Archive | June 2016

Make America Moderately Functional Again

There is much to decide in what direction our country heads this election season, and choices in this general election are so discouraging that I’m not sure I’ll find a suitable third party to vote for (besides Sid Yiddish).

But coinciding with the degradation of our politics is a crumbling of general competence across the country. This was driven home recently by a few incidents where people and systems just didn’t work and no one really cared.

One was the recent birth of my newest daughter. My wife had the baby at what is a very good hospital by all measures and standards. It is very highly rated and overall we’ve had excellent care there. Mother and baby are home and healthy, but not without extensive delays that could have been avoided altogether.

Our new baby was judged to have low blood sugar, but this was exacerbated by being tongue tied, which my wife thought was the case right away as one of our older girls was born tongue-tied as well. It was days before our daughter saw the right specialist to correct that despite my wife’s alerting people early and consistently.

The first night fell into a familiar pattern. The baby would show signs of being hungry and we would buzz the nurses’ station to ask them to test her blood sugar. “OK, I’ll tell your nurse,” the nurse over the intercom would say. Twenty minutes late the nurse would arrive. “How can I help you?” the nurse would say. We’d tell her about the blood sugar test. The other nurses didn’t tell her what this was for so she’d have to go get her blood testing kit. By the time she’d return with her testing machine and wash her hands, the baby would be too hysteric and miserable to latch onto a boob.

My wife was hooked up to an IV that gave her fluids. It was important for her to get fluids, but not life threatening. The IV bag was on a stand with a machine attached to it that would blare a loud and obnoxious alarm whenever it detected something irregular. If my wife moved her arm a certain way and pinched the IV tube, the alarm would go off. This alarm didn’t alert the nurses’ station or any doctors, it only annoyed us and in one case woke the baby up at four in the morning. We would alert the nurses to this, but it would take a while for them to react and by then the alarm would have gone off again despite our efforts to stop it.

The nurses were very friendly but that’s not adequate compensation for things not getting done. All the smiles in the world can’t replace professionalism.

While we were dealing with this, I would journey home from the hospital to try to take care of business on the home front, including getting UPS to pick up a package. We ordered something from Amazon that arrived missing parts (there was a big hole in the package when we got it). Well after UPS showing up at random times when no one was home, I left a note when I stepped out so we could be alerted and dash home to effect the pickup.

However, when I got home, the UPS driver had stuck the latest notice on top of my note, declaring proudly that he had seen these instructions and was blatantly ignoring them and screwing us over. There was chicken scratch writing on the note, which I interpreted as indicating a package had been left in “Apartment Y” (there is no such apartment in our building). I called UPS to let them know this wasn’t acceptable, and the representative who called me back told me that it was too bad and that this was the final attempt at a pick up (the note had not indicated that even though there is a box to check off if that’s the case). They had it in their system that they had made three attempts, and they refused to try again.

It was an act of taking pride in their own incompetence, of being purposely bad at their job because they don’t like it or because jobs make people expect things from them. I understand the sentiment completely, but I and many (most?) others have a concept of dignity that means we want to be good at our jobs because we take pride in ourselves and our own abilities, not because we like dealing with people. I do not like having to deal with other people; I’d rather sit alone and write things and make millions of dollars doing it. But no matter what job you have, even if you achieve your dream job, it means dealing with people and meeting other people’s expectations. There’s no way around it unless you want to be a hermit in the woods.

I know because I’ve been there. I’ve worked lots of jobs I hated and resented the masses of slack-jawed idiots who demanded and expected my service. But I learned that I didn’t have to bow and scrape to get by. People wanted me to kiss their ass, and needy and entitled people make any job dealing with the general public difficult.

But until you become a self-made billionaire, having to please other people never really ends. I work in an office and deal with professional people about high level things, and at least eight times a day I might as well be saying, “Would you like fries with that?” The company I work for has clients (client is a fancy way of saying “customer” FYI) and they pay us to write things for them and liaise with the media and they also pay us to listen to them bitch at us and for us to be there for them to throw under the bus when it’s professionally convenient.

No matter how high you rise in life, you’re going to have to answer to some asshole and be nice about it. You’ll feel better about yourself if you stay professional. People who want to make a dramatic show of being a customer and bossing you around are counting on an emotional reaction from you or gaining some kind of moral high ground; don’t give it to them.

You don’t have to stay at every job forever, but have the personal integrity and dignity to be good at your job and see to it to the best of your ability that things are done right. You will be glad you did, believe me.

Guns, terror and our half-assed responses to both

The slaughter of 49 people at a gay club in Orlando earlier this month by a man who pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State has set off an all-too familiar routine of outrage and stalemate.

The battle lines are drawn quickly and both sides of the political spectrum only wanted to focus on the problem that appeals most to its relative base of support. But that guarantees little or no progress.

The facts are this: An Islamic fundamentalist who should not have been in this country was able to get his hands on weapons he should not have been allowed to buy. Addressing only the immigration angle won’t prevent another mass shooting and calling for some kind of assault weapons ban won’t solve this issue either. If you don’t address both problems you’ll have more of these kinds of attacks.

The gun-control advocates want to ignore the terrorist aspect of this massacre. The shooter was a U.S citizen after all, Democrats like President Obama were quick to point out. He was a troubled person who beat his wife and may have been gay himself, they argue. He didn’t know his ass from his elbow as far as the Islamic terror elements fighting in the Middle East, paying homage to both ISIS and a Floridian jihadist who died fighting ISIS.

But a confused, closeted gay terrorist is still a terrorist. And if you talk like an Islamic terrorist and act like an Islamic terrorist…

The rapid reaction to focus on guns and the burying of heads in the sand on the fact that this was a terrorist attack sends the message loud and clear: multiculturalism is a faith that people will stick to despite multiple bloodbaths. It demands that you look the other way and not institute any reforms that might tangle with the theory that we can somehow fill the American melting pot with religious crazies and walk away unscathed.

Even when the perpetrator is a brown-skinned closeted gay Muslim who pledged allegiance to ISIS, it’s somehow dumb rednecks and their love of guns that’s responsible for this. It’s easy to paint the N.R.A. as the villain here because it makes it easy to fall into the same old political roles we are comfortable with. Violence, outrage, stalemate, repeat.

The other side of the issue is more troubling to think about. That is the idea that our immigration policies over the last several decades have placed a fifth column of potential terror recruits that are replenish and multiplied with each generation. We’ve seen this with other populations of Muslims in the U.S. as well, most notably with the children of Somali refugees from the Minneapolis area that have returned to their homeland to join the extremist Al Shabaab group. The Orlando shooter was a U.S. citizen; that’s true, but his family came here under a refugee program. If we had a well-functioning immigration and refugee system, this guy would not have been here.

Curbing home-grown Islamic terrorism means making massive immigration reforms that are currently labelled xenophobic by open borders advocates. We cannot bring large numbers of Muslims into the country and not expect to have some of them become radicalized. This doesn’t mean banning all Muslims from entering the country—that would be asinine and alienate some of our most stalwart allies in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. But it means having a stringent program to weed out potential troublemakers, institute swift deportation programs for those refugees and immigrants that prove themselves undesirable, and bring in much lower numbers of refugees and immigrants.

Limiting access to assault rifles or “assault style” weapons means that we develop a very well-defined and expensive system for keeping track of people who are not worthy to own firearms. And let’s not confuse the issue: the overwhelming majority of murders in this country are not mass shootings with assault rifles but handgun murders. You could eliminate all “assault style” rifle killings and still not put much of a dent in the murder rate. You have to keep track of the people who should not own guns. Piddling over what guns are legal or not will do little.

And my fellow gun owners need to fess up that the situation is out of hand when home-grown jihadists can be better armed than our police. Yes, our crime problem is more one of demography than armaments, but the patchwork gun laws we have in the U.S. does not serve us well. We will be better with a centralized system with a full due process that overrides restrictive local laws but allows the government to stop bad guys from having guns.

Both of these reforms mean that we admit that very powerful partisan articles of faith are wrong. We have to admit that large-scale availability of military-grade weapons is a bad idea and needs major reform. We also have to admit that large-scale immigration from dangerous parts of the world is an abject failure and needs to be sharply restricted if not curtailed with minimal exceptions for outstanding allies and truly deserving and well-vetted refugees.

 

Looking like a homeless person while going to buy bagels

Doing my part to help the cause and help bring about the rise of the Nietzschean Übermensch, I am happy to report that my wife and I recently celebrated the birth of our third child, a healthy baby girl.

While my wife is still recovering and helping care for our newborn at the hospital and our older girls are spending time with helpful grandparents, I am home alone to try to ready our apartment. I came home after spending a few days at the hospital and managed to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in several days.

Hungry for something to eat before starting down my long to-do list, I put on whatever clothes were convenient and at hand and headed out to buy a bagel.

I wear a camouflage baseball cap for practical purposes, one being that horrible sweat stains that would turn a solid-colored hat into some kind of grotesque greasy tie-dye won’t show up on a hat that is already a patchwork of colors. My Georgia Bulldogs hunting camouflage hat makes me look like a backwoods redneck compared to most of New York City, and I’m OK with that. I actually do go hunting and watch college football if that makes a difference.

I was also wearing olive drab cargo shorts. Cargo shorts are considered unfashionable, but I like having pockets to put things in. I put functionality over fashion every time. I’d rather look like a slob and not lose my cell phone or wallet. I also had on an olive drab t-shirt that depicts an American flag constructed from grenades and rifles. It was a gift from my brother, a former Marine.

It might also be worth noting that I’m wearing a plastic hospital bracelet that allows me to visit my wife and newborn in the hospital, and that because we had to be at the hospital very early in the morning and I stayed there through the first night and into the second, that I had not shaved or showered for three days.

Not until I started down the stairs of my building did I realized that I looked like a homeless person and probably smelled like one too. That it reached 85 degrees by 9 a.m. didn’t help my case either. I felt the rays of the sun baking my greasy skin like a fine glaze being put on a pastry.

I felt like a load of hot garbage and hoped that the good people at JK Bakery wouldn’t recoil in horror or ask me to leave their store. I go there often enough that they hopefully recognize me and realize that maybe I’ve had a rough couple of days. It’s one of my favorite stores in the neighborhood and one of the best bagel shops in New York – I’ll put it up against any other bagel store – they make the bagels there and it’s a no-nonsense place.

JK Bakery did not disappoint. Despite my looking like an escaped mental patient, they served me promptly and I was soon enjoying a delicious bagel. I bought a few extra to bring my wife.

One of the things I like best about New York is that even though it’s a place of high fashion, it’s also a place where people make it a point of pride not to give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks of them or their clothes. And it remains a place where tired fathers can occasionally enjoy a delicious bagel in peace.

The start of a long, hot summer

The 7 train was unusually crowded coming home tonight, especially for the late hour. The consolation prize of working late at the office is that the trains usually aren’t as crowded. Not tonight. There’s no Mets game so there must have been a bad delay that is still making the trains more crowded. It happens all the time.

I don’t get out of work much earlier than 7 p.m. these days, and I’m usually at my desk well before 9 a.m. It’s at least an hour and change commute each way, but I can’t really complain. I have a job and the kids are fed and we have health insurance.

It’s a small office where I work. Everyone has too much work to do and not enough time to do it. We get emails on Sunday night which I do my best to ignore until Monday morning, but I can’t always. There’s always one more thing to mark on the calendar; we won’t remember it otherwise, and our work will suffer. None of us want to do a half-assed job but there are too many clients and not enough staff. The boss stopped telling us that “help is on the way” months ago. Now he fesses up that it will get worse before it gets better. I daydream about quitting all the time; I keep reminding myself that I have kids to feed and I need this job.

A woman who crammed herself onto the train at Queensboro Plaza is trying to move to what she thinks is a better place for her to stand, but she can’t get there. She’s asking people to move and they answer her back that they don’t know where else than can go. We’re all packed onto the train as tight as our bodies will allow. Some poor slob lucky enough to fall asleep on his commute has too much luggage in front of him and that throws everything off. The woman struggles in vain to make it to this coveted space, trying to nudge her way past people who don’t budge.

I was lucky that I got on at Grand Central and got a good spot to stand in. I try to read but wind up looking out the window of the train. It’s almost 8 p.m. and the setting sun shines a punishing glare across the city.

There is hate and violence in the streets of the country and it will get worse before it gets better. There is ineptitude at every level of governance and service and the promise of more of the same. There will be more fighting and less fixing at every turn.

The kind of political violence we’ve seen in other parts of the country has yet to really rear its head here this season, but it’s still early. I like to think that we’re an exception, that New Yorkers are accustomed to a certain level of general animosity and dislike for one another and that by necessity we don’t let it get out of hand. But this year could prove me wrong; it’s proven me wrong at every turn so far.

When I was in high school I was lucky enough to visit Rome. It’s a beautiful city full of great history and art. The people were nice too.

New York will survive and be here forever, long after the American empire has done the way of the Roman one. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for at this point. We do what we can and look out for our own, try to remain strong and leave our bloodlines in good shape for the future. Let our blood survive while society drives itself asunder. It’s happened before; we can fight one another but we can’t stand except from human nature or the forces of history.

This is going to be a long, hot summer.

Making a dent in the world of media “interns” and “entry level” jobs

Recent rules issued by the U. S. Department of Labor have mandated overtime pay for employees who work more than 40 hours a week if they earn $47,476 per year or less. That adds a lot of people to overtime and will put a much-deserved dent into the business models of innumerable shady corporations. It’s one of those rule adjustments that outgoing administrations do: it’s something Obama wants credit for but wasn’t willing to spend any political capital on.

The New York Times pointed out that this plan threatens to disrupt the “Prada Economy,” referring to the novel and film “The Devil Wears Prada,” a fictionalized account of working for Vogue editor Anna Wintour. That many publications or institutions of measurable influence are horrible places to work is no surprise at this point. I know people with Masters degrees who are brilliant at what they do yet live in poverty because access to paying work in their field is through unpaid or nearly-unpaid work.

A friend I worked with years ago once had a job interview with the prestigious Paris Review. George Plimpton asked her at once point, “How important is it to you to get paid?” She was newly arrived to New York City and getting paid was very important with any job she took and she told Plimpton that. She did not get the job.

When I was trying to get a writing job I managed to get an interview with a trade publication (Chemical Week – it is still around) and after a few rounds of interviews and a writing test they wanted me to come in and work for a while. “Don’t do it unless you can stay at least four hours,” the editor told me. I came in and worked a full day, writing some stories, re-writing news briefs and the like. I never heard back from them. A year or two later I discovered that they had published some of my work and never paid me for it. When I contacted the editor all he did was send me a photo copy of the pages of the magazine in which my work appeared. As rotten as that is, it’s kids’ stuff. I know freelancers who struggle to get paid by name-brand companies and mainstream publications.

There are instances where low-paid or even unpaid internships are acceptable and permissible. When I was in college and able to live with parents, I had an internship on a gubernatorial campaign. I worked some incredibly long hours driving our candidate around the state of Georgia in the summer heat for a month, at one point not sleeping for more than two or three hours. It was an incredibly fun time and I was paid only $100 per week. But that was when I could afford to do that and it was only a temporary assignment. Colleges and parents can often subsidize interns. Once people graduate college, they usually have to start paying the rent and start trying to pay down their student loans.

Using an internship as an unpaid apprenticeship for large, for-profit institutions is unacceptable. You shouldn’t’ have to be a sucker to pursue your dreams. And in the end it’s the publications that suffer. If the only people able to work in the arts or media are wealthy scions or sociopaths who still live in their parents’ basement past the age of 30, then you’re not going to get the best minds of your generation.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that a lot of companies give raises to overworked employees to $47,477 per year just to skirt these rules. But maybe that may be a kind of back-handed victory in and of itself if enough people get raises. They’ll still be overworked and underpaid, but underpaid by a little less. In these times, we’ll take what we can get.

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