Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mandate, Shmandate (President, Shmesident): Why Hillary Clinton Lost


The bats are streaming out of the abyss, the dark legions are clicking their heels, and fresh smoke still billows over the wreckage...pick whatever expression of purple prose that you prefer to describe the debacle. For Democrats, Election Day 2016 bore an unsettling resemblance to a multi-car pileup of the kind that generates reams of shrieking headlines. 

Few saw it coming. Even as her nine-point peak in the polls continued to evaporate, Hillary Clinton's claque beamed messages of reassurance during the last week: Hey,she's got this. We've been down this road before, it always tightens this late in the game. She's been picked apart for 20-plus years, what more can they dig up? Who'd give Donald Trump the nuclear codes, anyway? 

Once more, however, Democrats found new ways to crash and burn. Although nobody saw the House of Representatives falling -- thanks to the preponderance of Republican-driven statehouses, whose fingers firmly controlled redistricting -- Democratic predictions of retaking the U.S. Senate turned into a washout. Only two Republican incumbents (Mark Kirk, IL; Kelly Ayotte, NH) failed to cross the finish line, and nobody rated their chances too highly, anyway. However, 22 GOP incumbents are returning next year, which is certainly a dismal outcome if you're hoping to gain a majority.

Of course, Clinton's popular tally -- at last count, her margin is 2.5 million votes, and counting -- only makes the disconnect more painful, since it doesn't change the Electoral College math an iota...and she still joins fellow also-rans Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, Adlai Stevenson, and Walter Mondale in the Presidential Losers Club. So what went wrong? Well, in the spirit of our 2012 post ("Why Mitt Romney Lost: Now Let The Circular Fingerpointing Begin"), we offer 10 reasons. As in Mitt's case, pick the one that best suits your mood.

<Once more...with feeling, 'cause you won't see this image again...>

1. Big Data Doesn't Vote (People Do). As soon as the starting gun fired last fall, pundits assumed that Clinton's celebrated organizational machine would raise Obama's demographic detail mining to whole new levels: Alas, "demography was not the destiny Clinton hoped it would be, because the nation is also angrier and more fearful, in part because of dislocations and disappointments caused by the economic globalization that she and her husband have long embraced. Trump's protectionist promise that he can bring back lost working-class jobs in Ohio and Pennsylvania may have been false on its face, but that barely mattered." ("What Was Hillary Clinton's Real Downfall? Complacency," politico. com, 11/10/16)

2. Dynasty Fatigue, Anyone?:
There's a reason why voters sent Clinton's evil twin, Jeb Bush, so early to the showers after blowing through $150 million.without winning a single primary. However, not everyone got the memo, even after 30 years of a political landscape dominated by Bushes and Clintons: "Yes, it's easy to conclude that the broad disdain the public expresses toward dynasties is a major hurdle for both Jeb and Hillary. But, to my mind, people saying that political dynasties aren't a good thing for the country is kind of like people saying they think there's too much money in politics. Sure. But is it something that impacts actual votes? In both cases I would say no."("People Say They Are Tired Of The Bushes And The Clintons. They're Not, Really": The Washington Post, 3/30/15). 

3. Even Rocky Didn't Take His Victory Lap Over Apollo Creed This Early: Until the FBI's infamous email landmine blew up in late October, gurus from Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight), to the Princeton Election Consortium, never put Clinton's chances below 70 percent: "If the election were held this week, the project estimates that Clinton's odds of securing the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency at more than 95 percent, and by a margin of Electoral College votes. It is the second week in a row that the project has estimated her odds so high. The results mirror other Electoral College projections, some of which estimate Clinton's chance of winning at around 90 percent."  ("Hillary Clinton On Track For Electoral College Landslide: Poll," Newsweek, 10/15/16)

4. It's The Rationale, Stupid: "When I asked a long-serving Clinton aide this week if there was anything she could have done to keep from losing, he replied without missing a beat: 'Sure: give people a reason to vote for her.'"  ("In Memoriam: The Fall Of The House Of Clinton," 
Vanity Fair, 11/11/16)

5.Learning To Love That Slow Drip: "There's a good chance that FBI Director James Comey's vague letter about emails to congressional Republicans, which led to an extremely ill-timed media firestorm, tipped the election to Trump. But then again, she might have avoided the whole story by following the dang rules in the first place.

"I always assumed that if Clinton were nominated for president, the race would be dominated by some weird quasi-scandal that dragged on for month after month. It's not fair, but it is simply the reality of the Clintons. At some point, one simply has to take that into account."
 ("Why Clinton Lost," The Week, 11/16/16)

6. Maybe It Was Something In The Water, After All: Clinton's plaintive summary of her  fortunes ("Why aren't I ahead by 50 points?") this spring ranks with George W. Bush's battle cry of "Mission accomplished!" in the Premature Pronouncements Hall Of Fame: "She may be a skilled policymaker, but on the campaign trail she makes constant missteps and never realizes things have gone wrong until it's too late.

"Everyone knows this. Even among Democratic party operatives, she's acknowledged as 'awkward and uninspiring on the stump,' carrying 'Bill's baggage with none of Bill's warmth.'  New York magazine described her 'failing to demonstrate the most elementary political skills, much less those learned at Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie."
("Unless The Democrats Run Sanders, A Trump Nomination Means A Trump Presidency": Current Affairs, 2/23/16)

7. Slow But Steady (Sends Voters Right To Sleep): As early as May, there were ample warning signs that Clinton's creaky, cautious style wasn't convincing voters that she had anything new to offer, especially when it came to their shrinking wallets, as Democratic pollster Celinda Lake discovered:: "We're never going to win those white blue-collar voters if we're not better on the economy. And 27 policy papers and a list of positions is not a frame. We can laugh about it all we want, but Trump had one. It's something that we absolutely have to fix."  ("What Was Hillary Clinton's Real Downfall? Complacency," politico. com, 11/10/16)

8. Such A Tricky Business, This Vision Thing: From the start of her campaign, Clinton's allies and critics alike wondered when (or if) she'd ever get around to explaining just why she wanted the job so badly, an omission that provided no lack of satirical fodder: "Seriously, don't you dare even think about it. If you shitheads can just get in line, we can breeze through this whole campaign in 19 months and be done with it. Or, if you really want, we can do this the hard way. Because make no mistake, I'm not fucking around. Got it?" (Hillary Clinton To Nation: "America, Do Not Fuck This Up For Me," The Onion, 4/12/15)

9. The Glass Ceiling Didn't Even Wobble: For the briefest of times, nothing seemed impossible amid the rosy glow of Clinton's nomination as the first woman to top a national ticket: "At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, just three miles from Independence Hall where the nation was born, a sense of history is palpable -- as is Clinton's willingness to finally enjoy it.

"'What an incredible honor that you have given me, and I can't believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,'" Clinton said via satellite after a video montage showed the faces of all 44 male presidents before shattering like glass to reveal Clinton waiting to address the convention from New York." ("
CNN: Clinton Nomination Puts 
'Biggest Crack' In Glass Ceiling," CNN, 7/27/16)

10. The Revolution (Won't Even Get To Bubble Under). Historians will have plenty of fun debating how avidly the Democratic Party establishment chose to clear the decks for Clinton, despite her many flaws. (For my money, it bears all the hallmarks of the music business's response to the rise of punk and New Wave: "Push Disco! Push Top 40! Anything but that crap!"):

"There are two different worlds. So the question is: What happens when that 18,000 marches into that room... ? Will they be welcomed? Will the door be open? Will the party hierarchy say, 'Thank you for coming in. We need your energy. We need your idealism. C'mon in!'? Or will they say, 'Hey, we've got a pretty good thing going right now. We don't need you. We don't want you'? That's the challenge that the Democratic Party faces. And I don't know what the answer is." (Bernie Sanders, on the ticklish issues that his spirited primary campaign raised, on the eve of the Democratic Convention)

The answer rang loud and clear on Election Day. Time will tell how well the Democratic Party Establishment read the memo -- or if they acknowledge it at all. But I don't see why we should hold our breath. It's time to slam the door shut, once and for all, on a) The Clinton dynasty, b) the neoliberal branding that her particular wing represented, and c) the umpteenth second chance for the Democratic National Committee to get things right. Given how bad our current situation seems likely to get, we can't afford to wait for a different world any longer. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Don't Forget To Wave Away
The Smoke Drifting Over The Wreckage):
CNN: Clinton Nomination Puts 

'Biggest Crack' In Glass Ceiling:

Current Affairs: Unless The Democrats Run Sanders,
A Trump Nomination Means A Trump Presidency:

Newsweek: Hillary Clinton On Track
For Electoral College Landslide: Poll What Was Hillary Clinton's Real Downfall? Complacency

The Hill: Clinton Allies Panic Over Message:

The New York Times: How Data Failed Us In Calling An Election

The Onion: Hillary Clinton To Nation: 

"Do Not Fuck This Up For Me"

Vanity Fair: In Memoriam:
The Fall Of The House Of Clinton

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Dog Eats Dogma (Disc Makers Style)

How do you do, I don't think we've met
My name's Ian, and we're Minor Threat
I count on music to be a good bet
Catch me counting after every set (yeah, yeah)
--Minor Threat ("Cashing In")

The important moments of any conversation are the unsaid ones. That certainly applies to a chat I had with a fellow musician, back in the '90s, when the alternative rock gold rush was underway. We shared the same practice space in Grand Rapids, so it was impossible not to get caught up in the fever, especially after hearing -- via another band's drummer -- that Green Day had just signed to Warner Brothers! Just then, the energy in the room audibly perked ramped up. You could feel the excitement rippling through everyone: God, I hope that's me one day! Maybe there's something to this rock 'n' roll dream after all.

My friend felt differently. Things weren't going well with his band,  the first one he was trying to lead. One weekend, the guitarist insisted on going off to see the Grateful Dead -- now well into their ugly twilight era, with Jerry Garcia crumbling from heroin addiction before the eyes of all those adoring Deadheads. Apparently, the guitarist wanted to see what the phenomenon was all about -- an odd priority for someone playing in a punk-garage band, perhaps, but human nature is often hard to fathom.

However, this burning desire to experience the decaying Dead conflicted with a gig that didn't promise to pay much, but might definitely pay something. My friend  begged, cajoled, even threatened, but the guitarist held fast. Band be damned, gig be damned; he'd bought his ticket, and that was that. To his everlasting chagrin (and outright resentment), my friend scrapped the gig.

Bigger problems loomed with the drummer, who had problems controlling a tempo. 
Instead of paying attention to his "day job" -- as in, practicing regularly, so you don't get tired, and tempos don't waver all over the place -- Drummerguy preferred to spend much of his down time playing his preferred instruments (guitar and keyboards). While that policy maintained his status as the second main songwriter, it didn't help the band gel instrumentally as a unit.

So I popped the obvious question: "Well, if those guys are giving you so much grief, why not get rid of them, and find more compatible people? If you write and sing two-thirds of the songs, it's your band, plain and simple. Make it your band."

"I know," my friend agreed. "But if I did that, I'd go right back to square one: a frustrated bass player trying to convince total strangers to fall in line with his vision. You know how that one goes." I duly conceded his point.

Not long afterwards, though, the band fizzled out, amid a flurry of ultimatums from Dummerguy. His demands included a change of the band's name, plus additional air time for his songs (that took up a third of the set, as it was). According to my friend, this final crunch came a week after an unproductive demo session that failed to yield acceptable versions of two of Drummerguy's songs. Apparently, the guy who sang so effortlessly from behind the kit couldn't nail his vocals when the red light blinked on. 
Fed up and frustrated, my friend rejected the ultimatums out of hand. These days, he mainly works solo. After seeing what he went through, I understand why.

Forget honesty, forget creativity
The dumbest buy the mostest,
That's the name of the game
But record sales are slumping,
And no one will say why...
Could be it one they've put out one too many lousy records?
--Dead Kennedys ("MTV Get Off The Air")

That's not how Disc Makers sees it, however. Typically, I discard their articles after they roll out into my inbox, but this time, the headline -- "Your Musical Talent (Isn't Enough To Make It In The Music Business") -- caught my attention. So did the telltale lead-in: "Your brilliant musical talent (imagined or otherwise) is worthless unless you understand how to stand out in the crowded marketplace. So what does what it take? You have to hate to lose."

The first sentence is factually correct, on its face. Talent alone isn't enough: to succeed in any creative field. You definitely need timing -- think of the hair bands stranded by the grunge gold rush -- plus an attention-grabbing piece of work, and, frankly, a lot of luck. The trouble starts with the next statement ("You have to hate to lose"), which introduces the author's thesis: treat music like sports heroes treat their business. If that means throwing everybody overboard as you go, so be it.

The author goes on to reference a sports podcast (of all things) run by a guy who's written 25 books and interviewed over 2,500 major sports stars in his career. (Life's been good there, I guess.) One question always popped up in every interview, without fail: "If you could name one talent or characteristic that you believe separated you from everyone else you competed against, what would that habit or characteristic be?"

To the author, the answer is simple:
 "I found it interesting that most of the sports heroes Don spoke to didn't mention their physical or athletic gifts, at all. Instead, they articulated that they all had a fear of losing that surpassed their joy at winning. At some point in their lives, they all learned to HATE losing far more than they love winning..."  

Scratching your head at this point? I don't blame you. How many interviews have we all read with musicians who said they hated sports, kept getting into run-ins with the jocks at their high school, or picked up a guitar because the competitive angle didn't appeal to them? Tons and tons, I suspect. (There are exceptions, of course: Johnny Thunders, the late New York Dolls' guitarist, was equally adept at baseball, and good enough to get scouted for it, until he refused to cut his hair. But I digress.) 

The worst part of the article, however, comes under the final heading ("This Is Show Business, Not Show-Friendship"): "Surround yourself with the right people. This means your band. If everyone isn't on board, get rid of them. It can also include your significant other. If he or she is not adding to your success, they're detracting from it."  Ironically, the author proceeds to recount a problem with his drummer ("We went out into the parking lot and found him in his crappy-ass, rusted-out, shit-box of a pickup truck -- surrounded by a literal sea of empty beer cans").

Now, ponder that image for just a minute. Are you picturing a healthy, well-adjusted individual? Hardly! I'd say, somebody with a serious substance abuse problem that -- at the least -- needs referral to a clinic, even an intervention. But that's not how the author tackled the problem, as he proudly declares: "We did the show, he sucked, and then he was gone. No questions asked."  Remember, it's not about your ability or creativity. It's who you step on.  (For further reference, see my previous article on this subject, "The 10 Commandments Of Hipsterdom.")

I'm taking a walk on the yellow brick road
I only walk where the bricks are made of gold
My mind and body are the only things I've sold
I need a little money, 'cause I'm getting old, right?
Minor Threat ("Cashing In")

I'm not going to belabor the rest of this article, which you can read for yourself below. What's interesting is the mentality on display. It's one thing to giggle aloud at the lead-footed cluelessness that characterizes so many music industry missives; quite another, though, to see it spelled out so nakedly in print.

That being said, much of this advice reads like counsel for an '80s- or '90s-era music industry, before the Internet blew up the infrastructure. If you want a snapshot of the aftermath, check out the latest episode of "Payday" that I caught this week on VICE. The show followed four people working unconventional jobs in Reno, NV  -- including one Feeki, a self-styled "redneck rapper" who spends much of his time crafting gimmicky videos and tracks along those lines.

On one level, it's superficially impressive. As of February 2016, Feeki's Facebook page stood at 89,000 "likes," and counting, plus 2,000 Twitter followers, the Nevada Sagebrush reported. How's all that self-promotion impacted the box office? According to "Payday," Feeki's efforts have netted him $9,000, though he was about to spend $4,500 on props for his latest video -- and he's still working as a parking valet, one of many McJobs that pays minimum wage (or barely above it).

So goes life in today's musical technocracy, where fans can "like" and "share" and pat you virtually on the back forever -- but whether it inspires them to plunk down some money for your product, and escape the valet parking McJob for good, is an entirely different proposition. I felt likewise about another "Payday" subject, a young girl who focuses on producing webcam porn-- a time-intensive gig that pays just $400 per month. She's also working a McJob (naturally, she didn't say what kind) that pays the same. How her boyfriend copes, God only knows.

As these examples suggest, the reality of selling out is far more complicated and messy than the images commonly associated with it. As my friend discovered, playing with your buddies only goes so far if they don't share your sense of commitment. But I don't think the Discmakers oracle's advice would have helped him, either. As an out-of-towner, he wasn't plugged into the local music scene, so he'd have found replacements hard to come by, anyway.And that's before we drop the obvious statement here. The ease of recording and uploading original content means that barriers to entry have never been lower, even though the path to success -- as in, shedding the McJob forever -- has only gotten narrower. Most will never earn more than a part-time income, if that. 

Still, I doubt that Disc Makers' management cares one way or the other, since these types of articles are often cranked out by consultants, doing what they do best: selling a dream. It's the same mentality that fuels those never-ending audition lines for shows like "American Idol," or "The Voice," because every hopeful chants the same mantra under their breath: I can't miss. I won't fail, because I'm special. I'm the exception. Wait till you get a load of me! 

Now, if you still want in, after reading these articles, fair enough, because no power on Earth will dissuade you. Just keep one question in mind along the way, though: "What the hell's the point of selling out if you can't even reap the benefits?" --The Reckoner


Links To Go (There's No Place Like Home, So Where Am I?): Your Musical Talent Isn't Enough
(To Make It In The Music Business):

(Paste into browsesr: link's not working, for some reason)

Minor Threat: Cashing In:

Nevada Sagebrush: Reno's Redneck Rapper
Is Making Moves To Success

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Life's Little Injustices (Take VIII): I Work Two Jobs (But Have No Money)

<That familiar sinking feeling...?>

Like many of life's rough snapshots, this one starts off simply enough. There's a gas station on the corner that I patronize semi-regularly for my pop, whenever I'm traipsing back from my latest assignment. It's also a good opportunity to check whatever stories might have run already.

Eventually, on Sunday and Monday nights, I notice a different type of cashier working there: a burly, graying gent with black horn-rimmed glasses...I'll call him Rick, whose presence here is something of a surprise. Here, you're most likely to see teen and twentysomething women -- minority, more than often not -- manning the register. By contrast, I've only seen three guys treading these particular boards. Including Rick.

Bit by bit, I get into little sidebar conversations with Rick, who doesn't seem to mind. (Anything to move the minute hand, right? Been there, done that.) More often than not, our talks focus on the election. We bond over something simple: Rick hates Clinton and Trump, and isn't voting for either of them. As I've explained here, neither do I.

Tonight, though, the talk shifts elsewhere. I pick up a paper, crack a joke about "Breaking Bad," and get ready to pay for my latest pop. "Not too sure about that one -- I watched it a few times, didn't do much for me," Rick volunteers. "I like 'Bones,' though. 'Body Of Proof,' stuff like that. That's really good."

I reach for three singles. "Well, maybe you check out 'Better Call Saul,'" I suggest. "I've been watching it three years now, and it seems well on its way to surpassing 'Breaking Bad,' since we're seeing most of those characters before the drug world overtook them."

"Yeah, now that you mention it..." Rick's fingers dance over the cash register, like they've done a million times before, always one step away from a permanent flirtation with carpal tunnel syndrome.  "I did see the first episode of that, on demand. Seemed pretty good."

"Caught any since? I know it's on Monday night, and that's when you're here, so I could see where that's a problem."

"Well, actually..." Rick curls his lower lip into a sheepish smile. "It's because I can't always keep the TV on."

I don't know how to respond, at first. Then it dawns on me: oh, shit, he means the cable TV, not the regular TV. 
Rick finishes ringing me up, and pushes my two two-liters over to me. "I work two jobs, but have no money," he shrugs.

I fumble for something incisive to say, but can't muster more than, "I'm sorry to hear it. Hope your situation gets better."

But that's not likely to happen in the short run, for Rick and too many millions of others like him. His fiftysomething face is one that I increasingly see at jobs like these, at church food pantries and community dinners, free dental clinics and sliding scale health care programs, the face of resignation that signals -- when you stand by them in line -- life wasn't supposed to end like this. 

As for me, I'm paddling as best as I can. What infuriates me, though, is seeing more and more graying faces lining up with me, for food, medical care and all those other necessities you can't exactly think of going without. They didn't ask to roll these crap-laden dice that have condemned them to running harder and harder in place, yet falling further and further behind.

They didn't want to play the heavily-stacked hand that sent them tumbling down the rabbit holes of disappearing jobs, steep cuts in social benefits, or the smoldering wreckage of a pension plan gone haywire. They knew what ruin lay around the corner when some higher authority punched a calculator of his own -- remember, it's usually a "he' that makes such decisions -- and punched them a ticket to permanent employment oblivion.

No, the Ricks of the world didn't expect -- nor ask for -- any of these things. But for the next four years, no matter who wins, that's exactly what they'll be expected to do. And that's what aggravates me the most. --The Reckoner

Links To Go: Click Now (Before You Need A Fifth Job):
CNN Money: I Work Four Jobs And I'm Still Struggling:

CNN Money: Sick Days: A Luxury
Many Hourly Workers Don't Have:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Digital Sweatshop Strikes Again (The Piecework Army Wants YOU)

Last month, one of my longtime writing outlets -- a local entertainment rag that kept me busy for six years, interviewing comedians, DJs, and every type of band that you can name -- closed its doors. The situation arose for the usual boring reason. Many of the businesses on which the publisher depended to keep the enterprise going have also closed their doors. The TV talking heads may continue to claim that we've finally clawed our way out of the Great Recession. Out here in the provinces, that's not happening.

Coincidentally (or not), that same week, I got an email from out of the blue, about writing for some mobile app platform or other. I only had to answer a questionnaire, which, assured the project manager, would "pair your interests with your potential," or something along those lines. I duly filled it out, sent it back, and forgot about the matter for a couple of weeks.

Last week, I still hadn't heard anything, so I emailed to ask: "What's going on?" My contact apologized. He'd been out of town, but a response was in the pipeline. Sure enough, I got it a day later. After much deliberation, the email said, the product and ops team have decided to go with bloggers with proven followings, not freelance writers.

Not to worry, though: the company was working up an "Uber-style" option for people like myself, and would reach out soon enough on that score. 
I can hardly wait. Incidentally...the company's based in Beijing. Need I say more?

<Artwork: Chairman Ralph>

I'll just have to keep plugging away, I suppose, and see what else is out there. But the landscape isn't looking too pretty. Lots of ink has been expended on the "content farm" model pursued by the likes of, Demand Studios and others of that stripe.. Though that model came in for a well-earned kicking, what has sprung up to ease the freelancer's lot? So far, what I've seen doesn't look terribly significant.

In full disclosure, I did a fair percentage of this work to fill in the monthly blanks, but never expected anything more from it, and didn't stop look for better-paying assignments -- unlike the legions who cranked up their efforts to full-time levels (minus, of course, the wages and benefits that a "real" full-time job promises). For many, I suspect, the withering of the content mills has slammed the door shut on such delusions with a sickening thud. 

I recently checked the Demand site, where (lo and behold) I still have permissions. These days, however, there's no work, since the corporate entity (Demand Media) has shifted to a different model of trying to boost corporate brands (or something along those lines). The giddy era of cutting and pasting dozens and dozens of 500-word mini-masterpieces for $15, $25 and $50 apiece are long gone, just a distant memory to share around the virtual water cooler....if you still get to hang out there.

I noticed that the forums -- where so many Demand denizens spent countless of precious time jawobning, nattering, and woolgathering -- are long gone, too, unceremoniously wiped away like so much used Kleenex. All that chatter faded away...."not with a bang," as T.S. Eliot would say, "but a whimper." The digital sweatshop had the last laugh, after all.

<Artwork: Chairman Ralph
Lyrics: GBH, "Do What You Do" (1984)>

I think about my fellow travelers who spent so much time on these forums. What's become of them, and where have they gone? Did they finally get the message, and start to try realizing some of their own dreams for a change - whether it's a blog, a chapbook, or umpteenth draft of that oft-threatened Great American Novel, or zombie-versus-vampire exploitation film script? Or did they go back to brainwashing themselves yet again, with a resigned shrug ("Hey, it's the best I can do"), and search for some new content farm or mill that somehow escaped the Google's Great Search Engine Purge?

If they chose the latter route, they'll keep searching for a long time, I suspect. Many of the blogs and platforms and websites that have popped up since the Purge kicked in are even worse, if anything, than their predecessors -- demanding a lot of the writer's time and effort, yet committing little or nothing in return, while paying rates that make the original content farms seem positively princely, by comparison.

It's time to wake up. While nobody wants to revisit the pre-Internet era of compiling (and then updating) endless mailing lists, or such equally brain-rotting mindlessness. Let's keep one other thing in mind, however. Behind the online world, like everything else in the real world, is an array of corporate interests that never stops trying to shift the tide in tis direction. Virtual reality doesn't automatically equate to virtual utopia. Before we put all our hard-won eggs in that particular basket, it's worth asking, "What else is out there? What else can we do? What other options do we have? What other possibilities can we imagine?"

The day we stop asking those questions is the day we'll hear these words below, clattering in our ears, uttered by Johnny Rotten after the Sex Pistols' final live appearance on January 14, 1978, at Winterland (San Francisco, CA), when he'd decided that his own rock 'n' roll swindle felt like it was running on empty....take heed of the dream. Enough said. --The Reckoner

"A-ha-ha! Ever get the feeling
 you've been cheated? Good night!"

Snap, Crackle, Pop, There Goes Your Food Budget (Again)

Supposing, too much to assume
Saying nothing but speaking volumes
Silence broken with shattering sounds
Books for no one, where are they bound
I can see the blind who are leading the blind
Always somewhere somebody's leaving behind
Tiny traces, evidence for us to find
Just a moment only an outline
No substance, no shred of belief
Sweeping seconds and the smoke from burning leaves
Suddenly they're carried away
Written on, written off and tossed away
I can hear the words that are spoken to me
From a void of invisibility
What they say is all they are trying to mean
What is left is all that remains to be seen

--Grant Hart ("Remains To Be Seen")

Last week, I caught a show on PBS that I hadn't seen before: "Art In The Twentieth Century." This episode focused on four artists from Mexico, a country we mainly hear about lately in two big negative contexts....either for a) illegal aliens, or b) cartels cutting peoples' heads off. But these images didn't flicker across my screen. The creativity on display really struck me, as did the social energy surrounding the featured artists' work. People talked to them freely and stopped to check out whatever they were doing, if the act of creation was happening publicly.

One segment showed Pedro Reyes biking around the neighborhood, trying to drum up interest in his hamburgers -- only these came with crickets, not meat, on a bun. The artist's name escapes me right now, but he said that the idea was to challenge our reliance on meat for protein: hence, insects as a substitute. (As for yours truly, this particular Jughead will pass on that offer Rest assured, Pedro, it's nothing personal.) Still, he had no trouble getting people to check out his wares, and buy a burger or two, as well. Ha! I'd love to see one those uptight rich boors here start tucking into one....and see their faces crease in horror, once the realization dawns on them: oh, my God, that crunching sound, it ain't bacon, it'''s....crickets!

Minerva Cuevas's segment also caught my attention. She enjoys re-purposing corporate ads and logos with a sinister political twist, such as a Del Monte can -- hence, underneath those familiar green leaves, you'll see a slogan like "PURE MURDER," referring to the havoc that she blames them for wreaking on Guatemalan peasants, for example. That work was among the many featured in a recent exhibit, "FEAST/FAMINE", whose title takes aim at unfettered capitalism (a feast for the few, leaving everyone else get the idea). To complete the effect, the middle of the gallery featured a bucket of chocolate rigged to drop on the floor every 3.6 seconds (to remind visitors that's when one person around the world is dying from starvation).

I enjoyed it....if that's the right word....but she said something else that struck me. According to Cuevas, much of her art is dedicated to exposing what she sees as the "institutionalized violence" that bureaucracies perpetuate against every day men and women.

I'll second that observation. After six months of  stability, our food allowance has -- once again -- been cut to the bare bone, from $108 to a whopping $16 per month. What made this particular instance all the more aggravating is that one of my longtime writing outlets closed up shop last month....which means I either made the same (or less) money than usual.  So I duly called up my caseworker and asked her to explain this apparent disconnect to me.

"Well," she responded, "let's go over your budget..."  With that prompt, she launched into an extended explanation (:"Well, we take a percentage of this, subtract it from that," and so on). Our state, it seems, had once again cut the maximum allowable deductions for housing from $533 to $400-and-something-or-other. Then it dawns on me: all this "Chinee arithmetric," as jazz musicians used to call it, is designed to keep you from much of anything. Or anything at all, once the brass tacks are counted.

That's the game, plain and simple. Nothing to do with any of those nagging "isms" that those CNN talking heads yammer about constantly. There's a bigger truth at work here. Whether it's the overall division of wages in our society, or situations like this one, the plain fact is -- they don't want you to have it (FILL IN: extra food, money, or resource of choice). Period.

I don't fault my caseworker. She's only a cog in a mindless juggernaut, one that she has no say in running. She seems decent enough, and I actually get her on the first call, which is a pleasant departure from her predecessors. But I can't get away from one cold, hard fact. The collateral damage that this mindless juggernaut wreaks has torn a gaping hole in an already tattered budget that much wider. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I can smell it burning in my kitchen cupboard. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry,
Get Your Cricket Burgers Before Sundown):
Minerva Cuevas Website:

New York Post: Cricket Burgers
A Surprise Hit In NYC

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How I Feel Around These Richer Women

                                                   [picture source]

This is a stream of consciousness thread. This article is about how I feel around Middle Class/Upper Middle Class plus women. Yes some envy is in here. Yes I know envy is a sin. Hey I'm not perfect.

The feeling of loneliness from being poor though can be immense. Even in a poorer rural area, all the poor people kept to themselves. While trying to do the usual thing of  wanting  to"meet" friends,, I met mostly middle class or above people. How come I never meet anyone like me? I don't mean EXACTLY but Poor like I am?   It is a strange aspect of American society especially among whites, that the poor are so isolated. 

At least if I lived in the inner city, there would be far more chance of friends and family in the same boat with me.  We would not be so alone. We would not be judged and would be seen as people too. Instead of meeting those who defend our oppression, we would have people around us, who know and admit the system is crooked.  Perhaps in some niches of Appalachia, there are fellow poor white people in one community but not around here. We live on the edge. 

  The majority of non-disabled working class or poor people are working all the time, there's no leisure time for book clubs or bible studies. If they are unemployed or disabled, they are at home sick, housebound or depressed. Even my getting out happens only in two moderate seasons of the year. So especially for the poor white woman, if you are poor and down and out, you are surrounded by people of a higher socioeconomic class then you if you dare to leave your apartment or rented room......

Some of the rich people are nice too. I don't want to put down the nice rich people just express how I feel inside. Yes there are people poorer who do not have Internet hook up and weren't blessed with some education. I have friends who are richer then me too but sometimes it gets hard being the one poor woman in the crowd all the time. 

I'll never fit in. 

There's some stray threads on my old dress, I should have snipped them off. I wonder if I am going to have to figure out how to get all the grey in my hair dyed. How is their hair so smooth? How on earth do they afford all those dye jobs for their hair, and two tone ones too? None of their hair ever seems scraggly or with split ends.  The perms, and hair coloring look good. I have never been able to afford something like that.

All those fancy I-phones and Kindles, and they got crisp new models with fancy covers. Book clubs can be scary  now when one has to admit, "I don't have a Kindle".  Library book clubs are free but forget book clubs where you have to BUY the book or not be able to find it at the library.

How come they ALL have families? Didn't anyone else not have children? Am I the only infertile woman in the world? Their families all seem to respect and care about them. They have barbecues, dinner parties, and host the family over for various holidays. They spend my entire week's food budget on a giant turkey or beef rump roast or steaks for the grill.

They are always going on visits to their family even people who are far away on airplanes or being able to drive hundreds or thousands of miles and rent a hotel. Everyone seems to have grandchildren and their grown children are always having babies and there's no 20 somethings struggling and living with the milk crates. Their jobs are gotten right out of college and there's no problem with supporting all those babies, the cars to drive to work to take care of them, the cribs and day-care. My family threw me away because I didn't have the right economic life.  They fly to Switzerland while I wait in line at the food pantry for a box of food. They talk about their families a lot. How do you tell people, "I have no family?".

Will they believe me when I say I am married? I don't wear a wedding ring. How did they all afford those double-tier rocks on their fingers both young and old? My finger is too swollen for the thirty dollar silver ring we used for the ceremony 18 years ago. Some old fashioned people have assumed I "live in sin", and am not legally married but I have our marriage certificate just like them.

All those new clothes, everything looks neat, new and very clean. There are no stains, or stray threads. They wear newer shoes and a variety of shoes, where one isn't wearing the same shoes all the time. Their outfits change, they don't wear the same 4 outfits on a row in a repeating cycle. They have "summer" and "winter" clothes. You wear the brown dress in the middle of July and November. They buy their clothes new.

They live in suburban houses with neat lawns and new furniture.  These houses or sometimes rarely apartments and condos have clean kitchens, new dishes, knickknacks and polished marble surfaces. I envy how easy it would be to clean nice new things and to polish smooth wooden floors. These things are so beyond my means it's not funny. "Don't let those two nice church ladies visit your apartment and see how poor you are." You know the few you dared to let in have talked. Be careful to keep your mouth shut about money problems or being poor. Act like you are a normal person too. You don't want to be judged. The less more people know the better off you are.

One ex-friend remarked on how you wore the same clothes all the time and for years. Another remarked on how "those two own nothing".  Going to visit other people's houses [not as much in the last few years] and seeing new rugs, and couches, and hearing about re-modelings and things that you could never imagine. Being stuck with an old carpet that is always too dirty. Judgment on the eyes of some who always asked, "why don't you fix this place up?"

Things I have heard around here:

"I'm going to the Virgin Islands this week, it's the fourth time I've been there!"

"I just went on a cruise down the Mediterranean, and visited Italy and Spain!"

"My husband took me and my children to China"

"I spent two years in Honduras"

Do any of our rich ever stay home? So wonder they are in love with globalism and vote for people who throw the poor of America over the side of the boat. This is JUST some of what I get to hear around my rich resort town. Why is everyone here so rich? How did they get so much money? Wht secret did I miss out on? Money seems to pour into their lives.

They not only afford the new cars and nice homes but constant travel. It's like living around people who won the Lotto. One advantage is there is more charity here, but one major disadvantage is "WHO IS THERE TO TALK TO?"

But beyond the STUFF and the TRAVEL THAT HAS TO COST THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS JUST FOR THE PLANE TICKETS, which is only so important......

They all seem so happy, and like they feel safe, and at ease and like they belong in the world. I think that's the worse part. That's the part I envy MOST. They BELONG. Why couldn't that be me? ---The Squawker.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Poor People of Reddit: What is Something Wealthy People Will Never Understand?

Poor People of Reddit: What is Something Wealthy People Will Never Understand?

These are things I relate to. Others speak of ketchup sandwiches and being forced to buy the crummy shoes and boots that fall apart fast.

"It's never as simple as "Just get a better paying job".

"Hoping your car doesn't break down cause if it does everything's over"

"Exhaustion and fear that permeate every day and every decision."

"Being made fun of for having such a limited wardrobe to wear, and looking like shit in the professional world, thus keeping you from advancing in it."