Government Shutdown, And Other Empty Language

I’ve made reference to George Carlin in a number of my posts. I consider him to be one of the top two standup comedians of all time (the other is Richard Pryor). But more than a simply a comedian, George was a profound critic of American society, culture, and the economy. His take-down of contemporary economics and politics in “Why Education Sucks” is as insightful an analysis as I’ve heard.

Running through all his humor is a keen focus on how language is used and more commonly – misused. In particular, George had an aversion to the use of euphemisms to confuse and mislead. He makes frequent use of what “decent people” might call vulgarity. But as the nuns at his Catholic elementary school told his mother years later he was using vulgarity to make a point. Words themselves have no meaning – it’s all about context.

I was thinking about George – and wishing he was still with us – based on a couple of bits of recent news.

The first is the “government shutdown” – where Congress failed to vote to approve the budget, so apparently the Federal government shut down. After all, shutdown means a closure.

But was the Federal government shut down?

Congress is still in session, begging the question if they actually shut down who would be there to restart things? And to put a fine point on it – Congress is still paid during the “shutdown”. (They are required to be paid via Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution).

Many of the National Parks remain open – with no social media providing road information or friendly Rangers to help visitors. But what hurts most – the rest rooms are closed.

Social security checks still go out; even Congress isn’t stupid enough to piss off older people. The military is still out defending or expanding the empire. The TSA is still looking for 3.5 ounces or more of liquid in people’s carry-on baggage. And other government functions continue. All in all, about 60 percent of the Federal workforce continues working – even though they won’t be paid until the impasse is over.

If you think about it – the Federal government did not shut down. It stopped some functions of government and slowed down others. In the end everyone will get paid, even those who were furloughed.

But government shutdown sounds like scary shit. Slowdown more like a traffic problem. More empty language.

The other topic was based on a news story on CBS Sunday Morning concerning politically correct speech on college campuses. Apparently, you can’t sneeze wrong without someone taking offense. And speakers who promote non-politically acceptable viewpoints aren’t even allowed to speak – no matter how polite or thoughtful they might be.

Are the college kids that much different now? What happened to thinking more about sex, drugs, and rock and roll? Makes me wonder what world many of these kids think they’re heading into after their college career. More on that below.

In the news story I heard the politically correct term “people of color”. Apparently people of color is meant to signify those who are black or brown. I suspect “yellow people” aren’t included in the term.

People of color? Hmmm…is that another way of saying colored people? Colored people, when it was used in the past, was demeaning and used to refer to black Americans.

But isn’t everyone a colored person?

As George noted, white Americans are also people of color as their skin is typically pink, beige, or olive. And the yellow people certainly tend toward shades of olive. And people from India can be as dark as some black Americans – are they considered dark white Americans or people of color?

That black Americans suffer from a historic and seemingly intractable racism should be addressed. That brown Americans (primarily from points south of the southern border) are subject to changing and complex policies based on parochial concerns as well as cynical partisan politics is clear.

And by the way, the term is not undocumented worker – if you entered the country illegally you’re an illegal alien. It’s not a slur, it’s an accurate description.

I’ll also note as David Stockman did that not having a coherent immigration policy is idiotic. The increasing numbers of baby boomers drawing on Medicare and Social Security will require a large number of immigrants to pay taxes to sustain the social costs over the next 30 years. The domestic birth rate has not and will not keep up.

The problem it seems to me is one of boutique identity politics. It’s just another way for the owners to keep people trying to scratch each other’s eyes out rather than uniting to take down the people in charge.

That’s another whole discussion, but to get back to the college kids. Rather than worrying about safe spaces they should be raising hell about the predatory loans many of them have that will keep them indentured servants for many, many years of their working lives. Or maybe worry about having a career as a barista as their only option. I suppose either’s not as sexy – at least right now – as worrying about whatever it is they’re worried about.

Maybe I should have opened this post with a “trigger warming”. On the other hand, as George might have said – if you don’t like it, go to your safe space.

The Economics of Commercial Fly Tying

I’ve started to dip my toe in the waters of fly tying. I take my first class at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop on January 4th. I think it is going to be fun to learn tying and it will be a good way to pass the time thinking about fly fishing during the wet cold days of December and January.

At the same time, I understand that my fly tying will be an end in itself – more of a hobby and chance to fish one or two of my own flies. The majority of flies I use (and eventually lose) will be those purchased at fly shops.

Commercial tying is another different matter.

How much of a different matter becomes clearer when reading how many flies are tied commercially. I’ve been a reader of the weekly news from Blue Ribbon Flies (West Yellowstone Montana) for years. I love the Yellowstone area and love reading about fly fishing in Yellowstone and the Madison River valley.

In the latest email, Craig Matthews (the owner of BRF and cofounder of 1% for the Planet) said he just got his winter order for flies. He has to tie 350 dozen by Spring with a total order for 2014 of 700 dozen, which equals his total for 2013.

Tying over 8,400 flies in one year is beyond conception for me. The time to tie a fly has to be measured in a very few minutes. If every fly took an average of five minutes, tying 8400 flies would require 700 hours. That’s a lot of time – basically two full days per week for the entire year. Even to achieve that would require a well practiced set of patterns and incredible muscle memory in the hands to be able to crank out the number of required flies.

To run the numbers a bit more, assume that each fly sells for an average of $3.00. Theoretically then each hour of tying would represent $36 of product to be sold in the shop (based on 12 flies tied per hour). And remember that’s the income the fly shop gets. If the fly tiers work at the shop, their payment is likely to be in beer and pizza. And the shop has to pay for the cost of materials (as well as the beer and pizza). If the flies are being sold by someone else, they’re not making much money either, and they have to absorb the cost of materials – and they don’t get beer and pizza.

So next time you step into a fly shop and see the rows of flies in their organizing trays, don’t even think about complaining about how much a fly costs when you buy your half dozen or more for your outing. No one is getting rich tying flies. It has to be a labor of love.

Gink and Gasoline on the New Orvis Marketing

Gink and Gasoline has a new post reflecting on the ways Orvis is changing the way it markets itself. Orvis understands it has an image problem – derided by a good number of critics for many years a “lifestyle company” – and has aggressively set out to reclaim its place as a preeminent fly fishing company.

Orvis has attacked its image problem in two ways. It was the first fly fishing company to use internet marketing and social media. Tom Rosenbauer’s podcasts represent a growing library of tips and information. It has a dedicated web site of instructional videos to help both new and experienced fly fishers. And many of its company stores have active programs of presentations and schools.

At the same time, Orvis has focused both research and development and manufacturing technologies in improving its products (Helios 2 rods and Silver Sonic waders are only two examples).

This is great for the industry overall. When the biggest company in the business starts moving to reposition and market itself, other companies must do likewise. All of us will benefit from the increased competition.

As one example., I’ve observed over the last year that Winston has upgraded its marketing to include a new web site and a Facebook page. In addition, it has recently posted a series of Joan Wulff instructional videos (see here).

You can read the Gink and Gasoline post here.

Winter Solstice 2013

Winter arrived this morning at 9:11 A.M., Pacific Standard Time. This afternoon sunset was at 4:22 P.M. With sunrise at 7:55 A.M., we had a total of 8 hours, 27 minutes of sunlight in our shortest day of the year (though one would have had to fly above the clouds, mist, and rain to see the sun).

Tomorrow, sunset is at 4:23 P.M. Days have no begun to get longer again. And that will be good – I need to get back out on the water. December has been a bust in terms of fly-fishing; though to be fair the dark busy days of December tend to be that way for many. I talked to the guys down at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop and they’ve not heard of too many getting out.

My stitches were taken out on December 2nd after my wide local excision – see my last post, but I was still under doctor’s orders to go easy on the left arm until December 16th. It made my workouts tough – basically leaving me to work legs and lungs. And then it got cold and windy. Even more reason to stay warm inside and listen to Christmas music.

Maybe that’s what December is really about – a time to appreciate the season, family, and memories of all the good this season has to offer (and I’m not talking the 7×24 shopping orgy).

November Elegy: Thanksgiving 2013

November is a time of mixed emotions, and this year never more so.

November is when, particularly after the switch from Daylight Savings Time, the sun disappears for more than 14 hours each day in the Pacific Northwest. The hours of darkness are felt as much as observed. The Winter Solstice, which starts the hours of increasing daylight (however slowly at first) is a month away.

For now it is about increasing darkness and the stark reminder of death as the last leaves have fallen.

In childhood, November is the month of Thanksgiving and the big family dinner with lots of food – especially the dressing – and football. It was the necessary holiday that opened the door to the month of Christmas. It was only later, when nostalgia mixed with maturity as well as a growing fatigue at the commercial orgy that Christmas had become, that it was recalled for what it was: the best holiday of the year – focused only on the delight of a great meal and family and friends (however trying some of the latter typically may be).

And with that maturity came another realization. Thanksgiving became a marker for the empty seats of family, lovers, and friends who have departed from our lives (whatever the reason for that departure). And as much as all of the above, Thanksgiving is a time for reflection for the successes and failures of the last year.

Much is made of the Auld Lang Syne and resolutions at the time of the New Year. But for me, it is Thanksgiving that provides the context for those reflections and promises. The year is mostly gone, but there is still an opportunity to make amends or progress…for time is still left.

And now, Thanksgiving 2013. This year’s holiday has elements of all of the above and more.

There is much to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving 2013 finds us living in our beloved Gig Harbor. A year ago, a move to somewhere was as much dream as active in either planning or action. And now we are here. It is better than we had ever hoped. Living here now, it is difficult to remember living our life in our former house.

I am still employed and my wife’s business continues to grow in both her former clinic and the one she’s establishing in Gig Harbor. Those are not small things in a year and a country that continues to see so much suffering and unemployment irrespective of what self-serving elites and boorish politicians say.

And still this is a time of the reminders of death.

My father-in-law died a bit more than one week ago. He had been diagnosed two months ago with pancreatic cancer that had metastasized into his liver. The progression was such that the chemotherapy treatment was more than his ravaged body could withstand.

And yet even in this there is a measure for which to give thanks.

Two years ago he had suffered kidney failure with some of it attributed to a long-term use of statin drugs. And yet he had recovered after a series of dialysis treatments and his kidneys had begun to function again. He had the the gift of life for two more years.

These last two years allowed him to see his first great-grandchild. They had given him an opportunity to see another grandchild get engaged to be married. They had given him time to repair the hurts and injuries of damaged relationships with his children.

And there was one final blessed moment. In the last few minutes of life, he and his wife of more than 50 years were able to express their love for one another and say goodbye.

And for me, this November gave me my own sense of mortality – if even for a brief moment. But it served as a reminder of the season and the a reminder of however long life is, it is much too short.

Since a few bouts with skin cancer (one each of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas), I have been doing annual visits to my dermatologist. Last year about this time she noticed a pinkish looking mole near by left elbow. She recommended getting it check within a couple of months.

Life, including house hunting and the move to Gig Harbor, intervened, and it got put off. Finally, in late summer I figured it was time to get it looked at. I made my appointment and got in to see her in late October.

A biopsy was taken and I walked out, assuming (as she did, as she told me later) that it would be a basal cell.

Two weeks ago, her nurse called and told me they had the results – and it was a malignant melanoma.

In that second, I was numbed.

The nurse asked if I had any questions. The shock was such that I wasn’t prepared to ask questions. So, and thank you Angela for your kindness, the nurse said it was a very early stage and I’d need an excision. I made the appointment for the following Monday.

After she hung up, I realized there was no mention of a lymph node biopsy or a visit to an oncologist so I was probably okay (if relatively okay).

At my appointment, my dermatologist told me it was a surface (Stage 0) melanoma that was 0.44 mm thick. There was no growth underway and that was a good thing. I got my wide local excision and now have 12 stitches in my elbow.

I’ll be doing more frequent visual exams for a time to ensure there are no other suspect moles and to ensure there’s no reoccurrence in the same area.

But for feeling the cold breath of death – if only for an irrational second – I’ve gotten through this fine.

So on this Thanksgiving, treasure those in your life – even those who can be a pain in the ass.

And if you’ve not done so lately, visit your dermatologist.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Salem Oregon’s Last Fly Fishing Store to Close

Creekside Flyfishing is the last fly fishing store in Salem, Oregon. It has announced it will close its doors on November 30th.

The reasons are the same as many other fly shops: the rise of internet sales and the crash of 2008. In this instance, the latter may have been a bigger factor as Salem is a company town and the company is government. Too much uncertainty in the austere years after the banisters melted the economy led to a tough business climate. I find it sad as they appear to be highly regarded people who cared deeply about the sport and their customers.

This is not the first fly shop I’ve seen or read about be driven under by a changing economy. Even Kauffman’s Streamborn, a northwest icon, filed for bankruptcy in 2011.

I’ve commented in a number of other posts about the economies of scale at work in the retail fly fishing world. The rise of internet sales combined with a tough economic situation means that a shakeout will occur. A number of shops run by inept or pompous owners will go away – unfortunately so may the terrific shops that provide a focal point to local fly fishing wherever they are located.

It’s safe to say that survival in the current economic climate requires fly shop owners to think more like business people and bring increased focus on marketing their shop and the sport of fly fishing. Waiting in the shop, hoping for someone to show up – those days are gone, at least in non-destination locations. Fly shops have to market themselves through seminars, an education program, trips (big and small), and online presence through blogs, tweets, and YouTube videos. And they need to bring in more younger people into the sport. Marketing to them is going to take some innovative pap

Cooperative demo days, as I discussed here, are also opportunities to promote the sport of flu fishing. There is increased competition for the scarce recreational dollars most people have. Promoting fly fishing and appreciation for the natural world will help everyone.

From the business side, it’s possible that the strategic acquisition model used by Grizzly Hackle Holdings may what saves some excellent shops (read here). But that won’t be a solution in all cases.

Living in a time of change is tough. Buy local whenever possible.

You can read more about Creekside here.

The Rake Replaces the Rod This Weekend

November is typically the month of wind and rain in Puget Sound. This year is no exception. We had the first winter storm come in over night and into the morning hours. People in a number of areas across the region are without power (we only had lights flicker). There has been a fair blow down – we have a six foot branch in the back yard and the streets are covered with fir needles. But the bigger problem is that we have leaves and fir needles everywhere around the house including the walks and driveway.

It would be nice to wait until all the remaining leaves on the hardwoods come down, but that’s impractical. There’d be so much material we’d have bags stacked for pickup for weeks. The other, and real problem, is that leaves and needles are slick when rained on and someone could get hurt if we don’t pick at least that up.

So my rod stays in the case this weekend and the raking begins in the morning. And the dark ages start tomorrow so it will be dark by late afternnon.

Remind me. How many months until Spring returns?

Sling Packs

The fly fishing vest has been the garment that for decades marked someone as a fly fisher. Originally made of cotton canvas, the short-waisted vest with its many pockets was as distinctive as the fly rod and reel.

Over time, the hot canvas vests gave way to lighter, cooler vests made of nylon fabric or mesh. But for many, the vests were still confining or tended to induce carrying too much for a day’s fishing.

Recent years have seen the increasing use of waist packs or sling packs, with the vest, if still owned, relegated to the back of a closet. I gave mine away.

Most of the gear manufacturers have sling packs. Over the last few years I’ve spent time, and money, trying packs from Orvis, Patagonia, and Simms (pre 2014 models).

I found the Simms pack the least comfortable and useful to me. It was more like a waist pack with a sling, rather than a true sling pack. Simms is revamping their line for 2014 and a true sling pack appears to be coming. From what few pictures I’ve seen it looks rather interesting.

Patagonia’s Stealth Atom Sling is an interesting pack that has good size, a water bottle carrier, drop down hard pocket and a nice waterproof internal sleeve. I liked this pack though it has a few quirks I didn’t care for. There is a small padded pocket on the neck strap that has no utility that I can find – too small for sunglasses or a cell phone. The pack itself has a number of places to clip on forceps and other tools. I like things put away so I don’t knock them off – and have done that with forceps on more than one occasion.

Patagonia Stealth Atom

And that brings me to my current favorite sling pack: the Orvis Safe Passage Sling Pack. It has two features I really like and make it stand out for me: it has a sleeve forceps on the neck strap; in addition, there’s a sleeve for pliers on the main bag. Both sleeves are secured with magnetic closures. The pack has two pockets that enable me to carry all that I need and not more. It doesn’t have a water bottle pocket (the large Guide Sling does), but I can work around that. And it doesn’t have a waterproof inner sleeve; I bought a waterproof sleeve and that takes care of that need.

Orvis Sling Pack

Give one of them a try.

On the Beach: The Fukushima 21st Century Version

One of my favorite movies is On the Beach.  Released in 1959, it is a post-apocalyptic story of a group of people in Australia waiting for a radiation cloud to spread over them after a nuclear war in the northern hemisphere.

But this is not a summer blockbuster about radioactive monsters or mutants. This is a movie about people finding love and redemption in the everydayness of ordinary life as they cope with the coming reality.  I won’t discuss the plot – see it for yourself. I will only say one of the final scenes of the movie where a submarine sails from port as the soundtrack plays the Australian ballad “Waltzing Matilda” is one of the more haunting movie scenes ever.

I raised this movie because we on the west coast of North America face our own On the Beach moment – maybe we have already. I’m talking about the past, present, and future releases from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disasters on March 11, 2011. And in the worst case scenarios, maybe the majority of the people on Earth face the same moment.

Though government officials in both the United States and Canada continue to minimize the degree of exposure and risks in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami when three plants had complete core meltdowns, each new revelation is more frightening,

Recent reports have indicated the radioactive plume of water will hit the northwest coast of North America starting in early 2014. Some oceanographic simulations conducted in Spain predict that while the radiation will begin arriving then the levels of radiation will be much lower than in the waters surrounding Fukushima. Other studies by German oceanographers suggest a three-year plume event – again with lower levels of radiation.

Does that mean the days of eating salmon are over?  In the worst case that might not even matter.

I think the governments of the United States and Canada may have misrepresented (in not lied) about the amount of radioactive fallout hitting the west coast of both countries in the days following the earthquake and tsunami when the cores melted – but it may take years to know how much radiation exposure there was (to be determined by the rates of cancer).

And the mixing of a radioactive plume in the wide basin of the Pacific Ocean means perhaps a significantly lower concentration of radioactive water on the shores of the Olympic peninsula and other coastlines in North America. Still it gives pause to think that the days of eating salmon and walking the coastline may be coming to an end for years, if ever.

Even more frightening is the announcement this week that Tepco (the plant operator) has been given permission to remove the fuel rods from the spent fuel pool in Plant Number 4. The issue is that the building in which the fuel rods are stored is crumbing and the rods themselves are in an uncertain state. Without going into all the technical details, the rods are clad in a chemical element (zirconium) that burns if exposed to air. If there is a collapse of rods or the building, fuel rods would begin to burn. The impact of burning fuel rods grow to apocalyptic levels based on how bad the fire is and how far it spreads to other areas of the Fukushima plant – starting with a need to evacuate large areas of Japan (if not the entire country) and growing to a highly radioactive cloud of a dust spreading over the entire northern hemisphere.

This is serious stuff and not to be ignored by concerns about Kabuki-theater politics or what NFL game is hot this week.

You can begin reading more here.