Thursday, February 24, 2005

The American Way

Now here's one of the great company names of all time: Salud and Fortuna. Actually, in this culture, Salud and Fortuna probably don't qualify as a company. They're just two Mexicans, a husband and wife, who sell tamales, killer tamales, on a street corner next to an elementary school in Los Angeles and those are actually their names: Health and Fortune.

I work in the mid-Wilshire District of LA, which is a combination of Korea Town and Central America re-visited. Each Friday, one of the secretaries in the office picks up tamales for all of us. We place our orders on Thursdays and give Lucy our cash. She calls Salud on Thursday night and picks up an Igloo cooler full of tamales on Friday morning on her way to work. Around the Christmas holidays, she was picking up seventy to eighty tamales for us. Most Fridays it's just about thirty tamales, all chicken, but some are 'red' (for the wussies) and some are 'green' (for us brave sorts).

I said the other day at lunch that Salud and Fortuna must be grateful for our order. Lucy just blinked and said, "actually, we're just normal customers. They've got a thriving business on that corner. Salud says they sell about a thousand tamales a week, more around the Christmas holidays."

It was my turn to blink. Tamale production is labor intensive, so making a thousand of them a week, or two hundred every evening, has to be nearly impossible. It turns out that the business is a family affair. Salud and Fortuna live with their daughter and son-in-law. The tamales are made on the weekend by the four of them (with some help from the grandkids) and then frozen. Each night they defrost and cook two hundred, more if they get a big order.

A thousand tamales a week at a buck a pop: $52,000 a year. Masa, chicken, and chiles probably shave no more than $12,000, if that. Sure it's a lot of work, but that's a tidy sum.

One of the more straight-laced in the office asked if they were inspected regularly and if they had a street peddler's permit. Lucy just stared at them, which is a pretty reasonable response to an inane question, in my opinion. She let it pass and then microwaved another tamale for me.

I think that kind of entrepreneurial spirit is a great thing, even if they aren't regularly inspected and don't collect sales tax and probably (although I don't know this for a fact) don't pay income tax on the proceeds of the business. Hell, most major corporations in this country don't pay taxes, or, if they do, they pay minimally. I think if things in this country continue they way they have for the past few years, the underground economy is going to be very helpful in keeping things afloat. And, like I said, these are killer tamales.

Way to go, Salud and Fortuna!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Maybe Orwell Was A Prophet

Well, I suppose that's one way to keep the terrorists out. I mean, surely well-intentioned visitors from the UK or France or Germany would have no objections to having all of that data read each time their passports were passed through the scanner at the Welcome to the USA desk at the airport. They probably wouldn't even mind all that much if the scanner was of the hand-held variety held in the hand of some innocuous looking gentleman wearing a suit and sunglasses standing off a ways. I mean, we're talking the security of a nation here.

Besides, the technology is very helpful. Why, it could even be used by the states for driver's licenses or identification cards. Gee, since Congress is currently entertaining a bill that would put restrictions on how states issue licenses, maybe we should go all the way and just let the federal government issue the cards to all of us. The state could still do the road test, but the cards would have to come after federal approval and issuance.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Monday, February 21, 2005

First of All

There's something about discovering that the roof leaks that sends me into elaborate forms of denial. I suspect starting a blog with absolutely no real computer sense falls into that category. The fact that I have been reading other folks' blogs obsessively for the past two weeks probably had nothing to do with it.

If I go into my home office (two doors down from where the leak is currently plinking into the only pan I could find and remove from its cupboard easily), I can avoid calling a roofing company for a while. I can concentrate on things that matter, things that are mystifying and puzzling to thoughtful people.

For example, this whole thing about Jeff Gannon/James Guckert is rather an odd thing. There seems to be a lot of electrons working overtime on the story. Who cleared this guy into the White House Press room? Why was he there? What sensitive and/or classified material was he allowed to see and why?

The conservative types pretend to be mystified about the brouhaha blazing from the liberal types. The liberal types are indignant. I think the farce has been great fun and very instructive about such things as hypocricy and herd mentality.

The conservatives claim there was no conspiracy. He was a reporter for a news service and got a daily pass. The liberals claim he was an administration shill sent to keep the heat off the President and his press secretary. You know what I think? I think they're both right.

I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theory because, especially in this case, conspiracies require people with a modicum of intelligence and good sense. Here's how I think he got in. Mr. Eberle of GOPUSA is probably a good old boy contributor, a medium hitter with a following. He wants to play with the big boys so his following will be impressed and increased. He calls someone and asks for a chance to take part in press briefings. Somebody says, "well, OK, but for a press pass you really need to belong to a recognized press organization, not a Republican fund raising committee. Mr. Eberle nods, and then invents Talon News. Voila!

Now all he needs is a guy who is a journalist who will go to work for Talon. Apparently none of the big names from the mainstream media are interested, so he hires a guy who seems both interested and presentable and calls the administration buddy and says, "I've got me a news organization and a journalist. Now can I have a press pass?" "Sure."

Obviously more than one administration official is involved, but not involved enough to really check out the new Talon guy. Nobody seems to notice that the guy is not really a journalist, just a pleasant fellow who asks the kind of questions that puts a pleasant face on things. Nobody is aware that the pleasant fellow has a very steamy web site promoting his other career until it is pointed out in great detail in many, many blogs.

If it weren't for the fact that apparently anyone can get into a room with the President of the United States with their own agenda (or weapon), and if it weren't for the fact that the current administration sees nothing wrong with manipulating the flow of information, this would actually make a pretty good comedy.