The Trombone Disquisition

During our Salad Days (or perhaps our Early Appetizer Days) as recently-weds in Frankfurt am Main, for reasons no longer in memory (perhaps related to the number of empty bottles with the blazon “Mosel-Saar-Ruwer”), the topic of discussion one evening was my short history as a Trombonist at school in grades 5 and 6, and my subsequent apostasy from Trombonism.

At some point, I mentioned the necessity of lubricating the trombone slide with trombone oil.

In a moment of indiscretion, she asked: “Where does trombone oil come from?”

I gave her the “I will love this” look; she gave me the “Oh frack, I am not going to like this” look.

I replied: “Pressed trombone seeds.”

I further noted: “You should not visit a plantation of trombones, when they are in bloom, without ear protection.”

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A Semi-Socratic Dialogue Regarding Current Events

“…and so, as I have shown, the Kleptoligarchs divert the entire wealth of Society to themselves, sparing only that tiny mite needed to keep the wheels of production turning.”

“But surely, Master, it would be in their own best interests to forgo much of that diverted wealth, thusly enriching Society considerably, so that the overall wealth might increase manifold, and their own substantial wealth withal.”

“Alas, such is not the case: they have already thousands of times more wealth than any single person could possibly enjoy within a hundred lifetimes.

“There is no need for them to enrich Society — from their vantage, all is proceeding as it should.”
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Concerning the Governance Of Commercial Enterprises and Other Human Endeavours.

Many years ago, working for a briefly successful corporation, I noticed that persons near the top of their local Large Primate Dominance Hierarchy strongly tend to lose touch with the details they need to guide the Ship Of Commerce.

Specifically, I observed that glass-walled conference room on the 4th floor of the 8400 building, where it appeared that nearly all executive decisions were made solely on the basis of information created within that conference room.

I developed from this the notion of the Coefficient of Removal From Reality, suggesting that its local value approached 1.0 as one neared the doors of that Fateful Room.

Subsequent experience, however, demonstrated to me that this was a Newtonian construct that really needed an Einsteinian update. Thus was born the


which describes the warping of information space by a concentration of Top Minds such that, although information cannot enter in any significant quantities, Authoritative Directives will be emitted constantly from the event boundary of a sufficiently massive gathering.

I may need to consider an analogous quantum-theoretical extension.

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On The Intrinsical Loveliness of Minimum Wage Jobs.

So, I have been recently assured that working in fast food and sit-down food service is “easy”, requires no skill or thought, and persons who work in these slots, since they can’t be bothered to get a better job, REALLY shouldn’t be paid more than the slightest pittance (or whatever the current gang of Republican hoons considers to be a tolerable minimum wage (except for tipped staff, of course — they get a LOT less.))

Well, I’ve got news for you, Bunky: go to your nearest fast food joint and hang around there between 11:00 and 13:00. Bring a stop watch and a clipboard with paper and a writing instrument. (I’ve done several time and motion studies, and that’s the equipment you will need.)

Choose a particular employee, and log what she does, and how long she takes with each task. You may find it difficult to keep up, because the work focus changes every five to eleven seconds.

You can’t write that fast.

If you were just now dropped into that “easy” job with the understanding that if you screw up more than three times in a row you are terminated, you would be out the door on your ass in under six minutes.

But that’s not your worry — you got your burger.

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On The Folly Of Enforced Standardized Testing

without sanity checks.

There are lessons from fields other than public education to be considered.

Years ago, I obtained the FCC Radiotelephone Operator First Class License. In that era it, along with the Amateur Extra Class license (DE KL7F), was considered to be functionally equivalent to a BS in Electrical Engineering by some firms when making hiring decisions. In the broadcast industry, it was required in order to function as the Chief Engineer of a radio station.

When I took up my duties at the AM station in Kodiak, AK, one of the things required by regulation was to gather copies of the licenses of all the persons who would be “operating” the station (i.e. pulling a board shift) and to place them in a container where the FCC inspectors, should they ever show up, could easily find them. Doing so, I found that three other employees had First Phone tickets.

I asked the station manager: “If you already have three Firsts on staff, why did you hire me?”

“Heh,” quoth he. “Those guys have troubles with light switches. Not one of them could tell you which end of a resistor is the cathode.”

It turned out that, because of FCC regulations requiring that a First Phone operator be on duty whenever the antenna system was “directional” (i.e. after local sundown), and due to economic considerations discouraging a station from having more than one person pulling the night shifts, stations tended to hire announcers/operators who had a First Phone ticket.

But passing the First exams was A Hard Thing, and Johnny Goodpipes and Fred Tightboard weren’t at all inclined to take up electronics in any serious manner.

Whatever were they to do?

Well, they could enroll in any number of schools that, after you paid them $N,000, would cram you and drill you until you could pass Elements I, II, III and IV. No matter how many times you went to the Houston FCC office and took the tests.

The end result: rampant fully-licensed electronic illiteracy.  

Eventually the FCC dropped the regulation, ended the issuance of First Phone tickets, and declared that Station Management were now fully responsible for determining that the station was being operated in compliance with technical standards.

When last I checked, the General Radio Operator License (which replaced the First — they mailed me a new certificate) is now only required for the person who maintains the studio-to-transmitter radio link.

Be very careful what you incent.

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After listening to Elephant Music

When we finally decode the languages of cetaceans, elephants, squids… we might find that their name for us translates to “Those mutant apes who know both too much and too little”.

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Getting something good from a Rambo flick

Revisiting my “Boy – Man – Boy” theory of veteran decompression.

I really dislike invoking any of the Stallone pieces, but ages ago I read the original “First Blood” book, and for reasons that now escape me I watched the movie on HBO. At the time I was struggling with the whole “who am I, who were we” bit, seeing so many vet friends continuing to go through difficult passages.

This one line from the movie hit me in the face:

Rambo: “Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment, back here I can’t even hold a job parking cars!”

OK. We were inducted (or we enlisted) as kids. We were trained, honed, sent forth. Some of us found ourselves in positions in which we shined, were promoted and given significant responsibilities. We did the canonical Damn Good Job. We Were MEN. Eventually, we DEROSed, ETSed, and found ourselves back on the block.

As kids.

So, Wendy, Michael and John are back from Neverland, and go back to being children in school. Forget that whole business with Captain Hook et al.


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