politics, x marks the pod

Episode 11: Is everything our fault? No. No, it’s not.

Did we ruin everything? 

For a couple of decades now, we’ve been blaming the Boomers. And there’s good reason for it. Their narcissism followed up Woodstock with a bunch of STDs, the persistent treatment of women as sex objects (Love the One You’re With, indeed) and then self-centered approaches to business and politics. They say people grow more conservative as they grow older, but I think the Boomers have been remarkably consistent. They matter, and you don’t.

But what about us? Do we Gen Xers deserve any of the blame for a world in which democracy and reasoned capitalism, the values that the pre-Boomers fought to instill in the modern world, are in decline? 

Let’s talk about it. This is X Marks the Pod. (This one is also available on Spreaker and should go out to Apple and Google.)

Continue reading
politics, sports

Gen X news, Feb. 1: Cynicism, the Olympics and Spotify

No podcast this week, and no, it’s not a Spotify boycott. The Olympics start tomorrow (yes, Wednesday, because the Games now kick off a couple of days before the Opening Ceremony), and even though I’m not giving NBC 10 hours a day, I’m still down for about 40 hours of live blogging and countless hours of prep work and previews. See my viewing guide.

I’ve also spent a lot of time changing my news diet. That involved a reworking of my 683 Gmail filters. Google could really make that easier, but as we’ll discuss in a bit, they’re the least problematic of the Big Tech companies in this post.

Also, I listened to last week’s podcast and decided that it sums up the state of American politics as well as anything I can produce right now. And in terms of great albums, it’s tough to top the Fishbone album discussed there. So if you haven’t listened to it yet or read the post (and I have the stats to prove that you haven’t), check it out.

Moving on …

It’s easy to say we should be skipping these Olympics because of China and COVID. But the moral calculus here depends on who’s being harmed. The 1980 Olympic boycott may have seemed justified at the time because the Soviet Union had stormed into the eternal quagmire of Afghanistan. It’s not fondly remembered. It didn’t change anything politically. It just cost athletes a chance to do something they’ve been trying to do for most of their lives.

Boycotts also rob us of inspiration that can affect things on a geopolitical level. Imagine if Jesse Owens hadn’t been in Berlin to stick it to Hitler.

And generally, cultural exchanges are positive. Paul Simon received plenty of criticism for Graceland, but who benefited from that? The South African government or South African musicians? F.W. de Klerk, who died late last year, spent the rest of his life grappling with a complex legacy he couldn’t quite face in full. Ladysmith Black Mombazo is still winning Grammys. You can draw the line, of course, at directly supporting a corrupt state and/or business with no side benefits, which is why Sun City is the best of the 1980s group protest songs. (Everyone rap along: “Bo-phu-that-swana is far away / But we know it’s in South Africa, no matter what they say.” And it’s hard to top Joey Ramone singing about Ronald Reagan and “constructive engagement.”)

Musicians can play elsewhere. Olympic athletes compete elsewhere, but there’s nothing like the Olympics, especially in the winter and especially now that NHL players aren’t going. Boycotting the Olympics would irreparably harm them. Not China’s government.

Gen Xers’ worst trait is cynicism. It’s too easy to pass a simple judgment and move on. It’s also easy to dismiss the IOC as a money-mad organization or dismiss Olympic broadcasts as too treacly. But at their heart, the Games are about people from around the world challenging themselves and coming together. And hanging out with Australian journalists and Icelandic handball players.

So when mixed doubles curling starts tomorrow, my biggest reservation in watching will be that I find mixed doubles a bit gimmicky for my taste.

In other moral dilemmas …

Spotify: Neil Young et al vs. Joe Rogan

By way of disclaimer: Yes, X Marks the Pod is primarily a Spotify podcast, leveraging the massive music library on offer. Also, I’m a NewsRadio fan and an erstwhile MMA writer.

(Actually, I consider Joe Rogan’s podcast the fourth-best thing he does or has done, behind NewsRadio, UFC commentary and his standup act.)

But with his podcast, Rogan is following Dilbert’s Scott Adams into the a state of delusion in which he thinks his whims outweigh expertise. He used to save his conspiracy lunacy for (pardon the obscure pun on “lunacy”) the moon landing, UFOs and other relatively harmless things. When he rants about vaccines and alternative COVID treatment, that’s a little more difficult to swallow.

That’s why Neil Young decided to withdraw his music from the service. Joni Mitchell followed suit.

The best-case scenario here is that Spotify, whose share price has plummeted, has to have a talk with Rogan or decide to post disclaimers. The controversy may also force more scrutiny of Spotify’s longer-standing issue of how much (little) it pays musicians. Nils Lofgren’s wife tied together the two issues with one clever tweet:

And the issues are tied together by Rogan’s contract. Musicians need a couple hundred streams just to make a buck (literally), but Spotify came up with $100m to pay Rogan.

So do we all follow Neil Young and ditch Spotify?

Well, you could do what Young did and make a deal with Amazon Music.

Which pays its musicians even less, at least by one accounting. And then you’re supporting Amazon and some unsavory business practices.

Besides, some musicians are making money through Spotify, and one of them is (was) Neil Young. Billboard calculated that Young could lose $754,000 a year by pulling his music.

And I found that story published verbatim on Joni Mitchell’s site with an laughable declaration at the end that posting an entire story from a paywalled site constitutes fair use. So if you buy Joni Mitchell’s music, you’re supporting copyright infringement and taking money away from journalists.

Moral decisions are complicated. Few people are completely virtuous or completely evil. Jeff Bezos, after all, propped up The Washington Post, which surely wasn’t the most profit-minded move he could’ve made with his money. Facebook is far too important as a communication tool for everyone to leave it now, and there are plenty of people who have the resources to make something comparable if they were so inclined.

Rogan himself is complex. He has plenty of enablers who think every question he asks or statement he makes is the unimpeachable truth. But he doesn’t even believe that. He’s not Alex Jones. He listens to people. Maybe at some point, he’ll listen to people who tell him it’s time to quit treating self-serving idiots as experts.

I’m also cautiously optimistic about Spotify’s practices moving forward, though a little private chat with Rogan would also help.

And elsewhere …

Wordle and your wallet: Want yet another Big Tech dilemma? How about the NYT buying Wordle and giving a tepid “well, it’s free for now” comment? Even if it’s free, that means the NYT is monetizing your data because it has to sell ads.

One roundup of the Twitter reaction captures the complicated ways of framing this move. Do you start using the many knockoffs instead of the one the NYT just bought? Do you have the right to criticize Wordle’s inventor for deciding he’s not going to spend the rest of his life creating content for millions of people — for free? Do you have the right to criticize the NYT for trying to make money that subsidizes its occasionally worthwhile journalism?

Generations after us have been brought up to expect everything for free — music, news, puzzles, etc. But someone pays, either through money or unpaid effort. At least, in this case, the guy who did the work is reaping the reward.

The vaccination that I get: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones broke up abruptly. Lead singer Dicky Barrett abruptly left his job as Jimmy Kimmel’s announcer. So is it a coincidence that someone named Dicky Barrett was credited as the producer of a song promoting an anti-vaccine rally? We can only hope.

Face off: Are you tired of taking off your mask so your phone or computer will recognize your face? Good news. Maybe.

Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty: Kudos to Janet Jackson, whose career was derailed by what should’ve been a harmless accident but refuses to bear a grudge.

So we’ll head into the Olympics on a nice note to go with all the encouraging COVID news. Let’s end a long winter with some warmth, and I don’t just mean the workouts you get shoveling all that snow.

And here’s the schedule to help you plan, assuming that you generally don’t want to stay up all night and that you really like curling (Google Sheet).

Featured image is me in front of the ski jumps in Whistler, getting ready to cover the 2010 Olympics.

music, politics, x marks the pod

X Pod Episode 9: Fishbone and the reality-based community

The myth of the reasonable, reality-based Republican died Jan. 15, 2022, in Richmond, Va. 

That’s when Glenn Youngkin took office as Virginia’s governor. The Republican businessman won in a tremendous upset in a state that has been comfortably blue in recent elections. Biden won by 10 points, and even in this election, exit polls showed more people identifying as Democrat than Republican. Youngkin, who trailed in the polls until the last few days, won in part due to the usual failure of young people to show up and in part by keeping Donald Trump at arm’s length. He was the reasonable Republican, running alongside a Black woman for lieutenant governor and a Latino for attorney general. 

And they’re off to a flying start.

Jason Miyares, the incoming attorney general, made some staff changes, which is typical. Less typical is to give virtually no notice before dismissing people who are holding the line on civil rights like the dudes on the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones. (Is that the right analogy? I didn’t watch much of that show.)

The Richmond Times-Dispatch especially noted that he fired someone with 20 pending court cases on housing discrimination. Lest you think Miyares is just interested in trampling on civil rights, he also terminated someone who has focused on scams targeting older people — someone who voted for Miyares

(We’re going to get to Fishbone, I promise.)

(Also available on Apple, Google and Spreaker.)
Continue reading
politics, x marks the pod

X Pod Episode 7: No, seriously, let’s dismantle the two-party system

Gridlock. Attack ads. Constant fundraising solicitation. Maybe a civil war. Yes, the two major political parties are doing just what our Founding Fathers said they’d do. They’re ruining this country. 

Yes, it’s intentionally timed to coincide with Jan. 6, where partisan politics boiled over into violence.

Also in this week’s episode, a funny story about attending a John Birch Society meeting and the debut of Gen X News. 

Next week: More music, less politics.

Links: 

Today’s intro music: Gloria Gaynor – Anybody Wanna Party? (Polydor Records 1978)

Featured photo is from Pexels.com

A slightly abridged version (no Spotify music) of this episode is also on its way to Apple, Google and Spreaker/iHeart as soon as a technical issue can be worked out.

politics

Jan. 6: Forget polarization. Remember heroes and villains. Enablers and cowards.

Much of this is repurposed from a Twitter thread, but I wanted to post it here for posterity. It’s also easier to read.

I’m also going to lead with people who deserve our applause: the police. One year ago, roughly 140 were assaulted, some brutally. Five officers succumbed to the physical and mental trauma of that day.

Here’s the Twitter thread, with some editing …

One year ago today, right-wing extremists attacked the very foundation of the USA.

Some (though less than the media think – we’ll get to that) believe otherwise. This thread isn’t for you. If Rove and Cheney can’t convince you, neither can I.

This thread is for everyone else.

Continue reading
personal, politics

The “OK, fine, 2021 wasn’t a complete dumpster fire” roundup

In the podcast rounding up 10 good songs from 2021, I pondered the difficult question: “Was 2021 even worse than 2020?”

On a strictly personal note, some good things happened. I found a calling of sorts in substitute teaching. I’ve got a kid enjoying college. I was able to play music and go curling again, at least for a little while. For better or worse, I worked my ass off, writing 100-ish stories during the Olympics, pulling together a book on Coach K, and self-publishing yet another book, this one intended to set up a business that I wound up abandoning. The worst news personally: Some unfathomable tragedies were inflicted upon people close to me.

A couple of weeks ago, I figured 2021 was indeed worse. In 2020, we could laugh about it, and at the end of 2020, things looked hopeful. We were getting rid of a president who actively hated about 60% of the country and used another 35% or so as pawns in a twisted game. We were turning the corner on COVID-19. Today, we know we’re not really rid of that guy, or at least the forces that brought him to power, we still have shocking celebrity deaths (we’re down to one Monkee, and as I’m writing this, news has come across that Betty White left us just shy of 100), thinly veiled racists are taking aim at our schools, and COVID-19 keeps coming up with new ways to make us miserable. I wonder when we’ll be asked to walk around with pillows on our faces and having indoor dining that consists solely of milkshakes and anything else that can be consumed through a straw. (Hmmm … an all-milkshake restaurant might be a good investment idea …)

But as you’re preparing to comfort your dog while fireworks go off, read on and dare to be optimistic. As Alexandra Petri points out, we were not hit by meteors this year.

Science: Joe Manchin can obstruct all he wants, but the clean-energy revolution is well and truly underway. Also, we’re getting a lot better at medicine. A lot. Good timing — imagine COVID if we hadn’t revved up so quickly on vaccines (Noah Smith).

Prosecution: Yeah, I know — we’ve been told since about 2016 that Trump won’t be able to survive the next revelation, and that next revelation either lands with a whimper or not at all. But this might be the year (Salon). Meanwhile, the GOP is wasting money paying for his legal bills (PBS).

COVID vaccines vs. Omicron: One vaccine dose reduces hospitalization risks by 52%, two doses reduce them by 72%, and a booster takes that number down by 88% (BBC). Also, children are tolerating vaccines pretty well (NYT).

Evolution vs. Omicron: The risk of hospitalization with Omicron is roughly one-third that of hospitalization with Delta (BBC). Before you dismiss that news as simply a function of Omicron hitting mostly young people in South Africa, where the peak has likely passed (WaPo), consider lab research showing Omicron’s limited effects on the lungs (NYT). Even though case numbers in the USA have gone through the roof (in part because we’re testing as much as capacity will allow), hospitalizations are still far lower than they were in September and barely half of what they were at COVID’s peak (NYT).

Progress in China: Wind and solar projects, tons of forest, wild animals protected. Even pandas. (Mashable)

Good insects up, bad insects down: Drones are fighting mosquitoes in Rwanda (Freethink), while bees are back (Guardian).

Workers’ rights: The flip side of the Great Resignation is that a lot of people have simply decided not to be pushed around any more (Wired).

Biden’s doing better than you think: The roundups …

And if it gets any worse, we’ll just move to Ireland. Happy New Year.