The Problem With Atlanta

Speaking as someone who has lived in both cold weather and warm weather environments (including Atlanta), and speaking only for myself, I have to say I’m rather enjoying watching Atlantans cope, or more precisely, not cope, with the little snowstorm that paralyzed the Atlanta metro area a couple of days ago. To me, though, it has nothing to do with an inability to drive in harsh conditions: in my time in Atlanta as a professional driver I had to deal with some of the most selfish drivers in the country, I can say for a fact that their inability to drive has nothing to do with weather conditions. The truth is, no one in any city can drive on ice no matter how good or bad a driver you are. Not changing your driving habits, well, that just comes with the territory.

No, the reason I’m enjoying watching them collapse under a couple of inches of snow is because it’s something they could have easily avoided if the entire philosophy of the Atlanta metro area wasn’t “you’re on your own”. Also “fuck everyone else”. What happened in Atlanta this week, writes Rebecca Burns, is not a matter of Southerners blindsided by unpredictable weather. More than any event I’ve witnessed in two decades of living in and writing about this city, this snowstorm underscores the horrible history of suburban sprawl in the United States and the bad political decisions that drive it.

And those bad political decisions are based on the policies of pridefully ignorant, selfish, and self-centered people whose wealth still comes from the taxes of people they disdain. I would make more mention of racism as well, but why bother?: since it would be belaboring the obvious even above and beyond the supposed subject of this entire blog. The residents don’t call MARTA “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta” for nothing, you know. That’s why the Braves are moving out to the suburbs.

This is about more than just roads, or bad driving. It’s about a mindset that rejects the idea that people should work together for their own benefit, or that we are a self-governed nation seeking common goals, or that there is a world that exists beyond their own little bubble. It’s not just Atlanta, it’s the whole country, and if the US is in decline, this is why. It’s not the politicians, the politicians are only the symptoms. The disease is us.

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Home Of The Braves

The Atlanta Braves, a team I’ve followed for over thirty years, is moving to a new stadium in Marietta, Georgia, in a few years, and Turner Field, in use for only about 20 years, will be torn down. And they just hired an architect to design the new stadium. Allow me to make a suggestion to the architects:

The congressional district in which Cobb County/Marietta resides is among the most conservative, gummint-hating districts in the country. It is also the most prosperous county in Georgia, as it receives more of that hateful gummint money than pretty much any other congressional district in the US. Of course, they build, almost exclusively, weapons for the US military, which they consider to be very patriotic; if however they got their money building high speed rail engines and passenger cars for a national rail project, they’d call that Socialism, or Communism.

Bearing that in mind, they ought to build the stadium using a theme honoring the fallen soldiers who have made that part of Georgia so wealthy and so able to look down the noses of all those Northeastern, Left Coast and Chicago liberal types from whose money that prosperity primarily derives.

All the symbols of overt nationalism should be on display, the numerous and grotesquely huge flags (and perhaps a few rebel flags as well: after all, what’s patriotism without the occasional treasonous armed rebellion?), the continued blaring of patriotic themes such as “Dixie” and the assorted works of Lynrd Skynrd, maybe even bury a few dead soldiers in the outfield during pregame ceremonies. They sent ’em out to die, after all.

Also in keeping with the theme, they should build special seating, restrooms, and water fountains for “those people”, though that might be a moot point since one of the reasons for the move to Marietta to begin with is to keep “those people” away, unless of course they want to work serving the wealthy patrons who will undoubtedly flock to the stadium the better to yell in person at people who actually get paid a decent wage for the things they do. Yes, I remember how they treated that Union thug Tom Glavine.

Now that would make the future Lester Maddox Field regionally appropriate.

We Paid For This Mike

With the recent Federal Court ruling that says the FCC “doesn’t have the power to require Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally”, there is reason to be concerned about the future of the Internet as we know it.  Though I’m not as worried as some (and it bugs me when people set their hair on fire and demand that I do, as well), it doesn’t mean the concerns aren’t justified. The decision is based primarily on a legal technicality: specifically that the FCC didn’t label the Internet as a “common carrier” such as telephone or television service, and thus shouldn’t be treated in the same way. Allow me therefore to digress just for a moment to make a bigger point.

I dislike cable TV. I dislike it not because of lack of content, but because there’s too much. So much useless garbage on hundreds of channels and the few things that might appeal to me tend to be on channels you have to pay extra for. I’d rather have more choice as to what content I’d like to see instead of having so much of it rammed down my throat, especially since a lot of it I never have any intention of watching. I don’t want ten home shopping networks or sixteen religious channels or twelve channels showing the same reruns of the same shows over and over and over. And I’m not one of those who can just watch television for hours at a time: I like a few specific shows and that’s all that really interests me. I have a standard digital broadcast antenna and for the most part that’s good enough for me, everything else I can locate via the Internet in various ways. Streaming TV is here to stay, and for good or ill it’s affecting the way we watch TV.  The question is only how it will work in the future, and a lot of that depends on how this recent ruling is interpreted and acted upon by the ISP’s.

I don’t know whether we will lose “net neutrality” or not, but I assure you, if there is a serious attempt to turn the Internet into cable TV, I will disconnect it completely, and I hope everyone else does as well. The great thing about the net is that it gives us choice, there are people who want to take that choice away in the name of profit. And the only way to stop them is to let them know they won’t get a dime from us if they go through with it. Not that I’m confident we’ll have the balls to do it, but if we did, it would work.

Sounds like a bold claim from a spoiled person who wants stuff for free, but that’s just not true. I’d be much more willing to invest in cable TV if a) it more suited my needs and b) I could afford it to begin with. The hard truth that the ISP’s want us to disregard is that both computer technology and the Internet itself were created using taxpayer money via NASA and DARPA respectively. And the bulk of the money for the infrastructure likewise came from taxpayer money: subsidized funds to run the cable in cities and communities across the country.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, we paid for this mike, and we’re fools if we let someone take it away from us.

Things I Don’t Understand

I’ve been reading a lot about the chemical spill in West Virginia, and you’ll have to forgive me but I really don’t have a lot of sympathy for the people of West Virginia in this, as they have consistently elected the kind of politicians that have allowed large corporations to get away with this sort of thing for decades. I’ll be honest and say I really don’t understand the thought process that enables you to believe that “freedom” is getting ripped off by corporations and “slavery” is having the government write and enforce legislation that makes your life better.

West Virginians pride themselves on overcoming adversity, which would be an honorable thing if it weren’t for the fact that they go out of their way to create adversity for themselves, and of course to wish it on other people. This isn’t limited to safety regulations, it also has to do with other things, like for example poverty-level wages. Mountaineers Are Always Free is the state motto, and it’s apparently been interpreted to mean that work here is cheap, and the workers themselves are proud of it.

I have developed, over the years, a deep loathing for the American South and that part of Southern culture that takes great pride in being ignorant, overworked, and underpaid, and who apparently want to make everyone else as miserable as they are. Not all Southerners are like that, of course, and not everyone who believes that are Southerners, but they’re the main cause of it, and if my reading of history is correct, they’ve been that way since before this country was founded.

Sadly, even in the wake of the chemical spill disaster that poisoned their water supply, I doubt very much will change. It’s one of those things I hope I’m wrong about, but I’ll believe it when I see it. It’s time the citizens of places like West Virginia or Alabama or Mississippi and other states began to act like true citizens of a free nation (which means taking responsibility for more than what each individual does) and less like peasants to be exploited by their “betters” under the false belief that that’s how it’s always been. It doesn’t have to be that way, and I really don’t know why they don’t just see it.

On Writing

Someone on a FB page geared towards playwrights was asking a lot of questions seeking advice about how he should go about writing a play, lots of questions concerning length and subject matter, and finally I got to a point with the guy and said look, never mind what we think, just write, and deal with technical questions after it’s done. I personally don’t ask for anyone’s advice about writing (or much of anything else for that matter), and I don’t give it, either. Advice is a dangerous thing, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill, said Gildor to Frodo, and that’s the philosophy I follow.

I will, however, talk about what I do when it comes to writing a play, for no other reason than to talk about myself, which I’m wont to do at great length anyway. Now it’s true my first two works have been derivative, and while I am working on some original ideas, I don’t mind writing plays based on other stories: some of Broadway’s greatest plays, after all, come from other sources. So it’s not like it’s a break with tradition or anything. I also don’t do “fan projects”. Fan projects, to me, are stories geared to a very specific group of people, I prefer to write stories that appeal to a much larger audience.

I tried to write a novel once, which is something I may still do at one point, but I found myself writing basically dialogue and what sounded like stage directions, so I switched to writing plays, and it seems to work for me. I tend to say the conversation out loud or in my head before putting it down on paper, and as the adage goes, if it sounds like writing, I discard it. I like my dialogue crisp and sharp, and I like to keep things as simple as possible. I also prefer small theater to these huge Broadway spectaculars, so I don’t waste time describing outlandish sets or costumes. However much I like a well-directed TV show or movie, and special effect-laden blockbusters, to me there is nothing better than talented actors doing their craft in front of a live audience.

I also don’t offer up my finished work for criticism: I offer it for submission, and if it gets produced that’s answer enough for me. That doesn’t mean to say I refuse to listen if someone suggests a better line, or if slight changes are made during production. I recognize that all plays are an evolution, and nothing is written in stone. But I only make those kind of changes during production, once a play is complete, for me, I don’t go back, I move on. I really dislike being anal, because I know once I get started making changes I won’t stop. And I’d rather have a slightly flawed play that’s finished on a decent schedule than seek perfection, I know too many people who never release projects, or took far too long to finish them, because they weren’t satisfied.

So anyway my best advice to anyone if they ask, is not to give advice. What works for me may not work for you, what I have to say may in fact make things worse. Have confidence in your own ability, and trust your own judgement, and don’t listen to anything I or anyone else has to say.

On Being Single

Those of you who know me know my wife died a bit over 8 years ago, and before I was with her I was single all my life. I think a good part of that was that, having fallen in love with her way back in high school (when she was engaged to another man), I spent a long time pining for her. I’m not entirely sure what it was about her that attracted me to her (and I was far from the only one), I think a lot of it was knowing that, with her, there was no bullshit, no concerns about the little mind games I see so many couples play, and there was something innately sexual about her, an open-ness, a snse that she was a very giving person.

It was many years (and for her, two husbands and three kids) later that we were finally able to get together and we were both very happy in those five years, though money problems made things uncomfortable for us. She was always, unfortunately, very sickly (and she had even survived cancer before she came to be with me), and eventually it caught up wth her, and she died after a long illness.

I don’t often think about getting involved with someone else, a good part of that is my lingering feelings for my late wife, but also money plays a big part of it; I’ve always had trouble supporting myself, and to me it seems unfair to subject a potential partner to the trouble living in poverty can bring. Even if I were an aggressive person in that regard, which I most decidedly am not, not having a lot of money is a huge obstacle for seeking out a relationship.

Being lonely, however, means that I occasionally stick my toe in the water, mostly online because I am not a very social person, but also at local singles venues. And my personal experience with the singles scene, for want of a better term, is that the women outnumber the men 10 to 1, and can therefore be very picky (“Well he meets every requirement I claim to like but he has one eyebrow longer than the other, so that’s it for him!”), and the men are mostly creeps who are only interested in getting laid. It’s nearly impossible for me to get a response at all, and the rare times it’s happened it usually ends once they discover I’m broke, or I’m short. And of course, the impression I get is that these women are being very dishonest, not so much with us, but with themselves: as I’ve said before, I think you can fit entire galaxies into the space between what a woman says she wants, and what she really wants.

And this doesn’t even include those who apparently seem to live in an alternate universe: I actually posted this comment on one site:

“Dear Ladies:
Vampires do NOT exist.
Sincerely,
-J”

It’s just not worth it any more. All I can say is I was very privileged to make someone very very happy in all ways while I was married, and the fact that I still think of her so many years after she died is a testament to how much I loved her and how lucky I was to have been a part of her life. It was the kind of relationship most people fantasize about on lonely nights when they think about who they want to share their lives with, and if I never have another relationship again I can at least know I did a good job when I was in one.

Starvation As Policy

Times are tough in the US. Everyone seems to know that but as always seems to be the case we can’t agree on the cause of it or how we can fix it. I have my own ideas, of course, and I’ll get to those in a moment, but I wanted first to discuss the larger issue in the context of this article from Bloomberg concerning the long-term unemployed, particularly this paragraph:

The view that desperation will force the unemployed to get a job, which seems to drive Republican opposition to extending federal benefits, just isn’t supported by the data. And that’s leaving aside the moral problems with starvation as a policy strategy. Moreover, the long-term unemployed who have lost benefits have especially little chance of finding work, research from economist Rand Ghayad shows.

Starvation as a policy strategy. That’s a very frightening statement, especially when it applies to what is still a major political party in the US, a party that has the power to make and influence policy, and whose ideology has, in fact, been the primary political force over the last thirty years or so. I would very much prefer not to believe that the politicians and their financial backers who support this idea of “kicking the poors”, as Atrios would say, is something good for society, or that they would rather those of us (like myself) who have found themselves locked out of the job market would just get it over with and die rather than be a burden on everyone else, but it’s hard not to reach that conclusion.

In keeping with the tone of this blog, it should be clear to everyone that what we have now simply doesn’t work, that deregulation and “austerity”, that an economy -no, a society– built entirely on the idea that the acquisition and retention of wealth and power is the primary purpose of said society, does nothing more than make everyone, rich and poor alike, miserable. Why should we want to live in such a world? Why do we work so hard to make things difficult? Why, when a poor person who is struggling sees someone making more money and has better benefits, thinks not “how can I improve my life?” but “how can I bring that person down to my level?” Further, why do we idolize and make celebrities of people whose only skill is having been born rich: whose incompetence is hidden by the vast sums of money that have because of birth or connections? I don’t have an answer to any of those questions, but I don’t think the why is necessary, what’s necessary is to change that.

You would think that we would have learned this lesson by now, that there really is no such thing as a “free” market, left to itself it can be as oppressive as any Communist dictatorship. It should be painfully obvious that the private sector alone is incapable of providing full employment: it takes a combination of public and private sector employment for things to work better, and a strong social safety net so that those who fall through the cracks for whatever reason need not suffer. But I think that type of economy, which dominated the US from the inception of the New Deal until the so-called “Reagan Revolution”, is long gone and not coming back, at least I doubt it will in my lifetime. It seems to me that the reason it won’t is because we’ve lost the sense of outrage that was what brought about the New Deal to begin with.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with the rich or with the idea of wealth to begin with. I am perfectly happy to let Donald Trump and Paris Hilton live their lives and do what they do, whether they become celebrities or not, it’s really not my business. Even the Koch brothers, whose influence on our government is, I believe, damaging and dangerous, have a right to be happy and live lives of luxury, whether they earned their money or not. I’m not one who cares to make those sort of judgements.

But the problem is that people like the Koch brothers, and like Mitt Romney, are never satisfied with the amount of money they have. They could own the Earth and still it wouldn’t be enough, and the impression I get is that it doesn’t matter to any of them how much the rest of us have to suffer because of their greed. I see it as a sickness, and again, I don’t have an answer as to why they think the way they do. But we have a right to stand up to them, to make sure that while they play their little games and pretend to be Masters Of The Universe, the rest of us can still lead happy, financially secure lives. And I’m sure most people in my economic sphere would agree with me.

Odds And Ends

Well I managed to survive the arctic weather here in Chicago despite having to abandon my living room/office to the cold, as the insulation on the windows wasn’t up to the task of double-digit sub-zero temperatures. I have some projects to work on over the next few days so that will cut into posting time, but as pertains to the title of this blog, it’s all stuff that seems pretty obvious to me anyway.

One of the things I managed to do during the cold was to catch up on Sherlock, the BBC’s brilliant new take on the world’s most famous detective. It wasn’t difficult to get caught up with the entire series, as there aren’t that many episodes, but I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn’t already seen it.

But the time away from the computer gave me also time to think about other things, new creative ventures I want to undertake. I am going to have some news tomorrow concerning my play Spaced (link above), but it’s high time I wrote something more original, or at least something not completely derivative. My original idea was a comedy called Here Comes Everything! but so far all I have is a title. I should read some Oscar Wilde for inspiration. Maybe some Doug Adams as well, and by the way, the Dirk Gently BBC series based on Adam’s “Holistic Detective” was also very good…

Meanwhile, I have projects to work on so that’ll be all for tonight. But I felt the need to post something so people wouldn’t think I was neglecting the blog!

So Cold

I can only spend a limited time on my computer as my office isn’t very well-insulated and record low temperatures here in Chicago (-12F according to my weather app as I write this) make it very difficult to type, so I’m afraid longer posts will have to wait.  But for the record, just because it’s cold in Chicago doesn’t mean climate change isn’t happening.

Meanwhile, I lay under the covers with a small space heater underneath the blankets and watched some of the new season of Downton Abbey on PBS, a show I liked up until the first episode of season three.  It’s still well-acted and beautifully produced, but I just can’t get into it any more.