Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Today I’m posting an “encore presentation” (don’t you dare call it a rerun) of a post that originally appeared waaaay back in February of 2016. That was a whole different decade. A more peaceful era. A time when we could congregate in large groups and see the bottom halves of people’s faces. “Gee, ain’t it funny how time slips away…”
I’m reposting it for three reasons:
So the three people who read it back then can re-read it and chuckle anew (fingers crossed!).
So I can add the accentaigu to the e in Beyoncé. That grammatical faux pas has been haunting me for five years… neither Queen Bey nor Jay-Z has spoken to me since I published the original post. (OK, they didn’t speak to me before, either, but that was coincidence, and now it’s causality. Facts!)
Because my feelings about halftime extravaganzas have not changed one whit. (Don’t take it personally, The Weeknd… or is it Mr. The Weeknd? The Weeknd Guy? Sir The Weeknd?) In fact, I’m starting a Change.org petition to bring back Up With People. And I’m counting on all three readers of this blog to sign it.
Please silence your cell phones, sit back, relax, and enjoy today’s encore presentation:
The Super Bowl to end all Super Bowls (at least until next year) is just a day away… and already I’m sick of the hype. Not the hype for the game – I’m oblivious to that after years of Roman Numerals being shoved in my face XXIV/VII (see what I did there?). I’m sick of the hype for the halftime show. Excuse me, I meant to say “The Greatest Halftime Spectacle In The History of The Universe” or whatever they’re calling this year’s gig. They went with the Chinese Restaurant menu approach this year – one from each column – Coldplay for the aging wannabe hipsters, Beyoncé for the soul sisters, and Bruno Mars for… well, pretty much everybody else. And of course they have a corporate sponsor, because there’s a sponsor for everything. I’m surprised they don’t say “This Geico commercial is sponsored by Bud Light.”
Call me an old fuddy duddy (merely typing that phrase makes me an old fuddy duddy) but I actually miss the early Super Bowls before the greedy tentacles of the NFL and advertisers hijacked the halftime show. For many years, the “entertainment” (using that term very loosely) was Up With People – a group of overly earnest teens singing easy listening versions of the day’s top hits. Sort of like an Osmond Family clone army. Sure they were super cheesy and super lame, but who cares? It’s halftime – time to reload on food and drinks.
2020 was a brutal year for staying connected. Back in the 80s, the hippies that hadn’t put a Deadhead sticker on their Cadillac came up with this “peace and love” slogan:
The 2020 equivalent would be “you can’t hug anyone with COVID cooties.”
Ironically enough, you can stay connected with your nuclear family. But pretty much everyone else (save the grocery worker apologizing for the limit on toilet paper… or the total lack of it on shelves) was (and is) off limits. The so-called “weak ties” have been severed. And that’s been a real challenge, especially for those already battling depression.
In the weeks following, I thought frequently of other people I had missed without fully realizing it. Pretty good friends with whom I had mostly done things that were no longer possible, such as trying new restaurants together. Co-workers I didn’t know well but chatted with in the communal kitchen. Workers at the local coffee or sandwich shops who could no longer dawdle to chat. The depth and intensity of these relationships varied greatly, but these people were all, in some capacity, my friends, and there was also no substitute for them during the pandemic. Tools like Zoom and FaceTime, useful for maintaining closer relationships, couldn’t re-create the ease of social serendipity, or bring back the activities that bound us together.
Understandably, much of the energy directed toward the problems of pandemic social life has been spent on keeping people tied to their families and closest friends. These other relationships have withered largely unremarked on after the places that hosted them closed. The pandemic has evaporated entire categories of friendship, and by doing so, depleted the joys that make up a human life—and buoy human health.
It’s not just in the movies that people get social support from their hairdresser. We feel seen when a server smiles upon seeing us and knows what our “usual” is. In fact, our interactions with weak ties tend to go especially smoothly, since we are often on our best behavior with people we don’t know well. Weak-tie relationships give us short, low-cost, informal interactions, which often provide new information and social variety. As a result, we are often pleasantly surprised by these moments.
Is it any wonder that our society is becoming more polarized? With less weak-tie interaction, we no longer have to be on our best behavior… be polite… smile at strangers. Hunkering down is good for stopping the spread of coronavirus, but that bunker mentality isn’t helping us mentally.
Experts warned that the toxic mix of isolation and economic devastation could generate a wave of suicides, but those dire predictions have resulted in little action.
The mental health crisis is the silent pandemic.
What can we do when we’re still in lockdown? We can’t hang out with a bunch of strangers in a bar (unless you’re in Sturgis for the Harley Rally – anything goes!) But we can at least reach out to a few of our casual acquaintances. Whip out that smart phone, scroll through your contacts to find four folks with whom you haven’t connected in a while, and shoot each of them a quick text. Just to say howdy.
Use emojis if you must. Call it a game of Connect Four if that helps. (“Pretty sneaky, sis!”)
Just reach out.
A quick “thinking of you” could improve their quality of life. And perhaps their quantity of life too.
I don’t own any GameStop stock… and I’m only semi-literate financially. But I’ve been learning a lot over the past few days, as I’ve watched the Reddit Wall Street Bets gang take on Melvin Capital and Citadel. “Short squeezes” and “gamma squeezes” and “call options”… oh my!
It does feel a lot like Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd trying to take down the Duke Brothers in Trading Places.
Perhaps with shades of Tulip Mania thrown into the equation.
The best summary that I’ve been able to find about all the shenanigans is here. Here’s a great excerpt:
On CNBC, many people were freaking out about the Game Stop situation. Host Scott Wapner, for example, said that the rise in GameStop’s price was evidence of problems with the “integrity of the system.”
Investor Chamath Palihapitiya pushed back. “Just because you were wrong, doesn’t mean you get to change the rules. Especially because when you were wrong, you got bailed out the last time. That’s not fair,” Palihapitiya said.
But it sure does seem like the big dogs (i.e. institutional investors) are changing the rules. And at the risk of sounding QAnon, the connection between Citadel and Melvin Capital does make me suspicious of the motives of many retail trading platforms, who prevented Average Joe and Average Jane traders from buying (but not selling) GME.
Citadel just invested billions in Melvin Capital, so they have a vested interest in its success (or really just survival at this point). And because “Citadel Securities also accounts for 40 of every 100 shares traded by individual investors in the U.S., making it the number one retail market maker” (from the Financial Times, courtesy of the Popular Info article linked above), the trading platforms have a vested interest in keeping their cash cow happy. And throttling the market allowed the institutional investors to “unwind” their short positions.
If you’re wondering why this sort of populist uprising against “The Man” is happening, here’s something to ponder:
But the pandemic is causing a sharp divide in class wealth. COVID-19 brought the sharpest rise in the U.S. poverty rate since the 1960s, according to a study by the University of Notre Dame. The poverty rate in the U.S. increased by 2.4 percentage points during the latter half of 2020, meaning an additional 8M people nationwide are now considered poor. In the same time frame, the collective wealth of America’s 651 billionaires jumped by over $2.95T to over $4T, in a trend that’s likely to trigger more discussions about equality in the economic sphere. (Source: Seeking Alpha newsletter, 1/26/21)
I recently finished reading yet another band biography.
I barely qualify as a casual fan of Bad Religion, but if there’s a book about a punk rock band, any punk rock band, I’m eventually going to read it. This particular tome turned out to be quite interesting. Bad Religion has been around for 40 years, so there’s a lot of history to cover. The band’s lead singer has a PhD in Zoology and has taught at UCLA and Cornell. The guitarist co-founder also started — and still runs — a very successful indie record label called Epitaph.
The book came out last August. I was struck by how prescient a few of the band’s songs were. Check out this passage, about a couple of tunes that came out two years ago:
We certainly experienced “Chaos from Within” on January 6th of this year… and it was fueled by “the Paranoid Style.”
But not all Bad Religion songs are focused on American politics. Their lyrics touch on other heavy topics such as religion, society, the media, science… you name it.
Waaay back in 1996, they released an album called The Gray Race that sounded the alarm about the global crises that can only be averted if we realize that the survival of the human race calls for cooperation beyond national borders. “We’re all in this together…”
One track on that album, “Punk Rock Song” sums up the challenge quite well in its final verse:
It certainly gives us pause to ponder. Not bad for a song that’s less than two and a half minutes long.
Bad Religion released a new song last Thursday. 41 years into their career, they’re still challenging us to think for ourselves.
“I think the song really is a celebration of enlightenment values that can be cultivated through enthusiastic learning and open-mindedness,” says vocalist Greg Graffin in a statement.
“So often we’re told what to think. But learning how to think (as opposed to learning what to think) is a true feeling of emancipation from the constraints of indoctrination that are so commonplace in our society.”
If form holds (and if the concussion protocol truly is cleared), this year’s Super Bowl (LV if you’re keeping score at home… on your papyrus scroll) could be a repeat of the teams that were in the first Super Bowl (back before Roman Numerals were a thing). The Green Bay Packers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.
They didn’t even officially call it a “Super Bowl” back then…. it was the AFL-NFL World Championship.
I know State Farm is rooting for the Pack and the Chiefs… then the Super Bowl can finally settle once and for all whether the “Rodgers Rate” or the “Patrick Price” is better.
If the Packers aren’t your favorite team, they should be your runner-up… they are a throwback to a different era. Today, most teams are owned by billionaire businesspeople. The ownership roster is heavy skewed toward men (shocking!) who are oil tycoons, real estate magnates and scions of the original owners… and then there’s the Jacksonville Jags owner, who makes bumpers for Toyotas. You can read about how each owner made their cash here.
But the Packers a unicorn. They’re the only publicly-owned, not-for-profit pro team in the U.S. They are owned by 360,760 fan/shareholders. And there’s a limit on how many shares you can own, to prevent any one person from having too much power. It’s the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland “hey kids, let’s put on a show” of sports franchises, based in a decidedly non-glitzy city of 100,000… on the frozen tundra of upper Wisconsin. How can you NOT love them?
But first, Green Bay has to beat Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship. I think we can all agree that the last thing we need is Tom Brady in another Super Bowl. Yes, he’s the G.O.A.T. and all that, but he already has so many Super Bowl rings that at this point he’d probably just give a new ring to his personal hairdresser. (And don’t act like he doesn’t have a stylist… I’m pretty sure s/he is allowed on the sidelines to adjust his ‘do every time TB takes off his helmet, so he’s ready for the 10,000 gratuitous close-ups from the TV cameras.)
Kansas City’s QB, Patrick Mahomes, is rapidly approaching that “yes, we know he’s great but we’re tired of hearing about how great he is 24/7” threshold that Tom Brady crossed decades ago.
Wait… hold on… listen! Do you hear it? That sound coming from Washington, D.C. Do you hear it? No? Neither do I. And that’s a huuuuge win for our country.
We’ve all had front row seats for a four-year, three-ring circus. “Step right up, ladies and gentleman, and witness feats you won’t believe! In this ring, we have Enormously Egomaniacal Posturing Prevaricator, spewing falsehoods and venom with hypersonic speed, and feasting on the attention of sycophantic spokespeople and a timid press. In this ring, the Bald-faced Bigots and Daring Dog-Whistlers, pandering to hate groups while simultaneously ripping children from their parents and locking them in cages. And in this ring, the compliant congressmen and congresswomen, frozen in fear, never daring to speak the truth to power!”
Now, the TweetTornado has passed. Massive damage has been done, but at least we have quiet and peace as we go about fixing what’s been broken… patching up relationships, restoring trust, providing comfort to the afflicted.
Gather round, you young whippersnappers, and Grandpa’s going to tell you about the good old days when we had to struggle to listen to music.
I overheard some teenagers talking about how all their music is stored on McCloud. I don’t know too much about today’s technology, so I have no idea how they can store all their music on top of a fish-out-of-water law enforcement officer from Taos, New Mexico, on assignment in New York City, winning the begrudging admiration of his gruff, streetwise boss with a folksy approach to detective work, but that’s what the kids… Grandpa was talking, it’s impolite to interrupt… oh, alright, go ahead… Speak up! What’s that you say? Oh, it’s The Cloud not McCloud? Well, that still doesn’t make any sense.
Back in my day, we only had the radio and records. If you heard a song that you liked on the radio, and the Woolworth’s was already closed so you couldn’t buy the 45 rpm single, you had to wait until the radio station played it again.
If you were smart, you had your Realistic brand cassette recorder nearby, and you’d record the song right off the air.
If you didn’t know the name of the song or the band that played it, you had to wait until the DJ said the names, or ask your friends at school on Monday, because this is the only Shazam we had back then:
There was only one good radio station in every town, an FM station that played “album rock.” But if you had an older used car as your first car, chances are pretty good that it didn’t have FM radio in it, so you had to buy something called an FM Converter and install it underneath the dashboard of your Dodge Cornet.
It’s probably a good thing there was only one rock station, because if you tried to tune in a different station on the FM Converter while you were driving, your car was sure to wind up in a ditch.
Eventually most cars came with FM radios, but there was no way to play your favorite albums in a car until the 8-track player came along.
But since the songs on a two-sided album had to be spread out evenly across four stereo tracks on an 8-track, sometimes the tracks wouldn’t be in album order, and even worse, sometimes an 8-track would fade out right in the middle of a song. You’d hear a loud “ca-chunk!” as the player switched tracks, and then the same song would pick up where it left off. You kids probably can’t even imagine what a letdown that would be, if, for example, Peter Frampton was in the middle of his talk box part in “Do You Feel Like We Do” on Frampton Comes Alive, the song would sound something like this: “I wanna… CA-CHUNK… duck you!” (He didn’t say “duck” of course, I’m just cleaning it up for your virgin ears. Also, that Frampton song isn’t split up on 8-track, that would be an unforgivable sin. )
Oh, and if you missed your favorite song, you’d have to wait for the rest of the album to play through before you heard it again.
Then some smarty pants realized that we should have cassette players in cars instead of 8-track players. That was much better… even if your tape got eaten by the cassette player, there was still a chance you could rescue it with some Ticonderoga surgery.
But I’m still mad about the fact that on the cassette version of Led Zeppelin II, “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid” were on different sides. Good thing my high school buddy’s pickup truck had a cassette player with “auto reverse.” I became an expert at hitting the fast-forward button for five seconds and then hitting the “reverse” button to eliminate as much of the delay between those songs as possible.
I hear the kids talking about making a playlist by “drag and drop”… that’s how it worked in my day too. If you wanted to put together a mixtape, you’d drag your butt over to the Quasar stereo with the dual cassette deck, and drop in cassette after cassette of albums into the “playback” deck, laboriously cueing up your favorite songs just right before hitting “record” to transfer it to your Maxell blank tape in the “record” deck.
When CDs came along, it became easier to create a mix CD, but you still had to “rip” the album first, then “burn” it to a blank CD, and cross your fingers that the blank CD wouldn’t be a dud, useful only as a beverage coaster.
You kids and your streaming services and your satellite radio and your Bluetooth… you don’t know how lucky you are! Now get off my lawn, and don’t come back until I’m finished watching reruns of McCloud!