The Halloween Balloon

IMG_5114Every year, Halloween seems to get bigger and bigger.  What used to be a holiday for little trick or treaters and some juvenile delinquents back in the ’60s has become a huge retail money-maker, with billions of dollars being spent each year on costumes, candy, and decorations.

On Saturday Kish and I were down in German Village with our Bahamian buddies, and there were costumed people everywhere you looked, even though Halloween and Beggars Night don’t officially arrive in Columbus until October 31.  Throngs of zombies, superheros, and cultural figures lurched from bar to bar in search of a good time.  Halloween has become a week-long excuse to party, dress up, and act out.

That’s all fine with me, so long as the little kids get their chance to go door-to-door for candy, and I can carve a few jack-o-lanterns to greet them on their way to our door.  When you think about it, Halloween is one of the few remaining times where parents let their kids out of the house to roam freely and ask complete strangers for food.  It’s good innocent fun, and I expect most adults remember it as such.  No wonder so many grown-ups like to dress up and relieve a little of that childhood Halloween magic!

Smog Alert

These days, the United States is often compared, unfavorably, to China.  China’s economic expansion and growth statistics are far higher than those in the United States.  Fair-minded people recognize, however, that the economic growth in China comes at a price.

Consider the situation today in Harbin, a northeastern Chinese city that is home to 11 million people.  Today it experienced a smog problem that was unimaginably bad.  An index that measures objects that are 2.5 micrometers reached a level of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin.  By way of comparison, the World Health Organization recommends that daily levels of such particulate matter not exceed 20, and the level of 300 is considered hazardous.  Harbin’s measurements therefore reached points that are 50 times higher than recommended levels and more than three times hazardous levels.

Objects that are 2.5 micrometers in size are like those emitted by forest fires and power plants and give the air a smoky appearance.  Such particles are considered dangerous because they are small enough to be inhaled, pass through the nose and throat, and become lodged in the lungs.  In pictures taken today in Harbin, people look like they are walking through a dense fog or a thick cloud of volcanic ash.  It’s hard to imagine even trying to breath in such conditions.

China’s economic miracle doesn’t seem quite so miraculous when it produces smog that poses such extreme health risks, does it?

When Can You Politely Hang Up On A Telephone Solicitor?

I was raised to follow certain immutable rules of telephone etiquette.  When you answered the phone, you identified yourself.  If the caller wanted to speak to someone else, you used phrases like “May I ask who’s calling?” and covered the mouthpiece when you called for your sister to come to the phone.  And you never, ever, just hung up on anyone, because that was the height of rudeness.

Do different rules of polite behavior apply to telephone solicitation calls?

When Kish and I got rid of our land-line phone years ago — one of the best decisions we ever made, incidentally — we ended the scourge of solicitation calls at home, but I still get them at work.  And, I still apply the same rules of telephone etiquette to those irritating sales calls.  I just can’t help it, because the old training is too engrained.  I’ve gotten better, because I can at least bring myself to hang up on the recorded calls about google advertising.  But when a live person calls, I struggle to find a courteous way to tell them I’m not interested and end the conversation.  I also feel sorry for telephone solicitors because it’s got to be one of the worst jobs ever, so I try to at least listen to the appeal and then politely decline.

Last week I answered the phone and there was a pause before the other person got on the line.  I got a sinking feeling, because that happens on calls from boiler rooms where solicitors are calling several numbers at once and will get on the line only when someone answers.  Sure enough, it was a woman who was trying to get us to go to New York to listen to a time-share presentation and who called me “Robert” in every sentence.  I don’t like being called Robert, so that put my teeth to grinding.  Even worse, all of my attempts to speed up the pitch — “I’m sorry, but I’m very busy.  What is it you want?” — were ignored, and the woman kept asking annoying, personal questions like “where do you like to go when you travel?”  When she finally got to the point and I said no, thanks, she responded:  “What’s holding you back, Robert?”

Arrgh!  My blood pressure rose, and I said “Sorry, not interested” and ended the call.  I felt guilty for hanging up — but I also was mad at myself for not hanging up when the caller first ignored my appeal for her to get to the point.  So I ask again:  does etiquette permit you to hang up on a telephone solicitor?  If so, when?