Monthly Archives: October 2020

This Is Curiously Satisfying

Watch all the way to the end…  also, extra points to the makers for using the original filming locations!

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Barack Unbound

Former president Barack Obama spoke at a drive-in campaign rally in Philadelphia tonight. And while it’s always a pleasure to listen to this dapper, articulate man deliver a speech — especially these days, after four years of that other man’s blustering, sneering, nonsensical word salads — this one was especially entertaining. Obama is finally — finally! — displaying some of the pent-up frustrations that he and every Democrat and so many other decent-minded people have been feeling. He was on fire tonight, by turns incredulous, as if he just can’t believe the bullshit that’s been going on; blunt, as he scored hit after hit on the flailing Con Artist in Chief’s record of incompetence and graft; and finally, in that way that he has always been so good at, hopeful.

As I said, he landed a lot of on-target blows against the current president, everything from his failure to rise to the responsibility of the office he holds to his condescending attitude the previous night toward the very state where Obama was speaking to the new revelation of a secret Chinese bank account and the fact that the president doesn’t pay as much in taxes as a working American. If you despise Donald Trump, there was a lot of red meat here for you to savor. But the topic that really earned Obama’s ire was the Trump administration’s utter failure to handle the pandemic:

We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook that would have shown them how to respond before the virus reached our shores. They probably used it to I don’t know, prop up a wobbly table somewhere. We don’t know where that playbook went. Eight months into this pandemic, cases are rising again across this country. Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us. He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself. Just last night, he complained up in Erie that the pandemic made him go back to work. I’m quoting him. He was upset that the pandemic’s made him go back to work. If he’d actually been working the whole time, it never would’ve gotten this bad.

So, look, here’s the truth. I want to be honest here. This pandemic would have been challenging for any president but this idea that somehow this White House has done anything but completely screw this up… it’s just not true. I’ll give you a very specific example. Korea identified its first case at the same time that the United States did. At the same time, their per capita death toll is just 1.3% of what ours is. In Canada, it’s just 39% of what ours is. Other countries are still struggling with the pandemic but they’re not doing as bad as we are because they’ve got a government that’s actually been paying attention.

And that means lives lost. And that means an economy that doesn’t work. And just yesterday, when asked if he’d do anything differently, Trump said, “Not much.” Really? Not much? Nothing you can think of that could have helped some people keep their loved ones alive? So, Joe’s not going to screw up testing. He’s not going to call scientists idiots. He’s not going to host a superspreader event at the White House. Joe will get this pandemic under control with a plan to make testing free and widely available, to get a vaccine to every American cost free and to make sure our frontline heroes never ask other countries for their equipment they need.

Republicans [have] tried to repeal or undermine [the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare] more than 60 times.

And when they’ve been asked about it, they keep on promising, “We’re going to have a great replacement.” They said, “It’s coming.” It’s been coming in two weeks for the last 10 years. Where is it? Where is this great plan to replace Obamacare? They’ve had 10 years to do it. There is no plan. They’ve never had one. Instead they’ve attacked the Affordable Care Act at every turn, driving up costs, driving up the uninsured. Now, they’re trying to dismantle your care in the Supreme Court as we speak, as quickly as they can in the middle of a pandemic with nothing but empty promises to take its place. It’s shameful. The idea that you would take healthcare away from people at the very moment where people need it most, what is the logic of that? There is no logic. Joe knows that the first job of a president is to keep us safe from all threats, foreign, domestic or microscopic.

The entire speech is worth listening to if you have the time and inclination, but that’s the important part right there. COVID-19 is the albatross around Trump’s neck. It should be his downfall. It looks like it will be his downfall. I pray that it is his downfall. We desperately need a president who gives a damn about other people.

On another note, it’s good to see America’s first Vulcan president worked up about something. I really wish we’d seen more of this President Obama during his term. Things might have gone very, very differently if he’d called out Mitch McConnell on his perfidy or defended the ACA as vigorously as he does now that it’s in danger of being obliterated, instead of just trusting that the American people would inform themselves and make wise votes based on the issues…

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Science!

If you’re an older Gen Xer like myself, you’ll probably remember the television miniseries V, from way back in 1983. That’s the one where friendly-seeming aliens suddenly arrive on Earth and start to integrate themselves into our societies (and governments), only to be revealed as inhuman lizard people who are here to steal our planet’s water supply and use humanity as cannon fodder in their galactic wars… and as food.

Summarized like that, it sounds utterly ridiculous, but the story was actually surprisingly effective… and effectively chilling. It was essentially Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here — which told of a fascist takeover of the United States — dressed up in the sci-fi trappings that were popular at the time. I was 14 when it aired, and it made a huge impression on me. I saw the parallels between the Visitors and the Nazis, and I completely bought into all of it, all except for one small detail: the minority population that the Visitors demonize and begin to persecute isn’t a particular human race — because of course to alien lizard people, humans are all the same, right? — but rather a human occupation. Scientists. Yes, scientists are the “Jews” of this story, the ones who are made to register with the authorities and who begin to “disappear.” I mean, it made sense in context, because it was scientists who presented the biggest threat to the Visitors as the ones most likely to figure out their dreadful secret and also to come up with a weapon to fight back against them. But when other humans started turning on scientists in favor of the alien invaders… I had a hard time swallowing that.

Mile-wide flying saucers that can hang in the air over major cities undisturbed? Phony skinsuits that can somehow conceal the decidedly inhuman contours of a reptilian face and look perfectly normal? Vast chambers filled with thousands of suspended animation capsules? Interspecies sex between a mammal-person and a lizard-person that results in a pregnancy? Hell, for that matter, a species advanced enough to create all of the preceding but who can’t figure out how to simply make water out of hydrogen and oxygen and instead have to cross six light-years to physically take it? I accepted all of that without question, because science fiction. But fascist leaders who manage to make people distrust and then eventually to hate scientists was unbelievable to me. Because I’ve always been interested in science and respected the people who figure it out, I guess. And I naively assumed that others did as well. Because… science! Science is a good thing, right? A necessary thing. How could you not trust or believe scientists, or want to support them?

Well, yesterday in the science-fictional year of 2020, Donald Trump, on the campaign trail in Nevada, told a group of his followers that if his opponent Joe Biden is elected, the country will be in big trouble because “he’ll listen to scientists.”

He’ll listen to scientists.

Try as I might, I can’t see the downside to that. But Trump’s people sure do. They’re the ones who keep resisting the common-sense health mandates to wear masks in public, because they can’t make the logical connection that a temporary inconvenience will end this fucking plague, or at least beat it back to the point that we could start to resume something resembling normal life instead of this accursed twilight existence we’ve been stumbling through since March. They’re the ones who don’t even believe there is a virus, or that it’s all that dangerous. Who think the numbers are overblown because doctors think they can get more funding for their hospitals if they show more patients with COVID-19. Who think it’s all just a hoax made up to make their president look bad. And there are a lot of these people, especially here in my home state of Utah.

Suddenly that musty old bit of event television from my youth seems much more plausible. And more relevant. And I have to tell you, that scares me to death. Because Sinclair Lewis — and Kenneth Johnson, the writer of V — were right. It can happen here.

Fifteen days to Election Day.

 

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In Memoriam: Eddie Van Halen

What I’m about to say might shock my three Loyal Readers, but I’m afraid it’s true: I’ve always been more of a casual Van Halen fan than a true devotee. A “greatest hits” kind of fan, if you take my meaning. I don’t even have a particular preference for the Diamond Dave or Van Hagar eras of the band. I like ’em both. I guess what I’m saying is that, while I always liked Van Halen, I wasn’t deeply invested in them like many of my peers. Even so, hearing this afternoon that Eddie Van Halen, the virtuoso guitar wizard who (along with his brother Alex) was the band’s namesake, had died of throat cancer was like a kick in the gut.

While the band had formed in 1972 and hit the big time in 1978, I was only vaguely aware of them until their biggest single “Jump” reached the charts in early 1984. I was fourteen. I remember seeing the “Jump” clip on Friday Night Videos — it seems like it played on the show every week for months and months — and thinking that Eddie looked like a cocky punk with that smirk of his, while Alex didn’t make much impression at all. David Lee Roth was entertaining in his outrageousness, but honestly the one I was most drawn to was Michael Anthony, the bassist. His style was the closest to my own, and he just struck me as a good guy, someone you’d enjoy hanging out with (in as much as you can tell from a music video). These guys just weren’t cool to me the way somebody like, say, ZZ Top was. I loved the song, though, and its follow-up “I’ll Wait,” and its follow-up “Panama.” I loved them so much that when I finally got the album these songs were coming from, 1984, it was something of a disappointment, as it turned out that I hated half the songs on it as much as I loved the other half. I had that experience again and again as I explored Van Halen’s catalog, both their older work and then the post-1984 era when Sammy Hagar — who I knew from his solo record Three Lock Box — replaced Roth as the band’s lead singer. As it happened, the stuff I didn’t like was almost always the songs where Eddie indulged himself with long solos that I understood were technically impressive, but just tended to irritate me. I much preferred the more radio-friendly tunes where melody dominated over show-off shredding.

However, given enough time, it’s not unusual for things that formerly annoyed you to become familiar, then comfortable, and then sometimes even beloved, and that’s what happened with me and Eddie Van Halen. His music and his sound were so ubiquitous during my coming-of-age years, such an enormous part of the soundtrack of my youth, that I gradually found myself warming to them, coming to understand what he was doing and why it mattered. (I underwent a similar process with Prince, another GenX icon I just didn’t “get” when he was in his prime.)

And then one day, five years ago, I found myself at an outdoor concert venue on a sticky summer night, clapping and screaming along with everyone else as Eddie and Diamond Dave stalked each other on an enormous stage during one of their occasional reunion tours. If I remember correctly, they didn’t finish that tour; tensions between Eddie and Dave tore them apart before the end, just as they had all those years before. I think my city was one of their last stops before it all went south. But whatever happened after they played Salt Lake, the motors were ticking along like clockwork that night at Usana Amphitheater. Eddie was 60 years old at the time. He looked trim and healthy. He looked happy, a handsome man in a plain white shirt whose youthful arrogance and pretension and rock-star bullshit had long ago been burned away by experience. He was an elder statesman in full control of his skills and his instrument, his fingers moving across the strings and frets seemingly without effort, simply a joy to behold.

I’m glad I got the chance to see him at that stage of his life. The band itself may have been past its prime, but it felt like Eddie Van Halen was just coming into his. I’m sorry he’s gone only five years later.
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