April 11, 2007


This blog is covering lots of issues this week, but the guiding thread is a fond look back at El Cabrero's short and inglorious career as a volunteer firefighter.

Firefighting is a good metaphor for what we need a lot more of in our world today.

If this is your first visit, please scroll back to earlier entries.

Anyhow, by far the coolest training I ever attended as a volunteer was basic auto extrication, the art and science of dealing with car wrecks and trying to get people out of them.

We studied the anatomy of vehicles and the means of opening them up like sardine cans, the hazards of airbags, and the means of removing windows—even down to the art of removing a windshield when a person’s head has gone through it. I must say that my personal use of seat belts increased markedly as a result of that weekend.

The most fun part of auto ex was getting to play with the toys. (I must say in all honesty that playing with cool toys is a major plus in firefighting). The toys in question are often called “the jaws of life.” These are pneumatic tools that can cut, spread, push, and generally dismantle vehicles.

At first, we were very proper, carefully applying the techniques we learned in class to some donated wrecked vehicles. After a little of this, however, we dropped all pretense and just starting slicing them up like butter. In an anthropologist would have walked on the scene, she or he would have thought we were a primitive tribe ritually slaughtering our sacred animal in some Dionysian revelry….which wouldn’t have been far off the mark.

In the real world, though, there are lots more car wrecks than structure fires, so this was very practical training. Our department was responsible not only for rural roads but major arteries of traffic, including several miles of interstate.

But the most memorable part of the class was the instructor, whose favorite expression was....goat rope. As in, "Boys, you know what I see here? I see a goat rope," meaning a real mess or a situation out of control. A pretty good expression for the state of the world today.

What can I say? It was love at first hearing. I'd heard the expression before, but never said as well. So now you know the rest of the story.

Speaking of goat ropes,

CREDIT CARD DEBT. America's credit card indebtedness (along with other kinds) is reaching stunning proportions. Here are plenty of links on the extent of the problem.

A CLOSELY RELATED ISSUE is growing inequality, a frequent Goat Rope theme. This is from an editorial in this week/s The Nation:

The top 1 percent of Americans are now getting the largest share of national income since 1928. And a mere 300,000 are now getting almost the same income as 150 million others on the bottom of the wage ladder.

The wage gap has nearly doubled since 1980, the dawn of the conservative era. The deterioration of equitable income in American society is not over. It continues to get much worse. The top 10 percent--the people earning roughly $100,000 a year and higher--now get 48.5 percent of total income. Not surprisingly, average incomes for the bottom 90 percent are down slightly. These numbers are from the Internal Revenue Service for 2005, and experts agree they understate the disparities.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS. This week, Maryland became the first state to pass a living wage bill. Here's some info:

Companies with state service contracts would be required to pay workers a "living wage" under first-in-the-nation legislation that the General Assembly approved yesterday and sent to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who championed the idea on the campaign trail.

Lawmakers gave final passage to the bill on the last day of the session, less than one week after legislative leaders and O'Malley hashed out an agreement to make the proposal palatable to some opponents. The bill, as revised, sets up two pay grades for the workers - at least $11.30 an hour in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and $8.50 an hour in rural areas.

That would be a good campaign to replicate in other states.

DWIGHT! Finally, El Cabrero admits to being an addict of "The Office," although I've chose to manage my addiction by indulging it. For other fans, did you know that the character Dwight Shrute has his own blog? Too bad he doesn't update it more...


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