Archive for July, 2009

Begging for Money, and Pretending to Care What Conservatives Think — The Latest RNC “Republican Party Census Document”

July 30, 2009

I’d like to thank the Republican National Committee for inspiring this post.

Yes, I got another of their “surveys,” today. They must not pay much attention to the ones people send back unless they also contain a donation, which mine have not for about a decade.

Just so the RNC knows I’m not just spouting off on somebody else’s “census,” here’s my survey’s special, secret registration number:

051680-790130

509576472

I’d give you my individually-issued “Voter District Code,” but I’d have to kill you.

I can only stand to plod through a few representative questions, because so many of them are focused on the trivial, while ignoring the monstrous. My replies, all of which go well beyond the largely meaningless “yes” or “no” options, follow each question.

Now, on to the “census document”!

ECONOMIC ISSUES

1) Should we unite as a party to oppose President Obama’s huge tax increase on the American people, particularly the new tax on dividends, capital gains and small businesses?

As much as I would like to help out those who receive dividends, et al, I am really more concerned about the free-fall path to a socialist dictatorship the Republican “leadership” has offered to Obama, by lying down and letting him and the Democrats walk over them like a cheap doormat.

This passive acceptance of socialism and wholesale violation of the Constitution (heard of it, Republicans?) got a real boost under “your” President, George W. Bush, and would have continued under McCain.

Remember the Bush prescription drug welfare program – up to then, the biggest single expansion of government spending since LBJ? Remember “No Child Left Behind,” taking an already-invalid public education system and saddling it with a huge backpack full of federal mandates and no way to pay for them? Gross negligence on securing our national borders? Micromanaging (and largely handcuffing) the military in Iraq and elsewhere? And, as a last hurrah, how about that financial sector bailout, courtesy of George W. Bush, the “compassionate conservative?”

With that for recent history, who could be surprised that Republicans in Congress have rolled over and let Obama put the wholesale government violations of the Constitution into overdrive? Has it escaped your notice, RNC,  that Obama has nationalized two auto manufacturers, and appointed 30-some “czars” – unconstitutional, unaccountable, un-vetted and unqualified in any respect other than as cronies of The One — to run nearly every aspect, of our economy and personal lives?  Why haven’t you Republicans walked out of Congress in protest, and gathered en masse on the Capitol steps to declare you would be no part of such an outrage? If you did, I missed it. The last time you showed that much backbone was during the “Drill here, drill now” campaign, which was encouraging, but oh, so brief.

DOMESTIC ISSUES

Is the Republican National Committee so morally bankrupt, cowardly, so self-serving and/or so terminally stupid that it needs to be TOLD to oppose illegal immigration, “card check,” trial lawyer welfare, a taxpayer-funded, Obama-worshiping  corps of  brainwashed, brownshirt thugs, and the “fairness doctrine” censorship program for all media, including the Internet?

Okay, that isn’t an actual question, but it should have been. Unfortunately, the short answer is, “Yes.” Over the last hundred years, it has become obvious that Republicans include a large contingent of progressives who share Woodrow Wilson’s and Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s goal of weakening the United States and its fundamental principles to the point of irrelevance, so that it can be absorbed into a transnational government.

From Theodore Roosevelt right through John McCain, Republican “leaders” have been leading us over a cliff into subservience to the UN or its equivalent, by promoting a politically-driven court system, an irrelevant, emasculated legislative branch, and real power concentrated in an enormous, unelected bureaucracy.

At least, Obama was honest when he told a campaign audience in Missouri, days before the election, that he was going to “transform this country.” That is just what he is doing. He is making more of what the progressives call “progress” toward transforming the United States of America into a post-Constitution, socialist pseudo-democracy in months, on its way to becoming a communist dictatorship, than his most ambitious predecessors made in nearly a century.

The Republicans, meanwhile, grouse and pout about his methods, and wonder what will be left of the multinational corporations to which they have traded their souls for cushy lobbying jobs after they earn their cushy Congressional retirements. Will the big bucks still be there by the time they resign, or Congress is dissolved by executive order, or they are voted out of office by a contingent of ACORN thugs and illegal aliens, or…

FAMILY AND SOCIAL ISSUES

[Let me paraphrase and condense, for brevity]: Should Republicans allow Obama, Reid and Pelosi to pack the supreme court with liberal sock puppets, force taxpayers to finance abortions overseas, and allow partial birth abortion at home?

Sure, why not? Isn’t that what Republicans would have done if John McCain had accidentally won the election? And the loyal Republican base would be looking around, befuddled, wondering how this happened, and who is to blame.

HOMELAND SECURITY ISSUES

Are you (the former Republican voter, in my case) in favor of gutting the Patriot Act, and other […] laws that promote the safety and security of all Americans, blah, blah, blah?

Does it matter? We conservatives and Constitutionalists were in favor of a border fence, and it hasn’t been built. We still have the most porous border of any supposedly sovereign nation on earth, with thousands of illegals every week, including criminals and terrorists, pouring across like a continuous tidal wave.

Our Border Patrol agents are afraid to pick a place to go to lunch without the advice of an attorney, for fear of being blindsided by their administrators, or an Obama political operative. Bush gave them the back of his hand, as well. Ask former agents Ramos and Compean. Where was the RNC during that outrage?

We were adamantly and vocally opposed to laws that would allow illegal immigrants to stay and flourish on the taxpayers’ dime, and the titular leader of the Republicans was and is still promoting such laws.

Our troops are similarly hamstrung by stupid and self-defeating Defense Department policies, but the Obama administration is considering bringing the troops home to keep us in line, in the event of an emergency. What do you want to bet the civil rights hacks and community activists will be nowhere to be found when the troops get orders to bang on our doors and confiscate privately-owned firearms in some real, or ginned-up, national emergency?

Or, will that be left to Obama’s brownshirts, trained in “summer camps” at taxpayers’ expense to go out and throw their weight around, while the Republican Congressional leadership makes Elmer Fudd noises about being “vewy, vewy careful” with the civil rights of unfavored classes?

Are you in favor of air strikes against nations that harbor terrorists, and space-based missile defense?

Will any defense system ever get out of Congress without political and international law restraints so tight as to render it useless? Will Republicans care enough to do anything beyond casting safe, timid votes, and shrugging their shoulders in resignation when the Democrats bury them under procedural maneuvers? Will the Obama administration ever sign off on any air strike that doesn’t take out Israel or Taiwan? Not before consulting with Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, certainly. In other words, all questions about defense policy are moot.

FINALLY, THE INEVITABLE APPEAL FOR MONEY

I would go on, but I can’t stand it anymore. Besides, about all that’s left is the appeal for money, which was the point of the mailing in the first place. If I can’t give them $500, how about giving them $250? Hah.

Their last stand is, “However, I have enclosed $12 to cover the cost of tabulating my survey.” Shoot, if they can’t tabulate a stinking survey for a lot less than $12, they’re no better qualified to govern than the Democrats. But, we already knew that, didn’t we?

Besides, they’ll ignore the results and go with the path of least resistance anyway, so, what’s the point? I’d rather set a pile of money on fire, or spend it on a much more worthwhile cause, like buying somebody a copy of The 5000 Year Leap.

I’d buy the RNC a clue, but, talk about a waste of time and money….

Obama’s Health Care Memo to Boomers: Do the right thing: Die!

July 28, 2009

Office of Health Care Resource Conservation
United States Department of Health and Human Services
Washington, DC
July 26, 2009

Thomas D. Cox
[address redacted]

Dear Mr. Cox:

Our records indicate that you are sixty years of age as of your last birthday. The Office has made an examination your centralized medical records, according to HHS regulations.

This examination indicates that you have a combination of seemingly minor medical conditions that, when looked at in the aggregate by a computerized statistical analysis program developed in the Peoples Republic of China, indicate that you may be subject to one or more serious, major health conditions which would require extensive and costly medical treatment. Treatment of these conditions would consume valuable health care resources that are already strained meeting the needs of your fellow Americans.

Your Social Security records indicate an extensive work history. Your credit history includes several stays at vacation and recreation sites. These observations lead the Office to find that you have lived a full and successful life, and we congratulate you on your many accomplishments.

It is our finding, with due regard for the value and potential costs of your life to the greater society, that no more than thirty days from the issuance date of this letter, you should report to the nearest local clinic of the Office of Health Care Resource Conservation, for humane life termination.

Please bring positive identification, including a certified copy of your birth certificate, your Social Security card, and your federally-approved smart picture identification card. You should wear comfortable clothing, and leave all valuables, such as watch, wedding ring, cash and credit cards at home. If you use public transportation to get to your appointment at the clinic, your estate will be reimbursed for the expense

It is our duty to caution you against delaying your appearance at the center. Doing so will result in a warrant being issued for your arrest for contempt of government. As you may know, there is no trial afforded to anyone against who such a warrant has been issued. All civil rights normally accorded to you by government are suspended at the time this warrant is issued, because as of the date and time of issue, you are legally deceased.

We are sure that you will make the responsible decision, and that none of the above measures will be required, saving government resources and protecting your friends and family from the personal and financial stresses of being arrested for harboring a legally-deceased federal fugitive.

Again, we thank you for your long, productive life, and we fully expect that you will cooperate in this process. Please rest assured that your remains (after useful body parts have been removed) will be disposed of in the clinic’s ultra-high-efficiency crematorium in an environmentally sound manner, with the least possible Carbon Dioxide emission.

Thank you for your cooperation.

[signed]
Kathleen Sibelius
Secretary of Health and Human Services

Hey, Glenn Beck: Is There a “Reichstag Fire” in Our Future?

July 23, 2009

I’m a reasonably faithful Glenn Beck Program listener, or, as you call us, a “sick, twisted freak.” There are many reasons why I became a member of your audience. In addition to being informative and thought provoking, you are often funny – LMAO, ROTFL funny. When you and your crew get a bit silly, the humor flows freely, and I love it.

I really appreciate you recommendation of The 5000 Year Leap as reading material, and I am about finished with my first pass through your modernized adaptation of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.

I am currently preoccupied with one of the recurring themes of your program (at least the radio show, which I listen to on XM radio) that isn’t laughable. It is obvious that it is very important to you to discourage your listeners from any impulse to gather up the “pitchforks and torches” and descend upon the castle, demanding that the authorities hand over the monster. I understand it’s your way of admonishing us not to follow the example of Timothy McVeigh.

I take your point. One of many things I am not is a trained soldier. Another thing I am not is a cold-blooded murderer. McVeigh was both, and I do not regret his execution. I do regret that we did not have more time to interrogate him as to his accomplices, other than Terry Nichols. Did he have ties to Iraqi intelligence, as alleged by Jayna Davis in The Third Terrorist? Was his hatred of the US government his only motivation, or were there others? We may find out some day, but not from McVeigh. I agree with the quote from you I found on her Website, that we need a 9/11-style Commission on the Oklahoma City bombing.

Anyway, Glenn, I repeat: I take your point. I have not been recruited into revolutionary violence by Glenn Beck, or anyone else. I do not feel on the verge of becoming a serial killer, a guerrilla, a bandito, or a freedom fighter toting RPGs and EIDs.

Morality apart, you explain your practical opposition to “taking up arms”: it will give the Obama administration, sinking in the polls and facing disenchantment among the gullible, and new skepticism from unexpected directions, including among former friends – a pretext to leap right over the intermediate stage of socialism/corporate fascism, right into a dictatorship that has much more in common with the last century’s grand utopian experiments than with anything good that “hope and change” could bring about.

It is not just a very great leap from a “mandatory voluntary” Obama Youth Corps, the nationalization of health care and the giants of the auto and financial industries (except for a few close friends and generous campaign contributors), to the wholesale and explicit, rather than piecemeal and implicit, suspension of the Constitution – and to martial law.

The magnificent socialist utopian experiments of the 1900s killed more people and wasted more wealth and resources in a single century than all the socio-political systems tried in all the rest of recorded history (with the possible exception of the first thousand years of political Islam – accurate stats on that are hard to come by). There is no reason to believe that this latest bunch of unaccountable, self-righteous, arrogant ideologues would do any less damage than their failed predecessors.

That would not keep them from trying, of course.

But, Glenn, what makes you think an armed uprising among some serious believers on the right would be necessary to provide the pretext for dictatorship? Have you not read about the Reichstag Fire? One man could do it.

A lone Dutchman, Marinus van der Lubbe, was caught at the scene of the Reichstag fire, confessed, and described in detail his procedure for spreading fire in the old structure. British intelligence agent Denis Sefton Delmer, who wrote that he was on the scene at that fire in 1933, reports his conclusion that van der Lubbe was plausibly the lone arsonist responsible for the destruction of the historic German parliament building. Delmer says senior fire investigators reenacted the attack following van der Lubber’s detailed account, and found that one man could have quite easily done the deed. Other evidence gathered after the fire tended to support the “lone arsonist” theory.

The truth became less and less important, even before the smoke cleared. The Nazis pounced on the event to accuse the Communists of committing the attack as the signal to begin a concerted, premeditated terror campaign, including “dynamiting, incendiarism and mass murder” all over the country.

The Soviet Communists fabricated and spread legends to convince the public that in the immediate aftermath of the fire, the building had been found to be crawling with Nazi Stormtroopers, who were supposed to have spread the fire so quickly, and, implausibly, hung around to watch it burn. Delmer, under his cover as a reporter in that period before open conflict between Britain and Germany, asserts that he entered the building in the wake of Hitler and his entourage as soon as the fire was under control, and that there were no Stormtroopers in evidence.

None of the Communists’ efforts to capitalize on  the event  mattered, either, because Hitler and Goering, his adroit propaganda minister, successfully used the event to persuade the Germans to give the Nazis extraordinary authority over them — only for the duration of the emergency, of course – which his party used to round up the Communists and any other opposing political leadership, and to curtail free speech and opposition political activity nation-wide.

Hitler only had to invoke the Germans’ historic animosity toward Russia to justify his “conclusion” that the Soviet Communist political apparatus was on the verge of attempting a coup d’état. That van der Lubbe was a different brand of Communist – one with lasting hostility toward the Soviets – mattered not at all. The Germans reacted by allowing Hitler to stage his own coup d’état, without firing a shot. The Third Reich, and the War of Revenge, The Great Patriotic War, or World War II — depending on the version of history by which you choose to describe it – followed shortly.

History, as is often repeated, has a way of repeating itself. If the history presented by Mr. Delmer is accurate, one man, a small cadre, a group of government agents or, say, some “community organizers” could light the American Reichstag Fire, if the benefits seem to outweigh the risks, or – just for a bit of evil fun. The key factor in the succession of events isn’t the exact nature of the initial act, but the reaction to it by authority, and the willingness of the media to question or swallow the “official” explanation that best fits the political agenda.

With people such as Rahm Emanuel in positions of influence in the Obama White House, it’s unlikely that Emanuel’s maxim that, “[y]ou never want a serious crisis to go to waste” would be ignored for long.

All it takes is a crisis – real, imagined or staged. Is our Reichstag Fire smoldering at this moment?

Does it even have to be a “manmade disaster? Nope. How about a natural one that affects most of the country, like a New Madrid earthquake that crumbles every bridge over the Mississippi, or a huge solar flare that wipes out the national electrical infrastructure? Neither event would be unprecedented. Nature has served this continent both dishes before.

And, if nature won’t step up and provide a “serious crisis,” how about the Iranians, with their “peaceful” nuclear power, that, for some reason, requires the parallel development of Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs)? Those wacky, nuclear North Koreans can’t be counted out, either.

If so, Glenn, then what? You, Rush and Sean will disappear from the airwaves, and we sick, twisted freaks will be on our own. It forces one to think the unthinkable, doesn’t it?

When Old Tech Rules: Learning to Use a Scythe

July 6, 2009
The Marugg Company, Tracy City, TN

The Marugg Company, Tracy City, TN

This article is about buying and using a scythe.

Yes, a scythe.

I am an IT guy, a radio amateur, and a fan of technology in general, but I do not limit myself to the technology of modern day — leading edge, bleeding edge, or otherwise. In fact, some “paleotechnology” beats the modern stuff, in the right context. A brace and bit beats a rechargeable drill with a dead battery ten times out of ten, and a crystal radio will get you the local radio stations when an ice storm has the power off and the double-A in your Walkman breathes its last.

Don’t mistake me for a victim of romantic nostalgia.  I have no desire to go back to the time before the Salk Vaccine, or when getting the horse manure off the streets was a major issue, or before indoor plumbing and air conditioning. A Luddite, I am not. Where old tech works, however, it’s just plain stupid not to know how to use it.

Nor am I an environmental zealot. I think man-caused global warming is a fraud, and a pretext for taking away individual rights that have not already been taken in the name of saving the children lucky enough to avoid an appointment with the abortionist. And those rights not stolen in the process of giving welfare to illegal aliens, protecting the public against violent attacks by roving gangs of Christians and Constitutionalists, and preserving the habitats of spotted owls and snail darters, are not in danger from me.

It’s simpler than that. I need to cut some grass and weeds on a slope that is too steep and creepy to cut with the mower deck on my little diesel tractor, and I don’t want to use a gas-powered string trimmer. I hate the damn things. A gas string trimmer is a back-breaking, expensive stick, with a debris-spewing, hissing, whirling dervish on one end, a hot, stinking, noisy, temperamental motor and a tank of highly-flammable liquid at the other; and an exhausted, nearly-deaf, weed-juice-spattered dummy in the middle. Politics and environmentalist feelgood-ism played no part in this decision.

I have not been the weed-juice-spattered dummy since the end of May, 2009, when I brought home my “European-style” scythe, bought in-person at the Marugg Company [www.themaruggcompany.com], in Tracy City, Tennessee. My gas string trimmer is in the long-term custody of my nephew, who will probably continue to store it in his garage.

I have been on my tractor, the classy little Kubota BX1500, cutting a wide, smooth swath through grass and weeds on open areas that, from a transplanted Middle Tennessean’s perspective, are close enough to level to avoid the feeling that one is risking life and limb. I don’t regret a single molecule of Carbon Dioxide the tractor or I exhaled in that process. That is guilt-free CO2, and Al Gore can get over it.

I researched the subject of the scythe extensively – well, as extensively as one can without leaving one’s chair in front of one’s Internet-connected computer – before I settled on the Marugg scythe. Indeed, I was surprised to discover considerable scythe-related content can be dug up with some judicious use of Ixquick, my Google replacement, privacy-protecting meta-search engine.

Not only is there a lot of content, there is even a bit of controversy among the scythe-using community. Yes, controversy! Not about the difference between American-style scythes and their European counterparts, but among those who agree that the lighter, sportier European models are better than the clunky, heavy American models.

Some Canadians, such as the members of the Vido family, as represented by Scythe Works  and Scythe Connection  approach the subject of scythes with more than a little of the ardor of the evangelist. In fact, their ardor puts me off a bit, as they give the impression that people with questions or concerns about scythes should be treated with some disdain and impatience, and maybe even some arrogance.

I coined a term for this rather zealous branch of the scythe fraternity: Scythentologists. They are impatient with the stubborn, unenlightened masses who prefer to see the scythe as a tool for which there may be quite appropriate uses, but don’t find themselves able to treat it as an object of worship, a tool for artistic expression, or as a focus for an entire school of metaphysical contemplation.

To get a taste of the fervor, self-righteousness and near-contempt with which the unenlightened are treated by Scythentologists, I offer you some email correspondence between your humble blogger and Peter Vido, from the early stages of my research into scythes.

First, my note to Scythe Connection, (which apparently was the wrong place to address my questions anyway, as Mr. Vido takes pains to point out)… Well, see for yourself.

On 18-May-09, at 9:45 PM, Tom Cox wrote:

First, my sizing info: Height: 70 in.; Ground to shoulder: 60 in.; Ground to core of hip joint: 34 in.; “Cubit”: 19 in.

Second, my contact info:

Tom Cox

[contact info]

Background:

I am 60 years old, in relatively good physical condition (able to do most of my own odd jobs and grounds keeping chores), and dealing with a hilly, rural acre that is so steep in places that it makes me nervous to try to mow on my Kubota BX1500 tractor. There are also places where the ground stays wet all spring, and, even though it has turf tires, the tractor will strip or rut the turf, even on near-level ground.

I would like to be able to get some mowing work done early on summer days, without stalling until the dew is off. I understand that dew-wet grass is easier to cut with a scythe, which is good for me. By the time the dew is gone, the temp and humidity are into the range where just being outdoors is work, let alone doing anything strenuous.

I have some areas on the slopes where the grass has gotten long (2 – 3 feet), because of heavy rain and my reluctance to tackle it on the tractor. The gas weed eater is slow, noisy, messy and really hard on my lower back due to the asymmetry of the stress of using it, especially while walking the slopes. I get tired of coming in from trimming with a green paste of “yard salad” all over me, with my ears ringing from the noise, and overheated from wearing the chain saw helmet or goggles.

Another area of concern is a steep slope that has become overgrown with blackberries and sapling trees. I can attack it in small doses, downhill-only, with the tractor, but it is a little nerve-wracking and may be somewhat risky due to the hazards of rollover and hitting hidden rocks and stumps with the mower deck that I don’t see from the seat. I don’t want to belt a rock through the window or wall of my mobile home like a line-drive homer.

I doubt that [it is] realistic to expect one blade to do a good job on both the grassy slopes and the berries, so I am focusing on the grass, which I may be able to give to my nephew to feed his goats. In any case, the grass will be gone before it can become a fire hazard, and leaves a less friendly habitat for ticks, which are plentiful here. Goat fodder or garden mulch — at least it’s put to use and out of my way.

If I can mow the tender grass and weeds between patches of berries, I may be able to conquer the latter with the tractor, or, as a last resort, the Woodman’s Pal. With the surrounding grass and weeds out of the way, either method will be easier and safer.

I want a peening set, because the idea of working the metal appeals to my aesthetic sense, as well as to my frugality. I might graduate to a hammer and anvil at some point. I also want to get a suitable stone and holster.

I assume I would be best off with the shortest snath, given my height and the prevalence of sloped terrain. The #0 blade looks like a good one to start with, since I am a learner, and it is inexpensive compared to the average. I can come back for another blade when I know more. Am I on the right track with these choices?

Am I missing anything major? Assuming I get the items listed, what would the price be in US dollars (such as they are, these days), and the shipping to Tennessee (37036)?

Thanks for your time and the benefit of your expertise.

Best Regards,

Tom Cox

I thought that was a fairly uncontroversial approach — conversational, not confrontational, asking questions that would lead me to choose the right combination of products for my application, with (at the time) the intention of spending money with them upon getting my questions answered. Well, silly me. Mr. Vido replies:

Tom,
I tried to call you last night to respond more comprehensively to your scythe inquiry than I have time for in writing — but reached only your answering machine. (Our phone is far from the house, I’m there once or twice a day at irregular hours and thus there is little point of you trying to call back.)

So instead I suggest you contact Alexander at http://scytheworks.ca/ (which, if you read our catalogue introduction carefully, is where you would have sent your e-mail.) Just two quick pointers: Firstly, I think that given your terrain (and experience) an 80cm blade may be too long. Secondly: Totally regardless of  my involvement in scythe retail (but knowing what I do about the scythe’s potential) if I were you I’d give away (or sell cheaply) both of your machines and obtain suitable scythes to replace them. Your machines have no future to speak of; the scythe does! To help you understand what I’m saying here read (carefully) more information on our website — none of which was inspired by business considerations.

Sincerely,

Peter Vido

After scolding me for addressing my questions to the “wrong” party (he is a marketing genius, obviously), Mr. Vido offers me the unsolicited and un-useful advice to “give away (or sell cheaply)” my equipment, including my cherished Kubota tractor, and “obtain suitable scythes to replace them.” Uh-huh.

Gosh, Mr. Vido, which scythe model will carry 400 pounds of dirt or firewood in the loader bucket, grade my gravel driveway with the rear blade, or re-position a 26-foot camper trailer with a 2-inch receiver adapter on the three-point hitch, all the while sipping diesel as if it were expensive champagne?

I am so glad I held off on spending my allotted scythe money until I had taken another look at the Marugg folks’ site and product line. Their small, friendly shop and store are in Tracy City, Tennessee, a cool little town at the end of a pleasant, two-hour drive from our home in the northeast corner of Dickson County, about twenty miles west of downtown Nashville.

Although I had already communicated with Amy Wilson, owner of Marugg with her husband, Allen, by email and phone, we had not met until our arrival in Tracy City around midday on May 26th. Amy made my wife, her sister and me feel welcome immediately, and proceeded to give us a tour of their facility – an unassuming, single-story building with a plaque on the front door that says that “The Marugg Company has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior – 1873.”IMG_1792r1

I am a fan of the history of technology, including that of manufacturing. As a former resident of Muncie, Indiana, I have become somewhat familiar with the late, lamented era of American history in which our country was the manufacturing heart of the world.

Remember when we made stuff? Muncie was home to General Motors plants (well before it became Federal Motors) in the middle and latter parts of the last century, but Muncie’s involvement with manufacturing predates that period, thanks to the plentiful fields of natural gas that permeated that part of the country. Muncie also was the manufacturing site for giant, stationary internal combustion engines that powered manufacturing plants all over the world between the times when steam and water powered factories, and the advent of plentiful electricity. Muncie Oil Engine was a premier manufacturer of huge, slow-turning but very high-torque engines that powered a whole generation of factories for decades before cheap electricity made them obsolete.

Factory buildings of that era had a long, skinny form factor, because the power to operate the heavy machinery that made the goods the world bought was distributed through the plants not by wires, but on implausibly long, rotating spindles, driven at one end by the enormous, slow-moving but powerful engines of the type manufactured in Muncie. Every drill press, trip hammer and bending brake derived its power through belts and pulleys connected to this central spindle.

A model for a manufacturing plant, dating at least from the earliest days of the 19th century, was the Springfield Amory. The armory, which pioneered many of the principles of modern manufacturing, made rifles for the US military. The wooden stocks for those rifles were turned on the Blanchard lathe, which received its power from just such a central spindle. Early photos and drawings of plants like the Armory show the unmistakable signature of the central spindle, connected to surrounding machines by long, serpentine belts and pulleys, whether the power on the business end was from a water wheel, a steam engine, or a Muncie Oil Engine or its kin.

All of the above is meant to explain why I was pleased to recognize the remnants of such a power distribution system in the Marugg plant. Amy didn’t know how the original plant’s power was produced before the electric era (probably brought to Tracy City by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the years after World War I), but I would bet that, in 1873, when the plant was owned by the Swiss family for which it is named, it was powered by coal-fired or even wood-fired steam, and maybe later by a diesel stationary engine.

From bygone days: Knob-and-tube wiring (top), and pulleys from the old spindle power distribution system, both replaced with modern electric power

From bygone days: Knob-and-tube wiring (top), and pulleys from the old spindle power distribution system, both replaced with modern electric power

SpindleDriveMotor

The electric motor in the background was used to power the spindle system, at some point in the past. Before electricity, power was from steam engines, and then from large, stationary internal combustion engines like the one show herehttp://ralph.lafayette.la.us/stationary-engines/muncie.oil.engine/

In any case, some pulleys and spindles were still in evidence in several places around the building. That power system had long been replaced with “knob and tube” electrical wiring, which was modernized by subsequent owners up through the acquisition by Allen and Amy Wilson. Such a tangible connection to history is a pleasure to discover in the midst of modern life.

As Amy gave us a tour and lecture, she was picking up the parts of the scythe that would be going home with me. She measured my height, my “cubit” (yes, cubit – length from the elbow to the tip of the longest finger) and the height from my shoulder to the ground, so I would leave with the right length “snath” (sounds like a made-up name for a Muppet character, but it’s the term for a scythe handle, dating at least from the English of Shakespeare).

As mentioned, there are two main styles of scythes, including both blades and snaths. The American style snaths are heavy; some of them even made from aluminum or steel, and the blades are heavier, too. American blades are made from stamped steel, and seem to rely more on brute strength and momentum to cut, while European blades are hammered from more malleable steels, and can take a very sharp edge, if that is desired.

A European blade whistles through grass or wheat stalks like a breeze, cutting like a sharp knife (not an imitation hacksaw blade, like some cheap steak knife, but a real, smooth-bladed knife), striking the grass at a shallow tangent to the axis of motion, and slicing through a narrow band of vegetation with each swing, but with little more effort than that required just to move the blade through the arc.

An American blade is apparently intended to cut more like an ax or a cleaver, striking the grass nearly perpendicular to the axis of motion, and requiring considerably more effort with each stroke to carry it through the cut material. To appreciate the difference, try cutting a ripe tomato with a very sharp knife, and then try cutting it with a meat cleaver.

If these snath dimensions had been wrong, or if I had bought just any snath from eBay, I’d be hacking and swishing my way through the weeds like a demented golfer, wasting time and energy, and thinking dark thoughts of going across the road to liberate my gas string trimmer from my nephew’s clutches.

Marugg imports scythe blades from European manufacturers, but it makes its own snaths. Amy chose a curved snath for my use, and although I don’t really understand the functional difference between a curved snath and a straight one, mine works well.

Amy Wilson, onwner with husband Allen of the Marugg Company, does some drill press work on my scythe snath.

Amy Wilson, owner with husband Allen of the Marugg Company, does some drill press work on my scythe snath.

Amy takes a phone order from a customer in texas, while I roam and shoot.

Amy takes a phone order from a customer in Texas, while I roam and shoot.

The Marugg people hand-pick their snath material from Tennessee hickory.  Candidates for that role are stacked all over the plant. To get that sporty, Euro curve, they steam a batch of snaths in a tub to soften them, and strap them down to one of the original  pieces of equipment unique to the Marugg shop: a snath bending rig. It looks a bit like a medieval torture device, but I heard no complaints from the couple dozen steamed hickory sticks that were getting their bend fixed in place. They looked comfortable. Maybe they thought it was more like a spa treatment; getting a massage after a soak in the hot tub.

Snath bending rack, overseen by Marugg quality control inspector/mouser

Snath bending rack, overseen by Marugg quality control inspector/mouser

Snath bath -- the hot tub where snaths get steamed before bending

Snath bath — the hot tub where snaths get steamed before bending

The next crucial choice was that of the right blade for my usual mowing jobs. Of course, it had to be a light, sporty, Euro-style blade, but there are hundreds of different styles of scythe blade just in that category.

A scything virtuoso – perhaps an accomplished Scythentologist – who would be cutting wheat or grass in a cultivated field, would want a long, light grass blade that can be made sharp, to cut a wide swath (another Middle English word first associated with scything, apparently). Such a user will not subject this blade to the indignity and abuse of trying to cut coarse weeds, sapling trees, or (shudder) hitting rocks.

Scythe blade inventory, imported from (mostly) Austria -- to match the tool to the job

Scythe blade inventory, imported from (mostly) Austria — to match the tool to the job. Using the wrong blade for the cutting job would be like using the wrong bit in a drill.

I, on the other hand, being of the unwashed and uninitiated, scythe-wise, could be expected to abuse the blade somewhat, in the process of learning the swing, and to satisfy my curiosity as to exactly how thick a sapling or berry cane I could cut with it. Also, as I said in my email to (Professor? Father? Bishop?) Vido, above, my mowing will not be in a level, cultivated field, but in land that has never seen a plow, is constantly prey to encroaching brush, and includes the need to trim close to fences and buildings.

Amy recommended a “brush blade,” which is shorter than a “grass blade,” and with a deeper and slightly thicker back, putting a little more metal between me and whatever I attack with my scythe. I went with her recommendation, and I was not disappointed. I have subjected this scythe to considerable abuse, both accidentally and in the process of learning its limits, and it is holding up well, with some maintenance.

Maintenance is another way the European blades differ from their American counterparts. To sharpen an American blade, the preferred method is either filing or grinding. Filing is slower, but doesn’t heat the blade the way grinding does, changing the character of the metal in ways that affect its hardness and wear resistance, and using up metal at a high rate. One does not approach a European blade with a file, and — Heaven forbid — with a grinding wheel. These methods are simply too rough and unrefined. A bit of filing may be called for to repair a damaged blade, but grinding — never.

Sharpening European blades take a kinder, gentler approach. The metallurgy of European style blades calls for frequent sharpening, even in the field, but with much less metal removed at a time, and a sharper edge attained with less effort. The doctrinaire method of field sharpening is with a whetstone that the user carries in a container that holds the stone(s) in water. The stone soaks up water and stays cleaner, that way, keeping its pores from clogging with metal particles that would reduce its effectiveness.

Sporty, Euro stone holster, complete with belt clip -- holds two stones in water.

Sporty, Euro stone holsters, complete with belt clip — holds two stones in water.

After the removal of metal near the edge with several sharpenings with the stone, however, the cutting edge recedes to the thicker region of the blade, requiring more metal to be removed to arrive at a sharp edge. To thin or draw out the edge, the European blade is peened gently with a hammer and anvil designed for that purpose, or with a combination of tools called variously a peening jig, or a peening apparatus. The latter device, used correctly, allows the novice to thin the blade with calibrated hammer blows that compact the metal, making it stronger, while thinning the edge to allow it to be honed with the whetstone to a thin, sharp cutting edge.  The apparatus comes in two pieces – a fixture, and two cylindrical pieces that are struck against the fixture with a hammer, with the edge of the blade between them.

The fixture is a machined cylinder of tough steel with a central body about two inches thick and six inches long, turned down on a lathe at one end to a spike, and at the other, to a column about the diameter of a finger. The fixture’s spike is driven into a piloted hole in a section of tree trunk or a stout workbench, to keep it steady and to absorb the impact of the peening hammer. The other pieces are cylinders with their centers bored out to fit smoothly over the column in the fixture, but with a face at the opening that is beveled to the angle desired for the blade edge.

The blade fits between the pieces, with the cutting edge resting lightly against the smaller column, just to insure that it is compressed the proper distance toward the back with each stroke of the hammer. One cylinder is beveled for preliminary shaping – usually marked with a single groove around the outside diameter, and the other for the final contour, is marked with two grooves.

The first cylinder puts the initial contour on the edge, or repairs a major dent or crack. The second one puts on the final contour, and is most often used for maintaining the working edge at the proper thickness after a few sharpenings.

Foreground: hammer and anvil combo; far side of front stump: Peening apparatus.

Foreground: hammer and anvil combo; far side of front stump: Peening apparatus.

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Various scythe sharpening tools, close up

My scythe budget only allowed for the hammer and anvil combo, which is about half as much as the peening apparatus from Marugg. I have peened the blade a couple of times to what I imagine to be a “good” thickness, but I will be getting an apparatus as soon as I can afford it, to take the guesswork out of that part of the maintenance routine.

I want to go back to Tracy City again as soon as we can afford it, and take more pictures of the Marugg facility. I enjoy being in the company of people who understand that the virtues of technology extend to whatever works, whether it is today’s, or yesterday’s. I also like to be around people who can be enthusiastic about a subject they know well, without being self-righteous about it. There is no hint of Scythentological fervor at Marugg — just friendly enthusiasm.

My next “wish list” will include the peening apparatus, and possibly another scythe blade, or maybe a “scythe sickle” – a short-handled sickle with a scaled-down scythe blade, for close-in trimming around landscape plants and garden beds, and an old-style weeding hoe that looks a lot more effective than the modern ones.

I also want to go back to a superb little restaurant in Tracy City, The Dutch Maid Bakery, It’s only a short walk from the Marugg shop to the restaurant, and you’d be foolish to plan a trip to Marugg that didn’t include lunch there, and some baked goods to go, and maybe a souvenir or two from their gift shop.

So goes my experiment with the centuries-old technology of the scythe. Unless circumstances force other, older ways of doing things on me, I’ll probably stick with factory-made clothes, indoor plumbing, networked computers and the Kubota tractor.

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Marugg Trademark

But the scythe is here to stay.

Gratuitous, artsy shot of old machinery in the Marugg plant.

Gratuitous, artsy shot of old machinery in the Marugg plant. Looks like an idler pulley, meant to keep tension on the drive belt, but to allow it to slip if a piece of wood jams the tool.

My new scythe, sized for me and wrapped to travel.

My new scythe, sized for me and wrapped to travel.