Not Just Whistling Dixie

In a conversation today a co-worker used the phrase “not just whistling Dixie.”  It made me stop and think for a minute, and I wondered:  why is the ability to whistle Dixie treated so dismissively?  Is whistling Dixie considered pathetically easy?  I then tried whistling Dixie, and I realized that I couldn’t possibly do it — the notes just come too quick for my clumsy mouth to successfully deal with them.

The sad fact is that my whistling ability, well, blows.  I really can only whistle part of one tune.  It’s a passage from The Dance of the Little Swans in Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, and even then I can only whistle it at super-slow speed.  If Russia’s greatest composer heard my dismal rendition of one of his most beautiful compositions, he would hurl himself in front of the Czar’s carriage.  And because I can only whistle one part of one song, when I’m in a whistling mood I repeat it over and over.  I recognize this is ridiculously annoying, but I can’t help myself.  So I try to reserve my whistling for those times when I’m by myself.

In reality, UJ is the whistling prodigy in our family.  He not only has a broad repertoire of standard tunes from Happy Birthday to the theme song of Gilligan’s Island, he also has the ability to whistle “by ear” and can faithfully recreate just about any song.  I haven’t tested him by asking him, for example, to whistle Jimmy Page’s guitar solo in Whole Lotta Love, but I bet he could do it. And he also has the lung power and whistling technique that allows him to really project his whistling, too.  You can hear the whistling UJ approaching from blocks away, sounding like a kind of high-pitched pipe organ.

When it comes to this crucial musical talent, I’m afraid I’m not even a patch off my older brother.  And I’m not just whistling Dixie, either.

Cranking Up The Old Money Machine

President Obama’s State of the Union speech this week drew the lowest ratings in 15 years.  Why?  Because this is America, and we get bored with anything that’s been around for six years.  The President is old news, and nothing he says or does in a wooden speech to politely attentive members of Congress is going to change that reality.

And let’s not forget, too, that we’ve turned the calendar to 2015 — which is the year before the next presidential election, which means we’re due to be bombarded with an increasing barrage of news stories about the would-be candidates who want to take the President’s place at the podium.  As if on cue, supporters of Hillary Clinton have made it known that she will be receiving financial commitments for her anticipated campaign that will be “astounding.”  Their goal in lining up an immediate avalanche of cash is intimidate potential opponents and cause them to refrain from challenging Clinton in the first place.  It’s like a “shock and awe” military campaign applied to American politics.

The article about the Clinton effort doesn’t say what would constitute money commitments that are “astounding” and “like nothing you’ve ever seen,” and it’s hard to imagine that sheer numbers are going to boggle the mind given the amounts being spent on political campaigns already.  The Federal Election Commission estimates, for example, that about $7 billion was spent on the 2012 election.  We’ve come to expect big spending on politics, and many of us get email fundraising appeals every day — even now, with no election on the horizon.  So where is the shock level?  $20 billion?  $50 billion?  $100 billion?

Money is important in politics, obviously, but ultimately money is just money.  Americans spend lots of money on lots of things, such as $7.4 billion on Halloween, $20.5 billion on video games, and $73.9 billion on soda.  You can buy commercial time and produce slick ad campaigns, but if your message isn’t resonating with voters you’re not going to win.

Perhaps the Clinton money machine will scare away some contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, but those fraidy-cats probably weren’t serious challengers, anyway.  If there are politicians out there who truly believe in their positions and want to use a presidential bid to forcefully advocate them, they aren’t going to be cowed by mere money, no matter how much it is.  And don’t forget that America loves an underdog.  A spunky candidate who is seen as bravely challenging the establishment and the aura of inevitability might make that “astounding” amount of money seem like chump change.