Friday, January 24, 2020

Convergence of a Couple of Ideas - Neither of Them Newsworthy

Just two ideas that have come up this week that relate to a central lesson in life.  Too many people don't realize just how good we have it in life. 

Mrs. Graybeard and I have a family tradition of having chicken wings for dinner on Fridays.  It started out that we'd have wings and watch something we had recorded during the week; last year it would have been Marvel's Agents of Shield; the year before, perhaps the X-Files.  Sometimes it's nothing like that.  Lately, unfortunately, there has been nothing to watch but we have wings anyway.  Because Friday. 

A week ago, I'm finishing my last bites and something didn't feel right.  A little probing revealed the problem, I had lost a filling that was on the back surface of one of my lower front teeth.  That was a recent filling, more like 10 years than 30, but I'd be lying if I said I knew when I got it.  The important part is it wasn't a cavity and the tooth wasn't sensitive, I just had to get through the weekend to go get it fixed. 

Monday morning I called my dentist.  The cheerful girl on the phone said, "when's a good time?," to which I replied, "Anytime is good."  She took a few seconds to say, "how about 1PM today?"  It was not quite 8:30AM.  Naturally, I was there. 

There are no significant details to relate; the dentist said something along the lines of, "this should be easy.  No local anesthetic needed, we'll be done in no time."  And we were.  Less than hour after I sat down in the chair I was walking out with my tooth repaired.  Like all modern fillings, instead of mercury amalgam, it was UV-cured epoxy, then meticulously ground to the right size. 

At some point along the way I had the thought; imagine it was a few hundred years ago.  The richest kings in the world couldn't get what I just had done, in a small city in a flyover county.  I allowed myself to think farther down that line.  Forget the richest kings in antiquity; I don't think the richest men alive 100 years ago could get a simple filling like that. 

Later this week, the folks at FEE (The Foundation for Economic Education) reprised an article with the same line of thought.  The average person today has material riches John D. Rockefeller didn't have.  A February 2016 article in The Atlantic talked about life a hundred years ago and became, in turn, the FEE article.  It was life before widespread electricity, before antibiotics, before good heating systems in homes, and all of John Rockefeller's money couldn't buy it.  Travel from the east coast to the west coast in the US would take four days by rail (to most of the west coast).  Letters took days to cross the country; with no commercial aircraft there was no airmail. 

Remember, in 1924 the 16-year-old son of president Calvin Coolidge would die of an infected blister that he got on his toe while playing tennis on the White House grounds.  Today, antibiotics to fight that infection are practically free.

Record players were radical new technology and horribly low fidelity to modern audiences.  Phones were wall mounted, not carried in your pocket or on your belt. 

Last April, I posted part of an essay by a millennial woman writing about writing at a coffee shop.  She quoted AOC saying, “An entire generation ... came of age and never saw American prosperity.” The author concluded the complete opposite.  AOC and her cohort have never seen anything but prosperity. 
Why then, with all of the overwhelming evidence around us, evidence that I can even see sitting at a coffee shop, do we not view this as prosperity? We have people who are dying to get into our country. People around the world destitute and truly impoverished. Yet, we have a young generation convinced they’ve never seen prosperity, and as a result, elect politicians dead set on taking steps towards abolishing capitalism. Why? The answer is this, my generation has only seen prosperity. We have no contrast. We didn’t live in the great depression, or live through two world wars, or see the rise and fall of socialism and communism. We don’t know what it’s like not to live without the internet, without cars, without smartphones. We don’t have a lack of prosperity problem. We have an entitlement problem, an ungratefulness problem, and it’s spreading like a plague. 
I have no dental insurance which means this was a pure out-of-pocket expenditure.  Are there things I'd rather spend that money on?  Actually, no.  No, I'm happy to spend that money to get my tooth repaired - and extremely grateful to be alive in time when I can get it fixed and not have it continue to get worse.  Something John D. Rockefeller couldn't have done with all his millions.   

 John D. Rockefeller - 2nd from right.


  1. This classic clip from louis c k is evergreen:

    1. Absolutely - one of my all-time favorites.

      I see Borepatch posted a link to it down below, as well.

  2. 100 years ago I would have died before 2yoa due to allergy issues that were barely treatable in the early 1960s. My older sister didn't survive, having a hole in her heart, a thing that today can be diagnosed and operated on while still in the womb.


    I constantly have to tell people today that pre-antibiotics, pooping oneself to death (Diphtheria) was a very common way of children dying. Cholera (got my great-grand parents on my father's side, leaving 5 orphaned children) also swept through and killed pretty indiscriminately.

    And... Polio. I remember listening to parents discuss how they didn't have to worry about that particularly evil little bug. No leg braces, no iron lungs at home.

    Yeah. Our pert-near lowest poor, short of street people, have big screen tvs, phones, cars, a variety of food available 24/7/365 either in prepared foods or unprepared foods that no one ever has had available ever.

    Think I'm joking? I remember getting oranges in my Christmas stocking because oranges were in the store starting around Christmas and ending some time in February or so. Table grapes? There was a season for that, unless you shelled out serious money. Same with strawberries, or melons, or rasberries, cherries, figs, any citrus, apples... I am still in awe when I go grocery shopping at what fruits are available for sale and how cheap they are, and I was born in 1963. Someone born 20 years earlier must see the grocery section as something straight out of science fiction.

    People just don't know how lucky they are. Like, well, desserts. Used to be, only Upper Class could afford desserts every day, then Upper middle class, then the whole middle class, now even bums and the homeless can get dessert with every meal.

    No concept of what splendor they live in. Go to a movie theater with lounge seats, drink beer and complain about how horrid theaters are.

    And they wonder why we mock them.

    1. Beans. I had pneumonia as a child in the mid fifties.
      Antibiotics and oxygen and no big deal.
      My Dad told me later in my life that if it had been twenty years earlier I would be dead.
      Political insanity aside, we are in the golden years.

    2. One of the first blog entries I read 10 years ago was someone saying they went to the doctor, were told they had pneumonia and handed a prescription. They went to the drugstore and paid something like $5 for a two week course of antibiotics. They said they looked at that bottle and thought of the millions of people over the past few thousand years for whom pneumonia was a death sentence, yet here it was a virtually free treatment for a trivial disease.

      Paul Simon had it right. "These are the days of miracles and wonders." And too many are ignoring what they have so they can be envious of what someone else has.

    3. There is a story about one of the Soviet leaders, Brezhnev? visiting an American supermarket and realizing they could win.

  3. I echo your sentiments and those of Beans. Where I live, as remote as you can get in the Lower 48, or very near to that, if I order on Amazon, UPS or FedEx drops it on the porch the next day. When I moved here, I marveled at that. And with bandwidth, I can do what I'm doing here on your blog.

    When I was a kid, we were on a party line at one point and you had to engage a human operator to make a long distance call. Now, we hit the satellite and can be in touch with any place on the planet.

  4. We were stationed in Korea during the mid-70’s; I know how fortunate/wealthy Americans are. God Bless our sweet country.

  5. Well said. Your description of the attitude of today's kids reminds me of the picture of a millennial with a caption "My life is horrible". Next to it was a picture of D-Day, with a caption "Cool story, Bro"

  6. Some years back I came down with a tooth-ache, and it was a real killer. The next morning I got an emergency appointment with an endodontist, and 15 minutes after my ample behind hit the chair, I was pain free. Root canals are quick, fun, and very effective.

    Then I complained to my brother about the cost, and he straightened me out. "Look on the bright side here - you can afford to pay for it."

    He was right. I paid in cash and offered a gratuity, which was graciously declined. Then I got to thinking, which is generally where trouble comes from.

    People I knew, my great-grandfather, my grandmother, and my mother, didn't have this option. They either didn't have the medical technology, or didn't have the money. My mother and her family went through the depression, and because of her gracious mother and grandmother, didn't really understand how poor they were. They had trouble finding enough to eat some days.

    My great-grandfather came down with pneumonia. There was no cure, but people knew that salt would kill germs. So they took salt, ground it into a substance fine as talcum powder, and he inhaled a bunch of it. He got well and survived to a ripe old age.

    Because of allergies and bronchial asthma, I almost didn't survive childhood. I got polio shots, but normal childhood diseases were hard on me. Now we have a vaccine and medical care that I didn't have, and that saved my life when I got cancer.

    When I grew up, we had an easy time of it. You want money, you go to work. No work, no money. But now, all of a sudden, things just aren't that way.

    Anyway, thanks for a great post.

  7. A man was telling me he took his family on an African Safari. Something like a dude ranch where you could see tigers and lions from a truck.The problem was the ride from the airport to the safari camp. Their bus went thru little villages where little girls and boys naked except a rag for a loin cloth fighting in the dirt over pennies thrown from passing cars. He said his 15 year old daughter was crying all week. When they got home it was all they could do to stop her from giving away all her stuff. She said she had too much when those girls had nothing.

  8. Anytime you find yourself longing for the simpler times of the past, think about dentistry.

    1. Think about not dying from pooping yourself to death. Clean, safe water was one of the biggest achievements of the modern world. Couldn't have any other major achievement without clean, safe water.

      Dang, this thread is starting to sound like 'Connections.'

  9. I always used to think, "We're so well off we can buy a decent bottle of wine, in the old days only rich people could do that."

    Well, this part of central Texas may not have caught up to that, but the next county has. So the song remains the same, we're bizarrely prosperous. Still, what cost to gain the whole world...

  10. I volunteer at my kids' elementary school, teaching a science lab for 4th and 5th graders. My one class a month is the only hands on experimenting they do, and it's only ~40 minutes.

    This month, my class is in the middle of 5 weeks of "earth science". Doom and gloom and climate change oh my. Plus, Greta Truthmangler in HD.

    About half my class was about techtonic plates and geological epochs, with heavy emphasis on the cycle between warm and cold climate. I can't contradict or gainsay the AGM baked into the approved curriculum but I can point out fact. It's been hotter, it's been colder. Then we moved from the macro to the micro of erosion.

    So we did some playing in the dirt with soil erosion and they had a great time getting wet and touching mud and sand. I closed with a variation on the comment above. We live in a Golden Age. I told them about my grandmother and the entire history of manned heavier than air travel fitting in during her life. Ditto for computers, phones, radio and TV, etc. Told my dad's Christmas orange story. Antibiotics and toothaches. FOOD. FOOD. FOOD. And the change from an agricultural society to an industrial one where less than 1% of the population farms. (all this in about 5 minutes, and more detail with the fifth graders as we had a bit more time) The kids were stunned.

    All they every hear is how horrible things are and how horrible they will be getting if we don't DO SOMETHING 111!!1!!11!!!

    I'm trying to counter the narrative. It's hard. And you have to show up.


  11. oh, and my grandfather used the polish word for Cholera as a swear word. "Dog's blood and cholera", which appears to have been pretty common according to the google.

    Cholera killed a lot of people. It will again.


  12. AOC, in particular, should remember that it won't be until August this year that women have had the right to vote in all of the USA for 100 years.

  13. Angus,
    that was one of the biggest political mistakes made here in the US. Females are nearly hard-wired for socialism/authoritarianism, and the teaching that is needed to counter it is rarely encountered.

    1. I seem to recall the man who proposed women's suffrage did so as a joke, to kill a bill he hung the amendment on. No one will vote for that, he thought. As is said, the rest is history.

  14. I have suffered for two years now with a venous ulcer on my left ankle and have had skin grafts and it is now responding. A hundred years ago I would have been dead after two months with massive infections which I have suffered and with proper hygiene and antibiotic therapy it is nothing more then an inconvenience. This age is truly the "Good Old Days."

  15. I remember the REA coming through. The first wall outlet, before the ceiling lights were strung (literally), was for a refrigerator. No more racing from town after our Saturday supply visit, with a block of ice wrapped in a tow sack for the icebox. Nobody that wins the lottery today could be prouder than Momma was of her refrigerator. We had an outhouse until I was six, and drew all of our water from a cistern on the back porch. The water was collected from roof of the house when it rained by a system of gutters. Every couple of years a man came around with a wagon with a big tank on it. He bailed the cistern dry, into the tank one 3-gal bucket at a time, cleaned and patched of the cistern, then refilled it. That was his trade. We bathed in a #3 washtub in the kitchen, Momma heated water on the kerosene stove for everyone. The labor obviously put into every drop of water made us appreciate its value. No one took it for granted.

    The world I was born into:

    John D. Rockefeller may have done more for the well-being of humanity than any other human being. Many do not know that petroleum's first and primary commercial value was as a light source. Kerosene was much superior to coal-oil/gas, tallow or any other light source in brightness, cleanliness and safety. The purer the kerosene the cleaner and brighter the light. Rockefeller's insistence on quality and consistency was what made his product superior to his competitors and allowed him to amass the capital to make the square 5-gal tin with the blue stripe of "Standard Oil" ubiquitous world-wide. Almost single handedly he drove back the darkness. Until Standard Oil 99% of humanity lived 99% of their lives between sunrise and sunset. Standard Oil's motto, at Rockefeller's insistence, was, "Man must have light, and it must be cheap." Standard Oil's profitability was based on volume; profits per gallon were in the pennies.

    1. And the media and educators pilloried him for his 'monopoly.'

      Just like they pilloried Andrew Carnegie. Without whom we would never have the modern local library. (Libraries used to be for the elite only, think on that. But singlehandedly, Carnegie established free libraries everywhere.)

    2. Teddy Roosevelt, and the Progressive zealots railed against John D. as the ultimate boogie-man. Judge shopped for a decade to find one that would take the anti-trust case against him, and thought they had broken him when they naturally won and Standard Oil was forcibly broken up. Come to find out Standard Oil's business model had become obsolete without anyone noticing it. The year after the dissolution of Standard Oil, 1912, saw John D Rockefeller's income nearly double from his 1910 income. In their blind enmity the Progressives actually did him a favor. Hoisted by their own petard.
      Tom S.

  16. Perhaps it's the precariousness of our economic situation. Yeah, all this amazing stuff exists in our civilization, and it's easy enough to get ahold of, IF you can afford it. (And in the case of antibiotics and medicine, IF someone (your doctors/insurance) gives permission.) Affording it isn't a particularly high bar, but it is if you can't get a job.

    In the 1900s, all you needed to do to get a job was show up somewhere willing to do the work. These days it's an incredibly complicated, time consuming process, and you're told over and over again that there is nothing that you could possibly do for others that's really worth a paycheck. Your salary is really just a form of welfare, because what you do isn't really worth anything to anyone: The tangible end of the process has been exported to China, and your office job is a popularity contest. (I say this as an engineer! Nevermind the proverbial bachelor's degree barista. Employees are treated like their work is worthless and exist at their employer's precarious sufferance!)

    Little things, even incredible little things like computers and medicine, are attainable assuming permission. Large things, like owning a house, or property, or capital equipment have moved increasingly out of reach.

    If you can't earn it, and you can't own it (can't be secure in the right to it and the ability to obtain it) then it isn't yours. It's just something randomly granted to you that can be randomly taken back tomorrow. Renter serfdom leads to feeling poor and desperate even if your immediate situation is well off.

    1. PS: I realize, even if my coworkers don't, that socialism doesn't do anything to fix that precariousness. Far from it, it enshrines existing at some bureacrat's sufferance in law. In a capitalist country I can get a loan to buy equipment and at least make the attempt to own my livelihood, in a socialist country I don't even own myself.

      However, our society has browbeaten a generation: That the world doesn't need us, doesn't want us, doesn't have room for us, and that no skill we could possibly learn no matter how specialized could possibly earn us a place. People who can't earn a place in society are going to feel poor.

  17. I've had two separate organ transplants - a liver, followed by a kidney a year later. The year I was born there would have been nothing that could be done for me as I died from liver failure.

    I love living in the future.

  18. I was born in '58. If I had been born a few years earlier I would be dead by age 3. I had a brain tumor which was removed, with zero lingering effects, by a technique which had only recently been refined. I was one of the very first patients.

    I think of this subject often. That we living right now in the U.S. are the benefactors of all human endeavors. Even the 'poorest' among us live at the pinnacle of technological achievements. Prior generations could only hope for that which we take for granted. Our duty therefore, is to not take any for granted and to teach younger generations to act likewise.