Election fun, electronic music, and seriousness

Well, we’re getting close, and things are looking good:

(This is a live link, so it will show the final results, and we’ll see how “good” things really went.)

One delightful election story that is rather apropos of this site involves Brian Dewan. He was in the news this past Saturday because of his performances of historical political folk songs (think mildly irritating songs about Jimmy Carter, Nixon or Eisenhower), but Dewan’s true claims to fame are his unqiue electronic musical instruments, including Melody Gins and Dewantrons, and “Folk Synthesizers.” We at CatSynth are delighted to see politics and our own art form crossing paths in such a direct and public way. As for Dewan’s instruments – we want one!.

This reminds me of how electronic music crossed paths for me during the previous elections, when I attended ICMC in New Orleans in 2006; and in 2004 as well, when my fellow electronic musicians and I watched the defeat at a bar in Miami. Things are looking much better this time.

We at CatSynth have also been quite amused by some of the humorous and well-designed sites that have recently appeared, most notably PalinAsPresident.com. This Flash animation depicts Sarah Palin as President (presumably after McCain’s untimely demise) in the form of an interactive game where you click on different objects (it reminds my a lot of Myst series and similar games from the 1990s). Humor abounds, as you uncover stashes from huge shopping trips, make Palin say goofy things like “Where’s Russia” and variations on “Maverick.” It is being updated every day through November 4th, and it’s always fun to come back and see what’s new. Hours, or least minutes of quality entertainment.

One thing that is not so entertaining: a mailer I received, using Barack Obama’s image and words to support Proposition 8. He is officially against it – though he hasn’t been particular vocal about the issue, mostly because of cultural blackmail in certain regions and among certain demographics. Nonetheless, it is really troubling, hopefully it doesn’t sway anyone in this largely Obama-supporting state.

The ad seemed largely targeted at African Americans, given the images and quotes from black clergy. It made me wonder about my own ethnic hertiges and their support for marriage equality. In particular, the Indian side of my heritage. I did find this survey thanks to Prerna. It suggests a 47% vote against proposition 8, which is far higher than I expected. Given my own experience (as well as the stereotypes of Indian Americans), I would have expected far lower, as we (i.e., South Asians) have an embarrassing track record on social and cultural issues. So on that note, I am somewhat optimistic. But both Prerna and I agree, “We can do so much better.”

And that’s true for the country as a whole, we can do so much better. Hopefully, we will chose that option, both nationally and locally…

More "Primary" Highways: Hawai'i

Well, another Tuesday, and another primary election here in the U.S. This time we visit the state Hawai'i, one of only six states I have not actually visited.

Even though it is disconnected from the U.S. mainland, it does have interstate highways, such as H-1 in the Honolulu area. Hawai'i uses a separate numbering system from the contiguous U.S. states, all prefixed with an “H”. Other than that they are pretty much like any other freeways around a major city:

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Except of course for the cool Hawai'ian place names:

This last photo is from the site hawaiiroads.com. Both this site and hawaiihighways.com are great resources for highways of Hawai'i, about which I knew very little before this project.

Of course, the part of Hawai'i I most want to visit is not Honolulu, but rather the “Big Island” of Hawai'i. In addition to being the largest, it is the youngest, and the one that is still volcanically active. Highway 11, which is part of the belt highway around the “Big Island”, passes through some of the most active areas including Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

In addition to their geological significance, these lava flows have a marvelous aesthetic quality. Indeed, the seem quite modern in their fluid geometry and texture, I could easily see a sculpture of similar qualities at the museums I frequent, or as something I would consider for my own collection.

Of course, one must not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about flowing molten rock, which is of a magnitude larger than ourselves or our highways:

Continuing on highway 11, one arrives at the Kaʻū Desert, a spectacularly lifeless landscape shaped by past eruptions, strong windows and “rain shadow” of the nearby volcanoes:

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[Photo by Steve Young]

The Big Island is an amazing study in contrasts, active volcanoes, barren deserts, and also verdant tropical forests. I do need to find an excuse to visit the island some day.

As for the elections, Hawai'i is likely to support Barack Obama, who grew up there (yet another interesting aspect of his geographical and ethnic story). And it looks like he has one the other major contest today in Wisconsin. So he now takes the lead, but it is hard to know whether this contest is over or not. And so we will be back with at least one more installment of this series on March 4 with Texas and Ohio.

More "Primary" Highways: Chesapeake Bay and Washington, DC

Well, things were not exactly “decided” after last weeks elections. And they haven't been exactly “decided” by tonight's results, either. So our series traveling the highways of primary states continues.

We ended last week crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. There is of course another “Bay Bridge”, back east across the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge carries US highway 50 (and US 301) across the bay between Maryland's eastern and western shore regions. On the west side is Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, and an area I remember fondly from visits in 1999 and 2000. The 1999 visit was during a rather intense heat wave, which made it a great time for swimming, as I can't stand cold water. And the towns along the Chesapeake, including Annapolis, are definitely water-centric. At the same time, however, the bay has been the site of intense environmental degradation and its restoration is still very much a work in progress. Indeed, the friend who I was visiting worked on wetland restoration, both in the area and nationally. Sadly, we fell out of touch several years ago. I fear I must have done or said something offensive, but I don't know what, and I would love to reconnect.

On the eastern side of the bridge, US 50 connects to several tourist towns on the shore, including Ocean City. Ocean City is the eastern terminus of US 50, and listed as the final destination on this sign at the western terminus in Sacramento:

Apparently that sign has been stolen several times.

We have already visited highway 50 in the series as it heads east from California through Nevada. Like I-80, US 50 crosses the country and thus shows up again and again in these contests. It also crosses Washington, DC as Constitution Avenue, passing by the most prominent monuments and buildings of our capital city:

[Click to enlarge]

And in the great interconnectedness of things, highway 50 crosses I-95 on the eastern side of Washington, DC., connecting south to Miami, or north to New York across the George Washington Bridge, where one can again switch to I-80 and head west back to California.

Washington, DC has a great motto on its license plates: “Taxation without Representation,” a reference to one of the great slogans of the American Revolution. We all learn about it in our history classes here in the US. Its presence on the license plate has to do with the fact that our capital district is actually governed like a colony with no representation in the US Congress, but totally under its control and whim. So it has neither representation, nor full self-determination, things we usually associate with democracy. Making DC a state would easily solve this problem.

But the district does get to vote for president and for party candidates, and tonight it looks like they went for Barack Obama, as did Maryland and Virginia. The race is nearly even. Things are of course very exciting, but I do worry that whoever wins the nomination will be weakened by the intense contest, and not necessarily able to win when it really counts. But the race goes on, and so will our series. We'll be traveling someplace else next week.

Super Tuesday Fun with Highways: I-80

So how to continue our “primary highway series” when so many states are voting at once? Well, we can't visit them all, but we touch several important places with a trip along Interstate 80. I-80 runs the entire width of United States connecting New York City to San Francisco, two cities to which I have connections. In between New York and California, it crosses three other states voting this Tuesday: New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. We have already visited two other states crossed by I-80, Iowa and Nevada, during earlier contests.

Actually, I-80 never enters New York. Rather, its eastern end is in Teaneck, a town on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge:

It would have been cool if I-80 crossed the bridge along with I-95 into New York. Perhaps then splitting at the Bruckner Interchange in the Bronx (yes, I had to get the Bruckner Interchange into this article) before heading out to Long Island.

North of New York City is Chappaqua, “hometown of CatSynth and Hillary Clinton,” as I have mentioned a few times on this site. And while it is my hometown in that I grew up there, Hillary's original hometown is a little bit west of New York and New Jersey, in Chicago. But of course you can get there by heading west on I-80, which passes through Chicago's southern suburbs.

Chicago is all the home of Barack Obama. So we have two candidates with Chicago roots, either of whom I would be very happy to support.

What a strange position to be in, to have such a choice – and I admit I have had a hard time deciding. There are historic opportunities with each, connections to various aspects of my own life (geography, education, mixed heritage). I guess it's much better than 2004 when I was excited about no one.

Traveling further west along I-80, we eventually come to Utah, a place of striking natural beauty that I would love to visit again soon. In the south are canyons, stone formations and other wonders of the southwest. In the north, along I-80, are the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats:

[Click to enlarge]

When they say salt flats they mean flat. It is an incredibly stark landscape, and that's part of what makes a great experience. And the silence. Longtime readers know how such things appeal to my personal and aesthetic sensibilities. Although I have been to the Great Salt Lake, I did not get to see Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, which is considered a major work of modern American art, and which I have seen reproduced countless times.

Heading further west, we cross Nevada and then arrive in California, where I-80 crosses the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, my new hometown.

I-80 actually ends as the western approach of the Bay Bridge, although most people (and road signs) suggest that it continues into San Francisco to US 101. This section of freeway actually cuts through my South-of-Market (SOMA) neighborhood, contributing to its urban, industrial feel.

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I did manage to find my polling place, and will soon have to make a choice as this election season reaches home. But it is great that those of us in California finally get to make a difference. Same for the folks in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. So many of us have had very little opportunity to actually have a say in the process, long dominated by Iowa and New Hampshire and the South. The rest of the country will finally have to listen to the people in our major urban centers and in the west. And I'll be satisfied with whomever we end up choosing (at least in one party).

Fun with highways: Des Moines, Iowa

Like a lot of people, our attention today was focused on Iowa. And within Iowa, on its capital and largest city, Des Moines.

My only personal experience with Des Moines is traveling through on I-80, one of several major highways that meet here, including I-35, US 65 and US 6. The main highway through the city itself is I-235, which includes this cool pedestrian bridge overlooking the downtown. It actually reminds me a bit of the pedestrian bridge to the Marina in Berkeley, CA – which happens to span I-80, just a few miles to the west.

[click for photo info]

But this pedestrian bridge across Gray's Lake is even more interesting:

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And yes, they hold this big event every four years in Iowa. And somebody gets to win it. This year, congratulations go to Barack Obama.

While we at CatSynth are not officially endorsing anyone (why would we do that?), we have enjoyed watching Obama's rise, along with the more youthful, energetic and sophisticated crowd that follows him – the same “college kids” that were sneered at in Iowa four year ago when they supported Howard Dean.

And of course we have no illusions about CatSynth's contribution, but it's a nice footnote if I he does go on to become President…