And just in case you're interested, the original script follows.
Hello friends! I wrote and directed a MidnightGigs.com web infomercial that I wish to share with you. MidnightGigs.com is a clever business idea for the niche nightlife entertainment market. Check the infomercial out below and let me know what you think. I believe it turned out quite well, especially given the limitations (e.g. small budget, I had to direct the infomercial remotely, since the creative production was performed by a very talented woman in the Philippines).
So there you have it! Again, I would love your comments and feedback! It's such a pleasure to be engaged in the creative world again!
And just in case you're interested, the original script follows.
Hello and Happy New Year!!! Many months have passed since my last post due to a couple of unfortunate situations, the catalyst triggering these situations being the loss of my job (due to the company secretly and hastily selling all of its assets to a long-time competitor). More on this in a couple of months (give or take a few weeks), so stay tuned!
Today, I wish to serve as a messenger of global financial harbingers in our midst. Prepare to hold on to your hats (and cash, bonds and anything else deemed "safe") and reduce your exposure to the Euro -- not that many of us will go unscathed, regardless -- as I believe the currency (and Union) will collapse within the next year or two. I don't make this statement lightly, and I'm not an economist, but I consume modern media attentively, as well as in full, to ensure I don't miss subtle statements that may expose the more critical reality.
Just think about the statement made by Jeffrey Sachs where -- on Fareed Zakaria's CNN show GPS, August 21, 2011 below --- he warned how real economic recovery in America was a pipe dream because essential investment-led rebuilding of the American economy would:
". . . take sacrifices at 'The Top' [the business elite, not political parties]. But 'The Top' doesn't care. They're off in the world markets. They're off in emerging economies. They're off making money elsewhere." (time segment 13:45 - 14:55)
Did Jeffrey Sachs really just say that the people who actually control the economic fate of the world have left the United States of America (or at least " . . . have one leg out the door")?! If true, what's the implication when many leading economists and world financial leaders believe a US-led consumption recovery is necessary to restore global economic balance and stability?
In fact, now five months later, the entire panel discussion above is quite fascinating as we're seeing some of the panel's predictions coming to fruition. For example, Sachs stated how the divide between the RIch and Poor in America was the highest in the world and represented a real pressure cooker, where we could easily expect to see public protests emerging in the US like in Arab states, England and Greece. Since then, the "Occupy" movement -- disorganized and thus dislocated as it is -- sprouted in the US as a means of predominantly peaceful protest demonstrations against socioeconomic injustices and, though its pilot light appears to have blown out, I believe it's merely flickering intermittently while the gas continues to accumulate.
Yet I digress. Returning to today's headlines, two in particular caught my eye: Bloomberg's IMF Cuts Global Growth Forecast; Sees Recession and CNN's Greek default is essentially a given: S&P. Both clearly sound negative, and when you read the articles, they serve reasonable notice that we're not out of the woods regarding global economic recovery, but they don't read as dire warnings. However, read each paragraph carefully. I look for comments that slip into the narrative so innocuously they often go unnoticed and then take heed; the positions of these prescient and powerful harbingers must not go unconsidered, if not overlooked entirely.
For example, in the Bloomberg article above, everything sounds somewhat contained and potentially manageable. However, make special note of IMF head Christine Lagarde's position, France's former Finance Minister (and a pretty impressive thinker, I believe):
"To avoid a 1930s-style worldwide depression, the IMF’s Lagarde yesterday also called on other countries to play their part. The IMF, which co-finances loans to Greece, Ireland and Portugal, identified a potential global financing need of $1 trillion in coming years and is seeking $500 billion in new lending resources from its member countries to address potential loan demand."
To avoid a 1930s-style worldwide depression, Europe, America, China and others will need to "play nice" and cooperate to pump $500 Billion into a $1 Trillion "global firewall" created to protect the world economy from nation-state economies at risk of default? Just To Avoid a 1930s-Style Worldwide Depression?! Holy bananas!!!
So, armed with all the information above, what does the CNN article headline (and article) lead you to infer? "Greek default is essentially a given: S&P" Next up, Ireland and Portugal. Is Italy the next to fall? If Italy falters, then what? Spain, France . . .? Oh, my.
It was the best of concerts, it was the even better, Holy horses, I hope I brought a pair of purple Depends® of concerts, it was a night of surprises, it was a night of celebrated disbelief, it was Prince delighting his fans, it was Prince blowing his fans minds - in short, it was a Prince concert weekend that, for better or for worse, could only be explained through comparison.
If you had never been to a Prince concert before, the Friday night concert would have amazed you. Prince, an apparently ageless entertainer with amazing musician's chops, wooed and teased the crowd with funky B-sides laced with guitar-shredding solos that turned The Forum in to a throbbing, 1:45-hour house party. On Friday night, in addition to many of his hits, you would have witnessed one of the best live performers on the planet sing “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” as a duet with surprise-guest Alicia Keys; you would have laughed while Prince pulled Sheila E and Cuba Gooding Jr. from the audience to dance across his trademark symbol stage (Cuba can really dance, I must add); and--if you stuck around long enough--you would have seen Prince ride a bike through the aisles while the remaining fans expected his quintessential three, four or more encores in vain:
It was a great show indeed, especially if this was your first Prince concert experience, and all the more so if you only paid $25 per ticket, as 85% of the audience enjoyed (Thanks, Prince, for making this happen!). The following set list showcases Prince's musical odyssey of something new, something old and something borrowed:
Friday, April 22, 2011
However, Saturday night's concert was nothing short of remarkable. After a rather enjoyable and unexpected Chaka Khan warm-up, Prince hit the throttle with an intense D.M.S.R. opener, careened immediately into Pop Life and, with his amazing band, deftly dovetailed into an extended jazz rendition of Pop Life that set the stage for a night full of delights.
At various times, Prince brought Sheila E, Chaka Khan and Larry Graham, bass-crushing thump master of Sly and The Family Stone fame, onto the stage to perform some of their hits together. In fact, while covering two Sly and the Family Stone hits--Every Day People and Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)--Prince busted out his bass and stunned the crowd with a masterful dueling thump-off with Larry that would have impressed Victor Wooten.
As you can appreciate from the set list below, Saturday represented an entirely different concert experience from the previous night:
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Prince raged for over three hours, with four phenomenal encores that left thousands of dance-induced fans sweating, panting and chanting for more. It was a concert for the record books and I wanted to share this amazing experience with you. I hope you enjoyed the journey and, if you have the means, you can still catch Prince live at The Forum for his 21-Night Stand series of concerts. You won't be disappointed!
Perhaps it's the inevitable emotional crash I experience after a week of nonstop musical celebration, or maybe it was the depressing in-flight feature movie aired on the sombre return flight from New Orleans. It could also be the double dose of bad news I received yesterday and, most likely, it's an exotic psychological cocktail of all the above. Regardless, I feel mildly melancholic today.
I haven't felt this indignant sorrow for eight years, an unfortunate empathy that unearthed a poem buried within my soul back in 2003, which I would like to share with you today.
by Tom Wagner
Childhood dreams labeled childish,
Masses march relentlessly northward,
Passion bitten by power’s deceit,
Venom festers beneath scaly flesh.
Sand dusts the carcasses of life,
Polishes the shells, reflecting all light,
Grinding along streets slated for gold,
Cobblers cobble no more.
Today’s forgers add no value,
The craft once common now corrupt,
Miller no longer an artisan, it’s time,
Consumption consumes future hopes.
Hats now hung in expandable warehouses,
Satisfaction guaranteed to liquid kings.
Within, Orc eyes scour fields of meek,
The vulnerable servants, mistaken as weak.
Carnage splatters within platinum towers,
Butchers possessed by masked bloodlust,
Venerated masters feast upon their young,
Position sustained by unseasoned meat.
Sooner or later all meet with Peter,
A principle barbarians know well,
Stacking bundles while the ego shines,
Darkness falls upon the unjustly slain.
The paradox: strength detests wayward suitors,
Celebrants who dance atop dry bones,
Conspirators fall short by walking tall,
Gentle corpses pave their elevation.
Battlegrounds showcase the real victors,
Watch how tickertape flutters down,
Passing icons waving from leather seats,
Decorating warriors facedown in trenches.
I pray you are all sustained and uplifted, inspired and confident in your God-given self-worth. The only thing we take with us from this world is our name. May your good character be an enduring legacy within a world that may or may not notice or even care. You are known by all that matters, which is all that truly matters.
Live music fever has taken control this Spring! I'm still recovering from back-to-back Prince concerts on April 22 and 23, which I will write about when I've fully digested the two experiences, and I'm off to New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2011 tomorrow. This will be immediately followed by the Royal Family Ball at Club Nokia to check out Soulive and Lettuce on May 13, perhaps with another Prince concert the preceding night and capping an action-packed musical month with the Doheny Blues Festival 2011!
However, true to form and helpless to resist creative opportunities to engage with artists in their element, I capitalized on the honor of being added to A&R Worldwide's MUSEXPO guest list for their Monday, May 2 concert showcase and headed up to S.I.R. Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. MUSEXPO connects some of the world's most influential executives shaping the future of the global music business, where hundreds of US and international music industry professionals congregate during this prestigious four-day event.
As expected, I wasn't overly exposed to the line-up comprised of the following international musicians:
Monday, May 2nd
8:00pm: The Maneken - Stage 2
8:30pm: John Snow - Stage 1
9:00pm: Ingrid Olava - Stage 2
9:30pm: Zebra & Giraffe - Stage 1
10:00pm: Manna - Stage 2
10:30pm: One Night Only - Stage 1
11:00pm: Dzham - Stage 2
However, my wife and I--always eager to expand our musical palate--felt excited to participate in this important, intimate live performance event and I assure you the experience did not disappoint on any level.
The venue was well laid out with a large social cocktail gallery separating two live performance halls. Stage 1 clearly represented the primary stage, which was larger and air conditioned, whereas Stage 2 was much smaller, and decidedly warmer, especially when accommodating a 50 person body count. Fortunately, all the guests were well socialized and achieving at least acceptable levels of personal hygiene.
Technically speaking, the lighting systems were decent but the sound systems, in particular, were outstanding. All musical performances--sans the rare mic drop outs--appropriately filled the stage halls while neither deafening nor leaving one wondering where support services for the hearing impaired were located.
While all the performers were quite talented, representing musical genres ranging from electro-pop to brooding, soulful acoustic piano and guitar duets to rap, there were several standouts, in my humble opinion. The Maneken might represent the biggest surprise performance of the evening, as I had never heard of this Ukrainian artist and the performance was both visually and musically engaging. His spirited combination of modern dance music and electronic rock (e.g. Air, Coldplay, et al) grabbed me instantly and compelled me to hear and learn more about this promising emerging artist.
John Snow, a Norwegian band, had an interesting pop-rock sound, despite encroaching upon similar sounds from the same genre in the 1980s, and they had an enjoyable stage presence that engaged the audience. Ingrid Olava, also of Norway, exhibited a brooding yet curiously soothing emotional lyrical and acoustic piano style and One Night Stand--already a popular, young rock band out of the UK that clearly piques the interest of young ladies--laid down a lively performance while revealing that they, quite refreshingly, don't take themselves too seriously (think the antithesis of Oasis).
However, Zebra & Giraffe out of Johannesburg, South Africa represented the most sophisticated of the performers last night with an energetic, alternative indie rock style concealing rather pensive poetry that challenges the listener while riding Greg Carlin's psychological thriller. Greg Carlin, the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter--who played all the instruments on his debut album, Collected Memories--is an affable, seriously talented young man destined to continue contributing important music to the world for years to come.
Please check out this charged, exciting South African alternative rock band when you get the chance. For a sample, here's the debut video and hit song from Zebra & Giraffe, The Knife:
Please note Z&G opened up for The Killers and Oasis during their South African tour and I'm confident you'll be sufficiently rewarded for your effort.
Thanks for tuning in, my dear readers! I look forward to reporting back after the week in New Orleans! If I'm incorrect regarding the belief that music represents an important pillar of human social evolution, I'll need to consider rebranding my website. Please write me and let me know if you're enjoying the Neo-Western Civilization experience!
Me and my fabulous wife at The Neville Brothers Concert.
Not only is it the time of year when blooming flowers and their perfumed emissions delight two of my senses as Spring reveals itself, but three of my remaining six senses now stand at voracious attention in longing anticipation. Yes, music festival season is upon us, my friends, and the crown jewel of them all--New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival--looms in my imminent future for the fourth consecutive year!
World-class jazz, funk and blues musicians pump their wiles into the atmosphere, pulsating within my ears' tympanic cavities, and seduce this hapless white man's inner black man to celebrate life joyously. The syncopated jambalaya of low-frequency rhythms even commands my inanimate clothing to jump and jive, tangibly teaching my dance-challenged body whether, when and where to move.
In addition to the veritable plethora of amazing music resounding from every corner of New Orleans, a bevy of culinary treasures haunts my taste memory trace, fused to that special place within my insular cortex where I'm instantaneously transported back to one of America's most important cities. As soon as my taste buds encounter the flavor of the Cajun trinity--bell pepper, onion and celery--spiced with paprika, cayenne pepper and roux, I'm spirited away to Chartres, Decatur, Dauphine, Royal and St. Peters streets while Old Man River rolls on lazily in my most fond remembrance.
Now, I know what you're saying. You're saying, "Tom, just wait one minute. You only addressed five senses while you boasted having six." Now, with that issue soundly put to rest, I want to share some of my highest recommendations when visiting New Orleans, whether it be for Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras or any other time you're fortunate enough to find yourself in The Crescent City. In my humble opinion, I strongly suggest you treat yourself to the following music and gastronomic venues (in no particular order):
Me with John 'Papa' Gros
Music Venues (mostly outside of the French Quarter) and Acts to Catch If You Can
An intimate evening with Astral Project at Snug Harbor
Food Venues to Titillate Your Taste Buds
Me clowning in front of Coop's Place on Decatur Street, New Orleans.
So, there you have it, friends! I attempted to share some of my favorite music and dining experiences in New Orleans. I know I've steered you well, but I would love your feedback. Most of these few venue suggestions are just off the tourist-beaten path but, unless debauchery on Bourbon Street is your game, I highly encourage you to see the real New Orleans. And, by all means, share your own experiences in order to convey even more of the best things on tap in New Orleans. The Crescent City should be experienced at least five times in any individual's lifetime, but go as often as possible! Enjoy!
Hello, my dear readers! Please excuse my long hiatus. Over Q3 and Q4 of 2010's calendar year, and the first few months of Q1 2011, I was heavily engaged in working with my company's ownership to negotiate a key management stock purchase plan. It was a process fraught with challenges and frustrations, and we finally concluded that it is in everyone's best interests to leave the operating structure as it currently exists. Fortunately, as a result, I'm back with renewed emotional, analytical and creative energy.
For this post, I wish to step away from the socio-economic/socio-political pulpit, as I must seek shelter from the toll these recent business negotiations exacted upon my psyche. The process genuinely sucked all the air out my creative sails.
To kick-start the creative process, I sat down at my iMac a few weeks ago and said to myself, "Think of something creative to say," and about 15 seconds later I Twitted, "Apple Is In The i Of The Beholder". I really love my iMac, I must say.
However, as I sat and looked at the phrase, it dawned on me that this represents an advertising campaign concept I wish to bring to the attention of Apple, its advertising agency (TBWA\Chiat\Day) and you, my valued readers.
Following a great line of campaigns (e.g. "Think Different", "Switch" and now "Get a Mac"), Apple Is In The i Of The Beholder may be due. Apple's contagiously coveted line-up of i-technologies (e.g iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac) not only dominates state-of-the-art consumer electrics and software, it redefines sleek design elegance in parallel with extremely innovative communication technologies. In my mind, Apple exudes beauty as it markets predominantly to creative individuals.
Please excuse the crudity of my presentation, as I am attempting to convey concept above artistic rendering, but I would love your feedback regarding the following storyboard:
I believe this could be a great multi-media campaign: print; radio; television; and web. Apple could run at least four different variations of the concept I presented above, including a 5-second segment of a non-technical investor who couldn't personally care about the particular product, but who is ELATED watching Apple's share value skyrocket with the release of their new iPad2.
After Apple runs this campaign for three or four months, it can then phase in a sub-campaign: "You Are The Apple Of My i". The idea is that each product line (iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac) would get its own series of advertisements with customers engaging in a love affair with their chosen Apple product. They could generally carry on with the slow, musical montage format I created above to keep in line with the format/feel of the umbrella campaign: Apple Is In The i Of The Beholder.
So that's it! This whole process excites me, as one of my favorite jobs of all time was writing and directing television commercial spots for a local cable advertising company. And I'm not talking about those utterly cheesy local cable commercials . . . at least I tried my best to not create that annoying genre. Sometimes it was unavoidable, due to not having any production budget whatsoever, but I always shot for quality.
In fact, the first commercial I ever created was a :15 spot for a quick oil service offered by a regional car dealership. Perhaps fortunately, I was under a rather challenging deadline because, at 5:00PM one Tuesday, I was told to create a :15 spot that needed to be inserted first thing in the morning on Thursday. I thought, "This essentially rules out filming and directing local talent; everything has to be graphics and sound effects."
By the end of Wednesday, I wrote and directed the editing of a :15 "quick lube" spot that was actually copied by a major national oil-change specialist about three months after my spot aired. Of course, theirs was highly professional and proudly strutted a lucrative production budget. But it was a 100% reproduction of my spot. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say, and I still believe it today.
If you see any variation of my Apple advertising campaign concept above, lightening may have struck twice! Did I mention how blissfully happy I was being an advertising creative?! :-)
Again, please offer your feedback! I really want to hear from you!
Please take a seat before continuing: the contemporary "privileged class" within Western developed nations no longer lives with and abides by free-market economics. Yes, the free-market system, the economic model that brought us a dizzying array of automobiles, ice cream choices and little blue pills to help men achieve and sustain erections, a species-limiting condition reinforced by the fact that men hardly move physically anymore and ingest 4,000 calories a day from optional foods such as processed turkey hot pockets, 44oz carbonated beverages and FUNYUNS®. Sadly, as it turns out, the free-market system only applies to those too weak to elevate themselves above and beyond the fair, objective rules that govern this Utopian economic model.
First, we need to acknowledge that there are different definitions of free-markets. To some, the free-market is an economic system that is governed purely by private industry, not subject to any government taxation or regulation. To others, the free market is narrowly defined as a system of allocating goods within a society which abides by the laws of supply and demand. But, for the purpose of my article, free-market refers to a system where there is no intervention and regulation by a government except to enforce contracts and the ownership of property.
Believe me when I tell you I'm a big supporter of capitalism. It would be hard to argue against the quality of life improvements generated by free-markets and a capitalist society. For example, even as this flawed economic system (acknowledging any economic model is flawed) starts to wipe out the middle class and moves society inevitably back towards feudalism, the level of poverty witnessed in Western Europe and the United States of America pales (no pun intended) in comparison to the abject poverty chronically assaulting developing economies (please see my blog post, Life in Lubango, for a limited glimpse into hardships faced by these Angolans).
However, a new era of capitalism has emerged since the end of World War II. The Military Industrial Complex that Dwight D. Eisenhower presciently warned the USA to guard against in his farewell speech on January 17, 1961 has evolved into what Naomi Klein terms Disaster Capitalism, where predatory organizations of all forms (e.g. banking, oil, private security, et al) gorge on the carcasses of devastated cities, countries and regions. And, as I recently wrote in my blog post, "The Strength of Private Fundamentals", the world investment banking system turned the table in 2008 and audaciously went after the developed economies, as well.
Most hypocritically, these international investment and insurance organizations learned that they can camouflage their anti-competitive and illegal activities by cloaking themselves in the mantle of free-market ideology and declare themselves feudal lords over their fiefdoms. We have been hijacked by the largest corporations in history and they just created a new dual economy in America, where one sector is geared to local needs and another to the global market.
To demonstrate this new reality, President Obama officially signed the Small Business Jobs Act yesterday, September 27, 2010. I am extremely grateful for this new act. First, barring unforeseen developments, I am about to become a small business owner, and our small business is in desperate need of liquidity (short-term cash flow) right now. And second, I am not in the privileged class; I am subject to the confines of free market capitalism. In fact, even if I had the choice, I wouldn't choose the "privileged class" economic model that executives and high-end traders at Goldman Sachs get to manipulate. In my opinion, it is immoral, completely unethical, illegal and destructive to the common good of society . . . and I'm a big fan of morality, ethics and the common good.
Now, let's put this in perspective. Community banks are to support small businesses by having $42 billion injected into their coffers to kick-start lending. Also, let's not overlook the fact that over a $1 trillion in funding was given to international investment banking organizations to unfreeze lending, increase hiring and keep the world from entering a global depression. Of course, the largest banks used the money to pay off their pals, allow competitors to go bankrupt, purchase small banking competitors . . . or they simply kept it for a rainy day; lending certainly didn't ensue. So it seems a bit two-faced to say that these smaller, community banks should actually do what their colossal peers refused and continue to refuse to this day.
And here's another disturbing question: what is $42 billion compared to $1 trillion? Well, $1 trillion is $1000 billion. Therefore, this means the amount of money being given to community banks to increase lending and hiring for small businesses for the entire US is 4.2% of what taxpayers gave to the richest scumbags in the world.
However, let's take a moment of pause. According to the US Small Business Administration (SBA):
Matt Taibbi recently wrote a series of scathing articles regarding what he believes is really going down behind the scenes, inside the free-market mantle that obfuscates the too-big-to-fails' sordid, shady activities. The first article that impressed me was, "The Great American Bubble Machine", in the July 9-23 2009 Rolling Stone. Please read it for yourself, but the gist of it relates to how Goldman Sachs gets into a market privately, then artificially creates a massive financial bubble within that industry and reaps massive profits. From the housing bubble to the imminent "Cap and Trade" policy, Goldman Sachs is in there first, investing in private or otherwise non-accessible financial vehicles. Then they invest even more to fuel a bubble market and, as we just saw in 2008, they walk away completely unscathed by taxpayer bailouts when the market collapses; they are beyond any financial accountability and reproach, which is completely against the free-market system that enriches them daily.
Another article demanding your attention is Taibbi's March 31, 2010, "Looting Main Street", a damning indictment of the unfair, illegal and immoral activities of banks and their executives, executives who apparently will never see a day in jail for enriching themselves while destroying and enslaving American counties, states and foreign countries, alike. Accordingly to Taibbi, the state of California, the city of Chicago and the country of Greece are all similarly rigged by these too-large-to-fail corporate pirates. So, speaking of corporate pirates in parting, I wish to leave you with this appropriate Monty Python short film from their 1983 movie, The Meaning of Life. It's quite relevant . . . and a hoot!
Yes, friends, it's that time of year again: young kids dread the start of their school year; college kids can't wait to get away from their parents and back on campus; with the summer heat still beating down, it's hard to remember how and why you wanted winter to end; the first Monday of September is a national holiday and--my all-time personal favorite--college football season is kicking off with the NFL season close on its heels. These are indeed the salad days. And the last thing I'm going to think about this extended Labor Day weekend is work.
However, I would be remiss to overlook the American working class: the people who work unselfishly to literally bring products and services to market; the people who actually produce something tangible, beyond a spreadsheet, each and every day; the people who built this country into a global economic superpower; and the people who now, ironically, find themselves as expendable fodder in the name of the bottom line.
Just to refresh our memories, Labor Day became a US federal holiday in 1894, after dozens of workers were gunned down by the US Military and Marshals during the Pullman Strike, a strike which began because of the poor treatment, conditions and pay created by their employer, George Pullman. Pullman owned Pullman Palace Car Company--which made sleeper cars for rail transportation--and he actually built Pullman City near Chicago to house his employees. Furthermore, they were required to live there, accept forced pay reductions and endure extended work hours without complaint. I also hear they had to pay for the use of his library in Pullman City. No wonder they went on strike!
After the violent suppression of a righteous strike, President Grover Cleveland feared further conflicts and pushed legislation through Congress to make Labor Day an official national holiday. This holiday was originally a street parade to showcase to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations," followed by a festival for the workers and their families.
Boy, have times changed! Now, 116 years later, with persistent unemployment, chronic under-employment and too many people taking on more and more job responsibilities for less and less pay, the roots of Labor Day seem far more relevant to me . . . certainly juxtaposed against its current form of celebration: a paid day off, picnics, BBQs and pool parties.
Interestingly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) just released its August Employment Situation Summary and the markets celebrated. "Stocks surged this week, adding about $1.2 trillion to the value of global equities and erasing the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s loss for 2010, and Treasuries slid as reports on manufacturing and home sales tempered speculation the economic rebound is in peril," reported Kelly Bit and Rita Nazareth on Bloomberg. Wow! We're certainly back from the brink! Let's take Monday off and burn chicken on the grill!!!
Yet, according to the BLS, "about 2.4 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in August, little changed from a year earlier. . . . These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey." Are we keeping track of how many people are not being counted because they fell off the radar screen each month in similar fashion?
Well, on June 4, 2010, Mary Engel wrote in MSN Money, "When the underemployed and the discouraged are added to the numbers, the unemployment rate rises to 16.6%." To put that into perspective, unemployment rose to 25% during The Great Depression . . . and 16.6% (and climbing?) is closer to 25% than it is 9.6%.
So on this Labor Day weekend, please remember the long-suffering laborers of our past, as well as our unemployed and underemployed citizens currently marginalized by the ultimate prize in life: profitability. Enjoy the hot dogs, football and festivities. Perhaps you might even want to invite the workers you laid off for a free meal. Whatever the case, before I sign off, I want to send a shout out to our nation's working class just trying to make ends meet, let alone live the American Dream. This Bud's for you!!!
Hello friends! As a follow-up to my post on social justice and liberation theology yesterday, I wanted to share an excerpt from my personal life. Back in July of 2000, I worked for a non-governmental organization (NGO) that I founded with my parents called Affordable Medicines For Africa (AMFA). As the name implies, AMFA existed to ensure the poorest people on Earth could have easier access to lifesaving medicines, even as simple as vitamins and aspirin.
Having just narrowly escaped the dreaded Y2K bug, I set out to really challenge fate by going to Lubango, Angola in an effort to establish a formal distribution channel for AMFA's essential generic medicines to support local doctors, pharmacists and, ultimately, the poor and most needy. However, getting to Lubango, Angola from South Africa was not as easy as booking a flight through Expedia. First, I had to get a letter of invitation from a local resident. Then I had to apply and wait for a visa to enter the country, which may or may not be granted, but they would keep the several hundred dollar fee, regardless.
Once equipped with a valid visa, one could drive the 1946 km (1209 miles) to Lubango, but the ongoing 25-year civil war made such a trek treacherous, all the more so if your vehicle carried anything of interest or value (e.g. large shipment of essential medicines). The other option was to fly to Windhoek, Namibia and then, from there, catch a local TAAG Angola Airlines flight that, at the time, flew from Windhoek to Lubango to Luanda and back once a week (although the flight frequently bypassed Lubango entirely--even if that was your destination--and flew directly on to Luanda, the nation's capital).
Flying the medicines to Luanda was the safest, most secure option but, unfortunately, flying medicines--especially when they are heavy liquids--can be exceptionally costly. So AMFA established a working partnership with Mission Aviation Fellowship, with a hub in Windhoek and an unused flight clearance in and out of Namibia, to establish a regular, dedicated flight to Lubango at an affordable rate. AMFA would truck the medicines up to Windhoek, keep it in bonded storage where MAF would then collect and fly the medicine shipment into Angola. However, establishing logistics up to and out of Windhoek, Namibia was the just one part of the equation; getting onto the ground in Lubango and establishing a trust relationship with the local community represented the other side of a rather challenging coin.
So, without further ado, below is an update I e-mailed my friends back in July, 2000. I hope this report fills you with as much hope as it conveys the formidable challenges the people in this Southwestern Angolan city face each day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Cheers to hope and love!
July 2000 Trip Report: Lubango, Angola
Despite the chilly morning “showers” out of a bucket, vigilantly keeping local water from entering my body and equal efforts to smash mosquitoes to avoid potential exposure to malaria, my trip to Lubango may prove to be a huge step towards creating the first Angolan, Christian healthcare ministry cooperative. I truly believe God is at work in this war-ravaged country.
The situation in Lubango isn’t as bad as things COULD be, mainly because it is firmly in the government’s hands. The government’s control of Lubango doesn’t make things better in any form of efficiency or reduction in poverty. However, the government’s control of Lubango means that the military is so firmly entrenched that the UNITA rebels don’t dare to mount an offensive. The 25+ year civil war hasn’t really rumbled through Lubango recently, fortunately for the local residents.
Describing life in Lubango would be difficult for me since I was only there for one week. Somehow life goes on in this city without any visible, formal system of operating. However, I will try and give you an idea of what life is like in this city that has suffered from the seemingly endless civil war, corruption and widespread poverty.
Given the ministry we are in, I first have to point out that healthcare in Lubango is atrocious. The large, seven-story government hospital is just about the scariest place I’d ever want to find myself if I had the flu, let alone in need of serious medical attention. Though power seems to be available for the hospital, most of the place is dark. This may be an attempt to save on electricity but I have a strong feeling that most of the light bulbs are burned out and they don’t have the resources to replace them. Another strong possibility is that the less lit the hospital is, the less you will be able to see the dirt and filth everywhere.
The hospital is anything but sanitary. The stench of urine and possible raw sewage permeates the long, dark hallways. Once tiled floors are covered in dirt and they often look like the “roads” through Lubango. Huge, ripped up sections of the hallways are a common sight. Many windows are broken and not replaced. Sections of walls are broken or smashed, rusted metal gurneys are left stranded in corridors, plaster used for casts coats walls and floors and patients sit in darkened rooms with family members gathered since there isn’t a functioning staff to take care of nor a budget to feed them. If you require surgery, it is your responsibility to find and purchase the medicines, equipment and anesthetics for the doctor to use since those items are not found in the hospital. The “pharmacy” is an empty, unattended room. Simply put, the hospital looked like a better place to die than a place to regain health.
As far as I could observe, there weren’t any other hospitals in Lubango. The Christian mission hospitals operate outside the city. I thought this was due to the fact that they have a strong passion to reach out to the rural poor and spread the Gospel. However, I have learned that the government wants to be in control of everything and building a private hospital in town has continually proved to be a challenge. It is not that the government doesn’t want a private Christian hospital in town. It is just that they also want to control it and, unfortunately for all concerned, they simply aren’t good at anything that requires planning and organization.
The city, itself, looks like it was once a nice, medium-sized urban center. This is typical of many post-colonial African cities. The roads, as mentioned above, are very treacherous and, often times, can’t be considered roads, at all. More often than not, 4x4’s are the vehicles in use, though regular passenger cars are also scurrying about. I imagine that those with vehicles are people of import since the majority of the Angolans are milling about on foot--and when I say "on foot" I literally mean it; I have never seen so many people missing legs, a most vicious result of barbarous landmines strewn about the country. Most of the storefronts are closed. Many of the building are apparently used as living quarters and the rest of the city seems to be government buildings, which are better maintained than the rest.
At any time of day, the streets are crowded with residents engaged in subsistence lifestyles. The government is “communist” but doesn’t really provide jobs for its people and even those that do work for the state haven’t been paid in two or three years. However, the military, police and secret police seem to be better off than most, which might explain why there are so many of them “patrolling” the city streets. They are everywhere and, from what I was told, it is better not to have encounters with them of any form. You definitely don’t want to be caught taking pictures for their paranoia that you are going to give the photos to UNITA rebels. Anyway, they are often accused of rousting Church and NGO workers, usually looking for anything petty to hold them for until a “fine” is paid. Perhaps that is their means of income and, since they have AK47s and other weaponry, they possess a decided competitive advantage over the rest of the government employees.
There are signs of war in the city, despite the general “protection” Lubango offers. Some residential buildings are bullet-ridden and/or completely bombed. In 1992, there was a cease fire/peace agreement between the MPLA (communist government) and the UNITA forces (rebels). Apparently, as soon as the agreement was signed, thousands of people started running around claiming that they were UNITA members. This proved to be a HUGE mistake. Whether or not they actually were UNITA members, the government forces stormed through the city, collected these thousands of people, brought them to a 1000 foot cliff not too far outside the city and shot them before they were tossed over the edge. I am told that you can stand at the edge of the cliff and see the bones below. It’s a bit morbid to learn that this is a “tourist” location due to the incredible scenic views from the escarpment. Though it doesn’t have a 1000-foot escarpment, I haven’t visited Auschwitz for the very same reason.
As for AMFA business developments, this trip was very important for us. Relationships are all-important in Africa and meeting our potential customers face-to-face makes all the difference in the world. I was told that it was very important to the Christian mission hospital doctors and pharmacists that AMFA came to visit them. Personally, I agree. I have a much better appreciation of the situation in Angola as well as the conditions in which these committed people work. We really may have the beginning of something profound developing for mission healthcare in Angola. I'll keep you posted.