“Seven Songs for a Long Life”: intimacy and music keeps residents of a Scottish hospice going

The Strathcarron Hospice in Denny, Scotland is the setting for the documentary “Seven Songs for a Long Life” (2016), by Amy Hardie.

The film traces the lives of several patients, some of them middle aged, with terminal degenerative diseases, including one man (a former motorcycle racer) with multiple sclerosis, and a woman with returning (after remission) non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The people to keep themselves busy with music, with songs from “My Fair Lady” and then “Frozen”. They use vinyl records, even 45’s, on modern disco turntables.   The people live for the moment, but some live as long as ten years there.

The place seems like a rather luxurious residence, but at least some of the expense is covered by National Health Service.

Toward the end, a nurse and female resident sing a country-western duet “Does Everybody Know?” This gets played at the RoundUp on Cedar Springs in Dallas.

In an epilogue, the female cancer patient has gotten  bone marrow transplant, and another couple of residents marry.

Since some of the residents are relatively young, I’m reminded that I don’t want to see things happen to the young adults I meet (HIV, accidents, or anything else).

The film suggests a good argument for fixing health insurance once and for all in the U.S.  It’s on the GOP and Donald Trump’s watch now.

PBS Independent Lens aired a shorted (59 min) version of the full film (83 min) partly produced with Finnish resources.

Orkney Islands, Wikipeida, link . I visited this place in November 1982.

The official site is here.

(Posted: Monday, January 30, 2017 at 11:15 PM EST)

“I Am Michael”: biography of an “ex-gay” pastor’s experience, quite sincere

I Am Michael” (directed by Justin Kelly), as a movie title, announces “I am who I am” and “I am not” a social construct.

The Sundance 2015 film, now released for limited theatrical release and on Amazon video, is controversial as a biography of a living ex-gay man, Michael Glatze , as acted by “Everyman” James Franco.

The opening of the film is rather shocking. Franco, somewhat disguised with a dark wig, is counseling a gay teen at his independent Bible church. “Gay doesn’t exist,” he says. “If you want to go to Heaven, you have to choose heterosexuality to be with God.”  True, until the mid 1800s, the idea of sexual orientation as a social construct did not exist.

I wonder why that would be true. The facile answer is that God wants you to be open to giving him children , a lineage.

The movie switches back to 1998, when a 23-year-old Michael is living with boyfriend Bennett (gay superstar actor Zachary Quinto, who is the prototypic “masculine gayIn an early scene, they meet a gay physics graduate student in a Castro street restaurant (maybe the one on the corner, I’ve been in it);the physicist talks about our place in the Universe and the idea that mankind is just a blip in time. There’s an implication that, in quantum theory, somehow connection to lineage mattes  We know that orcas and dolphins experience distributed consciousness through lineage, so maybe this makes sense. Yet, I think if you talked to someone like Taylor Wilson today, you would see this in metaphysical, but non-sectarian terms. Maybe the Monroe Institute has it right. It’s hard to believe that God is personal with things, or that Christ is (although quantum theory might allow that).

Michael runs gay publications and becomes a prolific blogger, but starts to question the foundation of his own life. When he has a few heart palpitations, he fears for his own mortality, because he had lost both parents, his father to a sudden cardiac arrest on the beach when Michael was 13.

Although medical tests shows he has not inherited his father’s disease, he becomes more concerned about his life after this one. He starts visiting other religions, including the LDS church, and Buddhist camp in Colorado.

You can trace his story by visiting his own blog here. But I don’t see the blog post from July 2006 in the movie where he announces he is not “gay”.

Late in the film, he, with some hesitation at first, dates Rebekah (Emma Roberts) and finally marries (source).

The film, wide screen anamorphic (with limited theatrical release) does show us a lot of San Francisco, Olympia WA, Halifax Nova Scotia, Colorado and Wyoming. 

The film also mentions other gay history, including Matthew Shepard’s murder in October 1998.

Paul Schindler has a story about Glatze in 2007 in Gay City Bews where Glatze speaks of the “power and important ability to create life” and that (receptive) sex with a man would take his sexuality. It seems to be about procreation with him, or the speculative idea that a blood line has its own permanent distributed consciousness.  Ethicists usually say that the unconceived (unlike the unborn) do not have rights because something has to exist to have rights.  But then there is cosmology.

I remember a group called Love in Action (later Restoration Path) that tried to get people to “give up the gay lifestyle” in the early 1990s and had its own AIDS ministry.  Most of Glatze’s “reparation” had occurred well before major gay rights advances, including the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” and the full recognition of gay marriage, although after the Lawrence v. Texas decision on sodomy laws (2003). Still, vice-President Pence in 2000 had supported conversion therapy as a “logical” way to meet AIDS (story), and William Pryor, a potential Trump Supreme Court appointee, believes states should be able to criminalize private adult  consensual gay sex.

In my own experience, I would sometimes talk to “conservative” pastors (especially in Dallas in the 1980s).  They seemed to see sexual compliance as a way of maintaining social stability;  it was easier for most people to get into and stay in stable, resilient intimate marriages with children if the people thought everyone else did the same thing;  so pastors thought it was their job to steer everyone there.

The film “Latter Days” (2003), by C. Jay Cox, presented a gay man in the Mormon priesthood forced to undergo conversion therapy near the end of the movie.

Name:  “I Am Michael
Director, writer:  Justin Kelly
Released:  2015; 2017
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Amazon video ($6.99 rent); limited theatrical release
Length:  101
Rating:  R
Companies:  Brainstorm Media, Patriot Films
Link:  official

Wikipedia picture of Castro in San Francisco  my most recent visit, 2002).

Wikipedia picture of Nova Scotia my visit 1978). Other picture is mine (New Years Eve).

(Posted: January 28, 2017 at 3:41 PM)


National Symphony plays Shostakovich Eighth and Weinberg Violin Concerto

A concert at the National Symphony Orchestra tonight, titled “A Tribute to Slava”, in honor of cellist amd former NSO director Misistlav Rostroprovich, offered two major works. The conductor was Christoph Eschenbach.

The opening was the Violin Concerto in G Minor, Op. 67, by Polish composer Mieczslaw Weinberg (1939-1996), who emigrated to Russia when the Nazis came and then had to escape Stalin’s purges in 1948.

The soloist was 70-year-old Gidon Kremer (Latvian born).  The work, about 28 minutes and 4 movements, is rather lively and stereotyped, a bit like Shostakovich. The scherzo starts out as if it were a slow movement, but then there is a real slow movement.  The finale is martial but slows down to a serene end in G Major.  I believe that I heard this work shortly after it was completed in 1960, about the time I was entering my senior year in high school, as the ending was familiar.

The soloist gave us a 10-minute encore, a sort of lullaby in honor of the Ukrainian people, I think by Lyudkevych.  The encore may have been intended as a political statement, given Trump’s coziness with Vladimir Putin, who took Crimea (and ExxonMobil’s sponsorship).

The main work of the concert was what I came for, was the post-Mahler Symphony #8 in C Minor, Op. 65, by Dmitri Shostakovich. The work is sometimes viewed as a “two’s complement” to the Leningrad (#7), forming a “Requiem”.

The work, running in 62 minutes, was completed in 1943, and performed late in the year of my birth in Moscow.  (A friend lists his year of origin as the time of conception, and that is his personal right;  no “pun” on the Right to Life movement and march in Washington today.)

The opening Adagio opens with a logical theme, almost Bruckner-like (it reminds me of the Bruckner 8th, but this work will go in a very different direction).  It gradually becomes agitated and works up to at least two savage climaxes that are among the most violent in all of symphonic music.  One of them is on a 12-tone chord (like Berg), and the second is announced by a militant drumroll (not Haydn’s).  There was a NatGeo documentary on Mount St. Helens in Washington State that used this music during the explosion of the volcano.  There follows two crunching humorless scherzi (the first a half-step up in D-flat), leading to a Largo centered on a Britten-like passacaglia (reminds me of Peter Grimes), finally to settle down to an Allegretto rondo, that has one big climax in the middle section but settles down to a quiet end.

The Millennium Stage offered several chamber works:

Two Romances for Oboe and Piano, O. 94, by Robert Schumann, played by Shannon Prescott and Bora Lee;

Oompah Suite for Horn and Tuba by Jan Bach (6 movements), played by Gaby Pho and Diego Stine

String Quintet #2 on G, Op. 77 by Dvorak (first and last movements), George Pekarsky, Caitlyn Clingenpeel, Asher Boosrstin, Joha Kim, Andrew Gantzer

Pablo Sarsate, Navarra, Op. 33, for 2 violins and piano;  Yukino Takehara and Amelia Bailey, and Brad Clark.

(Posted: Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at 12:30 AM EST)

“A Dog’s Purpose”: their lives are richer than we know; do they experience reincarnation?

Ever wonder what it is like to “be” a family pet?  Especially a dog?

A Dog’s Purpose” is indeed a fable that purports to show us what animal consciousness is like’ but by introducing dog reincarnation, creates a tender story about how, by returning after remembering his past lives, a dog can repair the loneliness of his former owner’s life.

In the movie, Bailey (Josh Gad as the voice) has five incarnations.  In the first one, as a puppy, he wonders why he is “here’ and if life is just about having fun, until the dogcatcher stops him.

Then he goes through some kind of astral gateway, and “I’m back”. This time, a loving family on the Canadian prairie rescues him from a hot car of a reckless abusive owner.  The boy, Ethan, convinced dad (Luke Kirby), a traveling salesman, to let him keep “Bailey”.  There follows a 40-minute story, the longest in the film, some of it centered on a slapstick situation comedy scene where dad and mom have the boss home for dinner in their farm house.  While the film style here is faithful to the situation genre of the 1950s, the issues are not;  the Cuban Missile Crisis gets mentioned over the black and white TV.

Then we see Ethan as a mature teen (K.J. Apa).  You have to say he is a terrific kid, protective of his family.  He has a personality like that of Smallville’s Clark Kent.  But he has gotten a football scholarship, and his girl friend Hannah (Britt Robertson) has gotten an academic nod.  But another local teenager, after a dispute, “accidentally” sets the house on fire.  Ethan rescues Barney and his mom but breaks his own leg in escaping.  So much for football.  (Clark Kent was never allowed to play football, either.)

But Bailey emphasizes the bond he developed with Ethan growing up with him over ten years.  Finally, Ethan goes away to agricultural school, sees less of Bailey as he grows old and is finally put to sleep.

But then, “I’m back”.  As a girl, this time a police dog in Chicago.  After she (Elle) rescues someone and saves her owner’s life, she gets shot.  His fourth life is with a low income but happy black family (with a big wedding).  Yet, not a lot comes out of that episode.  His finale is in a low income working class white neighborhood.  After some abuse, he runs away and discovers Ethan’s farm , which he remembers over his past lives.  And he finds an aging Ethan (Dennis Quaid) who is very much alone.  Ehtan was not quite superman after all.

Humans don’t normally recall past lives very easily.  Could it be different with animals?  You wonder about dolphins and orcas, who biologists say may be capable of shared or distributed consciousness.  That raises another question:  why am I who I am, and not someone else?  Could I experience “being” someone else, even for an hour?  There was a Smallville episode where Clark and Lex exchanged bodies for a day.

There was some controversy about the film, including boycott calls, because of a reported incident on the set (USA Today story).  Hollywood Reporter carries an apology by producer Gavin Polone here.

Apa was great as the teen Ethan, but I though the role could have been cast by Reid Ewing, because of his work with dogs.

Name:  “A Dog’s Purpose”
Director, writer:  Lasse Hallstrom (book by W. Bruce Cameron)
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, 2017/1/26, small audience, evening
Length:  100
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Amblin, Walden Media, Universal
Link:  official

The film has several shots of Winnipeg, which I visited in September 1997 (picture).

(Posted: January 27, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST)

“The Trump Survival Guide” by Gene Stone; what can “you do”? Join movements? Volunteer? Become an activist?

I read about this little handbook in the Washington Blade print edition at dinner last weekend.  It’s a new Bantamweight book “The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living Through what You Hoped Would Never Happen”, by Gene Stone, a little paperback and Kindle how is prolific with advice guides.  (Should read, “what you had hoped…”.)

The back cover says “Don’t Despair, Don’t Retreat, Fight Back”.

The book  is set up in fourteen short chapters about various issues.  Each chapter introduces the history of the issue, says what Barack Obama did about it, then speculates what Donald Trump might do, and then what to do about it personally.

The historical narratives assume a reader who knows very little history.  So this book, in a sense, is “for people”;  it’s not an argument about what policy should be (although it generally is “liberal” to moderate in tone).  I don’t write these sorts of articles or books myself, and I’ve sometimes been quizzed as to “why not”.   It may sell very well for a while.

The advice, “What you can do” is rather challenging.  It says, join organizations (or maybe movements?) Volunteer.  Become a teacher.  Become a mentor.  Volunteer in a soup kitchen.  Knock on doors and raise money.

I don’t knock on doors and ask for money because I view myself as a “journalist” and “above that”.  That makes me a spectator and critic, I guess.

On the volunteering, I find my own activity has to be very carefully thought through and matched to my background.  Many volunteer organizations are not very transparent and too bureaucratic and authoritarian in their own way.  I could imagine, for example, directing chess tournaments in underprivileged areas.  But I would like to get my own playing skill back up first (to something like USCF 2000).

All that said, there are some interesting points.

One is that Nixon conspired to get black people convicted of drug offenses so they couldn’t vote later.   I’ve heard that before, but it’s good to be reminded.

Another is the whole history of political parties, that at one time we had a “Know Nothing” party that predicts modern anti-intellectualism, and that the US has often had very discriminatory immigration policies in the past.

Still another is the attitude toward women’s work – that women were needed in the workforce during World War II, rather suddenly, so that the men could fight.  There is coverage of Trump’s inconsistency with regard to women (and his vulgar comments), and a hint that many men, ironically, see women’s work as a sign of their relative impotence, a profound cultural issue (which stands opposite to how male homosexuality often works).

He gives a good history of LGBTQ rights, especially pre-Stonewall, when society was deliberately intrusive into the private lives of gay people.  He covers the history of sodomy laws briefly, as well as DADT. He notes that Trump personally has claimed to support gay rights, but seems to be appointing anti-gay people to his Cabinet (Mattis seems OK on the DADT repeal as of this writing).  Trump seemed to treat gay contestants fairly on his own “Apprentice” show.

On immigration, he notes that Obama set up DACA but was pretty aggressive with deportations.  He notes that Mike Pence had once said he wanted to deport even the settled Syrian refugees.

On national security, he notes Trump’s own waffling on Iraq, but he doesn’t pay enough heed to the fact that Obama’s withdrawals may have helped allow the civil war in Syria to aid the spread of ISIS into Iraq and create random lone wolf threats to American civilians at home. I think the targeting of civilians, a kind of enemy conscription, is a bigger legal threat to other areas (like free speech online, with the terror recruiting problem) than most commentators realize. He does talk about the NSA and the torture issues.

On health care, he does explain that premiums for some people in the individual market, under the individual mandate, went up under Obamacare to help cover other people with pre-existing conditions.  People with too much income were not assisted with subsidies, so that is why many voters (who became Trump supporters) became incensed.  I like the idea of covering pre-existing conditions separately with a reinsurance vehicle. But you would have to debate, state by state, what gets covered this way.

He doesn’t cover the free press and free speech issues, or network neutrality, in much detail, but his brief statement on net neutrality sounds grim, like it could lead to censorship by telecom companies.

Author: Gene Stone
Title, Subtitle: The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living Trhough what You Hoped Would Never Happen
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-268648-0
Publication: Dey St/William Morrow, 191 pages, paper, 14 chapters, endnotes
Link: author

(Posted: January 26, 2017 at 1 PM EST)

“Rachel Carson”: Biography of the conservationist on PBS American Experience

PBS American Experience aired “Rachel Carson”, a biography of the marine biologist and famous author on conservation and environmental issues, directed by Michelle Ferrari.

Carson lived from 1907-1964, to pass away at the end from complications of breast cancer.  During the last years of her life she had a relationship with another women which some say was intimate. But the film documents several times in her life when she had to take care of other family members and raise other relatives’  children.

She started her writing career working for an agency that would become the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In time, she started writing books, often descriptive of marine life, often serialized.  She tried to buttress her own outdoor skills, at one time doing a dive off the Florida coast in 1950s gear (and she had said she was a bad swimmer).   She became concerned about pesticides as they got introduced in the early 1950s.  The chemicals were very effective in eliminating mosquitoes (preventing malaria) and later fire ants (improving crops).  But many birds and mammals died, while the insects became resistant.

Carson wrote laboriously on a typewriter in the pre-computer age.  She edited by hand.  But eventually she produced her most famous book, “Silent Spring”, which became a best seller and caused great consternation in the pesticide industry.  Even President Kennedy mentioned it in August 1962.  She would testify before Congress while ill from radiation treatments for cancer, in a time when NIH was just starting aggressive anti-cancer treatments.  I actually “worked” in the cancer lab while I was a patient in the fall of 1962, part of my own personal history.

Of course, you can become concerned about her arguments today, as we need to eliminate mosquitoes spreading Zika virus.

Wikipedia link for Rachel Carson National Refuge in Maine.

(Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 11:30 PM)

“Paterson”: Adam Driver plays a gentle poet who writes by hand

Paterson” (2016, directed by Jill Jarmusch) is both an industrial suburb in northern New Jersey, and the name of the gentle city bus driver (Adam Driver) who writes quiet non-rhymed poems in a notebook in his spare time  He lives with a loving wife (Golshifteh Farahani) who wants to learn guitar, a vocal pooch Marvin, who will figure into the story.

Paterson’s poems are disarmingly simple and unpretentious observations.  “There are many matches in my house.”  One that I liked was “The Run”, referring to air molecules moving out of the way when one jogs.  A section in my DADT-III book is called that, but this refers to a computer batch run.

Paterson protects others  One time his bus breaks down, he gets everyone off the bus, but needs to borrow a smart phone from a passenger to call for help because he does not like technology. He stops a distraught man from shooting himself with a toy gun in a bar (visited several times) after being rejected by a girlfriend.  He babysits a girl, another poet, at another outdoor stop.  The bar owner plays chess, and talks about a USCF tournament that is never shown

Paterson’s diffidence about technology causes him to lose his poems to the dog. But he remembers them.  He can start over.  Remember how Wordsworth said that poetry should give pleasure.

The film is shot on location on Paterson and in Yonker NY  There are several scenes at the falls on the Passaic River (on the Fall Line).

In 1972-1973, when I lived in Caldwell, I used to take the Bloomfield Ave. bus to Newark or to Port Authority; this route runs a few miles south of the area shown in the film and crosses the two “Wachtung mountains”, the nearest when going through Montclair.

This film could be compared to Miranda July’s “The Future” (2011), where a young couple’s life is viewed by an adopted stray cat, Paw-Paw.

Name:  “Paterson
Director, writer:  Jill Jarmsuch
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Cinema Arts, Fairfax VA
Length:  115
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Amazon Studios, Bleecker St
Link:  official

Wikipedia picture of Paterson Falls.

(Posted: Monday, January 23, 2017 at 2 PM)

“Eat that Question: Frank Zappa in his own Words”: a composer who bridges classical and popular music and insists on his own message

Eat that Question: Frank Zappa in his own Words” (2016), directed by Thorsten Schutte, is a useful biography of composer Frank Zappa (1940-1993), comprising mostly of his own interviews.

As these talks were taped years ago (many around his 40th birthday, when he was already married for 14 years and had four kids, and still insisted on crusading for free speech or all) the film is shot in the narrow 1.37.1, giving it a bit of a home-movie look.

Zappa fused rock music with that of some prominent modern composers, especially, he says, Stravinsky, Webern, and particularly Varese.  That means, though, that his classical music is pretty radical.  Webern had been much more radical than Schoenberg and Berg, eschewing the remnants of opulent post-romanticism that had remained possible, even enhanced, with dodecaphonic atonality.

But a lot of his music is “practical”, or “gebrauchsmusik”, such as a piece with bicycles shown early.  Zappa often talks about how writing and composing is not “work” but self-expression. He notes the controversy over how composers have to get commissions to make a living.  The music “business”, he says, creates products, not music.  He admits that artists are viewed as “useless adjuncts”, until they do something commercial like write jingles for Coca Cola.

I would put all this together and say my own “amateur” large scale compositions are post-romantic (at least later in life, with the Third Sonata), and there really is no market in the “business” for post-romantic music today, even from “established” composers.

So Zappa would be critical of the mentality of hucksterism, where people demonstrate their power over others to do deals in business for the sake of money only (previous film).  Zappa would not get along with today’s; Donald Trump.

Toward the end, Zappa engages in “self-publishing” as he arranges for an orchestra in London too perform one of his works.  He did this for himself, and feels that it is OK that he paid for this himself, that it  did not have to be commissioned by others.

Zappa’s lyrics became controversial because of some occasional “bad words”.  Zappa testified before the Senate in 1985 about the Parents Music Resource Center, or PMRC, founded by Tipper Gore, concerning a proposed rating system for records,

Zappa’s politics were somewhat we would call libertarian today.

At one point, Zappa speculates that his whole compositional output is like one continuous work, or “process piece” (a term used in 2015 by composer Timo Andres in a famous tweet about the time of that composer’s “Blind Barrister” piano concerto, which I have not yet heard in entirety).

Name: Eat that Question: Frank Zappa in his own Words
Director, writer:  Thorsten Schutte
Released:  2016
Format:  1.37:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/1/21
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sony Pictures Classics
Link:  official

Wikipedia picture of Zappa bust in Lithuania.

(Posted: Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 4:45 PM EST)

“The Founder”: history of McDonalds says a lot about hucksterism and workplace values

Jan Lee Hancock’s new satirical biography “The Founder” seems a perfect fit for Donald Trump’s inauguration day.

The film, starting in 1954, the Eisenhower years, traces, with some sarcasm and snark, the career of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), an ice cream equipment salesman from the Midwest.  When he gets a larger order from two brothers running a new fast food restaurant in San Bernadino CA, he develops the idea of starting a franchise on their name, McDonalds.  The idea is Trump-like – own and lease the land under the stores, and swindle the brothers out of the trademark (and even trade dress) for their name.

There’s a lot about high-pressure selling as a career here, and what you need, according to Kroc, is “persistence” and street smarts, but not intellect or critical thinking.

Kroc will take risks, as he mortgages his own home in Illinois, under his own wife’s (Laura Dern) nose.

The early scenes have some interesting play about workplace discipline and movements in the fast-food joint.  I can remember overhearing a conversation about a waiter in a Martinsburg W Va family restaurant one time, “His movements are too slow.”

And they used to say, McDonalds, or fast-food work in general, can test “whether you can work or not” and start out at the bottom at minimum wage and pay your dues before you expect to go anywhere in life. That sort of appeals, ironically, to a kind of Maoism.

The Wall Street Journal just had an article on how McDonalds workers hate ice cream machines, here.

All this fits into the debate about “men without work” (previous review), and what my own authoritarian father (who had been a salesman) preached about “learning to work.”  I would protest “low work” indeed.

On the other hand, I’ve gotten flak in job interviews because I questioned things too much and wasn’t very enthused about selling someone else’s vision.

Name:  “The Founder
Director, writer:  Lee Hancock
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2017/1/20 at Angelika Mosaic, fair crowd, late
Length:  118
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  TWC, FilmNation
Link:  official

Wikipedia picture of San Bernadino after a rare snowfall.  San Bernadino, coincidentally, was the site of a major terror attack in 2014.

(Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 2:45 PM EST)

“Men Without Work” by Nicholas Eberstadt: men not in labor force become spectators and moochers

Nicholas Eberstadt (“A Nation of Takers”) presented his little book “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis” at a Cato Institute forum on January 10, 2017 (writeup ) .  I can gest and suggest the phrase “men without chests” from a National Review article by David Skinner in June 1999.    The book is part of a “New Threats to Freedom” series initiated in 2010 by Templeton Press.

Seriously, the book documents the gradual drop on LFPR (Labor Force Participation Rate) and “Not in Labor Force” (NILF) rate among working age men 25-54 and sometimes up to age 64, over various time periods since WWII, especially since 2000.  “Not in Labor Force” refers to men not only not with paid employment but also not looking for work.   The charts are based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, often from special Census surveys run all the time (I have actually worked for Census on these surveys).

NILF has increased steadily in the past two decades, and not changed particularly changed (in derivative “rate of change”) during sharp recessions.  Some of the factors that reduce labor force participation include education level high school or lower,  criminal backgrounds, non-white, non-immigrant, single, and childless.

Men with families to support do have higher labor force participation, which seems logical.  Immigrant men tend to be more desperate to work even when illegal to do so, and to want to send money home, and to move around to get work.  As men become better educated, marital status and having children becomes less important.  Women with kids will normally do their best to work if single because they have to.

The book notes that many NILF men indeed seem to live as mooches, spending their time as “watchers” on social media, as if that were their job.  (That confounds the “No spectators” rule of the movie “Rebirth”!)  The author notes that the men don’t even help take care of children (too “emasculating” biologically, as we now know) or elderly relatives.  But “observing” is still a form of “economic inactivity”.

The causes of this development are many. Obviously, men with criminal records are hard to employ given the punitive culture of US justice.  Globalization and automation have removed jobs for intellectually less talented men.  Our culture has become more individualistic and less social, a development that men (and women) with good cognitive (and/or good people) skills benefit from (sometimes with spectacular results), but which demoralizes men who “don’t get it” and need a more consistent family and communal tribal culture.

The book contains criticisms (“Dissenting Points of View”, that is, opposing viewpoints)  by  Henry Olsen and Jared Bernstein.  The criticisms note Donald Trump’s campaign based on the loss of many manufacturing jobs for men to offshoring. Olsen mentions military conscription as raising employment for men from 1948 to 1972, but, in a rebuttal, the author notes that many men were rejected by the draft and these men tended to be harder to employ.

My last high-paying job was eliminated at the end of 2001, when I was 58, and I held interim jobs (list) until 2011, but for various times I lived on savings, investments, and inheritance.  I have not added to economic activity (which would help others find work) as much as maybe I should be expected to.  There was a culture in earlier times that people could retire at 55, which is way too early given today’s population demographics.  Corporate pension social security offsets were set up to assume retirement at 62, which is unhealthful.

One problem was that the jobs being pushed at me mostly involved superficially conceived commissioned sales gigs and hucksterism.  I could have, for example, sold sub-prime mortgages.   We need to create jobs that add real wealth, not just build ponzi-like pyramids.

Author: Nicholas Eberstadt
Title, Subtitle: Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis
publication date 2016
ISBN 978-1-59947-469-4
Publication: Templeton Press, Philadelphia; 206 pages, many charts, endnotes
Link: AEI author

(Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 11:30 PM EST)