Sunday, June 26, 2016

#178 / Look-Alike Politics: Johnson And Trump

Pictured above is Boris Johnson, formerly the Mayor of London, and one of the main advocates for the recent decision by Britain to leave the European Union. After this "Brexit" vote, Johnson may well end up being the next British Prime Minister. When I saw that picture, in the June 25-26 edition of The Wall Street Journal, I thought Johnson looked a lot like Donald Trump. Trump, of course, may end up being the next President of the United States.

Google's facial recognition software confirmed my impression (at least somewhat). When the above photograph of Johnson is imported into Google "Images," one of the matches that comes up is the photo immediately below. Admittedly, "Images" finds a lot of pictures of NASCAR drivers, too, and calls them a match, but Trump is identified by software as a Johnson look-alike. I mean, if you need software to confirm your own impression.

Many commentators have noted political similarities between Johnson and Trump, and these are perhaps more important than the physiognomic similarities.

The Wall Street Journal article that featured the picture of Johnson called the British election a "rebuke to the establishment."

An opinion piece in the same edition of The Journal was titled, "A Peasant Revolt Upends Britain's Ruling Elite."

The June 25, 2016 edition of The New York Times also covered the British vote, and had a front-page article with this headline, as the article appeared in the hard copy version of The Times: "Strength of Populist Revolt Is Felt on Both Sides of the Atlantic."

For those who would not like to see Mr. Trump as the next President of the United States, and I am betting that this includes many who are reading this posting, I suggest that we all need to pay attention to the results in Britain.

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister who lost the election to the Donald Trump look-alike, isn't exactly the same as Hillary Clinton, of course. He is, among other things, of a different gender; however, there are some similarities. For instance, Cameron's last name begins with a "C," just as Clinton's does. More pertinent than either gender or the orthography of the two politicians' last names, and I am sure you will agree with this, is the basic political background and political predispositions of Cameron and Clinton. There really are some substantive points in common.

Cameron is a basically decent, experienced, hard-working, national political leader whose record indicates that he was more responsive to the nation's elites than to its common people. Hence, the "peasant" or "populist" revolt that gave rise to the vote to leave the European Union.

Favoring the elites over the ordinary people wasn't a winning formula for Cameron.

I doubt it will work for Clinton, either, who very much shares with Cameron a propensity to hang out with the elite types!

So, here's my advice. If, come November, we want to stay away from a look-alike politics in the United States, with Donald Trump becoming our next President, then the upcoming campaign for the Presidency had better put the Democratic Party clearly on the side of the 99%, not the 1%.

If that doesn't happen, there is every reason to think that Hillary Clinton, our "political ace," may just get Trumped!

Image Credits: 
(1) -
(2) -

Saturday, June 25, 2016

#177 / Those Graduation Speeches

On Sunday, June 12th, I took part in the Stevenson College graduation ceremonies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This picture proves it. 

A couple of days earlier, on June 10th, I attended the Legal Studies and Politics Reception for graduating seniors. This reception was held at the Merrill College Provost's House. I have no pictures to document my presence, but here's what I heard from two student speakers, representing their graduating colleagues in the Politics Department, and in the Legal Studies Program (in which I have been teaching over the past several years).

Jack Davis, speaking for graduating seniors in the Politics major, pretty much echoed what I have recently been writing about in these blog postings. A healthy politics demands discussion and debate, and all views must be heard. Apparently, Davis works as a stand up comic. It showed. Hannah Arendt would have been proud of his presentation, but he made the message into something that seemed to be a lot more fun than Arendt's  essays.

Speaking for graduating seniors in the Legal Studies major was Emmanuel Garcia, one of my own students. He had a sober message to deliver, and one that was right on point.

In politics, says Emmaneul, persistence pays off: PRESS ON.

Hannah Arendt would have agreed with that advice, too!
Image Credit:
Personal Photo - Gary A. Patton

Friday, June 24, 2016

#176 / Outside The Gates

In the world we most immediately inhabit, in that world we create by what we do, in the human world, in that political world that is the product of our choices, the world that is the "civilization" that is our glory, it is opinion, not truth, that determines the debate. 

Since this is so, we should be wary of placing too much weight on what we are so certain must be right. 

At times I think there are no words 
But these to tell what's true 
There are no truths 
Outside the Gates of Eden.

Image Credit:

Thursday, June 23, 2016

#175 / Not About The Truth

Politics is never about truth. It is about opinion. We may be right to believe that Islamic fundamentalism is wrong (as are many if not most fundamentalisms); but that belief is an opinion not a truth. It is an opinion that has emerged over time through persuasion. If that opinion is to be maintained, it must be persuasive. We must argue for it and convince the majority that it is correct. That is why it is essential that we allow those who disagree to make their arguments. We should listen to fundamentalists and argue with them, not dismiss them, caricature them, or punish them. That is the best way we can truly confront, disagree with, and defeat our enemies. The same is true for those who are racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic.

The statement above is from Roger Berkowitz, commenting on Hannah Arendt's view of politics. The illustration is a pictorial depiction of one of my favorite poems, The Blind Men And The Elephant, by American poet John Godfrey Saxe

It is not ours to know "the truth," in the sense that we can ever "prove it." At least, not in our human world. In the World of Nature, where the laws are called "laws" because they perfectly describe what actually happens, the concept of a provable "truth" has some pertinence. 

But not in our human world. We live in a world of "opinion," not "truth;" that is, we live in a "political" world. In that political world, the laws are not descriptive but prescriptive. They tell us not what will or must do, but what we want to do. In the human world that we create, "laws" are not discovered; they are made, and in any democratic society, persuasion is an absolute prerequisite. That's what Berkowitz says. That's what Arendt says.

They're right!

Image Credit:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#174 / An American Tragedy

The picture above was used to illustrate an article in Counterpunch.  The image is not that different from the image I used for my June 18, 2016 blog posting, "Generals For Gun Control." Both images depict aerial bombardments of villages in Vietnam.

The Counterpunch article from which the photo is taken is titled, "When Phoenix Came to Thanh Phong: Bob Kerrey And War Crimes As Policy In Vietnam." The article tells a horrific story, of which I was unaware until this Monday. Here is a synopsis of what the Counterpunch article says: 

On May 16, 2016, former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey was named chairman of Fulbright University, a US-backed college with ties to the State Department in Ho Chi Minh City [Vietnam]. During his recent visit to Vietnam, President Barack Obama heaped praise on Kerrey, a former Navy SEAL who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. What Obama failed to mention is that Kerrey also supervised one of the most atrocious war crimes of that ghastly war. The unit he lead killed women and children during an assassination mission in 1969. Some of the victims had their throats slit. Instead of being charged with war crimes, Kerrey was awarded a Medal of Honor for his role in another operation that year in Nha Trong Bay. Today we reprint Douglas Valentine’s ground-breaking piece on Kerrey’s raid on Thanh Phong Village that appear[ed]in the May 2001 edition of CounterPunch.

I became aware of what happened in Thanh Phong from another article. That article was published in the Monday, June 20, 2016 edition of The New York Times. The Times' article was written by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and was titled, "The 'American Tragedy' of Vietnam." It took issue with Kerrey's recent appointment as Chairman of the American-sponsored Fulbright University Vietnam. That school, established by the Fulbright "Trust For University Innovation In Vietnam (TUIV)," proclaims itself as "the first private, nonprofit Vietnamese university founded on the principles of accountability, meritocracy, transparency, self-governance, mutual respect, and open inquiry."

Let's just highlight the "accountability" part of that grand pronouncement. As Viet Thanh Nguyen implies, one might question how much "accountability" is being demonstrated by the University when it puts a person in charge of the school who led a team of Navy SEALS to kill twenty unarmed Vietnamese civilians, including women and children.

Read both articles. They are worthwhile. I want simply to highlight one point, made by Viet Thanh Nguyen. He quite properly says that the Vietnam war is now, largely, regarded in the United States as an "American Tragedy," with Americans paying scant attention to what happened to the Vietnamese victims of American actions.

The true "tragedy," for me, is that the United States government (unchecked by the American people) appears to have learned nothing from its atrocious conduct in Vietnam. As I pointed out on Saturday, we are now bombing the villages of innocent persons living in various countries in the Middle East, and U.S. troops are on the ground, carrying out missions not unlike the mission that former Senator Kerrey carried out in Vietnam.

I was part of an antiwar movement that finally, after years of struggle by antiwar activists, compelled the United States government to end the War in Vietnam. I thought, at the time, that the ultimately successful efforts to stop that war would surely mean the end of any future such wars by my country. 

I was wrong, and THAT is a tragedy, indeed! The tragedy can be called "American" only because it is the United States that perpetuates the tragedy, and that continues to kill and destroy in the name of "democracy," supposedly acting for me. 

And for you.

Image Credit:

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

#173 / BEE - Ware

On Tuesday, June 14th, the Watsonville City Council decided to deny a request by Verizon Wireless that the company be permitted to erect a cell tower on property located on Ohlone Parkway. One of the people who testified at the City Council hearing gave me a copy of the above publication, by Ulrich Warnke, which discusses the impact of electromagnetic radiation on bees and other species. Warnke claims that electromagnetic radiation is "disrupting nature on a massive scale."

This issue was absolutely NOT a factor in the Watsonville City Council decision. In fact, the City Council was prohibited from even thinking about the environmental impacts of the electromagnetic radiation associated with cell towers.

Just so you know, here is what the United States Congress has said about this issue:

No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions ...   
(47 U.S. Code Section 332 - Mobile Services)

Is this a good thing? Maybe not, at least according to Pearls Before Swine, which is one of my favorite reasons to pick up the comic section of the newspaper each morning:

Image Credit:
(1) - Personal Photograph - Gary A. Patton
(2) -

Monday, June 20, 2016

#172 / Those Lying Politicians

Corey Robin is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin and Fear: The History of a Political Idea

In an article titled, "When Advertising is Action: Clarence Thomas Channels Hannah Arendt and Friedrich von Hayek," Robin has something rather thought-provoking to say about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Robin cites Thomas' recent concurring opinion in a Supreme Court decision that struck down a Massachusetts ban on tobacco advertising as a defense of political speech: 

Promoting a product that is not yet pervasively used (or a cause that is not yet widely supported) is a primary purpose of advertising. Tobacco advertisements would be no more misleading for suggesting pervasive use of tobacco products than are any other advertisements that attempt to expand a market for a product, or to rally support for a political movement. Any inference from the advertisements that business would like for tobacco use to be pervasive is entirely reasonable, and advertising that gives rise to that inference is in now way deceptive.

According to Robin, the phrase bolded above, in Thomas' opinion, shows that Thomas appreciates what advertising, including political advertising, is really all about (misleading those subjected to that advertising), and that this defense of political "lying" is a very good thing. 

In his concurring opinion in Lorillard Tobacco Company v. Reilly, Thomas is mainly interested in defending the right of commercial interests to be able to mislead consumers, but Robin salutes the idea that the right of political interests to do the same thing, where the voters are concerned, is the essence of First Amendment free speech.

Roger Berkowitz, Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, validates Arendt's support for the point that Robin is making: 

Robin is correct that Arendt understands the political role of the liar. Politics for Arendt is about opinion and some opinions are absolutely essential to our liberal democratic world. For example, the idea that "All men are equal" is one of those lies, those fictions, that Arendt argues is a great achievement of modern politics. Of course not all men are equal in any factual sense. But the political conviction that we are politically equal underlies the possibility of politics. Such is the kind of political lying that Arendt recognizes as important.

"Lying," and "lying politicians," are not much celebrated, at least normally, so the supportive words of Robin and Berkowitz should stimulate our thinking. Berkowitz does caution us about the dangers of political lying, as indicated in the long quotation below. But before addressing the caution, let us understand the positive point that both Robin and Berkowitz (and Arendt) are making.

In politics, the essence of which is debate and discussion, controversy and conflict, resulting in a decision about what we should, collectively, do, it is imperative that no "authority," like the current government, be able to say that certain ideas, or certain aspirational statements are "lies," or are "misleading," or are "untrue." By stifling political speech on the basis that it is full of "lies," a government exemplifies the kind of totalitarian control over speech that is the opposite of democratic debate.

"Free speech" must actually be "free," and permitting the prevailing authorities to decide that some speech is "misleading," and thus that it should be banned, is a short route to dictatorship. 

"Lying" is "central to politics," says Berkowitz, in the edition of the Amor Mundi newsletter published on Sunday, June 12th (click this link if you'd like to sign up), but his defense of "political lying" having been made, Berkowitz ends with a warning. Hoping that you have absorbed the point just made, above, I will end this post by letting Berkowitz tell us just why lying in politics is a huge danger (as well as an inevitable component of a politics based on free speech).

At a time when the Republican Party nominee for President is clearly a liar, and when the Democratic Party nominee has also been caught in significant prevarications, the following words of warning from Berkowitz are pertinent: 

As central as Lying may be to politics, certain lies corrode politics. The lies we should worry about, Arendt writes, are those active lies whereby facts are denied and alternative realities are created. When deception, spin, and propaganda become the driving forces of politics, facts retreat behind the need for consistent talking points and coherent narratives. The essence of totalitarian rule is the elimination of those facts and persons whose reality counters the coherent fiction underlying the state. And even in non-totalitarian states, the reduction of facts to simply another opinion corrodes the common sense and shared world that underlies a civil and engaged political sphere. The possibility of politics depends upon the continued availability of commonly accepted facts and pre-political truths that bind a polity together.

In a time of seemingly infinite information, we are experiencing unprecedented doubt about facts. All kinds of "authoritative" claims made by leading public figures turn out to be little more than thin air. Facts, as Arendt saw, are all around us being reduced to opinions; and opinions masquerade as facts. As fact and opinion blur together, the very idea of factual truth falls away. And increasingly the belief in and aspiration for factual truth is being expunged from political argument.

While Arendt understood that lying could be useful and even was the essence of some politics, she also knew that the loss of factual truth in the political realm is an existential threat to politics and also to human life in general. Arendt rejects the classical maxim fiat justitia, et pereat mundus (Let justice be done, even if the world perish); instead she endorses the reformulation: Fiat veritas, et pereat mundus. Let Truth be done, though the world may perish. Her point is simple: We cannot give up on truth-even if it means the end of the world! This is because the loss of truth leads to the loss of the world. Without truth, without the ability to say what is, there is no permanence, no common world. The danger is that when truth disappears, the world wobbles. We lose our bearings. We lose what holds us together-the common sense and common assumptions-that are the furniture and stability of our human world.

Arendt's worry is that when truth is impossible, when truth disappears, when the world wobbles, the result is cynicism. As she writes: "It has frequently been noticed that the surest long-term result of brainwashing is a peculiar kind of cynicism-an absolute refusal to believe in the truth of anything, no matter how well this truth may be established." In other words, the danger from a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will win out-that is highly unlikely. Rather, the danger posed by the demise of factual truth is the victory of cynicism, the belief that it is simply not possible to "say what is." What cynicism means is that the sense of factual truth from which we take our bearings in the real world is wasting away.

Image Credit:

Sunday, June 19, 2016

#171 / Comparisons

Those familiar with the various functionalities of Facebook will understand that certain Facebook postings, once posted and forgotten, can come back from the past. Facebook picks out past postings, by some algorithm that Facebook knows, but does not reveal to its users, and suggests to the Facebook user that such past postings should be posted once again. Generally, such suggestions from Facebook come with an advisory that "you have memories...."

I do have memories. No doubt about that! My memory is probably not all that reliable, though, when I am challenged to remember events and feelings over forty years old. 

The photo above is over forty years old, depicting a very much younger Gary Patton, during my first term on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. I was only twenty-nine years old when I was first elected to the Board, in 1974, and at that time I was the youngest County Supervisor in the State of California. I had posted this picture to my Facebook page about a year ago, I guess, and Facebook thought it was time to let my Facebook Friends see it once again. 

Did Facebook know that this photo was actually a memory from forty years ago, not one year ago? I don't know, but I do know that when I did post the photo again, about a week or so ago, the photo stimulated lots of comments from those who remembered me from way back when. One Facebook Friend asked this question: "Were you happier then?"

In thinking about how to respond to that inquiry, I realized that I couldn't really say that I was happier in 1975, when the picture was taken. And I couldn't really say I wasn't happier, either. Upon reflection, I don't think it is my failing memory that makes it impossible for me to give any kind of a confident answer to what seems like a reasonable question, "were you happier then?"

My mother often told me that "comparisons are odious." That is a venerable piece of advice, which apparently dates from the mid 15th century. The phrase was so common in Shakespeare's time that he could make fun of it, having Dogberry, in Much Ado About Nothing, claim that a comparison was "odorous."

The process of comparison can lead to an implicit suggestion that different things can be made to compete against each other, to the end that one of the things can be determined to be, in some way, "better" than the other. I think that this is likely a mistaken way to try to make sense of the world, because different people, different things, different experiences, and different times of life are not, really, in competition at all. They are just different, not better or worse. Celebrating differences, not ranking them in terms of what is "better" or "worse," is actually the most accurate way to evaluate the world in which we live. Our world is nothing but differences, all the way up and all the way down!

Was I happier then? Not the right question, I think. I was happy then. I am happy now. Happy every day,

Happy just to be alive, underneath that sky of blue!

Image Credit:
Personal Photograph - Gary Patton

Saturday, June 18, 2016

#170 / Generals For Gun Control

Stanley McChrystal is a retired General in the United States Army. In other words, this is a guy who knows about guns (and other weapons). In an opinion piece in the June 17, 2016 edition of The New York Times, McChrystal came out in favor of gun control legislation, to "keep guns out of the hands of those who cannot be trusted to handle them responsibly." 

What we need to avoid, said McChrystal, is a situation in which "our communities ... feel like war zones." McChrystal's article bore this title: "Home Should Not Be A War Zone."

I want to join with McChrystal in saying that "home should not be a war zone." But let me ask this question: Does that same principle apply to Iraq? Or to Afghanistan? And what about Syria? What about Libya? Presumably, we all remember the pictures of what United States military operations, some of them directly commanded by McChrystal, did in those countries. U.S. Military operations have turned the homes of other nations into "war zones," with drone strikes, on the ground military operations, naval bombardments and aircraft bombing runs. The picture below is from Iraq, and is labeled as "collateral damage." We started that war. McChrystal played a leading role in causing scenes like this one: 

In the article from which the above picture was taken, readers are reminded that the United States has a long history of bombing the homes of other peoples "back to the stone age," to use the colorful, but largely accurate, language of General Curtis LeMay. Here for nostalgia buffs, is a picture of a United States aviator destroying Ben Tre, a village in Vietnam: 

There is at least some evidence that the recent and horrific events in Orlando, Florida were the result of someone trying to achieve retribution, in this country, for what this country is doing to the homes of those living in countries that the United States government has decided have something to do with "terrorism." 

Ask the ordinary people whose homes are being destroyed by the United States military who they think the terrorists are. Their answer will almost certainly be that the greatest purveyor of terror today is the United States government (and specifically its military troops and the private contractors who have properly been identified by Bob Dylan as the Masters of War). 

Want to stop terrorist efforts from targeting U.S. communities, and trying to turn them into war zones? Let's stop doing to others what we do not want them to do unto us!

Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) and (3) -

Friday, June 17, 2016

#169 / Signs Of The Times

This sign, I am told, was posted along the beach at a coastal hotel in Turkey, some years ago. Who knows what that sign was really supposed to mean? 

Whatever the occasion that resulted in the posting of that sign, it does strike me that there is something profoundly true about the observation that while we all wish to protect the environment (including bird habitat, of course), it is our passing, "restless" nature that results in our failure to do that. 

If we would just live inside the natural environment as we find it, instead of trying, always, with restless energy, to make a few "improvements," to do a bit of "development," we would never have to apologize. 

Image Credit: 
Personal Photo: Alan Holbert

Thursday, June 16, 2016

#168 / Gene Drive

Here is what Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, says about the term "gene drive."

Gene Drive is the practice of stimulating biased inheritance of particular genes to alter entire populations. Possible alterations include adding, disrupting, or modifying genes, including some that reduce reproductive capacity and may cause a population crash ... Synthetic genetic modules with similar properties have been developed as a powerful technique for genome editing of laboratory population. It has also been proposed as a technique for changing wild populations, for instance to combat insects that spread diseases (in particular mosquitoes in the cases of malaria and zika), to control invasive species, or to eliminate herbicide or pesticide resistance ... Because it is a way to artificially bias inheritance of desired genes, gene drive constitutes a major change in biotechnology. The potentially huge impact of releasing gene drives in the wild raises major bioethics concerns regarding their development and management.
Hank Greely is a professor at Stanford Law School, and is the Director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences. He is also a professor (by courtesy) of Genetics, at the Stanford School of Medicine, the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Center for Biomedical Ethics, and the Director of the Stanford Program in Neuroscience and Society. Writing about gene drive in Stanford's Law and Biosciences Blog, Greely says this: 

Gene drives, which use genome editing (and especially CRISPR/Cas9) to push edited variations of genes through whole populations at great speed, are perhaps the most exciting and frightening products of new biotechnologies, giving humans more control than ever over all life on Earth.

In an article by Heidi Ledford, a Boston-based reporter for Nature, we are warned that "Fast-Spreading Genetic Mutations Pose an Ecological Risk." In essence, though her article never uses the term, Ledford is imploring us to consider the "precautionary principle" where "gene drive" technologies are concerned.

Nature, it appears, is trying to provide a public service by giving its non-scientist readers a "heads up" about what is happening in the "gene drive" arena. The Ledford article refers to another article published in Nature, this one by Kevin EsveltLike Ledford, Esvelt is calling for scientists to be a bit cautious before fully deploying their recently-acquired ability to "engineer" future life.

Just to be clear, however, Esvelt heads a group called "Sculpting Evolution," which proclaims that its mission is "engineering biology in the light of evolution." Given that mission, it's clear that while Esvelt is cognizant that caution may be called for, he is far from being "against" the idea of "gene drive" on principle.

I am in favor of caution, but I'd go further. I would like to raise a fundamental objection. "Gene drive," and "sculpting evolution," suggests that human beings should now appoint themselves the architects of life on Planet Earth. Start small, Esvelt and Ledford might say, but neither suggests that any fundamental roadblock to "sculpting evolution" should be erected.

I am in the contrary camp. I agree with Greely that this prospect is "frightening."

We are, inevitably, "creatures," and I think we should focus on "engineering" the human world, the world that we do, in fact, have responsibility for creating and maintaining. This human world lives "within" the World of Nature upon which we (and every other living thing) ultimately depend. Efforts by human beings to start using genetic engineering techniques, like "gene drive," to let human beings determine the future characteristics of all living organisms will quite likely result in the manufacture of monsters.

Image Credit:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

#167 / Rush, Rush, Rush

In the Summer 2016 edition of Earth Island Journal, John de Graaf has written about "Finding Time For Our Parks." de Graaf notes that "a generation ago, the average Yosemite visitor spent 48 hours at the park." Today, the average visit lasts 4.8 hours. "Rush, rush, rush" is how one staff person at the park put it. "I see that every day."

Many of us say (it's a common complaint) that we need "more time." 

Step Into Nature. Slow down. You'll have "more time."

de Graaf's article points out that many park visitors, nowadays, experience our National Parks only through a camera lens. We are consumed, in other words, not with experiencing Nature directly, but with our efforts to render Nature subservient to our own created realities, the photo albums we put together, to show where we've been, to show we've been alive. 

That is a mistake! It is always a mistake to think that our assignment here on Earth is to subject the World of Nature to our human projects. Rather, what we need to do is to give up on our own projects as a primary purpose, and to make primary in our life a celebration of the World of Nature that sustains all that exists.

Want more time? Step Into Nature. Slow down. You'll have "more time."

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.
       - William Blake

Image Credit:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

#166 / Happy Face

Gregg Easterbrook thinks (citing to Warren Buffett) that "the babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history." 

Equating newly-born human beings to an agricultural commodity seems somewhat inopportune to me, and I wonder what Buffett knows about agriculture, anyway, since his investment list doesn't seem to include any major positions in agricultural enterprises. Buffett's statement may just be a metaphor run amuck.  

At any rate, if you haven't been having the kind of positive thoughts that Easterbrook and Buffett are espousing, it may be because optimism has become "uncool." You can check out Easterbrook's argument to that effect right here

I have always had an on again/off again romance with optimism. My father (Buffett style) pretty much demanded that I adhere to an optimistic forecast about the future of the world, and about my personal future. I argued, consistently, that the end was near. "Nah," said my Dad; "it's always been this way."

Now that I am older, and supposedly wiser, have I come around to my father's view? Well, definitely not completely. I truly do believe, as my father always argued, that possibility is unlimited, so I am not daunted by the very real difficulties that we (including the latest "crop" of humans) now confront. My experience with politics has convinced me that we don't have to let things "happen to us," but that we can make them happen the way we want. This is a radically "optimistic" thought.

This observation about possibility, however, is limited to an optimism about what we can achieve as we seek to build and sustain a "human" or "political" world that will respond to our deepest hopes and aspirations. I am just as clear that human beings misuse the power of optimism to act as if the obvious limits upon our actions, imposed by our position as creatures within a World of Nature upon which we ultimately depend, are not really limits at all.

There are real limits imposed by Nature, and we are pushing those limits beyond (it appears) the inflection point at which the inherent resilience of Nature can be relied upon to support our human enterprise.

To the degree, thus, that it has become "uncool" to succumb to a mindless sort of optimism that says that things are inevitably going to get better, just because "progress" is somehow baked in to the nature of reality, we are coming around to a more appropriate evaluation of where we are and what challenges we face. 

My Dad's argument that we can make real changes, and prevail, and that we should always be optimistic about our chances to do that, remains a bottom line truth for me. 

I'm with the optimists, but in the spirit of Antonio Gramsci, and his much-quoted statement that he is "a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will."

Let's do away with the "Happy Face" approach to "optimism." That would be my counsel to the "newest crop."

Image Credit:

Monday, June 13, 2016

#165 / Trumped!

This image, like Donald Trump himself, is hard to ignore. I found it on a blog posting by David Weinberger, who writes, mainly, about the effect of tech on our ideas

In his blog posting entitled, "How Donald Trump Hijacked the Authenticity of the Web," Weinberger claims that Trump appears to be "authentic," even "honest," because political discourse has succumbed to a standard of "political correctness" that makes virtually all political speech seem somewhat deceptive and fraudulent. 

In other words, by saying the politically incorrect thing, Trump gets credit for "speaking truth to power," and for an honesty and straightforwardness to which he is most emphatically not entitled.

Weinberger's observation is worth thinking about, particularly as those who hope for an honest political discourse think about how to "trump" the advantage that "The Donald" has managed to obtain by his ruthless and brutal disregard for good breeding and the truth.

Image Credit:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

#164 / Returning The Favor

God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.
                  -- Variously attributed

According to the Impolite Company website, the quotation above has been credited to Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Among others, probably!

Recently, I heard someone articulate the quote the other way around: 

Man created God in his own image, and then God returned the favor.
That way of putting it may well be the underlying message of "The Creation of Adam," the fresco painting by Michelangelo that is reproduced above. The original "Creation" graces the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and physician Frank Meshberger has observed that Michelangelo's depiction has God emerging from "a perfect anatomical illustration of the human brain in cross section." 

One possible interpretation of the fresco, thus, is that God appears out of the human brain to create Adam. Human consciousness precedes God, and makes God appear, and then God "returns the favor." The human precedes the divine. 

While that is one possible deconstruction of "The Creation of Adam," based on Meshberger's observation about the depiction of the human brain in Michelangelo's fresco, the interpretation Meshberger actually proposed in his article in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, has the polarity running the other way. 

As R. Douglas Fields reports, in an article in Scientific American, Meshberger speculates that "Michelangelo surrounded God with a shroud representing the human brain to suggest that God was endowing Adam not only with life, but also with supreme human intelligence." In this way of looking at it, the divine precedes the human. 

Anyone who reads this Two Worlds blog regularly, or even sporadically, knows that I adhere to a "Two Worlds" understanding of reality. Within the world we most immediately inhabit, the "human world," a "political world" that we ourselves create, and that we most typically call "civilization," the human comes first. In fact, everything within the human realm is created by human beings, and that includes, of course, the concept of "God," as that concept is employed within those very human institutions that we call the "major religions of the world."

Religions, in my view, are indubitably "human" in origin, and human beings have created the depictions and explanations of the divinity that appear within the various human religions. This confession should comfort some of my friends, who believe that my one year in theological seminary may have warped my cognitive capacities. One point for the atheists!

However, my understanding of reality is that we do live, ultimately, in the World of Nature, a world upon which we are radically dependent, governed by laws that we cannot amend, and to which we are inevitably subject. The World of Nature is a world we most emphatically did not create. We are born into that World of Nature, and our existence is a gift from an unknown Giver. I will never quarrel with anyone who says that God has created that World (and us).

In my way of thinking, in other words, the polarity runs both ways, and if we want to assign some sort of primacy, as between the idea that humans create God, or that God creates humans, the most proper understanding is actually the one articulated by Iris DeMent in her wonderful song, "Let The Mystery Be."

In the beginning, according to the Bible, God created the Heavens and the Earth (the World of Nature), but since Eden is in the rearview now, we're in charge of a human world that we create. In our world, we are doing the driving. 

Considering the World of Nature, so majestic, so inspiring, so providing of resources upon which all life depends, is it wrong to think that the Creator of this world (person or process) must actually have done so out of we call love?

That is my conclusion. 

And I would like to suggest that we, where we are, return the favor.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

#163 / War Without End

The June/July 2016 edition of Connections, published by the Peace & Justice Network of San Joaquin County, reprinted an important article from The Guardian, entitled, "Obama is bullish on war, no matter how you spin it."

Having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, the President would undoubtedly like to emphasize his commitment to peace, and to "spin it" that way. Nice try, Mr. President! The fact is, as Trevor Timm says in his article in The Guardian:

Barack Obama has now been at war longer than any president in United States history ... Barring some sort of peace miracle in the next six months, he will be the only president who ever served two full terms in office while constantly being at war. And given how he has transformed how the US fights overseas, his wars will likely continue long after he leaves office.

Prior to President Obama's recent visit to Hiroshima, where he called for an "end to nuclear weapons," Tri-Valley CARES called on the President to "Walk The Talk." This seems to be a particularly appropriate suggestion, since while the President has traveled to Japan to call for an "end to nuclear weapons," the President's budget, as presented to Congress right at home in Washington, D.C., proposes a 30-year, one trillion dollar program to "upgrade every aspect of [America's] nuclear arsenal, including with new warheads, missiles, subs, bombers and nuclear weapons production facilities."

Here's a reprint of the article. Let's not let our war without end truly "spin out of control!"

Walk the Talk, Mr. President

This week the White House formally announced that Barack Obama will become the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima, Japan on May 27, 2016.

Secretary of State John Kerry went to Hiroshima last month. His visit was widely seen as a “trial balloon,” presaging the just-announced Presidential journey. Marylia Kelley told Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, “Kerry went empty-handed. The United States needs to go with a concrete plan to roll back its own nuclear weapons program. You cannot preach abstinence, in terms of nuclear weapons, from the biggest bar stool in the room.”

The U.S. continues to rely heavily on nuclear weapons and is embarking on a $1 trillion program over 30 years to upgrade every aspect of its nuclear arsenal, including with new warheads, missiles, subs, bombers and nuclear weapons production facilities.

Herein coexist a fundamental policy contradiction, a huge challenge for peace activists and, quite possibly, an unparalleled opportunity to influence the future.

Tri-Valley CAREs and colleague organizations are urging President Obama not to go to Hiroshima empty-handed. We are not asking Obama for a big speech full of lofty rhetoric and fancy words. Our message is: “Actions speak louder than words, Mr. President.”

We are calling on President Obama to take concrete action to roll back aggressive U.S. nuclear weapons programs. The President should use the visit to announce:

  • Curtailment of U.S. nuclear weapons “modernization” efforts, including cancellation of a new stealth-attack Long-Range Stand Off warhead and cruise missile; 
  • Removal of U.S. nuclear warheads from their current “hair trigger” high-alert status that could lead to nuclear war at a moment’s notice, including by accident;
  • Further reductions in U.S. deployed and so-called “reserve” nuclear weapons stockpiles; and
  • Initiation of negotiations for the global abolition of nuclear weapons as required by Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and to accomplish their elimination within a time-bound framework.

Now is the time for genuine action for nuclear disarmament, and what better place for the U.S. President to announce it than in Hiroshima, where on August 6, 1945 the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb used in war. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki. More than 200,000 perished in the two cities, mostly civilians. Today, the remaining Hibakusha (survivors) still carry the scars, suffer longstanding health effects and are dying because of their exposure.

President Obama created high expectations in 2009 in Prague when he announced “America’s commitment to the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” On Tuesday, Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security advisor, wrote that Obama's trip to Hiroshima would reaffirm that commitment.

Our challenge as peace activists: Make the first sitting U.S. President’s visit to Hiroshima mean more than the symbolism and a “photo op” and some pretty words. Make it count, Mr. President!

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Friday, June 10, 2016

#162 / Doomer Porn

The Great Change blog calls information about global warming "Doomer Porn." That's a pretty creative description, and there's a lot of it, too. In fact, by clicking The Great Change link, you will get access to an abundance of information, in the form of graphs, "more than 40 visual images of what is transpiring in the real world, outside our cultural filters."

I am not at all confident that this kind of "porn" is going to "get us off."

I am pretty certain that something needs to "get us off," as in "get us off our rear ends and shake us up." As this entry in The Great Change blog tells us, "the greatest impediment to Earth’s ecological recovery is not her ability to heal. Our planet still has that, even at this late date. The greatest impediment is human cultural and cognitive inertia."

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

#161 / Participatory Readiness

The image above, depicting a rural "one-room school," is from an article by Danielle Allen, who is a professor in the Government Department at Harvard University and at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as well as the Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Prior to joining the faculty at Harvard in 2015, Allen was UPS Foundation Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. 

Allen's article in the Boston Review is titled "What Is Education For?" Her focus is educational equality, and she says we need to change our approach. Instead of attempting to use education as a road to economic equality, Allen urges us to use education as a way to equalize civic engagement through participatory readiness:

So what exactly is participatory readiness, and how can education help people achieve it? To answer these questions, we first need to understand what students should be getting ready for: civic agency. While there is no single model of civic agency dominant in American culture, we can identify a handful at work. Following philosopher Hannah Arendt, I take citizenship to be the activity of co-creating a way of life, of world-building. This co-creation can occur at many social levels: in a neighborhood or school; in a networked community or association; in a city, state, or nation; at a global scale. Because co-creation extends beyond legal categories of membership in political units, I prefer to speak of civic agency instead of citizenship. Such civic agency involves three core tasks. First is disinterested deliberation around a public problem. Here the model derives from Athenian citizens gathered in the assembly, the town halls of colonial New Hampshire, and public representatives behaving reasonably in the halls of a legislature. Second is prophetic work intended to shift a society's values; in the public opinion and communications literature, this is now called "frame shifting." Think of the rhetorical power of nineteenth-century abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, of Martin Luther King, Jr., or of Occupy Wall Street activists with their rallying cry of "we are the 99 percent." Finally, there is transparently interested "fair fighting," where a given public actor adopts a cause and pursues it passionately. One might think of early women's rights activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. The ideal civic agent carries out all three of these tasks-disinterested deliberation, prophetic frame shifting, and fair fighting-ethically and justly. Stanton is an example of this ideal at work. At the Seneca Falls Convention, she was in deliberative mode for the debate about the text of the Declaration of Sentiments. However, before the convention's deliberations, when she drafted that text, she was in the prophetic mode, just as she was in her innumerable speeches. Finally, in campaigning for legal change, as in the adoption of the Woman's Property Bill in New York and similar laws in other states, she was operating as an activist.

My experience teaching Legal Studies students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, convinces me that Allen is correct. We can build a political world, together, that will make economic opportunity a priority; however, the key factor in building such a world is not individual accomplishment, but collective commitment. The education we provide students needs to help them be effective in the realm of self-government. That is, in fact, the best way to prepare them to create a future that will have abundant economic opportunities for them, and for all of us. 

I heard about Allen's article through Amor Mundi, the weekly (free) blog posting coming from The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities. Here is what Roger Berkowitz, the Academic Director of the Center, said about Allen's article: 

Arendt's idea of participatory citizenship helps understand how education can build a political world. But what kind of education leads to participatory readiness? It is not a technical education, and Allen rightly rejects the overriding focus on STEM as a means towards educational equality. She writes that educated citizens need "the ability to make sense of complex ballot propositions and follow argumentation about DNA evidence at trial." And she claims that graduates in the humanities are more likely to vote and more likely to become politically active than STEM graduates. Allen recognizes such correlations may be deceptive but believes that a humanities education will likely better prepare students for democratic citizenship.

Above all, the participatory ready citizen needs to know how to judge their government. Allen finds this idea deep in the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness-That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed; that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

In the face of governmental failure and a failure of democracy, citizens need to know how to judge that failure and how to respond. We see stirrings of such a response in movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. And these movements have led to political activists supporting Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

What is unclear is why education, let alone humanities education, helps prepare citizens to make such judgments-or to make prophetic insights and engage in fair fighting. To look back at the emergence of American democracy in New England town meetings and then in the 1790s in the republican and democratic debating societies, is to see that the radical and participatory roots of American democracy had little connection to education. Arendt always insisted that political skill was unrelated to one's education. The workers' counsels and debating societies Arendt lauded were not dominated by humanities graduates. Is there any evidence that education is connected to judgment?

One answer lies in the power of example. As any good humanities student knows, Immanuel Kant showed that there are no rules for making moral judgments. Sound judgment is not a product of education so much as it is of good upbringing and character. Arendt, following Kant, understood that judgment could only be taught, if at all, through example.

At their best, the humanities offer examples of artworks, prose, poetry, and thinking that are born from self-thinking, critical thinking, and originality. What the humanities can do is inspire students to follow their dreams and question the way things are. It is this lesson in independent thinking that, above all, is the gift the humanities offer. 

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

#160 / When Are We Willing To Take A Risk?

James Surowiecki, who writes a column for The New Yorker called "The Financial Page," has told us, in his column published in the June 6 & 13, 2016 edition of the magazine, that "loss aversion promotes caution only when people are considering gains; once people have sustained losses, impulses change dramatically." In other words, we are generally more willing to take risks when we think we're losing, not when we think things are getting better.

Surowiecki suggests in his column that the nature of our current presidential politics reflects this truth, particularly on the Republican side. Surowiecki is basically focused on the phenomenon of the Trump ascendency, and one purpose of his column is to serve as a kind of advisory to Hillary Clinton (presumed, for the purposes of this column, at least, to be Trump's Democratic Party opposition). 

"Hillary Clinton," Surowiecki says, "has recently been emphasizing what a risk Trump represents. That's fine when rallying the Democratic base and appealing to genuine independents. But it will only make Trump more popular with those who already believe in him. When he says, 'We're losing our country,' it doesn't sound overwrought to his supporters. It sounds like the truth."

If we were to consider the other contender for the Democratic Party nomination, Bernie Sanders, employing the same analytic method, it becomes pretty clear why Sanders is such an attractive candidate to the "Democratic base." It is not just Trump supporters who believe that we are "losing our country." LOTS of people think that's true, including many people who can be categorized as part of the "Democratic base." 

Take me for example!

Our willingness to take risks when we think we're losing is, after all, a fairly rational behavior. If we think we're heading in the wrong direction, then maybe we ought to risk a change in course. Maybe such a risk will pay off, or maybe it won't, but when we truly think we're "going wrong," it does make a lot of sense to try something new.

That is an argument for Bernie Sanders, I'd say, and a much better argument than the argument for Donald Tump, when you realize what "risks" Trump is proposing, versus the "risks" of the policies being advanced by Sanders. As Hillary Clinton showed, in her excellent speech about Trump and foreign policy, Trump is in favor of nuclear proliferation. 

Now, that is a REAL risk!

Bernie Sanders is in favor of trying to replay the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt. There is risk in that, too, of course, but speaking for myself, that's a risk I'd like to take.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#159 / I Want To Meet That OTHER Gary Patton

Today is Election Day in California. If enough voters in the 20th Congressional District vote for Bernie Sanders for President, then I will be able to go to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, in late July, as a pledged delegate for Bernie Sanders. 

I am looking forward to that! Vote for Bernie!

I have a special reason for wanting to go to the Convention - beyond the obvious reason that I'd like to do everything I can to support the selection of Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Party nominee for the Presidency. I am looking forward to meeting that "other" Gary Patton.

Pictured above is the pro-Hillary Clinton version of Gary Patton. That's right! There are Gary Pattons on both coasts. The Gary Patton above is from New Hampshire (where Bernie trounced Hillary in the primary election). Just type "Gary Patton Democrat" into a browser, and you'll be connected up with the Gary Patton above. He's described as a "78-year-old Clinton loyalist," and I have been hearing about his political exploits for years. I have an idea he might turn up in Philadelphia, and that would be pretty fun.

I'm thinking I could swing him to Bernie. I'd try at least.

It's all in the family!

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Monday, June 6, 2016

#158 / Decadence And Choice

On Saturday May 28th and Sunday May 29th, I read a couple of articles about the presidential primaries (one from The Wall Street Journal and one from The New York Times). I want to recommend these articles to you. 

Peggy Noonan, who writes for The Wall Street Journal (I am not much of a Noonan fan, let me say), had an article in the May 28-29 edition of The Journal entitled, "Clinton Embodies Washington's Decadence." 

Ross Douthat, a columnist for The New York Times, titled his May 29th column, "Make Family Policy Great Again." 

Douthat's column was intended to be a humorous take off on what a debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might sound like. It was supposed to be a parody, in other words, but I am not sure how much of a parody it really was. If you read Douthat's column, I bet you will agree with me that Douthat has very well captured just how an exchange between Clinton and Trump might actually go. You might also agree with me that the kind of exchange that Douthat is positing is just the kind of exchange that Nathan Robinson posited would lead to a Trump victory in November.

Then we have Noonan's column. She says this: 

The lack of backlash against Mr. Trump's attacks on Mrs. Clinton ... I suspect ... really comes down to one word: decadence. People right now will respect a political leader who will name and define what they themselves see as the utter decadence of Washington. 

If Noonan is right about what she says (and I think she is), then the Democratic Party candidate who "will name and define...the utter decadence of Washington" is named Bernie Sanders, and he would be the candidate on the progressive side who would stand the best chance of getting elected. Again, this is exactly what Nathan Robinson has said. If you haven't read his analysis, click that link. I continue to think he is correct.

When you vote tomorrow (presuming you are a California voter, and a voter in the Democratic Party primary, and further presuming that you haven't already voted), you'll get to decide which of the two Democratic Party candidates you think will do the best against Mr. Trump. I think the Noonan and Douthat articles can help discerning readers get to the right choice.

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