Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Telecommuting Is The Future

I've been working out of my home for nearly 8 years now. Rush hour? That's the 6-7 steps I take down the hallway to my office. No fossil fuels burned, no loss of 45 minutes each way, and snowy days like today just look pretty instead of infuriating.

In terms of the efficiency, it can't be beat. I have to believe that telecommuting is the future of work. Why waste so much time and energy just to go to a central gathering place to work? For face time? Meh. I have internet and phones as the tools of my trade. We can teleconference when we need to.

For now, I'm the tip of the iceberg. Old school employers don't trust their employees enough to allow them to work out of the home. They want to look over their shoulders and generally micromanage- which is inefficient enough. In time, though, I have to believe that more professionals will give up on expensive office space and encourage home work.

Certainly, on a day like today, where the schools are on two-hour delay, and the old school employees are cursing Mother Nature and the Department of Public Works for failure to clear the roads adequately, telecommuting becomes very attractive. But every day, I celebrate the time I preserve in not commuting. The advocates of mass transit would point to trains and buses as stress and greenhouse gas reducers. That's thinking small. I've eliminated these things entirely by staying home.

Then again, "I couldn't get to work today," is never an excuse. Off to work I go!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Drunk At The Football Game

I was struck by an Indy Star report, detailing a woman's lousy experience at the Colts-Broncos game, where she was injured by a drunken fan.
The 41-year-old Terre Haute resident and Colts season ticket holder arrived at the stadium with her husband, brother and sister-in-law and settled into their terrace-level seats, waiting for the action to begin.


But it wasn’t long before things turned sour. Voils said a rambunctious group of men behind them, all drinking heavily, grew rowdier and rowdier as the game went on.


Suddenly, in the second quarter, Voils was pummeled.


“Two of the guys fell on top of me,” Voils said. The impact sent her tumbling over her seat until she hit her head two rows down.

The last NFL game I went to was a Colts playoff game, against the NY Jets. It was the last time Peyton Manning played here in Indy, before his homecoming this past weekend.
Manning's last game as a Colt. My last game as a ticket-buying fan.


Despite wearing Colts gear, despite being with three other men, the Colts fan behind me "spilled" a beer on me in the first half, and then filled the hood of my hoodie with beer later in the game. The first incident I blew off as an accident. The second? That was just stupid. I suspect my sense of chivalry prevented me from coming to blows with the fool. She seemed like she was only a day or two over 21.
Thumbs up- prior to the game, prior to the soaking of the hoodie.

I'm not a shrinking violet. I'm a much bigger hockey fan than NFL fan, and because my team is the San Jose Sharks, the closest games are in Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and Columbus. I go to Sharks games there, and I wear my Sharks jerseys. I've gone to playoff games, where the animosity for the opposition is tremendous, in Detroit, St. Louis, and Nashville. Only in Nashville did I have a problem, when a fan spilled a beer on me. He quickly realized he went too far, and was apologizing at least.
Playoff game in Detroit four months later. No problems, good fun.

But me rooting for the home team in Indy? Wearing Colts gear? Not provoking anybody? Yeah- problem.

I don't know how it came to be, but NFL games seem to have become a grand excuse for getting wasted and acting like an idiot. Being from Cleveland and having been in the old Dawg Pound, I can say that the stupidity is actually lower in Indianapolis, but there's still plenty of stupidity. And, I expect it.

“It was just the way Lucas Oil Stadium handled the whole situation,” Voils said. “Here’s somebody bleeding all over the place, and these guys were so intoxicated and they didn’t do squat about it.”

Levengood said he was still investigating the incident and had not yet spoken with Voils and her family when The Star contacted him Monday afternoon.



“We’re always trying to make the fan experience as good as possible,” Levengood said, adding that he only heard many of the details from a Star reporter. “What you’ve just told us is concerning.”

Blah, blah, blah. Stupidity is expected. When that's the case, that's what you get- just like anywhere else in life. My take is that security's job is not to protect the fans (protect the players? Oh, hell yeah!) to keep things from becoming riots. Individuals are going to get annoyed at the least, and a few hurt. The commotion has to be gigantic just to get the attention of security.

I concluded that it would be a while before I went back to a Colts game. Trouble is, my exit doesn't hurt the team's bottom line enough to notice. Tickets are in high demand for a good team. And truly, I don't buy a lot of beer at a game. It's overpriced to the sky, and it isn't the good stuff anyway. They probably do better to swap me out for a rowdy fool drunk.

Another solution could be to more heavily moderate the amount of alcohol fans are allowed to drink inside sporting stadiums, said Brian Frederick, a board member for Sports Fans Coalition, a D.C.-based lobbying group.

At Lucas Oil and other stadiums, fans are already cut off from drinking at the end of the third quarter. But Frederick said the financial incentives for serving alcohol make going any further an unlikely proposition.

“I think there’s just much more incentive to keep serving mass quantities of beer ... than there is to cut people off,” Frederick said. “So you end up with situations in the stands all the time.”

Yes, but to a point. Being a drunken moron is the culture of the NFL fan. Who are the NFL's top sponsors, after all? So, say they cut the sales off at halftime. So what? Ever been tailgating? A good number of fans stumble through the turnstiles blasted out of their minds. Every bar within a mile of the stadium counts on pre-game loading. The 4th Quarter may be better behaved, but watch out for the 2nd & 3rd!

I don't really know how you fix the culture, where getting drunk at the game is expected. I do know that I don't enjoy it. I also know I was not surprised to read this article. It is exactly what I've experienced at every NFL game I've ever been to, spanning 25+ years. That, friends, is a track record.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Sky Is Falling For Amtrak

Someone must have sent out a memo instructing Amtrak supporters to be at their most hyperbolic, most shrill worst earlier this week. I've seen several fairly wacky pleas on behalf of maintaining subsidies for the Hoosier State train, which runs daily between Indianapolis and Chicago.

I've ridden the Hoosier State three times in the past year or so. It's a quaint little train that tends to have two passenger coaches, and plenty of empty seats, on the average day. By Amtrak's numbers, less than 4,000 people ride per months, or 133 per day.

Think about that. We're talking about a political struggle over a train that carries 133 people a day. Glad we've nailed down all the big stuff, like the economy, the wars, our gigantic prison population, and urban decay so that at long last we can fine tune the minutia.

Two subsidies, one federal and one local, are poised to ride into the sunset. From John Ketzenberger at the Indy Star:

Now the $4 million federal subsidy is a lot of money. So is the possible $3 million state subsidy. The Hoosier State line hauls about 3,100 people up to Chicago each month, so the federal per-ticket subsidy is about $107.50. A state subsidy would amount to about $80.60 per ride.

The passenger pays between $38 and $47 for a ticket to ride the Hoosier State line. Apparently the train’s real value, though, is to haul broken cars to Beech Grove and return fixed cars to service.

In this case, Beech Grove maintains 550 good jobs and a $49 million annual payroll if the subsidy is paid. From this Indiana collects more than $1.6 million in income tax and at least twice that in income tax even if the $61 million economic impact estimate’s high.

You could argue the state realizes a net gain in the deal.

You could, but that would be a pretty lousy argument. Let's set aside for now the idea that Amtrak's main business is passenger service, and Ketzenberger concedes the strongest case is for the Hoosier State is something outside Amtrak's core business. So, I did a search on CSX's website, for the cost to transport a car from Chicago to Indianapolis. There wasn't a designation for 'Amtrak passenger coach', so I went with a plain gondola car filled with scrap metal, on the basis it would be heavier than an Amtrak coach, so I would be overestimating the cost. The Horizon coaches weigh about 80 tons, while a gon has a capacity of 110 tons, in addition to the car weight.

So- the cost? $2,443.00 per car. Unfortunately, I can't find info on how many broken cars are hauled to Beech Grove. The best I can do here is to take the cost of the subsidies, which is $7 million. That's good for 2,865 cars per year, or 8 a day. Now, maybe I travel on the wrong day, but I've never seen more than one car hauled on the Hoosier State. Maybe for each of the days I rode and failed to see more cars, there was another day each where 16 extra were lashed to the train for repair. I think I'm being generous here. Amtrak only owns 369 locomotives and 1,384 pieces of rolling stock. Am I to believe that every one of them breaks down every year?

I don't want to see the Beech Grove facilities close. I think we can do better having CSX haul broken cars to Beech Grove at $2,443 than float $7 million in subsidies- especially if we concede that passenger service isn't the best part of the passenger service.

Ketzenberger does provide a clue. If the total subsidy to each rider he cites adds up to $188.10, that's how much the fare needs to be raised to bring it to zero. No need for a political struggle, especially one that sounds so shrill.

Especially over 133 riders/day. It's nutty. That many passengers will cross I-65 in five seconds... when it's moving.
Riding the Hoosier State, wearing a t-shirt with the logo of another of rail's infamous money losers, as my daughter sleeps, blissfully unaware.

I like the Hoosier State, but nobody owes me a ride. Lose the subsidy, hike the fare, and move on.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Blows Against The Empire, Reunited

I was very pleased with how the Blows Against The Empire reunion came off. You know going in to this kind of thing that everything in the world has changed: We're more than twice as old, no longer rebellious kids, but family guys living in the suburbs. Etc. So, driving in to the studio, I actually had butterflies! I haven't had that experience in many, many years. The last I could recall was when I tried a sports radio gig at WHK in Cleveland, back in the mid-90's.

Once I saw Matt in the parking lot, the nerves were gone. We really picked up right where we left off.

There's a lot of prep for a hardcore punk show, so we ran around the WCSB music library with Keith Newman, directing him to pull this record, and that CD. Then, I even ran into Church of the SubGenius chief Rev. Ivan Stang!
The Princess, Rev. Ivan Stang, and me... with fine new programming.

Stang, Princess Wei R. Doe, and I caught up. I brought the Church's "Hour Of Slack" radio show to WCSB back in 1989. It never left, and in fact, Stang moved from Dallas to Cleveland Heights many years ago and WCSB has been the flagship for the Hour of Slack ever since.

About 5 minutes before air time, Keith let us know that it was time. We hadn't even gone over the intros or had him cue any music. Now that was just like old times! And it was perfect. It worked well enough, but not perfectly. Blows Against The Empire always had rough edges, and I told Matt ahead of the show that I would be disappointed if there wasn't any dead air, records started at the wrong speed, record stopped mid-play while live on the air, etc. I wasn't disappointed. It was rough in places, but just the right amount. Major props to Keith for that!
Keith Newman at the helm. Matt Dudas, in character.

My personal highlight was "Mike's Sexual Soapbox". This was a feature that evolved from having to read public service announcements (PSA's) on the air. It seemed there were always safe sex PSA's in the book for us to read, and I read them so often that Matt dubbed it 'Mike's Sexual Soapbox'. He would play the Buzzcocks' great "Orgasm Addict" under my reading. For the reunion? No condoms. We talked about our vasectomies.

Matt & Mike, rocking the house!

 I loved watching Matt react to the music. The old WCSB studios were very small, and Matt loved cranking up the sound and rocking, straight in my face to DRI or Misfits tunes.


To wrap up the festivities, on Thursday, Matt & I will deliver the archive of show tapes and associated papers and effects to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I took my effects for my 'Propaganda' show there almost two years ago, but felt then that it wouldn't have been right to take the Blows Against The Empire tapes in without Matt. It was the right call. It will be a proud moment when we hand them off!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Blows Against The Empire Reunion!

Following the trend of every old rocker with half his salt, I'm doing a reunion show for Blows Against The Empire on WCSB this weekend! It's happening this Sunday at Midnight, in Cleveland, on WCSB 89.3-FM. Listen via live online streaming at www.wcsb.org



Blows was my first radio show, and really, it wasn't even mine to begin with. Matt Dudas had the show for a little less than a year, starting in one of the 4-7am graveyard shifts, playing hardcore, punk, and thrash metal. He paid his dues, and moved into a sweet time slot: Wednesdays, 3-5:30pm.

We actually had a physics class together. These were the days when I wore a punk rock haircut and t-shirts in order to find other likeminded folks. It worked. I had heard the show, and in time, Matt invited me to hang out, for the first time in late 1986.

I had a great time! Matt played some tunes I suggested, and even allowed me to say a few words on air. He had a good enough time with me there that he invited me back. I went back, and kept going back.

I don't know what you know about hardcore punk songs, but for a radio programmer, the main thing to know is that they are short songs. 30 seconds to a minute and a half. These were the days before CDs. WCSB had three turntables and two cassette decks. Hardcore programmers had to be extremely proficient in cueing records and keeping order in the studio, or it would fall apart. Having me around was a big help to Matt, and improved the show in one key sense: The lazy thing to do would be to play almost half an album side in order to buy time. With a division of labor, every song would be off a different record than the one before. It allowed us to present as many bands and recordings as possible.

This mattered, because (cue the old man laff track), in those days, there was no internet. There were limited ways for Cleveland punk fans of finding out about a hardcore band from New Jersey like 76% Uncertain, or Gilman Street bands like Isocracy, or Operation Ivy (which later morphed into Rancid), or Green Day. You might read about the Gilman St. bands in Maximum RockNRoll, but if you wanted to hear them? You'd have to risk your money by mail order, or tune in to WCSB.

Matt & I had an on-air chemistry. Matt was in control of the show, and I was the smart-ass chiming in with remarks. We developed shtick. "Stump The Idiots" was our favorite giveaway segment. In order to win tickets to see The Exploited or Fugazi, or the Pink Holes free show, callers had to stump us with a punk rock trivia question, or say something we thought was absurdly excellent. A winning stump? "How many licks does it take to get the center of a Charms Blow Pop?"

The show ran it's course in 1989 when I was really feeling the need to do my own thing, and Matt was nearing graduation.

So here, nearly 24 years later, we're going to reprise the show. I won't give everything away, except to say that we will do Stump The Idiots for a giveaway, and we will do an edition of Mike's Sexual Soapbox. We will play hardcore & punk. But beyond that, you'll have to listen to find out.

Huge thanks to Keith Newman. He does a show every Sunday night at Midnight called Crap Radio. He is graciously hosting Matt & I for this reunion. I can't thank him enough. Keith, I owe you three!

It's been fun prepping with Matt to get this put together. We found pictures and flyers I hadn't seen in decades. Many thanks to Tony Erba for supplying the flyer of Matt with a Mohawk. I can't wait to let it rip one more time!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

American Band With Visa Problems.. For Touring The USA?

Ok, it's an American band with two British members. Still.

I'll be very interested in streaming WRUW's online signal Monday 8/19 at 9:30am. The 'Defend Cleveland' show will host David Thomas, fka 'Crocus Behemoth', wherein the singer/leader of the legendary innovative Cleveland rock group Pere Ubu will discuss his difficulties in getting his current tour off the ground. From Pere Ubu's website:
"Fans have bought tickets, flights, hotels, and made plans," Pere Ubu's David Thomas said. "We will not let them down."

The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) is the latest and only remaining obstacle. If the band hands over a "consultation fee" of, at least, $300, the union will send a letter to the US Customs & Immigration Service (USCIS) objecting or not objecting to the visa petition.

Two British citizens have been in the group for the last four years. To tour in America with those British citizens, Pere Ubu must prove that the band itself, or the individual musicians, are of 'world class' caliber and have a respected international reputation. Pere Ubu provided the USCIS with voluminous documentation spanning its thirty-eight year history that attested to the group's considerable reputation and nearly universal critical acclaim. The application states that the band must also seek a consultation from an appropriate labor organization.

"It's preposterous," Thomas said. "The USCIS note on their website that a negative or even positive response from a union does not affect their decision. Why, then, are we required to 'pay off' the union?"

"I do not recognize the musician union's authority in this matter," said Thomas

For anyone who scoffs at the notion that government involvement in the arts would have the effect of government selecting 'acceptable art', look no further. Pere Ubu is recognized generally as a pioneer in experimental rock music, and their album 'The Modern Dance' widely praised. But despite the obvious credentials, what should it matter if a band should have any credentials at all? What about bands just starting out, hitting the USA for the first time? Or, what about musicians with challenging sounds, far outside the mainstream? Why does a union have any say about who plays for paying audiences here, let alone the Customs & Immigration Service?

Mr. Thomas went on to say, "I do not question the Government's duty to guard the country's borders. I just wonder what the AFM, or any other business, has to do with it. I would like to point out that there is only one other country on the planet - a small one - that has any such requirements for musical groups. Pere Ubu used to tour behind the 'Iron Curtain.' We came and went freely - not even the East Germans were in any way concerned with the musical nature of our visits. We did once run into a Swiss border guard who told us, 'We don't want your foreign kind of music in our country - we have our own music.' But he had to let us in anyway."

A proposed Congressional bill, recently passed in the Senate, speeds up the visa process for artists, but it hands over more power to arts organizations and the AFM, both already inserted into the US Government's chain of visa approval, to judge the worthiness of artistic and musical expression. The AFM lobbied for the bill's passage.

The Pere Ubu visa petition was submitted in late May. One of the two British musicians involved has previously been granted a visa as a member of Pere Ubu without an AFM consultation.

"Knowing Ubu fans, there will be a spontaneous movement to raise the $300," Thomas concluded. "Do not do it. Our booking agent volunteered the money. We refused it."

I don't blame him. This is bullshit. It's embarrassing that Pere Ubu could more easily tour East Germany than the USA- particularly when half of the band are Cleveland natives, like me.

Pere Ubu is scheduled to play in Bloomington IN at The Bishop, to conclude their tour on Sunday, September 22. I have been planning to go since the date was announced. Let's hope this is yet one more thing the Feds don't louse up.

Here's Pere Ubu playing their most accessible song, "Waiting For Mary". The late Jim Jones is one guitar, and you may recognize some of the backing singers.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Les Paul Black Beauty

I got a real charge out of seeing this post on the Gibson Spain website, where my friend Doug Gillard is listed as an exemplar of that guitar. He's listed before such nobodies as Robbie Krieger, Jimmy Page, and Keith Richards. Got your translation book handy?

Entre las figuras consideradas usuarios fieles de la Black Beauty o quienes simplemente decidieron en alguna etapa importante de sus carreras optar por disfrutar del aura y majestuosidad de este instrumento único, se encuentran guitarristas de la talla de Berton Averre (The Knack), Matthew Caws (Nada Surf), Robert Fripp (King Crimson), Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Steve Hackett (Genesis), James Hetfield (Metallica), Mick Jones (Foreigner), Robbie Krieger (The Doors), Albert Lee (cuya Black Beauty del 1958 se la obsequió Eric Clapton), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), y probablemente el más identificado con el modelo—después del propio Les Paul, por supuesto, nada menos que Peter Frampton.
Rock on, Doug! The above photo was taken last month in Columbus OH, where he joined his old band Death Of Samantha to play a festival. The three below are from the Cleveland's Screaming #3 fest from July 2010, where Doug played two sets- with Children's Crusade and Starvation Army.