The dwindling fraternity of people who respond to phone surveys

Last week I got a phone call from (according to my phone) somewhere in Ohio; that’s my home state, so I answered.  Turned out it was a woman doing a survey.  She rushed through her preamble that she wasn’t selling anything. Despair was evident. Just from the way she slogged through the intro, I got the impression most people hang up on her .

I interrupted her, said “Sure, go ahead,” and she paused. She seemed surprised. She repeated that it was a survey, and I told her, in effect, bring it on.

I participate in cold-call surveys when I have the time. And I will tell people they can call me back later if I don’t. Why do I do this? Because I used to do phone surveys myself. I feel their pain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the only people left answering phone surveys are those who have had jobs administering them. We could be just a small group of several hundred thousand people all talking to each other. I wonder if that skews the responses.

It was 1989. I did phone surveys for the commercial radio station that happened to be owned by the university I attended; WVUD, in Dayton Ohio. (Since sold and rebranded, the internet tells me.) Three or four other students and I made cold calls to random numbers and asked about radio listening preferences.

A lot of people agreed to participate; maybe forty percent? The most common complaint was “Where did you get this number!?!” — we were just dialing random digits after local prefixes, so we would often get through to unlisted numbers.

I would call for two or three or four hours at a stretch. I’ve had many worse jobs. People were nice enough, although some would lose patience midway through in an apparent cooperation crisis and hang up. The few people I spoke to who had British accents were by far the most polite. Many people were upset, at the time, because a beloved local schmaltz station had just switched to country music.

The other students and I got along well and would try to entertain each other.  (No supervisor was present.) Debbie started identifying herself by different names, often sultry Spanish ones. Kevin would chat with people and wander off on tangents.  Whenever we got a respondent who was friendly but still shouted into the phone, we would ask him to please speak up and then hold out the phone so we could all listen as he yelled himself red.

Some years later I administered health surveys by phone at the University of Minnesota. That job was more of a chore; come to think of it, the difference was that I wasn’t working with friends. What a difference that makes. Plus there was one jerk supervisor who would march into our room and complain about “people” (i.e. me) who did not use the carpal tunnel prevention wrist pad thingy properly when typing responses. I did use it when I typed, but otherwise I was often waving it around and squishing it in my hands; just a nervous habit which a top-notch phone surveyor should not be pestered about.

I’ve read it is now getting extremely difficult for phone surveyors to get respondents; this is because of cell phones, poll weariness, voter rage, etc. The people calling me with surveys sound worn, defeated. Don’t worry, my friends; we’ll always have each other, at least, to answer surveys.



The tropics in my back yard

coffeeI sometimes joke that our garden might be known as “Little El Salvador” because I have dumped so many coffee grounds [or so much coffee grounds?] there — I love the Café Salvador from Equal Exchange.

(We compost, but coffee grounds go straight into the garden or onto our tomato vines. Is this wise? Our tomatoes, at least, were formidable this year.)

I was tossing cinnamon sticks into the compost a few days ago, and I thought of the coffee, and it struck me: archaeologists examining historical sites consider it noteworthy if they find even a fraction of the foreign goods that all of us have around the house (or in our yards). Imagine what future archaeologists would think of my yard.

(Example of archaeological frenzy: I visited Parkin, Arkansas, this year, where the big archaeological news some decades ago was that diggers had found a few Spanish trinkets in what was once a large Native American village.  This is a big deal because it indicates that Parkin, as had been suspected, was one of the villages visited by Hernando de Soto in the Sixteenth Century; it is considered one of the very few known sites of that Spanish expedition.)

(Another: This link shows archaeologists gushing over a site in Louisiana which shows trade coming from as far away as present-day Canada:

Regard my yard:

The cinnamon sticks I mentioned above most likely come from Indonesia, the world’s largest producer. I’ve also composted vanilla beans, which came from Madagascar. (These were a very nice gift from a family we know who hail from there.) I bought a whole coconut awhile back which came from the Caribbean.  Think of the amount of banana peels we have composted – from Honduras and elsewhere.

We dream of vacationing in the tropics, and occasionally do, but in a way the tropics have come to us and lie in our back yard.


A drug deal gone bad!

So if a drug deal does not go bad, is it a good drug deal? Someone compost this phrase already, please.

How often do we hear this one? Well, a google search with it in quotes turns up 1.9 million results.

(Of course, you can enter “cat plays trumpet” and get 13,000 results . . . )

Anyway here’s an example — and it’s an absolute all-star usage because it involves a drug-buyer’s 5-year-old child who was abducted during an attempted transaction:

So if the guy would have merely taken his child to tag along while he bought narcotics, that would have been a drug deal that stayed right, apparently.

My mortality staring at me out of my clothes closet

You know what made me think about the years I have remaining on this mortal coil, recently? My cold-weather shirts. I mean flannel shirts, a couple denim shirts, and so on. Also a couple heavy ones which are . . . I’m not sure what the fabric is — they’re just heavy shirts.  One of them is the dark red Field & Stream shirt I have on right now.

I like wearing these, so they get a lot of use, but they last forever. I have a blue and green flannel one which was my go-to around-the-house shirt all last autumn and winter, but nonetheless I can’t see that it took on any wear. This one I am wearing now, I’ve also had for years.  I bought a nice lined denim shirt used in Honduras, and I still have it.  (Yes, some places in Honduras are at a bit of altitude, so heavy shirts were handy.)

Ah, the stories these shirts tell.  Two of the denim shirts still have chewing damage from our old rabbit, Lola. (Who passed away seven or eight years ago.) One of them is the only item I have ever purchased in a Wal-Mart.

Anyway, it occurred to me: If these last five years each, easily, and I live to be the age of my father’s father (85) . . . then I have enough heavy shirts right now to last my entire life.  There is no reason I should not die having worn only these shirts. I look at the row of shirts in the summer in our cedar closet downstairs — and that’s it.  Those are the heavy shirts I will need.  Period, the end.

I found it eye-opening.

I wonder: Will I feel like buying clothes at all if/when I’m 80?

Should I get a new one now and then for the heck of it?  My go-to shirt from last winter, for example, is old, and a dull blue and green that will not win me any fashion admirers. But wouldn’t the money be better saved and passed along to my heirs?

(“Thanks for the $20, grandpa.  What’s the occasion?”  — “I went out and did not buy a new shirt.”)

Actually, one of these shirts in the closet, when I checked it a few weeks ago, had been eaten by a moth or something. (I had no idea it was  wool, and it didn’t seem like it even when I examined it, post-ruination — do other creatures eat just plain cotton?)  But still, between the flannels, and he corduroy one which is nice enough for casual wear at work, and the herringbone one, ditto, and the quilted blue one my parents gave me ages ago, and so on — I have enough warm shirts to take me through to The End.

The story of my bones

cavemanI was going to call this “My osteobiography,” but who would click on that?

This is inspired by the news about Kennewick Man, which I discuss over on my peace blog; he was a traveler who lived about 9,000 years ago, died in what is now southern Washington State, and seems to have come from further to the northwest.

Scientists studying his bones can tell that he had six broken ribs which never healed, and also two skull fractures, and also the tip of a spear embedded in his pelvis. (Well, anyone looking at the pelvis can see that, scientist or not — here’s the link to a Smithsonian article about him:

The spear to the pelvis was not what killed him; he carried that for 20 or 25 years, they say.)

As I wrote on my peace blog, I find all this information sobering. It shows just how violent our species has been. I’ve read enough history to know that we are living in a relatively pleasant time, now, compared to any previous human era; but still, a skeleton like this, or like Otzi the Iceman’s body, makes it clear just how much time our forebears spent getting shot at (with arrows), beaten, speared, and clubbed. And those were the men!  Who knows how much else the women suffered.

But . . . even with Kennewick’s ravaged body, we can’t be sure.  Maybe the spear wound was a hunting accident.  One of my uncles shot my grandfather in a hunting accident, so I’m aware these things happen.  (He survived.  Actually, both survived, ahem.) Also, the broken ribs may have been from another hunting accident; Kennewick probably hunted large game, at close quarters, so he may have been charged by a walrus or a moose or something.  And the skull fractures . . . well, yeah, those must have been people throwing rocks at him — I don’t know how else that would have happened. (The Smithsonian article conjectures about yet another hunting accident, but I don’t see it.)

And I wonder: What would scientists in the far future think about my bones (in the unlikely event that anyone ever gives a rat’s ass about them)?

“This male seems to have died at the age of 85.” [Hey, I’m an optimist. My dad’s dad made it that long.] “His knees show extreme wear; he may have spent his life running away from deadly predators.” [Actually, I play too much soccer.] “A worn depression in his left lower leg, from where a ligament once connected, shows he fell or jumped from a significant height around age 19, again likely fleeing a predator or another human.” [Yeah . . . actually, once in college, I was at the point in an evening where I thought it would be a good idea to jump down an entire flight of outdoor steps.] “His chin shows trauma from about age 10, likely when an adult male from a rival clan attempted to knock off his head with a war hammer.” [Bicycle accident.] “Finally, the male has an unusual and unexplained knot of bone at the rear of his skull, possibly from mid-life regrowth after another blunt-object attack from a rival male.” [Actually that’s just a strange bump on the back of my skull; for a long time I thought everyone had one. Barbers often bang up against it by mistake with their clippers.]

“Notwithstanding the obviously violent life this subject endured, we can hope he was able to find some enjoyment in his world and time despite its dangers and brutality. The fact that he was able to survive the war-hammer attack at age 10 likely demonstrates that there were at least a few clan members who cared enough about him to provide such rudimentary medical care as was available.”



Happy Birthday Robert Burns!

burnsJanuary 25th, 1759.

A weary Winter soon will pass

And spring will cleed the birken shaw.

(Spring will clothe the birch woods, that is)

From “The Bonnie Lad That’s Far Awa,” 1788

Why do I mark Burns’s birthday each year, even though I am not from Scotland?

1. He was prolific. I admire a guy who did not make it to age 40 but yet wrote . . .  however many poems he wrote. Project Gutenberg has about 500 poems, songs etc.:

2. I also admire a guy who wrote so much in a dialect that most English-speakers would not understand. It’s like Melville sitting down to write 500 pages about whales, or Richard Adams grinding out a novel about rabbits. Just imagine the confidence it takes to know that what you’re writing is so good, people will work to figure it out.

3. He was politically a right-on guy, for his time; he spoke of support for democratic movements in France and the U.S.

4. His birthday is a good excuse for food and Scotch in a slow time of year.

A peace book for children!

port cover dec 29 jpgA Map and a Mule is the story of Queen Isabel of Portugal, a workaholic peacemaker of the late 13th and early 14th Centuries who prevented several battles, including one between her husband and their son (ah, the Middle Ages!). For ages 5 to 8. 22 pages, 14 illustrations, including a vintage map and the cover watercolor.  The picture here is a link to its Amazon listing.

And this is the entire interior:


From a reviewer:

” . . . most important is the idea of seeking peaceful solutions to disagreements. A Map and a Mule is a great little book with a great big message” – Wayne S. Walker, Home School Book Review.

This post is the same as the permanent “page” tab above — that page is the rock-steady presence on this blog, whereas this post will get the headlines . . .