Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Unemployment Yet Again

Unemployment payments can be set up two ways: as a debit card account at US Bank or as direct deposit to the unemployed person's regular bank account. Patrick went with the debit card. Today he took money out of the unemployment account and deposited it in his checking account. Because the deposit was in cash, he thought he ought to explain it to the teller. He said, "If I'd known I was going to be unemployed this long, I would have told them to set the payments up as direct deposit."

The teller said, "You can't believe how many times a day I hear that. It must be terrible out there."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Eyewitness News from Iran

via Juan Cole's blog:
Saturday, they watched from their apartment window a clash between the police and the construction site workers at the Towhid Tunnel (which is predicted to connect Parkway to Nawab). The police tried to make a shortcut to reach the protesters, and ambush them on the other side, when the workers told them they would not let them through this led to a clash between the workers and the police. The workers used all types of construction machineries to halt the police from shovels to bricks and the cement truck. The situation between the workers, mostly from Lor and Turkish background, caused some of the protesters to rush to the aid of the workers.

Up the Iranian working classes!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Last Watch on the Midland

Here is Ian Bruce singing the great Stan Rogers song. The opening is rough, but I love the wallpaper and the lamp and the chair and the audience singing. And Ian Bruce's overalls.

YIP Harburg

About YIP Harburg, lyricist for "Brother Can You Spare a Dime":
Yip wrote the lyrics to over 600 songs with a variety of composers. "It's Only a Paper Moon" (1932, with Arlen), "Over the Rainbow" (1939, Arlen, which won the Academy Award), "We're Off to See the Wizard," "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead" and "Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe" (1943, Arlen, from the film Cabin in the Sky). Later, with Lane, he wrote "Old Devil Moon" and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" The team of Arlen and Harburg also wrote Groucho Marx's signature song, "Lydia, the Tattooed Lady" (1939, from At the Circus). In 2006 Yip's two volumes of satiric light verse, Rhymes for the Irreverent (1965) and At This Point in Rhyme (1976) were reissued together in one hardcover edition under the title Rhymes for the Irreverent by the Freedom from Religion Foundation in cooperation with the Yip Harburg Foundation.

Yip followed the dream of democratic socialism: He believed that all people should be guaranteed basic human rights, political equality, free education, economic opportunity and free health services. He spent most of his life fighting for these goals; his songs "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" and "Over the Rainbow" express these universal cries for hope in hard times to all peoples.


I am eagerly waiting for my Guardian registration to go through, so I can add "The Last Watch on the Midland"by the late, great Canadian folksinger Stan Rogers. And I also want to mention Charlie Parr, a Minnesota folksinger. Patrick used to work with Charlie. They both did outreach to homeless people, many of whom -- most of whom -- were working people down on their luck. That is what bums and hobos have always been in this country.

Charlie is from Austin, Minnesota, a meatpacking town. Hormel Foods is based there. These days Charlie lives in Duluth, a blue collar port town close to the mines on the Iron Range.

Anyway, Charlie writes a lot of songs about working people and homeless people.

Unemployment Songs

The Guardian is asking readers to recommend songs about unemployment. The replies are up close to 500. I haven't read them all. Some are songs I know: 'Youngstown" by Springsteen, "Allentown" by Billy Joel, and "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" with lyrics by the wonderful Yip Harburg, who also wrote the lyrics for The Wizard of Oz:
They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wages After Unemployment

I tried to find data on the wages people get after a period of unemployment. I know I've read that many people end by making less money. I found anecdotal information in on-line news stories: people who go from a six figure income as a manager to making $12 an hour as a janitor. But these stories are obviously picked because they are dramatic. I couldn't find out what happens to ordinary workers and the mass of workers.

However I found a gazillion blogs about being unemployed.

The Seductions of Capitalism

Patrick and I decided to take a walk in the Mall of America. It's large and cool and shady, which is appealing as the weather heats up. Neither of us likes heat or intense sunlight.

Pat's been having trouble with sciatica and walking is supposed to help. We didn't walk much, as it turns out, because his leg was really bothering him. However, we did stop in the fancy pen shop at the mall and I bought a Cross pen. It's very nice. I like it.

But this kind of spending has to stop. I can't afford it right now -- or in the future, most likely. I suspect I will end in a job that pays less that my last one, which is okay if it's part time, and I am able to write.

I don't know what the stats are on what kind of jobs people get, after they have been unemployed. Maybe I will Google the topic.


In some countries, people take to the streets when they think an election has been stolen...


From the National Iranian American Council, a translation of an Iranian blog post:
"I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I'm listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It's worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I'm two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow's children..."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Weather Report

There are leaves and small branches down, and the local peonies looked beaten. There must have been a storm last night, after I went to sleep.

We are into early summer weather: thunderstorms, hail and damaging winds, also the occasional tornado. I like thunderstorms, so long as I'm inside. Best is to lie on the couch in the living room and read, while lightning flashes and thunder rumbles or crashes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Not a Grim Post

I just got back from the Y. I am planning to exercise five days a week, first thing in the morning. This will give my life some structure -- force me up, dressed and out the door.

My posts have been sounding grim, since I decided to blog unemployment. It's an important topic right now, and I am doing primary research.

I haven't talked about what's going right -- the exercise and writing, among other things. The longer I'm away from my old job, the more I realize how stressful it was. It sucked energy, and now I have a lot of that energy back. I'm using some of it to look for work, but I have plenty left for writing.

Mostly I have been finishing old stories, making final revisions and getting them out the door. Two have found homes. They are going to be published as chapbooks by small presses.

My agent has two stories, as yet unsold. I have four more almost done. If editors cooperate, there will be a bunch of Arnason stories in print in the coming year.

So I can't complain too much about being unemployed. It has made it possible for me to work on my life.

Another Interview

This one went better than the others. I felt more comfortable and sounded (I think) more competent. The job has gotten approximately 70 resumes. They have interviews set with six people thus far.

The guy interviewing me said most of the applicants did not have jobs, and this had not been his experience until recently.

Most people keep their job, if they can, until they have a new one; and the common wisdom is -- it's easier to get a new job if you are already working. If you are laid off or have quit, you look a little funny -- what went wrong? Were you a bad employee?

I'm not sure what the common wisdom is right now.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Early Summer Haiku

Cottonwood fluff floats
in sunlight. In lake shallows
mating carp thrash.

I keep tinkering with this poem. I'm not getting it right.

Job Interviews and Summer

I mentioned having a job interview about week ago. I asked the interviewer how many resumes they had gotten and how many people they were interviewing. The answer was 60 resumes and 11 interviews. This means they were interviewing 18% of the people who sent resumes.

I had a phone interview for another job yesterday and asked the same question. This employer got 90 resumes and is interviewing 20 people or 22%. This suggests to me that the quality of the resumes is high, if they are interviewing one person in five.

This fits with my sense when I go to workshops at Unemployment: there are a lot of highly skilled professional people out looking for work.

I have another job interview this week, my fourth. Looking back to the last time I was job hunting, after the collapse of the dot com bubble, I think I'm having a similar experience. I get a fair number of interviews, but it takes time to get a job offer.

I still feel very uneasy about this economy. A gazillion dollars in government money has apparently saved the zombie banks, but the underlying problem -- the huge worldwide contraction of trade and production -- is continuing.

It took me three months to find a new job after the dot com crash. It may well take longer this time.

I'm reading a book on the WPA right now: American-Made.

It's interesting to read the book's description of the early years of the Depression and compare with today. The Depression didn't happen all at once. Instead, it was a long descent from October 29 to the spring of 33, when Roosevelt came into office. And the Roosevelt Administration's response -- though certainly rapid compared to Hoover's inaction -- took time and trial and error. The law creating the WPA was passed in 1935.

Moving on to the seasons... Spring is over, though the weather has continued to be fairly cool, at least till the last few days. The roses and peonies are blooming, and the cottonwoods are dropping their seeds, which means the air is full of floating bits of fluff.

Back when I lived by the chain of lakes in south Minneapolis, cottonwood fluff signaled carp spawning. At the same time that the air was full of cottonwood seeds, the carp would be thrashing in the shallows of Lake of the Isles. Floating fluff and thrashing carp: there ought to be a haiku there.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Another Picture

Our hoya is blooming for the first time in many years.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Unemployment Update

I interviewed for another job last Friday; and this week I went to a workshop on creative career exploration given by the unemployment service. This was the North St. Paul office, not as nice as the Bloomington office, though maybe a little nicer than the St. Paul office that's off University in the Midway.

The Bloomington office had free coffee. The St. Paul office has a convenience shop that sold coffee in the same building. The North St. Paul office has neither.

The people taking the workshop were all middle aged. I was the oldest person there, and no one was young. It was mostly office workers; though one guy looked blue collar, and one woman was a nanny who'd been laid off after 20 years.

The workshop was a series of brief tests of interests: what classes did you like in school, what things are important for you? I came out with a strong interest in science and the arts, followed by a liking for office organization. The first two suggest I should be a science fiction writer. The last suggests that accounting is good work for me.

I also want to work for a place with a mission I like, and I want to work with people I like.

No great revelations.

I took a workshop on self-employment at the same office. That was less useful, since the speaker did not talk about consulting, which is what I'd do if I worked for myself. The people in that workshop were middle aged and looked middle class. The guy next to me was an unemployed engineer. There was at least one IT person who'd been laid off, and an unemployed accountant who had a lot to say.

Among his lines:

"Back in the 60s we believed that corporations were evil organizations run by greedy, self-serving people. Now we know this is true."

I hear a lot of anger in these workshops.

My sense is, the unemployment people are doing the best they can, but the situation is more than they can handle. The workshops can't tell us how to get by in an economy like this one.

My Writing Chair

Patrick has been trying his new camera. This is the chair I use for writing, though I remove the stuffed beings. Mr. Booby is on top. He is a gift from the World Wildlife Fund. Miss Barbel is on the left arm of the chair. She comes from the little gift shop run by the National Park Service in the Science Museum in downtown St. Paul. (It's for the national park along the Mississippi. Always nice to have national park in the middle of one's city.)

The chair itself is occupied by Che Guevara and W.E.B. DuBois. Both are made by a company named the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, founded by a pair of philosophers who could not find work.

You can see the computer off to the right. It's on a little computer table from Herman Miller. I settle into the chair and pull the computer around in front and go to work, with a cup of tea on the bookcase behind me.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Say's Law

From Wikipedia:

Say's law, or the law of markets, is an economic proposition attributed to French businessman and economist Jean-Baptiste Say (1767–1832), which states that in a free market economy goods and services are produced for exchange with other goods and services, and in the process a precisely sufficient level of real income is created in order to purchase the economy's entire output. That is to say, the total supply of goods and services in a purely free market economy will exactly equal the total demand during any given time period – in modern terms, "there will never be a general glut", though there may be local imbalances, with gluts in one market balanced by disgluts in others.

As far as I know, supply side economics derives from Say's Law. Supply creates demand -- build it and they will come; make it and people will have money to buy.

I grew up in the long shadow of the 1930s, when demand vanished; and there was a general glut, an entire economy full of goods which could not find buyers; and there did not appear to be an end to the situation, until the government began pumping money into the economy, first through the New Deal and then through war spending.

Supply side economics seemed pretty clearly disproved as a theory. What mattered was demand, and getting money into the hands of ordinary people, so they could spend it.

Supply side returned in the Reagan years. I still think it's nuts. Now, as the economy keeps settling down and down, economists are taking another look at John Maynard Keynes, who said endless stagnation is possible.

This brings me to a favorite story, which I have told before.

Walter Reuther and Henry Ford are walking through the Ford Rouge plant, and Henry waves his hand around at the enormous factory and says, "Someday all this work will be done by robots."

Walter says, "Who's going to buy the cars, Henry?"

It's the Economy

I've been hearing cautious optimism about the economy -- "green shoots" -- which make no sense to me.

The housing market is still collapsing. The economy is shedding jobs -- a lovely term -- at the rate of 600,000 a month. GM is closing 3,000 dealerships. Think of what that means in a small town where the car dealer is the biggest business. If the GM bankruptcy does not go smoothly, it will take down a lot more dealers, and suppliers and much of the Midwest's economy. Even in decline, GM is huge.

The Obama Administration -- advised by the Three Stooges, Summers, Geithner and Bernanke -- is operating on the theory that what's wrong is lack of liquidity. There isn't enough money available to make loans. This, as far as I can figure out, is why they are pumping trillions of dollars into the Wall Street banks.

These banks are bankrupt, more bankrupt than GM, and the FDIC should take them over, clean them out and sell whatever remains. The FBI should also go in, since there has almost certainly been criminal fraud.

The money poured in by the government has hidden the fact that the banks are zombies, the walking dead. But they are still not making loans, the last time I checked.

However, it seems obvious to me that the problem is not one of supply, but demand. If people are out of work or afraid of losing their jobs, they are not going to spend money. If their houses have dropped 50% in value, and their IRAs or 401(k)s have vanished in the stock market, they are going to be frugal.

If people are not spending, retailers and manufacturers (such as as GM) are going to cut back. This means more layoffs and more people without money to spend.

So the cycle continues, going down and down.

I have always been able to find work and have cruised through a number of previous economic crises and recessions. I'd have to do research to find out how many, though economic crises have been coming with increasing frequency in the past two or three decades. I don't even remember them. They didn't have a big enough impact on me so they stayed in my mind.

This time I am worried. This looks really bad to me.

Unemployment Again

I was in my favorite coffee shop on Sunday, ran into a guy I know and told him I'd been laid off.

He said, "I'm hearing that everywhere. Everyone is getting laid off."

Yesterday, Patrick and I went to the grocery store, the Byerly's closest to us. Byerly's is a full service grocery with people who bag and carry out the groceries for the customers; and -- like most local chains, though not the chains coming in from out of the state -- it is union, which means better pay and more benefits for the workers.

The bagger in our lane was gone, taking out groceries for the person ahead of us. Patrick bagged our groceries himself and said he had been thinking of applying for a job as a bagger.

The clerk said, "We aren't hiring now. In fact, we are laying off."

As we were walking out, Pat said, "That really was my backup plan. I've been watching the baggers, to see what they do. I could do that job."

A new, cheap grocery store has opened next to our Byerly's, a non-union, out-of-state chain. I assume it's hurting business, though Pat says the chain has a very poor selection. If people don't have money, I don't suppose that makes a difference.

Health Insurance

I heard back about the job interview. I did not get the job.

That was one bit of bad news. In addition, I heard from my HMO. I am on COBRA now, but still carried on my old employer's plan, which renewed in June.

A year ago, my old job switched from an excellent plan to one that was cheaper and included very few hospitals, clinics and doctors. However, it was possible for individuals to buy up to the old plan, which I did. Now, I discover I am no longer on my old plan, but on the new cheap plan, which does not include the doctors and clinics I use.

I have no idea if this can be straightened out. I have already talked to the HMO. The person there said she could not help me. I then talked to the insurance agency that handles my COBRA. They said they will see what they can do. After that, I guess I talk to the insurance agency that handles the health insurance plan for my old job, and talk to my old job.

But right now, I have health insurance which costs $450 a month and is not much use to me. If I get hit by a truck and am delivered to the right hospital, the plan will prove useful. Otherwise, not.

I have an appointment next week which will not be covered. I will have to pay for the appointment myself.

This is yet another example of why insurance should not be tied to employment.

If necessary, I will switch to a new doctor and clinic.

But I am not in the mood for this hassle right now.

Monday, June 01, 2009


The week in May when everything blooms is over, though the weather remains bright and clear. The Korean lilacs are flowering now. They follow the French lilacs by a week or two.

I spent last week recovering from Wiscon, sleeping more than usual and reading a lot.

I also did one job interview and sent out a couple of resumes. I'm finding one or two jobs a week that look interesting and seem to be a pretty good fit. This is encouraging.

Yesterday I went down to a local coffee shop and worked for an hour inputting changes to a story.

I sent two stories out before Wiscon, one to an editor, another to another writer to vet. In both cases, I am waiting anxiously and nervously for a response. I respect the two people involved and care about their opinions; and stories are problematic. One is so long that it will be impossible to sell in ordinary markets. The other is my Brer Rabbit story, and I am writing about a topic -- African American culture in the 20th century -- which is not my area of expertise.

If the editor doesn't like the story, I don't know where else to send it. If the writer tells me I am way off in my treatment of 20th century African American culture -- well, I hope the story is fixable.

Sending stories out is like sending resumes out, or waiting the result of a job interview.