Sunday, August 29, 2010

Okay, I'm Convinced

I'm currently suffering a summer cold. It's at that stage where the muscles ache, the throat scratches, the sneezing and coughing produce an alarming sheet-metal rattling in the lungs, and the headache in my eyes makes it hurt to look at things. So... my misery is your misery. Aren't I the nice one. Ready?

We are in a Depression.

"Duh!", you may say, or "WTF you talkin' 'bout?", but let me explain.

I'm no economist, but my understanding is there is no rigorous, precise economic definition of what a depression is. There are definitions for recession, and so the prefered phrase for the latest national large-load-found-in-seat-of-pants is The Great Recession. Nah. We are way beyond that. We have moved beyond the Reagan recessions of '81-'82, the worst recession of '73-'75. In both those recessions, the job numbers bounced back eventually (though it took years), But this time out, those millions of jobs that were lost, they ain't coming back.

(I can almost hear VP Biden right now, "What the fuck, Kurman? Why do have to be such a smartass?" Actually, VP Biden, I would think you'd be happy to hear that things were far worse all along. It gives you and President Spock, who is so puzzled by the illogic of us humans, some wiggle room, but regardless...)

We are in a Depression. We have two examples of what depression is like. You have the Great Depressionof the 30s, which everyone knows about. And you have the Long Depression of the 1870s. History does not repeat itself, and, in fact, it does not even rhyme. But if we want comparisons, this current depression is more like the Long Depression.

Have I got a name for it? I'll give you two. The Hidden Depression, and the Lost Empire Depression. Why these names? Because I feel we've been in a depression since 2002. The recent kerfuffle was an inevitable seizure of our national disease. You'll notice the common theme, which is any job growth over the past decade hasn't been real (kind of like the Reagan Recovery, and I'll explain, you'll see). GDP growth and job creation since 2002 has, once you take out health/education/military government expansion fueled through deficit spending, been zero. In fact, private sector (non health/ed/mil) growth has actually shrunk. Oh, sure, there were gains in 2005-2007, but they have all been more than wiped out. So, GDP growth, once you take fake Debt driven jobs out, especially the military defense ones, has been in the negative for the past decade. It's not just me, going with my highly unscientific and amateurish observations about the economy, there are others that have dug deeper on this.

So, I got good news and bad news about this. Since you're Americans, I'll give you the bad news first. We can take it. right?

No, actually, I'll give you the good news, which will take less time. The good news is, we are probably more than halfway through the depression. If I am correct, and it started after the Tech Bubble burst of 2001-2002, then we've got perhaps four or five more years of this shit. Maybe less, if something good comes out of Left Field.

What's the bad news? We've got at least four or five years of this shit left, and it might get much, much, much, much worse. (Notice I'm checking my track record? I said the BP spill would last til Xmas. I'm completely wrong. The well will soon be plugged (HA!), but the damage will go well beyond Xmas). It might get much, much, much, much worse because, if I'm right, and any job creation we've had is through Debt driven government spending, then watch come next January 2011.

Why? Well, the Teatards will be in power. John Boehner will be Speaker of the House. The motley collection of flipper-limbed dipshits that will occupy Congress do not have a clue as to how to get all those jobs back. But they will follow their Contract Out On America, and cut budgets, crank up the supply-side tax policies, eliminate regulatory agencies in favor of free market reforms. There will undoubtedly be a stock market rally, which basically will amount to a sugar high. But this rally will do shit as regards bringing jobs back. It will funnel more fake money into the pockets of the rich, and the fake money will be converted into real money as America continues to eat its seed corn by slowing killing off the middle class, burdening it with more debt both public and private. In fact, my prediction is that Republicans will do what they've always done, and make a bad situation even worse.

Now, that's bad, because they still haven't touched the real debt problem. You got two choices. Cut social services, or you cut the military spending. Oh, they'll cut social services for sure. If they cut military, they pop the Defense Bubble, and that would produce more good news and bad news. They ain't gonna do that.

So, ah, looking forward to 2020, at least!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yeah, about that heart

The picture I displayed in the previous online journal entry. That heart. That heart right here.

Here's another picture of it.

The first picture I photoshopped with a kind of sepia tone to it. The second picture is unmodified, unvarnished under fluorescent lights.

The frame is stained poplar wood. The metal armature is sand-cast aluminum. The pattern for the casting was made from pink insulation foam, which I picked off pieces of the foam with my fingernails to give it the stippled texture. The aluminum is unfinished, basically untouched from the freshly cast state. I rather like the rough, crude look of the aluminum.

The cast glass heart I am particularly proud of. It may be hard to see, but the surface is very fine. Unblemished, free of hairline cracks and bubbles. One of the better glass castings I've done. The mold was a champ. Not a single crack in it when it came out of the kiln. Here's a picture of the glass and mold in the kiln. There was a flower pot on top of the mold which I removed once the glass had dropped down into the mold. That explains the haphazard kiln stilts.

People always ask if I am going to put a light behind it. As I've said before, since this seems an obvious thing to do, I resist it. However, details of the glass heart didn't see to pop out with a dark interior of the box, and so I put a mirror behind the glass. That seems to work, and provides a complementary material look between the glass and aluminum.

This going with my standard material heuristic of formal, or semi-formal wood  frame, metal armature internal frame, and glass object. It seems to work for me, and I plan on continuing to use this presentation of materials well into the future.

I've played with glass color, but lately I'm really enjoying just regular old translucent clear glass. (This is also a pragmatic choice, as I've run out of colored glass, but have plenty of clear cullet left). I'll make a few more before heading back into the cast bronze figurative realm.

Oh, the tentative title? "Por Vida". I'm not married to that. I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Heart Was In It

This morning, I woke up with a great topic to write about. It was a worthwhile topic, an ennobling topic, one that got me excited, impassioned, curious, involved, and engaged.

Damn if I can remember what it was now. I think instead I'll write about breaking stuff.

I do like to break the shit out of stuff.  I prefer a manual breaking of stuff as opposed to using machines. I am not averse to artificial means of breaking stuff, like for example, explosives, projectile weapons, or fire. But there's just something about direct brute force, walloping on something with an implement of destruction, that provides a sense of accomplishment no other method provides. There is something about honest, hard physical labor, the complete embodied interaction between mind, muscle, and the shit to be broken, that just cannot be replaced.

I'm reminded of a story from my youth. My father had bought himself a cottage from the Canadian government. It was in an abandoned fishing village called Jackfish, up on the north shore of Lake Superior. We ended up staying there two summers, under the most primitive 19th century living conditions. No electricity, no running water, an outhouse, a wood stove in the house. My chores were to carry buckets of drinking and washing water up from the lake, and occasionally chop wood. We built roaring bonfires down by the beach at night, sang songs, looked at the stars, wandered the hills, avoided bears, spooked moose, caught giant fish. It was probably the best two summers of my childhood.

One day my brothers and I found a literal Viking horde of stashed weapons down in a fishing shed. They weren't weapons, just tools for cutting and hauling wood and stone, but to us they were superdestroyers, which is what we called them. Axes and adzes, long thick steel poles, things that looked like pikes (probably for the fishing boats) and giant mallets and sledge hammers. We were ecstatic, overjoyed, out of our fucking little minds with glee. Had we been allowed to, we would have laid waste to the entire village. Our father would not let us. He selected a particularly dilapidated old house, and let us loose on it. It was wonderful.

And apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way. It being early in the semester, I've no work for my idiot student aides. We did have an abandoned piece of equipment that was going to be shoved into the dumpster. I gave them permission to beat the shit out of it before they threw it away. Aren't they happy?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Life Isn't Fair

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Magpie Nation

As the cynically-manufactured-for-easy-use-by-tiny-brained-wannabe-demagogues non-issue du jour gets extruded out of the daily churn, I can't help but think that we have become a Magpie Nation. 

You know, magpies? Those are the birds whose tiny brains are easily distracted by bright and shiny things. That's what a magpie is. A stupid little bird with a teeny tiny little brain.

We humans seems to be our own version of that. Most of the shiny items we are attracted to are obviously designed to be attractive and distracting. People Magazine. Entertainment Tonight. TMZ.  Celebrity mugshots. Celebrity sex videos. Sports.

If these were a Jeopardy! category it would be "Things That Do Not Tax My Brain", Alex. These are Easy Issues. They require no thought whatsoever. You're either fer it, or you're agin' it. Muslim center in a former Burlington Coat Factory -or- Victory Mosque Built Upon Ground Zero. Seekrit Socialist-Muslim Colored Feller out to deestroy America -or- Black Man Takes Worst Job at Worst Time in America since the last Depression. 

Even potentially serious and thought-provoking issues can be broken down into Magpie Items. 
Global warming. Genetic engineering. Stem cells. Seriously complicated issues get reduced to two words that you can be fer or agin'. Abortion. One word! Fer or Agin'!

Have we really gotten this stupid? Or have we always been this stupid and I'm finally noticing? 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Temporal Baseline

There is one method of storing and accessing instructions in computer code which is sometimes called offset sequential. A baseline address is chosen, and then a count, or offset, is added to obtain the register address of an instruction. 

In other words, rather than number a set of statements from 1 to 100, I set the number of the first statement as 1, and then add a number to get whatever statement I want. So statement 67 would be 1 + 66, but I reference it as 66 (the add 1 is implied). This sounds kind of silly and pointless, but I save myself a digit in storing an address (statement 100 is stored as 99). When you have billions of memory addresses, the storage savings add up.

I'm thinking we have the cultural equivalent of the offset sequential system, one that allows us to cross generations and slang to provide a commonality of understanding. And this baseline is 1960s television. This is the established baseline from which all culture now flows - even 50 years later. All references and associations from these TV programs are readily understandable because, well, because they never went off the air. They are still with us, and still watched.

Thanks to reruns, syndication, the Internet, and cable TV, I am able to talk to my otherwise completely alien cute little student aide, Caitlin (pictured above), about things that we otherwise could not talk about.

Case in point (and this is not an isolated anecdote, I have to do this all the time): She has put on some of her modern music (techno? electronica? I'm not sure), and listening to it, I mention that a particular piece sounds kind of Japanese, and not just because they are using electronic versions of Japanese instruments. 

"They are?", she asks, meaning they are playing electronic simulations of Japanese instruments, "Like what?"

"Well, I hear a koto. And also, I think, a shamisen".

"What's that?"

"It's like a three string banjo". I get a blank look. (sigh) "You know on the Addams Family, what Morticia plays? That's a shamisen."


I rest my case. I wonder if, two hundred years from now, all cultural references will be based upon Star Trek, Batman, The Munsters, and every show from that era?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Drake Equation

Sir Francis Drake once calculated how many habitable worlds there are that could contact us, and came up with an answer of "between at least one and at most infinite". Glad he narrowed that down for everybody.

Actually, no. Sir Francis Drake didn't do any of that. A guy named Frank Drake came up with an equation back in 1961. And it goes something like this:

N = R*  x  fp  x  ne  x  fl  x  fi  x  fc  x  L

where:  R* is the average star formation per year in our galaxy
fp is the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne is the average number of planets per star that can support life
fl is the fraction that actually develop life
fi is the fraction that develop intelligent life
fc is the fraction that develop technology for communicating
L is the lifetime of that civilization

Yes, you can tell right away that this is a silly equation. There are a lot of unjustified assumptions involved. Like, do you really need a planet to evolve life? Is "life" that a planet can support necessarily our kind of life?  Life that requires liquid water, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen? Why not life evolved in interstellar space, that likes hard radiation and zero gravity, and extreme cold? Why water babies snuggled up to yellow suns? Why DNA? Or even carbon-based? You get the idea.

In other words, this equation is biased towards our kind of life, the only one we know. And though not particularly realistic when you look at what an extremely inhospitable - even downright hostile - universe we live in, at least we are looking for some kind of life that we could actually communicate with, in other words, life that is like us.

Well, and then none of the above terms have a very accurate number attached to them. So the equation is quite silly. And yet - And yet - Ever since astronomers started looking, with super powerful telescopes and satellites, they are discovering planets around stars pretty much everywhere they look. Granted, not the kind of planets you would want to live on (the easiest ones to detect are massive Jupiter sized planets that orbit uncomfortably close to their stars), but it does much to bump up the number in that second term of the equation.

And nowadays, they are starting to find planets that are more like ours. Granted, again, a lot of these planets are pretty darn massive and orbit close to the stars. Some are called "Super-earths", meaning they are much more massive than our lovely little planet, but are more likely rocky rather than gassy.  

For category purposes, the masses of these big rocky planets range from 1 MEA (1 earth mass) to up to 10 MEA. Although technically, when you get a planet ten times as big as ours, it really is more like an ice giant, like Neptune or Uranus.  Yes, even close to the sun, it would be an ice giant. Reason is there is more than one kind of ice. Put water under enough pressure, and it forms and ice called Ice X, which is solid ice, but at temperatures hundreds, even thousands, of degrees above our "freezing point". A planet with a lot of water may have world-drowning oceans hundreds of miles deep, and that is enough pressure for ice to form.

Of course, there are a lot of factors to get life on our world. There's the "Goldilocks" factor - being in the right orbit for liquid water to exist on the surface. As it turns out, the Earth is just outside the Goldilocks zone. Why don't we freeze solid? Well, we did, about 700 millions years ago, during the Snowball Earth period. What matters is what your atmosphere is composed of. For the longest time, there was a lot of CO2 in our atmosphere, which kept things freezing, but oxygen-pooping algae and bacteria ate it all up, and things froze solid.

It's not only the right-sized orbit, it's also maybe about having a moon, and a big Jupiter midway out in the solar system to clear out bombarding asteroids and comets. And having a world made out of the right kind of stuff.

Under different conditions, with different concentrations of chemicals in the cloud that the solar system formed out of, this planet of ours could have ended up as an iron world, like Mercury, with little or no rocky mantle, and probably no water. For that matter, we could have ended up as a carbon world like Saturn's moon Titan, with a diamond core, and hydrocarbon seas of gasoline and a methane atmosphere. Or a water world. Or a carbon-monoxide world.  

The point is, it takes a lot of IFs (the factors in the Drake equation) to get to our particular world even before you get to populate it with life. And once you are there, there is a good chance that IF life evolves it may be carbon-based, water-nurtured, eventually oxygen-breathing, multicellular life like ours, but life like us? Exactly like us?

Ooh-ah. Those are some really high odds. Astronomical. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Soft Corinthian Leather

It has come to my attention that Newt Gingrich is very upset about a place called Cordoba House.

Why he is upset over a house named after the Chrysler Cordoba is at the very least a puzzlement to me.

What problem, exactly, does he have with a mid-sized luxury coupe manufactured between 1975 and 1983, with, as Chrysler described it, a "quiet Spanish motif"? One that sported a 383 cu in two barrel carburator V8 engine, automatic transmission, power steering, and a "golden tone" AM radio? One that used none other than late, great Ricardo Montalban as its advertising spokesperson? To show any dislike towards a house dedicated to the Chrysler Cordoba, with its soft Corinthian leather is, by implication, to heap disrespect upon the star of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan".

This is unaceptable. Modify your reality, Mr. Gingrich.

As a matter of fact, maybe historian Gingrich should occupy his time with more important issues. Like for instance:

When the Reliant visits Ceti Alpha 6 thinking it is Ceti Alpha 5, they didn't notice a planet was missing? I mean, they have all sorts of sophisticated navigation instruments and techniques in the 23rd century, they couldn't even count the number of planets around the sun? Didn't Kirk leave a log entry after they marooned Khan and his party there? They don't check to see if there is information when they visit a system? This is an important movie continuity issue.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"I am the Past, Come Back to Haunt You"

I get a phone call last night. I normally don't answer my phone. I let the machine do it. But for some reason, I picked up. The best description of the call - and my reaction - was as if, out of the ordered chaos of the universe, a message beamed from a star 35 light years away had arrived and was mysteriously being transmitted through my phone. It was an old buddy from high school. Out of respect for privacy, for purposes of internet anonymity, we'll call him Rich.

It was either Abraham Lincoln, or Mark Twain, who said "A lot of smart young men come from Indiana. And the smarter they were, the sooner they left". Rich was one of those young men. Although his ultimate destination, Wichita, Kansas, makes me question his intelligence. "Wichita", I think, is old Indian for "Hey, let's settle here in the middle of a goddamn semi-arid continent with fat-broiling summers and bone-chilling winters. It'll be just like Siberia but without the swamps!"

The result of talking to Rich was release of a whole flood of fun memories. True, vague and semi-detached memories sampled from cannabinoid damaged brain circuits, but fun ones nonetheless. I can't recall what grade, but he moved into town when we were going to Thomas Jefferson Jr. High (now Middle School). Rich was a goofy looking kid with thick glasses and even thicker wiry hair. (To be fair, it wasn't that Rich alone was goofy looking, at that age we all were, with different body parts growing at different rates). 

He liked to call me "moron" a lot, but it was more like "MOR-ron!" I never took offense, as I'm sure I called him a lot worse, given my early and ongoing fascination with creative profanity. The only time I took offense was when he called me an "ambisexual moron". I think I took offense because he knew a word I didn't, and I had to go look "ambisexual" up. 

I think I met him in band. We both played trombone. For a time, there was a healthy rivalry at who would be First Chair. (At a recent party, my brother mentioned to a woman that I played First Chair in band. She looked me up and down like I was a slack-jawed meatslapper, which at the time I was, since I'd had a few beers. "You're. Kidding." was her response.)

In Junior High, I was First Chair with no real competition. Rich supplied that. We swapped first chair position a few times, and then I discovered Dope. So much for the competitive spirit and musical ambitions. Actually, band was a fun time. It was easy to make Rich laugh, and I always enjoyed the rictus of panic that would strike his face when I got the band director pissed off at us (well, at me, but Rich was seated next to me and feared guilt by association).

The band director and I had an intense mutual dislike for each other. He considered me undisciplined and slovenly - a slacker (which I was). I considered him an authoritarian prick (which he was). I think he's dead now.

I had a dream about the band director once. He said to me in the dream "John, I apologize for being a prick. But I did it for your own good". 

I replied "I accept your apology, you fucking prick".   

Good times!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Well, Set My Brain On Fire

I've said something close to this, but never said this in so many words, and so I'll say it again. And I'll keep saying it. I'll keep hammering on this until the metaphorical nail is firmly ensconced in your skull.

Of all the art forms, pound for pound, music is the best.

Steven Pinker called music "auditory cheesecake", basically implying that it's nice and all, but not necessary for survival. Pinker can kiss my exquisitely sculpted manly butt cheeks.

I have in the past suggested that music and rhythm do have a basis in survival, both as a social bond, and (my own hypothesis) as an aid to running. My idea being 1) we are running apes, 2) that a runner that can keep time uses his/her body more efficiently (time/motion studies bear this out), and 3) a runner that can sing while running is in better shape than one that cannot, and therefore is more fit and attractive to the opposite sex and fits in well with Darwinian selection and all that shit that Pinker blathers on about. 

It also helps to be a good dancer.

Well, we all know that music can evoke emotions - pound for pound - better than anything else. Now, studies suggest that it goes much, much deeper. Image scans indicate that a brain on music is a brain on fire. No other activity makes it light up than listening, or performing music.

And if I had any say in the matter, I'd push for more music in education.

Cha cha cha!

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Money Is Too Important To Be Left To The Rich"

Who said that? I said that, borrowing from Georges Clemenceau. 

Reading through the catalog notes of the Great Exhibition of 1851 (the famous "Crystal Palace" exhibition intended to display the wonders of modern technology from around the world), I found this dismaying and disheartening entry:

"The absence in the United States of those vast accumulations of wealth which favour the expenditure of large sums on articles of mere luxury, and the general distribution of means of procuring the more substantial conveniences of life, impart to the productions of American industry a character distinct from that of many other countries. The expenditure of months or years labour upon a single article, not to increase its intrinsic value, but solely to augment its cost or its estimation as an object of virtu is not common in the United States. On the contrary, both manual and mechanical labour are applied with direct reference to increasing the number or the quantity of articles suited to the wants of a whole people and adapted to promote the enjoyment of that moderate competency which prevails among them"
I consider it a point of pride that, when Queen Victoria toured the American section of the Exhibition, she found it all "certainly not very interesting", given that the everyday items displayed lacked the grandeur of the tapestries, sculptures, and other luxurious items of neighboring sections. We, as a nation, had not yet engaged in a jaded dissipation, in an exhaustion of resources to coddle and support the idle rich. 

Yes, I said support the rich, for it is my view that we Americans who are in the lower 99% wealth bracket labor to support the uppermost 1%.  It is one of the most insidious pieces of propaganda foisted upon the public that the idiot rich are somehow the "producers" in American society. They are the parasites. The parasites are not brown skinned. They are not Hispanic. They are not Negroes. The parasites are pasty white people sailing on yachts and driving foreign cars, and if things keep on going the way they are going, they are going to be eaten soon.

You have only to remind yourselves that the party of the rich, the Republicans, when they occupied the Presidency and held a majority in Congress, crafted TARP. TARP, keep in mind, bailed out the rich

The taxpayers monies went to the pay off the banks' creditors  - those who had gambled and lost. Any ordinary citizen would have been, oh so sorry, better luck next time,  out a chunk of change. But the party of the FYIGM (Fuck You I Got Mine) gave the Wall Street bloodsuckers a do-over. I am astounded, simply astounded, that the American public is not more furious at the big banks, the Wall Street parasites, and the Republican party (yes, I know, the Democrats helped tremendously in screwing this particular pooch, but the Republicans were at the wheel. Obama is going to own this mess shortly, if he already doesn't, but credit where credit is due). 

And all this after a decade of pitifully moribund growth, zero job creation, barely incremental income rise for the middle and lower classes, where the upper 1% saw a completely obscene and utterly disgusting fourfold rise in income, the Bush Tax Cuts made them all even richer. AS if that was necessary. All because we are told that somehow, the rich would throw us a sop, and we poor working slobs'd see more jobs, higher income, and new industries as the rich invested in a productive America. And instead Biff and Buffie's trust fund managers (who Mumsie and Papa appointed so that Biff and Buffie wouldn't blow their inheritance on cocaine and Magic Beans) threw it all down one banker's scam-hole after the next. 

And then, AND THEN, the bankers had the gall to go before the Fed and say "Hey, that's a really nice economy you got there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it".

Talk about a massive restribution of wealth. Talk about in the wrong direction. And yet, somehow, the American public is convinced that the wealth is flowing the opposite direction and it is rampant socialism. What. A. Load. Of. Crap.

Example: Take this piece of shit. Here is the fucking moron who provided the philosophical underpinning of supply-side economics - Arthur Laffer. He should be tarred and feathered for that alone. Laffer complains that allowing the Bush Tax Cuts to lapse is nothing more than soaking the rich, and we shall see such a calamity as has not been seen in his lifetime. Ah, newsflash, Artie, the economy (the one you said was doing GRRR-REAT! in 2007) ain't doing so hot, and ain't gonna see much of a difference if the cuts expire. And if you need an example, look at when Reagan raised taxes in the depths of his recession. What happened? Not much. So, Artie, shut the fuck up. The rich are not managing their (formerly our) wealth very well. Time for someone else to take a crack at it.

It would be nice to see all that money do something worthwhile for a change. Like, oh, I don't know, be invested among thrifty, courteous, honest, productive, hard-working small businesses, so that we could all get back to work again?  


The ax is an essential tool in anyone's toolbox. Even now. The interesting thing is, it did not reach its current ergonomic form until spending some time in the Americas. Early American tool kits would have contained hatchets, saws, chisels, adzes, hammers, mallets, augers, gimlets, bit braces, and axes. Most of the tools in size and shape were little changed from those used in the Middle Ages. Few new ones were changed or added. It may be that, according to Rob Tarule "to introduce a new tool may cause a sufficient disruption of the total system of tool use to be actually more hindrance than aid". Indeed, this might explain the hundreds of centuries of little technological change we see in both historic and prehsitoric times. Rather than any form of social conservatism, it might instead be a holistic pragmatism that stifled innovation and progress. This would be in keeping with my contextual view of history

At any rate, the heavy, awkward axe brought over from England (and again, one looks at use, this axe was a very effective battlefield weapon), had devolved into a light, balanced axe with a more massive head. It took a deeper bite out of a tree with less effort.  The bit, or cutting edge of the American axe was broader, allowing more momentum with each swing, and the handle was given a length and curve appropriate to the height of the axman. The axe swung straight and clean. A wielded American ax wielded by even a novice could fell three times as many trees as the European counterpart.

I would make the suggestion that the reason for this was because there was a lack of specialized division of labor in early America. The myth that the reason so many things became so quickly mechanized was due to a shortage of skilled labor really should be debunked. There was no lack of skilled labor, the obvious fact is there was a lack of demand for skilled labor. Remember, they are starting from scratch. There is, at the beginning, a large demand for generalists. It should not be surprising that a quick evolution in tool usage and tools would occur for tools to be used, not by specialists, but by inexperienced generalists. Generalists who circumstances have forced to specialize over a broad range of tasks. Couple this with the usual information exchange (voluntary or in-, e.g. the modern "open source" or traditional "open shop" mentality, or through plagiarism and idea theft), and you get yourself some changes.

Generalists performing tasks never before done, with no fund of skills to draw from. One finds a certain amount of intelligence and expertise crafted into the tool, to make up for the lack of experience of the wielder. Is this a common pattern in innovation? I suspect so. It would be interesting to find out.