WordsDay: Literature

Waiting for Nothing (More): Tom Kromer’s Singular (and Single) Masterpiece

Kromer’s novel of The Great Depression was his only fully achieved work…

Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer (image courtesy Goodreads)

I realize I have been remiss.

Despite two updates to my 2014 reading list (see here and here) I have still more books that I’ve added. So once I finish this essay on a rather singular work of literature from The Great Depression, I suppose it’s incumbent upon me to write a short piece to still further update my reading list.

But writing about the books themselves is ever so much more enjoyable, so let’s get to that first, shall we?

Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer is one of those books that rattles around in the halls of academe periodically as a “lost classic.” I first encountered it in my first full time college teaching job back in 1987 at Salem College. A now “lost and by the wind grieved” colleague, Pete Jordan, asked me if I were familiar with the work. When I told him no, he thrust a copy into my hands and told me in no uncertain terms that it was a book I should know.

I took it home and read it in an evening. (That’s not a prodigious feat – the book is more a novella than a novel and the edition I reread for this essay, a very nice remounting by the University of Georgia Press, logs in at only 130 pages). It’s an alternately engrossing and wrenching narrative based on Kromer’s time as a “stiff” (the term refers to the many hobos who spent their time drifting from town to city across the country looking for work during the depths of the economic crisis in the early 1930’s). Continue reading

Politics

The Obama administration’s latest dose of political irony

Campaigned on transparency, had a Bush administration assist, and still drops ball

In 2006, Congress passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. President Bush signed it into law. From the USASpending.gov website, the law:

requires that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) establish a single searchable website, accessible to the public at no cost, which includes for each Federal award:

  1. the name of the entity receiving the award;
  2. the amount of the award;
  3. information on the award including transaction type, funding agency, etc;
  4. the location of the entity receiving the award; and
  5. a unique identifier of the entity receiving the award.

USAspending.gov was first launched in December 2007 to fulfill these requirements.

Continue reading

What if we treated our economy like a triage scenario?

$400 billion down the hole on the F-35, and that’s just one tip of one iceberg

There’s been a horrible accident. One patient has a punctured lung. Another one has a grievous wound at the femoral artery and is bleeding out. Another has a serious spinal injury. Three others are milling about with, between them, a bruise, a splinter, and a hangnail. Quick, what do we do?

To listen to the chatter from a variety of news sources, and especially in comments sections all over the place, we should damned well be focusing on the bruise, the splinter, and the hangnail. That femoral artery guy? To hell with him.

Continue reading

A look at America’s most important problem

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Gallup recently released the results of its periodic poll, “Most Important Problem.” Their detailed results can be found at the link. There were two questions:

What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? [open-ended]

Which political party do you think can do a better job of handling the problem you think is most important — the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?

The results for the first question are shown for the periods April 3-6, 2014, May 8-11, 2014, June 5-8, 2014, and July 7-10, 2014. The results for the second question are shown at the bottom for periods going back as far as 1956.

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If corporations are people, what about capital punishment?

Pun intended

It’s about damned time we remembered that corporations are chartered and that charters can be revoked. If they’re actually people, would that be the death penalty? On those terms, I am not opposed.

In aid of that cause, I recommend passing this absolutely brilliant idea by one Mr. Kyle Noonan along to your Congressperson at your earliest convenience. Send letters to your editors. Make a noise. There’s apparently good reasons why our current corporate sanctions don’t work, largely owing to the inability of state attorneys general to recognize the greater need of the nation as compared to their own state revenues and jobs. Continue reading

Employment

Dear Human Resources: four ways employers can help America’s job hunters (and themselves)

“Hiring managers” say only apply for jobs you’re qualified for. Fine. Now, here are some things HR needs to do in return.

Only-Post-JobsI subscribe to a number of industry mailing lists and content services as part of my work, and periodically they’ll publish stories aimed at helping job seekers – how to find opportunities, how to network, résumé tips, that sort of thing. Recently one of them posted an article where they elicited advice for job hunters from “hiring managers.” (Actually, these folks weren’t hiring managers at all – they were HR staffing managers, who have nothing to do with the hiring decision. But they’re the gatekeepers, so their opinions matter. )

The key bit of insight in this one particular piece was fairly straightforward: only apply for jobs that you’re qualified for. Continue reading

Energy

Fracking in the UK? Don’t hold your breath.

Lord MacGregor’s silly Telegraph op-ed is little more than a recitation of energy industry talking points.

The worthies over at the House of Lords—some of them, anyway—have issued a report deploring the fact that fracking has made virtually no progress in the UK, and that it should be an “urgent national priority,” noting that exploratory drilling hasn’t even really begun.

This is a report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee—no, I didn’t know they had one either. Continue reading

orestes-pursued-by-furries

What if Russia’s invasion of Crimea is really a post-democracy problem?

The Crimea crisis may feel like a throwback to the Cold War, but it’s actually reflective of 21st century democracy.

ImageDemocracy is defined as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” Despotism is “the exercise of absolute power, especially in a cruel and oppressive way.”

A child denied any access to sweeties, despite abject pleas to the contrary, is experiencing despotism. A child offered a choice of two sweeties, but not one of the fifty they actually wanted, is experiencing democracy.

History is messy. Continue reading

Image (2) SCOTUSexterior.png for post 46109

McCutcheon v. FEC: another Citizens United

When wealthy individuals can donate unlimited sums of money to election campaigns, their votes count more than ours.

Should the rich have a larger say in the outcome of elections? It sounds like a silly question to ask, but with the decision of Citizens United v. FEC, the answer seemed to be a resounding “yes.” With the latest campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, the rich might have even more power headed their way.

In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a landmark campaign finance ruling with its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. Splitting 5-4, the fine judges at SCOTUS decided that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting independent expenditures by unions, corporations, associations, politically active non-profits and super PACs – allowing these groups to donate millions of dollars to campaigns and potentially swing elections with money. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Journalism

The daily newspaper editorial: Make it weekly, please

Daily editorials, striving to not piss off anyone, have achieved ‘terminal neutrality’

Who — or what — killed the great American editorial? Wasn’t there a time when great newspaper editorials regularly thundered and whispered, sighed and screamed, were outraged or outraged others?

Paul Greenberg, the editorial-page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner, poses these questions on the website of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

Greenberg calls the forces that murdered the American newspaper editorial “as impersonal and characterless as many of the editorials themselves.” Among them are the goal of not pissing off anyone; “the stultifying editorial conference,” designed to drain life out of editorial positions; and hewing to “the party line or socio-economic fashion.” These forces produced, says Greenberg, “terminal neutrality.”

Although these forces had the daily newspaper editorial on its deathbed by the mid-1980s, Greenberg doesn’t reveal that I — yes, me! (gasp!) — pulled the plug on its life support. Yep, I pounded a few nails into the coffin of the daily newspaper editorial all by myself. Continue reading

Rush Sold Out

Walmart “Working Man” ad: Rush sold out their fans. Big time. #WTF

Rush’s decision to license “Working Man” to a company that has declared war on American workers is one of the biggest betrayals of trust in Rock history.

Rush Sold OutYesterday I offered up a brief post wondering what the folks at Walmart were thinking when they chose to use Rush’s iconic “Working Man” as the soundtrack for their ad on investing more money in American manufacturers. Rush, in case you don’t know them, is Canadian, and that struck me as a tad … ironic. Maybe for a follow-up they can do something with Alanis Morissette. Or a Chinese band, if they want to be especially heavy-handed.

Today it’s time to ask WTF Rush was thinking when it decided to sell out to one of the most egregiously anti-working man corporations on the planet.

First off, let’s get some perspective on the claim. The ad says that in the next 10 years they’re “pledging $250 billion to products purchased from American factories.” That’s a lot of money. However, this is a company with 2013 revenues of nearly $470 billion, so the ad shouldn’t be construed as a commitment to go all-in on the American worker. Continue reading

Advertising

Advertising’s enticement: You must crave, therefore you must buy

Advertising may be evil, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.

Despite my exposure to what a colleague estimates is nearly 100 million advertising impressions as I approach seven decades of life, I am not taller, I am not more attractive, I am not thinner, and I sure as hell don’t smell much better than I did in the 1950s.

I teach in a journalism school in which more students aspire to be advertising and PR madmen and madwomen than journalists. So I think about advertising often — mostly with disbelief and frequent outrage (the righteous kind, y’know).

The disbelief: I watch an ad in which a pricey luxury sedan maneuvers at night through lanes illuminated by paper lanterns. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Economy

We sell to the rich, to the poor — but not the middle class

My refrigerator is fatigued. Soon, but hopefully not too soon, I’ll need to replace it. Will I be able to buy a modestly priced, well-built but not fancy refrigerator that will last the rest of my life?

I am not rich; I am not poor. I have a middling five-figure annual salary. I am parked firmly in the middle class. But, according to a New York Times story by Nelson D. Schwartz, American business is becoming less interested in selling to me and the rest of us mired in the middle — because the middle class is shrinking. Writes Schwartz:

As politicians and pundits in Washington continue to spar over whether economic inequality is in fact deepening, in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away.

Continue reading

Africa

Tackling poverty means that there will be more KFCs in Africa

Photo credit: CIMMYT.

Smallholder farmer prepares maize plot for planting with CIMMYT improved varieties, Embu, Kenya

Gates Foundation and KFC initiatives are better news than many understand.

Rural villages in Africa are not just poor, their demography is hollowed out. Continue reading

Socialist Test

Are you a socialist? Take the test….

A 2011 study yields surprising results.

The word “socialist” was, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried after the fall of the Iron Curtain. But it has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity since, oh, 2008 or so. The thing is, since we hadn’t had any real socialistm for awhile, our understanding of what the term means has gotten a little fuzzy.

So the question is, how socialist are you really? Maybe none at all, maybe a whole lot, and maybe somewhere in the middle. Let’s find out. Continue reading

2013

Goodbye 2013. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

2013The economic recovery hasn’t reached my house yet.

I called 2010 the worst year ever. Then I elaborated a little. Sometimes I look back and wonder how the hell I survived that hateful, soul-destroying twelve months. Other times I look back and I’m not sure I actually did. Pieces of me died in 2010 and I carry the emptiness around with me like the ghost pain of a severed limb.

It wasn’t just me, either. 2010 did all it could to destroy a lot of wonderful people, many of them close to me. Continue reading

CATEGORY: CATEGORY: ArtSunday

ArtSunday: The architecture of home…

Even in America, home is where (historically) the class is

I grew up in a Southern mill town.

Such towns come in one of three primary flavors: tobacco, textiles, or furniture. My hometown was a textiles town, the home of several major textile companies over its roughly 220 year history.  As a fellow writer who’s also an Eden native once put it, most of the population of these towns worked in one “good Bastille” or another. Of course, that’s all gone now. Like most Southern mill towns, Eden, NC, is a town struggling to find an identity even as it struggles to survive. Continue reading

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Black Thursday

Thanksgiving is now Black Thursday and Black Friday is upon us: what should America not be thankful for?

The nation gives thanks … for what?

I was never a William Burroughs fan, but I nonetheless find myself thinking about his 1986 “Thanksgiving Prayer,” surely one of the most caustic (and insightful) takes on our great American holiday. I’m in this sort of mood for a reason. Or two, or three.

First off, you may have noticed all the static around the news that more and more businesses will be open today, getting a jump on tomorrow’s appalling orgy of consumerism, Black Friday. That term originated in the early 1960s, apparently, with bus drivers and the police, who used it to describe the mayhem surrounding the biggest shopping day of the year. Continue reading