Sunday, November 20, 2005

Carrot and Stick

Which is it? The one on the left, or the one on the right?
I hear the phrase used many times a week, and almost universally the speaker means it in the sense of the picture on the right--beating the donkey with the stick and offering it a carrot in order to get it to move.
Isn't the left-hand picture more elegant? Doesn't it make more sense, really? Isn't the object to get the donkey to move? I agree that the people who refer to carrots as rewards and sticks as punishments are consistent in their logic, but I think that they have imported a foriegn meaning to the original sense of "carrot and stick."

Of course I have no proof that I know the original sense, but let's look at the internal evidence of the phrase itself:

1) We talk about "the carrot and the stick." Is this not an apparatus? A carrot to reward and stick to punish are separate things, the operation of one independent of the other.

2) Which brings up a question? Why do we need to beat the animal at all? Won't it be lured forward by the promise of the carrot? As long as the carrot is just out of reach, the donkey will continue walking, in anticipation of reaching it. The stick-as-fishing-pole, with a carrot dangling tantalizingly out of reach, provides the sort of continuous promise of reward the situation calls for.

3) Can one person both beat the rump with a stick and feed carrots up front? Perhaps by holding a stick with a carrot dangling from it, as in the first picture, while simultaneously beating the animal's behind with another stick, would work--but then we're both violating elegance and returning to the question of why we need to beat the creature in the first place.

4) Although it is a donkey, and stubborn--which is probably why people assume we have to beat it to get it to move--there is no more guarantee that the animal will move with beatings than it will without them. We have the carrot, after all.

5) Someone could argue that the permanent withholding of the carrot will eventually result in the donkey stopping out of frustration. Then, beatings would have to be administered or the carrot given to the donkey. Fair enough--give the donkey the carrot. Then put another one on the string and start the process over. This is no different from the feeding of the carrot-as-reward--there are still no beatings necessary, and I would be willing to bet that we save money on carrots.

6) Yes, of course the dangling carrot method is manipulative. You might even try to tell me that the reward-carrot/punishment-stick method is more honest or some such nonsense, but this will remain a difference of opinion between us. Sure, I prefer a little quiet manipulation to violence. I prefer not to beat my donkey.

7) And then there is the self-sufficient--and almost pastoral--beauty of the dangling carrot method. The fragmentation of effort, the modern specialization required to mount the reward-carrot/punishment-stick method really turns me off.

8) But enough of opinions. Which is the correct meaning of the phrase, "carrot and stick"?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

True Grit, Baltimore Style

Get a little closer.


There. Run your hand over it. Feel the different grain sizes as some of them rub off and fall to the sidewalk below. Like sandstone. Notice that it looks like it has been painted, or even colored by a dye mixed into the stuff when they were applying it to the house.

It is Formstone. I have seen some of the houses in Locust Point (and in other neighborhoods) covered with Permastone, but in Baltimore, Formstone seems to be the word of choice, no matter what brand the substance actually is.

Judging by the number of rowhouses aro
und town whose owners are electing to strip the Formstone off, the question "Why would anyone put that stuff over perfectly good brick?" is more than a rhetorical one. Apparently, the answer, in the 1930's, 40's and 50's was, "Because the bricks of these old rowhouses are poorly-made, porous things that let the rain soak in." I suppose that too much economy has moved through the marketplace for the people who made their fortunes slathering Formstone up to be the same now making fortunes stripping it off.

A crew of guys would show up, with a mixer, some buckets, big rolls of chicken wire or steel mesh, trowels and shaping tools, dye and some scaffolding. They'd nail the mesh to the bricks and apply coats of the Formstone mix. Into the final coat they would carve and shape rectangles with relief suggesting cut stone. Then they would paint these recta
ngles colors: gray-blue, gray-orange, gray, gray-yellow.

As with Medieval and Renaisance guilds and studios, the artisans are anonymous. They affixed this plate to the outside of what, in later years, would be our house for a time.

Are there archives of the Formstone Corporation? Is there, somewhere, an invoice for the work done at 1463 Towso
n Street? Are the names of the men (presumably) who did the work on the paper?

How long will it be until someone has this Formstone removed to expose the brick beneath?

Nature is already at work, with the accompanying half-assed efforts of man to counteract that work.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


These little ones are looking for a home. They would like to live in our home, but our own cat has a few things to say about it. Anyone out there want a kitten? Drop me a line.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Farewell, Locust Point

Towson Street, looking North

Or, This One's for Mr. Afflerbach
Or, Where Was I?

We lived in Locust Point for 13 months. Didn't even scratch the surface in a neighborhood where you have to be able to point to your great-grandmother's house from your porch to be considered a long-time resident. In the days before our move we did manage to have a few conversations with neigbors we had never spoken to--the odd freedom of near leave-taking...
There was the hairy guy who walked his scruffy dog past the church every morning and evening. He paused as I came down the moving truck ramp.
"Y'movin', huh?"
"To the County?"
By which he means Baltimore County. The County is where you move to when you are fed up with city life. The County is where you go to when you've made it. The County--the east part of it, anyway--is where you go is you if you are white and you want more white neighbors. This last thing surely my hairy neighbor didn't mean, since Locust Pint is one of the whitest neighborhoods I have ever seen, much less lived in. When he said that about moving to the County, I felt a little indignance rise up:
"No, we're staying in the city--up Belair Road"
"So, almost the County, then"
Whatever. He was pleasant, though, when I explained that we were moving away precisely because we have not "made it", that we would love to stay in Locust Point but we couldn't afford to buy a house in it. He said:
"Yeah, if I told you how much I paid for my place 15 years ago, you'd cry--an' then a few months ago the guy buys the house next to me for four hundred fifty grand. Four hundred fifty grand! To get a neighbor like me!"
He shook his head. He wouldn't pay $450,000 for house next door to himself. I mean, with cash like that, move to the County!

We will miss the place. The photograph above is of a cargo ship at the end of our street one cool Saturday morning. I will miss seeing ships at the end of the street.

This back-ward looking toward the old neighborhood will be in several parts. Part Two will include some of the grit that makes Baltimore gritty.