Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hillary: Ball's In Your Court

Admit it, Senator Clinton. Your passionate advocacy on behalf of the voters of Michigan and Florida came only after you discovered that you needed their delegates to clinch the nomination. You told a public radio station in New Hampshire that Michigan would not count. And now the DNC has granted you more delegates than you had any reasonable right to expect.

Even if the DNC had seated the Florida and Michigan delegations in full, you would still trail Barack Obama, albeit by a tiny margin. Nonetheless, there is only one standard the party uses to determine the nominees, and that is the delegate count. That is the standard you and your surrogates insisted upon in the early days of the primary contest. As with Florida and Michigan, your arguments cynically commuted themselves into populist rhetoric in favor of "the popular vote" once it became clear to you that you could not win according to the rules of the contest.

Recognizing that there are many to blame for the current delegate fiasco, the DNC met to attempt to find a compromise. Do you know what a compromise is? It's when all parties involved give up something they want in order to achieve the greater good. The Committee awarded you delegates that you had previously agreed not to count, delegates that your senior campaign advisor Harold Ickes had voted in favor of eliminating for 2008.

You aren't going to win this nomination, and not because it was stolen from you, but because the process that was agreed upon by all candidates well in advance of the first vote selected Barack Obama. Your advocates decry sexism even as your campaign benefits from the open support of racists, xenophobes and religious bigots.

This was an ugly primary with unnecessary and unfortunate complications, but any way you slice it, Barack Obama is the winner. Your claim that you are ahead in the popular vote is disingenuous and you know it. Politics can be ugly, but the reality here is that the Obama campaign played by the rules and came out ahead. Respect that. Do you want a Democrat in the White House, or do you want you in the White House?

The call now is for healing and unity, but the onus is on you. The responsibility belongs to you and your husband to stop repeating the gross distortion that you are leading by a standard that does not matter. You continually imply that the rules you agreed to have led to an illegitimate result, even though you have benefited from a last-minute rule change that granted you delegates you had forsworn. You were the one calling loudest for the DNC to reconsider Michigan and Florida, and now you must live with the decision, as the Obama campaign accepts that the ruling results in a net delegate loss for them.

I have disagreed with you on a range of issues for many years, and I did not support your candidacy, but until recently I respected you, and had you been the rightful nominee I would have supported you whole-heartedly. But your campaign has resorted to Rovian politics of distraction, inflating side-issues, trafficking in guilt by association (for which you should be most grateful that the Obama campaign has not responded in kind, given some of your husband's friends and business partners) and most reprehensibly constantly dispensing discredited, distorted arithmetic to advance a bogus claim using an invalid standard that you are the rightful nominee. This stops now.

There is not much that Barack Obama can do to heal the party, because he's not the one who has inflicted the wound. The responsibility rests on you and your husband. Will you respect the democratic process and support the rightful nominee to help repair this country? Or will you, in your Macbethian quest for the throne toss aside reality and all principle and tear down our country's best shot at dismantling partisan gridlock, tossing aside rules and process?

Stop blaming Barack Obama for the crisis you created. Fix this, or live with the consequences.

Democratic National Circus

I watched the Rules & Bylaws Committee meeting this morning. What a masochist I am!

The only thing that is clear is that there are truckloads of blame to be spread in every direction. The DNC screwed up in continuing to give primacy to Iowa and New Hampshire, they screwed up by punishing Florida even though it was clear that primary was moved up because of Republican machinations, and they screwed up in both places by not really thinking through the fall-out of telling two swing-states, "Your vote won't count."

Hillary Clinton screwed up by not raising her valid objections way, way earlier and then by exaggerating them to the level of Constitutional crisis only once it became clear she desperately needed the Florida and Michigan delegates to remain a viable candidate. Barack Obama shouldn't have taken his name off the Michigan ballot in what was probably a silly pander to Iowa.

There is no "right" solution, and there's certainly no decision that can be made that will make everyone happy. How do you account for the hundreds of thousands of voters who stayed home because they were told the elections wouldn't count? How do you allocate votes in Michigan for "Uncommitted," knowing full well that some -- maybe even most, but not all! -- were for Barack Obama?

The speakers this morning all stressed the need for party unification. There is no decision that can be made by the DNC that will achieve that; the decision belongs to the voters, that we just have to deal with the shitstorm that was dealt to us, abide by the ruling, whatever it is, support the nominee, and go forward. And as soon as a Democrat is in the White House in January 2009, we set to work fixing this incredibly stupid nominating system.

I propose seating the delegations from both states in full, based upon the primary results as they stand, questionable as they are. If the DNC feels procedurally obligated by their stupid rules to halve the delegates, so be it, but I fail to see the rationale behind punishing the voters for the idiocies of the party officials and candidates.

This requires significant concessions from both candidates. However you feel about his strategic decision to remove his name from the Michigan ballot, Barack Obama has been in complete compliance with the rules, stupid though they are, that were agreed to in advance by all the candidates. It's Hillary who disproportionately benefits from changing the rules at the end of the game.

On Michigan, I found myself uncomfortably agreeing with the Clinton camp: the "Uncommitted" delegates should not be assigned by the DNC, they should be called "uncommitted" and allowed to declare for the candidate of their choice. It makes the race infinitely closer, but I see no other solution that even approaches fairness.

Frankly, the Obama plan to split the Michigan delegates 50/50 is ludicrous. Even using Clinton-style magical math, you can't make any kind of reasonable argument that Clinton did not win Michigan; if we're going to make some attempt to respect the intent of the voters, calling what was obviously not a tie a tie is not the answer.

The Michigan Democrats' proposal ends up with numbers that sound right -- a 69/59 split in favor of Clinton -- but the idea of using exit polls and uncounted mail-in ballots is insanity. No, thanks.

The nominee will be Barack Obama by a hair. There will be millions of Democrats who aren't happy with that, but I assure them they'll be much less happy with John McCain. On all the significant issues facing this country, Obama and Clinton are mostly in the same place. We have got to put the ugliness of this nomination fight behind us and focus on fixing the country.

And as soon as we're back in the White House, we set about changing the nominating process. Maybe we should abandon delegates and dump caucuses and stick to the popular vote, but at the least, we've got to vary the order in which states vote. I propose a random lottery -- and for 2012, New Hampshire and Iowa don't get to go in the hat, they go last.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Well, Which Is It?

CNN: "Dem Delegate Deal Could Boost Clinton"

NYT: "The advice from Democratic Party lawyers is a blow to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s efforts to seat the full delegations from Florida and Michigan."

Anonymous Owes me a Dollar

Florida Court Throws Out DNC Suit.

Told 'ya!

The End of DOMA?

Well, I didn't see this one coming.

In 1996, Congress passed and Bill Clinton -- yes, that Bill Clinton -- signed into law an act known as the Defense of Marriage Act. The law had two parts: first, it created an end-run around the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution, which requires states to honor legal contracts made in other states, such as marriage licenses. Any opposite-sex couple in America can marry in one state and travel to another and not worry about whether their marriage license is valid. DOMA created a loophole so that states could choose not to recognize legally enacted same-sex marriages from other states.

The second part requires that for all federal purposes, "marriage" can only be understood as one man and one woman. This is the part that, for example, prevents legally married same-sex couples in Massachusetts and now California from being able to file joint tax returns.

The text of the law was written by Georgia Representative Bob Barr, who was a Republican at the time and apparently eager to defend his third marriage from the threat of happy homosexuals everywhere.

Fast-forward twelve years: Barr is now the 2008 Libertarian Party candidate for the presidency, and this week apologized for DOMA, saying, "As I mentioned to you all last night and I reiterate here today, standing before you and looking you in the eye, the Defense of Marriage Act insofar as it provided the Federal Government with a club to club down the rights of law-abiding American citizens, has been abused, misused and should be repealed. And I will work to repeal that."

Bob Barr, I could kiss you!

It should be pointed out here that Hillary Clinton -- yes, that Hillary Clinton -- only partially opposes DOMA. She has called for the repeal of the federal ban on recognition of legal same-sex marriages, but would leave the first provision intact, so that states can continue to selectively honor the Full Faith and Credit clause of the United States Constitution on the basis of prejudice. (Barack Obama supports DOMA's full repeal.)

So, to summarize, on the issue of civil rights for LGBT people, Hillary Clinton is now to the right of the guy who wrote the Defense of Marriage Act.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Paul Krugman, What Happened?

I used to love New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, but he has had seriously too much of the Clinton Kool-Aid.

Consider this from today's paper: "So what should Mr. Obama and his supporters do? Most immediately, they should realize that the continuing demonization of Mrs. Clinton serves nobody except Mr. McCain."

Leaving aside that you can't find a single instance of the Obama campaign "demonizing" Senator Clinton, she's doing a pretty damn good job of ruining her own reputation (or, confirming it, depending on your point of view).

The Clintons are traveling around the country, continually peddling the 100% bogus claim that she leads in the popular vote, which, even if it were true, wouldn't matter. But it does matter because it's not true, and yet they persist in pushing the dangerous fairy tale that Obama is taking away the nomination from the rightful candidate, even though he's the one with the most delegates, the most states, and -- if you count his votes the same way Hillary counts her own -- the popular vote.

At least he concedes that "Mr. Obama will be the Democratic nominee," but as an economist he's supposed to be able to recognize fuzzy math. Instead, he pushes some of his own: "The only reason I can see for Obama supporters to oppose seating Florida is that it might let Mrs. Clinton claim that she received a majority of the popular vote." Well, actually, no. Obama's lead is so substantial that the Florida votes won't overturn his popular vote lead. In order to surpass him on that meaningless standard, you have to include her Michigan votes, but not give any of the Michigan "uncommitted" votes -- some of which at least were presumably for him -- to Obama. You'd think Krugman could have crunched those numbers, or at least referred to But the real reason to oppose seating Florida is that Florida violated the rules and deserves to be sanctioned for screwing up the primary calendar. Mrs. Clinton has of late trotted out several examples of primary seasons that lasted into June, but none of them started on January 3.

"Mainly it’s up to Mr. Obama to deliver the unity he has always promised — starting with his own party," huffs Krugman. Uh-huh. Well, that job would be a heckuvalot easier if Senator Clinton's surrogates would cease chanting the mantra that an affirmative action candidate is stealing the nomination from the real winner. How is he supposed to heal the wounds if Clinton is going around throwing salt on them?

"What about offering Mrs. Clinton the vice presidency? If I were Mr. Obama, I’d do it." Oh, give me a break. What on earth has she done to deserve that? The vice presidency shouldn't be held out as a bribe to get someone to stop lying and hop back on the reality wagon. As Hilzoy smartly observed last week, "Note what's missing here: any sense that Clinton herself is a responsible moral agent. People are writing about her as though she were a bomb that needed to be expertly defused, as opposed to a person who can govern her own life, and is responsible for her own choices." She's made Obama out to be Bush 2000, delegitimizing his historic candidacy by suggesting he won on a manufactured technicality. And then she floated the assassination possibility.

Of all the many silly, credulous things Krugman writes today, this one takes the cake: conceding that once the nomination is settled Hillary will have to campaign hard for Obama, he adds, "She has said she’ll do that, and there’s no reason to believe that she doesn’t mean it."

She also said she supported stripping Florida and Michigan of their delegates.

All Right, Fine. I Miss the A Train.

I admit it, I never thought I'd say it.

It's a three-day holiday weekend, and I was going downtown to meet up with a new friend -- not a date, the new head of the Oregon chapter of Integrity -- and then to meet up with an old friend afterward (also not a date). And let me tell ya, Daddy wanted to get his drink on, so I left the car at home and took the bus into town. You know, so I could be responsible and irresponsible all at the same time. (Alas, no opportunity for irresponsibility presented himself.)

Here's the thing: in New York, the subway is the great democratizer. Even celebrities have been known to ride the subway. Sure, there's crazy people, but all of the city's vast majority of (semi-)normal people are also on the train. The subway is no weirder than any other part of town.

Not so with Portland's Tri-Met. In the Rose City, the bus seems to be exclusively reserved for the smelly and/or insane.

Case in point: I'm on my way into town just after 7:00 on a Sunday evening. Fifth Avenue this is not; the bus closest to me runs once an hour on Sundays. A few blocks past mine, a pony-tailed stoner gets on and complains, "Yo...dude, I've been, like...waiting, seriously, dude, I totally like checked my watch, I've been waiting like fifty-three fucking minutes for the bus, man, I mean...yo."

To which the driver responded, "It's Sunday...the bus runs hourly."

Stoner: "Okay, yeah, seriously, I waited almost an hour and no bus came by. I'm totally serious, it was like, almost an hour."

Driver: "Yeah, um, because the bus runs once an hour."

Stoner: "Okay, well, but...that's no reason why I should have to wait almost an hour for the bus. I mean, yo."

Then he sat in front of me. He did not smell pleasant. A few blocks later he turns to me and shows me his paper transfer. "Dude! Check out the punches on this thing!"

Me: [perplexed, unsure how to respond, smiling politely but non-committally]

Stoner: Dude, like, look how many there are, isn't that fucking hilarious?

Me: Umm...yeah, okay. Sure.

Stoner: You don't think that's like, you know, totally fucking funny, how many punches there are in my ticket? I mean, yo, check it.

Me: Yeah, that's pretty hilarious.

Stoner: Fuck yeah.

When I reached the bar where I was to meet my new friend, my first stop was the bathroom. Not because I had to pee, but because I had an incredible urge to wash my hands. In fact, I kind of wanted to just be hosed down. I was worried I smelled like B.O. and piss.

* * * * * * * *

So, the last bus for Beaverton leaves at 11:00.

I knew I didn't want to bother with the bus again. I'd just take a cab home. I think I left the last bar around 1:45.

In New York, you can pretty much just walk out of the bar and hail a cab. If you're on a (relatively) quiet side-street, you can walk to the nearest avenue - -with traffic flowing either uptown or downtown, depending on your need -- and hail a cab within, oh, a minute? (Unless it's rush hour and raining.) So, yeah...Portland. No cabs.

In the wee hours of the morning, I used to really hate the A train. Sometimes you'd wait a very long time, and there were some crazy people. There was the guy that barked at me, the guy who hit me over the head with a curled up New York Times while yelling "Fucking cracker!" (I just went to my Zen place and ignored him), and the guy who yelled at the empty seats before throwing up all over himself. (I'd include the guy who mugged me at gunpoint, but that was on the #1, not the A.) But even in the middle of the night, I rarely waited as long as it took to get a cab tonight, and it was a lot cheaper and...well, not necessarily significantly cleaner.

So yeah, I admit it. I moved out here for the sake of convenience, but the A train was much better than the #54 bus.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

In Defense of Hillary Clinton

Live by the manufactured scandal, die by the manufactured scandal.

In the immediate aftermath of her unfortunate reference to the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy today, let me say I think she really was just attempting to point to a well-known historical event as evidence that primaries often continue well into June.

I disagree with folks like Keith Olbermann, who issued one of his signature "special comments" tonight, that her error was invoking the unspeakable spectre of assassination. I do agree that, so far, her "clarification" has been insufficient.

I do think, however, that she unwittingly betrayed the depths of desperation to which her campaign has descended, advancing as a legitimate rationale for staying in a race she now has (perhaps unconsciously) acknowledged is lost the possibility that something unfortunate might befall the nominee.

It's a tempest in a teapot, but nonetheless I think her campaign is now over, regardless of what happens with the Michigan and Florida delegates. I believe she will now fall victim, not to sexism, but to the same kind of hackish politics of distraction in which she and her husband have trafficked in for so long.

She tried to tar Obama with Tony Rezko, with Farrakhan, with William Ayers, she gave us the immortally artful dodge that Obama is not a Muslim..."as far as I know," she floated the gas-tax pander and then threw one of her staunchest and most valuable supporters, Paul Krugman, under the bus when she defended her crass politics channeling President Bush, "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists." She supported stripping Michigan and Florida of their delegates, but is now comparing that action to Zimbabwe and Selma and labeling it a constitutional crisis.

Who knows why politics works the way it does, and I don't think this slip-up is any more serious than any of the other non-scandals the public has suffered throught his year, but for some reason I suspect this one is going to stick, and sink her. I think this is exactly the cover the superdelegates needed to come out for Obama, and she may even lose some that were previously pledged to her. Politicians, remember, are masters of self-preservation, not martyrs. The S.S. Hillary Clinton is taking on water, and the rats are going to jump. They're not going to stand up for a candidate whose justification for continuing to campaign is the twisted hope that something awful might happen.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In Praise of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton would make a good president.

There is no ambiguity in my mind about the above statement. I mean, yes, sure, I said “good,” not “great.” There are issues on which I disagree with her, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like her style of governing, but there is no question that she’s competent and qualified and would be an enormous improvement over George W. Bush, and is unquestionably to be preferred over John McCain.

Recently several people – commenters anonymous and not, and people in “real life,” as well – have suggested (or bluntly stated) that I am some crazy Hillary Hater, a naïf who’s bought into the media “hype” over Obama and drunk too much of the Kool-Aid. My long-term readers, however, know that I’ve been on-board with Obama since he declared, back in the days when no one thought he had a realistic chance, and that I have been upset with Hillary – who used to be my senator – since she voted to support the Iraq war.

The war is still my biggest issue with her. Experience is an important presidential attribute, but so is judgment, and on the single most important vote of her senate career, she made the wrong choice.

Some of her supporters – and now, alas, the candidate herself – are claiming that her campaign has been disadvantaged by sexism. That may be true, to an extent, but then this is a candidate who fails to acknowledge that she has benefited from the support of voters who openly proclaim that they won’t vote for a black man or a Muslim (not to mention that Obama is not a Muslim). It is asinine and dishonest to argue that Obama has coasted to victory on the “advantage” of being a black man while she has been hobbled by misogyny. Discrimination goes both ways.

She began this campaign as the clear front-runner; indeed, the word “inevitable” was used before she’d even officially declared. Going into Super Tuesday, she led by more than 60 superdelegates. To say that her campaign was derailed by sexism is to imagine that it was only on February 6 that the nation suddenly realized we had a woman in the contest and started flocking to the men. And it certainly doesn’t explain why she was still validly in the race long after Edwards, Richardson and the rest had been forced to concede.

No, the unfortunate truth for Hillary and her supporters is that the nation prefers Barack Obama. Yes, it’s a close race, but in elections second place is second place.

The awkward part is that Hillary does not seem to accept that she is in second place. In fact, she is openly promoting what could only charitably be called a “distortion” that she leads in the popular vote.

Let’s be clear about several things. The nominating process is flawed and bizarre, but the rules were agreed to by all parties, and you can’t change the rules at the end of the contest. The only metric that actually matters is the delegate count. Senator Clinton supported punishing Michigan and Florida for moving their primaries up in the calendar. Her top campaign aide (and superdelegate) Harold Ickes himself voted in August 2007 to strip the two states of their delegates.

I agree that it is unfair to the voters of the two states to punish them for the irresponsible actions of the state party leaders, but that’s what Hillary herself agreed to do. She’s so far behind that even seating the delegates won’t overtake Obama’s lead, so that’s why she’s pushing the popular vote meme. But her strategy is even sketchier than that: in Michigan, where she was the only candidate on the ballot, she garnered 55% of the vote. She includes all of those non-counting votes in her popular vote total, but grants none of the 41% of Michigan voters who bothered to show up for a non-binding primary to register their support for “Uncommitted’ (aka, Anyone But Hillary) to Obama. If she did, she’d be behind in the popular vote again. For all her talk of “disenfranchising” Florida and Michigan, there’s 41% of Michigan voters she needs to ignore. If she gets her way, we’ll end up punishing Obama for playing by the rules.

But wait, it’s worse. Obama won three caucus states (Iowa, Washington and Maine) that only report delegates, not the total number of voters. Since we don’t officially know how many people voted in those states she simply discounts them. Or, in her terminology, disenfranchises them. It’s this kind of truth-with-an-asterisk politics that has hobbled her campaign, far more than her gender.

If Obama weren’t in the race, I would definitely be supporting Senator Clinton. But he is, and I prefer him, and so do the majority of Democrats. He leads by every measure except the fake one Clinton has trotted out. She has lost fair and square, and her insistence on promoting intellectually dishonest numbers to bolster her campaign undermines her viability and discredits her genuine achievements. If she chooses to continue to compete in the Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana primaries, that is her right. But when the time comes, she needs to concede graciously and support the nominee.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hey, My Picture Was in The New York Times Again

There I am! See there, about 20 rows back...the white guy in the hat. The Times is reporting an all-time record turnout: 75,000. I'll post my pictures tomorrow. If I find the energy to download them.

Here was my first appearance in the Grey Lady.

Opera Review: Aida

With Verdi's monumental spectacle Aida, Portland Opera nicely redeemed itself from its disastrous Rodelinda in February, closing out the 2007-08 season with its all-around best production of the year.

Musically this performance was at a very high level. Under conductor Vjekoslav Sutej, the Portland Opera Orchestra played better than I have ever heard them. There were many thrilling moments throughout the evening; the brass section, especially, was outstanding. He is a great partner for the singers, understanding the give-and-take nature of Italian opera, driving the orchestra but also letting the singers breathe comfortably and shape their own phrases. I also thought it was a nice gesture when he raised his hands over his head, plainly visible, to join the rest of us in applause following soprano Lisa Daltirus' formidable "O patria mia."

If I might be allowed one teeny complaint: the eerily beautiful hymn to Ftah at the close of the first act was taken too fast; done a bit slower, it has a marvelous hypnotic, other-worldly quality that was lacking, even with Sharin Apostolou's radiant cameo as the offstage priestess.

In the title role, Daltirus gave a passionate performance, expressive and traditional in the best sense of the word. Her high notes had a tendency to pierce rather than soar, but she did everything the score required of her, including a tight but sufficiently pianissimo high-C in act three. From the first scene, she effectively conveyed that Aida is trapped in a no-win situation that grows increasingly desperate. I brought three neophyte friends with me who were all convinced that it would turn out well in the end, and were quite distressed by the tragic ending.

As the hero Radames, tenor Philip Webb had a stellar night. Okay, not a great actor, but the role of Radames is a powerhouse demanding great stamina, alternating between ringing high notes, forceful declamatory passages, and tender lyric singing: he had it all. Far and away, he was the best Radames I've ever heard live. Though he took a little bit of time to warm up into "Celeste Aida" -- easily forgiven -- by the end of the first act he sounded great, and he stayed strong all the way to the end, including a heroic "Io resto a te!" at the end of the third act.

Early on, I was worried about mezzo-soprano Leann Sandel-Pantaleo as Amneris; she seemed in control, but I felt her voice was maybe two sizes too small to be right for the role. True, she is not a force-of-nature mezzo a la Dolora Zajick, but it turned out she was smartly husbanding her resources, singing expressively but conservatively until the fourth act when she absolutely let it rip. Girlfriend tore it up. Fantastic.

Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley has one of my favorite voices: deep and dark, but full of character and ping -- and power! Yet I had to admit, I did not care much for the way he plowed through the lyrical arioso "Ma tu re" that begins the second act finale. Keith Miller's Ramfis was sturdy and effective. As the king, bass Jeffrey Beruan was not up to the task.

The understaffed Portland Opera Chorus did their best; there are some subpar voices among the male singers, but they managed to summon sufficient volume for the big scenes and were actually quite impressive in the many sotto voce passages.

The production...oh, well...hmmm. I think SMB put it best in his review in JustOut. I'm not sure I would say it was "tired" so much as...well...remember in my Rodelinda review when I said minimalism works great for Handel? It sucks for Aida. I don't care how many times you play "spin the birdy," it's still the same set. For four hours. The giant moon they flew in for Act III looked like an enormous chocolate chip cookie.

The costumes were almost okay, but I had a real problem with Amneris in heels and a Victorian bustle. I mean, huh? Aida's first-act costume, with what appeared to be a bedsheet from the sale bin at K-Mart used as a sash, was unpersuasive. The triumphal scene supers, with their cheap, ratty wigs and uneven, splotchy, red-brown body paint in a shade that no human being has actually ever been looked pretty terrible.

In pointing out another critic's error in his review, SMB notes that choreographer Penelope Freeh was only recreating the dance moves originally conceived by James Sewell for this production's premiere a decade ago at the Minnesota Opera. That's no excuse. The choreography was a disgrace. Tacky, amateurish, and gauche. The battle recreation, complete with gang-rape, in the triumphal scene was embarrassing and offensive, and just altogether out of place.

Despite that, it was a thoroughly entertaining evening of an overall quality that greatly surpassed the season's earlier offerings.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Obama's "White Problem"

Barack Obama handed Hillary Clinton another stinging primary defeat in a predominantly white state this week.

What's that, you say?

Oh, no, I'm not talking about West Virginia.

I'm talking about 92% white Nebraska, where Obama downed Clinton 49-46 on Tuesday night.

You probably didn't hear about it, because it wasn't widely reported. In fact, do a Google news search for "Nebraska Primary" and you only get local tv and regional newspapers mentioning it.

Why the media silence? Well perhaps, as Omaha's Channel 3 News put it, "today's presidential primary does not mean much in the scheme of things. Nebraska Democrats already gave Obama a solid win in the February Caucuses."

So, basically, since it doesn't change the dynamics of the race at all, there's no real point in making a big deal over it.

Unlike West Virginia, where Hillary Clinton picked up a whopping net gain of 12 delegates, narrowing Obama's lead to a mere 180.

No, no, the "real story" is that Obama has difficulty winning white voters, as clearly illustrated by the way he won Nebraska.


I'm afraid when Hillary says that Obama can't win the "white vote," she's talking about these people.

Clinton argues Democrats can't win the White House in November without white people who are afraid of black candidates and those who insist Obama is a Muslim, all evidence to the contrary.

Well, can we at least try? Please?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Being Intentional

Two weeks ago I headed off to the Oregon Coast on a personal retreat, with the idea that I would spend some time in prayer and meditation, brainstorming about professional goals and means of obtaining them.

You know, my life has been in a total tailspin for the last five years, since acid reflux forced me to abandon my operatic ambitions. My entire personal identity was bound up in my singing career, and without it, I simply didn't know who I was. I had absolutely no back-up plan, no idea what else I might even want to do.

I knew I could make decent money working as an admin in corporate finance, but it soon became abundantly clear that is a toxic environment for me. I accepted a similar position with a non-profit gay rights organization, but while I loved the work, the compensation just wasn't sufficient for someone entering his 30s who had student loans to pay and, having frittered away his 20s pursuing the limelight, no savings or investments. Also, as much as I loved the organization, I was wrong to have hoped it was a foot-in-the-door that would allow me to transition to a more interesting role. I would never have had the training or experience required for one of the jobs in education and outreach, which is where I yearned to be.

I needed to leave New York. New York was its own complex problem, but largely it was a city haunted by the ghosts of my unrealized singing ambitions, and I needed to put some distance between myself and the glorious, invigorating, exhausting chaos of Manhattan in order to think.

Okay. So, I've been in Oregon a year now. Voila, I'm back to being an admin in corporate finance. Now, I work for a very good company and have a very good job, but...let's be honest. My heart's not in it. The money and benefits are great, but I get no joy from it. Still, in the short term, it's exactly what I wanted, because even if life right now is utterly meaningless, I at least have a decent apartment, am paying all my own bills, paying down the debt, investing for the future, and have a reasonable hope of getting a Honda Civic Hybrid by early fall.

But this can't be permanent. There's no way "up" at this job, either, and even if there were, it's not in a direction I'd want to go.

Some of you have suggested that I'm being rather too vague about my professional intentions, but it wasn't on purpose. I needed to do two things. One, I needed to really clarify in my mind and heart what it is I want to do. Second, I needed to give myself permission to go after it. Maybe that last part sounds strange, but somewhere along the line I picked up this odd notion that what one ought to do and what one wants to do are usually at odds with one another, and that practical, sensible people all value the former over the latter.

So here's my idea. And this, I'm sure, is going to be met with a resounding, "Well, duh!" from regular readers, but what I really want to do is work as an advocate for gay people in the faith community. I see that as having two distinct dimensions: the first is reaching out to gay people who have been either incredibly wounded by the church or to those who are unsure that there are churches who will take them and love them, just as they are; the second is reaching out to more general audiences and presenting a face to them, so that this issue of gay people and faith isn't an abstract one. In particular, I envision myself visiting churches and doing Q&A sessions with skeptical (but not hostile) audiences.

For the last many months, that's all been so much of a lovely fantasy. Let's be honest. I'm a secretary with a master's degree in classical voice. Not exactly the skill/experience set that's going to make me a competitive candidate for such a position. All right. So, what I needed was to try to gain some experience in community organizing and outreach at the volunteer level and just hope that maybe it will lead to something.

But how to even get that far?

Right before I left for the coast, however, I read a letter from my parish rector (currently on sabbatical in South America) who was talking about his own recent experiences and remarked, "But that's the wonderful thing about being intentional about things. Once we decide to do something, the opportunities start presenting themselves."

So, off to the beach I went, where for four days I kept the daily office, and as a part of that I improvised my own liturgical segment of declaring my intention at every session: I want to be a professional advocate for gay people within the faith community.

Tonight after work I went downtown to the cathedral for a meeting to discuss coordination for a delegation from my parish to meet up with their group to march in the Portland Pride parade on June 15. This is the first time that my church will participate in the event.

At that meeting I was invited to join a new committee that will establish an outreach program, sending an LGBT person or ally to various parishes in rural Oregon to talk about gay issues in the Episcopal church.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Today was rough at work. The last thing I wanted to do was turn on the TV and watch the pundits pointlessly debate whether Hillary's big win in West Virginia means anything. (It doesn't. Even if she'd gotten 100% of the vote, she'd gain 28 delegates against his 165 delegate lead. Big whoop. And then they'll talk about Barack's "problems" with the "white vote." Well, next week is Oregon, baby. We have a 1.9% black population, and Obama is up here by 20 points. Oh, and Oregon has 65 delegates. Did I mention West Virginia has 28? Yeah.)

Anyway, so I figured I'd come home and watch a movie. Instead, to my unending joy, in my mailbox I found a package from

My copy of Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever had arrived!

Today is the official release of this wonderful new book by my good friend (and mentor, confidante, cheerleader) Joel Derfner, author of the marvelous blog The Search for Love in Manhattan (as well as the hilarious Gay Haiku), known to regular readers of this blog as Faustus, M.D.

I was privileged to read a couple of chapters in advance (and he was kind enough to put me in the acknowledgments for some perspective I gave him on one chapter), and I cannot wait to read the rest. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to settle into my easy chair and dig in.

Hopefully Starbuck has left me some Cosmopolitan.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Opera Review: F Me!

I often notice that no matter how well I think I know an opera, each time I see it I discover something new and wonderful. With Bellini's I Puritani, I continue to find new levels of ridiculousness.

Don't get me wrong: I love this opera. It just makes no sense. Why is Elvira the last person to know she's marrying Arturo? Her uncle persuaded her father, who told Riccardo, and obviously someone told Arturo because he's on his way, yet poor Elvira is moping about the castle because it's her wedding day and she thinks she's stuck with Riccardo. She's being fitted for her gown before her uncle finally tells her she gets to marry her true love. You can't fuck with a soprano's emotions like that; no wonder she's an hour away from losing her sanity. Unless the singing is fantastic, there just isn't much point in mounting this work.

Which brings me to Seattle Opera's current production. I have little expectation that I will ever hear Bellini's last opera sung that well again. Even the chorus was amazing.

It wasn't totally flawless. Conductor Edoardo Müller's tempi were not always as energetic as they could have been, and throughout the evening there were ensemble issues, especially uncertain attacks in the orchestra and a lack of coordination between stage and pit. The orchestra sounded marvelous most of the time, however, aided by McCaw Hall's fantastic acoustics.

Soprano Norah Amsellem took on the role of the fragile heroine Elvira. She's not the most effective actress (admittedly, in Puritani she's got a lot working against her), and above the staff her voice has a tendency to sound swallowed; when chorus and orchestra are in full cry, even her highest notes don't cut through. Still, when she's hanging out all by herself, her high D's and E-flats are sustained effortlessly to the double bar, squarely on pitch. It is thrilling when the climax of the great scena "Qui la voce" is sung with such total security.

Bass John Relyea had a great night as her uncle Giorgio. With his rich, sonorous voice, he displayed incredible breath control and alignment in his aria, and tossed out a high G and even an A-flat at the end of the second act that would be the envy of many a baritone. His partner in that muscular duet, baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as Riccardo was...well, competent seems like a terrible word to apply to someone with such a beautiful voice and exemplary technique, but alas, he really is a very uninteresting performer.

Then there was Lawrence Brownlee as Arturo. There are tenors out there who can sing this impossible role; Brownlee, probably alone in the world, was born to. Good grief. "Secure" doesn't even begin to describe his technique. He is supremely musical, able to invest Bellini's long, sensuous lines with passion and elegance. His Italianate style and diction is spot-on; an extraordinarily round and warm "ah" vowel for such a high tenor. And speaking of high...

Forget the treacherous C-sharp in the opening aria, or the perilous D's in the oft-transposed (not this time!) third-act duet. I had read in the reviews of the premiere that he actually took the written F above high C in the final ensemble, a ridiculous, impossible tone that is almost always ignored for eminently practical reasons. I was hoping he'd try it again, dying of curiosity to hear what it would sound like. Well, he didn't "try." I don't want to make it sound like he daringly attempted this note. The man took a deep breath, raised his head, and released an absolutely astonishing, full-voice, sustained, perfect high F. Freakshow! Awesome.

Alas, if the intermission chatter was any indication, his overall impression was hampered somewhat by an unfortunate wig that made him look like James Brown and his diminutive stature. I tried to convince my companion that when you get someone who can sing like that, it doesn't matter what they look like. He's a fine-looking young man, just petite. It is true, though, that when he made his third act entrance wrapped in a cloak, it looked like there was a Hobbit onstage.

UPDATE: Someone YouTubed (audio only) Brownlee's high F from last night's performance! check it out!!!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Let Her Run

I've changed my mind: I believe Hillary Clinton should continue to run through the last primary on June 3.

It drives me crazy to say that, of course. What's the point? Mathematically, there is no scenario in which she can overtake Barack Obama. As of today, he's even passed her in superdelegates. Go ahead, throw in Michigan and Florida, as completely inappropriate and underhanded as that is. It won't change the outcome. And oh, the wasted money. I mean, you look at the tragedy in Myanmar and then consider that we're continuing to spend millions of dollars prolonging a contest that's clearly over and it makes your heart sick.

Still, I think there's a good reason for her to stay in the race and, believe it or not, that has to do with party unity.

Yes, the long, dragged out fight is raising tensions and sharpening the divide between the fans of the two candidates. However, I think there's a chance that some healing could come from letting the primaries run their course. If Hillary continues to campaign, she will go ahead and pick up her predicted wins in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico. Barack probably has Montana and South Dakota sewn up, and Oregon's in the bag. In fact, according to the anticipated math, it's Oregon that will put him over the 2,025 total delegates needed and give him the nomination on May 20.* There is nothing, truly, that Hillary can do to change that. (And she can't even claim that our 1.9% black population somehow skewed the results in his favor in a manner that can't be reproduced on a national scale.)

If we let her do her thing, collect her Pyrrhic victories, she still comes up short, but then her supporters will be able to see that she lost the primary fair and square. If we force her out now -- even, admittedly, as she has no chance -- that's going to leave a bitter taste in some mouths and make it just that much harder to move forward together against McCain.

* LawFairy corrected me in the comments. On May 20, the number of delegates remaining to be awarded will be fewer than the difference between Obama and Clinton. So, not 2025, but still, end-game.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

First Church of Mohammed?

So, let me get this straight.

After all the media frenzy over Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ, the guy who baptized his children, some people still think Obama is a Muslim.

The mind reels.

Living La Vida Yachats

So, I wrote this long post detailing my adventures at the beach this weekend, but I thought maybe I could succinctly summarize it thusly:
  1. Wake, without benefit of alarm clock, at dawn
  2. Walk on the deserted beach at low tide
  3. Morning Prayer
  4. Breakfast
  5. Shower/dress
  6. Walk into town for coffee/groceries
  7. Read/study
  8. Noonday prayer
  9. Lunch
  10. Read/study
  11. Long nap
  12. Beach walk
  13. Evening prayer
  14. Dinner
  15. Light fire, open wine bottle
  16. Read/study
  17. Compline
  18. Rinse (in the jacuzzi tub), sleep/repeat
And now, a few photographs:

I don't know what this flower is, but looks oddly tropical to me.

The view from my hotel room.

Sunrise on the beach.

Sand Dollars can be friggin' huge.

Or teensy-weensy.

The Saturday morning storm.

Followed by evening sunshine, which turned the sea into a gleaming silver mirror.

Monday, May 05, 2008

PDX Queer Blogger Shout-Out

Check out these awesome new additions to my blogroll!

Deliver Us From Weasels

Gay Rights Watch

Lelo in Nopo

Recovering Straight Girl

It was great to meet you guys last night, and thanks to SMB for setting it up! My new favorite buzzword: doily dyke.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Just Another Weekend at the Oregon Coast

Well, I'm back. I had a great time.

I'm still processing all the stuff that went on in my head during two full days of doing nothing but staring at the ocean. I don't feel like I had any particular clarification on the career front (though I did have one or two new ideas). Instead, what dominated my short time away were the concepts introduced to me in the book Listening for the Heartbeat of God.

In about a month, my parish is hosting a lecture on Celtic spirituality with an eminent local expert. It's partly my brainchild, because I have been pushing almost since the day I arrived to establish a regular lecture series as a means of both community outreach and improving the adult formation opportunities. Fortunately, a couple of other folks had similar ideas, so I had help and support. Our initial topic was chosen because one of the projects the rector is pursuing on his sabbatical is a pilgrimage to Ireland, and we thought it would be nice for the congregation to mirror that in some way. (Wasn't my idea; can't take any credit for that one.)

Our speaker recommended this book as a good overview of the subject, so we bought several copies and are selling them off as a fundraiser for an upcoming women's retreat. Since I helped organize the lecture, I figured I'd better read the book and reserved this weekend for it.

What is Celtic spirituality? I had no idea. For all I knew, it was Guinness at the Eucharist.

In short, it is seeing and sensing the presence of God in all of creation, and believing in the inherent goodness of all things; it is taking seriously John's proposition that "in him was life, and the life was the light of all people."

These weren't new ideas for me; in fact, this is the way I have always related to God. Still, reading about it opened up opportunities for deeper reflection and exploration. Being suddenly conscious that I move in this way -- and moreover, that many Christians do not -- has helped me to see why I come at certain issues from a different direction. I'm sure there will be more on this later; for now, I'm off to a local gay blogger meet-up organized by man-about-town SMB.

I'll have more to share about my time at the coast, too, including some great pictures. Other than coming home to get some cat-love, I really didn't want to come back.