The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How many perfect days do we get?

Never seen so much mail-in balloting. I wonder what influence it will have on the election, with Republicans screaming "Acorn" and Democrats screaming "Dibold" and both sides convinced that other is out of their #@$%% mind.


The "Golden Hour" concept assumes that you are one busy person, and that at the very best, one hour a day (more or less) might be all you get. What must be created, then, is a ritual which, if you continue to perform it, will get you where you want to go. Mine includes:

1) Triangle meditation: visualizing the end point of my three major goals, combined with heartbeat meditation. Clarifies where I'm going, and what I need to do today.

2) Five Tibetans. Ten minutes. Five movements. All basic flexions and contractions.

3) 3-5 pages on a project. Right now, it's the new Dream Park.

4) Intense exercise. Kettlebell H2H circuits (grueling, as well as wicked fun), SHOT, or yoga.

5) Connect with my family. Check in with Nicki, Jason, Tananarive.


I can do all of these things in ABOUT an hour and a half:

(meditate: 10 minutes

Tibetans 10 minutes

3-5 pages 30 minutes

H2H 10 minutes

Read Shakespeare aloud--10 minutes

Brief check-in 15 minutes


Now, by any standard, I'd like to have more time than this for the people and things closest to my heart. But if I am busy all day long, but have done these things, I'm still on-track. I won't look up months later and realize I've completely gone off the rails. In a perfect day? An hour with each member of my family, four hours of writing, an hour of exercise, an hour of reading.

But how many perfect days do we get?


I simply don't believe slavery would have ended without force. MAYBE it would have ended, in time, without the need of a war. That I can admit as possible. But how could anyone think it would have 'just ended" on its own when it still exists today?

Perhaps wide-spread agriculturally-based slavery would have ended as technology made it less efficient. But domestic servants? Sexual slavery? You find them in every big city in America. The "Company Store" phenomenon, where companies try to keep workers indebted to them, sometimes passing the debt from one generation to another? The fact that wars, and major social movements, and economic sanctions have been necessary to root out this moral rot is sufficient indicator to me that the idea that slavery would just have "ended" is wishful thinking. Larger and larger segments of society would have disapproved. Slave holders would have become borderline outcasts. But power does not concede control without a fight. People believe the mythologies they invent to justify their horrors. And something like 10% of the population are just mean, nasty people. I believe that as a culture matures morally, they begin to slough off their ugly habits, but again, without force, how do you keep the mean folks from keeping slaves because they want to? Because they like control, or have an economic model that makes it profitable, or like sexual access to women who can't say "no?"

And how about the people who are afraid of payback? If you screw over millions of people, don't tell ME you don't worry what will happen if you lose control

What happens if it's State's Rights? Wouldn't you just be inviting slave-holders to migrate to states where it remains legal? Or counties? If human beings didn't need the SPCA, and Child Welfare, and Women's Shelters, and many, many other agencies that relate to the way we can be cruel to each other, I might believe it "would have withered."

But despite law enforcement, and wars, and massive international disapproval, slavery exists to this day. Those who produce economic models demonstrating that it was no longer profitable are, I think, in denial about the uglier aspects of human nature, or trying to elevate their ancestors to a pedestal. Remember: these same people who supposedly would have ALL seen the error of their ways were willing to turn a blind eye to rape, murder, torture, and unjustified captivity, as well as theft of a billion man-years of life. I'm willing to consider all of this the cost of business of being human--stuff that creeps out of the psychic cellar if we're not careful.

But I've seen too much human venom to think that, without force, slavery would simply have "died." There were too many factors beyond simple economics at play here.


Anonymous said...

>But how many perfect days do we get?

Ultimately? As many days as we are alive.

I'm pretty much in perfect agreement with you on the slavery persisting thing. In fact, I actually think that a South that didn't secede would keep slavery longer than a CSA that became independent. Easier to avoid boycotts and other international pressure if you are part of the biggest economy on the planet.

Anonymous said...

Side note: I've mentioned Obama's half-brother in Kenya before, and the lack of help he's received from Obama. Granted he hardly knew the guy, but I just found this out and it's more damning, to me;


Zeituni Onyango, the aunt so affectionately described in Mr Obama’s best-selling memoir Dreams from My Father, lives in a disabled-access flat on a rundown public housing estate in South Boston.

A second relative believed to be the long-lost “Uncle Omar” described in the book was beaten by armed robbers with a “sawed-off rifle” while working in a corner shop in the Dorchester area of the city. He was later evicted from his one-bedroom flat for failing to pay $2,324.20 (£1,488) arrears, according to the Boston Housing Court.

The US press has repeatedly rehearsed Mr Obama’s extraordinary odyssey, but the other side of the family’s American experience has only been revealed in parts. Just across town from where Mr Obama made history as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, some of his closest blood relatives have confronted the harshness of immigrant life in America.


“After the 4th, I can talk to anyone.”

His campaign obviously found her. It shouldn’t have been hard, in spite of being an apparent illegal immigrant, she and her husband have been cited in several newspapers over the years. But once they found her, rather than help her, the Obama campaign shut her up.

Is Obama deliberately ignoring the condition of his aunt and uncle, or are we supposed to believe that the assembled research capabilities of the first billion dollar presidential campaign could not have located them?
This story is eerily reminiscent of the moment back in December 2007 when Obama seemed to brag that his grandmother lived in a "hut" back in Kenya. The press ate it up, but he dropped that talking point after conservative bloggers wondered why he had not helped the poor woman pay for a better house. Call me a bonehead, but we are beginning to see a pattern here. Indeed, I have finally figured out why somebody who has been as successful as Barack Obama believes that the government must help people who cannot or do not help themselves: He simply does not understand that helping the poor, unlucky, or incompetent is first the responsibility of family.

MORE: In response to various comments that defend Barack Obama on various grounds, I wrote a responsive comment that I liked enough to move into an update:

To those commenters taking the other side:

1. I completely agree that one is not responsible for the financial well-being of every relative.

2. I further agree that if one happens to have a lot of relatives from a poor country, be it Kenya or, for that matter, half of Europe circa 1945, it is unreasonable to demand that one locate them and ensure the well-beinng of all of them.

So I do not condemn Obama for deciding not to help his African relatives in the abstract.


3. He has used these people -- his grandmother, his aunt and uncle, and so forth -- as props in his political narrative. He wants us to measure him in part by his relationship to these Kenyans, but -- and here is the harsh part -- only as that relationship is described by him. What if his characterization of that relationship is misleading? What if it turns out that while he is delighted to cite these people as evidence of his humble beginnings -- that is what I mean by using them as props -- he is not so delighted to consider them as part of his family?
(Mike talking now): To me this does tell me something important about who Obama is as a man, and it's not good. I'm curious though if you, or anyone else here disagrees and thinks it does not reflect badly on Obama?

Anonymous said...

"And how about the people who are afraid of payback? If you screw over millions of people, don't tell ME you don't worry what will happen if you lose control".

1. Don't let the slaves learn how to READ.

2. Keep slave assemblies as small as possible.

3. Jim Crow laws and poll lunacy.

4. For GOD'S SAKE do not give them access to firearms and keep the sharp-edged tools under lock and key when not in use.

5. And if you must conscript or allow them into the military DO NOT teach them how to fight or a place in which to do it, and provide them with the most menial jobs possible, like ship's galley or officer stewards or something in logistics and supply because if they get a taste of just how easy it is to kill someone that looks like the oppressor you'll get hell on your hands.

Unknown said...

On the one hand, as a pacifist I'm not willing to say that any war was, for absolute certain, necessary to achieve its cause - it's possible that, in some alternate universe, slavery could have been eliminated without war or lethal force. But not because it just withered away naturally in ten years. Because people found some other way to actively get rid of it - probably some other way that cost them, just as finally getting rid of Jim Crow cost something (even though that something wasn't a civil war).

I think, though, that there's a certain amount of wishful thinking about the Civil War going on in the kind of "slavery would have ended anyway" talk you describe. It's easy to handwave an alternate history in which the Civil War didn't happen, slavery withered away in ten years, and, oh, by the way, it was even better for black people because the non-embittered Confederacy didn't then promptly replace slavery with Jim Crow, so you just get ten years of extra slavery for a century less Jim Crow. And everyone's happy. On the other hand, you could just as easily handwave an alternate history where the Civil War never happened because one or another of the slave revolts actually succeeded, so, no slavery to divide the Union.

Unless the alternate, "slaves got freed without a war" history leads to actual ideas on how people now might become free, who might need it, and for whom we don't want to fight a war, I don't see the use of it.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Call me a bonehead, but we are beginning to see a pattern here.

Yes indeed: conservatives who can't win on the issues going for character assassination. Standard playbook stuff.

Michael Canfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pagan Topologist said...

...southern states started to succeed...

And succession, even today

Michael Canfield, please check your dictionary. (I hope you mean 'secede' and 'secession' respectively. It is vital to use language carefully; one is likely enough to be misunderstood even if one does so and much more likely if one does not.)

Michael Canfield said...

You're correct pagan. I misspelled 'secede' and 'secession', thanks for the lecture.

Michael Canfield said...

I don't understand this theory that "slavery would have ended in another 10 years anyway so the war was unnecessary." From what I've read it seems that the southern states started to secede because they feared the tide turning against slavery. The election of Lincoln, the first President from the recently formed anti-slave Republican party, was, to the South, the final insult, the final straw. The war was fought to preserve the Union. The fault for the war lies with the South because they wanted to resist emancipation, so to avoid a war the North would have had to accept the dissolution of the Union.

So is the theory then that the newly formed CSA would have abolished slavery (or seen it atrophy) within ten years due to international pressure and then at some future point petition to be readmitted to the Union?

Do the people who favor this theory take into account how long and hard people actually DID work in the decades leading up to the Civil War to avoid armed conflict?

I understand that the Confederacy is romanticized because of a variety of elements that lend to viewing through that kind of prism: a landed aristocracy, a crushing defeat that destroyed a certain way of life, but I don't believe that both sides were equally at fault for the war, or bear equal responsibility for the carnage. The South sought to sustain an unsustainable pre-Enlightenment culture and I really don't see that as so far off from the desire of the ideals of groups like the Taliban today.

And secession, even today, would lead to violence, regardless of its cause. So yes, I agree that if the slave states would have peacefully agreed to give up slavery instead of breaking away from the Union then the war would have been avoided, but that's a statement so obvious that it doesn't qualify as an argument.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Agreed that it pretty certainly needs law to end slavery. Afaik, at this point slavery is a consequence of closed borders, so that there are a great many people who don't have legal protection. Oddly, opening borders seems like too high a cost to most people for that to be proposed as a way of cutting way back on slavery.

It amazes me that slavery was made illegal in most of the world in a fairly short period. It's almost enough to make a person believe in moral progress.

Anonymous said...

I agree that war was necessary to remove slavery. However, I think it's much easier to say that uncontroversially now in 2008, about a war almost 150 years ago, than it is to make that sort of assertion about any ideological conflict taking place in the present day. And even supporting the Civil War today isn't as uncontroversial as one might think.

--Erich Schwarz

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Unrelated question from my livejournal:

I just saw someone say that he'd said that Obama needed to fight fire with fire, and now he realizes that the high road was better.

And I just posted this video, which has quite a bit about how to get a good open source group by protecting where the group's attention goes. This includes avoiding fights while not avoiding useful feedback.

So, I'm wondering what virtues are needed in addition to distaste for conflict. I note that "ignore them and they'll go away" is frequently just not good enough, as was shown by Kerry and the Swift Boat problem.

So, does it take courage? Intelligence? Specific knowledge about how to deal with people? Something else?

Christian H. said...

All that would have been needed to end slavery as a national practice was an Amendment to the Constitution.

Wait, that's what happened. So basically the Emancipation Proclamation was a precursor to the 13th Amendment.

That's why the South seceded.

Anonymous said...

For a region that prided itself (and still prides itself now) on being good Christians, the South sure didn't let that get in the way of enslaving their fellow men.

Interesting blind spot.

Steve Perry said...

Neither did any other "Christian" country let brotherly love get in their way when it came to owning people. The American South didn't invent slavery, it's been around for eons, and the North happily practiced it for as long as they could make money doing it. The Missouri Compromise didn't come until 1820, and was essentially repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.

The difference between the righteous North and the "evil" South was only a matter of a few years. Recall that probably the smartest President we ever had, Thomas Jefferson, who was against slavery in principle, owned slaves until the day he died.

Did that make him evil, too?

Slavery is vile and I don't defend it. But for folks who haven't bothered to read the history, the practice wasn't created in Dixie, nor did everybody south of the line own slaves.

There were a lot of reasons for the War Between the States, but if slavery had been the only difference between the blue and the gray, I suspect that conflict wouldn't haven't happened. Like so many wars, it wasn't that simple.

Pagan Topologist said...

Mr. Howell, I believe your timeline is a bit off. Secession happened before both the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13-th Amendment.

Anonymous said...

The notion that a victorious CSA would have abolished slavery within a decade seems naive to to me. After all, slavery persisted in Brazil until the 1880's. Further, the South instituted several de facto reversals of the 14 Amendment during the subsequent century. By several criteria, sharecropping, Black Codes and the "classic" Chain Gangs immortalized by George Burns' plight (I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang) constitute slavery's resuscitation. Chain Gangs in particular appear to re-used the brutal apparatus of chattel slavery (chains, flogging, prisoner cabins, torture, summary execution, prisoners fearfully addressing foremen as "Bossman").

With the reintegrated South reviving slavery in multiple guises through the 1940's, why would a rational person familiar with Post-Bellum history believe that a victorious CSA would readily abolish their Peculiar Institution?

Anonymous said...

>All that would have been needed to end slavery as a national practice was an Amendment to the Constitution.<

It's worth noting that if the states that joined the CSA had remained in the Union, and kept committed to slavery indefinitely, they would have had the votes necessary to block a constitutional amendment until the 1910's, even if every other state voted for it overwhelmingly. And that's assuming they wouldn't have used that position to make territories form fewer states, thereby giving them a veto indefinitely.

And that's not just 20-20 hindsight. It's something that would have been obvious to anyone who could do math and look at a map in 1860 too.

Anonymous said...

>Thomas Jefferson, who was against slavery in principle, owned slaves until the day he died.

Did that make him evil, too?<

If you believe in an absolute morality, sure he was evil (in addition to being a humongous hypocrite). Why wouldn't it? The fact that a rapist was a very smart man who wrote very well about liberty does not somehow magically make him no longer a rapist. And DNA evidence has pretty much confirmed that Thomas Jefferson was a rapist.*

*Slaves, as property, were not in a position to give or deny sexual consent to their owners. If a person can not give consent, it's rape.

Steve Perry said...

Now and then I get into discussions with folks and come to the realization that we are so far apart in the way that we view the world that meaningful communication isn't going to happen.

Here I am again.

Have a nice life, Mike. Mine is too short to waste any of it ...

Steven Barnes said...

I don't look at Jefferson as evil, although I believe he went along with an evil institution. I measure people for what they are given the context they were born into. I suspect that a couple hundred years from now we'll be thought evil for eating meat. Yeah, we're ignoring animal death, torture, and misery, but damn steak is tasty. If I considered Jefferson evil, I would frankly have to consider the majority of humanity evil for one reason or another...and frankly, I don't have that pale a view of humanity.

Scott said...

Half my money goes to the G. By any reasonable standard, I'm a slave; medieval serfs didn't pay that much.

There are an uncountable number of laws in this country; many federal employees are exempt from them; hey, look, a nobility.

Arguing that pimps are slavers is interesting and rings true.

More later.