Categories
Music of My Youth

Music of My Youth: The Ultravox Story

A lot of people have those go-to songs, or albums, or something special in their music collection that they always come back to. This is the story of one of those albums, and one of my favorite bands ever.

The story begins because ages and ages ago, my friend Mark gave me an album that he didn’t want.

Back in those days (1982), there was a music store within easy biking distance of my house (and, conveniently, just doors away from a video arcade in the very same strip mall). I could drop a few bucks into video games and then buy a couple of 45s for 99 cents each. Twice a year, though, Don Leary’s Records would hold a sale to get rid of everything that hadn’t sold well or maybe was sent to them as a demo, had been played, and had a few scratches. Albums sold for $1. 45s sold for a quarter.

My friend would go to the sale and buy albums in quantity based solely on how cool the cover art was. I thought this was crazy, because it was music, but hey…

On this occasion, the album he had purchased and then passed to me after listening to it was Ultravox’s Rage In Eden. And this was the cover:

Okay. So it had that going for it. Cool. Modern. New Wave. Awesome. But Mark didn’t like the music.

I took it and listened, and I can honestly say that in the 37 years since, with each new listen, there’s more that I love about that album. From the power and anger of the opening track, The Voice, to the increasing rage of The Thin Wall, and the deep ennui of I Remember (Death in the Afternoon), to my ears and mind, there isn’t a dud on the whole album. Hell, they even slip in a line in The Thin Wall that actually says “They shuffle with a bovine grace and glide in syncopation.”

What’s not to love?

That single album, purchased by a friend for $1 and given to me kicked off an obsession. Who was this band? Where did they come from? What else have they done?

Here in the US, Ultravox was relatively unknown. Radio airplay at the time was basically nil. Finding them in record stores was tricky, at best. But in the UK and Europe, they were big. Not huge, but big. And well known. Especially from a hit from their previous album, Vienna.

Keep in mind that it’s 1982. No internet, really. I mean there was CompuServe, but I wouldn’t subscribe until 1987. So I dug into whatever I could find in the library. And bookstores. And music stores.

4 guys in the band. UK based. Midge Ure, the current lead, was the replacement for John Foxx who fronted the band through their mid- to late-’70s “feedback is art” phase, as I called it. Midge (Jim backwards, I would later learn) and the band would go in a different direction, loading up on synthesizers and sequencers and joining the emerging New Wave movement of the early 1980s. I bought Vienna next, an album that was simplistic when compared to Rage In Eden‘s power and layered sounds. But the sound was there. That feel. The unmistakable strength of Midge’s voice. And, a surprising element: Billy Currie’s violin on some tracks, always played in haunting minor keys.

Late in 1982, I found their new album, Quartet. I loved that album too.

1983, nothing new. I couldn’t find any info anywhere on what was going on. So I kept working on finding old titles from the John Foxx days.

Then in 1984, Lament came out. It was a different sound. Still filled with anger and some darkness. The hit from the album took place during the time between hearing there’s an incoming nuclear missile attack and the actual landing of the ordinance. Dancing With Tears In My Eyes was a love song wrapped in those minutes of hell. As a youth of the Reagan era, it was striking because it had a new take on something all of those in my generation feared.

1985 dawned. There was a famine going on in Ethiopia. My friends and I watched news stories about it. We lamented it, did small fundraisers at school, and then went back to our comfortable lives worried about the look of the shirts, jeans, and shoes we wore, and we’d buy a package of fries in the lunchroom at school even if we brought our lunch. Because we could.

And then there was Live Aid.

Midge Ure was one of the organizers of a huge concert, originating in London and Philadelphia, beamed across the globe, to bring together dozens of acts to perform all day and raise money to help those suffering in the famine. And somewhere, I found the schedule of acts performing in the show. Ultravox was one of them. I was irrationally excited.

It was a Saturday morning in the middle of summer, and insanely early for a teenager (I was 15, almost 16). Ultravox had a time slot sometime around 7:15 a.m. Central Time in the US. The Boomtown Rats, Bob Geldof’s band (Geldof was the other organizer with Midge) was before Ultravox.

I set my alarm, got up at about 6, and went downstairs to watch. Without any fanfare, Ultravox came on and started their set. This was the first time I’d see them “live.”

The second song was Dancing With Tears In My Eyes.

My God, I wanted that coat.

They performed two more songs, closing with their big hit Vienna, and that was it. Four songs in about 20 minutes. Then Spandau Ballet came on.

“Thank you very much. Enjoy your day,” says Midge. Oh, I already have, sir. I already have.

For those 20 minutes, I was in heaven. I recorded it on the VCR, and played it back immediately, just to relive the moment.

Okay, so what was the big deal? In the age of MTV (which I didn’t get because we didn’t have cable), and a little later on NBC’s Friday Night Videos, fans could see the music videos from their favorite bands. Except Ultravox. Because while I knew a song or two had been played on MTV, it was few and far-between, and when at a friend’s house, the likelihood of seeing one of their videos was very slim. And here, early on a summer Saturday morning, I’d seen my favorite band perform live.

There were 5 albums in the stack that Mark passed on with Rage In Eden, and I can name the other four (one was Q-Feel’s only album, maybe I’ll talk about that gem some other time; and another was Kim Wilde’s self-titled debut album which contained her hit Kids In America in 1981). But Rage In Eden was the one that really stuck.

And still does.

Categories
Music of My Youth

Music of My Youth: Free to Be…You and Me

Ages and ages ago, or 1972 to be more precise, an album came out that was aimed squarely at kids around my age. It was Free to Be…You and Me. The album tried to build on a movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s to foster gender neutrality, racial equality, tolerance, and a belief that anyone could be whatever or whoever they wanted to be. It was produced by Marlo Thomas, and featured practically anyone who was anyone at the time.

Fast forward 46 years, and the album is relevant again (or still, depending on your point of view). And as you’d probably expect, all along its history, the album has drawn the ire of those who claim it’s emasculating. Or ignores traditional values. Or something along those lines. The arguments against Me Too or Black Lives Matter or any calls for equality haven’t ever changed, even 40-plus years on, it’s the same tired refrain.

But back to the record. I loved this album. I listened and sang along to it every chance I had in kindergarten. And listened to it a lot when I got a copy at home.

And just to complete the message of the album, picture this: I’m in kindergarten. I’d constructed “microphones” out of giant Tinkertoys, and my best friend, Sarah–an African-American girl–are belting out the songs along with the album in class during free time. 

Because of course we would.

I don’t know how exactly I got introduced to the album. I started in kindergarten in 1974 so by then the album was about two years old. But in March 1974, there was a TV special…An hour long show with many of the songs and skits from the album, plus some extras. More on that later…After you watch the open:

Catchy tune, right? They opened on a strength, I’m telling you!

Honestly, I wouldn’t put it past either my kindergarten teacher or my mom to introduce something so sneakily subversive into my life. And clearly I loved it, which either woman would have loved. Because even then, I knew what the album was talking about. It was kinda hard to miss.

(The best line: “What do you want to be when you grow up? A fireman. How about you? A cocktail waitress! Does that prove anything to you?” This skit was co-written by Carl Reiner.)

And yes, that was Mel Brooks there with Marlo as the babies. And Alan Alda was on the album. As was Rosie Grier, Carol Channing, and Michael Jackson, among others. Oh, and the title song up top? That was performed by the New Seekers. I’ll clue you in on them at the end for those that don’t know them.

Okay, so back to the origin story as it pertains to my life. I don’t know how this came into my life, though I may have discovered it with the TV special in 1974. 

But this thing would always seem to find its way back into my life.

I was an A/V nerd through elementary school, taught to load and run the filmstrip projectors (look those up, you youngsters out there–and loved the automatic ones, but I’ll save that for another post maybe), shown how to use and thread the black-and-white reel-to-reel videotape recorders/players we had at school, and I was trained to thread and run the 16mm film projectors.

I was running the movies for my classes by the middle of second grade. And my favorite movie to run was Free to Be…You and Me. Why? It was a two-reeler. About 45 minutes of movie. 45 minutes of non-educational movie or so we thought). Which usually meant that the teacher would get 2 projectors from the library, and I’d have to switch from one to the other midway through, looking for the cue mark on the film to start up the second projector.

Yep. Just like the theaters. It was the big time, man.

Free to Be…You and Me was 45 minutes of nerdy bliss. By the time I showed the movie, I’d listened to it probably hundreds of times. So I could watch the reel on the first projector as it worked its way down and got closer and closer to the end, so that I could then focus on the screen. 

Oh yeah. And it was an important social statement as well. I suppose.

I’ve had that album hanging around in my life for a very long time. I’d come back and listen to some of it into adulthood, and played it for my kids more than once. Though I don’t think it impacted them as much as it did me. 

But back in 2006, the album was remastered and reissued. And just a few years ago, digital versions were made available on Google Play or iTunes. So I can listen to a nice clean version of the album I grew up loving as a somewhat scratched up mess. 

I just listened to it again recently–beginning-to-end. And found I haven’t forgotten many lyrics. Funny how those stick with you.

Before I close, remember the New Seekers? No? They had a hit in 1971 that came from an ad jingle for Coca-Cola (yeah, the jingle came first):

https://youtu.be/Jg22W6oro-U

Categories
All about me Depression Mental Health

Depressing, Isn’t It?

It’s glorious how for those first few days after some high-profile person commits suicide that depression and national help hotlines get back in the headlines, isn’t it?

Except it isn’t. It’s a Band-Aid, a weak offering of help to those who cannot, will not, and may not even realize they need to ask for help. While the world has made great strides in recognizing and acknowledging depression and other mental health issues as actual medical problems, it’s still not a daily thing we’re stressing.

During the winter–the height of flu season–my company lets us all know through its various communication platforms that coming to work sick isn’t good–for the worker, or for those around you. But why, during the rest of the year, is nothing communicated about seeking help if you’re struggling with a mental health issue?

CNN went wall-to-wall with coverage of Anthony Bourdain’s life and death. And on the screen the whole time was a graphic containing the toll-free number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Great! More power to them. But where’s the coverage or that number going to be tomorrow? Or Monday morning as people wake up after a lonely weekend?

Full disclosure: I suffer from depression and anxiety. I’ve been in and out of treatment for at least the past 12 years, and have pursued everything from counseling to group therapy to medical treatment. Honestly, I’ve hated every minute of it–the treatment, the feelings, the condition, the thoughts, how the meds make me feel, the guilt, trying to make sure that everyone I care about knows this isn’t because of them, or that they can’t do anything for me, and feeling like people are judging me (including my family) for having this condition and needing treatment for it.

And yes, in those thankfully very few truly horrible moments spent deep in my own head, there’s been that option looming: suicide will fix everything.

Fortunately, I can rationally think through it and recognize that it won’t actually fix anything. My family relies on me a lot, and while it’s sometimes annoying the extent to which they jokingly say they couldn’t function without me, I know that it’s said because they truly do appreciate what I do. I know I’m flawed and not perfect. I know that I screw up to varying degrees at varying times in a wide range of areas in what I do for them. And yet, they forgive me. They support me. They love me. They do care about me as a person and a provider. And ultimately, I know their pain would be as great as any I’m experiencing at those bleak moments. And I can’t do that to them. That’s my rationale. It ain’t perfect, but they all keep me strong.

A lot of people out there don’t have that, or don’t see that they do have it. That’s a huge part of the problem: depressed people isolate themselves a lot and in isolation, you can push people away both intentionally and unintentionally. And it can be compounded when the people being kept at a distance don’t know why. So there’s a struggle: telling those around you what’s wrong.

I realized in college that I had depression. I masked it through sarcasm and introversion. But the “real world” isn’t geared toward introverts. Or those with depression. I never told anyone what I had self-diagnosed. Hell, I never even sought treatment until I was in my 30s, and only then, it was because I really had to.

I looked on my official diagnosis and treatment as an admission of failure: that I knew there was a problem, and I couldn’t fix it myself. And it was hard to admit to my family that I suffered from depression and anxiety. Even harder was having to take a medication for a while to adjust my mood, because that was, to my thinking, the ultimate indignity: I couldn’t manage on my own simply by rationally thinking through it.

But the thought of telling anyone outside of that closed group of relatives was terrifying. They would think less of me because I had depression. I wouldn’t even dare mentioning anything of the kind to my coworkers because I see them every day. What would that do to our work relationship? And yet, I finally found the strength to first mention it and then talk about it more openly with them over the last year.

Whether or not society does it to those of us with mental illness, judgement is a huge deal. It’s been talked about often in my life even among family and friends as something not normal–I don’t blame anyone for that, it’s just what it is, and it’s what society has done forever–and I’ve even done it myself “all you have to do is…” or “just relax and get through it. Everyone has to do it. You’ll be fine.”

Depression and anxiety have come the the fore in the last 3 days because of high-profile deaths. In between those deaths was a report from the CDC talking about suicide rates going up in many states in this nation. And on a personal level, there’s been some struggle both for me and for members of my family. But things will return to “normal,” and it won’t be top-of-mind or headline grabbing for long. Until someone else with fame or position does this and we grieve the loss of a soul who impacted the world in some meaningful way. And there’s part of the problem: we try to treat a very personal disease with a public outpouring of support. It won’t work that way, not effectively, anyway.

It’s dawned on me recently that my depression and anxiety is just like my diabetes. It’s a condition I have to live with and manage every day. I’m trying to figure out some way to check-in with myself on a quantifiable basis, just like how I check my blood glucose once every day. I need to do a better job of watching my diet and controlling those numbers for my diabetes. And I need to not treat my depression and anxiety reactively by calling a therapist when I feel like I need that boost.

There will be bad days–just like those days when my blood glucose is inexplicably over 200 and I wonder why I even bother trying to eat healthy–I need to know that there will be days that I’m just going to feel hopeless, and that I need to ask those around me for a boost if I need it. Or at least just tell them, because more often than not, trying to unravel the knotted up thoughts in my head just is too complicated. They may not help, but knowing someone cares always helps lift me from that dark place. But at the same time, I need to celebrate those wins–those days when there’s no sign of that doubt or pain in my head–and share those too.

Just the thought of doing any of that makes me anxious, which is the very nature of my disease, so I won’t jump right into that immediately. But I will try to work to do that soon.

In the meantime, even if you don’t know what it means to feel depression like I do, or Kate Spade did, or Anthony Bourdain did, just let them know they’re important to you. Some day, maybe on that darkest day in their lives, that may be what makes them realize someone in their life cares and would really feel the pain of losing them.

Categories
Conservatism

Conservatives don’t get protests

I’m going to use the image from the opinion piece on Townhall.com. They don’t attribute the shot, so I won’t either.

I was struck by this post in my news feed this morning. In it, the author tries to compare players kneeling at an NFL football game with such things as peeing on Ted Kennedy’s grave, or (nonsensically) to the illegal immigrant who killed Kate Steinle in San Francisco a couple of years ago. (Go ahead and read it. It’s going to take a couple of tries to wade through the illogical thinking behind it).

This–and other actions, articles, and statements from the right–shows clearly that conservatives have no idea how protest works, how it attracts the most attention, and, moreover, how effective a well constructed protest can be, shown especially by the fact that we’re still talking about this protest.

The author gets one thing right, and fortunately, it’s early in the article:

[Colin Kaepernick] chose protesting the flag because he knew that doing something so incendiary would be extremely polarizing and would get a lot of attention, good and bad.

But his logic goes out of the window pretty rapidly. Because it quickly becomes clear that this man does not understand either protests or the civil rights movement (which, I’ll note, most conservatives think ended in the late ’60s or early ’70s with some of the legislation that was enacted–as demonstrated by their inexplicable belief that racism and sexism aren’t things anymore).

Let’s turn our attention to the exact moment when this argument went completely off the rails: in the sentence immediately following the one I quoted above, he asserts this:

Other NFL players saw what he was doing and copied him, not because they really care about the issue, but because they wanted attention for themselves.

Um….What? Since it’s an opinion piece, there is, of course, no data to support this view, so we’re left to do a little reckoning. If we assume he’s right, then the players in the NFL don’t care about any social or economic causes: they’re simply in it for fame and money. If we assume he’s right, all of the charitable giving and volunteer work done by the thousands of players in the league are just a ruse. If we assume he’s right, then all NFL players who protested–almost all of them black–don’t actually care about race relations in this country.  Keeping in mind that in 2014 at least, about 70% of all NFL players were African-American, that’s a pretty appalling and sweeping statement about an entire group of people. On the other hand, if he’s wrong, then we know that they’re invested in their communities, the socio-economic groups they grew up in and came from–through some pretty hard physical labor, mind you–and, at least in Colin Kaepernick’s case, was willing to virtually destroy his career to send a message to the nation.

So clearly, we can accept the fact that this guy gives no other human being in this nation any respect unless he agrees with them. That being understood, we’ll move on.

Clearly, the author–and most conservatives–fundamentally do not understand the MO of a protest: it is to get attention in the most effective way possible (usually the loudest and most disruptive ways) and get people talking about the cause a lot. Gandhi did it. Martin Luther King did it. Hell, in his day, Jesus did it, although it wasn’t portrayed as protest because, well, for some reason, Christianity doesn’t seem to want to portray him as a rebel.

You can look further and see that this lack of understanding is true because instead of arguing the point or even participating in the conversation beyond a dismissive “you aren’t targeted by police,” the run is made directly to HOW the protest is being made. The message is “don’t disrespect the flag, don’t block traffic during your protests, don’t draw attention to your cause by doing something that inconveniences/annoys my delicate sensibilities.” There’s also an implication here that patriotism is only defined one way, and that somehow working to make a better country where all people are respected and treated fairly is somehow unpatriotic, probably only because the protest is happening at a time that we’re supposed to show reverence to a flag at a sporting match.

From there, it goes downhill to the usual right-wing dog whistles on the topic, including this classic: players are employees of the NFL and should not be allowed to voice any opinion on company time, and that the NFL should crack down on their employees going rogue. (Key point: Technically, players in any professional sports league are not employees, they’re independent contractors. So some of those rules may not apply if they aren’t spelled out in the contracts.) Oh, and don’t forget that because they live in a country that has enabled them to make obscene amounts of money by simply playing sports, they shouldn’t blaspheme that nation. That’s a pretty weird argument, if you ask me: if you’re successful in America, you can’t have political views because of that success? Then please explain the Koch brothers?

There’s a fascinating basic sentiment on the right when it comes to important societal opinion: that there is a time and place for politics. Any political statement or protest should only be conducted at times that…um..well, I think it’s only when a protester is not on a television show or sport that is watched by conservatives; is away from any highways or freeways that conservatives may use; or basically any time or place when they may be seen by anyone who disagrees with them. Entertainment featuring a strong opinion (whether it be sports or sitcoms or dramas) on TV in particular seems to frustrate them the most: M*A*S*H, Laugh-In, Ellen DeGeneres coming out on her TV show, Murphy Brown’s pregnancy out of wedlock, and the reactions those received, especially from the right, just as a start.

So, using the logic we’ve framed here from the article and conservative statements on protest, the Boston Tea Party should not have happened, and anti-British sentiment should never have been voiced in public prior to the start of the Revolutionary War. Instead, those prominent colonists should have instead channeled those energies into some sort of bridge-building and negotiation with the British. Of course, that would have likely ended with us becoming a part of the Commonwealth, and not an independent nation with strange notions of patriotism.

Using that logic, we can go further to assert that the Women’s Suffrage movement would have never given women the right to vote. And who knows where this nation’s race relations would be without the countless illegal protests of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

What this writer seems to ignore, thanks to being blinded with his rage over the flag being disrespected, is that there has been virtually no societal change for centuries in this world without some sort of protest conducted by some group of people that deliberately went out of their way to draw attention to themselves and their message or change. What he’s casually forgotten to mention in his flimsy op-ed piece is that as long as we are all talking about this, the protesters still have the nation’s attention, and the cause is still in people’s minds, whether he and his fellow right-wingers may wish that to be the case.

But, undeterred, and just as icing on the case, the white guy who put keyboard to screen pulls out this gem:

If you start a conversation by being deliberately unpatriotic to get attention for your cause, a lot of Americans will respond by telling you and your cause to drop dead.

Oddly enough, Mr. Hawkins, that was what the protest was ultimately all about–one group causing members of another group of people to die. Either you’re stupid or you’re being deliberately obtuse. At least I hope it’s one of those two. If, on the other hand, you’re deliberately ignoring the argument because of your feigned outrage over the treatment of a flag (which I wager you probably have on a piece of clothing or two–we can discuss that disrespect later), then you’re putting patriotism over the lives of citizens of this country in terms of importance. Once patriotism is demanded over the welfare of its people, you have a police state that only cares only about the nation and nothing more.

 

Categories
Travel Work

Professional Development Is Humid

I have never been to a professional conference–not one that was outside of the town I lived in, or longer than a single day, anyway.

That changed this past week as I was dispatched to Orlando to attend the IAITAM ACE Conference.

First off, let me explain something: I work in IT Asset Management, which usually requires a great deal of explanation to help people understand what it is that I do. But in short, I am supposed to know, understand, and make sure that my company is complying with those software EULAs that no one reads. And I’m responsible for making sure we have a fairly accurate count of our hardware as well.

That’s the basics, anyway. The specifics are way, way, way more complicated.

So it was nice to be able to sit down at a table at breakfast and chat with other people who understand the frustrations you have in your job. Or instantly recognize the terminology you’re throwing around without you having to explain it.

It was great to hear from people in the sessions who talked about their experiences, or shared their expertise.

It was a little depressing to hear from people who worked for smaller companies who had substantially larger teams doing this job. But at the same time, it was helpful to be able to talk to people who were trying to do the job on their own for a company half or a quarter the size of mine.

I could talk about software audits and people would roll their eyes and give me a figurative hug, because we’ve both been there. And it was really nice to learn that the process we use to handle them in my team is really very strong.

That’s the opening night mixer. People came from around the country to listen to their peers sing karaoke.

I learned that IT Asset Managers are an odd group–not quite the uber-nerds that you expect in other IT conferences, but still nerdy enough to be an odd mix of introverts, extreme introverts, extroverts, and accountants.

 

After 3+ days, 1 mixer, 3 keynote addresses, 11 sessions, a users group meeting, vendor fair, 3 lunches and 3 breakfasts, I have to say it was a rewarding, if not tiring experience. We were booked pretty much from 7:30 am until at least 5:30 or 6 pm, later for a couple of days. On the last evening there, my colleague and I skipped the vendor fair–after all, that really wasn’t going to change.

I went to sessions with such energizing titles as “Case Studies in How IBM’s Changing Terms and Conditions Drive Exponential Financial Risk for Organizations,” “Optimizing Engineering Software –  A Case Study,” and “Licensing Oracle Database & IBM Products.”

Exciting, right? Actually, it was, at the very least, mostly interesting. Some stuff I already knew. Some I didn’t. But again, it was refreshing hearing the same language I speak professionally outside of work.

So what about the weather?

Orlando this time of year, I was told by the weather forecasters on the TV, is not supposed to be terribly hot and humid yet. But it was terribly hot: 90s for highs the whole time I was there. The humidity, they gleefully explained, was low, so it would be comfortable.

It was not comfortable.

Sure, I spent almost all of my time in my hotel room or in the conference hall. But walking from one to the other was outside, crossing the parking lot of the hotel. And a 60+ degree dewpoint is when we Minnesotans begin seriously contemplating our life choices while closing up the house to turn on the air conditioning. That is humid up here, and we find it most certainly unpleasant.

But whatever–different strokes for different folks, right?

It was a good time. Maybe one day too long–by Thursday late morning, both my colleague and I were just mentally exhausted. It was a lot to take in and process, and we were ready to go home and not try to absorb another session. But I’d do it again, and just a little differently next time: I’d try to socialize more and concentrate on the sessions less. The true value of the conference seems to be in those opportunities to talk to your peers and not necessarily cram in all the learning you can.

Maybe, the way things have gone for my team, I’ll go again in 4-5 years. We’ll see.

 

 

Categories
All about me

So, It’s Been a Year…

Pardon my vanity, but honestly, that’s what a blog is all about, right?

This blog is, and frankly, always has been, about me. And those around me. And I’ve always wanted it to be something that was entertaining, interesting, meaningful, and, well, something I’d be compelled to do because it was cool. And fun. Almost 22 years after I started doing this thing, I’m still trying to make it work. Still trying to make something that I’d enjoy.

For a while, it was a way to just keep in touch–with my parents, grandparents, and others. It also sometimes was a way to just get my thoughts down on…screen. And it was a toy–something to just play around with. I’ve come to realize this site–everything about it–is a creative outlet. From playing with how it looks to writing posts, it’s something I need and really want to do. Because I miss being creative. I’m a huge introvert, but there’s a relative anonymity that comes with running a blog site–I can put energy into it without too much fear of being discovered.

So I’m back here to do something that ultimately I enjoy. I hope to not get tired of it if I’m constantly working on it. See, I’d worked with someone to put out a new version of my church’s website (mtcarmel.net), and I’ve really enjoyed playing with it too. But there are self-imposed rules on that site: I can’t radically change the theme it’s based on overnight. Here, I can totally do that, because it’s my sandbox.

So congrats, peeps. You’re guinea pigs.

 

Categories
Conservatism

…Of, by, and for the people…Or not.

Like a groundhog stepping out of his hidey-hole to see his shadow, Trump and his fellow conservative, white, rich guys…er, administration…have come forth blinkingly into the sunlight, with their tax plan. While this coincides with the 100th day of their rule of our fine land, please note that it is not a celebration of that time. Rather, it is punitive for those who aren’t like them.

Theirs is a plan which is heavy on benefits for the wealthy, while giving virtually nothing to anyone else (at least that was all too notably absent in the details, most of which certainly favored the rich). This plan, combined with some other key achievements and attempted achievements of the Republican controlled government of this nation, just prove that ultimately the only people they seek to serve with their government is themselves and those like them.

What’s the proof? Here goes: the first point in a multi-point discussion of conservative economic fallacies.

Trickle-down doesn’t trickle down. Never has, never will.

Ever since the Reagan Administration, conservatism has consistently pounded the unceasing drumbeat of supply-side economics. Even in the face of a distinct lack of actual proof that it helps the economy as a whole, they’ve insisted that cutting taxes, especially on businesses and the wealthy will make them those groups spend more and hire more people. But that’s far from the truth.

No business has ever actually hired more people and attributed that to how much they saved thanks to tax cuts or savings. Hell, even the company I work for (that went through an inversion so that they could repatriate billions of dollars held in foreign accounts without paying a hefty tax penalty on that) never said they’d hire people with the money saved from paying those taxes. Instead, companies, including my own, seek first to pay more back to their shareholders, then pass on tax breaks as profit and bonuses to executives, and finally even invest in R&D. Never has hiring people ever been attached to tax breaks. Except by conservatives.

Nevertheless, conservatives say, let’s drop the corporate income tax from 35 to 15 percent. Companies will hire huge numbers of people, they assert. Can this possibly be right? Nope. Cutting corporate income taxes will just ensure bigger profits. Bigger returns to shareholders. And more money to the executives who also happen to be the wealthiest people in the nation.

Want actual empirical data? Let’s look to the oil industry when gas prices were sky high back in the early part of this decade. If the theory is that companies hire people when they’re making more money, then it should hold that employment would mirror the price of gas at the pump. Right? Okay, let’s investigate.

So, from gasbuddy.com, I give you the average gas prices since 2008. 

Note in there that from early 2011 to late 2014, the average price at the pump for gas was over $3.00 the whole time. For three solid years, the price of gas was at least 7% over the maximum average for the two years before 2011 and all of the years since 2014. That should correspond to an increase in jobs in the industry, right?

BZZZZZZZ. Wrong.

From a report issued by the Center for American Progress, figures actually gathered from oil companies and reported on by Price Waterhouse Coopers show nearly flat employment in the industry:

Meanwhile, 2012 and 2013 offered the oil companies some of their largest profits in history. So none of that extra money coming in translated to jobs.

WTF? Companies making more money is supposed to be making them grow!

Oh! Maybe there was some increase in the corporate income tax rate that kept those numbers flat? Um…No (remember that this is the effective corporate tax rate–that number most companies get to after they’ve done all of their accounting magic to hide the real numbers): 

If tax breaks (and let’s mention it here: those pesky regulations that make life so damned hard and costly for companies) truly translated to economic growth and development, then the target of greatest effect should be the largest economic class in the nation: the middle class.  Especially when considering that in 2009, corporate income taxes amounted to 1% of the US GDP.

Wait…1%? Since 1982, corporate taxes have amounted to between 1 and 3% of the US GDP? That’s what all of this fuss and economic BS has been focused on for so long? Roughly 2% of the GDP? Republicans seriously argue that a more than 50% drop in tax rates on 2% of the US GDP will actually drive the economy?

Sadly, yes, they do. They believe this snake oil they’re trying to sell.

Okay. Deep breath. Let’s roll up our sleeves and find a realistic tax solution that would actually impact our economy.

Ah! Of course: giving a huge tax break to individuals and not corporations would free up a lot of money. A lot MORE money, according to to the Tax Policy Center, who reports that an estimated 9.3% of GDP in 2017 is coming from individual income taxes–a full 400% (and probably closer to 450%) more than corporate income tax (worth noting is that the numbers the data is based on comes from the OMB–part of the White House–and that page is gone right now under the Trump administration’s policy of not actually showing the people anything that may disagree with their world view).

To continue, from that cut to household taxes, you can be sure that the middle class alone would free up billions of dollars that could be used to invest in home improvements, buy houses, cars, electronics, pay for education, eat out more, or even save more (which would drive the economy even further). And the working poor who do pay taxes may actually be able to pull themselves out of poverty and live better lives with that cut.

But Republican fiscal policymakers don’t even look that way. They pay it a ton of lip service during election time, but when it’s all said and done, Trump’s plan to cut the tax brackets from seven to three wasn’t even accompanied by any information about which income ranges would fall into which category or how a cut may actually impact a family making $60,000 a year. Moreover, just to add insult to injury, one of the details spells out that the simplification of the tax code includes eliminating the 40% inheritance tax, which would allow those inheriting more than $5.5 million to receive it without penalty or cost. I’m sorry, but the kids of a working poor family aren’t going to be inheriting more than $5.5 million. Hell, it would be amazing if they inherited $550.

So let’s take a moment and just shed some light on something that Republicans insist isn’t actually a thing…Or if it is, isn’t caused by things the left claim it is.

Let’s look at the household income taxes in this way: in 1982, the second full year of the Reagan Administration, the first of the supply-side, trickle-down tax cuts were put in place. In this year, the highest tax rate was dropped from 70% to 50%. In 1987, they were dropped again, this time to 38.5%. Here’s the end result, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Spot a trend?

When do the economic classes really diverge? Yup. In the early ’80s.

But note something else in that graph: that the general trend line for the poorest 20% of households in our nation stops closely shadowing the richest’s trend around 2001, when the highest bracket was again lowered to 35% under President Bush.

Why is this important? Because in the last three decades, through a series of moves clearly meant to serve their own political class, the Republicans have succeeded in feathering their own nest at the expense of everyone else.

The end result is that here we sit, 36 years after the “Reagan Revolution,” and we find the Republicans playing the same tired, disproven tune that they used back then. And what’s even more astonishing is that they’ve somehow managed to package it so that the lower and middle economic class actually believes that lowering those taxes on corporations and top earners stimulates the economy.

Swallow hard, everyone. When the details come out, it will only get worse.

Next time: now that we’ve established that the Republicans don’t like paying for government, we’ll show how they don’t like having government give anything to those who need help, aren’t them, or don’t act like them, either.

Categories
Current Events

“…And That Is Why You Fail.”

Tracy Claeys was fired from his job as the head football coach for the University of Minnesota. Honestly, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone (including Claeys himself who noted that he told his family that he likely would be fired Tuesday morning), but in interviews he’s been doing, he keeps hitting on a few points that clearly illustrate how he doesn’t understand the situation he was in, and didn’t understand the backlash for the tweet that he keeps insisting was the sole cause for his firing.

First, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last four months, you won’t know that the Gopher football team had first 4, and then more recently 10 members suspended as a result of a rape/sexual assault of a female student at a party following the first game of the season. The details are horrifying, and that’s why they’re important, even if they apparently didn’t rise to the level of being cause for criminal charges. A young woman was sexually assaulted by the 10 football players, plus a recruit–a high school student, mind you–taking turns to have sex with the woman. Regardless of whether there was consent or not, or alcohol involved, or any other stupid unintelligible excuse for the actions of these students, this was an irresponsible, morally repugnant act. While it may not have been criminal, it certainly was the wrong thing to do, under any interpretation.

It was so distateful that the remaining teammates of the 10 suspended players, who had boycotted practice for a lower-tier bowl game, gave up that boycott when they were presented with the university’s investigative findings.

Claeys was initially silent about the boycott, until he tweeted that he was proud of his boys for working to make the world a better place. Oh good God, do I need to list the number of ways this was completely wrong? Based on his ignorant responses to the media, I do, so here goes:

Dear Coach Claeys:

  1. You do understand that obviously uninformed players were supporting 10 teammates who, while not criminally culpable, had violated the university’s own code of ethics which all students are supposed to abide by, right?
  2. The boycotting players claimed there was no due process in the suspension of their teammates. Um…Did they check the code of ethics? Did you remind them that they have to live to those rules? From what I’ve seen, the process seems pretty clear. The University conducts an investigation (independently of any criminal investigation), and if cause is found for suspension or expulsion, that’s it. The investigation was concluded. Findings were found. The suspended players screwed up and needed to face their punishment. And to be fair, there obviously wasn’t any due process for the victim at that party.
  3. 10 players is roughly 10% of your team. That means that to at least that much of your team, this kind of behavior somehow is considered OK. It isn’t. Ever. And no one apparently stepped in and said “we shouldn’t do this. This is wrong.” If 10% of your team thought robbing a bank or murdering someone was okay, you’d put the kibosh on that right away, right? There’s a culture on your team that was clearly messed up and needed correction yesterday.
  4. Wins and losses are not the measure of you as a coach. A coach is a leader. Moreover, a college coach is a leader and mentor. These kids are not just there to play a game. They’re there to learn–not only academically, but also to learn life skills and lessons and to be good, responsible people. You as their coach clearly failed at your job for least this 10% of the team. If there’s any chance that the school and team can do better, then absolutely, we need to try to do better, whatever that costs.
  5. What did you say to the team when the 4 players were suspended in the first place? If the first words out of your mouth were “whether or not this is true or not, actions like these will not be tolerated on this team by anyone. Period,” then I’ll cut you a small amount of slack, but I get the sense that you didn’t say that, and probably didn’t talk to your players about the suspensions and allegations at all before the shit hit the fan in December.
  6. How in the living hell was this a moment to be proud of 90 misguided athletes? The only viable argument was that they were displaying team unity, and that’s fine, but ultimately they were screwed over by the actions of the 10 assholes who didn’t take a minute to think things through. Those 10 were obviously not displaying team unity. So don’t even go there. Oh, and the “making the world a better place” bit? That’s such nonsense that you need to just stop now. Really. You’ll hurt yourself if you keep it up.
  7. And finally, at least for now, since I really am getting tired of having to point out the obvious: your complaint that “things were not handled” well in terms of your firing is BS. You’re an employee. With a contract. And that contract likely says that your employer can fire you for any reason they want, including the annoying sound of your sneeze. Now, the fact that you failed your student-athletes as their mentor notwithstanding, you also failed the other students at the university, you failed the faculty and staff, the athletic department, and you failed the people of the state who help pay for your overblown salary. Suck it up and realize that you violated a trust placed in you by a whole lot of people. That in itself is worthy of hanging your butt out to dry. You aren’t a victim at all. Hell, you’re even getting paid for the remainder of your contract. As a taxpayer, I should sue to get my share of that back, but you’ll obviously complain about that, too.

Congrats on coaching the team to a winning season on the field. It’s a shame that the rest of your job was handled so incompetently.

Categories
Election 2016

Fake News Isn’t The Problem

The headline should say it all, but I know that people won’t get it, so here goes the explanation…

First, fake news isn’t the reason the election turned out the way it did. There are many reasons for that, not the least of which was the remarkably large number of people who stayed home and didn’t bother voting. To those people, I say “you get what you paid for.”

But news–even fake news–is a product that we consume, just like potato chips, movies, books, music, hot dogs, vitamins, and shampoo. We as consumers have gotten very good at reading and researching information about the food we eat, making sure it’s local, or organic, or not containing chemicals, and the like.

And yet, somehow, consumers are not expected to do the same with the information they’re presented with under the guise of being “news.” And that’s a HUGE problem.

We all need to review this information to make sure it’s real. We need to make sure it isn’t slanted too heavily in one direction or the other. And above all, we need to make sure it’s accurate.

How do we do that? Research. This is the core of the problem: people are lazy about consuming their news. They get it from headlines posted in Facebook, or links in Twitter, but that is colored by the people they follow, so it probably isn’t wide-ranging in its sources. And they seem to assume that if it’s got a headline, is on a website that looks legit, and links to other articles and offers quotes from someone they’ve heard of, that it’s all good.

But the magic of the internet is that this stuff is all to easy to fake. As easy as it is to get information out quickly on the information superhighway (remember that term?), it’s just as easy to get bad information out quickly. Someone writes the fake news article and posts a link on their Facebook page. Someone else sees it and shares it. And it goes from there, and people don’t verify it before reposting.

We’re all responsible for the spread of the fake news if we don’t verify it and research it. Fake news isn’t new–tabloids and other newspapers and outlets have mastered the art of writing and distributing it for decades or more–it’s just easier to get out to more people these days, and easier to conceal whether the source is reputable or not.

It’s up to us to become a better consumer of our news.

Categories
Politics

Transparency, My Ass

Quietly, in the dead of night, and out of the glare of public scrutiny, House GOP members voted to make significant changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). (Note: they have since rescinded their move after a backlash not only from the public, but also from their own speaker of the house and president-elect.)

Now, rules changes aren’t abnormal acts for a party that controls a house of congress. But a change to a group that oversees and investigates ethics violations of the people making the changes is unusual.

Depending on who you ask (or which article you read today), the OCE is either a good or bad thing, and I’ll leave you to do some searching and reading on your own. But one thing is perfectly clear: the GOP doesn’t understand what “transparency” means, especially when it comes to wielding power.

Given this move and a move before Christmas to declare the broadcast of video on personal devices from the floor of the chambers against the rules, it’s obvious that this is all a rush to shut down dissent, allow congressional business to be conducted in the dark shadows away from public scrutiny, and to wrest even more control of political proceedings from the congressional minority.

But worse yet is how this looks to those outside of the beltway who were tired of business as usual and voted for change. Following a political campaign season that almost myopically focused on transparency, corruption, ending the status quo, pay-for-play, and “draining the swamp,” it’s remarkable how tone-deaf these moves all appear. The GOP comes off as a group rushing headlong toward embracing their power with an almost totalitarian control. And yet, they argue these moves are meant to ensure more transparency, which is a nonsensical argument, even if true (which doesn’t seem likely).

This all is sadly resembling the power grab of the victorious Democrats in 2009, as they set out to make full use of their congressional and White House control. And all that did was backfire in the mid-term elections and lead to six years of political stalemate.