Simple Ideas to Encourage Bernie Supporters to Vote Democrat

On this last day of the Democratic Convention, with our campaign unfortunately in the rearview mirror, the Democratic Party should ask itself, seriously, what it needs to do to turn out the progressive vote in November.

  1. Fear of Donald Trump is not enough. Using Donald Trump as a bugbear won’t scare young unaffected progressives into voting Democrat come November — no matter how much the Hillary camp thinks it will. Yes, Donald Trump is inarguably worse, but Bernie supporters aren’t gravitating to Trump. You need to make a positive argument, not a negative one.
  2. Hillary True-Blues being smug, especially since the fairness of the election has been called into question, turns away potential voters in droves. Yes, she is the candidate. But if you want her to be President, you need Bernie supporters.
  3. Don’t dismiss the desire to support politics of conviction and especially third-parties. People are hungry for something they can believe in. Hillary hasn’t made her case to them, no matter if she has to you. Just because they say they’re voting Green or Libertarian or Peace and Freedom doesn’t make them stupid, and you should be able to articulate why voting Democrat is better than other options.
  4. The party platform is the most progressive it’s been since the New Deal. This is a direct result of the Bernie movement. We have moved the party to the left, should be proud of that, and staying involved is the way to keep that going.
  5. Someone close to the candidate needs to convince her to treat Sanders supporters with some respect. Firing Debbie Wasserman Schultz would be a good start. Publicly committing to the progressive planks of the platform would also go a long way. But this needs to come from Hillary, not a surrogate.

Some people are never going to be convinced. But if the Hillary camp thinks they can win in November without progressives, I think they’re being optimistic and playing a very dangerous game. Hillary, and Bill before her, has always been good at taking the temperature and adjusting her stance to the reading — now she needs to do exactly that to ensure a win in November.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+

Bernie or Bust: Stop Being Childish, Now the Real Work Begins (and I’m not talking about Donald Trump)

Popular wisdom says 2016 has been a pretty bad year for the left in the UK and US so far. In the UK, we have embraced the ghost of Maggie Thatcher after the Parliamentary Labour Party decided that their wildly popular leader isn’t the man to lead them into an election (which may be true). In the US, Bernie Sanders has come to the end of his Presidential campaign, and called on his supporters to back Hillary Clinton as she takes on Donald Trump for the White House.

I volunteered for the Bernie campaign for months, gave near the max-out amount, and helped thousands of people register. I’m sorry that Bernie didn’t win the nomination — not as sorry as the man himself, of course. And I don’t like Hillary Clinton much, nor am I a true-blue party line Democrat.

But that doesn’t mean I’m Bernie or Bust. Our collective efforts in the Bernie campaign have delivered the most progressive Democratic platform since the New Deal. If we haven’t moved Hillary left, we have done with the Democratic Party itself. And continued pressure on the Party is the only way to continue a progressive agenda.

Bernie’s entire campaign underpins a core truth: you can only achieve real change through the two main US parties. While I might personally like Jill Stein, and have a long history of supporting Left Coast Liberals including Green Matt Gonzalez, the real work, building a party with a national impact, is beyond any of the outlier parties today.

If you want to make the Green Party into a real force in US politics, start organising at the local level, and spread organically. You can run for President all you like, but without a professional national network, you’re not going to get anywhere. And you shouldn’t, because you haven’t committed to do the hard work of politics.

It’s likewise unglamourous, and decidedly difficult to beat your head into the wall of the Democratic Party, but it’s light-years ahead of any third party in the US, and is one of the few organisations which thinks about expats at all. And that’s where I will concentrate my efforts, however insignificant.

Come with me. Let’s take the Democratic Party, which looks more like a group I’d like to be a member of today than it has in my lifetime, and make it into something we can  call our Party. This is not the end of our journey — it’s just the start.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+

What just happened? Lessons from a ‘free’ Iraq. or: Just what do you think we did, anyway?

After seven years of constipation, Sir John Chilcot finally released his report into the Iraq war1. We have officially been told what a lot of people expected all along: the Iraq war wasn’t necessary, was probably illegal, definitely poorly planned, had no post-war plan, and did not achieve the goal of a stable democratic Iraq.

For anyone who spent any time in Iraq during or after the invasion, I’d just like to say: no shit! Was there really anyone left with a reasonable doubt that the war in Iraq was a bad decision? If you’re not already convinced of that, 2.6 million words of analysis aren’t going to convince you. Neither can I, probably, but I will try.

A woman cursed me in Arabic the other day when I was shopping at my local Iraqi market, and I couldn’t even say she was wrong — her message was pretty clear, so translation wasn’t a problem. I am quite often embarrassed at the actions of the United States government, and the UK isn’t much better these days. That’s depressing, and we have to do something about it.

Unlike a lot of other people, I spent time in Iraq. Following the invasion I worked setting up satellite communications in-country: mostly in Baghdad and in the Kurdish region. We connected Iraqis and US military (and their contractors) to the Internet. For Iraqis, it was their first taste of the worldwide information superhighway, and for US-allied folks, it was their lifeline back to their families. In the early days everyone was positive, and I went to places like Samarra, Mosul, and Kirkuk without problems. I worked with Iraqis every day, and still have a lot of Iraqi friends, most of whom aren’t in Iraq ant more.

The positivity of those early days deteriorated quickly. There was no post-invasion plan to reconstruct even the basic infrastructure of Iraq, which the US and UK military thoroughly destroyed. The West gloried in the invasion, the quick and complete destruction of resistance. The only thing neocon hawks gloried in more was the cut and run out of the country — somehow the job in Iraq was done in just seven years, while we have military presences in Germany and Japan some 60 years later2. To think that the situation in Iraq was any simpler than the end of WWII is misguided.

Now, 13 years after the invasion, electricity is still sporadic — even in Baghdad3. Municipal water networks have failed and brought cholera outbreaks in the capital4. Floods have overcome unmaintained Saddam-era civil works5. In a twist of gallows humour Iraqis have been killed by electrical discharges from power lines in times of flooding6. The security situation is so bad that Iraq is by far the leading victim of terrorism in the world7: more than 17,500 people died from violence last year, and nearly 8,000 have already died in 20168. The prosperous, largely secular, and generally pro-West Iraqi state has been destroyed wholesale, and its population abandoned by those who sought to bring freedom.

Throughout all of this, it was clear that the driving reason behind the invasion — that Saddam’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and would use them against the West (or by proxy Israel) at any moment — was a complete fabrication. There was no nuclear programme, no stockpiles of chemical weapons, no biological agents. They’re not buried in a cache in the desert, known only to a handful of Ba’athist loyalists. And we knew they weren’t there — Hans Blix, the UN’s weapons inspector, said as much9. So did a British mercenary to me directly, in Baghdad, in 2004 — he said WMDs didn’t exist, and it didn’t matter, getting rid of Saddam was the important thing.

I’m no Saddam apologist. Saddam was a brutal dictator, and his sons Uday and Qusay were probably even worse. Yes, there were massive problems in Saddam’s Iraq — the state perpetrated war crimes against its own people. But the line we were fed on how we would solve that problem was a simpleton’s answer. If it was possible to simply unseat a ‘bad’ guy and put in a ‘good’ guy, that would be the right thing to do. But intervention is never simple, and our lack of thought and care has plunged the entire region into chaos.

Let’s be clear about this point. Our governments invaded Iraq, and tipped an already unsettled region over into anarchy. The body politic of the US and UK — that’s you and me (doubly) — bear responsibility for the actions of our representatives. If they lied to us, we need to hold them accountable. But for the actions of our governments, we are ultimately responsible — that’s what democracy is all about — both for the positive and the negative.

Both George Bush and Tony Blair have said that the world is better off without Saddam. Well, that’s total horseshit — the world is most definitely not better off. Nor is Iraq.

Iraq is in near-complete anarchy, with world-leading corruption10. ISIS has a well-known connection to former Ba’ath officers11 — just who do you think was trained to fly US-made military helicopters that ISIS took from Mosul’s military airbase? That ISIS exists at all is a direct result of post-invasion instability and our treatment of prisoners12. Our governments — the US and UK — bear the responsibility for this, and as the body politic we must recognise that and hold them (and ourselves) accountable.

After the first Gulf War — operation Desert Storm, as it was known — Saddam’s Iraq was under crippling sanctions, with a devastated infrastructure. Yet, within months, there was reliable power and security in Baghdad — with no ability to raise funds or legally import any parts. I used to make a joke that the Iraqi Summer was the real aggressor post-invasion — first Summer, it’s hot, there’s no air conditioning, but there’s no Saddam; second Summer, it’s hot, there’s still no air conditioning, but there’s no Saddam; third Summer, it’s still hot, there’s still no air conditioning, when we had Saddam we had air conditioning; fourth Summer, remember when it was hot, but we had air conditioning, wasn’t Saddam great at getting things done? It’s tongue-in-cheek, but the average Iraqi’s life is worse off because of the invasion, and there’s no solution in sight.

If this were limited to Iraq, it would be terrible, but not as awful as the situation we find ourselves in today. But the reality is that by destabilising Iraq, we created a power vacuum in the Middle East, and our treatment of prisoners, both after 9/11 and in the military actions of Afghanistan and Iraq, have allowed anti-West sentiment to grow to unheard-of proportions, and have led directly to the creation of ISIS.

Many people thought the the Arab Spring, and the ouster of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya would replace repressive regimes in the Arab world with democratic states. Make no mistake, we in the West were involved — through intelligence services, funding, and in some cases air strikes. It seems unlikely that ISIS could be as strong as it is now without intervention against Assad’s government in Syria.

A Kurdish friend of mine is from Halabcha, and was gassed by Saddam as a child. He went blind, eventually recovered his sight, and now runs a successful dry cleaning business in London. We were discussing the state of the Middle East the other day, and he stopped for a minute, considered, and said that even he would prefer that Saddam had stayed, and that the world was safer. Not fair, not right, but safer.

What we have to do now — all of us — is to resist the idea that we can (or should) wash our hands of the situation. We, whether through false representation or not, are collectively responsible not only for the collapse of Iraq, but for the rise of ISIS, and the ensuing Syrian refugee crisis. We must stand with refugees, who are in the majority honest, helpful, friendly, and hard-working. We cannot turn our backs on these regular people — if they’re from Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, or anywhere else. At the same time, we must press our allies in the region for additional civil rights reform. And we must hold those who took us into war, with no plan for what comes next, responsible.

There is no easy or quick solution to the problems of the Middle East. If we shy away from difficulty and retreat into xenophobia, punctuated by occasional interventionist streaks, we abandon our chance to bring peace to the world and endanger ourselves and our friends. We live in a world that is more closely connected every day, and we must live up to our responsibilities. After seven years, if no member of government is held accountable, we should all hold our heads in shame and ask forgiveness of the Iraqi people.

References:

1 The Iraq Report
http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/the-report/

2 Spiegel International — Ex-US Intelligence Chief on Islamic State’s Rise: ‘We Were Too Dumb’
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/former-us-intelligence-chief-discusses-development-of-is-a-1065131.html

3 Wikipedia — Electricity Sector in Iraq
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_Iraq

4 New York Times / AP — Rare Storms and Floods Bring Iraq to a Standstill
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/30/world/middleeast/floods-paralyze-iraqi-capital-and-the-rain-continues.html?_r=1

5 BBC — Iraq cholera outbreak caused by sewage in water
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34635633

6 Business Insider / AP — Outrage builds as dozens of Iraqis electrocuted in floods
http://www.businessinsider.com/ap-outrage-builds-as-dozens-of-iraqis-electrocuted-in-floods-2015-11?IR=T

7 The Independent — The 10 countries where terrorist attacks kill the most people
http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/the-10-countries-where-terrorist-attacks-kill-the-most-people–ekK-zVZl_g

8 Iraq Body Count
https://www.iraqbodycount.org/database/

9 UC Berkley News — U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix faults Bush administration for lack of “critical thinking” in Iraq
http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004/03/18_blix.shtml

10 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2015
https://www.transparency.org/cpi2015/

11 PBS — How Saddam’s Former Soldiers Are Fueling the Rise of ISIS
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/how-saddams-former-soldiers-are-fueling-the-rise-of-isis/

12 The Guardian —  Isis: the inside story
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/11/-sp-isis-the-inside-story?CMP=fb_gu

Further Reading:

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
http://amzn.to/2a5wXZm
Probably the most telling book about post-invastion Iraq. Adapted into the instantly forgettable film Green Zone. Read the book!

DC Confidential by Christopher Meyer
http://amzn.to/29QnKo4
First-hand account by the UK ambassador to the USA during the run-up to the Iraq War. Damning of the Blair government in the extreme, it foreshadows publication of ‘with you, whatever’ by years.

Generation Kill by Evan Wright
http://amzn.to/2a5wwOQ
Evan Wright accompanied First Recon Marine on the intial assult into Iraq. If there’s any better account of the lack of planning by the US military in the Iraq war, I don’t know about it. Made by HBO into a very good series.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+

Fall-out from the Democrats Abroad Delegate Candidate Shortlist

I’m sure you’re all aware of the possibility of a fight on the floor of the Democratic National Convention this year. You might have also heard about the outcry over the Bernie campaign’s delegate candidate shortlist for Democrats Abroad. I was not part of the delegate candidate approval process, but I was assumed to be by many people, so I put on my journalist hat to understand what happened and try and compile an unofficial but accurate response. Let me try and outline what I’ve figured out — bear with me, it’s long.

TL;DR (even this is long):
Did I make any of the decisions about the shortlist? No.
Was I on the shortlist? Yes.
Did I win a seat on the delegation? No.
Was it an ideal process? No.
Was it a legal process? Yes.
Was it the decision of the campaign? Yes.
Does it happen in most states? Yes.
Is there a risk to the nomination if it isn’t done? Yes.
Why? Pledged delegates can vote for anyone (unlike the Republican party, which guarantees the first round at least), and Democrats Abroad electors can simply declare their support for a candidate without any oversight, then elect delegates who aren’t actually supportive of the candidate.
Does that make people who were not on the shortlist feel better? Probably not, and I’m sorry about that.
How do we avoid this problem in the future? Reform the elector selection process and have better international coordination in the campaign.

First, let me point out the most important part of this: these are delegates of the campaign drawn from the body of Democrats Abroad. They are not delegates of Democrats Abroad drawn from the body of the campaign. This is an important distinction — and one that serves grassroots volunteers. However, in many cases, I was informed that they ‘belong to DA’ — many times being lectured or simply yelled at by members of the Democrats Abroad establishment. This is simply not correct.

Let us also, for a moment, step back and remember just what a ‘Pledged’ delegate is:

Under the Democratic Party’s Rules, pledged delegates are not legally ‘bound’ or required to vote according to their presidential preference on the first ballot at the Convention. Rather, these delegates are, pledged ‘in all good conscience [to] reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.’ [Rule 12.J]
— Source: Stacie Paxton, DNC Press Secretary. http://swampland.time.com/2008/02/19/pledged_delegates_vs_bound_del/

As a grassroots organisation, it was impossible for the Bernie Sanders campaign to know everyone on the worldwide list of possible delegate candidates. In fact, the official campaign provided very few resources (I’m aware of a voting centre lookup map and registration form on the website, a little bit of ad credit for Facebook, and a handful of official campaign email shots), there was no established international structure for approaching the worldwide vote, and the people who were working with the campaign were (and remain) volunteers. I do not know the selection criteria used in the approval process (although I suspect donor lists, being one of the few information sources the campaign had, were one), but I know the timeline to make the decision was not long, and was compounded by other races happening at the same time.

This is complicated by that fact that in Democrats Abroad — unlike most other state-level nominating contests, the campaign has no say in the make up of electors — the people voting on the list of delegate candidates. Electors simply declare their preference — in this race the electors list wasn’t finalised until two days before the convention. With no right of review or process to nominate electors there is the very real chance that they might represent the interests of the Hillary campaign. There is only one process available in order to make sure that delegates are loyal to Bernie — the candidate approval process (the shortlist). Whether this is a norm in the culture of Democrats Abroad or not is not really germane. It is the norm in all other delegate contests.

I asked a very simple question of one of the people who backed me into a corner at the convention: if you’re so worried about this, why not write it into the Delegate Selection Plan — the document that governs this whole process — that the campaign must allow all applicants to go through? The answer: it is against the rules of the DNC. Because (and this is my interpretation): that means the campaign could be represented by people who are actually for the other side, and could very well change the outcome of a tight race.

Let’s be clear: while the media is currently telling you Bernie has lost, there are challenges going on in many states, and lots of delegates left to vote for — this is still a very tight race, despite CNN’s opinion. And when you get, as we had, single members of the electors’ list controlling more than 10% of the vote, switching sides to influence the delegate count can be compelling.

What about affirmative action diversity criteria? It’s true that it was raised as a problem by the Affirmative Action Report, especially in the EMEA region. However, the Bernie campaign elected a higher percentage of people who satisfy Affirmative Action criteria than the Hillary campaign did, including one of the three delegates from EMEA. In fact, our delegation from the Bernie side is fairly diverse, representing African-Americans, Asian-Americans, LGBT, and disabilities. On the Hillary side, with only one cut to their list (and no complaints from anyone on Affirmative Action) they elected an alternate representing Native Americans — no other diversity criteria were met.

Let me be clear: I was on the EMEA shortlist, but even I didn’t have any clue about it before I got the confirmation email. As someone who volunteered full-time for approximately six months, organising both the London for Bernie efforts as co-coordinator (with the highest country turnout worldwide) and grassroots international efforts through both Expats for Sanders (with Paul Belanger, whom I’m happy to report got more votes than I did) and a list of 35+ regional grassroots groups, I was lucky enough to be known to the campaign. I expect there were people who didn’t make the shortlist who were also active, and I’m sorry about that.

Even with that, I didn’t expect to make the shortlist — I expected the shortlist to be cut to the minimum, given the nature of our grassroots efforts and the challenges of ensuring loyalty to the campaign. Even once the shortlist was announced, as a white heterosexual male, I fully expected to not be elected due to diversity criteria. Add to this that the campaign’s #1 goal was to elect Larry Sanders, and the possibility of winning a spot became microscopically slim. I do understand people are disappointed, but if the campaign sought any control over the members of the delegation, who are now free to cast their vote as they like, I don’t see any other solution.

So how do we avoid this problem in the future? Campaign approval of the elector list is one option — these are people who are already active in the political process of DA, and it should be easier for them to be known to the campaigns. Better organisation of the international vote by the campaign is also an option, and we have the beginnings of that possibility, at least on the progressive side, due to the work of our international volunteer efforts. But those are both structural changes, possible for 2020, but only obvious with the clarity of hindsight. Hopefully we’ll have until 2024 to worry about it. I’m open to other ideas — send them in.

Kind regards,

travis

BTW, in Republican elections, delegates are named by the campaigns without any electoral process whatsoever.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+

Don’t Care About Voter Apathy? I Do.

Tuesday marked the end of the Global Primary voting window — we’ve had outstanding preliminary results, including a higher turn-out than 2008, and more of the votes for Bernie overall than went for Obama. The final numbers will come out on 21 March. I worked long hours over the last couple of weeks, and annoying people by talking about Bernie 24/7 for longer than that.

As part of trying to get people to go out and vote, I sent some personal messages out to people I know last week, to give the details of how to vote in the Global Primary. I expect that most of them would vote for Bernie, but as long as they voted their conscience, I was happy to make sure they knew the best way to go about it.

One of the people I contacted, who I’ve known for a very long time, wrote me back the following:

I appreciate your position, and I am glad you care so deeply. However, I have no interest in participating in the US voting scheme, nor any belief at all that the president has the power to change anything. Please do not invite me to any political events for Bernie, although I have nothing against him personally. I wish you luck with the campaign.

Normally I would read that and move on. A lot of Americans don’t believe in voting — so many that there’s a joke about definitely getting the government you deserve if you don’t vote. But this response was a surprise — the message was from someone who witnessed, first-hand, the effects of George W Bush’s Presidency in Iraq. And I kind of assume that most adults are generally aware that Obama has brought both Cuba and Iran in from the cold, despite Republicans controlling both the House of Representatives and the Senate. I can’t think of better examples of both negative and positive examples of the impact of the Presidency.

I don’t expect to be able to change everyone’s mind, nor do I even want to attempt to do so. But I have to wonder how we — Americans, Europeans, Asians, whatever — can persuade people to believe in a system which is definitely flawed, but better than most other options? And if you’re still disconnected, even after hearing the heart of Bernie’s message, which is fixing the broken campaign finance system and tackling income inequality — well, I can’t imagine anything I could say that could turn that ship around.

What would you do? What would you say? How do we even attempt to engage people who say that the system can’t be fixed, and won’t try? Me, I was speechless (probably to the great relief of most people I know). But now that the campaign abroad has slowed down, I’d like to spend some time thinking about it. All ideas are welcome!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+

Why I Support Bernie

Staring at the beginning of our Super Tuesday week of voting here in London, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’ve been working so hard to get Bernie elected President. I’ve been canvassing weekly, working with the media, going to innumerable meetings, and paying silly attendance fees to go to Democrats Abroad debates.

I read Karin Robinson’s post today about why she supports Hillary. I have great respect for Karin’s Obama campaign in London in 2008, and we are hoping to replicate her success for Bernie this year. But I absolutely disagree with her on why she supports Hillary. Here is her piece if you haven’t seen it: http://obamalondon.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/if-you-are-choosing-between-two-great.html

I started my political life, really, canvassing for Jerry Brown’s Presidential campaign in 1992. I was 16, in a conservative Californian sea-side town, and it wasn’t exactly an easy crowd. Bill Clinton was certainly charming, and after the Reagan years, even George HW Bush looked like a decent president. After Clinton, Bush II was an obvious nightmare. But it was Obama in 2008 that offered the first real hint of hope to a self-avowed progressive (in the USA) and/or socialist (in Europe). And happily, at the end of the second term, I can say that Obama has been an excellent leader of the USA.

But here’s the thing: although I’m a registered Democrat, I don’t belong to the party — it belongs to me. It needs to represent my politics, not the other way around, and with Hillary, I’m being asked to swallow a bitter pill which could be poison. Her mantra of ‘electable’, ‘experienced’, and that she’s a ‘leader’ doesn’t hold up against her embrace of the Third Way, the official mantra of which should be ‘go wherever the wind blows’.

The Third Way policies of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton led the Western World to remove essential regulations in favour of short-term gains which lead to the 2008 banking crisis, took us into war in both the Balkans and the Middle East, and allowed two charismatic leaders to take advantage of modern polling to maintain their popularity in an incredibly cynical manner. There is ample evidence to suggest that Hillary will follow a similar path. And now, with the spread of unofficial channels of communication — social media and the Internet — and Hillary’s relative lack of charm compared to her husband, the Third Way is crumbling because people don’t believe she even believes in what she’s doing.

This is not Bernie. Bernie is consistent, even if his views aren’t considered mainstream. In fact, it’s surprising to some people how mainstream some of his ideas are. He is for single-payer healthcare, as are the majority of people in recent polls. He is against sending ground troops to Syria, and voted against the Iraq war, both of which are also held up by polls. He believes that the wealthy are taking money through a rigged system from the rest of the US, which is also a commonly-held belief. The one thing he says that seems really extreme to people, is that these things can be better.

Bernie is not running for President to drag Hillary leftwards. His goal is not to get her to change her position on Keystone XL, TTIP, NAFTA, or Syria. His goal is to be President of the United States, to change the USA in a fundamental way which is necessary for us to believe in the future, and to help make the world a better place. Of course, a political revolution doesn’t end with the Presidency, but it certainly is a good start. And it will not be the end, no matter who wins.

President Obama offered us hope after a dark time in US history, and he delivered. Hillary is offering us a return to Clintonian politics as usual — a return to public opinion manipulation on a grand scale. Bernie is offering a chance at a better future — and we owe it to ourselves not to be so cynical as to turn it down because it sounds difficult.

And that is why I will be proud to vote for Bernie Sanders tomorrow. Please, think about your options, and vote your conscience.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+

HP C7000 Bladecenter: awesome new test lab in one unit!

Last year I picked up a surplus HP C7000 Bladecenter (generation 1, complete with BL460c and BL480c G1 blades, fibre channel, Cisco switches, etc) to run Openstack test loads. At about 150 KG, I paid just under £3 per KG, which is pretty damn good for a self-contained test lab (near scrap metal prices, actually).

It took me a while to get somewhere, because my super-cheap home-friendly rack wasn’t deep enough. Eventually I acquired a second-hand Kell Systems 24U silent rack (now called the APC Netshelter SX) and plopped it in the corner of the living room (after taking the front door to the flat off the hinges). Now I’m building up a new routing and switching core for the house, and enabling the C7000 at the same time. The rack also came with a rackmount APC SmartUPS with external battery pack, which is a nice addition.

I know the C7000 isn’t new, but let me tell you, from someone used to bootstrapping with generic white boxes, it is a pretty cool piece of hardware. I just spent an hour going through basic technical documents to get ready to put everything into service, and I have to say I’m impressed. For the price of two rackmount servers I’m putting 10 machines online, complete with remote management, Cisco switching, high-speed interconnects, and full redundancy. HP clearly knows what they’re doing.

Total cost so far — Bladecenter, Blades, Switching, UPS/PDU, silent rack, spares — including shipping, about £1,200. I’ve paid more for a laptop. Resale value (if I wanted to) probably three times that. But seeing as the newer HP BL servers are the same form-factor, and second-hand prices for something slightly older are extraordinarily reasonable, incremental upgrades aren’t expensive. So my test lab is set for the next several years.

HP engineers, my hat’s off to you. The architecture of the C-Class (or whatever your marketing wonks call it) is amazing, especially at second-hand prices. For anyone who is looking to test or startup with some in-house hardware (yes, I know, ‘the Cloud’, etc), take a look at a second-hand C7000.

When I get it all running, I’ll post some pictures. But, since the rack looks like decent office furniture, nothing is exciting until you open it up.

Now, anyone have a stack of HP driver DVDs they need to get rid of?

FacebookTwitterGoogle+

The Death of Imagination; The Funeral of Dungeons and Dragons

The popularity of roleplaying games, typified by Dungeons and Dragons, has declined since the heydays of the 1980s, when the brand was selling 750,000 copies per year — approximately $7.5 million dollars in revenue. Set upon from one side by ever-evolving computer gaming, and with an increase in the popularity of boardgames amongst real-world game aficionados, have we lost a unique and profound tool that built the current generation of creative thinkers?

I played a lot of roleplaying games from my preteen years well into my thirties. It all started with Dungeons and Dragons at my friend Brooke Fishback’s house in primary school. I don’t know how the Fishback boys — there were three of them, Chris, Brooke, and Neale, in descending order of age — got into D&D, but they had a selection of books, and we used them all.

There’s a popular perception of kids who play Dungeons and Dragons being awkward: dorks, geeks, socially-uncomfortable. That would certainly apply to me, but the Fishbacks were pretty popular. So it wasn’t just a harbour for those who didn’t fit in, it was transformational: Dungeons and Dragons allowed us to transcend poverty, escape the fishbowl of school, travel to places we couldn’t even pronounce the names of, and aspire to defeat evil. It wasn’t just playing make-believe, it was playing make-life-better-believe. With (imaginary) swords. The stories we created together were bigger than our real world lives.

It was more than playing make-believe, though. Roleplaying supplemented, and replaced at times, our formal education. It built key skills in creativity, comprehension, mathematics, logic, and group dynamics. To say that Dungeons and Dragons is directly responsible for any academic success I managed is probably not far from the truth. And I’m not the only one who feels that way.

The list of creative people who credit roleplaying games with helping them achieve success is quite broad: Stephen Colbert, Vin Diesel, Jon Favraeu, James Franco, Matt Groening, Dan Harmon, Marilyn Manson, Moby, Mike Myers, Patton Oswalt, Wil Wheaton, and Robin Williams sit alongside more mainstream figures like Tim Duncan, Michael Gove, and Elon Musk — all of whom publicly laud roleplaying, and typically Dungeons and Dragons.

‘A whole new kind of game. No board — just dice, just probabilities. It allowed me to enter the world of the books I was reading. I put more effort into that game than I ever did into my schoolwork.

‘We were all complete outcasts in school — beyond the fringe, beyond nerds. We were our own sub-dimensional bubble of the school. I’m not even sure we were on the rolls of any of the classes; that’s how outcast we were.’
— Stephen Colbert
(http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/dungeons-dragons-online/537989p1.html)

Those in the creative industries have the most to say about the impact of roleplaying on their careers:

‘[Dungeons and Dragons] gave me a really strong background in imagination, storytelling, understanding how to create tone and a sense of balance. You’re creating this modular, mythic environment where people can play in it.’
— Jon Favreau
(http://articles.latimes.com/2008/may/05/entertainment/et-favreau5)

But it’s not all upside for Favreau. Like many of us (by choice or circumstance), he is a recovering gamer. It’s maybe not what we want to hear, but there’s some truth to it:

‘When I was young, it was exciting, but as I got older it felt like it was keeping me from progressing. You’re social in your small circle, but it’s asocial to the wider world.’
— Jon Favreau
(http://articles.latimes.com/2008/may/05/entertainment/et-favreau5)

The cross-over between the collaborative storytelling of Dungeons and Dragons and creative roles is understandable, but the enthusiasm — bordering on obsession, perhaps — that the game inculcates lends itself to all sorts of mathematical, problem-solving, and logic skills as well. Estimating a die roll is inherently teaching the mathematics behind the probability, without the explicit ‘learning outcomes’ that educational institutions are so fond of these days. Michael Gove, a Cabinet Minister in the UK government — and ironically the former Secretary of State for Education — loves the maths of gaming:

‘Michael likes calculating the probabilities of the polyhedral dice – the probability that your character will come across a monster or break down a door.’
— Ian Livingstone, Founder of Games Workshop
(http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/computer-games-mps-fruit-ninja-angry-birds-528372)

The focus on collaboration, not only in the game, but amongst the players — people who meet to play in real life — is perhaps the most important and least lauded skill roleplaying can teach. If you have ever had to manage a group of school-age gamers through something as simple as what kind of pizza to order, you have a head start on most leadership MBA candidates. And if you think technical project management is in your future, the archetypes are all there amongst roleplaying aficionados.

As (at least one of) the father(s) of Dungeons and Dragons says:

‘The essence of a role-playing game is that it is a group, cooperative experience.’
— Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons
(http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/arts/05gygax.html?_r=1&ref=arts&oref=slogin)

Roleplaying games, with Dungeons and Dragons as the prime example, came out of a wargaming background. And wargaming is a type of boardgame, when you get down to it. It’s important to recognise, however, that boardgames are not the same as roleplaying games. Boardgames have closed rulesets, with prescriptive outcomes, and clear winners and losers. They lack the open-ended aspect of roleplaying, and because of that they are often ‘easier’. But that also means that they do not nurture the same skill-set, particularly for creative thought and group dynamics.

‘There is no winning or losing, but rather the value is in the experience of imagining yourself as a character in whatever genre you’re involved in, whether it’s a fantasy game, the Wild West, secret agents or whatever else. You get to sort of vicariously experience those things.’
— Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons

If you compare the proposed outcome, an experience versus a clear winner, you have just glimpsed the difference between a game of Dungeons and Dragons, and one of Warhammer 40,000 — probably the most popular wargame in the world, which is often nicknamed ‘Arguehammer 40,000’.

The very nature of computer programming lends itself to rulesets similar to boardgames. There is no way, currently, to ask a computer to use its imagination. It is also considerably easier to switch on a computer and lose yourself in an immersive scripted environment. Very few, if any, players on World of Warcraft — the most popular online massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) spend time talking to the shopkeeper while buying a latern; in Dungeons and Dragons that interaction could take hours and become a key part of the narrative, as the Dungeon Master reacts to the players’ actions.

Perhaps this is why a rise of board and computer gaming amongst the geek community is worrying. Anecdotally, many former roleplaying aficionados have, like Jon Favreau, stopped playing altogether, or have shifted their focus towards board and/or computer games. And while those games still exercise our logical faculties, they do not train our brains to imagine. We can consume, at voracious speed, but we do not create.

‘Pen-and-paper role-playing is live theater and computer games are television. People want the convenience and instant gratification of turning on the TV rather than getting dressed up and going out to see a live play. In the same way, the computer is a more immediately accessible way to play games.’
— Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons
(http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/27/arts/27drag.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&pagewanted=all&)

This is not to say that boardgames and computer games aren’t fun. They certainly are, or the industry wouldn’t have leaned in that direction. However, the loss of roleplaying is a loss of skills and opportunities, across the board.

Are we approaching a post-literate, post-storytelling age? When the newest written entertainment is Facebook, it might be worth wondering. Especially when Dungeons and Dragons had broad appeal, and an impact which was felt throughout society, not just on the creative industries.

Gary Gygax died in 2008. His creative partner, Dave Arneson, died in 2009. While there is some controversy over who did what and the credit that came from Dungeons and Dragons, there is no question that those two men created a cultural phenomenon that touched people throughout society.

‘It really meant a lot to him to hear from people from over the years about how he helped them become a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, what he gave them… he really enjoyed that.’
— Gail Gygax, Gary Gygax’s widow
(http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-03-04-2989882230_x.htm)

Further reading:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/books/dungeons-dragons-has-influenced-a-generation-of-writers.html

http://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/topic/38481-dungeons-and-dragons-as-a-teaching-tool/

http://www.salon.com/2011/03/09/dungeons_and_dragons_comes_back/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3655627.stm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Arneson

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Gygax

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_%26_Dragons

##30##

FacebookTwitterGoogle+

Little Mouse

Little mouse

A hundred years
of evolution have
made you the
colour of the
platform.

Does it help you see
the point of the Tube?

Sometimes, you see,
I have doubts.

******

I found this poem stuck into the pages of a book I left at the pub’s new lending library. Good thing I checked, it’s not bad, and I obviously forgot all about it shortly after writing it.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+

Viola, we’re not in Talia anymore

Another one to file in the ‘some people know this and some people don’t’ category: I parted ways with Talia, the company that I worked with for more than a decade, at the end of last year. I’m proud of the work we did together, growing from three guys in a room to one of the largest independent satellite network operators. I left on what I hope are good terms, and I am sure they will continue to thrive.

Of course, I want to thrive, as well. I’ve done some consulting work since branching out on my own — technical, business development, and brewing — and after looking around, found something I think I can dig my teeth into: a DevOps and Cloud startup that I call Cloud Familiar. And I want you to know about it.

Leaving Talia was a risk, but there were reasons. Over the years I had moved away from being directly involved with technology, and I missed it. I’d also gotten tired of barely escaping war and coups — it makes good stories, but I’m not as young as I used to be. And the satellite market is getting more difficult by the day, with a severe imbalance of supply and demand making the satellite operators hungry for direct sales (again). Talia is addressing the market weakness by adding system integration work, which I think is a good decision. It’s just not what I want to do with my time.

Also, I looked around at a lot of the people slightly older than me. There aren’t that many jobs out there in satellite for the ex-VPs. And probably there will be fewer as time goes on.

I had the luxury of being able to think about what I want to do without immediate pressure. Going back to University, I’ve always been a systems man, and a free open source evangelist. On the side of Talia, I’d kept up with developments in the systems world, and can talk DevOps, automation, the Cloud, Containers, Openstack, and all the new hotnesses. Consulting gigs on those topics are plentiful, and the pay isn’t bad.

But there should be something more exciting than that, right? Well, I thought, let’s do a startup that will leverage all the new hotness and bring something cool to market. We can do the consulting, and then build on it to do something interesting: a Cloud-first DevOps consultancy and automatic Cloud brokerage service.

For those who don’t know, the Cloud is all about hosting services on equipment that’s delivered in an on-demand basis. Basically, it’s renting capacity, and many of the big companies today are using it rather than having any owned infrastructure. Cloud Familiar helps companies get ready for a move to the cloud in a way that doesn’t lock them into any one provider. And then we help them to automatically shift between providers if a better deal comes along, or there’s an outage or other technical problem.

On the side of all this, consulting, satellite, FOSS, Linux, and the developing world are still all definitely on my plate. If the right opportunity, either contract or permanent, presents itself I’m not going to turn it down out of spite.

So, now for a request. You made it this far. If you have Linkedin, and we’ve worked together in the past, a few words of personal recommendation would be very welcome. I will happily reciprocate. And if you need help figuring out the Cloud, need some bizdev work done, or want to talk about satellite, brewing, Linux, or anything else, get in touch. I’d be happy to hear from you!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+