Lots of commentary to come, provided I can drag my eyes away from all the stuff everyone else is writing long enough to get some thoughts written out in a semi-literate fashion. All unsigned commentary is by Lloyd Townsend. To comment on anything I've written, drop a line to jazz at imaginaryrecords.com. I may even add it to the page...


3 Mar 05: On the turntable this evening, the cast recording of Show Boat featuring John Raitt in the lead rolé of Gaylord Ravenal. (Columbia Masterworks OS2220) Orchestra conducted by Franz Allers. What a solid, expressive voice! Another great loss in the music world.


15 Feb 05: On the turntable today, Jimmy Smith's "Groovin' At Smalls' Paradise" (Blue Note BLP 1586). Rest in peace, o master of the B3.


17 Dec 04: Why I no longer patronize Wal-Mart or Sam's Club:

Current propaganda from the Democratic wing of the Republocratic party has it that W. is solely responsible for a massive loss of jobs in the US over the past four years. How is it possible that one person, even the one given the keys to the house on Pennsylvania Ave, can have such an effect on the whole country?

Well, of course, the answer is that he is only one of many whose actions determine what happens in this economy. Also highly complicit in the affair is that herd of critters down the street--the Congress. After all, they're the ones that actually set the budget, raise the funds, and spend the money. The POTUS really only points out the direction he'd like us to go; Congress is the bunch that steers the wheel & hits the gas.

But back to the jobs thing. Why are so many American jobs rushing offshore? Well, you can blame corporate management, as they are always looking for ways to reduce costs and boost profits (so, of course, upper management will see higher bonuses every year). But it's really boards of directors and stockholders who drive management in this single-minded direction. And, oddly enough, the stockholders happen to include the vast majority of citizens of this country, either directly or through investments made by pension funds.

This is really only the easily-seen surface. The root of the problem actually lies deeper. In fact, it lies within each household in the country. Everyone who spends hard-earned money generally wants to spend as little of it as possible on an individual item, so that more of the items on the "to get" list can be acquired. (Whether they're actually necessary or not is a lesser consideration, in many cases.) Price has become the principal quality most of us look for when selecting an item, and thus the retailer from which it is acquired.

Retailers, especially the big boxes, now have the handle on which to hang their ad campaigns. He who has the lowest price wins the sale 99% of the time. To get those prices down, retail leans heavily on their suppliers, who then lean heavily on the manufacturers. Wal-Mart is the most notorious of these big box retailers. In order to make the sale to Wal-Mart, the manufacturers cut production costs to the bone. While this usually results in cheaper materials being used to produce the item, the major cost in production of most items is labor. American labor is far more expensive than labor in other countries--maybe one reason our quality of life is so much higher, also; as most Americans can afford to purchase those items they truly need, and a good number they merely desire. But American labor costs more than Wal-Mart will pay, so production moves to lower-cost factories in Mexico (at first), Taiwan, Singapore, et al -- and now, mostly to China. Voila! Costs are lower, Wal-Mart places the order, and the containers stream over the oceans, (mostly) arriving safely at port to be trucked around the country.

Smiley-face Wal-Mart proudly boasts they have chopped prices yet again, saving customers more and more money. Except that some of those very same customers have recently been laid off as what they were employed making is now being imported. (Though that doesn't seem to occur to many of the newly unemployed--as in the former Huffy Bicycle employee quoted here and there as "being grateful to Wal-Mart for reducing prices so that she could stretch out her benefits payment to support her children." Had Wal-Mart not leaned on Huffy to drop prices, she'd probably still be employed!)

But back to the title of this bit: Way back when Wal-Mart was only dreaming of world domination, they were directed by the founder, Sam Walton, and his immediate family. Very much a family company, even though they were a public corporation. Sam believed very strongly in supporting the working stiff; this became the root of the price-first strategy. However, Sam also knew that those working stiffs needed to be working in order to become regular patrons of his stores--so he instituted a plan by which Wal-Mart would source as many of its SKU's (stock keeping units, for those not steeped in retailese) from American manufacturers as it possibly could. "Bring It Home To The USA" was the catchphrase--and it worked, as American plants geared up and churned out goods.

As comes to all things, though; Sam Walton passed on. The family kept growing the business, but corporate management asserted more control and gradually pushed Mr. Sam's philosophy to the side. Price ruled as the ultimate determiner of source, and we all know where that's taken us. The vast majority of Wal-Mart SKUs are now imported items (the phrase "Bring It Home..." now rings differently, doesn't it?). That in itself is enough of an insult to Mr. Sam, but what even worse is this: most of these items are of lesser quality. Lighter-weight fabrics in denim jeans, for one thing--they look OK, but they wear out sooner than the old Levi's would have. Good for Wal-Mart: they sell more pairs of jeans. BAD for the customer: they have to buy them. Almost none of them realize this fact: the cheaper jeans actually cost MORE than the more expensive jeans did, since the customer has to purchase them more often.

That's the reason I've quit going to Wal-Mart. Well, and the fact that they seemed to drop many of the items I used to purchase from them. But I'm solidly upper-middle class; I do have the luxury of not having to pinch every penny. I also do not have children to support, so the budget is not stressed nearly so much as it is for many. But the choice faces each of us: are we happy with a lower-paying service economy job that brings in barely enough to meet basic needs, or would we prefer higher-paying skilled production jobs that give individuals the possibility of increasing real assets? The only way to help keep jobs here is to conciously look for products MADE here, and buy them in preference to the same item made elsewhere--even if it costs a little bit (or a lot) more.

I make a point to look at labels. If it says "Made In China/Fabrique en Chine", I'm much less likely to purchase it. I'm NOT anti-China, or anti-Chinese; not by a long shot. China is an amazing nation, a culture that stretches back to the dawn of recorded history. Certainly, the Chinese people deserve the opportunity to improve their lives--in that, they are no different than any other people on the planet. My gripe is with the companies--American, European--whose management has decided to take jobs away from people (some of whom have given decades of service) and send the work to an often newly-constructed facility half a world away where the workers are paid pennies an hour. Major savings in labor costs--but rarely are these savings reflected in the prices we see on the shelf! The result is higher profits (board and shareholders happy) and higher bonuses for management (management happy). The only losers--the customer (cheaply made goods at prices not much lower than before) and the worker (no job...).

But if we're truly serious about improving the economy, one of the things that each and every one of us should consider is the source of the things we purchase everyday. Make the concious decision to look at the box and/or label BEFORE you make the purchase--and pick up the one that's made closest to your home. Bring It Home To The USA--or England, Russia, South Africa, Australia--whereever YOU live. It's your neighbor who will keep a good-paying job, and maybe will then purchase whatever it is that YOU produce.


15 Feb 05: Chevy: The Heartbeat Of America. With a Chinese-made engine??

The last time I was picking up the Astro from the service dept. of the local dealer, the friend I bummed a ride from decided to look around the lot while I was bailing the beastie out. I joined her, as she was seriously beginning to think about trading in her well-used Sable before it completely wore out. (As fate would have it, she was rear-ended not two weeks later, and the car totalled. She was not injured, except fiscally; and what was previously an exercise in "what if" became a required decision.) She was looking more at the larger SUV-type monstrosities, as she needs to have room for her daughter's essential traveling items (in addition to her own) in their everyday missions. We wandered about the showroom and the lot, spending a bit of time fantasizing while sitting in the C5 Corvette, kicked a few tires on the sedans, then started checking the trucks. Being that I tend to prefer purchasing locally-made goods as much as possible, I look to see where things are manufactured, and make decisions partially based on that factor. I was dumbfounded to see that GM now brings in virtually ALL of their big-block V8's from China!

This, while virtually EVERY OTHER manufacturer in the world is building major components, and doing final assembly, in the US. Nissan, for example, is expanding its engine plant in Decherd, TN, to supply their assembly lines in Smyrna, TN--where they assemble the Altima, Maxima, XTerra, and one or two other models. Toyota, Honda, and Subaru build nearby. Mercedes, for Ford's sake, build models south of here. Even Hyundai has decided it's better to build in Alabama than in Korea for this market!

So why is the power train for the most American of vehicles, the full-sized Chevy pickup & SUV, built in China? Transport from engine assembly to vehicle assembly consumes a goodly portion of the savings from cheap labor, but I suppose GM is still saving a few bucks per copy. And I guess the few thousand workers they laid off won't really dent the potential market for the trucks. But it just bugs me that a company that builds its' promotional campaign around the US flag would so quietly move its labor pool offshore.


23 Nov 04: Music Pricing:

Do you really think a CD for $16 is a ripoff? Look at the pricing trends over the history of the music business. Back in the days of the 78rpm record -- content equivalent in length to the average 45rpm single of the '60's -- the price for a new record averaged about 75¢. In 1925 dollars. Back when the average FAMILY takehome pay was under one thousand dollars (way under, in some regions of the US). In today's dollars, a 78 would run you about $15.00. For that, you got maybe 8 minutes of music or comedy, and you had to flip it over after only 4 minutes. (Not to mention the size constraits--10 or 12 inch diameter, and weight of several ounces apiece!)

Today, a "frontline" CD by an international superstar can be bought for$12.00 to $19.00. For that money you get up to 74 minutes of music in a package that's only 5 inches in diameter and weighs less than two ounces. Forget the higher fidelity reproduction, STEREO soundstage instead of mono, and wearless contact-free reproduction as opposed to a STEEL needle dragging through a groove made of shellac with a tracking weight measured in ounces (meaning that, with proper care, your CD can indeed last for centuries -- and the millionth play will sound the same as the first; unlike the poor old 78 which changed with every play).

OK, you say you can only find ONE song on the CD that you like. Most likely, that song is at least 4 minutes long, longer than one side of the average 78 (and, incidentally, the earliest 78's were one-sided! No program at all on the second side). That's the equivalent of a doubling in price over a century.

So how many of you are getting by with a mere doubling of family income in that same time period?