Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#296 / Calling The Shots

After my "Two Magazines" posting last Sunday, a friend sent me a link to an article with this title and subheading: "Vote all you want. The people we elect aren't the ones calling the shots."

The article summarized a recent book by Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon. Glennon's book is titled National Security and Double Government, and the article says that Glennon believes that "the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind." 

I have taken my mother's good advice, and don't use that term "defense" to describe the "military" activities of the United States Government. With that slight amendment in phraseology, I tend to think that Glennon has spotlighted a reality of our contemporary situation. In fact, not even the President of the United States is free to do whatever he or she thinks is best. Not even the President is "calling the shots."

I am not, perhaps, as alarmed by this state of affairs as some might be, because I think that self-government is always only an "opportunity." Power must always be "taken," and is never "given," so if "we, the people" are not calling the shots, that is actually nothing new.

We can call the shots, if we want to call the shots. But then we need to spend our life and time doing that. If we care enough, we can (and will) start making decisions that will alter the current realities. We don't have to stand around and observe. We can act. 

But we can't act to chart a new course without making some sacrifices. Not without deciding that politics and self-government are more important than the latest entertainment available on Netflix. There is nothing inevitable about current conditions. But things will keep going the way they're going until we start putting ourselves on the gears and levers of that odious machine! (I think Mario Savio said that).

And what happens if we don't reallocate our time to make political engagement a higher priority? Well, pick whatever horror you most fear and shrink from, they're all on the way. They will keep getting closer until we, ourselves, start calling the shots:

  • Global warming and species extinction
  • Chemical pollution
  • Death of the seas
  • Totalitarian surveillance
  • Pandemic disease

Image Credit:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

#295 / Management

According to the "Today In Politics" column in yesterday's New York Times

Democrats running in conservative states worry that the Obama administration’s stumbling response to Ebola’s arrival in the United States is generating anxiety among voters — and reinforcing the Republican message that the world is a frightening place and President Obama is not equipped to manage it.

I rechecked the Constitution, particularly Article II, just to be sure. My recollection was correct. "Managing the world" is not part of the President's job description. 

Image Credit:

Monday, October 20, 2014

#294 / Umbrellas

The picture above grabbed my attention. I just like it. It illustrates an article published in The Harvard Business Review Blog on October 3, 2014. The Harvard Business Review (and its associated blog) is not a publication I normally read. Because of the umbrellas, I did read what Maxwell Wessel has to say about "consensus." According to his blog post, "the most innovative companies don't worry about consensus."

Wessel makes a good point, but the article is geared to those who are trying to maximize business profits. The thrust of the article is that developing a "consensus" within an existing business, about new business opportunities, is not, actually, the best way to stimulate innovation. 

How best to stimulate business innovation and increase business profits is not a topic that generally preoccupies me, and that is probably the main reason that I don't regularly read The Harvard Business Review. My preoccupations tend to focus most on how best to achieve effective and democratic self-government.

If you happen to care about that "self-government" topic, then there are some other umbrellas that might attract your attention. See the picture below. The umbrellas in that picture are not nearly as "pretty" as the umbrellas from The Harvard Business Review Blog, but what is going on under those umbrellas is pretty impressive, even if it's not "pretty."

It's a struggle, and the umbrellas are playing a big part. The struggle is being called "The Umbrella Movement."

They're not just decorative!

Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) -

Sunday, October 19, 2014

#293 / Two Magazines

Last Tuesday, I got two magazines in my mailbox. One was In These Times, a magazine dedicated to the issues that political progressives care about most. The second magazine was Campaigns & Elections, which advertises itself as "the magazine for people in politics." I have subscribed to both of these magazines for years.

The main focus for the September/October 2014 issue of Campaigns & Elections was GOTV ("Get Out The Vote"). Campaigns & Elections is a magazine for political "professionals," and this edition suggested a number of techniques that might be able to convince political supporters actually to cast a vote for a particular candidate, something that those eligible to vote (and even those registered to vote) are increasingly unwilling to do. In essence, the techniques touted by the magazine were a list of ways to manipulate individuals to do what the campaign professional wanted to get them to do. 

The November issue of In These Times, pictured above, contained an abbreviated presentation of the arguments made by Naomi Klein in her recent book, This Changes Everything. That article is well worth reading. What grabbed my attention, however, was another article in this edition, written about Stanley Aronowitz. Aronowitz is urging the labor movement to go "post political."

What does "post political" mean?

It means that unions (or any of us) need to stop thinking that electoral politics is the way to achieve the kind of fundamental economic and social change that progressives think is most necessary. Direct action is the alternative advanced by Aronowitz, particularly for labor unions, which have lots of independent power. 

If you are tired of being manipulated by the political "professionals," whether on behalf of President Obama, the Democratic Party, or some right-wing gun group, the answer is not to discover more adroit techniques of manipulation (as per the recommendations of Campaigns & Elections). Instead, the solution is to shift the focus from electoral politics to strikes and other forms of direct action to achieve the objectives that our ever more "professional" politics is failing to deliver. 

As a person who successfully ran for elected office five times (and who lost once!), I am always fascinated by the latest campaign techniques. That's why I am still a subscriber to Campaigns & Elections

But to make the changes we really need?

I'm with Aronowitz.

Image Credits: 
(1) -
(2) -

Saturday, October 18, 2014

#292 / Traffic

A friend sent me this photo. According to her note, this image represents "the longest traffic jam in the world -- recorded in China. Its length is 260 kilometers [and that's 161 MILES, folks!]."

To me, this picture provides an excellent illustration of the fallacies of individualism.

Image Credit:

Friday, October 17, 2014

#291 / After The Earthquake

The picture above was taken on September 15, 2011. It pretty much depicts the Santa Cruz downtown as it currently appears. 

Twenty five years ago, things were different. I am programming this blog entry for publication at exactly 5:04 p.m. today, October 17th. At that exact time on October 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit Santa Cruz. The pictures below give some feel for what Pacific Avenue looked like, after the earthquake. Among other things, the earthquake stopped the Town Clock.

On Sunday, November 19, 1989, a little over a month after the earthquake, and at 5:04 p.m., the Town Clock was started up again. As the Chairperson of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors at that time, I was privileged to be able to speak at that ceremony. Here is what I said: 

It is hard, my friends, to say all the things that have happened to us. The events we have experienced confound us greatly. They raise questions in our minds. What is it, this city that we love so much?

Is a city the brick and the mortar - the wood, and glass; the concrete and the steel? Is a city the materials we make it of? Is a city the odd corners and the passages - the secrets; the alleys and the backdoors; the plazas; the curbsides; all the strange spaces that make it up? Is it the fragrances we breathe in the city streets - the coffee and the smoke; and flowers, sometimes; fir trees at Christmas; soap; cookies baking; the autos going by? Is our city the noises we hear - the disturbances down the block (we turn and look); the Salvation Army Band; the bells from the fire tower; the Town Clock's gong? Is the city the spoken conversations we hear, as we pass in fleeting moments - is the city all that?

Or light? The light dying down, at five o'clock, reflecting from the windows; hard at noontimes, sometimes, picking out the colors in the textures of the walls? Or the textures? Is the city all the different textures that we know - sandstone, grainy to the touch on the Cooper House wall (run your fingers over it); old wooden storefronts, with cracking paint; tiles and stucco; all that we touch, that touches us?

If that is what the city is, we've lost those things. We've lost those things that belong to us - that were our city: the particular light, in particular and specific spaces, that composed themselves "just so," for us; the smells, and the noises, and the textures of the street that was our street.

It was ours - and theirs! The other ones - the ones who made it; the ones who came before us: each space; each stone; each store - a legacy.

We've lost those pieces of history that composed our present. Some of us have lost our lives, as our city came apart. It confounds us greatly. It raises questions. It raises questions what history we shall make.

For a city is bricks, and mortar, and space, and light - the touch and the textures, and the noises in the street, and all that pertains to the lives we lead.

And while we live, we are the city. The realities we leave behind us, when we go, are the ones we make. With good will, and great visions, the city we build will be an opportunity realized; the spirit, speaking; our dreams come true.

Our dreams, and our spirit, we have not lost. 

Image Credits: 
(1) - Personal Photo
(2) -

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#290 / Something Different From A Cargo Cult

I studied "cargo cults" in my anthropology class, when I was an undergraduate student at Stanford University. Click the link just above if you'd like to see what Wikipedia has to say about them.

Somehow, out of that long ago study in the only anthropology class I ever took, the cargo cult phenomenon popped into my mind last Tuesday, as I was writing about the nature of our "free market" financial system. Belief in the "free market" system, as a way to deliver economic benefits, is a lot like a cargo cult. Believers keep waiting around for their ship to come in.

I have always loved Bob Dylan's song, which also talks about the ship coming in. The lyrics to the song are printed below. You can hear the music by clicking the title.

Dylan's not talking about any cargo cult. Do a close reading and you will see that we're going to be ON that ship, not waiting for it.

When The Ship Comes In

Oh the time will come up 
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin’
Like the stillness in the wind
’Fore the hurricane begins
The hour when the ship comes in
Oh the seas will split
And the ship will hit
And the sands on the shoreline will be shaking
Then the tide will sound
And the wind will pound
And the morning will be breaking
Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls they’ll be smiling
And the rocks on the sand
Will proudly stand
The hour that the ship comes in
And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they’re spoken
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean
A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck
The hour that the ship comes in
Then the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a-touchin’
And the ship’s wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin’
Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in
Then they’ll raise their hands
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered
And like Pharoah’s tribe
They’ll be drownded in the tide
And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered

Image Credit: