Monday, December 17, 2018

My Best Posts of 2018

No better way to introduce a clip show with a clip show

It's hard to believe this rotten, wretched year has finally run its course. Now we are on to 2019, which will certainly end up being a whole lot worse.  But hey, I can at least look back at what I wrote in the past year and take stock. In case you missed it the first time around, here are what I think are my best pieces of the year.

Watching The Dark Waters of History Flow on the Armistice Centennial 

This was a crossover with this blog and Tropics of Meta. It's a topic I have been thinking about for years, and I was glad to finally write down my thoughts.

It Crawled From The College Debate Circuit

Here's another ToM crossover, where I discuss how Ted Cruz's successes and his lack of popularity have a lot to do with his time as a college debater. Having been one myself, I feel like my expert opinion offers some special insights.

Listen To The Bubble Jumpers

This is the ToM piece of mine that I thought would hopefully change the discourse on regional political "bubbles." Alas, it was not to be. Still pretty damn good, though.

Life's Rich Pageant And The First Shadows Of Reagan Dusk

I think this is my favorite music piece this year, touching on how REM's 1986 represented the first green shoots of a post-Reagan mentality.

The Cold War Is Finally Over (Both Sides Lost)

A short post, but it sums up thoughts I've been having for quite some time.

A Requiem For The Faculty Office

The professors realized too late that they too were expendable.

Nostalgia for Other People's Nostalgia: A Gen X Disease

This is another piece that was bangin' around in my head for awhile. It's awful strange that Gen Xers are so in thrall to Boomer culture, and part of my generation's general overlooked-ness.

The Verve, "Bittersweet Symphony"

Probably the most honest I've ever been in any of my song posts.

Postcard From Virginia Beach

I wrote this overlooking the crashing surf at night. I can't wait to get back.

The Exquisite Propaganda of NFL Films

I think that a large of professional football's rise had to do with marketing, and NFL films managed to take a sport that was already well-suited for modern television and make it look positively beautiful. If I had the talent, time, and resources I'd write a book about it.

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Regret

Sometimes visiting the beloved pop culture of one's youth isn't so pleasant.

A Shameful Father's Day

I wrote this after news of the president ripping children from their families went public. I'll say now what I said then, that the only way out of this is by remaking our country. There is no "normal" to return to.

An Overlooked Legacy of Watergate

Agnew, Nixon, and other Watergate criminals never had to go to jail. This set a dangerous precedent, whereby politicians who break the law never must face real accountability. Time to break the cycle.

Fight Dirty Or Don't Fight At All

This is basically my message to liberals.

Hollowed Out

This is a piece about my hometown written when I visited this summer. Like a lot of places in the rural Midwest, it is becoming increasingly empty.

Locker Room Talk

Dr. Blasey-Ford's testimony and Kavanaugh's angry denunciations brought discussions of "locker room talk" back into the national conversation. This kind of language works as a misogynistic ritual of male bonding.

The Long Shadow of the 2000 Republican Primary

Instead of praising or damning John McCain, I decided to talk about his role in the 2000 Republican primary, an election whose consequences are still being felt.

The White Supremacy of Not Caring

I know I am not the first to say this, but I think I said it well.

Billboard Top Ten Alternative Songs October 22, 1994

This is my favorite of my Billboard Top Ten posts from this year.

Fascism 2.0

This post didn't get much traction, so I hope y'all read it this time.

"Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Dinner"

History does not move in a straight line, and those who think it does breed damaging levels of complacency.

Coming of Political Age in the Bush41 Years

The death of George HW Bush dredged up memories of his brief reign, and how essential it was in establishing my general political outlook.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Christmas Music That Doesn't Suck

Hello folks! It's the holiday season, and we know what means: godawful Christmas music played everywhere. It's always the same lame songs done in a halfassed fashion. Either that or an artist's original composition that's even worse. My love of the farty synth on Macca's "Wonderful Christmastime" is the result of a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. The next time you're at a holiday party and they play that shit, commandeer the stereo and put these selections on.

Miles Davis, "Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern"

The whole song is just one long critique of holiday consumerism with some fantastic Miles Davis trumpet playing underneath it. A real palate cleanser after having been subjected to the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick" for the hundredth time.

Free Design, "Close Your Mouth It's Christmas"

The jazzy late 60s sophisti-pop sound won't freak out the squares but it's just weird enough to give a change of pace to your holiday guests. I've had it in my head all day long today.

James Brown, "Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto"

You can never, ever go wrong with the Godfather of Soul, of course. He put out some great Christmas music, but this is probably my favorite. There's a whole subgenre of Christmas music about imploring or forcing Santa to redistribute the wealth to poor children. This song is among the best of the type.

Otis Redding, "Merry Christmas Baby"

Speaking of soul music, Otis Redding could cut a Christmas track, too. I love this one both for his typically sweaty delivery, but also for Booker T's holiday organ sound. Why on earth this song isn't played at the malls instead of the lame "Jingle Bell Rock" is totally beyond me.

Jimmy Smith, Christmas Cookin'

And speaking of the organ, if you want a whole Christmas album to put on, I'd recommend Jimmy Smith's. He does some jazz versions of holiday standards, but the organ gives it an especially Christmas-y sound even if the music itself gets really far out at times. One of the few Christmas albums that actually feels fresh and original.

Reece Shipley, "Santa Miss Those Missiles"

If you REALLY want to get real far gone listen to this track, a fine example of the lunacy of the Cold War.

Ernest Tubb, "I'll Be Walking The Floor This Christmas"

Ernest Tubb reconfigured his biggest country hit, "Walking the Floor Over You" into a depressing holiday tune. As we all know, the holidays can bring sadness and dredge up bad memories. Rarely do the songs blasted out in waiting rooms and grocery stores go to those places.

Tom Waits, "Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis"

Speaking of sad Christmas songs, there's always this Tom Waits gem, one of the greatest portraits of ordinary despair ever painted in a song.

Bessie Smith, "At The Christmas Ball"

Before the nineteenth century's cult of domesticity, Christmas was less about family time and more about making merry and having a ball. That spirit still lives on in the people who get blitzed at their company holiday party. My favorite song for THIS Christmas spirit comes from Bessie Smith, Queen of the Blues. Basically this song is about wanting to go out on Christmas and tie one on.

King Curtis, "The Christmas Song"

I'll end on a sweeter note, though. King Curtis could wring emotion out of the sax like no one else, and it's a damn shame that he's not a household name. If you want to kick back in front of the fire with some very heavily spiked egg nog this is just about the most perfect thing.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Perfect Gift For A Non-Consumerist Christmas

For a long time in my adult years I saw Christmas mostly as an annoyance punctuated by holiday parties. The holiday's consumerist orgy would often leave me feeling depressed and let down. Now that I am the father of two young children, the Christmas spirit has been much revived in me. Watching how much my daughters enjoy the holiday season just gives me so much joy.

Of course, the same pitfalls of consumerism remain, and I still break out Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping to expel the demons of capitalism from my holiday celebration. This holiday ought to be about more than buying boatloads of cheap shit. We still buy gifts for each other in my family, but we try to keep it pretty low-key and humble.

There are gifts that can be given much more valuable than anything that can be boxed and wrapped. They are the gifts I am trying to give out more often during the Christmas season. Today I was reminded of one of the best.

Every year the college counseling office at my school throws a little after-school party for all the people who wrote letters of recommendation for our students. This year was actually a personal record for me, with 27. For the first time that also made the teacher at the school who wrote the most letters. The counselors gave me recognition and a nice bottle of wine, but there's a much richer gift waiting for me. Sitting on the table right now is a stack of envelopes full of appreciations from my students. I am hesitating to open them because they never fail to hit me straight in the heart.

If you are looking to give a gift this holiday season that's not ordered on Amazon, give the people in your life the gift of appreciation. It is a precious thing we get so rarely in our society. Bosses treat workers like expendable commodities who should feel lucky just to have a job. Service workers deal with asshole customers on a constant basis. Teachers often leave a pint of blood in class every day with little to no encouragement from their overlords or their students. These times are really bad, and we all need to be taking care of each other. A little appreciation goes a long, long way. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Reliving My Most Listened To Tracks On My Pod

In the most recent episode of Old Dad's Records I decided to break from protocol. This time I randomly played songs from my Spotify playlist of most played songs of 2018. I had a lot of fun with it, although it reveals the ways my private listening habits do not match up with my much more hip public ones. What can I say? I love 70s AM radio pop and 80s New Wave.

Friday, December 7, 2018

An Overlooked Legacy Of Watergate

Sadly the only prison Nixon went to was the one in his mind

Today brought the clearest evidence yet that not only has Donald Trump committed felonies (we all knew that already, of course), but that federal prosecutors are willing to say that he did, and that in addition to this his team was petitioning Russia for help as far back as 2015. The president signaled this was coming with an epically unhinged temper tantrum on Twitter this morning. This day he also finally put forth a name for a new AG, a man who will presumably try to curtail investigations into his behavior. His former Secretary of State also gave an interview where he basically said that Trump constantly wanted to commit illegal acts and seemed unaware of legal restrictions.

A felonious president flying off the handle and desperately filling the Justice Department with lackeys to protect himself against an ever-growing criminal investigation sounds an awful lot like Watergate. (This is not an original observation.) As Marx said, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

A lot of other people have been thinking so, too. Rachel Maddow's excellent Bag Man podcast did a deep dive into the wrongdoings of Spiro Agnew, which are oft forgotten in the shadow of Nixon's greater malfeasance. Listening to that podcast I thought a lot of how the ghosts of Watergate keep coming back to haunt us.

Decisions were made by politicians and prosecutors at the time that we are still living with. Agnew's criminality was truly staggering. Not only had he taken kickbacks as governor of Maryland, he was still getting cash-filled envelopes in the White House! He also directed federal contracts to the men paying him off. In order to get him out of office as quickly as possible so that he would not succeed his criminal boss Nixon, prosecutors allowed Agnew to resign without going to jail.

The precedent that members of the White House not pay the true price of their actions was solidified when Gerald Ford granted Nixon a full pardon before he had been convicted or even tried of something. While Ford thought that he was removing a distraction from a paralyzed nation beset by economic decline and the end of Vietnam, he essentially established that presidents and their operatives would never actually be held accountable for their illegal actions in a court of law.

Just consider the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s. This was another clear-cut case of presidential law-breaking. While it was done on behalf of policy goals instead of maintaining political power, selling arms to Iran to give money to the Contras was illegal on its face. Reagan and Bush never really had to face the music, and Bush would issue pardons for those involved. The nation mostly moved on.

In the 2000s the George W Bush administration lied the country into war in Iraq and engaged in torture. There was never even really an attempt to do much to punish those responsible. By that time the immunity of the White House to prosecution was pretty much accepted. Trump's crimes present an opportunity to break this cycle.

We talk a lot about the legacy of Watergate being that Americans do not trust the government, but the more consequential legacy is that America is a country where the president's quasi-monarchical status goes beyond expensive state funerals and ceremonial frippery to being above criminal prosecution. This thought must be in the back of Trump's mind today as he prepares a defense against the coming legal onslaught.

America desperately needs to get over this taboo of locking presidents and their minions up. Other democracies do not have this hang-up, and they are all the better for it. Just witness the recent imprisonment of Park Geun-hye in South Korea. The prospect of Trump's imprisonment is no mere legal fantasy, it actually might be crucial to ensuring the future health of our democracy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Quick Explanation of Why We Are F***ed

I am going to keep this short.

As I have said for years and years and years, the Republican Party is not a political party in the traditional sense, but merely a vehicle for an extremist right-wing ideology. That ideology is wedded to a nationalism that proclaims conservatives to be "real Americans" and those who are not to be "un-American." This means that the "un-American" faction has no legitimate role in governing even if it wins elections.

When Republicans gerrymander and suppress the vote they are not just doing so out of political expediency, they really and truly feel as if they are saving the country from ruin. Pretty much any malfeasance can be justified by that fear because that end will ALWAYS justify the means.

What we are seeing right now in Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina is just the latest manifestation of this phenomenon. There is no sign whatsoever that Republicans are going to change their way of thinking. They were rebuked in the last election, but can use the Senate, gerrymandering,  the electoral college and suppression to maintain minority rule.

The only way forward is to acknowledge the brokenness of our system of government and the need to gut the Constitution. That won't happen, partially due to conservative power, and also to the lack of will or even the consciousness of the need to act on the other side.

Instead our democracy will continue to decay and drift, year after year after year. The forces of repression lack any shame or doubt, while this opposed to them are disunited, tentative, and lacking in resolution. None of this is going to end well.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

On Coming of Political Age In The Bush41 Years

I was born in 1975, which means I am in one of the smallest age cohorts in postwar America. There aren't many people around my age, and our adolescence happened to coincide with the first Bush administration. Our political consciousness was formed at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s, a much more tumultuous time than the years that came before and after.

It was the absolute high point of the war on drugs, something pushed hard by the Bush administration. The streets of LA burned in 1992 after police officers were acquitted in the Rodney King case. The gang wars related to the drug trade were never bloodier, and the murder rate shot up in this era. The Cold War ended, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. With the Gulf War, the United States went to full-fledged war for the first time since Vietnam. Soon after, a nasty recession hit.

Ironically, the Gulf War was the event that capped off my political migration from being a nominal Republican due to my parents' affiliation to adopting a much more progressive political stance. Two other Bush-era events put me on this road: the AIDS crisis and the Central Park Five. They both showed the indifference of the government to the mass suffering of marginalized people, as well as the unfairness of the criminal justice system. I had initially been enthusiastic for the Gulf War, but when it was over I wondered whether such horrible loss of life was necessary. The insane jingoism sparked by the war also frightened me. I knew my country had all kinds of problems, and people were willing to forget about them and wave the maniacally flag because of a victory over a third rate power.

The Bush41 years were also very fraught when it came to race, and forced me, as a white teenager living in a very white rural small town, to actually see the racial inequality I wasn't being taught about in school or able to observe around me. There was the War on Drugs, Central Park Five, and Rodney King beating. Above all, there was the infamous Willie Horton ad. By the end of the Bush41 years I was reading Malcolm X's autobiography in study hall and seeing the country of my birth in a new light.

This was a far cry from where I was in 1988, when I was old enough to observe politics but too untutored to understand what I was seeing. I remember George Bush attacking Michael Dukakis for being a liberal, saying the word like a curse. Saturday Night Live did a funny parody of it, imagining a liberal who like Richard Kimble in The Fugitive must keep running from the authorities. I honestly didn't know what the word even meant. I asked an adult what was so bad about being a liberal and the response was basically that liberals were terrible people who believed in taxes and were against religion.

Of course, liberals ended up having the last laugh when Bush lost to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election. The Bush years coincided with what I like the call the Reagan Dusk. The social problems and inequalities exacerbated by neoliberal policies were becoming more stark by 1989. As the Cold War ended there was a feeling that the United States needed to focus more on its own issues. Bush was not equipped to handle the backlash against the world created by his more amiable predecessor. Back in those pre-internet days of 1992 I bought a book called Bushisms that quoted his most maladroit attempts at rhetoric. As far as I could tell, he was a clumsy representative of a failed establishment.

In fact, Bush provided an example to me of how disconnected America's political leaders were from the lived reality of most people. This came through clearest in an famous moment where Bush was captivated by a supermarket checkout scanner. That one incident seemed to encapsulate so much. There was also the time he talked glibly with the press as the American dead from his attack on Panama were coming home to Dover Air Force Base. Perhaps most flagrantly, Bush seemed incapable of empathizing with people who were being hit hard by the recession in the second half of his term. It was slowly dawning on me that the people who ran everything couldn't care less about the people they ruled over.

Popular music certainly reflected the disenchantment so many had with their supposed social betters. Political rap music flourished in that era, from Public Enemy to Ice Cube. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" burst on the scene in late '91 and banished hair metal decadence to the dustbin of history. At the time I really felt like some real change was about to happen. "Change" was the theme of Bill Clinton's campaign, which I fell for hard. Little did I know how soon he would disappoint me.

The other day I was listening to some of my favorite music from the era, a time when I felt very optimistic about the future. The Cold War had ended without a bloodbath. The Reagan-Bush regime had been rejected. My generation, ready for a better world, was coming of age. My funeral this week is for that feeling, which I sadly found to be naive and short-lived.