The times, they are a-stayin’ the same

The present now will later be past.

—Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’

I think history, at least to me, provides some comfort of knowing that you’re not the first person, or first generation, to have gone through something — others have struggled and survived.

I write this because I can’t get the opening credits sequence from the Watchmen movie out of my head, easily the best part of an otherwise somewhat disappointing film. The damn sequence has stuck with me, especially the song, and I think my fellow Gen X’ers will drum me out of the union when they hear it’s Baby Boomer icon Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” It’s haunting — a haunting song to go with a haunting sequence, because the sequence presents an alternative — but not so alternative as to be unfamiliar — history of the United States since 1940 up until the mid-’70s. (Leave it to an over-marketed adaptation of the most influential graphic novel of all time to finally reveal the significance of Dylan’s song to this Gen X geek. But I digress).

I introduce this as a way to try to understand what we’re going through now — no, not damaged superheroes, or even the history (or alt-history) depicted in that five-minute sequence, but rather, an idea of the past as prologue. If we accept that we’re now in the New Depression, what did people my age do in 1929, in 1932, in 1941, and in 1945? What appealed to them, musically, stylistically? What movies did they watch? What themes did their novelists write about?

Obviously, we know these answers. But I wonder if they parallel what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, now, in a changing world. Is there reassurance in that? If not a guidepost, then at least a flickering but persistent flashlight, a sign that we’ll emerge from this tunnel?

If 2009 is akin to either 1929 (the year of the crash) or 1933 (FDR’s first year in office) — for this conversation, whether the answer is 1929 or 1933 doesn’t make a difference here, just pick one, or any year in that four-year span for that matter — then what did people my age do that year? What were their hopes, dreams, fears, likes and dislikes? Where did they wind up?

I turn 37 this year. I really want to understand the worldview as seen by someone born 37 years before the 1929–1933 span — born in between 1892 or 1896, inclusive. My baby turns 3 this year. What will the world hold for him? What did the world hold for a child born in 1926 or 1930?

And understanding that, and understanding those Americans’ struggles, makes life these days both more comforting and more worrisome.

Comforting, because Americans have been there before.

Worrisome, because the Great Depression was just getting started.

Worrisome, because does this mean that we have 12 years at most, and 8 years at the earliest, before we face another another Dec. 7, 1941 … and this one coming two decades or less after the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001? Or is history working backwards, with our Pearl Harbor having already occured on 9/11 and before our Great Depression?

Do we not get a joyous celebration at the end of it all, Times Square in August 1945, a sailor dipping a nurse for a kiss, sometime between 2021 and 2025?

The times, they are a-changin’. And the more they stay the same.


Update March 12, 8:07 p.m.: I swear I did not read this article in Sunday’s Times (didn’t buy it last weekend, and I usually skip the Week in Review section, anyway), but this is exactly what I’m talking about:

Generation OMG (link added above, too)

Sickening feeling

Been laying low recently with a flu bug. But the news this week out of the print industry hasn’t made me feel any better, with newspapers big, small and corporately ugly further surgically hacking themselves to pieces.

David Carr’s recent idea about revamping the free online news content model and changing it to a paid one by going the route of iTunes has merit. Carr makes the point that Steve Jobs and Apple largely recovered the idea of paying for music at a time when pirating for free was rampant, if not virtually accepted by everyone but the music industry.

Mr. Jobs saw music as something else — as an ancillary software business to generate sales of the iPods and iPhones. That’s not a perspective that flattered people in the music business, but it did persuade listeners to pay for their wares.

Now all that’s left is for someone to invent a comparable device to make news articles portable, Carr writes.

Ay, there’s the rub.

See, unfortunately, this presupposes that the genius MBAs and puppet publishers running the news industry are smart enough to figure out anything other than new ways to slowly kill their businesses. Don’t blame it on the New Depression; these yo-yos were mismanaging the industry long before the economy went south.

I’m not sure they could find their way out of a paper bag, but they sure are good at driving their industry into the earth. Perhaps that’s a preferred fate anyway for the CEOs and their Boards, who can reap the rewards of writing off their failures. Not so much for their workers, discarded like yesterday’s news.

Save Detroit: Sack the CEOs, increase mileage, develop the flying DeLorean

I’ve been so fed up with these gas-guzzling SUVs, I won’t let any of them merge in front of me in traffic, won’t let any of them pull out in front of me if they’re coming out of Chili’s or Bed Bath and Beyond (strangely, I make an exception for Hummers, because if you’re driving one of those behemoths in this economy, you got some balls, and I tip my hat to you).

That there’s so many fuel-inefficient SUVs on the road is primarily the fault of Detroit’s Big Three leadership, which chose to make a short-term killing on these fuckers while the economy was relatively good and credit was cheap and easy. (And, I’d wager, many American consumers basically can’t afford to give them up, locked as they are into lease arrangements and with no cash anyway to buy a new, smaller vehicle.)

So now, the private-plane-riding CEOs head to Congress, gold-rimmed hats in hand, and ask for a bailout of their own.

I say, give it to them.

Because the CEOs are basically holding thousands, perhaps millions, of blue-collar workers hostage. Ask yourself, if the Big Three go under, who’s going to be out of work longer: your average lunch-pail plant worker, or Rick Wagoner, Alan Mulally, and Robert Nardelli?

So help them out. But under these conditions:

First, immediately ask for and accept the resignations of the Big Three’s CEOs. No golden shower parachute (like this cocksucker). Just bye-bye.

Second, ask for the resignations of 51% of their board of directors, including the chairman (not sure if this is the same as the CEO, but I’m rolling here, so stay with me). You can decide amongst yourselves who’s going to go — I don’t care; they’ll be replaced by members of Greenpeace.

Third, quit your bitching about how tough the federal mileage standards are (they were still bitching in the summer) and immediately implement a minimum gas mileage standard of 35 mpg per sedan and 25 mpg per non-commercial pick-up and SUV (in New York, that’s just about every four-wheeled truck without lettering on the side of it) for 2010 vehicles (one of the most “fuel-efficient” super-big SUVs Detroit was producing came in at 20 mpg (city) 22 (highway). Naturally, Chrysler is ending production of even this one). That really shouldn’t be a lot to start with, especially the SUV/pick-up truck category. If you have to sacrifice horsepower, so be it. So what if your trucks can’t haul a building, or whatever those ridiculous hemi adds claim.

Fourth, pull all current advertising (TV, magazines, Web) for any of your products that do not meet the 2010 mpg standard I just mentioned. However, so you don’t kill the advertising and media industry, you need to pay for ads out of your executive compensation budget apologizing to the American people for getting us into this mess. No flag-waving jingoism either, like your over-sincere Like A Rock ads that have for years peddled further dependence on foreign oil to America. These new ads are to run prominently (a few Super Bowl spots sound good, including at the first commercial break). Again, the cash for this comes out of the Golden Parachute Fund.

Fifth, make the new CEOs actually live in the City of Detroit — what a symbolic move for both your blue-collar base and in supporting urban planning and living, which would (by implication) show support for walking to places rather than driving. No commuting home to Seattle from Michigan, like Ford’s soon-to-be-ex-CEO.

Sixth, sell those private fucking jets; your new CEOs can’t have them either. You can take commercial airlines like anyone else when you go to D.C. to thank the American people for saving your ass.

Seventh, if you can exceed my 2010 mileage standards by 10 mpg on a minimum of 75% of your 2010 production lines (that’s actual cars produced, not concept cars) and sell, say, 75% of that number, you don’t have to pay back 25% of the annual value of the bailout bucks. Call it our own version of publicly funded R&D. Bonus points (and another 25% gift) for developing the Back to the Future flying DeLorean that runs on garbage before 2015, the year the movie claimed Mr. Fusion would be powering our flying cars high above Hill Valley (Blade Runner places Syd Mead’s flying spinners four years later in 2019; we’ll give you 20% off if you can do it by that year).

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Gen X journos in a Stealers Wheel world

Submitted for your consideration, further evidence of Generation X stuck in the middle of two powerful generations:

David Carr is right on with his latest Media Equation column on newspapers dumping higher salaried veterans, with predictable drops in quality (and circulation). He likens it to Circuit City’s oh-so-short-sighted strategy of dumping more experienced workers to save money, winning a temporary battle but losing the war (Circuit City recently sought bankruptcy protection).

(And, to only pat myself on the back a little bit, I had an (admittedly loose) connection between journos and retail workers months ago. But I digress.)

Of course, Gen X’ers were collectively paying dues and waiting for these Baby Boomer and Silent Generation writers to retire, so we could move up the ladder into their spots as columnists and onto prime beats. Unfortunately, the recent bloodletting of layoffs and buyouts have hit our generation hard, too, epitomized by the efforts of the gnomish tyrant, Sam Zell.

Further squeezing us as a generation are the plucky and hungry Millennial reporters, showing us all the future of journalism with their work in online ventures. It’s not that we’re not working as hard as these 20- and early-30-somethings (and weren’t we all enthusiastic and filled with energy at that age?). But it’s tough to compete with writers who can work for less money than you when more of us have mortgages and kids.

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Inheriting the Promise

Perhaps it was a speech that was more policy-oriented and political than broad and overtly hopeful, but Mrs. Icepick said that’s what she wanted to hear, so who am I to argue?

Let there be no doubt: This was a passionate address, and there were touches of inspiration in between the specifics and firey rhetoric that put to rest questions of whether Obama can go on the offensive when needed — a Jedi-like approach of using force when diplomacy and reason have failed.

In many ways, it was a cumulation and conclusion to the major speeches we’ve heard this week — Hillary’s inspiration, Bill’s reminder of our own potential, Kerry’s preemptive attacks, and Biden’s foreign policy focus.

There was the forward-looking call to serve the next generation and the Kennedy-like call to service, something I particularly liked:

And we will keep our promise to every young American – if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

But in between the policy talk, and right before invoking the legendary speech delivered 45 years earlier, Obama did not forget to focus on the theme that brought him so far: Hope.

Instead, it is that American spirit — that American promise — that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance.

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Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ revealed

A game of chess, is like a swordfight. You must think first, before you move.

—Enter the Wu-Tang

I told Lord Jim I owe him a finder’s fee for this (and all full credit for the Wu-inspired headline above).

    Knights in the ring as chess boxers slug it out

To me, this merely deepens our unanimous decision.

I might even watch this summer’s Olympics if they added chess boxing, but only if Girthy lifts their protest.

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Garbage to fuel our flying cars

Don’t say I didn’t tell you so, but I ain’t the only one who thinks Congress is taking the cynically easy answer with this corn-for-fuel bullshit. Check out this story from NPR’s All Things Considered. Frankly, I always thought that the answer to the fuel problem and the garbage/landfill problem could be one and the same — and if you were watching closely to the end of Back to the Future you’d have known if for, like, 23 years! Right at the end of the movie, Doc returns in the flying DeLorean and fuels up by dumping household garbage into the “Mr. Fusion” at the back of the time machine. Hmmm, let’s see, NPR article, can you help me out?… Read the rest of this entry »