Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wesley Snipes To Go on Ice Again?

ONE OF THE SLEEPER classics of the mid-Nineties was the film Demolition Man. In it, Wesley Snipes (and, through Snipes's character's machinations, Sylvester Stallone) plays a criminal who, after being apprehended in the present day, is cryogenically frozen for decades in a new rehabilitation initiative. Of course, the subliminal retraining that was supposed to make him docile is replaced by a suite of skills that read like a GURPS Black Ops character sheet, and Sly is thawed to deal with the swath of chaos Snipes carves across a pacifist future.

Well, Snipes may have occasion to be put on ice in real life. News today alleged that Our Mister Blade has neglected to pay his not insubstantial taxes for some time. From the Orlando Sentinel:
Snipes, according to the indictment, sent bogus checks worth about $13 million to the IRS for his estimated tax liability. Snipes also attempted to receive, but did not get, tax refunds worth more than $11 million for tax years 1996 and 1997, according to the indictment.
Nobody really likes to pay taxes — though having to shell out a pile on Snipes-level coin would feel like a backhanded compliment to me — but hell, if you're a celebrity, known to pull down seven-figure paychecks, you gotta know the spotlight is going to be on you with greater vigor than on a shlub like me. And Snipes isn't even the first guy to short the Feds like this. The first Survivor winner, Richard Hatch, somehow convinced himself that CBS was covering the tax on his million dollars, an excuse that fell apart when he also ducked tax on a few other goodies and paychecks he picked up after the win. Hatch is now bouncing off the walls of a Federal clink. Will Wesley Snipes be one cell down?

This news comes right after I spent a late Saturday night/early Sunday morning (yes, I lead an exciting weekend life) reading Richard Yancey's riveting memoir, Confessions of a Tax Collector, which details his career as a revenue agent for the IRS. They have a direct mandate: Collect the tax. Whether it be via payment plan, or an auction of the delinquent payer's businesses or homes, Yancey executed the will of the government with increasing zeal in his career, reserving special attention for scam artists and revenue-libertarians who use pettifoggery and Constitutional chop-logic to claim that the income tax system itself is invalid. In the end, few escape, and the author is transformed by his job in alarming ways. The book reads like Brazil via Heart of Darkness and I recommend it strongly. All in all, it tells me that Wesley Snipes doesn't have a chance in hell of winning.

Why do people think they are immune to the law? Especially revenue laws, at a time when every penny that moves through the system can be followed as it goes or traced? Even the most Byzantine money-laundering schemes are eventually foiled, or at least suspected of existing even as their walls are slowly scaled by ever-more sophisticated forensic accountants and computer wizards. Joe Louis coined it, Wez echoed it, and I believe it: You can run, but you can't hide. Though I'm not saying I agree with every program my revenue funds, I do know it's coming out of that paycheck or some Agent Smith–looking motherfucker is gonna drag my ass into a fluorescent-lit sweatbox, stretch on a rubber glove, and go hunting up and down the length of my fiscal colon. And if I really wanted attention to that area, hell, there's places in the West Village'll help a man out for a few bux and a peck on the cheek.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

More Sad News for the Yankees

HARD ON THE HEELS of a playoff loss, the New York Yankees have suffered a more personal one: the death, via small-engine plane, of pitcher Cory Lidle. I don't normally follow baseball in general or the Yanks in particular, but the mode of his passing — his plane flew into the side of an Upper East Side condo tower — definitely got my attention. Only later in the workday did the identity of one of its passengers emerge.

Let's back up to this afternoon. My immediate supervisor got a call from her mother, who told her a plane had flown into a building. Said boss transmitted that fact, sans specifics, to the other three designers in our group. This may have been all her mother knew at the time. Even so, she might have checked the Web for a couple of details before passing this fact straight along. (She is also the type to forward Net glurge before checking with urban legend site Snopes.com.)

So with a detached-sounding "Hmmmm . . . ," I hit up CNN's site to see what the facts were. As it slowly loaded (clearly mine was not the only inquiring mind), my boss said if we didn't feel safe staying at the office, we could go. This I needed to hear. So when I got the capsule summary of the breaking story — small plane, residential building, UES — I relaxed, and quickly let the group know that this was a limited, accident-related event and not an apparent terror attack. "Unless," I added, "the plane was brimming with anthrax."

At this stage, all we knew was that there had been a crash, with no details on victims. It was only at 5:00 or so, as I was leaving, when I heard one guy a few cubes away say, "A Yankee?!" I thought maybe one of the Bombers owned a condo in the building, and perhaps by extreme chance his was hit. Not so. Upon loading ESPN.com, however, I saw the first sketchy details of the story.

As I said, I don't follow baseball, so I didn't really know Cory Lidle. Was this just a terrible accident, or a deliberate crash on the part of a disturbed player whose team got washed out of the playoffs? Upon returning home, I consulted the mighty Felix as to what he knew of Lidle, aside from his being a recent acquisition from the Phillies. He said he had heard nothing to suggest that Lidle was the pinstripe equivalent of Terrell Owens. By this point, the news radio stations were both going nonstop on Lidle and the accident. At this point it does simply seem like a sad misadventure on the part of an enthusiastic, safety-aware amateur pilot.

One fact that emerged from the radio reports was that Lidle was a member of the Yankees chess club. Who knew they had such a thing? With the swollen egos on that team, I would not have imagined some of the players might devote themselves to such a slow-paced, intellectual exercise. Lidle was reported to find it calming to play a game or two before trotting out onto the diamond. I had a childhood interest in chess that, although it never developed into any sort of adult skill, did leave me with an appreciation of those who play.

I'm sure I'll get a little stuffed full of the coverage over the next couple of days. To be sure, all due respect to his survivors (including a son that just turned 6), I'm truly happy it wasn't as dire as my boss's mom had made it sound. It still represents a very tragic coda to a season that, in the end, fell well short of expectations. Hopefully the Yankees will be inspired to play with even more heart when spring training is over and they return to the Bronx, minus their fallen teammate.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tensions Rising

NO, I'M NOT TALKING about our poufy-haired buddy in Pyongyang. I'm talking at work. Over the past couple of weeks, the background level of tension seems to be escalating very slowly. I'm posting to hash out why.

Granted, we did just pass the end of our fiscal year, and all of the high managers were rushing about, trying to get the numbers all lined up in efficient, shiny rows. This trickles down to us only in the sense that those databases wherein we track our publications have to be up to date. This is a reflex I learned at my last job, where we had a spreadsheet/database program similar in intent. When the numbers indicate a project is offpress, it can be realized as revenue, and it is this final digit in the lineup that means everything to the beancounters. Still, our group keeps the database well stocked with those vital numbers, so that doesn't pose a problem.

The looming project in which we switch our production methods was rumored to begin this fall. Some said it even might launch in October. With one third of the month done, I have my doubts . . . and these are fueled by the continuing confusion over exactly how this whole system will be implemented.

I hear the manager — my former department head — who was responsible for getting the company into this way of production still fussing over minuscule details. I also hear her wasting time arguing with her husband and yelling at her children on the phone, agonizing over the thorny details of a lunch order, and laughing it up with the staff she now supervises to undertake the seemingly infinite number of remaining sticking points of this process. I hear my immediate supervisor trying to glean from said manager basic information on how we need to reformat our publications, and failing to get the information she needs. In addition to this, she is performing the duties of a publications trafficker — a position that our former manager, in a critically short-sighted act, eliminated — and fielding a tide of questions from a sister office on products with which we should have no involvement whatsoever. We have also been directed by HQ to switch printers by the end of this month for budget-consolidation purposes. All of this is being overseen by our new manager, who had our little group of designers thrust upon her when it became clear that our old boss no longer had time to devote to actually supervising us. Our new boss, who I feel has an enlightened no-bullshit attitude, is nonetheless herself learning just what she needs to do, and this in the early stages of a very busy period in the book-production side of our department, her previous, and continuing, focus in the operation.

Now you can see why it's getting steadily crazier by the week at my shop.

Things could be considerably worse. Two friends and former coworkers of mine — let's grant them anonymity here in their unfolding situation — just got word that their boss is selling the company. Because the buyer is not local, their positions are not guaranteed. I survived a round of layoffs at my company 3 years ago, but because my former department head (who, to her credit, thought very clearly when she had a specific focus like this) stuffed our desks with work, we managed to slide past the Reaper under the guise of being the shepherds of more sheep, so to speak, than the company could afford to let wander unwatched. This is not an option for my friends, one of whom stunned me with news of the sale this Friday.

We are not near that point where I work, not by a long shot. One might argue that the neck on which the axe of retribution might fall, should this new initiative fail, could simply be that of my former boss. My current supervisor can't do much to rock the boat, because the company is paying for her graduate education. She could find freelance work tomorrow with just a few phone calls, but this wouldn't cover the completion of her degree. Me? I have no debts or obligations of that sort, and I am far enough down the ladder from all of these decisions and their possible consequences not to be targeted for any failure (unless I very specifically fuck something up, which – as the entire process is not yet known to me — I don't know how I would manage).

What does worry me is that my skill set is a bit specialized. I don't have a solid command of Photoshop, and I could certainly get better with Illustrator. I'm not a "real" graphic designer in that sense. I do still have a good eye for editing, though the escape plan that I occasionally flirt with did involve easing into copyediting, jobs for which I would have sought . . . at my previous company. I haven't made up a resume in years, and I suspect mine might be a bit thin.

I will hold off on any thoughts regarding departure until I truly see this new mode of production in descriptive detail, if not in action. There could be dark humor in some of the process. For the moment, however, I still consider hitting the deadlines of my publications my top job, one at which I am good and for which the checks don't seem to be bouncing. It couldn't hurt, however, to consider the options should my stay there be cut short by someone looking to add a teak floor to his yacht in the main office.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

O Schadenfreude, O Schadenfreude

YOU CAN SING THE above to "O Tannenbaum," or perhaps "Duel of the Fates" if you wish to shoehorn the syllables a tad, but any way you sing it, it's what I'm abubble with over the unfolding Mark Foley scandal.

Do you remember how you perceived Congress and Bill Clinton before the Monica Lewinsky scandal hit? I recall the time before that as having an eerie calm, surely a retrospective illusion given the Republican-sprayed shitstorm that followed. Now, in less than a week, the Repubs themselves, a month away from a midterm election that could result in their losing control of the legislature, the entire leadership has its hands full of this mess.

One good source for daily snippets and linkage for this story has been Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo blog (accessible through my links). He has links to all of the ongoing homina-homina-homina from the Congressional leadership about who knew what about whom and when. NPR also has a solid chronology here. By all means check out just how far the party of morals and the moneyed Jesus-fucks who have worked to install it can cram their collective foot into its collective mouth trying to defend this former chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.

If nothing else, bloated hack Dennis Hastert might be in the position John Hurt as Caligula found himself in I, Claudius: figuratively locked into a corridor and butchered by his former allies as his thugs pound on the doors to save their only connection to Washington power. At best, the one-two punch of the Bob Woodward book and the Foley black hole might tilt the balance on Election Day and open a massive crack in the support Bush has to continue his asinine trade practices.

It's been a truism since the First Continental Congress, a tarpit into which arrogant politicians who think they're immortal and untouchable will stumble and sink for as long as the US of A caps this hemisphere: "Never get caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy."

P.S. Hunter Thompson would have LOVED this.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Thirty-One Days and All Too Short

OCTOBER IS HERE. AUTUMN will flower into its most beautiful form during this month. I wish I had more days off in which to enjoy it, but I ran through more than I ordinarily would have this spring (due to the then-imminent ban on extended time off in the summer, which eventually was lifted). I could conceivably work a little later each day and build up a couple of half-day Fridays, but once again, rumor has it we may start our new way of production later this month.

Autumn is making itself known to me in many small ways. With the windows open at night, I find myself dropping off to sleep in the cool air far more swiftly than in the artificial chill of an overtaxed air conditioner. I have smelled wood burning, and in another form of fire, the edges of the leaves are curling and turning yellow and orange as though igniting at the touch of a hidden flame. We're a quarter of the way through football season, and the weather is just right for tailgating, whether you're at a stadium or not.

I have much to accomplish this month. Foremost among them is getting my sleep schedule into order. The better evening weather should help immeasurably. Soon, my old company 401(k) should be liquidated, and the check will be in my hands to drop into the retirement plan of my current employer. (October is historically a crummy month for stocks, so I decided to have the money be in transit while the market goes through its usual tenth-month flux.) Once it's in, I have to rebalance my entire spread of funds with the next several years in mind. I also want to make a regular date with this blog, to keep the writing muscles in tone in ways my job never does.

In general, I plan to reassess many of my priorities — physical, career, financial, creative, and recreational — in this wonderful, frost-edged month. I hope to celebrate some of these improvements at its end, coincident with Halloween, and if I can enact anything significant by then I will consider it a treat in the October 31 sense.