Jack’s Walk

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When I was a young girl we lived in the country and there was a small wooded area out behind our house. I didn’t like being in the house very much, so whenever I could I escaped out to the woods. I had a tree there that looked very much like this one. It was tall and wide with big arms that were missing pieces and it had this cozy at the ground that I could clamber into. I loved being there, alone with a book and just the sounds of the forest. I kept small treasures there too. Fossils, pieces of bone, feathers. Sometimes a blanket.

Seeing this tree today has made me sentimental. It is a lovely and inviting tree and maybe there is a way to crawl in and find an adventure story waiting just for you.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 8 – Work vs. Employment

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.

In the Czechoslovak Socialist republic everyone had a right to work. That is, everyone was entitled to be employed and make wages that guaranteed you shall be able to live off of them.

That sounds good on paper, but it did not work out so well in praxis.

First problem was that whilst there was some possibility of improving your income through work if you were a good worker and happened to be paid not per hour but per manufactured piece (or mined tonnage etc.), this was very strongly discouraged. The norms were still being evaluated and re-evaluated so if people worked too hard and earned too much, they would be re-adjusted so their income falls. This has led to peer pressure against too “hardworking” people to keep their heads down and not exceed the norms too much. Some minimal income was guaranteed, wo why work too much? If you do, you will have to keep working hard but you will not get more, so why bother? That was the general consensus among the populace. Nobody feared unemployment or not making enough money, and everyone knew that their chances at making more are abysmal, so people generally skived off of work left right and center. In trying not to get anyone too rich, the regime only succeeded to keep everyone poor (with exceptions, on that later).

Since It was not possible to keep an eye on everyone everywhere, the supervisors often did not even try. Greater care was taken to make the numbers look good on paper than to do good work, since it was easier. There were of course companies and individuals that did a good job. Some such companies were kept as the forefront for the regime and occasionally some random worker who exceeded the plan was paraded around as a PR stunt. I saw a discussion with one such worker on TV towards the end of the regime where the reality of this state of affairs was mentioned – that a lot of produced pieces was junk that once written into the glowing reports went not to the shops, but on the scrap pile. This was huge problem that has caused a lot of economical damage to the regime and has led to significant waste of resources.

Another problem was that it actively discouraged improvement and development. In the town where I live there was a small factory that has manufactured computer monitors. Our class was one day on an excursion in there and one moment stuck in mind. It was when the foreman was showing us a piece of new equipment, an automatic soldering table that was capable of soldering all components on a circuit board in one go in a bath of molten tin. He said “but we cannot use it too much, because otherwise we would not have work for all the women in soldering department”. To which our teacher, a bit zealous communist, replied with a sneer “but some capitalist would lave to have it so they could lay off those women”. The foreman looked baffled and not to pleased with this comment, but did not reply. As a child I could not put my finger on exactly where the problem lies with this reasoning, but it felt wrong. We were taught that advances in technology are a good thing, and making work for people easier is a good thing, but here people had to do manually work in an environment full of poisonous fumes even though the work could be done by a machine? It did not feel right. Well we need to keep those buggy whips manufacturers employed…

From that stems the fourth problem. A lot of work done was “work for work’s sake”. Not only was employment guaranteed, but unemployment was illegal. In order to achieve the nearly 100% employment, even with a lot of people skiving off and not working their best as a rule, there was an awful lot of busy but ultimately pointless jobs around. I remember how my brother finished his machinist’s education and went all giddy to his first job. He was actually looking forward to it. He came home all downcast and disappointed after his first day – he was given a stack of notebooks, a pencil and a ruler and he had to draw lines in the notebooks. Completely pointless task, but the factory – coincidentally the same one as in previous example – just did not have anything better for him to do.

Fourth problem was the widespread corruption. Most jobs that required higher education (like a physician, or a teacher) were assigned centrally so that availability of some services is evenly distributed. Not a completely bad idea since distributing these works purely on market basis means that countryside is without schools and doctors. However the implementation was deeply problematic, since party membership and family histories were a part of the consideration for who gets assigned where. So the countryside was sometimes stuck with teachers or doctors who were sent there as a form of punishment for not being subservient to the regime enough – and that was better option than those being sent there for mediocrity or incompetence. And the good spots were reserved for the competent – and, more importantly, the well-connected.

All in all this has led to the regime not progressing economically too much and average people were not particularly well-off. It tried to hide this behind the iron curtain, but some people did manage to visit western countries and word of mouth spread their experiences. And when the iron curtain fell, we could go and see for our selves the reality.

Jack’s Walk

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The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.





Jack’s Walk

It’s been 10 days since I checked in on the goslings and they’ve gotten so big. Their beaks have developed into the adult shape, their necks are much longer and their colour has turned from yellow to light brown. You can also see the beginnings of adult feathers and the development of real wings. I wonder at what age they will take to the air?

©voyager, all rights reserved

On the other side of the park, though, one poor mama is still incubating her eggs and she has nested right against the concrete barrier to the pond. It’s a busy spot near a parking lot with lots of people coming and going. I’ve been pondering this choice and have concluded that the concrete barrier protects her on one side so no one can sneak up on her and that the parade of people probably keep other geese from bothering her. Even so, she is wary and was giving Jack the evil eye. I have no doubt that she would have launched an attack had I let Jack any closer. Not a silly goose after all.

Exquisite Rot: The Lost Art of Intarsia.

Much like people still use fungus riddled Diamond Willow to make walking sticks and other items, spalted wood was also a part of the art of Intarsia, a specific type of wood inlay. Here are a few stunning examples, and you can see and read much more about the history of this art at the Public Domain Review.

The technique of Intarsia — the fitting together of pieces of intricately cut wood to make often complex images — has produced some of the most awe-inspiring pieces of Renaissance craftsmanship.

Note: if you click over to the Met Museum, the way to see the images full size is to click on ‘download’. All the images here, click for full size!

Detail from an intarsia piece by Fra Damiano da Bergamo, early 16th century. Note the subtle dots of greenish-blue in the covered archway — Source.

Detail from an intarsia piece by Fra Damiano da Bergamo, early 16th century. Note the subtle dots of greenish-blue in the covered archway — Source.

Those “cupboards” are trompe l’oeil! Part of the Studiolo Gubbio as installed in the Metropolitan Museum — Source.

cipio Africanus (ca. 1425–30), intarsia by Mattia di Nanni di Stefano using poplar, bog oak and other wood inlay, rosewood, tin, bone, traces of green colouring — Source.

Scipio Africanus (ca. 1425–30), intarsia by Mattia di Nanni di Stefano using poplar, bog oak and other wood inlay, rosewood, tin, bone, traces of green colouring — Source.

The Healing Arts: Humbugging and Hocus Pocus.

Click for full size!

Humbugging. Or Raising The Devil. Thomas Rowlandson, Aquatint coloured, 1800. Subject: Wizards, Confidence Trickster, Pickpocket.

Humbugging. Or Raising The Devil. Thomas Rowlandson, Aquatint coloured, 1800. Subject: Wizards, Confidence Trickster, Pickpocket.

Hocus Pocus Or Searching For The Philosopher's Stone. Thomas Rowlandson, Aquatint coloured, 1800. Subject: Count Alexander Cagliostro (Giuseppe Balsamo), Alchemy, Sex.

Hocus Pocus Or Searching For The Philosopher’s Stone. Thomas Rowlandson, Aquatint coloured, 1800. Subject: Count Alessandro Cagliostro (Giuseppe Balsamo), Alchemy, Sex.

James Gillray did a scathing piece on Cagliostro, click for full size: