Tuesday, February 7, 2023

#38 / Peggy Noonan, Don't You Wish!

 

Peggy Noonan, opinion columnist for The Wall Street Journal, utilized the picture above to illustrate her column in the Saturday, January 7-8 edition of the paper. As pictured, this illustration depicts a lovely moment, between past and future, in which we get to "take a rest," allowing us to review our past thoughts and deeds, and to get prepared for what's to come. Wouldn't that be lovely!
 
In fact, our real situation is quite a bit different. What Noonan has pictured has always been our "dream," what we would like to be the case, but the reality is that our position, "between past and future," is not a place of respite or relaxation. Quite the contrary! We always find ourselves in "the present," with the momentum of the past pushing us inevitably forward, and with the looming future ahead assaulting us, and forcing us backwards, even as we wish desperately for an escape - for some place like Noonan's hammock, where we can think about things both past and future, acting in the capacity of intellectual referee. 
 
Such is not our fate; this is not our reality. We are, inevitably, caught in the middle, right on the fighting line, and we can't jump out of the conflict, no matter how much we'd like to. 
 
The situation I have just described is how Hannah Arendt portrays our human situation, in her wonderful book, Between Past And Future. The image she utilizes comes from a parable by Franz Kafka, and I think Kafka has a better understanding of where we really are (here in the present) than Peggy Noonan. 

I have mentioned this Kafka parable before. I invite you to click that link to see what I had to say back on June 5, 2020. 

The Noonan cartoon picture is escapism, nothing else. If you want to avoid having to read my "back pages," here's the bottom line: 

A call to political action, not to political commentary, is what Bob Dylan, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Hannah Arendt suggest!

That is what I suggest, too!

 
Image Credit:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/normal-republicans-stand-up-to-the-fringe-mccarthy-house-speaker-vote-lost-johnny-carson-letterman-lear-11672959501

Monday, February 6, 2023

#37 / Stefanikforpresident.com

 

That's Elise Stefanik, above, standing out in red. Red as in "Republican" red. Stefanik is a Republican Member of Congress who represents a more or less rural district in upstate New York. People where I live, on the West Coast, may or may not be paying any attention to Stefanik, but The New York Times definitely is.
 
In the Monday, January 2, 2023, edition of the newspaper, The Times ran a long article on Stefanik. In the hard copy version, the story was titled, "'I Am Ultra-MAGA': Invention of Elise Stefanik." Online, the article is titled, more simply, "The Invention of Elise Stefanik." The Times' article began on the first page of the print version of the paper, and then continued to a full two-page spread, inside, and then continued on to another full two-page spread. Lots of newsprint!
 
I fear that The Times' paywall will prevent any non-subscriber from reading the whole story, but if you can get access (and if you have some time on your hands), I definitely invite you to click the link, and to find out more about Elise Stefanik. The gist of the story is this: Elise Stefanik is consumed by her overwhelming political ambition, and will do anything necessary to acquire political power. 
 
Stefanik is not, really, a "rube" from some rural, cow country, district in New York state. She began her political career at Harvard University, where she was an undergraduate student, and where she scrambled for recognition and advancement in the university's "Institute of Politics." The I.O.P. is associated with the Harvard Kennedy School and was established in 1966 as "a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy." 
 
Currently, Stefanik is the "Conference Chair" of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives, having replaced former Congress Member Liz Cheney, and it appears that Stefanik was interested in becoming Speaker of the House, had Kevin McCarthy failed in his own effort. Stefanik is, as the hard copy headline in The Times proclaimed, "Ultra-MAGA," and is absolutely and totally devoted to advancing former president Trump back into the presidency.

Or, maybe not! According to The Times, our former president doesn't trust her!

As already indicated, what really appears to be the truth about Stefanik and her political views is that she is overwhelmingly consumed by her desire for personal advancement within the world of politics. I am commenting on Stefanik, and the article, for this reason. The kind of "politics" we need to practice is not a politics of personal advancement. Politics is supposed to be a "we're in this together" activity. 
 
According to The Times, shortly after having won a primary election in 2014, in that upstate, rural district, Stefanik reserved the website name, "Stefanikforpresident.com." She also reserved website names that would be appropriate for someone running for the United States Senate. She did this before having actually been elected to Congress - although she was, subsequently, elected to Congress in the general election in 2014, and was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, as of that time.
 
Many people believe that Stefanik is "typical" of those who seek political office. Even Bob Dylan might be thought to have propounded that view. In "Pay In Blood," Dylan gives us this painful perspective on the "political world" in which we live: 

Another politician pumping out his piss
Another ragged beggar blowin’ ya a kiss
Life is short and it don’t last long
They`ll hang you in the morning and sing ya a song
 
If we allow our politics to be turned into an arena in which personal ambitions are fought and decided, shame on us. The Times, clearly, is sending us a warning, by telling us the story of Elise Stefanik. Stefanik has been supporting George Santos, another person elected to Congress as a Republican from New York state. Santos just won office in the most recent election, and with a resume that appears to be, largely, "fiction." Stefanik is definitely not alone in turning politics into an arena of personal ambition.

I would like to suggest, though, that those who conclude that Stefanik and Santos are "typical," and that they are "representative" of those who run for office (and sometimes win), are not actually right about that. I like politics. I want others to like it, too, because if we don't like it, and get involved in politics ourselves, then our system of "self-government" will wither and perish.

Some think that this is exactly what is happening to politics in the United States. Again, I would like to suggest that this is not so - but the question is not really one about "observing" politics, it's a question about how we decide to "act." The Stefanik-Santos brand of politics as personal advancement will be all that's left if we ordinary folks decide that politics is just too "dirty" and "compromised" to warrant our personal involvement. 

Here's a final thought. It's an environmental adage that works, too, in the realm of politics. It's not exactly an elevated thought, but it's true: 

The Solution To Pollution Is Dilution

You can click the following link for a refresher course on "Gresham's Law." 

Let's not let the bad drive out the good in the political world in which we most immediately live!
 
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/11/insider/how-the-spoken-word-shapes-the-written-word.html
 

Sunday, February 5, 2023

#36 / Lance Morrow: A "Pro-Hope" Guy

 

Back on December 8th,  I wrote a blog posting about Guy R. McPherson, whom I denominated a "No Hope Guy." On the day before Christmas, my email inbox delivered a meditation by Lance Morrow, an American essayist who has written, mainly, for Time Magazine.

Morrow's Christmas Eve essay ran in City Journal, which is pretty "conservative," or politically "right," but which will probably let you read what Morrow has to say without imposing any paywall penalty. I enjoyed his essay. It was titled, "Hope, The Secret of Everything." Click on that link if you'd like to read what Morrow has to say on the topic.

One might expect that an essay with the title, "Hope, The Secret of Everything," would be devoted to a "proof" of what seems to be a "thesis statement," as captured in that title. Not exactly!
 
In fact, Morrow mainly talks about encounters that he and his car have had with deer - both a buck and a doe - and about asteroids that may be coming (who knows when) to destroy the planet. He touches, also, on saving a goldfinch (again, struck by his car), antisemitism, Putin, Stalin, Trotsky, Lincoln, Darwin, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Morrow's only reference to "hope," coming near the end of the essay, is just that simple statement he has also used as his title: "Hope, the secret of everything." He adds to that observation: "The mystery of grace."
 
Morrow apparently doesn't think that one has to (or can) "prove" that "hope is the secret of everything." It's an interesting strategy, rhetorically. You just have to "hope" it's true. 
 
Thinking about the nature of "hope," as Morrow's essay suggests that we should do, one comes to the conclusion that "hope" is less something that can be proved than it is an expectation - and an expectation based solely on itself. Hope, it would appear from what Morrow writes, is a characteristic of our mind, an anticipation - again, without proof - of some positive outcome to all in which we are involved (meaning, actually, life itself).
 
Guy R. McPherson outlines many facts that he thinks are convincing that we, as human beings, have absolutely no hope for anything but death and destruction. He makes a pretty good case for that discouraging conclusion, too. 
 
Morrow takes another tack. No need to try to "prove" that we should hope. We should just hope. That is the "secret of everything," because our life is fashioned as a "mystery," and our efforts to impose a particular "story" on our existence will always turn out to be unsatisfying. And not only "unsatisfying," essentially fruitless, as well. Morrow suggests that our best course is just to live, always, in grateful appreciation for having been allowed to live at all. That attitude of mind is the gift of grace to which Morrow alludes.
 
I would like to think that we might all experience that kind of hope, a hope so deeply founded that it doesn't need any "proof," and that brings with it, because of that very fact, a "peace which passes all understanding." 
 

 
Image Credit:
https://www.city-journal.org/hope-the-secret-of-everything-christmas-2022
 

Saturday, February 4, 2023

#35 / What Dr. Swenson Said



That is Dr. Robert Swenson, pictured above. Sandy Lydon, who has been known to call himself "The History Dude," has a website that provides us with a little background about Dr. Swenson, informing us that Dr. Swenson was the founding president of Cabrillo College in 1959. Dr. Swenson retired in 1976, and he then served as the Executive Director of the Community College Accreditation Commission, a position he held until 1986. Swenson died in 2007 at age 89, two months short of his ninetieth birthday. 

Back at the end of December, at the swearing-in ceremony for two newly-elected members of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors (Justin Cummings and Felipe Hernandez), an old friend who knew Dr. Swenson told me something that Dr. Swenson once said. I thought that Dr. Swenson's commentary was worth passing on: 

There are just three kinds people, Dr. Swenson said: 

First, there are the people who make things happen.
Second, there are the people who watch things happen.
Third, there are the people who say, "What happened"?
 
I hope you're with me when I say, let's all shoot for that first category!

 
 
Image Credit:
http://www.sandylydon.com/new-page-47

Friday, February 3, 2023

#34 / Making New Friends

 

Jill Filipovic has written The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness. She also writes for The Guardian, and in her column published on December 29, 2022, Filipovic announced her 2023 "Operation To Make New Friends." Commenting on how social media will factor into her "new friends" campaign, Filipovic said the following:
 
Social media can help us stay connected to the people we love; it can open up new insights and put more information at our fingertips; it can be a conduit to new relationships.
But the balance matters. And too many of us have gotten badly out of balance, especially after a pandemic pushed so many of us into forced isolation. A lot of folks seemed to have stayed isolated; many others, having not exercised their social muscles for a year or more, seem to have decided they’re just too rusty.
 
This pretty much echoes my own thoughts about social media. My blog posting headlined, "Alone," published a few days before Filipovic's column, argued that encounters "in real life," not social media interaction, is how we can overcome the pervasive loneliness that is an all-too-common experience these days.  

But Filipovic said something else, too, and this is something that I don't necessarily agree with:

Friendships won’t save the world or the country. But they can sure save your sanity, shore up your health and make your life a whole lot better.
 
I concur in Filipovic's listing of some of the individual benefits of friendships. However, I am inclined to think, personally, that friendships CAN save the world and the country. At the very least, I am confident that making new friends will really help accomplish both of those things.

When we truly "make new friends," by "talking with strangers," for example, we make clear to ourselves, and those who are and become our friends, that we are "in this together," that we are not just a mixed bag of individuals - I am tempted to say a "mixed bag of nuts" - but that we have things in common. Recognizing this is of critical importance, and it is "politically" important, not just "individually" important.

A recognition of and an understanding of our mutual interdependence, particularly when embraced through friendship, may well be what can sustain us as we face the multitudinous challenges that inevitably lie ahead. These challenges (including existing challenges, and the challenges still to come) are not challenges that we can surmount individually. It's going to take us all, and if we're "friendly," that will make it so much easier!
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/dec/29/operation-make-new-friends-2023
 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

#33 / Does The Times Have An Answer?

 

Regular readers of these blog postings may have noticed that I have been paying attention to the significant possibility that the United States Government might refuse to pay off its debts, as they come due. 
 
Everyone pretty much agrees that this would plunge the nation into an unnecessary crisis, and might also lead to disastrous economic effects all over the world, since many countries (basically to the advantage of the United States) base their economies on the idea that the United States government will always pay back the monies it has borrowed. 
 
What "makes sense" is not, automatically, what is going to happen, and the Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, who claim that they will let the nation default on its debts, might just be bluffing - or maybe not! There does seem to be a lot of Republican Party support for destroying the United States government's ability to function, and if an armed invasion of the Capitol Building didn't do the trick, maybe blowing up the world's economy could be an alternative to consider.

My earlier blog posting, citing Jamelle Bouie, suggested that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution might be interpreted to eliminate the problem. Ultimately, relying on this interpretation is putting the fate of the nation into the hands of the United States Supreme Court, which is assuming ever greater powers within our tripartite governmental system. Some think, in fact, that the Court is essentially seeking to displace the Congress as the branch of government that "makes the law." Bouie has specifically said that the Court is "turning into a court of first resort." I'm nervous about giving the Supreme Court increased powers to determine national policy. 

What to do, then? Well, in a January 25, 2023, opinion piece, written by Binyamin Appelbaum, The Times makes clear that there is a straightforward answer. The United States really does have a "debt problem," The Times says; the nation is borrowing way too much. However, cutting back spending - the demand of the Republicans in the House - isn't actually the way to a solution. How to solve the problem? Appelbaum says there's not really any big difficulty. The answer is to raise taxes! 

Wow! What a concept. Let's pay for the expenditures we make by taxing ourselves, instead of borrowing money from the wealthy, and then paying the wealthy high rates of interest on the money we have borrowed:

In recent decades, proponents of more spending have largely treated tax policy as a separate battle — one that they’ve been willing to lose.

They need to start fighting and winning both.

It costs money to borrow money. Interest payments require the government to raise more money to deliver the same goods and services. Using taxes to pay for public services means that the government can do more.

The United States paid $475 billion in interest on its debts last fiscal year, which ran through September. That was a record, and it will soon be broken. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, the government paid $210 billion.

The payments aren’t all that high by historical standards. Measured as a share of economic output, they remain well below the levels reached in the 1990s. Last year, federal interest outlays equaled 1.6 percent of G.D.P., compared with the high-water mark of 3.2 percent in 1991. But that mark, too, may soon be exceeded. The Congressional Budget Office projects that federal interest payments will reach 3.3 percent of G.D.P. by 2032, and it estimates interest payments might reach 7.2 percent of G.D.P. by 2052.

That’s a lot of money that could be put to better use.

Borrowing also exacerbates economic inequality. Instead of collecting higher taxes from the wealthy, the government is paying interest to them — some rich people are, after all, the ones investing in Treasuries.

If the debt ceiling serves any purpose, it is the occasional opportunity for Congress to step back and consider the sum of all its fiscal policies (emphasis added).
 
I would feel comforted by Appelbaum's straightforward solution to our national "debt problem," except for one thing. Here's my reservation: Does the Republican House of Representatives actually want to solve the nation's "debt problem"? Or, on the contrary, are Republicans in the House trying to destabilize the United States government on purpose?

I tend to think, based on what has happened over the last couple of years, that it's that second option that is playing out behind the scenes. This means, I think, that we should be looking ahead to a real, and profound economic and political crisis, coming to our nation, and the world, in just about six months!
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/25/opinion/2023-debt-ceiling.html

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

#32 / Some Pretty Good Legal Advice

 
 
As far as I know, Farhad Manjoo is not a lawyer. He is, in fact, an opinion columnist for The New York Times. This does not, of course, mean that Manjoo can't provide worthwhile legal advice. And he has!

In a column that ran in The New York Times on January 26, 2023, Manjoo tells his readers that "Alec Baldwin Didn’t Have to Talk to the Police. Neither Do You." As Baldwin is now finding out, Baldwin should obviously not have sat down with the police to talk about how a gun Baldwin was holding managed to kill someone on the movie set on which Baldwin was working:

Shortly after a prop gun Alec Baldwin was holding fired a bullet that killed a cinematographer and wounded a director on the set of the movie “Rust,” in October 2021, he told the police in New Mexico that he’d be willing to do whatever they requested, including sitting for an interview at the station.

In an interrogation room later that afternoon, detectives began by informing Baldwin of his rights: He had the right to remain silent. Anything he said could be used against him in court. He was free to consult with an attorney; if he could not afford an attorney, one would be appointed for him. And he could stop the interrogation at any point he wished.

“My only question is, am I being charged with something?” Baldwin asked.
Not at all, the police said. Reading his rights, one detective told him, was “just a formality.”
 
Baldwin did not ask the police whether Baldwin could ever  (in the future) be "charged with something." And, of course, he could. He is, in fact, now charged with involuntary manslaughter. Baldwin's interview with the police can (and will) be used against him.  
 
In that first police interview, Baldwin told interrogators that Gutierrez-Reed handed him the gun and assured him it was safe: “She said, ‘Do you want to check?’ — and I didn’t want to insult her, we never had a problem. I said, ‘I’m good.’”
 
Baldwin's, "I'm good" (I don't need to check) statement may not play well with the jury in his criminal trial. And he did say it. It's on tape. 
 
Unlike Manjoo, I am an attorney, though no specialist in criminal defense. However, you don't really need to be a criminal defense lawyer to know that Manjoo's legal advice is spot on. 
 
If you are ever involved in anything, and the police want to talk to you, here's some pretty good legal advice. Get a lawyer, and talk to your lawyer first, before you talk to anyone else, and have that lawyer right with you in all future occasions in which law enforcement personnel, or anyone else, might want to discuss the incident that "might" give rise to criminal liability. 

We are talking here about the "Fifth Amendment." That is the provision of our Constitution that says that no person can be compelled, in any criminal case, to be a witness against him or herself.

Those who wrote our Bill of Rights weren't so dumb. We shouldn't be dumb, either! 
 
Take it from Farhad Manjoo:
 
"Alec Baldwin Didn’t Have to Talk to the Police. Neither Do You."
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/25/opinion/alec-baldwin-rust-5th-amendment.html
  

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

#31 / Backing Up Our Assertions

 

That is Kari Lake, pictured. You may remember having heard about her. She ran for Governor of Arizona, and she lost. Nonetheless, modelling her behavior on the conduct of our former president, Donald Trump, Lake claimed that she had won.
 
This claim made her, at least in some circles, a figure of fun. The picture I have used, above, comes from one of Andy Borowitz' "Not The News" columns in The New Yorker. It was headlined, "Kari Lake Claims Victory in Georgia Runoff." Remember, Lake actually ran for Governor of Arizona!
 
A good joke can always be repeated, with certain modifications to disguise the fact that it is, actually, the same joke. Here's another Kari Lake picture, again from one of Andy Borowitz' commentaries. This picture was titled, "Kari Lake Flips Out at 7-Eleven After Buying Losing Lottery Ticket."
 

On December 27th of last year, I read about Kari Lake in The Wall Street Journal. Because she claimed that she had won (although she hadn't), Lake brought a lawsuit alleging election misconduct. The article I read was titled, "Lake's Suit Over Vote In Arizona Dismissed." That is the hard copy title. Online, which is where the following link will take you, The Journal article was headlined this way: "Kari Lake’s Claims of Election Misconduct Rejected by Arizona Judge."
 
Here is how The Wall Street Journal reported on what Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson had to say about Lake's lawsuit:
 
Every witness brought before the court “was asked about any personal knowledge of both intentional misconduct and intentional misconduct directed to impact the 2022 General Election. Every single witness before the Court disclaimed any personal knowledge of such misconduct,” Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson wrote in the ruling."
 
One of the great things about our legal system is that anyone can bring a lawsuit that will require a judge, as a neutral party, to review a claim that the person bringing the lawsuit has, in some way, been wronged. Bringing the lawsuit, though, is only step one. The key to winning such a lawsuit is to be able to bring into court evidence demonstrating that such a wrong did, in fact, occur. In other words, you have to back up your assertions with facts, when you go into court. 

Lake (and our former president) have apparently not quite grasped this key concept. When you make a claim in court (and otherwise, actually) you have to support your claim with some type of reliable proof. I am quite aware of this principle in a somewhat different context.
 
I teach courses in the Legal Studies Program at UCSC. Specifically, I teach a "Senior Capstone" course, LGST 196, and every student majoring in Legal Studies has to pass this course, in order to receive a B.A. in Legal Studies. The main course requirement is that students have to write a compelling thesis, of about twenty pages or so, on some topic relating to the law.
 
I provide guidance to my students in the form of a "Memo on Thesis Submission," which is fourteen pages long, and includes thirty-six numbered paragraphs of advice. Paragraph #9 is pertinent to the Kari Lake case: 
 
When making assertions (particularly controversial ones), you should reference an authority that supports the statement, and/or provide an example or examples, or support your statement with a well-reasoned argument, so that the statement doesn’t come across as an unsupported personal opinion. 
 
This principle applies in any legal proceeding. It also applies, generally, in almost everything we do - and certainly in what we write. 

If we don't have the facts to back up our assertions, then we shouldn't be making those assertions in the first place.
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/kari-lake-claims-victory-in-georgia-runoff
 

Monday, January 30, 2023

#30 / Ninety Seconds Till Midnight

 

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set its "Doomsday Clock" to 90-seconds to midnight, the closest to "midnight" that it has ever been: 
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 24, 2023 –The Doomsday Clock was set at 90 seconds to midnight, due largely but not exclusively to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the increased risk of nuclear escalation. The new Clock time was also influenced by continuing threats posed by the climate crisis and the breakdown of global norms and institutions needed to mitigate risks associated with advancing technologies and biological threats such as COVID-19. 
 
A "rogue journalist" I mention from time to time, Caitlin Johnstone, has also made note of this fact. As she puts it, "Hardly Anyone Is Thinking Logically About The Danger of Nuclear War."

I certainly agree with that observation, and it seems to me that hardly anyone is thinking logically about anything! Republican politicians, in control of the House of Representatives, seem to support the idea that the United States government should repudiate its promise to pay off the debts that the nation has incurred, even though everyone knows that the impacts of doing this would be terrible.

And then, in various places around the country (including specifically in Half Moon Bay, just up the coast from my hometown of Santa Cruz), disgruntled persons are increasingly working out their distress by killing multiple people and then sometimes (but not always) killing themselves, too. 
 
 
 
 
If it's not the end of the world as we know it, it's getting pretty close! 

Do you think that there is anything we might be able to do about this? 

I am willing to suggest that we do need to give it a try. And this means that each one of us needs to think about the kind of direct actions we can take (which will, almost certainly, require communicating with and working with others, in person, and not by firing off internet memos).

I tend to think in metaphors, and one of my favorite metaphors for dramatic change is the "supersaturated solution." Click that link to learn all about it.

I think we're there!
 
 
Image Credit:
https://thebulletin.org/2023/01/press-release-doomsday-clock-set-at-90-seconds-to-midnight/

Sunday, January 29, 2023

#29 / Tiny Love Story

 
When I visited my father to celebrate his 88th birthday.

My father opened his apartment door and held out a coffee mug. “It’s a beautiful cup!” he said. “You need to take it.” I wheeled my suitcase into the guest room. “Take the cup!” he said, following behind. I told him I didn’t need it. After three days of him continually offering “the cup,” which was really a mug, I accepted. It was a thank you gift he had received for donating money to a prominent L.G.B.T.Q. organization. I never came out to my father, but I finally understood: He knew and was proud of me. — Lori Horvitz

oooOOOooo
 
This "Tiny Love Story" is from The New York Times.  
 
 
This one..... I don't know. 
 
Reconciliation without words. Acceptance without acknowledgment. 
 
It's what we all both want and need.
 
It made me cry.
 
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/06/style/tiny-modern-love-stories-her-dreams-of-infidelity.html

Saturday, January 28, 2023

#28 / The Mail

 

"The Mail" is what The New Yorker calls its "Letters to the Editor" feature. "The Mail" always shows up right at the beginning of each issue of the magazine, and it's always the thing that I read first.

I was particularly struck by a letter that appeared in the The New Yorker's December 26, 2022, edition. That was my birthday, but I read the letter before that day actually arrived, the magazine always coming a few days in advance of the date posted on the cover. Here's the letter that captured my attention:

In the Crisis
Elizabeth Kolbert, in her sweeping survey of climate change (“A Vast Experiment,” November 28th), makes a stimulating contribution to the national conversation about this challenge. I especially appreciated her discussion of the role of narratives in spurring (or stalling) action. As Kolbert points out, pessimistic narratives can be limiting. But, in the U.S., examples of making radical change to curb or adapt to the climate crisis are hard to come by. If we incorporated instances of progress into our story of the crisis, perhaps our culture would be more deeply engaged with transitioning to sustainable energy.
One generative source of alternative narratives is Europe, where many communities, cities, and regions have taken transformative measures. Copenhagen, for example, has one of the world’s most successful district-heating systems, which supplies energy to ninety-eight per cent of the city’s buildings, largely by capturing waste heat from electricity plants. The system cuts household bills by nearly fifteen hundred U.S. dollars a year, and saves Copenhagen—which plans to become carbon-neutral this decade—more than seven hundred thousand tons of CO2 emissions annually. Austria offers another encouraging case. Twenty-five years ago, the town of G├╝ssing was one of the poorest in the country, a forgotten frontier along the former Iron Curtain. Since 2001, when the town began producing all of its heat and power from renewables, its economy has been revitalized, and the municipality of four thousand people has become a model for how to transform a place with green energy.
Hervey Scudder
Brattleboro, Vt. 
 
I appreciated Scudder's observation that there are very few examples, in the United States, of "radical change to curb or adapt to the climate crisis." He is certainly right about that, and yet "radical change" is precisely what is necessary. 
 
I think Scudder is not only calling us out, but is giving us a hint about where that "radical change" might come from. Both of Scudder's specific examples talk about actions taken at the "local" level - by cities, in fact - and his general statement is that "communities, cities, and regions" are the place where radical changes are occurring in Europe. 

Because the global warming crisis is so "big," so daunting, we tend to think that our "biggest" governments should be taking the lead in addressing it. And, of course, we ultimately do need national (and in fact international) actions to stop the production and burning of hydrocarbon fuels. Still, there is a lot that can be done at a local level, and it's my belief that if we don't start making "radical changes" locally, we will never get to the point of insisting that our state and national governments take the radical steps that they need to take.

Thinking about my own hometown, Santa Cruz, California, what about a city program to plant - and maintain - tens of thousands of trees? What about a door to door effort, at the city level, to retrofit home and business lighting systems to shut off lights and appliances when they are not in use, thus saving power? More ambitiously, what about installing solar collectors on all residential and business structures in the city that have good solar orientation, tying the new power produced into little "microgrids" that cut our dependence on the ever less dependable Investor Owned Utilities (like PG&E) that are currently the only source of power we can access? What about computer-driven systems that can make sure that we "share rides," instead of each individual one of us having to use our individual automobile when we want to go anywhere?

This is only a very "partial list" of locally-based programs that could help reduce our use of fossil fuels, or that otherwise respond in a positive way to the crisis we face. There are a lot more possibilities!
 
"Radical change" is absolutely needed, and what might be the most radical thing of all would be to start making changes ourselves, locally, right where we live. My very "partial list," here, does not even begin to outline the possibilities - but I bet you get the idea!


 
Image Credit:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USPS_mailboxes.jpg
 

Friday, January 27, 2023

#27 / Organizer

 

That is Fred Ross, Jr., pictured above. The obituary I have reproduced below ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on Christmas Day, 2022. Clicking on the link I have provided to the word "obituary" will probably get you to a paywall, which is why I have cut and pasted the obituary itself into this blog posting. It's worth reading!
 
I never knew Fred Ross, Jr., but I definitely knew of him! He was truly a legendary figure in California politics. I am alerting you to his story for two reasons. 

First, to highlight Fred's occupational identification:
 
Ross had a "50-year career as an organizer, the only job title that he would accept."
 
Second, to highlight the basic technique upon which Ross premised his successful organizing work: 

It was a five-year battle that allowed Ross to perfect a simple strategy called the “house meeting campaign” he learned from his father, also named Fred Ross, one of the great community and labor organizers in Bay Area history.
 
If we want a politics that can make real change, significant numbers of us are going to have to decide that our lifetime work is going to be as "organizers." 

If we want to transform our politics, to head off the disasters that are all too visible on the horizon - and that, in fact, are right in front of us, right now - then we need to organize meetings of small groups of people, in real life, to inspire them, and their friends, and those just watching, to change their lives.

As Fred Ross, and Fred Ross, Jr. would tell us, that is the kind of politics that works!

oooOOOooo

Fred Ross Jr., organizer of California labor and political campaigns, dies at 75
 
December 23, 2022

Fred Ross was a 22-year-old idealist fresh out of UC Berkeley when he joined the struggle of farmworkers in the “salad bowl strike” against lettuce growers in Salinas in the early 1970s.
 
It was a five-year battle that allowed Ross to perfect a simple strategy called the “house meeting campaign” he learned from his father, also named Fred Ross, one of the great community and labor organizers in Bay Area history.
 
Fred Ross Jr. (as he was known) would go to the camps and trailer parks where the pickers lived, in order to gain the trust of the United Farm Workers, led by Cesar Chavez. A better listener than talker, Ross came up with the idea of a march from Union Square in San Francisco to Gallo headquarters in Modesto, 110 miles away.
 
Some 20,000 made that 1975 march or a portion of it, the end result being the Agricultural Labor Relations Act signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in June that year to protect the rights to collective bargaining for farmworkers. That campaign started Ross on a 50-year career as an organizer, the only job title that he would accept.
 
He gave himself that modest title for Nancy Pelosi’s first campaign for Congress, in a special election in 1987, and he gave himself that title during the campaign to face down the attempted recall of San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, in 1983, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021. 
 
There were many victories in between, and when Ross turned 75, on Oct. 14, a video was put together by those who wanted to thank him, starting with former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. The video ran 2½ hours, which is what it took to squeeze them all in. Ross watched it on a big screen at his home in the Berkeley Hills, where he was confined due to treatment for pancreatic cancer. He died at home Nov. 20, said his wife, Margo Feinberg.
 
After his death, letters and statements came in from dignitaries struggling to express in writing what many of them had said on the birthday video.
 
“Fred was a force to be reckoned with and I’m thankful to have called him a dear friend,” wrote Feinstein, a U.S. senator since 1992. “His support and leadership as my deputy campaign manager during the 1983 recall campaign was instrumental to my success and I am forever indebted to him.”
 
“Without his early support and brilliant leadership organizing the ground operation of my first campaign, I would have never become a Member of Congress,” House Speaker Pelosi wrote.
 
“He moved mountains on behalf of so many communities and organizations, always keeping our state’s most vulnerable populations at the top of his mind,” Newsom wrote. “His passion for equity, inclusion, and justice illuminated his ambitious path, but it was his tireless determination and work ethic that allowed him to walk it.”
 
Frederick Gibson Ross was born Oct. 14, 1947, in Long Beach and spent his early years in Los Angeles. His father worked at Community Service Organization on behalf of Latino civil rights. His mother, Frances Gibson, had been a “Rosie the Riveter” at an Ohio factory in World War II. She contracted polio after the war, and when Fred was 5, his family moved to Corte Madera to be near family in Marin County.
 
Ross attended Neil Cummins Elementary School in Corte Madera and Redwood High School in Larkspur. He was elected student body president for his senior year, and graduated in the class of 1965.
 
After a year at Syracuse University, where his father was teaching a course in organizing basics, Ross transferred to UC Berkeley, graduating in 1970. While at Berkeley, he was involved in the anti-war protests, though he had a low lottery number and was not drafted, Feinberg said.
 
During the People’s Park conflict in 1969, he came to the aid of a protester who was being hassled by police. That got Ross arrested, one of 39 times he was in his life as an activist and an organizer. With a record like that, he figured he needed a lawyer. So he became one in 1980, after graduating from the University of San Francisco School of Law.
 
Ross spent two years as a public defender in San Francisco before giving up the law to become a full-time organizer. That is the job he had had since his junior year at Redwood High, when he went to Arizona with his father on a program sponsored by the Presbyterian church to bring the Yaqui and Mexican American communities together to fight the poverty both groups faced.
 
From that point on, it was one campaign after another. In 1973, when Ross was 26, he was the lead organizer of the Bay Area grape and lettuce strikes, a battle that would last for years and involved pickets in front of Safeway and other major grocery chains.
 
“Fred had this amazing way of engaging in campaigns that gave you a sense of joy that you were part of moving the needle,” said Bob Purcell, a retired Sacramento labor attorney who worked with Ross on the farmworker campaigns.
 
As that battle was winding down, Ross moved on to Neighbor to Neighbor, an organization formed in the 1980s to aid the plight of refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. This evolved into a national campaign to elect people opposed to the government policies toward Central America imposed under President Ronald Reagan.
 
One of these candidates was Pelosi, who hired Ross to run her field program when she ran for Congress in a special election to replace Sala Burton, who had died in office in 1987.
 
Utilizing his house meeting strategy from the UFW campaign, Ross put together 118 meetings in the San Francisco homes of Pelosi supporters, who would invite their neighbors to meet the candidate. In the final frantic days of a tight race, Ross organized 17 house meetings in a 12-hour span, and it got the job done. Pelosi narrowly won the seat she still holds after 35 years.
 
“He’s been part of her kitchen cabinet and our extended political family ever since that first election,” said Pelosi’s daughter Christine Pelosi, an attorney and advocate who uses Ross to teach the house meeting technique at her Campaign Boot Camp. The night after Ross died, both Pelosis went to the Ross home to sit with the family.
 
“In a bittersweet bookend, we had a house meeting to mourn his passing,” Christine Pelosi said. “We were involved in some very tough political fights and Fred was always there with an effective strategy and what the farmworkers call animo.
 
In 1997, Ross was working for an immigration rights organization in Los Angeles when he met Feinberg, a prominent union-side labor attorney with offices in Los Angeles and Berkeley. They were married on Feb. 15, 1998, at the officers club in the Presidio of San Francisco with 250 people in attendance. After living on Potrero Hill, the Rosses moved to the Berkeley hills, where they raised two children, Charles Ross, 23, and Helen Ross, 20.
 
Ross spent his last years working on a documentary film about his father’s organizing legacy, to be directed by Ray Telles. The on-camera interviews have been completed and Ross was raising funds for an impact campaign to bring the film into schools, union halls and community organizations at the time of his death. The film will be completed in 2023 and the fundraising goes on. Donations in his name may be made to fredrossproject.org 
 
“Fred was the guy in the back of the room encouraging others to step forward,” Feinberg said. “He viewed his role as an organizer as inspiring others to tell their stories and empower themselves to make change in their community and workplace, and he did it with enthusiasm and humor.”
 
She survives him, as do son Charles and daughter Helen, all of Berkeley; sister Julia Ross of Larkspur; and brother Robert Ross of Davis.
 
A public memorial will be held Feb. 26 at Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco. RSVP is required at fredrossjrmemorial@gmail.com.
 

 
Image Credit:
https://ibew1245.com/2022/11/21/ibew-1245-grieves-the-passing-of-brother-fred-ross-jr-and-honors-his-legacy/
 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

#26 / That Runaway Toilet Paper Roll

 

Here is a lesson from real life experience. 
 
Sometimes, pulling on the toilet paper roll, to get what I need, I find that I have dislodged the roll from its hook, and that it now lies on the floor. 
 
Thinking that I should get things back to normal, right away, and that I should replace that roll on its hook at the earliest time possible, I pull on the end of the toilet paper that I am holding in my hand. 

The result is usually not what I want to accomplish. The toilet paper roll retreats across the floor, getting further away, not closer, all that toilet paper unwinding in a disorderly mess as I pull. I find that my inclination to put things right has been significantly frustrated. In extreme cases, the toilet paper roll will bounce with vigor into a nearby hallway, seriously upsetting my efforts to restore things to their previous condition.
 
Conclusion? When unwelcome and unexpected things happen, it is sometimes best not to try to restore things to their previous state, at least not immediately, since pursuing such efforts actually only makes things worse. 

You can all probably think of lots of examples of how this principle works out in real life. 

It's true in politics. It's true in personal relationships. It's true in the case of a runaway toilet paper roll. When conditions change, when unexpected and unwanted events have occurred, trying to act as if the old and usual procedures wil continue to produce good results is a prescription that will assure only failure, not success.
 
Image Credit:
Gary A. Patton, personal photo 
 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

#25 / The Story America Tells Itself About Itself

 

Lydia Polgreen authored an opinion piece in The New York Times on December 22, 2022. Her lengthy essay was headlined, "How Will History Remember Jan. 6?"

That is, of course, an important question, and I think it's fair to say that it will take years, probably decades, before we really know. As Polgreen says, "when asked about the meaning of contemporary events, historians like to jokingly reply, 'Ask me in 100 years.'"

Polgreen's essay begins with a discussion about how Nazi sympathizers sought to influence the American government just prior to the beginning of World War II - and how they had some success. The single line that caught my attention was much more general. 
 
Commenting on how we really don't know what people will ultimately think about the events of January 6th, Polgreen said the question would ultimately resolve into what part those events would play in "the story America tells itself about itself."
 
As far as I am concerned, we should already know what that story is, and we should not be thinking about potential modifications, based on contemporary events. 
 
The "Story America Tells Itself About Itself," in my opinion, can be found in three documents, and in these three documents, alone: 

2. The Constitution

3. The Gettysburg Address

 
These three documents are not reports on what has happened, what has occurred, what has eventuated, what Americans have done. Americans have done so many terrible and shameful things - right from the very beginning! Is that our story? I think not. 
 
Our "story," the story that America "tells itself about itself," is not a story about what has "happened to us," or about what we ourselves have done. It is a story about what we have committed ourselves to do. Those three documents I listed are the defining statements of intention and commitment that is the story that America "tells itself about itself." 

In short: 
 
America's story begins with certain statements in the Declaration of Independence that we have believed, from the very beginning, are "self-evident." The story we "tell ourselves about ourselves" starts with a claim that "all persons are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, and that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
In the Constitution, with the Bill of Rights and the other Amendments to the Constitution included, we tell ourselves exactly how we have "instituted" the government that is committed to the truths contained in the Declaration. That form of government is a type of "self-government," established as a system of divided powers, with powers divided as between the three branches of the federal government, and with the power of the federal government deferring, in fundamental ways, to the separate governmental powers of each one of the states. Our Constitution contains a Bill of Rights, defying as illegitimate any claim by our government that it can truncate or limit our unalienable rights. The Constitution of the United States is the story that America tells itself about what democratic self-government requires.
Finally, after a Civil War in which over 600,000 Americans died, a war that posed a fundamental challenge to the commitments contained in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln confirmed America's dedication to the story that America "tells itself about itself." His stirring words in the Gettysburg Address recommitted the nation to what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution had proclaimed as "our story." Here is Lincoln, confirming and summing up our story:

That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
 
A story that anyone (or any nation) "tells itself about itself" is not a report of past occurrences or of the good or bad deeds done. An appreciation of historical events can inform, and perhaps even determine, the story told, but the story that America "tells itself about itself" was determined in 1776 and the years immediately following. It was reconfirmed at the close of the Civil War.
 
Today, we should look at the historic record (some great moments, some truly horrible and shameful ones) not to find out who we are - because who we "are" will depend on what we do. 
 
Our commitments, in the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, and as remembered and reconfirmed in The Gettysburg Address, still define "the story we tell ourselves about ourselves." 

Let us, today (as we remember what that story tells us), highly resolve to make that story live, and to make it real, and to ensure by our own actions, individually and together, that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people (all people!) shall not perish from this earth.
 
 
 
Image Credit:
 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/19/opinion/january-6-report-history.html