Friday, January 28, 2011

Guest Post from Michigan: Ford Thanks You

Ford Motor Company and those of us supported by it are pleased to announce that it is doing really well. It earned $8.3 billion in 2010 — a profit of some $6.6B after debt payments. Both sales and market share are rebounding, partly because of the pay-off from years of restructuring and partly due to buyers wanting to go with the home-grown company that did not take a bail-out.

What many outside of this area and industry may not know is why it didn't need a bail-out. CEO Alan Mulally came here from Boeing in 2006 and almost immediately hocked everything in sight (including rights to the Blue Oval) as collateral on a $23.5B loan to pay for restructuring the company. He got that in just before the crash made such borrowing impossible. From 2006 through 2008, the company lost $30B. But the downsizing and the investment in great new products are finally paying off. After a huge payment last November, the remaining debt of $21B is now less than the cash on hand. Whew.

Keep in mind, though, that GM and Chrysler were able to cancel most of their debt through bankruptcy, so please feel free to continue rewarding Ford with your business.

I know the auto industry bail-out was not wildly popular outside this area, but please have some empathy. Given our over-dependence on a single industry, Michigan entered a persistent, one-state recession in 2000 and led the nation in unemployment for years before the rest of you joined us. We're a good, hard-working people, but this prolonged torture has been killing us. We are the only state that actually lost population since the 2000 census, as our folks leave in search of work. My own adult children left and will never move back. Our birth rate hasn't been this low since the 1870s.

I grew up in Maryland and have lived in Texas, Alabama, Florida, and Utah, and I can tell you that we are all more alike than we are different. So please don't vilify us for being on the ropes, any more than you would Illinois and California for their debt problems or Arizona and Nevada for their real estate crashes. We've all been hurting, and we all glory in the merest hints of recovery (at last!) that cheer us in this winter of jet-stream-hammered discontent.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Roadtrip 2010

I'm still processing some of the great lessons I learned on this cross-country drive. I was about to declare moral bankruptcy, and the change of scenery and great company really cleaned the cobwebs from my head. I do sometimes have flashbacks about the perils of driving into winter in the badlands.

Then, there's the perils of driving through Ceour D'Alene Idaho and the white supremecist capital of this great nation. Some scary sights were seen.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fight Nice, as Mom Used to Say

"Sir, I cannot but lament, that a Gentleman of your acute Wit, rectified Understanding, and sublimated Imagination, should misapply those Talents to raise ill Humours in the Constitution of the Body Politick, of which your self are a Member, and upon the Health whereof your Preservation depends. Give me leave to say, such Principles as yours would again reduce us to the fatal Necessity of the Phlebotomy of War, or the Causticks of Persecution."

Esdras Barnivelt, aka, Alexander Pope, A Key to the Lock, 1715

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Superstition and Embroidery

"Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disk jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?"
— Thomas Pynchon (The Crying of Lot 49)

Pictured above is a Melaleuca quinquenervia, Cajeput Tree, native of Australia. Pynchon seems to be describing Seasonal Affective Disorder – that winter depressing that descends as the days grow dark and short. At least I understand the workings of the seasons and the changing length of the days. Maybe not magic, but something very like it makes me and my ego weary with cabin fever. The end of the week used to mean something important. The Friday workday began with a supervisor staff meeting that could take a couple of hours. It was possible to disappear into my own head while appearing to be eating bagels, drinking coffee, and giving a shit. Since I retired, it simply means two more days until washday – a tedious exercise in sorting dirty clothes and folding clean ones. But it beats the hell out of working for a living. Or embroidery for that matter.

Saturday is farmers’ market day if I don’t sleep until 10:30 like the lazy slug I have become, I go early and get the best stuff. If we go late, all the good produce is gone. I’ve seen fresher beets reading their poetry at the City Lights bookstore. The shriveled summer squash and old cucumbers look embarrassed to be seen outside of a Wal*Mart reduced for quick sale produce bin. Too many people bring their adorable dogs to these things, enabling one to risk life and/or limb to cross from one row of tables to the next. At least people pushing those over-laden baby strollers outfitted with enough gear to supply an Arctic exhibition are more predictable in their movements than over-stimulated pets in a crowded outdoor market.

One thing I don’t have to go far for is fresh citrus. My baby kefir lime and blood orange won’t produce fruit for a few more years. But meanwhile, if I didn’t have access to the lemon and oranges and limes in The Garden, all I’d have to do is take a walk around any block, and pick fruit overhanging neighboring fences.

So, it’s back inside to finish the quilt. As with most things I’ve sown in my life, by the time I’m finished, I am thoroughly tired of it. I feel like there must be more creative energy dimly flickering in the brainstem of a mushroom than I have at the moment, slowed down my usual winter sluggishness and more-than-usual holiday overeating. Fortunately, I have enough useless hobbies and half-finished projects to keep me busy until the blood in my veins wakes up and tells me it’s time to plant tomatoes.

At least the days are getting a tiny bit longer. Even if the metaphorical tower is indeed wherever I go, the returning sun is better than a knight in shining armor to rescue me from the winter blahs. Not to mention, marrying a disk jockey.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Back to the Rough Ground

“We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!“
- Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

I’m wondering again if I have already failed the test of time. Not a great way to begin the long slow slide through a new year. Winter is a difficult time to have a garden, as I spend most of the time indoors.

When I do stroll through the yard on a mild sunny morning, I walk the rain-drenched, and wind-whipped paths seeming to notice only what has been lost: the deadheaded mums, the bloomed out resting rose bushes, and other evidence of death and dying. The gardens are a sorry mess, with small plants smashed by wind and rain and yet to recover. They seem to be sleeping in heaps on the ground like so many small neglected graves. Pretty rough ground.

How we see our gardens – and our lives - depends very much on our sense of time and the passage of time. When we consider it at all, we generally tend think of time as rectilinear – a nice straight line from the past behind us to the future ahead. Our present seems only a brief point on the timeline. Time is a flowing river. Because I recently did more than flip a page on a calendar - I began a whole new calendar - I can’t help but think of January as marking some kind of new beginning. The new calendar shouts “January!” like an announcement that I can have a fresh start; a second chance to do things right; the perpetual gardener’s seasonal do-over.

Wittgenstein was saying our language shapes our thoughts, and how we manipulate language puts us on rough ground where we can at least get some friction to turn our wheels. To describe what we see in our gardens we must use language that shapes and colors our perceptions. Like the Greeks who saw time as cyclical, gardeners often tend to think in terms of seasons that turn, and re-turn, like a wheel.

However we see the passage of time – including our own stories bounded by our own beginnings, middles and endings - gardeners tend to think of our stories in terms of seasons. January is the month I begin to observe signs of life and renewal. I see Iris, amaryllis and snowdrops, poking their sharp green swords tentatively above ground. I see unpruned wisteria branches fattening their buds and waiting for their moment. I look forward to getting back outside to the rough ground.