Make Yourself Useful

“Make yourself useful” is one of those family phrases that has taken on a life of its own. I can’t even remember how it began for us.

My father sarcastically reversed a well-known adage into “don’t just do something, stand there.” It was especially memorable when shouted at fellow motorists.

There are many people having a really difficult time, and that number seems likely to increase before it decreases. I am far from being one of them.

True, our lives are not as they were even a month ago, but when put into perspective, they are not nearly as bad as they might be. Love it or hate it, imagine even self-imposed lockdowns without the Internet. FaceTime might not be entirely satisfying, but we are not monks in cells.

In an effort to “make myself useful,” I decided I could have a positive impact by publishing more often and dividing the topics among thoughts about the pandemic, diversions into other subjects and humor. There were two problems with that plan.

As to frequency, everyone can send emails and, during the lockdown, has time to do so. My inbox is jammed, and I have not yet given up on trying to read and reply, though triage is now setting in. Surely, the Pundificator should not be clogging your inboxes either.

Whatever I send had better be worth it both in terms of content and the time required. The two stories per day goal was certainly unachievable and probably selfish.

Reducing frequency still leaves the problem of what to say.

The subjects of these stories will be right for some people and wrong for others, in some cases depending on the day and the mood. For sure they cannot be right for all people on all days.

I know nothing whatever about cartoon editors at newspapers, but I have always imagined that their goal was to provide a few comic strips that would appeal to each segment of their readership. They would then rely on the readers themselves to pick and choose. For example, the daily Washington Post carries 41 strips. Surely, nobody reads all of them. (Oh God, do they?)

And so it is for the editors of the rest of the paper.

They know that virtually nobody will read every story, but they hope to provide at least something for everyone.

The “pick and choose” strategy is not available to me. I get one thing at a time.

I will guess wrong as to some group of readers each time but, based on your feedback, I am also guessing right in some cases too.

Here is a touching email I received the other day. As always, I have anonymized it, but it says far more about the sender than it does about me.

While “coping” with this thing called coronavirus, I am trying to say ‘hi’ to people who I have fallen out of touch with and to say ‘thanks’ to those who likely wouldn’t expect me to be thankful for them. You fall well into the latter category. 

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Pundificator. Your chats with Frazer Rice have been beneficial as well. There is tremendous value in hearing wisdom drenched in logic and pragmatism. 

So, thank you Have. Be well and trust that this too shall pass. 

In the same week, however, I missed the mark with another reader who is in her 80s and lives in northern Italy.

I can’t think of a better use of the comments section than hearing your suggestions. In the past I have emailed an acknowledgment of each comment, but that is now too time consuming. Please assume your comment has been posted unless I tell you otherwise. That rarely happens. You might what to come back and see how other readers have responded to your thoughts as well.

If you have private suggestions for me and how I’m trying to make the Pundificator useful, please use this link.




8 Responses to “Make Yourself Useful”

Peter W Bragdon, March 24, 2020 at 2:59 pm said:

To use an Aussie expression, Haven, “good on you” for caring and for reaching out. My observation of today is predictable: I am appalled by Trump’s acting as a snake oil salesman on Fox — selling that medicine for malaria as a possible answer for the flu, promoting a return to work in another five days — in other words, choosing a rescue of the economy over the lives of Americans. At one point will a portion of those in his cult wake up?


Haven Pell, March 24, 2020 at 6:44 pm said:

In contrast, Governor Cuomo showed leadership in what will likely to become known as the “ventilator” speech. No matter how hard you try to say the word “ventilator” while sounding like a New Yorker, you’ll never top Cuomo.


Chip Oat, March 24, 2020 at 3:31 pm said:

Keep up the good work and/or keep doing what you’re doing – feel free to pick and choose from that limited, but sincere, selection.


Haven Pell, March 24, 2020 at 6:40 pm said:

either / or. Hmmmmmm….


Temple Grassi, March 24, 2020 at 4:43 pm said:

About 20 years ago at a cocktail party,
I met a distinguished older gentleman named Fisher Howe. He was a retired Diplomat, OSS, CIA guy! I had just retired from 30 years as a teacher and he immediately says to me -‘What keeps you busy?’
‘Hmmm, I said ,’let me think about how to answer that!’ He was a no nonsense kind of guy and he just stared at me obviously waiting for my reply. I took a big sip of my drink and told him -‘I ‘m a sportsman who travels to play games!’
I was expecting him to say- ‘Young fella, you’ll have to do better than that! – instead, reached out , shook my hand and said , ‘That’s what I always wanted to be! Good for you!’


Haven Pell, March 24, 2020 at 6:38 pm said:

That was before your distinguished Ambassadorial career took off. I am surprised you have the time for both.


Jimmy Weekes, March 25, 2020 at 9:31 am said:

I like 95% of Pundificator so no complaints. But I do want to know where to get that neat knife.


Haven Pell, March 25, 2020 at 3:22 pm said:

I found the knife on Google images. It is the only tool yet devised to get my approval percentage from 95% to 100%


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