Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Revisiting the Murfin Verse Goyish Take on Yom Kippur


This poem has appeared on this blog at least ten times for Yom Kippur.  I guess that this makes it an official tradition. It was inspired not only by my genuine admiration for the Holy Day, but by an ongoing controversy in my own Unitarian Universalist faith.  For many years UUs have gone blithely on incorporating snatches of prayers, ritual, and tradition from other religions into our own worship.  We do it mostly in good faith claiming “The Living Tradition which we share draws from many sources…”

But lately we have taken grief from Native Americans for adopting willy-nilly rituals and prayers which we don’t fully understand and take out of context, many of which, frankly, turned out to be New Age touchy-feely faux traditions.  And from African-Americans for Kwanza being widely celebrated is in almost all-white UU Sunday Schools.

Unitarian Universalists claim inspiration from many religious and philosophic traditions including Judaism.  The tightrope question is when does inspiration become inappropriate cultural appropriation or out right spiritual theft?

Being UU’s, many of us were stung that our well-meaning gestures were not gratefully accepted as a sort of homage.  Others busily set themselves up to the task of wiping the scourge of cultural appropriation from our midst, preferably with a judicious dollop of self-flagellation with knotted whips—oops! Stole that one from 4th Century monks…No, what they did was form committees and commissions to issue long, high minded reports to be translated into deep retreats.  Seminary training was amended for proper sensitivity, and scolding monitors were appointed to detect insufficient rigor in rooting out the offense at General Assemblies and meetings.

In that spirit I offer you my poem.  Angry denunciations and heresy trial to follow…

And, yea, I may also have been reading a lot of Carl Sandburg when I wrote this.  Think it shows?

Cultural Appropriation


See, the Jews have this thing.


Yahweh, or whatever they call their Sky God,

            keeps a list like Santa Claus.


You know, who’s been naughty and nice.


But before He puts it in your Permanent Record

            and doles out the lumps of coal

            He gives you one more chance

            to set things straight.


So to get ready for this one day of the year—

            they call it Yom Kippur

            but it’s hard to pin down because

            it wanders around the fall calendar

            like an orphan pup looking for its ma—

the Jews run around saying they are sorry 

            to everyone they screwed over last year

            and even to those whose toes

            they stepped on by accident.


The trick is, they gotta really mean it.


None of this “I’m sorry if my words offended” crap,

            that won’t cut no ice with the Great Jehovah.

            And they gotta, you know, make amends,

            do something, anything, to make things right

            even if it’s kind of a pain in the ass.


Then the Jews all go to Temple—

             even the ones who never set foot in it

             the whole rest of the year

             and those who think that,

             when you get right down to it,

             that this Yahweh business is pretty iffy—

             and they tell Him all about it.


First a guy with a big voice sings something.


And then they pray—man do they ever pray,

              for hours in a language that sounds

              like gargling nails

              that most of ‘em don’t even savvy.


A guy blows an old ram’s horn,         

            maybe to celebrate, I don’t know


When it’s all over, they get up and go home

             feeling kind of fresh and new. 


If they did it right that old list

was run through the celestial shredder.


Then next week, they can go out

            and start screwing up again.


It sounds like a sweet deal to me.


Look, I’m not much of one for hours in the Temple—

            an hour on Sunday morning

when the choir sings sweet

is more than enough for me, thank you.


And I have my serious doubts about this

            Old Man in the Sky crap.


But this idea of being sorry and meaning it

of fixing things up that I broke

            and starting fresh

            has legs.


I think I’ll swipe it.


I’ll start right now.


To my wife Kathy—

            I’m sorry for being such

            a crabby dickhead most of the time…


Anybody got a horn?


—Patrick Murfin


Monday, October 3, 2022

Five Year Later Looking Back on What Doesn’t Stay in Vegas—Murfin Verse

Five years ago, on October 1, 2017 Wikipedia reminds us:

Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old man from Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire upon the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. Between 10:05 and 10:15 p.m. PDT, he fired more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition from his 32nd floor suites in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, killing 60 people[a] and wounding 411, with the ensuing panic bringing the injury total to 867. About an hour later, Paddock was found dead in his room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His motive remains officially undetermined.

The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in modern United States history. It focused attention on firearms laws in the U.S., particularly with regard to bump stocks, which Paddock used to fire shots in rapid succession, at a rate of fire similar to automatic weapons.[3] As a result, bump stocks were banned by the U.S. Justice Department in December 2018, with the regulation in effect as of March 2019.

Within a couple of days, the identities of the victims became, one by one, known.  They were a cross section of Americans out to have a good time in the city that brags about keeping secrets, maybe Whiter than some concert throngs.  On October 3rd I took notice of them.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, other than that blip reform on bump stocks, no other action was taken to confront rampant gun violence.  In fact, the massacre caused a rush to stock up on more, and more deadly firearms, ammo, and those soon to be banned bump stocks.  The NRA fundraised over the hysterical threat of gun grabbers.  And for most of us, numbed by way too many shootings, the event has faded into the recesses of our memories.

What Doesn’t Stay In Vegas

October 3, 2017


What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay there.


It oozes under the front door

of that little house in Tennessee

leaving a nasty stain in the carpet

that will last generations.


It drips from the empty desk

            in the high school office

            where the phone rings unattended

            next to a famed family photo

            and a jar of M & Ms.


It is tangled in the nets

            of that Alaska trawler

            spilling on the deck

            and splattering those rubber boots.


It has to be wiped from the table

            of that Disneyland cafĂ©

            by some other harried waitress

            before it spoils some child’s

            special day

            or gets on Snow White’s costume.


It pools by the council’s table

            in a San Diego courtroom

            the empty chair

            unable to represent

            the mother of three.


It cannot be washed from

            the filthy hands

            of every politico

            who took gun pushers’ cash

            and kissed the ass of every

            fetishist wanking himself off

            to violence porn and hero fantasies.


—Patrick Murfin


Sunday, October 2, 2022

It Was Time for a New Way to Manufacture Stuff

Industrial pioneer Aaron Lufkin Dennison.

Ordinarily the relocation of a factory from one town to another would hardly be the fodder for all but the most arcane and specialized of almanac-like features.  But on this date in 1854 Aaron Lufkin Dennison moved his four year old watch making business to new facilities in Waltham, Massachusetts, setting the stage for a revolution in industrial production first known as the American System of Watch of Watch Manufacturing.  The principles of precision made interchangeable parts, use of specialty machine tools, and consistent calibration measured by highly accurate instruments were soon applied to other industries ushering in a new phase of the industrial revolution that created the machines that increasingly shaped daily life.

It was not an easy or smooth road.  Dennison would be beset by set back after set back—failed early designs and processes, bankruptcies, board intrigues, faithless partners, and financial panics.  The new plant in Waltham would slip from his hands in bankruptcy in just three years, and he would be unceremoniously fired as machine shop superintendent in 1861.  He would go on to found a number of new businesses to see his dreams crushed time and time again.

Meanwhile the factory, known as the Boston Watch Company in 1855 would go through ownership changes and name changes, finally becoming known as the Waltham Watch Company in 1907 and famous for its railroad chronometers and quality pocket Watches.  The company’s direct descendent, the Waltham Aircraft Clock Corporation manufactures that specialty product in Alabama.  Firms that purchased marketing rights to the Waltham name along with some inventory and goodwill and since merged are now known as the Waltham Watch Co. (Delaware) and markets imported watches.  A former Swiss subsidiary is now known as Waltham International SA, and markets luxury Swiss made watches to Japan and other international markets.

Dennison was born on March 6, 1812 in Freeport, Maine.  His father was a shoemaker, the lowliest of the skilled trades, who taught music on the side.  The family moved to Brunswick when he was a boy.  He got the minimal schooling of a boy of his class—reading, writing, and simple ciphering.  He may have supplemented this with reading from books borrowed from neighbors. 

He spent much of his childhood and youth at various jobs to help the family.  He carried hod for a bricklayer, cut wood, and was a herdsman.  By his teenage years he was accomplished enough at his letters and arithmetic to clerk at a local store before joining his father in his cobbler shop.  Dennison displayed his first interest in improving production techniques by suggesting his father pre-cut pieces to make shoes by the batch rather than start-to-finish one at a time.

At age 18, rather than formally apprentice to his father, Dennison bound himself to James Cary, a local clock maker.  During his apprenticeship he apparently devised some sort of machine for cutting gear wheels.  The exact nature of the machine is unknown but was probably a modification of an existing wheel cutter that allowed him to press a few layers of metal at the same time, creating identical gears with each impression.  Again, the idea was to provide parts in batches for future assembly.  Cary so admired his apprentice’s skill and ingenuity that he offered Dennison a partnership at age 21.

A skilled early 19th Century watch/clock maker journeyman at his work bench,  Everything was assembled by hand from unique self-manufactured parts.

But Dennison knew he had to learn more or be stuck in a provincial shop.  He headed to Boston to work for and study with the best American watch repairers.  He volunteered to work for three months at jeweler Currier & Trott without pay and then was hired by them.  By 1834 at age 22, he felt confident enough to open his own repair shop.  But he gave that up only two years later when he was offered the chance to work under Boston’s most sophisticated master watch maker, Tubal Howe of Jones, Low & Ball where he could learn the techniques of the best Swiss and British craftsmen. 

He stayed with Howe until 1839 when he left for New York City where he spent several months with a colony of Swiss watchmakers.  Returning to Boston he once again set up his own shop offering not only repair services but also selling watches, tools, and repair equipment.  During this period, he perfected the Denton Combine Gage “upon which all the different parts of a watch could be accurately measured.”  This later became the Standard Gage of the industry and was just the first in the specialty instruments he devised.

Meanwhile Aaron established a second business with his younger brother Eliphalet Whorf Dennison, his former partner in his old Boston repair shop.  Together they went into a specialty business manufacturing paper boxes for jewelry stores.  The enterprise, filling an unmet niche, was a success.  But after a few years Aaron withdrew from the company to pursue his dream of manufacturing his own watches, leaving the firm in Eliphalet’s hands.  It continued to prosper as the Dennison Manufacturing Company and still exists today as Avery Dennison Corporation a manufacturer of pressure sensitive adhesive products which recently sold its well-known envelope, business stationary, and school supply lines which continue to be marketed under the name Avery.

Thing must have been looking pretty good for the 28 year old Aaron in 1840.  After years of dedicating himself single-mindedly to business he married Charlotte Ware Foster who was connected to the Ware family of distinguished Unitarian clergy.  Together they would have five children.

While continuing to operate his businesses, Dennison dreamed of going into watch manufacture.  He developed a plan over the 1840’s based on his old notion of producing parts in batches. 

He was specifically inspired by the success of the Federal Armory at Springfield, Massachusetts in manufacturing muskets for the Army using interchangeable parts.  This made rapid production possible in times of need, greatly reduced the cost of each firearm, and facilitated repair in the field using standardized parts.  Dennison was not the only entrepreneur impressed with the system.  Samuel Colt applied it to his pistols in the mid 1830’s and contributed the innovation of assembly line production—assembly of parts in succession with semi-skilled workmen each performing a specific task and sending the work to the next worker on the production bench for the next step.  Others were adapting Springfield and Colt innovations in other fields including Cyrus McCormack for his reapers.

But the manufacture of watches, some of the most complex machines of their time requiring scores of small parts that had to be produced with precision, meant whole new demands compared to the few and large parts with relatively high tolerances of muskets, pistols, and farm equipment.  Dennison planned it out in his head.  By 1845 he had worked out a detailed plan and constructed a scale model of a production facility.  All he need now was a backer.

It took until 1849 to secure the support and partnership of Edward Howard of the manufacturing firm of Howard & Davis and Howard’s father-in-law Samuel Curtis.  While the partners erected a new factory next to the existing Howard & Davis building in Roxbury for the new firm of Dennison, Howard & Davis, Aaron went to London to buy what parts could not yet be manufactured in the States.  He also hired English journeyman watchmakers and studied the critical process of gilding brass parts.  When he returned he completed the design and construction of specialized machines for his production process.

But there were major problems.  The new machines were not yet perfected, he had trouble duplicating the gilding process, and the first watches produced, an eight day watch with a single mainspring barrel, did not keep time accurately enough to be successfully marketed.  Dennison needed a more skillful machinist to perfect his ideas and in 1852 he found one in Charles Moseley.  He also brought on master watchmaker N. P. Stratton who designed a new 30-hour watch and perfected the gilding process while Mosely rebuilt the machines.  The resulting watch was marketed successfully.

In fact, sales were so strong that in 1855 the company moved to its expanded facilities in Waltham and adopted the new name of the Boston Watch Company.  Dennison oversaw production as the plant superintendent while Howard and a Board of Directors managed the business affairs.

The movement of a Boston Watch Company/Dennison, Howard & Davis watch produced in the new Waltham factory envisioned by Aaron Dennison.

Prospects looked as a good as the brisk sales of the new watch, which was superior to anything but jeweler crafted one-of-a-kind watches then available from an American manufacturer.  Then the devastating Panic of 1857—regarded as the first world-wide depression devastated sales and dried up the capital needed to ride out the storm.  The Boston Watch Company was forced into bankruptcy.

Most of the machinery and watch inventory, and some of the skilled workers, were taken back to Roxbury by Edward Howard, who established the Howard Watch Company. The buildings and large machinery were sold at auction to Royal E. Robbins who restarted watch manufacture under the name of Tracy Baker & Company.  Dennison was retained in the reduced capacity of superintendent of the machine division.  His relationship to Robbins, however, was tense.  Robbins felt Dennison “meddled” in other divisions of the factory.  Dennison felt Robbins was losing track of his vision. 

In 1861, just as the Civil War was about to greatly increase the market for watches among officers who needed to be able to coordinate battlefield movements and the exploding demands of war time industrial production, Robbins unceremoniously fired Dennison.

In the post-war period, Tracy Baker & Co. would change hands again and become the American Waltham Watch Company and finally simply the Waltham Watch Company, for many years the largest American producer of time pieces. 

It took until 1864 for Dennison to find a backer for a new firm, A. O. Bigelow.  Together they formed the Tremont Watch Company.  This time the plan was a little different.  The Civil War had dramatically driven up wages for skilled workmen in the North.  Dennison figured out that the most famous and skilled watch makers in the world in Switzerland made significantly less than their American counterparts.  In an early example of offshore outsourcing, Swiss journeymen would manufacture to specification fine parts like escapements and wheel trains while larger parts including barrel plates, cases, faces, etc. would be made in the States where the watches would be assembled. 

The American Watch Company works at Waltham in the 1870's.

Dennison and his family went to Zurich to make the arrangements.  While he was gone, the Tremont board, without consulting him, decided to move the factory to Melrose to produce a cheaper model watch entirely in their factory.  The company was reorganized as the Melrose Watch Company. Dennison resigned in protest.  He was essentially stranded in Europe. He remained in Switzerland trying to set up a new arrangement with an American manufacturer without success.  As Dennison expected Melrose failed by 1870.

In 1871 relocated to England where he tried to manufacture watches from parts made in Zurich and plates from Tremont.  Using capital raised by this venture he helped organize the Anglo-American Watch Company in Birmingham in 1874.  He and his English partners bought up the parts stock and some of the machinery of Melrose, shipped it to England and began producing watches there for the first time on the American System of Watchmaking.   In 1874 the company changed its name to the English Watch Manufacturing Company.  It turned out the reputation of American production in England at this time was similar to the post-World War II reputation of goods Made in Japan harming sales.  Dennison left the company about the same time.

Women machine operators in a department of the American Waltham Watch Co circa 1890.

Dennison had a second business in Birmingham manufacturing watch cases, for which the main clients was, ironically, the Waltham Watch Company, the descendent of the firm he had created.  With the addition of a partner the firm became Dennison, Wiggly & Company in 1874.  Dennison remained in England managing this, at last, successful, firm until he died on January 8, 1895 at age 83.  His son Franklin became managing partner.  The name was changed to the Dennison Watch Case Company in 1905 and continued to provide its products to the industry until 1965.

Dennison died with neither the fame nor the enormous wealth of other significant American industrial innovators and businessmen.  The creator of the American System, which transformed manufacture and production in profound ways far beyond the watch industry, spent almost 40 years in a kind of exile.  


Saturday, October 1, 2022

Almost too Good to be True—Little Golden Books the Cheep and Durable Books that Children Love

A well used copy of The Poky Little Puppy, the best selling of the 12 original Little Golden Books.

Today’s responsible parents are required by law to provide educationalpsychologically vetted, and age appropriate books for their tykes, preferably penned by a celebrity and sensitively illustrated by a renowned artist.   

The book must be an over-sized hard cover festooned with award medallions and must be purchased at specialized childrens book boutique for at least $22.95 plus tax.  The parents will read this book to the designated tot 1.2 times before it is carefully placed on colorful shelves with scores of other books in a display meant to impress other parents and visiting in-laws with the depth of their commitment to their children’s betterment.   

Sometime between the kid’s eighth and twelfth birthdays all the books will be boxed up and sold in a garage sale for .25 cents each.

Generations earlier, grim faced relatives shoved thick little books dense with type and uplifting moral lessons at children who were expected to be able to recite long passages from them by rote in the parlor after Sunday dinner.

In between there were Little Golden Books.  The first twelve titles in this durable series were published on October 1, 1942.  They featured simple stories and rhymes illustrated on every page with bright lithographsbound between thick, sturdy hard cardboard covers with a glittering gold stripe down the spine.  Each book sold for .25 cents, not just in bookstores, but in the kind of places families visited almost all the time—department storesdrug stores, dime storesgrocery stores

Among those first twelve books were some that have not been out of print a day since:  Three Little KittensThe Little Red HenThe Poky Little Puppyand The Animals of Farmer Jones.  The Poky Little Puppy alone may be the bestselling children’s book of all time with more than 15 million sold as of 2005.

As a child of the 1950s, I can attest to the magnetic appeal of these books.  Staring at the rack of Little Golden Books in the grocery store kept me out of mischief while my mother did the weekly shopping.  If I had been good and Mom, always a thrifty shopper, kept the bill low, I might be allowed to take home a new book. 

By that time besides the cheerful little kiddy books, there were also exciting adventures of Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rodgers, and books from Walt Disney cartoons.  These books were kept in the bedroom and read over and over.  By the time I was in the second grade and ready to graduate to real or chapter books, both my reading skills and my affection for books made me eager and able.

Maureen's all time favorite book.

Thirty years later Little Golden Books were still captivating my youngest daughter Maureen who especially treasured Martha’s House by Edith Kunhardt which took us on a tour of a little girls family cottage, irresistibly more charming than our slapdash and chaotic abode.  When she was four years old she had me read her that book every single day until we almost accomplished the impossible, wearing it out.  Another thirty-five years on, Maureen still recalls and speaks fondly of the book and of our daily ritual.

Little Golden Books were the brainchild of Georges Duplaix, a French born children’s book author and the head of The Writers and Authors Guild, Inc., an agency that sought to find publishers for its members.  Duplaix sold Simon and Schuster on the idea of an inexpensive line of colorful basic childrens books.  He helped select Dr. Mary Reed, a professor at the Teachers College of Columbia University, as the initial editor of the series.  Western Printing and Lithographing Company of Racine, Wisconsin was brought in as a partner in the enterprise and did the actual printing and binding.

Georges Dupaix not only recruited authors and illustrators, but penned several Little Golden Book titles including some like this on that he translated himself from their original French editions.

Despite World War II paper shortages, the books were a success beyond everyone’s wildest expectations.  Within five months the 12 original titles had gone through three printings and sold more than 1.2 million copies.

Duplaix went to work for Western Publishing, for whom he recruited many writers and artists for the series and other Western imprints.  In 1958 Western bought out Simon and Schuster’s interest in the series.  The Golden Books imprint, now including several other formats in addition to the classic cardboard bound books, has been sold several times.  In 2001, Random House paid an estimated $85 million to acquire Golden Books.

Several noted authors and illustrators have contributed to Little Golden Books, probably most notably Richard Scarry.  Margaret Wise Brown, best known as the author of Goodnight Moon, collaborated with illustrator Garth Williams, who also did Charlotte’s Web and the Little House Books, on several early Golden Book titles.

Little Golden Books now features inspiring biographies for early readers.

Today, you can still find Little Golden Books, including many classic titles but also new ones featuring the likes of Sponge BobI Am a Clone Trooper (Star Wars), Encanto, and girl empowerment bios of Lucile Ball and Betty White.  They now cost $5.99.  Given inflation, which is not much more expensive than the first books in 1942.