If I Had to Vote Today

So far, I’ve been genuinely undecided regarding the Democratic Party primary. I like both candidates for different reasons. As a Californian whose primary occurs in June, I still have time to stay undecided and watch how their campaigns unfold. But if I had to vote today, I would vote Hillary Clinton.

Both candidates are fantastic Democrats and neither candidate is perfect. In the end, Hillary has the best chance to enact progressive change for the United States. Her best asset is under-appreciated by Bernie supporters, which is her detailed understanding of the issues and policies that currently exist and that she wants to reform. This has been best demonstrated in the Democratic debates (which unfortunately have been underplayed and badly scheduled by Democratic Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz). Her grasp of the intricacies and nuances of the issues are the strongest. This matters because as president, she would be most prepared to work within the political system to enact change. The argument that she made in 2008 that she would be most prepared to lead from Day One of her administration is still her best argument for president.

The primary criticism of Hillary and one that seems most often launched from Bernie is her ties to the economic establishment, especially her ties to Wall Street. While Bernie’s populist plan is to break up the big banks, Hillary’s written plan to reform the financial industry was reportedly 10 times lengthier than Bernie’s plan. Again, Hillary’s strongest asset is her depth of understanding of the issues facing Americans. Bernie’s message may resonate more, but it is only because they make for feel-good slogans and sound bites (“too big to fail, too big to exist”). This is why his debate performances tend to be repetitive about Wall Street. However, Hillary’s ties to large financial firms through her speaking fees and accepted donations from the industry should not be ignored by voters nor by her campaign. She sidesteps the criticism by fairly noting that Obama has had similar ties, but hasn’t faced the same amount of scrutiny nor intensity of criticism. Nevertheless, the economic atmosphere that the middle-class is experiencing today is different than 8 years ago or even 4 years ago. While the economy has improved in many ways, the middle-class has yet to feel that recovery. It would be in Hillary’s best interest to take a page from Bill’s book and further connect to voters about this economic frustration.

Bernie is an attractive candidate for today’s economic atmosphere, but there are a lot of questions about his efficacy as a president. His strength among Democrats and liberals lie in his economic message that connects to many people, including me. On paper, he’s been a devout progressive. He’s been rated 100% by Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Human Rights Campaign for his congressional record, two organizations that endorsed Hillary. He promises to instate a single-payer health care system and most importantly for him, start a populist revolution that would take away power from the so-called political and economic establishment and bring it back to the people. While his message is attractive to the most liberal of the Democratic Party, there is still a real question about how he would achieve his goals once he’s president. He has yet to make a convincing argument about he would work to make his radical policies go through Congress (no one asked how he would do it in the last debate). For all the political capital that Obama had after his 2008 and 2012 election victories, he still publicly admitted this year that the rancorous, partisan political landscape of Washington D.C. and to a larger extent, the United States has not improved. Despite this, he still made meaningful change with the same incremental approach in which Hillary would most likely adopt.

When it comes to electability, Bernie has touted his strong numbers in general election polling. However, FiveThirtyEight has noted that general election polling this early has a weak relationship to the final outcome simply because we can’t fully predict what will happen in the final months leading up to Election Day. Bernie has yet to bear the full brunt of Republican attacks and criticism, while Hillary has held up to decades of GOP hate. As a far-left liberal, it would be a delight to see Bernie beat the GOP in a national race, but the fundamentals of his campaigning in Iowa indicates he has not generated as much support as Obama did in 2008 when Obama had a historic ground game there to beat Hillary.

Both Hillary and Bernie are worthy liberals (ISideWith.com had me at over 90% agreement for both candidates). It’s really cringeworthy for me to see their campaigns score cheap, political points through smears and disingenuous attacks. It would be ideal if both candidates stick to their strengths and not attack each other’s liberal worthiness. For Hillary, she’s still the frontrunner in the long-term because of her strong knowledge in policy and her political resiliency. It’s not in her best interests to attack the value of a single-payer health care system. Fortunate for her, she has pivoted and justly criticize the feasibility of such a radical reform when we’re still fighting to keep Obamacare alive. Furthermore, it seems especially unnerving when one of her political operatives co-opt a racial movement and claim “black lives don’t matter” to Bernie despite his record of working for civil rights groups in the ’60s. For Bernie, he bewildered many by calling Planned Parenthood part of the establishment after their political advocacy group endorsed Hillary. It seemed like a moment of unraveling for Bernie, who probably felt he was stabbed in the back by an organization that rated him 100% for supporting women’s health and reproductive rights.

In the end, Bernie may espouse popular liberal ideals, but he has yet to convincingly prove himself more with policy plans and a leadership strategy as rich in detail and scope as Hillary’s, especially in foreign matters where one has to effectively lead among leaders. While Hillary has made strategic missteps in her long political career, she’s at her best when she espouses her deep knowledge of policy and has withstood decades of GOP rancor. Her experience and understanding of foreign policy is thorough and she indeed would be the best to maintain and strengthen Obama’s achievements, which has been and will continually be attacked by conservatives. It’s time to make history once more, finally.

 

Regret and Relief

frontpage

Click here to see a PDF of the November 2004 “Election” issue.

Back in my college years at the University of California, Irvine, I had the privilege and pleasure to be a founding staffer for The Irvine Progressive, an independent campus publication started by members of the Young Democrats at UCI. I was layout editor and writer. I had zero experience in newspaper layout, but I did have an amateur interest in typography and layout design. I got myself a copy of Adobe InDesign and learned on the fly. I spent a lot of late nights figuring out how to fit articles into a defined space and laying it out to make it aesthetically pleasing and professional. It was a challenge, but I enjoyed exercising my creative expression and essentially creating a the jigsaw puzzle.

I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life, but one was losing my CD that held PDFs of our first three volumes of our issues and not seeing a smooth transition of the website when I graduate in 2005. All that’s left is archived pages at the Wayback Machine website. I was relieved to find an actual PDF of our November 2004 “Election” issue. This was our 2nd issue of our 3rd volume and 12 pages long. I think we started with 4 pages in early 2003. Not bad for students on a notoriously apathetic campus.

Dear Drum Corps Folks: Ditch the B-Word

This ain't a sousaphone.

This ain’t a sousaphone.

Over the recent years, I’ve noticed that many of us — by us, I mean those who are intimately involved in drum and bugle corps — have resorted to calling the activity “band” or “marching band.” I get it. At first, it was a funny and silly. The world champion Carolina Crown ran with it with their “purple pants band” meme in 2013. We were calling it band because we recognized the absurdity of the activity. If we reduced and rationalized the activity to its essence, then yes, it’s marching band. We chuckled at ourselves for working tirelessly for something that’s just…well…band. But by giving up on calling it drum corps, we’ve also given up on distinguishing it as an incredibly unique and different experience from all the other “band” activities. Calling it band is a discredit to ourselves and the work that we have done and continually do.

Everybody who has been involved in the activity share a common struggle of trying to explain what drum corps is all about to outsiders. But what outsiders do understand “marching band,” or to be more specific, the stereotypical paradigm of marching band. They picture the USC band with their sunglasses. They picture the Ohio State band doing the moonwalk (at an unbearably slow pace). They picture the movie Drumline. They picture the one high school band where all the sousaphones fell on each other as they marched backwards. They don’t see the endless rehearsals in 100 degree weather. They don’t see the logistical complexity of touring. They don’t see the injuries, which sometimes tragically end a performer’s season. They don’t see what instructors and performers sacrifice in time and finances to do this activity. And they especially don’t see the spectacular, creative, complex, and passionate shows. They just envision Pac-Man on the field. Is this the image we want them to see when we say “drum corps?”

I know. It’s hard work to explain drum corps to the uninitiated. As much as we explain it, it always feels they don’t get the gravity of the activity, especially when we use superficial analogies.

So what are we supposed to say about drum corps that doesn’t elicit confusion and wandering eyes? How can we avoid resorting to the “b-word?” Rather than describing the activity and the product on the field, which can never be truly describable in words, we would be better off describing the feelings of the experience–from auditions to rehearsal to touring–and then performance. In describing the feelings, we answer both the why and the what. We describe values that are universally resonant, such as camaraderie, teamwork, perseverance, passion, and adversity. This helps the uninitiated to move beyond the stereotypical paradigm of marching band. But describing the feelings also communicates the uniqueness of the activity. How your face light up when you speak about the drum corps experience should hopefully express that it’s a special experience that is shared only to a privileged few. It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood that comes together on Facebook during championship week and post pictures of themselves in uniform because we yearn to relive that camaraderie, teamwork, perseverance, passion, and adversity. It’s way more than just marching band.

How Many Cooks Does it Take to Make Scrambled Eggs?

“…but I know how to cook scrambled eggs.” That’s the usual answer from an inexperienced cook. The problem is scrambled eggs can be actually one of the more difficult foods to make, because there’s so many variations how to do it “right” (here’s a Slate.com piece about the many variations). And these variations result in different flavor profiles not just from different ingredients, but from different cooking methods as well. Here are my two favorite ways:

Gordon Ramsay’s French-style Eggs

Ramsay opts for the low and slow cooked eggs. Add salt and dairy (creme fraiche) at the end because the eggs are delicate and “alive.” This has been my preferred method for a while now.  They result in moist, pudding-like eggs with small, tender curds. The flavor is more buttery and very savory. These are NOT fluffy and airy. If you thought this method resembles making custard, you’re right. It’s pretty much curdled custard without the sugar.

Cook’s Illustrated Fluffy Eggs

If you’re familiar with Cook’s Illustrated (aka America’s Test Kitchen), they get very detailed with their recipes. Long story short: their cooking method requires scrambling over medium-high heat just until your spatula can run through the wet eggs and leave a space, then fold the eggs over low heat until they look almost done. Plate it immediately and the result is perfectly fluffy, airy eggs with a lighter egg flavor than Ramsay’s buttery egg “pudding.” It just took me a few seconds to cook a pair of eggs.

If you want more ADD-like details,

  • use a smaller frying pan (10 inches max for 8 eggs, smaller for less eggs), which helps create the fluffy volume in the eggs when the water evaporates during the cooking.
  • Add an extra yolk or two to maximize the egg flavor (I consider this optional)
  • Use half-and-half, which has the best water-to-fat ratio for eggs (milk was fine)
  • Salt the eggs before cooking as it helps loosen the proteins
  • Don’t overbeat the eggs

Here’s the Cook’s Illustrated recipe

 

What Millennials Are and Are Not

I remember the first time I heard the term “Millennial Generation.” It was a 60 Minutes report called The Millennials are Coming. When I watched it, I became annoyed at the condescending tone that comes from a privileged perspective. “Oh no, the Millennials not like the previous generation!” Yeah, that’s called progress. Let’s clear up some stereotypes about the Millennial Generation:

  • Stereotype #1: Millennials are lazy and entitled. This is a favorite complaint by every older generation. Well, it’s hard to get a job when the economy went to hell in 2008. It’s also hard to call a generation that has more bachelor’s degrees by percentage than any other generation lazy. We’ve worked hard and done what society has asked: Finish high school and get a college degree. Yes, we do demand more in job satisfaction and because of that, we’re picky with our occupations. Previous generations have relied on unions to get job security, reasonable working conditions, and benefits. Unions are weaker today, but educated millennials still value union-like demands. Millennials are less likely stay in a job that offers little in benefits and security not because they’re spoiled entitled brats, but they demand more in respect and workers’ rights. They just do it without unions.
  • Stereotype #2: Millennials only care about happiness and having fun. Just because we value these feelings doesn’t mean we only care about these things. We’re a generation that’s challenging the traditional notion that being miserable and tired is the only road to success (i.e., Protestant work ethic). Critics see this as a rejection of hard work. We’re not rejecting hard work, but simply changing work to make it meaningful and healthy. Why does the typical notion of work require sitting solitary at a desk or repetitively completing the same task for 8 hours (unless you love this stuff, then more power to you)? We’re the generation that loves Office Space, where the protagonist eventually chose a blue collar job that made him happier and Milton, the hard worker, enacts burning revenge. Science and research even supports the Millennial value of happiness. Harvard researcher Shawn Achor believes that happiness promotes more productivity. This is inverse of the traditional ethic of productivity leads to happiness, but Achor’s conclusion makes a lot of sense and it’s something that we Millennials have heard from–yes–the older generation: love your work and it won’t feel like work. Lastly, whereas critics may perceive happiness as temporary and juvenile, Millennials equate happiness with having meaningful relationships, helping others, and having gratitude. You know, good moral stuff.
  • Stereotype #3: Millennials don’t care about activism and politics. While this is a common complaint against the younger generation in general, this stereotype persists because Millennials are more disengaged in party politics. 50% of Millennials consider themselves politically independent compared to 32-39% of older generations, according to the Pew Research Center. We’re a diverse generation who understand diverse views. We’re perhaps the most tolerant generation as well. We don’t care if you use pot. Even 61% of young Republicans agree that same-sex marriage should be legal. Millennials are not attracted to the discord and hyperpartisan culture in American politics and their lack of party loyalty is a product of that. This might change the future political culture for good.
  • Stereotype #4: This generation is soft, overly sensitive, and too “PC.” I’m sorry to offend you with our tolerance and understanding.
  • Stereotype #5: They’re the “Me” Generation. For a nation that prides on individualism, society is pretty harsh on a generation that values…individualism. This complaint really should be applied to everybody that’s alive today. Social media and technological innovations have given the individual more power. The World is Flat. We can self-publish our work (hey, that’s what blogs are for!). We can distribute our own short films. A single Tweet or YouTube video can make an unknown into a celebrity. We can watch TV shows on our own schedule. These aren’t faults to be placed on a generation. It’s simply progress in an epoch of time.

The conclusion is that the Millennial Generation, as with every generation, is a product of their time. We live in a post-9/11, Great Recession, social media era. So we’re not like the Greatest Generation. Perhaps if World War III breaks out in the near future and my generation defeat Hitler Jr., we might overtake that title of greatest generation. Otherwise, we’ll continue to make life more meaningful, tolerant, just, and happier. That’s so “me.”

The Lost Excitement of Drum Corps Shows

 I’m happy that the spirit of the activity hasn’t changed. It’s still all about the members’ experiences and setting them up for successful performance in the face of logistical and environment challenges that touring holds. However, the product has changed and evolved. In recent years and recent weeks, it has evolved into something vastly different from the product I grew up to love in the late 90s and early 2000s. Frankly, I’m not excited about the product anymore.

That was my Facebook status today and I feel my thoughts should be expanded. I’ve experienced the activity as a fan, a performer, an instructor, and as an administrator. I marched in a World Class corps for four years as a contrabass/tuba player from 2002-2005. I then worked as a tour director and corps manager for the same corps from 2008-2013. I have a great appreciation for the history of the activity and its evolution from a small community activity in the 1950s to a national touring experience.

As I said in my status, the spirit of the activity hasn’t changed a bit and I’m happy about that. The product and the experience of witnessing that product has regressed. Now I’m not saying today’s shows are awful. It’s impressive to see the technical excellence and clarity that many corps possess. But they lack the exciting spectacle of shows of previous decades. I fell in love with the activity as a fan for three reasons: 1) it was an exciting spectacle; 2) it was face-melting loud; and 3) it was technically spectacular compared to HS and college marching bands.

There isn’t a single reason why shows have regressed. While many drum corps enthusiasts bemoan the recent controversial rule change allowing any brass instrument in performances, it’s only one of several reasons why this activity has lost the excitement and lure.

Reasons why DCI isn’t exciting anymore

  1. Lazy design solutions: All the instrumental rule changes–the B-flat brass, electronics, synthesizers, amplification, any brass–were lazy solutions to a problem that already had answers. All these changes were approved by designers who believed that by adding these elements, it would make for a more accessible and entertaining product. I understand that builders want more tools in the toolbox. But these changes (expensive changes, as I like to add) were more for the designer than the fans. I don’t think fans ever asked for these changes. I’ve never said, “I would love this show even more if they played B-flat instruments/electronics/synthesizers/amps/sackbuts.” Designers demanded these changes because they wanted to make it easier for them to design shows that they thought would be better and more exciting. The result has been less focus on excitement and more energy devoted to novelty.
  2. The instrumental rule changes have little positive impact on entertainment: I’ve had the privilege of playing both G and B-flats in my time and a dinky G bugle was way louder and more fun to play. I remember vividly sitting in front of the 1999 Blue Devils brass line (their last year playing in G) during their encore at the Riverside show and not being able to hear my clapping during their tuning sequence because they were so loud. Granted, there have been some loud B-flat lines, but I vehemently believe they would’ve been louder with G horns. Compare the amplified trumpet solos from the recent Blue Devils and the unamped soprano solos of the 90s-era Madison Scouts and you know what I’m talking about. Likewise, the addition of synthesizers haven’t brought more exciting shows. They have primarily been utilized to augment the bass usually provided by the marching tubas (and as a tuba player, this upsets me). Unfortunately and tragically, the limitations of portable amplified speakers in a football stadium negate the overall potential impact of these expensive synths. Unless you’re sitting between the 40 yard lines (especially at Lucas Oil Stadium), it’s very difficult to hear the amplified voices and tones. That’s pretty much ignoring 40-50% of the fans.
  3. Indoor stadiums are awful, awful, awful venues: The last DCI championship I enjoyed was 2008 at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. Even sitting at the 20 yard line with other corps members and staff, I enjoyed the performances immensely. There’s something about the open-air environment that allows for a proper listening experience and a more lively crowd. I’ve attending championships in Orlando, Boston, Pasadena, and Denver. They all had more buzz in the crowd than Lucas Oil. Sitting at the 20 yard line at Lucas Oil is a depressing experience. There’s a detrimental lack of clarity and a lack of dynamic range in the closed-rood venue. The brass is muffled and the drums are static noise. During Carolina Crown’s show, I didn’t hear a single amplified voice from where I sat.
  4. Paralysis by analysis: Having been on the instructor/administrative side of the activity for several years, I’ve witnessed an egregious amount of overanalyzing by judges due to the judging system. There are unnecessary performance judges that observe every minute detail, that’s it maddening to instructors. Overanalyzing by the judges has led to an activity that’s so obsessed with clarity and technical excellence, it’s led to the discouragement (or even penalization) of risk-taking in designing shows. This is particularly pertinent to corps outside of the top 6. While corps like Blue Devils and Carolina Crown can (literally) afford to take risks in design, rising corps are so afraid of losing clarity points that they avoid challenging (and exciting) drill, music, and choreography. I’ve heard judges, especially field judges, overanalyzing everything from foot placement, horn snaps, tone from a single player, even the fit of the pants! This results in corps spending rehearsal time over the smallest aspects of the show that most spectators won’t even notice. Rather than challenging themselves with fast and breathtaking drill to end a show, corps water down the drill to make sure the performers have a better chance to play with good tone. The same applies to difficult musical passages. The absurdity of all this is that everything the judges say are NOT new to the instructors. The instructors know everything that needs to get better with their corps performance. It’s the fact that judges care and value these minute details pressure corps to sweat the small stuff.

Brass arranger J.D. Shaw wrote a thorough opinion regarding the recent rule change (thanks to Ryan Turner for referring me to it). I’m a fan of Shaw’s arrangements with Phantom Regiment and Santa Clara Vanguard and he has a lot of good points, especially that the activity is always about the people in it, not the instruments. Shaw argues that we need to put faith in designers in incorporating these new instruments. As I said, it’s a lazy, misguided fix to an easy problem. If you think a trombone will make jazz repertoire more “effective,” you’re ignoring how exciting and loud the 1986 Blue Devils performed Channel One Suite with “just” baritones and euphoniums.

I understand my criticism of today’s drum corps shows may be part of the “old fart” generational gap or that maybe the novelty of drum corps has worn off as I’ve aged. But my favorite shows are favorites for a lot of other fans, young and old. And I think what I like isn’t outdated. Loud, fast, exciting, suspenseful, risky, emotional, beautiful. I want these words to describe today’s shows. Unfortunately, as I sat in Lucas Oil Stadium this past August, I rarely used them.

Anchorman 1 Outtakes Were Funnier Than the Sequel

Comedy sequels are usually never as good as their originals. Anchorman 2 was another case of bigger and louder, but not necessarily funnier. However, if you don’t know, Anchorman did have a sort of unofficial sequel before the recent Anchorman 2 release. It was called Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie (2004, IMDB, Wiki). Compiled of dropped sub-plots and alternate takes from the first movie, it was released on DVD in a special pack and I think it’s a little better than the actual official sequel. It had the low-budget charm and the quotable jokes that made the first film a success. Here are three of my favorite scenes from Wake Up, Ron Burgundy. 

Ron and the gang are lost in the woods

Champ’s long confession to Ron

Brick eating one of those falafel hot dog