02
Sep
14

honest abe in color and song

lincoln in color 2

When Time magazine ran a cover story on Abraham Lincoln a couple years ago, it asked then-22-year-old Swedish photographer and artist Sanna Dullaway to colorize this famous image of our 16th president.

The makeover is eerily modern.

This was Lincoln’s last formal portrait, taken on February 5, 1865, just ten weeks before he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. The original was taken by Civil War photographer Alex Gardner and is held by the Library of Congress.

Here, too, is a song that was part of Lincoln’s 1860 campaign. The color and the song help make history seem a little more relevant to our contemporary senses.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Ronnie Gilbert performing “Lincoln and Liberty”

01
Sep
14

the one-hit-wonder that wasn’t… yet

Flamin-Groovies

Even Jesus himself wasn’t an instant hit. It took decades, maybe a hundred years or more, for him to catch on. The same thing could happen again.

A couple days ago, there was a report on the radio about the release of a book, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in 10 Songs, by Griel Marcus. Rather than write about music that has been written about a thousand times, the book is missing everything you would expect in any conventional history. No Rolling Stones or Beatles or Jimi Hendrix or remembrances of Woodstock.

In place of the iconic, music journalist Greil Marcus analyzes 10 songs that he says tell the story of one of America’s greatest gifts to the world. Number One is “Shake Some Action” by the The Flamin’ Groovies—a band which was founded in 1965 and which Marcus says has “a name so stupid, it’s embarrassing to say out loud.”

There’s a reason you’ve never heard of The Flamin’ Groovies before. The rest of their songs (or at least the ones I sampled) suck. But this one doesn’t. It should be famous.

Maybe you’ll like it as much as I do.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to The Flamin’ Groovies performing “Shake Some Action”

31
Aug
14

last day of summer

amusement park cropped

In my former home state of Minnesota, the end of the state fair always marked the unofficial last day of summer. Tomorrow is the last day of the state fair, and hence, summer. The rich people at the LaFayette Club on Lake Minnetonka will have their fireworks display. It is Labor Day, a holiday that extends the summer vacation one last day before everybody gets to return to work.

Oh, boy! One more whole day.

I am always conscious of the date on which Labor Day falls because Holly waited for this holiday and the end of summer to die. Twenty-one years ago, it was September 6. This year Labor Day falls a week earlier.

Why do I suspect that we are being gypped out of a week of summer now that the recession is drawing to a close and worker productivity must be raised?

Americans already work more than anyone in the industrialized world. More than the English, more than the Japanese, more than the French, way more than the Germans or Norwegians. And Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later, too. Now I suspect they want even more from us.

The government says we’re working only slightly more and not so much that most people should really notice. Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a very gradually rising trend through the 1990s that tapered off after 2000, hovering somewhere just north of 40 hours weekly. But ask Americans themselves and they say they’re working 10 more hours a week than the government does. Post-recession studies indicate that we’re now working up to 46 hours a week.

Back in 1970, the average work week for an American worker was about 35 hours.  Juliet Schor, who wrote the 1992 best-selling book The Overworked American concluded that by 1990 Americans worked an average of nearly one month more per year than in 1970. And that was pre-recession, before they used the crisis to turn the screws on us.

According to one recent survey, the average American worker spends an extra seven hours per week on work tasks such as checking emails and answering phone calls after normal work hours.  Other Americans are juggling two or three jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet.

Americans are busier than ever and work often pushes the other areas of our lives on to the back burner.  What this also means is that “family vacations” are becoming increasingly rare in the United States. In fact, Americans spend less days on vacation than anyone else in the industrialized world.  While some would applaud our “work ethic”, the truth is that the fact that we are being overworked is having some very serious consequences.

As we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality. Among industrial workers, overtime raises the rate of mistakes and safety mishaps; likewise, for knowledge workers fatigue and sleep-deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level. Past a certain point overworked people become less efficient and less effective.

Apparently we are conditioning ourselves to keep up this insane pace at younger and younger ages. A couple days ago I was talking with my ersatz daughter Sarah, and she told me her kids had been in school since the beginning of August. I’m sorry, but this strikes me as goddamned un-American. This is all getting out-of-hand.

Well, there’s nothing to be done about it this weekend but to enjoy the time off.

In choosing the Groove of the Day, I had a choice between a shorter and a longer version of the same song by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and I opted for the longer one. Enjoy your free time. Take an extra turn on the carousel for me.

It’s back to the grindstone and more exploitation on Tuesday.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to the New York Philharmonic performing “The Carousel Waltz”

30
Aug
14

lame logos

a&f 1

When I was a kid and Lacoste shirts were all the rage, I used to cut off the alligator logos before I would wear them. I felt that I didn’t need an ostentatious logo on an article of clothing to define my identity. I knew I wasn’t like everybody else, then or now. Although I no longer remove the embroidered polo players from today’s knit shirts (it is just too much trouble), my distaste for outward labels continues to this day.

Over the last two or three decades, I have found the giant Abercrombie labels especially laughable.

The last time I was in an Abercrombie & Fitch store was in the early ’70s, when it was still an authentic sporting goods store known for its stuffy image. My mother had taken me there to buy shoes, shirts, and trousers which she reckoned would be suitable for my upcoming travels to East Africa. As a result, I have always seen the store’s rebranding as a purveyor to young people of stylish, “look-at-me-I’m-cool” fashion as amusing, to say the least. This new “Abercrombie & Fitch” was a fraud.

Well, Abercrombie & Fitch is, according to Vauhini Vara at the New Yorker, no longer a marker of popularity. In fact, says Vara, it hasn’t been one for years.

“Since the late aughts,” says Vara, “teens have been spending far less at the stores known as the three As—Abercrombie, American Eagle, and Aéropostale—and have been especially disinterested in the T-shirts and hoodies with logos that once made the stores so popular. They’re shopping instead at places like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21, which are adept at copying fashions from the runway and selling them cheaply.”

I am so out-of-touch, I don’t even know what those up-and-comer stores are, but I was pleased to hear that on a conference call Thursday, Abercrombie’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, told analysts and reporters, “In the spring season, we’re looking to take the North American logo business to practically nothing.” Instead, Abercrombie intends to focus on “fashion,” he said.

Steph Wissink, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, compiled reports for more than a decade on where teenagers are spending their money. In the late nineties and early aughts, Wissink said, Abercrombie was the most popular brand among teens.

“During that time, Abercrombie thrived by exalting conformity,” said Vara. “All the popular kids were wearing the Abercrombie logo, the message went, so if you wanted to be one of them, you’d better wear the logo, too.”

This attitude started working against Abercrombie during the recession in 2008. That’s when Wissink started noticing fewer Abercrombie logos in the schools she visited; people could no longer afford Abercrombie’s prices for T-shirts and hoodies. Around this the time, other stores began to thrive by selling super-cheap runway knockoffs. The economy has recovered since then, but the turn toward cheap fashion survived.

Thanks in part to our recent economic experiences, kids today seem less interested in the aesthetic of conformity-through-consumption. They now have better ways of expressing who they are—through social media, for example. Why should a teen send subtle signals about his or her identity by dressing in a certain brand when there are more explicit means available on Facebook and Instagram?

Kids now prefer to show that they’re different from others. To the extent that they do use purchases as social signifiers, they pay attention to tech brands—the latest iPhone or pair of headphones—more than to clothing lines.

I’m sure that when the next new thing comes along, social media will lose their influence as social signifiers. But in the meantime, kids are adopting more creative means than consumption to express themselves.

In my opinion, this trend is a good thing. If it continues, it may well eventually be the salvation of our economy.

a&f 2

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Julie Brown performing “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun”

29
Aug
14

teen mass murderers

tron high school
What Mass Murderers Are Really Thinking
Once upon a time people thought I might be one, and I came to love the notoriety.

August 19, 2014

Though it’s been a while—thankfully—since the last mass shooting in America, the threat never quite goes away. On Tuesday, police in the affluent suburb of South Pasadena, Calif., announced that they had prevented a “horrific tragedy” by arresting two teenage boys who were plotting to gun down as many of their fellow high-school students as possible.

I might be able to give some insight into what these young would-be mass murderers want. Because I used to want the same thing. Like them, I was once addicted to infamy.

Back when I was a teen, I was accused of wanting to shoot up my high school. It was all a terrible misunderstanding based on my frustrations over being an outcast, which I’d vented by writing a short story in which I fantasized about killing some of my classmates at a school dance. When I compounded my reputation as a dangerous psychopath by scaring a girl who’d been mean to me with a nasty note that invoked the Columbine killings, and the police found out about my short story, the news was on the front page of our hometown paper and covered by the local TV station. I was banned from my prom (which I was rumored to want to blow up) and frightened parents claimed they would shoot me on sight if I tried to go. Extra police were sent to the dance and to my school.

tron with newspaperMy notoriety was made. And although I had no desire to go on a killing spree at all, I began to sort of enjoy it. I started to identify with mass murderers, probably because I thought I was the same as them: a loser destined to be secluded from society. But more importantly, I felt that being suspected as a villain gave me power. I was no longer a quiet nobody. I was infamous. People paid attention to what I did. I now had a stage. Teachers and adults feared me, and some kids my age, though they claimed to dislike me, were curious about me. There was something about my situation being plastered on television that made it feel like I was more than just a human. I may have been a loser, but I did something. The notoriety was as addictive as it was isolating. And there was something so uniquely American about the whole thing.

We as a country love our killers. We send a message to the wrong people that if you want fame and attention, just amass a high enough kill count. This is also the reason so many mass murderers like to write manifestos before they commence their final run of violence. It helps to make a bigger splash. It gets them more headlines. Elliot Rodger, who allegedly killed six people in Santa Barbara last May, left behind both a manifesto and a video to express his narcissistic views. He probably created these things because he knew that they would be made available for the public, and that people would be interested in what he had to say. Everyone would want to know what made him tick, and what made him snap. It’s every maniac’s dream. I’m sure he also knew he would gain fans, which he did. In the end he was given what he wanted—rewarded for killing innocent people. Weeks after Elliot Rodger’s killing spree, a Las Vegas couple went on another one and left behind their own so-called manifesto. I cannot imagine that this was not in part inspired by the publishing of Rodger’s manifesto. According to news reports, the couple had hopes of mounting the “next Columbine.” For people like that, a kill count is nothing more than a scoreboard for the sport of mass murder. In order to go down with the big shots, you got to get in the high rankings. Like James Holmes, who allegedly shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., the Las Vegas couple enjoyed dressing up like the Joker. Again, more headlines.

It’s important for the media to understand what goes on in the minds of these people. If we didn’t glamorize mass murderers—supply them a huge platform when they decide to go out in a selfish blaze of glory—I think a lot of the appeal to go on a shooting spree would be diminished.

Hence, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a little restraint from the media. Yes, we know they need to cover these events—and inevitably the body count is going to get into the headlines. But it’s not necessary to name the killer and turn him or her into some sort of anti-hero. Many media outlets already observe an informal rule of not identifying some victims, at least right away, out of respect for their families. They also don’t name under-age victims or perpetrators.

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Gina Tron is a freelance writer living in Denver. Her first novel will be out in October.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Marilyn Manson performing “Disposable Teens”

28
Aug
14

crumbs don’t hack it

crumbs 3

I have learned a lot from my son. In the last year, he has had to take a sizeable pay cut just to stay employed in today’s economy. He will do better than most adjusting to these new circumstances, but the economy will be diminished as he now has less disposable income to invest and spend.

Now recognize that what has happened to him is a trend, multiply that by the hundreds of thousands in his cohort with similar experiences, and you will see we are in deep doo-doo. My neighbor says the one-percenters and their bought government are trying to turn the US into a third-world country.

I’m sure that if you were to ask the one-percenters directly, they would disagree with my neighbor’s assessment that this is their intent, but it is the effective result of their policies of intentional pay and asset inequality.

The time has come that the doctrine of “trickle down” must be recognized as discredited and a mere justification for personal greed. What crumbs fall from the tables of the winners-take-all cannot create the economic growth that we need. The time has come to recognize that the fortunes of the middle class and poor are linked, and are one in the same as never before in the memorable past. If the vastly more numerous middle class and poor do not have disposable income, they cannot invest the money or make the purchases that our economy needs to expand.

On August 13th in Forbes, writer Erik Sherman correctly asserted that, at a personal level, our addiction to the cheap goods we buy at places like Wal-Mart simply perpetuates the off-shoring of good-paying jobs to Asia and other places which keep the costs of the labor content of goods low. Cheap hamburgers from McDonald’s are made possible because restaurant workers in the US are paid less than they need to live.

“A tiny fraction of the population gets the most and then uses its power and influence to change laws and further favor itself,” says Sherman. “The notion that this somehow helps the economy or is ‘earned’ is ludicrous. There have been multiple studies showing either zero or negative correlation between the size of CEO compensation and the performance of public companies, which means that, often, the more the CEO makes, the worse the company does.”

It was a relief to see, in a recent TED talk, that this realization is finally beginning to be discussed among the big-money people. Nick Hanauer, a Seattle-based venture capitalist, says that growing inequality is about to push our societies into conditions resembling pre-revolutionary France. If something doesn’t change, soon and big, he sees pitchforks in our future (as in revolution). If you want to hear his argument about why a dramatic increase in minimum wage could grow the middle class, deliver economic prosperity, and prevent a revolt, click here.

Although I find Hanauer’s talk of “fellow plutocrats” rather distasteful, he does remind his economic class that a higher minimum wage (such as instituted in 1914 by Henry Ford and contrary to the conventional wisdom that higher wages will kill jobs) is one of the most important ways to encourage prosperity for all.

We are still the richest country in the world. There are enough assets in our economy to meet everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed. The rich cannot physically buy and use enough goods and services to boost the economy. Nor can they or will they invest enough to make a difference.

To challenge trickle-down effectively, progressives must tell their own story about economic growth. In that story, it isn’t the rich that lead the way to growth and prosperity. Instead, it is a thriving and vibrant middle class that shows us the path. A strong middle class is a prerequisite for robust entrepreneurship and innovation, a source of trust that greases social interactions and reduces transaction costs, a bastion of civic engagement that produces better governance, and a promoter of education and other long-term investments.

By 2030, the global middle class is expected to more than double in size from 2 billion to 4.9 billion. That demographic change is going to have a huge impact around the world. For the poor who join the middle class, it’s going to mean a significant amount of disposable income for the first time in their lives. Today, half of the 2 billion people in the global middle class are from North America and Europe. By 2030, that share is expected to shrink to 22%. On the other hand, Asia is expected to have 64% of the planet’s middle class by 2030.

Are we, as a nation, prepared to let this growth pass us by? As long as we allow “trickle down” to stand in the face of all contrary evidence, it will be death by our own hand.

hungry kids 2

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Groove of the Day

Listen to U2 performing “Crumbs from Your Table”

27
Aug
14

end of an era?

block of ice meltingSince I first moved to Estrella Vista six years ago, I have been keeping food cool by keeping it on ice. There was never enough power to operate the electric refrigerator I own and, at a cost of $1,200, I could never come up with the money at one time to afford a propane refrigerator. So I resorted to the poor man’s trap of purchasing ice in weekly drips and drabs, even though I knew all along that the total cost, over time, was greater than if I’d been able to make the thousand-dollar-plus investment all at once.

Then, a couple days ago (while on another ice run), my neighbor Bill saw a notice in the window of the general store that someone was selling a propane refrigerator for $200 (or best offer). “That’s a hell of a deal,” said Bill.

“Too good a deal,” I said. “It either doesn’t work or the seller is going through something terrible… like a break-up.”

Bill reminded me that the notice said the refrigerator “works great.”

Anyway, I called after the seller had likely returned from work, and learned that he was relocating to Florida where his wife had already established a new business in the hospitality industry. They had moved to this area ten years ago, living off-the-grid, following his job as a scientist with the National Park Service. Now they were following her job. His wife had always hated living off-the-grid, miles and miles from everything essential. So he was leaving the area mid-week. It was now or never.

His story touched my heart. We reached a deal straightaway. I figured that the refrigerator probably did work great, plus this couple was staying together. How nice. No bad tastes to get into my food. Also, I’d be saving about $25 a week, minus the cost of propane. Over a year, that’s more than the cost of a new propane refrigerator.

Well, yesterday morning the seller called. He had hooked up the refrigerator to his propane source to test it again. The freezer works great but the main compartment doesn’t work at all. He offered the refrigerator to me, as is, for free.

Can it be repaired or will it just become another piece of junk that will need to be disposed of? Only time will tell, but the level of risk isn’t that great.

So Bill and I visited his place last night, a fifteen-minute drive away, and retrieved the fridge. Being a positive thinker, I paid the seller $50. That way, I reasoned, I won’t have any feelings of guilt if I get the refrigerator working. In addition to the cost of repair, I’ll only have to pay for some flexible gas hose and a regulator.

If we can get it working, I’ll be able to add chocolate ice cream to my grocery purchases for the first time in six years. It’s worth a try, but I won’t get my hopes up too high until it actually happens.

chocolate ice cream 2

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Van Halen performing “Ice Cream Man”




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