Monday, August 20, 2018

#232 / Pipedream?

It’s a pipedream to assume countries will come together globally to save the planet. Since the dawn of civilization, tribes, then empires, then nation/states have been fighting like cats and dogs locked together in a crowded teeny-weeny room.
The quote above is from a recent article in Counterpunch, "Hothouse Earth," by Robert Hunziker. As for the picture at the top of this posting, that is the planet Venus. The online source for the picture is a website called The article to which the picture is attached is titled, "Planet Venus Facts: A Hot, Hellish & Volcanic Planet." 

It is Hunziker's belief that we are right on the cusp of various "tipping points" that are likely to turn Earth into a planet like Venus. And as you can gather from the quote above, Hunziker doesn't think there is going to be any effective cooperative effort by human beings to prevent this from happening. 

Yesterday, my blog post was about "Hope And Change." 

Hope isn't the answer.

Change is. 

Is it already too late to make the changes we must? This is what many contend. Is that right? Is it really impossible for all the peoples of this planet to cooperate, as Hunziger opines? Operating on the basis of assumptions like these lets us all off the hook, doesn't it? 

Are we really going to watch it all fall apart, while we tell ourselves, and each other, that there is  really "nothing we can do?"

Let's try to surprise ourselves! Of course, that does mean changing our lives and changing our plans. 

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

#231 / Hope And Change

Titus Stahl wants to tell us "Why politics needs hope (but no longer inspires it)." His brief article in Aeon is discouraging, coming to the following conclusion: 

It is rational, perhaps even necessary, to recruit the notion of hope for the purposes of justice. And this is why the rhetoric of hope has all but disappeared. We can seriously employ the rhetoric of hope only when we believe that citizens can be brought to develop a shared commitment to exploring ambitious projects of social justice, even when they disagree about their content. This belief has become increasingly implausible in light of recent developments that reveal how divided Western democracies really are. A sizable minority in Europe and the US has made it clear, in response to the rhetoric of hope, that it disagrees not only about the meaning of justice but also with the very idea that our current vocabulary of social justice ought to be extended. One can, of course, still individually hope that those who hold this view will be convinced to change it. As things stand, however, this is not a hope that they are able to share. [Emphasis added]

I refuse to take up Stahl's invitation to abandon hope. It is precisely in the land of the implausible that hope is most necessary. The very nature of hope is to be free from the stifling tyranny that insists that what exists now is all that ever can exist.

Stahl is on the mark with his description of the world as it is. Hope is a vision of a world that can be! I refuse to join with anyone who says that they cannot believe "that citizens can be brought to develop a shared commitment to exploring ambitious projects of social justice." Oh yeah?

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not walk away from hope. When social justice advocates walk away from hope, it means that they have forgotten what hope is all about.

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Saturday, August 18, 2018

#230 / Lonely?

Nabeelah Jaffer is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford. Her work has been published in The New Statesman, The Guardian, and The Times Literary Supplement. 

Writing in Aeon, Jaffer's article, "In extremis," relies on several of Hannah Arendt's books to argue that loneliness is "one common thread that connects individuals drawn to all kinds of extremist ideologies." I think she makes the case. 

If this is true, then what can we do? That is not a question that Jaffer attempts to answer. 

Not mentioned in Jaffer's article is one of Arendt's books that could be of assistance. In On Revolution, Arendt identifies the joy of self-government as the "public happiness" that is, in fact, the "lost treasure" of the American Revolution. 

Organized efforts to transform society, the actions of "self-government" in which we, ourselves, are involved, is a sure antidote for loneliness!

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Friday, August 17, 2018

#229 / When I'll Feel Great

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, saying that America "never was that great."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, pictured above, is running for reelection. Lots of New York voters were upset when he took on President Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan by saying that America "was never that great." Cuomo quickly "walked that statement back," as retractions are now generally described. 

Here is a statement added on to The Washington Post article in which Cuomo's original statement was headlined:

“Gov. Cuomo disagrees with the president,” spokeswoman Dani Lever said. “The governor believes America is great and that her full greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman, and child has full equality. America has not yet reached its maximum potential.”

What do you think about that slogan, "Make America Great Again?" My view? Let's talk specifics, and stop dealing in hyperbolic, untethered statements about America, and especially when those statements include large doses of arrogance and self-promotion. 

Arrogant, self-aggrandizing national self-promotion is a besetting weakness of political figures (definitely including our current president). It is just not very attractive to me, though I could list a lot of great things about the United States of America. 

I could identify a lot of bad things, too.

I will feel great when we start talking about the specifics - and when we start acknowledging and working to get rid of all the bad things we can identify. 

Racism, for instance. Could we start with that one?

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

#228 / Not Just A Tactic

If you look at all the destructive extreme weather buffeting the world this summer alone, it’s as if Mother Nature were saying to us: “Oh, you didn’t notice me tapping on your shoulder these past few years? O.K. Well, how about a little fire, Scarecrow? How about this: 
“How about I bake Europe, set the biggest wildfire California has ever seen and more active wildfires — 460 in one day — than British Columbia has ever seen, and also start the worst forest fires in decades in Sweden, even extending north of the Arctic Circle where temperatures this month reached 86 degrees. Meanwhile, I’ll subject Japan to the heaviest rainfall it’s ever recorded, and then a couple weeks later the highest temperature it’s ever recorded — 106 degrees in Kumagaya, northwest of Tokyo. And for a punctuation mark, I’ll break the heat record in Death Valley, reaching 127 degrees, and burn the worst drought in living memory into Eastern Australia, where the BBC last week quoted a dairy farmer as saying, “It’s gotten to the point where it’s cheaper to shoot your cows than it is to feed them.”

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. He is pictured above. Right under his portrait is an excerpt from his August 15, 2018 column, "What if Mother Nature Is on the Ballot in 2020?"

Friedman suggests that Democratic Party candidates, in 2020, should be running on a "stop global warming" platform. It's good politics, he suggests. 

Maybe it is (I'd like to hope so), but I have a comment. The dangers of global warming are real. See my blog post from yesterday. Friedman's list of the current evidence is compelling (and not all-inclusive). What is hanging in the balance is not whether or not the Democrats can "take the House back," which is the issue on which Friedman is focused. What is hanging in the balance is the survival, or not, of human civilization. 

Demanding a response to global warming dangers? 

Not just a political tactic!  

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

#227 / What Kind Of Planet?

Earle C. Ellis, writing in The New York Times, is asking, "What Kind of Planet Do We Want?" That's the headline found on the hard-copy version of his opinion piece in the August 12, 2018, edition of the paper. The online version puts it this way: "Science Alone Won’t Save the Earth. People Have To Do That."

Ellis is a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He has written a book titled, Anthropocene: A Very Short Introduction. The publisher's website says that the book "presents the Anthropocene more broadly as a new narrative forcing a radical revision of age-old questions concerning humans and our relationship with nature." In short, Ellis is arguing that humans are now in charge of the World of Nature and that we had better get used to it. The old idea, that "Mother Nature" supports us, is simply not true anymore, and "natural limits simply don't mean much." 

I am sorry to have to admit that Ellis appears to be right that human beings have allowed themselves to become so enchanted with their own powers that we have forgotten that we are dependent, ultimately, on the World of Nature, which we did not create. And despite one way of reading what Ellis says, Nature does impose limits, with its inexorable laws, and those limits mean everything. We ignore the laws of Nature at our peril. I fear that Ellis' assertions that we can now substitute in for Nature, and collectively "save the Earth," are a kind of whistling past the graveyard, to use an expression that translates as follows: "To enter a situation with little or no understanding of the possible consequences."

Considering how hot it is going to get in future years, the wildfires this summer are like a first little taste of wine the sommelier pours out for the connoisseur, to see how it suits. We have already tasted enough to know it doesn't suit! As our glasses fill, and spill over, we are going to be drinking in a rancid vintage that is the result of our heedlessness of Nature and its limits, a heedlessness tied to our thought (ironically echoed by Ellis, who is playing the role of the sommelier) that WE can substitute in for Nature, and that our human world, not the World of Nature, is primary and all-important, and that WE can save the Earth.

I would like to suggest we can't. The best we can do is to try to save ourselves and our human civilization. Trying to take over operational control of the planet, as though we have the actual ability to decide "what kind of planet we want," is surely an illusion. On my recent trip to Ashland, Oregon, to see Shakespeare plays, the air quality in Ashland was rated the "worst in the world" on one of the days I was there. Wildfires up and down the West Coast did it. Also, Beijing must have been having a good day! 

The Holy fire reflects across the water while burning in the Cleveland National Forest.
I do agree with Ellis that the key question for us now is whether or not we can cooperate (and on a global scale, too):

The greatest challenge of our time is not how to live within the limits of the natural world, or how to overcome such limits. It isn’t about optimizing our planet to better serve humanity or the rest of nature. To engage productively with the world we are creating, we must focus on strategies for working more effectively together across all of our diverse and unequal social worlds.

Our challenge, in other words, is a "political" one. We cannot supersede the laws that govern the World of Nature. Our refusal to acknowledge this fact has brought us to where we are. All we can do is to make laws for ourselves, to govern our conduct. If we can cooperate, as Ellis correctly says we must, some kind of human civilization may be salvaged. If we succeed, however, we are not going to be choosing the kind of planet we want to have. As we can already tell from the first sip of the wine of global warming, what Nature is going to serve us up will be very dry, and it will be very hot.* If we succeed in surviving, we will be living on a vastly different planet.

Some people continue to believe that we don't need to submit ourselves to the World of Nature and its limits. They want to move to Mars! My friend Mr. Dylan once put it this way: "I just said, Good Luck!"

* See "The Big Melt

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

#226 / Delegative Democracy

We are running into a problem, Houston!

The New York Times publishes "The Interpreter Newsletter," written by columnists Amanda Taub and Max Fisher. The Newsletter is distributed by email. Click this link to sign up. In a recent edition, the Newsletter made some important observations about American democracy:

American democracy is built, in large part, on an assumption ... that the three branches of government would jealously guard their power and co-equal status. It’s a reasonable thing to assume. People — particularly politicians and judges — like having power and status and generally aren’t keen to give them up. Human nature, the founders reasoned, would naturally lead the branches to check and balance one another, as much out of self-interested competition as constitutional duty.

As the Newsletter notes, “that assumption is looking a bit shaky these days.” It asks, “What happens if that foundational democratic assumption in the separation of powers collapses? What would American democracy become?” The answer, according to the Newsletter, is delegative democracy:

“Delegative democracy is an old concept in political science,” Amy Erica Smith, an Iowa State political scientist, told us. It emerged after a series of Latin American dictatorships transitioned to democracies in the 1980s — but to a sort that seemed less than fully democratic.

“There was this collective head-scratching over what sort of democracy we have in Latin America,” said Dr. Smith, who studies the region. “We had free and fair elections that met the minimum criteria for democracy. But they didn’t look exactly like what we think democracies are supposed to be.”

The key difference, the experts decided, was separation of powers. It existed on paper in Latin America democracies, most of whose constitutions were modeled on that of the United States. But, in practice, the courts and the Congresses did what they were told. They delegated their power to the president — hence, delegative democracies.

These countries, for the most part, were still democracies. But they didn’t function all that well. They had what’s called “vertical accountability” — leaders had to answer to voters, who could kick them out of office — but not “horizontal accountability” from other branches of government.

That tends to degrade governance. There’s little to keep the president from putting her interests first. Corruption and abuses of power become more common. Apolitical agencies get politicized, hurting their ability to function. The president’s support base tends to get preferential treatment; those not in her support base can face discrimination or worse.

The Newsletter also denominates this phenomenon as the "presidentialization" of political power. We are definitely running into a possible problem here, and the essence of the problem is that a system that was supposed to keep our government responsive to voters organized on a local basis, through the 435 different Congressional districts spread throughout the fifty states, has become ever more "national," and the "national" elected official who is most prominent is, of course, the president.

The way to make sure we don't end up with some kind of "delegative democracy" is by making sure that our elected representatives in Congress actually represent their local constituents, i.e., the people who live in their districts. 

Our system of representative democracy is intended to make representatives respond to their local constituents, but it has become ever more "nationalized," and that kind of "nationalized" Congress is ever less willing to check presidential power, which also operates at the national level. More and more, our Congressional elections are presented as "national" contests. We read in our local newspapers about Congressional elections taking place in far-flung states we know very little about, and we get funding appeals from those running for Congress in those states, in places we may never have even visited. 

Not to deny that every Member of Congress will vote on issues that will affect everyone in the country; that is certainly true. But our system is built on the idea that local people will be able to "terrorize" their local elected representatives, and make those representatives accountable to their local constituents (and not to some national political party). 

We have a problem, and it's not just in Houston. It's everywhere. 

Delegative democracy? I think that's an oxymoron. If we want the kind of democracy that our Constitution contemplates, we can't delegate our control over our own elected Congressional representatives to anyone - not to a national political party, and certainly not to the president!

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New York Times, The Interpreter Newsletter

Monday, August 13, 2018

#225 / Let's Put A Label On It!

I had just written yesterday's blog posting about how off point I think it is to debate whether or not we should pay attention to the "socialist" label attached to politicians like Bernie Sanders when I ran across Jen Sorensen's cartoon, shown above, in the July/August 2018, edition of The Nation

You can call it "European Culture" if you want to, but what are we really talking about? 

You can call it "socialism" if you want to, but if that means "universal health care, a strong social safety net, and generous vacations and paid family leave," are you really against those things?

If you put a label on it, you don't actually have to think!

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

#224 / The Socialism Scare

I have to confess that I am not really too interested in debates about "socialism." Lots of people are. The New York Times Magazine, for instance, carried an article on July 22, 2018, called, "Red Flags." That was the hard-copy title. Online, you'll find the article has this label: "America Can Never Sort Out Whether ‘Socialism’ Is Marginal or Rising."

To reiterate, I am not very much concerned about the label. I am quite interested in the reality of the policies that are either "socialist" or not. I don't actually care what you call them.

Bernie Sanders, whom I supported for president in 2016, calls himself a "democratic socialist." So does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who just beat out one of the most powerful Democrats in the United States Congress, in a Democratic Party primary held in New York City. 

I am a little impatient with those who suggest that Ocasio-Cortez' victory, and the persistent public admiration for Senator Bernie Sanders, should make everyone want to decide whether or not "socialism" is "marginal or rising." I suggest the question ought to be this: Would policies for universal health care, and efforts to reduce or eliminate income inequality, be good or bad for the country?  

I am in favor of those policies. I don't care what you call it. 

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

#223 / Who Has The Power? Voters Do!

My blog posting on July 22, 2018, made the claim that voters have the ultimate power in our country and that mobilizing the voting power of ordinary Americans is the "front door" to political power in the United States. 

I did receive some understandable pushback on that claim. Here is one comment:

Would that it were so that power ultimately resides with the people. The reality of power in the United States falls far short of this ideal. 
Even here in Our Fair City and County, power is rapidly devolving from the people to unelected City and County staff, development interests and entrenched political economic influence. 
Even worse, there seems to be little interest in the majority of citizens to work to regain control of the political process. Decades of discouragement, ubiquitous computer and "smart" phone usage have resulted in a populace divorced from "American Power."

This comment, in my view, is totally on target as a description of current realities, both in my hometown and nationally. However, I won't relinquish the idea that "power ultimately resides with the people." 

Unused and unexercised power is power still. It is all too easy to fall into the "observer's fallacy," which assumes that the reality we "see" defines the actual extent of reality itself. We are observers, true, and we do need to pay close attention to the realities we confront in our daily lives. We are, however, not only observers. We are actors, as well. 

The "ultimate" nature of all human reality depends on what we "do," and is not delimited by what we see. The human world we most immediately inhabit is a world that humans make, and we can make any kind of world at all, from dream to nightmare, depending on what we do. Of course, it does take a lot of work (a lifetime of work), and lots of collaboration, to change an existing reality into something different. "Ultimately," though, the human world is the world we make.

Just in case there is any doubt about the importance of the voting power of ordinary citizens, just remember that the rich and entitled are doing everything they possibly can to suppress voting. Here is a link to an editorial comment on just that topic, from a religious perspective. I subscribe to Sojourners Magazine and read this commentary on voter suppression right after reading the comment I have quoted above. I think the active hostility to voting, by the elites who now seem so "powerful," validates my contention that it is, ultimately, the voters who have the power to determine our future.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

#222 / Griswold

Griswold v. Connecticut is a famous case. Click right here to read the 1965 decision by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. 

Roe v. Wade, which held that it was unconstitutional for the federal government or state governments to make abortion illegal, directly relied on Griswold as a precedent. Griswold itself, however, was not about abortion. It was about birth control. 

In Griswold, the Court held unconstitutional a Connecticut law that made it a crime to provide married persons with birth control information or devices. In coming to that conclusion, the Court said that the Bill of Rights includes a "right to privacy." What a married couple does in the privacy of their bedroom is none of the government's business. Other decisions, including Roe v. Wade, have upheld a broad variety of personal freedoms, all based on Griswold and the "right to privacy" that Griswold identified.

Most Americans, I bet, are pretty happy that the Court discovered that the Bill of Rights includes a "right to privacy." We count on it! Since I teach a Legal Studies course on "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom" at the University of California, Santa Cruz, I talk about Griswold quite a bit.

Daniel Henninger, who writes for The Wall Street Journal and is a Fox News contributor, is not a big fan of Griswold. In a column that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on July 5, 2018, Henninger makes fun of the Griswold decision. Frankly, that is pretty easy to do. When I talk to students in my Legal Studies classes, I call Griswold "the woooo-woooo case." 

The Bill of Rights, as most remember, is found in the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The First Amendment provides a right to free speech. The Second Amendment provides a right to bear arms. And the list goes on. Justice Douglas searched for some provision in the Bill of Rights that would provide a "right to privacy." He couldn't find one. In fact, there is no such enumerated "right to privacy" ever mentioned in the Constitution. So, what to do? Is it really alright for the government to regulate just how two persons decide to have sex? 

Douglas and the Justices who joined him felt that there were "penumbras" cast by the other provisions in the Bill of Rights, and they looked into the shadows cast by those other provisions in their search for that "right to privacy." Let's quote Douglas directly. In his decision in Griswold, Douglas said that "the specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees." That is where that "right of privacy" can be found, in those "penumbras" and "emanations."

Maybe you can see why I call Griswold "the woooo-woooo case." It is easy to make fun of Griswold, in exactly the way that Henninger does, but as I tell my students, the decision in Griswold is profoundly correct, and is fully supported by the provisions found in the Bill of Rights. 

The "woooo-woooo" language in Douglas' opinion aside, the Supreme Court is correct that a "right to privacy" can be derived directly from an examination of the various protections found in the long list of rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Read the Griswold decision to see the Court's logic. 

There is also another basis for the Griswold decision; namely, the Ninth Amendment. That amendment, the text of which is quoted below, was included in the Bill of Rights to make surre that the rights listed in the Bill of Rights would not be construed as "limiting," so that the argument could never be made that if a right were not specifically mentioned that such a right would not be a right at all:

Ninth Amendment
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The Ninth Amendment might be thought of as a "fail-safe" provision, but I think it is more than that. I think the whole purpose of the Ninth Amendment was to make clear the "plenary" nature of the rights that the Constitution recognizes and protects. In order really to understand the Ninth Amendment, I believe, we need to revisit the Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ...

Those who established our nation fought a War of Independence not only to separate from the abuses of the British King and Parliament. The language above indicates their purpose. Their purpose was to form a government that would derive all of its powers from the people, "the governed," and that would make clear that all persons have rights that are "unalienable." 

"Liberty" and the right to "pursue happiness" are among those unalienable rights specifically identified in the Declaration of Independence,  and these are exactly the rights that the Ninth Amendment is designed to protect. 

Griswold v. Connecticut, establishing an unalienable "right to privacy," is where our contemporary efforts to realize the "American Dream" have found a foundation that must not be weakened or undermined!

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

#221 / "One Nation, Indivisible"

Each month, The Sun Magazine brings its readers interviews, and fiction, and photographs, and letters, and quotations from past issues, speaking to the current political moment. The section containing the quotations from earlier issues is called, "One Nation, Indivisible."

This message from Thich Nhat Hanh, from The Sun's July 1988 issue, does speak to the current political moment, and it speaks to me:

In the West you have been struggling for many years with the problem of evil. How is it possible that evil should be there? It seems that it is difficult for the Western mind to understand. But in the light of nonduality, there is no problem: as soon as the idea of good is there, the idea of evil is there. When you perceive reality in this way, you will not discriminate against garbage for the sake of a rose. You will cherish both. . . . For many years, the United States has been trying to describe the Soviet Union as the evil side. Some Americans even have the illusion that they can survive alone, without the other half. But that is the same as believing that the right side can exist without the left side. 
And this very same feeling exists in the Soviet Union. The American imperialists, it is said, are on the bad side and must be eliminated for the possibility of happiness in the world. But that is the dualistic way of looking at things. If we look at America very deeply, we see the Soviet Union. And if we look deeply at the Soviet Union, we see America. If we look deeply at the rose, we see garbage; if we look deeply at garbage, we see the rose. In this international situation, each side is pretending to be the rose, and calling the other side garbage.
The Heart of Understanding 

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

#220 / Rethinking College

The Wall Street Journal is suggesting that we should be "rethinking college." A book review in The Journal, on July 18, 2018, advanced the following criticism:

Higher education is in a lot of trouble, barely kept on track by massive price increases, grade inflation that keeps the mostly inattentive customers sedated, and a class of academic serfs, called adjuncts, who work for meager wages. The adjunct system is telltale: a classic bait-and-switch operation, wherein customers—that is, students and their parents—imagine that, for the money they are paying, they are accessing professors though they are mostly renting local substitutes.

Speaking as one of those "local substitutes" and "academic serfs," since I do work as an adjunct professor at UCSC, I believe there is some merit in this critique. Continual price increases, foisted on students who don't have many personal or family resources, require those students to incur significant debt in order to get access to higher education. These ever-higher prices are undermining our educational system, and are crippling the future of those debt-ridden students. 

The academic product being delivered, at the ever-escalating prices being charged, is also not up to past standards. The "adjunct" system does have some real problems, though I don't agree that things are quite as bad as The Journal suggests (at least not from what I have seen at UCSC). I am the holder of a J.D., not a Ph.D, but I do think I know quite a bit about government and politics, and that I am delivering at least some significant value to the students who take the classes I teach in the University's Legal Studies Program. 

Still, I actually do think that students would benefit from having more contact with professors who have a deep, academic familiarity with the subjects being taught, and I do think that they come to college expecting that (and sometimes don't find it).

The main critique mounted in The Journal's book review, however (and in the book being reviewed, The University We Need, by Warren Treadgold) is not the complaint outlined above. Here seems to be the actual concern:

The campus left has tightened its grip on college and universities. The tighter the grip ... the simpler the message—that Western civilization, including the history of the American republic, is a long narrative of oppression. The essence of the humanities has thus been transformed into the study of victim groups and their supposed oppressors—capitalism, colonialism, religious belief, “privilege”—at the expense of other subjects. Relatedly, the demand for “diversity” now drives the curriculum, not to mention the admissions process. 
One result of this approach has been, Mr. Treadgold says, a growing intolerance toward traditional points of view—including incidents of confrontation and virtual censorship. Another is a growing anti-white sentiment. Arguably, the sentiment was latent in the early stages of identity-politics protests, but it has become overt in recent years, with attacks on “white privilege” and courses deriding “white culture.”

Too much focus on "diversity!" That is basically the problem that The Journal and professor Treadgold identify. In my view, this critique is almost totally wrongheaded. 

"White culture" is not an endangered species. "White privilege" is an historical and still-extant reality. History, including American history, has treated people of color badly, here at home and elsewhere. A genuine education requires that we all confront these realities, and discuss them, and understand both our history and our current situation, taking these real facts into account. The faculty at UCSC, by the way, are definitely trying to do just that in the classes I know about - and are succeeding, too. I don't read this educational effort as "the left" tightening its grip on colleges and universities. But let me go on.

My real concern about The University We Need is its prescription for change. After providing what I think is a flawed analysis, Treadgold provides the following suggested solution to the hypothesized problem: Treadgold wants "the billionaire class" to establish new, private universities that would try to teach courses that don't let the students know that there has been a long history of oppression of people of color by white people. 

Candidly, this is not going to equip anyone who gets this kind of education to function well in our contemporary world. Trying to erase the facts, in the name of an ideology, is exactly the opposite of what genuine education is all about. The Journal accuses "the left" of trying to do that, and to the extent that this happens, it is wrong. But what is being proposed by professor Treadway is to mobilize exactly this kind of education as ideology. His proposal is even more horrible in that he explictly calls for the creation of private institutions, built on the enormous wealth of the 1%, which will never have to have any public accountability.

Should we want to "rethink college?" That's not a bad idea! But instead of asking new high-tech billionaires to set up quadrangles of privilege, in which young, rich white people will be shielded from the real world, how about trying the prescription advanced in a recent study by the Century Foundation. The idea is summarized in an article in a July 19, 2018, article in Pacific Standard

What is this solution? Making college free!!

That approach, not the exclusive educational preserves promoted by The Wall Street Journal, is what this nation needs.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

#219 / Acting Up

The recent New York Times Magazine article on how we almost (but didn't) confront global warming in time to save the Earth was not very "upbeat." I wrote about this article in my blog post last Sunday,  and gave my post the following title: "A Long Article About The End Of The World." I not only referenced The New York Times' article but accompanied my post with a link to The Byrds'  wonderful song, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" That song ends with the following assertion: "I swear it's not too late."

A number of my friends said they hoped I was right about that, and that there is still enough time to save the Earth. The Times article made a pretty good case, though, that it really is "too late." 

I had three thoughts, on Sunday afternoon, as I continued to think about the question: 

  • Antonio Gramsci's observation that we must acknowledge "pessimism of the intellect," while continuing to affirm "optimism of the will," has always struck me as pretty good advice. It is advice that is particularly appealing to someone like me, who never fails to assert that "anything is possible" (within our human world, at least). 
  • The "intellect" side of Gramsci's dichotomy is always associated with those who observe. By definition, an observer sees what is happening, and is detached from the reality upon which the observer reports. The optimistic side of Gramsci's dichotomy is associated with those who take action, as opposed to those who simply observe. We are not only observers, of course, though observation is always more comfortbale than action. We have the ability, always, to act, and to do something unexpected, and action represents nothing other than an assertion of our "will."  
  • The laws governing the World of Nature describe inevitabilities (which is why we have every right to be discouraged as we read The Times' article). Our own behavior, however, is not subject to any determinism. Not only can we "act," but action can always be a "surprise." We can even suprise ourselves, and our surprising actions can create realities that have never been seen or dreamed of before. 

I read a little bit, on Sunday afternoon, about "ACT UP," the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. This was a political movement. In a way, it came out of "nowhere," and it profoundly changed our world. The actions of the LGBTQ movement have changed our world, too. I suggest that what these political efforts have accomplished is not only "surprising" but inspiring. These movements provide evidence that we can, indeed, "change the world," and surprise ourselves as we do so. 

With the fate of every human being on the planet hanging in the balance (and The Times' article does make clear that this is exactly the situation in which we find ourselves), it is obvious to me that we need to muster the will to make real changes in how we live, and that we need, also, to reevaluate what may have been our plans for the rest of our lives.

Let us all start thinking about how we can "surprise ourselves" now.

"Action" will be needed. We will need to create a "political" movement, as ACT UP did. 

When we do start "acting up," I am absolutely confident that we will discover this:

Many Surprises Are In Store

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Monday, August 6, 2018

#218 / What Is Wrong With This Picture?

Above is Tess Thompson Talley of Kentucky. She is credited with killing the giraffe shown in the picture. Click the link to her name to see more pictures. An article in The New York Times discusses the circumstances.

In my opinion, we should not really have to ask ourselves, "what is wrong with this picture?" 

Isn't it clear that life on Earth is at risk? Don't we understand that we are all threatened with extinction?

Let's not hasten the day, alright? 

Let's try to protect every form of life, OK?

That would be good for us, too, not just the giraffes!

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

#217 / A Long Article About The End Of The World

On August 1, 2018, The New York Times made available, online, a very long article and slideshow titled, "Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change." It is a very sobering article. The article read, to me, like a note that a sailor might put into a well-sealed bottle, casting it into the ocean as his ship sank, saying a final farewell all his loved ones, and letting someone know, maybe, should anyone ever read the note, about what went on during his last hours aboard the ship.

Here are two excerpts, one from the start of the article, and one from near the end. I recommend reading the whole article.

This narrative by Nathaniel Rich is a work of history, addressing the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989: the decisive decade when humankind first came to a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change. Complementing the text is a series of aerial photographs and videos, all shot over the past year by George Steinmetz. With support from the Pulitzer Center, this two-part article is based on 18 months of reporting and well over a hundred interviews. It tracks the efforts of a small group of American scientists, activists and politicians to raise the alarm and stave off catastrophe. It will come as a revelation to many readers — an agonizing revelation — to understand how thoroughly they grasped the problem and how close they came to solving it. 
More carbon has been released into the atmosphere since the final day of the Noordwijk conference, Nov. 7, 1989, than in the entire history of civilization preceding it. In 1990, humankind burned more than 20 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. By 2017, the figure had risen to 32.5 billion metric tons, a record. Despite every action taken since the Charney report — the billions of dollars invested in research, the nonbinding treaties, the investments in renewable energy — the only number that counts, the total quantity of global greenhouse gas emitted per year, has continued its inexorable rise. 
Like the scientific story, the political story hasn’t changed greatly, except in its particulars. Even some of the nations that pushed hardest for climate policy have failed to honor their own commitments. When it comes to our own nation, which has failed to make any binding commitments whatsoever, the dominant narrative for the last quarter century has concerned the efforts of the fossil-fuel industries to suppress science, confuse public knowledge and bribe politicians.

It is arth: The Decade Wehuman nature, the article says, in its very final line, to hope. And hope is good. But hope is clearly not enough. "Hope" is generally founded on a prayer that somebody else will do something to save you. 

One of my favorite songs, by The Byrds, is Turn, Turn, Turn. You can listen to it by clicking the video link, below. As I hear that song, and its powerful last line, "hope" is not the word that comes to mind. 

Changing our lives, and doing something new, doing something extraordinary, is what they are talking about: 

I swear it's not too late.osing Earth: The Decade We
Almost Stopped Climate ChangeLosing Earth: The Decade We
Almost Stopped Climate Change

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Saturday, August 4, 2018

#216 / Detours Down The Character Road

I generally find that Michael Tomasky makes good points. Tomasky is a special correspondent for The Daily Beast, and he writes regularly on political topics. On July 16, 2018, in a column in The New York Times, Tomasky commented on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the United States Supreme Court. The column was titled, "The Right Way to Lose the Kavanaugh Fight." His column does make good points. 

In essence, Tomasky accurately observes that the Democratic Party, and particularly Democrats in the Senate, are in a very difficult political position, and his advice is to lay off policy issues, just a bit, and to "detour down the character road" as Democrates make up their mind on Kavanaugh. Here is a synopsis of what Tomasky has to say:

It will be the Democrats’ first instinct to attack Judge Kavanaugh on abortion rights and health care. And, indeed, polls are finding very strong support for maintaining Roe v. Wade and pretty strong support for Obamacare. 
Democrats should talk about those very important things. But they can’t leave it at that. They absolutely must discuss character — both the president’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s. The nominee worked for Ken Starr in 1998 as Mr. Starr pursued President Bill Clinton. What exactly did he do for Mr. Starr? That office was notorious for leaks. Did he leak secret grand jury proceedings, violating Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure?

My gloss on this advice is to say that what Tomasky is really suggesting is that the Democrats treat the "advise and consent" process the way it has largely been treated through over more than two hundred years of constitutional history. Votes on Supreme Court nominations have not, generally, been treated in the same way that votes on partisan political matters and legislation have been treated. That is because the Supreme Court is supposed to be the "non-political" branch of government, the branch of government that is prepared to judge legislation based on the "rule of law," not on the basis of which party has more votes.

Our system does depend on "checks and balances," and the role of the Court is to look beyond partisan political majorities, and to consider precedent and the dictates of the Constitution as something different from the individual political views of a particular Justice, or the political views of the president who appointed that Justice. If the people are to believe in an "independent judiciary," and the integrity of the Constitution, then the people need to believe that judges and justices will rule on the basis of the "law," not "politics."

"SCOTUS Is Political," The Nation magazine says in its July 30/August 6, 2018, issue, and it is definitely true that the Supreme Court decides on all sorts of political questions. It is also and obviously true that Presidents think about politics as they make their nominations, and that Senators think about politics as they decide whether or not to vote to confirm. In the case of the Kavanaugh nomination, almost all the discussion has focused on Kavanaugh's views on hot-button legislative and policy issues, and most of the discussion presumes that Justices of the Supreme Court will vote according to politics, not according to some quite different standard, as required by the Constitution. 

Opposing Justice Kavanaugh's appointment on a purely partisan and political basis undermines our system of government. We need to demand that Supreme Court Justices follow precedent, which helps ensure that there really is a "rule of law" that is different from current politics, and we need to expect and demand that the Justices base their decisions on what the Constitution says (as it has been interpreted over 200-plus years), and not on the basis of their political allegiances. 

Does this sound like I am out of touch with reality? Doesn't everyone agree that this theory about an "independent judiciary" has no basis in fact, and that, in the end, it's nothing but politics, all the way down?

Well, the world is as we make it, and I am urging caution as Democrats approach this nomination process. I hope they will be careful not to convey the idea that we should expect the Supreme Court to be just as "political" as the other two branches of government, and that we fully expect that decisions of the Court will depend on nothing more than just "adding up the votes."

Yes, appointments are always "political," but I'm with Tomasky. To fight this appointment, let's look down that "character road," and not concede that we expect the new Justice, if the Democrats "lose the Kavanaugh fight," to be a mini-Trump on the Supreme Court bench for the next thirty to forty years.

If that's where we are heading, we are in deep waters indeed!

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Friday, August 3, 2018

#215 / Proxy Activism

As the very last word in his novel, Existence, in a section called "Follow-Up Resources," Author David Brin recommends "proxy activism." Brin refers readers to his website discussion of the topic, and here is the link

If you click the link, you will find that Brin describes the essence of "proxy activism" as follows:

Proxy Power is the uniquely convenient — but seldom discussed — ability of a modern person to participate in activism... helping to change or improve the world... by the simple expedience of joining some group that is vigorously pursuing that part of your personal agenda. In other words, you add both your membership dues and the political impact of your membership, in order to get behind people who are striving to save the world for you.

I am endorsing Brin's call for "proxy activism," and particularly want to point out the importance of making financial contributions to the causes you support. Jesus, speaking not so much as a religious leader, but more as a sociologist would, tells us that "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." In other words, it just happens to be true that when you make a financial contribution to a group working for a cause, the very fact that you have put your money on the line makes you much more committed to the cause than you would be if you had merely signed a petition, or otherwise stated your support. 

I am happy that Brin is touting "proxy activism." There is nothing wrong with this "uniquely convenient" way to get involved with the critical issues facing the world. 


While I think proxy activism is beneficial, and even "necessary," it is not "sufficient." 

If we want a genuine system of self-government, a government that will respond to human needs, and that will seek to realize our greatest aspirations, we are not going to be able simply to hire nonprofits to make the necessary changes for us. If we want self-government, a large number of us will need to get involved ourselves.

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

#214 / Hail To The Chief

Michael Tomasky has written an excellent article about our Chief Executive. The article appeared in the August 16, 2018, edition of The New York Review of Books. Tomasky's article was titled, "Hail to the Chief." I have linked the article here, though I am afraid the link may only work for subscribers. 

Tomasky does not have a very sanguine view about what is likely to happen when special counsel Robert Mueller files a report indicating that our president has obstructed justice, as Tomasky posits he will. In Tomasky's view, Republican Party members of Congress have almost totally abandoned the idea that they have a constitutional duty to "check and balance" an Executive who defies the law. They will do whatever the president wants, no matter what the president has done. That is what Tomasky thinks. Tomasky is not too sure about the Supreme Court, either! Tomasky is forecasting, in other words, a series of events that would tend to hasten the end of democratic self-government in the United States:

Since the Civil War, Democrats and Republicans have fought sometimes fiercely over their ideological goals, but they always respected the idea of limits on their power.
No one had come along to suggest that power should be unlimited. But now someone has, and we have learned something very interesting, and alarming, about these "conservatives," both the rank and file and holders of high office: their overwhelming commitment is not to democratic allocation of power, but to their ideological goals - the annihilation of liberalism, the restoration of a white ethno-nationalist hegemony.

I am not, personally, convinced that Robert Mueller is actually going to file a report accusing the president of obstruction of justice. Let us assume, however, that he does do that. Assuming he does, and that he issues a compelling report, based on solid evidence, I am not at all convinced that Members of Congress, including Republican Party Members of Congress, will then ignore their constitutional duty to do something about it. 

In my opinion, no American citizen should ever "expect" Members of Congress to ignore the responsibilities that the Constitution places upon them. That said, Tomasky's description of how Republican Party Members of Congress have been conducting themselves with respect to the president is pretty much on target. Republican Party leaders have consistently let the president off the hook, excusing every excess and outrageous action or statement. Tomasky might well be correct that even a strongly compelling report from Mueller, showing that the president has obstructed justice, and broken the law, will be disregarded by Republicans.

Even if that happens, though, I do not believe that the people of the United States will let their elected representatives simply ignore evidence of significant presidential lawbreaking. This nation, whatever the Republican Party might wish, has moved far beyond the place where a "white ethno-nationalist hegemony" can or will be tolerated. 

If clear and convincing evidence is produced that the president has broken the law and that he has obstructed justice, for instance by trying to hide evidence of real crimes against the nation, I think the people will demand action, and take appropriate action themselves, as necessary, in support of our  system of democratic self-government. They will do that, I think, no matter what Republican Party Members of Congress may do. 

In the end, I do not think that the people of the United States will capitulate to an illegal and improper exercise of presidential power. Remember those demonstrations at the airports, after the president issued his first, and clearly unconstitutional, "Muslim ban!"

If the president has obstructed justice, that conduct must not, and I think will not be allowed to stand.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

#213 / Friedman On Free Speech

Daniel Friedman is the Edgar Award-nominated author of Don’t Ever Get Old, Don’t Ever Look Back, and Riot Most Uncouth. He has also written an article titled, "Free Speech Doesn’t Protect Nazis. It Protects Us From Nazis."

I think Friedman is right. Here is an extract from the article. You decide: 

Narrowing the scope of free speech protections to accommodate limitations on hate speech, or to ban Nazis, or to shut Milo Yiannopoulos up, means reducing the scope of the individual right and expanding the power of the state to to regulate speech. In order to favor expanding the power of the state to regulate speech, you have to trust the state to wield that power judiciously, and not to abuse it or use it vindictively or excessively. 
Before you empower government to police speech that is hateful or offensive, or speech that is deemed violent or harmful, then you have to consider the possibility that it will not be your sensibilities that determine which speech is beyond the pale ... 
We are living in a political moment when hateful individuals are emboldened to trumpet vile ideas in public, and can find a receptive audience for their message on social media. But we are also living in a moment in which the apparatus of state power is in the hands of a president who many people believe has authoritarian leanings ... 
It is bizarre and misguided that people who profess to fear this president and the populist movement he leads favor reforms that would chip away at the protections that prevent Donald Trump from jailing or killing his critics. It may be true that strong individual rights prevent institutions from protecting marginalized people from the speech of other individuals, but strong individual rights also prevent the state from attacking marginalized people for exercising their own rights ... 
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that the remedy for speech used in service of “falsehoods and fallacies” is “more speech.” But even if you’re skeptical that bad speech is exposed in the “marketplace of ideas,” you have to admit that regulations on speech only work if you can trust the regulator. And right now, in the United States, the regulator is Donald J. Trump. 
We must favor individual rights over institutional power, even when individuals do bad things with their rights, because institutional power is much more dangerous when it falls into the wrong hands. We protect and tolerate speech we don’t like, so that we can speak without fear that those who don’t like us will use coercive institutional force to silence us. We don’t let Nazis speak for their sake; we let them speak for ours.

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