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People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Welcome to From On High.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Don't Try This At Home

This comes to us from the Tacoma News Tribune:

Booze and bullets a deadly mix for man playing with handgun

By Adam Lynn

A young man playing with a gun accidentally shot himself to death Friday, Pierce County sheriff’s deputies reported.

Gordon Alverton, 21, had been out drinking with two buddies when they returned to his Graham-area home about 1 a.m., sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.

Alverton grabbed one of two handguns in the house in the 21400 block of 89th Avenue Court East and began horsing around with it, Troyer said. At one point, he put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, Troyer said, but there was no cartridge in the chamber and the gun didn’t fire.

“At that point, his friends told him to knock it off,” Troyer said.

But Alverton put the barrel of the gun into his mouth a second time and pulled the trigger again. This time it fired, killing him, Troyer said.

“The thinking is he probably thought the gun was unloaded,” Troyer said. “It’s just a case of alcohol and guns being a bad mixture.” (link)

That last bit of wisdom is worth remembering.

A number of years ago I was standing with my wife and son in my yard when a neighbor (a generally good guy, except when he drank, which was all the time), who liked to pound down the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, opened up (on his property) with a large caliber handgun, sending hot lead flying in my direction.

I immediately got angry for his having endangered the lives of my family and I stormed up the hill toward him and several of his buddies. When I confronted him, he was startled to hear that I had a problem with his shooting at me. This was his response (I am not making this up):

"I wasn't shooting at you. I was shooting at that tree over there." He pointed at a tree that stood between him and my house.

I got even angrier. I shouted, "Look, ya dumbshit, my wife and son are down range from that tree. You could have killed them."

When he said, "I wasn't going to hit them; I was shooting the tree," I knew then that he was drunk. Again.

Now I've learned a few things in my life relating to do's and don'ts when confronting drunken redneck white boys. The biggest don't probably has to do with never making him mad if he's drunk AND holding a loaded cannon in his hand. But you know how it is when you let your temper get the best of you.

I doubt that he even heard me say, "Well, if you're such a good shot, (expletive deleted) why don't you get on the other side of the tree and shoot toward your house ... ya stupid (expletive deleted)?

Fortunately for me, the "conversation" ended with a good deal of name-calling. And I remember walking away thinking that that may not have been the smartest thing I'd ever done in my life.

But when a man's family is in danger, he has few alternatives. The sheriff's deputy didn't care for one of them. I told him, after he informed me that the drunken neighbor had - until my cold bloody carcass was found in my pasture - the right to shoot his weapon on his property, that I had artillery too and was willing to return fire if the neighbor ever shot at my wife or son again. The deputy informed me that I could get myself in big trouble if I did something like that.

It was at this point that I decided, rather than go through two confrontations in one day, I'd let it rest.

That is, until the next time Dirty Harry ...

As Goes GM, So Goes the Nation

When General Motors is not doing well, the nation feels the pain. And GM has never been in a worse predicament than it is in right now.

The cover story in this week's Business Week Online (by David Welch and Dan Beucke, with Kathleen Kerwin, Michael Arndt, Brian Hindo, Emily Thornton, and David Kiley, and Ian Rowley) entitled, "Why GM's Plan Won't Work," should give every shareholder the beejeebers. In it the authors lay out the many reasons for the company's impending catastrophe.

First, we read about General Motors' broad reach across the all spectra of the economy.

...GM, of course, is no ordinary company. With sales of $193 billion, it stands as an icon of fading American industrial might. Size and symbolism dictate that its fate has sweeping implications. After all, GM's payroll pumps $8.7 billion a year into its assembly workers' pockets. Directly or indirectly, it supports nearly 900,000 jobs -- everyone from auto-parts workers to advertising writers, car salespeople, and office-supply vendors. When GM shut down for 54 days during a 1998 labor action, it knocked a full percentage point off the U.S. economic growth rate that quarter. So what's bad for General Motors is still, undeniably, bad for America. (link)
Then we are deluged with the myriad of problems the company faces today - and in the future.
... make no mistake, GM is in a horrible bind. That $1.1 billion loss in the first quarter doesn't begin to tell the whole story. The carmaker is saddled with a $1,600-per-vehicle handicap in so-called legacy costs, mostly retiree health and pension benefits. Any day now, GM is likely to get slapped with a junk-bond rating. GM has lost a breathtaking 74% of its market value -- some $43 billion -- since spring of 2000, giving it a valuation of $15 billion. What really scares investors is that GM keeps losing ground in its core business of selling cars. Underinvestment has left it struggling to catch up in technology and design. Sales fell 5.2% on GM's home turf last quarter as Toyota Motor Corp. (TM ), Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY ), and other more nimble competitors ate GM's lunch. Last month, CEO G. Richard "Rick" Wagoner Jr. and his team gave up even guessing where they'll stand financially at the end of this year.

Worst of all, GM reached a watershed in its four-decade decline in market share. After losing two percentage points of share over the past year to log in at 25.6%, GM has reached the point at which it actually consumes more cash than it brings in making cars, for the first time since the early '90s. GM, once the world's premier auto maker, is now cash-flow-negative. That's a game changer. Without growth, GM's strategy of simply trying to keep its factories humming and squeaking by until its legacy costs start to diminish is no longer tenable. If market share continues to slip, its losses will rapidly balloon.

How bad could it get? BusinessWeek's analysis is that within five years GM must become a much smaller company, with fewer brands, fewer models, and reduced legacy costs. It's undeniable that getting to that point will require a drastically different course from the one [CEO G. Richard "Rick" Jr. ] Wagoner has laid out so far. He is going to have to force a radical restructuring on his workers and the rest of the entrenched GM system, or have it forced on him by outsiders or a bankruptcy court [my emphasis]. The only question is whether that reckoning comes in the next year, if models developed by Vice-Chairman Robert A. Lutz fall flat; in 2007, when the
union contract comes up for negotiation; or perhaps in five years, when GM may have burned through its substantial cash cushion.
Here's a list of the company's biggest problems.
  • Declining market share, even in its core business of selling cars.
  • Massive costs relating to retiree health and pension benefits.
  • Underinvestment has left it struggling to catch up in technology and design.
  • "GM has reached the point at which it actually consumes more cash than it brings in making cars, for the first time since the early '90s. GM, once the world's premier auto maker, is now cash-flow-negative."
  • "Because of its union agreements, the auto maker can't close plants or lay off workers without paying a stiff penalty, no matter how far its sales or profits fall."
  • "Even if it halts its assembly lines, GM must pay laid-off workers and foot their extraordinarily generous health-care and pension costs."
  • "The bedrock principle upon which GM was built -- offering a car to feed every market segment -- has degraded into a series of contrived brands, most with little identity, and bland, overlapping product lines."
  • "Too often, GM compromises on engineering so that its models can go into selected plants to keep up production volume."

In other words, General Motors is in heap big trouble. How much trouble?

Private-equity investors seem to believe that the company's global cost handicap will eventually force it into bankruptcy court to shed union and dealer obligations.

Bankruptcy would almost certainly follow a catastrophic failure in the marketplace, or a play by a private-equity investor seeking to break up the company.

So where will this end?

Breakup or bankruptcy are the ghosts of GM's future. They become much more substantial threats if current management can't deliver on its promised turnaround over the next couple of years -- or if the board doesn't find someone who has a better idea of how to deploy GM's $468 billion in assets.

What would a healthy GM look like? It might have five fewer assembly plants, building around 4 million vehicles a year in North America instead of 5.1 million. That would slash U.S. market share to around 20%, but factories would hum with real demand, stoked less by rebate giveaways and cheapo rental-car sales. Workers would have a cost-competitive health-care plan but would fall back on government unemployment benefits when hard times demanded layoffs. Profitable auto sales and finance operations would fuel a richer research budget, tightly focused on four or five divisions instead of eight.

This new GM might make two-thirds as many models: Chevrolet, perhaps its most recognized global brand, handling trucks and mass-market cars; Saturn, behind its cool new Euro styling, selling more expensive cars with design flair. A resurgent Cadillac would parade advanced technology and luxury. Hummer would only last as long as brawny SUVs are hip. GMC, which is very profitable these days, would stick around if Chevy couldn't satisfy America's yen for trucks. Pontiac, Buick, and Saab would follow Oldsmobile to the scrap heap.

Wow. Excellent article. One I wish I had never had to read. But one every investor had better come to terms with.

Family, The Anti-drug


Today's lesson: Want to teach your children right from wrong? Good from evil? Want to keep them away from drugs? To lead a good life? To stay out of prison? To raise a loving family of their own?

Don't turn to the Methodist church (see below).

Start early. Take 'em fishin'.

Pictured are Princess Jayla, Kaid, and Chase, being coached by my son, son-in law, and me. A family's bond being passed down from one generation to the next. And the next.

Rate of success? It's never failed.

Click on image to enlarge. Posted by Hello

Come Buy Our Pots

When I was young, one of the vacation excursions that seemed to be in the plans of all European-American adults was to travel out west. There they would stay in flea-infested hotels with broken air conditioning, take a picture of a cactus, pretend to enjoy the frijoles, and sweat profusely in the hot sun. And they would make the obligatory journey to Window Rock, Arizona to buy a genuine Navajo rug from an honest-to-God Navajo princess.

As a young and relatively stupid youth, the thought never crossed my mind that it might have been a good idea for one of the thousands of visitors who stopped by the dingy, dilapidated shack the princess was working out of to offer her valuable advice: Move to Phoenix. Get a decent job cleaning rooms at the Holiday Inn. They have a healthcare plan. And you can get away from this hellhole.

Fast-forward to 2005. No, wait. Step back in time to Southwest Virginia.

Here we are developing plans to lure elderly European-Americans with disposable income to come here to buy our pots. Beads. For all I know, genuine Navajo rugs.
Southwest Virginia sets sights on arts
Towns hope to draw artists to the area and in turn boost tourism
BY REX BOWMAN, Richmond Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

FLOYD -- Already making big strides in promoting eco-tourism and music-based tourism, communities in Southwest Virginia are now turning their sights on "heritage tourism," looking to find ways to bolster Appalachian craftspeople and their products.

Specifically, officials hope to emulate the success of North Carolina's HandMade in America, a coalition of artists, craftspeople and civic leaders that in the past decade has turned the making of hand-crafted products into a booming sector of the economy and lured tourists into the western part of the Tar Heel State.

In Virginia this month, a group called the Southwest Virginia Artisans Network formed to help craftspeople learn business and marketing skills and to showcase their works. The group, funded by $195,000 from the General Assembly, plans to pattern its approach after Virginia's Crooked Road -- a year-old 250-mile trail linking and promoting musical landmarks and venues from Clintwood to Floyd and Ferrum. The road immediately boosted tourism in Southwest Virginia, according to local tourism officials. (
link)
A lesson I learned in graduate school (and from the woman selling rugs in Window Rock) is that when you have nothing else going for you, try selling crap to tourists.
This week in Floyd County, already known for its vibrant arts and crafts community [as well as average annual income per wage earner of $17,023, average home values $45000 below the state average, and with 11.7% of the population living below the poverty line], local officials played host to HandMade in America's Craft Advisory Council, which brought craftspeople from Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia together at the Chateau Morrisette winery.
But did they spend any money in Floyd while they were there? Probably not. How could they? There aren't any real businesses there anymore. Unless you include the pottery shops run by the dope-smoking artsy craftsy ménage that have migrated there to sell their worthless trash to those seven unsuspecting tourists that pass through the area each day.
Participants discussed ways of encouraging the crafts as a tourism attraction and economic engine.
They also discussed ways of making genuine Navajo rugs out of the polyester / acrylic blended ones imported from Singapore that you can buy over at the Wal-Mart.

Look. If you enjoy sipping the latest fruit of the vine and listening to transplants from Buffalo strumming their mandolins, more power to you. Floyd County should be your vacation destination.

But for all the folks in Southwest Virginia who are seeking gainful employment, and a better future for their children, selling beads on the side of the road isn't going to work. They need employers who will pay a decent wage for a day's work. They need healthcare benefits for their family. And a dental plan, if I'm making a wishlist. Here's the problem:
The numerous Appalachian residents [sure they are] who sculpt, paint, turn pottery and make baskets, brooms, fiddles, quilts, leatherworks and sundry other products constitute an "invisible factory," helping to replace disappearing manufacturing and textile jobs, according to proponents of the crafts movement.
Making "baskets, brooms, fiddles, quilts, leatherworks and sundry other products" is going to replace manufacturing jobs.

We're doomed. For those who have stuck it out this long, call U-haul first thing Monday morning. I hear they're hiring up in Duluth.

For those of you who plan on sticking it out, do what I'm doing. I've gotten myself a wig from the Wal-Mart, bought some mocassins and this fashionable leather dress (that accentuates my fake bust) from a hippy over in Floyd County, and I'm learning to weave genuine Navajo rugs.

You can call me Princess Havpityonme, genuine Navajo native, from now on. I'm riding the wave to success, baby.

Do I Need To Spell It Out?

An appeals committee formed within the United Methodist church to review the decision of a church court that "defrocked" a lesbian minister for being a practicing lesbian has reversed that decision, saying the Methodist church had not defined the term, "practicing homosexual."

Defrocked U.S. Lesbian Minister Wins Her Appeal

By Jon Hurdle, Reuters


PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A lesbian Methodist minister defrocked last year after admitting to living with a woman won her appeal against the church's decision because it had not defined "practicing homosexual," the United Methodist Church said on Friday.

A statement on the church's Web site said a committee hearing the appeal by Elizabeth Stroud in Baltimore reversed the ecclesiastical court's December decision that stripped her of her credentials as a minister at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, Philadelphia.

She was allowed to have a lesser role in the church but could not perform ceremonies such as baptisms and weddings.

"An appeals committee has reversed a clergy court verdict in the case of Irene Elizabeth Stroud," the statement said.

In a 14-page decision, the committee reversed both the conviction and the penalty on the technical grounds that the church has not properly defined the term "practicing homosexual."

The committee also held that the church law under which the charges were brought was a new standard that had not been formally ratified by the church authorities and so could not be used to convict Stroud. (link)
I'm sure the thought of two women rolling around naked in the sack together, one a Methodist minister, was intriguing to the appeals committee as well. Who couldn't be attracted to that? If I were a Methodist and a member of the committee charged with maintaining good order - and clarity - within the church, I'd probably reverse the court's decision too. And invite Irene Elizabeth Stroud and her girlfriend over for an evening of drinks and porn.

"Come on in ladies. Light up a joint with us. Take those robes off and get comfortable. We were just about to begin a discussion of church orthodoxy in a sinful and decadent world."