21 Wishes for ’21

Pete Townsend’s song “1921” from The Who’s epic Tommy album opens with the line “I’ve got a feeling ’21 is going to be a good year.” I’m a little surprised that I haven’t heard or seen many music media folks mention or riff on that fact, given how awful ’20 has been, and given humanity’s generally hopeful nature. Of course, given that the rest of the song details a murder witnessed by a child who is rendered deaf, dumb and blind by that emotional trauma, maybe it’s not the best anthem for our Second Anno Virum. Though I suppose there are likely some accurate metaphors in that narrative for what 2021 may bring, if it doesn’t turn out to be as good as we might feel and wish it may be.

I tend to function within a worldview built on pessimism, because pessimists are never disappointed. But while I expect things to be rotten much of the time on a macro basis, I do believe in the importance of acting optimistically and positively on a personal front, making changes for the better within the circles of my own influence, limited as they may be. I also believe in the importance of hope, seeing a future within which big things and little things align and fall into place in pleasing fashions, for me, for those close to me, for those less fortunate than me, and for those in positions of power with the ability to legislate, litigate, create, govern, mediate and manage actions and activities that create social and civic good for the greatest number of people.

So on the cusp of that conflicted personal dialectic, there are some big picture things I’d like to see happen in the twelve months before us, and some specific things that would give me particular pleasure, should they come to pass. I’m not generally much of a prognosticator and futurist, but as a first post here on the blog in the new year, I’m moved to offer the following 21 wishes for ’21. That may be a greedy number, but hey, we all likely under-performed on our wish lists for ’20, so I think we’re entitled to swing big at the plate this time around. I’ll circle back in December and we’ll see how I did. And I’ll welcome your own wish lists, if you choose to share them. That’s what the comment section is for, yo.

1. The obvious one first: that everyone near and dear to me remains happy, healthy, and hearty, hopefully as we’re able to come out of our COVID shells and gather again to mark important events, little victories, and whatever other excuses we can muster for hugs, love and laughs.

2. That the Democratic Party candidates win the two special Senate elections in Georgia, giving our new President the opportunity to govern effectively, even if just for two years. That will be such a refreshing change of pace.

3. That any and all of the traitorous creeps who vote to overturn the results of the Electoral College this week, facilitating and/or placating an authoritarian clown in the process, are somehow held accountable for their malfeasance. This year would be fine for that, but if it takes longer in this case, that’s okay too. Patience is a virtue when it comes to grudges and vindication.

4. That the new administration is able to quickly deploy skilled professionals in non-political ways to address the virus, quickly, thoroughly, with scientific rigor and military precision on the logistics front of vaccinations and protective measures. Let’s have the grownups handle this for a year, and get the partisan amateurs out of the way. Please.

5. That having a smart career public servant in the White House, instead of a dim-bulb reality television celebrity, will reduce the volume of “news as entertainment” noise that has made the words we read and the air we breathe (metaphorically speaking) so very noxious for the past four years. I’m ready to be bored by my elected leaders again. Seriously. When I worked at Naval Reactors, we used to say that our public relations policy was “Put the sum’bitches in and don’t talk about it.” I’d like that approach to governance. Do the jobs you were elected or appointed to do. Do them well. And don’t freakin’ tweet about them all the goddamn time.

6. That Butthole Surfers release a new album this year. My long-time favorite band were reportedly back in the studio in 2018 for the first time in decades, but since then, it’s been radio silence. Let’s get that new rekkid out, Gibby, Paul, King and Jeffrey. We need it. Pass me some of that dumbass over there, yeah buddy!

7. That First Cow, Da Five Bloods, I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Soul win all the major Oscars for 2020, whenever the Academy gets around to awarding them.

8. That the overdue new films from Wes Anderson (The French Dispatch) and Taika Waititi (Next Goal Wins) are as good as those they made before them, becoming early clear contenders for the next year’s Oscars.

9. That film studios and distributors recognize that the quick streaming markets that emerged from necessity during COVID time are a perfectly fine new normal, as I’ve been happier watching films at home as I ever have been going to theaters to see them. I’ve also watched more movies this year than I normally do, in large part because they were readily available, and the cost was lower. There’s a good supply-demand lesson in there somewhere, greedheads.

10. That I get to see at least one live music event in 2021. Ideally featuring King Crimson, Napalm Death, or The Who. (The last show we saw pre-COVID was the Crim, and we had tickets for Napalm and The Who in hand in 2020, only to see the shows cancelled).

11. That the Super Bowl is played between Tampa Bay and Baltimore, as we made preseason bets in Las Vegas on those two teams. It’s nice to know you’re a winner, no matter which team wins. Absent that impetus, I’m down for the Chiefs to take it all again. Otherwise, mostly meh.

12. That the NCAA learns from the COVID year that academics are more important than athletics in the grand scheme of things, perhaps shortening seasons on a permanent basis and otherwise allowing unpaid student athletes to supplement their educations with sports, and not the other way around.

13. That international travel becomes safe again. As much as I love our new home in Arizona, I’d gladly welcome 2022 in Europe.

14. That our local internet provider delivers promised system upgrades in the months ahead, as this small town rural network was not built for students and workers doing all-day video calls from home. Slooooooooooowwwwwww . . . .

15. That my Naval Academy class is able to mark our 35th reunion in person this year. Whether I’m there or not, it’s an important part of our collective culture. Our 15th was largely undone as it fell immediately after 9/11. It’d be nice to not lose another major one two decades later.

16. That the charitable sector bounces back in 2021; it’s bothersome to see corporate stock levels (and related IRA’s and 401k’s and such) maintaining robust balances through the plague, while giving to nonprofits evaporated.

17. That Facebook, Twitter and their ilk are disemboweled and disempowered, removing a vast source of malefic and ugly social evil from our ever-more-connected world. Oh, what the heck, let’s try to get rid of FOX News this year too, while we’re at it. Imagine an information spectrum where truth and facts prevailed, neutrally. Glory be! Such larks! (Yeah, I know, this one’s probably the biggest fantasia on the list).

18. That we’re able to do some sort of endurance physical event this year, like a hike/camp trip into the Grand Canyon, or a multi-day walkabout pilgrimage, or a long bike trek. It’s good physically, mentally, and spiritually to have days on end dedicated to exerting the body, without constant connection to the world beyond one’s next foot-fall.

19. That Thoughts on the Dead keeps on keeping on, despite his formidable recent health challenges. He makes the world a brighter, smarter, and much funnier place. Every day he posts is a little better than every day when he doesn’t.

20. That I’m able to hike every formally marked trail within 20 miles of our house (that’s a lot of trails), and that I’m able to find and explore every unmarked “social trail” that’s hidden between the official bits. Some of the best things I’ve found here have been on paths known only to the locals. I’m doing my part to be one of them on that front.

21. That we’re able to occasionally dine out, indoors. I’ve gotten used to picnics and carryout and masked patio food, but I’d be okay with celebrating some important event or another over white linen and good china in 2021, and there’s loads of interesting places hereabouts that we’ve not felt comfortable entering. Yet. But we will. Hopefully this year. Hopefully hopefully hopefully . . .

Mysterious abandoned dam on a “social trail” less than half a mile from our house. What other coolness awaits on the unmarked and unheralded spaces between the spaces here? We’ll soon find out, hopefully . . .

A Special Election Selection

So here we are, on the Big, Big Day. Marcia and I cast our votes in Iowa, which technically remains our home state as we’re in a rental transition period in Arizona for the month, and could not have confidently registered to vote here. Both states are potential squeakers, so we figure we’re helping Team Tiny Blue Isle either way.

We know it’s going to be a stressful, painful day. Or more likely days. Or weeks. So much at stake, and so many incredible structural challenges to the spirit and the letter of the laws of the land. When a major party’s campaign tactics are based on disenfranchisement, intimidation and outright cheating, you know something’s bad wrong. And when there’s a high probability that such tactics may be successful in some states or precincts, it raises the wrongness levels to intolerable proportions.

So we’ll be working to distract ourselves for much of the day, rather than getting sucked into the soul-destroying morass of sensational media coverage of horse-race outliers and the flat-out stupidity of political social media. We’ll get a nice hike in, work a bit, maybe read some, have a nice dinner, and keep the music playing instead of the news while we’re around the house, at least until the meaningful reportage begins later tonight.

On that music front, if you need something to distract you from the details of the day, while hewing to what we’re up to as a nation thematically, I offer a special selection of election songs below to prime your jukebox. Some of the themes and lyrics of this baker’s dozen pile of tunes are explicit, some perhaps more subtle, but the rationale behind my choices should be evident, I think. Should be an hour or so of music. Load ’em up on your portable playlist machine and maybe they’ll keep you rocking and bopping while you stand in line (safely, distantly, masked, please) at your polling place. Hopefully you don’t have to repeat the list too many times while you wait . . .

#1. Alice Cooper, “Elected”

#2. The Specials, “Vote For Me”

#3. Clutch, “How To Shake Hands”

#4. Stevie Wonder, “Can’t Put It In The Hands of Fate”

#5. The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion”

#6. The The, “This Is The Day”

#7. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

#8. Culture, “Election”

#9. Sha Na Na, “The Vote Song”

#10. Canned Heat, “Election Blues”

#11. The Move, “Vote For Me”

#12. Cream, “Politician”

#13. The Spooky Men’s Chorale, “Vote The Bastards Out”

Done My Part

Marcia and I ordered our absentee ballots as soon as we were able, received them in reasonably prompt fashion after they were mailed out, filled them in, and hand-carried them to our county auditor’s office last Friday. We received the postcard confirmations posted above today, but had already checked on the status of our ballots online, so knew they had been processed. We want to make sure our votes are counted, for sure.

There’s just so very much at stake this year. It makes my heart hurt and my head throb and my soul shudder when I consider it too hard, too long. Please LORD, Buddha, FSM, Allah, Cthulhu, Shiva, Ahura Mazda, Zeus, Karora, and all of your other unseen and unseeable allies, let this horrific era of grift, crime and hatred end soon. And without bloodshed. Amen.

I hope you’ve either done your part in the process already, or have an active plan for doing so — even as I recognize that your paths might be blocked or hidden by people whose primary approach to their own empowerment is through disenfranchising and discouraging others from freely and fairly participating in the electoral process. It’ll be worth the fight if enough of us turn out to overwhelm the cheating and chicanery. Get it done, as soon and as safely as you can, please please please!

(Note: You can click on the image above for information on the voting paths available to you in your own place and State, if you need such a resource).

Mask Music

It has been an annoying week in Iowa since Marcia and I returned from our wonderful trip to Minnesota. The weather has been mostly disgusting, with hot winds and high humidity making our daily walks a sweaty slog. Our Governor and junior Senator were among the cast of clowns dancing in center ring at the Von Trump Family Circus, both of them spewing the half-truths and nonsense required as acts of fealty to their ignorant overlord. Diligent and persistent community watchdogs pressed the state to admit that it has been miscalculating, doctoring and/or misrepresenting our COVID case numbers. (I’d long been observing that Iowa’s official outcomes and trends seemed improbable compared to neighboring states and other states of similar sizes, so this did not surprise me). Once adjustments were made, Iowa immediately moved into the number one national position of new case incidence by state over the past seven days.

Which also isn’t really surprising, given our proximity to several major access highways for the Sturgis Coronapalooza, the fact that we are in the bottom ten states in the nation for mask usage, and in the bottom three for social distancing. Which I experience every freaking day in our apartment building, where I swear that Marcia and I are the only people I see who conscientiously wear masks whenever we step out of our unit. Polk County (where we live) leads the state in case load, about three times higher than the second-placed county, and over 50% of cases reported are in the 18-40 year old demographic, which overwhelmingly defines the East Village neighborhood where we live. To give credit where it’s due, the Mayor of Des Moines did issue a mask mandate this week, which I appreciate, though I haven’t seen any changes to the behaviors among our neighbors. On the flip-side, after returning home from her circus performance, our Governor made a relatively short-term proclamation closing bars and making other minor concessions in only six of Iowa’s 99 counties, but still refused to make masks mandatory, because freedoms and liberties.

It’s just exhausting and sad, at bottom line. And it’s lethal. If the Governor would impose a mandatory State-wide mask requirement, and people would abide by it, the projection for cumulative COVID deaths in Iowa by December 1 would be about 1,900. (We’re at about 1,100 deaths now, officially, though I believe the state is fiddling with the reports there, too). If things just continue as they are in terms of required protective measures now, then that cumulative death prediction rises to about 3,100. And if the limited restrictions in place are lifted or reduced (which the state has done every time it has the chance to do so), then the death count is forecast to rise to 4,700. So we’re looking at a situation where our elected officials have been and will (likely) be making policy decisions that will result in killing a couple of thousand Iowans, for no lucid or cogent reason beyond currying political favor with racist rich people, most of whom don’t live here, and who don’t believe in science and social justice. Ugh! Marcia and I are (safely, distantly) counting the days until our next out-of-State trips, and until October 22, 2020, when our household goods will be packed and picked up and we will leave Iowa for good. It’s been a nice run here since we first arrived in 2011, positive for a variety of reasons at different times, but at this point, enough is enough. Stick an ethanol-subsidy-powered fork in us. We’re done.

I don’t normally rant like this here on Ye Olde Blog, but I put all of that forward just to give you a sense of my head-space as I was out driving between errands this morning, and this song queued up on the car stereo:

It’s a beautiful song by a favorite artist. Like most great art, its complexity and layers of meaning made me feel better and worse at the same time while it spun, and in the quiet afterward. The lyrics are adapted from the poem of the same title, by Paul Laurence Dunbar. The author wasn’t writing about protecting himself and his neighbors from infection, but rather about the experience of being Black in America in the post-Civil War years, and the ways in which people are forced to wear happy and harmless masks to cover their real faces, which may be wrenched in suffering and pain by their own circumstances, internal and external. So it works on many levels today, with pandemic and institutional racism vying for top-billing in the Nation’s news feeds, between the steady stream of malformed blurts that our Grifter-in-Chief barfs upon us throughout his waking hours, with no mask worn (and none strong enough anyway) to filter the infectious virality of his awful words and sentiments.

Me being me, listening to “We Wear The Mask” got me to thinking about what other mask-related songs might be found in my collection, and whether they carry explicit or implicit resonance with the spirits of our age, malign, benign and/or sublime. I came up with the following playlist about masks, veils, and other face coverings, literal and figurative. Maybe if I crank it off of my apartment balcony it might subliminally inspire my oblivious neighbors to cover their faces before they go bumbling into the hallways which we all share. Probably not, though. I guess I’ll just have to enjoy it here in my home office. Do you have some other good recommended mask songs for me to add to the mix?

Power to the People and the Beats: Protest in Song (Part Two)

Last week, I posted a listing of my 40 favorite protest songs. We’ve been spinning those choice cuts around the apartment since then, appreciating their timeless topicality. As the contents and concerns expressed in those songs continue to churn, at home and on the streets, several other great protest songs popped to my mind or were suggested by others. I’ve been adding them to a core list of a dozen or so that I’d kept off the original post in the interest of (relative) brevity. This morning, that growing list of protest songs reached the “Top 40” level again, and so I share a second collection with you, for your thought, reflection, action, and/or inspiration. The links below will take you to each of the songs online, and Marcia again made a full Spotify playlist that’s embedded at the bottom of this post for those of you who stream your music. Spin the songs in power. Good in your ear holes, good for your motivated souls!

  1. Revolution,” Arrested Development
  2. Full Metal Jackoff,” Jello Biafra and D.O.A.
  3. Rebel Girl,” Bikini Kill
  4. Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud),” James Brown
  5. For What It’s Worth,” Buffalo Springfield
  6. Beat Down Babylon,” Junior Byles
  7. Be Free,” J. Cole
  8. We Come in Peace,” Bobby Conn and the Glass Gypsies
  9. A Change Is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke
  10. They’ll Never Keep Us Down,” Hazel Dickens
  11. Kill for Peace,” The Fugs
  12. Biko,” Peter Gabriel
  13. Mannenberg,” Abdullah Ibrahim
  14. Soweto Blues,” Miriam Makeba
  15. (Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go,” Curtis Mayfield
  16. 16 Shots,” Vic Mensa
  17. The Big Stick,” The Minutemen
  18. Americans,” Janelle Monáe
  19. Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Melba Moore
  20. Mathematics,” Mos Def
  21. There But For Fortune,” Phil Ochs
  22. Like Really,” Oddisee
  23. Young Girls,” Princess Nokia
  24. By the Time I Get to Arizona,” Public Enemy
  25. U.N.I.T.Y.,” Queen Latifah
  26. My Country ’tis of Thy People You’re Dying,” Buffy Sainte-Marie
  27. Asimbonanga,” Savuka
  28. Where Have All The Flowers Gone?,” Pete Seeger
  29. Bristol and Miami,” The Selecter
  30. God Save The Queen,” Sex Pistols
  31. Swimsuit Issue,” Sonic Youth
  32. Free Nelson Mandela,” The Special AKA
  33. Apartheid,” Peter Tosh
  34. Sunday Bloody Sunday,” U2
  35. Hombre Gris,” Vakeró
  36. Trouble,” Josh White
  37. Better Must Come,” Delroy Wilson
  38. Shipbuilding,” Robert Wyatt
  39. Oh Bondage! Up Yours!,” X-Ray Spex
  40. Trouble Every Day,” Frank Zappa and the Mother of Invention

If someone came for you one night and dragged you away, do you really think your neighbors would even care? (See track two for the answer).

Update: The Full Grassley Reimagined

Iowans love a lot of weird things. Food on a stick, for example. Or bacon, Maytag Blue Cheese, de Burgo sauce, and/or La Quercia prosciutto being included in staple dishes that absolutely do not warrant or require them. Iowans love humble-bragging about how modest and friendly they are. The most modest and friendly, in fact. And by golly, they’ve got the stats to prove it. Though they’re too modest and friendly to rub your noses in them. Much. Daytime drinking is also quite well-loved in Iowa, as are unique regional wines and cocktails. The fetishes about the two major state universities’ sports teams are mind-boggling and absurd in their intensity and frequency of expression, and I say that as someone raised in the sports-mad Cocks vs Tigers and Heels vs Pack parts of the country. (There are some other unique sporting events hereabouts too). Pork tenderloin sandwiches, Federal subsidies, caucus miscounts, and biking while blasting boomboxes (grrrr!) on the way to daytime drinking are also well-loved by Iowans.

Perhaps particularly odd among Iowa’s greatest loves are its array of tiny counties (99 of them!), and the widely-held expectation that Presidential wannabes and State-wide politicians must visit them all. Completing that circuit is known as “The Full Grassley,” after our senior citizen senior Senator’s oft-stated annual habit. I completed my own Full Grassley in 2011-2012, just because. Following that grueling exercise in road trippery, I had written a piece noting that the sizes and populations of Iowa’s counties were well out-of-line with national norms, and I made a modest proposal regarding a possible fix for that situation. In short, I deemed 17 counties to be “keepers” for a variety of reasons, and then suggested combining the other 82 into 41 to reduce governmental expense and redundancy in parts of the state where the interests and concerns of neighboring counties are virtually indistinguishable one from the other.

I re-ran that article a couple of weeks back to mark the occasion of COVID-19 completing its own Full Grassley. I ended it with this open appeal: “I would love to see someone with mad map skills take a crack at demonstrating how to best double up those 82 box counties, so if you think like I do, how about getting out your colored pencils and sharing what a new and improved Iowa County Map can and should look like in the 21st Century and beyond?”

I’m pleased to report today that I’ve had a taker for that request, and I love the outcome she sent me. Long-time reader Liz Cruz is also a long-time cartographer, and is married to a native Iowan, so she clearly possesses the chops and perspective to tackle the job. Here’s what she came up with (click the image for a larger PDF version of the map):

It’s an elegant and aesthetically pleasing solution to the exercise. The counties in red are the 17 that I deemed worthy of preservation as they currently stand. The other county combos are built around a mix of vertical, horizontal and diagonal pairings that effectively break up the monotonous box culture of the current map. The merged populations of the counties are also very helpful to see, as none of the newly configured counties would break into the Top Ten by population, affirming my sense that there’s a fundamental difference in that current most-populous roster (all included in the red counties) and the rest of the state. Also noteworthy: the smallest new county would have just a hair under 10,000 residents; right now there are 25 counties below that threshold.

I do note that Iowa is not completely homogeneous, and that there are subtle cultural, industrial, religious, and agricultural differences in various regions of the State, but (again) having visited all 99 of the current counties, I see none of the proposed pairings that would dramatically cross any of those regional barriers in ways that would make such pairings ineffective or inefficient. The options for new county seats are also interesting: in many of the paired counties, there’s clearly one of the two current seats of government that’s larger than the other and could effectively continue to serve its leadership role, while its sister former-seat’s municipal facilities could be used for other value-added community purposes.

Good stuff, on all levels! Thanks to Liz for taking a stab at it! I guess now I just need to convince the Governor and the State Legislature to get this done. (Iowa’s State and Federal legislative districts are not tied to county lines, meaning their own seats would not necessarily change in any ways beyond normal ten-year redistricting). So who knows a good lobbyist who doubles as a map nerd and is a fan of tilting at windmills? (The metaphorical ones, I mean. Not the ubiquitous Iowa wind turbines, that harvest the never-ending breezes hereabouts, and generate nice rental income for farmers). We’ve got a concept, we’ve got a map, we’ve got a cause, now we just need to get a political patron. I can state with certainty that this undertaking is less absurd than countless others that lobbying interests represent, in Iowa and elsewhere!