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Stamp out starving writers, buy their books!

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How To Feel Good About The Less Fortunate

It helps if we call them the less fortunate, rather than the long-term jobless. Calling them less fortunate means they do have some good luck — they just don’t have as much as we do.

The beginning of the New Year is a time of optimism, so it’s a drag to know that 1.3 million of our fellow Americans — those who have been looking for a job for 27  weeks or more — will no longer get unemployment relief. Families dependent on assistance will lose an average of $1,166 a month. According to the Labor Department, that means that in California some 214,000 unemployed workers will cease getting their payments, and by June that number will more than double. And on the other side of the country, 127,000 New Yorkers will be cut from the rolls.  Duration_of_U.S._unemployment copy

On the surface, it looks grim.  Fortunately, there’s a brighter way to look at this. It comes from the Cato Institute.

The Institute says this about itself: “The Cato Institute is a public policy research organization — a think tank — dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace. Its scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues.” You can see right off that it’s a worthy enterprise. Of course, every think tank does independent, nonpartisan research.  We chose the Cato Institute because it’s a very conservative think tank and they have a much happier way of looking at the end of unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed. Makes us feel better.

When you read the research provided by the Cato Institute you learn that “extended unemployment benefits raise the duration and rate of unemployment,” especially if those are “generous” benefits. You probably never thought of it that way. In fact, says the Cato Institute, “bribing people to stay on the dole for an extra 53-73 weeks leaves them with less money to spend, not more. It also looks bad on resumes, and may cause lasting damage to future job prospects.” Wow! You probably never thought of your government actually bribing unemployed workers to not get jobs

All right now!  Looked at this way, we can all feel better — much, much better! —  that Congress has not extended unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed.

When Mansions Go Bad

A month ago we posted a piece about houses and mansions, because houses are so much bigger than they used to be and mansions are so very much bigger than even your average big house. Being rich is all about square footage when we talk about housing. And here we have a poem by Marilyn Robertson about mansions and what happens when they lose all sense of propriety, go wild and break the law.

When Mansions Go Bad

Bad news for big houses this morning:

When mansions go bad, you’ve got to get tough.
They’ll start parking any which way on your street.
When you come home, they’ll be sprawling on
your front steps, smoking on your lawn.

A mansion can swallow a meadow in a single afternoon.
It can block a view, turn a clearing into a gym,
a lane into a bowling alley.

They’ve already hijacked a couple of houses over on Elm.
Just sat their big butts down and took over,
spreading conservatories, wine cellars, ballrooms
clear out to the neighbor’s fence.

Now mansions must keep to a modest 5,000 square feet.
But what mansion is going to stand for that?

They’re going to rebel.
They’re going to put their thousands of extra feet down wherever they damn please.

—Marilyn Robertson


Matters of Opinion

Atom bomb testWe now have a deal between Iran on one side and the United States, plus five other countries, on the other. Essentially, the agreement compels Iran to freeze its nuclear program for six months and to destroy its stockpile of near-weapons grade uranium, an amount almost enough to make one nuclear bomb. In return, the US and the five other nations will temporarily reduce, ever so slightly, the economic sanctions which have chopped Iran’s economy to a shambles.

Whether this is an careful first step toward a final agreement, or whether it is actually a scam carried out by crafty negotiators from Iran who have pulled the wool over the eyes of the stupid United States and five other stupid nations — that seems to depend on who is talking about it.

Israel’s ultra conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it’s a “bad deal,” not a historic agreement, but a “historic mistake” that makes the world a more dangerous place. Or, as he put it in a Tweet the day after the agreement was reached, “Without continued pressure, what incentive does Iran have to take serious steps that actually dismantle its nuclear weapons capability?”

But Netanyahu’s Tweet misrepresents what’s going on: the slight easing of our economic stranglehold on Iran leaves a crushing array of  sanctions still in place. Nonetheless, conservative members of the Congress of the United States have voiced the same sentiments as Netanyahu, and some Democrats are also against it.

Yes, it may be that ministers from the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia and China, along with their nuclear authorities and security experts, have witlessly allowed themselves to be fooled by super sly negotiators from Iran. And now that Iran’s economy is falling apart and Iran’s president has come forward to negotiate,   it may be that, No, the current sanctions haven’t really worked, we have to add even more weight on their collapsing economy to really make sure the Iranians will be really truthful and really honest.

On the other hand, heaping on more sanctions at this point would end the negations and the Iranian nuclear program would then resume at full speed. And then what?

How To Judge Art Work

Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)

Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)

The art critic Blake Gopnik said that when it comes to a painting by Andy Warhol, the bigger the price of the work, the better it is as art. Gopnik is writing a book about Warhol and certainly knows what he’s talking about. Warhol began his artistic life as a commercial artist and in a sense he never ceased being exactly that. Whether it was a popular brand of canned soup or popular movie actress — you get the references, right? — it was something pop that was also big money.

Gopnik was talking about the 8-foot by 13-foot Warhol painting “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster).” He went on to say, “If this thing goes for a hundred million bucks, it’s a kind of the apotheosis of what Warhol was all about — maybe everything that Warhol was all about.” Gopnik pointed out that Warhol had taken a scene of horrific tragedy — a demolished car with a dead body in it wrapped around a tree — and turned it into a glitzy commodity. And, said his biographer, “That’s what Warhol did with his own life, right? He turns himself into the ultimate commodity.”

Blake Gopnik’s assessment of the painting and the price it might fetch and what it all meant was  on the Marketplace Morning Report, broadcast by National Public Radio in the morning. Later the same day, the painting went on auction at Sotheby’s York Avenue salesroom and sold for $104.5 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for a Warhol. That beats the hundred million bucks that Gopnik was talking about. That makes this painting a very, very, very good work of art.

Stamp Out Starving Writers! Buy Their Books

At Critical Pages we have an ongoing campaign to encourage reading, support independent bookstores and save writers from starvation. And we think the best way for you to do all three Good Works is to visit your independent bookstore and buy a book. Or splurge and buy half a dozen. Or a dozen and a half.  And keep in mind our upbeat motto: Book Lovers Never Have To Go To Bed Alone.
Couple reading in bed
That photo up there is charming, but what we meant was that if you were a reader you could always take a book to bed. So you’d never need to be alone. You’d have the company of all the characters in the book.  That’s what we hoped you’d understand. The photo below is an excellent example of what we mean.

Bed sheet printed page

That’s better. Book Lovers Never Have To Go To Bed Alone. Book lovers can take a book to bed.

Conflict Kitchen

Conflict Kitchen Serving Iranian Takeout

Conflict Kitchen Serving Iranian Takeout

“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” That quote is ascribed to Mark Twain, and maybe he did say it. And maybe we can re-write it to say that God created war so that we could learn about other societies and what they eat. Or maybe we should just talk about Conflict Kitchen.

The people who run Conflict Kitchen have announced this about their restaurant. “Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events.”

We think it’s a very interesting idea. And if we were close enough to Pittsburgh to have lunch there, we’d definitely stop in the Kitchen and sample whatever they were serving. Past versions have had menus from Afghanistan, Iran and Venezuela, and currently the Cochina del Conflcto is focused on the food, culture and politics of Cuba. Their next iteration will focus on North and South Korea.

As you might expect, their Job Opportunities paragraph is unusual, too. Among other things: “We expect our employees to be expert conversationalists, deeply versed in the culture and politics within our focus county. We also expect our employees to learn how to produce our cuisine in an efficient, consistent, and professional manner.”

Conflict Kitchen has a stylish website that can give provide you with what you need to know about their project. If you get to the new post-industrial Pittsburgh drop in, and tell us about the food, the politics, the culture.

If You Got It, Don’t Flaunt It

Gold bars

Having a certain amount of money — and we mean a certain large amount — insulates the rich from the hardships suffered by the poor. The rich have been doing quite well since the end of the Great Recession. But they’re trying not to flaunt their wealth. The divide between the rich and poor is getting so large that, well,  if you’re rich, you can’t be too careful these days.

Luxury homes — let’s call them  mansions — have shrunk in size. It’s hard to believe, but Laurie Moore-Moore of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, says there’s a trend toward smaller mansions. Biggies in the fifteen to twenty thousand square foot range are becoming hard to sell.

In case you don’t know square footage, the average American home grewHouse size average US from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,349 square feet in 2004.   As you rise above 2,349 square feet, you come first to what’s sometimes called a McMansion, and only if you continue to rise and get real interior acreage do you come to the true mansion. The McMansion is simply a bloated dwelling with an exterior style which mimics a French chateau or an Italian villa, whereas the true mansion looks more like an exclusive hotel. A true mansion would have, or used to have, eight or nine times the square footage of the average dwelling.

But for the rich, the new, post-recession size is smaller, around five thousand to seven thousand square feet. Modesty has become important to the wealthy. In terms of square footage, anyway. It turns out that the inside of these smaller mansions are packed with more luxuries. After all, you have to do something with that money, you can’t just give it away.

Free! Almost, But Not Quite

Grumpy grammarian!

Grumpy grammarian!

We linguistic grumps at Critical Pages received an email from Amazon the other day. It was about Amazon Prime and FREE unlimited two-day shipping.  They said, “We thought you’d like to know that for just $79 a year, you can take advantage of unlimited FREE Two-Day Shipping with Amazon Prime.”  Now, we don’t want to be seen as old-fashioned, out-of-touch, mossback  reactionaries, but we’re pretty sure that if the two-day shipping is really FREE we shouldn’t have to pay $79 for it.  No, sir! We weren’t born yesterday.


That Time of Day

Marilyn Robertson feels pretty much the way we do when it comes to finding good reasons to do what we want for our aching muscles, our morale, our spiritual well being and — oh, yes — our sanity. And it’s pretty good therapy after listening to the news or reading the paper’s editorial page. Here’s a new poem from her new collection, Living With Light.

That Time of Day

Don’t you love that time of day when
you can shed those dirty clothes and head for the bath?

This feels so good, I always say,
easing down under the bubbles, knowing that

a clean person can no longer go out and do more
yardwork, move more rocks, trap more gophers.

A clean person may sit at the piano and play
an etude, may read an old book

on an old couch, may have some cashews
and a piece of gorgonzola.

Evening will come the the clean person
as it will to the dirty one, but the clean person

will be better able to enjoy it,
having had both the nuts and the cheese,

plus a little something in a minor key.

—Marilyn Robertson

Line horizontal halfpoint 460 X 10We hope to use a bubble-bath graphic is by Sasukexkaname, but thus far we’re unable to find Sasukexkaname’s e-mail address.

And No One’s To Blame?

Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam is pissed.

Who’s to blame for the government shutdown? The news analysts on radio and TV say, “There’s lots of finger pointing and plenty of blame to go around.”

Radio and TV people like to use phrases like  “lots of finger pointing” and “plenty of blame to go around.” The phrases don’t help us understand what’s going on, but we hear them just about every day. And it isn’t  sharp and insightful when news analysts call the current bitter dispute between Republicans and Democrats “bickering.”  Now they’re beginning to say that “both sides are digging in their heels” and “both sides refuse to compromise.” That doesn’t shed much light either.

Using those and similar phrases is intended to show that the media is even-handed and not taking sides, not saying that one side or the other is to blame for the shutdown. Honest media people strive for objectivity, and they really want to be even handed and balanced as they report what’s going on. But being balanced doesn’t mean reporting that both sides are equal in responsibility for shutting down the government. Being honest  in analyzing the situation  means saying who is responsible if, in fact, one side is responsible.

This current conflict between Republicans and Democrats has arisen because the Republican members in the House of Representatives want to defund the Affordable Care act – the law commonly called Obamacare. Republicans may be right or wrong about Obama care, but that’s beside the point – they don’t like it and want to kill it by starving it. House Republicans have sent more than 40 bills to the Senate, each one designed to kill Obama care. Each one has been flatly rejected by the Senate’s Democratic majority.

Ordinarily, when you’re outvoted — well,  you’re outvoted, so you move on. Or, when it comes to sending bills between the House and the Senate, if your bill is rejected, you try to modify it enough to get it accepted, or you move on to other matters. That’s not happening now.

What’s new here is that House Republicans have said that if they don’t get their way, if the Democrats in the Senate won’t agree with them, and if the Democrat in the White House won’t sign their bill into law, they won’t fund anything and the government will stay shut down. President Obama has called that legislative maneuver extortion and blackmail. Maybe the media can’t find words to substitute for “extortion” and “blackmail,” and maybe that’s why they can’t quite fix the blame.

More Notes

Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.