The End Of The World As We Know It — Keep Swimming


First a quick nod of thanks to R.E.M. for the song that’s been playing in my head for nearly a month.  Where would we be without our daily life soundtrack….

A few days ago, I posted a short piece to FaceBook that I later added here as a blog entry, talking about how I’ve finally managed to get past the election of Donald Trump, and get on with my life.  In that post, I said I’d had 2 “ah-ha” moments and I explained what I’d learned, then ended by saying there really was a 3rd big AH-HA — but it would take too long to explain in a FB status update.  After all the comments, Likes, private messages, phone calls etc from my friends & FBcontacts, I now realize that just about everybody I know — including even those who don’t live in the US or have US citizenship —  has been experiencing the same kind of PTSD reaction to this year’s election, and that maybe I should have taken the time and explained all three Ah-Ha’s.  Here we are, nearly five weeks after the fact, and people are still either in denial — still expecting some deus ex machina intervention or catastrophe to prevent the coming inauguration — or so deep into depression that they are considering a visit to their doctor to talk about SSRIs.  Or Valium.  or Xanax.  or medical marijuana.  or how to self-administer a lethal injection.

Not those who voted for the Don, I suppose.  But I don’t actually know anybody who voted for him.  Or who will admit to it, anyway.

The worst reactions are coming from those who have either been in abusive relationships and escaped — or those who have lived and/or worked closely with a narcissist.  (Not a slightly self-absorbed average person — a real, live, clinically pathological narcissist.)  For those people, the post-election season is a little like waking up in one of their own nightmare memories.  The evening news is like watching old home movies — playing out on a global scale.  People who have survived a marriage to a narcissist or a business relationship with a narcissist  know what’s coming.  It’s the Big Reveal.  Or the Big Run-And-Hide.  Enemies lists, revenge, retribution, long-game-I’ll-show-you, spiteful jabs, reputation destroying, enemies-closer, cyber-stalking, power-plays, victory laps, pep rallies, loyalty rewards cards, military parades, membership in Biggest Winner Fan Club, mass hysteria, dogs and cats living together….

And they’re right, of course.  All of that is more than possible.  It’s probable.  Likely.  Coming to a theater near you.  And a market near you.  And a street near you.  Everybody needs to have their exit strategy laid out.  Keep the tank full at all times.   Have at least 3-4 weeks of food and water on hand.  Keep blankets and water and an emergency care kit by the door.

This is not a test.

But here’s the other thing that’s just as true:

The model still holds.

I am not going to explain the model in this post.  That would be like explaining particle physics in 20 words or less.  (lol)  It would be a 50 page (conservatively) snooze-a-thon for most folks.  There is a full explanation of the Graves Model here in my blog (start here, if you want the full monty) – but the essentials are these:

  • There is a developmental pattern shared by all of us.
  • The same pattern of human development is shared by groups — families, societies, species.  From individuals to villages, companies to governments, to the global village — each of us, and each of the cultural groups we belong to, all follow the same pattern of evolution.
  • The level of the model an individual operates at is demonstrated by their motivations, beliefs, and behaviors.
  • When the “tipping point” of any level is reached, the person or society that has reached that tipping point moves on to the next level. (much like a simple game, where the tiny explorer fights all the creatures and solves all the puzzles on one level, then discovers the doorway into the next level and so moves on.)
  • The levels alternate between inward focus and outward focus.  That is, Level 1 is all about my own personal survival.  Once that survival is secured, we look around and say “Is that it?  Is that all there is to life?”  And of course, the answer is always, NO.  There is more to life that just my own survival — but I can’t see that until I’m good enough at surviving to look around my own little 2-square-feet of real estate.  And Level 2 is born — the family group or tribe is born.  Level 1 is inward — just me.  Level 2 is outward and inclusive — US.  WE.  We survive and we do it better together.  We take care of our own.  We share the load.  We help each other.
  • Each progressive step upward reaches its threshold asking a question.  Odd numbered levels ask, “Is that all there is?” before moving up to an even-numbered level.  Even numbers ask, “but what’s in this for me?” and then move up to the next odd-numbered level to do inward/individual focus again.
  • Each progressive level is broader and/or more complex than the previous level.
  • The group — the US — of each progressive even number is bigger than the last.  Level 2 is about protecting and building family and tribe.  Level 4 is about protecting and building social order — church, state, laws, written morals etc.  Level 6 is about protecting and building for all humans and other diverse groups, acting together and for one-another.
  • The individual — the ME — of each progressive odd number exhibits a wider range of power, control, and participation in self advancement than simple survival.  Level 3 is about competition, conquest, and winning on the battlefields of sport, war, and pre-capitalist economics.  Level 5 is about competition, conquest and winning on the bigger playing fields of capitalist economics, science, and technology.  Level 7 does not exist yet on a global scale —  we have not reached this level in the broader evolution of our species, but in individual terms, it is about the competition and conquest of ideas.  We are playing on the bigger field of human ideas and understanding.  It is a world of figuring out bigger questions.  Bigger patterns.  Patterns over time and distance.   L3 is pre-capitalist.  L5 is capitalist.  L7 is — you guessed it — post-capitalist.
  • The Graves Model itself, exists at Level 7.  And yes, there is an 8, but neither L1 nor L8 is really relevant or helpful for this discussion, so we’re just going to drop those for now and move on.
  • In general, the harshest critics of any level are those who have just moved to the next level.  Like someone who has just managed to kick an addiction to cigarettes is the first to insist that smokers are enemies of the state.
  • In general, odd numbers see both the previous even number and the next even number as enemies of all they stand for.  L5 tends to see L4’s laws, regulations, and morals as strangling and ridiculously rule-bound; and L6’s concern with “all-those-not-like-me” as wasting their time, money and energy on things that don’t matter to the bottom line.  L3 felt the same way about L2 and L4.  L7 will, if we last long enough as a species, feel the same way about L6 and L8.
  • In general, regardless of what level we exist at, we are able to operate at other levels when called for.  For example, anyone who has survived (L1) is able to shift into L1 when their survival is at stake.  Anyone who has lived at L2 will return to L2 for family gatherings.  Anyone can play tennis at L3.  Everyone probably attends church or balances their checkbook in L4-mode.  There are certain activities that pull us from our general operating level into a level that works best for that particular activity.
  • We all tend to believe that everyone is just like us — but that some are doing it very badly.  L2s think the entire world exists for them to use for their group’s benefit — but some individuals or countries  just don’t understand.  L3 thinks the whole world is there for them to fight, defeat, and conquer — the one with the biggest stick or gun wins.  L4 thinks the world just needs to follow their rules.  L5 thinks money will fix everything.  L6 thinks we are our brother’s keepers, and everyone is our brother — but (L5 especially) just doesn’t get it.  L7 believes they can fix it if they can just figure it out — and any other pursuit is a waste of time.
  • And — this is the important take-away — Every individual, regardless of level, and every social or cultural entity, regardless of level — has one belief in common:


And that, boys and girls, is where war and aggression come from.

And that’s the shortest explanation of the Graves Theory of Human Evolution I can give you.  It’s not complete.  I’ve made some outrageous simplifications.  But that’s the crux of it.  It’s a really REALLY complicated big picture cut down to a page or two of generalizations.

I thought I’d live to see the shift from Graves Level 5 to 6 as the dominant world system.  After all, we’ve been here at L5 since the Renaissance.  Sure, there have been many individuals who have existed happily and well at L6 and L7 for years — but not enough of those individuals for any but a few tiny countries or organizations to move up into L6 en mas.  Large collections of L7s work in close proximity in  few really forward thinking companies, research institutions or colonies, but in general they are Lone Wolf thinkers who specialize in pattern recognition, theoretical scientific work, and systems analysis and theory.

But since the Renaissance, L5 has been the dominant and overwhelmingly persuasive bully on the pitch.  In many cases, it has persuaded us that it is the only game in town — that if it isn’t working, it’s because it is being played badly — and with enough effort and elbow grease, we can get it working the way we want it to work.

But here’s the truth — the pattern holds.

The next step will be the de-throning of L5 as the dominant social system.

We were closer than we’ve ever been to that flip into L6 in 2016 with the candidacy of Bernie Sander for President of the United States.  With Hillary Clinton, we had a candidate who had split her time going back and forth between L5 and L6.  After all, her social ambitions were based firmly in L6 ambitions, but she spent her entire career fighting from within the L5 establishment.  With Donald Trump, we had a candidate playing solidly in L5 (albeit in a significantly unhealthy way.)  HERE is a write-up on Health at any Level.

But Bernie Sanders was a horse of a different color in this race.  He makes no bones about being post-capitalist in a capitalist dominated world.  And he made no bones about pointing out the flaws in that system — for his entire career in politics.  This made him the ideal candidate for all those who have individually moved to the Graves Level where protecting and building a world where everyone is on equal footing — has equal advantages and opportunities — equal rights and protections under the law.  And for the first time in human history, one of the most powerful nations on the planet came very close to shifting from Level 5 to Level 6.  In fact, if the L5 US had been a healthy version of L5, rather than a panic-driven L5 running without the constraints of L4 morality, he might have succeeded.  But neither the Democratic nor Republican parties felt bound by right over wrong, legal or illegal, truth over lie, or fair and just over self-interest.

In short, Bernie Sanders felt bound by the rule of law and the fairness he was running to create.  Neither of the other two major candidates or their parties felt the same way.  Hillary and Trump were running in and for an L5 world.  Bernie was running in hope of an L6 emergence.

So again, THE PATTERN HOLDS.  L6 is where we are all heading, both as individuals and as a species.

One of the biggest bluffs L5 has run on humanity is the hyper-quotable: “Nobody ever said life was going to be fair.”


The idea that life isn’t fair  makes it easy for L5 to take what it wants, regardless of who it hurts.  So long as life isn’t fair — bullies reign.  If we start with the presupposition that there are winners and losers — then it’s okay within that presupposition for most of the population to be losers.  And it’s okay for winners to gloat.  And kick the losers in the butt to make sure they remember their place.

But the presupposition is a lie.  If life is sometimes unfair, it’s because its really really hard, not because it’s impossible.  And creating something that is really really hard and complicated and complex and far-reaching requires a higher Graves Level of complexity than L5 could manage.  It will take L6 — fully formed and reveling in the complications and tangles — to created fairness.

Expect justice to be the motive from healthy L4.

But expect fairness to be the motivation from healthy L6.

So if you are waiting for the  deus ex machina to drop down and save you from Donald Drumph, you can stop waiting.  This is all real and it is all going to happen.  His narcissism is going to be dangerous.  His ignorance is going to be a challenge.  But his presence is going to be.  Period.  The trick is going to be to survive it — both individually, and collectively as a country.  If there is homework, it will be waiting to see how far we can get the pendulum to swing.  Never mind “don’t let that pendulum hit you in the butt as you leave the White House, Donald!”  We want it to hit him so hard that L5 leaves with him as the dominant system in the US, and L6 is the only logical and reasonable step forward anybody can see.

So to all my friends that are still having trouble figuring out how to move on with their lives in a Trumpocracy — just know we are all still here, and the pattern holds.  We may not live to see it, but our children and grandchildren may yet discover that the world really can be a fair place.  A just place.  An honorable place.  A complex puzzle of life rather than a jack-bo0ted torture of a life.

The task ahead — the one that really gets us ahead, rather than earning us a spot in the loony-bin — is to do our best to live lives of fairness and hope, rather than lives of fear and victim-hood.  Do your L6 best — volunteer.  March.  Protest.  Give things away to people who need them.  Donate to organizations with a clear L6 focus and structure.  Support random acts of kindness and fairness.  Participate in your community and group and religion and school.  Feed somebody who’s hungry.  Learn constantly.  Reinvent yourself daily.  Save the planet.  Save the animals.  Save yourself.

In evolutionary terms, the only resolution to advancing complexity is to move to a higher level of existence.   Problems cannot be addressed from the level that created them.  It took L2 to create a place for L1 to live out their survival.  And it took L3 to progress beyond the boundary of the village.  It took L4 to stop L3’s conquests.  It took L5 to reign in L4’s structure.  Similarly, L5 can’t fix L5’s hoarding and bullying.  Only L6 can fix L5 problems.  And only L7 can harness the energy of all those minds and ideas held dear by so many people thinking and creating together.

If we can keep the planet alive long enough, we might be able to all live here together.  The pattern holds, and the pattern is bigger than this election.  It’s also bigger than the US.  Certainly bigger than any one mewling politician or disrupted event.  If you’re still stuck in the politics, pull up higher so you can see the bigger picture.  — and hold on to that bigger picture.  It’s the one that matters.


Visiting Ronald McDonald House

The Ronald McDonald House Charities are a big deal for a regional medical center out in the middle of the south plains of the Texas Panhandle.  Not only is it a remarkable piece of utilitarian architecture, it is full of people working hard for good reasons.

When we closed our little toy store a couple of years ago, there were a lot of toys left.   We’ve managed to give most of them away (except for my own personal stash, and my closet of toys for kids who come to call…) but when we started packing to move, we found another small stash of brand new toys that needed a good hom.  So today — I took stuffed animals, bears with clothes to change, and a few odd baby rattles to Ronald McDonald House here at the TTU Medical Center.  The first time I took them a load of bears, I called and asked what they needed — but today I just showed up — and boy were they excited.  With the holidays right around the corner, they now have a full pantry of Santa.

So here’s the thing.

This is what corporate charitable giving should look like.  McDonalds is the undisputed king of fast food — we all know that.  And however much we make fun of them, they are the reliable place to stop when traveling, and the best fast, nutritious breakfast on the run — period.  They should probably burn the machines that make Chicken McNuggets, but that’s a whole other issue.

The bottom line is that they not only set the bar for consistent, clean, and reliable in fast food prep, they also set the bar for using corporate funds to do something healthy and beneficial to individuals in crisis, and to our society as a whole.  Giving the families of children in critical and long term medical centers a close, safe, clean, and comfortable place to stay is the work of corporate angels.  Whatever else McDonalds does as a company, they did this part right.  They make peoples’ lives better.  And they keep doing it.

This is what corporations should strive for.  Making peoples’ lives better.

As opposed to Chick-fil-a.  Home of using corporate charitable funds to encourage discrimation.  To make distinctions between those who deserve and those who do not.  Whatever else Chick-Fil-A does as a corporation — they got this part wrong.  They could have funded medical research.  They could have funded scholarships, or holiday toy drives, or book-mobiles or traveling dentistry….  But they didn’t.

They could have practiced pure religion — caring for widows and orphans.  The homeless. Veterans.  The handicapped.  The mentally challenged.  Single parents struggling to make ends meet.  People caught in the corporate greed machine that started the financial and home-loan crisis.  People injured in gun accidents.  People who have lost family members to food poisoning or anti-biotic resistant bacteria.

But they didn’t.  The corporation so-o-o-o Christian that they won’t sell chicken sandwiches on Sunday, chose to use their money to try and push their religious beliefs — which evidently they do not put into action — on others.

So bravo, Ronald McDonald House Charities, for demonstrating what good can come of good intentions.


McDonalds Egg McMuffin

So, go have the best, balanced, lean, and high protein breakfast you can get for cheap through a car window — an Egg McMuffin — and feel good about it.

Egg McMuffin®

English Muffin
Pasteurized Process American Chees
Canadian Style Bacon
Liquid Margarine

300  Calories
18g Protein
12g Fat (19%)
30g Carbs (10%)
820mg Sodium (34%)

SOPA, PIPA, Profits, and Intellectual Property

We have the internet because a bunch of scientists, spread to the 4 winds, wanted to talk to each other and send data regarding their most recent experiments, ideas, projects, and discoveries.

Real science is not a capitalist endeavor. (though capitalism occasionally funds real science with a view toward profits.) But the *real* thing doesn’t care about bottom lines, borders, parties, ownership, or anything but getting its name spelled right in the footnote and on the Nobel Prize.

Real art feels the same way. It’s only the suits, looking to take 15% off the top, that shout “piracy!” All the real artists need is enough pizza to keep going, and a way to send their kids to college. Anything over or beyond that is just gravy. Ask a real artist — they’ll all tell you the same thing. Just like the real scientists, they’d do it for free + necessities. And most of the time, they’d forgo the necessities.

This conflict — a left brain/right brain conflict — is between capitalism and shared human experience.

It hasn’t been that long since *music* was the product of social gatherings where everybody who could play an instrument or sing — did.  And they did it for the enjoyment of all, and because musicians just LOVE making music no matter the time or place.  Likewise — art of any kind was something you did because you loved it.  When passersby toss coins in your directions, that’s a plus, but it’s not the heart of the matter.  Think about the cave paintings at Lascaux.  Or the festival dances and tribal dances of early cultures.  Art is an expression of internal emotions and desires.  Science is the questions we can’t ignore.  And neither of them — at their hearts — are about money.

It’s only governments that require documentation and ownership; and only capitalism that wants to turn a profit.  Not people — but entities.  Overlays.

Yes, we want scientists and artists to make a living so they don’t starve in the streets or suffer from illness and poverty.  That’s why almost all the major research scientists in the world are funded by their home civil societies.  We all pay their salaries.  And the ones at the top make enough to keep them quite well, thank you.  They won’t ever be independently Wealthy with a capital W — until they clock up a commercially lucrative patent or two — at which point they’ll leave the government tit and strike out on their own, where no agency is constantly peeking over their shoulder.

What we don’t want is for our art and science to exist solely for the purpose of paying off quarterly dividends.

That’s what the current SOPA and PIPA legislation is all about.

That’s what any fight over intellectual property is all about.  It’s about The Money — the men in the blue suits who put up money to finance the arts and sciences, in exchange for lucre at the finish line.  That what The Money does in Hollywood.  That’s what The Money does on Broadway, and in Nashville, and at Disney, and at Big Pharm, Big Energy, Big Food, Big Tobacco, and just about every other Big you can think of.

Gambling on science and art (and scientists and artists) is exactly as old as capitalism itself.  It’s basically a bookie’s operation — it might as well be run out of the back room of a shady poker game.

And that’s what we don’t need or want.  Middle men.  Ugly.  Greedy.  Greasy.  Slippery.  Middle men.


Love, Hate, World Kitchen, and Borosilicate Glass






Remember Pyrex kitchen tools?  The glass you had to throw on the driveway to break?

Until 1998, when Corning sold its Pyrex consumer division (but not industrial or laboratory applications) to World Kitchen, the same company that now makes the deficient version of Pfaltzgraff dinnerware, and Farberware pots/pans — Pyrex was made of borosilicate glass.  Borosilicate is glass made of boron oxide and silica, and is sought after because it is resistant to thermal shock (like taking a prepared casserole out of the fridge or freezer and sliding it straight into the hot oven.)  Normal glass would burst apart like an exploding firecracker if you took it straight from freezer to oven.)  The borosilicate glass was the difference between Pyrex kitchen tools, and those made by Anchor Hocking — which were designed to look like and often be mistaken for Pyrex.  Anchor Hocking charged half the price and lasted about 10 minutes before breaking under normal use in the kitchen — sometimes showering families, cooks, and their kitchens with shards of exploding glass in the process.

Borosilicate glass is a product developed at the end of the 19th century and used in kitchens for all of the 20th century. It is fairly expensive to produce compared to the cheaper “soda-lime glass” (thus the difference in price between borosilicate glass and jelly-jars.)

Chances are, if you’re using your mom’s old Pyrex casserole dish, it’s made of borosilicate glass.  However, if you bought your Pyrex in the US, your casseroles and measuring cups are made of soda-lime glass.  — the same stuff your soda bottles and spaghetti jars are made of.  So if your new items are “popping” and breaking into chunks of useless, 1/4″ thick glass, THIS IS WHY.  Soda lime glass is cheaper to make because it contains many different chemical components — and many of those can be fudged.  That is, these components can use polluted, or even substituted completely and still produce a product that can be called glass.

In many cases, soda-lime glass is so thick-walled that it can be knocked against a cabinet edge with no harm (think of your Coke-bottle.)  However, it is not resistant to thermal shock in the same way as borosilicate glass.  It doesn’t have the fluid, crystal transparency — and is more suited to being pressed/molded into a shape than blown.  These are aesthetic concerns — something World Kitchens would never give a second thought — as proven with their handling of Pfaltzgraff dinnerware.

I don’t know who runs “World Kitchen” products — famous for putting great American companies like Pfaltzgraff, Pyrex, and Farberware into outlet malls and dollar stores — but I would bet money that it is not a family that has been making pottery or glassware or flatware, or kitchen tools for generations — improving their product to be the best, most beautiful, and most lasting it can be. This has to be a company run by a CEO who has never made anything original in their life.

This is management by the golden-parachute-crowd that floats from one business to the next, making mergers and acquisitions, hiring cronies, increasing profits by cutting corners, and then moving on the next company to be destroyed by the greed of shareholders and their own philosophy that cheaper is better because it has to be replaced more often. They market based on the power of a brand-name they have acquired — without any hint that they have gutted the company that built the reputation of that brand name.  They charge the same high price that the reputation could charge based on decades of consistent performance — except they have done a bait and switch con along the way.  They sell you a dish labeled PYREX — but it’s really made of  Coke-bottle glass.

We’re being fleeced by professional dismantlers.  They buy a great company, strip it of everything that made it great, destroy its reputation and make decades of work worthless, milk it for every cheating profit they can — then they walk away — leaving an empty factory, lost jobs, and yet another pile of American junk.

Do I sound upset?  Yes.  I am upset.  I’m always upset by this kind of corrupt capitalism.

Should Pennsylvania be upset?  That is where the new Pyrex and the new Pfaltzgraff live.  Previously, it was where quality American goods were made.  Now, after what must have been dramatic tax breaks and financial concessions to keep jobs in Pennsylvania communities — they are producing substandard crap.  The formulae are substandard.  The thickness and quality of the metals is substandard.  The plastics are cheap and prone to crack and crumble after just a few years.  The dinnerware has so much air in it that it crumbles in the dishwasher.  The “heat resistant” glass is just a lie told to sell snake oil.

Borosilicate glass was a brilliant discovery 125 years ago.  It was clever and useful and was just one of the discoveries that made the modern kitchen safe, beautiful and creative.

The problem of greed, however, has become so pervasive in the world of corporate takeovers and acquisitions, golden parachutes, and management by temporary secretaries shuttled from one company to another by high-end headhunters, that Pyrex has lost its position in the American market. Even as recently as 15 years ago, Pyrex was, like Kleenex and Coke — so widely mistaken as a generic category label that hardly any of us realized that not ALL borosilicate glass was made by Pyrex.  We went to the drugstore and got a Coke — even if it was a grape soda.  We used a Kleenex when we sneezed, even if it was made by some other company.  And we used a Pyrex baking dish for our pies — even if they were made by some other borosilicate glass manufacturer.

Since the late 1990’s however, complaint after complaint has been filed with the Consumer Products Safety Commission about the hazards associated with the “new” Pyrex, made by World Kitchens.  It explodes in ovens, pops, cracks and shatters when set on cold or wet countertops and tables — it just isn’t the Pyrex consumers thought they were buying.  It isn’t the Pyrex we’d been led to believe we were buying. World Kitchens is lying to the public by calling its cheap, worthless glass by a name that had become synonymous with — and had become the generic usage name of — high quality, chemically sound, borosilicate glass.  It is today no better than Anchor Hocking, or any “dollar-store” glass dish.  This is yet another case of “take the money and run” corrupt capitalism.  One more reason why we in the US are no longer competitive in the global market.

For the complete report on all this — you can read about the Consumer Reports test of the new Pyrex soda-lime glass that compares it to both Anchor Hocking known-to-be-unsafe wares, older borosilicate Pyrex, and other borosilicate product.  It will break your heart to read how low the standards for American products have gone.

There is still borosilicate glass being made and used.  In fact — in Europe, it is still used to make Pyrex products.  (!)

It is still used to make laboratory equipment, optical devices, and a variety of  temperature specific technologies.  It’s used for most of the products made by the European companies, Bodum (beautiful tea pots, cups, coffee presses etc) and Luigi Bormioli (artfully designed glassware, cups, shot glasses, fruit bowls etc.) — though both Bodum and Bormioli tend to make some of their products so paper-thin that even though they will stand up to an abrupt temperature change, they may not stand up to a teaspoon clacking against their rim.  Both Bodum and Bormioli (and many other designers) have used borosilicate glass to great effect in producing beautiful serving pieces, and a string of double walled-insulated cups and glasses that can serve hot drinks without needing a handle — a design miracle since handles break off so easily with use; and which can be used to prepare and serve iced drinks and frozen desserts without the disadvantage of condensation.

Here are some of my favorite contemporary pieces of Borosilicate glassware.

Sadly, none of them are made in America, or by American Companies.

Luigi Bormioli Teapot with Infuser and Warmer

Luigi Bormioli Teapot with Infuser and Warmer

Bodum Espresso Cups with Silicon Wraps

Bodum Espresso Cups with Silicon Wraps

Bormioli Hot Drink for One

Bormioli Hot Drink for One

Luigi Bormioli 6oz teacup with Stainless Steel Saucer

Luigi Bormioli 6oz teacup with Stainless Steel Saucer

What We Made in America — and then screwed up

When I married Jim 10 years ago, the most emotional purchase we made together (for me) was a set of dishes.

I’d been married before, and the dishes I got as a wedding present so long ago are all still in perfect condition.  They were good quality, called “Ruska” — made in Finland — purchased at Neiman Marcus in Dallas by my father’s business partner.  In 8 years of a first marriage and 14 years as a single mom, only 1 bowl ever broke — and it was because I dropped it into the dishwasher just as the door to the DW was slamming shut, and it broke into 3 very clean, very large pieces.  It was not just ceramic, it’s brochure said — it was ironstone.

But it was dark brown and black and very austere looking pottery.  And it was an emotional anchor to a bad marriage and a lot of really hard years as a single parent.

About 3 years before I met Jim, when my son went off to college, I bought myself a small set of dishes that I dearly loved.  They were bright and pretty, and as warm and homey as the Ruska dishes were hard and cold.  I walked into a Williams Sonoma shop and there they were — waiting for me.  They were porcelain instead of pottery — fine and thin, and light as a feather compared to the old ironstone.  They were translucent.  Called Montgolfiere, the dinner plates were blue skies and puffy clouds over a countryside in rolling hills of farmland. 

The 4 salad plates were covered with 4 different fantastical hot air balloons in soft bright pastels.  The cups and saucers were the hot air balloons’ baskets on a saucer of more puffy clouds.  They were and are wonderful and happy dishes — and marked a kind of liberation from that heavy past I’d survived.

It was these Montgolfiere dishes Jim and I started out with when we first got married.  He had some dishes, but they were, like my Ruska set, anchored to the past. He’d been single a long time.  And my balloon dishes were very special to me because of what they represented — but they didn’t really represent US as much as they did ME.  They were a little “girlie” and fluffy.  And I really wanted some dishes that picked up and started fresh — like we had picked up and started fresh.

I looked a few places trying to find something that was right for us — something utilitarian and interesting without breaking the bank.  I didn’t want Walmart specials.  I didn’t want bone china or gilt.  I didn’t want strict utility like Tupperware or Corningware.  No “ware.”

Then I got a little book from Amazon.  Actually, I got in on a whim.  It purported to be about cooking and southern France, and art.  It was a very thin, hardcover-only book called The Secrets of Pistoulet.

Turns out, Pistoulet is a real Provencial place and a real inn — and looks quite a bit like the artist’s drawing of it.  The drawings were all done with the ochres that come from the nearby mountains (from the softest yellow to the purest earthen red) and ultramarine.  The motifs are olives and sunflowers and all the plants we all associate with southern France — that area where Van Gogh found so many of his paints and subjects.

Then I realized from the related links on Amazon that Pfaltzgraff — the gold standard for pottery/dishes in Pennsylvania for decades — had taken the author and artist’s artwork, created a palette, and produced an ever-expanding “match by mismatching” set of dishes.  A ceramic quilted pastiche of color.

In fact — it wasn’t a new set for Pfaltzgraff when I bought mine — this is/was one of their most popular lines of dishes.  And for good reason.  Bright.  Sunny yellows velvety custard yellows, and clear ultramarines.  Intense color.  Really lovely.  And with different designs from one end of the line to the other.

The bowls (and there are many) are all in different patterns and designs and sizes and shapes — because the bulk of the recipes in the little book are for soups.  Soup and bread is the meal at the little Inn at PIstoulet — and so there is a mix and match quality to everything Pfaltzgraff made(makes) under that name.  It’s part of the point and structure of the story.  So there are a dozen or more shapes and kinds of bowls to serve in!  And a variety of turine sizes and shapes and designs.

But they match because of the palette.

Or they did.

I have a good selection of bowls and medium-sized plates in this pattern from Pfaltzgraff. I really like the French green earth color and the olive and tiny five-petal flowers.  Even the occasional aubergine or beet.  There are platters with the inn in the bright sunshine, and cups surrounded by sunflowers.  There’s even a cheese plate with goblets of wine painted into it.  Swirls of blue and intense red ochre and egg-yolk yellow clay.  And a shallow pasta bowl with a pocket watch keeping time under whatever pasta you decide to put there.

And they make me happy.  They’re fun to eat hot soup and home-made bread from because so much thought and intention went into producing them.  And because I’ve read the book, they also carry the intention of the story with them.  They are like eating off the illustrations in a child’s storybook.

Then a couple of years ago, the owners of Pfaltzgraff — for whatever reason — decided to get out of the dish business.  I don’t know if they died off, or if the economy chased them off, or whatever else may have happened.  But they sold their business.  And they sold it to people who had no intention of keeping up the high quality of Pfaltzgraff’s brand.

And it shows most in the Pistoulet dishes………………………………………………….

The palette is no longer true to the natural ochres from the mountains and hillsides of Provence.  I know ochre — and these dishes are painted with chemical imitations of natural ochre.  Even the ultramarine isn’t ultramarine — but instead is a garish substitute.

And they stopped using the paintings from the book as the source for what is painted onto the dishes.

The pottery is thicker but lighter — that means more porous and thus easier to break.  The reason my ironstone and my porcelain were so hard to break was because there is so little air to weaken then internal structure of the piece.  The glazes were hard fired and sturdy.  But the new Pfaltzgraff Pistoulet dishes chip and ding just going in and out of the dishwasher.  It overheats (very quickly) in the microwave — which means there are metals either in the paints, the glaze, or the pottery itself.

And the new designs are created by someone with absolutely no artistic sensibility.  The shapes are bulky and off balance.  The lids make pieces top-heavy and the pottery is just — cheap.  In the worse sense of the word.

Pfaltzgraff has been part of the landscape of dinner tables in this country for several generations.  It was made here, designed here, and used here. I don’t know if they were nice people, but I suspect they must have been.  Family business only lasts if it takes care of its employees and neighbors.  And customers.

Now, the original formulas have gone the way of so many other family recipes and businesses.  People half-a-world away don’t care if their product lasts because they want us to replace often.  People half a world away don’t care if the paint or glaze is brittle or ugly or even unhealthy.  Their concern is with fast, cheap, and $$$.

Once again, my bottom line is that I’m tired of unhealthy capitalism.  I’m tire of just making quantity without making quality.  I’m tired of the buyer and the seller being so dissociated from each other that the seller stops caring what we want, and tries to force us to want what they have to sell.  I’m tired of pushy, greedy, snake-oil.  I’m tired of corporations rather than people.

I’m tired of “it’s not personal — it’s business.”

I want to be able to buy a piece or two of Pistoulet without having it break or chip the first time I use it or wash it.

I’m tired of brand-names being bought up by “investors” who have no interest in capitalism except the bottom line — to the extent that they make the reputation and hard work of the generations who built the company — worthless.  Just bloody worthless.

I’m tired of golden parachuted CEOs hitch-hiking from one brand name to another — squeezing all the $$$ they can get from past glory and past reputation and the goodwill with customers they never had anything to do with… only to jump ship or move on as soon as the current state of the goods is so bad that the $$$ dries up.

Better to just let a brand name die than to let it be run into the ground by corporate greed, or lost in the shuffle of so many other merged and acquired –and acquired again — small but worthwhile businesses.

I’m getting tired of worn out and sickly versions of capitalism.

Instead of creating something wonderful and strong and beautiful and useful and selling it for a fair and honest price — so much of what we now know as capitalism is based on how many people can be hustled before the truth gets out.  Whether it’s prescription drugs that have circumvented the needed testing, or foreign made baby toys with lead paint and sharp edges, or dog food full of ground up melamine (plastic) — the point has become to cheat and trick consumers into buying what they don’t need, don’t want, can’t afford, and can’t expect to last.  The point has become to lie to as many people as possible as fast as possible and then run with the money. Capitalism hasn’t always been a pyramid or a ponzee scheme — but that’s what we’ve made it into.

The US didn’t invent capitalism — but we sure found the fast track to corrupting it.  Pfaltzgraff used to make dishes like The Finnish company, Arabia made dishes — someting unique and different and creative.  Now Pfaltzgraff shares its brand name with the corrupted version of Farberware pots and pans and a dozen un-named labels of kitsch and kitchen gadgets — the stuff you get from dollar stores and outlet mall house-ware stores.

It’s not that we’re now making stuff badly — it’s that we opted out of making anything at all, and turned that dirty work over to countries that can “make it cheaper” — and we work very hard to not know how and why it’s cheaper.

Shame on us.

Top 5 Things I Want Back (orig 10/08)

1.  The cerulean sky.  When I was a child (it sucks to be old enough to say that…) the sky was actually a different color than it has been for the last couple of decades.     It truely was cerulean — rathar than the washed out, faded denim, slightly-chromed-metalic-gray-blue color it has been since the late 80’s.   Between 9-11-01 and 9-13-01, they gathered enough data do prove Global Dimming was/is actually happening because the skies were empty of aircraft.   So doubt is down to zero that it really is getting darker, even at noon; and the color really has changed.  And there has already been enough change since the number of commercial aircraft has been reduced in the last 10 months, that it makes me anxious for this one.  I want my cerulean sky back.

2.  I want my religion back.  My problem is not with Christianity, or with any of the religions that influence our daily lives.  In general, they do individuals a lot of good — and have some positive impact on the societies and cultures where they are.  My problem is with the people who hijack religion for their own agenda.  Capitalism hijacked fundamentalist Christianity to gain the carte blanche support of well-meaning people who default to trust over skepticism.  What they got, in addition to that trust, was the power of the pulpit.  “What is said from the pulpit is as inspired by God as the Bible is…” is both faulty reasoning based on no Biblical claims, but it is also one more nail in the coffin of free will and personal responsibility.  Those who give up their right and ability to think for themselves, probably deserve what they get.

I, on the other hand, am not willing to accept the directives from the pulpit concerning public policy, but I am also not willing to accept that the cornerstone of faith is is ignorance and blind submission to any man or woman who takes the microphone in a building that is distinguished only by a sign on the curb claiminng to be “God’s House.”    Regardless of which God the sign professes to represent — it was still hammered into the ground by a man or woman.
And as far as I know, it is only men and women who have ever tried to make blind, uninformed, and unquestioning faith a tenant of religion.  And I want people of all faiths to stay out of the “I know what God wants you to do” and “I know who God favors” business.

3.  I want my money back.  I want all that money the US Govt. spent on private contractors, Haliburton, and tribal pay-offs back.  I want all the money funneled into the bank accounts of Republican cronies and pork to go back into the US coffers.  I want all the money spent so that politicians could “look busy”, “appear hardworking” or take a cushy trip around the world returned to my own personal account.

4. I want conversation without irony back.  Just that.  Not a big request, really.  Just plain, straight talk.  Words with no manipulation behind them.  Compliments without agenda.  Truth, without a joke to mask our low expectations.

5.  I want community back.  Everyone is so caught up in the quest to get ahead (a personal quest), to show a profit (a personal quest), to present the desired image (a personal quest), and to “play smart” (a personal quest), that neighbors have slipped out of focus.  We are persuaded to strive to be our own personal best.  To fulfill our own potential.

And self sacrifice, being our brother’s keeper, giving more than we take (or even as much as we take) have all fallen into disuse and then atrophy.   This is not to say that we aren’t all equally to blame for this phenomenon.  The temptation is to say “this is my time — don’t ask for it” and “this is my future I’m giving up if I stop to help you.”  Those are sentiments that the time and place where we are living have worked very hard to vanish.  “This is my money you’re asking for.”  “These are my emotions you are asking me to invest.”   Mine.  Nobody else’s.

I want what is ours back.  It’s a pendulum.  I know.  This has happened before in history.  I just want it back.