Views on politics and current events

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Comments From The Blogosphere

I offer a compedium of remarks about yours truly and the NY Times article.

Men Not at Work -- A Symptom of Manhood in Crisis
Thursday, August 3rd, 2006
by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

This article from Monday's edition of The New York Times is a sign of deep cultural distress -- of men without any sense of shame for not working. In "Men Not Working, And Not Wanting Just Any Job," reporters Louis Uchitelle and David Leonhardt tell an amazing story…

The very fact that The New York Times finds this phenomenon to be of front-page interest tells us something. Such complacency -- matched to an idea that many jobs are just beneath consideration -- flies in the face of our cultural work ethic, such as it is.
For the Christian, of course, the issue is far deeper. We understand that men were made for work, and that a man's responsibility is to care and provide for his wife and family.

As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. [1 Timothy 5:8]

Thus, the Christian worldview sees work as a man's assignment -- an as a Gospel issue. One who fails in this responsibility by complacency and sloth does injury to the Gospel and the cause of Christ. Manhood and masculinity are in crisis, but those at the center of the crisis seem rather unconcerned. Or, at least not concerned to the point that they would take a job they consider beneath them.

Rev. Mohler is a Baptist minister, hence the obligatory quote from scripture, which proves I am not only in danger of losing my manhood, but quite Godless to boot.

Getting Serious about Our Own Security
Steven Muscatello
August 11, 2006

If America loses the war against Islamic fascism, we might well look back upon the story of an unemployed former steelworker in Rock Falls, Ill. as one of many ignored harbingers of our demise. We’d be better off though, to start paying attention now.

Alan Beggerow, 53, the above-mentioned steelworker, was the subject of a recent New York Times article on the growing number of men aged 30-55 electing not to work. We're not talking about a millionaire here. Beggerow, who after 30 years of steady factory work lost his job in 2001, has only $60,000 in savings. Still, he's not looking for work. And he's not alone. According to the Times, about "13 percent of American men [aged 30-55] are not working [and are not looking for work], up from 5 percent in the late 1960's." The Times figures that the difference works out to about 4 million more men not working today than in the 1960's. Wondering how these men will fare as they age, the Times posited three likely scenarios: "they may be forced back to work"; "they may fall into poverty"; "or they may be rescued by the government."

Let's remove the mystery:In choosing not to work despite lacking the financial means to do so, these men are clearly counting on government rescue. In fact, the Times reported that the "fastest growing source" of financial support for men choosing not to work is a "patchwork system of government support."

We shouldn't be surprised.

In America, we've spent the better part of the last century expanding the federal government and shrinking the sphere of individual responsibility. Thus, we have actually encouraged individuals to count on government rescue. Indeed, millions of Americans now view government as a third party entity, a sort of cracked open piƱata, not as an institution granted limited powers—not to mention funded—by individual citizens.

What, then, does this have to do with the war against Islamic fascism?

Consider that once a man abdicates his duty—indeed, sees no need—to provide for himself and his family financially, he will see even less need to defend—by force, political action or intellectual engagement—his country.

We’ve played the charade game for too long, believing that we could cavalierly weaken the will of individual citizens without it having a negative affect on the strength of the country as a whole. And now, after decades of this collective softening-around-the-belly, we come face-to-face with a mortal enemy.

Are we up for the challenge?

Not yet.

Success in the war against Islamic fascism depends on many things: military might, economic vitality, and public resolve come to mind first. These three factors, however, ultimately depend on the overall seriousness of individual American citizens. Serious countries budget to maintain a robust national defense; they find ways to grow their economies in wartime and they elect and support serious, sober-minded public officials. Serious countries win wars.

At the moment, however, we are a fundamentally unserious country. We see this lack of seriousness everywhere, it seems. Indeed, we see it in a May 2006 poll that found that over 60 percent of Americans aged 18-24 couldn’t find Iraq on a map of the Middle East. We see it in the way the media denounced President Bush’s private, off-the-cuff remarks to Tony Blair at the G-8 Summit last month, as though the style of dialogue, and not the content of conversation, was of consequence. Most glaringly, we see it in the way an entire political party has abandoned the world of serious, sober thought for the greener pastures of delusion (see Murtha, Jack; Dean, Howard; Lamont, Ned, et. al).

Now think of Islamic fascism. Really, do it for a minute or two. Is there anything about these perverted, quasi-religious lunatics that strikes you as unserious?

Didn’t think so.

Islamic fascists are deadly serious. They want to kill infidels and establish an Islamic caliphate, and they often sacrifice their very lives to do so.

In response, America needs a new birth of seriousness. We need to redevelop, like a runner training for a marathon, the mental toughness, physical stamina, emotional resolve—in short, the self-reliant confidence—necessary for victory. It starts with individual citizens like Mr. Beggerow, who could begin by getting a job.

Heaven's to Betsy, I'm not only Godless, but if we don't win the war on terror, it's all my fault!

Psycho Phil - DRINK MORE BEER!
Men Not Working, and Not Wanting Just Any Job
I’ll admit I was a bit dumbstruck when I read this article. I don’t get the mindset of these men at all. They are perfectly capable of working and producing an income but since they feel that whatever job that can find at the moment is ‘beneath’ them, they are instead content to slack off, do nothing productive and leech off their wives and taxpayers. All while steaming headfirst into bankrupty. I could never even imagine doing something like this. I wouldn’t able to look at myself in the mirror in the morning.

Hell, I’ve even been there many years ago. I could have just sat on my ass an collected unemployment, but instead I took the only job I could find at time. It was part time at a Software Etc store and it payed less than what an unemployment check would have. But it was a job. A year later and I was the manager of the Software Etc store in the Inner Harbor Galleria. And by that time the job paid more than an unemployment check. A hell of a lot more.

Get off your ass, get a job and work. Do something. Hell, plant a garden and open a roadside stand. Maybe with some actual hard work you could build that up into a full-fledged business. But I guess its just easier to sit on your butt and wait for the cushy job to come knocking on your door.

Edit: Apparently this article is making the rounds in the blogs.

I'm certainly going to take this to heart, from someone whose byline on their blog is DRINK MORE BEER! Although that's not bad advice I suppose if you like beer.

Someone else may already have ranted about this July 31, 2006 NY Times article: Men Not Working, and Not Wanting Just Any Job..

ROCK FALLS, Ill. — Alan Beggerow has stopped looking for work. Laid off as a steelworker at 48, he taught math for a while at a community college. But when that ended, he could not find a job that, in his view, was neither demeaning nor underpaid...

The article goes on to describe Mr. Beggerow’s life of leisure, copious reading, practicing piano, writing bad novels, and sleeping 9-plus hours a day. See, he has come to value how much his free time means to him, and doesn’t want to give it up.

This pisses me off on a lot of levels. I’ve known a couple of guys who have done this — one is my asshole brother-in-law; the other is a guy who owned a small computer-networking business with his wife. Both of them — though skilled and educated — decided that they just didn’t want to work. My brother-in-law claimed that he just couldn’t find a job that was good enough for him (actually he didn’t even look; he didn’t want to work); the computer guy just got “tired” of running his own business, but “didn’t like” working for other people because he didn’t get enough “respect”, so stopped working altogether.

Both of these men shared two commonalities.

First, while they wouldn’t consider taking a job they considered beneath their dignity, it was quite all right to have their wives work at low-level, low-paying jobs to pay the bills and get medical insurance. My sister worked the night shift at Wal-mart for several years, while the other guy’s wife has worked a series of retail sales jobs to make ends meet.

Second, both men are rabid Republicans, resentful of paying taxes, constantly bitching about all the lazy bums on “welfare” and sucking up public money. Of course, the reason those people were poor is just because they are lazy and don’t want to work.

WTF? Now, I know my brother-in-law sucked up every bit of unemployment he could get, lying about his efforts at looking for work. His other method of getting money was stealing the inheritances from family members — manipulating his wet-brained father into signing property over before his death, and not distributing the remainder of the estate between himself and his brother (the parents died intestate) until the brother just gave up. How does stealing from your parents and your only sibling make you a better person than someone who applies for and receives government assistance to get ahead?

Which leads to the other tidbit in the NY Times article that really pissed me off:

But the fastest growing source of help is a patchwork system of government support, the main one being federal disability insurance, which is financed by Social Security payroll taxes…

So, we have skilled men, who could work if they wanted to but, since the work available is “too demeaning”, during their prime earning years prefer to suck off their wives and their relatives, deplete their retirement savings so they will be dependent upon public programs in their old age, and apply for and receive disability payments — disability payments financed by the payroll taxes of the rest of us chumps who do work, including payroll taxes of the working poor whom they castigate as being morally inferior.

And if they are like the two men I know, they bitch about how the system is going to hell in a handbasket, how a white man just can’t make it with all those Mexicans and women taking all the good jobs, so that they are entitled to cheat and game the system. They take absolutely no responsibility for improving either their own situations, or the situation of other workers.

Hey, pal! How do you know my novels are bad? You ever read one? This post is from a 'liberal' blogger. Well, whatever he wants to call himself.

August 02, 2006
Not "I Can't Pay The Rent" ADVICE GODDESS
"I don't feel like paying the rent," or rather, doing what it takes to pay the rent. Louis Uchitelle and David Leonhardt write in The New York Times of men I'll call "The New Lazies" -- men who are out of work, but turning down jobs they feel are "beneath them," and sometimes going on "disability."

Hmmm, disability must sound like a magic, bottomless pot of money to these people, but perhaps they could urge their fallow minds into use and recognize that this means their lives are being financed by their fellow taxpayers. Here's an excerpt from the story:

These are men? I've had a number of jobs I didn't want or like. I worked as a mover at an all-girls moving company (and I am NOT strong of arm) and I worked as a chicken (in a chicken suit, handing out flyers). You do what you need to do to support yourself. Well, you do if you're me, and apparently, I'm something of an idiot with my outmoded ideas against going on the dole.

Whatever you say, oh humble ADVICE GODDESS.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Men Not Working, and Not Wanting Just Any Job

New York Times July 31, 2006

ROCK FALLS, Ill. — Alan Beggerow has stopped looking for work. Laid off as a steelworker at 48, he taught math for a while at a community college. But when that ended, he could not find a job that, in his view, was neither demeaning nor underpaid.

So instead of heading to work, Mr. Beggerow, now 53, fills his days with diversions: playing the piano, reading histories and biographies, writing unpublished Western potboilers in the Louis L’Amour style — all activities once relegated to spare time. He often stays up late and sleeps until 11 a.m.

“I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me,” he said. To make ends meet, he has tapped the equity in his home through a $30,000 second mortgage, and he is drawing down the family’s savings, at the rate of $7,500 a year. About $60,000 is left. His wife’s income helps them scrape by. “If things really get tight,” Mr. Beggerow said, “I might have to take a low-wage job, but I don’t want to do that.”

Millions of men like Mr. Beggerow — men in the prime of their lives, between 30 and 55 — have dropped out of regular work. They are turning down jobs they think beneath them or are unable to find work for which they are qualified, even as an expanding economy offers opportunities to work.

About 13 percent of American men in this age group are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960’s. The difference represents 4 million men who would be working today if the employment rate had remained where it was in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Most of these missing men are, like Mr. Beggerow, former blue-collar workers with no more than a high school education. But their ranks are growing at all education and income levels. Refugees of failed Internet businesses have spent years out of work during their 30’s, while former managers in their late 40’s are trying to stretch severance packages and savings all the way to retirement.

Accumulated savings can make dropping out more affordable at the upper end than it is for Mr. Beggerow, but the dynamic is often the same — the loss of a career and of a sense that one’s work is valued.

“These are men forced to compete to get back into the work force, and even then they cannot easily reconstruct what many lost in a former job,” said Thomas A. Kochan, a labor and management expert at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “So they stop trying.”

Many of these men could find work if they had to, but with lower pay and fewer benefits than they once earned, and they have decided they prefer the alternative. It is a significant cultural shift from three decades ago, when men almost invariably went back into the work force after losing a job and were more often able to find a new one that met their needs.

“To be honest, I’m kind of looking for the home run,” said Christopher Priga, who is 54 and has not had steady work since he lost a job with a six-figure income as an electrical engineer at Xerox in 2002. “There’s no point in hitting for base hits,” he explained. “I’ve been down the road where I did all the things I was supposed to do, and the end result of that is nil.” Instead, Mr. Priga supports himself by borrowing against the rising value of his Los Angeles home. Other men fall back on wives or family members.

But the fastest growing source of help is a patchwork system of government support, the main one being federal disability insurance, which is financed by Social Security payroll taxes. The disability stipends range up to $1,000 a month and, after the first two years, Medicare kicks in, giving access to health insurance that for many missing men no longer comes with the low-wage jobs available to them. No federal entitlement program is growing as quickly, with more than 6.5 million men and women now receiving monthly disability payments, up from 3 million in 1990. About 25 percent of the missing men are collecting this insurance.

The ailments that qualify them are usually real, like back pain, heart trouble or mental illness. But in some cases, the illnesses are not so serious that they would prevent people from working if a well-paying job with benefits were an option.
The disability program, in turn, is an obstacle to working again. Taking a job holds the risk of demonstrating that one can earn a living and is thus no longer entitled to the monthly payments. But staying out of work has consequences. Skills deteriorate, along with the desire for a paying job and the habits that it requires.
“The longer you stay on disability benefits,” said Martin H. Gerry, deputy commissioner for disability and income security at the Social Security Administration, “the longer you’re out of the work force, the less likely you are to go back to work.”

As a rule, out-of-work men are less educated than the population as a whole. Their numbers have grown sharply among black men and men who live in hard-hit industrial areas like Michigan, West Virginia and upstate New York, as well as those who live in rural states like Mississippi and Oklahoma.

The missing men are also more likely to live alone. Nearly 60 percent are divorced, separated, widowed or never married, up from 50 percent a decade earlier, the Census Bureau reports. Sometimes women who are working throw out men who are not, says Kathryn Edin, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania. In any case, without a household to support, there is less pressure to work, and for men who fall behind on support payments, an incentive exists to work off the books — hiding employment — so that wages cannot be garnisheed.

“What happens to a lot of guys who become unmoored from family life, they become unmoored from everything,” Ms. Edin said. “They are just living without attachments and by the time they are 40 or 50 years old, the things that kept these men from falling away — family and community life — are gone.”

Even as more men are dropping out of the work force, more women are entering it. This change has occurred partly because employment has shrunk in industries where men predominated, like manufacturing, while fields where women are far more common, like teaching, health care and retailing, have grown. Today, about 73 percent of women between 30 and 54 have a job, compared with 45 percent in the mid-1960’s, according to an analysis of Census data by researchers at Queens College. Many women without jobs are raising children at home, while men who are out of a job tend to be doing neither family work nor paid work.

Women are also making inroads in fields where they were once excluded — as lawyers and doctors, for example, and on Wall Street. Men still make significantly more money than women, but as women become more educated than men, even more men may end up out of the work force.

At the low end of the spectrum, men emerging from prison with felony records are not easily absorbed into steady employment. Hundreds of thousands of young men were jailed in the 1980’s and 1990’s, in a surge of convictions for drug-related crimes. As prisoners, they were not counted in the employment data; as ex-prisoners they are. They are now being freed in their 30’s and 40’s and are struggling to be hired. Roughly two million men in this group have prison records, according to a calculation by Richard Freeman and Harry J. Holzer, labor economists at Harvard and the Urban Institute, respectively.Many of these men do not find work because of their records.

Despite their great numbers, many of the men not working are missing from the nation’s best-known statistic on unemployment. The jobless rate is now a low 4.6 percent, yet that number excludes most of the missing men, because they have stopped looking for work and are therefore not considered officially unemployed. That makes the unemployment rate a far less useful measure of the country’s well-being than it once was.

Indeed, a larger share of working-age men are not working today than at almost any point in the last half-century, which raises the question of how they will get by as they age. They may be forced back to work after years of absence, they may fall into poverty, or they may be rescued by the government. This same trend is evident in other industrialized countries. In the European Union, 14 percent of men between 25 and 54 were not working last year, up from 7 percent in 1975, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Over the same period in Japan, the proportion of such men rose to 8 percent from 4 percent.

In these countries, too, decently paying blue-collar jobs are disappearing, and as they do men who held them fall back on government benefits for income. But the growth of subsidies through federal and state programs like disability insurance has happened largely without notice in this country while it is a major topic of political debate in Europe.

“We have a de facto welfare system as Europe does,” said Teresa Ghilarducci, a labor economist at the University of Notre Dame. “But we are not proud of it, as they are.”

Reading, Sleeping, Scraping By

Alan Beggerow has not worked regularly in the five years since the steel mill that employed him for three decades closed. He and his wife, Cathleen, 47, cannot really afford to live without his paycheck. Yet with her sometimes reluctant blessing, Mr. Beggerow persists in constructing a way of life that he finds as satisfying as the work he did only in the last three years of his 30-year career at the mill. The trappings of this new life surround Mr. Beggerow in the cluttered living room of his one-story bungalow-style home in this half-rural, half-industrial prairie town west of Chicago. A bookcase covers an entire wall, and the books that Mr. Beggerow is reading are stacked on a glass coffee table in front of a comfortable sofa where he reads late into the night — consuming two or three books a week — many more than in his working years.
He also gets more sleep, regularly more than nine hours, a characteristic of men without work. As the months pass, they average almost nine-and-a-half hours a night, about 80 minutes more than working men, according to an analysis of time-use surveys by Harley Frazis and Jay Stewart, economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Very few of the books Mr. Beggerow reads are novels, and certainly not the escapist Westerns that he himself writes (two in the last five years), his hope being that someday he will interest a publisher and earn some money. His own catholic tastes range over history — currently the Bolshevik revolution and a biography of Charlemagne — as well as music and the origins of Christianity. He often has strong views about what he has just read, which he expresses in reviews that he posts on 124 so far, he said.

Always on the coffee table is a thick reference work, “Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire” by Maurice Hinson. Mr. Beggerow is a serious pianist now that he has the time to practice, sometimes two or three hours at a stretch. He does so on an old upright in a corner of the living room, a piano he purchased as a young steelworker, when he first took lessons.

His new life began in the spring of 2001 with the closing of Northwestern Wire and Steel in Sterling, Ill., where he had worked since 1971. During the last three of those 30 years, Mr. Beggerow found himself assigned to work he really liked: as a union representative on union-management teams that assessed every aspect of the plant’s operations.

What made him valuable was his dexterity as a writer. No one could put together committee reports as articulately as he did, and he found himself on nearly every team. His salary rose to $50,000. During those years, he taught himself more math, too, to help in the analyses of the issues that the teams tackled: productivity, safety, plant layout and the like.
“I actually loved that job,” he said. “I even looked forward to going to work. The more teams they had, the more they found out what I could do and the more I found out what I could do.”

Mr. Beggerow would take another job in a heartbeat, he says, if it were like the work he did in those last three years at Northwestern. The closest he has gotten has been as an instructor at a community college, teaching plant maintenance and other useful factory skills. His students were from nearby manufacturing companies, which subsidized the courses, including his pay of $45 an hour. But factory operations in the area are shrinking, and Mr. Beggerow has not had a teaching stint since November.

Like Mr. Beggerow, the great majority of the missing men are out of the work force for months or years at a time rather than drifting in and out of jobs. There appears to have been no rise since the 1960’s in the percentage of men out of work for short periods, according to research by Chinhui Juhn, a University of Houston professor, and other economists.

Mr. Beggerow will not take a lesser job, he says, because of his bitter memories of earlier years at Northwestern Wire, particularly the 1980’s, when the industry was in turmoil. A powerful man, over 6 feet and 200 pounds, he worked then as a warehouseman.

What got to him was not the work. It was the frequent furloughs, the uncertainty whether he would be recalled, the mandatory overtime and 50-hour weeks often imposed when he did return, the schedules that forced him to work every holiday except Christmas, and then, as rising seniority finally gave him some protection, a six-month strike in 1983 followed by a wage cut. His pay shrank to $13 an hour from $17, a loss he did not fully recover until those last three years. “I was always thinking if there was some way I could get out of this, do something else,” Mr. Beggerow said. “What made me so upset was the insecurity of it all and the humiliation. I don’t want to take a job that would put me through that again.”

Shortly after Northwestern closed, Mr. Beggerow married. It was his third marriage, and also Cathleen’s third. He has one adult child by the first wife; Cathleen has no children. For six months they lived on his $12,000 from a shrunken pension and her $28,000 as a factory worker — until severe injuries in an auto accident five months after their wedding forced her out of that job. She eventually qualified for $12,000 a year in disability insurance.

Their two incomes are not enough to cover expenses, which bothers Mrs. Beggerow, although not enough to badger her husband to take a job, any job. She respects him too much for that, she says. Instead, she finds ways to make money herself, in activities she enjoys. She is taking in work as a seamstress, baking pastries for parties and selling merchandise for others on eBay, collecting a fee. Still, she says, she hopes to land a part-time clerical job. “The comfort of a paycheck every week would take a load off my mind,” she said.

While she is tolerant of her husband’s reluctance to work, respecting his current pursuits, she is not above looking for a job he would consider suitable. “I look at the employment ads every day,’’ she said, “and every so often I find one that I think might be right up his alley.”

Less Concern About the Future

Recently there was an opening for an editor-writer at a small travel magazine published in a nearby town. “I applied,” Mr. Beggerow said, “but the publisher did not seem to want someone my age.”

Meanwhile the Beggerows’ savings are shrinking. This year, for the first time, they have drawn down so much from their 401(k)’s they have been forced to pay early-withdrawal penalties. But Mr. Beggerow resists being stampeded. “The future is always a concern, but I no longer allow myself to dwell on it,” he said, waving aside, in his new and precarious life, the preparations for retirement and old age that were a feature of his 30 years as a steelworker. “When you are in the mode of having money coming in,” he explained, “naturally you think about planning and saving. And then when you don’t have the money coming in, you think less about the future, at least money-wise. It is still a concern, but not a concern that keeps me up at night, not in this life that I am now leading.”

Men like Mr. Beggerow, neither working nor looking for a job, also have become more common in the popular culture, making the phenomenon more acceptable. On the television show “Seinfeld,” Cosmo Kramer, who did not work, and George Costanza, who regularly lost jobs, were beloved figures. Personal-finance magazines whose circulations have grown rapidly over the last 25 years also encourage not working — by telling readers how to afford retirement at 50 and by painting not working as the good life, which it apparently is for a small number of wealthy men. About 8 percent of non-working men between 30 and 54 lived in households that had more than $100,000 of income in 2004.

“Men don’t feel a need to be in a career, not as much as they once did,” said Ruth Milkman, a sociologist at the University of California at Los Angeles. “Nor do men have the incentive they once had to pursue a career, not when employers are no longer committed to them.”

Mr. Priga, the former Xerox engineer who lives in Los Angeles, has been wandering in this latter Diaspora. He is a tall, thin man with a perpetually dour expression. His dress — old jeans and a faded khaki shirt — seemed out of place in the upscale Beverly Hills restaurant where he was interviewed for this article. But his education and skill were not out of place.

Mr. Priga is an electrical engineer skilled in computer technology, and much involved, as he tells the story, in writing early versions of Internet and e-mail software for banks and other companies. A divorce in 1996 left him with custody of his three children. One of them had behavioral problems and to care for the boy he dropped out of steady work for a while, mortgaging his house to raise money and designing Web sites as a freelancer.

He re-entered the work force in 2000, joining Xerox at just over $100,000 a year as a systems designer for a new project, which did not last. In the aftermath of the dot-com bust, Xerox downsized and Mr. Priga was let go in January 2003.

From Prison to Joblessness

“I’ve been through a lot of layoffs over the years, and there is a certain procedure you follow,” he said. “You contact the headhunters. You go looking for other work. You do all of that, and this time around it didn’t work.” So he went back to designing Web sites as a freelancer, postponing the purchase of health insurance. No work has come his way since March, and even if people had hired him to design Web sites for them, Mr. Priga would not consider that real employment.
His father is his standard. At Mr. Priga’s age, 54, “my father was with Rockwell International designing the fiber optic backbone for U.S. Navy ships,” he said. “He got a regular paycheck. He had retirement benefits, medical benefits, all of that. I’m at that age and I don’t see that as even possible. I’ve kind of written off the idea completely. I’m more like a casual laborer.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics determines who is working through a monthly survey of 65,000 representative households. People are asked if they did any work for pay in the week before the survey, including self-employment. For Mr. Beggerow and Mr. Priga, the answer has been no.
The same goes for Rodney Bly, a 41-year-old Philadelphia man struggling with a prison record, although he has had income — from off-the-books work that he refuses to think of as employment.

Mr. Bly, a lanky, neatly dressed six-footer, was in and out of jail, mostly on drug convictions, from 1996 until 2003, but has been clean since then, he said in an interview last month. He has even been a leader of an Alcoholics Anonymous-style group of former addicts who meet regularly and do their best to stay off drugs and out of jail. Mr. Bly has been living in a recovery shelter for addicts and shows up occasionally for meals at St. Francis Inn, a soup kitchen and health clinic in a poor North Philadelphia neighborhood that tries to help ex-convicts get work and keep it.

He has worked pretty regularly, distributing flyers. But that brings him only $270 a week, most of which goes to the shelter for rent, utilities and food. More to the point, the work is off the books, which makes Mr. Bly invisible in the national statistics as a member of the work force.
Still, he has a girlfriend, reports Karen Pushaw, a staff member at St. Francis, “and that grounds him, keeps him looking for legitimate work.”

Ms. Pushaw tries to help. At her encouragement, he applied for 25 jobs this spring but received no offers, not even an interview. The obstacle is two felony convictions, one for car theft, the other for three instances of drug possession. “Because of the two felonies, I can’t get a job as a security guard or a sales person or a short-order cook,” Mr. Bly said. “I can be a pot washer or a dish washer, but I can’t get a job that pays more than $8 an hour, not a legitimate one. I’m excluded.”
Amanda Cox contributed reporting for this article from New York.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Trip To Chicago

Or: Here He Comes! Ever’body Hide And I’ll Ambush Him At The Pass!

Due to popular request from my friends (all three of them) I have written the following trip report. It is the truth (mostly) and covers events before, during and after my trip to Chicago for an interview with Tucker Carlson.

Monday, July 31st, 2006 9:00 AM
- Today is the day the article featuring yours truly was published in the New York Times. The phone rang, the wife answered, said it was for me. A very pleasant female voice answered:
Adrian : Hello, Alan Beggerow?
Me: Yes.
Adrian: This is Adrian from the Tucker Carlson show.
Me: Who?
Adrian: Tucker read the article in the New York Times, and has said get Alan here for an interview!
Me: No kiddin’?
Adrian: Would you be willing to do that?
Me: Sure.
Adrian: Alright! Thank you! We’re gonna make this happen! We’re gonna make this happen! Is there a television station in Rock Falls?
Me: Uh, no.
Adrian: What’s the nearest big city?
Me: Oh, either Rockford or the Quad Cities. Each about an hour’s drive.
Adrian: Good! We’ll get this done today! Alright!

Adrian gave me her number and said she would call me back with all the details. As I hung up the phone, my wife asked me who it was. I told her, it was the Tucker Carlson show requesting an interview.

“Who?” she replied.
“Tucker Carlson.”
“Who’s that?”
“He’s got a show on MSNBC and wants an interview.”
Evidently my propensity for leg-pulling caused her to doubt my sincerity, for she said, “Will you be serious!”

After my assurances that it indeed was the truth, I settled in to wait for the return call in front of the computer. I went to the on-line version of The New York Times and looked at the picture of my wife, me (and our little dog too) on the front page. Is this what Andy Warhol meant when he said, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”?

9:45 AM - Adrian is back on the phone. No mention is made of Rockford or the Quad Cities. Now it’s Madison, Wis. or Chicago. I told her it didn’t matter to me if they were going to drive me either place. She responded with her usual enthusiasm, “We’re gonna make this happen!” and told me she’d call back.

In the meantime, another phone call. This time it was Ron Mott from the NBC Today show. Gosh, by now my normally modest nature was being threatened by thoughts of over-importance. He wanted an interview that same afternoon. I regretfully had to tell him that I was already committed to the Tucker Carlson show, and was not available in the afternoon. After some pleading (at least I took it to be pleading) from the reporter to cancel my previous engagement and take his, I stood firm in my resolve to honor my commitments, no matter how much my fame increased.

Now I’ve always been a daydreamer, even been known to develop some wild fantasies in my vivid imagination. But I never thought that two major television shows would ever be fighting over an interview with me. This is by no means the most desirable fantasy I’ve ever had. My fantasy as a young man that two raving, buxom beauty queens were fighting over my attentions still holds the #1 spot for that. But at my age, two television shows fighting over me will do.

So I sat and waited for the phone to ring. Within the next two hours, it rang incessantly. Adrian called me, someone that works for Adrian called me, and someone that worked for the one that worked for Adrian called me. I had to email them a picture of my wife and myself, the interview would now be held in Chicago, would I agree to have a car pick me up and take me there. As I felt my fame increasing, I suddenly realized that all of the calls and the interview itself weren’t for my benefit. It was all for the benefit of the show and its ratings. I knew of Tucker Carlson’s reputation, and had seen his show before. He’s an ultra-conservative, and I wondered how he would treat me in an interview. The Times article more or less was making the point that for so many men my age to be out of work meant that perhaps, just perhaps the economy wasn’t doing as well as the administration says. Would Tucker roast my butt, or would he be nice?

12:00 NOON- Adrian called and said they couldn’t get a car to take me to Chicago on such short notice. She offered to pay me $200 to drive myself into Chicago to the NBC Tower downtown. I’ve been to downtown Chicago 4 times in my entire life. My driving skills are good, and I’ve driven in big cities before. But call me a coward, I won’t drive in downtown Chicago. Not even for 200 bucks. For me to turn down that kind of money must mean I’m serious. The tones that Adrian had in her voice almost made me change my mind. It sounded like someone just ran over her dog or slapped her mother. It was a terrible sound, unlike the exuberant voice I’d heard before. But it was only momentary. With renewed vigor and a return to her optimistic, get-‘er-done voice she told me she’d call right back. She was going to make this happen! After so many calls and aborted plans, I must admit I was beginning to wonder.

1:45 PM- Adrian called right back. Would I consider driving to Madison Wisconsin to the NBC affiliate there? For $200? I was starting to feel more important by the minute, so I decided to do a little negotiating. Seeings how Madison was further away than Chicago, how ‘bout making it $300? “Yes! Absolutely! We’re gonna make this happen! Yes!”, she said, over and over. By this time, her rah-rah attitude was wearing thin.

I told her I could be on the way within 15 minutes. Didn’t tell her, but I needed a shower. Can’t be going on national TV smelling like a skunk, you know. And 15 minutes, despite the large surface area I have to wash, is sufficient to do a thorough job. I’ve been doing it a long time, and have gotten rather efficient at it. She said ‘Great! Be at the studio by 3:15! Here’s the address…” It was then I realized she actually had no idea where Rock Falls IL is, for it takes at least 2 hours to get to Madison from here. When I told her that, her voice changed again. With regret, she told me it just wasn’t going to work out. But she assured me she wouldn’t give up, and would try again tomorrow.

I thought about calling the Today show reporter, but I was tired of talking on the phone. Besides, I didn’t want to seem like I was over-anxious. That wouldn’t fit my image as a person of fame, now would it? No, by golly! They want me, they can call me! Who do they think they are anyway?

Tuesday, August 1st, 10:00 AM - The phone rings, but instead of Adrian’s voice it is Ron Mott from the Today show. We talked, and arranged for an interview at 2:15 PM, as I had a previous appointment at 1:00. It was nice to talk to someone on the phone that wasn’t so effervescent. So the Tucker Carlson show lost out! Good enough for them! The today show was a lock, didn’t have umpteen phone calls. Good riddance!

12:50 PM – I’m on my way to my appointment and my cell phone rings. It’s the photographer for the Today show. He’s gotten into town early and wanted to come to the house and set up his gear. I assured him that I would be tied up until 2, but that he could go to the house and wait if he liked.

2:05 PM – I turned the corner on the street to my house with visions of an NBC vehicle parked in my driveway. With neighbors standing in their front yards and looking out their windows gawking and wondering what was going on. I got to my house and my vision was shattered. No NBC vehicle, no gawking neighbors. Now what?

My wife was standing by the phone and said, “You’ve got a message.” She played the message back, and it was Ron Mott. The photographer was suddenly reassigned to cover another story, as the head honchos at The Today Show had changed their minds and pulled the story. Oh well, such is the price of fading fame. But I did wonder. Just what story could be more important than an interview with me? Was it the Mel Gibson DUI story? Could it be that The Today Show thought a sordid tale of a raving intoxicated movie star was more newsworthy than an interview with a charismatic guy like myself? I was finding out just how fickle and unpredictable the media can be. And the Tucker Carlson Show didn’t call either. My despondency at the turn of events was overwhelming, so I took a nap.

Wednesday, August 2nd, 10:00 AM - Guess who’s on the phone. “We’re gonna get this done! Yes!” Lucky me. Adrian asked me if I was free today for the interview. I told her to hang on a minute and I’d check my appointment book. I riffled through the phone book to make it sound good. I then answered that by some quirk of fate, my usually full calendar was uncharacteristically void of obligations for the day. Another barrage of rah-rahs, and she told me she’d call me right back.

10:42 AM –
Adrian calls and says there will be a car to pick me up and take me to Chicago at my house by 1:30. I tell her we can’t get there by 3:15 if we leave at 1:30. She assures me the livery service guarantees that they will get me to Chicago in time. Whatever. It’s your money.

10:47 AM - Adrian calls. The livery service has got a vehicle but no driver. Would I be willing to drive to Chicago myself for $200? Hmmm…seems to me we’ve had this conversation before. No, I won’t drive to Chicago. She’ll call me back.

11:07 AM - Adrian calls. Am I sure I won’t drive to Chicago? I reassure her I won’t, but that I’m still open to driving to Madison. For $300 that is. She’ll call me back.

11:15 AM – Guess who? She’d rather I go to Chicago. Madison’s out. She’ll attempt to get a vehicle (and a driver with it). She’ll call me back.

11:25 AM – Got a driver AND a vehicle. They’ll pick me up at 1:30. I don’t even bother to tell her it’s not enough time for the trip.

11:55 AM – All right, here’s the low-down. The livery service thought I lived in Rockford instead of Rock Falls. It is possible to get to Chicago from Rockford if you leave at 1:30, but not if you leave from Rock Falls. How did I know this? Adrian told me. Her voice was full of emotion and pleading as she asked if a vehicle picked me up at 1:00 SHARP, if I would PLEASE consent to the interview. As much as I was enjoying hearing a woman beg, I told her yes. You can imagine her reaction. It was sickening. My reaction by this time could be described as underwhelming. I would believe it when I was in the vehicle on my way to Chicago.

1:00 PM SHARP! – The livery vehicle pulls up to our house. By this time my wife had asked to go along. I made her give a solemn promise that she wouldn’t try to steal my thunder, and she agreed. We were escorted by the driver to a very nice van, and away we went.

2:00 PM – We’re making excellent time, already passed the Dekalb rest stop a while ago. The driver listened to the Chicago traffic reports on the radio and seemed to know what he was doing. Speaking of the driver, I’ve known some name droppers in my day. You know, the people that drop names of other people and expect that you actually know who in the hell they’re talking about. The driver didn’t drop names of people, but names of places he’d worked. He was in his sixties, and had worked for many different companies in many different capacities. He rattled off these names with great pride, but I wasn’t too impressed. I didn’t know most of them, and besides, I had worked for the same company for 30 years (30 years, 4 months and 2 days, to be precise), so it sounded like this guy had trouble holding a job. That, or he had learned the value of being a moving target.

He prattled about all the different companies so fast, that I couldn’t understand him most of the time, but here’s some examples: Rottenblumer Corp. as a salesman; Inkledinkle International as a quality control engineer (I think they make widgets); Taught a Dale Carnegie Course, and a myriad of other jobs. He now is retired and works as a driver for the livery service, between 45-60 hours a week. I suppose the definition of retirement is a personal thing, but those kinds of hours don’t sound like retirement to me. But perhaps, despite his constant changing of jobs, he slowed down with age and couldn’t be as swift of a moving target. The steady drone of the tires on the pavement and Mr. Important’s voice caused me to nod off occasionally. But it didn’t bother him. When I woke up, he was still talking. Perhaps he was used to others doing the same thing.

During his monologue, he was talking about how the economy has changed, how it was getting more difficult for companies to be competitive. I agreed. He then proceeded to lay the lion’s share of the blame onto organized labor. I didn’t agree, and suggested that we change the subject. Evidently the look on my face told the story, for he went back to name dropping.

2:15 PM – Interspersed within his monologue, the driver’s cell phone was constantly ringing, with most calls coming from his wife. I can relate. A cell phone in the hands of a wife can be an annoyance at best and dangerous at worst. As soon as he hung up, I heard it ring again. He fumbled for his phone, but realized it wasn’t his phone ringing.

“Oh, that must be MY cell phone ringing,” I said. It was the reporter from the NY Times. He just wanted to know how things were going. I told him what was up, and he gave me some advice, “Whatever you do, don’t admit to being lazy.” Strange advice, I thought. I was later to find out it was good advice.

2:40 PM – I might as well have country bumpkin stamped on my forehead, because every time I’ve been to downtown Chicago I’m always looking up in the air at the buildings. But it’s a natural reaction for someone from an area where the tallest structure is the city water tower down the road.

The driver, despite his monotony, knew how to drive downtown. Weaving in and out, cutting off buses and taxi cabs, creating his own lane of traffic when necessary. His goal was to get us to the NBC Tower by 3:00. He had gotten 3 phone calls from Adrian (were we really gonna make this happen after all?) checking on his progress. But barring any traffic snarls (which I was confident our driver could handle) we’d be right on schedule.

3:07 PM – The driver pulled up in front of the NBC Tower, and gave me his card with his cell phone number on it so we could call when we were finished. The NBC Tower was impressive. We walked in through a revolving door that was framed in brass, and after walking up some stairs we saw a crowd of people behind brass railings. We found out later that the Jerry Springer Show tapes there. I don’t know if the crowd was waiting to get into that show or not. Didn’t hear anyone chanting “Jerry! Jerry!”

We walked to a large circular desk that I took for the information area. Told the attendant why we were there, he made a phone call and then asked for our picture ID’s. He ran them through a scanner, and out came an NBC ID to put on our person, and LEAVE it on our person at all times. Security was pretty tight, and I could imagine a pot of boiling oil waiting for anyone that wasn’t supposed to be in there that didn’t have an ID.

As we took the IDs the attendant told us to make sure that we turned them in before we left. I heard a voice behind us say, “Yes, please turn them in. You won’t get very far if you don’t. They’ll chase you down.” I turned to see a slightly build, short bald man. He introduced himself and told us he would take us to the studio.

He was very personable as we rode the elevator up to the studio. He had to use a plastic ID card to get into the studio door. I guess I was expecting something different, for the studio consisted of a chair in front of a picture of the Chicago skyline, and what looked like a fancy home video camera on a tripod in front of it. The rest of the ‘studio’ consisted of desks with folks typing away on computers.

We were introduced to the makeup person, a lady by the name of Chiquita. No, she wasn’t a Latino. She was a young black woman, and she escorted us down the hall. Again, I was expecting something different. There wasn’t a big fancy makeup chair, but just a plain chair that she sat me in. She placed a barber bib over me, and proceeded to dab some funky smelling stuff on my face. “This is just a basic, simple makeup,” she said as she proceeded. After she got through dabbing my face, she took a brush and brushed my face with some sort of powder. I told her to make sure and make me look pretty, but she just laughed. Perhaps the task was too great.

After that, she combed my hair. After every hair was in place, she told me to close my eyes. Hairspray! What stinkin’ stuff THAT was. After the makeup ordeal, I asked to use the facilities (the bathroom, silly!) As I washed my hands I looked at my made-up self in the mirror. I actually did look better, but I suppose that’s no big deal. Most anything would be an improvement. The usual dark circles under my eyes were gone, and my skin had a downright healthy glow to it. My double chin was still prominent, but I was born with that. But my hair! The hairspray was like helmet-in-a-can. I could have whacked my head against the door and not felt a thing. But I refrained from testing that theory. I did touch it, and it felt weird. I even sprinkled a little water on it, just call me curious. It beaded up and rolled off. There wasn’t a hair out of place. No rebellious hair had a chance with all that goop on it.

3:27 PM – There I was, all gussied up and waiting my turn before the camera. My wife and I sat on chairs along the wall of the ‘studio’, and I leaned my head back against the wall. Not a smart thing to do. When the cameraman (the same guy that escorted us up to the studio) told me to get in the chair and he’d get me wired up, the back of my head stuck to the wall. I gently pulled my head away, and most likely there still is a spot on that wall with a few of my hairs stuck to it.

They got me wired for sound, got the hot lights focused on me. I was due to go ‘on’ in a few minutes. Chiquita was there waiting with more makeup, and it was a good thing. It’s not that the hot lights caused me to perspire copiously, I was just plain sweating like a hog (even if hogs really don’t sweat. That’s why they roll around in the mud to keep cool). I could feel the sweat rolling out from underneath my hair helmet and down my neck. But a few dabs with the makeup sponge, and I was once again gorgeous.

So I sat with an earpiece jammed in my ear. Turns out the only ones that could hear what was going on and what was going to be said were the cameraman and myself. After a few sound tests (4, 3, 2, 1, over and over again), I heard the voice of Tucker himself:

Tucker: Hello, Mr. Beggerow. Thanks for being on the show.
Me: Thanks for having me.
Tucker: Have you gotten any comments about the Times article from people?
Me: And how. Doesn’t seem to be any half-way opinions about it. Either people think I’m a lazy no good bum, or they give me an atta boy.
Tucker: Interesting…I won’t tell you which camp I’m in.

Like it was a big secret or something. There were two more commercial breaks before I went on, and Tucker’s lead-in to the first break was:

Tucker: Coming up- Isn’t any job better than no job? Later in the show we’ll meet a man that doesn’t think so. He spends all his time with his hobbies, sleeps late, and refuses to work, as he sponges off his wife that has three jobs.

Holy crap! This was going to be nastier than I thought. I looked at the cameraman, and I saw him close his eyes and lower his head. He knew better than me what I was in for. “Hey, we’re gonna have fun with this!”, I said. He perked back up and gave me a big smile. Perhaps he was concerned about how I would take the shellacing I was about to get. Like I said, he was a little guy, and I’m a big lummox. After a few more minutes, Tucker came back on with his intro to my interview :

Tucker: Welcome back. Isn‘t a low-wage job better than no job at all? Well, not if you‘re one of the million of American men who‘ve been laid off and refuse to take jobs they view as demeaning or low paying. My next guest is one those men. He spends his days dabbling at hobbies at home. He stays up late, sleeps until 11:00 in the morning, all while living off his wife. Alan Beggerow lives in Rockfalls, Illinois. He joins me now from Chicago. Mr. Beggerow, thanks for coming on.

And it went downhill from there. I did notice that before the interview started, the others in the office were looking at me and smiling. After it started, all I saw was their backs. But I held my own, I guess. Not much else I could have done. I felt as helpless as a one legged man at an ass-kicking contest, so I just smiled my way through it. There was no way I was going to let that snot-nosed punk piss me off. He sure did try his best though. After the interview and during yet another commercial break, Tucker came back on and talked to me through the earpiece:

Tucker: Thank you again (chuckle) for being on the show (snicker). You’re a (Ha-ha) real good sport!
Me: You’re welcome. Like I had a chance to be anything but a good sport?

3:56 PM - After the interview was over, the cameraman took off his headset and told me how great I was, how well I handled it. No doubt he says something similar to everyone in the same position, but he did show signs of relief that I kept my temper. They unwired me, took me back to the make-up room and as I wiped the glop off my face, Chiquita also told me how well I handled the interview. But the interview had broken the spell. My egotistic flirt with fame had been brought back down to reality.
The cameraman took my wife and I back down stairs. We turned in our ID’s and he walked us out to the back door of the building. We walked by the Jerry Springer studio, and my wife and I both were taken with the fact that just upstairs we had gone through a somewhat similar show, but with one big difference. Jerry Springer makes no bones or excuses about what his show is, and admits it freely. Tucker on the other hand, tries to come across as a legitimate ‘journalist’ when all he really does is pander to his ratings by using his sensational and obnoxious opinion. I’ll take Jerry Springer over Tucker any day. He’s more honest.
The cameraman called the driver to come and get us, and he gave us each a bottle of cold water. That was a nice gesture, as I needed to replenish some fluids due to the hot lights and all, but a couple hundred bucks wouldn’t have been refused. We both wondered why the driver was taking so long getting back.

4:17 PM – The driver finally showed up, and we got in the van. The cameraman waved as we left and entered the traffic of downtown Chicago. It was obvious we weren’t going to get back home in the record time we got to Chicago. But the driver showed his skill once again as he hopped curbs, ran red lights, and barely missed pedestrians as he made his way through the conglomeration of humanity. All the while, he chattered away and continued dropping names as I leaned my head against the window of the van.

4:55 – After nodding off a few times after unsticking my head from the van window, I noticed that traffic was beginning to thin out. The driver suddenly became curious about my retirement and what I do with myself. He found it incredible that I didn’t work. Why, he works 45-60 hours a week! I relayed my good tidings at his ambitious retirement, and tried to change the subject. But he persisted. How did we get by? How can a man only 53 retire in the prime of my working career? I told him that since my working career consisted of 30 years of steel mill work, I had no desire to get back in the rat race. He looked at me incredulously. It was then that I had an idea why the driver took so long getting back. Was he sitting in a tavern someplace in downtown Chicago, watching the interview? Rooting for Tucker? It was not outside the realm of possibility. That could explain the persistent questioning. But I already had enough rocks thrown at me for one day, so I ignored him and fell back asleep.

6:55 PM – It’s been a long day, and home was but a few blocks away. My wife was happy, for she got home in time to see ‘America’s Got Talent’, I’m happy because I’ll not have to listen to the name-dropper any more. Now I know why my gracious offer to my wife to ride in the front seat on the way back was declined. It’s easier to ignore a blow-hard from the distance of a back seat.

Once we were home, my wife settled in front of the TV, and expressed her desire to eat something. So being the dutiful, loving husband that I am, I provided her with sustenance. I went and picked up some sandwiches.

7:17 PM – Most people when they watch TV are sedentary. They sit and watch, sometimes doze off. Not my wife. With the shows that she watches, she always ‘gets into’ them. Wheel of Fortune finds her on the edge of her seat when she’s figured out the answer, telling the contestants what it is. Like they could hear her. America’s Got Talent is the same. When the judges make a negative comment about an act she likes, she expresses her opinion about the judge in no uncertain terms. The same happens when she doesn’t like an act and the judges do. Many times my wife is more entertaining than the show. But I had bigger fish to fry.

I found the Tucker interview online. The website had a picture of me, punkin' head, double chin and all. It was not a good picture. I looked like I had just been wakened after an all-night bender. But I must admit, there was not a hair out of place. I watched the interview and laughed. What a joke it was! I told my wife that she could watch the interview. But she hastily told me not until 9:00 when her show was over. She does have her priorities.

9:15 PM – My wife watched the interview. The first time around, I heard language from her that was less than complimentary about Tucker. So much so that she had to listen to the interview more than once to hear it all. I came to the conclusion that it was just as well that she couldn’t hear Tucker at the actual time of the interview. She might have made a scene, bless her heart, right on national television. Now that would have been cool!

EPILOGUE - So what has been the results of the interview? Not much, really. Had a few phone calls and emails from people, all of them quite supportive, and one call from a guy in Tennessee that said he sent an email to Tucker and “ripped him a new one.”

But the one incident that tops them all is what my wife said to someone on the phone. I wasn’t home, but she told me about it. The call was from a person that was instrumental in getting me involved with the NY Times article in the first place. I will refrain from mentioning his name. Not because he’s innocent or anything. He’s guilty as hell, and I will get even. I have informed this person of my intentions, but not how or when. I am getting a great deal of satisfaction knowing that this person, when he least expects it, will get what’s coming to them. Anyway, my wife told this guy, “What do I think of Tucker? If you drop the first letter from his first name and replace it with an ‘F’, that’s my opinion of Tucker!” Ah, is it any wonder why I love the woman so much?

'Possum Living Skills

"I think that the US is going to need folks with "possum living" skills in the future. "The above quote is taken from a comment left by Teri on another post. I like the term, 'possum living skills. Never heard it put that way before. I've heard of living frugally, living a spartan life, and just plain livin' on the cheap. But whatever you prefer to call it, 'possum living skills have certainly come in handy for me.

So why use a 'possum as an example of living frugally? By the way, it is 'possum. Only biologists and such use the 'correct' name opossum. Well, a 'possum (the North American variety is the type I'm talking about) is a very resourceful critter. So well adapted to life that they haven't changed for many millennia. I have read about some of the 'possum's ancestors that lived in the same times as the saber-toothed tiger and wooly mammoth. 'Possums that stood 8 feet tall, and could be pretty nasty (Oppossumus maximus nastius?) . But obviously the more diminutive cousin of these monstrosities were better equipped for survival, for I've never heard of a modern day sighting of the big ones.

A 'possum is an omnivore, which is a nice way to say that they'll eat anything. They tend to be nocturnal. The picture I've included shows that even a 'possum can have their cuter moments. But with a long hairless tail, fur that looks like a dirty dustmop and a thin bony face, they'll most likely not win the best looking critter award. But we're talking survival here. If I had my choice between livin' and eatin' versus good looks, I'd take livin' and eatin' every time.

They also have the famous survival tactic of 'playing dead'. I've seen 'possums do this, and it is a strange sight. They go into convulsions, keel over, hang out their tongue and roll their eyes. Sure looked like it was dead to me. Biologists still don't know why they do it, or whether it is really 'playing 'possum', or it is a bodily reaction to stress. But be forewarned, 'possums don't always play dead. Sometimes they get quite aggresive when cornered, and with a mouthful of needle-like teeth they can do some damage. They also on occasion hiss like a snake. A most disagreeable sound. So what possesses a 'possum to decide whether to play dead, hiss, or fight? Nobody knows. Perhaps a 'possum, like a human, gets up on the wrong side of the bed and is cranky, or maybe they just don't want to deal with things. In any case, their defensive mechanisms have no doubt been a factor in the species' longevity.

Some 'possum living skills pointers:

  • Live on the cheap. You'd be surprised how little you can live on if you really try.
  • Get your priorities straight. You want to keep working all of your life at a job you hate, or do you want the opportunity to be like a 'possum in a persimmon tree? Folks from the south have told me that when the persimmons get ripe, the 'possums are happy. Find out what makes you happy. What are your 'persimmons'?
  • Pick your battles wisely. Know when to hiss, to be aggressive, to play dead.
  • Don't neglect the night. Sit outside in the dark once in awhile. There are less visual distractions at night, and you can think better.
  • Good looks aren't nearly as important as getting enough to eat.
Didn't think 'possums were that smart, now did you?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Shame For Shame, Oh Idle Middle Class!

Bye Bye Bootstraps

By David Brooks

August 4, 2006

In all healthy societies, the middle-class people have wholesome middle-class values while the upper-crust blue bloods lead lives of cosseted leisure interrupted by infidelity, overdoses and hunting accidents. But in America today we've got this all bollixed up.

Through some screw-up in the moral superstructure, we now have a plutocratic upper class infused with the staid industriousness of Ben Franklin, while we are apparently seeing the emergence of a Wal-Mart leisure class – devil-may-care middle-age slackers who live off home-equity loans and disability payments so they can surf the History Channel and enjoy fantasy football leagues.

For the first time in human history, the rich work longer hours than the proletariat.

Today's super-wealthy no longer go off on four-month grand tours of Europe, play gin-soaked Gatsbyesque croquet tournaments or spend hours doing needlepoint while thinking in full paragraphs like the heroines of Jane Austen novels. Instead, their lives are marked by sleep deprivation and conference calls, and their idea of leisure is jetting off to Aspen to hear Zbigniew Brzezinski lead panels titled “Beyond Unipolarity.”

Meanwhile, down the income ladder, the percentage of middle-age men who have dropped out of the labor force has doubled over the past 40 years, to more than 12 percent. Many of the men have disabilities. Others struggle to find work. But in a recent dinner party-dominating article, The New York Times' Louis Uchitelle and David Leonhardt describe two men who are not exactly Horatio Alger wonder boys.

Christopher Priga, 54, earned a six-figure income as an electrical engineer at Xerox but is now shown relaxing at a coffee shop with a book and a smoke while waiting for a job commensurate with his self-esteem. “To be honest, I'm kind of looking for the home run,” he said. “There's no point in hitting for base hits.”

Alan Beggerow, once a steelworker, now sleeps nine hours a day, reads two or three books a week, writes Amazon reviews, practices the piano and writes Louis L'Amour-style westerns. “I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me,” he said.

His wife takes in work as a seamstress and bakes to help support the family, as they eat away at their savings. “The future is always a concern,” Beggerow said, “but I no longer allow myself to dwell on it.”

Many readers no doubt observed that if today's prostate-aged moochers wanted to loaf around all day reading books and tossing off their vacuous opinions into the ether, they should have had the foresight to become newspaper columnists.

Others will note sardonically that the only really vibrant counterculture in the United States today is laziness.

But I try not to judge these gentlemen harshly. What I see is a migration of values. Once upon a time, middle-class men would have defined their dignity by their ability to work hard, provide for their family and live as self-reliant members of society. But these fellows, to judge by their quotations, define their dignity the same way the subjects of Thorstein Veblen's “The Theory of the Leisure Class” defined theirs.

They define their dignity by the loftiness of their thinking. They define their dignity not by their achievement, but by their personal enlightenment, their autonomy, by their distance from anything dishonorably menial or compulsory.

In other words, the values that used to prevail among the manorial estates have migrated to parts of mass society while the grinding work ethic of the immigrant prevails in the stratosphere.

This is terrible. It's a blow first of all to literature. If P.G. Wodehouse were writing today, Bertie Wooster would be at Goldman Sachs and Jeeves would be judging a meth-mouth contest at Sturgis. Anna Karenina would be Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada.” “The House of Mirth” would become “The House of Broadband.”

More important, this reversal is a blow to the natural order of the universe. The only comfort I've had from these disturbing trends is another recent story in The Times. Joyce Wadler reported that women in places like the Hamptons are still bedding down with the hired help. R. Couri Hay, the society editor of Hamptons magazine, celebrated rich women's tendency to sleep with their home renovators.

“Nobody knows,” he said. “The contractor isn't going to tell because the husband is writing the check, the wife isn't going to tell, and you get a better job because she's providing a fringe benefit. Everybody wins.”

Thank God somebody is standing up for traditional morality

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Disposable American : Layoffs And Their Consequences

A book by Louis Uchitelle

The author, an economics reporter for The New York Times, shows a rare insight into the realm of the corporate strategy of layoffs and plant closings and how those actions affect everyone concerned.

When seven-figure salaried executives resort to plant closings and layoffs they seldom look past the immediate future. Like a traveling band of gypsies, these people go from position to position, from company to company implementing the short-term gain policies of layoffs. They have no regard for employees or customers, no regard for the communities where the company is located. Their entire focus is on making stockholders happy. If that means cutting jobs, what difference does that make? So they make the stockholders happy, collect their very generous salaries, stock options and all the frills, while jobs are eliminated.

The problem with this is that stockholders are not the only ones that have a stake in the company. In an extreme case of putting the cart before the horse, the ones that actully created the wealth for the company in the first place are at the bottom of the totem pole. The author tells about the 'myth' that if workers lose their jobs, somehow it is their fault. And if that worker cannot find another job that pays as much or more, they are also at fault. If the worker gets further training for a different job but still does not earn as much, they're not ambitious enough. The onus of layoffs and loss of a job is put directly back on the worker.

Another reviewer of this book has said, "Despite the fact that this book focuses on the subject of employment, the author seems to lack a clear understanding of just what a job is and how wages are determined." I totally disagree.

The author displays a rare insight into the realm of the corporate strategy of layoffs and plant closings and how these actions affect all concerned. As far as how wages are determined, a common opinion is that the skill and demand for that skill determine what rate of pay the worker recieves. This opinion does not take into consideration the value of physical labor. If a worker is willing to do quality physical labor in a less than ideal environment, that should be worth a decent wage in and of itself.

The author writes with rare insight about the corporate strategy of layoffs and plant closings and how those actions affect all concerned. Usually the only response from corporations to these actions are that it was unavoidable. For the benefit of the company, these cuts had to be made. And in some cases, this is a fact. But cuts in the benefits and wages or the loss of jobs for front-line employees, while a small handful of stockholders and company executives continue to make seven-figure salaries and collect their dividends, underscores the reality of the title of this book :'The Disposable American'.

The author also explores the fallacy of job retraining with a simple question...retraining for what? Many people that have lost jobs participated in these retraining programs. But most folks that recieved training for other fields found out either the pay wasn't that good or the jobs weren't there.

While many oppose any kind of funding or relief directly to workers, states and communities engage in bidding wars for new businesses for their community. Tax abatements, roads, sewer,electric and water services, money for construction of structures for the business, all provided at the communities expense, constitute funding for business. These communities pay out the nose for the privilege of a business to locate in the community. This is a fact, and the author discusses this in the book. He also writes about some instances where a company has reaped the benefits of all this community funding, only to close the plant to relocate. All of the commitment the community has made, the livelihood of other businesses, and the livelihood of the workers displaced has no bearing on the decision.

The author tells how layoffs and plant closings have become normal business procedures that are accepted not only by business and government, but by unions. Layoffs are inevitable, so the thinking goes. The author does not agree. As the author writes, "Layoffs are not going to go away, but they do not have to be so numerous as they are now."

The last chapter of the book is titled 'Solutions'. The solutions offered will no doubt be considered radical by some. An incremental raise in the federal minimum wage to $12.00 an hour, to give one example. To raise the minimum wage to a decent level recognizes that labor is not only the main contributor in the creation of goods and services, but is also the largest consumer of goods and services. The more money they have to spend, the more the economy will benefit.

As with any book about economics, labor and business, this book has its share of statistics. The author has done a tremendous amount of research to gather so much information. But the difference is that unlike some books that deal with the subject, this does not contain only facts told in an impersonal way. This book gives the facts and figures with empathy and compassion towards the workers themselves.

A very well written book that voices the disenchantment, disenfranchisement and economic hardship of 'The Disposable American'. To continue the trend of exploitation and unfair practices towards labor harms one of our country's greatest assets and fractures the very backbone of the nation. Mr. Uchitelle has given a voice to these people, and thinks they deserve better. I say good for him.

From The Boston Globe

A Place For Slackers

August 7, 2006

"I HAVE COME to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me," Alan Beggerow said, turning his back on the work ethic in a New York Times article about men who don't have jobs.

A victim of steel plant layoffs, Beggerow now does what could be called ``nothing." He plays the piano, reads, and writes Westerns. He lives off savings, a loan against his house, and his wife. He says he could get a job, but he doesn't want work that is beneath him.

Denial shimmers around him like heat waves. He is 53. He is not rich. He will probably have to get a job to stay solvent.

Still, there is power in his one-sentence manifesto on free time. Commuters who race to cubicles face the notion that they are like ``young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life," as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in ``The Great Gatsby."

Parents know there is too much to do at work and home. But family-friendly change is slow. And there are no reality shows to sell the idea: no ``Pimp My Job" and no ``Who Wants to Marry a Stay-at-Home-Dad?"

So it's up to the public and private sectors to make some key changes:

Retrain workers. Laid-off workers need training programs that help them jump from the ships of the old economy and land in new-economy jobs. Former labor secretary Robert Reich has been ringing this bell for years. Such a program might have helped Beggerow find a job he could respect.

Help ex-convicts. Jail time is a damning spot on a job application. Job developers say former convicts can find work, but it takes effort. They need programs that teach skills -- from literacy to computers -- and provide bridges to specific employers with job openings.

Change the clock. Flexible schedules get tarred as a refuge for wimps and mothers of young children. But if flexibility were more available, many people would use it for medical appointments, personal affairs, or to go to the gym and ward off expensive health threats, such as obesity and diabetes.

Honor time off. Slacker, loafer, and idler are names that tar nonworkers. But vacations prove that breaks can be precious. In his book, ``Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America," Tom Lutz argues that slackers function as a ``celebration" and ``critique of our culture's twisty relation to work and to leisure."

In other words, the Beggerows serve a purpose. They make people look up and wonder if they are living by their own design or just absently chanting the 9-to-5 script.

The challenge is to find balance: to work without drowning in it; and to play, but not on the edge of bankruptcy.

``Get a job" is an American mantra. But sometimes it should give way to ``Get a life."

A Letter, And My Reply

I received this letter from a gentleman in New Jersey. His words are in bold, and my reply is in italics.

Dear Mr. Beggerow

Realizing there is always a story behind a story, I found the article in the New York Times of July 31st describing the 4-5 million men who have abandoned an effort to find employment, featuring your particular story, reprehensible in the extreme.

I thank you for your letter. Allow me to respond to your thoughts. The fact is, there are a sizable number of men that are no longer in the workforce. The reasons for their decisions are varied. But let me assure you that 4-5 million American men that have left the workforce are not reprehensible. I personally take no offense at the use of the word. Trust me, since the article was published I have been called much worse. But to lump millions of people in the same category and call them reprehensible does not do justice to those people, or the issue itself.

The nice thing about living in this country is that everyone has the opportunity to do just about anything they please, short of being illegal. The bad thing about living in this country is that it is loaded with politicians who believe all taxpayers need to support people like you, who have basically given you, with programs such as the described in the article, even though you probably don’t fit the requirements nor the original intent of the legislation. Shame on you for dragging us down.

Spare me the Horatio Alger myth. That is exactly what it is, a myth. While I will agree that there is opportunity for all, the fact that the opportunity is greater for some than others is where the mythology lurks. Are you trying to tell me that the opportunities are just as available to all? That the wealthy do not have an ‘edge’, that I as a lower middle class person, that blacks and other minorities, that women and the poor have equal opportunities? That if I or anyone else, regardless of social or economic status do not rise above it that it is my fault for not working hard enough? If you are, you are merely perpetuating the myth and blaming the victims of racial, gender, economic and age discrimination.

As far as taxpayers supporting me? The only assistance my wife receives is SS disability. My wife was in a near fatal auto accident (on her way home from work) in October of 2001. She was in the hospital until the following February. After much physical therapy she can now walk, but not very far nor for very long.. She worked in excess of 40 hours per week for 25 years. She was not able to return, period. She would be drawing SS disability regardless if I were working or not. Is this a corrupt sense of entitlement? Did she not pay into SS for 25 years? Was that not exactly the original intent of the legislation, to provide some sort of support for those who no longer can work?

I myself am on no form of disability. The pension I receive was earned from working 30 years in a steel mill. When the mill closed I was entitled to unemployment benefits and job retraining. I refused both and opted to retire.

So shame on me for dragging ‘us’ down? My wife and I do not accept your condemning opinion of shame. We earn enough to still pay taxes, and pay our bills. Some do not understand how we can, but it is really quite simple and something I learned from my parents: Live within your means. While it is true that we no longer pay as much in taxes as before, does that justify your comment of ‘dragging us down?’ There’s plenty of folks that don’t make enough to have to pay taxes at all. I suppose by your train of thought these folks are REALLY dragging us down. Now that line of thinking in my estimation is truly reprehensible and deals with the issue with no regard for people’s individual circumstance. By the way, to who does the pronoun ‘us’ refer to? Are my wife and I part of that ‘us’?

The most pathetic aspect of your story is the fact that you have been blessed to have had something to work with – a good job, an obvious ability to do teambuilding, and obvious ability to adapt to change and, until a certain point, a positive attitude about the future. You might have already concluded that there are many, many people in this country who are still striving to do something constructive with their lives even though they had many more challenges to face than you ever dreamed of.

I have been blessed in my life. A job where I made a good living, and some talent for teambuilding and adaptability to change. On those points I agree. Where we disagree is that I no longer have a positive attitude towards the future. I will admit to a certain cynicism regarding the workplace today and not wanting to be a part of it. And there are many that continue to struggle despite what I think about the workplace. I commend them for that. But just what is meant by ‘doing something constructive with their life’ mean? Is it only because I have chosen a different way, that I no longer buy into the archaic notions that you and others have expressed about a moral and societal obligation to be traditionally employed?

I speak with some authority on this subject. After a robust career where I have been the COO and CEO of community banks, I, for reasons I will not bore you with, found it necessary to search for my next job assignment. It took two years of very hard work and sometimes humiliating work. I discovered the value of work, any work as a means of getting back into the ball game, as it were. You were quoted as saying taking some kinds of jobs were beneath your dignity. What could be more beneath anyone’s dignity than to sit on one’s porch whining about the past and giving up on the future?

I will concede your authority on the subject only as far as what you are familiar with and your experience. You are no more an authority on the situation in the area where I live and the job market as I am on your area and job market. I assume by robust career you mean you were successful, and I can say the same about my career as a steel worker. I also will assume that as you were an executive in the banking industry, you were wise to save and invest some of your earnings. I did the same. I also assume that you had enough saved to get you by until you got another job. Did you immediately set forth to get employment after leaving your previous job? Was there a time when you had to rely on your savings to get you through it? If that is so, did you consider yourself worthless, a burden to society, that you were not fulfilling your obligations to society by being productive? I’ll tell you true, if you did I do not understand why. I am reaping the benefits of working hard for 30 years and being wise with my money. I have chosen to continue to do so until something comes along that interests me. I have no desire to get back into the ball game. This is one man that’s had 30 years worth of bean-balls thrown at him and I refuse to play that game any more.

It’s interesting that you admitted to doing humiliating work. In what sense was it humiliating? Was it the work itself that was humiliating, the place where you worked, or the position you held? Let me explain what I mean by degrading and humiliating, as stated in the article. There is no task that is beneath me, no job that is degrading. It is the environment, the treatment of labor, and the disregard of management towards employees that is the humiliation. Not the work itself. I have done jobs in the steel mill that were hot, dirty, and dangerous. But I never considered myself above that. I am from a steel working family, and I understood what I was getting into, what I would be expected to do when I hired on at the mill. My father worked in the mill for 41 years, a brother worked there for 30, an uncle worked there for 40. So a strong work ethic was part of the values that my parents taught me. But my parents also taught me to respect myself, don’t let someone else lord over you. Work hard, do your job as good as you can, but don’t be a slave to any master. Whether you can comprehend it or not, the workplace has changed. The most valuable asset any employer has is the employee that does the work that produces the goods or services. But now an employee is disposable. When an employer is done with them, they’re disposed of like used toilet paper. I see it happening in the area where I live, where it is rare for employees in firms to last more than a year. Can the majority of the workforce be that bad, or is there no incentive for an employee to stay? Is it that productive for any employer to have a constant job turnover?

Since you appear to be into the intellectual pursuits, you might find it to your benefit to find an organization in your region that needs volunteers to help people who have real baggage to carry around. I am thinking of organizations that help homeless veterans or hospitals that care for stroke victims, or a host of other worthy organizations. While you would not be paid in cash, it might cause you to realize that there is physic income from doing good work.

A wise person once wrote that the best way to help yourself is to help others. Over the past 5 years I have done charity work. I sincerely believe that the only time a person should look down at another is when they are offering them a helping hand. So what you say is true. It has enriched my life far beyond any kind of monetary enrichment, and has made me productive in a different way.

It is not too late, sir, to become productive member of society but you are rapidly running out of time.

I will admit to taking offense at your letter the first time I read it. But as I thought it over, I came to realize that in your own way you were trying to help me. For your concern, I thank you. Your letter reminds me of my father when he used to say “I’m going to talk to you like a dutch uncle,” meaning of course that he was about to tell me his thoughts about what I was doing, in no uncertain terms.

Whether this response changes your opinion about me or the others mentioned in the article is of little concern to me. My objective in responding was not to put you in your place, or change your opinion. If this response has caused you to think more deeply about the issue of men no longer looking for work, then my efforts have not been in vain.

We agree that 4-5 million men no longer seeking work is troubling. For me, it says that the economy is not good, that free trade as it is being practiced now is not to the benefit of our society, that our escalating trade deficits are undermining the very values that you have espoused in your letter. But to blame the workforce and the ones that for various reasons are no longer in the workforce for these problems, is like blaming a wet sidewalk for a rainstorm. They are results, no causes. We need to dig deeply, do a root cause analysis on these issues. Putting the blame on the displaced, disposed, disenfranchised worker is heartless and shows a lack of compassion. Not to say that there aren’t instances where ‘tough love’ isn’t called for. But we must never forget that to be tough without the love takes the focus off the problem and lays false blame.

I hope this letter finds you well and prosperous.

Alan Beggerow

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Show Is So Fast, It's Changing The Pace Of News!

The above is a blurb for the Tucker show on the MSNBC website. Yes, the show is fast, thus changing the pace. But news? The show is a 'news' show in the loosest sense of the term, and Tucker Carlson is a journalist in the loosest sense of the term. The show is an hour-long editorial where the news itself is not the focus, but the opinions of the host are.

How does such a relatively young man get such a show? He's had shows on PBS, CNN, and now MSNBC. And has had numerous writing jobs for various newpapers. Is he really that good? There are no doubt plenty of journalists out there that are more qualified and more talented. The answer? Tucker Carlson is a man of privilege. Some facts from his biography:

*Carlson is the son of Richard W. Carlson, who was president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from 1992 to 1997 and former U.S. Ambassador to the Seychelles. His stepmother is Patricia Carlson, heiress to the Swanson frozen-food fortune.

*Carlson completed private secondary education at the elite St. George's School, Newport, Rhode Island. He then attended Trinity College in Connecticut for four years, but dropped out without obtaining a degree. Carlson describes his college experience thus:

"After four years, I had met a lot of interesting people, gone to a couple of classes and restored a motorcycle, and that was it. And so I wasted my time at college."

Born with not a silver, but a golden spoon in his mouth, Tucker has had advantages from birth. With a father prominent in the broadcasting industry, no doubt it was a tad easier for Tucker to get his foot in the door. But there have always been and will always be people born into better circumstances than others. If I was born under identical circumstances, my life would no doubt have been much different too. These facts more than likely account for his rapid rise in broadcasting. But there's more to it than that.

It's not the fact that he was born in privilege. He is an articulate, intelligent man that could have used that privilege and intelligence in a variety of ways. So why did he choose to become a 'journalist' that is so egotistical and provocative that his show amounts to nothing more than a diatribe against everyone that doesn't agree with him (and even some that do) and the feeding of his own ego? He is an ultra-conservative pundit that uses his power and influence to promote the conservative agenda purely for his own personal agrandizement. It is not conservative views he espouses so much as his own inflated self-worth. But there’s even more to it than that.

Whether his egocentricism was brought about by his privileged background or his ultr-conservative politics isn’t my biggest gripe about him. His background and intelligence are as much an accident from birth as having green eyes, blonde hair or being left handed. What is so disturbing is his blatant disregard for people. The interview I had with him (transcript on this blog) showed me that he has no regard for working people. His comments and questions were meant to paint me in the most diagreeable way possible. The hostility of his attitude smacks of a total ignorance of the plight of especially blue collar labor in this country.

The NY Times article emphasized the fact that despite the rhetoric about jobs and the economy, it’s not that rosey for many. The easiest way to try and quash that opinion in this instance was to try and commit character assassination towards one of the people featured in the article. The reporter that interviewed me, Louis Uchitelle, and the newspaper he writes for are continually under attack as (get ready for the ‘L’ word) liberal. The fact that I was in the article automatically branded me as one also, and my quotes in the article added to the branding.

I agreed to the interview to add to the debate about this issue. It has created a firestorm on the ‘net. Google my name and see how many ‘hits’ you get. I expected to be harrassed and abused to a certain extent. But the hostility was way more than I expected. His mind was made up about me since reading the article, he knew what he was going to say. He had all of the resources of MSNBC, the convenience of not having me face to face in the studio, and no doubt a feeling of intellectual and moral superiority over an ex-steelworker. His overinflated ego tells me that this was so.

In essence, I was invited to a rock throwing contest. He had the luxury of having a full time staff gather the rocks for him, polish each one so his privileged hands wouln’t get chaffed, and threw them at me with impunity. I on the other hand had only myself, but I was prepared enough to at least grin and bear it and not lose my temper. There was no way I could talk about the issue. The best I could do was what I did; get through it the best way that I could. Tucker had complete control. No matter what I said he was ready to chunk another rock at me. And he did.

But I lived through it. Perhaps a little shaken, but probably better for the experience. The interview has taught me some things, and reinforced some things I already knew. Some conclusions:

  • No matter the ideology, if that ideology is more important than treating people in a civil way, a person needs to do some soul searching
  • Character assassination done by a media talking head to an average citizen is cowardice. It is a flaunting of power that has been gained by high ratings, nothing more.
  • The grander the ego, the more shallow the person.
  • If Tucker Carlson’s a journalist, I’m a submarine commander.

Site Meter