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Friday, September 28, 2012

Today's Rant: "You don't know what you've got, until you lose it."

Click to enlarge.  
Source:, Accessed 28 September, 2012
An early rock 'n' roll song said, "You don't know what you've got, until you lose it."*

That is America's present plight.

Perhaps it is the plight of all the "industrialized" states of The West. 

We have lost much of our industrial base, most especially in high-volume industrial products such as steel, textiles, automobiles, and electrical and electronic devices, but increasingly in the technically sophisticated products that make other products, such as punch presses, machine tools, plastic molding equipment, textile machinery, mining machinery, as well as tool-and-die work and software manufacturing.

I fear that the next World War will be a nuclear war.  We in the West have not the industrial capacity to fight a global conventional war anymore.  Nor, I fear, do we have the know-how in our imaginations and in our fingertips to create in needed volumes the tools, machines, and factories necessary to build such capacity quickly enough to respond to a major conflict without resorting to the nukes.  I find that downright frightening.

Over the past 50 years, we in the West have shipped these industrial capabilities to the East.

Many companies have sent their best (and often most senior) toolmakers, millwrights, and production engineers overseas to teach the newcomers to heavy industry how to do that at which we were once the best.  And the bright and skilled young people in our western societies who, in the 1930s or 1940s would have become skilled tradesmen, are now going to college, never again to dirty their hands.  This is the meaning of effete: to prefer any white-collar job, no matter how low-paying, to being seen as a member of the "working class."  Such thinking (and such public policy) has made plumbers scarce and rich, and teachers and bank tellers plentiful and poor.  The questionable quality of their education aside, Western universities produce far more graduates than our economies need, and our societies have far too few skilled technicians of many kinds.

After the "successful" invasion of Iraq in 2003, we failed to get the electricity to work in that country's major cities for three or more years!  We built in that much time the myriad armaments, thousands of ships and tens of thousands of airplanes with which to fight World War II on three continents, and in five oceans!  Why, in 2003, couldn't our President have called the CEOs of GE and Westinghouse together and said, "Your country needs you to get the lights on in Baghdad, and do it in three months!"  I fear it was because Westinghouse was no more, and GE was largely a hollow corporation.  I fear we have become industrially incompetent.

And it is not only Americans who have invested in this easterly tidal wave of industrial know-how.  Was not Volkswagen the leading producers of passenger cars in China throughout the 1990s?  (GM/Buick was a distant second.)

Meanwhile, even as much of The East has embraced the profit motive, The West has pursued socialism, albeit "creeping socialism," promising ever-more to its less productive citizens in the name of invented "rights," and misconstrued "compassion." Is it not more compassionate to get a family off welfare by providing a job that pays a living wage than to trap that family in dependency on governmental handouts?  Where is human dignity?  Where is one's pride?  Once the majority of citizens live off the government, who will be left to pay taxes?  Has the West learned nothing from the collapse of Communism?

If we live past 21 December 2012, which some predict we shall not, we may find that we miss our freedom, and the self-reliance that won it for us, and that built our great Western Civilization.  Where is Ralph Waldo Emerson, when we need him?

Oh, but Emerson's "Self-Reliance" is an essay longer than two pages!  In fact, I just printed it out on 15 pages.  It may be the most important set of ideas ever written about democracy, and about what makes democracy work.  But, will anyone take the time to read it?

I am a blessed man of a blessed generation.  I have lived in a golden age.  So, I do not begrudge prosperity and happiness to anyone.  If the peoples of the East  and South are willing to work hard and to learn industrial skills, then I shall applaud the economic progress that those efforts bring them.  It might become a great thing for Humanity, if the wealth of industrialization is more broadly distributed across the globe.  But, should we in the West be exiting the manufacturing sector?  Should decisions to outsource be made without any thought of their national or regional strategic effects?

Manufacturing, the function wherein I trained at General Motors, and in which I managed at two subsequent corporations, is little-appreciated in the boardrooms of too many American corporations.  A factory is not a black box from which flow products and problems, costs and strikes.   A factory is a strategic resource, filled with can-do people and creative talent.  It produces not just "goods," but also flexibility, on-time deliveries, quality, and ideas for improvements in all of those.  Without a factory, a product-company is hollow.  It becomes like a fortune-teller on the boardwalk, selling what it knows little about to people it cares nothing about, albeit at high margins.  Do we want to be such pure marketeers?  Or do we want to create real goods and real value?

Think twice, dear reader, before you allow your company to outsource your products.  You don't know what you've got, until you lose it.
* "You don't know what you've got, until you lose it," by songwriters Paul Hampton and George Burton, 1961.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tooth Problemth and Prothetheth

Sylvester from Looney Tunes (Warner Bros)
found at
When this story began, Ralu Tarcea was still living at "Hotel New Hampshire," Valer Şuteu had yet to arrive to begin his MBA program at Plymouth State University, and Roxana Fera was still teaching in Hangzhou, China, and working to get a student visa to come for graduate school at PSU.

It was the late spring of 2011.  I had never seen Panama, Alaska, or India.  It seems ages ago.

I am now, in the late summer of 2012, in the final stages of having three upper front teeth replaced with titanium implants, custom gold abutments, and porcelain crowns.  The job is being done at the Goldman School of Dental Medicine at Boston University.  They have done a wonderful job so far, and I cannot say enough positives about the work done for me there.

The periodontal work by Dr. Konstantina (Tina) Thomadaki was outstanding.  When I met her over a year ago, I had two broken teeth at stations 8 and 10, the positions that had for almost eight years supported a bridge that included a prosthetic #9.  (For the uninitiated, teeth 8 and 9 are the "Two Front Teeth" of "All I want for Christmas..." fame.)  Dr. Tina's first job in the process, after preparing my chart and examining my x-rays, was to extract both those roots.  She eased both out whole, with no cracks or chips, and without injury to my upper jawbone (aka, my skull).  This was particularly worthy of note in that # 8 had had a root canal after being killed in a bicycle accident when I was 13, in 1956.  It was, no doubt, as brittle as a tooth can get.  Dr. Tina then placed "socket preservation" grafts in both the empty tooth sockets, a material made from powdered human bone.  The graft is assimilated into one's natural bone structure over the ensuing few months, and forms a solid base into which to screw titanium implants in the place of tooth roots.  Tina sutured my gums, and we waited.

Months passed.  Ralu dubbed me "Sylvester" for my prominent lisp, unavoidable when speaking without my temporary partial denture plate ("flipper").  Valer arrived and excelled in his master's courses.  Shirl and I drove over Christmas break to Florida and back with Valer, and in January flew to Panama to visit Melinda Pleşcan at Isla Contadora.  Professor Alexandra Mutiu (A3) arrived from Cluj to teach at PSU for the spring semester of  2012.  Ralu graduated with her MBA degree, and flew home to Romania.  Son Alex McDougall and Yvonne Wolfson set a date to be married.  Life went on.

After four months of healing, Dr. Tina went to work surgically, opening my gums to drill the holes for the implants, then implanting three tapered titanum tubes, threaded inside and out, to a measured torque.  This was a touchy job, as the three implants had to line up and be positioned precisely as indicated following a CAT scan of my head that allowed the prosthetics expert Dr. Aleksandar Vojdanoski to specify the ideal placements.  Tina again closed my gums with sutures, and again we waited months for the bone to bond permanently to the implants.

Son Jesse and Cally Wheeler got married in Vermont in one of the most perfect weddings ever seen on the planet.  Valer moved into Hotel New Hampshire for the summer to help at the house as I rode Rocinante to Alaska and back for six weeks.  Enroute, I lost my flipper, and lisped helplessly for three days, only to have the device turn up where I'd put it "for safe keeping," in my little-used right saddlebag, which I'd filled with my tools, spare water, and emergency gasoline (and my false teeth).  After I returned from the summer's long ride, Roxana Fera arrived after two years of teaching in China, and moved into Hotel New Hampshire as a new M.Ed. student at Plymouth State. Then I went to India on an ACBSP mission for ten days.  The months passed, as life went on.

This past Monday in Boston, the custom abutments were placed and their alignment approved.  It was perfect, according to Dr. Aleks: "Better than good!"  Now, under the able direction of Dr. Vojdanoski, the Goldman School's lab is making a frame to mount to the abutments to support the crowns.  Once that frame has been fitted, the lab will make my crowns.  Two more appointments, no more healing, and I shall have new teeth.  (God willing! Insh'Allah!)

Why did I not simply have another bridge made?  The answer is that I have been told, over and over, by dentists and recipients alike, that implants are the best way to replace missing teeth.  As I am only 69, and intend to live at least to 100.126 years of age (so as to celebrate Shirl's and my 70th Wedding Anniversary on 6 October, 2043), I decided to invest the time and money to do it right.  What's a year-and-a-half of minor inconvenience relative to thirty-one more years of comfortable eating?  A no-brainer, if you ask me!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Need an Apartment in Cluj for AY 2012-2013?

My friend Raymond Wright of Philadelphia spent time in Cluj in the early Nineties, and adopted a baby girl while he was there.  He also bought an apartment in Zorilor, a nice neighborhood in Cluj located on the hill above the Botanical Garden.  In 2010, he went to Cluj and spent two weeks working with a construction crew, thoroughly renovating the place.  I was teaching at Babeş-Bolyai University that fall, so I was there at the time.  I visited Ray's apartment, and can attest that it has a brand new bathroom, new appliances, new floors, new paint, much new furniture, and new windows.  It is gorgeous.

So, if you are a Fulbrighter, and are going to be living in Cluj for the school year, you might want to contact me by leaving a comment below with your e-mail address, and I'll send you Ray's contact information.  (Ray is hoping for a school-year rental, so that he and his family can use the apartment in the summer.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Melinda and Silvio: Casa de Piatra!

On August 25th near Venice, Italy, our great friends Melinda and Silvio became one.

From here in New Hampshire, we send this new branch of Familia Buiatti our love and best wishes for a long and exciting life together, complete with new lives to nurture and love.

As is surely true also in Cluj, Romania, we here in Campton shout with joy, "May they make a home of stone!"