Sunday, November 29, 2015

#333 / Not So Friendly

Sheryl ("Lean In") Sandberg is now "sponsoring" a submarine. Here's a description of what that means:

A sponsor, in the navy, is the title given to a prominent citizen chosen to christen a naval vessel. In recent history, all U. S. Navy sponsors have been female. In addition to the ceremonial breaking of a champagne bottle on the bow, the sponsor remains in contact with the ship's crew and is involved in special events throughout the life of the ship.

I was surprised that my friendly Facebook app was now going to be associated, at the very highest level of its executive leadership, and very publicly, with the military-industrial complex that is designing better systems of violence and destruction. I'd prefer a concentration on pictures of cute cats.

In reviewing Sandberg's past policy pronouncements, I found that she has ten rules for those who want to be leaders. They are explained in a video-pastiche that you can watch on YouTube:

  1. Have Impact
  2. Think Big
  3. Go For Growth
  4. Communicate Authentically
  5. Hire Big
  6. Don't Just Talk/Really Listen
  7. Take Responsibility
  8. Measure Results
  9. Find Something You Really Believe In
  10. Careers Are Not Ladders; They're Jungle Gyms

In connection with her "Communicate Authentically" admonition, Sandberg opined that "there is no truth."

I beg to disagree. 

American submarines fire missiles that are designed to kill people, and when they're fired, they do. That's the truth. 

Our whole society is "sponsoring" this activity as our way to "have impact" on the world. 

That's not the kind of impact that I can "really believe in." I'm sorry to find that Sandberg and Facebook apparently come to the opposite conclusion.

It's not that friendly!

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

# 332 / Taking A Break From Negativity

There is nothing wrong with a "feel good" article, or two, to help keep us from plunging into dark despair. There are lots of things to despair about, and you can read about them right here on my Two Worlds blog! I tend to be a "bringer of the bad news" kind of person, as an antidote to our all too human tendency to pretend that (perhaps) our problems aren't really problems, or that our problems will just go away if we can avoid thinking about them. 

Well (in my opinion) global warming and the Sixth Extinction aren't just going to go away, and neither is income inequality, and what that means in real life, and neither is our apparent intention to plunge the world into perpetual military conflict, with metastasizing terrorist attacks the latest result.

Friends have criticized my "negative" approach to life and blogging! I am not that apologetic. I do believe that we need to identify and think about our problems in the course of deciding what we should do about them. However, while still holding to that view, I do admit that there is nothing wrong with a "feel good" article, or two, once in a while, and here is my "feel good" article for today, a column by the not always beloved columnist David Brooks: "Communities Of Character."

In his column in The New York Times, published on November 27, 2015, Brooks talked about "schools that nurture the soul." This column made me feel good, and I recommend it. It suggests some ways that we could restructure our schools to be community-building institutions. Here is the statement that I found most important: 

You'd think that schools would naturally nurture deep community bonds. But we live in an era and under a testing regime that emphasizes individual accomplishments, not community cohesion. Even when schools talk about values, they tend to talk about individualistic values, like grit, resilience and executive function, not the empathy, compassion and solidarity that are good for community and the heart. 

We are "in this together." Our schools can be/should be, places where we come together and discover and celebrate that fact, the truth of our interdependence and the often under appreciated reality of the existence of our community ties.

When we start focusing on that, in school and out, we will all feel better!

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Friday, November 27, 2015

#331 / Terry

Terry Dorsey is pictured on the left. On the right is Terry's daughter, Nicole Carl. 

Terry began working for the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors in early 1975 (I think initially on a six-month, temporary appointment). She retired last Friday, one week ago today, after forty years as the chief administrator of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. I actually don't know what her official title was at the time she retired. Suffice it to say that she ran the Board's offices (among other things). 

During her forty-year tenure, Terry worked (successfully!!) with twenty-eight different Board Members. They did not always agree with, or work well with, each other, but without exception, they celebrated Terry, who worked well with them all. Wonder Woman has nothing on Terry! 

I served on the Board for twenty years, from 1975 to 1995, and I have now been "off" the Board for twenty years. I am pretty proud of Santa Cruz County government, which is not only efficient and effective, as governments go (and not corrupt, always an advantage), but is a government that has responded to what the public has hoped might be accomplished, and has often made that happen. 

It wouldn't have happened without Terry Dorsey. 

I got to speak at Terry's retirement, but here is just one more salute to a person who has made the lives of the residents of Santa Cruz County better, for forty years, by helping to make sure that our local government has worked the way our local governments are supposed to.

We are "in this together," as I often say, and our local government is the mechanism by which we make collective decisions about what we want to do, and about how we want to marshall and spend our resources. Elected officials play a big role.

They are not the only ones.

My personal thanks to Terry Dorsey, with appreciation, admiration, and love!

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

#330 / Before We Pass Away

I have seldom been 
So moved
By pictures
Just pictures

55 pictures
First published
I think
(Some Italian website)

I found them 

55 pictures
In an album
And the title

Cannot we not learn
To love one another

Cannot we find it 
In our hearts
To love

Before we pass away?

Let Not Such Beauty Perish From This Earth

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

#329 / Smash The Caliphate!

 Here is some advice from Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton:

It’s time to begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts to smash the would-be caliphate. This is a worldwide fight, and America must lead it.

So? More war? 

The whole world rejects terrorist bombings. 

Our flavor of bombings, delivered from airplanes, are terrorizing, too.

What do they say in Raqqa? 

Smash the Great Satan.

We can't stop this: 

Rescue service personnel working near covered bodies outside the Le Carillon restaurant following shooting incidents in Paris, France, November 13, 2015.
With this: 

Massive airstrike against the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in the country's first act of direct retaliation for the Paris attacks.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

#328 / Amateur Hour

The November 15, 2015 edition of The New York Times Magazine carried an article titled, "Unprofessionals." That was in the print version. Online, the article was titled, "The Cult of the 'Amateur.'"

In the article, Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson, pictured above, is quoted as supporting an "amateur" approach to politics. His argument? "The ark was built by amateurs. The Titanic was built by professionals."

Actually, that strikes me as a pretty good line. If, after his failed Presidential campaign, Carson moves into standup, and begins appearing at various "Amateur Hour" comedy competitions, he might get some mileage out of that comparison. 

This is not to endorse American's favorite neurosurgeon for President. He may be leading in the polls right now (or so we're told), but I don't think he has a prayer of making the "Final Two," or even coming close. 

And it's well known that Carson has lots of prayers. I think his "Presidential Prayer" is going to be unanswered. That is my prediction.  Let me also say, that is my hope!

Amanda Hess, who wrote the article, makes legitimate fun of Carson, but I do not agree with what may be an implicit suggestion that our politics should be dominated by "professionals."

In fact, it is the so-called "professional politicians" who often provide evidence that Lord Acton was on to something when he talked about the corrupting effects of power. I think intelligence and experience are key, when we select those we choose to represent us, but I wouldn't want us to endorse "meritocracy" as our preferred approach to government. 

To the extent that Hess hints at that, I am not sympathetic.

Democracy will do just fine, as far as I am concerned.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

#327 / Genuinely Corrupt

Ross Douthat, pictured, is described by Wikipedia as "a conservative American author, blogger, and New York Times columnist." 

I am not much of a Douthat fan, I have to confess. However, after reading all about "pouring rights," and how universities around the country are seeking to promote and profit from the sale of health-destroying soft drinks to their students, I was prepared for Douthat's description of our university system as "genuinely corrupt." 

That's what Douthat said in a recent column titled, "A Crisis Our Universities Deserve."

While his specifications of error were somewhat confusing, at least to me, Douthat's basic message is that our institutions are now focused on money more than anything else, and that they are certainly not thinking much about "the liberal arts student who’s saddled with absurd debts to pay for an education that doesn’t even try to pass along any version of Matthew Arnold’s 'best which has been thought and said,' and often just induces mental breakdowns in the pursuit of worldly success."

I am afraid, in this instance at least, that Douthat may be right.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

#326 / Pouring Rights

I found out last week, from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, that colleges around the country are signing contracts for "pouring rights." These contracts grant a monopoly for selling soft drinks on campus. 

We now know that such beverages pose a very significant health danger, but this has not, apparently, been a problem for the schools. They typically set up a competition, to see which one of the companies that make these sugar-stocked beverages will get the monopoly right to peddle these drinks to students and to undermine their health.

Why would any self-respecting educational institution make itself an accomplice to the companies that are peddling these dangerous drinks?


According to consultants who specialize in "pouring rights" contacts, there is a "significant" amount of money to be made!

Money isn't all powerful, though. It's nice to see that.

Since the article referenced above was published on November 13th, public outcry in San Francisco (an outcry that was at least partially stimulated by the article, I am sure) has resulted in the abandonment of an effort by San Francisco State University to enter into a "pouring rights" contract.

One piece of recent good news!

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

#325 / Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now

No reason to get excited, the thief, he kindly spoke
There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late

    - Bob Dylan, All Along The Watchtower

If you think the hour is getting late, then this is not the time to keep on acting like we can all keep on acting. 

There really isn't any time left to talk falsely now:

  • The economic and other systems we have created and operate are putting the natural systems upon which our civilization depends in great danger, and
  • Our political system, which might be used to change our current direction, is currently under the ruthless control of corporations, and most especially the oil companies and military contractors, and they are not going to change directions unless forced.

Talking about it, even if we don't talk falsely, is not going to be enough.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

#324 / Not Conflict Averse

Amber Guild, pictured, is the President of Collins, a consultant group that works to support "brands." She got a nice write up in the November 15, 2015 edition of The New York Times. The article, titled "Call Out the Elephant in the Room," focused on Guild's biography and provided her advice on leadership.

One piece of advice? "To be an effective leader, you can't be conflict-averse."

Since we all have different ideas, and different interests, how do we make a decision? Conflict and controversy. Debate and discussion. 

After all that, we make a decision, and leaders drive the process.

As my father used to tell me, apropos this very topic, "you can disagree, Gary, without being disagreeable."

Let's let Amber say it one more time: 

To be an effective leader 
You can't be conflict-averse

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

#323 / Dicho

A lo hecho, pecho

The Spanish language is full of "dichos," which are sayings that compress a large meaning into a few words, and construct an elegant, origami thought out of a folded phrase.

This phrase, one of my favorites, is a little remedy against despair. 

A lo hecho, pecho.

Whatever comes against you, just stand fast.

Whatever blows may come ...

We don't back down. 

Whatever fate afflicts us (there are so many afflictions)

We'll never quit.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

#322 / Help Stamp Out Political Despair

The Comic News, responsible for the stamp above, has recently published a Special Edition titled "The Bern." One purpose of this new publication is to promote a frenzy of gift subscriptions to The Comic News. Getting yourself a subscription, and sending out multiple gift subscriptions, is definitely recommended. You can make arrangements by clicking right here. You might also be able to get a copy of "The Bern," if you haven't yet seen it, by emailing The Comic News.

Besides its promotional purposes, this recent publication has an instructive objective. "The Bern" adopts the style of The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran, and illustrates that we actually do have a choice, in this upcoming election. If true, that's big news!

If ordinary people were of a mind to "begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally," it appears that there is actually a candidate who would at least attempt to make that happen.

Other candidates? Not so much.

Actually, let's be honest. Other candidates? Not at all!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

#321 / Foo Fighters Retreat

In the immediate aftermath of the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris, the President of France deployed warplanes to bomb a city in Syria, undoubtedly killing many people who had nothing to do with the Paris attacks, and who may not even have known about them.

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush said that the U.S. should "declare war," and "take it to them" in Syria and Iraq. Maybe he should be running for the Presidency in France! Other Republican Party Presidential hopefuls also advocated increased military involvement, if somewhat less specifically. 

Meanwhile, the Foo Fighters, an American band, cancelled their scheduled concert. Other bands scheduled to play in Paris also cancelled their concerts. 

Personally, I wish everyone mentioned had just done the completely opposite thing. As I said yesterday, I think that embarking on more "military" actions in response to the latest terrorist attacks will almost certainly make things worse. 

And deciding not to continue with normal life, and life-affirming events like musical concerts, seems to me to send a message that terrorism is effective, and to invite more of it.

But I liked this picture. Here is what tens of thousands of French people said: 

I think they got it right!

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Monday, November 16, 2015

#320 / An Act Of War

As might be expected, when some horrible action is categorized as an "act of war," military solutions are immediately suggested as the best response. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush, to cite one example, has said the attack is part of “an organized effort to destroy Western civilization,” and promised to “take out ISIS.” I gather that Jeb means "boots on the ground." Just like his father. Just like his younger brother.

And President Hollande has definitely concluded that a "military" response is the right response to the terrorist attacks in Paris. On Sunday, he called for a "major bombardment" of ISIS in Syria

Might I suggest a different way of thinking about what happened, and about what sort of "acts of war" were involved, and suggest a different response from the response of escalating our military actions in the Middle East?

I believe that there is a good argument that the horrific attacks in Paris were, in fact, "acts of war," but these bombings were not like "Pearl Harbor." ISIS wasn't aiming to start a war with these attacks in Paris. Quite the contrary. The United States government (aided by France, and others) has been engaging in military actions in Syria and Iraq, specifically aimed at ISIS, and involving bombings from aircraft and targeted drone killings. 

In other words, these Paris attacks were not "acts of war," in the sense that they "began" some new, unexpected warlike activity. The opposite is the case. We have initiated military hostilities. We're fighting ISIS on the territory they claim. Largely, we're doing it with bombs and aerial attacks, but the President has recently committed to more direct, "boots on the ground" military actions, too.

Since ISIS and the other groups against whom we are carrying out military attacks in the Middle East don't have any significant air force of their own, they have had to respond to our military attacks as best they could, and that response has involved driving up to the places where their attacks would have a big impact. Like how about a heavy metal rock concert in Paris, on a Friday night?

My point? Military actions got us where we are. Military actions aren't going to get us out. 

Those who carried out the attacks in Paris should be treated as criminals, not soldiers. We would do well not to escalate military involvements in the Middle East. They will come home to haunt us, as they just have in Paris. In fact, we should be trying to deescalate and withdraw from military action, unless we want this kind of "jihadist war" to proliferate. 

And speaking of the concept that what we are seeing is a "jihadist war," aimed at "destroying Western Civilization," I think non-Muslim societies and countries in the West should not be baited into continuing conflicts based on religion. Religious conflicts are inherently unresolvable, since both sides know they have "God on their side," and who is going to let God down by not fighting back?

Iyad El Baghdadi, an Arab Spring Activist who was expelled by the United Arab Emirates in response to his activities, has a better thought. 

El-Baghdadi argues that ISIS wants to eliminate any sense that it is possible for Muslims and non-Muslims to co-exist, because if that is possible, then the binary world of “believers” and “non-believers” can’t exist. Any sense of a “Greyzone” in between, where, in the words of ISIS, the Muslim and the Kufr co-exist, must therefore be destroyed, so that, in El-Baghdadi’s words, the world becomes as black and white as ISIS’s flag.

El-Baghdadi argues that the worst thing that we in the Western World can do is to give ISIS what they want, which would be to turn on the Muslim world, giving them no choice but to align themselves with ISIS. As just demonstrated in Paris, ISIS, which represents only a tiny percentage of the Muslim World, is clearly able to terrorize us, to deliver terror to our territories. Imagine, says El-Baghdadi, a situation where they get a lot more support.

Bob Dylan almost always has good advice. At least that's my belief. Here's a thought that I think has relevance as we contemplate entering even further into a religious war that will not (as we see) be confined to Middle Eastern countries where we can ignore the consequences of what military actions mean:

If God's on our side, He'll stop the next war.

Actually, let me go just a bit beyond Mr. Dylan. I wouldn't wait around for God to stop the next war. 

That's something we can do ourselves.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

#319 / Criticism

Those who write things and display them for public reaction often get ... a reaction. Quite often, it's a negative reaction, too. I've noticed the phenomenon with my own blog postings. Those who comment most frequently are pretty consistently in a position of disagreement. 

That is perhaps not surprising. When someone sees error abounding (and that is the reaction some have to my blog postings) there is a good reason to memorialize objections. Error, unrefuted, might proliferate. Someone might actually be persuaded by some  of my erroneous thoughts. 

I must say that I enjoy, virtually without exception, reading the comments made by those who have seen one of my blog postings, and who have taken the time to react to it. That definitely includes my appreciation for critical comments, as well as for the occasional "attaboy."

For those whose first recourse is always to the sharp tools of criticism, I do want to suggest that it can oftentimes be educational to consider other persons' thoughts, including those thoughts with which one disagrees, by setting aside the impulse to criticize, and to employ, instead, a more empathetic perspective

That's just a suggestion. 

I'm expecting to hear that I got it wrong!

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

#318 / Contracts Of Adhesion

I have been watching The Good Wife since the inception of this television series. It's about politics and law, and is now in its seventh season. I have found, among other things, that the various episodes almost always focus on real and contemporaneous legal and political issues. 

On Sunday, November 1st, for instance, Episode 7 of Season 7 of The Good Wife, was entitled "Payback." The episode featured an exploration of for-profit educational institutions, which have sometimes defrauded their students by promising that the education to be provided would result in a good-paying job for the student. Based on such expectations, students have taken out huge educational loans, usually from the federal government, and they end up with a large student debt, which they then can't pay off. No job, of course, and probably not much of an education, either. 

In the November 1st episode, students in just this situation came to attorney Alicia Florrick (the main character, played by Julianna Margulies), and she found that there was actually very little she could do, as an attorney, since the students had essentially signed away their rights to sue.

To demonstrate just how truly "contemporaneous" The Good Wife is, with respect to the legal problems explored on the show, I opened up The New York Times on Monday, November 2nd, the very next day, to find a major, front-page article on exactly the problem featured on The Good Wife the night before. You can read The Times article by clicking this link. You might also be interested in an article appearing on the Financial Page of the November 2, 2015 edition of The New Yorker. Written by James Surowiecki and titled, "The Rise and Fall of For-Profit Schools," this article, too, explores the exact situation portrayed on The Good Wife.

The legal problem faced by students who have, quite possibly, been defrauded by the for-profit school to which they paid so much money, is the fact that students typically sign an enrollment contract committing them to a highly restrictive and binding "arbitration" process that completely displaces their ability to go to court. Students report that they didn't read the contracts, and/or didn't understand their implications. It strikes me that we have all gotten in the habit, recently, of signing contracts without reading them, because we so routinely "accept" the extensive conditions to which we must agree to get access to the various Internet websites or web services that have become such a major part of ordinary life. If you want to use any of the Google tools, or to keep up with your friends on Facebook, you don't really have a choice. You either "agree" and "accept" the highly detailed contracts proffered, or you are shut out of your access to the online world. 

Since I have been teaching a course at the University of California at Santa Cruz, entitled "Privacy, Technology and Freedom," I have had an opportunity to see how students react to the problem, once they focus on it, and understand that their "privacy," among other things, may be completely compromised when they click the "Accept" button, and agree to the conditions required by online sites and services. 

I have found that once students address this problem, the most common reaction is for the students to blame themselves, and other users, for not reading the contracts and agreements before signing up. One student paper, in fact, was titled "Small Print Laziness," the premise being that it's "laziness" that keeps us from reviewing the contract terms before we "accept" them. 

I don't think so!

I wouldn't sign a loan agreement without reading the fine print, but I don't think there is much reason to review a long document associated with getting access to a site like Facebook, for instance. There is really no choice; if you want to use online resources, you simply must agree to the contract presented, because you are not going to be able to negotiate the contract individually. 

In fact, the various contracts that we now are used to signing, without reading them, will almost always qualify as "contracts of adhesion." The courts do provide at least some enhanced scrutiny of such contracts, to prevent unconscionable overreaching by the stronger party, but current protections are not really adequate, as the November 1st episode of The Good Wife showed.

The corporations that want to subjugate ordinary consumers by demanding adhesion to terms which come on a "take it or leave it basis," will actually get away with it unless and until those ordinary consumers act in common to even the playing field. I'd like to suggest that this is a "political" problem. We need to change the law, so large corporations, be they for-profit educational institutions or Internet service providers, can no longer victimize members of the public.

I'm waiting for an edition of The Good Wife that will feature that plot point!

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Friday, November 13, 2015

#317 / Resource Wars

The illustration above is from the Water Risk Atlas, published by the World Resources Institute. It's worth taking a look at.

It's also worth taking a look at a recent TomDispatch bulletin, with an article by Michael Klare, who is the author of The Race For What's Left

Klare suggests that "resource wars" are likely to define our future, and that is not a happy prognostication. However, Klare does try to provide a basis for at least some optimism in the TomDispatch bulletin that is linked below.

Klare's title? Why The Paris Climate Summit Will Be a Peace Conference - Averting a World of Failed States and Resource Wars.

Wouldn't that be nice?

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

#316 / Painting On Nature

I like this painting, one of many landscapes painted by Alison Moritsugu on the surfaces of cut logs. Click this link if you'd like to see more of her art. 

In a way, I think that "painting on Nature" is one metaphor that might well be used to describe the kind of human world we create, working our art upon the natural environment that sustains all life, and within that Natural World that is the location for all we do.

Unfortunately, the pictures we "paint" on Nature are not, very often, inspiring reproductions or interpretations of the landscapes of the Natural World into which we have been so blessed to have been born.

Too often, it's quite the opposite. Our work razes and destroys the World of Nature, as we construct our own artifacts, the human world: 

Maybe we should seek to make our human creations more like the landscapes that Moritsugu memorializes. That would be my thought!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

#315 / Tourists At The End Of The World

The November 9, 2015 edition of The Nation includes a heartbreaking article entitled, "Tourists At The End Of The World." If you are going to visit the Arctic, to appreciate it before (and as) it disappears, I guess you might as well go in style, on one of the luxury ships operated by Adventure Canada

Or maybe not. Roy Scranton, who authored the article, and who writes a blog for The New York Times that he calls Opinionator, obviously felt guilty about taking a trip to see the results of global warming on a luxury ferry that burns 10 to 20 tons of hydrocarbon fuel each day.

I think the article was properly titled. The "End of the World," not the "End of the Earth," is what Scranton  saw and described. As his ship sailed through Coronation Gulf towards its final destination, Scranton was "overtaken by the realization that what I'd come to see was already gone. The Arctic was changing in response to global warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, and by the time I'd gotten there, it had already been through the hottest years and the most precipitous declines in sea ice ever recorded."

Here is what I thought was Scranton's most poignant observation: 

Geologists, scientists, and other thinkers have advanced the idea that the Earth has entered a new epoch, one characterized by the advent of the human species as a geological force. They’re calling this epoch the Anthropocene. Some thinkers suppose this idea implies that we have advanced beyond Nature, that the world is now completely human, but while they grasp the truth that we’ve left behind the Enlightenment’s division between Man and Nature, they’ve grasped that truth by the wrong end. The Anthropocene implies not the supersession of “Nature” by human civilization, but the opposite: the reduction of human civilization to the status of a fossil. On a geological time scale, we’re just another rock.

It is the World of Nature upon which we ultimately depend.

Nature doesn't need people. People need Nature.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

#314 / Good Day To Buy A Garden

In June 1975, I was a brand new member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. During the budget sessions held that month, our Board was asked by a group of community members (who looked a lot like the group in the photograph above) to use our governmental powers, as representatives of the public, to rearrange the County's budget priorities and to fund community based programs providing direct services to the people of Santa Cruz County.

That had never been done before. The County Administrative Officer and his staff were dead set against it. But by a series of 3-2 votes (and I'm proud to say that I was one of the three), our Board shifted $1.2 million from expenditures recommended by the County staff, largely various kinds of fixed asset acquisitions, to redirect those expenditures and to respond to what the community was asking for. 

The picture above is much more recent. It was taken on October 13th, and this crowd is shown in the Chambers of the Santa Cruz City Council, where they had come to ask the Council to take whatever actions were necessary to preserve the Beach Flats Community Garden. 


In its entirety.

Today, Tuesday November 10th, the Santa Cruz City Council will be meeting at 2:00 p.m., and the Council will be deciding how to respond to the people shown above. The City has been offered a deal by the Seaside Company, which owns the land on which the garden grows. Here's the deal: a garden pruned down to two-thirds its present size, and with just three more years guaranteed. 

I know, since I had the experience in 1975 of casting my vote for what the community wanted, that what the community is asking of the Council is to do something that is very hard for an elected official to do. It's not easy. It's not in the current fiscal "plan," but the City Council can do it, if they want to. 

Will they want to? That's the question.

Carol Long, who lives in Santa Cruz, authored what I thought was a wonderful commentary in the November 7th edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Her article was titled, "City needs to take next step and buy Beach Flats garden." Click the link to read what she wrote.

And my advice?

We create the world we inhabit by the choices we make. Elected officials have the tough, but very satisfying job of responding to what the community asks them to do, and to make tough choices on the community's behalf. It's a privilege and an honor to respond.

Council Members: It's Tuesday. It's November 10th. We've just had a pretty good shot of much needed rain.

It's a good day to buy a garden!

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Monday, November 9, 2015

#313 / Sheldon Wolin

Sheldon Wolin died on October 21, 2015, at the age of 93. He was one of the most original and influential American political theorists of the past fifty years. He taught for a number of years at the University of California at Berkeley, and was an Emeritus Professor of Politics at Princeton University, where he taught from 1973 to 1987.

Chris Hedges, a columnist for Truthdig, said this about Wolin: 

America’s most important contemporary political theorist warned that militarists and corporate capitalists, obsessed with creating a global empire, would extinguish our democracy. We should have heeded his warning.

Hedges has also written an article, in honor of Wolin, "Sheldon Wolin and Inverted Totalitarianism." Maybe Hedges got the tense wrong. Maybe it's not too late to take heed!

Anyway, that's what I'm banking on. And I am looking for guidance in a book by Wolin titled, The Presence of the Past: Essays on the State and the Constitution

I recommend it!

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

#312 / Democratic Doldrums

Dolores Park is located in San Francisco, and is pictured above. Matt Mahan reports that on Sunday, October 25th, he spent the day in Dolores Park, talking to strangers about politics. 

Mahan serves on the Board of Directors of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. He is also President and CEO of, which claims that "democracy starts when you take a stand." Mahan's report on his activities in Dolores Park appeared as an "Open Forum" column in the Thursday, October 29, 2015 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle

Mahan believes that we are living in a time of "democratic doldrums," and that causative factors include: "the outsize influence of money; the fact that information is not sufficiently accessible, consumable or actionable; and a lack of transparency and tools to create feedback between voters and elected representatives." 

Brigade, Mahan's company, is his idea of how to fight off the doldrums. It is a larger scale version of Civinomics, the Santa Cruz-based effort to improve civic participation by providing a place where people can record their political views, so others can see them. Brigade, which ties directly to Facebook, is based on the same concept, and Mahan suggests that Brigade, and similar efforts, will make it possible to "leverage the Internet to rebuild local relationships and create a new culture around civic participation." 

Good luck, Matt!! 

It is my view that democracy does not start when "you take a stand" by posting your opinion on some issue on an internet site. Democracy begins when real flesh and blood individuals join together in a serious and organized way to force the political system to deliver the actions that the majority of the people want.

Various tools are available to help accomplish the organizing (including tools based on internet communication), but democracy is not accomplished by "taking a stand," if that means "expressing an opinion." The essential aim of democratic politics is to find an effective way to force elected officials do what the majority wants. That objective can be accomplished by (1) persuading current elected officials to carry out actions that the majority demands; (2) by replacing, at the next available election, any elected representatives who are not responsive to what the majority wants; (3) by recalling recalcitrant elected officials who refuse to do what the majority wants; (4) by requiring a referendum vote on measures enacted by elected officials who are out of touch with what the majority wants; and (5) by directly legislating through the initiative process.

You can't put in an order for "democracy" the way you can buy a book from Amazon. You can't click on what you want and expect to have it delivered within the week. 

Democracy is actually a matter of mobilizing the power of ordinary people to make their government, and their governmental representatives, do what the majority desires. It's not that easy, either. 

Sure, we can all "take a stand" on the Internet; we can sign an online petition; we can "Like" a cause; and  we can "Share" our status. None of that hurts. But please don't believe that we can achieve any kind of effective democratic politics over the Internet. 

On the streets, yes! In Dolores Park, sure! But real contact with real people. And not just once!

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

#311 / All Politics Is National

Tip O'Neill (pictured) represented Boston in the U.S. House of Representatives for thirty-four years, and he served as Speaker of the House from 1987 until his retirement in 1997. O'Neill is generally thought to have been a master of Congressional politics, and he wrote a widely-acclaimed book called All Politics Is Local. I have mentioned O'Neill's book before, and I'm a fan.

Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, political scientists affiliated with Emory University, present a view somewhat different from O'Neill's. They have published a paper about the rise of partisanship in U.S. House and Senate elections in the 21st Century, and have titled their paper, "All Politics Is National."

Vox, which maintains a website specializing in "policy and politics," has publicized the Abramowitz-Webster paper, and Vox found it "deeply depressing." That's because the "All Politics Is National" paper seems to suggest that voters' views are mainly motivated by fear and hatred of the opposing political party. 

A fun demonstration of the effects of partisan polarization can be seen by clicking this link. The link will take you to a Huffington Post video that is well worth viewing. I am not so sure, however, that the video proves the point urged by Abramowitz and Webster, and deplored by Vox. The video actually seems to demonstrate that a person's position on the issues may be quite independent of partisan affiliation, though it also demonstrates that party affiliation has a determinative impact on a person's view of political candidates.

Here's my takeaway from all of this: We should stick with O'Neill and his "all politics is local" admonition, and try to keep politics as local as we can. Not only are most local elections nonpartisan, it's harder to hate and fear someone who may live right down the road. It's a lot easier to hate and fear them if they come from some far away and unknown place. 

Hatred and fear, of course, are no basis for a healthy politics, anywhere or anytime. If we can't escape from hatred and fear, as we engage in the debate and discussion, and the conflict and controversy, that are the very first step in political decision making, then we'll never be able to get to the next step, the cooperation and compromise that is what allows us to reach a decision, amidst our differences, and thus to take action to deal with the challenges we face. 

The challenges we face we always face together. We fool ourselves if we think otherwise. Given that truth, banishing hatred and fear as our main political motivators is a very high priority. Easier to accomplish when all politics is "local."

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Friday, November 6, 2015

#310 / Predicting The Future

Last Sunday, November 1st, the Santa Cruz Sentinel ran an article on financial planning. Written by Stephen Butler, the founder and CEO of Pension Dynamics, an employee benefits consulting firm based in Pleasant Hill, California, the article was titled "Trying to predict the future is a waste of time."

I am not going to provide any retirement advice, but I liked Mr. Butler's title. During the twenty year period I spent on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, one of the biggest challenges facing our community was the challenge of convincing ourselves that we did not have to let the future "happen to us," but that we could actually make the future be the way we wanted it to be. 

An approach to the future that sees it as something that is beyond human control is a prescription for passivity. That view of the future as an "inevitability" is what leads us to try to predict it. But trying to "predict" the future is, as Mr Butler says, a "waste of time." Our challenge is not to become good at extrapolating current trends to see where they're going, so we can adapt accordingly. Our challenge is to decide where we want to go, and then to take the concrete steps that can get us there. 

My biggest focus, as a County Supervisor, was helping our community to deal with a pattern of runaway growth that was taking Santa Cruz County in a direction that the community, in fact, did not want to go. When I took office, Santa Cruz County was the fastest growing county in California, and the fifth-fastest growing county in the United States. We were going to have urban sprawl from Watsonville to Santa Cruz, and from Santa Cruz to Boulder Creek, and from Santa Cruz to the Summit, not to mention a paved-over North Coast.

That was what any reasonable "prediction" of the future told us was coming. But the community did something about it. 

First, we decided what kind of future we actually wanted to have, and then we put in place a set of land use policies that were aimed at taking us there, to the place we actually wanted to go. 

Measure J, the set of growth management policies adopted by the voters in June 1978, represented a community choice, and was based on an idea that we would make the future be what we wanted it to be, instead of wasting time watching the future "happen to us," and watching that future destroy the integrity of our local community in the name of inevitable "progress." If you're not familiar with the "Story of Measure J," you can read about it by clicking the link.

I don't profess great expertise in retirement planning, but I do know the right way to approach the future, and it isn't by "predicting" what the future is going to be. 

The right way to approach the future is by making the future be the way we want it to be, by the choices and actions we take today.

And this kind of approach to the future is not, let me emphasize, limited to the arena of land use policy!

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