January 28, 2023

A Long Goodbye for the Company Town

abandoned GM plant

A GM Powertrain plant decays into the earth

The University of Michigan recently received a donation of $50 million for its Writers’ Program. That kind of money can buy a lot of coney dogs. A 350 pound Detroit homicide detective with a hunger for coney dogs is one of many great characters in Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy. LeDuff has a bachelor’s from Michigan and master’s from California-Berkeley but I don’t think his 350 pound homicide detective is the kind of creative writing material that Helen Zell envisioned when she made the donation. The 22 students chosen from almost a thousand applicants in creative writing will split one million dollars yearly. LeDuff got his start working in a slaughterhouse before the New York Times hired him. So it goes.

The picture isn’t from Dresden or Detroit, or even Syria. The rubble is what remains of a General Motors plant in Saginaw. Someone had punched a hole in the fence so I slammed on the brakes and ducked through the hole to get a quick picture. I have seen this kind of destruction in so many cities, I can’t even take a guess at the number of abandoned manufacturing sites. Detroit has 139 square miles of abandoned property and 45,000 abandoned houses. Smaller company towns that had built America’s industry are incapable of dealing with closures and abandonment. School closings are on the front page of every newspaper in the dying company towns.

I didn’t intend to drive past the abandoned GM plant in Saginaw. A week of heavy rain created flash floods in many rivers around the state. The rising water chased me away from a nicer area and into this one. Small groups of “irregular” kids, wearing dirty clothing, their young faces looking too old already,  wandered the street in the rotten weather. LeDuff was asked why should the rest of the country care about Detroit. Because it’s spreading, he said. Like the rivers cresting and flooding the streets. Bill Moyers reported on homeless in of all places, Silicon Valley. A commentator said the country was splitting apart. As Detroit goes, so it goes. There have been a number of high profile articles on Detroit in the last week. If you really want to understand a city, watch the schools, grocery stores, and the morgue. There’s a photo in LeDuff’s book of the unclaimed bodies at the morgue in Detroit. An elderly man was in the morgue for two years. No one wanted to make the effort to give him a burial. The dead are abandoned like the buildings.

On the Michigan Writers’ Program website, Helen Zell explained why she made the record donation: “Books have the power to inspire and change people, to create action, to generate movements, and to better understand those qualities that are uniquely human. We want to capture important stories that might otherwise go untold.”

The stories in the crevices of these company towns are worth a dozen coney dogs, at least. The stories will be written through the eyes of a 350 pound Raymond Chandler character who makes too many damn phone calls after midnight. Or perhaps a ruin porn brick salesman, some bland bastard with too many stale stories and takes too long to say goodbye. The Atlantic asked Walter Mosley for his favorite passage in literature. Mosley said Chandler wrote it at the end of The Long Goodbye: “He was looking at me and neither his eyes nor his gun moved. He was as calm as an adobe wall in the moonlight.” The innocuous line hit Mosley “like a thunderbolt,” turning the ordinary sight, an adobe wall, into a sinister canvas. “It juxtaposes light and dark, serenity and violence, in a way that reaches beyond the physical into the anguished struggle of the human heart.”

Vision that punches a hole in the fence around the company town and the human heart.

Chandler writes in The Long Goodbye:

“The average man is tired and scared, and a tired, scared man can’t afford ideals. He has to buy food for his family. In our time we have seen a shocking decline in both public and private morals. You can’t expect quality from people whose lives are a subjection to a lack of quality. You can’t have quality with mass production. You don’t want it because it lasts too long. So you substitute styling, which is a commercial swindle intended to produce artificial obsolescence. Mass production couldn’t sell its goods next year unless it made what is sold this year look unfashionable a year from now… The stuff inside is mostly junk.”

A hard boiled autopsy report for the company town.


At Curbside for the Bulls and Bears Street Fight

The roadside sign is probably for an offer and not an order. I didn’t count five houses down the road to find the egg salesman, failing to fulfill the duties of a citizen journalist. The citizen journalist is a new occupation that includes everyone. Urban farming is spreading with the weeds and ruin porn in the bear market zip codes. The bull market zip codes are a little more technologically advanced in the social media. But whatever works. The sign for eggs got my attention.

Detroit is the epicenter for the Bulls and Bears. Last year, the Society of Professional Journalists voted John Carlisle of “Detroitblogger John” fame as metro Detroit’s journalist of the year. His blog about mesmerizing stories of Detroit’s citizens has attracted the attention of out of town writers who have come to Detroit to cover the great industrial collapse. Just think what someone like John Steinbeck, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, George Orwell, or Ernest Hemingway could have added to their storytelling if they possessed the technological tools available today and in the near future.

History Press published “Detroitblogger John” Carlisle’s book last year that’s a compilation of stories from his blog. Life in the Motor City, Detroit City is the Place to Be, and documentaries like Detropia are putting citizen storytellers at the front lines of this American tragedy. The Detroit Free Press has a remarkable series on the Packard Plant that was built in Detroit in the early 1900s. The plant’s abandoned ruins cover thirty-five acres. The reinforced concrete and asbestos make the cleanup of three million square feet an urban Marshall Plan that’s well beyond the scope of a bankrupt city. The Free Press is asking Detroit’s citizen journalist for help with photographs in turning this massive ruins into living history.

The History Press explained its decision to publish John Carlisle’s book as support for living history. Several of Carlisle’s interview subjects had died before the book was published in the fall of 2011. Life on the streets is hard and the life history of these people is for the weeds, not the bookshelves of historians earning tenure in the bull market zip code. Carlisle’s matter of fact reporting is what makes his stories mesmerizing. It’s  a combination of old school reporting with the new tech tools. Another citizen journalist blog Deadline Detroit, with the tag line homegrown media revolution, posted a story “My Grandma, the Urban Farmer” in November. The eighty year old woman is one of many now using vacant urban land to farm. Her home has security bars on the windows and she’s surrounded by abandoned homes and decay, and much crime. The grandmother-urban farmer told the blogger everything will in time return to its past. This fate makes The History Press a natural media outlet for the citizen journalists. The History Press published Remembering Flint in August from another citizen journalist, Gary Flinn.

The enemy of time is beating at the walls of the newspaper headquarters and all headquarters. More cutbacks and layoffs will make the large, imposing newspaper headquarters acres of ruin like the old auto plants. I was at the Dow headquarters in Midland a few weeks ago and took a picture of the display of flags for all the nations in its business empire. A security guard came up to me and said that I didn’t have permission to take the picture. A public relations official had to be there before permission was granted. While the citizen journalists swarm over the battlefield ruins of Detroit’s commerce, security checks are still required for the living. The dead aren’t as self-conscious about their image. Since I was alone, and didn’t look like a threat, and reminded the guard that pictures were already on the Internet, he grudgingly told me the picture didn’t have to be deleted in his presence.

In the bull market zip codes around Ann Arbor, the main hazard was walking into a telephone pole while reading the smartphone. The conversations were very different than overheard in the bear market zip codes. Businessmen were discussing risks of the fiscal cliff in Washington at the table next to me in the Grand Traverse Pie Company.  People in the bear market zip codes had already gone over the cliff. If the country goes over the fiscal cliff, we might get a great deal on brown eggs that would at least put the egg salesman in a bull market.

The New York Times’ Bill Keller has written a column on the critical importance of being there. All the cutbacks in foreign affairs coverage and risk averse mentality behind the immense headquarter walls are damaging to both news gathering and policy. The first online news stories about the attack in  Benghazi were written in America, not Libya.

Some photos of Detroitblogger John really show his determination to get a good spot at curbside for this fight between the Bulls and Bears. He resembles an urban war correspondent in some of the shots, smoking a cigarette and wearing a knit cap pulled down. There’s a great picture of him in the Metro Times. He’s standing next to a Detroit city limit sign and holding up a scrawled sign to buy his book. He’s wearing the knit cap and gloves with the fingers cut off. There’s just that aura of old school determination, like some of the photographers and reporters killed in the Middle East and Afghanistan in recent years, and an ambassador.

A cold, dreary December rain forced everyone to vacate the streets on the way home. Only one person was on the street at dusk. He was wearing a bandanna and holding the MIA-POW flag on his shoulder as he ran. No matter the weather, he’s out there putting in the miles with the large black flag. A cop drove past, lowered the window, and gave him a fist bump, some recognition for always being there.


Mayhem and Homicide in the Arena

Berston Field House in Flint, MI, listed as an historic site by the State of Michigan.

I’ve never read “On this day in history, an armchair quarterback accomplished this…” Maybe there will be a Kickstarter project for it.

In the early 1900s the armchair quarterbacks criticized college football, in the words of the New York Times, for excessive mayhem and homicide. Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saving the game. The Great Game outside the stadium walls is another matter.

I didn’t see armchair quarterbacks, just more of Graham Greene’s whiskey priests and homeless alcoholics, when I stopped to take a picture of the Berston Field House. The historic site has as much athleticism per square foot as most any place in the nation. The gym on the north side of Flint is where Claressa Shields trained for the upcoming Olympics in London. A film crew from LA has a Kickstarter project to help finance a documentary about her boxing quest and fight to become someone. A century of football couldn’t equal the mayhem and homicides around Berston. There are no commissions and editorials demanding answers and help for anyone around this gym. Homicide detectives, college recruiters, and whiskey priests are about the only ones coming here.

Claressa Shields is only 17. She’s the first female boxer in Olympic history and the youngest American Olympic boxer in 40 years. She credits a faith in God. There are times when the only one in your corner might be the whiskey priest. Many boxers come from dangerous areas and say the ring is really the only place they felt safe. There aren’t many options here. You either get in the ring or run for the weeds that are growing high around Berston. The first impression is that this is no place for a teenage girl. I’m referring to the neighborhood, not the boxing ring. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram’s stiff arm is a way of telling everyone to leave me alone. While most here run for the weeds, he ran for the endzone well enough to turn pro at it.

The Penn State controversy also motivated me to come out here. Joe Paterno’s biggest crime seems to be that he was too successful. Attacks on success seem to be in vogue. I read the reports about Paterno and looked at the facts, not the emotion. It’s much easier to become an armchair quarterback than the real thing in the NFL or an Olympian boxer. Many of these armchair commentators accuse him of intentionally sacrificing children to protect his football program, that Paterno was a fraud, more concerned with football than the welfare of children. They’re demanding the Penn State football program receive the death penalty  A Harvard Business School professor tweeted his blog post about the scandalous cover up at Penn State. I read it and tweeted the following, which he responded:
pbcarlsen Paul Carlsen
@Bill_George but they reported everything to police and outside lawyers. How is that a cover-up?
Bill_George Bill George
@pbcarlsen That was 11 yrs after sexual abuses were revealed to f’ball coach, athletic dir & pres! Specifically they decided NOT to report

But Paterno did report what he was told the very next day to both the president and the university’s outside counsel. They also informed the charity which investigated and found not enough evidence. Campus police investigated Sandusky as did child welfare case workers. Sandusky was a predator who conned everyone.

Berston Field House is surrounded by predators. There are 122 registered sex offenders living within the zip code where Berston Field House is located. Here is what a teenage girl must endure to enter the boxing ring in Berston Field House:

2010 Crime Rate Indexes Flint, MI 48505 compared to the United States average of 100
Total Crime Risk: 335 compared to average of 100
Murder Risk: 367 compared to average of 100
Rape Risk: 476 compared to average of 100
Robbery Risk: 411 compared to average of 100
Assault Risk: 522 compared to average of 100
Burglary Risk: 422 compared to average of 100
Larceny Risk: 207 compared to average of 100
Motor Vehicle Theft Risk: 445 compared to average of 100

Around here, fighters learn to keep their gloves up long before entering the ring.

From Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood

Dust, sweat, and blood are in abundance around Berston Field House.


Aspen Ideas Festival and a World Burning

The car in front of me looked like it had been hit by a roadside bomb. Within a minute, the entire car was in flames. One young guy was standing off to the side, using his cellphone to explain why he might be on the news instead of at work this day. The other young guy was sitting in the grass with a WTF expression on his face. I’m also fairly certain he had a lot of practice using that expression. If the FBI’s micro expressions guide is valid, I suspect he is, or was, the owner.

They must have drove for awhile with the smell of smoke in their nostrils. I wonder how many holy and oh shits were said as flames shot out the back of the car. Praise the Lord and pass the fire extinguisher.  They came close, real close, to making it off the expressway. What they were intending to do on a main road with a car in flames isn’t exactly a better option than leaving it on the side of the expressway. These guys had Pulp Fiction written all over them. If the car hadn’t burst into flames so quickly, they might have gone straight through a car wash. It’s certainly never a dull moment traveling the cement jungles. The burning car provided a nice fireworks display to the holiday travelers. A big, burly cop blocking traffic on the other side of the street was trying to hide a grin. It’s a good day if sheet metal from Detroit is the only casualty.

The most interesting talk of the Aspen Ideas Festival was from General Stanley McChrystal. He was interviewed by Bob Schieffer who had talked earlier with Charles Murray, political scientist and author of Coming Apart. McChrystal said the greatest threat to America isn’t coming from overseas. The greatest threat comes from our own schools. McChrystal said less than one percent are doing all the fighting overseas and the draft should be considered again. Charles Murray also talked with Schieffer of the social and economic disconnect. Schieffer was amazed, and disappointed, at how many people in his social and professional circles who don’t know a single person with military experience. If the draft was brought back, a significant percentage  would fail to qualify for military duty, says McChrystal. The education and health of many Americans is that poor.

I hit all the socioeconomic points this past week. I expect an invitation to Aspen next year. The great divide was quite obvious. The country club in the wealthy suburb had young  moms wearing sunglasses the size of industrial eye wear hurrying in SUVs full of kids to golf and swimming lessons. Signs were all around the country club with stern warnings not to trespass. Membership into this tribe requires a high dollar admission. Life was good, and disconnected from out there beyond the manicured lawns and trespass signs.

I had taken a wrong turn and found myself later in the worst of the worst. All around me this time were new and more threatening signs of trouble for the trespasser. I was shocked at how bad this area looked, and felt the danger. I was more used to this stuff than most but the young people walking the streets here were doomed to death or prison by the age of thirty. I would bet ninety percent on the street were goners by the time they hit the big 3-0. Commentators at the Aspen Ideas Festival discussed how prison population was calculated for future needs and whether reading scores of third graders was a valid metric. You didn’t need to ask for reading scores at this intersection. Many didn’t wear shirts and their shorts and pants had the brownish orange hue of living outdoors, in the wild refuge of the cement jungle. They watched the lone cop drive fast past them and went back to business. No doubt the drug trade.

The rural area in a remote part of the Thumb was in its own way cut off, disconnected from The Show, as the ballplayers call the major leagues. There aren’t a lot of jobs but no one seems to mind as much. Nature, Budweiser, and ballgames on the radio make the defeats of the day easier to take. Occasionally you’ll hear of someone moving to Chicago in search of a bigger horizon but for most Lake Huron’s horizon is big enough.

The back gates were unlocked at the Dow Diamond in middle class Midland. A Single A minor league franchise for the Dodgers apparently doesn’t have the trespassing concerns of the country club. The wide open gates seemed like an invitation. I went inside and walked around the field, ignored by a group of men discussing something important. Their star pitcher had been promoted. He was one step closer to making The Show.

During a return trip to the asphalt jungle, I met an intoxicated man loudly telling us that he had been shot three times in Vietnam, used to be rich, and lived all over the world. He made his wealth in minerals, silver, especially. Then he lost everything and became a drunk. He thanked everyone for being kind, wished God’s love for everyone, and fell flat on his face in the parking lot. A woman with a small child helped him up and to the car. One of the quotes posted on the Aspen Ideas website is about empowering the ordinary person. That’s a person I still want to meet. I’ve never met an ordinary person. Never.


The Right to Rise- Statement of the Year

Layaway Santa for the layaway life

The Right to Rise deserves to be the statement of the year. There isn’t a Right to Rise Department in the nation’s capital or anywhere else in the world. No statues. No scholarly work on college campuses. The meaning and power of right to rise isn’t found on paper, a nice office, inflated job title. The pursuit of happiness is in the Constitution but it’s not the same. Maryland professor and Brookings scholar Carol Graham‘s The Pursuit of Happiness has just been published. The Census might include happiness metrics with questions like how much did you smile yesterday, did you feel real happy yesterday, do you like your cable system? I threw in the last one.

The Right to Rise is the spiritual version of pursuit of happiness. The human spirit can go higher than even the cable bill.

Another dictator falls. This one dead in North Korea of natural causes. It’s been a bad year for the statue business, with all the tyrants going down. They love their statues and posters of themselves. Think back to all of those statues and posters of Saddam. When special forces soldiers found him hiding in a hole, they needed to look at the tattoo on his hand to identify him for certain. Osama got the same ID treatment when killed. I suppose when you die, the vanity like everything else in the material world, is left behind.

Jeb Bush, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explains how the government here is using legislation to deny the right to rise. Elsewhere, the means are much more violent. There’s a reason why Putin reacted so strongly to John McCain’s words. What goes around comes around. Putin wrecked a lot of lives to get into the Kremlin. Millions of Russians have been denied the right to rise. The country suffers now from a “demographic winter.” Putin knows what’s coming.

Political strategist Pat Caddell examined the political polls and describes the results as a pre-revolutionary moment. Here, not in Russia or the Middle East, or even China.

The Right to Rise has competition for the statement of the year. Layaway Santa is heard a lot. I watched a mother the other day counting and calculating her money for several minutes. She kept running the numbers in her head. She wasn’t certain she could afford it. What she considered buying had a sticker price of less than five dollars. Another mother got a phone call while standing next to me in a public place and kept apologizing to whoever called her that she had the money and wasn’t trying to run from them. Just that money was tight. She really needed cash. But she had the cash for them. She assured them. She handled it better than the mother asking for a break in paying for gas. The minimum wage clerk, probably using a layaway Santa herself, refused and the mother ran crying past us out the gas station, driving off with her child in the car. People would have helped her but even that’s getting more cynical as con artists exploit the charitable feeling at Christmas. Secret Santas are helping out, paying for the Christmas presents purchased on layaway.

The Right to Rise isn’t something to be purchased on layaway. Buying a life has become the American way, even if it means placing the life on layaway. If the price is too high, you can get a statue on closeout in North Korea, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and perhaps Russia in an after Christmas sale. The Right to Rise movement has an anthem- “Amazing Grace.”  Rhema Marvanne, all of seven years old, sings it here. John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace” after turning against the slave trade in the mid 1700s.

Rhema Marvanne singing" Amazing Grace"

The wretched have the right to rise.

Some of the best people and works of art came from the most wretched of circumstances. The great Russian writer Dostoyevsky was arrested and put through a mock execution. He suffered in horrible conditions. In the pursuit of happiness era writers today are judged quickly. Often by the first sentence. All the entertainment options have made people impatient and spoiled. Dostoyevsky’s first sentence was to himself in prison. He scratched a cross in the dirt, a symbol of the determination in his heart for his right to rise, which he did when finally freed. There hasn’t been Christmas book written in years, if ever, that can even belong on the same shelf with Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. His wretched circumstances led to greatness.

Some of the best Christmas memories came from the harshest circumstances. My grandmother losing everything in the Great Depression, including her husband, as my mother was born- on Christmas day. Throughout the Great Depression the Christmas present was a book. She went to work and back to school. She seized on her right to rise regardless of the environment, becoming an English professor. A friend suffering from alcoholism, finding a rose on the doorstep Christmas morning, placed there by a secret Santa.

Brookings scholar Carol Graham says that legislation can’t be written to enforce happiness. Good. The world needs more greatness, not happiness.


Mind Mapping this Crazy World

Michael Moore talks about growing up in Flint in his new memoir "Here Comes Trouble"

Perhaps both of us were crazy. I carried a camera just for this type of picture. But I couldn’t get close enough to take the picture without crashing in heavy traffic. I was in the right lane ready to make a right turn when out of the corner of my eye I saw a man across the street walking through a field and playing a guitar. This homeless man looked like he had been walking with the guitar for about twenty years. His face was a deep reddish brown from being out in the sun with no shelter. He also had a sad layer of grayish dust on his face and clothing. A famous defense lawyer once said death comes in gray. This homeless man was part of the walking dead increasing in alarming numbers on the streets.  It was the guitar that made him different from all the other homeless. He was strumming an old weather beaten guitar. He was wearing gloves with the fingers cut off and a very faded brown coat even though the temperature was in the eighties.  He was also singing as he walked. A lady turned the corner and her eyes nearly popped out of her head as she stared at this dusty brown apparition coming toward her with a guitar.

I pulled into a parking lot and waited for him to come by but he must have turned and went north. Damn. His mind was mapped to a world becoming crazier by the day.

Depending on your politics, Michael Moore is a populist humanitarian or radical trouble maker (living up to the title of his memoir) one broken guitar string to the left of the homeless musician. He has a memoir coming out in September about growing up in Flint, Michigan called Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life. I know that ignoring Michael Moore’s politics is like ignoring the whale plot in Moby-Dick. My political opinion is that most political opinions are too easy to map. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, tell me the person’s background and how they view the world becomes predictable. A paycheck and a roof over your head demands conformity. Over time the echo chamber of conformity becomes debilitating.

Moore talks about his memoir at the BEA 2011.

Nature News reports that urban living adversely affects the brain. The cement jungle causes too much social stress leading to higher rates of mental illness. The epic battle between nature and man, Jack London’s law of the club and the law of the fang…

As the days went by, other dogs came, in crates and at the end of ropes, some docilely, and some raging and roaring as he had come; and, one and all, he watched them pass under the dominion of the man in the red sweater. Again and again, as he looked at each brutal performance, the lesson was driven home to Buck: a man with a club was a law-giver, a master to be obeyed, though not necessarily conciliated. Of this last Buck was never guilty, though he did see beaten dogs that fawned upon the man, and wagged their tails, and licked his hand. Also he saw one dog, that would neither conciliate nor obey, finally killed in the struggle for mastery.

I turned around and went back to look for the non-conformist homeless musician, feeling like the Ernie Pyle of economic war correspondents.

Across the street was a motel that charged by the hour. He couldn’t have gone in there. He didn’t look like he had the cash for five minutes, never mind an hour or a day. I knew a priest who worked at the front desk of the motel, charging hookers and their customers the hourly rate. The priest needed more income. He stayed with it for more than a year before finding a church up north that paid enough to keep him off the streets. It’s becoming that kind of a world.

A homeless orphan in Korea sings with incredible passion…

A homeless orphan stuns the crowd in Korea with his singing


Linchpins versus Crash Test Dummies

But I wanted to be a linchpin when I grew up

Most of us want to be linchpins, if we actually knew what it meant. Being a linchpin, as explained by Seth Godin, means possessing an indispensable value, the ability to make things happen. That’s something everyone should aspire to. But along the way we  became lost and got in line for the crash test dummies. We passed the obedience test and the reward was in the other room, with all the other Dilberts and the crash test dummies on the GM testing ground. The whiz kids and bean counters calculated to the tenth decimal point the cost of everything involved in running a business, labeled much of the company and the customer base as crash test dummy, and wrecked the business. The spreadsheet has become the company product, boasting in full color of supreme command and control of the company until the day the wall collapses as if built by a low rent fly by night contractor.

Dilberts of the world unite

Bob Lutz, one of the auto industry’s great linchpins, criticizes the bean counters for draining the life out of products in his new book. He speaks for everyone, not just those in the auto business. It’s the price paid in the race to the bottom. Quality is hardly ever mentioned these days, except ironically, Detroit and the automotive industry. Quality experts used to be all the rage but in the wrong way. Lutz tells of the need to toughen up, but in the right way. The best leaders operate like the Hall of Fame football or baseball coach and the worst use their spreadsheets to explain the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Bean counters across all industries are draining customer value out faster than what is being saved in cost cutting. I played golf with a friend who is a vice president of an automotive business. He was admiring his Nike ripoff golf clubs he had bought in China for almost nothing. I thought the clubs were okay for the cheap price. But the Nike ripoffs were cheap. No one who is any good would want to play with them. If he wanted to be good at golf, he would have to pay for the good equipment.

Don’t you want to be good? I asked him.

It’s a question everyone should ask.


Going after the American Worker

Building in a Bag

This  building in a bag could work for the collapse of the housing market. Or just brown bag the whole thing with an economy in a bag. IPO to come…

Going After Cacciato

“In October, near the end of the month, Cacciato left the war.

‘He’s gone away,’ said Doc Peret. ‘Split, departed.'”

– Tim O’Brien, Going After Cacciato

The American worker has split, departed.

Detours on the Road to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

“What became of the American worker? Cacciato? Where did he go, and why? What were his motives, or did he have motives, and did motives matter?”

The Observation Post

My observation post is starting to creak a little but still going strong nearly a hundred thousand miles later in a little over two years. Ford can build a quality car. The city of Detroit is dead, as is the whole concept of Detroit as the arsenal of democracy. Gone, like Cacciato to parts unknown, maybe Paris. But Paris has problems, too. Not on the level of Detroit. No one does, except the war zones. Detroit’s in its own war zone. Three words many people don’t like to see in the windshield while driving are “Detroit City Limit.” Detroit loses thousands of Cacciato’s every year. Dave Bing is the mayor of Detroit and he’s finding he can’t do it without the Cacciato’s coming back. For Detroit now, every day is “lootin’ weather.” The economic war has been hell on Detroit. It’s a war that the American worker, like Cacciato in Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato, has had enough.

I used to get some inspiration from this big guy walking on the side of a busy road every morning at sunrise. He was either walking to work, or walking home from work, without transportation but for his own two feet. Maybe he wasn’t even working but he was walking like he had a purpose, a destination mapped in his head. It wasn’t even a walk. More of a march. It wasn’t a march to the frontline. He was walking like he was marching away from the war front. Too much shootin’ going on out there and he decided to take a walk in the other direction. He always had a two liter bottle of Mountain Dew. The two liter Dew was his gas tank. When I saw him, his tank was half filled. He was half way to wherever he was going, and like Cacciato, he wasn’t going tell the rest of us who were eyeballing his stoic march. I thought of him as a Mountain Dew Democrat. The best and brightest love their labels and acronyms, operation this and operation that derived from some sentimental memory. Africans get to the point with their labels for wars, with names like Operation Let’s Kill Everyone. For some reason, Sarah Palin makes me want to label her as a Faygo Republican. The best and brightest have declared war on them, almost with the same intent as an African bushwar. The world economy has been knocking these Mountain Dew Democrats and Faygo Republicans around but they’re still out there, working and struggling to make ends meet.

Then one day the big guy with the Mountain Dew was gone, like Cacciato. He split.

The End of the Road

“‘Oscar’s right,’ Doc said, and sighed. ‘You can’t get away with this shit. The realities always catch you.’

‘But maybe.’

‘No maybes. Reality doesn’t work that way.'”

Paris isn’t the end of the road. Cacciato stayed off the main road where they’d find him and cut across the fields. The BLS is reporting that American workers are running for the weeds. In the weeds you’ll find the debris that’ll lead you to them. All the empty beer bottles, spent lottery tickets ripped apart or wadded up in frustration, quick eats. They’re after Ronald McDonald as well, even though he provided half the new jobs last month. He’s running with them through the weeds, leaving a trail of trash. But reality doesn’t work that way. Not through the weeds. Reality will catch them, us, like it caught Cacciato. The BLS will keep reporting we’re going the wrong way.

Words of wisdom about getting back on the bike…

Get back on the bike


Bulls and Bears

I heard the muffler blocks away. She also heard it. Intuition is an acquired talent and both of us sensed this loud, broken muffler meant trouble. The clerk and I listened as this muffler came closer, and louder, to the store where I had stopped in near midnight to get a caffeine fix for a long drive. The two of us could feel the hostility behind the steering wheel as the car came into the store parking lot. The guy got out of the junkyard car and went straight to the beer cooler for a six pack. He was wearing a filthy T-shirt. The dirt on his clothing expressed completely the dirt he had inside him. He grabbed a six pack, cracked open a can of beer, and drank it without any thought of paying for it first. He put the beer on the counter as he finished the first can.

The clerk’s voice cracked as she asked, “Will that be all?”

We were thinking the same thing. It was fifty fifty he would pull out a wallet or a gun.

He took out his wallet and paid for the beer. Then he drove off, the loud muffler shaking the streets. The man was consumed with hostility to a society that was knocking the absolute crap out of him. He was one of those people labeled by the economists as marginally attached to society. His dirty clothing and old clunker car said worse. He was a dirt bag. This guy was a bear, an angry black bear reckoning for a fight with the bulls of Wall Street.

The BLS jobs report came out with a very mixed message on how this economic recovery is going.

244,000 jobs created, with the unemployment rate rising to 9.0 %. The real unemployment rate is calculated at 15.9%.  The fate of people “marginally attached” to society should be a concern to everyone. People can only hide for so long behind gated communities and private schools.

Paul Krugman’s warning of the clear and present danger in a persistently high unemployment rate.

Jay Cost, in the Weekly Standard, writes of the “food stamp recovery”

CNBC’s Jeff Cox looks at the unemployment numbers and writes there are reasons to cheer and reasons to fear.

One of the top economic blogs, Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis, says the numbers look promising on the surface and awful when digging deeper. The National Journal is more optimistic that the economic recovery will continue.

The fight between the bulls and bears continues…


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