All posts by Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Gay Blood

Brookins Head Shot*Throughout the history of the United States being homosexual has not been an easy task.

Let me qualify that statement. You could have a completely normal existence as a homosexual person so long as you were willing to pretend you weren’t gay and you conformed to gender norms. The problems came when gay people attempted to portray their true selves and refused to conform to what was expected of people of their gender.

The partial list ranges from being forced to marry and forced to procreate (in years gone by), to being forcibly enrolled in ex-gay camps and being denied the ability to adopt children (in recent years). Of course the list of restrictions on people living openly gay, but also fulfilling, lives has been dwindling in the last few decades. Since the 1960s homosexual Americans have successfully asserted their ability to have committed relationships and live openly with partners, have careers, and join our military forces. Of course none of this is remarkable except for the fact that these goals being achieved by an openly gay person was noticed and remarked on because it represented a change in how our society viewed and accepted homosexuals.

Another one of these milestones is about to be reached. Openly gay men have been essentially excluded from giving blood since the 1980s because of bias.

Like so many other scenarios when bias exists, in this case the discrimination was based in fact. It was also motivated by a public health fear. During the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s gay men contracted the virus at a higher rate than the population in general. Because the virus can be transmitted by blood, safeguards were put in place to prohibit gay men from giving blood.

This perspective may have made sense in 1985 when there was still much to learn about HIV/AIDS. On the other hand I remember growing up in the 1990s and 2000s as a teenager and young adult and hearing repeatedly that HIV/AIDS is growing fastest among heterosexuals females. And yet no ban was issued against women. Basically gay men have been being singled out even though there are other safeguards in place to stop blood banks from storing and supplying patients with infected blood.

Recently the Food and Drug Association has announced that is reconsidering its ban on gay donors. That would be the right thing to do. As long as there are tests for all donated blood gay men should be able to get their trial size juices after donating. As long as it can be proven that to be gay is to necessarily be a carrier of HIV/AIDS gay men should be able to get the little snack packs of Fig Newtons.

Can you tell I like the goodies I get after donating blood?

I frequently see solicitations for blood donations. I give multiple times each year. The body is great at replacing what I give. But that doesn’t mean that the blood supply couldn’t use an extra pint or two. Once this ban is replaced it will help with public health by increasing the blood supply as well as remove another silly road block to gay men having dignity.

A win-win situation if ever there was one.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Midterm Elections

Brookins Head Shot*One of the things I learned as an advertising executive is how many ways companies package the same product and service to people with different bells and whistles.

Bonuses, special offers, sales, throw-ins, and the like are frequently just another way of giving you things that were already part of the thing you bought but now it sounds better because it has the words “upgraded tier discount” attached to it.

Of course this works because people love a sale. And unless you’ve been paying attention, most of us don’t have any idea if we’re getting a good deal. Unfortunately this applies to politics as well. Folks can choose an incumbent because of inertia; folks can choose to unseat an incumbent simply because the challenger sounds new and fresh and is offering a great deal. Neither method is sound reasoning.

Last Tuesday the Republican Party gained control of the Senate. This could be because the states in which Republicans gained offices were truly dissatisfied with the Democratic incumbent’s record. Or it could have been because folks in those states were dissatisfied with President Obama and took it out on the Democrats they could vote against. History tells a different story though. That after six years in office a president’s party is likely to lose a handful of Senate seats. This trend is true irrespective of the party in the White House so it seems like it is a case of folks voting for change because of the shiny new packaging.

I hope this isn’t the case.

I have documented the many ways I disagree with conservatives in this space. However I take a wait and see attitude regarding the upcoming shift in the Senate. Hopefully folks voted for conservatives because they truly believed in the concepts and programs being promised. We probably won’t be able to determine that until policies are enacted (or not) and the people who voted for those conservatives express their pleasure (or not). If you were promised X and your new Senator fails to deliver X, I await the grumbles, rallies, and voter registration drives to unseat them.

I also hope that, Republican led or not, Senators will work together to produce and pass legislation that address issues facing the country. I would be very disappointed if Democrats (who will only be outnumbered 53-45) undertook the stalling tactics employed by Republicans when faced with liberal legislation in the past few sessions. That’s not the way to run a country or win the vote of thinking Americans.

I recognize that President Obama campaigned on a platform of Change in 2008 and it is possible that many people voted for him based on that principle alone. Number one: anyone doing that voted for the wrong reason (even if I liked the outcome). Number two: anyone doing that wasn’t paying attention because Obama was clear in the changes he wanted to lead the country in embracing. The signature change in the United States during his tenure (universal health care) was always a priority he touted. And now that we can look back and definitively state that a vote for him was not a vote for a blind vote for some nebulous idea like change, instead it was a vote for a concrete change like being able to afford health care coverage even in low paying blue collar jobs at small companies.

Let’s hope we can look back a few years from now and say that these incoming Senators were not elected just because they were fresh blood but instead because they actually had ideas and programs that they thought benefited the country. Let’s understand those ideas and programs and let’s weigh their merits.

We as a people deserve nothing less.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Sears Closings

Brookins Head Shot*Sears recently announced that it would be closing somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 Sears and Kmart retail locations. This is the perfect example of the dark side of capitalism.

Sears has made poor strategic decisions over a number of years so in a sense this was inevitable. If the people who are in charge don’t do their job well, it is almost impossible for the rank and file of a company, and the company overall, to be successful. But this situation also highlights the way in which capitalism encourages the wrong kind of decision making.

The great thing about capitalism and the freedom of thought and decision making afforded people in our country is that with the right idea anyone can prosper. The origin of the Sears company is that they had the right idea: supplying people with tools they could not otherwise afford or get their hands on. Over the years this basic business model was expanded on until a Sears retail location today gives shoppers the ability to buy exercise equipment, get an eye or ear exam, take family photos, buy clothes, buy appliances, and of course tools. My local Sears even carries mattresses.

Sears basically ignored their core business to focus on expansion. Two things were working against Sears though. Other retailers were better at providing goods and services in the retail location form; the managers at Sears were picking the wrong stuff to diversify with (real estate for example).

My preferred economic system of socialism would not necessarily prevent the failure of Sears in this instance. But capitalism encourages the kind of decision making where an entity plays a game in which the odds are fixed against it. Normally Sears, the big company that it is, would benefit from stacked odds. But as we all found out with the real estate bubble of the last decade, no one has been in a no lose position with real estate in recent years. Capitalism fosters an environment where industries flourish under false pretenses and people feel they must become involved or get left behind. Sears fell victim to this mindset.

As I said socialism is not a panacea for this kind of point of view. But it does mitigate against the profit motive becoming too dominant while allowing for people with good ideas to prosper.

It could be that Sears is destined to fail; no business remains viable forever and over 100 years is a hell of a run. Nevertheless their downfall was hastened by their greed – the main ingredient in capitalism.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: The Next Wave of NBA Coaches?

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*Most of the time sports are just about having fun. On any random Saturday there are a million basketball games, baseball games, soccer matches, races, etc. between friends and acquaintances that contribute absolutely nothing to society.

But sometimes sports mean everything. Sometimes sports are an ethnic group being allowed to participate at the professional level after a half century of exclusion; sometimes sports are the working class breaking the capital class’ stranglehold on wage negotiation; sometimes sports are a nation of people having a collective consciousness regarding a match seen as a proxy battle between nations. This season for the NBA sports become the stage upon which women will take another stride forward in American society as Becky Hammon coaches professional male basketball players.

On the one hand the San Antonio Spurs have a reputation as one of the smartest franchises in professional basketball. They have been on the forefront of advanced analytics; they have more international players on their roster than any other team; their coach has pioneered minutes limits for the main players. So their hiring of a female assistant coach could seem like just another smart move on their part and be brushed under the rug.

On the other hand it is a fact that Hammon will be the first female coach in major professional American sports. So her mere presence is noteworthy enough to warrant extra attention. Her ability to complete the tasks assigned to her will help determine if she keeps this job, but given the franchise’s track record it would seem talent evaluation in non-traditional forms is their specialty.

Hammon’s assistant coaching career could be the match that sparks the next wave of innovation and hirings throughout the league. Plenty of former NBA players coach in the WNBA because of their qualifications as astute basketball tacticians and winning pedigree. Hammon possesses the potential to flip the narrative in the other direction. This is not to say that women should be given jobs simply because they are women (although I wouldn’t be surprised if this does happen), but it is to say that men should stop getting these jobs simply because they are men. Too many coaches (assistant and head) in the NBA are recycled even when there is no history of winning or innovation.

Professional sports are probably the last section of society in which it is rare to see women leading men. Hammon is the first step to changing that fact.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Fantasy Sports

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*Fantasy sports is both the greatest and the worst development in sports in the last 20 years.

On the one hand fantasy sports allows folks who follow a sport closely to compare players and argue greatness on a different level than the casual fan.

Statistics work well as tools in the fantasy sports universe which has led to the creation and adoption of new statistical categories that enhance the understanding of sports.

Everything I just wrote applies to more sophisticated fans. Unfortunately most people are casual fans of most sports. Most sports fans follow several teams but live and die with only one; sports are a year round phenomenon and most people do not have the desire or time to be 100% into a football team, basketball team, hockey team, and baseball team. (Notice I am only specifying the four major professional sports because they have fantasy sports attached to them, but the issue of time and devotion becomes even more exacerbated when college sports enter the discussion even if there aren’t fantasy leagues for “amateur” athletics.)

Back to the point. Casual fans are not on the same level of understanding that the devoted are. I recently learned of a fantasy baseball league in which the franchise owners are expected to follow minor league teams and know amateur draft prospects. I consider myself a casual baseball fan but know I would be in over my head in this league; I suspect most people would – unless you’re a devoted baseball fan.

My pet peeve regarding fantasy is that it allows casual fans to converse with devoted fans and those two groups are rarely talking the same language or having the same conversation. Casual baseball fans like myself have very little business attempting to argue the merits of Justin Verlander versus Clayton Kershaw using BABIP when I just got used to referring to WHIP. And if you don’t know what those acronyms stand for – that’s the point. Yet casual fans frequently use fantasy sports as their badge of authenticity even if they don’t know what they are talking about.

Beyond my personal annoyance things have become dangerous. Fantasy sports have developed into an industry. You can now risk real money based on your ability to pick winners in fantasy. This is a trap. People who previously would have just made a fool of themselves in an argument are not in jeopardy of losing their ability to pay their bills.

To be clear I am not blaming fantasy sports as being the problem, and I am ultimately in favor of allowing wagers on sports. But I am saying that some people are way ahead of the rest of us in understanding what makes some players valuable in a fantasy context and until that is understood lots of people will be throwing money away to folks with a superior skill set. In this way fantasy sports are being used as another avenue to part people from their money.

I wouldn’t play poker or bet sports with people who live in Las Vegas. They’re pros, I’m not. Right now fantasy sports is in a blind spot.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Arbitration

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*Arbitration is the use of a disinterested third party to pass judgment on a dispute.

Every civil case in this country is an example of arbitration but it doesn’t only pertain to going to court; it can be used by two parties wishing to avoid the courtroom. More pertinent to this column is that it can be used by countries.

Arbitration would be a great solution to a great many of the issues between countries in conflict today. Recently I’ve commented on the Israel-Palestinian situation and the ISIS threat to the United States. I suspect that these are related issues but even if they aren’t separate arbitrations could clear up many of the problems.

Of course it isn’t a foolproof solution. Most countries find themselves in conflict because their interests bump up against another country’s interests. And usually neither country simply backs off from what they want. By agreeing to arbitration a country is admitting that they do not have the ability or desire to solve the problem on their own.

In addition, for arbitration to work depends on finding a third party that is theoretically disinterested that both countries can agree upon. Since the Cold War, the American perspective on other countries has been those aligned with us, those aligned against us, and those non-aligned. Only the first group would be trusted by our Cold War leadership and our current leadership follows the same logic. Most countries have the same outlook.

Another major problem with arbitration being the ultimate solution to international conflicts is that both parties have to agree to abide by the arbitration decision. But there is nothing really holding any country to such an agreement. Any country that is dissatisfied with an arbitration decision can simply choose to remain in conflict. This would essentially mean they continue with the status quo and would have lost nothing.

And yet despite these three roadblocks, it still seems to me that arbitration is a solution worth pursuing by the countries of the world. Furthermore each roadblock is not insurmountable.

The admission of a country that they would welcome help in resolving a dispute is not as self-deprecating as it sounds. This is the thought behind most alliances (militarily and politically) and the globalization of the world economy. National borders are not an illusion but they are very permeable. Countries already rely on each other for so much, that they would turn to one another for help in resolving conflict is common sense.

While I believe the Cold War definitely reshaped the world, it did not alter the basic truth that ambitious people run countries and those ambitious people are constantly trying to advance their interests. This has been true for all of history and yet arbitration has been used in the past. Somehow countries have been able to look beyond their own self interest and come to conclusions that are agreeable to both parties to the dispute. Finding a sufficiently disinterested third party is difficult but not impossible.

Countries who disregard the arbitration decision would risk their reputation in the international community. This is especially important in the current climate of globalization. Economic sanctions that are taken seriously and upheld by the countries of the world would have a crippling effect on the offending nation and act as a deterrent to disobeying the arbitration decision.

Arbitration may not be a miracle cure for all of the international conflicts. But it would be a good start.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.