Ideology and Reality

Most of my political friends are disappointed with my current politics. The ones on the left think I’ve become a neoconservative, abandoning my younger anti-war sentiment. Over on the right they are impatiently waiting for me to give up on Marx and socialism. In the centre they chastise me for espousing a pie-in-the-sky radicalism.

Guilty, on all counts.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of continuity between today and where I was at forty years ago.

For most of my adult life I’ve believed in a school of revolutionary socialism that had already lost most of its adherents by the time I discovered it. I was a teenager when I started reading the works of CLR James, and his associates. James was born in Trinidad, in 1901.  The first book of his that I read was The Black Jacobins, a history of the Haitian Revolution at the end of the 18th century, the only successful slave rebellion.

When James moved to London he became a leader within Trotsky’s Fourth International, and then broke from the old Bolshevik’s movement to establish his own Marxist organization, taking some of the brightest and most able with him.

Their arguments with the other Marxists were in two areas. They disagreed about the nature of the Soviet Union, saying that it was not socialist at all, but a form of state capitalism. And they believed there was no longer any need for a vanguard party to lead the working classes.

They saw revolution as a spontaneous process, one that could be understood, but not guided, by Marx’s historical materialism.

I still think they were on to something. But their timing was off.  Not only did they believe Marx about socialism being necessary and inevitable, they thought it was imminent. And caught up in their enthusiasm, so did I.

Given the tumultuous and so often horrific events of those times, it was easy to believe that capitalism needed to be replaced, asap.  And there were signs, like the Hungarian revolution of 1956, that showed a new order was breaking through.

While I wanted this revolution, I didn’t become a revolutionary, or join a revolutionary organization. There wasn’t one. James’s small group went through a couple of splits and eventually foundered. I met several people who had once belonged to the Detroit chapter, and struck up a long relationship with Marty Glaberman, who kept much of their work in print, through his Bewicked Press. I was able to help Marty, and his fellow sociologist Seymour Faber, by writing and talking about my experiences as an assembly line worker, which they used in some of their own publications. Did a bit of proof reading for them too.  And they got me to read a lot of Marx, and Hegel, and even some Lenin.

At the same time I was a social activist, first as a student leader and then in the area of gay rights, and the fight against AIDS. That too was also inspired by James, who believed in the independent validity of liberation movements, even though they were limited by being a part of the ongoing bourgeois revolution.

When the Soviet Union fell and Russia and China went explicitly capitalist, the followers of James thought their perspective had been vindicated. They were right, but it didn’t matter.

I used to think socialist revolution was possible within five years.  Now I joke that it is at least five years away.  More likely 50, or even 150. I thought then that it would take a violent armed coup.  Indeed one reason for thinking it was imminent was that so many workers had fought in wars, knew how to use weapons, and in the US at least, had easy access to them. Yet while holding this view I was marching in anti-war demonstrations on both sides of the border.

Now I hope when that revolution comes it is a peaceful democratic series of events. That is the only way I can imagine it being successful. That, and it taking place only after we’ve exhausted most if not all of the reforms possible under the current system.

Indeed, since the turn of the century  I’ve come around to a more nuanced view of capitalism as well.  Yes it’s the apex of class struggle, but it’s also the adolescence of humanity. I don’t believe it can last forever, because all growth spurts come to an end. Socialism is when we mature as a species.

Eventually money will be replaced by a fairer system of exchange, and the ownership of land and large capital resources will belong to those who directly use them and consume them. Civil society will expand and replace the state.

But I am not concerned right now with what socialism might look like, nor even with finding signs of what James called the Future in the Present. What I am worried about is what the present has to offer the future, ie. the current state of democracy.

I have two reforms in that regard that I like to argue about. Crazy as they may seem, I think it’s possible they both may actually happen in the coming decades.

1. We need to abolish the political party systems that have corrupted how we run elections and write laws and supervise our governments. The only loyalty a politician should have should be to his or her constituents. I got this idea when we republished Every Cook Can Govern, as the first step on the road back to direct democracy.

2. While it’s too soon for a world government, we here in the New World should take heed from the experiment in Europe. Canada and Mexico should join with our big brother in the middle and form a United States of North America.  (That would be the pie-in-the-sky stuff.)  South America should do the same. James had similar ambitions for the Federation of the West Indies. Diane Francis is already calling for a Canada-US merger. I think we need Mexico too, and they need us.

In addition to advocating democratic reforms, I’m also just trying to understand what’s happening with technology and markets, innovation and competition.  Reading a lot of Hayek these days, and Horace Dediu.

……

Even though I turned away from violent revolution it is true that I joined with both the neoconservatives and the “decent left” in supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for humanitarian reasons. Marx himself supported Lincoln and the North in the American Civil war. War, always evil, is still sometimes necessary. And I no longer think it is prudent to avoid the small wars, when they might prevent far larger conflagrations. This is another area where I think James et al made a serious error, misjudging the nature of the 2nd world war.  They should have paid more attention to Orwell, and even Churchill.

The colonialism that James fought is dead. Those of his followers, and others on the left, who oppose nation building from the perspective of the old anti-imperialism, haven’t kept up with the times, and have ended up supporting new forms of fascism instead.

I have even changed my mind, somewhat, on Vietnam. It was an unnecessary war, and the great achievement of the anti-war movement was ending the draft. But now I think Congress was wrong, at the end of that conflict, to abandon the South Vietnamese. Likewise, the return of isolationism in the US today is not going to make the world a safer place.

Even righteous wars are full of atrocity and outrageous suffering.  The American Civil War ended with Sherman’s campaign of terror, burning and pillaging the South.

And giving your support to the leadership of a nation state can come back to haunt you. CLR James was more than once betrayed by former students and colleagues, who took control of the liberated states in Africa and the Caribbean. In the 1960s he reversed himself on Mao’s China, giving his support to a regime that, as we learned later, had just been responsible for the worst famine in the 20th century.

Marty was bewildered by James’ endorsement of a totalitarian leader. But Marty hadn’t been very happy a decade earlier when James wrote the last chapter of Mariners, Renegades and Castaways, as a petition for US citizenship. It didn’t work; James was expelled during the height of McCarthyism.

After 9/11 Marty was quoted in the Detroit media, like many other leftists, decrying the US as the most terrorist country in the world. We had a falling out over that, as I told him that might be, but that like Marx and James I also saw the US as the best hope the world has for a better future. Sometimes, Marty replied, even the best of us are wrong.

……

I finally met James when he came to give a talk at the University of Windsor, around about 1975. I’m told he was an impressive speaker, but I was late getting to the event itself.  James had forgotten his passport, and I had been sent to retrieve it, back at his apartment in Washington, DC, where he was once again being allowed to live.

We did get a few hours to talk before he had to leave, and we ended up arguing, of all things, about science fiction, a genre of writing of which he disapproved. This was a big mistake I told him, if he really wanted to understand American culture in the 2nd half of the 20th century. We found common ground in our mutual appreciation of the film Dog Day Afternoon. He told me I was always welcome to come visit him, and I intended to, but he moved back to Britain a few years later.

The three writers during my early adulthood who most influenced me were James, Ivan Illich, and Robert Heinlein. I will have more to say about all three of them in future posts.

……

Some writing by CLR James:

American Civilization, edited by Anna Grimshaw and Keith Hart
Marxism for Our Times, edited by Martin Glaberman
C.L.R. James and Revolutionary Marxism, edited by Scott McLemee and Paul LeBlanc

Posted in democracy, general

Some Resolution on my Resolutions

Now that the summer is almost over (summer for me begins with spring break and ends with the first snowfall at the end of the year) I feel an urge to start blogging here again.

I have been a bit more active over on Facebook, link blogging and posting sometimes as much as once a week. It’s all public. You don’t need to be my “friend” to read what’s there, although you do need a Facebook account.

Not Now is supposed to be my exercise book for longer form writing, about social issues that would bore many of Facebook friends. In particular I thought this was where I should explain why I’ve changed my mind about several of those concerns.

However before getting on to such serious matters as climate change, war, and the evolution of democracy, I have a follow up to a previous post, as a warm up. (I must confess I’ve forgotten how a Word Press blog works. Update: I’m impressed. It’s even easier than before. Except for the writing part, which is apparently still my responsibility.)

So, whatever happened with those New Year resolutions I made 10 months ago?

– get rid of my land line
– drop cable tv
– stop home delivery of the paper
– kill my email

Mission accomplished, mostly.

First I cancelled my home phone, and that took a couple of months, giving my creditors and friends sufficent notice to switch over to my cell. And it was a delightful success. The number of annoying calls has plumeted. I never answer unless I recognize the caller id. Bell Canada even transcribes my voice mail and sends it to me as a text message, so I rarely need to even listen to that.

Got rid of cable TV in July. Only thing I miss are the news programs. However they all have web sites or apps with video clips that are more than adequate, although it’s often old news when I get around to viewing them.

Still have access to tons of mindless entertainment via YouTube, Netflix, iTunes and old fashioned over the air. My rabbit ears attenna gives me just as good, maybe better, a high def picture as the heavily compressed cable signals ever did. Same with the programs I get from the internet, as I use an Apple TV to watch them on my wide screen in 1080p.

Right now I’m saving about $50 a month foregoing cable.  As I buy more shows on iTunes that amount will decrease. In the long run we cord cutters may end up spending even more than before, as this article by Mark Sullivan in TechHive predicts:

Pay TV as we know it will be dead by 2025, and this is how it will happen

….TV’s migration to the Internet is ultimately a matter of evolution, not revolution. There will be no explosions, no network chiefs diving out of windows onto Wilshire Boulevard. That’s because the TV content owners—networks like NBC and HBO, big studios like Sony TriStar, and cable network conglomerates like Viacom—hold the cards today, and they will still hold the cards when Internet TV becomes the norm.

They own the TV shows. Everything else is just distribution.

Content owners were terrified by the gutting of the music industry by Steve Jobs and the Internet during the 1990s and 2000s, and they will make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to video. Content owners will continue to nervously restrict the ways TV content can be distributed and consumed—until it makes financial sense not to.

Content owners and their exclusive distributors (cable, satellite, and telco TV) have carved out a big slice of our monthly paychecks for themselves—$86 a month on average, according to NPD Group, though NPD says the number could reach $200 per month by 2020 due to the rising cost of content (and that’s $200 just for video content, without broadband or phone service). Over the next decade, as TV distribution moves from traditional platforms to streaming platforms, content owners will make sure they get their usual share of that money.

In August I went down to the Windsor Star’s new offices to close out my paper subscription and sign up for their iPad app. Turns out I had do that last bit online, and when I got back home and tried I got caught in a logic loop, as their server kept insisting that another subscriber had my email address. Left a note saying no it really is me, that was only my paper account which just got cancelled.

There was no response, probably because the account had been marked inactive. Eventually they put the app in the iTunes store, and I was able to let Apple pay them on my behalf.

I bought a newstand Star a few weeks ago, and found that, despite my nostalgia, I don’t want to go back. Too bulky, and full of stuff I’m not interested in, not to mention the ink smearing on my hands and T shirt.

Couldn’t lose the email account. Too much of a hassle to notify everyone. I get a ton of email, but much of it is coming at my request.

What was bothering me wasn’t the spam or the marketing. It was my older friends and acquaintances who target my email with link blogging or chain mail. Now I don’t mind that stuff at all on Twitter, personal blogs or Facebook. But in my email stream it’s distracting. And they really don’t understand why. Let me try to explain one more time:

Imagine if several times a week, or even several times a day, a friend calls you up on the phone to tell you of an interesting story or joke they had recently heard. The first few times might be enjoyable, especially if you haven’t talked in a while. But day after day? Especially if at the same time you are also receiving and making dozens of other kinds of calls.

Of course it’s mail. You don’t have to respond right away. But you do think about it. Now imagine instead that your friend knows how to go directly to your voice mail and leaves those messages there instead.

The currency on the Internet is attention. Demand too much of it and you risk your credit rating.

When I go to your blog or other social media, I’m in your virtual space, and came there specifically to hear from you. When you are in my email stream I’m home alone, busy doing triage and not looking for idle conversation.

Most of my younger friends won’t even send me mail without asking permission or at least warning me. They, like me, don’t check their email every day. When I do there are hundreds of messages. That’s not counting the even greater number in the spam filters, which also have to be attended to, because the algorithms aren’t perfect and valid messages sometimes get misdirected.

Nevertheless I have made an accomodation. I scripted my main mail app to process the posts from my link bloggers and gossips, marking them as read but flagged as pending, and then putting them into their own folders. Now I don’t see or get notified about their mail until I go looking for it, just as if I went to their blog. I check them out a couple times a month, as I do most of the blogs I follow. And once I read a post there I remove the pending flag.

This seems to be working. I’m in a much better mood when I see their stuff, and am more willing to put some of their links into my Instapaper stream, along with those I get from the real bloggers and the newer social media feeds.

If one of those emailers also tends to send me actual personal correspondence I give them second url to use, only for that purpose. Those posts I see within a few days, just like snail mail.

Now if I could get only get a handle on my Facebook messages and phone texts. That’s where I am the annoying party.  I’m not up to speed on the protocols and acronyms. And what’s with those smiley faces? Are they about being happy, or ironic?

There ends my report. I promise to write something more substantive soon. Really.

Posted in general

Some Assembly Required

Procrastinate long enough and reality catches up with you. Last April I said I had an idea for how Apple could bring some manufacturing back to the United States, after all that controversy about its assemby lines in China. As the year ended Apple’s Tim Cook announced the company was indeed looking into doing just that.

Now what I had in mind is unlikely to be what Apple is doing. But I’d like to share it with you anyway, to make a few points. This may appear to fall into the modest proposal category, but I’m not being sarcastic.

I didn’t want Apple to get back into the manufacturing business itself. Rather, they should facilitate an agreement between Foxconn and some of Apple’s employees in California or Texas to set up a shop in one of those states, near one or more of the big universities and good community colleges. (And Cook did indeed say they were looking for partners to do the actual work.)

Unlike Foxconn’s own operations, my plant would not offer regular employment to most of its workers. All of the assembly line work would be done by part-timers, students.

Yes, I”m talking child labour here. The Apple workers would be creating jobs for their kids, to help pay for their education and earn some spending money for the other costs of growing up in American society, like gas and car insurance.

Because education has always been central to the vision Apple’s leaders have had for the company, they should provide their student workers the most effective, and least expensive post secondary education. Maybe they could hook-up with those schools that are creating massive online classes featuring the very best professors and instructors.

From what I saw of the iPhone plant in China, a similar, smaller operation in the US would be relatively easy to set up. The parts are small and easily shipped. Indeed many of them are manufactured in the US and shipped to China. (Cook says they are more interested in making Macs locally.)

Apple itself owns the machines used in the Foxconn plants. Foxconn supplies the buildings, the labour and supervision. So the investors in this North American venture would need help with the organization and layout of the work, assuming they can come up with the financing for the site property and managing human resources. Apple could make them some loans to help kick start the venture.

Some full time adults would have to be hired of course, and trained by Foxconn engineers and supervisors. Indeed some of the students could be offered apprenticeships leading to full time employment in those areas.

Final assembly of the iPhone and the iPad models is more labour intensive than the production of their parts. Unlike other manufacturers Apple/Foxconn prefer the flexibility of workers over automation at this stage. This isn’t the kind of work that robots are good at, yet. Each operation is relatively simple, but there are enough changing options, during and between each production run, to make it easier to train humans rather than redesign and reprogram machines.

It looked like a production line for an iPhone involved no more than a 150 or so stations. Foxconn has hundreds of thousands of employees on thousands of assembly lines. But each line is a pretty basic setup, compared to say, a more complex larger product, like an automobile.

Although Apple claims labour costs are not the most important factor in their decision to outsource manufacturing, the advantage of cheaper Chinese labour is obvious. Paying student wages in the US, with few benefits, would keep the project competitive. The staff at Apple’s stores don’t fare much better.

Work would have to be scheduled around classes, but that’s nothing new for students. Shorter shifts, say 4 or 6 hours, with a limit of no more than 20 hours a week, should allow for a decent amount of income, as well as study time and some fun.

There should also be a limit, four years perhaps, on how long the students could work on the lines. Those who want to stay longer would enroll in an apprenticeship program, and become the managers and engineers running the plant.

That last idea is what I’d like to see for all assembly line work: a restriction to how long someone can work at the most basic level in a factory, where one is expected to do the same motion every few seconds, over and over again, all day long.

I don’t know how much longer manufacturers will need manual labour. I think we may have a few decades left before the robots take over all assembly work, but that is going to happen. As these jobs become fewer and fewer, there is no need to condemn someone to decades of being a cog in the machine. There are other kinds of blue collar work for older workers and other types of employment as well.

Farming once employed most of the population. Now it’s only a few percentage points. Manufacturing is going the same way.

In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with hard work, for the young.

In my last four years at Chrysler, I was a production coordinator. My best workers, with some exceptions, were the “temporary part time” students, who would come in on weekends and holidays to let the regular employees have some extra time off.

And who was my worst worker, you might ask. That would be me.  Whenever I had to go back on a line job it was a struggle to keep pace and not screw up. Fortunately my union required management to free me up as soon as possible, and most of the time I was then able to audit my own mistakes and get them fixed. (Yes, I was still an hourly paid autoworker, one with many of the responsibilities, but not the authority, of a supervisor. Seniority has its privileges.)

Since I retired I hear the students are now allowed to work any day of the week. Absenteeism is still a big problem.

Posted in work

I’ve had it with 20th Century Technology

I have four new year’s resolutions, all internet related.

– get rid of my land line
– drop cable tv
– stop home delivery of the paper
– kill my email

My cell does a much better job than the fixed phone, and is an incredible computer as well. It’s never more than an arm’s length away, whereas the land line tends to ring when I’m elsewhere. Why am I managing two different voicemail accounts? The calls I get on my cell are important and welcome, while the older phone gets mostly robocalls and telemarketers.

The high def cable modem/digital video recorder crashes frequently, and is annoyingly obtuse in its programming interface. Almost all the TV I’ve been watching lately is available on Netflix or iTunes, commercial free. The news programs I like have their own podcasts or webcasts.

I love my morning paper yet have no use for most of it: sports, classified, travel, lifestyle, entertainment, and a ton of advertising flyers. It all goes unread into the recycling bin.

The recently revised digital Windsor Star doesn’t have all the content that’s in the print edition. Nevertheless I’ve been making comparisons and so far everything I’ve read in the paper was on the app, as well as the website. There’s not a lot of room on my small kitchen table for all that sprawling newsprint, whereas my iPad, vertical in its dock, takes up as much space as the salt and pepper shakers. The digital subscription is also much cheaper.

Email is the worst. I don’t read it, I put it through triage. Few of my friends use email anymore for personal correspondence. That happens in texting, video chats and Facebook.  When they do send me email they tend to let me know in advance.  Because we all get so much junk mail.

I think I’m particularly vulnerable since I made my email address public on my old blog, and I’ve kept it for so long.  I also suspect that malware infections are harvesting the address books of my friends, especially those who use old Windows machines.

Even with two filters, one server side and another on my Mac, spam gets through with annoying frequency. Some legitimate messages get trapped in the junk folders so I have to triage them as well.

It’s almost as bad as the snail mail in my PO box. That’s pretty much all bulk mail advertisements now, and the post office took away the garbage and recycle bins so we have to take it home.

Then there is the chain mail. From time to time some of my oldest friends or newest acquaintances take up link blogging by email. It drives me nuts.

I already follow a couple hundred writers and websites using Google Reader, Twitter and Facebook. The rss feeds and tweets tend to be focussed discussions by people who are familiar with their subject matter. Facebook is more chaotic and idiosyncratic. I can read the most outrageous posts there and not feel the urge to comment. My Facebook friends are all people I like, and their craziness is part of their charm.

On the other hand email demands a response, or at least more mind share than I feel their urls often deserve. I would be happy if they at least made a more serious effort at blogging. Instead merely sending me a link to a webpage, with or without a taunting subject heading or quote line, usually results in my quick skimming the lead paragraph and then pressing the delete key. On a few occasions guilt sent me rummaging through the trash folder a day or so later, only to confirm my initial impression. Most of these links fail the “older technology” test: If email didn’t exist would you have phoned about it or mailed me a news clip?

Public blogging, and its semi-public Facebook cousin, enforces a certain discipline. When a number of people with a variety of viewpoints can read your posts and comments you tend to be more careful about accuracy and inflammatory or ambiguous language. Unless you want to start a flame war. And the flamers are usually anonymous, which is why to comment on this blog I want you to use my Facebook link to each post. I’m willing to quote exceptions on an individual basis, as long as I know the identity of whoever’s giving me the feedback.

A good friend recently sent me this link about global warming, adding “I know you used to disbelieve in climate change. I don’t now how you feel now, but, you may find this chart helpful.” I was pissed, because I’d never said that, and the post was a silly red herring. I’m a luke warmer, damn it and I have plenty of evidence to support that position.  It’s the size of future warming that’s in dispute, and the percentage of that warming arising from anthropogenic carbon dioxide.

one-third of all human emissions of CO2 have occurred since 1998. And temperatures haven’t budged as a result. – 3000 Quads

What I do disbelieve in is the existence of climate change deniers. The skeptics I read are in agreement with the alarmists, on the basic science.  Everyone knows the climate is changing.

I link bombed my friend back, with a number of studies and my previous writing on the subject.

He replied “Thanks Jim, but to be honest I don’t have the desire to go into depth about something I probably cannot change. Hope all’s well. It’s almost time to have a dinner and movie.”

We went out, had a great dinner and saw Looper.

From the formatting of his message I suspect my friend had simply forwarded to me a post he himself had received. These chain letters keep circulating around the internet, much like their physical antecedents, promising world peace, condemning evil politicians or seeking signatures on a petition to save the polar bears. It’s so easy to hit the forward command in your mail app, and believe you’ve done your bit to raise my consciousness. If he’d posted the link on Facebook he would perhaps have done some research first. Or not. Regardless I wouldn’t have been so offended.

I can’t quit email altogether. I need it for online shopping and banking. And I do sometimes collaborate on special projects which require document sharing and editing. I’m giving those correspondents a new email address. When I shut down my current account my other contacts will be encouraged to keep in touch by phone (voice, video or text) or Facebook. If they can’t stand Facebook I would consider Google+. But no more email gossip, please.

Of course, these are New Year’s Resolutions. And you know I have this thing about procrastination.

Posted in general, science | 1 Comment

Gay Marriage in the USA

Here’s a great story by Molly Ball on The Atlantic’s website:

The Marriage Plot: Inside This Year’s Epic Campaign for Gay Equality

After 31 consecutive defeats gay marriage finally won voter approval in four state referendums last month. Maine, Maryland and Washington made it legal, while in Minnesota a constitutional ban was rejected (it’s still against the law there, by statute.)

What made the difference?  Obama was a big help. Last May, after North Carolina voted for a ban, he said he’d changed his mind and personally was now “comfortable” with same sex marriage. There was a noticeable uptick in Black support this time around.

Libertarians and conservatives were also on board, as right of centre political operatives, including Republicans close to George Bush and Mitt Romney, joined the equality campaigns. They donated a lot of money and went public with their support.

But the the most important factor was probably acquired from experience, from so many defeats. The lesson they learned: the opposition weren’t bigots. Many no voters were sympathetic but conflicted on the issue. It was the unexpected loss in California that drove this point home.

In survey after survey, researchers would ask people what marriage meant to them — not gay marriage, but the concept of marriage itself. And the answers were always the same: Marriage meant love and commitment. Even people who’d been divorced three times would say the same thing. Then the researchers would ask, “Why do you think gay people want to get married?” and the answers would change: They want rights and benefits. They’re trying to make a political point. They don’t understand what marriage is really about. Most commonly, respondents said they simply didn’t know.

So the pro campaigns stopped stressing the civil rights aspects of the issue, and began discussions about love, marriage and faith.

In Maine, canvassers learned to begin each of these conversations with two precisely scripted, research-based questions. They first asked voters how they felt about marriage for same-sex couples. What came next was a question the campaigners called the “Marriage Three Way.” With voters who said they were supportive of same-sex marriage, the canvasser drilled down, asking if they supported marriage or merely some other form of recognition, such as civil unions, for same-sex couples. It might have seemed superfluous to press voters who’d already said they were supporters, but the research had shown that some people who claimed to be in favor of same-sex marriage still preferred civil unions. “These voters,” an internal training document for canvassers explained, “are susceptible to the opposition’s messages.”

Those who’d said they were opposed were asked a slightly different follow-up — did they support some other form of recognition, such as civil unions, or no recognition at all for same-sex couples? Those who chose the first option, canvassers would attempt to persuade, because “people who generally oppose marriage but support civil unions are very persuadable to support marriage with the right kind of conversation.” The latter were considered not persuadable, and the canvassers would thank them and move on.

In instances where the conversation continued, a more free-form discussion would ensue, one centered on shared values, love, and commitment. Canvassers were encouraged to share their own stories — to talk about their gay friends and relatives, their own guiding values, their experiences with marriage. “There are two great questions on your script: ‘Have you ever been married/Do you want to get married?’ and ‘Do you know any gay or lesbian people?'” the training document instructed. “You’ll want to not only ask these questions, but also answer them yourselves. Remember, this is a two-way conversation, not an interview!”

Although they won, it was close, and the nation remains divided on the marriage issue, while respect for gays and lesbians as individuals is much higher.

There is much more in this very long, detailed essay. It also looks at the strategy on the other side, which was more principled than I expected. The whole story is an example of how democracy doesn’t require political parties and how people with very different political philosophies can work together.

My own view of marriage remains ambivalent. I know several couples, gay and straight, who are well served by the institution. But a very large and growing number of married folk are obviously not able to keep a commitment to monogamy and/or a spouse. Nor do I think the nuclear family is a good way to raise children. It does take a village, and those are in short supply these days.

As a retired gay activist I’m happy to see the continued progress on the anti-discrimination front and must acknowledge the recent gay marriage campaigns have been central to that struggle. However as a fiscal conservative and a single guy I’m not too pleased to see dinks of any orientation (double income couples with no kids or dependents) getting tax breaks and benefit perks.

Eventually I hope marriage becomes a strictly personal affair, losing its state sanction.  At the same time we should find our way back to larger families, with a life long commitment based on friendship rather than kinship, with more state support for those taking care of the young, the old and those out of the workforce for whatever reason.

Posted in democracy

Jingle Bell Thanksgiving

Did the 5 K in the Jingle Bell Run again last Sunday, with the usual results.  I was last in my age group – no surprise there – and a few seconds slower than last year.  But it was a good run nonetheless. Great weather, a large crowd, and it felt like I gave it my all, with no aches or pains.  I came in number 303 of 411 runners.

My best race of the year was back in September, in the Trot With the Troops. Almost two minutes faster than my earlier record, and three minutes faster than this week. Won my age group too, although there were only two of us in the male 60-64 category.

Haven’t done a lot of running since then, once or twice a week at most, and I skipped some weeks entirely. Now I’m going to cut back even more as the cold weather approaches, and spend more time in the gym.

In the spring and summer I did a lot more barefoot running than the previous two years. Long slow jogs of 6 to 10 K. I’m wearing my Vibram toe shoes for about half my runs, and the Minimus Zeros from New Balance for sprints and races. This was the first year in decades that I didn’t suffer from knee pain. I really enjoy running shoeless and would do so in a race if a lot of others were doing the same.

I did however develop an annoying small muscle tear (or stress fracture?) in my left foot, on the inside just in front of the ankle, that I suspect was the result of increasing my mileage too fast.  It happened a week before the September race. I took that week off, and then set my personal best. Afterwards the pain came back, diminished but still noticeable. It disappeared around the beginning of November.

I’m continuing with my ketogenic diet, although I do carb up before races.  I’m four pounds lighter than last year, at 167.  In August I was down to 158 for a few days, somewhat dehydrated from all that running. After every race I find myself putting on a few pounds and this week was no different. Next year I’m going to try something different, carb loading with Superstarch, a new energy drink that doesn’t spike insulin levels so much.

All in all, I haven’t felt this healthy in a very long time. The days of being over 230 pounds seem like an old nightmare.  Just a few years ago I was being poked and prodded by a gaggle of physicians.  My gp suspected I had cancer, my cardiologist said it looked like a heart attack. I thought I’d had a stroke, and the initial blood work indicated severe muscle death somewhere in my body.

Fortunately it was none of those. My heart calmed down. Subsequent tests and scans came back negative. That mass on my left adrenal was benign.

Most likely I’d had a bleeding ulcer, the result of too much drinking and some stupid recreational drug use, during a moment of despair as my sister was dying of lung cancer.  Could have been a bit of post traumatic stress as well, after losing so many friends and lovers to AIDS.

Besides the dieting and exercise, I believe I owe my current well being to a book, A Guide to the Good Life, The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine. Heard him interviewed on Ideas, and decided to give stoicism a try.  Fits me.

So I’m happy and joyful, on this American Thanksgiving.  Hope you are too.

Posted in health and fitness

Four More Years, but When?

I still like Obama. As I said last January, I hope he gets another term.

Maybe not the next one, however.

Like Steve Jobs in 1985, Obama’s career path could do with a bit of failure right now. And it looks like Romney is up to the task as his replacement. Most likely though, according to the polls, Obama is going to win a squeaker on Tuesday. That might be all he needs to become a great president.

But a loss could be even better. A chastened Obama would have some time to reflect on his mistakes, and then run again, as an independent. (Yep, I’m still looking for ways to destroy the party system.)

Obama had two notable success stories during his presidency. He moved the country towards universal health care, and he carried on with the Clinton-Bush foreign policy, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. He shares the blame with Congress for the weak economic recovery, but it’s not clear how they could have responded with any more stimulus that wouldn’t have required borrowing past the point of no return, debt wise. He could have done better, but given his inexperience and ties to the Democratic Party, he did surprisingly well.

He is no longer inexperienced. And once he wins again, he will no longer be beholden to the Democrats in Congress or his liberal left party base. They have been an albatross around his neck. Still, if he wins Tuesday they remain a big problem for him.

Win or lose, once the campaign is over Obama should read Bob Woodward’s book, The Price of Politics, about his first term. The President squandered an opportunity in 2011 to broker a deal with the Republicans to address the debt and deficit crisis. Woodward was not impressed with Obama’s leadership and negotiation skills.

The Republicans are going to take the House again. Paul Ryan, if he’s not the next vice-president, will be returning as Budget Committee Chair. (He ran again as a congressman as well on the national ticket.) A re-elected Obama has to make a deal with Ryan to get the deficit under control. If Obama loses, and wants to run a third time, Ryan might very well be one of his opponents. Running as an independent, as a born again fiscal conservative who proves his sincerity by leaving the party, Obama might then have a better chance with the electorate that’s so disappointed with him now (and that includes many who are voting for him.)

Not winning on Tuesday might also help him to avoid impeachment. The next House of Representatives is going to keep looking into administration screw ups with Fast and Furious and Benghazi. There remain questions about why Obama invoked executive privilege in the former, and misled the country about the latter. As they keep saying on Fox News, unlike Watergate, with these scandals people actually died.

If Obama is not in office, the hearings won’t go very far. At worst it will be another Iran-Contra, Reagan’s embarassing folly. As a sitting president however, especially one who might not win the popular vote this time around, he could be praying for acquital in the Senate if the House Republicans find enough dirt to back up their suspicions.

I admit, I’m dreaming. A loss for Obama probably means political retirement. Carter and Bush senior never made comebacks. But this guy is fighting like hell to get re-elected. He’s not going to be satisfied, at his young age, with only one term. Whether he wins the next four or another election four to twelve years from now, I’d like to see him fullfil his promise to put an end to polarizing party politics.

So, if I had a vote on Tuesday, would I mark my ballot for Obama?  Last time my preference was for McCain, and in some ways Romney is an even stronger alternative. I’m still undecided, and suspect I’d only make up my mind if I had to, once I got into the voting booth.

Obama broke a lot of promises. Romney made a lot I doubt that he can keep. Neither impressed me with their campaigns, but then I blame that on party politics, not the candidates themselves.

Once again, as in 2008, I like both of the major candidates, despite their imperfections.  I keep coming back to one factor however. Obama’s four years in the White House trumps Romney’s four years as governor of Massachusetts.

Posted in democracy