Saturday, February 22, 2014

Beatles '64

There was so much hype for so long about the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first trip to America and first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, that I missed the actual anniversary days.  The first Sullivan show was February 9, 1964.

Though I saw the Sullivan show and liked them well enough, I personally didn't have my Beatles satori moment until 1965, when I sat in a near-empty movie theater in Manhattan (behind either Bob Dylan or one of many lookalikes) and watched their second film, Help!  Now I still score pretty high on the Beatles quizzes that were floating around this month.

But last month I did read the Rolling Stone cover story, and learned that I wasn't alone in missing the Beatles significance in 1964--neither did his record company. (Of course, I was in high school and they weren't.)

Here's a few key graphs from that story (this is the link but not all of it is online.)  The story quotes Jonathan Gould in the book Can't Buy Me Love concerning the clueless executives of Capitol Records, who owned the U.S. rights to release Beatles records but didn't think it was worth their while.  Then one of their executives read an article in Variety:

"...Variety reported that the Beatles' most recent single, "I Want To Hold Your Hand," had become the first British record to sell a million copies before its release.  The band's previous single, "She Loves You"--which had been rejected by Dexter on behalf of Capitol--had also surpassed a million sales, and the group's second album, With the Beatles, sold 500,000 copies a week after its release.

'This meant,' writes Gould, 'that in a market one-third the size of the United States, the Beatles had released as many million-selling singles in 1963 as the entire American recording industry.'"

So Capitol decided to release some Beatles tunes, but in due time.  But people took matters into their own hands.  From the RS story (by Mikal Gilmore):

"On December 10th, Marsha Albert, a 15-year-old in Silver Spring, Maryland, saw a rebroadcast of the CBS Morning News report from November 22nd disparaging the Beatles and the frenzy they inspired in England. Albert wanted to hear more of the music. She wrote to a local station, WWDC; the disc jockey there, Carroll James, located a flight attendant for a British airline, who brought a copy of the 45 rpm "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on her flight to Washington, D.C.

After the record arrived, James invited Albert to WWDC's studio. In the early evening of December 17th, Albert announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in America, here are the Beat­les, singing 'I Want to Hold Your Hand.' " "The switchboard just went totally wild," James later told Bob Spitz in The Beat­les: The Biography. Callers – apparently not all of them teenagers, since WWDC was an MOR station – wanted to hear the song again, and again."

And 50 years later, again and again.

The Beatles were a phenomenon throughout 1963 in the UK but America discovered them just over two months after the unspeakable trauma of the assassination of President Kennedy, who symbolized hope and the future. The Beatles did not replace that exactly. But they did offer another kind of hope for a future with a different kind of joy in it. Especially for those who were young then--the early and middle boomers--it was a Way.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dueling Billionaires and other matters

Apart from wars, torture, corrupt politicians and hugely bad weather, what else is new?

Thanks to the unjust blindness of our Supreme Court that somehow can't tell the difference between dollars and words and therefore condone the massive influx of money to dominate political debate and jockey for the agenda: a couple of new billionaires are vying to get into the act.

One is at least on the right side of reality.  From the NYTimes:  "A billionaire retired investor is forging plans to spend as much as $100 million during the 2014 election, seeking to pressure federal and state officials to enact climate change measures through a hard-edge campaign of attack ads against governors and lawmakers."

The donor is Tom Steyer but before you get too impressed, he just provided $11 million to elect the dubious Democrat Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia.  Still, he's organizing other billionaires to join the fight, as a counterweight to the notorious Koch brothers.  If it sounds like something out of the Wild West, well...gunfighting is speech too, pardner.

Meanwhile, a new wild bunch of Republican billionaires are entering the political fray, though perhaps the interesting thing is they seem to be trying to save the party from the Tea Party, and once again, the notorious Koch brothers.

In other climate crisis news, that is apart from the usual bad news (yes, the Arctic is melting, etc.) there's the interesting situation in Nebraska where a judge has countered the high-handedness we've become used to from Republican governors when it comes to sucking up to their fossil fuel billionaires, and denied permission for the Keystone Pipeline to run roughshod through the state, "condemning" farm land in favor of pipeland.  He ordered the pipes people out of the state.

Some interesting reading:

Slate finds the research that says what many of us have figured out: Internet trolls are sick and evil.  Nothing to say however about the ones who are paid to be sick and evil.

A concise history of newspapers, and why they are still the best medium to explain the daily world, though they may have lost track of that.

A journalist crashes a secret society of the 1% and they are as disgusting as we figured.  So far it seems this is a real story, though not far from an Andy Borowitz column.  Meanwhile, Jonathan Chiat demolishes another of the psychotic 1% arguments, and this one involves Iron Man.

On the other side of the ledger, the Wonkblog reveals "how Obama secretly became the anti-poverty president."

Everyone agrees that Congress isn't going to raise the minimum wage, though President Obama has raised it for federal contracts, and some individual businesses are raising theirs.  So take comfort in the fact that there are no more good arguments against raising it.

And finally, in the new Baffler, David Graeber chronicles the long history of science's most perplexing mystery: why is there fun?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Semi-Weekly Quote

"The mind best fitted for survival in any world is the mind that has discovered how knowledge can be joyful, leading to the friendship with wisdom that is pure delight, and is ready to tackle any kind of knowledge with clarity of perception and intentness of will."

Northrup Frye

Monday, February 17, 2014

Slouching Towards Urgency

In just the past few days, political leaders of three major nations declared the climate crisis a major global concern demanding action.

In what was clearly the fruit of ongoing diplomacy, the United States and China issued a joint statement declaring "In light of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and its worsening impacts, and the related issue of air pollution from burning fossil fuels, the United States and China recognize the urgent need for action to meet these twin challenges. Both sides reaffirm their commitment to contribute significantly to successful 2015 global efforts to meet this challenge. Accordingly, China and the United States will work together..."  A few specific instances followed.

Secretary of State John Kerry soon followed up on this with a major speech in Indonesia, which made headlines both before and after it was given. "When I think about the array of global climate – of global threats – think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all challenges that know no borders – the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them. And it is a challenge that I address in nearly every single country that I visit as Secretary of State, because President Obama and I believe it is urgent that we do so.

And the reason is simple: The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie. It’s warning us; it’s compelling us to act. And let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the science is absolutely certain."

He outlined some of the consequences: sea level rise that would, among other things, flood half of Jakarta; species extinction; water shortages; agricultural transformation; unpredictable and violent weather--all of which involve heavy costs, among other dire consequences.

And in a widely quoted line: "And in a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction."

But perhaps the most interesting statements came from the UK, which has recently been beset with immense flooding in coastal areas.  Rains and storms had kept the country and the government in a crisis mode for weeks.  The floods have exposed a lack of urgency in executing protective plans, due to budgeting priorities.

In this context the leader of the Labour Party made headlines demanding a national commitment to addressing the climate crisis.  According to the Guardian: "Britain is sleepwalking towards disaster because of a failure to recognise that climate change is causing the extreme weather that has blighted the country for more than a month, Ed Miliband has warned.

The Labour leader says in an interview with the Observer that climate change is now an issue of national security that has the potential not only to destabilise and cause conflict between regions of the world, but to destroy the homes, livelihoods and businesses of millions of British people.

Criticising[Tory PM] David Cameron for appearing to backtrack on his commitment to the environmental cause, he calls on senior figures in all parties to unite behind the scientific evidence that climate change is a key factor in extreme weather. Failure to do so, he warns, will have catastrophic consequences."

The story concludes: "Miliband said he was ready to work with politicians of all parties, including "green" Tories such as Zac Goldsmith, to rebuild the consensus around climate change. He announced a three-point plan to tackle the crisis, including tougher decarbonisation targets, moves to strengthen the country's resilience to floods, and a push to boost business investment in the green economy."

This outlined program is similar to steps advocated by Secretary Kerry and President Obama, and it even more explicitly recognizes the twin challenges of the far future and the near future of inevitable consequences--which as in the UK is now the present.

  In a story not directly related to these statements by Miliband, Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats party and deputy Prime Minister in the coalition government with the Tories, suggested a new coalition with Labour.  This may be little more than UK political posturing, but it does open the possibility of a united campaign for the government in which the climate crisis is a central issue.

It's all relatively little and definitely late, but in this case--as my friend Beckett says-- something's better than nothing.