Thursday, January 18, 2007

Coming on like gangbusters... by Dana Wall

A weekly crime fighter program was broadcast from the late 1930’s until the mid-fifties when television flushed all radio stories from listeners’ living rooms. “Gang Busters” was a popular police drama. The program signed on with ear-splitting sound effects. There were the noises of loud car engines, screeching tires, crashes, explosions, sirens, and machine gun fire, loudly mixed, and ending with a voice announcing dramatically, “Gaaang...Bussssters!”

Within a short time, at least as new usages are coined, people said about something that started with a bang, excitement, loud noises, or great energy that, “It came on like gangbusters.” The way the radio show “came on.”

I recall my eccentric uncle, for example, describing his energetic two-year-old nephew: “He comes on like gangbusters!”

People who remember the program are few. The expression has changed slightly, and now is dictionary defined: “GANGBUSTERS: go (or like) gangbusters used to refer to great vigor, speed, or success : the real estate market was going gangbusters | it's growing like gangbusters.”

Nothing is said about the radio drama origins of the expression, and the usage has changed to omit “coming on,” as the sound effects did when each episode began. It is interesting that the dictionary now includes “success” as a possible meaning for “like gangbusters.” That was never a connotation from the sound effect introductions to the crime show, although the law officers did always win.

The Associated Press recently quoted the General Electric International CEO, Ferdinando Beccalli-Falco, as saying, “We are living in an exceptional period of time when all of these economics are growing gangbusters.”

A reader familiar with neither the origins of the phrase, nor the present meaning of, “growing gangbusters,” might logically wonder what kind of vegetable a “gangbuster” is, and how economics might grow it. But probably not. I do wonder, though, if either Beccalli-Falco or the AP reporter knows the origins of the term.

The CEO is also contributing to another slight modification of the expression. He did not include the word “like” between “growing” and “gangbusters.”

If the expression survives in some form or another for another seventy years or so, the radio drama origins of “coming on like gangbusters” may be all but lost.
The CEO’s version is a good example of the ever-changing American language. Perhaps Google will preserve it by archiving this blog post.

“Honest” is another word undergoing meaning modification these days. When I was in tenth grade, the English teacher emphasized that “honest” was one of the words that “could not be compared.” A person was either honest or dishonest. The word was like “unique” in that way. “Unique” means “one-of-a kind.” We were, therefore, forbidden to say or write, “very unique,” or “more unique.” Unique was unique, and honest was honest.

The teacher rhetorically asked, “How much more honest is ‘more honest’ than just ‘honest’? A lie is a lie, a thief is a thief, and there is only honesty or dishonesty.”

Our present vice president, who sometimes comes on like gangbusters, by the way, had a different teacher. Commenting on his former assistant and friend, “Scooter” Libby, Mr. Cheney recently was reported to have said, “He is one of the more honest people I know.” “..one of the ‘more honest’”?

“Honest” is simply “honest,” Mr. Vice President. It is not a comparative word.

Yet hardly an American eye blinked. My English teacher is still spinning, however. The Cheney sentence tells something, perhaps, about the evolution of “honesty” and also something about both the Veep and those he “knows.”

Using “more” or “most” with the word seems to render “honest” less than honest. So long as he made the word a comparative, why did Cheney not say Libby was, “one of the most honest people I know”? Did he mean that Libby is not just “honest;” he is “more honest,” but he is not “most honest”? Please!

Think of the power in the lie had Cheney simply said, “Scooter Libby is one of the honest men I know.”

Cheney’s version is a bad example of the ever-changing American language. These days, bad examples seem to be coming on like gangbusters.

~~ ~~

Sunday, December 17, 2006

...tis the season...

There is general consensus that Thanksgiving, a holiday, marks the beginning of "the holidays." Between then and the end of that season, there are both official and unofficial holidays. Christmas Eve is a holiday. So, of course, is Christmas. Then there is New Year's Eve, ushering in a holiday atmosphere all over the world. New Year's Day is a holiday. There is the holiday known as Quanzaa. And there are the days of Hanukkah. Holidays, all. There are other celebrations I may be forgetting. Do Druids still celebrate the winter solstice as a holiday? I hope so. And there are all the football bowl games. Of course they are unofficial holidays, but the jubilant atmosphere often seems to produce a holiday mood, and fans of Ohio State will call it a holiday a whole week after New Year's Day. Florida fans may be less jubilant.

What I am pointing out is that there are many days between Thanksgiving and the BCS Championship Bowl game which are, or seem to be, holidays for many of our good citizens. In the spirit, then, of this "holiday season," may I quote the greeting cards that came to our house years ago when I was a boy?

So many Christmas cards in those long ago days said, "Season's Greetings." And so to you, seasons greetings, and let's work for a happier 2007!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

schools like factories? then why not factories like schools?

There is a large segment of society that seems to think of American schools as factories. Those people see students as raw material to be shaped, polished, and graded, so that all know the same “basic” facts and skills, and all are able to prove their identical knowledge by passing the same “standardized” tests. Teachers are simply factory workers.

Converting the perception of schools to factory-like institutions is a movement that causes more problems than it solves. To illustrate, let’s look at the school-as-factory notion from the other side of the window. For a fictional and, it is hoped, satirical minute, consider a factory that might copy its operational procedures and philosophy from an education model.

So, “Once upon a time,” as all good fairy tales begin, a furniture factory decided to hire as its CEO an experienced educator and former school superintendent. The new CEO was given unlimited power to make the factory productive and the products competitive in the ever-changing world of furniture making in the Twenty-first Century.

The superintendent/CEO initiated sweeping changes. First, a “Strategic planning” session was held to determine what basic design might be best for the factory’s product. Members of the committee included four other CEOs from other types of businesses in the area, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, a representative from the local chapter of the National Organization of Women, a clergyman from the community, the CEO’s personal secretary, and, representing the workers, a retired lathe operator from the factory itself.

Early in the first meeting, the retired lathe operator asked what the difference was between “planning” and “strategic planning.” The new CEO said that “planning” was what one did to lay out the steps for accomplishing a goal or set of goals. And “strategic planning” was developing a list of strategies for accomplishing a goal or set of goals. He emphasized the word, “strategies.”

The lathe operator saw the two as the same, but the other committee members nodded at the CEO and glared at the lathe operator; so, he thought he must have missed a distinction between “laying out the steps” for accomplishing a goal and “developing a list of strategies” for accomplishing it. He kept quiet throughout the rest of the meeting.

The local newspaper, which had not been represented at the meeting, reported that a representative ten-member committee had engaged in strategic planning to keep the local factory competitive in the changing world of the Twenty-first Century. The retired lathe operator thought the article sounded as if the CEO had written it. But, again, he kept quiet.

Then the new CEO announced that the factory was non-discriminatory and would accept shipments of lumber of every type. He proclaimed far and wide that the factory motto would be, “No wood left behind.” Suppliers were soon including balsa wood, oak, pine, cedar, spruce, redwood, cottonwood, birch, and even plywood, among others, in their shipments.

The CEO mandated that all shipments be treated equally, that the timbers all be put through the same saw, the same planer, in fact, through all the same procedures, and be cut and shaped exactly according to his recommendations, which he claimed were based on both strategic planning and the best available research.

The wood, therefore, was cut into three-foot lengths of two-inch square posts or into six-inch wide planks one inch thick and four feet long. The posts were to be legs, and the planks would be fashioned into tabletops.

Some of the scrap lengths were cut into one-inch square “support” posts exactly fourteen inches long. They would serve as braces, fastened at an angle from the tabletops to the legs to provide rigidity, or what the new CEO called, “rigor.”

Factory workers were upset. There was no need for designers or lathe operators, as the factory would be using no variations of product design. Cabinetmakers left for other jobs or took early retirement.

Supervisors were hired to oversee one-product production, with each piece passing inspection to make sure it was the same as every other piece. Those who stayed on became demoralized, but needed the work; so, they complied with the new plan and did not deviate from it, knowing they would still be working after the current administration had moved on.

A committee was formed to write plan manuals for every step in the table making process. One old-time factory worker was appointed to the committee. He was a foreman, nearing retirement. No other factory workers could be spared from their workstations to serve on the plan writing committee. Other members were mostly from the community at large: a banker, a travel agent, a representative from the Board of Directors, a member of the stockholders’ association, plus two of the newly hired supervisors, and the CEO’s personal secretary, who took all ideas from the committee back to the office. It was she who typed up the manuals.

The new supervisors conducted in-service training with the manuals as the curriculum, and workers were given copies. Copies were also given to factory stockholders and to the media. A newspaper account praised the process going on at the factory in an article written by the CEO and his secretary. It was printed as submitted.

Assembly of the new product began. All pieces for the tables were given the same amount of sanding. And at first, as mandated, all were coated with the same varnish. But inspection revealed that various woods responded to varnish with differing results! Varnish seemed to sink into the balsa wood leaving little color. Conversely, the varnish brought out varied patterns in the grain of several other woods. It had little effect on some woods and a brilliant effect on others. Varnish failed to penetrate the hardest woods and smeared when touched for several days after application. The workers snickered behind their hands.

The CEO thought about how to achieve equal appearing results with the varieties of lumber and not leave some wood behind. And so it was that all tables with their same sized tops and identically shaped four legs of randomly selected woods were able to pass the test, to look alike, and to display equal shaping and finishing. They were all given thick coats of enamel. Non-glossy, white enamel!

Announcements from the CEO were made to the media and at public gatherings about the new product and how efficient and effective the factory now was. All tables were said to pass the same tests!

There were one or two exceptions, at first. Occasionally a table with legs, chosen at random so as to avoid charges of favoritism or discrimination, came out with two or even three balsa wood or cottonwood legs. Painted, they appeared the same as the oak and redwood legs randomly placed on other tables. But the softer woods did not bear as much weight for long periods.

Remediation was sought. A special department was created within the factory to add supplementary support to the weaker woods. Thin strips of harder woods were glued to the sides of the balsa wood legs, after first shaving them a bit so that the added woods would not affect the leg’s dimensions. That process meant another manual needed to be written, another supervisor hired.

The same problem was found with the occasional tabletops of balsa or cottonwood. The surface was so soft that it was easily marred and nicked. Again, remedial carpentry was employed to give the softer woods a veneer of hardwood. When the tables were covered with white enamel, no potential buyer could tell the difference, a goal spelled out in the new manual.

And so it was that the factory turned out thousands more tables than it had ever manufactured in any year before. Publicity and claims of quality made them sell well for a time.

But soon members of the public tired of the sameness. An owner here and there stripped the white from the table to refinish it according to his or her own tastes and needs, and it was discovered that the tables were built of a conglomeration of woods, some suited for the furniture and some not.

The factory warehouse soon held hundreds, then thousands of tables, all with the same look, which were not viable in the marketplace. A protest movement began, slowly at first. The factory shareholders demanded that a committee investigate and report. At first the CEO stood by his philosophy and methods.

Critics pointed to articles in furniture manufacturing journals suggesting that factories should be diverse, employ more than one designer, product, method, and produce a wide variety of furniture suited to the various woods.

The evidence was presented, and the CEO relented. He allowed a committee to be formed. Again, no actual workers were consulted or appointed to the committee. Those appointed, quite naturally, then, blamed the factory workers for the faulty products. The newspaper printed the finding under banner headlines.

The committee members also recommended hiring a new CEO, a visionary, perhaps, with a new organizational strategy and a strategic plan for professional development of the factory workers, enabling them to produce an improved product line. The final recommendations included a call for employing highly trained designers and better-trained carpenters to fashion diverse furniture items, each suited to the variety of woods available at any one time.

“No wood left behind” gave way to “All woods shaped to take advantages of individual qualities.” A two-inch article on page ten of the local paper announced the new goal statement.

The CEO was fired and given a ten million dollar contract buy-out plus medical benefits for life. A search committee was formed to find the next CEO.

In fact, that committee is conducting interviews at this time among leaders of various businesses and industries around the country. The leading contender seems to be the head of a company that developed the Reading First program, which was created soon after the federal No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002.

The old retired lathe operator was also asked to be a member of the nine-member search committee, and his only contribution to the discussions, so far, was a response to a Reading First publicity statement read at the first search committee meeting which states, “Reading First is built on years of scientific research showing that students who develop strong reading skills at an early age are most likely to remain in school.” The lathe operator said, “Well, DUH!” The other committee members glared at him.

In addition to company literature, the Reading First executive also sent a statement of his leadership intent should he be named the new head of the furniture factory. It says, in part, “If selected, my approach would include building on a solid foundation of research, with a program designed to select, implement, and provide professional development for factory workers using scientifically-based carpentry programs and to ensure accountability through ongoing screening and factory-based assessment.”

The committee voted almost unanimously, the lathe operator dissenting, to ask the man to come for an interview.

The candidate is named Neil Bush.

And no one lives happily ever after.

~ ~

Author’s note: Though this is a fairy tale, there really is a Neil Bush, a first brother, formerly of the Savings and Loan Association failures of a few years ago. The Neil Bush whose wife divorced him when it was learned that he had been serving as a “consultant” in China, where prostitutes were sent to his door in the evenings, and he did nothing for China but talk to officials... and provide a link to his brother. The Neil Bush who is now an executive of Reading First, a federally supported software company developing materials for, among other things, “helping students to pass competency tests as part of No Child Left Behind.” The Neil Bush whose mother, Barbara, contributed money to Hurricane Katrina relief with the stipulation that it be used to purchase Reading First materials for New Orleans schools. That Neil Bush. And he is all too real. All other characters and the furniture factory are fictional. According to many, so is the author.
--Dana Wall

Thursday, October 05, 2006

There is so much in the political news these past few days to cause gasps, head shakes, pursed lips, sadness, and disbelief that an old curmudgeon hardly knows where to begin a rant.

But consider this item. Henry Kissinger has been outed in Bob Woodward’s new book, STATE OF DENIAL, as being a regular advisor to both Cheney and Bush on the Iraq war. Kissinger confirmed that it is true. News broadcasts now also have played a clip of a pre-publication Woodward interview with Cheney where the vice president acknowledges the close relationship and admits that Bush also sits regularly with Kissinger, the former Viet Nam War “consultant.” (Actually, he was Nixon’s National Security Advisor.) The “Kissinger-as-Bush-advisor role” had not been public before the book’s release. I wonder if Condi knew. Or Rumsfeld.

The revelation helps explain so much about the war and perhaps the White House secrecy behind it! Kissinger’s role also raises many questions. I’ll quit with just one sarcastic query: Whassa matter, wasn’t Robert McNamara available?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

An eye for an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye for...

News and comments swirl around another “intelligence report.” According to the media, this report represents the consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. I had forgot that there are 16 agencies gathering intelligence. And I was amazed, at first, that 16 agencies could reach consensus on anything. That may show how obvious are their conclusions.

The document is called a “high-level” intelligence report, and was classified. But portions were leaked, and Bush has now declassified four pages of the 30-page document, “so that everyone can draw their own conclusions about what the report says.”

On one hand, I am not sure four of thirty pages are adequate for that. On the other, I am amazed that four pages of a 30 page consensus report by the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies is thought necessary to tell the world what nearly everyone already knows.

I do wonder, however, what surprises may be in the other 26 pages. Nonetheless, following is a short summary of the released pages. See if there is even one surprise in them.

* The Iraqi war is described as a “major catalyst for Islamic radicalism around the world.”

* One of the main conclusions reads: “We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.”

* The report also says that al-Qaida is now exploiting the war to attract donors and recruits. Further, it states that fighters with experience in Iraq are likely to function as leaders in a new generation of jihadists.

* The Iraq conflict is described as a recruiting tool for Islamic militants, a training ground for Muslim jihadists, and a laboratory for new terrorist methods now increasingly being exported to other countries.

* According to the media report, the veteran analysts concluded, “Despite serious damage to the leadership of al-Qaida, the threat from Islamic extremists has spread both in number and in geographic reach since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.”

See what I mean? Nearly everyone knew all that before those portions of the document were released. Perhaps that is why the four pages of the 30 were declassified. But, as I said, what is in the other 26 pages? And why do they remain “classified”?

Anyway, the comparative few who will refuse to believe the released information may be either the radically religious, who see the Mid-east conflict as some kind of crusade, or those Republicans who would support any leader they voted into office simply because they are incapable of believing that they may have voted for the wrong leader.

There is another group who may neither believe the report nor care what it says. Some of them are both thoughtful and articulate. I think they are also wrong. They seem to believe it does not matter what devastation the war has caused, how many innocent civilian deaths, how many military casualties, how many parents and widows and orphans now grieve, how much money is spent, how much corruption exists among war profiteers, how many lives are disrupted, how many marriages ended, how many laws broken, how many lies told, and how much the rest of the world objects. In their minds, past terrorist actions against this country justify everything the administration has done and will do both to our own laws and citizens and to terrorists and innocent civilians in other countries.

Not only do they dismiss any criticism as unpatriotic, but they also seem to see no other option than what the leaders they voted into office pursue, and they repeat the administration talking points robotically. “Better to fight them there than here,” for example. Better for whom is not a consideration.

Won’t pursuing “an eye for an eye” long enough leave everyone blind?

~ ~

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Going all the way...

You know how statistics from “studies” often do not tell the entire story. Like those studies that show how many men versus women have illicit, heterosexual affairs. The percentage of men is always higher in any study than the percentage of women.

No one seems to ask who the men are having heterosexual relations with. Do the women who have illicit sex have it with more partners than men who do? Or are some men lying about having the illicit sex, saying they do when they don’t, thus making the male percentage higher than women’s? Or do women lie and say they do not, when they do, making their percentage lower than that of males?

Or? I don’t know. It just always makes me wonder when I read yet one more study saying that, for example, seventy percent of men and forty percent of women have had a heterosexual affair.

Anyway, I recently read a study saying that pre-teens who choose raucous rap and heavy metal performances (I can’t in good conscience call it “music”) are more likely to have early sex than those kids who choose less raucous sounds such as ballads, or even country-western or classical music.

What the newspaper report did not say was what the researchers believe is cause and effect. The report implies that listening to raucous music may cause pre-teens to seek sex earlier than those listening to melodies.

Perhaps there was more to the study, and the newspaper chose only that part to report. But one needs to ask about the kids studied. Could it not be that pre-teens who seek sex earlier than others want the wilder music because of their raging hormones, and not that the music causes their hormones to rage? Then the kids who wait longer for sex are those types who seek quieter music, perhaps? It may not be that the music soothes their savage breasts.

Again, I don’t know. My dad was angry with me in the 1950s for listening to Frank Sinatra croon, “All The Way.” He thought it suggestive and even "dirty": “When somebody loves you, it’s no good unless he loves you, all the way.” Etc.

I wasn’t successful in finding it, but sex was something I sought back then. Suppose that was Frankie’s fault?

~ ~

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Painting by numbers...

I grouched about this a few months ago, but the subject has come up again. The Department of Homeland Security is “cracking down” on U.S. citizens who order prescription drugs from Canada. Prescription drugs. Brand names, ordered from reputable Canadian pharmacies. It is against some law or other, but has not been widely enforced until comparatively recently.

A clear and present danger?

Let’s play a little game of “connect the dots” and see what picture you get. Pencils ready? Begin.

Dot #1. The public record shows that pharmaceutical companies were among the biggest contributors to the election campaign of George Bush and other Republicans running for office in 2004.

Dot #2. Records also show that the number of lobbyists registered as working for pharmaceutical companies is now huge, far larger than in 2000.

Dot #3. President Bush went on the air in 2004 to warn U.S. citizens about the potential dangers of buying prescription drugs from “foreign countries.” He cited Canada as one example of a foreign country whose prescription drugs may be suspect. He did not say how he knew, nor what he suspected.

Dot #4. In late fall two years ago it became public that there was a shortage of anti-flu vaccine in the United States. Bush, when questioned, explained that the problem was with this country’s supplier. The company had experienced manufacturing problems resulting in an inability to fill the order. It was a British country that supplied U.S. flu vaccine. British. Foreign.

Dot #5. After screams from all sides about whose fault the shortage was, Bush was back explaining that efforts to solve the vaccine problem were working, that the shortage would be short lived, and that we would soon be getting all the flu vaccine we needed, shipped from companies in…ready?...Canada! (See again, Dot #3.)

Dot #6. Last fall, according to an article by Susan Q. Stranahan in the current AARP BULLETIN, “Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection quietly stepped up its confiscation of prescription drugs from Canada.”

Dot #7. Again according to Stranahan, officials claim that the new policy is to protect consumers. People paying $115 for a three-month’s supply of Fosamax, for example, are now forced, instead, to pay $75 for a one-month supply of the same brand from their local pharmacies. Buying from Canada is illegal, and “it is not safe,” repeat officials.

Dot #8. A 2004 Government Accountability Office study concluded that prescription drugs from Canada are comparable to those bought in the U.S. Florida Senator Bill Nelson added, “And the fact is, most drugs sold in Canada come from the same companies and same assembly lines as drugs sold in America.”

Dot #9. There is pending legislation to support “legal and safe” importation of prescription drugs from other countries. The bill currently languishes in committee.

Dot #10. Ken Johnson, vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, has said that the proposed legislation “undermines the government’s ability to assure the American public” that drugs are safe.

Dot #11. Americans questioning the confiscation of their prescription drugs are regularly led to believe that it is just big government’s way of protecting them.

Dot #12. As drug prices have risen dramatically in recent years, some two million people have looked to Canada for medicines. Illinois led a number of states in directing their citizens to Canadian markets. But not until a governor-ordered study concluded that Canada’s pricing and distribution system was less likely than this country’s to foster counterfeiting of drugs and low-quality products.

Dot #13. Americans in recent years have spent between $500 million and $1 billion annually in Canada where brand-name drugs, including those made by U.S. companies, are often “significantly cheaper.”

Dot #14. This one is an “opinion dot." Conservative Republicans in Goldwater’s day might have suggested that any administration claiming to be that protective was either lying about whom they were trying to protect or sticking their liberal, big-government noses into the public’s affairs in areas of personal freedom where government has no place. Perhaps especially a government that has turned a blind eye to the outsourcing of jobs by so many (campaign contributing) American companies in recent years.

Take a moment to finish drawing your conclusions. ... O.K., Stop. Put your pencils down.

The situation has inspired a silly idea I am here passing along to any one of the writers of Saturday Night Live. Or, perhaps, it fits better those who write and stage the skits at the Washington Press Corps’ annual Gridiron Club dinner and “roast” of all things political.

Here it is: The curtain goes up. Karl Rove is talking with the head of the OBGYN doctor’s organization, as well as the head of the American Dental Association and the head of the U.S. optometrists. Karl is explaining that if those organizations want to stop celebrities like Angelina or Anna Nicole from going to Africa or the Bahamas to give birth to American babies and promoting that alternative to American hospitals, there may be a way. And if they also want to stop citizens from traveling to Mexico, for example, for eye exams and glasses, or for dental work, then, perhaps they should all help fund the reelection of lawmakers who could become sympathetic to their views of protecting Americans from foreign hospitals, optometrists, and dentists.

The heads of the organizations repeat that Americans seeking medical treatment outside the country should be protected from potentially endangering their health. Karl nods, agrees again, and once more suggests supporting a President and legislators who may have the power to help. --Curtain--

Get the picture?

~ ~