Another Political Fantasy

Apparently, I’ve been living in a fantasy world lately.  The fantasy that I want to share this time is quite unrealistic.  It is like hoping that we elect a wise unicorn to the presidency.  It simply cannot happen.  So, if I were getting paid to philosophize, I’d call this a thought experiment.  But, since no one is paying me, I’ll stick to fantasy.  It sounds more fun that way.

My current fantasy is for elections to be anonymous.  And I don’t mean the current secret ballot kind of anonymous.  I mean the candidates would remain anonymous.  Basically, anyone who wants to be president would submit their names to their parties.  The parties would each choose a candidate, but would not announce the name of the candidate.  If anyone disclosed the name of a candidate, that candidate would be disqualified and the snitch would be imprisoned for election tampering.  Then, each party’s candidate would write up a speech outlining their positions and governing philosophy.  The anonymous speeches would be sealed in envelopes randomly labeled A, B, C, D. . . (I would also limit the number of parties.  We don’t want a thousand candidates.  But I’m not sure what a good limit would be.)  The envelopes would be delivered to a prominent actor to be read publicly.  (I like the idea of Morgan Freeman reading them, but it should change with each election cycle.  Meryl Streep would do an excellent job as well.)  They should also be printed in the news and made available online.  There would be a two week period where people would discuss the speeches.  Then, each candidate would present another speech in the same way as before, but modified (if they so choose) to incorporate the feedback.

Election day would be two weeks after the second set of speeches is presented to the public.  People would go to the polls and vote for Candidate A, B, C or D based entirely on the content of the two speeches.  The one who receives the most votes wins and that person’s name is revealed and sworn in as president.  The losers could out themselves if they so choose, but nothing official would disclose their identities.  And, finally, to keep the system honest, the speeches would be considered binding contracts.  Congress and the courts would treat ignoring or contradicting the contents of the speeches that resulted in election to be an impeachable offense.

Clearly, this is fantasy because we’d have to chuck more than half the Constitution to make it happen.  But just think how great it would be.  The entire election cycle would be less than two months.  Everyone could be an informed and engaged voter just paying attention while a famous person speaks.  It would remove sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, etc. as factors in the election since no one would know any of those things about the candidates.  Since the parties would pick their candidates, they would be a kind of filter.  We wouldn’t have to worry about nut-jobs like Trump that are despised by their own party.  It would break the current duopoly.  And it would completely remove likeability as a factor, since no one would know who was running.  And likeability might be the dumbest criteria for choosing a president there is.

I know it is a fantasy, but it is one worth indulging.  It takes some imagination, but get a transcript of some of the campaign speeches and read them in Morgan Freeman’s voice.  You might be surprised at what they have to say.  With many of the candidates being famous, everyone goes into the election knowing who they love and who they hate.  That’s a huge barrier to electing the best person for the job.  I wish we could find a realistic way of changing it.

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A Political Fantasy

I have a fantasy every four years and I want to share it.  It isn’t fantasy as in impossible.  I don’t want to elect a wise unicorn to the presidency or anything like that.  My fantasy is entirely possible, it just won’t ever happen.

In a nutshell, my fantasy is for all of the people running for president to only talk about things that the president has the legitimate power to do.  I’m struck every four years by the fact that almost nothing the candidates say falls under legitimate presidential powers.  They talk about taxes, but it’s Congress that decides taxes.  They talk about education, but it’s states and towns that make real education policy.  They talk about abortion, but (barring a Constitutional amendment) only the Supreme Court can overturn Roe v. Wade.  The list goes on and on.  All the candidates do is talk about things that can only be done through Congress, the states or the Supreme Court.  It’s weird.

In my fantasy world, Donald Trump would tell us who he would appoint to the Supreme Court and why.  Bernie Sanders would tell us who he would name Secretary of the Treasury and why.  Hillary Clinton would tell us how she would instruct the Department of Justice to respond to cases like Colorado where there is a conflict between state and federal drug laws.  Ted Cruz would tell us what his criteria for pardons would be.  John Kasich would tell us how he would use executive orders within the current regulatory framework.  And it would be marvelous.

Just think about it.  The people running for President would actually try to let us know what their presidency would look like.  Instead we get all these promises that would be difficult even with a sympathetic legislature and judiciary.  It’s not like Trump could build a wall since Congress would refuse to fund it.  Clinton isn’t getting universal pre-K as long as Republicans control the majority of the states.  And Sanders certainly isn’t breaking up the banks without a super-majority in Congress and a much more sympathetic judiciary.  As long as presidential candidates keep trying to sell us fantasies to get elected, my fantasy will remain for them to talk about the realities of the presidency.

One More Try

For some reason, many (not all) people are either unable or unwilling to see the sexism being directed at Hillary Clinton this primary season.  I know I’ve been going on about this, but I thought I’d give it one more try.  But, this time I’m going to go about it differently.  I’m going to provide a list, for those having difficulty avoiding sexism, of legitimate reasons not to vote for Clinton.

  1. If you are against women controlling their own reproductive freedom and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  You probably want a Republican.
  2. If you are anti-immigration, either because of wage depression or xenophobia, and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  All of the other candidates are better for you.
  3. If you believe that the gun industry (or any industry) should be protected by Congress from civil litigation and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  Again, all of the other candidates are better for you.
  4. If you are against universal pre-K, and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  You’re going to want a Republican in this election.
  5. If you are for massive amounts of debt for public colleges and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republicans are better for you on this.
  6. If you want to keep tax rates as low or lower than they are now and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republican candidates are much more likely to keep tax rates down.
  7. If you are against free trade agreements and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  All of the other candidates are against free trade.
  8. If you are against the Affordable Care Act, either because government should stay out of healthcare or because it doesn’t go far enough and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republicans will help if you want government out of healthcare and Sanders is your man if idealism is that important.
  9. If you are a pacifist and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  Bernie Sanders or a third party candidate will be your best bet for pacifism.
  10. If you are against trying to mitigate the effects of global warming and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republicans have this covered.

Obviously, this is not a complete list.  I just want to point out the important features of this list.  First, it sticks to actual issues and positions of the candidates.  Second, at no point does it assume that Clinton is nothing more than an extension of her husband.  Whatever you think of her, she is her own person with her own ideas and agency.  Third, it doesn’t play into any pre-existing stereotypes.  Let’s face it, when people try to make issues out of Clinton’s work, looks, decisiveness, income and shrillness (among other things) they are playing into those stereotypes.  I know this will raise hackles, but there is nothing you can say about Clinton in these areas that doesn’t also apply to all of the other candidates in this, and any other, election cycle.  Even Bernie Sanders is rich (certainly by my standards, and most regular people’s standards), has excepted compensation from institutions most people despise (The House of Representatives and Senate), fails to look presidential, yells a lot and has voted for things in the past (like the Crime Bill) that he now feels differently about.  Finally, I avoided talk of Clinton’s personality altogether.  This isn’t an election to decide who we’d like to hang out with.  And, I’d really like to think that people’s decision to not vote for Trump or Cruz or Sanders has nothing to do with their personalities because it shouldn’t.  The decision should be based solely on the issues.

And, just as a reminder, I know this list isn’t for everyone.  Many people have already made up their minds for non-sexist reasons.  Also, this shouldn’t be taken as advocating a vote for Clinton.  It is just to aid those of you who don’t want to vote for Clinton, but are struggling to find a non-sexist way to do that because I’m really sick of trying to navigate through the truly abhorrent mass of sexism every morning as I try to read the news.  I hope this helps.

The Real Problem With Bernie’s Unqualified Comment

I wasn’t going to comment on this.  When I saw on the news on Thursday that Bernie Sanders had said that Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be president, I was going to ignore it.  I was sure about a million other people would talk about it, so why add my voice?  Plus, I’m completely sick of this election.

I was partly right.  About a million other people did talk about it.  The problem was that no one seemed to talk about the actual problem with the statement.  Some people came to Clinton’s defense and spelled out her qualifications.  Others attacked Sanders by saying that he is less qualified than Clinton.  And still others agreed with Sanders saying that Clinton isn’t qualified.  No one that I saw, though, commented on the first thing I noticed in the statement, sexism.

I have no idea what Sanders was thinking when he made the statement, but it is really the perfect example of dog-whistle sexism.  He didn’t mention gender at all, but the only way questioning the qualifications of a former senator and secretary of state could land is by picking up on some kind of bigotry.  That may not have been his intention, and I’m willing to give Sanders the benefit of the doubt, but even unintentional sexism is wrong and Sanders needs to stop it.  And someone much more important than I am should let him know.

City Rats and Sexism

There are rats in New York City.  That probably doesn’t surprise anyone.  In fact, there are lots and lots of rats.  Estimates range from 2-10 million rats.  Even on the low end, 2 million rats is a lot of rats.  There are also people in New York City.  This, again, probably doesn’t surprise anyone.  In fact, there are lots and lots of people.  The current estimate is about 8.5 million people living there and roughly 50 million annual visitors.  The truly surprising thing is the sheer number of those people, especially those visitors, who have never seen a rat in New York City.

New York City is roughly 470 square miles.  That means there are (again using the low end of the estimate) 4255 rats per square mile.  It seems like with that many rats running around, most people would just bump into one every once in a while.  I know that the rats aren’t evenly distributed, but they go where the food is and the food is around people.  I know that rats are mostly nocturnal, but New York is the “City That Never Sleeps”.  I also know that the rats don’t want to be seen, but they are quite brazen about taking any food they can find and everyone who has been to New York has seen litter in New York.

I think I was in college the first time I saw a rat in New York City.  I grew up in Connecticut, so I had been to New York a bunch of times before college, but I never saw a rat.  I’m pretty sure I had walked right past them without seeing them.  I think that’s common.  The first one I saw was at Grand Central Station.  I was early for my train, but broke, so I was just sitting there waiting for the train.  I saw something move on the tracks.  I couldn’t figure out what it was at first.  I thought it was someone’s small dog that had gotten loose.  It was when it squeezed through a hole that I couldn’t even see that it clicked, that was a rat.

Since seeing that first rat, I don’t think I’ve taken a trip to New York City without seeing at least one rat.  I’ve seen them on the street, in alleys, under food stands, in trash cans and in the parks.  They really are everywhere.  I find it hard to believe I went the first 20ish years of my life without seeing one.  But, from talking to others, it seems that my story is fairly common.

There is sexism in the world.  That probably doesn’t surprise anyone.  In fact, there is lots and lots of sexism.  The statistics are everywhere.  Women only earn 79% of what men earn Only 4.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women1 in 3 women are victims of domestic violence.  I could go on and on, but even if this were all the sexism, that’s a lot of sexism.  There are also people in the world.  This, again, probably doesn’t surprise anyone.  In fact, there are lots and lots of people.  According to the best estimates, there are more than 7.4 billion people.  The truly surprising thing is the sheer number of those people who have never noticed an incident of sexism.

There are roughly 3.7 billion women on the planet.  That means that about half of the people in the world are possible targets of sexism.  It seems like with so much sexism and so many possible targets, everyone would notice sexism more than every once in a while.  I know that much of the sexism takes the form of microaggressions, but much of it doesn’t.  I know that most people don’t think of themselves as sexist, but that won’t stop people from noticing sexism in others.  I also know that victims don’t always talk about their experiences, but that can’t be an excuse.  No one would say a murder isn’t real because the victim stays silent.

I was in high school, starting my first job, when I first saw and really noticed sexism.  I know I had seen sexism before that, I just hadn’t really paid attention to it.  I see now that there was sexism in things like gendered chores and the fact that girls played the flute while boys played the trumpet.  But, as a kid, I didn’t really notice these things.  My first job was in a restaurant, cooking and washing dishes, and the sexism was impossible to ignore. There was the common sexism, like waitresses making more money by wearing tighter clothes, but it got much worse. There were sexist jokes, like calling the seafood platter a “hooker”. There was the fact that men could hold any position, but the women were only hosts or wait staff. There were the near constant discussions among the cooks about the women’s looks, clothes and what they might be skilled at. And there were even scheduling decisions based on who was cute enough for the Saturday night shift.

Since noticing the sexism at my first real job, I see and notice sexism all the time.  It’s in almost every school, workplace, club, movie, TV show, album, website and commercial I see.  It is everywhere.  Now that I notice it, I can’t help but see it.  I know I’ve been seeing sexism my whole life, and it’s embarrassing that it took me sixteen years to really start noticing it.  Also, it’s disheartening that that makes me better than many, if not most, other people.

It is easy to dwell on the negative, and clearly there is a lot of negative to dwell on.  I’m generally an optimistic person, though.  I choose to find something positive in my experiences.  That positive is the fact that even as an idiot teenager, I was able to recognize sexism and it has been impossible for me to miss it since.  I’m inclined to believe that the same would be true for others.  If we can get others to see and recognize sexism, they will continue to see and recognize it.  And more people recognizing sexism will lead to legitimate social pressures to curb sexism, which will lead to less sexism.  At least that is my hope.

The trick is getting people to recognize sexism when they see it.  Hectoring and yelling won’t do it.  That’s more likely to get people to close off than open up.  Illustrations probably won’t help much either.  Seeing a rat in a zoo isn’t going to help anyone notice a rat in New York.  People need to recognize sexism when they see it in its natural environment.  I can see the arts helping.  Most people are pretty good at seeing the connections between art and life.  But I think the most effective way is to just talk about it, especially with children.  When I say talk, that is what I mean.  Scolding and shaming won’t work.

We have a tendency to treat sexism as taboo.  We don’t talk about it in normal circumstances.  But I don’t understand why.  We talk about all kinds of other bad things that we encounter each day.  Many of us can’t wait to get to work so we can tell our coworkers all about that idiot who blew right through the stop sign.  And we take delight in sharing our experiences being stuck behind that person with at least twenty items in the express check out line.  So, let’s start talking freely about that idiot car salesman who only addresses the man when a couple walks in.  Let’s gossip about the jerk who thinks it’s OK to start talking to a woman even though she is clearly talking to her friend.  Talking can only help.

I’ll end this by saying that I know my analogy can’t be taken too far.  City rats and sexism are alike in that they are invisible to many people and once they are noticed, a person can’t help but notice them.  That’s as far as it goes, though.  Rats are actually pretty amazing creatures and I’m sure they fill an ecological niche somewhere.  Sexism has nothing positive to recommend it.  The sooner we recognize that, the better.

Music Collecting – Classical

I have been an avid, some might say obsessive, music fan for as long as I can remember.  As a result, I have a much bigger collection of music than anyone with as little money as I have had should have.  Recently, I decided to start cataloging my collection.  It’s in pretty rough shape after a couple of moves.  It’s partly still in boxes and partly on shelves in three different spots in the house.  Not only is it not alphabetized, it isn’t in any order whatsoever.

So, I’m using Discogs.com to catalogue the collection.  I started with my classical collection.  I went through and pulled out every classical release I could find (this includes orchestral soundtracks), entered them into Discogs and put them together on a couple of shelves in the basement.  There were 166 classical releases.  I know that’s not all of them.  I know I own Patrick Stewart narrating “Peter and the Wolf”, but I couldn’t find it.  And I know I own a 2 disc Phillips set of the complete Brahms symphonies, but I couldn’t find that either.  I wouldn’t be surprised if my classical collection tops out around 200, but 166 was what I could find in my first pass.

It’s been a nice trip down memory lane doing this project.  It’s amazing how many pieces have distinct memories associated with them.  In fact, I don’t think there was a single piece, as I’m sure there will be when I get to some of the bigger parts of my collection, where I didn’t know that I own it or didn’t know why I own it.  I thought it might be nice for me, since I’m sure no one else is interested, to share some of those stories.

Like most every American my age and younger, my first exposure to classical music was through cartoons.  I knew “Kill the Wabbit” long before I knew what a Wagner was.  I would also hear it through my parents, occasionally on the radio (NPR) and some other random places.  I certainly didn’t know much of anything about it until fourth grade.  That was the year when we got to pick an instrument in school.  I picked the French Horn (although I never call it that now, it’s just the Horn).  I had no idea what a Horn sounded like or what it was used for.  I thought it looked really neat.  It was all shiny and gold with tons of twists and turns.  My parents, as always, were very supportive and encouraged me by buying me my first piece of Horn music.  It was a vinyl copy of “The Art of Dennis Brain” on the Seraphim label.  I still have it and still love it.  If you know any aspiring Horn players, it’s a great place to start.

Since I was a Horn player, a lot of my collection is Horn-centric.  I am partial to Dennis Brain, Hermann Baumann and Lowell Greer.  And then there’s Mason Jones.  The one and only prerecorded cassette I ever owned was Mason Jones performing the four Mozart Horn Concertos with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.  It was given to me by my high school band director.  I’ve long since lost track of the cassette, but a few years ago, I found and purchased the same recording on vinyl.  It is wonderful.  But the thing I always think of when I pull that album out is my third private teacher.  He was the one that started me playing the Mozart concertos.  When we started, he told me I should get a copy, either Brain or Baumann.  I told him that I already had a copy, but it was Mason Jones playing.  He was surprised and made me bring in my copy to show him.  It turns out that Mason Jones had been his Horn teacher.  He decided that that recording was acceptable.  I’ve felt a connection to Mason Jones ever since.  He’s almost my Horn grandfather.

Another big chunk of my collection comes from band, chamber and orchestral pieces that I’ve performed.  This is how I came to have Smetana’s Mouldau.  I didn’t enjoy playing the piece, and I don’t particularly like listening to the piece.  But, I had to learn it, and in the days before the internet, that often meant picking up a copy for reference.  I also discovered some things that I love through the same process.  I first encountered Shostakovich because we were performing his Festive Overture.  I still listen to that CD quite a bit and Shostakovich, if he isn’t my favorite, is certainly in my top five composers.  His String Quartets are wonderful.  And I first discovered Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture when my college orchestra performed it and it is one of my favorite pieces of music in any genre.

One disc that I have a real personal connection to is “Portraits of Freedom: Music of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris”.  When I was in college, my third year I think, our orchestra played a fundraiser for a local school in Kingston, NY.  We performed Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Lincoln Portrait”.  “Peter and the Wolf” and “Lincoln Portrait” are both narrated, and we had James Earl Jones do the narration.  I’m about the biggest Star Wars fan you’d ever want to meet and I got to perform live, on stage with the voice of Darth Vader.  It was even more awesome than it sounds.  A couple years later, I ran across “Portraits of Freedom” and it has a recording of “Lincoln Portrait” featuring James Earl Jones.  The only way it could be better is if it were a recording of my orchestra.

Looking over my whole collection, my preferences clearly run modern, as in early to mid-twentieth century.  I also seem partial to Russian, British and American composers.  Not that I have anything against the Germans and Italians, I just like the Allies better.  I do seem to have an aversion to French composers.  I have one collection of “French favorites.”  I got that because my high school orchestra was performing Ravel’s “Pavanne For a Dead Princess”.  It’s not one of my favorite pieces, but it does feature the Horn prominently.  I also have a CD of Bernstein conducting Bizet.  I’m pretty sure that’s the extent of my French music.  For whatever reason, I respect the French composers, but I can’t seem to enjoy them.

I also seem to be partial to the low end of the orchestra.  Give me anything with a Double Bass, Bassoon or Tuba and I’m pretty happy.  Even as a player, I liked the low end.  First Horn is where the famous bits are, but I loved playing the second Horn parts.  The Horn has a broad range, but I always felt more comfortable with the Trombones and Cellos than the Violins and Trumpets.  It definitely shows in my collection.  I have more Bassoon concertos than Trumpet concertos and I have more Tuba music than Flute music.

Now that classical is (mostly) done, I’ll start the next section.  I’m not sure what that will be.  I’ll just open a box and see what jumps out at me.

 

 

 

What’s Good For His Revolution Won’t Be Good For Bernie’s Presidential Hopes

Bernie Sanders wants to be President of the United States.  He also wants to start a “revolution” against the “billionaire class.”  Unfortunately for him, these are incompatible goals.  In fact, Bernie’s ascent to the Oval Office would be about the worst thing that could happen to his revolution.

This is something I’ve been feeling for a while, but I’ve been having trouble articulating it.  While reading this piece in Bookforum, though, I finally figured it out.  The piece is worth a read, but it is a little long, so let me summarize.  The piece is about two new books, The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson and Democracy In Black by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.  Dyson is, and has been, a fan of Obama.  He praises a lot of things that Obama has done and tends to find excuses, like Republican obstructionism, for Obama’s failings.  Glaude was an “Obamaphile” in 2008, but has since become a vocal critic.  He says that Obama has utterly failed the African American community.

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with Bernie and his revolution.  Basically, Glaude was to Obama in 2008 what people who are “feeling the Bern” are to Sanders now.  Glaude bought the “Hope and Change” rhetoric completely.  He believed Obama was going to be a transformative president.  When Obama failed to live up to those hopes, Glaude became completely disillusioned.  And that’s not uncommon.  Many of Obama’s most ardent supporters from 2008 are now completely incapable of seeing any of the good he has done.  Bernie’s supporters believe in the revolution.  They believe that he will take on Wall Street and the billionaire class.  They believe he will do something about income inequality.  Plus, he’ll get us single payer health care and free education once he has broken up the banks.  The thing is, though, as president, he won’t do any of those things.  Being wildly optimistic, the best we can hope for out of a Sanders presidency is Obama part II.

The President of the United States just isn’t a revolutionary position.  It is the most elite position in the establishment, but it is fully entrenched in the establishment.  Revolutions, at least the type of populist revolution that Bernie is talking about, work from the bottom up, not the top down.  There is simply no mechanism in place for the president to break up the banks or raise the minimum wage or forgive student debt.  All of the things that Sanders wants require cooperation with Congress or the courts or both.  Since the Senate has consistently refused to fill court vacancies with Obama’s picks, the judiciary won’t have enough sympathetic judges to help the revolution.  And since Bernie seems completely disinterested in the Democratic under-ticket, the Republicans are going to retain control of Congress which means that there will be no support for the revolution in Congress.  In other words, none of the things that Bernie talks about will come to pass.

When all of Sanders’ rhetoric comes to naught, his most ardent followers will become disillusioned, just like Glaude did with Obama.  When that happens, the revolution will die.  Disillusionment cannot sustain a revolution.  A revolution needs either anger or success.  A Bernie presidency cannot provide either.