Monday, July 25, 2016

#207 / Convention Commentary #1

Pictured above is some of the "loot" provided to delegates when they check in to the Democratic National Convention. Today, Monday, is the start of the Convention, and today is the last time for delegates to check in. Most did yesterday, I among them, and those who showed up got lots of convention-related buttons, water bottles, toys, snacks, and the like. Delegates receive their official credentials to get into the Wells Fargo Center on a daily basis, and Monday morning is the first day that official credentials are being handed out. Since I am an "alternate" delegate for Bernie Sanders, I may get an upgrade if a Bernie delegate doesn't show up.

As I indicated yesterday, I am using my Two Worlds blog, this week, to give readers a personal report, perhaps providing news or information that the major media isn't covering. In terms of what happened on Sunday, the Democratic Party is all about the "Party" thing. Here's a snapshot of the opening night celebration, for all Democratic delegates, held at the Kimmel Center. Spectacular. Gourmet food. Free beverages. Entertainment. Plus a chance to start the schmoozing!

On Monday morning, a breakfast was held for the California Delegation. That delegation is being housed in the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott, at about $700/night, which means most delegates are sharing accommodations. I am rooming with Alan Haffa, a Monterey City Council Member and Bernie Delegate. Alan is also a coordinator of Bernie Delegates from the Central Coast Region.

The breakfast was unexpectedly raucous. Many Bernie Delegates booed or otherwise showed their dislike for Hillary Clinton, whenever her name was mentioned. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is not a favorite of progressives, and was attacked during his time at the podium. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla drew the most negativity, with chants from the floor of "Count Our Ballots," and "Do Your Job." Many Bernie Delegates truly believe that Bernie "won" the vote in California, and that ballot fraud was prevalent. The fact that the breakfast and the Convention was partly sponsored by oil companies, with that fact being advertised, probably put the more progressive delegates in a cranky mood, even before the speakers showed up to stir their ire. Nancy Pelosi was really the only major speaker who didn't draw down anti-Hillary Clinton reactions, laughing off an effort by one Bernie supporter to put a "Bernie Sanders For President" sign into the video screen with her. By the time she ended her terrific address, I felt like starting a chant, "Pelosi for President!"

In my opinion, the problem that the Democratic Party has had with the Sanders' Delegates, right from the start, is that the official Party apparatus has acted as though Hillary was inevitably going to be the official candidate, thus sending the message that the actual "election" process was a sham. The revelations that led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Shultz, and to the rancor that has accompanied her appearance here in Philadelphia, show that this attitude was present from the start of the primary season, and it still persists. The Convention is organized in a way that "presumes" that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party candidate; however, Hillary has not yet been officially voted into that status, and doesn't have enough "pledged" delegates to claim the nomination. When the "Super Delegates" all vote, Hillary should, indeed, have more than the necessary numbers, if they vote for Hillary as they say they will, but until that happens, the theme of "Coming Together," which all the Party officials deployed, rings hollow in the ears of Bernie Delegates who want to vote for their candidate, and who truly believe that Bernie would have a much better chance than Hillary to defeat Donald Trump.

On Sunday evening, all the Bernie Delegates from California got together, and talked about how to communicate and coordinate as the Convention gets underway. Bernie Sanders has called a meeting for today, for all this pledged delegates, and there was a real debate about whether to go to that meeting, since many Bernie Delegates were afraid that the meeting was scheduled so late that they would miss the opening of the Convention, and that their absence might then allow adverse rulings to be made, without their objection and opposition. Bernie moved his meeting earlier, to eliminate that problem. Here's a shot of the crowd last night. I am finishing up this posting at about 11:00 o'clock in the morning, Philadelphia time. Tomorrow, I'll bring you up to date on what happened during the Convention's first day!

Image Credits:
Gary Patton Personal Photos

Sunday, July 24, 2016

#206 / Posting From Philadelphia

This year, the Democratic National Convention will be held in Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center (pictured above). The Convention starts tomorrow, Monday, July 25th, and oddly enough, I am going to be there. I am a pledged delegate (an alternate) for Bernie Sanders! 

Getting to be a delegate means you can get in the door to the Convention. Believe me, that's not an option open to everyone. I feel fortunate to be able to attend, and if you have been reading my recent postings to this Two Worlds blog, you'll know that my mind has definitely been focused on the upcoming presidential election.

It is, actually, somewhat "odd" that I am a delegate to this national convention, because I have never really been all that entranced with, or interested in, presidential politics, or "party" politics. My twenty-year career as an elected County Supervisor, in Santa Cruz County, California, gave me lots of political experience, but in California, local government officials are nonpartisan. So why on earth would I get involved in party politics, and national politics, now? 

It's that "political revolution" thing! 

As of today, the Convention has not yet voted. It is theoretically possible that Convention delegates could select Bernie Sanders to represent the Democratic Party in the November election. I truly believe that this would be the best thing for the Democratic Party to do, and would be the best thing for the country, and if, as an Alternate Delegate, I am called upon to cast a vote, I am planning to cast my vote for Bernie Sanders on that basis. Not to mention, of course, that I was selected to be here by Democratic Party voters in California's 20th Congressional District precisely because I pledged to do just that. 

I know it's the longest of long shots that the Convention roll call is going to end up with a decision that designates Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, but even if that doesn't happen, the kind of community-based, grassroots involvement that the Sanders' campaign has stimulated, all over the country - the kind of campaign that got me here - might just be able to achieve political "lift off," and begin a process that can lead to the kind of fundamental transformation of our politics that is so desperately needed. 

I am going to be working on that, during this week in Philadelphia (and in what city better, when you think of it), hoping that our people can revive and reignite the democratic impetus that has done so much to allow the people of the United States (not without glaring exceptions, of course) to create and sustain a government that has been of, by, and for the people.

In addition, since I get to go inside the Convention, and very few readers of this blog will have that opportunity, I'll try to give an "inside the Convention" report. 

Stay tuned!

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

#205 / How Did Trump Do On The Garofoli Test?

Joe Garofoli is a senior political writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. In a front page article that appeared in the Sunday, July 18, 2016 edition of that newspaper, Garofoli presented a five-item list of "What Trump Must Do" during the Republican National Convention

Well, first thing, it's pretty clear that Trump doesn't really adhere to a "must do" type of approach to politics. Having said that, and the Convention now being over, how did Mr. Trump perform with respect to Garofoli's list?

Here is what Garofoli said Trump's political "to-do" list for the Convention had to include:
  1. Trump had to "unite the party."
  2. Trump had to not "say anything crazy."
  3. Trump had to "start talking about policy."
  4. Trump had to "make Paul Ryan feel comfortable."
  5. Trump had to "hug it out with former rivals."
On Item #1, it looks like Mr. Trump didn't do very well. An organized NeverTrump group was shut down at the Convention, which isn't quite the same thing as "uniting the party." A Ballotpedia survey of Republican National Convention delegates found that nearly 30 percent of them have reservations about their presidential nominee. Among non-Trump delegates, half say they have doubts. And more than one in 10 of the delegates say that while they plan to support other GOP candidates in the fall campaign, they will not be backing Trump. Most telling, at least to me, was the headline on a front page article in the print version of the July 20, 2016 edition of The New York Times: "Speeches, So Far, Alienate Blacks in G.O.P." Uniting the party? Not so much!

On Item #2, "crazy" hit the Convention right out of the gate. Seeking to portray her candidate husband as more warm and personally appealing than he is generally given credit for, Melania Trump gave a speech that blatantly plagiarized a speech given by Michelle Obama in 2008. That plagiarism by Mrs. Trump, and the Trump campaign's full on denial and defense of this plagiarism, indicates to me a fundamental failure on the "don't say anything crazy" admonition. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank obviously agrees, since his July 20th column was headlined, "The crazy face of Trump's GOP." I'm giving Trump a "fail" on Item #2.

On Item #3, I think it's fair to say that "policy" was not a major focus at the Republican National Convention. At least, there was very little public focus on policy, and there's a reason for that, too. As an opinion column in the Los Angeles Times noted, the actual policy content of the Republican Party Platform is a horrifying list of repressive and regressive proposals. Best not to highlight those, since not all voters would support the policies espoused by the right-wing, totalitarian-leaning, bigoted, racist, religious extremists who now control the Republican Party. I won't try to list the platform policies here. Check out The Times' column and read all about them for yourself. I think Trump rates an "F" grade on the "start talking about policy" item. His own speech, presented on Thursday, wasn't really big on policy, either. The candidate did not celebrate the policies contained in the party platform, nor did he talk about any other real "policies," either. Instead (surprise, surprise) Trump talked about Trump. In case you haven't caught on to this before, the Republican Party candidate has a very high opinion of his own greatness. Here is my choice for the most hyperbolic statement in the whole Trump oeuvre (emphasis added; grammatical error ignored): 

Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it

On Item #4, that "make Paul Ryan comfortable" item, I'd have to say that Ryan looked pretty comfortable. Ryan spoke to the Convention on Tuesday night, and while pundits like Yahoo Senior Political Correspondent Jon Ward opined that Ryan was "less than happy to have declared Donald Trump the party’s nominee for president," Ryan's actual speech, which was well received by the delegates, contained this line: "Only with Donald Trump and Mike Pence do we have a chance at a better way!" That statement would seem to indicate that Ryan is on board with the "only Trump can do it" theme. I'm giving Trump at least a "B," and maybe even an "A" on this particular item in the Garofoli list. At this stage, Ryan seems pretty comfortable with the Trump candidacy.

On Item #5, one "former rival," Governor John Kasich, the Governor of the State of Ohio, the state in which the Convention was being held, was pictured outside the Convention Hall, but he refused even to come into the Hall. No hugs for John! Other former rivals in the primary elections, notably Jeb Bush and his entire Bush family clan, likewise failed to appear for the Convention. Former rival Ted Cruz, who got a prime speaking spot on Wednesday night, took the stage, but declined to endorse the nominee, and so Cruz was booed by delegates on the Convention floor. I'd mark Trump down as a failure on the "hug it out" test.

So, what's the "bottom line?" For me, while Trump got a lot of failing grades on the Garofoli test, there is an inherent fallacy in that Garofoli "must do" list. The fact is, the only thing that Donald Trump actually "must do" to be elected President is to get more electoral votes than the Democratic Party candidate

I am hoping that the Democrats, as they get ready to go into their own Convention, won't get overconfident about their Party's chances, just because Trump scored so badly on Garofoli's "must do" list. With all due respect to Garofoli, Brabender's "Best Path" analysis, which I mentioned on Thursday, still seems to me to have a lot of relevance. 

Here is the way Brabender sees it: 

Mr. Trump ... has become the megaphone for a large group of voters who feel they have been disenfranchised from the political process, and abandoned on the economic battlefield... Mr. Trump also knows that “acting presidential” is equivalent to no longer being authentic and believable to his supporters. You’re never going to create an anti-Washington wave of the magnitude he needs if you sound too much like a focus-group-tested, teleprompter-guided candidate.

Paul Ryan, incidentally, whose speech I felt was quite successful, played on similar themes. Ryan was "comfortable" with Trump because Trump is going to be running as the "change" candidate. Trump is definitely not going to be someone who will try to campaign for a failing status quo. If what the electorate wants is someone who seems to speak for those who feel "disenfranchised from the political process," someone who is "authentic," then getting a good grade on the Garofoli test doesn't automatically count for much, in terms of how to put together those electoral votes, which is the only true "must do" requirement. In fact, high scores on Garofoli's "what good politics requires" test might actually give many voters a reason to vote against that candidate, instead of a reason to vote for that candidate.

Trump's failure to get a good score on the Garofoli test, in other words, may be seen, by many voters, as a pretty good argument in favor of his candidacy. To the degree that this is true, and Brabender is right about what the electorate wants in this election cycle, the Democrats would be wise to consider nominating a candidate who is also given credit for "authenticity," and who the voters think would fight for those "abandoned on the economic battlefield."

The Democrats do have such a candidate, of course: Bernie Sanders. I hope to be casting a vote for Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention next week. 

Other delegates, those coming to Philadelphia with the idea that they are going to be nominating Hilary Clinton, should be thinking about that option, too! 

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Friday, July 22, 2016

#204 / Unadventurous?

On the same day that John Brabender was writing in The Wall Street Journal about "Trump's Best Path" to the presidency, Patrick Healy was opining in The New York Times that Trump's selection of Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate makes it "easier for Mrs. Clinton to follow suit with an unadventurous pick of her own."

"Unadventurous" is not exactly what the doctor ordered, if Brabender is right about the mood of the voters. And I think he is likely to be right.

On the other hand, boring is better than a full-on dedication to elevating the military to the highest level of our federal government. There is some indication that this is Hillary Clinton's latest idea.

I'll go for "unadventurous," anytime, if the other choice is more military adventures.

Hillary does seems to favor war, as I read her record, and that's not a selling point!

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

#203 / Trump's Best Path

John Brabender, described by Wikipedia as a "prominent Republican political consultant," thinks that Donald Trump can win the presidency. He doesn't think that Trump can do that in the way that politicians have traditionally done it, though. If you're interested in Brabender's analysis, outlining "Trump's Best Path," you can click right here and read his July 19, 2016 column in The Wall Street Journal

As the Republican Party Convention in Cleveland winds down, and as the Democrats get ready to meet in Philadelphia for their Convention, it might be worthwhile to pay attention to something beyond the narcissism that the Trump pageant has so tellingly displayed. Can a DSM-qualified narcissist become our next President? Here is the essence of the Brabender argument:

There has been much criticism of Mr. Trump as a messenger. But what he seems to understand remarkably well is that he has become the megaphone for a large group of voters who feel they have been disenfranchised from the political process, and abandoned on the economic battlefield by both parties. Mr. Trump also knows that “acting presidential” is equivalent to no longer being authentic and believable to his supporters. You’re never going to create an anti-Washington wave of the magnitude he needs if you sound too much like a focus-group-tested, teleprompter-guided candidate.

I believe that Brabender is absolutely right in saying that there is "a large group of voters who feel they have been disenfranchised from the political process, and [that they have been] abandoned on the economic battlefield." In fact, I will be in Philadelphia next week to represent many such voters, who selected me to be a Bernie Sanders' delegate to the Democratic National Convention. 

In my opinion, if the Democratic Party wants to win the presidency in November, the Democratic Party candidate has to do something affirmative, to convince those who are "feeling disenfranchised from the political process" that voting for the Democratic Party candidate is going to result in some sort of significant and substantial political change. Something, in fact, along the lines of a "political revolution."

A Democratic Party candidate who thinks politics as usual will win, and that the obvious deficiencies of Mr. Trump will repel voters, is making a bet that will put the future of our nation in peril!

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

#202 / It's Such A Pretty Picture

The Washington Post news story from which this very pretty picture was taken recites drone casualty figures that seem pretty small to me. They paint kind of a "pretty picture," too: 

The United States has inadvertently killed between 64 and 116 noncombatant civilians in drone and other lethal attacks against terrorism suspects in places not considered active war zones, the Obama administration said Friday [July 1, 2016]. 
The unintentional deaths came in a total of 473 CIA and military counterterrorism strikes up to the end of 2015 that the administration said have taken between 2,372 and 2,581 militants permanently off the battlefield in countries where the United States is not at war, which would include Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

In fairness, the story does point out that non-governmental sources put the death counts much higher. Death counts aside, however, what The Washington Post story does not address is how those communities and persons subjected to drone warfare react. In an article titled, "Grim Reapers," printed in the November 11, 2014 edition of The Nation, Jenna Krajeski gave us some insight. This poem is by an unnamed Afghan woman: 

May God destroy your tank and your drone,
you who’ve destroyed my village, my home.

"The poem is a landay, folk poetry sung among Pashtun women along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Traditionally, the twenty-two-syllable poems were performed over drumbeats at weddings and other gatherings, but decades of violence, and the Taliban’s oppressive rule, have made such performances rare. Today, landays are still collected and shared, but more privately."

My Nabi was shot down by a drone.
May God destroy your sons, America, you murdered my own.

Drone killings cannot be made "pretty,"with either pictures or statistics. The headline on an opinion piece by James Downie, the Post's Opinions Editor, gets it just right: 

Obama's drone war is a shameful part of his legacy. 

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

#201 / Signature Strikes

This posting is just a reminder. Readers of this blog have heard all this before.

In the name of the citizens of the United States of America, the President has authorized a program that is routinely sending killer drones into the skies over other countries, to kill people based on a determination that the people killed exhibit "behavior commonly associated with militants."

You can read about such "signature strikes" in an article, titled, "Obama's Most Dangerous Drone Tactic Is Here To Stay." The government has no specific information on the people they kill, and while there seems to be no doubt that many innocent people are being murdered by our drone program, U.S. officials continue to claim it's justified. 

If you feel comfortable with this kind of a program, targeting people for death on the basis of what amounts to an "algorithm," with no specific information on the people targeted, and with no chance for those targeted to provide any evidence that they should really not be killed, you should probably not be too outraged when ISIS-inspired killers blow up airplanes or put bombs in subway stations. 

Terrorism on one side leads to terrorism on the other. Let's be realistic about that. 

According to one web-based source, the following quotation, though long associated with Gandhi, has never been definitively attributed to him. Whoever said it, and whenever they said it, the observation reprinted below expresses a truth that the United States government's "signature strike" program has failed to comprehend:

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind

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Monday, July 18, 2016

#200 / A Word From Willie

Willie Brown, former Speaker of the California Assembly, and former Mayor of San Francisco, is currently a columnist for the San Francisco ChronicleBrown's column in yesterday's Chronicle (my link is probably not functional for any but Chronicle subscribers, I'm sorry to say) suggests that Donald Trump's vice presidential pick was a pretty smart choice. By picking Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, Brown says, Trump excused himself from having to "pander to the right."

While I agree with Brown in this observation, another comment in Brown's column grabbed my attention even more, and deserves a response. Speaking of the Black Lives Matter movement, Brown says that it faces "one big challenge: the absence of leaders." Brown suggests that the Black Lives Matter movement needs someone like "Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton commanding the airwaves or the agenda." 

Let me suggest that this remark rather reeks of sexism (not to mention ageism). In fact, the Black Lives Matter movement was founded by three young women: Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza. Its self-proclaimed mission is "to build connections between Black people and our allies to fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialogue among Black people, and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement."

Young Black women can be "leaders," too. The ability to lead movements for social justice for Black people is not restricted to old Black men.

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

#199 / Not So Nice

The horrific terrorist attack that took place on July 14th in Nice, France, was carried out by single individual, who converted a common truck into a weapon of mass death.

What are we going to do about that?

When a shoe bomb terrorist tried to blow up a plane with a bomb built into his shoes, we changed the rules at airports, so we all have to take off our shoes, and have them scanned, before we get onto the plane. By the way, the airplane flight on which the shoe bomber traveled took off in Paris, France, and was headed for Miami. Looks like there's a French connection!

But what about the truck connection? Big white trucks go everywhere!

Bruce Bawer, writing in City Journal, suggests that we should focus not on the "means" used by terrorists to deal out death, and to kill people, and to make us all afraid. Bawer thinks we need stop fooling ourselves

The time for shock is over. The time for heaping up flowers and candles and stuffed animals at the sites of atrocities is over. The lies and ignorance and cravenness must end, and the simple facts must be faced. The free, civilized West has, for years now, been the target of a war of conquest—a war waged in many forms (of which terrorism is only one) by Islamist adherents preaching submission, intolerance, and brutality, and our leaders and media, with few exceptions, continue to play a game whose fatuity, fecklessness, and pusillanimity have become increasingly clear. After Nice, no more.

We should, according to Bawer, admit that we are (not our fault, of course) engaged in a religious war against Islam. Even if this were true (Bawer and Bill Maher seem to have the same idea), shoes, trucks, and those who have a religious commitment to Islam, are in large supply, almost everywhere.

Donald Trump, it sounds like, will pick up the Bawer banner, and try to carry it to the White House.

I'd like to suggest that Americans not buy into the Bawer/Maher/Trump idea that what we need to do now is to proclaim and advance a religious war!

Disentangling ourselves from the religious wars in which we are currently engaged would be a good first step to preventing further hostilities.

And if you don't think that the United States government is delivering death, destruction, and terror itself, in a religious war that the United States is advancing, with the terror we deliver being delivered in a quantity vastly in excess of what some one person can do with a big white truck, or a shoe, check out the pictures below

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

#198 / What They Do

David Hare is a British Playwright. In an article published in The Guardian on July 1st, Hare amusingly commented on the "Leave" campaign, which persuaded a majority of British voters to support the termination of Britain's participation in the European Union. 

Very shortly after the vote, when it became clear that the effects of the so-called "Brexit" were going to be a lot more extensive, and a lot more painful, than the voters were told ahead of time, people started accusing Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London, and one of the leaders of the "Leave" campaign, of lying. 

Hare's observation was classic: 

People who professed themselves shocked to discover, post-referendum, that Johnson told lies are like people who complain that Barbra Streisand sings. It’s what they do for a living.

I personally don't think lying is inevitably connected to the practice of politics. In fact, I think just the opposite, and that a fundamental commitment to honesty, and to telling the truth, is actually what characterizes those who practice politics correctly. 

I do admit, however, that Hare's statement hits home! Lots of politicians, on both sides of the Atlantic, think telling lies is just the way it's done. As Hare notes in his article, the ultimate result is often, and certainly was for Johnson, a (metaphorical) "icepick through his skull." 

Having led the campaign for the Brexit, Johnson's own party members turned against him, and Johnson was forced to withdraw as a candidate for Prime Minister, which is what the whole "Leave" campaign was maybe all about, from his perspective. 

Image Credits:
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Friday, July 15, 2016

#197 / Pokémon Go

According to what I am told by the Vox Explainers Website, it's unlikely that you will know anything about Pokémon Go if you were "born before 1984." Hey, I was!

My age-related disability notwithstanding, I have found out something about Pokémon Go, stimulated by lots of news coverage, and a set of pictures of people playing the game, as published in The Atlantic Photo

I am not much of a games player myself, and I doubt that the attractions of Pokémon Go are going to change that. I must admit, nonetheless, to being fascinated by the whole concept. It seems to me that we might well consider taking this game seriously.

The company that has created the game, Pokémon Company International, advertises Pokémon Go as a game based on an "augmented reality." That means that computer-generated Pokémon creatures (called Pokémons) are inserted into real world scenes, as the real world is viewed by someone playing Pokémon Go and observing the real world through his or her smartphone camera. 

The picture above shows how it looks. Check that Atlantic Photo website for more examples. You might also want to click this link to hear from the Holocaust Museum, which is objecting to people visiting its exhibits not to appreciate the historical lessons that the museum has to teach, but to capture various unreal Pokémon creatures that are apparently available for capture there. Guess that is a problem at Auschwitz, too.

As explained by Wikipedia, here's how the game goes: 

After logging into the app for the first time, the player creates their avatar. The player can choose the avatar's style, hair, skin, and eye color, and can choose from a limited number of outfits. After the avatar is created, it is displayed at the player's current location along with a map of the player's immediate surroundings. Features on the map may include a number of PokéStops and Pokémon gyms. These are typically located at identifiable landmarks, such as public art installations, historical markers, monuments or other points of interest. 
As players travel the real world, the avatar moves along the game's map. Different Pokémon [there is quite a list] live in different areas of the world; for example, water-type Pokémon are generally found near water. When a player encounters a Pokémon, they may view it either in augmented reality mode or with a pre-rendered background. AR mode uses the camera and gyroscope on the player's mobile device to display an image of a Pokémon as though it were in the real world. Players can also take pictures, using an in-game camera, of the Pokémon that they encounter both with and without the AR mode activated. 
Unlike other installments in the Pokémon series, players in Pokémon Go do not battle wild Pokémon to capture them. Rather, the game relies on a unique capture system where the player must throw a Poké Ball with the right force and at the right time to make a successful catch. After capturing a wild Pokémon, the player is awarded two types of in-game currencies: candies and stardust. The candies awarded by a successful catch depends on what evolutionary chain a Pokémon belongs to. 

According to what I read in Wikipedia, Pokémon Go "was the most downloaded smartphone app in the United States in its first three days of release, and was a boon to the stock value of Nintendo, which owns part of The Pokémon Company."

I see the success of the game as a metaphor for what I believe is an increasingly visible phenomenon. Unwilling to live directly in the World of Nature, or fearful of doing so, we create artificial (or augmented) realities which protect us from the need to interact with a reality that is not of our own creation.

Since, in fact, we do not create the world upon which we ultimately depend, the World of Nature, which sustains all life, our attempts to "augment" reality are a kind of Fatal Distraction. 

As we play Pokémon Go, we don't have to confront the Holocaust (past) or the various species of Holocausts (future) that are coming at us. As an example of one of those Holocausts of the future, the picture below accompanies a Rolling Stone story on whether New York City (prime game playing arena for Pokémon Go) is going to be able to survive global warming. Looks like that may be a problem!

If we took our eyes off our smart phone screens, even for just a moment, we might become aware of a number of looming problems. These would appear to us not in some "augmented" reality, but in the the world in which we really live!

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

#196 / Good Advice From Jane

Jane Jacobs in 1961, as Chair of the Committee to Save the West Village

The City of Santa Cruz is in the middle of developing a so-called "Corridors Plan" for the main transportation corridors in the city. Affected would be Mission Street, Ocean Street, Water Street, and Soquel Avenue. In general, higher densities and increased building heights would be encouraged all along these city streets. I have been following the project from afar, and I have been encouraging local residents to get involved. There was a community meeting last night, for instance, on the East Side, highlighting the massive traffic, parking, and other impacts of what is being suggested. My suggestion? Pay attention. The stakes for the future of Santa Cruz are, actually, pretty high.

Pertinent to the discussion of the proposed City of Santa Cruz Corridors Plan would be a reading of Jane Jacobs' famous book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. First published in 1961, Jacobs' book is still in print

The Nation magazine recently published a tribute to Jacobs by Roberta Brandes Gratz. The article is titled, "The Genius of Jane Jacobs." The subheading to the article says, "She argued in favor of local wisdom and community visions, rejecting the grandiose designs of distant planners." There is a pull quote from the article, below. 

Shall I repeat myself? I will. Santa Cruz City residents, pay attention!

Whether in urban downtowns or neighborhoods, or in suburbs or small towns, local residents and businesspeople know instinctively which improvements will bring positive change. When they have the means to pursue those improvements, or when new people come in and make improvements that harmonize in scale and use with the existing place, positive change occurs. Jacobs recognized this and argued in favor of local wisdom and community visions over the grandiose designs of distant planners and other so-called experts.
Conflict arises when distant experts, developers, and city hall planners come up with schemes in which that local wisdom has not been brought to bear at the beginning of the process. Such schemes usually show little respect for the nature and built form of the community and then are presented at “public” forums, in what is deceptively called a public process. At that point, the plans are tinkered with and maybe an “amenities” package is added (a form of bribery to ensure passage even if inappropriate to the place). But the input of local stakeholders is nonexistent in the beginning and minimal at the end. This is when the total transformation and, often, replacement of a community occurs, not its genuine regeneration.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

#195 / The Monk And The Philosopher

My son, who has trained as a Buddhist, though he is not (at least yet) a monk, presented me with a Father's Day gift that was wonderfully appropriate, a book called, The Monk And The Philosopher: A Father And Son Discuss The Meaning of Life. Of course, if my son is not a "monk" (not yet, at least), I am also not a "philosopher" (and probably never will be).

This is a very worthwhile book. I read it right after I read The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker, another worthwhile book, which I have already recommended. 

I find that I end up siding with the son! 

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

#194 / You Are All Going To Die!!

It remains to be seen how popular Donald J. Trump is going to be in the long run, as a Presidential candidate. Recent reports seem to show that his poll numbers are dropping, but he has done amazingly well, through the primary season, in getting voters to support him. Let's admit it; we've all been a bit surprised about that, haven't we?

According to a recent column in The Washington Post, one reason that Trump has been doing so well is that he keeps reminding people that they are going to die. Click the link, below, to read the analysis. As the headline on the article says, "this might be the darkest theory yet about why Donald Trump keeps winning."

The analysis, as written up in The Post, references Ernest Becker's book, The Denial of Death. It also relies heavily on actual research on whether those who are thinking about death prefer Trump. Apparently, there really is a statistically valid correlation between support for Trump and thoughts about death. The article does not say why this should be so, only that it is.

I have my own ideas about this topic. 

DEATH (at least individual death) is the ultimate reality that prevails in the World of Nature. At least, there is a very good argument that this is so.

If you would rather look at the bright side, which I advise, you can also say, quite accurately, that LIFE is the ultimate reality in the Natural World. DEATH, however, is inevitably related. The Natural World does work on the basis that life comes out of death, and that everything that lives must die. There is simply no doubt, as to any individual person, that death is inevitable. 

The Natural World, in other words, which is the ultimate reality upon which everything that we do is based, and upon which our lives totally depend, is premised on death. Our right relationship with the Natural World requires us to accept that reality. 

Alas, we mostly don't. 

If we did, at least arguably, everyone would be a lot better off. If we want to fight it, and to pretend to ourselves that we can overcome death (and maybe live forever), we will be constantly scrambling to "win," to "get ahead," to "achieve." 

My bet is that American voters who don't accept the reality of their individual death are likely also to think that things would be a whole lot better if we could only "make American great again." 

My advice is to read Becker's book, and to pay attention. I think that will probably help you come to the conclusion (along with Edna St. Vincent Millay) that while you might die, that should be "all that you will do for death." Her poem, about conscientious objectors, is a pretty wonderful poem.

I also think that the flavor of our personal politics is quite likely related to our personal willingness, or not, to accept death as a prevailing reality of our existence. Those researchers who found a correlation between thoughts of death and a political preference for Donald Trump are probably on to something.

My bet is that Edna St. Vincent Millay would NOT have been a Trump supporter. She probably would  not have been consumed with the idea that we need to "make America great again."

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Monday, July 11, 2016

#193 / He's A Socialist For God's Sake!

The 2016 Democratic National Convention is coming up soon, and it seems pertinent to highlight an article from Nation of Change. The article was published on July 1st, and is titled, "What's Next for the Progressive Movement." It's an article that is certainly worth reading.

I had just watched Michael Moore's latest movie, Where To Invade Next, when a link to this article from Nation of Change hit my inbox. The article starts out with an expression of amazement that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has had such a major impact on our politics:

The political establishment wrote him off and the pundits berated him—“he’s a socialist for God’s sake.” Even die-hard progressives conceded his bid was a long shot.

Well, my favorite part of Moore's movie is in his segment #11, which focuses on the Berlin Wall, and is titled "Hammer, Chisel, Down." Appearing in the movie with a friend, Moore talks about how he and his friend just happened to be in Berlin in November 1989, when a few people started chiseling the Wall from the West Berlin side. 

"One thing that was certain was that this wall would never come down," Moore tells his friend. Yet, it disappeared almost in an instant, and just about the time that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa.

"Oh, I get it," said Moore, recounting his feelings as he saw these two amazing events take place. "Anything can happen."

Anything can happen. 

Even in the United States.

My thanks to Bernie Sanders for helping to prove that one more time!

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

#192 / Bernie Supporters

The picture above is from an article by Michael Moore, who has endorsed Bernie Sanders for President. I endorsed Bernie Sanders, too, and was elected as an "alternate delegate" to represent those who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Primary Election in June, in California's 20th Congressional District. In Santa Cruz County, California, where I live, Bernie Sanders won almost 60% of the vote. 

News articles are speculating that Bernie Sanders is planning to endorse Hillary Clinton, before the Convention. I, personally, hope that Bernie Sanders doesn't do that. As I explained in an Op-Ed not too long ago, a representative democracy presumes that elected representatives are going to be allowed to vote for those whom they represent. While Hillary Clinton is "leading" Sanders in pledged delegates by a substantial margin, and while the Party leaders who are "super delegates" are overwhelmingly in favor of Clinton, Clinton still doesn't have enough pledged delegates to have been elected before the Convention. 

Since almost 60% of the Democratic Party voters who voted in the June Primary Election in my county voted for Bernie Sanders, I believe they expect their elected delegates will represent their wishes by voting for Bernie Sanders at the National Convention. Delegates like me, in fact (as opposed to the so-called "super delegates"), are called "pledged" delegates, since we are pledged to vote for the candidate on whose behalf we were elected. If (as is apparently pretty certain) the Sanders delegates get outvoted, then the Convention will select Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party candidate, and that, again, is how representative democracy works. The candidate who gets the most votes wins. At least, that is how it is supposed to work. Somehow, that principle apparently got lost somewhere along the line in that Gore-Bush Presidential election.

Many of the news articles discussing a possible pre-convention endorsement of Clinton by Sanders note that Sanders' supporters will be very disappointed if such a pre-Convention endorsement occurs. Many of these Sanders supporters and delegates to the Convention are new to the Democratic Party (I'm not, by the way). Query whether these new recruits to the Democratic Party will stick with the Party if they think that the Party is being operated to suppress the expression of their opinion. That is what they will think, I am pretty sure, if long time Party leaders succeed in beating up Bernie to the extent that he makes a pre-Convention endorsement that will tend to cut off the ability of Sanders elected and pledged delegates to cast their vote for the candidate favored by the voters they represent. The idea that elected Democratic members of Congress would "boo" Bernie, which reportedly occurred, is a demonstration that some of these Party leaders are less committed to the democratic process than they are to forcing those with different views to hew to the "Party line."

My advice to Democratic Party leaders: let the Convention delegates vote. Stop pressuring Bernie Sanders to make a pre-Convention endorsement. That's totally in the self-interest of the Party, because all those new Party members who support Bernie are much more likely to stick with the Party, in November and beyond, if they think that the Party has treated them, and their candidate, fairly.

And here's my advice for the new Democrats who support Bernie Sanders. Stick with the Party, and take it over. We made a huge amount of progress this time, with Bernie Sanders' great leadership helping to do that. But a person would have to be naive to think that the big-money Democrats who have taken over the Party of Roosevelt are going to give up their power without a fight. 

You have to "take" political power, and that "takes time."

That "political revolution," I hope, has only just begun!

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Saturday, July 9, 2016

#191 / Those "Problem Solver" Experts And Elites

Republished below is an extensive quotation from the June 26, 2016 edition of Amor Mundi, which is the weekly newsletter published by the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College. The title on the article I am quoting is, ""The Experts Meet Reality." 

I have argued in one of my recent blog postings that the recent "Brexit" vote in Great Britain reflected populist sentiments there that are very much like the populist sentiments that currently prevail in the United States. These populist sentiments, in my opinion, are accurate in decrying governmental policies that reflect the interests of the economic and intellectual elites, to the derogation of the interests of ordinary people. My conclusion is that if the Democrats want to win the Presidency in November, the Party had better "out populist" Donald Trump, the presumed candidate of the Republican Party. 

I am in agreement, in other words, with the Popular Resistance claim that there is a "revolt against elites," and I do not buy the argument of Philip Stevens, in The Financial Times, that the vote in Britain is simply a "populist paean to ignorance." 

I might be persuaded to rethink my reactions if someone like Hannah Arendt had an argument on the other side. Turns out that Hannah Arendt and I have the same basic views: 

In her essay "On Violence," Arendt writes that at a time when the implements of violence are so destructive, "there are, indeed, few things that are more frightening than the steadily increasing prestige of scientifically minded brain trusters in the councils of government during the last decades." Why, in other words, is she so bothered by the entry of elites, experts, and problem-solvers into leadership roles in government?

Arendt develops her critique of governmental problem-solvers in numerous writings in the 1960s, especially her writings about the Pentagon Papers. Trying to understand the incredible deception perpetrated by the American war effort, Arendt lays the blame on elites, experts, and problem-solvers. President John F. Kennedy had publicly lured the best and the brightest to Washington to serve in his administration. But these problem solvers-educated at the best American universities-had little actual knowledge of Vietnam or Indochina. They were intelligent and confident, but their knowledge was centered around theories and calculations that had little to do with Vietnam itself. Thus, these confident and even arrogant experts fell prey to the fallacy of abstraction. These problem-solvers, Arendt writes, allowed their intelligence to separate them from the real world of facts. The experts, she writes, "were not just intelligent, but prided themselves on being 'rational,' and they were indeed to a rather frightening degree above 'sentimentality' and in love with 'theory,' the world of sheer mental effort. They were eager to find formulas, preferably expressed in pseudo-mathematical language, that would unify the most disparate phenomena with which reality presented them."

Arendt sees these "problem-solvers" as something like management consultants, people confident in their ability to come in to any and all scenarios, make a quick study of a situation, and then apply general principles and rules to offer a solution. These intellectuals and problem solvers were convinced that they could help guide the war effort based on their generalized expertise. They developed consistent and coherent theories of how to win, or if not how to win, at least how to look as if we were winning, to save face, and to prove our loyalty.

Why did the problem-solvers lie about the progress of the war? Arendt argues they did so because they had theories about how the war could be won; when the facts did not conform to the theories, the problem-solvers simply changed or ignored the facts. What are contingent facts in the face of theoretical knowledge, she asked?

"Men who act, to the extent that they feel themselves to be the masters of their own futures, will forever be tempted to... fit their reality-which, after all, was man-made to begin with and thus could have been otherwise-into their theory, thereby mentally getting rid of its disconcerting contingency."

The problem solvers were so sure of themselves that when facts suggested their theories weren't working, the ignored and suppressed the facts, confident that reality would soon come to reflect their brilliant analyses.

Arendt's worry about the experts and elites has a long tradition on the left and the right. Arendt relied on Noam Chomsky's argument that social scientists in the U.S. have become a new breed of Mandarins committed to an imperialist social order. She also relied on Chomsky and Friedrich Hayek, who argued that the welfare state was propped up by experts and bureaucrats who think they have solved the puzzle of human psychology and economics so that they can manage and perfect our increasingly prosperous and progressive societies. For Arendt, the intellectuals and experts who enter government and embrace theoretical models of progress are well-meaning, but deluded. They are also dangerous.

"The danger is that these theories are not only plausible, because they take their evidence from actually discernible present trends, but that, because of their inner consistency, they have a hypnotic effect; they put to sleep our common sense, which is nothing else but our mental organ for perceiving, understanding, and dealing with reality and factuality."

What experts in the social sciences and Mandarins in government regularly forget is that human events are beyond our control. Arendt cites Pierre Joseph Proudhon to drive home her point: "The fecundity of the unexpected far exceeds the statesman's prudence." 

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This image was taken from the June 26, 2016 edition of the Amor Mundi newsletter, published by the Hanna Arendt Center at Bard College. Ultimately, the newsletters show up in the "archive," available online at -

Friday, July 8, 2016

#190 / Ask The Experts

Louis Menand, writing in The New Yorker, observes that "expert" predictions do not seem to be any better than the predictions of the "non-experts" among us. Mostly, Menand is focusing on "political" predictions, and his short article, "Everybody's An Expert," is fun to read. I recommend it.

I think Menand's discussion may miss an important point, however.

One reason that "predictions" are often not very accurate, whether such predictions are made by "experts" or "non-experts," is that the phenomenon of human freedom is not properly taken into account. We are, at every moment, capable of doing things that are unexpected, that are surprising, that are, quite literally, "unpredictable."

Let's not believe the experts when they something "can't be done."

It can!

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

#189 / Empty Brain

Robert Epstein is a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology. He is the author of fifteen books, and is the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today

In a recent article titled, "The Empty Brain," Epstein claims that our brains do "not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories." In short, our brains are not like computers: 

For more than half a century now, psychologists, linguists, neuroscientists and other experts on human behaviour have been asserting that the human brain works like a computer. 
To see how vacuous this idea is, consider the brains of babies. Thanks to evolution, human neonates, like the newborns of all other mammalian species, enter the world prepared to interact with it effectively. A baby’s vision is blurry, but it pays special attention to faces, and is quickly able to identify its mother’s. It prefers the sound of voices to non-speech sounds, and can distinguish one basic speech sound from another. We are, without doubt, built to make social connections. 
A healthy newborn is also equipped with more than a dozen reflexes – ready-made reactions to certain stimuli that are important for its survival. It turns its head in the direction of something that brushes its cheek and then sucks whatever enters its mouth. It holds its breath when submerged in water. It grasps things placed in its hands so strongly it can nearly support its own weight. Perhaps most important, newborns come equipped with powerful learning mechanisms that allow them to change rapidly so they can interact increasingly effectively with their world, even if that world is unlike the one their distant ancestors faced. 
Senses, reflexes and learning mechanisms – this is what we start with, and it is quite a lot, when you think about it. If we lacked any of these capabilities at birth, we would probably have trouble surviving. 
But here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them – ever.

In comparing our brains to a "computer," we seek to understand what is actually a mystery, our existence, and our mental existence in particular, by reference to a human-created device. In other words, the analogy is premised on the idea that we might just as well have created ourselves, since we are "like" the devices that we have, in fact, created.

The Epstein article is worth reading in its entirety. It ends like this: 

We are organisms, not computers. Get over it. Let’s get on with the business of trying to understand ourselves, but without being encumbered by unnecessary intellectual baggage. The IP metaphor has had a half-century run, producing few, if any, insights along the way. The time has come to hit the DELETE key.

In terms of my "Two Worlds" metaphor, computers are part of the "human world," the world that we create by our own actions. We (as human beings, as biological beings), however, are part of the World of Nature, which is a world that we did not, and do not create.

That means that the mystery of our existence is not susceptible to human command. We are living (and I think spiritual) "organisms," not "machines." If that seems hard to take, let me repeat what Epstein says:

Get over it!

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