Yeah. Perspective.

I’m 28. I’ll be 29 in a month and 6 days. And the first time I took a psychology class at the college level, I was a gawky fourteen-year-old, and the only reason I was in a college class at 14 was because my father was a professor at the school at the time.

It was an intro-psych class. College level. College material. I did pretty well, considering I was a high-school freshman and in an intro-psych class that dealt in both cognitive and abnormal psych. In other words, I diagnosed myself with depression – a family gift, passed down from generation to generation – at fourteen.

If I were anyone else, with any other life experience, then maybe I could laugh at this now and think, this is why teenagers shouldn’t read the DSM. However, I had to claw my way out of that quagmire, and nearly everything that I learned in that textbook over the three months I was in that class – and the others I’ve taken since – became the staircase I needed to get out of the hole.

It split perspective in an interesting way, too, but for that, keep reading.

What I may not have mentioned in prior entries on the topic is that depression often manifests physically, because if the person doesn’t have a psychological outlet, it flows over into physical well-being and turns into lack thereof.

No two people experience the physical hallmarks of depression the same way. There’s no real way of knowing. If mental hallmarks are difficult to spot, physical are twice so. You just cannot tell. And moreover, you just cannot put an end to it if you happen to be the one who has to deal with it. This is why whenever I catch someone saying to anyone, “well, they can just not be depressed”, I want to beat them with something blunt.

The best way I can think to describe depression is to have a constant, heavy, tightly-buttoned, self-closing coat on you. Imagine it. Imagine that it has a mind of its own and the only thing it does is drape itself across your shoulders and button you up in its merciless grip. Imagine it weighing you down to where you know that if you reach up to open one button, it’s going to take an immeasurable effort, and no matter how hard you try to reach the first button, your arms are so weighed down that it’s a Herculean effort to even shift while wearing it. It’s tight; you know you can have it loose or off, and that it won’t interfere with you unbuttoning it, but since you can’t loosen it, then you have to walk around and deal with the way it constrains everything that you do. And it doesn’t go away: you can’t take off the coat and put it back on as you feel like it; once it’s on, you either fight to remove it for a prolonged period, or you take the other route. You have to wear it everywhere.

But when you do manage to unbutton it, take it off, let it fall with a dull clunk on the floor, your body never quite recovers from it. It will always remember the heaviness, the tightness, the discomfort, and the weakness that it felt when trying to remove it. And the coat is there, still, on the floor, reminding you that any minute, it can be on you again. You can wake up wearing it again and never know how the hell it got back onto you again.

Because I’m a scholar at the core, and because I studied the science of psychology in many and multiple iterations for what’s now half my life, I have a very curious dual perspective of depression. I have the experience of someone who had studied it, and someone who had gone through it. And, if my physical symptoms are to judge, is still getting through the aftershocks of it.

My own physical symptoms of depression are particular to the lifestyle that I find myself in. I’m a lot more tired mentally than I’ve ever been physically as of late, and this is something that I can neither help nor mitigate; this is the nature of my line of work. But what it lent itself to is the fatigue; the consuming physical and mental fatigue that makes me want to crawl under the covers and want to stay there for a week – which I’d never allow myself to do because it’s completely contrary to my otherwise very active nature. While no, I’m not at my ideal health, the aches and pains I’ve developed lately are not due to any physical ailments. The back pain is no injury, and I am not prone to headaches, and especially not migraines, on an ordinary day. I know too well the mindset I was in when I first started having those headaches. I expect some joint pain, yes, but it’s localized mostly to the knees – not the shoulders, which feel as though there’s a small boulder on each.

And it discombobulates me a fair bit, because I didn’t notice anything creep up on me on the mental side. I enjoy things the way I always enjoy them, I am in my regular mood – hey, for me, being cantankerous and sarcastic is 100% normal – and I certainly do not feel as though anything is particularly, you know, off. I don’t feel sad, hopeless, or anything even remotely resembling the mental black hole I was in before. But I feel the physical symptoms a lot more than usual. And lately, I just don’t have the spoons to keep going past a certain point.

If you want to know what I mean by “don’t have the spoons”, read The Spoon Theory. It’s a really great read about chronic conditions, and living with them, and depression is no different.

Funny thing is, I’m still treating myself as my own case study. On one hand, I crawl into bed wishing that the alarm wouldn’t have to go off (and knowing full well that it’s not like I have that much of a choice), and on another, I will wake up at that alarm clock, take a deep breath, and commit my dreams or lack thereof, aches and pains, any mood change or any foreboding-type of gut feeling to memory or to a journal. That’s the scholar’s perspective, and yes, in a way, it does help. By detaching from the condition itself, by treating it as though it were someone, anyone else, I’m actually doing two things: one is that I’m doing a lot better at steering clear of the worst of the quagmire, and two is that I’m seeing just how human I am. I’m not SuperWoman, even though my ex-boss and a few of my friends will say to contrary. I’m good – oh, I’m very good at what I do – but I am not the best (which is okay), and I certainly do not have the energy for everything (which is also okay).

It also makes me feel like I’m on the outside of myself looking in, and what I’m seeing right now is someone who really needs to get some sleep. Not just a nice night, but spend a couple of days just drifting in and out of snooze mode. And yes, it’s in part because I work in a high-stress environment at peak deadline. But the other part is that there was once a big heavy coat on my shoulders, and my body remembers the weight of carrying it and shifting and bracing up to bear it again.

I won over it before. I will win again. Otherwise, I’m just not me. It may take a heating pad or two, though.


The United States of America, Inc., and the news roundup

Whew. It has been a little while since I’ve done a round-up of all the craziness that’s in the political world, but the current SCOTUS decision was just the incentive I needed.

I refer to the decision that effectively opened the financial floodgates in terms of campaign donations. McCutcheon v. FEC. Full text in the link.

I cannot quite put the caliber of the disaster that this decision is into words. Bear with me, might get rambly.

We have seen the Republican craziness in the months leading up to the President’s re-election. We’ve seen the gerrymandered districts. We’ve seen the candidates’ crazy caliber go off the charts. We’ve seen ridiculous budget proposals that would leave millions below the poverty line and/or starving, just to patchwork-save a quick buck, completely disregarding the fact that putting benefits and the social safety net on the chopping block now will result in a far wider strain on that same safety net in as little as four years. And most of all, we’ve seen an absolutely frightening amount of big money get poured into right-wing politics, most of it courtesy of Charles and David Koch, whose family has been trying to buy the US Government since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I kid you not about that last, look up the details.

Citizens United v. FEC opened the big-money floodgates, and McCutcheon just removed the last remnants of the dam. If you hadn’t gotten sick of the media constantly shoving lies and out-of-context quotes in smear campaigns down your throats, you probably will after the effects of this decision will begin to show in full. Right now, expect to decide the next candidate – from both sides – by how much money is spent by their backers.

And we, of course, know that four of the justices have been bought and paid for by corporate sponsors already. Yes, I’m looking at you, Antonin Scalia. Alito and Roberts were our gifts from George W. Bush. I spat some nails when those two got confirmed and I’m once again seeing why. And you know my standing opinion on Clarence Thomas.

Really. This is a disaster on a mass scale, if you consider that a large majority of the actual people at the voting polls don’t really have the money to contribute to campaigns – and they do so anyway, which is why grassroots efforts pay off – and they also are kept too tired and too busy to think and pay attention adequately to what’s around them. Remember the disillusionment in Ted Cruz after the government shutdown of Oct. 1st? While there certainly weren’t enough people to call for his resignation – not yet, anyway – I wasn’t wholly surprised by the fact that the disillusionment was even there. People don’t see when they’re being scammed until the scam reaches them personally, and people started to see the scam that Ted Cruz was selling – but why weren’t they able to before? Because it was everywhere around them. They didn’t need to think about it right up until they had to. Problem is, money buys media, and the media right now is little more than a propaganda machine. There’s a very good reason I chucked my television three weeks ago, and not just because it’s a CRT clunker that was taking up more space than it’s ever been worth.

If you disagree with me on the media statement, think on this: the other day was the last day to sign up for the ACA, without an extension. The lines circled blocks. Where was a single media report on this? Nowhere.  If the media was truly liberal, those photos would’ve been plastered nationwide, but instead we got a carefully-orchestrated blackout, even though the ACA has met and surpassed its sign-up goal. But no – instead we still get bullshit-riddled reports about the “dangers” of the ACA, and people who, to this day, cannot understand that ACA and Obamacare are one and the same, and I cannot tell you that this blatant ignorance is accidental.

What’s going to happen is basically three things:

1. We’re going to see an overwhelming number of ads, largely coming from the teabaggers and the right, and they will be everywhere.

2. Political campaigning will become the next new big business venture, and we’re going to see people make a shitton of money in political advertising alone.

3. The people’s voice, votes, and opinions will cease to matter as we know it.

Because really, few people can outspend the Koch brothers, and someone making 40K per year no longer can never possibly rank up to someone making 40 billion a year or more.

The Supreme Court has basically just handed this country and its political reins over to whoever holds the most cash, which is what every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has specifically warned against. Hell, even Tom Jefferson has warned against it, and he was one of the people thanks to whom this country even exists.

The ignorance of history here is absolutely staggering. Yes, the French Revolution was over two hundred years ago, if memory serves my dates right, but the causes of it were largely similar. Just because it’s another century doesn’t mean the dynamics changed at all, and history has always been a great teacher, especially its ugliest parts. The tensions in this country are already skyrocketing to a fever pitch, and I will be very surprised if we’re not going to see a major backlash to this sooner rather than later.

Now, for some more news:

Rick Scott’s voter purge ruled illegal. Yes, thank you, appeals court, because pretty much everyone with a brain cell knew that this was illegal. But while you’re at it, what are you going to do about the fact that his wife is a medical lab CEO and that “drug test the welfare recipients” stunt that caught next to no welfare fraud lined her pockets?

Yet another explosion at a gas plant, and people still think that regulations are a terrible horrible thing. Honestly, it’s things like these explosions, coal waste spills, chemical spills that will likely displace a lot of West Virginians, that highlight that government regulations are an absolute necessity to protect bystanders from a corporation’s thirst to pad their bottom line. This is not the first time such a thing happened, by a long shot, and we’re seeing firsthand what happens when there isn’t enough oversight. The EPA has been gutted by the very same people who right now are collecting a tidy profit regardless of whose water they just poisoned or how many people now have to move because, again, they have no clean drinking water whatsoever.

There’s talk about Jeb Bush for 2016. Yes, another Bush. I’ll wait for you to un-embed your heads from your desks.

And yes, there’s Christiegate. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, who was very well aware of everything happening in Fort Lee, definitely and very likely the same guy who authorized the closings of the GW Bridge for no more than his own political petty bullshit, basically had his lawyers publicly declare that there was nothing to see and Mr. Christie was fully innocent. But we all know that thing about foxes and henhouses. And we also know that Christie withheld Sandy aid for politicking bullshit as well. Ask the mayors of Hoboken, Weehawken, and yes, Fort Lee. But guess what! The lawyers who “cleared” him are getting subpoenaed!

The more this unfolds, the more I get gleeful. I love nothing more than watch people get their just desserts, and Chris Christie has been an absolutely epic douchebag on more than one occasion. But a fake – proven fake – traffic study to cover up the fact that he was basically engaging in political bullying? Give me a damn break. He’s getting what he deserves, and once he’s out of office, whether it’s by means of an orange jumpsuit, expulsion by vote or expiration of term, his political career is forever over.

And to wrap up this dose of ridiculous things in national politics, Mississippi takes example from Arizona, in all the wrong ways, in a bid to legalize discrimination.

*facepalm* *headdesk*

Don’t those fucking idiots learn?

Arizona’s bill of a similar nature passed both the House and the Senate, to meet its death on Jan Brewer’s desk by means of a veto, and that veto may well be the smartest thing that Brewer has done for her state. However, I said it on my FB page then and I will say it now: the only thing that has forced her into this veto was a massive nationwide outcry against it. Had this bill not garnered the attention that it has garnered, then she would’ve been happy to sign it into law. The senators and house reps of the AZ legislature had reneged on the bill after letting it pass only after they realized the widespread economic impact that this decision would have on their state. Like it as not, but those gay people they want to discriminate against have this thing called money, and money is the one thing that the Arizona state economy needs very badly, especially considering that they’ve been on the short list of states refusing federal funds for no reason other than political bullshit.

I also said back then that Arizona was only the first state to attempt this bill, and there will be others.

And I’m right.

If you only knew what I wouldn’t give to be wrong about shit like this. I’m not psychic, but I know history, economics, and politics well enough that I predict most of this shit on point. And considering the trend of the above, I would give a lot to just once, just once be surprised in a good way. Kentucky going blue and expanding Medicaid maybe? Georgia finally going pro-choice on a grand scale? Something, anything to give me hope that the legislative bodies in the South and the Midwest of the US are capable of logical reasoning and empathy past the “I got mine, fuck the rest of you” mentality.

Well, I also want the Bible Belt to demonstrate some semblance of common sense in general, but considering that South Carolina has been debating how to credit God on an official state fossil proposal….no, I’m not kidding…I think I will need to invest in a cushion, because all the headdesk moments may end up either cracking my desk or giving me a lulu of a bruise.

But suffice it to say that this is not a good day politically. The country has been handed over to the highest bidder, idiots across the country are still attempting to legalize discrimination, and they’re still trying to insert religion where it doesn’t belong in clear violation of the separation of church and state – and conveniently forgetting that federal law will always supersede state law. (Supremacy clause, look it up).



Behind the Gilded Shell

It’s very rare that I share anything from the NY Post, which I have absolutely zero respect for, but their article on L’Wren Scott’s suicide was very on-target.

I live in NYC. I see these people every day. I see the businessmen with the sharp suits, the perfectly gelled hair, the manicures, the briefcases. I see the women fashionably dressed, with the right artistic touch, the perfect carat of jewelry, a genuine Prada purse that costs more than all my traveling combined, and all of them have one thing in common: their eyes. The eyes that say that they really want to be anywhere but where they are. They can hide it, they can talk a good game, but I’ve been talking the talk myself for a few years too. I know when people really don’t want to be where they are.

The creative world, especially the higher end of it, is built on impressions, but those impressions cost money. And if you don’t have – actually have the money to back up your impressions, then you’re basically stuck putting on a very elaborate charade that is bound to catch up with you eventually. And if you want to make a living in the high-end creative world, that is to say in fashion, acting of the Hollywood caliber, even in music, then your image has to become a part of your product. That image does not, by any means, come cheap, and again…it’s just the image. It’s not at all, in the least.

What L’Wren Scott’s life had turned out to be is, unfortunately, no different than the lives of many, many people in this city. Most of the creative folks I meet have either been in this gilded scene or are trying to get there. It’s an expensive endeavor, and keeping up appearances and the inflow of money do not always reconcile. This is why I have always told a fellow writer friend of mine: you absolutely have to have a job, because no matter how much you write, you have to find a way to sustain yourself. Because otherwise, the real life of paying your bills and the life you have in your social circle, especially if said circle consists of people that you want to see you as this successful, glamorous, wealthy individual, will diverge very quickly.

What no one will tell you is that while social scenes can and often do fade with time, the reality of the everyday sticks around. Rent still needs to be paid. You can’t put a trip to the Maldives on a credit card and not expect that bill to stop racking up interest and disappear. Your garbage needs to be taken out. And eventually, when it comes to choosing between the publishers’ soiree at Chic Restaurant and paying Con Edison….Con Ed will always win.

But the pressure to put on the show for others’ benefit is outrageous. I have often written that people who are most in the public eye are the people who need to get away from it the quickest, and the last person to whom this applied was Philip Seymour Hoffman. Yes, people knew that he was struggling with addiction, but did anyone ever ask why? Well, this is why: he had to keep putting on a show off the set too. He had pressure on him to go places, see people, laugh it up whether or not he wanted to do any of the above, schmooze with people he may’ve detested… You get the idea. The public eye is a pressure cooker. Philip S. Hoffman may’ve not even known how much money was in his account, but he knew that he had to buy a round to every single Hollywood person at The Hot Party, or else he would’ve been wrung out to dry and kiss a good role farewell. Or so he – and everyone else around him – believed.

Same for Amy Winehouse. She was struggling, she should never have been performing, but they shoved her onto the stage anyway…with the same result.

And L’Wren Scott, a designer of quite a bit of talent, was caught in the pressure cooker that is NY’s fashion scene, where everyone is expected to carry on as though they have no budget constraints, even though the jobs in fashion and publishing don’t pay anywhere near enough to sustain such a lifestyle, never mind sustaining the outrageous cost of living in NYC.

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that it was discovered that she was deep in debt. But it greatly dismays me that the creative world puts such pressure on people working in it. It’s like expecting them to stop being human beings, with very human struggles and human budgets, and instead dressing them up like dolls and parading them out on display.

Michal Baisden posted this on his Facebook page a long while ago, and I cannot help but agree. “People spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.” Whether or not Baisden had composed this quote I do not know, but it sums up the conundrum of the creative world in a nutshell. All we, the observers, see are the show people put on, and then later down the line, the end results of what happens when the show becomes too much work to maintain.

And L’Wren Scott could not keep putting on the show. Reality has never gone away and it caught up to her with a vengeance. The gilt had eroded to reveal the coarse, heavy, gray lead beneath. What’s my favorite saying for these situations? If you make like an ostrich, all it means is that someone can come by and give you a kick in the arse.

No matter how many parties you go to, you still have rent  to pay. No matter how many trips you take, you’ll still need to pay your electric bill. Your cell phone can have a $100 case on it, but the $200 bill for usage still needs paying. It adds up, and it adds up to where you have to choose whether or not you want to go take that jaunt to a week-long party in LA or maybe it’s a good idea to see how much is in your bank account to last you to your next payday.

This is where you have to see whether or not the show is even remotely sustainable anymore.

This is actually why I love jazz as much as I do. It’s real. It’s raw. And once the performer off the stage, you see very well that they’re every bit as regular a human being as the rest of us. They have other pursuits. They have families, or pets, or parents, or significant others they take care of. They’re not perfect. They talk about paying bills and working, and maybe giving away a CD or a song or two. They’re absolutely, refreshingly human. They don’t need to pretend that all is right and perfect and gilded in their worlds because their world and ours are all but identical. Just that theirs has a lot more music in it.

And the same goes for the fans. about 95% of them are just astoundingly real, no matter what their walks of life are, and I love it when I meet them. I meet them everywhere: in line at the Note, behind a cash register, checking in for a flight…you name it. Real, raw individuals who love music and love life. They don’t have to pretend everything is glitzier and more glamorous than it actually is, because they know life can’t glitter all the time.

There are, of course, exceptions. And in my experience, the people who try to show themselves as more “chic”, more “wealthy” (regardless of actual wealth), or somehow “classier” than the people next to them are the ones who are putting on the biggest charade of all. This is the thing, folks, and I know I may sound like a fortune cookie when I say this, but it won’t make it less true: your true colors will show eventually no matter what charade you put on, so you might as well be real from the get-go. You can have the big house, the hot car, the designer outfits, the fancy gadgets, the perfectly coiffed hair, pay your restaurant tab with crisp hundreds, but none of this will hide who you really are for long. And it’s worse if you’re trying to show yourself off as more chic/wealthy/classy than the person next to you. It never works. The harder you try to portray yourself as “better”, the more you show that you’re the opposite.

More than once, at several shows, I sat next to people who would try anything to assert some sort of superiority over me. Men are not exempt from this, but I get it far worse from the women. Yes, I know I’m the youngest person in the house, yes, I’m aware I don’t wear designer clothes and don’t carry a $500 purse, and yes, I’m 100% aware I’m not taken seriously because of my age, and yes, I’m aware that they think I’m a groupie if I’m seen talking to the artists – again, because I’m young and female. Do I give a shit about any of the above? No. But when someone – who nearly always happens to be female – tries to assert herself as “superior” for whatever reason, whether it be her “status” with the artist, real or perceived, or the fact that she sees me as a “plain little nobody”, is just plain ridiculous. Laughable, even. We’re not in high school, first of all, and secondly, we’re in the same space for only a handful of hours. You may not ever see me again. So why pull the “I’m better than you” routine? What, exactly, is the point of trying to make yourself feel superior over a complete stranger?

Besides, jazz is not the scene where flaunting wealth or looks gets you anywhere. In this world, you get further by simply being a real human being.

Personally, I don’t give a shit for appearances. Nothing I put on ever costs more than $40 (excepting maybe boots and my winter coat), I wear things until they’re so faded and shrunken in the wash that they are no longer fit for being worn, I walk around in sweats, cargos, glasses, I wear makeup next to never – because none of that matters. My photography, my writing, how well I am able to hustle, my bookkeeping, how quickly I can get my work done and out the door – those are the important things. I can put on a cocktail dress or a suit just as easily as I can throw on my favorite sweatshirt. But if I had to choose between the two, the sweatshirt wins. Always. Comfort over show, every time.

And yes, having a job helps too, because like it as not, the hustle always works better with some backing behind it.

But most of all, what is important is to keep an eye on reality not fading in the glitz. It’s easy, so easy, way too easy to get caught up in things. L’Wren Scott spent her entire adult life caught up in this world – at the cost of her reality, and ultimately her life. But fashion is a world of outward appearances, shallows, and illusions in and of itself. A stroke of a brush can transform someone’s age, but no amount of makeup and foundation can erase long-term trouble, whether the trouble is in the wallet or in the soul.

It’s something that we, from all walks of life, in all creative scenes, can stand to remember.

In Memoriam, L’Wren Scott.


Priced Out

This morning, en route to work, I glanced at the early-morning newspaper and saw the headline that many young New Yorkers are giving up on homeownership because of the price range. (note: requires registration, but you get the gist)

At risk of being crass…duh hey, Captain Obvious! Of course they’ll give up on homeownership, because there’s no way to stretch money any further than living in this city stretches it already. Salaries have not kept up pace with living costs here for nearly two decades; how in the hell does anyone expect a young person or young couple, who is just settling down in a job, starting to get a feel for job security, etc., to be able to even think about affording a house when they’re lucky their monthly salary stretches enough to cover the usual bills? And let’s not forget that there’s a pretty good chance that said young person or young couple also has student loans to repay, and depending on how they are structured, that paycheck has to stretch even further. So yes, something does have to give, and something inevitably will, and owning one’s own home, whether a house in Queens or an apartment in Manhattan, is the first thing to go.

I’m a licensed real estate agent, though not exactly actively practicing, and a huge reason why I went on hiatus with that in the winter is because I feel something very fundamentally wrong with trying to sell someone a 300sqft closet-like 1BR for over $2,000/mo. Prices in NY are completely, without question, out of control. There might be a great job market here, with over 100,000 small businesses to start with, but what good is a job market if you can’t find a place to live that won’t eat most of your income?

Even the cheap areas of Brooklyn are starting to get expensive. I grew up in a building where, at the time we had signed the lease for the two-bedroom that my family had started out in, it was $700/mo. That same two-bed, right now, is being rented out at double that price. And the salary of the tenants had not changed. My parents working together back when I was 10 made exactly what I make right now at nearly 28. That’s the reality of living in NYC, and it’s actually the primary reason that I’ve decided to jump the NYC ship and find my fortunes elsewhere – in a more affordable city, for starters.

Something has to give. Something has to change. Never mind the absolutely prohibitive costs of living in Manhattan, I have no idea when a 400sqft studio in Brooklyn became worth $1,200/mo. I also have no idea when a three-bedroom one-bathroom house in Queens got to be $500K. The NY property taxes are up there, but they are definitely not up there to the point where the rent roll is completely wiped out by the property tax payment. Currently, I work in property management and oversee the rent rolls and property taxes for three buildings. I see it firsthand. There’s no need, none whatsoever, for a residential rental to be priced the way it is.

One of two things has to happen: a global cap on both rents and property taxes to be proportionate to the median income (which is nowhere near as high as most people think it to be), or the median income needs to go up. The second won’t happen, because unfortunately, running a city of this size takes an inordinate amount of resources and this is one of the most heavily taxed states on the income-tax spectrum with the primary reason being simply having enough funds to keep the base administration of this city running. The first is debatable, because while it’s possible in some areas within the state, I severely doubt about how plausible it’s going to be to implement it in Metro NY.

It’s pretty damn rare for someone under 35 to land a job that pays more than $40K per year, and having a passable survival in NYC, if you consider the base expenses of rent, food, bills, student loan payments, and transportation, requires a minimum of about $60K. It does all come down to money, and I’m seeing people who can more than afford to pay a little extra in tax, go up in arms the minute anyone dares to suggest that they pay a little more in tax so that their secretary doesn’t have to survive on ramen noodles because her Bronx apartment is eating up most of her take-home income. The people who can afford the extra in taxes are in the minority; Wall Street is only a 5-block stretch from Broadway to Water Street. And we have people all over the five boroughs who are skipping a meal to cover their rents just because the people who work in that little five-block stretch are up in arms at the idea of closed loopholes and paying more in tax; an amount they can, in all actuality, afford without ill effect on their life and lifestyles.

Yes, it’s possible to get that golden 60K/year job, but consider that there are only so many jobs to go around that grant that passable income. You can get a job easily in this city, yes, but the likelihood is much higher that it won’t have the salary that you require. In fact, I’m ready to guarantee that your income offer will not be nearly enough to qualify as survivable. You’ll take the job, of course. You’ll take it because you need to survive and pay bills, only to find that you can’t survive, at least not where you can say that you’re making it on your own. You can pull yourself by the bootstraps only so much when you have an anvil on the boot. And between holding out for that comfortable 60K job and taking the very readily available 35K job, guess what: you’re taking that 35K because your stomach doesn’t like being empty. You’ll rent a corner in someone’s apartment and pay an amount that, in any other city, will grant you your own place.

Really, no joke, that’s what making it in NY amounts to nowadays. If you make under a certain amount and you’re not living at home, you rent a corner in someone’s living room, often with no rental agreement or sublet contract, still lose more than half your monthly income on that rent, make your bill payments best you can, and eat on credit. And you know, maybe it’s just me and I “don’t understand” what it’s like to be a New Yorker (no joke, heard that from a few of my peers…uh, I lived in this city for most of my life already), but I think that if you’re pushing at 30 and live in this city, you deserve something more out of life than a corner in someone else’s apartment and getting into debt to have food in your stomach. Someone who’s working their ass off to survive deserves better than living hand-to-mouth until their forties. And food is expensive, especially if it’s not coming from a box or a can. Don’t ever, ever wonder why people always go for fast food when broke: a salad is $10, a burger is $3. Math.

And unfortunately, it’s not just in NYC. Any major city has this sort of stratification, especially where the cost of living is out of alignment with salaries. People wonder why their college-aged kids aren’t leaving home and starting their own families. Simple answer: they can’t afford to. And loath though I am to admit it, there’s a pretty fair possibility that they never will, depending on their situations.


Public Service Announcement

No idea who created this, but it gets the point across
No idea who created this, but it gets the point across

Found this on FB, and I cannot begin to tell you just how true this is, and how many times this needs to be said.

If I had a dollar for every time someone had asked me to shoot “for exposure”, I’d likely be able to retire. My answer is and always will be a resounding no. I shot for exposure when I first got my camera and when I first began experimenting with photography. That’s what happens when you’re a beginner. But I’m no longer a beginner, and I take this seriously, and by no means is what I do easy or free.

Now, you know that I do primarily (not exclusively) concert photography. I do it because more than one party benefits. Seriously, let’s look at it this way: these photos that I produce are not just for the artists. The artists benefit first, because it’s their show, and those photos are their faces, and their energy, and their promo. But the same goes for the venues hosting these concerts. How does it look for the venue that someone can turn out photos like that? How does the venue’s appeal change when people see some fabulous concert shots? They’d want to attend more shows there, right? There you have it. This is not just for the artists’ benefit, but the venue’s too.

Consider also this: concert photo is a very tricky thing to execute. You don’t know what lighting conditions you’re heading into. For all you know, you may take 400 frames, and not have a single worthwhile shot if the club’s lighting is odd. And believe me, that has happened to me more than once, where I’d go in, snap a good 300 and spend a week nose-deep in Photoshop to make them passable. But I love it, because it’s a challenge, and because shooting in weird lighting is the best way to learn about photography, lighting, shutter speed, and your camera sensors.

You’re thinking, “Well, if you’re good, you wouldn’t need 3-400 frames!” Bull. Thanks for demostrating that you don’t get it. You do require 300 frames with some concerts. Granted, that’s depending on your lighting and your gear, but if you’re shooting concert, you’re going to get a variety of poses and expressions, none of which are within the photographer’s control. Get it? You can’t ask a musician, while he’s mid-note, “Hey, turn this way, lift the sax a little more!” Nope. You control nothing in a concert shoot. The only thing you control is where you sit, and the settings on your rig. And yeah, you’re going to get 300 frames, most of which capture all different angles of the performer, and all the lighting changes, etc. It’s your job, as the photographer, to weed out the best ones and use them.

So those pictures up on my Facebook page, those pictures on SmugMug? They take work to execute. I didn’t become a good photographer overnight. It took me practice, more than one bad shoot, several conversations with other photographers, reconnoitering manuals, and then, repeatedly, practicing and applying what I learn. Retouching a photo should be the last resort for processing; then you become a graphic designer. Luckily, that’s what I do as well.

And if you want to use my images, then please purchase the rights of use. It’s not just courtesy, it’s business. You’re purchasing a product, a product that I have worked hard to execute, a product that I ensure meets a certain standard. You can also get the rights of use if you – just a suggestion! – contract me to execute the shoot in advance, for a set fee. Moreover, until you have the rights of use, you do not have any control over the images, legally, since you do not own them, one (the photographer owns the images unless they sell master rights), and you’ve not been permitted to use them. It’s simple truth: regardless of where you post them, or how you use them, legally, I’m the one in charge of them, unless you have a license agreement from me that delineates how long you have the rights of use and how they’re abridged, if at all. Don’t worry, I don’t bite. I don’t stiff on use rights. I don’t ever stiff on use rights. But if you’re using these images without my permission, I can, perfectly legally and within my rights as the creator and owner of the photograph, put out a cease-and-desist order to any medium that you send them to. So if you want a photo that I snapped to run in a magazine, then you will either 1. pay for the right to have it there, or 2. deal with the consequences of me bringing a cease-and-desist order straight to the publisher.

You can view them free. Always. You can view them. But if you want to use them, that’s when we get serious.

You think, “But people share your Facebook pictures!” True, but that’s what they’re there for, and by no means are they all my shots. Facebook only sees a small percentage of my work; SmugMug has the rest, and Smug, unlike FB, doesn’t appropriate usage rights without permission. Facebook is open country for photos; if I post it, it can be reposted, and reused as need be. This is why I’ve taken to curtailing what I put up there. This is also why SmugMug, which I am paying for out of my own hard-earned cash, is my primary photo repository. Not only it offers beautiful prints – which are my product, by the by – but it, above all, it has no impact on usage rights. I can share them, and other people can share them, but I remain as the owner and distributor. And, like everyone else in the creative world, I would very much like to be paid for the work that I do. A musician doesn’t get on stage for free, either.

I make money, as a photographer, in three ways: advance contracts for shoots, sale of usage rights, or sale of prints.

So really, if you have a photographer at a show, and they turn out some great images, and you want to use them, pay the photographer. Chances are it’s not a hobby for them, it’s what they do. They, like you, have to keep the lights on. It’s not just snapping pictures; considering some of us travel, we’re also paying serious expenses in order to execute those shots. If I have to travel to photograph you, then please at least make an effort to defray my travel costs. And considering that I’m a bargain maven, then trust me, it won’t cost that much.

The only exposure I care about is the Photoshop setting when I touch up my shots. To ask someone to “shoot for exposure” is ridiculous. You don’t expect your dentist to work on your teeth for practice, would you?

Don’t expect the same of your photographer.


On Newtown, CT.

72 hours.

That’s what it took for me, and for a lot of other people to find a voice and discuss, or at least make an adequate attempt to discuss, what had taken place in Newtown, CT on Friday.

Even now, no words seem to encompass this tragedy, which was completely senseless and avoidable, on all accounts. Sadly, and enragingly, this has already been politicized. Half of the country wants to prevent this from ever happening again, while the other half is more concerned with their own guns. This is amazing, and not in a good way. It’s absolutely astounding that, in the wake of the news that someone would shoot up an elementary school, the thought of “don’t take my guns away” would even cross people’s brains.

Callous? Ridiculous? Completely devoid of humanity? Whatever epithet you can come up with that describes that pro-gun-toting BS, use it. Myself, I am mourning the fact that we as a people, as a country devolved to such an extent that a tragedy would be almost instantly used for politicking.

The gun control laws have been an elephant in the room long enough. Let’s talk about this.

For starters, the much-maligned Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Please pay close attention to the phrasing, especially the first four words. A well regulated militia. What part of this, I ask you, tells you that the Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms to civilians? With the phrasing of this law, the implication is that the right to keep and bear arms is applicable to only the people who are part of said well-regulated militia, and who are acting in the security of the country. In other words, it applies only to the Armed Forces, and if you have to stretch, police. Civilians are not in the equation here, legally, and for a good reason. There’s also reason there are gun permits and control laws, but they are not enforced, and that reason is the same as prior, and is really very simple: not everyone should own a weapon.

That’s only a haunch of the proverbial elephant in the room, and that is something that the NRA and the gun-toting brigade don’t seem to understand. Not everyone should own a weapon. Not everyone has the responsibility, the psychological stability, the common sense, the levelheadedness, or the knowledge to make for a responsible weapon owner. Per one person who keeps a small handgun in a safe for protection and has no reason to ever remove it from its safe, there are at least three people who will keep an assault rifle in their house, claim it’s for the same reason, and have no rational or common-sense explanation whatsoever as to what kind of danger they perceive themselves to be in that they own an assault rifle that, let’s face it, doesn’t belong outside the Army.

What is wrong with this picture? Plenty, and there’s far too much behind this to dismantle. So let’s begin.

Let’s start with the fear-mongering. It’s gone far enough. Let’s start by stopping the culture of sensationalizing and dissecting infinitisemally every little tiny quibbling detail of the news reported and just stick to reporting facts. What happened to journalism? What happened to real, implication-free, non-yellowed journalism? Has that become completely extinct while I wasn’t looking? Because really, every last piece of information that comes over mass media has an overwhelming flavor of you should be afraid for your life! when in reality, the “threat” is imaginary at best, and overblown any way you spin it. We are capable of independent thought – yes, even the yokels who may not seem that way at first – and we should be given the very basic luxury of interpreting the facts for ourselves. Yes, media saturation is one of the reasons behind gun violence, or has the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, a result of overblown and oversaturated rhetoric, taught us nothing?

But this is the easy discussion. We can always talk about guns. We can always talk about the media being a roiling pot of fear, misinformation, and loathing. That’s the easy discussion.

We can’t talk about mental illness.

We need to.

This is the real elephant in the room. This is the hard discussion to have. And it’s the hardest one.

Read this. It’s necessary.

The shooter had a mild form of autism. Guess what’s going to happen next in the media. If you can’t, I’ll spell it out for you: after this, every single autistic person, child or adult, will be demonized as some violent homicidal maniac who’s a menace to everyone around them. Every single person with a mental illness – a genuine mental illness – will now have the label of “potential killer” slapped on them. Is it the case? Of course not. But will the general public be aware of it? No. Who will suffer as a result of their lack of awareness? Everyone.

Mental illnesses get misdiagnosed and mistreated on a regular basis. As a result, people who have them end up with a far more compromised mens rea than they have naturally. All this in the interest of slapping a band-aid in the form of a pill on the real problem, and that problem is that people do not really know how to adequately treat mental illness. It doesn’t help that not enough of  a priority is put onto researching mental illness to begin with. This and worse happens with autism, and as a result, what happens, again? No one benefits. Not the autistic people. Not their families. The only people benefiting in this unfortunate equation are the pill-pushers and the manufacturers of the medicines.

All blended in with the media frenzy about fear and loathing, and the added bonus of people screaming about their so-called imaginary “patriotic freedom” to carry an AK-47 as they see fit – to defend themselves from what, they don’t know and I won’t be the one to ask – and the responsible gun owners staying very silent to dissociate themselves from the AK brigade, blithely unaware that they’re the ones misrepresented by them too, and you get a perfect storm that brings absolutely nothing good for the social perception of anyone who’s not “normal” (an objective concept at best). Fear whips people into a frenzy, and I can assure you one thing without hesitation: nothing that people do out of fear is done with a sound mind and in sound judgment.

People have already come out and said that if one of the teachers had a gun on her, then this could’ve been avoided. Reality check time: she did own a gun. That was the gun that her son had taken to kill her and her husband, and everyone else.

Some people are even coming out and saying that assault rifles need to be in schools. Okay, and that solves what, exactly? And let’s add that this was an elementary school. Children were victims. CHILDREN. Children who get curious, and who are bound to try and play with an assault rifle because of the way it looks. The inevitable result of that – I cannot use a polite term to frame that suggestion – is more deaths.

More guns do not solve the issue. It’s pure and simple math. What did I say back in the election season? Math does not lie. It does not take sides. If you have 2x = 10a as a base setup, 4x = 20a. Simple math.

Mental illness needs to be discussed. Mental illness, which takes many shapes and forms, rarely if ever diagnosed properly, treated very inefficiently most of the time, is the real elephant in the room. As a tragedy unfolds, and as twenty-seven families have to now face Christmas without their kids and loved ones, we as a country are mourning with them.

We are also staring down a choice. This choice is how we continue from here. Do we:

1. Make an effort to actually learn about something that affects a chunk of our population that keeps growing, and work to prevent these tragedies before they begin? Yes, mental illness affects an ever-growing segment of the US population. And by and large, few mentally ill individuals ever become violent. But if they had been treated, this could have been avoided.

2. Keep on our current path and wring our hands, collectively, saying that we have to do something?

Because let’s be realistic: we’ve done all our hand-wringing with the Colorado shootings. With Virginia Tech. Time to stop with the hand-wringing and start on a real, non-knee-jerk, non-stereotypical, non-biased conversation about mental illness. About what constitutes responsible gun control. About when to turn off the television because bad news saturates. And most importantly, about real, honest, realistic responsibility and prevention.

Because we, as a people and as a country, need to actually be people. Screw ideology, screw your personal beliefs for a minute, and just look at the big picture. It’s grown to be quite ugly, and it got that way when realistic discussion gave way to the quagmire of politicking and media sensationalism. We can make things work, but to do that, we actually need to keep the jerking knees under control and discuss. Even the tough stuff. Especially the tough stuff.

In Memoriam: the victims of the Newtown, CT shooting. Requiescat in pace.


Reflections on a Re-election

Barack Obama won his next four years in the White House.

To say that I’m relieved right now is an understatement. Considering how much has been at stake for this election, both for me personally and in the scope of the Big Picture for the Country, I was honestly scared for what I would have to do if we would’ve ended up with a President Romney. I’m relieved. Exhausted mentally, on all accounts, but relieved above all.

You’ve seen my writing on the topic of politics. I’ve ranted up a small storm every time the debates were on. But all kidding aside, this has been a nail-biter.

The issues on the line were ones that directly impact both of the working generations: that of our parents, the baby boomers looking to retire, and the young people – their children, really, or, well…people my age, to put bluntly – who are just entering the workforce fresh after college. Social Security will be the way most of our parents will pay for retirement. Not everyone has a 401K. Not everyone has or will have a pension. Not everyone’s kids will be able to afford to take care of them. And if you consider that the kids of this equation – the voting bloc aged from 18 to 30 – are so saddled with debt from student loans that they’re forgoing having any sort of a life of their own so they could pay it back, then you have to wonder how the kids and the parents will be able to take care of each other.

All of this, to a middle-class working woman with student loan debt, with a valid concern about reproductive rights, with a very valid concern about how much money I will be paid for my work, and an extremely valid concern as to whether or not I would ever be able to stop working later in life, is pretty damn important.

And yes, I will be up front about the fact that I judge a country’s leader by the way he leads his own life, in addition to where he stands. The people who say that both candidates are the same could not be any more wrong, in both the personal and public aspects of the persona. Obama had proved that while he’s far from perfect, he has it where it counts, and had taken chances on decisions that had, so far, paid off. Romney had proved that he values his secrecy far over his candidacy, and he had paid for it with this election.

Secret life and private life are different, let me just say. You’re entitled to the latter, but not the former. And if you are running for public office, both will be combed through thoroughly, and nothing would be left to chance. No, the two candidates are not the same. Last time I checked, Obama doesn’t have a lower effective rate than his own cleaning guy. Obama had never exported my job to China. And Obama definitely never had a plan that boiled down to, “First put me in the office and I will tell you”.

But most importantly, this election had highlighted the GOP as it really is, and just how far it was willing to go to get the results it wanted. Florida governor Rick Scott got slammed in court over voter suppression, and voter intimidation, and he still persisted in attempting to suppress. There has been a historic number of smear campaigns – and I’m not exempting the Dems from it; I’ve seen maybe two anti-Romney ads that were more factual than insult-based (then again, my TV-watching is limited) – in the media. And with stances like that of Todd Akin and his utterly despicable “legitimate rape” remarks, as well as Paul Ryan having the brilliant (read: absolutely nightmarish) idea about rapists suing for and having visitation rights to the children that were born of their crimes, we got to see exactly how divorced from empathy the GOP has become. Truly, the entire attitude of the GOP came down to, “We got ours, you’re on your own”. Great – except life doesn’t work in the Ayn Randian style, and never will. No one gets anywhere on their own.

Oh, and the budget ideas…I don’t even want to start on it. As I discussed in my Debate and Taxes post, there’s no way, mathematically, that tax cuts generate revenue. Dwight Eisenhower was likely generating electricity from spinning in his grave, and he was the last Republican to balance the budget.

Another thing that this election had highlighted for me is the aspect of human nature that clings to belief in the face of facts, the part of people that would rather go for a lie than hard facts. We’re told, by self-help gurus, coaches of all sorts, and well-meaning friends and relatives, that if you want something badly enough, believe in it, a la The Secret. If you want something, picture yourself already having it.

But what politics and The Secret alike fail to consider is that if the facts do not back the possibilities, and if there is no underlying solid base to the end result, then no amount of wishing, hoping, or praying will yield you your desired result. That’s just simply not possible. Think about it in the terms of interviewing for a job. You might be the best person for the job; you walk into the interview and talk up your best game. Your resume stands up to cross-examination. However, if you have no qualifications necessary for the position, there is no chance you’ll get it. You can’t interview for a financial management position if your background is in communications. You can pray, yes. You can hope, yes. You can visualize yourself in that position. But unless you have done something to get the qualifications (work/intern at a financial firm, get a second degree in finance, etc.) for the job, you cannot walk into it and hope to get it just by a wing and a prayer.

Human nature is to cling to the ideal in the hope of having it come true, and rarely do people as a whole stop and reassess just how realistic those ideals and hopes happen to be. The conservative base has divorced from reality when it had shown its hand on social issues, and continued to hope that, despite the overwhelming evidence that the majority of the country did not subscribe to the same social value set as themselves, their world view would win out. Had they actually stopped, looked outside their ideology, and looked at what people – especially young people, who are their own children and coworkers alike – really live like, they would see that their own view isn’t really reconciling with the reality of the current generation. But instead, they thought that if the other people would just see their world view, they’d know that they’re in the wrong. If they could only have the good old days, they would see just how great things were. After all, it worked well for them.

Never mind that for a lot of people, it really didn’t work that well, but I’m more into dissecting the mindset.

The fact of the matter is, a lot of the people who had bought into Romney’s sales pitch – and let’s face it, this campaign was a massive sales pitch; this applies to both sides – had completely ceased to analyze and read between the lines. The statement that they had clung to was, “I can defeat Barack Obama!” and for those people who were not okay with the president for whatever reasons (it will take too bloody long to get into why they weren’t okay with him, so I will not), that was enough. They had not  stopped to consider that Mitt Romney had not demonstrated where, precisely, he was a better choice than Barack Obama. Foreign policy? Taxes? Social issues? Jobs? Nowhere had he demonstrated sufficient consistency and knowledge. And on close analysis of his campaign, he had turned his coat on issues so many times that no one even knows where he stands anymore. But they heard, “I can defeat Barack Obama!” and that was enough. The bubble was set and sealed, and people got comfortable with it and in it, while the rest of the world looked on, analyzed, dissected, and saw the bubble for what it truly is.

Ignorance of the facts does not work. Ever. If an ostrich buries its head in the sand, sure, it cannot see what’s going on and is comfortable and secure because of an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. But at the same time, the backside of that ostrich is fully exposed and ready to take a kick. Facts catch up and kick very hard when ignored, and it hurts a hell of a lot worse than taking the hit head-on. And what we have seen in this election was an ignorance of the facts that, in the case of the far right with the tea party, etc. was just plain frightening.

I got into a thing on FB with someone who insisted that cutting taxes brings in revenue. Mathematically, that’s wrong. Logically, that’s wrong. And yet it was a belief across nearly half the country that that was the case, even though any IRS agent will tell you that it’s not. And no one on the right bothered getting a pen and paper and setting up a few equations to see how it worked. You don’t need to be a math genius to know that if you have an x = y setup, you cannot have 1/2 of x = 2y. In fact, any public elementary school teaches you this.

Mitt Romney was one of the original pioneers of outsourcing, and Bain Capital records and articles support that. And yet, people believed that he would bring the overseas jobs back. Someone please explain to me why, precisely, would someone do away with something that he had directly profited from? If money does the talking, then the income that companies in this country had made because they had outsourced their labor should be speaking volumes. Bringing jobs back into the US would have decimated many companies’ profit margins. And why would they do that, then? No one on the right had asked this.

Paul Ryan had admitted that the Romney budget plan was trickle-down economics. Considering that that’s what had precipitated this mess to begin with when Reagan had implemented it, it’s amazing that the right had not asked the key question of exactly what would trickle down, if, as stated above, letting wealth and profit go anywhere would kill the profit margin.

The red states who had overwhelmingly voted for Romney are also the poorest states in the country, where use of public assistance is the only way for some people to survive. Mitt Romney had said multiple times that he would do nothing for safety nets, and in the infamous 47% video, stated that those people considered themselves “victims” and that he wouldn’t worry about them. Those red states are among the highest rates of public assistance – and they voted for the man who was perfectly fine with eliminating their only source of survival. They hadn’t stopped to consider that hey, if this guy wins, I won’t have a red cent to my name, or any way whatsoever to survive. That was a perfect example of cognitive dissonance, and it was stunning in the worst possible way.

This election campaign and watching the result has been an overwhelming exercise in watching the power of the human mind as it saw what it had found attractive and clung to it despite massive amounts of proof that what it was clinging to was nothing like the reality. Had I still been in college, I would’ve used this election for a thesis. Hell, if I go back for the Master’s in Psych that I want, I would very likely use it.

But there is a silver lining to having gone through this campaign as an observer: this election had also shown me exactly what people can do if they stand up and stand together. Just the financial aspect of Obama’s victory is evidence enough. Think about it: Romney had an absurd amount of wealth at his disposal, not just his own but that of donors, all as wealthy as himself. He got defeated by grassroots contributions. Small, $3+ contributions, given repeatedly by millions of people, had all stacked up to a presidential victory. Yeah, I donated too, a couple of times, at $10 each. But those $20 that I tossed into the pot had helped. As the saying goes, nickels and dimes make a full jar. It all added up, and it had a lot more influence than the conservative SuperPACs. In Florida, where voter suppression had made the news on an almost consistent basis, people had turned out to vote in record numbers, with lines going for miles. We’ve seen it with the alcohol during the Prohibition,  and we’ve now seen it with voting: if you want something to be as popular as possible, disapprove of it and attempt to suppress it.

Do you have any idea what it feels like to know that together, united, by contributing even the cost of a bagel on a weekly basis, many of us can overpower the wealthy individuals who are in control of the coffers and the media? Do you know how utterly empowering that feeling is, to know that yes, even though your contribution was minuscule, you made a difference? Do you know what it feels like to know that efforts to suppress a hard-won right have backfired despite the opposition just because people had decided to come together? It is something that you cannot ignore. And it confirmed what I already knew: united we stand.

The US motto is not, and has not been “In God We Trust” until the 1960s. I will, forever and a day, acknowledge its original motto as the real one, and it was borne out of the end of Civil War: E Pluribus, Unum. Out of many, one. After the Civil War, that’s when people had started saying, “The United States is” as opposed to “The United States are“. That’s what this election was about. That was the attitude that had turned the tide against the Big Money aspect of the campaign. And that’s the attitude that’s going to pay off. Not the, “You’re on your own, we got ours, why aren’t you doing X or Y?” attitude, but this. Out of many, one. That was what I had seen happen in NJ and NY after Sandy had slammed into our region. People ceased to give a damn for politics, wealth, and money, and instead had just turned to helping each other out.

That, really, is what I hope to see in the next four years. The smear campaigns are over. The votes have been cast. The president has been reelected. It’s DONE. Now we actually have to live, and coexist, and make things happen. Let’s do that instead of grandstanding on stances and rhetoric that, when dissected, have inherent flaws across the board.


PS: Please stop with the whole, “Both parties are the same” line. They’re not and never will be. The right has been taken over by violent maniacs from the minute that Obama had won the nomination prior to the 2008 campaign. While the Democratic party was far from perfect from day one, the one massive difference between the kooks on the left and the kooks on the right is that the kooks on the left had gone largely ignored. The kooks on the right, known as the tea party, had taken over the party in full and the reps of the party actually and fully believe the stances of the kooks. The extreme leftists had gotten largely ignored. Yes, they exist, but not once has it happened that a Democratic voter/supporter/citizen would resort to violence and threats on the opposite side of it to make a political point. Democratic candidates had been shot at (Giffords), and had their offices vandalized (mutilated cat on an AR rep’s front door). Liberal institutions had gotten vandalized, broken into, and attacked repeatedly (look up the several bombings of abortion clinics, GYN offices, Planned Parenthood; murder of Dr. Tiller). But you do not, ever, see a Democrat attacking the headquarters of Focus on the Family. I didn’t see a liberal spray-paint a conservative office. I don’t see liberals picketing funerals. I don’t see liberals threatening to attack a candidate. But already, the conservatives are starting to threaten violence because Obama won the second time. So don’t get me started on the “both parties are the same” myth.

Sick Systems: How they work, how to create one.

I came across this post some months ago, and I will make no bones of it: it’s a massive eye-opener.

I want to share it with you. In fact, I think it’s required reading.

I’ve had a couple of those systems, and I’m sure you have too. And I promise you: everyone will encounter at least one sick system in their lifetime. There is enough dysfunction in the world to go around, unfortunately. Those who go through life without encountering at least one sick system are lucky, lucky indeed.

The one thing I understood about this (and a subsequent post by the same author verified it) is that it’s not dependent on vices, but on virtues. Being hardworking, willing to help people, conscientious, thinking of others – all of these qualities actually make you that much more likely to get caught in a sick system. Why? Because they use those qualities against their holder to keep them in the sick system.

Original post link:

Continue reading “Sick Systems: How they work, how to create one.”

Student Loans

So as of yesterday, I’ve had to deal with Sallie Mae. If I didn’t say that I detest student loans as a whole, it would be a lie by omission.

Situation is this: I opted for a particular repayment plan, and as part of it, my payments dropped into double figures each month. Awesome! I budgeted around this, and laid out a pretty solid budget for the rest of the year. But then, I check Sallie Mae’s website and…surprise! My payment amount has nearly tripled.

What the F.

Yeah. I had to call and politely, but not so very nicely, tell them that either my loan gets to a manageable payment amount, or they won’t be seeing any money, because guess what: I need to eat too. They mumbled their way through various reasoning that basically boiled down to, “too bad, bitch, pay up or else.” I ended up putting it into forbearance for five months, to the tune of $150.

What the F, redux. Since when is there a fee for forbearances? When I put my US Dept. of Education loan into forbearance, they didn’t even think to charge me a fee. They simply looked at my credit, looked at the loans, saw I paid everything on time so far, and said, “next payment due in November, have a nice day.” Nowhere was there a $150 fee. And really, Sallie Mae, telling me that you’ll credit the forbearance fee after 6 months of on-time payments is crap. Don’t charge me in the FIRST PLACE, how about that little chestnut? Or is that too much to ask for?

Rep. Hansen Clarke’s student loan forgiveness bill cannot be signed fast enough. I mean it. Don’t give me the crap how “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” is the only way. The bootstrap factory is outsourced to China, and the industry – yes, industry – of education is facing the same bubble-burst as homeownership. Student loan debt is up 511% over the last decade, and colleges have little choice but to keep increasing their tuition because the Pell and TAP grant budgets are getting slashed every year, and the qualifications are getting tighter and tighter. NONE of this has any sort of control or regulation, and some colleges would actually have you lie on the FAFSA to get more in student loans.

Yes, lie. Because they’re the ones who profit immediately and very well, to boot, but you, the student, are fucked. Because with the exception of junior colleges and barely accredited schools, you are very hard-pressed to find a college with a four-figure annual tuition, and with all the “education is a must for anything in life!” that is hammered down our throats from an early age, what else, aside from getting into heavy debt, can you do to keep yourself in school?

You may say “Trade school!” but you know what, trade schools need tuition paid too. And if there was any emphasis on trade schools right now, we wouldn’t be having the situation that we have now: metric ton of college grads, none of them able to find a job, because the degree that they had killed thousands of dollars on is suddenly not enough, and because the majority of work has already been outsourced.

Lovely, innit? And by this, I mean absolutely fucking terrible.

Seriously. Jobs don’t rain from the sky. The economy is only now feebly showing signs of recovery. There’s still a competition of a minimum of 30 people for an open position. For every one person who gets the job, there’s 29 more who have no idea how they’re going to pay their bills, or pay for that student loan. About half of the college grads have no choice now but to live with their parents because they’re unable to afford loans and pay for an apartment at the same time. It’s simple math: you can only stretch a $1,000 biweekly check so far when you’re in the hole for a high five-figure sum, if you’re lucky to get that per month.

“Get a better job and stop being lazy!”

“You have an education, you can just get another job!”

“Just pay them, it’s not a big deal.”

“Why can’t you afford it? You have a job, right?”

I’ve heard it all, and you know what, none of it answers the main and very pressing question of why the hell had this predicament been allowed in the first place – not just to me but for every college grad laden with debt in this country. Tuition for a small local private university should not have ever gotten near the 20K/year mark and allowed to double within five years since then, as is the case with Pace University, my alma mater. If I ever wanted to return to it for grad school, I can kiss that dream goodbye. At this point in time, Pace is more expensive than NYU will ever be. Pace’s financial aid had started to slash while I was still in school, and I’ve begged for grants to keep tuition to where covering the gap with loans was a plausible option. And considering my debt load and the average debt load of a Pace graduate, I still got away easy, and I’m still in bad straits. Why? Because I can’t support my living expenses, and the expenses of my business, and pay back $60K at the same time. And mind you, that $60K? Still less than what I had started with.

I’m about to start looking for another job, because even though my salary has been steadily climbing, it’s still not enough. I need to find a job that will pay me significantly more than what I’m receiving now. Why? Because I really don’t want to be in debt for the rest of my life. And with the way that the student loan bubble is going right now, that’s what it’s looking like.

And you know what? It should have all been regulated. There should be caps on tuition, even for private universities. There should be caps on student loan percentages. There should definitely be a massive improvement with job placement programs for schools. There should be a massive improvement in high schools, where guidance counselors offer trade school as a viable option for careers. Instead, what do we have? A loan bubble that’s about to burst hard, because there will be a huge number of college grads who will outright default on their student loans. They will do so knowing that their credit will be shot, and they will do it en masse because they want to actually have some semblance of a life that doesn’t involve constantly thinking about debt. And since bankruptcy laws now do not discharge student loan debt, then what? Wage garnishment? It’s a lose-lose situation one way or another.

This is a very, very preventable situation. One way or the next, I have to come up with 60K to pay everything off. Unless I win the lottery, this won’t be happening.

And yes, I’ve done research on bankruptcy. Because believe me, when you’re looking at your finances and no matter how much of a raise you’re getting, you’re not seeing anything actually become different, you begin to consider drastic measures if only out of panic’s sake.

And that’s no way to live.


The War on Women, And on Women’s Sex

Yes, such exists, and if you hadn’t seen the news lately, then I suggest you take a look. I’ll wait while you pick up your jaw.

Brilliant article: How the GOP went back to the 1950s in one day.

In short, there’s been a “panel” (and I use quotations because I cannot possibly imagine how this could be anything even resembling legitimacy) to try and roll back Pres. Obama’s stipulation on birth control coverage. In other words, yet another battle about What Women May Or May Not Do With Their Own Bodies, decided by anyone but the women themselves. We’ve seen this with the numerous GOP attempts to criminalize abortions and breach HIPPA in regards to abortion data, but this reached a whole new low.

We’re talking about birth control here. That little pill that a woman takes daily to make sure that she would not need an abortion in the first place. Think about it. If you believe that life begins at conception, wouldn’t it make sense to you that in order to make sure an abortion wouldn’t happen, you’d actually prevent conception first? Logically, yes, but we all know that Republicans aren’t the pinnacles of common sense, or any sense whatsoever for that matter.

The “panel” was comprised of all men. ALL MEN. Image link – click it and weep. A Georgetown law student – female – was invited to speak by the Democrats, and she was barred from entry because, apparently, “she wasn’t qualified to speak on the subject”.

Think about that for a second. No, think. Absorb it. Understand that they barred a woman from speaking about the subject that affects her directly, and that they believe that her being female doesn’t qualify her from speaking about a subject that affects her anatomy. And the Democratic women walked out in disgust, and I cannot blame them one bit.

If the entire idea of all this happening doesn’t horrify you, it damn well should. The Republican Party has finally shown their true colors, in all their misogynistic, disgusting, self-absorbed, discriminatory glory. And these are people who some believe are more qualified to lead this country than the President who has introduced this legislature, in a huge part to ensure that his own two daughters would not have to be imprisoned by their own anatomy.

Oh, and in case you want to see that testimony, being kicked out didn’t keep her mouth shut. You go, Sandra Fluke.

It’s not as though it’s a new phenomenon. The GOP has been against the women’s right to do as she pleases with her own body from the beginning. First guising it as “We care about women so they won’t have to be traumatized by an abortion”, they sought to introduce legislation that requires a trans-vaginal ultrasound before an abortion. First of all, an ultrasound is not going to make a woman change her mind about an abortion, and the feeling that a woman has after an abortion is, most commonly, relief. I won’t get started on the trans-vag ultrasound requirement. Then there’s the parental-consent for minors receiving an abortion. Fabulous, and what if the father of that young woman is the father of her fetus? Congratulations, you just bought that teenager, who’s a lot more traumatized by being raped than by needing to abort, a nightmare of abuse to follow, if not her demise. Then there’s the restrictions on access, where centers are getting closed down left and right for lack of funding. Want an example? Missouri has only one Planned Parenthood center that offers abortions for the entire state.

Oh, and again, it’s still under the guise of, “We care about women.”

Sure you do, sure. So why are you infringing on their autonomy again? Right now, I wish WordPress had a sarcasm font and a contempt font.

So then this gem comes out from a Santorum backer. He says, “Hey, back then gals put aspirin between their knees, and it wasn’t that expensive!” (video in the link). I’ll let you absorb that for a second. Joke or not, there are some people who believe this crap. And now here’s a hearty dose of two bits of reality, which you might know already:

1. Aspirin between the knees doesn’t work as birth control. Aspirin is not birth control. Neither is douching with soda, or using plastic/Saran wrap as a condom. Jumping up and down wouldn’t prevent conception and implantation.

2. Knees don’t have to be open for sex, unless you’re of the school of thought that intercourse should only occur through a hole in a sheet. And it won’t surprise me if the GOP is of that precise school of thought.

Oh, it gets better. They care about women, you see? This is why they ask whether or not the conservative women who came to the CPAC wore their skirts too short. Never mind that they’re stripping them of their rights to their own bodies, never mind that they’re devaluing them to the role of chattel for breeding, but they have the utter temerity to shift the focus on their wardrobe.

In the name of all holy, I only wish I were joking. This is what’s really happening in our country.

There are no words in the entirety of the English language to properly express the extent of my horror and disgust at what these…I can’t even call them people…are doing, the message that they’re sending, or the impact that they’re having on this country. There are just no words to properly express how utterly ignorant the GOP is of the climate in this country, or of what women actually want. And in their ignorance, in their hypocrisy (in case anyone forgot, Karen Santorum had an abortion, and it’s thanks to that abortion that she’s alive today), they are wrecking lives of 51% of the country’s population.

Case in point: in the midst of all of this Iowa introduces a draconian anti-abortion bill. Barring absolutely everything, even in case of rape. I don’t think you need me to explain why this is horrendous.

If you’re going to come here and say that a woman can’t blame the baby that is a product of rape, then you’re oblivious and ignorant. She can, and she will, and she often does. The baby isn’t asking to be born. The baby is sure as hell not asking to be a constant reminder of its mother’s single worst experience. But if there is a constant reminder of that single worst experience, it can, will, and does result in resentment. Also, there are plenty of women who resent their children for being alive, and those children are not necessarily products of rape. They didn’t ask to be born either.

Already, some people on the Internet got their britches in a bunch about why should someone’s taxes pay for birth control, and how dare those women not pay through the nose for gyno exams and actually want to not have babies until they’re damn well and ready to? Know what – if my tax money is paying for someone to get it up – because ED medication is considered a vital and necessary medical product, I kid you not, and is covered by most state insurances – then you damn better believe that a woman’s right to not conceive should be covered too. Yes, you read right: a man has the “right” to get it up on the taxpayer’s dime, but a woman can’t remain baby-free at her discretion.

I’m sick of the double standard that dictates women’s right to enjoy sex as they see fit, and I’m also sick of the fact that some white Christian old-timer feels that he has the right to dictate how women govern their sex lives. You don’t see women ordering a prostate exam with a colonoscopy before Viagra is prescribed, do you? No? Well, that should happen. Let’s see how fast the GOP would shut its mouth if that were to be enacted.

I will now proceed to state the obvious. It may be obvious to a lot of people, but you know, not everyone is as astute as we would like them to believe. Ready?

The Republicans don’t give a shit about women, gays, Native Americans, or anyone who is not themselves; that is to say old, white, male, and rich. 

If they did, they wouldn’t be stalwart on a piece of legislation that, until this year, was reauthorized unanimously, even under Bush. Why are they against reauthorization now? Because it’s been slightly amended to protect LGBT, immigrants, and Natives from domestic violence. Yes, they’re refusing to reauthorize a protective legislature because it has become more inclusive.

If they gave a shit about women, they would not have kicked out a woman from a conference summoned to speak on a subject that affects only women.

If they gave a shit about anyone but themselves – and if I may remind you, their healthcare is paid for by the taxpayers, they wouldn’t “vote to repeal ObamaCare once a month”. First of all, you don’t need to vote to repeal it once a month, once suffices. Second, if you actually look at some documents, and maybe a college-level history book, you will see that the idea of health insurance was introduced by Edgar Kaiser and Richard Nixon. Watergate tapes exist to prove it. before that, healthcare was universal, and no one died because they couldn’t afford the doctor.

And most certainly, if the GOP gave a shit about anyone but themselves, they would stay out of what non-straight people can do with one another. See: Rick Santorum says he’d overturn the Supreme Court. Rick Santorum needs to either repeat elementary school, watch the Schoolhouse Rock episode on the government, or take some meds for schizophrenia. Or all of the above, in a padded room at Bellevue.

That’s the other thing: since when does any government party have candidates who have absolutely no concept of how the government works? I shouldn’t have to be more intelligent than my government, and my IQ is up there. Go ahead, call me an elitist. It will give me the right to laugh at you until the end of days.

But it gets better. There’s the Fox commentary about women in the military. The equally draconian bills in Virginia.  The “rights of conscience” amendment in regards to Obama’s mandate on birth control.

All of these things have one very disgusting thing in common: the mentality that women should not be having sex on their terms. That women should not be able to enjoy sex on their terms.

That is the true core to this, and that is the core to this war on women: them having sex, and the enjoyment and aftermath thereof. They hate that they don’t have the monopoly on sex, its aftermath, and its enjoyment, and seek to claim that monopoly by any means necessary.

Because all of this, from the abortion restrictions, to the patronizing aspirin remark, to the absolutely non-sequitur and irrelevant commentary on how short the conservative women wear their skirts, all of this totals up to a government-commissioned shame campaign on women. According to those “people”, women cannot possibly have sex and enjoy it, women should not have sex and enjoy it, women should not have sex without getting pregnant (let’s not forget Rick Santorum’s idea on sex lives), and in the event that they do want to have sex, they should be shamed and shamed relentlessly. Want birth control? Can’t have it, you hussy! Got pregnant? You better have that baby, you sex-having slut, and to hell if you can’t afford a baby or you may die trying, those are just excuses. How dare you wear your skirt so short, even if it covers your knees? That is their mentality. That is what they think. That is what they want for women in this country. Barefoot, pregnant, deferring to men, and not daring to open their mouth to complain, because they should just be grateful they’re not dead, anyway.

Just FYI, about that last? The number one cause of death for pregnant women is homicide. Sometimes, I loathe having a crim-justice degree.

And about the whole “Nowhere in the Constitution is the right to birth control and abortion guaranteed”? Actually READ the damn paper, for one, and then note that the rights to autonomy and privacy have been set both by the Amendments and legal precedent.

Link here.


– 4th Amendment prevents unlawful search and seizure of personal property. No property is more personal than one’s own body.

– 9th Amendment is obscure and often unexplored, but it basically states that no one person’s or group’s rights disparage others. Text: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Guess what this means? Your rights stop where other people’s rights begin. In other words, you’re legally prohibited from restricting other people’s rights. This was the basis for the ruling that sealed Roe v. Wade. So that bullshit “conscience” argument doesn’t stand up to legal muster. You can have all the conscience you want, and if your conscience interferes with you not getting your way, tough shit. Legal protection trumps religion any time of day, and separation of church and state, which has been flouted far too many times in recent years, upholds it.

– 14th Amendment guarantees that no individual will be deprived of their life, liberty, and property without due process of law. Again, no property more personal than one’s own body.

Add to that the ruling of Griswold v. Connecticut, which guarantees the right to contraception and is the first mandate for the government to keep its nose out of other people’s sex lives, and you have the totality of circumstances: different bits of legislature combine to create the right to privacy, which is something that people seek to ignore. This same right to privacy was reaffirmed by Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, which protects, again, the mandate for the government to stay the fuck out of people’s bedrooms and the right for gay people to do as they please with each other.

So those Republicans are, on top of everything, breaking the law with their rhetoric. If they would actually be bothered to read the Constitution that they’re claiming to protect, their entire platform would collapse in shambles. Then there’s the case law, which is a lot more difficult to prosecute the breach thereof, but it’s still the law of the land, since – and Rick Santorum forgets that – the only body of government that can overturn the Supreme Court is the Supreme Court itself. My opinion of John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia notwithstanding – and in my opinion, the IRS should audit the ever-loving hell out of those three – I will be shocked to see the Supreme Court overturn precedent. It is rare enough as it is for the Court to reverse precedent. Also, consider that the three women on the Supreme Court – Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg – will not stand for women’s rights being infringed upon like this.

Oh, and just as a food for thought. Considering that childbirth is multiple times over more traumatic than an abortion, carries a higher risk of death than a safe, medical abortion, wreaks havoc on a woman’s body, and is a hell of a lot more physically violent than an abortion, forcing women to undergo that against their own will construes a violation of Amendment #8: cruel and unusual punishment.

So go ahead. Try and tell me that my right to an unoccupied uterus is somehow less important than the right of some fool to get Medicaid-sponsored Viagra, when my right to an unoccupied uterus has been long protected by a legislation over 225 years of age. Try it. See what happens.