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."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Our Rich Help the Poor Overseas and Ignore American Poor

The Occupy Movement represented a clear indication that the working poor, or precariat, is no longer feeling represented by the First World state. With this massive inclusion of a working-class, poor, ethnically diverse group, to the already and obviously marginalized, the population of Fourth World America at the very least rivals the population of First World America. And while the American government continues to nominally supply aid to the Third World, the Fourth World inside the U.S. is slowly being forgotten.
While the First World criticises various governments in traditionally Third World continents as being unfair and corrupt — calling them out for their ongoing human rights abuses — the abuses being perpetrated on the Fourth World are constantly ignored, no matter how similar the two start to appear.Meanwhile, as the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, defines the Flint issue as a failure of government at all levels,” those governments still claim to represent the citizens of Flint and their best interests.
If this is the representation a growing majority of people are subject to in America, then the way the First and Fourth World are understood needs to be reevaluated. More importantly, where the United States fits within the list must be reconsidered. Only when we begin to see our own situation from a new perspective can we learn how to fix it, or find a solution.
The poor and working class in America have been abandoned and the technocrat,business professional class and the churches are more busy collecting wealth to send overseas. They can't keep the fact that our nation is falling apart and large swathes of the landscape look like third world hell holes secret forever. I refuse to sit in some church collecting money for the new third world colonization as people in America go without help, notice or voice.---The Squawker

Tiny House

They got the rich yuppies living in these things now, to lower their carbon footprint but soon these things will be for you to live in. The shack "chic" will turn into the acceptability of people living in "shacks" or "sheds" and being charged big bucks to do so--The Squawker.

"The Struggle Is Not Real"

The “struggle” is not real: From tiny houses to my own lunch, poverty chic commodifies working-class life

The linguistic fetishization of hardship is one more way we appropriate from — and erase — people like my family

This author is too friendly in my book to the wealthy people who show off slumming it as poor. Just watch Tiny House Nation and watch the well-off set cry about having to live in less then 3,000 square feet. My biggest apartment as an adult is the one I live in now at 830 square feet. Most poor people don't have fancy faucets on their kitchen sink and tiles in the bathroom like those so called "tiny-houses". --The Sqauwker

Disney Thinks You Hate Poor People

It should be titled, "Disney wants you to hate poor people" but one does wonder about the influences out there in movies and more and how they present poor people and the attitudes towards them!---The Squawker.

Life's Little Injustices (Take VII): One Foot Out The Door (Always, Always)

If you're stuck in this particular movie, you know the script already. On this sweltering summer day, The Squawker and I find ourselves marooned in a never-ending line, in some big box store that prides itself on its massive nature -- even short walks through these places feel like traipsing on the U.S.S. Saratoga -- but on this day, the C-word (choice) that America cherishes seems to have run aground. We've come to get a couple of exotic commodities -- like hearing aid batteries -- that we haven't found at the last couple stores. That makes them exotic.

Ahead of us, a mom who's filled her shopping cart to the rafters -- mostly with the usual ghastly processed foods that these places tout in their TV adverts -- unloads her items, one by one, onto the now-silent conveyer belt. She doesn't seem in any particular hurry.

Neither is the cashier. Aside from the odd sidebar conversation with this customer -- and another mom in front of us, leaning on her half-filled art  -- the cashier makes no attempt to engage anyone. She just 
stares blankly at the register, going about her task with a grim, mechanical air, fixating on the numbers and decimal points that she's tapping out.

Minutes tick by, though you'd never know how many, since clocks are an equally exotic commodity in these places. Do they really want you to know how much time you're stuck wasting? (For further reference, see the above graphic.)

Finally, we get our turn at bat. When I ask the cashier, "What took so long?", she just sighs. It's the management, she explains. Seems that this store's long-standing practice of docking cashiers for minor violations has ratcheted up. If you get six points in your first 90 days, you're in deep you-know-what.  "Do they let you work them off?" I ask.

:"Six months," the cashier responds. "They're losing people here left and right. But I ain't waiting on them that long. I've already got two job offers this week, and once I figure out my schedule, I'm out of here. I can't take it anymore."

Almost on cue, a manager walks briskly over and starts chewing out the door for some alleged infraction or other, just as Squawker and I are bagging up our stuff. We know what's going on well enough not to ask...even if the cashier already has one foot out the door.

Back home a day or so later, I'm treated to a curious sight. It's not the moving truck that arouses the attention of Squawker  and myself. It's the tenant, a now-former charter school principal, whom I've met at  several events. This time, however, he's not wearing his suit and tie, but shorts and a T-shirt.

At first, I think he's helping someone else move on his day off. That's a common enough scenario here, as more and more people are getting priced out of our fair town. 
"Hey, how's work going?" I ask.

The principal exhales. "I had some discipline problems with some kids in my class. When I tried to tell them how they were supposed to behave, some parents complained." From the way his brow furrows, I guess the oncoming punchline, and I'm not wrong. I wish I was.

"I got called into the school leader's office a couple of days later. (That's what charters call their particular pyramid toppers, as opposed to superintendents.) 'Based on what I've heard,' the leader says, 'you can either resign, or you can be fired,'" the principal recalls. "I took the first option."

"What happens now, then?"

 "We're moving to Saginaw," the principal explains. 

"Never been there,
" I respond. "What's over here?"

"Nothing, just family. I'm going to stay with them for awhile."

I can hear how the rest of the conversation might go, in his head, the unspoken part: I'm back in Mom and Dad's nest for the first time, in ages. We'll see how that feels after a few weeks, until if (or when) I get the next chapter figured out. If I figure it out.

"Gee, that's too bad," I offer. "Well, good luck." 

As lame as my response sounds, I can't think of anything else to say to this person who's on his way to becoming just another ghost in my memory bank. However, it fits the script that's been written especially for this occasion. Just like an all occasion greeting card, it serves a purpose.

A week later, on another sweltering Saturday afternoon,  I watch the principal (plus his wife and kids) make the usal endless multiple trips to fill the truck with their life story. As you can guess, they look distracted and preoccupied, so I don't try to talk to them.

I wake up Sunday afternoon, having pulled another all-nighter. I go outside to take out the trash, and notice a blank space where the moving truck stood all day. They're gone, that's all she wrote. In work, and in life, we're just step away from going out the door...always, always. --The Reckoner