From Temora to Tampa

Although I don’t remember exactly when it was, I do remember quite vividly seeing the pianist, Roger Woodward play at the Temora Town Hall, many years ago. Temora is a small town north-west of Wagga Wagga. Vividly, I recall my friend Richard and I getting in the car on a Saturday night in the early 90s (when we were both living in Wagga and looking for interesting things to do) and driving the ninety minutes to Temora. Suffice it to say, the town hall was packed. People had obviously come from many miles around to see a world class pianist play in their town. The local CWA (or whatever) had organised sandwiches and cups of tea. Plastic chairs had been laid out. Simple microphones had been arranged on a stage that would have one week been hosting the local footy awards, the next week hosting a wedding. And obviously, since the memory of the evening remains, I can only assume we must have had a great night. As I understand it, Woodward continues to play these small country towns, even though he obviously doesn’t “need” to. I suspect he does it because he likes it.

The contrast between that performance in Temora and last night’s performance at the City Recital Hall cannot be understated. My friend Sam and I went last night. On arrival, we had a glass of champagne, not a cup of tea. Looking around the room, there was a similar age mix to that at the hall in Temora, but the crowd was different in quite a significant way. This was an audience of serious classical music fans with a program of Bach and Shostakovich.

And unlike the performance in Temora, where we were close to the back of the hall, we had great seats in the fourth row. We were close enough to see just how amazing Roger Woodward is as a performer. His dexterity is amazing. His concentration is unbelievable. Before attempting a piece, he sits down, he almost sighs, he prepares himself, and then his hands move at a thousand miles an hour. This was particularly evident in the first half, “The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1” by Bach.

For my money, though, I much preferred the second half, “24 Preludes And Fugues, Op. 87” by Shostakovich. There was so much more variety in this work. At times gentle and loving, at other times smashing and bashing. You could just see from the look on his face and the way in which he played, this was also a work that he must have loved.

And then tonight, Damien and I went to a talk about the influence of the internet on American politics.

The talk was given by Matt Bai who

writes on national politics for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, where he is currently covering the 2008 presidential campaign. He is the author of The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, a critically acclaimed and controversial account of the “new progressive movement” in America and the people who built it. The Argument was the only political book to be named a ‘’New York Times Notable Book for 2007. Bai’s most recent work for the Times Magazine includes cover stories on John Edwards’s campaign against poverty, Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign, the meaning of “Clintonism” and John McCain’s foreign policy. He publishes frequent short essays in the magazine and has a campaign blog (now billed as a weekly column) on the Times website called The Primary Argument.

The essence of his argument was that, like television fifty years ago, the internet had begun to influence the political process. Of course he cited all the facts and figures about fundraising and mentioned all of the youtube stuff, but he also gave some anecdotal examples of how people who would not otherwise have become involved in politics were doing so through the internet. In particular, he mentioned the group Move On, comparing it with Australia’s equivalent Get Up. “Is anyone here a member of Get Up?”, he asked. A few people put up their hands. “I’ll bet there’s more”, he said, “because I’ve noticed you Australians don’t like to say how you vote. In America, loads of people would have put their hands up, even if they weren’t members”.

He was in two minds, however, about the internet. On the one hand it had the potential to be a great force for democracy. He thought it was great that people were getting involved. He also noted how the mindset of the “internet generation” – the group that wants multiple choices, accountability, openness etc – will have an ongoing effect on the political process. However, he noted there was also a culture of affirmation. No one really wants to hear anything challenging. They just want someone to say they’re correct in their views. I think there’s more than a grain of element in that, as I find most political blogs incredibly boring. Mostly they just seem to be the usual suspects saying the expected things. There’s not a lot to surprise or challenge on most of the political blogs I’ve read. In short, they’re boring, unpredictable, and just a little bit undergraduate, with an emphasis on “culture wars” and such.

You just knew from what he said he was a Democrat through and through, though not one with a closed mind. He said that he saw a great deal of positivity in the potential for a John McCain presidency because, like Obama, McCain broke the mould of his party. His thesis was that Obama won the nomination long before Hillary conceded. He said the evidence was that progressive Democrat voters still love the Clintons, but they hate “Clintonism”. In essence, they believe Clintonism was far too centrist and allowed for too many conservative compromises. He also believed that by November, almost all of Hillary’s supporters will have come to the support of Obama. “They’re Democrats through and through, and they just won’t be able to bring themselves to vote for a Republican, even if it is John McCain”, he observed.

The core audience for these Sydney Institute talks is older and conservative voting. But tonight, it was a little broader. There were a lot of younger people (20s, 30s), and I suspect a lot of progressive voters. Aside from Gerard and Ann Henderson, the only face I recognised, however, was the Middle East blogger, Antony Loewenstein. Bit of a spunk, really :)

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