Sunday, October 31, 2010

Damn the automobile

There are several examples  of how this economy is organized and managed that earn the adjective stupid.
Let me cite one (because it is one of the most important): the automobile, the pollution-dispensing, oil-consuming money pit that we must have in order to live in this economy.  Almost everyone must use a car to obtain whatever they need (food, clothing, education, medical care, etc.) and to do what they must do (work, play, visit, etc.). 
Why is this so?  Possibly General Motors and the Government felt it would be mutually beneficial and good for the postwar economy to build an interstate highway system.  Of course, it was presented as necessary for National Defense.   (Let's not forget that Ike's Secretary of Defense was "Engine" Charlie Wilson, former CEO of GM.)
If that sounds too conspiratorial for your taste, perhaps it was the working of "the unseen hand", that magical invisible property that moves the free market system described by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations.
Conspiracy or magic?  Take your choice.

This massive concrete highway system destroyed the thousands of linked, self sufficient, full-service communities that made up the United States before 1950.  It wasn't long before families knew they needed more than one car.  Indeed, it wasn't long before they found that two cars weren't enough. After all, Father is working 50 miles away in an easterly direction. Mother is working twenty miles away in a northerly direction. Oldest son is working 35 miles away in a southerly direction. And all the stores have been moved out of town to a mall ten miles in a westerly direction.
Compounding the problem was the disappearance of a reliable extensive system of public transportation. Slowly but surely, railroad tracks disappeared, bus routes were curtailed, trolleys disappeared in nearly all cities that had them.
And thus did a freedom-loving America become dependent on the automobile.
But that isn't what we were told.  No, we were all having "a love affair with our car".  We were advised to "see the USA in our Chevrolet".  Americans, it was said,  looo-oved their car.
And today, my fellow Americans, when you are in one of those 14 lanes of backed-up traffic on the interstate at 6:00PM, moving at 15-20 mph,  looking out over what James Kunstler sharply calls "automobile slums",  praying there won't be a breakdown or accident, consider what we have done to ourselves.  Are you still in love with your car?  Are you seeing the USA?  Is she beautiful and exciting?  Not from where I'm sitting.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Corporate Overreach

The pricing of automobile repair is established by coded standards based on units of time. The labor costs based on these units of time are in excess of the actual time required. The system rounds upward the unit of time, usually in 15 minute increments. A 5 minute task will be charged 15 minutes. A 35 minute task will be charged 45 minutes. These charges start with a base labor cost of 60 minutes, due, I suppose, for the work required to start the process. Some call it a ‘hedge factor’ to offset possible losses in the estimate.

Added to these labor costs is the material cost of parts which is fixed at a straight 100% mark-up.

When the repairs are finished and billed, the customer finds at the bottom of the invoice, as a percentage of the subtotal for material and labor, a figure for ‘Shop Costs’, ie, rags, hand cleaner, paper floor mats, etc. This add-on percentage will run from 10% to 25% of the subtotal for material and labor.

I submit that the policy of coded pricing is a form of price control. I further submit that the Shop Cost add-on is passing the cost of normal overhead on to the customer. This is not free market capitalism. It is despotic capitalism and works only for the benefit of the corporate state.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

First Light

From love-warm bed I rise,
brush cobwebs from my eyes, 
go out to greet the dawn,
doilies tatted on the lawn
where spiders spent the early hours
setting table for our flowers.


Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm Just Saying....

  The free and secret ballot is the most important element of a political system. I believe voting should be thought of as serious and sacred and treated that way.
Early voting weakens that ritual.
I suppose there are a number of reasons why some states are taking this approach.  It is more 'convenient' for many.  There is no 'waiting' or 'wasting time in line'.  It increases 'productivity' and this is 'good for the economy'.  It makes life 'easier'.
And so it goes.  Take the Latin from the Catholic mass.  Don't honor Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays with holidays that may fall in the middle of the week.  Honor all the Presidents (even the bad ones) with a Presidents Day.  Make it always on a Monday so we don't interrupt the work week and affect 'productivity'.  That's bad for the 'economy' too.
All this, I say,  makes the sacred ordinary, the valuable cheap, the human character weak, the system soft.
 Just sayin'....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Facing It

Everywhere I go I am confronted by how little I know.  And then there is all that I have forgotten.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


A child can be born to a set of good parents who are completely wrong for that child.  As a result, much goes badly for the family.

A child can be raised to worship in a particular religion that is wrong for that child.  As a result, the child, when mature, will struggle with questions of faith and belief.

Some children will never do well in school.  Where modernization occurs, their lives become harder.

There is no place for blame in these instances.  Nor can it be ascribed to Fate.  It's luck, good or bad.

People like to say we are all the same.  That's true, but it's not true. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010


"Too much that we do is done at the expense of something else, or somebody else. There is some intransigent destructiveness in us. My days, though I think I know better, are filled with a thousand irritations, worries, regrets for what has happened and fears for what may, trivial duties, meaningless torments - as destructive of my life as if I wanted to be dead. Take today for what it is, I counsel myself. Let it be enough...We are in the habit of contention - against the world, against each other, against ourselves."

Another piece of common sense from Wendell Berry.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Senior's Letter To Her Bank

Shown below is an actual letter that was sent to a bank by an 86 year old woman. The bank manager thought it amusing enough to have it published in the New York Times.

Dear Sir:
I am writing to thank you for bouncing my check with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire pension, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years. You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account $30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank. My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally answer your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become.

From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan repayments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate.

Be aware that it is an offense under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Notary Public, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof. In due course, at MY convenience, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modeled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let me level the playing field even further. When you call me, press buttons as follows:

#1. To make an appointment to see me
#2. To query a missing payment.
#3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.
#4 To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping
#5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.
#6.. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home
#7. To leave a message on my computer, a password to access my computer is required. Password will be communicated to you at a later date to that Authorized Contact mentioned earlier.
#8. To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through 7.
#9. To make a general complaint or inquiry. The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service.
#10. This is a second reminder to press* for English. While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement

Your Humble Client

(Remember: This was written by an 86 year old woman -'YA JUST GOTTA LOVE? US SENIORS" !!!!! )

And remember: Don't make old people mad. We don't like being old in the first place, so it doesn't take much to set us off.