Sunday, December 18, 2016

A New Hartford Convention?

n 1812, we were tripped into a war that did not enjoy the full support of a majority of the American polity, one that quickly turned into a disaster. The schoolbook history pretends this war was was a victory, because we happened to win the biggest and last battle of the war, which was actually fought *after* the peace treaty settling the war had been signed (thanks to communication delays of the time). That the war was largely expansionist (freedom of the seas, while indeed a serious problem with Britain, was not a new problem in 1812, but made a convenient cassus belli) is often forgotten. It was desired by southern and western blocs because those persons desired more land, British land, for expansion, and more room for slavery to grow.

The reason the declaration of war was possible was because of the 3/5 rule. If you're not familiar with this, check out the Constitution. It gave slave-holding states extra representation in Congress, as part of the compromises of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, by counting all slaves as 3/5 of a person for purposes of representation, even though they weren't considered human beings with representational rights. This paradox -- relying on slaves to maintain a political majority despite having a populational minority -- was at the heart of the political fighting that went on until the 1860 Presidential election finally put the matter to head when a plurality-winner in the popular vote, Abraham Lincoln, won the clear majority of electoral votes.

In 1814, a group of New Englanders -- devastated by the war most of them hadn't supported, and unable to find purchase in a government that was not proportionately representational to their numbers -- met in Hartford to consider a number of means of forcing constitutional redress. Although characterized by contemporaries and many later historians as a "secessionist" movement -- and secession from the Union was in fact discussed as an option, to be sure -- the primary problem discussed was how the Republic had been advanced to the point, 38 years after independence was declared, that the power of the federal government could be moved to war, the most extreme state of affairs possible for a nation, on the basis of a minority of its electors.

The Hartford Convention sort of fizzled out after a few months of deliberation, because of the Battle of New Orleans and the succeeding news of the Treaty of Ghent having been signed in late December, 1814, ending the war, removed the most urgent and immediate problem the convention was called to discuss.

I wonder how the history of our country might have played out differently had the sequence of events not been as it was -- if we had had, in effect, a second constitutional convention addressing this inequality in our political balance that went to its logical conclusion of making a concrete proposal, possibly an ultimatum. The compromises of 1820 and 1850, splitting the baby down the middle, forestalled the civil war but didn't address the major problem of discord in the 1850's, which was that a conservative Supreme Court and a slave-state minority increasingly tried to impose slavery on the rest of the country -- through attempted expansion to the west, and the abrogration of the rights of non-slaveholding states to provide sanctuary for escaped slaves, or even those born free (such as Solomon Northrup) who were kidnapped into slavery.

Might we have averted the civil war? And would the electoral college, already considered a problem in 1815, have been addressed by the threat of a split in the Union?

And I am in turn wondering if we might today convene a sort of rump convention of our own, Hartford style, to discuss these parallel modern issues among the aggrieved majority in our country, in solidarity with one another, and not in quaking fear of the tyranny of the extremist minority which controls our government?

Friday, February 05, 2016

Neologism: Emailzheimers

emailzheimers. The inability to find a message in your inbox you left as a reminder to yourself, due to forgetting the keywords upon which to search and dredge it up out of the archives.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie

David Bowie

There are many eulogies for David Bowie today, and many personal reminiscences, and I cannot say that I have much to add to the discussion of his musical or cultural legacy in the broadest sense. I liked a lot of Bowie, loved some of his work (probably not yours - my favorite LP is Low, a hit-free record; I always thought “Let’s Dance” was literally a joke by Bowie, maybe to settle a bet he could get a number one hit if he chose to), but I was not a hardcore fanboy the way I am or have been for some other contemporaries.

But Bowie was my avenue to becoming a better human being in a particular way, which in many ways is superficial, not profound, but real nevertheless. Bowie converted me from being a homophobe as an adolescent; not entirely directly, but by understanding he was very important to people around me, and in that subtle walk between establishing my own identity and unearthing empathy and activating it for adult use, I’m pretty sure he saved me from being (more of) an asshole than what could have been.

Let me set the wayback machine to the mid-70s. If you were a boy living in the midwest back then, you can be pretty sure you’d be called a faggot as a routine insult. It was part of the territory-marking process of males, setting pecking orders, and if you were different in any way from the pack, you were a “faggot”. Adults made disparaging remarks about homosexuals, particularly men, routinely. Without much understanding of what it was, it was made clear by people around me all the time that being gay was just about the worst thing ever.

It’s hard as hell being an adolescent, and I can’t ever quite appreciate how hard it must have been back then to be gay in that kind of culture.  Developing a sexual identity is a universal part of being a human being, and the conflicting mass of messages from societal norms, moral strictures, the throbbing mass of our tribal and family cultures come into paradoxical conflict with one’s own developing personal identity.

I do know that as a young, virginal straight male, in the 70’s. it felt imperative to establish I AM NOT A FAGGOT from well before the age of physical sexual maturity. The urge to do this was strong and came with many perceived advantages. Advertising availability to the opposite sex; having access, at least in theory, to mainstream groups of peers; not getting beaten up.

So in my earliest teen years, I participated in the disparaging jokes. I called other kids “fag”, although it never felt as satisfying being on the giving end as it felt degrading being on the receiving end. I wore “Death Before Disco” t-shirts with an explicit anti-gay message (and no one called me out on it). And I hated David Bowie. Because, you know, he was a faggot.

Bowie’s gender-ambivalence/questioning need not be explicated, but it should be remembered the concept of gender spectrum and identity was pretty much binary back then. As a consumer of pop culture, I had little appreciation of nuance. I picked my first 7 inch record purchases because the songs were popular, and I wanted to be part of that feeling, if not the reality. (For the record - my first purchases, in 1976, a year before I discovered punk, were “Silly Love Songs” by McCartney/Wings and with recognition of the appropriate retro-irony, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Sir Elton John and Kiki Dee. I’ve always been a romantic.)

Why would I like Bowie? The word down from the older kids, especially the boys, was if you liked him you were a fag, too. So other than the odd song on the radio, I never listened to any Bowie, nor did I seek him out.

Evolving one’s taste in music, at least pop music, is also a common exercise of adolescent identity-building. Like the John Cusack character in High Fidelity, I’ve occasionally rearranged my record collection in autobiographical order. It’s a history of influence as much as self-discovery. First, following my older sisters’ favorite artists (Carole King! Gilbert O’Sullivan!), and the ones popular with other kids in my class (see also: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.) Buying an album because I liked the single on the radio. Finding a record at the public library and taking it home based on the cover and finding something new. Reading about a song, or an artist who influenced another artist, and buying the album of the influencer. Hearing the unknown opening act at an early concert experience and finding their obscure record in the bargain bin. Finally, finding other people who liked those things, and having them play their records for me. I can show you my evolution from the Beatles’ 1967-1970 compilation to Zen Arcade, from the Ohio Players to Howlin’ Wolf, with at least one other person responsible for my step from spine to spine. Culture is by definition a collaborative project.

It’s a process of listening, but with open ears, and not to get too schmaltzy, an open heart. Questioning the concept of “liking” something, making choices between intellectual aesthetics and the logic of moving your butt to the beat, being dogmatic and wrong or dogmatic and right and then graduating to accepting and willing to listen, literally and figuratively, to what moves another person. You find all sorts of things that way.

I was a dedicated and soon to be hardcore punker for quite a while, but an omnivore at the same time. It was among my punk friends — a group safely outside the inward-spiraling social orbit of school, for the most part — I first became aware that I actually *knew* some other people who were gay. And they didn’t try to convert me, rape me, or by their mere presence brainwash me. The path from glam to punk was unknown to me at first, but the New York Dolls were all that it took to sell me on the idea that cross-dressing was no impediment to a good thrash song. It was one of these friends who had the imported version of the first Clash album, who had a copy of Too Much Too Soon, and a stack of seven inches actually purchased in England, who re-introduced me to Bowie.

The particular album was Station to Station, which is a pretty damn good album, strange (for the day) in the long length of its tracks and the low number of cuts on the album. As in the glory days of vinyl, it was a record that demanded you sit in the dark and listen. It was definitely more disco than punk, in retrospect, funky, layered; fun. And I got a dub tape of this friend’s “greatest hits” of Bowie that day, giving me a chance to really listen to the lyrics of anthems like “Rebel, Rebel” and “Changes” and “Fame” and the like.

I listened, instead of of reacting on face value to my perceived image of Bowie, because I’d learned that there were great rewards in discovering new music that way. And slowly, understood the larger lesson of discovering new people, and not being afraid of them, that way. Bowie mattered to this friend, quite a bit, and while he never quite penetrated my soul to the same extent, from then on I could understand how important he was to others.

I can’t say as I remember a particular epiphany about connecting Outsider status on matters of simple taste in music, or in politics, or the condition of oppression based on class or ethnicity, with that of sexual identity, but I do remember taking out my “Death Before Disco” t-shirt one day a few months after getting that personalized Bowie “hits” tape and listening to Station to Station all the way through in the dark, with my friend — a person as weird and outcast as I was, maybe in different ways, but a person, whole and individual and connected to me. I didn’t have to love Bowie to like my friend; he didn’t have to be a Ramones fanatic to be a good person. He didn’t have to be straight to be a friend. The t-shirt had been a staple for concert-going, once upon a time — and on this day, I looked at it anew, realizing the illustration on it was making fun of gay people. And on that day it felt wrong, and I put it away.

Turn and face the strange.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Undemocratic Republican Primary Calendar

The fix might not be in, but the mechanics for making the fix are all in place.

Republican voters this Presidential cycle, do you think your vote counts? You might want to think again and consider the potential manipulations and shenanigans in your party's rules and voting schedule.

I won't lay out conspiracy theories here or pick the potential winners and losers of this system; you can do that yourself. This just lays out the rules and the calendar and you can work out how to manipulate this.

If you vote in the Democratic primaries for President, your vote will be counted proportionately for the candidate you’re voting for. So, if Clinton gets 50% in a state, Sanders 40%, and O’Malley 10%, Clinton will get 50% of the delegates for that state, Sanders 40%, O’Malley 10%. There are rounding issues here and there, but that’s basically the same rule for every Democratic contest.

Now, for the Republicans, instead there’s a weird quilt of rules about allocation of delegates based on the amount of votes they get in a caucus or primary as to whether they get delegates proportionally, if the winner by plurality gets all of them, who gets “bonus” delegates and at-large delegates assigned to the state delegation to the RNC convention, and so forth.

The bottom line is, your vote may count double, triple, or tenfold, or may not count at all, or may count proportionately. Whether it’s going to count or not has a lot to do with state party rules, which are set up basically so they can be manipulated around a party-favorite candidate.


For the first two weeks of March of 2016, the RNC requires sort of proportional representation of delegates - but leaves up specific rules about what the thresholds are to receive delegates on a state by state basis. They also allow states to set up a system to award at-large and bonus delegates (delegates given to a state because they have Republican elected officials at the state or federal level) as winner-take-all, either by Congressional district or statewide.

After March 14, state parties can set their delegation rules anyway they want. They can actually change the rules at any time; so one state could be winner-take-all, another could be strictly proportional, another could be proportional with thresholds for candidates to earn any delegates.

The intent of this latter rule was (ostensibly) to allow states to adopt winner-take-all rules once an apparent front-runner had started leading the field, so it would force everybody to effectively rally around the leading candidate. However, note that the flexibility in state by state rules allows each state party (run, by definition, by the Establishment) to basically pick their rules based on which candidate they want to earn delegates or be denied delegates based on the polling going into primary day.

Note also caucus rules are wildly variable; some caucuses have their own threshold requirements on a site-by-site basis (such as 15% of voters present must support a candidate to get a vote in the state totals, otherwise the voters are forced to caucus with another candidate) and the allocations of groups of votes can change by county, congressional district, or special district in the state. There’s so much room for shenanigans here it’s hard to describe in detail.

Here’s how this will play out (Republican calendar only):

States locked in to the semi-proportional format: * = caucus, otherwise a primary

February:  (basically one a week) 2/1 Iowa*, 2/9 NH, 2/20 SC, 2/23 NV.

(Washington caucuses are on 2/20, but their Presidential delegates are not selected at the caucus. It’s complicated but the bottom line is there are no delegates to go into the delegate count and thus affect the overall race.)


3/1 - Alabama, Alaska*, Arkansas, CO*, Georgia, MA, Minn*, ND*, OK, TN, TX, VT, VA, WY* (“Super Tuesday” this year)

3/5 - Kansas*, Louisiana, Maine*.

3/6 - Puerto Rico

3/8 - Hawaii*, Idaho, MI, Miss.

OK, so now we’re at the end of the enforced proportionality window and will have a “leader” in the delegate count.

States where the states can basically change the rules about delegate selections anytime, including winner-take-all:

3/15 - FLA, ILL, Missouri, NC, OH (<— actually more delegates to be awarded than “Super Tuesday”)

3/22 - AZ, UT*

4/4 - WI

4/19 - NY

4/26 - CT, DE, MD, PA, RI

5/3 - Indiana

5/10 - Neb, WV

5/17 - OR

5/24 - WA delegates actually selected

6/7 - CA, MT, NJ, NM, SD

6/28 - UT (delegates actually selected)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It's Larry Yount Day

Today, September 15th, is Larry Yount Day, in honor of the patron saint of September Call-Ups.

For those of you not familiar with the older brother of Hall of Famer Robin Young, Larry is the guy in baseball history who out-did the fictional Moonlight Graham.

Larry got called into a meaningless game for the Houston Astros in the 9th inning on this date in 1971 for his major league debut. He was out of baseball shape, having been out with the National Guard the previous week. (The common Vietnam-era practice of draft-eligible baseball players was to join the National Guard and get a friendly exemption from most actual duties, but they did have to drill from time to time.) He was stiff in the bullpen, but hid it from the coaches, and was announced as the relief pitcher without being entirely warm.

He got to the mound and started throwing his warm-up tosses, but was flinching from elbow pain as he threw them. This got the attention of his catcher, and then the coaching staff, who came to the mound, and removed him.

Under baseball rules, normally a pitcher has to face one batter before he can be removed legally (a pinch hitter may be announced and then replaced; the stricture on pitchers is to avoid an endless series of swaps that would delay the game forever as managers jockey for right-lefty matchups). However, there's an exception in the rules for injuries.

That said, when a player is thus removed from the game, he's credited with a game "played" - and thus in Larry Yount's case, he was an official major leaguer the moment he stepped onto the mound.

Yount's stiffness continued so he never got into another game that year. In the spring of 1972, he had a great spring training but got optioned to AAA with the last cuts due to some other players on the roster having run out of minor league options. The club expected to bring him back later that season, and indeed Larry started out great at AAA. But something happened -- not an injury, Larry swore later -- and he lost his effectiveness suddenly, and ended up spending a very mediocre year entirely in AAA. He kicked around the minors a few more years, and was traded to the Brewers in 1973 for another minor leaguer, where he broke spring training camp with his younger brother Robin -- then a rookie-- in 1974, but he hung up his spikes after not making the big club.

Here's his line from Baseball reference:
1 major league game "played"; zero batters faced; a perfect line with mathematically undefined ERA and Wins-Above-Replacement.

Dream the dream, you September call-ups of life.