25 November 2008

Senate Round-up

A big sigh of relief that Mark Begich won his Senate race against indicted Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Not just because it increases the Democratic majority in the Senate, and not just because Ted Stevens is the ultimate grumpy old man out of touch with just about everything other than his pork barrel proclivities, but because it means that we won't have to worry about a Senator Palin. If Stevens had won the race he probably would have been expelled from the Senate, leaving the seat open to the possibility of a Palin candidacy. Listening to her on the floor of the Senate for the next six years would definitely be a trying expereince.

I really, really wanted Joe Lieberman to pay for his disloyalty. First because he tossed aside the will of Democratic voters in Connecticut when he decided to run as an independent after losing the primary. And second of course for his active role in not only promoting John McCain, but also disparaging Barack Obama. However, time after time Obama has shown that he has superior judgement. He showed it in his campaign, in the debates, and now in his conciliatory attitude toward Lieberman. I know there are a lot of Dems out there who would like to see Unholy Joe punished. But President-elect Obama no doubt has taken the correct route in this matter. Encouraging all of us to be a little more adult, a little less petty, and to steer Washington (hopefully) to a more civil place.

Not sure that this runoff election will favor the Democrat Jim Martin over Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss, but one can hope. In this race I care much less about the seat going Dem (altough that would be great) than I am about seeing Chambliss get his comeuppence. Remember this was the guy who mercilessly attacked Senator Max Cleland to unseat him in 2002. Apparently Chambliss and his Rovian henchmen didn't think that Cleland had left enough of his limbs in Vietnam to make him appropriately patriotic.

Ah, my natal land is in the political headlines again. Despite what the right and many in the center fear, I think that jokester Franken would make an outstanding Senator. More than anything, however, I am glad that he did not waive his right to a recount. Senator Coleman's post-election call for Franken to waive that right to heal the wounds of the negative campaign had all the hallmarks of the Bush tactics in Florida in 2000. I have looked at some of the challenged ballots on Minnesota Public Radio's website and both sides are acting like idiots in terms of some of the ballots they challenge and the reasons for the challenge. But I do think that the officials in Minnesota will conduct a fair recount. Perhaps it is naitvete or just home-state pride, but I trust that the Minnesota recount in 2008 will not be the shambolic mess that Florida was in 2000.

Out of Africa

We are back from our week-long safari in Kenya. I have always hated the phrase "a once in a lifetime trip" preferring to think that I would somehow make it back to a favorite destination at some future time. And while I think that I will go on a safari again one day--whether it be Kenya or elsewhere in Africa--there was definitely a once in a lifetime feel to our trip. Perhaps because most of us spend our lives seeing these animals on TV, in cartoons, and in zoos, that it seems more than a little surreal to actually see them in their natural habitat. I would say that although I was plenty interested in going on safari it has not been one of life long dreams. But the experience itself is so amazing that it is hard not to get a serious groove exploring the wilds of Kenya. In the days to come I will be posting all kinds of photos from our trip, so stay tuned.

06 November 2008

Almost forgot...

If you remember I made a prediction about the outcome of the Presidential race. I was only off by 1 state. I had everything right except for Indiana. Who'd a thunk it?

'Nuff Said

Waiting in Line

Standing in line to vote on Tuesday here in DC (took me about and hour and a half, DC went 93% for Obama) I noticed the woman in front of me reading one of my favorite books. Thad Carhart's The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. This memoir tells the story of Carhart's life in Paris and his quest for the used piano that would be perfect for him. As he tells the story of an invitation-only piano shop he also gives a bit of a history of the piano and piano manufacturing. Although I am not much of a fan of non-fiction--I feel like I got enough of that in college and graduate school--this book is the perfect combination of Paris, music, gossipy details, and a nod to a more interesting, more romantic past.

One of the more fascinating things described in the book is the diversity of piano manufacturers that used to exist when home pianos were as commonplace as TVs (at least among those who could afford them). Carhart also describes how manufacture differed from country to country and company to company, evident in design, finish, size, and sound.

Since reading the book, I can’t pass a piano without checking it out to see who made it. Of course the usual suspects show up a lot (Steinway, Yamaha, etc.). But I am also amazed at the variety of names I have come across. The dustier the piano the more likely it is to be some long-forgotten manufacturer. I love to think about the history of these instruments. Who made it, where it came from, where it lived through the years, who has played it. I love the variety in the same way I love regional differences in language, food, customs, aesthetic sensibilities, etc.

In some ways the global, and now Internet-connected, market offers us access to a seemingly infinite world of choices in information, services and goods. Yet it also brings with it a cycle of consolidation that threatens regional diversity and ultimately limits choice. I’ll never forget the first time I bought Baci chocolate in Italy thinking it would make a unique gift for friends and family back home only to find it for sale in the Marketplace section of the Dayton’s Department Store in Minneapolis. (Now that I think of it, that example has an added layer of consolidation—Dayton’s become Dayton-Hudson, became Marshall Fields, became Macy’s.)

There are certainly still industries that buck the trend—or at least support a dual track with mass market on one rail and niche market on the other. Wine production comes readily to mind. In addition to the big guys that you find everywhere, there are so many smaller wineries that you never seem to see more than once or in more than one restaurant or shop unless you really try and hunt them down. Perhaps this is what makes a trip to Napa or Chianti or the Yarra Valley so fabulous.

Morals of the story:
1. Diversity is good (pianos, wine, Presidential candidates, etc.).
2. Paris is fabulous.
3. (Red) Wine is good (special shout out to New World Pinot Noir).
4. I like to read.
5. I like to live in the past.
6. I don't always know how to end my blogposts.

01 November 2008

Three of My Favorite Political Videos

1. Just plain funny.

2. I couldn't embed the second video, but you can check it out on YouTube.

3. This one is a little corny (or a lot corny if you don't like Les Mis), but I also find it rather inspiring.