The Road to the World Series, The White House and All That Jazz

October 11, 2008

Last night I was watching game one of Major League Baseball’s National League Championship series where the LA Dodgers faced off against the Philadelphia Phillies. All of my teams have been trimmed away on the road to the World Series, but if I were to root for a team in this particular game I’d have to go with the Dodgers- – I’ve caught a few LAD games since Manny joined their roster and have liked what I’ve seen. Anyway, it was about midway through the game and the Dodgers seemed to have a lock on the win at 2-0; the Phillies seemed to be getting progressively worse and it seemed certain they were going to lose. So it came time for the new Thursday night edition of SNL Weekend Update, and I changed the channel to that…seeing as how I only get the networks with my antennae, my selections were unusually jam-packed (more on that SNL episode later).
Then, this morning I’m reading the latest sports section and I find out that shortly after I quit watching the game the Phillies slammed a home-run to bring in two runs, tying the game, and they went on to win game one. It seems like that in at least half of the cases in which I call a baseball game and quit watching it, I later find out that I was wrong about the winner and the game turned and went the other way. Finding out about the Phillies victory in this game today made me stop and think about one of the things that makes baseball great– it’s unpredictability. Where in other sports the clock is as much your opponent as the other team, in baseball you only have yourself to blame if you lose. The game will continue until someone makes a mistake. If you tie the game up in the bottom of the ninth, extra innings will sprawl on, untimed, until someone on one of the teams makes a mistake. Thinking about this made me stop and consider baseball in comparison with a few other things.
Baseball is one of the truly great gifts America has given to the world. Another of which is Jazz. Personally, I feel that jazz hit it’s stride starting with Miles Davis’s release of “The Birth of Cool” in 1949 and lasting most strong until after John Coltrane released “A Love Supreme” in 1960. During this period jazz was at the height of improvisation and unpredictability with “bebop,” but it also maintained the melody and beauty in it’s songs. A lot of people often consider the other great American creation to be our Constitution. It’s hard to argue with its presence on such a list, but my thoughts drift to modern American politics in conjunction with my above mentioned subjects–now maybe modern American politics pay attention to the constitution and maybe they do not, I guess that depends on the party and the politician that you look at. But one thing the modern political process does indeed share with both Baseball and Jazz is improvisation– – unpredictability.

So back to that SNL episode. It was great, condensing what’s best about the current season’s Saturday episodes into a short, quick effect. One exceptional skit parodying the latest presidential debate and an extended edition of Weekend Update. This season, the presidential campaign parodies have been classic, the weekend update segments have been hilarious but each episode has been filled with a lot of sub-par skits as well. If SNL wants to keep the viewers they’ve gained (ratings are up 50 percent this season) they need to trim the fat and make all of their output this good. Anyway, during the debate skit, Fred Armisen as Obama said “Now I have to tell you, William Ayers, the domestic terrorist, is my best friend. I only tell you this because I’m so far ahead in the polls it doesn’t matter.” I laughed but now I’m thinking about that remark not so much as a joke, because it is good parody, but in how the real news behind that parody is being used in an attempt to sway the election. It makes me think about that element of unpredictability that modern American politics shares with baseball and bebop. I’ve been close to calling this election at many times; every time I’ve felt the votes were certain to go one way or another things have changed to tilt the outcome in the other direction. Now, after phases of tilting back and forth it seems that current economic issues have shifted the lead in full force to Obama, and I think there is actually a chance a Democratic victory is possible. With less than a month until the election both parties are now going for broke and such a close and hotly contested election is probably not safe to call until the votes are all counted and even then we may have to wait if other recent elections can be cited as examples. The “I’m so far ahead I’m telling you this and it doesn’t matter” joke was funny, but the McCain party scrambles around the real news that inspires such jokes and attempts to use them for all their worth. It’s actually very silly that the Ayers’ relation to Obama has become such a “newsworthy” issue for the McCain-Palin ticket. Ayers was a member of a radical organization in the sixties. He and his group set off bombs that blew up statues in protest of the Vietnam war; no one was killed as a result of the bombs the group set off. Now, it’s fine and understandable to condemn acts of bombing–Ayer’s has expressed mixed viewpoints concerning his such actions, once saying that his bombs never killed anyone but the actions he was protesting resulted in bombs that killed millions. He’s publicly condemned all acts of terrorism; well, it’s understandable to have the viewpoint that such a person condemning terrorist actions and never fully admitting that his own past actions can be considered domestic terrorism as being naive- – but things should be kept in perspective. Ayers never killed anyone. One of his bombs could have gone wrong and accidentally killed someone, so he is guilty of committing actions that were thoughtless. But Ayers is no longer a member of the Weather Underground, he’s an Education Professor in Chicago. He isn’t Obama’s best friend, he’s a man who worked on school boards with Obama and shared his viewpoints on education reform. When Obama ran for senate the first time, Ayers held a “coffee” to show Obama support. Now, how is this such a troubling and newsworthy matter? Is it odd that a man living in the same neighborhood and working on some of the same school boards as Obama would show his support for his neighbor when he ran for the senate? Does it mean that Obama embraced every past decision Ayers made by allowing him to host a gathering in his support? Let’s be honest and reasonable here- – Ayers was a distinguished college professor at this point, not an underground terrorist hiding from charges. I really don’t even want to give credence to such nonsense by discussing it in depth, but these are the types of things that make-up the McCain strategy these days. A recent study reported that nearly a full 100 percent of the recent McCain campaign political advertisements have been negative compared to only 33 percent of the Obama campaign’s advertisements. McCain is on the attack, and his supporters are shouting for blood–at a recent Palin speech a man shouted “kill him,” when Palin railed against Obama, and she never batted an eye. A man stood up at a recent McCain speech angrily shouting and honestly befuddled that “Barack Hussein Obama” may very well be the next president. “How did this happen?” he asked. I couldn’t help but shake my head knowing that worldwide it seems incomprehensible that anyone would logically vote for McCain Palin, yet in several states here in the U.S. millions of people just like that gentlemen feel the exact opposite.
It’s been a wild electoral season. I’ve referenced baseball and jazz in relation to the political race to the white house in that all of these things are rooted in the arrival of the unexpected. The homerun when no one sees it coming, the song shifting when you thought you knew what note it would take next, the shift in votes when the one great moment or one huge misstep occurs. There was a shining moment during the second presidential debate when Obama was asked if health care was a privilege, a right or a responsibility. McCain had already answered “responsibility,” and Obama stated what I had hoped he would state–that health care is a right, and put forth the reasoning for that view with great strength. That’s the note, that’s the homerun I was waiting for. I want plenty more of those so that the focus doesn’t slide all the way into the gutter allowing the negative approaches to work. The reason Obama’s campaign commercials aren’t negative two-thirds of the time are because he has good stated plans and goals– the McCain commercials are left with nothing but negative to say because they have no new and good plans to fix what is wrong with this country: talking the loudest but saying the least.
I’m waiting to see how it all turns out. The road to the White House has been far short of the coolness of Miles Davis or the spiritual heights of John Coltrane, but there have been Charles Mingus-like moments of civil determination and elements of Thelonious Monk’ s off-time yet perfectly-on-time approach and that’s something. I can’t help but think that the road to the World Series is a bit more polite and inspiring at times, though.

That’s it for the central article here. Just want to make two quick recommendations and a brief preview-plug for upcoming blogs. As recommendations, check out “Somebody Scream!: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power” by Marcus Reeves and “The Power of Progress: How America’s Progressives Can (Once Again) Save Our Economy, Our Climate, and Our Country” by John Podesta. “Somebody Scream” is an good hip hop music study from a sociological perspective and “Power of Progress” is an excellent book detailing important strides made by Progressive Politicians on both parties- Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Johnson, Carter and Clinton as well as missteps made by the emerging conservatives- Reagan, Bush, etc, and it lays out plans for repairing the damage done by those anti-progressive policies.
Okay, coming up soon is a brief article that kills two birds with one stone, acting as a link in a chain between two different threads of articles I’m working on here. Way back a couple of months ago I posted a blog about 10 examples of excellent comic book art and literature. I mentioned that I would periodically publish a book review for each of those 10, and I haven’t done so since my “Watchmen Book Review.” Well, coming up is the book review of “Preacher.” This will be soon followed by the first in a new thread of articles dealing with Christianity. Since “Preacher” touches on a lot of religious themes, albeit controversial and often offensive ones, it’s book review will hopefully help segue into the first of these new articles. The first one will be “Christianity and Homosexuality,” and it will be up at some point in the near future. Thanks for reading.


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