Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#40 / Plutocrats And Prejudice



Paul Krugman wrote what I thought was a column worth reading on Friday, January 29th, titled "Plutocrats and Prejudice." I encourage anyone reading this blog to track it down, and to think about what Krugman is saying. 

One purpose of the Krugman column was to compare and contrast the Bernie Sanders' and the Hillary Clinton approach to political change. In this column, as well as in previous pronouncements, Krugman comes down on the Clinton side, or on what he designates in the column as the "many evils" side, of the debate. In Krugman's characterization, Sanders believes that "money is the root of all evil," and Clinton has a more nuanced view, with her thought being that "money is the root of some evil, maybe a lot of evil, but it isn't the whole story."

That distinction is nice for the purpose of discussing various approaches to political change, but I doubt it's actually a fair way to describe Bernie Sanders' thinking. I have not observed that Sanders is oblivious to the evils related to racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice. I think that both Clinton and Sanders have a full appreciation of ALL of those powerful forces working to undermine the health of our society, economy, and political life.

Krugman notes that it is not ONLY the success of billionaires seeking power that has worked to deteriorate politics in the United States. In what he properly says has been a political "race to the bottom" in the Republican Party, it has been the combination of the power of big money coupled with an appeal to the racism and sexism of the South that has been so politically effective to bad ends. 

Maybe, as Krugman posits, a "political revolution from the left is off the table," but I really wonder what else is going to change the equation that Krugman quite accurately notes has corrupted our current politics. As I see it, Sanders is suggesting that we might be able to leverage our growing understanding of how the "billionaire class" has perverted our politics, to the extent that we could actually break the political connection between the billionaires and prejudice. In fact, decency and democracy have not completely fled the South (or the country in general). Who is going to appeal to that basic decency, instead of ceding ground to prejudice?

Saying that an effort to break the powerful connection that Krugman identifies is an effort that is "off the table" seems to me to be a counsel of despair.

I'm sticking with that "hopey changey" thing that (as Krugman admits) has actually led to some wonderful, progressive changes over the past eight years.



Image Credit:
https://ricodilello.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/why-i-quit-being-a-financial-advisor/

Monday, February 8, 2016

#39 / The Attraction Of Distraction



NPR's "Fresh Air" ran a show on January 26, 2016 that told listeners "How Meditation, Placebos And Virtual Reality Help Power 'Mind Over Body.'"

Among other revelations, the show described how a person's immersion in a virtual reality game could so distract her mind that she was unaware of burning water being poured over her feet. Earlier, without the distraction provided by the video game and the noise-cancelling headphones, the subject of this experiment  definitely noted the painful sensations in her feet when they were exposed to the super-hot water.

Pain hurts, and that's bad, but I am not so sure that this technique of pain reduction by distraction is actually a good thing. Pain is generally there to tell us that we need to do something, because we're in some sort of danger, and that we need to change some condition afflicting us. Enough distraction will take our mind off the pain, perhaps, but how does this change what is causing the pain?

In a larger perspective, thinking about conditions in the world today, there is a lot of pain out there, and a lot of distraction. In the context of that world full of pain, I'd have to say that the fact that distraction can take our mind off the pain does not strike me as being a very good thing. 

Maybe you disagree. Heck, why don't we watch another segment of CSI, and forget about all that global warming stuff?



Image Credit:
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/26/464372009/how-meditation-placebos-and-virtual-reality-help-power-mind-over-body

Sunday, February 7, 2016

#38 / Selected From My Email Correspondence



That "Sleeping Sovereign" posting yesterday reminded me of some recent correspondence I had with some Santa Cruz City residents who are concerned about the City's apparent desire to turn all of the city's main traffic thoroughfares into high-density, high-rise "corridors." This "Corridors Plan" effort is seen as the best way to accommodate what is taken to be the inevitable future growth of the City of Santa Cruz. The Corridors Plan is not yet finally adopted, and you can get more information on the process by clicking this link. There is still time to get involved.

At any rate, I recently received an email, as part of a larger group that was being alerted to the process by someone who was expressing anguish at both the process and what will likely be the outcome. Here was the email that popped up in my inbox on January 27th: 

Everyone is sending me email who didn't attend the Corridor Committee Meeting last night asking what I thought. I have 6 pages of notes and the meeting was a horrifying disaster. They were not letting people ask questions or comment and instead we had to provide postie-notes and they were gathered. Some were walking out because they couldn't stand to hear the entire meeting. I will gather more thoughts tomorrow.

The traffic study from the Consultants from Gilroy was a joke...to anyone who attended correct me if I am wrong...The traffic study didn't include morning peak traffic, or evening peak traffic, and certainly not summer traffic..(which doubles the population of Santa Cruz from about 65K to 130K) ...The traffic study was done for a few days in October during 12-3 p.m. which is the slowest time of year....All locals know that.

The Parking discussion was truly horrifying...they are proposing "parking benefit districts"....The Consultant didn't really have a good answer where this is done successfully (he mentioned Monterey under his breath)....The parking available inventory was truly misleading...what a surprise....! Absolute numbers rather than relative/ratio numbers was truly disingenuous....The example I gave to someone today was...You have 50,000 cars/day and 5,000 parking spaces...vs. 10,000 cars/day and 2,000 parking spaces...if you are one of the Committee members you would say, Wow there is 3,000 more parking spaces..but the truth is there is 100% less...the ratio is 1 to 10 vs. 1 to 5...It was so insane to see the members react to the data and the Consultant didn't correct them....

This is, of course, a distressing report. I wasn't there, so I am just passing on the observations of someone who was. Here, though, is a response that came back, immediately, from another person who  hadn't attended: 

This is all very concerning. What legal re-course do we have? 

My views were not being specifically solicited, of course; however, when has that ever stopped me from sounding off? Here is what I answered: 

The issues here are not “legal.” They are “political.” Our elected officials have the “legal" right to make decisions about the future shape and character of our communities, and the current planning efforts, in fact, are actually the “implementation” of decisions already made in connection with adoption of the General Plan. How can they do this? We gave them that power when we elected them. The courts will defer to the decisions of elected officials in almost all cases (see my posting on "Deference").
A citywide, organized political effort can change the direction of Santa Cruz politics on these land use matters, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this will mean just firing off a few emails and coming to a few meetings. Development interests now generally get what they want from local government. Community and neighborhood based groups have withered away. Local politics will change when neighborhoods get organized, and get involved. Usually, that means an in-person meeting of a group of from 5-15 persons, one time per week on a continuing, sustained basis; once every other week at the outside. And then work between meetings to carry out the strategy and activities that the meetings decide upon. As I routinely say on my Land Use Report on KUSP Radio, if we want self-government, we have to get involved ourselves! The fact that this works can be seen in the incredibly successful effort by Desal Alternatives to change the direction of the City’s policy on water supply over the past 3-5 years. That is definitely the kind of timeline that is involved. 
Reading the emails, I think there is potential for the kind of political renaissance that is needed, but while our modern communication technologies can assist and facilitate the effort, this isn’t something that happens online!

Wake up!

You are going to have to go to a lot of meetings, if you want to exercise the sovereign prerogatives that "the people" always retain.



Image Credit:
http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/do-women-need-more-sleep-men

Saturday, February 6, 2016

#37 / The Sleeping Sovereign



The Sleeping Sovereign is the title of a book by Richard Tuck, the Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government at Harvard University. Click the title to get some more information on Tuck's book.

You can click right here to review some comments on the "Sleeping Sovereign" topic by Roger Berkowitz, the Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College. His comments are titled "Waking The Sleeping Sovereign." I think they are very much worth reading.

Berkowitz' comments were stimulated less by Tuck's book directly than by an article in the New Republic that commented on what Tuck has to say. The New Republic article referenced by Berkowitz is titled, "What Is The Constitution For?" That article is well worth reading, too. Here's a quote from the article that grabbed my attention: 

[Tuck] treats the Constitution in terms of democratic political theory, rather than judicial interpretation. This shifts the emphasis. The point of the constitution is indeed in its origins, but the point is not what it “meant” originally, but where its authority originates: in the citizenry acting as sovereign lawmaker.

Is the government in charge of us, or are we in charge of the government? Who has sovereignty?

We do, folks!

Wake up!!!


Image Credit: 
https://newrepublic.com/article/127955/constitution-tuck-sleeping-sovereign

Friday, February 5, 2016

#36 / Davos: Can You See The Future From There?



The Popular Resistance website reports the following: 

The wealth divide is getting more extreme. The 62 wealthiest people in the world have wealth equal to the poorest 3.5 billion, half the world’s population. Five years ago it took 388 people to match half the population. Huffington Post reports that “The wealth of the richest 62 has increased an astonishing 44 percent since 2010, to $1.76 trillion. Meanwhile, the wealth of the bottom half of the world dropped by 41 percent.”

The main focus of the article from which this headline quote was taken is a report and reflection on a recent gathering at Davos. 

Davos is not just a lovely place in Switzerland, the location of one of the biggest ski resorts in that country, and  the "highest town" in Europe, as Wikipedia identifies it. 

Most notably, Davos is the site of the annual World Economic Forum, "where the richest of the richest corporate executives, politicians and celebrities meet to discuss the future of the world." That characterization comes from Popular Resistance, but it seems to be a fair comment.

This year, the World Economic Forum discussed (not for the first time) a proposed Global Redesign Initiative, now available as a 602 page document that is "committed to improving the state of the world." At least, that is what it's all about if you credit the sentiments printed on the cover. 

As far as Europe goes, Davos is at the "top of the world," and attendees at the most recent Davos gathering definitely represent some of the most notable of the world's "leaders."

Read the Popular Resistance review, or the Global Redesign Initiative in its entirety. You may reach the same conclusion that I have reached.

The changes that we are going to have to make, to "improve the state of the world," will need to come from the bottom up.

Not from the "top down!"


Image Credit:
https://www.popularresistance.org/newsletter-democracy-not-corporatocracy/

Thursday, February 4, 2016

#35 / No We Can't



John Cassidy, a writer for The New Yorker, has just deconstructed the meaning of the Democratic Party caucus results in Iowa. I think his article is worth reading.

Cassidy's article is headlined by a claim that "Bernie Sanders just changed the Democratic Party."

I am not sure that this claim about changing the Democratic Party is actually true, but I do think that the basic point that Cassidy makes is right on target. 

Bernie Sanders is running a campaign that holds out the possibility of real, positive political change. Barack Obama did the same thing, in 2008, building his successful drive for the Presidency on the promise, "Yes, we can!"

Hillary Clinton, so far, seems to be running with a program that tells primary voters, "No, we can't."

As Cassidy says, "In Iowa, at least, that didn’t prove to be a winning message." Nor is that likely to be a winning message anywhere.

Take it from Robyn Morton, a blogger who has reacted badly to this "No We Can't" appeal

The fact is, the human world that we construct is always open to new possibilities. The laws that govern our human world (unlike the natural laws that govern the physical universe) are laws that we enact ourselves. 

It's not easy, but we can change the world.

Don't let anyone (including political candidates) ever tell you we can't!


Image Credit: 
http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/bernie-sanders-just-changed-the-democratic-party

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#34 / Can We Find The Future? Where?


Sherryl Vint has edited a collection of articles about the future, which has now been published in the journal, Paradoxa. Here is what she says about her project:

The future has become a site of crisis, both materially—in the looming threats of climate change, environmental and species destruction, and imminent collapses of the global financial market—and in our capacity to imagine the future otherwise, as a site of utopian promise. We can imagine the future only as an intensification of the present: from one political orientation, a future of global capital and inequity continuing into infinity; from the other, a future of more and better shiny, technological products. Or we can imagine it as the site of apocalyptic collapse. 
The dystopian turn of recent popular culture and the unfathomable popularity of zombie narratives are evidence of this bifurcated future. Two events in the summer of 2015 aptly encapsulate this crisis of the future: Disney made its earnest Tomorrowland (Brad Bird), simultaneously a lament for the bankruptcy of the 1960s visions of the Space Age Future and a strained attempt to reboot this brand of technological optimism; and, in stark contrast, activist-artist Banksy opened his Dismaland Bemusement Park, a satiric exhibit that featured such attractions as a killer whale leaping from a toilet, a sculpture made from a petrol tanker, and a dead princess surrounded by paparazzi photographers. Clearly, we are at a moment of bluntly contrasted poles when it comes to how industry and activists imagine the future.

I have been known to suggest books that I haven't read myself. Let's add this one to the list.

Let's feel confidence, too, that the future doesn't have to just "happen to us." We know we can, by taking action in the present, create a future, a human world, a civilization that will be the way we want it to be, that will fulfill our aspirations and satisfy our wants and needs.

It doesn't have to be "Dismaland, either!"


Image Credit:
http://paradoxa.com/volumes/27

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

#33 / Anxieties Of Impotence



David Brooks' column, as it appeared in the January 22, 2016 edition of The New York Timeswas titled, "The Anxieties of Impotence." As an older guy getting older, I was prepared to empathize with what I immediately assumed, from the title, must be Brooks' preoccupation with this sensitive and very personal subject. Brooks has been known to be "personal and sensitive," but the column itself, as it turns out, wasn't actually focused on "impotence" at all, at least not in the way the title suggested to me. 

Brooks' title was actually referencing an article from another New York Times journalist, Anand Giridharadas, who claims that "in America, power is somewhere other than where you are." Where did power go? It's a worthy area to explore. Brooks concludes that the daunting problems that afflict us (and I mean the whole world) can be solved only by "big institutions," and declares that we need "more collective action [and] ... greater citizenship." He says that we require "the craft of political architecture, not the demagogy of destruction."

I'm with Brooks on the need for "greater citizenship" and "more collective action." The "big institutions" prescription, however, is quite likely contraindicated, at least in my view. It is the very fact that our "big institutions," corporate and governmental both, seem beyond citizen control that leads to destructive tendencies and feelings of powerlessness. If our politics moves beyond "human scale," then humans can't control it. Whenever that happens, after politics is released from the control of ordinary people, the events that ensue will almost certainly not be a pretty sight.

Getting angry and demagogic (Mr. Trump is referenced in Brooks' column), is no solution. Maybe that "political revolution" suggested by Bernie Sanders could do the trick. If I read Bernie right, he is calling for citizen involvement and collective action, but carried out on a human scale. 

I'm with Bernie.

As for the picture of the elephant, why is that at the top of this posting? Brooks begins his column with a discussion of a 1936 essay by George Orwell, entitled "Shooting an Elephant." A rampaging elephant killed a few villagers. As a British police officer in Burma, and a source of authority, Orwell was expected to shoot it, even though by the time he got involved the elephant was perfectly docile, chewing grass. It wasn't really necessary to kill the elephant. But he did. He didn't feel powerful, according to Brooks. The mob ruled.

When we are not exercising our individual power, through our active, individual political participation, the mob will rule, and we'd best watch out. 

Those elephants out there are running amok.


Image Credit:
http://ajarnjohn.com/short-stories/shooting-an-elephant/

Monday, February 1, 2016

#32/ Just A Bit Unclear On The Concept


The Local Government Commission, whose logo is to the right, is a wonderful organization. With a Board comprised of local elected officials from both city and county government, the LGC has been a voice for progressive land use policies since 1980. 

I was the statewide Chairperson of the LGC during part of the time I served on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, and I'm still a member and still follow what the LGC does. 

Recently, I received a bulletin from the LGC announcing a weekly podcast, focusing on what visionary civic leaders are doing to build smarter, more sustainable, and more equitable communities. This is exactly what the LGC has always been about, and I encourage anyone reading this posting to sign up for the LGC weekly podcast. Instructions on how to sign up can be found right here

I do have a quibble, however, with this new initiative from the LGC. This new podcast is being launched with the title "Infinite Earth Radio," logo below, and to the left:


The announcement of the weekly podcast says that the LCG believes "in a world of finite natural resources."

I know they have that right. 

The announcement goes on to say that "a smart, sustainable and prosperous future is only possible by lifting people up and unleashing unlimited human potential." That's true, too. 

Our human potential is "infinite," but the Earth isn't. The Earth is "finite."

Maybe the LGC might rethink that title. It suggests just the wrong message, it seems to me.


Image Credits:
(1) - http://sonomacountyadaptation.org/sponsors/
(2) - Email sent from the LGC

Sunday, January 31, 2016

#31 / Eating Sunlight



I am a deeply-devoted fan (and a member) of the California Native Plant Society. You can be a member, too. Click to see how!

CNPS members get an extraordinary magazine, Fremontia, delivered into their mailboxes on a monthly basis. I really enjoyed the latest issue, which looks like this:


To read the latest, click the link. The very first article is titled "Save The Plants, Save The Planet...," by Emily Brin Roberson. The article is based on presentations made at the 2015 CNPS Conservation Conference. 

Speaking at that conference were science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, distinguished ecologist Paul Ehrlich, and celebrated botanist Peter Raven. Emily Brin Roberson interviewed these speakers to "seek guidance about how native plant enthusiasts can fight the trends that are endangering our planet, our flora, and ourselves."

It's a wonderful article. I invite you to read it in its entirety, and I invite you to think about what wildlife ecologist Douglas Tallamy said, as quoted in Roberson's article: 

Plants are as close to biological miracles as a scientist could dare admit. After all, they allow us and nearly every other species to eat sunlight....

The very last paragraph in Roberson's article notes that the dangers now facing plants and the rest of our natural environment come from human activity, and that the speakers Roberson queried "tell us that we cannot successfully conserve plants, or the life support systems they anchor, without creating societies and economies based on equity rather than competition, sustainability rather than exploitation."

The very bottom line? The very last word in this provocative article?

The kind of economic and social justice that we must achieve in our society, to allow us to protect the natural environment that sustains us, will depend, in the end, on "political action."

"Political action," last mentioned, must be first mobilized, if we are going to "save the plants and save the planet."


Image Credits:
http://www.cnps.org/cnps/publications/

Saturday, January 30, 2016

#30 / The Idea Of Leadership



I am a big fan of The New Yorker. It always has great articles! In its January 11, 2016 edition, the magazine published a comment entitled, "The Next Great Famine," by Amy Davidson, one of The New Yorker's staff writers. It's a comment worth reading. Davidson's purpose was to remind readers of "The Great Famine" of 1315-1317, the better to prepare us for what's likely ahead.

Then, in a section of "The Talk of the Town" subtitled "This Changing World," Rebecca Mead reported on a breakfast interview with Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan. Carter plays "Carson" on Downton Abbey, and is pictured above. Logan plays "Mrs. Hughes." If you are not a Downton Abbey fan, you may not appreciate the moral authority manifested (below stairs) by these two characters.

In Mead's recent item, Carter (Carson) spoke to our times with trenchant insight. "Downton seemed to offer modern audiences a world of certainties," Carter said. "But today is an era of massive uncertainty. You've got supine governments who give no moral leadership. The idea of leadership is to bomb people."

Pretty close to the mark, I'd say. 

Mead's report ran under the title, "Final Curtain," referencing the fact that Downton Abbey is ending this season. Unless we can find a better brand of leadership (I do think that there are some options available), we're pretty much facing our own "Final Curtain," too. Bombs or a famine. Either alternative would be unpleasant.


Image Credit:
http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-17-1483-1492-1498-view-history-biopic-10-profile-downton-abbey.html

Friday, January 29, 2016

#29 / I Am Not Monkeying Around



"Workaholic" is a word that reeks of opprobrium. Those afflicted have definitely got a problem. At least, that is the general understanding. According to Wikipedia, anyone who works "compulsively" is probably suffering from an "impulse control disorder," an "obsessive-compulsive personality disorder," or just a plain vanilla "obsessive-compulsive disorder." Workaholics: bad!

Hey! Why is everybody looking at me?

I know; I know! I have been accused!

Luckily, however, I do have friends on my own side. They stick up for me! They are probably obsessive-compulsive, too. 

One of my friends sent me the following quote, from Primo Levi's book, The Monkey's Wrench:


If we can except those isolated and miraculous moments fate can bestow on a man, loving your work (unfortunately, the privilege of a few) represents the best, most concrete approximation of happiness on earth. But this is a truth that not many know. This boundless region, the region of le boulot, the job, il rusco - of daily work, in other words - is less known than the Antarctic, and through a sad and mysterious phenomenon it happens that the people who talk most, and loudest, about it are the very ones who have never traveled through it. 
To exalt labor, in official ceremonies, an insidious rhetoric is displayed, based on the consideration that a eulogy or a medal costs much less than a pay raise, and they are also more fruitful. There also exists a rhetoric on the opposite side, however, not cynical, but profoundly stupid, which tends to denigrate labor, to depict it as base, as if labor, our own or others,’ were something we could do without, not only in Utopia, but here, today; as if anyone who knows how to work were, by definition, a servant, and as if, on the contrary, someone who doesn’t know how to work, or knows little, or doesn’t want to, were for that reason a free man. 
It is sadly true that many jobs are not lovable, but it is harmful to come on to the field charged with preconceived hatred. He who does this sentences himself, for life, to hating not only work, but also himself and the world. We can and must fight to see that the fruit of labor remains in the hands of those who work, and that work does not turn into punishment; but love or, conversely, hatred of work is an inner, original heritage, which depends greatly on the story of the individual and less than is believed on the productive structures within which work is done.

Loving our work. Really! Let's try it out.

I'm not monkeying around.



Image Credit:
http://www.amazon.com/Monkeys-Wrench-Classic-20th-Century-Penguin/dp/0140188924

Thursday, January 28, 2016

#28 / No Baths? No Local Governments?



Late last year (on Sunday, December 20, 2015, to be exact), the San Francisco Chronicle published a story in its "Insight" section with the following headline: "5 Ordinary things Californians can kiss goodbye in next 20 years."

Author Matt Weiser, who writes a blog called "Water Deeply," put taking baths and mowing lawns at the top of his list. 

He may have a point, there.

Weiser's list went on to say that "we won't need utilities," and "we won't need local government," placing these "ordinary things" as numbers two and three on the list of things we can "kiss goodbye."

I don't think that's going to happen. In fact, I hope not. 

Weiser thinks that "local government" is mainly about maintaining the utilities that deliver municipal services, like water and wastewater treatment, and since Weiser opines that "our homes will become autonomous, collecting the water we need during storms, then treating it to be used over and over in on-site wastewater recycling systems," utilities will disappear, and local governments will simply "wither away." Who would need them?

Well, even if you buy the "end to utilities" prediction, which I don't, our "governments," at every level, are not essentially organizations whose main purpose is to "provide services."

Government is the forum in which we debate and decide, collectively, what we want to do (together). Let's not give up on that idea, just yet!


Image Credit: 
http://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/article/California-s-future-the-end-of-bathtubs-6703755.php

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

#27 / Boots On The Ground



Last year, an Oregon eighth-grader was suspended from school for "wearing a T-shirt that depicted an empty pair of boots representing soldiers killed in action." 

A report of this incident was included in a January 1, 2016 column by George Will, the reliably dyspeptic (and right-wing) columnist for The Washington Post. Will's column described a list of events occurring in 2015 that Will found "ludicrous," the common thread tying them all together being "the collapse of judgment in, and the infantilization of society by, government."

Will's characterization of the "meaning" of the occurrences he highlights is clearly subservient to his political ideology. That said, the incidents he lists, like kicking a student out of high school for wearing a "boots on the ground T-shirt," are all pretty deplorable. 

Both left-wingers and right-wingers should be able to find common cause in a demand that our governmental institutions respect the First Amendment.

Looking ahead, the picture at column top might remind us all what putting "boots on the ground" really means. I have a feeing that we are going to be hearing a lot of candidates from Mr. Will's favorite political party calling for lots more of those boots on the ground, everywhere, during the upcoming year.


Image Credit:
http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Boots-that-talk-for-deaths-in-military-Memorial-2484824.php

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

#26 / Deep End Dating



Dating advice is not what I need most. However, I did like an article by Tim Boomer, carried in the January 17, 2016 edition of The New York Times

The article was titled "The End of Small Talk" in the online edition, and it bore the title, "Dating in the Deep End" in the printed version I picked up off my front walkway that Sunday. Boomer's article makes a point that applies in other contexts. 

Succinctly put, superficiality tends to be counterproductive, whether you are looking for love, or are addressing some of the other important issues of this life. 

My go-to source of wisdom and good advice, Mr. Bob Dylan, puts it this way: 

Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late
             - Bob Dylan, All Along The Watchtower


Image Credit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/fashion/dating-the-end-of-small-talk.html?_r=0

Monday, January 25, 2016

#25 / Are We Fucked?



Derrick Jensen reports that the words "we're fucked" are "the most common words I hear spoken by any environmentalists anywhere." Jensen is identified by Wikipedia as a "radical environmentalist," and the article in which he is quoted, "Beyond Hope," appeared in Orion Magazine. A person commenting on one of my earlier blog posts gave me the reference. 

The point of Jensen's article is that it's good to "give up hope," since Jensen pretty much equates "hope" with "false hope." It's hope, he claims, that "keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth."

The possible "destruction of the Earth" isn't what I think of as the main worry, but I do think that our destructive activities, directed against the Earth, and against the natural systems that support us, put human civilization in extreme peril. 

If "hope" means waiting for some external reality to make it all better, to solve our problems for us, then I'm with Jensen. That's not going to work.

But do I think we can change our destructive behaviors? Do I think we can change them before time runs out?

I do. I think there's a chance. I hope so!


Image Credit:
https://orionmagazine.org/article/beyond-hope/

Sunday, January 24, 2016

#24 / Vaccination



For the folks I hang around with, in real life and in the online life I also lead, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump is not thought of sympathetically. If you are reading this blog posting, you probably don't like the idea that Donald Trump might be our next President. I certainly hope you don't like that idea!

This Quarter, I am teaching a course in the Legal Studies Program at the University of California at Santa Cruz entitled "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom." A couple of weeks ago, I met with one of the students in the course, to discuss his Capstone Thesis. This student happens to be a Muslim, and somehow, and I don't think I opened up discussion on this topic, Donald Trump came into the conversation.

Considering that Donald Trump has made an attack on Muslims a key part of his campaign, I didn't expect to hear what this student told me about his views of Trump. I expected to hear something like what standup comic Dean Obeidallah has said. Obeidallah reports that Trump's comments on Muslims sent a "shudder down my spine." 

To the contrary, my student thought that Trump's campaign was going to have some positive benefits, in that his obvious outrageousness would help mobilize a reaction towards inclusion and the celebration of diversity, which are genuine American values. 

Trump's outrageous fulminations will act like a "vaccination" against hatred. That's essentially what my student said. 

Here was a young person with confidence that we will have an ever-better future, and that present turmoil and challenges are only going to help get us there sooner. 

It's a refreshing view! And very likely true.

I do hope that!


Image Credit:
http://www.businessinsider.com/nbc-donald-trump-2015-6

Saturday, January 23, 2016

#23 / Print Me A Gun



On January 12th, I was lucky enough to be invited to a dinner at which I got to meet Jamais Cascio, who was speaking at the University of California at Santa Cruz to students in the Crown College Core Course. Cascio writes a blog called Open the Future, and I guess you could call him a "futurologist," though I didn't find his name on the list of "futurologists" maintained by Wikipedia. Cascio is also called a "scenario planner," which is how he is identified in his biography on the website of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies. Under whatever title, Cascio clearly thinks it's important to think about the future, and says that "we think about the future because we believe two fundamental things: 1) That the future matters; and 2) That we still have a say in the future we get." The heading on his blog proclaims, "...with enough minds, all tomorrows are visible."

"Having a say" in the future we get is exactly the way I think we ought to approach the future. I am rather impatient when I hear people "predict" the future, based on the extrapolation of current trends and conditions. This is the Megatrends way, and I think fundamentally misconstrues how human freedom and the future interact. In fact, we come to the future not as "observers" of things that happen to us, but as "actors" who are moving into a future that we create ourselves. The idea that with "enough minds" all futures will become "visible," as though the future exists in advance, is thus somewhat suspect, from my point of view. However, since we found out that Schrödinger's cat will appear only depending upon what we do, and where we choose to look, it may be that the concept of "making the future visible" can be reconciled with my thought that the future doesn't exist until we create it ourselves, through our actions and choices.

Reading up on Cascio, prior to meeting him, I quickly found a blog posting called "A World In Which," and within that posting was directed to a posting called, "Gun Control's MP3 Moment." Cascio suggests that gun control legislation is not only difficult politically but is, in his view, "irrelevant." Here's his thought: 

Reading the continued, ongoing arguments about gun regulations ("reasonable" or otherwise) is frustrating. Not only for the usual reasons (absolutist positions, inability to recognize multi-causal phenomena, relentless hostility towards different opinions, etc.), but because of how incredibly irrelevant it is becoming. 3D-printable firearms are already here, and becoming increasingly reliable. Every gun control law in the world is obsolete. With a 3D printer costing a thousand dollars or less, it's possible to produce a usable firearm. The first generation of these printed guns had a tendency to blow up when used, but the newer models can work just fine. Single-shot, magazine-fed, automatic or semi-automatic, there's now a variety of weapon designs available, ready to be downloaded and printed out. 

I must say, I hadn't really contemplated the possibility of "printing" a gun. Will we now be able to add First Amendment "freedom of the press" protections to the protections for gun ownership that already exist in the Second Amendment?

How's that for a scenario?

I continue to believe that we, ourselves, will create the world in which we most immediately live, and that this "human world" is the product of human freedom and human choice.

In that world, guns everywhere, all the time, is only ONE scenario. Maybe with "enough minds," and with enough action, we can come up with a lot better scenario than that. 


Image Credit:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJyf1IrHtcE

Friday, January 22, 2016

#22 / Utopian Prescriptions



According to NBC News, the "Democratic Establishment" is going into "panic mode." The growing popularity of Bernie Sanders, and the apparent popularity of his message that we need to begin a "political revolution" in this country, is what is causing all the consternation. That kind of talk can't win, right? 

Well, maybe, or maybe not, is my reaction. Definitely not if people decide it's not possible. Nothing is possible if you won't even try.

I was somewhat surprised to find author Ta-Nehisi Coates counted among the "Democratic Establishment," which is where NBC News has placed him. Despite his recently revealed predilection for dining well on oysters, I have never thought of Coates as an "establishment" kind of guy, but according to NBC News, Ta-Nehisi Coates has criticized Sanders for proposing "utopian prescriptions," specifically including single-payer health care and breaking up the big banks. That kind of criticism is exactly consistent with what the party "establishment" is saying.

Since I am officially on record as holding that "anything" is possible in the human world that we create, and since it's my position that we have "infinite" opportunities to create whatever human institutions we want, I am not a fan of the idea that "utopian prescriptions" are bad medicine for the body politic. 


Image Credit:
http://elflands2ndcousin.com/2013/07/30/the-convergence-of-utopia-and-science-fiction-2/

Thursday, January 21, 2016

#21 / Singing For Marge Frantz



Pictured is Marge Frantz, who was a much-beloved teacher at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I have previously reported that Marge died in Santa Cruz on October 16, 2015, at the age of ninety-three. 

Last Sunday, a memorial gathering in honor of Marge Frantz was held in the University's Recital Hall. It was a moving tribute to Marge, who inspired literally thousands of her students, and others, to devote their lives and energies to work for social and economic justice.  

Some high points for me:

  • The opening presentation, by Helene Moglen, who I think perfectly captured how Marge lived her life: "Thought and action, fused with feeling."
  • Holly Near, performing her powerful song, I Am Willing: "I am open and I am willing; To be hopeless would seem so strange; It dishonors those who go before us; So lift me up to the light of change." 
  • A poem, by Marge Piercy, "To Be Of Use," read by Sarah Rabkin, epitomizing Marge's commitment to her work as an activist, and as a teacher: "The pitcher cries for water to carry; and a person for work that is real." 
  • A description of Marge's way of reaching students, as recounted by a faculty colleague, Paul Skenazy: "Marge broke the gravitational pull of the present and the personal by turning students' attention to the past and the political." 
  • The moving closing anthem, Singing For Our Lives, with Holly Near leading and all of those present joining her, and raising their voices to proclaim: "We are all in this together and we are singing, singing for our lives."



Those who spoke, and Holly Near, who sang, and Marge herself, are all correct: 

We are all in this together. We must turn our attention to the political. We must seek out work that is real. We must lift up our lives to the light of change. Our lives must be filled with action, based on thought, and fused with feeling.

We should be singing; we should be working; we should be thinking; we should be speaking. 

We are singing. We should be singing for our lives! 


Image Credits:
Personal photos by Gary Patton

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

#20 / Infinite!



I continue to find value in my "Two Worlds Hypothesis." We live in two worlds, simultaneously. 

Ultimately, we live in and are dependent upon the World of Nature that sustains all life. That world is "finite," and it operates on the basis of laws that we don't make, and can't break. We tend to forget that!

Most immediately, we live in a "human world," which we might call "civilization." Within our human world, the laws are not like the law of gravity, or like other natural laws that govern the World of Nature. Our human laws don't describe what "must" happen, as natural laws do. Our laws are "prescriptive," not "descriptive." Human laws don't tell us what we "have to do," but what we "want to do." It is through writing down such "laws," as prescriptions for action, and then following them, that we in fact create the human world that is our immediate home.

Since writing, yesterday, about how important it is to recognize and respect the "limits" of our "finite" natural world, it strikes me that I should make explicit the nature of what we can do in our human one. 

In fact, we can do "anything." Anything is possible within our human world. We are not restricted by laws that we "must" follow. As long as we respect the World of Nature, the arrangements we choose to make in our own world reflect infinite possibility!

Image Credit:
http://dont-forget-the-sun.tumblr.com/

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

#19 / Finite?


A few weeks ago, I came across an article from The Guardian (Australian edition). Originally published on September 1, 2014, the article was titled, "Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we're nearing collapse."

The 2014 article was a revisit of a famous 1972 book, commissioned by The Club of Rome, entitled Limits to Growth.

Here's an excerpt from The Guardian article. This is the sentence that hooked my attention: 

The book’s central point, much criticised since, is that “the earth is finite” and the quest for unlimited growth in population, material goods etc would eventually lead to a crash.

How about that? The statement that "the earth is finite" has been "much criticized?" 

To all such critics, a free subscription to this Two Worlds blog! 

The Natural World, which sustains all life, is commonly called Planet Earth. Check it out in the aerial view presented below. Note that it's large (but finite).



That's pretty much it, folks; that's all we've got. Check the charts in The Guardian article, and consider the meaning of that fairly weird looking icon at the top of this column. 

The icon is a symbol designed by The McKeever Environmental Learning Center, which is affiliated with Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. Here is how the Learning Center describes its program (and in so doing decodes that symbol): 

Right now, we are all whizzing through space on an amazing planet which we call the Earth. This planet is a discrete entity, whose finite life support systems are all on board. These systems are powered by energy from the sun, its “mother ship.” This residential program is referred to as “Sunship III” because it’s all about our Earth, the third planet from the sun.
Students [are] invited to the McKeever Center to tour the Sunship, or “SOL” — the “Ship Of Life.” During their experience they will examine its “System Of Life” by learning about the concepts of energy flow, cycles, and interrelationships; its “Sections Of Life” by learning about natural communities; and finally their own personal “Styles Of Life.”

So, now you know what that weird "SOL" is all about, from the point of view of The McKeever Environmental Learning Center. If we don't learn the lessons that the McKeever Center is trying to teach, and grasp the fact that the life support systems of Planet Earth are "finite," then we can probably reuse the icon, but with a bit of a twist. 

You know what that abbreviation "SOL" means, right? Here's from the Urban Dictionary:

SOL
Shit Outta Luck
That's just where we are if we don't pay attention to the finite environment that sustains our life, and if we don't make sure that we don't push it beyond its limits. The Club of Rome, and now The Guardian, have been checking the dials and charts.

It's not looking good!


Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.mckeever.org/school-educational-programs/sunship-iii.html
(2) - http://www.boomsbeat.com/articles/485/20140219/photos-planet-earth-space.htm


Monday, January 18, 2016

#18 / Anger Management



Political commentator Elizabeth Drew, writing in The New York Review of Books, contends that feelings of frustration and anger are a major driving force in Presidential politics at the present time. Drew's article is titled, "The New Politics of Frustration."

Since I had just watched a YouTube video of a major Trump presentation at a rally in Pensacola, Florida, before reading what Drew has to say, I was very much prepared to agree with Drew's observations. At the Pensacola event, Trump not only owned and admitted his anger, but "trumpeted" it, to the boisterous satisfaction of the crowd. I think Drew is correct, too, in indicating that the Bernie Sanders' candidacy is also significantly anger-based.

If you'd like to watch the Trump speech, which convinced me that he is an eminently serious candidate, and will be hard to beat, not only in the Republican primaries, but also in a general election, you can click right here. That click will not only take you to Trump's speech, it will give you an opportunity to experience the "Official Donald Trump Jam," as sung by the "USA Freedom Kids." They are actually called "Freedom Girls" in the publication notes for the YouTube video. To "go deep" on the "Trump Jam," feel free to click on this link for the lyrics.

I was tipped to Drew's article by a mention in Amor Mundi, the weekly blog published by the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College. The comment in Amor Mundi, by Roger Berkowitz, Academic Director and Associate Professor of Politics, Philosophy, and Human rights at Bard, is a serious one:

What is missing, however [in the Drew article], is what Hannah Arendt once referred to as a "real analysis of the existing situation," a recognition of the uniqueness of our current situation and a new way forward. The candidates can't be faulted for the fact that they don't have solutions. Nobody seems to. But a politics of anger rarely blooms into a rose. A revolutionary situation, Arendt writes, "need not lead to revolution. For one thing, it can end in counterrevolution, the establishment of dictatorships, it can end in total anticlimax; it need not lead to anything." With the candidacies of Trump, Cruz, and Sanders, justifiable anger is raising the stakes in a dangerous game. Which is why Drew rightly concludes her essay with a warning: "The anger, fear, resentment, racism, and frustration that are playing into the current political climate make for a turbulent situation. This is a situation prone to undermining our democratic system. It's not an overstatement to say that in this political climate this election encourages a certain fascist strain. We're not there yet and our democratic impulses are strong. The disturbing thing is that that fascist tendency can even be glimpsed."

         


Mussolini and Trump. Trump's the one without the hat!


Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/01/14/iowa-sanders-trump-politics-frustration/
(2) - http://www.comicvine.com/benito-mussolini/4005-9672/
(3) - https://twitter.com/robertklitgaard/status/672472951103447040

Sunday, January 17, 2016

#17 / The College Of The Entrepreneur



Pictured is the Georgia Southern University Center for Entrepreneurial Learning & Leadership

The GSU website makes clear that GSU believes there is a tight connection between entrepreneurship and the military:

Although the military provides much structure many veterans, particularly combat veterans, make decisions in the face of significant ambiguity and uncertainty. Dealing with a chaotic situation, knowing that the first plan might not work and being willing to adapt are essential characteristics. Entrepreneurship is very similar. You must make the right judgement, at the right time, quickly, with inadequate information and adapt if things are not working. Likewise military personnel face significant risks and must have some tolerance for risk. If you are faced with decisions that may lead to yours or somebody else’s death or injury then placing your entire livelihood on the line in a venture may not seem that risky. Even the military tempo of long periods of boredom followed by sudden periods of frantic effort mimic the tempo of entrepreneurial life, where the next business crisis is just around the corner. Being in a crisis drives adrenaline and can be exciting. Following this type of experience with a mundane job may simply lack the adrenaline rush someone is used to. Military personnel must also make do with the resources available while getting the job done. Again entrepreneurship is similar. The entrepreneur must bootstrap; barter, beg and borrow whatever resources she or he can in order to fulfill new orders. In the military it is not unusual to work and lead small teams; a very similar challenge to leading and managing the typical small business. So it seems that veterans may be well placed to make good entrepreneurs but before you embark on this road make sure entrepreneurship is right for you because there are also plenty of unsuccessful veteran entrepreneurs. 

This analogy, touting military experience (and particularly combat experience) as laying a great foundation for entrepreneurial success, seems a bit forced to me, and I think it is being advanced mainly as a way for GSU to encourage veterans to spend some tuition money at the school. I'd take the quoted rhetoric with just a grain or two of salt.

Still, it is concerning.

There is no doubt that the GSU effort to recruit students into "entrepreneurship" programs is not unusual. All sorts of universities are now out searching for students of all backgrounds, and are pitching those students to tie their future to the entrepreneurial dream. These organs of what used to be called "higher education" are now seeking to "embolden entrepreneurs" as their major mission in life. 

You can get some of the flavor of what's going on from an article in the December 29, 2015 edition of The New York Times, by Natasha Singer. As Singer's article notes, this race to turn academic institutions into entrepreneurial training institutes is not without its critics. The first paragraph of The Times' article talks about Rice University, as follows:

The original charter of Rice University, drafted in 1891, established a school here dedicated to the advancement of literature, science and art. These days, Rice seems equally dedicated to the advancement of the next Mark Zuckerberg.

To the degree that our major universities are now turning their back on their historic role of providing an education dedicated to the "advancement of literature, science and art," and are seeking to turn "education" into a training program for those seeking great personal wealth, I have to announce that I'm with the critics. 

Great schools (Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and M.I.T., as well as Rice, are mentioned in Singer's article) used to offer students a "liberal education." Increasingly, these schools are becoming "entrepreneurial" themselves (witness the creative GSU pitch to combat veterans), which makes me wonder whether contemporary college graduates, trained to care about achieving great personal wealth as their main aim in life, will have even the slightest understanding that their individual fate is directly linked to our common fate, and that there is a great question whether or not human civilization itself will be able to continue, as we undermine the World of Nature that supports all our human activities.

Color me concerned!


Image Credit:
http://eagle-entrepreneur.com/tag/entrepreneurship-education/