Fredrick Winslow Taylor

i'm reading a great book that i sense will affect the course of my life in ways i don't yet know. it's a biography of Fredrick Winslow Taylor (wikipedia). the book is The One Best Way by Robert Kanigel. it's been out of print for a couple years at least. after local bookstores couldn't get it, i turned to Alibris, where i scored a great used paperback edition for around $9 shipped. perfect for someone like me who likes to underline and dog-ear a good book.
the writing is top-notch. clearly Kanigel spent years researching, as he draws from a dizzying array of sources. he manages to spend several pages on two of Taylor's teachers at Exeter without getting boring.
i'm learning about machinery as well, especially the history of things like "machine grey" (pioneered by Taylor's boss, William Sellers, in an era when green and red were favored colors for machinery) and the US standard threading in use today (which Sellers invented and advocated, claiming his system's greater simplicity compared to the competing Whitworth standards).

there's also some great quotes buried in the text, mostly by Chordal, a pseudonym used by James Waring See when writing letters to the editor of American Machinist magazine. he was editor of that magazine at the time.

"You and I have hundreds of friends engaged in changing dull and heavy material into moving mechanism, a process akin to the creation of life." Chordal

"[Machine tools are] distinguished by a remarkable feature that places them almost in the category of living things and permits one to speak literally and not figuratively of their organic evolution. For machine tools are the only class of machines that can reproduce themselves." Fred Colvin, another AM editor and a contemporary of Taylor's

"This country is awfully big [but] with all respect for the thousands and thousands of lathes which this very minute are revolving while some chap leans over them with outside calipers; for the thousands of planers, which are at this instant knocking their dogs against their tumblers; for the thousands of drill presses, which this instant would show their spindles gradually descending; for the thousands of vises which this instant have a death grip on some piece of metal; for the showers of chips flying before the thousands of chipping chisels now creeping slowly forward before thousands of ball-peen hammers--with all respect for these many evidences of the existence of machine shops in this land, I venture the opinion that the machine shops haven't gotten started yet." Chordal, writing before 1900, but right still today.

made in the USA

i need a new pair of jeans.
i haven't been wearing jeans lately. my last pair was from Gap, and they wore out far too quickly and never quite felt right. plus i discovered Carhartt last year, so i've spent a lot of time in their canvas dungarees since.
but i want some dressier pants i can wear on the rare occasions i'm not on my way to work and back. and this fall i'll be in actual sit-down classes for the first time in more than a year.

in a related story, my older sister Sarah has been working for a couple years at the Fair Labor Association headquarters near Dupont Circle here in DC. the FLA is a group made up of brands, suppliers, and schools who want to do something about unfair labor conditions.

so i set out to find some tough, good-lookin', fair-labor-made jeans for less than $50. first stop: a call to Sarah. firstly, she said, it's impossible to say the conditions under which a particular garment was made when buying it retail. your best bet is to invest your clothes budget in a company that is part of a fair labor solution.

my sister wears Lucky Brand and has a pair that lasted her 5 years or so. Lucky is owned in part (85%) by Liz Claiborne, which is an FLA affiliate, although Lucky is not one of the brands mentioned on the FLA site and thus may not be as likely to be fair-labor made. Lucky is a boutique sort of brand, with price tags to match: my favorite on their site is the Vintage Straight, $101-$114 in nice dark washes, or as low as $54 on sale colors. eh.

Sarah also mentioned that Levi's, although no longer made in the US and not affiliated with the FLA, has a compliance program. their jeans look cool on the site, especially the Boot Cut 517 ($40 direct from Levi's), which comes in a classy darkish blue. the site even says their "Country of Origin" is the US. sounds like a winner...i'm headed to their Georgetown store tomorrow.

i also dug up a few companies making jeans in the US. Sarah says a US-made product isn't necessarily better than a foreign-made one; worker abuses have been recorded everywhere. but still, the idea of American-made, especially when we're talking jeans. Sarah said the best way to find out if a company uses fair labor is to ask them, or better yet to ask if they belong to any organizations like the FLA. companies don't know consumers care about such things unless consumers ask. has some real sweet designs, but none of the cool ones are available yet. they say 10 days and the website will have everything for sale. Sarah was suspicious of Texas-made jeans because of all the nearby undocumented labor and the price point ($30). please, show us what your pants look like on a real person. work jeans, made by prisoners. if they made something cut a little slimmer i'd buy it. a very cool idea, especially for biking in jeans; looks much less bulky in the critical area. again, show me a real butt in the pants. plus they cost $38, so they better look as good as Levi's. but they bonus points for doing 1" size increments as opposed to 2".

there's an index of US-made products at, although it's not totally comprehensive, and it's apparently run by some out-there right-wingers.