Strawberry Fields Forever - Nothing is real

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is hope audacious?

I've had several thoughts percolating around my head as I've watched the Democratic primary process unfold.

I suppose for most of the time, I had leaned towards supporting Senator Obama, but I had my doubts. Specifically, I wasn't clear on if he could be an effective President or even run an effective campaign. Lately, my doubts are growing dimmer and dimmer.

This lessening of doubt is caused by more than just being caught up in Obama-mania. Clearly the man has an element of a cultural phenomenon, and it really wouldn't surprise me if that very fact is reason why there is some resistance to his candidacy. Indeed, I have friends, who I imagine would gladly support Obama if it weren't for this near messianic image the media and many of Obama's supporters hold for Obama. In a way, I understand this reasoning. This support is ephemeral, promises nothing concrete, and ultimately not enough to really lessen either of my doubts.

On policy points, he also doesn't completely win me over. Indeed, I think I prefer Clinton's general approach to health care reform over Obama's more cautious approach. I think Obama's is smarter for a general election since it isn't mandates based for adults, but that difference will have an impact in actual policy. I do appreciate that he was against the Iraq invasion from the start, and I do think it speaks to his judgment greatly, but even that isn't enough since I don't really count Clinton's vote against her given the circumstances.

The guy is probably the best speaker we've had as serious challenger for the President since JFK, but even then - that's not enough. Though I have to admit, it is an awe-inspiring experience to watch him on the stump. Given his background, given his rhetoric, given his standards, he almost feels like an Aaron Sorkin protagonist come to life - although I think even Aaron Sorkin would find such a perfect combination to be a bit contrived. Again, I need a President to do more than simply speak well. Reagan could speak well too (though not AS good).

I think what it comes down to, is that he may be The Real Deal. For a long time, I've been waiting for someone to figure out how to break through the barriers keeping back progress in the U.S. since the civil rights era ended in the mid 1960s.

President Carter tried, and while I think he's an amazing human being, ultimately was ineffective as a commander in chief.

President Clinton was able to hold back the tide a bit, and given the environment in the 1990s, that was no easy feat. He helped though, and really, a turn back to those years wouldn't be the worst possible thing.

The problem is though that both were ultimately stymied and defeated from making real progress by the conventions of our political realities.

Carter didn't understand the nature of power in Washington and the realities of how hard it is to rally a nation to your side to do the difficult things necessary to enact real progress.

Clinton didn't really try very hard for big change after being so horrifically defeated by the Health Care reform attempt and then the Republicans ascending into power in Congress in 1994.

Despite my background in Political Science, which tries to to tell me that nothing ever changes, I don't believe that must be true. Change can and does happen throughout history, but it usually requires ignoring or rewriting the rules.

Before 2000, I watched a good friend attempt to put together a long-shot attempt to encourage a little-known Senator for Minnesota to run for President who actually knew something about defeating the system's long odds - Paul Wellstone.

He was a short, pugnacious, incredibly earnest Senator elected twice despite some incredible odds. When his opponents blanketed him with millions of dollars of negative ads accusing him of being "embarrassingly liberal", Senator Wellstone adopted that very phrase as a campaign slogan. He combated the entrenched interests attempting to defeat him with a grass-roots organization that worked door to door to defeat the odds. He changed the rules - and he won. He fought for the issues that almost no one else had the courage to do and though he was only one voice in the Senate, it was a beacon of hope.

Ultimately, he didn't run for President in 2000, and horribly, he died shortly before election night in 2002 in a plane accident.

However, the movement started that tried to get him to run, the movement that desired a candidate, a message, a power that was truly of the people, didn't die. In 2003, after courageously standing against the Bush administration's march to war when everyone else in the Democratic party was terrified to speak up, Howard Dean quickly found the people flocking to him. His courage was soon met with the then nascent net-roots, and suddenly he didn't need to worry about corporate donations - he had the people to donate. He had the people to be his army, to carry his message.

Unfortunately, either the candidate wasn't the correct one or the time wasn't quite right - for whatever actual reason (and no, it wasn't "the scream"), he didn't make it in 2004. (though on a side note, I really do appreciate the work he has done as the DNC chair - indeed, I'm REALLY glad he's there now)

However, now 4 years later we see the newest, and purest manifestation of this force in Barack Obama. Unlike Howard Dean though, there seems to be a real method here. While his detractors may minimize Obama's experience - it is exactly his experience that is now in my view his greatest factor erasing my doubt. His experience is that of a community organizer. In this new political reality being formed, that is EXACTLY the experience, and frame of mind needed. It is also exactly a perfect marriage with this new force in politics that has been forming.

His campaign is radically decentralized. His support is broad and fervent and built from the ground and then up. Everyone involved is personally invested. His donors are small, and insanely numerous. That makes him far more robust going into a general election.

Republicans since the 1970s have been perfecting a cynical variation of grass-roots supporting wherein a few people are able to generate support for a narrow set of issues by tapping into mailing lists, and more recent talk radio and other outlets and think tanks that they have developed. The liberals have had no such apparatus realistically.

Maybe we don't even need it now.

The community organizing background showed Obama how to enact change by flooding the avenues of power with the sheer force of numbers of energy. This is our antidote. It is also why he could be far more effective at both winning the election and effecting the change we so badly need.

Clinton was defeated with this machine in 1994 during the Health Care debate, and Kerry was slaughtered by it in 2004. However, now we may have an army ready to respond door to door, person to person. That's even more powerful than "Harry and Louise" to hear it from an actual neighbor. The entrenched powers are strong, but I don't believe they can hold up against a grass-roots organization of concerned, impassioned citizens numbering in the tens of millions.

It's important to realize, we already see evidence of this in his very campaign. The turnout he has been getting is nothing short of shocking. The crowded arenas, the volunteers, the increasing coalitions he is winning with, the independent and Republican support, the youth vote, the disaffected voters being pulled into the process, the over 400,000 donors - it's all concrete evidence that Barack Obama may really be The Real Deal finally. Obama has the best shot at harnessing this to truly effect the change we need because he understands it best from his experience.

Is this still a gamble? Of course it is... but I don't think it's a bad one at all.

I still like Senator Clinton, and I still believe she can be a good President, but I'm really starting to think that a President Obama may be the true game-changing agent of true progress that I have hoped for as long as I have cared about what happens to my nation.

It has hurt like crazy to see what damage has been inflicted upon this nation by the current administration, and turning back the worst of the damage would be good - but moving past the rules of the game that allowed for it, to push beyond the fear and division - that would be the start of justice.

I still think Clinton has the edge in this race, and I will support her gladly, but I really am hoping for Obama to win it. It's finally time to dare to hope again.

Oh yeah, to answer the blog title - no, I don't think it is particularly audacious - it's logical.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns...

I don't have too much to say in this blog, except to say the recent transmission of "Across The Universe" to Polaris is beyond any realm of the word awesome.

I remember watching an early episode of the X-Files in which a Senator character talks about the music on the gold record included on the Voyager (or V-ger depending on how hard-core a Star Trek fan you are) spacecraft - including the piece by Bach and how creepy it was to hear that same music played back on speakers "magically" when an apparent UFO visit befell Agent Mulder later in the same episode. Imagine how much more calming it would be if it were instead the calming sound of John Lennon singing "nothing's gonna change my world".

Come to think of it, aren't we just challenging any potential hostile aliens to prove us wrong by boasting so proudly that nothing is going to change our world?

I'd also like to know what exact version of the song is being broadcast (I couldn't find out in any of the press releases I have read, but I would *GUESS* the orchestrated version from the Let it Be LP is the most likely candidate). I also find it odd they would call it the 40th anniversary of the song (which is true, it was recorded exactly 40 years ago), while it wasn't released in any form until 1969.

Anyway, these questions and legitimate concerns of tempting any potential future alien overlords with overconfidence, this is still supremely cool.

Oh yeah, occasionally, I cite a source.

Update: Apparently they used the so-called "Wildlife" version of Across The Universe over the more common version from the "Let it Be" LP. It's the one with the "Apple Scruffs" backing vocal somewhat audible and the entire thing sped up a bit.

Still, this no way diminishes how cool it all is.

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It's been a long, long, long time...

Well, since apparently I am posting again, I should probably do a quick recap of the last half a year or so in the oh-so music/film world.

In Rainbows - Radiohead

Radiohead is not an easy band to like which is part of why their strong following is frankly puzzling to me. They record challenging music (well, at least they have since OK Computer), yet they remain popular. This album no doubt was helped by a brilliant stunt by the band in their famous decision to release it online at a "name your price"-point that could literally be 0 dollars (or pounds). It was a gutsy decision in way, though I suppose given how insanely unpopular the major recording labels (and the RIAA) are, it probably wasn't THAT gutsy. Anyway, it's good that they apparently made a mint on the plan - even I paid (more than I thought I was) for the digital download - which WAS good old mp3 (though unfortunately encoded at an inadequate 160kbit/sec, but that's another story). Indeed, most likely they made more just in that digital download than they would have possibly made by "properly" releasing their record through a major label. (ironically, EMI records, their former company was the first of the major labels to adopt DRM-free policies, but again, that's another story) However, despite how good it was that this stunt worked, it's even better that the album itself is really good. It's not as catchy and anthemic as The Bends, nor is it as complicated, obtuse, and overall challenging as Kid-A (and I consider those 2 albums their best) - but it's actually probably not far behind either. The album has been analyzed by countless critics - the bottom line is I like a great deal of the songs on it and I find it in heavy rotation. Had Memory Almost Full and Sky Blue Sky also not been out last year, In Rainbows would likely have been my favorite. (or it that favourite?)

Grade: B+

I do film reviews on occasion, but there are too many backlogged ones, so I will be brief(er)

Judd Apatow's films continue to be wonderful. Superbad and Knocked Up are wildly different comedies, but both equally great. Even Walk Hard, while not quite living up to the sheer level of genius of The Rutles, was a good deal of fun.

Ratatouille continued Pixar's streak of thus far not having released an even mediocre film. It may not be the studio's best film (which I would argue is a 3-way tie between Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles), but really this may not have been far off.

The Darjeeling Limited continued Wes Anderson's even more incredible record than Pixar. It isn't Rushmore, but it's another addition to that man's wonderful cinematic world.

Also, let me just say that Juno is worthy of the hype - it's worth checking out.

I may be forgetting a film or two, but those are the ones from last year that I really enjoyed.

In terms of television, The Colbert Report and The Daily Show continue to be excellent even with the Writer's Strike, which I hope either ends soon, or I hope that the studios themselves end.

The Office (US) continues to be a series that's extremely worthy of its pedigree. (frankly, I think it's FUNNIER than the UK original - though that series had a lot more pathos)

And the series I had my doubts about originally, Battlestar Galactica continues to amaze me. Given his history on Star Trek The Next Generation, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and now Battlestar Galactica, at this point I think Ron Moore can do no wrong (much like how I feel about Pixar and Wes Anderson for that matter).

Well, that should pretty much catch me up on those fronts.

And again, if you live in the 22 states voting on Tuesday (and are eligible) remember to vote!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Everybody's talking and no one says a word...

Well, here we are once again - at (or near) the start of a new year, and at the eve (at least in the State of California) of yet another Presidential election season. The New York and LA Times have had their say on who they prefer. Senators galore, elder statesmen and stateswomen, as well as Oprah have had their say. Now, it's time for the endorsement that truly matters - the publisher of a primarily Beatles-themed blog that gets an average of .01 readers per day: me.
I have only been able to vote in 2 different Presidential elections (I missed the age cut-off by a cruel 3 months in 1996). However, this may be the first time in a primary in which my vote is both not primarily or even largely defined by a desire to stop a particular candidate I don't like, or as in the case of 2004, largely symbolic. (a sample size of two is excellent to draw historical conclusions after all)
Really, this year the dilemma for a registered Democrat is that we have two excellent candidates, each with the full capacity to be an excellent President - not simply better than the current President, and having two viable choices is rough in that we have to choose.
Hillary Clinton is smart, shows deep understanding of the issues and more importantly a deep understanding of how to govern effectively - I have no doubt that she would be an excellent President.
However, I am not planning on voting for her on Tuesday. I plan to vote for Barrack Obama. He too shows a deep understanding for the issues, but demonstrates a strong possibility for a transformative leadership that can reshape our nation for the better. The word change is bandied around so much right now by every candidate, including Obama, that the word has largely lost its meaning. Change is one thing. George W. Bush represented change as well. Indeed, this nation has been on a radically different track since he took office. Change is a neutral word implying simply a difference. We don't need change, we need to move forward. When I look at Hillary Clinton I see a person who can reign back the excesses of the Bush administration and put us back on the track that her husband led us on. Fundamentally that makes her conservative (in the dictionary definition) in my book. When I look at Barack Obama, I don't see an agent of change, but rather the potential for actual progress. The analogies comparing him to JFK are not unfounded. There were doubts about both men's experience to lead, and there was an undeniable charisma to both men. JFK was hardly a perfect President, and in reality history may never be able to look upon his record in a real manner due to his assassination - but what IS clear was he was a visionary that could dare this nation to dream great dreams and then achieve them. I see this potential with Barack Obama.
Already Obama has been quietly working to diffuse the horrible violence in his father's homeland of Kenya (while in the middle of campaigning mind you!). Already Obama has shown courage and leadership on difficult issues such as his stand on the War in Iraq, and a clearer stand in ethics and campaign reform. Let me be clear, while the pressure was no where near what it was on sitting Senators in the U.S. Congress to vote for the war, it was still a courageous position for him to take back in 2002. He also demonstrated frankly better judgment than my own. At the start of the war, I was on the fence because I held out some degree of hope that maybe despite really flimsy pretenses, that we could do good for the Iraqi people. I misjudged the abject wretchedness of the Bush administration, yet Obama did not.
That said, Barack is not without his flaws. While clearly his words were twisted during the interview in which he supposedly praised Republican policies and ideas (he in fact claimed that Reagan was a transformative leader, and that Republicans have been a party of ideas - neither claim actually meaning he thinks either are good), he clearly at the very least, chose his words poorly. I also despise the nastiness that both his and Clintons' campaign have resorted to at times - though I must admit that overall it has not gone beyond the pale, and in the end, I'm very glad to see that Obama CAN survive the firestorm - he will need to in the general election.
I need to once again reiterate, I really do like both candidates, and I think either would be an excellent President. What really surprises and even shocks me is that there are DEMOCRATS who actively dislike one or the other and will refuse to support the other. The level of vitriol may not equal the Republican vitriol between supporters of their various candidates, but it is still undue. I would rather not have another Clinton in the White House for no other reason than it would mean at the least 32 years straight of a Bush or Clinton being President or Vice President - but that's not enough of a reason not to vote for Clinton. I also get that Obama may actually get knocked for the hype and praise on his campaign by the so-called media. Once again, I could care less.
In the end, especially in a primary, one should simply vote for the person they most want to be President. Strategic voting, concerns over electability, anything else is in my view rather silly. As a person who has a degree in Political Science, I am pretty well convinced that there is little if any science in Politics. It may be necessary to become pragmatic in a general election since the choices are locked, but in a primary no such compromises are necessary. In the end, if people vote for someone, then he or she is electable.
Anyway, in the end, I plan to vote for Barack Obama. If you too have the privilege of voting on this upcoming Tuesday or another day, I do recommend you do your research. Read up on him and Hillary Clinton - even read up on the Republicans. You should watch the debates, view speeches, and on your election day, vote for the person you most want to the President of the United States. I know I will be proudly doing so this Tuesday when I vote for Barack Obama.

Does this post mean more will follow? It may.

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