Archive for category: News Outta My Control

What If: A Look Back at the GOP

07 Feb 2014
February 7, 2014

For its 10th anniversary Facebook created a short video for every one of its users, taking a look back at their favorite posts and photographs. “A Look Back,” these minute videos, started showing up on everyone’s stream as people shared them. The music was intentionally inspirational; the sentimentality was obvious. People either loved or hated them and a backlash shortly ensued. Of course, this made it ripe for parody and I never turn down an opportunity, especially when I can also make a powerful statement.

So, what if this remembrance, a look back, was made for the Republican Party? Here’s what I think it would look like.

What Becomes a Legend Most? Wait, Let Me Tweet That.

27 Oct 2013
October 27, 2013

What becomes a legend most? I have no idea. I’m not the legend type. But, earlier this week I received my first fan letter. I have had a few brushes with fame—by now, perhaps an hour’s worth. But, as always these strange encounters come in fits and spurts and without fanfare I quickly recede back with the rest of humanity.

Il Caffe

My Swiss Media Debut: Il Caffè (Click image for larger picture and, if you can read Italian, see how this government shutdown played in Europe.)

Recently, as many of you know, I became the de facto poster boy for the furloughed Federal worker. First on Washington, DC’s Fox affiliate, then in a news story CBS News beamed to its affiliates across the country and world, then The Washington Post and finally a Swiss weekly and French public radio.

I should thank my agent for all the exposure but I don’t have one. I was discovered by my Tweets. Facebook will never make you famous, but Twitter could, at least for a few minutes. Take last week’s célébrité du jour Tom Matzzie. While riding an Amtrak train Matzzie suddenly recognized an important phone call going on a few rows ahead of him. Former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden was being interviewed by a journalist on the other end of the line. And, like all good social media wonks, Matzzie immediately began live tweeting a running commentary. The event was covered in real time by the Post and other news outlets.

Trains are wonderful places for voyeurs like Tom and me. In fact, I’ve been chronicling my fellow commuters in a series called The Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable that documents phone conversations I’ve overheard on DC’s Metro. People have lost all common sense about their personal space, talking about anything in front of anyone. I don’t mind. It makes my commute that much more exciting. And Matzzie’s running Twitter stream was a jackpot handed to him by the former head of the NSA! Irony is not dead. No way.

But enough about him.

Both CBS and The Washington Post contacted me after seeing my own government shutdown Twitter stream. But, unlike others who have confused public for personal spaces, I was very aware of my surroundings. Setting my conditions for an interview I stated at the outset, “I will not talk politics.” If they were looking for soundbytes from “Furloughed Joe Average,” that’s exactly who’d I’d be. Not that some didn’t try. Oh, you Media! You can be a cagey lot.

I spent a good deal of my furlough on social media. As my private self, I had no qualms about stating my opinion. And because of a comment I left on a Post article about Matzzie and Hayden, I discovered I had a fan.

Jeff, I was thrilled to come upon your site. Your writing, your range, your obvious intelligence…. I have subscribed and look forward to many hours of sharing your meta-ness.

“Your writing, your range, your obvious intelligence….” Wow. I was immediately suspicious.

I had just been pranked by friends of my daughter’s new boyfriend. We got a phone message the other night in which a father’s voice stated “This is Henry’s father. Would the parents of Lily Gates please call me at….” Was this going to be one of those Romeo and Juliet calls? Were my daughter and her boyfriend destined to be apart forever? I dutifully returned the call only to find it was a bunch of high school friends playing around.

So, just who was this fan? Some crazed nutcase who’d stalk me, forcing me to get a restraining order? I was born in Hollywood and inherited the drama that goes with. I did a little sleuthing, relaxed, and by the time I’d gotten to work, she wanted to friend me on Facebook.

My “15 minutes” was going in all sorts of unexpected directions. And this could start to become a problem. It’s been almost two weeks since that Post article appeared. My wife was just recognized at the grocery store. One person wanted my autograph (I’m sorry but those 15 minutes are way long gone). And strangers continue to tell me “I saw you in the Post.” I honestly don’t know how to react. So I default to “Oh, yeah, that.” Very polished. But all of this has gone on much longer than my previous encounters with fame. And, if it continues it will start to cramp my style. I’m a lurker. I watch and listen to people because I’m invisible. I get my best ideas this way. If people “see” me I’ll be lost and my artistic muses will evaporate.

I’m counting on you not to let that happen. Look! A squirrel!

Furlough Sonata in 24 Tweets

20 Oct 2013
October 20, 2013

For over two weeks the GOP closed the government in an effort to derail the Affordable Care Act. Except for the Republicans’ radical Right (yes, Ted Cruz, I’m talking to you and your lemmings), no one disputes how destructive this was to American’s confidence in our government. If you listen carefully, even George Will is moaning. What we could have done with the $24,000,000,000 of taxpayers’ money they wasted just to make their ideological point. In the end, the citizens and more moderate legislators resoundingly rejected the Radical Right’s antics. They gained absolutely nothing but disdain.

So, what’s a furloughed government employee to do with his sudden time off? Well, I think we all tried to make the best of it. I exercised, did some art, formed a Facebook group for my fellow furloughees, the Furloughed Employees Activity Center, so we could remain in contact, found myself in the media a few times, and helped around the house. Oh yeah, I also composed a short bit of “music” to convey my displeasure with the circus going on at Capitol Hill.

Debuting for the first time together, my Furlough Sonata in 24 Tweets:

Furlough Tweets

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Postscripts

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Furlough: Day 4

04 Oct
October 4, 2013

On Day 4 of my forced time off I woke up to our local Fox affiliate’s morning news program. First, a disclaimer. Fox 5 here in DC is not Fox News. Their connection is in name only. And our local Fox station has a much more professional approach to the news. A crew interviewed me last year when I had my ads in the DC Metro and that was one of the first questions I asked. It’s clear the people on the Channel 5 morning news like each other and that makes watching them a pleasure, especially when you have to get up and go to work. Except, today, and for the last four days, I haven’t had to go to work. But I watch them anyway, just to feel normal.

There’s a segment I particularly like called “Ask Tony and Tucker.” It comes on around 6:45 a.m., just when I’m getting dressed. Newscaster Tony Perkins is “Tony” and Tucker Barnes, the weather man is “Tucker.” Every morning they read a viewer’s question “weather related or otherwise” and then attempt to answer it. I had a question I had wanted to ask them for months. And, true to form, it was a “meta” question, one about their newscast. But I never had time. The furlough changed that. With more than enough time on my hands, yesterday I sent in my question and a photo of me wearing my furlough attire.

This is the news I woke up to this morning.

Furlough: Day 1

01 Oct 2013
October 1, 2013
Jeff Gates:

Stating my case on the way to work.

I’m a Federal worker, working for the Smithsonian as a new media producer. And like all federal workers we have been furloughed because Congress has not appropriated any funding for this new fiscal year. This morning we were supposed to go into work to clean up, create “out of office” emails, and close up shop.

It’s often hard to describe what it’s like working in Washington, DC. We are at the center of politics and everything that goes with it. It permeates our daily work lives. And, of course, these things don’t always stay in your cubicle when you go home for the evening. So, I have been following the House goings-on with both a political, a creative, and a personal eye. As many of you know, for the last three years I have been commenting on the rancor that is so prevalent in American political discourse through a series of remixed WW II propaganda posters under the guise of the Chamomile Tea Party. Last year, just before the election I bought ad space in the Metro and posted two of these posters.

But when I woke up this morning and found that the government couldn’t get passed their politics I felt I had to do something more. I like thinking outside the box and I like to think I’m not your typical bureaucrat.

So, I wore this sign. As I walked to the Metro I got a few looks and the guy handing out newspapers at the subway entrance was the first to comment: “Nice poster,” he said. Waiting for the train, I got a fistbump and more comments of support on my way downtown. Every day we sit anonymously on the subway, not thinking too much of our fellow commuters. I felt a bit uncomfortable standing out. But it was of my own doing.

This is not the first time I’ve done this. In 1969, as a junior in at Michigan State University, I was subject to the military’s first Selective Service Draft Lottery. Every man eligible for the draft participated. Every day of the year, including February 29, were thrown into a hat and picked one at a time, the order of which would become the order that we would be drafted. September 14 was the unlucky first number to be drawn and September 14 was the last. Mine came up on the 93rd draw. A bit too high for comfort. True, I had a student deferment but no one knew how long these would last.

Back then I felt I had to do something too. So, the next day, as I went to my classes across the very large campus, I wore a sign, much like the one I wore today. It’s said “I’m 93.” No other explanation was necessary. Everyone understood the context. At the end of the school year I was surprised to see that someone had taken a photo of me and printed it in the yearbook. I went looking for that book but it’s probably hiding in the attic with the rest of my previous life.

Many years later, once again I felt it was the perfect way to express myself. This time, I had my wife document the event for Facebook. I just might wear this sign wherever I go during the government shutdown. Despite the bad rap Congress spouts about us Federal workers (as well as trolls on the net), we do a great job and many of us love public service. I like to think that wearing this sign is my own public service announcement.

I’m going to think of this unscheduled forced time off as a practice retirement (not that I’m ready). I call it my “Furtirement.” And, you can be assured I will make the very best use of my days. I’ve got a lot of stuff rattling around in my head.

Ignoring the Fifth Branch of Government

26 May 2013
May 26, 2013
My revised illustration for Jonathan Turely's article.

My revised illustration of writer Turley’s four branches of the federal government. My version has an important addition.

Jonathan Turely, public interest law professor at George Washington University, writes in today’s Washington Post about the rise of the fourth branch of the federal government: the numerous agencies which administer and support many of the policies implemented by the traditional three branches of government. Turely, states at the beginning of his piece:

The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is not just bigger, it is dangerously off kilter. Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.

He brings up some important points. And his premise, that many agencies create rules (i.e. de facto laws) and police them independently of Congress and the courts, is something to consider. But, he ignores what I call The Fifth Branch of the American Government, the not so shadowy branch of lobbyists, PACs, and special interests that contribute millions of dollars to influence legislation. The illustration and accompanies the print edition of the article lacks this branch. So, I have taken it upon myself to correct this mistake.

We can’t talk about influence by Turely’s fourth arm without including the fifth, for this arm is the most opaque, autonomous, and powerful of all.

© 2001-2015 Jeff Gates ISSN 1544-4074