Friday, August 26, 2016

#239 / Purple Rain (Pink Snow)

Purple Rain is a "break up" song. The lyrics are reproduced below. Pink snow, in case you haven't heard of it, is kind of a "break up" song, too. Mother Earth is saying goodbye.

I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain
I only wanted one time to see you laughing
I only want to see you laughing in the purple rain 
Purple rain Purple rain
Purple rain Purple rain
Purple rain Purple rain
I only want to see you bathing in the purple rain
I never wanted to be your weekend lover
I only wanted to be some kind of friend
Baby I could never steal you from another
It's such a shame our friendship had to end
Purple rain Purple rain
Purple rain Purple rain
Purple rain Purple rain
I only want to see you underneath the purple rain
Honey I know, I know, I know times are changing
It's time we all reach out for something new
That means you too
You say you want a leader
But you can't seem to make up your mind
I think you better close it
And let me guide you to the purple rain
Purple rain Purple rain
Purple rain Purple rain
If you know what I'm singing about up here
C'mon raise your hand
Purple rain Purple rain
I only want to see you, only want to see you
In the purple rain

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

#238 / The Fabric Of Civilization

Here is a quick little follow up to the OMG posting I made here yesterday. 

In its August 5th edition, Rolling Stone published an article titled, "The Point of No Return." In that article, the magazine quoted climate scientist James Hansen, describing the same phenomenon discussed yesterday. 

Here is a brief excerpt from the article: 

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public's attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren't cut, "We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization."

As you will note, Hansen does not see environmental changes, per se, as the main danger we face. Floods will drown people. Droughts will have adverse impacts on agriculture, meaning people may starve. The loss of snowpack will mean the diminution or elimination of the water supplies that we take for granted, and assume will supply us with the water we need.

The big threat, says Hansen, is not the specifically environmental effects of global warming. It is the "social disruption and economic consequences" of those environmental effects. 

Our human "civilization" is built within the World of Nature, upon which we are utterly dependent. If that World of Nature is disrupted enough, it will not be the end of Nature, but it may well be the end of our civilization. 

Once human populations become "ungovernable," and human arrangements and relationships we have taken for granted begin to "unravel," the fate of our civilization is at maximum risk. And since we do not live individual lives, but live together, unraveling the "fabric of civilization" is a threat that is not only collective, but individual.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

#237 / An OMG Thing

Here is a link to an April 26, 2016 story published online by KCET, a non-commercial and independent educational television station located in Los Angeles, California. The picture, which accompanied the story, shows flooding in the City of Garden Grove, located in northern Orange County, in 1971. 

About a week before their April 26th story was published, the station had reported that a study of the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was expected to boost sea levels by about a meter by the end of this century, bringing the total increase in sea level rise from all sources to two meters, or about six and a half feet.

In the story linked here and above, KCET confessed to their viewers that they had been "far too optimistic," and that "recent, as-yet-unpublished data from Antarctica suggests that sea levels could rise three meters — almost ten feet — by the middle of the century."

Margaret Davidson was quoted in the KCET story. She is "NOAA’s senior advisor for coastal inundation and resilience science and services." 

Davidson told attendees at the RIMS '16 Conference, held in San Diego, that "the latest field data out of West Antarctic is kind of an OMG thing,” since sea level rise could reach three meters by 2050 or 2060, a much steeper rise happening far sooner than even the most catastrophic scenarios currently available in peer-reviewed journals and the far more conservative estimates published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That steep a rise in sea level would put significant parts of many California cities underwater in just two or three decades.


Here's what it means: 

The Bay Area will be almost completely changed. Hilly San Francisco will be spared the worst of the damage, though it will lose UCSF's fancy new campus in the southeast part of town at Mission Bay. Downtown San Rafael will be underwater. The Bay will reach to Petaluma, Napa, and Fairfield — three cities well inland of the current Bay shore. The flats in Richmond and North Richmond, now populated by some of the Bay Area's least-affluent communities, will be underwater. Point Richmond will become an island a mile offshore. Oakland will lose its port, its airport, and many square miles of its most affordable housing in West Oakland and near the Coliseum. Between Hayward and Union City, a broad arm of the Bay will reach nearly to the base of the hills. Along the Peninsula, essentially everything east of Route 101 will be gone. So will downtown Milpitas. 
And the most spectacular damage will be east of the Bay, in the Delta ... We could expect open water from West Sacramento — which would be lost without public works intervention — to Tracy, 60 miles south. Downtown Stockton would be gone. So would many miles of Interstate 5, which would skirt the east shore of the Sacramento Sea.


Our human civilization is utterly dependent on the World of Nature, or the World That God made, as I sometimes call it. "God," if you are religious; "Nature" if you're not.

The main point is that we need to conform our activities to the laws that rule the Natural World.

And what happens when we don't?

Well, picture Garden Grove, shown above, with the water up to the roof of the gas station. Picture that in, say, about twenty-five or thirty years.


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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

#236 / Dilbert Explains Trump

The August 20-21 edition of The Wall Street Journal carried an article by James Taranto, Editor of The Journal's "Opinion" section. I recommend it for those puzzling over what is going on in the current presidential campaigns.

Taranto's article, a "weekend interview with Scott Adams," is titled, "Dilbert Explains Donald Trump." Taranto credits Adams (the Dilbert cartoonist) with being a "self-taught expert in persuasion theory." According to Adams, Trump is a master of political persuasion, and this explains his political success.

Adams also says that the reason that Hillary Clinton is up in the polls, right now, is because she has started to use the same techniques employed by Trump. "I am speculating," says Adams/"Dilbert," that someone [who] was on the Sanders team may have jumped ship to Clinton's team, because her persuasion game went from terrible to world-class almost instantly."

Now, Hillary is expressing a "dark" view of Trump. That resonates with the public, says Dilbert. I think he is right on target!

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Monday, August 22, 2016

#235 / From The Old Country

My title for this posting #235 is playfully obscure (or perhaps obscurely playful, in at least two different ways). You probably wouldn't get that without an explanation, so I'll try to provide one. The picture above is of Daniel Aaron, an American writer and academic.

[However, let me digress, first, before proceeding to talk about Aaron.]

My wife Marilyn, a ferocious lover of all things related to Herman Melville, and the daughter of missionaries, might or might not know what I discovered in obtaining that link to Aaron's name, as found in the first paragraph: Aaron's first scholarly paper, published in 1935, was titled, "Melville and the Missionaries." Wikipedia is truly a treasure trove of information! I'm betting that Marilyn, if and when she gets around to reading this blog posting, will go out and search for that article.

[To return from this familial digression]:

Aaron died recently at the age of 103, and this very nice picture of him accompanies a column by Jane Miller, which ran in the June 2016 edition of In These TimesMiller resides in Britain, and here is what it says at the top of the page where her column appears (as it appears in the hard copy edition): "From the Old Country."

Since Miller is addressing the topic of aging and dying in her June 2016 column, "Shuffling Off the Mortal Coil," the reference in the page heading that identifies her column as "From The Old Country" carries a kind of double meaning.

Same with my title. As I began to write about Miller's column, in fact, I realized that my own blog postings have recently been somewhat focused on death and dying. That probably reflects my own chronological status. Former San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll would undoubtedly put it this way: "Because Old."

If my thinking continues in the death and dying vein, maybe I should rename my entire blog, "From The Old Country." The meaning of my current Two Worlds title is not, I well know, immediately obvious to the first-time or uninitiated reader.

The point of this posting is basically to recommend Jane Miller's very short, one-page tribute to Daniel Aaron, and to her thinking about human mortality, death, and dying.  Here is what Aaron told Miller about death: "Get used to it."

That's good advice, and I suggest that maybe Peter Thiel should give Miller's column a look!

And one more playful point: As this blog entry gets posted, I'm off to England myself, so this posting is "From The Old Country" in more ways than one.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

#234 / The Vampire Billionaire

Peter Thiel, pictured, is one of those high-tech billionaires, based in the Silicon Valley, that we keep reading about. Why do we take them so seriously? Why do we care? If they're rich they must be right. Right? 

Thiel has been in the news most recently as a prominent supporter of presidential candidate Donald Trump. If you click that link, you'll get to hear his six-minute speech to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. If you'd like a more comprehensive overview of Thiel's politics and other preoccupations, try clicking the following link, for a New Yorker article by George Packer

Frankly, there's a lot to like in what Thiel said to the Republican Party. His critiques are rather well-taken, and his policy suggestions seem more like the Democratic Party Platform than anything the Republicans have ever advocated. For instance, he says that too many economic rewards are going to the super-rich and not enough to that other 99% (though he doesn't use that phrase). The major flaw in what Thiel says, from my perspective, is that he concludes that the way to accomplish the policy prescriptions he advocates is by electing Donald Trump to the presidency. To quote my favorite poet/singer/songwriter: "I just said, 'good luck.'"

I am not writing, today, about Thiel's politics, though his political pronouncements could be seen as relevant to the point I want to make. They betray a kind of narcissistic self-assurance, which is a huge human flaw. It is also a flaw that definitely bonds him with his preferred candidate. 

I want to highlight another example of Thiel's narcissistic self-assurance; namely, the idea that obtaining blood transfusions from younger people ("young blood," as the newspapers report it), is a worthwhile route to extended longevity. Thiel is apparently shooting to live to be 120 years old. Michelle Quinn, writing for the Bay Area News Group, has reported this fact in a column that makes a more general observation: 

Hang around Silicon Valley for awhile and the obsession with immortality is clear. Techies want to solve that granddaddy of problems: Death.

The idea that human beings should be able to defeat death is a a dream of longstanding. And a hugely mistaken ambition. The World of Nature, upon which we depend, is a world that utilizes death as an important feature, and a feature, incidentally, that makes possible the continuing miracle of life. Defeating death as a way to become the rulers of the World of Nature is not only a vain ambition; it is a wrongly-directed one. 

The World of Nature is NOT the World in which our human greatness is meant to be displayed. "Our" world is a human world, understood best as the "civilization" that we construct within the World of Nature, which we do not and did not create, and upon which we are totally dependent. Instead of understanding our real place in the World of Nature, in which we are "creatures," and not creators, we continually assert, in our all too common narcissistic self-assurance, that we can be in charge of life and death themselves. 


Thiel and other "techies" are wrong to seek to "solve the problem of death." And since we're talking about him, Thiel's political preferences are wrong, too. Both he and Donald Trump have the wrong idea.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

#233 / The Walking Dead

I don't watch a lot of television, so I haven't watched even one episode of The Walking Dead, which my internet search says is just about to begin its seventh season. I also uncovered a prediction, looking online, that the series may go to 20+ seasons before it's done. I feel compelled to add, as a kind of bitter footnote, but an appropriate one, given the subject matter, that this prediction assumes there will be an audience around to watch it, twenty seasons in.

I happened to think about "The Walking Dead" as I finished up my blog posting from yesterday, the title of which featured the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Paul Watson, whose excellent article I referenced yesterday, says this: 

I have seen the future written in the patterns of our behavior, and it is not a pleasant future, in fact it is not much of a future at all.

The four horses have arrived. As death sits astride the pale horse, the other three horses of pestilence, famine and war and terrorism are stampeding at full gallop toward us while our backs are turned away from them. And when they trample us, we may look up from our latest entertainment triviality to see ourselves in the dust of the ecological apocalypse.

According to WikipediaThe Walking Dead attracts more 18- to 49-year-old viewers than any other cable or broadcast television series, and it's not the only television series that features "zombies," and other such creatures. I do watch Game of Thrones, where the horrifying "White Walkers" are an ever-looming apocalyptic threat: 

Could it be that the television series and other media featuring people who are "dead," but who keep on walking, appeal particularly to younger persons because young people can so clearly identify? 

Could it be that young people today feel that they, too, are the "walking dead," and that the young people paying attention to "zombies" are are searching, as humans always do, to understand themselves better, and to understand their situation, and to find some guidance about what they should do?

I haven't watched even one episode of The Walking Dead, but I fear that this may be an explanation for its popularity.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

#232 / The Four Horses Have Arrived

I have made a commitment to myself to write an entry into this Two Worlds blog each day. So far, that totals to more than 2,400 daily postings.

It is not that easy to write something worthwhile each day, so naturally I fudge. Generally, I do that by alerting readers to something worthwhile that someone else has written. Today, let me highlight an essay by Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Watson has written an article titled, "The Laws Of Ecology And The Survival Of The Human Species." It is definitely worth reading! Watson's article makes one of the main points that I have wanted to make as I write this Two Worlds blog, and Watson's words have given me the title to my posting #232 - The Four Horses Have Arrived: 

We made the mistake of declaring war on nature, and because of our technologies it looks like we are going to win this war. But because we are a part of nature, we will destroy ourselves in the process. Our enemy is ourselves and we are slowly becoming aware of that indisputable fact.

Watson is watching our ocean waters, and is telling us what he sees. Others are watching the land. I became aware of Watson's article by a Facebook posting that I saw on Sunday, August 7th. That day, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an extensive article (possibly available online only to Chronicle subscribers) that documents the death of millions upon millions of trees in the Sierra Nevada, with millions more deaths to come: 

Using technology that has diagnosed problems in the Amazon rain forest and the jungles of Borneo, the researchers are learning that California’s unprecedented tree die-off is moving well beyond its origins in the southern Sierra Nevada and along parts of the southern coast. It’s creeping farther north, and to higher elevations, not only providing tinder for wildfires, but also obstructing the forests’ fundamental ability to provide clean water and absorb carbon dioxide. 
“It’s not just the numbers of trees lost. … It’s the implications,” said Asner, who works out of Stanford University when he’s not in the air. “The scientist in me is quite happy that we have a predictive capability, but the human in me and the naturalist in me is quite shocked.”

How many shocks will it take to galvanize some action? To get us to change our ways?

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

#231 / Remind You Of Anyone You Know?

The Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper on Sunday, August 7th ran a column by Offra Gerstein, a psychologist who provides advice on "life and love" from her Santa Cruz office. Gerstein's column was titled, "What is a Narcissistic Personality Disorder?" Here is her list of the signs and signals: 

• Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance. 
• Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it. 
• Exaggerating one’s achievements and talents. 
• Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.
• Believing that he/she is superior and can only be understood by or associating with equally special people. 
• Requiring constant admiration. 
• Having a sense of entitlement. 
• Expecting special favors and unquestioned compliance with their expectations. 
• Taking advantage of others to get what you want. 
• Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others. 
• Being envious of others and believing others envy you. 
• Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner.

I can't help but think that the timing of Gerstein's column reflects our current politics, but in whatever context you may be called upon to deal with someone who diagnoses as NPD, here is Gerstein's bottom line evaluation: 

There are no remedies, medications, treatments or procedures that are known to alleviate or correct manifestations of narcissism. Thus, all who relate to a narcissist cannot anticipate any improvements to occur in his/her behavior or attitude.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

#230 / This Is Where I Came In

Here is a picture of new development in Clayton, California, located in Contra Costa County, part of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. The picture appeared as an illustration for Paul Rogers' May 17, 2016 report in the Mercury News.  Rogers' report was titled, "America's vanishing West: California losing most land to development."

Talk about deja vu all over again! I served on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors for twenty years, from 1975 to 1995, and the main issue that the community confronted during that time was the kind of sprawling development visible in this picture. When I took office, Santa Cruz County was the fastest-growing county in the state of California, and it was the fifth fastest-growing county in the entire United States. A lot of that growth was rural sprawl.

It did take about twenty years, but we stopped that destructive pattern of development in Santa Cruz County. If you are unfamiliar with the Santa Cruz County growth management system, here is a link to an article by Andy Schiffrin, "The Story of Measure J," and a copy of Measure J itself, as codified in the Santa Cruz County Code.

Rogers notes in his article that the natural lands that support our human projects are being destroyed at a rapid pace. You can read an in-depth report by clicking the link to download a copy of The Disappearing West.

There is another Clayton, California, too, this one located in Lake County. The Lake County Clayton is also mainly low-density and rural/suburban. Not only does that kind of development threaten the natural environment, the natural environment can threaten it right back.

The picture is one of many that show the damage from the Clayton Fire, a human tragedy that reflects what can happen when we don't pay attention to the limits of our natural world.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

#229 / Two Roads And Sixteen Pleasures

Since I am preparing to visit Italy this summer, my son lent me a novel, which he said would "get me in the mood." The book he lent me is called The Sixteen Pleasures, by Robert Hellenga, and the promotional material on the back cover promised me a story about a young American woman who goes to Italy, and who discovers a "Renaissance masterwork: a sensuous volume of sixteen erotic poems and drawings." Another paragraph says that the main character, Margot, "embarks on the intrigue of a lifetime with a forbidden lover and the contraband volume - a sensual, life-altering journey of loss and rebirth in [an] exquisite novel of spiritual longing and earthly desire."

All that sounds pretty good to me - right up my alley, in fact - but while I am enjoying the book so far (I am up to page 100), I haven't yet run across anything that really justifies the book-jacket promises. Not yet! I am going to keep reading!

While I haven't found the features advertised, I have run across Robert Frost, and specifically his poem,  The Road Not Taken. Frost's poem is featured in the book. You know the poem, I'm sure: 

The Road Not Taken 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Hellenga tells us that "Margot," the main character, has always posited a second self, whom she calls "Margaux," who does all the adventurous things that our main character has only thought about, but has never actually done. On page 76, Margot "suddenly realizes something I should have known all along."

Mama always maintained that anyone who'd heard Frost read "The Road Not Taken," as she had, would know that the last line was ironic, a joke, but I'd never understood what she meant till now. There is no "road not taken," there's only this road. The road not taken is a fantasy.

That insight, it seems to me, is worth the book. BUT....I still going to keep reading, hoping for all that erotic stuff, too!

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Monday, August 15, 2016

#228 / Last August

For the last twenty-five years, Marin Alsop, pictured above as she is conducting the orchestra, has served as the Artistic Director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. This was her last season in that role. Her last time conducting the Festival Orchestra as its Artistic Director was on Saturday night, August 13th.

The program that Alsop selected for her final concert included Kabbalah, op. 96 (2004), by Marlos Nobre; Oceana (1996), by Osvaldo Golijov; and Symphony No. 1 (1988), by John Corigliano. In introducing the Corigliano piece, Alsop noted that this was the only piece, during her term as the Artistic Director for the Festival, that would be performed twice. It was one of the very first pieces Alsop brought to the Festival, in 1993, and for this emotional and valedictory evening, which was called  out in the program as a night of "Memory & Meaning," Corigliano's symphony seemed perfect.

But... there was an addition to the concert program on Saturday night, not shown in the printed program materials. Without having given away the secret at all, so that it was a complete surprise not only to the audience, but to Alsop herself, the Festival Orchestra had commissioned Kevin Puts to compose a short work as a gift to Alsop and as a tribute to her. The work was entitled, Last August, and the Orchestra performed it for her, without a conductor, with an "empty podium" in front of them.

The "empty podium," of course, symbolized Alsop's incipient absence, after twenty-five years of inspired leadership, but as I listened to the incredibly moving performance of Last August, as the Festival Orchestra performed its tribute to its beloved Maestra, making the music move in just the way she would have, had she been conducting, I couldn't help but think of the "empty podium" as a metaphor.

We, too, all of us, in all of our endeavors, can do great things together, even when our most inspired leaders have left us to our own resources.  Looking ahead, I think this is a lesson we will need to remember.

The August 14, 2016 Memory & Meaning concert will 
be broadcast on Monday, August 29th, at 9:00 p.m. on 
KALW 91.7, San Franciso, and webcast on

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

#227 / They Differ On Taxes

According to The New York Times, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump differ on taxes. Click the link to read the article. Below, in a brief summary, is what The Times says about the candidates' differing plans on tax reform at the federal level: 

Hillary Clinton envisions a 4 percent tax surcharge for income over $5 million, meaning that the very highest earners would effectively have a nearly 44 percent top marginal rate. She also envisions implementing a rule so that those with income over $1 million pay at least 30 percent, aimed at preventing high earners from paying low overall rates thanks to the lower capital gains tax. She would also limit the value of tax deductions, and require longer holding periods to get the low long-term capital gains tax rate, among other steps that would make the tax code less favorable to the affluent. 
Donald Trump would cut the top marginal income tax rate to 33 percent. An analysis by the Tax Foundation of the House Republicans’ tax plan, on which Mr. Trump’s is based, found it would increase after-tax income for the richest 1 percent by 5.3 percent. 
Mr. Trump also advocates lowering the tax rate on all business income to 15 percent — and has advocated that the rate apply to all sorts of businesses, including partnerships and sole proprietorships. That opens up room for people to find ways to turn what is now taxed as individual income into “pass-through” business income at that low 15 percent rate, especially those in position to hire tax lawyers to help them figure out the details. 
For example, an executive who is paid $1 million in salary could instead form a limited liability corporation to “sell” $1 million of management services to his or her old company, cutting the tax rate to 15 percent.

In other words, the candidates differ in that Hillary Clinton would raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Donald Trump would lower taxes for them.

There are a couple of other differences, too, where taxes are concerned.

Clinton has made public her tax returns, and her joint return with Bill Clinton indicates that the Clintons paid federal income taxes of $3.24 million in 2015.

Trump has refused to make his tax returns available to the public, and this may well be, as New York Times columnist James B. Stewart says, because Donald Trump has quite likely paid ZERO income tax.

Stand by to find out why this shows that Donald Trump has truly "sacrificed" for the nation!

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

#226 / Uber Share

Pictured above is traffic on Highway One in Santa Cruz County. It's brutal. It's ugly! It's horrible. Naturally, elected officials would like to respond to the demand of voters and residents that something be done, and just as in the case of affordable housing, the first thing that comes to mind is that we should just "build our way out of it."

Where transportation is concerned, a proposed "build our way out of it" solution is contained in a 2016 ballot measure, to be voted on this November. If passed by 2/3 of the voters, this measure would impose a 1/2-cent sales tax, to continue for thirty years. The resulting sales tax income would provide about $125,000,000 for highway widening, which could accomplish a very small part of the widening that the most zealous widening advocates are calling for.

In the case of housing, as mentioned yesterday, the "build our way out of it" idea would be to promote the construction of dense, high-rise developments along our major transportation corridors. Increased supply of these denser, smaller units might bring the price down, it's thought, and create some affordable housing for this community. See yesterday's posting for a critique of this well-intentioned but totally ineffective suggestion, absent some type of price control.

In the case of the Highway One traffic jams, the "build our way out of it" idea is that more "supply" of highway real estate would open things up for drivers now caught in the traffic. Even highway widening-supporters admit that this proposed solution would cost a huge amount of money, have some pretty significant negative environmental impacts, and would actually congest things more during the time of construction. Still, if highway widening would ultimately solve the problem, the sacrifices could be worth it. Or, at least, a lot of people think so.

It's the same thing as with housing, of course. If building dense, high-rise apartments along all of our major transportation corridors would actually have a significant impact on making housing more affordable, all the negative traffic, water, and other community impacts might be worth the cost. The problem, however, in both the housing example and the highway example, is that the "build our way out of it" solution doesn't work. And for the very same reason!

If increasing the "supply" of something were to occur in a situation in which the "demand" side of the equation remained constant, new supplies would, indeed, be a solution to the problems caused by an excess of demand. However, as noted yesterday, with reference to housing, the "demand" for Santa Cruz County real estate is actually global, and our small community could not ever fill the outstanding demand by building more housing. Thus, building more housing will not drive down prices, absent price controls.

In the case of the highway widening example, the same thing is true. If the same number of cars were going to use the highway both before and after widening, then widening the highway would, indeed, ease congestion. However, as traffic engineers well know, the phenomenon of "induced demand" means that a new widening project leads to increased highway use, and very quickly the congestion is just as bad as before, but with more cars caught in the jam.

So, what to do?

In the case of housing, unless and until the national government mobilizes resources to provide for affordable, permanently price-controlled housing, local price controls are the only available solution.

There is another approach possible with respect to transportation. Most of the cars stuck in the traffic jams on Highway One are single-occupant vehicles. If people were "sharing rides," the number of vehicles would decrease, and a reduced "demand" for highway capacity would be a consequence. In other words, we could attack the traffic congestion problem not by using a "build ourselves out of it" approach, but by a "let's lower the demand" approach. 

How would that work?

I'm using Uber  as a kind of metaphor. But just suppose that there were a transportation option that would let Santa Cruz County residents easily arrange for a shared ride that could get them from wherever they are in Santa Cruz County to wherever they wanted to go without the need to use their own car on Highway One, or to park it, either, once they got to where they are going? That kind of service could be run by a private company, like Uber, or Lyft, or by local taxi companies, or even by the public transit district. If enough people used the service, during peak times, Highway One congestion would decrease. If I am remembering what I learned when I was on the Santa Cruz County Transportation Commission, more than twenty years ago, we'd need to reduce the number of cars on Highway One, at peak times, by about 15% to make a real difference in congestion.

How much would that be worth to us? What if we raised the sales tax and used that $125,000,000 for subsidizing peak hour trips on Highway One using Uber-like technologies to match shared rides with willing drivers?

I think it's worth a shot, myself! What we already know is that widening the highway won't work.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

#225 / Bad News For Santa Cruz

The pictured home, which is only modestly attractive, in my view, has three bedrooms and two baths, and is 1,500 square feet in size. As of August 11, 2016, this home was listed for sale at just under $2,000,000. The actual listing price was $1,988,000, to be exact. My bet is that the link will probably not work for long, since the way homes are selling, this home will probably not be on the market for more than a week or so.

The pictured home is NOT located in Santa Cruz, my home town. It's in Palo Alto (my former home town). This listing, however, spells bad news for Santa Cruz, as was made evident in an August 11, 2016 news article in the San Jose Mercury News. The Mercury News article documented the woes of Kate Downing, who has just resigned from the Palo Alto Planning Commission. Downing, I gather, is a tech lawyer. Her husband is a software engineer. In her resignation letter, Downing says that even this family, comprised of two highly-paid professionals, can't find a way to buy a home in Palo Alto. Therefore, Downing and her husband are moving....

And they're moving to Santa Cruz.

I say that this is "bad news" for Santa Cruz, not because it won't be great to welcome this attractive young family to the community, but because this phenomenon - Silicon Valley exporting its housing demand to the Santa Cruz County side of the hill - is driving out current members of our own community. Most people currently living in Santa Cruz are finding it ever more difficult to find housing they can afford, and they just can't win the competition for housing when they are pitted against families who have two high-paying, high-tech jobs to support their own need to find a place to live.

The only actual solution to unaffordable housing prices in a place like Santa Cruz County is price control. Those who think that the community can somehow "build its way out" of the current situation, and that lots of small, high-density units will somehow lower the price of housing to affordable levels (by increasing the supply of housing) are not calculating correctly. The "demand" for housing in Santa  Cruz County (witness the example of the Palo Alto Planning Commissioner and her husband) is not limited to those who live here already. If nobody new showed up, then increasing supply should, of course, lower prices. But the "market" for Santa Cruz real estate not only includes high-tech lawyers and software engineers from the Silicon Valley; it includes people with money from all over the world.

Since there's a City Council election in Santa Cruz this November, and affordable housing is undoubtedly going to be mentioned frequently by the candidates, I suggest that voters heavily discount any inclination to support candidates who suggest that just building more units will do anything more than overcommit our very tenuous water supply and continue to discharge more traffic into our inadequate street system.

The solution for affordable housing, ultimately, has to be provided with more money from the federal level, tied to permanent price controls, to take housing out of the speculative market. At the local level, rent control and a very large requirement for permanently price controlled inclusionary units (say something like 50% of all new units approved) is the only way to make any progress.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

#224 / The Denial Of Death

The WUMO cartoon, above, could be the frontispiece for Ernest Becker's great book, The Denial of Death, which I have mentioned before on a couple of occasions.

Here's WUMO:

You're a human being. You're going to die You're going to turn into a stinking, maggot-filled, bag of rotten flesh that no one will remember....Just not quite yet ...

And here's Becker:

Man is a worm and food for worms ... He is housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways - the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man ... sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever....

Becker explores the "Two Worlds" I talk about in this blog (Nature and the Human World, the realities that human beings construct), and he applies the techniques of psychoanalytic theory to aid his investigation. It is a book worth reading, and confirms what all great sages teach (one way or another).

We must deny death, forget about death, if we are going to be able to live, at all, in the world into which we are born, the World of Nature, which uses death to bring forth life.

Only by finding a way to deny death, to abjure death, one way or another, can we succeed in sticking out of nature with the "towering majesty" that is our birthright.

The Denial of Death is a book worth reading. I recommend it.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

#223 / Are We Going To The Party?

Robert Reich has written a pretty accurate description of the Democratic Party, as exemplified by the Democratic National Committee or DNC: 

The Democratic National Committee—like the Republican National Committee—has become little more than a giant machine designed to suck up big money from wealthy individuals, lobbyists, bundlers, and corporate and Wall Street PACs.  
As long as this is its de facto mission, the DNC won’t ever be kindly disposed to a campaign financed by small donations—Bernie’s, or any others. Nor will it support campaign finance reform. Nor will it be an institutional voice for average working people and the poor. It won’t want to eliminate superdelegates or support open primaries because these reforms would make Democratic candidates vulnerable to non-corporate interests.

I have never been much of a "Party guy." My deep and long time personal involvement in politics has been almost totally at the local level, as a five times-elected Santa Cruz County Supervisor. In California, city and county local government offices are "non-partisan," which means that I never ran as a "Democrat." 

Of course, I have always been a Democrat myself, and Democratic Party Clubs strongly supported me the five times I ran for local office. I also bet most of the votes I got were from persons who were registered Democrats. All that said, I never tried to get on the Democratic Central Committee for Santa Cruz County, or went to a State or National Democratic Party Convention. 

Not until this year, that is! This year, I ran for election as a Delegate for Bernie Sanders, in California's 20th Congressional District, and was elected as an Alternate Delegate for Sanders. In that capacity, I attended the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, held at the end of last month. 

I have reported on my experiences at the DNC's 2016 Convention in a number of postings to this Two Worlds blog. You can check out postings #206, #207, #208, #209, #210, and #211, if you would like to review my Convention reports. I can also recommend an excellent summary of the Convention by Jamie McGurk, published by TruthDig

Based on what I saw in Philadelphia this year, Reich's description of the DNC is on target, and I think he poses an appropriate challenge in his article, one particularly directed, it seems to me, to those Sanders' Delegates who want to continue the "political revolution" that Bernie Sanders called for during his primary election campaign. 

What is needed, says Reich, is profound structural reform, and he doesn't see this happening through some sort of internal reorganization. Reich says "we’re going to need a third party, or a third force, to pressure the Democratic Party to do what’s right by America."

Bernie Sanders is going to try to help, and has inaugurated an "Our Revolution" political organization, to "work with several progressive groups to train and vet candidates."

In other words, as I read between the lines, Bernie Sanders has suggested that those who want to achieve the kind of profound transformation of American politics that he called for in this year's presidential primaries, and that Reich is calling for in his article, had better decide that they are going to go to the party. They have got to get involved, and not stay home!

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#222 / Postscript

On Saturday, August 6, 2016, a couple of days after I had written to similar effect in this Two Worlds blog, The New York Times columnist Timothy Egan warned the nation that if Donald Trump loses the presidency in this November's election, Trump is going to "try to bring down our democracy with him."

Egan's column quoted Trump's "overlooked comment;" namely, Trump's statement that he is "afraid the election is going to be rigged.” This statement, said Egan, is "the opening move in a scheme to delegitimize the outcome" of the election. 

Egan's column ran under the title, "Trump's Crybaby Inaugural" in the print edition of The Times. The online version of the column was titled, "The Sore Loser Uprising."

Please read Egan's column, and start talking about this subject with friends and acquaintances. The best defense to any effort to delegitimize our democracy is to discuss and discredit such an effort in advance. 

I think it would be a good idea for those who care about democracy to read or reread my own thoughts on this topic, too.

Just as a "P.S." to what Egan says, it appears that there are at least some in the Democratic Party who might suggest that a Trump victory, if the election went that way, could not be considered "legitimate." 

Tensions are running high in our national politics this year, as is natural, when we consider how high the stakes are in the presidential election in November. Bill Maher is calling it an "armageddon election." 

Let's be sure that whichever candidate is the winner, our democracy is not a casualty. 

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Monday, August 8, 2016

#221 / Knock Out

Thomas Friedman, paid pundit for The New York Times, informs us in the headline to his column on August 3rd that he can tell us "How Clinton Could Knock Trump Out." I am no fan of Friedman, but I am concerned about the future of the country should Trump win the presidency. Thus, beguiled by the headline, I read Friedman's column with interest.

Despite his title, at least so it seems to me, Friedman's column was largely directed to telling Trump how he could knock Clinton out! Read that column for yourself. While calling Trump a "self-infatuated carnival barker," Friedman trashes Clinton for not making business growth the key to her campaign: 

Maybe I just missed it. But in all the testimonials at the Democratic convention about what Hillary Clinton has done for other people, I don’t recall anyone saying, “I started a business because of Hillary Clinton.” Or, “I hired someone because of Hillary Clinton.”

We heard from first responders, veterans, grieving parents and victims of terrorism, rape and various forms of discrimination. There was just one group that was conspicuously absent: the people who drive our economy by inventing things or by borrowing money to start companies that actually employ people.
In other words, Friedman thinks that if Trump would emphasize the economic growth argument, instead of picking fights with the parents of Muslim soldiers who died in the line of duty, he would blow Clinton away, and if Trump doesn't "stay stupid forever," Clinton's entire campaign is at risk. Friedman thinks that:

If there is one thing that is not going to revive growth right now, it is an anti-trade, regulatory heavy, socialist-lite agenda the Democratic Party has drifted to under the sway of Bernie Sanders. Socialism is the greatest system ever invented for making people equally poor. Capitalism makes people unequally rich, but I would much rather grow our pie bigger and faster and better adjust the slices than redivide a shrinking one.

So, what was the purpose of this Friedman column? Certainly not to disadvantage Trump, because while Friedman is, I believe, genuinely dismissive of Trump, the column in fact gives him what is actually some good political advice. And the column was certainly not intended to benefit Clinton, because its main point was that Clinton is way off base in her campaign, and is telling the voters exactly the wrong thing. Surely, Friedman delighted in getting in a nasty swipe against Bernie Sanders, that poor, misguided "Socialist." But the bottom line?

The purpose of this wonderful column was to make readers think that Thomas Friedman is smarter than everyone else!

That's the purpose of most of Friedman's columns, it seems to me. Sorry to have been beguiled by the headline!

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

#220 / Friends And Enemies

Carl Schmitt, pictured to the right, was a German jurist and political theorist. Schmitt was strongly tied to Nazism, and has been called the "crown jurist of of the Third Reich."

In an article published on the Opinion Pages of The New York Times on July 22, 2016, Feisal G. Mohamed, a professor in the Graduate Center of the City College of New York, linked the campaign of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump to the philosophy espoused by Carl Schmitt. Hillary Clinton's campaign was said, by Mohamed, to evidence the influence of Hannah Arendt.

Somehow, I missed the article in the original, but I was alerted to it by a reference in Amor Mundi, the periodic blog of The Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College.

Schmitt, according to Mohamed, says that “the specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced ... is that between friend and enemy.” According to Mohamed, this:

Is a statement meant to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive: The friend-enemy distinction is central to politics in the same way that a good-evil distinction is central to ethics and a beautiful-ugly distinction is central to aesthetics. All other considerations are peripheral to this core concern.

Politics, as practiced, does often seem to be a struggle between "friend" and "enemy," with that friend-enemy distinction indeed being a central and core focus of what politics is all about. That fundamental idea, that politics is essentially and inevitably a contest between "friends" and "enemies," is an idea I want to challenge, but the fact that this is such a common way to think about politics leads to various appeals for some other approach, like the appeal I cited yesterday, with the Presbyterian pastor from San Francisco urging "empathy" as a winning political strategy. 

According to Mohamed, the Trump-Schmitt way of depicting politics lends itself to "tribalism," and to the kind of policy proposals that oppose "our" nation to others, which are seen as "enemies" seeking to besiege us. Trump's proposed "Great Wall," of course, is a prototypical example of just such a policy, dictated by a "friends versus enemies" concept of what politics is all about.

I am a great admirer of Hannah Arendt, whom Mohamed opposes to Schmitt. That seems right to me, but linking Hillary Clinton to Arendt seems a bit more of a stretch. It is true, as Mohamed notes, that Clinton has proposed a politics of "inclusion," with respect to immigration, in contrast to the Trump "Big Wall" approach. However, as Mohamed does admit: 

Clinton is ... clearly ... more statist than Trump, and in fact it is difficult to discern in her rhetoric a sense of nationhood standing apart from state institutions and policies — this is a major source of her emotional deficit as a politician. Hers is a politics of the achievable, of incremental progress within received institutional bounds, trained by the kind of long experience that breeds familiarity with the workings of government ... Statism inherently favors moneyed interests. Without some sort of pressure from the sphere of political action, the levers of the state fall all too readily into the hands of the wealthy and well connected. For Arendt this leads to a politics where Enlightenment principles like justice and equality are hollowed of significance and used only to advance the agenda of the powerful.

Many of those who supported Bernie Sanders over Clinton in the Democratic Party's presidential primary did so precisely because Clinton's approach to politics, while better than the "friends versus enemies" model espoused by Trump, was a politics in which power is really only legitimately available to the "establishment," and in which the moneyed elites get to decide what "justice' and "equality' are all about. This is not, emphatically, how Arendt thought politics should be conceptualized. 

Going back to Mohamed, here is what he has to say about the Arendtian view of politics, a view with which I agree:  

Arendt emphasize[s] a political space for the kind of human creativity that has positive civic effect. This she likens to the human capacity for procreation: Just as we have the power to bring new human beings into the world, so also we have the power to bring new ideas into the world that reshape their environment, having ripple effects of responses that are also new. This is our highest calling, and highest achievement, as social and political beings. 

Making something "new" appear, amidst the society that we create, is the true task of politics. This task is not accomplished by a band of "friends" who overcome the opposition of "enemies," whether foreign or domestic. In fact, this "friend-enemy" distinction is counter to the basic concept of politics, which is that we are "all in this together," and that our politics is the way that we, as a community, decide what we should do, and then seek ways to do it.

We are, in fact, to use the Hillary Clinton campaign slogan, "stronger together," but that slogan seems to emphasize that our "togetherness" is driven by a kind of pragmatism. We get "together" so we can be "stronger." I propose another idea.

I think we need to realize that we ARE together, in sickness and in health, in times of abundance and in times of crisis. We are not divided; we are one. And out of that "many," the "one" makes itself visible. Politics is not, basically, about a friends versus enemies conflict; it is about "decision." Politics is a "friendly debate" about what we should do, and when the time for decision comes, we choose. Our many voices combine. Jesse Jackson called it a "rainbow." I think he may have called it a "tapestry," too. Or maybe that was a metaphor from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We don't need a new slogan for our "togetherness." The politics we need to practice should be based on the slogan of the United States of America. You know the one:

E pluribus unum

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