The Two Shoemakers

Long ago, in a land far away, there lived a humble shoemaker.  He was plain and unassuming, residing in a modest cottage set in the shadows of the great forest. As a young man he had worked diligently at his trade and was content to lead a quiet and frugal life plying his trade in the bustling town.  He presented the same face to all of his customers and the townspeople, always forthright and honest in his dealings. The shoemaker was not really happy living in the town, though. He wished to continue doing business, but dreamed of having a home a little more removed from the carts and hawkers, the constant chatter, gossip and quarrels which are the stock of nearly anywhere that many people may congregate. He didn’t begrudge any of the townfolk or hold any judgement against them and the way they chose to live: he just didn’t care to be in the middle of it all.

After having mastered his trade and accumulating some gold coins he had taken an old stable to rent and set up his shop. He required little more than the loft above for his personal quarters, furnished with a simple straw mattress and a small stove for the winters. He developed a sound reputation for producing a small repertoire of sturdy, well made and affordable shoes. They were not fancy or in any way decorative, but were consistently well made, properly sized and he always delivered as promised. His most popular creation was a sturdy and durable pair of boots which served well for woodsmen or hunters, farmers, or those who simply liked to hike the wilds. They were also an excellent choice for the winter months with a solid tread to travel the cold, wet snow, slush or mud of the season.  He had no rival in the town and his business flourished until he had set aside enough to purchase a small plot of ground along the lane that led from the town into the great forest beyond.

There he built his cottage of stone and great oak beams. He constructed a great fireplace in the middle of the cottage with a broad hearth on either side and a formidable stone and mortar tower to the roof to house the chimney. The front side of the cottage housed his workshop and all of its wares and was partitioned by a long, log wall running the length with a single door to enter the rear half of the home. Behind this wall, arranged about the other side of the hearth was his cook pot, water basin and a collection of cast iron and wooden cookware. There was also a small array of ceramic pots with lids and wax seals for the storage of dried goods, a rocking chair, a small wooden table with a pair of matching benches, and in the back corner of the cottage was his simple wood framed bed and a standing cupboard to house his modest wardrobe.

He put in a garden and taught himself how to can many of his summer vegetables. He later constructed a smokehouse for the drying of meats, acquired a horse for which he built a small stable and cart, and a collection of chickens and geese with a coop to house these as well. There was an abundance of berries, honey and various nuts from the neighboring forest and at need being a fair bowman he might dine regularly on hare, pheasant and deer. He had settled a very happy home which fulfilled all of his simple needs. He was not so far removed from town as to be inconvenient for his customers, many often bringing their children along to visit with the shoemakers horse or play with the chickens and geese. There were some smaller trees on the edge of the forest which were fine for climbing about, though the youngsters were always cautioned by their parents and the shoemaker both that they were not to wander any further into the forest. It was not often, but there were on occasion the chances that one might encounter a lumbering bear seeking berries or, in the worst case, the fearsome wild boar.

It was an idyllic life at this sylvan junction. The shoemaker’s trade remained steady and as years passed wagons and carts from other towns passed increasingly through the lane and others which led to the town. The town itself grew and he became acquainted with a second and then a third generation of customers. Word had travelled to other distant parts of the well crafted and excellent value of footwear to be had from his small shop, especially those boots.  As merchants would pass through to the town in increasing numbers the shoemaker was met with some of these who inquired if they might negotiate a price for a wholesale order of these fine boots to pick up in their next travels to take and sell in their own distant towns and villages. The shoemaker would always treat with this visitors in the most cordial fashion, often offering tea and at times make some inspection of some of the wares they carried. He was flattered at these offers, but always politely declined, telling them that he preferred to continue with his custom fitting and fine quality. He feared that production in scale might compromise the quality for which his boots were renowned. There was also the matter that as he now approached the early years of middle age he had begun to suffer the onset of fading vision and arthritis in his hands and joints. He simply wasn’t prepared to work that hard any more. Each time a merchant would reply that they would call again on their next trip and indeed they would, always with an attempt to change the shoemaker’s mind.

One year a winter came that was particularly cruel in its cold and wet assault upon his bones. Trade was good, to be sure. Those who had not already acquired a pair of his boots were most eager to obtain a pair for the long remaining winter months to come. The shoemaker worked at a steady pace, fulfilling the demand in as timely a manner as he was able, but with each passing day he was finding it more and more difficult to make his fingers work the needle smoothly or to see well enough without placing a great strain upon his eyes. Where he used to work by fire or candlelight well into the evening hours he now found that in the dancing shadow of the twilight hours his eyes might fail him altogether. He struggled mightily through this season yet still made it through not too much worse for the wear and with more gold coin stored up in his chest.

As the snows melted and March crawled into April he began to make ready for his garden. Being a shoemaker was his livelihood, but this simple farming was his true love. This year, though still very fulfilling for him, he grew very conscious of the fact that he was finding it more and more difficult to perform these chores. He could still manage to get it done, he just had to slow down and on some days take rest from it to recuperate from his labors. It was during this time that he began to think about what he was to do. He knew that the hands of time did not turn back, that his condition would reach the stage that he was no longer physically capable to do this work. And the same would eventually be true for his craft. So what would it be then? He had saved enough to sustain himself, but would he be able to continue to live here on his own? Never having taken a bride and with no children to carry on his legacy he began to think harder upon those offers from travelling merchants.  A small seed of an idea began to grow in his mind. Perhaps there was a way….

After a fairly rainy period around the middle of the month the clouds abated and a week of a steady, warming sun proclaimed the spring had finally arrived to stay. The warming air and sunlight were a restorative balm to his aching joints and he awoke one morning with more vigor than he had felt in months. He washed, pulled out his finest clothing and hitched the cart to his horse to ride into town. It was time to start working on his new plan. It would not be long now before those travelling merchants would return and each season seemed to bring more than the last.

As he rode into town in the mid morning hours he found good numbers of people out and about their business for the day. He was hailed from the street by many of his long time customers, to each he would politely nod and tip his hat in reply. He rode at a stately pace into the streets, noting new buildings and more underway. There were many more people than he had ever remembered. The shoemaker wound his way through the town until finally arriving at the smith’s shop. He pulled up the reins to halt his horse and climbed down from the buckboard seat to tie her off at the post and enter the forge. The fires were stoked, the smith in his heavy leather apron hammering away upon an anvil, so intent in his task that he failed to see that a guest had arrived. The shoemaker stood at a fair distance and patiently awaited a pause in the hammering to announce himself.  The smith finally paused in his labors to set the mighty hammer aside and brush the heavy sweat from his brow.

” Good day, smith!”

The smith let out a long sigh from exertion and turned from the shimmering heat to find his caller. ” Well hello, shoemaker! Good to see you about! What news from the forest?”

“Oh, little news, I fear, but all is well. I have some business for you and a favor to ask, if I may?”

The smith now set aside his tongs as well and took up a heavy cloth to brusquely wipe his hands of the grime and further daub at the sweat still pouring from his bald head. He stepped closer to the shoemaker and extended his hand in greeting. As they shook the smith replied, “Certainly, friend! What business and what might be that favor?”

“Well I need to have my horse re-shoed for the season, for the business. The favor would be more of a recommendation, I suppose.”

The smith nodded. “Aye! And what might that be?”

“Would you know of a young man of suitable age and skill to commend as an apprentice for my trade?”

The smith, for only a moment, appeared mildly surprised at what he had just heard, but then quickly his brow creased into some contemplation of the question. He scratched his jaw and rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he searched his recollection of any fitting this description. After a minute or so the smiths face relaxed from the furrowed brow to reply, ” Well let’s bring your horse in here, shall we, and I’ll have to think a bit more on an apprentice. There might be a couple that I think of…”

The shoemaker led his horse in and left the smith to his work, telling him he would be about to visit some of the local shops and return soon. The smith replied that he didn’t expect to be more than a half hour at it and would hope to have some suggestion for him then. The shoemaker wandered up one side of the block and down the other, peering into any open storefronts to peruse textile goods, furniture, a candle and soap maker among others.  He did enter a small confectioners shop and treated himself to a stick of colored sugar candy in a red and white spiral. The proprietor was a jolly fellow with a shock of carrot hair who had purchased boots and shoes for his family for some years. The candy was a nice treat, but a bit more sweet than he was accustomed to. He broke off the tip to let it dissolve under his tongue and placed the rest into a deep pocket in his tunic.

By the time he had made his way back around to the smith’s he had nearly finished shoeing his horse, just completing some filing on the last hoof and pulling the nails from a bucket to finish the job. ” That was good timing, friend! Nearly finished with ‘er”, he said as he set the file down and took up a mallet to set the nails. After tapping in the first two for proper alignment he went on speaking without turning back to look at the shomaker. “Thought some on what ye’d been askin’…about an apprentice? There’s that Jones lad, the tanners boy. He’s fit enough for less strenuous work. He’s got some kind of problem with his breathin’….too sensitive to be around dust or smoke, or those nasty fumes at ‘is father’s place. He might be a good match for you.”  The smith finished placing the nails and set his tools aside, wiped his hands and softly brushed the back of the mare. ” All done with ‘er. Just two silvers, if you please? Ye know where the tanners place is?”

The shoemaker fished from a coin pouch to procure the smith’s payment and replied as he held out the two coins, ” Aye, I know that tanners place. Other side of the hill for the stink!”

“That’s right! Thank you, friend. Anything else for ye today?”

“No, thank you, smith! I’ve got what I came for today. I’ll ride up to the tanners and see if I can speak to the boy. What was his name?”

“Er….Desmond, I think it was. Yes! Desmond Jones, thats it! Well good luck to ye!”

The shoemaker hitched the mare back to his cart and rode off through the town to the lane that wound about the hill at the far side. The tanners was set mostly where the winds would not carry the awful reek of urine and caustic fume into the town, but as an added measure had been placed opposite the hill for those occasions when the breeze might sway back towards the settlement. Where the shoemaker lived on the outskirts by choice, Jones the tanner was placed there by necessity. He was an honest and skilled tradesman, but sadly the foul odor of his work seemed to follow him about making him a man to avoid on those times when he might come into their midst. The boy, Desmond, was normally sent to do his father’s bidding with the inhabitants and only thus was he known to the people. The shoemaker didn’t much care where the lad came from. If he was capable and willing to be trained he would be his choice. If the boy had physical limitations that precluded him from other occupations this might be well suited for him.

The shoemaker had a further motive, of course. If the lad was an able study and could take to the work quickly then he might produce enough product to fill those prospective orders for the travelling merchants, whose carts and wagons would soon return to this corner of the land. This would allow a further funding of his nest egg, letting him retire quietly to his little farm lot and nurse his failing condition in relative comfort until the end. The boy would then have the business to carry on on his own to have a livelihood more forgiving to his own malady. It surely seemed a good match.

As the shoemaker rode on through the growing town he saw many new faces, town dwellers he’d never encountered, though a number bore some resemblance to families he had come to know over the years. There were so many new settlements, it seemed the borders of the town had spilled out in all directions, save but two: his own little lane and the way to the tanners. There were distant farmers and hunters who had migrated in from the surrounding country to take a bride and take a trade to raise and support a family. It saddened him to some degree to see this, but accepted it as the way of things. There would always still be farmers as long people wished to eat, too many now conditioned to the town life that skills like growing, hunting, gathering from the land were fading from the population. Who could dream what wonders may come? But these were not for him. He was a simple man merely seeking to live out his days in simple fashion.

The noise and movement faded behind him as he emerged on the opposite side of the town to the winding way into the looming hills in the east. The road took a slow, steady climb as he approached the first of these, almost unnoticeable at first.  Entering the bend that wrapped around one side of the near hill the foul stench of the tanners first wafted to his nostrils, telling that it was not much further. The road continued its slight rise as the bend progressed around to the opposite side and then leveled off where the collection of shacks first came into view. A long, low wooden building with the many vats sat in the foreground. Beyond this and further up into the crease of where hills met there was a barn lot with a couple of dairy cows, some chickens pecking about the grounds and long set of cords strung between posts where hides and fabrics had been hung to dry. It was a sad and ramshackle looking homestead, yet the tanner’s trade seemed to be thriving. It was all the same as he had seen it so many times before.

He halted the mare and sat at this distance looking over their little settlement nestled into the hillside. As he further studied the grounds it occurred to him that in all of his trade with the tanner over the years for the supply of his leather he had never once seen or been introduced to his wife or children. Set off into such isolation he wondered what the tanner did with his earnings. Not that it was any of his concern, only as an idle curiosity, for he was certain that his trade had remained steady and only grown with the town. It was as he sat pondering this that he heard what sounded like a door slamming shut carry through the air. Alerted by this he again scanned across the grounds until spying the younger Jones for the first time.

A long and gangly youth with dark hair emerged with a loping gait from behind one of the little sheds that dotted the plot of ground. From such a distance he was unable to recognize any details of the lad’s appearance other than the fact that at the ends of his long limbs the hands and feet seemed exceedingly large in proportion to the rest of him. There was an almost comical quality in his movements, like the dancing of a jester at a summer fair.  The boy ambled across the lot towards the hanging lines, bringing toward the lane. The shoemaker did not believe that he had yet been seen and waited until the tanner’s son reached the end of the posts to call out and announce himself.

“Hail, I say, boy! You are the tanner’s son?” His voice sounded clearly into the hollow between the hills and caught the boy’s attention. He stopped in his tracks and could be seen to cup both hands above his brow to shield the sun and peer up to the lane.

Once he had spotted the shoemaker’s horse and cart he seemed to falter in his stance, initially hesitant to answer. With one hand still held at his brow he took a few tentative steps toward the lane and only then did he muster some response. “Aye….that I am. Do you….er…have you some business for the tanner’s ?”

The shoemaker now felt at ease to proceed, gently prodding the mare to move forward. As the cart rolled ahead slowly he called again. ” Alas, no, my young man. My business may be with you. May I meet you at your gate to speak?”

The boy appeared mildly puzzled at this, looking about as if he suspected that this stranger was perhaps speaking to some other than he. He collected himself and began stepping backwards toward the front of their property. ” Come ahead, I will meet you at our gate.”

The shoemaker urged the mare on a little faster now, eager to pass by the sour fumes from the long row of vats on his left.  It was not as horrid as it would be in warmer months, but still enough to discourage any lingering nearby.  In moments he had arrived at the front gate outside of the Jones’ home and waited for the young man to meet him there. The shoemaker remained seated in the cart as he arrived at the gate. At this closer distance he could perceive that there was indeed something that ailed the lad. The only robust part of his anatomy were the oversized appendages that swung from the end of his limbs. Otherwise the lad was gaunt, a long horse-like face that was drawn to hollow cheeks, his shirt hanging upon his frame like an empty vessel swaying in the breeze. Overall an unhealthy look like a malnourished beggar. His skin had an unwholesome blend of jaundice, pallor and acne that would surely leave a pock-marked trail on his face when older. The shoemaker had to wonder suddenly if this was perhaps a bad idea, for surely this youth suffered from more than just a sensitivity of breath. Nevertheless he was here now. He had come to speak with him and he would. Things are quite often not as they may first appear.

“Good day, Master Tanner. I’ve come at the suggestion of the town smith to speak with you about an apprenticeship proposition. Are you free to discuss this with me, or would you prefer your father to be present as well?” The boy’s expression contorted through several stages of perplexity as he weighed the shoemaker’s question. Once assuming the more normal aspect of his face he gazed directly with clear blue eyes that conveyed a genuineness. For whatever other shortcomings he might have it did not strike the shoemaker that there was any guile in him.

” No sir, I am free to speak. If we should find an accord then I will inform my father and he may ask what he will of you.”

Well. He was a well spoken young man. It was a somewhat curious response; answering the question while perhaps implying something more without actually saying it. The shoemaker noted this with the thought that this was a signal of one more clever than they might appear. It was here that he elected to climb down from the cart and meet at the gate.

“Very well. I should introduce myself. I am Samuel the shoemaker. I have a workshop on the opposite side of the town near the forest.” He considered for a moment to suggest that perhaps he would have heard of his boots, but glimpsing bare feet then thought better of this.  Desmond replied with a curt bow and ” pleased to meet you, sir.”

The shoemaker went on then. ” As you may see I have grown some advanced in years and I fear that I may not be able to perform my trade for much longer. I have no family of my own to whom I might pass on any legacy and there appears to be great opportunity to expand the fortunes of my craft, though sadly I am unable to fulfill these demands. I have thus decided to take an apprentice to train in this craft and assist in production for a period of a few years, after which I should want to retire and bestow the trade upon the apprentice to carry on for himself.”  There it was stated as the broad proposition, minus any more specifics of the terms. The shoemaker believed that this was enough to present initially and waited to observe the youth’s reaction.

Desmond had listened carefully and understood the proposition pretty clearly. He was not experienced enough in life to give any thought to more specifics.  In his head he performed a rapid assessment of his circumstance and considered the benefit which this proposition offered him. He was here, alone with his father, whose temperament like his trade was caustic. His mother had passed on long ago in his childhood. He was 19 now, and where other young men had joined in their fathers’ enterprise or taken an apprenticeship in trade by the age of 17, he had not been so fortunate. He had since an early age been prone to respiratory spasms, triggered or exacerbated by any smoke or heavy fume. A further consequence of this condition was that these made him vulnerable to fainting spells as well. For this he was either unwanted or unable to take on most trades available for a young man to set out on his own.  His father was begrudgingly tolerant of him remaining at home, accepting his cooking, errand running and such help as he was able to render in the daily operation of the tannery.

He had never given any thought to making shoes as a living, but for what little he knew or could guess of it he considered it would be a trade not too taxing upon his physical limitations. He was certainly well acquainted with the medium for their construction and already had some skill in forming leather into lacing for boots. Without any thought or care to any of the details he considered this a gift dropped from heaven. This offered a way off of the tannery and further held the prospect of a profitable livelihood for years to come.

The shoemaker observed carefully as Desmond stood in silence considering his proposition. The boy’s expression betrayed nothing of his thoughts or impressions at all; like a closed book with no title. Not even a hint as to what lay inside. As the silence hung heavily between them the shoemaker thought that perhaps he should provide some additional details of the arrangement, though he honestly had not thought all of these through himself. He had opened his lips just a fraction to begin to say something more when Desmond offered his initial response.

“When would this begin?”

The shoemaker knew this answer well enough, though it was hardly the first question he would have expected. ” As soon as possible. There are travelling merchants who will return soon with this season and have expressed an interest in purchasing a large lot to return for sale in their own lands. ”

Desmond was able to make a rather quick deduction from this. If the shoemaker’s trade grew to supply other trading merchants from other towns then this would require more leather, which in turn would equate further business for his father. If his father would hold any reluctance to allow him to leave and accept the offer this would be a sound point upon which to build his case for it. He was old enough now that his father could not bar him from it anyway, but there was still the matter of some respect. As to whether or not he could accept was a decision he was free to make on his own. Without further thought on the matter Desmond gave his reply.

” I will accept your offer, sir. If you would allow me a couple of days to settle some matters here I can be at your shop on the morn. I know where you are by the forest.”



In spite of his clumsy appearance and rather awkward manner Desmond proved to be a quite clever young man. He had shown to be a quick study and took to the work with ease.  He was quite intent on his work and with careful attention to small detail. In only a short time the shoemaker found that he could have confidence in the quality of his work and allow him to proceed with minimal supervision. There were still things to teach him in performing fittings and cutting and assembling for other designs, but for the immediate purpose of fulfilling larger orders Desmond had proven to be a skilled and highly productive boot maker.  For these larger orders there was not fitting involved; they worked from patterns. Desmond was able to replicate the template flawlessly with every pattern inside of a month, just in time to begin building for merchant orders.

For his labors Desmond was furnished a cot and meals and a stipend of 30 crowns per month. The work week was generally five and one half days per week, depending on the arrival of orders when either longer days or seven of seven days might be demanded. The larger boot orders were seasonal, in the spring and the fall, leaving him at some greater liberty the rest of the year. The shoemaker still did his part, though Desmond could outpace him in turning out finished boots at a rate of 2 to 1.  The shoemaker would do what he could for production and perform individual orders, create templates and cut leather to sustain the operations.

As these orders of boots landed in other towns and counties their exposure and the demand for them expanded. After three years the shoemaker was satisfied that he had taken enough profit from the trade that he could at last retire. Other merchants still arrived with each season seeking allotments of their own, but it had reached a point that some of these would simply have to be turned away.

At the time of the winter solstice that third year the shop was closed for a respite. The shoemaker had prepared a dinner of roast goose, yams, a dark bread with berry preserves, canned beans and a bottle of well aged wine. He intended to use this to mark a special occasion, one for which Desmond was unaware. When they sat down to light the candles on that shortest day of the year at dusk the shoemaker asked Desmond to open the wine, his own hands not up to the feat, pour their glasses and prepare for a toast.

“Desmond, I toast to you the blessing of another year of good fortunes passed in our endeavor and the hopes for many to come!”

Desmond raised his glass and responded ” Hear hear!”

They each drank from their glasses and then set to serving the dinner. The shoemaker offered a blessing and thanks for the meal and they began to dine. After a few morsels had been sampled from his plate the shoemaker set his utensils aside and began to speak.

“Desmond you have proven to an exemplary pupil. The fortunes of this shop could not have achieved the great return of these last years without your fine craftsmanship and great labors. I don’t believe at this stage that there is anything more I could teach you. We have profited handsomely by the expansion of trade and I am now prepared to retire from my toils. The inventory, the tools, the many loyal customers all belong to you now. You have earned it.” He paused to raise his glass here in a further toast. Desmond had stopped eating and shared in more wine as he struggled to find some fitting words to offer. Before he could form these the shoemaker went on.

“In addition, Desmond, I have set aside 20% of the profits from our merchant orders and bequeath this sum to you. You may for a time continue to conduct the business here, but with this sum I expect that you will locate a new venue for the shop and carry on to further fortunes.”

So it was that the torch was passed. Though Desmond had not expected the announcement to come when or how it had, he had in fact been making future preparations for some time before. In addition to his mastery of the craft he had further honed his savvy for the business end of the trade. He had been able to save a fair portion of his stipend and had arranged to supplement this with the granting of a modest commission from his father for the increased trade in leather. He had already formed plans to exit the small cottage and erect a building solely for the manufacture of shoes and boots adjacent his father’s land. It put the primary supply of raw material for production right next door to the shop, never to leave it wanting for delivery of material to complete orders in a timely fashion. With all of these preparations in place and the sum of 150 gold sovereigns from the shoemaker Desmond was set to seek his own fortunes in good style.

The shoemaker settled quietly to his cottage with no cares for the town or the rest of the world beyond.  He spent his days before the warming sun or a warming fire as the seasons might decide, tending his small garden at a leisurely pace, watching the birds and serenaded by their songs and the sighing breeze. He would still take his cart into the town a few times a year for certain provisions or to hire for someone to cut wood or till the ground, tasks he could no longer manage.  From time to time he would have visitors, former customers who would come just to look in on him and bring pastries or other such delights. He was happy and content to spend the rest of his days in this fashion.

Now Desmond, it seemed, had always harbored a measure of shrewd acumen for business, little known to any that saw him. In the town he was still regarded by many as that silly looking boy from the stinking tanner’s, even though he had in recent years fitted and made boots or shoes for many of them. As he grew into adulthood he remained and angular figure but shed the once malnourished look. His color had grown better, though still rather pale, and much of his sensitivities had abated to a manageable level. Word got around that Desmond was now the man to see for boots and shoes, often evoking a groan for the need to travel near the tannery. Desmond was aware that this might disturb a number of his patrons, but in his long term plans this would no longer matter.

Desmond and his father hired and trained more workers for both the tannery and the shoe shop. Production capacity was tripled and was equipped to expand further. No longer did either of them perform the work themselves, instead supervising the work, training and managing the business end of things. Desmond’s plan was to end the practice of personal fittings. He had once been truly grateful to the old shoemaker, but as he learned that the production orders built from a range of size templates were more profitable he grew to have a disdain for the old man. What a fool! Working so hard for so little return! He was indeed a master of his craft, but he had no sense for business. Soon there would be a shoe and boot merchant in the town to take inventory in larger lots to distribute to the townspeople just the same as elsewhere. And Desmond had schemed a way to use this to take yet another bite from the apple. He would underwrite the opening of the store and install a stooge to run it. The store would pay for the inventory and Desmond would take a percentage of the store’s sales, in effect getting paid for the same product twice. And none would be the wiser.

It proved to be a good model and did indeed become quite profitable in a short time.  The business continued to grow and expand. People were generally pleased with the shoes and boots they could obtain from the shoe store, though they had certainly grown more costly. Still, the town was growing, more jobs became available and more commerce between the growing population grew into more jobs. As the town’s overall fortunes grew so did that of its residents.  The shoes became the most sought after in the land, the famous boots still the most popular. The arrangement that he had forged in the town soon became the same in other towns, taking a stake in those stores and even bestowing a brand name: Desmonds Shoes & Boots.

When his father decided to retire Desmond assumed direction of the tannery as well, expanding and modernizing it to increase capacity and efficiency. All he needed to do was oversee those he hired to manage these factories and rake in the profits hand over fist. With the arrangement he had made he was in for a cut of the action at every stage in the business.  As he amassed further and further fortune he took a bride and built a fine manor in the city. It was an ostentatious jewel of architecture to remind all that he, Desmond Jones, the smelly, skinny boy from that disgusting tannery, now had the finest home in town. Then there mistresses, more land, homes, he couldn’t find enough ways to spend his wealth. Times were good.

Some years passed and the old shoemaker was still whiling away his time on the edge of the forest. He heard of Desmond’s spectacular success and swelled with pride at results of his tutelage. He had never wanted all of that, but was happy for Desmond just the same. He sometimes wondered, though, why he never heard from him. He had been to visit only twice since striking out on his own, and even then only very briefly. Why it had been years since he’d even heard word from him. The shoemaker had never been one to hold any grudge and attributed it to the very busy nature of what had become multiple enterprises.

Life had grown in bounds for all in the town. The distant throne of the land and the monarch who occupied it were of no consequence to them. Then the war came. One day news travelled to their ears that a new monarch had ascended the throne and through some quarrel with relatives over the order of succession the country had been plunged into war with a neighboring land. It was disturbing news, to be sure, but in the near term made little difference to their happy lives in the town. It would not, however, take long for this to change.

First came the levy of burdensome taxes, expropriated under threat of imprisonment, forfeiture or worse. When soldiers came with arms and many horses they were surrounded and under the point of the sword were left little alternative but to submit. This was followed by more of the king’s soldiers coming to take their sons to make more soldiers. The people paid tribute to the crown under threat with first their treasures and then their blood. These were dark days that followed, but not for all.

The army needed many pairs of boots for their soldiers. Their soldiers could not march into battle after battle without sturdy footwear. The only place where they might obtain such numbers of good quality boots was Desmond’s factory and he was only too happy to oblige their need. The coin extracted from the townspeople would now, at least in some part, land in his coffers. It was just too good to be true!

An emissary of the king came to see Desmond at his handsome manor. He was acting as an agent for the crown and had been authorized to issue an order for no less than 50,000 pairs of boots and an urgency for 15,000 of these to be delivered in a month’s time with similar increments at 60-90 day intervals. If the war were to drag on of course there would be more. Desmond assured the king’s agent that they could accommodate their need and would be proud to serve the crown and the army in this way. He was starting to count the gold already.

There was an element of this which Desmond had not anticipated. The crown was only prepared to part with a price per pair which was considerably below the normal margin. Then there was the matter of how he was to be paid. Desmond would not receive the actual gold for the sale, rather a writ of credit from the crown would be deposited to an account set up specifically for the contract. An account with the crown’s official bank, of course. This was a less than optimal arrangement to Desmond’s thinking, but he began to scheme how he might make some advantage of it. Would he have free access to this credit from the bank? Why of course, he was assured. He made some further calculations in his head over dinner with the agent and with brandy served after the dinner he agreed to and signed the contract.

He planned to pay the tannery for materials with monies from the shoe factory, simply moving funds from one pocket to another in the same pair of trousers. He would utilize the writ of credit to purchase more hides for the tannery and then funnel the finished leather direct to the shoe factory to backfill materials inventory. Any sale of goods outside of the crown contract could be taken at 100% profit, using the writ of credit to pay his workers as well. This would more than make up for the lesser margins of the contract, increasing volume and overall profits at the same time. All he had to do was continue this process again and again, always keeping ahead of the curve. It was brilliant! The longer the war went on the more money he made.

He was also clever enough to play this contract as a plus to the store customers. Each Desmond Shoes & Boots store would proudly display a poster in their storefront with the image of the kings valiant soldiers marching into battle with the legend beneath reading: Desmond Shoes & Boots, proud to carry your sons in their brave fight against the enemy! The patriotic message perhaps did little to grow sales, but it was a master stroke of good public relations. It made people feel good about buying Desmond Boots!

The war did indeed drag on. Each campaign promised the final victory. And each campaign only delivered more death with no foreseeable end. Now Desmond thought that things just could not get any better, and his personal treasury agreed with that sentiment. There evolved, however, a consequence which he had not foreseen. In the ongoing effort to fulfill the demands of their army contract the factory had begun to cut some corners. Consumer orders were delayed in preference for army orders. Some stores did not see delivery of more product for weeks at a time. When they did it was often found that “seconds”, material rejects which had previously been disposed or repurposed were now being substituted to fill partial orders for the consumer market. Customers would arrive daily with some complaint of poor workmanship in their recently purchased shoes and boots. Leather uppers and tread not properly aligned. Loose stitching causing the uppers to tear or to separate from the soles. As the army’s demands grew and grew these problems with the consumer market also grew until something Desmond never imagined would occur. In order to fill their needs for shoes and boots small shops began to spring up in towns across the land, serving that need in much the same way as the old shoemaker had done before.

So consumed with keeping the contracts and shuffling finances from one fund to another, and back again, that this situation developed without any knowledge of what was happening. Orders from Shoes & Boots stores ceased. Some shops simply locked the doors and the storekeepers walked away. This went on for some while until the profit subsidy from consumer sales had evaporated to a negligible level. Desmond first became aware of what was happening when he happened to spy some citizens on the streets of town wearing shoes and boots which were most definitely not from his factory. Upon inspection he found that these were made with lesser materials, or perhaps the stitchings were not as precise, but all in all passed muster as at least a suitable pair of shoes. Then he learned of the purchase price and the alarms sounded.

Prompted by this to investigate further he found that footwear such as this had begun to spring up in nearly every quarter of the kingdom. This led to the further alarming discovery that some stores had closed their doors and been left abandoned. Under this set of circumstances there was absolutely no way the model of the army contract could be sustained. He would have to hope for a swift end to hostilities – not likely- or, ask for an increase on the contract sell price – again, not likely. Otherwise he would be ruined! There was one other possibility….

Desmond sent an urgent dispatch to the crown’s agent describing the perilous conditions that these “rogue” and “black market profiteers” posed to Desmonds Boots and in turn to the continued supply to the army. If the crown could perhaps outlaw these unauthorized makers to protect him, their valued supplier? On receipt of the message the agent conferred with the king, urging him to issue a decree to save Desmond’s from this unfair opportunism. The crown had a further motive in keeping Desmond happy which he did not know.  If he were to learn that the writs of credit issued from the royal bank were now nigh unto worthless it could be disastrous. It could be the first piece to fall that would bring the entire house of cards tumbling to the ground. The kingdom would face ruin and defeat.

Two days later a courier arrived with a brief answer from the agent and a copy of the royal decree banning all but Desmonds from the production of shoes and boots in the kingdom. He was saved! At least for the time being. He wasn’t so fool as to think that he didn’t need to revive his consumer sales. Over the course of some late nights he devised a set of solutions.

First there were to be new shopkeepers installed at those stores which had been abandoned. Inventories were boosted as much as could possibly be spared. Then he returned to his role as craftsman and began to design a new set of templates and to make a sizable buy of sheep on the shaky livestock market.  In a gesture of apology to his patrons mutton was offered with the purchase of shoes. The hides were collected from slaughter to the tannery where these were converted to the less costly and lighter sheepskin. With manpower being rapidly depleted in the kingdom he found it necessary for the first time to recruit and train women for work in the factory. Within six weeks time the added production was staffed and trained to begin to produce the sheepskin shoes exclusively for the consumer market. The “brave soldiers” posters were removed and replaced with an apology and an appeal to all Desmond Shoes & Boots patrons:

Please accept this, my most sincere apology, for having failed to deliver the standard of quality and service that you have come to expect from Desmond Shoes & Boots.  The war has created difficult circumstances for us all as we have each been called to make some measure of sacrifice. It is in this spirit of sacrifice for king and country that Desmond Shoes & Boots now offers a solution to some of these difficulties we have found ourselves in. In order to sustain our commitment to the king’s soldiers and meet the expectations of all of you, our loyal patrons, we are pleased to introduce a new line of footwear exclusively for our consumer market: SoftShoe. In order that we may conserve leather required for army boots we have created this new product made with the finest quality sheepskin. SoftShoe offers the same quality workmanship you have come to expect from Desmond Shoes & Boots. Come on inside the store and give them a try!

If only the people were to know the true nature of the “sacrifices” made. With his competition eliminated by royal decree the crown could be seen as the goat, while Desmond Shoes & Boots demonstrated their commitment to both the country and their loyal customers. The people would all say, “Isn’t that Desmond Jones a great man? Why he is not only a patriot, but he has still worked hard to find a way to look out for us too!”Of course none of this was true, but nonetheless it is how it came to be perceived by many. That clever Desmond Jones had found a way to look after the needs of our valiant soldiers and keep us all supplied with shoes for our families at great cost to himself and his company. The new SoftShoe, in addition to being fully stocked, was offered at a price 40% less than the traditional line of Desmond footwear. Again, whether true or not, a perception was created that this reduction in price came at a drastic reduction in Desmond’s bottom line. The reality was that even with this substantial reduction in sale price the wide disparity in the price paid for the sheep hides more than made up the difference. And to top it all off the sheep were purchased from his royal bank writ of credit, taking nothing from the liquidity of the company.

The ploy worked. Customers, albeit with nowhere else to go, returned to Desmond’s stores and the sale of the new SoftShoe took off. They were not as good as the originals, but they were at least as good as those replacement shoes that had sprung from the ground before the decree banning them. For Desmond there was the added advantage that these did not wear as long as leather, creating a need for more frequent replacement. It began to appear that everything was going to work out just fine, and for a time it was.

Then the war ended. The kingdom had finally prevailed in battle, but in a sense had still lost the war, so high was the price paid in blood and treasure. Within months of the end the collapse of the royal bank could no longer be postponed. The well had run dry, the vault was empty. The payout at the end of the line that Desmond had counted on would not come to be. The writs of royal credit were worth less than nothing. Now being the shrewd man that he was Desmond’s personal fortune had been amassed in gold, which was now worth more than ever. For the Desmond Shoes & Boots, however, it was a different matter entirely. No longer were they able to obtain materials needed for production. No longer could they meet the payroll of their workers. And with everyone’s currency now worthless there were no more sales to be had anyway. Like the shopkeepers during the war who simply walked away from their stores Desmond simply locked the doors and walked away to engage a new endeavor: The Desmond Bank.

This crisis, as they always do, passed eventually. The soldiers came home, businesses and trades sputtered to a start again and the people began to return to a normal life. As their SoftShoes eventually wore out the people of the town were left to wonder where they might now find new shoes and boots? With Desmond Shoes & Boots closed it was unclear if the royal decree banning other shoemakers was still in force. There seemed to be none rushing forward to fill this gap. As remaining pairs in stores dwindled a group of citizens began to discuss this problem among themselves.

“Hey! What about the old shoemaker? I think he’s still around out there by the forest. Maybe we could go see him.”

“Him! Why he’d have to be 100 if he’s a day!”

Another chimed in. ” No, no! He’s not quite that old. Maybe he’s 80, but no more. He doesn’t move so fast, but he’s still out there. I’ve seen him sitting out sunning himself on warm days.”

“Hmm. Maybe we should go to see him. He could help out until something else comes up, I suppose.”

And so it was agreed that this small party of four would ride to the cottage at the edge of the great forest and seek out the old shoemaker. It was a fair autumn day, a mild breeze but with plenty of sunshine. As they rolled up the lane to the cottage the old shoemaker was indeed sunning himself on his front porch, ensconced upon a rocking chair. He was near totally blind now, but could hear their approach and make out the fuzzy outlines of movement out on the lane. He watched, inasmuch as he could, and listened carefully for their voices.

“Hello? Mr Shoemaker?”

He replied with a feeble croak, “Aye.Thats me. Used to be. I’m just Samuel now. You’ll need to come closer dear!”

At this they made the short walk over to the porch. The young woman spoke again for their little group. ” Mr. Shoemak…, uh….Samuel. We’re glad we found you out today. It is a lovely day, isn’t it?”

The old shoemaker chuckled softly and then replied, ” My dear I’m afraid you should save the small talk. No offense, but at my age I fear I don’t have the time left for it.”

This evoked some laughter from the group and with the ice thus broken she began to state their business. ” Samuel, you heard that the war has ended?”

“Has it? Well…..yes, I had heard there was a war. You say it has ended? Well good. War is a nasty business…”

“Yes sir, it is. We’re all glad it’s over. Uh…since the war ended a lot of shops and businesses have folded up…”

“Oh? Why that’s a shame, isn’t it?”

” Yes sir, it is. Sir, the reason we rode out here today is because the town is in need of a shoemaker…”

The old shoemaker seemed genuinely surprised at this. “Oh? My goodness….what has happened to Desmond?”

” Desmond had to close his factory after the war, I’m afraid. He is a banker now.”

“Is he? Well, well…. I always knew he’d be a success, that one! You know he was my apprentice?”

“Yes sir, uh, we did. Umm….well that’s partly we came out here to see you. You see we were wondering if maybe you might be able to make some shoes. Only for a short while, of course, until another shop gets started….”

” Well what about some of those fellows that worked in his factory?”

“Well sir that may be, but Desmond locked everything up. All of the tools, the patterns. We don’t have anything to start with.”

“Oh my. Yes, yes…that would make it rather hard at first….” The shoemaker sat nodding, his mouth still open as though prepared to say something more. They all waited, looking at one another with quizzical expressions, wondering who should speak next. Then the old shoemaker cleared his throat. ” Eh-hehmm….excuse me. You know when I first came here the town was no more than a few shacks and a stable. There were four families here. And a mill. That was all. I learned my trade self taught, I did. Started from nothing, just a few tools and some leather. As the town grew I had more customers, worked hard at it and I got quite good at it. I never got any special equipment or special training for it. I just figured it out, I did good work and I made a fair livelihood at it for years. Why I probably fitted shoes for your granny, sweetheart. ”

“I’m sure you must have yes.  Maybe you could still help us somehow? Teach us how to measure, make patterns…..”

” Missy I don’t mean to hurt your feelings in any way, truly I don’t. Just listen now. There is nothing magical about making shoes or boots, alright? Any soul can do it. There is nothing to it today that there wasn’t years ago. I’ve been out here alone for a long while, but I don’t think peoples’ feet have changed any, have they?”

“Umm….no, sir. I don’t think they have, that is true.”

“Well, there you are, see. You young folk don’t need my help. I’m blind now and probably be little help to you anyway.  Go on back to your town and figure it out. I did. What was right then is still right today. No good me telling you. You have to figure it out for yourselves. You’ll either get it right or you won’t. The world will go on either way and people will still have their feet.”

He was the Walrus, goo-goo-ga-joob

What day is this? June 18, 2017, you say? Why that can’t be! That would mean that…Holy Shit! Paul McCartney is 75? Oh, say it ain’t so!

No, it’s true. Happy Birthday and many returns, Sir Paul.

This is the man, the versatile artist and gifted songwriter, who made so much of his stock in love songs.  Where we look from the outside it appears he has lived his life with a reverence for love, not one to give his affections wantonly. As a young man he was known the world over. Those big brown eyes and boyish charm melted the hearts of girls and women everywhere. He could have had his pick of anyone, and perhaps in his bachelor days he did. I have no idea, but in spite of the great fame and adoration that might easily have swept him into ill advised romance he was instead patient and prudent in when and where he chose to make a commitment.

I was never privy to the inner workings of his marriage to Linda. I’m sure it wasn’t perfect, for no marriage ever is. By all outward appearances, though, it surely seemed to be a love that was true and enduring. They certainly seemed happy. And Paul never spared his praise for and devotion to her, in public pronouncements and in song. My Love and Maybe I’m Amazed still stand as some of the most poignant love songs of all time, both inspired by his love for Linda.

I can imagine the awful heartache and sorrow that came with her passing. This was surely a case of someone losing not just a wife, a friend and lover, but losing a part of yourself. Envy is a bitter potion, yet properly indulged if felt for what these two people had in each other.

I thought at the time that he would never remarry. I thought he would be like George Burns, enduring life for fifty years alone without his beloved Grace. Paul and Linda seemed to fit that mold, don’t you think? Still, loneliness can be a potent intoxicant. When he took up with Heather it seemed that sufficient time had passed. It was good to see that she made him happy. This good man could have given to her the same kind of devotion that he gave to Linda. A heart as large and true as his could hardly be left bereft for the rest of his days. I understand what happened to him. Maybe he did too, yet still could not resist. The Achilles Heel of the sentimental romantic.

I looked at Heather and saw something I recognized. Not in her so much as in the familiarity of the feelings involved.  Sir Paul had fallen into a trap which has snared many a man. To find your love, the soul that is your other half of being, is a rare and precious gift. I can speak with ease for my sex, admitting something that perhaps many will not. Men are easy. Where it concerns matters of the heart most of us are blind or we are fools. In the worst cases both. Some of us never find “the one”, succumbing to a life of womanizing or just dedicating ourselves exclusively to the “masculine” pursuits. Some of us stumble blind through life and trip over the one without ever knowing. Ignorance is bliss. A greater woe betide the man who misses this and realizes later what he has missed, especially if he has gone on to “settle” for someone else. A piece of advice for you ladies: don’t allow yourself to be a man’s “Plan B”. This never ends well. And let’s be honest with ourselves here, it works the same in reverse.

Then there is the case when a man finds that one love, that person who “gets” you. The Yin to your Yang, a pairing that completes both of you. And then you lose her. You screw it up and she leaves, or she is taken from you by accident, untimely demise or unknown circumstance. It leaves a hole in you, but also a burden. For the rest of your days, consciously or unconsciously, your eyes will forever watch, your ears forever listen, your heart will ever seek a replacement. You will tell yourself that you can love her because you want so badly to believe it. It may be her eyes, the way her hair falls across her face. It may be her voice or her laugh. The inflection of voice when saying certain words. She reminds you of her. It may be something more subtle. Perhaps she emits pheromones that pair to your receptors. Whatever the case you can easily find yourself taken in this web, willing your heart to accept what the mind sees and projecting your lost love into this person. For all the similarities that may exist eventually your heart will know that it has been deceived. She is not the same.

Some men suffer this fate and make the most of it, for better or worse. Sir Paul suffered this and had to pay dearly for it.  Not the money. To a heart like that and a wealth like his the currency would be inconsequential. Its the price of betrayal dealt to his heart. Yet in spite of the whole nightmare his capacity for love remained, manifest in his music and later with a new bride, Nancy.  Now I can look at her and conclude this was not a case of equating the physical appearance to the lost love. She is a lovely and accomplished woman, still nearly twenty years his junior but wearing it quite well.

A lover needs someone to love. Women are better equipped to be alone, I think. We men simply can’t bear it; we end up killing ourselves through one means or another. I hope Sir Paul has a fab birthday and has many years of happiness to share with his new love. Thankfully for the world he has not “had enough of silly love songs”.


The Odd Things I Remember from the 70s

Preschool and elementary years in a suburban apartment. I only realize now how young my parents were. They were still on their first leg of life’s journey. My younger sister was still an infant and had many health problems, several surgeries before the age of five. It seemed a fine enough home to me, what did I know any better? I thought everyone lived in an apartment and had grandparents with a farm out in the country.

Our apartment was an end unit, my bedroom window looking out upon a common green where I first learned to play football. Back in those days my dad was still pretty athletic. He had that Johnny Unitas flat-top. He was a fan of the AFL, before the leagues merged in 1970, his favorite team the Oakland Raiders.

In just a little over a mile to the north there was the constant sound of construction as the 270 outerbelt was still being built around Columbus, Ohio.  My parents were country folk from neighboring Pickaway County. My mother was afraid to drive in Columbus; she thought there was too much traffic and everyone drove too fast. My dad had a red Corvair convertible that he was so proud of. It’s design was the curiosity of our block, especially after Ralph Nader succeeded in branding the car “unsafe at any speed”.

I walked to my elementary school, a little less than a mile away. After being escorted for the first couple of weeks I was permitted to make the walk to and from on my own, something almost unconscionable today.  Most all of us had stay at home moms, except for one boy in my class, Danny. Danny was a bit of an oddity, the only child picked up by a van from KinderCare at the conclusion of each school day. Danny’s mother had to work because she was raising Danny on her own while his dad was fighting in Vietnam. Danny was so proud to tell that his dad was a soldier.  I did not discover until years later that during the time we were schoolmates Danny’s father had already died in combat sometime in 1969.

My dad’s older brother was also serving in Vietnam at the time, with the Air Force, flying low level counter-insurgency missions in an AD-10 over the jungles. The AD-10 was among the few non-jet planes used in that conflict, known as the flying dump truck for the heavy load of ordnance it could carry. I remember sitting in our basement at my dad’s workbench, watching him paint and build models of the AD-10 and other warbirds.

That year at Christmas I got my first radio, a small Motorola transistor powered by a 9V battery. This began many years of my childhood to be spent in my room listening to the radio and reading books. There were always piles of books in our house.  My dad was an avid reader of paperbacks, my mother of magazines, and my grandparents were always buying me books. There were numerous collections; Scholastic Book Series “______ do the strangest things” and child’s biographies of Washington, Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Lincoln.  Also JFK and MLK, both fairly fresh in their graves at the time. I remember my first copy of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and a collection of short stories Tales of Time and Space. The latter of these was of special interest as our home were avid followers of the nation’s space program.

I remember at the time of the Apollo 11 mission my grandparents were away on a trip to Europe. My dad had his vacation during that time and we spent the duration at my grandparents’ farm. The lawn tractor nor the farm tractor, a rusty old International Harvester model, were considered safe for me. Instead I learned to care for the chickens, sheep, collect the eggs and help in the garden. The garden was a gigantic plot to my young eyes, surrounded by berry brambles, a variety of Irises in pink, purple and white. And in the very middle of this garden there was a slim galvanized pipe that towered to a height of fifteen feet above where there was mounted a Martin house. The Martins made full use of this. During the day they were always heard fussing and rustling about the house. In the evenings we would marvel at their sleek vee wings spread as they swooped down and soared away from the buffet of mosquitos.

On the night of the moon landing I tried to stay awake but fell asleep on my grandparents’ living room floor in front of their gigantic RCA console TV. Back in those days they were built right there in Circleville. I remember my parents waking me to witness the historic event. There had been so much build up to it all, I remember at the time finding it somewhat anti-climactic. At that age I hardly know now what I had expected, I just remember some sense of disappointment. My parents were born in the depression. They attended high school in the 50s and witnessed the space race as young adults. It meant something more for them.

I realize now that in spite of the title I have shared an awful lot that was actually the end of the 60s, chronologically. Some decades bleed into others as an era. I think this was true for 1968-1974, the Nixon years. So I guess my recollections are bifurcated into two 1970s: the 70s that bled from the end of the 60s and then everything that came after. The after coincided with puberty and the teen years so maybe that is the difference. Memories of childhood and memories of growing up; two different things, aren’t they?

Coming back to that radio… That summer of 1970, between 2nd and 3rd grade, I remember spending a lot of time listening to it. WCOL AM, 1230. That was the pop/top 40 station of the time. This was my introduction to music. FM radio was still relegated to “doctor’s office music” at the time. From 1970 to 1974 this was the voice we youngsters of the time shared. I began that summer with a steady diet of CCR, The Beatles, Mountain, Mott the Hoople, Three Dog Night, Aretha Franklin’s Rose in Spanish Harlem. They played that one a lot. Mac Davis and Ray Stevens were early “crossovers” who got a lot of air.

In the fall of 71 we moved to a rental house in the country. I remember that the rent on the place was $125 per month. It wasn’t my business and I had no reason to care, I just remember it because I was often entrusted with delivering the rent check to the landlady, just a couple of houses up the road. I wasn’t aware at the time, but my parents were beset with a lot of medical bills for my sister. Dad had to sell his prized Corvair and we made our travels in a used, blue Chevy Bellaire sedan for a few years thereafter.

It was then, largely thanks to my grandfather, that I developed my interest in NFL football. To this day it is really the only sport I have any interest in. The Baltimore Colts were the reigning league champions at the time. My grandfather was a huge fan of the Miami Dolphins because of his attachment to Don Shula, who he had watched play as a defensive back with the Cleveland Browns back in the 1950s. I got my very first package of Topps Football trading cards that fall, some of which I still have today. I remember they came in a three compartment, clear blister pack with a cardboard tab at the top to hang from the display. From that first pack I obtained such NFL notables of the time in the form of Johnny Unitas, George Blanda, Joe Namath, Don Maynard, Dick Butkus. Also some forgettable players like Larry Krause, Cyril Pinder and Bake Turner. One of the things I remember most about these packs was the smell of the hard-as-rock stick of bubble gum that was sealed with the cards in every package. Once in a while I may dig out some of the old cards and still catch the slightest hint of that scent lingering. I went on to collect hundreds of more cards in subsequent years, but none of them ever seemed to measure up to the 1971 set. With each year the cards became more and more of a disappointment.

The music changed. 1971 brought the Beatles’ solo efforts, George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, John Lennon’s Instant Karma and Ringo’s It don’t come easy.  Time passed and the venerable WCOL favored us with the likes of Joan Baez, Carole King, Melanie, Todd Rundgren and Harry Nilsson. Three Dog Night’s Jeremiah was a bullfrog and Paul McCartney’s (he hadn’t sprouted “Wings” yet) Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey were regular staples for months. Good Christ! I just realized that Paul McCartney turns 75 tomorrow! Happy Birthday, Sir Paul!

Another little thing that was anticipated from the radio every day was Dick Orkin’s syndicated spoof, Chickenman, a two and a half minute vignette featured during morning drive and again around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. This bit of silliness originated in Chicago several years previously. We were always a little behind the times in those days. Carly Simon, James Taylor, Al Green, Gladys Knight and the Pips were played a lot. And Elton John. He was just beginning to take off in the states at that time.

Halfway through junior high we moved to a proper farm, a lovely plot of ground along Darby Creek. Unlike my grandparents, who at the time still had their farm, we did nothing with livestock. We were just dirt farmers. With this change there came a change in the radio too. I now had a plug in model with AM and FM. I outgrew WCOL and migrated to WNCI FM, 97.9 on the dial. WNCI had a pop format, but they also featured Casey Kasem’s weekly Billboard Top 40 countdown. It was here that I began to learn of Fleetwood Mac, Seals and Croft, ZZ Top, Queen, Supertramp, The Who, whetting my appetite for more. These were also the days of the Sunday night silliness we all knew as the Dr. Demento Show.

I was not into watching a great deal of television in those days. It would be nearly another 20 years before anything even resembling cable would come to our part of the world. Somehow our household had remained a mostly “radio” home. The set in our living room was set alternately between 610 AM, WTVN or WMNI AM, a country station. In those years I would cringe whenever my mom put on the country station. Oddly I now have a liking for some of the old country classics. There were a few TV programs that we enjoyed. My parents enjoyed MASH, though I was not permitted to watch it until the 8th grade. It was deemed unsuitable for me before then.

My most lasting memories of television in those years was watching the NFL on CBS or NBC until it grew dark. Then on Sunday evenings there was The Rockford Files with Jim Garner. I thought he was cool, I loved his car. I can’t remember now if it was a Camaro or a Firebird. And then there was the NBC Sunday Night Mystery Theater, which featured alternately McMillan and Wife or McCloud or Columbo. There were a few others in that repertoire as well. Jim Hutton’s Ellery Queen and George Peppard’s Banacek. On occasion now I may catch one of these old gems on one of the “retro” networks. I am dismayed to see how camp these were, but it was gripping viewing at the time. I can still sit through some of them, if only to remember lying on the floor in front of the fireplace and watching on our little 32″ screen.

In the summer of 75 came new discoveries.  Nixon was gone, we were stumbling through the Gerry Ford years.  Our house did not have central air. On warm nights the only relief to be found came from having your windows open and a gigantic, industrial strength attic fan in the upstairs hallway. This behemoth was right outside of my bedroom. Though it did draft a mighty breeze through the windows it was loud as a truck! In fact it was so loud that it carried down that hall to the landing at the top of the stairs and filled the wide open space of the A-framed ceiling. This would cause my parents to crank up the volume on the TV when Johnny Carson was on.  There was many a night when I drifted off to sleep hearing the laughter of that Burbank studio audience and the guffaws of Ed McMahon.

One night in the middle of that summer it was a steambath outside. The fan and the television were roaring, but it was too hot to close the door. Since all other sounds were drowned out I could turn up my radio to block the din. I was scrolling through the FM dial and chanced upon Close to the Edge, by the band Yes. I had never heard it before and sat up in my bed transfixed by Steve Howe’s lilting caress upon the neck of “that” guitar. What I was hearing was only an excerpt, though. It was the intro theme music for a radio program on WCOL FM, which until that time I had never known existed. The show was called Midnight and other Beasts, hosted by a DJ named Terry something-or-other. Come on! I’m doing great to remember this much!

Midnight and other Beasts featured deep album cuts. Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer ( later of fame for his Miami Vice theme music in the 80s), Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, King Crimson, Zeppelin, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Fleetwood Mac before they went pop. Before this time I had occasionally heard a little David Bowie from the top 40 countdown, but otherwise he received little airplay where we were. I got a heavy dose from this program. There were more Stones than I had ever heard, The Who, more Yes and Genesis. I became a regular listener of the program, each time coming away wondering “How come we haven’t heard this?”

In the pop music scene we were entering the dreaded age of disco. There were all of these other exciting things happening in the music world and we were missing out! I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but I was developing a taste for “prog rock”.

The 70s droned on. We suffered through disco, the Jimmy Carter years. There were some highlights. Those early years of SNL were precious. I also discovered cigarettes. And weed. Lots and lots of weed. Dr. Demento had introduced me to more of Monty Python. In those years, if you were lucky, you might catch an episode after 10:00 on PBS on a Saturday night.  We were treated to the early years of Steve Martin.

About 1978 I got my first cassette tape player. I loaded up on everything I was missing from the radio through the Columbia House music club. Steely Dan, ZZ Top, Rush, Supertramp, Queen, Yes, Genesis. There was a fairly decent catalogue to choose from and between this and the vinyl I had been able to purchase I built a respectable collection. It was then that I realized that my tastes fell mostly outside of the mainstream. I was ripe for the alternative movement in the decade to come. It wasn’t until then that I finally got current. I later had the opportunity to travel and live in other places that broadened my universe in many ways. When alternative morphed into grunge I was still on the train. They lost me somewhere after that. Since then I still hold to my musical roots and to the 80 alternative, but for the past decade I’ve been exploring the indieverse. There are still a lot of good things happening out there, if you know where to look. And there are a lot more places to look today than there were in 1970s midwest America.

It is often said that America lost it’s innocence after the JFK assassination. As an event that may have been the start of it, but from my life experience I’ll say that we had not fully shed this until the 70s had passed. It was the last days of the analog age, where we were still mechanical rather than digital. Much of this modern technology has its uses, this forum here as a fine example, but I thought we did alright with what we had in the 70s.  Now that I am mostly retreated from the outside world I find myself doing many of the same things I did then.  I still till the ground, plant the seeds and tend the garden. Things like this and the trees, the birds, the earth, they are constants. Yes they change, but in their own time and not as a result of anything we do. We are still only renting this space.

Johnny Carson is dead, you can’t even buy cassettes any more and the world is still a scary place. We just have different kinds of scary now. When I lay down at night and close my eyes I can still hear Close to the Edge playing feebly through the air as I drift to sleep. As I enter the land of Midnight and other Beasts….

For the Newshound-to-Novelist ( Donna-Louise)

We reflect on the state of our lives. Not when we’re happy, no. When we are happy we are simply enjoying living it. If it’s good don’t think about it too hard: you might spoil it. It’s the Heisenberg Principle as applied to relationships.

It would probably, at least sometimes, be healthier for us all to spend a bit more time in reflection. Reflection like anything else requires a balance. Not enough and you rocket blindly up the motorways of life, unprepared for those pesky obstacles that will arise in your path. Too much and you’ll simply drive yourself mad. It seems for most of us, sadly, that regret is the impetus behind our reflections. We search our past to determine where it all started to go wrong. Often the search will only further cloud the issues, or worse. Sometimes these reflections cause us to discover very disturbing things about ourselves.

There will be in any given year a score or so of writers, pop psychologists and self help gurus who will profit by their recorded musings upon marriage or relationships in general. Most I suspect are charlatans, though this is likely my inherently skeptical nature. Let’s be fair. They’re not all charlatans and even those who are probably come at the question with only the best intentions. Of course good intentions are the tarmac laid upon the path to hell, if one believes in that sort of thing. But I digress…

Suffice it to say that there are libraries filled with books and advice on the subject of marriage and relationships. Clever, thoughtful, probing analyses filling page after page, volume upon volume, often saying the same things dressed up in varying costume. There are topics that warrant such exhaustive study, but I would submit that our interpersonal relationships need not be one.  All wisdom on the subject has been given in brief phrases, poems, song. These are the medium for things so elemental.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Fond affections are never said. They are only sung in song.

Gordon Sharp, This Mortal Coil, It’ll end in Tears

Oh, save your life                                                                                                                                     Because you’ve only got one…                                                                                                               …And I’m not happy                                                                                                                               And I’m not sad…

Morrissey (The Smiths), This Night has opened my Eyes

No six-hundred page tomes, no matrix of bio-rhythms, no meditation technique or tantric rituals. Simple things can be easily complicated, to their ruin. Complicated things are better simplified.  We all hear different voices. What speaks to one heart may not to another, but these few precious lines speak to me.

Do these speak to your heart? I invite others to share those voices which speak to theirs.

Keep Calm and Carry on!


The Wise King Solomon: A response to thoughts on Universal Basic Income

It is written that the good King Solomon once stated ” There is nothing new under the sun.”  Without diving into the context of this within scripture I have always found this to be a timeless statement of a universal truth.  To place it within the context of the oft cited “Fecal handbook of the world’s religions” it is the Hindu truism contained therein: this shit has happened before.

The Paradoxical Millennial has again favored us with some thought provoking material. In his post today, Money for nothing….

He has opened discussion on the concept of Universal Basic Income.  It is not an entirely new idea, as surely there are few that are, but it is an idea which has been steadily creeping into numerous forums.

In his opening TPM correctly cites the fact that UBI is a concept raised before now, indeed by some of the more notable minds from the field of economics. As a general concept the UBI is not entirely without merit. It is only when the questions surrounding how we are to arrive at the methods of implementation that we find ourselves at some difficulty. It is an astute observation to state that there is something there for everyone. It appeals to the equality and social justice crowd as it has a certain visceral connection with the emotional argument.  And there is also the appeal for those of a libertarian persuasion in its purely economic rationale.

I do not believe that the UBI in and of itself can bridge the divide in economic theory between right and left spectrums, but in opening the debate it exposes much of the falsehoods  which have taken root in both sides. It is when we are to place the argument upon the template of market versus big government that we begin to remove the first layers from that onion. In doing so it may well also bring tears to one’s eyes!

The left, if not in fact openly hostile to capitalism, is at the very least highly suspicious of the model and it’s titans. They admonish us with regularity that big business, corporations, the rich are not to be trusted. It is only by placing our trust in their advocacy on our behalf against these greedy forces that we may be saved from these malevolent powers. Conversely the right will always tell us that the left is not to be trusted and come to the defense of the corporate world by espousing the gospel of free trade. Let the market decide. Allowing the market to decide would surely be the right medicine, but if only this were true in practice. In all honesty we have not enjoyed a true and unfettered practice of “free trade” since some time back in the 19th century, and even then it had already begun to be tainted.

Despite what either side may say for the consumption of their respective constituencies, neither are honest in what they purportedly practice. What is simultaneously sold from each is in fact entirely contradicted by their actions. Instead of a watchdog guarding the consumer or a free pass issued to corporations there is in reality a conspiratorial policy of “We will allow you to do as you like as long as we are cut in for our share of the action, pay no attention to what we say publicly.” This is more often referred to as “crony capitalism”. It is anything but free trade.

In a system of a true free trade, pure commerce as exercised between peoples absent any other external authority placed upon it, one would find the very purest form of Social Darwinism. For those who truly embrace the practice of free trade such conditions would be the ideal. For those who only mouth the words while practicing their own self-serving version of it there can be no inclination to accept it’s true form. Their false version of free trade tips the scales to insure that they are assured a positive outcome for themselves irrespective of the vagaries of economic tides. It’s rather ironic when one gives this just a little further thought. The so-called free traders claim that they support free trade because it allows the entrepreneur to pursue their aims upon a level playing field. It is in a very real sense, were it truly as they have stated it, a form of gambling. The entrepreneur takes their disposable income and/or that of investors (also gamblers) and forms capital. This capital is then placed into the market under some enterprise which they have reason to believe has favorable odds of a positive return. There are no guarantees ; it is all subject to chance. When there is a hedge in place behind every wager it is no longer gambling. It’s a form of cheating. When government authority can collude with corporate enterprise to their benefit it is no longer free trade. It also is a form of cheating.

There are some from within this camp who further qualify their position by stating “I don’t believe in just free trade. I believe in fair trade.” This is as close as the right will ever come in finding common ground with the left and their quest for equality and social justice. They both claim to be seeking what is “fair”, albeit for different audiences. And therein lies the peril of accepting the social justice argument on behalf of UBI. Fair is an abstract, not an absolute. It is not so clear cut as, say perhaps, darkness and light or hot and cold. It is not an objective term.  If one approaches the question of a UBI under these parameters there is a problem at the very outset: who is to decide what is fair? Equality and social justice are subjective human constructs. They are myths.

We have a symbol for justice, the blindfolded lady holding up the scales. This is to signify that justice is blind, that it plays no favorites and only makes judgement based in truth. It is a good way of illustrating what justice ought to be in it’s ideal, but it is still only a symbol providing a human form to what is in the end only a futile human aspiration. We do not render justice. We may try to, but justice as determined and administered by man is not blind. It is imperfect because it derives from the imperfection of man.  I do not mean to say that we should not strive to achieve justice. We simply must humble ourselves to accept that we are not so infallible as to truly reach the goal. When we strive for perfection we may at best reach excellence, but nothing more. Nature, or as some care to characterize it “God”, is the only blind arbiter. Nature makes no judgements and can favor no side. Nature simply acts/reacts to maintain balance. These are the true “scales” of justice. This is perhaps fitting. We refer to nature as “mother”; we refer to justice as a blind lady holding a set of scales.

Nature is not conscious. Nature randomly “selects” members of any species which carry those traits that are optimal in assuring a species’ survival within any environment as may exist at the time. As conditions may change a trait or set of traits will be in the ascendant or decline to adapt to those changes. Where this translates in humanity, in Social Darwinism, is that there will always be winners and losers in the lottery of human life. We may fool ourselves into believing that we are somehow clever enough to steer or alter this course, but the truth of the matter is that it has precious little to do with what we do or don’t do.

This may come across as being hard-hearted, but it’s just good science. I can provide a stellar example for all of you. We pat ourselves on the back for having learned so much about our bodies, how they work. As a species we have made revolutionary advances in or understanding and even manipulation of genetics. We have made enormous strides in medicine, curing diseases and preserving the lives of great numbers of human beings who absent these advances may not have survived. They would otherwise have been “culled from the herd”, their contribution to the human gene pool forever erased.  These were traits which Nature had determined, for whatever purpose, were undesirable. They were not to the long term benefit of the survival of our species. While we may delude ourselves into believing that we have somehow outsmarted Mother Nature with these advances, she will in fact still have her way. Not following me? Well it works like this. When we intervened in this process, contrary to nature’s selection, we have in effect watered down our own gene pool by permitting those inferior traits to remain and grow within the pool.  We have expanded our vulnerability to what nature had determined was a weakness, an undesirable trait. We may not see the effects in our lifetimes, but rest assured in her own way Mother Nature will have the last laugh.

We may try to impose our own order on our society and in many respects we may well succeed in doing so. There are, however, limitations to this. There are too many factors that are too random, simply beyond our capacity to control. Aside from the purely genetic science human beings are possessed of other traits. Social traits. These are determined by a personality type, upbringing, cultural heritage and the overall environment. These are those things which help to define our human rather than our animal nature. Included among these many traits are those who are possessed of a drive and those who are not. Those who will succeed and those who will fail. Those who will learn from their mistakes and those who will not. There will always be givers and there will always be takers. All of the clever and enlightened social engineering for all time will never alter these basic facts of the human condition.

I fear that I do not see a way that the UBI can or will be administered without trying to ignore these facts. The stated ideal is that this income be set at a universal mark and applied equally to all, regardless of talent or skill, vigor or lethargy. I clearly understand all of the mathematical calculations making the case for this versus whatever we may be doing now. They are indeed valid points and in the purely numerical sense these provide a sound footing in support of the concept, but for one minor shortcoming. They do not take into account the quantity of human nature.

This may be somewhat clumsy by way of an illustration, but please bear with me as it is the first practical example which comes to mind. Let us say that there is a restaurant chain that employs mostly younger, unskilled workers. All new employees start at the federally mandated minimum wage, with merit increases of $.30 per hour with every 6 months of service with acceptable performance. Troy, who works full time as a cook on the night closing crew, has been with the establishment for 30 months. He has earned a positive performance review with each six month interval and has had perfect attendance, thus entitling him to five merit increases in his hourly rate. When he began working the minimum wage was set at $7.25 per hour.  With his merit increases he is now earning $8.75 per hour. In 60 days a new minimum wage will take effect, raised to $10.00 per hour. So Troy also gets a raise to the new minimum, but subsequent new hires coming on board after the increase, with no experience and no record of performance, will earn the same as he.

Now maybe for Troy it’s not about the money. Maybe he’s just dedicated to his craft. Or maybe not. Maybe Troy sees some injustice in this and says to his boss, ” Hey Boss! If I have earned $1.50 in merit increases for my services then shouldn’t I be getting $11.50 per hour? Its not fair that I earned the increases with my hard work and these other yahoos just starting make the same as me.” Now by law the employer is not obliged to accommodate Troy’s request, but the young man does have a valid point nonetheless. Oh what to do now? Hmm….

My point in this illustration is that human nature being what it is and everyone trying to determine what is “fair” this would be only the first of many challenges in finding the UBI rate that is “fair”. An example of this unconditional grant was given stating that the unemployed elderly male would be provided exactly the same grant as the young female lawyer.  Who would it be to decide what that “fair and equal” grant was to be?  I understand that the concern might easily be countered with “everyone gets the same” when the young lawyer will cry foul. “Hey! That’s not fair, he gets the same as me! I worked hard, sacrificed a lot of my youth to obtain this law degree. And I have law school to pay for! Shouldn’t I get more?” That is just one example of what I am sure would be many. I can understand the rational argument that ” It’s just a basic minimum, Miss. Everyone gets it, even you, see? It’s not even means tested.” Where one is likely to encounter problems in addressing these concerns as they arise comes from the rather improbable assumption that everyone is able to think rationally where it comes to money. I dare say that there are too many among us whose every reaction is rooted in the emotional response, even the ability of rational thought being entirely absent.

There are legitimate answers to this type of objection being raised, but there will be the ongoing battle of having to keep people convinced of these explanations. And then of course there are all of the other questions that are raised.  How is this to be funded? If, for example, the funding would come (in the interest of fairness) from a universal tax to be paid by all into the UBI treasury how is it that it does not become a redistribution of wealth? If it were mandated that all pay the same amount and then even those who didn’t really “need” the grant would receive exactly the same then there will be this objection: What Joe Schmoe the plumber paid in was a significantly higher percentage of his income than the billionaire out in the Hamptons, yet the billionaire gets exactly the same grant? No matter what we may do there will always be those people who will be convinced that even though the rich paying more will do nothing to benefit them directly it is still necessary in the interest of “fairness”. So then in response to this objection the tax rate to fund the program would be set where all citizens pay the same as a percent of their income. In that case it ends up with essentially what we have now: the rich pay more dollar wise as a percent of their income, but the poor, though paying the very same rate, realize the greater benefit from the program. That is a de facto redistribution of wealth no matter what one may call it.

If UBI is an entitlement that is to be administered through the government we can be assured that it will be so far bastardized from what was originally drawn up as to be unrecognizable. It will be played as a bargaining chip for yet more government authority under the guise of “fairness”. Make book on it. The ideal might very well be for the UBI to supplant so many other redundant government programs and on it’s face that is a fine idea. The difficulty there is that one must place their trust in government to act in the better interests of the people than those of their own socio-political class. I believe you might say “Not bloody likely!”

UBI is, however, something which may have a chance at working, once the details are all sorted out. There is one crucial element that would need to be realized first: education. We would all need to radically alter our thinking about many things that have come to be accepted as the norm. There are surely more than I may list here, but as critical matters I believe there are three. These are, assigned no specific order of importance:

  1. The funding of education, in particular higher education
  2. Taxation
  3. Private property

On the first of these I would cite the earlier example of the young female attorney, or any of the “professional” disciplines. Law school, Med school, any post grad school is an expensive proposition. We should ask ourselves why. If we mean to achieve a basic threshold of sustenance to all citizens, regardless their station in life, their training, skills, etc. we should all be clear on our understanding of why, to what ultimate social benefit. There is the fairness/justice case which seems to steer us onto the thin ice. Then there is the “more cost efficient” case, which moves us back closer to terra firma. If monetary concerns are the measure of advantage/disadvantage in determining fairness and equality in an outcome, might we not also (or instead) apply this thinking in determining the fairness/equality of opportunity? Afford all citizens an equal opportunity in education irrespective of an ability to pay. The playing field is equalled, the only remaining determinant is what one does with that opportunity. The young attorney in this instance would not have an argument that she was entitled to the greater grant for her education debt. Conversely the tool and die maker would not have the argument that he is stuck in a tradesman’s career because he did not have the money to obtain a more esteemed degree.  We need to learn to be more careful when discussing opportunity that we do not equate it with results.

On the next matter of taxation never has there been any matter of public policy more worthy of a complete demolish and rebuild.  The world over taxation is misapplied and misused. The misapplication comes in the practice of taxing property and productivity. The misuse is in the exercise of taxation to alter or influence behaviors and to wield the power to tax as a punitive tool. In either instance these are, whatever their intent in theory, in their practice a tax upon productivity. Productivity builds wealth. It builds the wealth of individuals and nations alike. To put it in nautical terms productivity is the engine; wealth is the ship.  Why in heavens would you try to power the engine of a ship while dragging anchor? It just isn’t logical, is it? Yet this is what we do when taxing income, real property and family estates. It is government wielding a confiscatory club over its people. It removes capital from the market where it is more likely to do the most good. In the private sector it is necessary to produce results or close shop. The enterprise that continually loses money is doomed. Yet in government, where failure can be reliably expected the failure is rewarded with? Just throw more money at it. Tax it, print it, doesn’t matter. The well of the public treasury never runs dry.

Suggestions that we tweak the code, go to a flat tax, add a VAT, these are all just subterfuge. They are regurgitations of the last bowl of vomit they served us. All of the existing tax codes need to be rendered null and void. In the case of the US the only sensible approach is for the individual states to establish a sales tax at a rate they deem proper. This is not a tax on productivity; rather a tax on consumption. Take away congress’ ability to borrow and SHUT DOWN the Federal Reserve. For those duties specifically enumerated for the federal government in the constitution they will make due with revenues collected and not spending budgets formulated out of some fantasy realm. Individual states collect their revenues and the Federal government is granted a percentage of each state’s collection. No more; no less.

There is a further beauty in this plan in that it would stimulate economic growth at a rate unseen in over a century. This tax structure forces the states to compete with one another for commerce. If for example the State of New York wanted to continue to fund their own brand of fool’s paradise at the taxpayer’s expense they might determine that they would require a state sales tax of, let us say, 16%. If their population would sustain this level of taxation, were pleased with what they received for price of admission then everyone is happy, right? And this would contribute more dollars as their share to the federal treasury. While next door in Pennsylvania the Statehouse says ” we dont need 16%! We can do our job at a tax rate of 9%” People and businesses will figure out rather quickly that it is to their advantage to set up shop in Pennsylvania, rather than New York. The tax rate remains the same, but their revenues climb because of the increased economic activity.  Vermont sees this and decides that maybe they could reduce their rate too. Eventually New York has to either wise up and change their ways or watch their tax base continue to wither and their services go unfunded. The Federal Government is not going to bail them out in this case because? Well the Federal Government is now dependent on the states, not the other way around.

On the third and final of these points, private property, we again need to look and listen more closely at what is said versus what is done. By taxation, regulation, probate courts and the abuses of eminent domain private property rights have been steadily eroded. With a growing percentage of the population being “unlanded” it has become quite easy for governments at every level to trample upon private property rights with impunity and go largely unnoticed. Where the cries of protest have been raised governments have managed to squelch their volume through the combined forces of intimidation and appealing to the politics of envy before those who hold no vested interest in these fights.

If private property rights were respected and property owners left unmolested by government agencies many of the concerns that a UBI is touted to solve simply would not exist.  Real property left to be developed or preserved and appreciate as a free market would allow would help to insure the elderly remaining secure in their homes and that wealth could accumulate to the benefit of subsequent generations. The grotesque and obscene estate tax laws in the US have nearly extinguished the family farm. The best way to care for your people is not to care for them. It is to empower them to care for themselves.

These are three huge questions that will arise and will have to be properly addressed if a UBI ever has a prayer of happening here. Elsewhere in the world is anyone’s guess, I suppose. I can only speak for here.

Finally there are two other observations about the benefits to be gained from the establishment of a Universal Basic Income that I wish to close with.  To state that a UBI would aid in an increase of market efficiency and reduce the size of the state hovers on the periphery of a truth. Reducing the size of the state in itself  would carry us all light years in the direction of increasing market efficiencies. There were the further observations as to the social and cultural benefits to be realized by a UBI and it’s potential need as a response to the growing trend of automation.  I do see UBI as a potential positive in fostering artistic and cultural growth as well as a hedge against economic displacement resulting from technology. In mentioning these two things together I am, however, reminded how one in fact aided in the creation of another without the addition of basic income endowment.

A little over 11,000 years ago humans embarked upon one of the most life altering technologies in our history as a species. We had functioned primarily as hunter/gatherers roaming across the vast open tracts of lands on the planet up until this time. And then agriculture was developed, a true game changer. The development of the technology of agriculture allowed for the development of the static settlement; forerunners to cities, city-states and a growing human civilization. When fewer hands were required just to keep the people fed this freed up the development of other skills and talents: art, writing, food preservation, irrigation, further experimentation and tool building, just to name a few. And each of these lead to improvements in the standards of human existence and the creation of still more new arts and sciences. All of these were the positive benefits derived from an advance in technology.  Yes, it put a lot of hunters out of work for a while, but they did find other things to do with their time. And at this point in our history we were still some ways from the development of currency. I’ll grant you it hasn’t all been peachy since, we’ve had our share of troubles, but in the overall as a species we have fared at least reasonably well since.

Universal Basic Income is an intriguing idea, one which certainly is worth further exploration, but I would offer a final caveat.  It seems that we are always trying to solve our problems by doing something different. Perhaps we should realize that a good portion of our problems are of our own making and anything else are simply things that are beyond our ability to control. We are able, however, to control what we do. Perhaps our answers lie in doing less.


Earth spirals out of it’s orbit towards the sun! In a related story Tories lose majority…

In a nuclear blast those at the epicenter are blessed with an instantaneous vaporization; indeed a case of “They never knew what hit ’em!” The real and lasting danger is of course the fallout. If we are to begin with this as the analogy in discussing the state of British politics the blast was Brexit. Yesterday was the fallout.

Within the realm of political strategy Prime Minister May’s stated rationale for calling the early election may have made some sense, yet one had to have a sense of unease that perhaps this was an error of judgement. Political strategies are quite often cultivated within the petri dish known as conventional wisdom. What is just as often wanting from this formula is that, though long on convention, the more critical element of wisdom seems notably absent.

Today the headlines shriek of panic: Britain on edge! UK plunged into uncertainty! Hung Parliament! Well, those are headlines. It’s probably not really as bad as all that now, is it? These taglines are created by journalists, who in my experience seem to rank like politicians and lawyers somewhere between the earthworm and the slug on the evolutionary scale.  Britain has survived the Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Regicide, the Protectorate and yes even decades of Labour rule since 1945. This too shall pass.

There is the irresistible temptation on the left, indeed already manifest, to crow about the resurgence of Labour and the country coming to its senses to reject both the Conservatives and the results of the Brexit vote. I strongly suspect that this is nothing more than partisan hyperbole, the rejection of either or both coming from no more than those whose sentiments were already in Labour’s camp from the last round. I believe the more likely causes for yesterday’s results are similar to the Presidential election results of 2008 and 2012.

In 2008 there was a set of conditions which set the political stage, the most acute of those being the financial crisis. There was an effort to portray this as being the most crucial of causes. It was the rejection of the failure of capitalism. Remember the headline “We’re all socialists now”? This was a convenient oversimplification of the result with more of the causes deriving from prior events.

In 2000 a Republican administration was elected by the most narrow of margins, on the heels of what had arguably been eight years of Democrat rule under the affable and personally popular Bill Clinton. Regardless how this came about George W. Bush was going to be an unpopular figure in a decidedly biased media, all the more so entering the office under a cloud of controversy as he did. Bush won on the merits of two key factors. First was the utter ineptitude of the Democrat candidate, Al Gore. Were it not for his benefitting from being part of an administration which had presided over relatively bullish times in the economy the race would not even have been close. The second factor was an electorate which had frankly grown fatigued with the state of perpetual scandal that had marked the Clinton years.

Bush had promised much to his constituency, a conservative base, which he failed to deliver.  Bush had billed himself as a conservative but in governing proved to be anything but. As a product of Republican establishment he served with fealty only to the same. Goldman Sachs, in the person of Hank Paulson, still ruled the treasury. Though responsive to the 9/11 terror attacks Bush conducted the same incoherent and misdirected policy in the middle east that has been the hallmark of Republican and Democrat administrations alike for decades. At varying intervals during his eight years Bush enjoyed congressional majorities yet failed to adequately capitalize upon these to enact any truly meaningful agenda. Instead he and the congress provided yet another entitlement program, prescription care for seniors, an over reaching Department of Education in the form of the “No Child left behind Act”, and the abominations of the Patriot Act and the TSA. The latter of these two, like genital herpes, gifts that just keep giving.

Now it would have been one thing to have failed in accomplishing all of the stated agenda. Agendas are plans which most often will fall somewhere short of a full fruition, but this failure was compounded by an active participation and cooperation with an establishment whose least concern is for the benefit of anyone other than themselves. Like a cat scratching the litter over their freshly deposited feces Bush parted the stage with yet another abomination: TARP, or the bank bailout.

If one takes all of these and then adds financial and economic crises with another milksop establishment candidate in the form of John McCain all of the required ingredients are present for many voters to simply stay home. And that is exactly what they did.  In the millions. Fast forward to 2012. Republicans enjoyed remarkable success in the 2010 mid-terms, voted another Washington establishment figure to lead the House, John Boehner, and failed to exercise checks that were within their constitutional power against the Obama agenda. For their poor choice of candidates fielded in several Senate races they fell short of solidifying that check. And in 2012 the progressive establishment wing of the party again failed to deliver a candidate who could carry the day. Mitt Romney is a nice guy. Too nice. He might have been acceptable at another time, but he was not the right choice for that election.

So again in 2012 there were millions of voters who simply decided that with no better choices presented to them it was better to just sit another one out.  In both instances Obama did not win because of a sea change in the sentiments of the voters, in fact quite the contrary. He won because the opposition did not turn out in enough numbers, realizing that the alternative presented was just really more of the same. Different pocket, but the same pair of trousers.

In yesterday’s UK election the want of any party having attained a clear majority would seem to support the conclusion that the same has occurred. Both of the major parties only offered more of the same, failing to recognize that the Brexit vote was more than anything a rejection of the status quo. Add to this Prime Minister May’s less than inspiring response to a number of high profile terror attacks during the campaign is it any wonder that a good number of Britons decided to take a pass? I’ve not seen them yet, but I would hardly be surprised if the turn out numbers were to prove less than that of the Brexit vote.

In any event under the British Parliamentary system this sort of result yields a coalition government, which is hardly the worst that could have happened. Where many pundits may see an ambiguity in the result I disagree. I believe it states rather clearly that the British people are not pleased with the menu, a now recurring theme in western elections. Until the menu is remade I suspect that sales will remain flat in these establishments.