Frozen in Texas: A Report from Houston

With all the horror stories coming out of Texas, I asked my friend Heidi Schneider for her thoughts on what has happened and is still happening there. She and her husband George are lifelong Houston residents and seasoned observers of the political scene. Here is her account.

Over the last several years, many Republican legislators in Texas have become chameleons of a sort. They change the colors of their opinions to support the national administration’s mantra of “fake news” and everything is a “hoax” sound bites as their only tangible agenda.

Well, saddle up, chameleon cowboys, because there has been no partisan politics in play when it comes to the millions of Texans devastated by the recent polar blast. This left the entire state without the basic infrastructure to keep multitudes of citizens from freezing to death.

In desperation to keep warm, some households across the state have resorted to burning their belongings or exposing themselves to carbon monoxide poisoning. People were left without water and electricity at random, and traffic blocking lines started to form at some fast-food establishments, as folks sat in their cars just to absorb the warmth and obtain a hot meal.

Gas pumps have been bombarded by motorists who navigated the dangerous, icy streets just to secure fuel before it disappeared. Grocery stores, with limited supplies, have hundreds of shoppers standing in the freezing elements, only to select from already depleted shelves. In Houston, a handful of warming shelters opened, with Texas’s largest city housing over 800 homeless and vulnerable Houstonians, and their pets, at the city’s convention center. Who would have thought the pandemic could be upstaged in my state?

During the height of our utility outages, I watched Governor Greg Abbott focus more on planting the seed of ultimate blame than addressing the palpable desperation happening in his state. During cable news appearances his conversation strayed by stretching the blame to Texas’s frozen wind turbines. We heard his views that oil and gas remain king, that progressive ideas of alternative sources are the root of energy evil, all the while overlooking the fact that winterizing the state’s energy resources has been neglected for decades.

Former Republican Governor Rick Perry felt he was speaking for all citizens by verbalizing that Texans are happy to do without creature comforts in order to maintain our state’s energy independence and freedom from federal oversight. He spoke while warm and comfy during an internet-style interview.

To add insult to injury, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has offices in Houston—you know him, he aided in the insurrection of our nation’s capital a few weeks back—decided to sneak off to Cancun for some sun and fun, since his children were out of school due to inclement weather. You cannot make this stuff up.

As a native Texan, I am tired of my intelligence being insulted by my state’s Republican leaders telling me not to believe what I see and hear for myself. From my view today, I see Texans helping Texans, just as we always do during crises, and I hear that federal assistance is on the way.

Chick’s Music Is Very Much Alive

Music is a crucial way in which we give voice to our emotions. For some of us, it’s the essential voice. Those who play music well empower our mental health.

So when Chick Corea, the peerless pianist of jazz, died last week at age 79 it felt like a breaking point for a music that has lost so many creators—and, as some think, lost its way. Then there was the pandemic and that unbelievable impeachment trial with its implications for a dreadful future. It seemed to me that the bottom was falling out of our culture.

Well, one alternative to the gloom was to sit down and listen to Chick’s music. Over the years I’ve collected a lot of it and continually marveled at the variety and depth of what he wrote and played.

The journey started for me in 1968 with one of his first trio albums, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes—all of it here plus outtakes).

I was writing a music column then and had never heard anything quite like it. Here’s part of what I wrote for The New Leader in March 1969:

Recently I have been listening to Chick Corea, a young jazz pianist of already wide experience who is now playing with the Miles Davis band. His earlier recordings never prepared me for what I heard on his latest, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State SS18039), which is easily one of the most beautiful and technically accomplished discs in the world of post-Bill Evans piano. Corea prefers a free-floating modal jazz, usually in bright tempos, with long and complex improvisatory lines.

That album made Chick’s reputation and changed the concept of trio jazz forever. He continued to explore all kinds of musical forms, making sense out of the nascent jazz-rock movement with his group Return to Forever (1975) and his many subsequent groups (the Chick Corea Elektric Band, the Akoustic Band and more). His progress into classical, Latin and Spanish music is traced in the Rolling Stone obit here.

In 2012 Bobby McFerrin and Chick gave a bright new twist to the latter’s most famous composition, “Spain”:

Chick never stopped exploring music. But, as the Guardian’s John Fordham notes, he always seemed to come back to a more traditional trio jazz, and that’s how I best remember him. One of his later albums, Trilogy (2013, with Christian McBride and Brian Blade) is a favorite of mine.

Here’s a 2007 trio with John Patitucci and Antonio Sanchez which shows the depth and expansiveness of Chick’s love of jazz. He had an absolutely unquenchable spirit.

A Sharp Dressed Man

Imposter that he is, Trump dressed like a Mafia Don. Biden is playing the long game and dresses like a president should. You can’t beat a navy blue pinstripe suit. I am reminded of the great ZZ Top tune from 1983, “Sharp Dressed Man,” and, not least, how power dressing used to count for something in public life. Mitch McConnell in his off-white suits doesn’t really get that.

Most of us are entirely worn out with the pandemic, the stimulus negotiations, the Greene affair, and the daily GOP turmoils. Republicans are thrashing around trying to patch up their broken party and keep in the game while Joe Biden is quietly upstaging them at every turn. Yesterday the House Dems voted to kick M.T. Greene off her committees, even while Kevin McCarthy, the GOP’s top turkey, gave her a pass.

Before this, Joe coolly met for two hours with ten Republican senators and overshadowed them all, likely winning the stimulus battle. Maybe the pinstripe didn’t matter. But maybe subliminally it did.

Oh Yes, the Climate

After Alarmism: The war on climate denial has been won. And that’s not the only good news

Biden Signs Sweeping Orders to Tackle Climate Change and Rollback Trump’s Anti-Environment Legacy

Some have noticed that I have not recently been attentive to climate issues. Well, “Goodman Speaks on Climate” was probably designed to fail in one respect, since everyone who speaks publicly on that subject takes on something contentious and to a degree unfathomable. Climate writers become soothsayers, reading the entrails of sacrificial animals.

I can’t and won’t critique the findings of climate scientists. So I’m left to report on what they think and propose. How I evaluate their judgments is strictly a matter of my judgment and experience, and that’s a thin reed to rely on. And with climate change it’s not enough to merely report; one has to take sides and persuade.

Those who do write such reports also turn out to be evaluators or critics of scientific arguments. That’s an uncomfortable position, at least for me, and so I’ve recently been avoiding climate, punking out on the most significant issue of our time. Well, sometimes you have to be uncomfortable, so I’ll try getting back to climate and overcoming my scruples.

David Wallace-Wells is a journalist who has written extensively about climate change. He recently dumped almost 7,000 words into New York Magazine on how the war on climate denial has been (mostly) won. Part of the reason he feels that way is the advent of Joe Biden’s presidency.

But if the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House feels like something of a fresh start, well, to a degree it is. The world’s most conspicuous climate villain has been deposed, and though Biden was hardly the first choice of environmentalists, his victory signals an effective end to the age of denial and the probable beginning of a new era of climate realism, with fights for progress shaped as much by choices as by first principles.

His argument proceeds with examples and judgments on: what needs to be done (emissions targets), what is being done (decarbonization), political and economic commitments, global action and, finally, adaptation and responses to the new reality. Wallace-Wells is judgmental, yes, and very much worth your reading. He’s smart, sometimes overly geeky, and wide-ranging. Articles like his will get you thinking or perhaps angry (see reader comments on the piece).

Biden’s climate proposals are, to use the old cliché, a breath of fresh air. A good summary by Inside Climate News of what they contain is here, as “the new president moved immediately to review more than 100 Trump administration actions and restore the protection of federal lands and the regulation of greenhouse gases.”

You’ve heard that one of his first actions was to revoke the Keystone XL pipeline permit. The president also

moved to rejoin the Paris agreement and signaled a review of vehicle emissions standards. His order also directed federal agencies to review more than 100 rules that the Trump administration made on the environment, with an eye to potentially overturning many of them.

The ICN article outlines the comprehensive scope of the Biden proposals and the ways they will affect several government agencies as well as private industry. It’s a good primer on what’s ahead—though some of its proposals could take years to achieve.

Who Cares?

The old Gershwin song goes this way:

Let it rain and thunder,
Let a million firms go under.
I am not concerned with
Stocks and bonds that I’ve been burned with!

I love you and you love me
And that’s how it will always be
And nothing else can ever mean a thing

Who cares what the public chatters
Love’s the only thing that matters

Who cares if the sky cares to fall in the sea
Who cares what banks fail in Yonkers
Long as you’ve got a kiss that conquers?

Why should I care?
Life is one long jubilee,
So long as I care for you
And you care for me!

A couple of things to note. “Who Cares?” was written in 1931 at the height of the Depression for a show, Of Thee I Sing. George and Ira Gershwin wrote the music and lyrics. The book was written by George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. It was inspired by “the timeless battle of political idealism with corruption and incompetency, creating the first American musical with a consistently satiric tone. . . . Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Presidency, and the democratic process itself were all targets of this satire.”

For some goofy reason I woke up this morning humming the song.

How the Senile Celebrate New Year’s Eve

6 Fun Ways for Seniors to Celebrate New Year’s Eve

11 Totally Fun Ways To Celebrate New Year’s Eve At Home This Year

10 Senior Activity Ideas for New Year’s Eve

The party’s over, and you found it particularly hard contending with a pandemic. Your age likely limited you to: staying home, watching crappy Netflix movies, eating/drinking too much, basking in depression, entertaining with a few “safe” friends, going to bed early. You had limited options because of your infirmities or, perhaps, your testy state of mind. I was in bed by 9:30.

And yet, there are some awesome suggestions on the internet for entertaining yourself on your next New Year’s Eve. These will appeal, however, only to old people and the very young. Try them next year if you’re still breathing.

Here are a few “fun activities” for senile seniors who get together on New Year’s Eve: You can Create New Year’s Necklaces.All seniors need to make this craft is yarn and items that complement the holiday, such as paper clocks, hats, flutes, and noisemakers. Your loved one can cut out the paper decorations and attach them to the yarn. Making necklaces can boost brain health, increase dexterity, and provide the opportunity to interact with others.”

If that sounds sort of dumb you can play Guess the Resolution by having “each person write down one New Year’s resolution, and all the resolutions go into a box or jar. Someone needs to read each resolution out loud and give players a chance to guess who wrote the resolution. This activity can stimulate seniors’ brains, allow them to socialize with others, and ultimately boost overall wellbeing.”

Alexis Morillo has some different ideas. These include: dressing up fancy, watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve (even though he’s dead), drinking by ordering alcohol to be delivered, and watching movies all night long.

If you’re living in a senior residence, you have lots of choices. Get your facility to host a champagne brunch, with hats and horns for your comrades and play Auld Lang Syne in the background while they eat. Add in noisemakers and watch the fun begin! Or have a “Time’s Running Out” discussion by going around the room asking residents to list the things they wished they had done during 2020. That should provide some breezy reminiscences.

You can also have a dance contest, asking “several residents who are unable to dance to be the judges who get to politely ask the ‘bad dancers’ to leave the floor.” And finally, you could “play upbeat music and set up a bubble machine for your lower-functioning residents to enjoy on New Year’s Eve.”

It’s a holiday with something for everybody. Forget the nostalgia and disappointment, the many things you’ve lost over time. The new year beckons, even for elders.

Four Dreadful Years, and a Merry Christmas

What Trump Showed Us About America

For many, the past four years were like purgatory as they revealed some appalling realities in American life. A lot of long-term assumptions went out the window. A lot of happy presumptions held by the elites had to be flushed down the toilet. And naturally, we’re still in the grip of some of these illusions.

Politico ran a good piece last month with quotes from 35 “political and cultural observers” [read “elites”] on what they learned about America over the past four years. I found their responses both predictable and surprising.

Many were alarmed to discover that our political institutions and norms are more fragile than they thought. Others pointed out the blind spots that members of the political and cultural elite have for the deep sense of dislocation and injustice that their fellow citizens feel. . . .

Others questioned whether the disruptions of the past four years have really shaken us out of old patterns, and whether the political establishment has really been diminished. “The house always wins,” one wrote. And then there was this conclusion from another contributor: “At the end of Trump’s term, what I’ve learned is that I really don’t understand America well at all.”

Yeah, well, who does? When the four-year curtain rings down, the actors take their bows for an empty performance.

In the Politico piece, Nicholas Carr, who writes on technology, economics and culture, targeted the most obvious fruit of these years—that lies now trump truths. In the digital world, “False news spreads farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth,” and “social media has allowed propaganda to be crowdsourced; it has democratized George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.”

Mark Bauerlein, an English professor emeritus, shouted out the legacy of the elites.

Ordinary Americans looked at the elite zones of academia, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Washington itself, and saw a bunch of self-serving, not very competent individuals sitting pretty, who had enriched themselves and let the rest of America slide. . . . It wasn’t Trump’s politics that disgusted the college presidents, celebrity actors, Google VPs, D.C. operatives and the rest. It was because he pinpointed them as the problem—the reason factories and small stores had closed, unemployment was bad, and PC culture had cast them as human debris. And millions cheered. This was unforgivable to the elites.

John Austin, an economist, told us that

unless we address the root economic causes of many American voters’ anger and social alienation, we will remain a divided nation, with many remaining susceptible to the message of demagogues like Donald Trump. In much of left-behind rural America, and still struggling communities that dot the industrial Midwest around my home, anxieties about the economic future interact with a perceived loss of identity, status and control in a changing society. These dynamics generate a toxic brew of resentments of “others,” whether coastal elites or immigrants, and cravings for a return to a simpler and ordered time.

For me, the starkest element the four years have exposed is the blatant ignorance of so much of the populace. We would like to think that this stems from Trump, a man of limited intelligence and unlimited bile. In fact, it’s the susceptibility of 70 million people, sneering at truth, sneering at the virus. The Flat Earth Society persists despite all evidence that it should not.

The New Appeasement

The crown prince of appeasement has always been Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who ushered the world into war in 1938. But the real heir apparent is Trump, whose exercises in appeasement have known no bounds.

You remember, for instance, his gift to Turkey and what he did to the Kurds? His constant sucking up to Russia? His “America First” is simply a recrudescence of the isolationism of the same name that was so strong in the United States in the 1930s. This came not only to bolster the appeasement of the British and French; it paralyzed them in the face of a total threat.

Appeasement usually means “pacifying an aggrieved country through negotiation in order to prevent war.” Now the president’s GOP colleagues have given it a new twist. They condone and foster his lies and fantasies about the election, giving him and his demented base virtually full support for a wealth of conspiracy theories and nutcase behavior.

Their present appeasement is not a new thing, however. It has been a part of Republican identity for many years. Currently it extends to the very beginning of Trump’s term with the GOP’s tacit support of his personal scams and their public damning of the facts contained in the Mueller report. You know the history.

Trump’s Republican enablers have now sold out their rights to govern. You know who they are; Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham lead the parade. One writer put it this way: “Trump’s GOP enablers act like those terrible parents you see in the grocery store trying to cajole their bratty kid throwing a tantrum in the checkout line with ever more absurd promises.” Except they don’t just cajole the behavior, they tolerate it.

Some 70 percent of Republicans don’t believe the election was valid, and only 10 percent of Republicans in Congress accept it as valid. And so the Congressional enablers continue to ratify their fantasies in the pursuit of electoral power. That’s all it’s about. Most of them know it’s a farce and that it can lead to the prospects of violence and lynching we have seen in Georgia and elsewhere. And still they persist.

In Arizona, the Gonzo Party “asked its followers if they are willing to die for the cause of overturning the presidential election results,  . . . and a handful of users replied they were indeed willing to give their lives to the cause.”

The only remedy I see for the madness is to strongly call out Trump and his goons for what they are. To be silent is to be complicit. Chamberlain at least taught us that.

Exit the Mad King

We have two more months of this nightmare farce to play out. Expect more surprises and insanity—and more endless news coverage. But will he run again in 2024? His niece Mary Trump says, “He will never put himself in a position where he can lose like this again.”

The mad king’s reign is nearly over. Like Shakespeare’s King Lear, another narcissist raging on the heath, he’ll eventually be betrayed by the toadies who supported him. But not quite yet. As in the play, a potential civil war lurks in the background. Social insecurity is rampant. The king rages on.

But if we take Mary Trump’s words seriously, it’s only right to celebrate Joe Biden’s victory. Biden’s win was notable for its very cool minimizing of any threats from the opposition. Ignoring the constant noise was a good move. One hopes that attitude carries forward in his administration. The best defense against Trump is to ignore him.

And soon we may remember our mad king as a purveyor of farce as well as evil. A few things in this regard jumped out at me. One is last week’s Four Seasons press conference in which Rudy Giuliani’s feverish fantasies were on full display.

Apparently the event was to be held at one of the posh Four Seasons hotels but got ironically shifted to a Four Seasons Landscaping Service in Northeast Philadelphia (an area I once used to work in). It is located between a crematorium and a porn shop. As one commentator wrote, “No satirist has ever written anything this hilarious.” It was very much like something out of a Borat movie.

The mad king continues his ranting but fewer are listening. “’It’s like dealing with a lunatic on the subway. Everyone just kind of sits and stares ahead, pretends they can’t hear him, and waits for him to eventually get off,’ a GOP source close to the administration told The Daily Beast.” That tags it for me.

We would do well to remember George Carlin’s observation: “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”

Vegetable Soup

It takes a lot to get me off the news. Constant stewing about Trump and the upcoming election, however, gets all the wrong juices flowing. Following the latest Senate follies can bring on dyspepsia or worse. Case in point: the recent Amy Coney Barrett hearings in which the Democrats, with a few exceptions, rolled over and played dead.

As the proceedings concluded, senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Judiciary Committee Democrat, gave Chairman Lindsey Graham a big hug and complimented him for leading “one of the best sets of hearings that I’ve participated in.”

After a dose of antacid to calm things down, it was time to change the channel. Cut to the Michigan Trump rally where El Cheeto was leading a chorus of “Lock ‘em up!” for Gretchen Whitmer and Hillary Clinton. Hmm, inciting violence against a sitting governor and a presidential opponent? When is too much enough?

It was time to eat some lunch and cool down. I made vegetable soup out of some old but still good stuff in the hydrator of my fridge. It was comforting to the stomach and tasted great. Here are five reasons why soup is good and good for you. No. 5 is the boost to your immune system that soup provides, helping to stave off colds and flu.

So in the age of coronavirus (another of the gifts Trump has brought you), soup can be a protector. It also relieves stress and increases bone and muscle strength. Take off your mask to eat it.