February 28, 2006

Press 666: reach out and touch what?

The other day I read that after 150 years, Western Union has stopped sending telegrams. Apparently such an "outmoded" means of communication has gone the way of the pony express. Fortunately for ponies, there remain thousands of little girls who want one as a birthday gift.

I haven't seen a yellow telegram in at least 25 years -- high school graduation, perhaps? Twenty years ago, in Paris, I sent a telegraph to a friend in London. In 1985, that was the most expeditious way for me to communicate across the English Channel, since I lacked access to what was once called "directory assistance."

The operators who supplied directory assistance here have long since been declared obsolete by the various companies that supply telephone service. There are so many companies, they make me long for the days of Ma Bell.

The need to select a telephone carrier is one of those choices that I could live without. Since both electricity and cable TV are provided by the building in which I live, I have not had to weigh those exciting options -- and I hope never to need to compare and contrast those utilities.

Survey question: does anyone believe that, short of access to the White Pages web site, the computer chip and its accompanying "press six for more options" phone-punching voice are a great improvement over human beings?

Or is there agreement that after figuring out the numbers behind 1-800-WHERE-AM-I?, you are more in need of help than you were before you tried to telephone for it?

Voice mail options are to be found in Dante's sixth circle of hell, or perhaps the seventh. If telegrams are history, so, I suspect are Telexes. In the 1970s, I received countless Telexes from my father in New York while I was in Europe. All the hotels had Telex addresses.

My father's office had a Telex machine. When I was abroad, he would type and send notes to me. It is as close to a keyboard as he ever needed to get in his lifetime. The Telex mostly was used to communicate with our businesses outside the U.S. Sometimes, it was used to reach me.

I still have a few Telexes, those messages telling me to have fun wherever I happened to be, and not to worry that my parents had moved my mother's father to a nursing home, or that business sucked. I don't think any of those messages would have the same resonance via phone or e-mail.

I am certain that the message regarding my father's business was Telexed accidentally to me, as the receiving machine was one operated by a Parisian with whom my father did business.

Did Jean-Pierre read the part of the note intended for him? I am not sure. In May, when I am in Paris, I will ask. I doubt if he remembers correspondence from the summer of 1977, but that Telex gave me a peek into my father's world that he had never mentioned to my mom, brother, or me.

My friend from London has relocated to California. This past weekend she was in New York, and we had a wonderful brunch last Sunday.

Alice realizes that it is a function of high tech to have a blog. This is a point in technology's favor. Still, there are many points against it -- when did you last receive an actual letter, or even a postcard? "Wish you were here" simply doesn't come through via e-mail or electronically generated postcards.

A printout isn't worth 1000 words.

In the early days of consumer e-mail, my first address was my father's Telex name, a play on our family name. I became hotdog@fill-in-the-blank.com. If I didn't conduct business via the internet, I might have continued to honor my gadget-loving father's memory. These days my blog is alice.uptown@gmail.com, and I have another, more business-minded address for my other correspondence.

I'm still waiting for that pony.

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February 20, 2006

Where is the ghost of Jimmy Hoffa?

Yesterday our local news said that the federal government was planning to hire a company based in the United Arab Emirates to take charge of the ports of New York, New Jersey and various other cities.

Apparently the U.A.E. is the only country in the Middle East (apart from Israel) that is our friend. So, doesn't it make sense to have our one Arab friend guarding our henhouses/ports?

Did I miss something? Here I am, fewer than five miles from Ground Zero, still on terra Manhattan, and some governmental authority thinks it wise to outsource, as they say, what is one of the biggest loopholes in our so-called homeland security. Most containers already arrive without any formal inspection from the U.S. Do I feel protected now?

Call me crazy, call me xenophobic, but I thought it was a good option to employ American dock workers over foreign nationals. Either that, or there's something screwy about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

My take on foreign policy is that our friends are the people we pay to act as such. When they misbehave, we take away their allowance (just as my mother disciplined me, and we know how well that turned out).

The U.A.E. isn't beholden to us or any of its neighbors financially: does that mean we should hire them instead of the folks in the tristate area to guard us? This decision makes the T.S.A. look like a first-rate government agency.

Part of the T.S.A.'s job is to make sure that people don't board planes carrying cigarette lighters. Another is to make sure we have practically stripped down to our underwear (and if that happens to include an underwire bra, say good-bye to that particular piece of lingerie) to pass through our airport metal detectors.

Those folks at homeland security -- you'll notice they are based in Washington, D.C., a city not known for its water ports. And American jobs? How can we say, they count for nothing?

I am not what you would call a flag-waving patriot by any means. When I travel, I say I am Canadian, because it is too damn embarrassing and potentially dangerous in many circles to be an American abroad.

However, the only conclusion I can reach here is, the Gods must be crazy.

And Jimmy Hoffa must be spinning in his grave, wherever that may be.

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February 15, 2006

Snow Daze

Where was Alice during the famous blizzard of 2006? Observing it from the global village, 2,000 miles away, via cable/satellite TV in a sitting room in her friend's borrowed house on Carriacou. (It is one of a trinity of islands comprising the country of Grenada.)

The Caribbean island where Alice took her winter sun came late to the global buffet: TV reception was negligible until the mid-1990s. With it, as she has previously noted, has come an increase in crime, urban fashion statements in small tropical villages, and, dare we say, the American dream? Or is it the American nightmare?

Before the first snowflake hit the island on which Alice usually resides, she had postponed her trip home. She then found it disturbing that an appellate court judge (another guest of Alice's friend, one who will not receive further invitations) thought it wise to try to battle the storm and leave the Caribbean on the day that Central Park boasted 29.6 inches of snow.

(You know that who's counting the snowfall in inches has to be a man.)

That judge is at the second-highest level of the New York State judiciary. This is a man who spent five days on the island without sitting in the sun at the beach or less sticking his toes in the water, a man who watches Fox News as if it were gospel. Alice considers this a frightening demonstration of judgment -- or a demonstration of frightening judgment. You decide.

Alice prefers to consider Fox interactive television: she can't watch for more than 45 seconds before talking back to the screen. She considers it a relative of Comedy Central, because it is hard to imagine these people are serious. To her, they are ludicrous.

As she saw last weekend, having friends in high places is no guarantee of being safe on the range. With friends like Cheney, who needs enemies? In the global village, it has become more and more embarrassing to be an American.

Some (Alice included) would say she is not American; she is a New Yorker, part of a different breed. Most of what happens west of the Hudson or south of the Mason-Dixon line requires translation.

For example, while the house call may be history, Alice can't grasp the idea that a drugstore wouldn't deliver. If she is sick, should she spread her germs around at retail? Bad enough to be in the petrie dish that is the doctor's waiting room.

The more purchases that can be made without leaving the keyboard or telephone, the better, in Alice's book, particularly in winter. The blizzard aside, this has been a relatively mild winter; however, Alice's synapses have had a lengthy meltdown, and some odd kind of agoraphobia has settled in.

You don't need snow to declare a snow day -- Alice's brain has taken nearly a month of snow days this year, and she's not sure how many more she's in for.

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