Monday, August 29, 2011

More Politics and Persimmons

In November 2008, after the presidential election I posed a question in a blog post: "Last night, for the first time we both saw the movie "All the Kings Men" starring Broderick Crawford. This morning I looked up Huey Long in Wikipedia and wondered the fate of our new president elect, Barack Obama. At the outset of his political career the character Willie Stark was that rare phenomenon - an honest man.  Abraham Lincoln was an honest man who came to the presidency in a time of national crisis. Will Barack Obama be more like Abraham Lincoln or the fictional character Willie Stark?"

As the presidential race for 2012 heats up this summer, many journalists, bloggers and political hacks have begun the process of analyzing the successes and failures of Barack Obama.

 According to Drew Westen's piece in the New York Times on 8/6/11 "What Happened to Obama?":

"A somewhat less charitable explanation is that we are a nation that is being held hostage not just by an extremist Republican Party but also by a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election. Perhaps those of us who were so enthralled with the magnificent story he told in “Dreams From My Father” appended a chapter at the end that wasn’t there — the chapter in which he resolves his identity and comes to know who he is and what he believes in."

Westen makes a case that we need a president whose stories make sense of what we are going through.  Abraham Lincoln told stories that made sense of the carnage and sacrifice of the Civil War.  Franklin Roosevelt created a narrative that explained the economic crisis of his era and his concrete plans to end the Depression.  "Beginning in his first inaugural address, and in the fireside chats that followed, he explained how the crash had happened, and he minced no words about those who had caused it".

Further, Westen concludes, "when faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it."

 From a somewhat different perspective, David Frum writing for CNN, 08/29/11, "Obama's three big mistakes" concludes that "Obama made three crucially bad economic decisions in the first year of his presidency".  These included allowing the Democratic Congress to "lard up" the stimulus bill with huge sums that did not create jobs, build infrastructure, or stimulate the economy.  An interesting parallel with the 1930's is that Roosevelt built infrastructure on a massive scale that we still depend on today.  Of the ARRA funds expended, only about one dollar in eight has gone to new infrastructure projects. 

We can expect a new initiative from the president this September to stimulate job growth.  I expect that it will be too little and too late.  His enemies on the right will not accommodate a plan to boost Obama's image before the 2012 election.  And Obama has not demonstrated that he will fight the right wing bullies. 

The persimmons are dropping prematurely this year, and there will be a small crop.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Napa Porchfest 2011 - Part 2

Napa Porchfest was embraced by the artists, homeowners and residents of Napa.  As I drove around the morning of the event distributing yard signs, I found porches all spruced up and ready for visitors.  In Spencers' Addition, also known as "The Alphabet Streets", lovely signs sprang up in gardens.

One house had shade tents set up and chairs for guests.  Another had a colorful sign for the artist playing later that afternoon.  Another house had a popcorn machine ready for the crowd.

On Warren Street in Old West Napa (my neighborhood) there were shade structures, chairs, sidewalk decorations, food and wine ready for visitors.  A great young band named Anadel played here.

At our house, John set up monitors on the porch to show the keyboards of the two grand pianos so that visitors could see all the hands in action.  The group, comprised of John, Melissa, Jeremy and Anne - played a program of Beethoven and John Phillip Sousa.  Mayor Jill stopped by to see "Eight Hands Afoot" in action. 

There was a lot of interest in the classical piano ensemble - so much so - that visitors arrived a half-hour early to get seats.  Fortunately we had some seats available on the porch, as some guest did not seem to get the message that they needed to bring their own chairs.

People arrived on foot, a few by car, and many on bicycles.  The video spot that John created which included the Eagle Cycling Club and members of the Napa Bicycle Coalition helped get the word out that the best way to get around to the 28 venues in 3 hours was to ride a bike!
Charlotte Watter did an outstanding job as the expert representative of the fictional "Napa Heritage Society".

Other videos for the event can be found at the Napa Porchfest channel on Youtube.

Feedback from the community has been extremely positive.  People were thrilled that this event was FREE, was for local residents, featured local talent, and focused on our own very special neighborhoods.  We definitely plan on having a Napa Porchfest in 2012 - so put July 29, 2012 on your calendar now. 

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Napa Porchfest 2011 - part 1

While it is still the day after, making this yesterday's news, I wanted to reflect on Napa's first Porchfest.  Porchfest is a music festival bringing home-grown music out of parlors and garages and onto the porch.  The idea was originally spawned in Ithaca, NY. in 2007.  Louisa Hufstader brought the idea of porchfest to Napa through the wonders of Social Media.  Those are capital letters because Social Media has become such an important internet gorilla that it carries extra special weight.  Google especially would like to be a Social Media gorilla.  But that is another story.

Social Media in this case was a Facebook link to an article in the Somerville Patch about Somerville considering having a porchfest.  Thea Witsil, friend, book lover, and even bigger music lover - chimed in immediately with the comment "Let's do it here in Napa!"  The discussion blossomed - online - then we expanded it to a real face-to-face meeting with all who expressed interest invited.  Our ad hoc committee was born under the auspices of Napa County Landmarks, whose board had the unanimous good sense to see a great community event in our historic neighborhoods as a good way to carry out our mission. 

Between January 10 and July 31, 2011, Napa Porchfest was born.  (My daughter Anna Pfeifer is on the left). 

It was not an easy birth, because none of us had done anything like this.  Thea wrangled music; I wrangled venues, permits, and logistics; Louisa wrangled media, press and Social Media outreach.  When we found ourselves stranded with a web address but no web master, John L. Poole, aka "JLPorchfest" stepped in and built a database and Napa Porchfest website that could serve up information on not just the musicians, but photos of all the houses and a map combining everything.  Then he proceeded to make promotional videos, one of which serves up the houses like Anette's chocolates.

We could not foresee all the logistical problems and possibilities - which was probably a good thing during the process.  Sunday morning it felt like Yazgur's farm before the rain.  Fortunately, we did not have hundreds of thousands of concert goers, and the genial Napa crowds ranged up to the hundreds.  They took seriously our request that everyone "pack it in and pack it out", ride bicycles, and bring chairs and sunscreen. 

"Blonde on a bike"

We pulled off a free music festival on 28 private porches in residential areas featuring over 40 musical groups and over 120 musicians.  I attribute the success of the event to strong personal ties and relationships, and also to Social Media (Facebook), which brought this idea to a little "marketplace of ideas" where it could bloom.

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