Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Elves Organize, Join UAW

North Pole.Santa Gettelfinger This week Santa’s Elves voted to organize and form a union, reacting in part to concerns that “The Boss in Red” might decide to outsource toy production. In the words of one elf, “If that happens, the jobs go south!” The small workers researched possible unions to affiliate with, but in the end decided on the UAW. “We make cars and trucks, as well as trains and dolls, so it seemed like a good fit” said an elderly elf. Rumor has it that the other deciding factor was that Ron Gettelfinger is just so darn good looking!

The newly formed UAW Local 90N invited me to become an honorary member and informal spokesperson because of my elfin qualities, extreme interest in toys, and years of experience dealing with bad little boys. I promised to help get the word out about the need to improve working conditions at the Pole. For the most part, Santa is a beneficent taskmaster, but thinning of stratospheric ozone and global warming have the elves worried. “We’re also running short on coal for stockings of bad little girls and boys,” said one elf. “We’re trying to develop a solar-powered substitute, but it just doesn’t have the same impact.”

So, you heard it here first. Collective bargaining at the North Pole. What next—health care for everyone? Support your local elves this holiday. Do your shopping at StillMadeinUSA.com!

Friday, November 18, 2005

No More Parenting Tips--Please!

Every month our elementary school sends home a newsletter that gives updates on all the activities at the school (including a lot of long-term homework projects that I haven’t heard about…) The newsletter usually has a section with useful little tips on how to “Help Children Learn.” The tips always seem to be written by earnest young education professionals who HAVE NO CHILDREN, or at least only have girls.

This week’s tips included a call to “Build your child’s school skills during family meals.” By family meals I assume the author means the placement of food on a centrally located table so that children can come and go and take whatever meets their exacting culinary standards and eat it in front of the TV?

My favorite tip was the one about suggested activities during mealtime, and--as Dave Barry would say--I am not making this up!:

“Place an interesting object in the center of the table to encourage conversation.”

I don’t know about you, but the interesting object in the center of my table is a Lazy Susan, placed there to allow 360-degree access to the ketchup bottle. It does tend to be a conversation starter, though, since the favorite activities involving the Lazy Susan are:

1) Turn it just as a brother is about to grab the ketchup bottle;

2) Spin it so that the handle of the serving spoon in the bowl of peas knocks over a brother’s glass of milk; and

3) Jiggle it so that the petals of the dead rose in the “vase” fall into a brother’s food and/or the pepper mill falls over and rolls off into the mashed potatoes.

Maybe I should start a parenting newsletter of my own.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Woolrich, Inc.---Then and Now

The Woolrich, Inc. website has an inspiring Flash history of the company, from its early days in the 1830’s as a supplier of rugged, warm woolen cloth and clothing to loggers and frontiersmen. Images of steam engines, mountain climbers, and the woolen mill in Woolrich, PA fade out and the image of “Woolrich Today” comes into view. The site proudly notes that the Woolrich Woolen Mill is one of the oldest in the U.S.A. What the history doesn’t say is that the march of progress has included almost total outsourcing of production.

After searching in vain on their website for anything that was made in USA, I resorted to “Live Chat” and here is what I was told:

“For American apparel companies to survive and grow in this past decade and in the future, we have all had to become truly global. Our company has been able to increase American employment in marketing, merchandising, administration, and retail. Although we manufacture many of our garments (or components) overseas, they are designed by us and meet our strict quality standards and specifications. We employ 850 people in the U.S.A, and we strive to keep as much manufacturing here as possible, but companies today have little choice but to compete in a global economy. When consumers choose to purchase Woolrich products, even those products made in foreign countries, they continue to support our 850 American employees.”

The bottom line is that, with the exception of a few huntwear and blanket items, Woolrich (“The Original Outdoor Clothing Company, celebrating our 175th year”) is now primarily a retail outlet for imported products. Still, I am glad they have managed (so far) to keep the mill going. I notice, for example, that their Civil War reproduction fabrics are still made in the Woolrich, PA mill…

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Economists are People Too

For those of you who have noticed my absence from the blogosphere, my excuse is that I have been hip-deep in economics papers. Today I emerge to share a few insights about economists as a group (definitely not referring to any particular economist who happens to be my professor at this time, Dr. Dimitri, and is a wonderful person!).

Economists like to write very long papers, perhaps in the hope that readers will not stick it out through the middle part. The papers begin with broad, visionary statements about how markets function in theory. Then comes a lengthy, dense, mathematical presentation of how this theory would look in mathematical form. Rather than state the obvious in English, there are equations with Greek letters, many tiny subscripts, “dummy” variables, and terms that stand for “everything else that may be important, but which I have no idea about” (called “error” terms).

Then, for readers still standing after the theory section, comes a discussion of why none of the afore-mentioned variables will be used in the actual analysis because such data do not exist. (At this point, one hears screams or cries of anguish.) The conclusions section returns to the visionary statements introduced at the beginning, thus reassuring the reader that the intervening jungle has not lessened the certainty of the economist in the least.

Other observations: In order to be published, all economics papers MUST include the following terms:
  • ceteris paribus: this is a problem since I have no idea what ceteris paribus means! (My high school stopped offering Latin the year I arrived.) Based on context, I have decided that it means "assuming away all realistic ideas of how the world works"
  • endogeneity: something in the “real world” that intrudes on the tidy world of theoretical modelers and causes distress by violating the modeler’s assumptions that it can be specified and held constant
  • internalizing the externalities: I translate this to mean “taking account of all of those things which are not being taken into account” (??!)
  • marginal social cost: the cost to the rest of us when businesses are forced to “internalize the externalities” rather than take it out of their profits
[Disclaimer: this is just me having fun. If you want the REAL definition of these, and other, economic terms, check out this Glossary of Economic Terms.] The clear implication here is that I need to take more economics classes.

Energy update: Thanks to Bob Tresley, my windows and doors are weather-stripped, MOST windows are actually closed, and my programmable Honeywell thermostat is installed and functioning. I’m enjoying coming down in the morning to find that the room temperature has already risen to a comfortable level. One other electricity saver was installing power strips around the house so that clusters of electronic gizmos (TVs, computers, VCRs, PlayStations) could be turned off over night. However, this latter is not automated and there are serious implementation glitches. (Note to Honeywell: develop programmable husband.)