Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Newspaper

I am decidedly old school. My phone is connected to the wall. I listen to music on something that could never fit into a pocket. And I unlock my car with a key.

I also read newspapers.

Little holds the promise that a Sunday newspaper does. In its beautiful heft lies the world. International, national and local news. Sports. The Arts. Travel. Business, automobiles, real estate. Op-Ed pieces actually called Op-Ed pieces (and not news). Nothing is like reclining on a couch or bed and exploring its crisp, creased recesses.

Best of all, newspapers always work. They never crash—and they’ve been wireless since day one. There are no dead zones. No pop ups. There’s never a problem with connection speed. Or passwords. Or viruses. And if they get wet, they dry instead of die.

And another thing: ever hear of someone getting carpel tunnel syndrome from paging through a newspaper?

Inevitably, they also have their critics. “They’re old and slow.” “By the time they come out you’ve already heard everything.” “They take a whole day to be updated.”

All true. And that is the crowning glory of a newspaper. It is slow. Tell me the advantage of a media where speed replaces insight and speculation trumps fact. Wasn’t there a reason we frowned on knee-jerk reactions?

The dissolution of newspapers raises another concern. In a world fragmented by PDAs and texts and cell phones and blogs and instant messages and Blackberries, what is our common denominator? Where do we gather to commiserate? To laugh? To cry? To debate?

In a world of participatory media, do we risk becoming a society of writers without readers? Speakers without listeners?

The Tower of Babel springs to mind.

Yes, I am old school. Laugh at my ink-stained fingers if you must. But at 30,000 feet, tell me who’ll be laughing when we realize we left our respective media in the departure lounge.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Health Care Reform Made EZ

It’s simple. It’s not going to happen.

Look at it this way: say you’ve been making tons of money for a very long time. And on top of that you’re receiving an annual raise of thirty percent. Pretty sweet, isn’t it? Then someone comes along who says this isn’t working and that it needs to change.

You’re not going to be very happy, are you? You’re probably going to be pissed-off. Indignant. Even furious. You’re going to do whatever you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen. And if you can flash the kind of bank that health care can, that is quite a bit, indeed.

In a rare display of honesty, our elected representation is showing you where their priorities lie. And it’s not enacting the will of the people. Our fine and noble representation are protecting the interests of those who underwrite their campaigns.

And what of the will of the people you ask? Well, it sounds good in campaign speeches, doesn’t it?

But don’t our representatives and senators have to worry about re-election? Sure. Re-election financing. You’ll have long forgiven or forgotten this sordid episode by the time the next election rolls around, and they know it.

It is this knowledge that emboldens senators like Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to tell her constituency (which happens to be one of the poorest in the United States) that gosh, she just can’t support a public option on this thing. Sorry.

How many millions of dollars have you accepted from the health care lobby, Mary?

Ron Wyden (D-OR) is another. So is Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). And Kent Conrad (D-ND). And Max Baucus (D-MT). When they don’t have health care’s penis in their mouths, they’ll be happy to tell you why they just can’t get behind health care reform. They all have their reasons.

None of them will tell you it’s because their corporate sponsors told them not to.

Put it this way: I stand a better chance of landing the lead in a Broadway musical than the citizenry of the United States does of seeing a meaningful overhaul of our health care system, if only because very wealthy and very powerful businessmen see it as a pay cut. They’re not going to let this happen. Not in 1993. Not in 2009.

In December of 1773, American colonists boarded English ships under cover of night, and in an act that ignited the Revolutionary War, cast the ship’s tea into Boston harbor. The colonists were outraged at having to pay taxes to a monarchy where they had no representation.

Nearly two-hundred thirty-six years later, only the name of the entity collecting the taxes has changed.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Random Thoughts Vol. 6

If failure is the best teacher, I ought to be a genius by now.

Does Tyler Perry have to put his name on everything?

If vehicle size were penis length, pick-up truck drivers would be the biggest dicks around. Oh wait—they are.

What would happen if we never heard the words ‘iconic’, ‘extreme’ and ‘transparency’ ever again?

Contrary to popular belief, politicians do keep their campaign promises—the ones made in private to their corporate sponsors.

If positive thinking really influenced outcomes, we’d all be lottery winners.

Maitre’d: Reservations? Me: Oh no—we’re happy to be here!

James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here” should be the national anthem.

The reason the wealthy need more money than the rest of us is they pay so much for everything.

If I were unemployed in 1628, I could say I was flat baroque.

Michael Jackson

I wasn’t a fan, really. Apart from pulling over on the Tri-State tollway one night after some underage drinking to dance to “Billie Jean”, I hadn’t had many interactions with his music. But Michael Jackson was unavoidable.

He was a complicated soul. His was a life made difficult by fame and wealth. Following in the sad tradition of pop stars like Elvis Presley and Brian Wilson, Jackson was surrounded by parasites that had his earnings potential, and not his well-being, at heart.

In that peculiar kind of warpage that fame and wealth brings, Jackson’s delusions ruled. Tell the mad king no and you were likely out of what was a very cushy and very well-paying job.

As with Elvis, no one cared enough about the human being to rock the boat. Tip the apple cart. No one organized an intervention. No one informed Jackson we’re not going along with this. Individual job security and access to the star prevailed.

Warren Zevon had Jackson Browne. Michael Jackson had pharmacists.

Jackson had his faults, to be sure. But I wonder how many of his problems never would have materialized had Thriller not sold a hundred bazillion copies, elevating him to something just this side of saint-slash-miracle-worker.

There was no way it could be sustained. There was nowhere to go but down. Gravity, like rust, never sleeps.

Add to that the means to indulge a denial of the very genetic connection he shared with his father and the exit from reality was complete. From there, it was only a question which would run out first: his money or his need to distance.

We were different, he and I. Michael Jackson never heard no. It often seems that I hear little else. Yet Michael was the ultimate square peg. A square peg perhaps fatally misunderstood. A square peg we felt free to cast aspersions on and to judge.

I don’t believe he ever molested a child. He struck me as mostly uninterested in sex. An eccentric but gentle man who only wanted a loving, peaceful world free of the turmoil his was full of. It was a beautiful and noble delusion.

Work

In addition to making the posterior portion of my anatomy really, really sore, work has also taught me many valuable lessons.

My first job was a very short one. After two days of being a go-fer at a car dealership, I was informed by the service manager after showing up for day number three that I had been hired without the knowledge and/or consent of the owner, and had to be let go.

It wouldn’t be the last time.

Lesson: Like water, blame only flows in one direction—downstream.

A few weeks later, I was hired for a similar job at another dealership. I worked six days a week—3 PM to 9 PM Monday through Friday and all day Saturday (even after my senior year of high school started). After five months of faithful service I was let go when the dealership found someone who could come in an hour earlier than I could.

It hurt, but at least I got the last laugh. My replacement attended the same high school I did, and I knew him to be a completely irresponsible fuck-up. Sure enough, a few weeks later the same man who fired me was on the phone asking if I was working.

Lesson: Like you, your employer is always looking for something better. Take nothing for granted.

While a freshman in college, I worked as a stock boy in the china department of Marshall Field’s. I got along famously with the department manager, her assistant and the floor manager. I didn’t mind work a bit. In fact, it was rare it felt like work.

Imagine.

But however sweet it seemed, it was after all, a workplace. A workplace rife with all the jealousies, conflicts and grudges that workplaces have. And the perception that the china department had its own stock boy because the department manager was in a relationship with the floor manager ran deep.

And while the store was air conditioned, precious little of it made its way into the stockroom. As a result, hours spent hoisting sixty-pound boxes of china onto stockroom shelves made me rather warm. To cool off, I would remove my stock jacket when I went to lunch.

Somehow, the store manager got wind of it (it certainly wasn’t because we dined at the same places). I protested, saying the stockroom was hot and I needed a breather. Besides, I wasn’t being paid for lunch. What business was it of theirs what I wore?

I even took to walking outside the mall—all to no avail. After a heated meeting with the floor manager, I resigned myself to wearing the bloody jacket.

Lesson: You always have enemies. Watch your back.

I graduated from college in the early-eighties. Like now, the economy wasn’t very good. It especially wasn’t very good if you were an English major. I worked temporary jobs during the day and one of the most-dangerous jobs in America at night.

I worked the graveyard shift at a convenience store.

Oh, the stories I could tell: the woman who arrived in high heels and a men’s white dress shirt. The guy who emerged from the bathroom in his dress shirt and a hard-on, asking if I could “help” him.

Ugh.

The drunks, the thieves, the cops, the cons. There was never a dull moment in the convenience store trade.

I worked every other night. When I wasn’t breaking up fights or kicking out drunks, I was anticipating armed robbery. It happened, but to the other guy.

That was when I got really serious about finding a full-time job.

Unfortunately, that was when the other guy got really serious about finding a full-time job, too. And since he found one before I did, and the owner couldn’t find a suitable replacement, I worked thirty-six nights in a row.

Enough was enough.

The owner was making a very nice living from the store. I but an hourly wage—sans benefits. I decided he could assume the risk and work the graveyard shift and gave notice that I would no longer be able to do so. Not one but two nightmen were found.

Lesson: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.