In the Words of General Jack Galvin, 1929-2015

Jack Galvin, taken in his Fletcher  School office on October 18, 1999.

Jack Galvin, taken in his Fletcher School office on October 18, 1999.

John R. “Jack” Galvin, the son of a bricklayer who rose to become  NATO supreme allied commander of European forces and dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy died on September 25, of complications of Parkinson’s disease.

New York Times and Washington Post obituaries both published solid roundups of a remarkable man and career. I’m sure his autobiography, which I’ve been anticipating for years now and just learned was published in April, goes into a lot more detail. Gen. David Petraeus, whom Galvin mentored, wrote the foreword.

Galvin was a rare individual: a humanitarian and humanist who climbed to the greatest military heights. A couple of years after I left Fletcher, the writer David Halberstam was in Colorado to receive the Denver Press Club’s Damon Runyon Award.  I approached him and mentioned having back in Medford at the Galvin home – he had spoken to class, and Galvin had invited a few students over the evening before to meet the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (for whom Galvin had been an important source in Vietnam).

Halberstam became animated at the mention of Galvin’s name. “What a great guy!” Halberstam said. “Can you believe he was a four-star? A four-star!”

Halberstam’s surprise wasn’t at Galvin’s lofty military accomplishments, but rather a comment on Galvin’s temperament and gentle bearing. The man didn’t come across like a “four-star.” There was none of ego or the self-import that so often comes with those who have achieved stratospheric professional standing. Galvin came across as intelligent, thoughtful  guy. As the Washington Post obit put it, he was “a prototypical warrior-intellectual.” A warrior-intellectual, if Galvin was the prototype, is a warrior who comes across as anything but.

What ultimately made Galvin different than most people, though, was that he cared incalculably less about who he was than about what he did. His career advanced in spite of a lifelong habit of doing what he felt was right from the perspectives of those his decisions impacted and that of his ultimate employer, the United States of America.

Galvin taught a course on leadership and management during his years at Fletcher (1995-2000); I was a student in the last of these. I took notes using a laptop – still an odd thing to do 16 years ago. With his passing, I it’s time to go through a few them and post some of the gems, in chronological order. If it’s not in italics, the words are his.

 

March 3, 2000

Followers set the terms of acceptance for leadership. Leadership is a mutually determined actvity. Leaders can’t act without followers. Stengel: “I couldn’t have done it without the team.”

In the Army, you can shoot people if they don’t follow orders—theoretically. We haven’t shot any people like that lately. . .

Think of someone:  Would that person shade the truth for the sake of their own benefit? Turn the truth a little bit? Do you have any reservations about how that person relates to people of whom he/she’s in charge? Does he push other people to lie/do things that lack integrity? Favor friends and cronies and give them advantages over someone else?  A manipulator? Who gets the credit? Do you have any reservations about putting yourself in his/her care? Would this person sacrifice others to get ahead?

How does this person really treat the person he or she is supposed to love? = the family? Is he very nice to people outside the family and very impolite and rough with people inside the family? Willing to admit mistakes? How fair is this person with competitors? How predictable/steady? How much does this person set a culture of integrity? Does he inspire groupthink? What kind of a code of ethics does the organization he works for have?

Galvin then related a story. He had once worked for two-star general Galvin declined to name (but was Keith L. Ware), a Medal of honor winner, for the U.S Army’s information wing. Galvin’s job was to analyze all media editorial content on what was being said about the U.S. Army. This general began changing stuff Galvin gave him. Taking out the negatives. The Justification: “These are hard-working people who don’t need any more bad news on Wednesday.” Galvin looked for another job, ended up worked in McNamara’s office writing the Pentagon Papers with Holbrooke and Gelb and others. “This general was killed in action in Vietnam later; a good man, but hadn’t thought it through very well. The generals needed that information.”

If you’re going to complain, do it in a positive way to enact a positive outcome.

If you are empowering people and doing a good job, then you should be able to move on without problem.

Can’t always make these family vs. work choices. Can’t always afford these choices. Middle management in particular. You want to get to a place where you can make these choices.

 

March 10, 2000

We do a lot of talking. Learn to be a good observer. See what’s around you. Listen to a random conversation; see how well or poorly they’re communicating.

One of the most satisfying things in the world is a good conversation with someone who has similar interests. It’s one of the smaller things but one of the finer things in life.

If you want to go up in the world—really up in the world—you have to be comfortable with the people that are up there.

With Margaret Thatcher, you are never at a social event. You are always working. Also, Margaret Thatcher always emphasizes every fourth word.

It wasn’t hard to listen with Margaret Thatcher. There wasn’t much else you could do.

In communications, there’s the carrier wave and the information riding atop it. “I don’t want to talk about that subject” is the carrier wave. The real message is usually, “We’d better talk about it.”

Remember that you’re your own teacher; successful people are excellent learners. They are always trying to learn something else.

If you’re doing a job evaluation, at the beginning, launch it by asking questions about how things are going. As you move up, you’re not talking to peons anymore, but other senior leaders. You can learn a lot. People working for you have tremendous experience already.

In NATO and the U.S. forces, had 12 different four-star generals who worked for me. Many of them were senior to me, coming from other countries.  I was still in charge, and they recognized that.

But how do I go about telling this Norwegian four-star general that I thought something wasn’t well done? You could say it’s beating around the bush, but I asked him how he felt about it. How he felt it turned out. What did he think might have improved things.

Galvin erases a massive chalk-scripted “Please sit in your groups” from the chalkboard and sketches out an intricately planned ambush on the Ho Chi Minh trail. It failed because someone fired early. Galvin and a lieutenant colonel called in the captain who had been in charge. What went wrong?,  they asked. “Smith has 2 weeks left in ‘nam and didn’t want to get killed so he fired early,” the captain said. A very straightforward answer. Galvin and the lieutenant colonel did nothing for two reasons. First, the lieutenant colonel depended on straight information from the captain. And besides, I can understand that the kid was scared. So the message to the captain was: Tell me the truth and things will work out. Don’t tell me the truth and we’ll have a problem. And the second message was: it’s better that that captain handles the situation in a way that he sees is best.

If you don’t feel that people are basically good, you’re going to have some problems.

On reporters: They just interviewed someone else about having a lion as a pet, and now they’re talking to you. And they may not know much about it at all. They are happy if you lead the discussion. This is a matter of initiative; you want to seize the initiative if you can. You don’t want to run the show, but do want to exercise your own will about what will be said. You know more about the subject than they do.

Also: a little bit of silence is not a bad thing. They can make you say more than you want to say, which is what they want—to get you freewheeling, off your plan. Because they feel that something better comes out that way. If you feel that you’ve said enough, you’re probably right. And: if you answer too quickly, it sounds too pat.

The worst people in all of media are the headline editors. They hide in the building and don’t ever come out of the building, don’t care about you or their reporters. They just want a headline. Those are the only people in the media that I really don’t like.

When you’re writing, never use , ‘etc.’ At best, it makes you look lazy; at worst, it makes you look dumb.

 

April 7, 2000

Don’t get mad. You’re at your best when you ought to be mad and you’re not mad.

Getting mad is not the answer; getting over it is the answer.

When you get mad, you get self-righteous, start piling all of the things on your side of the see-saw, leaving the other person nothing.

It’s like crisis: you know that this is the time to get more soft spoken, make sure your mind is clear of garbage so you can see what’s happening, keep your eyes and ears open.

Why should it be lonely? Because I’m at the top because I’m better than anyone else? To me it’s rather a silly notion. If you’re at the top, you should be the most involved person at all in all kinds of ways.

The top is one of those places where you don’t have time to be lonely. But there are times when very, very tough decisions have to be made and standing apart is important.

Whenever you find yourself saying “I’m going to make a decision and that’s it. . .” If you see this happening, let the little voice say, “What the hell am I doing?” and see if there isn’t another way.

People with integrity get ahead, and those who don’t fall behind. Given a zillion exceptions, that’s the way it works.

Never give up, never surrender your ideals. Never surrender yourself.

When hard days come—you can’t give up. Keep on going. You do what you can do. You stay by your principles to the best that you can. But you will make mistakes in life, and sometimes, if you’re like me, they can be very, very costly. It doesn’t do me any good to say, ‘anybody else in the same situation would’ve made the same mistake.’ You have to take responsibility for the mistake. You have to recover the organization—as well as the person—from that mistake.

If you’re not making mistakes, are you not living a life of challenge? Are you growing? When you’re down, say  “Hey, I’m down today, but not down forever.”

A couple of years ago, I asked Henry Kissinger to be our commencement speaker, and he said ‘yes.’ And a couple of months before the date, he said, ‘no.’ He’s felt bad about that, a I’ve done what I can to enhance that. [Kissinger visited Fletcher at Galvin’s invitation in May 2000]

Everybody says [Kissinger] has a big ego, and he does, he’s got the biggest ego you can ever run into. But he can laugh at himself in a nice way. I was with him in Frankfurt, and we went to a small dinner – about this size, about 90 people. There was a short introduction. Kisinger got up and said thank you, I’m glad you didn’t take to much time on the introduction, but actually, a few superlatives would have been alright.

 

April 21, 2000

If West point taught me one thing, it’s how to make a decision when you don’t think you have enough information.

But then: sometimes, waiting is better. If you look back, about half the time the problem would have gone away.

Don’t let the mission slip, where you find yourself doing something else, and not the mission.

There’s a political part to every decision. How do you then put the information out, of a) What might happen? and b) Get these people in with you on this. Have them participate. How can I motivate people to help me with this? How can I build consensus/market the decision? How do I make some friends that I don’t have now? How do I keep everybody on my side?

Remember that very few decisions are a final decision.

In the aftermath of the first Gulf War, Saddam had driven some 450,000 Kurds into the mountains of northern Iraq, where they had become trapped. Galvin, as SACEUR as well as CINCEUR (head of U.S. forces for the European command), visited and found horrendous conditions. I did whatever I could that was legal to get the Kurds out of that situation. At some camps, 31 a day were dying. Kids, mostly. I would bring this up and say, “Are we going to let them all die? Or are we going to get them out of there?” So sometimes the rules were twisted a little bit, but the rules were made for another time.

Listen, I was in trouble with this several times before. When the San Salvador earthquake hit, I had a medical hospital in Honduras. I sent a planeload of doctors and nurses. State Department wasn’t pleased. Got so mad, they said, ‘you pay.’ So I went back to the Department of Defense and they were happy to pay it. Wanted to be seen as being in the act, too.

What if you’re a major military commander with resources near a major disaster? Are you supposed to call Washington and have your coffee?

Commander’s Intent: what would my higher do (if out of contact).

Sometimes I wonder how I ever got to the top.

 What actually happened: remember those punch cards? They lost mine. That was the year my career took off.

 On handling adversity: Nobody gets through this world without a tragedy. You’re not the only one, although it seems like that. If you can help relieve them, then you do. And when it’s beyond your own ability, you try to learn from that.

That adversity has a far, far deeper impact on your capacity, intellect, and ability than the good times do.

When you feel like you can’t call, just don’t know what to say, then you should. Because when it happens to you, you want to hear a friendly voice. “I don’t know what to say to you right now, but I’m pulling for you.”

I think it’s important to always consider yourself an apprentice. You may be a great professional and know lots of things, but it’s a sad thing when people stop learning.

Try to keep the child’s delight in novelty for as long as you can.

Language skills teach you a lot about your own articulateness, learn about other culture, makes you versatile, which is vital if you want to make decision in an environment when there are so many to make.

Careers have their ups and downs.  What’s hard is that people write memoirs that make it look like a straight line. They leave out things they’re not proud of, that don’t enhance their figure. And that’s too bad, because they make as many mistakes as you and I make.

On Success: When you look back at your grandmother or grandfather, you don’t look at them and say, ‘he was a great businessman.’ you say, ‘he was a wonderful person,’ he was unique, he cared.

When you get to the nirvana of leadership people work for you because they think you’re right, because they would feel sad if they let you down, they follow you because they admire you.

Read, read, read, read, read. Across a vast scope; it can be anything. Write, write, write, write, write.

I did unusual things: I went to Columbia University to get a masters in English. I was an infantry soldier. We’re just supposed to grunt. I Wrote about 80 articles – about different things, about tactics and stuff. Then I got jobs writing for the highers. That put me in the front office, so I saw how that worked. And then I had to go talk to other people, built the network. Ended up suggesting speech content. Did that twice for the Supreme Allied Commanders when I was a colonel. Eight years later I was a four-star general in that job.

It was a palimony pony of a career, all speckled.

It’s hard to say, but the thing is not to look for some sort of a golden path to success, but prepare yourself. Read more study more, build your networks, be someone interesting to talk to at a cocktail party.

 

April 28, 2000

Leadership isn’t doing things—it’s getting other people to do things. It’s influencing.

It’s concerned with change. Concerned with action.

We came from a tiny creature. Our tendency is to hide, as it would. Not to act.

When you leave here, your main point has to be your story. Who are you?

When interviewing job candidates: Where do I rate this person on the winner-loser scale? What is their promise? I can listen to a lot of things that tells me what you did in the past. What I’m interested in is what you can do with me now and in the future.

You want to have an interesting story. I grew up here, I have these values, I have these goals in life that I want to achieve, and I think that your organization can help me achieve that, and I can help the organization in the process.

Don’t be too modest about things, being a wallflower when your job is to show who you are. You don’t want to seem too self-deprecating. I heard someone say this as “self defecating” recently.

What he looks for: poise, confidence, articulateness, straightforwardness, a sense of competence, wisdom, knowledge, judgement, energy, drive, commitment, conviction. What kind of an ego? Colin Powell talks about needing to be able to handle big egos, which often come with success. Big egos are a warning sign to me – what deficiencies are these covering up? I also compare that with your contemplative side: are you a thinker and a doer? A cogitator and an agitator? How’s your ability to see interrelationships among things. A test of intellect. You can’t be too smart to do a job. I was always trying to send people back for more training, and I was an infantryman. How quick on the uptake, how smart, how worldly.

Creativity. You’re trying to understand somebody’s comfort level with change. How much to-the-point is this person? Is this a rambler, who wanders off into outer space every time you ask a question?

How well-informed? How does this person manage eye contact? Some people come in and stare.

“Going by the book”: people don’t do this so much as by follow the example of the leader. They will tend to follow your action and seek the exemplary part of you. They want you to serve as example. In crisis, a mythology builds around the leader. Make giants of leaders because we want them to be that way.

You have to realize that you’re always onstage, that everything you say is taken as important.

They’d always have me go into buildings first. “after you, sir,” but I wouldn’t know where we going, so I would walk confidently into the broom closet.

Leaders can believe this stuff an lose control of their egos. Yeah, sure, my ego swelled. I would begin to get that feeling sometimes, you know, “Yes, there is god, but I’m at his right hand.” But most of the time, I knew I had a role to play.

But also, I had the tremendous advantage of starting as a private in the army. I would drink out of Styrofoam cups. They would say no no, not for you sir. Please use the china. I’d say no, I was a private and I know where they wash the china.

They’re not building you up because they’re polishing the apple, but because they want you to be a special kind of person.  I would walk by and say, gosh, the grass really suffers this time of year. And they would go out and paint the grass.

Having started as a private gave me great respect for sergeants.  And I come from a blue-collar family. My father was a bricklayer, and I used to work with these people. He was also a plasterer. All I wanted to be was a bricklayer when I was a little kid. When I would take the tools and pretend to plaster or lay bricks, he would take the tools away from me.

In Wakefield, in the paper, you will sometime still see: “chimney by Jack Galvin.” (his father). Gives me chills.

Everything you do in an organization should carry the organization forward, and you have to start looking at it. Bureaucracy occurs when you forget the mission of the organization, when you start talking about the housepeople, or start thinking about your own self.

Have you had rest? Have you had enough to eat? If you’re tired, your courage wanes on you. Not just in combat, but in negotiations, where you have to take a hard stand, you need to get rest. A great ploy in negotiations is to keep you from getting enough rest.

Body and mind come together, and courage is a function of the mind.

You don’t want to stay in a career because of some sort of sedentary approach to your life. Find a job that you like! You’re going to spend 8 hours a day doing it. I don’t mean liking it in that I went in with joy every day. I liked it because it made things better. It’s about making the world better, serving.

Don’t be afraid to admit that there are things you still need to learn. Does it mean you’re backward?

Try to maintain your curiosity across fields.

Kids don’t mind feeling dumb about something; you do, though. You lie to yourself. It takes some practice to be open-minded and to watch yourself. It takes some self-analysis.

Most of the time when you ask a question, you also convey the answer that you want. “Is your job coming along well?” This is a way to shut off information that is becoming ingrained.

That’s what’s interesting about the military: all the little things are swept away in regulations. Dress. Who salutes who when. And that leaves you free to work the bigger issues.

You have to be able to give them your intention and let them figure it out. Train them and train them so that they have the confidence to know what to do when they’re out there and it hits the fan.

Basically, ethics has a lot to do with how you feel about fellow human beings.

You learn a lot about other people when you need them. I came from a broken home—mother died very young—I learned very early that I needed people, and I really needed them bad. My first letters, to my aunt Florence, saying, ‘Could you call me this afternoon? please call me.’ And it’s often a very lonely place.

Throughout my career I was always either studying a language, writing books, writing articles, collecting my experiences.

On his own faults: I’m impulsive. I once threw an entrenching tool at a sergeant, meaning to scare him but if it hit him, that’s OK too. While I was in Ranger school. I was tired, I was upset. . . I could have been thrown out of the army. Held a small, informal court among officers and NCOs and decided not to report it.

The Vietnam experience did a lot to calm me down and teach me that, if you want to get something done as a leader, you don’t want to do it yourself.

In the memoir, these are the sorts of things I’ll talk about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AVs Drive Themselves Straight into a Service Model

Google AV

Google’s driverless, autonomous vehicles portend a radical chance in how we get around. (courtesy Google)

AVs (not audiovisual, but rather autonomous vehicles) are poised to change the developed world. It seems that about everyone who looks at transportation comes to the same conclusion. It takes a bit of explaining as to why, and a recent piece I wrote for Rocky Mountain Institute’s Solutions Journal takes a shot at. RMI is launching an AV-focused research group, led by longtime GM research executive Jerry Weiland. Weiland and colleagues the first to admit they’re not the only ones thinking about the implications of self-driving cars. But RMI’s involvement brings heavyweight intellect and a long track record in working with government and business to the party.

It’s one of those stories that was rewritten pretty heavily but came out just as well (freelance writers learn not to take these things personally). I had originally led with:

Perhaps discussions of lightweighting, electrifying and autonomizing vehicles doesn’t quite get your blood pumping. Maybe, to you, the notion of a deeply networked, multimodal mobility infrastructure optimized to move people with great efficiency, striking economy and minimal environmental footprint smacks too much of transpo-geekery.

Fine. How about the idea of slashing your annual driving costs by about 75 percent sound, then? With combined U.S. savings of a trillion dollars a year?

That’s a serious number, and it’s the bottom line of RMI’s latest transportation initiative, one riding a wave of academic and commercial recognition that our century-old, car-and-truck centric mobility system is about to be disrupted in a big way.

Where do the trillion bucks come from? We in the United States spend $1.2 trillion a year – 20 percent of our incomes, on average – for the privilege of paying 56 cents a mile to drive our personally owned, isolated, gas-powered vehicles, which the RMI team calls PIGs. (That’s not even counting the $2 trillion or so annually that pollution, sitting in traffic, roads and parking lots, and traffic accidents cost us). The idea is to shift to fleets of shared, electrified, automated, lightweight vehicles (SEALs), which would, if deployed broadly over the next 20 to 30 years, provide the same or better mobility benefits as PIGS for just 15 cents a mile, or a total of about $200 billion, the RMI team calculates. It all depends on cars going from being personal property to being fleet-based elements of networked, shared, multimodal mobility services.

When I wrote it, I was pretty sure “transpo-geekery” wouldn’t survive an editorial gauntlet of transpo-geeks. But I figured you, intelligent laypeople, and not transpo-geeks, were the true audience. And why not have a little fun?

The only line I’d like them to have kept is this: AVs drive themselves straight into a service model. To understand what I’m talking about, you’ll have to read the story.

Lee Kuan Yew and the ’30 percent’

Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore, died early Monday Singapore time at age 91. I had, despite living in Asia (Japan) for three years in the mid-1990s, never heard of him until a fall 1998 Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy class on the “Theory of Statecraft.” Carnes Lord, a double-PhD visiting professor who had worked on Vice President Dan Quayle’s national security staff, taught it.

So by  February 22, 1999, when the New York Times landed on the porch of my under-insulated triple-decker in Somerville, Mass., I knew who Lee Kuan Yew was, and I read William Safire’s column that day: Danger: Chinese Tinderbox.  I had missed Safire’s column from the previous week, The Dictator Speaks, which would have left me with a more well-rounded view of Safire’s relationship with Lee Kuan Yew, which I know now was at the same time antagonistic and mutually respectful.

Conservatives, Carnes Lord included, tended to like Lee Kuan Yew, and he was indeed a helluva statesman, turning a tiny tip of the Malaysian peninsula, one with no common culture or language, into an English-speaking economic powerhouse with great schools. Safire pulled no punches – ever, really – and took Lee to task for his squelching of the press and rigging elections. Lee parried it all quite elegantly.

At the bottom of the Chinese Tinderbox article was a link to the full text of the interview under www.nytimes.com/international. The Times archive no longer brings up the full text, but it’s out there several places on the Web. Safire had milked a single one-on-one public interview with Lee, done at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 31, 1999, for two columns. Because that’s what a good columnist does.

It was a long interview, and it’s well worth reading top to bottom. Lee had stepped in 1990, but was still an immense figure in Singaporean politics at the time. Imagine Vladimir Putin engaging a critic as Lee did with Safire – or any other ‘dictator’ doing so, really. One could argue that the transcript is itself a refutation of the dictatorial assertion.

William Safire

William Safire

Anyway, the bit of the interview I remembered most vividly was buried near the middle. Safire is attacking the idea of Singapore’s wanting to clamp down on information flow in the Internet age. “Q” was Safire, “A” Lee:

A: But that’s a different proposition. The flow of information through the Internet – how many Internet users do we have? About 10 percent of the population? (AIDE: Fifteen.) Fifteen percent. They are the thinking part of the population, fairly well informed, well-exposed. There is this lumpen mass in any society, 30, 40 percent, who never got through junior high school. We don’t want this barrage day after day … the society has got to adjust and evolve step by step.

Q: Now, you’re using Marxian language, with the “lumpen” proletariat.

A: Well, I have been influenced by their vocabulary. They are not able to rise up to the levels of education which the majority has.

Q: But that’s just a function of time, isn’t it?

A: No, it is not. It’s a function of nature.

Q: You mean there is a … somewhere it’s written that 30 percent of the people of a given population will be …

A: Some population …

Q: … maintained in ignorance?

A: Some populations are more talented than others.

Q: I don’t see what you mean by that. Because in a population in a place like Singapore, where you have an elite, you have a middle-class, and you have a lower class, or a people who are not in poverty, but are not well off. Is that fair?

A: Yes. In broad classification, yes.

Q: All right. Now, you’re saying that’s the way it must be?

A: That’s the way it is.

So: Lee came out and said that 30 percent of the population – or some population (40 percent?), as “a function of nature,” are a “lumpen mass.” And that’s not just in Singapore (the place with the lofty test scores, by the way), but in “any society.”

So you can look at this and say, well, that Lee Kuan Yew, he sure was an elitist bastard, wasn’t he? But you can also look at this and say, damn, he’s really only saying what no politician in any elected democracy can say. Without getting shellacked, at least. Like Mitt Romney. Remember?

Caught on video and published by Mother Jones:

 There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what… These are people who pay no income tax…”[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Because Lee realized that the 30 percent (or the 47 percent, or whatever percent) is structural – rather than attitudinal, as Romney and his fellow Republicans seem to believe – Singapore became a society that works pretty well for those on the bottom, despite an apparently stingy welfare system. Maybe if American conservatives, many of whom hold Lee in high regard, considered the “lumpen mass” in the calculating, realist terms that Lee did, Republican social policies would reflect more compassion. We’d certainly be better off – all of us, not just the 30 percent – if they did.

 

An epiphany while knocking on doors for Udall

dark_street

As a newspaper journalist, I wasn’t allowed to actively engage in politics, and I’m still working my way into it. I give trivial amounts to the Democratic Party, for which I in turn receive dozens of emails a day asking for additional trivial donations. I decided I’d volunteer a bit for the Udall campaign, first because he’s a good guy in a very tight race.

At 6 p.m. on the last Tuesday in October, I headed to a stripped down office space next to a gigantic Halloween store that was once the Safeway that fed me when I moved to Denver in 2001, at Leetsdale and Quebec. The trash can belched out soft drink cans and junk-food wrappers. Four young staffers sat in various ancient office chairs and collapsed couches, eyes pinned to their laptop screens.  The idea was that I would make some calls, but I asked if I might be of more use knocking on doors, to which a bearish, bearded young guy said, “Yeah, if you’re willing to do that.” Another, shorter one handed me a clipboard with a Google  map with what would have been red-dot houses had it not been a black-and-white printer, plus several pages of addresses. These would be registered Democrats or others identified as undecided, he explained. It was about getting out the vote.

The map took me to a wealthy area a couple of miles away, Denver’s Hilltop neighborhood, where a scattering of pre-scrape-and-pop places that are merely pricey salt a landscape of million- and multimillion-dollar palaces. It was pitch dark out, the streetlights spaced wide. I had not looked at the list’s arrangement, which I found out too late had been printed in alphabetical order rather than one that might make sense to efficiently walk. I was between early traverses, just arriving on 2nd Ave. from 1st Ave., when a big fifty-ish guy walked by in the street, apparently for exercise. I was reloading the thick stack of door hangers, which on several occasions made their escape after an ill-advised tilt of the manila envelope below their clipboard.

“Udall,” he said.

My first instinct was surprise, as I’d forgotten I’d stuck a “Udall for Senate” sticker on my chest in a bid for legitimacy. Maybe he thought it was a name tag. Before I could explain, he said. “I hope you guys lose.”

It was quite dark in this particular spot, and I couldn’t really see him well. He had glasses and, judging by his body type, had clearly not applied Republican self-reliance dicta to his own dietary and exercise philosophies. He had a bullying tone, probably well-practiced. He was perhaps 10 steps away.

I was alarmed at my first instinct, which was that, if he was actually walking for exercise and not for the sanity of a dog, I could most likely kick his ass and leave him to bleed out in a shrub. I remembered the Udall sticker and clipboard and that I have two kids and let that evaporate. But he lit me up.  Before I could come up with anything, he spoke again, now walking away.

“You goddamn liberals are ruining the country,” he said.

He kept walking. I said, “That right? How’d things go under George W. Bush?” This was not in my Colorado Democratic Party script. But what the hell.

“I love George Bush,” the guy said. “His tax cuts made me and my family so much money.”

He took a few more steps. I said, “That’s kind of a narrow political worldview, isn’t it?”

“And Obama didn’t change a thing. We’re making so much money. We’re doing just great, thanks to you guys.” He was farther away now, yelling.

“Enjoy it,” I said.

“Oh, we are. We’re really enjoying it,” he said, and off he walked down 2nd Avenue.

I had knocked on a few more doors, mostly Udall homes, before the root of my disquiet crystallized. This guy epitomized the worst of the Republican electorate. Despite what in this neighborhood had to be a massive pocketbook, he viewed the political sphere’s sole role to be preserving it. This is as narrow-minded as voting Republican because of the party’s pro-life platform. It’s just not as dumb, because voting Republican won’t change Roe v. Wade and won’t ban gay marriage and won’t end Obamacare and won’t make a difference as far as whether or not you can own a gun (you can), but it will up the odds of the doughy rich like this guy retaining more of their earnings. Thomas Frank spelled all this out a decade ago.

This ethos runs all the way up the flagpole. Hyper-wealthy Republican funders like the Koch brothers spend in their self-interest – their political outlays are an investment in the extractive industries that built and sustain their fortunes, a legitimate business expense. The billionaires on the Democratic side, your George Soroses and Tom Steyers, they’re not driven the same way. How can Tom Steyer personally benefit by fighting climate change?

The worst of Republicanism is cold-hearted, appealing to those blind to the built-in advantages that brought their success, which range from genetic smarts to advantages conferred by station of birth or lucky breaks along the way.  It is a philosophy of solidifying gains and pulling ladders up behind you, leaving the unfortunates below to claw at the masonry. It has little interest in the greater long-term good, choosing to ignore the corrosive impacts of income equality and the looming catastrophe of climate change. It chooses to forget that poor children in poor neighborhoods with poor schools landed there through no fault of their own. And so, as I calmed back down, I felt a bit more resolve at each subsequent doorbell.

Fresh (Baked) news on weed and the developing brain

Fresh Baked Jersey and Shoes

The jersey’s orange and the shoes are black, unless you happen to be stoned.

Abigail Sullivan Moore’s New York Times piece on a new study on the effects of marijuana and the developing brain is another arrow in the increasingly crammed quiver of evidence that weed and growing brains don’t mix. This one shows that frequent marijuana use among young people changes vital brain structures.

From the piece:

All smokers showed abnormalities in the shape, density and volume of the nucleus accumbens, which “is at the core of motivation, the core of pleasure and pain, and every decision that you make,” explained Dr. Hans Breiter, a co-author of the study and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern’s medical school.

Similar changes affected the amygdala, which is fundamental in processing emotions, memories and fear responses.

This report is only slightly less worrisome than the 2012 study the story also mentions. That one showed the IQs of frequent teen  smokers to be 8 points lower than controls by age 38.

Of interest to me was a discussion of how the sharply increased potency of today’s MJ may render older studies — which were few anyway, given marijuana’s DEA schedule 1 status with heroin, crack, meth and LSD — passe (for example with regard to megadose-triggered THC psychosis, for example when Denver resident Richard Kirk allegedly consumed “‘Karma Kandy Orange Ginger,’ a candy form of edible marijuana, and ‘Pre 98 Bubba Kush Pre-Roll,’ a prerolled joint,” before allegedly murdering his wife while she pleaded with a 9-1-1 operator back in April).

In the discussion of marijuana potency in the fourth graf, a few of the offerings of Boulder dispensary Fresh Baked are offered as examples. Note the photograph atop this post: Fresh Baked is the jersey sponsor of my Thursday night coed indoor soccer team (meaning the owner, a teammate who played college ball, sprung for them. I assume he paid cash.). We make a point not to smoke (or eat Karma Kandy Orange Ginger) before kickoff.