I have been thinking of and wanting to listen to Bjork’s Homogenic collaboration with Mark Bell for quite some time, but I didn’t have it on my Mac; it wasn’t on Abby’s Mac even though she had everything else from Bjork, and it wasn’t on our “Big Love” backup drive either. As luck would have it, I found it last night in one our last remaining stashes of cds (most are boxed up in storage — no room in our 1,000 sq ft apartment for such luxuries). I ripped it, skipped through the tracks, and immediately settled on “Alarm Call.”
As if that weren’t serendipitous enough, I popped into my favorite neighborhood samich shop this afternoon and they were playing Homogenic there too, had I lingered a bit longer I would have heard “Alarm Call” all over again.
This track just vibrates with euphoria, much like today’s events in Washington DC. But beyond the raw emotion, it shares many of the same themes that Barack Obama stressed in his first day in office: the idea that hope can defeat fear; the notion that all of us on earth are one, our differences are few, and our orientation to each other needs to reflect that in our hearts; the belief that what made this all possible is a genuine willingness to listen and learn, to rise above the patterns and practices of old, and to embrace a new way of seeing the world and ourselves with in it.
But what it really comes down to is this: “You can’t say no to hope. Can’t say no to happiness.”
Here’s a little more of her beautiful lyrics:
I have walked this earth
And watched people
It doesn’t scare me at all
I can be sincere
And say I like them
It doesn’t scare me at all
You can’t say no to hope
Can’t say no to happiness
I want to go on a mountain-top
With a radio and good batteries
And play a joyous tune and
Free the human race
It doesn’t scare me at all
I’m no fucking buddhist
But this is enlightenment
It’s a fitting end to such a spectacular day. But as Wendell Berry once said, the real work begins tomorrow.
If Obama were to succeed in fixing the economy, re-regulating the financial system, enacting health care and a modern environmental and energy policy, the right would be discredited for a couple of generations — and the wealthy would lose many of their unfair advantages under a fair and equitable system. They not only do not want to take that chance, they also see this crisis as an opportunity to bury liberal economics and end the government programs that ensure a stable and prosperous society with a vast middle class. The stakes are huge for both sides.
Those of you expecting the republicans to pause and reflect on the previous eight years are sorely mistaken. The future health and well-being of our people and our republic will be decided in the next two years; the rich and powerful will leave nothing to chance.
Regrettably, we are sorely unprepared for this battle.
City streets, unlike freeways, naturally support a variety of transportation modes; and they can support those modes even better if we implement complete street design principles that calm traffic, and prioritize a high-quality pedestrian streetscape above moving cars faster. By proposing that intersection-dense street networks qualify as a single project unit for the purposes of stimulus funding, CNU’s proposal shifts investment away from freeways and toward our nation’s neglected city centers.
Under the proposal, any street in a qualifying network could be enhanced with stimulus money. Note that this does involve spending money on the roads themselves. Roads should be kept in good working condition. Given that some money must be spent on road networks, it is preferable to invest in city streets, because funds can be applied both to repaving and to creating complete streets that are friendly and accessible to all users no matter their travel mode.
The result will be increased concentration of human and economic activity in our cities — in the exact areas where trips are generally shorter, and where it is often easier to walk, bike, or take transit than it is to drive. And as noted above, a high-quality pedestrian experience is absolutely central to the success of this vision. Attractive, walkable, complete streets encourage people to shift to other modes and reduce their automobile usage, and they carry great economic benefits for cities.
Imagine streets oriented to the human scale: peaceful, walkable, supporting both a density and diversity of development. This is not only a vision for New York or San Francisco, this was the blueprint of small towns and close-knit communities before the birth of the automobile, and as such it can be applied anywhere in America to reinvigorate what was once lost. Coupled with light rail to link adjacent communities, it forms the basis for a genuine rebirth of our neighborhoods and cities.
Again, I don’t expect Obama to fund these projects in year one, but I do hope that his administration strongly advocates for sustainable development, and shifts to making wise investments in the infrastructure that can benefit the greatest number of people. We can no longer afford to support the suburban model, we must recognize that and get over it, then move forward with more a sustainable approach to organizing our communities and cities.
The problem the country faces right now is that we already invested in the wrong things. Wrong things have little sustainable payoff. We invested in Houses and Cars, and did so for decades. But houses and cars are really just tools that are supposed to set us up to do the larger work. In the United States the car and the home became economic fetishes. Alot of the country now lives in a home that’s too big, in a town too far from work. Continuing to invest in this structure is crazy, given that oil prices will be sky-high again in the near future. Politically, however, it will be difficult for the nation’s Governors to do otherwise, and therein lies a problem.
And the solutions:
The value proposition of commuter and light rail is so powerful, on so many different levels, that I cannot understand why it’s not in the Number One position in current discussions of the Obama plan. It should be above Carbon and Climate issues, Solar and Wind issues, vehicle standards issues, and certainly well above Road and Bridge issues. The only comparable investment theme I find in the proposed stimulus plan relates to the Grid. We will indeed need a new Grid to feed power from new sources of utility grade solar and wind, into electrified public rail transport.
In many ways, I think Obama’s hands are tied on this one as a result of timing more so than desire. I think we’ll see some more conventional “Road and Bridge” projects in the first year, and I can live with that. Fact is, we aren’t going to end our reliance on cars overnight, so maintenance and modest improvements on our existing infrastructure is a prudent move. And we desperately need to put people to work.
I expect to see more substantial big thinking projects in the following years. Changes to the Grid aren’t going to happen overnight, but they will happen in the next five to ten years, and must begin to lay that groundwork now. Light rail can make denser development more attractive, and once again make walking the principal form of transportation in older, more urban communities. Suburban sprawl is killing our cities, and our heavy reliance on the automobile is unsustainable, so we have no choice but to change the way we now live.
I am so ridiculously happy I can barely type, let alone think, but for some reason these lyrics popped into my head:
And we can do the zarathustra
We can do the broken fist
We can tear down all the borders
Or abbreviate the list
And when finally the finish line
Emerges from the mist we’ll sound
A soft alarm
I have no idea if it’s appropriate or even remotely relevant, but the euphoria of this song perfectly reflects the jubilation of this moment we now share with the world. No matter how much I wished it would happen, I never once allowed myself to believe it could, and now that we have elected Barack Obama to be our President I am truly at a loss for words.
As you may know, I am deeply interested in politics, in particular the subtle art of crafting imagery, shaping narratives, and building harmony to create something much larger than a moment’s victory. Yes, I want a movement. Oddly enough, these past few of weeks of writing about music have taught me more about love than anything else — I believe love it is what is uniting us at this moment and that is precisely why hatred can no longer win in America.
In 2003, I was drawn back into politics by Howard Dean, the man who gave voice to a dormant and disillusioned left, and in turn tasked me to use my newfound passion to participate in the political process. I genuinely loved what Dean stood for, and under his leadership I was never completely ruled by my growing distaste for George W. Bush, but that is precisely what the election became under John Kerry: a referendum on Bush’s first term, an outlet for my contempt, and a battle against those who absolutely loved him. We all know how that turned out.
Leap forward to 2008 and our present nominee, Barack Obama. Much has been written about his ability to unite us and even more will be said if he emerges victorious, but the one thing that’s missing from the conversation is love. Let me define it: it’s a deep affection for him and each other, an openness to the moment and the opportunity, a hope and hunger for something more meaningful, and most of all a sense of wonder that this is even possible. Here we are on the verge of electing an African-American man with a decidedly foreign name to succeed the most culturally divisive and thoroughly destructive Presidency in our brief history!
Is it any wonder that these stories like Charles meets Barack and Michael Shaw‘s incredible post about James Armstrong, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s one-time barber seen in the photo above, are floating to the surface? Just look at the history on that wall, and look at that smile — it’s not smug or self-satisfied, it’s genuinely composed and content that each and every struggle has been worth it.
I can think of no better song than “Damn” to sum up the confluence of their dreams and aspirations, our shared trials and tribulations, and America’s chance to make history tomorrow. This track from George Evelyn, aka DJ E.A.S.E., aka Nightmares on Wax, and vocalist Chyna B. is dripping with funk, soaring with soul, and absolutely bouncing with the energy of new life:
Charles Alexander was married for 69 years, but lost his wife just four weeks ago. Ever since then, he’s poured his heart and soul into volunteering for Barack Obama (via debha):
I can’t watch this without crying, but I am more hopeful than ever that Obama can truly bring about the change we so desperately need in America. Yes, change has become a catchall phrase in this election, but look into Charles Alexander’s eyes to see what it really means — it has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with making the world a better place for his grandkids and great grandkids. That’s a life worth living and a love worth sharing.
Abby knows I love my stories, in this case the 75 or so blogs I subscribe to and read regularly (believe me, at one point it was over 150, so this is nothing). Most tend to be meaty, and incredibly satisfying to me, but this complexity creates a barrier to entry. (And yes, I am aware that I do the same thing here.)
I know not everyone knows or cares about these or any other blogs, but people just like you and me are doing incredible work to uncover the truths about our recent past and define a more harmonious way forward. As I read them, I always search for the one sentence or couple of paragraphs that really cut to the heart of the matter; and when I blog about them here, I want to share with you something that’s immediate and obvious, easily digestible and eminently repeatable.
I hope to find a better way to simplify and amplify these ideas, but for now I’m more interested in identifying what strikes me as illustrative and meaningful. With that in mind, here are a few gems from this past week:
Patriotism: “It’s one thing for gluttony to be an individual right, cherished as much as freedom of speech. It’s quite another for it to be a rite of patriotism. And it’s still another for it to put us in direct conflict with other nations that profit from and/or reject the monetary policy that piggishness requires.” Outeat Them Back To the Stone Age by The Cunning Realist.
Conservatism: “The labor movement is the greatest anti-poverty program in American history, but to the corporate profiteers, it means one less yacht in the harbor.” Sam’s Club Conservatism by dday at Digby’s blog.
Let’s re-examine the house of cards that is the global financial system. Emerging markets seek export-led growth: they undervalue their currencies, so their exports are more competitive purely in terms of price. That’s essentially a subsidy to consumers on the other side of the table — those in the developed world. As emerging markets accumulate surpluses, they recycle them: they lend them back to the US and UK in the form of government and mortgage debt, stabilizing their economies, and amplifying the existing consumption subsidy through leverage.
Amplifying that artificial cheapness is the simple fact the true costs of production haven’t been factored in — until now: very real costs like pollution, community fragmentation, and abusive labour standards.
So we’ve been able to consume mercilessly and remorselessly — with no regard for the human, social, or environmental consequences, to us or to others.
It’s not just cheap oil we’re addicted to: it’s cheap everything. And the world we’re entering isn’t really of Peak Oil as it is one of Peak Consumption.
But consumption wasn’t the only choice we could have made. We could have chosen, instead, to invest. In what? In anything: anything would have been a more sensible choice than naÏve consumption — education, energy, healthcare, transportation, even a more sensible and rational kind of finance.
Umair is almost single-handedly moving this entire discussion forward.
John McCain: “McCain’s primary talent has always been his ability persuade simple-minded people (i.e. his media cheerleading claque) that he is flipping or flopping as a matter of great personal principle and at great possible cost to his political career — even as he has used his various flips and flops to climb the greased pole and become the presidential nominee of his party.” The Great White Hope by Billmon at Daily Kos. Here’s more:
Now, finally, all that hard work and twisting and turning have paid off, and McCain IS the GOP establishment candidate. In April, as Clinton and Obama were tearing into each other (or rather, as she was tearing into him) the McCain campaign clearly saw an advantage in positioning their guy above the fray, as the “kinder, gentler” candidate — the better to pick off supporters of the loser in the Democratic primary race. Thus McCain’s promise to run a “respectful campaign.” (He didn’t explain that what he meant was respect for HIM.)
But McCain and his new team of Rovian handlers now realize they won’t have a prayer in November unless they can motivate the conservative base and (to use Lee Atwater’s charming phrase) “strip the bark” off Obama. And they have to do it NOW, so McCain can pivot back to a softer, more upbeat message in September.
So that’s exactly what McCain is doing – instantly, unapologetically, without shame or embarrassment. His enormous cynicism about the political process and his contempt for the voters – not to mention his vast sense of self-entitlement – have led McCain to take exactly the same low road as the Bush family and its various henchmen (Atwater, Rove): Whatever works; whatever it takes.
Billmon quit blogging at Whiskey Bar a few years ago, but I never unsubscribed — it’s the only dinosaur in my feedreader! Needless to say, I was thrilled to see this new post at the Great Orange Satan. It’s a lengthy post, but well-worth the read, and I guarantee you will never see anything written about McCain that’s as open or brutally honest as this is.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that George W. Bush’s Republican party is hell-bent on preserving the political and economical status quo in America with the election of John McCain. Baring that increasingly impossible feat, they will stop at nothing to destroy anyone who attempts to call any of their policies into question. Which is the perfect segue into this:
Me: “Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.” Rules for Living from Nassim Taleb by Barry Ritholtz.
I have had this inverted for much too long. Even as I railed against the powers that be, my skepticism has always been directed inward. At me. Never willing to trust my instincts. Always questioning the fitness of my ideas and doubting my power to critique, curate, and communicate a more considerate and compelling narrative.
If you read through any of my earlier posts, you’ll see this theme emerge time and time again. Until now, I never realized the barrier was my own relationship to my strengths and the things that make me, well, me.
Truly, finding my voice and using my gifts to bring about a more honest and equitable world is not a matter of large consequence, it’s small and aesthetic. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. And that freedom to be imperfect, foolish, and human is incredibly liberating.
Today, Barack Obama spoke to hundreds of thousands in Berlin, and said:
The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.
We know they have fallen before. After centuries of strife, the people of Europe have formed a Union of promise and prosperity. Here, at the base of a column built to mark victory in war, we meet in the center of a Europe at peace. Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together; in the Balkans, where our Atlantic alliance ended wars and brought savage war criminals to justice; and in South Africa, where the struggle of a courageous people defeated apartheid.
So history reminds us that walls can be torn down. But the task is never easy. True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice. They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy; of progress and peace. They require allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other.
Meanwhile, John McCain had to cancel his planned appearance on an offshore oil rig due to a) a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, and b) an oil spill in that same location, both of which negated the point of his speech, namely that drilling offshore is desirable and safe. Instead, he spent the afternoon in my hometown at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus und Restaurant in German Village, no doubt a clever (not really) counterpoint to Obama’s speech in Berlin. After lunch with six small business owners, including the Flag Lady and a local car dealer, he took several petty shots at Obama, concerning issues that were relevant two years ago.
And so I ask you, which one of these men has not only the vision of a better tomorrow, but the ability to pull the world together to achieve it? McCain can only think about himself and desperately wants the world to bend to his will, but Obama appeals to each of us as individuals and to our shared experience as citizens of the world.
Obama finishes with this:
Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don’t look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?
People of Berlin — people of the world — this is our moment. This is our time.
I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we’ve struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.
But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived — at great cost and great sacrifice — to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom — indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us — what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America’s shores — is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.
These are the aspirations that joined the fates of all nations in this city. These aspirations are bigger than anything that drives us apart. It is because of these aspirations that the airlift began. It is because of these aspirations that all free people — everywhere — became citizens of Berlin. It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation — our generation — must make our mark on the world.
People of Berlin — and people of the world — the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.
No longer will we be distracted or divided by our differences, but instead focused on our common destiny of citizens of the Earth. Yes, it sounds overly idealistic, perhaps highly implausible, but after the past seven years we can no longer afford to go it alone, us against the world, seeking power and glory at a cost to everyone else.
Instead, this is the moment when we choose a new direction in life, a new way forward in the world, and a skinny kid with a funny name to take us there.
We are at a historic moment right now — and I say that not in the way the Monday Night Football-mimicking political media bills every single election as “the most important election in our lifetime.” I say it because I believe America is, for the first time in many generations, starting to think in terms of economic class. Put another way, the battle between Democrats and Republicans is being superseded by the battle between The Money Party and The People Party. How this new class awareness manifests itself in one election cycle is far less important than the fact that awareness is rising at all.
This, beyond everything else, is the storyline that will never be written by the Beltway media — because class awareness among the masses is something that threatens the powers that be. The system in Washington is set up to crush class awareness and solidarity among the masses — to break us up along racial, ethnic, geographic and religious lines so that we do not unify in support of an economic agenda based on fairness and equality. This Washington system exists, ironically, to preserve a well-coordinated class war being waged by an economic class very aware of itself — a class war by the wealthy against the rest of us. This may sound like hyperbole, but polls show most Americans know this is the undeniable truth. And no matter whether your personal preference wins or loses tonight in Iowa, We The People have already won, because class awareness and class-based politics is on the rise. [my emphasis in bold]
I am pleased that Edwards fared so well tonight, holding his own against two extremely well-funded opponents. I remain ever hopeful about his prospects in the coming weeks, as I believe Barack Obama clearly benefitted from having Independents and Republicans vote for him in Iowa (not a complaint, just a point to keep in mind). Edwards’ continued viability will take his message to more and more people, and force Obama and Hillary Clinton to sharpen their rhetoric as well.