Tuesday, September 19, 2017

#262 / Those Political Pivots: A To Z



I enjoyed Jacob Silverman's article in the September 3, 2017, edition of The New York Times Magazine. Online, the title reads, "In Our Cynical Age, No One Fails Anymore — Everybody ‘Pivots.’"

Speaking of political "pivots," Silverman says this: 

The political pivot is a product of expediency and pragmatism, rather than of some shift in deeply held ideals.

Now, this sounds rather bad, doesn't it? Damn those politicians! No principles! Perpetually pivoting for political preeminence! No wonder people don't like politicians! In fact, Members of Congress are rated just above "car salespeople," and are found at the very bottom of a list of the professions people trust. The link is to a 2012 list, but I'm betting things may have gotten worse for the politicians, not better, since then.

Just to provide an alternative view, isn't it true that when we depend on "representatives" to advance our political goals, we should actually applaud those political "pivots," if the politicians doing the pivoting are responding to public pressure and public opinion?

My idea about politics isn't that we should be trying to elect people whom we feel certain are always going to to the right thing. My idea is that we should be organizing our politics so that we, the people, can MAKE the elected officials do what the majority wants. 

Of course, that puts the responsibility back on "the people." 

"Self government" doesn't mean a system in which all the representatives are paragons of principle. It means a politics and a political system in which ordinary people are so empowered that they can, and will, be able to force the politicians do what the people demand.



Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/magazine/in-our-cynical-age-no-one-fails-anymore-everybody-pivots.html?_r=0

Monday, September 18, 2017

#261 / Anything



If you would be interested in a book review that discusses the value of a liberal arts education in an ever more high-tech world, then click the following link to read, "Don’t Panic, Liberal Arts Majors. The Tech World Wants You."

I am in sympathy with the points made by Timothy Aubry, an associate professor of English at Baruch College. His review outlines the arguments made in two recent books, A Practical Education: Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Employees, and You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a "Useless" Liberal Arts Education

A Practical Education was written by by Randall Stross, and You Can Do Anything was written by George Anders.

While I endorse the "job counselling" ambition of these two books (and of Aubry's review), I was actually attracted to the review by the title of Anders' book, You Can Do Anything.

If we will allow ourselves to get beyond individualism, and put it in the plural, I am absolutely persuaded that "we," in fact, can indeed "do anything." 

We live most immediately in a "human world," a world wholly created by human action. As long as we respect the limits of the World of Nature, upon which we are ultimately dependent, "we," together, can do anything, and create any world we want to. 

Of course, most people don't really believe that, and we tend to spend most of our time wondering how we each, individually, can get ahead and make more money. 

That's a worthy topic to consider, I admit, but "our" topic ought to be how we, collectively, can create a world that responds to our highest aspirations. We live in, and we create, a "political" world, a world that is the result of actions based upon the kind of debate and discussion, conflict and controversy, that is the essence of political life. That world, the "political world," is a world in which "anything" is, indeed, possible. 

I like Anders' title (the individualistic bias aside), but I'd suggest we need a slightly different book: 

We Can Do Anything: 
So Why Don't We Do Something Good?


Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/books/review/you-can-do-anything-george-anders-liberal-arts-education.html

Sunday, September 17, 2017

#260 / Thanks





























The image above is a little hard to read (the part that is meant to be read, I mean). The letter was produced in response to a request from a member of the public for public information. The letter is largely classified. After redaction, the only word made public is, "Thanks."

I recommend an article by Beverly Gage, "The Strange Politics of 'Classified' Information," which was published by The New York Times Magazine on August 27, 2017. Click the link to read it. It's only three pages long.

How much government "secrecy" should we allow? For me, the bottom line is pretty clear. If we believe in self-government, and in a government of, by, and for "the people," then the people have to know what's going on with the government. Secrecy just doesn't work.

What? We should let spies and enemies know what our government is doing? That is, after all, the inevitable result of letting the public know. Well, it's unfortunate if someone hostile to the nation learns something from reading government documents, but it's a lot worse if the citizens, supposedly in ultimate charge of the government, don't have the foggiest notion of what's going on. 

No secrecy? That's a pretty radical idea.

Just about as radical as the idea of democratic self-government. 



Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/22/magazine/the-strange-politics-of-classified-information.html?_r=0

Saturday, September 16, 2017

#259 / Two Kinds Of Kisses



A new book of fairy tales has recently been published, which was reviewed in The Wall Street Journal. The book, by Emily Jenkins, is titled, Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book Of Old Tales

Both the review and the book itself contain an insight, from "Snow White," that has struck my fancy: 

Some kisses break enchantments. 
And other kisses begin them.

May we all be so fortunate as to experience both kinds!



Image Credit:
https://www.enchantingbakes.co.uk/collections/valentines/products/kiss-me-biscuit-box

Friday, September 15, 2017

#258 / That DACA Deal



Did President Trump make a deal on DACA? A deal that actually involved working with Democratic Party members of Congress? Yesterday, the media said, "Yes," or at least, "we think so." Of course, nothing is done until it's done; we will all have to wait to see what ultimately happens. Nonetheless, the news stories raise an intriguing possibility. Could it be that we are finally moving away from a politics that is so hyper-partisan that it might be possible to contemplate a Congress that will play the role it is supposed to play in our governmental system? 

After the election of President Obama, in 2008, the Republican Party took the position that all Republican Party members of Congress would vote, en bloc, against anything that President Obama proposed. And the Party acted accordingly, with the Republican Party leadership ruthlessly enforcing that hyper-partisan "party line." That meant, as a practical matter, for the last ten years of the Obama presidency, that nothing could happen on any significantly controversial matter. 

Any legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Congress could be vetoed by the President, and any program that the President favored would simply not be enacted by the Congress, no matter what. In the latter category was immigration reform, and specifically any program that would try to find ways to allow children who had been brought to the United States without proper authorization to stay in this country, and to continue to contribute to it. The President's "Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals" program, carried out by Executive Order, was one of the "work arounds" that resulted from the Republican Party's unwillingness to work with a Black President.

With the election of President Trump, the Republican Party assumed complete control of the Executive and Legislative branches of government. It seemed pretty clear, as well, that the appointment of Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court also put the Judicial branch into Republican Party control. The DACA program was an easy target. Its existence came about through an Executive Order from a Black President, and now the Republicans could get rid of it. Not unexpectedly, President Trump did, in fact, indicate that he was going to shut the program down, but he put a little spin on the pitch. Maybe, the president suggested, the Congress might want to legislate itself on this topic.

As I noted in this blog on September 5th, it seemed to me that there was a hopeful aspect to the president's action. If the news reports from yesterday pan out, that hope will have proven to be not unfounded.

Our governmental system, as outlined in the Constitution, is premised on the idea that the Congress, with representatives supposedly responsible not to a national party ideology, but to local voters, will propose legislation to address issues of national concern. That legislation will have to pass muster with the president, who is elected "nationally," not locally, so both "national" and "local" political opinion and perspectives will be decisive in the enactment of any law. That's the way "it spozed to be." Hyper-partisan political ideologies are not supposed to be the key factor in the governance of the nation.

As I said in my earlier blog posting, if President Trump's actions on DACA can actually demonstrate that our political system can work in the way it is supposed to, his ability to have saved the "Dreamers" will keep the "American Dream" alive in more ways than one. If the DACA deal comes off as advertised, I think it would be fair to record the President's actions as a "good deed," and to post this fact in the "give the president some credit, where credit is due," column!



Image Credit:
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/09/daca-deal-or-no-deal-trump-democrats-dreamers/539784/

Thursday, September 14, 2017

#257 / One Of Those Pictures Worth 1,000 Words+



I obtained the picture above from a posting by Caitlin Busch, published on September 12, 2017, on the Inverse.com website.

The picture shows a wall of flames as it roars down a hillside in northern Oregon, barreling straight for the Columbia River. In the foreground, some of the patrons of the Beacon Rock Golf Course continue to play golf.

Busch reports that the picture "went viral," as it definitely should have. It would be hard to imagine a better way to symbolize our human unwillingness to confront what we are doing to the Natural World. 

Forget about global warming! As our president and his environmental appointees might say: "Play on!"


Image Credit:
https://www.inverse.com/article/36286-photo-viral-reddit-fire-golf-oregon-washington-eagle-creek-why

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

#256 / Wynton Marsalis Talks About The Truth



The September 4, 2017, edition of The New Yorker has an excellent article on Ken Burns, titled, "Mr. America." The title in the online edition is "Ken Burns's American Canon."

I liked the statement below, found in the article, which I think is exactly the right lesson for those interested in politics. That, I hope, means all of us. 

You might also like to refresh your recollection of six blind men from Indostan, who convey a lesson along the very same lines:

Burns frequently—almost hourly—says, “Sometimes a thing and the opposite of a thing are true at the same time,” paraphrasing a remark made by Wynton Marsalis, in “Jazz.”

Image Credit:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94198246

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

#255 / That T-Cell Thing



Quite often, at least for me, understanding proceeds by way of metaphor. 

T-cells battle infections, even cancer

When our body politic is infected, when it is ill and feverish (see yesterday's posting, "Unminced"), let's not forget that help is swarming, everywhere, with great hope for a cure




Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.drugtargetreview.com/news/11066/explaining-car-t-cell-therapy/
(2) - http://www.wbur.org/news/2017/01/29/copley-square-immigration-freeze-protest

Monday, September 11, 2017

#254 / Unminced


























This is the inescapable fact: on November 9th, the United States elected a dishonest, inept, unbalanced, and immoral human being as its President and Commander-in-Chief. Trump has daily proven unyielding to appeals of decency, unity, moderation, or fact. He is willing to imperil the civil peace and the social fabric of his country simply to satisfy his narcissism and to excite the worst inclinations of his core followers.*

______________________________________
* David Remnick, "The Divider," The New Yorker, August 28, 2017

Image Credit:
http://www.cnn.com/specials/inauguration-360-live-video

Sunday, September 10, 2017

#253 / I Have Just A Few Superficial Concerns



The Wall Street Journal reports that President Trump has "reinstated the ability of local police agencies to receive surplus military equipment, including grenade launchers...." See above for a picture of a grenade launcher. Click the link above for the entire article. Click here for a commentary!

Quoting again from The Wall Street Journal article, "Civil-rights activists criticized the move, saying having military vehicles and similar equipment in local communities ... suggests a police force at war with residents. They also said the programs have few rules to control how the equipment is used and ensure officers are trained to use it properly."

And here is one final quote from the article, outlining the position of the Trump Administration:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the change in a speech before the National Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union. "We will not put superficial concerns above public safety,” Mr. Sessions told police officers, according his prepared remarks.


If you think it is a "superficial concern" that the federal government apparently wants to turn our local police agencies into armed combat units, with full military capabilities, then you will probably go to sleep tonight feeling safer, understanding that your police department may soon be mobilizing grenade launchers (and similar military equipment) against civil rights demonstrators and other kinds of bad guys. 

I have an opposite opinion. It's like they say about the movies, or a play: "Once you show the audience the gun, you know it has to be used."

I don't want my city to end up looking like some town in Syria. Think about what kind of damage a "grenade launcher" can do on your city streets.

I have been urging, for some time, that we put the "war metaphor" to rest, as a fundamentally inappropriate way to understand the reality of our life. Putting military combat gear in the hands of our local police is a non-superficial escalation of violence in the heart of our local communities. That's my opinion, at least.

Despite the federal government's desire to outfit our local police with military equipment, local police departments and other law enforcement agencies don't have to participate in the program. Contact your City Council and County elected officials. Get them to adopt an official policy for your community that will prohibit the use of any military equipment by local law enforcement (and may I say, especially "grenade launchers").




Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_-yCQtTbDQ
(2) - https://www.truthdig.com/cartoons/cop-a-fix/ 
(3) - https://english.al-akhbar.com/node/23044

Saturday, September 9, 2017

#252 / Every Distance Is Not Near



Thomas Richard Dickson, known around Santa Cruz as T.R. Dickson, was, for many years, a beloved teacher at Cabrillo College. He taught chemistry, and he wrote some good books about chemistry, too. Born on January 2, 1938, T.R. Dickson died on August 25, 2017, in his home on Cape Cod. 

A very nice obituary appeared in the September 6, 2017, edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Within that obituary, a link was provided to TR's Farewell Tour, a kind of "life recap" prepared by T.R. himself. I think it's worth looking at, even if you didn't know T.R. personally. 

I liked the following observation, which T.R. included under the heading, "Atheist." 

One basic principle of chemistry is that atoms cannot be created or destroyed (exceptions being nuclear processes and radioactivity). Atoms in your body are periodically being replaced by new atoms from your environment. When you die the atoms within you are recycled into the environment. Some disperse rather quickly and some more slowly. Nevertheless, your atoms are dispersed within the myriad of living systems found on earth. Your atoms and the vast number of atoms that have existed on earth for billions of years are all part of Mother Earth. Using this view, in a sense we are all one and the same. It is not inconceivable that atoms of me are in you and atoms of you were in me. 

Take a deep breath.


I might have titled this reflection differently (in fact, I know I would have), but if T.R. is right (and you have to admit he is), then T.R. Dickson (and all of us) are on one of those "never-ending tours."

That name, incidentally, is the name that Bob Dylan has given to his continuing touring schedule. T.R. Dickson ends his "Farewell Tour" with the song and video featured at the top of this blog posting. 

Any day now...
You know, any day now...
We all shall be released.

Are you with me on that? Let's take a deep breath!



Image Credit:
http://trdickson.net

Friday, September 8, 2017

#251 / Rising To The Bait #2



Dana Loesch, pictured above, is a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association (the NRA). I have mentioned her before

The NRA seems to be trying to provoke attacks on and by "liberals," whom the NRA has denominated "the violent left." Click on any of the following YouTube videos to see just how provocative the organization is trying to be. 

Back in July, I noted that the San Francisco Chronicle took on Loesch and the NRA in an editorial, claiming that they were "crossing the line" by their "incitement to violence." 

More recently, in an article that ran in the San Jose Mercury News on August 27th, The Associated Press has reported that one Democratic congressional candidate is calling the videos "hate speech," and is suggesting that they are "sedition," the "wilful undermining of ... legal authority." The upshot of claims like these, of course, is that something should be done about it. "Hate speech" isn't good. And neither is a coordinated effort, backed by the NRA's big budget, to "undermine legal authority."

So if that is happening (and you can make up your own mind about the NRA videos, after watching one or more of them, linked below), the question becomes what we should do about it.

Here's what I'm thinking: NOTHING!

I think that the NRA is hoping to get decent people to attack free speech, and the NRA, as a reaction to the hateful use that the NRA is making of their free speech rights. The more violence that the NRA can generate, the more their claim that everyone needs to have a gun to "protect themselves" will seem to be legitimate.

Let's not rise to the bait. Let's not get hooked.

Let's laugh, instead, at these ludicrous efforts to provoke us into a violent reaction to the NRA's outrageous claims:








Image Credit:
http://573mag.com/dana-loesch/

Thursday, September 7, 2017

#250 / Rising To The Bait



John Arquilla, a professor and chair of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, may or may not know anything about fly fishing. His recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, however, demonstrates that he understands how nations can "rise to the bait" of a terrorist provocation, and then get hooked into what amounts to a never ending war. We did it in Vietnam. And we've done it again in Afghanistan, which is what Professor Arquilla discusses in his article, "Trump seems determined to continue America’s ‘strategic drift'." 

The way Spain has reacted after the attacks in Barcelona is in stark contrast to how the United States reacted after the (admittedly much more dramatic) terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The scale of the provocation aside, I think Arquilla is correct when he says:

It grows ever clearer that the damage inflicted 16 years ago by al Qaeda pales in comparison with the self-inflicted wounds from which Americans have suffered ever since. Take the burden imposed by the cynical use of 9/11 to justify the speedy doubling of military spending — despite the limited threat posed to Americans by terrorist networks. The country can ill afford this enormous fiscal burden.

Osama bin Laden is no longer around to savor the shape of the world he wrought with 9/11. However, his successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, is still on the loose, able to contemplate how he and his colleagues, with a single major attack, were able to provoke the world’s greatest power into a costly set of self-defeating actions that may yet allow the victory of terrorist networks and rogue nations [emphasis added].

The United States has, repeatedly, "risen to the bait," and all our military interventions, intended to show that we won't countenance terrorism, have only hooked us deeper into endless fights that we can never win, and that will continue to make all things worse, as long as we pursue them.


Image Credit:
http://www.newzealand.com/us/fly-fishing/

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

#249 / Giving Politics A Try


The Zapatista rebel leader Subcommander Marcos in 2006
On Sunday, August 27, 2017, The New York Times ran an article titled, "In a Mexico 'Tired of Violence,' Rebels Give Politics a Try." Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatista revolution, is pictured above. He put it this way:                                                                                                                                                                  
“We choose life, not death. Instead of building barracks and improving our arsenal of weapons, we built schools, hospitals, and we improved our living conditions.” 
The Zapatistas were changing, and so was he. He changed his name to Subcommander Galeano, to honor a fallen comrade. [The story didn't provide any further explanation, but I'm betting he was honoring Eduardo Galeano, author of Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina, who is one of my personal heroes]. And he announced the death of the persona of Subcommander Marcos. There was no longer a need for it, he said, describing himself as “a suit made for the media.” 
In the following years, the Zapatista-controlled territories exercised de facto autonomy, delivering broad access to education and health services. Organized crime has been unable to penetrate the area.

A political science professor quoted in the Times' article, Jesús Silva-Herzog, says that "this shows the extent to which Mexicans are tired of violence."

Are we tired of violence?

Politics is the antidote to violence. That is, in fact, the major reason for its existence. 

Let's not forget it. Our cities should look like this: 

San Cristóbal de las Casas in the central Chiapas highlands.

Not this:

Kabul, Afghanistan

Image Credits:
(1) and (2) - https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/26/world/americas/mexico-zapatista-subcommander-marcos.html
(3) - http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/06/kabul-mourning-blast-kills-100-people-170601082233554.html


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

#248 / DACA And Democracy



As the image above proclaims, I support DACA. DACA is an immigration program that "defers action" on certain "childhood arrivals." In other words, the DACA program provides a bureaucratic mechanism by which certain young persons who are in the United States without proper immigration credentials can avoid immediate deportation. Those who qualify are often called "Dreamers." I have had a number of "Dreamers" in my classes at the University of California, Santa Cruz. An immigration program that promotes the ability of talented young people to stay in the United States, and to make a contribution to the country, seems to me to be a very good national policy, indeed.

Here's a federal government website that provides the details on DACA. The DACA program was established by a presidential directive in 2012, during the Obama Administration.


If you are keeping up with the news, you will be aware that President Trump has determined to end the DACA program. Here is a link to a news story from yesterday, September 4, 2017, indicating that the President plans to eliminate the program today, but only after a six-month delay. A report on today's official action can be found right here

According to that news story yesterday, "the message from the White House to Congress is that if lawmakers like DACA, they should write legislation for it, and the White House will consider it, likely favorably."

President Trump could have simply terminated the DACA program and deported everyone who currently has "Dreamer" status. Some of his hard-hearted advisors would have liked that, and some of them apparently urged that course of action. That kind of dramatic action would also have been consistent with some of the president's more extreme anti-immigrant statements. But the president didn't opt for immediate deportation. Let's be thankful for that, and perhaps use this occasion to restore some balance to the way the nation is currently establishing its national policies. Important national policies should not be established by executive or administrative action. My gosh, have you seen who our current Chief Executive is? National policy should be set by the Congress. That's what the Constitution says. That's the way our representative democracy is supposed to work. 

In the case of DACA, let's make sure that our democracy does work. Across the country, people should be telling their Congressional representatives to take prompt action to make sure that the "Dreamers" find that their dreams can come true!

That is what America is supposed to be all about!

Maybe, despite all the horrible possibilities, we can get a responsible set of immigration laws as a byproduct this recent action!



Image Credit:
https://action.unitedwedream.org/petitions/keep-the-deferred-action-for-childhood-arrivals-daca-program

Monday, September 4, 2017

#247 / Some Sympathy For The Senator



I am not a big fan of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the former Mayor of San Francisco. I am not a big fan of former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, either. I do think, however, that Brown made a good point in the latest edition of his "Willie's World" column in the San Francisco Chronicle. The headline for the column that appeared yesterday, Sunday, was "Feinstein faces criticism for daring to be honest." That was the title of Brown's column as it appeared in the hard copy version of the paper. When you click the link, you'll get the online version, which comes with this title: "Feinstein’s lesson in political correctness: Root for disaster from Trump."

The point Brown made in his column is not unlike the point I was attempting to make yesterday, in my blog posting about Phyllis Schlafly. How we react to statements with which we disagree is important. How we conduct our debates about what we ought to think, and what we ought to do, makes a difference in what kind of democracy we achieve. 

Here's Brown's take:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has become the latest victim in our new world of politics — one where instant emotional gratification and ideological reinforcement crowd out intelligent discourse. 
Feinstein jammed a stick into a snake pit when she said in a Commonwealth Club appearance that there was little chance of President Trump being impeached, and that she hoped “he has the ability to learn and to change, and if he does he can be a good president.” 
Never mind that she also listed all her objections to both the president and his policies. Never mind that she’s certainly right about Trump’s impeachment chances, at least barring a Democratic landslide in 2018. 
She did not feed the emotional needs of the audience. When some in attendance hissed at her candor, the story went viral, with Berniecrats quick to point to her remarks as proof California needs a new, progressive voice in the Senate. 
Welcome to the circular firing squad. Bring on the purge of anyone who is not 100 percent into “resistance.”
Look, folks. There’s no reason to root against Trump learning and changing and being a “good president.” That would mean he wouldn’t blunder us into a nuclear war with North Korea, and would get religion on immigration, and wouldn’t let corporations do whatever they want to the environment. If he became a good president, that would mean he wasn’t using the office to enrich himself and his family and that he was respecting the rule of law.
But if all you want to do is to shout down any peep of dissent from the party line, there’s no room for that kind of reasoning. Feinstein found that out the hard way and, in less than 24 hours, had to issue a clarification defending herself.

“I’ve been strongly critical of President Trump when I disagree on policy and with his behavior,” she said. “Most recently, I was appalled by his comments in response to Charlottesville and the pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. President Trump said that there were ‘very fine people’ in a crowd chanting, ‘Jews will not replace us.’ There’s nothing ‘fine’ about white supremacists, Nazis or the KKK.”
That is the way it is in today’s politics, where the key to success is to pander to people’s emotions rather than getting them to think or face reality.


Image Credit:
http://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/article/Feinstein-s-lesson-in-political-correctness-12169317.php

Sunday, September 3, 2017

#246 / Democracy And The Paranoid Position


Pictured: Phyllis Schlafly
On Saturday, August 26, 2017, I read an article by Vivian Gornick that mentioned Phyllis Schlafly. For any who may not remember Schlafly, here's a brief biography from Wikipedia

[Schlafly] was known for her staunchly conservative social and political views, her opposition to feminism and abortion, and her successful campaign against the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Her 1964 book, A Choice Not an Echo, a polemic push-back against Republican leader Nelson Rockefeller, sold more than three million copies. She co-authored books on national defense and was highly critical of arms control agreements with the former Soviet Union. Schlafly founded the conservative interest group Eagle Forum in 1972 and remained its chairperson and CEO until her death.

Gornick's article, which I recommend, was published in Boston Review, and was called "Feeling Paranoid: Phyllis Schlafly, Trump, and the Terror of Difference." 

Gornick's article discussed a book I had never heard of, The Honey and the Hemlock: Democracy and Paranoia in Ancient Athens and Modern America. That book was written by cultural anthropologist Eli Sagan. I can't recommend a book I've never read (at least not responsibly), but based on Gornick's article, the Sagan book is wending its way towards my "must read" list. 

On Saturday, August 26th, I also read a commentary published in my hometown newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, by one of the Sentinel's favorite cultural commentators, Stephen Kessler. Kessler's column was called "Open letter to a so-called 'white supremacist'," and was a pretty much unexceptional and rather condescending denunciation of those persons who would fit that category. 

As I said in my blog posting on August 25th, I am no fan of white nationalists or white supremacists, and it may be that the Kessler column wouldn't have struck me as perhaps a bit off-base if I hadn't just read Gornick's thoughts about Schlafly.

Schlafly exemplifies another politically objectionable species (at least from my point of view), as an outspoken, right-wing, pro-military anti-feminist. Gornick, though, in this article, was kind of "soft" on Schlafly, and this was somewhat surprising, because I feel certain that Gornick largely shares my own political point of view, and certainly would not be positive about Schlafly's political positions, any more than Kessler or I would be warm and friendly to white supremacists.

So....here is Gornick's point (which I believe she has drawn from Sagan's book):

The struggle of any society—but especially that of a society that calls itself a democracy—is to honor the existence of the one not like ourselves. Now, much like in ancient Athens, our own democracy is teetering: a moment when so many of us have become unreal to one another.

Can we "honor the existence" of the white supremacists and the right-wing, pro-military, anti-feminists, even while we reject their views? Gornick suggests that our ability to maintain democracy in our country may hinge on the answer to that question. 

As we debate whether or not "free speech" should include our ability to tolerate objectionable, hate-filled arguments that we abhor, it's a question worth thinking about!


Image Credit:
https://bostonreview.net/politics-gender-sexuality/vivian-gornick-feeling-paranoid

Saturday, September 2, 2017

#245 / Oh, Wilderness!



A Book of Verses underneath the Bough, 
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou 
Beside me singing in the Wilderness— 
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
The picture above is from an article in the August 25, 2017, "Mansion" section of The Wall Street Journal. It shows a "wilderness" subdivision in Montana, producing a "gated community" (including artificial lakes) abutting national forest land. This picture documents, rather convincingly, I think, a typically human determination to assert total dominion over every aspect of the Natural World. 

The Wall Street Journal ran this article on the same day that the papers were reporting the recommendation of the Secretary of the Interior that various National Monuments be reduced in size, to allow for new mining or oil drilling. Of those who commented on the proposal to abolish or reduce the size of the National Monuments, 99.2% asked that no reduction occur. There seems little doubt that the President will accept the recommendation, ignoring the overwhelming sentiment of the public, because the President believes that we must do all we can to spur the development of more hydrocarbon resources, the combustion of which is helping to make our planet uninhabitable.

The World of Nature, the "wilderness" into which humans are born, is what, in the end, sustains all life. This World of Nature, in fact, is "paradise enough." Our failure to recognize this puts our world, not the World of Nature, in peril.



Verse Credit:
The title derives from Quatrain XII of Edward Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (5th edition, 1889)

Image Credit:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-new-gated-community-more-land-fewer-neighbors-1503579674

Friday, September 1, 2017

#244 / A Symphony Of Flying Killers


New York Times' columnist Thomas Friedman has identified the planes below as a "flying killer symphony, orchestrated by the U.S. Air Force."

Reaper Drone

B-52
U-2 "Dragon Lady"
F-16
F-22 "Raptor"


F-15
MQ-9 "Reaper" Drone
KC-135 Stratotanker Jet Refueler

I last referred to Thomas Friedman on August 22, 2017. Friedman was on a tour of key air bases in the Middle East. Violence had erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Friedman was clearly out of sorts at being so far from the center of the latest controversy. He heroically attempted to turn his air base tour into a celebration of American "diversity." I made fun of this attempt, a transparent demand that everyone recognize his relevance as a pundit, even when what he was doing, on the day of the Charlottesville events, had nothing whatsoever to do with what was happening there.

Friedman has now returned from his air base tour. He documents his return in a column that The Times ran on August 30, 2017. Click the link to read it. Friedman is continuing to extol the "diversity" of our armed aerial attackers, which he finds a worthy symbol of the very best of what the United States stands for, contrasting the "decency of the U.S. military personnel ... and ... [the] unworthy Donald Trump." 

Forgive those being blown up by the bombs for not seeing it quite the same way. "Decency" is not the first word that comes to mind! 



Image Credit:
(1) - http://techsob.com/military-drone-aircraft/
(2) - https://fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/bomber/b-52_i.htm
(3) - http://www.procerusuav.com/us/products/u2.html
(4) - http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/aviation/a25157/f-16-fighter-flying-in-2050/
(5) - http://www.military.com/equipment/f-22-raptor
(6) - http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/exposed-the-reason-the-us-air-force-needs-upgrade-the-f-15-19082
(7) - http://www.military-today.com/aircraft/mq9_reaper.htm
(8) - http://www.altus.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/352091/kc-135-stratotanker/

Thursday, August 31, 2017

#243 / The Conservative Zone



President Trump recently announced that he has decided to escalate the United States' military presence in Afghanistan. In reaction to the president's speech, the Ron Paul Institute released the following statement:

Gen. Mike Flynn had it right in 2015 when he said that the US drone program was creating more terrorists than it was killing. Trump’s foolish escalation will do the same. It will fail because it cannot do otherwise. It will only create more terrorists to justify more US intervention. And so on until our financial collapse. The US government cannot kill its way to peace in Afghanistan. Or anywhere else.

This quotation came to me from an email message sent by the Conservative Zone website. Labels on the bottle aren't always a good indication of what's inside. I am hardly "conservative," but I have to say that I fully agree that "the US government cannot kill its way to peace in Afghanistan. Or anywhere else."

This is an official "credit where credit is due" blog posting!


Image Credit:
http://www.conservativezone.com/articles/ron-paul-slams-trump-on-afghanistan-statement/

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

#242 / Not Going To Happen



Pictured is a smiling Ben Carson, one-time candidate for president, now Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He is a brain surgeon, too! 

This picture of Dr. Carson accompanied an editorial statement that appeared in the August 14, 2017, edition of the San Jose Mercury News. As it turns out, Santa Cruz County, and the Silicon Valley, and California in general, are not the only places in the United States where there is an affordable housing crisis. In fact, there is basically an affordable housing crisis everywhere, with "the number of very low income households paying more than half of their income for rent, or living in substandard dwellings, or both, having increased 41 percent nationwide in the past 10 years and 66 percent since 2001."

Dr. Carson's prescription? Taking a "business-like approach on how the public sector can reduce the regulatory barriers so the private markets can produce more housing for more families."

In other words, the private market will produce housing that the ordinary and below-average income person can afford if we just get those outrageous "regulatory barriers" out of the way.

Hey, Mr. Brain Surgeon, the "private market" will not produce housing that can be afforded by persons with average and below average incomes, no matter how much you let them build, because the private market is aimed at making money for the developers and the builders. Here's how the Mercury puts it:

Dr. Carson, this is not brain surgery: Businesses that need to turn a profit will never produce decent housing for low or extremely low income Americans without subsidies.

Housing authorities are the local arm of HUD. And far from getting more money to deal with the increasing numbers of people who need housing, they are getting less.

If we, as a nation, care about producing housing that can be afforded by ordinary working families, and by the economically disadvantaged, then we are going to have to pool our collective resources (which means redirecting some monies held by the very wealthy) to use these resources to meet the basic shelter needs of our citizens. 

More giveaways to developers won't do it. That's not "rocket science." That's not "brain surgery!"



Image Credit:
http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/08/13/editorial-ben-carsons-hud-report-on-housing-for-the-poor-is-an-eye-opener/

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

#241 / Whom Do The Plutocrats Fear?



Whom do those plutocrats fear? Well, they don't fear Bernie Sanders, according to Caitlin Johnstone, who calls herself a "rogue journalist."

I am commenting, today, on Johnstone's blog posting from August 20, 2017. Johnstone titled her piece, "Bernie Would’ve Won … And He Wouldn’t Have Been Much Better." 

I don't agree with Johnstone's statement that Bernie Sanders wouldn't have been much better than Donald J. Trump. You can read her pitch and make up your own mind.

I do agree, however, with something that Johnstone said in her blog. I think it's worth repeating. It's worth keeping in mind. 

If you are not a fan of government of, by, and for the plutocrats, then consider this: 

[Sanders] would have ... used the bully pulpit to fan the flames of a real revolution. This is the only reason the plutocrats pushed to sabotage his election. They were never afraid of Bernie, they were afraid of the people. They were afraid of you.

Emphasis added!

That "you," I think, is the plural form. So to restate it: the plutocrats aren't afraid of "you" (singular), and they're not afraid of "me." 

They're afraid of "us."


Image Credit:
https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone/bernie-wouldve-won-and-he-wouldn-t-have-been-much-better-6fe9bd279c2e

Monday, August 28, 2017

#240 / Getting Serious About Political Change



I was very happy to read the name of Zeynep Tufekci in a recent New Yorker article, "Is There Any Point to Protesting?" As you will see if you click the Tufekci link, above, I have long thought that Tufekci has a very accurate understanding of what it actually takes to make a revolution. Most recently, she has published a book on the subject.

Tufekci's prescription is the same prescription that Hannah Arendt identified in her book, On Revolution, and that Margaret Mead has captured in a quote that everyone (I hope) will recognize: 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

The New Yorker article, by Nathan Heller, quotes Tufekci extensively on what is needed to achieve real political change. Ad hoc, large scale protests won't do it (at least not by themselves). That is her main point: 

The missing ingredients, Tufekci believes, are the structures and communication patterns that appear when a fixed group works together over time. That practice puts the oil in the well-oiled machine. It is what contemporary adhocracy appears to lack, and what projects such as the postwar civil-rights movement had in abundance. And it is why, she thinks, despite their limits in communication, these earlier protests often achieved more. 
Tufekci describes weeks of careful planning behind the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott, in 1955. That spring, a black fifteen-year-old named Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a bus and was arrested. Today, though, relatively few people have heard of Claudette Colvin. Why? Drawing on an account by Jo Ann Robinson, Tufekci tells of the Montgomery N.A.A.C.P.’s shrewd process of auditioning icons. “Each time after an arrest on the bus system, organizations in Montgomery discussed whether this was the case around which to launch a campaign,” she writes. “They decided to keep waiting until the right moment with the right person.” Eventually, they found their star: an upstanding, middle-aged movement stalwart who could withstand a barrage of media scrutiny. This was Rosa Parks.

In other words, if we are serious about making real and significant political changes (and that is how we create the world we inhabit), we need to organize ourselves in small groups, decide that we will plan on how to take real power, mobilize the resources that will allow us to implement our plan, and then work unremittingly, persistently, until we have succeeded. Generally speaking, the time required is measured in whole lifetimes. That's what it means to be "serious."

Protests in the street? That can be good, but that's an activity, not a plan. 

I recommend that New Yorker article. I recommend On Revolution by Hannah Arendt, and Tufekci's  recent book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.


Image Credit:
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/08/21/is-there-any-point-to-protesting