Sunday, October 4, 2015

#277 / After The Drumroll

Zeynep Tufekci is a sociologist, and I have found many of her topical writings to be quite insightful. Recently, she wrote an article that proposed a new model for the "future of news and publishing." Her analysis (and recommendations) are well worth reading. However, I was most struck by what she identifies (after what she calls "the drumroll") as "collective action problems."

Collective action problems are challenges in which single actors have incentives to act selfishly instead of joining forces. Such self-preserving acts allow the stronger to survive a little longer. For a while.

Tufekci talks about collective action problems in the context of publishing in the internet age. I would like to suggest that MOST of our social, economic, and political challenges should also be thought about in the context of "collective action." 

In short, if we don't act together, collectively, if we continue to think that individual action is the way to address our future, we're doomed. 

Why the lifeboat?

According to Tufekci, the passengers on the Titanic (most of them) spent time trying, individually, to reach the highest deck possible, to delay their inevitable encounter with the waters of the North Atlantic. 

They could have worked, collectively, to launch lifeboats that, because of the lack of collective action, were never launched. 

In general, the fate of the passengers on the Titanic is the fate of all of us, unless we can deal with those "collective action problems," and start working together!

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

#276 / Thought Forms And Art

The artwork above, by Cildo Meireles, is titled Project hole to throw dishonest politicians in. I found it among a number of the artworks included in the 14th Istanbul Biennial “SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms,” organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts. This exhibition opened on September 5, 2015. Click the link, above, to see more.

I was alerted to the exhibition by a reference in Amor Mundi, the bulletin of The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities, located at Bard College. Bard advertises itself as a "place to think," and while I am all for thinking, "thinking" is an activity that I would identify as "necessary but not sufficient." I know that Hannah Arendt would agree with me, too, since her political investigations into the nature of human freedom emphasized the ability of humans beings to "act," and by acting to create a whole new reality. As ever, I strongly recommend her book, On Revolution

The article I read in Amor Mundi commented on an essay by Ari Akkermans, which "shows how artists have quickly become the lone source of public resistance to the Turkish governments. At a time when newspapers are attacked by mobs and the threat of terrorists is everywhere employed to justify repression." Akkermans writes as follows:

The main concern here, however, is not whether to lend support to free media, but to make sure it does effectively exist. It is the very same media that has labeled these events "anti-terror protests" that has become a victim of the same tactics of intimidation that have threatened minorities, journalists, and intellectuals for decades. The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen ... "If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer," remarked Hannah Arendt [in an interview published in 1978 in the New York Review of Books], addressing lies in politics and concluding that, "A people that no longer can believe anything cannot make [up sic] its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such people you can then do what you please."

Akkermans asks (for Turkey) "Have we reached that point?" His answer: "Yes, but there is no certainty of what is yet to come in this country, on the brink of a larger conflict. Under so much pressure and heavy censorship, it has become increasingly difficult to write honestly about culture in Turkey and not hide behind the art, for the political climate has opened an abyss before us in which we are made defenseless. The time is up for those charades, catered to tourists, about Istanbul as the crossroads between East and West, on which the self-image of the city has fed for years. It is not possible or responsible to try to hide behind the art when there is so much at stake."

I have two comments, other than to recommend looking through the links, above:

First, I don't think the phenomenon spotlighted by Akkermans is restricted to Turkey. We who live in the United States need also to reflect on Arendt's observation that "a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind." Have we reached that point? I'm close to suggesting a "Yes," for our country, just as Akkermans concludes the same for Turkey.

Second: That hole for dishonest politicians probably needs to be bigger. 

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Friday, October 2, 2015

#275 / Warfare: Is War Fair?

About a month ago, the picture above was omnipresent. This young boy, fleeing the war in Syria, came with his family through Turkey, where he, his father, his mother, and his brother then embarked on a rubber raft, heading for Greece. Only the father survived.

I have attempted to locate the source of the phrase, "all is fair in love and war." Here, at least, is one explanation

The earliest known origin of the sentiment "all is fair in love in war" is found in poet John Lyly's novel "Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit," published in 1579. The novel recounts the romantic adventures of a wealthy and attractive young man, and includes the quote "the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war." The first known appearance of the quote worded "all is fair in love and war" is in English author Francis Edward Smedley's 1850 novel "Frank Fairleigh" about the life of a schoolboy.

There is nothing "fair" about what happened to this schoolboy/child.

There is nothing "fair" about war.

There is no way to stop this grim tide of young boys' dead bodies on the beach, to stop the pictures of of the bodies of blood-drenched women and children left to rot in the streets; there is no end to all this horror...

Until we put an end to war.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

#274 / Feel Free

Pictured is Dwight Clark (no, not the American football wide receiver whose name comes up first in an Internet search). The Dwight Clark pictured here was the Dean of Freshman Men when I first appeared at Stanford University fifty-four years ago this Fall. This Dwight Clark is also (and deservedly) famous, but mainly for his creation of Volunteers In Asia, VIA, which has its own Wikipedia page. Check that out, or check out the VIA Website. Donations are welcomed - and appropriate!

In 1968, I participated in a VIA summer program. That is how I met my wife, Marilyn, by the way. She was in the program, too. Besides meeting Marilyn (which was, of course, the highlight of the trip for me), my VIA summer provided me with an incredible opportunity to teach English vocabulary to Chinese students in Macau, which was then still a rather sleepy Portuguese colony located near Hong Kong, but on the China mainland. The VIA summer program also included some extensive traveling in Asia. 

Having just recently returned from some additional foreign travel (this time in Greece), I have had occasion to remember a frequent Dwight Clark advisory that was kind of a "theme" for the VIA 1968 summer program. This particular advisory provides very good guidance for those who travel, particularly when they travel in groups. In fact, though, I think of it as an important guideline for the good life, generally.

As our VIA 1968 summer group moved along rural country roads visiting schools, orphanages, and other such facilities, the group would sometime straggle. We had a schedule, and it wasn't too "flexible." Keeping to the schedule was important, and Dwight was in charge of making sure we showed up where we were supposed to be, on time!

As we walked in a too-leisurely fashion, behind the curve in terms of our schedule, Dwight would speed alongside, and then move on ahead of us, and I am reproducing below just what he said, as he passed. 

This is good guidance for travelers. It's good guidance in general. Not a bad life lesson. I've tried to remember what Dwight Clark said: 

Feel Free To Jog!

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#273 / Stewardship

The Catholic Church has traditionally argued for the human obligation of stewardship over the Natural World. This, for instance, is a discussion of "Christian Anthropology," an excerpt from a paper titled, The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation:

Christian Anthropology 
As the summit of God’s creation, man reflects the divine image in a most excellent way. Essential to this divine image is our capacity for reason, which enables us to know God, the world, and ourselves. We are also endowed with the powers of freedom and imagination that allow us to reflect upon our experiences, choose a course of action, and thus become cooperators in the opus of creation. It might be said that we ourselves are co-creators with God, and are consequently privileged in our ability to take what God has created and make new things, which creation, on its own, could not produce. This privilege bestows on us a dignity that surpasses other creatures precisely because we can participate spiritually in God’s creativity in a manner that far exceeds the merely physical capabilities of other creatures. Furthermore, because the nature of human action is free and self-determining, these actions have moral value. 
It follows, then, that with such capabilities, and by virtue of our dignity, God placed human beings in governance over his creation: "Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth" (Gen. 1:26). This dominion was specified as a command to "till and keep" the garden, and was first manifested in the naming of the animals (Gen. 2:15—20). Since naming something is to know that thing’s nature, we see the first manifestation of man’s rational nature. Moreover, by the command of the Lord to till and keep the garden, we can assume that man was commanded to use his rationality in the governance of creation for the sake of bringing forth fruit from the earth. As is evidenced by man’s original "nakedness," we can conclude that man’s dominion over creation was intended to provide us with the means for sustaining and enhancing our existence. This stands in stark contrast to the animals and plants for which God’s eternal law has provided physical attributes that sustain their existence. All of this occurred before the Fall, and it constitutes the originating Catholic vision of man’s place within the created order.

Pope Francis has just spoken, eloquently, on the subject of our human relationship to Nature. In his encyclical letter, In Laudato Si', the Pope takes a different approach. 

The whole text of Laudato Si' is available for free, on the Internet. You can also buy a copy, which might, perhaps, be more easy to read, as a paperback book, or in digital form. 

I think it would be good for all of us to read these words. We should ponder them in our hearts (as Mary, the mother of Jesus, was said to have pondered the words of the angels, who came to the shepherds in the well-known Christmas story). 

Our relationship with Nature is not one in which we, as humans, have the obligations of stewardship, an obligation that has fallen on our shoulders because of a god-given dominion over the World of Nature. 

That's historical Catholic doctrine, but it's not what the Pope says, in his much more convincing message. 

We should approach our relationship to the World of Nature not as an obligation, but as an opportunity. 

Taking upon ourselves an obligation of "stewardship," which puts human beings in charge of Nature, is exactly the wrong way to approach the profundity of what it means to be human and to be alive. We are not responsible for the Creation. The Creation is responsible for us. 

We have an opportunity (not an obligation) to celebrate the gifts that the Creation has provided us, but we must defer to that Creation, not assert our dominion over it, if we are to experience that joy. 

If we are (even) to survive. 

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#272 / Lovelock And Figueres

The August 24, 2015 edition of The New Yorker included an article by Elizabeth Kolbert titled, "The Weight Of The World." Kolbert's article was subtitled, "Can Christiana Figueres persuade humanity to save itself?"

Christiana Figueres is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Her job is to persuade the nations of the world to take the steps necessary to prevent what is euphemistically called D.A.I., or "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” 

As Kolbert says, "in plain English it means global collapse."

The prognostications furnished in the Kolbert article are not heartening, but Figueres is a raging optimist compared to James Lovelock. Lovelock is an independent scientist, environmentalist and futurist who lives in Devon, England. He is best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, which argues that the Earth is a self-regulating, complex system that works consistently to maintain life on the planet. 

That sounds encouraging, but Lovelock's latest book is called The Revenge of Gaia. His predictions are the opposite of rosy.  You can click right here for an article published in The Guardian, in which he elaborates his current, and very pessimistic views. Lovelock summarizes the situation this way: "enjoy life while you can; in 20 years global warming will hit the fan; catastrophe is inevitable, carbon offsetting is a joke and ethical living [is] a scam."

The Lovelock article is well worth reading, but I recommend coming back to Figueres. Her approach is the opposite of Lovelock's. As Kolbert notes, she is seeking to raise expectations, not lower them: 

The danger of high expectations, of course, is that they can be all the more devastatingly dashed. Figueres, who is well aware of this, is doing her best to raise them further, on the theory that the best way to make something happen is to convince people that it is going to happen. “I have not met a single human being who’s motivated by bad news,” she told me. “Not a single human being.”

Figueres says something else that resonates with me, that I think needs to resonate with all of us. This comes from the very end of the Kolbert article:

You know, I think that this whole climate thing is a very interesting learning ground for humanity. I’m an anthropologist, so I look at the history of mankind. And where we are now is that we see that nations are interlinked, inextricably, and that what one does has an impact on the others. And I think this agreement in Paris is going to be the first time that nations come together in that realization. It’s not going to be the last, because as we proceed into the twenty-first century there are going to be more and more challenges that need that planetary awareness. But this is the first, and it’s actually very exciting. So I look at all of this and I go, This is so cool—to be alive right now!

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Monday, September 28, 2015

#271 / Trading In Kanesh

Not long after I wrote my blog posting for August 31st, I read an article about free trade in The New York Times Magazine. The article was fascinating, since it was based on trading records from the 30-year period between 1890 and 1860 B.C., about 4,000 years ago.

As the article explained, archaeologists have uncovered a comprehensive written archive of a few hundred traders who set up importing businesses in Kanesh, which sat roughly at the center of present-day Turkey. It turns out that trading then was pretty much the same as trading now. In fact, the records from Kanesh seem to provide a clear demonstration that a "law of trading," akin to the "Law of Gravity" in physics, actually describes how trading will, inevitably, work. Read the complete article, "The V.C.s of B.C.," to get all the details. 

Since I had made some comments on the "free trade" topic in my earlier posting, noting that the supposed benefits of "free trade" were, in fact, actually captured only by persons inhabiting the very highest economic strata, I was gratified to find that my own prescription for how to deal with the inequities caused by "free trade" is perhaps not that far off the mark, and that a similar approach was actually utilized to control inequitable wealth capture by the leading trading families of Kanesh: 

Despite trade’s intractability, we still have a lot of room to address the impact of trade on our economy. Trade with China and other nations may be all but inevitable, but growing wealth inequality and disproportionate pain (blue-collar workers losing their jobs, investors reaping a fortune) are not. There is much we can do within our borders to address the unequal impact of global trade. We can educate children for more competitive careers, train displaced workers for new industries or even directly compensate those who fail to benefit from global trade. 
That, in fact, is what the people of Assur did, 4,000 years ago ... Trade brought enormous wealth to a dozen or so families. But rather than hold all of it for themselves, the wealthy were made to redistribute a high percentage of their earnings through taxes and religious foundations that used the money for the public good. This way, the wealth created by trading with Kanesh made nearly everybody — at least every free citizen — better off.

"Made to," I note this says.

That means that those rich guys don't give it away voluntarily.

Then or now!

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

#270 / The Ugly Truths Of Mining On My Mind

I seem to have mining on my mind. 

Yesterday, of course, I passed on a report about the courageous struggle of Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, who has been fighting a proposed gold mine in Peru. 

The picture above is of the Syncrude Canada mine at the Athabasca oil sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta, as published on August 20, 2015 in The Wall Street Journal.

The destructive impact of these operations is obvious. Could it be that our aesthetic judgments are important ways that we get information about good and bad?

Here's what's lost, when the oil sands are mined: 

I do think they are related.

We also know that we must leave hydrocarbon resources in the ground, not extract them and burn them, if we want to continue to have a habitable planet. 

There's that, too. That's the truth. 

All questions of beauty put aside.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

#269 / Máxima

Read about Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, an indigenous peasant farmer who lives in the Andean highlands of northern Peru. Last December, she won a lawsuit filed against her by the owners of the Yanacocha open pit gold mine, owned by the Denver-based mining company Newmont.

The Newmont website proclaims, "the health and safety of our people is more precious than the metals we mine."

Considering the experiences that Máxima had, it is obvious that the emphasis in that statement is on the word "our," and the Newmont corporation doesn't think that Máxima and her family qualify for inclusion.

The latest edition of Earthworks Journal, published by the nonprofit organization Earthworks, tells the story of Máxima's struggles with Newmont.

Máxima fought Newmont to stop a mining proposal that would not only have taken her land, but would also have permanently altered the watershed and ecosystem of the mountainous region where she lives, polluting the water with arsenic and heavy metals, and threatening the health of thousands of people and their livestock. Because she opposed this proposed mining project, Máxima suffered physical beatings and harassment, besides the lawsuit.

This is the story of one person, standing up to corporate power on behalf of herself, her community, and the natural world.

Thank you, Máxima!

And thanks to Earthworks for making Máxima's story known.

Contributions are welcome!

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Friday, September 25, 2015

#268 / Two Markets

The July 2015 edition of Land Lines (pictured) contains a "Message From The President" that is well worth reading. In essence, the article argues that there is not one housing market, but two: 

The fundamental flaw of the housing market is that it is actually two markets, not one. Housing markets supply both shelter for local consumption and a globally tradable investment good made possible by broad capital markets that serve global investors.

To the extent that this analysis is correct, and I believe it is entirely on target, it is "impossible" for the private market to produce "affordable housing," since "housing" isn't really "housing" at all; it's an investment commodity, and the Golden Rule of economics is definitely in force. What is that "Golden Rule?"

Those who have the gold make the rules.

Or, in this case, those who have the gold set the price.

To the degree that we are, collectively, actually concerned to produce housing that can be afforded by an average or below average income family, we will either have to use public money to build the housing, and retain that housing in some form of public ownership, or we will have to impose direct price controls. 

There isn't going to be a "market solution."

Not so long as there are "two markets," with the global investment market calling the shots for both of them.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

#267 / Hamann

The farther reason looks the greater is the haze in which it loses itself.

     - Johann Georg Hamann

This quote, and the picture of Yosemite, came to me on August 21, 2015, as one of the email messages called a "Daily Ray of Hope," distributed by the Sierra Club. If you would like to sign up to receive these "Daily Ray of Hope" messages and photographs (they're free), then click right here. The motto of the Sierra Club is to "explore, enjoy, and protect the planet."

That's good advice.

As for Johann Georg Hamann, I have to confess I had never heard of him until I received that Daily Ray of Hope

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Hamann's dates are 1730 - 1788. He was not an "academic" philosopher, but "was respected in his time for his scholarship and breadth of learning. His writings were notorious even in his own time for the challenges they threw down to the reader."

Among other things, Hamann had some rather provocative views on sexuality (click right here for the full discussion), and the Stanford Encyclopedia says this about his views on the nature of humanity:

The theme of interdependence between human beings, which was emphasized in his epistemology, also has its roots in his understanding of what it is to be human. We are not self-sufficient; but for Hamann, even our lacks and failings have a positive thrust, this signifier of dependency making us all the more suited for the enjoyment of nature and one another.

My version of what Hamman is saying is probably never going to make it into the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, but I think this formulation captures the essence of what Hamann is propounding:

We are all in this together!

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

#266 / What Is Nature Worth To You?

There has been a concerted effort, on the part of some environmental organizations, to try to put a price on "ecosystem services," with the idea being that if we make it sufficiently costly to damage the natural environment the "market" will see to it that the environment is not damaged, or is damaged less. The Environmental Defense Fund is one organization that has promoted this concept

Using the "market" to protect the environment is not my favorite approach. I believe that we should legislate (not seek to buy) environmental protection. If an activity damages the environment, we should prohibit it, or regulate the activity to eliminate the damage. Saying, "you can damage the environment," but only if you pay X amount," doesn't put the right emphasis on protecting the environment, to my way of thinking. It makes money primary, which is just absolutely the wrong way to think about our relationship to the World of Nature.

Since every aspect of our human world (including our money economy) is ultimately dependent on the natural environment, protecting the natural environment must be our primary commitment. Once humans are aware that something we are doing is damaging the natural environment, the only proper response is to cut it out!

The image that heads this posting is from The New York Times, which ran an opinion piece, about a month ago, called, "What Is Nature Worth To You?" Based on the title, I assumed that the article would focus on some aspect of how market strategies might be used to protect natural resources. As it turned out, though, this was not the main focus of The Times article. 

What The Times ran was a popular synopsis of a much more technical article that appeared in the scientific journal PLOS OneOne of the authors, Paul Glimcher, is a professor at the Center for Neural Science at New York University. Michael A. Livermore, who coauthored the article, is an associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. Their technical article was titled, "The Measurement of Subjective Value and Its Relation to Contingent Valuation and Environmental Public Goods." What the authors actually ended up talking about was brain function, since their researches used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology as their exploratory tool. 

Glimcher and Livermore were somewhat surprised, it seems, to find that their MRI studies demonstrated that that human beings do not "value" the natural world in the same way they "value" human produced goods. Completely different portions of the brain are used when valuation questions are posed about nature than when valuation questions are posed about human-produced commodities.

To me, these results are suggestive. What they suggest, at least to me, is that human beings have an organic recognition that the human world and the natural world are fundamentally different, and that they have to be valued, and treated, differently.

They do! And the World of Nature is most important!

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

#265 / Keeping A Journal

In what might be a kind of wishful thinking, I have periodically considered that this Two Worlds blog is a kind of "journal," the kind of journal that writers keep: "Notes For A Book."

Pictured above is a "real" journal, kept by my sister Nancy. Nancy is not only an artist, she also runs Maison Conti (with her husband, Rick). Maison Conti is undoubtedly one of the greatest bed and breakfast establishments anywhere, and comes equipped with a printmaking studio, too.

Of course, you do have to go to Montmirail, France to get the Maison Conti experience. I have, and some of my friends have, and I recommend making the trip! 

Click that Maison Conti link, and you'll see why I recommend a visit! If you click this link, you can sign up for another kind of "journal," a daily photographic posting from my sister. The picture of Nancy's journal, above, was the offering on August 25th. Most of those postings are of the wonders of Nature in the French countryside. 

Shameless promotion of my sister's bed and breakfast aside, I think writing down something you think is important, every day, is a very good thing to do. 

My sister does it artistically. My son does it as a workmanlike writer. I do this blog. 

Thinking about the world, every day. 

Maybe that will help us to change it!

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Monday, September 21, 2015

#264 / One Street In Italy

The picture above illustrates an article that ran in the August 24, 2015 edition of The New York Times. The article tells the story of two residents of the Via Fondazza, in Bologna, Italy, and how they turned their urban neighborhood into a more vital, lively, and human place, using the technology available to all of us through Facebook.

I am quite suspicious of anything that might lead us to think that we can substitute a "virtual" reality for our "real" reality. A number of my non-Facebook-using, "real" friends, for instance, have suggested that the time I spend on Facebook might really be a huge waste of time, and querying me about who these  so-called "Facebook Friends" of mine really are.

Such skepticism is well-founded, at least so I think, and I continue to insist that it is a mistake to believe that we can improve our politics by "clicking a link." Joining an online petition, or firing off a form letter that has shown up in our email (or on a Facebook page), is probably not affirmatively negative, but it's not a positive solution to the political challenges that we absolutely must confront, in the "real" world. And I do think that there can be some "negative" impacts of our growing predilection for online politics, because we are misguided, and thrown off course, to the degree that any of us comes to believe that online engagement is an acceptable way to "do politics" in the 21st Century.

Armed with such skepticism, I nonetheless thought The Times' article made a profoundly important point about the way that technology can be used to create a more human world - and a more healthy, and real, politics. I commend that Times' article to you: "Italian Neighbors Build a Social Network, First Online, Then Off."

The key point, as far as I am concerned, is the "Then Off" part of the formula.

We can use online tools to get in touch with "real" people, who live in the "real" world. But our online and "virtual" communications must, ultimately, be precipitated into real contacts with those people on the streets we really walk. Virtual won't do it! We really need to walk those "real streets."

My political experience in Santa Cruz has convinced me that in any healthy political world, "precincting" equals politics.

"Precincting" means knocking on doors. Meeting your neighbors.

Builds community, too!

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

#263 / Expectations

Scott Herhold, columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, has come out strongly against having garbage trucks take pictures of the license plates of all the cars they pass, as the trucks drive along their normal, garbage collection routes. According to Herhold, this idea "doesn't pass the smell test." You can read his thoughts by clicking this link

San Jose Mayor San Liccardo is quoted by Herhold as saying, "there is no expectation of privacy on a public street." The Mayor is right, of course, both factually and legally. The courts have consistently held that no one should expect that his or her activities have any claim to "privacy," if the person's activities are observable from a public space. 

So, what's the problem with electronic license plate readers as the newest tool against crime? Johnny Khamis, the San Jose City Council Member who authored the garbage truck proposal, said he "got this idea from a police captain, and I thought it was a great idea."

The American Civil Liberties Union has written a very comprehensive analysis of what is wrong with using license plate scanners as an ordinary tool of law enforcement. The problem is the comprehensive nature of the information gathered, and the fact that the information, once gathered, is available to the government forever. 

If a police officer in a cruiser (or a garbage truck) passes a car parked in front of a downtown building, that fact is definitely "observable" from a public space. No problem there. What is NOT "observable," at the time the cruiser (or the garbage truck) passes the parked vehicle, is the facts about where that vehicle has parked before. In other words, the high technology camera/computer systems that comprise this newest law enforcement tool are not based on what is observable on a street, because our observations are all time-related.

What electronic license plate readers do, when utilized using modern "big data" computer systems, is to give the government a complete history of everywhere that vehicle has been, starting from the time when the system first becomes operational. 

This comprehensive inventory of everyone's movements, cataloguing them forever, is the very definition of totalitarianism. It is NOT our expectation that the government will instantly have, every time they see us, a complete record of everywhere we have ever been. But, that kind of personal information is exactly what these license plate reader systems are designed to provide to the government. 

Read the ALCU publication, You Are Being Tracked

I think you'll come down on Herhold's side!

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

#262 / That Sinking Feeling

The picture above comes from an online article published in January 2014 by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, based in West Sacramento. It shows damage to the Delta Mendota Canal caused by subsidence. The ground subsidence that caused this damage was itself caused by the over-pumping of groundwater aquifers in the Central Valley.

Michelle Sneed, a USGS hydrologist, was quoted in this January 2014 article as saying that the rate of subsidence was "nearly a foot a year—some of the fastest rates recorded since the 1950s.”

On Thursday, August 20, 2015, an article in the San Jose Mercury News updated this 2014 report. According to the Mercury article, which is accompanied by a picture of Michelle Sneed standing by this same crack, "parts of the great San Joaquin Valley are sinking almost 2 inches every month."

Two inches per month translates to two feet a year, which means that subsidence is now proceeding twice as fast as Sneed reported in January 2014!

Not only does this kind of ground subsidence damage vital water infrastructure (witness the picture), it also compresses the water-bearing strata that make it possible for groundwater to be recharged into the soil. 


If we don't live within the limits of the Natural World, in the short-term, the result will be the long-term inability of the Natural World to rebound and respond to our needs.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

#261 / Money Isn't Everything

When we talk about money, we might talk about a trillion with a "T," or a billion with a "B," or even a mere million with an "M." In all these cases, we are talking about measurements that apply in the "human world," the world that we create. 

Money looms pretty large in its importance in our human world, but as my parents used to tell me, "Money isn't everything."

Clean air, for instance. What's that worth? How do we measure that? What do they say in that MasterCard commercial


We need to pay less attention to money, and more to the natural environment, the value of which cannot really be measured in money. 

The picture above, for instance, which illustrated a New York Times article on air pollution in China, says that outdoor air pollution contributes to the deaths of an estimated 4,400 people a day, or 1.6 million people every year. 

That's million with an "M."

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

#260 / Trillion With A "T"

Let's set aside, for the moment, the idea that human-caused global warming is destroying the natural environment upon which our civilization depends, and that we need to do something about global warming because of that. Let's set aside the processes of extinction now underway, also linked to climate change.

Let's talk about money!

According to a report released by CitiCorp in August 2015, the damage to Gross Domestic Product from the negative effects of climate change is likely to be at least $44 trillion dollars. Could be more!

Yes, that's trillion with a "T!"

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

#259 / Does Journalism = Espionage?

Click the following link to be directed to the Department of Defense Law of War Manual. The Manual was published in June 2015. Given that the Manual is 1,176 pages long, it might take you a while to read the Manual in its entirety. 

In its August 10, 2015 editorial, "The Pentagon and the Wartime Press," The New York Times suggests that the recently-published Manual may be seeking to turn journalism into espionage. The Times is most concerned that the Manual contains a "broad assertion that journalists' work may need to be censored lest it reveal sensitive information to the enemy."

We should recall that the FBI has already been taking the position that reporting the news can get reporters put in jail. You can read all about it, right here

Democratic government depends on the idea that ordinary citizens will be able to know what their government is doing. The people are supposed to be in charge of the government, and you can't be in charge of the government if you don't know what's going on. If the reporters who seek out information, and then publish it, are going to be prosecuted and put in jail, democracy fails at the foundation. 

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

#258 / Last Stop / Bullets And Burgers


I would have thought that the World Famous "Last Stop" in White Hills, Arizona was basically just a place to get beer and gas, and maybe some beef jerky, olives, or honey. Check out that signage! Isn't that what you'd think, too?

As it turns out, the "Last Stop" is world famous because families bring their children to the "Last Stop" from all over the world to shoot 50 millimeter machine guns. Here is some background from a story in The New York Times

Antonio Nárdiz, a Spanish tourist from Bilbao, said he had chosen a family vacation to America for one specific reason: to fulfill his sons’ dreams of firing real machine guns. In Spain, he noted, 10-year-old Jon and 12-year-old Toni, like all other civilians, are forbidden to use automatic weapons. 

Hey, that's what being a good father is all about, right? If your 10-year-old son wants to shoot a machine gun, fly that kid to Arizona so he can do it. What better dream than to shoot a machine gun? As my father told me, on more than one occasion, "if you don't have a dream, Gary, you can't have a dream come true!"

Last year, a 9-year-old New Jersey girl (living the dream) visited with her family at the "Last Stop," and lost control of the Uzi submachine gun she was firing. The upshot was that she managed to kill her instructor. Mr. Nárdiz had heard about this, so he called ahead to ask about security. Someone told him, “It’s practically impossible for an accident to occur.” So glad to hear it, I bet he thought, as he booked the flights for his family!

The "Last Stop" isn't the only place where you can shoot machine guns in the Las Vegas area. How about "Bullets And Burgers?" Click the link to see their website. 

Bullets And Burgers is highly recommended, according to what the website says, at least.

I think my oldest grandson might (if allowed to dream such dreams) like the idea of shooting machine guns. My granddaughter might like that, too. She's almost nine years old, so maybe next year?

Or... Maybe not!

Maybe let's work on a different dream?

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Monday, September 14, 2015

#257 / Option B

WSAC, the City of Santa Cruz "Water Supply Advisory Committee," has been working for more than a year on developing a proposed "supplemental" water supply solution for my local community. 

The main action right now seems to revolve around an argument about whether "to B" or "not to B." In other words, the Committee has come up with a generally accepted plan (let's call it "Plan A"), which does not involve desalination. Instead, the idea is that available surface water can be captured in high-rainfall periods (even during a drought), and then can be stored for later use in unfilled groundwater aquifers under Scotts Valley and the area served by the Soquel Creek Water District. 

As I say, the members of WSAC seem to agree that this is a good plan. But what if it doesn't work? Some argue that the City needs a "Plan B," too. For instance, how about desalination?

The problem with a "Plan B," in this context, is that the temptation will be to try to accomplish both plans simultaneously (just to be sure). The "No Plan B" argument is that we are better off to put all our eggs in that "Plan A" basket, since that plan does seem to have the best potential to solve our problem. Then, of course, we need to "Watch That Basket!"

The Democratic Party is worrying about a "Plan B," too. The San Francisco Chronicle had an exploration of this topic in its Sunday, August 23, 2015 edition. The headline on the article was pretty dramatic: "Democrats’ nightmare scenario: Who’s Plan B if Clinton tanks?"

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and author of Lean In, was listed as one "Plan B" possibility. Other "Plan B" possibles included California's Governor Jerry Brown, United States Senator Cory Booker, and Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. Of course, Senator Bernie Sanders made that list, too. Its Bernie's popularity, in fact, that is causing some people to get worried about the long-term viability of the "Plan A" candidate, Hillary Clinton

In whatever context, I am generally in favor of picking what I think is the best plan, and then making sure to "execute" that plan. Let's focus our resources, I say, and not get distracted by trying to do a "Plan A" and a "Plan B" simultaneously. 

The primary campaign season is the time to pick the right "Plan A" for presidential candidates. The year-plus work by WSAC has been the time to pick the best plan for long-term water security for our local community.

I will say (since sometimes the best plan doesn't work out) that Sheryl Sandberg (pictured above) had the very best quote in the Chronicle article, at least in my opinion. She made a good point about what to do when an accepted "Plan A" fails: 

When Option A is not available ... kick the s--- out of Option B.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

#256 / Noctilucent

These mysterious, noctilucent clouds are sure pretty. 

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

#255 / Relax

The bronze shown, of a boxer, is part of an exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibition is titled, Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, and it will run until November 15th of this year. 

I found out about the exhibition from a fine column by Roger Cohen, which appeared in The New York Times edition of August 23, 2015. Cohen called his column "California Dreaming," but the column is not really about California. It is about change. 

Cohen rehearsed both sides of the argument that I often had with my father: Is the world radically and fundamentally changing (this was my claim, and I always thought that the changes were mostly for the worst), or (as my father consistently argued) have things pretty much "always been this way?"

Cohen ultimately comes down on my father's side of the argument, and it is actually comforting, I think, for any son to find his father's viewpoints validated: 

The catalyst to these musings was something I saw in Los Angeles, probably the last place I expected to see it because I think of the city as hot-wired to the new and inclined to the brittle. It was a bronze statue from the third century B.C. of a seated boxer, a life-size rendering of a bearded man who, to judge from the bruise on his cheek and his broken nose, has just emerged from a fight, or perhaps a series of fights. His body is strong, suggestive of the heroic, but his expression is excruciatingly human, full of stoicism and questioning. 
Here I am, the boxer seems to say, and such is life: an unpredictable struggle for survival in which there is no escape from hard work and wisdom must be earned the hard way. You see, he murmurs across 2,300 years, I have done what I had to do and this is the state I find myself in: tired, battered but unflinching and alive. 
The boxer made me think of one of my favorite paintings, Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X in Rome’s Doria Pamphilj Gallery, not in any particular detail but in the evocation of someone who has lived life to the full: the ruddy and weathered face of the pontiff, the shrewd eyes, the expression that says he sees through the pomp of his position and is aware that life, even at the summit of power, may be viewed as a cruel joke. “Troppo vero!” — “Too true!” — the pope is said to have exclaimed on seeing it. 
My late uncle, Bert Cohen, was in Italy during World War II. On July 21, 1944, he reached Monte Cassino and wrote in his war diary: “Poor Cassino, wreck and desolation unbelievable, roads smashed and pitted, mines, booby traps and graves everywhere. Huge shell holes, craters filled with stagnant slime, smashed buildings, hardly outlines remaining, a silent sight of ghosts and shadows. Pictures should be taken of this monument to mankind’s worst moments and circulated through every school room in the world.” 
Along with pictures of the Hellenistic boxer and the Italian pope to illustrate the illusions of power, the bruises of life, the persistence of hope and the limits of change. Relax — we’ve been here before.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

#254 / Our Future Life On Mars

Elon Musk, pictured, is pioneering in lots of high-tech areas. He has "created the world’s leading electric car company, Tesla Motors," and he "conceived and is the board chairman of SolarCity, the country’s premier solar services company.” Musk has also "founded, funded, and runs ... SpaceX." 

I am quoting here from an article in The New York Review of Books, titled "The Man For Mars."

The book being reviewed is Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by Ashlee Vance. It's not clear from the review whether or not the book mentions the "hyperloop," another one of Musk's far out visions, and one that seems to be moving from theory to reality.

I am not much enamored of efforts to colonize space. I'd rather focus human efforts on the task of making sure that we never have to flee Earth for other planets, or even other solar systems, to avoid the messes we've created right here.

It may be that Musk isn't hoping to escape the messes, however, but to export them. I couldn't help but chuckle when I learned, from the article in The New York Review, that "Musk is not envisioning a colony of a few hundred settlers on the Red Planet, but one on the order of Hawthorne, California, the 80,000-plus industrial city outside of Los Angeles where SpaceX has its headquarters."

Check out a picture of Hawthorne, below. Frankly, I'd hate to see that duplicated on Mars, even if all the cars were electric!

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

#253 / FOMO At A Certain Age

The picture above is from a 1516 map of Thomas More's island of Utopia, discussed in Legendary Lands by Umberto Eco. I am a big fan of all things "utopian," and I retrieved this image from an edition of Brain Pickings devoted to FOMO, the "Fear Of Missing Out."

The Brain Pickings' article is titled, "In Praise of Missing Out: Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips on the Paradoxical Value of Our Unlived Lives." I commend that article to you. Phillips' book, Missing Out, may be good, too, but as is often the case in this Two Worlds blog, I find myself commenting on a comment, in lieu of reading the original. 

So many books; so little time! That sentiment is exactly the same as in that famous observation by John Barrymore, who noted that the trouble with life is that there is insufficient time to have sampled more of the beautiful women that life has made (at least potentially) available. 

Talk about FOMO!

In fact, having reached what some might correctly call a "certain age," I find that FOMO (to the degree I ever felt it) is no longer a major preoccupation. FOMO has been replaced by the certainty that I HAVE missed out. There isn't any doubt!

I can remember many speeches counseling and urging my political audiences to "Make Up Their Mind," since making choices (instead of trying to have it both ways) is the essence of a genuine politics. In those speeches, I often said that "you can't be both a ballerina and a brain surgeon." In other words, you might be capable of being either one, but you do have to choose, because there isn't time to do both, either simultaneously or sequentially. 

FOMO might come into play as you consider that ballerina/brain surgeon decision, but when you do reach that "certain age," and the choices you have made have played themselves out, and you are who you are, the lesson that Phillips' book imparts makes a great deal of sense. 

It is a total fallacy to think that one person can do "everything" that he or she might want to do, or can think about doing, or that he or she might even be good at, and having not done something is no failure. 

Not if you have done something, that is! And we all have!!

It is possible to celebrate both possibility and experience. We should be grateful for the experiences we have had, and the lives we have lived.

This is what I think.

That is my lesson learned at a "certain age."

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

#252 / A Lesson From The Elephant Seals

I enjoyed an article that ran in the Sunday, August 23rd edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. It reported on recent work by UCSC scientists who, since the days of Burney LeBoeuf, have been doing research on the elephant seal populations that come each year to Año Nuevo, just north of the line that divides Santa Cruz County from San Mateo County. The article was titled, "Male elephant seals use voices to identify rivals, UCSC study finds."

Learning more about elephant seals is always worthwhile, in and of itself. However, in this article, I seemed to find, also, some helpful information from the elephant seals, whose counsel could assist the United States as it confronts international relations in a hostile world: 

They found that male elephant seals responded aggressively to subordinate male elephant seals, but backed away when hearing the call of a dominant rival. The system not only works well at preserving peace and avoiding injury — only about 5 percent of interactions lead to physical contact — it also helps them conserve energy. The cost of conflict is very high and resolution through communication saves a tremendous amount of energy,” said Colleen Reichmuth, study co-author and director of the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory at UCSC.

Let's hope the presidential candidates read the Sentinel, and learn this lesson from the elephant seals: 

The cost of conflict is very high and resolution through communication saves a tremendous amount of energy.

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