Friday, April 12, 2024

#103 / Let It Be A Tale

Refaat Alareer is pictured above. Peoples Dispatch identifies him as an "internationally beloved academic, poet, and activist." Wikipedia tells us that "Alareer was killed [on December 6, 2023], in an Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza, along with his brother, brother's son, sister, and her three children, during the 2023 Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip." 

Wikipedia also notes that the Euro-Med Monitor released a statement saying that Alareer was apparently deliberately targeted, "surgically bombed out of the entire building," with his death having been preceeded by "death threats that Refaat received online and by phone from Israeli accounts."

Alareer left behind a poem, which I am reprinting in full at the end of this blog posting. His poem, "If I Must Die," was referenced in a New York Times' editorial statement published on April 8, 2024. Paula Chakravartty and Vaasuki Nesiah, authors of that statement in The Times, are both professors at New York University. In their statement in The Times, they were objecting to the discipline imposed by the university's administration against students who read Alareer's poem at a poetry reading held during the Spring semester, this year.

In the hard copy version I read on the morning of April 8th, the Chakravartty-Nesiah column was titled, "Political Dissent Is Under Attack on Campus." Online, the column was titled as follows: "Is This The End of Academic Freedom?"

The concerns that Chakravartty and Nesiah have raised about academic freedom are justified. But even more importantly - at least, so I think - Alareer's poem raises an even more important question for all of us, as citizens of the United States, and as those who are ultimately responsible for what our country does. Protests sweeping the country, objecting the United States' military contribution to what Israel is doing in Gaza, are making a point. The kind of military destruction that Israel has imposed on Gaza, accompanied by the tens of thousands of deaths of innocent people, is insupportable; it is wrong, and the United States, not Israel alone, bears a significant share of the responsibility, having furnished the means for all that death.

"Death" is no adequate solution for any problem we encounter in life. As I said recently, in another blog posting, "leadership" does not require "killing people." 

Alareer wanted his death to inspire "A Tale" a story full of hope. But what we have been seeing is not that. What we are witnessing is an "old story," and it is time for all of us to begin telling a different one. This is not the time to “pick a side,” and assign blame, or to pronounce approval.  Killing others as a way to confront the real problems we face in this life brings no hope now - nor ever really did. Such assignments of blame and approval are an “old story,” the “traditional story,” the story we always seem to tell ourselves. As I have said in another past blog posting, we should pay attention to a statement popularly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." 

What we have been witnessing, I think is not what Refaat Alareer so fervently wished for. Instead of the "Tale" that he wanted us to tell, we are still hearing, on repeat, that story that has been told for so long, and that has been repeated so often. That story that we continue to hear, that "old story," told so often, has documented our failure, time after time, to make death any kind of satisfactory and efficacious solution to the problems we confront in life.

So, as we listen to that "old story" being told again, let us truly understand it. 

Then.... we do need to be sure that we truly understand it. 

And then.... when we do. 

I hope you do. 

Let us tell a different story, starting now. 

Let it be a tale!


     - Refaat Alareer

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings,
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze—
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself—
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love
If I must die
let it bring hope
let it be a tale

Thursday, April 11, 2024

#102 / "Rational Ignorance" And Our Voting Power

Writing in the Sunday, April 7, 2024, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, Joe Mathews, a political commentator, describes "rational ignorance" this way: 

Californians vote on many ballot measures, but we rarely participate in significant public discussions about their content and impact. 
This isn’t simply a result of apathy or poor civic education. Rather, it’s an example of “rational ignorance,” a term coined by economist Anthony Downs in his 1957 book, “An Economic Theory of Democracy,” that defines this democratic reality: Since you have just one vote out of millions, your vote doesn’t much matter. So, it’s rational to not devote precious time to reaching well-considered decisions about how you vote (emphasis added).

You can click right here if you'd like to read the entirety of Mathews' column on this topic, though be aware that The Chronicle's paywall might frustrate your efforts. It could be that you will not be able to read what Mathews has to say unless you are a subscriber.

Ironically, on the very same day that Mathews' column appeared in The Chronicle, telling readers that "your vote doesn't much matter," the headline on a front page story in the San Jose Mercury News read this way: "Lesson learned: Yes, every vote really does matter." 

That headline, just quoted, is the "hard copy" version of the headline, and documents the fact that in an election held to determine who will succeed Anna Eschoo, in the United States Congress (District 16), two different candidates tied for second place - Joe Simitian and Evan Low - meaning that the election in November is likely to be a runoff with three, not two, candidates on the ballot. 

As a result of this second place tie vote, it is quite possible that the candidate who wins in November will not have to receive a majority of the votes cast in that runoff election. One of the three candidates will be able to claim the post with the votes of only 33 ⅓%, plus one. A column by Daniel Borenstein, which ran on April 7th in The Mercury's "Opinion" section, denounced the fact of this "three-way" runoff, claiming that "the state Legislature has completely failed in its duty to protect the integrity of results in extremely close elections." 

There is some merit, I think, in what Bornstein argues, but I would like to focus in this blog posting on Mathews' claim that it is "rational" for you to pay little, in any, attention to your voting choices. He makes this claim, of course, on the grounds that your individual vote "doesn't much matter," which is certainly not the way that Immanuel Kant would like you think about whether or not you should get involved with voting. 

Kant, as you may remember, is the philosopher who explained the importance of the "categorical imperative." Wikipedia gives this shorthand summary of what Kant claimed was a preeminent ethical principle:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

In other words, in the voting context, if you don't think you should waste your "precious time" paying attention to voting, you are really arguing for a system based on the idea that no one should vote at all. Is that really the kind of world in which you'd like to live? What do you think about that, Mr. Mathews? Is that really what you're shooting for? That would be pretty undemocratic!

I strongly urge anyone reading this blog posting to get involved in voting, as the November 2024 election rolls around. I'd argue that figuring out who and what to vote for, in all of the various elections that will be on the November ballot, is one of the best ways to use our "precious time" as Election Day draws near. Sure, watching Netflix movies, and posting TikTok videos, and taking walks in the woods, and other activities (studying for exams, if you are a college student) are all good ways that your "precious time" can be spent. But let's not give short shrift to "democracy." Democracy is pretty precious, too. 

As a final note. While I'm telling you that you should get involved in "voting," I do want to make clear that what I call "self-government" demands more of us than merely casting a vote. If we want to be "governing," not simply "governed," then we need to get personally and directly engaged in the political process. We can't have "self-government" if we are not willing to get involved in every aspect of government ourselves.

That said - lest anyone think that "voting" alone is sufficient - if the question is whether or not you should vote, and whether or not you should inform yourself on why, and when, and where to vote, then I have an answer to Joe Mathews, and to anyone else who might be enamored of the "rational ignorance" theory of our relationship to government. The correct answer is: YES! VOTE! 

Voting is a very good use of our "precious time." 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

#101 / Insurrection And Ressurection


A friend from the Central Valley (she authors columns for a couple of Central Valley newspapers, which are published under the title, "Notes From Home") has drawn attention to the similarities between the word, "insurrection" and the word "ressurection." Her column on this topic, coming shortly after Easter this year, got my attention. Here's how she begins her discussion: 

Only two letters separate “resurrection” from “insurrection.” The prefixes are attached to the same Latin root, surgere, which means “to rise; see surge.” Only two letters separate the English definitions of each: resurrection means “to rise again,” while insurrection means “to rise against.” But in our guts we feel they are 180 degrees apart, one good and holy, the other bad and dangerous. Of course, the reason the Jews begged Pilate to take Jesus out of the picture was that, to them, he and his followers felt like an insurrection.

Trudy Wischemann, who writes those "Notes From Homes" columns, is very much focused on the need to make a "change in the political control over our water resources, a change which necessarily would diminish the power of the largest landowners in this end of the San Joaquin Valley." What Wischemann wants, in other words, is a "revolution," of a kind, in the management of water resources. An "insurrection" would certainly be one way to begin, and to carry forward, a fundamental change in who controls the water resources that determine who benefits, who doesn't, and how our world is structured. 

What if, Wischemann asks in her column, we started characterizing the kind of changes we need to make - which are, indeed, "revolutionary" changes - as a "resurrection," as opposed to an "insurrection." 

An "insurrection" seems to indicate that we need to take action against an existing order that, normally, can claim deference, and that we will ordinarily take for granted as a "reality," as something "normal," and that, we often assume, is entirely "just and proper." That conception of what it means to engage in an "insurrection" - some kind of affirmative attempt to overturn the existing state of affairs - is why we tend to think of an insurrection as something "bad and dangerous." Overturning the existing reality is, by definition, disruptive.

If our efforts to change the existing order were seen not as an "insurrection," but as a "resurrection," they would be characterized as a return to, and as a restoration of what is "just and proper." At least, that's Wischemann's suggestion, as I'm reading it. 

In fact, the unsatisfactory arrangements by which our world is governed, including the arrangements that are a consequence of the massive wealth inequality that has so profoundly distorted our political, social, and economic life, are all the result of past actions, and the present conditions in which we live are not something that are either "natural" or inevitable. That's true of how we manage water. And it is true of how we manage a lot of other things, too!

"Ressurection," not "insurrrection"? I think Trudy is on to something. 

Viva la Ressurection!

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

#100 / The Kennedy Candidacy


The New York Times has published an "Opinion" column by Michelle Goldberg, which speculates on the impact that the independent presidential candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. will have on the anticipated Biden-Trump political showdown in November. Goldberg's column was titled as follows: "Terrified Parents, New Age Health Nuts, MAGA Exiles. Meet the R.F.K. Jr. Faithful." 

If you'd like to "read all about it," click that link, just above, and maybe there won't be any paywall protection, and you can get the full story, as outlined by Goldberg. The picture above, we are informed, shows a Kennedy supporter clutching a copy of a book of essays by L. Ron Hubbard. For those not immediately recognizing who Hubbard is, he founded Scientology in 1952. According to Wikipedia, Scientology "is variously defined as a cult, a business, a religion, a scam, or a new religious movement." Goldberg clearly thinks that the Kennedy candidacy has some significant similarities!

I have no firm opinion on what the political impacts of an independent Kennedy candidacy will be, in terms of who gets elected to the presidency this coming November. I tend to think that the Kennedy candidacy is not good news for Biden and the Democrats, and will assist the Trump candidacy - and this is what Robert Reich thinks, too, based on a recent blog posting. Still, as Goldberg observes, it's really not completely clear what is likely to happen.

I would note that both Kennedy and Trump are candidates running against what some see as a governmental "establishment," what many identify as the "deep state," or as the "administrative state." I note, too, that we saw, during Trump's presidency, following the 2016 election, how a person with no actual personal experience in government approaches the job. Next time around, if Trump is elected again, his presidency will likely resemble his first term, but on steroids, with inconsistent personal predilections, and with his grandiose and self-centered ambitions and resentments driving decisions that really ought to be based on a consistent, and thoughtful, governmental policy. Kennedy, it seems to me, would likely helm a presidency cut from the same kind of cloth. 

I happen to have a LOT of criticisms of the United States government, as it is currently constituted and operated. Criticisms about an unresponsive (and even malign) "deep state" are not, in my opinion, completely off-base, though I am far more concerned about the domination of our government by military contractors, giant corporations in general, and by the "billionaire class." A cure for the problems afflicting our government, however, at least in my opinion, will not come from installing in our highest office a "dictator-for-a-day," and/or someone who either directly or indirectly claims that, "I, alone, can fix it." Such persons should not be placed in any office, in my opinion, and that goes, too, for any candidate who gives the impression that this is, exactly, what she or he believes about his or her own capabilities, without being stupid enough to say that out loud. 

We are not going to cure the problems we have with our government from the "top down."

We have got to start working from the "bottom up." 

Since the president is always elected (or should be) to provide leadership, and to inspire citizens, voters, and others to get involved, themselves, in the work of "self-government," I am not seeing either Trump or Kennedy as a satisfactory candidate, providing a route to improvement.

Monday, April 8, 2024

#99 / Leadership Requires Killing People. Sorry!

Do you need me to identify the person who is pictured above (the person who is responsible for the statement that I am displaying as my title for today)? I didn't think so (but query whether you would be able to identify that person fifty-six years from now)! 

At any rate, here is the quote that sent me to my keyboard, to make certain that anyone reading this blog post will think, at least a little bit, about the assertion made in my blog title. My title was extracted from a New York Times column by Maureen Dowd

“Every leader kills people,” [Tucker] Carlson said blithely, adding, “Leadership requires killing people, sorry.”

Tucker said it, so I guess that settles that question, right?

Well, maybe not! It could be that there is a "define leadership" issue raised by that statement by Tucker Carlson

Carlson's fawning over the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, was questioned by Maureen Dowd, and I am suggesting that Dowd, in fact, was absolutely right to question Carlson's statement. Carlson appears to have confused "killing people" with "leadership." 

One of our greatest leaders, of course, died before Tucker Carlson was even born, and maybe that is why Carlson is so out of touch with what genuine leadership is all about. The leader I am talking about never killed anybody, though somebody killed him (and just because he was a leader).

So, do you need me to identify the leader I am talking about, the person who is pictured below? I bet you don't - even though he was killed fifty-six years ago!


Sunday, April 7, 2024

#98 / Incarnation 101

The jolly looking guy pictured above is G. K. Chesterton, known as a "Christian apologist." Born in 1874, Chesterton died in 1936, when he was sixty-two years old. 

While Chesterton is no longer with us, he has not been forgotten - at least not by The Wall Street Journal, which published a commentary referencing Chesterton in its January 4, 2024 issue. The commentary was written by Bishop Robert Barron and was titled, "The Incarnation Changes Even Nonbelievers." Barron, by the way, is apparently known, informally, as the "Bishop of the Internet." Among other things, Bishop Barron said the following:

G.K. Chesterton once observed that even those who don’t believe in the doctrine of the Incarnation are different for having heard it. Christians celebrate this transformative revelation from Dec. 25, Christmas Day, through Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany. There is something so counterintuitive about the claim that God became human that the minds of those who but entertain the notion change willy-nilly. If you have taken in the story of the baby who is God, you simply aren’t the same person you were before. 
First, your understanding of God will be revolutionized. The God who can become a creature without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature he becomes stands in a fundamentally noncompetitive relationship with the world. In most non-Christian theologies and religious philosophies, God is typically understood as set over and against the universe: a supreme being in sharp contrast with the finite beings of the created order. But the God capable of the Incarnation, though certainly distinct from the world, is noncontrastively other. He isn’t competing with creatures for dominance on the same playing field. To shift the metaphor, he isn’t so much the most impressive character in the novel as he is the author, responsible for every character in the story, yet never jostling for position among them.

Christians do believe, of course, that God "became flesh and dwelt among us." God's "Incarnation" is a major focus of Christian thinking and belief. 

It struck me, though, reading The Journal's discussion, that there is another way we could think about the idea of the "Incarnation." Leaving out of the picture the "counterintuitive" idea that Jesus was both God and human at the same time, isn't it true that we should be amazed and made worshipful by something we actually tend to take for granted: "life," itself. 

Those scientists who study the origins of the universe speak in the language of physics and mathematics. A fairly recent article, in The New York Times, for instance, was titled, "The Early Universe May Have Gone Bananas." The discussion was aimed at dealing with the unexpectedly pickle-like and banana-like shape of new galaxies, as they were just coming into being - now disclosed by the most recent investigations of images from the James Webb Space Telescope.

In fact, while it is extremely interesting to learn more about the processes governing how the physical stuff of the Universe came into being, and was then, ultimately, transformed into galaxies, solar systems, suns, and planets, that whole story is really just about "rocks" - gasses congealing into rocks, and rocks disappearing into Black Holes, from which no light, or other information can escape. Physics is pretty impressive, but is focused on physical and material realities. Isn't "life" a lot more wondrous?

What is it that brought "life" into existence? There isn't any physical explanation of which I am aware. "Life" denotes some "spirit," some ability of whatever is "alive" to recreate itself, and to change itself, and to evolve, and to become a different form of "life." How did that "spirit," that "life-thing," ever penetrate the physical world made out of atoms - "rocks" in their most elemental form, at least as we first understood them, before we started understanding that "energy" and "rocks," have certain equivalencies. 

I think I might be able to go Bishop Barron one better, and say that anyone who has really thought about the fact of "life" itself - the fact that it exists, and that we exemplify it - will be changed, and transformed. Once we get a grasp on what a miracle it must have been - and is - that there is something more than rocks, and gasses, and galaxies, and all the other physical realities we know about, and that we, ourselves, are a mystery and a miracle; we are, like Chesterton said, "different for having heard it." 

The incarnation of God into Human form is a miracle and a mystery. And so is "life" itself. That is what I'd call "Incarnation 101," Christian belief on "training wheels." 

Once we truly perceive the immense miracle of "life" itself, we are, as Chesterton said, "different." 

Saturday, April 6, 2024

#97 / In The Company Of Friends

Page Smith was the Founding Provost of UCSC's Cowell College - and long may his name be both remembered and revered. Page was an historian, who focused on American history, and with particular attention to the revolutionary period. Page was also, profoundly and thoughtfully, concerned about education, as the quotation above indicates. He helped found the "The Penny University," in Santa Cruz, after he left his teaching position at UCSC. 

Page also left behind a legacy, at Cowell College, in the form of a very simple and concise explanation of what education should be all about. It is still remembered, and is featured on the Cowell College web page. I am printing it out, below:

The Pursuit Of Truth, In The Company of Friends

I am not teaching this Quarter, which makes me nostalgic for the last time I was teaching - and that last time was in a classroom at Cowell College, as a matter of fact. 

There was a little plaque, right at the bottom of the stairway that led up to the classroom in which I taught my class. The classroom was located on the second floor. The plaque wasn't very obtrusive, and I only noticed it pretty late in the Quarter, but it spelled out, as a message to contemporary students, Page's wonderful little statement:

The Pursuit Of Truth, In The Company of Friends

All good things really do require that we pursue them, and make our commitment to them, in "the company of friends." Politics, as well as education, must be carried out in the company of friends. It won't be successful unless it is. 

If you are as concerned as I am with potential political and related difficulties ahead, don't forget Page's advice. It is my advice, too: "Find Some Friends." 

Friday, April 5, 2024

#96 / Stop It, Stop It Now!

Yesterday, on Thursday, April 4, 2024, The New York Times ran an article on Page A6. Here is the headline that appeared with the story (hard copy version):

I was happy to learn that the President's wife, known to be an advisor whom he trusts, is making an urgent appeal to the President, and is imploring him to do whatever he can to end the conflict in Israel and Gaza.

For many, many reasons, it will be tremendously difficult for the President to do what his wife advises. There are many "political" problems, here in our country, and the President cannot ignore them; there is a great deal at stake; he must navigate carefully through the politics upon which his wife is urging him to embark. There are also many issues related to international relationships, not only in the Middle East, but in Europe and throughout the world. Similarly, the President must navigate carefully with respect to these international relationships.

It is also true, of course, that the United States is not Israel, and cannot appropriately, or practically, dictate what Israel must or will do - and that is true even though the United States has been and currently continues to be a major supporter of Israel, militarily and otherwise, and even though Israel depends, in the military actions that Israel is taking, on the military and economic support that the United States is providing to it. 

The attack by Hamas on October 6, 2023, was horrendous, and it is difficult to ignore that, and to discount or deny the claim that Israel faces an existential threat to which it must respond. 

But what is happening now in Gaza is horrendous, too, and arguably on an even greater scale. 

A call to, "Stop it, Stop It Now" is an appeal to our President to transcend and leave behind the conventionalities to which I have just alluded. I believe that the only way that our President can pull that off, and succeed in doing that, is for him to indicate to the entire world (to our country and to the entire world) that what is happening now in Israel and Gaza is a demonstration - a "proof" - that military destruction, so often the blunt tool of choice employed as a way to address complex political, economic, and environmental problems, must now be seen to be a categorical failure. We need to build a peace that can support the mutual efforts, worldwide, that are absolutely necessary to address the supreme challenges ahead - challenges that face every country in the world, and certainly our own. 

This is the time that we can (and must) do something new. Now is the time that we must change the course of what has proven to be a bankrupt strategy that has premised world peace on nuclear threats and military might. 

Jill Biden has stated, clearly, what is a truth recognized by many, all around the world. 

Can we solve our complex problems with guns and bombs? NO! Jill Biden is right. Here is what we need to do: 

"Stop it, Stop It Now." 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

#95 / Travel Advisory: Don't Miss Iguazu!

In the Saturday/Sunday, February 17-18 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Hannah Seligson dished out some pretty good advice on what she called a "Friendcation." 

The hardcopy version of Seligson's article, appearing in the "Adventure & Travel" section of The Journal, was titled, "Friends to the End - of This Trip." If you want to take a vacation with "friends," she cautioned, be aware that this enterprise might well signal the end of the friendship. The illustration chosen for Seligson's article is found at the bottom of this blog post. The image well conveys the idea!

If you are able to access Seligson's article, and it is relevant to your future plans, please do read it, and consider her advice and suggestions, which seem pretty good to me. I am writing this blog posting, however, not really to comment on that advice, but just to pass on a personal recommendation that would be worth considering with respect to any upcoming vacation that may take you to Brazil. This is not a recommendation that requires that you travel with friends. 

One of the "disputes" that Seligson featured in her article, pointing out the problems that can arise when friends travel together, outlined a situation in which one of the friends on a "Friendcation" to Rio de Janeiro wanted to take in a Taylor Swift concert, and in order to make that possible for all who were on the trip, actively discouraged (and ultimately prevented) a trip to Iguazu Falls in which others were interested.
Iguazu Falls are the largest waterfall system in the world. The falls are shown above, in a picture I took myself. If you do visit Iguazu, you can take a boat, like the one in the illustration below, to contemplate the Falls from the bottom. My picture shows Iguazu Falls from the top. 

Nothing against Taylor Swift, but if you do have a chance to see Iguazu, don't miss it! That's my advice. Bring your friends, or not. Your choice. Just don't miss Iguazu!

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

#94 / Slap Shot


Two different columns appeared in the February 16, 2024, edition of The New York Times. They were on different topics, completely, but they had something very much in common - at least to my way of thinking. Let me summarize the two columns in the order in which I read them: 

This column, by Dr. Michael E. Mann and attorney Peter J. Fontaine, starts this way:
The climate is warming. Polar ice is melting, glaciers are receding, the chemistry of the ocean is becoming dangerously acidic, sea levels are rising. All of this and more are consequences of the greenhouse gases we continue to emit into the atmosphere, where they trap and radiate heat that would otherwise escape into space. 
Those are facts, not conjectures.

I particularly liked that last line. Mann and Fontaine are making "fact-based" statements, not "political" statements, about global warming. 

The column written by Mann and Fontaine describes how Dr. Mann was accused of research fraud, in connection with his work documenting the rapid rise of Earth's temperature since the early 20th Century. A person who was working as an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute responded to Dr. Mann's research by using the Institute's blog to compare Dr. Mann to a "convicted sex offender."

“Instead of molesting children,” the post read, “[Mann] has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.” Following that attack, "a conservative writer republished parts of that post on a blog hosted by National Review and added that Dr. Mann was “behind the fraudulent climate-change ‘hockey stick’ graph.”

The New York Times' column byMann and Fontaine reported to readers that a jury had recently found those statements to be defamatory. The jury awarded Dr. Mann $1 million in damages. The Times' column suggests that this award of damages may help to stop continuing attacks on climate science and climate scientists, attacks that distort and misrepresent research findings and that make false statements about what climate scientists have said, and about the research they have done.

The jury award is the "Slap Shot" featured in the headline found on that column in The Times.

Trump Is at Odds With NATO — and Reality

Paul Krugman's column, linked above, is on a completely different topic (one of our favorites, right?) - the conduct of our former president, Donald J. Trump. In his column, Krugman discussed Trump's recent statement that he would encourage Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, to attack any NATO nation that has not spent as much on "defense" as it had promised to spend, and that he, as president, would not let the United States come to the aid of any such nation, either. 

Krugman went on to discuss the fact that many of the statements that our former president makes (including statements relating to his plan for NATO) are largely untrue, premised on supposed realities that aren't actually factual. Trump, in other words, frequently bases his statements on what we might call "hallucinations," if we were talking about artificial intelligence. The former president's statements are simply not tethered to "reality."


Both these columns, it seems to me, though dealing with very different areas of public policy, demonstrate how our politics has become, increasingly, divorced from both "truth" and "reality" itself. If we want to survive, we cannot afford to act as though what we would like to believe is ever a proper basis for action.

Former president Trump has demonstrated just how extensively our politics has become infected by people's willingness to act as though what they would like to be true is is actually true. (I "won," says Trump. No "insurrection" on January 6th, either). 

Oil companies, of course, also want to wish reality away, and to pretend that global warming hasn't been caused by the continuing combustion of fossil fuels. But it has, and the continued combustion of hydrocarbon fuels is pushing the environment into a major ecological collapse.

Both Krugman's column, and the column by Mann and Fontaine, tell us how critically important it is that we reformulate our politics! Let's not make our decisions as though there aren't, really, any genuine "realities," at all.

There are objective realities - in both the "World of Nature" and in the "Political World" we most immediately inhabit - and we need to acknowledge them. Global warming can be seen as the way the Natural World is delivering its "slap shot," and is thus providing us some guidance and advice with respect to the realities associated with our continued use of fossil fuels. 

Do we really need the installation of a "dictator for a day" to act as the "Slap Shot" that wakes us up to the need to conform our "politics" to truth and reality, too?

Let's hope not!

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

#93 / Save Me, Please!


The British Broadcasting Company had an article on its website from which I obtained the picture above. Below, you can read how the article begins. Click this link if you would like to go to the BBC Website for the entire story: 

Climate Change: Polar Bears Face Starvation Threat As Ice Melts
Some polar bears face starvation as the Arctic sea ice melts because they are unable to adapt their diets to living on land, scientists have found.
The iconic Arctic species normally feed on ringed seals that they catch on ice floes offshore. 
But as the ice disappears in a warming world, many bears are spending greater amounts of time on shore, eating bird's eggs, berries and grass. 
However the animals rapidly lose weight on land, increasing the risk of death.
'Polar-bear capital' warms too fast for the bears
Migrating species crucial to planet under threat
World breaches 1.5C warming threshold for full year

I don't believe that many of us have yet fully grasped the fact that it is, really, our own human actions that have caused, and are causing, the climate and other changes that are occuring on Planet Earth - and that directly affect us, and every other living thing, Polar Bears included. If we are paying attention, though, we should understand that human beings are actually the reason that Minnesota didn't have a real winter this year, and that Polar Bears are facing extinction in the Arctic.

If a Polar Bear asked you to save its life, would you do that? Would you try?

If you would, then I have just shown you a picture of a Polar Bear that is making exactly that request, so those who would like to help save the life of that Polar Bear - and of all possible future Polar Bears - need to do something. 

If you, and I, and all of us, want to try to save Polar Bears, we will need to make radical changes to our own current lives, both individually, and even more importantly, collectively. 

We will need to stop allocating so much of our time to pursuing our own plans, and start spending that time in every kind of effort possible that can help reverse the processes of global warming that our past actions have put in motion. 

What would you do if a Polar Bear said, "Save Me, Please"?

They are asking. It is our time to respond!

Monday, April 1, 2024

#92 / The Accumulation Story


Gareth Higgins is a writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is now living in Asheville, North Carolina. Click the link to his name if you would like to find out what Wikipedia has to say about him. You can also click this link to be directed to Higgins' own website. That's his picture, above. 

In my time on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors (1975-1995), I was often denominated the "no growth" Supervisor. That wasn't, actually, a completely accurate way to characterize the policies I advocated, but I definitely can be counted among those skeptical about "growth." 

"Bigger" is not always "better," in my opinion. 

It turns out that Higgins agrees. I found the statement below in a series of "Daily Meditations" from the Center for Action and Contemplation. I think Higgins is right. 

No fooling! (This is an April Fool's Day message). Let's pay attention!

Whether it’s bigger sofas or bigger houses or bigger jobs or bigger bank accounts or reputation or ego or a bigger empire, we don’t have to look too far to find the accumulation story at work. The more you think you need to accumulate, the bigger fence you need to build around yourself and the fewer people you will trust and let into your life.
—Gareth Higgins

Sunday, March 31, 2024

#91 / The Authentic Ecstasy Of The Ordinary

Jaron Zepel Lanier (born May 3, 1960) is an American computer scientist, visual artist, computer philosophy writer, technologist, futurist, and composer of contemporary classical music. Considered a founder of the field of virtual reality, Lanier and Thomas G. Zimmerman left Atari in 1985 to found VPL Research, Inc., the first company to sell VR goggles and wired gloves. In the late 1990s, Lanier worked on applications for Internet2, and in the 2000s, he was a visiting scholar at Silicon Graphics and various universities. In 2006 he began to work at Microsoft, and from 2009 has worked at Microsoft Research as an Interdisciplinary Scientist...  
In 2005, Foreign Policy named Lanier as one of the top 100 Public Intellectuals. In 2010, Lanier was named to the TIME 100 list of most influential people. In 2014, Prospect named Lanier one of the top 50 World Thinkers. In 2018, Wired named Lanier one of the top 25 most influential people over the last 25 years of technological history.

I am providing a picture of Lanier, below. I have seen him around Santa Cruz, California on at least a couple of occasions - at a performance by the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, for instance - so keep your eyes peeled. As you can tell from the information provided by Wikipedia, what Lanier has to say about "technology" is worth taking seriously. 

Recently, Lanier wrote an article in The New Yorker in which he talked about "technology," and specifically about so-called "Virtual Reality," or "Mixed Reality," or what Apple Computer is now calling "Spatial Computing." As anyone reading this blog posting probably knows, Apple has begun aggressively marketing its "Vision Pro" headsets as a gateway into a "space" that blends the "real" world into a computer-created world. The initial cost of taking such a trip is $3,500, minimum. The New York Times suggests that you actually need to spend at least $1,000 more.

Is it worth it? Should we jump on the bandwagon? Here is a link to Lanier's article in The New Yorker, "Where Will Virtual Reality Take Us?" Again, I think it is worth paying attention to what Lanier has to say - and it's fair to say that Lanier suggests caution. We may not want to go where Virtual Reality will take us. To translate Lanier's observations into my own words, "Virtual Reality" may remove us from the "real world," and Lanier suggests that it is the "real world" that really counts.

The truth is that living in V.R. makes no sense. Life within a construction is life without a frontier. It is closed, calculated, and pointless. Reality, real reality, the mysterious physical stuff, is open, unknown, and beyond us; we must not lose it....

Infinity is a fake drug, but a powerful one. No one wants to die; everyone wants to fly everywhere in the universe. Young men, especially, get high on infinity; their version of tech culture is the most influential culture of our time. It is the only remaining cultural force that can defy market forces, technological limitations, and the law—at least for a while. The crypto world is an example: it’s a disastrous junk yard of fraud and failure, funding some of the world’s worst actors, and any normal investor community would have soured on it by now. But the dream of infinity propels people forward without bounds.

The dream has many faces. A.I. is often portrayed as a godlike, transcendent project that will take over the fabric of our physical reality, leading to a singularity, meaning nothing that matters now is likely to matter after. But singularities, like the ones we hypothesize in black holes, are the very definition of ignorance. There is no learning that bridges the before and after of a singularity. It is the absolute rejection of intelligence. Virtual reality is sometimes stirred into this mix. But our best understanding of how reality works is entirely bound to finitude. Physics is all about conservation principles. There are no infinities, only S curves. There is no free lunch. Technical culture often longs for freedom from finitude. A profound truth, however, is that the greatest mysteries are found in conserved systems, which can become rich and complex, not in infinite ones, which stretch out like blank white sheets to the edge of the cosmos.

And so another urgent question is whether people can enjoy the storied reality of finitude after coming down from the high of fake infinity. Can being merely human suffice? Can the everyday miracle of the real world be appreciated enough? Or will the future of culture only be viral? Will all markets become Ponzi-like fantasies? Will people reject physics forever, the moment we have technology that’s good enough to allow us to pretend it’s gone? (Emphasis added)

This being a Sunday, let's refresh our understanding of who created the world within which all our human efforts to establish our own world take place. The "everyday miracle" is found in the real world. Our "authentic ecstasy" is found in the "ordinary." Who created that ordinary, everyday world of Nature, the world that sustains our bodies and our spirits. Who created the "real world"?

It wasn't us! 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

#90 / Humankind's Folly

The Democracy Now! columns of Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan are regularly published in my daily newspaper. I think they show up weekly, and I always read them. On Saturday, December 15, 2023, their commentary was titled, "Big Oil wins big at COP28 in Dubai." This link will take you to their column, though I am linking directly to the Democracy Now! website, and not to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Pictured above is the biggest ferris wheel in the world, mentioned in the Goodman-Moynihan column. It is called "Ain Dubai," translated as "The Eye of Dubai," in English. Here is what Goodman and Moynihan have to say about it: 

The Eye of Dubai is touted as the world’s largest ferris wheel. The 820-foot tall wheel dominates the man-made island on which it rests. The massive, unblinking Eye permanently stares upon Dubai’s beachfront, its thicket of high rise luxury hotels and its marina, brimming with foreign-owned yachts. The Eye operated for only a few months before being abruptly shuttered in 2022. People can only speculate why, as the United Arab Emirates, the autocratic petrostate that governs Dubai, won’t say. One theory posits the wheel is slowly sinking into the sand, and that the structure, 25% heavier than the Eiffel Tower, will eventually topple, crushing the luxury residential high rises that surround it. The Eye thus stands as a glaring metaphor for humankind’s folly, trying to bend Nature to our will, and failing (emphasis added).

Those who read these blog postings of mine on a regular basis will, perhaps, remember my earlier comment on Dubai, "The World We Make For Ourselves." 

In that earlier blog possting, I included a picture of Dubai, and the "Eye of Dubai" is right in the middle. I didn't know, then, that this massive ferris wheel was inoperative, but I echoed the concerns of Goodman and Moynihan. When we act as though the world we make for ourselves can ignore our dependence on the World of Nature, we are picking the "losing horse." 

We must live within the limits of the World of Nature. No exceptions! 

You don't actually need to go to Dubai to figure this out for yourself!