Vocational training needed at junior colleges

January 31, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

Here in California they used to call it junior college (the two-year college) and then they changed to the term community college, but whatever, I think I am correct in saying initially the emphasis was on vocational or trade training, as opposed to the conventional academic model of four years of college.

And it worked well, very well. It worked for kids right out of high school, young men and women fresh out of the military, older people looking to change careers or find better job skills, and let’s don’t forget employers always in need of skilled workers. And on that latter point, even though business people are usually conservative and don’t like the government to spend too much money, they appreciated having future employees trained at no direct cost to them.

So it was with some dismay that I read in my local newspaper this morning that our local community college is faced with a $2 million budget shortfall and to deal with it is considering dropping several vocational classes.

One of those classes is one to train heavy equipment operators. A local construction company official said it concerned him too. He said a lot of current operators are starting to retire and people are needed to replace them, but employers need trained operators, because for one thing, that equipment is expensive. And I would think clients for construction companies would prefer that those operators be professional.

(And as one commentor said on the newspaper’s online edition: this is a bad time to cut training in construction when Obama is talking about using much of that stimulus money for improving the infrastructure.)

Of course the problem here is the state’s huge budget deficit. California lawmakers with the help of the governor push through far more in spending than is brought in by taxes – tax collections have dropped off drastically with the devastation in the economy (even in good times, the state government spends more than it takes in, as governments seem wont to do in this country).

So what to cut.

Sure the decision has to be made. The community college offers a myriad of programs these days, everything from basket weaving to computer technology to appreciation of Zen Buddhism (well I think I made up that last one, but I was trying to cover the alphabet).

While the community colleges may have begun as primarily vocational in nature, over the years they became kind of a second chance at college. Even before I graduated from high school, I recall that some representatives from our local community college told us seniors that if we had slacked off in high school but now decided we might want to go to college after all – no problem, anyone can get into junior college, and then after successfully completing two years, one could transfer to a four-year institution, if need be. And in my age group, a whole lot of returning Vietnam and Vietnam era veterans made use of the GI Bill education benefits (which for the time were generous) and either got themselves trade training, such as mechanic, carpenter, welder, heavy equipment operator, and so on, or they did the four-year college thing and if they were wise (unlike this writer) got into a good paying profession.

People of all ages have taken advantage over the years of the wide array of classes offered at the community colleges. The costs have been relatively low and the benefits high (costs have risen more sharply in recent years). The colleges offered a lot of night classes and outreach classes in the various communities and even on-line classes.

I think the much needed vocational training should be continued. I do think, though, that industry groups (construction, equipment and auto repair, and so on) should pool together and on their own (separate from the normal taxes) help finance some of these training programs (and maybe they do to some degree).

And by the way, one of the most popular courses offered is our local community college’s nursing program. I have not read that it is in danger of being cut, but it is overcrowded and has a waiting list for prospective students.

As for the academic side, that’s a tough one. I think academic programs should be continued, but I think there probably needs to be some higher standards for students as they continue in order to weed out those who are not too serious. Non-serious students don’t usually make it through vocational programs, but they sometimes waste their time and the time of instructors and other more serious students on the academic side.

Administration is always a good area to look for saving money. For some reason education seems to be always top heavy in administration. The system in which a separate assistant administrator (who adds nothing directly to the instructional program) must be hired to administer each section of the government education codes (title this, title that) is the main culprit – it should be streamlined.

Trying to figure out which classes to cut is often an exercise in subjectivity. But I would say that the basket weaving classes and all the ones designed for primarily enjoyment (not a bad thing) probably should be subject to cuts in lean budget times.

Among other areas besides heavy equipment operator training that are being considered for budget cuts at my local community college are the school newspaper (ouch that hurts, me being a former newspaper reporter, but it is a sign of the times and it would be replaced by the electronic mode, I understand), real estate program (not a bad idea, we have a lot of local real estate agents with little to do already), closing the school pool between November and February (most years that would seem a good idea– this year you could swim most days without a heated pool – and just why does the school need a pool?), athletic programs (and just why do we have to pay for athletics with education dollars?), and as I mentioned, it’s always a subjective matter.

(I didn’t mention that enrollment needs to be measured, since programs with low enrollment would usually be cut anyway, I would think).

There are private trade schools (not too much in this local area), but I notice that many of them depend upon government funding. Again, I do think industry should step up to the plate and support vocational training as much as it can. But everyone benefits from vocational training.

Next time  your car breaks down on the freeway or your toilet overflows think how much you want someone with good training to come to your rescue.

No business is too big to fail; void will be filled

January 30, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

The idea that a financial institution should seek and receive a government/taxpayer-funded bailout because it is failing, but too big to fail (in other words failure would ruin our whole economy) and then turn around and reward its top executives with huge bonuses seems absurd on its face. And yet this is happening.

Wall Street institutions paid out more than $18 billion in bonuses last year (while the taxpayers are being robbed of billions to be handed out to these “poor” institutions supposedly to keep them from failing).

Of course it is not happening without complaint. The public is outraged. President Obama says he is outraged. He calls it “shameful”. And he promises there will be safeguards from now on to make sure things like this don’t happen (we’ve heard that before, but that was from the prior administration, but we have heard it before).

At least one senator said the government should take back that bonus money (we’ve heard that one before as well).

Yes, I think the government should do just that on the grounds that the financial institutions claiming to be in danger of failing defrauded the government. Any company that can afford to lavish bonuses does not need government help (and if they can’t afford it and are doing it anyway, that has to be malfeasance and out and out theft). There is an argument that bonuses are just part of the compensation package. Then why are they called “bonuses”? And besides, perhaps the “compensation” is too lavish for “failing” institutions (and the logic behind it is key to why they are failing).

This situation reminds me of the D. H. Lawrence short story “The Rocking-Horse Winner”. An upper middle class English family was in a desperate financial bind because the husband gambled and the wife overspent. She had to go to her brother to bail the family out. When her brother told her they would have to cut back, she refused to accept that. I think the Wall Street types are not accepting that either. In this case, the rich uncle is Uncle Sam, but Uncle Sam is not a person, he’s just the symbol of all the taxpayers.

Probably the rich uncle in the D.H. Lawrence story should not have bailed his sister out with her attitude. And I am beginning to think that Uncle Sam should not have bailed out any of the financial institutions (and you may recall I did not tend to support the bailout thing from the beginning).

The very idea that any business is too big to fail seems flawed to me. Are there not bankruptcy courts? (Kind of sounds like Scrooge: “are there not poor houses?”)

I have read speculation that the government may have to nationalize the banking system.

But if we are to maintain free enterprise (and I support that) and an essentially private banking system (and I support that, with regulation), then we have to allow institutions to fail.

When any business fails, eventually the void that it leaves, if any, is filled by another entity.

No one wants to see the major institutions fail and then the whole economy be wrecked. But to an extent it is already happening, even with bailouts.

Unless the government takes over the money institutions (and other businesses – auto makers?), it will have a hard to impossible task of telling them how to use their funds — and does the government really want to take them over?

Back to the bonus question. Some argue that there is logic in a failing institution paying bonuses because that is the custom in the business (and I don’t understand that one – paying bonuses for losing money) and the money used for bonuses is not the same that was received from the government bailout funding. Nonsense! Money is money and money is fungible.

Such shenanigans would not fly in a federal bankruptcy court if the average citizen was involved.

This nation is likely to fare better from the pain that will be caused by major institutions going bankrupt than by the mountain of debt that the government is now absorbing from failing institutions and the amount of debt it is incurring from future bailout plans.

I am more for our government stepping in and helping citizens in times of crisis (we are the force behind government; we are helping ourselves or each other) and only on an emergency and needs-tested basis.

P.s.  And finally, I say to any business: pay your executives as much as you want, just not with taxpayer money!

Algebra can be taught, but it’ll cost you…

January 29, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

If algebra is so important for our school kids to learn why aren’t most adults knowledgeable in it? Why is it so hard to find teachers competent to teach it?

Math teaching or lack of it is a pet peeve of mine – one I will likely take to the grave.

What brings the subject up this time is an article by political columnist Thomas Elias that mentions that a California Superior Court judge has blocked a controversial plan aimed at requiring all of the state’s school children to be tested in algebra in the eighth grade at the latest. While the article does not explain what the consequences of failing are, I’m sure it would mean kids flunking and/or schools losing funding.

But that, what the consequences are, is not my concern. My concern is this sudden push to get all kids to learn algebra when for decades most have not and grew up to be adults who still did not and nothing has been done to rectify the situation, if indeed it needs rectifying. I graduated from high school in 1967 after taking nothing more than general math (adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing) as a freshman. Yes, about two decades later I had to pass intermediate algebra to get a four-year college degree, and if I had been a little quicker at getting that degree I would not have been required to do that.

Some of us find math difficult. And if no one will teach it to us and if no one even requires that we learn it, then chances are we won’t learn it (and I was finally fortunate enough to have some first-rate math teachers at the community college level).

I personally think math is extremely important and I think any educated person ought to at least be able to master intermediate algebra and probably more. I have noted, however, that most adults who have taken algebra often faintly recall it as an unpleasant memory, something they worked hard to master and then immediately forgot (even those who liked it, usually admit they forgot it). I think, however, they learned something along the way and probably subconsciously developed a somewhat better understanding of the relationship of numbers. For one, you work with a lot of fractions in algebra.

The afore mentioned judge apparently realized you can’t just mandate that math instruction will happen from a court bench and it will magically be done. The will of the public and the will of the taxpayers (which really are one) has to be there, and the will of the education establishment has to be there too.

And most any math teacher I am sure would tell you that education has to begin early and can’t let up.

I have seen that at least a lot, if not all, schools these days are attempting to introduce higher forms and /or more complex forms of math at much earlier ages. How well they do this, though, is dependent upon the knowledge of the instructors available.

Usually in the lower elementary grades pupils have only one teacher who has to teach multiple subjects.

When I was in my late 30s I was sitting in a community college class taking introduction to algebra and sitting next to me was a kindly old woman who was a veteran school teacher. She had to master rudimentary algebra to pass a state teachers’ test, one that was just then being mandated. And, really, the level she had to pass was barely algebra (I know. I later took that test and it was easy, believe me – I did not become a teacher, though). No offense to her, but why was she allowed to teach children arithmetic all those years when she was lacking in proficiency herself? And that my friends is why we are still trying to figure out how to get our children to learn algebra.

(I was taught what probably was third or fourth grade level arithmetic in high school by a gym teacher. My oldest daughter had an athletic coach for a high school algebra teacher, who refused to help his students ; maybe he didn’t know the subject himself.)

I have observed enough now at age 59 to believe that a working knowledge of some level of algebra would be quite valuable for all adults. It’s not the algebraic method itself as much as the need to understand math (which you do when you master some level of algebra) that rules so much of our life, from using recipes to cook at home, to doing home repairs, to balancing our check books, to figuring out how much interest we are paying or are receiving, to understanding the wonders of science, to master job skills and so on. Without that understanding we are all at the mercy of those who do. And please don’t tell me all that you need is a computer or hand-held calculator (garbage in, garbage out).

But if it is so important, then why have we not built up our math instruction after all these years?

It’s partly a question of money. Those who allocate the funds and some taxpayers don’t want to admit that it takes some expertise to master and teach the subject, so in that way they can avoid paying the bill.

P.s.  So, do I remember any algebra? Not too much. Do I have a solution to the math teaching problem if there is one? Maybe: Math may be challenging enough that we need single subject specialists to be introduced into the lower grades. Also, while adequately training current teachers who may be deficient in the subject may be problematical, certainly we must up the standards for those going into teaching. If the standards become too high and the pay is seen as too low, it will be difficult to recruit new teachers. Legislators and school boards will have to figure out what they want and whether they are willing to pay for it. Simply paying existing teachers more without requiring that they demonstrate proficiency will not work. I took the California teachers test, known as CBEST, many years ago. Hopefully, they have strengthened it. When I took it, you only had to demonstrate a rudimentary knowledge of arithmetic (using some basic algebra) to pass. Had the test of been adequate, I would not have passed it.

And finally, my apologies to any teachers or former teachers who might read this and think I am criticizing them. There are a lot of good and qualified teachers out there – just not enough.

Obama killing foes with kindness, firmness…

January 27, 2009
(Copyright 2009)
Barack Obama just keeps getting better every day. I think we are in good hands with this new president.
Today he reached out to House and Senate Republicans in his $850 billion stimulus package even though he didn’t have to, seeing as the Democrats control both houses.
But the president seems to be making good on his promise for a new bipartisan or post-partisan approach to Washington politics.
For my part, I think the Republicans are frustrated because President Obama isn’t fighting fair — he’s being too nice, too congenial, too reasonable.
But don’t get me wrong, we need the loyal opposition, one that unfortunately was AWOL for much of the former  administration.
I’m blogging from my oldest daughter’s home in Roseville, Ca., which is — sorry Rosevillians — kind of like greater Sacramento. For those of you who don’t know, I’m out of Redding, Ca., which is at the northern end of California’s giant interior valley, known as the Central Valley.

(A Home Depot store in Roseville, it was announced on the radio as we drove toward town, is going out of business, resulting in even higher unemployment for the area already hit hard by the bust in the housing market. Meanwhile, in Redding the local paper seems to be running stories every day about local businesses going under. One day recently the whole front page was devoted to store closures.)

At any rate, as my wife and I neared Roseville yesterday I began picking up a Sacramento radio station and listened to their local talk guy who in the afternoons does his rendition of Rush Limburger (I know not his real name, but I refuse to use his actual name) politics. The talk guy’s name is Tom Sullivan (his real name). He is a curious guy, obviously more cerebral and reasonable when he wants to be than Limburger, but nevertheless hard right wing.

I want to say more about Mr. Sullivan‘s style, but before I do, I just want to note that he seems perplexed on how to stand in the current Obama thing. By politics he has to be against Obama. Even though the Republicans always harp on the idea that a patriotic citizen must support the president when their guy is in office, they change their tune when they are out of power.

Yesterday Sullivan was commenting on the fact that the Obama administration wants to let California have more stringent auto emission standards than the federal government. By politics Mr. Sullivan is predisposed to oppose that. Anything that the automakers don’t want should not be allowed because they are business people and if they say it is bad for business then it is bad for America.

But Mr. Sullivan, unlike Limburger, sometimes reveals his own thoughtfulness. He admitted that he was conflicted. He knew that California’s already high anti-pollution standards have actually helped the environment, helped to reduce smog in the LA basin and that is a good thing. He did object, though, to auto makers having to potentially face 50 (number of states) different standards for the production of their products. And that last part seems a reasonable concern. But the fact that Mr. Sullivan would admit that there is some merit to protecting or improving the environment is interesting.

Also, I get the idea that Mr. Sullivan and other hard line Republicans know that extraordinary measures need to be taken to deal with our current financial calamity, so much so that even their boy, George W., moved the whole nation toward socialism in his final desperate days in office. But they want this new socialism to only help businesses, kind of a business-socialism, with public debt to provide private profits.

Well, I’m going a little too far in trying to explain Mr. Sullivan’s feelings because I have not listened to him much for the past few years. I used to live in this area and listened to him regularly. I also listened to Limburger — kind of for entertainment, kind of to see what the belligerent hard right was thinking or what line they were taking. There were times I had to turn Limburger off and vow to never listen to his vitriol and mean-spiritedness again — then I would go back occasionally. And to be fair, at first I appreciated Limburger for some of the hypocrisy on the part of the left that he gleefully pointed out — he never seemed to see it on his side , though.

And now back to Mr. Sullivan. When he first came on the air — maybe 15 years ago — I don’t know precisely when, he just did a talk show on investments — him being a kind of stock broker investment adviser kind of guy. Then he began to comment on local politics, with that golly gee whiz approach — is that the way they do it? He seemed to be somewhat of a neophyte to the workings of government. But he was a quick study and obviously bright and articulate, for real, rather than pseudo bright and articulate as Limburger, who incidentally started out at the same radio station as Mr. Sullivan.

At first, Mr. Sullivan was refreshing to listen to, because even though he took the conservative line, he was able to for discussion purposes frame the argument of the other side in a totally reasonable way. But I think he learned that his ratings improved when he dropped all pretense of seeing the other side, or of even being middle of the road, and simply spouted the intolerant and close-mined Limburger approach. He was not as fun to listen to anymore, but I think his ratings soared. Actually I don’t know, but I have to assume so, because he is still on the air.

Mr. Sullivan once considered running for congress, but told his listeners he decided against it because he would have to spend all his time campaigning and fundraising (congressmen have two-year terms) and he would have to do too much compromising. If I wanted to make a snide remark here, I could say that it is far easier to spout off hard line positions than to come up with solutions and work for the good of everyone. But, really, I guess I should respect his decision. I think he found he would have to take too much time away from his investments and that he would not be able to provide whatever he provides his listeners with. He wanted to stay wealthy (which he reportedly is) and be able to continue as a spokesman for his so-called conservative ideology.

I did get laughs at times when he was still in his see both sides mode and some of his Rush Limburger fan listeners would call in and sound perplexed and worried that he was taking the wrong side.

What ticks me off the most about Rush Limburger is that all he does is preach to his own choir, with everyone competing to be the ultimate sycophant, which they call ditto-heads. No thinking required. “I agree with you Rush. Dittos”.

To be fair, what little left-wing radio (and I hate to use that term because it connotes communist, but you have to use some term) I have heard (there isn’t much) it is often the same. Reasonable discussion with both sides aired and discussion in the middle does not seem to produce ratings (too dull, I suppose).

And back to Mr. Sullivan. I wished I could have pulled his signal in over the past year or past several months as our economic system shaped mostly by the neo conservative politics lo these past many years, and even going clear back to Reagan, has led us to near ruin. I know that he was always the apologist for big business when I listened to him. If it made money it had to be right. He was a huge defender of multi million dollar bonuses for executives because you have to provide top pay for top talent. Now that it has been proved that those getting that top pay either did not know what they were doing or were simply crooks, I don’t know what his explanation is.

Back to President Obama. I also applaud him for making overtures to the Muslim world, saying we are not their enemies, that we are willing to get along, but that we will also defend ourselves.

So far, the president is killing them (Muslims and Republican foes) with kindness, but offering firmness, as well.

And so far, the new president does seem to be taking a new post-partisan approach that seems to be rankling both some Democrats and for sure a lot of Republicans.

I want the loyal opposition to keep at it.

I also want some progress and feel that there just might be.

While certainly the president is correct in cautioning that progress may be slow, The American people need to keep their leaders’ feet to the fire and demand that some amount of progress be made and swiftly.

We’ve done this before, but what’s the answer?

January 26, 2009
(Copyright 2009)
We’ve been here before, but I don’t know exactly what we did or what we did that really worked to get out of this mess. That’s partly because I wasn’t born yet. But I also think that history almost does repeat itself.
Doesn’t anyone read our own American history?
Capitalism unchecked and human greed causes great problems every time.
I’ve been reading a book by the late historian Samuel Eliot Morison called the Oxford History of the American People, and it seems that nearly everything that we face now in the current financial crisis was played out in the 1920s and 1930s.
There was a lack of regulation and there was wild speculation in which a large part of the population (including those not at all market savvy) got caught up in the frenzy to get rich quick, and there was market manipulation and then the bubble burst and eventually market controls had to be instated or reinstated.
And fast forward to the 1980s and 1990s and 2001 or so and controls were lifted and here we go again.
What is so hard about that to understand?

I just read through the part about the Great Depression. I’m still not sure what got us out of it, except that it does seem — and no big news here — that the production of war materials for World War II (even before we got involved directly as combatants) certainly helped matters.

Trouble is, we don’t want to have World War III to jumpstart the economy. And history probably would not exactly repeat itself. The rules and methods of war are always changing.

Right now, I think, we are spending a lot more every week for the war effort in the Middle East that we did for all of World War II, but far from helping our economy, it is primarily a drag on it.

And I think it would be immoral to fight a war to improve our economy, although I have to admit that most wars in some way or another involve economies. They are usually a contest for power and resources.

At any rate, we seem to be financing our current military efforts largely by issuing bonds that are bought up by China and Japan.

The history book that I am reading says that we financed about 40 percent of World War II through taxation and the other 60 percent by issuing bonds. I’ve seen the 1940s era news reels urging patriotic citizens to “Buy War Bonds”. I haven’t seen any war bond drives aimed at the general public in my lifetime, and in fact, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a public service announcement urging the public to buy U.S. Savings Bonds. I did read recently that desperate investors were parking their bucks in government bonds at zero or near zero interest just to avoid losing money.

Our current military spending in some way may help our economy, but it is not like that in World War II where we had to start from near scratch and build up a modernly-equipped military to fight a massive land and sea war. We had to produce one heck of a lot of goods and put a lot of civilian men and women to work in the war production effort, beginning a year of two before Pearl Harbor and then four years afterward. And a large percentage of  young men were drafted or volunteered for the military (and women volunteered in large numbers too), thus instantly becoming employed. Unemployment went from double digits to nothing.

Pre-war efforts such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and other so-called make-work programs put huge numbers of the population back to work, helped put food on their tables and restored their dignity. Most people simply wanted work, not a handout, although the latter was sometimes necessary to ward of disaster.

Even with the government programs unemployment remained high for most of the 30s, with the war finally coming along to lift the economy and put everyone to work.

The boom continued even after the war because servicemen came home and were able to use the GI Bill and go to college and get good jobs and there was a pent up consumer demand from war time privations (something we have not had this time around, except that,again, I think the billions we have spent in the Middle East have drug down our economy), and we became the leader of the free world and spread our economic tentacles all over the globe.

But the rest of the world caught up or is catching up and so we are no longer playing the same game.

And a theme I can’t let go is that we have to our detriment become a nation primarily of consumers rather than producers (a generalization that of course does not fit everyone, but the majority of the nation nonetheless).

Our new president talks of promoting new green industry. A good thing, no doubt. I think the Republicans if they are smart will co-opt him and pretend it was their idea all along. It would make good political and business sense.

But green or conventional, we need to revitalize our industry and make use of our natural material resources, such as coal and oil and natural gas, and lumber, and minerals, and agriculture and put people back to work in well paying jobs and forget this service economy.

Services are vital, but they are a supporting role; you can’t make a living out of just servicing services. I agree with poor disgraced former Democratic House Speaker James Wright who complained during the Reagan presidency: “we can’t all deliver pizzas to one another”.

I’ve used that line before, and we as a nation have been here before, and perhaps we are doomed to repeating our actions over and over again like the Groundhog Day movie.

P.s.  We knew former President George W. Bush was not a good student, so we can understand him saying things such as the “fundamentals of our economy are strong” as it fell apart around us, thus looking like he was doing a Herbert Hoover impersonation. But unsuccessful presidential candidate John McCain who professed to be a fan of Republican reformer President Teddy Roosevelt seemed to indicate he knew a little history. But Teddy was early 20th Century — McCain should have read further. “The fundamental strength of the nation’s economy is unimpaired,” said President Hoover, and nine days later what had been until recently the biggest bank failure of  the nation’s history occurred. Last Fall, McCain was using the phrase “”the fundamentals of our economy are strong” as major banks fell. 






Patience and persistence and chucking evidence

January 24, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

After 45 years I finally destroyed or at least ditched the evidence that proves I am not someone meant to work with my hands, at least not in a craftsman-like way.

It was a wooden tool box I made in the freshman farm shop class at my high school. Nothing was done right on that little project. The ends were not cut correctly and the inside blocks used to separate the box into compartments were not cut squarely and the handle, although solid and workable, was not done correctly either.

And yet my dad, who learned about the rudiments of carpentry growing up on a farm, and who perfected his own skills for his own use around home over the years, used that tool box from 1963 when it was made till he died in 1990 at the age of 85.

Somehow it wound up back with me and has sat out in various garages holding some things of mine and some tools dad left behind.

The poorly constructed but nonetheless serviceable tool box has always been kind of an embarrassment to me, but fortunately it has not been on display anywhere and my name is not on it.

But we have had to downsize our living arrangements, so I, with only a little twinge of nostalgia, chucked the old tool box in the garbage.

Most of my dad’s tools were already gone. Some had gone to one of my now late uncles. I still do have some, but will probably have to get rid of them, tools that is.

Most all of my dad’s tools were of the hand-powered variety. He had few power tools.

One of those old hand tools I still have, and may keep for memory’s sake, is what is called a brace and bit, a kind of hand drill with a u-shaped grip. Such a thing was already nearly out of style when I was in farm shop. But dad used that contraption over and over again for a vast array of projects. One of the first I saw him use it on was a grape arbor he made at our home when I was a little kid.

He used it on a myriad of other projects, including a remodel of our kitchen. One thing he often used it for was to what I think you would call drilling holes to counter sink bolts – makes a nice neat job, with the fastener not protruding above the surface of the wood.

Actually, though, now that I think of it, my earliest memory of my dad doing handy work is of him using a power tool – a table saw. He used that table saw a lot. In later years, living out in the country once more, he used it to cut small pieces of firewood into stove lengths.

At some point he finally broke down and got an electric hand-held circular saw for carpentry projects and also got a small gas operated chain saw to cut up that fire wood.

I always looked at my dad’s carpentry work as a hobby, but he refused to view it as such. He simply claimed he had things that needed to be done, so he did them. He did not claim to be, nor was he, a jack of all trades, but he certainly was good at carpentry, house wiring, and plumbing.

By his own admission, dad was too slow to have made a good living at those trades, but he did insist upon himself that work had to be done correctly in a workman-like manner, and he did not take shortcuts. He was a journalist most of his life, and that certainly applied to his work in that field.

As much as I watched my dad or helped him in his projects – as in, would you hold the other end of that tape measure Tony? – I never became a hand at any of those crafts myself. My mind had a hard time going there, and I would often get frustrated.

But through the years, at various times I have been forced to delve into at least the edges of some of those activities and have profited from tips and advice dad gave me.

Probably the one piece of advice I did not get down as well as I should have is: “you have to be patient”.

At this juncture in life, I think people have natural aptitudes for things, and it is hard to work against that grain. But for the things one might be good at, in general, patience and persistence is the key.

Drive to get ahead, luck, being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, all can be important.

But being good at what you do trumps everything.


P.s. But on this patience thing – with my personality, I never felt I had time to be patient.

Bush disrespected; pressure on Obama…

January 21, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

Just a little cleanup from yesterday’s inauguration. I watched it on CNN and I thought at the time I heard some boos when outgoing president George W. Bush made his first entrance, but I don’t think the CNN commentators made any mention of it. I did pick up on the idea that some folks nearby seemed to be avoiding him and he did look kind of lonely.

But my oldest daughter who lives in another town mentioned to me that some in the crowd were singing the hey hey, na, na goodbye song (or whatever it is) and that seemed a little disrespectful. I read in today’s newspaper and on the web that indeed there had been some boos and other signs of disrespect, including that song.

While I think all that was in poor taste, I certainly don’t think George W. showed a lot of respect for the nation. I’m sure in his own tortured logic he felt he did and he no doubt feels that time will vindicate him. As I have mentioned before in this blog space, he might become the Republican version of Harry Truman – reviled while in office and later, particularly after his death, brought up to the status of near sainthood. Even Herbert Hoover, usually the symbol of the Great Depression, gets some good marks in the revisionist approach to U.S. History (actually, I would like to go back and study about what he did and did not – for all I know, he might have just needed more time).

But George W’s apparent ignorance of our own history and world affairs, his inability to use the English language any where near correctly, his chicken hawk history of avoiding combat by pretending to be in the National Guard but not showing up for all the meetings and then parading around on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit and committing troops to a war of choice with no clear objectives and a deficiency in troop strength and materiel that may have increased our casualties, his ineptness in the Katrina event that led to unnecessary human suffering, and his snicker when with super rich folks joking that “some call you the richest folks in America; I call you my base”, and his attack on science in favor or religious beliefs and money-making beliefs, well all that and more is what has engendered some disrespect.

But George W. has gone back home to Texas and he is history – we hope.

No man has ever had as much pressure on him as President Barrack Obama does today.

Good luck! For all of us.

P.s. Bush’s singular accomplishment by his own admission it would seem was that he kept us safe since 9/11. I have to wonder, would another president have not? And is that somewhat akin to my next door neighbor spreading elephant dust around his house for the past eight years and bragging that it must be effective because no elephants have stampeded in?

President Obama to do what Bush did not…

January 20, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

(BLOGGER’S NOTE: this was my initial reaction to President Barack Obama’s inaugural, and as you will read, I had to go back and make some almost instant adjustments. My wife read it and noted the blog seemed to lack any enthusiasm or depth. Sorry. I am enthused and quite hopefu, and no I didn’t go into any depth. But, maybe we as a nation are coming out of what has seemed like a bad dream and are awakening to a new and brighter day.)

Thought the invocation was a little too long.

It seemed that now ex-president George W. Bush was getting the cold shoulder as he was introduced, with folks turning their heads or averting their eyes.

And surprisingly, the then President-elect Barack Obama flubbed his lines in the swearing in ceremony. Maybe he didn’t bother to practice, thinking he simply had to repeat what the Chief Justice said. I was waiting for him to clearly say: Barack HUSSEIN Obama, and I didn’t hear it, because he got mixed up on what he was supposed to say (he may have said it – I’ll have to look at the tape or YourTube).


President Obama gave a virtually flawless speech (at about 23 minutes (okay, was it 18?), a little long, I thought).

If you read between the lines you would note that his speech was basically a promise to avoid doing everything the way Bush did and to forge ahead and do things right.

And that’s my instant analysis of the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States….

P.s.  President Obama did  issue  a warning to Muslim extremists, and when you contrast that with the long invocation by a Christian minister, that could be read as a sign that the U.S. is carrying the torch for the Christian world in its long rivalry with the Islamic world. And whether it be government or religion, the people want peace, while many leaders do not (hopefully President Obama can lead the way toward peace).

Add 1:  Having computer problems, but I did get a glimpse of a swearing in tape and I did clearly hear him say Barack HUSSEIN Obama. Just for the record. Now I know what they mean when they say eyewitness testimony is often unreliable. I’ll try harder.

Some presidential inaugural comparisons…

January 20, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

The first inaugural ceremony I ever watched was Eisenhower’s second in 1957. I was eight years old and in third grade and my mom let me stay home from school and watch it on TV. It was her idea, not mine (I did not object). I’m not sure why she wanted me to watch, but maybe it was because the local high school band was in the inaugural parade, and we did see them on TV (my sister was in high school at the time, but I don’t recall that she stayed home).

While I did see the Tulare, Ca. Union High School Redskin Marching Band, I was just as interested in seeing the street cars in Washington DC, shown on the television. They reminded me of the ones in my hometown of San Francisco. I understand DC abandoned them by 1963. They were replaced with buses. We were already going off track way back then.

I haven’t really keyed in on inaugurals since, but I don’t recall there being so much excitement for one in my lifetime as there is for the one for Barack Obama. Of course it is an historical occasion, him being the first black American president – and no doubt you’ve heard that fact mentioned several times today and yesterday and will tomorrow.

I also watched John F. Kennedy’s inaugural in 1961. The only things I really remember about that one was the fact that he wore a top hat and I thought it looked funny on him. And despite the fact that he did wear that hat for the ceremony, he may have been the first president to go around hatless on most other occasions (that marked a generational change). He had that unique Kennedy brush (I just made up that description as far as I know) hairdo and was forever moving the hair out of his eyes with one hand. It was a cold day for his inaugural I recall too. You could see the breath come out of his mouth.

And I remember the line in his inaugural speech: “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” And it seems as if that might be appropriate now. And I recall that funny, but pleasing, and stylish the way he did it, Kennedy/Massachusetts accent. In later speeches he would talk about Cuba, but it came out like “Cuber”. And if you impersonate him (which I think I have down pat) you have to use the phrase: “well, just let me say this about tha(e)t”. I don’t know if he ever actually used that phrase, but I think he did.

I do know that folks were excited about Kennedy because of his youth and the promise that a new generation was taking over and the nation would be revitalized. I was too young to realize what the public mood was, but I guess the go-go of the post war boom and the Fabulous Fifties had warn down somewhat and it seemed like the aged set of which Eisenhower was part needed to be replaced with new and younger blood.

It was a tight race between Kennedy and Richard Nixon, so not everyone was so enthused, I’m sure. But I do recall that the new occupants of the White House, the glamorous young man and his glamorous and refined and charming wife, and the two adorable kids, brought the element of celebrity (and family too) and even idol worship to the presidential home and office. In fact, as the time wore on, some worried that we had created a new royalty in the Kennedys and the whole affair was named Camelot, after a popular play at the time about the mythical King Arthur.

And while in conservative right wing and still predominantly white country where I live the tone seems somewhat subdued (and many folks don’t get too excited around here about any politics), the current television coverage indicates this Obama thing is Camelot and then some.

With the nation truly facing what may be its biggest economic crisis ever, one that I think could dwarf even the Great Depression, and the fact it is waging wars in the Middle East and faces constant terrorist threats (even if Bush, playing on the real 9/11, exaggerated some, common sense tells us they are there), there are great expectations for Mr. Obama, President Obama by the time most read this.

While the adulation being poured on our new President Obama may already be wearing thin with some or certainly soon will be, if that is what it takes to inspire a nation to rise from the ruins of irresponsibility or terribly bad luck or whatever, I say so be it.

P.s. I think much of the news coverage is being indulgent with the emphasis on what this all means to Black America and that this is somehow finally a movement toward addressing the wrongs of slavery. And convenient it is that the inauguration of the first black president comes the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But after today (Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2008, Inauguration Day) we need to move on and address how all of us will survive. We are greatly weakened by a failing economic system. We are facing somewhat of a new economic order on the world scale. And we have enemies who would like to exploit this situation. The last president inaccurately described himself as a “uniter not a divider”. Our new one promises to take over that mantra and make good on it – so far so good.

Rejecting ideology works for Barack Obama…

January 18, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

I think there is a reason for Barack Obama’s success. He’s non-partisan. Okay, yes he is a Democrat but he does not seem to be an ideologue.

And that is what we need right now.

We need and hopefully have someone who is not out to push the right wing or left wing or any wing agenda.

Now those of the hard right wing conservative group will say that certainly Mr. Obama is left wing with all his talk of the government helping people via an infusion of bailout money. But didn’t Mr. Right wing George W. start that? Of course that turned out to be help the rich banker gamblers but it was sold on the premise that money would be going out to everyone. (The earlier stimulus checks were a short-lived and short-on- impact gimic.)

I don’t think Mr. Obama could have been elected had he chose to push a strictly left-wing agenda.

And I don’t think the vast number of voters consider themselves either left wing or right wing. Most people think they are in the middle.

The public does get caught up in the rhetoric of the right and left, especially the right, but now with the weight of the world coming down on us all, people want something that works, with at least one caveat, they don’t want a dictatorship. They don’t want a right-wing dictatorship, as in Adolf Hitler, and they don’t want a left-wing dictatorship as in Mao Zedong. I don’t think that came up in the campaign too much – it’s kind of a given.

What I’m trying to get to is that the United States electorate may have thrown out ideology (not democracy) in favor of pragmatism.

Mr. Obama is unique in many ways: he will soon be our first black American president. He will also be our first post Baby Boom president. He is of a new generation. And while he certainly is black in heritage and appearance, he is half white too. Although American born (some weirdos argue he was not), he grew up partly overseas, which gives him a different (more international) perspective. But he’s American as apple pie with grandparents on his mother’s side out of the Heartland (Kansas, as in “there’s no place like home” and “Toto too?”) and having himself come up through the ranks of rough and tumble Chicago and Illinois politics. And yet he is not tied to the old black civil rights establishment (and I don’t mean to dis those folks outright, but since pushing through the civil rights legislation of the 60s they have not done much for their culture except make excuses, and I don’t know why that is.)

And I don’t mean to disparage a race of people by the last sentence in the preceding paragraph. But I would hope now that we have elected a black president and that his poll numbers are so high, that the notion that the color of someone’s skin is something a person cannot overcome in making a success in life has been proven wrong. I know racism still exists, but it does indeed seem to be fading. It’s kind of like drunk driving – it’s just not nearly as popular as it used to be.

And here’s something that comes to my mind. Don’t you get the idea that Mr. Obama is for doing what is morally right, more so than all those past purveyors of right wing ideology whose only morals seemed to be: if it makes money, it must be right? And to be fair, he seems to be more moral than the purveyors of far left ideology who threw out all of society’s morals back in the 60s (and that reminds me – Mr. Obama is forthright enough to admit he did partake in dope smoking at one time and even inhaled).

I’ll know if Mr. Obama is a success about six months from now. At that time if everyone on the far left and everyone on the far right is mad as heck at him, it will likely mean he is being successful.