Posts Tagged ‘employment’

Time for Covidic Database

May 5, 2020

Just looking around, I notice we’re in an information age.

Everywhere you look there’s info.


The info gets stored and horded and whored in e-bundles to be harvested by humans and their bot-slaves. Then the info becomes digitally transformed into  a magic thing called data.

Now everywhere you go online, or off, there’s  a data trail that is tucked away somewhere in vast e-storage bins. Those gigabytes reside interminably in quiet isolation, until the gigs and megs are retrieved  by a dutifully wonkish  techie or faceless bot for various purposes:

Some purposes good, some bad. It’s all out there somewhere.

The system wants to serve you; the system wants to screw you. Its two sides of a digital coin or crypto coin or a capitalist dream or a socialist nightmare. Maybe its your best friend and maybe its your worst enemy.

We’ve learned that the powers-that-be open some mystical flood gates of that Big River of Idolic Desire. The powers  dangle desirable stuff and images of desirable people in front of your eyes so you’ll buy stuff you think you need to be like them, and by so doing you make yourself contented while  keeping the corporate ogres fat n happy as you become fat n happy like them.

Now many of us have begun to to discern that the data mining environment that we’ve surrounded ourselves with is corruptive.

Then Whammo!

Suddenly we have a worldwide disease that corners us into making judgements about what we must or should do to collectively  strike the disease down, or permit it to continue running rampant across our nation and the world.

Some data you know about; you can figure out what the social media operators are doing behind the scenes; other data is hidden. They say data is being gathered about you all the time in everything you do, and it is controversial because you don’t even know what it is that the wizards of data are putting together right now as we speak about you and yours and your habits and your travels and your social interactions and your blah blah blah and who cares about your stuff anyway. Maybe your mother cares about your stuff, or your boss or your partner or Boomchokka Analytica.

I don’t care about your data, although I am writing about it now in a matter-of-fact way because it does constitute a chunk of megabytes somewhere on that mega database in the sky or wherever the hell it is. You may get a call about it some time from Big Brother, although I doubt that because he likes to keep a low profile.

But I regress. As I was sayin’. . .everywhere you look, data this and data that. Database this and database that. Who cares?

Well now we’ve just found out that everybody needs to know about your stuff because of the damned coronavirus.

I mean, they don’t actually need to know about all your data stuff just . . .

whether you test positive for the COVID-19.

It’s just that simple, but now it happens to be a matter of life and death, not just a question of how much money some corporate entity can make off you.

We need to put together a database, you see, about the coronavirus so the professional health people and the doctors and the epidemiologists and the patholgists and the DHHS can make informed decisions about the best way to drive this damned disease back into the ground, instead of it floating around in droplets and vapors amongst the shoppers and the meat-cutters and the hair stylists and the movie ticket-takers and whoever else is trying to keep you satisfied while themselves  making a living in a public place in this here United States of America.

And furthermore, as it turns out now in this life and death situation of Covidic ruin, that mega database in the sky needs to get some real facts about how many deceased have actually met their demise because of Covid—not because of some other disease.

I just hope that the data-geeks can pull all this stuff together in a useful way without generating a hornet’s nest of privacy doowop flipflops.

We need to get some of these statistics straightened out so that discontented folks with gun-totin’ public tantrums can’t get out there in the public square and confuse uninformed citizens about how many folks actually died of  Covid and how many died of some other causes.

Just the facts—that’s what we need now. Read ‘em and weep.

Therefore we could theoretically make good use a Covid-infection database, so statisticians can project accurately and responsibly about how many people will likely catch the disease in the days and months ahead. . .

and to what extent public and commercial spaces ought to be opened up and made available again for common use so we can move  reasonably, safely beyond the socially-distanced construct under which we presently strain.

You see, just now when we are, as a human race, aspiring to survive and prosper on this planet in spite of the Covid destruction, we now hear reports of protests bustin’ out in the town squares and on the net, exerting pressure on whoever’s in charge to renew the openings and operation of this, that, or the other business, because so-and-so is fed up with the lockdown and Billy Jo is tired of the social distancing and Peggy Sue wants to get her hair done and Arnold wants to go work out in the gym and blah blah blah and mainly . . .

People want to get back to work.

We can understand that.

But We find ourselves in a nationwide conundrum because so many folk are getting  stir-crazy and they wanna push the envelope while others are goody-to-shoes politically correct and wanna play by the rules when we don’t have any rules yet about whether the covid numbers are political hype to impose political control on the clueless masses, or. . .

prudent practice for the defeating of Covid. . .

whichever the case may be.

But really, this whole big baileywick comes down to answering this very important question:

Who has the Covid-19 inside of them? and

Who has not?

So it makes sense (does it not?) to test everybody.

A testing campaign on a national scale and beyond, on a world scale, would not only provide a workable database for informed decision-making by medical doctors and pandemic-preventers but also

such a project as this would generate a whole lot of new employment opportunities for a lot of people. . . especially

Good training for new trainees in the profession of public health. They may be battling this disease for a long time. . . long after I’m dead and gone after 68 years of watching this amazing world cruise by.

Public health becomes more and more of a problem to-be-solved, as covid creeps through the mire of our excessive abuses and misuses.

A reliable Covid database would become an expanding industry during this time of suddenly massive unemployment.

It would require lots of people to be hired to gather information about who got infected and who did not. . . who died of the covid disease and who died of some other dysfunction.

We need to know.

So Get tested soon.

It’s your patriotic duty.

It’s that simple: get tested for Covid. Then we can get on with our lives.

Glass half-Full

Baby Boomers’ Labor Lament

February 5, 2019

Here’s a little ditty of a rhyme to be sung to the tune of . . .

Oh Home on the Range,

a song from back in the days of Davy Crockett, Howdy Doody, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans . . .

Oh give me a loan

so I can buy a home

where our kids and their friends can play,

where seldom is heard

a contentious word

and the mortgage is paid before my dying day.

Oh give me a job

so I won’t have to rob

from  Pete to pay Paul,

and so I’ll pay no interest on the cards;

and never shall we fall

on  bad times at all,

And I won’t have to work too damn hard.


Oh give me job security

by the time I reach maturity

so our competence is not made obsolete,

and the skills we were taught

don’t get replaced by a bot;

and my dignity doesn’t just lapse in defeat.

Oh give me a timely upgrade

so my life’s work doesn’t fade

on the trash heap of obsolescence.

Oh please let me try

to outsmart the AI,

so my time’s not spent out in the dread convalescence.

King of Soul

Doing the Limbo at 64

January 9, 2016

I remember back in the 1950s when I was growing up and attending Catholic school. They taught us that there’s a place called Limbo, where you go after death if you had never received baptism while living in the world. Although I am a mere Christian now, having been baptized in 1978 by own choice choice at the age of 27, it has been revealed to this protestant that there is indeed a place called Limbo.

But it is not actually a place; rather, it is a time, a time of life.

How do I know this?

I am in Limbo now.  I am learning that it is a stage of life through which you pass, before–not after– death, a kind of a nether time through which the maturing American sojourns, somewhere between ages 64 and 66.

When you turn 64, there are multiple signs that indicate you have arrived in Limbo. The first is, of course, remembering back to 1968 when the Beatles raised the profound question “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

On one level, the song is profound for the aging adult, insofar as it raises the question of one’s life-status or love-condition in relation to one’s spouse, or, as they say nowadays, one’s “significant other” or lack thereof.

On another level, the question itself–about being needed and fed–is critical for the aging adult, insofar as it raises the question of one’s life-status in relation to “the System.”

You know the System I’m talking about, the one that–as we thought back in the day–would relegate us all to little ticky-tacky houses where we’d all look just the same.

And once you start seeing the signs that you are approaching–or perhaps have already arrived in– Limbo, suddenly the omens are all over the place, and very plain to see.

For example, as I happened to tune in, a couple of days ago, to Diane Rehm’s show, in which the Grand mistress of inside-the-beltway grapevine NPR confab discussed the big “R” word with Teresa Ghilarducci,

I learned that the assets so far accumulated by myself and my wife (six years younger than me) are, of course, not nearly enough to “make it through” the Retirement years, which is a special golden or rose-colored-glasses period  sometimes called the “rest of our life.”

Theoretically, our assets are not enough, especially with, you know, zero interest rates etcetera etcetera.

On the other hand, who the hell knows how much is enough?

Furthermore, this unstable scenario has been further destabilized by myself, yours truly, who recently, and oh-so-irresponsibly, decided to quit my job seven months before reaching the big SIX-FIVE road marker, because it was–as my body was daily communicating to me–wearing me out, after the past 45 years of uninterrupted work, the lion’s share of which was spent in construction and maintenance jobs.

There’s a reason (as I am discovering) that 65 is the big mile marker, the fork in the road where two paths diverge, as Robert Frost might have called it many and many a year ago.

In my case, I just didn’t quite make it that far, stopped short of the finish line with only seven months to go.

In one moment of time I morphed from one Bureau of Labor Statistical category to another. Whereas, I formerly was perhaps categorized as  employed but underemployed (being a college grad in a maintenance job), this statistical territory I now inhabit is a never-neverland somewhere between “unemployed” and “dropped-out of the labor force altogether–having given up on looking for another job!


The real hell of it is I’m still looking for a job, still striving to redeem myself from the stigma of being a labor-force dropout, still busting gut to add another few thousand bucks into that magic pot of IRA and/or 401K gold at the end of the Social Security rainbow.

Did I mention “gold”? Don’t even think about it, except all the online doomsayers are saying I need to buy it. But I wouldn’t know where to start. I mean, I’ve lived in the System all my life.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, where I’m filling blanks and checking boxes in online applications, the question becomes: who is going to hire a 64-year-old who just may be one of those  off-the-chart non-entitities who has “given up” on gainful employment, when there are multitudes of unemployed or underemployed 22-year-olds out there pounding the keyboard and the pavement looking for work?

Who? I ask you who?

Don’t think too hard. That’s been my problem all my life–thinking too much, and maybe writing too much too. (And if you believe that, I’ve got three novels, poised in cyberspace on the website linked below; they’re hanging there, suspended in electrons waiting to enhance your historical reading experience.)

So here I leave you with a closing anecdote. It is a dilemma wrapped in an enigma.

6:30 this morning, still dark. I just delivered my wife to her nursing job. I’m at the gas pump of a convenience store. I’m thinking. . .maybe I should go in there and ask for a job. Then I’m looking blankly at the gas pump as the digitals flash, and my eye wanders up to a sign on the gas pump. It says:

“Polar pop any size 69 cents”

And above that message is another little sign, with pictures of “Crown” cigarette packs, and an offer that smokers cannot refuse:

“$3.18 if you buy two.”

Do I really want to spend the last six months of my working life. . .



Who’s got the Work?

August 15, 2012

In the predictable dialectic of American politics, the federal outcome is a burgeoning synthesis of the two parties.

Republicans like to trickle wealth down from the top, while Democrats prefer to spread it broadly from the bottom up. I think the GOP strategy is more consistent with the habitual, historical inclinations of the human race, and is therefore probably more effective. Whereas the Demo approach requires more social engineering and bureaucratic effluence.

Affluence vs. effluence is what we’re talking about here in America.

Whether the statist Dems win the day in November, or the individualist Repubs gain the advantage, there is only so much that either administration can do to make an impact on the way things happen.

Our great ship of State is so massive that it just about takes three or four years to get the thing directed in a different direction from where it was headed before all the elocutionary hoopla.

So whether the Repubs or the Dems prevail in November, I’ll work along with the victors, and try to do what’s best for me and mine, by whatever resources are sent down the pike, or up it, as the case may be.

I of plan to vote for Romney/Ryan, because I want to see our great vessel veer toward less interference for people who are trying to earn a living in this difficult economy. The sad state in which we find our great economic machine is, by the way, nobody’s fault. It is what it is, a function of  both our collective genius and  habitual dysfunction.

I want to see in the days ahead an official encouragement for those of us who are inclined toward less, not more, dependence on the obese nanny state. This is what I think we need just now.

Nevertheless, We the people will choose in November which way this barge lollygags through the next four years. After the dust settles, what’s most important is that we pull together as Americans to get this beached barge back out into the channel of commerce. It could be that the very survival of our nation depends mightily on us working together, with emphasis on that word: working.

What is “working” anyway?

Working means you and me finding finding something that needs to be done and doing it, or finding something that you can do well, and doing it, whether or not you are being paid what you think you are worth, because times are hard.

Therefore I say, to all ye citizens of this great United States of America, certainly don’t forget to vote. But more importantly, find something to do that will benefit you, your family, or your community. If you are unemployed, or if you are underemployed, you will do yourself and all the rest of us a big favor by doing something productive today, instead of languishing on the couch with a video or a six-pack or a jagged little pill.

You got to go out and git it; it ain’t gon’ come to you, as my friend Stacey says.  Don’t wait for the government of anyone else to lay it at your doorstep.  Stay busy, and together we’ll get this thing up and running again.

There’s only so much the politicians and the corporatists can do for you. Really, when you get right down to it, the future of this nation depends on you, and me.

So get busy.

Glass half-Full

Golden gated possibilities

June 18, 2012

The Golden Gate bridge was completed and dedicated for use in 1937. It was a pretty impressive piece of work. Check it out:

The idea of actually building this necessarily very big, complex structure took hold among some forward-thinking people; they were business leaders on the far side of the San Francisco bay area, in Santa Rosa, north of the waterway. Those enterprising folks in the California outback got together and started pushing the preposterous idea of building a bridge. Everybody who looked into the possibility of such a project knew it would be a tall order, no doubt about it.

Could such a thing even be done?

The Chamber of Commerce in the city of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, set the wheels of potential progress in motion. That is to say, in 2012 parlance, the “private sector.”  haha. They ran with the idea of getting something started. Together with “public sector” legislative bodies, the elected Board of Supervisors of Santa Rosa and of San Francisco, they recruited some engineers to actually get the ball rolling on the design requirements of such a gargantuan task.

An elected governmental body, the California legislature, eventually took on the massive project in 1928, turning its implementation over to their highway department. Bond financing became a problem in 1930, after the Crash when times were hard and folks didn’t have much money. Many didn’t even have, as they say, “two dimes to rub together.” So a major player in the financial industry, a founder of the Bank of America in San Francisco, bailed out the debt logjam by, according to Wikipedia, agreeing to buy the public-issue bonds, in order to get the bridge constructed.  Actual construction work began in 1933.

By April of 1937, long story short, there was a bridge where none had been before; and now, seventy-five years later, it’s still there. I know this is true. Pat and I have walked across the thing many times, even though we live in North Carolina.  Our business-administrating son, a SF resident, rode across it yesterday on his bicycle.

These things have happened in history. Put that in your public/private-sector pipe and smoke it, all ye 21st-century couch-potatoed Americans. Where there’s a will, as our grandparents used to say back in the day, there’s a way.  And they proved it.

Now these days, such projects would be much more complicated.

Or are they? Well, yes, but that’s a deep subject.

These days, you can’t just cook up a big project like that and go out and round up a bunch of folks in need of work and get them to do the thing. Americans don’t work like that any more, and besides, our infrastructure is already built anyway, right? I mean, nowadays you can’t just find a bunch of shovel-wielding fellers and get ’em to dig a big hole in the ground, pour some concrete and steel into it, then do the same on the other side, and bolt up a bridge between them. Can’t do it. Americans don’t work like that any more. We’re not programmed like in the 21st-century.

I wonder what it is that Americans can do now. We are, you know, pretty damned good at, what? making excuses, blameshifting? These days, we’re about as likely to do a big collective work like that as we are to wander out in the yard and watch the sun heat up the roof, or watch the lawn grow.

Glass half-Full

The Breakdown of Society

June 3, 2012

It starts with polarization. Is that okay, or not?

Polarization between left and right; or between conservative and liberal; libertines vs. disciplinarians; religious vs. atheist; sinners vs. saints; Democrat vs. Republican; libertarian vs. socialist;  communist vs. fascist; And of course there’s the original  human version, and most fundamental one of all: right vs. wrong, also known sometimes as “us” against “them.”

Is your personal identity, or mine, defined by one’s decision to take a position on “one side or the other”? Philosophers and sociologists call this way of classifying stuff as dichotomy, an insistence on believing that everything is either one thing or its opposite thing.

In reality, of course, we are all composites of both. I suppose that makes us all mixed up.  Why, my own chosen faith framework, Christianity, teaches that we are all sinners, while we can be, even at the same time by God’s grace, saints. Consequently, we discover that everywhere you look in this world we find, not so much black and white, but shades of gray. Shades of gray in every societal, political, and religious entity and institution that is out there.

And most important of all: shades of gray within my own (formerly) damned self.

Where does this endless diversity of contentions take us? What’s the world coming to? And how will little old me end up in it?

Over my sixty years of life, especially in the last half-decade or so, I have noticed a certain suspect predisposition within myself, and it disturbs me. To describe it simply, I would have to say it can only be called a kind of death-wish on society, because the world is so screwed up. It’s a perverse reasoning that if society–or the nation or the world–were to fall apart because of so much dysfunction and injustice, then conditions would spontaneously emerge that would somehow facilitate my self-actualization as a person,  and hence my fulfillment with a meaningful role in the new society.

But this is madness. I mean, this was Hitler’s problem. And look what happened there.

Furthermore, in research and reading that I have undertaken in the last year or so, I have discovered that I am not the only one who experiences this feeling of delusory self-justification at the expense of societal downfall. There are many others out there whose attitude toward the world is reflected as what some have called “apocalyptic.”

As I  am presently writing a novel, Smoke, which is set in the year 1937, I encountered this word, “apocolyptic” as descriptive of the fascists in Britain during that convulsive period of pre-WWII history. These desperate extremists didn’t care if their movement would bring about the downfall of British society, because they were so convinced that they were right and everybody else wrong, especially the communists across the street (in East London). And Britain’s experience of this polarization was minimal as compared to the Continental manifestations of it just across the Channel.

The whole European world was, at that time, attempting to divide itself according to the two opposing apocalyptic, or revolutionary, movements of that day: fascists vs. communists: fascists in Germany and Italy, Communists in Russia, eastern Europe and possibly Spain. There is so much to say about this, I cannot possibly do it here, so I’ll continue dealing with it in the book I am writing. But I would like to bring to your attention this passage about Germany in 1930, from page 15 of World Crisis and British Decline, 1929-56, by Roy Douglas (St. Martin’s Press, 1986.):

“Economic misery was matched by political chaos. At the General Election (in Germany) of September 1930 there were eleven parties each with a dozen or more representatives, and no single party held as many as a quarter of the total. The Nazis, who had only won twelve seats a couple of years earlier, became second party of the state with 107; while the Communists advanced from 54 to 77. Both of those parties believed in revolutionary solutions, and were perfectly willing to allow the state to collapse in ruins, in order to rebuild from their own preferred foundations. Thus they had no interest in making the economy work as well as possible, and every interest in refusing to cooperate with anybody.”

Sound familiar?

What they had back then was a failure to agree, and consequently, movements of both formerly-centrist positions toward extremes. Ultimately, the only reconciliation of those polarizations was one hell of a big war.

So, is the lesson of history that failure to agree may lead to apocalyptically chaotic rearrangemets of society? It could happen, but I’m not looking forward to it. When I was younger, I thought I might be awaiting some kind of apocalypse. I thought it was beginning in the fall of ’08. But we’re still here, all of us plodding along.

So, in this sixth decade of my time on earth I’m hoping and praying that the world does not fall apart. How about you?

Glass half-Full

Couch potatoes, or real food?

May 2, 2012

Most Americans will not do the hard physical labor required to harvest our nation’s crops.

But in these days politicians, thinking that they’re doing us all a favor, want to meddle with immigration laws that effectively kick out the migrant workers who perform that hard work.

But most of us Americans are just not up to the task. Workers just will not do what many of our grandparents did  back in the day to get all that food out of the fields, into the supply chain, and into the pantries and bellies of consumers.

Here’s what has happened in Georgia in the last year or so, after the legislature went trying to meddle with the sensitive dynamics of supply/demand in agricultural labor markets.

In a conversation with Neal Conan of Talk of the Nation last Monday 4/30/12, Dick Minor, partner of Minor Produce, Andersonville Ga., and President of Georgia Fruit and Vegetable  Growers Association, said this:

“. . . that just anybody can come do this job is also a misnomer. We consider these people skilled workers because they are pretty much professional harvesters, and they’re even skilled to particular crops.

So people harvesting watermelons may not be able to pick peaches, and people picking blueberries may not be able to pick peppers. So certain crews that work in certain crops, and they do that year-round, as you know it’s very tough work. It’s very tough conditions – long hours. You’ve got to be in really good physical shape. You’ve got to know the process of harvesting crops.”

When Neal Conan asked Mr. Minor about using parolees to do the work, the President of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Associations said:

“It hasn’t worked out. I was actually one of the test farms that we did that on, and we tried to make it work. It runs into the same problem of using any other domestic workforce: They’re just not skilled in the technique to harvest the crop, nor are they physically able to do that work.

I mean, you have to imagine being in 100-degree days for 10 hours, and, you know, very physically demanding work, stooping down, running, lifting. You’ve got to be, sort of, trained, almost like an athlete. You’ve got to be trained to be able to do it, and we offered open employment to them all summer long, and we had just a constant turnstile of people coming and going.

And nobody was excited about doing it. A lot of them did it for several days, but none of them lasted.”

The net effect of the legislature’s misguided micromanagement of labor markets cost the state of Georgia, in Mr. Minor’s estimation, lost revenuers of $140 million, which, when the “multiplier” effect of that money is factored in, amounts to about $390 million.

This happened because 40%  of workers needed to harvest  Georgia’s crops in the last year were not there to do the work. The accustomed agricultural pickers did not show up because they were not hired because of  bad law, or the workes were afraid of the consequences of showing up and risking deportation.

But American couch potatoes wouldn’t get out in the fields and gather all those watermelons and peaches and whatnot.

In this country, we’ve traded real potatoes for couch potatoes. This is largely the result of our leisurely lifestyle, and obsession with entertainments, and government welfare that robs workers of incentives to prosper, and just plain old-fashioned laziness.

Americans don’ know how to work any more. Its no wonder that the corporations sitting on all that funny Federal money are unwilling to take a chance and grant us more employment.

CR, with new novel, Smoke,  in progress

Wage Deflation

April 11, 2012

It is no coincidence that the last three callers–Shawn in Cincinnati, Philip in Louisville, and Edward in Baltimore– on yesterday’s Diane Rehm show made comments about wage deflation, because this is what is happening in America.

The developing world, BRIC countries et al, are now cranking consumer goods much cheaper than we can. No way around it. The great expansion of national wealth and productivity that we were manifesting a hundred years ago is what the emerging countries are now in the midst of. There is nothing wrong with this; its the way the world has always been. The lean and vigorous youngsters have always surpassed the older folks . This applies to nations and whole economies as well.

I enjoy listening to the Diane Rehm show immensely, and frequently. I caught it yesterday while painting and cleaning a vacant apartment, which is part of my job. Thank God for my job.

Susan did a nice job of filling in for Diane, as usual, although no one will ever really fill Diane’s unique footprint in public discourse. The panel was, as usual, well-chosen, with Jim, Jerry and Betsy, all of whom are highly qualified to talk about their topic at hand, jobs and the economy.

But the illustrious panel spent the first twenty minutes or so, as is typical for today’s talking heads,  in the predictable media obsession about what Bernanke said, and the snail’s pace increments of labor statistics and GDP and all the gov numbers and blahblahblah.

I got a little upset when Jerry said the major reason we’re not getting job recovery is because growth is slow. Well that’s like saying the sky is blue and leaves are green. Now Jerry had some very good points, as did the other panelists, points about international competition in business and manufacturing, discouraged workers and their segment of the unemployment statistics, the “sugar high” of Fed-generated liquidity, the “still real dangers” that threaten our hyped-up recovery, gains in the first part of the year with declines in the second half of the year and how that may be a pattern in the last few years, whether and how/why companies are producing more goods with fewer workers and less pay, the necessary once-and-future skills development and job training programs that our country needs and the emperor’s new clothes and so forth.

But those three callers from the rust belt–they really drove, and without planning it, the point home: wage deflation. Too many people looking for work in a short production economy–wages go down. Its just supply and demand, as supplied to employment. No rocket scientist needed there.

But its time that some Americans start taking new directions; we need to find something else to do. And it is no coincidence that the first caller, Chad in Lansing, spoke about his chosen field of training and employment–agriculture–and how strong that sector is in our economy just now.

Agriculture has always been the heart of our great American expansion, and perhaps it always will be, because we have an abundant resource that many nations have a shortage of–land. And, as Jerry pointed out during the enlightened part of the discussion–the demand for food is high. Always will be. Not to mention energy sustainability, appropriate technology, etc. which is another topic altogether. Gotta go to work now; have a nice day.

Glass half-Full

Shovel-ready? Hammer down

August 6, 2011

In the early 1980s, I worked with a large crew of men to construct the Linn Cove Viaduct. This massively intricate bridge project was a missing link to connect the two halves of the formerly uncompleted Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a long roadway which had begun during the Roosevelt New Deal jobs program in the 1930s; we finally finished the job in the 1980s during the Reagan years. The parkway wound through the Appalachians in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

This is funny, in an ironic way. The bridge’s construction had been initiated by the granddaddy of American Democratic Keynesian Liberal Make-work Jobs programs, Franklin Delano Roosevelt; but its completion almost fifty years later was achieved during the administration of that great uncle of American Conservative Republican Trickle-down FreeMarket productivity, Ronald Reagan. I see some common ground there.

It must have been the presence of a rugged mile-high mountain (called Grandfather) in North Carolina, and a world war, that had prevented completion of the Parkway under the New Deal. But that was ok with me and the several hundred other guys who finished the job back in ’85 or so. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to do the work, and thus provide meat and bread, homes, paid light bills and so forth for our families during those years.

After that job, boy, was I in for a long string of years learning lessons in the school of had knocks. But Pat and I, managed, by God’s grace and all that sweat equity, along with her embarkation on a nursing career, to get the three young’uns raised and off to Duke and Carolina. ‘T’weren’t easy, though.

But I was thinking, this morning, August 6, 2011, about that great public works project in which I played a part back in the day. Although I had been a student of English Literature, Political Science, and cannabis at LSU about a decade earlier, and although I had spent a few years after that selling debit insurance, newspaper classified advertising, and printing, I had drifted into the construction trades because–long story short–I was tired of using my mind instead of my hands. But of course I was yet to learn what “tired” is really all about.

All the current discussion about JobsJobsJobs! got me thinking about this. After hearing Democrats theorize these last few months about the FedFix making jobs, and shovel-ready jobs and infrastructure and why-cant-we-do-it-in-the-road projects like the WPA and like Interstate Highway constructions beginning with Eisenhower and so forth, and after hearing the Republicans wax eloquent about Main Street and balanced budgets and job-creators and free markets and efficiency and productivity and so forth, I woke up this morning thinking about that amazing work we did on Grandfather Mountain to finish the Blue Ridge Parkway, back in the day.

Believe me, it was no “shovel-ready” project. In fact, I’m wondering about this whole idea of shovel-ready, and make-work for the sake of keeping unemployment levels down.

The Linn Cove Viaduct on Grandfather Mountain, about twenty miles from where I live, was an astounding feat of engineering expertise. The design and calculations for that bridge had required, I am quite sure, years of preparation. As a novice steel worker–what they call a “rodbuster” who ties rebars together with steel wire–I had nothing to do with the brains part of the work. And I had nothing to do with the “shovel” part of the work either. I just did my job tieing steel, 40 hours a week, until all 53 segments of the 1/4 mile structure had been assembled and passed along to the concrete crew.

After each of those multi-ton segments had been intricately constructed in steel and concrete, with varying specifications in each segment determined according to each segment’s unique position in the 1/4 mile S-curve–after all that–the huge pieces were taken on even huger trucks out to the bridge site on the side of the rocky mountain. And since there were, in the 1/4-mile length of the bridge, only seven direct-support points, an elaborate system of high-tension cables was strewn through the entire structure as it was being built to keep the thing up in the air.

And a multi-ton crane was driven out onto the cantilevered, epoxy-glued, cable-held roadway-in-mid-air with support at only one end, until seven segments had been erected and the next support structure was reached.

Maybe you didn’t follow all that, but perhaps you will believe me when I say this: what men and women have figured out how to do on the face of this God’s green earth–and what they subsequently do–is amazing, and seems miraculous. Furthermore, as this bridge project was an example of what humans can do in massively intricate works of concrete and steel, consider this:

The nano-projects we undertake beneath the world of electron microscopes and DNA and gene-snipping, and laboring viruses, amino acids, and polymers among the electrons with quarks and neutrinos and so forth is perhaps even more amazing. But I’ll not go there, as if I could.

For general improvement of the human condition, we have a lot of work out there that needs to be done. Its good work, if you can get it. But so much of it, especially these days, is for smart people, skilled people, in this age of pioneering technology. If we can find ways–whether by FedFix make-work infrastructure projects or by MainStreet SmallBusiness, or by some combination thereof, I know not–we can make the employment happen. Perhaps we can make connections between the work that truly needs to be done and those skilled workers who are properly trained to design the work, engineer it, and then do the work, and thus keep unemployment numbers down to reasonable levels.

As for the unskilled folks, I’m not so sure how we’ll keep so many of them busy. We make wisecracks about MickeyD’s and the everybody’s-favorite-store-to-hate-even-as-we-shop-there. But I do know this. Everybody has to eat. And I’m not convinced that it is FedFix’s constitutionally-mandated responsibility to feed all these people, and pay their mortgages and light bills and flat-screen tvs and cellphones and whatnot. Such a massive undertaking is, as they say, unsustainable. Not only that, but its downright socialistic, and counterproductive in terms of inspiring the much-needed innovation and creative systemic improvements.

I suggest its time for unskilled folks to get back to the land. Grow food for yourself, your family, your community, instead of buying it all from bigbox stores that have been supplied by fleets of petroleum-spewing trucks that may be carrying suspect salmonella in their highly-processed payloads. This is advisable for skilled workers and educated people as well, if you have time. You might need to cut down on the tv time.

And while you’re tending the garden, take some time out of the hot sun to do courses at your local community college or university. Thereby, you may learn how to make this nation, and this world, a better place.

Glass Chimera

The Mistake of 1937 in 2011?

June 5, 2011

So Paul Krugman points out, along with many other economists these days, that our nation is in a tight spot. We are suspended, as it were, on a sort of  precarious ridge. On one side is a dangerous trough of unemployment into which millions of people are falling. On the other is chasm of fiscal irresponsibility because we’re spending more $$ than we gather. Mr. Krugman is of the Keynsian school which says that if we don’t put people to work we are in big trouble and will yet be in bigger trouble as more and more folks find themselves without a job.

On the other hand, say the fiscal conservatives, if we don’t balance the budget, or at least move in that direction, we slide off into the irrecoverable condition of national default and larger levels of financial collapse than we’ve already inflicted upon ourselves.
Mr. Krugman, referencing Gauti Eggertsson, adroitly points out that this situation is similar to the dilemma we faced in an earlier era, 74 years ago, and he refers to that unfortunate chain of events as “the mistake of 1937.”

And that mistake was, as nearly as I can surmise without taking sufficient time to research the subject (because I don’t have the time and because I’m not an economist anyway but I am a citizen taxpayer so I’m qualified to have an opinion and this is it)– the mistake was that Congress chose to address the fiscal problem instead of the unemployment problem and thereby plunged our national condition into deeper trouble. That’s this  layman’s uninformed, oversimplified statement of an admittedly very complicated problem.

Anyway, as a result of Congress’ fiscal budget-cutting  back in ’37, the dreaded “double-dip” recession followed, says Mr. Krugman,  in ’38 instead of recovery. The historical lesson is that the same unfortunate outcome will happen now if we don’t learn from their 1937 bad decision and, instead,  spend some money to get the unemployed working again.
As if that could happen.
As if we could really get this nation working again by passing federal reserve notes around. Yes, maybe we can keep the monthly numbers juggled in mid-air for awhile.
But there is the supposition of  Keynsians– the unsustainable “mistake” of pump-priming deficit-riding economics–that the government can get the people working again.

No, it aint gonna happen, because it is not the government that fundamentally will put people back to work doing things like what they used to do back in the day. And maybe even corporate America can’t get the damn thing going again because they’re too busy investing in overseas stocks and BRIC ‘n mortar industries, and circulating credit default licenses among themselves.

So maybe the Dems are right about the self-absorbed condition of corporate America; and maybe the Repubs are right about gov being the problem. Maybe every contender in this national roller derby has a little chunk of truth somewhere.

But what are people doing?
Back in the day, our ancesters, our forefathers and foremothers, spent entire generations, entire decades, and yea, I say unto thee, entire centuries, extracting stuff from the ground and turning it into finished products and then selling those products to each other.  And we did it here in the USA in an exceptional way, with an unprecedented rapidity, because those enterprising European ancestors of ours had embarked on an undeveloped continent just shortly before the industrial revolution was dawning on mama England and her civilized  contintental neighbors .

Forthwith, all that industrializing force, enhanced exponentially with cutting-edge mechanical might and hence newfound productivity, was unleashed upon God’s green earth, America,  in a way that had never happened before and never will again.

There was an awful lot of work to be done, and a lot of folk did it and it was great while it lasted but then we figured out, and I believe correctly,  that the extractive demands on our planet were unsustainable at those previous levels of depletion, and so now we’re in a kind of shell shock and trying to figure out what direction to take. While meanwhile back at the ranch, and perched precariously on that previously-mentioned precipice, we find ourselves confounded the fallacious decision of with whether to put people to work or to balance the budget.
Remember this, Paul. In the really big picture, people make work, and governments make budgets. Sooner or later we’ve got to get back to that reality check–which is not an unemployment check , nor is it a paycheck– or we’ll make the mistake of 2011 and 2020.

And guess what. It is a mistake either way! No way around this problem. We’ve got to take a hit, bite the bullet, take the bull by the horns. Furthermor, Bubby, there will be sacrifices and belt-tightening and defeating of obesity and tossing out of rotten couch potatoes, and there will be folks out of work for a long time and there will be deficits, and one way or another there will be defaults somewhere or perhaps even everywhere.

Bottom line: People have got to find something to do. People, not their governments. Its up to us. Nanny State and Big Brother are hooked up to a federal I-Vee, presently incapacitated or headed toward that medicared condition, and folks will be required to once again, as has happened before in the history of the  world, find some work to do to keep themselves alive and functioning.
What are people doing?
What are you doing, you citizen of the United States of America?
Look around your home, your community, and see what needs to be done. Then do it. The unemployment checks cannot roll into your mailbox with a 44-cent stamp forever. Moreover, those weekly/monthly numbers that the gov and the media churn out don’t really solve anybody’s problems; they just give us something to wring our hands about, and a few excuses every now and then to explain our mounting dysfunction.

People solve problems. Are you a people? Are you hungry? Grow some food, even if its just a tomato or two in your window. Learn what is means to grow something from a seed, or what it means to build something from scratch.  Begin something. Get to work, y’all. We’re not going to move off this precipice without some blood, sweat and many tears.

Glass half-Full