Commentary: Soup to Nuts in the PNW

 If you think getting the toothpaste back in the tube is a problem, imagine trying to untangle and sort out the recent alphabet soup spill that occurred where the sea meets the land in the middle-upper-left corner of the United States this past month. The task of sorting out a phantasmagorical concoction of letters that looked something like ILWUNLRBIBEWPMAPOPICTSI has been an enormous undertaking for the grown-ups, especially when all the kids were in the same room at the same time and the adults insisted they all learn to play nice, and do it quickly.

The spill, of course, actually happened some time earlier — some would say as long ago as 38 years; others say it occurred in 2011 — but for most intents and purposes, in June. As a result, some of the letters already had begun to dry out, stick together and harden, making separation even more difficult than it otherwise might have been.

This to say nothing of the other game some of the kids were playing, at about the same time as the alphabet soup spill took place. One of the grown-ups referred to the events as the “it’s my rock,” “I’ve got the rock,” or the “status quo” game. Others, especially the kids, had other names for it. But assuming some (or even most) Journal of Commerce readers aren’t familiar with the newest games, particularly during summer vacation when school is out, the basics are as follows:

Suppose one of the kids (Kid A) has a rock (it’s not a big rock; in fact, it may be more like two small rocks). This kid has had the rock(s) for a long time (about 38 years, in fact). A year or so ago, Kid A makes a new friend (Kid B), who’s just moved to the neighborhood (the middle-upper-left corner neighborhood) from far away (actually from a foreign country). Kid B has rocks at home but didn’t bring them when he moved to the new neighborhood, so Kid A, a generous sort, shares his.

Now, some of the other kids — also part of the alphabet soup — have similar rocks of their own (and many more of them), and have desired Kid A’s and B’s for pretty much as long as they’ve had them, even though those little rocks aren’t grand or precious (at least in a gemological sense). Sensing perhaps the confusion that would occur with an alphabet soup spill, some of the other kids seized the opportunity and took all the rocks.

Most of us know how a variation of these events — the “status quo” game — works: Things tend to stay the same, at least until a new status quo emerges. The rules for changing the status quo are complicated and vary from place to place and circumstance to circumstance, but changes usually involve some kind of negotiation or discussion, except when there’s a war, theft or some other unusual circumstance. For some people, possession is nine-tenths of the law, as the saying goes.

Anyway, the other kids took the rocks. Kid A and Kid B want them back, as do some of their friends. They couldn’t work it out alone so they appealed to the grown-ups for help. The grown-ups gathered all the kids together in a big, fancy room in a beautiful, quiet building and asked everyone to explain their story. After hearing all the stories, the first grown-up, who has the power to decide, said he wouldn’t decide yet, but would ask another grown-up (well-known in the neighborhood and another great guy) to help the kids work it out. Everyone figured this would work, but it hasn’t.

The grown-up with the power has forced the kids back together, but they’re not playing very well. In fact, the game is moving very slowly and is creating serious problems for the entire neighborhood, which, of course, tends to create even more problems. We don’t yet know how this will all work out, and we’re all hopeful the kids can learn to get along and play well together, but right now they’re all behaving, well, pretty much as they have been for a long time.

It’s been an interesting year for longshore labor, wouldn’t you say?

Barry Horowitz is the principal of CMS Consulting Services. Contact him at 503-208-2232 or at

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