My Favorite Albums of 2020

2020 was a year like no other. For me it was chaotic, emotional, and painful, but it was also a year of reflection, celebration, reconnection, and gratitude. Throughout it all, music helped me process the world. I’ve wanted to do an end of year album writeup for the past few years, but I always made excuses: I’m not a good writer, I don’t have time, no one will care, etc. This year I committed to it and the joy I got out of writing and reflecting on music that means so much to me has already been worth it! I’m not a music critic by any means so this isn’t a music review list; I tried my best to focus on my own experiences and the perspectives I’ve gained from these albums instead. The following is my 100 favorite albums from last year: I’ve included a playlist with my favorite song from each album, listed out albums 100 – 51, wrote short blurbs about albums 50 – 11 (pages 2 – 5), and went way deep for albums 10 – 1 (pages 6 – 15). I hope you can glean something from the words I’ve written about them. If I put even a single person on to a new album that they enjoy, I’ll be happy : – ) So, without further ado…

  1. Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon III
  2. Navy Blue, Ada Irin
  3. Beach Bunny, Honeymoon
  4. Chris Stapleton, Starting Over
  5. Sporting Life, HBCU Gameday
  6. Jhené Aiko, Chilombo
  7. Pop Smoke, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon
  8. Caroline Rose, Superstar
  9. Rico Nasty, Nightmare Vacation
  10. The 1975, Notes on a Conditional Form
  11. Pink Siifu, NEGRO
  12. Disclosure, ENERGY
  13. Purity Ring, WOMB
  14. J Hus, Big Conspiracy
  15. Freddie Gibbs x The Alchemist, Alfredo
  16. Grimes, Miss Anthropocene
  17. Yung Lean, Starz
  18. Chloe x Halle, Ungodly Hour
  19. 21 Savage, Savage Mode II
  20. NNAMDÏ, BRAT
  21. Laura Marling, Song for Our Daughter
  22. Taylor Swift, evermore
  23. Ela Minus, acts of rebellion
  24. Kelly Lee Owens, Inner Song
  25. SAULT, Untitled (Black Is) / Untitled (Rise)
  26. Moaning, Uneasy Laughter
  27. Arca, KiCk i
  28. Gorillaz, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez
  29. Alina Baraz, It Was Divine
  30. Ambar Lucid, Garden of Lucid
  31. SAINt JHN, While the World Was Burning
  32. Thundercat, It Is What It Is
  33. Omar Apollo, Apolonio
  34. Nick Hakim, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD
  35. Khary, THIS IS WEIRD
  36. US Girls, Heavy Light
  37. Deftones, Ohms
  38. Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud
  39. Ty Dolla $ign, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign
  40. Perfume Genius, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
  41. Four Tet, Sixteen Oceans
  42. Princess Nokia, Everything is Beautiful / Everything Sucks
  43. Jessie Ware, What’s Your Pleasure?
  44. Bartees Strange, Live Forever
  45. Kali Uchis, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) ∞
  46. Banoffee, Look At Us Now Dad
  47. Dominic Fike, What Could Possibly Go Wrong
  48. Aminé, Limbo
  49. Mura Masa, R.Y.C
  50. Khruangbin, Mordechai

Tourism with COVID-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has affect everyone in some way or another. It has affect in the healthcare world in relations with the ICU beds filling up quicker than one would hope. The topic that I has not been talked about as much is how tourism has been impacted. Although, it has seen an increase in the last couple months since countries began to re-open is still not the same as if covid-19 was not here. I think it is important to look into what countries have been impacted the most with the lack of tourism and how one can help. It is not ideal to travel right now but when we get an opportunity one needs to focus on traveling to these countries compare to others that did not suffer as much. The countries I have in mind are smaller islands like Fiji, Belize, The Bahamas, and others. I know there’s a lot of people dying to travel once it becomes safe again and these are places one should look into. Europe is always high on people list to travel but we need to focus on countries that took the biggest hit during this time. Also, these are all beautiful places full of culture. I hope to help these countries once I can.

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The 2020 Election and Latin American Politics

Another event I had the opportunity this semester was a discussion of potential effects of the US presidential on Latin American politics. This event was also hosted by Dr. Kenney and featured two guest speakers in Dr. Paolo Moreira and Dr. Rossana Castiglioni. This event occurred only 10 days after the election (November 13th), so the exact outcome of the election remained very uncertain. Additionally, the speakers were simply offering projections on potential changes in American policy toward Latin America – as such, the ideas discussed in this post should be considered in that context.

            Now, given President-elect Biden’s stark policy contrasts with President Trump, it is reasonable to imagine that there will be changes in America’s policy toward Latin America. Among other things, the panelists anticipated that US diplomatic efforts would place greater emphasis on developing democratic institutions and ensuring human rights. However, they noted that given the vast asymmetries in power between the US and Latin American countries, it is unlikely that there will be massive changes in US policy toward Latin America.

            The panelists did note that there might be a few areas of policy change, though they warned against any expectation of dramatic changes from the pre-Trump era norms. For instance, they hypothesized that immigration rules would return to “normal” and that the US would make Amazon protections a diplomatic priority.            

One final observation made by the panelists was that the US election highlighted the instability that exists even within the US political system. While the instability and uncertainty in Latin American governments are far greater than we experienced in the past election, it still gives us a taste of the ease with which uncertainty can be introduced into the political process.

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Trust in the Government and COVID-19

It’s easy for me to lose sight of the full scale of COVID-19’s effect on the world. Having personally experienced it in Germany and EU as well as the US, I frequently forget that COVID has affected all nations around the world. One event, hosted by Dr. Charles Kenney and featuring guest speakers Gilberto Hochman and Rossana Castiglioni, highlighted the worldwide effects of COVID-19 for me by describing the situations in Brazil and Chile.

Essential to understanding the full effects of COVID-19 in South America in general is the political unrest and corruption that characterizes much of the political discussion in these countries. Having grown-up in America – the longest-lasting (and arguably most stable) democracy currently in existence – it’s difficult for me to fully appreciate the uncertain political situation of these nations. As Dr. Hochman and Dr. Castiglioni note, this political instability has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

            Dr. Gilberto Hochman, author of “The Sanitation of Brazil: Nation, State, and Public Health, 1889-1930,” discussed the history of vaccinations in Brazil and related this history to the public’s current opinion regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. Brazil, when under a military dictatorship in the early 1970s, was one of the last strongholds of smallpox in the world. However, Brazil, assisted by the WHO, actually eradicated smallpox through mandatory vaccinations, despite being under despotic rule. Support for vaccines in Brazil has been fairly consistent, being guaranteed by the government by the “United Health System,” established in 1988.

            Unfortunately, under President Bolsonaro, immunization coverage rates, along with public trust in the government, have plummeted in recent years. This drop in coverage has occurred despite widespread support for the public health system in Brazil. However, popular support for a COVID-19 vaccine appears tenuous given President Bolsonaro’s mixed messaging on vaccine distribution, distrust in government, and a vocal anti-vaxxer minority. Further, given the decrease in vaccine coverage, the government’s ability to effectively distribute the vaccine is far from certain.

            The situation in Chile shares several similarities with circumstances in Brazil, but has led to rather more dramatic results. Where public trust in government has declined in Brazil, the COVID-19 pandemic and inadequate government response has destroyed popular support for the existing government. Surprisingly, Chile is among the most prosperous (in GDP per capita) countries in South America, yet its people are among the most dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction has prompted calls for a constitutional convention to completely rewrite their constitution. Dr. Castiglioni notes that any new government formed during this time (and a new government is needed) will lack long-lasting legitimacy. She discussed how the gap between Chilean expectations from government and the realistic realities will make the creation of an enduring, legitimate government virtually impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic.            

The examples of Chile and Brazil highlight in stark terms the critical role of trust in the government as it relates to pandemic mitigation. While this lesson can still be seen in the United States (where states with greater adherence to social distancing and masking ordinances generally fared better), the true consequences of distrust in the government (or illegitimate, corrupt, political processes) are much more clearly seen in Brazil and Chile.

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Growth Opportunities

As has been noted throughout the year, it’s been really hard to get out and get involved in what’s happening in the world. Add to this my tendency to not avail myself to many of the educational opportunities offered by various international organizations, and it would have been easy to miss out on a lot of knowledge. However, I can safely say that I learned more about German culture and history this semester than any other, in large part through the efforts of the OU German Club.

            This was the first semester in which I took two German courses – German Literature and Film (focusing on the 20th century) and Business German. These two courses helped keep me apprised of upcoming German Club events while also providing educational about various facets of German culture. In Business German we were provided the opportunity to read Max Weber in the original German as well as analysis done by Konrad Adenauer on the “salaried masses.” It was fascinating German philosophical (and economic) thought that has gone on to transform the world. Further, German Literature and Film exposed me to some of the primary German artistic movements of the 20th century and provided me with a lot of context surrounding Germany’s process of overcoming their Nazi past.

Besides the classroom instruction, the German Club events provided numerous opportunities to examine various other facets of German culture. The first event I attended was a forum on internships in Germany. As I interned with the State Department earlier this year, I was invited to share my experiences, as did another student who had participated in a remote internship over the summer. The short story is this: if you can intern in Germany, you probably should.

            The German Club brought in an outside speaker for the second event I attended this semester – a discussion on the history and current state of gaming in Germany. This lecture was fascinating, for several reasons. First, the discussion included lots of interesting information about some of my favorite modern board games. For example, I hadn’t known that my favorite board game of all time, Settlers of Catan, was created in Germany. Second, the speaker discussed the evolution of board games from simple entertainment commodities to a form of artistic expression in their own right and the accompanying push by game developers for recognition. I had never thought about the process and difficulties of bringing new games to market, and I didn’t realize that for most of gaming history, game developers did not receive much popular credit for their work. Finally, the discussion ended by noting one of the largest trends in computer games in Germany: agricultural simulations. In these games, players (frequently living in urban areas) simply drive farm equipment (harvesters, tractors, etc.). This trend is notably ironic given Germany’s long history of war games.  

            Although my course-load prohibited me from attending all the events I found interesting, two other events deserve honorable mentions. One event was a lecture covering one of the continuing challenges of German reunification – legal uncertainties regarding the proper ownership of houses in former East Germany. Another was a bake-along event for the traditional Viennese cookie, Vanillekipferl. (Although I didn’t attend this event, I did bake some Vanillekipferl, and they were fantastic. Would highly recommend.) In short, The OU German Club provided many high-quality opportunities for myself and other students to expand their knowledge of German culture and history, and I’m excited about continuing my involvement in events that they host.

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A Technological Triumph

In spite of all the darkness in the world in 2020, one recent, inspiring example of international is the cooperation between BioNTech (a German biomedical firm) and Pfizer (a United States biotech company) have jointly created the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved for emergency use by the FDA. Obviously, these are not the only firms who have acted to create a COVID-19 vaccine – Moderna (another US firm) has also created a vaccine now being deployed, and other multi-national firms (e.g. Astrazeneca, partnering with Oxford University) are also in the process of creating a vaccine.

            The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is particularly noteworthy because it highlights what can be accomplished through international cooperation. As noted, while this partnership is not unique, it first demonstrates that international cooperation can produce remarkable results. More impressive than being the first vaccine to receive approval by the FDA is the creation of any effective vaccine within 9 months of starting. I’ll confess that nine months ago whenever a COVID-19 vaccine was first discussed, the prospect that one could begin deployment before 2021 seemed preposterous. And yet it was accomplished; and that deserves recognition.

While the creation of a vaccine is a testament to the incredible results possible from international cooperation, effective dispersal of the vaccine is also going to require tightly coordinated efforts from governments around the world. COVID-19, although it has impacted some nations more than others, is not the problem of a single nation; it’s a truly international challenge. Indeed, as international travel picks up, if COVID-19 remains a substantive problem for any nation, it will also remain a problem for all nations; as was evidenced earlier this year, COVID-19 won’t just remain in one place. Clearly then, dispersal of the vaccine will require coordinated international efforts to ensure that all nations have access to the resources required to surmount the challenge provoked by COVID-19. Certainly, COVID-19 has not always (or even mostly) brought out the best in us. But I hope that as we look back at the dispersal of the vaccine (and hopefully at COVID-19 as well), we can see the tremendous potential of coordinated international efforts.

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Life in the Matrix

            I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that COVID-19 has changed, and will continue to change, the world. These changes are too numerous to exhaustively cover in a single post, so I’ll simply note the one that stands out most in my mind. COVID-19 has, in ways not seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall, divided country from country. This division – seen primarily in travel bans – can be seen as a macrocosm of the pandemic-mitigation measures implemented across the world.

            Although I have lived in Oklahoma for the past four months where social distancing measures and mask mandates are, at best, loosely applied, I’ve still noticed that I’ve felt more isolated in previous years. Attending classes on Zoom and doing homework in my house (or more specifically, my bedroom) made it easier to separate from the outside world. My world just felt small, constrained, and isolated. It was so easy to forget that there’s a whole world outside of my bubble. This isolation – or at least separation – from the ‘rest of the world’ extended to my connection with other countries. Although international news was much more common than in “normal” times, the world outside of Oklahoma (and on a larger scale, the US) seemed much farther removed. Nations aren’t just a plane flight away. Rather than a “community of nations” – which has arguably never really existed – the world seems more starkly divided into its disparate parts. The world (certainly the accessible world) just seems smaller.

These isolating effects of COVID-19 aren’t just constrained to individuals – they’ve been seen in international relations in ways that seem unique in my lifetime. It was shocking earlier this year when Poland, the Czech Republic, and ultimately most European nations closed their borders to others in the EU (and naturally, the rest of the world). Indeed, only this week, France has closed access to UK citizens after a new, and more contagious, strain of COVID-19 emerged in Great Britain. These aren’t warring nations – these are allies. The closures aren’t due to strained international relations – it’s in the interests of public health.

Now, I don’t have anything new to add to the discussion of pandemic mitigation measures. I don’t know what the right answers are – I don’t think that widespread (or universal) shutdowns are the solution, but ignoring the problem seems riddled with errors of judgment as well. One idea seems critical, whether it’s considered on an individual, societal, or international level: going in alone is destined for failure. I lived the first half (or ten weeks) of my fall semester trying to succeed alone – in part driven by pandemic cautions. In mild terms, it blew up in my face. Across society – whether one looks at the United States or other nations around the world – COVID-19 has laid bare deep-seated divides. As already noted, nations have erected barriers against allied nations in hitherto (in my experience) unexperienced ways. I concede that barriers might have to be temporarily enforced between nations; however, it’s critical that we (as nations) not create an island, insulated and independent from all others. Fundamentally, that’s not representative of how the world works. While each citizen might possess limited power to influence policy, we can (at a minimum) remain informed of events from around the world, act when we can to alleviate the sufferings of others, and refuse to (mentally) sequester ourselves at a time when (physical) sequestration is required. We must not resign ourselves to the blue pill, to a matrix of our own creation.

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International Travel

One thing that I have been extremely interested in this semester is international travel and how that has been affected by the pandemic. This has affected so many people and I have been interested in what other countries are doing to protect themselves and work to open themselves back up for travel. One thing that really interested me is that there are some countries, such as Taiwan that are accepting study abroad students and are open for travel again. I think this is because they are in general a much cleaner country. I know someone who traveled there a few years ago and they said wearing masks when you are ill is the normal thing there, so they were much more prepared for the hit that COVID took. I am interested to see how countries continue to open back up for travel as the vaccine begins to be used and hopefully COVID cases begin to decrease.

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Dance

Another Instagram live event I got to go to was also through the oupueblo account and it was on dancing. I got to watch people showcase Hispanic dancing and how that is such a big part of their culture. Dance is something that has always fascinated me because it is something that I do not participate in or know much about but is so vital to countries culture. I really enjoyed getting to experience this part of their culture.

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