Archive for ‘ October, 2010 ’

Answer key for the Nov 2010 ballot

Here, for the benefit of my fellow left-leaning progressive egalitarian voters in the Montclair District of Oakland, is the answer key for Tuesday’s election. For the rest of y’all, this is an opportunity to learn why you should be glad you don’t have to vote here, where democracy is not a sport for amateurs.

If I’ve made any factual errors, please correct me in the comments. If you have any insights on the issues where I’m perplexed, please enlighten me. If you’re a right-leaning regressive bigot, don’t bother to comment, because we won’t persuade each other. If you have a reasoned disagreement and are interested in respectful debate, then by all means, comment away!

We have three freaking ballots!

Holy crap! Between state offices, state measures, and local ranked-choice questions, we have not one, not two, but three tests to fill out!

Ballot the first: from Jerry Brown to “Who the heck is Katy Foulkes?”

Governor: Jerry Brown.

C’mon, folks, this one’s easy.

Governor Moonbeam did a great job thirty-some years ago when California was the land of opportunity that drew Meg Whitman to come earn her ill-gotten fortune here. And he dated Linda Ronstadt. Who can argue with his taste? Linda Ronstadt is not, by the way, Rosanne Cash.

Mayor Moonbeam did wonders for Oakland, with most of the benefits of his sensible leadership only now becoming visible to people who didn’t pay attention and thought he was an evil pro-business Republican in disguise. He’s not; he’s a sensible guy who understood that if you want scary areas to get scarier, you make them unattractive for business, and if you want scary areas to become nice, you attract businesses and make them places people would want to live.

Attorney General Moonbeam had the dignity not to defend Prop H8. In fact, he saw to it that his office gave Prop H8 the discredit it deserved.

We need Governor Moonbeam again.

And he’s my neighbor! No kidding—he lives about a mile from here, along my jogging route. Every so often, I run into him and his wife while I’m walking Kjersti the chocolate lab in Redwood Park. We exchange nods and smiles, I pretend he’s just some ordinary guy, and he pretends I’m just some ordinary woman with a ridiculously cute dog.

As for Meg Whitman, she’s got hideous politics, she made a ton of money by doing a bad job as eBay’s CEO, and she treats her domestic help as disposables, not as people. I don’t even want to have a beer with her, and I love beer.

As for the others, I imagine the Green candidate is fine, but we need Jerry to win. Don’t waste your ballot; this one’s too close for comfort. Anything but a 99-point margin over Meg is too close for comfort.

Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom

I wouldn’t have voted for him for Mayor of San Francisco, either, but once he took office, he turned on his wealthy supporters and started doing the right thing all over the place. He legalized gay and lesbian marriage in San Francisco, and the pictures of crowds of happy people in love changed the conversation. For that alone, Gavin deserves some more time in politics.

Yes, he appears to be a slime-ball, but he’s our slime-ball.

Et cetera: vote for the Democrats

Unless they have such a huge lead that you can safely vote for the Greens. I’m too lazy to figure out which ones those are.

Attorney General: Kamala Harris

She’s the real thing, and she prosecutes crimes that matter instead of BS that’s good for headlines, and there are some cretins spending serious money to smear her. Don’t be fooled.

United States Senator: Barbara Boxer. Repeat, Barbara Boxer. Repeat, Barbara Boxer.

A lot of politicians who are on the right side nevertheless make a lot of weaselly votes, pander to idiots, and generally fall shockingly short of acting on even their own convictions. Not Babs. She’s one of the few who actually speak the truth and bring up the issues that matter.

Carly Fiorina has a lot in common with Meg Whitman: she was a lousy CEO, her politics are hideous, and she doesn’t treat her inferiors with respect. About all I can say in her favor is that she’s a lot better looking than Meg Whitman. I’m happy for her about the cancer thing. I wish her well, but she needs to pay a lot more taxes, and the idea of her replacing Barbara Boxer as my Senator scares the bejesus out of me.

I once performed at a Barbara Boxer benefit event, and not only did she give a great talk, but when the event was over, she and the headliner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, came right over to thank us musicians and stand with us for several pictures. That’s before either one of them shook a single wealthy hand, mind you. They said thank you. To the musicians. The hired help. The nobodies.

Class act, Barbara Boxer.

And she’s WAY shorter than you can possibly imagine, even when she’s standing in some high scary-ass heels, as she was. The mere fact that she can walk in those things should earn her your great respect.

US Representative: Barbara Lee. Barbara Lee speaks for me!

Barbara Lee was the only dissenting vote in the appalling, embarrassing, unworthy, unamerican rush to blow Iraq to hell and gone because a terrorist organization in Afghanistan attacked the United States again. She was the only person in all of Washington to say no to Dubya and Cheney’s blood lust. One person in Washington voted with integrity. It was Barbara Lee.

Member of the State Assembly: Sandré Swanson

Even though he robo-called me more than once. Haven’t we proven to ourselves enough times that not having a majority in the Assembly leads to absurd stalemates over basic things like passing budgets and writing reasonable laws?

Judicial Yes and No people: I have no clue

I have absolutely no idea how to vote on these justices. Never have. There are no reliable resources that I know of that are of any help whatsoever on figuring out who, why, or why not. The only voter guides that we pay attention to that say anything say yes for all of them. Okay, I guess.

Seriously, though, WTF? If intelligent people who are willing to put some work into this voting thing can’t figure it out, then isn’t something broken?

Update! NO on Ming Chin! NO on Ming Chin!

With a tip of the hat to Zoe for supplying this helpful link: http://www.calitics.com/diary/12705/november-2010-statewide-endorsements

Superior Court Judge, Office #9: Victoria S Kolakowski

Most of the leftie voter guides are split on this one. John Creighton appears to be decent enough. Here I go with the advice of Alice B Toklas
organization and the local Green Party Voter Guide, both of which prefer Victoria Kolakowski for a variety of reasons. She’s progressive and transgendered, and I’m all for some diversity on the court. About darned time.

Good thing she’s not a write-in candidate.

By the way, even if you’re not a Green (I’m not, although I wish I could be), their voter guides are considerably more helpful than most. They actually explain their endorsements and supply facts that are helpful for weighing the fuzzier matters.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction: Yech

Even the Greens can’t figure this one out. They’re both pretty lame. Torlakson seems slightly less awful; at least he doesn’t harp on and on about test scores.

AC Transit District Director, At-Large: Joel Young

Thanks, Greens.

EBMUD Director, Ward 3: Katy Foulkes

Thanks, Greens. She’s decent on ecology and lousy on labor. She’s also unopposed. I guess we might as well vote for her.

Ballot the second: from legalizing marijuana to funding for the Oakland Police Department

Fasten your seatbelts. The propositions are where democracy is at its most challenging in California. Holy crap, I hate our so-called voter initiative process. Let’s face it, most of the propositions are so poorly worded that it’s hard to figure out how to vote even after you’ve figured out how you feel about the issue. Most of them address things our Assembly is too wimpy to do, more badly than even the Assembly could manage to do them. Most of them are heavily funded by massive corporations who do not have the needs of California citizens in mind.

So, my first rule is always: when in doubt, not just no, but hell no.

Now let’s struggle through each one of them.

Proposition 19 Legalize marijuana: yes

No, I’ve never smoked it myself, and the way the smell makes me want to hurl, that’s unlikely to change any time soon. I know some people who’ve messed themselves up pretty badly with the stuff, too, and lots more who haven’t, but here’s why I’m voting yes: because it’s time to stop wasting resources on treating its personal use, cultivation, and purchase as a crime.

Prohibition was a lousy idea, and it didn’t work either.

Proposition 20 Redistricting: No

I know, it seems like a good idea when you read it, but look who’s supporting it: big business. Who’s opposed? Everyone from the ACLU on down. That’s all I need to know.

Proposition 21 State park vehicle fees: Yes

It’s a flat tax, which is generally regressive, but the Greens make a good argument for why to vote yes, anyway. Short answer: the parks need money, and it ain’t coming from the Assembly.

Proposition 22 Confusing jibber jabber about moving money around: No

As theballot.org puts it, “Complicated & suspicious way to prevent state borrowing from local agencies.” The good guys all say no, the bad guys all say yes. This is a great example of “When in doubt, no.” Lots of propositions are just plain bad ideas, written as badly as possible so as to confuse people into supporting something they’d never in their right minds agree with.

Proposition 23 Postponing planetary health: No

Why on earth would anyone in their right minds postpone enforcing the environmental protection laws that aren’t strong enough in the first place? Because big bidness told them it had something to do with why they don’t have jobs, of course! Bullshit. Not just no, hell no.

Proposition 24 Repeal some tax loopholes: Yes

This one is basically about getting big bidness to pay more taxes by ditching some ridiculous loopholes. A rare example of a proposition we need. Not just yes, hell yes.

Proposition 25 Drop the supermajority budget thing: Yes

California can’t pass anything to do with budgets without a two-thirds majority, which basically means it can’t get anything done. When do the good guys ever have a 2/3 majority? That’s right. It’s a stupid, stupid, stupid law, and it’s time for it to die. Not just yes, hell yes.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a great proposition, but it’s a start.

Proposition 26 Create a new supermajority budget thing: No

See above under Proposition 25. The supermajority budget thing we already have is a disaster. The last thing we need is yet another supermajority budget thing. Not just no, hell no.

Proposition 27 Undo bogus redistricting scheme: Yes

This one goes with Proposition 20 but gets it right. It’s not perfect, but the Governator’s bogus system is a pile of crap. As theballot.org puts it, “Eliminates that sketchy redistricting commission (see Prop 20).” Barbara Lee says yes, as do most but not all of the good guys.

Oh, boy! There’s more! It’s county, school, and city stuff!

Measure F Paying $10 more to improve Alameda transportation: Oh, OK, I guess so.

Measure L Paying $195 more to do something about the embarrassment that is the Oakland school system: Yes, unfortunately

Measure V Raising taxes on medical marijuana. Sure!

Raise almost a million bucks? Yeah, sounds good to me.

Measure W Paying $15 more a month to keep Oakland from breaking off and sliding into the Pacific Ocean. Well, okay.

This is another sucky flat tax that hurts poor people far more than wealthy people, but we do sort of need to keep the lights on somehow.

Measure X Paying $360 more to do something about crime or something. Uh-uh. No. Hell no.

Uh-uh. This is another bogus “scare the people into passing yet another regressive tax measure that hurts poor people and lets rich people off easy by reminding them that their city is full of black people and implying that somehow this will do something to pay for more police somehow without actually doing so” measure. No. Hell no. And, no.

Sandré Swanson says he’s for this one. Seems like a good reason to look forward to Rebecca Kaplan filling his seat in a few years to me.

Measure BB Something about police something something. Yes.

I can’t for the life of me figure out what this one means. I can’t even figure out what the Greens say it means. I’m tired after doing the first, third, and all but this question on the second test. I can’t take it anymore. The Greens say yes and I’m leaving it at that.

Ballot the third: from Don Perata to “Who the heck is Gary Yee?”

Oakland Mayor: not Don Perata

That’s the most important thing. Yes, he’s got lots of name recognition, because he’s under investigation for corruption and he’s been a famously lousy politician for freaking ever. Even by Chicago standards, he’s too corrupt to elect to anything else.

After that, this one’s hard for me. Ranked-choice voting is a good thing here, because it means we actually get to vote the way we want, not the way we feel we have to. So for me it’s the Green guy first, Don Macleay, because he’s actually a smart guy with good ideas. What a concept!

Second, I go with Jean Quan. She’s earnest and basically on the right side of most things, but I also think she’s prone to some wimpiness for the sake of gathering votes, and she does lots of smarmy crap that makes it embarrassing to support her. Still, she’s decent, she’s on the right side of most of the most important issues, she’s kept her staffers busy doing good stuff for Oakland and its citizens, and she’s a credible candidate. Second choice.

My reluctant third is Rebecca Kaplan. I want to like her a lot more than I do. She’s smart, Jewish, feminist, lesbian, left, progressive, and lots of other good stuff. But she’s gotten a lot of criticism for temperamental behavior, which isn’t generally a recipe for effective leadership, and she’s got her sights on higher office; this run for mayor is widely seen as a grab for attention just to up her name recognition for the Assembly position when Sandré Swanson terms out. I think she’d probably push more issues that I care about than Jean Quan, but I think Jean Quan would get more stuff done. Let’s go with Jean for the executive position that needs to get stuff done, and let’s look forward to voting in a few years for a scrappy rabble-rouser to join the Assembly that desperately needs them. Yes, here it is, my 2013 endorsement of Rebecca Kaplan for State Assembly. She’ll be awesome there. She’d probably be a pretty good mayor, too. I won’t be upset if she wins.

Either one of them would be fine and a heck of a lot better than Don Perata. Did I mention that he’s under investigation for corruption?

Update: You know, let’s switch 2 and 3. I like Kaplan better. I just do. And see the comments below.

Member of City Council, District 4

My wife did the work on this one, and here are the answers according to her survey of the endorsements.

First, Libby Schaaf, because she worked for Jerry Brown, he supports her, and all the good guys endorse her. Second, Jill Broadhurst, because she’s a mensch and has started lots of good stuff. Third, Clinton Killian, because he’s the smart black dude who went to Stanford and UC-B Law School and he walked Montclair.

Just writing down what she says here, folks. My wife’s smart; you best listen.

Uh-oh. We’ve got an update—she says maybe it should be Daniel Swafford instead of Clinton Killian. Swafford does look good.

City Auditor: Courtney Ruby

She’s the incumbent and has been doing a great job. No second or third choice.

School Director, District 4: Benjamin Visnick

Thanks, Greens. No second or third choice.

Mandelbrot and music: on listening in fractal dimensions

[This is a cross-post from my business blog, Global Pragmatism. I posted it there because of all the math-geek tie-ins, but since it’s about music, it belongs here, too.]

Benoit Mandelbrot died this month. He was the guy who came up with fractal theory, which led to all those gorgeous computer graphics like this one:

A Mandelbrot set

Last week, my friend and contradance bandmate Tina Fields wrote an essay about Mandelbrot’s ideas on her blog, Indigenize! I found it quite thought-provoking, and it surprised me how much I learned from her post, since I’m the one with the math degree. My next surprise was how Tina’s thoughts on this mathematician inspired me to think about listening to music.

This essay is in response to ideas she raises in her essay, so go read hers first and then come back here!

First I’d like to amplify her comment about coastlines by quoting this passage from Mandelbrot’s obituary in the New York Times, about how coastlines played a role in the genesis of his theory:

Dr. Mandelbrot traced his work on fractals to a question he first encountered as a young researcher: how long is the coast of Britain? The answer, he was surprised to discover, depends on how closely one looks. On a map an island may appear smooth, but zooming in will reveal jagged edges that add up to a longer coast. Zooming in further will reveal even more coastline.

“Here is a question, a staple of grade-school geometry that, if you think about it, is impossible,” Dr. Mandelbrot told The New York Times earlier this year in an interview. “The length of the coastline, in a sense, is infinite.”

In the 1950s, Dr. Mandelbrot proposed a simple but radical way to quantify the crookedness of such an object by assigning it a “fractal dimension,” an insight that has proved useful well beyond the field of cartography.

To me, that’s the real genius of his discovery—viewing scale as a dimension. If we measure the coastline or the surface of the broccoli from a mile away we get a much different answer than if we measure it from close up and far different still if we measure under a microscope.

So what is scale, really, but a matter of perspective?

Let’s consider the metaphorical potential: if perspective is a dimension, how does it change the way we view truth about our world? You have some truth, I have some truth, and the differences are not necessarily contradictions but spectral variations along the perspective dimension.

Tina’s big gift to me in her essay isn’t so much her point about Mandelbrot’s focus on verbs rather than nouns, although I enjoy that, too, but her encouraging us to think about new things fractally. The first thing that comes to my mind is Beethoven. (Perhaps I should explain that besides working in statistical software and facilitative leadership, I’m also a professional horn player and hold degrees in music performance and music history.)

Beethoven leads my pantheon, and here’s a bit on why: his compositional technique is extraordinary, and the more you know about musical composition and performance, the more you hear in his work. In addition to doing all the usual classical things—the usual structural designs (four-movement symphonic architecture with movements in sonata, menuet or scherzo, sonata-rondo, etc. forms, linked in a progression of related tonalities, yada yada Haydn, blabbety-blabbety Mozart, blah blah Bach), German-Italianate phrases, symphonic devices of his environment and era—he throws in a few more tricks all his own, chief among them his idea of motivic development.

His every melodic gesture is built up from the smallest motives, e.g. his Fifth Symphony‘s four-note “ba-ba-ba-BOM!” opening. That simple four-note figure is sequenced, layered, mutated, and warped all throughout the first movement, each phrase a new assemblage of basic building blocks, each harmonic gesture arising out of layers and layers of sequences of this tiny musical block and several others.

Here’s an mp3 of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony if you’d like to remind yourself how it goes, but I’d recommend buying yourself a great recording if you don’t already have one. There are many excellent options; one I’d particularly recommend is Bernstein’s with the New York Philharmonic, on an album that also features Bernstein and orchestra members discussing the symphony. They do a much more eloquent job than I will here of bringing the symphony to life.

All the composers of Beethoven’s time (and throughout most of history, with differing vocabularies, of course) have adhered to various conventions from the largest possible scale (the arc of their developmental style through their lifetimes) down through the structure of each opus, each movement within, etc., down to the smallest-scale assumptions about harmonic structure, idiomatic styles of individual instruments, and so forth, but Beethoven brings it all to a whole new level, honoring all those formal rules while also constructing everything both melodically and harmonically, both vertically and horizontally in each case, out of these tiniest of musical blocks.

(We later see Wagner up Beethoven’s ante with his Romantic adaptation, the leitmotiv, where each character, event, place, and even philosophical concept is represented by its own fragment of musical DNA, all these leitmotivs swirling in a pan-theatrical operatic swamp of continuous through-composition, rejecting while also embracing formal conventions in a megalomaniacal Gesamtkunstwerk.)

Struggling valiantly now to pull back from this tangent to return to fractal theory, I might suggest that we appreciate Beethoven and indeed all music along fractal dimensions. For many, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is, simply, its opening four notes and the loud romp to follow. The scale of observation is large; the perspective is simple. “Fun music!”

Indeed, who wouldn’t appreciate it on such simple terms? When I was hospitalized with pneumonia as a second grader, my parents brought me the best of all possible get-well presents: a portable cassette deck, including a cassette of the first movement of my favorite symphony, which dad had recorded by sitting next to the phonograph (mono, of course) holding the mic near the cabinet speakers while the needle rode its groove. I listened to that tape over and over during my several weeks of long days alone in a hospital room. I’m not sure what I heard, exactly, but I know that by the time I was discharged, I could have sung the whole movement. (I wish he’d recorded the whole symphony for me, because I’l never know the rest of it nearly as well.)

As I’ve developed as a musician, I’ve lost touch with how I used to hear music. I often wonder what normal people hear, and I like to ask people to tell me why they like certain music or what they noticed in a concert.I know that I used to hear the pretty music, and while I can tell you to the minute when it all changed, I can’t for the life of me remember what I used to hear.

It changed the summer after eighth grade. I was at orchestra camp, sitting in a muggy auditorium on a hot summer night, and probably intoxicated by the pheromones of my new friends. We listened to a piano quartet recital. First I noticed that I was hearing a group whose intonation was so tight, they made the freshly, expertly-tuned Steinway sound out of tune. All pianos are out of tune, but it was the first time I heard it for myself. Then I realized I was hearing four virtuosi playing the crap out of their instruments as both individuals and as a collective.

Then my trumpeter friend leaned over and said, “You know, we’re never going to hear music like normal people again,” and for only a moment I wondered what he meant. I spent the rest of the concert hearing, seeing, feeling the compositional structure, the interplay of themes, the exploration of key areas, the work of the individuals and their ensemble, and on and on. The only limits to the depth of scale in my listening were my musical intelligence and attention span.

That night was my awakening as a listener. In the decades that followed, my musical intelligence has evolved tremendously, but I still find that the richness of what I hear is limited only by my abilities and attention span.

So, locating my metaphor in the area of musical perception, I might suggest that our listening has a fractal dimension. Anyone can hear the sounds. But our perspective—the granularity of our musical knowledge and the intensity of our focus—determines in how large a range along the fractal dimension we perceive the music; how much we hear of the infinite possibilities depends on how large or small is the scale of our listening.

How do you hear?

As I said, I’ve long since forgotten how I used to hear music. How do you hear music? What do you hear in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Do you have any musical training? How does this affect your listening (or not)? I’d love your answers, reactions, ideas—please comment!