Wednesday, September 27, 2017


"There's too many kings/wanna hold you down/and a world at the window/gone underground
There's a hole in the sky/where the sun don't shine/and a clock on the wall/and it counts my time
And Heaven, is the whole of our hearts/and Heaven don't tear you apart
Yeah, Heaven is the whole of our hearts/and Heaven don't tear you apart"
- Psychedelic Furs, "Heaven"

I'm inordinately excited about the Psych Furs show tonight - more than I guess I thought I would be. But there are reasons.

I didn't pay much attention to their first album and still rarely listen to more than a couple of songs ("India" being an exception). But when my neighbor Sally Dunning (she was the local Columbia Records rep at the time) dropped a stack of promos on my lap one afternoon that included their second album "Talk Talk Talk", I was blown away. The original version of "Pretty in Pink" would have been enough to make it a stellar album but songs like "She is Mine", "Into You Like a Train" and "All of This and Nothing" made it a classic, one of the few albums I can think of that doesn't have a single dud.

As you would imagine, I was seriously stoked for their show at Page Auditorium with the X-Teens and... it was awful. Just wretched. The band might have been fine, but I was sitting on the last row of the balcony and not only could I not really see them, the sound was just a muddy catastrophe. So I felt like I'd still never seen the Psych Furs.

A couple of years later I met this Jeannette girl (some of you may have heard of her) as I was getting ready to move to the Washington Metro area (Gaithersburg, MD to be exact). She joined me up there and we were engaged to be married by the middle of August and a week later "Mirror Moves" dropped and "Heaven" became our song. There was a lot of good music around that summer and fall of 1984 but while we were getting to know each other (and eating Chocolate Coconut Sour Cream Blackout Cake at Kramerbooks and drinking and dancing at Cagney's on Dupont Circle and shopping for funky clothes at Commander Salamander in Georgetown), "Heaven" was our soundtrack (and I don't think I ever walked into Commander Salamander without hearing it).

So we moved back to NC and got married and bought a rock and roll club and then sadly we sold it. I missed the last weekend as I had to be in Columbia, MD for a tech class (for my day job) so as soon as Jeannette handed over the keys, she got on a plane to BWI and joined me. The consolation was that the Furs were playing at Merriweather Post Pavilion right there in Columbia while we were there. That was one of the first of the big amphitheaters that most cities seem to now have and the Furs were there with The Blow Monkeys (who's entire catalog I think was the single "Digging Your Scene" back by a remix of "Digging Your Scene").

The show was awful. Just wretched. Again, nothing to do with the band. I was in a foul mood, after first having to sell the club and then missing the final weekend. I'm sure Jeannette was not in much better shape. Then we were faced with stringent (and what felt at the time like unnecessarily invasive) security measures to get in, which with the mood we were in did not go over well. Then the Blow Monkeys came on and... uh... oh, damn they were boring. But there was a sizable contingent of people there who were there for them that just annoyed the hell out of me. So by the time the Furs came out, there was no hope that I was going to enjoy the show. I remember very little about the performance.

So I was 0-for-2 in good experiences in seeing the Psychedelic Furs with few-to-zero chances to see them in the intervening years.

Finally, 25 years later, they booked a "very limited" tour to commemorate the 30th anniversary of "Talk Talk Talk". That "limited" tag was soon replaced as they added a bunch of tour dates that included the Cat's Cradle. And this time, it was magnificent. They played the album in its entirety followed by a bunch of other material and it was everything it should have been. And everything those previous shows should have been. Finally.

So now they're off the schneid and the pressure's off and now I can't wait until showtime.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

C'Ville questions

I started writing this in my head Friday night before the events Saturday and certainly before the death and injuries from the terrorist attack on the counterprotesters, but the questions are still valid, even if they've been over-shadowed by the need for us to figure out how the hell we're going to move forward as a country.

Most Southern municipalities had (and I am guessing still have) statutes on the books restricting what can be brought to a protest or march.  These go back to the Civil Rights and then the anti-Vietnam War protests of the '60s and were certainly still around when I was active in the Animal Rights movement in the late 80s/early 90s.

There were tight restrictions on the size and length and material used to create protest signs (basically nothing much wider or thicker than a tongue depressor was allowed) to prevent signs from being used as weapons.  There were all kinds of restrictions on where one could stand, no masks or hoods allowed, and more that I can't immediately recall.  New restrictions in Durham have been put into place restricting protests to daylight hours.

Hell, even the Chapel Hill Hallowe'en celebration restricts anything that looks like or could be used as a weapon.

At the Presidential Conventions every year, protesters are separated into "Free Speech" areas usually blocks away from the convention centers and usually blocks away from each other.  I'm not saying I think that's the right thing to do, but it is apparently possible to do so without running afoul of the First Amendment.

It is certainly possible that Charlottesville doesn't have similar rules in place (although I know that everywhere I've lived in the Southeast, from Nashville to suburban Atlanta to Charlotte to RTP does, or at least did).  

So how do you get a situation where you have a mob of people with lit torches, baseball bats, and long guns marching at night and large numbers of cops, state troopers and National Guardsmen standing around with their thumbs up their butts?  What the hell were they there for?  And why did it take hours of clashes on Saturday morning before the decision was made to put a stop to it?

I'm asking honestly as there may be some good explanations but I'd like to hear them.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Last Real Chapel Hill Summer

A warning last week from a Facebook friend that the students would be coming back in a couple of weeks to interrupt our summer-sleepy town once again reminded me of how much summers have changed around here since I got to town.

Okay, before I go any further, I do realize how cliche that sort of backward-looking is.  When I arrived as an incoming freshman in 1978 (interrupting someone else's sleepy summer), the following joke was already well-worn:
Q: How many Chapel Hillians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Five.  One to screw in the light bulb and four to reminisce about when Chapel Hill was still a village (alternately, four to talk about how great the old light bulb was).
So I know that any backwards look like this is inherently fraught with danger, but what the hell.  While it's true that summers do still slow down a bit around here, Chapel Hill has over the past 40+ years become more and more a bedroom and retirement community with the influence of the university waning as a result.  That doesn't mean that it is not still a college town by any means, but the percentage of residents that are directly associated with the U has dropped significantly.  As a result, the tides of the town don't ebb and flow as strongly as they once did.  The academic year of the U also seems to have fewer gaps than it once did, so there're no longer those nice long slow weeks between graduation and 1st summer school session, for example, where the town approached empty.

For me, the last real Chapel Hill summer was 1981.  The previous two summers I had spent back home in Charlotte, working for a custom cabinet maker in Mint Hill and sometimes working at the movie theater at Eastland Mall.  As I finished my junior year, I found a couple of campus jobs that would allow me to stay in town (we were paying for our apartment out at what was then Tar Heel Manor anyway).  My friend Lex, who was in the same year at Davidson, was going to come up as well and we planned to spend the summer getting up to no good.

I had managed to find a couple of jobs that basically allowed me to sit on my ass in air-conditioned comfort.  One was working the desk at Summer Conference Housing, which was at Morrison Dorm that year.  Every summer, groups would schedule various conferences in town to take advantage of the campus downtime and one of the dorms would be made available for cheap stays (there were VERY few hotel/motel rooms in Chapel Hill those days and the Carolina Inn was pretty much a dump).  I worked 3 nights a week from midnight to 7am, "working" primarily consisting of unlocking the door for late night revelers that had been wandering around looking for "the party" on Franklin Street (dude, it's summer - there is no "party".  Just you and your drunk JayCee buddies looking for the co-eds that are all back home in Wilson or Bryson City for the summer).  That was over by 2am and I spent the rest of the night reading the Playboys that the dorm subscribers had forgotten to stop or the romance novels that the day shift had left at the desk (that was my one and only experience reading Jackie Collins.  I still have the scars.).

The other job was sitting (again) at the remote computer room at Cobb Dorm.  There was a card reader for one of the campus mainframes (pretty sure it was an IBM 360/75 but could have been an IBM 370 by then) and three or four green-screen terminals that accessed the campus computers as well as TUCC (Triangle University Computing Center) that was shared by UNC, NCSU and Duke.  I was there to help folks with JCL (Job Control Language), make sure the card reader didn't get stuck, and not much else.

I was a bit transportation-challenged at the time.  I had an old Suzuki 185 that was stolen just before the start of summer, so a typical day was me busing in for a noon to 5pm shift at the computer room, busing back out to the apartment for a couple of hours of sleep, riding my bicycle back into town for my night shift at the dorm then riding back out at 7am past the cheerleading campers starting their early morning barking exercises in the Granville Towers parking lot.  Some days I'd be back on campus by noon the next day.

That kind of schedule also made for some long stretches of downtime, much of which was spent at what was then the brand-new Henderson Street Bar.  Tim Kirkpatrick (owner of the eponymous Kirkpatrick's) had just opened the place in the old Record Bar location and it still smelled of new wood rather than stale beer and old pee like other bars I frequented.  Those entering were greeted with the 8-Ball Deluxe pinball table admonishing them to "stop talking and start chalking" usually followed by someone hitting the jukebox for the 37th playing that day of the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" (I was probably responsible for a dozen of them most days).  Side note: I didn't know Tim Kirkpatrick at the time but he sold us our Honda Fit at Crown Honda a couple of years ago.  Very nice guy.

There was also plenty of time to sleep during those 2-3 day periods where I didn't have a shift at either job or to go down to Sugar Lake and float around with a cooler full of cheap beer, catch movies, grab a dinner at Tijuana Fats and generally not worry about much of anything.  There wasn't a jug of cheap-ass red wine that was safe from us (or a restaurant menu that didn't have Lex' teeth marks on it).  I'm pretty sure that was the summer when I set my personal record of eating pizza for 7 straight meals.  Greg Humphreys/Hobex captured that type of summer perfectly with their song "Windows" - all you really needed was a friend with a car that had a working radio and windows that rolled down all the way.

Lex only lasted about a month, as I recall.  Day laborer was not in his make-up (mine either).  But one loss was made up for by a gain, when one of the daytime folks working the desk at Morrison said some guys coming in that afternoon mentioned seeing a motorcycle off in the woods beside the path behind the dorm.  Sure enough, someone had ripped the ignition wires out of my bike and had tried to start it pushing it down the hill.  A couple of days over at Motorcycle Supply and I had motorized independent transportation again.

Hell, looking back on it I might have thought I was bored at the time.  But in retrospect I was relaxed, for probably the last prolonged period of my life.  By the next summer I was working full-time at IBM while finishing up a last class during summer session and that was all she wrote.  For the next 35 years.

So I think we all ought to take a month each year and do Chapel Hill summer old school.  Take a sabbatical from our real job, hang out in the shade during the day, get lively when the sun goes down and it starts to cool off a bit, go hang out at He's Not Here all night and take a drive out into the county some afternoon with the windows down and the radio on.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Storage Unit Life

For reasons that are not particularly interesting, we've spent the past couple of weeks moving a whole bunch of stuff out of a self-storage unit over near New Hope Commons and into one out on of Old Greensboro Highway.  As we've done this, we've spent a bit of time at the old storage unit clearing things out and have noticed some interesting stuff going on, particularly on Sundays when there's no management on-site (but when one would assume the security cameras are still active).

On the row that our unit was on, there's a dude that hangs out in his 5'x10' storage unit with a large tower PC and a Mohu Leaf over-the-air TV antenna.  He's got a desk set up and enough open floor space for a desk chair in front of it (and not much else).  He was hanging out there while the office was open so obviously the mgmt knows he's there but on Sundays he puts up a picnic canopy over the front (it gets hot as hell there in the afternoons).  We had a sturdier 8'x8' canopy that we got for free a few years ago and used all of once, so I gave it to him as we were taking the last load out Saturday.  Gotta wonder if he's sleeping in the woods nearby or on friends' sofas and using the storage unit to hang out during the day.  I can kinda understand that one.

The weirder one was the guy with the 10'x10' unit on the outside row near ours.  As I was carting crap to the dumpster, I walked up that way to take advantage of the shade and walked past this guy.  He had an *expensive* canopy up with lawn furniture out under it and was standing in the doorway drinking a beer, with some nice Tejano coming from inside the unit.  The next Sunday, he had the hose from the office stretched back to his unit where he was washing his late-model pickup truck.  Definitely not sleeping in the woods.  Is that just his man-cave?  His place to chill away from family?  I know he's not the manager but they've got to know he's there unless no one ever reviews the security recordings.

So my question is - is this common?  I've typically just run over, thrown a bunch of bins full of Christmas decorations in the XTerra and gotten out, so I've not spent much time over there.  Curious as to whether this is a thing that others have seen at other self-storage places.


Friday, June 02, 2017

Public Will

Note - I wrote this about a year ago, saved it as a draft and never posted it.  Seems appropriate to dig it out after the announcement from the President* re: Paris climate agreement.

I've read a lot about the "Greatest Generation" and the mobilization of the whole country during WWII.  I think you can also point to the post-WWII build-up of the infrastructure of the country - the Interstate system (probably the biggest boon to US business until the Internet), other massive school and municipal building projects that lasted until the 60's, the Space Race of the 60s and into the 70s - as further examples of "think big, do big" capabilities of humans in general and Americans more specifically.  It is a legitimate question to ask whether we as a people are even capable of thinking big anymore (the Internet being something of an anomaly).

There was another mass effort that doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves, I think in part because so many people my age  and younger have forgotten what the US (and much of the world) was like in the 60s.  I certainly sometimes forget the masses of trash along the roadways, rivers so full of filth and toxins that you could walk across them (just don't drop your  cigarette or it would catch on fire), cities (not just LA) where you couldn't see the skyline for the ever-present smoke and smog.  Industries poured untreated toxic waste into rivers and lakes and unfiltered smoke into the skies, creating smog, tree-killing acid rains and 1000s of early deaths from lung-related illnesses.  Cars were over-powered (sorry, but it's true) and horribly inefficient.

At some point in the late 60's and early 70's, there was (suddenly in the grand scheme of things) a popular movement to change things.  In 1970 alone, you got the first Earth Day, the creation (by a Republican administration) of the Environmental Protection Agency, national ad campaigns about littering - attitudes changed quickly and dramatically, forcing corporations and governments to follow suit.  And that happened in the space of a very few years, even while we were still in a war in Southeast Asia and struggling with racial equality and all the other issues of the day.

What I want to figure out is what it would take for another Green revolution aimed at climate change.  Greenhouse gases aren't as easy to see as take-out bags strewn along the highway or oil slicks on the Ohio River, so I get that it isn't as easy.  And maybe it isn't as clear what needs to be done, although I think there are some pretty obvious ways to approach this.  The question is how to get enough people motivated that they take over the conversation (which has heretofore been dominated by the unbelievers) and push industry, government and our fellow humans to take real action.

Added 6/2/2017 - with the abdication of responsibility by the GOP, it is becoming clear that it will be corporations, states and municipalities that will have to lead this fight until we manage a change in the fed government. But I still come back to the public participation in efforts during WWII, the space race (I remember saving quarters to buy savings bonds for NASA funding while in elementary school) and a shift towards protecting the environment and wonder how we get that kind of willpower and personal investment involved again in trying to reduce climate change?

Friday, December 09, 2016

Jobs, Wages and Income

Second in a series of posts where I'm trying to figure it all out - this one is going to be a little rambling.

Before diving into the real subject here, let me first say that the cabinet and other advisory positions that The Trumpster Fire has appointed so far are remarkably consistent with GOP ideology to an extent I didn't think possible.  We want an aggressive military and we believe that the US military has been emasculated by politicians since the early Vietnam days, so we appoint a crapload of generals to defense and security positions.  Check.  We think most of the rest of the federal government should do as little as possible, so we appoint a fast food mogul to Labor, a climate change denier to the EPA, a Wall Street insider to Treasury, a completely inexperienced hack to HUD, an enemy of public education to the DofEd and so on it goes.  And on top of that, we appoint a white supremicist media mogul as head of propaganda so he can ensure we keep sniping at each other so we don't pay attention as Ryan and McConnell attempt to dismantle the US government.  Mission soon to be accomplished.

So as we continue to dissect this damned election, we're supposed to be wringing our hands about how we overlooked the WWC (white working class) and focused too much on "identity politics".  Well, bullshit.  First of all, it's not identity politics - it's a fight for civil rights that didn't end with Brown vs the Board of Education or the Voting Rights Act or the Obergefell decision.  If any Democrat ever apologizes for that, they should be kicked out of the party.  The biggest shift though was a bigger focus on the poor rather than the middle-ish class which had had ALL of the spotlight in the previous couple of elections.  The Fight for $15 and support for the ACA was the right thing to do, but that shouldn't have stopped Democrats for also spending some time and energy on middle class problems.  It really is possible to do both and we absolutely hadn't done both before - it's just that the poorer folks didn't have anywhere else to turn and they were energized by President Obama.  Those same people appear to have come out and voted for Hillary Clinton but there was some obvious erosion that must be addressed without compromising what it means to be a Democrat.

I am still planning to walk through the minefield of talking about racism and sexism in a future post (yes, I am still a middle-aged Southern white dude, so THAT should be fun!) but let's talk a little about what the WWC actually say they wanted from a Prez candidate - the promise of jobs.  Real jobs, decent-paying jobs, manufacturing jobs (and by the way, mostly jobs that don't require a college education).

Well I hate to be the one to break it to you but those jobs are not coming back.  NO jobs are coming back!  North Carolina has bled thousands and thousands of textile and furniture and tobacco jobs over the past 30-40 years (most of which really didn't pay that well but you could live off of them) and there is not a damn thing that Donald Trump can do to entice them back.  Back in the mid-80s (long before NAFTA) I was working for Bluebell (before VF bought them) - makers of Wrangler jeans and Jantzen sportswear.  Can't get no more 'Merican that that.  Ed Baumann was the CEO or President at the time and he would go on and on about "buy American!" while all of the shirts we sold were being sewn together in Honduras. "Made in America", my ass.  Sure, somebody might open a small boutique textile mill now to make something that will be very expensive and marketed to upper-income people to make them feel better about it all, but it will be a very small drop in a very large bucket.  God love 'em for doing it, but it won't make much difference.  And I'll guarantee they'll run those shops with many fewer people than they used to because they'll automate the hell out of them.  And in the meantime all those WWCs will continue to be addicted to cheap clothes made in Pakistan by people working in inhumane conditions at sub-subsistence wages and sold to them at Wal-mart by our own version of those same people.  There was a story a few years ago on NPR about a US city that was buying manhole covers from India.  Imagine the cost of shipping the damn things but when they're being cast in foundries by barefooted guys in loincloths with no safety consideration and a high mortality rate, the cost of production is approaching zero.  That type of thing, by the way, is one thing that NAFTA and TPP and other trade agreements are supposed to address - raising safety and environmental standards in trading partners (which raises their costs of course) and helps make the US more competitive by making everyone play by the same rules. 

Don't think that manufacturing is the only problem.  Think health care at least is something that has to remain on-shore?  Don't be so sure.  Many of the advances like electronic medical records and telemedicine that really will help improve services and help reach under-served communities are already being used to move back-office and diagnostic jobs off-shore.  There are buildings in India with whole floors of MDs that do nothing all day but evaluate MRIs for patients in the States.  And why not?  It reduces the cost of medical care for us, right?  But it means fewer high-paying jobs for docs in the US.

Of course everyone knows about the off-shoring of IT jobs - the very technology that we support enables us to move much of that support to countries with lower labor costs.  But the move of other back-office services for major corporations like accounting, HR functions, legal etc really hasn't gotten much press but it is happening and happening rapidly.

Think the creative space is safe?  That guy that you hired for your graphic design work probably has ten jobs like that that he's "working on" simultaneously, which really means that he's farmed out the grunt work to people in Poland or Manila or Chennai.  It's all digital, so he can check in on progress, send stuff back for rework and spend 5% of the time it would take if he was really doing all the work himself.  Everyone is a photographer now, so stock photography is dead and most shrinking TV newsrooms now are making their reporters double as camera people.  Remember type-setting?  Remember film labs?  Remember buggy whips?  We don't need 'em anymore.

And I get it.  I've been working in technology since I graduated college in 1982 and it still amazes me the ridiculously cool things we've figured out how to do.  And despite what you might think after a 9 hour day of staring at a computer screen, I do think that technology and automation and all of that stuff have improved human life.  But the (possibly) unintended consequences are making life difficult for many, many people and the answers to that are not found in a glib phone call to Carrier or a threat to Boeing.  And of course Carrier is already signaling that through automation most of the jobs that were "saved" from moving to Mexico will be lost to automation.

Raising tariffs is a dumbass idea (go Google Smoot-Hawley if you aren't sure) and one that runs counter to everything the non-Trump part of the GOP stands for.  Congress would never stand for it and they'd impeach The Donald so fast you'd think he'd had a fling with an intern if he really pushed it.  Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do and I'm convinced that the negative impact on the number of jobs will be minimal, but it won't help the situation long-term and we just lost any chance of doing that on a wide scale for at least the next four years.  And with the majority of state legislatures in GOP hands and likely to stay that way through 2020, we'll lose another census opportunity to redistrict in a way that is less safe for Republicans and that four years becomes fourteen.

All of this is why I think raising the minimum wage and fighting for universal health care is only the start.  The logical and I think necessary move over the next 20-30 years will be to institute a guaranteed minimum income or even a basic income.  There are just not going to be enough jobs available to support the population.  So either a killer bug gets released that kills off half the population or we have a very large percentage of the population that has no work to do.  That doesn't mean that they're lazy, it doesn't mean that they find some jobs "beneath them" - there just will not be jobs available.

There's a difference between guaranteed minimum income and basic income (the former is means-tested while the latter goes to everyone, for example) and I've not done nearly enough research or thinking on this yet, but something is going to be necessary unless we blow ourselves up, drown in the rising oceans or hit a Captain Trips/Walking Dead scenario and that seems to be the best logical bet.  There are smart people out there that have been thinking about this for awhile and actually you can go back to a lot of the science fiction written in the late 60s and early 70s that posits a society where everything is automated and the basics are provided but they deal primarily with the effects that might have on the human psyche more than the mechanics of how the posited basic income (or basic needs met) would work.

But we're going to have to figure this out, including how to overcome the Puritan legacy that seems to continue to drive much of American discussion and thought 500 years later - the idea that nothing has worth unless it was hard to get.  We don't like having things handed to us (and we absolutely abhor seeing anyone ELSE have anything handed to them).  But now that the lack of jobs is hitting the white folk and not primarily people of color and geographies that have been traditionally poor, maybe they'll start to get the message.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Bubbles and Echo Chambers

I started writing this in my head a couple of days ago and many folks that write much better than I do have already captured a lot of what I'm thinking better than I will, but I still feel the need to work through this - and it doesn't count if I don't put it out there for others to argue with or agree with or ignore.  This is long and rambling because I've been pretty rambling since Tuesday night. So read at your own risk and feel comfortable with ignoring.

There have been a lot of accusations that the Dem leadership and/or the "liberal elite" (whatever the fuck is meant by that) live in their bubbles in San Francisco and New York and Portland (and I would assume my college town of Chapel Hill) and they've lost touch with "real America" whatever the hell that is.  I'm also reading a counter to that, that it's Billy Bob Joe Bubba in Podunkville, Kansas that is the one in the bubble, unknowing (and uncaring) of anything much that goes on beyond the next corn field.

Look, we ALL live in not one but many bubbles.  Think of it as a big-ass series of Venn diagrams (I know, I just lost the Billy Bobs) with overlaps, intersections and in some cases completely separate bubbles.  As I said, I live in a college town in a Southern state that defies categorization as blue or red but I also don't believe that it is purple.  Chapel Hill is such a bubble that the late unlamented Senator Jesse Helms suggested we save some money on building a zoo and just build a fence around the town.  As it has become more of a bedroom community for Research Triangle Park, it may not be quite as librul, but it is still definitely an outlier.

At the same time, I've spent most of my 35 year professional career working in the aforementioned RTP, which is dominated by large multi-national technology and pharmaceutical companies.  Big on open borders and loving their H-1B visas and generally fiscally conservative/free-market but fairly tolerant on social issues.  With the exception of a couple of my neighbors, I'd wager that not a single person that I have a social connection with in Chapel Hill voted for The Trumpster.  But I know for a fact that there are people that I have a work relationship with that voted for him, whether or not they held their nose when they did.

I also have a relationship with the western part of the state, where the textile mills have shut down and the mining operations have mostly moved out and logging has died down and the damn hippies have taken over Asheville and are starting to encroach on many of the smaller towns.  The natives vote heavily GOP and every damn one of them had a Trump sign on their lawn - but they also have Confederate battleflags on their pickup trucks and voted hard for the state amendment banning gay marriage before the SCOTUS weighed in.  I'll come back to this point in my next post.  Yes, their lives are tough and in many cases ruled by opioid addiction and diabetes (go to Walmart in some of these towns and look at all the guys younger than me scooting around in the electric shopping carts).  But their older siblings were meth addicts and their parents were potheads and alcoholics and their grandparents were 'shiners - things have sucked for them for generations. I really don't mean to be unsympathetic - I do get that they're in a tough place that has gotten progressively tougher due to a number of factors beyond their control.

I have no doubt that millennials living in Cambridge live in a different bubble and people living in Bugfuck, Mississippi live in another bubble still.  Where I have issue is this idea that one bubble is more important or more real or more "American" than another.  This idea that "the heartland" is the real America and the cities (in particular the coastal cities like NY and Boston and LA and San Fran) are "the other" and somehow less American.  The map that shows the concentration of 50% of the US population in a fairly small footprint that is being used to justify the Electoral College says something very different to me - it says that we're undervaluing the votes of a large number of American citizens just because they live near their neighbors.

I (and many like me) have been accused of living in an echo chamber.  Yeah, maybe.  But we all do - that's the nature of social media as we tend to "friend", "follow" and listen to people that share our views.  But we also have had a fundamental shift in the way news is sourced over the past 50 years that we are still coming to grips with.  When I was a kid, it didn't matter where you lived - you got your news from a limited numbers of sources.  Walter Cronkite or Howard K Smith or a couple of other national news anchors, your local newspaper (or two, depending on how large a town you lived in) and maybe a news magazine like Time or Newsweek.  That was pretty much it as local TV news tended (and still tends) to focus on local crime, feel-good stuff and not much else.

Today there are 1000s of news (and "news") sources to choose from and we have access to an amazing number of information (and misinformation) sources.  And therein lies both our path forward and our biggest challenge.  I'll fully admit that I get much of my political news from Vox, TalkingPointsMemo and a handful of other progressive-leaning sourced.  I also scan the Washington Post and NY Times and Raleigh N&O headlines and other more mainstream news sources. And I hit Twitter for posts from people that I think have good ideas and a good handle on what's going on.  I like to think that I do some due dlilgence and check out sources and demand attribution and try to ensure that what I'm reading has a basis in objective truth.  The wingnuts will deride you for depending on the NY Times as the defining source of your bubble - so will I as they've fallen well-short of what I expect a real investigative news source to do the past 18 months.  Use multiple sources and question if they seem to be repeating each other.

I have friends though that get their information from Breitbart and Fox News and Hannity and Laura Ingraham and I just smh.  I do read the stuff they post from time to time and it creates a fictional reality where elections are stolen from them and the only racism is reverse racism and Hillary killed Vince Foster and and and and I just can't read anymore.  The point being, I guess, that there are echo chambers and there are echo chambers and we continue to struggle to figure out how to deal with outright, demonstrable lies that other have no issue completely believing and repeating ad nauseum.

So where we used to all get our news from kind of the same sources - at least everyone in Nashville when I was growing up had the Tennessean (morning paper), the Banner (evening paper) and three major network newscasts and not much else.  Whether those news sources were impartial nor not, good or bad or whatever, we all got pretty much the same info. Now as part of our bubble choices, we also make news source choices that further focus us on our own bubble/echo chamber.

Where am I going with this?  Hell, I don't know - I told you I was going to be rambling.  But I guess I'm going a couple of places.  One is that with the proliferation of news sources (and more importantly, access to them), there really is no excuse to NOT find better sources for your information than propaganda sites run by Trump's Goebbels.  I get that they may tell you what you want to hear but that isn't necessarily the truth.  When I read crap that people post from Breitbart, it is often almost always unattributed, patently false bullshit that assumes you've read the rest of their crap and believed it so it forms the foundation for the next layer of bullshit.  I'm not saying that because it is reactionary, racist, sexist horse manure - I'm saying it because it is easily-researched and easily-refuted horse manure if anyone even half tried.

So yes, we're all in a series of sometimes-overlapping bubbles but so what?  It is YOUR responsibility as a thinking, vote-having adult human to figure this shit out.  Figure out who you can really listen to - not because they're telling you what you want to hear, but instead what you need to know.  

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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

One-Term Presidents

It struck me a few days ago that in the first 20 years of my life, we had 5 Presidents of the US (not counting the few months that Ike was still Pres after I was born):
- Kennedy (assassinated)
- Johnson (declined to run for a second full term)
- Nixon (resigned in disgrace)
- Ford (unelected and lost re-election bid)
- Carter (lost re-election bid)

In the 36 years that followed, we've only had 5 more Presidents:
- Reagan (term-limited)
- Bush the First (lost re-election bid)
- Clinton (term-limited)
- Bush the Second (term-limited)
- Obama (term-limited)

For all of the craziness of the US political scene the past few decades, that's a remarkable run of Presidential stability that I believe is about to come to an end, regardless of the outcome of this election.

Historical economic cycles point to a recession or at least a serious correction coming in the US economy in the next 2-3 years.  The fact that the recovery from the Great Recession has been as slow as it has may push that toward the end of the next president's term, but my expectation is that Hillary will win and have a narrow Senate Dem majority for 2 years before the Republicans take the Senate back in the mid-terms.  After the economy takes a hit in 2018-2019, my guess is that a President Clinton will face a tough challenge from within the party and then lose to the Republican nominee (Cruz?  Rubio?  someone new?).

On the other hand, what happens if The Donald wins?  I have every idea that he has absolutely no interest in actually being president.  I suspect he would wreak serious havoc for two years and then pull a Palin and quit, leaving us with a couple of years of President Pence and paving the way for an Elizabeth Warren Presidency.  (I'm fine with the Warren presidency but a lot of people would be harmed in the 4 years before she would take over.)

That all may sound crazy but look at that 1960-1980 period again and tell me again that it's nuts.  So I will do what I can to get Hillary elected along with as many Democratic Senators as possible and then push like hell for them to make as many moves forward as they can in the short time they'll have to accomplish anything.

Because we won't get another chance for awhile.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

All-Overlooked Team

With the Tar Heels in the Final Four again, we're getting a lot of looks at past UNC greats, from 'Sheed sitting in the stands and Kenny Smith in the TNT studio to lots of talk about Michael Jordan and James Worthy and Lenny Rosenbluth and Antawn Jamison and on and on (and it's one hell of a list).

This afternoon I started thinking about the guys that don't get mentioned that often anymore that would be all-time greats with most other programs - guys that I thoroughly enjoyed watching but who don't get much mention anymore.  If I were to build an All-Overlooked team of UNC greats, it would probably look something like this:

PG - Easy Ed Cota - 3 Final Fours in 4 years, all time leading assist man for UNC and still #3 in NCAA history.  When we talk about UNC point guards, Phil Ford, Kenny Smith, Ray Felton, Ty Lawson - all those guys typically come to mind before Ed which I think is a bit unfair.

SG - Al Wood - team leading scorer for 3 years, 1st team All-American in '81 and scorer of 39 points against Virginia in the '81 Final Four in one of the greatest games I've ever seen a Tar Heel play.

F - Mike O'Koren - my favorite player while I was actually in school until Mr. Worthy hit campus.  3 time 1st team All-American (despite only making All-ACC 1st team twice - one of the national vs. local press oddities).  Led the injury-depleted Heels to the final game against Marquette as a freshman in '77.  He really was the team in the interim between the Phil Ford era and the Jordan era.

F - Sam Perkins - I guess playing in the shadow of James Worthy and Michael Jordan will do it to you, but it astounds me that the guy who is still the #2 rebounder and #3 scorer in UNC history doesn't get more love.

C - Brad Daugherty - top 10 in field goal %, rebounds, scoring and blocks in UNC history and part of the Best UNC Team Ever To Not Win The NCAA (tm) - the 1984 edition Heels with Perkins, Doherty, Jordan and Kenny "The Jet" Smith that was undefeated in conference play but managed to NOT win the ACC Tournament and NOT make it to the Final Four. Despite that, all kinds of love for Brad who remains a true North Carolina treasure.

I'm probably guilty myself of overlooking some folks but I'd put these guys up against just about anybody.


Friday, March 25, 2016


If I understand it correctly, the bill just rammed through the NC General Assembly without notice and without time given for the legiscritters to, you know, READ what they were being asked to vote on will require a person identifying as male (and quite possibly with male genitalia and male secondary characteristics like facial hair) to use the women's room if their birth certificate says they were born female.  That's not an unintended consequence.  That is a punishment, pure and simple.  It's a feature.

But more than that, it is a clear indicator that the bigotry against my LGBT friends is being used as a smokescreen to hide what the rest of the consequences of the bill are.  It is not only anti-LGBT, it is anti-worker (anti-poor worker primarily) and focused on further consolidation of power at the state level, where the GOP has institutionalized its stranglehold on state government.

There is absolutely zero compelling reason for the state to prevent Charlotte from mandating a minimum wage that at least gets closer to a living wage for the city.  There is absolutely zero compelling reason for the state to prevent local municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances for veterans or service members (which Greensboro currently has).

It seems clear that HB2 runs afoul of Title IX which could cut off many millions of dollars of funding to NC schools.  It will obviously turn off large employers like IBM, RedHat, Netapp, SAS, Quintiles, Cisco, EMC (the list goes on).  But who thinks the current crop of legislators in Raleigh gives a shit about that?  They've already turned down Federal funding for Medicaid, they've already stripped funding from schools, they've already killed the film industry in NC and reduced unemployment protections to the worst in the nation.  For all of their bullshit during campaigns about being all about job creation, they don't give a flying about jobs - except their own.  "Smaller government" and "local control" be damned - it's all about consolidating their unConstitutionally-gained spoils in Raleigh.

There is a lot of energy right now among a lot of folks (many of them younger) that hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about politics until Senator Sanders starting campaigning for President.  There are more that are being energized from the other direction - in opposition to the campaign of The Donald.  Regardless of who wins the Democratic primaries, we need to find a way to channel *some* of that energy into state races in order to overcome the gerrymandered, quasi-permanent majority that the GOP has in North Carolina.  While turning the NCGA blue is not going to happen this cycle, finding enough votes to at least overcome the current GOP supermajority (hopefully coupled with a new Democratic governor) would be a good start.

Don't get so caught up in the dumpster fire that is the Presidential election that you don't pay attention to the down-ticket races - every damn one of them is vitally important.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Driving Music - Preesh!

The Xterra is getting a bit long in the tooth - multi-CD changer but no MP3 player.  So I had the bright idea of making a CD of the songs that Preesh! covered at the Cat's Cradle last weekend during the Be Loud! Sophie benefit - until I came to the shocking realization that I had copies of everything on the setlist except the first and last tunes.  I do have the Hindu Love Gods on cassette but I've never digitized it and the only Prince I've got is the vinyl for 1999.  And while I have copies of almost everything Elvis Costello has ever recorded, I did not (until tonight) own a copy of Imperial Bedroom in any format.  Thanks to Google Play that has been rectified and I did go with the Warren Zevon/Hindu Love Gods version of "Raspberry Beret".

So the CD is now complete, with live versions of "Respectable Street", "Bad Reputation" and "Driven to Tears" all taken from the incredible Urgh! A Music War soundtrack.

Ready for the road!


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Courtin' Songs

Every relationship has songs that have meaning for the couple in it that would make no sense to anyone else.  This is my quick take on songs that, if encountered in the wild, will cause us to pause and look at each other and smile, grin, smooch, laugh or look mildly embarrassed.

Tears for Fears - Pale Shelter
Talk Talk - It's My Life
Icicle Works - Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)
The Psychedelic Furs - Heaven
Depeche Mode - People Are People
U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Two Tribes
The English Beat - Jeanette
REM - Don't Go Back to Rockville
The Monkees - Daydream Believer

The first seven were constantly in rotation at Cagney's on DuPont Circle in DC, where we would go as often as possible to escape our little apartment in Montgomery Village (aka Stepford) when we first got together. The rest have their own stories that wouldn't mean anything to anyone but us. But that's a hell of a playlist...