Healthcare Rally in Boston

rally for healthcare - warrenI attended the #OurFirstStand rally to save healthcare in Boston this past Sunday, put on by Bernie Sanders group Our Revolution featuring Mayor Marty Walsh, and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey. That’s a photo of Senator Warren speaking to the crowd, one of the two pictures I took before my camera died.

Some quick notes:

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The view from above

– As the photo might indicate, turnout was strong especially considering how cold it was. I was also impressed with how well run it was – everything went off on time and with good support in place. I’ve worked campaign events before and they can be so chaotic. This one was totally professional.

– The overall mood of the crowd was subdued, not so much angry as looking for answers and direction. The question seemed to be, “What should we do?”

– Warren is effective as a litigator and a fighter. Senator Markey described her well when he said, “When Republicans see Elizabeth coming for them, they usually hide under their desk.” That said, I am not wowed with her public speaking skills. She’s more a lawyer than a Martin Luther King type, inspiring people with high flying rhetoric. She probably knows this and that’s why she spoke before Markey.

She also has a lot of public recognition. In back of me passerby were saying, “Hey, that’s Elizabeth Warren” and stopping to listen.

– I was impressed with Ed Markey’s speaking. I had never seen or heard from him before. He’s forceful like Biden or Teddy Kennedy, an old school Irish Catholic Democrat. When he speaks, people stand up and cheer. He’s the emotional counterpoint to Warren’s more cerebral approach.

– Healthcare is hard to rally around as it’s so abstract. In terms of messaging, Democrats need to simplify their language. “Medicare for All” is easy to understand, “single payer” less so. Complexity is bad.

The rally featured one woman whose mother was diagnosed with cancer and was saddled with thousands of dollars of bills. Stories like that are effective because they show how healthcare polices affect people as people, not as abstract statistics. That was solid and we need more of that.

– It was uplifting was seeing Democratic leaders getting back in touch with their grassroots supporters. That way they can see what resonates with voters and create a feedback loop with them rather than relying on consultants to provide interpretation.

More rallies like this one please. It is the way forward.

Movie Reviews of Movies I Haven’t Seen – The Witch

This is a super scary movie. In fact, it is so frightening and disturbing that I will never see it.


Yup, I’m good, thanks.

The Witch is filled with deeply unsettling, haunting imagery that you will not shake for at least a week, possibly a month. Even then, some scenes probably achieve The Shining-level and you will  retain them in your head for the rest of your life.

In this movie, a lot of bad things happen to children which is upsetting but it goes up to 11 when you have kids and you already worry enough about them, thanks. I don’t need to add “Captured and killed by a demonic presence living in the woods” to my worry list.

The Witch is set during the Pilgrim times and it’s about a family that establishes a house outside of the village on the edge of the woods. The woods in the opening shot of the trailer look like where I grew up in New Hampshire so that kind of freaks me out.

photo-0050It’s a great concept for a movie. For those of you who were not raised there, the woods in New England are so dark and deep that they drove the people in Salem into madness and they started hanging each other. Later these same woods produced writers like HP Lovecraft and Stephen King. New Englanders have a long tradition of scaring the shit out of each other. So, good job, director of The Witch, who apparently hails from New Hampshire.

I couldn’t figure out why the family left the village to live on the edge of some scary woods from the trailer but, whatever. It’s a good plot device because a bunch of horrifying stuff happens afterwards. The baby disappears and the mother goes bonkers. Then some of the kids start talking to the black goat in their yard (symbolism?) and then something horrible happens to their son when he gets lost in the woods.

Then there are a bunch of clips that are extremely unsettling, again, a lot of them involving kids. This movie is an expertly made horror movie and I give it four stars and there is no need for me to see it.

Letter to the Editor

Hello, here
An excellent column today by Brian Watson! I enjoyed that one very much.

Although I agree the situation looks bleak, I think the solution lays in the one thing we can all agree on – JOBS. Imagine the headlines, “Today Tesla announced plans to open a manufacturing factory in Flint” or “Today Apple announced plans to build a factory in Cleveland.”

Both moves would turn the region blue overnight. It is ridiculous that Apple, worth half a trillion dollars with $200 billion sitting unused in overseas accounts, claims they can’t afford to build a factory in the Midwest.

Bill Clinton won two Presidential races with, “It’s the economy, stupid!” I can only hope Democrats realize the wisdom of that. When we abandon these regions economically, people revert to tribalism and we all lose.

Again, I enjoyed your column very much. As you can see, it stirred quite a bit of thought for me. I look forward to the next one.


The Disconnect

A friend of mine living in rural upstate New York told me a story that I found interesting. About a year ago, a big construction project was floated out to local contractors. Good paying jobs are scarce in the region so everyone jumped to put in a bid.


Photo courtesy: David Reese

The construction job was eventually awarded to an Amish company. I know, the Amish! I didn’t know they still existed and did that kind of work. But they do and they won because they were able to put in a bid that was way lower than everyone else’s.

Why? Part of it is because the Amish live modestly and, as part of their religion, they believe in taking personal responsibility for everything they do and not blaming others or events. That’s admirable but, more importantly, it means if one of them gets injured on a job site, they won’t sue.

Because of this, the Amish are not required to pay for job site insurance while all the other non-Amish companies do. Freed of this requirement they can put in bids that are a fraction of the cost of their competitors.

In effect, people who are not Amish in the region get hit twice – they are legally required to pay money to a big, impersonal insurance company to work and then they don’t even land the contracts they were supposed to get in return. They are punished for legally playing the game.

But, here’s where it gets interesting, if anyone starts calling this into question, business interests can win over gullible media types by floating stories about “Amishphobia sweeping upstate New York.”

In the 24/7 news cycle, media people in New York City are under constant strain to “feed the beast.” They don’t have time to investigate stories in-depth, they just need a someone who looks good on TV who purports to know a lot about the subject.

So audiences get a bunch of well-paid pundits to appear on TV to say, “We don’t understand this hatred of the Amish. It must be because stupid rednecks living upstate secretly hate people who wear clothes from 1880 or they hate driving behind a horse and buggy” without investigating the true cause.

If you are wondering why Democrats lost, here you go

If you are wondering why Democrats lost, here you go

Then, writers like Jamelle Bouie can seize these stories, because of confirmation bias, and spare themselves the bother of talking to people involved and go on long tirades about the native racism, sexism, and blah, blah of the white working class.

Bouie’s readers can then read about the stupid yokels living upstate while reading Slate on their iPads at Starbucks and feel good about themselves. Everyone who is not the white working class wins!

Unfortunately for Bouie, he appears to have fallen prey to the old saying, “When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Bouie’s toolbox consists of a prism of racism and little else.

In an effort to broaden Bouie’s scope a little bit from the narrow one he clings to, I’d like to review the county election map of the last three elections. The following is the results of the 2008 election which pitted Barack Obama vs. John McCain:


And this is the one from 2012 where Obama faced off against Mitt Romney:


I’m struggling to find any evidence of broad-based racism in these results. According to the map, enormous sections of upstate New York voted for a black man for President.

Now take a look at the results of the 2016 map:


Counter to Bouie’s brainless analysis, maybe this election wasn’t about racism, sexism, or Islamophobia, or Comey, or Russian influence or whatever non-reason Democratic leadership is currently citing at the moment.

What appears to have resonated in this region is the message both Trump and Sanders shared, “The game is rigged.” My story about the Amish would support this analysis and would help explain the total failure of the media in NYC and DC to foresee it.

Making Predictions

One of the best parables in “Zen Shorts” is this one:

A long time ago there was a farmer living in China. One day his horse ran away and all the villagers said, “What bad luck!”

The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse came back with two wild horses and all the villagers said, “What good luck!”

The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the farmer’s son was riding one of the wild horses. He was thrown and broke his arm. All the villagers said, “What bad luck!”

The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the army passed through town recruiting young men for a distant war. The son was passed over because of his broken arm. All the villagers said, “What good luck!”

The farmer said, “Maybe.”

I bring up this story because of the rigid technocratic view that has recently taken over the world. In this view, popularized in Silicon Valley and emulated by everyone, all events can be predicted, anticipated, and manufactured with extensive data analysis. Collect the data, analyze it, and come up with sweeping conclusions.

Unfortunately, like all things, over time this dependence went from giving one a competitive edge to becoming a limiting crutch—creating enormous blind spots to things that should have been obvious.

This election was a powerful reminder that although the tools we use are new, the forces we are dealing with are both very big and very old. Our naive belief that we could control and anticipate them now in this brave new world were abruptly snapped back to reality with tremendous force.

One lesson learned is never doubt that people make predictions based on their own personal self-interest. It’s a strong cognitive bias – people have a tendency to search for facts that confirm what they want to be true and discard those that don’t match. Sometimes predictions based on this data is accurate and other times it misses, but no one, not even pollster Nate Silver, knows with certainty what happens next.

So, here’s a relevant historical example to help you deal. After Federalism and Alexander Hamilton fell from grace, Thomas Jefferson and the states’ rights movement took power. As President, Jefferson preached life, liberty, and small government principles. He then presided over the single greatest expansion of the federal government in history.

The man was called the American Sphinx for a reason – he was filled with so many contradictions that you never knew what he was going to do. Sound like anyone you know?

In the meantime, calm down and stop trying to figure out the future, either in anticipation or dread. The only surety of doing that is to suffer crippling anxiety and to be unable to cope in the present.

As the Buddhists counseled, instead of being preoccupied with the future, live in the now. What is happening now? Is there something you can do about it? If yes, do something. If not, accept it. Because no one knows what happens next and anyone who pretends they do is a charlatan. Let go of what you want to happen and be the farmer who says, “Maybe.”