Today's column is another curmudgeonly complaint about technology, but first I have an observation that no doubt has been made previously by many other people: Boris Yeltsin appears to be Bill Clinton's older brother. There's gotta be some genetic connection. Both are big garrulous lunks with giant heads and lots of gray hair and red noses. Both have a noted tendency to indulge their urges. Both are constantly on the verge of disaster, only to suddenly turn into the Comeback Kid. Both are former communists.

I am passing this tip along to the Foreign Desk.

Now, let's talk about two really terrible inventions of the late 20th Century. The first is the VCR. Combined with the profusion of cable television, VCRs have just about ruined the holiday season by making it hard to everyone to gather together in the living room to watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

When I was growing up (sit back while grandpa tells the story), we somehow managed every year to assemble during that brief half-hour, that little window of time, when the Grinch was on TV. What was our secret? Was it family unity? Was it the incredible mental cohesion and synchronized interests of the household?

Of course not. Our secret was that we had NOTHING ELSE TO DO. We lived without any entertainment options whatsoever, unless you counted watching the mosquitoes get zapped by the electric bug-killer. We were the last people on the block to obtain this amazing technology called "television," and then we had a choice of three networks, at least one of which was so fuzzy it appeared to be transmitting from Neptune.

Those were the days. A family can bond when it is technologically imprisoned.

Now it would be virtually a miracle for a family to watch the Grinch together. perhaps link to www.inkweb.com/grinch .... a quiz on the grinch? You can rent the Grinch down at the video store, which theoretically should make it easier to watch in a group, since you could wait until everyone's schedule coincided. In reality it means the Grinch has no fixed position in time and space. He can steal Christmas from Whoville now or he can do it later. He can tell his Grinchy lies to little Cindy-Lou Who on the downstairs TV or on the upstairs TV. He can force his dog Max to pull his overladen sleigh to the top of Mount Crumpit as many or as few times as the family wishes. The Grinch is on the loose.

In actual reality, what happens is that the kids end up watching it alone, while the parents focus on their long list of incredibly urgent things to do, such as, in my case, watching sports. Why doesn't our conscience shame us into watching the Grinch with the kids? Because we tell ourselves that LATER we'll do that. We'll just pop it back into the VCR. Also we will later remember to clean the leaves out of the rain gutters and put a layer of polyurethane on the porch and throw out the old socks with holes in the toe and go to the store to buy canned food and bottled water and candles for the Y2K disaster and develop the survival skills necessary in a paleolithic society.

The other horrible invention of late is "direct deposit." What this does is, it prevents you from being paid for your work.

I haven't been paid in years. I do receive something that is alleged to be a paycheck, but it is actually a receipt of sorts, a bookkeeping entry indicating that a certain sum of money has been directly deposited in the bank. It's so unsatisfying that many of the people around here never pick up their paychecks, and let them pile up in drawers. What we all want is to be handed MONEY.

When I was growing up we used to find all kinds of ways to make real money, including going out to the woods, to a big pile of sawdust, and shoveling it into the back of the pickup, and then selling it to someone for 25 bucks. We'd also go to the factory where they turned logs into telephone poles and would load up the sawed-off stumps and take them home and split them into firewood and sell the wood door to door. We preferred cash. By the end of the day we usually had a nice little wad -- real, honest money. We were so impressed with ourselves we'd sometimes go crazy and drive to the Pizza Palace rather than heading directly home to watch the three TV networks.

Nowadays, no one ever has any real money. People just have credit cards, and they use them constantly, because spending actual, rare, precious cash is just too painful.

The solution to this is obvious. Throw out the VCR. Disconnect the cable. And ask to be paid in the real stuff, the greenbacks, the lettuce. Ones, ideally.

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