Wednesday, May 25, 2016

#146 / Thank Monica Lewinsky


Thomas Frank, a political analyst and author of the book, Listen Liberal, is pictured to the right. I gather he actually prefers the left!

Frank was interviewed by Ana Marie Cox in the May 22, 2016 edition of The New York Times Magazine. Cox' article said that Frank "thinks Hillary should woo the working class." 

That's a great idea. There is another candidate, of course, who is already doing that! As a pledged delegate for Bernie Sanders, I am hoping that the Democratic Party, at large, will take the advice that Frank is directing at Hillary Clinton, in particular. If the Party took Frank's advice to heart, the Convention in Philadelphia might send forth Sanders, rather than Hillary Clinton, to represent Democratic Party values in the campaign leading up to the November election.

Most amazing to me, in Cox' brief one page interview with Frank, was this exchange (Cox in bold; Frank in normal type):

You mention in the book that the Clinton administration was discussing plans to partly privatize Social Security when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, which was news to me. 
Imagine putting a big piece of Social Security in the stock market in the late ’90s. You’d have millions of retirees who would have gotten hammered, because the Nasdaq collapsed. And then a couple of years later, there’s the collapse of the housing bubble, and then the financial crisis. I mean, I thank God every day for Social Security. And Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Cox' comeback to Frank was: "And you have to thank Monica Lewinsky, right?"

Cox said "yes," but this disclosure about Bill Clinton's support for privatizing Social Security makes me think that if Hillary Clinton is actually elected President, we need to make sure that she will reconsider her pledge to put Bill Clinton in charge of getting the economy moving again.

Either that, or recruit Monica Lewinsky to come back to the White House!


Image Credit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/22/magazine/thomas-frank-thinks-hillary-should-woo-the-working-class.html?_r=0

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#145 / Kill, Baby, Kill



You probably associate the chant, "Drill, Baby, Drill" with former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. I certainly do. Here's her chant in one of its manifestations on YouTube

As I read my local newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, last Sunday morning, I realized that our national foreign policy chant is now quite similar. It's "Kill, Baby, Kill."

An Associated Press news story published on Sunday, on the Sentinel front page, was headlined, "US airstrike targets Taliban leader Mullah Mansour." An Internet search found our Secretary of State, John Kerry, praising the killing of Mansour

I think Kerry's enthusiasm for targeted, drone strike killings is just about as well thought through as the energy policy endorsed by Palin. Incidentally, Kerry's enthusiasm for drone strike killings is fully shared by President Barack Obama, and by many Congressional leaders, though the President does get teary-eyed when innocent victims turn out to be Americans. Not so much angst is apparent when the innocent victims are small children, or are of some other nationality.


Yep. That's how it works!

The example that the United States is providing to the world is that it is alright, if you can do it, to kill people whom you don't like. 

In other words, our President claims that he has the right to decide to kill anyone he wants to, anywhere in the world, if he decides that this would be a good thing for the United States. 

Really great example, Mr. President!!

"Kill, Baby, Kill" comes around. It's coming for us, in terror strikes every day.

In fact, we are not "leading" by example, we are "learning" by example, and the people we've chosen to emulate are terrorist bombers. 

It's time to elect a President who doesn't think high-tech killings, done remotely, is what should be our American "signature strike."



Image Credit:
(1) - http://qz.com/496540/sarah-palin-insists-immigrants-should-speak-american-rather-than-spanish/
(2) - http://www.forwardprogressives.com/10-reasons-im-thankful-barack-obama-president/

Monday, May 23, 2016

#144 / The "Forever War"



Jennifer Daskal is an assistant professor at American University Washington College of Law. She has written an important Op-Ed column, which appeared on the editorial pages of The New York Times on April 27, 2016. I urge anyone reading this blog posting to track down that column. Daskal's column was titled, "Obama's Last Chance To End the 'Forever War,'" and the image above ran with the column. You can click on the link to read what Daskal says. 

On April 26th, the day before Daskal's column appeared, my UCSC Legal Studies class on "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom [LGST 196]" discussed the exact topic that Daskal addresses. The class did so by focusing on Hedges v. Obama, a case decided on July 17, 2013 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Click on the Hedges v. Obama link if you'd like to enmesh yourself in an extensive discussion of Article III "standing" requirements, a discussion that is very important, but that is a bit hard to follow. 

The Hedges case was an effort to end the "Forever War" through court action, but the court declined to act. How the court came to its conclusion reveals a great deal about how our judicial system works. Hedges is, thus, a wonderful case to "teach some law" to Legal Studies students. In short, the court decided in Hedges that none of the various plaintiffs had "standing," which meant that the court was not able to make a ruling on the legal and constitutional issues that the plaintiffs raised. 

Those not especially interested in the intricacies of judicial decision making, and the "standing" requirement in particular, might still be quite interested in how our current, "Forever War" came into existence, and what, if anything, might ultimately stop it. What follows is a synopsis, and pretty much tracks the discussion my class had on April 26th. 

Let's start with the 9/11 attacks. 

On September 18, 2001, exactly one week after the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers and other targets, the Congress passed, at the President's request, a piece of legislation that was NOT a "Declaration of War," but that was called, instead, an "Authorization for Use of Military Force (or AUMF)."

Here is the full text of the AUMF, as enacted by Congress on September 18, 2001:

[T]he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Since the 9/11 attacks could not really be categorized as an "Act of War" by a hostile power, in the way, for instance, the attack on Pearl Harbor was categorized, Congress provided this "authorization" as a kind of substitute Declaration of War, to authorize the President to use military force against those responsible for 9/11. Note these features of the AUMF:

  • The President was authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force (and what was "necessary and appropriate" was, implicitly, left to the judgment of the President). That's a pretty unlimited grant of authority, and clearly, because of the title, includes an authorization to use "military" force. 
  • Not only does the President get a virtually unlimited right to use military force, he gets the ability to "determine" the nations, organizations, or persons against whom that military force can be applied. All the President has to do, before using military force, is to "determine" that a nation, organization, or person either "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the 9/11 attacks, or "harbored" any such organization or person. Again, that grant of authority gives the President a broad right to use any force he thinks is necessary and appropriate against any nation, organization, or individual that the President finds is in some way responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
  • The "purpose" for which this grant of authority is given to the President is actually quite specific. That purpose is to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by the same nations, organizations or persons who carried out the 9/11 attacks. 

When one carefully considers the AUMF, it can be seen that the authority provided to the President is both "unlimited" and "limited" at the same time. Congress is essentially telling the President to "go get them," and by "them" Congress means, very specifically, anyone responsible for the attacks on  9/11. The "them" against whom the President is authorized to use virtually unlimited force is actually spelled out with particularity. While the President gets to "determine" who meets this test, the use of force is authorized only against "nations, organizations or persons" that "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

This last limitation is key. The President's authority to use military force is only good against nations, organizations, or persons who were, in some way, involved in the attacks on September 11. This is not an unlimited grant of authority to use military force against "terrorism" in general. 

Furthermore, the explicit "purpose" of the AUMF is to prevent any future acts of terrorism by the very same nations, organizations, or persons that carried out the 9/11 attacks. The AUMF does not provide any authorization to the President to use military force against terrorism at large. 

Because the AUMF provides the President with the authority to go ofter only those who were, in some way, involved in the 9/11 attacks, it cannot not, quite clearly, serve as the foundation for a "Forever War," aimed at "terror" in general.

There is, though, a law that does provide for a "Forever War," and for the so-called "War Against Terror." That law that was promoted and signed by President Obama. Here is how the AUMF metastasized into a law that justifies a general "War Against Terror" that can, and almost inevitably will, go on indefinitely. Ten years after the enactment of the AUMF, on New Year's Eve, December 31, 2011, Congress passed and President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Again, it was President Obama who sought and signed this update of the AUMF. Section 1021 of the NDAA does several things: 

  • First, in the NDAA, Congress affirms the AUMF, but then explicitly states that the military force authorized  by the AUMF "includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons ... pending disposition under the law of war." 
  • The "covered persons" named in Section 1021(b)(1) include "a person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks." Nothing much new here, in other words. The President is still authorized to go after those responsible for 9/11, and can use the military to detain any person involved in 9/11 either directly, or by way of aid and assistance.
  • However, there is something radically new in the NDAA, in Section 1021(b)(2). In that section, the right of the military to detain persons is expanded to include "a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces."
What has happened? The AUMF authorized a virtually unlimited amount of military force, but ONLY against those determined to have been involved in 9/11. 

Under the NDAA, the authorization to use a virtually unlimited amount of military force remains (and is explicitly expanded to include the right to what amounts to an indefinite military detention). That force, however, is NOT limited to those involved in some way in 9/11. Under Section 1021(b)(2), this force can be used against persons and organizations who "are" (present tense, not past tense) in "hostilities against the United States."

It is this provision, in Section 1021(b)(2), that gives us the "Forever War." Are there "forces" that "are engaged" in "hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners?" Yes, and there are more and more of such "forces" every day. Every time the United States launches a drone strike, or enters onto a battlefield in Syria, or drops a bomb and blows something up, the "forces" that are hostile to the United States (or its coalition partners) grows. We are engaged in a never-ending conflict, and the NDAA authorizes the military to put people into indefinite military detention as long as this "Forever War" endures. 

Daskal wants President Obama to seek to reduce his own authority, as that authority is now encompassed in both the AUMF and the NDAA. 

I just say "good luck." Presidents don't, generally, give up their powers. The people have to take those powers back.

Daskal, in fact, acknowledges this point, and I think she demonstrates a sense of urgency. Her article is worth reading

The Constitutional rights of ordinary people are very much at risk, from any current or future President who might "determine" that the armed forces should detain a United States citizen that the President thinks has "substantially supported" a person who may have committed a belligerent act that the President decides was hostile to the United States. Any such military detention of a U.S. citizen, or any other person, would be for an indefinite period, and under the current court cases, the person detained would have no right to counsel, no right to a speedy trial, no right to confront his or her accusers, and no right to petition the courts for habeas corpus

"Forever" is a long time.

It would probably be good to get those Presidential powers rescinded sooner rather than later, particularly when we think about some of the folks who might end up being our next President. 




Image Credit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/27/opinion/obamas-last-chance-to-end-the-forever-war.html

Sunday, May 22, 2016

#143 / High Tension



Sam Spurlin is a blogger who describes himself as a "Workologist Coach and Consultant." He writes about various topics related to workplace relationships and organizational development. Recently, he advanced the view that "tension" within a workplace or organization was perhaps not to be avoided, but should actually be celebrated. Tension, he suggests, is not inevitably "dangerous," but can be an organizational "opportunity." You can read what Spurlin says about "The Fundamental Difference Between Thriving and Dying Organizations" by clicking the link. 

As I am often wont to do, with things I read, I extrapolate from ideas that apparently have nothing to do with "politics," to see what relevance they might have in a political context. I immediately decided that the kind of "tension" that Spurlin is writing about in his workplace-oriented blog posting is very much relevant to the "tension" within the Democratic Party, as the Party decides which candidate it will put forward as its Presidential candidate after the Presidential Nominating Convention to be held in Philadelphia this July. 

Those who want the tension-causing Bernie Sanders to drop out of the race are advocating for a course that would reduce intra-party "tension," but that could mean all the difference for the long-term health of the Democratic Party, and not in a good way.

I say, let's keep that tension going! I'd like to hope that the Democratic Party is going to come out of the elections in 2016 as a "thriving," not a "dying" organization.

Absorbing and celebrating what Bernie Sanders and his supporters are bringing to the table is one way to make sure that's true!


Image Credit:
https://medium.com/the-ready/the-fundamental-difference-between-thriving-and-dying-organizations-ea81dd53ab84#.ojgubm8a4

Saturday, May 21, 2016

#142 / The Red Knot



The "Red Knot" I am actually thinking about today is the migratory bird pictured at the bottom of this column, whose existence seems to be threatened by global warming. Click right here to read an article from the May 13, 2016 edition of The New York Times, documenting the heart-rending chain of events that may be driving this amazing bird towards extinction. 

The "knot" at the top of the column, an advertising logo for a brand of wine, does seem appropriate too, in its own way. 

We are unraveling the web of life that sustains us all.

Let me repeat that: "That sustains us ALL."

That means you and me, too, not just the Red Knot.



Image Credit:
(1) - http://www.preceptwine.com/our-wines/red-knot/shiraz/
(2) - http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/17/science/climate-change-bird-red-knots.html?_r=0

Friday, May 20, 2016

#141 / Through My Eyes




According to Michael W. Clune, who is a professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, and the author of Gamelife, this is actually what "VR," or Virtual Reality, ought to be attempting to accomplish.

Taking to technology to discover one's true self is apparently a technique that Clune has been perfecting from a very early age. Clune's publisher, Macmillan, tells us that Gamelife is "a memoir of a childhood transformed by technology." 

Clune spent afternoons gazing at pixelated maps and mazes, "training his eyes to understand the uncanny side of 1980s suburban Illinois." A game about pirates yielded Clune clues to the drama of cafeteria politics and locker-room hazing. And in the year of his parents' divorce, a spaceflight simulator opened up a hole in reality. "In telling the story of his youth through seven computer games, Michael W. Clune captures the part of childhood we live alone."

In his article in The Atlantic, Clune tells us that when he has thought about Virtual Reality, he has typically thought about "films and games, imaginary worlds made real." However, something happened at the Cleveland International Film Festival that made Clune change his mind. As he was taking off his headset after watching a VR film, a self-described Virtual-Reality "freak" told him, "You gotta check this out.” A local video company was showcasing its wares, and they had created a Virtual Reality version of their studio. Here is Clune's report:

I strapped on the headset, wondering why I’d want to see a local video company’s studio. Suddenly, I was in a brightly colored room containing several desks and a video camera. There were some lenses on the desk before me. I turned my head and more of the room scrolled into view. I turned my head back to the desk. I picked up a lens with my hands and held it before my face. A tingling started at the base of my spine. 
What’s going on? I thought. I’ve done all this before in VR. Why is this affecting me now? 
What astonished me was that I wasn’t just looking. The technology tied my vision to my body—to the motion of my neck and shoulders. My embodied vision twisted and turned through the space like a snake. The feeling of leaning in towards the desk, seeing the desk move towards me, blew me away. The fine details of its wooden surface magnified as I looked closer. I couldn’t believe it. I turn my head and I can see the side of the room? Unreal, I thought. Plus I have hands! 
For some time the technician had been gently asking me if I’d seen enough. Now he asked a little less gently. 
“That was the most beautiful room I’ve ever seen,” I said quietly, taking off the headset. Forget about the wonder of seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. Why haven’t I realized before how amazing it is to see the world through my eyes? 
Being in that virtual studio, moving my head and watching the view change. Leaning in towards the desk and seeing small images get larger. Magic. But when I took off the headset the magic didn’t stop. It got stronger. I could still move my head and watch the view change. And now there were many more rooms to explore. Hundreds of cars to look at, thousands of buildings to examine. Millions of drops of rain scintillating in incredible realistic detail on an infinite number of surfaces. I’d accidentally discovered the true function of VR. 
It must have felt like this when I first learned how to walk, I thought, as I drove home. Or even earlier, the first time I raised my infant head from the crib and unpeeled a few more inches of the world. 
Right now, I thought. I am experiencing what it’s like to have a body right now. I turned my head. I moved my hands on the steering wheel. At present, the highest praise that journalists can lavish on a VR system is to say, as Kevin Kelly does in his Wired piece, that “the transition back to the real world … was effortless.” 
To me, this misses the true magic of the technology. VR restored the simple wonder of moving around the world in a body.

Think about that for a moment. It doesn't take any technology, any human technique, to be able to experience the wonder of "moving around the world in a body."

To be able to do that is, indeed, a wonder. It is, in fact, the gift of life.

We don't create that. We don't have to. We get that for free!


Image Credit: 
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/04/the-virtual-world-in-a-real-body/478956/?utm_source=nl-atlantic-daily-042016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

#140 / Dueling Poems



Pictured above is Hillary Clinton. According to In These Times, this photo depicts Clinton in her early twenties, when her name, I guess, was Hillary Rodham. An essay by Theo Anderson, examining Clinton's views at that age, is titled "Hillary and the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations." The Anderson article is just a page long, and is certainly worth reading. I was struck most  by the poem that Clinton read as part of her speech as Valedictorian for the Class of 1969 at Wellesley College:

And you and I must be free 
Not to save the world in a glorious crusade 
Not to kill ourselves with a nameless gnawing pain 
But to practice with all the skill of our being 
The art of making possible

"Politics," it is said, is the "art of the possible." Clearly, this is a lesson learned long ago by Hillary Clinton. Yet, is it not true that our ability to transform the reality of our world, to create another, better world, is limited only by imagination and dedication? 

We would betray the meaning of the word "possible," I think, if we read that word as a limit, as an injunction to "lower" and not to "raise" our expectations. 

It is time to raise our sights, I say.  
We have got to save the world (let's not deny it) 
Saving the world won't be done in a day
So...
Now is the time to try it!




Image Credits:
(1) - http://inthesetimes.com/article/19068/hillary-clinton-and-the-soft-bigotry-of-low-expectations
(2) - Personal Photo, Gary A. Patton at a rally held in November 2010 in Burlingame, California

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#139 / The Hidden Transcripts



The picture is from the Democracy Spring website, with the hashtag added as an overlay. You can get the original by clicking the link at the bottom of this page. I picked up the amended picture from a Facebook Friend, and I like the image. I like the message, too. When our politics is healthy, a "NotMeUs" attitude is always present.

Democracy Spring's home page says this: 

On April 2nd, 150 people set out from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and marched for ten days over 140 miles to Washington DC. From April 11th-18th, thousands more took mass nonviolent action on the steps of the US Capitol to give Congress a choice: either end the corruption of big money in politics and ensure free and fair elections or arrest hundreds of people, day after day, simply for demanding an equal voice. 
1,400 arrests and eight days later, our message is clear: the American people will no longer accept the status quo of big money corruption and voter suppression. There will be a growing political cost to pay for candidates and politicians who defend corruption. We will disrupt their fundraisers, their debates, their press conferences, and ultimately, their chances at the polls. We will make 2016 a referendum on whether we have a democracy that works for everyone or a plutocracy that serves the wealthy few. Together, we will claim our democracy. Join us.

Direct, nonviolent action does produce results. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought that message home to America, and helped prove the point. Sometimes, at least that's the theory, elections can do the same thing.

I came across the picture of "Liberty in handcuffs" right after reading the Preface to a book by James C. Scott. Scott's book, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, is an anthropological study of class relationships in a Malay village. 

Scott found, as he studied the village, that what people told him in public was often different from what they said in private. The private conversations were documented in those "hidden transcripts" that are referenced in the title to Scott's book. Here was the lesson Scott gathered from his research: there is sometimes a lot more sentiment in favor of economic, social, and political change than is visible in the public, and that "shows up in the media," as we might say. 

I believe that the notion of a hidden transcript helps us understand those rare moments of political electricity when, often for the first time in memory, the hidden transcript is spoken directly and publicly in the teeth of power.
       -- James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance

Let's dig for those "hidden transcripts" that tell us what we, here in America, are really thinking - and what we are willing to do about it. Today, I am heading to a Bernie Sanders rally, in San Jose

I am going to be looking for those hidden transcripts!



Image Credit: 
http://awareandfair.com/2016/04/13/democracy-spring-liberty-arrested/comment-page-1/

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

#138 / Can't Lose Capitalism



Why is Marissa Mayer laughing? In all fairness to the Yahoo CEO, this picture is dated from 2014. Mayer probably isn't laughing with quite the same exuberance or as frequently today as she did in 2014. She is having a tougher time right at the moment, as many critics, including those who hold major blocks of Yahoo stock, think that Mayer should be fired, and that the company should be sold for scrap. (Well, maybe I'm exaggerating about the "scrap" thing).

At any rate, while the picture above is not current, it does seem properly to reflect the points made in a recent column by Robert Reich. Writing on May 2nd, Reich used Mayer as an example of "Can't Lose Capitalism."

Marissa Mayer tells us a lot about why Americans are so angry, and why anti-establishment fury has become the biggest single force in American politics today. 
Mayer is CEO of Yahoo. Yahoo’s stock lost about a third of its value last year, as the company went from making $7.5 billion in 2014 to losing $4.4 billion in 2015. Yet Mayer raked in $36 million in compensation. 
Even if Yahoo’s board fires her, her contract stipulates she gets $54.9 million in severance. The severance package was disclosed in a regulatory filing last Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In other words, Mayer can’t lose.  
It’s another example of no-lose socialism for the rich – winning big regardless of what you do.

The Reich column is worth reading. I think he is right on target with the points he is making. 

I'd like to make a different, but related, point. How "profits" get distributed as between top managers and the workers is something that can be regulated by the public. That is, in other words, a "political" question. It is not inevitable that our system should be arranged so that there is a "no-lose socialism" for the rich, corporate elite, while the workers get "hyper-capitalism."  We could reverse that polarity.

To do that, naturally, would require something along the lines of a "political revolution." In fact, the debate about whether we should be shooting for such a reversal in policy is the main question in the Democratic Party Primary that is taking place right now, and that will culminate on June 7th, here in California. You can still register to vote, up until May 23rd. If you want to be sure that you can vote in the Democratic Party Primary election, you will need to register as a Democrat.

Click here to register to vote (or to reregister).

Click here to check your current registration status.  

Robert Reich, former member of the Bill Clinton cabinet, is backing Bernie Sanders. You could, too! Maybe we should be trying to put some smiles on the faces of ordinary people. 



Image Credits: 
(1) - http://www.businessinsider.com/marissa-mayer-yahoo-default-iphone-search-2014-4
(2) - http://mamiverse.com/diversity-month-meaning-38690/

Monday, May 16, 2016

#137 / Bridges



I am a long time supporter of Community Bridges, a Santa Cruz County-based nonprofit organization that provides a wide variety of human service programs in the three-county area that includes Santa Cruz County, Monterey County, and San Benito County. You, too, can be a Community Bridges supporter. Click right here to contribute!

Community Bridges recently sent me its 2015 Annual Report, which you can read online. On Pages 4 and 5, I learned that Community Bridges provided help to tens of thousands of people last last year, and that over 87% of the people it helped live below 200% of the federal poverty level (less than $31,860 for a family of two).

I am glad that my contributions to Community Bridges are helping families and individuals who are having a difficult time, economically. That's great, and there are pages and pages of names in the Annual Report (all in very small print), of many hundreds of other people who are doing the same. 

However.....

While individual giving is good (and let me remind you about that link in the first paragraph of this posting that will let you join the crowd), there is no reason that we shouldn't structure our society so that the community itself provides the kind of basic human services that are now being provided by way of individual contributions to Community Bridges and other nonprofit organizations. 

In the richest nation in the world, the richest nation, in fact, in the history of the world, we could, thorough our collective action, provide every family and every individual in this country with a basic education, meaningful work, child care, health care, and housing. 

You know we could do it. The money is out there, and the purpose of politics is to decide, collectively, how we should raise money and spend it, on the things we decide just must be done, for the good of us all.

So, keep those individual contributions flowing, but...

Let's make sure that the United States Congress and the next President of the United States does something to ensure that there's a strong and solid economic floor for every family, and every person in this country. 

That's not a bridge too far!


Image Credit:
http://www.communitybridges.org/

Sunday, May 15, 2016

#136 / Designing Life From Scratch



Two articles caught my attention when I read the newspapers yesterday morning. The San Jose Mercury News carried an article entitled, "Designing life from scratch: A fledgling field is about to take off." The Wall Street Journal ran a book review of a new book by Siddhartha Mukherjee, entitled The Gene: An Intimate History. The book review, by Nicholas Wade, ran under the title, "Peeking Into Pandora's Box." It discussed the same sort of genetic engineering experiments that were reported on by the Mercury.

I think it is fair to say that both the Mercury article and the Journal's book review, while pointing out some problematic aspects of genetic engineering, concluded that designing life "from scratch" was an overall positive for us, and a step ahead. 

I beg to differ. 

Just as I don't think that we preserve and protect "humanity" by exporting various human specimens to Mars, I don't believe that we are going in the right direction for "humanity" when we decide that the future nature of human life will be "designed by humans."

Profound philosophical (even, dare I use the word, "religious") questions are raised by the idea that human beings should take over responsibility for their own creation. 

I maintain that any such claim would be an attempted usurpation, and that we are, inevitably, "creatures," part of the Natural World that sustains all life, and inhabitants of a world that we did NOT create, but into which we were born (by grace). 

Presuming that we can replace the Natural World (on Mars, for instance), or even replace our own biological makeup, is a profound rejection of the gift of life, which IS a gift. This Earth, and our lives, are gifts to us. They are not, now, and never will be, the product of our own design and construction. 



Image Credit:
http://www.wsj.com/articles/peeking-into-pandoras-box-1463170629

Saturday, May 14, 2016

#135 / Let's (Not) Go To Mars


Stephen Hawking thinks that humanity is just about done for here on Earth: 

This is Earth
Hawking has a solution, though. He suggests that we can keep the human species alive by moving it offsite, to Mars:

This is Mars
Click this link for an article discussing Hawking's plan, and see the image below for an artist's impression of a human colony on Mars:

Humanity's New Home (An Artist's Conception)
When Hawking says "humanity" can be saved by moving it to Mars, I don't think that necessarily includes either you or me, or any of our children or grandchildren. SOME humans will be saved! I guess I am supposed to be happy about that.

Frankly, though, instead of spending all the money necessary to send a few specimens of human life to Mars, as a way to "save the species," why not recognize what the wise among us know already? Human life is life inextricably linked to Planet Earth, a world we did not create, and a world upon which we are utterly dependent.

Let's spend our money figuring out how NOT to destroy the Earth, and ourselves. Then, instead of sending a few specimens off to Mars, which is, after all, a rather uncongenial location, we can provide opportunities to go camping in Yosemite:



Image Credits
(1) - http://www.extremescience.com/earth.htm
(2) - https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/jul/14/mars.spaceexploration
(3) - http://news.discovery.com/space/hawking-earth-is-likely-doomed-humanity-neednt-be-160119.htm
(4) - http://www.amazon.com/Overdevelopment-Overpopulation-Overshoot-Tom-Butler/product-reviews/1939621232

Friday, May 13, 2016

#134 / How Does It Feel?



The New York Times ran an essay on April 30th that was headlined, "Stop Saying 'I Feel Like.'" I am not completely sure I know how the image above, which came with the essay, is intended to convey the essay's main message, but I like the image anyway.

I also like Molly Worthen's admonition to stop saying, "I feel like," instead of saying, "I think," or "I believe."

According to Worthen, who is a professor at the University of North Carolina, using the "I feel like" phrase is a temptation to which which we should not succumb. When someone says, "I feel like," the person is making an assertion that doesn't really put his or her own judgment on the line. I think that is a fair observation.

We all are tempted to try to have it both ways, and the "I feel like" phrase seems to let us do that. Whenever we say, "I feel like," and use that construction, we are actually communicating what we "think," or "believe." But if we present our thoughts and beliefs in the "I feel like" mode, we have an easy avenue of retreat if and when challenged.

For instance, if we have said, "I think," or "I believe," and have presented our thoughts and beliefs in that form, and if someone wants to say that we are "wrong," and to debate the point, we are pretty much put on notice that we need to defend the territory we have staked out. There is no easy escape from entering into the argument.

Not so if our thoughts or beliefs are presented in the "I feel like" mode. There is no need to defend them, if we don't want to. We can simply slither out of a disagreement by saying, explicitly or implicitly, "well, that's just what I feel." In other words, what I "feel" may not be true, so don't hold me to it. I don't have to argue for a position if I only "feel like" the statement is correct.

In a democratic politics, the entire enterprise is based on debate and discussion, controversy and conflict. We, as a group, need to make collective decisions, and to make good decisions, each one of us needs to be willing to say what we really think, and to argue for that. We may lose the argument, and we may, actually, be persuaded by opposing arguments; the process, though, demands that real alternatives are debated on their merits. The Abilene Paradox reflects how flawed the decision making process can become, if people don't say what they really think, and what they really believe. We need to be careful that our language doesn't facilitate such flawed decision making.

In the arena of politics, above all, we need to watch our language. As Worthen says, quoting George Orwell: 

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

A corrupted language can make democracy vulnerable to a condition in which we may "feel like" something is right or wrong, but never actually know what we really think, and what we truly believe.

And if we don't know what we think and believe, we don't know what to do!


Image Credit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/opinion/sunday/stop-saying-i-feel-like.html

Thursday, May 12, 2016

#133 / Five Reasons I Am Voting For Bernie Sanders


I served twenty years as an elected member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, and was elected five times. During my time on the Board, our community made some fundamental changes, at the local level, that have profoundly affected the future of this community. We have permanently protected and preserved all our prime agricultural land. We have stopped suburban sprawl. We defeated the oil companies and stopped new offshore oil drilling not only off our own coast, but along the entirety of the California coast. We mandated that permanently affordable housing be constructed whenever any new housing was built, and we provided dedicated and enduring funding for community-based human service programs. I am proud to have been able to play a part in these changes at the local level. 

We need even more profound changes at the national level.  

The message from Bernie Sanders, in the video below, is a powerful message that outlines the kind of fundamental changes we need. I encourage you to watch this four-minute video.

Do we know, in any kind of detail, how we are going to solve the problems that Bernie Sanders is talking about? Are the solutions written down, right now, and immediately available? No. They are not. But here is what I say. We need to have a "To Do" list for this nation that includes a fundamental restructure of our economic and political life, and we need a President who will be dedicated to that kind of fundamental change.

Here are five reasons I am voting for Bernie Sanders (it's a partial list):



#1 
Bernie Sanders is pointing out the need for fundamental changes in our economic and political life in the strongest possible terms - in stronger terms than any other candidate. I agree with him, as do so many of us. However, many who agree that such fundamental changes are needed say that it’s not “realistic” to think that Bernie Sanders could actually achieve the kind of changes he is advocating, and that this is a reason to vote for the other candidate. I want a President who is going to try to do the things that need to be done, however hard that may be, instead of a President who tells me that the things that need to be done can’t be accomplished. I think politics is about creating the reality we actually need, not accepting a so-called “reality” that is delimited by what already exists. We need to CHANGE the current situation, not accept the current situation as the limit of what's possible.
#2 
I don’t believe that if someone is ahead in a political race, the other candidates should all drop out. Apparently, that is the way the Republican Party likes to run its primary contests, but I am for a politics that counts all the votes, and the winner is the one who has the most votes at the end. This means that the Democratic Party should make its choice after it sees which candidate gets the most delegate support in the various primary elections held around the country (including the primary in California, this nation's biggest state). It’s not over till it’s over! Voting for Bernie Sanders is the right thing to do if you think Bernie Sanders is the best candidate. 
#3 
I like a candidate who tells me that WE need to make the changes that need to be made, and that we will all need to be involved. I am much less enthusiastic about a candidate who tells me that HE OR SHE will be “fighting for me,” and that it’s the candidate, not all of us together, who will make the changes we have to accomplish.
#4 
Frankly, the “old white guy” demographic is probably not the most desirable demographic for our political leadership at this time (and I say this as an old white guy, myself). However, I think voters should vote for a “person” not for a “demographic.” When I consider the candidates based on what they are trying to accomplish, and the issues to which they are personally committed, I think Bernie Sanders is the person who best exemplifies what the United States needs right now: (1) Less emphasis on solving world problems through military intervention; (2) More willingness to tax those with money, for the purpose of investing in things that will benefit everyone; (3) More willingness to take on the oil companies, and to stop the burning of hydrocarbon fuels, which is killing Planet Earth and putting human civilization in peril.
#5 
We need fundamental change, and I think most people agree about that (whatever differences there may be over what exact changes are needed, and how to get there). But if we want change, we need to believe that change is possible. If you don’t believe something is possible, you won’t even try. I am working for Bernie Sanders because if he wins, everyone will understand that IT REALLY IS POSSIBLE TO DO THINGS, THROUGH POLITICS, THAT NO ONE COULD EVER HAVE PREDICTED COULD HAPPEN. If we can show people that surprising things actually can happen in politics, and that things we didn't believe were possible, or "realistic," actually are possible, and are realistic, then that will get many more people involved in politics, which is exactly what we need! Some people call that a Political Revolution. 

That's what I call it. That's what we need. And that's why I'm voting for Bernie Sanders.




POSTSCRIPT:

May 23rd is the last date to register for the June 7th Primary. 

To be absolutely certain that you can vote in the Democratic Primary you must be registered as a Democrat. You can check your current registration by clicking this link



Image Credit:
http://time.com/4157904/bernie-sanders-fundraising-donations-record/

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

#132 / Catfish




I guess the most common definition of "catfish," nowadays (the one that comes up first in an Internet search), is the definition that relates to the image at the very top of this page. According to the Urban Dictionary, my go-to source on contemporary word usage, a "catfish" is "someone who pretends to be someone they're not, using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances."

The second picture is a picture of what I guess can be called the "traditional" catfish, "one of a diverse group of ray-finned fish, named for their prominent barbels, which resemble a cat's whiskers."

Let's return to definition #1. There is a movie out, in which "catfishing" is apparently the main focus of the film. Click for the trailer. There are also helpful online explanations, like "Catfishing 101," that might provide some guidance, if you'd like to start a little catfish experiment of your own. There are also, of course, precautionary websites out there that tell you how to avoid being "catfished."

A Gilroy High School teacher has recently been in the news, accused of catfishing students. That story got me to thinking about politics and catfishing. Politics is one of my major preoccupations, and I suddenly realized that one of the reasons that many people are disgusted with politics is that they believe that politicians are, basically, regularly engaged in "catfishing" the public. 

The politicians do this not really to "pursue deceptive online romances," but rather to "romance the voters," and to attract both votes and financial support (not necessarily in that order). Many people believe, in other words, that politicians will pretend to be almost anyone whom they think will be attractive to vulnerable voters, and they are not all that bothered by mobilizing many different persona, all during the same campaign, the better to "reel you in."

Donald Trump manifests all the signs of the classic catfish. Ted Cruz, too, has chameleon and catfish-like qualities. One of the critiques of Hillary Clinton is that she seems willing to change what she says are her political and policy commitments as time goes on, and as public polling reveals where the majority of the voters are. 

What about Bernie Sanders? Well, "authenticity" is one of Bernie Sanders' political selling points. Even the President says Bernie is authentic, and one student posits that Bernie's authenticity is, in fact, one of the main reasons students are so energized by his campaign. 

That all makes sense to me. Just remember the essence of "catfishing." What looks REALLY good in the way that someone presents him or herself can hook you up with a creature that actually resembles the "traditional" catfish (see image above).

Ewwwww! Online and in politics, I think this is something that everyone wants to avoid!



Image Credits: 
(1) - http://it-lex.org/students-catfish-ex-roommate-get-into-a-lot-of-trouble/
(2) - http://lovedetective.com/tag/catfish/
(3) - http://www.onthecommons.org/magazine/the-authenticity-of-bernie-sanders

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

#131 / Our Brains Online



The article from which the above image was taken advises that "exercise is good for your brain." A brief statement published right below the picture provides the following counsel: "Time to trade in your crossword for CrossFit."

I am confident that this is good advice. My reading recommendation for today, however, is actually intended to direct you elsewhere, and to suggest that you look at a book review published in the Friday, April 22nd edition of The Wall Street Journal. The title of that review is "This Is Your Brain Online."

In his "Bookshelf" column in The JournalAlan Jacobs reviews two books, When We Are No More, by Abby Smith Rumsey, and The Internet of Us, by Michael Patrick Lynch

The topic Jacobs explores, with reference to these two books, is whether memory and knowledge are augmented or diminished by our increasing reliance on "offsite" information storage. More and more, the information that is the raw stuff of memory and knowledge is no longer primarily contained within our human and very biological brains, but is located elsewhere, in a server farm in Seattle, for instance, which we access with our new technologies.

If you are in the "aging club," which I referenced in my posting on May 4th, you may think sometimes about the topic that Rumsey addresses: "When We Are No More." If we increasingly disencumber ourselves of our human, biological memories, in favor of a made memory accessed by the Internet, we may well find that everyone else is doing the same. 

If that indeed happens, as in fact it is happening, the end result will likely be that when we disappear in death not only will our own memories disappear with us (which has always been the case), but there will be no memory of us, either. 

If you have read much of Hannah Arendt, you will recognize that the danger here goes beyond the merely personal dimension, since a major motivation for the deeds that make for a genuine and vital community life, a healthy "politics," is the ability to leave a memory of great deeds behind, to make oneself immortal (always a human ambition) by having created, by one's action, something new and different in the world that humans make. 

When we are no more, we still shall be. For we will leave behind a world that we have made, for good or ill, and we will be remembered for our deeds. We will be celebrated or denounced, but the significance of our lives upon this Earth will not be forgotten. 

Unless, perhaps, these memories are located only in a server farm in Seattle, and no one looks, and then, of course, the earthquake comes.


Image Credit:
http://www.outsideonline.com/1799896/exercise-good-your-brain

Monday, May 9, 2016

#130 / Jevons



The Jevons Paradox is also called the efficiency dilemma. Click right here for an article in The New Yorker that explains the concept. 

William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882) was an English economist and logician. In 1865, talking about coal, Jevons opined that an increased efficiency in the use of coal, or any energy source, for that matter, would actually increase, not decrease, overall energy consumption. Such has proved to be the case. In recent times, the "paperless office" has, in fact, increased the consumption of paper

The idea of "sustainable growth" is self-contradictory. So says Jevons. So says our experience. 

The only way to use less, actually, is to USE LESS. The "Story of Stuff" project continues to be a source of good advice on this topic. And then there is this graffiti, which kind of sums it all up: 



Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/20/the-efficiency-dilemma
(2) - https://honeycombcommons.com/2015/02/11/freakonomics-and-the-jevons-paradox/

Sunday, May 8, 2016

#129 / Lonely For Land Use



For almost fifteen years, I have provided a Land Use Report on KUSP radio, a Santa Cruz-based FM radio station serving the entirety of the Monterey Bay Region. The Land Use Report was not only broadcast on the radio, it was offered as a podcast, too, allowing interested persons to listen to the Land Use Report at a different time, and in areas not reached by the KUSP broadcast signal. The availability of a podcast version of the Land Use Report also allowed anyone interested to revisit past editions. The KUSP website made a written transcript of the Land Use Report available through a blog, with links to additional information about the topic of that day's report. That information included a list of "Land Use Links," providing interested persons with easy access to the websites of various local government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, that typically deal with land use issues. 

My first edition of the Land Use Report aired on July 28, 2001. My very last Land Use Report was scheduled on KUSP today, May 8, 2016. As of today, KUSP has removed all local programming from the station, which the Board of Directors of the Pataphysical Broadcasting  Foundation, the owner of the station, somehow thinks might help the station survive a truly difficult financial crisis. I do hope the station survives, but eliminating all local programming, which is what the Board of Directors decided to do, doesn't seem to me to be the best way to inspire public contributions. At any rate, as of today, the Land Use Report is gone. I have heard from a few listeners that they are "lonely" for land use information, in advance. I pretty much feel the same. I have become accustomed, over the years, to spending most of my Saturdays writing, recording, and then documenting the Land Use Report. I'll miss it!

Maybe there will be some way for me to keep my hand in, and to keep reporting on important land use issues in the Monterey Bay Region. I might, for instance, try to highlight key land use issues in this Two Worlds blog, at least from time to time. I could do that. 

In fact, for any Santa Cruz County residents who are reading this particular blog posting, and who care about land use, the upcoming meeting of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, scheduled for Tuesday, May 10, 2016, has a number of important land use related items, including an item that could have truly profound impacts on the future of local land use. You can review the agenda by clicking the link. Agenda Item #53 recommends that the Board proceed to make the commercial cultivation of marijuana a legal land use in Santa Cruz County. If you care about this topic, and it will very likely affect your neighborhood, you might want to mark your calendar for June 14, 2016, which is when a proposed ordinance on commercial cultivation will likely come back for detailed review, and a public hearing. Supervisors Zach Friend and Bruce McPherson are calling for a full environmental review, and major public involvement. I think that is a very good idea!

I have had to say "goodbye" to the KUSP Studio, PROD2


Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.podcastchart.com/podcasts/the-land-use-report/episodes/the-hac-meets-tonight
(2) - Gary A. Patton personal photo