Tuesday, September 25, 2007

XES

This is a new term of mine, pronounced like Excess. It refers to reverse sexual discrimination.

We are relatively well protected against sexual harassment and discrimination, although more in theory than in practice. Every so often a big class action case makes the news, such as female workers at a company like Walmart not earning similar wages to male employees or being bypassed when promotions are at issue. But in reality our society has accepted women earning less than their male counterparts for the same job, and employers have a long list of reasons for this, starting with maternity leaves and ending with PMS and lost productivity. Women are less likely to be available for business dinners and other after-hours activities, as they have a home to run.

What seldom makes the news is when XES takes place and a younger 'sex kitten' gets promoted because the boss likes the attention. There may be an actual relationship involved or the higher-up is at least playing with the thought. Paul Wolfowitz thought it natural to promote his girlfriend, Libyan-born Shaha Ali Riza; ultimately it of course cost him his job at the World Bank. But for every high profile case there must be countless others where a female has replaced a more capable male because her superior has had the hots for her. Of course, there are female bosses who have their eyes on younger males and the opposite can happen. Also, a company or an organization may be headed by a homosexual who will make sure that only other gays (or lesbians) climb up the ladder. This is particularly widespread in the arts: a head of a company may make his rounds in the orchestra pit before a performance, certain people are constantly seen visiting a maestro's dressing room, or a gay critic will blindly praise a lesbian violinist or the spouse of a man he feels attracted to, even if the latter may not be 'available'.

No, I'm not homophobic: I have nothing against homosexuals as long as they are not after young children. Many are among the gifted in the arts and I count a number of them as good friends. Nor do I have anything against the more beautiful sex; however provocative clothing or behavior better suited for an escort service are not the credentials required for a promotion. But our laws do not really protect a man being replaced by a favorite 'chick', nor a woman by a gay object of admiration of her superior.

Perhaps wisely, at the start of the industrial revolution, people argued about the wisdom of mixing men and women in the same workplace. In many Muslim countries this is impossible, and to a lesser extent among the Orthodox Jews. We cannot deny the sexuality in us, although some mainly religious institutions have tried to. If we are as advanced a species as we claim, with proper upbringing and education we should be able to handle these everyday situations. People will always be attracted to each other. Nature made it that way in order for mankind to survive. But if we are talking about a true democracy, such feelings need to be suppressed at the workplace, for the common good and health of the organization or firm. Too often the culprits of such behavior have a long personal history of not sticking to promises and commitments. It is sad enough when a woman who has given a man the best years of her life is served notice that he now has decided to shack up with a 'younger model'. At least she doesn't have to put up with the humiliation of a loyal male worker being brushed aside because of increased testosterone levels of a boss.

Many polygamist societies have allowed a man to take several wives; that way the first (and eldest) will still be respected and taken care of. A few systems provide the same for a woman: in parts of India where men are too poor to properly support a wife, a few of them will do so together. Although my moral values obviously don't agree with this, I do understand the age-old thinking behind it. Abraham had his Sarai and Hagar after all, and at the funeral of a late French president Fran├žois Mitterand, both the wife and the mistress walked side by side after the coffin of the man who had fathered their children.

Bill Clinton acted only like a healthy, although weak in flesh, heterosexual male with his Monica. At least he didn't try to nominate her to the Supreme Court or become his Secretary of State. Forgive the man for his hormones and virility. Nobody died and nobody even got the boot, with the exception of Miss Lewinsky herself.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Academia Nuts

When hiring new faculty or deciding on an existing professors tenure, universities and colleges in the U.S. often depend on input from colleagues. This is a double-edged sword: peers may know the situation and its demands better than administrators, yet they might not want anyone permanently on board who might be superior in his/her skills and knowledge to them.

Seattle is home to a state university which is listed as the 16th best in the world on a generally highly regarded list, compiled by the Chinese in Shanghai. If I had a child pursuing a career in medicine, engineering or the sciences, I might well agree with that, thus benefiting from one of the few breaks a state resident has in the form of lower tuition costs.

In order to learn a composition for viola and piano by Rebecca Clarke, and to better guide a student working on it, I recently listened to a wonderful recording by Paul Coletti. Although I had heard and seen him perform on the Arts channel on cable, I was surprised and truly impressed by his first-class playing on this disc of English chamber music. Then I remembered that he had been here on the faculty of the same universitys school of music. What a pity that this artist was allowed to go; the same is true with others of his caliber. Hardly rated as high as its parent institution, the music school is seldom mentioned today by students desiring to pursue a career in the field of music. Naturally, I would never discourage anyone from applying there, but few are interested. It cannot compete with the schools on the East Coast, upper Midwest or even Texas, in the dreams of the young. Is it possible that mediocrity among fellow faculty members has kept the truly gifted and inspirational people away? Yet the local media, and former teaching colleagues, may sing praises to the very musicians who might not even have been accepted to study with Mr. Coletti and others of his stature. After all, in our society mediocrity rules, from politics to entertainment.

Many of the top schools have elected not to teach the performing arts at all, such as Princeton and University of Chicago. To a European, our system of having conservatories, drama or dance schools within a university, seems odd indeed. Unlike in other fields, American college students in the arts dont have the four years to make up their mind about their future career. Granted, a gifted musician with any undergraduate degree is free to pursue a graduate degree in music performance if her/his playing skills match the ambitions, but that is a rarity. A performing arts major is an unlikely candidate to enter a medical or law school, although technically that could be allowed. Although by its very definition a university should offer the best education in multiple fields to its students, most of the ones with active art departments dont allow a non-music major to take violin or flute lessons, for example. The often very capable young person might instead be directed to a fellow student; a totally unacceptable solution.

In every field, but especially in music and other forms of art, an inspirational and exceptional guiding light is worth more than his/her weight in gold. Although there are great elderly artist-educators teaching in top institutions, todays young people are a couple generations removed from the ideals of the old and wise, and may worship a completely different set of artistic and musical values. Other retired or otherwise discarded people, such as former orchestra musicians, do not usually inspire anyone. A completely different question is whether a career in music makes any sense in the world we live in. I shall not touch this subject here, as it is too hard a nut to crack.