Saturday, December 31, 2016

Anti-New Year Greeting Card (Take I)

Farewell, 2016:
Kiss My *rSe...


TO GO...



IN 2017!*

[*OH, aND...
don't watch
that bloody bALL



Sunday, December 25, 2016

Anti-Xmas 2016: A Holiday Screw You, An Orwellian Interview

Ramen Noodle Nation's 
Movers 'N' Shakers (w/LOVE):
Have An Anti-Christmas...
...And An Anti-New Year>

<"Anarchy Recipe">

Every time I visit a retail shop around this time of year, it only takes a second for my vision of Hell to register: Christmas music pumped over the speakers, making me eternally thankful that I don't work here. My chief aversion is "O Holy Night," but not for its religious content, honestly. That aversion started at my last day job, where I heard -- over 'n' over, to the point of Chinese water torture -- some crack-brained parody of  someone garbling the song in a shredded wheat-style falsetto. It was funny the first time -- barely -- at noon. By five o'clock, my eyes and ears felt glazed beyond recognition, having heard my clueless co-workers crank it God knows how many more times. Such experiences put the "nausea" back into "ad nauseum."

That said, why do so many of us feel so ambivalent about Christmas, then? I reckon it's the disconnect between the approved sentiments (birth of Christ, comfort and joy, goodwill toward men, blah-blah-blah) and the reality (crass relatives, food pantry visits, rich jerks bragging about their endless foreign junkets). For me, this season carried an especially bitter sting that dropped in mid-November -- when I got an email from my writing outlets, entitled, "Next Seven Weeks." That heading, as I quickly found out, provided ample reason to say "Oh, crap!"

The email duly informed me that the corporate masters were making immediate budget cuts, so I'd have to skip some meetings, and clear any other ideas in advance. That freeze will lift on Monday, in conjunction with that organization's new fiscal year, but the damage has already been done. Thanks to this sudden email stinkbomb dropping, I've lost about half my monthly income. There's nothing like a big "screw you" before Thanksgiving and Christmas to show you how little you matter in the scheme of things.

And I don't know what pisses me off more -- the lack of notice, the havoc wreaked on my household budget (slender as it is), or all the extra (rmainly, transcription) work I'm doing to staunch any further bleeding. So while I'm not out to dampen anybody else's holiday, I'm not getting caught up in all this artificial, enforced holiday cheer, either. When a financial landmine blows up in your face, "Bah, Humbug!" hardly seems like the ravings of Ebenezer Scrooge -- your favorite elderly, friendless, financially endowed killjoy, and mine. Right now, it seems like the only honest, sane response.

The Damned - There Ain't No Sanity Clause.jpg
<The Damned: "There Ain't No Sanity Clause."
1980 UK SIngle (Chiswick Records>

The story doesn't end there however. Squawker and I gotten a couple breaks to make the last eight weeks somewhat tolerable. A friend sent us $200 here. I made $195 there for helping track our county's vote results last month.  I'm cranking out transcription files almost every night, which will likely be necessary until February 1 rolls around, when my prospects might finally pick up again. (Remember, as a freelancer, you're typically paid next month for everything that you did last month. Hence, that email should have read: "Next 12 Weeks.")  And I've been pounding the pavement, searching for new opportunities.

Anyhow, last week, I spent half an hour interviewing with a transcription firm that works with the insurance industry. My test results looked good, the recruiter said. Only 2 percent of the initial applicant pool even gets an interview, she confided. (But I didn't feel that "space cadet glow," as Roger Waters calls it. Statements like those are part of the recruiter's repertoire, to make you feel: gosh, maybe I'm one of the Fortunate Few!) We had a cordial conversation, or so it seemed, and hung up. I'd hear something by the end of the week.

Word came last Friday: thanks for your time, I've no idea why, because -- like so many of these situations -- you never hear the rationale (anymore than I did for the budget axe wielded against my paycheck). All I got was a vaguely worded puff letter whose verbiage would have done George Orwell proud: "Unfortunately we are not able to offer you a position as an independent contractor at this time...Again, thank you for your interest in [NAME WITHHELD] and we wish you much success in your job search."
Huh? Come Again? Say What?

Uh, not to sound like a killjoy, old chaps, but...we have a language disconnect, don't we? An independent contracting position is not a job. They're recognized categories of labor, but they're not created equal, either. Jobs, however poorly they pay nowadays, tend to come with health insurance, 401(k) plans, and paid time off -- items that you rarely (if ever) see in the Gig World. (But if you do, take a photo, and email it to me. I'll keep it next to the flying pig that I just snapped cruising past my window.) Now that I remember it, the recruiter also repeatedly used the J (Job)- word during our interview. Either she really buys her own spiel, or it's another piece of ammo in her ass shining repertoire, I don't know. Take your pick: you're probably right either way.

 In some ways, I'm not upset. Like so many of these outfits, they were demanding a lot. Sign a nondisclosure agreement. Buy a foot pedal and three software programs, just so you could do their piecework. Submit to an annual criminal background check. I'm surprised they didn't ask me to Fedex a urine sample, really!  Of course, they waited until the eleventh hour to drop these little details. But that's not the point, is it?

Crappy as these experiences have been, they've hardened my will to carve a different path that doesn't involve giving away so much power to such outfits. I'm working on a few ideas as we speak; I'll let you know how they end up. The moral here? Whatever business relationships you enter, keep a keen eye, and a clear head. Why feel buddy-buddy with someone who doesn't see (or treat) you as an equal?  So, in that spirit...have a Merry Anti-Christmas, an Anti-New Year...and Bah, Humbug," all the way. -- The Reckoner

Links To Go: Some  Anti-Christmas Faves
(Hurry, Before The Copyright Nazis Yank 'Em Down)

Crass: Merry Crassmass

Damned: There Ain't No Sanity Clause:

Fear: F#ck Christmas Snoopy Video:

Kinks: Father Christmas:(W/Lyrics)

Graham Parker: Christmas Is For Mugs (W/Lyrics):

UK Subs: Hey Santa:

Friday, December 23, 2016

Guest Cartoon: Food Pantry Blues (Take I)

<Courtesy Of...The Highwayman>

Right, then...every once in awhile, something comes over the transom that simply defies description, let alone logic. Such is the case with the above cartoon, which came from a gent who simply calls himself..."The Highwayman." However, given the topic of our last post, I felt obliged to post it....the caption says it all, doesn't it? 

As for The Highwayman, this is what he's got to say for himself, make of it what you like: "Raising hell from the wilds of Glasgow, to the brick barricades of Berlin, and beyond, the Highwayman started life as a lapsed Lutheran...before migrating to post, post-punk, and post-dreams of 'good job, 2.5 kids, the picket fence 'n' the dog, all wrapped up in a nice little barbed wire bow'..nah, I'm well past all that now.

"For my manifesto, such as it is, let this verbiage suffice: 'Join the crusade against the crusade. Support your local loony now. He will never accept any honours from the barbrians. He will never pay any poll tox. He will never appear on 'Shop Of The Pops, 'This weak in parliament,' 'Naybores,' 'family misfortunes,' or the 'South Bwank Show.' He may only be your chance. He will always be - - - ON THE BUS."

Guess what, though? I recognize that passage from the liner notes of Ray Harper's 1988 album, Loony On The Bus, which happens to be in my collection. However, he'd recorded most of the contents in 1977, as Commercial Breaks. However, disputes between Harper and EMI -- over content, funding, running order, all the usual stuff -- scuppered its release, leaving the tracks to gather dust until Loony appeared, followed by the 1994 CD reissue of Commercial Breaks itself. (This ensured a lot of overlap between the Commercial Breaks and Loony CDs, though I suspect dedicated Harper-ites won't mind too much.) 

So, all that aside...keep those images, coming, Highwayman, and if they catch our fancy, we'll post 'em. After all...too many of us have spent more than our share of time "ON THE BUS." In one way or another. --The Reckoner

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

An Open Letter: Dear Friendly Neighborhood Food Pantry Operator...

Dear Friendly Neighborhood Food Pantry Operator:

I'm writing this letter to discuss some trends that I've noticed lately, as I line up for the latest prepackaged box, bag or basket I'm counting on to fill up the (ever-increasing) cracks in my food budget.

Don't take whatever I say personally, or as a slight on the church or community group that you represent. Many of you who volunteer at such places are committed to helping out their needy neighbors, when it'd be a lot easier to stay home, or volunteer for a different cause. I've talked with enough of you firsthand to know.

However, like any good citizen I want to raise some issues that I'd to like see corrected. There are always better ways of doing things. Some are more practical than others: that goes without saying. But any organization -- be it a food pantry, football team, or first-class airline -- can learn from what its customers on the ground say. So please take my comments in that spirit, no more, no less:

1. Avoid stacking the deck with carbohydrates and sugar-heavy items. Lately, I've been seeing a preponderance of both categories, to the detriment of others -- like fruits and vegetables. Yes, I know, food's expensive -- that's why I line up for these boxes.

However, filling your shelves with the cheapest, nastiest stuff on sale -- lately, I've seen everything from Pop Tarts, to Oreo cookies, Ramen noodles, and the statutory boxes of macaroni and cheese that, apparently, are included by decree in every pantry kitchen -- isn't nutritionally satisfying.

Believe it or not, not every poor person automatically wants to eat Ramen noodles or Oreo cookies. Some of us care what we put in our colons, stereotypes be damned, and it would be nice to see you recognize this situation.

2. Consider allergies and diet issues.  Yes, I know: you can't cater to every imaginable taste on the planet. I get that. But it's worth remembering that some people have allergies or conditions that make some of your selections questionable, at best.

For example, my partner, The Squawker, has major allergies to fish and potatoes -- so what am I seeing lately? Enough cans of tuna to start a fish ladder, and box upon box of cut-price mashed potatoes to line the walls....which, as we say in England, is "f#ck all useless," and ends up a) tossed out, or b) given to someone who can eat them.

What's more, Squawker also happens to be a type II diabetic, which further narrows our options -- and why point #1 is so important. Controlling blood sugar, which is so vital to a diabetic's healthy existence, is less likely to happen regularly if half your basket includes a preponderance of food items that will jack it up. Just a thought.

3. Do a better quality control job. Be brutally honest about each donated item that comes in: "Would I really eat this myself, if I had no other choice?" The answer might surprise you. Case in point: last month, I reluctantly accepted a bag of potatoes, on the theory that I could either a) make French Fries out of them, instead of buying them, or b) recreate my dad's famed potato pancake recipes.

Guess what? I ended up pitching the bag, because its potatoes were in an advanced state of decay, according to Squawker's oh-so-keen foodie eyes. Poor people feel crappy and miserable enough without being stuck with the additional task of weeding out food items that will never grace anybody else's refrigerator, nor kitchen table.

4. Ensure, as best as you can, that whatever items you've chosen help recipients plan complete meals. This point seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many food banks and/or pantries that I've visited miss it. How can you tell? The closer you get to the four basic food groups -- bread and cereal, meats, milk, vegetables -- the more likely that you've got the big picture right. In other words, I shouldn't feel that you threw a dart at the grocery shelves, crossed your fingers, and hoped for the best.

5. Give recipients a decent, comfortable area to line up or wait for their items. One local church pantry that I visit semi-regularly stands out as a beacon of what not to do in this department. Their system requires you to sign up at 1 p.m., and line up for the food truck's arrival at 4 p.m.

This activity doesn't occur at the church itself, but its activities center on (you guessed it) Main Street. However, nobody is allowed inside the building for the 1 p.m. signup, which forces recipients to stand outside, no matter how poor the weather. I should know, having waited in 85-plus-degree heat during the summer, and single-digit chills during winter -- while the center's octagonal main room, famously designed by Frank LLoyd Wright, often sits unused and empty.

Again, poor people feel stigmatized and harshly judged as it is, without being forced to tolerate conditions that would sorely test the patience of a saint. Enough said on that one.

6. Strive to include harder to come by foods, like meats, in your baskets and boxes. For a long time, the above-mentioned church pantry provided my sole yardstick in terms of what to expect -- and I've only seen meats passed out there on occasion. Until I began visiting a local food co-op -- and a food pantry run by another, smaller local church -- I had no idea that any different options existed.

Yes, I know, meat is expensive, and not getting any cheaper -- all the more reason, in my humble opinion, to start showing a little creativity to fund it. For example, could you look at sharing costs with another church, or nonprofit agency? Could you plan a benefit gig to offset your expenses? Does your agency run a gofoundme page, where people can just donate directly? Considering how Donald Trump's regime is likely to act towards those on the bottom, a little creativity will surely go an incredibly long way.

7. Tame overzealous volunteers. As I've mentioned earlier, many of you who man the food bank/pantry distribution lines go above or beyond the call of duty -- sometimes, to your everlasting detriment. One example comes to mind from the church pantry cited in #5, which only allows six people at a time to enter its activity center's main room, where the 1 p.m. signup takes place.

Last summer, though, I ran afoul of the volunteer guarding the double dears on the center's street-ward side. Sometimes, he ushered in six people at once, but other times, an extra person or two somehow slipped past his gaze. Not me, though, however much I believed (after a half hour-plus wait) that my turn had finally arrived. When I tried to enter the main room, this guy literally jammed an elbow in front of my stomach to block my way -- and then slammed the door right in my face. Ouch!

While it's easy to blame such incidents on lack of preparation, or the stress that comes from dealing with a large crowd, it's also a cop-out -- because I haven't seen volunteers act this way at the other pantries I visit. Like it or not, perception is everything in today's society, and what does slamming the door in somebody's face naturally connote? "F#ck you, buddy, you're not wanted, really. Beat it."

Spend time training volunteers in the fine art of common courtesy, since they'll probably deal with all walks of life in the food pantry line. Food insecurity plays no favorites: I've met people with college degrees, high school dropouts, and ex-professionals who found the rung yanked out from under them when their high-flying job suddenly disappeared. Believe me, I've seen it all.

Above all else, treat clients like you'd want to be treated, with dignity, grace, and respect -- and I guarantee that most, if not all, the concerns I've outlined above will take care of themselves. Too often in America, the prevailing attitude towards the poor is: "Take what you're given, no matter what." Sadly, this same attitude often invites food bank and pantry operators to cut corners, and skimp on civility, or service, to their everlasting detriment.

Again, don't take these comments personally. I'm just tired of seeing the same stumbling blocks rearing their pointed little heads, again and again. Unlike our political leadership. I happen to believe that we can -- and must -- do better, starting with the proposition that we don't have to keep rehashing the mistakes of the past, such as continuing treat people like statistics.

Those hungry faces shuffling through the door, myself included, expect -- and deserve --- nothing less.

The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Before
Your Food Card Gets Cut Yet Again):

Feeding America:
Hunger America (Poverty Facts And Statistics):

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Life's Little Injustices (Take IX): A Month Of Pain Pills Costs $100

<Those troublesome little Colcrys 
tablets, up close and personal>

I'll remember Election Day 2016 for a different reason: the emergency tooth extraction that I had to endure, the morning after millions of Americans mourned the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the presidency.  The need to take out this right rear tooth didn't surprise me, because it had been bothering me for several months. By Election Week, the situation had escalated to on-again/off-again pain and throbbing, to the point of putting an ice pack over my cheek (so I could get whatever passed for sleep).

Thankfully, our town has a clinic that serves the low-income and uninsured -- blokes like me, in other words. The only catch? According to their rules, I had to come as an emergency walk-in, since I hadn't used their dental services in so long. However, once I dragged my carcass down there, the waiting around -- and the inevitable paperwork blizzard that accompanied it -- took longer than the procedure. I arrived at 8:07 a.m., By 9:45 a.m., I was ready to go home. Not bad, in the scheme of things.

This clinic also a pharmacy, which is good, since -- if you're on being charged on a sliding fee scale, like me -- you can theoretically save money on your drugs. I say "theoretically," because this isn't possible in every case.  I paid $22.30 for the dentist's prescriptions, including $10.30, for Tramadol -- to deal with post-procedural pain that, thankfully, never materialized -- and $12 for Ibuprofen (of the 800-milligram super-duper variety). Good show, I told myself. Now, you'll have a stockpile for the next toothache.

I decided to stock up on my gout medications, while I was at it. I'd spent much of October -- and early November -- battling two different attacks that hit  my right ankle and right knee. Both kept me virtually immobilized, and confined to bed, for a couple weeks. As a result, I had to visit the clinic, which gave me a steroid shot for the pain. However, since I was broke at the time, I had to put off getting the drugs that I needed -- until my toothache forced that issue, and prompted my return.

That meant I needed Colcrys and Indomethecin, to deal with the pain and swelling, respectively, and Allopurinol, which you take to prevent future gout attacks. The pharmacy tech reckoned that the Allopurinol and Indomethecin would cost about $22, based on my sliding fee status. "Okay, so far, so good," I said. Between The Squawker and myself, we could come up with that sum. "Now, what about the Colcrys, then?"

"That's gonna be a bit more expensive..." The pharmacy tech knitted her brows together, and punched the relevant keys on the cash register. "Yeah, that's gonna be $100, for 30 of them -- $98.92, with tax."

"Wow," I said, "at that price, they'd better do the job, right? There's no substitute for this one, I take it?"

"I don't see one, offhand. I can leave the doctor a note..."

"Tell you what," I suggested. "I'll take three of them, to get out of the pain today, and come back for the rest."

"Sounds good. Just let us know when you come back," the tech responded. "You should try to get Medicaid -- we have a lot of those patients here, and they typically don't pay anything. Or not very much."

"Right," I said. "I'll look into that."

And so, I went on my way, having plunked down $22.30 for the dental prescriptions, $22 for the gout pills that seemed halfway affordable, and $9 for the Colcrys, to zero out the pain I'm feeling today. Who cares about tomorrow, or even next week?

Like millions of Americans, I'm not in a position to care about such things, because a) I haven't been insured for a decade, so b) the traditional medical infrastructure isn't obliged to deal with me, which means c) without places like this clinic, I'd slide between the cracks completely.

Health care is already maddening enough -- something the Affordable Care Act, however well-intentioned or ill-conceived it is, depending on who you ask, did nothing to halt. However, as so many savvy commentators have already observed, it's about to get a lot worse under Trump, whose minions will spend a lot of time repeating two bromides, over and over again, to people in my position:

"Sure, it sucks. You're on your own."

"You don't like it? Well, you just can get rich!"

I suspect we'll hear these mantras a lot in the Trump era, because he and his cohorts will never have to depend on the crappy health care options they expect those below them to live under -- and therein lies the problem. --The Reckoner

<Twenty years of household bills, all neatly filed away for a rainy day -- and yes, most of them are medical ones.>

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 was 2.8 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

*That being said, reminding Trump and his acolytes of that number serves one politically useful purpose: it means, once the third party votes are also taken into consideration, that more than half the country voted against him, doesn't support him, and doesn't intend to give him the benefit of any of their doubts. Enough said on that one.

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!"