March 31, 2008

Help prevent a tragedy — I

I'm doing my part. And I'm not talking about this here blog, which has been pretty much devoted since December to debunking as many misrepresentations and falsehoods emanating from Burnett County conservative Republican Mike Gableman's election campaign and its supporters and professional apologists as was humanly possible.

Of course, some people are beyond all hope. An otherwise respectable local conservative blogger announced this morning he was voting for Gableman based on Gableman's "honesty." File that one under 'lost cause.'

Another said, 'I don't care if Louis Butler is a cross between Antonin Scalia and Solomon and Mike Gableman rode the short bus to Hamline Law School, I hate Jim Doyle so I'm voting Republican.' Parse that.

But I caught one yesterday, and in person. I have been teaching piano in Milwaukee two days a week for more than four years. A gentleman named James was my very first student here, and he's with me to this day. He's both highly motivated and dedicated, the perfect student. I can't recall him missing more than two or three appointments. I don't know all that much about James but I know he's a great guy, and he's becoming a pretty good pianist.

James, who I'm guessing is in his early 50s or so, had never played an instrument in his life before we met. He's long since taken to selecting his own music to read and learn on his own, often hymns that he plays at his church. (I had to encourage the hell out of him to do that, because he was nervous about performing in public, but I understand he's been a great success there.)

Lately we've been working at learning how to play out of what we call "fake books," which notate only the one-line melody of each tune, accompanied by chord symbols. They're a very basic representation of each song, and you need some theoretical and analytical skillz to realize each tune's performance. To my unending delight, James has taken a keen interest in music theory and jazz composition, two topics about which I could ramble on forever.

Whenever he starts learning a new piece from his fake book, he reads through the chord changes and marks each one with the Roman numerals musicians use to analyze the harmony. It's outstanding that he does this. James is one of my favorite piano students of all time, and I'm extremely, extremely proud of his achievements.

At the end of our weekly session yesterday, I told James to make sure he votes on Tuesday. He turned to me and said, "Oh, don't worry, I can't wait to vote against Louis Butler."

"Wait a minute, James," I said, "What?" And I am not exaggerating much when I say that James told me that Justice Butler was dedicated to shutting down all business activity in the State of Wisconsin and releasing every child molester onto the streets.

"James," I asked, knowing full well the answer, "Where in the world are you hearing this stuff?" "Charlie Sykes," came the depressingly predictable reply. "Hang on James," I said, and went to see my next waiting student to refund his money, because I was going to be a few minutes. Fortunately that young fellow travels with James, a really cool kid who I think some friends at James's church have adopted.

"Okay, James," I said, returning to my studio and closing the soundproof door, because I anticipated doing some yelling. "Tell me exactly what you've heard Charlie Sykes saying about Louis Butler. Everything."

I must say James had learned quite a bit from Charlie Sykes, and described some of the details of several of the cases Justice Butler has participated in fairly accurately. James was also disturbed by Sykes's incessant and idiotic harping at Justice Butler's ancient and complimentary nickname, earned more than two decades ago in a completely different context and capacity.

For the next 25 minutes I carefully debunked each and every one of Charlie Sykes's falsehoods. I talked about State v. Knapp. I talked about Butler's lone dissent in State v. Jensen and the likelihood of Butler's complete vindication by the most conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court later this year.

I talked about products liability, and how Americans at least deserve to have access to the courts to try and make their cases when manufacturers market consumer goods that cause people to be injured or killed. Those same businesses shouldn't be allowed to buy the courts, and voters like James can easily stop them.

Most importantly, however, I talked about the genius of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights and specifically the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments and how they afford protections to all Americans and not just to those under investigation and prosecution for crimes by the government.

I told him about Mike Gableman's campaign and, using a number of very specific examples, described to James that Gableman has been waging the most blatantly partisan and underhanded and despicable election campaign quite possibly in the history of Wisconsin.

It must have been a decent speech, because James left my studio promising to vote for Justice Butler and, almost equally importantly, against Mike Gableman. James trusts me, and he knows that I would never steer him wrong about the American system of constitutional democracy, and the role of the courts, and yes, even the role of public defenders in the adversarial legal scheme.

Because James knows I would never steer him wrong about music theory and harmony, so I certainly wouldn't bullshit him when it comes to the foundations of this ingenious and successful experiment in democracy and freedom.

Unlike Charlie Sykes, who would, and will, and does.

So, many thanks James, my man, and I'll see you next Sunday. Far from regretting the vote you cast tomorrow, you can be as justly proud of it as your touching version of Richard Rodgers' My Funny Valentine that you learned to play for your daughter when she was visiting from out of town that one time. Trust me on this, brother.

And a word for Charlie Sykes. I understand you're given to bellyaching about the state of education in this country. If you really do care for that, then you'd best stop poisoning the minds of my own most valued and decent students with your insidious, vicious lies.

Continued ...


capper said...

If Sykes gave a damn about anything but himself, I would be doing other things besides pulling double shifts at Whallah!.

But thanks for the fodder.

capper said...

From the late and great Benny Hill, (paraphrased):

I had a dog named Happy, because he was the happiest.

I had another dog named Sleepy, because he was the sleepiest.

I had another dog named Liberace, because he was the pianist.

Cumulonimbus said...

What a piano lesson! Let's hope James tells a few friends what he's learned.

Mike Plaisted said...

A terrific story, IT. One voter at a time...

Anonymous said...

Do you serve cheese with your whine? Sykes is an entertainer, just like Rush Limbaugh or Bill Maher. At the end of the day, do they really matter? If they do make a big difference, then we are screwed no matter what they say, at least eventually. True?

illusory tenant said...

Obviously they matter. That was the whole point of the anecdote. My guy was snowed by Sykes's bullshit. But fortunately he's smart enough to understand the truth when he hears it too.

Display Name said...

The performers like Sykes (and all those who came before him) are only remembered as cranks in the pages of history. Think of the most warmly regarded teachers - the ones only you remember as well as the ones we all remember, like Sagan - and you know they're not just entertainers. They teach what they know, and they do it in a compelling way.

Yes, Plaisted - one voter at a time!