Category Archives: life

America gets a real-time IQ test

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I’m going to assume that some moderate percentage of the US population could either describe an oligarchy or identify one if they saw one. I don’t think it is anywhere near 50%, but let’s say it is greater than 25%. (But read the Wiki. It’s a good primer on what tipping-point we just crossed)

Now what percentage of them could identify an emerging oligarchy? It would be like saying you can ID an oak tree, but not an oak sapling. Lots of people fall into that category.

What just happened in the US is that an oligarchy sapling just broke through the forest floor, is getting lots of nutrients and sunlight, and before you know it, son, you got yourself a mature oligarchy growing right there in the front lawn. And the bigger it gets the harder it will be to get rid of. How do we know if we have a real oligarchy, and not just a playboy-type with delusions of grandeur? The dichotomous key to political systems will get you close:

You have a billionaire as president-elect. He became a billionaire by extracting moderate sums of money from thousands of people at a time, and then doing it again, and again. What billionaires care about it not whether the Dallas Cowboys are looking good (That’s Jerry Jones’ issue, and he is “special”), or whether their bills are getting paid. They mainly care about other billionaires, their money, and how they stack up against them. So we can check that box. They play “Fantasy Billionaire” the way Joe Six Pack plays Fantasy Football. But with piles of other people’s money. No other billionaires have been elected to the presidency of the US. That is a big bragging point right there. That goes over real big when he gets on the phone with other billionaires AND with other heads-of-state. It’s a win-win. And don’t he know it? It’s Trump, Putin, and a few guys in the UAE. That, as they say, is the list of billionaire heads-of-state. Don’t go looking for their free press or their sterling record on human rights.

And in the case of our current president-elect, Donald Trump, he is demonstrating his incuriosity, thin skin, and sub-par intellect at every damn turn. We don’t have a super-genius billionaire, or even a really smart billionaire. We have a whiny douche from Queens who inherited more money from his daddy than the average American makes in a lifetime. He is accustomed to outsourcing virtually everything. He hires “the best”. (More on that, and how he only hires the best for himself and hires the worst when it comes to protecting the American citizenry, later.) How does a guy like this plan to run a country?

Glad I asked! First, you put military lifers in positions where you want chain-of-command respected, not a bunch of smart-ass sass-back. You only want to hear “how high?” when you yell “Jump”. So you stock Defense, Homeland Security, and Intel with guys who will throw their mother in front of the L-train in the name of chain-of-command. It helps if you have conspiracy theorists with itchy trigger-fingers and an axe to grind. Less motivational work and coercion to waste Trump’s time.

Next, you recruit fellow billionaires who you know will put other billionaires (like the president-elect. just sayin’) first, and pretty much fuck the little guy all day long. That is how they got there. When you find anyone who ever called Rex Tillerson “human rights champion” please let me know. Trump himself has *never* gone on the record regarding human rights (I looked, and if you find something I am all ears). It is safe to say he has never though about the concept other than as a way to tar a “loser” who put humanity over making a dollar. Go find the country that Rex Tillerson has staked out where you have a thriving middle class, lots of manufacturing jobs, cheap top-flight health care… Good luck. If that model was successful they would be like Johnny Appleseed, as opposed to Joey Goebbels.

And Trump has Bannon, who jerks off to photos of Goebbels, so another base covered. This guy is a “strategist” in only the broadest way. He seems to be the worst kind of political apparatchik. The kind who will never be seen in public, or grant interviews, or take any real responsibility. He has his hand up Trump’s ass and it looks like Trump is talking, but you are really hearing Bannon throwing his voice. THAT is this dude’s “strategy”. And as usual, when “strategy” is next separated from “propaganda” it will be the first time.

Next, Lackeys. You cannot have a functioning oligarchy without lackeys. You need dopes who are so far over their skis that they will take whatever direction they get because what the fuck does Rick “Dancing with the Stars” Perry know about nuclear warheads? Nothing. And he ain’t gonna learn anytime soon. The steady stream of agency heads who are incompetent or outright hostile to the charters of the agencies they are being tapped to head is not a coincidence. You want a nice mix of incompetence and hostility. Both is nice.

Like an exterminator examining the mud casings in the footings of your democracy, I hate to tell you this, friend: you got a colony of oligarchs, military stooges and lackeys setting up shop in your house. The fix is to get at it early and maybe in short order you’ll have a problem you can fix with a can of RAID. But for now you gotta be ready to do the hard work to knock this oligarch colony down to size.

 

No, I have not been captured by pirates…

It came to my attention that not only have  not posted for a while, but I left off with a series of rum-related posts. It would not be a stretch to imagine me adrift on a raft with a case of Pyrat and some scavenged limes. But no, I have been busy with a host of issues artistic, familial, and careerist. Generally, just busy!

Artistic: Fuchsprellen is on a bit of a hiatus from live performance, but I am still working on a piece for the upcoming Cordelia Records comp. That work is taking place under the Fuchsprellen banner, so there is some life in the organization. The live performance front will come around sooner or later. As it stands I don’t know that I have the time or the focus for it, but we do always find the resolve. Want some noise at your place? Drop me a line. We can oblige.

Family: The usual commitments of house, home, spouse, and dog. Mr Wylee is hanging in there at 13 years old. For a sheepdog that is the far right end of the curve, but his “mind over matter” style means that he is still rallying day to day. The holiday season was a grind, but mainly due to the late and mild winter, and then the crazy and unpredictable spring.

Bidnezz: Approaching one year of working in he realm of waste management and solid waste policy. It has been an eye-opener of a year. The specifics are new, but the underlying concepts and themes that I have been leaning on for 30 years still serve well. Occasionally I get brain-lock as the challenge of the new material can make me forget things I actually know. As in art, so in life.

As always, I’ll have more photos to share on Flickr, more music to share on Bandcamp (or maybe Soundcloud, but that is looking less likely), and more rambling here on the mothership. Ciao.

P

Connect(icut) the Dots….

If nothing else, I am from Connecticut. My family background is 100% Italian-American, going back to the early 20th Century. One grandparent on each side was born in Connecticut, the other in Italy. Both sides settled in Southington, a mill town about halfway between Hartford and New Haven. Every immediate family member I have lived in Connecticut….

Point is, I don’t have another point of reference. I know other places, some pretty well, but my outlook is pure Nutmegger. Long, intense winters. Short but similarly intense summers. Our major industries are Wall Street finance, Insurance, and Higher Education, probably in that order. What is left of the military industrial complex and manufacturing is bringing up the rear.

You can drive across the state, the long way, in about two hours. You can drive from Connecticut’s capitol Hartford to Boston, NYC, Providence, Albany, or the Vermont border, in about two hours. The Canadian border is about 4 hours away. It is a compact region, is my point.

So you would think we have it made. Loads of highly educated people making a good living, cultural wonders in abundance, beautiful woodlands, rolling hills (no mountains, really), lakes, rivers, the ocean (aka Long Island Sound), etc… Not so fast.

We have staggering economic disparity, often in very close proximity. Fairfield County regulary battles for the highest per-capita income of any county in the country, but contains one of the poorest cities in the nation (Bridgeport). We have Metro-North, the most intensely utilized mass transit system in the nation, but the citizenry by-and-large considers any mass transit project to be something between a boondoggle and a mortal sin. Metro-North brings the wealthy and powerful into New York City every morning and brings them home every night, but it is basically a disaster waiting to happen due to being starved of maintenance funds. Simply put, the Gold Coast doesn’t call the shots in Hartford.

If the three bears came to Connecticut it would not be “just right”. We have massive overhead due to three interstate highways and sprawling suburban development. Connecticut has 169 towns, almost all with their own local governments, and no county government to fill out the middle of the state-local axis. The town budgets rely heavily on property tax which the state gets essentially none of. The state backfills the town school budgets with “ECS”, or Education Cost Sharing, so town taxpayers are often shielded from the actual impact of their largest cost, schools. The state has to fund itself with a mix of income tax, sales, tax, business taxes, use-taxes and fees, and an array of nickel/dime nuisance taxes. We still have not mentioned taxes paid to Uncle Sam. Connecticut is near the bottom in federal tax recovered per-capita. Our federal taxes are not coming back to fix Metro North, for instance, and nobody seems too sure why. Add in the high costs for housing and food/essentials, and it can be a very expensive place to live.

Day to day, this is the status quo. Often complained about, but never truly analyzed. That should change. If you take a step back, what I just described is “lossy”. A lossy system is one where efficiencies are abandoned in favor of tradition, or other “steady habits”. Not surprisingly that is the way we roll here. Which is a shame. What we really need is a top-down rebuild of many things we hold dear.

Once the villages and mill towns grew into one another in a petri-dish like explosion of suburban sprawl, the gig was up. Your quaint notions of sovereignty are vestiges of a time gone by. My favorite analogy is the “string of pearls”. In the beginning you had a “string”, let’s say Route 10, splitting the state in half from north to south. New Haven to Springfield on a ribbon of asphalt. Once you cleared New Haven you wold travel past farms and woodland between a series of village centers, the “pearls”. But those pearls were growing, and in time edged together. Where once there was string, it is now covered by overgrown pearls. It was originally a wagon route, and paralleled sections of a rail and canal system. Those wagons, barges, and boxcars kept the mills and factories running for a hundred years. It was host to a trolley line until, like everywhere else, it gave way to the supremacy of the automobile. With the car came the pressure of suburban development.

When those villages were isolated there was a logical case to be made for their fiefdom governments, but in time they used that independence to make decisions at the expense of their neighbors, or to the advantage of the town fathers. Suburbs with elbow room could depress taxes to draw home buyers away from their neighbors. They could also push up taxes to keep out low-income families. They could offer tax abatements to pull industry away from the cities. The cities watched their industrial base flee, to China as often as another state or city, yet they still had to feed a hungry city machine. As the cities crumbled, their taxes would rise, burdening an already underemployed citizenry. Due to “white flight” where city dwellers fled urban centers for the suburbs, his was not seen as a problem by a largely middle-class state. When it was confronted it was often seen as an “urban” problem.

That was then. The lack of long-range planning has handcuffed those towns. They thought they could build enough homes to satisfy their growing budgets but they were just digging themselves a deeper hole. School systems were expanded, as were snow plowing and other maintenance functions. Police and fire services grew, along with increasingly complex administrative departments. In short, the low mil rates that attract those real estate developers and home buyers mean that the property taxes they pay fall short of covering the costs of the services they use. It also means that the towns cannot afford to create tax-reduction zones or tax rebate/incentive programs for seniors. That has resulted in what might be called “grey flight” as retirees leave the state for less expensive surroundings.

What we have now is a restless middle class looking longingly at lower taxes in the southern states, the mid-Atlantic, and beyond. The Connecticut promise was that those hyper-local policies had no downside. Flee the city for the suburbs, trade up and get better schools, move over one town and halve your property taxes… The idea was that all was fair and all decisions were equal. The triangulation of housing, job, and commute was supposed to be zero-sum. If not equal, they were not to be questioned. What we actually built is a landscape of bloated suburbs dependent on the retail and service economy, with secondary education and government jobs replacing the manufacturing and white-collar business positions that built the suburbs in the first place. All those kids need to go to school, they all need electricity, police, fire, road maintenance, parks, recreation, drinking water, clean air, cellular phone coverage, and so much more. The overwhelming reaction, regardless of your political bent or income, is that smaller government is the solution. In our current situation it is an easy conclusion to draw. Even easier if the alternative is wholesale regime change.

At one point, a time I can barely remember (the 80’s), it seemed like a numbers game. Residential development went unchecked on the premise that it generated revenue. Even when the numbers showed that the tax revenues were dwarfed by the costs of educating the kids in those houses you were better off barking at the moon. Towns were going to build their way out of budget shortfalls and no egghead was going to spoil the party with “math”. The battle lines were drawn between town councils padded with developers, bank presidents, realtors, and insiders who bought in to their cause on one side; and good-government types and academics on the other side who lacked the connections and financial motivation to gain even a board seat. But the numbers didn’t lie. Towns privatized services like trash collection, moving the costs off the books. Road maintenance was deprioritized, along with parks and recreation. We have built a rift between parents with kids in the schools and empty-nesters. With Connecticut schools averaging about $8,000 per student per year to educate a child, $4,000 in property tax seems like a steal. If you stay around for an additional 13 years for each kid you put through the system it probably works out. Otherwise it is just the price of living in a community with educated children. That price is born equally across the community, but burdens fixed-income elderly in a way that hardly seems fair.

If I had a tidy solution I would have laid it out by now. I know that there needs to be a discussion. I know it will be divisive. But I know also that our current system has outgrown itself. That bucolic “string of pearls” with country roads, mill towns, farms, and tidy urban enclaves is now a memory. Mementos exist, but that’s all they are. The steady habit should have been cooperative improvement and long-range planning but instead it has been greed, isolation, and finger pointing. A good long look in the mirror might be the first step we need, even if we aren’t thrilled with what we see.

It’s About That Time

I have a gig coming up and am taking time each day to get up to speed. Prepping for a gig can be as much or as little as you make it. Want to be uber-prepared? Get busy about two weeks ahead, daily work. If it is very charty, that would be 2 months. Metronome practice, and a lot of it. Until the metronome sounds like Zig. Or Danny Richmond. and so on.

Meh. Point is: at least I have a plan.

And the improbable situation I find myself in is that I have become a person who is all about planning. Planning in the sense of structuring activity and time in a way to get things done. I also find myself at the a very weird crossroads in life. A place where I have hit a lot of strong numbers. Turning 50. 21 years on one job. Two amazing nephews turning 21. 25 years with an amazing partner who was suggestible enough to agree to marry me, baggage and all. My main man Wylee kicking ass at 11 years.

There is a rising drumbeat reminder of how tenuous it is and how things change. How much change I have seen. Who, and how, and when, and occasionally why. Rarely why.

There is a certainty that the present is a testament to how well or badly we have measured the past. The successes and mistakes form the ripples and eddys. It might be that the most important human mental tool is that we learn from mistakes. If we are especially aware we can learn from others’ mistakes. The humor in the idea that we are better off learning from the mistakes of others is that it is just not the real thing. Yes, you can learn from someone else’s mistake. But you won’t learn as much.

Nothing will get worn smooth by your mind like rehashing your very own gnarly, craggy mistake. Don’t pass up that juice. I realize that I’m a big fan of mistakes on the simple premise that mistakes are an essential tool. Throwing their value away is a monumental waste.

Mistakes are a huge part of preparing for a gig. It is all about making the mistakes before you get to the gig. My wife just sat through a week or two of me working on audio mixes for a project. Essentially it is repetitive listening to eradicate mistakes or make incremental improvements. Nobody wants to hear that except one person. And that person is always looking for ways to have to hear less of it. The continuous quest is to get more efficient. Not that inefficiency is all bad, it just is not as good. Being inefficient is its own, lesser, learning  tool.

And you would be wise to ask why someone would put themselves through all that. All those mistakes and slop and frustration… Simply: At any moment you either decide not to suck at something, or you decide something else, anything else. So the odds are stacked against that decision. To make it, and make it regularly, you have to be motivated by something.  Formal education is all about someone else providing enough structure to make that work compulsory and fairly evaluated. Otherwise you would be going all Huck F. Finn on your schedule. Without that external structure you need to do it because you want to do it. Your plan depends on it. Internal or external, that structure is essential. Huck was not going to ride that raft forever. He had a plan.

You have a plan of attack. Good. You can treat it as a formula like I did up top in the gig prep. I need two weeks to make all those mistakes. It is an inefficiency, but like friction generates heat, actions generate a voice. In music there are many variables. How you listen. How you feel time. How well you read. How well you can translate your inner voice with your instrument’s voice.Your voice becomes a product of your process. Your product will bear the fingerprints of your plan.

You decide, you act, you observe, you hopefully learn, and you apply the lesson. Done.

In a few days I play some Miles Davis, and Herbie, and Nick DeMaria (fer crissakes) and the questions all get answered. Musical questions, and some others too. And there will be more mistakes to provide the grist for the mill.

Miles’ “It’s about that time” is in the setlist, and each time I hear it I laugh at Miles playing with the words in a way James Brown or Sly Stone would immediately recognize. It is all about “that time”. Miles was always the man with the plan.

[this post is dedicated to my nephews Nick Charlton and Chris Gonzalez]