Jul 13, 2014

It is Sunday.  Sparrows and the odd Cardinal sweeten the soft breezes and haze, the buzz of single engines like gnats over the shore to the East.  Hana is home from her adventures at Camp; Bentley is returned to her shadow, for which Willow is happy - he rests, just close enough to my toes that I cannot move without causing some alarm.  General Quarters is sounded as Krys' car creeps up the drive.  The circus is back in town!

I have been hanging out (what we used to call, "corresponding") with a man from Michigan, with whom I've chatted via GooGle Buzz and Plus for a couple of years now.  He's been having a rough time with his work environment and that in turn has made his life plans - he's engaged - more complicated.  We have been talking on and off about the profession he's chosen as an indie, and the prospects for other work in his particular market.  It reminded me of my own experiences with the world of work, and also something I have carried in my head since I read it a year or two ago.  I am copying it here out of my copy of The Autobiography of Mark Twain, which was a Christmas gift to me from my family a few years ago.  Photos are courtesy of the Mark Twain House of Hartford, CT.

It is from Volume 01, and from the entry dated Tuesday, March 27, 1906:

[Calvin H.] Higbie was the first person to profit by my great and infallible scheme for finding work for the unemployed. I have tried that scheme, now and then, for forty-four years. So far as I am aware it has always succeeded, and it is one of my high prides that I invented it, and that in basing it upon what I conceived to be a fact of human nature I estimated that fact of human nature accurately.

Higbie and I were living in a cotton-domestic lean-to at the base of a mountain. It was very cramped quarters, with barely room for us and the stove—wretched quarters indeed, for every now and then, between eight in the morning and eight in the evening, the thermometer would make an excursion of fifty degrees. We had a silver-mining claim under the edge of a hill half a mile away, in partnership with Bob Howland and Horatio Phillips, and we used to go there every morning carrying with us our luncheon, and remain all day picking and blasting in our shaft, hoping, despairing, hoping again, and gradually but surely running out of funds. At last, when we were clear out and still had struck nothing, we saw that we must find some other way of earning a living. I secured a place in a near-by quartz mill to screen sand with a long-handled shovel. I hate a long-handled shovel. I never could learn to swing it properly. As often as any other way the sand didn’t reach the screen at all, but went over my head and down my back, inside of my clothes. It was the most detestable work I have ever engaged in, but it paid ten dollars a week and board—and the board was worth while, because it consisted not only of bacon, beans, coffee, bread and molasses, but we had stewed dried apples every day in the week just the same as if it were Sunday. But this palatial life, this gross and luxurious life, had to come to an end, and there were two sufficient reasons for it. On my side, I could not endure the heavy labor; and on the Company’s side, they did not feel justified in paying me to shovel sand down my back; so I was discharged just at the moment that I was going to resign.

If Higbie had taken that job all would have been well and everybody satisfied, for his great frame would have been competent. He was muscled like a giant. He could handle a long-handled shovel like an emperor, and he could work patiently and contentedly twelve hours on a stretch without ever hastening his pulse or his breath. Meantime, he had found nothing to do, and was somewhat discouraged. He said, with an outburst of pathetic longing, “If I could only get a job at the Pioneer!”
I said “What kind of a job do you want at the Pioneer?”
He said “Why, laborer. They get five dollars a day.”
I said “If that’s all you want I can arrange it for you.”
Higbie was astonished. He said “Do you mean to say that you know the foreman there and could get me a job and yet have never said anything about it?”
“No” I said, “I don’t know the foreman.”
“Well” he said, “who is it you know? How is it you can get me the job?”

“Why,” I said, “that’s perfectly simple. If you will do as I tell you to do, and don’t try to improve on my instructions, you shall have the job before night.”

He said eagerly “I’ll obey the instructions, I don’t care what they are.”
“Well,” I said, “go there and say that you want work as a laborer; that you are tired of being idle; that you are not used to being idle, and can’t stand it; that you just merely want the refreshment of work, and require nothing in return.”
He said “Nothing?”
I said, “That’s it—nothing.”
“No wages at all?”
“No, no wages at all.”
“Not even board?”
“No, not even board. You are to work for nothing. Make them understand that—that you are perfectly willing to work for nothing. When they look at that figure of yours that foreman will understand that he has drawn a prize. You’ll get the job.”
Higbie said indignantly, “Yes, a hell of a job.”
I said, “You said you were going to do it, and now you are already criticising. You have said you would obey my instructions. You are always as good as your word. Clear out, now, and get the job.”
He said he would.
I was pretty anxious to know what was going to happen—more anxious than I would have wanted him to find out. I preferred to seem entirely confident of the strength of my scheme, and I made good show of that confidence. But really I was very anxious. Yet I believed that I knew enough of human nature to know that a man like Higbie would not be flung out of that place without reflection when he was offering those muscles of his for nothing. The hours dragged along and he didn’t return. I began to feel better and better. I began to accumulate confidence. At sundown he did at last arrive and I had the joy of knowing that my invention had been a fine inspiration and was successful.
He said the foreman was so astonished at first that he didn’t know how to take hold of the proposition, but that he soon recovered and was evidently very glad that he was able to accommodate Higbie and furnish him the refreshment he was pining for.
Higbie said “How long is this to go on?”
I said “The terms are that you are to stay right there; do your work just as if you were getting the going wages for it. You are never to make any complaint; you are never to indicate that you would like to have wages or board. This will go on one, two, three, four, five, six days, according to the make of that foreman. Some foremen would break down under the strain in a couple of days. There are others who would last a week. It would be difficult to find one who could stand out a whole fortnight without getting ashamed of himself and offering you wages. Now let’s suppose that this is a fortnight-foreman. In that case you will not be there a fortnight. Because the men will spread it around that the very ablest laborer in this camp is so fond of work that he is willing and glad to do it without pay. You will be regarded as the latest curiosity. Men will come from the other mills to have a look at you. You could charge admission and get it, but you mustn’t do that. Stick to your colors. When the foremen of the other mills cast their eyes upon this bulk of yours and perceive that you are worth two ordinary men they’ll offer you half a man’s wages. You are not to accept until you report to your foreman. Give him an opportunity to offer you the same. If he doesn’t do it then you are free to take up with that other man’s offer. Higbie, you’ll be foreman of a mine or a mill inside of three weeks, and at the best wages going.”
It turned out just so—and after that I led an easy life, with nothing to do, for it did not occur to me to take my own medicine. I didn’t want a job as long as Higbie had one. One was enough for so small a family—and so during many succeeding weeks I was a gentleman of leisure, with books and newspapers to read and stewed dried apples every day for dinner the same as Sunday, and I wanted no better career than this in this life. Higbie supported me handsomely, never once complained of it, never once suggested that I go out and try for a job at no wages and keep myself.
That would be in 1862. I parted from Higbie about the end of’62—or possibly it could have been the beginning of ’63—and went to Virginia City, for I had been invited to come there and take William H. Wright’s place as sole reporter on the Territorial Enterprise and do Wright’s work for three months while he crossed the plains to Iowa to visit his family. However I have told all about this in “Roughing It.”
I have never seen Higbie since, in all these forty-four years.
Shortly after my marriage, in 1870, I received a letter from a young man in St. Louis who was possibly a distant relative of mine—I don’t remember now about that—but his letter said that he was anxious and ambitious to become a journalist—and would I send him a letter of introduction to some St. Louis newspaper and make an effort to get him a place as a reporter? It was the first time I had had an opportunity to make a new trial of my great scheme. I wrote him and said I would get him a place on any newspaper in St. Louis; he could choose the one he preferred, but he must promise me to faithfully follow out the instructions which I should give him. He replied that he would follow out those instructions to the letter and with enthusiasm. His letter was overflowing with gratitude—premature gratitude. He asked for the instructions. I sent them. I said he must not use a letter of introduction from me or from any one else. He must go to the newspaper of his choice and say that he was idle, and weary of being idle, and wanted work—that he was pining for work, longing for work—that he didn’t care for wages, didn’t want wages, but would support himself—he wanted work, nothing but work, and not work of a particular kind, but any kind of work they would give him to do. He would sweep out the editorial rooms; he would keep the ink-stands full, and the mucilage bottles, he would run errands, he would make himself useful in every way he could.
I suspected that my scheme would not work with everybody—that some people would scorn to labor for nothing, and would think it matter 
for self-contempt; also that many persons would think me a fool to suggest such a project; also that many persons would not have character enough to go into the scheme in a determined way and test it. I was interested to know what kind of a candidate this one was, but of course I had to wait some time to find out. I had told him he must never ask for wages; he must never be beguiled into making that mistake; that sooner or later an offer of wages would come from somewhere, and in that case he must go straight to his employer and give him the opportunity to offer him the like wages, in which case he must stay where he was—that as long as he was in anybody’s employ he must never ask for an advance of wages; that would always come from somewhere else if he proved his worthiness.
The scheme worked again. That young fellow chose his paper, and during the first few days he did the sweeping out and other humble work; and kept his mouth shut. After that the staff began to take notice of him. They saw that they could employ him in lots of ways that saved time and effort for them at no expense. They found that he was alert and willing. They began presently to widen his usefulness. Then he ventured to risk another detail of my instructions; I had told him not to be in a hurry about it, but to make his popularity secure first. He took up that detail now. When he was on his road between office and home, and when he was outon errands, he kept his eyes open and whenever he saw anything that could be useful in the local columns he wrote it out, then went over it and abolished adjectives, went over it again and extinguished other surplusages, and finally when he got it boiled down to the plain facts with the ruffles and other embroideries all gone, he laid it on the city editor’s desk. He scored several successes, and saw his stuff go into the paper unpruned. Presently the city editor when short of help sent him out on an assignment. He did his best with it, and with good results. This happened with more and more frequency. It brought him into contact with all the reporters of all the newspapers. He made friends with them and presently one of them told him of a berth that was vacant, and that he could get it and the wages too. He said he must see his own employers first about it. In strict accordance with my instructions he carried the offer to his own employers, and the thing happened which was to be expected. They said they could pay that wage as well as any other newspaper—stay where he was.
This young man wrote me two or three times a year and he always had something freshly encouraging to report about my scheme. Now and then he would be offered a raise by another newspaper. He carried the news to his own paper; his own paper stood the raise every time and he remained there. Finally he got an offer which his employers could not meet and then they parted. This offer was a salary of three thousand a year, to be managing editor on a daily in a Southern city of considerable importance, and it was a large wage for that day and region. He held that post three years. After that I never heard of him any more.
About 1886 my nephew, Samuel E. Moffett, a youth in the twenties, lost his inherited property and found himself obliged to hunt for something to do by way of making a living. He was an extraordinary young fellow in several ways. A nervous malady had early unfitted him for attending school in any regular way, and he had come up without a school education—but this was no great harm for him, for he had a prodigious memory and a powerful thirst for knowledge. At twelve years he had picked up, through reading and listening, a large and varied treasury of knowledge, and I remember one exhibition of it which was very offensive to me. He was visiting in our house and I was trying to build a game out of historical facts drawn from all the ages. I had put in a good deal of labor on this game, and it was hard labor, for the facts were not in my head. I had to dig them painfully out of the books. The boy looked over my work, found that my facts were not accurate and the game, as it stood, not usable. Then he sat down and built the whole game out of his memory. To me it was a wonderful performance, and I was deeply offended.
As I have said, he wrote me from San Francisco in his early twenties, and said he wanted to become a journalist, and would I send him some letters of introduction to the newspaper editors of that city? I wrote back and put him strictly under those same old instructions. I sent him no letter of introduction and forbade him to use one furnished by anybody else. He followed the instructions strictly. He went to work in the Examiner, a property of William R. Hearst. He cleaned out the editorial rooms and carried on the customary drudgeries required by my scheme. In a little while he was on the editorial staff at a good salary. After two or three years the salary was raised to a very good figure indeed. After another year or two he handed in his resignation—for in the meantime he had married and was living in Oakland, or one of those suburbs, and did not like the travel to and fro between the newspaper and his home in the late hours of the night and the morning. Then he was told to stay in Oakland, write his editorials there and send them over, and the large salary was continued. By and by he was brought to New York to serve on Mr. Hearst’s New York paper, and when he finally resigned from that employment he had been in Mr. Hearst’s employ sixteen years without a break. Then he became an editorial writer on the New York World with the privilege of living out of town and sending his matter in. His wage was eight thousand dollars a year. A couple of years ago Collier’s Weekly offered him an easy berth and one which was particularly desirable in his case, since it would deal mainly with historical matters, past and present—and that was an industry which he liked. The salary was to be ten thousand dollars. He came to me for advice, and I told him to accept, which he did. When Mr. Pulitzer found that he was gone from the World he was not pleased with his managing editor for letting him go, but his managing editor was not to blame. He didn’t know that Moffett was going until he received his resignation. Pulitzer offered Moffett a billet for twenty years, this term to be secured in such a way that it could not be endangered by Pulitzer’s death, and to this offer was added the extraordinary proposition that Moffett could name his own salary. But of course Moffett remains with Collier, his agreement with Collier’s having been already arrived at satisfactorily to both parties.

Jan 22, 2013

"So Take It From Me, Kids... Don't Be A Randy"

"When it becomes more difficult to suffer than to change... you will change."
     - Robert Anthony 

In the time it took to have two kids, I saw the entrance and exit of the Video Store as a viable small (and later, big) business.  Can we correctly expect technology to hand us more opportunities for local scale?  I absolutely think we can, but the cautionary tale told by BlockBuster and their ilk demands we carefully review the arcs that these technologies can arrive, grow, and depart upon.

Because, you know, it just sucks being Randy.

Dec 27, 2012

Post Xmas Follies

So the Xmas Holidastrophe has passed with minimal bloodshed and recriminations; no damaged dishes or hurt feelings.  Yay!  Someday the horrordays will be enjoyable for me all the way through.  I just know it.

On the other hand.... it did have some very nice presents!  Here are my prizes in their awesomness (you do not have to be me to enjoy all of them - but it helps).
  •  A Year With C.S. Lewis is a daily readings collection.  Very good stuff.  imho.
  • The Fractalist, Benoit Mandelbrot's memoir.  Why?  "Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line" That should be a good start.
  • Structure & Interpretation of Computer Programs is a book I browsed online and now want to read.  No, I don't program.  I mean, no I don't write code.  I mean...
  • GEB: An Eternal Golden Braid I was given Doug Hofstadter's book in 1979 as a birthday gift.  That copy's seen me through many sleepless nights and was a good traveling companion.  The binding on my copy's become too frail to carry around much so I put it back on my wish list.  It's not a hard-cover but the covers are heavier as is the paper, so it's all good.  Back on the road!
  • Hofstadter's Grandchildren, edited by Adam Cole is a collection of inspirations flowing from G.E.B. which I have been wanting for a while and am looking forward to browsing.
  • The Rapture of The Nerds by Corey Doctorow is the funny to put all of the other books in my list in the proper perspective.  I see Doctorow, Vonnegut (Kurt, not David) and M. Atwood in some ways occupying the same space, but that's just me and your mileage may vary.  Still I'm halfway through this already and have been laughing out loud in various waiting areas today.  Fortunately, many of the people around me were also reading gifted stuff and were not bothered in the least.
So this ought to keep me off the streets for a bit.  Excellent timing too, since the first snow storm is coming in tonight!  Keep the radio tuned to the Weather stations.....

Dec 1, 2012

Christmas comes a few days early

When I returned to my home the other day I noticed a package sitting by the front door. Being the merchandising season, this wasn't too surprising.  It's also my birthday this week, so anything can happen.

When I brought it inside and opened it, I found a Chrome notebook.  Well happy birthday to me!  And none too soon; with the holidays upon us the whole family's been going a bit nuts, and I've been leading the trend.  A new piece of tech to obsess on a bit would be perfect to direct some of my crazy away from the wife and kids, and put it back up in my office where it belongs.
After unpacking and charging, I took it for a spin and found the besides the Chrome software, the device has been set up to look not only for WiFi but also for Verizon 3G network points.  Better still, the Verizon setup has a plan offering a hundred megabytes of data a month, prepaid, for twenty-four months.  To be sure, a hundred megs isn't much in terms of phone carrier service - a couple hours of video - but for my purposes that's just fine. Even better, when the data is expended for the month, the service is shut off until the first of the following month. I don't have to worry about someone grabbing the thing and playing Farmville all the way down to NYC in the back of the car.  Sweet.

Well, this post never made it to press last year - I wrote it in December of 2011 (or was it 2010?) shortly after "Mario" showed up.  It has been a great ride - although recently, Mario's hardware WIFI connection became cranky and one must not tilt the display after starting it for fear of disconnects.

Small potatoes, I say.  Besides solidifying a huge base of users, the experiment has unfolded as we see today, with numerous different companies selling Chromebooks as well as the rollout of related items like Google Play.  It's raised the stakes for tab-laptop developers, while making online stores more than a place to purchase books and music.  The question of the month is, What will Santa Google bring, this year?

Regardless: happy happy, folks.

Nov 12, 2012

Thank you, Sandy

For many people lives go on trajectories with a few collisions altering course now and then. Often collisions the result of events impacting others change many peoples' arcs at once: Megahurricane Sandy was one of those events, certainly. Like an earthquake, events of consequence have aftershocks; appearing 'randomly' in the days and weeks after. For folks in NJ and NY time, measured between now and now+1, is in deep freeze, waiting for it's Spring, for the return of light, heat, and consumer social structure. Even while the days shorten and the nights grow colder, they wait with forced patience.

Following the initial shock of awareness that something big has taken place, people outside the event locus pass through the experience in the third person. Some will be moved to help, be it for families, people they haven't met, animals separated from their owners. Others will ensure their ten fingers and ten toes are all still attached and move on, keeping a watchful eye on the weather glass for a time until the memory fades.

I fell into a rabbit hole for a while during the storm. We lost power in NH twice, each time for only a few hours (though many in the state were down for days). We traveled to outside NYC to be with family. Although my mother in-law was hospitalized with exposure (her home in White Plains had power resumed early Thursday the 8th) all were of good cheer to be past the storm with no further family injuries. Returning home I became a radio of sorts, receiving all kinds of messages from everywhere and occasionally spitting out bits of static. Could have been from SETI @ Home. I don't know.

To order in print or PDF, contact me at mitchLOP8@yahoo.com.
Today I went through my favorite RSS Reader program to catch up on the zillions of music, economic, and GooGly pages I follow, for the first time in a while. And there's a ripple, a little aftershock from Sandy: a posting from fellow music lover and former NJ resident Mitch Lopate on his TGStars web page. Adapting with less? Surviving and sharing? Whether it be in the form of changing weather patterns or the .0001%, these are good things to be thinking about daily, and working towards, little by slow if necessary. Because we're not going to have a choice at some point.

But anyway, the point of this blit was not to be all doom and gloom but to celebrate the fact Mitch called me within minutes of my post. And we talked, for nearly a half hour, about sustaining, family, NJ, WA, the Canary Islands, earthen homes, Mitch's music writings, the Zapatistas and their form of self-government, Economic Hit men, astrology, and What The Future Will Hold.

There are very few humans I can enjoy speaking with like this (though I have conversations like this with my dog Willow on occasion) and it was an absolute gift for me that Mitch decided to call. After thinking about this some I realized, the internets is frickin' awesome.

Sep 6, 2012

A Black Mark on Mitt's Choices for Advisors

I read a quickie-read book the past couple of days, called How to Get Away With Murder in America, that left me a little rocked.  The jarring part started in telling the central character's story, and reached a crescendo as it detailed the arc of his career and the people who helped him along.

The main character is a child of Cuban refugees who rose to become a senior-ranking member of the CIA, before taking a vice-presidency at Blackwater, specializing in political assassinations in Iraq and Afghanistan on orders of the CIA.  The book names him, and you can look for it if you like.  I'm not, because he's not the focus of this blog.

I love and respect a man in a uniform, but the thing is this particular man, prior to joining the CIA, worked as a bodyguard and criminal enforcer for a childhood friend, convicted cocaine trafficker Alberto San Pedro - one of the 'Cocaine Cowboys' of Miami in the 1970's.  Federal RICO investigations were initiated from information gathered by Metro-Dade investigative work on local murders and bad drug deals, which supported the case enough to convene grand juries to examine the evidence; Yet with no reason, the CIA defended this man from being questioned by a grand jury.

Now, for those jumping to call this a chop piece or fabrication, I suggest you re-review the sourcing before you call B.S.  There a great many pieces that line up and Evan Wright (author of this piece, and also of Generation Kill which was adapted for HBO) documents his own skepticism in the journey to identify people, places, etcetera.  

Perhaps, as the author offers, this man was trying to escape La Vida Coca when he entered the CIA.  Whatever.  There does not appear to be any evidence that his life in the CIA, once established, maintained a high degree of exposure to his prior life, and I would be the last person to fault him.  The fact that the man was successful at re-creating himself to promote the country's safety as a federal employee is for me, all good and I wish him no ill will.  In fact, as the author notes, he provided services in getting the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center (CTC) organized following 9/11 so far outside the CIA group think that we probably responded more quickly to terrorist threats thanks to his work.

Not Elmer J. Fudd OR Mean Mr. WilsonIt was another figure in the story, another CIA guy, named J. C0fer Blaack (sic) who helped the former 'Hard Guy' via promotions at the CIA and later, a good job at Blackwater, running their under-the-covers hit squad.  Black now has speaking engagements at places like the Aspen Security Forum with colleagues John Negroponte, Dennis Blair, Keith Alexander and others from the Intelligence community.  He is now also a military advisor to Mitt Romney and could end up in Mr. Romney's cabinet.

Why does this concern me?  After all, this was the guy who alerted the CTC to Al Qaeda in the late 1990's.  He was the guy who put the extraordinary rendition program on the front burner.  He was the guy who put the 'Hard Guy' mentioned above in charge of a team to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden - in 1996.

He was also the guy in charge in 2000, when his group received intelligence that two known Al Qaeda militants were en route to Malaysia for a meeting with others there.  CTC promptly sent officers who surveilled the meeting, photographed the participants, and promptly lost the militants.  Thai intelligence advised the CTC a few weeks later, that the two had boarded a flight to LAX, using their real names, and had landed and disappeared.  When notified, CTC checked some references to look for them, but did not alert the FBI or other law enforcement agencies of their presence in the U.S.

The two men later enrolled in flight school.  And later, still using their own names, boarded AA 77 as part of the 9/11 hijack team who rode that plane into the Pentagon.

No one will ever know whether the plot might have been foiled by investigators.  One hopes that it would have been.  

Mr. Black denied under oath testifying before the 9/11 commission that CTC had kept this information to themselves, and blamed the FBI whom he said had been advised.  In its summation, the commission concluded he had not alerted anyone.  

Black was not relieved of his duties until May of 2002, and not before he sold President George W. Bush on the CIA's ability to send paramilitaries into Afghanistan to rally the rebel forces and help (through massive amounts of air power) overcome the Taliban.  In just a few weeks or months.  Black  also sold President Bush on the rendition and torture policies the CIA adopted in Afghanistan (and later, Iraq).  Evans goes further, and asserts Black's efforts ultimately helped give POTUS (then, and now) a layer or two of distance from responsibility for actions taken on the ground by CIA or other armed forces personnel, by removing Justice Department oversight of renditions and removing POTUS approval for assassinations.

On the one hand, Mr. Black was not convincing in his testimony; on the other, his counsel to President Bush strengthened the power in Bush's office while diminishing rights of due process and personal freedoms.  One might argue that '...in wartime....' but such powers given a man will never be given back.  If by some miracle the spectre of terrorism faded tomorrow, another reason would arise to justify the need of keeping these powers.  Taking those powers out of the box was wrong on many levels.

If the GOP's candidate is successful this election, Mr. Black may find a cabinet spot.  By his lack of honesty shown to the 9/11 commission alone, I find this possibility execrable.  I do not want to even think what might happen should he find himself present, at yet another moment of presidential weakness.