Thursday, September 14, 2017

What Happened Since May

      So....something happened in May after my vacation.  Or rather, maybe it started in June, a bit after my birthday?  I think that's probably about right.  I fully had plans in order to post more awesome things about the House on the Rock, thought I'd tell everyone about the story that I was writing - I'd gotten in over a chapter of writing, had a lot of ideas of where to go next and I was really on a roll with the spring planting outside too...
     And then my husband got into D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) and even though I'd played briefly back in the early 2000's, I really never got into it that much.  It was rather boring for me and really confusing and I didn't think it was something that I would get into.  But my husband bought a little figure in order to represent his character so I thought...no problem, right?  I'll help him paint it since I used to paint WH40K back then as well.  Who knew that a part of my life right after college would re-appear when I was in my late 30's?  So we bought some paint and I started my adventure in painting again but refused to play D&D myself...
     At first, of course.  I really just did the little blue guy in the photo, and then told my husband he was kind of on his own because I might help paint but I wasn't going to play, my schedule really didn't allow for it all that much anyway.  But then his friends asked if I could paint some of their minis too... so then I've got another one under my belt...then some monsters, and one afternoon I got dragged out and played my first round of D&D after some 15 years.... and it wasn't terrible.
     I think it's a bit less confusing now that I could write up my own character, had a book to look at (instead of my boyfriend in college just writing up a character for me) and then I ended up going to the local gaming store and buying a figure for myself...JUST in case I were to play again, I didn't want to borrow someone's figure to represent my character.
     Skip forward about a month later and suddenly I was buying up all sorts of figures after having painted some for my friends (even a paid commission!) and I bought a few just in case we were ever to play ourselves, and my husband had talked briefly about running a campaign himself since it sort of interested him.  Also it would allow our DM some time off for a week maybe if we ran a game ourselves once in awhile.  Meanwhile, I painted up Ellabee (the purple figure as well as the green, I couldn't figure out whether bard or fighter was more my style honestly).  And I got to play her in a few more games but then she sort of got sidelined when something unexpected happened.
     During a moment of chuckles reading something on my phone at work, I had a co-worker sort of perk up wondering what I was laughing about.  I mentioned the fact that I was starting to paint figures for D&D and that I'd played a little.  She was totally into the idea of playing herself as she'd never played before.  So a few days later we gathered up two more people interested in playing and I was freaking out because I'd never actually run a campaign and I felt that it was up to me to do it.
     So, on a rainy afternoon I picked them all up after work and we went to the local gaming store for some dice and figures, wrote up the characters and then I DM'd for my very first adventure.  It was pretty shoddy really, had a very short and quick storyline and some items to collect and a couple of monsters to defeat and I really didn't know what I was doing exactly but I'd jotted down a map and I think everyone had fun because at the end of the night they were already planning on the next night we could get together!
     Since then, my life has been eaten up by gaming... mostly.  Also the ridiculous amount of tomatoes that came out of our garden that I had to can and eat and make into all sorts of delicious sauces and salsas.  But anyway, for a good month or more we met once a week to play games and I got really excited and into it, picking up all sorts of monsters and painting them and getting ready for the next week's campaign and we finally got out of the original town that we'd spent the first three levels on and I started heading my party into the "big city" where things have halted temporarily since we had vacations to get through and recently I've had my convention to plan for again.
     We did...however, have a week where my husband ran a short campaign and I got to use a new character.  The image to the left is our little adventure this week, trying to get a dragon's egg from some guy and having a group trying to steal it from us after we'd just gotten it.  I'm still semi-confused what happened there...but it was fun and I got to play a new Warlock character I'd written up and it was amusingly amazing to not be behind the screen for once.  Don't get me wrong though, I really miss being the DM now that it's been about three weeks since our last game - we'd plowed through playing during the first gal's vacation, but the subsequent weeks it's been nearly impossible to plan since her schedule tends to be opposite of mine and I was covering her as well.
     So.... since then this has been my life.  I have most recently been working on the graphic designs and merchandising for the convention, but we're going to be doing another get-together next Friday so I have to start writing up the next campaign to get us back going again.  I have more figures to paint and things to prepare for during the week.


-----------------

    In other news, during my journey into playing D&D and DMing, I've been watching a lot of videos and listening to things online.  I ran across Matthew Colville who's been playing since he was a kid and had some really interesting information about running games which I've been super into.  My players, however, have been listening to Critical Role.  My husband listened to some of the Podcast from time to time and when we'd go on long road trips he'd played some for me but I really couldn't quite get into it.... my players though were completely falling for the characters from CR and it really just boggled my mind...
     But as I did a bit of sewing tonight (Halloween curtains for the kitchen...I'm weird) I was listening to the most recent one and realized that it's so much roleplay and not as much actual action and fighting that I kind of think I know why it's boring to me...it's a story that has very little advancement because it happens in real time unlike a standard story.  It's interesting when you're there playing it... it might be amusing...but since I'm not the one playing it, it's sort of 'meh'.  But I do remember the appeal of listening to voice actors when I was younger.  You forget where you are when you hear this voice of a character you know...suddenly you're in that show and you're engrossed in the world.
     Maybe it's because I'm older?  I've been there - done that?  Don't know.  But I thought I'd just make a note of this since it's been on my mind lately.
     




Wednesday, May 31, 2017

House on the Rock: The Carousel Collection (part 1)

The Carousel.
So, unless you live in the Midwest or you've read Neil Gaiman's American Gods, you may not have heard of "The House on the Rock" (HOTR) which isn't far from the city of Dodgeville in Wisconsin.  It was built by a man by the name of Alex Jordan, and since there's so much information on this guy out there, I won't go through too much.  Just know that they don't call this place a museum, they call it "The Attraction".  And when you start watching YouTube videos and looking at images of the place, and learning some of the secrets about it, I'm sure you'll start to see why it is definitely an "Attraction."

The largest part of this attraction, one that brings quite a few folks there (including myself) is the "world's largest carousel" (or at least it used to be, I haven't looked up to see if there's any with more than the 269 animals on this one).  What's odd is, unless you're a carousel enthusiast as I am, you may not find it more than a curiosity as no one (at least except for Neil Gaiman) gets to ride it, it never stops turning, and there isn't a single horse on it.

Okay...so that's one of the first lies they tell you, as there are actually dozens of horses on the carousel - they're all cleverly hidden up at the very top where you can't see them except in the darkness, their shadows and an occasional feather peaking out from a hole cut into the ceiling in the upper catwalks.  The miniature horses are hidden by a carpeted overhang that hides the upper workings from view, and were probably produced en masse by the workers at the HOTR.  You will see similar miniature horses on the doll carousels, but more about that in a different blog.

The second reason that 'there aren't any horses' on the carousel is that many of the strange and wonderful creatures started off as horses at some point.  The most obvious ones are some of the zebras, but then nearly all of the centaurs and other oddly mixed creatures were either created by mixing other pre-existing ship's figureheads with horses bodies or they were added by the staff.  The most bizarre of which I believe are the twin "knight" centaurs who have bodies of women and helmets on their heads, but the eyes under those helmets make them look like strange, expressionless aliens.  Maybe Alex thought everyone would be looking at the breasts on these things rather than their faces.  Even one of the employees commented that he was "very particular about getting the proportions right" on the female bodies...didn't quite care about the rest apparently.

The rest of the animals are either real carved animals from other carousels that Alex collected over the years, or carved by the staff (the bulldog is featured in many of the shop's many souvenirs and I haven't been able to find out any information about it).  Or some of them may have even been duplicates and replicas.  I saw quite a few Dentzel animals on the carousel including cats, rabbits, bears and ostriches.  There's no real way to tell which ones were the 'real' animals and which are copied, as I'll show you here in a moment, because all of the real animals were stripped and painted in the "Alex Jordan style".


Plaques in the Welcome Center.
 In the Welcome center, you'll find some of the other information about the carousel.  It speaks of Alex deciding to build a carousel, collecting up hundreds of animals and horses and then ultimately deciding not to put the horses on this huge carousel but only animals.  It vaguely mentions that the base of the carousel came from one he purchased and then modified to the six plus row carousel.  (I say "six plus" because some smaller animals are added outside of the outer row standers, plus it moves so fast it's hard to count!)  The information you read here is all you'll pretty much find except for a random small plaque lit near the carousel itself that mentions how many animals, how many lights, and what year it was installed.

If you try to research this carousel, you'll actually come up with a lot of very strange blanks.  I was actually pretty surprised that all of my carousel resources have virtually no mention of the machine, even of it being fabricated, it's just simply not there.  I tried posing the question to the group to see if maybe someone had a hush order put on it, or perhaps they just didn't see it as a "real" carousel.  People commented on wanting to "see it" or "I love looking at it when I go to HOTR" but no one had any information on it!

Thankfully I did run into one helpful staff member who worked at the house when he was a teenager and remembered a few details that the displays didn't mention.  He said that it was a carousel bought from Detroit, MI and that it originally had only three rows.  Some of the animals even used to go up and down at one time.  He said he would be sent on errands by Alex with a large sum of cash to go buy up as many carousel horses and animals as he could find.  He also mentioned hours upon hours of stripping paint off of the garish carousel horses.

There's even a mention briefly in the welcome center's files about an "artist" named Mark Miller who created the style of painting for the carousel.  The fellow we talked to said didn't paint but had learned to dowse the horses in paint stripper and work layer upon layer off.  So the staff put in a lot of man hours into this thing followed by hours by the artists like Mark.

What I find is odd though, carousel websites don't even mention the restoration efforts of Alex Jordan's staff anywhere either.  It's rather a whole huge 'shush shush' thing.

Possible Parker carousel horse circa 1900's.

This horse sits between the welcome center and the hallway that leads down to the "attraction" itself.  Not quite sure what type it is, (my first gut instinct said Parker, but I'm not professionally trained on identification) and you can see that it most likely is missing a real tail (although some on the walls still have real horse hair tails) and there was some repair work done to it before it was painted.  You can get a good look at the detailed painting that went on here.  I really wish there would have been a better record of the painters and artists who worked at HOTR as they were pretty decent restorationists even at a time where that was only just becoming a thing.  Many horses like this one would have been carted around to various carnivals all over the country and would have been beaten up pretty badly.  For a horse to have been restored even to this level would have taken hours of labor.

Well, maybe the reason this carousel isn't mentioned anywhere is it's really impossible to tell except for in a few odd instances whether the animals are real or all replicas.  The carousel never stops spinning and the horses that hang on the wall around the room are too far up to touch.  There are a few smaller animals that are touchable (for photos) and they are definitely replicas as a knock on them gives a nice hollow sound that's more plastic than wood.  The only other reason I seem to think some of them might be replicas is the sheer sameness of them.  The two in the lobby as you walk in to buy tickets are nearly identical.

 Obviously they are painted differently, but look closely, besides the tail being in a slightly different position and the forelock coming up on one and not the other, almost all of the other details that separate them are painted on.  I'll post another further down that has similar features to the white and black horse to the left here.

Dentzel replicas in the lobby.
This is the best introduction to the "Alex Jordan" style carousel horse.  They are by all restoration standards, pretty perfect.  As mentioned in the plaques above, they were painted black to start, then lighter shades are applied in coat after coat.  I'd imagine it was sort of a 'dry brush' technique that I'm familiar with in doing miniatures.  The white horse you can see more of the black and you can see how the mane stands out on both.  Doing it this way, the bridal and saddle stand out even more because of their bright colors.  Many of the horses that are on display, even ones hung high up in the rafters almost impossible to see, have quite a few details painted on them.

I think another reason this technique was used is because of the way that Alex lit the "attraction" as everything is dark, light mostly with red or hardly at all.  When lights shine up on these animals the colors appear even brighter, casting dark shadows on them.  Of course, in daylight they look beautiful as well, and I'll post a few that are kept well away from most eyes that still have a ton of work put into them.

Admittedly, much of this is conjecture as there really aren't a whole lot of people left from that era who worked with Jordan and I really didn't get to talk to the worker there a whole lot since he only knew as much as what he remembered as a teenager.  Most of it occurred in the 1977-1980 time period, and the carousel was opened to the public in 1981.

Christmas Horse.
 Here's the reason why I have doubts on the complete authenticity of the carousel horses at the HOTR.  As you can see from the next two horses, they too (even the pegasus that had wings added) are the same carving as the one above.  Most likely they are all from an original Dentzel carousel horse (the top knot and strong features being my reason for thinking so) that Alex duplicated and then they just decorated the horses in a handful of different styles.  He must have liked this one a lot otherwise, why would these standers be unique in that they didn't ride the carousel?

Pegasus in the hall of innovation.
Not only are these four from the same mold, there's one to the left of the "Christmas Horse" to the right, as well as almost every single standing horse figure on the carousel itself (including three or so centaurs, another pegasus and another made into a unicorn) are all these exact same mold.  The centaurs are unique because they later added some extra armor or cut off their heads, but you can still see the rings and ribbons on the body and the tail is in the same position on all of them!

I'm fairly certain that just one of these animals are the real one.  Heaven knows which though!  Perhaps it doesn't even exist anymore, having been molded into oblivion.

It's entirely possible that there is a Dentzel carousel workings under the lights and weirdly shaped animals.  There aren't any "missing" carousels we know of from that period that came from Detroit, but there was one from Missouri that they lost track of in the 1960's and it had menagerie animals on it.  But, there's no way to tell as all of the outer panels have long been stripped off of the carousel.  Perhaps within the meticulous notes kept by his accountant there's mention of it, but I doubt that anyone would be allowed access to them to find out for sure.

Since I took hundreds of (oftentimes fuzzy) photos of the carousel itself, I found myself attracted instead to some of the ones that didn't make it.  Or maybe they were just more copies?  One that hangs near the plaques that talk about the carousel is one of the Dentzel cats.  These two are more examples of identical copies and at least for the one below that reside in the cafe area for you to climb on, they are most likely both fiberglass.  There are two or three more on the carousel itself.  Usually they did come in pairs but as you can see, the carvings are exactly the same.
Dentzel cat reproductions.

I got to sit on the one below as there are a few different animals that are "touchable".  At the time I didn't think much of it but I did tap it to see if it was fake and heard an obvious hollow sound when tapped.  The other animals in the room were quite possibly the same.

There is one other cat on the carousel that seems to have been carved by someone else, but I haven't been able to figure out whether it was by an 'original' carver or not.  There doesn't seem to be many other carvers who added cats, but quite possibly as the plaques mention, it may have come from Mexico or Europe.  I don't have a clear picture of it unfortunately as it was about three rows back and you get a one second glimpse of it before its whisked away around the machine.

Another odd creature you'll see throughout are dragons.  There are a few of these on the carousel as well, but none of them are "original" by any means.  If they were original at some point, it was only in the form of the carousel horse (or more likely hippocampus which is part horse part fish) body.  Look carefully at these two dragons and you'll see the horse hooves, saddle and collar are both the same.  The tails have been added and so have the trio of heads.  They're at least uniquely different and even the wings are subtly different in the two dragons.  The top dragon is in the welcome center and the other is in the hallway leading down to the attraction.  One dragon is more European and the other more Asian in detail.

Dragons in Welcome Center and Walkway to the Attraction.
The dragons on the carousel itself are different still from these two.  One is a copy of another I'll be speaking about below, and another is just a single headed dragon with a tail like the one below but larger wings.  I'm actually surprised that more of these dragons were not on the carousel itself, but perhaps they wanted to use these as show pieces.

A few other animals were treated like that too, as you'll see below, these animals are similar to ones on the carousel but have special features.

"Hidden Santa" St. Bernard.
Besides the cats and horses there are quite a few other animals that reside off the carousel.  The first is a St. Bernard, which I believe is at least initially from a PTC carving.  I'm not entirely sure as even though it says "1890" it was most certainly a repaint.  The worker pointed out that this one was painted to have a "hidden Santa Claus" in the front above the collar.  Do you see it?  Santa's beard is above the collar, his face is brown and the tongue of the dog is his hat.  Don't worry if you don't see it...I don't really either exactly although my husband said he saw it right away.  I feel like it was a "happy accident" and the imagination of someone who spent far too much time in the carousel room with the loud drums ringing in their ears!

Touchable Wolf in Cafe.
Another odd figure was this wolf that you can find in the cafe area (with the Dentzel type tiger behind it identified by the way it's whiskers form a straight line between nose and neck).  I haven't seen unusual wolves like this one before as the only one I've seen was a more recent carving and the neck and muzzle looked a bit less oddly proportioned.  It could be that this was one of the original carvings they procured or made for the carousel (there is another like it on the carousel itself, I think...it seems to be three or four rows back).  I have considered whether the creators of some of the more unusual and strange creatures created this wolf and the squirrel below.

The squirrel is one of the strange hidden gems in the carousel room.  It sits behind a horse an near a donkey that moves its head next to the St. Bernard.  I don't have a good clear shot of any of that however as the corner where the squirrel was almost pitch black.

In all of my research though, I have found no information on squirrels, although it's quite possible to have come originally from a kangaroo sculpt.  The way the feet sit on the ground and the elongated neck and slightly long ears give that clue.  However, they re-purposed it to hold the acorn and have a large, fluffy tail.  It's an odd sculpture though as it looks sort of 'off' and uncompleted, more like it was created with clay or something other than wood.  The underbelly looks almost like you can see the base of the kangaroo tail.  Perhaps it's hidden in this corner because of those defects.

Hidden Gems covered in Dust.
Above the squirrel to the left is a carousel horse that was oddly in one of the darkest corners of the place and I felt rather sorry for it.  Later on I took a picture of it from above.  (Please excuse the mermaid breasts in the photo...meant to crop those)  As you can see, even the horses hidden away in dark corners have tons of detail painted on them (lots of flowers usually) but kept in the dark I guess they don't think to dust them very often.  I think they must clean them sometimes because otherwise there would be a bunch more dust after 30 plus years!

Dentzel Bear and Goat.
Other carousel horses have much of the same treatment as this one you see.  Even when they're hanging high on the walls in the rooms above the carousel and in the adjoining doll carousel rooms.  In the picture on the right here, you can see the horses hanging above this the forgotten one on the floor.  There is also a Dentzel bear hanging there as well as a mermaid (there are quite a few mermaids scattered throughout as well as centaurs). Well, maybe I was wrong about dusting...  The camera flash really shows off the details of the horses, but also the dust!  I feel rather sorry about these poor souls hanging out on the walls being glimpsed only briefly by those people walking through the attraction.

I'm fairly certain that many of these horses were replicated too, but I haven't pinpointed any for certain yet after perusing the pictures for awhile.  Maybe these jumpers (inner row horses typically and moved on the polls up and down) may actually be originals.  Although some of them seem to barely be hanging by wire which might mean they're lighter than the typical wood counterparts.

And even though I am aware of their being European centaurs, they almost all were of a certain war hero and not a cowboy like the one you see to the left, or the pirate above the mermaid!  Most likely this was a copy of another centaur and changed to look more recognizable for Americans.  Others similar but different are spread throughout the carousel itself as well as our goat friend at the bottom.  You can see him from two different angles in the photo above and to the left.  He's a typical Dentzel (again) and the only difference from him and the ones on the carousel itself are the ones on the carousel have exaggerated horns that are almost twice as long.

Here's a peek at the other animals that aren't on the carousel (I particularly liked this photo since you can see the drums and ridiculous angel mannequin.)  To the far left bottom you can see another one of the Dentzel rabbits.  There are two more on the carousel as well as one that has a carrot in its mouth that I can't find a carver reference that matches it.  There is also a rooster and a kangaroo.  If you notice the features on the kangaroo (I wish I had a clearer shot of it) you can almost see the squirrel having come from this particular carving.  The face is almost the same, and then if they had added sloppy details to the collar, you can see where it may have come from.

PTC style dragon in the circus building.
As mentioned above, there was one other type of dragon on the carousel and that's this PTC dragon.  The Philadelphia Toboggan Company created quite a few dragons for their menagerie machines but often they were too scary for young children and not too many people bought them.  This one isn't very scary with the softer, horse-like features and it even has front "hooves" which distinguishes it from other maker's dragons.  I have a photo of one in a book I own and the tail and hooves are identical.  As you can see in the background, there is also another tiger like the one in the cafe.  Behind it resides a lion, an ostrich and a camel, all from other carvers.

Mark Miller's Initial White Mare.
I haven't even begun to show pictures of the actual carousel itself, that is just how massive this collection is!  I will show shots of the carousel itself in part 2.  These horses just come out so much clearer since they weren't constantly in motion.

The unfortunate thing about all of this, is since there isn't any information on these horses online but for what has been published by the house and a few authorized biographies, there's not much about the artists behind the hundreds of horses.  The only name we have is Mark Miller, and there was only one small nod to his name in the horses themselves that I could find as I'm unsure if he signed any of them, this white mare on the left has a very distinguishable "M" scrawled on its saddle blanket.  I wonder perhaps if this artist was tired of them calling the painting the "Alex Jordan Style" and rather it should have been called the "Mark Miller Style" as if he did most of these horses he must have been painting non-stop for quite a few years.  I think, rather, that he may have developed the style, taught a few skilled painters, and then perhaps finished off the detail work on some of them himself (like on the white mare).  Some of the fine flowers and other detailed paintings on the sides of the horses look like they were done by the same artist.  A few had the feel of other artists, but they all had extensive paint jobs done on them that would rival any carousel you see today (minus a few of the exceptional restorations that have been done).  It's just a pity that they hang upon black walls, mostly hidden from sight, collecting decades of dust.

My theory is, if the HOTR were to ever close down, there would have to be a serious consideration by the carousel horse collectors and auctioneers as to which horses were real and which were reproductions as well as what the significance of the paintings done to even the reproductions would have on value.  The market might be flooded with "fakes" that were painted beautifully, or it could be flooded with real carousel horses that were restored beautifully.  It's really quite hard to tell.  I do hope that the HOTR will stay around for many generations, but things looked a bit bleak as most who worked there were well into retirement age and it was fairly quiet the majority of the time I was there.  Would the carousel collectors be excited to see this collection out?  Or would something terrible happen to all of the hard work, either distributed out all over or destroyed by time if it were to quietly shut down and just get closed up as is?

It's a question I hope not to live to see the answer to, as I would really hate to see "vidoes of the shut down HOTR decay..." start showing up on YouTube.  I'd also wonder though, if finally the carousel would be brought out into the daylight and whether carousel enthusiasts would finally decide that they could talk about the horses and animals there.  Maybe the taboo of not talking about it would finally change if collectors started looking for the "Mark Miller/Alex Jordan Style' painted creatures.

In Part 2, I will be sharing some of the less fuzzy photos of the carousel in motion.  I hope that if you enjoy carousels as much as I do you'll come back when I post them as well!  Please pay a visit to the HOTR as it's a good way to spend an entire day and discover some of the things I won't even be posting here!  Thanks for sticking with me to the end and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed putting this together to share with you.


 (Disclaimer:  The proceeding article was written by merely a fan of the HOTR, and I'm not making any money off this blog and am using this merely as conjecture and to share it with others to hopefully get more interest in this awesome place!  The images were taken not for professional purposes but for my hobby and the handful of people who actually see this blog.  The photos are not for sale nor print, they are just to look at and you can take some of your own if you go yourself!  In fact, PLEASE GO SEE THEM YOURSELF!  This place is is awesome, even if you just go see the second/third section to see just the carousel horses, you'll be well rewarded.  I'd love to be able to share this with more carousel enthusiasts and maybe we can finally get more information on this awesome place.)



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rant: Equal Pay and Unpaid Labor in the Household

     So, for those of you joining me for the first time in this blog, welcome.  I've done some edits since I posted this rant this afternoon as I had some of my friends really throw me for a loop by saying I was "dead wrong" and it caught me off-guard.  I should have known that I'd get more of the same arguments that I present here in the rant below, but I didn't think I'd get them from so many of my more liberal friends.  Well, I guess a lot of people have fallen into the same beliefs that so many conservatives have as well.
      The problem is, many of us Americans have put blinders on our eyes to those outside of our circle of friends, family and acquaintances.  We stop looking at those around who have it worse than us.  We lay blame on the innocent because WE managed to get out of the situations that I'm talking about below, but there are many, many others who cannot all over the world.  If you are reading this, you obviously want to know more about the wage gap and unpaid labor, and I've changed my approach in writing this article to include links to other articles that I read which spoke of these issues within the last few years.  I have also included a more recent link to an NBC article that speaks of Unequal Pay Day on April 4.  Unfortunately, the new administration is tearing down many of the advances we made to shortening this gap, and if you don't believe it, then please go on your way because you're too closed-minded to take what I have into consideration and I really don't need more negative feed back. (Constructive criticism and valid articles are welcome however.)  I've had enough of that as a woman all of these years as it is.  I probably wouldn't have gotten the lashing I got this afternoon if I'd been male.  And now, my "rant"....


Equal Pay

     "Equal Pay Day" happened on April 4 this year.  It's how many days a woman would have worked into the next year to have made the same amount of money as a man the previous year.  If you want to read more on it, visit this article: NBC NEWS ARTICLE: What is Unequal Pay Day?  I hadn't done enough research up until today to know the true meaning of it, or had even known it existed until April 4.
      On that day, an acquaintance on Facebook posted and article and then dared all of their liberal friends to call them out on the 'fallacy' of unequal pay.  The acquaintance was male, which I sort of expected, and he called out one of his friends who was a very outspoken, liberal female in order to counter him.  She didn't, except to say that that unequal pay actually existed.  I was a bit more outspoken, but only after reading comments left by other females pointing out just how "ridiculous" it was to say that there was inequality in wages.
     I was far more surprised at the females saying that "of course I make as much as a man" and just how many blamed other women for not making as much or not working in the same fields so it was a woman's fault.  WAIT ONE SECOND.... What?  So even women have fallen for this lie that it's a woman's fault.  If she's not making the same amount of money as a man, it's her fault.  So if a woman and a man have the same job but she's not making as much, it's her fault?
     So it's a woman's fault for choosing a job that she can do for less money and that she should go out there and get a job that pays more.  It's her fault for not choosing a better job.
     Even though when I was a child in the 1980's people said "you an be anything you want to be."  But when they put a list of jobs down in front of me, never did they say, "Well, if you really want to make money you should go into a technical field rather than go into retail."  They didn't list jobs that went to men typically.  When I went to school they never said that going into engineering or the sciences was the way to go.  I was given a list with typically "female" oriented jobs like nursing, teaching or child-rearing.
     But it's 2017!  Find a new job!  You say this to me as if it's really "that" easy.  To get into those technical jobs, the ones that pay a whole lot of money it means spending a bunch of money that I just don't have, and I'm considered "middle class".  Put yourself in the shoes of a woman who is considered lower class.  Where would she get the money to go into school to get into one of these technical jobs?  What if she has children?  I researched a carpentry technical school earlier this week and found that I'd have to wait until the class period opened, then apply to a bunch of jobs, hope one would hire me, and then also find time to go to classes 40 hours a month.  If that woman has children and a household to upkeep with a husband who also works 40 hours, do you really think that she would have time to get into it?

     Before you start going all Sigmund Freud on me, please stop reading into this article as me being unhappy with my pay.  Sure, I'm unhappy, but for different reasons than the pay-gap.  I make more than all of the males that have worked with me because I have seniority and I'm good at my job.  But I did the same job a few years ago and made almost $2 more an hour until my boss screwed me over and dropped me to a "keyholder."  And like those women who keep saying "it's your fault for not doing more" - no, no it wasn't my fault.  I have a crappy boss who also had a crappy boss and they played favorites.  She's still trying to get me to step down because she doesn't like that I challenge her.  But that's another story for another time.

     Thankfully in America as of just last year, the pay gap has shortened.  Women are starting to go into more male-oriented jobs.  Men are starting to go into more female-oriented jobs.  Problems still exist with discrimination in those jobs, but I'm not here to talk about that.  There are plenty of really interesting articles on the subject including one from a man who switched his name's with a female co-worker's for a week and found himself shunted because of how men treated him thinking he was a woman.  So go read them if you like.  I'm very proud of the females out there who can really reach out and get a job and become a CEO and such.  At least they're driven, outgoing, motivated and making a name for themselves.  But, there ARE fewer company CEOs that are women than men still, and until that gap narrows a bit more, we're still looking at about $0.83 to every $1.00 that men make.  And yes, 51% of that gap is due to a difference in job types.  I won't deny it.  And I'm sure the children that are being raised now understand that they don't have to become nurses and teachers right...?
     There are a whole lot more articles about that online you can read about how low income and lower educated children make up a big chunk of those people who are sitting at the bottom of the workforce.  Can they make it big for themselves?  Doubtful.  They're in school districts who have a huge disadvantage when it comes to training them to be ready for the technological world they're living in right now and it'll will take a whole ton of motivation and a whole lot of luck for them to pull themselves out to get on that track.  Females in the lower education areas still believe that they are nothing without a man, oftentimes they'll marry young, have kids and never finish education, very few will ever go anywhere in their lives.  Would they want to?  Yes, most likely, but would they have the training to be able to do this?  No.  Without a proper education the world is closed off to them and they don't even know what could be out there for them.  That saying of "what you don't know can't hurt you" is actually false, because many of these lower income families hurt by not knowing that there's a bunch more out there.  And it's even worse in other countries.
     My own, personal experience growing up in a relatively low-middle class neighborhood surrounded with middle-to-upper class kids made me realize some things as an adult.  Yes, I was able to go to college, yes, I could have done a whole lot more to have advanced myself, but I was completely unaware of the disadvantages of the direction in college I chose.  Neither of my parents had completed any upper education so they were completely unaware of the challenges that would face me.  For them, those who went into college automatically became successful.  It doesn't happen like that anymore, but for many, we have the internet at our disposal and we can learn things about the world and jobs.  I for one would have told my past self to have at least gone into business classes if I wanted to remain in retail.  My parents never would have thought in a million years to suggest that, not because they wanted me in a 'woman's job' they just didn't know.
     Again, I can see my own, personal failures and I know how to fix them.  But because of mental problems: anxiety and depression, I have problems doing anything about it.  I've persisted and I've told myself that I need to either be happy in my job, or I need to do something about it.  And besides those poor and uneducated, there's a whole lot just like me who have it even worse to the point they can't even get a job because the world never prepared them for how cut-throat it is to "make it big".

     For now, that's all I have to say on the subject of wage inequality.  I honestly need to learn more about it, but I think it's unfair to lay 100% of the blame on women for not making as much as men.  The inequality exists and it should be addressed at the very least in raising children so that they can make educated choices on what they want to do and not let gender be a deciding factor, whether they are female or male.
   

Unpaid Labor in the Household

     So, as I thought about it this afternoon after getting bombarded by negativity this afternoon, I wondered if this topic was a completely different subject from Equal Pay.  But I still felt that it played a part, and after doing some research on the topic, found I'm not all that far off in my understanding.  I just needed to tweak my wording better to explain my feelings.  Apparently I'm not the only one who believes that the wage gap has something to do with unpaid labor in the household, but I just didn't quite have the phrasing down.  So if you're actually interested in unpaid labor, please read the following two articles from a bit over a year ago:

NY TIMES ARTICLE : 2/23/2016

THE ATLANTIC ARTICLE: 02/16/2016

     To summarize the articles: women spend more time doing unpaid labor than men do.  By having to spend more time doing these unpaid tasks, they have less time to do paid tasks like working full-time jobs.  Thus, there is more of a pay-gap because these women spend more time taking care of households and children.  They also spend less time doing leisure activities than men do.  The Atlantic article actually shows this unpaid labor gap via a graph in various countries around the world and how much time is spent by women versus men.  In most of the examples, women do more unpaid work than men.  Read it if you don't believe it.  The gaps may have shortened in a year, but I doubt that it's shortened enough to be significant.

     Do I believe that my time is spent doing more chores than my husband spends at his leisure?  HELL YES I DO.  Okay, I've got it out there.  It's true.  Am I angry about it?  Sometimes.  Do I want to spend more leisure time myself?  Heck yes.  But I've also seen what my household looks like after I've been sick or thrown into a pretty bad bout of depression for a week.  Do I want to live in a pig-sty?  No.  Is it my husband's fault?  Yes...and No.

     One of my friend's this afternoon pointed out that I was kind of passive-aggressively pointing out my unhappiness with my husband in this rant.  (Not those exact words but let's tell it like it is, I sort of was.)
     Since I moved out of my parent's house, I have had a lot less time to do things that I would call "leisure."  I'm pretty sure there are plenty of women who find themselves in the same boat.  We have household chores to tackle because we were raised to take pride in our homes.  I know there's a bunch of women who are probably the opposite (and probably a lot of men who would rather have a cleaner household and spend more time cleaning than their wives do - so I won't discount them!)  And I'm sure there are plenty of households where both parties are either slobs or both of them like cleaning.  I'm at a disadvantage in some cases because I know I could just lay off chores for awhile and do what I want to do, but I was also raised to keep a tidy house and I also have terrible allergies which means I'll be sick if I don't do these chores on a regular basis either.  My husband was raised in a rather more lax environment where cleaning was done when necessary and he doesn't see chores the same way I do.
     That's not to say that I don't believe he doesn't do enough chores, but I do believe he spends less time on those chores than I do.  He cooks, he does dishes, he takes care of the cat litter, he takes out the garbage, cleans the toilets on occasions and will do other chores that I ask of him if I remember to ask him to do them.  When I do those same chores, I tend to spend more time doing them because I do them more thoroughly.  Some of the chores that we both shared once I have taken over entirely because I felt that he wasn't doing them to my standard.  Am I complaining about it?  Yes.  Do I believe that by complaining it will fix all my problems?  No.  Do I believe that he can change overnight to do them the same? Nope.  No-Siree.  Because many men like my husband don't see chores the way I do.  The few extra minutes that I spend scrubbing that toilet means I don't have to do it for another week, but that quick swish he does means we'll be scrubbing it a few days down the line.  I take pride in my chores as a job well done.  He sees them (I think) like a hurdle he has to over-come the fastest way he can to get onto other more enjoyable things.
     Am I going to let it get me down?  No.  Will I complain about it sometimes?  Heck yes.

     Just like so many other women who deal with this problem, we make our own beds so we have to lie in them.  That's just how it is.  But should it be this way?  Probably not.  I argued that the USA is still a Patriarchal society.  Does that mean that men are the majority?  No.  It just means that men have the advantage.  Do all men take that advantage?  No. I'm proud that my husband isn't one of those, but for a very, very long time in the USA men did (and still do in some cases).  Men have the advantage of still being the 'bread winner' because they can't have children, so the wives have that privilege.  Women were raised to do the chores and men were raised to do the work and then spend their time off at their leisure.  Let's be a bit more specific - in a Capitalistic society like ours, the men make money by selling things, the women spend the money by buying food and necessities for the home.  Do women spend more money than men?  Yeah, but we're buying things for the home and for children.  That doesn't mean women are better off or make more money than our male counterparts, men just don't have as much of an interest in shopping than women do.  We don't run the country though...white men do.

     Where am I going with all of this, you ask?  Why am I bringing all of this up in the rant on equal pay?  Well, someone called me out saying that the time spent on household chores shouldn't be brought into the pay-gap. (I did math and everything comparing if we did get paid for all of the hours we spent working paying and non-paying jobs which figured into about a $3/hr difference.)  Sure it's not like I can say to my work that they need to pay me more because I spend 20 hours a week on chores and my husband's not spending the same amount.  But I do think that I personally have lost a lot of the drive that I used to have before I had a house and chores to do.  Is it my fault?  Yes.  Did I chose this?  Mostly yes.  Is this rant all about me?

No.

     Just like with finding a job, women need to be taught equality at a young age.  But in this case, I think men need to be taught equality in the home at a young age.  I see it all over my neighborhood where the girls do chores but the boys rarely do anything.  IF they do chores, they get paid for them (like walking the dog, taking out the trash or mowing the lawn) but the girls rarely get paid for the chores they are given (washing dishes, setting the table, tidying a bathroom).  There are more articles about if it you want actual numbers associated with this.  Truthfully I was raised equal to my brother on how much money I received versus the chores I did, but it wasn't always equal between my brother and I, and I recognized the unfairness in how we were raised.  Boys and girls both must learn what it takes and learn to share responsibilities for a family equally.

     For those of you reading this who actually do share all of your chores and uphold the same cleanliness standards - kudos!  I'm glad that you've actually broken out of the cave-man era.  But for those of you who have not, do you ever think about how our ancestors basically screwed us over by perpetuating the myth that women must be homemakers and men breadwinners?  I do.

     Let your knowledge become an empowerment for men and women alike and teach them in the ways of equality.  Stop ignoring that it's not there because you don't personally see it in your own life or in those near you.  It's there.  You just have to open your eyes to look for it, and then realize that you have the power to at least try to make sure it ends with you.

_____________________________________________


     Before everyone goes Freudian on me again, I want to point out that I completely re-wrote this rant because I was numb and depressed that my "friends" were so harsh in their arguments against what I said.  I did research and I still stick firm in my beliefs that women and men are treated unequally in many respects still today.  HOWEVER....  Before you start saying that there's some underlying reason behind me writing this, STOP.  My husband is loving, decent, and kind.  He and I share our lives and we balance our chores and work accordingly.  Am I jealous of his free time?  Of course I am.  Could I do something about it?  Possibly.  But would I suffer for that change in lifestyle?  Most likely I would for awhile until I could settle into it.  But would he allow me to do it?  Of course.  The only thing that is stopping me is ME.  I recognize that, I do not blame my situation on my husband.  I blame much of myself for suffering with anxiety and depression which I could control with medicines, but I hate to become dependent upon them.  I'm also very introverted and I would much rather be a follower than a leader.  I have pushed myself out of my comfort-zone many times in order to try to break out of this mold, but when you have problems in your life that hold you back, it's a very slow process.
     The fact that I write this blog is my way of spending time at my leisure doing something I enjoy to do.  I LOVE writing.  I went to college for it.  But I've been constantly side-lined by friends and family for years.  When I said I wanted to write in High School my guidance Councillor said "you should go into teaching instead".  When I wrote a novel and showed it to my mother, she read through the whole thing but she gave me very little feedback or praise.  I pursued writing in college and had many professors say I should continue writing.  I wrote a ton during my college years, but when I looked for opinions on my original writings from friends and family no one wanted to take the time to read all of it and no one encouraged me.  When I wrote fanfiction I got tons of encouragement but realized I couldn't make a career out of it and tried to go back to my original writing and got no where time and time again.  Did I allow myself to stop?  No.  I've been writing every day for 20 years.  
On a more personal note:  (FYI: swearing will begin in 3 sentences...)

     But out of that 20 years I keep getting slammed by my friends and family.  I get no encouragement from them.  When I write pieces about things that interest me they either get completely ignored or slammed for being wrong.  Well.... FUCK YOU.  I'm writing what I believe and if you disagree then STOP DAMN READING WHAT I HAVE TO WRITE.  Stop cutting me down like I'm a stupid-ass woman who knows nothing.  I'm sick of your lame attempts to correct me.   If you are my friend then you should consider what I have to say and then give me your opinion (with proof if you have it) and we'll discuss it in a nice, civilized manner.  Otherwise just don't say anything at all because you're not my friend if you're just going to slam me down.
      I really don't need the kind of negativity that I got in my life today when I posted something I wanted to rant about.  It's my feeling and my opinion on it, and if you don't like it, then maybe you really don't know me enough to call yourself my friend either.
     
     I'm going to keep writing, whether you like what I have to say or not.  Thankfully we still have free speech...at least for awhile.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Moonlight Chase (Short Story)

A Moonlight Chase - a short story by R. Thompson

     Down through the streets, hooves pounding, breath, small gasps of cloud expelled into the air, racing, heart beating within a chest; it wouldn't be long now.

     No....they will catch her soon.

     She raced down the paved streets, ducking into a yard, across two grassy plains that held nothing of interest to her if she had been hungry, no, this was artificial turf, she should not have come this far into the land of those who hunted her, who sought her, who wanted her for what she could never be for them.

     The sounds of her pursuers faded away as she crossed another lawn, leaped a fence, ran over another road, the sound of her hooves sounding too sharp on the black top, too loud, they'd find her for sure...  But the footsteps were gone now, all she could hear was the sound of her own breath, of her own heart, the hooves on the grass now, it faded away, she could fade away now, there was a small stand of woods here, but it wouldn't be able to hide her during the daylight, only this moonless night would be able to hide her slick, white body and the magic that it held within.

     She was a unicorn.  Probably not the last, she had seen others like herself far, far, to the north.  She had heard stories from the humans that there were so few of them now that no one believed they existed.  Well, perhaps most didn't.  Some wanted to believe, and she'd seen enough t-shirts and posters and small, porcelain figurines to prove that, but she doubted they would actually think she existed.  It was okay.  The humans who once hunted her no longer did.  They wouldn't believe what they saw, blinking twice, the vision of the lovely unicorn there and gone, only a blink of the imagination, really.  She didn't mind.  It wasn't as if she missed them...

     No, that was a lie.  She did miss them.  She missed the small girls with their flowing hair and the flowers they braided together into her mane.  She missed the laughter of the young boys as she took them for rides in the forest.  She missed the old women who would ask her help with curing the sick.   Those were the days she missed the most, and it was the reason she came here, tonight, of all places, to see, if perhaps things had changed enough to go back to those days.  But, they didn't see her.  Not all of them, only a few...this man with a rifle being one of them.

     What were those weapons he held?  Did he think he was seeing what he saw?  Or did he think she was an albino deer?  Probably the later, she mused.  He sent one shot up into the air and it missed her.  Not that it would have stopped her, the weapons of mankind had long ceased to hurt her.  She was immortal, a whisper, a light breeze, a ghost perhaps.  But not so effervescent as to float away into nothing, but not substantial enough to be hurt by a mere bullet.

     He had given chase, and she had allowed it, not so much out of fear but out of the chase, of the game. The horseman chasing the fox in the woods.  Although they had stopped that long ago as well.  The only proof of the old hunt was in the ancient tapestries that were woven so long ago.  Were these the same humans that used to capture her kind for luck?  There were terrible stories, but most of them were false.  Her kind wasn't so easily taken down, taken apart, and sold for it's magical items, although the rhino...  They had seen better days, their magic stripped away and for what?  A piece of fingernail?  Nothing.  Her ancient ancestors would weep for the poor creatures who had long since lost their magic.

     The unicorn brushes through the small stand of trees and came out into yet another small neighborhood.  These dwellings for humans were compact, house next to house with barely a patch of inedible grass in between.  Some had fences, others did not, but they were stacked next to one another like so many dominoes.  She felt sorry for them.  They had forgotten what it was like to live in the woods.  They had forgotten how to grow things, to feed themselves, to see one another as special beings.  There were no voices speaking to one another around communal fireplaces, no happy singing their children to sleep.  Instead, there were murmurs and flashes of lights from televisions.

     She started to turn, noticing the moon was now rising in the East.  If the hunter was still out there, he would surely spot her white hide when the moon rose.  But a sound in the thicket surprised her.  She turned back, wondering of the sound, a snap, a murmur, and then a purr.

     "Who goes there?"  She asked, not sure if the creature understood her language.

     She needn't have feared a lack of understanding though, as the creature came into the moonlight, sulky and black as a shadow.  The cat brushed up against her hoof.  "It is I, your majesty.  What brings you to a place like this?"

     The unicorn blinked her pale, violet eyes, seeing the cat better now as the moon rose.  It was solid black but for a few white hairs upon its chest.  "I'm no majesty, small creature.  But I am a traveler who has run into a bit of a chase tonight and hoped to find some place where I might sleep.  Do you now of a place nearby one such as myself could nap in peace for a short time?"

     Rumbling now, the cat intertwined itself around her foreleg, then the other and then replied, "I can do better than that, I could show you a place, but you would need to give me a ride, as I do not travel as fast or as far as easily as one such as yourself."  It stopped circling and came to sit, looking up at the unicorn, eyes slowly blinking in interest.

     "I do not see why not," the unicorn replied, "Jump upon my back and tell me where to go."

     But cats are still magical, and the moment she said it, he disappeared.  The unicorn stomped her hooves, turning around herself, looking for the beast, not feeling it upon her back, nor sensing its presence.  "Darn beast..."  She muttered.  "Cat!  Where did you go?"

     There came no reply, and not a rustle of leaves within the small wooded area, nor sound of the creature running away.  The unicorn sighed, knowing that besides having the nine lives that humans always swore cats had (they did) but they also could, what did humans call it?  Teleport.  Yes, but it was more like they could hop out of time and into time and reappear somewhere else.  Humans only glimpsed this from time to time when they thought a cat was in one room and it appeared in another, or perhaps they wondered how a cat could escape and they would see it outside even though they just knew it was inside.

     Unicorns occasionally partnered with the creatures, but depending on their age, how many lives they'd had, and how wily it might be, they couldn't always be trusted.  However, the unicorn felt that if it had even bothered to speak to her at all, there must have been some chance that...  there, there it was, up ahead.  She tilted her head forward and walked toward the creature, "Is that you, cat?"

     "Yes.... it's not safe here..."  The cat ran quickly back up between the houses where it had disappeared to, and then hopped lightly onto the unicorn's back.  "Head straight down this road, fast as you can, use the front lawns, it will keep your hooves from making too much noise."  His claws dug into her shoulders as he braced himself for the run.  "Now!  Quickly!"

     A sound...a new rustling behind her... the unicorn leaped into action, running as the cat directed.  She turned at the end of the road, his claws in her shoulders directing her which way to go.  She could feel a deep hum at the base of her neck as the cat purred it's excitement.  And ever so often she could feel a twitch of the tail as he looked back behind them.  "Quickly now, jump over this fence!"

     She no longer felt the cat upon her shoulder at this moment, it must have hopped off as she jumped, but she landed softly into a peaceful little garden.  The cat was beside her now, standing by her side on a small stone wall.  "Now, get down, as low as you can, we will have to wait here for them to go by."

     The unicorn did as she was told, kneeling to the ground until she was hidden behind the short stone wall.  She could hear voices as well as some sort of vehicle.  Humans ran by the fence, not seeing her, they were in the shadow of the house, no moonlight could reach her here yet, it was too low.  And the small wall and fence hid her from sight.  The cat paced the stone, disappeared for a time, and she could hear more voices of humans, "You've got to be kidding me.  Let's go home, there's no deer out here..."

     "I swear I saw one... albino I'm sure of it."  The voices continued away, and she heard a drift say, "I've heard of them up north, maybe they've made their way down..."  Then all was quiet.  She could hear her breathing, her heartbeat, the sound of frogs, and the moving of the earthworms in the grass.

     "So...was that your trouble?"  The cat said after a time.

     "Yes, I suppose it was, and I owe you thanks."

     "You'll owe me, alright...but I don't need another favor from a unicorn.  I've already lived more than nine lives due to the last one, and I think I'm almost ready for heaven."  The cat said, jumping back up onto the wall from wherever he had been hiding moments before.  "You can stay here probably, for awhile, it's a safe place I've found in this strange place that humans call the suburbs.  The humans are good, and they don't own a gun.  They feed the birds and they treat the young ones within well."

     With the phrase 'young ones', the unicorn's ears perked.  "Children?"

     The cat laughed.  It sounded bright and filled with mirth.  "No, no, kittens, my kind.  On their first lives, the lot of them.  Although in my previous life I lived with one of them.  I check on her from time to time.  But no... children are a strange mixture of terror and hatred nowadays.  They fear every little bump and scratch, but they hate being coddled, but they don't know any better.  They aren't raised to learn anything of the land, parents fight, children become filled with disdain and don't understand magic."  The cat settled down, hiding its paws from the chilly evening.  "I'm sorry, unicorn, but your kind is just a fairy tail now as much as my nine lives are."

     "So, why here?  Why do you stay here if you hate what they've become?"

     "I don't hate them.  They give good scratches, and I've been around long enough to know that things could always get better.  There's still hope."  The cat turned its eyes to the house where a light had turned on and a woman walked to the window and looked out into the back yard.  "Because of people like that one.  She was good to me once, back in another life.  I think she believes that it's me in one of the young cats in her care, but it's not.  Very few cats seek the magic that we once used to cling to, that which keeps us alive.  But, that's not for now.  What are  you doing here?  You should return to your forest, to your peaceful ways."

     The unicorn watched in fascination at the woman in the window as she turned and stroked the head of a cat that was on the table within.  "Because...I wanted to see if anyone still wanted to ride a unicorn."  She turned her eyes back to the cat once the light inside the house went off again.  "I wanted to remember what it was like to be appreciated again.  But, I suppose it's too late for that.  I have lost my magic, or at least the magic they believed I once had, and now it is just me, and humans only want me because they think I am something I am not.  It's okay, I was bored, really, immortality is a long, sad, journey."  She set her head down on the ground before her and the cat jumped down onto her back, kneading with its paws and then settled.

     "Anyway, I thank you for helping me find somewhere to stay, albeit temporarily.  Once the moon sets again I will leave.  You have been surprisingly helpful."

     The cat purred, and then said, "You are welcome."  It yawned, and then with a tail twitch said, "I think I may have decided what you owe me in return."

     "Yes?"  The unicorn asked, not lifting her head as her eyes were heavy and she wanted to sleep.

     "I would like you to take me with you for another ride."  The cat said, now closing its eyes as well.  "I know how long eternity feels, and if you should like the company, I am old, and my last life is nearing its end."  The purr turned into a rattle, and for the first time the unicorn realized it wasn't long for this last life.

     "Okay, cat, after this last nap."

     "Yes, that would be acceptable," replied the cat.

     And the moon rose and the shining white hide of the unicorn almost seemed to turn to crystal.  A tired woman peered out through the darkness down at her garden.  There's that cat again, she sighed, the one that made the cats she owned pee all over the house.  Hopefully it didn't come up to the porch and pee all over the door again, she didn't think she could handle cleaning up another spray fest.  But her weary eyes noticed a shimmer... something else out there in the yard.  It sparkled in the moonlight, like faint bubbles, fading away before they popped.  Was the cat curled up on something?  The woman strained to see...  But she closed her eyes and rubbed them.  It was late, she should go to bed, her husband and cats were waiting upstairs.

     "Good night cat..."  The woman whispered.  "Good night..."  She smiled slightly, the moon had risen, giving more form to the shape in her yard.  It couldn't be what she thought it was...but it had to be, there wasn't any other explanation.  But she was older now.  Not young enough to be a child, but not old enough to need the help of the unicorn that slept there.  She wasn't a maiden.  But that was okay, because no one would believe her anyway.

     The unicorn smiled, as well as a unicorn could.  Maybe there was hope for them after all, like the cat said.




Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rant: "Big Brother" is "Big Business"

     Today's rant has been brought to you by....  well, no one, no one is paying me to talk about their companies, so if anything, it's been brought to you by me, no paid sponsors and no reason but that the subject has been on my mind the last week or so since my last rant.
     In today's rant, I will be speaking of my opinions about "Big Brother" - the government, business, and other things that are constantly spying on us.  And also brushing into the fact that many of these "Big Brother (from here out referred to as BB)" businesses are also giant, crushing monopoly-like monsters.

     Now, to begin, I'll post a picture of a thoughtful gorilla.  This is your last chance before I go into this weird rant (which is actually pretty positive today even in a worrisome sort of way).  I'm not entirely sure the name of this gorilla at the Columbus Zoo (it may have been the one who died on her 60th a few months later, if so it would make a whole lot more sense that she was contemplating her life as a great-great-great-great?-grandmother.)  Either way I figured this might be a fitting photo.

     We thoughtful gorillas -ahem- humans (I really hate the idea of being distant cousins although I believe those evolutionists actually put us closer to chimpanzees rather than their larger gorilla cousins) have spent a very long time breeding, expanding, creating, and making our lives better for ourselves and the other creatures that live on this planet.  However, unlike those creatures on our planet who get by eating, breeding, sleeping and repeating; we use forms of currency to trade our labor for goods.  And when someone gets really good at trading that labor for goods, they no longer have to labor, they have others do it for them.  They still have the goods, they just don't have to work any more, and the current generation (some Millennials and a few of the newest generation which doesn't seem to have a name yet) seem to believe that money is just out there, and anything can be yours if you have a magic plastic card in your pocket.  They don't seem to question where that ability to use the plastic card came from (someone working to put money on it to use) they just use it until it's all used up and then they would get another one.

     Okay, maybe some of that trouble arose before the Millennials, because the biggest credit card debt problem actually arose back around the time before 9-11 and continued through the early 2000's until the recession in 2006/2008.  But I'm not here to talk about debt, even though it's a really good topic to get into at some later date.  What I am going to talk about is how those people who have grown up in a world where anything can be bought on the internet really has changed the way things work today.
     If you are currently reading this, you've participated in the grand internet advertising scheme that is out to get your money.  Not me, I don't ask for money and you won't find advertising on this page since I pay for you to see it without ads, but you most likely came here through Google or Facebook and those two companies are the biggest money grabs out there.  And yet, it's okay, right?  They don't charge anything to use them.  I won't go into the logistics of how they make their money because there are plenty of articles and YouTube (another one!) videos about it out there (advertising and games of course).  But I do want to make a note that they are definitely some of the closest things to a "Big Brother" that we have today.
     The BBs of today are mining information.  They are doing it at the most steady rate imaginable.  In fact, I don't think we can imagine the rate that they collect our information.  They know our names, our birthdays, things we like, people we talk to, work we do, vacations we take, places we live...well, you get the idea.  They have facial recognition to know what photos we are in; isn't that horrifying?  You could be in a background photo of someone and Facebook could know who you are, even if you weren't even supposed to be there.  It reminds me of when I was skipping out on a band concert in 6th grade and lied that I was sick when I actually was going to a bowling tournament award dinner, and I'd written it on the back of a paper which I'd accidentally left behind in the classroom...and my teacher found it.  It's like that, only so much worse.
     But, I digress because I'm sure the internet would know that at some point too if it tried to find that information.  The BBs also know what kinds of things we buy and advertise to us with websites we've visited and items we've viewed.
     If you've spent any time Google searching sponsored ads and then gone into Facebook a bit later, you'll find ads from those companies showing those exact items you just looked at.  I kid you not, it's creepy.  But you get used to it and move on because most likely if you didn't already buy the item, you aren't going to, and the ad isn't going to sway you either way.  And also those websites get it wrong sometime because maybe they think you're of that age and should be having babies so it'll start sending you ads for diapers and I'm like - heck no - you'd better stop THAT right now.  It's not perfect, but they're perfecting that advertising a little more every day.
     Then there's Amazon, and you can get just about anything from there, and if you can't get it there you can get it from one of China's copy-cat websites because there's sure to be a lead-soaked replica of whatever it is you wanted from there.  They advertise just as heavily and will pop up in your Facebook and Google feeds too, also in side-ads on websites that carry news and information.  Ever go to your favorite News website and see an ad for that thing you just looked at?  Well...it's everywhere, they feed off the "cookies" that your computer tracks and the history too.  It's all very invasive and sort of creepy.

     HOWEVER....  I'm okay with it.

     Why?  Why should I be okay with all of this invasion of my privacy?  Why should I be okay with Amazon and Google and YouTube and Facebook knowing about me at every moment of my life?

     Well, in part, it's so darn convenient.  And also because I sure as heck don't do anything bad that would cause that information to come back and bite me.  I don't look at porn, I rarely swear (unless I get really heated) and I don't engage in illegal activities - don't touch drugs, don't steal, haven't gotten a traffic ticket and there's probably a bunch of things I can't put on this list because I haven't done them to even think of them.
     And as for the convenience of it, isn't it nice to go on Amazon and suddenly there's an ad for the next book in a series you've been collecting?  Oh, it's out today?  Sweet, let me order it today.  Or oh look, Google is suggesting a new restaurant I haven't tried yet but all of these people who visited other restaurant I like also liked it.  Or oh look Facebook just showed me that I did the exact same thing 5 years ago that I did today...weird.
      Then there's things like the Amazon Echo where you can call up any music you want to listen to (for a monthly fee at least) or ask for a monthly news briefing.  And sure, the Echo is listening to everything that is being said in the room at all times - but what's it going to hear?  Nothing that will incriminate me of criminal activity, because I'm not doing anything like that.  And from what we've seen, so far, these large companies are keeping their information to themselves for the most part.
     We've already seen how Apple refused to unlock the I-Phone of a terrorist even though there could have been information on it.  And also that Amazon kept the recording of a home that had a murder happen within it to themselves.  Both eventually did get out (but I believe both didn't really have any information that helped in these cases) but all the same, these companies are protecting themselves from the government.

     And that's really the biggest issue with BB.  In the book 1985 and Animal Farm and so many others, the government was really the bad guy.  They were monitoring everything that was going on and using it against people to keep them in line.  And yes, the government is monitoring us at every moment too.  They listen to our telephone conversations, they can dig into our internet histories, they know the things we were doing; but not to the extent these private companies are.  And these private companies are doing this for one reason: to advertise to you to buy stuff.
     We're probably going to buy that stuff anyway, right?  Well....no, probably not.  Maybe at some point, but not to the extent we are at the moment.  And it's making them into huge monopoly-like giants.

     This is where things get sketchy in my mind.  Because I like shopping on Amazon a lot.  I like giving Google information about the restaurants I visit and I like using Facebook to share things about myself with my friends.  But they've all but killed their competition over the last ten years.  Before when you wanted to buy an item you typically went to that website of the item and bought it from there.  But now if you go to Amazon since they're so big they have lowered the price, so you get it from them instead.  The original company doesn't see direct profits from it, and eventually they lose out.  I do see a smaller sect of private business springing up and managing okay on their own until some bigger rip-off company selling on Amazon steals their designs or artwork and then they too get overwhelmed unless they decide to go the legal route to sue.  But that's darn costly in itself.  So now you've got Amazon and all of these big companies taking all of the money.
     The big companies of yesteryear are slowly falling into oblivion because they can't keep up with this powerful "monopoly".  I can't say they're exactly a monopoly, because that would imply that Amazon could stop others from doing what they do, and even though they can to some extent, they can't legally do it.  So I can't call them it straight out.  But there are a lot of other large companies out there right now that basically own everything.  And if they don't own it yet, then they don't see it as competition yet.  Google buys up everything they see as useful, Amazon, Facebook, and so too telephone providers, internet and cable providers and all of those food businesses like Tyson, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and General Mills...I could go on forever, but if you look up just about any big name you'll see dozens of businesses under them.

     My opinion on this is that as big as the government is, it's not the powerhouse these BB companies have become.  Is it something that effects me?  Sure it does.  I don't work directly for a big one, but it was bought by a bigger one that owns a few other larger chains.  I buy from huge chains and am watching as the little ones either get sucked up, or killed by those chains.  It hurts to see a store you once loved disappear.  But will I be able to find the same items I used to buy there?  Sure.  Maybe it won't be quite the same, but that's okay, we'll move on.

     What I really wonder, however, is what will this all mean for us in the long run?  I don't mind spending my money at Amazon, but I know that to an extent it killed my favorite bookstore Borders.  But that bookstore had killed my local Young & Welshan's which was a smaller, locally owned bookstore.  They'd moved into a new spot a few years before next to a coffee shop and had opened the wall between them only a year or so before.  It was the first bookstore/coffee shop I'd ever been in outside of the Borders I first visited in Maine a few year's before.  But then Borders came in across the street (almost literally, although about down a half mile) and suddenly Y&W was gone.  Then Amazon started taking over as well as Barnes and Noble (about a mile away) and both of them had an internet presence but Borders did not, so they were gone within ten years.  What do I do now?  I still visit B&N, although the closest one is 15 miles or more away, so usually I just order on Amazon.  I don't even have a smaller local bookstore to go to because the few we did have also have closed in the past five or so years.  The ones that still exist are even a further drive.
     What does that mean to me?  It means that I'll continue to participate in buying stuff from these larger companies.  Why?  Because there's not much of a choice.  And it's convenient.  Do I wish I could go back in time and wish that those bookstores would come back?  Sure I do.  But would they?  Probably not.
     Why don't I hate businesses more that drive other businesses out?  Maybe because I know that change is definitely inevitable.  If we don't keep up with it we'll be swallowed by it like those little businesses do.  BUT...I won't refuse to participate in helping smaller businesses either.  I don't refuse to going to the privately owned places, but I really do hate getting attached to them.  Even if my $20 a month helps them out, I can't be the only one otherwise they'll disappear like so many others have.  It's really depressing to get attached to a business only to see it fold over time and then I have to still seek business elsewhere.  I'm not sure what the answer is to that.
     Maybe the only real answer is if these larger businesses start helping the little ones.  I'm not sure how that would work, but I could totally see Amazon going "okay, we want an extension business so we want to help you do what you do..."  And even though I have seen that with smaller businesses using Amazon Marketplace...I'm not entirely sure if it's really helping or harming these businesses.  I just don't know enough to speculate.

     So, in conclusion... Well, there really isn't a conclusion.  I think it's O-K to buy things from the big stores.  They do give a lot of people jobs, even if those jobs might be terrible.  They do make things convenient even if it costs other smaller companies their business.  And I think that to a lesser-extent some businesses do benefit from them because there's advertising and if I can't find said item on Amazon (for instance) but it's right here at this little store (or maybe it's cheaper here or the same price and I can have it now) I'll buy it there.  And it's hard to tell what the future will bring and how much all of this information gathering will effect us in the future.  But I don't think it's all that bad, so I'm not just going to start boycotting because as a middle-class American, I really can't afford to spend my time on it.  Gotta work to pay for the goodies I'm buying, even if that is a whole other matter that may need to be blogged about in the future as well.





TL;DR:  I think it's okay to shop at Amazon and use Google even though they might know more about me than I do myself and sell me stuff that's killing smaller businesses.