Tag Archives: work


(This is the second in “The Grand” series.  The first one was “Old Blisters” that introduces the cast of characters.)


It is another cold and windy night in Little Twig, Montana. The temperature had been below zero for almost a week, but with the rise in temperature to above zero, the wind had picked up again.  You could hear it howl and it made the sign outside the saloon bash against the bricks.  It was the usual cast of characters at The Grand sitting at booths and at the bar.  Daphne is sipping a Sauvignon Blanc.  She is dressed all in black with a jaunty grey cloche on her head.  Cowboy Clay with a Chardonnay in hand is next to her talking to Carl who is nursing a micro brew when Sonny breezes in and sees a spot next to Clay.  Claudia pours him a glass of Merlot.

Clay: How’s it goin’?

Sonny: Not bad.  Just came in from Idaho and it’s really dry.

Clay: Is it like California?  I hear that’s bad.

Sonny: Well, those Californians are just going to have to decide whether they want to take a shower and flush the toilet or eat.

Daphne chimes in:  Is that really the choice?  Flush or starve? Can’t the Ag business use less water?  I mean it’s not like they are a bunch of small family farms growing enough for themselves and the people in their towns.  Don’t they export most of the lettuce, tomatoes, pomegranates, almonds?

Sonny: Well, they are family farms, just really big ones.  And they have the long water rights.

Well, the discussion went on for a few minutes about who owns what and how water rights came to be through mining rights and taxpayers rights versus corporations rights and Beverly Hills farmers and manifest destiny and survival of the fittest before a truce was called and they went back to talking about the weather.

Clay:  Some trucker said his temperature reading went from 20 below to 60 below for a few miles past Reed Point.

Daphne: What shall I play on the Juke?  Lorde or Alan Jackson?

Clay: Whatever you want, Darlin’?

Daphne: Oh and I brought some pears if anybody wants some.

Sonny: I’ll take two.  I like to drizzle a little balsamic on them and sprinkle with a little  blue cheese.  Thanks!

I had fun last night.  Different people have different ways of having fun.  And most people have various ways of having fun.  But one of my favorite ways of having fun is a lively discussion of something or other.  In that respect, I should have been born French where I could go out to a cafe after work and philosophize with friends over a nice bottle of wine and some oysters and good bread.  We could talk about anything but the weather unless it was about how the weather might influence our moods or our art.  We could talk about who could call themselves writers and who couldn’t.  Or who was an artist?  Or was all life and thus all art futile? Continue reading

Plenty of Time

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….” ― Noam Chomsky

I like lively debate outside the box.

We have a local lawn service that employees some Latin American workers.  The children work alongside the grownups.  They work hard but take good breaks and quit by 4PM.  I worked for my Dad in the summers and loved every minute.  At the breaks, we got a donut in the morning and one Pepsi in the afternoon.  Heavenly.  My Dad was a history major and loved to talk about long ago and far away.  He talked of the war and of growing up in The Depression.  He taught me how to hammer a nail and to tighten a screw.  I knew what the difference was between a wrench and a pliers.  I helped him build a boat and a small horse barn.  I helped him plant trees and pour cement.  He taught me how to mow a lawn straight.  That was the worst as my wandering mind and boredom led me to start making circles instead of lines. Then I would get hollered at.

I’ve changed my mind about education.  From where did I really get my learning?  I read a lot of books from the local public library.  My parents bought an encyclopedia and a huge book on the Civil War.  I know that Robert E. Lee’s horse was named Traveler because I read a book about it.  At the same time I learned to question what I was reading.   Mostly I learned from the stories my Dad and Mom told me of how they grew up in vastly different ways.  I’m pretty sure I would have been fine without being stuck in a cinder block cell called a school room for 7 hours a day.

I had the fortune to be raised on the grounds of the school for the handicapped that my Dad ran.  So I followed him like a puppy dog my mother said anytime I got the chance.  My Dad wasn’t stuck behind his desk all day in some far away office is some building in downtown Chicago.  Yes, I was fortunate.  He didn’t make a lot of money, but he had plenty of time for me.  I think that all children should have parents who have plenty of time.

There is child labor abuse like having little children work in coal mines.  But then there was also adult labor abuse in those mines.  Back breaking work in the fields in hot weather with no breaks is abuse.  But so is sitting in a cement box all day being taught to take tests.

In Dimitry Orlov’s “The Five Stages of Collapse” he tells the story of how he as a young boy in the Soviet Union would fake an illness so he was sent home for weeks.  There his grandmother would home school him for 3 to 4 hours and the rest of the time he would sled or play fetch with his dog.   He also read a lot of books.  His desk mate at school turned out to be a gypsy who scoffed at book reading and said that none of that was real and that his people kept everything in their head.

The powers that be hate leisure time for the riff raff.  Leisure is for for the elite.   Work is for the little people (to paraphrase Leona Helmsley).  And if they have too much leisure time it leads them to question the prevailing order of things.  The whole hierarchy thing comes into question.  Why do some people get to loll around while others have to work their butts off?  Yeh, why?

I was fortunate.  I got to do meaningful work  spending time with my Dad.  I want that for everybody.

2013_08_11_12_35_52.pdf000Me and Dad with the model ship “we” put together in the classroom where he taught his first classes at the Elim Christian School for the Exceptional Child.  My father was quoted as saying “Children should be custom made not mass produced.”  The children at his school learned to make a car, build a boat, cut and bale the hay field, take care of 2 steers and 5 horses along with reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.

Dig It! – Making a Wrong Turn in the Fifties – Updated Version

I recently wrote about the difference between a job and work; between “useless toil and useful work.”  And why do we work?  When did we start to devalue leisure time?  A hundred years ago people in the I.W.W. argued for more leisure rather than higher wages.  Keynes talked about the ten hour week.  So when were basic needs replaced by wants? Adam Curtis in “The Century of Self” speculates that it started in the 1920s with the rise of advertising.   But the real push to go beyond needs seems to have occurred in the 1950s.

I just finished Bill Bryson’s memoir “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” about growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s and 1960s.   Like all his books, it is filled with amazing detail, hilarious stories, and keen social commentary.  For white folks in America things were pretty good in the 1950s.  Bryson remarks that their basic needs were being met (although he thinks the toys of his childhood like Mr. Potato Head and the Slinky really sucked).  But instead of being content they started living large.  They went from not needing a car at all in cities with streetcars and rail service to buying two cars.  They needed bigger refrigerators and more gadgets. “…televisions, room intercoms, gas grills, kitchen gadgets, snowblowers, you name it.”   That meant they needed bigger places for all the new stuff.  And so they worked more and women started working too.  They were sold the idea of “careers” which were jobs where you could “get ahead”. Continue reading

On Work/Jobs/Career and Leisure – Updated

I watched my husband swath the alfalfa last Saturday.  It’s a hot, noisy, dusty…well, really  crappy job.  There is nothing idyllic about it although he did comment that he saw a crow catch a mouse, something he had never seen before.  Thought crows ate bugs.  So there you go; a first.

But swathing does have a certain sense of power.  Swathers are big bad machines that can slice up critters hiding in the grass and ruin your hearing.  So when you’ve been out in the heat and the dirt; driving around and around in circles or up and down, row after row, cutting and hacking, you have every right to take the rest of the day off.  Which is what my husband did.  He went to town for some beers.

That got me thinking again about work and leisure.  It is not a new topic but it needs to be discussed in serious ways amongst us.  It would be a good topic for a non partisan group of neighbors.  What is work and what is a job?  Why do we need “careers”?  Careers are sometimes defined as “lifelong work”.  Now isn’t that dandy.  Sentenced to life….long….work.  Whoo! Hoo!  I’ve got a career.   It is also defined as a “permanent calling”.  Oh, that sounds very hoity toity; a calling.  But the permanent part sounds grim. And it is soooo anti- freedom loving American.

I asked my husband for his off-the-top-of-his-head definition of career and he said, “Well, I’d say with a career you can get an upgrade. Some people can’t upgrade, so that’s a job.”   Ah, ha!  The word career then could turn any job into something more desirable.  “I am entering a career in waitering and hope to advance to head waiter or move up the ladder to private butler at the Rockin’ Buckaroo Dude Ranch.”  (Yes, there is a dude ranch that has luxury camping tents with king size beds and your own personal butler. )

But what if having a “career”  is also a sneaky way to make us spend money on college and so to confer on us some sort of status?  Instead of working your way up from a boiler room on Long Island up to hedge fund trader, you can get a degree in selling ice to Eskimos at a very prestigious college.  Much more fun and half the work.  And very hoity-toity sounding.

What is this obsession with work that Americans have anyway?  This week I ran into a sewing materials store to buy some thread and I started chatting with a couple from Australia visiting Montana.  They were here for six weeks!  They officially have four weeks per year off and took an extra two in order to really see America including Hawaii on the way home.  They were shocked to hear that here in the greatest country in the world most people in companies might get two weeks off and work their way up to three.  But most people don’t get any paid vacation at all.

“What?!” they exclaimed.

“Yes,” I said, “we live in a very primitive country here.  We aren’t really free.  We have been brainwashed into thinking freedom is something to do with choices in cereals and having a lot of weapons to kill other people just in case they have the cheekiness to not like us very much.  Meanwhile we have few holidays or vacations where we explore other countries like people in developed countries do.  Add to that expensive healthcare, pitiful pensions, exorbitant education costs, and lousy trains, and you’ve got a pretty primitive kind of society for such a big fat empire like the U.S. of A.”

“You are nothing without work.”  You hear that all the time.  What a crock.  I’ve discovered Michael D. Yates when I was reading everything  I could about why the Wisconsin uprising ended up in a mush.  He wrote a piece in March called “Whoopee! We’re All Gonna Die”.  He expounds on the ludicrous way we sheeple buy into the notion that we all want the dignity  and fun of working until we drop.

In his piece he relates a disturbing story from The Guardian and comments on it.  Sounds like something written by Terry Gilliam.

A friend of mine referred me to an article in the February 16, 2012 issue of the Guardian (United Kingdom), in which it is reported that: “Some long-term sick and disabled people face being forced to work unpaid for an unlimited amount of time or have their benefits cut under plans being drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions.” Those ancient Wal-Mart greeters will have to work in those wheelchairs just to get social security. And if they need kidney dialysis, the machines can be hooked up to the chairs while they smile at the customers. Perhaps there will be a nonagenarian so disabled that all he can do is blink his eyes. Then some bright young technological wizard will be tasked to find a way to turn those blinks into labor.

Time to have a talk with your neighbors.  Get what needs to get done, done.   Make what needs to be consumed but stop with making all the bric a brac and the knick knacks.  Michael Yates is right;  we need more security not less and a lot more leisure not a life of joyless toil.  So cut some rows, fix some fence, and head to town for a brewski. And start to look for alternatives like the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) idea to provide for the basic needs of everybody on the planet. Hey the banks stole around 800 trillion in the latest LIBOR scandal.  That should work to fund our mad scene of a life filled with time for family and friends and thought.  Now that’s a career I could get behind.

UPDATE: Last night after I published this I woke up and followed a link from Naked Capitalism to a item in the Financial Times called “Enough is Enough of the Age of Consumption”  This article by Robert and Edward Skideisky references the John Maynard Keynes essay I was going to look up on a recommendation by a NC commenter. Keynes wrote “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” in 1930 and “predicted that by now we would only need to work  15 hours a week… The rest would be leisure time.”

The Skideiskys point out that conventional wisdom in economics said that there were three stages of economic development; the age of capital in which people save  their income; the age of consumption where they consumed their income; and the age of abundance where they would say “enough is enough” already.  Let’s work less.

What went wrong?

Well,  producing more than we really need seems to be the culprit along with kicking small farmers off the land and into factories. Large land owners don’t seem to be a good idea.  Saying that, of course around here, will make me few friends.  Montana is home to Ted Turner who owns a good chunk of the state and has his buffalo a roaming and his restaurant “Ted’s” to eat bison burgers.  The idea of large chunks of land with cows and other critters roaming isn’t a bad one.  If we could have some shares in it rather than have just a few wealthy lords makes more sense.  But that’s another whole essay.

Working with our present system, looks like we should have that Basic Income Guarantee.  For people who don’t mind tedious jobs in factories or driving a tractor up and down, we make sure that they have plenty of leisure time.  We could also make sure aka subsidize that artists, musicians, and other performers could create.  Scientists seem to never want to stop working so give them what they need to invent things and cure diseases.

This morning I heard that the LIBOR scandal number was $350 Trillion.  Less than the $800 Trillion I read from Taibbi who got it from the WSJ, but still enough to finance a more balanced world where people have time for themselves and their own ideas of leisure.