Dear American CEOs

I’m willing to pay more for a product that is built with the kind of quality we used to be famous for here in America. Things that were well-designed and built to be used. And if they broke they could be repaired and keep on working. This is the legacy of American manufacturing. There were jobs in making things, using those things and repairing those things to keep said things working.

Today everything is disposable – built to a low spec, with minimal manufacturing standards and poor quality control. Things are designed to function to some degree of effectiveness – maybe – for a little while, then break and need to be tossed in the landfill and replaced. Half the stuff doesn’t even work or fit right out of the box. I recently bought a John Deere tractor mower that wouldn’t start. While phone troubleshooting with their technician it was found to have disconnected parts in the engine. How did that even make it out the factory door?? Of course there are exceptions but it’s frustrating that almost every item we buy these days is inferior quality even if you pay a premium price.

Companies no longer serve their customers, they serve their shareholders or the next quarter’s numbers.

Sure, bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US would be good for some things. There’s no reason we can’t build things here again. It would be good for us and the world economy. But even if we build stuff in China or sew it in Bangladesh or assembled in Mexico, if our companies – names we’ve known for decades – insisted on high quality materials and workmanship our brands could once again be the standard that other industries aspire to. No matter whether it’s built in Des Moines or Guandong. It’s not that hard. If it costs 10% more to make something good then do it – I’ll pay 20% more to have something that’s well made and lasts. Do that and I promise Americans, and the world, will buy American again.

Barber Tight

I stopped in a barbershop in El Paso this week to get a much needed haircut. It’s always a gamble but the sign on the road said “Voted Best Barbershop” so what the heck.

The young man who cut my hair was named Jesse. He looked like he was in his early 20s. You can always tell an experienced barber by the way they handle the tools, whether it be clippers, scissors or razor, and this fellow’s skill and care seemed that of someone with a lot of experience. He told me he was born in Los Angeles but had grown up in El Paso and he had been cutting hair for a long time, since he was about 16. On the street. He was a street barber in his neighborhood. “But I decided I should get my license, be a real barber.”

He was doing such an awesome job I asked if he would trim my beard and mustache, to clean it up. I told him it’s sometimes hard to get it even yourself in the mirror. “Yeah, we’ll get it ‘barber tight.'”

I went back a couple months later and he wasn’t there. I know barbers move around a lot but I wonder whether he moved on or went back to street cutting.

A new CCC

One of the things I’m most thankful for about spending the last couple years with my Mom and Bob before their passing was spending hours talking to them about their lives.  I wish I would have recorded some of it.

Bob told us of looking for work during the Depression.  FDR was already in and had ramped up the great recovery for the nation.  The best jobs were the ones as part of that recovery; building the great dams, roads, bridges.  And those with the Civilian Conservation Corp building our state and national parks, forest roads and other infrastructure.  Bob got a job in Washington state planting trees.  I don’t know whether the planting was done to reforest clearcutting, a fire, or what, it doesn’t matter.

He talked about having a toe-sack full of seedlings and a kind of a long bladed hoe.  You would take a few steps, whack the hoe into the ground to make a small hole, put a seedling in the hoe, then step on the divot with your other foot – all in one fluid motion; 50-75 men heading up a hill in a line all doing this same dance, the seedlings replenished when their sacks were empty.  They were told the trees would be ready to harvest in about 80 years, right about now in fact.

That was the mindset of that time:  We’re putting men to work now, creating something that our generation will not benefit from, and maybe not even our children but their children.  It’s good for us and it’s good for the country.

How far we’ve gone off course from that kind of mentality.  If it doesn’t work right now, today, then we shouldn’t do it.

The truth, of course, is that short-term fixes rarely work now or tomorrow.  Why do we keep trying them?

As I drive around Summit County, Colorado, certainly one of the most beautiful places on god’s earth, everywhere you look you see the forest devastated by pine beetles.  In some places 3/4 of the trees are dead.

This year I see there have been some (I assume) US Forest Service crews cutting the dead trees and stacking them in large piles.  This has only been done in a very few areas easily accesible by vehicles.  On the one hand it’s kind of weird to see large acreage devoid of pine trees, with just a few firs, aspens and other non-pines.  On the other it looks like an amazing opportunity to do just what our grandfathers did when they put people to work in the 1930’s.

We need a new CCC.  There are many thousands of men and women ready to build this country back up again.  Let’s put them to work.  One project, of a grand scale but worth every penny, would be to cut the dead trees.  Make biofuel energy from them. Replant new trees.  It’s a multi-year project with both long and short-term benefits.

Why can’t we think big any more?

Cenizo Journal

Last month I spent an embarrassingly long time talking about myself with Jim Glendenning who was writing his portrait article for the Cenizo Journal; the spiritual successor to the wonderful Desert Candle quarterly arts magazine for the Trans-Pecos. I picked up the issue and read the little blurb about me.

It’s strange to read about yourself. Even stranger to see an hour conversation about your life history distilled into a few paragraphs in print – sort of like reading your own obituary written by someone who doesn’t know you real well. Jim did a fine job, don’t misunderstand, but it’s just a little odd, y’know.

And I want to clarify one thing that isn’t completely correct in the article: I did not launch the Harvest Moon & Tunes Festival here in FD. Yes, I suppose it was mostly my idea and I worked really hard on producing the music part of it, but there were so many people who actually took the “Hey, this would be a great place for a small music festival” idea and made it a reality. Lanna Duncan produced basically everything besides the music part, and I’ll get into trouble if I try to mention others because I’ll forget somebody. It’s time for something like that in Fort Davis again. I’ll produce the music again if we can get enough backing to make it viable.