Charitable Humor

I’m not sure if they do the same thing where you live, but around here there are several charities that send a truck about once a month or so to pick up any donated clothing, household goods, furniture, or anything else you might want to get rid of that is too good to just throw out.

They range from the Disabled Vets to Lupus Foundation and other organizations.  You usually get a call saying they’ll have a truck in the area, asked if you have anything, and if you do you just put it out by the front door.  Said truck swoops in on the appointed day and leaves you a receipt, and your goods are hopefully off to do somebody some good.

This morning while having coffee, I saw one of the charity trucks come roaring down my street, with the name of the organization in 5-foot high letters on the side of a box truck.  It pulls up in front of my neighbor’s house.

Seeing that there wasn’t anything in a bag or box on the front porch as per the usual arrangement, the driver gets out and knocks on the door.

My neighbor answers the door, looks at the truck and showing her usual level of with-it-ness, asks the driver:

“Are you here for the pickup?”

I realized then that I wouldn’t last long should I decide to become a non-profit donation driver.  My response would have been either:

A)  “No, actually, your neighbors have taken a look at things at your place, and we’re here to make a delivery.    I’ve got a whole truckload of old clothes, dinged-up furniture and unwanted wedding gifts – if you’ll just show us where you want them we’ll get unloading right away!”

B) “Why yes, and since you haven’t put anything on the porch to make it easy and quick for us, that activates what we call “Driver’s Choice”.  If you’ll give me and my partner here a few minutes we’ll walk through your house and grab some of your stuff that may be  useful to others.  Is that a plasma TV?”

Feel free to add your own!


Boots And Bouquets

Took a trip to the small burgh of Red Wing, Minnesota yesterday.  The two main reasons the place exists are the Red Wing Shoe Company (yes, somebody still makes SHOES here in the USA!) and Red Wing Pottery, going since 1865.

It’s a town that Frank Capra could have used as a backdrop for one of his small-town America feel-good movies.

Town Square, right from Central Casting

But like most picturesque small towns, as new big-box retailers kill the downtown area off, it has tried to survive on tourism and antiques, selling off the past piecemeal.

And for a while, it worked.  But as our New Economy takes its toll, people just don’t have the disposable income to buy that antique lamp or commemorative dish.  The tank of gas it takes to get here is better saved for the commute to the new job which pays less than the old one did.  If you have a job at all, that is.

With a name like this, I was hoping it was a bar - but it's just another gift shop

You really can’t keep a town alive on selling off the heirlooms or with gift shops selling Chinese crap you can buy anywhere, or musty smelling antique stores.  Yet most of the small Midwestern towns seem to keep trying to do that.

It takes real economic growth to keep things going, and that means making things.  The Red Wing boots made here are kind of a working-class icon.  I’m sure they could be made cheaper in China, but they keep hanging on, out of stubborn pride, I guess.  They are made to last.  You’ll spend a lot to get a pair, but not as much as the 3 pairs of foreign-made boots you’ll burn through before you wear out your Red Wings.

Plus, when you lace them up in the morning, you’ll know they were made by real people in a small town on the banks of the Mississippi, not Chinese or Vietnamese children.

The same way with the pottery.  You can go to the place it’s made and watch them turn it on a wheel.  No lead or toxic materials in it.

Other companies and products could be made in places like this, and these little places could come back to life.  But they don’t generate enough profit for shareholders and Wall Street.

We can rail all we want about the demise of small manufacturing, but as long as people want those double-digit returns in their 401(k) pension plans and mutual funds, they’re just giving US companies permission to race to the bottom of the cheap labor pool.

People used to be happy making a living.  Now we are only satisfied if we are making a killing.

And killing places and opportunities is just what we’re doing.

Freshly (De)Pressed

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems a mild depression overcomes me whenever I peruse the “Freshly Pressed” pages on WordPress.

Everybody is not only younger, but seems to be traveling to exciting places, some of which I’d have no desire to go to even if I had known about them.  Most seem to be excellent photographers.

Many seem to be excellent cooks, and post pictures of their creations that make my mouth water.  Anything I made that looked that good would generally be eaten before I had time to reach for a camera.  After all, that’s what you made it for.

The pictures of their cute kids in adorable poses even makes me nervous about reproduction.  I’d have to marry Miss Universe to get a shot at having kids that look that good.

Then there is a level of literary and cinematic criticism that would make the New York Times Arts and Leisure section look like the local Pennysaver classified-ads rag.  I can barely remember the last movie I saw, and some of these folks seem to remember everything they’ve ever seen, complete with dialogue and cinematography.

It reminds me of the television shows and advertisements of days gone by.  Even though the people in them were supposed to be “average”, their lives were nothing like my own.  Their lives never seemed to have any normal routine, nobody went to work, or if they did, they never seemed to be fatigued by it like the people I knew.

Of course these shows (and the commercials that sponsored them) were based in magical places like Los Angeles and New York, while my day to day existence in a dingy mill town in Wisconsin just never seemed to have the pizazz of TV-land.

I suspect the blogosphere is the same way.  People tend to want to present the sanitized version of themselves, the one that is scrubbed up and wearing their good shoes.

But I kind of like the “real”, which is hard to find.  The people who tell about their failures, the amiably pissed-off, those who reveal something of their real lives beyond just the mundane.

I’d rather read about somebody’s struggles and triumphs in the everyday world than about someone’s backpacking trip to Thailand.  The former is a unique trip, while the latter is usually just a hipster doing what the other hipsters do.

Everybody has a story to tell, why do so many people want to tell the same one?


Advice Of A “General” Nature

I recently read a letter that General George S. Patton wrote to his son, who was then at West Point.  It was written on June 6, 1944 – D-Day.  It contains some insight into things that are applicable to all of us, regardless of what kind of battles we fight.

You can read it and get some background here.  In the interest of brevity, I’ll just mention what ideas I took away from it.

1.  In order to be successful, you have to be “wired” for what you do.  Even though Patton had been through battles in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, and the fiercest fighting in France was ahead, he was ready to go. Others who did not relish battle as much probably couldn’t have been as successful.

Although he acknowledges fear, it doesn’t stop him from moving forward.  The phrase “feel the fear and do it anyway” could have originated here.

2.  He knew himself, and that he wasn’t going to win any popularity contests.  You can’t really elaborate on his statement “people who are not themselves are nobody”.

3. There really is no substitute for unflappable self-confidence. This is probably exaggerated in Patton’s case, but is probably what is necessary if you are ordering soldiers into combat based on your decisions and judgement.  To be unsure of yourself in such a situation would not be something most people could live with.

But this self-confidence has to be based on objective reality, not some inflated self-helpy “esteem” issues.  Patton had won battles before, and had no doubt his “military reactions” were correct and would continue to enable him to win in the future.  Life pays out on results, not intentions.

It’s an interesting glimpse into a mindset that was of a very different time and place.  Today’s generals talk of “nation-building” and diplomatic goals.  We seem to think war can be reduced to numerical analyses and run in the most efficient method possible, like running a production line.  And we see where that has gotten us.

But each of us fights their own battles – economic, spiritual, or emotional.  And I think Patton’s advice could go a long way toward helping us win those.

Don’t be afraid to fight for what YOU want, and know you can win.

Read It And Smile

Those of us who enjoy writing and communication are frequently disturbed by the fact that everyone with a pulse pretty much thinks they can do a better job than we can.  Especially if you are attempting to write for money.

People look at an artist’s work and say “I could never do that, I can’t draw”.   Or eat a good meal and say “Gee, I wish I could cook like that”.  They wouldn’t assume that they could do a similar job right out of the gate.

But EVERYONE seems to think “I tell ya, I could write a book about it”.  Or “I could have written a better (fill in the blank)”.

Because it’s something we are heavily schooled in, and do every day, we seem to assume expertise.  Even when we don’t do that for other subjects that we are exposed to all our academic lives.  People can’t calculate how much to tip because “I was never good at math”.

But just today – almost back to back – I ran into a few examples of people who might want to run an editorial eye over what they’ve put down and committed to the Internet:

From a blog post, by a “venture capitalist”:

On the surface, incubators and accelerators seem like a low cost way for VCs and government support organizations to cluster entrepreneurs and determine the top-notch talent out the accepted cohort. The opportunity to investing in real estate and services that enable companies where the winners are chosen by the merits of the businesses being built.”

What?  the top-notch talent out the accepted cohort?  the opportunity to investing?

A headline from a local small-town newspaper about a new development called UMore.

UMore projects and where their at”

“In coming month residents may notice some activity out on the property”.

You don’t have to look very far to see examples far worse than this.  The news crawlers on TV stations are full of them.  Online newspapers have headlines that would make a competent fifth-grader cringe.

We all make spelling and simple grammatical mistakes.  But the lack of proofreading and editing is really obvious, and the sad part is it makes me discount the point of what the person says.  If my newspaper can’t even tell the difference between “their” and “they’re” what else are they missing?

But when I see instances like this I have to admit a smug feeling comes over me.  I guess because it proves that it isn’t so easy, and that there will always be a need for those who take it seriously and at least try to develop some skill at it.

Perhaps it’s the result of non-native speakers, or software that combs and combines things into articles, like content generators.  Or the explosion of texting and the horrors of that level of abbreviation.

But whatever the reason, if our message is important, we want it delivered in the best way possible.  And we don’t see an overabundance of that.

Regardless of the technology, it’s the “payload” that matters.  And from goose quill pen to Word 2012 that payload is the word.

So when you see an example of poor writing, it’s just a reminder that there’s always room at the top.

PS:  I’ve read this over a few times, but can’t help the sneaking suspicion that I’ve probably made a mistake in spelling or grammar somewhere.  Please take any such errors as proof of the continuing need for editing services, thereby validating the point of this post.



And Jumping Into The Future

The last few posts have highlighted the past, now I’d like to think about a glimpse of the future.  It was inspired by this article in the Hollywood Reporter.

This “Crowd-funding” approach shows how the convergence of several things might meld together in a radically new way that will usher in a new era for artists and creative people.

Even today, with all the disruptive technologies of the last few years, the majority of moviegoers live in a world not markedly different from the heyday of the studios in the 1930’s.  Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, or Michael Bay put out a product made to appeal to a mass audience.

Being made for the masses, it gets watered down to appeal to the least common denominator.  What gets made and how it happens is based on the guesses of a few people who may or may not be competent to make these kinds of decisions.

I see this new approach as a way for the audience to let artists know what they want.  Kind of like patrons of the Renaissance commissioning Michelangelo, but on a micro-scale and available through Paypal.

Suppose I, along with others, am a fan of a particular thing – it could be a historical event, a book, anything that develops a fan base.  And you don’t have to search long to find that there is an ardent fan base of just about EVERYTHING.

Let’s do some math.  Say there are 1 million of us around the world that are rabid fans of Property X.  Probably not enough in any one country or market to justify doing much, on a mass-market basis.  And out of 2 billion or so people with Internet access, 1 million isn’t that outrageous a percentage.

But suppose the one million strong of us chip in 10 bucks each – what we’d conservatively spend at a theater.  That means some filmmaker now has 10,000,000 bucks to shoot a film with, which I tend to believe still buys you a lot of talent once we get out of the Hollywood studio system.  “The Kings Speech” only ran about 15 million to make, so you can still buy some talent for that kind of money, given the right property.

And once it’s completed, we get to download it and own it.  Maybe we restrict it to just those who kicked in, maybe we release it to see if there’s a larger audience.

The point being, you haven’t just eliminated the middle man, you have eliminated armies of middle men.  This micro-commissioning approach, like any piece of commissioned art, gives the patrons what they want, and delivers a ready-made audience to the artist.

File-sharing systems, payment processors, data-farms, and the decreasing cost of production are all coming together to enable things like this.  It’s really just another way of buying a share in something, without all the hassle.

I love to see this type of disintermediation happen, because it more directly connects people.  I also like the idea of getting rid of people who add no value to the chain as well, and let’s face it, that is what most of the “old” economy was based on.

Most of our economic news is pretty bleak, these days, so it’s encouraging to think about new ways of doing old things.  Perhaps a New Renaissance is just around the corner!



The Travelogue Continues…..

Thought I’d continue on with telling you more than you ever wanted to know about Minneapolis!

The white span you see in the distance  is the “new” 35W bridge spanning the Mississippi.  4 years ago, it looked like this.  It collapsed during the evening rush hour on August 1, 2007, killing 13 people.  And becoming a poster child for America’s decaying infrastructure.  This one will hopefully be around a while.

As mentioned in the previous post, this used to be where it all happened, industry-wise, in Minneapolis.  From a historical marker, here is what the area looked like during it’s heyday.

Back in the day- a hub of activity

The curving railroad bridge in the center of the picture is the one I’m standing on.  It hasn’t collapsed yet, and probably never will.

It is kind of fun to poke around this old industrial archaeology.  It puts our own times in perspective, when you realize how many people spent their lives and careers working in these places, day by day, year after year, just like we do.  And a reminder that time claims us all, eventually.

Someday everything we do in our various glass-walled office buildings or however else we spend our days will just be a depression in the ground somewhere, or a remnant of a wall, and probably not as substantial as this stuff.

Pretty quiet now

The above is Main St. today…not exactly the hub of activity it used to be.  Pillsbury still occupies the buildings to the right with their offices and research center, so I like to think of it as where this little guy goes to work everyday….

Even Doughboys gotta make a livin'