WHY SHOULD WE TAKE VACATIONS?

BLOG #34, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHY SHOULD WE TAKE VACATIONS?
August 20, 2014

Why indeed?

This was the question Washington Post columnist Brigid Schulte tackled in her August 10 column in The Denver Post.

Schulte notes that “We Americans work hard. Weekends are more like workends. We sleep with our smart phones. And we think vacations are for wimps. So we don’t take them. Or take work along with us if we do.”

We are indeed a nation of workaholics. Indeed we are the only advanced economy with no national vacation policy. One in four workers, typically in low-wage jobs, have no paid vacation at all. Those who do, get, on the average, only ten to fourteen days a year. Europeans enjoy twenty to thirty days of paid vacation every year.

Terry Hartig, an environmental psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, maintains that “when people go on a relaxing vacation, they tend to return happier and more relaxed. . . . And those mellow, good vibes spread like “a contagion’ to everyone you come in contact with. . . . Send everyone away on vacation at the same time [as is true in Europe], and that contagion takes off through the population like a viral happiness pandemic.”

Hartig and his colleagues conducted a major study based on the incidence of anti-depressant prescriptions in Sweden during the years 1993 through 2005. They discovered that the more people took vacations at the same time, the more prescriptions dropped exponentially. True for men, women, workers, and retirees. Since 1977, Swedish law has mandated that every worker must be given five weeks of paid vacation each year (and they may take four of them during summer months. “The benefits,” maintains Hartig, “are huge. Not only is the society measurably happier, but workers are more rested and productive, relationships are closer and people are healthier. And depression is a very costly disease.”

Depression alone costs the U.S. economy an estimated $23 billion a year in lost productivity.

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We were not created to run non-stop, but rather to take time off from work at least once a week. Scripture mandates Sabbaths during which we may regenerate. Longer Sabbaths were also mandated periodically. Multiple studies have confirmed one universal truth: Those who work non-stop soon reach the point of diminishing returns. The more hours they put in on the job the less effective they are, the staler their ideas are. So employers who work their employees to death end up losing even more than their employees do.

Furthermore, unless you frequently get out of your workplace squirrel cage, you never gain fresh ideas at all, but merely recycle increasingly outdated concepts and methods.

So back to Hartig who notes that, in Sweden, “It’s like there’s this national agreement that it’s vacation time, and work will be left aside. So instead of working and being distracted and busy, people get outside. They do things they like and enjoy. They see friends, visit their aging parents, or finally have time for that cup of tea with a friend who has been blue.”

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America continues to pay a terrible price for our workaholocism. The current epidemic of depression and suicides ought to be a wake-up call for us.

We must take time to live!

PAC MONEY AND ATTACK ADS

BLOG #47, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
PAC MONEY AND ATTACK ADS
November 21, 2012

In all my life, I’ve never seen or heard anywhere near this level of post-election disillusion and borderline despair, the general feeling that America—that hope of the world—has reached the tipping point, and that the next steps may prove unreversible.

The catalyst, of course, was the entire unbelievably vicious and below-the-belt attack ads, paid for mostly with PAC funds conveniently hiding the identity of the attackers in walls of anonymity. Neither party came out of the fray with clean hands, but in retrospect, what is likely to leave the longest and bitterest legacy has to do with the early-in-the-campaign poisoning of the well, when Romney, who had exhausted his funding during the hotly contested primaries, found himself up the proverbial creek without a paddle, unable to fund a counterattack to the blizzard of attack ads geared not only to discredit his achievements but to utterly destroy his character. They worked: Romney was never able to fully recover.

The Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to the scorched-earth-leave-no-survivors blitzkrieg of unsubstantiated anonymous attack ads might very well be perceived by future historians as the beginning of the decline of the world’s greatest democracy. In Colorado (one of the so-called Nine Swing States), for month after month, we have had to endure such a blizzard of attack ads, from both sides, that, at the end we were left numb and nauseous. It was a veritable nightmare!

The logical result of all this would be to scare off, in the future, America’s best and brightest from even considering a career in politics. Why would any sane person subject his/her family to such vicious character assassination? Children and young people had to emerge from this mud bath with feelings of revulsion: If all politicians are unethical, unprincipled, unpatriotic, unempathetic, and uncaring, then why even vote at all? For the first time since I can remember, what a politician actually stood for or believed in, or had either achieved or hoped to achieve, was buried in layer after layer of sizzling hot verbal lava that left no reputation untarred.

Nor is the entire swing-state scenario a pleasant one to consider. Have we indeed reached the level where only nine states really matter? And the other 41 do not?

One thing I wish to make clear: I am not claiming one party can justifiably lay claim to the higher ground here. What I am hoping to accomplish by this blog is to add my frail voice to what needs to become a national movement to restore civility, not just to elections but to the periods in-between, when no one reaches across the aisle to the other side, and polarization and the annihilation of the moderates who once served as agents of synapse, has all but brought government to a standstill.

It is terrifying people I’ve interacted with, on all sides, to be reduced to near hopelessness in terms of their perception of America’s future.

But, as one near despondent Kiwanian said last week, “In all this, friends, please don’t despair: God is still in His Heaven.”

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB–FRANCIS (ELIZA) HODGSON BURNETT’S LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY

BLOG #9, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

FRANCIS (ELIZA) HODGSON BURNETT’S

LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY

February 29, 2012

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If you really want to understand the Nineteenth Century psyche of England and America, just read Burnett’s most famous book, Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886).  England then ruled over the hearts of both the British and Americans via the persona of that long-lived symbol of virtue, Queen Victoria.  Ever since the Revolution, though Americans ostensibly threw off all ties to the British monarchy, in their hearts they missed the pageantry and romance of royalty.  Not surprisingly, the predominant icons in popular American literature were European royalty and nobility, and England being then the greatest world power, Queen Victoria ruling over one quarter of the world—including India and much of Africa—was said to be “empress of an empire where the sun never set.”  Even today—note the American obsession with Princess Diana and Princess Kate—, this deification of English royalty continues.  But, worldwide, the fascination with European royalty suffered a mighty hit with World War I (the so-called “Great War”), at the conclusion of which royal houses collapsed like dominoes in France, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia, Poland, Italy, Spain, and on and on.  But nevertheless, nostalgia for the panoply of royalty has never died in popular culture.

On November 24, 1849, Frances (Eliza) Hodgson was born in Manchester, England.  Her father (a hardware wholesaler) died when Eliza was only five.  Her mother did her best to keep the business going until 1865, then gave up and took her brood to Knoxville, Tennessee, moving into her brother’s log cabin.  Thus Eliza first experienced American life just as the bloody Civil War ended, and she was turning sixteen.  Eliza married Dr. Swan Moses Burnett in 1873.  After a failure as principal of a private school, she turned to writing.  She first gained recognition with That Lass of Lowrie’s (1877), a tale of Lancaster, England coal mines, and Haworth (1879).  In 1883, she turned to America for her subject matter: Through One Administration, a novel of Washington corruption.

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But her life took a dramatic turn when her first book for children, Little Lord Fauntleroy, was published both in book form (by Charles Scribner’s Sons) and in the pages of the world’s greatest magazine for children, St. Nicholas in 1886.  Cedric, the protagonist was based on Eliza’s second son, Vivian, whose velvet suits, now immortalized in a novel that took the world by storm, gained immortality as a beautiful pampered and effeminate little boy who apparently always did the right thing.  According to Britannica editors, “Fauntleroy’s charming manners and picturesque garb provided an uncomfortable model for small boys for an entire generation.”  Such an impact did the book have on world culture that, even today, “Little Lord Fauntleroy” remains alive and well as a prototype.

With fame came the breakup of Eliza’s marriage in 1898; on the rebound, she married Dr. Stephen Townsend; it didn’t last: they were divorced in 1901.  In 1905, she became an American citizen.  With success came a conviction that sentimental romantic fiction for children was the way to go.  Eventually most of her forty-some novels were written either for children or for adults who loved romantic fiction.

Sara Crewe (1888) gained immortality when it was dramatized as The Little Princess in 1905.  The Secret Garden (1911) had little impact during her lifetime but has gained stature ever since, for it, unlike most of her other books for children, depicts real children in a real world who achieve worthwhile aims.

As money continued to roll in, her lifestyle reflected this affluence, and she shuttled back and forth (as a gilt-edged celebrity) between Europe and America, residing variously in Kent, England and in Long Island, New York, where her friends called her “Fluffy.”  When an unauthorized dramatic production of Little Lord Fauntleroy threatened her artistic control of her work, the worldwide fame of this now Anglo-American author gave her so much clout that the British changed their law in the 1911 Copyright Act.  She died on October 29, 1924 in Plandome, New York.

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There are many editions of Little Lord Fauntleroy available on the web, but I urge you to try to pick up a Scribner’s edition that features the now iconic illustrations by Reginald Birch, staff artist for St. Nicholas Magazine.

A Trembling World

A TREMBLING WORLD
Part One

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

In early August, our grandson Taylor and our son Greg, joined Connie and me on a whirlwind visit to Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Vatican City, and Croatia. The day-trips were long (9 – 11 hours the norm for most of them) and the pace far faster than we’d have preferred [more on that in a later blog series].

I had the advantage over the other three in that I knew Spanish. Because of that, I understood some French and two-thirds of the Italian dialogue. Croatian, of course, was a different story.

Connie and I had been to Europe three times before. This time, however, the mood there was radically different from what it had been earlier. Gone was the assumption that united Europe (the Common Market) was a global powerhouse on a par with the United States and (during the 1970s, U.S.S.R.). Not so this time. As one Italian told me, “I am frightened, for the whole world is trembling beneath my feet.”

I found that perception reinforced by others I spoke with. Gone is their erstwhile euphoria and smug complacency; gone too the unspoken assumptions that the entire continent would bask in lolling on their beaches during the entire month of August and that the cradle-to-the-grave care they’d been promised by the state was a given. In their daily news, the dominoes continue to fall: first Greece, then storm clouds gathered over the likes of the U.K., Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy—and now, possibly France. No one knows what nation’s economy will come under fire next.

As for the U.S. and our part in the global fiscal mess, I found that, rather than anger they felt disillusioned, accompanied by a profound loss of respect. They clearly expected much more of us than for our administration and Congress to put their possible re-election ahead of the needs of the American people and the world. For it was our inexcusable unwillingness to come together for a solution to our national debt ceiling that has exacerbated and even precipitated the world-wide plunge of stock markets.

In this vein, deeply sobering is Time Magazine’s August 22 cover story: “The Decline and Fall of Europe (And Maybe the West).” It begins with these riveting words: “Its economic union is unraveling, London is ablaze, and the continent’s once dependable trading partner the U.S. is too feeble to save the day or the euro. Say goodbye to the old order.”

Rana Forgohar (the writer of the cover story) postulates that “This is no blip but a crisis of the old order. . . . It is a crisis that is shaking not only markets, jobs and national growth prospects but an entire way of thinking about how the world works–in this case, the assumption that life gets better and opportunities richer for each successive generation in the West.”

Dominic Sandbrook in his “Capitalism in Crisis (London Daily Mail, Aug. 6, 2011) begins his sobering essay with his conclusion: “Eighty years ago, a banking collapse devastated Europe, triggering war. Today, faith in free markets is faltering again. . . . But in the summer of 2011, with the euro zone in chaos, the British economy stagnant and the U.S. crippled by debt, with social mobility at a standstill and millions of ordinary families squeezed until they can barely breathe, it feels disturbingly familiar.”

Sandbrook goes on to point out that not since the global meltdown of the 1930’s has the gap between rich and poor been as great as today; “with bankers still pocketing gigantic bonuses and Europe swept with a wave of austerity, even the Right are beginning to wonder whether the system is intolerably loaded in favour of rich metropolitan elites.”

And what happened next eighty years ago? In Sandbrook’s words: “Many turned to the Right, swelling the rank of the Nazis and their allies. In Britain, a generation of intellectuals turned their backs on capitalism, placing their faith in the utopian idealism of Soviet Communism and closing their eyes to the horrors of Stalin’s barbaric regime.”

In that same issue of the Daily Mail, City Editor Alex Brummer penned these scathing lines: “There has been a terrible failure of politics in America and euroland, where leaders have shied away from bold decisions and the gritty determination needed to follow them through. Those who will suffer the most from this inaction are millions of households in Britain and the rest of the western world, who face dramatic falls in their living standards.”

Truly, we are faced with a global crisis of epic proportions, a subject I have referred to from time to time in earlier blogs: That no global template lasts. Sooner or later it wears out, and something entirely different inevitably follows—usually after years of world-wide trauma and upheaval.

We will continue to explore this subject in next Wednesday’s blog.