July 26, 2017

Fifteen Years Ago

Fifteen years ago, a life-and-death drama was playing out in the Southwestern Pennsylvania coal fields. On Wednesday, July 24, 2002, nine coal miners were trapped in the Quecreek Mine when they broke through a wall that allowed massive amounts of water to flood the mine, barring their escape. Rescue efforts were begun immediately, although it could not be known whether the miners were alive or dead.

Coal miner
News of the accident and  attempted rescue was broadcast worldwide. Nowhere was the coverage more extensive than in Pittsburgh, the major market closest to the flooded mine. I spent several tense days checking often on the progress of the effort to reached the trapped miners. I went to bed hopeful on Saturday night and woke up Sunday morning to the news that all nine miners had been rescued and were, as they say, in good shape for the shape they were in. What could have been a tragic accident had a very happy ending.

The Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation will be celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the events in Somerset County over the next few days.

The anniversary also seems to be a good time to call attention to my poem about the accident and rescue, “The Quecreek Mine Disaster.” I was very moved by what happened fifteen years ago and sought to tell the story in verse. Here is a sample verse:
On Thursday afternoon, the big rig came
To drill a shaft a rescue cage could thread;
That job would take a half a day or more
To reach the barely living or the dead.
Rereading the poem, I think I did a fair job of conveying the anxiety and anticipation of those three days in 2002. See if you don’t agree.

July 9, 2017

A New Anti-Trump Button

Like so many peopele—a majority of voters, no doubt—I was distressed by Donald Trump’s winning the presidential election. I anticipated that his presidency would be a disaster for the country. Alas, I was mistaken. It promises to be an utter catastrophe.

Almost immediately, I thought of creating buttons with the slogan “Don’t blame me. I voted for her!” I waited several months to order buttons, however, and finally did so when I could stand our man-child president no longer.

I have decided to wear one of my buttons every day Trump is in office. I’ve received many comments on my button. No one has asked me for one, however, or tried to argue with the sentiment expressed thereon. Nevertheless, I persist.

The buttons shown in the photograph below are 2¼" in diameter. It isn’t clear whether I should have more made, but if you would like to purchase one or more, please send me e-mail from here. I am not seeking to make a profit, but I would like to cover as much of my cost as possible. If I lose money on this project, I will consider that it was done for a good cause.


Don’t Blame Me buttons

July 6, 2017

Trump on Trade

I am not in the habit of reacting to every asinine tweet made by our dumb-ass president, but I feel compelled to do so now. As President Trump left on Air Force One yesterday to meet with foreign leaders and confirm their worst fears about his ignorance and stupidity,  our Tweeter-in-Chief wrote the following:


Once again, Trump demonstrates that he knows nothing of trade, politics, or economics. Why should we expect our trading partners to “help” us, the most powerful and richest country on earth? It is not their job—and perhaps, not even in their interest—“to make America great.”

Trump has a naïve mercantilist view of trade—he likely doesn’t even know the word “mercantilism,” of course—and appears to believe that trade between nations is a zero-sum game. The U.S. can “win” only by making our trading partners lose. He wants a favorable balance of trade with every nation on earth. The president simply does not understand that trade can benefit everyone. This is fortuitous because our trading partners want to benefit their own countries as much as we do ours.

The world has changed. Instant communications, computers, automation, and ubiquitous international supply chains have created the world in which we live today. Those changes have also created new problems, complex problems that challenge a President of the United States. Unfortunately, the present office holder is a person of limited imagination. He cannot see new solutions to new problems; he can only imagine a “better” world as the world used to be. Moreover, just as he is a narcissist on a personal level—he seems genuinely to care only about himself—he is a kind of nationalist narcissist. Trump cares, at some level, about the U.S., but really has no empathy for the rest of the world unless it enhances his commercial empire’s bottom line.

Trade agreements are necessarily less than perfect, as interests other than purely economic ones invariably have to be taken into account. But free trade—or something very much like it—have made the world richer. Let us hope that Donald Trump doesn’t screw that up.

July 3, 2017

Independence Day Fashion

For many years, I have purchased a patriotic T-shirt to wear on the 4th of July. Many stores stock such shirts at very low prices as the 4th approaches. Often, the year appears on the shirts.

I went shopping today for a 2017 shirt. My job was harder than usual. Given the present political climate, I was unwilling to wear a shirt that touted freedom or liberty. Wearing such a shirt wouldn’t seem sincere, given that we are led by an autocrat who is interested only in freedom from taxes for the rich and the liberty to die or go bankrupt for lack of medical care for everyone else.

The shirt I finally bought is shown below. The flag is a bit flashy for my taste, but the legend “MADE IN AMERICA 2017” is relatively innocuous. And the shirt is, in fact, made in America.


4th of July shirt

June 13, 2017

KFC

I recently went to a nearby Pizza Hut/KFC restaurant. (Both chains belong to Yum! Brands, Inc.) I was interested in ordering a meal combo that included a spicy chicken sandwich, a combo I had seen advertised multiple times on television.

At my request, my waitress provided me with a menu. (She didn’t come to my table equipped with one.) The menu was long on Pizza Hut food but seemed light on KFC fare. What I had intended to order was nowhere to be found. I asked her about the advertised combo, but she knew nothing about it. (She was new on the job, she told me.) The waitress left to ask a manager about the combo, but the manager seemed not to know about it either. My waitress suggested that the sandwich I wanted to try was the Zinger Spicy Chicken Sandwich, which was on the menu, but not in a $5 combo.

Unable to order the combo, I ordered a two-piece chicken meal, which was mostly fine. Well, the meal was almost fine. KFC has always served tasty biscuits, and a biscuit came with my meal. Butter, however, did not. I asked for some and received a couple of the packets like this one:

KFC Buttery Spread packet
Buttery Spread packet (approximate size 3" x 1½")
I would have thought that an outfit that went to the trouble of using “11 herbs and spices” would at least serve real butter. I have no idea what I got in lieu of butter. The back of the packet was blank; the front of the packet gave little information about what was inside. All it declared was “KEEP REFRIGERATED” and “ARTIFICIALLY FLAVORED."

My visit to the Indiana, Pennsylvania, restaurant represented the second time I had been disappointed by its skeleton KFC menu. I once visited the restaurant in pursuit of a hot chicken sandwich. I had heard an NPR report on Nashville hot chicken, and I had seen a KFC advertisement for its own hot chicken sandwich. Alas, the Pizza Hut/KFC restaurant had no clue about the sandwich in question. On that occasion, I simply walked out.

Alas, one hand of Yum! Brands just doesn’t seem to know (or care) what the other hand is doing.

May 29, 2017

A Memorial Day Prayer

Memorial Day is most certainly an appropriate day of remembrance and gratitude for those who gave their lives for their country. But, it is all too easy to describe the sacrifices of our warriors as having been made to secure our freedom or to protect our way of life. In reality, some of those sacrifices were meaningless, either because they were the product of incompetent military leadership or because they resulted from wars that should never have been fought, that is, incompetent political leadership.

Earlier today, I read a prayer posted on Facebook that adopted a perfectly conventional attitude toward our war dead. We should, I think, both celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice—the usual subject of Memorial Day oratory—and meditate on whether their number should be as great as it is.

I don’t want to distinguish here between “good” and “bad” wars or between “good” and “bad” military encounters. Most of us could agree that at least some military deaths in some circumstances were meaningless and unnecessary.

Such thoughts led me to compose the following prayer. This surely should not be the prayer for Memorial Day, but perhaps it should be a prayer on our lips at some point on this day. My prayer:
Dear God, on this day we dedicate to the memory of those who died in defense of our country and its declared ideals, let us not forget the many whose death resulted from dreams of empire, hubris, or adventurism. Help us to comprehend and repent of errors that have needlessly cost lives, and give us the wisdom and humility to act, as a nation, with love and compassion, informed by the teachings of the Prince of Peace, in whose name we pray. Amen.

May 27, 2017

Smith-Miller

Some of my most treasured childhood toys were Smith-Miller trucks. These large-scale die-cast trucks were not museum-quality scale models, but they were realistic, fun to play with, and practically indestructible. I had four Smith-Miller trucks, all of which were purchased at a small, independent toy store that maintained a somewhat exotic stock. (I don’t recall seeing these toys at any other store.) My favor truck was a hook and ladder fire engine. (See the picture below, which is of an identical truck).


For some reason, I decided to look up Smith-Miller on the Web the other day. I was surprised that Wikipedia had no entry for it. However, I did find a corporate Web site for Smith-Miller, Inc. The site announces “Handmade Scale Toy Trucks in Miniature.”

I was happy to see that Smith-Miller trucks have not disappeared. The story of the company is not simple, however. I haven’t been able to learn much about the early history of Smith-Miller. It went out of business sometime in the 1950s, but it didn’t do it in the usual way. It simply stopped operating, leaving everything in the factory in place. A totally different company operated out of a portion of the toy company factory.

The subsequent history of Smith-Miller is recounted on the About Us/History page of the current company Web site. In 1979, a collector who had managed to track down the remains of the company in Los Angeles in search of parts arranged to buy what was left—lock, stock, and barrel—less the factory building itself. Eventually, that collector, Fred Thompson, sold off existing stock, including trucks that first had to be completed. The resurrected Smith-Miller then began producing trucks from new designs.

Not many kids will likely be finding shiny new Smith-Miller trucks under the Christmas tree. The trucks, which seem even better than the old ones, have an average price of about $1,000. (Currently available trucks can be found here.) It’s nice to know they’re out there though.