Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Exception

Mistake number-one was assuming I had outsmarted my fellow man by embarking on an early-morning trip to the supermarket the Sunday before Thanksgiving. If not packed, the store was aflutter with shoppers guilty of the same ill-considered thinking as I.

Long lines emanated from the few registers the store thought it suitable to open. And being twenty-first century Americans, we were, of course, suitably distressed.

With a miniature cart barely contaminated by groceries, I opted for the express check-out lanes, which were easy to find owing to the sizeable signs proclaiming '15 Items Or Less'. In my naivete, I assumed that a line of small purchases would move faster than a line of large ones.

(At least my first mistake wouldn't be lonely.)

When it became apparent that I had been eying the racks of impulse items and gossip magazines for an unduly long time, I looked to the front of the line.

There, a stylish middle-aged woman in black boots, sporting a modern, asymmetrical bob was stuffing the tiny counter with what seemed to be an approximation of the magician who pulls out unending yards of handkerchiefs from a breast pocket. Or the dozens of circus clowns who emerge from a single, tiny car.

The stream of groceries did not end.

I attempted to stare a hole in her, but my corneal lasers were in the shop undergoing recalibration. Unbelievably, her illiteracy (to be kind) was compounded by a desire to pay with a highly-unusual form of debit card which apparently originated in eastern Europe.

When the debit card problem was at last rectified, the harried cashier loaded three full-sized bags into her cart. With no acknowledgment that she had caused anyone any inconvenience whatsoever, the woman zipped up her tailored jacket, adjusted her scarf, pulled on her gloves and sauntered out of the store.

I issued a silent prayer, thankful that I wouldn't be late for work Monday morning. 

And that no one else felt the need to demonstrate their holiday shopping self-importance.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Drawing a Bead on the NRA

Ask an NRA member about mass killings, or going way out on a limb, impending gun control legislation and they'll invariably respond the way you or I do when confronted with a rate hike from our car insurer: but I didn't have any accidents! I didn't get any tickets!

There's a dynamic at work which effects a giant portion of our society: a careless or irresponsible minority can have a profound impact on the rest of us. It's just how it is. Nothing more, nothing less.

Because so many of us find it impossible to drive without texting, the rest of us pay higher insurance premiums based on the rising number of collisions and damage claims that are submitted.

Other examples stretch across the entire spectrum of consumerism.

Because some of us believe that immunizing our children actually harms them, the rest of us cough up more for health care as a result of higher rates of hospitalization and treatment.

Because some of us find it necessary to trash a rental property after the landlord refuses to fetch us mocha double-lattes every morning, the rest of us spring for larger security deposits when we decide to move in.

Because cold medicine contains pseudoephedrine and is easily re-purposed as an ingredient for methamphetamine, the rest of us encounter a raft of speed bumps en route to purchasing the formerly over-the-counter medicine that keeps our nose from running.

And on and on and on it goes. As the enlightened reader of The Square Peg, please say it again: the many pay for the few.

But in an occurrence almost as startling as the repeal of gravity, gun owners remain exempt from this dynamic. They are cloistered in a pretty little bubble because they're, well, special.

Despite the fact that a disturbing proportion of gun owners adhere to the production-for-use aesthetic and fire their guns as often as possible, there is never any blow-back for remaining owners in the manner of increased license fees, scrutiny, etc.

Like gun manufacturers, gun owners exist on a plane completely removed from the rest of us, immune to the rules, consequences and dynamics of our society.

And this is as accidental as sunrise.

The National Rifle Association has labored valiantly to protect all aspects of firearm manufacture, distribution, sale, ownership and use and keep them as consequence-free as fundraising ceilings and finite numbers of lobbyists will allow.

Which, come to think of it, is as it should be. Guns are rarely labeled as organic because they contain preservatives. The kind that ensures that through the purchase of said gun, you will remain a saintly individual for the duration of that ownership.

Because you own a gun, you will forever be immune to the indignities and stresses of life, be it impending homelessness, joblessness, divorce, custody battles or the detritus from a neighbor's tree which maddeningly and inexplicably falls on your side of the property line.

Gun ownership virtually guarantees you won't ever go off half-cocked (so to speak).

This also applies to any and all residents who share the address with the gun.

Your kids will never be tempted to kill you for some perceived social embarrassment you inflicted on them in front of their peers, or for actual social embarrassment in the manner of a week-long grounding or the denial of their cell phone privileges for a weekend.

Ditto your wife when she finds out that instead of looking for a job, you've been having extramarital sex with the twenty-nine year-old divorcee across the street for the past six months while she has been working two jobs to keep things together in the interim.

Kindly ignore statistics which confirm that the gun you keep at home is more likely to be used on you than by you. They're compiled by libtards who, for some unfathomable reason, want to keep you safe.

Let's be perfectly clear: no one should ever exonerate the likes of Adam Lanza or Stephen Paddock for their selfish and gruesome carnage. But taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, we shouldn't be greasing the skids to EZ gun ownership, either.

Which is exactly what the NRA seeks to do.

You are free to disagree or deny, but even in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Congress has before it legislation which will make it easier for gun owners to buy silencers—ostensibly to protect a hunter's hearing.

You can look it up. It's House bill H.R. 367 The Hearing Protection Act of 2017.

(Like you, I wonder if these shitheads have ever tried their hand at stand-up.)

Another seeks to gift gun-owners residing in states with Concealed Carry laws with the ability to take that protection with them—even in states with no provision for Concealed Carry.

You can look that up, too. It's H.R. 38 The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017.

(Ironic coming from a Republican-led Congress renown for trumpeting state's rights, don't you think? Can a woman carry her reproductive rights across state lines, too? Oh—didn't think so.)

Saddest of all, there is a piece of legislation which seeks to protect schmucks like you and me. It's H.R. 4168 and is called the Closing the Bump-Stock Loophole Act.

Like its title, it reeks of common sense. Which is likely why in a Congress as obedient to the NRA as a sixteenth-century wife was to her husband, it is estimated to have but a six-percent chance of ever being enacted.

Now we know what the NRA does. We know what the NRA wants to do. And we know what the NRA doesn't want to do. In order to diminish them and shrink their poisonous influence, a new approach is called for.

Here's one idea:

Being that one of the most-powerful aspects of gun ownership is the implied machismo, we start by creating a public-awareness campaign that suggests that owning a gun is something less than the ultimate expression of manliness. We then mandate that guns be cast in pink.

We repeatedly reinforce the idea that only pussies use guns. That real men carry knives and engage in hand-to-hand combat when they get the urge to kill because their favorite cartoon got cancelled or they can't get laid.

That killing people with guns is just too easy. Any peevish, self-pitying slob can squeeze a trigger. The real shining lights of the mass murder community are constantly challenging themselves. Pushing the mass murder envelope. And they embrace the old-school aesthetic of mano a mano struggle.

Cutting-edge killers get blood on themselves. They hear the labored breathing of their victims. They feel the resistance of their cartilage and ligaments. They know when a knife encounters bone, forcing an on-the-spot rethink of strategy. 

None of this nonsense of spraying of automatic gun-fire from the upper stories of a luxury resort hotel!

In all seriousness, we did it with cigarettes. We did it with drunken driving. We can do it with guns.

Providing, of course, that we want to.


Monday, November 6, 2017

The United States of Stupid

So. Who's next?

You?

Me?

Our parents?

Our siblings?

Our spouses?

Our kids?

Who will be the next sacrifice to this thing, this out-moded idea that has been protected beyond any and all reason? Is Stephen Paddock's and Scott Ostrem's and Devin Kelley's right to keep and bear arms really worth the carnage that is quickly becoming our indelible national symbol?

While our freedom of speech must allow voice to white supremacists and due process must guarantee a fair trial and other legal protections even to the worst of us, neither of these require the slaughter of innocents to remain viable.

We have enough guns. The psychotic and the paranoid and the hateful are not the “well-regulated militia” the founding fathers envisioned when they drafted the second amendment.

We know what we must do. It starts with the entity holding open the doors to unfettered and unregulated gun ownership. In other words, the NRA.

We must dismantle it.

Now.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Random Thoughts, Vol. 10

There is no more American sport than golf. Players are ranked not by tournament victories or a cumulative under or over par score, but by earnings. He who makes the most is the best.

Isn't the labeling of any Friday as 'Good Friday' like, really redundant?

Once upon a time, we paid for cable TV because doing so meant it would remain commercial-free. In perhaps the greatest marketing scam ever foisted upon the American consumer, we now pay to watch commercials. Wow.

When it comes to sausage, brats are the wurst.

If everyone is shopping online, shouldn't traffic be lighter?

How ironic is it that while millions of living-wage jobs go unfilled because tight-fisted businesses don't want to train people, we have a president learning on the job?

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder. 

When I was young, I would pay to watch horror movies in the hopes of receiving a good scare. In 2017 America, I need only get out of bed.

The most beautiful women in the world are on boxes of hair color.

Marriage has a ring to it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Sanctity of Life Test

There is very little talk of it, and with good reason. With fifty-nine people slaughtered within seconds at the hands of a psychopath firing an automatic weapon from the thirty-second floor of a Las Vegas hotel, we're still trying to come to terms with a world changing faster than we can cope with.

But what about the wounded? What about those left alive to face a life impaired and diminished by Stephen Paddock's selfish and petulant rage? Who's going to pay the medical bills for those facing months or even years of highly specialized care and intensive physical therapy?

If this were a plane crash or a train wreck, victims would have an obvious alternative: sue the operator of said conveyance. But things become a bit thornier when guns are involved. That's because gun manufacturers can't be held liable for the carnage they enable.

Thanks to a 2005 bill called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, gun manufacturers are allowed to go about their business unconcerned and unhindered by bothersome law suits, even as their products place an inordinate demand on public services at great public expense.

Why? Because, to quote Dana Carvey's Church Lady character from Saturday Night Live, gun manufacturers are special.

No municipal, county, state or even federal unit of government can sue gun manufacturers to recover the costs incurred by firearms. In other words, despite the fact that alcohol, cigarettes and guns place an exorbitant amount of people at risk because of the very nature of their products, only the manufacturers of alcohol and cigarettes can be held responsible.

Gun manufacturers get off scot-free.

Lest I overstate their immunity to prosecution, the following scenario should clarify things: say the man raping your wife takes exception to her efforts to free herself and attempts to shoot her, only to have the gun misfire and injure him.

He is fully entitled to sue to manufacturer of the gun in question.

But if some cretin is disappointed by the contents of your daughter's purse and blows a hole in her head? Well, tough luck, bro. Sorry for your loss.

This twisted dynamic exists because we the people have mostly allowed it. Aided and abetted by our so-called elected representation, we have empowered the NRA's well-funded lobbyists to eliminate virtually everything standing in the way of unfettered and unlimited gun ownership.

Does anyone really believe the founding fathers could have imagined Stephen Paddock and his ilk when they created the Second Amendment nearly a quarter of a millennia ago? Does anyone really believe that a nation flooded with firearms was their intent? 

Besides the NRA, I mean.

The NRA is evil. It is an industry trade group bent on protecting and advancing market opportunities for the manufacturers of guns. Nothing more, nothing less. Feel free to laugh at their stated purpose of promoting gun safety.

They have been spectacularly successful at acquiring power and wield it like a police truncheon. Their heavy-handed efforts have yielded a congress too terrified to even suggest moderate gun reform.

Have you ever considered the similarities between ISIS and the National Rifle Association? Both are fear-mongers. Both prey upon the ignorant and manipulate them until they're foaming-at-the-mouth angry. Neither will brook even the slightest, most miniscule bit of reform or compromise.

(But I will credit the NRA with having a slick, well-oiled public relations staff.)

Their only distinguishing feature is that while ISIS likes to take credit for its members acts of terrorism, the NRA keeps an official distance even as it provides an umbrella of protection under which the darkest and most-destructive forces in American society can exist.

The NRA is the mother of all enablers. Make no mistake: Stephen Paddock, Omar Mateen, Dylann Roof and Adam Lanza were all enabled by the NRA and its ceaseless, unswerving mission to make the greatest number of guns available to the greatest number of people.

But the NRA's most-lethal threat lies in its ability to fund raise and consequently, its ability to influence legislation. Without the NRA, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act doesn't happen. Along with several dozen other pieces of self-serving legislation that enables the gun trade while essentially flushing public safety down the toilet.

Again, in the eyes of NRA leadership, compromise is tantamount to heresy. It has drummed out members of its own leadership for merely hinting that compromise might be the best way forward. Again, it's the NRA's way or no way.

That being the case, we the people need to figure out a way to shrink it. Neuter it. Or better yet, bring in the wrecking ball and destroy it. The NRA is antithetical to the very notion of democracy (a word Republicans continue to use despite their obvious contempt for it).

Write. Text. Phone. E-mail. Make it clear to your elected representation—on every level—that you are not okay with the unrestricted avalanche of guns flooding our country thanks to the relentless efforts of the NRA.

Tell them you're not okay with 559 people having their lives ended or irreparably damaged because they attended a country music festival in the same zip code a U.S. citizen decided to validate his existence by ending theirs.

Left unacted upon, ask them what we will one day have left to protect.

Our government and the leaders we elect routinely claim to loathe terrorism and seek the path to end it.

Physician, heal thyself. End the NRA's influence. Now.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Late Arrival to the ER

I was young, and in my youthful arrogance thought that I knew everything.

But there is only one direction to go from the top of the mountain, and in the ensuing years I have steadily and faithfully regressed to the point where I hardly know anything at all. It is in a state of intellectual inadequacy and general feebleness that I issue this post.

In a very specific sense, this is about a TV show. But in a more general one, it applies to so much more.

As an all-knowing snot I dismissed much. My three favorite things (movies, books and music), received the brunt of my critical attention. My tastes were unassailable. I was a genius. For confirmation, all you needed to do was ask.

This included television, of which I was frequently critical. And when ER took off in the late-nineties, I wrinkled my nose and said no thanks. Any prime-time hospital drama fueled by a male heartthrob just had to be defective.

I reasoned that if I were going to waste an hour of my life watching ER, why not listen to N-Sync, too? Why not read Ann Coulter? Eat deep-fried candy bars at state fairs? Consume red meat with abandon, drink too much and chain-smoke?

What difference did it make if I were going to sink to the depths of a celebrity-driven hospital drama like ER?

OK. Deep breath.

Thanks to my reduced circumstances and being firmly entrenched in my dotage, I have finally come 'round to ER.

And you know what? It's pretty good.

Yes, there are the standard plot conventions and requisite romantic entanglements (although I confess to hoping a budding relationship between Drs. Carter and del Amico would bloom into a romance), but the series regularly confronts the issues facing healthcare and a public city hospital and the grueling ordeal of emergency room work with a steadfast and unblinking eye.

It doesn't offer easy answers, and the casting and acting are uniformly high. As is the all-important writing. 

At the heart of creating a great story is drawing characters the viewer connects with. Pulls for. And identifies with. And ER has them in spades.

Who can't root for Mark Greene, an earnest and committed ER physician who somewhere down the line becomes married to his job and is divorced by his wife? Or Doug Ross, a pediatrician torn between an urgent desire to practice 'pure ' medicine and an intricate web of protocols that seems to stifle that as often as it promotes it?

Or nurse manager Carol Hathaway, the series' heart and emotional center? An old soul, she can be counted on to hit the right note just as it seems the entire performance is about to careen off the rails even as her personal life is frequently a one-step-forward, two-steps-back struggle.

I would love to work with her. You would, too.

Episodes are stuffed with dozens of others, good, bad and in-between. They remind me of the inscription to a novel I once read: No one is as good—or as bad—as they first appear. Whatever their make-up, they're never boring. And if that doesn't make for great drama, what does?

ER also possesses a highly unique visual style, which is no small thing in television. And this is its signature move.

When a script transitions from one sub-plot to another, it usually happens in a bustling corridor with a backtracking camera framing one set of characters as they sign-off of the segment by briskly departing down a side hallway (lab coats flying) while a second group enters the just-vacated space from another hallway, introducing another sub-plot with lab coats again trailing in their wake.

(If nothing else, the cast of ER certainly got a nice cardio workout in during filming.)

It is intense and dynamic and as perfectly choreographed as anything Welles or Huston or Hitchcock ever did, and just as effective. It is the visual manifestation of the urgency that surrounds their work.

Last but not least, the series was filmed in my hometown. And thankfully, it gets beyond the skyline-from-the-lake or skyline-from-the-Lincoln-Park-lagoon shots to reveal the city and its neighborhoods. It's been said that a locale is often another character, and on ER that certainly holds true.

I should add that like another favorite program of mine, ER possessed a sublime sense of humor. Its humor sneaks up, taps you on the shoulder and is gone almost before you know what's happening.

Given the often weighty nature of the scripts, it is a welcome relief.   

So there it is. A television series overflowing with memorable characters. Bursting with compelling scripts. And convincingly shot in a gritty, real-life locale that underscores its storylines. And when you least expect it, it provokes a laugh.

It has made me grateful that I no longer know everything. To think what I would have missed.



Monday, October 2, 2017

Las Vegas

I don't want to hear a single one.

Not a single Republican-issued condolence or apology or any other communique expressing sorrow or remorse or regret at what happened in Las Vegas yesterday.

Through their abject refusal to enact even the slightest and most common-sense gun control legislation whatsoever (does an assault weapons ban ring a bell?), they have not only allowed this to happen they have practically begged for it.

In a better world, having chosen to live by the sword Republicans would die by it as well.

The NRA and their servants in Washington DC are despicable. To hell with them!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Houston, We Have a Problem

I love cities. Despite their acres of shopping malls with identical stores and their generic skyscrapers erected by banks and insurance companies and their strangulated networks of traffic-choked expressways, there are glimpses of genuine individuality if you bother to scrape beneath the surface.

That's right. Even in our hyper-homogenized culture, cities still possess a unique character. But rest assured developers are seeking to eradicate this even as we speak.

Houston was a city that, for bad or for good, possessed a distinct personality. It was the epitome of wide open, free-market capitalism. The city father's hearty embrace of such made it a place adored by developers, who could build with abandon and not worry about the nagging minutia of building codes and zoning restrictions.

This made Houston a roaring economic engine, and its growth into one of the nation's largest cities was spectacular. In the four decades measured between the nineteen-fifty and nineteen-eighty censuses, Houston averaged a 43.3% annual population growth and nearly tripled in size.

While that growth proved unsustainable, Houston continues to grow at a rate well above average.

Of course, there was a downside. A developer's dream is an urban planner's nightmare. Building without regard to the natural configurations of the land and a citizenries needs is a dangerous proposition. It leads to a low quality of life on many fronts.

By paving over, well, everything, Houston was a nightmare waiting to happen. However nice sparkling skyscrapers, luxury condos and sprawling retail centers are, they ignore one essential question: where does the water go when it rains?

And in Houston, ignoring such a question is equivalent to ignoring the perils of snow or cold in Minneapolis. Already the site of multiple municipal floods, Houston got hit by a storm system in August which yielded an unimaginable amount of rain. You know the rest of the story.

Yes. To those of you who embrace the small government-big business ethos, you are correct. Even a well-planned network of sewers, retention ponds, spillways, etc. couldn't have handled the fifty inches of rain that fell in Houston within a matter of hours. It was positively Biblical.

But now we know what happens when we don't even try, don't we? Now we know what an environmental crisis is, don't we? Now we know what upending hundreds of thousands of lives in an enormous city looks like, don't we?

Let me ask you this: what costs more—implementing critical infrastructure that acknowledges a region's natural proclivities or cleaning up after a Harvey-scaled disaster that requires billions and billions of dollars in government aid?

Like you, I'm thrilled the developers and those who enabled them made out like bandits. But the reality is that this is a Texas-sized version of the 2008 Wall Street fiasco, where the public gets to bear the clean up costs of private recklessness and business-friendly irresponsibility.

And the story doesn't end there.

This is Trumpland, people. This is a portent. Our so-called President wants to roll back all manner of regulation and is in the process of neutering the EPA. Should that come to pass, we could all be Houston.

Let me ask you another question: how many Harveys can we afford? How many Harveys do we pay for before people begin to complain? Before people become immune to the suffering and fractured lives and create a Facebook-based backlash?

Yes, regulations and codes can be irritating. But if we even need the lesson, Houston is it. This is what happens when we build only with an eye for development and ignore virtually everything else.

Nature will not be denied. None of us can say we weren't warned.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

They Say It's Your Birthday

Happy Birthday, Mr. Springsteen.

Thank you so much for everything.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Orange-Haired Terrorist

Wow. That was a bit strong, wasn't it? Apologies if you were offended by my last post and its graphic imagery. After all, the point of running a blog is to attract readers, not repel them.

And yet, how else to describe a man so hateful? A man so wantonly arrogant? Donald Trump reminds me of a remark made by Dorothy Parker, wherein she opined that when she wonders what God thinks of money, she looks at who he gave it to.

Sadly, our president is an answer only for those who reckoned the best solution to congressional constipation was a bigger asshole.


Like the wild-eyed terrorist that he is, Donald Trump has again expressed his willingness to drive the car of the United States off the cliff in order to get what he wants. So the passengers suffer a little collateral damage—what's that compared to a needy president having his brittle self-esteem restored?

To wit, the object of Don's latest tantrum is the border wall. You know, the one that Mexico is going to pay for?

Oh wait—they're not.

At any rate, President Donnie's latest plan to fund the wall that Mexico-was-going-to-pay-for-but-isn't is to threaten a shut-down of the government. This transparent-as-glass ploy is intended to scare Congress into appropriating funding for Donnie's Wall in order to avoid a politically risky shut-down.

Being no strangers to power plays, Congress is (thankfully) resisting.

In his Twitter-steria, our terrorist President must've forgotten about his Labor Department's plans to roll back the salaried overtime extensions enacted by President Obama, which blunted corporate America's favorite payroll strategy: Put 'em on salary and treat 'em like a rental car!

Gosh, Don. Wouldn't the money your pals in the executive suite save on overtime fund the wall?

Oh that's right—you're committed to wealthcare. Making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires. And how's that going to happen if you use their no-overtime windfall to fund your wall?

Silly, stupid me.

On top of desiring to poison the water you drink and the air you breathe and the ground you live on because keeping them clean is costing corporate America too much money (sniff), tell me how you feel about President Donnie wanting to take your overtime, too.

Making America Great Again? For who?

Face it. Donald Trump is a compound word. He is a drug-resistant hemorrhoid. He is the tiny stone you can never quite remove from your shoe. He distracts you and baits you with your anger and your hatred while he steals from you and gifts the one-percent with the proceeds.

Please tell me again why you think he gives the tiniest, infinitesimal fuck about you?

You're a tool, bro.

Your enemy isn't the woman on the west side of Chicago trying to raise six errant kids with medicaid and food stamps, or the Mexican sleeping under a filthy sheet of cardboard in the Sonoran Desert, exhausted and left starving by their brutal trip into America.

It's that sneering, orange-haired billionaire in the White House. You better pray he uses condoms.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Rhetorical Question

Does the penis exist which is large enough to fill a cunt the size of Donald Trump?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

And Now for Something Completely Different

That's right. No anti-Trump rants. No dissertations on the evils of business. And not a word about gun control. Just me writing about something I enjoy. Well, mostly.

While it is my belief that the form of communication enabled by the computer will undermine civilization as we know it, the computer-beast does offer one saving grace in exchange for our humanity: the glorious availability of concerts captured illicitly.

Introduced to bootlegs in the mid-seventies, I partook whenever an appealing release intersected with a full wallet. But there was a serious downside—the expense. By the time the vinyl era was drawing to a close, the purchase of bootlegs practically required a bank loan.

And then there was the collateral damage, which consisted mostly of girlfriends and their burgeoning expectations.

Well, yeah, honey. I did drop seventy-five bucks on that four-record Springsteen boot. But um, I thought it'd be a great way for us to spend some time together. You know those nights where there's nothing on TV? We could cuddle up on the couch and...” 

Thud. 

By the time the CD had taken over, discretionary income barely allowed for legal CDs, much less illegal ones. And let's face it, priorities were changing. The beautiful soul who swallowed her frustrations because she just wanted me to be happy deserved a commitment to financial austerity.

So if I didn't capture it on the radio via the BBC's In Concert series, the King Biscuit Flour Hour, the odd simulcast or WXRT's UnConcert, I did without.

But then the Internet happened. And not far behind, the ability to digitize music and share it.

To my delight, there were more hard-core musiholics out there than I ever imagined. Music blogs were everywhere. And more often than not, so was someone's covert recording.
Thanks to the computer, I had been reunited with an old flame. I was able to re-visit the shows of my youth, and attend ones I had missed.

You'd have to go to Wall Street to find a bigger glutton than I.

How to explain the sublime torture of hearing a luminous April, 1987 performance by U2 I had come thisclose to scoring tickets for, or the joy of having my all-time favorite KBFH show (Rockpile New York City 1979) re-enter my life long after the cassette had paid a visit to Jack Kervorkain?

But neither could compare to the once-unimaginable act of going back in time and hearing a favorite concert for a second time.

Bob Seger at the Chicago Stadium on the Stranger in Town tour. All four of the Springsteen shows I saw in support of The River (including the one that so excited me I was unable to fall asleep afterwards and instead drove back to the Rosemont Horizon where I was able to meet and chat with Mr. Springsteen as well as have him sign my copy of Born to Run).

Then there's Neil Young & Crazy Horse on their metallic, amp-shredding Chicago stop for Ragged Glory. U2 on their smoldering 1984/85 go-round for The Unforgettable Fire. And again on their epic, multi-media extravaganza for Achtung Baby.

Siouxsie & the Banshees at the Riviera. Pink Floyd at Soldier Field. Aerosmith, the Clash, Keith Richards and REM—all at the venue we affectionately called the Aragon Brawlroom. OMD at Metro. Led Zeppelin the night Jimmy Page fell ill and couldn't continue. The Dave Alvin-era Blasters and John Hiatt, both at Park West. And the Rolling Stones on their 1981 visit for Tattoo You.

Each was either as buoyant or as ethereal or as fiery as I remembered, a fact attributable to my habit of never imbibing or inhaling before a show. My concert-going mates referred to me as Buzz Kill, which I suppose was better than Stinky.

Apologies to Brooke Shields, but nothing was going to come between me and the music I was about to hear.

Yeah, it was that important to me.

Bootlegs took me all over the globe. I went to London for an otherworldly 1971 performance by Pink Floyd. Belgium for a shimmering and ephemeral one by Dire Straits. (A pox on the house of the person who mistook them for Parliament-Funkadelic, and in the course of remastering the thing pushed the bass up absurdly high.)

I went to Zurich to hear Genesis in 1977. New York City for a wonderous 1997 concert by Bob Dylan. Naples to hear the Rolling Stones in 1982. The same year, I heard the unofficial Tom Petty live album, recorded in Utrecht.

And on and on and on it goes: Bruce Springsteen, Buffalo 1984. Neil Young, Frankfurt 1989. The Cure, Leipzig 1990. Mogwai, Reading 2001. Van Morrison, San Francisco 1974. New Order, Barcelona 1984. And the molten fury of PJ Harvey in London on April Fool's Day, 1999.

Ultimately, I think the thing that most appealed to me about bootlegs is that they were genuine. There was no studio sweetening. No overdubs. No glossing over of bum notes or fumbled passages. They were audio verite. Bootlegs laid it all out there as it happened—documentary-style.

And to their eternal credit, my heroes could go out there and do it. A couple of guitars, a bass, a drum kit and a good voice and they could set an audience on fire. And a bootleg didn't require corporate America's approval to hear it all go down.

Inevitably, there is a downside to this cornucopia of joy and time-travel. To date, I have downloaded in excess of three-thousand shows, performed by over four-hundred musical aggregations.

It poses a question: when did I become a collector and stop being a listener? Despite prolonged underemployment, I find myself with more music than I could ever listen to. And isn't unheard music a kind of crime?

Despite this, I continue to download. I continue to seek unheard doses of musical ecstasy; new-to-me discoveries that stem the contractions of my shrinking world.

To those of you who continue to share the glories of live, uncensored rock and roll, my heartfelt thanks.

People who listen to Justin Beiber on cell phones will never understand.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Addendum

Two-weeks after divesting myself (and my computer) of Avast Anti-Virus, I received my first edition of The Download, their monthly security newsletter.

Which is interesting, because it means my request for a billing adjustment was seen by someone and promptly ignored. But they did think to put me on their mailing list, which is (apologies to C + C Music Factory) definitely a thing that makes you go "Hmmm".

I'm thinking the folks at Avast sit on the TV and watch the couch. 

And if not that, they incubate an attitude not dissimilar to the neighborhood brat who is prone to sticking out its tongue and saying nyah nyah, which is always a good stratagem for growing the business.

Avast has told me (and you) who they are. All we need to do is listen.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

My Experience with Avast Anti-Virus Software

At the height of the Great Recession, I needed new anti-virus software for my computer. A survey in PC Magazine indicated that Avast was one of the better ones out there, plus free subscriptions were available.

I bit. I downloaded.

Win-win, right?

For a long time, it was. The glowing orange sphere (complete with lower-case a) that adorned the bottom right-hand corner of my monitor's screen was a friendly and reassuring reminder that my computer was being protected.

Updates were both regular and free. Scans appeared rigorous. Threats were detected and removed. Despite the heavy usage the computer received from two users in the midst of desperate job hunts, Avast kept it clean and functioning.

Eventually, I moved to a paid subscription. Like all good consumers, I believed that if free was good, paid just had to be better.

And again, Avast seemed to be doing the job. But there were clouds on the horizon (which might have had something to do with the sun-like graphic disappearing).

The first change was in the scans. After a point, the only potentially harmful condition they could identify was that I hadn't purchased enough Avast software. There was never a report, an indication of any harmful malware, etc. Just fluff about weak passwords and file conversion software that hadn't been updated.

And all I had to do about those was open my wallet.

Then one day I discovered my computer was infected. It took a $200 visit to a repair facility to clean it up. That was strike one.

Strike two occurred when, in the course of pursuing a fix for a technical issue, I discovered Avast had double-billed me the same month I cleared-out and prepared my parent's house for sale, moved, oversaw three separate sets of tax returns all while caring for a sick mate and working.

Nice.

Strike three arrived just minutes later, when an Avast staffer named “Helen” informed me that despite having my license number and purchase ID, I would not be getting my anti-virus package (which had been accidentally deleted) re-installed until I signed on for a $79.99 computer repair to fix fourteen issues she had discovered.

Despite a complete absence of food or drink in or around my esophagus, I began to choke.

When the choking subsided, I asked “Helen” if she knew what extortion was. I asked why I should pay $79.99 to do what my paid subscription should have been doing for a quarter of that. I asked how many people fell for this, and how badly they were injured in the process.

The play on words was lost on “Helen”, who for lack of alternatives stuck to the script and grimly recited what I needed to do. “You have fourteen issues on your computer. You need to fix them before you can have your anti-virus back.”

Yes, but for the second time shouldn't my software package have prevented those?”

There was a sigh. “We will reduce it to $49.99. But that is final negotiation. No more.”

Helen, leave my computer alone. Don't touch a thing” I rasped.

With my vocal cords straining like Donald Trump's credibility, I inquired of “Helen” one final time: “So what do I need to do to get a refund on the overcharge?”

From the Avast web site I composed a heated e-mail detailing what I wanted, and why. Shockingly, there was no response. Nor has there been in the nine days since.

Thankfully, my credit card company was able to file a dispute and credit the charge. And I was able to file a complaint with the Attorney General's office.

In PC Magazine's most-recent survey of the best Internet protection packages, Avast ranked a very middling 25th.

That sounds about right.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Free Advice (And a Business Opportunity) for Our President!

Dear President Trump,

As a caring, feeling American, it pains me to see you twist in the wind as you refuse to acknowledge the protocols of your position and instead pretend the White House is just another boardroom in the Trump business empire.

You are a CEO. And a very wealthy man. You aren't used to having people tell you what to do. Hell, the closest you ever got to a cabinet before reaching 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was when you asked the maid to fetch you a Twinkie. 

Because you are such a wealthy and powerful man, people attempt to curry favor with you. This happens so often that you have come to expect it. In fact, you're put-off when it doesn't happen. When was the last time you picked-up a check or reached for your wallet, anyway? 

(This is probably a good thing, because I imagine it's quite heavy. And as America's oldest-ever president you aren't as limber—or as strong—as you used to be, are you?)

So. Like I said, I'm an American who cares. So I'm going to celebrate the Fourth of July by offering my president (that's you) some free advice. Don't even think of reaching for your wallet--not that you would.

In the restless, dark nights of your presidency, you Tweet about witch hunts and fake news and how nobody loves you. I don't think it's stretching the truth to say that since becoming president, every day must seem like Halloween. Grotesque and horrible days full of people who don't bow and scrape like employees, unwilling to display the blind obedience you have come to feel is your birthright.

That's rough.

Okay, Mr. President, put the phone down. I know—the ADHD is kicking in. I'll get to the point.

Mr, President, the point is this. If you're tired of witch hunts have you ever considered not being a witch? Have you considered adapting to the office instead of petulantly demanding that it adapt to you?

Have you considered growing up?

Have you considered not sharing every single thought that passes between your ears? Do you realize it was the so-called fake media who informed me last November that you would be my next president?

Is that fake news? And if so, does it mean you're not?

Have you considered that for over two-hundred years this country has survived very well without you?

As hard as it is to imagine Mr. President, some things are bigger than you. Like the office you inhabit. In fact, it's even bigger than your child-like sense of self-importance.

Yes Mr. President, once upon a time your father called you son. But that doesn't mean the planet revolves around you.

Finally, I'd like to get to that business opportunity I spoke of. Don't worry—no contracts or handshakes are expressed or implied.

Have you ever considered starting-up a winery? Because I think you'd be a natural. I mean, five months into your presidency, it couldn't be more clear that you and wine go together like shit and stink.

I even have a name: The Trump Whinery.

Just sayin', Mr. President. Enjoy your Fourth.


Best Regards,

La Piazza Gancio


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Confronting the Unfathomable

I want you to sit down. I want you seated in your favorite chair; a chair simultaneously stable and comfortable. I don't care if it's a Louis XIV antique or the latest offering from IKEA or some beat up old thing you salvaged from your Grandpa's house when he died. 

Sit down.

Ready?

I am pissed-off. Granted, this doesn't exactly qualify as news. But I am.

There are things I just don't understand. Like voting for Donald Trump. Or putting ketchup on french fries. Or why we are okay with some kinds of carnage but not others.

Take the FDA's proposed ban on Opana. One thing twenty-first century Americans can agree on is that we're in the midst of a very serious opioid epidemic. When they're not gobbling them like candy, America's opioid addicts are dropping like flies.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention figures about 40,000 did in 2016 alone.

So the FDA is taking decisive action, and asking the manufacturer to cease production. And unless you're an Endo Pharmaceuticals shareholder, who can't get behind that?

What I don't understand is why we don't do the same thing to Smith & Wesson.

If anything, gun deaths are an even bigger tragedy. And I'll tell you why. Excuse the reference, but no one is holding a gun to the head of opioid addicts demanding that they swallow Percocet and OxyContin and Opana in quantities not endorsed by their manufacturers.

I think we can agree this a fairly voluntary activity.

In contrast, no one agrees to be shot to death. Not as they walk down a street or drive a cab or walk through a college campus to their next class. It is a highly involuntary occurrence. It is one that is forced upon you against your will. You absolutely, positively do not want this to happen to you.

And yet tens of thousands of people die each and every year in gun-related homicides. Tens of thousands more have their lives irretrievably altered as the result of a shooting. In 2015 alone, 13,286 people died in a gun-releated homicide. Another 26,819 were wounded. 

On a per-capita basis, the U.S. looks like a third world nation insofar as firearms-related deaths are concerned. We're number eleven, right between Uruguay and Montenegro. Of course, with a world-leadng 112.6 guns per one-hundred people, it could be said we have an unfair advantage. 

And exactly what do we do about all these guns and all this death?

Nothing.

Cowed by a moneyed and well-entrenched special interest group known as the National Rifle Association, our elected representation nervously avoids any conversation about gun control lest the Chuck Norris wanna-bes who constitute the NRA's membership threaten to hold their breath until their lips turn blue.

And in this instance, our representation is highly sensitive to being viewed as the source of bodily injury.

Even the most sensible, level-headed suggestions (i.e. banning assault weapons or employing smart gun technology, which confirms the owner's fingerprint before firing) are routinely regarded by the NRA as heresy.

They lean heavily and indelicately upon our Congress until their will prevails. There shall be no restrictions on firearms whatsoever. Period. (God originally issued eleven commandments, but only NRA members are privy to this fact.)

So the carnage continues. The next time you hear of half-a-dozen high school or university students mowed down in the prime of life, consider this twist on a former NRA tagline: Guns don't kill. Special interest groups do.

And sad to say, it is with our consent.

I only wish we had the compassion for once and future murder victims that we do for junkies.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sad

At one point in my life, I loved driving. While never behind the wheel of a British, Italian, German or even Japanese sports car, the well-sprung Hondas I owned provided highly satisfactory driving experiences when I acted on my urge to push the envelope.

Accompanied by the sounds of a deep-breathing engine flexing its muscles, I would row through the gears, judiciously applying the throttle and brake, flattening out curves by riding their apex—it was great fun.

So when I first heard of autonomous cars, I blanched. You mean a computer is going to control my car? It reminded me of the kiddie cars I rode at carnivals, which moved safely at litigation-proof speeds on a pre-ordained path underneath a metal canopy with faded and peeling paint.

Even at the tender age of six, I saw this charade as a bloodless imitation of the real thing and never rode them again.

But times change, don't they?

I now drive professionally, and have grown the loathe the act. Surrounded by packs of motorists convinced they have thirty minutes to complete three-hours worth of errands, I suffer tailgaters, the distracted, the impatient and the stupid.

Upon hearing the concerns of those who question the legalization of marijuana as it relates to the operation of a motor vehicle, I respond that we already are driving under the influence. All of us. Every day.

So autonomous cars now seem like a really, really good idea. Even if they put me out of a job. And in the wake of last night's events in London, they now seem like an even better one.

In the escalating tech war that seeks to eliminate terrorism, terrorists now resort to employing everyday objects as weapons. Cars and trucks have become their weapons du jour.

And the sad fact is that an autonomous vehicle—which strips the driver of the ability to drive—would seriously impair the ability of terrorists to do what they have done in Nice, Berlin, Stockholm, New York City and now for a second time in London.

What does it say about a population that the only way to keep it safe is by relieving it of its free will?

With so many in America seeking to reduce the numbers of those currently in prison, how ironic is it that terrorism is slowly turning the entire world into one?


Friday, June 2, 2017

Finding the Cloud in the Silver Lining

There aren't many disadvantages to being a celebrity.

Even as your earnings typically skyrocket, you suddenly find yourself besieged with offers. Developers want you in their exclusive properties. Car manufacturers want you in their cars. Designers want you in their clothes.

The list goes on and on and on. An avalanche of free luxury goods spilling into your lap while you earn more money than you ever have before is an experience I—for one—can't even begin to fathom.

It is life in an entirely different language.

But there is a down side, too. Namely that when you're a celebrity, well, you're a celebrity. People notice you. Even when you're not hawking your latest book/concert tour/movie.

Kathy Griffin makes a good case in point.

Acting on her puckish sense of humor, she posed with a likeness of a decapitated head. It just so happened that it belonged to our so-called president, which I think is entirely reasonable. It is merely a physical representation of what many of us have suspected for months—that Donald Trump has lost his.

How else to explain the mystifying decisions, defensive behavior and outright stupidity that have been the hallmark of this administration?

If I had posted that picture, no big deal. Just another libtard spouting his impotent rage over the results of the last election.

But I'm not famous. Well, not yet, anyway.

Kathy Griffin is. She's on TV. She does all sorts of stuff. People know her name. And even if they don't, they recognize her face. That's because she's a celebrity.

So when she poses with a fake head of the sitting president, it gets noticed. It's a big deal. And the torrent of outrage from Republicants has been, if not interesting, certainly amusing.

Conveniently forgetting the abuse they heaped on the Obamas during their eight-years in the White House, they are swollen with righteous indignation. They cry it's a disgrace to the office and shows a shocking lack of respect.

I would counter it's no greater a disgrace to the office than Donald himself, and offers a degree of respect equal to that Trump routinely shows for anyone who isn't white and wealthy.

Rock on, Kathy. And stop apologizing!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Striking Out

It could be argued that in baseball an out is an out is an out. Does it really matter whether the hometown heroes drive a grounder to short, loft a booming fly to center or swing in vain at a two-seam fastball? Either way, the inning's over, right? Who cares what kind of outs they make?

As a guy reared on pre-steroid baseball, I do.

Strike-outs reached an all-time high last season, with 38,983 at bats concluding thusly. That was fifteen-hundred more than the year before, and an increase of 21.3% since 2005. In a game where you can never have enough runs, I wonder at the widespread acceptance of this.

It wasn't always that way.

When Bobby Bonds struck-out 187 times in 1969 and 189 times the following year, he established himself as Mr. Strikeout. Besting the previous record by twelve, Bonds set a new standard for futility. That 1970 total remained a record no one wanted to break for thirty-three years.

When Reggie Jackson threatened Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1969, the celebration was tarnished by the frequency of his strike-outs. (To no one's surprise, Jackson ended-up as the game's all-time strike-out king.)

If the great Babe Ruth had an on-the-field weakness, it was for whiffing. Ruth's peers derided him for it, equating his lack of self-control at the plate with his off-the-field behavior. 

You see, striking out was for bush leaguers. It made you look like a feckless rookie fresh off the bus for 'A' ball. Striking-out meant you weren't worthy of the uniform.

And that strike-out shaming was a good thing. By encouraging a hitter to put the ball into play, a player was giving himself a far better chance of getting on base than by blindly trying to knock a pitch into next week.

A fielder could lose track of the ball. Make a bad throw. A first baseman could drop the throw. You just never knew. And that doesn't even take into account the runners you could advance.

Even in a world without Google, players knew they couldn't score from the dugout.

But things change, don't they? The twin forces of our obsession with the big gesture (the dunk, the sack, the home run) and owners willing to offer generational wealth to someone capable of banging 40 home runs removed the stigma of striking-out.

In our twenty-first century parlance, it just means you're going for it. And what's wrong with that?

In a word, everything.

While I generally advocate for it, too many of today's hitters are far too generous to opposing pitchers. By swinging at anything and everything, hitters demand only that a pitcher throw the ball in the general vicinity of the plate, where like the wolf in The Three Little Pigs, they will huff and puff and blow the house down.

This while the ball more often than not resides safely in the catcher's mitt.

Am I the only guy who's figured out that in these days of hard pitch counts, the quickest way to get last year's Cy Young winner off the mound is to make him throw lots of pitches?

Work that at bat. Foul off pitches until you see the one you want. Make that guy earn his thirty-million per.

Home plate doesn't care whether the guy crossing it just smacked a five-hundred foot home run or scored on an infield groundout. Each counts for exactly one run. Just like ICBMs, selfie sticks and those giant foam fingers that say we're number one, runs are manufactured.

There's a methodology to it, a set of instructions. And step number-one says you have to get on base.

By swinging for the lottery's grand prize every time up, hitters are condemning themselves (and their buddies on the basepaths) to an all-or-nothing gamble the house is going to win the vast majority of the time.

It's the equivalent of a basketball player taking a half-court shot every time down the court.

It's stupid.

Yes, home runs are fun. Who doesn't love seeing a hitter pulverize a ball and send it screaming over the wall? But if said hitter hits 40 and strikes out 200 times (a ratio of five strike-outs to every home run), that becomes a very expensive run.

How many teammates did this player leave on base or fail to advance over the course of those five strike-outs?

Again, turning a baseball diamond into a casino is dumb. Strike-outs are toxic. They are absolutely, positively the worst kind of out. Play the odds. The home runs will still happen.

It'll be cool—even with out all the fanning.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

...And I Was Made Grateful

Gratitude comes in many forms. I spent a lifetime assuming that I knew where and how it would arrive. That I knew what it would look like. But clearly, I was wrong.

Long-time readers of this blog are well aware of my struggle to reclaim my pre-Great Recession life, and of my inability to do so. Left to labor in menial, dead end jobs with few—if any—benefits, I ranted and raved about the stupidity and the greed and the utter lack of morality in corporate America.

I shared my personal experiences; the personality profiles and the group interviews and the don't-hire-the-unemployed ethos. The thoughtless and short-sighted cost-cutting and the knee-jerk lip service to the words customer service, which lies at the heart of virtually every one of their two-faced marketing campaigns.

Likewise the egocentric displays of power, mindless conformity and raging hypocrisy.

But none of that exorcised the gnawing, insistent feeling that I was a failure. None of it repaired my broken self-esteem. Not even the knowledge that there were hundreds of thousands of Americans just like me whose lives had been put on hold.

I was conditioned to believe that as a man, I was something less than one if I did not succeed in a system that I now understand considered me an expense. A speed bump on the road to unfettered wealth creation.That I was hired to be fired.

It humiliates me to admit it but yes, I ached.

That is, until I heard U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speak.

I don't think the former senator from Alabama could recall the thirteen original colonies, much less explain the Theory of Relativity. He doesn't know the difference between Budapest and Bucharest, or the significance of the Magna Carta.

What Jeff Sessions knows how to do is acquire power and please the people who can give it to him—as instinctively as my cat knew the sound of me opening a tin of cat food meant she was going to eat.

This walking mediocrity is a luminous example of the sea-level intelligence which infests the legislative branch of our federal government.

One has only to listen to Session's surprise at a federal judge's decision to hear the abundant witlessness and arrogance and prejudice inborn in this man (supposedly expert in the checks and balances within the government that has so generously supported him for the past two decades) to realize what a shithead he is.

And he is the Attorney General of the United States of America.

Just as the NBA doesn't necessarily possess the world's best basketball players (it possesses the best who remained felony-free while simultaneously gleaning a scholarship to a school with a prominent basketball program), our government doesn't necessarily feature the best and brightest minds of our times.

It features the best and brightest minds of those eager and adept at lapping at the food dish set out by the wealthy and the powerful.

Mr. Sessions, thank you. Thanks to you and your generous display of ignorance, I now understand in a way I never quite did before the complete lack of a relationship between ability and success.

I am, if I haven't made it clear, eternally grateful.