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.

Yeah.


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 our 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 Don'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 ride '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?)

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 night of your presidency, you Tweet about witch hunts and fake media 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 us that the only way to keep us safe is by relieving us of our 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 behavior in between games. 

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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What to Wear

I don't read the Sunday newspaper—I scour it. I scour it like those guys in hazmat suits who neutralize EPA superfund sites.

That's how I end up reading about condo associations and grilled pork served with mint leaves and fig compote and South American political scandals from the 1940s. It's also how I end up reading a woman's complaints about how men dress at the gym.

The aggrieved party wrote a columnist because she is disturbed by the sight of men in tight-fitting clothing at the gym. Shorts in particular. Even worse, the sommelier who heads this whine cellar goes on to empathize with the complainant.

Sigh. Eye rolls, anyone?

I've heard this argument before. And if I hear another woman complain about guys in Speedos (or clingy gym attire) I'm going to burst. And here's why:

Everyday I see size 18 women waddling around in size 5 clothes. I see cellulite jiggling underneath tissue-thin yoga pants. Guts hanging out from midriff tops. XL rear ends not quite contained by XS string bikinis.

And that's just the beginning.

But that's not indecent exposure. Nope. That's empowerment. Women being strong. Liberated. Casting off the shackles of male expectations of beauty.

If you say so.

I call it U-G-L-Y. And I really, really don't want to see it.

But saying so makes me a seething, hateful misogynist. Which only fuels my argument that there's a raging double-standard at work here.

We live in an age of unfettered ego. “What do you mean I don't look like Kerry Washington? I rock these, baby!” “You can actually tell the difference between Vin Diesel and me? I'm gonna run you over, you punk-ass bitch!”

All of us have the bodies of Greek gods and goddesses. Check.

And speaking of unfettered egos, I should add that I wish more people were just like me.

You see, not so long ago, I stood 6' 3” and weighed 190 pounds. I had a thirty-four inch waist. I played basketball without a shirt, and did my power walking in shorts that did not conform to the prevailing skater/hip hop/just-released-felon aesthetic.

I.E., they did not hang down to my shins.

But then I gained thirty pounds.

As a result, I don't walk around the house, much less public spaces, without a shirt. You feel me? I am embarrassed. I am not proud. I am—as we like to spout on social media—humbled.

Yes, the old self-esteem has taken a hit. But even after cataract surgery, I fail to see how going out in a too-tight t-shirt is going to empower me.

Granted, I am not a woman. But even within the relaxed appearance standards women typically hold men to, I am fat. I am a middle-aged, pear-shaped, dad-bodied cliché. It's not self-loathing. It's not culturally-induced shaming. It's just a realistic look in the mirror.

I don't like it, and I doubt you would, either. So, in a gesture of magnanimity to my fellow man, I cover it up.

And it doesn't make you or me a hater or sexist to wish that all the ball-sack baring, stretch-mark sharing men and women around us would do the same.

Two sexes, one standard.

We can do this.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Empowering the Powerful, Enriching the Wealthy (a.k.a. The Same Old Thing)

In our headlong rush to hand over every last particle of our collective rights as individuals to corporate America comes the news that our so-called elected representation is in the process of approving a measure that would give employers access to their employee's DNA, conceivably hiring, firing and promoting based on the projected health care costs an employee (or one of their family members) might incur.

If you think this is a good idea, I have a cell phone app that allows you to amend and repeal the laws of physics that I will sell to you for just one-hundred thousand U.S. dollars.

Like so much of their benignly-titled legislation, the Republican-sponsored Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act appears concerned and downright caring on the surface, yet is the most-invasive and potentially exclusionary piece of legislation to come down the pike since the Patriot Act.

Think of it. Your employer will offer you a break on your health care insurance if you submit your DNA (and again, that of your spouse and children) for review. If it even needs to be said, there are no restrictions—none whatsoever—on what your employer can do with this information.

This would be a good time to remember that At Will employment statutes are still very much in effect.

You, the educated and worldly reader of The Square Peg, see where this is headed, right?

Jon: “You know I love Madison's work, Melissa. But her profile troubles me. There's a marker that indicates a susceptibility to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and I'm wondering if going forward, she's the best choice for Communications Director.

IBS is notoriously uncomfortable, and the thought of it—or its side effects—creeping into her work is distressing. Imagine our communication tainted by a spastic colon. Or constricted by constipation. Or worse, let to flow—unchecked—by diarrhea.

The damage to our carefully-crafted brand could be irreparable, Melissa.

It is my belief that we need to make Madison available to the industry ASAP. While Abby's work doesn't possess the articulate, fine edge that Madison's does, her DNA profile is rock-solid, and doesn't point to anything more severe than an occasional cold."

Melissa: "Jon, I have to agree. I'll be sad to see Madison go—she's a lovely girl and has brought so much to this office—but the potential savings on healthcare costs and down time are just too big to ignore.

I think this is the right decision, and one that resonates with our core values. Have Abby see me in five and while she's here, have security escort Madison out. Thanks so much for your input.”

Of course, Republicans and the corporate hacks who who back this deny that any such agenda exists. The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act wants only to lower the cost and speed the delivery of high-quality health care to employees.

Awww. Isn't that sweet? 

But having watched the bloodletting done in the name of efficiency and shareholder value, I have no doubt this is our future should H.R. 1313 be enacted.

Just as Americans win a hard-fought battle for health insurance that cannot bar us for pre-existing conditions, Republicans want to transfer that ability to our employers.

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

Again, we get the government we deserve. If you're okay with this, remain silent.

If you're not, pick up your phone and start texting your representation now. 

It's important.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Random Thoughts, Vol. 9

America is a country rich in authority and poor in leadership.

Comedy is no joke. When do we start presenting the 'Best Comedy' Oscar?

Donald Trump has learned that if he throws a stick, we will chase it. What is our so-called president doing while we obediently retrieve it?

If Scott Pruitt is going to head the EPA, can I head the NRA?

Tom Waits for no man.

Two of the states with the highest incidence of opioid abuse (West Virginia and Ohio) were also two of the states to lean most-decisively for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election. Coincidence?

I fully expect things will clear up in 2020.

I've always wanted to ask a coach of professional athletes “How do you get 23 year-old guys making eight-million dollars a year to do what you want them to?”

If memory serves, do I need to tip? 

Some of us see the cheese and some of us see the holes. Together, we form an accurate and complete picture of Swiss cheese.

 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why Do Republicans Hate Democracy?

In that particular way our self-declared defenders of the Constitution have, they inevitably end up sounding like admirers of dictatorships. Totalitarianism. Authoritarianism. Monarchies.

Or, for you private sector adherents, the boss.

The most recent example comes from our so-called president's chief advisor, Steve Bannon, who reportedly told House Republican on the eve of their failed health care bill “This isn't a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.”

Now, as someone who isn't a right-wing Republican, I probably have my head up my ass. But I thought democracies were all about debate. Choice. The open and unfettered exchange of ideas. The greatest good for the greatest number.

So why is it that Republicans repeatedly express their disdain for democracy? Why do they hate it when we think about what they say, as opposed to instinctively obeying? Why do they hate it when we don't reflexively and unthinkingly line up behind them?

Could it be that when we look at something we see the truth in it? See that it often isn't such a great deal unless our net worth happens to be well into eight-figures?

Why is it that only Democrats seem to understand that if an idea can''t stand up to examination, it probably isn't much of an idea? 

We all need to come to our own conclusions in our own time. But I'll go to my grave believing this is a question worth asking.

Only bullies lead by fear and intimidation. This because they have nothing else.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Pizza Truths

To paraphrase the late Vince Lombardi, pizza isn't life or death. It's bigger than that. And yet, if our so-called president had written The Art of the Pizza instead of The Art of the Deal, he likely would not be our so-called president, and as such would be making a tangible contribution to society at large.

Pizza is a lifestyle choice. On a table, it practically qualifies as interior decoration. If I were a realtor, I'd have a succession of pizzas baking during an open house. That sucker (the house—not the pizza) would be gone in minutes! (Although the pizzas would disappear like this year's NU Wildcats fighting for a NCAA tournament bid.)

Pizza is a liar. Its circular shape suggests infinity, something that goes on forever. But as any sauce-smeared pizzaholic can tell you, pizza can and does end.

Dysfunctional people are familiar with something called leftover pizza. Of course, I know nothing of this. Leftover pizza? Isn't that an oxymoron? Leftover pizza is an enigma wrapped in silver foil. Or thoughtlessly left in its cardboard box to wither in the cold, dark recesses of a refrigerator.

Pizza is a big, giant anti-depressant you can share with your friends, without the unintended side-effects or social stigma. I should caution you, however, that like any pharmaceutical, pizza may be habit-forming. Best of all, pizza doesn't prohibit you from operating heavy machinery.

Like vampires, pizza is ageless. Unlike vampires, a pizza will not suck every last drop of blood from your person. Psychologists blame this antisocial behavior on an eternity spent in a pizzaless void.

Pizza is ancient, following closely on the discoveries of bread and fire and cheese. Had the Romans not held tomatoes in such misguided contempt and instead used them to embellish pizza, their empire would have lasted longer.

About the same time Persian soldiers were baking early prototypes of pizza on their government-issue shields, the Greek mathematician Pythagoras was theorizing that the Earth was, indeed, round.

Which brings me to the fact that pizza is flat. It is also round, which must be tremendously confounding to the world's flat Earth societies. This is probably the number-one reason they so rarely order it for their banquets.

While it has yet to be proven you can sail off the edge of the Earth, a toy boat can sail off the edge of a pizza.

Beware, Kyrie Irving.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sometimes, Life Does Imitate Art

In the 1991 movie Soapdish, Sally Field plays a nuerotic soap opera actress obssesed with her popularity. Accompanied by the show's head writer, Whoopi Goldberg, she ventures out to shopping malls whenever her insecurities threaten to overwhelm her. There, Goldberg contrives situations where Field is accidentally recognized on-purpose by her fans.

Surrounded by the adoring throng, Field takes great comfort in posing for pictures and signing autographs. Relived that her shelf life as an actress hasn't expired yet, her anxiety dissipates as she realizes the addictive heat of the spotlight is still hers to enjoy.

In 2017, it's hard to watch our so-called president on his victory lap through the south and not recall this movie. In an arena full of the room-temperature IQs who elected him, Trump presides over reenactments of last summer's campaign stops, with the faithful dutifully chanting “Lock her up!” as if it were still relevant.

It has to be a godsend for the man heading an administration so wracked by controversy and conflict.

But if our so-called president is swigging from the nostalgia glass barely one month into his term, what does that say for the future? If The Donald is seeking the reassuring warmth of past triumphs just thirty days after his inauguration, does this mark him as a president unable to cope?

Men like Donald are used to giving orders. Wielding unfettered power. Checks and balances rarely exist in the corporate world. Especially in privately-held corporate monoliths like Donald Trump's.

Donald isn't used to democracy. Donald isn't used to being challenged. Donald isn't used to being overruled.

Donald is used to “Yes, Sir. Right away, Sir.”

As the oldest person ever to hold the office, his presidency becomes an exercise in seeing if old dogs can truly learn new tricks. Given his thin-skinned nature and stubborn, resistant and combative ADHD personality, I don't like the odds.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As it is said, give a man enough rope and he'll hang himself.

We can only hope.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Learning Curve

Yes, it's taken me this long to process the events of November 8th. Despite my bolted-to-the-floor cynicism and unshakable belief that you absolutely cannot underestimate the collective intelligence of Americans, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has given me a really bad case of what-the-fuck.

Donald Trump? He's the so-called President? How did that happen?

As is so often the case with Donald Trump, he was lucky. First off, the Democratic National Committee seemingly decided sometime after Barack Obama's election that come hell or high water, Hillary Clinton would be their next nominee. After backing the first African-American for president, the DNC was hell-bent on naming the first woman as well.

(If you're a sports fan, you'll recognize this as a text book example of an athlete's selfish pursuit of a record at the expense of their team.)

Whatever your opinion of Clinton, you'll have to agree she wasn't the best candidate for the 2016 presidential race. She reeked of of experience and was a confirmed Washington DC insider. To large portions of an angry populace just emerging from the Great Recession and sick of politics as usual, this was a decided disadvantage. These folk didn't want polish. They wanted punk.

Adding to Trump's good fortune, Bernie Sanders, a left-field candidate himself who would have blunted Trump's severest criticisms of Clinton, was waylaid in large part by his call for free college tuition, which made potential supporters blanch (as if Trump's we're-gonna-build-a-wall-amd-make-Mexico-pay-for-it gambit was a clear-eyed and entirely reasonable immigration platform).

It was all falling into place. Critical blocks of Republican voters turned out en masse and got the billionaire elected despite a record-setting vote deficit of 2,868,519.

Like I said, lucky.

But more than anything, what got Trump elected was his supporter's collective ignorance of history. Writer/philosopher George Santayana is credited with the expression 'Those who remain ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it', and thanks to those who put Trump in the White House, so we shall.

The learning curve will be a painful one.

We will learn anew why restrictions were placed on the snarling jackals who inhabit Wall Street. We will learn why the Environmental Protection Agency was created. We will learn why consumer protection agencies were created. We will learn why the gentle art of foreign relations evolved the way they did, and the importance of playing well with others. We will learn why America remained the number-one destination of the oppressed and the abused the world over for so long. We will learn that as in nature, diversity makes us stronger, not weaker.

We will learn that a free press is a critical element of a functioning democracy, however sensationalist and invasive the worst of it may occasionally be. We will learn of the prescience that led to the creation of public lands protected from businessmen. We will learn why unions were created. We will learn why ego and arrogance were regarded as negative personality traits for the balance of human history. We will learn why we prized the clarity and absoluteness of truth.

We will learn the importance of objectivity. And of trust. We will learn to appreciate the beauty of our three-tiered system of government and its system of checks and balances. And we will learn the depth and breadth of our ignorance in electing a man whose penultimate moment before ascending to the White House was sneering at contestants on a pre-fabricated “reality” show before fiendishly informing them “You're fired!”

George Bernard Shaw said one of the two greatest human tragedies is to get what you want. 45.9% of the voting population will learn this, too.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Happy Birthday, Drew Pearson

To any football fan who grew up watching the nineteen-seventies Dallas Cowboys, Drew Pearson was the best wide receiver of all-time. No one made more clutch catches than he. When the game was on the line, it was Drew Pearson time.

Hell, Roger Staubach even credited Pearson with putting him in the Hall of Fame. That's how good he was.

In the wild and free football games of my youth, I unfailingly assumed the identity of Drew Pearson. Owing to the fact I was six-foot three (most of which was in my legs), I could run. It helped sustain the illusion that I was a reasonable facsimile of Mr. Pearson.

I would race into the end zone convinced I was in the silver, blue and white of the Cowboys. Was this what it felt like to be him?

Of course, while Drew enjoyed the adoration of tens of thousands (along with a national TV audience), I had only the hoots and hollers of four or five teammates. But in the true spirit of the game, it never ever detracted from the experience.

(Everyone should know what it's like to catch a perfectly-thrown football on the dead run. It is a perfect and beautiful symmetry.) 

Drew Pearson played in an age when the pass was used to offset the run, not sustain an offense. Otherwise, he would have amassed Randy Moss-like numbers. As it was, his achievements were among the best of his generation.

Let the record show he was selected to the all-time NFL squad of the 1970s, along with Paul Warfield, Harold Carmichael and Lynn Swann. This is no mystery.

What is a mystery is that he remains outside the Hall of Fame. This perhaps is the expected byproduct of voters from New York City, Washington DC and Philadelphia with long memories.

At any rate, happy birthday, Drew. And thank you for providing so many indelible memories to keep me warm in the winter of my life. I had a ball watching you play.

I hope you had a ball playing. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Athletic Celibacy, Pt. 2

This is another post with lists. Lists of the ten all-time longest droughts. Droughts between championships and droughts between appearances in the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup. The observant enthusiast will draw several conclusions.

Number-one, the Chicago Cubs were champions long before 2016. Their 107 seasons between championships is unlikely ever to be surpassed. It is untouched in the annals of professional sports.

But their second record is looking like low-hanging fruit.

The Cubs' 70 seasons between visits to the World Series is threatened by the NBA's Sacramento Kings, who haven't paid a visit to the NBA Finals since 1951, when they played 2,290 miles to the east and sported the words 'Rochester Royals' on their jerseys.

Moving on, as a Chicago-based baseball fan I'm trying to calculate the odds of my hometown's two baseball teams owning the two worst cases of World Series avoidance in MLB history. I mean, how do things like that happen?

And what does it say when the parity-obsessed NFL has more teams on the appearances list than any other sport? I guess inept management can happen anywhere—even in luxury suites. Maybe Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy flows upstream?

Finally, if you ever wondered how dominant the Toronto Maple Leafs once were, know that despite not appearing in the Stanley Cup since the Summer of Love was in its planning stages, the Leafs still rank third in Stanley Cup appearances and second in Cups won.

As promised, here are the lists. Two of them, to be exact.

The first contains the ten all-time longest droughts without a franchise appearing in their sport's championship series or game. The second enumerates the ten all-time longest stretches without a championship.

Figures are current through each sport's most-recently completed season.

Chicago Cubs MLB 70 1946-2015
Sacramento Kings NBA 65* 1952-present
Arizona Cardinals NFL 59 1949-2007
Detroit Lions NFL 58* 1958-present
Atlanta Hawks NBA 55* 1962-present
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 49* 1968-present
New York Jets NFL 47* 1969-present
Kansas City Chiefs NFL 46* 1970-present
St. Louis Blues NHL 46* 1971-present
Chicago White Sox MLB 45 1960-2004
Milwaukee Bucks NBA 42* 1975-present

Honorable mentions:

Oakland Athletics MLB 40 1932-1971
Cleveland Indians MLB 40 1955-1994
Golden State Warriors NBA 39 1976-2014
Minnesota Vikings NFL 39* 1977-present

Here is where the Cubs appear eternal. As hapless as franchises like the Cleveland Indians, Arizona Cardinals and Sacramento Kings may appear, they would have to remain title-free for roughly another forty years—over a generation—to have a shot at the Cubs' record.

That puts it into perspective for me.

Chicago Cubs MLB 107 1909-2015
Chicago White Sox MLB 87 1918-2004
Boston Red Sox MLB 85 1919-2003
Cleveland Indians MLB 68* 1949-present
Arizona Cardinals NFL 68* 1948-present
Sacramento Kings NBA 65* 1952-present
Minnesota Twins MLB 62 1925-1986
Detroit Lions NFL 58* 1958-present
Atlanta Hawks NBA 58* 1959-present
San Francisco Giants MLB 55 1955-2009
Philadelphia Eagles NFL 55* 1961-present
Tennessee Titans NFL 54* 1962-present
New York Rangers NHL 53 1941-1993

Honorable mentions:

San Diego Chargers NFL 52* 1964-present
Buffalo Bills NFL 50* 1966-present
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 49* 1968-present

* = active