Wednesday, September 2, 2015

#245 / So In Play

Peggy Noonan, the right-wing columnist from The Wall Street Journal, is not my favorite pundit, but I do think her column in the August 29-30 edition of The Journal is well worth reading. Unlike the acerbic (and also right-wing) George Will, who is going crazy because Donald Trump's standing in the polls continues to climb, Noonan is actually willing to concede that Trump may be speaking to the real concerns of real voters, and thus is doing what those active in the political life are supposed to do. 

As Noonan sees it, quoting a political consultant: 

Over 80% of the American people, across the board, believe an elite group of political incumbents, plus big business, big media, big banks, big unions and big special interests—the whole Washington political class—have rigged the system for the wealthy and connected ... More than half of the American people believe something has changed, our democracy is not like it used to be, people feel they no longer have a voice.

Who agrees with that statement?

America, says Noonan, is "so in play." So why doesn't she mention....

Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

#244 / Burner Principles

Burning Man is underway, and the San Francisco Chronicle had a story by Carolyne Zinko in its Sunday, August 30th edition that celebrated (and critiqued) the festival as an art event. 

Mentioned in the Zinko article were the "Principles" of the Burning Man Festival. There are ten such principles, just like there are Ten Commandments, though I don't observe much overlap. 

According to the website where the principles can be found, the principles were written by Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey in 2004, with Harvey intending that the principles would be used as guidelines for the newly-formed Regional Network. That Regional Network idea, it seems to me, is essentially the evangelical component of Burning Man. Here is a "short version" of the ten principles. Click the link for an expanded explanation. 

The 10 Principles of Burning Man
  • Radical Inclusion
  • Gifting
  • Decommodification
  • Radical Self-reliance
  • Radical Self-expression 
  • Communal Effort 
  • Civic Responsibility 
  • Leaving No Trace 
  • Participation 
  • Immediacy
According to Harvey, the principles were not crafted "as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception."

So, the principles are not a set of "commandments," but are an "analysis." This seems to be a different way to try to accomplish something that all societies and civilizations must, in fact, do. We must, as we live together and create our world in common, have some sense of what is required of us, to make that common world possible. 

Getting the commandments from those in authority (or even better, from God), is certainly one tried and true way to forge a common understanding. The Burning Man principles do it differently. They are the result of an analysis of what has seemed to work to create the positive experiences that are regularly reported out by those in attendance on the Playa

I sense an analytical research project here! Someone should try to analyze what's worked (and what hasn't worked) in the "non-Playa" society in which we most usually live. You could say that's a "scientific" way to get to morality. 

We need some moral guidance, it seems to me, and the commandments from Popes and Presidents don't seem to be working out. 

Maybe we should review events, and see what's worked for us.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

#243 / A Letter To The Editor

I am reproducing, below, a Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, my home town newspaper, on August 29, 2015: 

Why cost of retail goods is actually going down 
As I waited for a taco Friday, I saw a discarded Sears Catalog dating to 1992. I picked it up and spent the next day browsing. Two things struck me. The prices of everything from pajamas to TVs, from furniture to auto parts, were almost all higher, yes higher, then they are today. Now, I am allowing for 23 years of inflation, but with few exceptions, everything was higher. 
I asked myself, why? The answer is both simple, and depressing. In 1992, we made most of the items here in the U.S. Today the vast majority are made overseas. Again, why? Labor. Factories here are all but gone. Between the labor cost here, the regulations and the numbers of Americans able or willing to work at factory jobs, we have all but given it away. I like being able to buy a new toaster for $25, and that TV, bigger and brighter, for $300. But at the same time I long for the days when my neighbor or uncle worked, here, to build these items for here. 
           — Dan Misko, Felton

I don't know whether it is actually true, as Mr. Misko believes, that past prices for consumer goods were consistently higher in 1992 than they are today, though I'm inclined to believe that he's right. I also don't know, presuming that Mr. Misko is right, whether the basic reason for this disparity is that fewer of those goods are now "Made in the U.S.A." I suspect that things may be just a bit more complex than this simple explanation, though certainly what Mr. Misko says about comparative labor costs is accurate. Let's assume, however, that everything that this letter says is true. What conclusion should we draw from Mr. Misko's analysis? What should we do about this situation?

As Mr. Misko notes at the end of his Letter to the Editor, he likes being able to buy things at low prices. He also wishes that the items he is buying were made in this country. Aren't we all in agreement with those two propositions? I'm with Mr. Misko, for sure! However, if Mr. Misko is right in his analysis, we can't have it both ways. Would we prefer to have things built in the United States, and pay higher prices? Or, would we prefer to pay lower prices, even though we know that this means that lots of manufacturing jobs will be exported to countries where labor costs are lower?

Mr. Misko's letter raises the question, but doesn't answer it. 

My recollection from my somewhat sketchy training in economics is that economists generally advocate for "free trade" because it does (supposedly) deliver consumer goods at the lowest possible price. If we believe in that concept, we are not supposed to "long for" a time in which our relatives worked in the factories to produce goods that actually cost us more. We are supposed to be happy that prices are low, and to appreciate that the "market" is simply allocating labor in the most efficient way possible, so as to produce the most benefits for the greatest number.

I know that's the theory, but the way "free trade" actually seems to work, the main beneficiaries are the corporations (and their CEOs) who are in charge of deciding where goods get made. Neither the workers in the foreign countries, where the cheap toasters get built, nor the workers in our country, where people are being driven into unemployment, seem to be getting a truly good deal. 

Again, it's easier to see the problem than to decide what to do about it. One thing to do might be to set a global minimum wage, what might euphemistically be called a "living wage," effective worldwide, so that all workers, in all countries, actually get paid for the value they create. This would mean that workers in countries that now have lower labor costs would not be turned into semi-slaves so that American consumers can have cheap shoes, shirts, and toasters. 

This plan, which would include raising labor costs in this country, too, would mean higher prices. 

Higher prices would mean we could buy less.

Buying less would mean that we would use less of the world's resources for cheap, disposable consumer items. 

I think I've found my personal answer to the question raised by Mr. Misko's letter. I want higher wages for workers, and higher prices for consumer goods.

I promise not to long for the days of cheap toasters!

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

#242 / Shade Balls

The City of Los Angeles has covered the surface of its Los Angeles Reservoir with 96 million black balls. The picture above shows the balls being dumped into the water. The balls are called "shade balls," and they are made out of plastic. 

According to a story in the Los Angeles Daily News, "the black, plastic shade balls — costing 36 cents each — protect the water in the 175-acre reservoir against dust and rain, birds and wildlife, and chemical reactions caused by the sun." These shade balls are "also expected to keep about 300 million gallons of water from evaporating each year," and that's what Mayor Eric Garcetti was bragging about, as he personally helped dump the shade balls into the water: “In the midst of California’s historic drought, it takes bold ingenuity to maximize my goals for water conservation,” Garcetti said. “This effort by LADWP is emblematic of the kind of the creative thinking we need to meet those challenges.”

Some commentators are applauding, but dumping millions of black plastic balls into one of the city's main drinking water reservoirs isn't everyone's idea of "bold ingenuity."

Some people, in fact, think that this is a rather bad idea. In an "Open Forum" piece published in The San Francisco Chronicle on August 21st, and titled, "Shade balls: not a bright solution," Elisa Ringholm said that "protecting the water surface with plastic produced from petroleum ... is ultimately a shallow, short-sighted, veiled solution ... that doesn't get to the root of the problem of California's water crisis."

Ringholm is a staff member at the Story of Stuff Project, which is trying to build a movement that "changes the way we make, use, and throw away stuff." Anyone not familiar with SOS should check out their inaugural video, which is pretty convincing. 

So, three immediate problems with the shade ball approach: (1) The balls are made out of hydrocarbons, and pumping out more oil from the ground perpetuates the global warming that is exacerbating our drought; (2) Plastic can deteriorate and leach into the water, thus putting potentially dangerous chemicals directly into the City's drinking water supply; (3) Those 96 million balls are going to deteriorate and will have to be disposed of, somehow, some way, some time. Reference that "Story of Stuff" video to see how stupid that is. 

My "Two Worlds" observation is this: Instead of trying to "manufacture" our way out of issues related to our dependence on limited natural resources, we should be using our ingenuity and creativity to figure out ways that we can live within those limits.

What a concept!

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

#241 / Viewer Discretion Advised

This posting is about politics, but there is a long introduction, focusing on some recent researches I have been undertaking to broaden my knowledge of contemporary music and popular culture. 

Slowly but surely, I am trying to catch up with popular culture. Really slowly! In fact, the use of that phrase "catching up" is almost certainly a significant overstatement. I am pretty sure that popular culture is emerging a lot faster than I'm catching up.

As one example, let me identify the image above as a picture of the singer Pink. Apparently, she likes to print it as "P!nk," at least according to Wikipedia. Wikipedia also calls Pink a "superstar," and cites the facts to prove it. Click the link to read about Pink, if you don't know everything already. But I bet you do, right? 

I have to admit that I didn't know anything about Pink, until a week or so ago, when I ran across a video of Pink singing "Me and Bobby McGee." In terms of popular culture, the version of that song by Janis Joplin, topping the charts in 1971, is just about exactly at my popular culture baseline. If you want to listen to Janis Joplin singing that song, here's where to click

Putting 1971 as the baseline point from which I am measuring progress in my quest to "catch up" with popular culture is one way of admitting that I have lots of catching up to do! In fact, I have undoubtedly fallen way too far behind ever to "catch up." 

I will say that Pink's version of "Me and Bobby McGee" is awfully good! I am happy that I have at least caught up with that. Here it is: 


My first ever introduction to Pink, by means of the video of Pink singing "Me and Bobby McGee," was occasioned by the fact that the video showed up on the News Feed of my Facebook page, and once having seen it, my plans for the evening were redirected. I was diverted from my other occupations, as I searched for more and more Pink, aspiring to "catch up" with her. I figured that catching up with Pink would be at least one way to move forward from my Janis Joplin - 1971 baseline. 

Pink has some truly startling stuff, and I really like it. Her Grammy performance on CBS was spectacular, and I have to admit that I have a special admiration for her live performance of "Slut Like You." Click on the links if you want to share my enthusiasm for these researches into contemporary popular culture.

Now, "Slut Like You," which is feminist to the core, is nonetheless about !!!SEX!!! In fact, the so-called "F" word is featured in a prominent part of the lyrics. If I were going to put any warning label on a video, indicating that "viewer discretion is advised," I would think that the video of "Slut Like You" might merit the label. 

No warning label appears, however, on Pink's live performance of "Slut Like You," though it is worth noting that the video begins with Pink warning mothers in the audience to put earplugs in their daughters' ears, before she gets into the song. 

Here's where the politics comes into this story. 

As I continued my explorations of popular culture through watching videos featuring Pink, I came across a video called "Dear Mr. President (Live at Wembley)." This video was taken during a performance by Pink at the Wembley Arena, in London, England, late in 2006. That means that the "President" in question was President George W. Bush. 

I recommend that you listen to what Pink had to say to President Bush. Mostly, it was questions. Among other things, she asked: 

  • What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street?
  • How do you walk with our head held high?
  • How can you say "No child is left behind?" (We're not dumb and we're not blind).
  • What kind of father could take his own daughter's rights away?
  • And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay? 

It's a powerful song, but here is what I could scarcely believe. The video was distributed by MSN Music, and here is what appeared before the music began (a warning):

Explicit Lyrics. Viewer Discretion Is Advised

I was, literally, stunned by this advisory. Whatever advisories our popular puritanism demands when sex is involved, censorship has no place in politics. 

When we talk to our elected representatives, from the President on down, we need to be as "explicit" as we can possibly be. We all need to hear the questions. Actually, it would be great to get some answers, too.

Proud to have caught up with P!nk.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

#240 / The Story I'm Making Up

I don't often read O - The Oprah Magazine, but I ran across an article from the magazine a week or so ago that I thought was pretty useful. Maybe on more than one level. 

The article was titled "How to Reckon with Emotion and Change Your Narrative." It was was written by BrenĂ© Brown, who calls herself "a researcher and a storyteller." Here's how the article starts: 

My husband, Steve, and I were having one of those days. That morning, we'd overslept. Charlie couldn't find his backpack, and Ellen had to drag herself out of bed because she'd been up late studying. Then at work I had five back-to-back meetings, and Steve, a pediatrician, was dealing with cold-and-flu season. By dinnertime, we were practically in tears.

Steve opened the refrigerator and sighed. "We have no groceries. Not even lunch meat." I shot back, "I'm doing the best I can. You can shop, too!" "I know," he said in a measured voice. "I do it every week. What's going on?"

I knew exactly what was going on: I had turned his comment into a story about how I'm a disorganized, unreliable partner and mother. I apologized and started my next sentence with the phrase that's become a lifesaver in my marriage, parenting and professional life: "The story I'm making up is that you were blaming me for not having groceries, that I was screwing up."

The point Brown is making is very clear - and actually pretty profound. The external "realities" to which we react are often not "realities" at all. They are simply "stories" that we make up. The "story," in other words, precedes the external data. We don't examine the stimuli that come to us from outside, and deduce from those stimuli what the reality out there is. Quite the opposite; we perceive, outside of ourselves, the realities that we expect to find. 

I've been reading some technical books about the nature of  consciousness and perception, and there do seem to be some good arguments that this is exactly how we formulate our understanding of the world, at least a lot of the time. We have a history to draw on, so in any particular instance, we know what we expect. Then, we gather the data from the outside world that seems to conform to the reality we are already pretty sure exists. 

It's all unconscious, too, so the little "mantra" that Brown is recommending is quite helpful, because it's intention is to make conscious what has been unthought about. If we can just remind ourselves, explicitly, that we are "telling ourselves a story" when we think we understand something, we can then entertain the idea that there may be other explanations for what we seem to see, hear, or comprehend.

I've been in enough conflicts like the one at the refrigerator, described above, to value Brown's advice. 

But I also think that we would do well to subject our "political" as well as our "personal" certainties to this kind of skeptical cross examination. 

The story I'm making up is that the Democrats ....

Or the Republicans ...

I think we can figure out a story that we'd all like! Or at least most of us. Most of the time.

Maybe we should start working on that!

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

#239 / Where I'm From Is No Longer Where I'm At

I grew up in Palo Alto, and went to Stanford University. This is the 50th anniversary of my graduation, and a rather thick 50th Reunion Class Book just recently appeared in my mailbox. Every graduate had the opportunity to submit a page, and many did. Many did not, too. 

I am making my way through all these pages, and am getting a feeling for what life has been like for my fellow students from the Stanford Class of 1965. In a lot of ways, my own adventures have been rather typical. Sixty percent of my classmates, for instance, have at some point been employed as a teacher. Not so many have run for political office, though; only seven percent have done that, and I suppose that not all of those people won.

At any rate, the class biographies are fascinating, but what has intrigued me most has been the introduction to the Class Book, titled "Fifty Years Later..."

The introduction does a comparison of Stanford then and now, and as it turns out (and I really actually knew this), that the Stanford University of today is a fundamentally different place from the place where I went to school. 

Some examples:

  • Stanford today has three times the building space, twice the number of graduate students, sixty-four times the operating expense, and one hundred and thirty times the endowment it had in 1965.
  • According to faculty member Sanford Dornbusch, who taught sociology at Stanford fifty years ago, and who still lives at Stanford, "an enormous number want to apply to Stanford University because they want to make a million before they're thirty."
  • "Walk onto the campus and you'll see so many new buildings you'll need a map to get around. Just west of Quad is the engineering quadrangle of sprawling palaces with names like Hewlett, Packard, Gates, Yang and Huang appended to them. The business school has its own spacious quadrangle, and the Medical School has erupted vast structures devoted to cancer research and the marriage of computers and human anatomy...You'll feel like you've stepped into the Emerald City."
  • The decline of the humanities is a source of concern. Says former President Donald Kennedy: "...If you're history faculty, you're going to be almost a tutorial instructor. There are art history seminars with only five students. Gone are many of the broad survey courses, and in their places are specialized offerings aimed at attracting computer science majors...The fading of the humanities has combined with the passing of the belief in a common cultural foundation...One student said, "I would say everybody in my dorm knows how to code. Everyone has a specialty."  

I majored in American History at Stanford, and received my bachelors degree with Honors in Social Thought and Institutions. I am still there, intellectually, but Stanford has moved on. The same kind of transformations have been working themselves out at the University of California at Santa Cruz, which just dumped (without any discernible reason I could see) the opportunity to host the annual Santa Cruz Shakespeare summer festival.

The humanities and history are in retreat. Money advances.

But "advance" is probably not the right word!

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#238 / New Orleans Past: Now In Pictures

The Nation has just published its August 31/September 7, 2015 issue, "New Orleans 10 Years Later." This is a haunting and enraging review of how an immense human tragedy, driven by epidemic racism, has hollowed out the center and the soul of a great American city.

Mychal Denzel Smith's article, titled "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People," turns this indictment of the President, by Kanye West, into a reflection on the nation that elected George Bush (twice), arguing that the President was, truly, the nation's elected representative, and providing a reason that the Black Lives Matter movement must succeed.

Another magazine, The Atlantic, is also addressing the topic of New Orleans, on the ten year anniversary of the disaster. The Atlantic regularly makes available an online "Photo" collection that often provides striking photographs, usually all related to a particular topic, but sometimes being simply a compilation of images from the week just past.

I certainly encourage interested persons to sign up to receive The Atlantic's free email bulletins about their latest photographic collections, and I particularly encourage anyone reading this blog posting to review The Atlantic's just-published collection, "New Orleans, 10 Years After Katrina." This latest collection of photographs includes the photo above, depicting the so-called “Great Wall of Louisiana,” a 1.8-mile-long concrete wall located east of downtown New Orleans, photographed on August 19, 2015.

According to The Atlantic, "this barrier was designed to reduce the risk of storm surge in many parts of the city that were flooded during Hurricane Katrina due to levee or floodwall failures."

As The Nation's articles make clear, the horror after Katrina was a "man-made disaster," but I think that any fair review of the entire collection just published by The Atlantic will also lead to a further insight. Any effort that seeks to "wall off" our human world from the World of Nature, in whatever form we might seek to accomplish that task, is not likely to be successful.

Living within the World of Nature, and respecting its limits and its priorities, is a far better strategy.

In so many ways!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#237 / The Difference

As I mentioned in my posting yesterday, I now know the meaning of the word "derp." Derp is an adjective (impliedly derogatory) meaning that the idea or activity to which it is applied is "of, consisting of, or supported by members of two parties, especially the two major political parties."

Today, let me tell you a true story about the difference between a Democrat and a Republican.

In 1988, I was on the UCSC campus, registering UCSC students to vote, hoping to get them to support Proposition 70, the so-called "CALPAW" initiative, which when ultimately passed that year provided the funds to purchase the Pogonip property and permanently to preserve it. You can read a nice little write up on CALPAW, and Pogonip, by clicking right here.

I vividly remember this incident, because it was so striking. I was in the Crown College courtyard area, and was stopping students walking by, asking them whether they were registered to vote, and then urging them to register if they weren't. I had the forms with me, and I was doing a pretty good business.

When a person registers to vote, he or she must indicate a political party designation (or indicate that the newly-registered voter wants to "decline to state"). Legally, the person doing the registering (me in this case) is not supposed to tell the person who is registering how they should fill out that party designation. One student, a young man, had decided to register, and when he got to the end of the form, and reached the party designation question, he directly asked me, "What party should I fill out? Am I a Democrat or a Republican?"

This was a private conversation, and I remember pausing right after he asked me the question. I was, I confess, tempted to tell him "Democrat," my own party, but I didn't do that. In fact, before I could say anything, an African American woman student, who had been moving full tilt right past us, suddenly stopped in her tracks, and turned back around.

"Hey," she said. "You got lots of money?"

"No," is what the student holding the form replied.

"Ok," she said, "then you're a Democrat."

That's a real life story, and while this system is not infallible, it's certainly one way to think about the difference.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

#236 / Derp

The picture is from an article published online in Vox - Energy & Environment. It is a picture of Carly Fiorina, of course, one of the many candidates for the Republican Party nomination for President. 

Californians know Carly. She was the Chief Executive Officer at Hewlett-Packard until fired. She ran against Barbara Boxer as a candidate for the United States Senate. She didn't do very well in either of those endeavors, but I'm told that the Republicans really like her in her latest incarnation. 

If at first you don't succeed, try, try for President!

The article in Vox focuses on Fiorina's most recent statements on climate change. According to Vox, "everything she said was wrong." If you'd like to read the article, click here and judge for yourself

I mention the article not because I want to spend any time talking about Carly Fiorina (I, personally, have no use for her). Rather, I was intrigued by a word used in the article, and used as if everyone must know what it means: "derp."

I am making an honest effort to keep up with popular culture, but I am definitely coming from behind. According to the Urban Dictionary, "derp" should really appear, orthographically, as "DeRp," and I gather that it is an adjective meant to apply to any idea or activity "of, consisting of, or supported by members of two parties, especially two major political parties: [as in] a DeRp resolution."

"Derp" also appears to have some sort of tie in to the adult cartoon television show South Park, a show I have never watched, with this fact pretty much proving how out of touch I am with popular culture. I gather, from watching the following video, that "derp" may well mean a person who is stupid or who acts like an idiot. 

Maybe "derp" is a good word to describe someone who doesn't know there is a difference between what the Democrats and and the Republicans are supposed to be all about. 

Watch the video, and then watch out for any derp ideas that come your way, from Carly Fiorina, or anyone else!

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

#235 / Cool Schools

The Sierra Club does an annual review of "Cool Schools," nationwide. For the Sierra Club, as might be expected,  a school is "cool" if that school is doing well on environmental practices. The latest  list of "Cool Schools" has just been published. According to the Club, the list is based on a months-long analysis, undertaken in partnership with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and the results are "thorough, accurate, and trusted."

You can click the following link for the total list.  And here is a separate link for the "Top Ten."

The #1 "cool school," nationwide, is the University of California at Irvine. The #2 school is the University of California at Davis. The #7 school is the University of California at San Diego. The #10 school is the University of California at Berkeley. The #18 school is the University of California at Santa Barbara. The #42 school is the University of California at Los Angeles.

The #44 school is the University of California at Santa Cruz. 

The current Long Range Development Plan for the University of California at Santa Cruz proposes converting something like 374 acres of what was once a "Natural Reserve" into roads, parking lots, apartments, and academic buildings, cutting down lots of trees to accomplish the project. Over 3,000,000 square feet of new buildings are contemplated in this former "Natural Reserve" area.

The area that the University proposes for all this development is outside the limits indicated for future development in both the City and the County General Plans, and is outside the City's Water Service Area, besides. In connection with this proposed development, therefore, the University has had to ask the Santa Cruz County Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, to permit the City of Santa Cruz to extend water service into this former "Natural Reserve" area, and to provide the new development area with 152 million gallons of water each year. We are in a monumental drought, but that didn't stop the University from asking. 

The environmental review undertaken by the University (and by the City) in connection with the University's request to have the City extend water service was challenged by a local environmental group, and the University and City environmental review document was found to be out of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. So far, the University has not tried to update and recirculate its flawed EIR. 

The University hasn't withdrawn its application for those 152 million gallons of water, though. That's still pending!

Not so cool!

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

#234 / Goo Goo G'joob.

The picture above is from an article in Rolling Stone titled, "The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here." Are you in the market for another nightmare? If you have been keeping up on global warming, this article isn't going to tell you much you don't already know.

Fact is, we are already pretty well acquainted with that global warming nightmare that Rolling Stone is talking about.  

Want to know who is just figuring it out?


The picture shows walruses on a beach. According to the article, "federal scientists discovered 35,000 walruses congregating on a single beach. It was the largest-ever documented "haul out" of walruses, and a sign that sea ice, their favored habitat, is becoming harder and harder to find."

No ice
Is not nice
For walruses. 

It's not very nice for anyone else, either (including you and me). 

The Beatles got it right (speaking for every one of us):

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly. I'm crying.

I am. You are. We are ...

"All Together Now!"

That's another great Beatles' song.

That's another great idea. Better than a nightmare.

Together. We need to get ourselves together.

Goo Goo G'joob!

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Friday, August 21, 2015

#233 / Take A Look Into That Community Mirror

Wikipedia describes my home town, Santa Cruz, California, this way:

Santa Cruz is known for its moderate climate, the natural beauty of its coastline, redwood forests, alternative community lifestyles, and socially liberal leanings.

Some people (whose opinions are being promoted by the local newspaper), seem to think that those "alternative community lifestyles," and "socially liberal leanings," might really have to go. Let's take Claudia Rimai as a fair example of this species.

In an Op-Ed article published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on  August 8, 2015, Rimai said that Santa Cruz "must look into the mirror." In fact, Rimai opines: 

  • Santa Cruz needs to ... change the way it thinks and acts.
  • It must recognize that all development is not bad [and that]
  • Authority is not evil
  • And finally, [that] police are not the enemy. 
Apparently, Rimai is seriously suggesting that there is some sort of general feeling in Santa Cruz that "authority is evil," that "police are the enemy," and that "all development is bad." I have lived here for more than fifty years, and was an elected representative for twenty years, and none of these postulates tracks with my experience.

I do think that Wikipedia is right, though, and that Santa Cruz actually does celebrate "alternative community lifestyles" and "socially liberal leanings."

We had an active community of midwives before almost any other local communities around the country understood their value. We had a "Women's Health Collective," of, by, and for women, and we have always been a pro-choice community. We had a local medical marijuana cooperative that stood up to the federal government, and our City Council stood right with them. The Mayor personally distributed medical marijuana on the steps of City Hall. We have a lot of acupuncture, and yoga, and art. AND music! We have actually had world famous jugglers and world famous bubble blowers doing their thing on our main street downtown. We have a whole big building, and lots of people using it, called the Resource Center For Nonviolence. Nonviolence! What a concept!! We have a wonderful statue, by the Town Clock, that commemorates the victims of war, instead of those who perpetrate it.

Plus, Santa Cruz actually thinks that protecting the environment is more important than letting developers make the maximum big bucks possible as they seek to pave over productive agricultural land and cram as many units as they can into our residential neighborhoods. We are an official "Nuclear Free Zone," and our County North Coast has been preserved as "open space," instead of being turned into resorts and golf courses for the rich. Hey, Monterey County is great, too, but we are "different." In fact, one of the best and most beloved businesses in downtown Santa Cruz celebrates that difference by selling tee-shirts and signs that say, "Keep Santa Cruz Weird."

You get the idea. What I gave was just a "partial list," but I think it demonstrates that the Wikipedia characterization is "right on." Right on, and many of us are proud of it!

Not everyone, however, is proud of the "alternative" approaches our community exemplifies, and Ms. Rimai's litany of disapproval, as outlined above, is also just a "partial list." Read the entire article to get the full flavor. Rimai starts right off with a tone of maximum snark by saying, "Santa Cruz needs to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up." She says Santa Cruz needs to "start making mature decisions toward that end."

So, just before looking into that community mirror myself, and saying a little bit about what I think about Santa Cruz, can I first ask what qualifications the Santa Cruz Sentinel thinks Claudia Rimai has that make it appropriate for her to tell Santa Cruz residents what our community "must" do?

Why did the Santa Cruz Sentinel pick Claudia Rimai to speak to the future of Santa Cruz?

It turns out that's simple. You can deduce the answer from the very last line of Ms. Rimai's Op-Ed: 

Claudia Rimai lives in Bend, Oregon.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel has chosen to elevate Claudia Rimai as an expert on what Santa Cruz "must" do because she doesn't live here! While she apparently did live in Santa Cruz once, she has now moved away, to what she thinks of as a "kinder place." Obviously, Ms. Rimai believes (and the Sentinel with her) that if she wasn't happy with Santa Cruz when she lived here, the fault must lie not with her, but with the community. Only a person with this kind of self-satisfied mindset could muster the effrontery, as a non-community resident, so confidently to tell other people that they need to "figure out what they want to be when they grow up."

Here is what I think. I think the precious gold of what it means to live in Santa Cruz is our community engagement in the very real problems confronted by all communities, including ours. Growth and development pressures are everywhere. We have chosen to address them through citizen enacted initiative measures that gave us a permanent Greenbelt, mandate that at least a minimum amount of affordable housing be built, as market rate housing goes forward, and that protect our commercially viable agricultural land. We have a creative and innovative network of social services, based on nonprofits of, by, and for our local community. We continue to provide a home for world class artists.

But, the overwhelming problems related to the economic disintegration being experienced generally in the United States, as lower-income and middle-income people are shut out, and the super-rich win, affect our community, too. Putting mentally ill and poor people out on the street affects us, and San Jose, and San Francisco, and Every City, Everywhere.

Crime happens, though the crime statistics published on the City's website seem to indicate a much lower crime rate today (in 2014) than in 2004-2005. Who knows, maybe that's when Ms. Rimai moved out!*

When we look into a mirror, if we're honest, we don't always get a clear, crisp image back. We have LOTS of problems: crime, homelessness, a lack of affordable housing, traffic, a limited water supply. This is just one more "partial list."

But we have a community that has, since I moved to the County in 1961, and to the City in 1971, always been engaged, and enterprising, and innovative.

When things need to be addressed, we do our best. We mobilize our resources. And when that's not enough, we keep working on it.

Let me say this to my friends who may be getting discouraged, or who got discouraged when they saw our local newspaper promoting the thoughts of a disaffected, out-of-community expatriate: the solution is not to move away.

The solution is not to "step back," and to succumb to fear of failure and disillusionment.

The solution is (and I go with Sheryl Sandberg on this, and with her book of this title) to:

Lean In!

*Just a snarky comment right back, in response to that snarky "What do you want to be when you grow up?" question.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

#232 / Nursing An Advantage

As we learned on Tuesday, August 11th, National Nurses United, the nation's largest women-dominated labor union, with 185,000 members, has now endorsed Bernie Sanders for President.

I, personally, think that this is rather significant.

In the story about the union's endorsement, Rose Ann DeMoro, the union's Executive Director, said that Hillary Clinton had come across as "evasive" in a personal interview with union leaders. Sanders, she said, is "the real, real deal."

My Five Simple Rules of politics ends up on the following note:

Rule #5: 
“Be honest.” This means more than the minimum requirement of not taking bribes, though of course that is important. What this Rule means is that you've got to tell people what you really think. That lets them decide whether they like your positions, and whether they like you. That puts the people in charge of politics. 
In the end, that's what it's supposed to be all about!

We need to insist that candidates not try the tactics of evasion, to be able to appeal to everyone. Politics is about making choices. We can't choose if we don't know what the real differences are.

What do I call a politics in which all of the candidates (or at least some of the candidates) tell the truth about what the candidates think, and about what they propose to do?

I think the nurses got it right. I call that a "healthy" politics!

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#231 / Panpsychism

I have been making daily postings to this Two Worlds blog since about 2010, and I actually made some postings even earlier, in 2009. I think I am up to something over 2,000 postings by now, all more or less related to the idea that we live in "Two Worlds" simultaneously. 

I find this construct helpful. Of course, it's just an "idea," a way of explaining our situation.

The "human world," in which we most immediately reside, is a world we build ourselves. It is the realm in which our human freedom is displayed. The laws of our "human world" are the laws that we determine we want to follow; they are "prescriptions," which we write for ourselves. By these "human laws" we tell ourselves what we "ought" to do, or what we "want" to do - and of course we can (and do) change our mind. Our human laws do not, in fact, actually constrain us. We call them "laws," but they can never make us do what they recommend. They are just like doctors' prescriptions, which can't make us take the medicine that they advise.

Our "human world" is built within the World of Nature, upon which we ultimately depend. The "natural laws" that govern the World of Nature are not ones that derive from human choice. You can't "break" the law of gravity (as an example). You can't pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in ever increasing amounts and not expect the world to heat up. The "laws of nature" are not prescriptions. They are not "advisory." The "laws of nature" are descriptions. They tell us what "will" happen, not what we want to happen, or think ought to happen.

The reason I find the "Two Worlds" construct helpful is that I think it properly orients us to the reality of our human existence. 

Within our world, we can choose to do whatever we want, and can build a world to accomplish that. Should we decide that we need a new law governing marriage (or taxation), we can make the change. We can also choose whether or not to conform our activities to what the laws of the World of Nature demand. If we don't want the world to heat up, for example, we can stop burning hydrocarbon fuels. It's our choice.

In the World of Nature, the laws don't tell us what we have to do, but they do tell us what our limits are. And as Conservation International tells us, in a compelling series of short videos called "Nature is speaking," Nature doesn't need people. People need Nature. We ought to pay attention to those limits set by the Natural World.

While that seems obvious to me, it also seems clear to me that we humans often think we can "break" the constraints and limits of the Natural World (treating Nature as though it were "our" world, subject to our command). Conversely, we often seem to act as though the arrangements that exist in our "human world" are fixed and inevitable; yet, the exact opposite is the truth.

I thought up the Two Worlds title for this blog based on the thinking I have just described. As I have been writing my individual postings, however, I have begun wondering whether the "Two" in the title may be a bit misleading. I remember writing last year about Barbara Ehrenreich, and her experience with "transcendence." I suggested that we perhaps live in "Three Worlds," rather than "Two," with World number Three being, in essence, a world of the spirit, the world of transcendence, a realm of which we get various evidences but which is not immediately tangible or measurable, the way those other "Two Worlds" are.

If it really takes "Three Worlds" to describe our situation completely, World number Three would be some kind of "spiritual" realm. I am clear that humans beings did not "create" the World of Nature, upon which all life ultimately depends, and I have been known to call the World of Nature the "World that God created." The idea that we exist as creatures, utterly dependent on a Creator God, has largely fallen out of favor. Query whether this hasn't been a factor in our apparent obliviousness to the destruction that our activities (carried out in the human world) are wreaking upon the World of Nature. Jerry Mander, in a book I have mentioned in this blog, In The Absence of the Sacred, gets to the point. 

The other day, I came upon an article about "panpsychism," published in JSTOR Daily. JSTOR Daily, I think, would be counted a respected academic journal. If you'd like to read up on panpsychism, you can read the article, or you can click this link for a description in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. According to the Stanford encyclopedia, "panpsychism" is "the doctrine that mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe." Maybe, there is some clue there to what might be the nature of that "World Number Three" that may be missing from my "Two Worlds" construct.

I am going to start thinking more about panpsychism. I recommend that we all try. The concept seems to posit some kind of "world" beyond the World of Nature, a "world" that contains the World of Nature, and that encompasses and supports that World just as the World of Nature encompasses and supports the "human world" that we create. As Paul of Tarsus said in Thessalonica, if such a "spiritual world" exists, this is the world in which "we live, and move, and have our being." 

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

#230 / Denshosha

An article in the August 7, 2015 edition of The New York Times introduced me to the denshosha. Pictured is Hiromi Hasai, 84, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, with Ritsuko Kinoshita, his "denshosha" - the official guardian and designated transmitter of his memories. 

Ms. Kinoshita is twenty-five years younger than Mr. Hasai. On many occasions, Ms. Kinoshita has heard Mr. Hasai tell his story of the day the bomb fell. When Mr. Hasai is no longer able to tell the story, Ms. Kinoshita will tell it for him. 

She will tell the story so the story will not be lost. 

We must never forget.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

#229 / More Dead Megafauna

While the world has been properly lamenting the death of Cecil the Lion, killed by an American dentist, elephants are being slaughtered at a rate that threatens their extinction as a species. You can read a Washington Post story about that by clicking right here. Defenders of Wildlife is campaigning to protect elephants. So is the World Wildlife Fund

How much does an elephant tusk weigh? I don't know, but I think it's a lot. You will notice that there are no tusks left on the dead elephant in this picture. The ivory from the tusks of elephants goes for $1,000 per pound. So, say $250,000 for one dead elephant?

In view of the economics, I'm thinking that "market-based" solutions aren't going to work. If we want to preserve a World of Nature which we inhabit with other creatures, some more direct action will be needed.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

#228 / Uber-Roots

The New York Times ran an Op-Ed on Friday, August 7th, titled "The Uber-ization of Activism." Authored by Edward T. Walker, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, the Op-Ed discusses the recent "grassroots" victory of Uber customers over efforts by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to put a cap on Uber's business in the City. 

I think the Op-Ed is well worth reading. Walker's full-length book, Grassroots for Hire: Public Affairs Consultants in American Democracy, is probably worth reading, too, but I haven't read it myself.

Walker's point in his Op-Ed is that massive corporations are now using "big data" to mobilize members of the public to help the corporations win out over governmental efforts to set public policy. 

When unelected corporate leaders become the leaders of "popular" movements, aimed at discrediting and defeating the elected officials and governmental agencies that are supposed to reflect the public will, it's time to watch out for democracy!

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

#227 / Gambling By Credit Card

Yesterday, I complained that bankers have turned what used to be thought of as "investments" into "bets," and in doing so have sabotaged our entire financial system. Shortly after writing down my complaint on that topic, I found that the California Lottery is going to help bankers get into gambling more directly. 

An editorial in the August 4th edition of the San Francisco Chronicle announced that the Lottery is now allowing people to buy lottery tickets at the gas pump, using their credit cards. If the Chronicle is correct, this is the first time that the Lottery has ever allowed players to buy tickets with something other than cash. I join the Chronicle in thinking that this is unseemly, and maybe even "outrageous," and that our state government should not be taking advantage in this manner.

As the Chronicle's editorial says, going into debt for a very long odds chance to win big bucks is a "sucker bet." So our state is now trying to rip off the suckers! The bankers behind the credit cards are right there, too, undoubtedly glad to fund these wagers, since it's pretty much a sure thing for the banks. Eighteen percent interest, or more, for money to gamble! Pretty despicable, I think. 

At least it's unlikely, or so I hope, that the banks are going to send out someone to cut off the fingers, or break the legs, of defaulting debtors.

Maybe that's one good thing about this new scheme to make money from the poorest of our society, driving them to bankruptcy as they wager the money they don't even have for one of those "sucker bets."

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Friday, August 14, 2015

#226 / No Banker Left Behind

What used to be called "investment" decisions are now often called "bets." I don't think that's a change for the better, actually, but the use of "betting" terminology, as applied to economic and financial decisions, is virtually omnipresent. You could click this link, for instance, for an article from the June 9, 2015 New York Times that discusses the financial strategies of Wilbur L. Ross, Jr. Wikipedia describes Ross as an "American billionaire," and denominates him an "investor." The news story in The Times, though, ran under this headline: "American Billionaire Makes Risky Bet on Greece Debt Deal." 

Given that investors (including those who have lent money to the Greek government, or who have otherwise invested in Greece) are more and more considering themselves to be "gambling," my question is why they should get paid back if they lose their "bet." Generally speaking, gamblers expect to be paid if they win, and to lose their stake if they don't. Apparently, the international bankers who have Greece over a barrel, and whose bad lending practices sent the United States economy into a massive recession in 2008, think that they ought to be able to "bet" their money as they choose, and then always get paid back, even if they lose. 

The basic unfairness of this, from the borrowers' point of view, has not prevailed largely because the governments that ultimately decide who wins, and who loses, are all on the side of the big money bankers. As Ry Cooder puts it, "No Banker Left Behind." Click to listen to his very enjoyable song. It's right on point. 

Maybe our next President could do something about that "No Banker Left Behind" problem. Bernie Sanders might take a shot at it!

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

#225 / Here's Your Chance To Make A Billion

I think I'm too old to try for a high-tech fortune. That doesn't mean I don't have ideas! For instance, who needs the Apple Watch, when you can have the "Whisper Friend?" If you like the idea, take it away. It's got to be worth a billion, at least! Stand by, I'll explain the concept.

Let's begin with what already exists. Pictured above is a device that is, even now, in actual production and actual use. It's the "Lyric" hearing aid. I've actually tried them out. You put this little device into your ear, and it stays there for something like six months. It's so far down that no one can see it. You can take a shower, maybe even surf. If you want to cut out the world, just shut off the amplification with a little magnet that goes on your key chain. That feature is great for sleeping on airplanes, and in other noisy environments. The hearing aid amplifies any of the frequencies you're having trouble with. The device improved my hearing more than any other hearing aid I have ever tried. It's all digital, of course!

Want to read up on the Lyric? Just click right here!

Starting with what already exists, let's move on to the new idea. According to a newspaper article appearing in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on August 4th, Nokia is starting a mapping war with both Apple and Google. Here's the statement from the article that sparked my idea: "Some maps will become so integrated into smart-phone apps that they will know when and where a user might want to shop or eat...."

Well, this got me thinking that it would be quite possible to have a Lyric-like device placed in one's ear, connected to the ever-present cellphone/computer you carry on your body. Various apps could obtain information like that provided by the Nokia mapping program (called HERE), or almost anything else. Want directions? Right in your ear. Want to listen to music? Right in your ear. Want to listen to an audiobook? Right in your ear. If you happen to have some sort of hearing impairment, you could use the devices for that purpose, too, of course, but the idea here is that you could receive information, in audio form, just "whispered" into your ear, without anyone being the wiser. Of course, you'd have to pull them out if you were ever a contestant on Jeopardy, or something like that. Or for spelling bees, etc.

But think about it. Don't you think that's a lot better than some heavy-handed watch?

This idea is free for the taking. Go make your billion!

And if you think something like this might turn human beings into robots, well, that doesn't mean it wouldn't sell!

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