Friday, December 09, 2016

Pretty Packages

It’s the Christmas season and that means lots of pretty packages to wrap.  This is the first package to go under the tree at Sassafras House.

That’s happy!

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Front Porch in December

It was the month of December that got me started on projects to decorate the front porch.  I enjoyed it so much that I made it a point to make the porch just as welcoming the other eleven months of the year.   But December started it all and this month’s decorations always make me smile.

I leave a light strand on the front porch for most of the year.  It’s plugged into a light-sensitive timer so that when the sun sets, the lights come on.  On a practical level, it ensures that the porch is lit when we come home in the darkness.  For this December, the lights are old-fashioned Christmas lights, the sort I remember from my youth.  T has warned me that the “Let it Snow” flag courts trouble, but a little snow in December is a good thing.

The table is cheerful with greenery and the sorts of seasonal primitives that I especially enjoy.

Elsewhere on the porch there are happy reminders of the holiday season.   Greenery, packages, and red ribbons always make me smile.

The Parent’s Association at school sells wreaths as a fundraiser and the smell of evergreen greets us when we come home and open the door.  That’s one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season.

December always finds me aware of the shortening of daylight hours.  Candles, twinkling lights, and the traditions of the season are my remedy for the darkness; beacons of the cozy comforts of home. That’s happy!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Real Life Texts with JT: Annoyance is Universal edition

The backstory:  JT has been studying Spanish since he was in the Lower School but he’s never quite taken to the language, having inherited his mama’s poor foreign language skills.  He studied for a test on Sunday night as I made a last-minute emergency run to Target in search of Christmas lights, having discovered that mine had died.

Me:  Long line at Target. I am triggered.  note” triggered is JT’s favorite word when he is annoyed.

JT:   Still better than studying Spanish?

Me: Si.

La manzana didn’t fall far from the tree.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Corporatism and the Cheetoh Kleptocrat: Why the Carrier “Deal” is a Problem

Please Note: For obvious reasons, including my complete lack of respect for him, I have taken to calling president-elect Donald J. Trump the Cheetoh Kleptocrat (CK for short).  

The Cheetoh Kleptocrat’s promise to “make America great again” hinges on CK’s claim that he will both retain and renew manufacturing jobs in the United States.  Later this month, I’ll write about free markets and economic development, so we’ll hold off on CK’s claim that he will bring more manufacturing jobs to the economy.  Spoiler alert: it’s bullshit.

For today, let’s explore the ways in which government (also known as the state) can help to maintain manufacturing.  This is a timely topic in light of CK’s bragging that he made sure the Carrier Corporation kept 1000 jobs in Indiana.  I’m thinking about the deal and the whole premise of government and manufacturing cooperation.  In the world of political economy this is called corporatism, and it’s fascinating.

Warning: political discussion to follow.  You may wish to close up the browser and call it a day.  My feelings won’t be hurt.

Corporatism is the word political economy scholars use to describe an economic circumstance in which the state is involved with private industry, typically in a cooperative fashion with shared benefits for workers, the state, and private industry. It not particularly common in the United States, though it did sort-of happen under FDR in WWII (think of the Detroit automobile production conversion to war material).  In the modern context, it’s more than the National Labor Relations Board managing a contract dispute between labor and industry, though it’s related.  Corporatism is an enmeshing of private industry, the free market, and the state.  In the contemporary western political world (and that should be our comparison, the U.S. is a representative democracy), corporatism is most often a tool of Social Democratic states —— think Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, even Germany at various points in the post-war order.  It can be an enormously successful method of responsible economic management to ensure economic growth combined with support for the needs of labor in a capitalist, free market economy.

It can also be a tool of authoritarian power.  Corporatism was integral to Hitler’s Germany and to fascist Italy.  So the story here isn’t all cheerful and those facts make for a cautionary tale.

Traditionally, a corporatism model isn’t about one company in one place (the Carrier deal) but about support for an entire industry —— say automobile manufacturing.  Corporatism recognizes the free market need for profits, the labor market need for decent wages and good working conditions, and the government’s need for reasonable tax revenues.  It is always about shared benefits for all the parties.

In the United States, the auto-bailout of 2009 is an example of American-style corporatism, which tends to be modeled in a limited style, as was the auto bailout.  As a temporary solution to an immediate crisis,  it was a success.  The auto industry got some cash via government-sponsored loans, workers retained their decent-wage jobs, and the industry survived, prospered, and paid back the state.  But it was temporary by design.  Historically, the United States does not engage in corporatist policies.

That’s a shame: there is room for the government to work with industry and labor to structure economic incentives that benefit all three.  The corporatist model fundamentally seeks to preserve free market capitalism.  It creates a kinder, gentler, capitalism, with special focus on labor and wage standards.  It doesn’t shout about punishment for private corporations who export production in order to get lower labor costs.  Rather, it bypasses the private company motivation to do this by structuring incentives for corporations and labor to work cooperatively together within the domestic market.

That doesn’t mean that jobs don’t leave.  Low skill jobs are always at risk for export to nations where labor and production costs are lower.  That is a persistent effect of free market economies that cannot be erased.  Indeed, this sort of competition for labor and goods is exactly what is required for free market success.  But corporatist policies can seek to maintain manufacturing and industries within the framework of an advanced and developed economy.  That’s a good thing.

CK’s actions in Indiana were not about corporatism.   His announcement that he will  bully manufacturing employers into retaining jobs on a case-by-case basis (in the model of the Carrier deal) is not a developed and systematic plan to develop and maintain manufacturing jobs.   Carrier got $7 million dollars worth of tax breaks (and possibly more, the deal isn’t transparent) to retain 1000 jobs.  That’s an insanely good bargain for Carrier and an incentive for every manufacturer in the nation to threaten to take its jobs elsewhere.  It is a gross defiance of free market capitalism that incentivizes bad corporate behavior (what economists call a moral hazard).  

I’m not always a fan of capitalism, but its relationship to successful, stable, and thriving democracy is undeniable.  Capitalism can be made kinder, gentler, and more effective by thoughtful government-labor-industry partnerships.  Indeed, that should be our goal.  Something tells me that the CK is not the man for that job.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

December 1: In the Backyard Neighborhood

My project to post pictures of this corner of my backyard began on January 1, 2016.  In the last 11 months, the backyard corner has come full circle.  December finds my peach tree a bit taller.  The hosta patch is ready for some rest.  My clematis vine has gone on Winter holiday.

This yard is my daily view and in all seasons it is a source of great pleasure for me.  Its changes and growth reflect the changes in my own world.  It is a daily reminder that with patience and cultivation, beautiful things may grow.

We’re headed into the dormant Winter season.  Years of gardening have shown me that even amidst the quiet of Winter, there is progress and change in the garden.  That reminder is a lesson itself.

There will be a new first of the month garden project for 2017 and it too will be a reminder of the power of the natural world in my life.  That’s happy!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November Book Report: America’s First Daughter

I began reading this America’s First Daughter at the start of November, as our own electoral madness came to its unhappy conclusion.  Written by two historians, Laura Kamoie and Stephanie Dray, the novel is the story of Patsy Jefferson Randolph, the oldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson.  Crafted from letters and the very well-known history of Thomas Jefferson, this story brings Patsy to life.  Patsy lived a long and rich life and her father was at the center of it all.  A brilliant woman born into a world that valued women mostly as mothers and ornaments, she carved an important life for herself.

No story of Jefferson is complete without delving into the enmity between the Jeffersonians and the Federalists.  The story of their conflict was  a reminder that our republic has never been one to hold only thoughtful political discussions.  We’ve withstood bitter name-calling and irrational arguments before, albeit without 24 hour cable news and Twitter, two features of modern political life that don’t seem to be helping us.

Patsy’s journey in life took her from Virginia society to Philadelphia and then London in Paris.  In Paris, she received an education and was witness to her father’s politics and the start of the French Revolution.  She returned to Virginia as a young woman and married into a prominent local family.  Even then, she mostly lived in her father’s world, serving as the mistress of Monticello and as the first lady during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.

Patsy saw many important events in our nation’s history and the novel tells them from her point of view.  An educated and intelligent women at a time when women were confined to the world of home, Patsy understood the way in which women were limited in the 18th century.  I started the novel expecting to be reading it in the triumphant moment when I saw the first woman elected to my nation’s highest office.  I finished it aware that there remains a double standard for women in the 21st century.  That modern life is not as restrictive as Patsy’s world is notable, of course, but little comfort.

Monday, November 28, 2016

In the Thick of It

My life is lived according to the school calendar.  On that calendar, the weeks between Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays are the most chaotically busy.  Because I am with children every day, as the December days pass, there is also energy generated by their excitement.  Holidays and two weeks off from school are at hand and the students can hardly wait.

The five days off for Thanksgiving were a breather that permitted me some time to relax and refresh for the coming juggernaut. And make no mistake: it is a juggernaut.  The next three weeks will feature a 7th grade field trip; extra evening events (7 over the next three weeks); wrestling practice (which never ends before 5:30 pm); and the schoolwork which signals the end of the first trimester.  All of it happens as the minutes of sunlight in the day steadily shrink.

It can be daunting.  For me, the remedy lies in the fact that it is December: the twinkling lights, the cheery Christmas decorations, the pretty packages, and the the traditions of the season delight me.  They are a calming balm in the chaos of the month.  That’s happy!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bad, Bad Santa

During my second or third Christmas as a single Mama, I was at home on a Saturday evening in December while JT was with his other mother.  By then, I had settled into routine for these weekends on my own, though I still felt bruised and was careful to avoid situations and circumstances which might trigger sadness.

On this evening, as the Christmas lights twinkled, I was putting together a Playmobil set that Santa would give JT.  I turned on the TV for companionship and settled on a movie entitled Bad Santa.  Just a few minutes into the film,  I knew it was not for me, at least not that year, while I was struggling mightily to keep living in hope.  I changed the channel but made a mental note that Bad Santa might amuse me if I had a different mindset.

Years later, and in a different mindset all together, T and I watched Bad Santa.  It’s crude and mean.  It’s also ridiculously funny.  It’s become a holiday tradition for T and I; not one that I am particularly proud of, mind you, but a tradition nonetheless.  This year, there is a Bad Santa 2 in the theaters.  And now you know where we went on Black Friday.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Front Porch in November

Each month, I decorate the front porch to celebrate the month.  It is one of my favorite things to do and contemplating the months to come keeps me busy at craft and vintage shops, where I look around with an eye toward items for the porch.  There’s a section in my basement devoted to my collection of tablecloths, flags, and items for the porch.  Over the years, I’ve acquired enough things to have variety each year.

Come November, the jack-o-lantern tablecloth is replaced by a fall cloth.  Halloween pumpkins and mums become Thanksgiving pumpkins and mums.  

There is a flag to welcome the changing season..

And a wreath that my mom helped me make.

When we come home in the evening, the porch is welcoming and cheerful.  That’s happy!

Friday, November 25, 2016

12 Months of Miss Read: November

The backstory: At the start of 2016, I pulled out my very favorite Miss Read book, Village Centenary.  The novel is structured in months and each chapter explores a month in the year of a village school that is celebrating its 100th anniversary.  This year, my own school is celebrating its 250th anniversary and as we think of our past and look to our future, I thought that Miss Read would make a lovely companion for me.  For each month of 2016, I plan to read Miss Read’s reflection on the month.

Miss Read is a pseudonym for Dora Jessie Saint, an English author who wrote between 1955 and 1996.  Her novels were tales of every day life in small English towns.  Village Centenary is set in Fair Acre, an imaginary Cotswold community.  As is the case in nearly all of the Fair Acre novels, the novel is written in the first person and it is through our narrator, school teacher Miss Read, that the story unfolds.

Miss Read in November
Miss Read’s November sees the arrival of cooler fall weather.  Her month is filled with planning for her school’s 100th celebration, a December tea party following the performance of historical vignettes by her students.  Her mind is also on her school’s future.  As my school prepares to close out celebrations of our 250th year, the idea of the future has hold of me as well.  This shared fascination with the passage of time joins Miss Read and I together.

In at least one respect, as the mama of a 16 year old high school junior, the notion of the future always seems to be at hand.  There’s talk of college and standardized tests and planning, planning, planning.  The future looms large and can easily consume us.  In the midst of this chatter, it’s easy to lose sense of the moment.  There are times when I look at my son and struggle to reconcile the tall and strong young man with the chubby cheeked toddler and little boy whom he once was.  When he was first born, a friend told me that the nights were long but the years passed quickly.  These days, that truth is more apparent than ever.  I do my best to live in the moment, aware how quickly it will pass us by.

Professionally, time spent in the company of 6th and 7th graders is an all-together different reminder of the passage of time.  These kids do live in the moment, some times blissfully unaware of a future as close at hand as tomorrow.  At other times, their eye is on the prize of independence and freedom of high school and beyond.  They can be silly and wise in practically the same moment.  They are changing rapidly, a fact about which they sometimes seem blissfully unaware.  Practically overnight, their bodies and voices change, limbs grow longer, and brains grow more sophisticated.  The theme of middle school is persistent change.

Miss Read and I live our lives in the company of children and we genuinely like the work.  I think that our shared fondness for children and our similar sense of humor is why I like these books so much.  They are a ready companion whenever I need it.