Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's that time of year...

...when some people get all hung up on political stuff. In deference to a friend who commented on the earlier "The Rent's Too Damn High" post -- and because I'm already past total burnout on the subject -- this won't exactly be a political post. Think of it as a sniffing-around-the-edges-of-politics post. No advocacy, criticism or other stuff having to do with any political party or candidate.

So don't worry. Unless you really want me to howl like a pack of hyenas coming down from a long-term Thorazine habit about some elected official or some particular philosophy, in which case I'm gonna disappoint you.

One of the things that galls me about the Wonderful World of the Interwebz is that every election in every part of the country is getting full discussion among the political junkies.

Do I care what's happening in the tight race for the NY-24 or MA-12 or ND-27.5 districts? No, I do not. I might wish voters in those places were a little smarter*, but other than that I'm down with the idea of ignoring them totally.

Okay. Let's get to the nut of the thing. A new term -- at least new to me -- has sprung up this election time, and just hearing (or reading) it is enough to make me break out in a rash that no lotion can cure. I refer, of course, to the "money bomb," a concentrated period of funds-hustling for a favorite candidate.

If you waste your time reading any of that stuff, you know what I mean: "Supporters of Tim Dogbreath, the Totally Humorless Party candidate in ID-07, are holding a money bomb to help him beat Max Hernia, the eeeeevil Loopy Party hack. Tim needs $100,000 today, so let's get him there!"

Of course people chime in immediately, saying things like "I live in California, but I just sent Tim $100...he only has $97,680 to go!"

Unfortunately, by this point I already know too damn much about Tim and Max as it is, and I wouldn't give either one of them fifty cents, regardless of party affiliation.

PARENTHETICAL YES-I'M-IGNORANT THOUGHT: the only thing I really know about Idaho is that it has a governor named Butch Otter. Since that's just too weird for me to get my mind around, I immediately stop thinking about Idaho.

No doubt my reaction has something to do with the fact that I could use a "money bomb" myself right about now. Hell, I could use a fleet of B-52s dropping money bombs on me right now. Am I going to scrape around in the bottom of my pocket looking for pennies to help pay for some goon's campaign? When/if he wins, I'll get to help pay his salary anyway, along with his expenses, his oversized staff, his perks, his first-class travel. Lucky me. Lucky you.

Not to mention that I'll get to help pay for all the dumb projects he can think up while in office to reward the people who made the Really Big Donations to his campaign.

But it gave me an idea, and here it is: Donate to the Mr Scribbler Money Bomb! That's right, send in the ol' mazooma, as much as you can afford, and more, and do it TODAY!

I only need to raise $1,000,000 for my campaign to not run for office and, since election season will be over (Yay!) next Tuesday, you only have six days to make my Money Bomb a huge success! Yes, I promise that if this works, I will absolutely reject any political ambitions, ignore all the pleas for me to go Straighten Out the Mess in Washington.

Even better, I promise not to give one thin dime from the Money Bomb to any political campaign for any candidate in any district from any party.

Pretty cool idea, huh?

Hey, it has worked quite well for some tuned-in players who have set up Political Action Committees to funnel money to favored candidates. They skim "operating expenses" off the top of the donations (gotta lease that Escalade, keep up the Amex Platinum and pay themselves a half-mill a year) and funnel the rest, then take credit for helping those jackwagons** get into office.

The people who run those committees are known as "Political Experts," and get lots o' face time on the talk shows, write best-selling books about politics, get invited to All the Right Parties, and make fortunes telling candidates how to run for office.

Not me. I'm going with a Political Inaction Committee.

But I can't do it without your help (as the candidates say).

Hurry up, now! Get those donations coming in! Only $999,999.97*** to go!

* Translate that as they should agree with me

** A word from my second-favorite GEICO commercial....

*** I just found three pennies in my pocket and made a loan to my campaign, just to get the ball rolling....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

These days, it's not the same.

With the exception of emails, blog comments and very occasional posts here, I haven't been doing much writing lately. The reason is not a shortage of subject matter; instead, it's a lack of motivation.

The motivational factor, now vanished, was mainly financial. I spent 24 years being paid for a combination of opinion, research and writing skills. That was a good deal all around (at least as far as I'm concerned): I entertained and educated people, and could buy myself space under a roof, a meal or two and, on rare occasions, the odd useless-but-entertaining gadget.

It's not easy to wean oneself off that kind of situation. When I think about belting out a slew of words, I am brought to a screeching halt by the lack of an audience. Yes, a paying audience; people who work hard to develop skills are generally reluctant to give 'em away for free.

PARENTHETICAL ARROGANT-BUT-WHINY THOUGHT: I sometimes read what my colleagues are writing. Some of them have pretty well-paying gigs, too. I never was one for reading magazines (unless they featured one of my articles!) but I do see various websites, usually of a general-interest nature, where my particular subject is covered. Most of what I see displays adequate talent at best, more often a definite shortage of the kinds of knowledge, common sense and analytical/communication skills that separate professionals from amateurs. But those writers seem to know something I don't, which is how to project an image of competence even when there's nothing to support it. They know how to sell themselves; I'm one of those old-fashioned losers who expected a body of good work to sell me.

Worse, maybe, is that I've fallen behind in my field. A lot of things have happened in that world during the six months or more that I've been separated from it. If, by some miracle, someone were to call and offer me a chance to get back in harness, it'd take me a lot of solid study to get back up to speed. Weeks, maybe months, at a minimum. And I would have to find some way to replace at least some of my lost library on the subject.

I've never understood people who are so driven to write that no little handicap -- like crushing poverty, for example -- can stop them. I admire them, for sure, but that's not how I roll.

I love writing. It's a wonderful craft. But, like any craft, if one is good at it, takes it seriously, devotes time and effort to it, works to hone the skills necessary to be considered a "real" writer, some return should be forthcoming.

In my case, it isn't.

Not that there ever was a flood of spondulix rolling my way. Enough (with some prudence) to survive was about as good as it got. That was sufficient, really.

I'm not even sure why I bring this up again. If I had to guess, I'd say that trying to sell myself -- a good, proven product -- to people who simply aren't buying has worn me out.

When one is worn out, all that's left is crankiness.

I'd love to be writing again. I miss it in a very essential, deep-in-the-gut way. I still have plenty to say. And I can say it better than those who have read only my blog, emails and comments can know.

But I'd also like to get something back. Appreciation ain't enough, Jim. Bring money.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why I'm down with "The Rent Is Too Damn High Party"

All the serious political junkies -- you know, the ones who who wish polls were taken every five minutes instead of daily so they could see how their fave candidates are doing at every moment, who read RedState or Huffington Post the way hard-shell Baptists read the Bible -- are making fun of Jimmy McMillan, candidate in the New York Governor's race.

Not me, fellow babies.

Oh, I know the committed*, the True Believers who kneel at the feet of sages like Keith Oblermann or Rush Limbaugh, see McMillan as a joke, a more energetic and charismatic clone of the unfortunate Alvin Greene, the Democrats' Senatorial candidate from South Carolina.

Nuh-uh. Once I caught him on video, I knew Jimmy and his "The Rent is Too Damn High Party" are the wave of the future. Or should be....

Think about it. What he's saying, boiled down, is simple: Life is too expensive for too many people these days, and jobs are disappearing**. If government has any role in our lives aside from national defense and, perhaps, building roads, it is to help people live well. Ideally, this should be done by not putting endless rules, regulations, onerous taxes and other roadblocks in their paths.

Sadly, our government has become a self-perpetuating scam operated by people who think they have some kind of moral duty to "help" various groups (oddly enough, those groups tend to be people who vote in blocs and donate to said politicians' election campaigns) and impose their own particular/peculiar moral and business standards on the common folk.

As individuals, we are all, to some extent, our brothers' keepers. Our government orders us to be so, and chooses the "brothers" whom we are to support. Oddly enough, many are already better-off than we are. That's what political connections will do for you.

Naturally, while they're "serving" us, they're living high, to put it mildly. On our dime. I don't get the impression McMillan would be get as heavily into personal corruption as, say, Charlie Rangel, or become a blowhard, elitist nanny like Mikey Bloomberg.

Though it didn't come out much during the gubernatorial debate -- given the number of ding-a-lings on the stage, it's amazing anyone was able to say anything -- McMillan also seems to be advocating tolerance. I'm down with that, too.

Yes, all the pundits -- including partisan lickspittles like Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews -- think McMillan's a joke.

I don't. If I could afford to move to New York (and had time to register as a voter before the election), McMillan would have my support, you can bet.

I've waited my whole adult life to vote for a candidate instead of picking the one whom I think would do the least damage. This may be the closest I get to that goal since I wrote a letter, so many years ago, urging the brilliant Barbara Jordan to run for President.

Perhaps Jimmy McMillan should change the name of his party to something a bit more universal -- like "The Back to Basics Party" and go national.

I hate to think what the nation will look like in a few more years if the corrupt, self-centered and doctrinaire establishment parties stay in power. We really can't afford to be ruled by self-anointed royalty any more.

"The Rent is Too Damn High," both in our own lives and in America in general.

* Define "committed" how you wish....

** Just ask me....

PARENTHETICAL UPDATED UPDATE-Y STUFF: This morning a friend pointed out some rather unsavory parts of Jimmy McMillan's act which you can read about here. Have to admit I'm a bit disappointed....

Still, it's easy to dig up bad stuff about almost anyone running for office, and I'd rate Jimmy's mild antisemitism and evasions regarding his own living conditions rather lower than the removal-from-office-worthy behavior of Office-Holders "C," "M," "R" and "O" (to name only a few of the many).

What politician or candidate hasn't been a disappointment? None I can think of. I'll still go by my father's voting advice: "When you have a choice between a known jerk and an unknown jerk, go for the unknown."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hey, how about those Chilean miners?

Yes, this is my Big Chance to show everyone how insensitive I really am.

According to various news reports, roughly one billion people are glued to their TV screens as I type this, all engrossed in the spectacle of the rescue of 33 Chilean miners. Every TV channel save the Cartoon Network is relaying the images and providing breathless coverage. Every psychologist who isn't allergic to television makeup, everyone who has ever been within five miles of a mine and everyone who has ever been in any kind of dangerous situation is analyzing the event.

The "analysis" is beyond ridiculous. News anchors who know nothing about what's going on (you might say that about 90% of the subjects they cover) are opining about mining, geology and psychology as if they actually know something. Various shrinks -- who should damn well know better -- are talking about the miners' "problems" as if they had personally treated them for years.

PARENTHETICAL I'M-NO-MONSTER NOTE: I'm really happy for the miners and their families. I can't begin to imagine what they've gone through, and don't want to try. This is the closest thing imaginable to an ideal end to the situation.

But I think turning disaster into something closely approximating a sporting event is disgusting.

ANNOUNCER: "We're waiting for Number 16 to come up now!"

ON-SCENE REPORTER: "Yes, Daniel Silva, age 27, is stepping out of the capsule now!" (sounds of applause, cheers in background)

Fortunately, the miners have apparently spoken to some kind of consultant who has advised them on what to say when the Worldwide Microphone is thrust into their collective faces. They may have landed a book deal, too.

Tragedy as a Made-For-TV Event.

Maybe I am an insensitive jerk. But apparently breathing a sigh of relief that 33 people were rescued from a tragedy isn't enough. No, you have to participate, have to watch the whole thing, talk about it* and treat the rescue as if it were an event of the magnitude of the first Moon landing (I didn't make that up; some TV nitwit said it), make 33 ordinary human beings, humans with strengths and weaknesses, into saints.

The best part of the whole thing? In a few hours, the rescue will be over, and 33 humans will be with their families and friends.

The worst part of the whole thing? In a few hours, the rescue will be over, and the media leeches will have to find yet another tragedy to feed from.

As my journalism prof used to say: "If it bleeds, it leads."

The Cartoon Network is looking better and better, Jim.

* I'm talking about it. Or at least writing about it. Guilty as charged.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Why I'm a Loser, part 23,748.

During my latest financial meltdown (as opposed to all the previous financial meltdowns), several people have suggested that I should -- to use the current terminology, which makes my teeth grind -- monetize my blog. I am, after all, such a great writer, etc., etc., blahblahblah.

All y'all know what that means: pick topics that show up in search engines, run ads, add a "donation" button, write several times a day, engage in endless self-promotion (which means reading, quoting and commenting on a horde of similar blogs, scattering links to me like grains of rice).... Then sit back and watch the ol' spondulix roll in.

It's not that easy.

I did do some snooping around to see how it's done. What I found did not exactly inspire me to take the Big Leap and Put It All Out There for advertisers (and readers) to lap up like a horde of thirsty kittycats gathering around the milk bowl.

I found things I could write about (and, in some cases, have written about). But I also found compelling reasons to maintain my blog as-is, which is as a place where I can vent and write about me when the mood strikes.

So here are the likely prospects, with my take on each:

1. NEWS AGGREGATION: These are sites like the Drudge Report, which exist only to provide links to other peoples' work. Since I don't give a happy damn about gossip and pop culture, I'd miss half the links that seem to be hot for readers right from the git-go. The rest would be repetitions of every other aggregator's links. Not exactly what I'd want to do;

2. POLITICAL BLOGS: Yes, I read some on a pretty regular basis and yes, I do have strong beliefs and opinions. Problem is, what I'd want to say (or could say with the necessary clear conscience and straight face) would not fit the model demanded by readers of political blogs. Liberal or conservative, one must adhere to the Party Line; any deviations produce howls of outrage from readers and greatly diminished web traffic. To me, the result is a kind of lock-step conformity that I simply can't make myself fit into, a case of my-way-or-the-highway absolutism at its worst.

3. MY OWN AREA OF EXPERTISE, now sadly unused by any clients: (I'm still unsure why I can't bring myself to come right out with it. Guess I'm still trying to preserve an anonymity that no longer exists.) The situation on the Interwebz mirrors that of the world of print publications: Amateurs have invaded the scene, all searching for what I used to have (various freebies, including products to evaluate, fancy travel, and so on). They broadcast their opinions which are, in my immodest, defiantly non-humble view, uninformed and badly expressed. The sites I've seen either reprint press handouts (unthinkable when I started in the game) or, worse, talk about the subject without any context or background knowledge. Or, they steal from established writers (like I used to be).

4. HUMOR: I can't draw, so cartoons are out. Likewise, when I'm trying for laffs, I am about as funny as a direct meteor strike on a Big City. Some people got it, and some don't got it. I don't got it.

PARENTHETICAL WHAT-IT-ALL-BOILS-DOWN-TO NOTE: The biggest weakness of the Internet is its instant-communication nature. Both news and analysis/commentary must hit the webs within moments of any event. Neither I nor anyone else can offer coherent and consistent opinions at the speed of electrons whizzing down cables. Information must be processed before it can be understood, must churn around in the brain before the typing fingers go to work. So-called "livebloggers" don't get this.

So there, in abbreviated form (as if my writing is ever "abbreviated"), is why a "monetized" blog would earn me an income in the high single digits. Through heredity or environment, I am constitutionally unable to play the kind of game that would make me successful in a world of short attention spans and acceptance of badly researched "facts" (see: Wikipedia, as massive a source of errors and outright misleading "information" as has ever existed).

I've always been ready and willing to sell out. If someone wants to pay for my take on any subject, I'm on hand. What I can't do is compromise on what I consider the basics: background, real research, taking the time to write well -- at least using proper English and spelling, except when I deliberately violate the rules of style for effect -- and what, for lack of a better word, I can only call integrity.

That doesn't make me particularly noble, of course. Mainly, it means I'm a lousy whore who can't peddle my, well, "product" in the Internet Age.

Being an irrelevant dinosaur ain't easy or fun, Jim.