Sunday, November 30, 2008

Litttle Known Fact:



Although he was only twelve at the time, the US government discussed dropping James Brown on Japan. They decided the damage would be too severe and dialed it back to atomic weapons. After the war, in a vain attempt to avoid abruptly changing the Earth's rotation, they tried dividing him up into sections and shipping him over in a convoy of superfreighters. The fallout was still immense. The background radiation still glows there:



Another little know fact: Reactionary elements of the US government demanded that James Brown be dressed in a suit fashioned from a checked tablecloth, in a futile attempt to make him unattractive to American housewives tired of cooking meal after meal and setting their tables --thereby keeping James Brown from getting all the women.

They suspended this practice when James Brown served a fourteen course meal on his shirtfront -- including mashed potatoes -- while dancing -- including mashed potatoes -- and did not spill a drop of the beverages.

It could not be independently verified that the glasses of water were turned into wine, however.

Friday, November 28, 2008

My Mind Drifts Back To Bangladesh


It's a bad brew that gets uncorked there from time to time. You can't understand the impetus for it by only scanning to the horizon. The Raj isn't far back enough to go. You must cast your mind further.

Nandas? Guptas? Auryas? Do you know your Pashto? You could pick through the ruins of the Mughal Empire and see the world, in all its potentialities. The British did. That world looked back at them with a thousand yard stare.

God does not seem like a wooden totem only, there. He takes his millions in a rainstorm alone. The stones are soaked once again with blood, to mix with blood spilled by Menander.

You can look into your heart and try to find the notion that life itself has meaning. You hope others do, too. If their heart has that place.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Automaker Bailout

I delivered furniture to far-off locations the other day.

There's a lot to keep straight in your mind. Program your GPS for the stops, phone, camera, receipts for the items, folders with the contact numbers for the customers, arranging the items so they don't shift in the truck when you people drive like you do. I had a bucket filled with a limited amount of tools in the back to effect small repairs. More about that later.

The items themselves were a success. People who purchase the stuff over the Intertunnel seemed to have steeled themselves to be slightly disappointed by the things they buy. I confound them by sending or showing up with furniture that's better than what they expected. I apologize if I'm ruining the Intertunnel for everyone else.

I drove from before 5:00 AM 'til 9:00 at night. I'd still be driving if I didn't have the GPS device. Washington should abandon all future ratcheting up of CAFE standards for cars and just give a Nuvi to everybody and cut gas consumption by 5%, easy. I was lost more than 5% of the time before. Your directions always stink.

So you return home, kinda tired, and try to remember everything when your mind is fried. You pick up all the stuff you have and bring it in the house. But you're bound to forget something.

I forgot the bucket of tools. When I started working the next day, I turned to the spot where the glue bottle was, and it wasn't. "Light dawns over Marble Head," we used to call that. You go outside to get it.

Forgot it was the coldest November in memory, too.

So I'm faced with the horns of a dilemma. Horn One: You're not supposed to waste things. Two: What if it froze?

I checked the weather on the Internet. I honestly don't understand why anyone would watch a lunatic waving his arms at a green screen talking about someone else's weather. But then again, he's on a broadcast that has brittle-looking clothes horses reading a bad newspaper slowly. Kinda a matched set. You must think you're going to live to be a thousand if you've got time to watch a news broadcast. It was below freezing, barely, the night before.

I'm an intelligent person, I guess. I know things. There were many considerations fighting for primacy.
  • Frozen glue is no good.
  • It takes a while for it to freeze. It barely touched below freezing. Might be OK.
  • The truck is warmer inside than the weather. I was working again eight hours after returning home. (Welcome to Small Business)
  • Frozen glue will work after you thaw it, even if it's frozen hard. It's just weaker than it normally would be.
  • Its weakness would not manifest itself for a good long while, in all likelihood.
  • Aliphatic resin glue is not expensive, and I buy it by the gallon. Less than a pint was in the truck overnight. But "It's a sin to waste" has been driven into my head by my Depression-kid parents, and by nuns standing by the trash barrel after school lunch explaining that children would starve in China because I didn't eat my beets.
  • My children won't even get beets if I'm profligate and waste even mundane things like glue.
I could go on. You can find all sorts of facets to any problem right out of your head, and go looking for more on the library shelf if you'd like. You can find accomplices on the Intertunnel for any behavior or mindset, no matter how manifestly crappy it is, or find detractors of the most strident kind for even the most benignant behaviors. You can think about things forever.

You're not supposed to have abstract standards of right and wrong any more. The Ten Commandments have been whittled down to the Five or Six Sotto Voce Suggestions If They're Not Inconvenient And Someone's Looking. You'll find PETA protester heinie on display in public more often than the hoary stone tablets now.

It's considered irrational to follow any rules with any gusto. But I consider you irrational if you think you can understand everything with your own unaided intellect. The truly rational pick salubrious abstract standards to follow. "Rational" people think they understand everything and then spend their lives seeing great conspiracies and UFOs and Thetans everywhere.

I used to be an executive. You are required to take decisions. "Take" is the correct word, not "make," because it was implicit by your position that if it got as far up the food chain as you, you'd decide. Your first duty, however, was to never take decisions others should make. Bad managers make decisions about things they shouldn't even take. People often mistake bad managers for good managers because they have huge piles of folders piled all over their offices. Must be working hard. They're afraid to do their own job so they do other people's jobs instead.

Many people likewise think you'd be an automaton if you have abstract standards of behavior. Very wrong. Adults always have competing ideas available to them. Nothing much is simple. Your job is to sort through those competing ideas and get to the point where you can apply your standards. It's Sophie's Choice all day long in the real world where your decisions have consequences. If you live in the world of ideas alone, you imagine it's Sophie's Choice over where to eat lunch today.

You can torture any idiotic thing into a cogent idea, and fool yourself into thinking you're swell for doing so if you're shameless enough. Lawyers get pilloried for that, but that's their job. You ordered them to be shameless on your behalf, and bought the neckbrace they suggested. You took the decision.

I didn't waste one moment of my time worrying about what to do about the glue, unless you call this essay "worrying." I dumped it out immediately because you do not risk launching problems into the future for the unsuspecting for immediate gratification.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sippican (Re) Lowers The Boom

There's a great joke in one of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories.
Wooster, amazed at some obscure thing Jeeves knows, asks: "Is there anything you don't know?
Jeeves considers for a moment, and replies mordantly: "I really don't know, sir."

None of us know what we don't know, do we? But I'd like to offer this: none of us knows what we do know all that well, either.

I visit various salons on the internet -- the culture and information kind, my internet hair is fine. People are always shrieking in there at one another about some real or imagined slight they feel about their political persuasion. And someone comes across with some sort of nuclear weapons grade comment that shows what a low down dirty thieving warmongering totalitarian babykilling something or other somebody or other is.

And the rejoinder? Link, please!

Ah! It doesn't exist unless it's on the internet. Cut and paste that sucker right in there, and you've proven it.

I've got news for you. No it doesn't. The internet is a sewer, and you guys are trying to salmon fish in it. There is no "fact," never mind opinion, that I can't find on the internet in five minutes flat, with annotated footnotes. The fact could be aliens made crop circles to Donald Rumsfeld shot Kennedy, doesn't matter, it's out there. I once saw the text droppings of two different very agitated persons arguing whether Ahmadinejad was a highly placed operative in Khomeini's hostage gathering Iran back in the day. I'm not interested in such things, really, but the person who was defending (!) the obviously loopy Iranian midget millenarian seemed to be saying: cut and paste a picture of Ahmadinejad doing something bad right now, or he's Gandhi and Nasser's love child.

I had a picture of Ahmindinejad, in a book on my desk, his arms linked with Khomeini's other henchmen,on a platform in Iran, getting ready to make Jimmy Carter watch Ted Koppel every night until Ronald Reagan was elected. But it wasn't on the internet, so it didn't exist. I certainly wasn't going to put it there. I'm busy, and I don't care. But it illustrated to me that there are plenty of things that are not on the internet that are very, very, real. And in greater measure, plenty of things all over the internet that just ain't so. Smoke over Beirut, anyone?

I don't know why I know what I know. None of us does. I do have a tendency to know things other people do not, because I'm a little odd. On top of being odd, I'm an auto-didact, so I've gleaned odd stuff, while going about it in an odd way. That's like odd cubed. I'm not a catalog, I'm a Secret Santa, as it were.

"Lower the Boom." I saw that used the other day, and there was some discussion about its etymology. In my humble opinion, the etymology offered is wrong.

Everybody comes at etymology from their own point of view, if you let them, just like cut and paste oratory on the internet. Sometimes you can trace etymology right to the source, but that's rarer than you might think. Someday etymologists will search for the reasons "ever" began to be spelled "evar."

I always refer to my hoary old copy Wentworth and Flexner's Dictionary of American Slang. The internet is great for neologisms born on the internet, but that's about it. Here's what the internet says about "lower the boom"

lower the boom
: 1. To deliver a knockout punch. Prize fight use. ->
: 2. To chatise or punish; to attack with criticism; to treat sternly; to demand obedience. ...
: 3. To prevent another from succeeding; to act in such a manner as to harm another's chances od success.
: From _Dictionary of American Slang_ (1960) by H. Wentworth & S.B. Flexner.
: ----------
: lower the the boom on ... This expression refers to the boom of a sailboat -- a long spar that extends from the mast to hold the foot of the sail. In a changing wind, the boom can swing wildly, leaving one at risk of being struck. [Slang; first half of 1900s]
: From _The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms_ (1997) by Christine Ammer.
: ----------
: As a sailor, the story ran, he had knocked men overboard with a single punch, when he "lowered the boom" on them. (Dempsey & Stearns, _Round by Round_, 1940)

LOWER THE BOOM - "to reprimand harshly, to stop someone from doing something. A boom is a long spar or pole used to extend the bottom of certain sails; or, it can be a spar that extends upward at an angle from the foot of a mast from which there are suspended objects to be lifted. Derrick, the famous hangman during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, devised the prototype for the ship's boom - a hoist that still bears the inventor's name. Ashore, lowering the boom on someone means to call that person harshly to account. This can be done severely enough to leave one's ears ringing." From "When a Loose Cannon Flogs a Dead Horse There's the Devil to Pay: Seafaring Words in Everyday Speech" by Olivia A. Isil (International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, McGraw-Hill, 1996)

I don't think they know what they're talking about. They're sniffing around it with Derrick, but they feel compelled to meld it forward into a reference to a ship's boom.

Boum is an old Dutch word, related to beam. It has something to do with a tree limb. But if the expression lower the boom is related to the boom on the sail hitting you on the top of the head, why are the derivations so recent? People have been getting hit on the head with a boom for thousands of years. Why all of a sudden in the twentieth century is this expression for getting clobbered in fashion?

Because it was something else, and I know it. I think I know it, anyway. The part of a crane or other hoisting device that swings around to drop that famous hook is the boom, too. And I've stood in a ditch, and on a dock, and in a loading yard many times, and signaled to the boom operator to "Lower the boom" thousands of times. You use hand signals, as the operator of the boom is far away, and the surroundings are noisy anyway.

To signal "Lower the boom," you extend your right arm straight out, close your fingers, and extend your thumb straight down. Death to the gladiator. Lower the boom. Contemporaneous with the introduction of such signals to cargo hands on the docks -- and stevedores are the greatest treasure trove of American slang outside the military.

I say that's what it is. And if it isn't, it should be.

Now it's on the internet. Someone will cut and paste it somewhere, and I'll be right, whether I am or not.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Right Guy, Right Time


Commenter Ron reminded us of Myrna Loy the other day. Mrs. Blandings. Mr. Blandings is shiznit, too, of course.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Every Day Is The Best. Day. Evar.

I don't quite know what to say to my brethren here on the Intertunnel. You're all so far down the rabbit hole of woe we need spelunkers to find the top of your head.

I'm Irish. All my songs are supposed to be sad, and my wars merry. But compared to you all, I'm Pollyanna. Listen to me: Every day above the lawn is the Best. Day. Evar. --if you'll let it be.

Ask any five-year-old. Or their father.

Monday, November 17, 2008

California's Broke And I Don't Care



[Update: Since I wrote this, they've amended the expenditure number to $136B from $141B by including "a decrease of $4.673 billion to reflect expenditure offsets provided by the issuance of Revenue Anticipation Warrants in 2009-10 for costs incurred in 2008-09." Hmm. I remember Revenue Anticipation Warrants from Popeye cartoons. I'll gladly pay you Wednesday for a hamburger today. Oh, and they wiped the entire linked 2008-2009 budget line items completely. Ah, government transparency]

Don't get me wrong; I like California. I lived there for a year or more back when Jimmy Carter was still desolating the landscape. My brother lives there still. I was as much an itinerant migrant worker as anybody referred to on that map. We didn't have a Dust Bowl to drive us west from my native Massachusetts, but we had the Blizzard of '78 and Michael Dukakis, which was pretty good, too.

The reason I don't care "California's broke" is I know that means that the government of California is broke, not its citizens. Unlike everybody involved in the dissemination of news, I don't conflate the two.

The Governator has his hand out for federal money. With San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi running congress and some high-powered senators on the other end of the hillhall, he might get a taste. It's a bad idea. When a fellow you know comes up to you at the racetrack and says he's lost all his money because his can't-miss horse threw a shoe, and wants to borrow a few hundred so he can buy groceries to feed his children, you're wise to at least consider that his kids might go hungry no matter what you do.

The media, who are useless, report California requires a $28 billion dollar "bailout," because they can't add and don't own a dictionary. According to California's own webpage, there's a $14.5 billion dollar deficit for the current year. Your eyes will glaze over trying to research the real numbers for the California state budget; like all such things, no one will give you a straight answer, because they either don't really know but can't admit they don't know, or... they really need to borrow a couple hundred to feed their children because this can't-miss horse threw a shoe...

This chart, supplied in execrable .pdf, says the budget for 2008-2009 is $141 billion, so we could run with that. The Governator's office, which I imagine has a weight room and gives yoghurt enemas free to all state employees, reports that they're spending $139 billion while collecting $129 billion for 2008-2009. I imagine that Ahhnold ate some of both piechart pies. Let's go with $141 billion and a $14.5 billion deficit and stop wasting our time.

I ask you: Could you trim ten percent out of your budget and still eat three times a day? Of course you could. I'm not going to go out on the skinny tie/big beltbuckle/hoarding gold, ammo and canned goods limb and say everything the government does is useless, but nobody in any government seems to be walking both ways to work, carrying a sandwich in a bag. A sane person could trim ten percent out of that budget and no one sane would notice.

We shouldn't make the mistake of equating a state budget and a household or business budget. Likewise don't equate sanity with participants in almost any government. It's not a person to be reasoned with. Not even the participants understand exactly how to run it any more. They just think they can demand money and it will show up and they will spend it. Until it doesn't.

Money isn't showing up right now, so they're looking for it in the federal couch cushions. There's even less money there, because we're talking all deficits all the time of course; but even if California borrows the borrowed money, would California's citizens be better off? I doubt it. The runaway train aspect of governance allows very little room for maneuver. On one hand, anyone who campaigns on the "Let's close down government and have a barter/gold coin economy again" isn't talking sense, and deserves the .05 percent of the vote they get. The flip side of that (gold) coin is the notion that if you raise taxes over and over, we'll all be rich when the tax rate gets to 110%. I have my doubts.

A good politician these days simply says "I wont make things worse," and doesn't. That's not a sexy mandate, and since politics is showbiz for ugly people, and California has gone whole hog and made politics into showbiz for ugly showbiz people now, the only hope is that the whole thing fails and you start over. It's a shame, because then the real California -- the people that live there -- will suffer.

I went into the line items for the actual budget, to perform the usual back-seat-driver-blog-thing of finding the dollar value of the deficit in golden toilet seat covers and diversity training fees for gay/lesbian/transgendered college republicans and other easy to find fiscal abominations. I found something so much more disquieting and Kafkaesque, which made up my mind that the California government needs to collapse into a pile of dust before it gets one more cent of anyone's money.

Look at this enormous list of enormous expenditures. Scroll down to: Tax Relief.

[Up-update: California keeps wiping out even the cached version of these pages. Here's a screenshot of the Budget for 2008-2009 as enacted.]
The State of California taxes its citizens over $500 million dollars and then spends it on giving relief to its citizens because their taxes are too high.

Ponzi wept.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bog Hockey (The Season Is Coming, The Concept Is Gone)

This picture is a lot older than I am. Probably thirty years older. But it is an exact rendering of my winter life in our little suburb -- check that-- exurb --- check that -- that word didn't exist then-- out in the sticks where we lived in the sixties.

I was born in Boston. When I was but small, we moved into the country. And my life was amazingly different from my cousins who remained in the city.

We didn't have any money, really, but not so's you'd notice. We lived in a little house on a little plot in a little neighborhood, and had little, salubrious lives. Our mother would turn us out of doors, no matter the season, and we'd take our battered belongings, pool them, and play self -organized sports. We'd sort out the teams, and the rules, and the size and shape of the playing surface, and rarely quarrelled, unless it seemed like more fun than playing any more. And we could have sorted out the Mideast thing, if they'd let us. Maybe their quarrelling is more fun than they let on.

In the summer, we'd play baseball, and have to mow the field before playing. Right field's an out! In the winter, we'd play basketball in the elementary school gym. Shirts and skins. Onlookers were no doubt sorely tempted to play xylophone on many of the skins team's ribs. Weight training was still far in the future. In the fall, we'd play tackle football in a cow pasture with no equipment. There were no hash marks or goal lines demarcated, of course, but in a field recently used by ruminant animals, those weren't the things on the ground you would have been keeping an eye out for anyway. And in the winter, we'd dress in wool, gather our rusting hand-me-down skates that lacked steel toes, grab the sticks that were generally broken and discarded and then repaired with electrical tape, and we'd shamble on down to LaFleur's Pond, and get up a game. The idea of actually owning and wearing a replica of the sweater worn by our local professional hockey team was as remote and mystical as a strawberry on the kitchen table in the winter.

We were always half frozen with the cold. We had no protective gear of any kind. Hell, at the time, there was only one professional hockey player who wore a helmet -- Terrible Teddy Green-- and he only wore it because he'd already had his head staved in from a stick fight, and needed to protect the steel plate in his head from any further persuasion. When we first started going to Boston Garden to see Bobby Orr's mighty Bruins play, some of the goalies weren't wearing masks yet.

The ice was never really frozen properly, one way or the other. If it was thick enough to be safe, it was so corrugated it would rattle your teeth out of your head. If it was fresh enough to offer a smooth surface, it was thin enough to drown you. We always skated anyway. If you got checked, you'd occasionally slide to the margins of the pond, get caught in the brambles reaching up through the ice, get tangled up, and fall in up to your waist, and you'd spend the rest of the day skating with your pants frozen to your legs. You wouldn't stop.

"NO LIFTING!" you'd shout every time the more adept stickhandlers would get the puck up off the ice and crack your shins. We'd all readily and solemnly agree that there'd be no lifting, before we began each game, of course; some of us because we knew we were incapable of lifting it, and the others because they were incapable of not lifting it, so no one was much put out by the bargain.

We'd put two sticks five feet apart on the ice to mark out the goal, and get to it. Guys who never passed at basketball never passed at hockey either, we noticed. And they'd forever be taking shots from fifty yards from the goal, missing by fifty yards, and requiring a ticklish trip to the brambles to fetch the errant puck without swimming amongst the prickers.

When we got older, we'd fashion real nets out of scavenged lumber and chicken wire, and without fail we'd forget to fetch them off the ice in time for spring thaw, and we'd see them, on the bottom like scuttled privateers, winking at us beneath the new year's ice.

I wanted to be a goalie, but had no equipment. My father drove an old Rambler Station Wagon. Underneath the carpet in the back, there was -- check that -- there originally was a layer of foam rubber.
My brother and I spent many a miserable car ride rolling around in the back of the car with only the thin carpet between us and the rivets and bolt heads because I cut the pad up into rectangles, wove olive drab straps from army surplus utility belts through slits in the foam, tied them to my legs, and played the net like that.

At the time, the Bruins had a goalie named Gerry Cheevers. He was cool. He wore a white plastic mask, and he'd draw the stitches he would have received had he not worn the mask right on it, in magic marker, adding one every time he got hit in the face. He looked fierce like that. Young boys like fierce. So I tried to fashion one for myself out of the plastic scavenged from a Clorox bottle, held on my head with an elastic band, and burned my face with the residue of the bleach. The plastic was as thin as a negligee, and wouldn't protect me in any case; I didn't care, I wore it anyway.

And some of the kids were real good. A few played college hockey. One played on the Olympic Team and the Bruins and is now an NHL coach. But by the time he had started coming around, there was a real rink next to the high school to play in. Real equipment started to show up. Right handed goalies didn't use their brother's left handed hand-me-down baseball glove and bleach bottle mask and Rambler foam as equipment. Time marched on, and the younger kid's parents started getting up at 3:00 AM to make it to the rink for their allotted ice time, supplanting the older kid's ritual: mothers sticking their heads out the back door when the light got weak and the sun skimmed the horizon, painting at the last only the very tops of the dormant oaks that ringed the pond with the winter dusk's fire, shouting your name to call you to dinner.

My son played hockey on the Playstation once. Didn't care for it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green In The Autumn

I'm too old for Sesame Street. I was eleven before it showed up. To be eleven is to be at the end of your childhood. I didn't need the letters to get up and dance any more.


But who's too old for that?

Joe Raposo is the fellow who wrote it. He was born right down the street from here, in Fall River, Massachusetts. He's been dead a while now.

He was part of a little clique while he attended Harvard, and fell into music work, if not notoriety, exactly. He was never as snide as his friend, Tom Lehrer, but in his way, he was more sophisticated.

I've seen all sorts of people that performed music on Sesame Street, much of it delightful. Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, Herbie Hancock, well... you probably know the list better than I. It's a captivating scene to make, and everybody wants to make it. It is a testament to its original kind intent.

Joe Raposo and Dr Suess. I conflate them in my mind, but I don't know that they ever had anything to do with one another. When I read my little son the thrilling, trilling words of Theodore Geisel, I'm never bored. Those men understood children, which means they understood people. A children's book has devolved over time to mean: I can't write properly -- I'll write a children's book. It was not always the way. It's much harder to write a child's story, I think. Properly, anyway. Doubly hard to set it to music. Suess kept up by drawing.

My son sat in my lap in rapt attention as the little frog --fwog-- ruminated wistfully on the nature of being mundane and wonderful. Joe Raposo could sing to a little one and his father at the same time, and lose neither of our interest.

I used to sing and play the guitar for my boys when I put them to bed. It was peaceful, and there was a poignant moment when the gentle sigh of the sleeping boy would overtake the gut string sound. The big one don't want it any more. All I've got is the toddler now.

GarGar sails on the deep blue sea
GarGar sails with Miles and me
Sky of blue sea of green
Bluest sky he's ever seen

GarGar swims in the deep blue sea
GarGar swims with Mom and me.
Scares away the sharks and such
They don't nibble GarGar much.

Puts a worm upon his hook
Five minutes flat that's all it took
Fry that fish in the big black pan
GarGar you're a fisherman

When the fish refuse to bite
Paddles home in the pale moonlight.
To dream about ocean blue
GarGar daddy sure loves you

I can't watch the football game with my eleven year old. Every time the action stops, there is a commercial that shows one eviscerated corpse after another; one abducted child after another. They're displayed as a fun sort of puzzle for the entertainment of people inured to what's tantamount to the lionization of monsters. No one is green on television anymore--easy or no-- only harvested or picked over to taste.

But I can watch Kermit sing Joe Raposo's little tin pan triumph with my three year old. I want for him to know the same things I'd like to know. We search for them together.

Monday, November 10, 2008

You Won't Win The Race Facing The Wrong Way

I link to WoodWeb. I read their message boards as an insight into other woodworker's situations.

I'm not in the same business as 99% of the participants there. They generally make kitchen cabinets and sell them directly to the end user. I make furniture.

99% of those 99% of the business owners have no idea what business they're in, by the way. They think they are manufacturers. They are not.

Someone posted an article written by someone whose mouth moves when they read the (tabloid) paper that's got them in a tizzy.

You can read it if you want, but I advise not wasting your time. It's drivel of a very common kind; disconnected charts and weird, unrelated facts -- mostly unrelated to accuracy as well as each other -- with a "Someone should do something about all these problems!" bleat as a kind of turd cherry on top.

He's got graphs, all signifying not much. Here's my fave:
See, the graph goes down. I just fell off the turnip truck but even I know that a graph going down is bad.

But alas, I also know that the population of the US in 1950 was around 150 million people. I also know it's around 300 million people now. So the percentage of people in manufacturing has been halved, while the the population doubled. That would mean... hmmm... about the same number of people work in manufacturing now as half a century ago. You'd have to think it is a defacto societal ill that the proportion of people doing any particular thing in an economy changes over half centuries for this chart to matter. I wonder how many people were telephone operators in 1950? I wonder how many are now? I've haven't noticed that my phone service is worse, but maybe it's just me.

Why would our pixel-stained wretch think it matters? Because he's an economic troglodyte, that's why. Here's his theory on how wealth is created:
Wealth is created when we add labor and functional capability to raw materials that increase its value to an end user. Companies and individuals that produce durable and consumable goods create wealth. They then share some of that wealth with local, state and federal governments which consume the wealth in order to deliver the services and infrastructure we require. Wealth-creating jobs include manufacturing, construction, mining and farming.

Service organizations such as banks, accounting and law firms, retailers, newspapers and digital media, restaurants, hospitals and the like merely redistribute wealth across the economic chain, depending primarily on wealth-creating enterprises for their revenue stream.

If that theory of wealth creation sounds familiar, it should. It's the "Labor" theory of wealth, and its big daddy is Karl Marx.

It's fashionable to think that if you make tangible things you're swell, and everybody else is a parasite. It's also pre-renaissance economics. Actually, it might be pre-dark ages now that I think of it.

(Upon further reflection, it's probably pre-historic economics. Just because they still occasionally give this a go at the Universities doesn't mean it's cutting edge, guys.)

OK, let's "add labor and functional capability to raw materials that increase its value to an end user" and see how wealthy we get. They tried this method in Eastern Europe a while back: They stripmined coal and iron ore. They burned the coal in a furnace and made steel. They made the steel into... you guessed it... excavation machines to mine coal and ore. That's it. Everyone had a job. Stuff got made. But there was no wealth created.

As I recall, this ended with everyone standing on a wall in East Germany with sledghammers, not with anything remotely resembling a functioning economy. I was actually amazed they could swing the hammers with so much force after the diet of ration-card suet and vodka they'd been on for half a century.

I believe in personal responsibility, so it's Don Shultz's fault he can't write and won't think. Likewise, it's Wood Digest's fault that they publish stuff which is mildy inflammatory -- where it's coherent enough to be much of anything at all -- instead of enlightening for its readers. But I can't blame the readers for being upset, and somewhat at sea over their situation. No one talks any sense to them.

The reason that the amount of people in manufacturing doesn't go up is because productivity has skyrocketed. Watch "How It's Made" on television. A factory makes a lot of stuff with not many people working in it nowadays. Does anyone really think 300 million people in 2008 have fewer consumer durables than 150 million people in 1950 because their proportional representation in the workforce has been cut in half? We added 41% of the population to the workforce in the last 50 years, too, don't forget--women went from 26% to 67% percent employed in those intervening years. Just exactly who would you get to work in those American factories you demand we build? There's no one left to hire. And there isn't much for them to do there. Chinese labor isn't competing with American labor. They're competing with American machines.

As I mentioned earlier, my fellow woodworkers at WoodWeb are mostly in trouble, in my opinion because they don't even know what sector they're in. They think they're manufacturers, because manu= hand and factory = mill. But in any real sense of the term, they are not manufacturers. They are in the service industry and don't know it.

What anyone that wants to help them make sense of their place in the modern economy needs to tell them is to find out what the customer wants and give it to them, and they will flourish. And it's the "finding out," not the manufacture of the goods that offers an opportunity for the small to medium sized woodworker to add value and create wealth. The end product is less than 50% of that equation. A customer gets better service from Home Depot installing Chinese-made cabinets than they do from the average woodworker that makes custom cabinets. The average cabinetmaker treats the customer like an annoyance, and thinks that by paying close attention to the last 50% -- the made good -- that he's all done and people will beat a path to their door. But manufactured goods are not scarce, and you'll get killed if you try to paddle across the ocean of manufacturing in a raft. People need to add value to the process, not just the item, and the only thing you can offer a customer that he can't get from a factory with almost no one working in it is service. But if you think all ancillary functions of a business are parasitic, you'll never even try.

The WoodWeb is there for people who are in the woodworking business. But they have been taught from birth that accounting, banking, actuarial analysis, sales, insurance, advertising, and almost all forms of pure management are parasitical. Don Shultz is just the latest guy to tell them that, he's nothing special. And why shouldn't they be confused by macroeconomics? We just watched a few hundred thousand Ivy League, Sorbonne and Oxford educated MBAs run the international banking and investment system into the ground, then throw up their hands and say: We have no idea how to assess value in the modern economy. Let's make charts of workforce participation in the manufacturing sector like it was still 1950, and have a liquid lunch with a government official.

Small businessmen post questions that break my heart at the WoodWeb. Business is bad, should I think about printing business cards? How much is a "fair" price to charge for a cabinet? Why do I even have to talk to the customers? They're annoying, and they always want stuff I don't want to give them. Can't I just make stuff like I want to and why can't people just mail me money and wait for me to make it?

They've been told from birth that if you build it, they will come. They were told wrong. Wrong like Don Shultz. Stop listening and save yourselves.

Friday, November 07, 2008

What The Discerning Woodworker Listens To


I'm in a good mood lately. I'm under a tremendous amount of pressure but I don't mind. If I wanted to be a nine-to-fiver I could have stayed in the cubicle farm.

The fluorescent lights buzz like crazy. On top of that, I've got tinnitus from too many music jobs, too many pneumatic nailgun blasts, and the fever of 104 I had from a tick bite. You think I'm a woodworker, but in my mind, I'm a beekeeper.

I got tired of sports talk radio. It was fun for a while to listen to schlubs foam at the mouth about offside calls like Robespierre outside the Bastille, but I did a little thinking. Entertainment makes people unhappy. I'm a people, too.

I used to run jobsites with many disparate people working side by side. The radio was a constant source of annoyance and trouble.

The rednecks would want seventies arena rock. The mechanical trades usually had sort-of Goth types with lots of tats that wanted to listen to speed metal. The tilesetters were often more urban and wanted hardcore kill whitey thumping. The concrete finishers were all Brazilian and their radio had announcers yelling in that "I just scored a goooooooooooaaaaaal" over-the-top style between wild salsa numbers. The truck drivers wanted country. You could fill in all the other points of the compass with everybody else.

All the subcontractors would bring in their own, very big radio and the fight would begin. Sometimes actual fights, and believe me, if you were an ultimate fighting champion you'd take one look at some of the dudes that used to work for me and take a pass. They made The Road Warrior look like a Disney movie, and they weren't acting.

I was their lord and master on the jobsite, and I only had one rule: If anyone complained, I turned them all off forevermore. Many a job was built in total silence, too, because we can't just all get along, at least not at first. They all got along great with each other when joined in a unanimous hatred of me for nuking all the radios, so it just goes to show you I'm a Uniter, not a Divider.

They would never admit it, but they were all happier with the radios off. Even the stuff they fervently adored made them moody and cranky. I noticed that they'd grumble at first when working with nothing but their own thoughts and their tools but ultimately they were less likely to kill one another. Fewer tools were thrown.

Sometimes you have to realize that what you think makes you happy actually makes you sad. By "sad," I mean: a raging angry spluttering jerk. Hairshirt self-abnegationists won't help us deal with this. They always end up tapping their feet in airport men's rooms or something anyway. But people can convince themselves, usually after a long period of making themselves miserable, that maybe they could live without all the self-inflicted wounds that make the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune pale in comparison.

I decided to stop listening to people being upset for no reason. It doesn't matter if you're not like that yourself. Sooner or later it seeps in through the pores no matter what you think.

When I used to play music for money, I didn't care much what I was playing. They were just musical bricks to be laid. By good fortune, I fell in eventually with people whose only criteria for choosing material was that it be fun. Guys would come up to us and ask us to play Freebird and so forth, and we'd gently inform them that we didn't care what men wanted. I've played Brown Eyed Girl three consecutive times because girls wanted to hear it. The girls were happy and the men stayed to be around happy girls. I learned from that. People like to be happy. They think they don't, but they do.

So I've drilled a hole in the office floor, and put a satellite setup of computer speakers in the workshop downstairs, and I bookmarked Musicovery. And in a fit of saving myself aggravation, I uncheck all the boxes except classical. And then I click on the chart for the mood, and nail it dead-on "dark and calm." The useful but insane people that run Musicovery think music Hitler had piped in while he blitzkreiged Poland is "positive and energetic," but they're not fooling me. You bring a positive attitude and energy to the proceedings yourself; the Ride of the Valkyries won't help.

Satie. Bartok. Chopin. Mozart. Beats the hell out of Brahms Third Racket over on the uplifting side, never mind a steady diet of Guitar Hero brainbashing.

I banish the bees in my head. And I listen to music literally taken off the walls in a concentration camp, and think to myself: People are wonderful. Life is great.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

If You Lived Here, You'd Be Crapi Now


This is the Intertunnel, so let me first assure you that the picture has not been altered. My nephew took the picture on his way home in Venice, CA.

When I was young, my Father would take us to visit our relatives in Boston, and we'd drive by an apartment building that was essentially built in the median strip of Storrow Drive. It featured an enormous billboard:

If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Now

Dad's a wag, so he'd have a different version of it ready every time we drove by it.

If you lived here, you'd be run over by a truck now.
If you lived here, you would have taken your own life by now.
If you lived here, there's no way you could read this sign because you'd be inside.
If you lived here, you'd be bankrupt now.
If you lived here, you'd be watching you drive by now.

Anyway, naming your buildings, and the neighborhoods they're in, is an American art form. There's a list of only a dozen or so words allowed for naming tract-house neighborhoods, which can be used in any combination of pairs to differentiate your cul-de-sac slice of heaven from the benighted troglodytes that live two streets away.

Woods
Stone
Ledge
Brook
Harbor
Park
Hills
Lake
Valley
View
Heights
River
Acres
Crest
Gate

You can get an extra four grand at closing if you're a developer if you add "Old" at the front of your two word head fake, and "Village" at the end. Little known fact.

The same urge for gibberish that brings us terms like: "Person of Color" has crept into the proceedings now, so developers that name the streets after their children now tart up the process by calling the whole shebang:

THE ___________ at _____________.

The first blank is increasingly filled in with "Preserve," instead of "Homes," to pay homage to the dual gods of agoraphobia and environmentalism while you're bulldozing a wetland full of snail darters and bald eagles to fill it up with snouthouses. You can stick "Estates," or "Residences," or "Homestead" in there; doesn't matter, really. "Village" seems to crop up here again. I see many more people put "Plantation" in there, lately, which conjures up all sorts of imagery, doesn't it? I guess it's OK, as everyone that tends to the crops outside (the lawn) is Central American now. I can't picture the aforementioned person of color being too enthusiastic about moving back to something called The Plantation. Maybe it's just me.

For the second blank, you just ram any combination of any two words from our list in any order and you're golden.

The Preserve at Woodstone
The Village at Stonewoods.
The Preserve at Woodstone Village
The Village at Stonecrest
The Preserve at Woodcrest Plantation

When you get old and need a diaper again, you can always call it: "The place at the thingie, there," and everyone will know what you're talking about anyway.

So the Crapi isn't so strange, really, is it? It could be just some horrible mistake at the Capri sign shop, but who knows? Venice, CA is named for Venice, Italy, of course. I lived right down the street in Culver City for a while, a long time ago, and I noticed the similarity between Venice, Italy's storied canals and the drainage ditches filled with flies, dead dogs, and puddles that adorn the American version. And watching rollerskaters roll by wearing thong bikinis over their pneumatic boobs is just like feeding pigeons in front of St. Marks Cathedral. So maybe the fellow that built the Crapi knew exactly what he wanted to name his building after: The Italian word for more than one female goat.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Whatever You're Afraid Of Has Already Happened

Taking the picture is not making the table.

The news media is decidedly uncurious.

To be curious is to ask questions because you do not know, but would like to. Asking "intelligent questions" doesn't mean you are a self-appointed expert on the matter at hand. That's a debate, and you're not even supposed to be the moderator of any debate, never mind a participant, if you run a newsy printing press. You're supposed to be a stand-in for an audience member who can't make it. If you dispute with the object of your attention, you are not even trying to elicit information. You are trying to disseminate competing information, by stealth and fraud. Get another job. You're not suited to the one you have.

There are a hearty handful of TV shows on air right now that involve pointing a camera at people working. Did you know people work, and make things? And the shows aren't all Potemkin jobsites like all the home improvement programs that show pregnant women in flip-flops doing their own bathroom demolition -- while the camera' s on. My little son watches "How It's Made," and there is nothing in that show but that most sublime ingredient: curiosity.

I can't remember and don't care what the economic theory is called that posits that digging a ditch is a worthwhile endeavor but being a manager of ditch diggers is not, because I am capable of running a real business, but not credentialed to teach it in a school where everyone will never go out of doors and no one has any idea how the real world works. And I can dig a ditch.

Many who visit here seem to think of me, kindly, as a kind of noble savage; but I'm not like that. My usefulness to a spectator is not limited to being the subject of an intellectual vivisection. I don't need someone from the Ivy League to tell me what I'm doing. I'm doing it, and I'm aware of it. Most of the unsolicited advice cum coercion I receive from the halls of academe and all the solons is coming from people that couldn't do much more than cadge a sinecure in a million years, and don't know what's happening with anyone else who is even microscopically different than they are. They're not about to ask me or anyone else anything, ever. They talk among themselves and pontificate. Pontiffs are for Rome, dudes. I don't pray in your church.

I started out to say that many are talking about the sky falling, but it's an imaginary sky and so their terror is amusing and stupid to me. Others are warning me that things that have already happened to me are going to happen to me, so look out. Thanks for nothing.

I tried to buy a piece of machinery a little while ago, to expand my business. Your fears of credit drying up are amusing, as all small businessmen's lines of credit, including mine, freaked out almost a year ago for no good reason, so save me your warnings about it getting bad. I got a notice from the machine tool supplier that the item wasn't coming and they didn't know when it would. And their competitors went out of business. And the alternatives still available cost triple and aren't as good.

For the first time in decades I had the money I needed and the promise of the business I required to support a purchase, and I could not get my hands on the thing I wanted, for no discernible reason. A kind of freakout is required to disrupt this supply chain. I'm not buying Hadron Colliders here; it's 19th century stuff. And I'm back to 19th century supply chain, apparently.

Do you know how traffic jams on the highway work? They're fascinating. You'd think as vehicles are added to the stream, the progress of the whole would be incrementally affected. It doesn't work that way because people are not robots.

Someone tries to race ahead. Others creep up too close on the car they're following to thwart the lane jumpers from butting in in front of them. And then someone gets nervous, or sees the long arm of the law by the side of the road. Even if they aren't sure they're doing something wrong, they tap the brakes. And the tailgating traffic, aware only of the bumper in front of them, does the same, and the traffic compresses like an accordion for no real reason. There's a lot of horn blasts and finger waving and the cops usually ignore the guy driving eighty in the breakdown lane and arrest someone because their paperwork is not in order. Then everyone slows to rubberneck at the malefactor pulled over and smugly harrumphs, like zebras at the watering hole when the lion eats someone else.

Don't worry. When you're all done freaking out, some of us will go out ahead and obey all the traffic laws as well as the laws of common sense and the same number of cars will flow smoothly along again. Be careful of larding up the traffic laws or it will take longer.

When everything's fine again, Maria Bartiromo will claim she did it by asking Ben Bernanke an inappropriate question.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Shades


Ghosts.

Not ghosts in the machine. There was no machine. Every touch of the plane is right there on display on the boards. You run your hands over it every time like it's the first, and you wonder: Could a machine be made to mimic the touch of a man's hand? Why would you want to build it, even if you could.

The stone is mica schist. You can see the spots where a man tapped in the spreaders and opened it up like a melon. Tap, tap, tap; that's all. The granite is worn from countless soft footfalls. A real ghost wouldn't wear it away less imperceptibly. Granite don't wear away, really, but it does if you have the budget for the time it takes. We all do because we've got accomplices.

The meal is over and the house groans with us all. The TV is jarring in here, like the obelisk and the monkeys. They're looking for ghosts with a camera. Wrong tool. Run your hand over the door. They're talking to you, but you don't listen.