Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fear and its Consequences

We Americans are good at fear. At being afraid. At being manipulated into thinking that the boogey man, if not at our door, has obtained our address on the Internet and is on his way.

The price of this fear is a nation awash in guns. Be it hand guns, rifles or those whose very name betrays their gruesome purpose—assault weapons. There isn’t a developed nation that can touch us.

America is the firearms (and homicide) capitol of the first-world.

Since we are convinced the boogey man is at our doorstep, we rush out to buy them—the more guns the better. If one makes us safe, twenty practically ensures eternal life. Owning a gun assures us it will be within reach when confronted by a home invader.

Statistics prove differently. Like the ones which state you're anywhere between 17 and 43 times more-likely to have the gun inside your home used on you than on an intruder.

But statistics are easily-manipulated, aren't they? And numbers certainly aren't as vivid or terrifying as the images our lizard brains can conjure up when properly provoked.

Kindly ignore the fact a home invader never looked down the barrel of the gun Nancy Lanza owned—Lanza did.

But you’re different. Your gun is going to be used in the heroic slaughter of a home invader (preferably Black or Hispanic) bent on killing your children and raping your wife. You're going to put a big hole in his chest.

You're John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Steven Seagal. Combined.

If you say so.

I am not immune to fear. I am terrified. What makes me so anguished is that even after the carnage of 2012, we are asking what to do.

Even after motor vehicle deaths have dropped to 1949 levels because of game-changing advances in automotive safety, we remain hostage to a well-organized minority who is expert at making their fear our fear.

The gun lobby reasons that if everyone has a gun, some sort of societal critical mass will be achieved. That one gun neutralizes another. That must be the reason war is such a raging success. Two people plus two guns equals stalemate.

Guess I didn’t get the memo.

And what exactly is the gun lobby's definition of "all", anyway? Do we arm the homeless? The poor? The unemployed? Or just wealthy white people in gated communities?

And beyond the NRA and the gun manufacturers and sellers it fronts, who exactly does this benefit? Morticians?

We forget we live in a society in which an ever-increasing number of people receive their idea of what is appropriate from reality TV. A disturbing number of us feel entitled to mass murder when we don’t enjoy the sex life of a rock star or the wealth of a Wall Street trader.

Or when somone ends a romance with us.

Others feel entitiled when decended-upon on by a group who metes out the kind of cruelty only human beings are capable of.

Once and for all, more roads don’t ease congestion. More drugs don’t heal addiction. And more guns don’t make us safer.

If they did, we'd be the safest nation on Earth.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Doing God's Work

What is an asshole?

Medically speaking, it’s a colloquial term for the anus, which plays a critical role in maintaining our body’s health by providing an outlet for the waste material which would otherwise poison us.

But there is another meaning to the word. One which identifies a person of unusual cruelty or someone who is mean-spirited.

To wit, Lloyd Blankfein is a Wall Street banker, and head of the most feral economic entity in the United States—Goldman Sachs.

He has knowingly and willingly participated in the economic rape of the very country which went to war to stop the genocide being carried out on his fellow Jews in World War II.

How’s that for gratitude?

Furthermore, the title of this post is a quote of Blankfein's. It is how he describes his work on Wall Street.

If you need further proof as to the depth of Wall Street’s arrogance or their jaw-dropping contempt for anyone not in their tax bracket, read Blankfein’s thoughts on entitlements:


BLANKFEIN: You’re going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people’s expectations — the entitlements and what people think that they’re going to get, because it’s not going to — they’re not going to get it.

PELLEY: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid?

BLANKFEIN: You can look at history of these things, and Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. … So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.

PELLEY: Because we can’t afford them going forward?

BLANKFEIN: Because we can’t afford them.


What is so curious about Blankfein’s reasoning is that we can apparently afford the lavish corporate entitlements the United States of America routinely offers its largest and wealthiest companies.

Ditto the extravagant tax reductions and loopholes we have gifted our economic elite with.

We’ve all heard how General Electric paid no income taxes on income of fourteen-billion dollars, and how Warren Buffet’s secretary had a higher percentage of her income subjected to income tax than did her boss, the renowned investor.

Yet we’re the parasites receiving the free ride which is bankrupting the country.

Let me tell you something Mr. Blankfein. Social Security isn't free. People like me get up at 6 AM, endure vein-popping congestion, heinous co-workers and venal bosses to contribute to it. In other words, we work for it.

You’re not paying for it, Mr. Blankfein. And neither are your Wall Street pals. Your great-great-great grandchildren won’t have to do without new BMWs because I receive Social Security.

Are we clear?

It’s funny how people like Lloyd Blankfein view entitlements; they are any and all monies and/or services they don't receive a majority of.

I wonder what Blankfein considers the handing over of four-billion dollars annually to Exxon and other oil companies merely to look for oil. Or the awarding of tax breaks to businesses which export jobs. And the official wink given tax-dodging, off-shore corporate headquarters.

Examples of a socialist president punishing success? Or big, fat, fucking entitlements?

It is nothing less than ironic that while one kind of asshole removes waste and potential poisons, another creates them. Methinks society would be better served by grinding the likes of Lloyd Blankfein into pig feed.

Call it a case of garbage in, garbage out.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Who Knew?

A remarkable confluence has recently passed practically unnoticed, save for the watchful, observant eye of La Piazza Gancio.

Great Lakes water levels have fallen markedly, with Lake Michigan currently at a record-low first established in 1964. Other Great Lakes have likewise experienced significant drops, which are partially the result of a brutally hot summer and prolonged drought.

But a little more than twenty-years after the 1964 low, Lake Michigan hit record highs in the mid-eighties, indicating that perhaps a regular cycle of high and low is at work.

In a seemingly unrelated event, Friday kicked-off the Christmas shopping season, which cynics like me refer to as DroolFest. It is purely speculative, but I have to wonder if there might be an ecological benefit to our chain stores edging ever-closer to obliterating Thanksgiving in their attempts to open our wallets ever-earlier.

Not to be forgotten is consumer’s enthusiasm for packing their homes with crap made in China, to the point of trampling each other in an attempt to snag an electronic appliance (quantities limited) offered at or below cost by a smirking, misanthropic merchant.

The cumulative drool produced by retailer and consumer could, conceivably, elevate water levels sufficiently to improve conditions for aquatic life, since a greater volume of water would offer both increased feeding opportunities and the dilution of any chemicals and poisons in the lake via run-off and direct discharge.

This emerging symbiotic relationship represents a remarkable—if unplanned—synchronicity between commerce and the custodial care of one of Earth’s great resources.

You must excuse me now—I’ve got to grab a $17 fiberglass stepladder (250 pound load capacity) in aisle eight to get over the fact that seven-dollar Snuggies and the health of Great Lakes marine life could ever be related.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Vote. (Just a Little Bit)

It’s been tough to unearth, but I think I found my reason to vote for Barack Obama. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a loyal Democrat. Just a very disappointed one.

Even acknowledging that Obama has faced fierce opposition, his failure to marshal the super-majority he enjoyed in his first two years in office and the abundant largess he has shown our corporate banks and Wall Street investment firms is appalling.

But here’s a reason to get back on board: Supreme Court appointments.

One of the perks of the office is that sitting presidents get to nominate Supreme Court justices. And with four of the nine justices in their seventies, it’s likely that over the next four years the Supreme Court will require some new blood. It is an opportunity for the acting president to recast the court.

This could change the course of debate and policy for years, and presents Obama with a legacy he could point to with pride.

The opportunity to replace Antonin Scalia with an individual of a more moderate-stripe is especially appealing, eliminating the 5-4 tallies so many decisions end up with.

With the court split so evenly, it is critical that progressive be replaced with progressive. And that conservative be replaced with progressive in order to create a Supreme Court majority.

It speaks volumes that Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell stated without any fear of reprisal whatsoever that Republican agenda item number-one was to make Obama a one-term president.

And that Speaker of the House John Boehner unabashedly held 99% of the American population hostage in January of 2011 until the one-percent and moneyed corporate interests had their lavish tax breaks extended.

Never mind the Great Recession or the dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nah. That’s back-burner stuff. The real issue is how do we take back in the White House? How do we make the already-wealthy wealthier and further-empower the powerful?

And we Americans swallowed it without a second thought.

“Marginalize my existence in exchange for a selfish and short-sighted desire for still-more power? Okay. But it’s not going to make my cable bill go up, is it?”

So yeah. We have a bunch of slobbering, feral knaves as our elected representation, and are a citizenry either too over-scheduled or hardened by cynicism to care.

But here’s our chance to exert a bit of influence with a time-saving minimum of effort and no messy emotional involvement. Vote for Obama, and in the event he is called upon to replace a Supreme Court justice, you at least know we are unlikely to end up with another Clarence Thomas, William Rehnquist or Antonin Scalia.

And voting for a president based on such a modest expectation couldn’t be more fashionable in this, the Age of Reduced Expectations. No grand ideas, no hope, no change. Just a seat on the Supreme Court.

Maybe.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Irony Strikes

It’s a great time to be a have in America. Even better than normal, I mean.

Despite budget-cuts and a nation-wide dollar shortage, the gold coins falling into their pile continue to mount. Meanwhile, those in the pile of the have-nots continue to disappear. It's a fact that America’s income disparity now resembles that of a third-world nation.

Remarkably, this dynamic also applies to union membership, where lavish pensions and recession-defying raises are the norm for haves, while the nots watch a bitter stream of concessions and pay-cuts erode what were once self-sustaining livelihoods.

What does it mean when even our unions—once bastions of hope for America’s labor against the absolute power of corporate ownership—have succumbed to this exclusionary and destructive trend?

I’m confused how this is supposed to revitalize our much-talked about manufacturing base. About how this is supposed to draw the best and the brightest and reverse the brain drain I hear so many industries complaining about.

I’m concerned because I know what serfs are. And what feudalism is. And the degree to which the twentieth-century is increasingly appearing as an anomaly, and not a societal model. This resonates with me because I’ve lived it.

As a former salesman for one of the Baby Bells spun-off in the wake of anti-trust litigation brought against AT&T, I watched in shock and horror as my union rolled over for the labor-hating victor of a hostile takeover:

Can we fluff your pillow for you, Mr. Nacchio? Freshen your drink? Exactly how far would you like us to bend over, Mr. Nacchio?

There was no fight. There were no negotiations. To my knowledge, not a single attempt was made to bash in Joseph P. Nacchio’s head with a brick. (Which isn’t to infer that I endorse workplace violence.)

Our jobs were radically reconfigured to ensure failure.

I can confirm with absolute certainty that sales goals require sales calls. While statistically conceivable, calls from angry customers who have taken a third day off of work for a technician that never shows do not generate much in the way of sales.

But they do make it very easy to dismiss a floor full of sales reps for non-performance.

So yes. I’m jealous of any union that not only remains functional, but powerful.

And that jealousy turns to something much warmer when it becomes apparent that the only unions remaining powerful are those representing the well-off. I mean, do Kobe Bryant and Albert Pujols really need union-backed protection?

The answer is no. Or rather, hell no.

Beyond the finger-pointing and the politicking and the nostalgia, the fact remains that America was strongest when its middle-class was largest. And in a consumer-based economy, why don’t you want the most money in the pockets of the most people?

Seems like a no-brainer. A win-win.

But what the hell do I know?

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Trouble with Harry

Years ago, while reading Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, I was struck by the predicament of Claudia, a small child turned into a vampire at the tender age of six. While she continued to develop intellectually, she was trapped in the body of a small girl.

Depending on how you look at it, Claudia was either blessed with or consigned to eternal childhood.

Which brings us to Prince Harry.

Imagine life in the most vertical social strata on planet earth. Barring the most tragic happenstance, Harry is relegated to a lifetime as number-two. It doesn’t matter how well he masters it, he will likely never be king. He is a substitute. A back-up. A three-dimensional, carbon-based insurance policy for the United Kingdom.

It is a future as confining as it is secure.

Harry was frolicking recently in Las Vegas, where he was photographed playing billiards with a female companion. Innocent enough, except that the would-be emperor had no clothes.

While many of us will scratch our heads and wonder what he was thinking, still others will ask simply why not? Does it really matter what Harry does? Why not play strip billiards, even with a cell phone camera in the room?

After all, it’s not as if he has to worry about appeasing a prospective employer, is it? His prospects are neither hurt nor enhanced by his behavior. Harry's path is etched in stone. Harry is Jeff Bridges in Fearless. Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. And Claudia from Interview with the Vampire.

His future is very unlikely to change.

Harry is a young man with everything—except the ability to alter his career path. For all the wealth and the privilege and the fame and even the eager young women, I don’t envy Harry much.

Thumbing your nose at consequence can’t be very fulfilling when so few consequences exist.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The File Host as Cop

There has been much ado lately about copyrights. As there should be. The writer of a book, a song or a movie deserves full credit and any remuneration that work generates. It is theirs.

But when things aren’t copyrighted, and are merely the object of corporate derision, should the same laws apply? Should any law apply?

As noted in this blog before, I am a fan of concert bootlegs. This is not a casual, overnight hook-up, but a committed, twenty-four/seven, long-term relationship. These are recordings of bands and artists in whom I possess intense interest.

And as such, I have faithfully purchased every copyrighted offering, extravagantly enriching all concerned. While this doesn’t entitle me to free subway rides or a civil rights upgrade, it does make me and those like me passionate consumers of the brand.

And with so much corporate hand-wringing about customer retention and the overwhelming cost of bringing new customers to the door (especially in the struggling music industry), is ours really the fire they want to douse?

I speak of the wholesale deletion of Internet files by file hosts, based on some vague and nebulous notion of copyright violation. This fear was instilled by the now-infamous bust of MegaUpload by the F.B.I. last January at the behest of enormous entertainment conglomerates.

Despite my favorite music blogs routinely deleting officially-released tracks from their posts, they are just as routinely subjected to baseless threats and file deletion because they may have violated a copyright.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a direct quote. May have.

Put down your i-Phone for a moment and consider that. If the specter of business interpreting and enforcing law isn’t enough to induce involuntary bowel spasms, perhaps suspicion and supposition becoming scientifically-sustainable fact will.

Pick a name out of the phone book. Call the police. Then tell them this individual might have been speeding last Tuesday. Pretty far-fetched, isn’t it?

Then imagine them acting on it.

This is what happens on the Internet every day.

This is businesses idea of law enforcement. No facts. No proof. No clue. Just lots and lots of assumptions.

Bootlegs are a convenient, three-legged mutt to kick in lieu of capturing the elusive greyhound which is the real problem. It’s casual, path-of-least-resistance policing. Law from the nacho-stained cushions of a La-Z-Boy.

And—sodomites excepted—who can’t get behind that?

I freely admit that in the face of global warming, our stubbornly-anemic economy and ballooning income disparity that rivals that of a third-world nation, this is a fairly minor concern.

But I also have this silly idea that those who aren’t breaking the law shouldn’t be treated as if they were—especially by an entity completely unrelated to and educated in law enforcement.

But that’s just me.

Short cuts to any portion of our judicial process and the way we practice law are never, ever trivial. The interpretation and enforcement of law must always be separate from business. They can't ever overlap.

Because now we know what it’s like when they do.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Shooting of the Month

Hello and welcome to our shooting of the month.

More specifically, welcome to a blind, wanton rampage in a Sikh temple south of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The whys and whens and whos are not important. What matters is that an individual had easy access to weapons of mass destruction.

(If the similarities between this and our reasons for beginning a misbegotten war in Iraq occur to you, congratulations on possessing a functioning brain.)

As a man who seeks a measure of consistency in the world, our passive acceptance of random, mass killings and the manufacture, distribution and sale of assault weapons deeply confuses and saddens me.

Can I assume that most of us are aware that assault weapons aren’t the weapon of choice among people inclined to go squirrel hunting with grandpa? There is no excuse for them—none—unless your name is James Holmes or Wade Page.

They are weapons made for killing as many people as possible in the shortest time possible. Murdering them. Savaging them. Tearing and ripping them apart with tiny, high-speed metal projectiles fired en masse. This is their singular purpose.

Apologies to John Sigler, but I don’t care how many law-abiding NRA members there are. There are tens of millions of law-abiding drivers, too.

Does this mean drivers don’t suffer expensive, federally-mandated safety equipment? Mandatory automobile insurance? Stiffer penalties for traffic violations?

Of course not.

It means that a reckless and careless minority disproportionately affects all of us. For good or for bad. Which is pretty much the way it goes most of the time. Wasn’t there an expression, something about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link?

Where do you suppose that came from?

Will someone—anyone—please tell me how a society that lapses into mania when a certain type of crib or blind kills a handful of infants accepts this? How can a society increasingly intolerant of abortion accept this?

How can a society that shovels hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of dollars to keep premature newborns alive accept this? How does it (how can it?) square with the ‘sanctity of life’ script?

Are the same people who obediently support a social media campaign to eradicate pink slime okay with this? How about those who obsessively download the most-recent footage from their nanny cams, or those who habitually scan their smart phones for severe weather alerts? Are they okay with this?

If so, why? Are we that scared? Apathetic? Or just too busy? To put it in business terms, none of these encourages investment in our future.

Existing side by side with our considerable egos is this fact: guns make life cheap. And the more guns we have, the cheaper our lives become.

Shouldn’t that offend us? Provoke in us a frothing, roiling rage? Doesn’t homicide diminish the number of our followers on Twitter? The number of people available to like us on Facebook? Shouldn’t we at least demand that someone, somewhere do something about this?

Or should we retreat into the naive optimism of our teenaged years and pretend that it won’t happen to us? Or take comfort in the standard-issue NRA fantasy that our guns will protect us; that we will one day blow a big hole in the midsection of a drug-crazed (and preferably minority) home invader?

(Please ignore the fact that statistically, your gun is more-likely to be: A.) Stolen from you B.) Used on you by a household member C.) Used by you on a household member or D.) Used by a household member in a suicide attempt than on that mythical home invader.)

Sounds like a win-win to me.

I know we are wildly erratic creatures, fraught with inconsistencies and moods that change inexplicably. To desire consistency from a society made-up of beings such as us is probably naïve.

And yet, given our ability to edge ever-closer to the truth of the god particle, or to create laundry detergent scented like mountain streams, our inability to escape the tiny, thoughtless confines of our lizard brains is tragic.

Ditto our failure to realize it is shamelessly exploited, and by whom.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Stoplight Validation (rebooted)

Employment blogs to the contrary, I am not a negative guy.

I mean, come on. I like the New Beetle. And what kind of curmudgeon would embrace such an effervescent design, anyway? Just because I choose not to self-medicate with delusional pabulum like “It’s all good” doesn’t mean I am a sour human being.

It means I have a tangible connection with reality.

But occasionally, there is doubt. No surprise, given the avalanche of positivity forced down our throats. Is society any less overweening telling the long-term unemployed how they should feel than it is telling a thirteen-year-old girl how she should look?

I don't think so.

My take on things is decidedly less-fashionable. When life is good, I am happy. When life isn't good, I'm not so happy. Simple. It's a reflection of my emotional palate. Life is never all good or all bad. Some things suck. Some things don't.

Take stoplights. They suck. I detest them. Stoplights are driving's equivalent of having a stone in your shoe. I don’t want to know how many hours I have whiled away at red lights on shriveled cross streets which rarely—if ever—bear appreciable traffic.

Little is as absurd and as pointless as sitting still at an empty intersection. Stop lights impede, impair and inhibit the flow of traffic. Which is a full one-hundred eighty degrees removed from what conventional wisdom says they do.

But this isn’t a blog about stoplights per se. It’s about whether I’m a nabob of negativity or a clear-eyed realist.

Do I hit as many red lights as I think I do? Or is it my so-called negativity coloring my outlook?

I have attempted to answer this by tracking two stop lights I feel as if I never make. The streets at those intersections are similar in size and traffic volume.

Intersection 1 is near my home, and consists of two heavily-traveled residential streets. Going north and south seems to be a fifty-fifty proposition, meaning you have a fifty percent chance of hitting a green light.

Going east or west seems to be another story. In my possibly errant opinion, making a green light headed in either of those directions is an event worthy of cake.

Intersection 2 combines another heavily-traveled residential street with a moderately-used two-lane arterial street. And like intersection 1, the signal seems completely unrelated to traffic volume.

Despite their similar loads, heading north or south on the residential street seems to guarantee an opportunity to revisit the word linger, while going east or west on the arterial seems to at least give drivers a fighting chance.

As any budding traffic scientist worth their ceramic brake pads knows, special care must be taken to avoid polluting the sample. Which is an officious way of saying not once did I speed up to make a green light, or slow down to hit a red one.

NO DATA WAS MANIPULATED IN THE WRITING OF THIS BLOG.

I merely traveled at the posted speed and let the lights turn as they may.

Over the course of a month, I passed through intersection 1 (going east or west) twenty-three times. Nineteen times I encountered a red light, an astonishing 82.6% of all eastbound or westbound trips. And in fifty-five trips through intersection 2 (headed north or south), I encountered a red light thirty-seven times, or 67.2% of all northbound and southbound trips.

Sure, no one exiting the strip mall from Ray’s World of Seafood should expect to gain instant access to the local six-laner. But neither of the above percentages is anywhere near the fifty-fifty split the similar traffic volume of the streets passing through those intersections would suggest.

Nor are these isolated instances. I’ve encountered signals like these everywhere I’ve lived. Conversely, I’ve never discovered a signal in a comparable location that I made 82.6% of the time. And in the face of so much smart technology, this consistent inconsistency is difficult to understand.

What I do understand is that it wasn't my outlook that sucked--it was the stoplights. I'm no festering nabob of negativism. I'm a clear-eyed realist.

To paraphrase the late, great Eddie Kendricks, this wasn’t just my negativity, running away with me.

But I’m still seeing red.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Short Blog

One of the benefits of working with the public is the opportunity to observe what the public is wearing.

Last week, a member of that public wandered into the retail establishment I work in wearing this t-shirt:

'The flogging will stop when morale improves.'

Sharp intake of breath. Jaw-drop. Oh. My. God.

I don't know the origin of this quote, but it is genius. Like the drumming of Ziggy Modeliste, the writing of John Updike and Pepper Jack Doritos.

If you've ever worked for a living, its grim truth is obvious. It is the Newton's Law of employment-inspired quotations about misguided leadership and authority abused and general back-asswardness.

And hey, isn't that what work is all about?

Have a great day.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Where are Our Manners?

Shame, shame Chicago.

I was reared to always say thank you to those who extended me a kindness, did me a favor or otherwise performed a good deed simply because it was the right thing to do.

And despite the unceasing efforts of the National Rifle Association and folk like federal judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan to keep our streets awash in the greatest number of firearms possible, I have yet to hear even a single Chicagoan voice a simple thank you!

I ask you: were we raised in the Cheney household? I think not.

So after yet-another violent weekend, I propose that our city’s usually well-mannered citizenry extend heartfelt and multiple thank yous to the NRA and Judge Der-Yeghiayan. Over each bloody and lifeless corpse, imagine a cheery ‘Thank You NRA’ banner. Or relatives of the deceased sporting ‘I (heart) Judge Der-Yeghiayan’ t-shirts?

It's only right.

Without their relentless and unselfish labors, how would it be possible to have the gun-saturated neighborhoods we now enjoy? How would it be possible for people like Shawn Gowder, with one firearms-related felony (since reduced to a misdemeanor) already under his belt, to exercise his Second Amendment right to bear arms?

The short answer is, it wouldn’t.

Imagine a weekend evening without the musical crackle of gunfire. Imagine walking along a city street without the spine-tingling threat of being shot. Sucks, doesn’t it?

Like, thank god for X-Box. Totally.

Kidding aside, I’m fairly sure the United States is the only nation on earth with an entity like the NRA, which exists solely to protect an unthreatened civil liberty. Their staggering success has made the United States a first-world leader in things like violent homicide, and who doesn’t think that’s something to be proud of?

It’s kind of like having an advocacy group for wife beating.

In the cockeyed logic of the NRA (which dovetails nicely with conservative fear-mongering), widespread gun ownership will make us crime-free. But a gun in every hand is not an equalizer. It’s not a panacea. No more than a nuclear warhead in every missle silo was during the Cold War. It’s a fatal fantasy.

Curing crime with guns is like eradicating lung cancer with cigarettes.

Gun violence is a complex, multi-faceted problem originating in the dark well of hopelessness that is grinding, entrenched poverty. There are no easy or fast answers.

What we see on Chicago’s south and west sides comes very close to realizing the NRA's fantasy; there very nearly is a gun in every hand. But it doesn't work. Crime is thriving. Entire neighborhoods are engaged in arms races—with tragic and costly consequences.

Overturning gun bans will only extend those races and those consequences across the entire metropolitan area. The winners will be handgun manufacturers and the politicians who auction-off their support in exchange for campaign financing.

The losers will be us.

Friday, June 8, 2012

More shaving. More screwing.

When I was young, I worked in a tough, uncensored warehouse. PC had only recently begun to stand for personal computer. Politically correct wasn't even on the radar.

So after depositing a skid of merchandise in the wrong shipping lane, an irritated foreman asked me: “I know you’re a dumb-ass. I get it. Why do you keep proving it to me?”

I want to ask the same question of my employers. But an inconvenient need for food and shelter renders this behavior risky.

So I administer yet another self-inflicted tongue bite to my poor, pockmarked flesh. And my employers continue to see the circular firing squad as the best path forward.

Case in point is a part-time, temporary position I landed last spring at one of those big box home improvement stores. You know, the ones with everything from rebar and cement mix to sub-zero refrigerators and orchids. I’m sure there’s one in your neighborhood.

My training consisted of three eight-hour days spent watching videos—in solitaire. Videos about customer service and store procedures and how to operate equipment. Videos about workplace safety and sexual harassment and company policy. And then there were the videos on customer service.

Did I mention the ones on customer service?

I should add that the “hands on” portion of the training was eliminated because of insufficient staffing.

The hard part came when I was to convert the content of the videos into living, breathing, three-dimensional reality. But I spent my first three days in the self check-out area. I'm not sure what I was supposed to learn by watching people check-out, but I'm sure there was something.

Then an entire week passed before I was scheduled to work again. If this makes sense on another plane, it’s a flight I don’t have a ticket for.

A few weeks in, I discovered that the self-proclaimed industry leader who preached customer service non-stop got all obsessive-compulsive when it came to shaving payroll to a minimum that would make a stripper blush.

That insufficient staffing I encountered during training? It wasn’t an aberration—it was business as usual. Standard operating procedure.

As a consequence, customers can’t find salespeople. Employees attempting to contact other departments get busy signals when the phone doesn’t ring endlessly. And theft is rampant because aisle after aisle is bereft of even a token human presence.

You don't need the radio telescope in Arecibo to discover what kind of customer service this is. But no worries—Wall Street really loves our rate of return.

However much I enjoy having a customer stare a hole into me because I can’t get another department on the phone, or because the hardware section is completely uncontaminated by hardware clerks, it gets old. Really old.

And it’s not just the wee folk who suffer.

Department managers manage sour and dispirited staffs made up of underemployed part-timers because Wall Street says full-timers get benefits, and benefits are profit-killers.

So instead of juggling eight schedules, they juggle twenty. Instead of informing eight staffers of a new procedure, they (theoretically) inform twenty. And instead of tracking eight people's performance, they track twenty's. It must be wearying.

Then there are the monthly updates, which are little more than a mechanism for disseminating company propaganda.

Last month, the update focused on theft. I mean shrinkage. It offered fascinating statistics on theft, er, shrinkage, and what employees can do to combat it. And like the information contained in the training videos, it made perfect sense.

The problem is that the folks in training never got the memo from finance about payroll, so the gulf that exists between what this company wants to do and what it actually does remains unsullied by anything resembling a bridge.

I mean, I’d love to root between the two-dozen bags of cement mix/potting soil/road salt and grass seed customers routinely buy for circular saw blades, power tools and silver solder—just as soon as the 'wait to checkout' metric is eliminated. Ditto the one for 'cashier friendliness'.

Apparently, this needs to be said: you can’t have rapid check-outs and thorough inspections for hidden-on-purpose merchandise. They’re incompatible. Mutually-exclusive. A wordy oxymoron.

And while I’m at it, you also can’t staff a hundred-thousand square foot store with a dozen people and not expect thieves to have a free-for-all.

Let me know when you figure out what your priorities are. K?

My employer has demonstrated—repeatedly—they’re not about the customer service. They’re about extracting the greatest amount of cash from the store in the shortest amount of time with the fewest possible expenses.

It’s rape as a business plan.

The secret shoppers and the metrics and the marketing can't obscure that hoary old expression about actions speaking louder than words.

But as long as those guys with mansions in the Hamptons and fleets of Ferraris say it’s all good, it is.

Who am I to argue with success?



Saturday, May 19, 2012

Idiocy

Here in Chicago, our media (especially the electronic kind) have contracted hives. They have become all itchy and scratchy over the impending NATO summit.

Road closures and changes in public transportation schedules are reported with a barely-controlled mania, and are examined, dissected and speculated on with the deadly seriousness normally accorded an outbreak of flesh-eating bacteria. No change is too insignificant to escape the attention only massive chunks of airtime at four-thirty, six and ten can provide.

Law enforcement’s preparations follow right behind, as the Democratic convention of 1968 is routinely revisited as an ominous harbinger of things to come. Yes, there are going to be protesters, and they may protest! Even as we speak they are preparing to converge on our fair city.

Can we roll that convention footage one more time? Oh my.

Yes, life as we know it is going to cease. What goes unreported are the issues facing NATO, and why they are likely to spawn protest. Wait. Isn’t that, like, serious or something?

Meanwhile, the ravages of the two-decades-long Daley administration continue to surface, and are barely reported. At least electronically.

The latest is his artful manipulation of our convoluted state and municipal pension systems, to the point where Mr. Mayor’s extraordinarily modest contributions (he avoided more than 400K of them) have miraculously yielded a lavish 183K per-annum pension.

By somehow spending one month in the state legislature’s pension fund and then returning to Chicago’s municipal pension fund, Daley became eligible for eighty-five percent of his mayoral salary. I probably don’t need to tell you there isn’t another employee of the City of Chicago who can touch that percentage.

Despite my considerable excitement at the prospect of spending the next 27.3 hours at my part-time, temporary job paying off the state’s title transfer, license plate and driver’s license fees, I am made even more excited knowing it is going to assist in the fulfillment of extravagant pensions for folk like our former mayor.

And Daley isn’t the only one—not by a long shot. (This is Illinois, after all.) In one especially galling example, Chicago Federation of Labor president Dennis Gannon was given a city job for a single day, which in turn made him eligible for a public pension based on his 200K salary with the CFL.

Wow. Have eight hours on the job ever made you eligible for a pension? Anywhere? I’m guessing the answer is no.

But in the eyes of our twitchy, panic-button-pushing media, this can’t hold a candle to the visceral, bowel-rumbling anxiety that a possible road closure or cops in riot gear can generate. Never mind a rolling closure of the Kennedy Expressway.

I’m sure it’s just my addled sense of things that leads me to believe that the likes of Mayor Daley and our two disgraced former governors have done more to cripple our city and our state than any invective-hurling protester could ever dream of.

It just doesn’t make for provocative TV, I guess.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Andrew Bogut

Only Rhonda Byrne knows why certain people have targets on their backs, while others sail through life ignorant of what band-aids are for. But Andrew Bogut is certainly one of the former.

A basketball player first saddled by the label ‘number-one draft pick’, and secondly by ‘injury-prone’, Bogut has faced more than his share of obstacles in his NBA career.

The pro game didn’t come easily to him. But Bogut never pouted when stardom didn't prove microwaveable. He never carped about playing for a mediocre franchise in a small, Midwestern market. The affable Australian merely set about sharpening and refining his skills.

By his third season, Bogut was showing signs of becoming the talented center first envisioned by NBA scouts. By his sixth, he was leading the league in blocked shots.

Having become by this time a high-percentage shooter, excellent passer and a potent rebounder, Bogut was rightly viewed as one of the league’s emerging talents. The hare of expectations had been passed by the tortoise of Bogut’s diligence. This was a feel-good story you could feel good about.

Then came the injuries.

No one paid much mind when his second season was cut short due to a severe sprain in his left foot. He’s a big man, jumping up and down in a small space occupied by other large men. You aren’t always able to see where you’re going to land. Chalk it up to occupational hazards. They happen.

His fourth was reduced to thirty-six games because of lower back problems. Potentially serious, but Bogut recovered. During his fifth (a breakout year for both he and the team), a horrific injury to Bogut’s right arm sidelined him just as the Bucks were on the verge of clinching their first playoff appearance in years.

With their MVP on the bench, the Bucks were eliminated in the first round.

His sixth season was marred by a recurrence of back, leg and arm problems, and his seventh never really began, owing to a fractured ankle just twelve games in. Now Tuesday’s trade to the Golden State Warriors, a hapless franchise in perpetual disarray.

When it rains, it pours.

Bogut reclaimed a talent the NBA threatened to invalidate. Bogut then endured multiple lonely and painful rehabilitations that would have sidelined a lesser man. To date, he’s been knocked down five times and made it back to his feet four.

But it will be exponentially harder to escape the tag ‘injury-prone’. Once so-labeled, you become a financial risk. A virus no one wants to catch. Ammunition for talk show callers demanding the head of the GM who signed you. There may as well be a sex offender-styled web site.

Even Wolfgang Puck doesn’t offer a pressure cooker that can compare.

Despite the cushy lifestyles provided by otherworldly salaries, basketball is brutal. The list of players with promising careers snuffed out by injury is a long one. Penny Hardaway. Larry Johnson. Grant Hill. Gilbert Arenas. Brandon Roy. Even David Robinson qualifies.

No one knows why one athlete has a career rupture like an ACL while another doesn’t. Life isn’t fair. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson only some of us have to learn.

In the end, it might be fitting that Bogut is now a Warrior not just in outlook, but in name. Maybe he's the guy who can put the warrior back in Warriors.

Best of luck in the Golden State, Mr. Bogut.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Record Collecting Nightmare

There is a monster lurking in my basement. It is an evil, insidious, sprawling, clutching thing. To those fortunate-enough not to have glimpsed its contents, it appears completely benign. Innocent, even.

But to those who have, it is a wretched and heinous beast; a honey-do list ignored until it rages, sullen and violent. It is the mouth of hell itself. In this context, ignorance isn’t just bliss. It's a cornucopia of rapture.

I am the owner of a vast music collection. One gone out of control. I have boxes and boxes containing thousands of CDs and cassettes and records. They occupy an entire corner of the cellar and only fitfully yield their contents.

Their mass exceeds the available space on my cranial hard drive, requiring that I catalog it/them. However much of an ordeal it is, I am optimistic this will prevent a fourth copy of Tom Verlaine’s Dreamtime from finding its way into my collection.

To ensure the results are letter perfect, I have refreshed myself in the fine art of alphabetizing. The basics are easy: drop the articles ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’. Bands that assume the name of an fictitious individual (i.e. Alice Cooper) are filed under the first name, and not the surname.

Conversely, solo artists employing a made-up name (i.e. Bob Dylan) are filed under the assumed surname, and not the first name. And band names which incorporate a member’s name into that of the band’s (i.e. the Alan Parsons Project) are filed under the surname. Simple.

But musical entities rarely acquire their names in consultations with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Which is the reason we encounter grammatical pretzels like Booker T. & the M.G.s. Or …And You Will Know Us by the Trail Of Dead…. Or T. Rex.

So. What’s the standard for band names that contain a member’s entire name except for the surname? Do I pretend it’s there and file Booker T. & the M.G.s under J for Jones? Or pretend that Booker is a stage name and file them under B?

Is D for damn good an option?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I can find my cherished copy of Melting Pot or not. I mean, who among us can enjoy music while suffering the ravages of a pounding headache?

Moving on, could you point me to the rule for bands whose name begins and ends with ellipsis? Does the article still get deleted, even if it’s part of a quote? Or does the integrity of the quote matter? And what of the integrity of the band?

Or, for that matter, this project?

Maybe I should ignore a decade of being tobacco-free and fire up a Marlboro. Or ponder what happens when a band is known by one name in one place and another name in another place. I mean, the aspirin’s paid for. Right?

And what of Elvis Costello & the Attractions, who invariably end up under E instead of C?

Shout “Hey People! That’s not his real name!” everywhere I go?

I can tell you, nine out of ten people tend to dial 911 soon afterwards—especially in enclosed spaces.

Memories.

You’d think my record collection would be done tormenting me by now. Or at least showing signs of tiring. After all, have I not lovingly cared for it over several decades? Kept it dry and away from extreme heat and sunlight?

Does it have even a wisp of an idea how difficult that was in the southwest?

Not a chance.

This can mean only one thing: Tyrannosaurus Rex. Yes. Them.

The band which gifted Western civilization with the phrase hub cap diamond star halo is in cahoots with the record collection monster, hell-bent on twisting and mangling my sense of organization into something grotesque and unrecognizable.

I desperately search the Internet. Front to back. Side to side. And top to bottom. Where oh where is the protocol for bands who are officially known by a contraction of their original name that appears to be an individual’s name—but isn’t?

Does a rule even exist? A theory? How about a guesstimate from Bush number-two?

Was Marc Bolan so consumed by career and chart position that he gave no thought whatsoever to the alphabetizing woes of poor, besieged record collectors who want only to efficiently locate the fruits of his musical labor?

This conundrum wrapped in an enigma is further complicated by the fact their name is sometimes hyphenated (T-Rex) and sometimes includes a period (T. Rex).

I ask you: in a mass-produced, standardized world where even our fruit is genetically engineered for uniformity, can we not agree on one, single, best-practice spelling for these grammatical terrorists?

I won’t even consider the trauma Alice Cooper solo albums could provoke.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Score One for the Silent Majority

Old Testament fetus fetishists who wish to remove any and all reproductive options for women failed in their bid to de-fund Planned Parenthood via their political influence within the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure.

A hostile backlash erupted after it became known the foundation would cease funding breast screenings offered by Planned Parenthood, an organization which promotes reproductive rights in addition to providing general health care information and services for women.

As a result, the foundation announced Friday it would reverse its policy on funding groups under congressional investigation, even when those “investigations” are manufactured by radical, right-wing congressmen like Cliff Stearns and meant only to incite an extremist minority.

At the core of conservative dislike for reproductive rights (a.k.a. abortion) is that it removes from their control the lives they would otherwise destroy via poverty, unemployment, denial of health care and long-term marginalization.

A statement by the Komen Foundation said it was "distressed" by the notion funding changes were made for "political reasons."

Imagine how the rest of us felt.

Score one for the silent majority.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hat Trick

A hat trick is a trick not performed by guys in tuxedos with sexy assistants, but by heavily-padded, sweaty dudes on ice skates looking to knock the crap out of each other.

It means they’ve scored three goals in a game.

This is typically celebrated with hats being tossed upon the ice by the paying customers in attendance.

While I haven’t scored three goals, I have attempted (and perhaps succeeded) to make three points.

And whether you agree or disagree, you are free to, in the words of Randy Newman, leave your hat on.


In countries more-committed to maintaining at least the appearance of equality than the United States of America, people who brazenly and recklessly steal from the public are punished, not protected.

Case in point is the former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Fred Goodwin.

After making disastrous financial decisions which necessitated a 45 billion-pound bail-out by UK taxpayers, and the subsequent loss of thousands of jobs, Goodwin was stripped of his knighthood on Monday by the Queen of England.

His 650,000 pounds-per-year pension was reduced to 342,500.

I applaud his royal title being forcibly removed and his extravagant pension cut. But let’s be clear—this is only a beginning, not an end.

You or I wouldn’t receive so much as a lukewarm reference after such a performance, yet financial atrocities far-worse than Goodwin’s remain virtually unpunished, especially in the U.S.

Last I checked, prison cells remain fully functional throughout this once-great nation of ours. How about it, Mr. Congressman? Does this give you any ideas? Any ideas at all?

Think it might resonate with a sour electorate devastated by an ongoing recession that shows no signs of abating? Especially in an election year when congressional approval ratings struggle to stay north of those posted for sexual predators?

**********************************************************************************

The very profitable Susan G. Komen Foundation, which has become ubiquitous through its savvy marketing and corporate partnerships for heightening awareness of breast cancer recently had its own awareness of the far-right’s relentless campaign to strip women of their reproductive rights heightened when funding for breast cancer screenings was cut.

The screenings, funded by a Komen grant to Planned Parenthood, were part of a larger effort to provide low-cost reproductive and sexual health services to women who could not otherwise afford them.

The Foundation defended itself by saying that owing to recently-adopted policies, it could no longer provide funding to any group currently under congressional investigation.

The investigation in question would be courtesy of Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Florida hell-bent on preventing Planned Parenthood from destroying whatever parts of America Citizens United and unmitigated corporate greed haven’t already decimated.

Komen spokesmen maintained their decision “wasn’t political.”

Yeah, and I'm not really offended.

**********************************************************************************

Finally, in the latest example of Republican marketing genius, legislation which allows non-union employees to receive the same benefits as dues-paying members recently passed in Indiana. This parasitic bill, sure to sap unions of their financial reserves, is cheerily entitled Right to Work.

Isn’t that pretty? Gosh. Don’t we all believe in the right to work? I mean, who doesn’t?

Of course, we already possess it. But who's asking?

It’s another Republican sleight-of-hand passed on an unsuspecting populace kept blind-angry by incessant conservative yammering about transfers of wealth and high taxes and creeping socialism.

In other words, teachers are killing us!

It is my hope the folks who lap this swill up are allergic to wool in their orbital regions. For that would be their best chance at realizing they’ve again had the wool pulled over their eyes by the Republican noise machine.

What this represents is the removal of one more speed bump on the road to slave labor and one-hundred percent profit margins for our overtaxed, overregulated and overburdened corporations.

When oh when are we going to stop penalizing success?

Sniff.

Looks like I'm not the only one who scored three times.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Oops!...I Did It Again

It’s never a good day when you look in the mirror and realize it’s not only possible—but probable—you are insane.

You’ve heard insanity defined as the continuous repetition of an act with the expectation of a different outcome. And while you’re not sure where this leaves the scientific community, in the context of a job hunt it means you're certifiable.

Worse is the realization you may also be a masochist. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘masochism’ thusly:

• A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences.

Regrettably, this definition also fits you like an Anne Claiborne dress shirt.

In this lottery of emotional impairments, you're a grand prize winner—only you don’t get to meet Linda Kollmeyer.

A notice arrives in the mail informing you that Kohl's is opening a new store in your area and are staffing it now. Because the above-named conditions remove the shield of impulse control, you apply to Kohl's a second time.

The flier says to expect great things. You make a note of it.

Since you have a lingering hangover from previous cashiering and customer service positions, you opt for an opening under Replenishment. The word evokes pleasant images of a gentle, fragrant rain nurturing parched earth.

The position requires you to place consumer goods on store fixtures in a neat and attractive way.

As you recently shaved and successfully returned the can of shaving gel and a razor to their rightful place on a shelf in the bathroom, you feel reasonably qualified to perform this job.

This doesn’t even take into account the innumerable household items you regularly restore to their proper place on shelves throughout the home. Yes, you have this putting-stuff-on-shelves thing down cold.

As instructed, you arrive at a hotel twenty-minutes early to fill-out the same forms you filled-out online. You sign sworn affidavits attesting to the fact that if hired, yes, these are the hours you are available.

So help you God.

You agree to drug tests and credit checks and criminal history checks and past employment checks. Every conceivable type of check but the ones beginning with 'pay'.

To your chagrin, the first question on the application asks if you have applied to Kohl’s before. Ignoring images of a guillotine in free fall, you answer ‘yes’ because you are an indomitable force of nature. You will not be denied a second time.

Applicants are then informed by a harried twenty-something that these positions are temporary. The room collectively deflates like a punctured tire. You are positive the word ‘temporary’ did not appear on the flier.

You check it a second time. You are correct.

You wrestle with the fact you are auditioning for a twelve-hour a week, near minimum-wage job. Then you wrestle with the fact you have no choice.

The facts win.

Returning your attention to the form, you attempt to fit the names of previous employers, their addresses and telephone numbers in boxes similar in size to the ones coupons list their expiration dates in.

The form then asks you to explain all periods of unemployment. Rage wells up inside you.

You want to answer that you abandoned your previous job to burn through your inheritance while on a meth binge in the Caribbean, accompanied by a dozen Las Vegas strippers.

But that would be snotty. Or unprofessional. Or both. And we wouldn’t want that.

Thankfully, you are not asked why you want to work at Kohl’s. You wonder if you could design job applications for a living. But then, you have an IQ.

The same twenty-something is now reading names from a list, which are followed by a number. You are assigned to group one. Group one then trudges listlessly to a meeting room.

At the group interview, you introduce yourself and attempt to put a positive spin on things. You try to sound youthful and vibrant. You want to impart the idea that yes, you are amazing. And if not that, employable.

But if you could do that, you’d be earning a bundle doing PR for Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia.

When asked about recognition from previous employers, you respond that you hit speed and accuracy targets as a scorer of educational assessments and received multiple performance bonuses.

One of the women sitting at the table in the front of the room hears this and scribbles furiously. You allow yourself to believe you have made an impression.

Silly you.

A sharp knock on the door startles everyone. The interviewer announces they will have to abort the interview because they are running behind schedule. She reminds you to submit your completed applications before leaving.

As you walk through the vacant lobby, you cannot shake the feeling that you were at a dress rehearsal for an interview. You cannot imagine what kind of meaningful insight Kohl’s could have received from this exercise.

A week later, you find out.

Despite demonstrating “many qualities”, Kohl’s is unable to offer you a position at this time. You smile to yourself because you know what qualities were demonstrated, and you want no part of them.

This is insanity, and you are a masochist to pursue it. It is time for something different.

You have only to figure out what that is.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Favorite CDs of 2011

Like its predecessor, 2011 finds its top ten evenly divided between industry veterans and fresh-faced newbies.

But before I delve into new releases, heaps of archival live albums appeared last year. Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, Pearl Jam and the Rolling Stones uncorked vintage shows either as stand-alone releases or to round out expanded and remastered packages.

And there were some important re-issues, as U2, the Kinks, Frankie Miller, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys had landmark material re-visited and re-released.

I’ll attempt to sort-out this mess o’ product and, in the best-case scenario, provide a guide for the year just ended. Displaying the impeccable manners that are the hallmark of this blog, I’ll start with the old stuff first.

Were it not such a widespread and well-known bootleg, the Rolling Stones’ Brussels Affair would be the hands-down favorite of the vintage concert releases. It’s a resounding and unforgettable show. But it’s hard to get newly worked-up over something you’ve been listening to since the Carter administration.

Which is why I’m naming Fairport Convention’s Ebbets Field 1974 as the year’s best. Snobs may decry the absence of Richard Thompson, but only until they hear it. If you’re lucky, songs like “John the Gun” and “Matty Groves” will act as a gateway drug to what could become a full-blown addiction.

Picking the year’s best re-issue is a little more-difficult. The two-disc Kinks’ re-releases were powerful candidates, especially Face to Face and Arthur. But by the slimmest of margins, I’m picking the Frankie Miller box set, if only because his material has been unavailable in the United States for so long.

While not a box set in the traditional sense (there’s only a couple of B-sides and no previously unreleased material, demos or one-off concert recordings), it presents the entirety of his output for Chrysalis in his seventies prime plus an alternate version of High Life.

For all intent and purposes, Miller should’ve been rocking arenas throughout the late-seventies and into the eighties. But commercial success is a nebulous thing, dependent on many things utterly unrelated to music. At least the catalog of one of rock’s great voices has been restored.

Now to 2011.

1. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

This isn’t the howling vocalist of yore, but one that uses marimbas, autoharp and muted brass to sculpt striking songs of war and mortality. The inspired "Call to the Post" sample on "The Glorious Land" suggests war is a horse race, and just as consequential.

Check "The Glorious Land" and "Written on the Forehead".

2. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

No one writes intricate melodies (complete with counter melodies) that coalesce into sublimely funky pop overtures the way TV on the Radio does. If Nine Types of Light appears to tail off in the second half, that’s only because four of the album’s first five tracks are absolutely brilliant.

Check "You" and "Killer Crane".

3. Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’

The former Tony! Toni! Tone! front man finds his voice on this towering fusion of rhythm and blues, soul, pop and blues. From the razor-edged strut of the title track to the smooth soul of "Movin’ Down the Line", Stone Rollin’ is all good, all the time.

Check "Go To Hell" and the title track.

4. The Black Keys – El Camino

This is the album I wanted Brothers to be; fuzz-toned stomp that is as habit-forming as Spicy Nacho Doritos. And unlike its forebearer, Messrs. Auerbach and Carney have herewith worked-up eleven indelible and indestructable melodies on El Camino for your listening pleasure.

Check "Dead and Gone" and "Gold on the Ceiling".

5. David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights – Left by Soft

The Clean’s David Kilgour has received much belated recognition for his singular guitar-playing, and it’s duly highlighted on the six-minute epic "Diamond Mine". But it’s Left by Soft’s more-modest pleasures that land the album here.

Check "Pop Song" and "Diamond Mine".

6. Fairport Convention – Ebbets Field 1974

Along with the Move, Fairport Convention were one of the most unjustly ignored (in the U.S., anyway) bands of the late-sixties and early-seventies. This 1974 concert proves that ultimately, the strength of any band is its songs. For even sans RT, they cast a haunting, unforgettable spell.

Check both tracks listed above.

7. Nicki Bluhm – Driftwood

This album really shines when Bluhm and husband Tim pair-up for their plaintive and heartfelt harmonizing. Even when they don’t, its country-ish Americana is fine. But in the tradition of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, it’s best when they do.

Check "Women’s Prison" and "Wall of Early Morning Light".

8. The Feelies – Here Before

Reunion tours and reunion albums usually make me squeamish. But leave it to the Feelies to upend convention. Here Before sounds like a year or two passed since their last, and not a couple of decades. Does this mean the Feelies are timeless? Probably.

Check "Should Be Gone" and "Way Down".

9. James Walbourne – Drugs and Money EP

While his earlier full-length was completely competent, Drugs and Money raises Walbourne’s craft to a whole new level. Be it the weathered Americana of "Drugs and Money" or the highland hoedown that is "Hillbilly Crack", this EP reeks of soul and fire.

Check both of the aforementioned tracks.

10. Tune-Yards – Whokill

The jagged jump-cut musicality of Whokill can be as startling as it is fractured, but when it works, it’s as bracing a breath of fresh air as was heard in 2011. And the buoyant undercurrent of Afro-Pop that holds it all together is just a bonus.

Check "My Country" and "Powa".

Honorable Mentions:

Admiral Fallow - Boots Met My Face
The Bats – Free All the Monsters
REM – Collapse Into Now
Neil Young – A Treasure

Monday, January 2, 2012

To the Unemployed...

...who understand that fifty is the new seventy.

...who understand deeply and resolutely that, yes, it can happen to you.

...who, just for a change, would like to hear the phrase ‘stay positive’ from someone who is actually unemployed.

...who are able to withstand being judged by that supreme arbitrator of worth known as Corporate America.

...who understand that America’s labor force consists of just two groups: the unemployed and hostages.

...who understand that ‘unemployed' means in 2012 what 'colored' did a hundred years earlier.

...who understand the purpose of the question "Are you currently employed?" and answer yes with the specific intent of accomplishing what the question was expressly created to avoid, which is the wasting of an employer’s valuable time on an unemployed candidate.

(Don’t you feel horrible?)

May you always possess the faith of Mother Teresa and the persistence of Sisyphus.

You are my heroes.