Saturday, March 31, 2012

Too Many Notes

Hey, Mozart's got a new tune out, and it's got a beat and you can dance to it, I'm tellin' ya.. He was about ten when he wrote it, so I don't know about you, but I'm prepared to forgive the hint of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I picked up in there.

Mozart's latest. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Going To The Dogs

Malachy's wife was preggers. She started into craving this and that. Peanut butter and olives. Saltines and vermicelli. Liver and garlic. Malachy is constantly going to the store and fetching odd assortments of ingredients. She tells him she wants snails and cabbage. Honestly, snails and cabbage. Malachy shrugs on his coat and goes out to find such a thing. He's passing the local. His friends call out to him. Malachy! Come in and wet your whistle, nothing more than that, surely. Malachy goes in. He comes up with an idea. Bet you can't guess what's in the bag, he says, to one innocent party after another. Put up a whiskey against what's in the bag. Who in God's green would figure Malachy would have a bag of snails? Seven hours later, and somewhat the worse for wear, Malachy arrives home. He was hoping the light would be off, and he could sneak in, but nothing doing. He looks at the soggy, disreputable bag of snails he's got, pawed over by various and sundry personages, thinks the better of it, and dumps them in the gutter. Then he puts the key in the lock as quietly as a man three sheets can manage, but it's too late. His wife jerks the door open, takes one look at bleary-eyed Malachy, and wails, "Malachy, where have you been! I've been starving here alone." Malachy waves towards the snails in the gutter, and says, "Come on, boyos; we're almost there!"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Well, At Least She's Not Texting

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers

I have children, and they play music.

It's interesting to me to see what they pluck out of the dump of pop culture to resurrect. It's very difficult to predict in advance, although we're more or less the same people on the cellular level. We got all the nature and more unadulterated nurture than any public school kids are ever going to get, and yet they are their own people with their own opinions. On second thought, that premise is exactly wrong. Of course they think for themselves. They don't attend public schools where that's not allowed.

So I can say with some standing that somewhere, Nicki Bluhm's parents are scratching their heads and muttering, "Hall and Oates? Really?"

Sure, why not?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Is Frank Bunker Gilbreth Senior The Greatest Man Maine Ever Produced?

Frank Gilbreth was born in Fairfield, Maine, in 1868. He never went to college except to teach at Purdue eventually. He's famous, in a way, and anonymous in another. He's the father portrayed in the original Cheaper By The Dozen, using a stopwatch to figure out how to make his family more efficient. That was his thing --efficiency.

He was a bricklayer. Built houses. He got to wondering if the repetition of laying one oblong slug of fired clay atop two others in a bed of mortar could be improved by observing the motions of skilled persons, breaking these exertions down into their component movements, and eliminating the wasted motions in the routines.  It can, and he did. I've been a hod carrier and mason tender, and I can tell you that working off the ground or a platform the same height as your feet would be backbreaking and slow way to assemble masonry. We always used the footing form boards and leftover planks to assemble ad hoc shelves just lower than waist height behind the mason so that they could turn and pick up a brick and some mortar and go back to the next slot in the wall. I had no idea Clifton Webb, er, Frank Gilbreth came up with the idea less than a century before. It would be literally impossible to calculate how much time, money, effort, and  how many worker's backs Frank Gilbreth (and his wife, who was his partner and carried on after his early death) saved anonymously. His method is now universal and uncontroversial. How many people are incalculably useful to their fellow men?

Gilbreth's ghost is in so many well-known aspects of everyday life that you can't hope to find them all. He's in here, in a scene that's repeated one way or another in so many movies you can't count them, never mind the tens of millions of real-life examples:

It's Gilbreth's method that's used to train soldiers to be able to disassemble and reassemble the components of their small arms, even if they are in total darkness. It's not a pointless trick; if your weapon doesn't work and you can't fix it under any conditions, including at night, you might pay for it with your life.

Want more? How about this:

Guess whose idea it was for a nurse to organize and hand instruments as called for to a surgeon. Think of how ubiquitous that method is. It's universal and uncontroversial. How many people could tell you it was Gilbreth's idea?

There was a contemporaneous and competing version of efficiency expert abroad in the land with Frank and his wife: Taylorism.

Frederick Taylor is the progenitor of so many things that are in the common language today that he deserves to be discussed with the most influential people of his time. That's not necessarily a good thing. Almost all the fruit of Taylor's tree is rotten.

Taylor is the guy standing behind dehumanized workers with a stopwatch, keeping track of bathroom breaks, and generally treating all work as a series of unrelated steps that any unskilled human could do, and constantly finding new ways of measuring it and subdividing it to harangue a little more out of the continually less and less skilled worker. "Scientific Management," they called it. The Soviet Union loved it. They thought all people were just cogs in a big machine anyway. Most of the terms for malingering in dead-end jobs come from Taylorism. Goldbricking. Dogging it. Taylor observed that when normal people are in a group and everyone has the same duties, it is human nature for everyone in the group to devolve and perform at the level of the least capable and energetic member. His solution was a big expansion of management. He is the busted idol of micromanagement, and by extension, big government. 

Taylorism is often touted as the reason you need unions. I don't see it. The death embrace of unionized workers finding dignity in organized heel-dragging while management tries to find ways to lay everyone off is the most soul-destroying work setting I've encountered. Workers are just slaves with two masters instead of one, afraid to work too hard to suit the union, afraid to work too little for the boss. Unionized Taylorism simply puts off the benefits of creative destruction until in the end it leads to just plain destruction. See Detroit. Eventually Taylorism leads to management giving up and finding people for the mind-numbing work overseas, where the boss is the union and the government and the Pinkertons and the mafia rolled into one.

Gilbreth believed in craftsmanship, and in the dignity of productive work. His efficiencies were certainly scientific, in the true sense of the word, but he didn't look at people as robots, or worse, as farm animals. Look at Taylor's most famous nostrum for the men he observed unloading pig iron ingots at a factory:
...the labor should include rest breaks so that the worker has time to recover from fatigue. Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character. Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work.
That is a profoundly malignant view of your fellow human beings. That view of the world is on display on every Internet comment section I've ever seen, now disguised as referring to people capable of only asking if you want fries with that. Unionizing the situation, or keeping the management in one country and the oxen in another (yeah, Apple, I'm looking at you) doesn't alter the disdain the people in charge have for the people that work for them.

I like Gilbreth's world of meaningful work that's freed from plain drudgery, and I try to live in it, but it's getting near impossible for the average person to cobble it together now. You don't have to coerce people to follow sound advice. The government at all levels is all coercion, all the time, about everything, and in their hearts most government functionaries of both parties have a profound contempt for their constituents, and get elected solely on assembling a coalition of voters with a profound contempt of just less than half their fellow citizens. Businesses solve all their problems by Taylor-ing their jobs overseas, and locally just annoy their white collar workers with Six Sigma slogans and cover pages for their TPS reports until they can find a javascript widget to do their job, too. Everyone's angry and envious of everyone else, and no one knows how to do much except some weird little sliver of a byzantine process to earn their keep. Everyone thinks they have the right to micromanage everyone else's life, right down to the lightbulbs and happy meals.

The abolition of drudgery through efficiency should allow people to be craftsmen, and scholars and healers, and counselors, and other meaningful things, and so have rich full lives -- not make them obsolete and useless to themselves and everyone else.

Gilbreth or Taylor. Choose. I'm afraid we already have, and chose very, very wrong.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I Got Asked Again The Other Day, Rather Bluntly, Why We Don't Send The Kids To School

Nothing on this infographic is news to me. My wife and I are peculiarly equipped with first-hand knowledge of the whole enchilada. Either one of us or both of us and one of our children or both of our children have been homeschooled, attended private religiously themed schools, and attended public kindergarten, grammar, and high school. We've been dirt poor, poor, middle class, and for about ten minutes about ten years ago, I felt like a swell when I made enough money to stop paying into Social Security for a few months of the year. I wasn't rich, but I felt that way.

I can assure you in advance that whatever sophism or misunderstanding of statistics you'd like to trot out to refute this chart is nonsense. Don't give me the academic credentials of the parents business. Every public school teacher has a baccalaureate or better. The academic achievement of public schoolchildren's parents that don't teach their children doesn't matter. I will laugh you out of here with "socialization" horsehockey. Not knowing from whom to buy diverted prescription drugs in third period and which "special needs" teacher puts out is not useful information, and does not make for a potent lifetime social lubricant.

It's science, biatches. The idea that if public schools had more money they'd be swell is nonsense. If you cut the education budget to zero, and had entirely unqualified teachers (parents) teaching their own children, children would be overwhelmingly better educated than they are right now.  And we'd be able to cut taxes by 400 billion dollars or so. All the good teachers (I know many) should be teaching in private schools and making more money anyway.

Better still -- it costs 11 large a year per student to send a child to public school around here. Mail my wife 22 grand every year and see how much better she'll do. You can keep the iPad toys they squander public money on these days, though. Training for children to push imaginary buttons on a terminal with pictures of food on it is offered free at all McDonald's restaurants. We'll buy real computers with the money. We won't be able to belly up to the "Genius Bar" when they don't function, standing next to college grads that spell it "genious", but we'll try to bear up under the shame of it.

[Updated: Peter at College@Home sent me another visualization of homeschool info they have at their website]

Homeschool Domination
Created by: College At Home

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Heir's In The Paper. Again

If you're new around here, that's him playing the guitar in the video and on the soundtrack. If you're not new around here, that's still him.

RUMFORD — Picture giant Beanie Baby sumo wrestlers bouncing around a mat and you'll get a good idea of Saturday night's St. Patrick's Day Sumo Wrestling Throwdown Showdown. The debut event at Mountain Valley High School pitted community and business members and students against each other for rollicking laughs in the fundraiser for the Greater Rumford Community Center and its programs. (read more at the Lewiston Sun Urinal)

Well, that's pretty good, son. But you're nothing until you appear with Puppet Show

Mars Rocks!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Rock Of Fergus

Two drunkards are staggering down the lane in the middle of the night. A copper grabs them by the collar and says, "You two look like you're up to no good. You; what's your name and where do you live?"

The heavier fellow rears up a bit, straightens an imaginary belt, clears his throat, and says," I'm Malachy Curran, of no fixed address!"

The cop turns to the other drunk.

"I live in the flat above Malachy." 

Related: Orange Line

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy Naomh Padraig's Day

Her uncles found her alone, a little girl sitting quietly in her family home in the county of Mayo. For the Irish, the famine was just the last straw; they had a litany of Cromwell's leftover reasons to leave anyway. So they left in their thousands. Sinead O'Leary was no different -- first to Liverpool; then to Canada; on to Boston. When she finally made it to New York City, now a grown woman and married, she rechristened it New Cork, and no one that knew her dared disagree. She made it so.

She simply refused to remember anything unpleasant, and seemed to forget nothing else. She regaled her children and grandchildren with stories of Cuchulain and Medb, faeries and wee people, Naomh Padraig and his clovers and snakes; a living encyclopedia of fun and fantasy.

She saved what little money came her way, and bought and sold things. Her long lost relatives would send her this and that from the Auld Sod, and she'd sell them to Yankees who collected such as her family had, as if the Irish were as exotic as Babylonians, not right across the Irish Sea from their own forefathers.

One fine spring morning, she opened a package her uncle had sent. Inside, sheepskin glowed with monastic filigree. A Bible box. She knew the Lord's word was on those Latin pages. Oh yes, she knew. She was wise enough to know that there was a devil of a ransom in it from a collector, too. She left her trail of gossip breadcrumbs here and there about what she had, and waited like a spider in the rain. It wasn't long until a trim woman appeared at her door, sent by a colossus of finance to buy it for a mausoleum of manuscripts he was constantly stoking on Fifth Avenue. Sinead was more than ready for her. He wanted it like the damned wanted icewater. Sinead knew exactly how long to hold out before acquiescing.

Into real estate the money went, where it grew like a mushroom, unseen and untended. Then her son invested it for her in the stock market. Soon the simple woman, who still retatted her own lace when it frayed, was rich. She always was, if you asked her, even though her uncles could have told you they had found her alone in that stone cottage, all those years ago, because her parents were dead and gone right outside the door, their mouths green from trying to eat the grass when the potatoes failed.

She was very old when that awful day christened Black Friday took her fortune, just like the famine had taken her family. Her son sat with her on the simple wooden settee she still favored, like a pew in her own church. "It has St. Patrick's clover on it, and to put a cushion on it would be extravagance itself." He told her, gently, that he had lost her money, all of it --over a million dollars -- in one afternoon.

"What a blessing!" she said.

Her son, now grown grey himself, and ruined along with his mother, couldn't comprehend.

"How kind of the Lord to wait until I could afford to lose a million dollars. Imagine what a blow it would have been to lose such a sum when I was poor!"

Her son burst out laughing. And he knew then, that his beloved mother was placed on this Earth for a reason. They would rise again. Surely.

"Besides," she said, "I have three more Bible Boxes"

(You can purchase my book of Flash Fiction here: The Devil's In The Cows)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pure Pop For Now People, Chapter Five: Be-Bop Deluxe

Ah, guys in dinner jackets and sailor suits and Hendrix blouses playing glam-o-rock-o-jazz-o-prog-o-pop-o songs. Can't let David Bowie and Bryan Ferry grab all the Country Life chicks. Be-Bop Deluxe

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Look, Ma; I'm An Impresario

Mars Rocks!

The Heir had a big show last night. That's the soundcheck they did for it. It was at the local recreation center. It's in the basement of a high school no one's using anymore in Mexico, Maine.

He's sixteen. The drummer is barely seventeen. The giant bass player is only thirteen years old.

They did something way past a performance. They were concert promoters. They charged two bucks to get in for an hour's show, and advertised it after a fashion on Facebook. When it was over, the woman that runs the recreation center slapped fifty singles or so in their hands, and asked them to play in the high school gymnasium next week.

He's already better than I ever was. It remains to be seen if he'll be better than I could ever have been. My money's on him. 

Friday, March 09, 2012

I Wrote This In 2006. There's Been A Lot Of Effluent Under The Bridge Since Then. I'm Still In Business

I'm not in the advice business. I'm willing to talk about what I'm doing. That's different.

I have no formal business training. I'm not sure it matters much. It would be nice if they could train you to be able to run something effectively right out of the gate, but it seems unlikely. All the advice I got from business educated persons while running businesses wasn't just worthless, it was actively bad.

It may be because I've always been in the construction industry, more or less. It's different in many respects from other industries. When I went to college, there was no such thing as Construction Management. It was a blue collar profession right to the top.

I read Adam Smith and F. A. Hayek to get the big picture. I have no use for Keynesians or Marxists. Keynes says bang on the side of the TV to get a good picture. Marx says steal the TV, and then break it so no one can watch it. Then we'll all be happy. The world doesn't work that way. As far as getting the small picture, I just paid attention. I've learned some harsh lessons along the way, but never as bad as educated persons did alongside me. I've seen some colossal errors made due to hubris. I just plug away, generally. I've always made the most money doing things most everyone thought were crazy when I began. I could fit it on one page in pencil and all the numbers added up. That kind of crazy.

I have absolutely no use for show-biz management. Lee Iacocca and Donald Trump and all those guys with the laser pointers and the Rah Rah speech couldn't find their ass with a map and flashlight in the real world. They either build houses of cards and sell them before the wind blows, or allow you to point a camera at them while they run things into the ground for amusement. That's why they're telling you how to do it at $450.00 a ticket in a seminar. It beats working.

When I was working at a large commercial construction company, every once in a while, I'd be sitting in a meeting room with a fat sheath of figures of doubtful accuracy and utility, pressed into my hand by some inkstained wretch who had the BIG ANSWER. Move things from column A to column H, and all would be well. Institute Protocol F to counter Bad Behavior M and we'll lay in the clover. Make Target X and Bank C will give us a toaster.

"You do realize that something happens outside of this building, don't you?" I'd ask.

These gentlemen thought that the building of large and complicated things out in the landscape from Canada to Florida and Martha's Vineyard to Sausalito existed simply to give them figures to Rubik around on their desktop. They did not realize that they existed to support the actual operation. They thought they were the actual operation. Everyone in the government makes this same mistake, 25 hours a day, 11 days a week, by the way. A quarter of a billion dollars was going through that business a year. Very few of my colleagues had ever seen one bit of it generated.

They ran that place into the ground.

I was a middle manager. I helped make them a lot of money while everyone else lost it by the bushel. They hired consultants to restructure, and the consultants were instructed to ask me how I did it. I sat in front of them and got the same feeling an ugly puppy must get when the vivisectionist visits the dog pound. Some things are not amenable to being pulled apart for inspection. The components only work when they are working together.

I told them I didn't do anything. I let other people do it. I told them that when the customers called, we always answered the phone, and asked them what they wanted. I told the estimators to accurately determine what it would cost us to perform the required work. I submitted the bids on time and told the customer I wanted the job. If they said someone else was cheaper I instructed them to hire them, and to please keep us in mind for the future. I kept accurate track of how we were doing, and made sure we charged for all the work we performed. And I directed that we deliver the jobs on-time no matter what. When I ran out of one kind of work, I looked for work that was similar to the kind we already knew how to do. I hired good people and I trusted them, while expecting a lot from them.

That was it. They seemed disappointed. They were looking for a slogan of some sort, I think. They promoted me, and I left.

I'm trying every day to make the thing I made yesterday, only better. Or faster. Better and faster is even better. If I can't make money at it, I am disinterested in giving a congressman $1000 to get a set-aside for me, or a law passed against my competition. I'll do something else. The market is wise because the market is everybody's wisdom together. The market will tell me what to do. The customers tell me what to do. I listen imperfectly, because I am imperfect, but I get it eventually. I'm going too slow, and doing a poor job, but it's always getting better.

I show up every day, and work as hard and as smart as I can. I've been told that this pays off in the long run.

Who told me that? Why, everyone that has nothing to do with the government, a university, or a newspaper or television, that's who.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Little Known Fact: When I Was Little I Went To Private School

I have flat feet, and my father was a banker. I went to school every day carrying my books in a briefcase like this one, after my father had worn it out, and wearing wing-tip shoes, because a cobbler could put wedges in the heels.

I have never again been as cool as I was when I was ten years old. 

Monday, March 05, 2012

My Cant Hook Can't Cant Hook Like That

Not sure exactly where in Maine these fellers are. The other videos appended to this one mention Litchfield, which is south and east of here.

Maine is really big, and has very few people living in it. The state of Maine is as big in area as all the other New England states combined, and there are only 1.3 million people here. The largest city in Maine is Portland, and it's one-tenth the size of Boston, which is a small city anyway.

People from Maine refer to people not from Maine as from away. You're a flatlander, or maybe a Massh*le.  I have been living in Maine for two years now. I like it here. People are friendly and wary at the same time, if that's possible. You're OK with them until you prove otherwise. Many people from away prove otherwise immediately, and continuously, after moving here to escape the purgatory they helped make somewhere else. Me, I've found lots of people here I have nothing in common with that I get along famously with. You'll be left alone here if you really want it. I can't help but notice there's a lot of empty houses around here, filled with the imaginary people that claim to want to be left alone.

There's a fetish for milquetoasts to prepare themselves for doomsday nowadays. It's for amusement, for the most part, like most such things. Don't they wonder how foolish they look to people who've known every day of their lives that doomsday is every day if you don't work?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

As The Jaded Pornographer Used To Say, I'm Running Out Of Places To Put It

What an appetite for denying objective reality the media has. I'm forced to read the local papers now, something I haven't done in many years. They have run story after story about the "snowless winter." As I understand it, it's been entirely caused by my stubborn refusal to remove the three 100 watt incandescent bulbs I have in the basement. The waste heat from those babies got the temperature down there almost warm enough to get the CFL in the fourth socket to emit a little light. I apologize unreservedly.

Of course the part of the snowless winter that stubbornly refuses to show up is a lack of snow. A local school has already announced the kids have to stay later in June to make up for all the missed days. Of course the story said that even though there was no snow, it sure did snow a lot.  It may not have been a very snowy winter... is the opening line of the story. I've read a hundred of these.

We trick-or-treated in eight inches of snow. But that's the fall! It doesn't count. It's snowed more or less continuously for the last week, but I guess that doesn't count for some other reason.

I've been here for three winters now. This is the most snow now on the ground there's been for all three on this date. It's average for around here. I didn't move to Maine expecting it not to snow. One grows weary of being told you're shoveling four inches of partly cloudy, though.

[Update: Monday's local paper says: "Warm weather bumps big-air competition to Sunday at Black Mountain in Rumford".  The observed temperature in Rumford, Maine for Saturday March 3rd: 37 degrees Farenheit. The average historical daytime high in Rumford, Maine for March 3rd? 37 degrees Farenheit.]

Friday, March 02, 2012

Put On Your Wig, Woman

Junior Walker and the All-Stars are in second place behind Steely Dan for words that had never been assembled in that order before.
I heard a rumor that the Fashion Police executed the dancers right after the show.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Lost Horizon

One can't help but be affected more by personal experience than information gained at a distance. I've only been to San Francisco once, for one day, about twenty-five years ago, and it was one of the darkest, coldest, dirtiest, unfriendliest places I've ever been in. A toll booth operator can ruin a whole state for me, so maybe I'm more stiff-necked about such matters than most people. But if I see the words: San Francisco in print, my mind fills autofills a: bah! right after it. Still, my mind triumphs over my heart now and again and you get interested in things for their own sake. San Francisco is durn interesting, and has been for a long time. It matters. But all in all, I'd rather go there in 1955 than now. How handy that you can.