Out, and about

In case you’re wondering, this is how poly people come out.  

So, this is a post that understandably requires some context, lest it feel like an unsolicited info-dump, so here it is: there is an element of my life that I have not discussed publicly.  That is because it is outside the mainstream, and runs counter to many people’s preconceptions about how relationships work, how love works, and how people, at their core, work.  There have been numerous posts I have considered writing, but stopped myself, because talking about my dating life would necessarily touch on this topic, and doing so without a “coming out” post would invite confusion, questions, and uncertainty.

Recently, having watched some of my friends (Mike, I’m staring in your general direction) come out about parts of themselves that are tough to talk about but important to understanding them as individuals, I have been motivated to write this.  I will endeavor to intersperse information with FAQs, because I know there will be questions; I had plenty when I first joined this community!  I don’t want to hide who I am, what I do, or my thoughts and feelings about relationships.  So, without further ado, here it goes:

For the past three years, I have been in a happy, fulfilling, healthy, and rewarding non-monogamous relationship.  After too much anxiety and fear of social judgment, I have decided to write about it.

My partner and I live together.  From most third-party perspectives, we are no different than any other couple you might encounter: we do most things together, you can invite us to things as a couple (frankly it’s rather odd if you invite one without the other). She’s my plus-one, and I’m hers.  In the greater realm of our friends and acquaintances, that is probably all 80% of you need to know.

But our relationship has another element that is less-discussed, and less mainstream.  We are non-monogamous.  That means that both of us occasionally pursue relationships with other people, both emotional and sexual, and that either include us both, or don’t.  For those in the poly or non-monogamy community, that’s pretty straightforward, but I’m going to assume that a good portion of my readers don’t fall into those categories, so I’ll try to provide some clarification.

We go on dates with other people.  We form bonds outside our primary partnership.  Some of those are shared, some are not.  When we first got together, my partner had two other relationships (I demote them to one-and-a-half based on information not apparent at the time), and I had none.  Today, I have two independent relationships, and she has one, which is shared.  It ebbs and flows.  This doesn’t lessen our commitment to each other; it enhances the quality of both our lives.

So, how does it work?  My partner and I are pretty active in the poly community, and here’s what I can tell you: it’s different for everyone.  All I can speak to is my own experience.  We have basically two rules about it: nothing threatens our primary relationship, and all communication is good communication.  That means we talk about everything, even if it’s awkward or might lead to uncomfortable feels.  We support each other, wing-man each other, and at the end of the day, we come home to each other, our extra-curriculars notwithstanding.

But don’t you feel jealous?  Fair question.  Yeah, we do.  Both of us, in varying degrees.  Jealousy doesn’t disappear in open relationships, it just gets counterbalanced by the freedom it also offers, and it gets muted by our strong communication with each other.  My partner- a cis-female- tends to be attracted to other women for her secondary and tertiary relationships, which I admit lessens my jealousy, even if that admission itself is a mark of the patriarchy.   When I’m out with a date, my partner may feel crunchy, especially if she doesn’t have any plans.  When she’s out on a date, I feel the same way.  We talk through it, help each other be secure and reassured.  We are stronger for it.

Over the past few years, I have had about a half-dozen non-primary relationships.  Most were with people who are already in primary partnerships; about half of my partners have been married or in their own equivalent-primary partnerships.  Some have been single.  My experience has been that the relationships are much stronger and more likely to succeed if the other person is also in a stable, supportive primary partnership.  When that isn’t the case, problems tend to arise, but not always.  Every situation is unique, every person, every relationship, different, and generalizations are really bad at predicting how any two people may interact at any given time.

Perhaps because my partner is bisexual, we vastly prefer shared partners.  In the parlance, these are called “unicorns,” because it’s relatively rare to find a female partner who is interested in both the male and female halves of a primary, heterosexual relationship.  We have been lucky to have a few, and those have been great experiences.

We go to parties that cater to the non-monogamous.  This includes a monthly cocktail party, and some parties that encourage us to explore extra-primary relationships, using such ingenious devices as spin-the-bottle (no, really, that happens).  We attend these regularly, and have built a group of friends within the community that is more supportive and satisfying than any community I have had in my life.

It it better than monogamy?  I don’t think it’s better, just different.  Keep in mind, most “monogamous” relationship aren’t actually monogamous: the tremendous instances of infidelity amongst so-called traditional couples attest to the fact that monogamy is a choice, but not a necessarily natural default.  Consensual, ethical non-monogamy has definite pluses and minuses, and certainly isn’t right for everybody.  It is right for us.

What is it like going on dates with non-primary partners?  It’s a mixed bag.  I have had some really great dates, and some that left me calling my partner to commiserate before I even got back on the subway home.  Most people going on dates with me know full well the limitations and possibilities entailed in a relationship with me, though for some it’s harder to reconcile.  While, as I alluded to above, I seem to have more success with people in stable relationships, I have had really great dates with single people, too.  Over time, I have built a strong support network, and always have a shoulder to cry on when things don’t work out as I planned.

I think I’ve hit the FAQs, but will reply to any additional questions to the best of my ability, just send me a direct message.  I am not an expert on the subject; contact Dan Savage for that.  I am just a writer who wants to share this aspect of his life, with its pros, cons, and limitations, and finally sufficiently confident to post about it in a public forum.  I’ve been in the closet about it for a few years now, and realize it is important to speak out, to increase visibility of my community, and to be true to myself.

~Andrew

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Rejecting Enchroma

Wherein I refuse to accept that my vision is deficient. 

When I was in sixth grade, I got a C in art class.  I was a good student in general, but that class utterly defeated me.  The teacher, may her name be blotted from my personal history, refused to accept my excuse for constantly missing questions about the color wheel and color combinations.

I am colorblind.

For those unfamiliar, colorblindness is an inability to discern certain colors.  It comes in many varieties, and I have several.  It is also genetic.  Most of my uncles, along with my brother, are also colorblind to varying degrees.

My form of colorblindness manifests in the ability to see only five colors: black, white, green, blue, and yellow.  If it’s not on the list, find the closest color, and that’s what I see.  Brown, orange, and red, for instance, all look green.  Purple and pink are blue, except when pink is dark enough to read green.  It’s a complicated system to explain, and I can’t always predict what I’ll see if you show me (insert color word here).

Because, and this is what I think people don’t really get about colorblindness, those colors are just words: they don’t really exist, at least, not to me.  When somebody tells me that something is “periwinkle,” I usually respond that periwinkle is a flower, not a color.  “No,” they tell me, indulgently, “it’s like a dark blue.”  Then call it dark blue, and stop making things up, I (mostly) don’t retort.

For many years of my childhood, I thought colors were a prank that everyone was in on, so they could laugh at me about it.  I thought they were making it up. Without dwelling too long or hard on how much it sucked to be bullied as a kid in general, suffice it to say that my recognition that colors beyond my five were a real concept and not just an inside joke came gradually.

Imagine, if you will, looking at a single-colored object.  Let’s use a yellow post-it note, because that’s what’s in front of me and you probably can visualize one easily.  Someone asks you what color it is, and you say yellow. They then get a look that could be amazement, or ridicule, and it’s impossible to tell which, and say “Really?  That whole thing looks yellow to you?  You mean this” here they point to the left side of the note, “and this” here they point to the right “are the same?  Wow!  That must suck!  You can’t see bumblebee yellow?”  And it’s confusing!  Because of COURSE they’re the same color.  These other people must be nuts!

This bit of personal history, and the frustration and resentment that come with it, informs my reaction to the semi-recent proliferation of colorblind-fixing eye wear.  These products, made by a company called Enchroma, purport to “fix” colorblindness in its most common form, red/green, by filtering certain wavelengths of light.  They only work about fifty percent of the time, but for those that do, they can actually “fix” the brain, so that after some time, the wearer can discern colors without wearing the glasses.

The internet is rife with videos of people seeing colors for the first time using these glasses, and many of my friends have sent me links.  I even had a dream a week or so ago, that some friends of mine threw me a surprise birthday party at MOMA and gave me a pair of the glasses, so I could see my favorite works of art in color.

My feelings on the Enchroma glasses are pretty complicated, and are informed by my history of people’s reactions to my colorblindness.  I do not feel that I am being somehow cheated, or that my experience is somehow lessened, because I don’t perceive the full spectrum of colors.  I acknowledge that it can be occasionally inconvenient, since society often uses color-coding for information and fashion, but it doesn’t “suck” for me.  I’m an optimist, and I like the world I see, as I see it.  I am not broken, defective, or missing anything.  Colorblindness is not a disease or a disability to me.  I see and navigate the world just fine, and I have never known it to look any different.  My favorite works of art are fantastic, just as they are, without anything missing from them.

Moreover, Enchroma glasses will not “fix” my colorblindness.  I have too many types, and it is aimed at precisely one of them.  At best, it could permit me to be marginally less colorblind.  My five colors could become six or seven.  That is not worth the investment of time, money, and energy.  The hardest part of colorblindness, for me, has been learning how to explain it to other people.  I know how to do that now; I’ve had nearly 35 years of practice.  If my vision changes, I will need to re-learn how to explain the limits of my color perception to people.  It’s not worth it, just to see red.

When I was in college and reading pretentious philosophy, I remember forming the belief- one I still hold today- that if we could experience the world through somebody else’s eyes, it would look completely different.  Sounds, colors, tastes, touch, everything.  Our experiences, I believe, are entirely subjective, and we agree on language to create the illusion of commonality.  That’s heavy for a post about colorblindness, but it is relevant inasmuch as those realities, and those subjective experiences, are all valid.  Just because somebody experiences the world differently, doesn’t mean they experience it less.

Colorblindness is not a disability, it is an inconvenience, not so different from being short of stature.  There are certain things that are more challenging, and there are occasions when platform shoes might be convenient, but leg extension surgery seems like a bit much, particularly if it were only on one leg.  That’s how I feel about Enchroma glasses: they’re an asymmetrical leg-extension for a short person, useful in concept, but rather silly in application.

So that dream, the one about a birthday surprise at MOMA with the glasses, was actually a nightmare.  The first thing I did when I woke up was tell my partner to NOT ever do something like that.  Pathologizing my limited color vision, and using these “miracle” glasses as a way to generate “awwww” moments for Youtube, does not sound like fun, or even particularly useful.  Perhaps some day, when the technology improves, the cost comes down, and the zeitgeist has moved on to fixing other non-problems, I will try them out, but more out of curiosity than perceived necessity, or even utility.

In the meantime, if I had the time and money to spend on technological solutions to personal challenges, I’d get laser eye surgery.  Being nearsighted is a real, measurable hindrance.

Being colorblind is not.

~AG

Published in: on March 7, 2017 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Langurs

Some thoughts on a recent viral monkey video

If pressed to speculate, I would guess that they were studying the interactions among a social group of langur monkeys, that the animatronic doll was meticulously designed, treated with chemicals to simulate pheromones, testing the group’s response to the toy, as somber scientists with brown hats and clipboards checked boxes on a spreadsheet, designed by a graduate student on the brink of a successful thesis.

And perhaps that’s true. Perhaps this was a double-blind, controlled experiment from which important data will be harvested and assimilated into the hefty annals of Things We Know about Langurs. Or perhaps this was more scatter-shot, an unexpected experimental note sounded in the unlikeliest of jungles at the direction of a scientific maestro, performing a symphony of intuitive investigation in the empty forest, to see if it makes a sound.

Or maybe it was a lark by a bored primatologist, hungover from one too many flutes of champagne at the social mixer after the previous night’s zoology conference, looking from the animatronic toy to the monkeys and back again, and moved to act by that most innocent curiosity of youth, let’s just see what happens.

One morning they awoke to find a child in their village. It was not a baby, but a toddler, though borne of no parents among them. There was something different about the child. It was not his appearance, his scent, or the way he moved, but there was something. You could sense it immediately. The child was one of them, anyone could see that. It was also different, something more. Something divine?

They held it in their arms, tried to care for it. It wouldn’t eat. They guided it onto limbs and showed it how to grasp and balance, but it wouldn’t learn. It was a part of their group, and yet apart from them all, somehow. Then it fell. It fell like a lifeless ragdoll, with a thud and a flop and then stillness, onto the forest bed below. It died there.

Perhaps the scientists learned something worthwhile from observing the interactions of the langur monkeys with their animatronic toy. Perhaps the field of scientific knowledge expanded in some appreciable way. Perhaps an eccentric, distinguished researcher won additional acclaim for their findings. Perhaps the primatologist stifled laughs from behind the nearest broad-trunked tree, admiring their own handiwork, mocking the stupid monkeys.

All I know is that on one unseasonably warm day in February, a short video emerged from the flash and din of the web, a two minute testament to the langurs, and how they showed humanlike compassion and mourning in the wake of the death of the toy monkey. It was a good video, edited down to just the highlights, they’re so cute, so precious, so misguidedly sad.

Yet I wonder, too, about how the langur experienced this episode in their history. The mysterious arrival, the sudden departure, the otherworldly creature who was, for just a moment, a part of their lives. Do they remember the toy monkey? Do they question where it came from, or why? Do they tell stories of this strange happening to their young? Do they even tell stories? Does a langur monkey, as it lays down to rest, sleeplessly stir, speculating on the meaning of this strange experience, or its broader implications for their lives?

It’s funny, imagining those monkeys as they push up against the very limits of their understanding and ability to reason, trying to make sense of a toy monkey thrust suddenly in their midst. Silly monkeys.

And yet there’s a small part of me that wants to listen, to listen very carefully, for the echoes of stifled laughter from behind the nearest bright star.

-Andrew

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How Can We Cure Our Chronic Illness of Police Murder?

The only thing new is our collective awareness of the problem. 

This week, two incidents of police violence are in the national spotlight.  The first, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, involved a man, Alton Sterling, selling CDs outside a gas station.  Two police officers threw the man violently against the hood of a car, forced him to the ground, pinned him in a prone position, and then shot him several times in the chest.  He died.

Across the country, in Minnesota, a man, Philando Castille, was pulled over for an allegedly busted tail light.  He had his girlfriend and a four-year-old in the car with him.  He told the officer that he had a (legal) firearm, but was going to retrieve his ID from his pocket.  The officer shot him several times in the arm and chest.  He died.

Both men were black.  All police involved were not.

This week’s tragedies are the latest installment in an ongoing narrative about police violence against black men.  Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott. The list goes on.  Each time, there is outrage on social media, and the same tired choreography plays out in public: the authorities pledge to get to the bottom of things, usually in press conferences held by white leaders surrounding themselves with people of color.  Protesters chant and demand justice, remind us that black lives matter.  The right wing retorts that blue lives matter, or all lives matter.  There are investigations, sometimes charges are even brought, but more often they aren’t.  There are acquittals of those charged.  Rinse, repeat.

This parade of horribleness has been featured prominently in the culture these past few years, leading some- including me, at one time- to wonder: what’s changed?  Why is this happening now?

The sad truth is that nothing has changed.  This violence isn’t new.  What’s new is that we have become a society of camera-wielders.  We capture these deadly encounters.  Where a mere decade ago, Alton Sterling would be dismissed as another stupid criminal who pulled a gun on some cops and was killed, now we have evidence that directly, indisputably refutes the police account of his murder.  We have cell phone video from Minnesota, where we can see and hear the rabid, berserk police officer who had just killed Philando Castille, still inexplicably pointing his gun at the dying man and his girlfriend with a four year old child in the backseat.

The culture has changed.  People are aware, and with that awareness comes anger.  With that anger comes calls for accountability.  And as yet, there is no accountability.  Black teenagers are told that they must take great care not to provoke police, not to do anything that might be interpreted as threatening.  They get shot anyway.  Their very existence is perceived as a threat.  Police are not yet facing legal consequences.  Social consequences are ill-defined, trickier to employ.  George Zimmerman gained a following of idiots after shooting Trayvon Martin.  Society is sick.

I feel sick, watching this.  Sick, and helpless to make it right, or even to make it better.  Petitions and protests don’t seem to be working.  Spilled ink- or pixels, let’s update the metaphor- isn’t helping.  I’m a middle-class white male professional, full of privilege, and I can’t figure out how to leverage that privilege to stop this madness.  I want desperately to stand up and be counted as an ally, to affirm that black lives matter, but somehow my efforts seem at best futile, and at worst, appropriative of a movement and a mantle that isn’t mine to claim.

Thank you, Michael Heyliger, for your suggestion that would-be allies put pen to paper.  Expressing anger isn’t a solution, but it’s as good a first step as any.

-AG

Butchering Foreign Languages

Thousands of miles apart, two butchers are cut from the same apron.

Last year, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Germany.  It was my second visit to the country, and one of the most surprising- and relieving- things that I learned is that the majority of Germans appear to have at least some degree of fluency in English.  As I speak no other languages apart from the smattering of phrases I pick up any time I travel abroad, this helped immeasurably; I was able to converse mostly without the assistance of my bilingual host.

On one particular day of our visit there, we stopped into a butcher shop.  Our host selected some local delicacy as a morning snack, and it was beyond good. The meat was fresh, the cheese was potent and creamy, and the bread was crispy on the edges and soft in the middle.  As we were standing just outside the shop, munching on our delightful meal, I remembered Black Forest Ham.

I capitalized the term for a reason.  Here in the states, there is a trendy meat product labeled black forest ham.  Like applewood smoked bacon or slow roasted chicken, that product is more adjective than substance; it still tastes like only a slight departure from the central protein with which we are all familiar.  So, when my host offered me Black Forest Ham on my first day in Heidelberg, I assumed I knew what I was in for.

I was wrong.

Among other natural features, there is a forest near Heidelberg called the Black Forest.  They produce, inter alia, ham.  Or, rather, Ham.  It tastes closer to prosciutto than to the stateside protein slop that passes as black forest ham in America, with a peppery smell and a crispness that is just…no, an adjective won’t work here.  You really should just to try it.

So, back to the butcher, we’re standing outside and I’m remembering how good that Black Forest Ham was, and I decide that I’m going to do something nice for my traveling companions.  I resolve to go back into the butcher shop, order about half a pound of Black Forest Ham, and we can take it along as a snack during our day, in which we planned to do several miles of country walking.  Resolved, I headed back into the shop.

Now, earlier I mentioned that most Germans I encountered speak at least some English.  The elderly man behind the counter in the butcher shop was not one of them.  Not only that, he didn’t even want to try.  No matter, I thought, I can point to what I want, and I know how to count to ten in German.  What could possibly go wrong?

Several things, as quickly became apparent.  First of all, counting to ten doesn’t give you the ability to say “one half pound.”  I tried to say “zero point five pounds” but that didn’t seem to translate, not the least of which because, like the rest of the civilized world, Germany is on the metric system.  The butcher looked bored.  Nobody else was in the store.  We were getting nowhere.

Frantically, I tried to remember my conversion tables between pounds and kilos.  One of them is bigger, about two times bigger, I seemed to recall.  I couldn’t remember which was bigger.  I decided to take a gamble.  “Ein kilo,” I clearly articulated, pointing to the Black Forest Ham.  Without a word, he lifted the meat, and began slicing.

It only took a few moments for me to realize that this was going to be more than half a pound.  The pile of meat kept growing.  Finally, he stopped.  It was five inches tall.  He reached for another piece of meat, and continued slicing.  My friends were at the window, still outside, looking at me with a mix of humor and confusion.  I had purchased 2.2 pounds of meat “as a snack.”  We ate it for the rest of our trip, with every meal, and never did finish it.  It still tasted great.

That anecdote was on my mind today as I walked into the grocery store around the corner from my apartment in Queens, New York.  I needed a pound of skirt steak, and walked up to the butcher.  Now, I should mention here that Queens is a big, diverse place, and my neighborhood, Jackson Heights, is overwhelmingly Ecuadoran and Columbian.  I am in the vast linguistic minority.  Still, most shop owners here can at least manage enough English to conduct transactions.

Not this butcher.

I pointed to the skirt steak, and confidently asked for one pound.  “Una pieza?”  He said.  “No, one pound, not one piece.”

He shook his head.  “Non, una pieza.”  He had decided for me.  With experience on my side from that German butcher last year, I decided not to take it lying down.  “No,” I said, “uno POUND.”

“Que?”

Frustrated, I pulled out my phone and started looking up the translation.  The metric system shouldn’t be an issue, I figured, as the prices were all listed by the pound.  Google came to the rescue. “Una libra!”  I was triumphant.

“Non,” he calmly replied, “una pieza.”

I got mad.  “Una libra!  Non una pieza.”

“Si, una pieza.”

“No!” I said, maybe a little too loudly.  Other customers were taking notice, which is always to be avoided in New York’s public places.  He didn’t respond.  He just put the single piece, una pieza, on the scale.

It weighed 0.98 pounds.

I’m not entirely sure if I blushed in embarrassment, but it’s likely.  I finished my shopping quickly and headed home, thinking of Germany, Jackson Heights, and the two unwritten rules I had learned: butchers can speak whatever language they damn well please, and we challenge them at our own peril.  Enough writing, dinner’s almost ready.

-AG

Published in: on June 14, 2016 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Matt Santos Redux

Obama’s political team borrows a cliche, and ineffective, tactic from The West Wing.

For those of us who spent the earliest part of this century in disbelief at the election and re-election of George Bush, The West Wing was a refuge.  In Aaron Sorkin’s liberal fantasy, we could watch week-by-week as a brilliant president and his competent staff wrestled with political issues in an intelligent, thoughtful way, their decision based on public policy rather than monied interests and cynical political calculations.

Towards the end of the series, President Bartlet, portrayed by Martin Sheen, was termed out, and the show shifted its focus to the election battle between Republican candidate Arnold Vinick and Democratic candidate Matt Santos.  On election night, just as Santos was eking out a victory, his vice-presidential candidate, Leo McGarry (portrayed by the late John Spencer) died.  Typical Hollywood melodrama.

With his running mate dead, the president-elect had to select a new person to appoint.  Republicans threatened to make it a difficult confirmation process.  Santos decided to float the idea of nominating his former opponent, Arnold Vinick.  The two meet in the penultimate episode.

“I know your game,” Vinick says.  “Get me to say I’d consider it, then you have your people leak it to the press. You figure that’ll soften the Republicans and they’ll talk about a confirmation for Vinick.  Then you announce who you really want, which I assume is Baker. Then you put public pressure on the Senate to give the same speedy confirmation to Baker that they were gonna give to Vinick.”

This scene returned to my mind this week with the news that Obama is considering- just possibly- nominating Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to the Supreme Court.  Sandoval, a moderate Republican, is very popular in his state, and was seen as a rising star in the party before its sudden and precipitous lurch to the right.

Of course, no formal vetting has taken place, and the president has not said a word about Sandoval, but the mere rumors have already led the media to ask pointedly of Senate Republicans, what would you do if it was a member of your team nominated to the bench?

So far, the Republicans haven’t bought it.  I am not aware of a single member of the caucus who has softened their position based on a prospective Sandoval nomination.  It’s a good thing, too: I do not believe President Obama has any intention of nominating Brian Sandoval.  This leak, which is surely coming from his administration, is designed to put the Republicans in an even more ridiculous posture than they have put themselves, arguing that they will not give hearings or consideration to a nominee well before a nominee has been named.

Based on their bizarre and foolhardy opening salvos in the nomination fight, one might forgive Obama for assuming that the Matt Santos tactic would catch at least a handful of Senate Republicans with promises of consideration for the nominee.  However, they- and we- have not been so easily fooled.

In the end, Matt Santos nominated Vinick as Secretary of State, choosing a more preferred candidate for the vice-presidency.  Obama will likely nominate one of his preferred candidates- the smart money is on Sri Srinavasan but I’m personally hoping for Loretta Lynch- to the Supreme Court.

The Brian Sandoval name-floating is nothing more than a political gamble.  It appears to have failed.

-AG

Careful What I Wish For

Hell has cold days, too.

As I watched the returns from the New Hampshire primary this week, I sat by with a very distinct division of reactions.  The Democratic results felt like a body blow, while those of the Republicans elated me.

As you might surmise from those twin responses, I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton, the erstwhile front-runner for the Democratic nomination.  I never expected her to win New Hampshire, but was shocked by the margin of loss.  It was as though she never competed there at all.

On the other hand, the prospect of a Republican campaign with Donald Trump at the helm makes me almost giddy.  I can’t imagine a more flawed, hopeless candidate on a national level than The Donald.

I imagine this as a dramatic if not inevitable result of the Republican party’s shift towards radicalism in its primary process, a shift that causes their candidates to run far right in pursuit of the nomination.  The result has been, for several cycles, candidates who then need to lurch back towards the center (shake that Etch-a-Sketch, Mitt!) in an attempt to relate to the often-pursued, always-elusive moderate voter.

Now, perhaps, a Trump candidacy in the general election will be the one that breaks the system.  Trump has shown little appetite nor inclination to moderate his views based on the electorate, and some of his more extreme policy positions and comments will be extraordinarily hard to walk back.

It’s unlikely he can appeal to moderate voters.

Consequently, I have found myself rooting for Donald Trump, not because I support him- far from it!- but because I believe his nomination is the most favorable for the hopes of his eventual Democratic opponent.

It occurred to me, though, that my support for Trump is in actuality a yuge risk  (we both see what I did there, reader, let’s just agree to ignore it).  Thus far, Trump’s candidacy has been a master class in proving pundits and common sense prognosticators wrong.

He was never supposed to register on the national polls, nor be able to recover from speaking gaffes that would have sunk any other candidate, any other cycle.  He was never supposed to get near the front of the pack, nor sustain a lead.  He was never supposed to place near the top of the caucuses, nor win any states.  Common sense dictates that he will crash and burn before posing any real threat to the presidential election process.

He sure as hell wasn’t supposed to be the front-runner in mid-February.

So I, as a Democrat, sit comfortably back and watch the increasing panic in the Republican Party as their presidential hopes seem destined to settle on the absurdly-coiffed head of The Donald.  Of course, I assume, common sense dictates that once he is nominated, he will be overwhelmed by the Democratic candidate, who will likely provide coattails to other office-seekers, resulting in a Democratic landslide….

…and then it hit me.  I’m basing my own peace of mind on the same common sense set of political prognostications that Donald Trump has made a political career out of defying.  If he is nominated by the Republicans, there is a very real possibility that the rest of the GOP will hold their noses and support him, some enthusiastically.  The Republican Party is more adept than average at rationalizing political decisions that I find repellent.  It is also a very real possibility that the average voters- let’s not fall into the trap of idealizing the mostly-apathetic majority of voters in this country- will vote for him in unexpectedly high numbers.

It is possible that he will be elected President.

Once I recovered from that realization, and the dry-heaving that accompanied it, I took some time to seriously reconsider my opinions.  Here is what I have decided: I still don’t think he can win.  I still think a Trump nomination, or a Cruz nomination, to be fair, would absolutely devastate the Republican hopes of retaking the White House, and could help down-ticket.

I’m going to dial back the giddiness, however, until November 8th, circa 11pm Eastern Standard Time.

 

 

Published in: on February 12, 2016 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fourteen Years Later

Some thoughts on the anniversary of September 11, 2001.

Fourteen years ago, I was in college, living with my girlfriend and two roommates in an off-campus hovel.  It was my practice at that time to schedule my classes as late in the day as possible- I am not, and never have been, a morning person.

So, I was asleep when my girlfriend shook me awake to say that something was happening in Washington, something about a bombing.  We didn’t have a television, and this was the era before smartphones.  It took most of the morning, making calls to friends and family, before we pieced together what was happening.  My dad was traveling, and I remembered him talking about a meeting he would have in the World Trade Center.  I was very worried until I called my mom, who reassured me that my dad was stranded in Canada, which, all things considered, was not a bad place to be.

Looking back on that day, what I recall most strongly is the lack of finality.  We didn’t know that it was over, that the four planes were the entirety of the attack.  We spent the entire day fearing that there was more to come, that it wasn’t over yet.  That feeling persisted for several days.  I skipped class on September 11.  I think the other students did, too.

Of course, living in Lexington, I was far from the places directly impacted.  In the weeks that followed, my friend Dimitri and I drove to New York to see what had happened and find a way to help.  This was prior to the construction of the visitors’ dome: New York had not yet learned how to properly host a disaster.

When I returned to Kentucky, I wrote a personal narrative about the experience.  It was for a writing class, a “Noticing” assignment that was focused on senses other than sight: I threaded observations about smell throughout the piece.  At the time, and for several years after, I considered it my strongest writing, but somewhat atypically I did not retain a copy, and that piece is lost; each year on this day I wish I could revisit it.

Since moving to New York three years ago, my perception of September 11 has changed.  I see the way it has left a legacy on the city.  People tell with muted voices about where they were, what was happening that day, people they knew and lost.  Every fire station is a memorial to the first responders who died.

This past year, I visited the museum, a jarring look back at the events as they unfolded.  I know there have been many controversies about that museum, but I found it compelling.  I left feeling sad, but with a sense of perspective that makes me appreciate how far we have come from that time.

On the morning commute today, the bus pulled over, and the driver said, in typical barely-understandable announcement fashion, that we would be stopping for a minute of silent remembrance.  I looked at my watch- it was the very minute the first plane hit the towers.

September 11 means different things to different people.  I lived far from the tragedy, and I did not know any of the victims.  It still impacted my life, as it did, in some way, the lives of everyone.  Its effects rippled across the globe, across the next decade.  It is still felt today, in our policies and our national memory.  I write this post to lay down my own personal marker: I remember that day.

-Andrew

Published in: on September 11, 2015 at 9:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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Peanuts and Crackerjack

A few thoughts from my recent trip to Citi Field. 

When I was growing up, baseball was the only sport that consistently held my attention.  Around the age of ten, I collected baseball cards, with a particular focus on my favorite player, Barry Bonds*.

I played on my high school team, an undersized underclassman with funky hair and a funkier sidearm-delivery pitch.  I wasn’t good, but I wasn’t terrible, and playing the game was always a joy.  I stopped after my sophomore year, with the recognition that any aspirations to be a professional athlete were woefully misplaced.

Still, I remained and remain a baseball fan.  While I don’t follow my beloved San Francisco Giants with anywhere near the fanboy enthusiasm I reserve for Kentucky basketball, I keep up with the team, cheering at their successes and commiserating when they lose.

About a month ago, it came to my attention that they were doing quite well this year.  That recognition- prompted by a series sweep of the hated Dodgers- was coupled by another: I lived in New York for three years, and had never been to Citi Field.  So, I did a quick search on sfgiants.com, and found out that yes, the Giants were coming to town, in mid-June, for three weekday games….at 4:30 in the afternoon.

I was pissed.  Like many professionals, my work obligations are not consistent with mid-afternoon weekday games.  The more I thought about it, the more angry I became.  We taxpayers fund the bonds that built Citi Field, and for our troubles we get games that we can’t attend?  No wonder their attendance is piss poor!  I wrote a Facebook rant, my venom seething from each pixel, and was about to click “submit” when a thought occurred to me: I had viewed the time on the Giants’ web site.  The San Francisco Giants’ web site.  Listing times in Pacific Standard Time.  Locally, the games started at 7:30.

Social media crisis averted, I bought a ticket for the June 9 game.  I was very excited: the last game I attended was Barry Bonds* last home game, played in San Francisco’s AT&T Park.  It had been several years, and I was eager to return to the ballpark, and watch the game I have enjoyed, in various degrees, for most of my life.

I arrived early: my bosses were so amused by my ticket purchase story that they encouraged me to take an early exit and catch batting practice.  My seats, in the left field bleachers, were prime real estate during the pregame, and as luck would have it, I managed to catch a practice home run ball hit by Buster Posey, the best of the current crop of Giants hitters, checking a minor item off my personal bucket list.

The game itself was everything I remember.  Now, baseball games on TV are boring, but in person the atmosphere is wonderful.  This was a memorable game, too: the Giants managed to win by way of a no-hitter, only the second in history against the Mets.  I was in full Giants’ regalia, including my Barry Bonds* jersey, and found moments of camaraderie with fellow fans of the visiting club.

An afternoon at the ballpark is a really great way to break up the work week.  I recommend it to anyone.

~Andrew

*Barry Bonds is still the greatest player in the history of the game, full stop.  Haters gonna hate.

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 1:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Money Screams

Is money in politics an intractable problem?

Courtesy of my Aunt Mikki, I read a fascinating article today about Lawrence Lessig’s Quixotic quest to bring about an “atomic” change to campaign finance law.  His approach is to help elect candidates pledging to support reform, but as even he concedes, any laws restricting spending are likely to be struck down as unconstitutional.

In my view, the Supreme Court has truly made this an intractable problem.  The issue is very real: in order to secure election, a candidate needs to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for every office.  Senate campaigns require millions.  Presidential races will soon be billion dollar enterprises.

This means, in practical terms, that our representatives are really only part-time public servants.  A large portion of their time must be spent courting donors and dialing for dollars.  This is an acknowledged problem, and a vast majority of us think it should be fixed.  A vast majority of us are also convinced that it won’t be.

Lessig is a great thinker; I most admire his effort to establish Creative Commons to address draconian copyright laws.  He is not a very savvy political operator, and from the narrative it appears the he reached too far, too fast.  Whether his efforts are ever met with success on the electoral front remains to be seen.

I want to address a more fundamental question: if we were able to reform campaign finance, what would the result look like?

After considering the problems and the extreme limitations on any effort at reform, I am most intrigued by a set of rules that would dramatically impair the right to use money on races outside one’s district or state of residence.  It would look something like this:

Only individuals (read: people, with flesh and blood, corporations and other entities excluded) can contribute to political campaigns.  There is no maximum limit on such contributions.  However, individuals can only contribute to races for seats that directly represent them in government, based on their actual residence.  All donations will be a matter of public record.  So-called “issue ads” are entirely permissible, but for nine months preceding an election, they may not use the name or likeness of a candidate.

Here is my reasoning: if we start from the premise that the Supreme Court treats monetary donations as a form of speech, we have to be very careful about restricting it.  Hence, no limit on individual expenditures.  The protections usually afforded by the option of anonymity in speech is in this case trumped by the compelling governmental interest in election transparency.

There is also legal precedent for restricting money-as-speech rights for outsiders.  We already restrict foreign citizens from contributing to our elections.  A restriction barring a Nevada resident from giving money to a Delaware senate race is a reasonable restriction to prevent Sheldon…ahem…said Nevada resident from exercising an undue amount of influence on an election for an office that does not represent him, er, them.

Similarly, these rules address the farcical distinction drawn by the Citizens United decision regarding “coordination” or “direct electoral appeals.”  First of all, I believe the constitutional concerns regarding association and speech are equally present in a rule forbidding “coordination,” if that rule has any real substance at all.  Isn’t engagement and association the backbone of democratic government?  Additionally, permitting ads saying “Senator Such and Such is a terrible human being, let him know!” while prohibiting ads saying “Vote against Senator Such and Such” makes little sense.  Both ads have comparable effects.

Prohibiting candidate names and likenesses while permitting issue ads means that only voters who actually know the issues on some level can be persuaded/manipulated by a high-dollar ad campaign.  The more aware a voter is, the less likely they are to be persuaded by crappy political advertisements.

There are, of course, several downsides to this approach. A billionaire activist could simply overwhelm his local house race under this rule, giving an unlimited amount of money directly to the campaign.  This concern is somewhat mitigated by the transparency rule.  Since the identity of the donor and the amount of the contributions are public, both the media and other concerned citizens could scrutinize these contributions and factor them in when casting their ballots.  “We all hate Mr. Moneybags, he has been a blight on our community, and he’s given a half million dollars to Senator Such and Such” would be an available line of attack, especially on a local level where the big contributors can be quickly identified and assessed.

In large statewide elections, the benefits are limited, and for the presidential election, they are virtually non-existent.  Electoral college reform merits its own full-length article, and would somewhat mitigate that problem.  The biggest impact would be felt in house races, which are already reaching monetary levels that seemed improbable even a decade ago.  This is crucial, because the House is designed to be a representative body for the people.

As I have previously discussed, our districts are too large, and should be made smaller and more responsive to constituent demands.  Fair and transparent elections, and our methods of funding and conducting them, are the foremost constituent demand.

Finally, prohibitions on corporate and entity-level contributions are currently held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but these donations are anathema to fair elections.  They permit an end-run around transparency laws, and allow the wealthy to funnel donations on a large and pervasive scale.  Simply put, this is a problem and needs to stop.  My hope is that the reforms described above, when considered as a whole, would pass constitutional muster.

I should probably conclude by cynically acknowledging that the likelihood of bringing this type of reform is almost zero.  The reason is that elected officials, with the powers and influence of incumbency, rely heavily on out-of-district and organizational/corporate donations to secure re-election. They are afraid to rely solely on the actual citizens they represent.

Which, when you consider it, is really the core of the problem.

-AG

Published in: on January 9, 2015 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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