HEAVY RIFFING: An interview with WINO (Arthur No. 9/March 2004)

(originally published in Arthur No. 9, March 2004)

HEAVY RIFFING: Legendary doom metal/stoner rock lifer SCOTT “WINO” WEINRICH lays some typically heavy thoughts about politics, music, hallucinogens and life on Joshua Sindell. Photo by Brian Liu

For a musician whose music has earned him such respect from his peers, the elusive, grim-faced figure known as Scott “Wino” Weinrich has always existed in a zone far apart from even the darkest cult spectrum of rock’s unsung heroes.

Wino grew up around the Washington D.C. area, and became well-known among the hardcore-punk-loving kids in the early ’80s as “that amazing guitarist” for Warhorse, a local metal band, later to be known as the Obsessed. Wino stood out in any crowd, not only from his formidable rep as a musician, but because he was an imposing, long-haired, denim ’n’ leather-wearing dude who, appearances aside, expressed solidarity with the burgeoning D.C. punk scene, led by such bands as Minor Threat and Bad Brains. In return, Obsessed shows were routinely filled with short-haired fans who wouldn’t have been caught dead at an Iron Maiden or Judas Priest concert. Black Flag’s Henry Rollins, Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye and Nirvana’s Dave Grohl were diehard Obsessed fans, reverently viewing Wino out of a sense of awe and fear in equal measures. “Wino plays guitar with that up-all-night-drinking-Clorox sound,” Rollins once said admiringly.

In 1985, Wino accepted an invitation to sing for Californian stoner-rock forefathers Saint Vitus. They were his sole focus of musical attention for the rest of the decade as the band released several albums and EPs on SST Records, home to so many of the ’80s’ best bands. Joe Carducci, author of Rock and the Pop Narcotic, and Vitus’s SST producer, explained the appeal thus: “What I hear in Wino is a natural who’s not like other musicians. He always has a trailing shimmer on all of his playing, and when he is just doing downstrokes to mark the rhythm, he’s shaping that as well—dragging the rhythm from the guitar.”

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You're more easily screwed as the world goes more digital Part 45

Debit cards fuel overdraft outrages – The Red Tape Chronicles

from MSNBC.com

Posted: Tuesday, January 30 at 01:03 am CT by Bob Sullivan

Forty dollars for a Big Mac? That might sound over the top, but it barely tips the outrage meter when you compare it to the 20,000-percent-interest loanU.S. consumers regularly take out to pay for such $40 burgers. How could this be?

Well, bounced checks just aren’t what they used to be.

A new study says that most of the time consumers overdraw their accounts now, bounced checks aren’t the culprit. Instead, debit card purchases are chief cause of overdrafts.

Many people don’t realize that a carefree swipe of their debit card at a point-of-sale terminal to buy a Big Mac could result in “courtesy overdraft” fee of $30 or more. But such fees are becoming increasingly common. When faced with a transaction that would send a consumers’ account into negative territory, banks now regularly approve such transactions, cover the expense, and charge hefty fees.

Financial institutions collected some $10 billion in 2005 through what’s sometimes called automatic overdraft protection, according to the new study conducted by the Center for Responsible Lending. The agency reviewed full transaction histories for 5,000 typical American households to determine the cause of bounced check fees.

In its report, called “Debit Card Danger,” the Center for Responsible Lending said that 38 percent of overdrafts were caused by debit card, point-of-sale transactions, while paper checks triggered an overdraft only 27 percent of the time. Online bill payments accounted for another 27 percent of overdrafts.

Most consumers have no idea
The trend concerns Eric Halpern, who co-authored the report. He believes many consumers still have no idea how expensive that Big Mac can be.

“If you ask people on the street what would happen if they tried to make a debit card purchase and their account was empty, most people assume the bank would deny it,” he said.

Not any more. Beginning several years ago — no one really knows when — banks slowly got into the business of granting short-term, high interest loans to consumers when they attempt to overdraw their accounts. Account holders are automatically enrolled in the programs, which are now standard at nearly all banks.

Why are the programs, which many people have never heard of, so popular? Financial institutions that adopt them can expect a huge spike in overdraft revenue — a spike of 200 to 400 percent, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

These mini-loans are incredibly expensive. Most debit purchases that force overdraft loans to kick in are for small purchases, the agency says. The median overdraft loan for a point-of-sale transaction is $14.75. The average fee is more than double that amount. And since most consumers pay these loans back within three to five days, the annual percentage rate on a courtesy overdraft loan can be as high as 20,000 percent.

It’s clear these loans confuse consumers. When asked, 61 percent said they wished the bank would simply reject the transaction.

Courtesy overdraft can save consumers money in the world of paper checks. The fee is the same as a standard insufficient funds fee, but consumers who would have bounced checks without it won’t face additional fees from merchants.

But the advantage ends in the electronic transaction world. Consumers who are unaware of courtesy overdraft do not know that the price of their Big Mac can jump from $1.99 to $42 in an instant.

It’s true, as bankers like to say, such fees are avoidable. Consumers can keep tabs on their balances, and as long as they do not live near the edge, dangling their balance near zero, they will never see this fee. And in fact, most consumers never pay overdraft fees. Every consumer who spends money they don’t have bears responsibility for that.

But banks shoulder the blame, too, for making it so easy to overdraw — and for muddying the line between “where the consumers’ balance ends and the overdraft protection begins,” said Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

Remember the surge of marketing that began a few years ago encouraging consumers to use debit cards instead of credit card for purchases? Debit cards were supposed to be the safer tool, the preferred tool for consumers trying to be responsible about their personal finances. Because debit-card buyers draw instantly from their own money in their checking accounts, they do not run up high-interest, revolving credit card debts. The implication, of course, was that debit cards would not allow you to spend what you don’t have.

Scratch that.

There are other factors that make it easier to fall prey to courtesy overdraft fees. Balancing a checkbook has become a much more complex affair. In an age of Internet banking and multiple automatic payments and deposits, it is easy to lose track of account balances day by day.

Lopsided changes
In addition, the advent of electronic check processing (called Check 21) has meant check deductions are drawn faster from consumers’ accounts — but deposits are still commonly held for three to five days. So consumers need a healthy cushion in their accounts to avoid the near occasion of overdraft sin, and not everyone has such a cushion.

“This hits families who are living paycheck to paycheck,” said Halpern. “It is likely at (any) point in time that the consumer does not know their exact balance. But the bank knows the exact balance.”

Banks could warn consumers that an overdraft is imminent, he said. But instead, they approve the transaction and collect the fee.

“This is a situation where the bank has much more information than the consumer,” he said.

Liz Pulliam-Weston, author of “Deal with Your Debt,” and MSN.com personal finance columnist, says that there are easy ways for consumers to protect themselves from overdraft fees. With a simple phone call or visit to a branch, consumers typically can link their checking accounts to their savings account or credit card. Then, if an overdraft occurs, the money to cover the purchase will be drawn from their other accounts. A small fee will apply, but it will generally be a tiny fraction of the potential courtesy overdraft charge. Consumers can also apply for a bank line of credit and link that to their checking account, Weston said.

Many consumers may be confused by the various names for overdraft protection – bounce protection is costly, courtesy overdraft is costly, traditional overdraft protection is not.

But Weston offers a simple rule of thumb. If you are using your own money to cover an overdraft, that’s inexpensive. “But, if you are borrowing the bank’s money, that’s expensive,” she said. “Everyone should have true overdraft protection.”

Online banking can help also, she said. While bank Web sites don’t always provide an exact,up-to-the-moment balance because transactions may not post immediately, the sites are useful for monitoring balances.

There’s one more warning consumers should have, Weston said. Not only can they unknowingly overdraw by making debit card purchases, but they can overdraw while getting cash from ATMs, too. That might not sound possible — after all, once upon a time, ATMs would simply deny withdrawals that exceed balances.

Scratch that, too.

Banks ignore customer data
Many banks now allow consumers to withdraw money from the kitty included in the automatic overdraft protection. Bank customers hate this idea – only 2 percent said they wanted banks to permit such withdrawals and tack on their overdraft fees. Most said they’d rather the withdrawal was rejected.

Instead, banks seem to be encouraging the use of these short-term loans to get cash, perhaps as a way of competing with the tide-you-over short-term loans offered by various paycheck advance loan retail stores. There are reports that banks even pad the “available balance” displayed on ATMs with amounts from the courtesy overdraft kitty. In other words, a consumer might only have $50 in their account, but an ATM might indicate a $250 “available balance.” Then a $100 withdrawal would incur that $39 overdraft fee.

It’s not clear how common the practice is — the matter is being examined now by a federal agency in a major overdraft fee study that’s due late this year. But McBride said it is indeed happening.

“It’s elusive to pinpoint how prevalent this is … but I know anecdotally that it’s happening,” he said.

The problem doesn’t appear to be extensive. In the Center for Responsible Lending study, only 2 percent said they’d been forced into overdraft protection by an ATM withdrawal.

Still, the only real defense against an ATM that might lie to you about your balance is to keep your own cushion in the account.

CHRIS GOSS in the kitchen (Arthur No. 17/July 2005)

From the “Come On In My Kitchen” column originally published in Arthur No. 17 (July 02005):

First, singer-guitarist-songwriter-producer-artist-pottery collector-Southern California desert denizen Chris Goss a true three-stripes vet of rock and part-time Master of Reality and Queen of the Stone Age, takes a weirder than usual deep-career turn with his involvement in the pan-prog Soft Machine-Hawkwind-and-Yes-burn-one trio with Hella drummer Zach Hill and ex-M. Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez called Goon Moon, whose inexplicably wonderful debut EP release, “I Got a Brand New Egg Layin’ Machine,” has recently been released through the Suicide Squeeze label. Now, for this month’s “Come On in My Kitchen” column, Goss gives us a recipe for an Italian-American pasta sauce that has no garlic. It figures. Watch out for this guy on the freeway, he’ll signal a change to a lane you didn’t know existed…

by Chris Goss

1988: Newly arrived in Los Angeles, it becomes obvious within a few months: I am not going to find the style of Italian-American cooking that is so easy to find in my former stomping grounds of Upstate New York, or for that matter, all of the Italian American communities that stretch from the Jersey Shore to Chicago. With further investigation, I find this had been a favorite L.A.-gripe topic among displanted New Yorkers since the Rat Pack days. Every so often, a new tip: “There’s a place in Brentwood.” “There’s a place in Silver Lake.” Mythical stories of truckloads of New Jersey water brought in for bread and pizza dough. Lots of added-up little reasons and harebrained schemes…this is our world. But today, it’s the pork sauce. And the theory: It’s the economy, ‘Stupidon’! And the weather. And the soil.

1920: Shiploads of poor Southern Italian immigrants like Mr. and Mrs. Anthony and Rose Modafferi hit Ellis Island and spin off to any Northeastern industrial city that may have a brother, a cousin, or best yet, a cherished factory job waiting for them. In most cases, the poorer they are, the less West, or South they travel. To this day I wonder, “Jesus, Tony! Why did you stop at Syracuse?” It turns out, food aesthetic-wise, I’m really glad he did.

1950: Plain and simple. The men’s asses having been worked off holding down two shifts at the iron foundry or whatever factory, for the first time in their lives they can afford to buy meat. From the beloved family butcher to the dinner table in their own two-story duplex in the Italian part of town with a new flock of grandchildren and expanded family living upstairs. Oh yeah, and just enough room for a backyard garden with the Eastern clay soil and sticky, humid summers that tomatoes seem to love. (You can smell a sweet Jersey/NY/PA tomato in August from 20 feet away. Serious.) So the nonas have a ball with their expanded food budgets, gardens and neighborhood import delis. Don’t get me wrong. Remember, they had just survived TWO world wars, a depression, and a disease-ridden trip across the ocean with a few dollars on hand. Death and starvation spawn amazing cooks. Holds true for ALL of the world’s cultures. My nona and her friends were foragers in the summertime. Wild dandelions, rhubarb, onions from the empty lots down the street wrapped in their aprons. Trading homegrown tomatoes for backyard pears or handmade pasta. Always making do for a large family with very little and wasting nothing. The thought of their strength and perseverance still gives me hope for this world. “Get together, one more time” – Jim Morrison

1965: Everyday at 5p.m. in my newly built Upstate suburban neighborhood, the air smells like sausage and peppers frying. Tomato and basil simmering. Eggplant and zucchini baking. Every family’s sauce is slightly different from the next. The Modafferi meat sauce didn’t have garlic in it, so the myriad of possible side courses—meatballs, braciolla (stuffed steak rolls usually included on Sunday) and sauteed greens that had lots of garlic included really stood out against the sweet sauce. Store-bought, canned tomatoes are allowed, sometimes even admired, for their sweetness and convenience when the home canned tomatoes ran out in springtime. Every nona (now in their 70s) thinks she is the best cook around. And actually they ALL are the best cooks around. Unbelievably good food. Pass it on.

2005: Here is a simplified, reasonable facsimile of Rose’s rich, meat and fat laden sauce. Give yourself a full day’s time to do this properly. It needs constant tending. Your kitchen will most likely end up being a greasy, tomato splattered mess. If you live in Southern California like me, keep in mind the brutally cold East Coast winters can almost stretch to six months long, and it’s hard to eat like this as often in the consistently warm climate of the Southwest. The same holds true for the Northern European cuisine that my German dad cooked so well. But HA, that’s another page, in another issue, of this wonderful rag: Arthur.

You’ll only need:

1.5 pound of whatever pork meat is on sale this week. (cheap chops, ribs, neckbones. Or no bone necessary. Some fat with meat attached.)
1.5 pound Italian pork sausage (most store brands are acceptable. Look for clues; if you can see fennel seeds and red pepper flakes, that’s good)
2 chopped med. onions
1/4 cup olive oil
2- 28 oz. cans tomato puree (save the empty cans, I’ll explain)
2- 6 oz. cans tomato paste
20 oz. of water (2/3 full of the empty can that you will later use for skimmed fat. The other for your spoon rest.)
1/2 cup (7-8 leafs) fresh, torn basil (or, if you have to use dried,1 tbsp)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbs sugar (none admit it, but most nonas use it)

In a heavy, large saucepan that you know won’t burn easily,(at least 10 qt. to give you lots of room for stirring and meat) thoroughly brown the pork meat and sausage on medium heat. Remove the cooked meat and sausage. Set aside. Leave the fat and browned renderings on the bottom of the pot.

Add chopped onions and olive oil. This process will deglaze the bottom of the pot and turn the onions brown quickly. Saute’ until onions soften and go transparent.

Add tomato paste and a few tablespoons of water. This mixture of paste, onions, fat and renderings needs to be constantly stirred. It will spit and glop like lava. It’s alive. Don’t let it stick. In about 10 minutes the paste will seem to change from its original dark red color to a lighter orange. Apparently, this is a sign from St. Anthony (patron saint of big eaters) that the sugar and acidity levels in the tomato paste have reached their perfect balance. When Mario Batali mentioned the color change a few years ago on Molto Mario, that’s the moment I knew he was for real. This is secret knowledge of the Southern Italian Ragu Illuminati. (Now formerly secret knowledge.) This is food alchemy.

Now add the two large cans of tomato puree and 2/3 can of water. Stir in thoroughly. Lower heat to a very low simmer. Cover. Take a breath. The grease and paste splattering battle of the last hour has calmed. Clean up the stove and kitchen a few minutes. Keep an eye on the sauce. “Feel” the bottom with your spoon to always make sure no sticking is happening.

Add pork meat and sausage back to sauce.

Add basil, salt, peppers, sugar.

Play your fave CDs, put Leave it to Beaver on TVLand in the background. Gently stir and feel every 10 minutes and cook covered at a very low simmer boil for about five hours. During all of this period lots of the water will start to evaporate. Fat will rise to the top. The sauce will thicken.

Start to skim. We wanted all of the fat to start with, but now we don’t want it too greasy. The once-empty can will now be about a third full of skimmed fat.

By now, the pork meat and sausage will be almost tenderly falling apart and infiltrated with the sweet tomato sauce. Boil your pasta water.

Lordy. Cook your favorite pasta shape.

This was served on Thursday and Sunday at nona’s house. The men usually liked the heavier Rigatoni, Rotelle (‘springs’) and homemade Gnocchi shapes. And always a platter of spaghetti too. Always topped with grated Locatelli romano. (Available at the Monte Carlo/Pinnochio Italian Deli in Burbank on Magnolia. Go there.)

Eat. Have a heart attack. Enjoy.

Note: I had promised Jay Babcock a meatball recipe and the world’s best pineapple upside-down cake recipe. But alas, I’m going back to sleep now. Hope I’m invited back. Bye.

"Metal for Wintertime" by James Parker (Arthur No. 15/Jan. 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 15 (Jan 2005)

“Metal for Wintertime”
by James Parker



Blessed Black Wings

Variations On A Theme
(Holy Mountain)


What a band was Godflesh. In the person of Justin Broadrick, with his combat boots, and his black clothes, and his electrode-ready shaved head, and his searing, clattering guitar tone, and his militant drum machine, and the traumatic circular lurching and nodding thing he would do onstage (which recalled to me unavoidably the movements of a cage-maddened polar bear I once saw in London’s Regents Park Zoo), a particular strand of post-punk disgust seemed to have fused—at very high pressure—with a severe religious impulse: here, one sensed, was a real ascetic, a world-class world-rejector. Of course, there was a lot of it about at the time —Eighties, early Nineties. Plenty of bands were disgusted, there were plenty of bleak and black-clad zealots with guitars for whom flesh was pain, existence gaol and society nothing but a species of sausage-grinder, but with Broadrick all that grimness and refusal was sublimed into something beautiful. Like a proper heretic, like a martyr in an El Greco painting, he had his eyes on the beyond; he was going down to rise above; even in Godflesh’s sickest, most imploded moments you could still hear that rage for transcendence. Slavestate… mindfuck… circle of shit etc (this was the tenor of Godflesh lyrics). Vivisection… the void… blah. But there was always beauty, somewhere about. On a chemical trace of melody Broadrick could compose an anthem.

Almost in passing, wrestling with machines, he invented industrial metal, Fear Factory and I don’t know who else, but Godflesh was never so much about ‘musical development’ as it was about the steady excavation and elaboration of a mindset, the dogged unburying of psychic material. The final album, Hymns, was the masterpiece—higher and heavier than ever. Ted Parsons (Swans, Prong) played drums, and that was beautiful—instead of the pedantic tang! tang! of the artificial ride we had the knelling cymbal-strokes of Ted, making his powerful human difference. He’s playing again in Jesu, Broadrick’s new thing, now here with a self-titled album. In Jesu all the high-low dualisms of Godflesh are magnified—decelerated, chilled down and magnified. The music moves with a dolorous processional slowness, at times hitting Swans-speed – that castigating trudge—but layered over the top is all manner of loveliness. Guitars prickle and expire over glacial, grinding bass-phrases. Keyboards float, entranced, above gulfs of noise. You need your ears for this one; there are exquisite and almost-painful things going on in the upper frequencies. (Swans-meets-My Bloody Valentine? I’m no good with the rockcrit formulae.) Broadrick sings for the most part in a prayer-like murmur, with reverb bouncing his prayers back at him—“I know the stones I’ve thrown/ They come back twice as strong”—and refrigerated puffs of ambience sailing by. (Swans-meets-My Bloody Valentine-meets-Boards Of Canada? On Ketamine? Still no good.) Passages of Jesu are crushingly beautiful—really. I almost cried.

The press release from Holy Mountain pluckily hails the new Om CD (their first) as “the triumphant return of two-thirds of Sleep!” Might have been a good name for the record, that—Two Thirds of Sleep. Better, perhaps, than Variations On a Theme which is its actual title. Anyway, two-thirds of Sleep is what we have here: drummer Chris Hakius and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, who earned their place in history as Matt Pike’s partners on the monumental Jerusalem, 52 minutes of bloody-fingered bong-metal mastery. In the great fission of Sleep Pike went flaming off with the high end and the songs, leaving Hakius and Cisneros to rumble along the drone-continuum in 20-minute guitar-free groove orgies. A vast monotony presides over the Om project, from the affectless ‘zen’ singing to the unsmiling, weed-inflated lyrics—“latitudinal ground elliptic motion sets Unveil” (alright!)—but Cisneros and Hakius do make a lovely racket together, a fluid, inventive Sabbath-esque churn, and besides, monotony is clearly the point: chamber upon chamber of nullity: I mean, how high are you, anyway? Because Om are ready for you, they’ll go there, they LIVE there, they’ll play through these rocking sludge-cycles until Time peels back and the imp Infinity tips his tiny red hat.

Blessed Black Wings, High On Fire’s third album, is produced by Steve Albini. What a pleasure that was to type. I’ll do it again. Blessed Black Wings, High On Fire’s third album, is produced by Steve Albini. It’s a metalhead’s wet dream: HOF’s mad-dog pummelling preserved for us with the crushing exactness, the awesome pedantry of the recorder Albini, every ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed. HOF is of course the baby of Matt Pike, the other third of Sleep, and Blessed Black Wings is everything we’d hoped it might be. “Devilution,” the opener, is fantasyland—Des Kensel’s warrior-charge toms fading thunderously in, a riff that sounds like Hell clearing its throat and then Pike hits us with the screaming heavy metal prophecy: “MAN’S DONE! BABYLON! EAT THE FRUIT DIVINE!” You won’t hear anything more thrilling this year. The chorus could be Discharge. Conspicuous lack of interest in tunes has never been an obstacle to heaviness; Pike’s warthog shriek regularly falls to pieces and his solos have a kind of sealed autistic fury to them, but this is the glory of HOF—their bestial limitedness. Did I say bestial? I meant beastious, as in “Stepping on the curse/Inflicting its beastious wounds” (“Cometh Down Hessian”). The point is, HOF keep it narrow. They keep it bloody. They keep it orc-like. Which is smart; there are a couple of “interludes” on Blessed Black Wings, moments of quasi-lyricism when Pike dips the volume, climbs off the effects pedal and twanks a few melodically-organised notes, and it sounds like he’s playing with mittens on.

A couple of things have changed. Theres’s a new bassist here: Joe Preston. And while one regrets the passing of George Rice, with his excellently un-metal name, from the ranks of HOF, Preston (ex-Melvins, Thrones, Earth) clearly has the pedigree for the job. Also, on Blessed Black Wings HOF have rediscovered forward motion, with that “Ace Of Spades”-style oompah! oompah! that no one really does anymore. It suits them, to a degree—they can flail along. Me, I liked it when their music just STUCK, roiling and roaring in circles and vortices, impaled on a single point of intensity (see “Hung Drawn and Quartered” from the last album.) But what the fuck, this is an amazing record. It kills. It’s totally beastious.

I’m sure DC’s Dead Meadow have had quite enough of being called a comedown band, but really, the new record Feathers is such a nice place to regather your shredded faculties. Gently lumbering drums, body-temperature bass, Jason Simon’s trailing, gaseous tenor and incense-laden guitar, now and then the leviathanic stirring of a riff—the brain’s root gets a solid, loving massage. Anton “Send the waitress up here RIGHT NOW!” Newcombe, from the Brian Jonestown Massacre, has produced them (not this album) which makes sense; Dead Meadow have BJM’s shimmering near-vapidity, the airy jingle-jangle, but there’s muscle in here too, some proper dead-eyed Om-Style groove commitment, boring backwards through hard rock into a gaping psychedelic sprawl. Fairies wear boots, as Ozzy observed. I don’t have the lyrics in front of me, but I’m told that they are fantasy-encrusted, steeped in Tolkienry etc. Sounds fine—you can never have too many elves—although in the general drifting-off of Simon’s vocals one hears not legends or narratives but fugues, suspensions—self-doubting orcs, doped-out dwarves looking muzzily at their dropped tools. It’s gorgeous, utterly. The ground shifts, the music raves and sways. Watch the princes shed their armor. Come on down!

This woman is a saint/genius, and a genuine cause for Hope.

Labor Union, Redefined, for Freelance Workers

Published: January 27, 2007
New York Times

Herding freelancers is a bit like herding cats. Both are notoriously independent.

Nonetheless, Sara Horowitz has figured out a way to bring together tens of thousands of freelancers — Web designers, video editors, writers, dancers and graphic artists — into a thriving organization.

Ms. Horowitz has founded the Freelancers Union, offering members lower-cost health coverage and other benefits that many freelancers often have a hard time getting.

A former labor lawyer, Ms. Horowitz intends to form a forceful advocacy group for freelancers and independent contractors, the most mobile members of an increasingly mobile work force. In addition, she is trying to adapt unions to a world far different from yesteryear, when workers often remained with one employer for two or three decades.

“This really is about a new unionism,” she said, “and what it means is to bring people together to solve their problems.”

Having signed up 40,000 freelancers from the New York area, she is now planting her group’s flag across the nation, hoping to herd far more of the nation’s 20 million freelancers and independent contractors into her union.

“These workers are the backbone for so many industries vital to our nation’s economy — I.T., financial services, the arts, advertising and publishing,” she said. “Yet these same workers are not afforded simple job protections or a social safety net.”

By creating a new type of union for nontraditional workers, Ms. Horowitz hopes to help revive the labor movement. Its membership has slipped to just 7.4 percent of the private-sector work force, down from one-third in 1960.

Unlike traditional unions, the Freelancers Union has no intention of bargaining with employers. Still, Ms. Horowitz says her group’s main goal is identical to that of all unions — providing mutual aid, in this case health benefits, to their members.

“More and more people are not going to get their benefits from an employer,” Ms. Horowitz said. “Our ultimate goal is to update the New Deal. It is to create a new safety net that’s connected to the individual as they move from job to job.”

Jennifer Lebin joined the Freelancers Union while living in Manhattan after seeing one of its subway ads that say, “Welcome to Middle-Class Poverty.” Ms. Lebin, a political consultant, bought the group’s health coverage and paid $20 to attend a union-sponsored seminar offering tax advice to consultants and independent contractors.

Ms. Lebin, who has moved to Chicago, expressed disappointment that she could no longer use the union’s health plan — doctors in Illinois are not part of the network. “If there is a way that the Freelancers Union could offer the same benefits to members outside the New York area, I’d sign up in a heartbeat,” she said.

The Freelancers Union, which sells benefits à la carte, hopes to offer health benefits in 10 states by the end of this year. It is already offering its discounted disability and life insurance nationwide.

More than 14,000 freelancers in the New York area have bought its health insurance, generally for about $300 a month, some 40 percent below what they would normally pay elsewhere. The organization has also used its group purchasing power to help freelancers obtain discounted dental, disability and life insurance.

Membership in the Freelancers Union is free. To finance itself, the group uses an entrepreneurial model: it earns modest commissions on the benefits that its members buy.

Robert Bruno, a professor of labor relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago, praised the group’s innovative approach, although he said it could not replace traditional unions.

“This needs to be part of labor’s repertoire,” Professor Bruno said. “To the degree it helps to reshape what we’ve come to understand what a labor organization is, it’s all to the good.”

Ms. Horowitz, 44, won a MacArthur genius award in 1999 after she established Working Today, a group based in Brooklyn that focused on providing benefits to New Yorkers in flexible work arrangements. She founded the Freelancers Union in 2003, with a more ambitious vision.

The group intends to do advocacy work just like a labor union. In New York, it is backing legislation to let freelancers obtain unemployment insurance. Even if freelancers are laid off after working for an employer for two years, they cannot receive unemployment benefits because they are considered independent contractors.

Some members do not expect the group to play the role of a traditional union.

“Unions represent members in negotiating wages and benefits,” said Barbara Scott, an artist in Berlin Center, Ohio. “I don’t see the Freelancers Union functioning that way. I see it as a networking tool.”

Bobby Ambrose, a graphic designer in Chicago, disagreed.

“I was hoping that they would be like a labor union,” Mr. Ambrose said. “There are a lot of situations that freelancers face regarding pay rates and job hours, like when you’re doing full-time work when you’re only hired to be part time. It would be nice if they could push to make things better.”

Several traditional unions are studying the freelance union’s progress, perhaps to borrow some ideas on organizing nonunion workers and offering benefits.

“The labor movement,” Ms. Horowitz said, “went from guilds through mutual aid societies through craft unions and through industrial unionism. You’re not going to persuade me that there is not going to be a new form of unionism. The story’s not over on what we’re creating.”

TRINIE DALTON and STEVE KRAKOW this Saturday FREE in Chicago!

Saturday, January 27 at 8PM
Arthur Magazine and Drag City presents…
Trinie Dalton and Steve Krakow

Ms. Dalton, author of Wide Eyed (Akashic Books) and co-editor of the wonderfully weird Dear New Girl or Whatever Your Name Is (McSweeney’s) will read from her yet-to-be-finished novel. Her writing has appeared in Arthur, LA Weekly, Bomb, Nerve.com, Purple, and The Believer. When not playing guitar hero for reals in Plastic Crimewave Sound, Mr. Krakow writes, edits and draws the mind-expanding psychedelic pop hurricane called Galactic Zoo Dossier. Together, they will have an amicable chat about zines, weird Americas old and new, and other subcultural curiosities.

Trinie Dalton & Plastic Crimewave Steve Krakow
Saturday, January 27th, 8pm, FREE
Quimby’s Bookstore
1854 West North Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622