Thursday, November 24, 2005

On Thanksgiving Day

I once grabbed a plate of what was quite possibly turkey, but which certainly involved processed cranberry and pumpkin, in a U.S. Army position in the desert on the frontier of Iraq. It was the worst meal--by far the worst meal--I have ever eaten. But in all directions from the chow-hall, I could see Americans of every conceivable stripe and confession, cheerfully asserting their connection, in awful heat, with a fall of long ago. And this in a holiday that in no way could divide them. May this always be so, and may one give some modest thanks for it.

Christopher Hitchens, "The Turkey Has Landed," The Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2005 (link)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

An Assessment

You are probably all wondering what I think of Boston, having been here since Monday. Here's my observations: Boston is wet. And foggy. And now cold.

I was able to get out and see some tourist attractions yesterday. I sat next to a young man with a purple spiked mohawk and lip ring at Elliot's Deli at lunchtime. He looked like his blind mother dressed him in the morning and he was eating corned beef on rye as if he was in some contest to fit the largest portion of a sandwich in his mouth at one time. That was interesting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Welcome To Boston

I'm here in Boston for the next couple of days (then I'm heading home for Turkey Day). It 's such a beautiful city with magnificent and often radically unique downtown architecture.

And to think you can drive down the street and come upon the very harbor where the Boston Tea Party took place back in ... the old days.

Not that you necessarily wanted to see the harbor. City planners here make you go through the exercise anyway having turned the city streets into a complex maze of detours for those wanting to get on I-93 out of Logan International Airport. I've never followed a more convoluted maze in my life. I have a sneaking suspicion the road construction - and the massive traffic problem - are results of the infamous Big Dig - but I didn't stop to ask one of the seven thousand cops sitting in their cars staring at the rest of us sitting in our cars. After about an hour, I just wanted to conduct my own Boston Tea Party and heave my Hertz rental into the harbor in protest. Or road rage. Or middle age.

Anyway, if you're looking for a good time and want to see the sights, come to Boston.

But don't do it in the next fifteen years or you'll spend your entire &$#!*&! vacation stuck in traffic!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rules Of Engagement

I encourage all of you to email me your thoughts. You'll find a button (down and to the left) that, when you click it, will send you to my email address, all ready for your thoughts to be forwarded to me in a nanosecond. I truly appreciate your input.

Having said that, I'd like to make the following suggestion. Something I learned in my business dealings over the years is to step back and determine, before I write a single word, what it is I'm hoping to accomplish. At times, I've found praise to be a great eye-catcher and motivator - and it sometimes gets the attention of the correspondee in a favorable way. At other times, I'm terse. Just yesterday I sent an email to a subordinate who is behind on his weekly reporting (the corporate world, ugh) and, as it so happens, wrecked (in a relatively minor way) his company car last Monday. My email simply read:
Sir, your car is broken. Your fingers aren't. I need your reports for the last two weeks.
Hopefully I got his attention and he'll respond. The important thing to take from this is that it is the end-result that's important; not how I feel about myself after having bitchslapped someone.

Here's my suggestion: When you take the time to send me an email, don't start it out with "You don't know what you're talking about." I know it boosts your ego but it hardly influences any argument you may have intended to make.

I received such an email the other day. I'm not able to relay the substance of the email because I didn't read it in its entirety. The "you don't know what you're talking about" slam kinda ruined the moment.

Here's what I took away from what I did read: I recently wrote of the disheartening circumstances that West Virginians face in their efforts to stave off misfortune and the reader wanted to take me to task for my suggesting that government actions and environmentalism have wrecked the mining industry there, displaced families, and are depopulating the state. I resurrected the term used when referring to 19th century Scotland and the systematic depopulation that went on there - The Highlands Clearances.

It's unfortunate that the reader pissed me off right off the bat because he probably had a contribution to make on the subject. For all I know, he's an expert. But unlike him - he somehow knows what I don't know without knowing me - I haven't a clue what his background is. I'm not presumptuous enough to say, since he doesn't know me or what I do for a living, that he therefore doesn't know what he's talking about. And it would be unkind if I were to say such a thing.

Anyway, I remember the reader making this point (don't write me back if I misconstrue your argument, please): The reason the number of West Virginia's mines - as well as the number of its miners - has declined in recent decades has nothing to do with environmentalism; it has everything to do with the fact that the industry has moved away from underground mines in favor of surface mining (or mountaintop removal mining to use the pejorative term).

OK. I was less than congenial in my response to the reader so I owe it to him to take a moment and explore the possibilities.

First, I don't think it can be argued that either surface mining or underground mining are in growth mode in West Virginia (see statistics here and here). What the stats show is that underground mining continues to decline and that surface mining - which admittedly requires far fewer employees - is growing at a rate of less than 1% a year.

Here's something to ponder:

  • Crude oil is still trading at around $60 a barrel (trading yesterday at $55.81 on London's ICE Futures exchange).
  • There is a critical shortage of energy resources worldwide.
With these two factors in mind, why aren't the West Virginia coal fields erupting in activity?

Had the reader cited competitive factors relating to cheaper coal coming out of western U.S. fields, he'd have an argument. A good argument. But he implied, for some reason, that the decline in the number of West Virginia's miners had to do with surface mining, which, as I've shown above, is not a growth industry either.

And the inescapable fact remains: The world should be beckoning for West Virginia coal (and solar and wind and nuclear and petroleum and hydro) in order to alleviate the scarcity of energy we're experiencing - a problem that is going to accelerate in the future - but 97% of the state's reserves remain untouched. The state should be exploding with employment opportunities. But it's not.

Taking all this into account, then, I ask the question: Why are we willing to pay $55 for a barrel of oil but not willing to harvest grossly inexpensive coal from West Virginia mountains? To me, there is only one answer. Coal has its taboos. And its enemies. Enemies that champion themselves as fighting for the environment and against pollution, acid rain, rape of the land, blah, blah, blah.

If you're so inclined, please email me your thoughts on the subject. I'd like to know what you think. The free and open exchange of ideas is how I - and you - learn.

But please don't put a header on your email that reads, "You F***ing Moron." My wife reserves the right to use that epithet for her own purposes.

I Need To Get a Life

What does it say about a person when he thinks of five different business emails he needs to send out while showering? (Ed: I know it's a misleading sentence, and I was going to fix it, but I kinda like it). What I'm saying is: I was in the shower and came up with a list of business associates and employees with whom I needed to make contact. Those persons happen to be in Columbia, SC, Washington DC, Rochester, NY, Boston, MA, and Thomasville, PA.

I dried off, dressed, and went at it.

Am I the only person who does his best thinking in the shower? What's up with that?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

If Only It Weren't So

I received an email from someone yesterday questioning my veracity and suggesting that I exaggerate . In yesterdays' post, The Governor Has a Plan, I made the following statement:

We believe we can replace the thousands of jobs lost in the manufacturing sector with good paying jobs selling wieners to tourists.
My email buddy, in response, wrote this:

You have no proof that southwest Virginia has lost 'thousands of jobs.' Your (sic) just being hysterical. And a sore loser. Get over it you lost (sic).
Well. Let me make three points.

First, "your" illiterate. Go back to school.

Second, I didn't lose anything in the recent election. I'll do just fine regardless what damage Tim Kaine inflicts on the poor people of Southwest Virginia, beginning, it already appears, with a tax increase, a blow that will drive more people into poverty and, in raising the cost of doing business even higher, send more jobs overseas.

I will have to cut back though. You'll notice several charities featured off to the left of this weblog, each icon linking to a site where individuals can send donations for very worthy causes. I give to three of them every year - the American Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, and the Salvation Army. If my taxes go up, my donations may go down. I didn't lose but someone in great need will.

That seems to be the way your kind want it.

Third, I should caution everyone out there that I'm not the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Virginia Employment Commission - but I know who is - so let me just cite one source for my comment that we have lost not "thousands of jobs" but thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector alone. The article I cite appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2002 (sorry it's rather dated but the problem has only accelerated since then). I'll quote a small portion of it.

A Town Out of Work: Globalization Takes Toll on Industries
by Warren Vieth, Los Angeles Times

CHILHOWIE, Va. — People in this pocket of Appalachia aren't sure what it's like to work in a Mexican garment factory or an Asian furniture plant. But they know how it feels to be globalized.

For years, manufacturers flocked to Chilhowie and neighboring communities because of their abundant supply of loyal, low-cost workers.

Then, in a sudden turn, plants began shutting down and moving out. Since 1988, Smyth County has lost 10 big factories employing 2,075 workers. Five of the plants and 1,430 of the jobs were in little Chilhowie, population 1,827.

An entire town, in effect, had been traded away.
Smyth County alone has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs since 1988. Chilhowie has lost damn near more jobs than it has people.

Add to the losses in Smyth County the losses in Giles, Montgomery, Roanoke, Washington, Carroll, Tazewell, Wythe, Wise, Grayson, Buchanan, Lee, Dickenson, Russell, Pulaski, and Floyd County - add the losses sustained at Spring Ford Industries' knitting mill and Tultex and Buster Brown and Natalie Knitting Mills (all cited in the article) to those at Mack Truck and Ethan Allen and Renfro and Celanese and Johnson & Johnson and Lear and Dan River and American of Martinsville and Virginia Glove and Virginia House Furniture and Lea Industries and ArvinMeritor and Alcoa Wheels and VF Knitwear and Burlington Industries and Hooker Furniture and Stanley Furniture and Thomasville and Bassett Furniture Industries and Pulaski Furniture, and a picture of the devastation emerges.

So, dear reader, if you're looking for winners and losers in the recent election, pick up any local phone book down this way. Of those folks who haven't already left for greener pastures, many who remain are losing - losing to a shifting global economy, a business climate - particularly on the manufacturing and mining side - that is costly, AND to a state government that is completely out of touch with the people of Southwest Virginia and their problems.

Problems, by the way, that will not be solved by raising our taxes again, as your man in Richmond is about to do or by giving names to hiking trails, as your hero and the darling of the Democratic Party did.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Highlands Clearances

Beginning around 1760 and continuing for nearly a century, a civilization - a way of life that dated to pre-recorded times - was targeted for extermination and was systematically and ruthlessly destroyed. The effort became known as the Highlands Clearances. The civilization targeted and subsequently destroyed was made up of people known as Highlanders. Until the mid-1700's the Highlanders had led a rather feudal existence in what became known as Scotland. Theirs was a way of life that was made famous by Mel Gibson and the the movie, "Braveheart."

It was around 1760 that feudal landowners - mostly English aristocracy - started to realize that the rolling hills and valleys of Scotland were of great economic value and were perfectly suited for raising sheep. In large numbers. In the feudal system of the time, the Highlanders did not own the land they lived on and depended upon for subsistence. They paid tribute - a tax - to the laird and were, in turn, allowed to occupy the land their ancestors had maintained for hundreds of years.

As the value of wool continued to increase, so did the need for huge herds of sheep, and the feudal system of Scotland was ill-equipped to deal with them. The Highlanders' villages were in the way. So the lairds began to move the Highlanders off their lands and into villages and towns, particularly to the coast of Scotland. In some cases, the removal was brutal, the methods used were harsh.

The most notorious examples of this type of clearance took place on the Sutherland estates of the Stafford family. Nobody pursued the clearance policy with more vigour and cruel thoroughness than Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, and her name is still reviled in many homes with Highland connections across the world to this day. The Stafford family's ethos was that the people of the straths of Sutherland would be moved to the coast where they could engage in more profitable occupations. The land thus cleared would be turned over to sheep.

In 14 days in May 1814, 430 people were evicted and forced to move to Brora on the coast where they were to become fishermen. To force the people to move, the roofs of their houses were often pulled down and the roof trees set alight to stop rebuilding. (
By the 1850's the clearances had run their course. A civilization had been uprooted and forever erased from history. By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of Scots Highlanders were forceably removed from their lands and were relocated to cities like Edinburgh, or were put on ships bound for the new land - America.

Fast-forward to 2005. West Virginia's Highlands are being depopulated. Systematically. By outsiders. By America's aristocracy.

West Virginia is the only state in the Union to have lost population in the last census. There are fewer people living there now than lived there in 1950. (source) And the state's prospects for the future are bleak.

... the number of younger West Virginians has declined significantly, while the number of older residents has increased. The largest decline has occurred among [the state's] youngest residents; the number of children aged four and under has decreased by approximately 57%. Conversely, the population of West Virginians aged 75 and older has ballooned, with the number of men increasing by 115% and the number of women by 284%.
So where have West Virginia's young people gone?

They've been forced to leave the land and head north, to seek work. Where once the Highlanders of West Virginia could count on a respectable lifelong income working in the mines, those mines have, to a large degree, been shut down. In the last quarter century alone, the number of coal mines has decreased from 5,985 (in 1978) to 1,586 (in 2004). (source) With the reduction in the number of mines, came a reduction in workforce. In 1940, West Virginia mines employed 130,457 Highlanders. (source) The most recent statistic puts current employment at 14,810 (underground and surface mining combined). (source)

Why the decline? Because outsiders have better use for the land. Environmentalists want to be able to hike it. Take pictures of it. Write New York Times editorials about it:

And Now to 'Streamline' King Coal's Beheading of Appalachia

Six years ago, Jim Weekley, a watchful retiree in Appalachia, became angry enough to defend his seven-tenths-of-an-acre homestead in West Virginia's Pigeon Roost Hollow from a gargantuan mining process with a formidable name - mountaintop removal - that tells only half the truth.

The other half is the obliteration of countless streams, forests and hamlets lying below as mountaintops are systematically decapitated with dynamite to leave mesa-like
tabletops. (
Francis X. Clines, so you know, is from Brooklyn and has worked for the Times - in New York -since 1958. His affinity with the people of West Virginia extends to picking up a phone and talking to a disaffected citizen of Pigeon Roost Hollow 587 miles away and decrying his plight. Clines is a man who wouldn't be caught dead in Pigeon Roost Hollow, West Virginia but somehow feels the need to bond with Jim Weekley, a man about whom he knows nothing and of whom he couldn't care less. Clines wants to immerse himself in empathy and self-absorption; the Pigeon Roost Hollow villager puts him there.

His is the way of all liberals in America.

West Virginia is being systematically depopulated. The Highlanders there today - just as those in Scotland were in 1760 - are being removed from their ancestral lands. Families are being split apart and are being forced to move north.

But it doesn't matter. New York liberals don't care about the destruction of Highlands families and their way of life. It's just too bad if the people of Logan or Welch or Kimball - or Pigeon Roost Hollow - have to pack their bags and head north in order to find gainful employment. Francis X. Clines has better use for their land. He demands that West Virginia's streams and forests remain pristine. He might want to fly over the area one day on his way to Mardi Gras and will want to see the waters flowing and the trees growing. Then again, he might not.

Francis X. Clines and his cohorts in the environmental movement don't give a damn about the people of West Virginia. If he and they did, they'd be down here doing everything they could to preserve the Highlanders' way of life. Instead, they work to depopulate the state of West Virginia, with the twisted notion that somehow boulders positioned such as they are represent nature as it is intended to be.

So the people of West Virginia - our Highlanders - are being ever so slowly forced from their land. Outsiders - our aristocracy - our Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland - have decided the land is of greater value as wilderness. A playland. One big park.

The message to you Highlanders is clear: Leave now. Or learn to serve Big Macs to your lairds, er ... the tourists. Like Francis X. Clines.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Come Election Day

It's not just the arrogance. Although that's certainly a huge factor. There is this infuriating - and perverse - sense of overbearing pride and superiority that permeates the political class in the commonwealth of Virginia. At least as it relates to Southwest and Southside Virginia.

It's in knowing that, over the last few years, the area has suffered job losses at Mack Truck and Ethan Allen and Celanese and Johnson & Johnson and Lear and Dan River and Tultex and Spring Ford Industries and Buster Brown and Natalie Knitting Mills and American of Martinsville and Virginia Glove and Virginia House Furniture and Lea Industries and ArvinMeritor and Alcoa Wheels and VF Knitwear and Burlington Industries and Hooker Furniture and Stanley Furniture and Thomasville and Bassett Furniture Industries and Pulaski Furniture, and yet the Democratic candidate for Governor flits into the area long enough to spew some campaign pablum about
having created 15000 new jobs here in the last three years. And awe-struck people cheer.

Saying it makes it so apparently. What arrogance.

More than the arrogance, though, it's the condescension that disappoints. Vexes. Enrages.

I could write a thousand words about the problems that plague this part of Virginia, but, as they say, a picture would be worth more than all of them. The photograph to the right and above - behind the Kaine For Governor sign - is the remnant of someone's dreams. A ghostly shell of what-might-have-been but never will be. A textile plant here in Bland County, Virginia closed now, it would seem, for a number of years.

Weeds and grotesquely distended trees grow around the outside of the building where - not that many years ago - proud textile workers assembled to talk about family, join in a smoke, plan the hunting trip, brag about the kid attending Virginia Tech, before they entered the building to go to work making sportswear - shirts, slacks, sweaters - garments for America. The world. With pride. Enthusiasm. A look to the future. Hope.

It must have been a proud and joyous day for many when the factory opened and started production. If for no other reason than because this part of the state has seen nothing but hard times - since the beginning of time. Exemplified by the fact that right next to this shell of a factory is the Bland Ministry Center, where, if you're poverty-stricken as a woeful number of people around here are, you can obtain free dental work and a free haircut on occasion. Food. Food! In a few weeks Christmas presents for your children; Barbies and GI Joes, tricycles and model planes - slightly used in some cases - donated by the good folks of Bland and Wythe Counties. To the good people in need, including former employees of the now-abandoned factory, of Bland County.

It's the condescension that riles me. It's to be told that 15000 jobs have been created around here - somewhere - and I know I'll drive past the Bland Ministry Center in a few weeks and find a line of Americans - Virginians - stretched out the door, down the sidewalk, out along the highway waiting to get their handout. It's a rarity to see a new business come into Southwest Virginia while it is a common sight to see boarded up factories in Bristol and Bluefield, Tazewell and Galax, Marion and Wise, Gate City and Hillsville, Big Stone Gap and ... Bland.

Where are those 15000 new jobs?

I can live with the silly sign. "Sportsmen for Tim Kaine." I could go off on the fact that Kaine will be to sportsmen what Bill Clinton was to women's rights. But it's just one of those throw-away slogans - "Sportsmen for Tim Kaine," that isn't really intended to mean anything. Not really. I remember, after all, that Ted Bundy was a sportsman; he's the animal who stalked and murdered 28 women - for sport. So the word "sportsmen" can mean anything. In fact, I'm sure it means nothing. Some campaign worker's idea of strategizing.

But you'd think the Democratic Party would be ashamed. Ashamed for having failed the workers at the Bland Sportswear factory. For having failed the people of Southwest Virginia. As everyone knows, the Democratic Party has been in control of Southwest Virginia since before the Civil War. Since before there was a Bland County, Virginia. Today, we find ourselves with a Democrat for a state delegate, a Democrat for a state senator, and a Democrat for congressman. Noone around here can tell you the last time that was any different. Perhaps we'll even be able to complete the set by having a Democrat for governor - again.

Having been in charge all these many decades, you'd think they would have something to show for it. Bustling factories. A burgeoning economy. Growth. Opportunity.

Well, they do. The Democratic Party in Southwest Virginia has a decaying factory in Bland to show for it. In front of which they proudly post a sign championing their man. In front of a crumbling factory that goes along with a soon-to-be vacant Celanese factory over in Giles County. And a soon-to-be abandoned Lear plant over in Covington. To go along with the closed or soon to be shut down Mack Truck and Ethan Allen and Johnson & Johnson and Dan River and Tultex and Spring Ford Industries and Buster Brown and Natalie Knitting Mills and American of Martinsville and Virginia Glove and Virginia House Furniture and Lea Industries and ArvinMeritor and Alcoa Wheels and VF Knitwear and Burlington Industries and Hooker Furniture and Stanley Furniture and Thomasville and Bassett Furniture Industries and Pulaski Furniture plants.

We have a landscape of broken dreams and empty promises and the Democratic Party has the gall to hang a sign out in front of an abandoned factory as if nothing is wrong. Time to celebrate. Let's party with Tim Kaine. Four - More - Years.

What is the message? Vote for us and we'll continue to do for you what we've done for you these last 150 years. Ignore the crumbling building; read our campaign slogan. Heck, we've brought you 15000 jobs in the last three years. So shut up. You don't believe us? Drive over to the new Wal-Mart Super Center in Norton and you'll see. Sure, we hate Wal-Mart and everything it represents and would have prevented its opening had we been able to. But they're jobs just the same. So be good. Be happy. Smell the roses. Feel the love. Get with the program.

The one thing that angers me more than anything else about this brash condescension is the fact that the Democratic Party is sending a clear and unmistakeable signal: you folks in Scott County who have no drinking water - in the year 2005 - because the streams are grossly polluted with human and animal waste and are not fit for human consumption and we haven't bothered to get you potable water - in the 150 years we've been in charge - it ain't going to change. You folks in Chilhowie who have seen one furniture plant after another close their doors and move overseas, expect more of the same. IT IS NOT GOING TO CHANGE. You miserable souls over in Pocahontas who have seen your once-robust town decay and die as the coal mines shut down as the direct result of environmentalist Democratic legislative action, leave now. It'll get no better.

As we struggle with a devastating loss of good paying jobs in Southwest Virginia, the Democratic Party comes to us for votes. It's Tim Kaine this time around. Boucher before him. Oh, and then there's Benny Keister. We shouldn't forget him. Even though he is completely forgettable.

I'll give Kaine credit for one thing. At least he hasn't offended us with the plan put forth by every other Democrat who comes around here looking for votes, the cynical plan relating to bringing prosperity to Southwest Virginia through the promotion of tourism, the promotion of our rocks and trees as attractions for the affluent up in Manhattan to come down and encounter. The plan that has us all learning to make pots and sing ante-bellum hymns.

No, old Tim doesn't condescend in that way. He simply tells us that he and Mark Warner have created oodles of jobs in recent years and he will do more of the same if elected governor. 15000 in the last three years? Shoot, he'll create 30000 in the next four. 90000. 150000.

While I'm waiting for those jobs to appear, I'll be driving each day by the Bland Ministry Center. I may have trouble finding all those jobs that Tim has created but I'll have no difficulty finding those who are here looking for them. I'll be looking into their faces. Into their eyes. Eyes gazing not toward Tim Kaine or the Democratic Party. Not toward some politician who is down here for a day or two looking for their vote. Eyes fixed on the Bland Ministry Center. Where they hope to get food. Clothing.

And as I drive by the Bland Ministry Center each day, I'll also be looking upon that sign in front of the abandoned Bland Sportswear factory next door. "Sportsmen For Tim Kaine." "We'll do for you what we've been doing to you all these many years." "Count On It."

I'll not be voting for Tim Kaine next Tuesday. I'll be voting for his opponent. With a vengeance. If they'd let me, I'd vote against him twice. And I'll continue to vote against the Democratic Party as long as factories in Southwest Virginia continue to close, as long as Pocahontas continues to waste away, as long as there are people in Scott County who have to be fearful of their drinking water, as long as there are 9000 homes in southwest Virginia that do not have indoor plumbing, as long as Rick Boucher demands that we give up hope for the future and learn to dance and sing for the tourists, as long as there is a line of Virginians winding its way down the road outside the Bland Ministry in expectation of a helping hand, as long as I have to see people - in America - shoveling sweet potatoes off the parking lot and into sacks to take home and feed hungry children, as long as I see citizens of The Narrows packing their belongings in U-haul trucks and heading north for work, until I take my last breath, if it should come to that.

To the Democratic Party of Bland County, I have a request. Regardless whether Kaine wins or loses next Tuesday, leave that sign up over at the Bland Sportswear factory. It'll be a tribute to your candidate. To your party. Your governance. To what you've accomplished in Southwest Virginia. A monument for all time.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Mistake On The Lake

Work brings me to Cleveland, OH this evening. I've got an all-day meeting here tomorrow and then it's off on another adventure.

Those of you who have been around a while will remember back in the 70's how Cleveland had a horrible - and well-deserved - reputation and was known as "the mistake on the lake." It's also famous for having a river (the Cayahoga) run through the city that was - back then - so polluted that it (the river) caught fire.

But that was a long time ago. The city has been transformed, and has been for many years, one of my favorites. I'm going to take some people down to The Flats by the lake (Erie) later this evening for dinner and whatever trouble we can get into.

Wish you all were here. You could buy the first round.