Long Live Rock!

Last Friday, I saw a concert featuring national acts for the first time in eons. Live music is my happy place (or one of them, along with kayaking, and biking, and reading…) so it felt so good to see and hear a show.

The concert was supposed to be at an outdoor amphitheater, but the weather gods didn’t cooperate, so the organizers moved the gig to a covered spot a block away. Not the most aesthetically pleasing venue, but I didn’t care, and neither did the artists.

The opener was S.G. Goodman, a farmer’s daughter (literally!) from the westernmost part of Kentucky. Her debut album is called Old Time Feeling and she does have a throwback vibe.

The headliner was Aaron Lee Tasjan, with his band.

He’s tough to pigeonhole into a particular genre of music (the best artists usually are)… Wikipedia lists it as “indie folk grit” and that’s pretty apt.

The audience wasn’t huge (thanks for nothing, weather gods) but both bands really delivered the goods. Greats, actually.

Below are links to both artists’ most recent albums. Give ’em a spin now and thank me later.

The Joker has become an Ace

Novak Djokovic won Wimbledon this past weekend, thrusting him into a tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most Grand Slam titles overall – they each have 20 major titles.

Several years ago, he wasn’t even in the “best” conversation. It was a two-horse race for the win, and Djokovic was there for show.

He always had talent, but came up a bit short of greatness early in his career. He was 6-7 in his first 13 Grand Slam finals… not too shabby, but not exactly G.O.A.T. material either. But in his last 17 Grand Slam finals matches, “The Joker” is 14-3. He knew that to beat Federer and Nadal, he’d have to get better across the board – as he mentioned in his post-Wimbledon interview:

“Iron sharpens iron” is the old adage. Kudos to Novak for sharpening his sword – not just physically, but mentally and tactically as well. That’s what makes a true champion.

(from this article in Forbes)

It’s also worth noting that Djokovic is the only man ever to win every Grand Slam at least twice. And he’s 27-23 all-time against Federer and 30-28 against Nadal. And back in March, he also passed Federer’s record of most weeks at No. 1 with 311.

Tennis is a young person’s sport, and Djokovic is 34. Father Time catches up with everyone eventually. But here’s hoping The Joker has a few more tricks up his sleeve.

Whatever floats your boat… or paddleboard

Six summers ago, I agonized over spending my hard-earned American dollars on an inflatable paddleboard.

I mean, c’mon, it’s filled with air. How sturdy and durable can it be? I may as well get one of those cheap pool toys.

Eat your heart out, Matt Dillon – I’m the new Flamingo Kid

In hindsight, it’s some of the best money I’ve ever spent, even though I only use the paddleboard for one week a year, and I rarely use it as a paddleboard. I take it along on our annual summer trip to the beach. It’s way easier to transport than a regular paddleboard or kayak. And I bought a kayak seat that attaches to the paddleboard and use it every morning to do some kayaking on the ocean (bay, actually).

That hour-plus on the water every morning is so peaceful, so relaxing… and a pretty darn good workout too.

I was focused on price, when I should have been focused on value. The money I spent was a pittance compared to the priceless enjoyment I’ve gotten out of it. The paddleboard maybe filled with air, but it’s been worth its weight in gold.

Rocking the Vote Boat

Take a gander at the map for Ohio US District 1:

An example of gerrymandering at its finest. Courtesy of the Republican party. Because if you can’t win fair and square, you have to try to win unfair and trapezoid… or rhombus… or whatever shape will give you the edge. But sometimes gerrymandering isn’t enough, and you have to resort to voter suppression.

Source: https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-may-2021

This paragraph from an editorial in — of all places — a music magazine, really sums it up nicely:

Having lost the Presidency, the House, and the Senate over four years by margins so wide that Democrats were able to overcome the structural bias, Republicans have not responded as Democrats did, by trying to expand the elctorate, or convincing the existing one that their own policies and platforms merit a change. The entire story of 2021 so far has been Biden and his party trying to govern, at least trying to tackle dire emergencies it inherited , largely from four year of Republican inaction, incompetence, or inadequate response — a pandemic, economic devastation, worsening inequality, alarming climate change, decayed bureaucracy, etc., etc. — while the Republican party has spent all its time tackling the problem of… too many people voting.

The Big Takeover, Issue #88

The best response is to A. fight these voter suppression laws and B. vote, no matter the extra hurdles. (Easier said than done, I realize, when you are elderly and/or handicapped and the only mail ballot drop box is miles away. )

Here’s more from The Big Takeover editorial (bold emphasis mine):

But the ultimate effects of all this suppression and a fresh round of gerrymandering this spring won’t be seen until the next round of elections. Over the next two years, Democrats and others who believe in democracy had better stay vigilant, instead of making the classic midterm mistake that all is OK if their side won and is now in office. Memories fade, and the Capitol riot will too, especially if half of us insist upon it. But the effort to defend democracy against a party that has largely lost faith in it, will be as much the most important long-term effort we engage in alongside climate change mitigation and getting out of the pandemic alive. A responsible, accountable right of center party is crucial to our politics. But until the G.O.P. pays a steep enough electoral price for its big lies and continual partisan sabotage, it will never reform itself from within.

Take Me to the River

I’ve done quite a bit of reading over the past 16 months (thanks pandemic!), but no book has moved me more than this one:

I’m late to the game. The book came out in 2019. Brian Doyle died of brain cancer in 2017, at the age of 60. But better late than never, right?

One Long River of Song is a collection of essays – some happy, some heartbreaking… and all with a spiritual sense of wonder about the world we inhabit.

“Brian Doyle lived the pleasure of bearing daily witness to the glories hidden in people, places and creatures of little or no size or renown, and brought inimitably playful or soaring or aching or heartfelt language to his tellings.”

David James Duncan in the introduction to One Long River of Song

Some books are enjoyable on a surface level but soon forgotten. This one soaks into your skin and burrows into your heart and soul. Simple gorgeous prose.

Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter put this book on my radar. If you haven’t already read it, do so now and thank me (and Austin) later.

The Border Crisis is really a Climate Crisis

There are many reasons why folks from Central America are trying to migrate to the U.S. Some are fleeing violence and/or persecution in their home country. But an overarching reason that thousands make the arduous and perilous trek from their homes is poverty.

“I want a better future for my kids. Like our parents wanted a better future for us. That’s why we’re forced to take steps and leave our own country and risk our lives here, because necessity forces us.”

Honduras migrant Irmana Morado, as quoted in this ABC News story

And an underlying cause for that poverty is climate change. Check out this excerpt from a March 31st piece in The New Yorker, written by Bill McKibben:

To give an example: owing in part to climate change, there was a record hurricane season last year, with the last two storms, Eta and Iota, striking Central America. As Nicole Narea explained in a recent article in Vox, the Northern Triangle countries—Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—have been afflicted by climate-induced drought for a decade, leaving 3.5 million people facing food insecurity, but the floods from those two storms produced even more savage damage. Twelve hundred schools were damaged or destroyed; forty per cent of corn crops and sixty-five per cent of the bean harvest were lost. As a percentage of G.D.P., the damage is greater than that done by the worst storms ever to hit the United States, yet the people of these countries did comparatively little to cause the climate crisis—whereas the four per cent of us who live in this country have produced more greenhouse gases than the population of almost any other nation. So there’s really no way to pretend that migrants arriving at our southern border have no claim on America. Honduras could have built the biggest, most beautiful wall on its northern border, and our CO2 would still have sailed right across it.

Interesting, ain’t it? So if we want to help alleviate the border crisis, we should worry less about building walls, and focus more on reducing our oversized carbon footprint. The rising tide of border crossers is caused by the rising tide of the oceans. Illegal immigration is a symptom, not the disease. And the disease is spreading rapidly.

And it’s not as if this is an isolated case. As early as 2017, according to the organizers at climate-refugees.org, sixty per cent of displaced people around the world were on the move because of “natural” disasters, not civil conflict. In the past six months, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, about eighty per cent of displacements have been the result of disasters, “most of which are triggered by climate and weather extremes.” As Axios reported last week, using a projection model created by the Times, ProPublica, and the Pulitzer Center, “migration from Central America will rise every year regardless of climate change,” but, “in the most extreme warming scenarios, more than 30 million migrants would head toward the U.S. border over the next 30 years.”

From the same March 31st Bill McKibben’s piece in The New Yorker cited above

VP Kamala Harris can say “do not come, do not come” all she wants. But let’s pretend the shoe is on the other foot for a second (ignoring the fact that shoes might be considered a luxury in the tiny villages of Central America). If your schools were destroyed, your food sources were wiped out and your livelihood was lost, you’d still come. No matter the cost, no matter the odds.

you only leave home when home won’t let you stay

From the achingly beautiful poem “Home” by Warsan Shire… Hat tip to Rickey Dobbs of Hitting the Trifecta for bringing it to my attention in his great post about immigration during the Trump era.

“I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home.”

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, at a joint press conference with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei

If we want to help our friends to the south find hope at home, we also have to change how we treat the planet. And that starts in our home.

Hey, hey, come on, I need you more than ever
Hey hey, come on, we’re running for our lives
Hey, hey, come on, there’s refuge in your heartbeat
They’re closing in
They’re closing in

from the song “Footsteps in the Shadows” by Alejandro Escovedo, from his brilliant album The Crossing.

[HT to my friend Phil for leading me to The Climate Crisis email newsletter from The New Yorker. It’s written by Bill McKibben, and you can sign up here. ]

Out with the New

This was my horoscope a couple of weeks ago:

Capricorn = I truly am the GOAT!

Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get all new-agey on you. I just happened to see this horoscope while I was working on the sudoku next to it in the newspaper. I’m not into astrology. I’m more into Astro from The Jetsons.

But that horoscope is all wrong. I don’t want new friends. I just want to see my old friends more often. To share a laugh or three… and perhaps a beer or three. To swap stories of happiness… mixed the occasional tale of woe.

I don’t really think there’s such a thing as “new friends.” When they’re new to you, they’re just acquaintances. They haven’t earned their friendship stripes yet.

The bonds of true friendship can only be forged over time. Through thick and thin. Old friends know where you got your scars, and they know how to keep a secret. They’ve learned to accept your foibles and flaws… or at least overlook them. They reach out. They show up when you need them most.

With old friends, you can go months, even years, without seeing them, and still not miss a beat when you finally do catch up. Now that the pandemic is finally – blessedly – subsiding (masks off, but fingers crossed), I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some old friends.

Super Scholars

“The 2021 Presidential Scholars represent extraordinary achievements for our extraordinary times,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a news release. “I am delighted to join President Biden in saluting these outstanding young people for their achievements, service, character and continued pursuit of excellence. Their examples make me proud and hopeful about the future. Honoring them can remind us all of the great potential in each new generation and renew our commitment to helping them achieve their dreams.”

Like the Secretary of Education, I’m proud and hopeful about the future too. I’m also proud that half of the Presidential Scholars semifinalists in the entire state of Ohio — 11 kids — hail from the Cincinnati area. Two of these scholars (Aidan Finn and Anna Rahner) started their scholarly journey in the same Montessori classrooms as my kids. Three of the semifinalists attended Walnut Hills High School, where all four of our kids attended junior high, and three attended (or are still attending) high school. Another semifinalist went to McNicholas High School, also the alma mater of our oldest child and my lovely bride.

I’m not claiming any sort of transitive property that makes my kids super-scholars by association. But I do think grade schools like Sands Montessori lay a strong foundation for all the kids going to school there, and high schools like Walnut Hills and McNicholas help them blossom. The kids get the awards, but the teachers deserve a ton of credit for bringing out the best in their students.

“Our chief want in life is someone who shall make us do what we can.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

You can read more about the semifinalists in this story from Cincinnati.com. And you can read about the two area Presidential Scholars in this article. Aidan Finn, who started at Sands Montessori, is one of them. We know his family well, and couldn’t be happier for them. The qualities cited by the Secretary of Education include “service” and “character” and Aidan and his younger sister have that in spades.

Aidan founded Tutor Teens with his sister, Erin, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The volunteer tutoring program matches Cincinnati area high school tutors to students across the region. There are tutors from more than a dozen local high schools in the program tutoring students from more than 70 local schools. The program is virtual and free. 

From this Cincinnati.com story
Aidan Finn – Lisa Binns Photograpy

A few years from now, no one will care what these Presidential Scholars got on their ACT or SAT… but “service” and “character” will matter for the rest of their lives.

The Father and Child reunion

That’s our neighbors, Aron and Ben Levin, up on stage last night, doing their thing. Playing the blues.

Ben Levin is a piano prodigy. He’s only 21, but he’s been playing gigs since he was 13. (You can check out his chops here.) Pre-pandemic (“The Before Times”), Ben and Aron had quite a few gigs around town every week. When coronavirus hit, it shut down most of the venues they played. Then it hit a lot closer to home – Aron got COVID-19 last November. Playing live took a back seat to staying alive. Aron was in the hospital for a month… he came way too close to being yet another coronavirus fatality. Then he endured a long stint of in-patient rehab. He’s not 100%, but he’s working his way back.

I’ve always loved seeing live music. I’ve always admired the special bond that Aron and his son have. But I’ve never appreciated their gigs as much as I did when I saw them last night.

Blues a healer, all over the world

Blues a healer, healer, all over the world, all over the world

It healed me, it can heal you

The blues can heal you, early one morning

It can heal you

The blues can heal you

Yeah, yeah

John Lee Hooker, “The Healer”

Every Day should be Earth Day

We are called to assist the Earth to heal…indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.

Wangari Maathai

How much better would our coronavirus response have been if we approached it as part of a larger family of life? How many wars over borders wouldn’t happen if we realized that we are all brothers and sisters? How many species would’ve been saved from extinction?

We can make the earth a better place… accent on the “We.”

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