Monday, April 27, 2015

#117 / Pick One

Guns? Or Flowers?
Pick One!

Where Have All The Flowers Gone 

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn? 

Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone for husbands everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the husbands gone, long time passing?
Where have all the husbands gone, long time ago?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn? 

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn? 

Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn? 

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

#116 / Pick Two

Herman Kahn, pictured above, was a military strategist and systems theorist who felt comfortable in discussing the possibility of full scale atomic war as a reality to be anticipated, planned for, and survived. He called it "Thinking About The Unthinkable," the title he gave to his 1962 book. Kahn later updated his thoughts in Thinking About The Unthinkable In The 1980's. You can still buy that book on Amazon (or through your local bookseller).

Today, things that might have seemed "unthinkable" in the 1960's, or even the 1980's, are quite "thinkable," indeed. A few people, of course, are still worried about thermonuclear war, a possibility quite "thinkable," though not much thought of.

Other "end of the world" scenarios are being more commonly pondered. They are not only "thinkable," but are being thought of frequently. Rebecca Solnit, for instance, surveys the challenges that global warming poses to our civilization, and tells us, "By the Way, Your Home is On Fire." John Michael Greer, who writes what he calls the "Archdruid Report," is thinking about "Peak Prosperity," opining that the "god of technological progress may well be dead."

The image to the left is supposed to convey the idea that "thinking" and "doing" are quite different activities. In fact, the article from which this image was taken says you have to "pick one (and only one)."

I'm not sure that's the best way to approach the dichotomy. Arguably, doing without thinking is what got us into our current (less than desirable) situation.

But thinking without doing. That's not going to help us out, either!

Thinking and doing. Pick two!

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

#115 / Hacking For Defense

Steve Blank, among other things, is the author of the The Startup Owner's Manual. He is, in essence, a "guru" of entrepreneurship, Silicon Valley style. Blank also served on the California Coastal Commission for awhile, and I appreciated his tough-minded approach to coastal protection

I subscribe to Blank's blog, which anyone can do, and I enjoy his insights, but not always uncritically. I wasn't too happy with his description of a reunion he had with a long lost friend, and I am not too happy with Blank's most recent offering, either, "Hacking For Defense In Silicon Valley." 

First, of course, "defense" isn't the right word, as far as I am concerned, when we are talking about the military. "Military" or "war" are the words most appropriate. For instance, and just as an example, calling our development of drone warfare "defense" is nothing more than propaganda. At least, that's my view. My mother's view, too, by the way.

In his "Hacking For Defense" essay, Blank lauds Colonel Peter Newell, pictured above. Newell left the Army, and now heads up a corporation called BMNT Partners, which is using information and data management and technology to improve the efficiency of our armed services. As a taxpayer, I guess I should be happy that someone is "hacking" our military machine, and making it more efficient. 

But efficiency for what? That is my question. The problem with celebrating "technique" alone is always related to the "for what?" question.

Mobilizing the smart guys of the Silicon Valley to help the United States government maintain global military supremacy is not necessarily a "hack" that's going to be all that beneficial in the long run. At least, that's my belief.

How about turning those techniques towards "hacking for peace?"

I could be a lot more enthusiastic about that.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

#114 / Too Rich To Care

Scientific American has run an article on economic inequality. The basic point of the article is that there is substantially less economic and social mobility in American society than is commonly believed. This conclusion is bolstered with facts, of course, in the tradition of scientific discourse. The Scientific American article also relies on an acute comment from George Carlin. Carlin has noted that “the reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

Sprint is running a television commercial that acknowledges that some people are simply "too rich to care." Maybe someone like Stephen Schwarzman, mentioned here previously. He's the guy whose 2014 salary was 12,804 times as large as the income of the average American family.

Do you think maybe we ought to do something about this? Somehow, cutting our cell phone bills in half doesn't seem like the right approach.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

#113 / Curious

Here's A Life - Use It Well! That is good advice. 

A practical tip on how to accomplish that objective came to my attention in a recent book review, published in the April 15, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal. Hollywood producer Brian Grazer has written a book called A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.

Here is a description of what Grazer is proposing. I think he has a good idea: 

For the past 30 years, the Hollywood producer Brian Grazer has been holding what he calls “curiosity conversations.” Twice a month (on average), he meets with scientists, politicians, writers, athletes and all sorts of other people to pick their brains, sometimes to inform a particular project but usually just to fill up the reserves of information, stories and relationships that any great producer needs. The partial list of those he has spoken to takes up 28 pages at the end of “A Curious Mind.” It begins with the musician 50 Cent and ends with the historian Howard Zinn.

We could all do that! I don't think being a "great producer" is a prerequisite.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

#112 / The War Metaphor


I have noted before that the "war metaphor" has become so common that we take its descriptive suitability for granted. Are we concerned about the impacts of drug abuse? You bet we are! Let's declare a war on drugs!

And what about poverty? Are we against poverty? Of course we are! A war on poverty will prove we really care.

And what about a war on crime? Let's buy a BEARCAT and outfit our police officers like the police officers depicted above. Let's militarize the police! What better demonstration could there be that we really don't like crime and that we're going to do something about it?

The editorial statement in above-pictured edition of WIN, the quarterly magazine published by the War Resisters League, names the war on obesity and the war on illiteracy as other "wars" we are fighting right now. I don't think that adding those two "wars" exhausts the list of the wars in which our society finds itself engaged

More is at stake here than a linguistic convention. Words and realities have a way of self-reinforcing. A stylistic "war" ends up with BEARCATS roaming our city streets.

Maybe we need a "War Metaphors Resisters League." Let's make John Lennon an emeritus founder of this new movement.

Give peace a chance!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

#111 / One Life To Give

Nathan Hale, who is pictured to the left, is remembered for his last words, as he was executed by the British during the Revolutionary War: "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

Intentionally or not, Hale was echoing, in a way, a statement found in the Book of John, Chapter 15, Verse 13: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down one's life for one's friends."

"Giving one's life," or "laying down one's life" for one's country has come to be seen as the way that we can give that "last, full measure of devotion" that defines patriotism. 

And "laying down one's life," or "giving one's life," is commonly understood to mean "dying."

I would like to suggest another interpretation. "My" life, or "your" life, is the life that I (or you) have proposed and want to live, to accomplish what we want to accomplish during the time we have been give to live. It is "our" life because we do, in fact, choose every moment what we will do, and our choices define "our" life. 

Laying down "our" life means giving up the life we might propose to lead, the life that would be "our" life, to make another choice; for instance, to do something that we might not choose to do for ourselves, but that we do because we do it for "our country," or "our community," or for any purpose other than to satisfy our own will and desires. 

Such a sacrifice can, of course, include actually "dying" for the greater cause, but it doesn't have to. Giving one's life for one's country or community has only to mean that we forego what we might otherwise have proposed to do, and do something, instead, that is mainly intended to fill a need larger than our own desires and ambitions. 

Ever think about running for office, stepping up to act as a representative for the community that needs elected officials who will sacrifice their "own" projects to accomplish something on behalf of the greater community?

If you haven't thought about it, and it's clear that lots of good people haven't, then start thinking about it now.

There is no greater love than this, that a person will lay down his or her own life on behalf of others. Sometimes, in fact, and I speak from experience, that is precisely the way to find the life you have always hoped for, for yourself.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

#110 / Moneyball Plays Politics

Here's an article that suggests that better analytics can make an economically and otherwise disadvantaged political group a real contender in the public policy arena. "Moneyball" worked for baseball and the Oakland Athletics. Why not for politics?

Here's the quote from the article I especially liked: 

Data are allowing us to move and shape public policy beyond 120 legislators in Sacramento to a much bigger playing field of 2,700 mayors and council members, 280 county supervisors and nearly 5,000 school board members. We can now identify hundreds of local policymakers supportive of virtually any issue and begin to create policy changes faster, cheaper and more efficiently than ever before.
Read more here:

As I read it, this suggests that the route to a transformed politics runs right through local government. 

I happen to know that this formula works, with or without "big data." 

In fact, I have had some experience. 

It's about time for those who want to change the world to start taking over those local government agencies that, in the end, are the mitochondria* of political change. 

That's where real power can be found.

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*Wikipedia: "These structures are sometimes described as "the powerhouse of the cell."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

#109 / Looking For The Love Train

Cornel West came to Harvard on Friday, April 17th, to speak out for divestment by Harvard in any companies that manufacture or that are trading in fossil fuels. West called the divestment struggle a "Planetary Selma." had a little snippet of some of West's remarks posted on its Facebook page, including a spirited video in which West proclaimed that he "wants to be on the love train." 

Then West said something else. It's worth remembering:

  • Justice is what love looks like in public. 

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

#108 / Casting A Line

The April 20, 2015 edition of The New Yorker has an article by Jill Lepore, The Rule of History: Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, and the hold of time. In this extremely worthwhile essay, Lepore makes clear something that I find my legal studies students have not, always, fully fathomed. A list of enumerated rights does not represent a grant from the king, or from the government, or from any "authority" that makes that list: 

Magna Carta has been taken as foundational to the rule of law, chiefly because in it King John promised that he would stop throwing people into dungeons whenever he wished, a provision that lies behind what is now known as due process of law and is understood not as a promise made by a king but as a right possessed by the people.

Our rights are not "granted" by virtue of their placement in any list (like the Bill of Rights) that might acknowledge them, and set them forth. They are, as our Declaration of Independence says, "inalienable," the possession of all living men and women not by any concession given by a human authority, but because such rights have been "endowed" upon all living persons "by their Creator."

This is a salutary reminder, which comes at the start of Lepore's treatment of the Magna Carta and its history. Her article ends with an even more profound and general insight into the reality of our human existence: 

The rule of history is as old as the rule of law. Magna Carta has been sealed and nullified, revised and flouted, elevated and venerated. The past has a hold: writing is the casting of a line over the edge of time. But there are no certainties in history. There are only struggles for justice, and wars interrupted by peace.

So you may write, and I write, and we cast our lines of thought over the edge of time, hoping for a future reader, hoping for a future listener, hoping for justice amidst the wars that threaten, always, to sweep everything we know, that we have created, that we hold dear ...


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