Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Punk Rock Art Photos: "Dead Malls Don't Talk Back (Take II)"

<Take I The Squawker>

"Once more, with feeling..." Depending on your age, you'll either associate this lyrical sentiment with Buffy The Vampire Slayer ("But I can't find my sweet release/Let me rest in peace") or Kris Kristofferson ("Let's try it once more with feeling, and we'll call it a day"). But either way, it seemed like an appropriate backdrop for our return to the dead mall that The Squawker and I last visited in September.

The resulting photo essay sparked one of our best-received posts, so here we are again, this time, starting with the fading JC Penney sign on the right side. Basically, this is the rear view, as you're driving around the property. Its closing last summer left this area without a JC Penney for the first time in nearly a century, locals told us.

<Take II: The Squawker>

As we continue our drive around the property, we stopped behind this rear entrance. Note the overgrown grass now sprouting through the cracks in the parking lot. Apparently, regular maintenance is no longer a consistent feature, or else, it's been scaled back -- either for budgetary reasons, or there aren't people to do it regularly.

<Take III: The Squawker>

Here's a closeup view of that rear entrance, as The Squawker shot it. We briefly debated going inside, and nosing around, but decided against it, because our afternoon to-do list still beckoned. As you see, though, the grass is growing thickest and longest near the entrance, but doesn't show any distinct signs of regular maintenance.

<Take IV: The Squawker>

Here's a longer view of the rear parking lot, so you can get a sense of how far the grass has grown, and how empty it looks. On this particular day, on this side of the mall, we didn't see a single car parked here. As we drove back towards the main road circling the mall, we counted roughly two to three dozen cars, most of them belonging to the people still working here. How long that will last, who knows?

<Take V: The Squawker>

Swinging back around the left side, we came across this bygone anchor store, Carson's, that shut down in spring 2018, according to the locals. Our camera lens was giving us fits -- hence, the black shapes in the corner -- but I liked the effect, so I didn't crop them out. But you can see plainly enough that the C in the store's name is gone, now long reclaimed by the elements.

<Take VI: The Squawker>

Here's the defunct entrance for the defunct Carson's. The name itself is the newer version of Carson, Pirie, Scott & Company, whose ads I remember well as a child growing up. They always closed with the original name, ooh--oohed and ahhed over a light jazz background ("Carson, Pirie, Scott..."), followed by the tagline, spoken largely by itself ("AND Com-pany!"). That was in the '70s, of course, long before the American Dream withered off the vine for most people.

<Take VII: The Squawker>

Here's the parking lot in front of the dead Carson's store, as overgrown as the rest of the property. As you see, there's plenty of cracks in the surface, and -- though not apparent in this shot -- there's lots of potholes, too. So many, in fact, you'll feel like you're driving over a lunar landscape. Needless to say, it pays to go slow here.

<Take VIII: The Squawker>

And so, we end as began our original photo essay, with the shuttered Sears, and the truck standing in front of the now-defunct loading dock, its battered door still dangling open, waiting in vain for someone to finally shut it, and send it on its way.

The dishwasher that stood nearby, forgotten and forlorn, is finally gone, its place now taken by a yawning pile of dead brush. When will anybody clear it? Who knows? All that's left, it seems, is the tumbleweed rolling down the street, while the wind whistles in the distance. This is the sound of America today, the opposite face of the recovery that's being touted in established news outlets. 

Yes, the economy is working, but for what, and for whom? That is the question that looms large over landscapes like this one. When this mall finally closes, they'll blame specters ranging from the e-commerce boom, to the toughest retail climate seen  in 30 years, or a withering local economy. 

The subtleties will undoubtedly feel lost on those having to find new jobs or locations for their businesses, as these words from Kris Kristofferson ringing in their ears: "'Cause somehow, darlin', something good/Got lost along the way/And our song ain't nothing/Special anymore."  The Reckoner

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Life's Little Injustices (Take XVI): Do You Get Fries With That? Hell, No!

The minute we checked out the menu, I knew we were in trouble. The Squawker and I had stopped off at this roadside diner, Paisano Italiano, for lunch, while running the usual errands that tug at your brain, and wear down your patience, but still have to be done. We'd eaten here a couple years ago, but if you like something once, you'll like it again, right?

But I began having second thoughts when I scanned the prices. The cheaper meals started at $11-12, and rapidly escalated from there, to $15, and up. 

So I quickly flipped the page, and looked at the sandwiches. "This might be the only thing I can afford here," I told Squawker. "Otherwise, I'm not sure how this'll work, even if we just get water to drink." This is what you tell yourself between paydays: decisions, decisions.

"Yeah, I see what you mean," Squawker said. "It looks like it's about 50 percent more than what it was last time."

The waitress continued to flit around, wiping a table here, our table there, darting over to the register for a quick sidebar conversation with some regular or other.  Getting her attention hadn't been easy. Keeping it looked harder still. I steeled myself, and kept looking. Surely, I told myself, there's something I can afford here...

The waitress flitted back over. "Need a few more minutes to decide?" she asked. We both nodded.

I gestured at the menu. "I think I'll have stick with a burger, which is... Okay, there's one for $5.75. Everything else is six, seven bucks and up."

"Sure you don't want to try the pizza buffet?"

"Well, that's 20 bucks, and the thing is..." I lowered my voice. "By the time you include the tip, it'll be $25 or $30 when we leave here."

"All right." Squawker shrugged. "I think I might have to get a meal, though. Spaghetti with some meat, I think."

"No add-ons for us, I guess." I forced a smile, and gestured to the waitress. "I think we're ready now."

The waitress returned, her order pad poised. "All right," I said, "I think I'll get the Classic Paisano Burger, and..." I scanned the menu once more. "Do you get fries with that?"

The waitress shook her head. "No, that's a separate item." 

My eyes clouded over. "What? I can't do that, oh, wait..." There they were, for a single ($1.59), or a double ($3.75). "No, no, no, forget it. I can't do that."

The waitress rolled her eyes, and threw her hands on her hips. Her lips froze into a sarcastic flourish. "Welcome to Paisano Italiano!" she said.

"You want to go?" Squawker asked.

"I think we better," I sighed. "The way this is going, I'm not sure this is the place for us."

I took a quick last look on our way out. The room had gotten a little fuller, as the lunchtime crowd were beginning to filter in. They all looked older, though, sixtysomething and up. Of course, I told myself. Retired Baby Boomers, from the looks of it. Great jobs at great wages. Everything worked out swell for them. For me, not so much. Who else could afford this place now?

We headed back into town, and settled on our favorite taquiera. They had lunch specials for a fiver each. Or maybe we could split a burrito. Either way, those options looked a lot more pleasant than the situation we'd just encountered. Our mindless errands still beckoned. Such is life. --The Reckoner

Sunday, November 3, 2019

When Open Mikes Aren't Open Anymore: Three Snapshots

Generally speaking, I don't do open mikes. For an example of the hiccups that occur, see my other post below, "The Never-Ending Open Mike (Two Surreal Case Studies)." I'm not saying the problems that I cited happen all the time, or my experiences have always been subpar. The situations I encountered simply hardened my resolve to find better outlets for my music and spoken word material. After all, it's hard to showcase your abilities when the showcase itself goes sideways.

Lately, though, I've seen some odd terms and conditions popping up, when I've wanted to participate. Imagine the Riddler posing one of his preposterous jokes, wagging his finger at Batman's campy '60s incarnation, or the darker ones currently making the cinematic rounds: "Riddle me this, Caped Crusader. When is an open mike not so open anymore?" To which Batman strokes that famous rugged jaw, furrows an eyebrow or two, then snaps his fingers, and responds with the following three examples.

Exhibit A: Sounds Good (But We Gotta Vet Ya First): Back in the summer, I'd recorded three songs at home, and thought. Hey, why don't I try these out? Can't do any harm, right? That's the most common reason for doing open mikes, right? Road-test your new material in front of a real crowd, keep your chops up, that sort of thing. In this case, you had to e-mail the venue in question ahead of time, which I did. Here's the response I got back:

Thanks for your message regarding open mic.

Please send along a sample clip of what your performance would be - either video or audio. Thank you.

I found this response baffling, since it begs one obvious question: well, if you're just gonna cherry pick who you want onstage, anyway, it's not really an open mike anymore, is it? Then it becomes something else, but not an occasion that fits the alleged purpose of open mikes: a place where all comers can play whatever they want, while getting a chance to meet, and swap phone numbers and/or ideas afterwards.

Needless to say, I didn't send a thing.


Exhibit B: You Gotta Pay (If You Wanna Play): The same venue cited above (we'll call it Cardboard City) also runs a poetry/spoken open mike, which I've done three times. I was looking forward to the same opportunity again this week, until this sentence from the press release stopped me dead: "$5 minimum donation please. Donations support our non-profit arts organization." It's not clear to me whether this policy applies to everybody, or just those watching the performers, but on its face, this sentence skirts the edges of paying to play.

Pay to play is most commonly associated with sports leagues and music venues. The term refers to the practice of requiring an upfront fee before the performer can take the field or the stage. Musicians first encountered pay to play in the 1980s, at venues in Los Angeles, CA. (Typical variations involve buying X number of tickets in advance, or guaranteeing that "X number of people will show up.") Pay to play is less controversial in the sports world, especially in local leagues, where few, if any parents will quibble about the price of signing up Little Johnny and Suzy for soccer.

I'll have to investigate how Cardboard City applies its donation policy, but my only issue is the connotations it carries for performers, who already face enough barriers to entry -- and doing our "thing," whatever that means -- without our wallets getting thrown into the mix.

Exhibit C: Shut Up And Sing (Just Don't Annoy The Regular Folks). I came across this example while preparing an entertainment calendar for one of the publications that uses my writing. The verbiage reminded me of the Dixie Chicks documentary, Shut Up And Sing (2003), which chronicled the outcry that greeted the band for its relatively mild denunciation of then-President George W. Bush. Given the ferocity of Trump's fanbase, imagine what would happen now, if a similar band declared itself "ashamed that the President is from New York"!

Anyway, here's the relevant language from this venue (we'll call it The Stable), in all its one size fits, opaque glory:

Please be respectful with your material. While we want to be open with our stage and invite all forms of art, it cannot be at the expense of others. This is not a night for improvisation or a political platform, but a chance for all to enhance their crafted art skills. Thank you. I have a few issues here, starting with the obvious: What does "respectful" mean, and who gets to define it? Presumably the host, though it's not exactly clear. Judging from the next sentence, it's fair to say that any Dixie Chick-style verbiage is verboten, and you'd probably check your improv comedy styles at the door, too. After all, we wouldn't want anybody riffing off Trump's latest pipe dreams, or Phil Ochs's "Love Me, I'm A Liberal," would we, now?

I'm not sure what kind of open mike is being promoted here, unless it's the Comfy Cozy Coffee Set. Considering how dark, dangerous and desperate our times have grown -- and not only politically, as the California wildfires are demonstrating this weekend -- it's a little bit much to insist that musicians, in particular, just stare straight ahead and keep their mouths shut. Sorry, but if all we've done is just stay in a bubble, and simply talk shop, then not much has happened.

One quality that these examples share is the apparent lack of trust underpinning all of them. What's really strange is that open mikes aren't paying gigs (except for the host), so if there's no money -- no guarantee, no tip jar -- changing hands, what's the problem? It's not as if I've seen anyone at either venue counting off the MC5's signature song: "And right now, it's time to...kick out the jams, motherfuckers!"

Happily for me, I'm not going to deal with the fallout from these practices. I've been asked to perform at a church dinner with someone else a couple Saturdays from now. Aside from one suggested song ("This Land Is Your Land"), our minister is letting me work out the rest -- as it should be, since I've played there before. No advance clip, no minimum donation, and no admonition against airing inconvenient opinions needed. Maybe I'll check back and see how the above venues evolve -- or don't -- but I'm doing what makes me happier. Which means staying off the Open Mike Highway, at least for now--The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry,
Before The Sandman Gives You The Hook):
The Never-Ending Open Mike (Two Surreal Case Studies):

Showtime At The Apollo: Sandman Fight:

Gigs And Bands (UK): Five Reasons Why
Open Mic Nights Are Killing Live Music:

(Plenty of food for thought here -- written to irritate, so bear that in mind, but lots of interesting pros and cons in the comment section, so have fun!)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween: "Dark Money Word Cloud I+II"

<"Dark Money Word Cloud I":
The Reckoner>

It's just too big to stop...Ka-ching, Ka-ching...It's not the time...
Ka-ching, Ka-ching...
The political climate doesn't allow it...
Follow the money...Money is speech...Follow the money...
Ka-ching, ka-ching...

Corporations are people, too...
Ka-ching, ka-ching...
Just follow the money...
It doesn't buy my vote...
Ka-ching, ka-ching...

"I think the major factor for why Biden has gradually been falling in the polls is by the way that he campaigns and speaks and the contradictions in his claims versus his record. 

"And those contradictions are very much played out in his current effort to rationalize taking huge money or accepting the huge money going into super PACs on behalf of his campaign."
<Norman Solomon,
Common Dreams Contributor>

."Joe Biden should get scorched 
on the next debate stage
 for starting a super PAC 
because he doesn't have grassroots support." 
<Erick Fernandez, Journalist>

"While there may be disagreements between candidates in this race about whether or not it’s okay to have a super PAC, on this issue the country is already pretty united: People have had ENOUGH of the wealthy and powerful buying our candidates and elections."
<Fahiz Shakir,
Bernie Sanders' 2020 Campaign Manager>

Common Dreams: 
"Sanders Campaign, Progressives
Rip Biden Super PAC"

<"Dark Money Word Cloud II":
The Reckoner>

I must make two honest confessions to you… 
First, I must confess that over the past few years
 I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. 

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion 
that the Negro’s great stumbling block
 in his stride toward freedom 
is not the White Citizen's Councilor, 
or the Ku Klux Klanner,
 but the white moderate, who is more devoted
to “order” than to justice; 

who prefers a negative peace 
which is the absence of tension
 to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; 

who constantly says:
“I agree with you in the goal you seek,
but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”;

 who paternalistically believes 
he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; 

who lives by a mythical concept of time 
and who constantly advises the Negro
 to wait for a “more convenient season.” 

Shallow understanding from people of good will 
is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding 
from people of ill will. 

Lukewarm acceptance 
is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
<Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”>

Monday, October 28, 2019

Guest Cartoon: The Highwayman: "The Windowless Basement Hustle"

<Click on the image for the full effect!>

"We're not going to beat 

Trump with pocket change."

Democratic Presidential hopeful
Pete Buttigieg, 

pondering the pros and cons
of joining the money chase

"Small-dollar grassroots campaigns, aka what Buttegieg insults here
as 'pocket change,'
out-fundraise him by millions.

"Our nation’s leaders

should be working to end the era
of big money politics,
not protect it." <Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offers a slightly different take>

“The front of the line is always filled
with people whose pockets are filled."

Joe Biden, Zombie Frontrunner,

Explaining How It Works, 101

Our friend and house artist, The Highwayman, is feeling righteously angry, as this week's cartoon makes amply clear. The quote in panel #2 comes from The National Review, which ran an interesting article (see below) about Democratic Minority Leader Charles Schumer's strategy to retake the Senate --by putting up party-vetted favorites, have them say as little of substance as possible, and run a blizzard of negative ads to make their opponent -- typically, a white, male, inoffensive, party-vetted favorite -- seem like the spawn of Hitler, Osama bin Laden and Satan combined.

Does sound like an equation that favors the common interest? Not in the least, but it showcases the Democratic Party disconnect between the Old Bulls, who seem hellbent on imposing the above vision on the rest of us, till Hell freezes over, or they die, or finally get run off, whichever comes first -- and the newly energized progressive wing, who don't want the anti-Trump resistance simply hijacked to preserve the status quo...the same status quo that keeps us stuck in the hellish non-choice between a) Aetna and Cigna, b) Comcast and nobody, c) Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump...take your pick. Wash, rinse repeat.

This cartoon came at an interesting week, due to some welcome light getting shed on the issue of big money, and its role in campaigns. Just look how far Zombie Frontrunner, Joe Biden, has fallen -- $1 million in private jet rides later, and he still ends up with just $9 million to show for his third quarter of fundraising! I can just imagine the slogan: "Joe Biden: The Last White Man Who Can't Raise Money. Give Till It Hurts."

So what's Lunch Bucket Joe's solution? Do a 180-degree turnaround (see link below), and go with the super PACs that you disavowed when your campaign started. Of course, you'll definitely fix what ails the system, if you ever make it to the White House, and try elbowing past all those big donors, waiting to cash their IOUs, which only means...yeah, we've seen this movie before, time and again. It didn't pass the stench test then, and doesn't now. Unless we stand up and say, "We demand something different." We don't want to stay stuck in the windowless basement, right? --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry.
The Ghost Of Dark Money
Is Banging At Your Door)

The Intercept:
Joe Biden's Super PAC:

The National Review: 
Chuck Schumer's "Wndowless Basement" Strategy

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Nice Work, If You Can Get It: Team Biden Circles The Wagons

The Shape Of Things To Come?

One of the oldest, sickest, oft-repeated jokes that America plays on its citizens is the notion that it's some kind of meritocracy. At some point in our lives, we all learned that simply wasn't true, whether that lesson came in junior high -- when we watched the popular kids pick each other for their baseball teams, and leave us standing, way last, in the outfield -- or in high school, where the spoiled jerk who always had a blonde on each arm, and his first car at 16, went on to become a high-profile CFO, courtesy of his family name, and/or connections. (My own favorite anecdote is the star basketball player who earned an ACT composite score that fell 50 percent below the desired minimum, which didn't prevent him from graduating.)

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but not by half. As over the top as the above images seem, I'd argue
the need to believe in a meritocracy is an essential ingredient of our social DNA, even if the reality doesn't match up. It's a belief that drives many a public policy debate, like the infamous Clinton-era welfare overhauls of the 1990s -- which essentially arose from the notion that the undeserving had out-hustled and overtaken the truly needy. That the needy who remained on the rolls would now have to live with scaled-down benefits, and no end of restrictions -- like work requirements, for instance -- was incidental to the whole exercise.

Which brings us to Joe Biden's troubled offspring, Hunter, and uncle, James Biden, who've been reaping a lot of negative news this week for the putative Democratic front-runner. That status seems shaky at the moment, though it will depend on how many other shoes start raining down. The 2014 photo that's surfaced of Joe golfing with Hunter and his Ukrainian business partner, presumably, will do little to help the cause.

In one sense, the avalanche of revelations of Hunter Biden's unorthodox business dealings triggered by Trump's forthcoming impeachment proceedings amount to business as usual. This is how Washington works, the talking heads on TV wearily intone. You get along to go along, blah-blah-blah. It's not what you know, blah-blah-blah, it's who you know, blah-blah-blah. No, it's who knows you. And so on, and so forth. Wash, rinse, repeat.

In yet another sense, you can feel a perverse note of empathy for Hunter, who toiled in the shadow of his far more illustrious brother, Beau Biden -- who seemed headed for a glorious political ride, only to have brain cancer cut it brutally short. At one point, Hunter's life seemed to have skidded so far down, that he convinced someone to pull some strings to get him into the U.S. Naval Reserve at 42, well beyond the age that military recruiters typically desire. Yet even with that helping hand, Hunter Biden washed out of the U.S. Navy as quickly as he'd arrived.

Given Hunter's apparent lack of discernible talent for anything in particular, it's not surprising that he determined, early on, to cash in on his family connections. What else could he really offer? It's a similar rationale that the villainous boxing manager, Maish Rennick, voices to his fallen protege, in the climactic scene of Requiem For A Heavyweight: "You're not a winner anymore, Mountain. There's only one thing left. Let's make some money from the losing."

Of course, Hunter came out of his deals slightly better than the banged-up Mountain Rivera, starting right out of law school, when he picked up a $100,000 retainer as a "consultant" to the credit card giant, MBNA, one of many corporate entities located in the Bidens' home state of Delaware. Not all of his ventures succeeded, as you'll see from the National Review timeline below, but nevertheless, it didn't take long for the Bidens' deals to reach the seven-figure-plus range. The deals came rolling in, goosed by foreign countries eager to buy the access they desired, in order to push their own agendas.

Again, it's all part of a larger climate where neoconservative and neoliberal offspring alike float along an oil slick of entitlement, whose skids were arguably greased long ago by the likes of Buckley v. Valeo, the infamous 1976 Supreme Court decision that slammed the brakes on campaign spending limits by countering, "Hey, kids, corporations and dollar bills are people, too." The coup de grace came along in 2010, with the Citizens United ruling, one that opened the floodgates for unlimited campaign spending -- and spectacles like the dark money group that spent $22 million to jam Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court (including $17 million alone that came from one anonymous donor).

This, of course, is precisely the problem with the Bidens, and for that matter, all who came before them -- the Clintons, the Bushes, and so on, and so forth. Wash, rinse, repeat. In such a climate, it's hardly surprising that Biden's defenders are furiously pumping out any number of shaky defenses, ranging from the classic "ya got nothing on us" bit ("None of the activities were illegal, per se"), to the "matter of degree" line ("Trump's abuses of power are far worse, and far more damaging"), to the "zombie apocalypse" credo ("If Biden falls, we'll get stuck with four more years of Trump"). As any quick glance at the mainstream media will tell you, Biden has plenty of allies, all doggedly pumping out variations on the above themes with the megaphones that their various platforms provide them. Or, as my late father put it, "One crow doesn't peck another."

But I still see too many fatal flaws in this line of thinking. For one thing, it's hard to take Team Biden's messge ("Eat your spinach, vote your head, not your heart, blah-blah-blah") seriously, when it's obvious that his family has never done likewise. For another, voters have wearied of the constant commingling of business, pleasure and policy that characterizes so many neoconservative and neo-liberal side projects. Team Biden is crawling with lobbyists, like his so-called climate adviser, Heather Zichal, who earned $1.1 million from her ties to the liquified natural gas industry, an energy option that -- not coincidentally -- the Obama administration avidly encouraged. With these sorts of characters lurking behind the curtain, how can you seriously expect a Biden Presidency, should one ever materialize, to tackle the global dumpster fire of climate change? If you believe that the link doesn't matter, you're a more optimistic bugger than I, but I digress.

The final irony, though, is that nominating someone like Biden will repeat the error of 2016, when Trump repeatedly called out Hillary Clinton's political and business baggage to his own perverse advantage by saying, "You think I'm so bad? Well, look at her! You don't know who's lurking behind her curtain! At least you know who's lurking behind mine!" This is why simply moaning about Trump's dark, divisive nature, won't stick against him, in and of itself. The people who chose him in 2016 are well aware of his flaws, for the most part, but wanted someone to blow up the system. That tendency is amply documented. Now imagine them looking at someone like Biden, who epitomizes the "swamp creature" that they so despise -- the same kid who always got the pitcher's mound in junior high, the same rich jerk who got the shiny new car and the blondes on each arm. it's not hard to guess how they'll react, and not hard to imagine Trump gleefully rubbing his palms together: "Oh, boy, I get to muddy the waters again! I can't wait!"

Time will tell how this latest mushrooming narrative of scandal plays out, but the war clouds currently swirling above Team Biden remind me of an equally troubled nominee, Warren G. Harding, from the Roaring Twenties. Like Biden, Harding was a terrible public speaker, one whose utterances made little sense in cold print. Like Biden, Harding's 1920 presidential campaign rested largely on the idea that the nation needed to be soothed, not challenged to greater heights. Feral capital pirates and white-sheeted Ku Klux Klanners had nothing to fear from him, because he simply wished they would go away, so he wouldn't have to hold them accountable for their misdeeds.

Unlike Biden -- who's 0 for 2 in the presidential box score -- Harding rode to the White House, flanked by a group of shadowy opportunists -- some on the government payroll, like Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall, others preferring a lower-key role, like the ever-resourceful go-between, Jess Smith -- who wasted no time cashing in their political IOUs, and cranking up the side deals they hoped would make them ever more rich, and ever more powerful. The cascade of scandals took a physical and emotional toll on Harding, who died in 1923. His name remains forever associated with scandal, cronyism and corruption. 

Historians have argued the degree of Harding's competency and culpability for his "Ohio gang"'s misdeeds ever since, though the debate has hardly budged his ranking near the bottom of American presidents, a place that Trump may eventually overtake. Yet ev
en more forgiving biographers, like Robert K. Murray, remain adamant about one thing -- the need to take accountability, once things head south, as he suggests in his 1969 book, The Harding Era 1921-1923: Warren G. Harding And His Administration

"In the American political system, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander in the White House," said Murray, in part. "By his inaction, he forfeited whatever chance he had to maintain the integrity of his position and salvage a favorable image for himself and his administration. As it was, the subsequent popular and scholarly negative verdict was inevitable, if not wholly deserved." It's a point that Team Biden and its defenders, such as they are, would do well to ponder, whenever the next shoe happens to drop. Or if they actually make it to the White House.--
The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry,
Before The Bidens Beat You To The Post

National Review
Hunter Biden: The Most Comprehensive Timeline:

Normal Is What Got Us Here:

Disgracing The Family Name:

Sludge Climate
Biden's Climate Adviser
Earned $1 Million From Natural Gas Company:

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Punk Rock Art Photos: "Dead Malls Don't Talk Back"

<Take I: The Squawker>

Now, we come to a different sort of view. Your favorite teenage go-to spot, a/ka The Local Mall, is having tough times these days. The town I used to live is no exception, as The Squawker and I found out on our visit here a couple months ago, while driving past this mall that's been around since 1979-ish, give or take a year. 

Nature seems to be gradually reclaiming this once grand go-to spot. Note the grass growing through cracks in the concrete, an unthinkable sight, I suspect, during the mall's '80s and '90s heyday. Squawker shot these photos outside the recently shuttered Sears, near the loading dock. 

<Take II: The Squawker>

The weirdest thing is seeing the truck with its door hanging askew. It's truly a surreal but sinister sight, that begs the question...What happened to the driver? Did somebody just yank that person out, and apply some bareknuckled street justice, like the LA rioters gave to that poor trucker back in 1992? But the surrealism didn't end there.

<Take III: The Squawker>

The strangest sight of all, which inspired us to snap these photos, is the orphaned dishwasher, waiting patiently, it seems, for someone to pick it up and give it a good home. That didn't happen after Sears closed, obviously. Note the additional grass and weeds in the background, growing through those proverbial cracks in the sidewalk. The brick facade still looks good, but the concrete? It's like driving over a lunar landscape.

<Take IV: The Squawker>

According to the locals, Sears was the third of four anchor stores to close after Carson's and JC Penney went belly up last spring and this summer, respectively. Only Kohl's is hanging on. (Kohl's comes up just before Sears, which is why it's not in this sequence of photos.) That makes sense, since they're now the nation's second largest retailer, based on sales...though it's fair to ask how long they can keep this particular high wire balancing going here. 

<Take V: The Squawker>

As you'll see here, the seagulls are having a grand time socializing in a largely empty parking lot. On this day, a Wednesday or Thursday, we counted a couple dozen cars, most probably belonging to the employees (the ones that still have a job, at any rate). Once upon a time, I imagine, this lot would have filled to the rafters.

Many reasons have been tossed around for the decline of malls, including lack of novelty. In America, the mall -- or shopping center, perhaps -- has existed since the 1920s, so periodic reinvention is undoubtedly necessary. Other pundits suggest that, as more and more people shop online, they feel less need, and less inclined, to actually step inside a store.

"Stuff and nonsense!" shouts a third faction of analysts, who point out that high-end malls -- and, to some degree, smaller, more compact strip malls -- are holding their own in the most turbulent retail climate in decades. They also note that significant numbers of people resist the siren song of e-commerce, citing security and privacy issues (a fear undoubtedly magnified by Facebook's string of public blunders on both scores, to name one example.)

Still other experts, naturally, cite the pressures on consumers' wallets. U.S. Census Bureau figures released today showed the median household income at $63,179 for 2018, barely a blip above the $62,626 logged in 2017. The number of uninsured Americans also rose to 27.5 million over the same period (from 7.9 to 8.5%, or two million more people overall).

Judging by these two figures, not everyone is benefiting from the largest run of economic growth in American history. On that evidence alone, the seagulls will be dancing in an empty parking lot for some time to come. -- The Reckoner

PS The Squawker and I went back a couple weeks ago. The truck and its open door are still there, but the dishwasher is gone...having a good home, at last.

Links To Go
Hurry, Hurry (See How 
Ancient Civilizations Lived):

Rush: "Subdivisions" (1982 Video):