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.

music, x marks the pod

X Pod Episode 6: Zwan, the great lost Smashing Pumpkins spinoff

When the Smashing Pumpkins broke up in 2000, the talented, tortured genius of Billy Corgan was on display again in Zwan, a band with the Pumpkins’ monster drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, future Pixies bassist/vocalist Paz Lenchantin, and dual guitarist Matt Sweeney and David Pajo. It’s a pity it didn’t work out. 

Links: 

Featured photo is from Zwan’s SNL appearance.

A slightly abridged version (no Spotify music) of this episode is also available at or on its way to Apple, Google and Spreaker/iHeart.

music, x marks the pod

X Pod Episode 4: Albums revisited: Fables of the Reconstruction, R.E.M.

Housekeeping note: If you prefer other platforms to Spotify, good news — I’m re-editing previous episodes for Spreaker, Apple and Google, where episodes will be available for a limited time. See next post (above, since this is reverse chronological).

This episode won’t be on other platforms because it’s dependent on music at Spotify.

In 1985, an up-and-coming band from Athens, Ga., released a quirky album that seemed a little puzzling to themselves, let alone a general audience. But in retrospect, how important was this album to the band’s development? And how good is it in its own right?

This is a Spotify/Anchor exclusive, taking advantage of the feature in which we can embed songs. If you’re a Premium user, you should get the whole song (though you can skip it if you like). Otherwise, you get 30 seconds, not of my choosing.

A few links:

music, x marks the pod

X Pod Episode 3: Today’s awful(?) music, with Dave Lifton

Fellow soccer lover, Popdose alumnus, freelancer and early 50-something Dave Lifton joins me to discuss why today’s music sucks. Or does it? Our conclusions may surprise you. 

At the end, you’ll hear either 30 seconds (Spotify users) or the full blast (Spotify Premium users) of Metric’s Gimme Sympathy, comedian Matt Braunger’s take on white privilege, Jason Isbell’s 24 Frames and The Pretty Reckless’s’s’s Take Me Down. The discussion makes reference to those things and a few others things, such as: 

The bit with Julianne Moore dissing Twilight is from the film Crazy Stupid Love, which is great in places and cringe-worthy in others.

One clarification: Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP is due to be included on Cardi B’s next album, but it’s been more than a year since the song was released. The point about the single standing alone without an album release still seems valid.

Finally, check out the New Orleans radio station Dave mentions at WWOZ.org

sports, x marks the pod

X Pod Episode 2: Sports make the rich richer

The insistence upon exalting athletes and selling dreams of everything from Olympic gold to Ivy League college admission is turning sports into a miserable experience, especially for us parents and our kids. Also, Bull Durham is one of the best movies ever. Also, how do you explain 9/11 to a second-grader?

This episode has some audio glitches that I hope to squash in future episodes. At one point, I think I picked up some extraterrestrial communications. If the aliens invade, episode 3 of this podcast might take a while.

Links from this episode: