I walked into a Chase Manhattan Bank branch yesterday to make a deposit for the store in which I work. The smug young man in the fancy suit on the other side of the window asked me about the extra 59 cents I’d deposited.
I wanted change back.
They don’t do change anymore, he told me.
My company doesn’t give me a cash drawer, I explained. And they insist I make the deposit the next morning before 10 am. So sometimes I have to depend on you, the bank, to make change.
We don’t do change.
You’re a bank, I said. You’ve got money there, you can’t fool me.
He gave me a look and I lost it.
Excuse me, I said, if you want to be an investment bank only, then take the name ‘bank’ off the front of the building and just refuse to let anyone but millionaires inside. But while it says ‘bank’, your job includes making change.
That’s not our policy, he said.
That’s a stupid policy, I said. Nothing about you personally, I know you didn’t create the policy but it’s still a dumb policy and you’re going to have to keep explaining it and getting pushback from guys like me over it. Because you work for us.
Now I got a dirty look.
And there’s the problem, I told him. Your attitude is the problem. You’re the Chase Manhattan Bank so you don’t need us. Congratulations. Eventually, you’ll discover you do. Now give me my change.
He gave me my change.
You could say I shot myself in the foot here and you’d be right, because now I’ll have to look at his smug nasty little face every time I make a deposit in that stupid bank branch. But in a world that gives me no cash drawer and a bank that won’t make change, the momentary satisfaction of throwing a childish fit seemed about the only option open to me.
This morning, however, reading the headlines, I realized that it was just that kind of reaction that leads to a Brexit, Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, Trump as President and Mussolini as Il Duce. Get mad enough that you just don’t care about the consequences anymore.
You can’t have a democracy where the majority of people are getting screwed all the time. Working people are building up a universe of anger. Either someone starts pays attention to that very soon or we’ll all pay in some other (worse) way later.
I swear I’m going to start writing about something other than Mindbenders and politics sometime soon.
However, in the meantime…
I worked in print and broadcast journalism for over twenty years. I think journalism is a calling or should be, but I’m an idealist and this is not a world made for idealists.
I’m frustrated by the devolution of media now. It all started with the rot of Fox News, which is simply propaganda that starts with a viewpoint set at the top (if there was liberal bias in the old media, it wasn’t top-down; it was the result of producers who’d traveled the world telling you how things looked from their point of view) but, because the others just aped Fox without yelling as loudly, they’re all consumed in rot now.
WV primary yesterday: Bernie 51%; Hillary 36%–seriously, if the margins were reversed, you don’t think the headlines would scream “Clinton Devastates Sanders”, with calls for him to get out of the race forthwith?
What do we have instead? The NY Times shoves a tiny item into the news capsule at the bottom of the front page saying ‘Sanders Wins in W Virginia’.
Journalism typically loves the underdog. Here’s the underdog of underdogs–the 74-year old Jewish socialist from a tiny state with no big money backers–beating the overwhelming favorite after she’s already pivoted to November and the media has already counted him out. Damn Bernie doesn’t know when he’s supposed to roll over and play dead…
If there’s something sadder than a once-great newspaper passing up a great story, it’s a once-great newspaper insisting on a pre-determined storyline despite the facts. Why don’t we just rename the NY Times ‘Pravda‘ and get it over with?
There’s a much bigger article on that front page about Hillary ‘suggesting she would like to give people the option to buy into Medicare.’ The Times goes on to say: ‘Mr. Sanders calls his single-payer health care plan “Medicare for All.” What Mrs. Clinton proposed was a sort of Medicare for more.’
And there’s the difference between the two Democrats–and it’s a world of difference. Hillary, after much prodding from Bernie, is willing to consider letting some people ’55 or 50 and up’ to voluntarily pay their way into Medicare.
I’m not an economist–I can barely make change most of the time–but I know this doesn’t add up. Remember that, in Obamacare (which was written by the insurance companies, folks), the catch was that everyone from age 26 on had to have insurance so they premiums from the healthy younguns would pay for the older folks with more diseases (because God forbid the insurers might actually have to pay out some money to the people who keep paying them).
So now, you’re saying you’re going to let a subset of middle-aged people, already seeing the mileage pile up, join the pool–what’s that going to do to costs? It’s certainly not going to make things markedly cheaper, is it? The pool of cheap insured, the ones who would help pay for the older folks, remain in Hillary’s plan in the clutches of private insurers, which brings up their profit margins (they’ll love this plan) while the Republicans moan how expensive Medicare is, we should just jettison it for some grant that won’t pay for anyone!
What are we protecting here? Private health insurance? I understand there are jobs involved but if there’s a more blood-sucking parasitic industry out there, I don’t know what it is.
On the other hand (you knew I’d get here, didn’t you?), Bernie’s plan is to put everybody on Medicare immediately. Tax all of us a bit more (and the rich a lot more, basically on par with what they paid under that notorious high-tax monster Ronald Reagan) and eliminate most private insurance, copays, referrals, surprise $10,000 bills from anesthesiologists who don’t take your insurance (and nobody bothered to tell you) and the idea that the elderly should have to liquidate everything they own before their insurance companies should have to pay back on the policies those elderly folks have been paying into their entire lives. Do we really consider the amount of hell we put ourselves through to preserve the profit margins of insurance companies? Did I use the phrase ‘blood-sucking parasitic industry’? Did I use it enough? I think not.
Let them die. Too soon isn’t soon enough.
Bernie’s plan is for everybody. Because everybody would be in it, the costs would be spread among the entire population, the costs of drugs would be negotiable with the federal government like they are with any other national health so they would go way down. More importantly, the principle would be that health care is not about profit. This mania that everything is about profit would be dealt a serious blow.
I want that. I want to see that happen. I don’t know if it can and I don’t know why I’m writing this since all the algorithms tell me conclusively no one will read anything this long.
I finally have a candidate (for the first time since 1976) that I don’t have to hold my nose to vote for. I’m going to continue to contribute and hope for California. I’m going to hope that something shakes the nest of the entrenched and powerful and makes them realize that the anger of the populace is not going away. I may end up voting for Hillary instead of Trump because I’ll have to. But I’m not there yet.
And the difference between Bernie and Hillary feels as real to me today as the difference between Hillary and Trump.
Beatrice: Are there class distinctions in torture?
Capt. Segura: Some people expect to be tortured. Others are outraged by it. One never tortures except by mutual agreement.
Beatrice: Who agrees?
Capt. Segura: Usually the poor. In your welfare state you have social security, therefore you have no poor. Consequently there you are untorturable.
-From ‘Our Man in Havana’ by Graham Greene
Does a person have to earn dignity? Or is dignity something we just have, something we’re entitled to as human beings?
It isn’t a theoretical question. I realized recently it’s been nagging at me almost every day through this already-endless election season.
I’ve spent most of my life holding my nose and voting for the lesser of two evils. This year, I’ve been following Bernie Sanders, though this blog isn’t really about him. It’s about a different sound I hearing behind his policies and programs, one that I hope will survive and grow regardless of the fate of his candidacy.
That is, that we’re all of us in this together and all of us entitled to be treated like creatures with dignity.
The other candidates, like almost every politician of the last thirty years, come from what I think of as a post-Reagan point of view – if you haven’t ‘succeeded,’ it’s your own fault, so why should we worry about you?
Trump’s boast that he could shoot someone in front of cameras and still get votes seemed fanciful once, remember? Now, it’s inarguable. On the other side of the coin, the un-powerful in this country (it helps if you’re black) can be shot in front of cameras without consequence.
This has nothing to do with government, by the way. Have you tried calling for business support lately?
Want to hear someone laugh? Just say ‘Your call is very important to us.’
Every aspect of the ‘support’ experience reinforces the impression that you are of absolutely no importance to the company that took your money.
The wealthy and powerful can create pharmaceuticals that kill, airbags that kill, powerplants that render their surroundings uninhabitable, investment instruments that wreck the economy of the Western World and walk away with a slap on the wrist.
Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House, was just convicted of sexual abuse against an unspecified number of teenage boys; he got 15 months in prison. If he was some inner-city gym teacher, preferably with white middle-class students testifying against him, want to bet what kind of sentence he’d have gotten?
As Graham Greene would have understood, we now have a torturable class. I’m sorry – we now are the torturable class.
And that’s where Bernie Sanders is truly different.
His programs don’t make distinctions – they help everyone. They’re based on the concept that every citizen is deserving of decent treatment, whether that means getting into college based on merit instead of financial ability, making healthcare decisions based on medical need rather than maximum profit for insurance and Big Pharma, imposing jailtime because ‘you did the crime’ instead of ‘you were born unfortunate (and are destined to remain that way).’
His ideas grow out of the idea that ordinary people’s lives matter, that they’re not just guinea pigs offered up to the highest bidder.
The Republicans and Hillary Clinton may differ wildly on policy and style – I do think there are real significant differences between them – but none of them challenge that ‘Us Against Them’ world that Reagan created. Sanders’ worldview does.
And in the end, that worldview is what’s going to matter. Whether or not Sanders takes the Democratic nomination this year, millions have heard this message and we’re not going back. We may vote for Hillary or Trump in November or we may stay away from the polls altogether but, longterm, we’ve been reminded that we are full citizens, entitled to have our grievances heard and our needs met, human beings with dignity, not animals consigned forever to fight over the scraps on the floor of the cage.
Mindbenders 2 is out (more details here) and I’m proud of the reviews it’s gotten. There’ll be a new review Monday that I’m especially proud of and we’ll talk more about that when it posts.
In the meantime, here’s another review I found today which I’m less entranced by (edited by me to eliminate even more massive redundancy):
“Hello My name is Joe Lee and i’m here to express my opinions on this fantastic book written Mindbenders 2: The Fiery Sky: A Max Renn Thriller (Volume 2) . With a variety of fake Mindbenders 2: The Fiery Sky: A Max Renn Thriller (Volume 2) reviews listed online a large number of people find it hard looking for dependable answers while browsing Yahoo for ‘where to download Mindbenders 2: The Fiery Sky: A Max Renn Thriller (Volume 2) PDF free’. I realize that this must be a frustrating task when making a decision if an individual should buy Mindbenders 2: The Fiery Sky: A Max Renn Thriller (Volume 2) ebook for kindle, or any well known device in which the reader would rather read their digital books. Nevertheless, by checking out this review people can be assured that Mindbenders 2: The Fiery Sky: A Max Renn Thriller (Volume 2) is a great book as detailed.”
Gee thanks, Joe. Nice to know the book is fantastic and great and all that. An endorsement’s an endorsement; I’m grateful for people liking my work.
Then again, this is a guy offering my book on his torrent site, one of several I’ve found links for in the last few weeks. The first link appeared within minutes of the book’s publication in Tokyo, hours before it was even available in the US.
So this is just someone offering my work for free. Naturally, I have a problem with that.
Joe, this book is several years of my life and decades of hopes and ambitions for me. I assume you don’t work for free. The other alternative is that you can afford to work for free.
The book costs less than two gallons of gas or a small anything from Starbucks. If you drove anywhere (or took mass transit anywhere) in the last month or drank a coffee or tea or hot chocolate in that time, you can afford the book. Pay the damn three bucks.
In the meantime, it will be available on Nook, iTunes, Kobo, etc. in about three months, when the inital Kindle Direct enrollment runs out. So if you guys can just hold your horses for a little while, we’re all set.
And thanks for your support.
One of the first decisions I made about ‘Mindbenders 2: The Fiery Sky’ (publishing on Amazon March 12th–click here for details and to pre-order!) was that the three members of the Mindbenders team would split up right after the conclusion of the first book, under hot pursuit from the CIA, MI6, Interpol and L Corp, their most dangerous enemy.
So, starting sketching the new book, I had the very entertaining duty of trying to figure out where I’d want to go if I wanted to disappear. Personal preference–like the fact that I hate the cold–ruled out some extremely promising locations, like Patagonia or the Sandwich Islands. The US, Canada, Japan and China all seemed too ‘wired’ for someone who wanted to become invisible.
Google Earth is the thriller writer’s friend. I started sliding around the globe looking for places that seemed remote but not so primitive that you couldn’t get out quickly if recognized.
And then I realized that the safest place to hide was in a place where nobody would expect you to be truthful about your identity. In our world, such places aren’t hard to find, particularly where the gold rush (whichever one) is local. Shortly after, I found this:
A village on stilts, jutting off the edge of an island. Attached to Nature but not of it. Within disputed territory, so under no flag. Filled with people with a reason to be there–which is to say, with a good reason not to be anywhere less remote.
The pictures fascinated me and filled in all my questions. I wrote far more material about the place than what ended up in the final book.
By the way, the two pictures above are of two different villages, hundreds of miles apart and technically in separate countries. This kind of living has spread across the sea basin.
I even found a video. It’s nine minutes and in the middle of a real city in a real country but the living-on-stilts is pretty vividly portrayed:
So this is the first of a few locations I’ll highlight. I think this is the most exotic; nonetheless, they all have their fascinations.
Stay Tuned! More to Come!
In the meantime, read a sample of the new book here!
Mark the date! It’s (finally) coming! Better yet–go to Amazon and pre-order your copy now!
Mindbenders 2: The Fiery Sky will publish March 12th on Amazon!
The most dangerous enemy is the one inside your own mind.
Max Renn, the legendary Soviet mind control agent, faces a terrifying new threat to the global balance of power—and an opponent who ruthlessly uses Renn’s own deepest secrets to betray him.
Renn and his Mindbenders team race from a murder-without-clues in Belgium to a floating village in the South China Sea, from an amphitheater in Africa to the Australian Outback.
The battle is waged in a world where brutal coercion is an everyday weapon and victory hides even in the doubts of those who seem to know too much.
Stay tuned–I’ll be previewing some of the places and people of the expanded Mindbenders universe in coming weeks.
For those of you who’ve been waiting, thanks for your patience. For the impatient ones (you know who you are), thanks for your passion. The wait is (almost) over!
We went to a New Year’s party last night. I know it’s a night early but who’s counting?
I came from work and met Claire on Sixth Ave near Waverly. And, waiting for her (because the F train was actually quick and to the point for once), I wandered down the block past a magazine stand I swear I remember in that location since the 70’s or even late 60’s (the awning over the place tends to support that memory).
This is a famous Berenice Abbott photo of a newsstand from the Depression, when a third of the country was out of work and even those earning some kind of living had very little money for frivolous reading. The magazine stand I remember wasn’t quite as thickly populated as this one but I still remember hundreds of publications on display, such dense variety you couldn’t see the entire cover of more than a handful.
Them days are gone, as they say…
Here’s what I saw last night. About ten newspapers, some of them mere classified ad sheets, some Chinese and Russian language, a few rows filled with candy and some soft drink displays–and no magazines. Zero. All those banal and beautiful thoughts and passionate causes and idiotic space filling, gone.
I know we read differently now. Most everything is free (for the moment) and online and instantly searchable and that definitely has its advantages. But I felt very aware, all of a sudden, of how different the experience was of buying magazines at the stand, making a public decision like declaring an allegiance in a public square. And it feels like a connection to the way people got through the Depression with a sense of solidarity that we certainly haven’t been able to muster in a financial crisis that is tiny by comparison.
They made those declarations every day at the newsstand, going to see a movie with friends at the theater, listening to radio shows on the three available networks and discussing them the next day at work. Did that contribute to a level of solidarity and understanding? Certainly the music and film of the day had a sense that we were all in this together, as opposed to the solitary-loner, beat-the-other-guy-to-the-punch nonsense paraded these days by Trump, Cadillac ads and every politician but Bernie Sanders, that wonderful relic.
We don’t really believe in progress anymore and we have plenty of reasons not to. But even where we seem to be moving forward, it seems important to take a few minutes here and there to consider what’s being lost…or what we never had.
What do you mean you haven’t read it? People who did said:
“…fascinating and provocative…”
“…echoes of Jonathan Lethem’s ‘Motherless Brooklyn’…”
“…held me to my chair for one marathon reading…”
“engaging, believable characterization and fast-moving story…”
More reviews here.
Synopsis and behind-the-scenes notes here.
Me rambling on Video here.
Mindbenders 2 is nearing completion – even closer than the last time I said that! Read this one first – it’ll make the next book even better!
For you new readers, those of you who’ve lost your copy or who acquired it on one of those pitiful torrent sites and want to be able to look yourselves in the mirror, ‘Mindbenders’ the First will be free on Amazon tomorrow through Saturday.
Tell your friends! Tell your enemies! Why shouldn’t they have something good to read?
The new one is nearing completion. How many times have I said that? Too many. I’ve learned a lot of lessons the last few years but we’re nearly there now, I swear. I think it’s gonna be worth the wait. You’ll tell me.
So for those of you who’ve lost your copy or got one on one of those pitiful torrent sites and want to be able to look yourselves in the mirror, ‘Mindbenders’ the First will be free on Amazon tomorrow and Sunday. Tell your friends! Tell your enemies! Why shouldn’t they have something good to read?