Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving in the hood VS Thanksgiving in the sticks

Thanksgiving 2016 was the best Thanksgiving I've ever had.  Instead of just one day, this year's holiday was spread out over a four day weekend.  It began on Thursday on Chicago's Southside (where I was the only white person everywhere I went) and continued through Sunday where my soulmate Lillian, my two munchkins and I hung two and a half hours south of Chicago in rural Groveland Illinois (where Lillian was the only black person everywhere we went).

Here are some of the highlights from Thursday in the hood:

- I met Lillian's 80 year old mother who is in the final week of her radiation treatment against cancer. She was so cute and sweet that I wanted to pinch her rosey little cheeks. Instead I gave her a nice hug and told her how glad I was that I finally got to meet her.  Her sweet demeanor masked her humorous ornriness however.  As we piled in the car at the end of the night there was a begger with his pants nearly falling down loitering beside our car.  Lillian's mom commented, "you should honk the horn and scare him" as she started to giggle.

-Picking up a relative in what looked like a crackhouse surrounded by barren lots polluted with abandoned metal boxcars beneath the L tracks. It was pitch black out and this was no mans land - not another car in sight.  Then as we parked in front of the crackhouse, a shadowy car pulled up right behind us, just inches from our bumper. I turned around and kept my eye on the male wearing a hoodie in the drivers seat as Lilian started digging in her purse for her mace. The hooded man didn't seem to want to get out of his car and our staring contest continued until, out of nowhere, a pimped-out ghetto cruiser with four or five gangbangers hanging out the windows drove by, zigzagging from one curb to the other and revving its engine until it dissapeared into the darkness of the night.  The guy in the hoodie seemed to take this as his cue, and he got out of the car then walked into the crackhouse just as the relative we were picking up came out.

-Watching and listening to a half dozen women in their 60s laughing and drinking and singing and dancing to a bunch of 80s hippity hop music with lyrics like "back that thang up" and "get that freak on!"

Here are the highlights from Saturday in the sticks:

-Six of us piling into my mom's SUV and seeing the festival of lights in E.Peoria where my mom found it appropiate to do her anal rendition of "Silent (butt deadly) Night" causing me to immediately accuse Jack: " Oh come on Jack, that smells disgusting"
"It wasnt me," Jack protested so I turned to Lucy: "Lucccccy???"
"It wasnt me!" she declared. So then, eventhough I hadn't smelt or hearf Lillian fart once in the six months since I met her, I turned to her in accusation asked, "Lillian? How could you?"
But just then I heard my mom giggling in the front seat, which was as good as a confession, "I couldnt help it," my mom cried "It was the crannberry sause from dinner."

-Getting all the sludge/water out of one of Terry and Ruby's fishing boats so I could drag it out of the lake and up to the shore. (What fun is a holiday visit to your folks if you cant throw your back out and get your brand new pants caked in mud?)

-Jack protesting against going to church with Ru Ru, Terry and Lucy. I let him stay back with Lillian and myself, as all three of went for a jog.  Afterwards we came inside and I had a beer as I watched football games on the TV that I had bet on.  When Lucy returned I asked her what she had learned in church.
"That cheating is a sin," she informed me. 
I nodded, noting to myself that drinking beer and betting on football aren't exactly behaviors that put you on the fast track to sainthood either.


©2016 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Looting, shooting and polluting: Or why Cubs fans should root for them to lose

chicago cubs jose cardenal photo: cubs - jose cardenal - 1970 - baseball card josecardenal.jpg
There are two very good reasons that true Cub fans (I'm not talking about the bandwagon Johnny-come-lately variety who call themselves Cubs Nation) are actually rooting for the Cubs to lose against the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series.  The first, most obvious and immediate reason is because that a Cubs win (in a city that has so much gun violence that it has been dubbed "Chiraq" by Hollywood film maker Spike Lee) means death and destruction.  Plain and simple.  Shots will be fired, windows will be broken, people will get mugged, cats and dogs will be having nonconsensual sex in the streets.  Which is all pretty typical for a autumn night in Chicago, but all these atrocities will be exacerbated (big word, I know - I had to google it) to an alarming and dangerous degree.

The second reason, and less obvious reason, is that a large part of the charm and appeal of the Cubs has been the "lovable loser" archetype they represent. Cubs and especially Cubs fans are unique. They have been loyal to their club for over 100 years despite the losing seasons, despite the groundballs between the legs of tall goat-teed first basemen, despite the interference of the Bartmans, despite the curses of goats, and despite the predictable late season collapses that have earned them the acronym Completely Useless By September.  And the result has been that baseball has taken on a meaning of something greater than just winning or losing on the North side of Chicago.  No, on the North side baseball is about the experience. Its about the fun and the life and humanity. Its about Jose Cardenal tipping his toe on home plate as he scores a run -as if he is an old woman testing the temperature of a hot bath. Its about Ernie Bank's enthusiasm for playing two in the middle of the long hot, dog days of August. Its about a beer-stenched, speech slurring Harry Carry singing Happy Birthday to Bill Buckner's mustache in a vain attempt to keep a rally alive. 


And all of that changes if the Cubs win.  All of it.

©2016 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 13, 2016

Why I let my 5 year old son say the world "Bullshit"


bull shit photo: no bull nobullshit.jpg
***This entry has been re-posted due to popular demand.  Its original posting was in 2010.


Before you pelt me with molotav cocktails, hear me out. A few months ago I was in front of a so-called "progressive" Cook County circuit court judge trying to convince him that I should have expanded visitation with my two preschool aged children. The judge looked down on me from his perch and asked, "How much do you pay in child support?"

"330 dollars a month," I replied.

"And you have a Master's Degree? You can do better than that," he informed me.

The implication was that if I want to have more time with my kids then I need to make more money. The word "Bullshit" instinctively popped into my head - a word that was introduced into my vocabulary sometime in the mid 1970s - but I bit my tongue before the word had a chance to formulate past my lips.

If I was on the ball I might have tried to explain to this judge that as a grade school teacher in a school district that has 20% of its population living below the poverty level I don't get paid a whole hell of a lot of money. I suppose I could take my Master's degree in writing and apply to a marketing firm and write magazine ads that convince teenage girls that they are fat and ugly and that unless they purchase Whatever corporate cosmetics/diet pills, etc. that I'm peddling then they will always remain fat, ugly and worthless.  If I did that then I could make ten times more money than I do now, so would the judge consider me to be "doing better than that" then?

But I wasn't on the ball, the only word that came to mind was simply "Bullshit!"
Bullshit because I'm stuck in a legal system that promotes the practice of "buying parenting time".
Bullshit because if being a good father was solely based on how much money you make, then Saddam Hussein would have been fricking father of the year!
And Bullshit because the judge knew I was a good father. He proclaimed such in our Custody Order. He declared that he could tell I was a good father from my testimony during the custody trial.  I produced 5 witnesses who testified on my behalf (not to mention the several letters from friends and family I presented). Even my ex-wife's lawyer admitted I was a good father. In fact the only one who didn't seem to know this was my ex-wife.

The word "bullshit" actually comes to my mind quite regularly. If you ever spend any length of time with me, say 24 hours or so, you will certainly hear the word "Bullshit" from me--or possibly "Horseshit" or maybe even "Goatshit". Recently I spent 8 consecutive days with my kids, just them and me (plus two days with my parents). I don't know how many times I said "Bullshit" in front of them. Probably at least a dozen times. The first few times I caught myself immediately and then used distractions to divert attention away from the word. But after awhile, I just let it roll. Most of the time, this word came out up while I was watching an NFL game and a commercial a mind-numbingly stupid commercial would pop up - for instance those psychotically gay sing-along commercials for TJ Max which look exactly like the psychotically gay sing-along commercials for some airline, where people are skipping down the streets with acoustic guitars and doing backflips because the consumer product they are touting is so fucking great. I mean honestly, how am I supposed to watch this interuption without grunting "Bullshit"?

So... on Christmas day, my five year old son Jack opened up some Star Wars flying dragon action figure thing-a-ma-jig and immediately wanted to play with it. This toy had some weird clear plastic shrink wrap material around it that most toys seem to have nowadays. This impenetrable packaging product (most likely developed by NASA) was stapled to a thin cardboard display to keep the cheapass action figure from moving around too much (presumably so that it won't breaking during shipping). Okay, but then there was also all of these tiny thin rubber bands holding the action figure even tighter in place.  And then, on top of that, were more plastic things that had screws in it which served no recognizable function what so ever. I tried wrestling with this thing for a second or two, then a second or two more and then after about 3 minutes I must have looked like I wanted to smash this plastic piece of shit against Santa's fat ass.  I looked at my son and said, "I'm gonna need a knife to open this."

"That's some bullshit," he replied.

Immediately I understood that he was right - it was some bullshit, especially from a 5 year old's worldview. But also from mine because if the corporation that mass produced this plastic piece of shit spent half as much time trying to make a quality product as it did shrink wrapping the packaging around it, then there would be no need for this see-through plastic shit in the first place. So it was bullshit. But 5 year olds (technically he was still just 4 years old at the time, since this was two weeks before his 5th birthday) aren't supposed to say words like "bullshit". Right?

So as a father it was my duty to explain to him why it was wrong for him to say 'Bullshit'. But then I paused... for I knew I'd also have to explain the "why" to him. Why is it wrong for a 5 year old to say the word "bullshit"?

Jack, like most 5 year olds who are trying to figure out the world around him, has a heightened curiousity about how and why things work.  He always asks for an explanation for everything and I've encouraged this curiousity, from the day he was born. So I feel a responsibility to provide him with workable answers to his questions. And this is where things get complicated.

cheap toys photo: toys toys.jpgThere was an incident that happened a few weeks earlier, while I was subbing for a 7th grade Math class, when a young lady who was being pestered by the boy sitting behind her said in a rather monotone manner, "Will you leave me the fuck alone?" within earshot not only of myself, but the teacher's aid who was also in the classroom. I looked at the aid to see if she heard this and she looked at me the same way. So I quietly asked the girl, "What did you just say?"

Over my two years of substitute teaching I have found it handy to create a list of 8 rules that I write on the board of every classroom I teach. Rule #4 is "No Disrespectful Language". Whenever a student breaks this rule (or any of the others) I will have them write out the rules on a piece of paper, sign it and then hand it to me. But the policy for dealing with students who drop the "F" bomb at the particular school I was at on this day was to send the offender directly to the office - where they would get in-school suspension for the rest of the day.

The problem was that, this kid who was pestering this girl had come in late, then he made some smart ass comments, refused to do his classwork and was basically disrupting the class non-stop. This girl on the other hand was fairly mild-mannered and well liked with the other students. In fact, when I asked her "What did you just say?" and she inevitably answered "Nothing," three or four students around her came to her defense.  "She didn't say nothing" they repeated (totally disregarding rule #2 on Mr. Wagemann's Classroom Rules which is "No lying").


---


Part of the torment I go though in deciding how to father my kids comes from the fact that while growing up I never had a father to set an example. My own father left when I was 3 years old. I didn't see him again until I was 9. He rolled up to our apartment one day in a red VW Beetle talking about baseball and promising to take my younger brother and me to McDonalds for a frickin' Happy Meal. My Brother started crying and my father left again. Over the next ten years my father marginally popped into our lives in bi-monthly intervals, but I never thought of him as a father. I never called him dad. I called him by his first name, and I still do.

Instead of getting my notions about what a father is from my actual father, I mostly relied on TV sitcoms from the 1980s. The ideal father to me was a cross between Michael J. Fox's father on Family Ties and Bill Cosby on The Cosby's. The thing that made these two examples of the "ideal" father was simply that their kids knew that they were always there for them. By this token, this definition, I currently am Not an ideal father. I have visitation with my kids every other weekend, plus every Wednesday afternoon. As it stands now if my son gets picked on by a bully on a Thursday morning, I will not be there for him until possibly Wednesday afternoon. Similarly if my daughter is feeling left out or unpopular at school, or having difficulty with her classwork, I might not ever know about it. I certainly won't know about it any sooner than the next time I see her, which could be a week later. Not only is this restrained visitation make it impossible to be an ideal father, it makes it impossible to have any real clear idea about what is going on in my children's lives. So when a so-called "progressive" middle-aged Cook county circuit court judge tells me he is denying my kids the right to have an involved father, and engaged father, because I don't make enough money, there really is only one word that fits: "Bullshit!"


----


Since I work with kids everyday, I'm not oblivious to the argument for not letting kids say cuss words. Using cuss words in many cases is a form of being disrespectful. And I certainly don't want to encourage that. But at the same time cuss words do exist. The word "Bullshit" DOES exist. And it is a word that I myself find rather handy at times. Cuss words--or curse words--have been developed by societies and cultures to help us express ourselves more accurately and communicate more efficiently. Today, in our current age of information, expressing yourself more accurately and efficiently is more important than ever. So why should we censor a word that can actually help people better understand one another?

When my son looked at his Star Wars action figure things imprisoned in that plastic packaging and uttered, "That's some bullshit," his instincts were right. Telling him that he was expressing himself wrong could have sent him the message that his instincts were wrong.  In other words, by trying to censor him, THAT would actually be a form of bull shitting him. And I don't want to bullshit my own kids. I mean some bullshitting is okay of course, like telling him there is a Santa Claus and an Easter bunny and a tooth fairy, but...

When I was a kid I could not have gotten away with saying 'fart' to an adult, let alone 'bullshit' or heaven forbid the f-bomb. So I had to create backhanded ways of expressing the impact of these words without actually using them. I'll never forget my eureka moment during a 7th grade Social Studies class when our teacher introduced the class to the term shiite muslim. Shiite? That sounds almost like shit! It's even almost spelled like shit! And it dawned on me that, Ah-hah, I can say the word shiite when I actually want to say shit and technically--technically I couldn't get in trouble for it. So that afternoon during baseball practice, with a group of a half dozen adults mulling about behind the dugout, when a team mate smacked a long drive into right field and the ball nearly bonked another teammate on the head, I shouted out, "Holy Shiite Muslim--heads up Skippy!" The gaggle of adults actually laughed. This just might work, I reasoned, and from then on the term "Holy Shiite" became a regular part of my pre-teen venacular. Today, many moons later, I see the pre-teen kids I tech doing something similar, calling each other "Little Fockers" after the popular movie of the same name. Maybe the lesson is this: Kids will always find a way to say cuss words (or at least find a way to torment adults).

©2010 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

4th Grade Kids Using 'Trump' As A Synonym For 'Bowel Movement'

There are 4th graders at the school where I teach who use the word 'Trump' to describe a bowel movement. For instance, instead of saying "I have to take a dump" they say "I have to take a trump".   The first time I realized this was when I asked one student where another student was. 
"He's taking a trump" the student told me. 
Huh?  I thought the student meant to say 'dump' but then I heard two other students that same day use the term trump instead of 'bowel movement'.  One kid was laughing at another kid as he declared, "Oh man, I almost trumped my pants!"

This was a head-scratcher.  I decided I wouldn't say anything for the time being.  However, the next day I realized that this trend was really catching on.  I actually heard a dozen or more second graders using trump in this way at well.  Like most things kids pick up now days, I figured they had gotten it from TV or you tube, so during my lunch break I started googling to see if I could find any examples of this.  And sure enough, there were hundreds of videos in which 'trump' was being used as a synonym for 'shit'.  I doubt that the grade school kids I teach know a whole lot about Trump or about politics in general, but it made me realize that as they get older, down through the years, they would always associate his name with shit.

So the question I asked myself was, "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

Just a week earlier our school had a bullying awareness assembly where we encouraged kids to deal with bullying in various ways.  Teachers were shown videos of kids being bullied which we could show to our students.  As I thought back to the videos I realized how similar these videos were to
video clips of Trump's rallies and interviews.  I did another google search and found a video of Trump making racist remarks, then several videos of him making sexist remarks.  There was also a video of him making fun of a handicapped person.  There was a clip of Trump having working people thrown out into freezing temperatures as he screamed 'steal his coat' at them.  And then of course there was the infamous clip or Trump degrading American veterans by declaring that he doesn't respect those people who get captured.

After watching these clips and mulling over what to do about the situation, I realized that the fact that 4th graders equated Trump to a bowel movement made perfect sense.  As a teacher and a father I have witnessed numerous occasions where children see straight through the facades that adults create much better than adults do.  Kids have a way of immediately getting right to the truth of a matter. And when they see some arrogant tan-in-a-can, hair-plugged asshole on the nightly news and you tube clips spouting out racist comments, sexist comments, kicking people out into freezing temperatures without their coats, making fun of handicapped people and telling war heroes that they dont deserve respect because they got captured then yes, it is VERY appropriate to equate that to human excrement.

So I decided I would just let it go.  And that night I went home, had a nice meal, then retired to the restroom and took one of the most relaxing trumps of my life.




©2016 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

review of The Chintz Age

the chintz age photo: Fostoria Chintz Pitcher pitcher-.jpg
I often think of short story collections as being comparable to a record album or a mixed tape, with each story being like an individual song on the album or tape.  I always wonder about the song order (or story order), I wonder if the album/tape/short story collection has a theme or a concept, I wander how autobiographical each song/story is and how much it reveals about the writer's world vision and philosophy.  I also look for certain hooks, riffs, solos (soliloquys) that either express the writer's creativity or lack thereof.  Albums are interesting because they can be viewed as a whole as well as being viewed in terms of their individual songs - this allows for various things to be going on at different levels all at once.  Thinking of a short story collection in that context means a strong opener is important.  


In Ed Hamilton's The Chintz Age "Fat Hippie Books" is that strong opener.  It introduces a number of themes and motifs that set up further exploration in the stories that follow.  The most central motif that Hamilton introduces in Fat Hippie Books is that of real estate or domicile uncertainty.  In "Fat Hippie Books" a bookstore owner is conflicted over selling out and scrapping his dreams when he comes face to face with reality when his rent is about to be jacked up to $4,000 a month.  This conflict and uncertainty that Greg has over the future home of his bookstore ignites the narrative and it represents a reoccurring theme throughout the entire collection of stories.  In the second story "The Chintz Age" Martha (a former squatter who was responsible for having another squatter booted out of a squat) is now leaving her apartment to her daughter.  In "Westside Hotel" (in which the narrator takes a room in the hotel he works at) a hotel building itself is a central character.  In "Plagiarism," a writer named Theo is getting squeezed out of his domicile and needs to convince Kim (the Sandwich Whore) to let him live with her.  "Rock of the Lower East Side" meanwhile begins with the boarding up of a building that the protagonist once lived in and then decides breaks into in order to find closure to a past relationship and come to terms with his lot in life.  "King of the Underground" is about an elderly man who breaks out of a nursing home and finds a new home in the underground dwelling amongst the mole people.  "Highline/Highlife" is the first person account of a writer's life and times in the Highline building.  And "The Retro-Seventies Manhattan Dream Apartment" revolves around the schemes of three female vultures trying to take over a Manhattan guy's apartment.

With each story involving (in some way) domicile uncertainty, Hamilton is able to explore various themes and schemes that revolve around the relationship people have with their homes - specifically people in New York who are in a set of circumstances that is unique from other American cities.  In nearly every story, Hamilton shows us how a person's relationship to their home can affect their relationship with other people and often cause battles that result in a break or a drifting apart of two people who were once very close.  In some cases the change in these relationships cause Hamilton's character's to completely rethink their entire mission in life, their entire value system.





©2015 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Was Jesus A Socialist?


bernie sanders photo: Senator Bernie Sanders Bernie.jpgI recently asked a family member (who is a card carrying Republican) what they thought about the current Democratic field of candidates for POTUS.  He told me that he hated Hillary. 
 
“She's a liar, she's just out for herself,” he told me.
 
“I can't disagree,” I replied.  “So what about Bernie Sanders?”
 
“He's a socialist!”
 
The tone in which my Republican family member said this was about the same as if he had declared: “He's a bedwetter!”
 
Being a socialist is apparently unthinkable.  Now granted this family member is over 60 years old and as a kid, growing up in 1950s America, it was instilled upon him that the Commies were the worst cretins possible next to Nazis and Satan worshippers.  But still, when I pressed him for clarification I was expecting something beyond him raising his hands to his side and simply repeating "a socialist!” as if it was obvious.

So I said, "What would be so terrible about having a Socialist President - you know, Jesus was a socialist."
 
What happened next was something reminiscent of Hollywood Western, the moment right before a bar room brawl is about to break out.  There was total silence and a look came across his face as if I had just taken a dump on his favorite Bible then wiped my ass with his favorite American Flag.  Obviously, Socialism with a capital "S" hadn't even existed during the time of Jesus.  However, from what the Bible "documents" about the life of Jesus, his acts and words were very characteristic of Socialist principles.  So this was the argument I was prepared to make to my Republican family member, but he just glared at me.  No words came from his tater trap.

Knowing that I would come up against nothing but a brick wall in asking him to explain what would be so terrible about having a Socialist President (if in fact Bernie Sanders actually is one), I decided instead to take my question to that fountain of all knowledge - the internet - and pose the question on a variety of political websites.  The first interesting reply I received was from a balding middle-aged guy with a fu man chu mustache who declared that “Socialism will make people lazy – they won't have to go out and work for what they got.”
 
This might be true, I conceded.  Although, there will be lazy people no matter what system our country has.  There were probably even lazy slaves on the plantations of Georgia 160 years ago.  But to play along and assume that socialism, or communism, does provide people with more opportunity to be lazy – and that in fact, people are actually lazier under those systems, the next question becomes: “Why is that a bad thing?”
 
My card-carrying Republican family member probably would have shit a brick from this question, but if you think about it, isn't the entire goal of capitalism to have an individual obtain so much money that he or she doesn't have to work anymore?  Or for his or her kids to never have to work?  Or to at least have as much leisure time as they want?  Which means that socialism and capitalism both have essentially the same end goal for an individual.  So if that is the case, then why not just skip the entire “working your ass off for 50 years in the rat race to climb the company ladder so you can die in a comfortable setting” and go right to the “provided with everything you need and having all the leisure time you want” part? 
 
To get an answer, I asked the internet another question: “How would America be any worse if it had a socialist system, where everyone had free health care, everyone had a free education, everyone had a free cell phone and internet access, everyone had three free heart-healthy meals a day, free public transportation, free water, free heat, free electricity and free housing?”
 
nazi germany photo:  50537869.jpgThe most common reply I got to this was, “Well, then no one would do any work and everything would fall apart – like it did with the Soviet Union.”
 
The second most common reply was, “Then the government would completely control everyone's lives, setting up another environment like that in Nazi Germany.”
 
And the third most common reply was, “And how is the government going to pay for all this free shit, Einstein???”
 
I didn't totally agree with either of the first two rebuttals.  Namely because the Soviet Union's demise was mainly due to corruption and oppression, which are traits of human nature no matter what system is at play.  And two, the American government would not completely control everyone's lives like in Nazi Germany. National Socialism is not the same as just plain old socialism. America has a democratic system of checks and balances that has ALWAYS prevented a centralized government from completely taking control.    
 

But beyond these two objections, let's consider this third rebuttal.  And to do this, it is necessary to become a bit of a time traveler.  Not that you have to be a Nostradamus per say, because it really doesn't take a soothsayer to see that in 50 to 100 years from now most shitty jobs in America will be accomplished by robots, computers, nanotechnology or corporate slaves.  So let’s say we simply time travel to the year 2112 (because I know of at least one Rush fan who is reading this) where our toilets are cleaned by micro-cleansers while hover cars drive and park themselves and houses are built by mechanized Suessian machines that run on solar energy as they spoodge out recycled plastic moldings.  And in this not-so-distant future how hard is it to imagine that “manual labor” and “detail oriented soul-sucking paper work” are relics of a by gone era (our era)?  And if you can imagine that future, then you can ask yourself: “At that point, what does the definition of 'being lazy' or 'not working' really mean?”  And then ask yourself: What would happen if this antiquated, Puritan idea of “working hard to get ahead” (that capitalistic Americans seem to cling so tightly to) simply no longer existed?  What if Gene Roddenberry was right and that humanity actually is evolving to a point where society simply moves along smoothly?  Everyone is fed, taught, provided with health care, provided with food, housing, communication and energy?  What if in 2112 every American will be living in an Utopian society where our technology provides everything we need and that every individual has obtained that ultimate Capitalistic goal of having all the time to relax they ever wanted?  What then?  What would become of the human race at that point?  What if the future as seen through the “End of Times” Book of Revelations crowd never comes?  What if those who anticipate Armageddon are simply delusional?  What if the battles of good and evil with fire and earthquakes and floods and famine never comes?  What if instead, everything is just fine, everything is easily attainable, convenient, comfortable, clean? 
homer simpson cheeto photo: Homer homer-simpson.jpg 
I know, it sounds pretty boring and certainly some people would become lazy and just sit around munching on Cheetoz and watching Maury Povich all day.  But if you have faith in the human spirit, then you know that most people want to pursue a dream, follow a passion.  It might be painting or volunteering with children or racing dogs or tending a garden or whatever.  But if you believe in humanity then you believe that a future in which individuals have the freedom to follow their hopes and dreams and passions is better than one in which they are locked into an banal life of waking up each day, going to a mundane job just to pay their bills, and existing as nothing more than a consumer. 

So if we can agree that this liberated utopia is an attainable, preferred and highly likely future, the question then becomes: How do we get there?  Is Socialism the way?  Capitalism?  Corporatism?  Communism?  Libertarianism?  A programmed mix of all of them?  Honestly I don't know, but whatever the answer is, I'm completely certain that it does not involve Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.

 
©2015 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 3, 2015

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

ernie banks 1968 photo: Banks, Ernie 2 BanksErnie2.jpg
1967 was dubbed the Summer of Love, but the following summer, the summer of 1968 was filled with violence, rioting and assassination. The War in Vietnam was dividing families as images of American troops committing atrocities against Asian families were broadcast nightly on the TV News. Civil rights crusaders were being beaten and killed. Robert Kennedy was assassinated moments after giving a victory speech as he won the California Democratic primary. Blood in the streets flowed in Chicago at the Democratic convention. With all of this turmoil it was easy to forget about America's past time: baseball.

But like the nation itself, major league baseball was in its own ideological crisis during the summer of 1968. Termed the “Year of the Pitcher” 1968's baseball season was delayed two days (from April 8th to April 10th) due to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Exactly 21 years earlier, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson had also made “black” history by becoming the first black player to play in the Major Leagues (followed by Larry Doby three months later for the Cleveland Indians). Those were different times though.  America was freshly rejuvenated from victory against Hitler in WWII and Americans were looking forward with optimism in 1947. That autumn Jackie Robinson would appear in the first ever televised World Series, as his Brooklyn Dodgers lost 4 games to 3 to Joe DiMaggio's crosstown titans, the New York Yankees. In many ways that kicked off a true golden era for baseball and for America. During the 50s and 60s, as the roads of America were becoming populated with muscle cars, the baseball stadiums of America were being populated with swaggering, slugging, stylish, speedy, athletic hitters: Willie Mays, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Hank Aaron. But by 1968, the muscle cars were all found on the pitching mound. Major league baseball had become dominated by pitching in a way it never had before and it never has since. The “Year of the Pitcher” saw such memorable events as back to back no-hitters (by Gaylord Perry and Ray Washburn). It saw Dodger Ace Don Drysdale set a record by pitching 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. It saw the Mets and Astros play a scoreless game for 24 innings! It saw the average batting average for an American League hitter at an all-time low of just .230. In fact only one American League hitter even batted over .300. Carl Yaztremski of the Red Sox hit .301 to lead the league. Meanwhile Detroit Tigers hurler Denny McLain became the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season as he went 30-6. And perhaps the greatest pitcher of the era, Bob Gibson – who had struck out 26 batters in 27 innings and pitched 3 complete game victories in the 1967 World Series – posted an unbelievable 1.12 era for the 1968 season, as he went 22-9 with 268 strikeouts and 13 shutouts. It seemed like no one in the majors could hit that year – no one except for Pete Rose that is. Rose lead the majors with 210 hits and a .335 batting average. A decade later Rose would set a NL record by having a 44 game hitting streak – second in the majors only to Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak in 1941.
pete rose 1968 photo: Rose, Pete - 2 Rose.jpg
It was obvious that major league baseball needed a change as many fans were becoming bored with sitting on their seats watching two guys play catch, with an occasional hit here and there. Pro football meanwhile was gaining popularity, with its fast action and hard-hitting play and charasmatic personalities like the fur-coat wearing QB Joe Namath, who boldly predicted and then delivered a victory in Superbowl III for his underdog New York Jets. So before the start of 1969 season the league elected a new commissioner, Bowie Kuhn – a lawyer – and they voted to lower the pitching mound from 15 inches down to 10 inches and then officially shrunk the strike zone as well. After a bump in popularity thanks in large part to the Miracle Mets of 1969, major league baseball would have one last great decade: the 1970s – a decade remembered for domes, astroturf, colorful uniforms (even short pants), wild promotions, a kissing bandit, wife swappers and all kinds of facial hair. A decade that was not tainted by steroid use or daily headlines of ball players who behaved badly (not that ball players didn't behave badly in pre-cable tv times – they did.  But that kind of stuff just wasn't part of the narrative at that time and ball players weren't as high-paid, privileged and egotistically at that time). It was the last decade before millionaire ball players. It was the last decade when baseball was still a game, instead of a business.

bob gibson photo: Gibson, Bob 3 GibsonBob3.jpg

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Man Who Sold The World



obama 2008 hope photo:  Winter.jpgOn the campaign trail in 2008 Barrack Obama correctly identified Ronald Reagan as one of the few presidents in our nation's history who actually "transformed" the American government.  If there was ever an era when the U.S. was ripe for being transformed it was during the late 1970s.   The "era of malaise," to paraphrase a term that Jimmy Carter inspired, was a low point in U.S. history that compared to the Great Depression and the Civil War.  Those American's of the Malaise Era had not only spent the last decade watching America lose its first war in our military history, but they watched U.S. soldiers commit unspeakable atrocities to Vietnamese women and children and weaklings on a nightly basis.  The TV was loaded with soldier's testimonies about young girls being raped, savagely beaten and killed in front of their parents and siblings.  The magazines and newspapers were filled with confessions that detailed innocent children being burnt in their villages.  The Americans of the Malaise Era had just witnessed Watergate, a televised live action national tragedy that questioned the very soul and purpose of our nation.  Doubts about America's soul were compounded further as, after 30 years of economic prosperity and expansion, the nation's economy slowed and sunk so low that new terms actually had to be created in order to describe it (i.e. "stagnation").  The Malaised Americans watched hostilities in the Middle East lead to an oil embargo by OPEC and an Iran hostage crisis.  All the while the disintegration of the American nuclear Family increased the confusion. Everything Americans had grown up believing in, God, country and family was suddenly being pulled right out from under them.  The assassinations and turmoil and civil right's activism of the 1960s had ushered in the "culture wars" of the 1970s - which not only pitted father against son, but father against mother, mother against daughter, and daughter against son.  The divorce rate doubled in America every single year from 1965 to 1975.  The Pill was suddenly available.  Abortion was legalized.  Gays were not only coming out of the closet but demanding attention and equal rights.  Blacks were forcing controversial affirmative action laws upon legislatures.  Women were burning their bras and speaking up for equal rights.  There was wife-swapping, disco music.  The Malaise Era American witnessed the happy, hippy recreational drug use of the 1960s give way to frequent overdoses of drug addicts and street punks.  Crime was running rampant, hitting all-time highs, urban areas were experiencing white flight and cities were going bankrupt.  The headlines were full of hi-jackings, kid-nappings and cult abductions. By the time Jimmy Carter made his famous "malaise" speech in 1979, the average American was not just in a fog of malaise, but they were exhausted, out of work, resentful and suspicious of their government, confused about the present, afraid of the future and without any hope for tomorrow.
The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America
And then right on cue, as if scripted from a Hollywood screenplay, with his easy smile, in rides the tall, handsome hero on his white horse to save the day, to give our nation the sure-footed direction that it so badly needed, to give our citizens hope and to bring America back to simpler more wholesome times. 

That was the promise at least.  But of course, instead of steering our nation to greater heights, as William Kleinknecht explains in his book The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America, Reagan actually transformed our nation into a vehicle of Greed and set in motion America's seemingly irreversible spiral downward.  The Reagan administration created the corporate political economic model that continues to this day, a system where corporations and politicians work hand-in-hand to line their own pockets at the expense of the working class minions.  A system that every Administration since has perpetuated, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 and even Obama - who has enabled it to grow by not doing anything to reverse it.  But as Klineknecht's book explains, it was the Reagan Administration that really started it all.  It was Reagan who let the foxes into the hen house to such a degree of infestation that they were able to grow to the status of "too big to fail". The corporate interests have become so entrenched in our political economic system that it would take nothing short of a revolution to actually get the corporations out of the political economic system.

Obama actually talked about this as he campaigned in 2008 but maybe he didn't fully understand it.  He spoke a good game, but once in office what has he done to reverse the corporate takeover of our government?  To be fair and to be honest, maybe Obama just doesn't really have the skill or the will or the ability to institute the change that he promised in 2008.   Maybe he does not have the mojo to transform America as Reagan had.  To really understand exactly how Reagan transformed America, a good place to start your research would be William Kleinknecht's book, The Man Who Sold World.  But that is only if you can overcome the one huge flaw in Kleinknecht's book, which is his tone - especially in the introduction - which was overly partisan, petty and even pointless at times. For instance, in the opening pages, Kleinknecht seems outraged that the mainstream media's coverage of Reagan's funeral in 2004 did not bad-mouth Reagan enough. I mean come on, first of all its a funeral. If there is ever a time that the old adage "If you can't say anything nice about someone then don't say anything at all" applies it is at a funeral. And second of all, its the fucking mainstream corporate media - what person with half a brain really gives a shit what the mainstream corporate media does/says? 

Kleinknecht is obviously an intelligent guy, so to be so petty and to give so much importance to the "toilet paper of documentation" that the mainstream corporate media is, was really a distraction that would have served the book better had it been edited out.  The amped up faux-rage only went to discredit his authority.  It made Kleinknecht immediately seems less reliable as he comes off as hyper-Partisan - just another typical close-minded, lock-step, knee jerk hack who goes into his research with his conclusions already drawn without looking at all sides of the argument. 

milton friedman photo: Conservatives Do Not Want Governent Involved governmentrelief_zpse3312947.jpg But if you can get past the introduction you will see that Kleinknecht was somewhat more balanced as he detailed Reagan's biographical material and Reagan's eventual conversion to the Conservative ideology. Then Kleinknecht goes into a left-leaning but accurate account of the progression of thought and the influences on the American economy for the last century, starting with the Progressive Era, continuing onto the New Deal Era and then up to LBJ's Great Society. His even-handed explanation of the back and forth pendulum of American thought in economic theory from the ideas of Adam Smith, to John Maynard Keynes to Milton Friedman, allowed the scope of the narrative to widen and open up to an examination of the unique conditions of the 1970s that set the stage for the rise of Reaganomics.

At that point in the narrative, Kleinknecht introduced the ranchers, oilmen and developers from the booming sunbelt who were among Reagan's largest supporters.  These were all men who had pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to make their fortunes in the post WWII American economy.  They shared Reagan's sensibilities - they were men with conservative social values and buttloads of new money who were looking for ways to make more buttloads of new money.  They were men who saw high taxes and government regulations as the main obstables between them and their desired buttloads.  That desire would be the main motivation behind Reagan's disasterous policies of defunding government regulatory offices and routinely placing white-collar criminals in charge of regulatory agencies. 

To begin his case against Reaganomics Kleinknecht explains how Reagan reached into the boardrooms of large corporations to fill his administration's cabinet: Sec of Defense Casper Weinberger, Sec of State George Schultz, Sec of Treasury Donald Regan, Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan.  Then he goes on to detail how Reagan installed business leaders to fill the positions at the top of the Federal Government's regulatory apparatus. For the most part these were men from within their respective industries who had made a career of violating business regulations and finding loop holes around the laws. Robert Burford, James Watt, John Crowell, C.W. McMillan, Richard Lyng, Joseph Tribble, Thorne Auchter, John Van de Water.

From there Kleinknecht's bombardment against Reaganomics (aka 'trickle down' economics) kicked into high gear as he specifically took aim at Reagan's deregulation policies.  One illustration of how Reagan's most effective tactic to undercut deregulation policy was simply to appoint white-collar criminals as heads of the various agencies that they were supposed to regulate can be seen in the communication industry.  Klienknecht explains how in just 6 years time, Mark Fowler, Reagan's chairman of the Federal Communication Commission(FCC) abolished 89 percent of the regulations governing broadcasting (even doing away with the fairness doctrine). He also points out the ramifications of Fowler's “liberalizing the multiple-ownership rule” - which essentially allowed a few large companies to control all the radio and TV waves with in just a few years.  Unfortunately, Kleinknecht's partisanship tainted the narrative at times as witnessed in such far-reaching passages as this from page 132: “[Because of Reagan] we find the beginning of a movement that would pick the pockets of American consumers, penalize rural communities, and reduce radio and television to commercial drivel.” As though radio and TV had such high standards prior to Reagan. In the next sentence Kn actually blames Reagan for the Telecommunications Act of 1996, an act that was passed under Clinton, almost 8 years after Reagan had left office. 

But Klienknecht's argument was more effective as he detailed Reagan's deregulation process toward other industries.  For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services's 1982 proposal to put a warning label on aspirin after scientific evidence concluded that aspirin was causing Reye's syndrome in young children. The proposal was shot down by Reagan's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). This deregulation policy directly resulted in the death of 1500 children over the next five years--until finally, in 1986, the OIRA flip-flopped its stance and required the warning labels to be displayed on aspirin bottles. Reyes Syndrome in the US then dropped from 555 cases in 1986 to only 36 the following year.  

Although Klienknecht pointed out how abusive Reagan's policies of deregulation were in various industries, he was at his most convincing when demonstrating how the banking and commerce industry was completely transformed by Reagan's deregulation policies.  It began with Reagan's appointment of  Donald Regan (chairman of Merrill Lynch and the creator of cash management accounts) as his Sec of the Treasury.  Secretary Regan set out to transform the banking and investment industry by diminishing the industries regulations to the point that the market would come as close to a free for all as anytime in the history of American capitalism.  Immediately he went after the McFadden Act of 1927 – which prevented large national companies from gobbling up smaller community banks.  Then he took aim of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which prohibited investment banks to be housed under the same roof as commercial banks and investment companies.  The intention of the Glass-Steagall Act had been to prevent the kind of “self-dealing” that largely contributed to the Crash of 1929 where commercial banks and brokerage houses had colluded to artificially inflate their books by lending to themselves.  The result of these artificially inflated books was that they attracted investors, but under false pretenses.  Secretary Regan also immediately began eliminating regulations on ceilings for interest rates and regulations on the types of loans that financial institutions could make.  Basically he set out to get rid of all banking and investing regulations.  With the help of FED chairman Alan Greenspan, the result of Reaganomics, as administered by Sec. Regan, was a total transformation of the American banking and investment industry.  A transformation, which as Klienknecht noted, has been responsible for the multi-trillion dollar fleecing of the American tax payer over the last 30 years in the form of everything from the Savings and Loan scandals to the Too Big To Fail Bailouts during the Bush/Cheney Recession of 2008-2010.

By the end of The Man Who Sold The World its easy to understand Klienknecht's partisan tone, for you would be hard-pressed to argue against the notion that Reagan transformed America into the corporate greed pit that it is today.  Klienknecht sites example after example, including the far-reaching cause and effects of Reagonomics on America.  He explains how Reagan invited the corporate foxes en masse into the government hen house.  He explains that Reagan's policies had not shrunk Big government - as Reagan promised - but they had in fact, just redirected the influence of big government from the working class people to the needs of corporate enterprise. Reaganomics was a champion for Greed.  Business leaders who had spent the 1970s funding free market think tanks flooded into DC once Reagan took the white house. Their corporate industry lobbyists were no longer at the gates of the government looking in, they were now inside the government, soon to BE the government.  It started a trend that has become an institution and none of the four presidents since Reagan have done much, if anything, to reverse that.  In fact, they've all pretty much enabled the corporate political economic model to grow and to strangle the American working class - as is evident by the accelerated disparity in the earnings between the lower/middle and the wealthy class over the last 30 years.



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The corporate political system has tainted our societies values and decent Americans are wondering: "What would happen if America elected its first non corporate politician in over 30 years?"  Today multinational corporations have an unfair advantage.  They are able to take advantage of tax loop holes that most people cant. They lobby for and receive government subsities that regular folks done get.  They have lobbyist who wine and dine congressmen, lawyers who help them circumvent rules and accountants that play a shell game with their profits in oversras accounts. This corporate political system has poisoned America. The gap between the wealthy and everyone else has become too extreme. People dont have the power or the say that is needed for a healthy society. When we see TOO BIG TO FAIL banksters being rewarded with tax payer provided golden parachutes for irresponsible and greedy policies then it is obvious that our system is screwed up. Our values are screwed up. We should not be rewarding billionares for screwing over the American people - but we are. And the reason for this is because we have too many politicians who represent the corporations instead of representing the people. corporations are NOT people.


Hillary Clinton is the epitome of the corporate politician.  She poses and acts as though she is a corporate product that must be branded and packaged and sold to the consumer instead. Corporatism promotes the dehumanization of people and the devaluing of humanity in our society. Now just because our corporate system has promoted certain helpful tools - like computers for instance - that does not autonmatically mean the corporate system is good or it should continue to dominate our system. I mean was slavery good just because it was able to produce cotton tobacco products faster?
modern corporations actually evolved from slavery. It was the 14th Amendment that deals with it. Corporatism, like slavery, at its core is a system designed to profit from exploiting others.

 
the problem is not just one specific CEO or one specific corporation. The problem is systemic and deep rooted. As l alluded to earlier it goes back to slavery and the 14th Amendment, but when the problem really began in the modern sense us when Reagan allowed corporations to infiltrate the government in the 1980s by naming corrupt corporate leaders as heads of government agencies and to key cabinet positions thereby creating our current corporate political system. Bush 41 continued in that tradition and it was Bill Clinton - a so-called new democrat - who helped that system further. As did Bush 43. And now here comes Hillary the prototypical corporate politician to continue to carry the torch. When Bernie says we need a revolution THIS is what he is talking about. We need someone to come in and break the corporate ties. We need a president who will fight to undo what Reagan started. We need to get the foxes out of the hen house and allow the people to take back control of the government instead of the corporations. Its time to dismantle the corporate political system.

So how do we do that? 

The first step is to stop electing politicians who are beholden to Wall Street and the multinational corporations.

 

I think the reason that Amercans who were born after Reagans presidency dont understand what total bullshit corporations are is due to the fact that they never experience a realuty that wasnt dominated by the corporate system. They grew up with the corporate mentality being wedged into their craniums at every turn and they are afraid to be without - like its asecurity blanket. And this of course was the corporate plan all along. Start kids out when they are young , getting them hooked on corporate death burgers and happy meal action figures that advertise the latest blockbuster. Then its a chinese water torture of Disney radio earworms, tv commercials, product placement and must see tv. Then get them hooked on gaggets i-phone, smartphone, instant messaging, immediate gratification until their minds are so fuckin polluted with corporate debris that they cant pay attention in class. So in marches Big Pharma with their ritalin and rudhed to market mood regulating pills so by the time kids are old enough to drive and begin their lifelong adiction to corporate oil they are ready to devour hook, line and sinker any corporate product available and worship any corporate politician who makes false campaign promises that the short attentiom spanned corpirate brainwashed sheep will totally forget about 15 minutes after the election


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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Old, Weird America's Last Stand, part 5

chelsea hotel photo: sid vicious vicious-sid-chelsea-hotel-4900133.jpgI prefer going into a book reading without knowing anything about the book other than what I can glean from the front and back cover, plus a quick scan through its inside pages (99% of the books I read are non-fiction so they often contain photographs). But this wasn't the case with Ed Hamilton's Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with the Artists and Outlaws of New York's Rebel Mecca.  Two weeks ago Ed Hamilton contacted me, expressing gratitude for the kind words I had written in a review about his short, non-fiction piece called "Dee Dee's Challenge" that was included in a collection of Rock music tales titled Experienced. "Dee Dee's Challenge" was two and half pages of sharp and focused journal writing, an engaging and economic burst that packed a punch similar to one of the two minute adreneline-soaked punk anthems that Dee Dee Ramone might have written in his hey day. I admired Hamilton's short story immediately and I made myself a note to track down Hamilton's larger work Legends of the Chelsea Hotel and give it a read as soon as possible.

But that had been over a year ago and because I have a busy (and sometimes complicated) life which tends to makes me forgetful, I hadn't gotten around to picking up a copy of it yet. Hamiliton's email reminded me though and I replied to him that I would snag a copy of his book and review it soon. He responded back, offering to send me a free copy. I genuinely appreciated his gesture, but I quickly logged onto the website of my local library and ordered a copy of Legends of the Chelsea Hotel - which was promised to arrive within a week. Then I emailed Hamilton and refused his copy of his book. This might have seemed like a "Don't call me, I'll call you" gesture because I know that offering a reviewer a copy of your book is how things are done.  Not only is it an accepted practice, but its often expected.  However, unless a copy of their book is not available through my library system, I prefer to turn these offers down. The reasons are two-fold. First of all I'm a minimalist. I have a very small collection of about 100 books, seperated into 5 or 6 catagories and I don't have room for any more. The second reason is that I will feel like a heel if someone sends me a gift and then I publicly trash it.

chelsea hotel photo: Chelsea Hotel SNC11687.jpgFortunately in the case of Legends of the Chelsea Hotel I didn't have to worry about this second concern because I liked the book quite a bit. In fact, in retrospect I wish I would have accepted Hamiliton's offer because Legends of the Chelsea Hotel is one of the rare books that would fit perfectly into my small, specific collection (books whose subject matters generally relate to Old, Weird America - Depression era bank robbers, Pin-up girl art work, vinyl record collecting, etc). In his introduction Hamilton describes Legends of the Chelsea Hotel like this:

"...a mix of history and biography, myth and legend, fiction...and non-fiction, memoir and anecdote [that] can most accurately be described as an 'alternative history' or perhaps a 'hisory of an idea' the idea being of course, that of the Chelsea Hotel itself".

What follows in Hamilton's book is all of that and more as he tells of his experiences as a resident of the Chelsea Hotel over more than a decade (beginning in the mid 1990s). And although the narrative is organized chronologically, it has none of the trappings of a chronology because the legends still haunt the halls and rooms and corners of the Chelsea - at least in Hamilton's mind - so that nearly each of the contemporary snapshots that Hamilton shares somehow end up springboarding into these fascinating historical and biographical sketches of the many colorful characters that have called the Chelsea Hotel their home over the years. For instance, as Hamilton writes about being tormented by junkies who continually wreck the shared bathroom on his floor, his narrative gives way to a nice little bio on legendary Beat writer Herbert Huncke. Or while being tormented by a resident who plays Willie Nelson's Christmas album non-stop, Hamilton seamlessly segues into the tribulations of experimental film maker Harry Smith (whose compilation of early folks recordings were influential in the folk revival of the late 50s and early 60s). And so on and so forth.

Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with the Artists and Outlaws of New York's Rebel MeccaBy the end, these connections - and how Hamilton ties them all together - provide the narrative of Legends of the Chelsea Hotel with a locomotion that goes beyond the mere day-in-the-life snapshots and colorful biographies themselves. These anecdotes and legends and alternative histories come together to weave a beautiful swatch in the fading fabric that once made up the old, weird America of the early to mid 20th century - and Ed Hamilton deserves to be commended for his inspired work that preserves this swatch and explores its relevence, even to contemporary American sensibilities.

For these reasons and more I give Legends of the Chelsea Hotel 4 out of 5 Wagemannheads.

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