Just what more can go wrong in 2020?

Here we are a full six months into the year, and the surge of record-breaking goes unabated.

Racist police brutality is unmasked nationwide, along with the violent suppression of peaceful protests and free speech.

Russian bounties on American soldiers goes unchallenged in the White House.

Wall Street is living in a disconnect with the economy in general while new Covid-19 cases and deaths soar to their highest levels yet – and promise to rocket quickly.

The widespread resistance to public health measures, and then their lifting, threatens to turns the economic hit of the earlier self-quarantining into a wasted expense. Now brace for the truly hard impact when we see what a full outbreak adds up to in costs, including lifetime chronic health problems for many survivors.

And we thought toilet paper and chicken or pork shortages were big?

Already, a wave of evictions is hitting renters who suffered from the mandatory unemployment in April and May. Where can they go? Looks like a lot of vacancies for landlords, too, not that they get any sympathy.

Here where I live, state government revenue is down 20 percent. The next budget round will be a bloodbath.

Who knows what’s going to happen to the crucial election season. National conventions? Door-to-door campaigning? Rallies?

Gee, remember the Senate’s so-called trial of Trump on impeachment charges back in February?

Oh, yes, drought or near-drought in June.

Curing my lifetime of writing headlines, I often felt I’d already seen everything. Nothing could brace me for this.

And now there’s an outbreak of rabbit Ebola, fatal in 80 percent of the cases. Yes, that’s what they’re calling it. Seriously. Wild or domestic, they’re doomed. Bunnies!

Forget the MAGA hats, it’s time for the sackcloth and ashes, friends. We need to repent and be saved. How about some true leadership, based on hard facts and courage?

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

A regrettable turning point in counterculture evolution

In reading others’ fiction about the late ’60s and early ’70s, my awareness of the span of hippie identity has only intensified. Each one seems to focus on a different identity. As I’ve long argued, hippies came in all varieties and styles, and still do. But these also show how little overlap there often was.

So much so that I no longer find the label useful. Period. It fails to convey the extent to which we differed within the rainbow.

As one friend insists, “I was never a hippie. I was a freak!”

To the straight world, of course, there was no difference.

For many, political activism was a central component, though not for all. And I’m thinking the evolution of that activism needs more exploration. It’s where we really failed the most.

For starters, too many saw protests as the route to pursue, rather than undertaking the hard work of holding office or attending meetings.

For another, we failed to clearly articulate our vision, other than tending to be left, as in what we called radical, rather than liberal, which seemed to support the Vietnam quagmire. We were reactionary, actually, at least against the military-industrial-financial-racist complex. The ’68 Democratic national convention in Chicago didn’t help anything, either.

Looking back, it seems that too much of our political expression was being domineered by the egotistical theatrics of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and the like. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

Woodstock seemed to shift everything. Yes, we had the Jackson State and Kent State shootings the following spring, along with the shutdown of college campuses and some big marches. But who were our avatars?

Or, put another way, why is the experience remembered more by the music than by the speeches?

~*~

Back to Woodstock.

Seems Hoffman wanted to be part of it, naturally, and demanded – get this – $10,000, 200 free tickets, tables for distributing literature, and the right to leaflet the audience. The event’s organizer, Michael Lang, initially refused but later relented.

But that wasn’t enough. High on acid, Hoffman took to the stage and started ranting. Never mind that it was in the wee hours of Sunday morning. After 20 minutes or so, he knocked over Peter Townshend’s microphone as The Who was coming onstage, and a miffed Townshend responded by whacking Hoffman with his guitar and shouting obscenities about getting “off of my fucking stage.”

That part’s well known.

The message, intentional or not, was that politics were not to interrupt the sanctity of art.

I sense the rift only grew after that.

The protest music I remember was by folksingers-songwriters, not rockers.

Well, maybe John Lennon proved the exception.

Help me, please.

Waking up to political reality

While the upcoming national election campaigns appear to be hold, or at least on simmer, a political firestorm is nevertheless brewing.

For starters, many of us are not pleased that the choice for chief executive is coming down to two white males in their 70s, but the differences between them are vast. As in HUGE. (I’ll save that rant for later, if necessary.)

We weren’t happy that the other remaining alternative was also a white male in his 70s, but the scarier part was the rabid stance of some of his followers that if he’s not on the ballot, they won’t bother voting. They say they’ll vote only for the Revolution, and some even say that it will rise from the ruins of what’s falling around us. I wish they’d see it’s not that simple or natural. When Rome fell, it was gone.

Another revolution has been taking root in the past four years, one that’s not yet completed but definitely threatening everything the Founding Fathers established. Not all revolutions end on a positive note, after all. Look at history and you’ll see how many have ended in dictatorships and/or social destruction.

~*~

So our political quandary is not all about Covid-19, either, or at least not directly, though the epidemic has been exposing some longstanding stress points in society.

Health care is one, though it still has a long way to go to work efficiently and equitably. Covid-19 is exposing many of its weaknesses and heroic strengths.

Education and student loan debt is another frontier, going back to the shortcomings of No Child Left Behind and a comprehensive understanding of just what education means, especially when we’re dealing with children born with a laptop or smartphone in their fingers. Those kids face the world in a whole new way. What on earth can play even mean for them? And a public school system designed to train them to work in factories that have long since left the USA is another obstacle. Is anybody talking about this in the public arena?

And then there’s the broader economy, beginning with the disconnect between investors and labor. More crucially, the disturbing awakening some conservative analysts are seeing between the gains of digital advances and the devastating losses of lowest level labor. This is going to be HUGE when the bills start amassing.

This shouldn’t be an arcane discussion.

Still, let’s look at the more pressing aspect. The biggest depression in a century? Combined with the makeshift payout, with one with the Donald’s signature on the checks.

Who’s paying for all this? Yes, we had to go back to get his unauthorized fricking egotistical name of the bills we’re paying.

Look, we’re lending free money to big banks, which in turn charge HUGE usury rates on their credit cards. WTF? No wonder we’re getting next to zero on our return on any savings. Real conservatives used to advocate personal savings. Far from that any more. The faux/Fox pseudo-conservatives are on that public-treasury gravy train. Besides, many if not all HUGE corporations aren’t paying federal taxes. Ditto for many of the super-rich who benefited from the so-called trickle-down tax reforms starting in the Ronald Reagan posturing.

Let us all eat cake, then. Does anyone else remember where that led? (Whack! Whack! Whack!)

By the way, whatever happened to antitrust actions? I ponder that every time I get my online server bill, which inches by dollars up every month. Not that this corporations has any real competition. This household is about to bolt to the only other alternative and swallow the quality difference.

‘Revolution or else’ from the fringe and other political lunacy

Maybe it’s all those years I’ve lived in places where I’ve been represented at the state and federal levels by some truly embarrassing public officials.

The ones I dutifully voted against, as a point of moral witness.

Note that I still voted, even when it often felt like a losing cause.

You can imagine my elation on those rare occasions when my candidate actually won office.

The U.S. representative who proved most satisfying was Kweisi Mfume, who was elected from my district in Baltimore shortly before I headed to New England. He was about as unlike me as you could imagine, apart from his voting record, and then he and I were in delicious harmony.

What I’m getting at is about my exasperation with those who insist they won’t vote unless it’s for somebody they agree with 100 percent.

At the moment, that means those in the Bernie camp who can’t accept anything less, except maybe Elizabeth Warren. Some of these are people I love dearly and respect, apart from their belief that it’s time for the entire system to crash and burn so it can magically resurrect in what they call “revolution or else.”

I hate to tell them this, but crash and burn rarely if ever leads to something better. There’s no Phoenix or Firebird. Look at Rome after the Visgoths and Huns. It was never again the same without the full Roman Empire, not that I’m a big backer of Caesar in any form. My sentiments are more in line with the Jewish resistance, not that it matters.

And, no, I definitely don’t believe in unicorns.

I know how hard it is to start an enterprise from scratch or even to turn an existing one in a new direction.

I heard a similar crash-and-burn argument from some who voted for Trump the last time around. Yes, they hated the way things were at that point, but they weren’t differentiating between crucial differences. One wanted something other than an entry-level job. I doubt she has even that now.

Me? I knew I’d much rather have someone in office whose positions meet me half of the time than one opposed to mine 90 percent of the time … or more. Take environmental protections or the independence of the Internet as current two examples.

I also knew I want someone who’s a problem solver, working with verifiable facts, than a problem maker, spouting off lies and superstitious gossip.

And I want someone who’s not in the pocket of the lustfully super-rich and their lobbyists. You know, money-sex-power, those who have it want more of it all … now.

I remember all too well Ralph Nader’s role in giving us the eight years of W that were so detrimental to progressive legislation in this country and its judicial benches, and also how Nader refused to acknowledge his part in undermining those positions. I’m also among those who chide Bernie for undercutting Hillary Clinton’s campaign as well, especially as we look at the devastation that’s followed. Look, I voted for him in the primary and have come to regret it.

The reality is that like dating and courtship, we’ll never find someone who can fit into everything we desire. As I’ve learned, a clone of myself is a very imperfect match. A successful working relationship is something quite different. A candidate who fully matches my stands would never, ever, get elected, not even if I lived in a lefty outpost like Cambridge, Massachusetts, or Berkeley.

Yes, I’m all for a revolution, but that’s within existing realities and resources, the way the call of ’76 turned out to be.

Anyone else have a soundtrack of “Hamilton” to play now?

A generic side to Dover’s downtown transformation

As I’ve looked with delight at the renaissance of my small city’s downtown, one modeled in part on Jane Jacobs’ then revolutionary attack on urban renewal back in the ’50s, I am a bit bothered by how much of it is now based on a commercial cookie-cutter concept known as mid-rises – five-story stick-frame construction above a steel-frame pedestal that’s then given a brick or similar exterior facing.

It’s happening all over the country, actually, and not just in the heart of a city, either. Even here in Dover, we’re seeing something similar happening about a mile south of downtown as an over 50s-something neighborhood called Pointe Place with rents that astound me. Who can afford it? Some retirees, apparently. It’s a downtown within a doughnut, in effect. You can’t really walk there from anywhere else.

Of course, the Covid-19 pall casts a big shadow over these developments, but some observers say it might encourage more people to move from big cities to smaller communities like ours. We’ll have to be patient and see what actually unfolds.

As I’ve argued here in various forms, I’d rather have a real city center abutting organic neighborhoods, one with a funky fringe of mixed-use buildings, unlike apartment complexes surrounded by parking lots along the major highways or shopping strips.

What we definitely have here in Dover is the attraction of a river that rises and falls with the tide, as well as the historic mills once renowned for their calico and now serving as entrepreneurial incubators and housing.

Call it atmosphere and scale.

~*~

As Dover’s emerged as New Hampshire’s fastest growing city, the bulk of the new downtown residents are presumably singles and child-free couples, either young professionals or older folks who want the amenities of living close to restaurants, parks, and public events.

The retail and professional rentals are a larger concern, though, especially as many small merchants find themselves at a disadvantage against Amazon. Take the local hobby shop as an example. And that’s even before the bigger threat of coronavirus hit the entire economy.

Even so, these projects haven’t been on hold.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The new Orpheum takes shape downtown, matching the height of the old Masonic building to its east and the old Strafford Bank across from that. The spire at top left is city hall, a block away from the back of the new building in what was previously a parking lot.
The Robbins Block storefronts are now gone and a five-story Orpheum is rising in their place. The hardware store, lower right, is still there. From the top left are the library, community center, and district court.

The old block may look charming in the photo, but the buildings were rundown and unwelcoming to pedestrians, as was the sprawling parking lot behind them. There was also a traffic bottleneck that’s being eliminated.

Greetings from the bunker

Unlike many journalists, who lust after the scoop – to be hailed as the first to the punch in revealing the newest surprise in a hot ongoing drama, especially – I preferred to wait for the dust to settle a bit so we could discern the bigger picture. Yes, I was still competitive, but too often all the latest clamor struck me as confusion. What’s REALLY going on here, rather than who’s speaking the loudest or all that, is what I wanted to hear.

(Actually, with the presence of ’round-the-clock cable news and Internet connections, it’s gotten much worse. Just look at how the current resident of the White House stirs up something fresh before the outrage of his last errant lunacy can even sink in.)

The Covid-19 situation is turning into something similar. Who can keep up with the story? There are so many elements, not just the latest numbers or locations.

We’re definitely facing some ominous long-term impacts here, and we’re not getting much clarity yet.

A big exception has been voices like the Atlantic, as well as the New York Times and Washington Post.

~*~

For me, many of the biggest issues emerge around the question:

Who’s going to pay for this?

Wall Street still hasn’t factored in the debt load, unless maybe as inflation. Make that HUGE debt load and HUGE inflation, unless the wealthiest five percent of the population come to the rescue, whether they want to or not. We can look at their gains via tax cuts as longterm loans to be repaid royally now.

As a few of the clairvoyants have noted, many of the problems now emerging have been long simmering and coronavirus is merely bringing them to the fore.

Student debt loan would be one, especially if bankruptcies become widespread.

The future of retailing would be another. And the entire medical system.

The lack of antitrust action in the face of cable operators, Amazon, Walmart, and the like would be yet another.

We get glimmers here and there, but little in the way of big pictures, which are ominous.

As one voice emphasized, we do have socialization in America, but not for the people. We’ve privatized profits while socializing risks for big corporations. That’s not real capitalism. Just watch as they line up for a bailout at the public trough. Keep an eye especially on the ones laying off people and closing plants while taking the aid for themselves and their overpaid top executives. How about tying any aid to an exchange of stock placed in public trust funds, for starters?

By the way, is anyone else aghast at the Donald’s insistence on putting his signature on those relief checks, as if he’s paying out of his own pocket? Such bombast!

Well, we can’t go out to dine, but we can get an early start on grilling in the Smoking Garden beside the barn. Cheers!

~*~

One canary-in-the-mine-shaft question of mine asks:

How will performing arts organizations survive this shutdown?

For me, they’re essential components to society. The artists have trained all their lives for what are often marginal wages, and the supportive structures are not easily created. Rebuilding audiences will not be easy, especially in the face of damaged incomes in general. Yet they’re crucial to the fabric of civilized community.

Unlike sports, the arts don’t have huge advertising revenues. They reflect a number of similar services that make our communities better places to live, no matter how modest their seeming place in the overall scene. We need to make note of them, too, and redress the suffering.

~*~

Is anyone else watching the impact as Covid-19 spreads from the big cities into the suburbs and rural areas – that is, from urban (which also translates as black and immigrant and blue) into red-district Trump country? The virus is no longer a safe distance from “them,” or what was originally dismissed as a liberal hoax to tarnish their cult leader, and instead clearly appearing as a cruel reality. We’re back to the already fragile state of health care in rural America, for starters.

~*~

The fact is, at the rate Covid-19 cases were initially multiplying, we could have had 40 million infected people by Easter, had we not gone into quarantine. As I almost quipped back then:

How would the nation’s funeral industry cope with an extra 450,000 corpses?

As one friend said

It’s like we’re living with no destination. We can go out for a walk but can’t stop casually at the store or the library or café. Maybe wave to neighbors through a window.

To call what we’re doing “monastic” misses the mark. After all, monks live in communities, working and praying together. And being single, as he is, still doesn’t mean monkish.

We can’t hug or even touch anybody outside of our household, not if we’re maintaining quarantine.

Humans are social animals, after all.

At the moment, the one thing that makes sense doing is prayer.

As the supply chain breaks down

First, it’s chicken, as we discovered trying to reserve thighs for the local soup kitchen. Our usual supermarket can’t guarantee us it can have them for Thursday.

(Let’s not start a run on the stores, though. They should be smart enough to be limiting purchases to one per customer or so by now.)

Next will be pork, apparently, followed by beef.

Blame the Covid-19 outbreaks out in the big-producer lands. Workers too sick too work.

I’m wondering about eggs, though many of those are grown locally. I hope.

What do you suppose those protesters out in Michigan are going to do about this?

Two more years of THIS?

We were wrapping up yet another committee session on Zoom and trying to look ahead to our next one when one member made an unsettling comment.

Said he, “I don’t expect to be out of this (self-isolation) for another two years, not until they have the vaccine in place.”

He’s a retired medical professional, and the other (now unretired) one in our group didn’t correct him.

It’s a gloomy prognostication, not just personally, I’ll admit as senior with a pre-existing condition, but as one considering its dire social consequences as well.

I was going to say the quip hit like a ton of bricks, but considering that the emotional impact had more of a slow motion effect, I’ll say like a ton of hay (hey, a ton is a ton, right?).

So much for dashing our hopes.

I think I’ll go listen to “Casey at the Bat” again, the poem with the phrase “but there is no joy in Mudville.” As if we’ll ever again have baseball, either.

Your turn to whine! I’m all ears.