Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What would Munro do?

1936 was a funny year. 

Hitler was elected 4 years earlier so by '36 he was well into his, well, stride I guess you would call it.  This month in 1936, he made Hitler Youth membership compulsory (which flash-forward to earlier this century is how we ended up with a former Hitler Youth Pope).  Ireland saw their chance when Edward VIII stepped down & moved quickly to limit the powers of the next British monarch, so far as it pertained to them.  In Flint, Michigan auto workers walked off the job (or rather sat down on the job) in their first UAW strike, the results of which (collective bargaining rights) remain under fire today.  December 1936 was an upsy-downsy sort of month. 

In not-news news of December '36, Munro Leaf celebrated his 31st birthday today in 1936.  Not usually one of the big milestone birthdays, but I am guessing this one stuck with him.  Earlier in the year he sat down & by his own admission in under an hour sketched out & then finalized the text of the book that would define his career.  & it was not a small career, he wrote virtually a book a year for 40 years, but none so big, so controversial as this one.  This 1936 book of his was burned by the nazis (always a good sign), banned by Franco's government in Spain (not-coincidentally the setting of the book) & lauded in Soviet Poland (I know, right?).  A movie version won an Academy Award  in 1938 & the book itself has never gone out of print.  Ever.  People have plonked down their hard earned cash for brand new copies of this book year in & year out through wars, depressions, more wars, counter-culture wars & so on.  Multiple musical compositions have been written to accompany live readings of this book.  Today it appears in print in I-don't-know-how-many languages.

I should mention, that in addition to being written in less than a day, it was written largely for the purpose of showcasing the talents of the then-almost unknown illustrator.  Robert Lawson went on to illustrate many other things, but it is this book remains his best known, although You could argue though that there is a better known piece not often attributed to him; during WWII Lawson was a camouflage artist. 

Back to the book.  In an afternoon Munro Leaf wrote a subversive manifesto & within the year it was being burned in fascist capitals throughout Europe.  The book?  The Story of Ferdinand of course.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The new office

Last week (the week before?) I was listening to either an American Public Media or a National Public Radio phone-in show & the guest that people were phoning in to speak with was a woman who recently wrote a book, an egghead book not a mainstream book, about how many of the jobs that have not returned as the economy turned around are just plain not coming back.  Her theory was that technology had changed so much in the preceding ten years that the way business is conducted had also changed, specifically no one needs the kind of office support staff that was the norm.  While these jobs had been slowly falling away as people changed jobs or retired & the chairs went empty, the massive belt tightening meant a lot of them went all at once.

First let me say "duh".  Earlier this year we had our septic system pumped.  We used the same company we have used since we bought this house & it had been less than 4 years since the last time we did this.  The experience was night&day.  Last time I called on a ?Monday? & got the office manager/administrator/secretary/whoever & an appointment for the following week (it wasn't an emergency & that was fine).  The owner, an older man, arrived, dug out the two tank openings (we have two unconnected tanks, weird & yet very useful), pumped the tanks, hand-wrote a bill which I paid by check.  He was here maybe 3 hours total.  At the beginning of the following month, I got a typed statement in the mail which reflected a balance of $0. 

This time I called, got the office manager/administrator/secretary/whoever & she said they could be there later the same day.  Both she & the owner (a younger man who had worked with the other guy for years; he had been out on previous jobs in previous years) arrived.  They had a laptop with the layout of our property & where the tanks were (I could have told them but they tell me this is not the norm).  While he dug one, she dug the other.  While he pumped, she went back to the truck & made & received phone calls & printed my bill from the printer in the truck.  The bill had ALL my previous calls on it & a notice of when they were likely to be needed back for a routine job (3-5 years).  She offered to make the appointment for five years out with the understanding it might change.  They were here exactly 1 1/2 hours.

I realize it sounds like there are just as many people in both stories working just as many man hours, but there aren't.  In the previous visit, there is another guy in another truck also working alone & checking in with the office.  Now there is one guy doing all the driving himself, but becasue he has a n extra pair of hands when he needs them he is covering just as many places as two used to. 

All of this hinges on the reality that in the second story there is no office.  The office works all gets done on the road except for once a month, once a quarter, once a year stuff which they handle at home.  That is one less full-time job than there was five years ago with no loss in service.  & it doesn't stop there.

This elimination of offices generally has eliminated quite a few jobs:  no office means no once a week cleaning staff to come in & clean that office, driving the office around means no more delivery guy with office supplies coming out to the office every month or so.  That is another three jobs poof & gone.

I have a friend who cleans offices for a living, or rather she used to.  She used to clean seven offices a week & a public area on weekends.  Now she has two cleaning jobs during the week & the public area every other weekend (that one irks her actually because it is the same amount of work & now she gets calls on the off-week that the garbage cans are overflowing & when is she going to deal with them).  The offices she doesn't clean anymore are still there, empty & at least one of the businesses still exists.  Ironically they are the cleaning company she still works for except now the manager handles scheduling etc. in her car between cleaning jobs.

Last Monday I had my sewing machines cleaned & serviced by the same guy who has taken care of them since I bought them (trust me, it has been years).  I used to bring them to his shop & wait a week.  & I can still bring the machine to him & wait a week if I want, but mostly he just comes to the house.  His shop is now a room in his own house & he has maybe 2 or 3 machines there at a time, most afternoons he is on the road & although his travel expenses are higher, they are more than offset by the reduction in overhead.

Last night I accidentally tuned into a presidential candidates speech (I flipped the tv on & then went into the other room where I can still watch it but forgot the remote).  The gist of the speech was how when he is president he will bring these jobs back & the crowd went wild.  I wonder if they will be as pleased when they realize that bringing these jobs back will mean commuting longer to get to work (the average commute is a fraction of what it was ten years ago, by the way & generally it is longer commutes to lower paying jobs) & taking on all that expense (deductible if you are the CEO & the company send a car  but not for the average worker), as well as giving up their cell phones & a slew of other conveniences we really do take for granted.  Maybe it's time to consider we just don't live in that world anymore.  & unemployed or not, most of us don't really want to go back.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Panama, a homecoming

Recently (& not so recently) a handful of rock bands have been on the news quite irked that their music was being used as, dare I say it, an instrument of torture.  Apocalypse Now aside, that musical torture was largely incidental (the soldiers just happened to like it that loud), the first time I ever heard of it was those 15 days Noriega spent holed up in the little piece of the Roman Catholic Church that was the Vatican Embassy while outside US Troops blasted the Rolling Stones (if memory serves-wait let me look it up...yup The Rolling Stones, & Hendrix & Bon Jovi & others) to make life just that much miserable for those holed up inside.

There is a lot of fodder in that whole story:  the church really will shelter anyone at all if they think anyone might find out they didn't & we apparently have no problem considering what we enjoy to be a plague on others.  But I'm not going there today.  Today I am going to France.

In 1990 Daniel Noriega did finally surrender to the rock'n'roll army & was shipped off to a US trial & US prison & that's the end of the story.  Well actually it isn't.  After the US was done with him...did you know the US was done with Noriega?  I missed that story last year, on April 26 2010 precisely.  Turns out between the Gulf Oil Spill & the 20th anniversary of the Hubble it just never came up.  Anyhow, so Noriega went to Paris & to prison & maybe even brought is Legion of Honor medal with him.

Wait, you didn't know that (me neither)?  Noriega was awarded the highest decoration in France in 1987 although his name was not on the list of recipients when I checked just now so apparently they can take that back.

Why am I going on & on about Noriega?  Because a judge in France has ruled in favor of yet another extradition & this morning he should be heading back to Panama.  Panama has been trying to get their hands on him for awhile & I for one am happy to know he is going.  The Panama he left & the country he returns to are like different worlds.  There have been elections, no doubt imperfect ones but still much improved.  Crime is hardly eradicated, but the police force are no longer just a thuggish arm of the current president-for-life.  Best of all, there is no such thing as president-for-life. 

As for the Rolling Stones, they will probably be playing somewhere, but Panama has had quite the cultural revolution since  Noriega left & now he will be treated to the not-so-smooth stylings of Panamas biggest musical export: a kind of sort of reggae hip-hop mosh.  What can I say Mr. President, the times they are a-changing.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Agatha Christie & another lost week-end

Earlier this year, I was talking with my mom & told her I had begun working my way through the Miss Marple catalog & she said she always thought of them (the books) as kind of henny & her (Miss Marple & Agatha Christie) also kind of henny & without disagreeing (I think they are actually meant to be henny) I said "did you know Agatha Christie went AWOL in December 1926 only to be found in a hotel under her husband's mistress's name after he had come this close to being arrested in connection with the disappearance?" 

Doesn't it make you like her better?

This is not the first lost weekend I had ever heard of.  I knew a lady accountant whose husband was let's say reluctant to believe that staying home with their new baby was nearly so taxing as his day at the office.  He gave long speeches about how she had to pull herself together when he came home & the house was a mess, the baby was crying & she was both a mess & crying.  Among other problems she was having was a complete inability to breast feed, she & the baby just never got the hang of it.  As a result, they were on a merry-go-round of formulas as some did not agree with him some of the time, etc.

Yes, it sounds bad, but it did make it that much easier when on the Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend 1995 she met her husband at the door of a clean house, with a clean baby in her arms, handed over the baby & said I'll be back in time for you to go to work on Tuesday & took off.  C******** & D** were a particularly private couple but alas I was the office manager for the company C******** worked for when not on maternity leave & so I was in the unique position of receiving D**'s phone calls.  Did she go to a client?  Is she staying with someone from work?  Has she called in?  Has she called in? Has she called in?

All I know for sure is she did not stay with me; as to the rest I have my suspicions, mostly formed after the fact.  There was not much he could do; she timed it perfectly.  Memorial Day in east Texas is a big deal & that Friday morning I was the only person in the office & on-call through the weekend.  Both his mother & mother-in-law were also out of town, as was pretty much everyone else he knew who might know what to do with a permanently colicky baby for 100+ hours.  All I could tell him was she never phoned in for messages, no client ever said they were expecting her & it wasn't until a week later that it occurred to me that someone else who was unlikely to have any messages at all kept checking in regularly. 

I have no idea what happened when she got home; I don't know if the house or the baby were still clean.  I do know they hired a nanny & she cut short her maternity leave & came back to work early (the first & only time I have ever seen that happen, by the way).  They are still married & they never had any more children.

Agatha's lost weekend did not end so nicely,  Unless you are Archie Christie, I suppose.  He had said he requested a divorce (that's what prompted the fight that ended in her flight) & a divorce he got.  He married the mistress at the heart of it all & that's all I know.  Happily ever after?  Maybe.