Swellage and Shrinkage

Arguments can be made, pro and con, about whether it’s best to get to know someone before or after you know their political persuasion. I understand and agree with both of them. On the one hand, I’d rather know early on that a person is a witless fool whose thought processes reveal stupidity and bias I cannot stomach. On the other, I’d rather know early on that a person’s personality and her core decency is sufficient for me to challenge my own most deeply held biases. It’s a toss-up. Lately, though, my emotion and my biases tend to be in greater control than my intellect. Only after the fact, after I’ve labeled someone a morally corrupt hypocrite unworthy of anything but my contempt, do I question whether my judgment is defensible. Usually, I conclude it is and it isn’t. That’s a big help. Given the ambiguity of my judgments, I wonder whether the process of making them is of any value at all. Lately, I’ve been reaching the conclusion that there’s virtually no value there. But then I change my mind through several cycles of yes and no and yes again until I simply don’t know what I think. And then, in my confusion, I attempt to leave the matter for another time. Wasted mental energy. Energy that could be stored or spent on something more fruitful.


How often does the average person think about the impact voluntary standards have on their lives? It’s probably an infrequent occurrence. But I have thought about voluntary standards ever since my first job in association management. I was responsible for managing support for volunteers who developed and published standards relating to corrosion. For example, I worked on standard tests to determine the suitability of metals in various corrosive environments. There were many more. As part of my role, I learned about processes involved in the development and approval of voluntary standards. I attended educational programs offered by ASTM International (then known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), CESSE (the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives) and others. I learned that voluntary standards were responsible for: the sizes of nuts and bolts used in everyday products; the sizes of and stored power in batteries; the sizes of bed frames and mattresses; window and door frame measurements; etc., etc., etc.

Voluntary industry standards are responsible for the capacity of glasses and coffee cups, the sizes of liquor bottles and soft drink containers, tire sizes; almost everything we purchase has been touched by voluntary standards. Most standards, in my estimation, were developed not out of the goodness of manufacturers’ hearts but because the standards led to greater efficiency, more profits, and more widespread usage of their products. The convenience we experience as a result of standards is, I think, more of a byproduct of standardization than an intentional outcome.

So, there you have it. My thoughts on voluntary standards this Saturday morning.


This morning, I noticed an online photograph. It was an elderly Black woman, holding a rifle. There was a dog sitting at her feet, staring at the camera. The photo was said to have been taken sometime in the latter half of the 19th century. The accompanying text told the fascinating story of the woman, who was said to be the first Black employee of the United States Postal Service. But there was no mention of the little black and white dog. We don’t know its name, its age, or anything else about it. Considering how important pets are to many people, it’s surprising to me we don’t have more history about them, on an individual, pet-by-pet basis. We allow them into our lives and rely on them for comfort, companionship, and emotional support, yet in my view we don’t memorialize them properly.

The little black and white dog in the photo probably had a name. It probably had unique habits that differentiated it from other dogs, assuming there were other dogs in its small world. What was the context of that little dog? Who fed it? What did it eat? How old was it when it died? How did it die? Who mourned that little black and white dog? So many questions, but no record (to my knowledge) that would answer any of them. And that’s true not just of the little dog in the photo, the dog who lived in the latter half of the 19th century. It’s true of millions of dogs who’ve lived and died since. It’s a shame we don’t know more about them.


Have I mentioned before that shirts should have large, roomy pockets on their upper sleeves? Shirts also should have pouches on both sides, toward the front. And pants should all be made from stretch material that accommodates dramatic swelling and shrinking associated with gluttony and starvation. What this universe needs is a cadre of fashion designers committed to comfort and practicality. Humanity would be the better for it.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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