

    My dad spent a lot of time puttering around in the garage and had a wall phone installed there. After he died in 2002 and left me the house, I began noticing that I was getting a bill from AT&T for about $12 every 2-3 months. It turned out that it was a rental charge for the phone. I called them to cancel the service, and they told me to send back the phone. They mailed me a postage-paid plastic envelope to send it back in. They wouldn’t let me keep it. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I figured out that my dad had spent several hundred dollars over the years to rent the phone.

  26. chuck Says:

    You left out the most important thing: gunpowder. I could walk into the drugstore and buy potassium nitrate and sulfur. Mix in the proper proportions with charcoal and life was good. The KNO3 also went well with sugar for rockets, with zinc and sulfur as an alternative. And of course lead and asbestos were easy to come by at the plumbing supply. Life was good.

  27. rickl Says:

    Yeah, my boss says that when he was growing up in the 50s, he could buy all sorts of chemicals to blow things up, without any problem. And nobody got hurt for the most part.

    He also says that high schools had shooting teams, and students brought their pistols and rifles to school and kept them in their lockers. Oddly enough, school shootings were practically unheard of in those days.

  28. rickl Says:

    I also agree with earlier commenters who said that choices aren’t the problem; rather it’s that many people lack the knowledge and moral grounding to make rational, intelligent choices.

    I do confess to sometimes staring at supermarket shelves, and usually fall back on choosing familiar brands and products.

  29. Darrell Says:

    Dial phones, he he, funny dial phone story, Navy ships are full of dial phones, quite some time ago I got to bring my (then) 8 year old son on the Kitty Hawk from Hawaii to San Diego. I showed him around the Chiefs coop and since I had to work early, told him to get up when he was ready, take a shower and call me and I would come get him for the day.
    I went to work and got busy, around ten I started wondering why I hadn’t heard from him and went to check, walked in and there he sat all showered up, hair combed and squared away, I ask him, why didn’t you call me like I told you? He tells me, “I push the buttons on the phone but nothing happened” He had never seen a dial phone. We did a quick lesson right there, a cute moment with a serious side, kids today have no idea how to work them.

  30. expat Says:

    Don’t get me wrong–I like having real choices. If I need something that I will hang onto for a while (eg,furniture), I do lots of research and compare pros and cons of what is on the market. I just resent having to study items that are new and improved and smell like grapefruit when I was perfectly happy with my old unimproved brand. I don’t like having everything change all the time. I don’t like being told that something is so yesterday when that thing is pretty insignificant in my life. What is advertised as convenience is often a huge time waster. And I deeply resent advertisers telling me that my self image should hang on some frivolus innovation.

  31. benning Says:

    “And you should probably get dressed up a bit, because it’s extra special.” – Heck, nowadays folks head out in public in thier jammies! Oh, they’ll claim they’re wearing sweats or something like that. But when you look down they’re in thier slippers. Middle of the day.

    And don’t get downwind!

    I still won’t go anyplace public if I haven’t showered and shaved. Not the library, not a supermarket. And go out in my PJs (I don’t own any, but …)? Unthinkable!

  32. Tatyana Says:

    exactly. What’s annoying is the illusion of choice. I go to a department store and among thousands rags on display I can’t find a single decent garment: because all of them cut the same! all are sloppily put together in China; all are made of 100% synthetic fabric and have bad hand; all are garishly colored, or have inexplicable “gold” chains and tchotchkes sewn onto, or a perfectly good thing disfigured by some “goth” ornament printed on top – with no connection to style or overall purpose. The names on the labels are all different – and some of them are Big Names (that in recent past had a distinctive face, style, quality and pride in what they did) – but the rags are all the same! I will not even touch the issues withshoes, it breaks my heart.

    And what you say about cosmetics – or lamps, or phones, or Autodesk software – it’s all true. False variety for the sake of raising prices and making one buy, buy, buy unnecessary things.

    I make my own tomato sauce. The way my late grandma taught me. From scratch.

    Occam’s Beard: to your 6:33 comment: your Russian friend told you what you wanted to hear.

    One of the reasons people from ex-Soviet block emigrate here – is choice. Including variety in merchandise. They (we) expected to find it in Western/American stores. If the shelves resembled what your friend had in Russia, that’s when he would go home – back home. It’[s just Americans expect newcomers to display surprise and delight to fit their own stereotype (of newcomers), and immigrants oblige…being polite people.

  33. Alex Bensky Says:

    Sneakers, Neo? Sneakers? I don’t know about you effete easterners but out here in the Midwest we didn’t wear sneakers because we didn’t sneak. We wore gym shoes or tennis shoes. And by the way, we don’t stand on line. We stand in line…and we stand tall.

    I must have been in eighth grade when I needed new gym shoes. My mother was going to get me the Keds of P.F. Flyers or whatever and I whined and begged for Converse All-Stars. And I must have done so effectively because I managed to do something that I could almost never do–I wore her down and actually got the extra buck-fifty or so for them.

    I can just imagine what her reaction would have been if I’d asked for the equivalent of $150 for gym shoes…and I can’t even imagine the reaction if I’d gone back six months later and asked for that much again because the first pair were out of style.

  34. Simon Says:

    Thank god for Amazon ratings. Without them I’d be paralyzed by choice. I choose my price range, find the item with the highest number of stars and hit buy. As for clothes, I have been buying the same sneakers for 10 years. simplifies things rather.

    My poor 4-year-old son is a test case in too much choice. We got rid of cable 5 years ago and have no TV, so all his shows, hundreds of them, are on a hard disk. We used to ask him what he wanted to watch, but it was so stressful for him to decide that he now asks us to choose for him. Just give me a line he says.

    He is currently whining on the sofa because he can’t decide which of the dozen kiddie apps to play with on my iPad. He did still manage to get a good few hours pleasure out of a stick on a recent camping trip though, so all is not lost.

  35. expat Says:

    Alex, That’s sneaks for short. I liked white ones, but usually manage to spill or drop something on them within the first few days, so I sometimes opted for blue. I don’t remember having lots of choices as a kid. We ate was was put in front of us and wore what we could afford in our smallish department stores. Of course when we got a nickle to go to our corner store, it could take half an hour to choose among the penny candy. We would plan meals including those little wax bottles of pop (not soda) as our beverage and usually chose watermelons for dessert. Luckily, the store owner was a friend and indulged us.

    I did stand in line a lot as a kid. In my parochial school, we had to line up for everything.

  36. betsybounds Says:

    Well I remember all these things, and more (I guess most of us remember even more). I remember going to the dentist and having fillings put in before Novocaine was available. That experience left me with a fear of the dentist that has never gone away. It’s better now, and I wouldn’t want to make that backwards trade.

    I remember calling my grandparents across town on the phone that, when you picked the receiver up, took you straight to the operator. You told her the number: “2146.” When the call was made in the opposite direction, you had to ask for “5236R.” The “R” was there because my parents had a party line–told her which “5236″ you wanted connection. The ring was different from the other “5236″ lines: Two longs and a short. Our phone at home would sometimes ring with two shorts and a long, say, and we didn’t answer it then. It was for someone else on the party line.

    I remember having to buy ugly brown lace-up Oxfords for dress because my feet were kind of big and narrow, and no one made Mary-Janes that would fit me. My dad bought Hudsons, a new one every 2 years. We had the only Hudson around, and I felt sorry for the salesman because he didn’t seem to sell much. But then, I thought, hey, we buy one every 2 years, and that’s a lot of money and it must keep them going until we’re ready to get another one.

    Some of the “simpler times” perceptions, though, are surely a result of the fact that we were just kids then, and things nearly always seem simpler through a kid’s eyes anyway. My parents had plenty of complex problems that my brothers and I simply didn’t know about. All we had to do was go outside and play. Of course, that in itself is a genuine–and mourned–difference: I don’t think kids do that nearly as much any more. We didn’t have “play dates,” we just went out the front door to the neighborhood and went at it.

    Oh well. “Something’s lost, and something’s gained, in livin’ every day.”

  37. Dan D Says:

    Splashman, when I started with “Splashman, yes.” I was saying I agreed with you, that you had nailed it. Sorry for being unclear on that point.

  38. Alex Bensky Says:

    I acquired the same reluctance to go to the dentist that you did, betsybounds, and as a result a couple of years ago I needed six or seven appointments to deal with it. I could have thought of more pleasant things to do with the time but except for a little bit of quite tolerable discomfort there was no problem. I’m all for that sort of advance.

    I know a few people who grew up in the Former Soviet Union (it’s been twenty years and I still love writing that)and without exception they say that the problems in having too many choices are nothing compared to the problems of having no choices.

  39. betsybounds Says:

    Yes, the problem of no choices is greater. I can get as confused as anyone else when having to choose among too many possibilities. But I think about health care, and Alex Bensky reminds me once again of something I read by Theodore Dalrymple about a year ago. He said that in England the problem isn’t that the care is uniformly awful, because it isn’t. The problem is that it is bad in a non-trivial number of cases, and in those cases you have nowhere else to go, not another choice.

  40. Simon Says:

    “The problem is that it is bad in a non-trivial number of cases, and in those cases you have nowhere else to go, not another choice.”

    Just a little confused by this. There are plenty of options in England, both public and private. I don’t know when this quote is from, but it isn’t true now.

  41. betsybounds Says:

    Yes. Well. I don’t know about how many options there are of course. But recent reporting on the NHS has documented some fairly horrific stories, none of which involve people who felt free to pick up and seek care elsewhere. The specific instance I referred to, Theodore Dalrymple, is here:

    My understanding is that when a British citizen decides to seek private care intervention in cases where the NHS/NICE is inadequate, the NHS response is to cut the citizen off from any and all further NHS coverage. If this is true, in what sense does it constitute an option?

  42. Jim Packard Says:

    There’s sentimentalism for the past because it is past (nostalgia, in short), and there’s change that really destroys people (and just this once I’m not talking about the consequences of the November 2008 elections).

    I tried my hand at a few slide rules out of antiquarian interest. To be sure, there are some advantages, like how the thing forces you to expect a reasonable answer and compare it to the result of your calculation (people today just accept what the calculator shows), but on the whole, I wouldn’t go back to using it instead of the pocket calculator. Quite apart from the low precision, basic scientific calculators have a lot more functions than even the most advanced slide rule. The gain is so great, the loss is negligible.

    Cell phones and social networking websites are a different matter. The loss here is great and tangible: Unless taken in moderation, they lead to an atrophying of social skills. Put simply, people lose the ability to have face-to-face conversations. People don’t mark appointments responsibly anymore, because there’s always the option of making a cancellation on the cell phone. Etc. Those inventions impact, for the worse, what it means to be human (mainly by taking it away, dehumanizing people).

    You could call someone who uses slide rules instead of calculators a Luddite. But someone who has decided to forgo all use of cell phones is not a Luddite, but simply someone wishing to stay human, by rejecting inventions that do just a little good at the price of the Faustian bargain of disfiguring the human soul. Not that I advocate a Butlerian Jihad or something, to those that get the reference. Heaven knows there are too many jihads in today’s world. But I resent people being called Luddites for making the personal, individual choice of rejecting those particular technologies that dehumanize us.

    Jim Packard a.k.a. Conservigilant

  43. waltj Says:

    …Oddly enough, school shootings were practically unheard of in those days.

    Or not so oddly. Maybe there were so few school shootings back then because the prospective victims had the means to defend themselves, and hadn’t been mentally disarmed by PC indoctrination that said we should “understand” human predators instead of filling them full of lead. Just a thought.

  44. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    I don’t know the numbers on school shootings. I suspect if there had been a school shooting in TN in 1966, it would have been a small story in the newspaper NH and probably not on local radio. When people were less mobile, they didn’t care so much what happened outside of driving distance.

    Part of the reason OB and others object to these specific choices is that we’re not the shopping demographic. The people who buy lots of beauty products will have their needs catered to. Those of us who buy boring replacements intermittently and have no interest in whatever is new don’t spend anywhere near as much money as the others.

    If you were going to open a store in a mall (to make money, not to please yourself and make a statement), who would your target demographic be?

  45. Gordon Says:

    I remember when the rules changed and you could buy your own phone to plug in to the wall. In some cases you had to buy outlets and do the wiring yourself (which was easier than we thought).

    I went to the phone company office to set up new service. Everyone was bringing in their older phones. They literally had a pile of them in the back of the room. Of course, those new phones turned out to be very junky compared to the tough-as-nails Western Electric units they replaced. When the phone company started selling their refurbished units, I went out and bought two, plus two extras for spares.

    Now, I don’t even have a hardwired phone.

  46. Gordon Says:

    I was doing surveys in an AT&T wireless store not long ago, and I got to see the range of customers. There are folks, young and old, who want the latest and greatest gadgets and features.

    There are also folks, mainly women aged 45 and older, who want the most basic and simple phones. They could afford the fancy ones, but they don’t want to learn how to use them.

    Then there are four-year old girls who are absolutely unafraid of the iPhones and immediately begin tapping the screen to see what the buttons do.

    The staff spends a surprising amount of time just activating new phones. It takes at least an hour. A lot of it seems to be spent with the agent staring at the computer, waiting for the screen to update. Meanwhile, the other agents are helping customers who have returned to the store, because they need help in figuring out how to use the features.

  47. IgotBupkis Says:

    Oh, Geez.

    > Plug it in and you’re good to go. AT&T will provide the service, one size fits all.

    “Plug it in”? No, you had the technician wire it in. And if the household wiring didn’t have connection available where you wanted the phone? Pretty much too bad. You put the phone THERE, not where it was convenient. And when you wanted to talk to someone, but they had to do something in the middle of it? Well, you sat there and DID NOTHING because you were tethered to the wall. Got that call from the relative you really, really didn’t want to talk to but also didn’t want to be rude to (which, of course, YOU TOOK BECAUSE YOU HAD NO IDEA WHO WAS CALLING) and cut off, though they will talk forever and you know it? Well, YOU SAT THERE unable to do squat because you were tied to that location.

    The big-ass wallphones for the kitchen also came with extra long cords so you could actually walk away from them and do something other than stand there with your thumb measuring your prostate for the duration of the call….

    > Want to take a trip? Get on the highway, which might have only two lanes. Interstates are few and far between. But gas costs 25 cents a gallon, and cheaper in New Jersey.

    And minimum wage was a 50 cents an hour. Now it’s 7:50 an hour, and gas is $3 a gallon. Go figure.

    That trip? Don’t forget you had to take five extra tires along with you if it was over 300 miles, because the chances of those tires making it to 10000 miles wihtout a blowout was next to zero.

    When was the last time ANYONE you knew had a blowout?

    > My father would call the dealer every two years and order a new Chrysler sight unseen. The only real question was what color. In my father’s case it was always dark; in my mother’s, light (a Plymouth, blue or white).

    That’s because after about 40k miles those cars started falling apart. Even the lowest-end junk nowadays comes with a 6-yr 60k miles warranty, and generally will make 100k miles easy. Mid-level cars like a Camry will make 200k miles easy, with less time spent at the repair shop than ever.

    Tuneups? I need to get mine tuned up. It was last done 3 years ago with platinum spark plugs that are good for that long (though they cost about $25 each)


    This whining for the “old days” is mainly because everyone remembers the good stuff and totally forgets the CRAP.

    They forget the Watts riots and the race tensions and the sexism and the straightjacket role limitations that everyone was expected to fit into.

    They forget the constant threat of 3 hours warning to the total destruction of civilization and the constant concern that the bluster of the Commies of “we will bury you” wasn’t what it turned out to be, which was all hot air.

    You forget Stagflation (though you’re likely to experience it again for yourself… will you be saying “ah, me, back to the good old days!!” then?)

    Until just recently, you’d completely forgotten double-digit unemployment.

    You forget not being able to get fresh vegetables in January, or fresh Orange Juice in Iowa in December, or being unable to watch any episode of any tv show you ever watched as a kid ON DEMAND, or not being able to watch a movie that’s 6 months old under conditions that are better than ANY theater in the 60s while dressed in your freakin’ PJs.

    You forget that “Frozen TV Dinners” used to taste like CRAP, and not probably better than anything you can make yourself unless you’re an experienced cook, and, more critically, only take 10 minutes to make in the microwave.

    THIS is the REAL attitude people need to have:

    Everything Is Amazing And Nobody’s Happy

    And that is the ABSOLUTE, literal, and correct TRUTH.

    Y’all better hope these liberal twits don’t get their way, or this WILL BE the “good old days” for REAL.

    You start having to pump water out of a well and use a friggin’ outhouse in the middle of a cold snowy January night and use a CANDLE to read by and methinks you might start appreciating just how $&#%*%**^* GOOD all these whiney-ass crapweasels have it nowadays.


  48. IgotBupkis Says:

    Sorry, if the above seems touchy. I get so tired of people who look only at the good things that “are no more” and miss all the freaking BAD things that are also “no more”, and went hand-in-hand with those “old good things”.

    If the number of choices is a problem, then learn how to make quicker choices.

    Don’t try and cut back on them, because that WILL bite you on the bum.

    Neo, for example, is talking about which car she wants because she wants one with a seat suited to her back problems.

    Does anyone here actually believe that one of those auto dealerships in the 50s, 60s, or 70s would have had the slightest ability to help her with her problem except by sheer dumb luck?

    Choices are Freedom

    Choices are Liberty

    Choices are Individuality

    Choices are the Universe actually tailored to match YOU, not someone “kinda sorta vaguely a bit like you”.

  49. neo-neocon Says:

    IGotBupkis: I don’t know about your house, but in the 50s my house had about four different rooms the phone could be plugged in.

    Perhaps “plugged in” is not technically the right term (jacks??), but they looked like plugs rather than jacks. I can’t find a photo, but the phone plugs/jacks looked like the old-fashioned plugs you plug into outlets, but slightly more oval, with two prongs that went into a special wall outlet for the phone.

    As you can see, I am not up on the terminology, but the point is that yes, the phone people had to set it up initially, but we moved into a house that was all set up for phones in several different rooms and the phones could be moved from room to room by plugging them into the phone sockets. They were not hard-wired into the walls. Perhaps that arrangement was unusual, but that’s the way it was for us.

    Also—my father exchanged his car every two years, but my mother did not. She kept hers for quite a while, and they did not fall apart. As far as gas goes, it was relatively cheap even in comparison to income; you didn’t hear people complain about the prices, even though the cars were gas guzzlers. Perhaps part of the reason was that people didn’t ordinarily have long commutes like many do today, but gas prices just were not too much of an issue till much later.

  50. Daniel Says:

    At least gas is STILL cheaper in New Jersey.

  51. frozen gas line Says:

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    When I finished to read neo-neocon ” Blog Archive ” Choices, choices, It made me got some idea for my blog about frozen gas line….

  52. Water Extraction Mission Viejo Says:

    Found your websites on AskJeeves, great content, but the site looks awkward inside browser setup, but functions fine in IE. set off figure.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


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