Saturday, January 1, 2011


A new year is beginning but it’s hard to find many big-picture things to smile about. The U.S. economy sputters in a Catch 22: joblessness won’t improve until people loosen their purse strings, but that won’t happen until they’re convinced their jobs and incomes are secure. Who can blame them?

We remain stuck in unwinnable wars in irredeemable places. “Beliefs” trump science. Shortsightedness is regarded as a virtue; no politician dares to look past the next election, no CEO past the next fiscal quarter.

Thus, we are forced to seek personal solace, finding small pleasures to distract from larger concerns. Fortunately, these are abundant. Here are 10 of mine, in no particular order:

HI-DEFINITION TV. Wife Susie and I bought ours (a Sony) almost three years ago, but I’m still dazzled by its sharpness and clarity. It’s not just a technical improvement, it’s a whole new medium! It’s especially good for sports; the argument for watching games at home instead of in person never has been stronger.

GOOD MARINARA SAUCE. It used to be scarce, even in Italian restaurants, but it’s everywhere now. I give much of the credit to the Food Network, my favorite daytime-TV outlet, which I think has lifted cuisine generally in this land. It used to be said that anyone who could read could cook, but now literacy isn’t required.

TRANSITION LENSES. They turn regular glasses into sunglasses and back again with no effort on the part of the wearer. No need to shlep sunglasses or leave them around to be lost or broken. As the ads say, they protect eyes from harmful UV rays, and look cool to boot. Why doesn’t everyone wear them?

AMAZON.COM. Through it you can get just about any book ever written, often at a bargain price, and delivered to your home. Yes, Kindle, et al, eventually will make books obsolete, but I’m betting I’ll be obsolete before they are. One caution: never pay up for quick delivery. Amazon will pocket your money and deliver when it pleases.

NEW YORK TIMES CROSSWORD PUZZLES. You might recall I devoted much of a previous blog to their excellence, but I feel an encore is needed. I work the Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday ones. They’re testing but doable and, almost invariably, clever. Will Shortz, their editor, is a great man. He should get a Nobel Prize for contributing to human betterment.

NETFLIX. Another new-age marvel whose postal delivery of movie and TV-show DVDs is all but seamless. No runs to the video store, no late fees, and customer reps who are based in the U.S. and whose native language is the same as mine. Claiming to offer some 100,000 titles (OK, the number is disputed), it almost always has the movies I want, and you can take it with you on vacation.

TOYOTAS. Susie and I have owned or leased six of them in the last 13 years, and none has seen the inside of a repair shop except for tire problems or brake jobs. They’re dead solid reliable and have a lot of juice besides. I thought the flap over their supposed unintended accelerations early last year was a classic case of mass hysteria. After a couple weeks of leading the national news, such complaints stopped, cold. No recall eliminates 100% of any problem

ROBERT CARO— The biographer of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson is a marvelous historian, one who never fails to captivate with a writing style that turns a mountain of painstakingly gained detail into a cohesive and griping narrative. Three volumes of his four-part series on Johnson have been published: “The Path to Power” (1982); “Means of Ascent” (1990); and “Master of the Senate” (2002). If you haven’t read them, you should. The fourth, “The Presidency,” isn’t due out until next year, but I will spend this one happily anticipating it. Caro is 75 years old and I wish him good health.

HBO DRAMAS—“The Sopranos” was the best thing on TV, ever (“Lonesome Dove” was second-best), and while the network’s recent original offerings have fallen short of that lofty standard they’re still better than anything else around. I never missed an episode of the war drama “The Pacific” or “Treme,” the one about post-Katrina New Orleans, last year. Ditto the just-concluded “Boardwalk Empire,” despite wondering what delicate-looking Steve Buscemi was doing playing a rough-tough political boss. I’m glad to see that “Big Love” is coming back for another go-round. Even though that series gets progressively nuttier I find hilarious the premise of an ordinary guy humping to keep up with three pretty wives. I especially like the blond one, Nicki.

THE McDOWELL SONORAN PRESERVE. It’s across the street from where I live and from the nearest trailhead I can walk for 15 or 20 minutes and enter a world of desert serenity that’s as different as it can be from the hubbub of the city around it. It’s free, and I can poke around for as long as I wish. You might not live in Scottsdale, AZ, and be able to go there, but I bet there’s somewhere like it reasonably near you.

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