My Fourth Turning

In the wee hours of the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up and could not get back to sleep. In an attempt to put myself back to sleep, I picked up a book I had been reading, William Strauss and Neil Howe’s The Fourth Turning published in 1997.*

Several years earlier I became intrigued with their vision of how history unfolds in orderly cycles rather than in linear flow described in Generations.** The details of their theory were rather complex and I had not completely mastered nuance or structure.

That morning I got to the chapter entitled “A Fourth Turning Prophecy.”  According to their theory, a Fourth Turning was a two decade or so span of time in which some dramatic event would “catalyze a Crisis” that would define that period of time and subsequent history. This turning came on the heels of the previous turning they called an “Unraveling.”

“In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party. It could be a rapid succession of small events in which the ominous, the ordinary, and the trivial commingled.” (FT, p. 272)

Based on previous historical trends they had observed, the writers proceeded to spell out several plausible scenarios that may occur “circa-2005.” By now my returning sleep was disturbed by what I was reading:

–a fiscal crisis . . . a state lays claim to its residents federal tax monies . . . tax rebellions spring up in other states. . . treasury bill auctions suspended . . . militia violence . . . .                        cyberterrorist attacks . . . demands issue for a new Constitutional Convention;

–a global terrorist blows up an aircraft . . . the U. S. launches a preemptive strike . . . Congress declares war . . . authorizes unlimited house-to-house searches . . . opponents say president concocted emergency for political purposes . . . foreign capital flees the U.S.;

–impasse over the federal budget reaches stalemate . . . president and Congress both refuse to back down . . . near-total government shutdown triggered . . . president                     declares emergency powers . . . Congress rescinds his authority . . . Congress refuses to raise debt ceiling . . . defaults loom . . . Wall Street panics;

–Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce spread of new communicable virus . . . disease reaches dense populated areas, killing some . . . Congress enacts                        mandatory quarantine . . . president orders National Guard to cordon off unsafe neighborhoods . . . mayors resist . . . urban gangs battle militias . . . calls mount for   president to declare martial law;

–Growing anarchy throughout former Soviet republics prompts Russia to conduct training exercises around its borders . . . Lithuania erupts in civil war . . . negotiations   break down . . . U.S. diplomats captured . . .President sends troops to rescue them . . . Iran declares alliance with Russia . . . gold and oil prices soar . . . Congress debates                          restoring the draft. (FT, pp. 272-273)

Even though my emotions were whirring, my eyelids were growing weary by the time I read: “It’s highly unlikely that any one of these scenarios will actually happen.” (FT, p. 273) Comforted somewhat by this thought, I dropped off into fitful sleep around 4:00 a.m. with the hope that surely events of this magnitude were not possible.

It was a false hope, as events soon would prove. I should have read a little longer and paid more attention to the sentence following the one I was reading that night.

“What is likely, however, is that the catalyst will unfold according to a basic Crises dynamic that underlies all of these scenarios: An initial spark will trigger a chain reaction of unyielding responses and further emergencies. The core elements of these scenarios (debt, civic decay, global disorder) will matter more than the details, which the catalyst will juxtapose and connect in some unknowable way. If foreign societies are also entering a Fourth Turning, this could accelerate the chain reaction.” (FT, p. 273)

I did not return to this book for a couple years at which time I wrote in the margin of page 273:

“I was reading this page during the early hours of September 11, 2001. I could not pick it  up to re-read it again until 9/21/03. I could not bring myself to look at it. W. G. McAtee”

Here it is again, 9/11!

Seven years since Strauss and Howe’s target date of “cira-2005” now have lapsed. Has the event ending the latest Unraveling happened and the next Crises been ignited? When did it happen? Are we now in the Fourth Turning? What do these strange sounding Strauss/Howe concepts mean?

My thoughts on this occasion drift back to The Fourth Turning for answers.

 (to be continued)


* Strauss, William and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy. New York: Broadway Books, 1997. (FT)

**______, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1991. (G)

9/11/12  © McAtee & weegems, 2012

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On Prayer

In the midst of my second trip back in November of 2011 to the Occupy Lexington encampment seeking some answers to one of my misipi cohort’s valid questions I received a question on prayer from another cohort: I must admit I am confused about prayer.  Of course I ask God for His Blessing for R, J, and anyone else, but just what am I doing when I pray?

Others in our group shared very thoughtful answers in response. One asked for comments from our “theological associates,” referring to Tex Sample and me. I want to assure you, what follows is not something I pulled off my professional shelf. I confess I have not given this kind of attention to the meaning and practice of prayer for a long time. Our discussion has pushed me to dig deep and articulate afresh my beliefs about “what I am doing when I pray.” So here goes!

Prayer for me is the language of the great Divine/human love affair.  The great commandment–“loving God and your neighbor as yourself” provides the foundation that informs and defines all relationships between the Divine and us and with each other. This is the context in which all such conversations take place.

The language/conversations have several dimensions illustrated in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship’s classic liturgical list that applies, not only to public worship, but is a framework for personal prayer practices as well. Examples:

–adoration (praising God from whom all blessings flow);

–thanksgiving (expressing gratitude for God’s kind and tender mercies, aka unmerited grace);

–confession/assurance of pardon (acknowledging we have “missed the mark”, asking for forgiveness);

–illumination (preparing our hearts to hear God’s word);

–supplication (preparing our hearts to humbly approach God);

–intercession (“beseeching” God for all sorts of conditions and concerns for others and the world);

–petition (seeking guidance and strength for facing one’s life);

–offertory (blessing our response to God’s gracious gifts);

–communion of saints (thanking God for the faithful who have gone before us, asking for courage to follow their example, while ascribing all honor and glory to God);

–benediction (God’s blessing for going out into the world).

My other thoughts and considerations about prayer:

First, personal prayer may take several forms ranging from unconscious feelings to random conscious thoughts to more structured verbal expressions. “Be constant in prayer.”

Second, prayer is not a matter of asking for specific outcomes, but being faithful no matter the outcome.

Third, faithfulness being the case, all clues necessary for understanding God’s answers to our prayers are found in Scripture, therefore, we “search God’s Word to find what is pleasing to God.” This necessitates the meditation (study) part of prayer that challenges the patience for those of us seeking specific outcomes.

Fourth, when it is all said and done, how the language/conversations with God really works, at times is a great mystery. This mystery takes on specific significance from me, when someone asks me to pray for them. What is really going on in the transaction?

Somehow something happens in the transaction when I make the promise that I will remember she or he in my prayers: a) the person knows that someone(s) cares; b) he or she is not facing whatever it is alone but is “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses”; c) in the caring, some kind of energy is transmitted from one person(s) to another; d) and somehow this is part of God’s redemptive everlasting arms encircling the person, working God’s eternal purposes in the lives of all involved. That is about the best I can do at comprehending God’s great mystery.

This exercise got me back in touch with what I learned about prayer in my two extended trips to the hospital–one in 1995 for open eye surgery and one in 2011 with complications from urinary tract infection. In the first case I remember simply praying that if I lost my sight, that I be given the grace to live with it and find some purpose in my new situation.

In the second case I actually don’t remember praying at all. I simply fell asleep for long periods turning loose of all cares and letting my body do its own healing thing.

Someone said later when the unexpected outcome of full recovery without surgery occurred: “Your prayers were answered.” I said: “No, the prayers of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ were answered, because I was too occupied otherwise to pray!”

Love and peace to y’all this day. [That “y’all” includes our growing prayer list.]

08-12-12  © McAtee & weegems, 2012

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Inaugural Float — January 22, 1952

It all started in the fall of 1951 with the homecoming parade. The BHS Key Club entered a small float that it built with the help of its advisor, David Lovell. David was very generous with his 1950 Chevy convertible. Some of us would pile in it and tool around Ole Brook as if we were “hollywooding it.” The float we put together was better than average and caught the eye of someone later connected with the governor’s inaugural parade the next January.

It must have been someone with the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce, if indeed that existed. Brookhaven, Mississippi was entering its “festival phase” with its annual Gay Ninety Week to be held on March 26-30, 1952. Dreams were that this would rival the Natchez Pilgrimage festivities and the Governor’s Inaugural Parade seemed like the perfect place to showcase this grand event. At any rate the Key Club was invited to construct and enter a float in Governor Hugh White’s second inaugural parade touting “cultural virtues” of Ole Brook.

What better theme for a float Lovell could dream up to promote the event than to incorporate live magnolia leaves surrounding a flowing faux fountain adorned by beautiful southern belles and swans. The Key Club guys would provide the brawn to go with David’s brains. A lowboy 18-wheeler was obtained from a local road contractor as foundation for the float as well as a standard 18-wheeler tractor-trailer to haul the makings of the float to Jackson where it would be assembled in a warehouse.

Lovell constructed the plaster of Paris fountain with angel hair water, collected suitable swans, formed the trunks for the magnolia trees, designed the side panels and fashioned the gateposts with lamps. Other materials such as two by fours and chicken wire were also gotten to form the skirt of the float.

On the weekend before the big parade Key Clubbers descended on the river bottom south of Brookhaven near the original site of Ole Brook [probably near Robert Stamps’ family place] to collect branches of magnolia limbs. These were loaded on pickup trucks and taken to a staging location in granddaddy Moreton’s side yard where the tractor-trailer was waiting. On the day before the parade, some of us piled into the two trucks for our journey to Jackson. Others came with David in his car.

Upon arrival at the designated warehouse we began work through the night to construct our float under David’s skillful direction. We built the frame for the skirt and began to attach the magnolia branches to it. I believe we covered the floor with funeral grass from a local funeral home. The fountain was assembled, as were the two trees and wrought iron lighted gate. The warehouse was not heated and there was little time to sleep. Some of us caught catnaps in the cold trailer now vacated of it trove of supplies.

Shortly after dawn the float was finished and it was time to move it to the area where the parade entrants were gathering. Our lovely southern belles, Linda Hedgepeth and Judy Entrican, braved the morning foggy chill in flowing white evening gowns completing David’s inspiration. Before the parade rolled out, the brawn posed for a picture with the beauties along with artist David Lovell, showing in our demeanor solemn signs of chilled weariness of the night before.

The float picture, snapped by Brookhaven’s ubiquitous Whitbeck,* appeared at the bottom of The Key Club page 47 in The Ole Brook 1952 annual. Seated left to right: Linda Hedgepeth and Judy Entrican; swans unnamed. Standing left to right: Jimmy Moreton, president; William McAtee, treasurer; Norman Young, secretary; Robert Stamps, member; David Lovell, artist; Jap Becker, vice-president; Buddy Watts, Key Club Regional lieutenant-governor. Inaugural Float 3

I don’t remember any direct response by the Governor to our work, but as I recall it created quite an appreciative stir along the parade route and one more fond memory for the Class of ’52 Key Clubbers!

*  “WHITBECK PHOTO SERVICE, COMMERCIAL PHOTOGRAPHY, BROOKHAVEN, MISSISSIPPI” printed on back of original photo. Whitbeck also was renowned photographer of trains during this time. In McAtee Photo Collection

7/17/12  © McAtee & weegems, 2012

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Saga of the P’Nut Tree

Once upon a time a long, long time ago, there was this boy in an 8th grade General Science class in Junior High who was supposed to do some science project.  He decided to do tree grafting.  So he went to the County Agricultural Agent to learn how to do it.  The Agent gave the boy some pecan “slips”; an awful mixture of beeswax in a hard chunk which had to be heated; and told the boy how to go about grafting the “slips” on a tree limb.

A young walnut tree sat between the driveway of the house he lived in and the church next door.  This, he decided, was the perfect tree for the project.  The church kitchen was right there and handy to heat the mixture. (It boiled over, but that is another story featuring the women of the church who ruled the kitchen!)

The boy cut the two side branches off the slender trunk and grafted the slips on them, carefully following the instructions.

However, the County Agent had been very skeptical that they would “take”–meaning “live”.  It was rare for pecan to take to walnut stock. BUT THEY TOOK.

It was the dead of winter.  In the spring they began to grow.  The boy was excited and awaited each green bud with anticipation and joy.  He was filled with hope that the project would really work.

A year later in the spring the slips had grown into large branches out each side of the trunk.  But high violent winds came with the spring rains and ripped those fragile grafts right out.  The boy had some strong words to say to God and his wind!  WHY DID YOU DO IT!?!,  and shook his fist skyward.  He was crushed.  He was so disappointed. His hope was badly bruised and it seemed that the project had failed. BUT THE STORY DID NOT END HERE.

With energy fueled by his anger, the boy sawed the whole top out of the tree about head high and grafted two more slips right into the top of the trunk.  AND THEY TOOK!  Later he removed the weaker of the two slips with his pocketknife leaving the stronger to grow.  And grow it did.

A few years later the boy came home from college and was told about the plans for the new addition to the church building.  He was told he would have to give up the tree that was growing tall.

That was where the new building was going to join the old. So the college boy got out his little wagon from childhood, dug up the tree and hauled it across the backyard. He dug up a huge hedge bush and planted the tree in that hole.  AND IT TOOK!  BUT THE STORY DID NOT END HERE.

Thirty years later the middle-aged man came back home to visit where he had grown up.  Filled with fond memories he wandered around that back yard which once seemed so big.  Things did not look the same. It seemed so small.

He found himself looking at this huge pecan tree, about 40-50 feet tall. Looking closely he could see woodpecker holes coming down the trunk but abruptly stopping about head high. (He was told later woodpeckers don’t relish walnut, because worms don’t like it either!)  At that point the bark changed its texture.  He knew that is where the graft was, but it was no longer visible.

He told the story of what that tree really was to the young girl who lived in the house.  Later he heard she began to call it the tree “the P-Nut Tree.” BUT THE STORY DID NOT END HERE.

Years later when the man got ready to retire, they gave a dinner for him.

A friend contacted the daddy of the young girl who named “the P-Nut Tree”.  Even though he no longer lived in the house, he arranged to have a big basket of the fruit from that tree shipped in as part of the celebration. Receiving the gift of those pecans was about the best gift the man could imagine, for in all his life he had never seen a pecan from that tree.

Now in the autumn of his life the old man thought about his life.  It had been so unpredictable; so filled with shaky beginnings; so rocked with constant change; so filled with a whole range of feelings–doubt, frustration, anger, fatigue, grief, fear.

Life had been so unlike what he had imagined when he was young.  It had been nothing like what he thought it would be.

At times it had been so unmanageable; filled with so many forces at work that had engulfed him at times–some destructive, some disruptive. His life had been filled with moments of disappointment.  Yet it had been far better than he imagined.

He knew that there had been much more to his life than fleeting moments of gloom and doom, for he had been so blessed.  Even though Faith had wavered and was still unclear at times, one thing he knew that filled his heart with ecstasy!  In the end he knew he had loved and been loved, he had known as he had been known by a whole host of witnesses.  He knew LOVE is the GREATEST! But he learned by experience the second greatest is HOPE.

For what got him there through all those years, was that he learned patience and perseverance from the saga of the P-Nut Tree.  He did not fully comprehend the mystery of creation or the miracle of new beginnings or even the mystery of God’s Grace, which someone said is like a southern breakfast, you get grits whether you want it or not!

But he always felt that there was some unseen power greater than him at work in all of this. Somehow he learned to cling to HOPE, the second greatest!  And he discovered Faith and the rest, even the Greatest–Love, would come in due time. And that’s the HOPE we have to hold on to in such a time and world as ours!

I know this to be the truth, for I am that boy who long ago grafted those pecan slips onto that walnut tree and this is its yield–a weegem P-Nut!


McAtee © 2003                      3/8/12  © McAtee & weegems, 2012

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now about grits

Now about grits. “What’s a grit!?” If you don’t know, you probably don’t know about poke sallet and kudzu either. [poke sallet ain’t “iceberg lettuce in a brown paper sack!” kudzu ain’t “an Easter floral potted plant” you want to replant outside your side door come summer! You don’t even have to water or fertilize the kudzu either. Both are lethal, especially poke served with its berries.] Furthermore, you probably are from New Jersey. [where I grew up in misipi magnolia state south, saying was, “everything north of Memphis is in New Jersey!]

But what about grits? Recently, I jumped into a raging email swap with my misipi cohorts exchanging recipes for Thanksgiving dressing. The meaning of “random” ain’t lost on us! All this chatter confirmed my long held suspicion that Thanksgiving dressing recipes are the most divergent of all American cuisine offerings for both the living and the dead.

Each person feels his/her’s is “the One and Only” way to go. Because of where we grew up and based on what our momas taught us, cornbread is the key comfort ingredient of whatever variation of “the One and Only” Thanksgiving dressing we cherish, all other ingredients be damned. [one ole misipi boy whose avocation is resurrecting vintage ’32 Fords pined, “Did we teach Yankees about cornbread dressing or did they teach us to put sugar in it?” “Ugh” came the resounding chorus!”]

Now about grits! Do you get the connection? Do you understand random? The common denominator ain’t Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian or Roman Catholic or Zen! It’s ground corn! Some turn it into cornbread, some into firewater, some into, yes, grits.

More random! I had a North Carolina aunt who once said: “I’d rather have a baby than to clean a grits pan.” I took that to heart and through years of practice I learned what she meant. I also found the same to be true of the little round cups in which I poached eggs. Lost Causes have always birthed great ingenuity. Because I love both grits and poached eggs, I finally discovered the solution to cranky pan cleaning, especially when two are involved. Teflon coating! But wait, there is more.

One day when I was waiting for my yellow corn meal to boil and transform into grits, I hit on a new culinary strategy. I poured a little hot water from my teakettle into the center of the cooking grits. Then I cracked an egg and dropped it in the middle of the water and, voila, coddled egg in creamy grits–a new southern delicacy! [and only one Teflon pan to clean!]

Topped with Smart Balance Spread, a pinch of sea salt, several globs of Green Tabasco, a sprinkling of Mrs. Dash’s herb seasoning, some crumbled crisp bacon and one could not ask for better comfort food on a cold February morning, almost. The “almost” may come to ones who like to “see” their poached egg. Something happens in transition to the bowl with yellow grits. The yellow of the egg gets lost when stirred in the yellow grits! White grits would solve this dilemma but I prefer yellow grits whether I see all the egg or not.

If you have any lingering thoughts about poke and kudzu, remember they do have some redeeming characteristics. Tender poke leaves properly prepared once was a survival food for some and still is comfort food for others. I heard that Auburn University in the past did research on the protein content in 200 lb kudzu taproots as a possible solution to the hunger problem. [those taproots are why you can’t kill the stuff by spraying the leaves!]  I have no idea the results of the research. But I once passed a cooking merit badge for a Boy Scout on how properly to prepare poke sans berries!

Speaking of redeeming characteristics. [more random thinking!] My mind wanders back to my former life of  “preacherhood” when I recall how I ended one of my finer sermons on patience, perseverance and the meaning of God’s Grace. I cannot give full attribution of source about the breakfast stuff but I said: “We don’t comprehend the mystery of God’s Grace, which someone said is like a southern breakfast, you get grits whether you want it or not!”*

Now that is what grits is really about and that ain’t random! [maybe I should add something about the perseverance of kudz!]

*on occasion entitled, “The Saga of the P-Nut Tree” or on others, “The Second Greatest is Hope.”

2-23-12  © McAtee & weegems, 2012

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something’s out of whack here!

In my recent “On Occupy Lexington (2)” post, I knew I did not have answers to my friend’s list of very valid questions about the Occupy Movement that require serious attention. I closed by raising two questions: “What is really going on here?” and “what are the fundamental issues?” I have given these questions considerable thought and believe I have some clue to their answers.

Let me tell you a little story about a remarkable creature I call Hosa/e. For Hosa/e to survive as a living organism s/he must have access to certain essential elements–food, air, and water. The organic process that produces life for Hosa/e involves taking in limited quantities of these essential elements on a regular basis and converting them into life-giving energy. As a properly functioning organism, Hosa/e expends and recoups energy on an alternating cycle. Essential to recouping energy is sleep.

To be deprived of food, air, water and sleep for any extended period of time is life-threatening. Sometimes life threats come to Hosa/e when other organisms invade Hosa/e’s body that disrupt its life-giving energy cycle creating dis-ease. Sometimes exposure to the ravages of larger natural climatic elements poses threat to Hosa/e. To survive, Hosa/e also needs protection from all these outside threats. Failure to thrive indicates, “something’s out of whack here!”

Hosa/e is not alone but “one among several.” Sometimes it is Hosa and at other times Hosae; sometimes it is not clear what. The “several” live in small “bunches” where more Hosa/es are procreated and all look out after each other. At the heart of care for each other involves acquiring those essential necessities for all and protecting them from outside threats. To conserve energy and avoid duplication of effort a division of labor emerges.

Some individuals forage for food and water. Occasionally individuals group together and provide these essential elements for others occupied with different tasks. Sometimes they are compensated for their efforts by bartering for things they don’t have time to get for themselves. Others dig up edible plants and re-plant them so they can be cultivated nearer “home.” Acceptable ways are found to live on these essential limited resources. So that all have enough, fair distribution is devised. At times bunches are required to move from place to place in order to find an adequate supply.

Basic survival depends on acquiring and consuming these essential elements. However, to enhance Hosa/e’s life, additional subsidiary necessities must be available–shelter, safety, security, social affiliation, and succor. Individuals or groups pile up limbs and brush in crude structures or locate caves for rest-havens and shelter from the natural elements. A few tend the wee ones and care for the old folk. One individual may discover that by chewing a certain leaf or herb-root sickly dis-ease is relieved. Another figures out how to shape crude tools that make he/r acquiring efforts easier.

Some bring flowers or objects to adorn the rest-havens and others carve crude images on cave walls to bring beauty into their lives in the face of such stark realities. Another rubs two sticks together igniting a spark that turn leaves and twigs into warming fire. Enter the hunt and the barbeque! All are encouraged to excel at something and show others how to do what s/he has learned.

At the end of the day the “bunches” sit around the fire and tell stories–the unique characteristic of the species–about what they have experienced. Unexplainable happenings that shape their lives beyond their experiences are discovered in the telling. They attribute these revelations to “higher powers” and craft a variety of religious explanations and supportive rituals in order to deal with this mystery.

More complex clusters form and take on a life of their own as new bunches emerge. Secure boundaries between clusters and codes of conduct are established including ways to enforce sanctions and determine when infractions occur requiring restraint. Sometimes when resources get scarce, clusters that “have not” threaten clusters that “have.” “Big sticks” rolled out in the name of survival meet “big sticks” raised in the name of self-defense, and the territorial game is on.

I am not going to spin this tale all the way from this story of Hosa/e to the highly “sophisticated” bunch-cluster principalities and powers of the 21st century. However, rooted in this prototypical story is the foundation for securing the common good and welfare of all, as well as, for warding off threats to life-giving existence, thus insuring the subsistence and vitality of the species.

The real bottom line from this story is simply this: Every Hosa/e on this planet is due full access to acquiring the basic essential elements in order to survive and to have available the subsidiary necessities to enhance their lives.

Full access and availability for all. This is the acceptable standard by which every 21st century social structure, every economic system, every legislative policy, every executive order, every judicial ruling, every educational program, every medical procedure, every police patrol, every military deployment, every political posture, every religious proclamation must be measured and held accountable. Call it a fairness standard, an equity standard, a rights standard, a justice standard, a moral standard, or whatever standard you choose to call it. How to meet this  standard in a complex world is THE issue.

The degree to which any one of the “everys” deviates from or fails to meet or even consider this acceptable standard in its decisions, then “something’s out of whack here.” The tragedy is that somewhere in the rhetoric or practice surrounding any one of these “every failures” you will find enough “lust of power for power’s sake” lurking about so the common good and welfare of all be damned.

Back to my two questions about the Occupy Movement: “What is really going on here?” Without debating the detailed pros and cons, I believe there is enough disillusion and anger around the land to get the picture. Occupiers are not the only ones who sense that “something’s out of whack here!”

“But what are the fundamental issues?” Ask Hosa/e! (btw, Hosa/e got he/r name from HOmo SApien!)

[Note: For elaboration on essential elements and subsidiary necessities, see Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in “A Theory of Human Motivation;” on progressive development of labor and work, see Hannah Arndt’s The Human Condition; on measuring deviations from standards, see Kepner and Tregoe’s The Rational Manager.]


12-28-11  © McAtee & weegems, 2011

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$5 here; $5 There

Don’t sweat the little stuff! Yeah, right.

Way back in the pre-digital–the pre-Orwellian 1984 age–I bought a little red plastic travel hairdryer made in some obscure Asian country. It was not just inexpensive; it was a cheap import! I used it on several trips. One day I was in a non-descript hotel somewhere and all of a sudden the thing began to heat up, send out distress smoke signals and grind to a smelly useless halt. I have an innate curiosity to wonder, “What happened here?” Having an all-purpose gadget with a Philips screwdriver on it in my travel kit, I took the smoldering thing apart. When I opened it up, a “v” shaped spring wire fell out.

Many times I had taken stuff apart and had a piece left over when I put it back together. This time was no different. I could not figure out what it was for. No reasonable use for its presence was evident because all the other parts were enough to make the thing work. It finally dawned on me that this spring probably was placed in the dryer for one reason and one reason alone. I suspected it was delicately placed in tension between a couple of other components so that after a certain number of uses, it would jar loose and short out the system making it a useless appliance that had to be replaced. More sales; bigger bottom lines. Voila! Could this be the first clue that “corporate designed obsolesce” really did exist?

Then comes the digital-microchip age with all its technological electronic wonders of the day. Used to be a sentence like that referred to a longer period of time, like “back in my day.” But now it means a literal day! Tomorrow brings the newest gadget of THE day! This revolution raised corporate designed obsolescence to an instant art form in the consumer world of the 21st century.

Sometimes the little clues are the “give-aways” to larger schemes or signs of the time that come when cultural or economic fault lines are crossed. It is like what Walker Percy wrote in Love in the Ruins. He suspected that “the end was near” but was not sure until one day, while going down an almost empty interstate highway, he noticed a sprig of grass growing in a crack in its concrete surface. Voila!

One related feature in the larger scheme of corporate designed obsolescence is that many corporate decisions are made over which the consumer has little or no control but are greatly impacted by them. Yes, one can opt out of participating but, more than often, what other options are available? Here are some cases in point from my recent experience.

We have a bundled deal with Insight Communications for our Internet, phone, and cable TV services. A recent bill noted that each of the services was increased by $5 each for the coming year. I was told about the increase, not asked. They probably would say that was in the deal as I signed on way back when and I missed it in the fine print.

For a year or so we have subscribed to Netflix where we got delivered DVD movies and instant streaming on our Roku device attached to our TV, both for a single fee. Then the announcement came that these two services would be split with a separate charge for each for a total of $5 over the original charge. I was told about the increase, not asked.

Then the big flap arose when Bank of America announced it would start charging $5 monthly to use its Debit Cards. I am not sure where that ended up, but due to public outrage there seem to be some corporate backpedaling going on. The difference probably will be made up in other attached fees if it does not go through. I don’t use the Bank of America debit card I have but am keeping an eye on my debit card from Chase I do use. [The Occupy Lexington bunch tried to get me to switch to a local credit union but so far I have not.]

I got an invitation to take a survey regarding my cell phone service in which I would be granted a $5 discount on my next bill for doing so. I did have a choice here–to complete the survey or not. I did and got the $5 credit.

What is this? Is there some kind of 5-5-5 corporate conspiracies loose in the land? Or is this $5 thing just a mere convenient number used so as not to rile up consumers when corporate decisions are made beyond their control? $1 or $2 was too little; $10-$15 was too much. $5 was just right! [Something like the porridge in the children’s story about the Three Bears!] Maybe consumers won’t notice or think $5 out of line. Is this the blade of grass growing in crack in the pavement?

This thing grows like tough steak, the more you bite it the bigger it gets. We use our Kroger Plus card for discounts on groceries and gas, but what happens? The next thing we know we get coupons in the mail from Kroger and every one is for items that we regularly purchase. What else is being done with all the other information that is being collected about us? I don’t want to think about where those cookies lead that are attached to my computer when I browse the Internet! What price do we pay to live in the post-Orwellian 1984 age? 5-5-5 only scratches the surface.

Don’t sweat the little stuff! Baloney! It’s the little stuff that adds up and gets you; especially when it’s beyond your control.

12-12-11  © McAtee & weegems, 2011

Posted in Occupiers | 2 Comments