An old soul

Chuck Cleaver is one of the best songwriters in the known universe. He’s also a funny dude, in his own unique, gruff-yet-lovable way.

Chuck’s in a band called Wussy, and he and the other lead singer/songwriter in that band, Lisa Walker, do a live set of songs every other Friday night on Facebook. (On the alternate Fridays, their bandmate Mark Messerly plays a set. All the videos are here and are well worth checking out.)

The songs are brilliant. The between-song banter is the icing on the cake. It’s funnier than most network sitcoms. Here’s Chuck from a few weeks ago, going on a rant about old folks. (At age 62, he counts himself among that number). I can relate. My daughter drags me up to St. Vincent de Paul nearly every Sunday because if you’re 50 or older, you get a 25% discount:

Preach on, Brother Chuck! This old man loves it!

Standing idly by.

In my Catholic grade school, this was a popular saying for the nuns who were my teachers:

But I prefer this take on idleness:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Tim Kreider in his New York Times essay “The Busy Trap” from 2012

If you need me this weekend, I’ll be kayaking. Or biking. Or walking. Or just standing (or sitting) idly by.

Beer. Here.

The Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati, just north of downtown, has a rich tradition of brewing beer. The neighborhood got its name from the heavy influx of hard-working German immigrants who started arriving in the mid-1800s. And Germans like their beer.

The neighborhood’s distinctive name comes from the predominantly German mid-19th century immigrants who developed the area and became its early residents. Many walked to work across bridges over the Miami and Erie Canal, which separated the area from downtown Cincinnati. The canal was nicknamed “the Rhine” in reference to the river Rhine in Germany, and the newly settled area north of the canal as “Over the Rhine”.[3][4] In German, the district was called über den Rhein.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Over-the-Rhine

Prohibition killed off dozens of breweries in the area. But a few survived. And one of those old breweries is getting a major expansion, thanks to a Cincinnati kid who made his mark selling Boston Lager.

Here’s info from the press release a couple of weeks ago:

The Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams Cincinnati Brewery announced plans for a significant expansion of the brewery located on Cincinnati’s Central Parkway. The project will be the largest brewery investment in the long and storied history of brewing in Cincinnati.

The substantial brewery enhancement will support the growing demand for products across the Boston Beer portfolio, bringing additional production capabilities to the site, including two highly anticipated canning lines and innovative packing equipment to support brands like Samuel Adams, Angry Orchard, Twisted Tea and Truly Hard Seltzer. Once completed, the brewery will be able to quadruple production in Cincinnati. The project will also add more than one hundred new jobs.

Jim Koch, the founder of The Boston Beer Company, grew up in Cincinnati. His father worked at the Schoenling Brewing Co. building that now houses part of Boston Beer’s local operations. The recipe for Samuel Adams Boston Lager came from Jim’s great-great-grandfather. Now his business is adding more than 100 local jobs.

He (Koch) said the 107 jobs created by the expansion will be the kind of well-paying blue-collar jobs that made up the backbone of Cincinnati’s economy in the days when manufacturing was king.

“When I grew up there were a lot of blue-collar craftsman jobs in Cincinnati, like tool and die at Cincinnati Milacron or General Motors in Norwood,” Koch said. “There were once well-paying union craftsman jobs in Cincinnati, and a lot of them have gone away.”

Koch said he worked with the Teamsters union and the median income of the new jobs being created will be $70,000 a year. The contract covering those jobs is being extended to the 130 existing brewery workers as well.

Text in italics above from this Cincinnati Business Courier article

We need all the positive economic news we can get these days, and this Sam Adams expansion is great news. The supply chain challenges of the pandemic (turns out most PPE is made in China – who knew?) have also made more people realize that we need to make more stuff right here in America. And we as consumers need to “shop local” and spend our cash on those products. Including beer. Cheers to that!

This four-minute TV news feature from 2011 gives a nice overview of Jim Koch’s back story.

Hello Dark Money My Old Friend

In case you missed it, a few weeks ago, Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder and four political cronies were arrested and charged with racketeering and bribery in the largest corruption case in the history of the state. $60 million in bribes from an energy company, FirstEnergy Solutions, greased the skids for passage of House Bill 6, which was going to saddle honest, hard-working taxpayers with a $1 billion bailout of two nuclear power plants… owned by FirstEnergy, of course. (The bill also gutted Ohio’s clean energy programs and subsidized coal plants. Because if you’re dirty, you may as well go full dirty.)

In 2018, many mounds of money were used to fund the campaigns of candidates who would be loyal to Householder, elect him as Speaker, and vote for passage of the bill. More of the money was used later to thwart a ballot initiative to overturn the legislation (because heaven forbid that taxpayers actually get a say in how their money is used!)

They stacked the deck, and subverted the entire legislative structure for their own personal and political gains. It was underhanded, dirty, criminal… and they nearly got away with it.

How did $60 million in bribes go unnoticed for so long? Why, through the magic of “dark money” of course! FirstEnergy funneled the cash through an organization called Generation Now, a nonprofit “social welfare” organization, allegedly acting in the public interest… and not required to disclose its donors under federal law.

“The millions paid into the entity were akin to bags of cash,” the complaint states. “Unlike campaign or PAC contributions, they were not regulated, not reported, not subject to public scrutiny — and the enterprise freely spent the bribe payments to further the enterprise’s political interests and to enrich themselves.” 

From this USA Today article

If this happened in Ohio, it has no doubt happened (and is still happening) in other states. Think about it – FirstEnergy paid $60 million and got a $1 billion bailout – not a bad return on a crooked investment.

Our political system is supposed to have checks and balances. “Dark money” allows the “checks” to get written to corrupt legislators. We need a lot less secrecy, and a lot more transparency.

Ladies’ man

It’s been several weeks since Carl Reiner passed away, but I recently read a brief blurb in Parade Magazine (of all places!) by comedian Judy Gold that highlighted something I’d never really considered before: the fact that he wrote a part in The Dick Van Dyke Show for a female writer on the fictional TV show within the show.

Just one more reason to love — and respect — this titan of comedy.

(The full Judy Gold feature is here. She has a new book out called Yes I Can Say That and also makes several other reading recos.)

Here’s to late bloomers

I don’t watch much TV (even during lockdown), but I’ve enjoyed the heck out of Schitt’s Creek, which recently wrapped up its sixth and final season. It’s a comedy about a family that goes from fabulously rich to terribly poor overnight, and is forced to leave their pampered lifestyle behind and move to a rundown hotel in a tiny town that the patriarch of the family bought as a joke.

(Netflix promo photo)

The mom and dad are played by Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy. ‘Nuff said. They’ve been cracking me up since their SCTV days, and of course they were great in the Christopher Guest mockumentaries (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind).

Separately, they are great character actors… together, they are pure comedy gold!

The actors who portray the family (O’Hara, Levy, his real-life son Daniel and Annie Murphy) all were nominated for Emmys this year.

The show was a slow burn, and Catherine O’Hara thinks that contributed to its success:

We got to build the show and develop the characters without worrying about expectations, from anyone. We got to make the show the best we could make it. CBC did a great job of building an audience in Canada and then Pop TV picked it up and it wasn’t a big audience but it was a nice, loyal audience, and then Netflix brought it out to the rest of the world. There’s so many projects that get a ton of attention right at the beginning, maybe before they’re even quite ready for it, and then it’s kind of downhill attention-wise from there. We’re so lucky to do the show we wanted and, apparently, leaving people wanting more.

From this Hollywood Reporter article

Catherine O’Hara’s character, Moira Rose, has developed quite the fan following. This excellent Yahoo article describes her as the “the self-dramatizing, language-massaging, ultimately touching mother.”

Moira is hilarious (her ‘wall of wigs’ alone is worth the price of admission) but there’s plenty of heart underneath all the character’s histrionics.

O’Hara, who is 66, is also talks about her own late-career recognition, and I think it’s sound advice for anyone in the 50+ age bracket:

I’m happy to be a late bloomer, I always have been in my life and I’m grateful for it. You have to have a bit of patience in life or just don’t have any big expectations, just carry along and do the best you can and maybe someone will notice, maybe they won’t but if you enjoy the work itself, then that’s enough of a gift.

From the same Hollywood reporter article

Do your best. Be patient. Don’t worry about what others think of you. Enjoy the journey. I’ll drink to that!

Writing is editing. Except in my case.

I’ve heard (and read) many writing pros who say “writing is editing.”

This piece by Meaghan O’Connell in The Cut vividly brings the concept of multiple revisions to life. Here’s a quick excerpt:

Imagine taking the very sharpest thought you had each day for two years and then adding it to a pile. If someone walked by and looked at your pile of best thoughts, they’d think you were a genius. They might see your thoughts and feel things. It might be an encounter with the sublime. This is the promise of revision and the good news. The bad news is that to get there, you have to start by rereading your own work.

(HT to Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter for directing me to this piece.)

I totally understand what she’s saying, and have no doubt that all great writing has been reviewed and revised to achieve that greatness.

On the other hand, I’m a bit of a Seth Godin disciple, and he’s a big fan of “ship your work.” If you keep waiting (and editing) for your words to be perfect, you’ll never actually deliver a finished piece. (Seth’s “one blog post a day for a week” challenge a few years ago was the kick in the trousers I needed to actually start “shipping” some writing of my own, after having set up a WordPress blog a couple of years earlier and then being afraid to actually post anything.)

The two concepts — polished prose and printed pieces — aren’t mutually exclusive. But I think too many aspiring writers spend way too much time agonizing over the edits, and not enough time “shipping” more of their work out into the world. Writing is tough enough as it is… if you ponder the multiple rounds of edits that await you after your “shitty first draft” (as Anne Lamott calls it), you may find the process even more daunting, and you might never put pen to paper.

I understand and respect the editing process… in fact, I love it. But this is a tiny little speck of a blog, it ain’t no Great American Novel. (It ain’t even grammatically correct sometimes.) I’d rather err on the side of “done” — and I do think that shipping a greater quantity has actually helped improve the quality over the years as well. [You, faithful reader (singular), may beg to differ.]

In other words, if you came looking for the “pile of great thoughts” that Ms. O’Connell mentions, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you’re OK with a pile of… er, stuff… then this is just the blog for you!

Wunderkinds

Your thought for the day… nay, thought for a lifetime for any parent, comes from cellist, composer, and conductor, Pablo Casals:

“Each second we live in a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed there has never been another child like you… You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work—we must all work—to make this world worthy of its children.”

Source: Joys and Sorrows: Reflections by Pablo Casals, page 295

It may be the weekend, but let’s get to work!

Eat less chicken

In Arkansas, the state where I grew up, they’re big on killing birds. Tyson Corporation, based in Springdale, AR, is the country’s top poultry processor, and Mountaire Farms Inc. (HQ in Little Rock) is the 6th largest. This article in The New Yorker is a fascinating read about Mountaire, its reclusive, arch-conservative owner, and the chicken industry in general.

Working in a chicken processing plant is one of the most hazardous jobs around, and the “reward” for taking on that risk is pay that’s 44% below the national average for manufacturing jobs. Oh, and it’s even more hazardous during the pandemic… but companies like Tyson and Mountaire convinced Trump to issue an executive order to keep those processing plants running (even though many had experienced coronavirus outbreaks… and they were still exporting plenty of dead birds to other countries). Not only that, but these corporations now have a free pass to speed up the processing line… from 140 B.P.M. (that’s birds per minute – ponder that for a moment) to 175 B.P.M. As a union rep says in the article, “It’s like the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode at the chocolate factory.” And they don’t even have to report their COVID-19 numbers.

Mountaire made $1 billion more in revenue in 2019 than it did in 2010. Rest assured the profits aren’t trickling down to the workers, the vast majority of whom are minorities, including a lot of recent immigrants. Instead, Mountaire’s owner Ronnie Cameron is shoveling millions to Trump, other Republican candidates, and ultra-conservative causes.

In 2004, he set up a private foundation, the Jesus Fund. Given the poverty of many Mountaire workers, the size of the fund is striking: according to the most recently available federal tax statement, the book value of the Jesus Fund’s assets in 2018 was three hundred and twenty-seven million dollars. The sole donors were Cameron and his company.

From The New Yorker article cited above

I guess Ronnie’s foundation missed this nugget from Jesus:

Yes, I know it’s his money and he can do whatever he pleases with it. But there’s more than chicken blood on his hands.

“It matters how he treats his workers, because he’s making money off the backs of these people and is donating it to Christian causes—so there’s a moral connection.”

Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical Christian and a psychology professor at Grove City College, as quoted in The New Yorker article.

If companies cared as much about their workers as they do about their chickens, we’d be a better country.”

David Michaels, a professor of public health at George Washington University, who headed OSHA during the Obama Administration

Meanwhile, a couple of lawsuits against 10 or more of the largest poultry companies allege that they conspired to hold down workers’ wages and to fix prices. Not surprising when you consider that the top 10 poultry companies control about 80% of the market.

At present, Mountaire is trying to bust the union at their Delaware plant. Check out this paragraph from the article:

The gulf between Cameron’s spectacular wealth and his workers’ meagre circumstances echoes the findings of a recent study by two Harvard economists, Anna Stansbury and Lawrence H. Summers, the former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama. In the paper, “The Declining Worker Power Hypothesis,” Stansbury and Summers argue that, in the past four decades, the single largest driver of income inequality in America has been the decline in worker power, much of it stemming from the collapse of membership in private-sector unions. Since the fifties, the percentage of private-sector workers who belong to unions has declined from thirty-three per cent to six per cent. As a result, there has been an upward redistribution of income to high-income executives, owners, and shareholders. The economists argue that this decline in worker power, more than any other structural change in the economy, accounts for nearly all the gains in the share of income made by America’s wealthiest one per cent.

I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years, but I’ve bought plenty of “cheap” chicken to feed my kids. Now I have a better understanding of the true costs. And a better idea of how that paradigm can change.

Entering the same river twice

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

I totally understand what he’s saying… especially when I go kayaking on the Little Miami River, as I did yesterday morning. I’ve paddled it many times, going upriver for as long as my arms can stand it, and then floating back to my launch point at Otto Armleder Park. Each time, the river IS different – rain (or lack thereof), fallen trees and the constant current reshape it, creating new pools and riffles (they’re way too tame to be called rapids).

And if I’m not a different dude each time I first step into the river, I’m definitely a changed man within seconds. Somehow the current manages to wash away my worries, and I’m more attuned to the sights and sounds around me. I can always count on seeing a grey heron or three, but yesterday there was an entire flock of Canada Geese along the shoreline. I passed three middle-aged couples paddling ~7 miles down to the Ohio River. I saw someone fly fishing – he and his travel companion (still sleeping in his/her tree hammock) had paddled downriver and camped overnight. And I had plenty of alone time to ponder the mysteries of life.

The river is different. I’m different. But the positive feeling I get? That’s the same as it ever was.

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