Wednesday, February 06, 2008

This morning at the Clear Spring school wood shop, the 5th and 6th grade students worked on their Arkansas cutting boards. Each shows the boundaries of the state, the major rivers, cities and points of interest. After cutting the shape of the state, first with scissors, and then with scroll saw, the students pencil in the details and use a wood burning pen for permanent marks. Each cutting board serves as a learning device, but will serve long after as a record of learning, a stimulant to curiosity and reflection, and each records the story of a great day in wood shop. When the papers and reposts are in the land fill or recycling center, and their contents forgotten, the cutting boards, or at least a few, will be kept as treasures.

This morning on NPR, it was mentioned that there is a one percent annual decline in American participation in outdoor recreational activities. That means that Americans are becoming further out of touch with environmental reality and sensitivity. Environmental organizations are concerned that there will be little motivation for people to protect and preserve what is essentially unknown to them.

The other report of interest is that the service sector is shrinking. That can be bad for the economy. Hardly anyone making things anymore, and then the service sector shrinks as well. Remember that American politicians have thought our economy was OK because the service sector was growing to offset the decline in manufacturing jobs. But as I'll discuss below, the making of things has always been of strategic importance. The service sector is made up of tasks that people could do for themselves if so inclined... often things that would be better done in the homes than farmed out to corporations. What is better for example, and what is better for you, a home cooked meal or lunch at MacDonalds?

If the shrinkage of the service sector means that people are cooking, gardening, doing their own repairs, and living better, more meaningful lives as a consequence, is that all bad? Maybe a few people are learning about their hands.

A much neglected issue is the strategic value of a manufacturing economy. Americans seem to know nothing about it, but you can bet the Chinese do. You remember the old saying, beating swords into plowshares in times of peace? What if you have no one capable of beating or making in times of war? If we were to go to war with China, maybe we could throw big Macs at them, for surely, we are a nation of idiots.

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