Wage Weasels Ripped Your Flesh

If one is properly attuned, even the most innocuous seeming news story can be rife with outrage.

For instance. I do not usually have the time to read the USA Toady, which is delivered with the local newspaper each morning, but this morning was enjoying a leisurely breakfast out and so had time to do so. Front page, below the fold, the “newspaper” chirpily reports the following:

Pet insurance, at-your-desk meditation services, jewelry discounts and funeral planning — from the quirky to the somber, workplaces are providing a range of unique benefits in 2012.

The options come as many firms try to placate employees frustrated by pay cuts, heavy workloads, high health insurance costs and reduced 401(k) matches.

“Companies are trying to have it feel like it’s not one big take-away,” says John Bremen, a managing director at employer consultancy Towers Watson. “They are trying to find ways to appeal to the workforce.”

Here’s a crazy idea. Pay them money.

Many voluntary benefits — such as reduced-price computers and pet insurance due to group-buying discounts — won’t gouge a corporate budget.

“On the employer side, there’s a recognition that they can’t always add to the benefits program in a way they have in the past,” says Ronald Leopold, national medical director at MetLife. “But they want to offer employees different things and a broader set of (choices).”

Businesses are using these perks to make harried workers feel valued, as well as to help them balance personal and professional needs.

I have a crazy idea on how to make employees feel “valued.” PAY THEM MONEY.

The whole article is like this. Chirp, chirp, lookit the employers trying to get more chintzy, la, la, la. And, by the way, if you’re reading the article waiting for a quote from Dick Trumka or Leo Gerard, you’ll be reading a long time. Why would USA Toady bother to talk to union leadership about this?

This news story flat-out comes out and says, by the way, companies are doing everything they can to weasel out of paying people good wages, and there’s USA Toady, just chirping along as if they’re reporting about Russell Brand’s latest boob job. Isn’t this an issue that’s just screaming for deeper reporting? Hello? Employers in these Untied States cannot find enough ways to screw you out of better wages! And this pathetic waste of newsprint doesn’t have the time to get Dick Trumka on the line?

But that’s where it’s at in this country. Labor issues have been so minimized that “mainstream” news outlets don’t even think to report that side of the story anymore, and in fact these news outlets are so corporate that they wouldn’t dare if it even occurred to them to do so. As a favorite radio talker of mine is fond of saying often: The News Has Been Canceled.

Firms such as S.C. Johnson, TD Bank and Travelocity provide discounted health coverage for workers’ pets through Petplan Pet Insurance. Petplan “has seen tremendous growth in this area of voluntary benefits,”co-CEO Chris Ashton says. “In this struggling economy, employers are increasingly looking for low-cost options to keep their employees happy.”

Yet, it can be tough to meet the needs and wants of a diverse workforce. “No one strategy is going to necessarily impact all employees equally,” Leopold says. “What’s good for one (employee) isn’t necessarily good for the other.”

I know of a strategy that’s good for ALL employees, you weasel. PAY THEM MONEY, PAY THEM MONEY, PAY THEM MONEY.

You Are Losing This Fight

I have an announcement to make to those who oppose marriage equality in these Untied States of America: You are losing.

Six states now sanction marriage equality: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, plus Washington, D.C. and Oregon’s Coquille and Washington state’s Suquamish Indian tribes. State by state and region by region, this issue is turning the right way. We’ll make it to Alabama and Georgia eventually. Then we’ll burn DOMA on the stairs of the Supreme Court. You bet we will.

Americans, you see, are less squeamish about this than they used to be. Least, that is what the polls say:

Public acceptance of same-sex marriage has grown at an accelerating pace, with approval jumping by nine percentage points in the past two years and the nation now evenly divided on the issue, according to a new Pew Research Center survey released Thursday.

The poll, conducted in late September and early October, showed 46% of Americans surveyed support legalizing same-sex marriage and 44% are opposed. The survey among 2,410 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

You are losing this fight. I can’t say we have you on abortion rights (nope, sadly, you are kicking our asses on that one) or on the wisdom and necessity of a strong, vital, publicly funded national infrastructure, or even on campaign finance. Nope, you assholes have us on the run on all of those issues.

But you are losing on marriage equality and you sure as hell are going to lose.

You are losing because your position is untenable and cruel and inhumane and hypocritical. You are losing because the ultimate extreme conclusion of your position is for a gestapo to patrol house to house to confiscate all of your turkey basters and to make sure all of the sperm donors are registered and are carrying their papers. You are losing because the core of your argument, that “marriage is between a man and a woman” is so often held up to the light these days, and when it is, it is shown for the bunk that it is.

Like the video that now actually exists of a presidential front-runner telling a Vietnam veteran to his face that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” and, therefore, the veteran doesn’t deserve to enjoy the protection of marital law that everyone else enjoys.

Or, like this: A Minnesota state senator, who had coauthored a bill (S.F. No. 1975) to amend the Minnesota Constitution declaring “A marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in Minnesota,” was caught bumping uglies with a staffer and resigned, thus, interestingly, making her the shortest-tenured majority leader in Minnesota Senate history.

And so then these snarky homosexuals just had to pipe up. They issued an open letter to Amy Koch, apologizing for being queer and for, therefore, ruining her marriage.

We are ashamed of ourselves for causing you to have what the media refers to as an “illicit affair” with your staffer, and we also extend our deepest apologies to him and to his wife. These recent events have made it quite clear that our gay and lesbian tactics have gone too far, affecting even the most respectful of our society.

We apologize that our selfish requests to marry those we love has cheapened and degraded traditional marriage so much that we caused you to stray from your own holy union for something more cheap and tawdry. And we are doubly remorseful in knowing that many will see this as a form of sexual harassment of a subordinate.

It is now clear to us that if we were not so self-focused and myopic, we would have been able to see that the time you wasted diligently writing legislation that would forever seal the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, could have been more usefully spent reshaping the legal definition of “adultery.”

I like to read this letter aloud in my best Homer Simpson sarcasm voice.

You cannot go on and on about the “sanctity of marriage” and sponsor legislation regarding it and then go rub your big fat ass on some boy and then expect to win this fight. I’m sorry, but each and every time the opponents of marriage equality bubble up to the top, they’re the ones who end up under the glass table.

And, thanks to them, they’ll lose this one. Mark my words, 50 years from now, the only one making a fuss about men marrying men and women marrying women will be this guy.

Daniel Carver

As it should be. As it will be. You’re losing this fight.

I Got Nothin’

It’s the final day of Zappadan, and I hate to admit that I got nothin’. I shot my load and did not plan wisely enough to be presenting something as fantastic as G-Spot Tornado today. Or much else. Sorry about that.

All I can report is that I spent a bit of time last night scouring a Metafilter post that discussed the end-of-year music lists. Not a bad thing to do in the waning days of Zappadan; looking for new music. You really do have to pan for it though. I think what’s true now has always been true, that actually good music is damned difficult to find. Most popular music today eludes me, and this is probably partly a function of me getting older, although I have to admit that I’ve recently become fascinated by Nicki Minaj. Boom boom boom doomp.

But that is, sadly, what most “music” is now; a manufactured product increasingly not even made in America, just like everything else. Sometimes, though, you come across an act that is actually trying to make MUSIC.

In that spirit, I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, the Alabama Shakes.

Note that each of these clips is a live performance, not a studio recording or a music video. And for every one I’ve posted, there are 40 more on the YouTube. Live. That means these kids can actually play musical instruments.

Ya’ll can find them at alabamashakes.bandcamp.com where the EP is downloadable for $4. Embed is here:

Facebook page is here, complete with tour dates.

Music. Still the best. Merry Zappadan.


The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.

This is of course not Zappadan Eve (which actually falls on Dec. 20, not Dec. 3, my friends, I don’t know why, but that’s what Mark H has decreed) or even The Grand Wazoo Birthday, so we are not wrapping on Zappadan yet. I have it in my head that I might still want to write something about Don Sugarcane Harris maybe, though I might save that for Zappadan 2012. Haven’t decided yet. Maybe I’ll just post some videos of St. Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast. I’m not sure how I’ll close out this auspicious holiday.

But I do need to close this portion of the project somehow. So let’s talk about what The Yellow Shark is all about.

I have enjoyed listening to The Yellow Shark, immensely. I have spent many wee hours with headphones on, trying to find nuances and interesting things to discuss here. And I can tell you that I personally think The Yellow Shark is comprised of a few crucial pieces of story.

First and foremost, The Yellow Shark is about the musicians. This Ensemble Modern was a dedicated, tenacious group that seemed to care about nothing but the music, period. Zappa himself didn’t think, for example, that “G-Spot Tornado” could ever be played by humans. It was the players who said screw that, Frank, we’re playing it, and they did, and they kicked its ass. This group was a class act like none you’ve ever seen, and I’d like to recognize that here. One way to accomplish that is to point them out by name. It’s the least I can do. As from the liner notes of The Yellow Shark, the players were:

Peter Rundel (Conductor, Violin), Dietmar Wiesner (Flute), Catherine Milliken (Oboe, English Horn, Didgeridoo), Roland Diry (Clarinet), Wolfgang Stryi (Bass Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone), Veit Scholz (Basoon, Contrabasson), Franck Ollu (Horn), Stefan Dohr (Horn), William Formann (Trumpet, Flügelhorn, Piccolo Trumpet, Cornet), Michael Gross (Trumpet, Flügelhorn, Piccolo Trumpet, Cornet), Uwe Dirksen (Trombone, Soprano Trombone), Michael Svoboda (Trombone, Euphonium, Didgeridoo, Alphorn), Daryl Smith (Tuba), Hermann Kretzschmar (Piano, Harpsichord, Celeste, Dramatic Reading), Ueli Wiget (Piano, Harphsichord, Celeste, Harp), Rainer Romer (Percussion), Rumi Ogawa-Helferich (Percussion, Cymbalom), Andreas Böttger (Percussion), Detlef Tewes (Mandolin), Jürgen Ruck (Guitar, Banjo), Ellen Wegner (Harp), Mathias Tacke (Violin), Claudia Sack (Violin), Hillary Strut (Viola, Dramatic Reading), Friedemann Dähn (Violincello), Thomas Fichter (Contrabass, Electrocontrabass).

It is clear from this recording that the Ensemble Modern is a dedicated, talented, and serious group of musicians. As Gail Zappa said, they were Frank’s last band. They were also perhaps his best band, and I find their dedication to the music awe-inspiring.

I think The Yellow Shark is also about AAAAFNRAA, an acronym for “Anything Anytime Anywhere For No Reason At All.” I had not heard of this aesthetic until I began researching The Yellow Shark, but Gail Zappa mentions it often in discussing this project. I think the term itself requires no definition; it is clear to any Zappa fan what it means. It is why Hermann Kretzschmar is reading a library card on Everything Is Healing Nicely, which is how he ended up reading a form from Homeland Security on “Welcome to the United States,” which is a chilling, yet straightforward, piece. Do not underestimate the power of AAAAFNRAA. It can lead to good things.

I also think The Yellow Shark is about EIHN. They are very different recordings. But it is absolutely fascinating to hear these fine musicians in rehearsal. And there are a few tracks on this album that are just downright enjoyable. If you look up The Yellow Shark on Amazon, I highly suggest heading over to Barfko Swill to pick yourself up a copy of this. It is well worth the time.

I will be the first to admit that I prefer Zappa with a guitar in his hand rather than a baton and that the Zappa album that means the most for me is and always will be the very first one. But I enjoyed listening to and appreciating The Yellow Shark more than I possibly could have imagined. It is a wonderful way to gain new insight into the man, the artist, the composer, the guy we celebrate every year.

Not to mention that it’s one hell of a wonderful bunch of music.

Václav Havel

Those of us who are celebrating the holy holiday of Zappadan this year recognize the passing of one Václav Havel, dissident, artist, and the first President of the Czech Republic, who is reported to have discorporated permanently today.

Havel was a rabid fan of Frank Zappa. His favorite Frank Zappa album was Bongo Fury.

Frank Zappa was one of the gods of the Czech underground, I thought of him as a friend. Whenever I feel like escaping from the world of the Presidency, I think of him.

Zappa was so well regarded in the Czech Republic that he for a while entertained the idea of becoming involved in politics there. But Uncle Sam turned the screws on that idea. Then he came down with that cancer bug.

Farewell to Václav Havel. He’s remembered this Zappadan.

G-Spot Tornado

The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.

First thing you should do is listen to the track off of Jazz From Hell. I did manage to find a link to it on Vimeo. If you are not familiar with the piece, and if you have a heart condition, tread carefully. This is what you might call a “high energy” number.

When he composed it, it’s pretty clear that Zappa intended to push his music machine, the Synclavier, to the limit.

So here’s how the story goes on Ali Askin’s the liner notes from Everything Is Healing Nicely, in discussing a track called “This Is A Test (AKA Igor).”

Part of Frank’s overall plan was to compose on the Synclavier for the Ensemble Modern so the first order of business was to see how well this plan would work. On the night before the first day of rehearsals, he asked me reorchestrate his Synclavier composition entitled “Igor” and arrange it for the Ensemble Modern, preparing printed parts and a conductor’s score. Frank replace the title with “This Is A Test” right before printing out the parts for the next morning, just so that the musicians would know the purpose of this short piece. As so often happens, the title stuck.

This next part is remarkable and tells you a lot about these musicians.

This recording is a first take performance by musicians who were sight-reading music just handed to them. It illustrates not only the technical skill of this orchestra but the fact that they managed to be expressive and impart a style into what they played, even while struggling to accurately render something they had never seen before.

It’s interesting to note that one of these tests was “G-Spot Tornado.” After about an hour of rehearsing, Frank deemed it a failed experiment and put it aside. The members of the ensemble however were determined to master it and continued to practice it on their own. By the time that the Yellow Shark concerts took place, “G-Spot Tornado” served as the finale and the encore.

Imagine listening to something like the track off of Jazz From Hell and thinking hellz yeah we can play that. And they play the fuck out of it. And the La La La Human Steps (those dancers there) give it a big beautiful bushy set of eyebrows. I believe I’ve embedded and lauded this performance in previous years of Zappadan blogging, but knowing that it was the players, not Zappa, who insisted on making this happen just makes it that much more incredible.

A View From Deep Inside Zappastan

Seeing a few nice ornaments on the Zappadan tree lately. For example.

Ape Think offers a fantastic historical document: The start of the show at at the Montreaux Casino, Switzerland, December 4, 1971. Not only is it historically interesting, but it’s, how you say? Oh, yes. “Fuckin’ cool.”

There’s also a picture of Frank Zappa holding a cat.

In fact, hell, just go over to Ape Think and spend some time. That’s a blog that’s doing Zappadan like a Mother.

Likewise with Iranianredneck. Just go over there and spend some quality time, but in particular is a MIND BLOWING performance focusing on drummer Terry Bozzio.

Contingencies is all about the Zappa/Jack Kirby connection.

Rawrahs has me asking, why in the wide wide world of sports is a Pennsylvania State Trooper interviewing Mr. Zappa?

Who else is all over Zappadan? Tiny Little Circles, that’s who.

Under The Lobsterscope has been active as well, but in particular has a post with a rather nice insight, I think: Do you suppose Zappa was influenced by Spike Jones? Watch the Spike Jones clip and if you don’t end it by laughing out loud, you are a Cylon.

Shameless product placement: Do not forget to stop by Urantian Sojourn to pick up your very own package of Toaster Poot.

That’s the report from Zappastan.

If I missed you or if you want to brag about your brilliant Zappadan post, or if you just want to tell me to go fuck myself, please leave a comment. Thanks, and Merry Zappadan!

Exercise #4

The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.

If you’re interested in Zappa history, this is, apparently, a tune you want to hear.

I couldn’t find it on the YouTube, but thanks to the WP plugin known as Haiku, you can just steal a listen here:

Zappa comments in the liner notes:

This tune dates from 1957 or ’58. It was originally a string quartet I wrote right about the time I graduated (from high school). It’s one of the oldest pieces, and it’s been played by just about every one of the touring bands, in one version or another.

Like this, from back in the day:

Includes Dog Breath and Uncle Meat, so this clip is very relevant to the topic at hand.