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Today is the day that the #RockHall2022 fan poll closes and the real votes become due. I’m guessing we will have our class officially announced within two weeks’ time, but there is no formal timetable as yet.

All in all, this was an interesting group on this ballot. It wasn’t quite as strong as the staggering heights of last year’s, but it also had more artists that I felt personally invested in. Before the results are announced, I thought I might weigh in on the likelihood of the sundry musicians and their chances to get in. There is no guarantee I’ll be right, but it’s fun to guess. I’m already on record for this issue, by way of my appearance on Nick Bambach’s Rock in Retrospect podcast the day the ballot was announced. Even so, it feels like the ground has shifted a bit since then. Dolly wrote a classy but firm note asking to be removed from consideration, only to announce today that she would “accept gracefully” if she got in. Joe and Kristen have been hitting the phones, talking to Rock Hall voters, learning (and influencing) their ballots. By their own admission, their sample size is limited to journalists, writers, and industry people. This leaves us without a sense of how the inducted artists–presumably a large bloc of voters, though perhaps not the majority–feel. And that calculus is complicated too, because the artists are no monolith. A Go-Go is probably going to vote differently than a Hollie. Acknowledging this room–nay, this expanse–for error, here is my best guesswork.

In terms of certain certainties, Eminem and Duran Duran top this list. Now that Dolly Parton is willing to accept her honor, that changes things. This whole mess was an unforced error on everyone’s part, and who knows how many votes came in before she renounced her candidacy and how many voters heeded her wishes. I’m still willing to bet that the hall wants Dolly in bad enough to still make this happen and that the votes are there for her somewhere.

One possible beneficiary of Dolly phasing out of the conversation for a spell is Carly Simon. I was originally skeptical about her candidacy, but the more I think about it, the more I conclude that her profile looks like a lot of recent inductees who got in easily. The last several years got Cat, Withers, Carole, Baez, and others, softer singer-songwriters all. Simon is definitely in their sphere, and arguably “You’re So Vain” is a bigger song than any of them except Withers performed.

Very very few of the callers Joe and Kristen reached favored Lionel Richie. That’s maybe expected with prickly journalists who want to be cooler than you, but I’ll bet the artists’ vote goes heavily for Lionel, a major pop music superstar who has built up generations of goodwill. I’d put Dionne Warwick next– she is likely to have what it takes to pull off a coalition of voters from all lines of work and all demographics. She’s the only black woman on the ballot, and isn’t competing with Tina Turner for space this year, which helps her chances, I think.

Two other artists who would be strong candidates in any circumstance but may also have been helped by the Dolly Follies are Eurythmics and Pat Benatar. Although both feature excellent female singers from the 80s, I don’t see them as competitors with each other. Eurythmics will appeal more to the journalist and industry people, while Benatar is very much a rockists’ candidate.

From here, the likelihood starts dropping off considerably. After Eurythmics and Pat comes Beck, who benefits from a long career, tons of collaborations, and commercial acclaim. He’s a big name being nominated for the first time, which gives him an advantage. But if Radiohead couldn’t swing it on their first try, can Beck?

This is the point where any further artists would surprise me if they made the Class of 2022 as performers. Rage Against the Machine would be the most likely of these, given how important they were in their own era. Their problem is ballot fatigue–they show up too often to stand out on the list–as well as facing chronological competition from Beck and Eminem, and harder rock competition from Judas Priest, and iconoclastic competition from MC5 and New York Dolls. Devo also has a puncher’s chance, and accidentally getting inducted in a year their ceremony isn’t in Ohio is an own-goal that’s on brand for the Rock Hall. Judas Priest isn’t up against too many other rock bands, and the Hall is probably aware of the need for more metal. But it’s hard to see them breaking through. If it took Deep Purple three tries to get in, I’m not sure how Judas Priest doesn’t take more than that.

New York Dolls and MC5 are next. I don’t think too many voters are aware of the possibility that they could be put in for Influence or Excellence. As I intimated before, I think that the sorts of people Joe and Kristen are calling are leaving some to overestimate their chances. You are only voting for these bands if you were in Detroit or supporting the Weather Underground in the 60s, or else bumming around New York in the early 70s.

Rounding things out, A Tribe Called Quest got more support than I thought, and it helps that they are a ballot first-timer. Some people might vote for them because they can’t bring themselves to vote for Eminem (I’d certainly be in that category.) Fela is an interesting choice and the fact that he was nominated twice in a row after being such an unlikely prospect raises some eyebrows for me. Kate Bush, alas, is the least likely nominee in my opinion, although she’s one of the more deserving. Consider the mix of ballot fatigue, her relative obscurity in America, her reclusiveness, and the fact that lots of her well known contemporaries are competing with her.

So that’s where I stand. To sum, my ranking in terms of likelihood is:

  1. Eminem
  2. Duran Duran
  3. Dolly Parton
  4. Carly Simon
  5. Lionel Richie
  6. Dionne Warwick
  7. Eurythmics
  8. Pat Benatar
  9. Beck
  10. Rage Against the Machine
  11. Devo
  12. Judas Priest
  13. New York Dolls
  14. MC5
  15. A Tribe Called Quest
  16. Fela Kuti
  17. Kate Bush

Due to a number of extenuating circumstances, not the least of which was the premature birth of my son, this series went on a hiatus. I won’t be able to write installments as often as I would like, but I have a nice little pocket of free time to keep chipping away at this.

If you are new to this blog, the Omni-Bracket is the greatest and vainest of all of my vanity projects here on the Northumbrian Countdown. It’s a 512-seed bracket of…things I like. Movies, travel locations, games, politicians, Disney World rides. And I merely arbitrate between two unlike things (such as “It’s A Small World vs. The Avengers 2”) to decide which advances. Got that? Let’s go!

101. Versailles, France (VIS) vs. Star Trek: The Next Generation (TV). We start with a competitive match. I have a particularly special (and private) memory attached to my visit to Versailles in 2002 when I was traveling across Europe. Next Generation, however, just might be my favorite dramatic series of the time. Unlike modern sci-fi series, it was never afraid to look cheap or silly, and concepts and acting were given the priority. Patrick Stewart, John de Lancie, Levar Burton, Brent Spiner…an amazing cast that put together 7 seasons of sublime science fiction. Next Generation.

102. Kitchen Kabaret (WDW) vs. Paul Tonko (POL). Another delightfully weird and obscure matchup. Our first contender was a 1930s-style revue about the four food groups at Epcot. Seriously. There’s a slice of cheese that resembles Mae West. The second is a congressman who represents New York’s capital region. Tonko resonates with me more than the average pol because he is from Amsterdam, NY–as were my grandparents– and he has an engineering degree from Clarkson like my father. These coincides aren’t enough, however, to surmount the wonderful weirdness and obsolete views on nutrition that blessed Epcot during its first decade. Kitchen Kabaret.

103. Birch Bayh (POL) vs. Book of Basketball (LIT). This is a tough call because both contestants pose questions of “what could be?” Liberal Bayh squeezed an 18-year Senate career out of Indiana (the Alabama of the Midwest), during which he wrote multiple constitutional amendments (James Madison is the only other person who can make this claim) and saved Ted Kennedy from a fiery plane wreck. He’s the kind of guy who represents the very best of the American heartland. Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball is in may respects the kind of book I hope to write someday– objectively subjective, full of bad jokes and pop culture references, but littered with keen insights. It’s also misogynistic trash; Simmons dunks on the WNBA routinely, and only brings up women to make metaphors based on how hot they are (Meg Ryan’s ability to hold her own in romantic comedies in her late 40s is likened to Kobe Bryant’s lengthy career, for example.) I guess I’m going to have to be Bayh-partisan.

104. Deadpool 2 (MOV) vs. Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon (LIT). Come to think of it, Joe Queenan’s Red Lobster, White Trash is also the kind of book I hope to write some day. Queenan is a guy born into a blue collar Philly family who became a writer best known for slashing social pretensions. One reviewer called him “Jonathan Swift with a remote control,” and that’s it exactly. Red Lobster, White Trash is an uproarious takedown of middlebrow American culture. You know, the sorts of people who glare at you for wearing jeans to the Olive Garden. No less vicious in its mockery is Deadpool 2. I’m sorry to say that I never saw the original, but the sequel brought in two characters from my X-Men-loving youth, Juggernaut and Cable. The story sent up every comic book movie trope, and the wit was as sharp as Deadpool’s blades. And it was just enough to pull ahead. Deadpool 2.

105. Primeval Whirl (WDW) vs. Malacca, Malaysia (VIS). At first I was going to let Primeval Whirl win– it’s a fun carnival ride– a basic wild-mouse coaster- in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I love it because you actually felt pretty unsafe riding it (the ride closed a year or two ago). But then I remembered what a great time Heather and I had in Malacca with two older professors, Claude and Jeannette. We scoured the city, a major shipping port in the Indian Ocean trade, and a beautiful confluence of Southeast Asian, Chinese, Islamic, Portuguese, Dutch, and English influences. Since Jeannette isn’t with us anymore, the memories are even more precious. Malacca.

106. Mark O. Hatfield (POL) vs. Empire Strikes Back (MOV). Controversial hot take? I don’t think Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie. Heresy, I know! But if you really watch with a close eye, Han acts like an entitled brat sexually harassing Leia throughout the whole film. Only a dude could have written a film where someone as capable and sharp as Leia could return his advances while maintaining some semblance of self-respect. I have some problems with Hatfield, but he’s my favorite post-World War II Republican, and helped make the movement to de-escalate in Vietnam a bipartisan effort. Mark Hatfield.

107. Linwood Holton (POL) vs. Attack of the Clones (MOV). Fun fact? Linwood Holton, the governor of Virginia in the early 1970s, ended up as Tim Kaine’s father-in-law. Attack of the Clones is in the running for the worst Star Wars movie. Parts of it had lots of potential– there could have been a chance to better understand Naboo culture. Whether or how Dooku was a villain was a genuine mystery to me the first time I saw it. After that, things trail off. The total lack of chemistry Portman and Haydensen have is a death knell to the series, and Lucas’s worst tendencies–the wooden acting, the overreliance on green screens, the choppy pacing–are all on display. Weird that we have two “Moderate Republican governor vs. Star Wars film” contests in a row. But the pro-civil-rights governors of the 1970s did amazing things in dismantling Jim Crow on an institutional level. Linwood Holton.

108. Life of Brian (MOV) vs. Hell’s Kitchen (TV). It took me eight seasons of watching Hell’s Kitchen to realize that it taught me jack all about cooking. That was time better spent. Conversely, I’ve never regretted watching Life of Brian, and have used the “what have the Romans ever done for us?!? scene in my history classes many times. Life of Brian.

109. America (MUS) vs. John Danforth (POL). I put this bracket together over a year ago, and my how the tables have turned. Since John Danforth endorsed Josh Hawley for the Senate over Claire McCaskill– the same guy who would go on to cheer and encourage the Jan. 6 rioters– it’s an automatic disqualification. Only fitting that a band called America beats him.

110. Burr (LIT) vs. Dream It, Do It! (LIT). Two books face off here. One is perhaps the magnum opus of Gore Vidal, only one of the most important writers of the mid-to-late 20th century. The other is the memoirs of Marty Sklar, Imagineer extraordinaire. He is particularly dear to me because he championed what Epcot would become, got the funding to back it up, and even came up with the idea of Spaceship Earth being a geodesic sphere. That’s impressive, but we are looking at the book, and not the life or the accomplishments of the writers. As such, the winner is Burr.

111. Test Track (WDW) vs. Katie Porter (POL). Katie Porter, a protege of Elizabeth Warren, is quickly becoming one of my favorite House members, and is proof that progressives can hold their own in the suburbs. It’s hard indeed to compare to Test Track– a supposedly educational ride about vehicle safety testing in Epcot. Test Track is and always has been wonky and prone to frequent breakdowns. When it works, though, it works very well. I especially like the Tron-style facelift the ride got about ten years ago. Test Track.

112. Chellie Pingree (POL) vs. John Sherman Cooper (POL). These two politicians barely made the bracket, making this a somewhat underwhelming match. Pingree is legitimately interesting, as an organic farmer and restauranteur who serves Maine’s Portland-based 1st congressional district. She was actually my recommendation for Biden’s Secretary of Agriculture. Cooper was a Republican from a state that didn’t often elect them in the 1950s and 1960s, and flitted between gigs in the Senate and important ambassadorial posts. For long-term significance, I’m going with Cooper.

113. The Last Jedi (MOV) vs. Saint Thomas, USVI (VIS). If this were Saint John’s, USVI, we would have a real competition on our hands. But Last Jedi is my pick as the best Star Wars movie. It gave us the Luke that the story needed and not the Luke we wanted, it was a beautiful swansong for Carrie Fisher, and had the series’ best writing, best fight scene, and best cinematography. St. Thomas is nice, but is overshadowed by St. John’s for me. It was, however, George McGovern’s favorite vacation spot. Last Jedi.

114. The Left Hand of Darkness (LIT) vs. Red Tent (LIT). This is another neat, unplanned matchup: each of these books is speculative fiction with a strong interest in sexuality. Left Hand of Darkness is by eminent science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin. A humanlike alien is stranded on a planet with ambisexual beings who change their sex repeatedly over a lifetime. Red Tent looks to the ancient Mediterranean and Jacob’s daughter Dinah, whose story is limited to a brutal rape and her brothers’ bloody revenge in the Torah. In its narrative, Red Tent explores the cultures surrounding menstruation and childbirth in the ancient Levant, and its writer, Anita Diamant, spins a great story with complex characters. Tough call, but Le Guin and Left Hand of Darkness wins for me.

115. Electric Water Pageant (WDW) vs. The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay (LIT). Some of my very earliest Disney World memories involve this small-budget light show on floats that has been shown at Disney World nearly every night for fifty years. You could see it from the three hotels on the Seven Seas Lagoon- including the Contemporary Resort, where my family stayed. The soundtrack is exquisite cheese– like prog rock on uppers. How does it stack up to Cavalier and Clay, by the amazing sublime Michael Chabon? The layers of storytelling and depth of character that Chabon includes is a feat to behold, tackling two Jewish comic book writers in the 40s. Quality has to trump nostalgia here. Cavalier and Clay.

116. Magical Mystery Tour (MOV) vs. Virginia Beach, VA (VIS). Hmmm..I have really mixed thoughts about this one as well. Virginia Beach was the site of my high school’s band and chorus competition during my senior year, requiring a massive four-day field trip to pull off. It was also while I was in the post-prom throes of lovesickness, but too shy to tell the object of my affections how I felt. I was also suspicious that my best friend was interested in her, suspicions that would play out when they started dating a year later. Magical Mystery Tour is also something of an ambivalent thing for me to consider. It’s a train wreck, yet still somehow unwatchable. There are moments of real quality, such as the “I Am the Walrus” sequence, but we’re watching a band flounder in the absence of someone who could tell them, “lads, this isn’t really a good idea now, is it?” Meh. It’s not going to make it past another round, but let’s go with Magical Mystery Tour.

117. Rachel Maddow Show (TV) vs. Bojack Horseman (TV). My lefty heart will always love Rachel Maddow– she brings the receipts, does her work, and is never cruel and never cowardly in her journalism. She made my dad into a Democrat, for which I will always be thankful. Bojack Horseman, meanwhile, has some of the strangest world-building on television, with a weirdo Hollywood populated by anthropomorphic animals. And yet, it also has some of the deepest meditations I’ve seen on the nature of fame, depression, and regret. I love you, Rachel, but Bojack for the win.

118. Violet Oon (RES) vs. X-Men Apocalypse (MOV). Let’s see here….Violet Oon’s restaurant serves my favorite dish in the world, her Meatless Meatballs Rendang. X-Men: Apocalypse was one of the worst movies I’ve seen in my life, with a Jennifer Lawrence who wanted to be literally anywhere else, Oscar Isaac hiding under one of the worst costume and makeup designs I’ve ever seen, and a 20-minute detour with the sole purpose of providing a Wolverine cameo. Violet Oon.

119. Dilbert (COM) vs. Yes (MUS). My dad had the most Dilbert-y job in existence, working in middle management at a regional telephone company that didn’t see digital and cellular coming. And having worked at said company during the summers of my college years, I appreciated what Dilbert was going for better than most. Yet, Scott Adams’ behavior, essentially the worst qualities of every jackass libertarian you’ve ever met, makes me disinclined to advance Dilbert. Instead, the W goes to the least hip band of all time- a band that can play in any time signature and in any key, but can’t groove or boogie– Yes.

120. Baldur’s Gate (GAM) vs. Soarin’ (WDW). I was kind of addicted to the video game Baldur’s Gate when I was in 11th grade. It was a next generation game for sure– taking the somewhat open-ended design of the Zelda games, and then immersing it in the game system of Dungeons and Dragons. This is so sad, but I actually designed the core of my part to be The Beatles– John as a warrior, Paul as a paul-adin (get it?), Geoge as a ranger, and Ringo as a mage. Soarin’ came into my life about five years later, when it was somewhat incongruously imported from California Adventure and plopped into The Land pavilion in Epcot. But it was a thrill ride that was genuinely thrilling, and not scary or rough– a breathtaking glide through an IMAX screen of peerless scenery with deceptively simple technology. Soarin’ wins easily for me.

If you follow me on Twitter (@alex_voltaire), you may have observed that I’ve been posting a series of tweets multiple times a week called #5pols. I’ve decided to import the series to my neglected Northumbrian Countdown to give the tweets a broader audience, and also to go into some of my choices and selections in greater depth.

What is #5pols, you ask? Simply, I pick my 5 all-time favorite politicians from each state. On twitter, I only have space to write out their names, but here? I have the luxury of being able to elaborate a little and explain exactly why these 5 individuals caught my attention. If this sustains your interest in the history of U.S. politics, all the better! Let me know what you think of my choices, and who you might have picked.

A few self-imposed guidelines:

  • Everybody must have held an elective office. If you were purely an appointee throughout your public life (let’s say Frances Perkins as an example), I’m afraid you are disqualified. I’ll list folks by the highest office they held.
  • No enslavers or Jim Crow apologists unless they repented and did major restitution. The idea that “slavery was accepted at the time” is garbage. Lots of people didn’t accept the validity of slavery and later, segregation. Such as the people who actually experienced them.
  • The people I choose will probably reflect my McGovernite leanings. There are some Republicans, but not too many of recent vintage. I have a 26-week preemie in the NICU right now, so voting against Obamacare is a nonstarter for me.
  • As the title suggests, these are just my favorites, man. Not my candidates for the best governors or senators of all time. If you disagree, fine, but there’s no need to come at me, bro.

Got all that? Splendid.

We will start in the Northeast and wind our way to the Pacific through this series, covering two states per post. Our first destination is Maine– Vacationland. Home of the lobster roll. Birthplace of my oldest son. My 5 picks are:

  • Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (1914-1996): My Polish homeboy! A great environmentalist who could have given Nixon a serious run for his money in 1972 if things had played out differently. I love his dignity and how comfortable he was in his own gangly skin. Would have been a great president.
  • Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin (1809-1891). A former Jacksonian Democrat who joined the Republican Party because of their unequivocal opposition to expanding slavery. Was Lincoln’s first vice-president– imagine how much better the mid-1860s would have gone if he succeeded Lincoln rather than Andrew Johnson?
  • Rep. Chellie Pingree (1955- ): She represents possibly my favorite congressional district in the country, Maine’s 1st, covering the Portland area and my family’s traditional vacation spot in Old Orchard Beach. Also an organic farmer and restauranteur.
  • Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995): Stood up to McCarthy, and heaven knows it wasn’t easy being a woman in the consummate boy’s club that is the Senate. I have one significant quibble in that she defended the Vietnam War to the bitter end. It’s one reason she lost in 1972, despite Nixon carrying Maine by a bazillion points that year.
  • Rep. Mike Michaud (1955- ): Having spent three months in Bangor while my first son was in the NICU there, I know how tough it is to represent this area as a Democrat. Michaud threaded the needle, and is one of the only congresspeople of recent years who was an actual head of a local labor union, and his work on behalf of veterans has been very praiseworthy indeed. Longtime Countdown readers will remember him as my recommendation for Biden’s Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs.

Moving on to New Hampshire– the classic “economically conservative, socially liberal” state, and the only true swing state in New England.

  • Gov. Lane Dwinnel (1906-1997): An obscure governor from the 1950s. The only reason I’m including him is that my aunt was his caregiver during the final years of his life. She brought him to my home town to meet us once, and we went out to dinner at the Holiday Inn. He gave my brother and I $10 each, the only time a politician has given me money, for a change.
  • Sen. Maggie Hassan (1958- ): Solid governor who knew what New Hampshire did and did not do well. I’m still surprised she beat Kelly Ayotte in 2016.
  • Sen. John P. Hale (1806-1873): Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Hale and Franklin Pierce were rivals, first from within the Democratic Party, and then from opposite sides of the aisle. Pierce became more famous, having somehow become president. But Hale was the better man. Through sheer force of abolitionist willpower, he put together an anti-slavery governing coalition in New Hampshire and even became the nominee of the noble but short-lived Free Soil Party.
  • Sen. Warren Rudman (1930-2012): I want to honor the very best of the postwar Republicans, and Rudman is of that type. He was a financial conservative and something of a social liberal– which was very northern New England at the time. We owe him a lot, since Bush 41 took his advice and picked his friend David Souter, who ended up siding with the court’s non-extremist wing. If the stories are true, both Ross Perot and John Kerry sought him out as a potential running mate.
  • Attorney General Joshua Atherton (1737-1809): There weren’t many hardcore abolitionists holding office in the early Republic, but he was one of them. Indeed, he attempted to get New Hampshire to not ratify the constitution in part because the document clearly countenanced and protected the institution. Unbelievably, his asshole son was responsible for the gag rule a few decades later, which prevented anti-slavery petitions from being presented to Congress.

I’ve let this pointless series lie dormant for quite some time- but now, the thaw is beginning, the soil is full of nitrates..let’s revisit (and hopefully one day finish) this self-indulgent project. If you are joining us, this is a 512-seed tournament of…things I like. Decided by me.

81. American Pastoral (BOK) vs. Indigo Girls (MUS). I used to assign American Pastoral by Philip Roth to my U.S. history classes to better understand the tumult of the 1960s. Some of them enjoyed the book, but most felt–not unfairly– that it was way too long and required too much deep context to understand. (And since they were Singaporeans that deep context wasn’t there, particularly since Angela Davis, the Newark riots, the Weathermen, and others are heavily alluded to). Much more accessible and just as insightful is an act I have been lobbying for as Rock Hall prospects for almost a decade. Indigo Girls.

82. Mazie Hirono (POL) vs. The Rise of Skywalker (MOV). Easy choice for me. Rise of Skywalker was an embarrassingly bad film and a sorry end to the episodic Star Wars films. Unless you count a couple of the Hobbit films, I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a movie theatre more dissatisfied. Hirono is a low-key but effective senator, who I will get to talk about more next round, since she’s winning this by default. Mazie Hirono.

83. Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin (WDW) vs. Granton-on-Spey (VIS). What an amazing contrast of vacation destinations. One is a thrill ride in Tomorrowland, one that is instantly replayable due to the game’s interactive and competitive elements–you shoot lasers at targets from a slow-moving ride vehicle. Granton-on-Spey, however, is small-town Scotland, whose value as a tourism site derives from its proximity to the Cairngorms and dozens of Scotch distilleries. Granton was the most restful part of my visit to Scotland–it had the best B&B, the friendliest bar, the least insane driving. Granton-on-Spey.

84. Illuminations (WDW) vs. Liverpool (VIS). Another Disney World vs. Real World contest. This time, Disney World wins out. Liverpool had an incredible advantage, being home of The Beatles. Back in 2002, my friend Dave and I took a nice bus tour that delivered us to the requisite places: Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, Mendips, Arnold Grove, and so on. But aside from Beatles tours, the city itself didn’t have a great infrastructure, and there is absolutely no reason fo a non-Beatlemaniac to visit, as far as I could see. In contrast, Illuminations went on for 35+ years at Epcot and was always a breathtaking fireworks show. It was the last I think I did for about half my trips to Disney World, I think. Illuminations.

85. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (TV) vs. Scrabble (GAM). An interesting matchup. MST3K rewrote the rules of what a cult television show could be. There weren’t many shows that fit into 2-hour slots, and featured a human and two robots snarking at B-movies from yesteryear. There were some classic episodes and digs, and I like the reboot as well. Scrabble, though, is one of the things my mom and I enjoy doing most together. When she had major surgery about 15 years ago, we played multiple games a day while she recovered. It’s not a perfect game– there’s not a lot to do when it’s the other player’s turn– but I think it wins out because more relational memories are attached to it. Scrabble.

86. Square One (TV) vs. Master of None (TV). This is a close one– Square One was part of the PBS afternoon lineup, although much less well remembered than Reading Rainbow or Sesame Street. It had some really, really clever ideas- from a Dragnet parody, a Pac-Man parody, game shows…and they were capable of teaching math concepts well above the usual level of its 7-10 year old audience. Master of None— Aziz Anzari got his own show after years as part of the supporting cast of Parks and Rec. He really took the reins here, and explored Asian-American representation on tv, or the complications of cross-cultural relationships. The show could easily pivot to focusing on a side character, or even people the main characters meet in passing. It was ambitious, and it almost always paid off. I’d say the winner is Master of None.

87. Big Mama Thornton (MUS) vs. Bali, Indonesia (VIS). Big Mama is one of the biggest Rock Hall snubs, in my opinion. But with the way the rock hall ceremony is designed these days, you wouldn’t get someone this early in rock’s history being honored, at least as a main performer. But her raw energy, her brassy delivery…a legend. While Bali is one of the most amazing places I’ve been to in Asia. Three visits within three years, exploring an island rich in Hindu mythos and amazing seafood served on the beach. Big Mama would win most matchups, but the one advancing is: Bali.

88. Adlai Stevenson (POL) vs. John Lewis (POL). Adlai’s an interesting guy– he very solid governor of Illinois, George McGovern’s political hero, and the guy who, more than anyone else, facilitated the Democrats becoming the party of intellectuals and collegians. Believe it or not, this was most definitely not the case for much of American history. Lewis, though, is a different kind of man altogether–a man who led by example, who endured the brutal, physical resistance to equality rampant in America- and not just the South. It’s clear who needs to win this round. John Lewis.

89. Arrested Development (TV) vs. Asian Civilizations Museum (GAL). Look, I’ll just say it: Arrested Development didn’t age well. At the time, it was kickass; there were running in-jokes and gags, and stuff you didn’t realize was there until the third or fourth viewing. And my god…the cast. When someone like Jessica Walters is the fourth or fifth best person in the ensemble, you know you have something special on your hands. Unfortunately, parts of the show use gay or trans people as punchlines, and the show lacks the heart of something like “The Office” to offset the cringe. I’d rather go see artifacts from Mughal India and Han China and the Islamic world in Singapore. Asian Civilizations Museum.

90. Great Big Sea (MUS) vs. Yellow Submarine (MOV). Believe it or not, when I was a teenage Beatles fan in the 90s, you couldn’t just go out and buy a copy of Yellow Submarine. It took a special trip to Schenectady to rent a dusty VHS tape from their public library. And when I saw it, I was….meh. The Beatles didn’t do the voices, it was weird and disjointed, and “Hey Bulldog” wasn’t in it. I can see the merits and historicity of the film now, but I’ll always prefer Celtic-inspired folk songs from the Maritimes. Great Big Sea.

91. Salem, OR (VIS) vs. Art of Animation Resort (WDW). Hmmm…I like the PNW a lot– and I liked Salem a great deal more than its more overwhelming big sister, Portland. It also helps that I have friends old and new who live in the area. Art of Animation? Well, out of the five Disney resorts I’ve stayed at, this “value” accommodation is the one I have the least emotional attachment to. Yet even then, for one of the cheapest Disney resorts, I was struck by the care and attention to detail that went in to the lobby and how the entire resort serves as a tutorial in how the process of animation comes to life. Art of Animation.

92. Lane Dwinell (POL) vs. Empire Falls (BOK): Lane Dwinell is a total unknown to all but Granite State history buffs– he was the governor of New Hampshire back in the 1950s. Why is this obscure conservative Republican on the list? Because my Aunt Mary Lou was his caregiver during the final years of is life. When they were traveling from New Hampshire to Buffalo together, she brought him to have dinner with us at the Holiday Inn– and even though I was only 12 at the time, I was fascinated by how knowledgable he was about an incredible range of issues. Empire Falls is also a real contender in this matchup– maybe the single most well-known book by Gloversville native Richard Russo, although the events of the novel take place in Maine rather than upstate NY. It’s classic Russo– loving and damning at the provincial Rust Belt towns all at once. But since Dwinell gave my brother and I $10 each–the only time a politician has ever given me money rather than take my money–I’m giving him a bye into the next round. Lane Dwinell.

93. Edgar Winter (MUS) vs. Solo (MOV). I’ve seen Edgar Winter twice– once with his eponymous group, and once with Ringo. Each time, I was impressed– a seemingly kind soul with great musicianship, able to play saxophone and keyboards with equal skill. Solo was…not great. Not terrible, but not great. Some good performances, particularly Donald Glover as young Lando. It would have been nice if we could have seen the original directors’ version. But a solo Solo film is a big gamble, and you have to really hit the mark; Disney/Lucasfilm didn’t manage it. Edgar Winter.

94. Avengers: Endgame (MOV) vs. Futurama (TV). Avengers: Endgame was the culmination of years of worldbuilding by Disney and Marvel–the pieces tying together in a grandiose, Wagnerian sort of way. But Futurama was so funny and irreverent- with a homicidal Santa Claus, a robot that personified hedonism, and some loving homages to Star Trek. Sorry to all the hot guys named Chris, but in my book, the winner is Futurama.

95. Hall of Presidents (WDW) vs. The Desolation of Smaug (MOV). I think it’s pretty well established by now that I was very invested in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. The first movie in the series was an inconsistent film that shined when they stuck to the book and let the cast be an ensemble. The second film was so bad my jaw dropped as the movie went on, and possibly unhinged by the end. The sidelining of Beorn was bad enough, but the weird Kili-and-Tauriel romance and Legolas saturation killed it–and that was before the dwarves Home Alone-d the Lonely Mountain to try and take on Smaug directly, something they never would have been stupid enough to do in the book. Hall of Presidents, in contrast, is an ideal sweet spot– a reverential and dignified take on the presidents– in a Disney theme park. Hall of Presidents.

96. Universe of Energy (WDW) vs. Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human (BOK). Universe of Energy had a very good 35-year run at Epcot. Although I thought the original was a bit dull as a kid, it got a more entertaining upgrade in the 90s with Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye. Those were two wise picks who were still carrying their pop culture weight deep into the 2010s. Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human was a literary opus essentially arguing that the way we view humanity and personhood today emmanates from Shakespeare. It was a challenging read when I first cracked it open in high school, but I learned a lot from it. When I reread it maybe a decade ago, I was struck by how reactionary Bloom was–impatient with feminist and post-colonial takes on Shakespeare in a way that only a white Ivy Leaguer could be. For all it’s problematic elements, though, it helped me learn how to make big arguments. Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human.

97. Jahana Hayes (POL) vs. Lime Monorail (WDW). I love it when non-lawyers, non-businessmen, and non-scions get into political power. Hayes was the Teacher of the Year, and leveraged that into becoming the first black woman to represent New England in Congress. I’d love to see her as Secetary of Education. On the other hand, nothing makes the reality of a Disney World trip hit for me like a ride on the monorail, and my affection for the monorail with the lime-green stripe is so overblown that it’s become an in-joke within my family. Lime Monorail.

98. The Search for the Twelve Apostles (BOK) vs. Saint John’s, USVI (VIS). Okay, so I was obsessed with the twelve apostles during my early high school years. I scoured every source I could find for what limited information there was about them– then moved on to the legends and apocrypha surrounding them. The book that had compiled much of that was by William Stuart McBirnie, who I later found out was a philandering fundamentalist in southern California. Saint John’s, on the other hand, is in the running for the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited. St. John’s, USVI.

99. Jellyrolls (WDW) vs. Abraham Lincoln (PRE). A dueling piano bar at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort or the president who won the Civil War and signed the orders ending slavery in the Confederacy? Easy win for Honest Abe.

100. The Venerable Bede (ST) vs. Burlington, VT (VIS): If you look at the icon I use for this site or on twitter when I’m Alex Voltaire, it’s a painting of Bede on his deathbed. Bede matters a lot to me; I studied a good deal of medieval history in college, and I was always impressed by how thorough and penetrating an analysis of post-Roman history Bede could do while stationed in a Northumbrian monastery. Burlington is a nice city– it was the last place where I talked to George McGovern in person– but maybe a bit too hipster for me. Bede.

It’s hard to believe we are here. We just inducted the Class of 2021 less than two months ago. Yet, all signs point to a January meeting for the Nominating Committee with the nominees being released in February, as was the case last year.

I haven’t given you all a great deal of Rock Hall content lately on this blog, so thank you for bearing with me. The Also-Rans podcast has taken up a great deal of my time, in addition to preparing for the Christmas season. I have also been on a few other podcasts, including Nick’s Rock in Retrospect podcast and Joe and Kristen’s Who Cares About the Rock Hall project.

I think that we can view the Class of 2021 induction ceremony as a qualified triumph. It would have been nice if Rundgren wasn’t a dick about being honored. And some women among the 7 side-category entrants would have been nice. But the show–from what I hear–went off without a hitch, attracted a boatload of special musical guests to the only induction city in flyover country, and seemed like a love-fest that honored some of music’s greats. We can all quibble about what might have gone differently, but I’d be hard pressed to think of a Rock Hall season that went this well.

And a lot of that comes from an exceptionally good ballot to work from. John Sykes’ new leadership has paid dividends: a more diverse ballot, and using side categories to clear the massive backlog of people who should be in the Hall. The Hall’s leadership is clearly pushing the “if you’re in, you’re in. The category doesn’t matter” line. I guess that’s fine. For me, though, I cut my Rock Hall teeth doing the sporcle quiz of performer inductees, so my own instincts are to view that route as the higher form of recognition.

At any rate, I’m going to get my official picks in early. This allows my ideas to influence subsequent Rock Hall Pundits’ analyses going forward–and maybe, just maybe influence someone in a position to actually do something about the ballot. On the other hand, it means that Questlove can tweet something 24 hours from now that completely upends my predictions. Right or wrong, here they are: one First Year Eligible (guess who?), seven returning nominees, and eight “snubs” or previously passed-over acts appearing for the first time.

Eminem: Arguably the world’s greatest rapper, and now pasta restaurant magnate, Eminem is pretty close to a sure thing– to the point that Class of 2022 has been thought of by many as “Eminem’s year.” A mid-career renaissance a few years ago with “Rap God” revived a sense of him as a working artist and no nostalgia act. I wonder if Eminem’s homophobic lyrics will hurt him, though. Probably not–lots of LGBT+ celebrities have pardoned him. But they generally weren’t the ones bullied by teenagers listening to Eminem in the early 2000s.

Soundgarden: They were first nominated for the Class of 2020; lots of folks predicted a return the following year, but that didn’t happen. Nevertheless, 90s grunge is going to get a backlog fast if the Hall doesn’t act, and if we don’t want to be inducting Alice in Chains as an Early Influence in twenty years, they need to get to work. Earlier this month, they placed a not-terrible #23 at the Hall’s fan vote kiosks.

Iron Maiden: Placing significantly better, at #2 is Iron Maiden, appearing on the ballot for the first time last year. The Hall is in a rut with metal; even non-metalheads like me recognize it. I’m on record via the Who Cares podcast saying that I think Judas Priest is currently the biggest snub. Yet, the Rock Hall may want to go the Iron Maiden route…there is a more rabid fan base and nominating them gives them an excuse to say “visitors to the Hall want them on the ballot…and we listened!” Especially since I have a hard time seeing them nominate #1 finisher Motley Crue (I know there’s some umlauts in there, but I can’t be bothered to look up where they are.)

New York Dolls: Listening to the episode where Joe and Kristen cold-call Rock Hall voters, the reverence for The New York Dolls was palpable and I was surprised how many people were voting for them, or strongly considering them. In terms of actual output, the band is only a notch above “could have been a contender”. In terms of influence, the impact of this androgynous proto-punk, semi-glam outfit is incalculable. Basically, if you were in New York in the early 70s, New York Dolls were gods whose aureate feet briefly deigned to touch the ground. And last time I checked, the hoagie is still ordered and eaten in New York.

Chaka Khan: The pundits’ consensus seems to be that Chaka Khan will get inducted through our now-expanded use of the side categories–most probably Musical Excellence. And there’s a kind of pretzel logic that gets you to that point; her work as a solo artist and with Rufus creates a collective canon of work that transcends what either act did discreetly. Her induction may also have a bit of pretzel logic about it: if you go back really, really far in Rock Hall bylaws, you’ll see them talk about a ‘7-year-rule’ where if you are nominated seven years in a row, apparently you get in automatically. Nobody has talked about it for years, and it’s possible it was never an actual policy, but I will say this…either Rufus or Chaka Khan has been nominated in each of the past six years…

Mary J. Blige: Some thought it would be Salt N Pepa, some thought Queen Latifah, some thought Missy Elliott in a not-that-far-off day in the future. But it was one Mary J. Blige who became the first female hip-hop artist nominated by the Rock Hall. And I’m just arrogant enough to remind everyone that I was one of the only Rock Hall people to have predicted her appearance. This is a corner of late twentieth century popular music that the Hall has to address if it wants to keep its cultural credibility. They may very well go with Queen Latifah or someone else, but my hunch is that the women of hip-hop will be represented by Blige on the ballot for the foreseeable future. Alas, her chances of being in the top 5-6 finishers is lower than it ought to be.

Rage Against the Machine: The group’s hatred of corporate government has an upside: they will always be relevant! They have been nominated three of the four years they have been eligible, and if we are looking at essential 90s acts that need to be in, Rage is absolutely on that list. Tom Morello also did the honors of inducting Randy Rhoads this year and remains a key presence on the Nominating Committee, and isn’t one to diminish his band’s accomplishments.

Pat Benatar: This one is close to my heart: so far she’s the only artist I’ve seen since COVID times descended upon us. And Pat put on a stellar show here in Rochester, with only a three-piece band backing her up. A lot of us were gratified when she showed up on the ballot for the Class of 2020. And then we were shocked when she wasn’t voted in. And then we were shocked when she wasn’t nominated for the Class of 2021. But I think there was some strategery involved: nominate Pat and the Go-Gos, and rightly or wrongly, you run the risk of them taking away votes from each other. And last year, as they rode high from their documentary, was clearly The Go-Gos’ year. I expect a return from Pat, who did a triumphant interview on CBS Sunday Morning that was very gracious about the Rock Hall and who has a musical coming out soon. She’s also #3 on the kiosks.

Duran Duran: Everything is aligned perfectly for this 80s pop mainstay. They have reunited and have been getting some high-profile gigs, including the Tonight Show and the Billboard Music Awards. The Nom Com is stocked with MTV and VH1 veterans who understand the visual motifs that Duran Duran exploited in those heady early years of the music video. And most importantly of all, they got their own episode on Nick’s Rock in Retrospect podcast. Duran Duran offers a key opportunity to get 50-year-old women named Tammy to show up at the Rock Hall Museum.

Outkast: I don’t think it is outside the realm of possibility for the Rock Hall to go bold and nominate three hip-hop or rap artists on this ballot. Eminem. Mary J. Blige. And Outkast. It’s a little bit weird that they haven’t been nominated yet: you could make a case that they performed at least two of the ten best songs from the Naughts. Big Boi and Andre 3000 haven’t done much together lately, but they remain on good terms and a feel-good reunion seems like it could be in the cards. The “unavoidable 90s acts that are now eligible list” is growing: Outkast, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Oasis, Beck, No Doubt, Mariah…As someone who would never, ever vote for Eminem, Outkast would very probably get my vote, for what little it matters.

Sade: Remember when Fela Kuti was nominated last year? Nobody gave him a chance and he didn’t get inducted, but boy– the international community took a shine to the polyrhythmic performer, and catapulted him to #2 on the fan vote, besting formidable opponents like Carole King, Foo Fighters, Jay-Z, and Iron Maiden. It brought into relief the massive international audience the Rock Hall can cultivate if they play their cards right. Sade also shares a Nigerian background with Fela, is a legend in rap and R&B circles, and was winning Grammy awards deep into the 21st century. Her sophisticated and cosmopolitan take on soft rock has also elicited a great deal of critical acclaim. It’s pretty easy to see someone on the Nom Com making a compelling case for her.

The B-52s: I’ll be honest: I am having a hard time figuring out which of the B-52s/Eurythmics/Kate Bush branch of aesthetically bold artists who peaked into the 80s will get the nod. I’m going with the B-52s, since they also share some ersatz qualities with Devo, who showed up on last year’s ballot. And I don’t really see the point in nominating Devo during a year where the ceremony won’t be held in Cleveland. Mostly, I am pulling for them because of how happy it would make Nick, given his previous advocacy on their behalf. I also want the queerest Rock Hall induction possible to make Eminem very, very uncomfortable.

The Commodores: This seems like a gimme, since Lionel Richie came out and gave the induction speech for Clarence Avant– and Richie is enough of a multi-generational phenomenon that he would generate lots of positive buzz for the hall. Not only did he have a solo career that reached giddy heights, but more recently he’s been a meme and is watched by millions every week as a judge on American Idol. More than that, The Commodores were a really great outfit and navigated a compelling path from early high-quality funk to some of the defining ballads of the Carter years. I debated whether to pick Commodores or Kool & the Gang, and then I debated Commodores vs. Lionel solo– but for a feel-good reunion that makes good television, I think this is the way to go. Kool & the Gang have better musicianship and were clearly the superior act in terms of live performances, but they may have to wait another year.

Cher: How can a short write-up do her justice? It seems every year there is a legendary can’t-fail-to-get-inducted woman who should have been in the Hall fifteen years ago. Baez to Simone to Janet to Whitney to Tina and Carole. Since Dolly Parton is probably going to get in as an influence, I think it’s fair to say that Cher is next in line– and her eighth-place ranking on the kiosks accentuates that. Her career has spanned from the early 60s to today with shows that redefined live performances. She’s served as a visual icon of the Studio 54 era, is (like Tina) a cornerstone around which drag is built, and was still scoring top ten hits a few years ago with ABBA covers from her cinematic turn in the Mama Mia! sequel. If you are going to complain about songwriting and instruments, you’re missing the point. Snap out of it.

The Monkees: Mickey Dolenz once joked that The Monkees would go on the road until there was just one left, and that guy would simply tour as The Monkee. Well, that’s where we are at now. With the death of Michael Nesmith just this month, Dolenz becomes the sole surviving Monkee. At this point, there’s no way that they can nominate this group without egg on their face. But it would have been no less true a decade ago: “why couldn’t you have done this when Davy Jones was alive?” It’s time to just rip the band-aid off and face the criticism that the Rock Hall did the Prefab Four dirty since they became eligible in the early 90s. With the Nom Com less snobby, more poptimist, and more closely tied to MTV–which couldn’t have existed without the Monkees in a number of ways–I don’t think this nomination is far-fetched.

Alanis Morissette: You know the drill. A musical. And a documentary. All of this has cast Morissette in a new light. Look, I was in middle school when Jagged Little Pill came out and it was everywhere. Inescapable. I’m a big fan of “zeitgeist” acts that capture the feel of a time and place, and she passes that test. It was personal and confessional in a way that hadn’t quite been done on quite that level in the grunge era, where grievances tended to be more abstract or societal. Perhaps it is true that she only has one legendary album, but the same is true of The Zombies and Carole King, both of whom I’ve lobbied extensively for. All the drama between Alanis and the documentary’s producers only keeps her in the news cycle and reinforces her brand.

So, to recap, my predictions are:

Alanis Morissette
Chaka Khan
Cher
Duran Duran
Eminem
Iron Maiden
Mary J. Blige
New York Dolls
Outkast
Pat Benatar
Rage Against the Machine
Sade
Soundgarden
The B-52s
The Commodores
The Monkees

What do you think? Make your own predictions in the comments, or tell me who you think would get inducted if this was, in fact, the ballot.

We’re going to keep plowing through my arbitrary 512-seed tournament of things that I like. Let’s get to it.

61. John Adams (PRE) vs. Civilization IV (GAM): I like John Adams. I like his sour attitude, his bleak view of human nature. He’s an unapologetic, erudite elitist with contempt for the common man, just like me. But Civ IV was an incredibly fun video game that let me carry a civilization through the first settlements and into the 21st century. And it kept me sane during my first two years in Singapore. Civ IV.

62. Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular (DIS) vs. Bialoski’s Best Behavior (BOK). The use of the phrase “spirit animal” in everyday conversation is problematic and appropriative of a stylized and vaguely “othered” Native American culture. Nevertheless, the title character of Bialoski’s Best Behavior–an inept but flawlessly polite Polish teddy bear–is my spirit animal. Indiana Jones–probably the weakest of the Disney World participants in the bracket–can’t hold a candle to a book that I read constantly as a 5 and 6-year-old and still has a strong impact on how I engage with the world around me. Bialoski’s Best Behavior.

63. Star Trek: First Contact (MOV) vs. Avatar: Flight of Passage (DIS). First Contact was easily the best Star Trek film featuring the Next Gen cast. Jonathan Frakes did a terrific job directing and the guest cast were well chosen. Flight of Passage, though? I heard this ride in the Animal Kingdom park was good, but I wasn’t expecting it to be life-changing, better-than-sex good. It instantly ascended into my top five rides of all time. It doesn’t have the nostalgia factor other Disney attractions have for me, as I’ve only been on it once, and during my most recent trip. But it’s a standout for sure. Avatar: Flight of Passage.

64. Blackadder (TV) vs. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (MOV). Another Star Trek movie! And another Star Trek movie loss. It doesn’t quite carry the momentum from Wrath of Khan, although it works hard to give the secondary cast (Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Sarek) some good moments. Blackadder, though, is clever, witty, and acerbic. It’s dour and mean-spirited in a way that American tv can never match– and it’s final episode, “Good-byeeeeeee” might be the best episode of any television series I’ve ever watched. Blackadder.

65. Star Trek: Nemesis (MOV) vs. Saint Kitts and Nevis (VOY). By random chance, we have three Star Trek movies in a row. And alas, a third loss for the franchise in a row. Nemesis deserved it though: terrible direction by a director ignorant of Star Trek, a poor send-off for Data, and it never once convinces us that Tom Hardy is playing Patrick Stewart’s clone. Compare this to the stunning beauty–and troubling history–of St. Kitts. I visited on my second and final cruise in 2001 when I was almost-18. Even then, it was striking to see the sugarcane plantations and knowing what had happened there in order to make some European planters modestly rich. Yet it wasn’t all gloomy retrospectives– the friendly people, delicious food, and breathtaking vistas made for the most memorable stop of that cruise. Easy win for Saint Kitts and Nevis.

66. Tower of Terror (DIS) vs. Bridge of Sighs (BOK). Oh man. This one is tough. Tower of Terror took the most basic form of amusement park ride (take people high, then let them fall) and turned it into a masterpiece of visual storytelling. Bridge of Sighs isn’t necessarily my favorite book, but it gets lots of points as my favorite book by arguably my favorite author, Richard Russo. As I may have mentioned before, he is probably the most prolific person to come from my home town of Gloversville, New York, and many of his books reflect the (dilapidated) spirit of that area. Bridge of Sighs.

67. Thor (MOV) vs. Mr. Bean (TV). Thor was always going to be a tricky one to pull off– in the early years of Marvel’s cinematic universe, you are dealing with different realms, and people who claim to be gods. The fact that pulled it off was due to great casting, in large part. But the comedic talent behind a mean-spirited little naif like Mr. Bean is a classic. Mr. Bean.

68. Aretha Franklin (MUS) vs. The Hobbit (BOK). Aretha might be the best vocalist of the rock and roll era. It kills me, but she isn’t going to win this round. It’s about what mattered most in my own life, and The Hobbit was my gateway drug into the world of Tolkien. Even in this short book, Tolkien’s intense world-building is on display–something like the Carrock–basically a big flat rock associated with the skinchanging Beorn–gets a few pages of exposition. I especially loved the dwarves, even as I wish Tolkien had given more of them little flecks of individual personality, as Peter Jackson attempted in the movies. The Hobbit.

69. The Image Works (DIS) vs. The Good Place (TV). So, for the uninitiated, The Image Works was “the interactive playground of the future” in Disney lexicon, located on the upper floor of the Imagination pavilion up until the late 90s. A lot of its activities might seem quaint today, but the ability to paint a picture with a computer, the ability to use a primitive greenscreen to put yourself in a far-out setting, a cool tunnel with rainbow lights…this place was amazing. The Good Place, though, is something I came into familiarity with quite recently: my wife and I got through the series during spare moments in the weeks after we brought Baby Alex home from the NICU. I honestly never imagined I’d see such a sophisticated take on philosophy, ethics, and metaphysics on a network sitcom. It also has the best series finale of any television show that I’ve watched. The Good Place.

70. This is Spinal Tap (MOV) vs. The Wind in the Willow (BOK). Two of my favorites in each medium. Spinal Tap is one of my favorite music movies, and certainly the one that makes me laugh the most often. Like Airplane! and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it is best seen with people who have also seen the film before. But Wind in the Willows is something special; a children’s book that is so very English, beautifully languid in its pace, so imaginative in its characterization. I probably end up reading it once every seven or eight months. Wind in the Willows.

71. Strongbow Cider (ALC) vs. Salzburg, Austria (VIS). Look, if the question was the train ride to Salzburg from Vienna or the train ride from Salzburg to Zurich, it would win hands down. It was one of the better stops on my 8-day “If It’s Tuesday, We’re in Belgium” style Eurotrip after my semester in London when I was 18. It was really cool to see Mozart’s house and some of the places where The Sound of Music was filmed. But for years, Strongbow was like liquid gold to me, the first potent potable I ever really enjoyed (and also a legacy of that semester in London). Unfortunately, it tastes like sugary piss in America, and I can only really drink it when I’m in the British Commonwealth. Taking the two at their best, the winner’s got to be Strongbow.

72. Elton John (MUS) vs. Frank Church (POL). This isn’t a contest. Look, I like Frank Church. He did a great job investigating the FBI and CIA for their sundry abuses, and it’s amazing that a liberal-ish guy got elected as a senator from Idaho for 24 years. One of the more poignant moments in my dissertation research was when I found a leaf where McGovern was sketching out a potential cabinet during his 1984 bid for the presidency. He put Church down as his secretary of state, and then immediately crossed it off– remembering that his longtime colleague died the previous year. Obviously, though the winner is…Elton John.

73. Star Tours (DIS) vs. Hillary Clinton (POL). Star Tours started out as one of the best rides in Disney-MGM Studios…and it got even better after an update that gave the ride multiple routes and multiple endings, adding to its…rerideability? Anyway, some of you will call me a neoliberal hack, but screw you and get your own Ph.D. in history. Hillary Clinton survived a thirty year smear campaign from right-wing media, comes under intense scrutiny for things that are non-scandals compared to what her opponents get away with, and is always the most knowledgable person in the room. I have zero regrets about supporting her in the ’16 primary and zero regrets about voting for her in the general. Hillary Clinton.

74. Melbourne, AUS (VIS) vs. The Hate U Give (BOK). As we have established, I am a nervous traveler. And my wife goes out of her way to make me feel more secure and comfortable when traveling someplace new. She had been to Melbourne the year before, and knew how we could make a visit that was mutually enjoyable: stay in an Air B’n’B, access to public transportation, and stick to the city. And it was great– Melbourne doesn’t really have the *must see* attractions that Sydney does, but it’s better for it– still a city with very decent museums, lots of fun stores, and a culture of coffee places and breakfast nooks. The Hate U Give was my “how does America deal with race?” novel that I assigned the last time I taught U.S. History. It explores different black approaches to race, police discrimination, residential segregation, violence, relationships, and so on– and it really helped my students understand what makes America tick, given that race and ethnicity places out in such a different way in Singapore. Tough call, but I love my avocado toast and flat whites in a land down under. Melbourne.

75. Carousel of Progress (DIS) vs. Imperial War Museum (GAL). An interesting choice. The march of progress is, after all, a big part of what makes war so terrible. Carousel of Progress was, as I remarked in my Disney World Attraction countdown that I wrote about six years ago, the first ride of my favorite trip to WDW. Even so, the attraction is showing its age, and given that Disney is explicitly making it a “legacy attraction” with implicit historical value, it’s weird that the animatronics look like they were pulled out of a fire and the final scene predicting the future is horribly outdated. The Imperial War Museum, though, is one of the most impactful museums I’ve been to. Located on London’s south bank, it recreates the trench experience, shows the requisite technology, has an impressive gallery of war art, and (appropriately) leaves me emotionally exhausted at its end. Imperial War Museum.

76. PhD Comics (COM) vs. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (TV). PhD comics is a fun and incisive take on life as a graduate student, toiling away as an intellectual journeyman, dealing with professors enamored of their own genius and clueless undergrads. Funny, but very niche. Kimmy Schmidt, though, was often a very fun show. It could get formulaic and I always sensed that its principals were caricatures rather than fleshed-out characters. Yet the random in-jokes– from Daddy’s Boy to Bunny and Kitty to pinot noir. Kimmy Schmidt.

77. Old-Fashioned (ALC) vs. Spider-Man: Homecoming (MOV). I saw Homecoming on a plane once. And it was a very good superhero film, and I appreciate that they chose not to tell the Uncle Ben/great power story once again. But the old-fashioned is my go-to potent potable, although I use maple syrup rather than simple syrup, and am perhaps a bit over-generous with the maraschino cherries. Old-Fashioned.

78. Catherine Cortez Masto (POL) vs. Jon Tester (POL). A rare contest between two from the same category. Masto was actually my first choice for Biden’s running mate– I thought she was a great attorney general, was from a swing state, and it was damn near time someone of Hispanic heritage was on a national ticket. But her win in Nevada back in 2016 wasn’t as convincing as it should be. Tester is less liberal, but in a lot of ways more populist– and these days, getting elected three times from Montana is a real accomplishment and suggests a savvy politician with a well-cultivated personality. Because lots of people could have won in Nevada, and only Tester could have won in Montana, this battle between interior west senators goes to the man with the flat top. Jon Tester.

79. Avengers (MOV) vs. Delta Dreamflight (DIS). My instinct is to award this to Dreamflight– another classic “I loved it as a preteen in the 90s, but then it was closed down” ride. This one was in Tomorrowland, and covered the history and future potential of flight– although in a much more whimsical manner than something at Epcot might have been. But rewatching the videos–yeah, the ride was a bit cheaply done, and was more of a commercial for Delta than I felt comfortable with. Its ride track is still the bones of what’s used for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin today. Avengers, though? Joss Whedon’s toxicity has come to light in recent years, but taking the film for what it is? It was an amazing build-up that took several other (and usually quite good) superhero films, and this was one heck of a payoff. The ensemble cast works well, and making a familiar face like Hiddleston’s Loki the villain was certain the right move. To my surprise, the winner is Avengers.

80. River of No Return (BOK) vs. World of Motion (DIS). In terms of understanding how the mainstream civil rights movement had members who drifted into Black Power and separatism and believing white Americans could not be allies, River, the autobiography of Cleveland Sellers, is your best bet. To me, it did the best job of any account I’ve read at conveying the frustration felt at the 1964 DNC where the integrated group claiming to be the Mississippi delegation was sidelined in favor of the old-guard segregated delegation. This is incredibly important, but because personal impact is the key to advancing, I need to give this to another favorite from Epcot Center’s heyday. World of Motion.

If you are just joining this project– welcome! I’m at the early stages of a 512-seed bracket on…things I like. Musicians. Disney World rides. Books. Intoxicating liquors. Which of these advances? Whichever I like more at the time. This sounds vain and capricious, and maybe it is, but it’s also something like a journey of self-discovery. What happens when you have to choose between two unlike things? What really matters to you?

41. Stephen Curry (NBA) vs. St. Hildegard of Bingen (ST). This is an unfair match. Hildegard was among the most amazing people of the entire Middle Ages– a doctor of the Church, a mystic, a scientist, a natural philosopher, a musician. I hope everybody reading this takes some time to look up her life. It makes Stephen Curry’s insane handles and 3-point shots seem a bit insignificant by comparison, but since I’m in charge of this bracket, I have to pick the man who took my Warriors from being total chumps to being in the Finals for five straight years. Stephen Curry.

42. Lake Street Dive (MUS) vs. Cheaper By the Dozen (BOK). Please don’t confuse this with the subpar Steve Martin movie that came out more than a decade ago. Cheaper By the Dozen is a memoir by a brother and sister reflecting on their childhood with 10 other siblings and a father who is an industrial efficiency expert in the 1920s and tries to raise his family with the same methods. Endearing and heartwarming. Lake Street Dive, meanwhile, is one of the rare contemporary artists that I really like, and Rachael Price is one of the best voices in rock today. I’m still a little miffed that they didn’t do “Rabid Animal” when I saw them live, I’ll excuse them since it wasn’t, like, their signature song or anything [glances sidewise at Los Lobos]. Lake Street Dive.

43. Gretchen Whitmer (POL) vs. X-Men First Class (MOV). X-Men First Class was, in hindsight, probably the best of the shaky X-Men film franchise. It leaned into its 60s setting, featured a counterintuitively good turn as a villain from Kevin Bacon, and the scene where Magneto goes hunting Nazis in South America is probably the best I’ve seen in any comic book movie. As for Gretchen Whitmer– I think she’s a very good Midwestern governor, and despite the crazier elements of Michigan plotting to kidnap her, she has handled the coronavirus better than any governor I can think of. I’d be surprised if she wasn’t on a presidential ticket when all is said and done. Yet she’s not a national figure and I don’t know that much about her yet, so the victory goes to X-Men First Class.

44. The Daily Show (TV) vs. James Garfield (PRE). Man, the Daily Show got me through some tough times during the Bush administration. It proved to me that you could be fair to two sides without treating them equally. And studies showed that people who watched the Daily Show were often better informed than those who watched the legitimate news each night. John Stewart respected his audience, respected his guests, and had one of the most amazing runs on television in my lifetime. For Garfield, no president has risen more in my esteem in the last year, and I have read a LOT about presidents over the past year as my podcast took off. He was sharp, committed to African-American rights even more than Lincoln, and was a solid political operator. A good man who could work the system. But thinking about the rays of hope I felt during 43’s disastrous tenure, I have to pick The Daily Show.

45. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (MOV) vs. I, Claudius (BOK). I, Claudius was an engrossing journey through three generations of Roman history by a novelist who really knew his stuff. Good as it was, it can’t compare to what is, in my humble opinion, the finest of the Star Trek movies. It’s the one with the whales. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it has an important message about ecology, and it’s a film even non-Trekies can enjoy. Best of all, Original Trek’s supporting cast gets their chance to shine, particularly Walter Koenig and DeForest Kelley. Star Trek IV.

46. Sentosa, Singapore (VIS) vs. Pat Benatar (MUS). I said “no Singapore or any other location where I’ve lived” for the Places Visited category, but I made an exception since Senatosa is technically an island just off the coast of Singapore– so close that it’s connected by a short bridge and a monorail. If you count places connected by bridge, it’s technically the southernmost point of continental Asia. They have a Universal Studios, some of the country’s best beaches, lots of tourist attractions like go-karts and a skydiving simulator. And it has a history too–it served as a fort in World War II and has some beautifully preserved natural areas that my friend Han introduced me to. Having said all this, I’ve got to go with Pat Benatar, having just seen her in concert earlier this month. She still has it at 68 and even with a bit of a cold, she rocked the house down with a stripped-down band of three musicians and no gimmicks. It’s got to beat Sentosa, which is a bit too commercial and overpriced for what could have been a really special place. As locals joke, it stands for So Expensive; Nothing TO See Anyway. Pat Benatar.

47. Warming Season (BOK) vs. Reading Rainbow (TV). Imagine working with a guy for a few years only to learn that he’s a respected science fiction author who was nominated for a Hugo Award. Going under the pen name S.R. Algernon, his novel Warming Season looks at the descendants of a colony on a particularly inhospitable planet. It’s a great work of world-building and I am amazed I have a friend with the talent and imagination to make it happen. On the other hand, in terms of cultivating a love of reading for a generation, there’s no beating Reading Rainbow. And I think S.R. wouldn’t be mad to lose to LeVar Burton’s show. Reading Rainbow.

48. A Kind of Freedom (BOK) vs. John Quincy Adams (PRE). JQA. A one-term president whose won in a very strange election that got decided in the House because nobody won a majority in the electoral college. This has gone down in history as a “corrupt bargain” but it was nothing of the sort–in such a situation, coalition building, such as that which took place between Clay and Adams–would necessarily follow. Moreover, Adams is the most anti-slavery president of the entire antebellum era, even eclipsing Lincoln, I’d argue. His plan for internal improvements, national observatories, a national university and other innovations is downright visionary, and he might have been the most intellectually gifted person to serve as president. A Kind of Freedom is probably less well known to readers. It’s a recent-ish novel exploring the Black American experience through three distinct generations in New Orleans: a 1940s generation grappling with war, an 80s generation facing a drug epidemic and Reagan cuts to the public’s support system, and a post-Katrina generation. It’s a thoughtful piece on how racism and responses to it evolve and change, with the focus always on family relations. I also appreciate that they de-centered the civil rights movement from the lived experiences of the characters. As much as I love to teach it and as much as I admire it, it’s good to tell this story in other ways. Although I’ve assigned it to my students, I need to pick John Quincy Adams.

49. Terry Sanford (POL) vs. Bill Withers (MUS). Sanford isn’t that well known today. But he was the best of the Southern governors on racial issues in the 60s, going from a moderate, “please let’s move onto other issues” guy and into a good faith partner who helped desegregate North Carolina. Moreover, he equipped the UNC system to become the academic powerhouse it is today. There were whispers that JFK was going to replace LBJ with Sanford on the ticket in 1964, but we will never know that for sure. For Bill Withers- what can I say? A bunch of us predicted him as a Class of 2015 nominee, and low and behold, it happened. A rare case of a guy writing songs on break from work who didn’t become famous until he was 30. The universality of Withers’s music makes him the winner for me. Bill Withers.

50. Space Mountain (WDW) vs. Star Trek: Discovery (TV). Space Mountain is probably my favorite ride in the Magic Kingdom. It takes what is, structurally, a fairly average “wild mouse” roller coaster and puts it in the dark with first-rate special effects. Honestly, though? I’m a sucker for “80s planetarium” vibes, and the whole look of the winding line area and its trippy holograms and its whole pretense of being a space station does that for me. Discovery, though…look, I don’t hate it. It’s dedicated to making more complex characters and its special effects outpace any of its predecessors by a mile. Michelle Yeoh and Doug Jones and Anthony Rapp are all wonderful. But it leans too heavily on its main character and its slow buildup makes it unlikely I’ll rewatch it anytime soon. Not a hard call. Space Mountain.

51. Ed Muskie (POL) vs. Saratoga Springs, NY (VIS). Those of you who have followed me on twitter and on the Countdown for a while might remember that my avatar used to be Ed Muskie looking very puzzled. I love Ed. I want to take him out to an intimate dinner out and sing “Muskie, Muskie…candlelight…”. My Polish grandparents understandably loved him and he was nothing but an asset to the 1968 Democratic ticket. Oh, and he was responsible for most of the environmental legislation that came out of Congress in the 60s and 70s. The problem is that I also loved Saratoga Springs. You have to realize– I grew up in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t a wholly bad place and there were some fine people, but most of them were yahoos who excitedly shot their guns in the air whenever someone on Fox said “tax cut.” To have a place like Saratoga Springs nearby– with folk cafes, better-than-average malls, neo-classical architecture, crepes, Japanese food, and actual progressives– it was a godsend. Having the fine Saratoga Performing Arts Center and a famous racetrack is just gravy. I really wanted Ed Muskie to do well in this bracket, but I have to give the W to Saratoga Springs.

52. Tim Kaine (POL) vs. Tumble Leaf (TV). Look, I like Tim Kaine. I thought it was a down-to-earth guy with a ton of experience who was sort of a white Obama/Catholic social justice/technocrat guy. I loved that he played the harmonica. I loved that the digs The Replacements. I don’t love that he wasn’t able to curbstomp Mike Pence in the debate. As for Tumble Leaf, I really appreciate what a great, imaginative kids show it is. Its characters learn basic natural concepts like magnetism or how gears work– but they do it in the course of play and exploration. Both are worthy entrants into this bracket, but I think we were robbed of a fantastic vice-president in 2016. Tim Kaine.

53. Raindancer (RES) vs. Vinyl Leaves (BOK). In my home town, Raindancer was where you went if something really big happened. If you wanted to class up your wedding reception or post-funeral lunch, or take a date somewhere impressive, Raindancer was the ticket. Basically a steakhouse that did everything else well too– and its still my sort-of platonic ideal, even now, of “eating somewhere good.” Vinyl Leaves is the first academic treatment of Disney World and its construction of reality that I read (the title refers to the fake foliage on the Swiss Family Robinson’s Treehouse as an allegory for the whole experience.) An important book that shaped every subsequent visit to Disney World, but it can’t compete with some french onion soup and a kickass salad bar. Raindancer.

54. Old Orchard Beach, ME (VIS) vs. Family Guy (TV). Family Guy did not age well. It was exactly the sort of show 18-24 year-old me was poised to like– irreverent, lots of generational in-jokes, not too concerned about its characters learning lessons and becoming better people. “To Love and Die in Dixie” might be one of my ultimate guilty pleasure episodes in all of television. But it’s also become classless to the point of irredemption; too many rape jokes, too much disabled-mocking, and so on. Can’t hold a candle to OOB, though. My family’s been vacationing there every two or three years as long as I’ve been alive. It renews my spirit to walk the beach, to go to the same fried seafood places, to take in the salt air. Easy call. Old Orchard Beach.

55. Black Panther (MOV) vs. Vicar of Dibley (TV). Vicar of Dibley is a BBC comedy about a provincial English village that gets one of the first female priests in the Church of England as its pastor. It is warm and never takes itself too seriously, but it also has some of the drawbacks of British sitcoms– namely, very few episodes per season (or “series”) and side characters are often reduced to a single quirk or catchphrase. However, its main character was based on Jim Wallis’s wife, so there’s that. With Black Panther, I was just amazed. The world-building. The world-class performances by Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan. The hallucinogenic sequence where T’Challa communes with his father’s spirit. I never thought I would see a major studio picture actually do justice to Afro-futurism. For my money, Marvel’s best film. Black Panther.

56. Tammy Duckworth (POL) vs. Paris, France (VIS). Duckworth has made a good impression on me- a wounded veteran with prosthetic legs, she made it to the Senate as one of its two first Asian-American women and was also the first senator to bring a baby onto the Senate floor. Would have made a good running mate for Joe. On the other hand, we have…Paris. Even though I didn’t speak French and did a million things wrong, and spent only about 36 hours there on two occasions…I’ll just say crepes on the trocadero. Paris.

57. Embraced by the Light (BOK) vs. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (MOV). Embraced by the Light is a bit of an odd duck in this collection. It’s the recounting of an especially vivid near-death experience of a woman who relates back her time in heaven and the cosmic truths she learned there. I bought it uncritically when I first encountered it as one of my dad’s audio-books on a car ride to Buffalo to visit my grandma. It’s probably the only book of the 64 where a majority of it’s readers didn’t attend college, and that’s not a bad thing. On the other hand, we have what others–but not I–regard as the best Star Trek movie ever made. To be sure, Ricardo Montalban chews the scenery with relish, the costumes are a vast improvement over the first film, and it introduces some important side characters to the Star Trek mythos. As with all the original films, Shatner’s ham-fisted acting doesn’t do it any favors, but man…that funeral scene. Wrath of Khan.

58. Sara Bareilles (MUS) vs. Speculator/Lewey Lake, NY (VIS). I have a few Adirondacks sites in this bracket, and honestly this is the weakest one, or the lowest seed if the seeds actually meant anything. But the canoeing is first-rate, it was the first place I ever went camping, and King of the Frosties has been serving up the best fried potatoes I’ve found anywhere. I’m also fond of Sara Bareilles and now that I’m seeing one of her inspirations, Carole King, in two days, she has moved up to #2 on my “see this person in concert” list. (Buffett is #1, but I don’t know if I can afford his shows.) Just because I’m particularly missing a good campfire on this rainy, dreary autumn day, I’m picking Speculator/Lewey Lake.

59. I, Claudius (TV) vs. A Hard Day’s Night (MOV). I, Claudius, as a television series, was vintage BBC. World class acting. Teeny tiny budget. But man, that cast…Brian Blessed, Patrick Stewart, Siân Philips, Derek Jacobi, John Rhys-Davies. How can they compete, though, with The Beatles’ first film? Well, it turns out they can. Just fine. Look, A Hard Day’s Night is much better than it could have been if it were an unashamed, artistically dead-eyed cash grab. I love that The Beatles’ debut is a realistic little arthouse film. But I like Help! better; AHDN sees the lads struggling with their acting chops and they are at their best when together and playing off each other. I, Claudius.

60. Civilization of the Middle Ages (BOK) vs. Woodstock, VT (VIS). Civilization of the Middle Ages is the most straightforward history book in this bracket. It is exactly what it sounds like- a massive tome covering Western Christendom from the fall of the Roman Empire to 1300 or so, written by one of its finest historians, Norman Cantor. As for the ~other~ Woodstock? I love Vermont, and this is Vermont at its bed-and-breakfasty, non-chain-resturanty, humble foothilly best. And my honeymoon was there. Good memories. Sexy memories. Woodstock, VT.

If you are just starting to follow along with this project, welcome! I’ll refer you to our sprawling 512-seed bracket of…things I like! In the process, there’s a lot of self-reflection happening here as I whittle down what really matters. For now, though, we are in the weeds of our first round. No time to waste!

  • 21. The Monkees (MUS) vs. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (MOV). That first Wolverine movie was…something else. Explaining his amnesia by his getting shot in the head with an adamantium bullet? Retconning the origins of the White Queen and Cyclops? The atrocious misuse of Gambit? The unironic use of the “protagonist walks away from an explosion without looking back” cliché? The Prefab Four win in a walk. The Monkees.
  • 22. How Few Remain (BOK) vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TV). Like almost every early millenial boy, the Ninja Turtles were an indelible part of our childhood. The cartoon we saw was very different from the grittier, satirical comic from which it originated, and in hindsight the voice acting was terrific and it rightly became a cultural phenomenon. TMNT doesn’t win however. How Few Remains is a stunning novel of alternate history, where one wartime missive that was intercepted in our timeline is kept secret in another. The South wins the Civil War. Maybe not an original premise, but the novel follows a second war between the USA and the Confederates twenty years later. Slavery still thrives in Dixie in the 1880s, Lincoln has become a Marxist, Theodore Roosevelt starts an unauthorized regiment, and Mark Twain is a modest newspaper editor in San Francisco watching it all unfold. How Few Remain.
  • 23. Penny Arcade (WDW) vs. Behind the Music (TV). The Simpsons’ episode spoofing Behind the Music was significantly better than any particular installment of the real thing. The Penny Arcade exhibit, showing turn of the century amusements on Main Street USA, isn’t the strongest contender here, but it still wins out. Penny Arcade.
  • 24. Nickel Creek (MUS) vs. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (MOV). The second and third Hobbit movies were leaden, cumbersome, Legolas-saturated messes. But there was reason to think the series might be going someplace good based on its first installment. The casting was spot on, the scenes between Bilbo and Gollum were pure magic, and Peter Jackson successfully managed to convey thirteen distinct personalities for each of the dwarves. Parts of it were very clunky: too many flashbacks and exposition scenes, comedy that didn’t land, terrible use of secondary villains. So–sorry Nickel Creek. You are pretty good Americana, but I’m siding with…An Unexpected Journey.
  • 25. Joni Mitchell (MUS) vs. Horizons (WDW). Joni is terrific; I wish I could have seen her in her prime. But Horizons (RIP) is in the running for my favorite Disney World attraction of all time. I suspect it will have plenty of subsequent rounds for me to explain why. Horizons.
  • 26. Linda Ronstadt (MUS) vs. Mexico Pavilion (WDW). A very tough choice. Ronstadt is one of the finest vocalists of her era and Heart Like A Wheel is one of my dozen or so favorite albums. The Mexico pavilion is much more than a cheap facsimile of our neighbor to the South– a colorful boat ride, a very decent restaurant, a tequila bar, strolling Mariachi bands. Really, it all comes across as much less stereotypical than I remember, although when I write about it, it does seem a bit like a Love Boat-era depiction of Mexico, despite attempts in recent years to give more space to pre-Columbian culture and modern folk art. A tough call, but Linda Ronstadt.
  • 27. Brandi Carlile (MUS) vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo (NBA). It’s not getting any easier, is it? The Greek Freak was a wonder when he burst on the scene four or five years ago. A modest draft prospect took off and exceeded even the most optimistic predictions for his career. Just yesterday night, he was named to the NBA’s 75 for 75 team and he has already achieved two of the metrics I look for in a top-10 all-time player: an MVP season and being the best guy on a championship team. Brandi, meanwhile, gets nominated for Grammys regularly while still not quite making it to the level of a household name. Even so, she was a tremendously good live act, and two of her songs, “Dying Day” and “The Eye” are among my very favorites. Since it’s all about my subjective preferences, the greater personal connection wins. Brandi Carlile.
  • 28. Countdown to Extinction (WDW) vs. Avengers: Infinity War (MOV). Frustratingly, Disney changed the ride’s name to simply Dinosaur after only a couple years of operation. It’s an exciting and bumpy ride through prehistoric terrain to track down an iguanodon. I’m afraid it can’t hold a candle to Infinity War however. The culmination of years of buildup in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was an even better payoff than most of us were expecting. It was a delight to see Thor interact with the Guardians, to see Peter Parker and Dr. Strange interact, and so on. Most movies in this bracket won’t fare well against Disney World rides, but in this case, it’s clearly Avengers: Infinity War.
  • 29. Lord of the Rings (BOK) vs. First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (BOK). Two novels of ambitious scope battle it out in this round. First Fifteen Lives is worth a look: it follows a young man who is born into a special class of individuals who, when they die, are born again in the same time and place as before, with all their memories of previous lives intact. Cool concept set in an exciting Cold War paradigm. But it’s no Lord of the Rings.
  • 30. Sherrod Brown (POL) vs. Lake George, NY (VIS). If Ohio had a Democratic governor who could replace him, populist progressive Brown probably would have been Hillary’s running mate. And who knows, maybe the outcome of the election would change with at least a running mate who exuded blue-collar authenticity (despite coming from an upper middle-class background himself!). Lake George, however, has the Great Escape theme park, stunning Adirondack foothills scenery, great restaurants, and dozens of tacky souvenir stores and roadside curiosities. Since I proposed to my wife there, it’s got to be Lake George.
  • 31. A More Perfect Constitution (BOK) vs. John Lennon (MUS). Larry Sabato’s book catalogs a number of amendments that would update a U.S. Constitution verging on being unworkable and obsolete in its present form. It’s a bit more moderate-y than my own inclinations, but well worth reading. In other news, it’s up against John Lennon. John Lennon.
  • 32. Germany Pavilion (WDW) vs. Eagles (MUS). One of the lesser Epcot World Showcase pavilions vs. a band even their fans are embarrassed to like. Sigh. Germany is probably the worst pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase besides the U.S. one. And because their first two albums were some of the best country rock ever made it’s got to be Eagles.
  • 33. The Namesake (BOK) vs. At Home in Mitford (BOK). Two novels confront each other. The Namesake is another book I found so useful as to assign it in my classes– following the first generation of an Indian family to be born in America. His unusual name–given in honor of the Russian author Gogol–stands as an enduring metaphor of not quite being American and not quite being Indian as well. At Home in Mitford, though, is the closest to a “beach read” you’ll find in this tournament. This book is best described as…quaint as it follows an Episcopal priest in a small Carolinian town through some small misadventures. If you like the feel of, say, Mayberry, this book is for you. Since the last third of The Namesake runs out of steam as it follow’s the affair of Gogol’s wife, I am giving the win to At Home in Mitford.
  • 34. Mitchell, SD (VIS) vs. National Gallery, London (GAL). The provincial vs. the cosmopolitan. Mitchell is the most Midwestern place I’ve ever visited– home of George McGovern, and a place where some of the most gracious people I’ve met call home. It also has the famous Corn Palace, where the exterior is made out of designs rendered in husks and kernels of maize. The National Gallery was a frequent base for assignments during my Freshman year in London, where our lessons in the Renaissance or late Medieval Europe would be augmented with instructions to check out some of the gallery’s treasures. Those include a couple Da Vincis, J.M.W.’s “Rain, Steam, and Speed,” Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus,” Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” It was incredible, but the warmth and neighborliness I experienced in Mitchell hasn’t been replicated anywhere else I’ve visited. Mitchell, South Dakota.
  • 35. Rome, Italy (VIS) vs. Splash Mountain (WDW). Splash Mountain is a rare case of Disney accomplishing masterful storytelling with already-extent intellectual properties. However, because Song of the South has been in the cultural doghouse for decades, most first-time riders are encountering B’rer Rabbit and crew for the first time. I only spent about 30 hours in Rome and my cheapskate, travel-anxiety-ridden 19-year-old self didn’t make the best use of it. It was still a once-in-a-lifetime 30 hours–and I got to see John Paul II! My friend Dave and I just happened to visit Vatican City during one of his visits through the crowd on the pope-mobile. Rome, Italy.
  • 36. Piña Colada (ALC) vs. Doctor Strange (MOV). Doctor Strange was…good, but not great. While delightfully mind-trippy in parts, and with Benedict Cumberbatch perfectly cast, parts of it were still kind of ponderous. One thing that’s never letter me down? While I’m not much into health food and into champagne, the victor is the humble Piña Colada.
  • 37. Satchmo Blows Up the World (BOK) vs. Sharon Jones (MUS). Sharon Jones should be more famous than she is, for sure. I especially love her Christmas album. But I’m going with the book. Satchmo Blows Up the World by Penny von Eschen was the first book I read in graduate school and studied the “Jazz ambassadors” that the Eisenhower state department sent to non-aligned countries as emissaries of American culture. The book delves deep into how these musicians wrestled with promoting the U.S. abroad while black rights were curtailed at home. Satchmo Blows Up the World.
  • 38. X2: X-Men United (MOV) vs. France Pavilion (WDW). Hmm. This one takes a bit of a think. X2 was the best of the first three X-Men films before they started reconning them. Alan Cumming’s turn as Nightcrawler was fantastic to watch–it was wonderful to see my favorite X-man come to life on the screen. The France Pavilion, though, is up there with Morocco as the best of the 11 in Epcot’s World Showcase. France has a kick-ass patisserie, where I usually get some pastries for the next morning. And it has the Impressions de France travelogue film, the only thing you can see in Epcot that is unchanged from opening day. Add in the street entertainment and wine kiosks, and I think the choice is becoming clear. France Pavilion.
  • 39. 1960: Making of the President (GAM) vs. Things Fall Apart (BOK). 1960: Making of the President is possibly my favorite board game of all time. This card-driven dynamo reconceptualizes the election as a territory-grabbing war game with lots of deep context and period-specific design. I took it everywhere with me during my dissertation research year to play a solo varient, but I’ve also gotten a handful of friends to play along as well (shout out to Dan and Dave, if you are reading this.) Things Fall Apart is one of the most significant pieces of literature to come out of Africa, and I assigned it in my World Civilizations II class. It’s a damning indictment of colonialism where a white person doesn’t show up until 75% of the way through the book. Since the criteria is which has been more impactful on me, rather than the world at large, the winner is 1960: Making of the President.
  • 40. Paul Wellstone (POL) vs. St. Francis of Assisi (ST). Wellstone was a great hero to progressives…who were 3-4 years older than I. At a time when the Democrats were beholden to Clintonesque “Third Way” centrism and triangulation, Wellstone was a grassroots, farm state liberal of the old school. And then he died in a plane crash shortly before his 2002 re-election. St. Francis, meanwhile, upended the medieval world bursting with commercial activity with a call for humility, simplicity, and earnestness– all without truly running afoul of the church. Saints haven’t done too well in this bracket so far, but I’m going to change that with the W for St. Francis of Assisi.

Okay, party people. Let’s get down to business. I direct your attention, as before, to the Omni-Bracket, the 512-seed tournament of…things I like. Remember, the only criteria is “which do I, Alex H. Voltaire, like better or has had a greater impact in my own life”. It’s not a judgment on the inherent value of the competing books, places I’ve visited, movies, musicians, etc. Subjectivity–namely my own–is key. I would still, however, like to hear your own choices to any of these matchups. Please remember, all matchups were randomly chosen and there isn’t a “high-seed” or “low-seed” in any meaningful sense.

It’s probably intuitive, but just so you know what the abbreviations stand for, it’s meant to avoid confusion between genres. For example, X-Men is both a movie and a television series. So the two or three letter code besides each entrant means:

  • MUS (music)
  • TV (television)
  • MOV (franchise movie)
  • GAM (game)
  • VIS (place I have visited)
  • BOK (book)
  • POL (postwar politician)
  • WDW (Disney World)
  • GAM (board or card game)
  • PRE (U.S. president)
  • RES (restaurant)
  • ST (Roman Catholic saint)
  • ALC (potent potable)
  • GAL (museum or gallery)
  • COM (comic strip)
  • NBA (basketball players)

  • 1. X-Men animated series (TV) vs. Weird Al Yankovic (MUS). The first of 256 (!) first-round matchups is a pretty tough one. The X-Men cartoon on Fox was significantly better than it had to be and addressed some complex themes on prejudice, religion, causality, and other hot topics. But I practically idolized Weird Al and observed everything he did for five years as a teenager. Neither holds up especially well, although I will concede that I don’t think I ever found anything as funny as I found the “Amish Paradise” video the first time I saw it. Weird Al.
  • 2. Jars of Clay (MUS) vs. Middle-Earth: The Wizards (GAM). METW was my gateway drug into collectable card games as a teenager in the 1990s. The artwork was breathtaking–superior to any other card game of its generation. It’s learning curve was steep, but its intricate rules and elegant design made you feel like you were journeying through Tolkien’s world. Sorry 90s Christian Contemporary act Jars of Clay. Where’s your God now? METW.
  • 3. Queen (MUS) vs. God’s Politics (BOK). Geez, man. Both of these deserved to advance. Queen has been my fourth or fifth favorite rock artist for most of my life. But God’s Politics by the great Jim Wallis was my first little inkling that I wasn’t alone as an undergraduate at a Christian college who was troubled by the rigid ideological conservatism and hawkish foreign policy views that dominated my campus in the early 2000s. One of the two or three books that was most influential in my life. Tough battle but a win for God’s Politics.
  • 4. Parks and Rec (TV) vs. The Pogues (MUS). I’m advocating for The Pogues on Nick and Darren’s Rock Hall Revisited concept, but that’s as far as it goes. Parks and Rec was a tonic to those of us who wanted to believe in the value of public service. And between Amy Poehler, Aziz, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza…it might have had the best cast of any 21st century comedy series. Parks and Rec.
  • 5. Star Trek: Into Darkness (MOV) vs. She-Ra reboot (TV). The second film in the rebooted Star Trek series is our first movie in this project. It won’t be the first movie to advance however. Into Darkness had a good soundtrack and an excellent first twenty minutes, but was clearly the weakest of the Abrams-verse Trek movies. Although it might make me sound like a Bronie, the new She-Ra took a questionable 80s series and made it a masterpiece of tween sci-fi/fantasy, and rife with LGBT subtext. For the honor of Greyskull, I pick She-Ra.
  • 6. Cat Stevens (MUS) vs. Kateri Tekakwitha (ST). A Greek guy who became a Muslim vs. a Mohawk girl who became a Catholic. Kateri was the center of the magnificent Auriesville shrine along the Mohawk River. It was an incredible place of respite and it’s probably the place I think of both when I dwell on the Catholicism I was born into. But I’m not ranking the shrine, I’m ranking the saint. Was Kateri a turncoat to her people, or was she exhibiting a degree of agency by using Catholicism to avoid an unwanted marriage or to exercise greater control over her own life in the 17th century? I’d argue the merits of each possibility, but I’d rather listen to Tea for the Tillerman. Cat Stevens.
  • 7. The Wolverine (MOV) vs. Star Trek: Beyond (MOV). Our first matchup within the same category. The Wolverine (the one that takes place in Japan) was much better than its predecessor. But Star Trek: Beyond finally gave us the banter that I was hoping to see between Karl Urban’s Bones and Zachary Quinto’s Spock. It also paid a lovely homage to the late Leonard Nimoy and served as a solid swansong for Anton Yelchin. Star Trek: Beyond.
  • 8. Windsor, UK (VIS) vs. Doctor Who (TV). Windsor was cool…the palace there is an amazing place to visit if you are in the U.K., and it’s where my favorite English monarch, George VI, is buried. But something equally British, the Doctor Who series, easily wins in terms of impact on my life. I love watching the different interpretation each actor puts on the character, and it would win even if it did nothing else but launch David Tennant to international fame. Doctor Who.
  • 9. Talespin (TV) vs. Dinosaurs (TV). Both are television series from the early 90s that held up very well. With Talespin, you can appreciate the showrunners’ commitment to an art deco pre-Depression aesthetic. With Dinosaurs there was some subtle social commentary that 8-year-old me wasn’t in a position to understand. For sheer fun– I always wanted to be Kit Cloudkicker– Talespin wins.
  • 10. Dan Fogelberg (MUS) vs. Kim’s Convenience (TV). Kim’s Convenience had a lot of potential and could complicate the Asian-American narrative with that of a Korean family living in Canada. Yet it sacrificed a lot of that vision for cheap gags and cringe comedy. Fogelberg, meanwhile, made the Sgt. Pepper of soft rock, The Innocent Age. Dan Fogelberg for the win.
  • 11. Rogue One (MOV) vs. Norway pavilion (WDW). Our first Disney World entree. And it advances. I know a lot of fanboys were thrilled with Rogue One and rightly so: Vader kicks ass and we see a more realistic and frankly depressing view of what a slog a rebellion must have been. But the Norway pavilion in Epcot had the World Showcase’s best ride in Maelstrom, some of its best pastries, and a Princess buffet breakfast my nieces dragged me to that was much better than it had to be. Skål! Norway.
  • 12. Perry Bible Fellowship (COM) vs. Journey Into Imagination (WDW). Come on man. If you know anything about me by now, it’s my fanatical devotion to 80s and early 90s Epcot. Imagination.
  • 13. Ramayana (BOK) vs. Balmoral, UK (VIS). The Queen’s estate in Scotland is pretty magnificent, and I can see why she loves Balmoral so much. But the Ramayana is one of the greatest works of world classical literature, and is given particular flavor in R.K. Narayan’s translation. Ramayana.
  • 14. Japan pavilion (WDW) vs. Julian Castro (POL). Interesting choice here. The Japan pavilion has a very good teppanyaki dining experience and one of the better quick-service places in Epcot. The main attraction, though, is the shopping, which I’m not so much interested in. My second favorite candidate from the 2020 primaries will advance. Julian Castro.
  • 15. Ringo Starr (MUS) vs. Genessee Cream Ale (ALC). You may remember that I’m not including The Beatles among the musicians, so this only pertains to Ringo’s solo career. Nevertheless, Ringo was the frontman at my first rock concert back in 1995 and shaking his hand will end up in my life’s highlight reel. As much as I support my local brewery here in Rochester, easy win for Ringo.
  • 16. All the Powers of the Earth (BOK) vs. The Beach Boys (MUS). All the Powers is as fine a Lincoln biography as one can hope for, but it’s still weak applesauce compared to one of the most important acts of the 1960s. Even global antipathy for Mike Love can’t sink the prospects for The Beach Boys.
  • 17. Lamb (BOK) vs. The Muppet Show (TV). This might surprise you, given that I did a whole Twitter series last year on which Muppet corresponds to which president. Lamb, however, is one of the funniest, most moving novels I’ve ever read. It’s also completely bonkers. It follows the tale of Levi, who is known as Biff– Christ’s childhood best friend. In the 23 years between Christ’s boyhood disappearance in Jerusalem and the beginning of his public ministry–on which Christian doctrine is silent– Christopher Moore has the two buddies go East in search of the Wise Men, battling demons, studying in ascetic monasteries, and inventing Judo along the way. Lamb.
  • 18. Eurythmics (MUS) vs. Zurich, SWI (VIS). Unfortunately, I only spent six hours in Zurich while switching trains, and it’s a shame. I never got a chance to explore this beautiful Alpine city where I didn’t even buy a cup of coffee because I didn’t want to switch out my Euros. I hope to give it another go someday, but Annie Lennox must, by default, prevail. Eurythmics.
  • 19. CSNY (MUS) vs. Boston, MA (VIS). Look, Boston, you’re lucky you even made this bracket. I don’t like you, or your racist Southies, or your stupid football team. CSNY would have beaten 80% of the participants in this bracket, but I’m especially glad to see them dispatch of one of my least favorite American cities. CSNY.
  • 20. Robert Kennedy (POL) vs. Gospel (BOK). To explain the second combatant, Gospel is a novel by William Barnhardt about a Greek scholar and his hapless graduate student who discover the lost gospel of the apostle Mathias. A good novel– almost like The Da Vinci Code for people who are actually smart and have a sense of humor. Yet it’s so hard not to look at RFK and mourn the potential that was lost. Liberalism has failed completely to speak to the white working class or appeal to its better angels, and I can’t help but wonder if RFK could or couldn’t have threaded that needle. RFK.

So- those are our first twenty contests. Thoughts so far?

It’s been two and a half months since I last posted something on the Northumbrian Countdown. That is possibly my longest absence from this site in it’s now decade-long history. I’ve been much more active on Twitter, truthfully, and a lot of my energy has been spent toward my new podcast. If you aren’t aware of it, visit The Also-Rans site on Buzzsprout. The podcast takes a deep dive into the lives and legacies of the people who tried to become president but fell a bit short.

On to our main attraction, folks. I have been a little bit obsessed with NCAA-style brackets lately. I love taking part in others’ brackets on twitter, and I’ve done a couple of my own–one for Rock Hall inductees and an ongoing one for Rock Hall snubs. This has been fun…but what if the brackets went into a bigger and more expansive direction? And what if the brackets were more than just a popularity contest? What if they could be used as an opportunity for thoughtful reflection?

These thoughts brought me to the creation fo the Omni-Bracket. It has..um…512 participants. And the theme is simply “things I like” or “things that are important to me.” It will range from movies to musicians to places I’ve visited and even drinks I enjoy. Now, your first thought is probably “what a gargantuan, indulgent waste of time.” And that’s fair. But your second thought might be “how can you possibly compare two utterly different things?” How do you choose between, for example, the Haunted Mansion ride in Disney World and the singing career of Joan Baez? That’s the whole point! It forces me to choose between unlike things, between apples and oranges. The entire criteria for choosing will be almost comically subjective: “which of these two things do I value more, or has had the most positive influence over my life.”

So, what 512…erm…things will be competing on this bracket? As chaotic as this must seem, I did try to frame this with some semblance of organization. We’ll have…

  • 64 popular music artists
  • 64 Walt Disney World rides/hotels/events
  • 64 postwar politicians I admire
  • 64 movies that are part of a franchise
  • 64 television shows
  • 64 places I have visited
  • 64 books
  • and 64 wild-cards.

Even the wild-cards are structured just so. The 64 of them will include:

  • 8 potent potables
  • 8 restaurants
  • 8 presidents
  • 8 NBA legends
  • 8 board/card games
  • 8 comic strips
  • 8 saints
  • 8 museums

If you are curious as to who and what will be participating and what the matchups will be in the first round, let me direct your attention to our big bracket. I simply put the 512 participating items into random.org, assigned each of them a number from the resulting shuffle, and filled in the bracket thusly.

And if you think I’m not going to provide commentary on every binary choice…all 511…that this bracket affords me…well…you don’t know Alex Voltaire. I’ll also use this opportunity to point out that I’m not including The Beatles as one of the music artists because…well…that would be unfair to all the other contestants. And I’m also not including places where I’ve lived among the places I’ve visited, so Buffalo, Rochester, The Bin, London, and Singapore (with the exception of an island off its coast) will not be on the bracket.

I’m not even totally sure who or what will win this thing, but it’s the journey that counts right? I’ll be happy to entertain any early commentary and guesses as to which of these 512 “things” might win the largest, most self-indulgent project I’ve ever embarked upon on the Northumbrian Countdown. If this seems narcissistic, maybe you are right. But being a full-time caregiver to a 2-year-old is periods of boredom punctuated by periods of stress, which is tough sometimes for a guy trained to be an academic to weather. Playing these little games of “would you rather…” is one of the ways I keep my brain active during those dormant periods of boredom. I hope my gentle readers will indulge me.

Let the bracket begin!