Now that 2020 is hindsight

Happy New Year! While we’re not out of the woods yet, we are at least seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train.

One year ago from today, nobody had any inkling that 2020 would affect America far more profoundly than 2001, 1941, or 1918. It also came dangerously close to 1860. But then we got news of a little virus in February, began to shut down in March, and 2020 became what I’m going to think of as “The Year We Had No Faces.”

At the end of 2019, I tried to tell people that 2020 was not the first year of the ‘20s, but rather the last year of the ‘10s. They scoffed at the idea then, but I think that now they’ll understand my case. Let 2020 be part of the last decade forever, and let 2021 be the true new beginning that we need.

For me, personally, 2020 had its pros and cons. I’m an ambivert, so while I missed being able to go to work for nearly six months, or to do improv in person at all, I was perfectly fine on my own alone at home. Hey, I completed the first draft of The Rêves during lockdown and, thanks to the stimulus check managed to get major and necessary car repairs done and buy a sweet but relatively cheap musical keyboard — and still have a ton left over for stuff like, oh, I don’t know. Food and utilites?

Or, in other words, I participated in some “percolate up” economics, in which case people who aren’t filthy rich put surprise money back into the economy, thereby helping local merchants, like my mechanic, music shop, and grocery store.

This is as opposed to “trickle-down,” the mistaken belief that giving all the money to the 1% at the top helps anyone. Nope. All they do with it is to invest it for their own benefit, and none of it goes anywhere else.

What? You think that the Bezoses, Musks, and Zuckerbergs of the world turn their windfalls into higher wages and benefits for their employees? Dream on. They turn them into interest bearing and dividend generating instruments for their own benefit.

And, in all the years since Ronald Fucking Reagan (may that asshole rot in hell) created “Trickle-Down Economics,” has no one realized that it could just as easily be called “Tinkle-On Economics?” That’s what happens to anyone who isn’t filthy rich in that system.

Has 2020 radicalized me? Yes and no. I’ve always hated the idea that this country has been run and owned since the beginning by old, white Christian cis-males. Prior to, well, 2016, I thought that we were finally going to break their grip on us. GObama!

The last four years have shown me how determined these dinosaurs are to go kicking and screaming to their less relevant position, and that’s where 2020 has radicalized me. All the economic stuff, I’ve believed for a long time. But as I see the new administration forming, and as I see that a lot of the appointees are, in fact, not old, white, Christian cis-males, it makes me happy.

The light at the end of the tunnel of 2021: President-Elect Joe Biden promised us a cabinet that looks like America, and he is delivering on that promise. And if old white men don’t like that, they can just go pound sand.

Don’t worry old dudes. We’re not like Republicans. We won’t take you around back and shoot you. We’ll just point and laugh at your outdated opinions and racist humor and then tell you, “STFU, Boomer.”

Plus, bonus: Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris. How awesome is that? The first Vice President who is female, and of both African and Asian descent. Plus she’s from my home state.

Of course, there are still a few more hurdles to get over after all of the laughable attempts by certain parties to try to deny or overthrow the results of an election which Biden and Harris overwhelmingly won.

The electoral votes still need to be certified by Congress, and the outgoing President went so far as to ask the Vice President to refuse to do so, effectively blocking the vote. Fortunately, Pence can’t do this, and knows it.

The certification happens on January 6, although GOP Congress members are going to try to stop it. They will fail.

The day before will see the runoff elections in Georgia for U.S. Senate, and if both of those offices go to the Democrats — and they just might — then we would have the power to completely undo the mess that the former administration has made of everything.

With those two Senators being Democrats, we’d have a 50-50 split, and do you know who the President of the Senate and tie-breaking vote is? Why, that would be Vice President Kamala Harris.

So all eyes truly are on Georgia, because a double victory there for the Democrats would give them control of two out of the three branches of government — the Executive (President, cabinet, etc.), and the Legislative (Congress, made up of House and Senate.)

This would also leave the door open to fix the Supreme Court by adding four Justices to bring the total to 13, and that’s not arbitrary. It’s an odd number, could be cited as an historical nod to the original 13 colonies, and would match the number of appellate courts in the U.S., meaning that one member of the SCOTUS would not have to oversee more than one appellate court.

There’s no telling what stupidity and insanity certain parties might try to pull off in the two weeks between Congress saying, “Yes, Joe Biden is the president-elect” and John Roberts making him officially the President on January 20th, but we’ll probably see a lot less of it.

With any luck, the coming months will see us turn the ship of state around to avoid the waterfall as we finally give a proper response to COVID-19 in terms of prevention, vaccination, and providing actual financial assistance to people affected.

Invest a little money now so that people actually can stay home for a few weeks or a couple of months until the hospitals empty out and the number of active cases plummets.

With any luck, we will restore protections that have been taken away from not just certain classes of people, but from Federal lands and other protected areas and species.

We will start to see positive reform of the criminal justice system, including eliminating for-profit prisons, possibly legalizing certain drugs under Federal law and freeing all people incarcerated solely for their possession or sale

We can also help the police serve better by figuring out how to bring in other entities to handle cases that might better be handled by non-law-enforcement. For example, you’d send the cops to an armed robbery in progress or to pursue a fleeing carjacker or murderer, but it might be better for everyone to send a social worker or negotiator out on a domestic violence call.

And for everyone’s sake — the police and ours — can we make “on at all times” body and car cameras mandatory and, in exchange, cut down the ridiculous amount of paperwork that law enforcement has to do over absolutely everything? Save that for court reporters reviewing and transcribing the cam footage.

This New Year brings new hope for the future, but we aren’t going to get there unless we shake all of the anger and ill-will of the last four years off, remind ourselves that we are all in it together — in the general sense as Americans, but in the broadest sense as humans everywhere, and it’s time to re-dedicate our efforts to doing what we have to do to end the plagues that tried their best to destroy us in 2020.

One, of course, was COVID-19, but the other was selfishness and the inability to do what had to be done and give up what was necessary in order to help all of us.

Don’t make that mistake in 2021. Keep wearing those masks and social distancing, support your local restaurants by ordering to-go or delivery (and tipping), but do not dine in, and put off those holiday trips to see family and friends. In fact, put off all long trips, especially by common carriers like airplanes.

Life is not going to be normal again until we know that the vaccine works long-term, that we’ve seen the number of active infections drop, and the death rate has gone way down.

None of that has happened yet and, in fact, right around the time Congress is certifying the Electoral Vote is when we should see another uptick because of all the people who couldn’t sacrifice and not travel home for Christmas.

So expect the 2020 Experience to keep on giving until at least the end of June. And that’s being optimistic. In the meantime, while you’re not going out, share some love with those people who’ve entertained you online — share their sites, subscribe to their podcasts, buy their art or etsy stuff, go to their online pay-what-you-can shows and actually pay, and so on.

It doesn’t have to be much individually, but if everybody tosses a couple of bucks in various directions, it will add up. And, anyway, the elections are over and look at how much was donated to all of the candidates.

Now imagine that kind of money divided up among your friends and loved ones and give.

Happy New Year, and may our 2021 be much better than our 2020 was.

November 18: Six earth-shaping events that happened on this day

Important events happen every day on Earth, but some days get an interesting assortment. Over the course of the last 925 years, November 18 has seen a few events that went on to change history. Here are five.

  1. 1095 C.E.: Pope Urban II convenes the Council of Clermont. This council ran for ten days, until November 28, but on the penultimate day, Pope Urban gave a speech that included a call to arms in order to invade and capture Jerusalem.

This little invasion became known to history as the First Crusade, in which the members of one “peaceful” religion (Christianity) went to a foreign land and killed members of two other “peaceful” religions (Islam and Judaism) and claimed for themselves the city claimed by all of them, because reasons.

The real causes weren’t so much religious as they were the Roman Catholic Church coming to the aid of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I in his effort to drive out the Muslim Seljuk Turks and take control of Asia Minor himself. So, as usual, it was a personal thirst for power dressed up in lofty religious reasons.

Have to make the Holy Land safe for all those Christian pilgrims going to Jerusalem, right? Unfortunately, the Crusades continued on for nearly 200 years, and the Muslims ultimately won. That didn’t change until the Reconquista — which itself had begun in the 8th century — took back Muslim lands in Northern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.

That ended in 1492, just in time for a King and Queen in that peninsula to finance the expedition of a genocidal madman to the west so that Europe could go on to be bloodthirsty on an entirely new continent or two. You might have heard of the dude. He was named Columbus…?

  1. 1872 C.E.: Thirteen days after the fact — proving that the government being slow to move after an election is nothing new — a horrible act of voter fraud is uncovered and Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women are arrested for the heinous crime of voting while having vaginas!

It was the presidential election of 1872, which was an interesting one. Ulysses S. Grant, famous Civil War General, had been elected in 1868 after the single term of Andrew Johnson, one of the four U.S. Presidents who were never elected to that office. Grant was the favored nominee of the Republican Party, but (shades of 2016) disgruntled “party purity” members put up their own candidate, Horace Greeley, of “Go west, young man” fame.

He ran as a member of the newly minted and so-called Liberal Republican Party, but was actually nominated at the Democratic National Convention, so the mental-political mindfuck of all those terms crashing together is quite astounding, especially if you know the politics of the parties at the time.

The end result? Grant received 286 Electoral Votes. Greeley received none.

So it was on top of this rather odd background that fifteen women decided to just say “Fuck it” and go cast their ballots. Susan B. Anthony was the driving force behind it, and she basically went into the registration office before the election, demanding to register.

When she was told that state law only allowed males to do so, she cited the 14th Amendment —the post-Civil War Amendments granting equal protection — and so talked the workers into allowing her to register.

November 5, 1872, she and 14 other women voted. November 18, 1872, she was arrested, exactly as she expected. She proceeded to use her trial in order to bring attention to the concept of universal suffrage and giving women the right to vote in national elections.

The young men who accepted her registration and then her ballot were interviewed in her trial, and the transcripts make for a fascinating glimpse into politics and mindsets of the era.

  1. 1883 C.E.: Believe it or not, it took until the late 19th century for the U.S. and Canada to finally create something that we now all take for granted, especially in this era when a lot of our interactions are interstate if not international, and happen in real time.

On this day 137 years ago, U.S. and Canadian railroads instituted the five standard continental time zones, which at the time, of course, did not include the zones for Alaska, Hawaii, or any of the U.S. Pacific Island possessions.

Breaking things up into one-hour chunks, they begin in the east with Atlantic Standard Time (AST), which is four hours behind UTC, formerly known as Greenwich Mean Time, aka “The clock Queen Elizabeth II watches.”

AST really only effects two small chunks of eastern Canada. Otherwise, things kick in with Eastern Standard Time (EST), aka “The reason that things like presidential debates begin at 6 p.m. on the West Coast, when people are still driving home from work.”

This is also why the Academy Awards begin way too early, but at least they’re on Sunday now.

If you’re not from the U.S., the big time zone landmarks are these: New York, Boston, etc., five hours behind Queen Liz. Chicago and that slice, six hours. Denver, seven hours. L.A. and San Francisco, eight hours, Alaska and Hawaii, nine.

This is arguably much better than the system in China, though. Although the country physically crosses five time zones, everyone is on the same clock, set to standard time in Beijing, which is UTC+8.

This can lead to some really bizarre things. Imagine the case in the U.S. if everything were set to Chicago time. People in L.A. would have to do things two hours earlier, so the work day would be from 7 to 3. Meanwhile, New York would have to do them an hour later, so work from 10 to 6.

Then again, China is fucked up in a lot of ways that I won’t get into. (Hello to my Chinese readers, and I know you’re out there! Love the people. About the government? Not so crazy.)

But… how did we wind up getting time zones because of the railroads? Simple. Back before people could travel at such blazingly fast speeds by rail (OMG — it’s a 300 baud modem!) it really didn’t matter how each particular little town or county set its clocks.

The most likely thing would be to just say that noon was when the sun was directly overhead on a certain date, and calibrate everything from there.

Well, we live on a big ball, and a few degrees of latitude or longitude can make quite a difference. If it’s noon in the town you live in and what the folks fifty miles to your west call noon there is actually 12:45 your time, it’s not really a problem, because they aren’t going to get to you in any sort of time that will make the difference count.

Note: I’m not going to do the math to figure out the actual time difference based upon the number of degrees longitude at a certain latitude, so the numbers above are arbitrary. But you’re welcome to pick two places and do the math yourself.

Anyway… this loose designation of local time was fine until the trains started barreling through, and then there was a big problem — it made it ludicrously difficult to create schedules.

Why? Because it becomes a problem not just in space, but in time. How, exactly, do you describe on a train schedule that the 2:52 westbound out of Hutchinson arrives thirty minutes later in real time in Coffeyville, but when the train left Hutch it was 2:22 in Coffeyville.

Does it arrive at 2:52, 3:22, or at some other time? So you list both times and hope for the best? And has it progresses down the line, do you have to keep adding the individual arrival times translated to the departure stations?

So, yeah. Total nightmare, and it’s probably the reason that to this day so many algebra problems take the form of, “Train A leaves the station heading west at 40 miles an hour, while Train B leaves the station heading east at 60 miles an hour. They start out 150 miles apart. At what time does the Conductor of Train A realize that his wife has been cheating with the Engineer, and confronts and attacks him, causing the worst derailment in the history of Kansas City.”

The railroad industry wisely went for the easier solution, and so standardized time zones were born. Et voilà! On long trips, it would only be necessary to notify passengers of time changes about every thousand miles.

  1. 1978 C.E.: This is a very sad one, and also the origin of the phrase “Drink the Kool-Aid” when it’s used to indicate that someone has swallowed the thinking of a political cult hook, line, and sinker.

The setting is Jonestown, Guyana, where a man named Jim Jones had set up a cult called the Peoples Temple. Now, it started out benignly and benevolently in 1955, with an anti-racist, socialist bent, but eventually devolved into the typical cult of personality.

Eventually, after Jones moved his operations to Guyana, an American Congressman decided to visit to investigate charges of abuse brought by temple members, and everything went south once his plane landed.

The Congressman and most of his entourage were assassinated. Meanwhile, Jones ordered the members of the cult to kill themselves with cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, hence the origin of the phrase.

Those who didn’t voluntarily drink were shot, and Jones himself committed suicide.

It was a total shitshow, but it also elevated the concept of cults and awareness of their traits into national awareness, so a lot of the splash-back may have been positive.

Arguably, the events in Jonestown gave incentive to the people who had been going after Scientology, so there’s that.

    1. 2003 C.E.: I now pronounce you husband and husband. Or wife and wife. This was the day that the Massachusetts Supreme Court gave their 4-to-3 ruling declaring the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, giving the state legislature 180 days to change the law.

Goodridge v. Department of Public Health was the camel’s nose under the tent that eventually led to the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the United States.  

Here’s an interesting side-note: The concept is not “gay marriage.” It’s “same-sex marriage.” So, in theory, it doesn’t mean that it has to be a fucking couple (a couple who’s fucking?) that gets married.

That’s right. Two straight friends or roommates could just as well tie the knot, and if they have compelling financial or medical reasons to do it, it might not be a bad idea.

I don’t know whether there are many states left that allow lack of consummation (i.e. “he never fucked me!”) as a reason for a no-fault divorce, but I certainly know of none that require sex and or the production of crotch-fruit to consider a marriage valid.

So this day in history 17 years ago was the beginning of a win for a lot more than just the LGBTQ+ community, because the right to marry brings so damn many protections with it, especially when it comes to legal, medical, financial, and end-of-life decisions.

I work in Medicare by day, so I see this a lot, when somebody who is, unfortunately, old but without spouse or children has to ask a friend to deal with all their medical decisions. And that friend can get a durable Power of Attorney.

This is well and good up to a point, but doesn’t quite give the absolute rights that being a spouse would. And if that friend is of the same-sex and not married, it would make so much sense to use marriage to make their caretaker role so much stronger.

Which is why we need to remember the real lesson of same-sex marriage.

People easily forget. There are two versions of marriage, and they need to be kept separate. One is the ceremony. The other is the legal contract.

The ceremony is the religious (or not) one and, while it may have enormous cultural, emotional, or symbolic meaning, it has absolutely no legal effect.

Guess what? Nobody wants to force anyone to perform these kinds of symbolic but non-binding ceremonies. Your church won’t marry two men or two women? Great. That’s your right. Knock yourselves out.

But… the other part, the legal contract, is something set up by the state, and that’s where everyone gets equal access to sign their names to that contract, and all those Karens claiming “Mah religious freedoms” can just step the fuck off, because when you took that government job, you agreed to follow government rules.

Back in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court got this. Church marriage and State marriage are two different things, Church can define it however they want; State must define it to include all.

Period, end of discussion.

What things have happened for you on a November 18? Tell me in the comments!

image source: Sammy Six, (CC) BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday Nibble #5

One of the nice side benefits of my current day job that wasn’t really in the description — although getting her approval was a part of the interview process — is that I’ve really connected with my boss’s wife, whom I’ll call Ms. R. That was probably inevitable, though, because she’s a stylist by profession, but also an artist, talented painter (though not actively doing it now) just generally creative, and Jewish.

I mention all of those because I think that’s why we had such a strong and immediate connection.

I share the creative bits with her and, while I’m not actually Jewish, I effectively went through middle and high school being the token goy among predominantly Jewish friends or, as I call it, lucky as hell, so that was the major cultural imprint on me in my formative years. If I were a menu item, I guess it would be an atheist curry of Catholic-Jewish cultural fusion. Spicy corned beef and kreplach served from Russell’s teapot.

One of the things Ms. R does is decorate the place per season and holiday, and by this point I’ve been through all of the major post-Labor Day holidays. Oh… I should mention that the “office” is the boss’s house, and my specific office is the living room. Since Ms. R spends most of the time when she’s not at her salon in the kitchen, dining, and living rooms, she and I interact a lot.

However, I didn’t really get involved in the whole design and layout thing until the last few days. They’re hosting a Valentine’s dinner on the Sunday after for a group of old friends of the boss — people who’ve known each other since they were kids, and now it’s grown to the originals, plus their spouses, kids and, in some cases, grandkids.

Her party set-ups can be a multi-day process that I get to watch from my desk, and this was one of them, but the Monday before the event, Ms. R started asking for my opinion on her table arrangements. At first, my thought was, “Okay, I’m gay, but I’m not that gay, so I can’t help you,” but then I realized, “No, wait, I’m also kind of obsessive, I do graphic design, and holy crap, let me at it.”

So it suddenly became all about symmetry, as in figuring out how to distribute not quite enough of each kind of plate, glass, napkin ring, etc., between two tables to accommodate 20 guests when all of the setting stuff only came in units of 6, 8, or 12.

The second she asked it, goddamn… my one kind of non-debilitating psychological quirk kicked in, and I managed to arrange the hell out of those tables and impress the hell out of Ms. R even more.

See, the kind of obsession I have has to do with regular patterns of things. Toss me something that looks symmetrical and I am damn well going to count rows and columns just to figure out how many divisions there are.

If you ever saw the stage version of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, then you’ll understand, because for a lot of the time the entire set was covered in a projected grid (pictured in this article), and during the pre-show, you can be damn sure I figured out how many squares there were by counting the rows and columns and doing the math.

By the way, it was a brilliant book and a brilliant adaptation, and one that sneaks up on you. All I’ll say is that one very important detail about our narrator is never stated, but rather slowly revealed, and it’s up to us to figure it out.

I won’t leave you anything to figure out. While I can be compulsive in the pattern counting thing, I’m not obsessive, so if I can’t manage to do the count I won’t feel like my universe will end.

However… if something isn’t quite symmetrical, likewise I am going to start rearranging in my head, and that’s exactly what I started doing for my boss’s wife. And it kind of was a revelation to me because, while I’ve had experience as a graphic designer (major symmetry concerns) I have never had any kind of experience in what is essentially interior or set design, but realized today that I might actually have a natural knack for it.

And so with a few simple suggestions, I suddenly made Ms. R very happy by perfecting the layout of two separate dining tables meant for twenty people. I’m still not sure how I did it, but apparently I did.

Still… cool boss, fun wife, great job, and I get to be both intelli-gay and designo-gay. Plus I can’t wait to see what happens for St. Patrick’s Day (¡mi gente!), all the May and June stuff, Independence Day, then my repeat cycle when we hit Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Baby Jesus Day, and back to New Year’s repeat…

Of course, this year we have the bonus of the Olympics and Election, and I’m sure that those events are going to be memorialized, too. Ms. R is a big fan of Japanese art and culture, and that’s where the Olympics are this year. She’s also a political junky, watching the news every morning on the kitchen TV as she prepares for the day — luckily, our politics align — but I suspect that there will be an election night party of some sort as well.

Whether it turns out as a celebration or a funeral is still anyone’s guess, but I can be optimistic at least. Especially working in such thoughtfully designed surroundings.