Monday, April 13, 2015

"Mississippi America": Why Our Political Future Is Likely To Be As Polarized As The Magnolia State

The state of Mississippi is far and away the most racially polarized in the country, and it's been getting much worse in recent cycles.  Back in 2004, it would have seemed hard to top the Presidential race exit polls where George Bush got 85% of the state's white vote while John Kerry got 90% of the black vote....until 2012 when Mitt Romney got 89% of the white vote and Barack Obama got 96% of the black vote.  These diverging voting patterns along racial lines obviously got their start in the Civil Rights Era.  Prior to that, the relatively small number of southern blacks who voted (lots of barriers to voting in the pre-Civil Rights Era Deep South) were more likely to be Republicans, although not nearly as lopsidedly as they are Democratic now.  Meanwhile, whites were overwhelmingly Democratic, even though their allegiance to the Democratic Party began to wane some as the party liberalized. 

Fast forward to 1964 and the politics of the South in general and Mississippi in particular realigned very quickly.  I don't have a specific finger on the pulse of the state's culture then and now, but it's folly to think lingering racial animus wasn't a driving force in the polarization of voting habits then and now.  But it's also a fair bet that whatever racial polarization that continues to exist today is less overt than it was in the 1960s, and that the divide is now fueled by dog whistles and code words.  The "us versus them" driving Southern politics today is less likely to be "black vs. white" than "makers vs. takers", at least rhetorically, but it doesn't take a degree in psychology to discern who the sweet tea-swilling bubbas have in mind when they're raging about "freeloading parasites living off of my tax money!!!!" as inaccurate as the stereotype all too often is.

But what is most disturbing is recognizing that the template is in place for the rest of the country to follow the racial and ethnic political polarization of the Deep South, and in fact we're already likely in the early stages of that kind of political realignment, fueled by a subtle class-based resentment that is playing out largely along racial and ethnic lines.  Mitt Romney's "47%" comments were the most tangible dog whistles of the last couple of years representing the rupturing fault line, and from a cynical perspective of purely partisan political gamesmanship, it's brilliant.  Millions of voters who are part of that "47%" that Romney is so condescendingly sneering at is certain that Romney's talking about "those people", and rewards his attacks against their livelihood with their political support.  They just assume he's speaking to their cultural tribe. 

While there's nothing new about exploiting cultural resentment for votes (Nixon introduced it and Reagan perfected it in modern times),  it seems as though we're approaching critical mass as a society.  Barack Obama won as small of a proportion of white voters in 2012 as Walter Mondale did in 1984, yet because of the country's diversification that statistic represented a decisive four-point popular vote victory for Obama rather than a 20-point defeat for Mondale.  Still, the erosion of support from white voters was jarring, and continued to be jarring in the 2014 midterms when it sunk even lower, down to 35% among white males.  Yet the Democratic Party continues to be wildly overconfident about its long-term prospects based on fast-rising racial diversification.  While on the surface that would seem to portend a brighter future for the Democratic Party electorally, it doesn't seem to cross their mind that the white vote which has been drifting decisively to the Republican Party over the past generation may continue to consolidate in the GOP camp in larger and larger numbers, offsetting Democratic gains among nonwhite voters. 

It might be cynical to think this way, but I think the natural downside to a multicultural society is politics that stratifies along tribal lines, even when it doesn't make sense.  Mississippi may well prove to be the rule and not the exception when it comes to a racially diverse region, albeit perhaps slightly exaggerated based on the civil rights history.  But most concerning is that this brand of tribal politics is already proving itself spreading beyond the South.  The best example is in the state of Illinois, and particularly last fall's gubernatorial race.  Now the race was complicated some by an unpopular Democratic incumbent, but it was still jarring the extent to which Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, running every bit as a crimson red conservative rather than a squishy moderate, managed to win 101 out of Illinois' 102 counties and pull out a decisive victory.  Rauner let it be known in no uncertain terms that crushing the livelihoods of union workers generally and state employees in particular was his top political priority if elected.....yet dozens of heavily unionized downstate counties full of voters who Rauner promised to ruin still voted for him.  Why?  Because Illinois elections are increasingly becoming a referendum on "Chicago". 

Indeed the only county Rauner didn't win was Cook County, home to Chicago and nearly half of the state's population, a pattern that has been showing up with increasing regularity in the last three cycles in Illinois.  Rauner's positions on issues scarcely mattered to downstate Illinois voters as it was simply understood that he was on "their side" of the cultural scrimmage railing against "Chicago".  Similarly, it doesn't matter what Haley Barbour's positions on the issues are in Mississippi....he'll still have the votes of 85+% of white voters because of an unspoken cultural alignment.  He's a member of their fraternity....protecting the "makers" from having everything stolen from them by the "takers".

Even in Iowa where I live, a long-standing center-left state that is recently showing troubling signs of realigning Republican, the Senate race highlighted a maiden voyage into tribal politics.  Republican candidate Joni Ernst is nothing more than a slightly less annoying version of Sarah Palin, yet her odious policy platform and nowhere-near-ready-for-primetime resume was ignored as she stitched a crafty campaign yarn selling herself as an "Iowa farm girl" and demagoguing her challenger as an "elitist lawyer".  And it worked like a charm, scoring her an eight-point victory that limited Democrat Bruce Braley to 14 of the state's 99 counties, most of them the urban centers.  Farm counties and small cities consolidated around Ernst with eyebrow-raising numbers in comparison to the baseline of those counties in other recent elections.  Was this a fluke or the new normal in Iowa politics?  Sadly, I'm more inclined to think the latter than the former.  And if the tribal lines are drawn nationally along racial and ethnic lines, 90% white Iowa will almost certainly drift to the red.

If one looks through the returns from recent election cycles they could compile some formulation of this same pattern in the majority of states, both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line.  More than anything else, I think these realignments simply foretell that the American electorate should always be expected to "revert to the mean".  The natural state of the country going back generations has been a fairly evenly divided electorate.  While there may be a few cycles in a row where one party dominates, the act of governing creates fault lines within the majority party's coalition that the opposition party can exploit and rebuild its own coalition.  With this in mind, the irony of the Democrats' smugness about growing its political base with a rising minority population is that the existing majority is starting to see the Democratic Party as defining itself by that minority population, and thus questioning its own placement in the party. 

It's hard to defend this philosophy on the merits, but it appears to be happening and begs the low can the Democrats go among white voters?  They're already below 40%.  Can they drop to 35%?  Or 30%?  Or even 25%?  I certainly think it's possible, particularly with the median ages between the races so divergent and ultimately transcending all racial lines.  In a pending era of budgetary scarcity, should we have any expectation that a nation of older whites trying to secure retiree entitlements will see eye to eye on anything with a majority-minority younger generation vying for public funds for education and for assistance to offset the quality of life that the low-wage, McJob economy of America's future fails to provide for them?  Such a scenario portends much deeper political polarization a generation into the future and the real possibility of Mississippi-style voting habits where the best indication of your voting tendencies can be deduced by the color of your skin.

Now this is by no means carved in stone.  American politics is very unpredictable and issues not even on anybody's radar today could trigger a complete political realignment 20 years from now and completely turn the red state/blue state configuration on its head.   But barring a radical change in the issues environment, the likelihood is that the Democratic Party will be made up almost entirely of nonwhites and a small cohort of white liberals from college towns and urban liberals while the Republican Party will be made up of......Middle American whites.  Tribal politics never make sense in terms of governance, but we're already in the early stages of an America where the Democratic Party is the party of Lloyd Blankfein and Al Sharpton and the Republican Party is the party of the Koch Brothers and William Jennings Bryan, and every indication we'll continue moving in that incoherent direction.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Comparing Past Marches

March is the most bipolar month of the year in the Upper Midwest.  It can be so sweet one day and so cruel the next!  Of course that's primarily from a weather perspective.  Let's see how things stack up based on a more comprehensive set of memories...

March 1984 vs. March 1994 vs. March 2004

Winner:  1994--There was kind of a renewed energy in the air for me in the spring of 1994, with the first of the two "MacGyver" TV movies FINALLY scheduled to air and with me really latching on to country music in its finest year of my lifetime.  Beyond that, I was in a study hall with two of the biggest "MacGyver" fans in high school and we poured over every episode every study hall with in-depth analysis.  I was at the very beginning of my creative writing surge and started cranking out some of the earliest of my "Alex Burrows" adventure stories.  We watched the memorable 1970s Charlton Heston movie "Soylent Green" in biology class.  Just a good all around vibe that spring which foreshadowed my favorite summer of my high school years ahead.

March 1985 vs. March 1995 vs. March 2005

Winner:  2005--It would seem unlikely that the month in which I was coldly relieved of my duties at my first professional job thanks to a smooth-talking new hatchet man editor would end up winning its grouping, but not when you acknowledge that the professional job I was dismissed from was the dead-end, high-stress newspaper industry, a field I desperately tried to avoid being plunged into coming out of college and a field I was trying to work my way out of at the point in time when my employer did the work for me.  The timing worked out well since I was able to qualify for unemployment given the questionable terms of my termination and have a more wide-open platform to pursue a different job, which ultimately landed me in my current line of work which is a night and day improvement over newspaper writing.  The first 18 days of March 2005 were horrible, living under the thumb of the new tyrant editor during the busiest time of the year at work, but the feeling I felt Sunday evening on March 20, 2005, as I crashed on my couch to watch some mindless spring break shark TV movie of the week without any stressful Sunday night gut-ache about assembling the puzzle pieces to meet the next fast-approaching newspaper deadline was one of the most satisfying feelings I've had in the last decade.

March 1986 vs. March 1996 vs. March 2006

Winner:  2006--A relatively nondescript trio of months to pick from but in 2006 I was still riding high from the new job I scored for the state of Iowa where I settled in quickly and connected nicely with most of my coworkers.  Beyond that, new "MacGyver" DVD sets were coming out every few months and I always looked forward to reading the online reviews and engaging with the review writers via e-mail.  Also, season 5 of "24" was heating up, the last season of that series that I considered "great" before it began to deliver shrinking rewards for me.  But better yet, season 1 of "Prison Break" was in its final half and I still marvel at how brilliantly executed that season of television was.  Having "Prison Break" and "24" back to back on Monday nights was TV paradise.

March 1987 vs. March 1997 vs. March 2007

Winner:  1987--The fondest memories I have of this place and time are my escalating elementary crush feelings on my first "girlfriend" who I always hoped to see at tae kwon do classes and took every opportunity to sit next to in third grade.  I bantered about her a lot with my cousin, who would end up spilling the beans to her one short month later.  Beyond that, MacGyver's hit man archrival Murdoc was introduced this season was introduced on that series this month.  The other two months in this grouping were pretty terrible so 1987 wins pretty handily by default.

March 1988 vs. March 1998 vs. March 2008

Winner: 1988--Not nearly as many distinctly awesome memories from March 1988 as there were in February 1988, but my fascination with the Nickelodeon cable network pressed forward and I got plenty of opportunities this month to spend Saturday mornings at my grandma's place (she had cable) and immerse myself in their weekend lineup, which being 10 at the time I was just at a perfect age to appreciate.  It wasn't often during the original run of "MacGyver" that there was a TV novelty that intrigued me more but that particular window in 1988 was an exception.  I still loved "MacGyver" at the time though too, deep into its impressive third season at the time.  And this was the peak month with my aforementioned elementary girlfriend, where rumors abounded from other girls in the class who went to her 10th birthday party and said she was gushing about me the entire night.  While I have plenty of terrible memories from March 1998, one good memory was my first Buffalo Ridge road trip during spring break from college that year, the beginning of a long-standing tradition that's worthy of mention.

March 1989 vs. March 1999 vs. March 2009

Winner:  1999--While things were going pretty well for me in the spring of 1989, the spring of 1999 was my best semester of college where I had a three-day weekend and a bunch of classes I really enjoyed-- (philosophy, film, and geology--the latter of which by this point in the semester took us on field trips to quarries and waterfalls in the general area and where I got to banter with the class hottie who was my partner and took a shine to me!  I took a second fun and memorable spring break road trip to the Buffalo Ridge that March and was looking forward to returning to my summer job as a mail carrier that next summer (spoiler: major pending disappointment on that one).  It was one of the few times during college where I was really enjoying myself.

March 1990 vs. March 2000 vs. March 2010

Winner: 1990--Tougher call on this one as each month in the grouping has its own sets of pros and cons, but the spring of 1990 was just one of those times I look back at with fondness as I would venture to say most people do looking back at age 12.  I was coming of age but life wasn't yet particularly confusing.  My purchase of Super Mario Bros. 3 early that month obviously defined the month in a positive way.  And this was the first year I really got into the Minnesota boys basketball tournament, always broadcast on the local ABC affiliate during the week I was on spring break.  As a Minnesota geography nut, for me the tournament was always most interesting from the "small town taking on bigger school" perspective than the actual game of basketball which I've been generally lukewarm about.  The downside was that the decade-old collapse of the meatpacking industry finally caught up with my dad and the Farmstead plant he had worked at for a quarter century was going under.  I was only half checked in about this at the time given my age, but it was a very scary time for him and I obviously picked up on some of that.

March 1991 vs. March 2001 vs. March 2011

Winner:  2001--Meh!  Three pretty weak choices.  The winter of 2000-2001 was the longest one in history in Minnesota, with no high temperatures above 40 degrees between early November 2000 and late March 2001, leaving a permanent snowpack outdoors for five full months and leaving my unemployed ass with intense cabin fever.  Desperate for a job, the month before I had nearly gotten swept up in an insurance sales job that would have been all wrong for me, but reading some shady fine print in the job description led me away from that venture, which was secretly a relief.  I killed much of my free time by continuing to obsessively pouring over data from the razor-thin 2000 election down to the precinct level.  I can't sustain my interest in election statistics that long after the election anymore but it sure was exciting back then.  Still, I was excited to take to the highway for my road trips when the weather got nicer, but the stubborn continuity of winter this month really started to wear me down by month's end.

March 1992 vs. March 2002 vs. March 2012

Winner:  2002--While 1992 deserves a hat tip for finally being the trigger month where I began to videotape old "MacGyver" episodes on USA whenever I visited my grandma's place, the big event month of this trio was easily 2002 when I finally got a professional job.  Now it was a low-paying, high-stress job at a small-town newspaper, a field I had tried everything to avoid but finally had to hold my nose and accept a few and far between job offer.  The upside was that it was a small town in southwest Minnesota that I had some loose ties to growing up and had a fond attachment to.  It was a friendly town where I was mostly welcomed and it was exciting to finally have that first job and move to my first apartment, despite some early vindications of my fears about management at the workplace.  I was happier yet to get out of there three years later, but looking back to March 2002 it's hard to deny the excitement of finally breaking through.

March 1993 vs. March 2003 vs. March 2013

Winner:  2013--Every year this grouping is pretty drab pickings, and this grouping is some of the drabbest pickings yet.  Yuck!  March 2013 wins by default simply because I was merely operating at ho-hum autopilot with few memories good or bad as opposed to being miserable as I was for the other two.

Down to my final two months of these groupings and must admit they've been pretty fun.  Moving deeper into spring in T minus 30 (or so) days.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Comparing Past Februarys

February has always been one of my least favorite months as I'm usually over winter by this time of year even if winter is nowhere near over me.  With that said, I've had some good and memorable Februarys over the years that stand out among the crowd.  Here are the best in each category...

February 1984 vs. February 1994 vs. February 2004

Winner:  1984--Nothing overly significant here as I was a little to young to appreciate the Sarajevo-based 1984 Winter Olympics and was more annoyed than anything else that it was responsible for taking "The Fall Guy" off the air for a couple of weeks, but between the obsession with memorizing the weekly TV grid that continued from the month before and my afternoon, after-kindergarten viewings of "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe", this boyhood February narrowly edges the equally modest rewards of its rivals.

February 1985 vs. February 1995 vs. February 2005

Winner: 1985--After a few weeks of escalating interest in baseball cards brought on by the 1984 All-Star team cards available one at a time in cereal boxes that winter, my dad laid the gauntlet for a longer-term baseball card fascination one Saturday morning when I woke up with a fever.  On his way to the store to buy medicine, he picked up a couple of packs of Topps baseball cards.  A monster was born that defined most of the years ahead but 1985 in particular.  A sport I couldn't have cared less about in years prior suddenly became my primary fascination of the first half of 1985 until it got upstaged by a certain new TV show I became interested in that fall.

February 1986 vs. February 1996 vs. February 2006

Winner:  2006--I have a couple of great options this year.  In most groupings, 1986 would have won with my obsession with Ian Thorne's "Monsters" book hitting its peak, but in February 2006 I was still buzzing from my late January move to Des Moines and scoring of a new job (where I still work).  I felt like I found my place right away and enjoyed immersing myself in my new city, visiting the Baskin-Robbins ice cream store in town--after years of watching every other Baskin Robbins in Minnesota and Iowa close--and sampling their legendary chocolate fudge cone for the first time since September 1997!  I also really got into the 2006 Winter Olympics, something I get into every four years but which had more resonance for me that year than most given the memorable place and time in my life.

February 1987 vs. February 1997 vs. February 2007

Winner:  1987--Given that 1997 was the beginning of my spring semester of my miserable freshman year of college and 2007 was the month my dog died, February 1987 wins by default.  It was a good month though, with my memories guided largely by my growing boyhood crush on a third-grade classmate along with my favorite TV nights, which included "MacGyver" and the Saturday night bloc of "Wonderful World of Disney", "Sidekicks", and "Sledge Hammer!" on ABC.

February 1988 vs. February 1998 vs. February 2008

Winner:  1988--A slam dunk champion here, my favorite cousin came down for a long weekend visit the first weekend of the year and on top of our visits to the arcade in the mall, we also found plenty of time to watch multiple hours of the Nickelodeon cable channel.  I had been dabbling in Nickelodeon viewings for months when I went to my grandma's place (she was the only one I knew who had cable at the time) but that weekend really solidified the ascendancy of an obsession that defined the months to come.  And later in the month of February 1988 came the first Winter Olympics I got into....and I surprised myself the extent to which I did get into every event except figure skating.  Definitely one of the most memorable Februarys of my life.

February 1989 vs. February 1999 vs. February 2009

Winner:  1999--It's not typical that the winter months of my college years beat out the competition, but far and away my best semester at college was spring semester of my junior year which began in February 1999.  I had a lineup of classes I really enjoyed and got to work closely with some friends in the class, and maneuvered a schedule in which I had a three-day weekend that began Friday morning at 10 a.m.  I managed to drive my car into a ditch on an icy road early in the month but walked away with a relatively easy lesson and a $55 towing charge.  Beyond that it was smooth sailing, however, with my favorite months of the semester still yet to come.

February 1990 vs. February 2000 vs. February 2010

Winner:  1990--Most years of 1990 were outstanding but this one wins by default.  I have good overall memories of sixth grade being a new owner of a Nintendo that I was enjoying the hell out of and with "MacGyver" going strong.  This month in particular was sweet because after getting his teeth kicked in by "ALF" for the better part of four years, "MacGyver" finally starting to win its time slot and beat "ALF" as the latter was in the middle of one of the quickest and most dramatic meltdowns in modern TV history.  All that said, the best months of 1990 were definitely still yet to come.

February 1991 vs. February 2001 vs. February 2011

Winner:  1991--Pretty close race here with 2001 as I enjoyed both but 1991 wins the day, in the throes of the first Gulf War which was essentially had won by month's end.  On a lighter note, I purchased the Nintendo game Mega Man 2 in a catalog that month and got enjoyment out of that and also had my most enjoyable ski trip to Mount Kato with a friend's church group.  It was also sort of an end of the innocence moment for me personally as in the months ahead I slumbered through a period of early teen angst that wasn't much fun, and also the end of the innocence for my beloved "MacGyver" as the series was starting to lose its edge and that was soon reflected in declining ratings.  But just in terms of February 1991, things were still good.

February 1992 vs. February 2002 vs. February 2012

Winner:  1992--I bounced back quickly after "MacGyver" was yanked from the airwaves at the end of December 1991 primarily because of the excitement surrounding the 1992 Presidential primaries and my preferred candidate Tom Harkin's candidacy, which got off to a great start with a landslide win in his native Iowa.  Things came back down to Earth quickly with a fourth-place finish in New Hampshire and disappointing subsequent numbers out of South Dakota.  It was still an exciting time though, even though I wasn't gonna like the outcome the next month had in store for me.

February 1993 vs. February 2003 vs. February 2013

Winner:  2003--Ick!  This particular grouping always seems to have three pretty lousy choices and this one is no exception, although I will say that resurgence of former girlfriend Dana at this point in 2003 improved my mood a little.  I was also pretty excited about the TV schedule at that point with some new series such as "Miracles" and "Mr. Sterling" premiering that intrigued me.  I had a weird lark late in the month, as I approached my one-year anniversary at the newspaper, to put in my notice and look for a new job after an unsettled period halfway through the month, but thankfully I didn't follow through with quitting one job before finding or even searching for another.

Anyway, I have spring fever right now and that spring fever will accompany the spring months ahead in my decennial comparisons.  Only three more months to go.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Comparing Past Januarys

Beyond the holiday season and in the dead of winter, I have less nostalgia for January than I do most of the months we've already reviewed but there were a few really good ones and I'll press forward with my reviews until May when I've completed the series....

January 1984 vs. January 1994 vs. January 2004

Winner: 1984--Easy victory here as this was the first year I really got into TV, going so far as studying the local TV listings printed in the paper and reviewing which shows were on which channel, broadcast and cable.  I didn't have cable growing up, but my grandparents and other friends and family did, so I was intrigued when I visited their place and explored their selection of channels.  Of course, the transition to 1984 was right at the epicenter of the mid-80s action show trend, where every nonaction show that was removed from the schedule seemed to be replaced by an action show and they dominated the airwaves for the next 2 1/2 years.  January 1984 was also the first month with our new Irish setter Luke, who we picked up on New Year's Eve.

January 1985 vs. January 1995 vs. January 2005

Winner: 1995--Eleven years earlier, my family picked up the aforementioned Irish setter Luke but it was January 1995 when the legendary German shorthair Pokey joined the Hagen household.  He was a nine-month-old hellraiser who brought some spunk to a lethargic residence.  Beyond that, January 1995 was the final month of my junior year "fall semester" in high school, the semester I remember the most fondly of my high school years.  Unfortunately, it was January 1995 when the angst of pending graduation more than a year away began to fill my heart with the early stages of dread.  Without question, it was the last hurrah of my carefree youth years.

January 1986 vs. January 1996 vs. January 2006

Winner: 2006--Certainly in my adult life, few months have been as consequential as January 2006, the month I started my new life in central Iowa with a plum state job.  I had been unemployed for several months and ran out of unemployment checks when I drove down to Des Moines for a job interview that I assumed was for a session-only position.  Imagine my surprise when I found out it was a permanent, full-time job.  I had to start the job ASAP given their timeline which meant the need to find a place and be moved in just five days after getting the job offer.  It was a very manic couple of weeks but exciting to move to a new town and get a solid new job that felt like a good fit for me.  I knew immediately that I had found my place.  While my peak weeks of "Monsters books"-mania in January 1986 was noteworthy, they're light years beyond January 2006 in terms of overall impact on my life.

January 1987 vs. January 1997 vs. January 2007

Winner: 1987--No clear winners here but between my first Cub Scout Pinewood Derby win, the peak weeks of my Saturday night "Wonderful World of Disney, "Sidekicks", and "Sledge Hammer!" trifecta on KAAL, and my blossoming elementary romance, 1987 tops its rivals.

January 1988 vs. January 1998 vs. January 2008

Winner:  1988--Here's a classic win by default.  There was little to get too excited about in January 1988, aside from the very earliest stages of my Nickelodeon obsession that would come to full fruition the following month.  Beyond that, I won another Pinewood Derby and was excited about the reconfigured network TV schedule that began the new year.  Not a ton to get behind but still better than its rivals.

January 1989 vs. January 1999 vs. January 2009

Winner: 1989--Tougher call on this one as January 1999 was pretty good as well, but I was finding my groove in January 1989 at school, improving my grades and getting in less mischief.  It was also the peak period of my recess computer games on the old Apple IIe, particularly Word Munchers and Oregon Trail.  "MacGyver" was right in the middle of its best season and all was generally well in the world.

January 1990 vs. January 2000 vs. January 2010

Winner: 2000--My college had a one-class January semester called J-Term, where students could take a single class for three weeks in January and get three credits.  This was my best J-Term, a Paideia II class that got into debates on race and illegal immigration where I was far more engaged than usual during my college classes.  I was also fairly active in creative writing this month, beginning a nightly fix of "A-Team" reruns on TV Land, and had the excitement of the 2000 primaries and caucuses to keep me amused.  I had a little bit of trepidation about my pending college graduation but nothing like my angst about the end of high school four years earlier.

January 1991 vs. January 2001 vs. January 2011

Winner: 2001--A couple of good choices here as January 1991, the dawn of Operation Desert Storm, was also a very pivotal and interesting month, but January 2001 was my first January ever that I had off and it was kind of cool to be chilling every day in the dead of winter with no schedule.  I was hitting it off with a couple of girls at the time and it was exciting to chat with them at my convenience....and in a long, cold, and snowy winter, I had plenty of opportunities to put on some boots and trek the snowy fields surrounding my parents' place that January.  I would say that I got in on the full Minnesota winter experience more in 2001 than any other January, ironically at age 23.

January 1992 vs. January 2002 vs. January 2012

Winner: 1992--Meh.  No great choices by any means but definitely was the best was the lead-up to the 1992 Presidential primaries and caucuses, my first year of actively tracking the primaries and the most exciting as I was fully invested in Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's candidacy, waiting for his campaign to catch fire at any given moment even though it never did.  While this was exciting, it was hard to get over "MacGyver" being pulled from the airwaves in December 1991 and having nothing to watch at the sacred 7:00 hour on Monday nights anymore.

January 1993 vs. January 2003 vs. January 2013

Winner: 2013--Oh sweet Jesus!  They're all terrible!  Nothing good to say about January just wins by default against two months that are even worse.

Overall I've had a few decent Januarys over the years.  We'll see if I can say the same next month about Februarys past.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

"The MacGyver Project" My Favorite New Place On The Web

For years now, I have semiregularly done random Internet searches for anything "MacGyver"-related.  Even 22 years since the series went off the air, I maintain my Mama Grizzly connection to that series just as I did as a teenager, beaming with pride when the series gets a positive plug and scratching and hissing like a cornered cat when the series gets dissed.  I'm not sure why I have such a personal attachment to this series but I certainly do, and at some point early last fall I had a "why didn't I think of that?" moment upon stumbling into a fellow Blogspot website called "The MacGyver Project", where the blogrunner counts down "MacGyver" episodes from his least favorite to his favorite with in-depth reviews and color commentary.

I didn't think there was anyone else alive who ranked the series' episodes in such a methodical pecking order, which I have been doing with substantial revisions dating back to 1993 when I completed recording all of the early episodes on VHS.  Usually every time I view the episodes again, which in recent years has been once every three or four years, I reconfigure my lists as the passage of time has improved my thoughts on some episodes and diminished my thoughts on others.  The author of "The MacGyver Project" has apparently not viewed these episodes in quite some time before making his reviews and has acknowledged he's walked away with different impressions of some episodes than he went in with, which will hopefully lead him to reconfigure his list at the project's end.  Either way, it's a fun and ambitious project, and I've learned a few bits of trivia from his reviews, and some plot holes and other assorted goofs have been brought to my attention as well.

So do his list and mine overlap smoothly?  Somewhat.  When I first got into comparing favorite and least favorite episodes with "MacGyver" fans back in college in the now-defunct MacGyver Homepage Chatroom, I was shocked to discover that--gasp!--not every MacGyver fan had the same impressions about various episodes as I did.  Many episodes I held up in the highest esteem were not necessarily fan favorites and episodes I didn't care for had legions of devoted followers.  One regular on the MacGyver Homepage Chatroom who generally had great contributions and insights about the show proudly proclaimed to the board that her favorite episode was "MacGyver's Women", my least favorite episode.  Wow!  Since then, having compared notes with dozens of fans, I've found that there's no general consensus about too many episodes and the best you can hope for is that your thoughts are generally compatible with other fans on two-thirds of the episodes.  That's roughly been the case with me and the "MacGyver Project" blogrunner, and I guess a series with the range of stories that "MacGyver" took on can expect to have a diverse audience with varied thoughts on favorite episodes.

Disagreements aside, "The MacGyver Project" is well worth a visit for any true "MacGyver" fan, and there's a comments section to sound off if you agree or disagree with the author's review.  I highly recommend you give it a look.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Comparing Past Decembers

There have been plenty of memorable Decembers over the years with Christmas and New Year's in the mix.  Let's see which one were the best....

December 1983 vs. December 1993 vs. December 2003

Winner:  1983--Easy choice here as 1993 was weak and 2003 was horrific.  The first Christmas I remember was 1983 and recall it being the one year we put the Christmas tree up in a different spot in the parents' living room.  And while I only remember one gift I got that year, it was a big one...the complete set of McDonald's pens featuring Ronald McDonald, Cheeseburger, Hamburglar, Big Mac, and Grimace.  New Year's was a bigger deal that year, however, as we picked up Irish Setter "Luke" from Albert Lea, a dog who stayed with us until his passing in December 1992.  It was also my first memory of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, with special guest Culture Club singing their new hit "Karma Chameleon" which I loved then and still do, despite how uncool it now seems to be to say you were a fan of Culture Club.

December 1984 vs. December 1994 vs. December 2004

Winner:  1994--Close call between '84 and '94 here (2004 certainly wasn't a contender with Dick Clark having a stroke and not being able to do the New Year's countdown) but 1994 edges it out because of all the new country CDs I got for Christmas back on my first year as the owner of a CD player and what I consider country music's best year.

December 1985 vs. December 1995 vs. December 2005

Winner:  1985--Three solid contenders here but 1985 wins the series due to Christmas being on a Wednesday and giving me my first 16-day Christmas break, complete with new episodes of "MacGyver" and "The Fall Guy" to enjoy during my break.  It was my first year of baseball cards so I got a few baseball card-related gifts that Christmas for the first time.  I was also right on the precipice of early 1986 "Monsters" book obsession, reading the first couple in late 1985 before the fascination busted wide open very early into the new year.

December 1986 vs. December 1996 vs. December 2006

Winner:  1986--Three solid contenders last round and three flawed contenders this round.  But 1986 easily wins by default as I got a bunch of new baseball card sets this year along with a plastic pinball machine game that was a nice way to pass time and got a lot of use until one of the legs broke off.  In addition, Christmas was just a lot more fun at age 9 than it was at 19 or 29.

December 1987 vs. December 1997 vs. December 2007

Winner:  1997--This Christmas was a decidedly mixed bag as on December 26, 1997, I got my wisdom teeth removed, which was not exactly great for holiday season morale, but the discomfort from the oral surgery was easily surpassed by my most consequential Christmas gift of all-time, the Minnesota blue book, which featured precinct-level returns for the entire state of Minnesota from the 1996 election.  During my downtime after the surgery, I gathered and arranged data from Minnesota towns and townships into neat little charts, a tradition I've been following every election cycle since.  It never ceases to be exciting and fun, and I have my free-of-charge gift from Christmas 1997 to thank for it.

December 1988 vs. December 1998 vs. December 2008

Winner: 1988--This wasn't a spectacular Christmas and New Year's but I do have memories of my family visiting an aunt in southeast Minnesota the weekend before Christmas.  My most memorable gift was the battery-powered Capsela toy with gears contained in plastic bubbles that connect together like tinker toys, which I had gotten a taste of in the fifth-grade classroom.  I also remember watching the "Little House on the Prairie" Christmas special on Christmas Eve and the final episode of "Simon and Simon" on New Year's Eve.

December 1989 vs. December 1999 vs. December 2009

Winner: 1989--I have three really great choices here but there's no way I can choose anything other than the classic holiday season of 1989, the season where the epic MacGyver Christmas episode aired, and where I began my now 26-year tradition of watching it every Christmas Eve.  Beyond that, it was also the Christmas I got my own Nintendo along with the game that remains my favorite after all these years, Super Mario Bros. 2.   There was also some excitement about transitioning to a new a decade come New Year's, which was particularly prescient since 1990 ended up being the most consequential year of my childhood.

December 1990 vs. December 2000 vs. December 2010

Winner: 1990--There was some trepidation in the air during the holiday season of 1990 as my dad was out of work and had been for months, but he got a job early in 1991.  Still, it was a sparser Christmas than usual, although my mom was able to get her hands on a discount copy of the Nintendo game "Bubble Bobble", a childhood favorite, and my dad had scored some pair of cross country skis at an auction.  It was a snowier-than-average winter so they got some use in the months ahead.  I also remember cashing in on some free meal tickets at the Elks Club in Albert Lea my dad won somewhere the Friday before the Christmas, where I had some of the best burritos I ever recall having.  It wasn't a perfect December, but it happened in those formative years where the memories tend to shine brightest even decades later.

December 1991 vs. December 2001 vs. December 2011

Winner:  1991--Once again a childhood holiday season kicks the butt of its competition.  Christmas was on a Wednesday this year meaning a 2 1/2-week Christmas break, in this case the first where I was allowed to stay home alone.  I got a cross-section of favorable gifts including the final entries of my baseball card and Nintendo collections, as well as the maiden voyages for a new obsession with an atlas an almanac, the almanac providing me county returns from the 1984 and 1988 Presidential elections, setting the template for my lifelong obsession with regional politics.  There was one major dark side to December 1991 was the end of MacGyver on Monday nights.  The series finale and a "lost episode" were still hanging out there for 1992, but MacGyver was replaced on the Monday evening schedule at the end of the month, which was certainly a wet blanket that kept me from enjoying the holiday season as much as I would have.

December 1992 vs. December 2002 vs. December 2012

Winner:  2012--Yikes.  Two horrific choices and one that wins by default.  Most second place choices and even some third place options in other groupings would have topped this one but since neither my dog nor my grandpa died in 2012 as they did in the other two years, it stands out as the pick of the litter in this bunch.   I was still crunching election data from Obama's re-election win in 2012 but beyond that my memories of the year are pretty sparse.

We still have five more months to get through on this little exercise.  There are some gems left but I expect more nondescript entries for dead-of-winter months like January and February moving forward.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Comparing Past Novembers

Amidst my one-minded obsession with devouring election return data following November 4, I forgot all about my monthly ritual of comparing the months a decade apart.  Now that I'm finally near an end with my election data collection, it's time to right the ship and retroactively rate previous months of November, which all too often were also defined by elections.

November 1983 vs. November 1993 vs. November 2003

Winner:  1993--The afterglow of my being asked out by a girl in my high school--and the flirtation that followed--really brought some sizzle in my life at a time when I had really been treading water otherwise.  I was past peak with her but didn't realize it at the time and it was a good feeling to be "wanted" by a girl who I felt the same about, a feeling I hadn't really experienced before.   I was also increasingly getting into country music at the time with the genre right at the apex of its creative renaissance, cranking out a lot of very interesting music that vastly exceeds the country music of today.

November 1984 vs. November 1994 vs. November 2004

Winner:   1994--There's no question that November 8, 1994--the night Newt Gingrich and his right-wing forces captured the U.S. Congress--was an ugly night, but if we're just going based on election outcomes neither 1984 nor 2004 was any better.  So setting elections aside, 1994 was by far the most exciting as I was in my best semester ever in high school, with an extended creative spurt that had me cranking out new action-adventure scripts for my would-be "Alex Burrows" series at a dizzying pace.  Beyond that I was immersed in a study hall where I found myself in the unusual role of alpha male and a flurry of young lasses vying for my affections.  It was extremely gratifying and coupled with my early purchases of country music CDs and the excitement (and ultimate bust) of the second "MacGyver" telefilm airing, November 1994 was one of my final spurts of enjoyment before I languished into an extended period of stagnation.

November 1985 vs. November 1995 vs. November 2005

Winner:  1985--There are no clear winners here but my growing obsession with the new TV series "MacGyver", which never ceased to be more awesome than anything I ever imagined could be on television, puts 1985 over the top.  Holdover TV favorites towards the end of their run--like "The Fall Guy" and "Hardcastle and McCormick"--overlapped with this era and made this one of my favorite TV periods.  Not really much else noteworthy going on at this time though, especially with baseball season now over.

November 1986 vs. November 1996 vs. November 2006

Winner:   2006--A fairly weak trio of choices here as none of these three set my world ablaze.  1996 will never be an option in any of these series as, month after month, it was one of the most miserable times of my life.  But 2006 at least started out with genuine excitement as Democrats were on the cusp of having a wave midterm election, taking out the Senate and House with a decisive sweep based on anti-Bush backlash.  But for the months of excitement leading up to the win, after it happened it was amazing how quickly the thrill dissipated....and for good reason as American politics is increasingly just an exercise in painful disappointment. 

November 1987 vs. November 1997 vs. November 2007

Winner:   1987--Kind of surprising looking back at how many Novembers were mediocre at best, and that certainly applies to my choices here.  But November 1987 was easily the pick of the litter as I was still enjoying the afterglow of the Minnesota Twins' World Series win, had a bunch of new "MacGyver" episodes to enjoy during the series' peak period, and have general fun memories of pinball machines and Godfather's Pizza Sunday mornings after church in the hometown, along with my weekly snack purchase that usually included either Good 'N' Fruity or Skinny Dippers at the downtown Sterling Drug.  Lingering good feelings about my fourth grade elementary crush also made November 1987 a generally good place in time in my life despite a general lack of marquee moments.

November 1988 vs. November 1998 vs. November 2008

Winner:  1988--There were high points and low points to all three of these, but in 1998 and 2008 the low points (grandfather's death, my mom's temporary serious leg injury) clouded out the upsides.  1988 was also a mixed bag as I got my first gut punch of a bad election night when George H.W. Bush walloped Michael Dukakis in the Presidential election, an outcome I didn't necessarily see coming, at least to the extent that the glowing red electoral map suggested.  On the bright side, the writers' strike-delayed TV season finally re-emerged, and of course I was most excited with the late November return of "MacGyver" in the season that would be its best.   Going without my usual fall TV ritual made its ultimate return that much more satisfying.  Fifth grade was my best year in school as well and I was really starting to find my footing by this time in the school year.

November 1989 vs. November 1999 vs. November 2009

Winner:  1989--A couple of solid choices here but 1989 wins in a slam-dunk.  We finally got the VCR working and I began to videotape my earliest "MacGyver" episodes.  I was watching the classic cartoon "Laff-a-Lympics" several mornings a week on the USA Cartoon Express.  I was at peak Nintendo obsession and playing it regularly at my grandma's place a month ahead of getting a system of my own.  But far and away the best memories of 1989 came from Thanksgiving weekend, the best Thanksgiving of my life that included a visit from my cousin from northern Minnesota, playing Super Mario Bros. 2 for the first time, enough snow to sled down, and a trip to the Burnsville Mall on Black Friday in its earliest incarnation.

November 1990 vs. November 2000 vs. November 2010

Winner:  2000--The same old conundrum when it comes to my best months of all time competing with each other in months ending with "0".  November 1990 was a fantastic month where I came of age in many ways and discovered or reconnected with long-standing passions.  But it paled in comparison to November 2000, the month where the closest and most exciting Presidential election in history played out at my most formative early adult years and sent my excitement for elections--already high--soaring to an entirely different level.  Even though I didn't like the election outcome, the thrill of an election that close--complete with access to results on the Internet to pick apart in the immediate aftermath for the first election of my life--had a profound effect on me then and now.

November 1991 vs. November 2001 vs. November 2011

Winner:  1991--Another grouping where the participants have hits and misses, but far and away the most memorable of my months was 1991 with the months starting out with the worst ice storm of my life followed by seven days of darkness when my family's power went out.  Although I hated (and would still hate today) the extended loss of electricity, there was a certain charm to those days of roughing it like the pioneers with nothing but flashlights and kerosene heaters.  When the lights came back on, I got some rough news that "MacGyver" was ending early amidst an abbreviated seventh season.  I knew it was the last season but didn't realize it would only be 13 episodes.  The month ended nicely though with my cousin visiting once again over Thanksgiving and us playing Super Nintendo for the first and only time over Thanksgiving weekend.

November 1992 vs. November 2002 vs. November 2012

Winner:  1992--There were two exciting things going on in November 1992.  Foremost was the Presidential election, the first election in my life where the Democrat (Bill Clinton) won.  Secondly, I was still binge-consuming MacGyver reruns from the USA cable network that my aunt was videotaping for me several per week.  It was a thrill revisiting all those classics, many of which I hadn't seen in several years.  I got most of those MacGyver shows recorded by the end of the month though and with the Presidential election over, I was about to run out of diversions to keep life interesting for me.

It's already December as I write this meaning I'll be back sooner than usual to review past Decembers, most likely a couple of weeks from now during Christmas weekend.