Wednesday, December 13, 2017

#347 / Surviving Four Years

Former United States Senator Jeff Bingaman was a classmate of mine at Stanford Law School. Jeff retired in 2013, after representing the State of New Mexico in the Senate for thirty years. Recently, Jeff talked about politics with Stanford Law School Professor Pamela S. Karlan. His observations, as published in The Stanford Lawyer, are well worth reading. Click the link to be redirected to a transcript of Jeff's conversation with Professor Karlan.

I posted Jeff's thoughts to my Facebook page, highlighting the following comment in particular: 

I sat through the impeachment effort and the trial regarding President Clinton and became convinced at that time that high crimes and misdemeanors is a high bar and you’ve got a high bar to jump in order to prove that a president committed a high crime and misdemeanor, as contemplated by the Founders. I think that’s still the case. Obviously, if something outrageous and illegal surfaces as part of one of the ongoing investigations, then that may change things very dramatically but, absent that, the people of the country chose Donald J. Trump as president and we’re going to have him as president for four years. That’s my perception.

One person who commented on my Facebook posting suggested that, "America will not survive all 4 years of Trump." That is not a unique thought. Many people are thinking the same, and are trying to figure out a way to survive four years.  I sympathize with the feeling!

On the other hand, I think we are underestimating our ability to "resist," and to endure, and to survive. I end up coming down with William Faulkner, and what he said in his famous Nobel Prize Speech. That recent movie about Winston Churchill, The Darkest Hour, is to the same effect.

Sticking with Faulkner, here is the wisdom to which I repair, when faced with any challenge, including a potentially life-ending catastrophe like President Trump:

I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure; that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail...

Let's not forget these words!

Of course, we won't "prevail" by waiting around to see what happens. We're going to have to prevail by taking action ourselves.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

#346 / Don't Criminalize Politics

"Don't criminalize politics." That is the plea of Alan Dershowitz, in an opinion editorial appearing in The New York Times on November 29, 2017. 

Dershowitz is a well-respected legal and constitutional scholar. I think he's right. It doesn't take long to read his column, and I commend it to you. 

Dershowitz contends that "elastic criminal laws should not be stretched to cover Mr. Trump’s exercise of his constitutionally authorized power... An overly flexible, easily expanded criminal statute is a loaded weapon capable of being fired by zealous prosecutors at almost any target. It’s time to store the weapon until it is really needed — and not the next time someone wants to wound his political enemies."

I want to highlight a point not specifically mentioned by Dershowitz, though certainly alluded to in his column. If, when we think that our elected officials are doing a bad job, we conclude that their derelictions should be addressed by criminal proceedings, we are essentially suggesting that we should let "somebody else" take care of our political problem. There is a large, stand-alone bureaucracy that prosecutes criminal violations. Citizens stand by and observe; they don't prosecute the violations themselves.

Our politics MUST be based on an engaged citizenry. To the extent that we see ourselves as "observers," and "spectators," urging others to take action, we depreciate the long-term prospects for genuine democracy, and for the continuance of democratic government. Dershowitz alludes to this issue when he says, "the proper place to litigate the wisdom of [governmental] actions should be at the ballot box, not in the jury box."

I want to make it explicit. We must be political actors, not political observers. We can't wait around for someone to prosecute the malefactors criminally. This is our government - it is a government "of, by, and for the people," right? If that is right, then we shouldn't be expecting governmental prosecutors to handle our political mistakes. We need to take care of those ourselves.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

#345 / Read The Short Version To Get The Message

You don't have to read the whole book, to get the main points. Thanks to Alternet, you can read a relatively short and very good synopsis of the The Despot's Apprentice, written by the author himself. 

I suggest you read it

Brian Klaas is a Fellow at the London School of Economics, and he goes out of his way to disavow what he obviously considers excessive claims that the election of Donald Trump means that we have "lost" democracy:

Trump is no Mussolini or Hitler, no Stalin or Castro. Anyone who makes those comparisons is an alarmist, belittling the suffering of millions at the hands of those tyrants. Trump is hardly an evil mastermind. Instead, he is a democratically elected leader, operating within the confines of one of the world’s most stable and robust democracies. His behavior is constrained by democratic institutions, and his decisions are scrutinized by a robust and free press. Even if he wishes it were otherwise, Trump cannot rule by decree.

On the other hand, Klaas is giving us a "heads up" that our democratic political institutions are not safe from failure:

The final roadblock to despots is the people. American-style checks and balances are not imbued with magical powers—they are only as strong as those who deploy them when democracy is under duress. Physically, the US Constitution is no more than ink on a piece of parchment. People, not institutions or documents, protect democracy. If the citizenry allows democracy to wane, it will.

Let's not forget it!

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

#344 / Dominance Democracy

A November 14, 2017, article published online by Scientific American examines the phenomenon of "dominance leadership" in countries that have long boasted of their commitment to democratic values. 

Above, pictured on the right, is the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. His prescription for dealing with the drug crisis in his country has been to send out vigilante patrols to kill those who may have used or distributed drugs. These vigilante patrols have killed 7,000 of those bad guys so far. As for the other guy pictured, I think you know who he is!

According to Scientific American:

A well-established finding within psychology is people’s deep rooted desire to have control over their daily lives. At Duke University, Aaron Kay and colleagues articulated the theory of compensatory control: When people experience or perceive disorder, chaos and randomness in their lives, they feel more motivated to embrace ideologies that emphasize personal, societal or religious control as a compensatory strategy to allay the anxieties of lacking control.

Economic uncertainty and social dislocation set the stage for "strong man" government, but the Scientific American article notes (quite accurately) that the "dominance leaders" who rise to power because of such conditions are not, generally, able to do anything about them. In fact, if we want to have good government, we have got to do it ourselves!

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

#343 / Caitlin's Blog

Caitlin Johnstone describes herself as a "rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper." Click this link to be directed to her blog on Medium. Click right here for information on her brand new book.

Johnstone's views are not dished out with any "spoonful of sugar" to make the medicine go down. Her postings are more along the lines of a Chinese herbal remedy: bitter, but tonic! They are definitely controversial

The blog posting from which the above picture is taken is titled, "Fascism Came To America Wrapped In A Rainbow Flag And Wearing A Pussyhat." Think about it:

Do you know why Democrats fixate so much on the completely unsubstantiated narrative that Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election? We know that the loose tangle of alliances between the intelligence communities, the military-industrial complex, defense agencies, corporate media and plutocrats collectively known as the deep state advance that narrative because it helps manufacture public support for new cold war escalations with China’s right arm Russia, but why do Democrats advance it? Why do they work so hard advancing a weird McCarthyite psyop when there are so many actual horrific things that this administration is doing? 
Russia makes a fine distraction for the corruption that was exposed in WikiLeaks’ releases of Democratic party emails last year, but more importantly, attacking the Trump administration on the actual, non-imaginary evil things that it is doing would expose the fact that Obama was doing those evil things too. Even more importantly, it would draw attention to the fact that the entire Democratic party is devoted to the continuation and expansion of Bush and Obama’s wars, the continuation and expansion of Bush and Obama’s Orwellian domestic surveillance programs, the continuation and expansion of Bush and Obama’s militarized police state, and the continuation and expansion of Bush and Obama’s soul-crushing and planet-killing neoliberal economic policies.

Whether or not Johnstone will be to your taste (and she sure isn't to everyone's taste), we really will benefit by drinking down some bitter and tonic truths about what is going on in our nation - and has been going on for a long, long time. 

Sugar-water politics is not the right remedy for what is ailing us now.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

#342 / Democracy Reviewed

I am known to rely on book reviews as a place to uncover various ideas that strike me as important or useful (and yet I never read the books themselves). This is not the best practice, I know, but it works for me. 

Most recently, I found some helpful observations in Barton Swaim's review of a couple of books about democracy. Swaim's review was published in the November 25-26 edition of The Wall Street Journal under the title, "Trusting the People to Make Mistakes." That is the hard copy version of the title. When you click the link, you'll see something else at the top, but the text is just the same as the version delivered to my doorstep. 

Swain focuses his review on the relationship between "liberalism" and "democracy," and suggests, citing to Josiah Ober's book, Demopolis: Democracy Before liberalism in Theory and Practice, that we disassociate these two terms. I am all for that!

Ober says that democratic government depends on "civic dignity," which "requires citizens to be engaged in the effort of fashioning a shared existence." That is what I call creating the "human world," the world we most immediately inhabit. I am with Ober in saying that this requires civic engagement. My phrasing is generally along these lines: "We can't have self-government unless we get involved with government ourselves." 

Among other things, Ober says that civic dignity implies that the people, as they work to govern themselves, must be free to make mistakes. The fact that they do make mistakes is not a reason to invalidate our commitment to democracy, or to suggest (along with Plato and other philosophers of perfection) that only the "elites" are fit to rule. 

What is the timely message in Ober's scholarly analysis? 

The people made a mistake, in our last presidential election. A BIG mistake. However, democracy will survive. Let's not be suckered into the idea that all Trump supporters are "deplorable," an idea based on elitist liberalism. We're all in this together. That's another one of my favorite observations!

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

#341 / Collective Tragedy: Individualistic Response

Joanne and Byron Bartlett search the remains of their burned house in Santa Rosa.
An article in the December 2017 edition of In These Times is titled, "The Personal Is Not Always Political." The article, by Leon Fink, is well worth reading. 

The point of Fink's article is that our reactions to collective tragedies, from mass shootings to floods, fires, and hurricanes, almost always tend to be "individualistic." Here is how he starts off the discussion:

It took me awhile to detect the common thread in nearly everything I was reading, watching and hearing. The Las Vegas massacre; hurricane devastation in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico; Ken Burns’ Vietnam series; Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk; NPR’s StoryCorps; the California wildfires—whatever the story, I was left with more or less the same message and the same feeling. The world out there is harsh, even tragic, but we can best understand and cope with it through the richness of intimate personal relationships.

Creating and sustaining intimate personal relationships, in good times and times of tragedy, is one of the surest ways to claim our humanity. However, as I keep saying in these blog postings, we are not only "individuals," but we are part of a greater whole. We are "in this together." To the degree that we forget the power that stems from our collective endeavors we disable the political involvements that, in fact, are responsible for the world we most immediately inhabit. We create (and re-create) our human world by our collective (and hence political) work. 

Fink ends his article this way:

Turning away from the state and larger institutions and seemingly giving up on the hard work required to rebuild a fractured society, we are left feeling cowed and alone. Outside of world wars, the great depressions or natural disasters, the search for individual salvation remains America’s drug of choice.

Here is one more appeal for us to engage in the "political" work that, like all human activities, is founded on individual and personal relationships, but that magnifies our individual power and makes it possible for us, working together, to accomplish any goal to which we commit ourselves. 

Emphasis on the "we."

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

#340 / Democracy And The Brain

If a recent article in The Atlantic is right, "Power Causes Brain Damage." Jerry Useem is a writer who covers business and economics for The New York Times, Fortune, and other publications. He is a Contributing Editor at The Atlantic

Useem's article in the July/August 2017 issue of The Atlantic reports on years of lab and field experiments by Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley. Useem sums up Keltner's findings this way: 

Subjects under the influence of power, [Keltner] found in studies spanning two decades, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.

These findings about the impact of the possession of power on the brain not only explain the behavior or our current president, but also suggest that "democracy," a political system in which power is widely disseminated, not concentrated, is a prescription for social and political good health. 

Let's not forget, as I always like to remind myself (and others), genuine democracy and self-government require that we get involved in politics ourselves. Ceding political power to the "leaders" who are so willing to accept its benefits (and burdens) will result in a system of government that reflects (as we now understand it) an organic psychopathology!

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

#339 / Fishy

When business people start talking about "disruption," like that's a good thing, I get really nervous. Now, it appears that our modern disruptors have focused on fish. 

Here is a link to an interesting article from the online magazine Pacific Standard. Titled, "Fish 2.0 Wants To Revolutionize The Seafood Industry," the article tells us what's coming:

I would say that there's a great number of investors looking at two things: the use of technology to forward sustainable seafood and to improve aquaculture. Those are things where it solves a problem and can scale quite rapidly. 
There's a need for new fish feeds, because fish feed prices are really high. There is a need for new technologies to prevent disease in aquaculture, because otherwise there is too much risk in aquaculture production. There are growing local markets for seafood, especially in Asia.

New food systems are being created by "investors," and investors armed with technology want to put human beings in charge of the biology of our oceans. The purpose of this "Fish 2.0" effort is to make it possible for us to produce more and eat more. That's what is being called "sustainable" in the article.

"Sustainable" is a great word, but its use in this context is meant to obscure the actual truth: human beings are exceeding the limits of the Natural World in virtually every way (including by over-fishing our oceans). The right reaction to our "unsustainable" behavior would be to reduce our consumption, and to find a way to live within the limits of nature. Taking over natural processes, making them more dependent, in the end, on human action, is not the right approach. In Nature, it works the other way around. 

What do I think about Fish 2.0?


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Monday, December 4, 2017

#338 / The Two Million Dollar Teardown

Pictured above is a nice little house in Cupertino. It just sold for $2 million. The new owner intends to tear it down. You can read the story right here

In Santa Cruz County, there is a lot of discussion about "affordable housing,"  but there is a real problem with that label. When you think about it, all housing is "affordable." The question is simply who can afford it! 

The house pictured above, if located in Santa Cruz County, would probably sell for less than $2 million, but it wouldn't sell for that much less. I am thinking that the $2 million house in Cupertino would probably bring something like $1.35 million here. Maybe a little bit less. Maybe even a little bit more, depending on location. That house certainly wouldn't be "affordable" to a family with an average or below average income, here in Santa Cruz County, but it would be "affordable" to a person who could  pay $1.35 million for a 79-year-old, 1,015-square-foot home, then pay to tear that home down, and then pay to put up a modern monster home, which is undoubtedly the fate of the property that has recently traded hands in Cupertino. 

Here's the point: as long as prices are set by "the market," those with the most money will outbid those with less money and drive the prices up. The properties sold will only be affordable to the wealthy, and there happen to be an awful lot of those folks around. California coastal real estate commands top dollar in the global marketplace, and Santa Cruz finds itself right next door to the Silicon Valley, where high-tech workers have much more money than those who live and work right here. 

Moreover, when the City or the County puts zoning on a home like the one pictured above that tells property owners that they can build a much larger, high-rise and high-density structure on their property, that zoning designation drives the price of the property even higher. That translates to the government inviting someone who has the money to do so to tear down perfectly acceptable existing housing, to create something that will be out of the price range of the people who are displaced when the existing housing is torn down.

The only way to make new housing "affordable" to persons who have an average or below average income is to put a price restriction on the new housing produced. Otherwise, the "market" will always respond according to that Golden Rule we know about. Those with the gold make the rules, and they get the goods.

The "law of supply and demand" suggests that producing more housing should bring down the price. In Santa Cruz, it won't bring it down enough to enable local folks to "afford" the new housing produced. 

Let's take a tip from this recent experience in Cupertino, and stop pricing ourselves out of our own community by upzoning properties to let developers tear down existing structures, and then build high-rise and high-density buildings in all our nicest neighborhoods!

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

#337 / Wokest

Congress Member Barbara Lee (above) was the only Member of Congress to vote against the AUMF, an "Authorization for the Use of Military Force." The AUMF was originally enacted by Congress on September 18, 2001, exactly one week after the horrific events of 9/11. 

Subsequent to its original enactment, the AUMF has been reenacted and expanded in Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. As you might have read in my blog posting yesterday, our current President wants to expand the AUMF some more, and to sever the AUMF from any constraints whatsoever. 

In These Times has published an excellent article on Barbara Lee and the AUMF, titled, "Barbara Lee's War On War." The author, Matthew Cunningham-Cook, calls Lee the "wokest" Member of Congress, and defines the term as follows: 

Aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).

Most Members of Congress, I am sorry to report, are just not that "woke," or so it seems. It is time that we demand our Congress to wake up and repeal the AUMF.

Woke, woker, wokest....

It seems that this country, and maybe especially the Congress, really needs a wake up call. The AUMF is costing tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars, and Barbara Lee has been trying to sound the alarm for years. If we don't wake up, and take action to repeal the AUMF, then we will be providing the President with a virtually unlimited license to wage war, any place on the planet, and essentially forever. 

"Wokest" is definitely what we need to aim for, but just plain "woke" might be enough!

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Saturday, December 2, 2017

#336 / An AUMF Without Constraints?

If you are not familiar with the acronym AUMF, now would be a good time to get educated. A recent story in The Washington Post gives a current update. You could also consult some of my earlier blog postings: 

In short, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) gives the President of the United States an almost totally unconstrained ability to imprison (and kill) just about anyone that the President "determines" is involved in the so-called "War on Terror" that has so preoccupied the United States since September 11, 2001. 

Here's the latest from The Post (emphasis added):

In September, an American citizen captured in Syria while fighting for ISIS (John Doe) was handed over to the U.S. military. He is now being held in Iraq. 
That’s a problem. In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that the AUMF allowed American citizens to be detained and held as “enemy combatants” outside the civilian court system. But such detainees had to receive some measure of due process, including “a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker.”
All this raises issues for how the administration can deal with John Doe. The first option is to charge him in a civilian court — but doing so would require assembling admissible evidence that can convict him, which could be difficult. A second is to transfer him to Iraqi custody — but doing so risks violating a law against sending prisoners to countries that practice torture ...
For the past two months or so, the government has punted on the question by simply holding John Doe incommunicado. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on his behalf, though it is not clear whether the organization has standing to bring this challenge. But at some point — surely soon? — the administration will have to make a choice. 
The administration has suggested that perhaps Congress could craft an updated AUMF. But the administration has conditions — namely, that the AUMF have no conditions ... Tillerson and Mattis told the Senate that, “any new AUMF would need to be free of time constraints, geographical constraints or operational limitations; instead they proposed a conditions-based approach that would end the authorization only once certain targets are met. (These targets were not specified.)”
Will Congress write that almost-blank check? Will the courts force their hand? Stay tuned.

If you think that the President of the United States should have an unreviewable ability to imprison anyone the president determines is participating in, or is "supporting" participants in, the so-called "War on Terror," then you'll be pleased that President Trump wants an unconstrained ability to do just that. 

If you don't think that's a good idea, then call your Senators, and your Member of Congress, and let your elected representatives know that it's time to terminate the AUMF. 

Is there any question in your mind about this? Just remember, President Trump wants to make the president's "determination" unreviewable, so no actual "evidence" will be necessary indefinitely to imprison those he designates.

John Doe, in other words, just might turn out to be you!

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Friday, December 1, 2017

#335 / A 10% Gain May Make You Feel Like A Loser

Jason Zweig writes a column for The Wall Street Journal called, "The Intelligent Investor." In the November 18-19 issue, Zweig headlined his column, "When A 10% Gain Makes You Feel Like A Loser." 

Zweig was speaking, specifically, about stock market gains, noting that investors now think that if the value of their stock market investments grows by only 10% a year there is something "wrong."

I am not involved in the stock market, at least in any direct way, but the Zweig column made me think about "growth" in general, and how we have come to accept the fact that "growth is good," and that a failure to "grow" means that something is wrong. In the context of land use development issues, I have often heard people say, "If you're not growing, you're dying."

Not to be too morbid about it, the fact is that we are all "dying," every day, and no amount of growth will eliminate that fact of life. To the contrary, biology tells us that organisms that grow further, after having already reached maturity, are the opposite of healthy. They die sooner.

And then there is cancer. Unbridled, unending growth is the signature of what is probably our most feared disease. The proposition that "growth is good" is actually not true, stated as an absolute. Cancer provides the real-world test.

Thinking about our economy, which is based on taking raw materials from the natural environment, fashioning them into "products" of various kinds, selling the products, and then doing that again, for ever, it should become very clear that continued economic growth is not good at all; it's the path to ruin. 

If Stephen Hawking is sending us off to Mars, because we have exhausted Earth (and that's what he is preaching), his prescription for human survival should give us a clue that there may be some fundamental problem in the way we have set things up. Our Natural World is limited. Continuing "growth" puts us all in peril. 

Here is the big question: Can we change our behavior, and restructure our economy, before we turn Earth into a "sizzling ball of fire," which is what Hawking predicts?

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

#334 / It's Politics All The Way Down

The man you see above, Robert Menendez, is a United States Senator representing New Jersey.  He is a member of the Democratic Party. Menendez was accused of bribery and political corruption, but the jury hearing his case could not agree on a verdict. Therefore, he was not convicted, and he has announced for reelection. 

The New York Times ran a news story on the Menendez case in its November 17th edition, under the headline, "Why Are Corruption Cases Crumbling?

The Menendez case is only the most recent example of political corruption prosecutions that have failed to result in a conviction of the accused politician. Read The Times' article if you would like to see the scorecard, and understand the legal rules involved. 

In short, the courts say that it is only "corruption" if a politician receives money in a direct quid pro quo exchange for taking an "official act" in favor of the contributor. Smart politicians don't do that. Members of the public, however, might well call them "corrupt," because their overall activity is dictated by the big money contributors who make their life good, and whose contributions help keep them in office, and whose interests are advanced to the detriment of the public at large.

In my blog posting, "Mr. Collins Makes It All Quite Clear," I outline how the system works. "Donors," not "voters," get represented. 

This is not, of course, the way it is supposed to work; not in a democracy, at least. But let's be clear; unless voters are quite engaged, and pay attention, and get organized, and demand that their elected officials actually represent them (and throw those politicians out of office if they don't), then many politicians will keep taking actions that don't count as official "corruption," but that in fact benefit the special interests not the general public.

It's not a party thing, either. Collins is a Republican. Menendez is a Democrat, and a November 26th article from AlterNet focuses specifically on the Democrats, as it talks about this phenomenon in connection with a so-called "tax reform" bill, now being advanced in Congress. This is a bill that would benefit the extremely rich, at the expense of everyone else, and if the bill passes (as seems quite possible), Democrats, as well as Republicans, will have been implicated in this failure to represent the public interest.

"Politics" is how we make the collective decisions that ultimately determine the shape of the human world that we most immediately inhabit. No outside agency can save us from the political responsibilities that come with citizenship. And as we are seeing, the courts won't do it, either.

I think it has to be up to us.

We won't achieve self-government unless we get involved ourselves.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

#333 / A Picture Of My Family

The image above comes from a book review that ran in the November 4-5, 2017, edition of The Wall Street Journal. The book in question, by Adam Rutherford, is called A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived. Rutherford is a British geneticist. Here is what the review says about his book: 

What [a] “Brief History” is about is challenging popular ideas about the import of genetics, especially the genetics of race. One beginning is the fact—first shown mathematically in 2003 by a Yale statistician, then demonstrated in the laboratory in 2013 by two California researchers—that everyone on Earth, no matter where they live, what languages they speak, or what skin color they have, is related by descent from a small pool of ancestors just a few thousand years ago.

My own belief, arrived at independently, but certainly supported by what I read in this review, is that "race," as a category of differentiation, does not actually apply within the human family. Seeking to use what we call "race" as a methodology of distinction is seeking to base our judgments on  a "something" that doesn't exist. Speaking about "race," as it is commonly thought of - and even as it is used in the paragraph indented above - is to appeal for understanding to a reality that is not, in fact, "real." Human beings are different from other species, but that's where the realm of genuine distinction ends.

Within the diversity of the human family, there is one race, and one race only: the HUMAN race. 

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

#332 / Insect Armageddon

If we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse.
      -  Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex

I have been listening to a rather compelling book on tape, as I drive around in my car (contributing to the problem of global warming, I know, even as I drive). 

Elizabeth Kolbert's book, The Sixth Extinction, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2015, is a powerful warning to human beings. So, too, is The New York Times' editorial, printed on October 29, 2017, "Insect Armageddon."

Our human world is built on bugs!

We are not independent of the World of Nature. We are radically dependent on it. 

We had better start realizing our dependence on the World of Nature. We need to stop acting like we can do whatever we want, and that we are able ignore the requirements of the Natural World. 

You don't like the idea that everything we do depends on bugs?

Get over it. That happens to be the truth!

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Monday, November 27, 2017

#331 / Faith And The Future

Ta-Nehisi Coates (pictured) has written a new book. This new book is titled, We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy. The tragedy Coates speaks of is the Obama presidency, which lasted from 2009 to 2017. 

I have not yet read Coates' book, but I have, thanks to The Boston Review, now read about it, in an essay that I found compelling. The essay to which I am referring is by Melvin Rogers, and is titled, "Keeping the Faith." Rogers is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Brown University. His essay, which I think is well worth reading, is critical of Coates.

Rogers' criticism of Coates is that Coates has succumbed to a kind of "political fatalism." 

The running theme in Coates’s book is that white supremacy is native and essential ... Coates argues ... that U.S. history is merely the record of its fundamental nature, [and] for Coates, the desire to transform the United States reflects a naïve religious longing. When Coates tells us that “cosmic justice, collective hope, and national redemption” are meaningless to him, he is asking black Americans to resist the temptation to allow those things (which all seem to be interchangeable throughout the book) to have meaning for them.

Rogers argues that black Americans should keep believing that change is possible - and that they should keep working for it. As a black American himself, he is in a much better position to make that argument than any white American could ever be. According to Rogers, "political faith has always rested on the idea that we are not finished, a thought that Coates rejects out of hand."

To me, it is clear that we are definitely not "finished," and that we will never be "finished," since the gift of human freedom means always that we can transform what we do...and who we are. 

This truth is the truth that Rogers relies upon in making his criticism of Coates. It would be unconscionable for a white American to try to do something similar, and to tell black Americans that they should "keep believing." It is a different matter when such advice comes from Rogers, directed to other black Americans, who labor and suffer daily under the seemingly all-pervasive presence of a white supremacy that has existed so long, and that has penetrated into our society so thoroughly, that it does seem both "native and essential."

It is not appropriate for white Americans to tell black Americans to "keep the faith." It is appropriate, however, or so I believe, for white Americans to demand of themselves that they both acknowledge and overcome the pervasive white supremacy about which Coates writes so forcefully. 

That is what white Americans must do with their gift of freedom, that gift that has been given to us all.

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

#330 / A Little Life Lesson

The November 16, 2017, edition of The Wall Street Journal had an article that really caught my attention. I am sharing it here, in its entirety:

Australian Diplomat Dies After Fall From New York Building 
Investigators say Julian Simpson was playing ‘trust game’ when he accidentally fell five stories to his death
By Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Updated Nov. 15, 2017 3:58 p.m. ET 
An Australian diplomat accidentally fell five stories to his death from a Manhattan building terrace early Wednesday morning after playing the “trust game,” according to a law-enforcement official familiar with the investigation. 
New York City police found Julian Simpson, the 30-year-old second secretary to the United Nations for Australia, dead at 1:15 a.m. on the second floor terrace of the apartment building on Clinton Street near East Houston street, the official said. 
Police interviewed Mr. Simpson’s wife and friends to gain details on what happened before the fall, the official said. 
After going out for dinner and drinks, the group returned to the apartment building terrace for more drinks and to view the Empire State Building, the official said. The building lighted up in rainbow colors on Tuesday night to celebrate Australia’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage. 
Mr. Simpson then went to a higher roof landing with another woman in the friend group, the official said, “and decided to swing her around.” 
When the group went back inside, the husband of that woman confronted Mr. Simpson, the official said. 
“The intentions were never to scare or hurt your wife,” Mr. Simpson told the man, according to the official. 
Mr. Simpson then told the man that he could prove his trustworthiness, the official said. 
“Let’s play the trust game,” Mr. Simpson told the man, before they both went to the seventh floor terrace, the official said. 
Mr. Simpson said he would lean near the ledge of the terrace and fall into the arms of the man, the official said. But before the man could get prepared, Mr. Simpson slipped on the edge and fell through the arms of the man. 
The official said the police were treating the incident as accidental. Every member of the group said they consumed alcohol during the night, the official said. 
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance to the family of an Australian diplomat who died in New York,” a spokeswoman for the department said. “The family has requested privacy at this time.”

I don't know how others might view this news story, but I am somewhat suspicious of how this all went down. The guy who died took someone else's wife and "swung her around." The husband of the woman who had been "swung" didn't like that. Maybe there was a little more to the "swinging around" than the reporter tells us? At any rate, with everyone drunk, the diplomat wife-swinger decides to trust his life to the offended husband. Whoops! What a shame! That poor diplomat just "fell through the arms" of the offended husband. Of course that offended husband could be "trusted," but he just wasn't quite "prepared." 

As soon as I read that story I remembered the very good advice of Mr. Bob Dylan. It's a little life lesson for us all: 

Trust Yourself

Trust yourself
Trust yourself to do the things that only you know best
Trust yourself
Trust yourself to do what’s right and not be second-guessed
Don’t trust me to show you beauty
When beauty may only turn to rust
If you need somebody you can trust, trust yourself

Trust yourself
Trust yourself to know the way that will prove true in the end
Trust yourself
Trust yourself to find the path where there is no if and when
Don’t trust me to show you the truth
When the truth may only be ashes and dust
If you want somebody you can trust, trust yourself

Well, you’re on your own, you always were
In a land of wolves and thieves
Don’t put your hope in ungodly man
Or be a slave to what somebody else believes

Trust yourself
And you won’t be disappointed when vain people let you down
Trust yourself
And look not for answers where no answers can be found
Don’t trust me to show you love
When my love may be only lust
If you want somebody you can trust, trust yourself

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Saturday, November 25, 2017

#329 / Lady Bird

One of my family's Thanksgiving Day traditions is to go on a hike (led by my son, Philips). Another tradition is for us all to go to a movie together after we have finished gorging on the over-abundant food that is always part of our Thanksgiving meal (provided by my wife, Marilyn, and various guests attending). Actually, we go to the movie only after I have put as many dirty dishes in the dishwasher as I can, and I am forced to wait until I can do another load (my contribution to the celebration is, always, to bat cleanup). 

This year, our movie tradition held, but picking the movie is not always an easy task. 

I suggested the movie Lady Bird. It is playing at The Nick, downtown, and I had read a review that suggested that it was a pretty good movie. My son had never heard of it, and he was reluctant to waste time on a movie he had never heard about. 

Since my son is an acupuncturist who doubles as a videographer, and has actually produced and directed a full-length movie that was shown at one of the Santa Cruz Film Festivals, a few years back, and a movie that is still available for purchase on Amazon, his views on the right movie are taken quite seriously by other family members (and particularly by his mother). 

I had to fight for Lady Bird, and won the battle when Philips discovered that Lady Bird has a "Rotten Tomatoes" score of 100%. I said, "that's pretty good," and Philips laughed. "That's perfect, Dad!"

Parent-child conflicts are what Lady Bird is all about. You can watch the trailer by clicking above. You can click right here to read The New York Times review that convinced me that I should see the movie (The Times called it "Big Screen Perfection"). 

Here's what my videographer/acupuncturist son said after the movie: "Thanks, Dad!"

In a lot of ways, that's what the movie is all about, too, though in the key of a mother-daughter, instead of a father-son, disagreement. 

Recommended! 100%!

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Friday, November 24, 2017

#328 / Look On The Sun

Look on the rising sun: there God does live  
And gives his light, and gives his heat away. 
And we are put on earth a little space, 
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.  

          - William Blake

This little fragment of William Blake's poem (a selected fragment) was sent to friends, as part of our wedding invitation, when my wife and I were married in the Palo Alto Friends Meetinghouse, in 1969. That was a long time ago; we have now been married forty-eight years and counting.

Quite recently, I was introduced to The Sun Magazine. I certainly encourage those who are reading this blog posting to become acquainted, too. In the November 2017 issue, The Sun published an article by Mark Leviton, who wrote about "William Richards On The Transformative Potential Of Psychedelics."

Richards, who is a psychologist at the John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, reports that visions of the transcendent nature of consciousness and reality are reliably produced by the use of psilocybin, which Richards has given to hundreds of patients who suffer from anxiety, depression, nicotine addiction, and other ailments, as well as to healthy volunteers who are interested in personal or spiritual growth.

The kind of visions produced by psilocybin, according to the article, are the same kind of visions that Blake wrote about in his poetry and that he depicted in his pictures. In short, Richards reports, speaking here of his personal experience: 

It was as if universal truth had been revealed. It’s difficult to separate what was intrinsic to the experience in the moment and what I put together while reflecting on it in retrospect, but it involved what we call “mystical consciousness” — a sense of the interrelatedness of all life and humanity. 
We can also receive insights into the relativity of time and space and perhaps the mysteries of matter. The energy that makes up the spiritual world is somehow eternal, existing outside of time. All the major world religions have said that there is such a thing as immortality or consciousness outside of time. 
Maybe the most profound insight of mystical consciousness is the sense that love is an energy, and not just a human energy. As Dante writes at the conclusion of The Divine Comedy, it is love that “moves the sun and other stars.”

I have never taken any psychedelic drug, but I have read Blake. I keep reading about modern physics, too, to see if the scientists ever come up with a "scientific proof" that things are just as Richards describes them, and as Blake depicted them. I think Richards and Blake are right about the nature of the reality into which we have so mysteriously been born.

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

#327 / Thank You

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flow’r,
Sun and moon, and stars of light,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
For the joy of human love,

Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

       - Text: Folliott S. Pierpoint, 1835–1917
       - Music: Conrad Kocher, 1786–1872

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

#326 / Keep Going!

I really enjoyed the latest edition of Integrities, a little journal published by IF, which describes itself as "a nonprofit humanitarian, educational and social change organization located in the Santa Cruz, CA, area ... a community of friends seeking hopeful alternatives to the violence, greed and destructiveness of our world." 

To tell the truth, I always enjoy the latest edition of Integrities, and I encourage those reading this blog posting to investigate. I bet you will enjoy Integrities, too!

For the first time ever, I think, the current issue of Integrities is now available online. Here is a link to the latest edition. The opening salvo in the issue is a lovely little essay called, "You're Alive - Keep Going!"

That's good advice! Page Smith, the historian who was the first Provost of Cowell College at UCSC, and a wonderful friend to all who knew him, is cited to this effect in the Integrities essay. 

What I think I loved most in this latest edition, though, was a quotation from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, a historian and social philosopher who wrote, among other things, a book called, Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man. It was Page Smith, in fact, who suggested that I read Out of Revolution. Let me pass on his recommendation.

And let me pass on this thought from Rosenstock-Huessy, who does expect us to be transformed by what we read: 


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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

#325 / Bing Bing

Pictured is Bing Bing Li, photographed as he walks along Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose. I read about Bing Bing in the November 1, 2017, edition of The Mercury News. Bing Bing is "walking around the world," pulling a cart with the message he is hoping that his journey will communicate: 

Equal and unconditional love for all our fellow creatures across all/space/time/matter/energy is the only way out (of the human misery).”

Bing Bing isn't taking money, and he expects to be on his pilgrimage for the rest of his life. While we might sympathize with his message, which does seem rather "on target" to me, Bing Bing is clearly "insane," right? How could what Bing Bing is doing achieve what he wants to achieve? I, personally, don't see how the means chosen by Bing Bing will lead to the end he is seeking. However, I also have another thought. 

Want to talk about what's "crazy," or "insane?" We have all heard the popular definition of insanity

Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again And Expecting Different Results

I think Bing Bing has a lesson for all of us. 

We had better do something new (and soon) or it's going to be "game over" for the human race.

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