It shouldn’t be a foreign concept

Half a world away from the United States, there’s a country that seems like our polar opposite.

While coronavirus cases here are surging before flu season has even started, thanks to a mask-avoiding, dithering president, over there they’ve essentially eliminated it because their leader acted swiftly and decisively, with an ambitious goal to wipe out COVID-19, not just control the spread.

While the U.S. never manages to pass effective assault weapon bans or even mild, common-sense restrictions, over there, after 51 people were killed in a house of worship last year, they quickly passed new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.

While this country has never been more divided, that country’s leader just won re-election by a landslide.

What’s the difference? Well, let’s start with the fact that New Zealand’s leader is a woman. I know that may sound like a fairy tale to many Americans, who are getting ready to re-elect a 74-year-old man (please no!) or elect a 77-year-old man as their 46th (male) president. But somehow, 40-year-old Jacinda Ardern is managing just fine, thank you very much.

Sure, New Zealand is a much smaller island nation. And Ms. Ardern has her detractors (what politician doesn’t?). She’s not invincible (sorry Helen Reddy), but she certainly seems to be doing a much better job in trying times.

“This has not been an ordinary election, and it’s not an ordinary time. It’s been full of uncertainty and anxiety, and we set out to be an antidote to that.”

Jacinda Ardern in this AP article

We’ve never had a female president. Even though study after study has shown that women score higher than men in most leadership skills.

Source: Harvard Business Review

Research has consistently found women tend to adopt a more transformational leadership style, which includes demonstrating compassion, care, concern, respect and equality.

From this CNN article

Compassion. Care. Concern. Respect. Equality. I’d say our current leader is 0 for 5 on those. Unless “care” = “cares only about himself” and “concern” = “concern about stock market prices.”

Maybe someday… hopefully sooner rather than later… we the people of the United States of America will wise up and elect a woman president. It shouldn’t be such a foreign concept.

Don’t be yourself. Be more.

As someone who prides himself on knowing a little bit about a lot of subjects (some serious, most not-so-serious), this quote really rang true to me:

“You can’t just be you. You have to double yourself. You have to read books on subjects you know nothing about. You have to travel to places you never thought of traveling. You have to meet every kind of person and endlessly stretch what you know.” 

Mary Wells Lawrence, advertising exec in the 60s and the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company

Ms. Wells Lawrence made her mark in the ad world (“plop, plop, fizz, fizz” ring a bell?), but her quote about how to exercise your creative muscles is certainly applicable well beyond the realm of advertising. I think it’s sound advice for any career field… and for life in general. Our brains need stimuli to grow, our souls need enrichment to thrive.

One of my favorite words (yes, I’m a certified WordNerd™) is “polymath.”

I’m more of a poly-dabbler, but you have to start somewhere, right? And I do think learning about new and different things makes it easier to find connections and solve problems.

The world seems more polarized today. Us vs. them. But how much do you really know about “them” when you’re trapped in your own bubble? By reading more, by engaging with more people across the spectrum, we all can grow not just our creativity, but also our empathy.

Hugh MacLeod, from the Gaping Void blog

HT to the Gaping Void blog for putting the Mary Wells Lawrence quote on my radar. If you’re looking for some creative stimulus on a regular basis, that blog is a great way to start to “double yourself.”

Unlock your mind and open your eyes

There’s not much to do in the Age of COVID, but we can still take walks around the neighborhood. This past weekend, I went by a house featuring these two signs:

Based on another yard sign (not pictured because I’m not giving Rump any free ads), I’m assuming the HER in question is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. You know, the same governor who was recently the target of a kidnapping plot by domestic terrorists.

Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” according to the complaint.

from this CNN story

Yes, a woman, a wife, a mother, a stepmother, a survivor of sexual assault, a public servant, was targeted for kidnapping or worse, and our country’s president immediately blamed HER for being divisive, and less than a week later he was laughing off chants of “lock her up.” It’s victim-blaming on steroids. To use his own words “Sad! Very sad.”

“You know, the fact that after a plot to kidnap and to kill me, this is what they come out with. They start attacking me, opposed to what good, decent people would do is to check in and say, ‘Are you OK?’ Which is what Joe Biden did,” she said.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the same CNN article

At least Le Cheeto-in-Chief is consistent – he never met a dumpster fire he didn’t want to add more lighter fluid to. He’s also consistent in HIS narcissism, HIS avoidance of responsibility for HIS words and actions, HIS wanton disregard for civility, and HIS misogyny. (Four years ago, there was another HER he wanted to lock up. Meanwhile, there are a lot of HIMS in the president’s circle who have been locked up, and deservedly so. )

Michigan’s Republican Party Chair, Laura Cox, said this:

“We live in a nation where we settle our political disagreements at the ballot box, not through violence, and any attempt to do otherwise is an attack on our Constitution, our values, and our American way of life.”

Well said. It’s about WE the People…

If you haven’t already, please vote. Right now, the pathetic sounds of the hateful name-callers are being amplified. But our voices can drown out that noise.

Cheaters never prosper

A lot of baseball fans were upset that the Houston Astros players who participated in a sign-stealing scandal in 2017 and 2018 were never punished. But one fan took matters — and a megaphone — into his own hands.

Photo credit: New York Times

Dude’s name is Tim Kanter. He’s a White Sox fan (obvi, from the photo above) but he lives in San Diego. Due to the pandemic, the baseball playoffs are being played at neutral site stadiums in warm weather locales. The American League Championship Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the aforementioned Cheatin’ Astros was hosted at Petco Park in San Diego. Tim works at a software company whose offices overlook the stadium. So he and his buddies pooled $200 to buy a mega-powered megaphone. And during Game 4, Tim spoke for most fans:

Hear, hear! Attaboy Tim! Thanks for giving voice to the feelings of so many fans.

(The quotes above are from this New York Times article. It’s well worth the read. Tim Kanter seems like an interesting person.)

If you cheat, you should pay a price. The Chicago White Sox players who “threw” the 1919 World Series were banned for life. Pete Rose broke the rules by betting on his team and was banned for life. The Astros clearly cheated, and while the manager and GM were suspended for a year (and wound up losing their jobs), and the club was fined $5 million and lost draft picks for a couple of years, the players involved never had to miss a game.

Last night was Game 7 of the ALCS. Tampa Bay beat Houston. Fair and square.

Music that mattered. People who cared.

Matt Berninger is a singer and songwriter, best known as the frontman for The National, a group he formed with two pairs of brothers (Bryan and Scott Devendorf, plus identical twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner). All five of them hail from Cincinnati. Matt has a new solo album coming out this Friday. You can read more about that here and here. (Sidebar of note: the album artwork was done by my friend Dale Doyle – you may remember him from this post, when he was “downsized” by the ad agency where he worked for 23 years. What a difference a couple of years makes!)

Artwork by Dale Doyle

Growing up in Cincinnati, Matt tuned in to a tiny station with an even tinier transmitter, broadcasting from 35 miles northwest of the city, in Oxford, Ohio. 97X (WOXY-FM).

From the November issue of Uncut magazine

Nearly four decades ago, Brian Eno made a now-famous statement about The Velvet Underground in particular, and gratification in general:

“I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band! So I console myself in thinking that some things generate their rewards in second-hand ways.”

Brian Eno in the Los Angeles Times, 1982. Source.

I’d like to think a similar concept holds true for 97X, where I worked for a few years in the late 80s and early 90s. The station only had about 3,000 listeners, but everyone who tuned in was a true music lover. Not all of them started a band (although Matt did), but to a person, they were folks who cared deeply, profoundly, sometimes rabidly, about the music. It wasn’t just about the artists, it was about the community that formed around that music… the “tribe” in Seth Godin parlance. Many listeners grew up misfits and outcasts in “normal” society. At 97X, they found a home, a place where they truly felt like they belonged.

You hear a lot about diversity and inclusion these days – it was baked right into the station’s programming. 97X ran the gamut of “modern rock” – jangle pop, punk, goth, singer-songwriters, grunge, you name it… with specialty shows for blues, reggae, dance, industrial, metal, and local music. If it was new, if it was different, it probably got played. We’d always err on the side of the listeners’ ears – play it and let them decide, not us. To be a 97X fan was to be open-minded, tolerant, adventurous, liberal in the broadest definition of that word.

All of this helps explain why, more than 16 years after the terrestrial station went off the air, and a decade after the internet version died, 97X still holds a special place in a lot of people’s hearts. There’s a FB group called WOXY Forever. There’s a monthly playlist of new music on Spotify, compiled by dedicated listeners who never lost the joy of discovery that was inculcated by 97X.

There are college professors who give speeches about it. There are listeners who have painstakingly recreated countless hours of playlists, and archived each year’s “best of” and the “Modern Rock 500” (a Memorial Day countdown of the top 500 songs). It’s why Dave Tellmann (who worked at 97X for a decade) and I do a podcast about 97X (shameless self-promotion: it’s available on Podbean, Spotify and Apple podcasts).

The fact that Matt Berninger developed his musical tastes listening to 97X is super-cool. But I’m just as thrilled about all the other listeners who made 97X their station. We were all part of a small but mighty band… and we’re still focused on “the future of rock and roll.”

Baby, we were born to… putter?

I can’t decide which is worse. The fact that “The Boss” is on the cover of the latest issue of AARP Magazine

… or the fact that the AARP Magazine is mailed to my home address every two months.

Time is NOT on my side, no matter how much I try to deny it.

Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce is now oooooooooold. Eddie Van Halen and Neil Peart are gone, along with dozens of other rock heroes of my youth. I’ve gone from Rage Against the Machine to “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”

How did this happen? When did this happen? Who am I and what am I doing here?

I suppose there’s no sense lamenting it. Father Time is undefeated. May as well embrace my senior status… and my AARP discounts!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go impart some words of wisdom upon the youth of America.

Sports is life

Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Bob Gibson passed away Friday night, after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 84. As fate would have it, the book I’ve been reading over the past week is a collection of essays by the great sportswriter Roger Kahn.

And I was smack dab in the middle of the Bob Gibson essay when I heard that he passed away. The best years of Gibson’s playing career were mostly before my time (hard to believe when I’m so old), but I remember my dad telling stories about his baseball prowess. What I didn’t know until I read the Roger Kahn profile was his backstory. He grew up in a four-room shack in Omaha, Nebraska, the youngest of seven kids. His dad died three months before he was born. His mom worked at a laundry. One night during his childhood, a rat bit him on the ear while he was sleeping.

He loved basketball, and his dream was to play college hoops for Indiana University, but they rejected him because they had already met their “quota” of Black players. Instead he starred in basketball and baseball for Creighton University in his hometown. And when he graduated, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals AND the Harlem Globetrotters, playing sports year-round to earn the princely sum of $8,000.

Most of the obits mention Bob Gibson’s competitive nature, and how it manifested itself on the mound – how he’d hit batters to keep them from digging in against him. You’d probably have a bit of an edge too, if you grew up poor and fatherless, and were denied opportunities due to the color of your skin.

We think we’ve come so far in race relations since the 1960s, but when you read the excerpt below from Bob Gibson’s 1968 book, it’s easy to see similarities in the way he was perceived back then, and the backlash that Colin Kaepernick received in 2016, or the “shut up and dribble” comments directed toward LeBron James earlier this year:

“In a world filled with hate, prejudice and protest, I find that I too am filled with hate, prejudice and protest. I hate phonies. I am prejudiced against all those who have contempt for me because my face is black and all those who accept me only because of my ability to throw a baseball.”

From Gibson’s book From Ghetto to Glory

In another essay from The Roger Kahn Reader, written during the Watergate era, Roger Kahn sums up “sports is life” nicely… and his words still ring true half a century later:

“Sports tells anyone who watches intelligently about the times in which we live: about managed news and corporate politics, about race and terror and what the process of aging does to strong men. If that sounds grim, there is courage and high humor, too… I find sport to be a better area than most to look for truth.”

The truth is Bob Gibson is a Hall of Famer. The other truth is that his path there was a lot rockier due to his circumstances. And the saddest truth of all is that a fatherless child from the ghetto is probably no better off today than Bob Gibson was when he was born in 1935.

My moment in the sun

A few years ago, we installed 23 solar panels on the roof of our house. Actually, “we” didn’t install them – Third Sun Solar, an Ohio-based company, was our partner in the project. (And by “partner” I mean they did all the work, and we wrote a check.)

I’m not climbing on that roof… these days, I’m afraid of stepladder-level heights

Third Sun likes to write brief articles/case studies about current solar users, to help them promote the concept to other potential customers. I was more than happy to be a pawn in their marketing game. I mean, check out the hyperbolic headline:

I’ve never, ever been a champion of anything… I did finish 2nd in the Clarksville, Arkansas locale of the Punt, Pass & Kick competition back in 1972.

Facemasks are for wimps!

(I suppose I should mention that because 1972 was the first year for the national Punt, Pass & Kick competition, and because Clarksville was (and is) a podunk town, there were only two contestants in my age bracket. So in this case, “second place” was just another name for “last place.” More on that in another blog post… I love reliving humiliating events.)

Hmm, where was I before I started my sports stardom reverie? Oh, yeah, solar panels. The full Third Sun puff piece is here. It won’t win any writing awards — but at least they spelled my name correctly, so I won’t be confused with the evil kid in the Omen movies.

In all seriousness (OK, semi-seriousness), if you’ve never considered a solar installation before, do some quick research on the ol’ interwebs. (Use DuckDuckGo!) And if you’ve considered solar previously, take the next step and get a free evaluation. Third Sun was great – very helpful at every step of the process. I’d highly recommend them. And I’m not the only one:

From this site, which has a very handy and easy-to-use solar calculator

The price of panels has dropped significantly over the past few years, and you still get a decent tax credit (26% in 2020, 22% in 2021). We also got an EcoLink loan from the State of Ohio that knocked 3% off the loan rate (taking it down to 1.34% back in 2017).

Maybe you, too, can bask in the glorious glow of being a solar champion.

Like there’s no Tom Tomorrow

Yes, I’m a 55-year-old man who still loves reading comic strips. And I’m not ashamed of that at all. (Mainly because I don’t read the crappy strips like Marmaduke. I have more discerning tastes.)

If you think comics are for kids, I suggest you read the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

This Modern World, a weekly political comic strip by Tom Tomorrow (a.k.a. Dan Perkins), is consistently funny and thought-provoking — a tough combo to pull off.

I used to read This Modern World in the local alternative weekly until budget cuts caused the paper to drop it. Now I subscribe to Sparky’s List, Tom Tomorrow’s subscription-based weekly email that includes the weekly strip as well as some notes about the work and other musings on life. It’s $10 for six months – a bargain at twice the price. If you don’t care to spare the ten spot, you can check out each week’s strip Mondays on the Daily Kos or Tuesdays on The Nib.

Make fun of me all you want for reading the funny papers. I don’t care, I’m still gonna read ’em. You may think it’s a waste of time, but I sure don’t.

The Old Man Olympics

Several times over the past few weeks, I’ve done a kayak/bike ride combo. I lock up my bike near my kayak destination (#1 below), then drive upriver, launch my kayak (#2), paddle down the river about 4 miles, lock up my kayak and pedal back to get my car. (Actually, it’s my son’s SUV, because his has a roof rack and plenty of room to stow the bike.)

The fact that the starting and ending points are near breweries is merely coincidental.

The launch point and the destination are both along the same bike path, so I don’t have to dodge cars on my bike ride. And the bike path extends far beyond the kayak launch point, so I can tack on more bike miles if I want. It’s a nice way to spend a weekend morning.

I also bought a $20 waterproof speaker, so the past couple of kayak rides, I’ve been able to listen to music as I paddle along.

If you count the steps I take hauling the kayak to/from the river, it’s basically the same as the Ironman Triathlon. Or the old man equivalent.

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