Another one of those glorious coincidences that ignite one of my various passions and bring on a rant showed up in this morning's Dallas Morning News. This is yet another good reason to keep engaging in the rapidly declining ritual (in most households, although not in ours) of reading the morning paper. I doubt if this would have happened were I reading the News online, with its annoying ads and its frenetically arranged page design. (And when I went to look for a link to the story, I couldn't even find it; this link is to the same article, by AP's Nicholas Geranios, in the Guardian.)
On page 7A (in the main section of the paper in what passes for a sort-of science-related issues area, under "Environment") I ran into a short piece on domestic smuggling. Of dishwasher detergent. Apparently, although phosphates in laundry detergents have been banned nationwide for over a decade, a ban on the use of phosphates in dishwasher detergents is only now being implemented in some states, including Washington, beginning with Spokane County. Cranky users of mechanical dishwashing devices, unhappy with the results of the newly-formulated detergents, have taken to slipping over the Idaho border--where phosphate-laden suds are still legal--and running them back to Spokane.
It's probably a good thing that Canada's been working on a similar ban, or maybe we'd be looking at a new international border incident involving phosphate-smuggling cartels.
The people doing this are absolutely shameless: "Yes, I am a smuggler," one woman asserts. "I'm taking my chances because dirty dishes I cannot live with." The article goes on to point out that possession isn't the crime; selling it would be. So if she plans to hold a car-boot sale after a run to Costco in Coeur d'Alene, she could be lookin' at fifteen to twenty. Or whatever the penalty is.
It's actually not all that funny. There are good reasons why laundry detergent phosphates were banned back in 1993 (Blue Green Algae being the most compelling; it can really muck up lakes and ponds, and unless you're planning on bringing new life forms into existence, we don't really need a lot of it growing in our water sources). What folks don't seem to have noticed is that since then, the home laundry industry has developed spiffy new machines that use much less energy and much less detergent, and the chemical people have answered with high-efficiency detergents that do a great job using a few tablespoonfuls of liquid. They've probably made a gazillion bucks doing it. I'm sure the dishwasher-makers are already hard at it, inventing new models, with dollar signs in their eyes.
At any rate, since the invention of dishwashers that can clean and process all the leftover carnage on your dinner plates if you're too lazy to rinse before you load, people have come to expect squeaky clean tableware even if they've left everything to rot for a couple of days before they turn it on. (And yes, I know about the arguments that dishwashers use less water, and that rinsing negates water savings, but I don't believe either of those claims because nobody's shown me any really good pie charts yet.)
If I seem snitty (even for me), it's because have never liked dishwashers. One came with my first house, and I did live in an apartment with one once, but for a middle-class person who's been around during most of the post-WWII era, that makes me downright odd. We didn't have one in Chicago. The house we lived in for several years in Dallas had a portable one, which we moved into the garage. This house doesn't have one, and unlike many buyers of old houses in this neighborhood, we didn't demand that one be installed before we'd buy (the absence of a dishwasher was actually a selling point in our case; there are two old-fashioned flour bins where most people would put a machine). We do occasionally get oppressed by dirty dishes when we're too tired to take care of the issue after a long hard day at the blackboard, but one of us usually digs in the next morning and gets the job done.
So after reading about people's detergent gripes (to which my initial response was to suggest that they throw the damned thing out and make room for a worm farm), I was pleased to turn a few pages and read Robert Kelly-Goss's nice little Viewpoints piece, "A Simple Ode to the Blessings of Simplicity," which turned out to be a paean to washing one's dishes by hand:
Standing before my old sink, full of hot, soapy water and dirty dishes, I turned to the right and slid in one of my favorite CDs. It's by a blues artist from around Memphis, Richard Johnson.
He goes on to describe the rest of his family's activities as he engages in his chore, and to extol the virtues of enjoying simple things.
I am not so young that I do not remember when things such as technology were simpler. And I am not so old that I have not embraced the rapid changes that portend to make life simpler.
He misses some of the same things I do--rotary telephones, electric typewriters (although I miss my old manual Olivetti portable), and, like me, seems to have achieved a balance that enables him to take advantage of e-mail and CD players, but eschew stuff that just doesn't seem all that useful. Unlike him, I don't much care for soundtracks when I'm working; I'd rather look out the window and watch the birds on the feeder, or the dogs frolicking away in the yard. I will however, admit that NASA TV is presently running in the background as I type; I'm keeping track of the re-entry and descent of STS-119 as it comes home to Florida.
Some of my best memories involve washing up after a meal at my grandmother's house, or after a gathering of friends in Chicago, and enjoying the kind of communion among loved ones that can happen only when working together on tasks that might otherwise be disagreeable. That sort of thing can happen, I suppose, with a dishwasher, but I suspect that the dishwashing scene in Rachel Getting Married is probably more common--especially since writer Jenny Lumet based the scene on one she had witnessed as a child between her father, Sidney Lumet, and choreographer Bob Fosse.
In a few minutes, after I've posted this ramble and graded a few more final exams, I'll go wash this morning's few dishes and utensils so that I can start with a clean kitchen when I prepare a welcome-home dinner for Beloved Spouse who's been coaching the Men's team down in San Antonio since yesterday morning. He'll notice that the dishes are done, as we always do when someone else has taken on the job. Somehow I don't think that would happen if a dishwasher were involved. (Oh, gee, Honey. Thanks for pushing the button that turns the machine on!)
And now I'm going to devote the next few minutes to watching Discovery land at the Kennedy Space Center. I think washing dishes by hand helps balance all that technology, too.
Speaking of technology, don't forget to turn off as many lights as possible tonight at 8:30 local time, for Earth Hour. I doubt if anything significant will change in my neck of the woods, but if the giant vapor light in the alley goes off for an hour I will be happier than I've been since it burnt out a couple of years ago and didn't get replaced for several weeks. One of the biggest pollutants human beings have managed to create is the artificial light that makes it virtually impossible for us to see stars and planets in urban and suburban areas. Earth Hour is designed to give us an idea of what we've lost, by giving a little of it back for a few minutes once a year. I just wish the movement would inspire more cities to do what McKinney's neighbor, Fairview, has done, and adopt a Dark Skies initiative "to limit glare, reduce unnecessary light, and control other light pollution."
If somebody would just get rid of all the huge, visually "noisy" street lamps in this town, I might even get to see the Space Shuttle or the ISS fly by once in awhile--like I got to see satellites over my home town when I was kid. Before dishwashers were even invented.
Photo credits: The opening shot is of my kitchen sink; the rich lady up the street lusts after it because it would fit perfectly in the big Queen Anne she's painstakingly restoring--probably as a museum. The Blue Green Algae shot, Efflorescence Vert, is by Lamiot via Wikimedia Commons. The Earth Hour poster is one of the organization's downloads.