Wednesday 30 November 2016

Mistakes Were Made: An Election Post-Mortem

November is a bleak month at the best of times.  I'd been buoyed this year by optimism about the future, with every aspect of my life reconstructing in a promising way.  But that has all come crashing down since the election.  My stubborn belief that I would overcome financial, physical, familial, and other assorted problems has been threatening to give way to the panic and depression I have kept at bay by sheer force of will.

The post-marathon cold morphed into bronchitis which had me confined to the sofa and the bleak company of post-election lamentations on the Web and the obscene gloating of Trumpsters on social media for the three weeks since the election.  I'm rarely ill and the interminable disappointment and frustration of waking up every day thinking it would finally turn a corner and it didn't would have made this the month from hell on its own.

City Boy owes me money, which he is now forcing me to go to court to collect.  It's a fucking nightmare but I can't let it go as it's more than a month's rent.  A trivial sum to him, but it could keep me from ending up homeless.  If you had to ask me who was worse, Trump or City Boy, it would be a toss-up.

City Girl is leaving NYC because she can't afford to live there anymore.  I spent one final night with her as a way of breaking up the long drive to see my little pumpkin; I don't know how I'll see him going forward.  City Girl asked me to store her things until she is settled so I stare at the enormous piles of boxes in my dining room in denial that my friend is leaving the area, quite likely permanently.

The only one who is happy is the cat, who doesn't seem to care that a megalomaniac is now the Moron-Elect, and who spends her days sleeping contentedly on the topmost box of the pile.  What's sadly symbolic to me is simply a new high perch to her royal furriness.
But my little problems pale in comparison to the damage November has done to the country and, thanks to our global economic and military hegemony, potentially the entire world.

I've started this post a dozen times, with as many different approaches to analyzing and commenting on the election, but it's been such a depressing horror show, and I've been so sick, that I let each draft fizzle.  But it's now been three weeks.  Dust has settled and as we all emerge from the horror and disappointment, we need to assess the destruction and cut through the bullshit explanations to understand what really happened and what atrocities are in store.

There's been no shortage of articles analyzing the election, and some of them have been excellent.  But four of the main takeaways that keep getting repeated are inaccurate.

1)   Hillary was a flawed candidate
No, she was perceived as flawed.  The Republicans, media outlets addicted to false equivalencies, not to mention rampaging social media, Democrats with an anti-Clinton axe to grind, and a brutal anti-establishment-themed primary created the belief that she was flawed.  In reality, she was one of the least-flawed candidates ever to run, with the skills, experience, temperament, and genuine concern for people to be a great president.  If you had to find any flaw it would be that she is not skilled at selling herself in a campaign environment.  She knows that policy change is incremental and she refuses to make sweeping, melodramatic promises she knows will be impossible to fulfill.  But the latter is what fires up the electorate and gets them to the polls.  And her main obstacle was sexism.  Virtually none of the criticisms leveled at her would have stuck with a male candidate.  America is not ready for a women president, I am sorry to say.  This election unambiguously demonstrated that.  There has always been figurative dick measuring in debates but she lost to a candidate who literally talked about his dick size.

2)   Bernie would have won
No, he would not have beaten Trump.  He never appealed to minority voters, and he was a one-note candidate.   Now, that note was the economy, stupid, and Trump would not have been able to show up his lack of interest in other policy areas like a normal opponent would have, but Bernie was still singing in the wrong key.  Trump notwithstanding, a candidate has to be a policy polymath.  The president oversees every policy area, domestic and foreign, and Bernie came across as increasingly myopic.  He had one song he played at every concert, he couldn't seem to add repertoire or improvise, and the audiences would be larger and more diverse in the general campaign.  Also, it's rare for a two-term president of one party to be followed by a president of the same party.  Obama took the blame for voter woes that were actually the result of an obstructionist Republican Congress and Republican-controlled states, so Democrats were facing an uphill battle.  Republicans always have an easier time getting out the vote, and the Democrats needed an inspiring choice, an Obama on steroids, to win this one.  Bernie simply had too many strikes against him – his age, his unkempt appearance with flyaway hair and ill-fitting suits, his gruff demeanor, his angry harping on about big banks to the exclusion of all else, his history as a "socialist", his long tenure in government in an anti-establishment-themed election, his lack of accomplishments in said tenure, his lack of foreign policy knowledge and experience, his hailing from a tiny New England state, and his Jewishness.

When Bernie first entered the primary, I thought it was a great lark.  I had campaigned for him in college, and I figured he'd shift debate a bit to the left but I never seriously thought he was a contender for the nomination.  I mean never, not for a millisecond, even when many pundits were saying he had a serious chance of winning.  Just for fun, I bought an organic green Bernie 2016 t-shirt from the Vermont Clothing Company and wore it to one of his rallies, my first political rally.  It was exciting to see the enthusiastic support he drew from (mostly young) people.  But that enthusiasm and support did not transfer to Clinton.  Bernie's call for revolution was as impotent as Occupy Wall Street.  He would have pulled in more younger voters than Clinton but fewer minority and older voters.  It would not have been a winning coalition.

3)   Trump is going to be an authoritarian ruler with a compliant Congress
The exact opposite is true.  Berlustrumpi has only four motivations: feeding his ego, power, revenge, and increasing his wealth/brand.  He never expected to win the presidency and has no interest in governing.  Yes, he wants power, but the presidency is too much like work.  He lacks curiosity, intellectual or otherwise, and has no ideological commitment to particular policies.  His appeal was based on populist demagoguery but he has neither affinity with nor concern for people.  Nor does he have any loyalty to his own class.  Pence and the Republican Congress, on the other hand, have a clear policy agenda and free rein to implement it.  They know Trump's four motivations and they can easily manipulate him to get him to sign any piece of legislation they want and nominate any judicial candidates and political appointees they desire.  This piece explains my point in more detail.

4)   This election was an anti-elite blue-collar flyover state revolution
This is admittedly the most compelling and prima facie appealing explanation for Trump's victory.  Based on social media, it certainly appears to be the obvious conclusion.  Of the four takeaways I have debunked here, this is the only one I personally ever gave any credence to.  The problem with it is that the numbers that have come out on voter demographics don't bear it out.  We're not seeing an increase in voter turn-out amongst white men without a college education, Trump's supposed base.  He picked up more minority votes than expected, and many more votes from college-educated women, but he is, at last count, losing the popular vote by over 2.3 million.  Republicans, as noted above, tend to vote more reliably than Democrats, and in the end they fell into line, as they always do, and voted for their party's candidate.  Democrats were not as motivated to get out and vote for Hillary, due to her manufactured flaws and her sex.  The pendulum usually swings after a two-term president.  The election was always going to be tight and turnout was only 56%.  Trump voters who are most vocal on social media make it appear that this election was a backlash against a socially progressive and economically regressive world that had moved increasingly beyond their ken, but the plural of anecdote is not data.

It is tempting to say this election is an indictment of democracy.  Democracy only works when voters make decisions in a fact-based universe.  It doesn't work when people are ignorant, uneducated, gullible. Except that Trump did not win democratically, but that's another post.

Monday 14 November 2016

A Long Hard Slog To A Disappointing Finish

Nope, not the election.  I'll have plenty to say about that later though, once I can articulate some thoughts without lamenting HOW COULD PEOPLE BE SO GULLIBLE every other phrase.

Marathon week did not get off to an auspicious start. 

My car needed some minor but urgent repairs before my trip to NYC and I was already down to the last little bit of credit on my last credit card.

My dad rang to say he has prostate cancer.

Contrary to popular belief, the first day of fall is not the autumnal equinox; it's the day the cat starts sleeping on the radiator again.
My cat had an expensive vet bill because she had fleas.  Yes, my indoor cat who has never gone outside!  My dogs were always on flea and tick preventative but I didn't think there was any chance an indoor cat could get fleas.  Vet said they usually don't but it's been such a bad year for fleas and ticks due to climate change that they are seeing it for the first time.  Luckily, I caught it quickly.  I noticed her scratching and thought at first that she might have dry skin from starting her autumn ritual of sleeping on the radiator.  Winter heating certainly dries out my skin, and a cat can't slather on body oil after a shower to moisturise.  It was time for her vaccinations anyway so I decided she was going to the vet to investigate.  Fleas!  Poor kitty.  How undignified.

And speaking of ticks, I got the shock of another huge vet bill the evening before the marathon (that I have no idea when I'll be able to pay) because Silas tested positive for both lyme and anaplasma, another tick-borne illness, when the vet came out for his fall vaccinations.  Luckily this, too, was caught early, before he had any symptoms, and he is on doxycycline (do they distil this from the doxies in the curtains?).

Finally, I had planned this trip over six months ago, when I was employed and I could now no longer afford the food, fuel or lodging expenses the excursion would incur.  I was committed to it,  so there was no question of cancelling, but the worry sapped my energy and enthusiasm and made the whole trip to NYC more of a worrisome ordeal than the fun and symbolic triumph it was supposed to be.

And that isn't even discussing how my training was stymied by a back problem that left me feeling unprepared to run 26.2 miles in a less than totally humiliating amount of time.

Nonetheless,  I drove down on Saturday morning determined to make the best of it.

Of course, there was no parking near where I was staying, but eventually I found a spot, albeit in the next time zone, and got to my leg wax appointment on time.  As she spread hot wax on my legs, Grace quipped that she was lowering my wind resistance.  She asked if I wanted a Brazilian to lower it even more.  I said perhaps in another lifetime.  I have to digress here a bit.  Grace has waxed my legs for over 20 years.  It's an intimate service and I won't go to anyone else.  There have been times when I lived abroad or couldn't get to NYC and I just went au naturel, to the consternation of various boyfriends.  But I now consider it an inviolable bimonthly ritual.  If you want to get laid, it's not optional.  Her business has changed over the years – she is now making rent almost exclusively on Brazilians.  The reason: porn.  Every man under 40 spent his formative years watching Internet porn, where the women are uniformly hairless.  In fact, hairy pubes are considered a special taste, like pregnant women or redheads, catered to on fetish sites.  Much like John Ruskin, these young men were unaware that women had pubic hair and most found it an unwelcome surprise when they saw an actual naked girl in real life for the first time.  Thus began the Brazilian fad.  Luckily, my dating pool came of age pre-Internet, but City Boy never lets me forget that my refusal to go bare was one of the reasons he left.  The Ego Boost was, like most twenty-somethings, clean-shaven.   I hope their stubble itches a lot, in public.

Anyway, my smooth legs and hairy pussy made their way across town to the marathon expo to pick up my race number and t-shirt.  This year, they let you make a bib to pin to your back as well, stating what you run for.  Many people run for diseases, apparently, cancer topping the list, although if you pick any disease, someone was probably running for it or, one hopes, against it.  "I run for MS" is a little ambiguous but no-one seemed to put much thought into phrasing.  A fair few ran for a specific person, e.g., "I run for Uncle Fred".  I suspect this is tied in with the disease crowd--Uncle Fred probably died of cancer.  The rest of us, well, alcohol was well-represented, with "I run for beer" and "I run for wine" battling it out for top boozy runner honours.  Me?  Take a guess:

Another worry was my running shoes.  They were worn through to the point that you could see my socks.  The soles had no tread left and were starting to peel off.  I hadn't replaced them for obvious financial reasons but I was worried about the water stops – the ground would be soaked.  In fact, I should have worried even more:  The ground turned out to be not only wet but the Gatorade made it disgustingly sticky, and they handed out bananas.  Bananas!  Think about it: Discarded banana peels and 50,000 people running on a wet surface.  The jokes write themselves.  Anyway, I buy all my running shoes from the Super Runners shop on the UWS; I have a stubborn loyalty to them that is well-deserved.  As I walked back after the expo, I stopped in and got a new pair.  It's not recommended to run a race in shoes you haven't broken in but it seemed the lesser of evils in this particular case.  I always get the same brand, and I've never gotten a blister from them.  I wore them the rest of the way home (cringing in embarrassment at the hideous neon colours we're stuck with now) and, on race day, I was grateful to have them even though I could not afford them.  I don't know when I'll be able to pay my October rent, but I am not exaggerating when I say that I could not have finished the race in my old shoes.

Restaurant menus around town got into the marathon spirit
As I walked further north, I saw a few other marathoners.  We recognised each other by the clear plastic bags from the expo and wished each other luck.  The place I was intending to go for my carbo-loading dinner was closed because it was Saturday and they are Jewish.  I hadn't noticed that previously – if you know NYC, you'll understand why this is plausible.  That was a setback but, hey, at least Daylight Savings Time ended so I had an extra hour of not being able to sleep.

Overheard at start:
"Shit just got real."
"Why did we decide to do this?"
"Please urinate in the Port-a-Potties, not off the bridge."

T-shirt: Am I slow or is everybody else Kenyan?
Other t-shirts boasted the number of NYC Marathons the wearer had completed.  The record holder is a guy who was running his 42nd.  Now, how had he run 41 when all the signage and swag was celebrating the 40th?  Because it's been 40 years since it became a 5-borough race.  It's actually 46 if you count the years when it was four laps around Central Park.  I wore the same t-shirt as in 2002: "Body by Ben & Jerry's".  I believe in truth in advertising.  But I would have worn the "Marathoners do it longer, just don't ask me tonight" t-shirt if I owned it.

Signs held by spectators:

Nasty women have stamina
If Trump can run, so can you
At this pace, you'll be in Canada by Tuesday
Run like Trump is trying to grab your pussy
At the 20 mile proverbial wall, there were too many signs with variations on wall/Trump/Mexico/pay to register any particular one

Don't shit yourself
Don't trust a fart
Run fast, I just farted
Toenails are for wimps

(At 5K mark) If you were running a 5K, you'd be done now
(At 10K mark) The end is far
Baby, you were born to run (and I lost count of the number of bands along the route playing the song.  One was actually good.)
I'm cheating on you. I want a divorce (at least, I assume this was a joke)
I just want to cross the street
Hurry, my arms are getting tired
You think you're exhausted, my arms are killing me
You feel like crap, but you look great
Hurry, the Kenyans are drinking all the beer
(At the last of 5 bridges) Last damn bridge

With water, Gatorade, and snacks at every mile, I don't get why people carry camelbacks, hydration belts, fanny packs & tights with pockets bulging with gels, energy beans, GU, and related crap, which then litter the course with all their wrappers, packets, and tubes.

I decided on a hydration strategy of drinking every other mile starting at mile 6.  I didn't stick to it.  The cups were only a quarter full and, although I'd tried to strike a balance between being sufficiently hydrated before the start but not having to pee during the race -- I did not want to lose precious minutes in the Port-a-Potty line, as I had in my first marathon – I found myself very thirsty, which is odd.  Normally I drink whilst running because I know I should but I don't feel actively thirsty.  This time, I did, so there were a few times when I drank every mile instead of every other.  This is really gross but elite male runners do not stop to pee – they just pee down their leg during races.  I don't know what elite female runners do.  Not that.

The wind was brutal throughout the entire course but it got worse as the day progressed.  My goal was to beat my previous time of 5 hours but that was achieved when I was 14 years younger and 40 pounds thinner.  I also wasn't dogged every step by teeth-gritting back pain.  I tried a variety of techniques for ignoring the pain.  Some worked temporarily, but none worked for long enough.  I never took it for granted I'd finish until I passed the 26 mile marker and the finish line was in sight, but any hope of making my time goal had vanished in the first 10K.  In order to finish under 5 hours, I'd need to maintain a pace of 11 minutes per mile.  But my training pace was 14 mins, and the fastest mile I'd managed was 12:30, and that was just the one.  Most people try to run negative splits, but that was never realistic for me.  I am going to slow down regardless so starting slow doesn't save anything for a finishing kick, it just makes my overall time slower.  This is not true of most runners and every coach will tell you to take it easy in the first half.  I managed my goal pace for the first 5K and then slowed down every mile until 22, at which point I ran faster every mile until the finish, matching my starting pace at the very end.  But I slowed down a lot, to slower than my walking pace.  I was in the last wave to start, so I was surrounded by runners who were the slowest of the slow.  There is a saying that any runner who finishes over 5 hours walks.  That's not true for me, although it appeared everyone around me was walking during the final stretch in Manhattan.  In my first marathon, I had walked some.  I don't remember how much but I distinctly recall wanting to run a bit at the end, past the crowds in Central Park, and not being able to manage it.  I was determined not to walk at all this time; I really don't think you should be in a race if you have to walk.  It's a major matter of principle to me.  I didn't walk, with the exception of a few walking steps through water stops just because I find it more effective if the liquid goes down my throat rather than down my shirt.  Looking at my times afterward, based on perceived effort, I was surprised that I had slowed down as much as I did in the 18-21 mile area, where I was technically running but at a much slower pace than a brisk walk.  I finished in 5:50, almost an hour after my goal time.  That is 100% due to my back.   There is no other reason I couldn't have otherwise trained for and attained such a modest time goal as beating 5 hours.

Every step was a painful, miserable, freezing slog, and I had to remind myself why I was putting myself through it.  I think marathons must be like childbirth.  Women always say, "never again!" but then they forget how painful it was and have another.  I had to fight for every step and I can honestly say that I could not have finished a second faster.  I pushed myself hard through the entire course by sheer force of will – and the new shoes, they helped, too.

After you cross the finish line, the smiling volunteers waiting to congratulate you and put a medal around your neck seem like the nicest people in the world.  I desperately wanted to take a taxi back to where I was staying but finances did not permit.  I saw as I was waiting for the train that City Boy had texted me several times to wonder why I was so slow and hadn't finished yet.  When he saw my photo, he said, "Where did your boobs go?"  I pointed out, yet again, that they are made of fat, and disappear when one loses weight.

My celebratory post-marathon dinner never happened :-(
Although I had no money for a post-marathon dinner, I planned to go to my favourite restaurant in the world anyway but, once I got out of the shower, I could not face getting dressed and walking the mile there.  This is quite literally the best restaurant in the known universe and I don't get there often anymore.  I was desperately looking forward to it.  But, nope, staying naked post-shower and climbing into bed with my laptop was all I could manage at that point.

I expected to be sore the next day but I wasn't, not even in my quads, which I remember being so sore after my first marathon that I didn't want to sit down unless there was something I could hold onto when I had to stand up again.  But not a sore muscle anywhere in my entire body.  I still wish I could have afforded a massage, which I had last time, as well as a soak at the hot tub place.

On Tuesday evening I started to feel crappy and I felt worse on Wednesday.  The election results could certainly account for that, but they were compounded by developing the infamous post-marathon cold.  I hadn’t had a cold since the one in May 2015 that destroyed my sense of smell and I had been dreading getting another one.  Fortunately, a few hot toddies and a chicken soup recipe I have adapted to be spicy enough to strip paint got rid of the cold.  I wish we could say the same for Trump.