Saturday, October 31, 2020

Praying to a Just And Loving Unitarian Goddess for a Sane November 2020 General Election

I can mess around with 270towin maps all day long...

I can stare at the polling maps by the professionals showing good numbers for Joe Biden...

what FiveThirtyEight is projecting this Halloween night, 3 nights out

I can craft 100 different maps of what I hope to see Wednesday morning with a big contented smile on my face:
I'm hoping for a NC/GA/FL/TX flip to help break the Southern Strategy forever...

But I can't rely or wait on hope and neither should you. The Early Voting turnout so far gives me great hope that a large Blue Wave vote is coming... But there's an entire Republican Party from trump down to his hand-picked Far Right judges down to the county-level supervisors and questionable law enforcement looking to get in the way of a clean vote by the American people.

Get the vote out, Democrats. To every Independent Voter out there, this is the year - we need it, to escape the damage trump's mismanagement is inflicting on us right now - you NEED to vote Blue across the board. To every Republican Voter... for the love of God wake up and stop supporting those crooks. Please.

DAMN YOU 2020 (RIP Sean Connery)

Just saw this morning reports that actor Sean Connery passed away.

The Scottish actor was best known for his portrayal of James Bond, being the first to bring the role to the big screen and appearing in seven of the spy thrillers.

Sir Sean died peacefully in his sleep in the Bahamas, having been "unwell for some time", his son said.

His acting career spanned five decades and he won an Oscar in 1988 for his role in The Untouchables.

Sir Sean's other films included The Hunt for Red October, Highlander, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Rock.

DAMN YOU 2016 2020 for taking my childhood celebrities from us!

I first remember seeing Sean Connery here and there in snippets of any of the Bond films playing on rerun on the evening television matinees, but I really saw him first in a theater in the movie Time Bandits, playing Agamemnon as a king with surprising depth and humanity:

And charm. That quickly became the thing I noticed watching the films he made. There was a level of self-confident whimsy to himself that seeped into most of his performances, not just as a not-so-secret British agent but also as Robin Hood, or a Chicago beat cop, or a professor of archaeology.

Connery came to stardom in the early 1960s, working in bit roles in the late 1950s before getting lead roles in stuff like Darby O'Gill and the Little People (no really) in which he caught the eye of movie producers looking to cast the first James Bond in Dr. No (no, REALLY).

Trying to explain how Connery not only filled the role of Britain's greatest fictional spy but defined the style and charm of fictional Cold War spies across the genre would take books to spell out. He portrayed Bond as a man who wouldn't be out of place at a tuxedo gala nor a Jamaican beach bar, able to flirt and bully his way into any office, any dining room, any bedroom. Someone with an upper class sense of judgment - look at his snobbery over wine and fine cuisine - but a middle class determination to get his hands dirty and get the job done.

His personality didn't fit the literary appearance of Bond, but writer Ian Fleming acknowledged the influence Connery had by changing Bond's biography to fit Connery's own (giving Bond a Scottish background, for example).

Connery achieved an effect few other actors get to make: creating from his own cloth the cultural and memetic traits of a character - "Bond, James Bond" - who achieves legendary status. Nimoy did with Spock, Basil Rathbone almost did it with Sherlock Holmes (although Jeremy Brett in the 1980s took that title away and kept it for good). Every other actor who followed Connery in the role - George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig - faced stiff comparison to how Connery did it. While Moore, Brosnan, and Craig were able to achieve their own takes, they still had to match up to the overall panache that Connery brought to the role.

Post-Bond, Connery struggled a bit in the 1970s with meaty roles in more dramatic films - The Man Who Would Be King so-starring his best friend Michael Caine, for example - but didn't hit box office success until the 1980s and 1990s during the action movie craze as a man in his fifties and sixties fighting battles more suited to men in their thirties... and yet pulling it off because of that charming self-confidence that underlined every role.

Not to mention sticking to a Scottish accent in his dialog even when playing a Russian submarine captain:

People still bought it because SEAN FREAKING CONNERY.

It did get ridiculous towards the late 1990s when he was still getting cast in roles of an action hero with romantic interests played by actresses in their thirties or even twenties, a case of age bias that questioned how Hollywood would keep casting older men with younger women. His real-life womanizing and open talk about slapping women also revealed a man with a "macho" sense of personal honor that went too far into justifying violence towards women in the worst ways.

But Connery was a brilliant actor, not necessarily someone trained for Shakespeare but capable of impressing and enticing audiences to root for him. Someone who did on-screen present male role models of determination and skill, and in some moments genuine emotion and gravitas.

These were some of his best moments:

(Note: I will go to my grave arguing that Connery should have won the Best Supporting Oscar for Last Crusade over Untouchables)

Also, the man pretty much brought Scottish kilts back to sexy.

Summon the pipers! We have a Scotsman down!

All British flags to remain at half-staff until 11/007 presumably.

The Dread This Halloween 2020

The dread and anxiety that are stalking the land this autumn have nothing to do with ghosts and goblins. It may have something to do with that creepy Silver Shamrock CEO selling off all these weird masks for Halloween, but I doubt it.

We are, across the United States, rushing towards a Presidential election cycle of 2020 that has driven the stress levels for a majority of Americans to levels greater than the emotional turmoil we endured after 9/11. It's where the reality of most Americans panicking that for all their efforts to turn out the vote for their side of Center-Left issues and leadership, the political minority dominated by Far Right leaders who refuse to serve the public good will still find a way to rig the results and stay in power against every democratic norm our country is supposed to follow.

There's been some notice in the media outlets about this anxiety and most of them - like this one in Slate by William Saletan - are trying to lower the despairing doom by pointing out the flaws of the 2016 results that left America truly leaderless aren't going to affect 2020:

The 2020 election is coming down to the wire, and millions of Americans are freaking out. They’re afraid President Donald Trump will surge at the end and win, as he did in 2016. But there are good reasons to think that won’t happen, based on measurable differences between the two elections. Joe Biden is in a much better position than Hillary Clinton was.

Biden already has more than 200 electoral votes—probably around 230—in the bag. To reach the 270 necessary to win, he just needs three states Clinton narrowly lost: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Let’s call these the core states. If Biden loses one of them, he could still get to 270 by taking Arizona, Florida, Georgia, or North Carolina. Let’s call these the bonus states...

Biden isn’t just leading in more states. Across the board, his vote share is higher than Clinton’s was. On the Friday before the election, Clinton was averaging 48.8 percent in the core states and 46.3 percent in the bonus states. Biden is averaging 51.2 percent in the core states and 48.8 percent in the bonus states. To beat Clinton in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, all Trump had to do was pick up undecided voters. That wouldn’t suffice against Biden, since he’s above 50 in each of those states...

Thing is, we're already seeing trump and his Republican lackeys meddle in all of those battleground states. We've been getting stories about attacks on the ballot counting in Pennsylvania. Minnesota and Wisconsin are on notice from the trump-allied federal courts about the potential cutting off of late-receiving ballots. The fears that the Postal Service - hog-tied by trump's buddy DeJoy - aren't delivering ballots in time are proving true in Miami-Dade, forcing a belated state intervention that shows little sign of getting the votes in on time.

Granted, the Early Vote turnout is an encouraging ray of hope. Texas alone in 2020 has exceeded already the total voter turnout of 2016. Given how lower turnout in elections tends to hurt Democrats, this is a good sign that turnout enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket is in play and Texas could flip (still, no guarantees unless EVERY Tex Dem gets the damn vote to the ballot box!).

This election year is getting down to the wire, in some places literally, with the ongoing concern of voter intimidation on Election Day itself as well as any last-minute assaults on our rights to vote.

The last time I felt this stressed out was 2012, when it seemed like a tight race between Obama against Romney with a national media dancing to Tea Party propaganda noise and ignoring all the blatant obstruction the Congressional Republicans committed to hamper the nation's recovery from the 2007 Recession. It didn't have to be that close, I thought, and at the time it felt lucky that Obama won 52-to-47 percent with a healthy Electoral margin.

How naïve I seemed back in 2012 when in 2016 the worst-case scenario happened anyway, and with a far more incompetent and inhuman nightmare with trump.

This weekend, I'm fucking praying that a 52-to-47 Biden-over-trump win is enough to get that Electoral win as well. Given the voter suppression/ballot-tossing the GOP is openly willing to do, it feels like Biden is going to need 60 percent to even eke out the Electoral Presidential victory his supportive majority needs.

I'm not the only one feeling out of sorts, on edge, nervous as hell. Half the gamers I know on City of Heroes are freaking out. My professional and personal circle of friends and allies among librarians are twitchy. Several of my fellow writers in the local critique groups are having trouble even sleeping normal the last two-three months.

This isn't your normal Halloween, after all. COVID-19 stalks this land. There's a nationwide spike of infections overwhelming our hospitals RIGHT NOW. We've got a real-life scary monster rampaging the countryside, and nobody in a position to fight it - trump, Mitch, most Republican officials - even wants to talk about the problem.

The rest of us are stuck hiding behind the sofa, watching the scary movie play out while covering our eyes with trembling fingers, only it's no movie and the only way we can survive this nightmare is to wake up and vote, vote trump out before the shambling zombie wreck that is the GOP gets us all.

The foulest stench is in the air/

The funk of 4 trump-led years/

And grisly ghouls from Putin's plot/

Are closing in to steal your ballot

And though you vote to stay alive/

Your nation gets pulled to ribbons/

For no election cycle can resist/

The evil of... the Shitgibbon!


(seriously, get the damn vote out for Biden/Harris and for every Democratic Senate candidate and every Democratic state office. It will be the wooden stake through the heart of a corrupt and lethal Republican monster.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Hark! A Ranking of Van Halen Albums

With the passing of Eddie Van Halen earlier this month, I felt the need to look back at the band's efforts and impact on the music scene to the albums made over a long career and troubled path.

The band itself revolved mostly around the virtuoso skill of the lead guitar and band namesake himself. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, Eddie represented a new generation of metal / hard rock guitar play that worked it fast AND worked it loud(er). Not with the harshness of more hardcore metal sounds, but with a semblance of melody.

One thing sometimes overlooked in the talk about Van Halen's legacy was the work of Eddie's brother Alex Van Halen (the OTHER namesake) who worked on the drums the way Eddie worked the guitar: fast and hard. Historic irony: when they both got into forming a rock band, Eddie was on drums and Alex on guitar. It's just that Alex found more time to practice while Eddie worked a paper route, and after learning to play “Wipe Out” (THE epic drum song of all time) they realized Alex was better as a drummer. There are certain songs – “Everybody Wants Some!” and “Hot For Teacher” in particular – that simply would not exist without the opening overpowering sound of Alex's drum riffs. Ranked somewhere below Neil Peart and definitely below John Bonham, Alex's work defined a lot of hair metal/hard rock drum sound of an entire decade (1980s).

Mixed into that was front man singer David Lee Roth, for whom the word “hyperactive” was not enough to explain him. Where other lead singers of the day had their outsized images, Roth was pure energy, bouncing from one activity to the next and writing lyrics that reflected that half-crazed mindset, providing jestering and snark in half the recorded songs they made.

Filling out the lineup was Michael Anthony on bass, who had gone to that instrument as his other friends in the scene had gone to lead guitars. Following in the steady but impressive paths of John Paul Jones and Jack Bruce, Anthony provided a bass-riff style that complemented the faster speeds of the Van Halen brothers but rarely showed off himself. One of the sadder elements of the rise and fall of Van Halen has been how Anthony got cast aside/kicked out as the band spiraled apart in the late 1990s, as part of the overall tragedy of a musical talent that should have put the band in the Top Five instead of the Top Twenty of all time.

The best way I can describe Van Halen to later generations is that they were the Party band for a generation of white suburbanite youth, from the late 1970s into the early 1990s. Cruising music for guys in muscle cars they bought used off their uncle's front yard, where the sound system with the subwoofer got more money than the fuel injectors. Even when Roth got booted from the group, his replacement Sammy Hagar filled the vacancy with a lyrical style that could play well on a Saturday night rolling the street scene across many a suburban town. Until Grunge came along and washed that all into the Pacific Ocean.

But that is another story for another time...

In the meanwhile, here's my take on the band's efforts. Much like my review of U2's work, I rank this from weakest album – the ones you can live without – to epic albums of historic importance and majesty.

“One break... COMING UP!”

Ranking Van Halen Albums - Weak to Epic

Title: Balance

Reasons: Released in the middle of the post-metal Grunge era, focused on more ballad tunes than on straight-up rockers, Balance was a wrong album at a wrong time. There's no other way to describe it.
This was personally an album I had bought from the store, listened once, and wondered why it sounded slower than the other CDs I owned. For a week I worried my player was finally dying. It wasn't until I played the disc on a new player and realized it was the album that was slow that I recoiled. None of the songs appealed to me at that time – future listening warmed me up to only a handful – and I traded the damn thing in to the used book/music store on U.S. 1 in Ft. Lauderdale as soon as I could.

This wasn't the Van Halen I grew up to. It wasn't a good way to end the Van Hagar era, and it foretold the folly that the next lineup would endure...

Epic Song(s): None
Great Song(s): Aftershock, Feelin'
Good Song(s): Don't Tell Me, Not Enough, Doin' Time, Baluchitherium

Title: Van Halen III

Reasons: The third lineup with a third front man singer, third time was not a charm. With Hagar's unceremonious departure after Balance, Eddie tried going younger and East Coast with Bostonian Gary Cherone (plucked from then-rising band Extreme) who happened to sing in a similar fashion to Hagar. Cherone's arrival however did not bring with him any input to make Halen relevant to the 90s sound, leaving the band stuck in some early 80s power ballad purgatory. Adding to the chaos was the diminished role Anthony had at bass (only three songs with Eddie pulling triple-duty for the rest of the album) before he got kicked from the roster (by this point, the animosity Eddie had towards Anthony seemed worse than the vitriol he had spat at Roth during THAT split). As Anthony commented later, this album had turned into an Eddie Van Halen solo project, complete with Eddie's first (and only) attempt at lead vocals on “How Many Say I.”

By the time this album came out, I had already soured on the band due to Balance, and I was not impressed with Cherone's hiring as the new singer (I didn't blame him, I blamed what seemed to me a mercurial Eddie). In fact, the late 90s was a void of music for me, I wasn't buying anything, the output of my favorite artists (Springsteen, U2, others) in that period had been middling at best.

I hadn't even bought this album. It was only Eddie's recent death and my need to review all the albums that made me listen to it off Hoopla Digital. In the end, I didn't find any problems with Cherone's performance – he performed as expected – I found issues with the overall direction of the music – plodding, long – to be the deal-breaker. Half of these songs are too long, attempts at opera rather than attempts at rocking out (which had been Van Halen's strength).

Epic Song(s): None
Great Song(s): Without You, Fire in the Hole
Good Song(s): From Afar, Once, Year to the Day, Primary

Title: Fair Warning

Reasons: This is in my view the darkest, moodiest work of the Van Halen discography covering all three lineups. From what I've read elsewhere, this is when the tensions between Eddie and David flared up, where Eddie wanted to go into more complex moodier themes while David wanted to stick to what was working (fast upbeat tunes with a fun cover tune or two). The resulting mix contains few truly good songs, but it does include arguably a live show fave and one of the bigger hits in the band's history in “Unchained.” Of the Roth-era albums, this is the weakest one and an album most fans can skip.

Epic Song(s): Unchained, Mean Street
Great Song(s): So This is Love?
Good Songs(s): Sinners Swing, Hear About It Later

Title: For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

Reasons: An unusual album for me even when it came out, something that seemed and sounded a bit juvenile (yes, the album's acronym was a clue) just as I was finishing up college, as though the band was regressing and I hadn't. It may have to do with the band rehiring their producer from the Roth era – Ted Templeman – perhaps in an attempt to regain the Roth fans that hadn't returned to the fold after the first two Van Hagar era albums.

The resulting album, released mere months before Nirvana's Nevermind – which blew the doors off hard rock forever with its Grunge sound – seemed a return to the party noise, car cruising ways of old... except it still didn't have the soul and snark of David Lee at his best. Sammy's voice just doesn't carry that vocal tone well. What we got was an album with some genuinely good pop metal tunes and little else... except for the one song that threw everything in the Van Halen universe off-kilter.

“Right Now” was a piano-driven power ballad tune that in all honesty was a genuinely epic song. It was a song that lyric-wise Roth couldn't pull off but Hagar could (Hagar's lyrics here are also him at his best). It didn't roll up the hit charts – it came out as a single towards the end of the album's life-span – but was on constant radio and video play. In fact, it got overexposed as a song, and in hindsight you could see how the impact of “Right Now” led to the disaster that was the Balance album which came after it.

Epic Song(s): Right Now
Great Song(s): Poundcake, Judgment Day, Runaround, Top of the World, 316
Good Song(s): The Dream is Over

Title: A Different Kind of Truth

Reasons: You want the truth? This was an album that should have come out in 2002 not 2012. This was an attempt to regain some chemistry between David Lee and Eddie that had allowed them to pull off reunion tours between 2006 through 2008, much in the vein of the 70s and 80s bands (hi, Fleetwood Mac) that found moderate success appealing to their nostalgic fanbases.

The end result was a more Blues-driven sound that was less than the familiar styling of the 70s and 80s with Roth and more to do with both David Lee too strained on vocals to reach his yelps of lore, and Eddie getting too old and too injured – he had hand surgery in 2009 to combat arthritis – to attempt the high-speed finger-picking that had been his signature style. The album itself was pretty good, but did not carry on it any songs like “Unchained” or “Everybody Wants Some!” to encourage long-term airplay. If this be the last album of Eddie Van Halen's life, it's a good note to exit on... just not a great one.

Epic Song(s): None
Great Song(s): She's the Woman, You And Your Blues, Stay Frosty, Beats Workin'
Good Song(s): China Town, Blood and Fire, Outta Space

Title: OU812

Reasons: This was the second of the Van Hagar albums and where the first one (5150) seemed more risk-adverse and poppy, this one revved it up a little more and ran with a faster, edgier sound. As a result, the songs on this album that clicked for me did so in a big way that the great songs on 5150 didn't. When I would go back to relisten to the Hagar-era albums, this was the one I reached for first.

Epic Song(s): Mine All Mine
Great Song(s): When It's Love, AFU (Naturally Wired), Black and Blue
Good Song(s): Feels So Good, Finish What You Started

Title: 5150

Whose side did you take in 1985? You asked that question and every rock n roller knew the answer had to be either Halen or Roth. But the big question that needed answering was “What would Sammy Hagar's input be to whatever new sound Van Halen was going to bring to the world?”

Where David Lee Roth's vocal range worked in the yelping high pitched enthusiasm and low-growl seduction of a teenager eager to get to work (on refurbishing a car, dating that girl in art class, what have you), Hagar's vocal styling was more earnest than enthused meaning a clearly different way the lyrics were coming at us (as well as different lyrics altogether). At a time when Eddie was focusing more on the use of synths to imitate the finger-pick work on his guitar, this led to an album that could rightly be viewed in hindsight as the most pop album the rock band ever produced.

In terms of longevity, this is an album more fans will hear from, thanks to the ongoing airplay the big songs “Dreams,” “Best of Both Worlds,” and “Love Walks In” keep getting. There are decent songs to be had on here, just not ones that would shake the pillars of heaven, man.

Epic Song(s): Dreams, Best of Both Worlds
Great Song(s): Summer Nights, 5150
Good Song(s): Why Can't This Be Love, Get Up, Love Walks In

Title: Diver Down

Reasons: After the darkness of Fair Warning came this little thing, almost a quickie of an album that the critics didn't seem to like but arguably has some of the better performances on record the band ever committed.

The story is that David Lee wanted to do a single release cover of “Dancing in the Street” that Eddie couldn't get his head around, while Eddie wanted to do a cover of “(Oh) Pretty Woman” that Eddie COULD play. When they went in to do both, the studio argued to go ahead and record a full album anyway, so they did. Rather than come out with a rushed, panicked effort however, it's an album that actually sounds relaxed as though the band had a fun time recording it (in truth, Eddie hated the experience and it drove a wedge even more between him and David Lee). While Eddie's version of Roy Orbison's classic had its unique, hard-guitar tinge to it, what Eddie did revamping “Dancing in the Street” was arguably a better job, using a echoing riff to it that rose and fell like ocean waves.

This is one I view as the Party album of the era, something you could put on the spinner or the tape deck in a house while your school friends were gathered on a Saturday night, and play it all the way through without anyone complaining. This is IMHO an album with no throwaways, almost every song ranked at least Good and better. It's almost like the Sgt. Peppers of the Van Halen discography. The fans loved it even though Eddie (and the critics) didn't...

Epic Song(s): Dancing in the Streets, Little Guitars (intro)
Great Song(s): Where Have All the Good Times Gone, Hang Em High, Intruder, (Oh) Pretty Woman, Little Guitars, Happy Trails (shut up, it's fun)
Good Song(s): Cathedral, Secrets

Title: Van Halen II

Reasons: I wrote before – both reviewing U2 as well as the Beatles – the second album from a band usually isn't as great as the first due to various factors: It's made up of lesser songs from that first album, a rushed nature of recording to match that first album, the expectations to follow up with something both similar yet refreshing, etc. Van Halen's second album is no exception, usually for all those reasons I mentioned. In this case, however, the band still excelled with an album that is actually easier and accessible, comes across as more polished and focused rather than rushed.

It could be my own ears and my own judgment call here. It can well be that I found the songs on the second album more enjoyable, that the lyrics and melodies spoke to me differently than the harder noise of the debut album. I certainly found the songs like “Beautiful Girls” and “Dance the Night Away” as greater accomplishments than “Running With the Devil” and “You Really Got Me.” Thing is, if you released this together with the first as a double album, it would all blend in as one epic album and nobody would complain about it.

Epic Song(s): Dance the Night Away, Bottoms Up, Beautiful Girls
Great Song(s): Somebody Get Me A Doctor, Spanish Fly
Good Song(s): Light Up the Sky, DOA. Women in Love

Title: 1984

Reasons: What I remembered when this came out, there was a lot of publicity and anticipation. Some of it had to do with the when and how – unleashing the first single “Jump” on New Year's Eve heading into 1984 itself – as well as this mood across the music landscape that rock bands had to step up to challenge this one album from 1982 called Thriller by Michael Jackson that had basically steamrolled the globe (still two years on!). There was a lot of pressure on Van Halen the band because Eddie Van Halen was a part of that Thriller juggernaut having played an epic guitar solo in the hit song “Beat It.” There was also the need to rebound from the negative critical reactions they got from Diver Down, as well as pressure from the company (always always in the music biz) of getting a Number One song into the books.

The result was an album that reflected the synthetic manufactured ambience of the 1980s, especially with Eddie leaning into the use of synth keyboard to replicate his finger-picking style on guitar. Very noticeable on “Jump,” that Number One song that placated the studio, where the fast-tempo of the keyboards mimicking how the guitar would play but giving it a different sound than a guitar would.

The album would represent that schizoid style between Eddie's musical instincts and David's hard rock focus. The result was an album with sure hits and power rock songs, not necessarily meshing well but definitely the big hit of the decade that any band would live for. We should be talking a lot more about "Panama," a car-cruising ode that deserves more love from rock critics and historians as the perfect blend of all four band members' strengths as musicians. About half this album gets airplay to this day, especially the controversial “Hot for Teacher.”

What happened afterward in response to the frictions between Van Halen and Roth, obviously, shook the rock n roll scene ever since.

Epic Song(s): Jump, Panama, Hot For Teacher
Great Song(s): Top Jimmy, Girl Gone Bad, House of Pain
Good Song(s): 1984, I'll Wait

Title: Women and Children First

Reasons: I got this album after I had gotten into Van Halen's 1984, as part of my effort to keep up with the cool kids on the block. It surprised me that other than “Everybody Wants Some!” this was an album that was woefully underplayed on the radio (even "And the Cradle..." wasn't as often-played), and not as talked about as a great album in its own right.

Where the first two albums eclipsed this third one, this is where the band expanded their sound just enough to make it grittier yet more polished. A hint of blues coming through songs like “Fools” and “Take Your Whiskey Home.” This is probably where my love for Doors music seeped into my love for this album (which compares in some respects to Morrison Hotel, only better).

Every time my brother Phil asks me what the best Van Halen album is, I always point to this one.

“Everybody Wants Some!” which anchors this album and powered by Alex's epic drumbeats is arguably the best cruising-the-street song of my generation if not all time. The rest of the album keeps up with that power. It's a personal decision ranking this here, and I understand that by not ranking it top overall (because the top one has its history and place within the rock n roll pantheon that I can't ignore). But if anyone ever tells me which Halen album to listen to first to get an understanding of why they were one of the greatest bands ever, THIS is the one I'll point to because it covers everything the band does best.

Epic Song(s): And the Cradle Will Rock, Everybody Wants Some!, Take Your Whiskey Home
Great Song(s): Fools, Tora Tora!, In a Simple Rhyme
Good Song(s): Romeo's Delight, Could This Be Magic

Title: Van Halen

Reasons: Personally this is not my favorite Van Halen album (see the previous entry above), but I respect its place in rock n roll history by putting it here. This is the album based off of a demo tape recorded by Gene Simmons (of KISS fame) they shopped around the music industry, backed by a series of well-received live shows in the L.A. Scene. It's packed with hard rock goodness and blistering guitar noises that spurred hundreds of suburban white boys and girls to learn “Eruption” in their parents' garages.

It's that song – an instrumental by Eddie – that anchors the whole album: if you broke it down, it's basically a finger-picking (or more precisely string-tapping) exercise made up of classical music snippets, but Van Halen's genius with using both hands to finger-tap it revolutionized the metal guitar solo and made this the go-to song to learn how to do that.

What happened with this album release was that it caught much of the music scene off-guard: it came at a time when Punk was the Next Big Thing (which never took because guess what, Punk was too raw even for Rock), as Led Zeppelin and other hard rock acts were retreating from the stage (either to fatigue, fallout, or other woes). Critics blasted it but fans ate it up: It's one of the biggest-selling debut albums in music history (eventually certified Diamond status years later).

To be honest, there's really not much here other than the standard metal sounds of the day... just done at Ramones-like speed, Led Zep-like power, and hyped by David Lee Roth's yelps of joy. This doesn't have the party-like flavor of the other great Van Halen albums, but it has the hook of “You should pay attention to what we're about to do next because your kids and grandkids will be learning it for the next 100 years.

Epic Song(s): Running with the Devil, Eruption, Ain't Talking Bout Love
Great Song(s): You Really Got Me, I'm the One, Atomic Punk, Ice Cream Man
Good Song(s): Jamie's Cryin', Feel Your Love Tonight

* * *

I could look at reviewing the official live album(s) and the greatest hits album that included new Van Hagar songs, but they're not necessary to understand the overall impact the band had. I could include the David Lee Roth solo albums, but that's not entirely part of the Van Halen history... oh what the hell, here's an album cover!

From here, I am considering a review of Bruce Springsteen, or else a review of Led Zeppelin, whichever makes more sense to ye. PLEASE leave a comment so I may make sure.

Monday, October 26, 2020

War of the Murder Hornets: IT BEGINS

So yeah, I have a bit of an obsession with MURDER HORNETS. I wouldn't call it a fear per se, I would consider it...

(buzzing noise)


The Murder Hornet is all business... and its business is MURDER!

So while I'm on the run trying to avoid lethal stingers that SPIT VENOM (OH NOW THEY TELL ME THIS?!) let's celebrate the brave souls who went into harm's way to avenge all humanity and bee-kind against this insect form of Anti-Life (via the Guardian).

The state agriculture department spent weeks searching, trapping and using dental floss to tie tracking devices to Asian giant hornets, which can deliver painful stings to people and spit venom but are the biggest threat to honeybees farmers depend on to pollinate crops.

The nest found in the city of Blaine near the Canadian border was about the size of a basketball and contained an estimated 100 to 200 hornets, according to scientists who announced the find on Friday.

On Saturday, crews wearing thick protective suits vacuumed the invasive insects from the cavity of a tree into large canisters. The suits stopped the hornets’ 6mm stingers hurting workers, who also wore face shields because the trapped hornets were capable of spitting a painful venom.

The tree will be cut down to extract newborn hornets and learn if any queens have left the hive, scientists said. Officials suspect more nests may be in the area and will keep searching. A news briefing was planned for Monday...

It's not over. The war against MURDER HORNETS is never over...

And now having seen the weird-ass biohazard suits everyone had to wear into battle (WORST. STILSUITS. EVER) I need to edit that story I submitted to the Strangely Funny editors last month.


Why the red lights? It's not that the MURDER HORNETS are color blind. It's that the MURDER HORNETS are so angry all they see is red.

(more buzzing noises)



Thursday, October 22, 2020

How America Fell Into The Darkest Timeline of 2020

(Update 10/24: Thank you Tengrain for linking this to Crooks & Liars on the daily Mike's Blog Round-Up page! Welcome to mah award-winning blog, people! Browse around, don't cost nuthin'...)

In some of my insomnia-driven nights of anxiety and stress, I wonder often just how the hell this all happened. In these moments I know I'm not the only one who thinks this, I know far too many people at work and online and in my circle of family and friends who are just as stressed as I am.

Part of me knows this Darkest Timeline didn't just crop up out of nowhere: This is the end result of decades of plans and schemes by a Far Right element of our political discourse that despised how things were turning in the 1960s and 1970s and had decided to play The Game more ruthlessly and recklessly than ever before.

But this all still seemed like it creeped up on us, doesn't it? Perhaps too much hope and too much faith in the Long Arc of Justice, I suppose. I can only speak for myself on that.

The groundwork of this destruction had been there ever since the fearmongering of the 20th Century against Communism and its first cousin Socialism, added to the racism that had ruined the United States since the days of Slavery and even worse through Jim Crow, the backlash against the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, and to today with the struggle against police brutality against poor (read: Black) communities. (There's an item to discuss later on, that there's proof of how racism directly hurts the U.S. especially in the area of finance and Capitalism we're supposed to be so good at)

All that fearmongering comes into play as the partisan divide between the two major parties grew: Where there had been moderate factions in both Republican and Democratic ranks, the Republicans pursued a Southern Strategy that sought to merge all conservative thought - economic, ethnic, religious, cultural - into one Far Right Conservatism without room for Moderate bipartisanship and no love for accountability.

We've been at the point for more than a decade where John Cole's observationI really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties (re: the Republicans) is insane - has been proven again and again... and yet everyone else in a position to make note of it and react against that madness - the Beltway punditry - sit there and pretend these problems only cropped up yesterday. And worse, the media is already pretending that if trump is forced out of office this problem of being in the Darkest Timeline goes away.

trump alone is not the source of the cruelty, greed, and racism dominating current Republican ideology. It's been there before he rolled down that escalator in 2015, and there's every sign it will get worse once trump goes away. Look at Ed Kilgore's evaluation of past and future GOP malevolence documented in Steve Benen's work The Imposters, reviewed here in Washington Monthly:

...The Imposters is a skillful illustration of how rank cynicism allowed Donald Trump to easily take control of the Republican Party. Republicans, Benen shows, already had subordinated their traditions and alleged values to unprincipled hypocrisy, indifference to facts and empirical data, and self-serving partisanship long before Trump arrived. The GOP created a vacuum in its own soul that the 45th president was easily able to fill with his inflated self-regard and his uninhibited politics of lies and polarization...

Over the last several decades, the Republican Party has been conquered by the Christian right and the overwhelmingly white Tea Party movement. The former has a theocratic vision for America. The latter militantly opposes economic redistribution. These movements converged with a realization that demographic trends were unfriendly to their party’s older base, generating a white identity politics that found its natural expression in the intensely divisive and intermittently racist stylings of Trump.

Consider, for example, Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again.” It is effectively a pledge to return to the days when white men walked tall in America, Christianity was a quasi-official creed, and foreign influences were on the margins of national life—precisely the world that most Republicans yearn for. Trump’s steady appointment of conservative judges gives evangelicals, many of whom believe that abortion is literal murder, exactly what they want. His heavy (if erratic) investment in restrictionist immigration policies has always been central to his appeal, and the sudden lurch of the GOP in that direction after George W. Bush and John McCain championed a more diverse future was far from being just another area of Republican electoral opportunism...

The modern Republican cannot reform because they dare not. Even in the face of demographic shifts away from their power base - away from the religious extremists, the racists, and the defenders of the uber-rich - they had put in so much effort to create this power base they have no way to redirect that base onto different paths. They can't change their tune about immigrants being monsters, they can't take back their "Birth Control Is Murder" chants, they can't reject the massive and unpopular tax cuts they've granted to their deep-pocket overlords. 

Republicans have staked out positions of ideological value so extreme that any attempt to move away from them would cause permanent schisms in the factions they've merged together, and would push the party out of any national role - which it currently clings to only due to Minority Rule status thanks to gerrymandering and geographic factionalism - for multiple future generations. And given the purge of Moderates (the RINOs hunted into obscurity) since the early 1990s, there are no leaders among those factions willing or able to moderate themselves or find the power within the party's structure to force such decisions for the long-term good of their own organization.

One of the hopes of various pundits is that once trump is gone, some form of sanity will return to the Republican Party and they'll take steps to rehabilitate themselves and their image. But it's too late. And it wasn't even trump's fault they're like this. All trump did was show how to exploit the rage and fear to create a devoted cultish voting base. There is no coming back from this. The Republicans had their chance to reject Trumpism (tm) but ignored it when they refused to rally to the likes of Jeb, Rubio, Christie, or Kasich. It's all trump now, and when trump is gone his replacement will play the same strategy. 

This is now the foundation of the modern Republican Party: Racism, Sexism, Political Obstruction, Tax Cuts Forever, Own the Libs, Make America Lose Again. There is no savior coming to save the Republicans. It's trumps all the way down.

And if the Republicans succeed in rigging the game against Democracy and the needs of the nation, they're dragging the rest of us down with them.

The only way out of this pit of doom is to stop voting Republican across the board. Just stop. You don't have to vote Democratic, although that helps the most. Just stop putting Republicans in political power, because they honest-to-God cannot be trusted with that power, not now not for another ten generations, not until all this extremist madness is drained out of their descendants.

We can climb out of the Darkest Timeline, America. But we're going to have to leave the Republicans in that dark deep pit that they made for themselves.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

I've Dwelt Among the (Almost) Humans: A Quickie About Some Squickies

My college dorm roommate at UF was dating this one girl for a few months who shared a story about something a crazy in-law did over the holidays.

She had come across one of her in-laws, the brother to her sister-in-law, while the rest of the family was elsewhere in the house prepping for the holiday meal. The brother-in-law was lying on a guest bed, pants unzipped and stroking himself and looking right at her the whole time, as though what he was doing was somehow enticing or seductive. She fled the scene as soon as she could.

So I was a college-aged male, mostly no different from other hetero men that age intrigued (or obsessed) with sex and pretty girls (I admit to having a stash of Playboys in my college years), and even I was going "what an idiot!" that brother-in-law was. It made no sense to me, exposing himself to another woman (related by marriage) stroking off in a spot where any other relative could catch him and embarrass himself to the entire clan, acting as though the stuff he saw in pornos really worked out in Real Life.

I mean, I know guys are pervs. We shouldn't be, but we are. I know I'm not the cleanest person to pass judgment on others here, but even I knew there were limits, boundaries, proper behavior under all circumstances. I know we all need to live up to the admonition "don't be a Guy, be a Man." 

In short: Showing off your Pocket Rocket (i.e., your One-Eyed Bishop, your Trouser Snake, your Action Jackson, okay I'll stop) - especially in public, especially unsolicited - is/was/will be a bad idea.

And yet... We keep getting these stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, men exposing themselves in uncalled-for places and times, guys taking selfies of their self and forwarding them across the Intertubes as though ALL would bow in awe of their turgid-ness. Christ, even Captain America got caught with nude selfies in the mix, and he sent that out by accident (part of a photo dump he should have taken a closer look-see before he pressed the Send button).

This week alone two weird-ass storied dropped on the public newsfeeds.

A political pundit with the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin, got caught on a live Zoom chat with his... personage showing and it appeared he had been masturbating during a chat session (reportedly about election results). His excuse ultimately ended up being "sorry, I thought I had muted the video feed," as though that cleared him of beating off to 270towin maps. The HELL?

It does not help Toobin that he's faced previous accusations of illicit and unsavory behavior towards women - an extramarital affair here, unwanted advances there - that underscores the likelihood he's been into pervy activity whenever he thought the cameras were turned off.

And speaking about cameras being left on, here comes - gross - Rudy Giuliani, who meets up with Sasha Baron Cohen's character Borat in a sequel film released this weekend. In a case of setting Rudy up for a filmed prank, he gets talked into meeting a cute "reporter" (an actress playing Borat's daughter) in a hotel room for a drink. Before you know it, Rudy is lying down on the bed shoving one hand into his pants before Borat has to bust into the room (with Cohen staying in character) to stop the scene from getting any sicker. 

Giuliani's excuse - when the movie came out and everyone suddenly realized how much of a perv he is - is that he was merely "tucking in his shirt."

I'm a guy. Don't fucking lie to me, Rudy. You stand up to tuck in your shirt, not lie down (because standing up after you've reclined will untuck the shirt anyway).

Rudy was lying down ready to jack off in front of a woman where he thought it would be safe to do so - a hotel room - in some primate-like need to show off his tallywacker. It was reading the reports on this that triggered my memory of my roomie's then-girlfriend sick experience with that in-law.

So what do you think Giuliani does in situations where the guys catching him on film AREN'T there to prank him but compromise him?

After all these years of hearing the stories, reading about the unwelcome spread of dick pics, and all the real-world acts of exposure as part of the harassment habits of men in the workplace, I'm still unsettled (no, more like horrified) that my fellows among the male persuasion are so obsessed with their dicks that they are driven to act like dicks.

And this is why I do not laugh at Werner Herzog in Rick & Morty, where he reveals his sad, woeful tale of what we humans have exposed to him during his time studying us:

I've dwelt among the humans. Their entire culture is built around their penises. It's funny to say they're small. It's funny to say they're big. I've been at parties where humans have held bottles, pencils, thermoses, in front of themselves and called out, "Hey, look at me. I'm Mr. So-and-so dick. I've got such-and-such for a penis." I never saw it fail to get a laugh...

It's not a throwaway gag, folks. Werner Herzog is indicting male humanity with an unhealthy obsession with our own fucking dicks. It's an obsession that doesn't help us in any way, and it causes more stupidity and reckless disregard for women - and even other men - than needs to be in our world.

Christ, guys. Learn better discretion. Learn some manners towards other people for every occasion. KEEP IT IN YOUR FUCKING PANTS.

Don't be dumb-ass dick-obsessed guys. Be men.

Monday, October 19, 2020

I Voted Early Today in 2020

I found out today that not EVERY county in Florida has early voting going on this week, but today October 19 Polk County did start the early voting and so after work I drove from the library to the Bartow Community Center where they have it set up from now until Sunday November 1.

The parking lot was relatively small and it was packed, but the line was short enough that I was second in line and got to see the poll volunteer within a minute. Got the three-page double-sided scantron form printed out and I inked in my choices (BIDEN/HARRIS) and then fed the pages into the scanner, got my I VOTED EARLY sticker, and left.

I admit seeing a handful of pro-trump hats and even a trump mask, but the turnout of voters were a mix of ages, genders, ethnicities. I did not think to ask how the lines might have been earlier in the day, but considering Bartow is a relatively small town (population around 17,000 last I looked) a packed community center is a healthy sign of turnout.

Took the obligatory selfie outside:

By the by, the Early Voting location is doubling as a Vote-By-Mail ballot drop off, hopefully should be the same at other locations.

So I've committed my vote. Deep exhale. Yes, I know there's still madness in the next two weeks to survive, plus the madness post-election when the war over the actual counting commences. I've done my part in this regard. Placing my faith in the system that the machine will count me true, placing my hope with the county elections officers to do their jobs fair and honest.

Now I got to keep doing the job that the rest of us need to do: Advocate for massive voter turnout for the Democrats across the board, every state ballot every local referendum, get the DAMN vote out. Vote Blue in Florida. Vote Blue in EVERY state and DC, America. We can get the votes to throw that corrupt trump out of the White House and make every other elected Republican answer for their corruption and deception.

It's GO time, America. Save ourselves, Vote Biden...

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Royal Palm Literary Awards 2020 Winners

You might recall I am a writer of letters and such - blogging obviously - and that I've been nominated before with the Florida Writers Association's Royal Palm Literary Awards.

This year one of my entries - the article on "Seven Reasons NOT to Invade Iran" - had reached Finalist status qualifying for making the RPLA Awards (Gold first, Silver second, Bronze third), and last night the FWA held their awards ceremony (alas, due to pandemic this was not done at a fancy banquet with artistically done desserts but online, so ice cream at home was served).


It always feels good to get recognized - especially by peers to whom I am grateful - for your creative endeavors.

So now, I hold dear the award won, and move on to writing the next blog article... about the heartbreak of having a beloved car model hijacked by Michigan gun nuts. DAMN THEM. Ahem, excuse me... going for the Gold this time (owstophittingme).

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Greatest Threat to Rugged Libertarianism? Bears

Every time I see an article on Libertarianism failing on a grand scale, my Pragmatism radar goes off and I go arunnin' to see what the fuss is.

Shared through Lawyers Guns and Money, there is this report in The New Republic (behind a firewall for some of you, I need to start noting which sites are fee-based) by Patrick Blanchfield reviewing a book by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling about how Libertarians took over a small town in New Hampshire to build their Utopia:

...This is the so-called Free Town Project, a venture wherein a group of libertarian activists attempted to take over a tiny New Hampshire town, Grafton, and transform it into a haven for libertarian ideals—part social experiment, part beacon to the faithful, Galt’s Gulch meets the New Jerusalem. These people had found one another largely over the internet, posting manifestos and engaging in utopian daydreaming on online message boards. While their various platforms and bugbears were inevitably idiosyncratic, certain beliefs united them: that the radical freedom of markets and the marketplace of ideas was an unalloyed good; that “statism” in the form of government interference (above all, taxes) was irredeemably bad. Left alone, they believed, free individuals would thrive and self-regulate, thanks to the sheer force of “logic,” “reason,” and efficiency. For inspirations, they drew upon precedents from fiction (Ayn Rand loomed large) as well as from real life, most notably a series of micro-nation projects ventured in the Pacific and Caribbean during the 1970s and 1980s...

Particularly important for the story is one John Babiarz, a software designer with a Krusty the Klown laugh, who decamped from Big-Government-Friendly Connecticut in the 1990s to homestead in New Hampshire with his equally freedom-loving wife, Rosalie. Entering a sylvan world that was, Hongoltz-Hetling writes, “almost as if they had driven through a time warp and into New England’s revolutionary days, when freedom outweighed fealty and trees outnumbered taxes,” the two built a new life for themselves, with John eventually coming to head Grafton’s volunteer fire department (which he describes as a “mutual aid” venture) and running for governor on the Libertarian ticket.

Although John’s bids for high office failed, his ambitions remained undimmed, and in 2004 he and Rosalie connected with a small group of libertarian activists. Might not Grafton, with its lack of zoning laws and low levels of civic participation, be the perfect place to create an intentional community based on Logic and Free Market Principles? After all, in a town with fewer than 800 registered voters, and plenty of property for sale, it would not take much for a committed group of transplants to establish a foothold, and then win dominance of municipal governance. And so the Free Town Project began. The libertarians expected to be greeted as liberators, but from the first town meeting, they faced the inconvenient reality that many of Grafton’s presumably freedom-loving citizens saw them as outsiders first, and compatriots second—if at all. Tensions flared further when a little Googling revealed what “freedom” entailed for some of the new colonists. One of the original masterminds of the plan, a certain Larry Pendarvis, had written of his intention to create a space honoring the freedom to “traffic organs, the right to hold duels, and the God-given, underappreciated right to organize so-called bum fights.” He had also bemoaned the persecution of the “victimless crime” that is “consensual cannibalism...”

That Libertarianism has room to accept cannibalism is a problem shared with Far Right Conservatives, but we'll save that discussion for another time. Meanwhile, back in Socialist Hellhole San Francisco Libertarian Heaven Grafton:

While Pendarvis eventually had to take his mail-order Filipina bride business and dreams of municipal takeovers elsewhere (read: Texas), his comrades in the Free Town Project remained undeterred. Soon, they convinced themselves that, evidence and reactions to Pendarvis notwithstanding, the Project must actually enjoy the support of a silent majority of freedom-loving Graftonites. How could it not? This was Freedom, after all. And so the libertarians keep coming, even as Babiarz himself soon came to rue the fact that “the libertarians were operating under vampire rules—the invitation to enter, once offered, could not be rescinded.” The precise numbers are hard to pin down, but ultimately the town’s population of a little more than 1,100 swelled with 200 new residents, overwhelmingly men, with very strong opinions and plenty of guns...

If the Libertarian vision of Freedom can take many shapes and sizes, one thing is bedrock: “Busybodies” and “statists” need to stay out of the way. And so the Free Towners spent years pursuing an aggressive program of governmental takeover and delegitimation, their appetite for litigation matched only by their enthusiasm for cutting public services. They slashed the town’s already tiny yearly budget of $1 million by 30 percent, obliged the town to fight legal test case after test case, and staged absurd, standoffish encounters with the sheriff to rack up YouTube hits. Grafton was a poor town to begin with, but with tax revenue dropping even as its population expanded, things got steadily worse. Potholes multiplied, domestic disputes proliferated, violent crime spiked, and town workers started going without heat. “Despite several promising efforts,” Hongoltz-Hetling dryly notes, “a robust Randian private sector failed to emerge to replace public services.” Instead, Grafton, “a haven for miserable people,” became a town gone “feral.” Enter the bears, stage right...

You hear that, Ed? Bears. Now you're putting the whole station in jeopardy.

Back to Blanchfield:

What was the deal with Grafton’s bears? Hongoltz-Hetling investigates the question at length, probing numerous hypotheses for why the creatures have become so uncharacteristically aggressive, indifferent, intelligent, and unafraid. Is it the lack of zoning, the resulting incursion into bear habitats, and the reluctance of Graftonites to pay for, let alone mandate, bear-proof garbage bins? Might the bears be deranged somehow, perhaps even disinhibited and emboldened by toxoplasmosis infections, picked up from eating trash and pet waste from said unsecured bins? There can be no definitive answer to these questions, but one thing is clear: The libertarian social experiment underway in Grafton was uniquely incapable of dealing with the problem. “Free Towners were finding that the situations that had been so easy to problem-solve in the abstract medium of message boards were difficult to resolve in person.”

Grappling with what to do about the bears, the Graftonites also wrestled with the arguments of certain Libertarians who questioned whether they should do anything at all—especially since several of the town residents had taken to feeding the bears, more or less just because they could. One woman, who prudently chose to remain anonymous save for the sobriquet “Doughnut Lady,” revealed to Hongoltz-Hetling that she had taken to welcoming bears on her property for regular feasts of grain topped with sugared doughnuts. If those same bears showed up on someone else’s lawn expecting similar treatment, that wasn’t her problem. The bears, for their part, were left to navigate the mixed messages sent by humans who alternately threw firecrackers and pastries at them. Such are the paradoxes of Freedom. Some people just “don’t get the responsibility side of being libertarians,” Rosalie Babiarz tells Hongoltz-Hetling, which is certainly one way of framing the problem...

This is where I point out the thing I learned from studying 19th Century Literary Utopias back in college: One of the obvious flaws in any Utopian attempt is how conflict inevitably arises between people arguing over what that Utopia should actually be. The paradox of Libertarianism - the obsession that the Individual is all that matters - becomes self-defeating when those Individuals try to impose their singular world-view upon other Individuals who might not see it the same way, and are following their own agendas. Who is going to stop Doughnut Lady, who is expressing her Libertarian ideal of co-existing with pastry-loving ursines? Someone else's problem after all, isn't it?

Back to Blanchfield:

Pressed by bears from without and internecine conflicts from within, the Free Town Project began to come apart. Caught up in “pitched battles over who was living free, but free in the right way,” the libertarians descended into accusing one another of statism, leaving individuals and groups to do the best (or worst) they could. Some kept feeding the bears, some built traps, others holed up in their homes, and still others went everywhere toting increasingly larger-caliber handguns. After one particularly vicious attack, a shadowy posse formed and shot more than a dozen bears in their dens. This effort, which was thoroughly illegal, merely put a dent in the population; soon enough, the bears were back in force.

Meanwhile, the dreams of numerous libertarians came to ends variously dramatic and quiet. A real estate development venture known as Grafton Gulch, in homage to the dissident enclave in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, went belly-up. After losing a last-ditch effort to secure tax exemption, a financially ruined Connell found himself unable to keep the heat on at the Meetinghouse; in the midst of a brutal winter, he waxed apocalyptic and then died in a fire. Franz quit his survivalist commune, which soon walled itself off into a prisonlike compound, the better to enjoy freedom. And John Babiarz, the erstwhile inaugurator of the Project, became the target of relentless vilification by his former ideological cohorts, who did not appreciate his refusal to let them enjoy unsecured blazes on high-wildfire–risk afternoons. When another, higher-profile libertarian social engineering enterprise, the Free State Project, received national attention by promoting a mass influx to New Hampshire in general (as opposed to just Grafton), the Free Town Project’s fate was sealed. Grafton became “just another town in a state with many options,” options that did not have the same problem with bears...

Blanchfield does step back to review the state of the state of New Hampshire itself, where the political conflicts between ideologies have collapsed into a clogged unresponsive mess. Decades of mismanaging and underfunding the agencies that do exist that should handle the bear threat (but can't) has contributed to the current crisis.

A lot of that mismanagement stems from the human urge to follow, the need to live up to, whatever philosophy (our own -Ism) drives us. A lot of the problem with bears isn't the bears, it's us.

The bear just wants to fucking eat donuts. That's the only -Ism the bear knows.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Florida 2020 General Election Ballot: Summon the Blue Wave, Please

Time again, another Presidential election cycle here in Florida with EARLY VOTING STARTING MONDAY OCTOBER 19, so I want to take a moment to post how the ballot looks - at least where I am in Polk County, here's a sample ballot - and offer suggestions on what to consider when you cast your vote.

(dramatic beat)

Okay, for anybody who's been following this blog for the last eight twelve years, you probably know that my overall suggestion is FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT VOTE REPUBLICAN.

It's not just me. There are several prominent conservative figures who have recoiled from the monstrosity their own party has become and they're pretty much saying the same thing. This Republican Party will not reform itself or move away from its madness until they are utterly humiliated and driven out of power. (another beat) For the next fifty years.

The only way this happens is if enough Americans not only fully Progressive but also Center-Left and Independent show up to vote in unity against the corruption that the modern Republicans - not just trump but everyone from Mitch McConnell all down - are openly planning to commit.

So here's my bit, trying to educate my fellow Floridians on what to look for.


What part of "trump IS A VULGAR SUBHUMAN BULLYING SH-TGIBBON" have you missed on my blog?

I could go into 500 different reasons why you should NOT vote for trump/Pence in any way, shape or form. I can go into at least 5 reasons to vote FOR Biden/Harris. 1) Biden is a Passive-Positive Character in the Taft vein, 2) Biden will work towards a Big Tent party for Democrats of all stripes to join in for effective ideological gains, 3) Biden will restore the social safety net that the Republicans have been hacking at with fireaxes the last 20 years, 4) Biden will put on his Cabinet people who are dedicated to effective governance and will repair the damage done by trump's corrupt regime, 5) Biden will not turn every fcking day into an anxiety-riddled, Twitter-driven, Hellish STRESS TEST.



Florida does not have any Senate races this cycle, so it's all down to the House seats - all 27 of them - and with any luck the Democratic voter turnout will flip at least 14 of them Blue so that in case there's a Delegation vote in the House to resolve a compromised Electoral College result the vote will go for Biden.

In my case, I'm in the 17th District, covering south Polk County and much of the south inland counties, which are lightly populated and heavily conservative. Port Charlotte (Charlotte County) is kind of the only other major population center in the district, and I'm not familiar with the area but given how much of its population buildup was in the late 1990s with a lot of conservative shifting, I don't have my hopes up.

Yeah. I live in the middle of trump Country. Every other oversized Coal Roller truck has the worst taste in bumper stickers. And yet, I WILL DEFY YOU, STARS. I am calling for everyone in District 17 to vote for Allen Ellison

I am calling on everybody I know from Pinellas County to Pasco to Alachua to Broward to Duval even: BLUE WAVE, peeps. 

State Legislature

There's 120 State House seats up for vote, so that's about 120 seats we NEED to flip BLUE, Florida. It's only 61 seats to control the House (okay Republicans have a 71-to-46 advantage (3 vacancies), but all we need is to gain 12 seats on the 46 held along with filling those three vacancies...). 

Okay, in Polk County, that's Districts 39 (Dem Chris Cause), 40 (Dem Jan Barrow), 41 (Dem Jared West), and 42 (Dem Barbara Ann Cady) up for consideration. I'm in District 56, so I'm putting a vote in for James Davis.

The State Senate goes in groups, they are doing odd-number Senate districts this cycle and somehow Polk County does not carry any part of them (I am in District 26, so...). I may not have a direct vote for any of the 40 Senators, but I do call on the voters who ARE voting in the odd-numbered districts to VOTE BLUE WAVE. It's a 23-to-17 Republican control of the Senate, so if the Democrats can hold their 17 seats and flip 4, that would make it 21-to-19 in favor of Democrats... Just gotta flip ONE of the legislative houses, and then we'll see DeSantis held accountable for his mishandling of the pandemic...  

County Commissioner

The county seats go in rotations, so this year it's just District 3 up for a vote and that's Democrat Bob Doyel we need to support.

State Supreme Court / District Court Retention

We have a system in place where judges are appointed but then subject to voter approval to retain. In 2020, there is currently one person up for the State Supreme Court, Carlos Muniz. To sum him up: He was on trump's short list to replace Ginsburg's seat this month. Yeah. That's all you need to know. If you want more, he worked under Pam Bondi. Uh-uh. I don't trust his credentials one bit. VOTE NO and remove him.

The Appellate Court votes to retain are spread out, so here in Polk County (2nd Court District) we've got Drew Atkinson, Morris Silberman, Daniel Sleet, and Andrea Teves Smith to consider. At the moment I can't find anything on their biographies so I can't say who brought them to the table. For now, I'll trust to the better natures of our angels and VOTE YES to retain.

School Board

There doesn't look to be any listed this cycle. Hmm.

Lake Region Lakes Management

There's a race between John Lewis and Steve Enzor, but not much information on them. Going by Facebook pages, Enzor seems to have the background working with the city of Winter Haven and previous water management commission work, while Lewis shows more engagement with the community but I'm not sure what his full bio is. I leave it to you, Lake Region, if you know which is the better candidate.  

State Amendments

I've made my views on the State Amendments earlier, and while I'm set on certain ones I am willing to admit I may be wrong on my earlier opinions. I've been getting more pushback against the Open (Jungle) Primaries and the peeps chatting me on it are making valid points. Thing is, as a NPA voter, I still feel the need to support making the Primaries open to all and to encourage more voter turnout. If you want to vote NO against that, you're free to (I will vote YES because I think the Jungle Primaries are manageable and I want the NPA voters like myself to have more say in these votes). 

To repeat, I am NO on 1 (Citizenship requirement to vote, which is ALREADY a requirement), YES on 2 (Minimum Wage), YES on 3 (Open Primary), NO on 4 (Forced Second Ballot Referenda), NO on 5 (More tax exemption) and YES on 6 (Tax exemption carryover to widows of military veterans, I know this could be a NO vote but it's family-related).

Polk County Referendums and Charter Amendments

There's also County matters to vote on, and what we got are:

Referendum One: Extension of Limited Property Tax Exemptions for Businesses Creating New Jobs

Shall the board of county commissioners of this county be reauthorized to grant, pursuant to s. 3, Art. VII of the State Constitution, limited property tax exemptions, for a limited time, to new businesses and expansions of existing businesses that create new full‐time jobs in the county? The time period for such reauthorization would commence November 6, 2022 and expire on November 5, 2032.

This sounds like a good idea, don't it? Supporting our Jobs Creators in the county. Thing is, how well is this exemption enforced? How are we guaranteed that our major employers in-county are fulfilling these obligations? In the short term, there's no guarantee of job creating while a pandemic is underway, and in the long term, businesses that need to hire full-time are going to hire full-time anyway. There doesn't need to be a tax credit to encourage them. I'd vote NO.

Charter Amendment One: Increasing Time Period Between Charter Review Commissions from 8 Years to 12 Years

Kind of what it says on the label. The argument in favor of this goes "We need to reduce expenses, and the Charter Review Commission doesn't need to meet THAT often." That may sound reasonable, but it runs the risk of the County facing administrative or committee crises that may flare up regarding the county charter during that longer time period. This doesn't feel like a smart thing to do. I'd vote NO.

Charter Amendment Two: Expense Reduction of the Efficiency Commission

The plot here is about cutting expenses for Polk County by deleting Articles 8.6 through 8.6.4 in their entirety of the County Charter, referring to the Polk County Efficiency Commission. You don't know what that would entail unless you actually READ Articles 8.6 through 8.6.4, so here goes (link goes to Charter PDF):

8.6 Polk County Efficiency Commission

Not later than January 31, 2005 and of every eighth year thereafter, there shall be appointed a Polk County Efficiency Commission...

Okay, what Charter Amendment 2 is doing is PURGING the Efficiency Commission altogether. They're cutting off an arm of the county government here. I am not entirely sure what the commission does, but since the title involves "Efficiency" I'd expect them to be going through the code of county ordinances weeding out overlapping rules, any outdated rules, and other stuff. Which may actually make things more affordable for the businesses and residents restricted by guidelines based in say 1897 but useless in 2020.

Thing is, it does not look like the county will replace this Efficiency Commission with anything more cost-friendly that would still do the same job. Without that, I'm worried the lack of an efficiency oversight committee would let the county commissioners reinstate unwieldly stuff. I'd vote NO

And just for those of you still following me for the Pasco County Mosquito Control Board election (Yeah, Mom reminded me by email this Monday), there's two seats (One and Three) up for vote for 2020:

Mosquito Control, Seat 1

Randy Evans (incumbent)
Seth Weightman 

Mosquito Control, Seat 3

James E. Bailey
Shanon R. Holm
Gary W. (Buck) Joiner (incumbent)

In previous years, I had little information to go by as the seats are too minor for the local papers to even name the candidates, but I think I found a site (Vote411 Voter Guide) that tries to cover the local stuff, so I've got the links above set to that site. Weightman didn't provide any info, so he's a blank and I can't recommend. The Seat 3 candidates at least provided responses, but Holm is the only one to check YES on the question about supporting sustainable energy and recognizing the Climate Change issues. So I'd suggest going with Holm if he's on your ballot. These are supposed to be non-partisan seats, so I won't consider a partisan stance on (OH FCK IT, VOTE BLUE IF YOU KNOW IT).

Okay. That's all I got for the Florida balloting. The Early Voting is Monday. Get to it.

#VoteBlue2020 #VoteBidenHarris 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Wanna Know How Bad The Coronavirus Spread Is Getting?

It's Wednesday October 14 2020 and this is where we are at as the COVID-19 pandemic enters the autumn season:

The United States is seeing a spike (upwards!) in positive infection reports across much of the nation in the past week, with the likelihood of deaths spiking in the next week.

The National Football League is seeing an uptick in positive cases from team to team, especially a Tennessee Titans team that had members refusing to abide by social distancing guidelines. Celebrity players like Cam Newton were infected. The sport is finding out that when they cannot play in a neutral setting - within a Bubble that enforces testing and reporting - they cannot control the exposure to this highly contagious virus. It's disrupted scheduling to where games might get cancelled, negating the whole point of the NFL playing these games in the first place.

College Football is in worse shape. Combining the recklessness of being on-campus with other students who fail to abide by masking and distancing rules to the reality of traveling to new locations that were and still are COVID hotspots, more teams are reporting cases and cancelling games. This one hits me in the alma mater: up to 18 scholarship players and 3 walk-ons with the Florida Gators tested positive with the odds that more players are infected by them.

And today, the top coach in the Division I programs - Alabama's Nick Saban - tested positive as well (from a university campus that had been having COVID exposure issues already)

What the hell were universities thinking about forcing their students to attend on-campus in tight environs, indoor classrooms, and rule-breaking parties? Oh, right. The universities were thinking about making revenues.

And try this one on for size, trump supporters: trump's teen son Barron may have tested positive (they're now saying he's tested negative). This underscores how rickety and unreliable the testing at trump's White House has been, and it's tragic for anyone to get exposed to a coronavirus that can affect a youth's health further down the road.

It does not help that trump - desperate for the adulation and eager to show off his "strength surviving COVID" - keeps going to cramped, unsafe rallies that are pretty much traveling super-spreader events.

This is where we are at, America.

COVID-19 has not gone away. COVID-19 will not go away until a reliable vaccine is out there for people to take.

trump and his Republican lackeys have fucked up the pandemic response, and he keeps refusing to treat reality with the seriousness that a GOOD President would act.

God help us, vote this moran out of office this November. It's the only way to make sure we can survive past 2021.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Early Voting This 2020

With all the storm and fury about trump trying to sabotage the mail-in balloting, and also threatening to send armed "observers" to the polling precincts on Election Day, it would make sense for Americans to consider the Third Option of voting: The Early Voting period.

As you can see on the Ballotpedia listing of Early Voting - by state, by starting date and closing date - not every state or territory hosts one. But many do, and to the seven or eight readers I have on this site, you might want to check to see if your state allows it, when you can go do it, and spread the word to everyone you know to make sure the voting gets done.

For meself, Florida begins Early Voting next Monday October 19 and I hope to do it then, well before the ending period of Sunday November 1 (before Election Day itself). BE AWARE that not every state doing this ends on that day: some are closing it up October 30, some are taking it right up to Monday November 2 just before the Big Day itself.

I don't always do Early Voting, as a traditionalist I've tried voting on Election Day itself. I had done it once or thrice when I knew ahead of time I was going to be too busy that Tuesday (one time I did so because I had volunteered to work a Broward precinct in 2002, when county employees were asked to help out with a new electronic balloting system to replace The Chads).

But this year for several reasons Early Voting seems to be the smarter move to make. Depending on where you are at and how the pandemic is going, you might find it safer to go to the Early Voting location. Given the risks of catching the coronavirus, I would prefer making sure I got my vote in before it was too late.

There are other reasons I would - and often do - encourage Early Voting to my fellow Floridians. One of the biggest hassles on Election Day is going to the specific precinct you're assigned: A lot of people have trouble finding those sites even WITH the address information sent to them on their Voter ID cards. Meanwhile, the Early Voting sites are usually in common public locations - libraries especially, but also the county government centers, courthouses, civic centers - that are easier to find. 

Also, while precincts are designed to be close to your homes, some people are too busy traveling to and from work to ever find the time to get in line to vote (and even though workplaces are required to let you go for an hour to vote on request, the driving distances back to your neighborhood and the wait times at the precincts make that hard). Most Early Voting places tend to be closer to your workplaces, thus easier to get to before/after you put in your time at the office.

However, this year Early Voting is a great idea because of what trump and the Republicans are threatening to do to disrupt and suppress the balloting. Not just the actions trump has already done to hurt the Postal Service to hamper mail-in balloting (and despite the promises that he and DeJoy have fixed their earlier damage, I don't believe them), but the threats being made to send "Observers" who just happen to be off-duty law enforcement and/or private security (aka Mercs) into heavily minority precincts as pure intimidation tactics.

Thing about Early Voting: most locations are not in heavy minority areas but usually in central public areas that draw in voters from every ethnic, age, and economic demographic. Where you can send "observers carrying sidearms as their Second Amendment right to" into local precincts on Election Day where few media outlets will cover the day's balloting - and get away with intimidating minorities into walking away without casting their votes - if Republicans try that at the Early Voting locations - fewer in number thus easier to cover for news reports, as well as more packed with White voters that Republicans wouldn't want to alienate with their bullying - they won't be as successful. It's also worth noting that trump's campaign people didn't get their "observers" lined up in time to cover the Early Voting places: They seem too focused on the Election Day itself.

I would argue to Blacks, Latinos, College-age/Youth voters most likely facing intimidation at the precincts on Election Day: Early Voting would be a smart alternative with fewer risks of having your ballots challenged.

I would also point out that more often than not the Early Voting places will have working ballot machines, as opposed to the oft-reported broken equipment that crops up in the poorer, more crowded precincts we've ALL been witness to since the 2000 Election debacle. How many news reports, every Election Eve, do we see of long lines across South Florida where precincts were reduced to a single electronic touchscreen for 10,000 voters to use? You would think after 20 years of this, the Elections supervisors would have bought enough working equipment and hired enough staff to repair them, but no.

I'm not the only one to notice. Betty Cracker at Balloon-Juice - a fellow Floridian - is paying attention to Georgia, a state that started Early Voting today and has a worse record with their voting machines than Florida. She's noticing how even with Early Voting, in certain counties with large Black populations, the Republican-controlled Elections offices are screwing up to force long lines even now:

I get that fuckups can happen and polling places can be unexpectedly overwhelmed. But we see this in the same neighborhoods in the same states every year. It’s obviously a voter suppression tactic, and the perpetrators need to be held accountable for violating people’s most fundamental right as citizens. Enough of this bullshit.

If this seems like bad news, it kind of is, except that the good news is everyone is paying attention and there's bound to be greater pressure to get the machines working properly while there's weeks to go with the Early Voting efforts.

There's one other reason to encourage Early Voting: While they don't release the tallies until Election Day night, the Early Voting numbers are often ready to go the second the precincts officially close in most parts of the state. 

(HINT: In case you DO vote on Election Day, do not get discouraged if you're still in line by the time of the "official" cutoff. The election officials are REQUIRED to let everyone who is in line to vote stay in line and get their chance to cast their ballot even if it means staying open past midnight... which is why some states with those long lines don't complete counting votes until days later).

If the early results gleaned from the Early Voting lean towards Biden, trump can't scream - or cough, all things considered at the moment - that he's winning. Oh, he'll try but he won't have the numbers to prove it. he'd have to wait just like the rest of us, and maybe in a few states he'd have to change his tune and demand the mail-in ballots be counted if he's losing without them.

So if a shit-ton of Democrats and Indy voters supporting Biden do Early Voting in large enough turnouts, hopefully that will give the regular (traditional) Election Day voters something to add to.

Just remember, peeps, GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT FOR BIDEN/HARRIS and EVERY Democrat on the ballots. Mail-in, Early, or E-Day itself.

Keep that Blue Wave rolling upward.