The ‘moral virtues’ of people who work standing up (5×8 – 2/24/12)

The stigma of the factory, are things looking up, an apology for racist hockey chants, the things that keep hockey parents up at night, and does your name make people dislike you?



(Factory workers in Minneapolis in 1944. Minnesota Historical Society)

This week, a consulting firm — Enterprise Minnesota — found that a third of manufacturing company executives are worried about finding workers with the skills they need.

“We spent 30 years — since the recession of the early 1980s — basically telling generations that manufacturing was going away, we don’t make things any more,” the head of the firm said.

There’s that. There’s also the fact manufacturing is done in factories, and factories have a stigma, a commentary in the Washington Post notes today.

An essay published by the Museum of Broadcast Communications said: “The movement of working-class people to the periphery of television’s dramatic worlds” in favor of the upper classes gave “the impression that those not among these classes are deviant.”

The impression remains, as contempt or condescension. Here’s Walter Russell Mead, a noted policy scholar, saying in a recent blog posting that revolutions in information technology create “the potential for unprecedented abundance and a further liberation of humanity from meaningless and repetitive work.”

I’d thought these revolutions had liberated stand-ups from this work by throwing them out of it, but what caught my eye was the “meaningless and repetitive.” What an odd thing to say — Mead might just as well be describing what it’s like to be a stockbroker or a big-firm lawyer. He isn’t, though, because these are knowledge-class jobs, and this rap about “meaningless” is usually reserved for the stand-up class.

Henry Allen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter of the Post, considered his own factory job when he was young:

In my last factory job, making tile at the Armstrong Cork Co. in Lancaster, Pa., I was loafing one day, sitting on a pile of boxes. Some of the guys from the adhesives ovens came walking past, big guys in filthy coveralls.

One of them said: “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

I made up something like, “I’m waiting for a forklift.”

He didn’t care about me loafing. It was something else.

He said: “You don’t ever sit down when you work. Ever.”

He was proud to work standing up. Until that moment, I hadn’t understood that pride, and the virtue of that pride.

I’m glad we have people who do, people who take pride in being able to do “meaningless” jobs, to support families and pay debts by sticking to their work, to discipline themselves into persistence, to endure.

These are moral virtues. I wish the knowledge class was smart enough to respect them. It seems we need them.


The average price of gasoline in the U.S. hit an all-time high for February yesterday and the price of a barrel of oil keeps going up. But what’s the relationship between what you’re paying at the pump today and what oil is selling for today? I tried to chart this the last time prices got this high, but the blog, EconoMonitor, brings a little more science to it today.

My rule of thumb has been that for every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of crude oil, U.S. consumers are likely to pay 2-1/2 more cents for a gallon of gasoline. The yellow line in the graph below plots the average U.S. retail price of regular gasoline in the U.S. over the last 4 years. The blue line is the gasoline price you’d predict if you applied my rule of thumb to the WTI (West Texas Intermediate) price (assuming 80 cents/gallon for average tax and mark-up), while the fucshia line gives the prediction if you assume that the U.S. retail price is based on Brent. The three lines were quite close until Brent began to diverge from WTI at the beginning of last year. Since then, the U.S. retail price has tracked the world Brent price much more closely than it has WTI.


Average U.S. gasoline prices fell more than you would have predicted based on the Brent price. They have since come back up. But Brent has surged another $10/barrel over the last two weeks, and gasoline prices have yet to catch up to that latest move. Based on the historical relation, we might expect to see the average U.S. gasoline price rise from its current $3.59/gallon up to $3.84.

Good times, indeed.

Gasoline prices are an emotional issue; that’s why candidates for president are linking energy and environmental policies of a president to them. As the Los Angeles Times notes, they’re actually more closely linked to how well the economy is doing, and what wars may or may not be about to break out:

Avery Ash, manager of regulatory affairs for AAA, said the recent spike in the cost of gas is actually in part a byproduct of the improving economy domestically and overseas.

“It’s a bit of a double-edge sword. With an improving economy you would expect more demand for crude,” he said.

“At the same time you’ve got increasing unrest in Iran. There hasn’t been any supply disruption thus far, but it’s the uncertainty in the market that’s applying the upward pressure.”

All this comes, Avery points out, as Americans are actually consuming less fuel — about 6% less since the same point last year — which ordinarily would push prices down. says today that the president’s energy speech in Florida yesterday — the “all of the above” speech – probably won’t change anything.

So are things looking up or looking down?

A couple of headlines last evening place back-to-back on a website caught my attention:

  • Jobless Claims in U.S. Hold at Four-Year Low
  • Wall St rises, nearing 4-year highs

    A few minutes later, however, I watched an excellent WCCO story indicating that more and more people are living in their cars:


    Earlier this week, some fans of the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs were outed for their apparent racist chanting during some games against the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

    Reader Ben Chorn writes today to acknowledge having taken part in the chants, but also to respond to the allegations of racism.

    He writes on his blog…

    I will admit to taking part in the chants during all UMD home hockey games and if the chants offended you I am sorry. I would like to apologize also to all the goalie’s parents and girlfriends who have had not nice things about them said as well. I would hope you all take it for what it is- just a game. UMD has had its fair share of swearing and cursing at during its away games. If this is a problem for UMD, it should be a problem for NCAA schools everywhere. Look in the mirror.

    Nonetheless, he says, the fans have drafted a letter of apology.

    Dear UMD faculty, staff, fellow students, and the Duluth community

    The UMD student section would like to apologize for our behavior during the Men’s Hockey games on February 10th and 11th, 2012, against the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. Some of the chants and cheers used were inappropriate. A number of the students involved have discussed the repercussions of our actions and agree that we crossed a line. As adults we recognize that it is important to take responsibility for our actions. In sports there is a fine line between cheering on your team and offending part of society. The UMD student section prides itself on being one of the loudest student sections in the WCHA. The cheers from this hockey series were meant to intimidate and poke fun at the UND nickname and hockey team, not the Sioux Tribe or any other members of the Native American community. As a student section, we are embarrassed that this situation has become more than just cheers at a hockey team. We apologize for offending any parties and wish to portray a better image, both for UMD and for Duluth.

    Along with this apology to our school and fellow community members we would also like to add a pledge that these types of behaviors will not happen again. It is our responsibility to pass along what we have learned from this experience to both current and future UMD Men’s Hockey fans.


    The UMD Men’s Hockey Student Section

    (h/t: The Ciskie Blog)


    Jack Jablonski, the high school hockey player paralyzed by a freak hit last month, returned to the rink yesterday in a wheelchair.

    Jablonski’s injury has got many parents of youth hockey players considering their decision to allow their kids to play the sport. Karen Schneider, a Minnesota hockey mom and freelance journalist, has written an amazing assessment of the situation in Sports Illustrated:

    For 10 years it has set my nerves on edge. It is generated by parents who bang their hands on the glass and yell at their sons to Take him out! and by coaches who scream at their players to Take the body! and by everyone who shouts at the refs to Let them play the game! It is generated by refs who are so fed up with the madness that they lose control of the game, allowing teenage boys pumped up with adrenaline to get away with what they can: slashing, throwing elbows, taking runs from behind. The first time I heard a dad scream, “Kill that kid!” in reference to Cade, he was a Mite. Six years old. I turned to look at the man and said to him, “That kid’s my son.” He rolled his eyes and walked away.

    The message was clear: You don’t get it.

    It’s true; I am a stranger in this land. All I understand is how much Cade loves this game. So I drive him to practice, I wash his gear, I run out when his stick breaks in the middle of a tournament to get him a replacement–the right flex, the right grip, the right lie. What the hell is a lie? This is his life, and if I am not in, I am out. Still, sometimes, when a kid hits the boards really hard, I can’t help myself: I turn to whoever is sitting next to me and say, “I hate this game.”


    A new study suggests our brains are making us form opinions about people based on how difficult it is to pronounce their name, details today.

    “When we can process a piece of information more easily, when it’s easier to comprehend, we come to like it more,” said psychologist Adam Alter of New York University.

    For example, with other variables eliminated, about 1.5 percent of a lawyer’s success seemed to rest on the “pronounceability” of his or her name.

    Bonus I: Minnesota Timberwolves karaoke:

    Bonus II: How the San Francisco Earthquake allowed immigrants to stay in the country illegally.

    Bonus III: Why are we so fascinated with the anguished art of “The Scream?”


    A new study has found clear evidence that colonoscopies save lives. Doctors have long recommended that everyone between the ages of 50 and 75 be screened for colorectal cancer, but only about 6 in 10 people have fully followed that advice. Today’s Question: Will new information about colonoscopies make you more likely to have the procedure?


    Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Friday Roundtable panelists discuss and debate the shoot-first bill, the Stolen Valor Act, and Google glasses.

    Guest: Bob Collins writes the Newscut blog for MPR News; John Wodele, public relations consultant and spokesperson for former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura; Jearlyn Steele singer and host of the show “Steelwe Talkin'” on WCCO radio.

    Second hour: He’s gone from concert halls to the laboratory, and now British physicist Brian Cox is working on the world’s largest particle collider. In his new book, co-written with Jeff Forshaw, The Quantum Universe, Brian Cox approach the world of quantum mechanics in the same way they did in Why Does E=mc2? and make fundamental scientific principles accessible-and fascinating-to everyone.

    Third hour: Politicians and political campaign tend to take themselves very seriously. That’s why we’re fortunate enough to have writers like Calvin Trillin, who’s been gently poking fun at politicians for decades. He discusses his new book of collected essays.

    Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: The battle between web browser safeguards and the companies that try to circumvent them.

    Second hour: One reporter’s struggle to understand the results of his deciphered DNA. Plus: electricity generated from microbes.

    All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – A look at two generations of tax policy. In 1967, presidential candidate George Romney did something unprecedented: he released his tax returns. Times were different and the tax rate he paid was far higher than the one his son, presidential candidate Mitt Romney pays now.