As anyone who might happen upon these digitized thought balloons will quickly discover, they have either nothing, or maybe everything, to do with grilled cheese sandwiches; and most likely never touch on anything relating to cooking or the kitchen... except perhaps, the very first posting. And so, with your indulgence, may I present, the ramblings of a reforming philosopher...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Last night, President Obama and House Leader, John Boehner, went on national television to promote their particular, but conflicting plans to raise the U.S. financial debt ceiling.

According to financial experts, without signed legislation by day's end on Aug. 2, the Treasury will be unable to pay all its bills, possibly triggering an unprecedented default; with the U.S. government technically forfeiting on it's outstanding monetary obligations. Officials warn that the inaction could induce devistating harm to an economy already struggling to recover from the worst recession in decades.

I have no comprehension of the magnitude of the challenge currently before that government, nor do I understand the complexity of the financial wheeling and dealing that most likely goes on behind the scenes in order for the day to day business to take place. However, as my wife and I listened to the two speakers, I couldn't help but note that neither politician was talking about keeping the debt ceiling where it was, or reducing it. Both President Obama and Mr. Boehner appeared to take for granted that the amount needed to be raised; they just differed in their methods to do so.

It is fairly easy for me to understand the need to increase one's borrowing power, particularly when emergencies, or unexpected financial demands appear. I have requested and received a temporary increase in my personal credit limit on at least two occasions that I recall, and have been bailed out with temporary loans and the kindness of others on a few others. However, in those cases, I was also disciplined enough to have the card company lower that limit again once I had corrected for the inbalance, and repaid the outstanding debts. As my income during those times, was pretty much cast in stone, or occasionally non-existant, the only method I had of making the adjustment was to shut down as much non-essential spending as possible and work considerably smarter than before. And, even then, the belt-tightening notched frequently into the essential.
No doubt... that general scenario is rather simplistic when dealing with countries and the complexity of agreements that take place in order to keep their economies functioning. The level of power struggles and ego enhancements for individual and organizational gain within politics obscures the day to day "rent and board" micro issues of the average man. Yet the eventual outcome is bound to affect us all.

U.S. Debt Clock
I suppose that those people whose incomes rank them in the category of the so-called "upper class" may feel immune and considerably above the ramifications of the economic tsunami that will result from the political decisions made within the next few weeks and, like the government, will carry on with business as usual. Unfortunately, history has taught us that the piper must ultimately be paid, and that in this day and age, the payment may be far, far much more than we can afford.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

- John Donne

It has taken me a number of years and a fair number of mistakes to determine the necessity of even reasonable financial management in order to live a decent, and relatively, stress-free life. Any wisdom I might attribute to any of that success comes from a basic formula catch phrase that I heard several years ago:
"If the outgo is more than the income... then the outcome will be the downfall."

Article Copyright J. Michael Lyffe - 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011


Recently, I came down with a flu bug and took a few sick days off work.

Being unable to sleep for much of that time, but not wanting to do much of anything else other than moan or groan depending upon which part of me ached the most, I spent a number of hours in meditation, reclined in my easy chair. I wrapped my withering frame with my most favorite Linus-like blanket, sipped large mugs of hot lemon and honey, and gave best effort to saturate my foggy head with the full content viewing mass related to the exorbitant monthly rate of my TV cable charges.  

While fishing mindlessly through the channels, I chanced to catch the closing segment of a television series, MasterChef, of which I was not previously aware. In it, one of the participants was being praised by co-host and co-judge, Chef Gordon Ramsey, for a dish she had just presented to him. Shortly thereafter, another was chastised (rather brutally I thought) by each of the three co-hosts, for messing up whatever it was that he had created.

The scathing verbal critiques, inappropriately punctuated in too many cases with coarse language, (bleeped out conveniently so that viewers would have no idea what they were really saying) seemed a bit “over the top” to me, despite my reduced mental faculties. And so, I simply chalked it all up to some producer’s concept of theatrical enhancement, in effort for the series to generate shock value (value?), and/or greater ratings. In effect, I sensed that the money people behind the scenes perhaps encouraged the behavior with the simple premise in mind that it would make the show more popular. However, that thought helped me recall an old saying; “Whatever is right is not always popular, and whatever is popular is not always right.”

Following this, the channel I was watching presented the next session of the program, and at this point I was admittedly, both too lazy to search for the remote I had lost between sneezes and, despite my growing distast of the program, to some degree sufficiently hooked by the general format to want to see a little bit more. Consequently, in the next session the program’s contestants and I were introduced to the “Mystery Box Challenge;” wherein a specific dish needed to be created and cooked by the participants within a particular time frame, using only the identical sets of ingredients contained within their large, closed containers.

As I watched the various characters in the contest produce considerably different versions and visions of the identical food stuffs, I marveled at how creatively inventive they all were and how each resourced their passion for cooking and previous experience in the kitchen to produce their current platter.  During the exceptionally hectic pace and pressure of their preparations, I could not help but ponder the philosophical parallel the activity had to what people do every day in problem solving scenarios and how ingenious they really can be in overcoming the obstacles presented to them.

Unfortunately, I don’t recall who won the contest, nor do I remember whatever it was that they created. By this time in the show I really didn't care. All that remained with me was the distasteful flavor of the negative embarrassment shoveled out gratuitously upon the less effective cooks who did not come up to the Master Chefs’ standards.

I kept thinking afterwards, that if these had been children, involved in something that challenged each one’s gifted interests, skills and abilities, what sort of reflective commentary should really be given to them, designed to bring out even greater future results.

If the judges truly were MASTERS of their particular craft, and genuinely interested in their stewardship to assist in possibly creating culinary perfection, over the embellishment of their own egos… I wondered if they would choose to use their blades of critique as butchers or as surgeons?

My mind flashed to a scene of the three judges as eager five and six year olds standing nervously excited on stools behind their adult workstations. Each has a Mystery Box in front of them. As they energetically lift the containers to reveal its contents, they discover only an empty platter holding a short note of instruction. The message directs them either to combine, or not to combine, any number of items from an unlimited pantry, with the tentative goal of creating the Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

How marvelous the assignment… How daunting the judgment! - J

Article Copyright J. Michael Lyffe - 2011