9-11-21: Twenty Years Later

I have dreaded today in the back of my mind for weeks, months even…

September 11, 2001 was one of the single most difficult days of my life, and admittedly I didn’t even have it all that bad compared to many. But as a Jersey resident working directly across the river from World Trade and frequent commuter into downtown Manhattan who’s soon-to-be wife and many friends worked and studied there as part of their daily routines the sudden jolt of watching everything unfold in front of me in real time was a lot to take in. The subsequent days, weeks, months, and even years that it took life to unfold back to a ‘new normal’ represented emotional and physical challenges I still cannot fully put into words all these years later

In an all too cliche way, NYC’s music scene captured this sentiment before it happened because in an all too real way, that’s what being a tri-stater has always been about:

These eyes have seen inhuman sights
I hold my breath with all my might
Like anyone else in our own hells
It seems obscene, the things I’ve seen
I hold my breath with all my might
These eyes have seen inhuman sights

Biohazard, “These Eyes”

The sugar coated patriotism that has occurred on each anniversary of the event disgusts me.

We were a divided nation back then.

And this bullshit notion that we came together then, therefore need to continue to pretend to also come together again for one day a year bothers me almost as much as all the tortured memories of that day. I hate, hate, hate the misrepresentation of the moment and every year I get more fed up by the gaslighting as I become more and more aware of what recovery from the tragedy means to me.

For those of you who are more accustomed to some semblance of eloquence, I ask for your patience in advance as this post will certainly be an open meandering thoughsplatter and not a train on rails to a destination.

The dot-com boom-and-bust created an enormous schism in the economy between the haves and have nots that many of the underprivileged never recovered from during the subsequent economic expansion during the housing bubble. This was underscored by the reaction to the Y2K bug threat and dramatic differences in how different parts of the population were able to prepare.

Then there was the “recovery” from the Newt Gingrich lead scorched earth political landscape created out of a parallel anit-RINO movement of American Conservatism and the partisan politricking that turned the Whitewater Investigation into an infidelity scandal designed not just to discredit the Clintons but take down the Democratic Party.

Finally, there were still the lingering effects of social injustice that came to a head a decade before with the brutality inflicted on Rodney King by the LAPD and were resurfaced by the NYPD’s assault on Amadou Diallo and Philadelphia PD’s attack on Thomas Jones, as well as string of high profile LGBT assaults and murders that were mishandled by the police at a time when LBGT oppression was beginning to be challenged after a decade of draconian anti-LGBT laws were passed.

9-11 looked, from the perspective of red-white-and-blue tinted glasses, like the coming together of a nation struggling to deal with those turbulent, and long running issues. And, for a brief-and-fleeting moment it very well may have felt that way for many, if not most, Americans.

The reality though, is that didn’t last long.

We, as a diverse people naturally re-sorted ourselves into nice little niches once again and probably much more quickly than we are willing to admit.

Conservative ruralites quickly went back to hating on their liberal urban counterparts.

Whites quickly went back to hating on black and brown people, particularly those of non-Christian beliefs and North African, Middle-Eastern or Indian sub-continent ethnicities.

The wealthy quickly went back to hating on the homeless, jobless and downtrodden.

The national goodwill toward the Tri-State Metro of NYC/NN/CT and the DMV of DC/MD/NoVA quickly dissolved into partisan hackery in Congress where conservatives sought to bypass recovery funds to those liberal metro regions in order to pad the aid to annual southern and midwestern natural disaster events, and reallocate anti-terrorism funds to middle-of-nowhere mid-west and southern ruralities that could never be viable targets of international terror in the first place cutting off those desperately needed infrastructure funds to those urban economic centers.

Meanwhile, those empowered by this false sense of patriotism ignorantly attacked non-whites in vigilante fashion, including mistaking Sikhs and Jews for Muslims who, in their minds had become public enemy #1. Ethnic cultural centers and religious institutions, especially mosques, became targets not only for conservative hate groups by by the local and federal policing institutions. And, cancel culture became all the rage on the right in an attempt to relocate anyone or anything perceived to be Islamic or Middle Eastern, including stopping the construction of a long planned mosque in lower Manhattan led, in part, by a bunch of out-of-staters who had no real interest in New York itself.

The entirety of the war on terrorism was distilled down to stupid and predictable cliches that ignored the complexity of the region. Lies about terrorist outposts in Afghanistan covered up the reality that many of the terrorists were Saudi nationals trained through what were likely decades old US-fed anti-communism programs to counterbalance the USSR’s attempts at influence in the region after WWII. Lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq perpetuated the Bush family feud with Sadam Hussein.

And, the complexity of the situation over the subsequent years on became exacerbated by the continual funding a corrupt Saudi government, the collapse of Syria’s government into a multinational civil war, the authoritarian takeover of Turkey complicating their relationship as a NATO ally, Bibi’s hard right swing in authoring Israeli politics, the Arab Spring movement particularly in Egypt, the Russian reassertion of power after a nearly 20 year sabbatical due to the collapse of the USSR, and more. Much of which was misrepresented not just to the general US population but even within the intelligence community there appears to have been some whitewashing and gaslighting that blurred the approach and probably made bad situations worse while simultaneously padding too many contractors pockets.

Ultimately, out of this sense of “patriotism” came an Us-versus-Them mentality. The United States versus the Terrorists.

But who were the Americans?

Who were the Terrorists?

It wasn’t as easy to distinguish as what we might have been led to believe. How is it one minute someone with a US citizenship can be American and can hold a candle in unity mourning the loss of life and human innocence in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy but the next day because they happen to have a non-Christian belief, or live in a big city, or have a non-European heritage, they suddenly are less American and targets of vitriol and hate?

Ironically, compared to so-called mask mandates and mandatory vaccines in which faux-patriots fiend oppression, the actual liberty and freedoms stripped from everyone under the Patriot Act and a half dozen other regulatory controls put in place in the wake of 9-11 and twenty years later remain fixtures in our daily lives remain downright frightening yet all too often overlooked even by those most negatively affected by them. Citizens, in an attempt to protect themselves, ceded their identity and became, in principle, potential enemies of the state itself.

The paranoia that 9-11 fostered was WAY more effective in dividing us than the terrorist act was in unifying us but we were sold a bill of lies in the days, weeks, and months after that has become part of the collective conscious similar to the lies we tell ourselves about other aspects of American mythology like Christopher Columbus discovering America, the Pilgrims and Native Americans at the First Thanksgiving, Washington with rag-tag volunteers single handedly defeating the Red Coats, Honest Abe and the Golden Apple, and dozes of other tall tales and patriotic folklore barely rooted in reality.

I was here in New Jersey and experienced both the absolute best, and worst, of humanity in those first few years. I recall some of the most selfless acts of kindness among strangers coming together to overcome immeasurable odds. I recall some pretty awful moments as well, things its taken me years to come to terms with an become willing and able to talk about, including things that were said and done to be because of ignorant misconceptions by my own ‘neighbors’ in North Jersey at the time.

Twenty years later and as a nation we’ve literally learned nothing.

We’re still bickering about the same shit we were then.

There’s still aweful police brutality.

There’s still an enormous wealth inequaltiy.

There’s still outragous anti-LGBT sentiment.

There’s even more middle eastern xenophobia and islamophobia now than there had been then

There’s even an entirely new level of partisan politricking about Afghanistan, and Iraq, and a half dozen other countries in the Middle East that’s rooted in antagonistic domestic idealism instead of a wholistic understanding of the complexities of the region itself.

And, there’s still a bunch of facist-leaning murikkkanz that would just as soon let 9-11 happen again if it meant one fewer libtard for them to have to deal with, thus reinforcing 9-11 unity is just a lie we tell ourselves about what patriotism really means.

Truly breaks my heart as a survivor to experience how it has been commoditized. To see it coopted. To find it repackaged and remarketed.

I’m still not OK from having witnessed it. From dealing with the near misses and close encounters among family and friends. From living and working and going to school in and around the shadow of ground zero in the immediate aftermath and throughout the twenty years since constantly being triggered by the sights, sounds, smells and inexplainable ‘feelings’ that go with it. And, I’m not going to get any better by being gaslit about what that experience was by those who want to drape a flag over it and call it their own from a distance.

I honestly just want to crawl under the covers today and avoid the pom and circumstance that will surround the 20th anniversary because as a country we didn’t take the good parts of the aftermath of 9-11 and exemplify that as a foundation to rebuild upon so we could celebrate the achievement of lasting unity as a United States despite how much of the memoralizing will be positioned. No, instead, we allowed the ill aspects of that experience to fester creating two long, exhausting and fruitless wars, a deterioration of our civil liberties, a further fostering of our racist and xenophobic undertones, and a widening political divide built upon the perception that the other party is ironically less-American (whatever the fuck they each incorrectly defines being American in the first place.)

Forgive me if I sound jaded and unappreciative, but this is MY reality and I am NOT wrong for feeling this way. Two decades of bullshit surrounding 9-11 helped create this notion that makes me feel hurt, and angry, and fearful well beyond the original hurt, anger, and fear I initially experienced.

I’ll look back and recall fondly those few moments of coming together. The candle light vigils in the courtyard of the apartment complex I lived in. Seeing the original beams of light from a side road overlooking the meadowland’s swamp. Attending the delayed CMJ conference and working with the Firefighters across the street from one of the venues we were presenting at. Riding the PATH train through the Pit for the fist time when those tracks first reopened on the way to class.

But, I am now much more capable of also looking back and recalling those terrible moments of the United States tearing itself apart at the seams at the exact same time.

It is possible for an event to have two, or more, experiences attached to it and we would do well as a nation to allow the duality of what 9-11 was to exist in both being a shining example of what unity looked like to some while also concurrently being an absolute low point in division among our citizenry and within our humanity. Until we can come to terms with that notion we are not only lying to ourselves we are doing a disservice and injustice to those who lost their lives that day and over the course of the days, weeks, months and years since. We cannot continue to perpetuate the discontinuity of what it means to be American, and moreso what it means to be human, by treating 9-11 with a false sense of unity and fellowship when the reality was there definitely was not then and does not continue to be liberty and justice for all…

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WFH WTF: The Covid Files, year two: the end is nigh

Look. I know it’s over. You know it’s over. But, technically, it’s not over, the paychecks are still supposedly rolling in, so why not continue the fun another day, or two, or week, or more.

For the record, I HATE being unemployed.

It sucks for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is the hiring bias associated with being unemployed you are forced to reckon with.

Seriously. I actually documented aspects of this last time in a spread sheet just to be sure I wasn’t crazy after feeling like this was the case in prior experiences and lo-and-behold patterns emerged. Poaching willing employees almost seems preferable to taking someone off the unemployment line in much the same way that dating someone already in an existing relationship. It’s almost like despite the infidelity they represent a proven commodity, which to any sane and rational person sounds completely idiotic but continues to be a prevalent rationalization, nonetheless.

So, despite my impending ending, I am approaching the first portion of the job search with the half-truth of having a job. After all, there’s still one last breath of hope with my current company that could work out in a future paycheck despite otherwise knowing the end is nigh.

What does this bias look like?

Well, for one, there’s this tentative ask to confirm I’m still employed. It’s coy and more in tone than phrasing per se in how they approach it and the sense of relief they seem to have when I say I’m still employed.

The next logical question is when can I be available or how much notice will I have to provide should an offer be made. That’s when I test if disclosing my hand would mean anything by turning the question back on them about how long the process will take or when they expect they could have a competitive offer prepared, etc. and compare that to the types of responses I receive if I say that the impending downsizing seems inevitable but unconfirmed at this time, compared to those who I might disclose my availability as being immediate because I’ve worked out a solution with my current employer such that they want me to be successful in my next opportunity. The responses, of course, vary based on each company’s own cultures, and the fact that there isn’t a true control to compare against, but as a trend, the most receptive companies are the ones who thing they are poaching, the next most responsive are those sympathetic to the possibility of my being released but where they still seem to think there’s a value in poaching, finally followed by those who figure they’re getting me before I hit the open market being unemployed but don’t seem nearly as excited about the conversations as those who think they’re poaching me outright.

When I’ve said I’m unemployed in the past it’s completely changed the tone of the conversations from optimism to skepticism. Comparatively, if I have a job but simply imply I might be downsized the conversation immediately pivots to if my skills are transferable to this new role, but if I disclose I don’t have a job but was previously downsized out, there’s a range of follow up questions that are designed to tease out the specifics of if it was an amicable departure and my perception the rationelle for letting me going, to the point where it sucks up precious minutes that could be better spent defining my skills against the company’s needs. To call it counter productive for both of us is an understatement, yet this dance that happens to the unemployed insinuating they should remain unemployable absolutely exists.

What’s more, is that it’s especially poignant in economic downturns.

My parents began their lives and subsequently their careers during the massive economic expansion in the US during the golden years post-world war II. The ramp up of the nation’s industry during the war to supply the war was converted to accommodating a new international landscape. First, Europe’s economies were decimated from having fought two massive land wars inside of 30 years and Asia, particularly Japan, was decimated from WWII as well. The US not only faced no major international competition for its goods and services, it was, in essence, the only remaining provider for many of those things for several years after the war across the world. The head start American goods and services had on their European and Asian counterparts to begin the second half of the last century was immense. Combine that with the baby boom and suburban sprawl that occurred when American soldiers returned from the war which provoked massive consumerism and, of course, the US economy not only exploded, but was sustained for the better part the next 30 years.

The first real taste of national economic (dis)stress they experienced didn’t arrive till the mid 70s “stagflation” as a convergence of insanely corrupt domestic politics (hello Nixon) with massive shifts in international economics undermined the mirage of American might. The failings of the Viet nam war, the rise of OPEC’s power, the effects of European and Asian economies having finally recovered post-war were only part of the problem the US was facing at the time.

A veneer of economic success under the early Reagan administration helped drag the US out of the 1970s doldrums. It didn’t last long. Conservative economic policy helped undermine the middle class as well as to destabilize many of the safety nets that held up much of business at the time. By the end of the decade another economic travesty hit, led in part by the S&L scandal.

From there the economic failures continue at a frenetic pace while the recoveries become slower and less inclusive.

While the recovery during the Clinton administration, which really didn’t pick up till mid-decade, was lauded at the time, it was not without problems. The massive economic expansion, aided by the government, helped overheat several markets while nothing was really done to help middle class labor which continued to erode and there were as many programs that inherently hurt the poor as there were to help.

The boom lasted less than a decade. A combination of Y2K hysteria, the dot-com bubble burst and the 9-11 terror attacks essentially destroyed much of what was created for growth in the latter half of the 90s in only a couple of years.

Less than a decade from the initiation of the dot-com bust, and without having definitively demonstrated it’s actual recovery, the housing bubble collapsed crafting an economic incisement in which the haves recovered but the have nots did not continued for what seemed like almost a decade, to the point where for three consecutive presidential elections (2008, 2012 and 2016) middle class and working class recovery was a focal point of debate that is still philosophically underpinning our latest economic threat, the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Baby Boomers complain about economic instability, but they inherited economic stability from 1945 until about the mid-to-late-1970s, or about 30 years and collectively turned it into a 30 year fiasco of uneveness that began in the late 80s and continues to present date. This has left the Millennials and Zoomers at a severe disadvantage compared to their parents and grandparents while late Gen Xers like myself continue to struggle against headwinds our parents and many of our bosses still cannot fathom despite the supposed headstart we have on our younger peers.

I bring this up because it too plays a functional role in how I am perceived in the marketplace of jobs.

When you’re involved in unemployment during an upswing everyone just assumes, it seems, you’ll be pulled into the upswing too, so the focus is less on your past and more on your future, as if there’s this false assumption that you have something to offer the future because everyone is thinking these bright happy thoughts. But, when you’re laid off on the downturn, you get caught in the downturn cycle as if you are a personal contributor to it and are to blame for it, so you aren’t given the same kind of credibility for your skills no matter how amazing they are, as if, if they were so amazing you couldn’t’ve been downsized or laid off in the first place.

Then there’s some wackass age perception bias that isn’t actually based on physical age as much as it is some stereoptype about your overarching generational appeal: If I present too old I am considered, in my field, outdated if I am unemployed, as if to say I have an inability to keep up with the times despite continuing to negotiate my career successfully through the worst of them. If I present too young I am considered not seasoned enough to deal with the headwinds that continue to present in the marketplace. Yet, because of the constant turbulence over the last 20 or so years in the wake of the dot-com/Y2K/9-11 trifecta of shit no one has any fucking idea of how the hell to evaluate anyone’s career, not the least of which those who’s careers were birthed out of that nonsense.

So, here I am spinning a ball of yarn about tying together this and that, one thing and another, in an attempt to explain my very normal career trajectory to a vast majority of people who still seem to have this unrealistic notion of extremes when evaluating employability in what otherwise seems like a feeble attempt at leveraging their biases as such despite there being literally zero replicable proof the employability stereotypes hold true in the real world.

In the end, I’m either going to fulfil your open position, or I’m not. But, my current state of employment is not one of the defining factors in how that will occur.

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WFH WTF: The Covid Files, year two: the end is here

No, not the end of the Pandemic.

It’s the end of Work From Home What the Fuck once again.

No, I’m not returning to the office.

I’ve been downsized out of my position as the company I was with the last two years pivots away from what I’ve been doing and onto other priorities. As far as I was told, it wasn’t about any of my personal performance in the position but, rather, the convergence of a number of factors both external and internal which found not only the division I was working pivoting but a large part of the company making similar moves due to shifts in the competitive landscape, continuing headwinds from Covid economics, and new opportunities from adjoining revenue streams.

It’s been an interesting two years, to say the least.

The initial purpose in joining the company was to have a dedicated resource focus on the subscription product which had been neglected for a number of months and prior was, from my understanding, just a pet project of upper management that was spun up as an aside to the display advertising business on the site. It took me a couple of months to evaluate where the product was at, propose some opportunities, roadmap and spec out the accepted changes by management and the board and then get started on the release process with the designers and developers.

It was really exciting to have complete ownership of the revenue stream and I believed at the time this was the exact challenge I needed at this point in my career. There were definitely at lot of challenges early on, but for a new ‘department’ trying to completely redefine a product no one other than me had experience with much of that was to be expected and people seemed genuinely interested in learning and building with me.

No sooner did it seem like we had everything underway and Covid hit completely upending the subscription product’s performance.

It’s taken me several weeks to come to terms with the fact that this wasn’t my fault and be mostly OK with the results having done the best I could with the circumstances at hand. But, honestly there’s still a part of me that feels like I was a failure because I didn’t make it work.

Prior to my taking over, subscriber growth was upside down, underwarter and otherwise ass backwards, meaning there was greater churn than acquisition, thus the base was deteriorating, and the trend had predated the seasonality of the slow summer I joined after. The existing “test,” if you could call it that, was an ad-supported experience with voluntary subscription for ad-free versus an access paywall that forced the subscription for access with the addition of ad-free. Both versions of the experience had problems, but it there was a bit of a philosophical decision regarding product branding influencing dropping the paywall restriction influencing the decision process as well as the negativity we saw in the numbers.

Dropping the paywall almost immediately crushed acquisition, as was expected, because passively asking consumers to go ad-free wasn’t going to drive enough users into the funnel compared to forcing them there with the paywall. This was partially offset because the voluntary opt-in customers that already were in the base had longer lifetimes and lower voluntary churn which we hoped would scale with it’s application to the entire customer base. The theory was we could then improve upon the offer, making it more robust than just a basic play ad-free experience to provide a greater incentive for acquisition and a better reason to continue renewing.

In practice this was true, retention did improve, in part, due to improvements in the subscription product. However, we spent nearly a year testing on-site messaging touchpoints, browser push and social messaging, sign up flow design, and produced a half dozen new features enhancements for subscribers along with the usual price and positioning tests and never found the right combination to truly scale the acquisition performance. Tweaks here and there were able to improve the overall site visitor conversion to paid, but there were several underlying issues with the site’s typical visitor base’s convertibility that were exacerbated by the erratic site volume experienced due to Covid.

At one point we pivoted some of the features from strictly subscription driven to unlock via incentivized advertising which did help marginally improve revenue. However, scaling the watch-to-unlock experience proved tricky both in optimizing our ad partner and committing internal resources to develop out the custom unlock experience against other priorities, especially traffic recovery due to Covid, the shutdown of Flash, changes in Google’s search, and more.

In the meantime, improved customer communications specifically targeting churn supplemented the retention efforts and produced some fantastic results including a nine month reduction in care complaints and a lifetime value that more than doubled for the monthly subscription (at one point it was running nearly 3x for nearly six straight months).

However, the reality of trying to market the subscription product to a core visitor base where the primary consumer might not be the paying customer were greater than we could overcome when faced regulatory challenges around COPPA (and to a lesser degree CCPA, GDRP and others) that limited the type of data we could collect, how we could market with it to provide product personalization especially during the acquisition phase, and even how we could analyze our users overal;.

At some point, generic, untargeted messaging to unsegmented organic users will hit a conversion wall and we got there rather quickly at each phase of testing. This meant that there was a lack of sustained new user growth to the point where although an equilibrium was eventually reached with churn such that the base was no longer rapidly deteriorating, it also wasn’t really growing in a meaningful way either. I brought this sad reality to my CEO, who brought my analysis to the board and we all decided the subscription wasn’t working and it was time to move on.

Thankfully, my CEO and the board all agreed it was not for lack of performance on my part. Everyone seemed somewhat satisficed with the process even if the results fell short. They agreed to shift my role in the company to a new product they wanted to test. There were only a handful of competitors in the market but none covered the niche that our existing product line appeared to overlap with and the company wanted to investigate potential viability to enter into the space

To be honest, the structure of my employment from here on out was a bit chaotic and perhaps in light of that I should have been more valiant in my effort to secure a new source of income, but I really liked working for the company on the whole and had hopes for where I was being shuffled to next.

The product was truly in a proof-of-concept MVP phase and while it was a good idea in theory progress was stifled by resourcing shortfalls as well as internal disagreements about the definition of the product and it’s positioning. Despite these issues, I was able to provide a foundation for testing price and positioning over the course of a couple of months that proved the initial hypothesis about market viability. Unfortunately, for me, the company moved quickly to purchase a competitor who was better positioned to move us into the space than further building out the MVP I was working on so my part of the project was shuttered.

From there I was offered the opportunity to consult with another division in the company on their subscription product. They had not intended on hiring a subscription product manager but potentially could have open headcount in the budget in the second half of the year if the opportunity worked out. As you can guess, it didn’t.

Their subscription product had largely been ignored over the previous year due to resources being dedicated to a site reconfiguration and the effects of Covid. When I came in it wasn’t clear what their goal for consumer subscriptions was, since they were in parallel working on creating an enterprise product, a transactions a la carte purchasing product, and testing investing in paid acquisition as a traffic driver to supplement their eroding organic traffic which would, at a minimum, support the display ad portion of the business.

Evaluating their business against the competitive landscape, their own internal analytics, and the existing budget to set a short term roadmap centered around developing a series of reporting upgrades, feature enhancements, price and positioning tests, marcom improvements and more was a lot of fun. Establishing the competitive benchmarks, soliciting user feedback and evaluating the new data we were collecting and then write the project specs for each roadmap component and then seeing them through production and release with the different teams involved was a fantastic challenge not dissimilar to why I’d joined the company originally.

Alas, my consultancy with them was designed to be temporary and even though it felt like we made good progress in a relatively short period of time there was no realistic way they could keep me on board.

Then the disappointment of the reality I was being let go really set in. Everyone I worked with kept emphasizing they liked working with me and that this wasn’t a reflection of my skills. They would say they learned a lot from me and were impressed with my knowledge and ideas. Many have offered to provide recs for me as I move on. Yet, it’s been really difficult to internalize those compliments against the backdrop of not actually having a job anymore.

I’m not sure what it means for me moving forward.

While this isn’t the first time in my career I’ve been downsized, it’s one of the tougher ones to come to terms with because it’s one of the rare times I didn’t accomplish the goals I set forth with for myself when I took the job.

I expected I would come away having improved my knowledge of product management and marketing from completely owning the profit side of P&L. I wanted to set OKRs and budgets and then best them. I wanted to successfully grow a revenue stream of my own instead of merely being support to someone else’s vision.

Instead, I figured out how the loss side of P&L works. I miss forecast budgets and then missed hitting them while the OKRs ended up out of wack half the time. And, every explanation I have for it feels much more like excuse making than anything else leaving me feeling half the time like an imposter despite my years of education and experience in product and marketing.

Perhaps I am being too hard on myself. A combination of unrealistic expectations and insurmountable challenges from forces well beyond my, or the company’s, control ultimately did it in. And, failure to support a hypothesis is ALWAYS an option. The company, not just me, bet on subscriptions potentially working. It’s not like they’re replacing me with someone else to take over subscriptions, they are pivoting from them, having come to the same conclusion I did reviewing all the available data, not just for my original division but across large parts of the entire company.

So, now the search is on… where do I go next

What I’m listening to:

Actually, the air has been pretty quiet as of late.

Spinning on vinyl: King Cole on the Piano, the 10″ 33 RPM pressing that has been sitting out next to the record player for ages turns out to be a great, relaxing listen that calms even the craziest of padawan at times

Watching on YouTube: the Maiden videos, including some live performances, inspired by the padawan’s infatuation with the recent release of “the Writing on the Wall” and it’s my all time fave band while doesn’t hurt

CD: High on Fire, particularly the “Blessed Black Wings” promo EP because that wall of sound thunder they produce helped make me feel infinitely better

Digital: Ministry, the whole catalog of on shuffle, but I’d be remiss to not admit it almost always beings with something crushing from Psalm 69 because if that driving pulse doesn’t corse through your veins as Uncle Al lays it down maybe nothing will

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WFH WTF: The Covid Files, year two: Fireworks

I find it ironic that the Chinese, a culture despised by ye olde timey Americans and modern Trumpublikkkans alike, essentially invented fireworks and the xenophobic ‘murikkka crowd can’t seem celebrate without them.

Seriously, between a shortage of the pyrotechnics coming out of China, the #1 modern producer, due to the pandemic, the diminished local budgets due to lower tax receipts during the pandemic, and a greater appreciation for the unintended affects of fireworks many municipalities have decided to forego the grandiose fireworks this year even if the supposed ‘end’ of the pandemic appears in sight.

Why forgo fireworks, you might ask?

Well, for one, as a use of funds, fireworks have to be one of the most expensive forms of entertainment municipalities can fund. According to several pyrotechnics sites the typical cost for a municipal display can run between 2-10,000$ for between 15-30 minutes of pyrotechnics and that’s just for the fireworks themselves without any of the other support for presenting the display itself which depending on the location is between 1-5,000$ more. Although most events may require it too, fireworks usually include extra costs for insurance, plus overtime for fire, ems, police, sanitation, etc. as well as any other services like extra lighting, sound systems, staging, etc that go with the display itself, which can run between 3-10,000$ just to set up for a short before-during-after of the fireworks alone. Think about it, on the low end here we’re talking about a town potentially dropping maybe as low as 8,000$ but potentially as high as 30,000$ for no more than 30 minutes of taxpayer funded entertainment. Now, consider this, as of the 2020 census the minimum threshold for a ‘town’ was 3,000 residents, and while the average is tough to come by because of the wide variance of how different jurisdictions will define them the average is over 5,000. That means the inexpensive display runs each person in town about 1.60$ for less than 30 minutes of entertainment whether they attend or not. These figures rise if the fireworks “event” is more than just fireworks, such as a concert in the park, etc. and it gets much, much more expensive the more one is willing to add to the celebration.

Want to know what else 1.60$ could buy?

A lot of school lunches. How many? Well, the USDA claims the average school lunch costs between 2.50-2.75$ per meal depending on the age range and the Federal Government will subsidize for the average district between over 50% of their total cost based on Federal eligibility standards based on individual household income. That means the district is on the hook for about 1.38$ per meal without any other assistance. Well, let’s assume that same 3,000 person town has a school system would have an under 18-population of under 1,000 based on the most recent age distributions from the census, and most of those would be eligible to attend public school and an average of half qualify for the Federal aide. That would mean, without means testing at the local level, about 500 kids cost 687.50$ and 500 kids cost 1.375$ for a total of 2,063$ to feed for a day after the Fed cover their part. The cost of the fireworks could pay for a week of meals, at a minimum, which is not an insignificant contribution to the community as it covers 2.5% of the non-Fed subsidized costs. The more expensive the display and the fewer children that are in need of free food the more the offset is, to the point where in most towns means-challenged individuals could never worry about food while the town forgoes just one firework event.

Beyond the direct financial cost, there’s secondary costs, in money and more.

Take, for example, that fireworks have a huge negative effect on many who suffer from PTSD from either military or municipal 911 related services (fire, ems, police, etc). Up to 8% of the population or about 26,000,000 people in the US suffer from some form of PTSD according to the CDC and from the VA statistics roughly 33% of the total PTSD population will incur PTSD because of ‘time served.’ While we don’t know if all the time served numbers are military combat related as a proxy to the population as a whole the types of things that might make a combat vet triggered would also affect 911 related services (fire, ems, police, etc). which means a minimum of almost 9 million people nation wide, or about 75 people in each 3,000 person town, who served their communities could be negatively affected by the fireworks. F

For a bunch of fucking patriots that’s some goddamned bullshit. It’s disrespectful to every single person who has served and acknowledges they cannot handle the flash bang but it’s selfishly shitty to all those how served and don’t know or don’t understand what triggers them. I am positive I have family members that fall in the latter category and i’m also fairly certain they tried to put on a good face while silently suffering through it because they thought everyone else expected them too.

Then, there are the patriots who claim to be pro-life.

These people are ignorant or narrow minded. Because there is nothing pro-life about what happens post fireworks.

First, lets looks at the stats above about PTSD. Did you know that Independence Day week is among the highest rates of suicide among both military and 911 related services (fire, ems, police, etc). While asking someone who is contemplating suicide what their reason is isn’t something that can be measured here, among the organizations that do track it the triggering effect of fireworks ranks among the top underlying reasons. sure, there’s some interpretation but even if a small percentage of all PTSD blamed it on Independence day municipal fireworks it would be in the order of several thousand, for some towns that could, and anecdotally is the majority of their vet population.

Second, lets look at the stats on how it affects expecting mothers. One in Five it is estimated will end in miscarriage in the first trimester according to the Mayo Clinic and layering that over the expected rates related to things like PTSD more than 50% of miscarriages could be attributed to some form of PTSD. Interesting correlation, is that almost 60% reported of miscarriages occur within weeks of major holidays such as after Christmas and Thanksgiving, likely due to the stressors during that time. Interestingly enough, correlatively, Independence Day is among the top five holidays as well, though more research would be needed to call it outright causation.

However, if we look at what is known to happen among animals around this time, the correlation at least seems to make some potential sense.

Miscarriages and delivery complications among domestic animals spike twice a year in North America accordioning to ASCPA data among other groups and while the early Jan data remains consistent, probably an effect of stressors from December holiday celebrations, the secondary dates all seem to apply to similar fireworks related celebrations internationally, including a spike in July in the United States that correlates to Independence day.

This is consistent with other data that shows the adverse affects of fireworks on wildlife in general. Abandoned fledglings, as counted by a number of studies across a wide range of animals, spike around times of major fireworks displays. Beyond speculation and anecdotal evidence, there’s actual studies around the effects of lights, sounds, and smells that accurately predict how and when wildlife are most likely to flee, and the combination of lights, sounds and smells of fireworks are the perfect combination to produce such activity.

Further to the effects on humans and on wildlife, there’s adverse effects to the environment.

First, consider the industrial pollution in the creation of fireworks, including sourcing the materials, manufacturing and distribution, and then second, consider the entertainment created pollution not just in the firework display itself which can hard the air, ground and nearby waterways but also the impact on the display viewing area in terms of automotive exhaust, trash, trampling of fields, etc.

All of these environmental costs are easy to overlook at the expense of some patriotic entertainment when considering how much alcohol is typically imbibed for Independence Day (among one of the top five drinking holidays in the US) but they quickly add up.

For example, the American produces 4.4 pounds trash per day according to the EPA resulting in 30.63 million tons of food, 26.82 million tons of plastic, 18.35 million tons of paper and more reaching landfills each year. Some independent environmental groups take those estimates further looking at some of the contributing factors to trash production and summer BBQs and related picnic events are among the top contributors to waste since little of it actually ends up composted, recycled or otherwise reused. Thus, it’s no surprise as well that Independence Day celebrations are are in the top three for these type of trash events as the celebrations are large, public gatherings that last hours, typically beginning with parades in the morning and ending with the fireworks displays late into the evenings.

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WFH WTF: The Covid Files, year two: Luca

We watched Pixar’s Luca the other day, as did apparently half the TV viewing world. It was a really well written, well animated feature length animation that had everything you really want out of a script aimed for families: humor, adventure, a lesson.

That last part, however, has, of course, waded right into the deep end of the culture wars.

Is Luca a LBGT allegory? And, maybe more to the point, was anyone actually gay?

Well, for starters, we’re going to have to go with the writers intent here and since the writing team say they didn’t write it to be a LBGT allegory. So, from that perspective any LGBT themes derived from it in that regard are brought in by the viewer and their world perspective and not directly from the writers.

That’s fine. Literature and film are littered with examples of readers and viewers superimposing their own experiences and beliefs onto the interpretation of works and that has not made those critiques any less valid. Critiquing literature and film is very much a personal and subjective affair, and the broader context of how a work is viewed by society as a whole is every bit as important as the original concept of the creator themselves. Few, if any, works truly exist in a vacuum, and any work displayed becomes the sum of all its impressions and not just that of the creator.

Luca, in this regard is no different. If someone sees an LGBT allegory in it, they are not wrong, because from their perspective it is just that. And, what’s interesting to me is that it isn’t just LGBT people who experience it as an allegory, nor just people on the liberal left, it is a broader swath that includes the conservative religious and ideologically right leaning viewers that seem to have come to similar conclusions.

Of course, what each is doing with those conclusions is a completely different situation. It’s one that cuts across predictive culture war lines where some hold the idea in high value while others want to boycott and cancel it. I’m not going to get into picking sides here, as I think both have approached it with significantly less tact than would have been best served, but I will say it’s the small, but exceedingly vocal conservative cancel culture approach that personally bothers me. If conservatives have a problem with it they can either chose not to view it, or chose to use it as a teaching moment for ANY of the other lessons that the film represents instead of lingering on the LGBTQ allegory that the authors so far has said isn’t there anyhow. By harping on it, conservatives only further ingrain the theme they despise which seems stupid and counterproductive.

To me, Luca is more than just an allegory to LGBTQ, it is a reckoning with how all (pre)adolescents come of age.

While many have chosen to try and look at Luca through the lens of youthful innocence and try to claim that it is about plutonic friendships the fact of the matter is children as young as elementary school already have an understanding of non-plutonic relationships. The puritanical approach to American interpretations of love and lust cloud our own recollections of how we felt as children about other children. Pre-pubescent elementary school kids engage in pairing off as couples complete with the physicality of first kisses and emotional crushes that include the elation of being together and the healing that comes from breaking up.

Quite typical for pre-adolescents, the lead character Luca appears to have a crush on Guilia and vice versa, Guilia appears to have a crush on Luca as well. Many of-age viewers might recall those kinds of crushes from their own past, where there was clearly an attraction even if it wasn’t something that manifest as a physical nature. While it is possible for boys and girls, or men and women, who identify as cishet to have non-sexual relationships with one another and remain platonically friendly there appears to be something more going on between Luca and Guilia than just two kids being regular friends. There’s a tension and a bonding that goes on many viewers can relate to as part of their first experiences of attraction beyond friendship many of which probably began as young as how Luca and Guilia are portrayed.

The problem is that, as a society, when we talk about attraction we tend to both over-emphasize the importance of sex as part of physical attraction and think of it purely on the binary of it’s either sex or it’s not. The reality is that physical attraction, as many of us probably experienced if we really thought about it, is more than just intercourse, or physical intimacy and that we experience of range of both physical and emotional responses to being physically attracted (or repelled as the case may be) by another human being. Attraction, therefor exists on a spectrum that crosscuts a wide range of psychophysical responses and that our early childhood crushes do indeed fall on that spectrum. There’s a tension about how Luca and Guilia interact that captures some of that attraction on the spectrum subtext where it isn’t purely sexual because, of course, neither are being portrayed of an age where they probably would engage in that in the first place. But, just because they aren’t going to jump one another’s bones doesn’t mean that they are not experiencing an attraction quite normal and natural for children of their age.

Further, as a society, we experience this same over-emphasis of love and place it on a strict binary when we talk about love where it can either be sexual or platonic. There’s an overwhelming belief that people are either in love where there’s a romance that is bound to sexuality or we are in love purely platonically were there is no romantic, and thus no sexual element when the truth is probably more like that love exists on a spectrum that can include aspects of lust, romance, friendship and more. Again, many of the interactions between Guilia and Luca come across as the typical youthful emotional crush that transcends a pure, innocent friendship of two kids that are strictly platonically together.

There do need to be models for strong, non-sexual, non-romantic cishet relationships in film and literature because there aren’t enough good ones out there for men and women to look at and learn from (either in film or in real life). And, trying to portray Luca and Guilia in that way isn’t wrong either. I can absolutely understand how one would draw that conclusion through their interactions in the film as well.

Where it becomes problematic is that this idea that Luca and Guilia might be crushing on one another likely makes people uncomfortable. There’s a certain segment of society that is still in denial that kids think and feel that way. And, repressing the idea that do kids think and feel that way both undermines modeling a healthy cishet sex and romance, it doubly hurts being able to correctly model the non-sexual, non-romanic relationship as well.

Thus, it is probably even more uncomfortable to come to terms with the fact that the relationship between Luca and Guilia possibly isn’t the only youthful crush happening in the film.

There’s also Alberto and Luca.

And, like some of their precursors before them, probably most notably Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street, the relationship consists of both an outward platonic aspect and an underlying LGBTQ subtext which appeals to both those who champion the need for more quality representation of male platonic relationships and those who champion LGBTQ inclusivity.

It’s perfectly fine if that’s all you see between Alberto and Luca are two boys who are very, very good friends and want to use this as a model of quality platonic relationships between men because there are so few examples of it because of the proliferation of superficial machoism in the typical buddy-action movie. That’s actually how I’ve always personally identified with Bert and Ernie and it’s helped positively shape many of my platonic male relationships over the years.

However, it’s also equally correct if you do see the underlying crush between Alberto and Luca as well. It manifests itself very similar to the crush between Luca and Guilia. It just becomes more difficult for some people to acknowledge because it is non a cishet developed crush so while they might be open to the idea of Luca and Guilia not being purely platonic it feels more problematic to accept Alberto and Luca might not be because it requires both the leap of faith on a crush and an acceptance of LGBTQ youth.

Yet, from my perspective, there’s all the same tensions between Alberto and Luca as there are between Luca and Guilia throughout the film that do not exist between Alberto and Guilia. It’s more than just that Luca is the central figure in the film that binds the two other co-stars together, it’s that Luca has a relationship with both that neither have with one another despite both Guilia and Alberto maintaining a friendship of their own.

Friendship triangles like this happen all the time, even between otherwise platonic friends where there is a central figure and two friends competing for that central figure’s attention while not bonding as closely between themselves. So, it is perfectly fine if you’re discrediting either of the crushes and wish to view the triangle through the lens of competing platonic friends.

Except, it feels deeper than just two friends competing for the third’s attention between the three of them and that’s where the subtext of crushes really comes into play for me. The tension doesn’t exist between Alberto and Guilia because Alberto is gay and Guilia is straight and they aren’t experiencing the same range of emotions for one another. Luca on the other hand comes off as Bi. There seems to be an underlying attraction between both he and Guilia as well as he and Alberto that has many of the same traits and is portrayed leveraging many of the same innuendos.

For me, this was an interesting revelation to come to as someone who has struggled to define just that kind of feeling for years. I’ve never been in a friend triangle like what Luca’s experiencing but I have been attracted to both men and women for as long as I can recall. It just always seemed easier to deal with being attracted to women for two reasons – first the default social experience is cishet and second any time I’d ever seen a non-cishet relationship it was always gay. The idea of bi simply isn’t portrayed broadly, and when it is it’s usually from the perspective of a cishet person imparting their expectation on it.

Watching Luca struggle with how to interact with both of his friends and the tension he had to navigate between himself and Alberto as well as between himself and Guilia felt familiar. And, Luca, as a pre-pubescent youth handled each interaction very well – better than I can do now even as an adult. But that’s it too, seeing Luca as Bi and having a relationship with a boy and a girl, was very affirming and inspiring for me as an adult who had so few opportunities to see that modeled. If it can be presented in the context of young kids navigating all of that and be done as well as it is in the movie then it gives me hope for others on their way to coming out to be able to come to terms with the complexity of being Bi as well.

And, if you didn’t take the bi aspiring nature of Luca away from your first view, that’s OK. If you’re not Bi and all you know of being Bi is the caricatures and stereotypes that have been presented in the mainstream it’s very understandable you would miss it or interpret it very different from someone who has lived some of those experiences being Bi, or Pan, or more generally ‘Queer.’ (yeah, I know, there’s a lot of idiosyncrasies on the proper usage of queer, hence the quotes, since how I’ve known it used within my LGBT experiences doesn’t always align with how other LGBT communities have adopted or shunned it) . Again, there’s literally so few healthy examples of what Bi relationships could look like it’s very easy to be unable or unwilling to identify them.

Luca is a complex story. Because humans are inherently complex.

So, maybe if you weren’t thinking of it in terms of youth relationship building in general, or LGBTQ, maybe you caught the interspecies conflict and resolution as a parallel for racial and ethnic relations. It’s a pretty big deal too. And when the LGBTQ aspects haven’t been under a microscope I have heard it being discussed as a central them and culture wars touch-point.

I guess if you’re in denial about Luca and Guilia having a crush maybe you wouldn’t even pick up the implications of it being an inter-ethnic relationship which is still a major issue in society today both in how those relationships are treated in the real world and how they are portrayed in the media.

But the interethnic bonding here can, and does, transcend that of non-platonic relationships because Luca and Alberto as characters have to interact with more than just themselves and Guilia. They have the entire village to contend with and the process the writers chose in how they confront these differences draws upon a long and complex history of ethnic and cultural intermingling across the world.

While this part of the story has been portrayed a lot, both in the retelling based on real world stories of immigrants, and in the fictions created for stories like Luca, it bares continued repeating particularly at a time when there’s a great deal of social fractioning about immigrants and the integrating of cultures, etc.

At times, honestly, the portrayal in Luca was a little too neat and tidy compared to what one is more likely to experience in the real world – how others are accepted or rejected, the decision on when and why to hide versus what to make known, what aspects can be uniquely retained versus shared or integrated, etc – but it is only a single film trying to accomplish so much already and the moral of people coming together out of their differences is admirable, if a bit cliche. Despite the many dozes of examples of these story lines they are still immensely relevant because sadly there is still a great deal of racism and xenophobia in the world and purposeful portrayals such as this need to continue to happen in order to present the diversity of how xenophobic beliefs are manifest (and model what good outcomes could be like for understanding some of those ethnic and cultural divides).

But that’s also the issue with presenting these kinds of really complex ideas in kids films, be them about ethnicity, or about LGBTQ, or anything else.

What’s digestable both for kids, and unfortunately, for adults is somewhat limited. Which is why Luca has some of the limitations in dealing with LGBTQ and race which leave it open for so many interpretations of what is, or is not, occurring.

Too many adults, I think, have this notion that kids need to be protected from some of those realities, which is then carried through to how it ends up being portrayed in the media in order to not overstep the impoverished emotions and puritanical beliefs of those who are in denial of children being able to come to terms with their broader reality.

Honestly, if the children of LBGTQ people, or if LGBTQ kids themselves have to tolerate the homophobic rhetoric that is pervasive in society, if Black kids have to experience racism, or kids from other ethnicies and cultures have to experience xenophobia at a young age, as young as Luca, Alberto and Guilia are portrayed and as young as the target audience of Disney & Pixar typically is, then everyone else should be able to learn to handle the broader discomfort as well. If seeing quality interracial interactions or LGBTQ portrayed bothers you, or if the idea of xenophobia and homophobia being portrayed is uncomfortable to you, then it is on you to understand why it affects you as it does. Hiding behind your privilege will come to an end at some point, better to get that out of the way early and start teaching empathy, respect and acceptance to kids.

As we were watching it with our padawan, and in the immediate conversations following it we touched the obvious unkind behaviors of Ercole Visconti and used that as a touchpoint for branching into racism and xenophobia, and how the hiding and unveiling of the sea creatures was similar to how immigrants have had to adjust to their new homes, and so on. And ,while they probably dug the movie mostly for the cuteness of it, I think there were also things they could relate to along the way as well, and lessons they could take from it beyond the immediacy of never giving up on your dreams, and the importance of exploring and experiencing along the way.

I dug Luca a lot. Probably for a lot more and deeper reasons than the average viewer. Hopefully, conversations like this open peoples eyes more to it and help them dig it in a broader, more meaningful way too. But, if not, that’s fine too, for now, sometimes complex things can still be magical without dissecting everything.

What I’ve been listening to

I mentioned some time back I had been doing some basement CD bin dives to procure some more diversity in my listening. Seeing as how the bins were haphazardly stacked together over the course of two moves from what used to be a cross-sectional display of alphabetical, genre and autobiographical ordering it’s amazing I can actually find anything in them anymore. It’s part of what makes some of the trips into them pretty chaotic, like this one:

Clutch “Elephant Riders”
the Gathering “Souvenirs”
Fear Factory “Remanufacture: Cloning technology”
Death “Human”
Louisa Sobral “the Cherry on my Cake”
Mighty Mighty Bosstones “the Magic of Youth”

Posted in Edible & Digestable, Entertainment, music, Opinion, parenting, personal musings, the Covid Files, Today I Ate, WFHWTF | Leave a comment

WFH WTF: The Covid Files, year two: Majorly Sticky Stuff

Apparently, Major League Baseball has a sticky stuff problem.

Not that they haven’t for years, but apparently it was really bad this year because the culmination of batting metrics, pitching metrics and final scores seemed to all be reflective of pitchers having the extreme upper hand. And, while pitching is intriguing to some fans, especially purists, it is hitting – because that’s what scores runs and runs win games – that more casual fans want to see and thus the league will always work to keep in balance.

Baseball isn’t unique in this manner. All the major North American sports benefit with casual fans when there’s scoring. While goal line stands are exciting if its your team doing it, generally the biggest highlights come from touchdowns, even the mundane ones, and not stalwart defenses causing quick 3-and-outs because they boring quick for the average fan. Goalie duels in hockey and soccer can be exciting, but fast paced games with highlight reel goals definitely attract more attention. Maybe that’s because the goalies might make dozens of saves in a game where there’s only a handful of goals in total, but scoring stands out. And, basketball is completely dominated by putting the ball in the basket, not that defense is optional, but of all the sports it definitely has the least emphasis, especially for fans.

So, it’s no wonder that with batting averages, on base percentages, runs batted in, home runs and final scores all essentially down that Major League Baseball was concerned. Sure the no-hitters were piling up and those make for some good headlines too, as do epic strike outs, the reality was the underlying metrics around spin rate and to a lesser degree pitch velocity and location showed something more than just pitchers have better “stuff.”

Unless, of course, by “stuff” you mean sticky stuff to help make the ball easier to grip and this control, thus more difficult to hit.

Over the years lots of substances have been used, legally, illegally and in odd grey areas to help give pitchers, ney all athletes, some kind of competitive edge. In this case tacking up the ball is no different than using performance enhancing drugs, or corking the bat, or having an illegal stick blade, or oversized gloves, or intentionally deflating the football … among the dozens of controversies over just the last generation of the games.

Leagues know these things exist and when it’s convenient to them they’ll turn a blind eye to most of it. It’s when the balance of power shifts too far that they step in. And, for the MLB it had gone too far.

Remember, they just dealt with a major cheating scandal from the Houston Astros and are still working in the shadow of the HGH scandal at the turn of the millennium (never mind the 90s steroids era) so the insinuation that there was mass rule breaking going on among the league’s pitching, to the point where even causal fans were noticing the game had changed meant the league had to act.

So now, of course, right on cue a bunch of self-righteous, extremely rich man-babies are going to throw temper tantrums about it.

Don’t get me wrong I love good pitching. I also generally don’t mind pitchers doing shady things to get an edge.

To this day, I still have no problem with Roger Clemens having been accused of using HGH in order to help ward off injury. His form was impecable and watching him throw “Mr. Splitty” where it broke down and in at the last second so that batters helplessly swung over it again, and again, and again was a thing of beauty because his delivery was so functionally on point. Yeah, no HGH probably would have meant a lot fewer innings each season, and fewer fastballs flirting at triple digits each night, because his recovery between would have been compromised so I get the advantage it had. Lots of guys were on it too, and when they went off of it their careers adjusted. And, rightly so, the advantage was gone and they had to go from the super human ability to get on the mount every four-to-five days for 7+ inning 100+ pitch counts (or whatever the average was between starts back then for top of the rotation pitchers) with their peak stuff in the high 90s to struggling to get into the mid 90s consistently through 6 innings on 80 pitches even on an extra days rest sometimes.

I don’t even necessarily have a lot of a problem with the lying about it prior to getting caught. Why tip your hand? I mean it’s morally and ethically shitty to cheat in general, and to lie in general, but the game itself has been predicated on this since early in the last century so to expect there to be some moral or ethical code to suddenly appear seems nieve. If the perception is everyone does it (and the reality is, I’d wager, that nearly every player has some rule breaking going on, consciously or not) why would you want to call attention to yourself.

It’s this notion of these pitchers taking offense to having to prove they aren’t cheating that drives me nuts.

As the old adage goes, nothing says you’re guilty more than denying it — and the way some of these guys are they look aweful guilty.

Honestly, I love Matt Scherzer. He’s a fun pitcher to watch toss because he’s got amazing form. If he was caught putting a little extra oomph on the ball I’d have way more respect for that then the histrionics he’s displayed about being called out for potentially having done it. Like, dude, seriously, if you weren’t cheating then you probably have nothing to hide so calm the death stares down and keep your pants on. Coming off an injury, he’s got the perfect excuse if it takes a couple of games to get used to throwing without the extra tack, so why turn it into a circus on the mound?

As for Gerrit Cole? Well, when he first came over to the Yankees all we heard about was how he was one of the hardest working pitches in baseball, studying film and using advanced metrics to really optimize his approach to pitching. As a stats nerd that was so intriguing and watching him tear through lineups exploiting batters weaknesses was fun, especially since the rest of the staff at times looked so inept. But to hear him cry now about how the ball is that much more difficult to throw because he cannot tack it up the way he wants takes away from all the technical know how we were lead to believe he was exploiting. If he seriously was that ‘smart’ of a pitcher how come he sounds like my kindergartner explaining himself now?

For both of these guys, and the dozen or so other pitchers whining in press conferences or giving glimpses of their jock straps, do you think this is building any empathy among fans? Do you think it’s making your fellow players, other than the rest of your cheating pitcher comrades, respect you any more?

It’s honestly only helping reinforce the league’s suspicion that you’ve been cheating lately.

It’s only helping reinforce the idea that some of you are paid too much, like excessively more than your talents actually deserve.

It’s only helping devalue the sport that has struggled with attendance on and off for the better part of the last few decades.

And, it’s not at all making you better pitchers by doing your worst abbot and costello impressions out there.

We get it. Pitching is more difficult without cheating. If it were easy then you wouldn’t have had to cheat to get ahead in the first place. No need to overstate the obvious.

The solution is probably multifold here. The league is going to have to come up with a universal allowed sticky substance similar to how it treats the rosin bag behind the mound and mud rub down balls generally receive for the game so that there’s a perception that no individual pitcher has an unfair advantage in access over any other pitcher, and that pitchers on the whole don’t have an unfair advantage over batters, etc. And the league is going to have to come up with some way of enforcement that doesn’t unnecessarily slow the game down, and doesn’t put umps in awkward positions with enforcement, and doesn’t embarrass the frail egos of pitches when they are being checked out.

What the specifics of all that looks like is beyond my pay-grade and something for the league, the MLB-PA, and the umpires association to come together on agreements. But, whatever compromise they come to has got to be better than watching something that looks more like a suffocating fish flopping around out of water the way some of these pitchers acting right now.

Hows, the old saying go? There’s no crying in baseball.

There’s also no comedy in it unless you are Will Craig or Bill Buckner or even the venerable Babe Ruth’s failed steal in 1926.

Seriously, can you imagine if batters accused to juicing dropped their pants on the field so that everyone could see there were no needle marks in their asses?

Hopefully the goofiness will end soon and we can get back to playing baseball because these aren’t the clips I want my little t-ball players to watch and think they should emulate – little kids already have a hard time keeping their pants on without supposed adults showing them it’s ok to just drop trou anywhere.

What I’ve been listening to

The Buzzcocks, Green Day, the Clash, the Ramones, Bad Religion and H2O. Was looking for something melodic and leaning pop while still having just enough punk grit to make me want to circle pit at my desk from time to time. Must be the weather – 70s with a light breeze.

What I ate

Drank. Somewhere in the Covid Files I started to explain that I was no longer purchasing Kentucky Bourbon which was my go-to daily sipping type of whiskey. It’s a bit of a break from my family’s more Scotch-style whiskey tradition that I partake in much less these days (price and availability have a lot to do with it, but I still indulge in a good scotch from time to time). Anyway, throughout the pandemic I’ve been buying New York whiskey almost exclusively (occasionally something from bordering states makes it in) not just to support the local craft distillery scene but also to stick it to Kentucky because of the aweful representatives they keep sending to Congress.

The most interesting drinking days are always the end-of-the-bottle days ones because it’s a sip or two of everything so I get to compare them side-by-side instead of just having my usual glass or two of a single drink. I don’t think I’ve talked about any of these in prior lists so hopefully these are new to the conversation then:

Beanball Bourbon from Cooperstown Distillery in Cooperstown  – actually, slightly disappointing in that it has a lot of bite to it so it feels like a less mellow and cheaper bourbon than it is while the sweetness one expects from bourbon is way in the back and almost forgetable even though the rest of the flavor profile is quite good. And, since I needed to drink after all the insanity happening in baseball the baseball name was what initially caught my attention.
Straight Bourbon Whiskey from Current Spirits in Elmsford – locals for me which makes it especially notable, I might have written about the Straight Rye before which is also quite nice too, this has everything I want from a bourbon style whiskey including a bit of a sweet kick at the end. In today’s tasting it was the perfect middle sip.
Adirondack High Rye Bourbon from Springbrook Farms in Springbrook – as good as any of the other high ryes I’ve drank albeit a bit more expensive than what I pay for Redemption or High West when I can get them.

Posted in bacon & bourbon, Edible & Digestable, Opinion, personal musings, sports commentary, the Covid Files, Today I Ate, WFHWTF | Leave a comment

WFH WTF: The Covid Files, year two: Coming Out

University of Missouri’s Michael Sam came out several years ago, I believe during the NFL draft. It was a pretty big deal being that, to that point in the major North American professional sports leagues, there were no actively out players. A few retired players had come out and some of the second tier leagues had out players but among the upper echelon of the MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL & NASCAR there were only cishet presenting individuals.

There’s been speculation over the years that teams sidestepped signing Michael Sam because of the media circus they perceived it would bring along. And, make no mistake, it would have been a circus, even if not a single bit of it was Michael Sam’s fault.

At the time, a lot of privileged straight folks wondered aloud why it was even necessary for him to make such an announcement, the way privileged straight folks usually do when celebrities formally come out. And, although the range the inappropriate comments come from across the political and social spectrum, there’s certain ones that really do sting which is why it is, in fact, still very important for LGBTQ coming out.

So, as Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib begins his journey into being an out gay man in the NFL we will hear many of these sad refrains again.

Why is it important that those in the public eye make their sexuality known?

Because straight folks flaunt their sexuality openly without even realizing it while gay folks are expected to hide it from plain sight. Seriously, when People Magazine, E! and others can run regular spreads on the NFL’s hottest couples, when the romantic endevours can make the front pages of the gossip rags, when advertisers leverage the relationships of player’s wives and girlfriends to sell non-sports related products, and when even the league itself puts on a pedestal power couples like Brady & Bundchen the reality of being straight is in full sight.

Although, straightness isn’t always marketable – just ask the NFL how it’s feeling about Antonio Brown, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Esekiel Elliott, Kevin Allen, Darren Sharper, Dana Stubblefield, Lellen Winslow, Keith Wright, and dozens of others who were accused of being involved in domestic abuse, sexual assault, or rape, among other things, those acts are predominantly heterosexual in nature and reinforce, albeit in a negative way, the sexual relationship between men and women.

The reality is straight folks need just be who they are and their straightness is on display. They don’t have to actively do anything and it’s just there.

With celebrities and sports figures it is gossiped about. It is photographed. It is lusted over. The media and fans integrate, to some degree, the sexuality of players into their fandom without even realizing it. And, for the most part those stories about player’s relationships with their wives and girlfriends are rarely considered a distraction. Sure, sometimes the media lust for a good gossip story on a straight player’s personal life goes too far but generally speaking, unless it’s for infidelity or has a hint of criminality, the coverage is part and parcel to what is expected when it even comes up in gameday coverage on the likes of ESPN of Fox Sports talking heads.

Those who are LGBTQ don’t usually have that luxury.

Their relationships are not always on display the way straight people’s are and when gay couples do try to act the way they see their straight counterparts acting self-righteous conservatives hypocritically howl about it being inappropriate and the likes of the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, One Million Moms, and a whole bunch of other bigotry inspired so-called traditional values groups mobilize against the public displays of affection.

But being LGB+ is not just about one’s sexual preferences, or what they want to do in the bedroom. It isn’t even just about romantic relationships and who they want to be in love with. And, to reduce an LGB person coming out to who they fuck and who they marry is a pretty narrowminded view of what it means to be LGB in modern society. But it’s precisely those things that are fixated on and why it is a media circus when a celebrity or a sports figure does come out.

When an LGB person comes out they really aren’t doing anything different than what a cishet adolescent probably did whey they first discovered sexual and romantic feelings. The difference is, when a young cishet person first expresses sexual and romantic desires it is perceived as being more informal and almost casual, in a “that’s just what they do” kind of vibe, but make no mistake there are a litany of cultural and social norms around that transition into “adulthood” for straight people that impact how straight sex and straight romance is perceived.

In many cases these cultural and social norms that make the transition into acknowledging one’s sexual and romantic desires don’t exist for LGB at large. Coming out is the LGB equivalent and it feels like a formal announcement because straight culture and social normal have, in many ways, necessitated it has to be formally announced.

Ironically, it’s the forced formal announcement that then makes some straight folks uncomfortable. Granted, these are the same straight folks that are generally uncomfortable with their own sexuality and hide behind a puritanically inspired brand of modesty in the first place, so it’s little wonder that after narrowly defining LGB as acts of sex they are uncomfortable knowing if someone is LGB in the first place.

If we view LGB coming out as a broader socio-cultural construct in a parallel or complimentary fashion to how the straight community comes to acknowledge their straightness then it should take on a different meaning.

Straight folk, for better or worse, model behaviors and set expectations for other straight folk. They have come to a common understanding of how things like sex and love works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be) because even if it isn’t intentionally explicit, it exists out of the underlying nature of how societies function and cultures self-determine on the whole. So, even though straight people don’t believe they formally come out as straight the process of being publicly straight influences who other straight people both perceive themselves to be and how straight people interact with other straight people. Straight people don’t have to formally “announce” to other straight people they are straight because in a broad socio-cultural arch heteronormativity is assumed among straight people that people are straight until it is explicitly said otherwise. Since that’s what hetrosexual individuals see around them in how sexuality, romance and love is expressed, that’s what they accept they should do too.

In this context LGB people coming out seems like a more formal announcement, and in many ways it is, because any expression of LGB generally goes against the grain of the heteronormative assumption. For a straight to know someone is not straight it needs to be told to them. To reach the same point of acceptance where coming out wouldn’t have be a thing one would have to assume that queer is normalized in a similar way to straight being normalized. And, that hasn’t happened yet.

But, moreso, maybe it doesn’t ever need to get there.

Maybe the process of coming out for LGB is their socio-cultural rite and is part of a broader social acknolagement of what it means to be not-straight.

Hear me out. It’s not about putting pressure on the individual, especially those in the public eye, to somehow be the voice for what it means to be LGB.

Maybe the process of coming out is as much about the individual and their self-journey as it is about the entirety of the LGB community and society as a whole where the culmination of all those individual coming out moments defines the socio-cultural norm.

Thus, maybe the process of coming out for LGB is part of that maturation process that straight people otherwise take for granted in acknolaging they are straight and just like with straight people having other straight people to model themselves to (albeit subconsciously and quite unintentionally at times) LGB people benefit in the same way from other LGB people being out as different options of who to model themselves to as well. Further, maybe to some degree, the larger process of acknolaging being LGB by coming out builds toward a stronger LGB community and broader social acceptance by potentially working in a similar way that hetronormative sexual and romantic behaviors are socially normalized for straight people.

I actually think that for some conservative straight people they see this happening already which is why they push so hard against the idea of celebrities coming out. Because suppressing it denies LGB individuals a community and a set of socio-cultural rites that they can bond over.

Please note, I left transgender and related terminology out of this part of the conversation not to be exclusionary but because the journey to gender affirmation while running in parallel to sexual preference is still a unique process of its own and has its own unique challenges both for the individual and society. Everything about coming out I’m describing here for creating socio-cultural norms around sexual and romantic affirmation could absolutely be applicable to gender and sex affirmation as well, I just don’t want to misrepresent, oversimplify, or otherwise seem to trivialize the process transgender people go through while discussing a gay man coming out about his sexual preferences. The two communities are intertwined in their fight for equity and equality but they are not synonymous and should not be used interchangeably.

Anyway, as someone who continues to struggle with being bisexual there’s an ongoing value to experiencing other people coming out, not just as bi but for me when I it’s lesbian, gay, etc. even if being lesbian or gay isn’t the same as being bi and bi isn’t necessarily the same as being pansexual, etc. I feel much less isolated by my sexuality when I can see other people expressing things that are similar to how I feel. The stories of gay and lesbian falling in love or discovering same sex romance or experiencing lust are equally as meaningful to me as the stories of straight lust, love and romance. The discussions about what sex is like for gay men is equally as important to me as the hetero discussions of sex. The discussions about falling in love, or being romantic, etc by people who are bi are invaluable because there are so few of them to hear.

Every straight person has heard songs, watched movies, read books, etc and they don’t even have to think about relating to it because it is ubiquitous and that vast trove of media cover such a broad range that something is likely to be relatable. No so for LGB where the portrayals are often tropes, or badly produced stereotypes seem by the eyes of the heteronormative. Every straight person has some straight relationship around them that they probably aspire to, as the great cliche goes about the grandparents that were so in love, that they don’t have to really search far to find such inspiration. No so for LGB where so many of those relationships were, and in some cases, continue to be hidden from plain sight. Every straight person probably had some friend that introduced them to sex, either in an adolescent opposite sex relationship or same sex plutonic friends that maybe shared stolen copies of Playboy together. Not so for LGB where those opportunities were fewer and further between and rife with all kinds of stigmas and straight stereotypes.

It would have been nice when I was younger to have bi people help me understand what it actually meant to be bi and not spend years in isolation trying to figure it out on my own. To have someone assure me that not necessarily fitting into the straight stereotype but also not being a gay man was OK, and normal for being Bi. It would have been helpful to see more Bi people who were out and discussing the what their sexual and romantic relationships looked like in the same way that I’d experienced straight people talking about it, or how the gay men I know later in life talked about it. There were, and still are, a lot of poorly formed stereotypes about bisexuality, even within the LGB community, and having Bi people talk about their experiences openly would have helped me understand how I fit better into the world around me and not spend years wondering if I was a deviant or broken or just going through a phase because I was physically and sexually attracted to “everyone.”

Straight people take for granted they don’t have to think about those things because the answers to them surround them constantly. There’s no need to actively question some things when the answers to those things are there in plain sight and you can just consume them as part of your daily experience.

Coming out provides the LGB community with an opportunity to experience something like that too because as more people make it known they are LGB the more it becomes something we’re all surrounded by and can thus grow from together.

And, LGB individuals need the process of coming out.

The prevalence of self-reported self-harm among LGBT is significantly higher than the general population as a whole, and higher than many other demographic groupings, including those by race/ethnicity, religion, economic status, education level, etc and is exceptionally high among adolescents and young adults. This parallels to alcohol and drug usage as a form of self-medicating, which in self-reported studies occur at higher rates for LGB than they do most other demographic groupings. And, as you would expect, this also shows up in studies regarding suicides as well. But even outside of those extreme manifestations LGB report higher levels of depression than many other demographic groups. All of these things can then work together to negatively impact one’s education and employment in negative ways, undermine other relationships including those with friends and family, and otherwise make life more difficult than it needs to be because LGB people are coping with questions like self-worth and their place in society, etc.

While the underlying conditions that make up how individuals experience depression, or engage in self-harm or self-medicating, or contemplate suicide are, in some ways, unique to them as individuals there are some overarching commonalities in what these individuals are saying about their experiences being LGBT.

And, because LGBT is often misunderstood, at best, (or biased and bigoted at worst), by the medical community dominated by cishet people who have never had to consider an experience outside of their own socially affirmed cishet existence, LGBT people receive some of the poorest/least desirable medical outcomes among a variety of demographic groups.

I mention this because tonight someone will find out about Carl Nassib coming out and it will be affirming and validating to them. It might be the reason they don’t contemplate killing themselves, or don’t drink themselves to sleep, or just sit and feel alone and depressed. It might not necessarily because they liked Carl as a player, or the Raiders as a team, or maybe even that they like the NFL or American Football, or even sports in general, although each of those could be it, but because Carl came out and in doing so is a reminder that being true to yourself does not have to be restricted by the world you live in, which in Carl’s case is one that sometimes exemplifies the worst of hetero-machoism and is widely considered passively homophobic at best or outright bigoted at worst.

Make no mistake. Carl coming out is not an end point. Just like, on a more personal note, having Billy Joe Armstrong and Rob Halford weren’t end points.

Because, coming out isn’t an end point itself.

This doesn’t mean that as a society we’ve turned a corner and become more accepting of LGB people because people like Carl was the first to come out in a macho sport, or Rob came out in a macho music genre, and countless others came out while part of sub-cultures that straight people didn’t expect to see a gay man come from.

This probably doesn’t even mean we’re going to see more players come out anytime soon. Or that this, or any other individual, coming out is going to be the catalyst for everyone who is LGB to suddenly feel widely affirmed in such a way to come out en masse.

It’s a step in the greater acceptance of both who LGB perceive themselves to be as individuals, as a community, and as a part of society as a whole as well as how society in turn accepts LGB as a community, and as individuals. But, it’s only a step. It needs to happen again. And, again. And, again still. And, then again some more. It probably won’t ever end and that may, in fact, be a good thing because for LGB it becomes a social rite of passage that helps define what being LGB is in ways that might be parallel or similar to ethnic groups, religions, and sub-cultures who each have their defining experiences that represent passages to so-called maturity or adulthood or whatever that milestone might be, be it around sexual, or emotional, or spiritual, or psychological, or other aspects of changing or advancing within the human condition.

This is means we should accept coming out as it is and seek to understand why it continues to be an important rite of passage for each new generation and to NOT question why coming out is important in ways that diminish the process or gaslight LGB people into believing they are wrong for having done so.

If your response is that the Gays already have marriage, there’s no need for them to announce being Gay because they’re equal already and can stop looking for special treatment maybe you should realize those marriage protections only apply those who are married, which is a small segment of the total LBG population the same as married straights are only a small segement of the entire straight population, never mind that despite marriage protections in many states anyone can legally be denied employment, medical care, housing and even bakery services simply for being perceived as LGBT.

If your response is that Gays should keep it in the bedroom, that there’s no need for them to announce being Gay because you don’t want to know who they are having sex with, then maybe you should recognize that heterosexual sex and relationships are pervasive and generally accepted in society. Sure, a small, vocal minority might get upset when Tom and Giselle kiss in public but generally those types of acts don’t receive nearly the scrutiny as when LGB do it. Sure, a small vocal minority might get upset when someone Christian McCaffrey poses shirtless for GQ magazine but that’s not nearly the level of scrutiny as if a LGB individual poses in what might be construed as even remotely sexy. When straights exploit their straightness and sexuality outside of the bedroom there’s an understanding and acceptance that is not afforded to the majority of LGB people to matter how “G-Rated” their actions might othewise be.

If your response is that no one ‘cares’ if they are Gay so they need to stop announcing it then maybe you should listen better to people like me who are telling you that hearing those coming out announcements is hugely validating and affirming because there are so few of them in the grander scheme of society where being Gay is still a marginalized minority. Not that I’m advocating that straight people co-opt the statement of sexuality that is a part of what it means to Come Out for LGB but it probably wouldn’t hurt the straights to rethink how they come to terms with their straightness in a similar introspective way that many LGB go through to come out. Understanding WHY they are straight wouldn’t just potentially help make them more empathetic to what it means to be LGB but it might actually help make them better at being straight because they would be forced to confront the themselves and their own ideas of sexuality and romance instead of just taking for granted these things just ‘exist.’

If your response is that Gay people are doing it just for the attention or that it is somehow hip, trendy and cool and that’s the only reason people are coming out then you should try and remember that anti-LGB has roughly doubled over the last couple of years and anti-trans more than tripled, and this is consistent in both the FBI UCR data and in the broader DOJ NCVS data which includes self-reported incidents that weren’t reported to or pursued by police. No one wants to kill you simply because you are straight so you have no idea the burden it is to come out knowing that you could be a target of bigot driven murder and that in some jurisdictions that murder might not even be tried and convicted because homophobia has been successfully used as a valid legal defense. And that’s the extreme end of it because even in its most simple form gays can loose something as everyday and seemingly mundane as bakery services just for being gay and in some states that’s still considered OK. Do you see how the idea that drawing attention to one’s self that could result in these kind of negative outcomes isn’t some glamorous scheme? Unless, somehow you think the special treatment gays are receiving is that they aren’t going to be denied services or the right to live, in which case you really should rethink your place in humanity.

If your response is that everyone should be blind to sexual orientation in the same way that you think people should be colorblind, then you should consider how this is just a convenient way for you to ignore the very real difference in lived experience of being non-hetrosexual, or non-white. You’re not actually being blind to being straight if you’re straight, you’re simply so used to that being the norm, the default, the ideal, that you don’t realize how much different the world is for the non-straight and just assume that if no one talks about sex, especially gay sex, than it won’t be a problem because, in your mind, you don’t think anyone talks about being straight. The thing is, they don’t have to always explicitly talk about being straight because literally everything was designed to cater to the straight majority, so it’s all ‘just there’ it exists as-is ingrained into the sociocultural structure. Straightness is out in the open and explicit and there’s no reason why gayness cannot, or should not be there too and coming out is part of it being there.

If your gut response response is, wait a second dude, how come you’re preaching about how coming out is so important and you constantly hide behind the facade of a hetrosexual relationship instead of participating in the outward struggles of the bi and pan experience? Well, yeah, you’re right to question that. And, I don’t have a good answer, honestly. But that is why for me the coming out of others is important, so that one day i’ll personally feel more comfortable doing exactly that.

Look, if you’re straight and being critical of Carl Nassib or anyone else coming out publicly it is on you to come to terms with that. If it makes you uncomfortable for LGB to talk about themselves you need to figure out why it bothers you. It isn’t on LGB folks to make straights feel better about themselves and their hangups with sexual expression, or romance, or love. Straights have to figure out how to coexist with Gays at this point because the LGB have been bending over backwards to coexist with heterosexuality for decades, if not centuries.

What I’ve been listening to

Meshuggah. I’ve been on a big Meshuggah kick lately. Pretty much the entire catalog though only Destroy, Erase, Improve and Chaosphere in their entirety since, for me, those are the apex of their efforts. Complimenting that were Ministry “Psalm 69,” Fear Factory “Demanufacture,” A Life Once Lost “Hunter,” and Ion Dissonance “Minus the Herd” all for their machinelike approach and fat sonic quality that hits you as much in the chest as it does in the eardrums.

What I ate

Open faced Egg salad sandwich — We usually make Egg Salad with boiled eggs, dijon and mayo, but I put a bit of a cajun spin to mine by adding some Old Bay seasoning, a dash of Crysal Hot Sauce, diced onion and pepper (would have used celery too, had we had any) along with a bit of diced pickle. I used the mayo, dijon, Old Bay and Crystal to make an aioli type of spread that I put over some toast. Stacked some lettuce and upton’s naturals seitan bacon on top of that then a generous layer of the egg salad and then topped that off with some diced cherry tomatoes (I think I would have done tomato slices under had we had any big tomatoes, gotta work with what you have)

Posted in Affirmations, Edible & Digestable, Entertainment, music, Opinion, personal musings, recipes, relationships, the Covid Files, Today I Ate, WFHWTF | Leave a comment

WFH WTF: The Covid Files, year two: the End, perhaps

New York State reached a milestone meant to, in some ways, signal an end to the localized pandemic experience. Apparently, 70 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one dose of one of the available Covid-19 vaccines, so now the majority of restrictions can be rescinded for those adults.

Of course, that 70 percent is presented without some relevant caveats so it is a bit misleading. It doesn’t account for vaccination rate distributions since it’s the average of around 14,000,000 adults across 54,556 square miles so some places may be significantly below the 70 percent threshold. It is a first dose number for adults meaning that, from what I’ve read, includes between 10-30 percent of qualifying adults who have only had a first dose of two doses, for whatever reason. It also includes some portion of the population for whom the vaccination is ineffective or less effective, such as the immunocompromised and those with other underlying conditions that can still negatively influence the post vax immune response to Covid. It also doesn’t include kids since the vax isn’t approved for them yet, but comprise another aprox 4-5 million people in the state. And, it neglects the reality that modern humans are transient and bordering State vaccination rates are just as important to consider (thankfully, New Jersey and Connecticut as the two states with the most economic impact to New York are also at the 70 percent threshold and Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Vermont are also generally at or near the milestone too. Sadly when the Florida and Arizona snowbirds return home those state’s unspectacular rates could complicate things locally). And, it’s really important to note that the lifting of some of the restrictions only applies to those adults who are fully vaccinated, not those only partially vaccinated nor those with no vaccination at all.

So, the 70 percent number is a bit deceiving.

As is this insane idea that by relieving the restrictions we are returning to “normal.”

What we had before was not “normal.” And, it is insane that we would want to consider returning back to it and continue to call it “normal.”

Unfortunately, what could have been an opportunity to redefine what is acceptable for so many things from healthcare to employment, from family and personal life to our broader social constructs became mired in partisianism, lost in circular arguments about freedumbs, otherwise politicized to the point where in some cases it could be argued we took a step back rather than emerging better off.

So, instead of progressing to some broader post-pandemic enlightenment we are simply celebrating the capability to kill ourselves in the usual pre-pandemic manner instead of the disease threatening to kill us as has for the past 18 months or so. Are we really so pathetic that we need to define ourselves around the trivialness going back to the monotony of 50 identical weeks of existence each year where the only noticeable change is the outside temperature for most of us?

It seems so small of us as a society to want to have learned nothing meaningful from this experience and yet here we are celebrating the idea that we can go back to miserable multi-hour commutes as part of the opportunity to be underpaid for our capitalistic contributions while working ourselves to the point of exhaustion only to binge drink out way through our weekends and vacations in order to cope with the meaningless schlock we are engaged in the rest of the week?

The reality is that while we are pretending to get back to our pre-pandemic lives in order to reach some nostalgic misrepresentation of “normal” we can never get there. Not only did it never exist outside of some rose coloured utopian fantasy, but even if it had, what we experienced makes it impossible to recapture. We’ll just be setting ourselves up for further social and economic failure for striving for something that not only never really existed before but would be even more impossible to achieve now.

Our innocence is lost from the pandemic, whether we want it to be or not. And, while I’m not advocating coming out of this with some cynical, grizly, war torn veteran type of cliche it would behoove us to not pretend like we can or even should just try to recreate whatever it is we thought things were like before this all happened. We cannot pretend like it didn’t happen, or worse treat it as if it was some unique anomaly that we may never see again.

The fact of the matter is that there’s a very good chance we will experience another global health pandemic in my lifetime – perhaps even one at this scale or worse. In some ways it’s kind of amazing it hadn’t happened sooner, honestly.

The fact of the matter is there’s a very good chance we will experience another massive global economic recession/depression – likely at this scale or worse. In my lifetime I’ve already lived through several, three alone since I graduated and each one existed with complicating factors beyond the economic collapse itself.

The fact of the matter is there’s a very good chance we will also experience some other kind of major global upheaval – likely at a similar, if not worse, scale than what the health and economic was. Perhaps it will be another massive multifront war or coordinated act of terrorism. Perhaps it will be the affects of global climate change. Perhaps it will be something else entirely that we are completely unprepared for like a celestial EMP that immobilizes all technology (which seems entirely more likely than the UFO or Lizard People conspiracy theories that some preppers are prepared for).

The fact of the matter is we really aren’t returning to normal.

We are moving forward into a new, post-pandemic era and the sooner we can accept that there is no returning to the past the better.

Some people are not going to return to the labor exploitation they experienced pre-pandemic.

Some people are not going to return to the social constructions they were forced to endure pre-pandemic

Some people are not going to return to the cavalier attitudes about going it alone that isolated them worse than social distancing did.

Some people are not going to go mask-less in public the same way that they don’t go pantsless.

There will be some hard lessons for those who innocently believe that life will now return to “normal” as the restrictions are lifted because that normal cannot exist.

The rest of us, well, we took the whole pandemic in stride as best we can so we’ll take the aftermath with the same sense of measured caution and hopeful optimism that got us through it in the first place.

It’s a nice place to be having the restrictions mostly lifted.

But, the battle is far from won. Not against Covid. Not against the failures of the US healthcare system. Not against the inequities of the economic system. Not against the partisanship of politics. And so on.

The restrictions might be lifted but all of the original threats remain, albeit subdued. We should not be lulled too far into a sense of compliancy with so much to still do, to still overcome.

So, fuck this bullshit idea of returning to normal.

Let’s move on to something entirely better.

What I’ve been listening to

My friend Greg Massi posted something about his experience as a musician and how much he thrives on other’s enjoyment of his works. Although I personally play these days solely for my own enjoyment, I can completely understand this reality as well. It goes beyond validation, or anything selfward looking, I think. It’s finding joy in others finding joy like how some people get a real high out of the experience of someone receiving the gift they have been given at a holiday.

Greg makes amazing music. So, a good portion of today was revisiting some of that.

My first experience with it was while we were both involved in college radio and he introduced me to Maudlin of the Well. To this day I still don’t know how to describe it or what to make of their music other than it brings me great joy. Great frustration. Great intrigue. And, sometimes even great headaches. The double effort Bath & Leaving Your Body Map is, to this day, among my most ongoing challenging listens to the point where I am drawn to it out obligation to overcome it the way a mountain climber endures a challenging peak. I really should get myself Through Languid Veins from 2019 but for today I didn’t even cut through half the back catalog, but so long as Bath & Leaving Your Body Map they will forever be my go to for both musical escape and challenge. I think that’s why every few months or so I listen to them in full, because i need equal amounts of escape and challenge and there’s literally so few musical offerings that can even hope to accomplish both simultaneously. Kill two ear drums with two records, or some such nonsense.

Baliset is by far and away my favorite work of his and to me it’s a shame he hasn’t been able to explore that further. The Exordium EP remains regular rotation for me because it encompasses so many of my musical moods while actually being defined by none of them (or defining none of them? I’m actually not sure the right way to word this). What is accomplished in three songs resonates with me more than the entire catalog of some bands I legit like. It’s the entire package of how it’s composed, how it’s recorded and how it’s executed. Honestly, while I love a lot of the rest of Greg’s work because of how technical and progressive and inventive it can be Baliset actually seems to capture something else more viscerally simplistic in that it has a sense of emotion or feeling underpinning it. What he doesn’t know is that despite only getting to spin it on MPH a handful of times over the last almost decade I literally try to find an excuse every week to fit it in — one day I’ll concede and it’ll be the bed music for every break maybe.

Kayo Dot are another project that largely defies definition in that they cover a lot of musical ground. They’re the apex of what a music nerd like me might look for in a band that stretches our musical interests while also remaining in a comfort zone. Greg’s performances are only featured on two full efforts but that’s enough to provide some pretty eccentric songs for today.

Lastely, I streamed some of Dahliad tracks which are a huge departure from the rest of what we’ve discussed here. I enjoy Dahliad for the atmospheric quality and for the few tracks I have as MP3 they fit nicely among the likes of Ahluestinistas, Eschelon Effect, Lowercase Noises as well as the likes of Combat Astronomy, Antimater, Spiritualized and so on but today I just ran a line from the computer to the stereo to imbibe what was on bandcamp for a bit while working on big, overbearing spreadsheets.

What I ate

Grilled a bunch of asparagus for my partner the other day and they’ve been too sick to eat them as intended for lunch wraps and sandwiches so now I’m trying to invent ways to put them to use.

Today’s version used pan cook some penne. if you don’t know this method it’s super useful to learn when making individual or small servings. This saves you time, saves you space, and saves on cooking liquid since you’re heating what amounts to at most a single litre of liquid over a large surface area (where 1 litre can take 3-5 minutes to boil in this case the usual method of 3-4 litres in a standard stock pot over conventional high heat might be 15 minutes or more by itself before accounting for the cook time)… measure your dry, boxed pasta and put it in a frying pan or skillet so that it’s about a single layer across the bottom for the serving size your attempting to cook and such that you have enough room for water about three times the depth of the pasta itself. Fill the pan/skillet with cold or or room temp water or stock to a depth that’s about 2-2.5x the depth of the pasta so there’s room for it to cook without boiling over. Set a timer to approximately the top end of the package instructions, most of them are something like 10-12 minutes for al dente, and then turn on the heat to your cold liquid with dry pasta pan along with your seasoning, I usually use salt, pepper, garlic or something like house seasoning or Old Bay but you do you. Bring the pan up to a boil, covered will help this happen faster, and then reduce to a simmer till the timer goes off. Test and add a minute or two till you get the texture you want. Don’t overcook it though because it stays on the heat with a sauce in the next step.

Drain the pasta and return to the pan. I added salted butter and balsamic vinegar to the pasta to coat. Then, I added the grilled asparagus cut into pieces about the same length as the penne along with grilled diced onion, minced grill roasted garlic and some leftover charred peppers where it’s like 2:1 asparagus to all the other veggies combined and something like 2:1:1 of the onion, garlic, pepper type thing. Once everything was warmed again, I then tossed it with some fresh cracked black pepper, pecorino romano cheese and topped it off with diced cherry tomatoes, crispy upton naturals seitan bacon crumbles, and just a little super thin julienned baby spinach. The entire meal prep to table is like 15 minutes total as a reconfiguration leftovers on top of boxed pasta which is almost exactly the amount of time it takes me to plate up the padawan’s even simpler dinner selections and wrangle them to be ready to eat.

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WFH WTF: The Covid Files, year two: MPH’s Making Programming Heard

#MakingProgrammingHeard was volume 25 of MPH: Music Philanthropy and History in the Mosh Pit Hell of Metal Punk and Hardcore on Cygnus Radio.  It celebrated the advent of FM radio back in 1935 by Edwin Armstrong while we manipulated people’s heads this past Friday 11 June beginning 22:00 USEDT (10pm nyc), from the Isle of Misfit toys, with the doormouse, dmf.

I honestly had no idea WTF I was going to play Friday night other than to tell you that it was designed to take a look back over the decades of metal, punk and hardcore at how it’s developed and changed on a subgenre level. I was inspired to take this approach because of how FM radio helped change the course of programming when it gained prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s – many decades after Armstrong’s original demonstration in Alpine, NJ. While many radio shows have laid some claim to the origins of Free Form programming, it really didn’t become a viable station format until FM because many of the early FM broadcasters were not beholden to commercial interests at the time the way AM was functioning with genred day part rotations.

The style of blocked, free form programming not only became a cornerstone of FM at the time but helped establish a lot of how college and non-commercial radio would eventually develop across both frequencies as well as for early webcasting stations. Furthermore, even some of the early streaming algorithms deprioritized genrefication for other sonic similarities producing hours of automation that defied normal programming sensibilities.

Since MPH was formed nearly a decade ago, it’s always been part of a Free Form station because I personally enjoy and support that open minded style of programming since it is intellectually challenging and promotes musical curiosity. I’ve also kept the programming in-show as varied a possible, such we use the broadest definition possible of what metal, punk and/or hardcore are, which even of themselves are pretty diverse, during a time when more and more heavy, or aggressive, or extreme music programs continue to narrow the scope of what they play.

The other reason to celebrate, in addition to the foundational aspects of what MPH is, is that the feat occurred in New Jersey by a New York City native who’s homebase was in Yonkers, NY. It doesn’t get any more ‘close to home’ for me than that. New Jersey was home to a number of such broadcast landmarks, as well as some of the major companies developing and distributing broadcast technology so the fact it happened there isn’t a surprise.

And, to tie this back into the area, the longest running free form radio station continues to be WFMU based out of NJ who also adhere to the format’s non-commercial roots as well. I do wish that more stations would pick up on how viable this is especially to the modern music fan considering the ample diversity that seems to show itself through the self-curation that is happening with on-demand streaming from Spotify and streaming-to-download experiences like Bandcamp seem to be leaning these days. Now, more than ever, diversity in listening seems to have a broader audience than ever and something could be said for combining these sonic train wrecks with the personality of an actual DJ to give it some context and ‘life.’

The premise of the show was to cover a few different, divergent sub genres and span as many decades as possible of each from brand new through their early roots. The idea was that within each ‘set’ there would be a sense of homogony in that it entails a single subgenre but the subgenre itself has evolved and morphed over the decades so the modern stuff won’t sound like a carbon copy of the originators, and as we move from subgenre to subgenre although there’s some sonic continuity that binds them together each has enough of its own personality that bridging them does require a leap of faith for the average listener. Thus, while it’s not exactly drop-the-needle, it’s also not the typical heavy music program either.

The opening and closing tracks, Iron Maiden’s the Trooper from Piece of Mind and Black Sabbath’s Children of the Grave from Master of Reality even represent the foundational shift in sonic qualities of two classic artists with releases a decade apart from one another as bookends to the show itself.

Evile “Paralized” Hell Unleashed (2021)
Mortillary “Wendigo” Shapeshifter
Kreator “Warcurse” Hordes of Chaos
Sodom “I Am War” M-16
Sepultura “Arise” Arise
Slayer “Angle of Death” Reign in Blood

Pupil Slicer “Wounds Upon my Skin” Mirrors (2021)
Rolo Tomassi “Rituals” Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It
Daughters “First Supper” Daughters
the Dillinger Escape Plan “Panasonic Youth” Miss Machine
Crisis “Mechanical Man” the Hollowing
Converge “Two Day Romance” Halo in a Haystack

Of Mice & Men “Bloom” Bloom EP (2021)
Frameworks “Fear of Missing Out” Smother
Alesana “the Artist” the Emptiness (from what would become known as the Anabelle Trilogy, part 1)
Poison the Well “Lazzaro” Tear from the Red
Boysetsfire “the Power Remains the Same” the Day the Sun Went Out
Snapcase “Looking Glass Self” Looking Glass Self

Antropofago “Transhumanism” Cruelty Enslavement: a Propensity for Violence (part 2) (2021)
Suffocation “Your Last Breaths” Of the Dark Light
Oppressor “Kingdom of the Dead” the Solstice of Agony and Corrosion
Cryptopsy “Equivalent Equilibrium” And Then You’ll Beg
Grave “Beauty Within” Hating Life
Death “Suicide Machine” Human

I think if you take the show as a whole spanning the late 80s/early 90s scenes and seeing how those styles continue to be reinterpreted today it’s quite stunning. There’s a lot of similarities both cross era and cross-style that maybe aren’t as easy to hear in a normal programming experience. It felt like it played homage nicely to the broader sense of FM radio’s impact, especially on the underground and fits rather nicely into what MPH usually does in the context of our home on Cygnus Radio.

What I ate

Over the weekend we got diner and there were leftover fries. Lots of leftover fries because apparently everyone decided to eschew fries the same meal. To solve for how to deal with this I threw a batch in the toaster oven to crisp them up with some old bay and piri piri seasoning, slapped on them some morningstar crumbles chorizo that i’d made into a chili, some homemade sweet baked beans left over from a recent family BBQ, and some munster cheese top top it all off. It’s a bastardized version of poutine or loaded diner disco fries with this hot-and-sweet thing going on that purists would hate but I happen to love because it’s such a fun hybrid of several things I do enjoy.

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WFH WTF: The Covid Files, year two, Cupping it up

For the second year in a row the NHL’s Stanely Cup playoffs are breaking all the rules about how the post-season should function and the outcomes are just as zany this year as they were last.

That’s fine, other than the Capitals unceremoniously bowing out early once again, the experience of what the post-season contains a unique excitement that I liken to how little kids watch a blender in awe when getting their first smoothy.

This year’s “final four” exists because of the oddies of re-seeding the temporary, non-conference four division alignment. Which means some of these match ups are exceedingly unique and will potentially never be seen again. It also means that we can look upon the final two rounds with all the giddy delight of the Joker as he sinks into a vat of acid.

Seriously, there could not be four more unspectacular teams from the perspective of nurturing the sport, but then again, it the culmination of a shortened season, that didn’t have fans in the stands for most of it, played under a quarantine friendly realignment, during a global health pandemic, with a flat-salary cap and no preseason, where it wasn’t even clear at some points if we would see the post-season at all I suppose having these four is maybe, possibly, likely better than nothing?

That aside, does literally anyone care that Vegas has a team, including the people in Vegas? OK, that’s not quite fair, the tourists looking for a cheep thrill while the city of sin’s been mostly closed haven’t minded it and the bookies definitely get their kicks off an expansion team doing this good, but beyond that? And, Tampa? Seriously, when they’re not contending for the Cup they have beyond dismal attendance which isn’t so out of the ordinary, save for the fact that while having competed for the cup a handful of times during their short existence they’ve also spent over half their franchise life missing the playoffs and challenging for bottom deweller status too. Then, there’s the Islanders who most fans aren’t sure where they are playing these days after the debacle of trying to be hipster Brooklynites and despite suddenly being good under the tutelage of Trotz still have about as much respect both locally and nationally as Rodney Dangerfield. I mean, you know its bad when the basement dwelling Devils have a more prominent fan base in the tri-state outside of Nassau County, NY. Which leaves only Les Habitants who remain second only to the New York Yankees in terms of historical success but haven’t had a glorious post- season run since 1993 and consist of a seemingly weirdly xenophobic power structure that continues to defy the many post-2000 social enlightments.

The league cannot be excited about these prospects.

Maybe they’ll hope for the Islanders because with a bit of twisting for anyone not in the tri-state the Isles could represent the so-called #1 market even though NYC is really Rangers territory. Maybe they’ll hope for the Golden Knights so that they can help parlay that into a stroyline to support the upcoming introduction of the Seattle Kraken along with using it as a way to market the other, struggling, southwest franchises. Maybe they will hope for the Lightening to go back-to-back as it would establish a small, southern market team as being on par with the Penguins and Blackhawks who also have multiple Cups in the post lockout era. Or, maybe they long for a Canadian franchise steeped in history to return as the Evil Empire bad guy and support the Habs in bringing the Cup back to the great white north.

That latter one has my undivided attention, and not because my ‘second’ team after the Caps are the Habs because back in the day they were part of how I got into hockey so I’ll always have a sentimental attachment to them.

No, personally personally I believe it would be beyond hilarious to watch the pro-Canada pundits implode watching the Habs be the franchise to return the Cup to Canada with what most would consider a sub-par team in a year when the Maple Leafs and Oilers were both essentially gifted an opportunity to make it to the Finals only to have both spectacularly flamed out in the first round. Nothing else that could happen out of the final four franchises would be as big of a storyline compared to the Habs mostly superstar-less team accomplishing what the super star youth loaded Leafs & Oilers franchises could not — even if it’s a storyline that would only appeal to Canada and not necessarily the US.

The Habs would become the big, bad franchise they were during peak Patrick Roy but without anyone even remotely as fun as who Roy was. I mean, really, I love Carey Price but he’s at the end of his career and no where near as firey as any incarnation of Roy and there’s no one else on that team even remotely close to garnering the personality, never mind the hate, or respect. Yet, you know the Leafs and Oilers would become transfixed by Habs boogie man. And, the best part? There’s literally nothing about the Habs team to idolize or mimic. No one is looking at the Habs if they win and saying, sure, yeah, let’s try to build a team around that the way there was a fixation of having a stud #1D or developing depth down the middle or playing ‘heavy hockey’ etc. What makes the Habs special? They’re by far and away more than the sum of their parts at a scale that not even the Isles could hope to achieve and they’re probably the next closest thing to a fluke that happened this post-season and even the Isles have Trotz as a coach and a young stud in Barzal both of which teams can think they can replicate. The Habs? They have the ghosts of hockey past – 24 of them.

The least desirable outcome for me would be Tampa Bay. First, eff them for the obnoxious cap circumvention. And, it’s more than just Kutcherov. It’s all their LITR transactions from pre-season onwards that allowed them to exceed the cap going into the first round by more than 20%, quite literally dwarfing even the most blatant prior examples and allowing them to ice a team that is so far beyond their next closest competitor it is comical. It is bad for the sport to set this precedent even if they don’t win, but if they do….

Second, eff their obnoxious fans because nearly every run in I’ve ever had with them since their first win as a Southeast division team prior to the lockout when everyone was volunteering to go into rebuild mode not knowing how the CBA negotiation would harm them has been absolutely awful. As a Caps fan having experience all the trauma of the Isles and then the Pens crushing my hopes in the late 80s and 90s in a brutal Patrick Division and then suffering through the painful boating of the team into a peanuts on the dollar rebuild by an inexperienced George McPhee having to cope with handful of fans the Lightening seemed to have and their self-congratulatory high fiving at a time when internet shitbaggery was just hitting its stride of anonymous shit talking sucked. other than polite conversation with my cousin I’ve never met a personable Lightening fan. There is NO WAY I want to listen to the nonsense about their superiority because they went back-to-back.

And, I cannot stress this enough, I do NOT want to have more teams try and emulate their salary antics and sketchy approach because if they are successful you KNOW everyone will look to exploit those loopholes to the point where it very easily could ruin next year’s entire playoffs when several teams do it. Make no mistake, it would hurt the entirety of the sport in ways that the league will only be able to control with another lockout and after having one in 94 and 04 and 14 the last thing the league needs is another one, especially over something as obviously shitty as LTIR for cap circumvention.

After that, my disdain for the Islanders probably would put them next on the list of dislikes. Lets call them my #3 choice overall. Most of it is a combination of the nostalgic frustration that franchise created during my early year’s as a Caps fan and I still haven’t gotten over, in conjunction with living in the NY metro and dealing with the fans here and how especially douchy some of them have become since the franchise’s ‘resurgence.’ I’ve know maybe three cool Isles fans in my entire life, one of which is one of my best friends, and another I became friends with with neither of us in the tri-state, so I think that essentially explains why it would be only slightly more tolerable than the Rangers winning at this point.

That and I could do without watching Trotz win there too and what that would mean for both the Caps and the league. No one is going to go off and try and build this year’s version of the Habs but there’s a good possibility teams might try and emulate the boring AF version of what the Islanders are outside of Barzal and the children of Korn.

Which only leaves Vegas who haven’t been around long enough for me to have any real ill will toward them even with the meeting in the finals. My interest in them not winning is more about sticking it to the league who I think when from effectively trying to kill young franchises in order to protect the establishment early on to overcorrecting and trying to create instant successes in what they’re doing now. But that type of 180-approach seems pretty on-brand for the NHL so it’s hard to hold it against the team when the root of the issue is with the league. However, having a lot of friends who are Sharks fans and seeing how that rivalry was playing out I am more than ok with some extra tears in the desert just for their satisfaction.

the other option is a meteor but that never, ever seems to work out … however, knowing the league if it happened they’d just award the Cup to whichever team incinerated last…and considering the shitty air quality of the tri state along with whatever planetary defense mechanism might covertly exist to protect major metro regions and the fact that Long Island has a certain level of ability to resist change even under the excessive pressure of something like a meteor with my luck that’s who would survive and I’d be stuck among the survivors having to witness it… ugh…

What I’m listening to

While it felt like I didn’t listen to a lot today, the reality is I managed to get through Fear Factory’s Demanufacture, Testament’s Low, Amorphis Tales from a Thousand Lakes, Dream Theater’s Awake and Carcass’ Heartwork which although sonically might seem like they have very little in common all coincidently come from the same era and are in some ways landmark releases for their subgenres and within their crafting band’s catalogs. Sometimes my mind works in weird ways….

What I ate

Now that the whole what can we do to corn soup leftovers thing has come to an end and there’s not much remaining in the way of leftovers I was forced to get creative again.

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